Monday, June 05, 2017

The Weekly Wrangle

The Texas Progressive Alliance is still debating whether it's pronounced "cov-fee-fee" or "cov-fay-fay" as it brings you this week's roundup.

Sometime the cartoonists really nail it. The toon above appeared a couple of days 
before CNN had champion Ananya Vinay on and stumped her with Trump's gibberish.

Off the Kuff notes the final passage of Voter ID 2.0, which does not and cannot address the issue of the original bill's discriminatory intent, but will make the Texas GOP feel a little better about itself.

In some good news that came out of the legislative session recently concluded, Texas Vox proclaims the extension of TERP (Texas Emissions Reduction Plan) to 2019 as cause for celebration.

There's a case to be made for Russian involvement in the 2016 election; it's just not a convincing one, according to PDiddie at Brains and Eggs.

SocraticGadfly sees Hillary Clinton's latest blame-passer about the election and wonders, among other things, if some of the latest complaints about sexism couldn't apply to her own comments.

The Lewisville Texan Journal profiles the large number of Democrats ready to challenge Republican Congress Critter Michael Burgess.

Dos Centavos had a couple of posts wondering why Houston still hasn't signed on to the lawsuit challenging the anti-sanctuary cities law, as several other Texas cities have.

CouldBeTrue of South Texas Chisme shows how Bush presided over the death of the GOP.

jobsanger cites a Media Matters poll showing the corporate media has failed the public on its reporting of climate change.

Neil at All People Have Value does not understand why citizens of Houston litter at Stuebner-Airline Park. APHV is part of


As the Lege concluded its regular session -- and everyone waits with bated breath to see if Greg Abbott will call a special -- here's what made news as state legislators took a break.

A case in Wisconsin could send a powerful message about Dan Patrick's unhealthy obsession with who uses which bathroom, posts RG Ratcliffe at Burkablog.

The Dallas Observer names their best and worst legislators from this past session, and Better Texas Blog complains that the Lege is out of sync with Texas values and needs.

The TSTA Blog lets Matt Rinaldi have it.  And Rep. Cesar Blanco is not going to be silent in the face of bigotry.

Grits for Breakfast asserts that Texas gets more credit than it deserves for reducing the state's prison population rates.


In news beyond Sine Die ...

After 17 years, the racial discrimination lawsuit between EPA and TCEQ over the pollution emitted by Beaumont's Exxon Mobil refinery that has seen a deleterious effect on the adjacent Charlton-Pollard neighborhood has finally been settled.  To a farthing, as reported by Naveena Sadavisam at the Texas Observer.  (Ed. note: I blogged about one of the public hearings regarding the circumstances involving this lawsuit in 2005.)

Space City Weather gives a primer on when to avoid breathing in Houston.

As Alamo City residents begin voting in their municipal elections, Robert Rivard notices that a majority of San Antonio city council members have taken a stand against incumbent mayor Ivy Taylor with regard to suing the state of Texas over the 'anti-sanctuary cities' law.

Sen. John Cornyn assesses Trump's Twitter 'habit' and scores him a B+ in foreign policy, according to High Plains Blogger.

Trump loyalty played a part in the election over the weekend of a new Texas Republican Party state chairman, and First Reading gave us a peek at the politicking that saw James Dickey prevail over Rick Figueroa by a single vote.

Everybody really is moving to Houston, if you measure it by the reports from U-Haul, says CultureMap Houston.  And The Urban Edge writes that millennials are flocking to the Bayou City's suburbs.

Harry Targ at The Rag Blog writes about neoliberalism, resistance, and a left that yearns to grow.

And when in doubt, Harry Hamid quotes Eugene V. Debs.

Friday, June 02, 2017

The case against the Russians

Don't wish to appear recalcitrant about the matter.  I've rounded up some links and excerpted a few bits that have appeared over the past couple of weeks in order to document where things stand today.  As we know, James Comey is to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee publicly next Thursday, and more tantalizing pieces may leak out in the interim.

The lede, exhumed: no evidence is yet publicly available that convinces me that Putin or any of his "patriots" stole the election for Trump.  They stole data from the DNC.  Mounting evidence suggests what has long been suspected by everyone, including me: Russians meddled around the edges of the election, but whatever they managed had no effect on the presidential outcome.

Josh Marshall at TPM has IMO been the sanest and most calm resource, but that isn't saying very much, especially lately, as you'll see at the end here.  Before I get started, Mother Jones (mostly a bunch of Hillbots during the past election season and certainly afterward, FWIW) submits your lineup and its own timeline of events up to May 17.  You can smell their Clinton bias when you see they've published that dinner table photo as well as their prop job of Louise Mensch at the bottom of the second link in my previous sentence.

Okay, here we go.

May 23: Former CIA director John Brennan testifies that Russia may have recruited people in the US to influence the election.

Brennan said he was aware of intelligence and information that revealed contacts between Russian officials and U.S. persons involved in the Trump campaign. He couldn't say, however, whether that the activities amounted to collusion.

More from Reuters:

... Brennan said on (May 23) he had noticed contacts between associates of Donald Trump's presidential campaign and Russia during the 2016 election and grew concerned Moscow had sought to lure Americans down "a treasonous path."

Brennan, like so many spooks before him, has lied to Congress under oath previously.  His credibility with me is zilch on topics involving insinuation.  If you click on those two links for the full context of his remarks as reported by the media, you might come away with the impression that his most recent public testimony was guarded.  To put it mildly.

May 24: "Top Russian officials discussed how to influence Trump aides last summer".

American spies collected information last summer revealing that senior Russian intelligence and political officials were discussing how to exert influence over Donald J. Trump through his advisers, according to three current and former American officials familiar with the intelligence.

The conversations focused on Paul Manafort, the Trump campaign chairman at the time, and Michael T. Flynn, a retired general who was advising Mr. Trump, the officials said. Both men had indirect ties to Russian officials, who appeared confident that each could be used to help shape Mr. Trump’s opinions on Russia.

Some Russians boasted about how well they knew Mr. Flynn. Others discussed leveraging their ties to Viktor F. Yanukovych, the deposed president of Ukraine living in exile in Russia, who at one time had worked closely with Mr. Manafort.

The intelligence was among the clues — which also included information about direct communications between Mr. Trump’s advisers and Russian officials — that American officials received last year as they began investigating Russian attempts to disrupt the election and whether any of Mr. Trump’s associates were assisting Moscow in the effort. Details of the conversations, some of which have not been previously reported, add to an increasing understanding of the alarm inside the American government last year about the Russian disruption campaign.

The information collected last summer was considered credible enough for intelligence agencies to pass to the F.B.I., which during that period opened a counterintelligence investigation that is continuing. It is unclear, however, whether Russian officials actually tried to directly influence Mr. Manafort and Mr. Flynn. Both have denied any collusion with the Russian government on the campaign to disrupt the election.

John O. Brennan, the former director of the C.I.A., testified Tuesday about a tense period last year when he came to believe that President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia was trying to steer the outcome of the election. He said he saw intelligence suggesting that Russia wanted to use Trump campaign officials, wittingly or not, to help in that effort. He spoke vaguely about contacts between Trump associates and Russian officials, without giving names, saying they “raised questions in my mind about whether Russia was able to gain the cooperation of those individuals.”

Also May 24: "Fake Russian intel on Lynch-Clinton collusion prompted Comey investigation into Hillary’s emails".

A dubious Russian intelligence document that purported to show coordination between Hillary Clinton and the U.S. Justice Department, and prompted former FBI Director James Comey to disclose the bureau’s investigation into Clinton’s emails, was “bad intelligence” and “possibly even fake,” the Washington Post reports.

According to the FBI’s own assessment, the American contacts mentioned in the Russian document -- which described an email exchange between former Attorney General Loretta Lynch and officials working on behalf of 2016 Democratic candidate Hillary Clinton -- deny having had any conversations “remotely” similar to those described in the memo. By August 2016, the Post reports, the FBI concluded the memo was unreliable.

Fake news about fake documents.  Now do you see why I think Comey went off the rails?

Despite the memo’s dubious origins, sources told the post it was “a very powerful factor” in Comey’s decision to reveal an investigation into Clinton’s email server -- and ultimately determine the bureau should not prosecute her.

“The point is that the bureau picked up hacked material that hadn’t been dumped by the bad guys [the Russians] involving Lynch,” a source told the Post. “And that would have pulled the rug out of any authoritative announcement.”

May 25: A Florida Republican political consultant reveals that he 'colluded' with Guccifer 2.0 -- one of the highest-profile Russian hackers of DNC servers -- to disseminate some of their purloined data.  Not emails but voter demographics, turnout strategies, and the like.  First, TPM (because most of us cannot access the WSJ):

A Republican political operative in Florida asked the alleged Russian hacker who broke into Democratic Party organizations’ servers at the height of the 2016 campaign to pass him stolen documents, according to a report Thursday by the Wall Street Journal.

In return, that operative received valuable Democratic voter-turnout analyses, which the newspaper found at least one GOP campaign consultant took advantage of the information. The hacker went on to flag that same data to Roger Stone, a longtime confidant of Donald Trump’s who briefly advised his presidential campaign, and who is currently under federal investigation for potential collusion with Russia.

The Wall Street Journal’s report presents the clearest allegations to date of collusion between people connected to Donald Trump’s campaign and Russia.

Cybersecurity experts were sounding the alarm as early as last July that Guccifer 2.0, which had tapped into both the Democratic National Committee and the Democratic National Campaign Committee, was connected to the Russian military intelligence apparatus. However, in September, Florida GOP consultant Aaron Nevins wrote to Guccifer 2.0 to tell the hacker to “feel free to send any Florida-based information,” according to the Journal.

Guccifer 2.0 ended up passing Nevins 2.5 gigabytes of stolen documents, including information about Democrats’ get-out-the-vote strategy in Florida and other swing states, the Journal reported. Nevins then posted the documents on his blog,, under a pseudonym.
The stolen documents Nevins published on his blog and then passed along to Florida journalists included detailed analyses commissioned by the DCCC of specific Florida districts -- reports that revealed how many dependable Democratic voters, likely Democratic voters, and frequent-but-not-committed voters resided in each area.


“I just threw an arrow in the dark,” Nevins, who set up a Dropbox account for Guccifer 2.0 to transfer data, told the Journal. “If your interests align,” the operative concluded, “never shut any doors in politics.”

Stone told the Journal that while he did receive a link to Nevins’s blog from Guccifer 2.0, he didn’t share the stolen data published on the blog with anyone.

In addition to receiving hacked information about Democratic races in Florida, Nevins also received internal details about congressional districts in Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Texas, Virginia and West Virginia. The Congressional Leadership Fund, a super PAC with close ties to House Speaker Paul Ryan, eventually used the material that was stolen by hackers in attack ads against several Democrats.

Anthony Bustamante, a Republican campaign consultant for Rep. Brian Mast, R-Fla., told the Journal that he used the stolen information to plan ad buys and better target a mailer effort: “I did adjust some voting targets based on some data I saw from the leaks.”

Did I mention 'tantalizing'?

Do you see anything that suggests Trump was assisted?  Look again at the states listed above: not exactly swingy.  And these were Congressional races anyway, so the leap of faith necessary to bridge this to Trump and the presidential election is a chasm too far.

May 26: Comey knew the Lynch email document was a fraud but used it anyway.

This isn’t necessarily quite as crazy as it sounds. Comey’s apparent reasoning was that if the document was later released in a Russian/Wikileaks document dump, the fact that it was fake wouldn’t necessarily matter. The Bureau wouldn’t necessarily be able to publicly prove it was a phony without disclosing sources and methods, or perhaps not at all. The point being, whether or not the document was real didn’t really matter. Its release would potentially discredit the integrity of the DOJ/FBI decision making either way.

Two points seem worth noting.

Go read them.  Josh Marshall concludes ...

The big takeaway here is that the Russian interference and subversion campaign appears to have gone much deeper and reached much higher than we’ve heretofore known. Whichever version of events you credit, Russian disinformation operations seem to have reached to the very top of the law enforcement and national security state and driven critical decisions at that level. Remember, the October 28th letter to Congress flowed directly from commitments Comey made because of that July press conference. The impact of this decision was quite simply vast.

I heard dramatic music playing, interspersed with a few "Law and Order" dunh-dunhs in the background as I read that post.  Did you?

Maybe it's as ominous as Marshall believes but it still smells like Red-scaring to me.

Also May 26: Trump's most trusted advisor and son-in-law enters the fray, and Josh Marshall seems more stunned.  But this might not have much, if anything at all, to do with election meddling.

... (I)n secret meetings in December, Jared Kushner proposed to Russian Ambassador Sergei Kislyak setting up a “back channel” so the Trump team could communicate secretly and securely with Moscow. But this use of the phrase “back channel” does a serious disservice to back channels. A back channel is secret and unofficial communication through trust intermediaries that goes around the national security and diplomatic bureaucracy and provides some plausible deniability. Kushner proposed using the Russian government’s own secure communication facilities, presumably housed in Russian diplomatic facilities in Washington and New York, to communicate with Moscow behind the back of the US government, state, intelligence apparatus, military, etc.

Why exactly would you want to do that?

Here are key passages from the Post.

Jared Kushner and Russia’s ambassador to Washington discussed the possibility of setting up a secret and secure communications channel between Trump’s transition team and the Kremlin, using Russian diplomatic facilities in an apparent move to shield their pre-inauguration discussions from monitoring, according to U.S. officials briefed on intelligence reports.

Ambassador Sergey Kislyak reported to his superiors in Moscow that Kushner, son-in-law and confidant to then-President-elect Trump, made the proposal during a meeting on Dec. 1 or 2 at Trump Tower, according to intercepts of Russian communications that were reviewed by U.S. officials. Kislyak said Kushner suggested using Russian diplomatic facilities in the United States for the communications.

The meeting also was attended by Michael Flynn, Trump’s first national security adviser.


Kislyak reportedly was taken aback by the suggestion of allowing an American to use Russian communications gear at its embassy or consulate — a proposal that would have carried security risks for Moscow as well as the Trump team.

This is truly extraordinary. As the Post notes, even Kislyak seems to have found it shocking, not least because under normal or even abnormal circumstances the Russians (or any other government) would never let the US government see or have any contact with these facilities and hardware.

Think Progress explains it with less melodramatic flair.

I took the Memorial Day weekend off from this shit, came back to more Kush.  Now we've got cocktail napkins with Venn diagrams mentioning "troll farms" and "bot armies".  Sad!

In doing my catchup reading, I found this from a fresh young face named Z. Byron Wolf at CNN.  He references Comey's handling of the fake Lynch email and ties a few other things to it; despite its tenuousness, it is the best argument for Russian meddling that may have influenced the election that I have read.  No excerpt does the argument justice, read it through.  Here's Wolf's very sustainable conclusion.

(I)f it is true that a fake Russian intelligence memo, led Comey to act the way he did -- and if the academic study and polling suggest that those actions kept her emails in the news -- and if those actions hurt her public standing, then how is it possible to still say that there's no way to say if Russian meddling had any impact on the outcome?

It's not possible to say that credibly.  But there's still no evidence -- make that no public evidence, and certainly not enough rumored, suggested, or insinuated -- to demonstrate sufficient causality to me that the election was tipped away from Her.  As the lawyers say, correlation is not causation.

Your mileage may vary, as always.

Thursday, June 01, 2017

Hillary Clinton, 'round the bend

Let the healing begin scab be scratched open and bleed on the carpet a bit more.

"I take responsibility for every decision I made, but that's not why I lost."

She lost, she told Recode's Kara Swisher and Walt Mossberg, because of unfair media coverage, an "unprecedented" campaign waged against her by a foreign adversary, James Comey's decision to re-open her email probe, criticism of her candidacy that she claimed bordered on misogyny, and a prevailing sentiment that she would be victorious, which hampered voter turnout.

And also the DNC, that POS -- something we can both agree on, although for a few reasons we might agree on ... and several we would not.

Clinton said that she did not inherit a strong data foundation from the Democratic party, which was "bankrupt" and near "insolvent."  

I suppose if this was true, it then wouldn't be Debbie Wasserman Schultz's fault.  But it is not true, unless you would rather believe Breitbart, which posted fundraising numbers from the fall of 2015 and linked to a FEC page (you'll have to manipulate your request by year and org to compare the figues with Breitbart's claims).  There's this from 2013 and CNN and Fortune magazine, and that's the best evidence I can find that supports Clinton's assertion.  By contrast, this story from Politico last July completely contradicts Her.

Hillary Clinton’s joint fundraising committee with the Democratic National Committee raised $81.6 million over the last three months, and transferred $20.7 million of it to her campaign, according to a report filed Friday night with the Federal Election Commission.

The committee, Hillary Victory Fund, has been raising money aggressively since last year and it finished last month with $41.9 million in the bank. That’s more than double the balance maintained by the two joint fundraising committees started in late May by her presumptive GOP rival Donald Trump, who is facing a gaping financial disadvantage.

Hillary Victory Fund’s FEC report reveals a smoothly functioning Democratic Party fundraising apparatus behind their presumptive nominee. The committee transferred $22.8 million to 32 participating state parties as well as $11.8 million to the DNC.

It also reported receiving $1.5 million raised by lobbyists, including $31,200 bundled by Tony Podesta, the brother of Clinton’s campaign chairman John Podesta. In contrast, Trump, who has railed against the power of lobbyists, did not report receiving any money raised by lobbyists into his joint committees.

Perhaps she's accurate; the DNC may have been flat busted in late 2015, and she certainly did 'inject money' into it.  Don't all presidential candidates do that, though?  At the very least, presidential nominees augment the fundraising of the national organization.  I recall hearing lots of complaining about the DNC not helping state parties, and the article above notes her contribution to them, but there was a later Politico story reporting that both she and they did not follow through on that, and indeed sought to conceal that fact from the media.

(*ed. note: several updates have been made to the above graf.)

Let's read Clinton's full statement for context.

"So I’m now the nominee of the Democratic Party. I inherit nothing from the Democratic Party. I mean, it was bankrupt. It was on the verge of insolvency. Its data was mediocre to poor, nonexistent, wrong," she recalled. "I had to inject money into it."

By contrast, she said, then-GOP candidate Donald Trump inherited a well-funded and extensively tested data operation that laid the foundation for his ultimately successful campaign to effectively weaponize data and internet content against Clinton.

"So Trump becomes the nominee and he is basically handed this tried and true, effective foundation," Clinton said. 

The DNC was not bankrupt nor was it insolvent, or anything near it, at the time she became the Democratic nominee last summer.  That statement is demonstrably false.

With respect to data management infrastructure: recall that Clinton had her own (allegedly) sophisticated IT team and tool, named Ada.  So if what she said above was true ... why would Trump even need the Russians and their agents to spew out fake news on social media, conning gullible Americans into not voting for Her?

Big Data failed Clinton but not Trump?  Trump and the GOP -- specifically Steve Bannon and Cambridge Analytica, or maybe Robert Mercer -- were just smarter than Clinton and the DNC?  Okay, scratch that question.  But this one deserves an answer: does the evidence of the past six months of the Trump Administration in action enable you to believe this?

It did make Ted Cruz sick to his stomach once upon a time, for whatever that's worth.  Again, why do you need Russians when you have evil geniuses like Michal Kozinski?

A couple of things before we move on to the Russians hacking the election (sic).

"We did not engage in false content," Clinton said. "We weren't in the same category as the other side." (There have been false stories from both political stances, according to analysis from BuzzFeed News.)

And she was "the victim of an assumption she would win".

Now then, let's get our passports stamped for Moscow, via the looking glass.

“The [17-agency report from the intelligence community] concluded with high confidence that the Russians ran an extensive information war campaign against my campaign to influence voters in the election,” Clinton said. “They did it through paid advertising, we think. They did it through false news sites. They did it through these 1,000 agents. They did it through machine learning, which kept spewing out this stuff over and over again, the algorithms they developed.”

Then she asked, not-quite-rhetorically, “Who were they coordinating with or colluding with?”

Unlike previous Russian cyberattacks inside the U.S., “This was different. They went public,” she said. “The Russians, in my opinion -- and based on the intel and counterintel people I’ve talked to -- they could not have known how best to weaponize that information unless they had been guided.”

“Guided by Americans?” Mossberg asked.

“Guided by Americans,” Clinton answered. “And guided by people who had polling data and information.”

Okay then. At least we didn't get any postulates about voting machines being hacked.

After a brief tour of James Comey’s behavior during the election, Kara Swisher asked Clinton who she thought was guiding the Russians. “ I hope that we’ll get enough information to be able to answer that question,” Clinton responded at first.

Swisher prompted, “But you’re leaning Trump.”

“I am leaning Trump,” Clinton said.

“We’re going to, I hope, connect up a lot of the dots,” she said. “And it’s really important because when Comey did testify before being fired this last couple of weeks, he was asked, ‘Are the Russians still involved?’ And he goes, ‘Yes. They are.’ Why wouldn’t they be? It worked for them. It is important for Americans, particularly people in tech and business, to understand Putin wants to bring us down and he is an old KGB agent.”

I'm sorry to say it, but both the Democrats and the Republicans nominated candidates who were far too emotionally unstable to serve as President of the United States.  I still believe the worst one won, but it's a real close call.

Of course, Clinton believes she beat Trump. And Bernie Sanders, too.

Hillary in Wonderland.

I'll still stand on James Comey being a blithering idiot, voter suppression in states like Wisconsin, and Clinton being the absolute worst candidate imaginable in a 'change' election cycle, and that was before her rumored health issues were unfortunately confirmed, and a host of other Al Gore-like small mistakes that added up to her pulling defeat from the jaws of victory.  Errors in polling, the coup de grâce, gave everybody a false sense of security that she would hang on.  I went back and forth about her prospects myself at the end of September, and again in early November.  But even Trump himself was musing about 'taking a nice, long vacation' after Election Day.

That was in August, though.  Conspiracists alight!