Monday, August 28, 2017

DESPICABLE - Arpaio Pardon (Updated)

Prof that Trump is a racist.

"Arpaio pardon hurts GOP relations with Trump" PBS NewsHour 8/26/2017


SUMMARY:  President Donald Trump's pardon of former Arizona Sheriff Joe Arpaio, who aggressively pursued undocumented immigrants, exacerbated an increasingly tenuous relationship with national Republicans.  NewsHour Weekend Special Correspondent Jeff Greenfield joins Hari Sreenivasan from Santa Barbara, California, on what the latest rift means for the party and country.

"What the Arpaio pardon reveals about Trump's take on the rule of law" PBS NewsHour 8/28/2017

His all powerful Majesty, King Trump, who is the ONLY law (at least in his own warped mind).


SUMMARY:  President Trump's Friday night pardon of former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- convicted of defying a court order to stop targeting undocumented immigrants -- drew swift criticism, even from fellow Republicans.  What makes the controversial pardon so noteworthy?  John Yang is joined by Brian Kalt of Michigan State University to discuss its significance.

OPINION - Shields and Brooks 8/25/2017

"Shields and Brooks on Trump's contrasting speeches, GOP ruptured relations" PBS NewsHour 8/25/2017


SUMMARY:  Syndicated columnist Mark Shields and New York Times columnist David Brooks join Judy Woodruff to discuss the week's political news, including President Trump's wildly different approaches to his address on Afghanistan strategy and his remarks in Phoenix, his attacks on top Republicans in Congress, and his Pentagon directive to ban transgender people from joining the military.

JUDY WOODRUFF (NewsHour):  The week began with the President's scripted speech on Afghanistan, followed by a raucous rally in Phoenix that helped widen a rift between Mr. Trump and top Republicans in Congress.  That's the backdrop as we turn to the regular Friday analysis of Shields and Brooks.  That's syndicated columnist Mark Shields, and “New York Times” columnist David Brooks.

Gentlemen, it's so good to see you both together.  Welcome.

So, Charlottesville, it's been almost two weeks since the tragedy there.  It has risen in the headlines again this week, David.  The President's in Phoenix, he makes this passionate speech unscripted, defending the way he handled Charlottesville, bringing on even more criticism.

Are we in the clear now on what this President believes about racism, about white supremacy and all of it?

DAVID BROOKS, The New York Times:  I think we're a little clearer on where the Republican Party is.  You know, the Trump campaign began really seriously with the Muslim ban.  It continued with a series of racial things about the wall.  It continued Charlottesville and the reactions.  And what's happened is the racial winking and content, the identity politics has become a rising motif in the Trump administration, especially as everything else including economic policy and economic populism has fallen away.

And that's meant the Republican Party or at least some portion of it, and I don't know how big, has become more of a white ethnic party, ethnic nationalist party.  That has made life impossible for a lot of people who signed up as Republicans but didn't sign up for this.  And we've had fights within Republicans on a lot of different issues on taxes, on wars and things like that.

But this is upon which parties break apart because you can't Republican — if the Republican Party becomes a party aligned with bigotry in some overt way or in any way, you can't be a Republican and try to be a decent person and be a part of it.  And I've watched within my friends here in Washington, friendships ending in a way I never really seen before.  And friendship ending I think in the evangelical world, friendships are ending.

And Senator Danforth had an op-ed today and Gary Cohn is put in this position.  And so, what you're seeing is a hint of a rupture the likes of which I really haven't seen before.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  And I was going to ask you both and David brought it up, Mark, this column and today an interview by the former Republican senator from the state of Missouri, John Danforth, saying if the Republican Party doesn't disassociate itself from Donald Trump over his handling most recently of Charlottesville and the race question, but he lists other issues as well, he said the party sunk.

MARK SHIELDS, Syndicated Columnist:  Yes.  Jack Danforth comes with credentials as a senator, as the Senate sponsor, personal endorser of the only African-American ever nominated to the Supreme Court by any Republican President, Clarence Thomas, who had worked for him.  So, he is — he is someone who has certainly street cred on this issue.

Judy, it's quite I think obvious at this point that the President does not understand what the job is.  I mean, the job of the President of the United States is to be the voice of compassion, is to be, to provide equanimity in spirit, is to provide magnanimity of view.  He, in a scripted, teleprompted address, he can give a coherent speech as he did on Afghanistan, a colorless, energy-less but nevertheless coherent speech as he did for veterans.

But he only thrives, he's only alive, he's only authentic when he unleashes his indictive, when he stirs up the basest instincts of his supporters, and he responds only to cheers, cheers and jeers of those whom he opposes, whom he's still running against some 10 months after the election he's still running against.

So, it's a sad, sad time.  It has to be sadder for those who work in this administration to learn as the Quinnipiac University poll, a respected poll, show this week that Americans by two to one believe that Donald Trump is dividing the country rather than writing the country.  That solid majority, 3-2, they believe the press, the dreaded media over Donald Trump to tell the truth.  And they believe — three out of five Americans believe he is giving aid in comfort to white supremacist, and encouragement.

So, it's a truly sad — I don't — I can only say to Republicans, I mean, it is a time you're going to be asked about this.  You're going to be asked where you stood.  And what you did on Donald Trump.  And I thought Gary Cohn — it only took him two weeks to come to it and —

JUDY WOODRUFF:  This is the President's economic adviser, yes.

MARK SHIELDS:  Yes, and then he came to the decision of conscience that Janet Yellen made a very candid statement today, recognition statement at Jackson Hole, Wyoming, where she announced that she, in fact, the regulations imposed on the big banks after the collapse of 2008, the financial crisis, were necessary, were wise and should not be repealed.

So, Gary Cohn holding on, slimly, perhaps to the hope of becoming chair of the Federal Reserve swallowed his misgivings, and the odor of anti-Semitism that smacked Donald Trump's remarks and agreed to continue as a patriotic man to serve and I guess we could only salute him.

JUDY WOODRUFF:  It’s a zigzag course, David.  I mean, as both of you said, when the President is reading from the teleprompter, the message is that we reject racism, we reject white supremacy, neo Nazis, but it’s in these speeches where there’s another message that seems to come out.  I was just reading the radio address that the White House is going to put out tomorrow from the President.  He’s back to the scripted lines, rejecting everything that smacks of racism.

DAVID BROOKS:  To his credit, he’s incapable of insincerity and hypocrisy.  He can — he can keep up for an hour, for a day, for 24 hours, he’ll say what they want him to say, but then within 24 hours, he’s got to come back to be himself and he’s going to explode beyond those barriers.  We’ve seen that again and again and again.

I just think the Trump administration is going to wander into these fields more and more in the months and years ahead, simply because they don’t have an economic agenda, there’s very small chance of tax reform, they don’t have the populist thing they can bring to people.  And so, what they have is this ethnic nationalism.  And they are frankly going to be helped sometimes by Democrats or by radicals on the left who are going to deface the Thomas Jefferson statute or do something like that. And then that’s it for Donald Trump.  He can say they’re defacing Thomas Jefferson.

So, then the identity politics of the left and identity politics play off each other and you get this war of people who think that white and black are the only two categories in life and they should have some sort of political war over this and it begins to look like the Sunnis and Shiites.  And as I say, that’s a Republican Party that decent people don’t want to be a part of, frankly.

AMERICA - The Confederacy

IMHO:  It's not recognizing that the Confederate cause was wrong from the start, and that they lost the 'argument.'

"Why America is wrestling with Confederate monuments" PBS NewsHour 8/25/2017


SUMMARY:  How should Americans remember the past and confront the deep wounds of slavery?  The events of recent weeks have intensified a national conversation about Confederate monuments, with calls to remove them from public spaces.  William Brangham talks to Peniel Joseph of the University of Texas, W. Fitzhugh Brundage of the University of North Carolina, Pierre McGraw of the Monumental Task Committee.

NEWSHOUR'S IMHO - The Social Media Echo Chamber

"The problem with only liking things we find relatable" PBS NewsHour 8/25/2017


SUMMARY:  The social media culture of “likes” is contributing to our conformity, says novelist and creative writing teacher Charmaine Craig.  Instead of trying to empathize with the unfamiliar, we “like” and find refuge only in the things that seem most relatable.  Craig offers her humble opinion on why we should move beyond what's “relatable” or “likeable” and begin to open up to the unfamiliar.

AMERICA - The Real Nuclear Option

"Can the President launch a nuclear strike on his own?" PBS NewsHour 8/24/2017


SUMMARY:  There are many checks and balances built into the elaborate system to control America's nuclear weapons -- except when it comes to the sole decision-making of the President of the United States.  Judy Woodruff speaks with Peter Feaver of Duke University about the procedures for controlling the U.S. arsenal and who else is in the chain of command.

BRIEF BUT SPECTACULAR - Damon Davis, Black in America

"It's time to really get uncomfortable and talk about racism, says this filmmaker" PBS NewsHour 8/24/2017


SUMMARY:  As filmmaker Damon Davis tells it, being black in America comes with anxiety.  To survive, he says, you're constantly walking on eggshells because the way you talk and the clothes on your back can be used as a weapon against you.  Davis, co-director of the documentary “Whose Streets,” gives his Brief but Spectacular take on finding courage after the death of Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri.

TRUMP AGENDA - Sessions' Black Government

aka "Anti-Protection, Anti-Obama, Black Government" 😡

"Jeff Sessions is dramatically reshaping Justice Department policy" PBS NewsHour 8/24/2017


SUMMARY:  Behind the scenes, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been making a series of significant and controversial changes.  Lisa Desjardins reports on how Sessions has been one of the key forces executing the President's agenda and reversing the Obama legacy.

MAKING SEN$E - eCommerce vs Brick-and-Mortar

"How retailers are banking on options and experiences to draw in shoppers" PBS NewsHour 8/24/2017


SUMMARY:  Is traditional retail dead?  There have been more store closings this year than any since the Great Recession, with retailers filing for bankruptcy at a record pace.  And yet online retailers like Amazon and Warby Parker are adding brick-and-mortar stores.  What's the secret to keeping afloat as shopping evolves?  Economics correspondent Paul Solman reports.

BLOOM COUNTY - Personal Offense Take-Out

TRUMP AGENDA - Government Shutdown vs Border Wall

"Rep. Hurd: Shutting the government down for a concrete border wall 'doesn't make sense'" PBS NewsHour 8/23/2017


SUMMARY:  What do Republican lawmakers think about President Trump's threat to shut down the government if Congress doesn't fund a border wall?  Rep. Will Hurd (R-Texas) who serves on the House Homeland Security Committee, joins Judy Woodruff to offer his reaction to President Trump's comments at a raucous rally in Phoenix.

CHARLOTTESVILLE - Aftermath, a Personal View

"He was a witness in Charlottesville.  Then the death threats and conspiracy theories began." PBS NewsHour 8/23/2017


SUMMARY:  Brennan Gilmore filmed the moment when a car plowed into a crowd of protesters in Charlottesville, killing one woman and injuring 19 others.  When he made his video public and spoke out to the news media, he became the target of death threats and conspiracy theories.  A former foreign service officer and a Democratic campaign aide, Gilmore joins Judy Woodruff to recount his experience.

AMERICA DIVIDED - Trump's Phoenix Speech

IMO:  A hateful, un-American speech by a bully and fake-President.

"Does Trump's divisive Phoenix rhetoric help his agenda?" PBS NewsHour 8/23/2017


SUMMARY:  President Trump's expansive and divisive campaign-style speech in Phoenix drew cheers from his supporters but did nothing to reach more skeptical Americans.  Judy Woodruff sits down with Matt Schlapp of the American Conservative Union and Karine Jean-Pierre of, to discuss how his remarks on Charlottesville, the news media and fellow Republicans affect his own agenda.

AMERICA'S LONGEST WAR - Afghanistan Today

"What should be in Trump's plan for America's longest war?" PBS NewsHour 8/21/2017


SUMMARY:  President Trump will address the nation Monday evening and reveal his changes to American policy on the war in Afghanistan.  Special correspondent Nick Schifrin offers a look at the current state of the conflict and deteriorating security, then Judy Woodruff talks to Andrew Wilder of the United States Institute of Peace and journalist and author Ahmed Rashid about the challenges facing the U.S.

"7 takeaways from Trump's new Afghanistan strategy" by Erica R. Hendry - PBS NewsHour 8/21/2017

Numbering is mine

President Donald Trump announced what he called a “dramatic” shift in U.S. strategy in Afghanistan and South Asia on Monday night, one focused less on nation building and writing a “blank check” to the Afghan government and more on increased pressure on Pakistan and its neighbors to fight terror in the region, he said.

The 16-year war has spanned three Presidents.  Here are seven takeaways from foreign policy experts about Trump's remarks and how he could change the country's efforts in the region.

[1] This is the “most hawkish view of Pakistan that we've seen in some time,” said Seth Jones, a political scientist at the RAND Corporation specializing in counterterrorism and counterinsurgency.  Trump's language “really reflects how tired and angry a number of senior American intelligence, military and diplomatic officials are this far into the 16-year war in Afghanistan — and that the Taliban continues to have a safe haven in Pakistan soil,” Jones added.

[2] Trump's language indicated a subtle difference between his approach to the Taliban and his approach to al-Qaeda and ISIS.  Trump used the words “obliterating” and “defeating” when he spoke about al-Qaeda and ISIS, but not when referring to the Taliban, Jones said.  This suggests Trump recognizes that “the Taliban will probably have to continue in some form possibly in rural areas as a militant group [or] maybe in a political forum.”

[3] Trump said we're not in the business of nation building, but he shouldn't discount it, either, said Andrew Wilder of the United States Institute of Peace.  “Having a democracy there is an important, fundamental to exit strategy from Afghanistan,” Wilder told PBS NewsHour's Judy Woodruff.  “Just killing bad guys — we've done a lot of that over 16 years,” Wilder said, but more important is ensuring the country's 2019 presidential election is legitimate.  Otherwise, we'll see “a descent into anarchy with no legitimate government,” he said.

[4] Setting deadlines for troop withdrawal — as President Barack Obama had done — are counterproductive, Trump said, and “I think he's right,” said James Dobbin, a former ambassador to the European Union and special representative for Afghanistan and Pakistan.  “It's counterproductive to set deadlines that aren't condition-based, which gives the adversary a timetable that allowed them to wait it out.”

[5] A serious settlement in the region will require other political groundwork, says Steve Biddle, a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University and an adjunct senior fellow for defense policy at the Council on Foreign Relations.  Specifically: having Congress work out a deal involving concessions to the Taliban.  “If we're not willing to lay the political groundwork for a real deal, then this is just keeping the war on life support to no identifiable purpose,” Biddle added.  “Modest U.S. reinforcement can help prevent outright defeat of the Afghan government but it cannot win the war.”

[6] Trump highlighted partners in the region, and a diplomatic push will be key to his success.  The U.S. hasn't had a regional strategy for the last two years, journalist Ahmed Rashid told NewsHour's Judy Woodruff.  “Now, given everything else that's happening in the world, the Middle East, North Korea and others, I fear that President Trump is not going to put together a really high-powered team which is going to effectively deal with some of these neighboring countries and bring them together in some kind of alliance.”

[7] This was a speech more about strategy than tactical details.  Jones noted Trump avoided touching on troop numbers and other debates about the long war, such as the role of military advisers.  “It's hard to gauge how successful a strategy can be without knowing more of the details,” Jones said — and for that reason, we'll have to take a “wait-and-see” approach about how this plays out on the ground, he added.

"How can U.S. get Pakistan's cooperation on Afghanistan?" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2017


SUMMARY:  Laying out several new approaches to the conflict in Afghanistan, President Trump singled out Pakistan's support for the Taliban as particularly problematic.  What was new in the president's speech and what are the real-world effects of his strategy?  Former State Department official Laurel Miller, and Husain Haqqani a former ambassador to Pakistan, join Judy Woodruff.

"How the world is reacting to Trump's speech on Afghanistan" PBS NewsHour 8/22/2017


SUMMARY:  U.S. military and diplomatic leaders are moving ahead on the Afghanistan strategy President Trump outlined Monday during an address to the nation.  Mr. Trump's new policy hinges on a regional approach and includes a deployment of more U.S. troops without a specific end date.  Critics say the President's plan is a rehashing of already failed strategies.  Nick Schifrin reports.

U.S. NAVY - Systemic Problems?

My 22yr Navy carrier really make this hit 'home.'

"Navy orders investigation of Pacific fleet after two recent collisions" by Lolita C.  Baldor, Annabelle Liang, and Stephen Wright (AP) - PBS NewsHour 8/21/2017


The U.S. Navy ordered a broad investigation Monday into the performance and readiness of the Pacific-based 7th Fleet after an early morning collision between the USS John S. McCain and an oil tanker in Southeast Asian waters left 10 U.S. sailors missing and others injured.

It was the second major collision in the last two months involving the Navy's 7th Fleet.  Seven sailors died in June when the USS Fitzgerald and a container ship collided in waters off Japan.

Navy Adm. John Richardson, the chief of naval operations, will call for a pause in operations and seek a deeper look at how the Navy trains and certifies its forces that are operating around Japan, Defense Secretary Jim Mattis said.

"Do repeated Navy collisions suggest a systemic problem?" PBS NewsHour 8/21/2017


SUMMARY:  After the Naval destroyer USS John S. McCain collided Monday with an oil tanker east of Singapore, the Navy's top admiral ordered a one-day, worldwide safety review.  Just two months ago, another deadly collision occurred between a destroyer and a cargo ship near Japan.  John Yang talks with retired Cmdr. Bryan McGrath of the Hudson Institute.

Friday, August 25, 2017

RUSSIAN ATTACK - Right-Wing Internet Bots

"Pro-Russian Bots Take Up the Right-Wing Cause After Charlottesville" by Isaac Arnsdorf, ProPublica 8/23/2017

Analysts tracking Russian influence operations find a feedback loop between Kremlin propaganda and far-right memes.

Angee Dixson joined Twitter on Aug. 8 and immediately began posting furiously — about 90 times a day.  A self-described American Christian conservative, Dixson defended President Donald Trump's response to the unrest in Charlottesville, criticized the removal of Confederate monuments and posted pictures purporting to show violence by left-wing counterprotesters.

“Dems and Media Continue to IGNORE BLM and Antifa Violence in Charlottesville,” she wrote above a picture of masked demonstrators labeled “DEMOCRAT TERROR.”

But Dixson appears to have been a fake, according to an analysis by Ben Nimmo and Donara Barojan of the Digital Forensic Research Lab at the Atlantic Council think tank.  The account has been shut down.  Dixson's profile picture was stolen from a young Instagram celebrity (a German model rumored to have dated Leonardo DiCaprio).  Dixson used a URL shortener that is a tell for the sort of computer program that automatically churns out high volumes of social media posts whose authorship is frequently disguised.  And one of her tweets attacked Sen. John McCain for his alleged support of Ukrainian neo-Nazis, echoing language in tweets from Russian outlets RT and Sputnik.

The same social media networks that spread Russian propaganda during the 2016 election have been busily amplifying right-wing extremism surrounding the recent violence in Charlottesville, according to researchers who monitor the activity.  It's impossible to tell how much of the traffic originates from Russia or from mercenary sources.  But there were hordes of automated bots generating Twitter posts and much more last week to help make right-wing conspiracy theories and rallying cries about Charlottesville go viral.

A sample of 600 Twitter accounts [Hamilton 68 - Tracking Russian Influence Operations on Twitter] linked to Russian influence operations have been promoting hashtags for Charlottesville such as “Antifa,” a term for activists on the far left; and “alt-left,” a term Trump used, which was interpreted by many as suggesting an equivalence between liberal demonstrators and white nationalists in the so-called alt-right.

The sample includes accounts that are openly pro-Russian like state-controlled outlets RT and Sputnik, which a joint U.S. intelligence assessment concluded are “part of Russia's state-run propaganda machine.”  The sample also includes those, like “Angee Dixson's,” that seem to be written by typical Americans.  And it follows automated bots that help make messages go viral and even users around the world who spread the Kremlin's messages whether or not they mean to support Russia.  The network is tracked by four researchers working with the Alliance for Securing Democracy, a project of the German Marshall Fund that seeks to expose efforts to undermine Western democracy.

(A spokesperson for Sputnik took issue with the assertions about it in this article, providing 22 links to the news service's articles that she called “highly critical of the president's response to Charlottesville.”  She argued that to “ignore that reality … would only mean that you are fixing the facts to push a false narrative.”  The spokesperson also disputed that Sputnik is a vehicle for any purported Russian disinformation campaign.)

“The Russian influence networks we track are definitely amplifying the broader alt-right chatter about Charlottesville,” one of the researchers, J.M. Berger, said.  “The major themes they have been pushing are the 'both sides are violent' argument and conspiracy theories that George Soros was behind the counter-protests, although the latter has been trending more sporadically.”

The latest Soros accusation, which PolitiFact found to be baseless, shows another aspect of how messages snowball as they pass between the American right-wing and Russian propagandists, according to Nimmo.  A U.S. right-winger asserts a “fact,” a Russian news agency fuses it with a Kremlin narrative, and then American right-wing websites parrot the Russian news agency's assertion.

Soros, a Hungarian-American investor and major Democratic donor, long ago became a frequent bugaboo for the Kremlin and for Republicans.  He funds the Open Society Foundations, which support democracy and development around the world — and they have given money to ProPublica, including its Documenting Hate project, while accounting for less than 3 percent of ProPublica's revenue so far this year.  Many recipients of Soros' contributions are viewed as politically liberal, but some right-wingers and the Kremlin tend to see his hand (or more precisely, his wallet) in any action they perceive as left-wing.

The accusation that Soros was behind the Charlottesville counter-protesters appeared to have been first uttered by Alex Jones, the conservative conspiracy theorist and provocateur, on Aug. 14.  The next day, Lee Stranahan, a host for Sputnik, repeated the claim in several YouTube videos, according to Nimmo.  Stranahan was previously a prominent advocate for the #FireMcMaster campaign against national security adviser H.R. McMaster.

The pro-Russian networks are also injecting Russian propaganda about other countries into U.S. far-right circles.  After Jones' InfoWars interviewed Stranahan on Aug. 15, Stranahan's charge that the U.S. is hypocritical for supporting Nazis in Ukraine (a years-old Kremlin line) while condemning them at home appeared on fringe websites such as Mint Press News,, BBSNews and JewWorldOrder, Nimmo found.

“Given the number of channels that propagated the narrative at the same time, it is not possible to say whether a single channel or many different channels inspired the American actors' linkage of Charlottesville and Ukraine,”  Nimmo wrote in a blog post.  “What does appear probable is that the U.S. activists derived their narrative directly from the Kremlin and its supporters?  —?  and thus amplified Russian disinformation in America.”

Some in the self-described alt-right have embraced Russian support.  At an earlier protest of the removal of a Confederate monument in Charlottesville in May, people chanted “Russia is our friend!

Tracking disinformation online is challenging because it can be hard to discern users' motivations and affiliations.  But Congressional investigators probing Russia's interference in the 2016 election are interested in how social networks spread fake news and propaganda, such as documents stolen by Russian hackers from the Democratic National Committee and Hillary Clinton's campaign chairman.

“The Internet and social media provide Russia cheap, efficient and highly effective access to foreign audiences with plausible deniability of their influence,” another of the researchers working with the Alliance to Secure Democracy, Clint Watts, told the Senate Intelligence Committee in March.  “This pattern of Russian falsehoods and social media manipulation of the American electorate continued through Election Day and persists today.”

Thursday, August 24, 2017

TV SERIES - The 4400

I am a big SiFi fan so when I saw this complete TV series "The 4400" available on DVD I snapped it up.  One of the stars, Joel Gretsch, appeared in the miniseries "Taken."

Over 60 years 4400 people of all ages disappear (abducted) in a flash of light, 'today' a meteor size ball of light approaches from space but 'lands' off a Seattle, Washington, inlet and deposits the 4400 abductees.

What made this very enjoyable is a twist..... they were abducted by people (human beings) from our future.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

TRUMP AGENDA - Dismantling HUD

aka "Trump's We Don't Care About People Government"

"Is Anybody Home at HUD?" by Alec MacGillis, ProPublica 8/22/2017

This story was co-published with New York magazine.

In mid-May, Steve Preston, who served as the secretary of housing and urban development in the final two years of the George W. Bush administration, organized a dinner at the Metropolitan Club in Washington, D.C., for the new chief of that department, Ben Carson, and five other former secretaries whose joint tenure stretched all the way back to Gerald Ford.  It was an event with no recent precedent within the department, and it had the distinct feel of an intervention.

HUD has long been something of an overlooked stepchild within the federal government.  Founded in 1965 in a burst of Great Society resolve to confront the “urban crisis,” it has seen its manpower slide by more than half since the Reagan Revolution. (The HUD headquarters is now so eerily underpopulated that it can't even support a cafeteria; it sits vacant on the first floor.But HUD still serves a function that millions of low-income Americans depend on — it funds 3,300 public-housing authorities with 1.2 million units and also the Section 8 rental-voucher program, which serves more than 2 million families; it has subsidized tens of millions of mortgages via the Federal Housing Administration; and, through various block grants, it funds an array of community uplift initiatives.  It is the Ur-government agency, quietly seeking to address social problems in struggling areas that the private sector can't or won't solve, a mission that has become especially pressing amid a growing housing affordability crisis in many major cities.

Despite its Democratic roots, Republican administrations have historically assumed stewardship over HUD with varying degrees of enthusiasm — among the department's more notable secretaries were Republicans George Romney and Jack Kemp, the idiosyncratic champion of supply-side economics and inner-city renewal.

Now, however, HUD faced an existential crisis.  The new President's then-chief strategist, Steve Bannon, had called in February for the “deconstruction of the administrative state.”  It was not hard to guess that, for a White House that swept to power on a wave of racially tinged rural resentment and anti-welfare sentiment, high on the demolition list might be a department with “urban” in its name.  The administration's preliminary budget outline had already signaled deep cuts for HUD.  And Donald Trump had chosen to lead the department someone with zero experience in government or social policy — the nominee whose unsuitability most mirrored Trump's lack of preparation to run the country.

This prospect was causing alarm even among HUD's former Republican leaders.  At the Metropolitan Club, George W.  Bush's second secretary, Alphonso Jackson, warned Carson against cutting further into HUD's manpower.  (Many regional offices have shuttered in recent years.)  Carla Hills, who ran the department under President Ford, put in a plug for the Community Development Block Grant program, noting that Ford had created it in 1974 precisely in order to give local governments more leeway over how to spend federal assistance.

The tone was collegial, built on the hopeful assumption that Carson wanted to do right by the department.  “We were trying to be supportive,” Henry Cisneros, from the Clinton administration, told me.  But it was hard for the ex-secretaries to get a read on Carson's plans, not least because the whisper-voiced retired pediatric neurosurgeon was being overshadowed by an eighth person at the table, his wife, Candy.  An energetic former real-estate agent who is an accomplished violinist and has co-authored four books with her husband, she had been spending far more time inside the department's headquarters at L'Enfant Plaza than anyone could recall a secretary's spouse doing in the past, only one of many oddities that HUD employees were encountering in the Trump era.  She'd even taken the mic before Carson made his introductory speech to the department.  “We're really excited about working with — ” She broke off, as if detecting the puzzlement of the audience.  “Well, he's really.”

The story of the Trump administration has been dominated by the Russia investigations, the Obamacare repeal morass, and cataclysmic internecine warfare.  But there is a whole other side to Trump's takeover of Washington: What happens to the government itself, and all it is tasked with doing, when it is placed under the command of the 'Chaos President?'  HUD has emerged as the perfect distillation of the right's antipathy to governing.  If the great radical conservative dream was, in Grover Norquist's famous words, to “drown government in a bathtub,” then this was what the final gasps of one department might look like.

Nov. 9 brought open weeping in the halls of HUD headquarters, a Brutalist arc at L'Enfant Plaza that resembles a giant concrete honeycomb.  Washington was Hillary country, but HUD employees had particular cause for agita.  For years, the department had suffered low morale, and there was the perception, not entirely unjustified, that it was prone to episodes of self-dealing and corruption — most recently under Jackson, who was scrutinized for awarding HUD projects to companies run by his friends.  But the department had experienced a rejuvenation in the Obama era, with morale rebounding under the leadership of his first secretary, Shaun Donovan, an ambitious, politically savvy housing administrator from New York.  While it faced post-recession budget austerity — with its ranks dropping well below 8,000, from more than 16,000 decades earlier — the department made homelessness reduction a priority.  Under Donovan's successor, Julián Castro, the former mayor of San Antonio, HUD embarked on a major initiative to address residential segregation by requiring cities and suburbs to do more to live up to the edicts of the Fair Housing Act of 1968.

Before the election, Hillary Clinton's campaign sent over a large team of policy experts to study up on HUD and prepare to take the baton on these efforts.  The Trump campaign sent one person.  “And everyone was joking, 'Well, he'll be gone on November 9,'” one staffer told me.

So the stricken employees were slightly relieved when Trump's operation announced a five-person “landing team” for HUD that included Jimmy Kemp, son of Jack.  “There may be hope for us after all,” a veteran staffer in one local HUD office told his colleagues.  The semblance of normalcy was short-lived.  In late November, word got out that Trump's choice to run HUD was Carson.  To Twitter wags, the selection was comical in its stereotyping: Of course Trump would assign the only African American in his Cabinet to the “urban” department.  But to many HUD employees, the selection of so ill-qualified a leader felt like an insult.  “People feel disrespected.  They see Carson and think, I've been in housing policy for 20 or 30 years, and if I walked away, I would never expect to get hired as a nurse,” said one staffer at a branch office, who, like most employees I spoke with, requested anonymity to guard against retribution.

Carson himself had some qualms about running HUD.  His close friend Armstrong Williams, a conservative commentator who was exposed for receiving payments from George W. Bush's administration to tout Bush's education policies on air, told The Hill in November that Carson had reservations about such a job.  “Dr.  Carson feels he has no government experience; he's never run a federal agency,” Williams said.  “The last thing he would want to do was take a position that could cripple the presidency.”  Williams later said his remark had been misconstrued, but Shermichael Singleton, a young political operative who worked for Williams and became a top aide on Carson's campaign, told me that Carson's ambivalence was real.  Trump's offer, Singleton said, had provoked deep questions for Carson about his life's purpose.  “It was, 'Should I do this?  What does it all mean?'”

In the end, Singleton said, Carson accepted out of a sense of duty that came from having risen to success from humble origins: raised by a single mother, a housekeeper, in Detroit.  “He's someone born in an environment where the odds were clearly stacked against him, and he believes by personal experience that he could do a lot of good for others.”  Kemp agreed.  Carson accepted, he said, “because he wanted to do something about poverty.”  If anything, Kemp said, Carson felt more suited to the HUD job than he would to a health policy one.  “Being surgeon general or secretary of [health and human services], I don't think he was fully equipped to do that, having been a neurosurgeon,” Kemp said.  In other words, Carson knew how little he knew about health policy, an awareness he lacked when it came to social policy.  “He thought with HUD, 'It's so clear that our approach to poverty has not been completely successful and we can do better, and I think I have some ideas that can be applied,'” Kemp said.

Underlying this rationale were two related convictions.  One was the standard conservative bias against expertise and bureaucracy, according to which experts lacked the “common sense” that an outsider from the private sector could provide — a conviction shared, of course, by the man who nominated Carson for the job.  The other was a more particular conviction that he, Carson, possessed extra doses of such common sense by virtue of his biography.

First, though, Carson had to survive his confirmation hearing.  The prepping was intense.  His top handler was Scott Keller, a longtime lobbyist who had served as chief of staff under Jackson and, in that role, become embroiled in the contracting scandals.  Keller's pupil was attentive, and his performance at the January hearing before the Senate Banking Committee was judged a relative success by the press, punctuated by Carson's disarming remark that the panel's top Democrat, Sherrod Brown, reminded him of Columbo [TV character?].  Carson's family and closest aides took him to the Monocle, the lobbyist hangout on the Hill, to celebrate.

As Carson awaited confirmation, though, a leadership cadre was already entrenching itself in the administrative offices on the 10th floor of HUD.  The five-person landing team had given way in January to a larger “beachhead” team.  This was a more eyebrow-raising group.  Its few alums from past GOP administrations were outnumbered by Trump loyalists such as Barbara Gruson, a Manhattan real-estate broker who'd worked for the campaign; Victoria Barton, the campaign's “student and millennial outreach coordinator”; and Lynne Patton, who had worked for the Trumps as an event planner.

The most influential of the new bunch, it would quickly emerge, was Maren Kasper.  Little-known in housing policy circles, and in her mid-30s, Kasper arrived from the Bay Area startup Roofstock, which linked investors with rental properties available for purchase.  It partnered with lenders including Colony American Finance, a company founded by Tom Barrack, the close Trump associate.  This link to Trump, combined with Kasper's background in one sliver of the housing realm, was enough to win her a place as one of the minders appointed by the White House to keep an eye on each government department, a powerful role without precedent in prior administrations.

Kasper, the holder of an MBA from NYU's Stern School of Business, took her new management role seriously, asserting herself as the final arbiter in the absence of a confirmed secretary.  This led to friction both with career housing policy experts and with Carson loyalists, notably Singleton, who had also been hired on.  At meetings, Singleton said, Kasper was often “misrepresenting” herself as standing in for Carson.  “I made it clear, 'You don't speak for Dr. Carson.' She said, 'Well, the White House …'”  To which Singleton said he responded, “I get what the White House has selected, and I respect that, but he's the secretary and you need to make sure you understand that.”

That friction lasted only so long.  In mid-February, an administration “background check” on beachhead team hires turned up an op-ed critical of Trump that Singleton had written for The Hill before the election.  Security personnel came to notify him that it was time to go.

On March 6, Carson arrived for his first day of work at headquarters.  In introductory remarks to assembled employees, after he'd gotten the mic back from his wife, he surprised many by asking them to raise their hands and “take the niceness pledge.”

He also went on a riff about immigrants arriving at Ellis Island, capped by this: “That's what America is about, a land of dreams and opportunity.  There were other immigrants who came here in the bottom of slave ships, worked even longer, even harder, for less.  But they, too, had a dream that one day their sons, daughters, grandsons, granddaughters, great-grandsons, great-granddaughters, might pursue prosperity and happiness in this land.”

The assembled employees stifled their reaction to this jarringly upbeat characterization of chattel slavery.  But in HUD's Baltimore satellite, where many in the heavily African-American office were watching the speech on an online feed at their desks, the gasps were audible.

Carson's arrival brought with it a reckoning for career employees: Yes, this person was really in charge.  They responded in strikingly different ways.  The most progressive-minded were thrown into a sense of crisis: whether to hightail it to avoid whatever radical shifts or indignities were in the offing, or to stay put for the sake of the department's programs and the millions of people they served.

Then there were the opportunists, those who saw in the vacuum in the upper ranks, where it was taking unusually long to appoint political deputies, the chance to claim higher stations than career employees would typically be able to attain.  “There were a couple people in some meetings who were bending over to ingratiate themselves” with the transition team, said Harriet Tregoning, a top Obama appointee in HUD's Community Planning and Development division, who left in January.  “For some, it might be their political leaning.  For some, it might be an attempt to gain influence.  I saw it happening even while the Obama people were still in the building.”

Finally, there were the clock-punching lifers, the “Weebies” (“We be here before you got here, and we be here after you're gone”), who recognized a chance to start mailing it in.  “It's 'I can now meet people for a drink at five,'” said Tregoning.  Or, as a supervisor in one branch office put it: “As a bureaucrat, HUD's an easier place to work if Republicans are in charge.  They don't think it's an important department, they don't have ideas, they don't put in changes.”  Left unsaid: that such complacency was an unwitting affirmation of the conservative critique of time-serving bureaucrats.

To the extent that the new leadership was providing any guidance at all, it was often actively discouraging initiative on the part of employees.  Shortly after the inauguration, a directive came down requiring employees to get 10th-floor approval for any contacts outside the building — professional conferences, or even just meetings with other departments.  Ann Marie Oliva, a highly regarded HUD veteran who'd been hired during the George W. Bush administration and was in charge of homeless and HIV programs, was barred from attending a big annual conference on housing and homelessness in Ohio because, she inferred, some of the other speakers there leaned left.

The department leadership was also actively slowing down new initiatives simply by taking a very long time to give the necessary supervisory approvals for the development of surveys or program guidance.  In some cases, this appeared to be the result of mere negligence and delay.  In other cases, it appeared more willful.  For one thing, there was the leadership's strong hang-up about all matters transgender-related.  The 10th floor ordered the removal of online training materials meant, in part, to help homeless shelters make sure they were providing equal access to transgender people.  It also pulled back a survey regarding projects in Cincinnati and Houston to reduce LGBT homelessness.  And it forced its Policy Development and Research division to dissociate itself from a major study it had funded on housing discrimination against gay, lesbian and transgender people — the study ended up being released in late June under the aegis of the Urban Institute instead.

More upsetting for many ambitious civil servants than the scattered nays coming from the 10th floor, though, was the lack of direction, period.  Virtually all the top political jobs below Carson remained vacant.  Carson himself was barely to be seen — he never made the walk-through of the building customary of past new secretaries.  “It was just nothing,” said one career employee.  “I've never been so bored in my life.  No agenda, nothing to move forward or push back against.  Just nothing.”
On May 2, I went to the Watergate to see Carson address an assemblage of the American Land Title Association, title attorneys in town for a regular lobbying visit to buttress the crucial support that HUD and others in Washington provide to the American home-buying machine.  I was hoping the speech would give me a better sense of what Carson had in mind for the department, which had been hard to elucidate in his few public appearances.  Up to that point, he'd made only a few headlines — for getting caught in a broken elevator at a housing project in Miami; for declaring, on a later visit to Ohio, that public housing should not be too luxurious, a concern that the elevator snafu had apparently not allayed.  This comment had drawn mockery but genuinely reflected his long-standing outlook on the safety net; grudging acceptance of its necessity only for those at their most desperate moments, a phase of dependency that must be as brief as absolutely possible.  This philosophy was frequently intertwined with allusions to the Creator — so frequently that supervisors at one HUD division sent down word to employees that, yes, their new boss was going to talk a lot about God and they'd probably better just get used to it.

But Carson's address to the lawyers offered little further clarity on his agenda.  He opened with a neurosurgery joke.  He touched on his vague proposal for “vision centers” where inner-city kids could come to learn about careers.  He repeated one of his favorite mantras, that the government needs to make sure people don't get unduly reliant on federal assistance, because “everybody is either going to be part of the engine or part of the load.”  And then, in the heart of the speech, where a Cabinet secretary would normally get down to programmatic brass tacks, came this meandering riff:

“You know, governments that look out for property rights also tend to look out for other rights.  You know, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, freedom of all the things that make America America.  So it is absolutely foundational to our success …   On Sunday, I was talking to a large group of children about what's happening with rights in our country.  These are kids who had all won a Carson Scholar [an award of $1,000 that Carson has sponsored since 1994], which you have to have at least a 3.75 grade-point average on a 4.0 scale and show that you care about other people, and I said you're going to be the leaders of our nation and will help to determine which pathway we go down, a pathway where we actually care about those around us and we use our intellect to improve the quality of life for everyone, or the pathway where we say, “I don't want to hear you if you don't believe what I believe, I want to shut you down, you don't have any rights.”  This is a serious business right now where we are, that juncture in our country that will determine what happens to all of us as time goes on.  But the whole housing concern is something that concerns us all.”

A few weeks later, it became clear that the “housing concern” perhaps did not concern everyone when the White House released its budget proposal for HUD.  After word emerged in early March that the White House was considering cutting as much as $6 billion from the department, Carson had sent a rare email to HUD employees assuring them that this was just a preliminary figure.  But as it turned out, Carson, as a relative political outsider lacking strong connections to the administration, was out of the loop: The final proposal crafted by Trump budget director Mick Mulvaney called for cutting closer to $7 billion, 15 percent of its total budget.  Participants in the Section 8 voucher program would need to pay at least 17 percent more of their income toward rent, and there'd likely be a couple hundred thousand fewer vouchers nationwide (and 13,000 fewer in New York City).  Capital funding for public housing would be slashed by a whopping 68 percent — this, after years of cuts that, in New York alone, had left public-housing projects with rampant mold, broken elevators and faulty boilers.

“By the time I left, almost 90 percent of our budget was to help people stay in their homes,” Shaun Donovan told me.  “So when you have a 15 percent cut to that budget, by definition you're going to be throwing people out of their homes.  You're literally taking vouchers away from families, you're literally shutting down public housing, because it can't be maintained anymore.”
The Trump cuts would mean that several programs would be eliminated entirely, including the home program, which offers seed money for affordable housing initiatives, and the $3 billion Community Development Block Grant program that Carla Hills, Ford's HUD secretary, had praised to Carson at the dinner.  In New York, CDBG helped pay for, among many things, housing-code enforcement, the 311 system and homeless shelters for veterans.  But the grants were also relied on in struggling small towns, where they paid for sidewalks, sewer upgrades and community centers.  In Glouster, Ohio, a tiny coal town that went for Trump by a single vote after going for Obama two to one in 2012, officials were counting on the grants to replace a bridge so weak that the school bus couldn't cross it, forcing kids from one part of town to cluster along a busy road for pickup.

“Without those funds, it would just cripple this area,” said Nathan Simons, who administers the grants for the surrounding region.  HUD, for all its shrinking stature and insecurity complex, has over time worked its way into the fabric of ailing communities throughout the country, a role that has grown only larger as so much of Middle America has suffered decline, and as the capacity of so many state and local governments has withered amid dwindling tax bases and civic disengagement.  On my travels through the Midwest I've seen how many federally subsidized housing complexes there are on the edges of small towns and cities, places very far from the Bronx or the South Side of Chicago.  People living in these places rely on a functioning, minimally competent HUD no less than do the Section 8 voucher recipients in Jared Kushner's low-income complexes in Baltimore.  In an age of ever-widening income inequality, the Great Society department actually plays an even more vital role than when it was conceived.

But if Carson was troubled by the disembowelment of his department, he showed no sign of it.  Even before the final numbers were out, he had assured housing advocates that cuts would be made up for by money dedicated to housing in the big infrastructure bill Trump was promising — a notion that his fellow Republican Kemp, among others, found far-fetched.  “I'm not sure he understood how that would work,” Kemp told me.  “He was probably repeating what had been told to him.”  Then, a day after the budget was released, Carson downplayed the importance of programs for the poor in a radio interview with Armstrong Williams, saying that poverty was largely a “state of mind.”  This, more than anything, seemed to be a crystallization of the Carson philosophy of HUD: that privation would be solved by the power of positive thinking, that his own extraordinary rise was scalable and could be replicated millions of times over.

Two weeks later, Carson went to Capitol Hill to testify on the budget proposal before congressional panels that would have the final say on the numbers.  With Kasper perched over his shoulder, he told both the Senate and House committees that they shouldn't get overly hung up on the cuts.  “We must look for human solutions, not just policies and programs,” he said.  “Our programs must reach out and so must our hearts.”  The budget, he added, would “help more eligible Americans achieve freedom from regulations and bureaucracy and the ability to govern themselves.”

Members of both parties on the panels seemed dubious.  Even conservative Republicans challenged the elimination of CDBG and dismissed Carson's repeated claim that those and other cuts would be made up for with “public-private partnerships,” noting that such partnerships depended on exactly the public seed money that the budget was jettisoning.

Carson remained unruffled.  The cuts were made necessary by the “atmosphere of constraint” created by a “new paradigm that's been forced on us,” he said, presumably referring to the desire for tax cuts for the wealthy and an even larger military.  “The problem that faces us now as a nation will only be exacerbated if we don't deal with them in what appears to be a harsh manner,” he told the Senate panel.  “We have to stop the bleeding to get the healing.”

As I watched the hearings, it occurred to me that Carson was the perfect HUD secretary for Donald Trump, the real-estate-developer President who appears to care little for public housing.  He offered a gently smiling refutation to accusations from any corner that the department's evisceration would have grave consequences.  After all, Ben Carson had made it from Detroit to Johns Hopkins without housing assistance, a point of pride in his family.  Not to mention that Carson's very identity — theoretically — helped inoculate the administration against charges of prejudice.  (Just last week, Carson said, in the wake of racially tinged violence in Charlottesville, that the controversy over Trump's support of white supremacists there was “blown out of proportion” and echoed the President's “both sides” language when referring to “hatred and bigotry.”)

Even better, Carson could be trusted not to resist Mick Mulvaney's budget designs.  At one moment in the Senate hearing, Carson noted that Congress's recent spending package for the current year had given the department more than it had been expecting.  “I'm always happy to take money,” he said, smiling.  Sen. Jack Reed of Rhode Island, the committee's top Democrat, was unamused.  “You have to ask for it first,” he said.
Over at headquarters, the department remained rudderless.  By June, there was still no one nominated to run the major parts of HUD, including the Federal Housing Administration and core divisions such as Housing, Policy Development and Research, Fair Housing and Equal Opportunity, and Public and Indian Housing, not to mention a swath of jobs just below that level. (Across the administration, Trump had by the end of June sent barely more than 100 names to the Senate for confirmation, fewer than half as many as Obama had by that point in 2009.)  Even the stern hand of Kasper was gone — she had been moved to a perch at Ginnie Mae, the arm of HUD that provides liquidity to federal home ownership programs.

The rank and file (whose department book club reading for the summer was “The Employee's Survival Guide to Change”) took comfort that the two senior nominations that had been announced, for Deputy Secretary and the head of the Community Planning and Development division, were conventionally qualified.  But appointments further down the ranks were alarming.

There was the administrator for the Southwest region: the mayor of Irving, Texas, Beth Van Duyne, who had gained notoriety by warning against the gathering threat of Sharia.  She had asked the Texas Homeland Security Forum to help investigate the legality of an Islamic tribunal in North Texas and had taken to Glenn Beck's talk show to defend the arrest of the Muslim boy who'd brought a homemade clock to school.  There was the conservative commentator John Gibbs, who was hired as a “special assistant” in Community Planning and Development.  Sample headlines from his columns in The Federalist: “Voter Fraud Is Real.  Here's the Proof”; “If He Really Wants to Help Blacks, Colin Kaepernick Needs to Put Up or Shut Up.”

Then there was Christopher Bourne, the retired Marine Corps colonel who'd served as the policy director of Carson's Presidential campaign.  He suddenly showed up as a “senior policy adviser” in Policy Development and Research.  “We don't know what his job is, and as far as I know, he doesn't know what his job is,” said one of his new colleagues.

In the context of such hires, it did not stun many HUD employees as much as it did the broader public when news broke of the selection of Lynne Patton, the Trumps' event planner (whom tabloids gleefully referred to as a wedding planner, for her unofficial advisory role on Eric Trump's nuptials), as regional administrator for New York and New Jersey.  It had been plain to see that Patton had been striving to prove that she was no mere hanger-on.  She had been visiting senior career staff for a crash course on housing policy.  She had helped organize Carson's listening tour trips, for which her event planning background had prepared her well.  And she eagerly tweeted out defenses of him — “Let's be clear: You can make life too comfortable for anyone — rich or poor — when you do, it's a disservice,” [WTF!] she declared after his comments on cushy public housing.

Yes, she would now be the chief liaison from HUD headquarters to a region with the largest concentration of subsidized housing in the country — including the huge Starrett City complex in Brooklyn co-owned by Trump — a job once held by Bill de Blasio. (“Normally, these positions go to people who know what they're doing,” said one longtime staffer at headquarters.)  And yes, she would, just a few weeks later, respond to liberal criticism of the department's decision to approve Westchester County's long-litigated desegregation plan with a tweet that ended with the words “P.S. I'm black.”

But there were many other things for career employees to worry about that weren't getting as much attention.  Such as what Carson had in mind with the vague “incentivized family formation” push (which falls under the community building part of HUD's antipoverty mission) that his team had included in a briefing for Hill staffers.

Also worrisome was what the new leadership might do with major Obama-era initiatives, like its desegregation initiative, which, in a 2015 rule called Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing, required local jurisdictions to come up with ways to reduce segregation or risk losing HUD funding.  Carson had written an op-ed against this during the campaign, calling it a “mandated social engineering scheme” and comparing it to a “failed socialist experiment,” and Republicans in Congress were dying to kill it, but so far, the department was still going through the motions with it.

Then there was the mystery of why Carson's family was taking such a visible role in the department.  There was the omnipresent Mrs. Carson.  Even more striking, however, had been the active role of the secretary's second-oldest son.  Ben Carson Jr., who goes by B.J. and co-founded an investment firm in Columbia, Maryland, that specializes in infrastructure, health care and workforce development, was showing up on email chains within the department and appearing often at headquarters.  One day, he was seen leaving the 10th-floor office of David Eagles, the new COO, who was crafting a HUD reorganization to accompany the cuts.

And finally, there was the beginning of what appeared likely to be a stream of committed career employees quitting.  Ann Marie Oliva, the anti-homelessness director, had met with mistrust from the 10th floor, and she was startled when she wasn't asked to offer input for a speech Carson was giving on homeless veterans.  She gave notice in late May, prompting calls from both parties on the Hill saying how sorry they were to see her go.  “It is sad,” she told me, “because it's not partisan and it could've been different from the beginning.”
In early July, Ben Carson went on the next leg of his listening tour: Baltimore.  I was expecting the department to make a big deal of his return to his longtime home city.  But instead, after the poor press coverage from the previous rounds of community outreach, the itinerary for the first day was kept private.

I managed to get my hands on the schedule and tagged along with a photographer.  This did not please Carson's entourage, which included, among others, a high-strung advance man in a bow tie, several security officers, Candy Carson, Ben Jr. and even his wife.  When we arrived at the café where Carson and his family were having lunch with the mayor of Baltimore, Bow Tie arranged to have the Carsons rush out through the kitchen area to a back alley to avoid us.  When, at the next stop, I was accidentally allowed into a meeting that Carson was holding at the city's housing authority, Bow Tie leaped across the room to eject me.  By the next stop, at a tour of the redevelopment near Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the federal agents guarding Carson took my picture as I stood on the sidewalk chatting with a neighbor.  By the last stop, dinner with Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan at a deluxe waterfront restaurant opened by Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, I was unsurprised when a Carson aide went to the maître d' to report my presence at the bar.  This was Trumpian anti-press spirit taken to a new level, protectiveness of a government executive to the point of seeking invisibility.

The day had its awkward moments.  In his visit to the Baltimore HUD office, Carson caused friction with his suggestion that staff needed to work harder, comparing the federal work ethic unfavorably with the long hours he put in as a surgeon.  Employees were also struck by how he kept seeming to look to his wife for cues as he spoke.  At a later meeting with public health officials and researchers, which his wife, son and daughter-in-law also attended, he kicked things off 15 minutes early and referred to those who arrived on time as being late.  He demurred when asked by the city's former Health Commissioner Joshua Sharfstein if he'd commit the department to an ambitious reduction in child lead poisoning, saying something to the effect that he needed to be careful about setting big goals because he “worked for a guy who, if you don't meet your goals, he'll so skewer you.”

The next morning, Carson held photo ops at two homes that had undergone HUD-funded lead abatement.  At the first home, he looked confused when workers explained that one of their first steps had been to make sure the home's doors closed properly in the door jambs.  “What does that have to do with lead?” asked the nation's secretary of housing.  The workers explained that a key to reducing lead paint flaking was to reduce the friction involved in opening and closing windows and doors.  A moment later, a deputy housing commissioner noted that the work had been made possible in part by Community Development Block Grants, which Trump's HUD budget eliminated.

Ben Carson Jr. resurfaced at the second day's other open event, a visit to a health fair in East Baltimore.  I watched with some amazement as the younger Carson, clad in tinted aviator shades, circulated among those seeking his father's attention.  At one point, Carson Jr. was approached by two entrepreneurs he knew who were hoping to pitch HUD on a proposal to use public housing as the site to pilot their for-profit venture replacing cash bail with the relinquishing of guns.  Carson Jr. heard them out and then said, “Have you talked to Dad?”  He then led them over to a clutch of Carson's HUD aides to make introductions.

A moment later, I asked Carson Jr. why he was taking such an active role on the Baltimore trip.  “With anything where we can be helpful, if Dad asks us to come along and help out, we'll always do that.  We're here to offer support, whatever we can do,” he said.  I asked about all the time he was spending at HUD headquarters.  “If you're a concerned citizen and you're not spending time in D.C. trying to actually make sure the right things are happening, then you probably could do more,” he said.  “You should have access to your public officials, and if that's not allowed, then there's a big problem with how the representatives are handling their relationship with citizens.” (Never mind that in this case, the “public official” was his own father.)

Later, I asked Ben Carson for a comment on his son's role.  “Ben Carson Jr. has visited me, but he has no role at the department,” he said through a spokesman.  It was hard to know what to make of it all.  On the one hand, it bore obvious similarities to the proliferation of Trumps and Kushners inside the White House, with all their attendant business conflicts.

But it was also possible that Ben Jr., and his mom, were so often at his father's side for just the reason Ben Jr. claimed, to provide support.  Because it was not hard to see why Carson would feel insecurity.  He had been chosen for a job he had few qualifications for, by a man who had few obvious qualifications for his own job, and he was now being left to his own devices to defend the dismantling of the department he was supposed to run, with an underpopulated corps of deputies at his side. (Even by mid-August, the Office of Public and Indian Housing, which spends tens of billions per year, did not have any senior political leadership whatsoever.)  It was as if the White House were ensuring that whatever mere starvation failed to accomplish at HUD, indifference and mismanagement would finish.

The day before, as I waited outside the school building where Carson was meeting with the public health experts, a young mother, Danielle Jackson, had come along with her three young daughters.  She asked me what was going on inside, and I told her.  She said she herself had been on the waiting list for a Section 8 voucher for three years, and she seemed to take the fact that the famous Baltimore doctor was now running HUD as an omen.  “I hope something good happens,” she said brightly.

Her optimism was shared by Carson himself.  When I asked him at a brief press conference behind one of the lead-abated homes the next morning how things were going so far for him at HUD, running a big federal department with no prior experience in government, he shrugged.  “It's actually a challenge to inject common sense and logic into bureaucracy, there's no question about that,” he said.  “But it's coming along quite nicely.”

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

INTERNET - Hate Sites Not Blocked

"Despite Disavowals, Leading Tech Companies Help Extremist Sites Monetize Hate" by Julia Angwin, Jeff Larson, Madeleine Varner, and Lauren Kirchner - ProPublica 8/19/2017

Update, Aug. 19, 2017:
This story has been updated to include a comment from PayPal.

Update, Aug. 22, 2017:
The name of Taboola's spokesman was removed at the company's request.

Because of its “extreme hostility toward Muslims,” the website is considered an active hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center and the Anti-Defamation League.  The views of the site's director, Robert Spencer, on Islam led the British Home Office to ban him from entering the country in 2013.

But its designation as a hate site hasn't stopped tech companies — including PayPal, Amazon, and Newsmax — from maintaining partnerships with Jihad Watch that help to sustain it financially.  PayPal facilitates donations to the site.  Newsmax — the online news network run by President Donald Trump's close friend Chris Ruddy — pays Jihad Watch in return for users clicking on its headlines.  Until recently, Amazon allowed Jihad Watch to participate in a program that promised a cut of any book sales that the site generated.  All three companies have policies that say they don't do business with hate groups.

Jihad Watch is one of many sites that monetize their extremist views through relationships with technology companies.  ProPublica surveyed the most visited websites of groups designated as extremist by either the SPLC or the Anti-Defamation League.  We found that more than half of them — 39 out of 69 — made money from ads, donations or other revenue streams facilitated by technology companies.  At least 10 tech companies played a role directly or indirectly in supporting these sites.

Traditionally, tech companies have justified such relationships by contending that it's not their role to censor the Internet or to discourage legitimate political expression.  Also, their management wasn't necessarily aware that they were doing business with hate sites because tech services tend to be automated and based on algorithms tied to demographics.

In the wake of last week's violent protest by alt-right groups in Charlottesville, more tech companies have disavowed relationships with extremist groups.  During just the last week, six of the sites on our list were shut down.  Even the web services company Cloudflare, which had long defended its laissez-faire approach to political expression, finally ended its relationship with the neo-Nazi site The Daily Stormer last week.

“I can't recall a time where the tech industry was so in step in their response to hate on their platforms,” said Oren Segal, director of the ADL's Center on Extremism.  “Stopping financial support to hate sites seems like a win-win for everyone.”

But ProPublica's findings indicate that some tech companies with anti-hate policies may have failed to establish the monitoring processes needed to weed out hate sites.  PayPal, the payment processor, has a policy against working with sites that use its service for “the promotion of hate, violence, [or] racial intolerance.”  Yet it was by far the top tech provider to the hate sites with donation links on 23 sites, or about one-third of those surveyed by ProPublica.  In response to ProPublica's inquiries, PayPal spokesman Justin Higgs said in a statement that the company “strives to conscientiously assess activity and review accounts reported to us.”

After Charlottesville, PayPal stopped accepting payments or donations for several high-profile white nationalist groups that participated in the march.  It posted a statement that it would remain “vigilant on hate, violence & intolerance.”  It addresses each case individually, and “strives to navigate the balance between freedom of expression” and the “limiting and closing” of hate sites, it said.

After being contacted by ProPublica, Newsmax said it was unaware that the three sites that it had relationships with were considered hateful.  “We will review the content of these sites and make any necessary changes after that review,” said Andy Brown, chief operating officer of Newsmax.

Amazon spokeswoman Angie Newman said the company had previously removed Jihad Watch and three other sites identified by ProPublica from its program sharing revenue for book sales, which is called Amazon Associates.  When ProPublica pointed out that the sites still carried working links to the program, she said that it was their responsibility to remove the code.  “They are no longer paid as an Associate regardless of what links are on their site once we remove them from the Associates Program,” she said.

Where to set the boundaries between hate speech and legitimate advocacy for perspectives on the edge of the political spectrum, and who should set them, are complex and difficult questions.  Like other media outlets, we relied in part on the Southern Poverty Law Center's public list of “Active Hate Groups 2016.”  This list is controversial in some circles, with critics questioning whether the SPLC is too quick to brand organizations on the right as hate groups.

Still, the center does provide detailed explanations for many of its designations.  For instance, the SPLC documents its decision to include the Family Research Council by citing the evangelical lobbying group's promotion of discredited science and unsubstantiated attacks on gay and lesbian people.  We also consulted a list from ADL, which is not public and that was provided to us for research purposes.  See our methodology here.

The sites that we identified from the ADL and SPLC lists vehemently denied that they are hate sites.

“It is not hateful, racist or extremist to oppose jihad terror,” said Spencer, the director of Jihad Watch.  He added that the true extremism was displayed by groups that seek to censor the Internet and that by asking questions about the tech platforms on his site, we were “aiding and abetting a quintessentially fascist enterprise.”

Spencer made these comments in response to questions emailed by ProPublica reporter Lauren Kirchner.  Afterwards, Spencer posted an item on Jihad Watch alleging that “leftist 'journalist'” Kirchner had threatened the site.  He also posted Kirchner's photo and email, as well as his correspondence with her.  After being contacted by ProPublica, another anti-Islam activist, Pamela Geller, also posted an attack on Kirchner, calling her a “senior reporting troll.”  Like Spencer, Geller was banned by the British Home Office; her eponymous site is on the SPLC and ADL lists.

Donations — and the ability to accept them online through PayPal and similar companies — are a lifeline for sites like Jihad Watch.  In 2015, the nonprofit website disclosed that three quarters of its roughly $100,000 in revenues came from donations, according to publicly available tax records.

In recent weeks, PayPal has been working to shut down donations to extremist sites.  This week, it pulled the plug on, an anti-immigration website designated as “white nationalist” by the SPLC and as a hate site by the ADL.  VDARE, which denies being white nationalist, immediately switched to its backup system, Stripe.

Stripe, a private company recently described by Bloomberg Businessweek as a $9 billion startup, is unusual in not having a policy against working with hate sites.  It does, however, prohibit financial transactions that support drugs, pornography and “psychic services.” Stripe provided donation links for 10 sites, second only to PayPal on our list.  Stripe did not respond to a request for comment.

VDARE editor Peter Brimelow declared on his site that the PayPal shutdown was likely part of a purge by the “authoritarian Communist Left to punish anyone who disagrees with their anti-American violence against patriotic people.” He urged his readers to donate through other channels such as Bitcoins.  “We need your help desperately,” he wrote.  “We must have the resources to defend ourselves and our people.”

In 2015, VDARE received nearly all of its revenue — $267,038 out of total $293,663 — from donations, according to publicly available tax return forms that the Internal Revenue Service requires nonprofits to disclose.

Brimelow did not respond to our questions, instead characterizing ProPublica as the “Totalitarian Left.”

Some sites also supplement their donations with revenue from online advertising.  For instance,, which is on the SPLC list, generated about 10 percent of its revenue — $37,828 — from advertising in 2015, according to its tax documents.

The site, which describes itself as promoting a “Judeo-Christian ethic,” and recently posted an article declaring that a black activist protesting Confederate statues needed “a serious beat down,” does not appear to attract advertisers directly.

Instead, Sons of Liberty benefits from a type of ad-piggybacking arrangement that is becoming more common in the tech industry.  The website runs sponsored news articles from a company called Taboola, which shares ad revenues with it.  Known for being at the forefront of “click-bait,” Taboola places links on websites to articles about celebrities and popular culture.

Taboola's policy prohibits working with sites that have “politically religious agendas” or use hate speech.  “We strive to ensure the safety of our network but from time to time, unfortunately, mistakes can happen,” said a Taboola spokeswoman.  “We will ask our Content Policy group to review this site again and take action if needed.”

Sons of Liberty founder Bradlee Dean said that he forwarded our questions to his attorney.  The lawyer did not respond.

Hate sites can initiate relationships with tech companies with little scrutiny.

Any website can fill out an online form asking to join, for instance, Amazon's network, and often can get approved instantly.  Once a website has joined a tech network, it can quickly start earning money through advertising, donations, or content farms such as Taboola that share ad revenues with websites that distribute their articles.

Some companies, such as Newsmax, say that joining their ad network requires explicit prior approval.

But, according to a former Newsmax employee, the only criterion for this approval was whether traffic to the site reached a minimum threshold.  There was no content review.  Salespeople were told to be aggressive in signing up publishing partners.

“We'd put our news feed on anybody's page, anyone who was willing to listen,” he said, “it's about email addresses, it's about marketing, they don't care about ultra conservative or left wing.”

Dylan Roof frequented a website described by the SPLC as “white nationalist.”  He said in a manifesto posted online that finding the website was a turning point in his life.  He went on to murder nine African-American churchgoers in Charleston, South Carolina, in 2015.  That year, USA Today found Newsmax ads on the site.

They no longer appear there.