December 14, 2017

Florida could be Puerto Rico's revenge against Trump

National Institute on Latino Policy - CBS Correspondent David Bergnaud (@DavidBegnaud) generated a Twitterstorm yesterday when he picked up on a small item from Florida Division of Emergency Management that tweeted on December 11th:
Since Oct. 3rd, more than 239,000 individuals have arrived in Florida from Puerto Rico
Some immediately pointed out that Trump's margin of victory over Hillary Clinton in 2016 was 110,000 votes and speculated that, with his approval rating being so low (in the 30s), this margin should be even tighter in 2020. This influx of Puerto Ricans, expected to be mostly Democrat voters, could be a significant factor in the next Presidential election in this battleground state. As one tweeter put it, "2020 could be Puerto Rico's revenge" against Trump.
This 230,000 number of Puerto Rican migrants to Florida is much higher than previous estimates and points to the potential political impact of this significant population shift from the hurricane-ravaged Island. Of course, this is dependent on some yet to be played out factors. First, it is not known how many are only in Florida temporarily, depending on how conditions develop in Puerto Rico, and whether this influx will continue to grow. Second, how many will actually register to vote. And third, how will Trump policies continue to impact on Puerto Rico's recovery and the US response to this outmigration.

Not sure about net neutrality?

ACLU - Not sure why #NetNeutrality matters? Imagine if your service provider could stop you from ordering Domino’s online — by slowing down your connection or crashing your browser — because Pizza Hut is paying them. 

Tillerson acknowledges Russian interference in election

Daily Beast - Beleaguered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged in a closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats on Tuesday that Russia “interfered in democratic processes here,” something President Trump still describes as “fake news” intended to delegitimize his presidency.

It’s a precarious position for Tillerson to take, even privately. Tillerson’s job is on thin ice, as rumors swirl that he will be swapped out for CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Within the department, Tillerson’s support is wafer-thin, as diplomats have come to see his purpose as hollowing out U.S. diplomacy.

Publicly, Tillerson has been a bit more circumspect about the Kremlin question. In April, Tillerson called the “question of Russian interference” in the election something that was “fairly well-established.” In August, Tillerson told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that the election meddling engendered “serious mistrust between our two countries.”

Presidential misogyny: From Jefferson to Trump

DeVos ends debt relief for defrauded students

Salon - The U.S. Department of Education put a halt on student loan debt cancellations for student who were victims of fraud by for-profit colleges — leaving many students in the dark about their loan status, without an official announcement, according to a new Reuters report.

According to the report, Betsy DeVos has also officially halted existing cancellations after months of speculation and concern. Senator Patty Murray, D-Wash., spoke out about the matter, attacking DeVos and her decision.

“Hundreds of thousands of students were defrauded and cheated by predatory colleges that broke the law, but today’s report confirms Secretary DeVos tried to shirk her responsibility to these students and shut down the borrower-defense program, leaving them with nowhere to turn,” Murray, the senior Democrat on the Education Committee, told Reuters.

$40 highway tolls in Virginia

NPR -How much would you pay to avoid traffic jams on your daily commute? $10? $20? How about $40?

That's how much a tollway in the Virginia suburbs of Washington, D.C., charged for a short time last week. Outraged commuters call it highway robbery.

But transportation officials say the high-priced toll is less about money and more about changing commuter behavior and reducing congestion, and commuters all across the country might soon see more tolls in the future.

The 10-mile stretch of Interstate 66 from the Northern Virginia suburbs into the District of Columbia is like no other road in the country. It was built in the early 1980s for carpools and buses to use during rush hour. Over the years, officials have opened it up to hybrids and a few other exemptions, and in recent years, scofflaw single drivers violating the high-occupancy-vehicle-only law helped choke the road with gridlock.

So Virginia's Department of Transportation is trying something controversial: ending free rides for hybrids, expanding the restricted hours and allowing solo drivers on for a price. And oh, what a high price it is.

Poll finds 62% oppose tax bill

A strong majority of polled voters oppose the Republican tax bill passed by the Senate earlier this month, a new poll finds.  The latest Harvard CAPS-Harris survey found that 64 percent of respondents oppose the bill. While 72 percent of Republicans support the GOP’s tax reform efforts, 89 percent of Democrats and 70 percent of independents oppose it.

NY Attorney general reports nearly two million fake comments to FCC on net neutrality

CNET - New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman's staffers have likely been burning the midnight oil. Just a day before the FCC's scheduled vote to reverse net neutrality rules, Schneiderman reported that as many as 2 million comments submitted to the agency on the topic misused identities of real Americans. He says he found more than 100,000 "fake comments" per state from New York, Florida, Texas and California.

Schneiderman opened his investigation last month on behalf of New Yorkers after learning that fake public comments came in posing as "hundreds and thousands" of Americans.

The FCC rejected requests from Schneiderman and 28 senators to delay the vote until after the fake comments could be investigated. On Wednesday, he reiterated concern in light of his office's new findings.

Common Dreams - Despite new polling that shows more than 80 percent of Americans oppose Federal Communications Commission Chairman Ajit Pai's plan to repeal net neutrality protections for the internet—which has provoked months of national protests—the FCC is disregarding that concern and will carry out its scheduled vote on the proposal Thursday.

December 13, 2017

Record number of journalists imprisoned around the world

Washington Examiner - A record-high 262 journalists were imprisoned while reporting from various locations around the world this year, according to a study released Wednesday.

The Committee to Protect Journalists' annual report states the uptick in arrests indicates the international community has failed "to address a global crisis in freedom of the press."

Some other lyng Republicans

Alternet - en. Chuck Grassle recently justified reducing the number of wealthy families exposed to the estate tax as a way to recognize “the people that are investing, as opposed to those that are just spending every darn penny they have, whether it’s on booze or women or movies.”

Sen. Orrin Hatch raised concerns about funding certain entitlement programs. “I have a rough time wanting to spend billions and billions and trillions of dollars to help people who won’t help themselves, won’t lift a finger and expect the federal government to do everything,” he said.

Voters against GOP tax scam

Political Wire - A new Quinnipiac poll finds American voters disapprove of the pending Republican tax plan by a wide margin, 55% to 26%, and 43% say they are less likely to vote for a U.S. Senator or Congressperson who supports the plan. Key finding: “Only 16% of American voters say the tax plan will reduce their taxes, while 44% say it will increase their taxes and 30% say the tax plan will have little impact.”

America's retirement crisis

Scientology head linked to Russians

Radar - Scientology revered founder has been unmasked as an FBI informant — and a double agent for the Russians. That’s the bombshell revelation contained in FBI documents obtained exclusively by that expose the cult’s leader, L. Ron Hubbard, as an underhanded KGB spy.

One document reports Hubbard allegedly adopted the dreaded Soviet terror tactics of brainwashing, drugging and hypnotism to control his followers.

...In a letter dated Feb. 26, 1968, agents from the Naval Investigative Service in Dallas, Texas, reported Scientologists were studying “Russian brainwashing” techniques, and employing other chilling procedures.

English as a disposable college major

Chronicle of High Education -  I am a college English instructor. This is a bad time for my species — and a bad time for the study of English. In academe, we are witnessing an extinction of fields of study once thought essential. I teach at a private university that has just canceled majors in English, religious studies, philosophy, and music. The English major is becoming the useless gentleman, the Charles Smithson, of the modern university.


Arctic melting at fastest pace in past 1500 years

The Guardian - Permafrost in the Arctic is thawing faster than ever, according to a new US government report that also found Arctic seawater is warming and sea ice is melting at the fastest pace in 1,500 years. The annual report released on Tuesday by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration showed slightly less warming in many measurements than a record hot 2016. But scientists remain concerned because the far northern region is warming twice as fast as the rest of the globe and has reached a level of warming that’s unprecedented in modern times.

December 12, 2017

Alabama Surpeme Court allows election to be rigged

The Hill - The Alabama Supreme Court has reportedly stayed a lower court’s order to election officials that would have required the preservation of voting records in Tuesday’s Senate special election.

A circuit judge on Monday ordered election officials to set voting machines to save all digital ballot images, which would preserve voting records in the event of a recount.

Alabama's said Tuesday morning that the state's Supreme Court had blocked the order.

The effect of the GOP tax scam on real estate

Business Insider

  • The last time the U.S. attempted major changes in the tax code in 1986, it set the stage for a major asset and banking crisis. 
  • With the new tax plan, as income available to service debt falls and the after-tax costs of owning a home rise, property values will fall.
  • Since real estate asset value underpins the largest component of debt owed to financial institutions and capital markets participants, such disruption – as we saw in the late 80s and again during the global financial crisis beginning in 2008 – can become systemic.

Never ending war

Harpers = Estimated percentage of Americans for whose entire lives the United States has been at war : 21 .... For the majority of whose lives the United States has been at war : 46

GOP tax scam most unpopular bill in three decades

USA Today - A new USA TODAY/Suffolk University Poll finds just 32% support the GOP tax plan; 48% oppose it. That's the lowest level of public support for any major piece of legislation enacted in the past three decades, including the Affordable Care Act in 2009.

Americans are skeptical of the fundamental arguments Republicans have made in selling the bill: A 53% majority of those surveyed predict their own families won't pay lower taxes as a result of the measure, and an equal 53% say it won't help the economy in a major way.

Word: Russian collusion

If there really was no collusion with Russia to tilt the election in Trump’s favor, I wonder why one of the president’s lawyers, Jay Sekulow, is arguing that such collusion would not constitute a crime. And if there really was no obstruction of justice, I wonder why another of Trump’s lawyers, John Dowd, is arguing that the president by virtue of his office is incapable of obstructing justice. —Eugene Robinson, Washington Post

Food stanp myths

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45 senators and 237representatives want to break key law for Israel

indpeendent, UK - A bill that would criminalise boycotts against Israel has been signed by 45 US senators and 237 congressman.

The so-called “Israel Anti-Boycott Act” would impose fines of up to $250,000  on any US citizen “engaged in interstate or foreign commerce” who supports a boycott of Israeli goods and services.

The US has long defended Israel in territorial disputes in the Middle East, even as the Israeli military has expanded into areas assigned to the Palestinians by international law.

This position runs counter to that of the United Nations, which claims Israel’s settlements in occupied Palestinian territory have “no legal validity”, and “constitute flagrant violation of international law”.

Tge American Civil Liberties Unionhas argued that the bill would “impose civil and criminal punishment on individuals solely because of their political beliefs about Israel and its policies”, in a letter sent to members of the Senate.

“In short, the bill would punish businesses and individuals solely based on their point of view,” it wrote. “Such a penalty is in direct violation of the First Amendment.”

Trump moves to wreck the court system

Paul Butler, Guardian - Donald Trump has nominated an unprecedented number of judges to federal courts since his appointment. These are making steady progress through the Senate confirmation process and yet they have escaped the sort of scrutiny that Trump normally attracts. This is unfortunate, because the impact of Trump’s court picks will be profound, and will help reshape American society for years to come.

Of the nearly 60 judges he has nominated, only one is black, one is Hispanic and three are women. The rest are white men. All of these people are conservatives who will be interpreting and helping (re)write the law for decades.

His court picks amount to a right-wing takeover of the court system. This has been the objective of every Republican president since Ronald Reagan. Trump is distinguished only by his success at transforming the federal bench so early in his term.

40% of Americans have only one Internet choice. . . and it often isn't a good one

Slashdot -Based on the Federal Communications Commission's own data, the Institute for Local Self Reliance found that 129 million Americans only have one option for broadband internet service in their area, which equals about 40 percent of the country. Of those who only have one option, roughly 50 million are limited to a company that has violated net neutrality in some way. Of Americans who do have more than one option, 50 million of them are left choosing between two companies that have both got shady behavior on their records, from blocking certain access to actively campaigning against net neutrality.

Malls closing across the country

CNN - Experts predict that a quarter of American malls will close in five years -- around 300 out of 1,100 that currently exist.

"When anchor stores close, it causes big problems for mall owners and other retailers in the mall," says Howard Davidowitz, chairman of New York-based retail consulting and investment banking firm Davidowitz & Associates. "And I'd say this problem is only in its second inning."Brown said he expects the weakest malls to enter "death spirals."

Sears, which had operated nearly 3,800 stores as recently as a decade ago is now down to 1,104 stores. Macy's  closed 68 stores this year, and JCPenney  was set to shutter 128.

It's not just department stores that have mall owners worried.

When Starbucks  announced that it was closing its Teavana tea line and wanted to shutter all of its stores, mall operator Simon Property Group countered with a lawsuit. Simon cited in part the effect the store closures might have on other mall tenants.

Earlier this month, a judge upheld Simons' suit, ordering Teavana to keep 77 of its stores open.

Homelessness grew slightly in 2017

Center on Budget & Policy Priorities - The sobering findings of the Department of Housing and Urban Development’s latest annual count of homeless people — that homelessness remains a persistent problem and some communities are losing ground — show that federal policymakers have much to do to help address this serious problem.

The headline finding is that roughly 550,000 people were homeless on a single night in January 2017, several thousand more than in the January 2016 count. One must be cautious in interpreting year-over-year changes in this single-night census, since weather and other factors can distort results. More interesting are what the data show about longer-term trends, as well as demographic and geographic changes. Two main points jump out:

Homelessness remains stubbornly persistent. The homeless count has fallen by 13 percent from its 2010 peak, despite the uptick in 2017. But the 2010 peak followed one of the deepest recessions in U.S. history, and the 2017 count took place after eight straight years of economic growth and at a time of low unemployment. The most striking long-term trend is homelessness’ stubborn persistence amid a growing economy.

Some communities are losing ground, despite the extended economic recovery. While the number of homeless people has fallen since the recession, metropolitan areas with tight housing markets and rising rents — particularly in California and other coastal states — have recently seen significant increases in street homelessness.