June 24, 2017

Down East Notes: The strange thing Mainers like to drink

Atlas Obcura - Maine, unlike most states, is a “control state,” meaning the state government maintains some level of monopolistic control over the distribution and/or sale of alcohol. What this also means is that Maine has extremely precise records of exactly what Mainers are drinking. It’s how we know that of the 10 most popular bottles of alcohol sold in the state in 2016, three of them are just different sizes of the same booze.

It would be reasonable to expect that brand to be, say, Jack Daniels or Smirnoff or Bacardi, something like that. It’s not. The most popular liquor in Maine by an extremely large margin—nearly two-and-a-half times as popular as the second-most, in terms of number of cases sold—is a coffee-flavored liqueur called Allen’s Coffee Brandy.

Allen’s is not a brandy, exactly; strictly speaking, a brandy is a spirit made by distilling wine. Allen’s is technically a liqueur, a neutral grain spirit like Everclear that’s been mixed with flavorings and sugar. Coffee-flavored liqueurs are not particularly popular in most of the U.S. In other control states, like Oregon and Pennsylvania, the only liqueur to make the top 10 list during the last two years is Fireball, a cinnamon-whiskey liqueur (it ranks fourth in Maine).

Even weirder, Allen’s isn’t even from Maine—it’s produced in Massachusetts, just outside Boston. And yet, the manufacturer tells me, 85 percent of the Allen’s they produce is sold in Maine. So why is a Massachusetts-produced coffee liqueur more popular in Maine than any vodka or whiskey?


Recording the lies of Trump

Alternet - The New York Times has published a compendium of Trump’s lies since taking office. Reporters David Leonhardt and Stuart A. Thompson have professionally focused their analytical minds on the most unprofessional and unfocused man now atop the American political system. Their June 23 report gives credit where credit is due.

“Trump achieved something remarkable: He said something untrue, in public, every day for the first 40 days of his presidency. The streak didn’t end until March 1,” they wrote. “Since then, he has said something untrue on at least 74 of 113 days. On days without an untrue statement, he is often absent from Twitter, vacationing at Mar-a-Lago in Florida, or busy golfing.”

One of the biggest icebergs ever is about to break off the Antarctic

independent, UK - An ice shelf the size of Bali is days away from breaking off into the Antarctic ocean, scientists have warned.

At 5,000 square kilometres – equivalent to the US state of Delaware - the iceberg will be one of the biggest ever recorded by scientists observing the frozen subcontinent.

Just 13 kilometres of ice now remains attached to the main area, leaving it hanging like a thread.

Sally Yates takes on Sessions

The Hill - Former acting Attorney General Sally Yates on Friday slammed Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s stance on criminal justice reform.

In a Washington Post op-ed titled, “Making America scared again won’t make us safer," Yates took aim at Session’s actions in May in which he reinstated mandatory drug sentences that were first imposed during the 1980s.

Yates wrote that Sessions was “stoking fear by claiming that as a result of then-Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.’s Smart on Crime policy, the United States is gripped by a rising epidemic of violent crime that can only be cured by putting more drug offenders in jail for more time.”

“That argument just isn’t supported by the facts. Not only are violent crime rates still at historic lows — nearly half of what they were when I became a federal prosecutor in 1989 — but there is also no evidence that the increase in violent crime some cities have experienced is the result of drug offenders not serving enough time in prison,” she continued.

June 23, 2017

Sanders takes on Mnuchin

Russian targeted 21 state elections, no evidence of vote change

Reuters - Russian hackers targeted 21 U.S. state election systems in the 2016 presidential race and a small number were breached but there was no evidence any votes were manipulated, a Homeland Security Department official told Congress.

Jeanette Manfra, the department's acting deputy undersecretary of cyber security, testified before the Senate Intelligence Committee.

More Trump intervention in Russian investigation

CNN -Two of the nation's top intelligence officials told Special Counsel Robert Mueller's team and Senate investigators, in separate meetings last week, that President Donald Trump suggested they say publicly there was no collusion between his campaign and the Russians, according to multiple sources.

Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats and National Security Agency Director Adm. Mike Rogers described their interactions with the President about the Russia investigation as odd and uncomfortable, but said they did not believe the President gave them orders to interfere, according to multiple sources familiar with their accounts.

Sources say both men went further than they did in June 7 public hearings, when they provided little detail about the interactions.

Federal appeals court allows massive discrimination against gays in Mississippi

Huffington Post - A three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit Court of Appeals this week lifted a lower court injunction that had stopped the implementation of what many legal observers and LGBTQ activists view as the worst, most dangerous legislative attack on LGBTQ people yet.

Mississippi’s HB 1523, the “Protecting Freedom of Conscience from Government Discrimination Act,” signed into law by Gov. Phil Bryant in April of 2016 but put on hold by a federal judge, allows for the most far-reaching religious exemptions of any bill we’ve seen in the states...

The law allows for businesses and government employees to decline service to LGBT people, and that including bakers, florists, county clerks and even someone working at the department of motor vehicles. It allows for discrimination in housing and employment to same-sex couples or any individual within a same-sex couple. Businesses and government, under the law, can regulate where transgender people go to the bathroom. The law allows mental health professionals and doctors, nurses and clinics to turn away LGBT individuals. It also allows state-funded adoption agencies to turn away LGBT couples...

U.S. District Judge Carlton Reeves had ruled the law unconstitutional - a violation of the Establishment Clause - in July of 2016 in a consolidated case, the plaintiffs in which included the Campaign for Southern Equality and LGBTQ-affirming churches and ministers. He issued a preliminary injunction. The 5th Circuit this week lifted that order, in a unanimous decision of the three-judge panel. Judge Jerry Smith, writing for the court, basically argued that the plaintiffs do not have standing because they have not yet experienced discrimination - which, of course, wouldn’t happen until after the law is in effect, which makes it a bizarre ruling:

Millennials most likely to go to public libraries

Pew Research - Millennials in America are more likely to have visited a public library in the past year than any other adult generation.

A new analysis of Pew Research Center survey data from fall 2016 finds that 53% of Millennials (those ages 18 to 35 at the time) say they used a library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months. That compares with 45% of Gen Xers, 43% of Baby Boomers and 36% of those in the Silent Generation. (It is worth noting that the question wording specifically focused on use of public libraries, not on-campus academic libraries.)

All told, 46% of adults ages 18 and older say they used a public library or bookmobile in the previous 12 months – a share that is broadly consistent with Pew Research Center findings in recent years.

Members of the youngest adult generation are also more likely than their elders to have used library websites. About four-in-ten Millennials (41%) used a library website in the past 12 months, compared with 24% of Boomers. In all, 31% of adults used a library website in the past 12 months, which is similar to the percentage that reported using library websites in late 2015

Felix Sater and Donald Trump

Salon - According to a new bombshell article for Bloomberg by Trump biographer Timothy L. O’Brien, the Russian-born [Felix] Sater — who came to the United States as a child in the 1970s — is a “career criminal” with ties to organized crime in both countries. O’Brien’s article hints that Sater could become a central figure in special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into what the Washington Post has described as “suspicious financial activities” involving “Russian operatives” and Trump’s inner circle.

Sater, we learn, was involved in what’s called a “pump and dump” Wall Street scam, in which Russian and American mobsters artificially boosted the value of junk stocks and then sold the commodities at ridiculously inflated prices. In the end, it was a $40 million swindle, with unsuspecting investors being screwed out of piles of cash.

Sater served prison time, O’Brien reports, for stabbing another stockbroker in the face with a broken margarita glass during a 1993 bar fight. His victim apparently required more than 100 stitches to repair his Tyrion Lannister-style lacerations. Sater also pleaded guilty on charges of stock manipulation for the pump-and-dump plot, and ended up becoming an informant for the FBI and the CIA in the late ’90s, helping the intelligence community track down loose U.S.-made Stinger missiles. (In a bizarre plot twist, Sater’s Justice Department supervisor was future Attorney General Loretta Lynch, then the U.S. attorney in Brooklyn.) All this went down after Sater had gone into hiding in Moscow, turned himself in to American authorities and bragged openly about his supposed ties to the KGB.

Around the same time, Donald Trump “was enduring a long stretch in the financial wilderness,” as O’Brien puts it. Trump’s infamous Atlantic City casino investments had crashed and burned in spectacular fashion. He barely avoided personal bankruptcy, although several of his business ventures went bust. In the early 2000s, Trump linked up with Sater and a real estate investment group called Bayrock, which made a variety of deals with various members of the Trump family, including Donald Trump Jr. and Ivanka Trump as well as their dad, between 2002 and 2011. Bayrock was founded, O’Brien reports, with a considerable infusion of Russian cash. This background lends additional context to Eric Trump’s famous remark about the family business: “We don’t rely on American banks. We have all the funding we need out of Russia.”

An old street idea is being revived

Governing  - [Washington DC] recently reconfigured an intersection to give pedestrians a chance to cross whichever streets they’d like -- even diagonally. The traffic signal cycle at the intersection now includes a period in which all vehicle traffic is stopped and pedestrians can cross in any direction without worrying about getting hit by a car or truck.

This type of intersection, which is actually the second to be implemented in the District in recent years, has been around for decades. It's known as a “pedestrian scramble” or a “Barnes dance,” in honor of the transportation director, Henry Barnes, who championed the design in the mid-20th century.

Now, local officials in D.C. and elsewhere -- including Nashville, Tenn.; and Portland, Ore. -- are taking a new look at this old idea as a way to potentially reduce pedestrian deaths and injuries.

Even though they’re new to D.C., pedestrian scrambles have been used in several U.S. cities. Barnes, who served as a transportation commissioner in Baltimore, Denver and New York City, promoted their use in those cities from the 1940s through the 1960s. But the traffic arrangement slowly lost favor, as engineers focused on making intersections more efficient for moving vehicles.

In D.C., transportation planners will study the new intersections to determine whether the design would make sense in other places across the city.

“We get lots of requests for pedestrian scrambles [but] we haven’t had good enough performance information to know whether it’s something we should be more aggressively pursuing or not. That will come from this,” says Sam Zimbabwe, the chief project delivery officer for the District’s transportation department.

Perpetual illegal wars

institute for Public Accuracy - Charlie Savage of the New York Times reports in “Senators Wrestle With Updating Law Authorizing War on Terrorist Groups” that: “Asked at a luncheon on Monday at the National Press Club in Washington what legal basis the United States had to attack Syrian government forces, the chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, Gen. Joseph F. Dunford Jr., claimed the authority stemmed from the 2001 law because the American military presence in Syria was predicated on fighting Al Qaeda and the Islamic State there.

“But on Tuesday, the ranking Democrat on the Senate committee, Senator Benjamin L. Cardin of Maryland, said, ‘The most recent use of this, in regards to activities in Syria, certainly had nothing to do with the attack on our country on September the 11th.'”

Francis Boyle, professor of international law, University of Illinois College of Law. What the U.S. government is getting away with here is incredible. Gen. Dunford is citing the 2001 AUMF to go after Al Qaeda as justification to go after a secular government — Syria — that is actually fighting Al Qaeda, as well as ISIS.

Congress should not be in the business of ‘updating’ any authorization of continuing these wars, which are clearly illegal under international law. Congress should be in the business of repealing these bogus domestic authorizations. No one in 1970 was working to ‘update’ the Gulf of Tonkin Resolution. At least no one who was not a laughing stock. Congress was working to repeal the Gulf of Tonkin resolution, to defund the war — not to perpetuate illegal war for another generation. Congress now needs to repeal the perpetual illegal wars. The War Powers clause of the Constitution, as well as the War Powers Resolution are being flagrantly violated.

June 22, 2017

Guide to Senate and House health bills

Climate change

The Republican war on public healh

Washington Post - The Republican health-care bill wouldn't just unravel the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. Republicans are also planning to restructure Medicaid, a program established by President Lyndon B. Johnson in 1965 that provides health insurance to poor households, pregnant women and elderly patients.

Already, the version of the bill the House passed last month included drastic reductions in Medicaid outlays of about $834 billion over 10 years. GOP senators' own version of the bill, which they made public Thursday, could go even further over the long term.

Both the House and Senate bills aim to set a per-person cap on Medicaid spending in each state. That cap would adjust annually to take into account inflation. Through 2025, both bills would adjust the cap based on a measure of how rapidly medical costs are expanding — a measure known as the CPI-M.

Starting in 2025, however, the Senate bill would change the formula, instead funding Medicaid based on a measure of how rapidly all costs are rising (technically, the Consumer Price Index for urban consumers, or just CPI-U).

Washington Post -  The health-care bill that Senate Republicans released Thursday would eliminate critical funds for core public health programs that make up about 12 percent of the budget for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The money supports programs to prevent bioterrorism and disease outbreaks, as well as to provide immunizations and screenings for cancer and heart disease.

The Senate bill would end funding starting in fiscal 2018, which begins in October. That’s more quickly than the House GOP legislation, which would gut funding for the Prevention and Public Health Fund starting in October 2018.

As a provision of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, the Prevention and Public Health Fund provides the CDC almost $1 billion annually. Since the ACA's passage in 2010, it has been an increasingly important source of money for fundamental CDC programs.

General costs, however, typically rise more slowly than medical costs. After 2025, the increases to Medicaid would no longer be able to keep pace, with the gap growing each year. After a decade or two, that discrepancy would add up to of hundreds of billions of dollars.

Bookshelf: James Baldwin's FBI file

James Baldwin’s 1,884-page FBI file, covering the period from 1958 to 1974, was the largest compiled on any African American artist of the Civil Rights era. James Baldwin: The FBI File reproduces over one hundred original FBI records, capturing the FBI’s anxious tracking of Baldwin’s writings, phone conversations, and sexual habits—and Baldwin’s defiant efforts to spy back at Hoover and his G-men. Compiled by noted literary historian William J. Maxwell, this book also provides an introduction exploring Baldwin's enduring relevance in the time of Black Lives Matte.

Americans far more friendly towards immigrants than Trump

Think Progress - A majority of Americans in every state do not support mass deportation, according to a survey conducted by the nonpartisan Public Religion Research Institute, cutting against President Donald Trump’s executive orders on immigration authorizing the expulsion of undocumented immigrants.

The poll  found only one in ten young adults between the ages of 18 and 29 and one in nine seniors over the age of 65 support an immigration system to “identify and deport” undocumented immigrants. White Americans were twice as likely, at 20 percent, to support mass deportation than other racial groups. Along the political divide, deportation was more supported by Republicans (28 percent) than by Democrats (8 percent).

Trump used to admit he did business with Russia

Salon - Although Trump told NBC in May, “I am not involved in Russia,” he admitted in a 2007 deposition that a real estate development firm known as the Bayrock Group had brought Russian investors to Trump Tower to discuss investing in Moscow, according to a report by Bloomberg.

“It’s ridiculous that I wouldn’t be investing in Russia,” Trump said. “Russia is one of the hottest places in the world for investment.”

Bloomberg also reported that one of the principals at Bayrock is businessman Felix Sater, who reportedly has ties to organized crime in both the United States and Russia. Although Trump has repeatedly insisted that he is only passingly acquainted with Sater, former Bayrock employees insist that Sater often met with Trump at his business empire’s New York City headquarters and guided Trump’s children around Moscow.

They also report that Sater is still in contact with the president and some of his advisers. It is worth noting that the Bayrock Group itself also had an office located in Trump Tower.

While the president likes to downplay his business ties to Russia, his son Donald Trump Jr. once admitted to a real estate conference in 2008 that Trump built a tower in Panama for wealthy Russian clients, according to a report by Time.

“Russians make up a pretty disproportionate cross-section of a lot of our assets. We see a lot of money pouring in from Russia,” Trump told the crowd.

America's diversity, median age continue to grow

NPR =America's diversity remains on the rise, with all racial and ethnic minorities growing faster than whites from 2015 to 2016, the U.S. Census Bureau says in a new snapshot of the national population. The agency also found the U.S. median age has risen to nearly 38.

Asian and mixed-race people are the two fastest-growing segments of the U.S. population, the U.S. Census Bureau says. Both groups grew by 3 percent from July 2015 to July 2016. In the same 12 months, the non-Hispanic white population grew by just 5,000 people.

Non-Hispanic whites remain the only segment of the U.S. population where deaths outpace births, the agency reports.

"While all other groups experienced natural increase (having more births than deaths) between 2015 and 2016," the Census says, "the non-Hispanic white alone group experienced a natural decrease of 163,300 nationally."

Non-Hispanic whites remain the largest group of Americans, at 198 million, the Census says, followed by Hispanics at 57.5 million and blacks or African-Americans, at 46.8 million.

In some states, the [age] rise has been stark: the median age in Maine, for instance, is now 44.6 — six years older than in 2000. It's one of five states where the median age is 42 or above; the others are New Hampshire, Vermont, West Virginia, and Florida.

The youngest median ages were in Utah (30.8) and Washington, D.C., and Alaska (both with 33.9), the Census says.

How the public feels about the job Trump is doing

President Donald Trump

DNC has worst fundraising May in over a decade

The Hill - The Democratic National Committee had its worst May since 2003, raising just $4.3 million dollars as it struggles to rebound from a series of election defeats, according to Federal Election Commission data.

The last time May fundraising was lower was in 2003, when the DNC raised just $2.7 million.

In contrast, the Republican National Committee raised more than double, notching $10.8 million in May, a record-high amount for an off-year.

Vermont approves medical marijuana

Activist Post - A Vermont bill to fully legalize medical marijuana for qualifying patients was signed into law last week by Gov. Phil Scott. The new measure takes another step toward effectively nullifying the unconstitutional federal prohibition on the same.

Senate Bill 16 expands the existing laws on the books pertaining to medical marijuana to greatly expand access for qualifying patients.

Patients would be able to qualify for medical marijuana if they suffered from one or more of the following ailments listed in S.16:

(A) cancer, multiple sclerosis, positive status for human immunodeficiency virus, acquired immune deficiency syndrome, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder, Crohn’s disease, Parkinson’s disease, or the treatment of these conditions, if the disease or the treatment results in severe, persistent, and intractable symptoms;

(B) a disease, medical condition, or its treatment that is chronic, debilitating, and produces one or more of the following intractable symptoms: cachexia or wasting syndrome; chronic pain; severe nausea; or seizures; or

(C) other disease, condition, or treatment as determined in writing by a qualifying patient’s health care professional.

NY governor takes step to save an immigrant who helped in 9/11 recovery

Time - New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo announced Wednesday that he is granting clemency to a 9/11 recovery worker who is being detained by U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

Carlos Humberto Cardona was taken into custody by ICE in February after showing up for a check-in with immigration authorities, according to the New York Daily News. He has been held at the Hudson County Correctional Facility in New Jersey ever since.

Cardona pleaded guilty to an attempted drug sale in 1990. He has not had any convictions since.

Rather than removing Cardona from the country, authorities allowed him to be released with supervision and regular check-ins. Cardona suffers from respiratory problems linked to his work cleaning up downtown Manhattan after September 11, 2001. However, the deal was revoked after President Donald Trump signed an executive order changing deportation rules earlier this year.

Cardona applied for clemency in April, the Daily News reported. He is also married to a naturalized citizen and has filed an application with Department of Homeland Security and the U.S. Citizenship & Immigration Services to verify his marriage.

The real Eric Holder

Since Eric Holder is thinking about running for president, we thought some facts about his past would be useful.
The real Eric Holder
How holder blocked the prosecution of banks

CIA spying on home computer routers

Ars Technica- Home routers from 10 manufacturers, including Linksys, DLink, and Belkin, can be turned into covert listening posts that allow the Central Intelligence Agency to monitor and manipulate incoming and outgoing traffic and infect connected devices. That's according to secret documents posted by WikiLeaks.

The 175-page CherryBlossom user guide describes a Linux-based operating system that can run on a broad range of routers. Once installed, CherryBlossom turns the device into a "FlyTrap" that beacons a CIA-controlled server known as a "CherryTree." The beacon includes device status and security information that the CherryTree logs to a database. In response, the CherryTree sends the infected device a "Mission" consisting of specific tasks tailored to the target. CIA operators can use a "CherryWeb" browser-based user interface to view Flytrap status and security information, plan new missions, view mission-related data, and perform system administration tasks.

Missions can target connected users based on IPs, e-mail addresses, MAC addresses, chat user names, and VoIP numbers. Mission tasks can include copying all or only some of the traffic; copying e-mail addresses, chat user names, and VoIP numbers; invoking a feature known as "Windex," which redirects a user's browser that attempts to perform a drive-by malware attack; establishing a virtual private network connection that gives access to the local area network; and the proxying of all network connections.