Opinion | The Mueller Exposé – By Ross Douthat – The New York Times

By Ross Douthat
Opinion Columnist

April 20, 2019, 774

“Roughly four thousand, two hundred and twenty-seven Trump-era news cycles ago, there was a rather famous book called “Fire and Fury.” The author, Michael Wolff, used an interesting tactic to gain access to the Trump White House: He allowed his subjects, the president included, to believe that he was going to write a positive account of the Trump administration, and then used that access to produce an account of an administration in constant chaos, and a president who was understood by everyone around him to be unfit for the job.

One way to approach the Mueller report, if your sense of civic duty requires you to approach it, is to see it as a more rigorous, capacious version of “Fire and Fury.” Mueller’s exposé was backed by subpoena power rather than just sweet talk, but ultimately it delivers the same general portrait: Donald Trump as an amoral incompetent surrounded by grifters, misfits and his own overpromoted children, who is saved from self-destruction by advisers who sometimes decline to follow orders, and saved from high crimes in part by incompetence and weakness.”

GOP Kills Bill That Would Extend Agent Orange Benefits To US Navy Vietnam Vets – The Intellectualist

JakeThomas
by
JakeThomas
Feb 24
“Sen. Mike Enzi of Wyoming—who voted for tax cuts—objected to the bill on the basis it would increase deficit spending.

Two Republican senators killed a bill on Monday that would provide benefits to American veterans who served in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War and now suffer the effects of Agent Orange.

The reason? Extending benefits to those veterans would constitute deficit spending.”

Source: GOP Kills Bill That Would Extend Agent Orange Benefits To US Navy Vietnam Vets – The Intellectualist

Opinion | What Is He So Afraid of? – by David Leonhardt – The New York Times

House Democrats may not be able to force President Trump to release his tax returns. But the Democrats can keep reminding Americans that Trump really does not want the public to know what’s in those returns.

As you probably know by now, all other recent presidents (and presidential nominees) voluntarily released their tax information. Trump has not. Now House Democrats are trying to get access to that information and potentially release portions of it to the public.

Last week, Richard Neal, Democrat of Massachusetts and chairman of the House Ways and Means Committee, demanded to see six years of Trump’s tax returns, citing a 1924 provision in the tax code that gives Congress the power to obtain any citizen’s returns. Neal has given the Internal Revenue Service until Wednesday to hand over the returns to Congress.

How PG&E Overlooked Wildfire Risks in Favor of Its Bottom Line – The New York Times

By IVAN PENN, PETER EAVIS and JAMES GLANZ MARCH 18, 2019

“Tower 27/222 looms almost 100 feet tall in the Sierra Nevada foothills, a hunk of steel that has endured through 18 United States presidents. The transmission lines that it supports keep electricity flowing to much of California.

On the morning of Nov. 8, a live wire broke free of its grip. A power failure occurred on the line, affecting a single customer. But 15 minutes later, a fire was observed nearby. Within hours, flames engulfed the region, ultimately killing 85 and destroying the town of Paradise.

The equipment belonged to the state’s biggest utility, Pacific Gas and Electric. To the company’s critics, the tower and its vulnerability reflect a broken safety culture.

Five of the 10 most destructive fires in California since 2015 have been linked to PG&E’s electrical network. Regulators have found that in many fires, PG&E violated state law or could have done more to make its equipment safer.

Long before the failure suspected in the Paradise fire, a company email had noted that some of PG&E’s structures in the area, known for fierce winds, were at risk of collapse. It reported corrosion of one tower so severe that it endangered crews trying to repair the tower. The company’s own guidelines put Tower 27/222 a quarter-century beyond its useful life — but the tower remained.”

Opinion | The Real Theft of American Democracy – By Carol Anderson – The New York Times

By Carol Anderson
Dr. Anderson is the author of “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy.”

March 14, 2019, 19 c
Image: Mark Harris, President Donald Trump and Ted Budd during a campaign rally in Charlotte, N.C. in 2018.
Credit Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

“On Tuesday, the Justice Department opened an investigation into alleged election fraud in North Carolina’s Ninth Congressional District. Neither the details of the crime nor the culprits, however, match the scenario that has led to an array of Voter ID laws, voter roll purges and similar efforts “to protect the integrity of the ballot box.”

The Republicans would have the nation believe that the threat to our democracy is from voter fraud, where someone impersonates someone else to cast an illegal ballot or multiple ballots to “steal elections.” But the chance of voter fraud occurring is, at best, 0.0000044 percent.

The real theft of American democracy happens through election fraud and voter suppression. And Republicans are the thieves.

What happened in North Carolina during the 2018 midterms was a textbook case of election fraud. That’s when a candidate’s campaign sets out to manipulate vote tallies to steal an election.”

Opinion | The Power of Petty Personal Rage – By Paul Krugman – The New York Times

By Paul Krugman
Opinion Columnist

March 11, 2019

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Image: “Captain Marvel,” starring Brie Larson, was bombarded with negative reviews before the movie was released.
Credit Disney-Marvel Studios

” “Captain Marvel,” starring Brie Larson, was bombarded with negative reviews before the movie was released.CreditCreditDisney-Marvel Studios
Today’s column is about plastic straws, hamburgers and dishwashing detergent. Also Captain Marvel.

No, I haven’t lost my mind, or at least I don’t think so. But quite a few other people have — and their rage-filled pettiness is a more important force in modern America than we like to think.

My starting point is a weekend tweet from Representative Devin Nunes of California, who headed the House Intelligence Committee until the House changed hands after the midterms. In that role, he basically acted as Donald Trump’s stonewaller in chief, doing everything he could to prevent any real investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Vladimir Putin.

But his tweet wasn’t about that. It was about a waitress who, citing the “straw police,” asked his dining party if they wanted straws. “Welcome to Socialism in California!” Nunes thundered.

If this seems like a weird aberration — he wasn’t even denied a straw, just asked if he wanted one — you need to realize that rage explosions over seemingly silly things are extremely common on the right. By all accounts, the biggest applause line at the Conservative Political Action Conference — eliciting chants of “U-S-A, U-S-A!” — was the claim that Democrats are coming for your hamburgers, just like Stalin. (They aren’t, and for the record, Stalin was a mass murderer, but objectively pro-burger.)”

Why Are There So Many Robocalls? Here’s What You Can Do About Them – By Katherine Bindley – WSJ

Why Are There So Many Robocalls? Here’s What You Can Do About Them
Robocalls won’t vanish soon, but carriers are working on a spam filter and other fixes
Why Are There So Many Robocalls? Here’s What You Can Do About Them
0 COMMENTS
By Katherine Bindley
Updated July 4, 2018 1:30 p.m. ET
Remember when phone calls meant people wanted to talk to you about something other than lowering your interest rates? These days, the phone rings so often with recorded robocall messages—You qualify! You owe! You’ve won!—answering feels like a hazard.

I hit my own robocall breaking point a month ago. I was grabbing a quick shower before catching a flight. My phone rang. Fearing I’d miss a call from my boss, who had been trying to reach me, I jumped out. But no, it was a recording instead.

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I resisted the urge to throw my phone across the bathroom and went looking for answers. Why can’t anyone stop this madness? When will it end?

First, the bad news: Almost every person I talked to about robocalls used the phrase, “There’s no silver bullet.”

But developments in the works should get the robocall problem more under control. And there are steps to take on your own that actually do reduce calls.

Where did this evil come from?
Back when phone calls were transmitted over copper wires, businesses paid a lot of money for phone systems that allowed 1,000 employees to make calls without needing 1,000 phone lines. These systems inserted caller ID so, for instance, customers all saw the same business number, regardless of which employee made the call.

With the internet, businesses don’t need expensive hardware. Anyone can start a mini call center with software that auto-dials numbers and spoofs caller ID. They also need a provider to “originate” the call, that is, connect the internet call to the phone network.

Some robocalls are legitimate—your pharmacy, your bank—but not the ones that change numbers constantly to appear local and avoid detection. Robocallers even spoof numbers held by ordinary phone customers like you and me (so don’t call them back to yell at them.)

How They Fool Us
Robocallers seized the tech that helps legitimate businesses manage their phones. Here’s how they’ve perverted the phone call.

Personal calls

Jim calls Frank from his cellphone.

Phone service provider inserts caller ID.

Franks’s cellphone displays Jim’s name and number.

Frank answers his phone.

Traditional

business calls

Jenny’s office has a phone exchange system that lets many employees dial out over a smaller number of lines. The exchange system inserts caller ID.

Frank’s cellphone displays the main number of Jenny’s employer.

The call gets sent out through the company’s service provider.

Jenny calls Frank from her work phone.

Frank answers his phone.

Robocalls

He downloads software for free that can insert caller ID.

With an auto-dialer, he can call many numbers from a huge database.

The robocaller places calls over the internet.

The caller could be anywhere…

Fooled, Frank answers his phone.

…and still make the call appear to originate locally.

Illustration: Kurt Wilberding/The Wall Street Journal

Sources: Federal Trade Commission, Atis
A real fix is coming?
With caller ID basically broken, developers have proposed a call-certifying protocol (known as STIR) and guidelines for implementing it (known as SHAKEN). The names behind these acronyms are long and confusing.

With it, an originating phone carrier could check that a caller has the right to use a number and create a digital fingerprint for the call. The carrier on the receiving end could verify that nothing was messed with in transit.

“They’re actually not saying that the call comes from the phone number. What they’re saying is this user is entitled to use this phone number,” says Jim McEachern, a principal technologist with the Alliance for Telecommunications Industry Solutions, a technical working group that helped develop guidelines for this call-certification protocol.

If a bad guy tries to spoof the caller ID, the call would go through, but it wouldn’t be verified. Eventually, users would see a check mark or other indicator for verified calls.

Verizon’s Caller Name ID service can send spam numbers to voice mail.
Verizon’s Caller Name ID service can send spam numbers to voice mail. PHOTO: VERIZON
Mr. McEachern likens the current state of robocalls to the days before email spam filters. “I think something similar will happen with this,” he says. “Suddenly people will say, ‘Remember how bad that used to be?’”

Mr. McEachern estimates that could take two to five years. Verizon plans to start rolling the system out later this year and other carriers are expected to follow.

“We are optimistic it will have an impact but again, this alone is not going to solve the problem,” says Matthew Berry, chief of staff at the Federal Communications Commission, which comes up with rules for the industry, fines people and companies for violations and develops public policy initiatives.

The ‘Do Not Originate’ list
Before then, other weaker measures are appearing. Last November, the FCC adopted rules that let phone companies block calls from area codes that don’t exist, numbers that aren’t assigned to anyone and entries on a “Do Not Originate” list, which consists of numbers that aren’t used for outbound calls.

T-Mobile provides scam ID and automatic scam-call blocking free.
T-Mobile provides scam ID and automatic scam-call blocking free. PHOTO: T-MOBILE
Mr. Berry says the rules have been effective in stopping IRS scam calls. Scammers had been spoofing an IRS hotline number that is now on the Do Not Originate list.

But IRS scam calls can come from a variety of numbers. Aaron Foss, founder of the call-blocking app Nomorobo, says his app identified 75 different numbers peddling IRS scams in just one day.

What you can do now
When you get a robocall, hang up. Don’t say anything, don’t press buttons and don’t call back. Once scammers know a number works, they can sell it and your call volume could increase.

Nomorobo identifies likely scam calls and can send them straight to voice mail
Nomorobo identifies likely scam calls and can send them straight to voice mail PHOTO: NOMOROBO
It can feel like there’s no point in blocking numbers in your phone—I blocked one peddling chronic pain management and got the same recording from another within 48 hours. But do it anyway, because there are plenty of repeat offenders out there. Here’s how to do it on iOS and Android.

Also, add yourself to the Federal Trade Commission’s Do Not Call Registry. Just know that you will still get unwanted calls, because scammers don’t obey rules. Also, keep filing robocall complaints. It helps the FTC spot evildoers.

Carrier protection
Service providers have upped their robocall-protection offerings recently so check in with your carrier. They include features to identify possible scam calls—and even gauge the likelihood it is a scam—as well as block them or send them to voice mail.

Hiya is a free call-blocking app.
Hiya is a free call-blocking app. PHOTO: HIYA
T-Mobile provides scam ID and automatic scam-call blocking free.

AT&T call-protection services are also free, and include blocking suspected fraud. It also offers a $4-a-month service that lets you block specific categories of calls, and includes reverse phone-number lookup.

Verizon’s recently improved $3-a-month Caller Name ID service for wireless can now send spam numbers to voice mail.

Sprint’s newly updated Premium Caller ID, also $3 a month, lets iOS users automatically reject calls based on the likelihood they are scams. Android users will get this feature later this summer.

Call-blocking apps
You can also try apps made by outside developers.

Nomorobo, $2 a month, identifies likely scam calls and can send them straight to voice mail. Unlike some other services, you don’t have to share your contact list for it to work.

Its algorithm uses multiple data sources, including complaints from the FTC and the FCC and real-time data it gets from its landline customers. The company also owns about 250,000 phone numbers, and monitors their incoming calls for scammers.

Hiya is a free call-blocking app that works by analyzing data from complaints made to the FTC and the FCC, and information it collects from its Android users. Hiya is the technology behind the call-identifying feature that powers AT&T’s Call Protect service.

Whether iOS or Android, you do need to share your contact list with Hiya, but the service doesn’t upload or store it. It also says it won’t sell any data from your phone to third parties.

After this article was published online, Hiya clarified its privacy policy and some of the language on its website to reflect that people can use a limited version of its app, including the core features, without granting access to contacts. Granting that access is only necessary to access all of the app’s features, it said.

Source: Why Are There So Many Robocalls? Here’s What You Can Do About Them – WSJ

Opinion | Let’s Destroy Robocalls – By Gail Collins – The New York Times

By Gail Collins
Opinion Columnist
March 1, 2019, 842
Congress may have found an issue that all Americans can rally around.

Stopping robocalls.

“All right — a little depressing that it can’t be world peace or affordable health care. But let’s take what we can get. If our elected officials could join hands and lead us into a world where phones are no longer an instrument of torture, maybe it’d give them enough confidence to march forward and, um, fund some bridge repair.

Everybody has always hated telemarketers, particularly the ones trying to sell some shady product. And now the miracles of technology let them follow you around all day. When I’m home, I feel as if I spend half my time blocking robocalls on our landline. Yet somehow a different number always pops up, with great news about opportunities to reinsure my nonexistent car at low prices or acquire a cost-free knee brace.

The knee brace thing is a scam to get money out of Medicare, but in order to figure that out you’d have to engage in conversation. People, do not ever talk on the phone with a stranger wielding free knee braces. This can be a life rule.

Things are at least as bad on mobile phones, which were the lucky recipients of 48 billion robocalls in the United States alone last year.”

Opinion | ‘He Is a Racist- He Is a Con Man- and He Is a Cheat’ – By Nicholas Kristof  – New York Times

I agree with Nicholas Kristof and Michael Beschloss (on NBC? news last night), this is probably the beginning of the end of Donald Trump’s power, if not his presidency.

By Nicholas Kristof
Opinion Columnist

Feb. 27, 2019

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Michael Cohen testifying Wednesday on Capitol Hill.
Credit
Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times

Image
Michael Cohen testifying Wednesday on Capitol Hill.CreditCreditSarah Silbiger/The New York Times
More than 45 years ago, as a 14-year-old farm kid in Oregon, I watched on a flickering black-and-white television as Richard Nixon’s former White House counsel, John Dean, testified about presidential misconduct in the Watergate scandal — and the second-most-corrupt administration in American history began to crumble.

Now, watching Michael Cohen testify before Congress, I sense a similar historic temblor, only this time it may be the No. 1-most-corrupt administration that is beginning to teeter.

Cohen’s testimony was staggering because of the cumulative sum of alleged misconduct, because of the overall portrait it provided of Donald Trump as a “mobster.”

“I know what Mr. Trump is,” Cohen said, summing up what he learned working at Trump’s side for a decade. “He is a racist, he is a con man, and he is a cheat.”

Opinion | Republicans Sink Further Into Trump’s Cesspool – By Peter Wehner – The New York Times

I watched several hours of the Michael Cohen hearing yesterday, and the behavior of the Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform turned my stomach into knots. Here is Peter Wehner, a magnificent and articulate conservative Republican, carefully explaining what was so disgusting about the behavior of thesed Republican congress people.

By Peter Wehner
Contributing Opinion Writer
Feb. 27, 2019, 626 c
Image
A check from President Trump to Michael Cohen on display at the House committee hearing at which Mr. Cohen was testifying on Wednesday.CreditCreditErin Schaff/The New York Times

“Michael Cohen’s testimony before Congress on Wednesday revealed as much about the Republican Party as it did about President Trump and his former lawyer. In the aftermath of Mr. Cohen’s damning testimony, several things stand out.

The first is that unlike John Dean, the former White House counsel who delivered searing testimony against President Richard Nixon in 1973, Mr. Cohen produced documents of Mr. Trump’s ethical and criminal wrongdoing. (Mr. Dean had to wait for the Watergate tapes to prove that what he was saying was true.)

Mr. Cohen’s most explosive evidence included a copy of a check Mr. Trump wrote from his personal bank account, while he was president, to reimburse Mr. Cohen for hush money payments. The purpose of that hush money, of course, was to cover up Mr. Trump’s affair with a pornographic film star in order to prevent damage to his campaign.

Other evidence produced by Mr. Cohen included financial statements, examples of Mr. Trump inflating and deflating his wealth to serve his interests, examples of charity fraud, efforts to intimidate Mr. Cohen and his family and even letters sent by Mr. Cohen to academic institutions threatening legal actions if Mr. Trump’s grades and SAT scores were released. (Mr. Trump hammered President Barack Obama on this front, referring to him as a “terrible student, terrible,” and mocking him for not releasing his grades.)

Yet Republicans on the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, in their frantic effort to discredit Mr. Cohen, went after him while steadfastly ignoring the actual evidence he produced. They tried to impugn his character, but were unable to impugn the documents he provided. Nor did a single Republican offer a character defense of Mr. Trump. It turns out that was too much, even for them.

In that sense, what Republicans didn’t say reveals the truth about what happened at the hearing on Wednesday as much as what they did say. Republicans showed no interest, for example, in pursuing fresh allegations made by Mr. Cohen that Mr. Trump knew that WikiLeaks planned to release hacked emails from the Democratic National Committee in the summer of 2016.

In a sane world, the fact that the president’s former lawyer produced evidence that the president knowingly and deceptively committed a federal crime — hush money payments that violated campaign finance laws — is something that even members of the president’s own party would find disquieting. But not today’s Republican Party.”