Storm Clouds Over the Badlands

When I first began watching the TV series “Person of Interest”, I blogged about it here. I can now proudly proclaim that I have successfully binged all 103 of its episodes. This may not seem like all that much of an accomplishment, but for me completing a TV series is rare. I don’t think that I’ll ever do the same with “Game of Thrones”. Kudos to creator Jonathan Nolan for holding my attention.

Over the show’s five seasons it morphed from a buddy act to a battle for the future of humanity. In the beginning, two guys with the help of an all-seeing artificial intelligence try to do good and save people whose number has come up. Over time an ensemble coalesces into a resistance to a rival AI that is taking over the world. One of the series’ high points was its prediction of Edward Snowden and his data breach that outed the NSA’s spying on America. Homage was paid to Snowden in the show’s final episode when the wi-fi modem that he purportedly used to first breach the NSA network is filched from an evidence locker and is again used to breach the agency’s firewall.  

“Person of Interest” is fiction, but in this week’s New Yorker is an article that goes down many of the same rabbit holes that it had. Author Dexter Filkins’ “Enigma Machines” as the article (Paywall) is entitled in the magazine’s print edition, dissects a particularly arcane aspect of the Russian investigation. It involves the 2016 computer communications between the Trump organization and the Russian Alfa bank that could have been the mechanism for collusion.

The Domain Name System (DNS), a worldwide network that acts as the Internet’s phone book, is at the heart of this investigative piece. The DNS is ubiquitous on the Internet. You used it to find this post. The gist of the article is that much like the NSA use of phone metadata, who called who, when and where, a similar hack of the DNS existed in 2016. With this hack, as the article lays out, a meticulously detailed communications chronology is described.

Filkins has written an interesting article, but as the print edition’s title alludes to, it is ultimately unsatisfying and the reader is left with an enigma. This is the fundamental problem with metadata. It can tell you who and when, but never what. You know when two parties communicated, but you don’t know what they were saying. In the case of the Trump-Alfa logs, it could be collusion or it could just as well be marketing spam.

For the NSA, just knowing who a person of interest is communicating with is relevant. Piecing together such leads is how they eventually track and takedown terrorist networks. Filkins’ article does offer some tantalizing clues using the timing and frequency of the Trump-Alfa communications, but there is no smoking gun here and in the end it is all circumstantial. The NSA uses metadata as a filter to whittle down their leads to a manageable number that can then be prosecuted using more traditional means. Filkins concludes that any resolution to the enigma of the Trump-Alfa logs will require an analogous approach.

In The Atlantic, Franklin Foer, who first broke the Alfa Bank story in Slate, a week before the 2016 election, has revisited his story in light of Filkins’ New Yorker article. It provides some journalistic back story to this investigation. 

Marked Judge

Angry Bear

What were they thinking? Apparently, they weren’t. The New Yorker released a an article on Sunday implicating Supreme Court candidate Kavanagh, in a second sexual allegation. Today, lawyer Michael Avenatti chimed in with a third allegation, which was quickly followed by a fourth.

Then just after digesting these turns of events, the twitter-verse exploded with news that deputy AG Rod Rosenstein was resigning or being fired, or that he was not resigning or not being fired after all.

I must confess that I too got suckered by this story, along with many others, including the markets, but after it became apparent that nothing was going to happen, at least today, rumors went rife with questions about who had originally planted the story. In the end this subject was tabled until Thursday, when Trump and Rosenstein will meet. Thursday is also when the original Kavanagh accuser, Christine Blasey Ford, will meet with Senate Republicans for a little tête-à-tête.

Thursday promises to be quite the media circus, with salacious testimony, palace intrigue and the clown prince orchestrating whatever new outrages that may come to mind. I should skip it and wait for the evening’s recaps, but I imagine that I’ll be tuned in. November cannot come soon enough.

Downed Tree

Downed Tree in Avalanche Creek

What should we do with Brett Kavanaugh? Ever since Christine Blasey Ford came forward with her accusation of sexual assault, his confirmation has been thrown into question. Currently, both Ford and Kavanaugh have been invited to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee on Monday. Ford has yet to RSVP, preferring that the FBI investigate her allegation first. Trump has indicated that he is not inclined to order such an investigation. What we are left with then is a he said – she said situation.  

Under the rules of the Judicial Conference that governs the behavior of federal judges, misconduct includes “conduct occurring outside the performance of official duties if that conduct might have a prejudicial effect on the administration of the business of the courts, including a substantial and widespread lowering of public confidence in the courts among.” If substantiated, this allegation meets that test. Little could have worse impact on the “public confidence in the courts”, than allowing someone who has been credibly accused of an incident Ford’s therapist’s notes describe as “rape attempt” to decide cases. Professor Ford need not file a complaint to initiate this investigation. Under the Judicial Conference procedures, the chief judge of the D.C. Circuit can “identify” a complaint based on media reports. The current chief judge of this court is Merrick Garland. Karma!

Isla Del Encanto

Puerto Rico Plate

Today, Donald Trump tweeted a lie that the Puerto Rican death toll from last year’s Hurricane Maria was much lower than the almost 3,000 that is now generally acknowledged. A nonpartisan study found an estimated 2,975 people died in the aftermath of Maria. He tweeted this lie as Hurricane Florence lands today along the Carolina coast. He further compounded his lie by blaming the larger death toll number on the Democrats. The man has no decency. In further news, Trump’s FEMA chief is under investigation for misusing a government car, by driving it on personal trips.

What to Wear to a Witchhunt

Dorothy’s Ruby Slippers

You cursed New York Times! Look what you’ve done! I’m melting! Melting! Oh, what a world! What a week! Who would have thought that a failing publication like you could destroy my beautiful and it really is beautiful, some people say that it is probably the most beautiful wickedness that has ever been. Ooh, look out! I’m going! Ooh! Ooh! 

There maybe no place like home, but it’s taken far more than three clicks of the heels to bring these ruby slippers back home. The FBI announced that a pair of the famed red-sequined slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” that were stolen 13 years ago, have been recovered this week. But this post is about way more than just a pair of pumps.

Is the Wicked Witch dead, at least politically? If so, who did it? Some people are saying I didn’t do it. Actually, a lot of people are saying this same thing now, but someone out there is thinking, I didn’t mean to do it. Really, I didn’t. It was an accident. It’s just that he was setting our country on fire, but then there were those tax cuts. Back where I come from people who do nothing all day but write op-ed pieces. They are called enenomous, enninonuss, er, yea, unknown people. Now a new hunt is on for this man. The Wicked Witch is not dead, which is why this Anonymous is now trying to lay low and stay out of his way.

Just try! I’ll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too!
Toto too?

Today, former President Obama uttered the name Donald Trump for the first time in public since his inauguration in a speech at the U of I. Kicking off his campaign for Democrats in the midterm elections, Obama’s message to the students there was simple, go vote. In this fiery speech, he asked, “What happened to the Republican Party?” and after enumerating their many failings over the last two years, he added, “That’s not how our democracy’s supposed to work.” His prescription for going forward was simple, “What’s going to fix our democracy is you.” It was a call to arms, a call to go vote. If you agree with Obama vote Democrat on November 6th and let the real witch hunting begin! 

The Blue Wave

The Blue Wave

Tip O’Neill once quipped that all politics is local. That was certainly true around here in yesterday’s election. While much of the nation may have been focused on the special congressional election in Ohio’s 12th district, we here in Saint Louis had plenty of local action to contend ourselves with.

Anne did her election judge thing again, getting up at uh-oh dark thirty (3:30) and working upwards of fifteen hours. Later, I learned that she had to endure that marathon workday schedule without any air-conditioning. There was no way that I was going to get out of bed that early, so that meant that Anne had the car and I had to walk to the polls, in the rain. For an August election, the poll was jumping. I had to wait in line, which has never happened for a summer election. Ours is a heavily Democratic precinct, so I took that as a good sign.

This election was our statewide primary election. Claire McCaskill (D), who is running for reelection for US Senator, was nominated with over 80% of the Democratic ballots (500K votes), while challenger Josh Hawley (R) garnered less than 60% of the Republican ballots (389K votes). Come November, this will be our marquee race. There were 60K more Republican votes cast than Democrat, but Hawley has way more party consolidation to do than McCaskill. There is a lot more campaigning to do here before the November election.

The only other statewide vote was a proposition to make Missouri a right-to-work state. It was resoundingly defeated, by a 2-to-1 margin. Republicans had passed legislation making Missouri a right-to-work state, but labor was able to get enough signatures for this proposition, which put the new law on hold. With this defeat it is hoped that the Republicans won’t next attempt to overrule the will of the people, like they have in the past and pass right-to-work again.

For the rest of the ballot, a Democratic primary win means a win in November. Congressman Lacy Clay easily weathered progressive Cori Bush’s challenge and for the state legislature term limits had given us new choices for both the senate and the house. I picked a winner and a loser, but will be voting for both winners in November. The real action yesterday was at the county level.

Four years ago, Bob McCulloch was reelected to his seventh term as county prosecutor. One week later, Michael Brown was shot in Ferguson by a police officer. McCulloch chose not to prosecute the police officer, exacerbating an already bad situation. Yesterday, Ferguson city councilman Wesley Bell beat McCulloch with 57% of the vote. McCulloch now joins the list of prosecutors who have lost their jobs, because they elected not to prosecute in a black lives matter case: Tamir Rice, Trayvon Martin and now Michael Brown.

But wait, there is more. Four years ago, Steve Stenger, McCulloch’s handpicked protégé was first elected county executive. After yesterday, Stenger is sitting on a 0.64% lead. If after the counting of absentee and provisional ballots, his lead falls below half-a-percent that will trigger an automatic recount. Stenger’s tenure has been marked with bitter disputes with the county council. His best ally on the council has been my councilman, who also lost his election yesterday. As of today, Stenger is now calling for a truce.

After yesterday, I’m really looking forward to November. Democrats as a party can be both bumbling and messy. We lack the lockstep discipline of the Republicans, but this year we are riled. If the Saint Louis electorate did not forgive or forget wrongs committed four years in the past, it certainly is not going to forgive or forget the daily insults doled out by the Cheeto-in-Chief.