Friday, August 10, 2018

Cruising the Web

Any policy that puts government in charge of picking winners and losers in the economy is going to be subject to favoritism by politicians. Trump's tariffs and the Commerce Department's authority to pick which businesses are eligible for exemptions are ripe for such politically-motivated favoritism. This is what the swamp looks like.
Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., demanded on Thursday that the Trump administration better explain its process for how some companies are granted exemptions to steel tariffs, claiming that businesses in his Midwest state find decisions to be “arbitrary.”

Johnson, whose state hosts the second most manufacturing-heavy job market in the U.S., wrote to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross that the administration’s denial of an exemption request for one Wisconsin business cost it $2.6 million.

"The Department's denial of the exclusion request has resulted in [one] Wisconsin business incurring an additional $2.6 million tariff cost that can not be used to expand production or to pay salaries of new employees," wrote Johnson, the chairman of the Homeland Security Committee. "Across the country, many businesses share the same frustration about the difficult and time-consuming process."

Many industries, including the oil and gas sector, have complained about the Commerce Department’s process for considering exemptions to President Trump's 25 percent tariff on steel.

After the Supreme Court ruled that businesses weren't exempt from state taxes on internet business even when those businesses weren't based in the state in South Dakota v. Wayfair, small businesses are starting to feel the burden. One owner of such a business explains how his business is suffering.
As a business owner, my main problem isn’t the money my company pays in state taxes. Rather, it’s the compliance and paperwork we’re forced to undertake to make sure we don’t violate the law unintentionally. My employees and I must figure out what is taxable and what isn’t in all 50 states and countless localities. Is a bolt taxable? In some states that depends on whether the bolt is used to repair office equipment, which is taxable, or to fix manufacturing equipment, which isn’t.

Taxes on services can be equally challenging. Texas taxes different kinds of services at different rates and requires vendors to fill out their own payment permits. For my supply-chain-management company, that means deciding which of three information-technology categories describes our services. To ensure accuracy, my employees and I have to determine whether each customer will use our products for wholesale purposes or whether they are the final user. Texas also allows its 254 counties and more than 1,000 municipalities to impose their own sales levies, which must be calculated individually.

Then come the audits. Our company has been audited as many as five times in a year each year. One audit from Illinois demanded rental-car and hotel receipts in an attempt to apply the nexus standard to services we delivered to a customer. So each time we do a custom installation or on-site maintenance, we need to check with our accountant to determine if we’re establishing nexus.
This is a problem that only Congress can address. We need some sort of clear standards for the entire country that businesses can follow without losing a fortune in paperwork. This should be an issue that would not trigger partisan battles. Every politician should be concerned with keeping small businesses from going under. Sadly, I have no faith in either party passing such a common-sense bill.

This is so very scary. And, again, I don't have any faith in what the government is doing to protect us.
Kremlin-connected cyber-criminals are capable of turning off our electric power from afar while power-plant employees watch helplessly.

In the last two weeks, the Department of Homeland Security held four briefings, including one in New York City on July 31, warning that Russian hackers are already practicing how to throw the switch and cause a blackout in the United States. We’d have no lights, no gas at the pump, no life support in hospitals, no mass transit, no food supply.

Yet nearly all Washington pols are ignoring the danger. To the public, “power” means electricity. To self-absorbed politicians, “power” means elections, votes and protecting their seats.

That disconnect explains why they’re in a frenzy over Russians hacking into campaign email accounts instead of dealing with the far larger peril of Russians hacking into the electric grid.

Russians have invaded more than 100 American electric-power companies in the past four years. DHS reports these Russians “got to the point where they could have thrown switches” and shut off power, but didn’t.

In Ukraine, they did. They flipped the switches on three Ukrainian utilities on Dec. 23, 2015. Local engineers in control rooms sat stunned as cyber-criminals operated controls remotely, plunging hundreds of thousands of people into frigid darkness. That was the first long-distance cyber-attack to take down a power grid.

Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen says the threat against American power grids is equivalent to a “Cat 5 hurricane.”
Isn't this an issue that our elected representatives can come together to work on?

I thought this was one of the funniest stories this past week.
Multiple sources with direct knowledge of the situation tell The Daily Beast that Omarosa Manigault-Newman, the infamous former Apprentice star who followed Trump to the White House, secretly recorded conversations with the president—conversations she has since leveraged while shopping her forthcoming “tell-all” book, bluntly titled UNHINGED.

For months, it has been rumored that Manigault had clandestinely recorded on her smartphone “tapes” of unspecified private discussions she had in the West Wing. Audio actually does exist, and even stars Manigault’s former boss.

One person confirmed to The Daily Beast they had heard at least one of her recordings featuring President Trump. Multiple sources familiar with the “Omarosa tapes” described the recorded conversations between Trump and Manigault as anodyne, everyday chatter, but said they did appear to feature Trump’s voice, either over the phone or in-person.

The mere existence of such recordings represents a dramatic betrayal of trust by a onetime confidante who has since abandoned years of professed loyalty to the president and has apparently decided to profit off her years of closeness to Trump.
Just a few weeks ago we learned that Trump's personal lawyer, Michael Cohen, had been secretly taping Trump. So it turns out that the only people known to have been secretly taping Trump was, not the Obama administration as Trump had alleged, but his personal lawyer and the woman he brought in from "The Apprentice" to serve in some undefined capacity in his White House. Yup, he picks the very best people. That might be the most clearly disproven campaign promise from Trump.

Why wasn't this a bigger story with 24-hour cable news coverage? It has everything the media usually laps up - the potential of school violence and horrible abuse of children.

Ah, could this be the reason?
Eleven children were recently rescued from the “filthy” compound, which police say appears to be run by Siraj Wahhaj and Lucas Morten. Wahhaj, the son of a prominent imam, was accused in court documents released Wednesday of training the children on the compound to commit school shootings.

Taos County Sheriff Jerry Hogrefe said Tuesday that he believes Wahhaj and Morten are “extremist[s] of the Muslim belief.” Wahhaj’s father is a controversial cleric with ties to Muslim rights groups and was an un-indicted co-conspirator in the 1993 World Trade Center bombing case.
Apparently, only Fox News talked about the religious extremism of the leaders in the compound and the connection to a cleric connected to the first WTC bombing.

Just imagine if this were a rightist group with connections to some Christian denomination or the KKK or the NRA. We all know how the establishment media would have treated that news. But just as with Major Hasan, the killer at Fort Hood, the connections between Hasan and a radical Muslim cleric connected to the 9/11 terrorists are being downplayed. In that case, it was the FBI who wanted to downplay those connections.

By strange coincidence, guess who was the head of the FBI who was responsible for the Bureau's closing its eyes both before and after the murders in investigating Hasan? Robert Mueller.
Last Thursday, as the jury in the trial of Nidal Hasan was deliberating, outgoing FBI Director Robert Mueller appeared on CBS News and discussed a string of emails between the Fort Hood shooter and Anwar al-Awlaki, a radical Islamic cleric with ties to the 9/11 hijackers. The FBI had intercepted the messages starting almost a year before Hasan’s 2009 shooting rampage, and Mueller was asked whether “the bureau dropped the ball” by failing to act on this information. He didn’t blink: “No, I think, given the context of the discussions and the situation that the agents and the analysts were looking at, they took appropriate steps.”

In the wake of the Fort Hood attacks, the exchanges between Awlaki and Hasan—who was convicted of murder on Friday—were the subject of intense speculation. But the public was given little information about these messages. While officials claimed that they were “fairly benign,” the FBI blocked then-Sen. Joseph Lieberman’s efforts to make them public as part of a two-year congressional investigation into Fort Hood. The military judge in the Hasan case also barred the prosecutor from presenting them, saying they would cause “unfair prejudice” and “undue delay.”

As it turns out, the FBI quietly released the emails in an unclassified report on the shooting, which was produced by an investigative commission headed by former FBI director William H. Webster last year. And, far from being “benign,” they offer a chilling glimpse into the psyche of an Islamic radical. The report also shows how badly the FBI bungled its Hasan investigation and suggests that the Army psychiatrist’s deadly rampage could have been prevented.

Hasan first appeared on the bureau’s radar in December of 2008—nearly a year before the Fort Hood massacre—when he emailed Awlaki to ask him whether serving in the US military was compatible with the Muslim faith. He also asked whether Awlaki considered those who died attacking their fellow soldiers “shaheeds,” or martyrs.

At the time, Awlaki, who was killed by a US drone strike in 2011, was emerging as Al Qaeda’s chief English-speaking propagandist. He was also known to have ties to several of the 9/11 hijackers, two of whom attended his mosque in San Diego.

Any time there is the need for a recount or for intensive coverage of a close election, we see the sorts of mistakes and problems that seem to be distressingly common in elections. For example, the Kansas GOP gubernatorial primary this week.
The Republican primary for governor in Kansas was already much too close to call, with just 191 votes separating Gov. Jeff Colyer from the first-place candidate, Kris W. Kobach, after the state reported its initial count on Wednesday.

But a discrepancy emerged Thursday that reduced Mr. Kobach’s lead by 100 votes, demonstrating how in flux the race remains as mail-in ballots continue to arrive and as the state’s 105 counties prepare to review thousands of provisional ballots.

The halving of Mr. Kobach’s lead came after officials in rural Thomas County, in northwestern Kansas, noticed that the state had recorded 422 votes for Mr. Colyer when he had actually received 522. The change meant that Mr. Colyer in fact carried Thomas County and moved him within 91 votes of Mr. Kobach in the statewide tally. (Mr. Kobach received 466 votes in that county.)
We can all remember such stories from the Florida recount in 2000 or the Minnesota Senate campaign in 2008.
As the Wall Street Journal's John Fund reports, Minnesota Democrat Al Franken’s narrow, 312-vote victory in 2008 over incumbent Sen. Norm Coleman may have come as the result of people being allowed to vote who, under existing law, shouldn’t have been.
It's as if a veil is pulled back to show us how fallible our vote counting really is. I suppose this is to be expected when humans are involved, but it really is dismaying.