Suicide Bomber in Nashville

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Castle Hill Inn, Newport RI – December 2020 photo by Kat Smith

It was a scary scenario: Nashville damaged by a suicide bomber on Christmas Day. The bomb caused massive destruction to 41 buildings, hitting Nashville’s tourist district hard. Federal authorities named Anthony Quinn Warner as the bomber. He died in the blast, and what motivated him is unknown. Although, if he didn’t want the bombing to be a message, he could have blown up his RV in his driveway.

Warner was an IT specialist who worked from home. He wasn’t married. His neighbors barely knew him. The NYT seems to think he’s a lone wolf. One thing the press isn’t doing is calling Warner a terrorist. From Charlie Pierce:

“I firmly believe that, had Warner been a Black Lives Matter activist or a Muslim cleric, we would not be having these angels-on-the-head-of-a-pin discussions about who is or isn’t a terrorist. If, as all the evidence indicates, Warner set off a huge incendiary device on a downtown street in a major American city, then he committed a terrorist act and is, therefore, a dead terrorist…..Random bits of violence are swirling in the very air around us, and all throughout our politics and our national dialogue. Occasionally, they coalesce…”

It is curious how little of the usual wall-to-wall terror coverage this bombing has received in the US press. Initially, Wrongo had to look to the European press to get anything beyond the headlines. The UK press is still providing most of the coverage.

An interesting aspect is that the bomb went off outside an ATT building. From the NYT:

“The explosion caused disruption that reached across the region, cutting off cellphone and internet service to homes and business across parts of Tennessee and into Kentucky and Alabama. Flights were grounded and 911 operations were knocked offline.”

This points out how fragile our civilian communications systems are. It should make it clear how easy it would be to disrupt our national security. If communications break down, mayhem can occur quickly. Hopefully those in charge of communications security in the telecommunications industry and in Homeland Security have paid attention to what might be a very important message about a system weakness.

It’s fine to contemplate the warnings, or the political motive, or the lack thereof.  But we should be aware of how much animus would exist for a Black or Muslim in a similar event. It clearly doesn’t exist in the case of this White male bomber. Also, Trump has been quiet about this. Is it because the perpetrator wasn’t an immigrant from the Middle East, but an American White man with unknown motives?

The differences in how we portray the acts of White domestic terrorists from how we perceive and portray others is striking.

This is still a developing story, and there’s little that we are certain of. Warner may have been the bomber. We’re not really certain if he acted alone. Some secondary press sources are talking up unproven theories that Warner was “obsessed” with the global 5G conspiracy. Backers of that theory think that 5G technology is being put into place by global elites in order to tighten their grip on society.

Terrorism is about messaging, and when a bomb goes off at 6:30 am in a commercial district on Christmas Day, we wonder why we’re having problems figuring out the bomber’s message. The press says that someone who deliberately terrorizes others (what Warner did), must have a message, or be part of some ideological group. Otherwise, they can’t be considered a terrorist.

If Warner simply wanted to kill himself, there are plenty of ways to do that wouldn’t terrorize others. But Warner deliberately planned an immense blast in a major city’s downtown. The lack of a message or clear motive doesn’t imply that it wasn’t a terroristic act. He had no way of knowing who might be killed by the blast.

Let’s hope that this is the last horrid thing that happens to us in 2020.

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Monday Wake Up Call – December 28, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Fallen Leaf Lake, near Lake Tahoe, CA – December 2020 photo by MDodd

Here at the Mansion of Wrong, we made it through Christmas with zoom calls and some good cheer. But before the year ends, Wrongo wants to share a few thoughts on what happened in the past week.

First, if anyone other than Trump were president, the White House would have commemorated a difficult holiday season for hundreds of thousands of families grieving from losses due to Covid. There would have been a small moment calling for national unity: A speech, tolling bells, a moment of silence. Anything, to show people that the president gets it, that they aren’t alone. But not this guy.

Second, Trump pardoned four former Blackwater military contractors who killed 14 Iraqis in 2007. All four had been convicted in federal court, one sentenced to life in prison, the other three to 12-15 years.

One terrible thing stands out: Not one Republican in Congress has raised an objection to these pardons of convicted war criminals. This again shows the dishonor and hypocrisy of the American right. Some in the GOP are even calling these criminals “American heroes“, and are actually defending them.

Imagine the GOP’s outrage if a Democratic president did this.

Here we are, watching the rule of law shredded by Trump, who’s hiding behind yet another poorly conceived founding idea in the Constitution. We need to amend the pardon power. OTOH, can we design a system that the GOP won’t corrupt? They systematically misuse all of the levers of government. So perhaps we should do away with “pardons” and leave the president with “clemency”.

Third, as you know, Trump opposes the Covid “relief” bill and wants it to be amended to include a $2,000 check, not a $600 one. Whatever his motives, he’s right about this. The bill is packed with pork, with just a few crumbs for the people. It’s totally inadequate to our current economic circumstances.

Trump’s call for additional stimulus money has split the Republicans into two camps: those who oppose his plan, and those who as always, are simply silent. House Democrats tried to jump on board by offering an amendment to the bill raising the one-time payment to $2,000, but House Republicans blocked it from being taken up.

This does nothing for the people, but Dems get to say that it’s the Republicans’ fault.

Trump seems to want to collaborate with McConnell to sabotage getting a bill that the Dems want. He and McConnell have been batting the Dems back and forth like a badminton bird, while Trump gets to talk about the good stuff he’d like to do for the people.

Finally, are you surprised that the world’s most loathed industry is coming to our rescue with a vaccine? Or, that they did it in record time?

“…before the coronavirus pandemic started, the two best-known faces of the pharmaceutical business were the imprisoned Martin Shkreli and the…opioid makers at Purdue Pharma. The rest of the industry was perhaps best known for the skyrocketing prices of its medicines. In a Gallup Poll of the public’s view of various business sectors, pharma was ranked at the bottom, behind the oil industry, advertising and public relations, and lawyers.”

In a year where almost everything else went wrong, the vaccine development effort was something that mostly went right.

This also highlights just how badly the US screwed up almost everything else the government did to fight the pandemic. If you think that’s wrong, look at these numbers: Nearly one in every 1,000 Americans has died of COVID. CNN reports that the:

“Census Bureau estimates for the last week of December place the US population at around 330,750,000. On Saturday afternoon, the national death toll from Covid-19 reached 331,116.”

Trump is much worse than any of his predecessors, and that’s truly saying something. He will have killed more Americans than were killed in WWII by the time he leaves office.

People need to focus long enough to realize just how evil Trump has been for America.

Wake up America! It is probably optimistic to say that we may be back to something approaching a new normal by next Christmas, but let’s hope so.

To help you wake up, listen to Imagine Dragons do a live cover released in December 2020, of “I’m Dreaming of a White Christmas”, written in 1942 by Irving Berlin for the film “Holiday Inn”:

 

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Trump’s Veto Threats

The Daily Escape:

Merry Christmas! The Wrongologist will be on break until next week, and on a reduced schedule through the New Year, unless something terrible happens. But really, what are the chances of that? OK, see below.

The Wrong family hopes that you can be in (physically distant) touch with your loved ones over the holidays. We hope that you can enjoy a few days of quiet reflection on this terrible year and our terrible government. Wrongo also fervently hopes that we experience a turn-around in how Americans care about each other in 2021.

Trump is threatening to veto the $900 billion Covid relief bill unless the Congress bumps up the $600 individual stimulus checks to $2,000. He said:

“Send me a suitable bill or else the next administration will have to deliver a COVID relief package and maybe that administration will be me and we will get it done.”

Trump also wants the three-martini lunch deduction that’s buried in the bill to be extended indefinitely. When you own a bunch of hotels, this might have a positive impact on your liquor sales.

That term dates back to the Mad Men era. The idea is that you can deduct all of the costs of a business meal, no matter how absurdly high, as a business expense. This change in the current bill will make the entire meal expense tax-deductible.

After military service, Wrongo’s first job interview was with Esso, the predecessor of today’s Exxon. The interviewers required that at least two martinis be consumed in the two hour lunch in order to prove that you had the right stuff. Wrongo received a hangover, along with a job offer. And thankfully, went to Wall Street instead.

As Axios noted, many of the items Trump wants changed, such as foreign aid, are not part of the Coronavirus relief package. They are part of the government funding bill, which was passed alongside the Coronavirus relief package.

So, Trump’s threatening a veto of the relief bill. On Wednesday, he vetoed the $740 billion defense spending bill. But the House will reconvene for an override vote on Dec. 28, with the Senate following on Dec. 29 if the House successfully overrides the veto.

But, what’s his strategy with the relief bill? If Trump decides to veto it, there may be a method to his madness.

Delays in negotiating prevented a timely passing of the relief bills, and that’s backed Congress into a corner. The Constitution grants the president 10 days to review a measure passed by the Congress. If the president has not signed the bill after 10 days, it becomes law without his signature, except if Congress adjourns during the 10-day period. In which case, the bill dies.

Ordinarily, Congress could just wait for Trump to veto the legislation and then vote to override it. But the Constitution mandates that a new Congress convene at noon on January 3. Meaning that this Congress ends at noon that day, ten days from now, and too late to meet and override the veto.

Moreover, the formal process of getting the bills to the president isn’t expected to be completed until Thursday or Friday, putting it on Trump’s desk within the danger zone for a Trump pocket veto. That prevents it from becoming law before the 116th Congress ends at noon on Jan. 3.

This means the next Congress would have to take up the bill all over again. Trump now can simply out wait the bill. He was scheduled to leave Washington on 12/23, for Mar-a-Lago.

There’s a disaster scenario here. The temporary government funding resolution runs out on December 29, unless extended by both Houses and signed by Trump. If Trump refuses to sign the bill, and Congress doesn’t choose to, or can’t override it before their session ends, there will be no Coronavirus aid, and the government will be shut down. If Trump remains intransigent with the next Congress, this could be prolonged until President-elect Joe Biden is sworn in on Jan. 20 and approves the bills.

Would Republicans actually agree to cave in to Trump and spend a few extra $hundred billion after fighting tooth and nail all year to keep this relief bill under $1 trillion? Saying no puts the GOP in the uncomfortable position of opposing its own president heading into the Georgia Senate runoffs, which are uncomfortably close for both Parties.

This also gives Democrats a strong argument against Georgia’s GOP senators, Kelly Loeffler and David Perdue, who supported the $600 payment. It demonstrates, once again, that the only real obstacle to more generous economic assistance is the Republican Party.

Trump’s play may help the Georgia Democrats on January 5.

Let’s leave with a Christmas song you may not have seen. Here’s “Last Christmas“, a song by Wham! the English pop duo, originally released in December 1984. Here it is sung live in 2019 by Emilia Clarke of “Game of Thrones” fame (Daenerys Targaryen) in the movie “Last Christmas“.

Andrew Ridgeley, the surviving member of Wham! is in the audience. This is a feel-good way to head into Christmas:

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Wrongo’s Lessons Learned in 2020

The Daily Escape:

Sunset, Manhattan Beach, CA – December 2020 photo by Linda Patterson

As 2020 draws to a close, it’s time to reflect on the hard lessons we’ve learned (or relearned) by living through 2020:

  1. Essential workers aren’t valued. In most cases, they do not make enough money to take time off, even if they’re sick. Few received the PPE they needed to do their jobs, and so they caught the virus in higher numbers than non-essential workers. We shouldn’t be taking these people for granted. Hardly any political group genuinely cares enough about the interests of essential workers to put them above their political agenda.
  2. The federal government is fully capable of doing the unthinkable. Like failing to rein in a president that has no regard for norms or laws. Or, by protecting us from cyber terrorism and spying. Or, by an administration purposefully mishandling a pandemic. Republicans have developed a clever way of inoculating themselves from accountability.
  3. The House and Senate are broken. They care more about their opportunities for personal advancement and wealth, than about doing what’s needed for the country. If you doubt this, remember that it took 51 days for Republicans to ram through tax breaks for the rich in 2017. It took 219 days for them to act on a second 2020 relief package that originally passed by the House on May 15, 2020
  4. Americans no longer care about each other. A common refrain heard throughout the pandemic was that “we’re all in this together.” Not true. We’re on our own. If this doesn’t change, it will eventually be the downfall of the country. It hasn’t always been this way. But now we’re out for ourselves, and we’ll do anything to get what we think we need.
  5. Outrage shown by Republicans is different than the outrage shown by Democrats. Just this week, Republicans are outraged by Jill Biden using “Dr.” as a title. Jill Biden has an Ed.D. degree. Republicans have decided that hers is a phony degree, and that the title “Dr.“ should be reserved for MDs. Jill Biden wasn’t elected, and neither she, nor her dissertation, should be a subject of outrage on the right. Last week, Biden’s soon-to-be White House deputy chief of staff, Jen O’Malley Dillon, dropped several F-bombs, including one in which she referred to Congressional Republicans as “a bunch of f***ers.” Naturally, Republicans’ outrage flowed from a group who support a guy who has used profanity in public for years.Democrats OTOH, seem to be outraged by 300,000 Americans dying. They’re outraged by the continued killings of Black Americans by police. They’re outraged by the Republicans’ unwillingness to handle immigrant children humanely. Perhaps you can see the difference.
  6. People haven’t the slightest clue about how to use facts and statistics. For most, facts and data are abstractions, while emotional arguments are very real. Use of science in every-day decision-making may vanish in one generation.
  7. We’re seeing an acceleration of things that were coming, but have arrived sooner than we anticipated. People who can work from home will continue to do it. More post-high school students will take online courses. Some routine medical consultations will start as virtual meetings with tests done at testing facilities before moving to in-person sessions. Office space in cities will be less expensive for at least a decade. High speed internet is now a necessity for all of us.
  8. Health is to be treasured. This is the great lesson of the pandemic.
  9. Sheltering in your family bubble demonstrates your privilege. It has a lot to recommend it: Fewer chances for infection, more time to get to spend together, some chance for personal growth. Don’t dwell on the negative, dwell on the time spent learning something new. Family is paramount. Whether “family” means those related to you by blood is secondary. “Family” can be your support network, your spouse and offspring, your significant other(s), any group you choose.
  10. There will be the pandemic equivalent of something like a Covid-20. What lessons will America learn that makes us better prepared next time? Do we need more than simply better presidential leadership?
  11. Pundits know nearly nothing. Did any of them have a pandemic on their watch list for 2020? How many saw a second stimulus package taking 219 days to pass the Senate? This means Wrongo, too.
  12. Elections will always have consequences. We must do a better job of seeing through the BS answers offered by candidates at all levels of government. We need much stronger guardrails to protect our democracy from another charlatan.
  13. Financial markets are mysterious and resilient. They are adaptable beyond anything Wrongo imagined possible when he was on Wall Street. How many foresaw the stock market crash and the follow-up boom? America learned that “small business” is often large corporations that manage franchises.
  14. America’s corporations, while seemingly innovative and impressive, are not our friends. The big tech firms are far too big and like all corporations, do not have our best interests in their business plans. Our social media interactions drive many people’s lives, and how easily something on social media morphs into political influence is dangerous to America’s well-being. Very often people’s “principles” are nothing more than social signaling.
  15. Wrongo may have lived through the best years of the US. You may wish it weren’t so, but the sixties through the nineties may have been the peak period of US success. Our citizens were at their wealthiest, they still had pensions. Our prominence around the world was unquestioned. Wrongo’s heart goes out to those who are young now, in 2020.

What you learned may be different. In fact, it should be.

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Monday Wake Up Call – Sedition Edition, December 21, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Arches NP – photo by Jack Bell Photography

Maggie Haberman of the NYT reported the scary details of a meeting at the White House on Friday. During the meeting, Trump tried to hire Sidney Powell as special counsel to continue the investigation into Trump’s claims of voter fraud. He also asked advisors about declaring martial law, an idea floated by Michael Flynn, the general he recently pardoned.

The meeting’s attendees included Powell, Flynn, and Rudy Guilani via phone, along with White House counsel Pat Cipollone and Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. In addition to talk of martial law and Sidney Powell obtaining special counsel status and a top-level security clearance, Giuliani floated the idea of Trump issuing an executive order to commandeer Dominion Voting Systems voting machines. Giuliani had previously called Ken Cuccinelli, number two at the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), and asked him whether DHS could seize voting machines. Cuccinelli said that DHS didn’t have that authority.

Haberman reported that Meadows and Cipollone strenuously and repeatedly objected to these suggestions, saying they had no constitutional basis for going forward. Apparently, the meeting lasted several hours, and things got pretty heated. More from Haberman:

“The meeting got raucous, with various administration members drifting in and out and different people arguing. Powell told others they were quitters…”

The Washington Times, a right-leaning newspaper in DC reported that on Saturday, the military said it wants no part in the martial law discussion. Army Secretary Ryan McCarthy and Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said in a joint statement:

“There is no role for the US military in determining the outcome of an American election,”

This shows how weak our government really is. With the right people supporting Trump, he could have attempted a military coup and overturned the election. This also shows how seditious Trump has become in the wake of his election loss. Thinking about, and possibly calling for, troops to stop a democratically elected president from taking office have taken his voter fraud claims to a much darker and militaristic place.

Since Trump has been thinking about suspending the Constitution and invoking martial law to overturn the election, he and his associates are committing seditious acts that should be treated accordingly.

America needs to make the price Trump pays for thinking about sedition higher than his price for accepting Biden’s win.

Now would be a good time for Biden to state publicly that attempts to violate election laws, or undermine democracy through overt and/or covert acts will be investigated by his DOJ, and that they will go wherever the evidence leads.

There are practical problems to think about: how will the incoming Biden team deal with a Trump administration that simply won’t agree to leave? Trump has stooges at the Department of Defense and the Justice Department. The Pentagon has already called a halt to transition activities, ostensibly until after Christmas, but who really knows?

What if Lloyd Austin, Biden’s new Secretary of Defense shows up at the Pentagon, and is denied entrance? Who does Biden appeal to? Trump? What happens when Trump refuses to take Biden’s call?

Does Biden ask the DOJ to step in? Trump’s stooge is sitting there as well. Does Biden ask the Supreme Court to intervene? What happens next?

None of us have any idea what’s going to happen between now and January 20th, but we need a concerted effort to strengthen the guardrails of our democracy. Trump has exposed just how weak our safeguards are.

The US is one month away from inaugurating a president who will follow established norms and conventions. There’s one more month for Trump to try martial-lawing his way out from under the nastiness that awaits him upon his leaving MAGAstan.

Time to wake up America! Trump has already tried several non-military coups, from trying to influence state electors, to multiple lawsuits attempting to throw out election results. It’s not really a question of what Trump is willing to do. And he’s not going to give up. We left “peaceful, dignified transfer of power” behind several weeks ago.

It’s now a question of how many people in our government institutions won’t play along with his coup. To help you wake up, have a listen to Leslie Odom Jr. perform “Winter Song”, featuring Cynthia Erivo.

The lyrics were written by Sara Bareilles and Ingrid Michaelson:

 

 

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Sunday Cartoon Blogging – December 20, 2020

Many lawmakers have already gotten their first vaccine shots. Good for them! Most of us would take it on the first day they could get it too. But it’s wrong that they’re getting shots while (at least at the time of writing this) they haven’t passed a COVID relief bill. And is there a better metaphor for Trump’s presidency than this story from NPR?

“For….six years, the ghost of the Trump Plaza Hotel and Casino has haunted the boardwalk in Atlantic City, N.J…..But not for long: The…eyesore is scheduled for demolition late next month, and the city is offering…the opportunity to bring it down….”

From Bodnar’s Auction House:

“We are selling the experience to push the button to implode Trump Plaza…”

There will be a bidding war for the right to implode Trump’s failed casino, just nine days after Trump leaves office. Atlantic City mayor Marty Small:

“…on his way out, Donald Trump openly mocked Atlantic City, saying he made a lot of money and then got out….I wanted to use the demolition of this place to raise money for charity.”

Trump persuaded the Republican Party and enough Americans that he was a genius businessman based on hype and his stupid TV show. While Trump was pretending to be a real estate big shot with a game show, his Atlantic City three-casino empire died. Information about his business failures was out there. But people didn’t want to believe it. Now after four years, America’s imploding. Pathetic. On to cartoons.

Will help arrive in time?

Will the new gifts for the season arrive on time?

Trump fails transitions:

Republican wish list for Santa:

The new hackers will control everything:

Mitch goes back to what he does best:

It didn’t take long for a chorus of Republicans to find a stupid non-issue to sing about:

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Saturday Soother – Trump Grifting Edition, December 19, 2020

The Daily Escape:

Shenandoah Valley, Browntown, VA – December 2020 photo by Renee Kuenster O’Connell

Business Insider (BI) reported (paywalled) that Jared Kushner helped set up a shell company that was a vehicle for secretly enabling Trump family members to spend nearly half of his 2020 campaign’s funds:

“The company, which was incorporated as American Made Media Consultants Corporation and American Made Media Consultants LLC, spent $617 million of the campaign’s $1.26 billion war chest, according to campaign finance records.”

The board of the shell company included Lara Trump, Vice President Mike Pence’s nephew John Pence, and Trump campaign CFO Sean Dollman says the Insider:

“Despite its $617 million spending through AMMC, the Trump campaign publicly disclosed little information about the company, including how it used the money.”

The nonpartisan Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a civil complaint with the Federal Election Commission accusing the campaign of disguising about $170 million in spending “by laundering the funds” through AMMC. The CLC filed its civil complaint with the Federal Election Commission, which recently regained its powers to enforce and regulate campaign money laws after lacking enough commissioners to do so for 14 of the past 15 months.

BI reports that several sources from the Justice Department say that investigators may already be looking into the campaign’s activities. You can view a non-paywalled summary of the BI article here.

Two things strike Wrongo about this latest abomination. First, the Trump family is always looking for a loophole to extend the grift. Second, during the Trump era, we have slowly but finally lost our ability to be shocked and outraged by anything Trump, his family or his dead-ender supporters do.

We’ve been worn down by so much rule and norm-breaking that we no longer believe that outrage will stop the terrible behavior. To people like Wrongo who had extensive contacts in the NYC real estate market, this abominable behavior was knowable in advance. But Hillary’s emails put Trump in power. And he along with his minions have obfuscated, lied, and denied the reality of what we saw right in front of us for the past four years.

This is just the latest that we’ve learned about in a very long string of Trump and his team finding and exploiting loopholes. Imagine all that we don’t know yet.

Time to take a break from playing the game of what happened to the supply of the new vaccine? Or, why has the Pentagon stopped the Biden transition process? And focus on our Saturday Soother.

The snow that fell in Connecticut on Thursday has been plowed out of the Wrong driveway, and Wrongo shoveled a path in the dog run. Our tree has all of its lights, but only about 20% of its usual ornaments. That’s due to the clear absence of holiday visitors in this time of Covid.

Our annual note about the year has been sent to our overseas friends and some extra notes to local friends that we’ve seen only rarely. Later today, we’re having a Zoomtastic cross-country session with family and friends.

But there’s time right now to gaze on the winter wonderland (16.5” of snow) outside our windows. So settle back and brew up a vente cup of Columbian Supremo ($13.50/12 oz.) from Ini Sips, a New Britain, CT based coffee and tea brewer. It’s a small veteran and Black-owned business that, due to the pandemic, pivoted from being a local community cafe to online sales, with reasonable success.

They’re running a seasonal special: When you buy two bags, they give a free bag of their coffee to first responders, health care workers or community workers!

Now listen to the Celtic Women do their patented style on the Christmas classic, “Oh Come, All Ye Faithful”:

 

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Trump Failed to Protect Government Networks

The Daily Escape:

Old cabin in winter – photo by Julie Williams

Various thoughts about US cyber security: First, along with the news about the cyber hack of the US government, comes news that Trump’s twitter account was hacked in October:

“Dutch prosecutors have confirmed that Donald Trump’s Twitter account was hacked in October despite denials from Washington…. The hacker…Victor Gevers, broke into Trump’s account @realDonaldTrump on 16 October by guessing the US president’s password…”

The password? MAGA2020. Gevers told the Dutch paper De Volkskrant that the president was not using basic security measures, like two-step verification:

“I expected to be blocked after four failed attempts. Or at least asked to provide additional information,”

The current US government-wide hack is a true disaster. The cyber security firm FireEye working with the FBI, has reported that the hack was caused by an infiltration of its network security via a software product made by the firm, Solar Winds. Reuters reported:

“On Monday, SolarWinds confirmed that Orion – its flagship network management software – had served as the…conduit for a sprawling international cyberespionage operation. The hackers inserted malicious code into Orion software updates pushed out to nearly 18,000 customers.”

Reuters earlier had reported that a researcher informed SolarWinds last year that he had uncovered the password to SolarWinds’ update mechanism, the vehicle through which its 18,000 customers were compromised. The password was “solarwinds123.”

That isn’t even as strong as Trump’s password. Right now, the damage is uncertain, but it seems extensive. NYT reported:

“…the Treasury and Commerce Departments, the first agencies reported to be breached, were only part of a far larger operation…. About 18,000 private and government users downloaded a Russian tainted software update…that gave its hackers a foothold into victims’ systems, according to SolarWinds, the company whose software was compromised.”

FireEye’s analysis shows that once the virus had infected the targets, it started ‘phoning home’ within 14 days. Sounds like quite a few people in the Trump administration were asleep at the switch: (brackets by Wrongo)

“Two of the most embarrassing breaches came at the Pentagon and the Department of Homeland Security….[who] issued an obfuscating official statement that said only: ‘The Department of Homeland Security is aware of reports of a breach. We are currently investigating the matter.’”

Tom Bossert, Trump’s original Homeland Security advisor in 2017, has an op-ed in the NYT that claims the hack was the work of the Russians. Whether that’s true or not, he’s correct about what has happened since:

“The magnitude of this ongoing attack is hard to overstate. The Russians have had access to a considerable number of important and sensitive networks for six to nine months….For those targets, the hackers will have long ago moved past their entry point, covered their tracks and gained what experts call “persistent access,” meaning the ability to infiltrate and control networks in a way that is hard to detect or remove.”

It will take years to know for certain which networks the hackers are monitoring. Politico reports that Trump has tried to gag the administration’s intelligence community leaders from reporting on the extent of the breach to Congress:

“During a National Security Council meeting on Tuesday night, national security leaders were instructed not to reach out to Capitol Hill for briefings on the massive hack without explicit approval from the White House or ODNI, according to people familiar with the episode.”

This is more dereliction of duty by the Trumpers.

We shovel money at the NSA, the CIA, and Homeland Security, but rarely ask what we get in return. How much compromise of our systems will it take to get accountability from these bureaucrats? It’s staggering that we continue to spend on a bloated military when the most crippling attacks we’ve faced in the past 20 years involve box cutters and computer hackers.

It’s hard to know which was worse: That the federal government was blindsided by a state controlled intelligence agency, or that when it became evident what was happening, White House officials said nothing.

This much is clear: While Trump was busy complaining loudly about the voter hack that didn’t happen in an election that he clearly lost, he’s been silent about the fact that someone was hacking our government. He can hide from this for another five weeks, and after that Biden will doubtless dig into it.

Republicans have spent six weeks crying fraud about the presidential election. But for this? Absolute silence. If this had happened during a Democratic administration, we’d have Republican hearings and talking points for the next 10 years. Where’s their outrage?

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New Relief Bill Rewards Businesses

The Daily Escape:

Hayden Valley, Yellowstone NP – December 2020 photo by Jack Bell

Politico reports that Congressional leaders are nearing a deal on Covid relief. The deal could be done by the time you read this.

The relief package is divided into two parts. The first bill, with a stated cost of $748 billion, funds the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP), along with $300 per week for unemployment benefits.

The second bill ties liability protections for companies demanded by Republicans to the Democrats’ demand for funding for state and local governments.

The big-ticket items in the first bill include one-time stimulus checks to individuals in the $600 to $700 range, an extension of federal unemployment benefits with an additional weekly amount of $300. There is $325 billion for small businesses, $257 billion for the PPP, some $ billions for vaccines, and to help schools open safely.

Delayed until the New Year is bill two, including money for state and local governments faced with laying off municipal workers, and liability protection for companies that put their employees in danger from the virus through inadequate safety measures. The items in the second bill are what have stalled negotiations for weeks.

Lee Fang of the Intercept reports that the draft of the first bill circulating on Capitol Hill contains several adjustments to the PPP, the centerpiece of the government’s earlier efforts to curb job loss stemming from the pandemic. One of the revisions is a radical change that would result in a major windfall for the highest-income Americans and large corporations. That provision allows businesses claiming expenses reimbursed by PPP forgivable loans, (already tax-free), to also be used as deductions when calculating taxable income.

In other words, the change would allow a corporation that claimed $1 million in PPP reimbursements to also deduct the same $1 million on its tax return, thereby reducing their taxable income by $1 million. Until now, IRS rules prohibited tax-free government grants and reimbursements from being used as deductions. The Intercept quotes Steven Rosenthal from the Tax Policy Center, who estimates that this PPP deduction provision could reduce the taxes of the highest-income taxpayers by at least $100 billion without benefiting workers or the unemployed.

This tax deduction provision technically applies to all PPP recipients, but few will be able to take the additional tax benefit. Wealthy business owners and large corporations claim the lion’s share of business expense deductions. This group would include wealthy doctors and financial consultants, and those who make over $1 million in yearly income.

This tax provision has been pushed by Rep Richard Neal, (D-MA), and Sen Chuck Grassley, (R-IA). There has been little pushback to these tax giveaways, reflecting a general consensus in Congress around the value of more business tax cuts. Lawmakers, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, (R-KY), have described the PPP extension and expansion as an “uncontroversial” aspect of stimulus talks.

This should be pretty simple. If you get a PPP loan, and it is later forgiven, the expenses paid with the loan proceeds shouldn’t be deductible. The company didn’t pay taxes on the PPP loan cash proceeds and thus shouldn’t receive a deduction against taxable income for the expenses paid. That’s double-dipping.

The big idea behind PPP loan forgiveness was to help businesses retain employees and pay certain qualified expenses like rent and utilities, not to enrich employers.

Also buried in the bill is another bailout for US Airlines. They stand to get another $17 billion taxpayer-funded bailout if the first bill becomes law. From Wolf Richter:

“Democrats and Republicans may not agree on much of anything these days, but they both love to bail out airline shareholders and bondholders. And that’s what this is – dressed up as payroll protection and airline support program.”

The new airline bailout comes on top of what they received in the original stimulus bill: $25 billion in payroll support, an additional $25 billion in loans for passenger airlines, and over $10 billion in grants and loans for cargo airlines and aviation contractors.

Let’s remember that the top four airlines have burned their cash by repurchasing $45 billion of their shares since 2012. They don’t need more of our money, Chapter 11 bankruptcy works. Delta, American and United have previously restructured in bankruptcy court, and it worked fine. They know how to do that.

And let’s tell it like it is: If there wasn’t a majority of Republicans in the Senate, the people would get the checks and the unemployment relief they really need.

Win in Georgia!

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