Loose Cannon Goes Off Again, Blows Up Part of White House

James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, during a Senate Intelligence Committee hearing this month. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times

Detroit  What’s that famous Hunter Thompson line? Something like, “when the going gets weird, the weird turn profession,” I think. But, there I was, like much of the rest of America, with a 3 AM wake-up for a 515 AM flight, but unable to not read one article on-line after another in the Times, Wash Post, and Journal about the latest meltdown of government, as we have come to know it in good times and even bad, as we watch with our mouths open, the devaluation of the United States to the level of a banana republic except with bombs and one of the largest armies in the world. OMG!

In one day, still reeling from the political obtuseness and self-delusion that Democrats and the country would applaud his firing of FBI Director James Comey in the middle of the FBI’s investigation of his own political campaign, which has been a story spinning around in one version or another so much we’re all dizzy, we find out that President Trump in his braggadocio has blurted out secret intelligence about ISIS. Boom, the loose cannon fires at the White House!

And, he doesn’t blurt this out to the White House custodial staff or in the White House kitchen where the chef is frying him up a big, fat burger to go. Oh, no, he does this foolish chest thumping to the Russian Foreign Secretary and the Russia’s US Ambassador in the Oval Office in an oval office meeting where he had even barred any photos from US-based media, but did allow the Russian foreign office to broadcast video and pictures far and wide. Why, was he meeting with them now, well, as he curiously explained, he was doing it at the bidding of Russian president Putin. Let’s hope Putin at least said “pretty please.” Of course this intel was given to us by a Mid-Eastern ally, that turned out to be Israel, and we hadn’t bothered to tell them we no longer could be trusted to keep secrets, and it involved ISIS, and it just goes down hill from there. Boom, another cannonball hits the West Wing!

And, of course President Trump also intimates that he may be taping conversations and phone calls, and it turns out, and according to Trump Organization sources, that has been his m.o. for years and standard operating procedure in his business. But, oh no, of course Comey had done a contemporaneous memorandum and shared it with other senior FBI staff after his early February meeting with Trump, on what he saw as an effort by Trump to try to persuade him to terminate the FBI investigation of former General and ex-NSA chief Mike Flynn and his extralegal contacts with the Russians before and after the election. Whoops, someone opened a big can of whip-ass there! The President must have confused Comey and the FBI with some small-time contractor desperate for work on one of his old Atlantic City casino dream machines. And, the bombs were bursting in air, but our flag is still standing…hopefully.

But, what else would we have expected? Bizarrely, I’m minding my own business and reading The Economist as a diversion flying between Houston and Detroit and there’s a small box on one page distilling some points from an audience they were given with the President. Trump is talking about the economy and his so-called plans. He mentions that he wants to “prime the pump,” and then goes off of a riff about how much he likes that expression, asks whether the reporters have heard it before, and then in his profound ignorance he takes credit for coining the expression, “priming the pump.” Why not, it’s only been in common use since 1932. Who’s to know? Who’s to care? Another bomb. Not even funny, just a huge dud.

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ACORN a Major Force in Voter Registration for Tenants in United Kingdom

New Orleans   Your mind just did a double take, right? ACORN and voter registration in the same sentence, that’s so 2008, right? Well, yes and no, but screw your head on tighter and focus, focus, focus, because now we’re talking about ACORN as a force for voter registration, and the setting is the United Kingdom. What’s up?

The snap election called by British Prime Minister Theresa May is coming soon, and voter registration has become more difficult in the UK. Until recently the head of a family with one swoop could register everyone in the household, now everyone must individually register. Other new rules that fit in with the global voter suppression efforts of conservatives impact potential young voters because universities, for example, are barred from registering students, largely to keep them from creating a voting block in the towns where they are located.

The other huge group that is being disenfranchised now in the UK is tenants, and ACORN’s base in England and Scotland is significantly composed of tenants, given the housing affordability and access crisis which has swept the UK. The Guardian quoting an ACORN report, noted that “ 93% of property owners are registered to vote but only 63% of renters.” Others say the number may be as low as 59%.

In a more recent article in The Guardian, the case was even clearer that ACORN is working to register and bring attention to millions of tenants being disenfranchised. The Guardian reported:

Campaigners have also warned that another high-risk group is the more than 3 million private renters in England. Generation Rent and ACORN, both pressure groups for renters’ rights, estimate that about 1.8m private renters have moved home since the 2016 referendum and must therefore register again.

Private renters are typically on tenancy agreements of no longer than 12 months and are six times more likely to move in a given year than homeowners, the groups said. A further 1.6 million private renters are estimated not to have been registered in the first place.

ACORN’s national organiser, Stuart Melvin, said renters’ rights were dependent on registering to vote. “Renters need a government that will reform the housing market to protect them from unfair evictions and rising rents, and we won’t get one unless we vote for it,” he said.

Before renters can do that, they need to make sure they’re registered, and when you are on the register it is too easy to fall off it when you move.”

Buzzfeed was even more specific on the importance of ACORN’s efforts noting that “research from Renters Vote, a campaign from renters rights groups ACORN and Generation Rent… say 1.8 million renters who are eligible to vote moved home since the EU referendum in June 2016 and will need to reregister in their new address, while a further 1.6 million renters were unregistered to start with…Renters move home six times more often than homeowners on average, due to the widespread use of 12-month assured short-hold tenancy agreements, meaning they have to register each time they move.”

This is a major issue given the upcoming election, and the clock is ticking. Despite the efforts of ACORN and our partners, a huge number of tenants will be left voiceless in this election, as ACORN’s national organizer, Stuart Melvin noted. There isn’t much doubt that that was the point of these voter suppression efforts.

One bright light for the future was included in the recommendations by a Guardian columnist of what needed to be done to fight this problem in the future, which we totally embrace:

6. Unionise

Official recognition for tenant unions, such as Acorn, Living Rent [ACORN’s affiliate] in Scotland, Tenant Voice and Generation Rent. Include them in discussions, invite them to select committees, listen to what they say.

Amen to that!

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Tech Monopolies are Getting Like Airlines in Disregard for Consumers

New Orleans   The current global ransomware hack impacting 74 countries could gross the bad guys up to $3 billion, experts say. A couple of intrepid computer guys, one in Britain and another in the US, thwarted the hacking temporarily in a couple of lucky moves, reportedly. Many believe its impact will continue to be felt as more computers fire up this week.

Digging deeper it turns out once the finger pointing starts that computers are susceptible when they are not updated. A kneejerk reaction is to say, whoops, someone got lazy here or there, but it’s more complicated. Much of it has to do with the business model of Microsoft and the rest of the tech monopolies. They discontinued “supporting,” which really means fixing, Microsoft XP, so if you were a huge outfit that had paid them millions for XP, like FedEx or the British National Health Service, if you didn’t move all of your thousands of computers over to whatever their latest product was, then you were a sitting duck.

Anyone who has a computer operating on Microsoft Windows has mixed feelings about the way they do these updates. On Windows 7, the number of times I might wake up and find that overnight my computer had been updated without so much as a nevermind, and I had lost whatever websites were on my browser for study or had to recover Word and Excel files endlessly, there was time lost and cursing involved. Then in an update recently my computer was caught in an endless update cycle until Windows 10 was installed, their latest shot at the world, forcing me to start all over on everything. Suddenly, 10 doesn’t recognize my camera, and it won’t let me send emails from a right-click from my Passport or tape recorder. They do kind of let you schedule updates, but it’s all brute force. Bottom line, it’s easy to imagine tech departments in a lot of big shops, deciding to pick and choose and turn off updates until they are good and ready, but the notion that Microsoft can sell a product and then stop supporting it is absurd. When my car breaks, GM and Ford will still have the parts and fix it, regardless of how old my vehicle or how many miles I have on it.

Apple is certainly no better, and possibly worse. I’m still trying to figure out how to recover all my iTunes that are supposedly on their cloud, but now they are claiming they don’t recognize any of my passwords, and don’t email me a the protocol for a new one. A friend lost all of what they had on their iPod when they got a different computer. I have the same old, beat-up computer, but I’m in a new world. Google…hmm… maybe better but trying to get on their Project Fi phone program for international calls, they didn’t ever say exactly that the version of the phone it accepted has an X on it, and won’t take any responsibility. Wonder why so many people buy stuff from Amazon, they actually refund on mistakes and have some customer service.

So, hey, we’re all on computers, and we’re all vulnerable, and a lot of us are techno-peasants, and I’ll admit it, so we’re going to mess up, but these huge tech monopolies are treating us like cattle, rather than customers, and that’s going to mean more worldwide computer meltdowns. Don’t blame the victims, and be careful even on the criminals, because the tech monopolies are creating and enabling these disasters.

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Citizen Wealth in Home Ownership is Becoming Citizen Inequity

New Orleans   A couple of years ago I wrote a book called, Citizen Wealth: Winning the Campaign to Save Working Families. It was commonly known that for low-and-moderate income families the largest index of any wealth they possessed was based on whether or not they had managed somehow to become a homeowner. At ACORN we had fought that battle for years in order to get banks to fairly offer mortgages to lower income families so that they could acquire single-family homes or coops, and in those fights had won billions allowing millions to own their own homes. It was certainly not enough to achieve any semblance of equity, but it was a good step forward, particularly increasing the home ownership percentages of African-American and Latino families to record levels, although almost all of those gains were wiped out by the 2008 Great Recession.

In doing the research for the book, I was shocked that the largest so-called social program in the nation’s budget, dwarfing direct welfare, food stamps, and all other housing benefits, both singly and collectively, was the mortgage interest deduction, which now totals more than $70 billion annually. As disturbing was the degree to which the mortgage interest deduction was largely not a social program which benefited the citizen wealth of lower income families but was disproportionately benefiting middle class and wealthy families. After all, at the threshold where such an income tax deduction had real financial weight and meaning, a family had to be in an income bracket high enough to justify itemizing their deductions.

As the Home Savers Campaign this year has visited with families in a number of cities in the Midwest and South, it has also struck all of us that as blatantly predatory as many of these contract for deed and rent-to-own scams have been to the families victimized by them, many of these families have accepted the risks even accepting the dangers and the deceit, simply because they were desperate for housing they could afford, no matter its condition. For the same reason, the reaction of many victims when they realize they have been swindled has often been as much anger as it has been resignation, and a feeling they should walk away, rather than fighting for justice for their investment, all of which speaks to the crisis in affordability.

Reading “House Rules” by Matthew Desmond in the New York Times there were more facts and figures that underlined the affordable housing crisis which is driving income and racial inequality throughout the country. Some facts:

  • The average homeowner boasts a net worth ($195,400) that is 36 times that of the average renter at $5400.
  • With rising housing costs the housing standard where 30% or less of a family’s income equals affordability, half of all poor renting families spend more than 50% of their income on housing costs and 25% spent more than 70%.
  • In 2011, the median white household had a net worth of $111,146, compared with $7113 for the median black household and $8348 for the media Hispanic household. If black and Hispanic families owned homes at the same rate as whites, the racial wealth gap would be reduced by almost a third.

There was much more, but you get the point. Worse, the consensus is that there is no political constituency for reform of the mortgage interest deduction, nor in the absence of reform an equivalent program or benefit that would help renters or bring balance to this wealth and racial inequality.

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Foreign Aid is Minor Money, and Privatizing and Subcontracting Relief Assistance is Big Business

New Orleans   Survey after survey indicates that Americans believe that a huge percentage of the US budget and their tax money is spent on foreign aid. The Kaiser Family Foundation in a survey found the average respondent thought that more than a quarter of the national budget – 26% – was spent on foreign aid and therefore more than half felt it should be cut back.

In truth, only about 1% of the annual budget is spent on foreign aid of all types and that number relative to US Gross Domestic Product and the level spent by other countries is relatively low. Furthermore, in a detailed analysis of the foreign aid budget done by the Washington Post in late 2016, foreign aid is absolutely not some kind of welfare handout to other governments. Of about $42.4 billion in total aid, in fact almost $17 billion, in the broad category of “security” include supporting the training and development of both Afghanistan and Iraq military forces, where the country is still actively at war. Other big piles are spent to support counter terrorism, drug control, international narcotics and law enforcement and the like. Hard to believe the same American tribes that back more military expenditures would begrudge these expenditures of aid.

The other $25.6 billion falls under Economic and Development with more than half spent on global health projects, where Americans received direct benefits, and economic support, where we receive indirect benefits. In these polarized times, many get their heads screwed on wrong thinking much of it is going to help the global poor who should be bootstrapping their way forward on their own or some such. It’s actually even less. A billion goes towards the Millennium fund where the UN and a number of countries are trying to end poverty. Less than $2 billion goes to Food for Peace. $3 billion is development assistance. And, where the rubber hits the road, $2 billion is for disaster relief and $2.8 billion is for international migrants and refugees. In a $4.15 trillion budget, relatively speaking, that’s chump change.

When you look closely at those kinds of expenditures handled by outfits like the US AID, Agency for International Development, it turns out a lot of the delivery of aid has been privatized and subcontracted as well. The Economist in a study found of a half-billion in aid contracts, 70% had been handled by private companies. Nearly a quarter of all USAID spending in 2016 went to for-profit firms, two-thirds more than was the case in 2008 when Obama was elected. Most of these firms are getting their jobs at auctions, rather through grants. Much of their work is through subcontracts rather than having boots on the ground. The Economist also found that of 4500 subcontractors, a third of them were for-profits and the rest were nonprofits and governments. At the bottom line even the “softer” part of our foreign aid is often supporting American companies and nonprofits and not foreign governments, and under any circumstances its pretty miserly compared to the riches of America and a long way from a handout or welfare.

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Trump Empowering Kris Kobach to Suppress More Votes and Cover His Tweets

New Orleans   President Trump named five people to a special election commission to supposedly review federal election procedures. Vice-President Pence is the titular chair. There will be more than a dozen members and the bipartisan claim arises from four active and former Secretary of State, two Democrats from Maine and New Hampshire and a current Republican Secretary of State from Indiana. Disturbingly, he appointed the notorious former Republican Secretary of State from Ohio, Ken Blackwell, who became infamous in the 2008 election when Ohio was a key battleground state then for his ham-handed efforts at voter suppression.

None of this would be that worrisome, if we were able to see this commission as simply a DC-boondoggle of a snipe hunt looking for evidence wherever they can find it to provide cover for Trump’s post-election tweets and continuing efforts to claim he really didn’t lose the vote total by millions because there were all of these undocumented illegals voting. Unable to find any proof of these claims or to convince the FBI or Justice Department to join the ghost hunt, this commission is his smoke bomb to cover his claims. We could almost live with this except for the fact that he has appointed Kris Kobach, the Kansas Secretary of State, author of countless pieces of immigrant bashing, and master of voter suppression in Kansas and nationally. It was small comfort that despite Kobach’s post-election Trump Tower meetings with Trump as president-elect, cooler heads prevailed preventing him from taking a faster train than this one to Washington.

Kobach is a danger to democracy, plain and simple. His previous efforts to reshape the national voting system had to be scrapped for clear racial bias. I have often cited his initial election campaign claims that he was running to stop ACORN from stealing the election in Kansas, despite the fact that we didn’t have any staff, office, or operation in the state. He started bad, but he keeps getting worse.

Of huge concern for this fake-fact finding commission will be Kobach’s claims for more voter identification systems based on his Interstate Voter Crosscheck Program, now enjoying the participation of thirty states, most of them Republican, which supposedly finds duplicate registrations. Most experts defame Walt Disney by calling the program Mickey Mouse.

One report said that following about its methodology:

The program, for instance, appears to count every instance in which someone has moved out of a state, registered to vote in their new state, but has not yet been removed from the old voter rolls, a process that can take several election cycles to happen automatically.

And while the program asks member states to submit 13 items of data for each voter, including the last four digits of his/her social security number and middle name, Kansas state department officials acknowledged in an email that all that’s required for the crosscheck program to generate a “possible duplicate entry,” is for the last name, first name, and date of birth to match.

A Rolling Stone report from before the 2016 election was more specific:

We had Mark Swedlund, a database expert whose clients include eBay and American Express, look at the data from Georgia and Virginia, and he was shocked by Crosscheck’s “childish methodology.” He added, “God forbid your name is Garcia, of which there are 858,000 in the U.S., and your first name is Joseph or Jose. You’re probably suspected of voting in 27 states.”

The reporter later underlined the issue, writing:

Every voter that the state marks as a legitimate match receives a postcard that is colorless and covered with minuscule text. The voter must verify his or her address and mail it back to their secretary of state. Fail to return the postcard and the process of taking your name off the voter rolls begins.

This commission has a fake mission to solve a problem that doesn’t exist and is likely to use a fake computer program that produces exaggerated and inaccurate data to provide high-level justification for the ongoing conservative political project of reducing the number of lower income, elderly, and minority voters in US elections.

Bad and sad!

***

Please enjoy Alright Caroline by Third Eye Blind. Thanks to KABF.

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