23 April 2018

Just Read This

Dear Liberal America: The FBI Is Not Your Friend -- And It Never Has Been

Seriously. It's still the misbegotten offspring of the Palmer Raids and J. Edgar Hoover.

This is Rich

When Sean Hannity was named in court this week as a client of Donald Trump’s embattled legal fixer Michael Cohen, the Fox News host insisted their discussions had been limited to the subject of buying property.

“I’ve said many times on my radio show: I hate the stock market, I prefer real estate. Michael knows real estate,” Hannity said on television, a few hours after the dramatic hearing in Manhattan, where Cohen is under criminal investigation.

Hannity’s chosen investment strategy is confirmed by thousands of pages of public records reviewed by the Guardian, which detail a real estate portfolio of remarkable scale that has not previously been reported.

The records link Hannity to a group of shell companies that spent at least $90m on more than 870 homes in seven states over the past decade. The properties range from luxurious mansions to rentals for low-income families. Hannity is the hidden owner behind some of the shell companies and his attorney did not dispute that he owns all of them.


Dozens of the properties were bought at a discount in 2013, after banks foreclosed on their previous owners for defaulting on mortgages. Before and after then, Hannity sharply criticised Barack Obama for the US foreclosure rate. In January 2016, Hannity said there were “millions more Americans suffering under this president” partly because of foreclosures.

Hannity, 56, also amassed part of his property collection with support from the US Department for Housing and Urban Development (Hud), a fact he did not disclose when praising Ben Carson
, the Hud secretary, on his television show last year.

………

Among the most valuable are two large apartment complexes in Georgia that Hannity bought in 2014 for $22.7m. The developments are in the cities of Perry and Brunswick, which have higher poverty rates and lower median incomes than the US averages. One- and two-bedroom units in Hannity‍‍‍’s apartment complexes are available to rent for $735 to $1,065 per month, according to brochures.

The Georgia purchases were funded with mortgages for $17.9m that Hannity obtained with help from Hud, which insured the loans under a program created as part of the National Housing Act. The loans, first guaranteed under the Obama administration, were recently increased by $5m with renewed support from Carson’s department.Also, Carson could approve condo conversions for him next year.

Ka-ching.

Not a Surprise

It turns out that the United States Border Patrol has taken the opportunity granted by Trump's rhetoric on immigration to feed blatantly false statistics to the public:
Last November, reports that a pair of U.S. Border Patrol agents had been attacked with rocks at a desolate spot in West Texas made news around the country. The agents were found injured and unconscious at the bottom of a culvert off Interstate 10. Agent Rogelio Martinez soon died from his injuries. Early reports in right-wing media outlets such as Breitbart suggested that the perpetrators were undocumented immigrants, and President Donald Trump quickly embraced the narrative to bolster his campaign for a border wall.

………

It was four months before the FBI concluded its investigation and determined that the most likely cause of Martinez’s death was an accidental fall. Meanwhile, media outlets across the political spectrum repeated statistics showing a sharp upward trend in the number of assaults against Border Patrol agents even as the number of undocumented immigrants apprehended while crossing the southern border has dropped.

According to U.S. Customs and Border Protection data, assaults on Border Patrol officers increased dramatically in fiscal year 2016, reversing a long downward trend. That year, CBP claims, there were 454 assaults on agents nationwide, compared with 378 in fiscal year 2015, a 20 percent increase. The increase from 2016 to 2017 was even more surprising. In 2017, according to CBP, there were 786 assaults, a spike of 73 percent, even as apprehensions fell from 415,816 to 310,532.

Almost the entire increase — 271 purported assaults — was said to have occurred in one sector, the Rio Grande Valley, in South Texas. A large number of the assaults supposedly occurred on a single day, according to charts and details provided by Christiana Coleman, a CBP public affairs spokesperson. In response to questions from The Intercept, Coleman explained in an email that “an incident in the Rio Grande Valley Sector on February 14, 2017, involved seven U.S. Border Patrol Agents assaulted by six subjects utilizing three different types of projectiles (rocks, bottles, and tree branches), totaling 126 assaults.”

According to conventional law enforcement accounting, this single incident should have been tallied as seven agents assaulted — not seven agents times six perpetrators times three projectiles. Subtracting the seven agents from 126 leaves 119 extra “assaults” that falsely and grossly inflate the data, making it appear to the public that far more agents were assaulted.

………

According to James Tomsheck, former director of internal affairs at CBP, the agency’s method of counting assaults is highly unusual.

During a phone interview with The Intercept, Tomsheck said law enforcement agencies count the number of people assaulted, not the discrete acts of violence that occur during an incident. And that’s how it was done when he worked at CBP (he left in 2014). “Five rocks [thrown at] an agent would have been considered one assault,” Tomsheck said.

Tomsheck said that during his more than three decades of police work, he has never heard of any law enforcement agency multiplying assaulted officers by the perpetrators and the weapons. When I asked Franklin Zimring, a criminologist at the University of California, Berkeley and author of “When Police Kill,” if he’d ever heard of such a method, he burst out laughing. “No,” he said, laughing again. “I haven’t.”

………

Rather than a picture of increasing violence against Border Patrol agents, what emerges from the FBI’s data is that the Border Patrol’s job has never been safer. The decrease was so significant that by 2016, according to FBI statistics, Border Patrol agents were about five times less likely to be assaulted than officers in local police departments — and only half as likely to be killed on the job by homicide or by accident. As the Cato Institute observed in November, “Regular Americans are more than twice as likely to be murdered in any year from 2003 through 2017 than Border Patrol agents were.” But even as Border Patrol work was getting safer, the agency began manipulating its data to claim increasing danger and advance a political agenda.
(emphasis mine)

Gee, you think?

CBP already operates with more impunity that most law enforcement, and they are just getting worse.

End Stage Looting by an Ayn Rand Fan

About a year and a half ago, I observed how the hedge fund operator who is running Sears according to the principles of Ayn Rand is running the venerable retail institution into the ground.

After many years of mismanagement and looting, he is now looking to buy its remaining assets at a cut-rate price.

To use Ayn Rand's language, he is a looter, not a creator:
Edward S. Lampert, the chief executive of Sears, offered on Monday to buy real estate assets and the Kenmore brand from the troubled retailer in what would be his latest attempt to save it.

In a letter to the Sears board, Mr. Lampert, whose ESL Investments hedge fund owns a controlling stake in the company, said ESL would be also be willing to buy the retailer’s home-services and its appliance-parts units.

Any deal involving Sears and Mr. Lampert is complicated by his dual roles running both the retailer and the hedge fund, which is also a major Sears lender.

………

In his letter to the board, Mr. Lampert offered to pay Sears $500 million for the home-services and appliance-parts units, but did not mention a price for the Kenmore brand or the real estate. He noted that the company had been trying to sell the assets for nearly two years, but had failed to find other buyers.
He failed to find another buyer because he has completely destroyed the company.

I will leave it to the reader to determine whether this is because he indented to drive its value down so that he could snap up its parts for a song all along, which is a fairly typical hedge fund behavior, or if he was simply wedded to a philosophy (Objectivism) which is completely antithetical to a business that actually makes, or does, something of value.

Linkage


World's best cover of "The Wheels on the Bus"

22 April 2018

Tory Government in a Nut Shell

The UK Government refused to cooperate with a French money laundering investigation because the company being investigated was a major donor to the Conservative Party:
The British government refused to assist a French investigation into suspected money laundering and tax fraud by the UK telecoms giant Lycamobile – citing the fact that the company is the “biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party” and gives money to a trust founded by Prince Charles.

French prosecutors launched a major probe into the firm and arrested 19 people accused of using its accounts to launder money from organised criminal networks two years ago, after BuzzFeed News revealed its suspicious financial activities in the UK. But the Conservatives continued taking Lycamobile’s money – and it can now be revealed that the British authorities stonewalled a formal request from French prosecutors to carry out raids in London as part of the ongoing investigation.

Confidential correspondence between British government officials and their French counterparts, shown to BuzzFeed News by a source in the UK, reveals that the French wanted British authorities to raid Lycamobile’s London headquarters last year and seize evidence as part of their investigation into money laundering and tax fraud by the company.

In an official response dated 30 March 2017, a government official noted that Lycamobile is “a large multinational company” with “vast assets at their disposal” and would be “extremely unlikely to agree to having their premises searched”.

The letter, from the team at HMRC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs) that handles law enforcement requests from foreign governments, continued: “It is of note that they are the biggest corporate donor to the Conservative party led by Prime Minister Theresa May and donated 1.25m Euros to the Prince Charles Trust in 2012.” The email referred to Lycamobile's donations to the British Asian Trust, which was founded by the Prince of Wales to tackle poverty in South Asia, not to his youth foundation The Prince's Trust which has never received any money from Lycamobile.

………

When BuzzFeed News first approached HMRC to ask about its response to the French request, the agency’s senior press officer strongly denied that Lycamobile’s donations would ever be cited as a reason not to conduct criminal raids. “No HMRC official would ever write such a letter,” he said. “This is the United Kingdom for God’s sake, not some third world banana republic where the organs of state are in hock to some sort of kleptocracy.”

However, after verifying the contents of the email seen by BuzzFeed News, another HMRC spokesman said that it was “regrettable”.
Translation, we regret that we have been caught.
Lord (Ken) Macdonald, England’s former director of public prosecutions, said the government’s response to the French request for assistance represented “a descent into banana republic law enforcement” – and called on the UK authorities to cooperate fully with the investigation. “It would be beyond worrying if HMRC were to regard the payment of political donations as a shield against criminal investigation,” he said. “Obviously the fact that a company may have the resources to challenge HMRC’s actions in court is not a reason for authorities to back off. Otherwise, wealthy organisations would be beyond the reach of the law.”
Gee, you think?

This is not a surprise.  The Tories and the Blairite New Labour have made financial corruption and money laundering the center (or centre) of their economic plans, and this is the inevitable result.

The Judges Give a 9.6 for Snark

Alexandr Petri opens up a major can of whup ass on pundits who think that they have the right to be published no matter how contemptible they are.

It is, of course, an allegory about the case of Kevin Williamson, whose very short tenure at The Atlantic was a result of his extremist views, has been on a major whining tour about how his call for hanging women who have abortions led him to be persecuted.

Just read the article.

Sing It, Brother

I wholeheartedly agree that the world of deceptive user agreements used to arbitrarily punish customers 6 pounds of sh%$ in a 5 pound bag:
Mark Zuckerberg says it doesn't matter how creepy and terrible his company is, because you agreed to let him comprehensively fuck you over from asshole to appetite by clicking "I agree" to a tens of thousands of words' worth of "agreements" spread out across multiple webpages; when questioned about this in Congress, Zuck grudgingly admitted that "I don’t think the average person likely reads that whole document." But as far as Zuck is concerned, it doesn't matter whether you've read it, whether you understand it, whether it can be understood -- you still "agreed."

Facebook is far from the worst offender: Paypal has been cutting off the accounts of users who signed up before they were 18, which violated their 50,000+ word ToS (spread across 21 web-pages!); it doesn't matter if those users are now well over the age of consent, more than a decade later, their failure to read all those terms is a hanging offense.

The self-replicating plague of bullsh%$ "agreements" is finally getting a reckoning, as users wake up to the fact that companies were actually serious when they said that they expected hold us to these absurd legal documents. What's more, the looming spectre of the EU General Data Protection Regulation, with its mandate for plain language agreements that users have to understand, is calling into question whether it's possible to even have a business that can only exist if users agree to terms that put the US tax-code to shame.

That is to say, businesses are being told that they are obliged to obtain detailed, informed consent to every single term in their contracts before they can start interacting with their users. The businesses say that undertaking such a process could take hours and that no one would ever use their services if a precondition for their usage is to actually understand what they're giving away.

To which the EU answers: exactly.
The EU is doing the right thing here.  (I cannot believe that I just said that)

Seriously, the ecology of the commercial internet resembles nothing so much as a petty bunco operation.

I am Sure that Theresa May Does Not Think of Herself as a Racist

But the so-called "Windrush scandal", where Theresa May, then Home Secretary, systematically destroyed evidence that would be required of  legal immigrants from the Caribbean to prove their legal entry into the country:
The Home Office destroyed thousands of landing card slips recording Windrush immigrants’ arrival dates in the UK, despite staff warnings that the move would make it harder to check the records of older Caribbean-born residents experiencing residency difficulties.

A former Home Office employee said the records, stored in the basement of a government tower block, were a vital resource for case workers when they were asked to find information about someone’s arrival date in the UK from the West Indies – usually when the individual was struggling to resolve immigration status problems.

Although the home secretary, Amber Rudd, has promised to make it easier for Windrush-generation residents to regularise their status, the destruction of the database is likely to make the process harder, even with the support of the new taskforce announced this week.

The former employee (who has asked for his name not to be printed) said it was decided in 2010 to destroy the disembarkation cards, which dated back to the 1950s and 60s, when the Home Office’s Whitgift Centre in Croydon was closed and the staff were moved to another site. Employees in his department told their managers it was a bad idea, because these papers were often the last remaining record of a person’s arrival date, in the event of uncertainty or lost documents. The files were destroyed in October that year, when Theresa May was home secretary.

A person’s arrival date is crucial to a citizenship application, because the 1971 Immigration Act gave people who had already moved to Britain indefinite leave to remain.
She then followed up with her hostile environment policy, which, much like Donald Trump's, "Self-Deportation," rhetoric was a policy of deliberately terrorizing immigrants.

The inevitable conclusion was that this was a deliberate series of actions:
Theresa May was two years into her job as home secretary when she made her strategy explicit, telling the Telegraph in 2012 her aim “was to create here in Britain a really hostile environment for illegal migration”.

The outcry over the treatment of the Windrush generation of migrants in Britain legally, but sometimes without the paperwork to prove it, has exposed the scale of that strategy.

The hostile environment created by new legislation and regulation has meant migrants do not face border officials only when they enter the country for the first time, but as a constant part of daily life. They must prove their immigration status whenever they try to rent a property, open a bank account or access the health services. Landlords and employers become immigration enforcers – or risk hefty fines.

At the Home Office, May was tasked with delivering David Cameron’s election promise that immigration would be reduced to the tens of thousands, a pledge that has still yet to be realised.

………

Teather, who is now the director of the Jesuit Refugee Service, said: “Theresa May was determined to transform things. She was proud of wanting to generate a really hostile environment.

“The Home Office has a culture of enforcement and disbelief which runs deep into the walls, but it is politically led. It’s a culture from the top, and it has been a bit rich for the home secretary, Amber Rudd, to blame civil servants. When you’ve had a Conservative home secretary that long, you cannot moan when civil servants deliver those policies.”

Before this metastasized into a political catastrophe for the Tories, Theresa May, and her hand picked successor at the home office, were congratulating themselves over their mindless brutality.

The fact that this happened to an immigrant population that is almost entirely black is no accident.

They are a bunch of racist rat-f%$#s, period, full stop.

God Bless America

Here is the headline, "Naked Gunman Kills 4 at Waffle House in Nashville, Police Say.

There was a similar event at the UK about 20 years ago, at a church, only, because of the difficulty of acquiring weapons, the assailant was swinging a sword.

No fatalities in the UK.

21 April 2018

No Blogging Tonite

Unsuccessfully trying to update the BBS that I admin.

Calling it a night.

20 April 2018

Another School Shooting

God Bless America.

Is this even news any more?

Thankfully only one minor injury.

Squirrel!!!!!!!!

It appears that in their quest to hide the fact that the incompetents who lost to a human inverted traffic cone still work there, the DCCC has filed suit against Russia and WikiLeaks for exposing their actual internal discussions to the public.

I can't imagine that a judge won't dismiss this before the ink is dry, because publishing information that your target does not want published is the very epitome of journalism.

That being said, if it DOES go to trial, WikiLeaks, and Russia, get to do discovery, which means putting people like Debbie Wasserman-Schultz, John Podesta, Donna Brazile, etc. under oath and asking them questions. This will not end well:
The Democratic National Committee filed a multimillion-dollar lawsuit Friday against the Russian government, the Trump campaign and the WikiLeaks organization alleging a far-reaching conspiracy to disrupt the 2016 campaign and tilt the election to Donald Trump.

The complaint, filed in federal district court in Manhattan, alleges that top Trump campaign officials conspired with the Russian government and its military spy agency to hurt Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and help Trump by hacking the computer networks of the Democratic Party and disseminating stolen material found there.

“During the 2016 presidential campaign, Russia launched an all-out assault on our democracy, and it found a willing and active partner in Donald Trump’s campaign,” DNC Chairman Tom Perez said in a statement.

“This constituted an act of unprecedented treachery: the campaign of a nominee for President of the United States in league with a hostile foreign power to bolster its own chance to win the presidency,” he said.

The case asserts that the Russian hacking campaign — combined with Trump associates’ contacts with Russia and the campaign’s public cheerleading of the hacks — amounted to an illegal conspiracy to interfere in the election that caused serious damage to the Democratic Party.
Props to keeping the Congressional Democrats in the dark about this until the last minute.

Instead of hunting Russian spies, which I have been told is a difficult thing, how about searching for incompetents in the organization, and looters among your consultants and contractors.

It's an easier job, with a much larger payoff.

Yea, This Russiapohobia Sh%$ Is Getting out of Hand………

It appears that the latest Russian spies prevented from entering the United States include a prima ballerina with the Bolshoi Ballet:
Amid roiling relations between the US and Russia, two members of Moscow’s Bolshoi Ballet — including one of its prima ballerinas — have been refused visas to perform in New York City, Page Six has exclusively learned.

Organizers of a Lincoln Center gala where Olga Smirnova and Jacopo Tissi were due to dance on Monday believe the Department of Homeland Security’s decision may be motivated by the myriad tensions between the superpowers — and say that Smirnova is so revered in Moscow that her treatment could create a Russian backlash.

On Wednesday the department’s site read, “On April 10, 2018, we denied your… petition for a nonimmigrant worker.”

“I don’t understand it,” Linda K. Morse, chair of Youth America Grand Prix — which is hosting the gala — told Page Six. “One interpretation is that it’s political. That’s my knee-jerk reaction, but I can’t figure out why — other than that they’re Russian. But it doesn’t make any sense.”

The immigration service’s objection appears to be that the organizers applied for a visa usually granted to groups of entertainers, but since Smirnova and Tissi were planning to perform at the “Stars of Today Meets the Stars of Tomorrow” gala as individuals, rather than alongside the rest of the Bolshoi company, they’re not eligible for it.

But we’re told that YAGP has got the same visa for dancers — including Smirnova — in the past. Morse told us she “definitely” thinks the move could create political resentment in Russia. “Olga is considered the number one ballerina in the world right now,” said Morse, “and to refuse her visa is striking. It’s alarming.”
It's also very, very, very stupid.

Happy April 20

Yes, it is 4/20, and ……… Are you going to finish those fig newtons?

How about getting the never ending pasta bowl at Olive Garden, and then watching the Talking Heads concert film Stop Making Sense ……… That would be so epic —

……… What were we talking about again? 

Appeals Court: 1 — Mike Pence: 0

In what is a remarkably uncontroversial upholding of legal precedent, the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago just ruled that Mike Pence's Indiana anti-abortion law is unconstitutional:
Indiana's ban on "selective abortions," which was signed into law in 2016 by then-Gov. Mike Pence (R), is unconstitutional, a federal appeals court ruled on Thursday.

The law banned women from having abortions based on the gender, race or disability of the fetus.

The law imposes an "undue burden" on a woman's right to get an abortion, said the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago.

“The Supreme Court has been clear: the State may inform a woman’s decision before viability, but it cannot prohibit it,” Judge William Bauer wrote.

Similar bills passed or proposed in other states have specifically tried to ban abortions based on a Down syndrome diagnosis.
Good.  Let's hope that there will be more defeats of the Talibaptists nationwide.