Tuesday, November 01, 2016

Cruising the Web

The October Surprises keep rolling along.
The FBI has been conducting a preliminary inquiry into Donald Trump's former campaign manager Paul Manafort's foreign business connections, law enforcement and intelligence sources told NBC News Monday.

Word of the inquiry, which has not blossomed into a full-blown criminal investigation, comes just days after FBI Director James Comey's disclosure that his agency is examining a new batch of emails connected to an aide to Hillary Clinton.

And it comes a day after Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid criticized Comey's revelation and asserted that Comey possesses "explosive information about close ties and coordination between Donald Trump, his top advisors, and the Russian government."

....NBC News reported in August that Manafort was a key player in multi-million-dollar business propositions with Russian and Ukrainian oligarchs — one of them a close Putin ally with alleged ties to organized crime — which foreign policy experts said raised questions about the pro-Russian bent of the Trump candidacy....

Trump has taken a series of pro-Russian positions that experts from both parties say are far outside the mainstream, and inexplicable from a political viewpoint. He continues to cast doubt on Russian involvement in election hacking, for example, despite the intelligence community's public assessment.

"The relationships that Trump's advisors have had with pro-Russian forces are deeply disturbing," David Kramer, a former senior State Department official in the George W. Bush administration and a former adviser to Marco Rubio's presidential campaign, told NBC News in August. "Trump's attitude on Russia is not in line with most Republican foreign-policy thinking. Trump has staked out views that are really on the fringe."
Does this surprise anyone? The guy was clearly a sleaze, but Trump didn't seem to care. And does anyone think that Trump would have had a different attitude towards Putin if he hadn't had Manafort as an adviser. Apparently, all that is needed to get Trump's approbation is for someone to say something nice about Trump and he's willing to throw out a traditional Republican policy position and to return Putin's nice remarks tenfold.

To multiply the yuckiness of this year's campaign, Hillary's campaign chairman, John Podesta, the guy whose emails were hacked, has his own suspicious connections to Russia.
The story begins in 2011 when the solar energy startup Joule Unlimited announced that Mr. Podesta had been elected to its board of directors. In a company press release, Joule’s CEO at the time lauded Mr. Podesta’s “extensive experience within the US government and internationally as well.” No one claimed Mr. Podesta was a scientific expert, but the company’s founder expressed the hope that their new associate “can help Joule build the lasting relationships needed for long-term success.”

A former White House chief of staff for President Bill Clinton, Mr. Podesta at the time was running the Center for American Progress, which supported the Obama administration’s “Russian reset.” Mr. Podesta personally lauded the effort to “build a more constructive relationship” with Russia at a 2009 event hosted by his think tank.

Mr. Podesta certainly seems to have made the effort to build a business relationship. About eight months after Mr. Podesta joined Joule in 2011, an investment fund backed by the Russian government, Rusnano, announced plans to invest about $35 million in the company. Several months later, Joule announced that Rusnano Chairman Anatoly Chubais was joining its board of directors. Around the same time, Mr. Podesta joined Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s Foreign Affairs Policy Board.
Podesta then decided to divest himself of his holdings. Or did he?
This is where the story gets a little more complicated. The emails published on WikiLeaks show that around the time he was returning to the White House, Mr. Podesta wrote to Joule requesting the transfer of his shares to an entity called Leonidio Holdings, LLC, which had been created just weeks earlier.

Leonidio shares an address with Mr. Podesta’s daughter Megan Rouse, a financial planner who lives in California. When reached by telephone on Tuesday, Ms. Rouse told us that she did not have time to discuss the issue, thanked us for the call, and then hung up.

On Wednesday a Clinton campaign spokesman told us that Mr. Podesta cut his ties with Joule when he returned to the White House in 2014, “transferred the entirety of his holdings to his adult children” and “recused himself from all matters pertaining to Joule for the duration of his time at the White House.”

But WikiLeaks also shows Mr. Podesta receiving a bill for legal expenses related to Leonidio’s incorporation in Delaware. We wonder how often people pay the bills to create corporations in which they have no interest.
So is his story that he had no interest in a company because all the benefits would go to his children? Doesn't he care about his children?

Can't we just have a do-over for the primaries and redo this whole election? I bet that, if such a proposition could be put to the American people, it would get over 90% support.

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Well, this is one way to cut the size of the federal government. Jazz Shaw links to a survey of federal government workers that up to 35% federal workers may consider leave their jobs if Donald Trump were elected.
A Government Business Council/ GovExec.com survey found that 14 percent of federal workers say they would definitely consider leaving their jobs if Donald Trump wins the Nov. 8 presidential election. Another 13 percent said they might consider leaving, while 9 percent said they did not know. That leaves just 65 percent of federal workers who say they would stay for a Trump administration.
Well, I'll believe that when it happens. It's like those people who say they'll leave the country if candidate X is elected and then few, if any, people leave. I find it hard to believe that federal workers who have very nice jobs with job protections and lovely benefits would leave just because Trump was president. Most federal jobs wouldn't be at all changed if Trump were in the White House. They'd go on doing what they were doing before. That's why the Republicans are always so frustrated after they have controlled the White House to find out that they still couldn't cut the size and reach of government.

Obamacare's open enrollment continues to be a nightmare.
Obamacare’s fourth open enrollment period begins tomorrow — and what a fitting epilogue to Halloween. After all, when Americans log on to either their state or the federal health insurance exchanges, they’ll be in for a fright.

What they’ll discover is a witch’s brew of double-digit premium hikes, restrictive provider networks, and fewer coverage choices. Many exchange customers will have only a single insurance provider to pick from. And more than a million enrollees will find that their current plans have vanished from the exchanges.

Even the rosiest projections expect the online coverage markets to be veritable ghost towns. Given the “tricks and treats” on offer, it’s no wonder.

For starters, rate hikes have reached levels unimaginable before Obamacare. Nationwide, the lowest-cost bronze exchange plan will cost over 28 percent more, on average, in 2017. And according to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), premium hikes in the 38 states covered under HealthCare.gov will rise by 25 percent.

Many areas will have it a lot worse. In Phoenix, for instance, premiums for the cheapest bronze plan will surge more than 176 percent. In Oklahoma City, prices are up nearly 80 percent; in Chicago, almost 65 percent.

These are precisely the kinds of premium spikes Obamacare was supposed to prevent. Commenting on similar rate increases during a 2009 town hall, the president warned, “If we don’t act, these premium hikes will just be a preview of coming attractions.”

Hillary Clinton, apparently, wanted the Clinton Foundation to continue to accept foreign donations even if she's elected president.
Hillary indicated to staffers that her personal preference is for the foundation to continue accepting money from foreign governments, even if she gets elected president, according to a leaked memo.

Additionally, the Clintons were hesitant to put limits on the foundation’s financial operations, for fear of missing out on “unexpected opportunities,” the memo reveals.

The memo, dated April 7, 2015, lays out several proposed changes to the foundation. Regarding donations from foreign governments, the memo states that “There are multiple options for consideration.”

“Secretary Clinton’s preference is for the Foundation to continue to accept foreign government contributions, but to significantly increase disclosure,” the memo states. “She does not want to limit the Foundation’s ability to operate programs now or in the future.”

“We could go further and say the programs are already funded (listing out current funders) and we are not expecting additional funds, but we don’t want to close the door to unexpected opportunities.”

A “compromise” option, according to the memo, “would be to say that the Foundation will not accept contributions from foreign governments unless that funding is part of an ongoing program or a disbursement for a completed negotiation.”

It seems that Donna Brazile is the first person to lose a job due to the WikeLeaks hack. Despite her passionate denial that she had fed a debate question to Clinton, more emails have revealed that she did it more than once. And now CNN has finally had enough.
According to CNN’s statement on Monday, Brazile formally resigned as a contributor from CNN on Oct. 14, just two days after news broke of the leaked town hall question. But no one knew Brazile and CNN had severed ties until Monday, when a new email further provided damming evidence — and new inquiries for the television network — that Brazile was tipping the Clinton campaign off during the primaries.

In the newest email, sent one day before the March 6 Democratic primary debate in Flint, Michigan, Brazile tells senior campaign staff that “One of the questions directed to HRC tomorrow is from a woman with a rash. Her family has lead poison and she will ask what, if anything, will Hillary do as president to help the ppl of Flint.”
I don't know if it takes a leak to predict that, at a Democratic debate held in Flint, that the candidates would get a question about what they could do to help the people of Flint. What is funny is to realize that CNN had severed ties with her on October 14 and then she went on Megyn Kelly's show and vociferously denounced any questions about her leaking emails.

CNN might claim that finding this out makes them very uncomfortable, but what do they expect when they hire political operatives? And isn't it ironic that this happened with the Democrats at CNN and not Republicans at Fox?

Gerald Seib points out how the Comey letter will make politics even uglier after the election than they were set out to be.
Let’s assume the Comey bombshell produces some dramatic change in the race and opens the way to a Trump victory. Democrats, not Mr. Trump, will be the ones charging the system was rigged and the election stolen, in this case by Mr. Comey, a longtime Republican who was the No. 2 official at the Justice Department under President George W. Bush.
In that case, the corrosive idea that American elections aren’t conducted on the up and up may be advanced from the Democratic side, and some will say that undermines the legitimacy of a Trump presidency.

On the other hand, if the development is insufficient to derail what appeared to be a Clinton march toward victory, Republicans, who figure to retain their power base in the House, already have served notice that they will launch from there a series of investigations into the newly disclosed trove of Clinton emails and why they weren’t discovered previously.

In that case, the acrimony of an angry campaign will carry into a new administration and a new Congress. That isn’t an inspiring picture either.

Perhaps the real bottom line is this: An already ugly election may have become even less likely to produce an uplifting outcome.
Uplift? I'd settle for a government that doesn't make my skin crawl.

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Ilya Somin has a detailed look at the case that the Supreme Court just took on sex discrimination and a transgender student. It gets rather convoluted trying to figure out what Title IX says about sex discrimination and whether this should apply to transgender students. He concludes,
I am skeptical that GG’s sex discrimination argument can succeed unless we interpret Title IX to ban sex-segregated bathrooms generally. And I highly doubt that the Supreme Court is prepared to go that far.

Andrew Ferguson is so right. Politics in California is just bizarre. He reports on one of the propositions Californians are voting on this year.
We've heard some weird political arguments this year. The strangest of them is raging in California, where else? There the hotly contested question revolves around an electoral initiative known as Proposition 60.

Prop 60 is a ballot baby that only Californians could conceive. The state's system of citizen-sponsored ballot initiatives, dating back to 1911, was one of those progressive schemes that managed to produce the opposite outcome from the one intended: In hopes of returning power to the people and making state government more responsive and efficient, the initiative system has managed to empower wealthy special interests, baffle the average citizen, and render the state government a sclerotic, half-paralyzed Leviathan, at once despotic and feckless. So of course Prop 60 seeks to make the government more powerful.

The oddest question it raises, however, is this: Should a guy watching a porn movie be allowed to sue the producers if the people in the movie aren't wearing condoms? As Yul Brynner said in The King and I: "Is a puzzlement."

There's more to Prop 60, all with the ostensible goal of "worker safety"—that is, stopping the spread of HIV. If it passes, it will require all makers of pornographic movies to register with the state health department and post a health license wherever they ply their trade. They must pay for regular health screening of their employees for sexually transmitted diseases and require them to wear condoms whenever they are engaged in intercourse. (Which, during working hours, is pretty much all the time—once they're done with that, it's yabba-dabba-doo.) State regulators will be able to pop onto a photo shoot whenever they want to make sure that everybody's adequately regulated and in compliance.

The backers of Prop 60 worry that state regulators will lie down on the job. They have reason to worry. California law already makes it illegal for employers to expose their employees to pathogens borne by one bodily fluid or another. In 2012, voters in Los Angeles passed an ordinance, Measure B, requiring everybody appearing in a porn movie to use a condom or some similarly protective device. Yet nobody, pro or con, claims that either rule has been enforced.

This is why Prop 60 allows private citizens to end-run the regulators and take matters into their own hands. Any viewer of a porn movie who gets offended by a lack of prophylaxis will be able to file a claim with the state. If the state agencies fail to take action, the blushing customer can sue the movie's producers, or indeed anyone with a financial stake in the movie, and force a cash penalty that will be split 75-25 between the state and the plaintiff.
It' nice that Californians have taken care of all their other problems and are now able to turn their minds to the weighty issue of condom usage in porn movies.
This is the nub of the argument over Prop 60. Its detractors worry about economics, jobs, regulation, consumer preference. Its supporters meanwhile believe that only when the industry is festooned in condoms will pornography, at long last, achieve its enormous potential as a force for social betterment.

Is California the only place in the country where such an argument could be made with a straight face? Probably. For now.

One of the highlights of the season is checking out the new HEB ads featuring the Spurs. Year after year, these are the best ads featuring athletes. Forget all the fancy sneakers ads and check out the humor displayed in these ads advertising the local grocery chain. This is the best from this year.

And check out some of these classics.
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