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Manning to Go Free

I’m actually shocked:

President Barack Obama on Tuesday commuted the sentence of Chelsea Manning, who was convicted of stealing and disseminating 750,000 pages of documents and videos to WikiLeaks.

The President also pardoned James Cartwright, the former vice chairman of the US Joint Chiefs of Staff, who pleaded guilty in October to a single charge of making false statements to federal investigators in 2012 when he was questioned about leaking top secret information on US efforts to cripple Iran’s nuclear program to two journalists.

A presidential commutation reduces the sentence being served but it does not change the fact of conviction, whereas a pardon forgives a certain criminal offense.

Manning, a transgender woman and former US Army soldier, was serving a 35-year sentence at Fort Leavenworth, an all-male Army prison in eastern Kansas, despite her request to transfer to a civilian prison. A White House statement on Tuesday said her prison sentence is set to expire on May 17.

The material, which WikiLeaks published in 2010, included a classified video of a US helicopter attacking civilians and journalists in Iraq in 2007. Labeled “Collateral Murder,” the film drew criticism from human rights activists for the deaths of innocent people.

Though found guilty on 20 out of 22 possible charges (including violating the US Espionage Act), Manning was not convicted of the most serious one; aiding the enemy, which could have earned the private a life sentence.
Instead, the former intelligence analyst was sentenced to prison, as well as demoted from private first class to private and dishonorably discharged.

Manning was in solitary for no apparent reason and was having problems (e.g., two suicide attempts). But this is honestly surprising. I know the intelligence community was vehemently opposed. Obama has been commuting a lot of sentences for drug dealers and such, which I don’t really have a problem with. But this is the biggest one yet.

I’ll have to think about this one a bit though. Manning’s leaks crossed me as less defensible than Snowden’s. Snowden, at least, was revealing NSA malfeasance and civil liberties violations, even if one disagrees with the manner in which he revealed them. Manning’s leaks seemed more motivated at embarrassing the military and political leadership than anything else (e.g., Cablegate, which revealed diplomatically embarrassing discussions but no actual scandals).

So why has Obama pardoned Manning and not Snowden? I suspect because Manning undermined Bush and Snowden undermined Obama. We’ve seen this kind of partisan bullshit with Wikileaks. Republicans who denounced it when Manning was releasing info praised it when it released the DNC’s e-mails. And Democrats who praised Wikileaks when it was humiliating Bush denounced it when it humiliated Clinton. My stance on Wikileaks evolved a bit in the early days (as you’ll see in the link below) but solidified by the end of the Bush years. While I appreciate the efforts to reveal lawbreaking and civil liberties violations, I do not trust this messenger. Assange does not have our interests at heart and the information he has revealed has generally not benefitted us or the world. Quite the contrary.

As an example, I wrote a long blog many years ago on the “collateral murder” video. I disagreed with Wikileaks editorializing of the video, seeing it more as a tragic accident than the deliberate targeting of civilians. And be sure to click through to letters from Andrew Sullivan’s readers who go into the context of the video.

Anyway, Manning is going free and I’m happy for her, I guess. But I’m very surprised and baffled by this. I really didn’t expect it.

MLK Day

There are too many good tributes out there to link just one. Read his speeches, read the threatening letter the FBI sent to him, look at the pictures. King wasn’t just a great civil rights leader; he was a patriot, challenging the nation to be its better self.

I did not want to highlight this little speech from Rubio that actually moved me.

Just imagine if we were inaugurating this guy in four days time.

The Follies Begin

Last night, the Senate passed a budget resolution. This budget included the first step in repealing Obamacare: setting the situation so that key parts can be repealed by reconciliation. Contra the Left, this did not repeal any part of Obamacare; it set the stage for repeal.

The budget has significant issues, mainly in that it adds $9 trillion in debt over the next ten years, with no significant cuts to spending or entitles and no tax increases or changes. That’s just the baseline right now. If Trump is serious about enacting a giant tax cut when he gets into office, we could be staring down $20 trillion in debt over the next decade, a budget hole that makes Obama and Bush look like models of fiscal rectitude.

As for the Obamacare repeal, I am against a naked repeal of the bill without a replacement in place. Simply repealing the law would throw insurance markets into chaos, throw at least 20 million people off of insurance and roil a sixth of our economy. Indeed, a number of people — including hospitals, insurance companies and state governors — are lining up against a naked repeal for just this reason.

The model I prefer is repeal and replace, enacting a new healthcare reform act. There are several proposals out there but the problem here is getting it passed as one bill. Democrats will oppose and while Obamacare can be repealed with a simple majority, a new bill can not be enacted without a supermajority.

That brings us to the current strategy which is called “repeal and delay”. The idea is that the GOP would repeal Obamacare now, sunsetting it in two years. That would give them two years to come up with a replacement and put Democrats in the position of either supporting the GOP bill or letting Obamacare die.

It’s also one of the most reckless things I can imagine.

Look, we’ve been here before. We have seen Congress enact laws to try to force future Congresses to make tough choices. And it always been a disaster. Because there is no reason to think that future Congress will be any bolder or smarter than present Congress. So we enact tax cuts hoping to “starve the beast” — a trick akin to eating a huge slice of cake to try to force yourself to go the gym. And deficits explode because Congress decides massive debt is politically easier than spending cuts. We enact a sequester thinking that such a dumb way of cutting spending will force Congress to do it more wisely. And the sequester is enacted anyway because choices are hard. “Repeal and delay” is simply shoving 20 million people out of an airplane with a vague promise that you’ll get a parachute to them at some stage.

Trump appears opposed to “repeal and delay” as do many key members of Congress. But they can only delay so long as we are already seeing the beginning of a death spiral in individual insurance markets. This is a problem I have been shouting about ever since Obamacare passed: the GOP needed an alternative. Not a bunch of conflicting vague plans, but an actual plan that the entire caucus had agreed to.

My prediction? I think Trump isn’t so dumb as to think “repeal and delay” is a great idea. I suspect what will happen is that the GOP will pass a series of fixes to Obamacare to gradually repeal and replace it with a sounder and more market-oriented system (step one: allow insurance to be sold across state lines). And as long as it gets rebranded “Trumpcare”, I expected the President to go along with it.

Update: There’s a great tweetstorm from Justin Amash — rapidly becoming one of my favorite members of Congress — about why he voted against the bill.

To read it, click on the date at the bottom of the tweet and then scroll down through the points he makes.

The Last Report

What do Baltimore, St. Louis and Chicago all have in common? First, all three have seen huge surges in crime in the last few years, with St. Louis and Baltimore vaulting to the murder capitals of the United States. And second, all three have now been the target of damning DOJ investigations:

The Chicago Police Department routinely violates civil rights, uses unnecessary force, discriminates against minority residents, and fails to hold officers accountable — creating a climate of distrust, violence, and fear that makes residents and cops unsafe. That’s according to a massive new report that the US Department of Justice released on Friday.

As part of the investigation for the report, the Justice Department reviewed thousands of pages of documents, conducted hundreds of interviews with officials and residents, and participated in dozens of ride-along observations with police over 13 months.

Federal investigators attributed the Chicago Police Department’s (CPD) vast problems not to individual officers but to policies from the city and police department that regularly failed to adequately train officers and hold them accountable for wrongdoing — sending a message that bad behavior is tolerable.

This isn’t unexpected, of course. The attempt to cover-up the shooting of Laquan McDonald (and the subsequent revelation that Chicago cops were routinely destroying dash cams); the revelation of a black site where suspects were taken to be abused; the recent expose about how the CPD covered up for a cop who was routinely taking money from drug dealers for protection. But the scale of this is simply massive. First-hand reports of abuse and discrimination — many from cops themselves. A record of investigating only a tiny fraction of complaints, a culture of escalation of dangerous situations. And, making everything worse, a culture of denial and cover-up. Here is just one example:

I mentioned at the top that these three cities have all seen huge surges in violent crime. Balko (and many reseachers) don’t think this is a coincidence. When people don’t trust the cops, crimes become way harder to solve and prevent. And a good way to make people not trust cops is to hold cops accountable when they do bad stuff. The DOJ does not think (and neither do I) that Chicago is filled with bad cops. They lay the blame squarely on policies that fail to create accountability and even encourage this sort of thing.

Now you can contrast this to de Blasio “vile anti-cop rhetoric” and ending of stop-and-frisk, which has results in a gigantic surge in … well, actually crime has fallen in New York. To the point where the Daily News admitted they were wrong to opposed ending stop-and-frisk. (Mark this down. It may be the only time I ever say anything positive about de Blasio. Well, two things: he is, for the moment, not Hillary Clinton).

The good news, this should be the last we hear of this. Jeff Sessions, our pending AG, has indicated he will stop these investigations, end consent decrees and get the feds to stop bothering with this.

What the Hades? (Russian Pee Edition)

So … to quote a great sage, let me explain. No, there is too much. Let me sum up.

Yesterday, CNN ran an explosive story that the CIA had briefed Trump on Russian efforts to compromise him.

The allegations were presented in a two-page synopsis that was appended to a report on Russian interference in the 2016 election. The allegations came, in part, from memos compiled by a former British intelligence operative, whose past work US intelligence officials consider credible. The FBI is investigating the credibility and accuracy of these allegations, which are based primarily on information from Russian sources, but has not confirmed many essential details in the memos about Mr. Trump.

The two-page synopsis also included allegations that there was a continuing exchange of information during the campaign between Trump surrogates and intermediaries for the Russian government, according to two national security officials.

The report says Russia was trying to get information that would compromise Trump personally, financially or ethically.

Soon after that Buzzfeed ran the full report of allegations, which runs some 35 pages. It includes allegations that Trump people worked directly with the Russians and has some details on supposed compromising information. Buzzfeed stressed that this was unconfirmed but the internet and liberals jumped all over it.

And then it got even stranger. Every journalist on Twitter said that they’d gotten the same report as Buzzfeed but had refused to run it. The reason? Nothing in it could be verified (and as Liz Mair and other pointed out, there were reasons to doubt its authenticity even on its own merits). And then it got even stranger when Redditors began to claim the entire thing was a hoax sent to Rick Wilson as a joke (Wilson denies being the source of it). Trump, of course, took to Twitter to foam at the mouth about it.

So … to sum up … there is a document floating around making various claims about Trump and the Russians. It is from a single intelligence source, is absolutely unverified and contains information that crosses many as dubious. Buzzfeed, for reasons that elude me, decided to release the entire thing without any fact-checking. Based on this, a substantial part of the Left Wing — who were crying about “fake news” like yesterday — is calling for Trump to be impeached (although, TBF, they call for Trump to be impeached when it rains). So, in case you thought the bad crazy was going away, it isn’t.

(Necessary caveat, since I get accused of being a secret Trumpaloo anytime I defend him: Putin is a murderous kleptocrat; it’s alarming that he may have helped Trump in the election; it should be investigated thoroughly; this does not delegitimize Trump’s election; unless Trump worked with him, this is not an impeachable offense.)

Now … those are the facts. Here’s the fun:

The most frenzied allegation in the report was that, while in Russia, Trump rented out the Presidential Suite at the Ritz Carlton and had Russian hookers pee on a bed the Obamas had slept in. I’ll be honest with you: as much as dislike Trump, this allegation sounds like a bunch of manure.

Trump’s “thing” isn’t sex; it’s worship. He’s a shameless braggart and a terribly insecure man. Hence slapping his name on everything in sight. Hence his insistence that Marla Maples tell the media he was the best sex she ever had. Hence his claims to have seduced married women and groped models. The Billy Bush tape was Trump in a nutshell: a rich 59-year-old man so desperate to impress people that he had to boast about sexual assault to a D-list celebrity. Hell, the rumor is that his entire Presidential campaign was motivated by his humiliation at the White House Correspondents Dinner. Frankly, he doesn’t cross me as well-adjusted enough or secure enough in who he is to be kinky.

But, maybe. My friend Maggie McNeill took to Twitter to note that many politicians see sex workers and many have unusual requests. The only reason it doesn’t come out is because sex workers, unlike politicians, have ethics. So it could be true.

But I honestly don’t care. Whatever Trump is into, that’s his business and not ours. There are many people who are into being peed on or watching people pee and, if that makes them happy and everyone’s a consenting adult, that’s their business. As long as Trump’s not breaking any laws or coercing anyone, I don’t care. Well … no … I do care because it’s fun to mock the powerful. Viz:

So, yes, I will find some relief as this story swirls around the internet. I think that these kind of leaks are dangerous but I don’t mind too much when they anger our #1 businessman. I’m sure that this won’t stop Trump from taking care of business no matter how much it pisses him off. And, who knows? Maybe I’m wrong about his Administration and a bright golden future really does await us. Maybe he will write his name on the wall of history.

I’ll show myself out.

RFK No Way

While Congress holds hearings on Trump’s vehemently anti-liberty Attorney General nominee, another little bit of news slipped out today:

President-elect Donald Trump met with notable anti-vaccine activist Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. Tuesday, further stoking unfounded fears about vaccine safety and efficacy by asking the Democrat to chair a commission on the issue.

Kennedy, the son of late presidential candidate Robert F. Kennedy, told reporters after his meeting with Trump that the President-elect asked him to head a look into “vaccination safety and scientific integrity.”

Kennedy said he agreed to chair the commission.

Kennedy is a level 2 vaccine denialist: someone who says he is pro-vaccine but just wants them to be safe and to be guided by the science. This lie is betrayed by the years he has spent flogging anti-science kookery, claiming that preservatives in vaccines cause autism (they don’t) or that the vaccine schedule is too aggressive (it isn’t) or that there was a government conspiracy to hide the truth (there isn’t). He has compared vaccines to the Holocaust and continued to claim they cause autism long after the link has been disproved, pushing the anti-vax movie Trace Amounts on legislators trying to tighten up vaccine exemptions. This is not his only dip into conspiracy theory waters, as he claimed that the 2004 election was stolen. And he is on full-on climate hypocrite, calling for climate skeptics to be prosecuted while fighting against a massive wind project because he’d be able to see it from the Kennedy compound.

Trump has dabbled in these waters before but now he is elevating an anti-science thug to his Administration. Kennedy’s name has gotten him way too much slack. Trump isn’t the only person to kiss his loathsome behind. Time Magazine once named him a “Hero for the Planet” and Jon Stewart famously did an obsequious interview with him on The Daily Show. But Kennedy is undeserving of this respect. The only position RFK, Jr. should have in any administration is upside down with his head in a toilet.

Real Housewives of Political Correctness

So, a bunch of people have their boxers in a bunch about this sketch from the BBC comedy show Revolting:

A lot of people are jumping up and down claiming this is either offensive to Muslims or trivializes the rape and oppression that the real “wives” of ISIS are enduring. Now, I have a high offense threshold and have a taste for provocative humor, so take that into account. But I actually don’t see what the big deal is. The skit is kind of funny and, to me, seems to me a much more vicious satire of reality TV than of ISIS. And, to judge by the online commentary, a lot of Muslims are fine with it since they hate ISIS as much as anyone.

As for trivializing the rape of ISIS wives … look, one of the best things to do to evil men is mock them. It drives them absolutely crazy when you makes jokes about what they consider to me the most important thing in the world. That’s why they were so furious at Charlie Hebdo because the one thing a fanatic can’t stand is not being taken seriously. Mel Brooks, a Jewish veteran of WW2, has devoted decades to mocking Hitler at every turn.

So, please … more of this. More mockery, more jokes, more caricatures.

It’s Hateful, But Is It A Hate Crime?

This story is just revolting:

Hate crime and kidnapping charges were filed Thursday against four people who Chicago police say bound, gagged and beat a teenager with special needs while broadcasting the attack on social media.

The brutal attack, which had political and racial connotations — the victim is white, and the suspects are black — sent shockwaves across the nation, and was even addressed at the White House press briefing Thursday.

Thirty minutes of the torturous attack were streamed live on Facebook, but authorities said it was a six-hour ordeal that evolved out of a play fight, with the victim beaten, kicked, cut and forced to drink from a toilet.

The victim, who is not being identified, is an 18-year-old with “mental health challenges” from Crystal Lake.

During the live-streamed part of the attack, these thugs said things like, “Fuck white people” and “Fuck Trump”. There’s an ongoing online debate about whether this was a hate crime or not. It’s a debate I’m not terrifically interested in. Maybe they targeted the kid because he was white, maybe they targeted him because of his mental health issues and maybe they’re just pieces of shit. What was done was brutal, vicious and sadistic. The perpetrators — all of whom are adults — deserve to have the book thrown at them regardless of what actually motivated them.

I am, generally speaking, averse to “hate crimes” as a category of crime. I won’t change that position now. Kidnapping, assault, battery, etc. are plenty charges enough to bring against these guys.

All The News That’s Fit to Fake

Last week, the media filled with reports about how the Russians were hacking the power grid in Vermont. This was supposedly the first wave of more cyberattacks. The only problem? It wasn’t true:

As federal officials investigate suspicious Internet activity found last week on a Vermont utility computer, they are finding evidence that the incident is not linked to any Russian government effort to target or hack the utility, according to experts and officials close to the investigation.

An employee at Burlington Electric Department was checking his Yahoo email account Friday and triggered an alert indicating that his computer had connected to a suspicious IP address associated by authorities with the Russian hacking operation that infiltrated the Democratic Party. Officials told the company that traffic with this particular address is found elsewhere in the country and is not unique to Burlington Electric, suggesting the company wasn’t being targeted by the Russians. Indeed, officials say it is possible that the traffic is benign, since this particular IP address is not always connected to malicious activity.

In other words, the Washington Post, and most of the media, said a cyberwar was underway because someone clicked a link. This is part of the overall hysteria about Russia that has gripped the media since Trump’s election.

Look, I have no use for the murderous kleptocrat who runs Russia and has dreams of rebuilding his Empire. And it puzzles and alarms me that our President-Elect wants to snuggle up to him. But … let’s get a grip here. We’re not at war. We have a bit of a cold war thing going, but it’s not nearly what we were dealing with 25 years ago. For the time being, Putin’s imperial ambitions consist of wrecking his economy and getting his military bogged down in Syria and the Ukraine. Yes, we should pay attention to them and be concerned about cyber-warfare. But the speed with which people are going to DEFCON 2 is ridiculous.

(Note: it’s especially ridiculous because of many of these same jokers were useful idiots for the USSR when the latter actually was a superpower and we actually were in an intense Cold War. They were fine with seventy years of gulags and guerrilla wars, but a phishing attack on the DNC is apparently a step too far.)

I’ve been building up a diatribe on the “fake news” hysteria for a while and now is as good a time as any to unload. Pull up a chair.

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