Republican Politicians And Their Sham Against Democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE HUFFINGTON POST)

 

Republicans Are Casting Doubt On Normal Election Processes For The Sake Of Winning

By characterizing basic safeguards as illegitimate, Rick Scott and President Trump are undermining democracy.
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On Thursday night, two days after Election Day, Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R) stood on the steps of the governor’s mansion in Tallahassee and unleashed a nuclear bomb aimed at the very foundation of democracy. Scott suggested there was “rampant fraud” in the state. “No ragtag group of liberal activists or lawyers from D.C.” was going to steal the election from Floridians, the governor said.

When Scott made his comments, Florida hadn’t even hit the deadline to submit unofficial election results to the state. Scott asked the state’s law enforcement agency to investigate his allegations, but the agency quickly said there was nothing to investigate.

That hasn’t stopped President Donald Trump from continuing to insist that there was fraud in the state. There is no evidence of fraud to support his claim.

Scott’s election night lead over Nelson has shrunk significantly, and the margin is now so slim that the state is in the midst of a legally required recount. But election experts say there’s nothing unusual or nefarious about vote tallies changing days after an election. Instead of letting election officials count the ballots as usual, the comments from Scott and Trump amount to an effort to undermine normal election processes.

Steven Huefner, a law professor at Ohio State University, wrote that it was “beyond unseemly” and “downright destructive of public trust in our elections” for election officials to attribute changing vote totals to nefarious actions.

Florida allows voters to cast ballots by mail and accepts them until 7 p.m. on Election Day. Election officials then have to verify signatures on the ballots in addition to determining whether provisional ballots cast on Election Day can count. That process can take time, which is why Florida and other states give counties time to conduct what’s called a canvass and review the votes. In Florida, the deadline for counties to submit unofficial results to the state was Saturday and the deadline for official results is Nov. 18.

“Results on election night, it’s actually never been final on election night. Ever in the history of our country. There’s always been this continuation of calculating the results and all that,” said Amber McReynolds, the former top elections official in Denver who is now the executive director of the National Vote at Home Institute, a group that advocates for voting by mail. “This is not new. Florida’s doing exactly what other states are doing right now. California has even more to count. But in California, there’s not a Republican that might win, so it’s not getting any attention.”

Charles Stewart, the director of the MIT Election Lab, noted that, in addition to trying to deal with mailed-in ballots, counties also had to tally their early votes. Florida law doesn’t allow officials to count early votes until after the polls have closed. Different counties may also tally at different speeds because of the equipment available, the kinds of ballots they receive and staffing, experts say.

Scott has complained that Brenda Snipes, the supervisor of elections in Broward County, refused to turn over information about how many ballots still needed to be tallied. He secured a court order on Friday requiring her to hand over the information.

Ned Foley, a law professor at Ohio State University, has studied the way that vote totals change during a canvass after Election Day. Those shifts tend to benefit Democrats and are a “relatively new phenomenon,” he said, because more people are voting by mail and Congress passed a law in 2002 requiring officials to offer provisional ballots.

“Both of those things have the effect of having ballots eligible to be counted but not available for counting on election night,” he said. “For demographic reasons, groups that tend to vote Democratic Party ― students, younger voters, more mobile voters ― you’re more likely to get caught up in the need for a provisional ballot if you’re just a more transient population.”

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Usually, shifts in vote counts after Election Day go unnoticed because they aren’t enough to overcome the initially reported margin of victory. But in Florida, the changing tally is getting scrutinized because the margin separating the candidates is so thin, Foley said. A similar process is playing out in Arizona, where election officials are still counting the ballots in close races for U.S. Senate and secretary of state.

California has even more to count. But in California, there’s not a Republican that might win, so it’s not getting any attention.Amber McReynolds, executive director of the National Vote at Home Institute

Trump tweeted Monday that Florida shouldn’t consider any of the votes tallied after election night, a move that would disenfranchise military voters whose ballots can be accepted until Nov. 16.  Scott’s campaign is also suing in state court to block officials in Broward County, a key bastion of Democratic votes, from officially counting any ballots that weren’t tallied by the state’s Saturday deadline for unofficial results.

Foley said the allegations of fraud and election stealing in Florida were particularly worrisome because there could be shifts of tens of thousands of votes during a presidential election. The allegations in Florida could serve as a prelude for a candidate to undermine the results in 2020. A key part of democracies, he said, is that the candidates accept the results of elections as legitimate.

“Every election has a winner and a loser, and the loser has to accept defeat,” he said. The loser “has to think that, even though they really wanted to win and thought they should have won ― or maybe even thought the vote-counting process was inaccurate in some respects ― that we can accept it.”

The talk of fraud got the attention of the chief state judge in Broward County, who urged lawyers for both campaigns who were in court Monday to “ramp down the rhetoric” about voter fraud.

Richard Hasen, a law professor at the University of California, Irvine, who specializes in elections, wrote in Slate that that kind of questioning of election results could lay the foundation for a constitutional crisis.

“If President Trump is ahead in his re-election bid on the night of the election, only to lose that lead as more ballots in larger — mostly Democratic — counties are counted through a normal process in the days and weeks after Election Day, it seems reasonable to be concerned that he will contest such a legitimate vote,” Hasen wrote. “We don’t know if he would even vacate his office in such a scenario, triggering the possibility of a real constitutional crisis.”

Our “Idiot-In -Chief” Tweets His Ignorance About California Wildfires-Twice

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF CNN)

 

President Trump’s tweet on California wildfires angers firefighters, celebrities

(CNN)President Donald Trump’s tweet blaming “gross mismanagement” for the devastating California wildfires is sparking a backlash from top firefighters’ associations, politicians and celebrities.

In a series of tweets Saturday, Trump said the state’s deadly wildfires are a result of poor forest management and threatened to cut federal aid.
“There is no reason for these massive, deadly and costly forest fires in California except that forest management is so poor,” Trump tweeted. “Billions of dollars are given each year, with so many lives lost, all because of gross mismanagement of the forests. Remedy now, or no more Fed payments!”
He doubled down Sunday in another tweet, again blaming forest management.
“With proper Forest Management, we can stop the devastation constantly going on in California. Get smart!” Trump tweeted.

Official: Tweet is ‘ill-informed’

Trump’s first tweet drew the ire of the leaders of firefighters’ organizations, who accused the President of bringing politics into a devastating disaster.
The Camp Fire in Northern California has killed 23 people and burned 108,000 acres. The Woolsey Fire near Los Angeles has killed at least two and has scorched 83,275 acres. The Hill fire in Ventura County has ravaged 4,531 acres.
“His comments are reckless and insulting to the firefighters and people being affected,” said Harold Schaitberger, president of the International Association of Fire Fighters.
The president of the California Professional Firefighters said the message is an attack on some of the people fighting the devastating fires.
“The President’s message attacking California and threatening to withhold aid to the victims of the cataclysmic fires is ill-informed, ill-timed and demeaning to those who are suffering as well as the men and women on the front lines,” Brian K. Rice said.
“In my view, this shameful attack on California is an attack on all our courageous men and women on the front lines.”
Rice also said Trump’s assertion that California’s forest management policies are to blame “is dangerously wrong.”
“Wildfires are sparked and spread not only in forested areas but in populated areas and open fields fueled by parched vegetation, high winds, low humidity and geography,” he said.

‘Fires do not respect politics’

State Sen. Henry Stern, a Democrat from Los Angeles, said fires aren’t about politics or jurisdictions.
“Fires do not respect politics, though, so I would beg the President to pursue a major disaster declaration and not make this a political incident,” Stern said. “We have many parties, many views out here, and it’s really not about politics, it is about people.”
A number of celebrities also responded to Trump’s tweet Saturday.
“This is an absolutely heartless response,” singer Katy Perry tweeted. “There aren’t even politics involved. Just good American families losing their homes as you tweet, evacuating into shelters.”
Actor Leonardo DiCaprio also weighed in, blaming the fires on climate change.
“The reason these wildfires have worsened is because of climate change and a historic drought,” he tweeted. “Helping victims and fire relief efforts in our state should not be a partisan issue.”
In between Trump’s tweets blaming forest management, he also paid tribute to those affected by the fire.
“More than 4,000 are fighting the Camp and Woolsey Fires in California that have burned over 170,000 acres,” Trump tweeted. “Our hearts are with those fighting the fires … The destruction is catastrophic. God Bless them all.”

X-Marine Kills 12 At California Bar Including County Deputy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGELES TIMES)

 

Thousand Oaks assailant ‘just pulled out a gun and shot my friend,’ witness says

A witness said early Thursday that the gunman in the Thousand Oaks shooting was dressed in black when he entered the Borderline Bar & Grill around 11:20 p.m.
A witness said early Thursday that the gunman in the Thousand Oaks shooting was dressed in black when he entered the Borderline Bar & Grill around 11:20 p.m.

Holden Harrah, 21, was among the hundreds inside listening to music Wednesday night as a part of a college night event.

He said he looked over at the front door and saw the man walk in wearing a black hat, glasses and a black shirt. He had a beard, Harrah said.

“He just pulled out a gun and shot my friend that was working the front desk,” he said.

The first couple of shots, Harrah said, his voice wavering, hit his friend and everyone dropped to the floor immediately. Harrah said he ran out a side door.

“I heard more gunshots behind me. I was freaking out,” he said.

The suspect in the shooting that killed 12 people, Ian David Long, was known to neighbors in his Newbury Park neighborhood as a troubled ex-Marine who appeared to have serious mental health problems.

Ventura County Sheriff Geoff Dean said officials discussed whether Long suffered from post-traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD.

His said his department had had several interactions with Long, including a visit to his home in April for a complaint of disturbing the peace. Deputies at the time said Long was irate and acting irrationally, Dean said. They called in mental health professionals to evaluate him, and they concluded he did not need to be taken into custody.

Long was the victim of a battery at a different Thousand Oaks bar in January 2015, Dean said.

Neighbor Richard Berge, 77, said Long was known to kick in the walls of the home he lived in with his mother.

“She’s a very sweet woman, but she had a lot of problems with the son,” Berge said. “I just know he tore the house up.”

Tom Hanson, 70, also lived near the Longs.

Earlier this year, sometime in April, Hanson called police when he overheard Ian Long one morning tearing the house apart. Hanson was worried that Long would hurt himself.

“I am not surprised, but I’m shocked,” Hanson said.

According to the U.S. Marines, Long served between 2008 and 2013 and was a machine gunner. He was stationed in Afghanistan from 2010-11.

He received standard military honors including the Navy Unit Commendation, the Navy Meritorious Unit Commendation, Combat Action Ribbon and Marine Corps Good Conduct Medal.

Police initially learned of the rampage from numerous 911 calls. The first law enforcement personnel arrived on scene at 11:22 p.m., and made entry four minutes later, officials said.

Sheriff’s Sgt. Ron Helus and a California Highway Patrol officer were met with gunfire, according to Dean. Helus was shot several times and died at a hospital early Thursday morning, he said.

Helus, a 29-year veteran of the department, was planning to retire next year, and Dean said he died “a hero.” He is survived by a son and his wife, whom he called before entering the bar, the sheriff said.

About 15 minutes after that initial encounter, a second group of law enforcement personnel arrived and entered the bar, the sheriff said; by then, no gunfire could be heard.

People were hiding the bar’s restrooms and in its attic, Dean said.

The suspect was found down with a gunshot wound when the officers entered the building, the sheriff said.

Real World Poem: Life Through A Windshield

Life through a Windshield

 

In 81’ the story began, first with my brother and then with a friend

Seeing life through a windshield like a gypsy on eighteen wheels

But when you do this for a living it’s life you omit

White line fever they call it in movies and in song

White lines on the concrete is to what you belong

 

 

The back rows of the truck stops and the cab of a truck is your home

From Bean-town to Shaky to Big D then Windy once again you roam

Dispatch can get you a load to anywhere except the state you belong

Driving your shiny KW or Freight Shaker is not just a job now you see

Through the windshield is your life on this unending concrete sea

 

 

Back braces, Aspirin, Doan’s Pills and of course Preparation H

Always part of your luggage because that hot freight just can’t wait

Truck driving is a hobby for the homeless no roots do you need

Life through a windshield is now a life you can’t ever really leave

Mysterious great white shark lair discovered in Pacific Ocean

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE SAN FRANCISCO CHRONICLE NEWSPAPER)

 

Mysterious great white shark lair discovered in Pacific Ocean

Photo of Peter Fimrite
A scientific mission into the secret ocean lair of California’s great white sharks has provided tantalizing clues into a vexing mystery — why the fearsome predators spend winter and spring in what has long appeared to be an empty void in the deep sea.
A boatload of researchers from five scientific institutions visited the middle-of-nowhere spot between Baja California and Hawaii this past spring on a quest to learn more about what draws the big sharks to what has become known as the White Shark Cafe, almost as if they were pulled by some astrological stimulus.
The sharks’ annual pilgrimage to the mid-Pacific region from the coasts of California and Mexico has baffled scientists for years, not just because it is so far away — it takes a month for the sharks to get there — but because it seemed, on the surface, to be lacking the kind of prey or habitat that the toothy carnivores prefer.

But the researchers made a remarkable discovery. Instead of blank, barren sea, the expedition, led by scientists with Stanford University and the Monterey Bay Aquarium, found a vast community of tiny light-sensitive creatures so tantalizing that the sharks cross the sea in mass to reach them.

The primary lure, scientists believe, is an extraordinary abundance of squid and small fish that migrate up and down in a little understood deep-water portion of ocean known as the “mid-water,” a region skirting the edge of complete darkness that could provide an immeasurably valuable trove of information about the ocean ecosystem and climate change.

“The story of the white shark tells you that this area is vitally important in ways we never knew about,” said Salvador Jorgensen, a research scientist for the Monterey Bay Aquarium and one of the expedition’s leaders. “They are telling us this incredible story about the mid-water, and there is this whole secret life that we need to know about.”

The researchers’ focus, a 160-mile-radius subtropical region about 1,200 nautical miles east of Hawaii, was essentially unknown to science until marine scientist Barbara Block, of Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station, began attaching acoustic pinger tags to white sharks 14 years ago.

Block discovered that the local sharks, known as northeastern Pacific whites, feed on elephant seals and other marine mammals in the so-called Red Triangle, between Monterey Bay, the Farallon Islands and Bodega Head, from about August to December. She also tracked their movements into San Francisco Bay and around Guadalupe Island, in Mexico.

But then, each December, the acoustic tags showed a mass movement out to sea that was as confusing to the researchers as it was surprising.

Block found that the sharks were leaving the food-rich waters along the West Coast to spend spring and most of the summer in a patch of open ocean about the size of Colorado, a place that looked in satellite images like an empty, oceanic Sahara desert.

She named it the White Shark Cafe even though she wasn’t sure whether the sharks went there for food or sex.

To find out, Block organized the month long expedition in April and May aboard the Schmidt Ocean Institute’s research vessel Falkor, which was equipped with high-tech instruments, sail drones and a remotely operated submarine. Last fall, before departure, her team of scientists tracked down 36 local sharks using acoustic signals and fitted them with high-tech satellite monitoring tags with locator beacons programmed to pop off and float to the surface during the cafe expedition.

The scheme worked. The researchers got data from 10 of the 22 tags that floated up and signaled the Falkor that they had detached and were bobbing around ready to be collected, an exercise that Jorgensen called “a white shark treasure hunt.” The scientists also obtained recorded information on shark movements and behavior over the previous months from six other great whites through radio uplinks. The rest only transmitted their location or were not recovered.

A great white shark was seen chomping on the carcass of a whale on July 19, 2018 by the crew of an All Water Charter boat.

Video: All Water Charter

The data on the recovered tags documented highly unusual diving behavior at depths scientists had rarely before seen in white sharks.

On the way to the cafe, the sharks made periodic dives 3,000 feet deep, a surprising discovery given that the big fish normally wouldn’t be able to stay warm enough to digest food in such cold, pressurized depths. The sharks, researchers found, were using warm circular currents to get down the water column, suggesting they were following prey. Still, it isn’t clear what they were eating.

Know your great white sharks

Great white sharks, known scientifically as Carcharodon carcharias, are protected under state legislation that makes it illegal to fish for them. The trade in shark parts — mainly jaws and fins — is also illegal internationally under the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species.

They average 15 to 16 feet in length, but can grow much larger. The biggest white shark ever recorded was caught in 1939 and it was 21 feet long and weighed 7,300 pounds.

Starting in late summer and fall, an estimated 220 white sharks feed offshore of the Farallon Islands, Año Nuevo and Drakes Bay, but at least 20 have been documented over the years inside San Francisco Bay, including one seen devouring a seal in 2015 just a few feet off Alcatraz Island.

Female sharks typically visit the Gulf of the Farallones in alternate years, suggesting that their migration pattern is tied to a two-year reproductive cycle.

DNA testing has shown the sharks off the coast of California are genetically unique compared with other great whites.

Researchers tagged 37 great white sharks last year and have given them names including Torpedo, Scargirl, Sicklefin, OrcaFin and ShawShark Redemption. The oldest and longest studied shark is a 16-foot, 3,158-pound great white named Tom Johnson, which was first seen off the Farallon Islands in 1987.

The only reported fatal human-shark encounter off San Francisco shores occurred in May 1959, when 18-year-old Albert Kogler Jr. died after he was attacked in roughly 15 feet of water while swimming off Baker Beach.

Eleven people have been killed by sharks off the California coast since the first documented attack on a human in Pacific Grove in December, 1952. The body of a probable 12th victim was never found, so he isn’t counted.

Sources: Stanford University’s Hopkins Marine Station; Monterey Bay Aquarium; Schmidt Ocean Institute; National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

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Once they reached their destination in late winter and early spring, the animals engaged in “bounce dives” down to 1,400 feet below the surface during the day and 650 feet at night, Jorgensen said.

In April, the male sharks started behaving very differently from the females, moving individually up and down the water in a V-shape as many as 140 times a day, Jorgensen said. The females, on the other hand, continued their previous behavior, diving deep during the day and shallow at night, he said.

The scientists still haven’t figured out the disparate gender behaviors.

“Either they are eating something different or this is related in some way to their mating,” Jorgensen said.

What’s clear so far is that, like the hidden community of specialized wildlife in the Sahara, the shark cafe is a swirling mass of tiny phytoplankton, fish, squid and jellies. They move up and down in a soupy layer deep under water, a kind of twilight zone just below where sunlight stops penetrating the ocean depths.

“It’s the largest migration of animals on Earth — a vertical migration that’s timed with the light cycle,” Jorgensen said. “During the day they go just below where there is light and at night they come up nearer the surface to warmer, more productive waters under the cover of darkness.”

It’s a surreal deep water world populated by bioluminescent lantern fish and other species that have evolved amazing adaptations to darkness, Jorgensen said.

Scientists in recent years have discovered hundreds of new species in deep water zones like this one. The uniquely abundant mass of fish draws all kinds of predators, like small cookie cutter sharks, which have evolved light-emitting organs called photophores on the underside of their bodies that act, to prey, like invisibility cloaks.

The white sharks aren’t the only large predators tracking the mid-water creatures. Squid-eating big eye tuna, blue and Mako sharks also frequent the cafe. Jorgensen said these larger fish may be what the white sharks eat, but there isn’t any definitive evidence of that.

“What we’ve learned through the progression of our research is that this mid-water layer is extremely important for white sharks,” he said. “They are swimming in these layers, tracking (prey) day and night. … It’s a game of hide-and-seek.”

Scientists say this little understood mid-water zone is a biological laboratory that, with more research, could lead to biomedical breakthroughs and yield clues to how the ocean absorbs carbon dioxide and how species adapt to climate change. There is also concern that it is ripe for exploitation, particularly long-line and drift net fishing.

Triggered by some cryptic mechanism, the sharks leave their mid-ocean sanctum during the summer and begin to gather along the coast of California around August.

Block said researchers will not know whether the sharks were feeding, mating or doing both during their time in the White Shark Cafe until the analyses are completed.

“We now have a gold mine of data. We have doubled the current 20-year data set on white shark diving behaviors and environmental preferences in just three weeks,” Block said. This “will help us better understand the persistence of this unique environment and why it attracts such large predators.”

Peter Fimrite is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email:[email protected]. Twitter: @pfimrite

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it’s personal

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE LOS ANGLES TIMES)

 

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it’s personal

Barack Obama is back on the campaign trail, and this time it's personal
Former President Barack Obama greets supporters as he campaigns in support of California congressional candidates. (Ringo H.W. Chiu / Associated Press)

 

They used to call Bill Clinton the Big Dog, because wherever he went, people paid attention. His growl always drew a crowd.

Well, while President Trump was napping this week, the Sleek Dog got off the porch.

Finally.

Former President Obama had always planned to model his post-presidential life after the leads of other ex-presidents, like George W. Bush, who paints, or Jimmy Carter, who builds houses for poor people.

He was, he said the other day, “intent on following a wise American tradition of ex-presidents exiting the political stage, making room for new voices and new ideas.”

Turns out, the stakes are too high to remain above the fray.

On Friday, in a speech to students at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, and on Saturday at a rally in Anaheim for supporters of Democratic congressional candidates in contested Southern California districts, Obama made one thing clear: The muzzle is off.

And you know what else?

Since Trump has spent his presidency trashing Obama, dismantling his legacy piece by piece and making racists feel safe again, the Sleek Dog, whose aloof ways are legendary, has gotten downright snarly.

He called Trump shameless. A fear monger. A demagogue promising “simple fixes to complex problems.” A bully. He accused Trump of “toxic corruption,” of being responsible for the country’s “downward spiral.”

He blamed a spineless Republican Congress for allowing Trump to undermine the nation’s international alliances, to cozy up to Russian President Vladimir Putin — “the former head of the KGB,” as Obama reminded the crowd — and for “actively blocking legislation that would defend our elections from Russian attack.”

“In a healthy democracy,” Obama said, “there’s some checks and balances on this kind of behavior, this kind of inconsistency, but right now there’s none.”

We are in a moment where no one who cares about the fate of the nation can comfortably sit on the sidelines.

Welcome back, Sleek Dog. What took you so long?

::

Doesn’t it seems like eons ago that Michelle Obama stood onstage at the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia and delivered that memorable line about civility: “When they go low, we go high”?

It seemed so reassuring at the time. Turns out, the line was better as prophecy than as advice.

What followed was a torrent of pettiness and ugliness from Trump, his associates, and his fans. “Lock her up!” said the future national security advisor who later pleaded guilty to lyingto the FBI.

Nice is so overrated.

“We never know what kind of sludge is going to roll out of 1600 Pennsylvania Ave.,” California Democratic Party Chairman Eric Bauman said Saturday as he welcomed about 750 Democrats to a small ballroom in the Anaheim Convention Center.

Obama strolled onstage Saturday, dressed casually in slacks and shirtsleeves. He was less bombastic than he’d been in Illinois the day before. Hey, Sleek Dog can only stay nasty for so long. Unlike our current president, it’s just not in his nature.

“There is no set of issues we can’t solve if we are working together,” Obama said, sounding very much like the optimistic cheerleader of years past. “It’s always tempting for politicians for their own gain and people in power to try to see if they can divide people, scapegoat folks, turn them on each other, because when that happens, you get gridlock and government doesn’t work and people get cynical and decide not to participate.

“And when people don’t participate, that vacuum is filled by lobbyists and special interests and we get into a downward spiral where people get discouraged and think nothing is going to make a difference. And that unfortunately is the spiral we have been on for the past couple years.”

::

If Democrats retake the House in November — and a handful of traditionally Republican seats in California could make the difference — many citizens will look upon Obama’s return to the political fray this week as the beginning of an American restoration.

A restoration of integrity.

Of decency.

Of honesty.

And, possibly even, of the ideal of bipartisanship, strangled by the current chief executive, then dumped by the side of the road in Crazytown, Chief of Staff John F. Kelly’s nickname for the White House, according to Bob Woodward in his new book “Fear: Trump in the White House.”

Trump’s response to Obama’s attack in Illinois? He said he fell asleep. It was his idea of a clever putdown. Instead, it inspired an outpouring of mockery on Twitter. (“Trump ‘fell asleep’ during Barack Obama’s speech because it wore him out looking up all those words in the dictionary,” quipped screenwriter Randy Mayem Singer.)

In truth, it’s the Sleek Dog who has been asleep.

“You can feel people saying, ‘Enough is enough,’” Obama said Saturday. “We’re going to kick off our bedrooms slippers, we’re putting on our marching shoes.”

Nap time is over.

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF ‘THE WORLD POST’)

 

Corporate concentration threatens American democracy

By Nathan Gardels, WorldPost editor in chief

Corporate concentration in the United States is not only increasing inequality but also undermining competition and consumers’ standard of living. Politically, the commensurate lobbying influence of big tech, big finance and other large conglomerates has created what political scientist Francis Fukuyama calls a “vetocracy” — where vested concerns have amassed the clout to choke off legislative reforms that would diminish their spoils.

Why the opposite is happening in the European Union is an unfamiliar tale of how governance one step removed from electoral democracy has been able to resist the lobbying of organized special interests to make policy that benefits the average person.

Active antitrust policies in the second half of the 20th century fairly leveled the playing field of American commerce. “But starting around 2000, U.S. markets began to lose their competitive edge,” Germán Gutiérrez and Thomas Philippon write, based on a new study of theirs.

“Now, Internet access and monthly cellphone plans are much cheaper in Europe than in America, as are flights. Even in Mexico, mobile data plans are better priced than in the United States. … Meanwhile in the United States, deregulation and antitrust efforts have nearly ground to a halt. The United States has not completed a major reform to the goods and services market since 1996, and as a result, its industries have grown increasingly concentrated.”

What explains this stunning shift is deliberate policy choices. As the authors relate: “European countries created the single market, which took effect in 1993, and deregulated their domestic markets. Today, most European Union countries score better than the United States in enacting policies that make industries more competitive. Not surprisingly, antitrust enforcement remains active in Europe, with two recent cases against Google resulting in over $7.7 billion in fines. European markets are also less concentrated than U.S. markets.”

Gutiérrez and Philippon argue that “free markets are supposed to discipline private companies, but today, many private companies have grown so dominant that they can get away with bad service, high prices and deficient privacy safeguards. … If America wants to lead once more in this realm, it must remember its own history and relearn the lessons it successfully taught the rest of the world.”

Mario Monti — who was Italian prime minister from 2011 to 2013 as well as the E.U. competition commissioner from 1999 to 2004 and is famous for “shooting down mergers in flames” — agrees with Gutiérrez and Philippon. But he adds an important dimension they don’t discuss: how the much-maligned “technocratic” European Commission has been more able than American antitrust authorities to resist undue corporate influence over policy decisions.

While antitrust efforts in the United States are highly sensitive to election cycles and outcomes, Monti points out, the European Commission (which is indirectly elected by the European Parliament) operates at arm’s length from politics and can make decisions that are independent from lobbyist pressures on parliaments at both the national and European level. As he put it in a recent interview, “the more far away you are, the less you feel under pressure.”

The result is policy decisions that are more disinterested because the process is less politicized. This same technocratic distance in Brussels that has enabled a vigorous competition policy also applies to Europe’s landmark privacy regulation, the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR), passed earlier this year.

Yet as Giovanni Buttarelli, the E.U.’s data protection supervisor charged with implementing the GDPR, laments, passing a law is only the beginning of reining in big tech abuses. “First came the scaremongering. Then came the strong-arming. After being contested in arguably the biggest lobbying exercise in the history of the European Union, the General Data Protection Regulation became fully applicable at the end of May,” he writes from Brussels. “Since its passage, there have been great efforts at compliance, which regulators recognize. At the same time, unfortunately, consumers have felt nudged or bullied by companies into agreeing to business as usual. This would appear to violate the spirit, if not the letter, of the new law.”

The challenge of implementing the law now, says Buttarelli, is continually challenging big tech. As he puts it, “The E.U. is seeking to prevent people from being cajoled into ‘consenting’ to unfair contracts and accepting surveillance in exchange for a service.”

Buttarelli is looking ahead to the next phase of reform. Under that reform, “Devices and programming would be geared by default to safeguard people’s privacy and freedom. Today’s overcentralized Internet would be de-concentrated, as advocated by Tim Berners-Lee, who first invented the Internet, with a fairer allocation of the digital dividend and with the control of information handed back to individuals from big tech and the state.”

While big tech lobbyists have so far frustrated privacy legislation at the national level in the United States, California has been able to pass curbs on abuses of personal data. Ironically, this was due not to technocratic insulation from politics but its opposite: the citizens’ ballot initiative. A San Francisco real estate magnate funded the gathering of qualifying signatures for a proposition that would impose the same kind of limits on use of personal data in California as contained in the GDPR, forcing big tech to come — reluctantly — to the table.

State legislators then negotiated and passed a measure this summer along GDPR lines that would be open to amendment as technology evolves. With legislation secured, the initiative was withdrawn from the public ballot. (If law is made by the citizens’ ballot initiative, it can only be amended by another vote of the public.) As state Sen. Bob Hertzberg (D), who crafted the compromise between privacy advocates and the tech companies, notes, the law in effect makes California’s attorney general the nation’s “chief privacy officer,” since most of the big tech companies affected are located in Silicon Valley.

Making a market that works for the average citizen requires government that acts in the public interest, not at the behest of the largest players in the economy who underwrite the electoral and legislative process. To the extent that elected legislatures are captured by organized special interests, the “vetocracy” can be circumvented either by indirectly elected technocratic authorities or by direct democracy through the citizens’ ballot initiative.

The experiences with antitrust and privacy regulation examined in The WorldPost this week suggest that a mixed system that combines disinterested technocrats, elected representatives and direct democracy — each as a check and balance on the other — would be the most intelligent form of governance.

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Court Rules Trump Sanctuary City Order Unconstitutional

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF THE USA TODAY NEWS)

 

Federal appeals court rules Trump sanctuary city order unconstitutional

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A federal appeals court ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump exceeded his authority when he threatened to withhold funds from “sanctuary cities” that do not fully cooperate with U.S. immigration authorities.

In a 2-1 decision, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals said Trump’s January 2017 executive order, cutting off federal funds to sanctuary cities, was unconstitutional. But the court also ruled that a lower court went too far when it blocked the order nationwide.

“Absent congressional authorization, the administration may not redistribute or withhold properly appropriated funds in order to effectuate its own policy goals,” Chief Judge Sidney Thomas wrote for the majority.

Our view: Both sides mischaracterize sanctuary cities

Oakland: Why we’re a sanctuary city

Justice Department spokesman Devin O’Malley said the executive order was a legal use of the president’s power. He called the 9th Circuit’s decision a victory for “criminal aliens in California, who can continue to commit crimes knowing that the state’s leadership will protect them from federal immigration officers whose job it is to hold them accountable and remove them from the country.”

“The Justice Department remains committed to the rule of law, to protecting public safety, and to keeping criminal aliens off the streets,” he said.

Trump signed the executive order on Jan. 25, 2017, just five days after taking office, calling undocumented immigration a “clear and present danger” to national security. But U.S. District Judge William Orrick called the threat “coercive” and said spending powers belonged to the legislative, not executive, branch of government.

Orrick’s ruling was the result of lawsuits filed by two California counties – San Francisco and Santa Clara. His decision cited statements from Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, which indicated that the order could jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funds. The government argued that the order only applied to three Justice Department and Homeland Security grants that would affect less than $1 million for Santa Clara and possibly no money for San Francisco.

Justice Department attorney Chad Readler told the 9th Circuit judges that the order was limited in scope and that public statements from Trump or other administration officials should not be given too much weight.

“When a president overreaches and tries to assert authority he doesn’t have under the Constitution, there needs to be a check on that power grab,” San Francisco City Attorney Dennis Herrera said in a statement Wednesday. “The courts did that today, which is exactly what the framers of the Constitution had in mind.”

The administration’s fight against sanctuary cities also suffered a setback last week, when a federal judge denied a motion to dismiss the city of Chicago’s lawsuit over Sessions’ efforts to force cooperation with federal immigration enforcement officers.

In September, U.S. District Judge Harry Leinenweber issued an injunction against Sessions’ order that required police to cooperate with federal agents or risk losing federal law enforcement grants. Session wanted to require local police to tell the government before releasing undocumented immigrants from custody, to allow federal immigration agents into city jails and to share people’s immigration status with federal officials.

Leinenweber’s injunction was initially nationwide, but in June the 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals restricted it to Chicago, the Chicago Sun-Times reported. The full appeals court will decide whether or not that injunction should be nationwide in September.

Contributing: Alan Gomez, Aamer Madhani, Richard Wolf,USA TODAY Network; The Associated Press 

More: Appeals court deals another blow to Trump effort to withhold funds from sanctuary cities

Everyone Has Many Alternate History’s: Just Think About The Realities

Open Your Mind To What Could Have Been

 

I believe that every one of us could have had many different lives than the one we now have, this is what I mean by alternate history’s. I also believe that we could all also have many different alternate futures lying before us, it is all a matter of choice. Do I believe as some do that as we speak and breathe that there are ‘alternate universes’ playing alongside the Realm we are living in right now, no. But I could obviously be wrong, it is not like I am God and know everything.

This article today is designed for the purpose of simply getting people to think, to contemplate their own personal past and even their future. For the purpose of opening up people’s minds I will start the process rolling using myself as an example. I will start at the age of 18 (44 years ago). I got my girl friend pregnant and we got married, the marriage lasted less than 2 years, we had 2 kids, one year and nine days apart. What if I had not gotten her pregnant and I had gone into the military at 17 or 18 instead of at age 20, how would my life have been different? Would I have gotten ‘fixed’ and have had no ‘blood’ kids of my own? Would I have met someone else while in the military and gotten married to them? Would I have gotten killed while in the military if I had tried to make it a life long career? Would I have never been hit by lightning if I had decided to not go into the military at all? If I had not gone into the military would I have stayed in the same States that I did, personally I doubt that one. Is it possible that if I had stayed a civilian that I could have walked into a store or a bar that was being robbed and the gunmen would have shot and killed me when I was just 18 or 20? Would I have gone to the ‘Sun Set School Of Preaching’ in Lubbock Texas and have been a lifelong Minister? What if I had done this and would have married a woman whose family was from Spain or Mexico or California, would I have moved to a Church near her family? Only God knows these answers, but I believe that the questions are all valid, for each of us.

How would your life be different if you would have made different choices? The choices could be as simple as times we chose to go right instead of going left. There was a time down in Florida that I was checking trailers late at night and my flashlight had gone dead and I was at a drop yard way out in the country. As I started to check the first trailer as I was walking toward the back I happened to hear a very loud rattle. As I started to put my right foot down I heard the rattle get louder and louder, so I withdrew that step, then another step and another and the rattle stopped. What if I was wearing ear buds and was not paying any attention, would I have still been here today? As I said earlier I do not believe that there is another parallel universe, singular or plural running in ‘threads’ alongside this one but that concept is not what I am speaking of today. I am just asking you to think about the ‘what if’s’ of life. What if you had married a different person than the one you did, how would your life have changed? What if you never got married at all, or if you have never married, what if you had? How would your life be different? There are all of these past tense ‘what if’s’ and there are future one’s also, choices, life always comes down to choices, as well as other people’s choices in matters that concern us as well in ways that we can’t even contemplate.

 

 

Affordability Crisis Prices National Park Service Office Out of San Francisco

(THIS ARTICLE IS COURTESY OF KQED NEWS)

 

THE CALIFORNIA REPORT

Affordability Crisis Prices National Park Service Office Out of San Francisco

Park rangers meet in front of Yosemite Falls. (David Calvert/Getty Images)

Federal officials plan to relocate an office that helps oversee 60 national parks throughout the western United States from downtown San Francisco to Vancouver, Washington, in a move they say could save millions of dollars.

Staff at the National Park Service Pacific West Regional Office were told this week that the local unit is expected to move out of the Financial District building it has been stationed at since 2011.

Agency leaders say relocating will mean they can stop paying rent and pay their staff less.

“We have struggled with recruitment in San Francisco for years due to the high cost of living,” said Stan Austin, the region’s director, in a staff memo obtained by KQED.

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The Pacific West Regional Office manages parks in eight states and several U.S. territories, spanning close to 13 million acres and visited by more than 66 million people annually.

The region includes popular parks in California, like the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, Muir Woods National Monument and Yosemite National Park, as well as the Grand Canyon-Parashant National Monument in Arizona and Crater Lake National Park in Oregon.

About 150 people work in the regional office’s current space at 333 Bush St., where the rent is $2 million a year, according to the park service. The 10-year lease on the space ends in 2021.

The park service plans to move the Pacific West Region staff to a vacant building it owns at Fort Vancouver National Historic Site.

Federal officials believe they will save money, not only by not having to pay rent, but by paying reduced salary and benefits to its workers after the move takes place.

The agency says it will save $1.8 million a year by paying their staff less.

“The NPS considered various factors in making this decision, including the more favorable cost of living, the expected long-term taxpayer savings from using an NPS-owned building rather than leasing, and the preservation benefits of adapting a historic building for modern use,” said Park Service spokesman Andrew Munoz in an email.

The Interior Department approved the relocation plan, which is now awaiting approval from Congress.

It is unclear how many current employees will make the move to Washington state.

“We recognize that many of you are thinking about what this move means personally, as well as what this means in terms of the service we provide and the relationships we have,” Austin wrote in his memo.

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