Checking In

Yep, I’ve been sandbagged in by other commitments. The last week has been a weird mix of nostalgia and panic, desperately trying to remotely feed a supercomputer cluster while also visiting old friends in faraway lands, with just the slightest tinge of mortality angst hovering in the background. It doesn’t help that, yet again, I find the topics I want to blog about involve a helluva lot of pain and misery. Weighty subjects provoke creative inertia, at least for me.

The situation should improve around the end of the week. Should.

Conspiracy to Defraud the United States

Watching the fallout from yesterday’s shit-show has been fascinating. The White House’s official talking points are A) Trump has always thought Russia was behind the hack, and as proof they quote-mine his statements, B) Trump talked extensively about Russian election meddling with Putin, something we’ll never be sure of as he met with Putin alone for two hours, but seems to contradict what he said immediately afterwards to Sean Hannity as well as Putin and Lavrov‘s rosy assessments, and C) why dwell on the past?

That hasn’t gone over well; as I’m typing this, Trump has tried re-writing history and announced he said “would” when he meant to say “wouldn’t” in Helsinki, Finland, which is the opposite of convincing.

He didn’t come up with that on his own. Ditch the “would”/”wouldn’t” bit, switch “my campaign didn’t collude” to “there’s no proof it changed the outcome of the election,” and you’ve got a carbon copy of what Paul Ryan was spouting earlier in the day. Above all, what’s fascinating to me is how Republicans are reacting to Trump’s actions. Ryan, for instance, has plenty of criticism for Russia and yet completely omits Trump. Tom Cotton does the same, as does Mitch McConnell, while Trent Gowdy argues Trump is unable to detach criticism of the Kremlin from criticism of his election victory, which ignores Trump’s overtures to Putin before Trump was elected. There’s a bit of whataboutism from Warren Davidson and Tucker Carlson, in addition to old-fashioned question dodging from Devin Nunes. The other major line I’ve seen:

Mike Murphy – I’m furious R’s are cowardly about Trump. But here is what they say in private: 1.) Trump is a disgrace. 2.) I give fiery press conf tmmrw saying that. 3.) Nothing changes, Trump remains nuts and remains POTUS. 4.) A nut beats me in next primary. So how does my pol suicide help?

Jake Sherman – In playbook this am: what republicans are telling me on Russia: What the hell do you want us to do? They say they’ve done what’s been asked of them. They feel they can’t stop trump. They’ve opposed him at all times on Russia.

Kevin M. Kruse – Legislation is certainly needed, sir, but as the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee you can also use your subpoena powers and convene public hearings to get to the bottom of the president’s relationship with Russia.

So the party with control of both the House and Senate, with Democrats eager to cooperate on this subject, is completely powerless to check the power of the President? No Republican is proposing a concrete action to censure Trump? John McCain may have had some very harsh words, for instance, but even he delegates any action to unnamed “Americans.” This is an extremely odd situation, and echos of it have been around since Trump was elected. [Read more…]

Remember This Old Thing?

I’m a bit of an oddity on this network, as I’m pretty convinced Russia was behind the DNC email hack. I know both Mano Singham and Marcus Ranum suspect someone else is responsible, last I checked, and Myers might lean that way too. Looking around, though, I don’t think anyone’s made the case in favor of Russian hacking. I might as well use it as an excuse to walk everyone through using Bayes’ Theorem in an informal setting.

That was me one year, one month, and fifteen days ago, kicking off the first of a four-part series. My two main points were A) the priors favored the Kremlin, as they’ve done more to influence elections than anyone else (save the CIA), and B) while each bit of evidence may have been weak, the majority of it was more likely to be observed if the Kremlin were behind the hack than under any other hypothesis. Looking back, I don’t think I’d change a word, not even this bit in part 3:

Publicly revealing the evidence of hacking is a great way to convince people of its truth, but it’s also a great way to lose the ability to track the hackers. This is why the police never reveal their evidence until they absolutely have to at trial. This is why the FBI will let people they think are consuming child pornography walk free. This is why the CIA “cannot confirm or deny,” because even a single bit of information can reveal volumes. It is never in a government’s interest to explain the details of an investigation, especially when the target of the investigation is part of another government.

That line of thinking had me pessimistic that we’d ever see a good accounting of what happened. What government agency would dare reveal those details, and burn their sources?

12. Defendant IVAN SERGEYEVICH YERMAKOV (…) was a Russian military officer assigned to ANTONOV’s department within Unit 26165. Since in or around 2010, YERMAKOV used various online personas, including “Kate S. Milton,” “James McMorgans,” and “Karen W. Millen,” to conduct hacking operations on behalf of Unit 26165. In or around March 2016, YERMAKOV participated in hacking at least two email accounts from which campaign-related documents were released through DCLeaks. In or around May 2016, YERMAKOV also participated in hacking the DNC email server and stealing DNC emails that were later released through Organization 1. […]

21.c. On or about March 28, 2016, YERMAKOV researched the names of Victims 1 and 2 and their association with Clinton on various social media sites. Through their spearphishing operations, LUKASHEV, YERMAKOV, and their co-conspirators successfully stole email credentials and thousands of emails from numerous individuals affiliated with the Clinton Campaign. Many of these stolen emails, including those from Victims 1 and 2, were later released by the Conspirators through DCLeaks. […]

29. Between on or about May 25, 2016 and June 1, 2016, the Conspirators hacked the DNC Microsoft Exchange Server and stole thousands of emails from the work accounts of DNC employees. During that time, YERMAKOV researched PowerShell commands related to accessing and managing the Microsoft Exchange Server.

Apparently, the Special Council would. To be fair to past-me, this comes from an indictment submitted by Mueller’s team last Friday, so it is indeed related to a trial. Those news reports of Dutch government hackers snooping on this GRU unit also suggest that intel source is no longer needed (or alive), which also removed the need for secrecy.

And damn, those details: the GRU did indeed try to use “Company 1″‘s public statements to hide their tracks; they remained on the DNC network well into October 2016, yet “Company 1” claimed they’d been removed mid-June 2016; in September they swiped “test applications related to the DNC’s analytics;” and on July 27-ish tried to get into Hillary Clinton’s personal and campaign office. Those last two happen to line up with other plausibly-related events.

If you’re hardcore anti-CIA/FBI, this document may fall short of convincing. Remember, though, the indictment is the prelude to a trial; someone is going to ask how the hell Mueller’s team knew what specific Russian citizens were Googling on specific days, and if this is all a ruse it should be obvious from the government’s replies. By making easily falsified assertions, the Special Council is signaling they have high confidence they have sufficient evidence to prove them in court, and that’s not so easily dismissed.

Personally? I’m feeling vindicated. My original analysis was within epsilon of spot-on.

Watch American Democracy Die, LIVE

There is a cult of ignorance in the United States, and there has always been. The strain of anti-intellectualism has been a constant thread winding its way through our political and cultural life, nurtured by the false notion that democracy means that ‘my ignorance is just as good as your knowledge. – Issac Asimov

The far-Right in America has been obsessed with Peter Strzok. He and Lisa Page had an affair at the start of the Trump-Russia investigation, which they hid from their respective partners by swapping texts on their work phones. Alas, they turned out to be quite opinionated, privately trash-talking almost every elected official including then-candidate Trump. The texts were discovered, Strzok was removed from the investigation, now under Mueller’s control, and the far-Right latched on to these texts as “proof” that the FBI’s investigation into Trump was crooked.

Strzok eventually got sick of this, and signalled he was willing to talk in public to quell the conspiracy noise. Republicans responded by subpoenaing him for a private hearing which lasted eleven hours, then selectively quoted from the transcript while refusing to release it to the public. Somehow, the Republicans later agreed to a public hearing with Strzok, which is still being broadcast live as I type this.

I could only tune in for five minutes or so, which was good. Watching any longer would have permanently dislocated my jaw.

The small part I saw began with Congress-people shouting at one another: Representative Bob Goodlatte, the Republican chair of the hearing, was demanding that Strzok answer a question that FBI lawyers told him he could not answer, as it pertained to an ongoing investigation. Democrats were shouting that was out of order, while Goodlatte repeatedly insisted it was in order and threatened to hold Strzok in contempt of Congress for refusing to answer. When Goodlatte had bullied his way through that challenge, as well as charges of hypocrisy over his non-action involving a similar situation with Steve Bannon, Strozok pointed out that both his council and the FBI’s council were sitting directly behind him, so he could easily double-check if anything Goodlatte had said had swayed their minds.

Goodlatte said that Strzok could consult with his lawyer, but not the FBI lawyer. The non-Republicans in the room were floored, and Democrats weren’t afraid to tell Goodlatte how ridiculous that request was. One bitterly asked if Strzok’s lawyer could talk with the FBI lawyers and then relay that response, simultaneous with Strzok doing exactly that. There was no change: Strzok’s answer to Goodlatte’s question would compromise an ongoing investigation.

Trent Gowdy jumped in at that point. A Benghazi-obsessed Republican, he spent all of his allotted time harassing Strzok over who the “we” and “it” were in his now-famous message to Page that “we’ll stop it.” Strzok correctly guessed Gowdy’s next move, and offered to also provide additional context and insight into his state of mind when sending that text to Page. Gowdy would have none of it; amid shouts from Democrats that he’d gone over his time limit, Gowdy said he didn’t care about the context of the message, he only cared about what “we” and “it” referred to.

That was all the live content that I saw, which meant I missed Strzok’s blistering response, but I got the gist of the hearing. A Republican would ask a question; Strzok would read the intention behind the question and start to give a careful answer; the Republican would interrupt after a few words, unsatisfied at being thwarted, and ask the same question again. The Steve Bannon motion came to a vote, which went along party lines. Democrats countered the narrative that Mueller had accomplished nothing by bringing posters of the half-dozen people Mueller had earned guilty pleas from; Goodlatte tried to have them removed, but couldn’t cite a procedural rule that forbid them. Democrats threatened to release a cleaned transcript of Strzok’s previous testimony unless Goodlatte can give a procedural rule against it, something Goodlatte again couldn’t do. I briefly tuned in now to check if the hearing was ongoing (it was), and the last thing I heard was a Democrat complaining the Republicans weren’t yielding time to them.

We are now treated to the spectacle of Republican members of Congress threatening an FBI agent unless he answers questions about a pending, secret criminal and counterintelligence investigation. America, 2018. – Eric Holder

There’s no question about it, the Republicans have given up any pretense of being sound administrators. They’re scrambling to protect their asses and defend Trump, railing about conspiracy theories and ignoring reality, even if it undermines the very democracy they live in. And now, thanks to the wonders of technology, Americans can watch their democracy die in real time, from the comfort of their own home.

The Silent Army

Last week, the department was saying this:

[Health and Human Services] Secretary Alex Azar claimed migrant parents who have been separated from their kids under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” border policy should be able to easily locate their children, countering reports about difficulties families have faced. “There is no reason why any parent would not know where their child is located,” Azar testified at a Senate Finance Committee hearing this morning. Azar said he could locate “any child” in his department’s care “within seconds“ through an online government database.

Thursday, less than a week after they were ordered to reunite children with their families, the department was now reporting this:

Trump administration health chief Alex Azar said Thursday that no immigrant children separated from their parents have been reunited with their families in federal custody — yet — to comply with looming court order deadlines to do so. But Azar said the U.S. Health and Human Services Department will comply with the first of those deadlines to take children in HHS custody and place them with parents who are in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement next Tuesday.

Azar said there are somewhat fewer than 3,000 kids who were separated from their parents when they jointly tried to illegally cross the border with Mexico. That is much higher than the 2,047 children that HHS recently said were in its custody. Azar said the new number is higher because a judge has required HHS to reunite all separated children, including ones taken from parents before the Trump administration’s zero tolerance policy took effect in May.

The story remained the same Friday morning, then changed again.

Just days ahead of a deadline, the Trump administration said it may need more time to reunite some of the immigrant families it separated. […] “If we’re not aware of where the parent is, I can’t commit to saying that reunification will occur before the deadline. … We’re still determining what the situation is there,” [Justice Department attorney Sarah Fabian] said, “and whether those are situations where reunifications may not be able to occur within the time frame.”

After the hearing, ACLU attorney Lee Gelernt said it was troubling that officials still can’t provide precise statistics about families they separated. “It was clear today that the government has not even been able to match all the children with parents,” he said. “That is extremely troubling.”

Things are so bad, this government department is trying to redefine what “reunite” means. Emphasis mine.

“The secretary told us on a conference call that they do not have any intention to reunify these children with their parents. They are going to call it good if they could find anyone else to serve as a foster parent or might have some familial relationship,” [Washington state Governor Jay] Inslee told MSNBC’s Chris Hayes late Friday, when he asked about a June 29 meeting mentioned in a letter addressed to officials on Friday.

“Perhaps we should not be surprised. This whole indignant and traumatic episode was based in inhumanity at the beginning, it was based on deceit in middle, and now it’s based on incompetence. These people have no idea what they are dong — I’ve seen coat check windows operate with a better system.”

[Read more…]

It Is Friday, After All

I was sitting down to write a weighty post about child separation, while reminding myself of another post I’d promised on the subject, and eyeing up which Steven Pinker post I should begin work on, all of which is happening as I’m juggling some complex physics and computational problems, and-

You know what? Here’s a video of someone dunking oranges in a fish tank, in an excellent demonstration of the scientific method. [Read more…]

A Little Racist Butterfly

Researchers have noted that, for decades, prison sentences have been just ever-so-slightly more harsh for black people than white people.

As a whole, these findings undermine the so-called ‘‘no discrimination thesis’’ which contends that once adequate controls for other factors, especially legal factors (i.e., criminal history and severity of current offense), are controlled unwarranted racial disparity disappears. In contrast to the no discrimination thesis, the current research found that independent of other measured factors, on average African-Americans were sentenced more harshly than whites. The observed differences between whites and African Americans generally were small, suggesting that discrimination in the sentencing stage is not the primary cause of the overrepresentation of African-Americans in U.S. correctional facilities.

Mitchell, Ojmarrh. “A meta-analysis of race and sentencing research: Explaining the inconsistencies.” Journal of Quantitative Criminology 21.4 (2005): 439-466.

Not as widely noted: incarceration sorta behaves like a contagious disease. [Read more…]