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Trump Issues Directive Limiting Transgender Individuals from Serving in the Military!

Dear Commons Community,

President Trump signed a directive yesterday banning military service members from identifying as transgender but also gives the Pentagon the ability to make exceptions.  The policy recommendation that President Trump approved flatly states that “transgender persons who require or have undergone gender transition are disqualified from military service.”  As reported by the New York Times:

“The policy adopts recommendations that Mr. Trump received last month from Defense Secretary Jim Mattis. It comes after court rulings froze the president’s initial ban on transgender troops — issued in July — as potentially unconstitutional.

“In my professional judgment, these policies will place the Department of Defense in the strongest position to protect the American people, to fight and win America’s wars, and to ensure the survival and success of our service members around the world,” Mr. Mattis wrote in a summary of his recommendations to the president.

The policy announcement outraged advocates for transgender troops, and the advocates vowed to fight the limits in court.

“There is no evidence to support a policy that bars from military service patriotic Americans who are medically fit and able to deploy,” said Aaron Belkin, the director of the Palm Center, which focuses on sexuality and the military. “Our troops and our nation deserve better.”

Mr. Trump’s new order allows the defense secretary and the homeland security secretary to “exercise their authority to implement any appropriate policies concerning military service by transgender individuals.”

In a memo to the president, dated Feb. 22, 2018, Mr. Mattis cited “substantial risks” about military personnel who seek to change or who question their gender identity.

He said that allowing some of them to serve would amount to an exemption of certain mental, physical and sex-based standards, and “could undermine readiness, disrupt unit cohesion, and impose an unreasonable burden on the military that is not conducive to military effectiveness and lethality.”

Mr. Mattis’s assertion contradicts a 2016 study by the RAND Corporation, which found that allowing transgender people to serve in the military would “have minimal impact on readiness and health care costs” for the Pentagon.

The study estimated that health care costs would rise $2.4 million to $8.4 million a year, representing an infinitesimal 0.04 to 0.13 percent increase in spending. It concluded that there were 2,000 to 11,000 active-duty troops who are transgender.

Citing research into other countries that allow transgender people to serve, the study projected “little or no impact on unit cohesion, operational effectiveness or readiness” in the United States.”

This directive is not a complete ban and allows for some wiggle room.  It will be challenged and decided in the courts.

Tony

Trump Picks John Bolton to Replace H.R. McMaster as National Security Adviser!

Dear Commons Community,

As reported by various media, John Bolton will replace H.R. McMaster as Donald Trump’s national security adviser.  

Bolton, a former United Nations ambassador, is a Donald Rumsfeld-type hawk whose views are ultra aggressive in using military intervention rather than diplomacy to solve foreign policy issues.

Bolton supposedly has had Trump’s ear, both as an informal adviser and as a commentator on Fox News, for a while. As a presidential candidate, Trump called Bolton “a tough cookie [who] knows what he’s talking about.”

Bolton unashamedly advocated for and defended the disastrous Iraq War and has called for the bombing of Iraq and North Korea.

God help us!

Tony

March for Our Lives Tomorrow!

Dear Commons Community,

Time magazine’s new cover features five survivors of February’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting who organized this weekend’s March For Our Lives protests for stronger gun laws in Washington and other cities.

The Time headline says “Enough,” superimposed over the crossed arms of Parkland senior Emma González and her fellow students, Jaclyn Corin, Alex Wind, Cameron Kasky and David Hogg.

The five students have been demanding that lawmakers make policy changes to keep schools safe since a gunman armed with an assault-style rifle attacked their South Florida high school on Feb. 14.

Last week, their efforts inspired students across the nation to walk out of their classrooms to protest gun violence. Students at many schools observed 17 minutes of silence to honor the 17 people who were killed in the Parkland shooting.

“Over the past month, these students have become the central organizers of what may turn out to be the most powerful grassroots gun-reform movement in nearly two decades.” wrote Time’s Charlotte Alter for the magazine’s cover story. “For much of the rest of the country, numbed and depressed by repeated mass shootings, the question has become:

Can these kids actually do it?”

Join the march tomorrow in a city near you!  Below is what you need to know if you are planning to march in New York City.

Tony

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NEW YORK CITY, NY — In the wake of a school shooting that killed 17 in Parkland, Florida, thousands of activists are expected to the flood the streets of New York City on Saturday to protest gun violence.

Just days after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz shot up their hallways with an AR-15-style assault rifle, students at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School began organizing a march on Washington D.C. to demand stricter gun control laws. The idea inspired young people to come together for a global “March For Our Lives” protest on March 24.

“March For Our Lives” protesters will take to streets around the world with three demands from U.S. Congress: A ban on assault rifles like those used in the Parkland and Las Vegas shootings, a limitation on high-capacity magazines and a comprehensive bill that would close loopholes that allow people to buy guns in some cases without background checks.

While roughly 500,000 people are expected at the main march just blocks from the nation’s capitol on Pennsylvania Avenue, thousands more are slated to attend its sister march in Manhattan, which began as a small Facebook event made by Columbia Law Student Alex Clavering.

“He invited 30 friends to join, and by the next day we had a thousand people,” said Julia Ghahramani, a classmate of Clavering who helped organize the march.

The school shooting had hit particularly close to home for Clavering, who’d recently spent a year teaching English to children in Malaysia. When he heard what the Marjory Stoneman Douglas students were doing, he wanted to help.

“I think both of us were really prompted and inspired by the younger students who were really ready to make this work,” Ghahramani told Patch.

Now, tens of thousands are expected to pack the march, which will start with a rally spanning 13 blocks back from Columbus Circle along Central Park.

“Our permit’s for 30,000 people, but I’m guessing we’re going to exceed that,” Ghahramani said.

Whether you’re among those planning to protest or trying to avoid the march altogether, here’s everything you need to know about the NYC March For Our Lives:

The rally:

The NYC March For Our Lives will kick off with a rally at 11 a.m. near Columbus Circle, organizers said. The rally will span 13 blocks along Central Park West to the entry point at West 72nd Street. Participants are advised to be there by 10 a.m.

Students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas, a teacher from Sandy Hook and a local survivor of gun violence are slated to speak at the hourlong rally, organizers said. Around 200 volunteers will be stationed at voter registration booths throughout it.

The rally will end at around noon, when the march begins.

March route:

The march will begin at Columbus Circle, head east along Central Park South and then down Sixth Avenue toward Midtown, where it will end on 44th Street organizers said.

Marchers must enter from the rally gates at West 72nd Street and Central Park West.

March start time:

The march will begin at noon, but protesters must go through the rally entrance at West 72nd Street to participate, and those gates close once the rally begins at 11 a.m., organizers said.

Cynthia Nixon Hits Back At Christine Quinn’s ‘Unqualified Lesbian’ Attack!

Dear Commons Community,

Actress and advocate Cynthia Nixon took a moment during a campaign event yesterday to respond to former New York City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, who called the Democratic gubernatorial hopeful “an unqualified lesbian” the day before. As reported by Queer Voices:

“Nixon’s announcement Monday that she will challenge New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) in September’s primary was met with skepticism from Quinn, a prominent member of the city’s LGBTQ community. Quinn ran unsuccessfully for mayor of New York in 2013, losing in the Democratic primary to Mayor Bill de Blasio, whom Nixon publicly endorsed. In an interview Tuesday, Quinn attacked Nixon’s lack of qualifications and experience, calling the candidate “an unqualified lesbian.”

Nixon, who identifies as bisexual, responded to the attack but laughed it off. “Yesterday, when I announced my candidacy, one of Gov. Cuomo’s top surrogates dismissed me as an ‘unqualified lesbian,’” Nixon said during an event at the historic Stonewall Inn.

“And I just want to say tonight that she was technically right,” Nixon continued. “I don’t have my certificate from the Department of Lesbian Affairs. But in my defense, there is a lot of paperwork involved.”

Quinn was quick to clarify her remarks on Tuesday after they went viral, arguing that she never meant to attack Nixon’s identity and was merely trying to make a comparison between herself and the gubernatorial candidate.”

No excuse for Quinn’s comment!

Tony

Fired FBI Official Andrew McCabe Oversaw Investigation of Attorney General Jeff Sessions Federal Criminal Investigation!

Dear Commons Community,

Last Friday, the media went into a frenzy over the firing  of FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe just two days before he was to retire.  The next day Donald Trump gloated and congratulated Sessions for taking  this action.  ABC News is now reporting that last year before Attorney General Jeff Sessions fired McCabe for what Sessions called a “lack of candor,” McCabe oversaw a federal criminal investigation into whether Sessions lacked candor when testifying before Congress about contacts with Russian operatives. McCabe has maintained that his firing was part of an on-going assault on the Russian investigation by the Trump administration.  As  reported by ABC News:

“According to the sources, McCabe authorized the criminal inquiry into Sessions after top Democrats on the Senate Judiciary Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vermont, and then-Sen. Al Franken, D-Minn., wrote a letter in March 2017 to the FBI urging agents to investigate “all contacts” Sessions may have had with Russians, and “whether any laws were broken in the course of those contacts or in any subsequent discussion of whether they occurred.

Democratic lawmakers had repeatedly accused Sessions of misleading them in congressional testimony and called on federal authorities to investigate, but McCabe’s previously-unreported decision to actually put the attorney general in the crosshairs of an FBI probe was an exceptional move.

One source told ABC News that Sessions was not aware of the investigation when he decided to fire McCabe last Friday less than 48 hours before McCabe was due to retire from government and obtain a full pension, but an attorney representing Sessions declined to confirm that.

Last year, several top Republican and Democratic lawmakers were informed of the probe during a closed-door briefing with Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein and McCabe, ABC News was told.

By then, Sessions had recused himself from the FBI’s probe of Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election, giving Rosenstein oversight of the growing effort.

Within weeks, Rosenstein appointed special counsel Robert Mueller to take over the investigation and related inquiries, including the Sessions matter.

Two months ago, Sessions was interviewed by Mueller’s team, and the federal inquiry related to his candor during his confirmation process has since been shuttered, according to a lawyer representing Sessions.

“The Special Counsel’s office has informed me that after interviewing the attorney general and conducting additional investigation, the attorney general is not under investigation for false statements or perjury in his confirmation hearing testimony and related written submissions to Congress,” attorney Chuck Cooper told ABC News on Wednesday.”

There is a big swamp in Washington, D.C. and Trump and Sessions are a couple of the poisonous snakes in it.

Tony

Former Analyst  Ralph Peters Says Fox News Is “A Mere Propaganda Machine for a Destructive and Ethically Ruinous Administration”

Image result for ralph peters

Dear Commons Communty,

Ralph Peters. a retired U.S. Army officer, has been a long-time analyst for Fox News.  Yesterday he skewered the conservative media outlet in an email to colleagues explaining his decision to not renew his contract with the network. 

“Four decades ago, I took an oath as a newly commissioned officer,” Peters wrote in the email, which was first reported by BuzzFeed. “I swore to ‘support and defend the Constitution,’ and that oath did not expire when I took off my uniform. Today, I feel that Fox News is assaulting our constitutional order and the rule of law, while fostering corrosive and unjustified paranoia among viewers. Over my decade with Fox, I long was proud of the association. Now I am ashamed.”

Peters continued: “In my view, Fox has degenerated from providing a legitimate and much-needed outlet for conservative voices to a mere propaganda machine for a destructive and ethically ruinous administration.”

Fox News, in a statement to The Hollywood Reporter, said: “Ralph Peters is entitled to his opinion despite the fact that he’s choosing to use it as a weapon in order to gain attention. We are extremely proud of our top-rated primetime hosts and all of our opinion programing.”

Peters, who opined about military issues and international policy on television and online, criticized the network’s primetime lineup for, in his words, attacking the integrity of the FBI and of special counsel Robert Mueller. He also accused network talent of embracing Russian president Vladimir Putin’s agenda.

“To me, Fox News is now wittingly harming our system of government for profit,” Peters wrote in the email. He gave a pass, though, to Fox Business Network, calling the network’s staff and hosts “the grown-ups.”

Strong words from someone who was an insider at Fox News!

Tony

More on Cambridge Analytica – CEO Alexander Nix Suspended!

Dear Commons Communty,

The story of Cambridge Analytica, is not going away. Yesterday it was announced that the political research group linked to President Donald Trump’s campaign, suspended CEO Alexander Nix after British media revealed a series of alarming comments the company’s executives had made about techniques it used to sway international elections.  As reported by various media:

In an investigation by Britain’s Channel 4 News published Monday, Nix was recorded bragging that his company had managed to influence more than 200 elections around the world.

The Cambridge Analytica execs admitted in phone conversations with a Channel 4 reporter posing as a client that they manufactured damaging stories about opposing political candidates. Nix said his company is “used to operating through different vehicles, in the shadows.” He also bragged about sending Ukrainian sex workers to seduce the candidates, but Turnbull said the company wasn’t in the business of “entrapment” or “lying.”

In a statement, the company said Nix’s suspension “reflects the seriousness with which we view” his comments.

Alexander Tayler, the company’s chief data officer, will step in for Nix while the company launches an investigation.

The company is currently under fire on both sides of the Atlantic for possibly misusing Facebook users’ personal data. 

Facebook acknowledged Friday in a statement that it had suspended Cambridge Analytica as it continued to investigate how the firm might have violated users’ privacy. The following morning, The New York Times and The Observer of London published a bombshell joint investigation into the group’s practices. The outlets alleged, through whistleblower Christopher Wylie ― who helped found Cambridge Analytica ― that the company harvested personal data from more than 50 million Facebook users for political purposes.”

It needs to be mentioned that Cambridge Analytica was founded by Mercer family members who are major supporters of right-wing causes and who donated heavily to Donald Trump’s presidential campaign.

Tony

Michelle Goldberg: Cambridge Analytica – Trump’s Hi-Tech Dirty Tricksters and Psychographic Profiling!

Dear Commons Community!

Cambridge Analytica has been in the news the past several days in connection with how it illicitly obtained Facebook data to assist the Trump presidential campaign.  New York Times columnist, Michelle Goldberg provides an analysis of how this company operates.  It ain’t pretty!  Here is an excerpt:

“Cambridge Analytica, the shadowy data firm that helped elect Donald Trump, specializes in “psychographic” profiling, which it sells as a sophisticated way to digitally manipulate huge numbers of people on behalf of its clients. But apparently, when you’re trying to win a campaign, prostitutes, bribes and spies work pretty well too.

On Monday, Britain’s Channel 4 News ran an explosive exposé of the embattled company. Going undercover as a potential client, its reporter filmed Cambridge Analytica’s chief executive, Alexander Nix, talking about entrapping his clients’ opponents by sending “very beautiful” Ukranian sex workers to their homes. He spoke of offering bribes to candidates while secretly filming them and putting the footage online, of employing fake IDs and bogus websites. Mark Turnbull, the managing director of Cambridge Analytica Political Global, described how the company “put information into the bloodstream of the internet” and then watched it spread.

This story came two days after a joint investigation by The New York Times and The Observer of London reported that Cambridge Analytica harvested private information from over 50 million Facebook users without their permission. That, The Times wrote, “allowed the company to exploit the private social media activity of a huge swath of the American electorate, developing techniques that underpinned its work on President Trump’s campaign in 2016.”

After days of revelations, there’s still a lot we don’t know about Cambridge Analytica. But we’ve learned that an operation at the heart of Trump’s campaign was ethically nihilistic and quite possibly criminal in ways that even its harshest critics hadn’t suspected. That’s useful information. In weighing the credibility of various accusations made against the president, it’s good to know the depths to which the people around him are willing to sink.

Created in 2013, Cambridge Analytica is an offshoot of the SCL Group, a British company that specialized in disinformation campaigns in the developing world. It’s mostly owned by the Mercer family, billionaire right-wing donors and strong Trump supporters. Before becoming the Trump campaign’s chief executive, Steve Bannon was Cambridge Analytica’s vice president. Trump’s former national security adviser, Michael Flynn, who has since pleaded guilty to lying to the F.B.I., also served as an adviser to the company.

Cambridge Analytica shared office space with Trump’s San Antonio-based digital operation, and took substantial credit for its success. “We are thrilled that our revolutionary approach to data-driven communications played such an integral part in President-elect Donald Trump’s extraordinary win,” Nix said in a Nov. 9, 2016, news release.

It’s long been hard to judge how well psychographic profiling actually works. Many consider Cambridge Analytica overrated. Last year, BuzzFeed News reported that former employees said “that despite its sales pitch and public statements, it never provided any proof that the technique was effective or that the company had the ability to execute it on a large scale.” Those who feared that Cambridge Analytica was conducting information warfare on the American people may have been giving the company’s self-serving propaganda too much credence.

But whether or not Cambridge Analytica’s methodology works, the fact that the Trump campaign had a crew of high-tech dirty tricksters on its payroll is significant. We already know that Cambridge Analytica reached out to Julian Assange about finding and disseminating Hillary Clinton’s deleted emails. We know that Robert Mueller, the special counsel, has asked the company to turn over documents related to the Trump campaign. Channel Four News plans to air additional undercover footage about Cambridge Analytica’s role in the Trump campaign on Tuesday.

At a minimum, we’ve learned that the Trump campaign’s vaunted social media program was built on deception. Shortly after the 2016 election, Forbes ran an article crediting Jared Kushner for his father-in-law’s shocking triumph. Thanks to digital tools, it said, the traditional presidential campaign was dead, “and Kushner, more than anyone not named Donald Trump, killed it.”

For those who knew something of Kushner’s pre-election career, this portrait of him as some sort of analytics genius was befuddling. The small, gossipy New York newspaper he’d owned, The New York Observer, didn’t even have a particularly good website. “He wasn’t tech-savvy at all,” Elizabeth Spiers, the paper’s former editor in chief, told me.

Cambridge Analytica’s corruption helps provide the missing piece in this story. If the Trump campaign had a social media advantage, one reason is that it hired a company that mined vast amounts of illicitly obtained data.”

Very helpful column, Ms. Goldberg!

Tony

 

Cynthia Nixon Announnces Her Candidacy for the Democratic Party Nomination for Governor of New York!

Dear Commons Community,

Cynthia Nixon, star of television, movies and theater, announced this afternoon her candidacy for the Democratic Party nomination for governor of New York.  As reported by Reuters:

“Actress and liberal activist Cynthia Nixon, one of the stars of the “Sex and the City” television series and movies, announced on Monday she would run for governor of New York, challenging incumbent Andrew Cuomo for the Democratic nomination.

“I love New York, and today I’m announcing my candidacy for governor,” Nixon, 51, said on Twitter.

A statement by Nixon’s campaign called her a progressive alternative to Cuomo. It said the governor was a “centrist and Albany insider,” mentioning the state capital, and referred to the legal troubles of a number of his aides.

 “We want our government to work again, on healthcare, ending mass incarceration, fixing our broken subway,” the statement said. “We are sick of politicians who care more about headlines and power than they do about us. It can’t just be business as usual anymore.”

Cuomo, 60, the son of late New York Governor Mario Cuomo, is seeking his third term this year. The primary is on Sept. 13 and the general election on Nov. 6.

Nixon is aligned with New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who is politically to the left of Cuomo. The two men have feuded publicly over issues such as public transit and public housing in the nation’s largest city.”

This will make for a most interesting Democratic gubernatorial primary here in New York.

Tony

Facebook Under Scrutiny for Breaches by Political Data Firm Cambridge Analytica!

Dear Commons Community,

Lawmakers in the United States and the United Kingdom are questioning the role of a political data company, Cambridge Analytica, in using Facebook data on more than 50 million profiles to support candidates including Donald Trump. The issue is complicated as to what is publicly available and what is not.  In any case, Facebook’s executives are coming under scruting for the company’s laxity in protecting its users.  Below is a partial recap of the issue, compliments of the New York Times.

Tony

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WASHINGTON — American and British lawmakers demanded on Sunday that Facebook explain how a political data firm with links to President Trump’s 2016 campaign was able to harvest private information from more than 50 million Facebook profiles without the social network’s alerting users. The backlash forced Facebook to once again defend the way it protects user data.

Senator Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, a Democratic member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, went so far as to press for Mark Zuckerberg, Facebook’s chief executive, to appear before the panel to explain what the social network knew about the misuse of its data “to target political advertising and manipulate voters.”

The calls for greater scrutiny followed reports on Saturday in The New York Times and The Observer of London that Cambridge Analytica, a political data firm founded by Stephen K. Bannon and Robert Mercer, the wealthy Republican donor, had used the Facebook data to develop methods that it claimed could identify the personalities of individual American voters and influence their behavior. The firm’s so-called psychographic modeling underpinned its work for the Trump campaign in 2016, though many have questioned the effectiveness of its techniques.

But Facebook did not inform users whose data had been harvested. The lack of disclosure could violate laws in Britain and in many American states.

Damian Collins, a Conservative lawmaker in Britain who is leading a parliamentary inquiry into fake news and Russian meddling in the country’s referendum to leave the European Union, said this weekend that he, too, would call on Mr. Zuckerberg or another top executive to testify. The social network sent executives who handle policy matters to answer questions in February.

“It is not acceptable that they have previously sent witnesses who seek to avoid answering difficult questions by claiming not to know the answers,” Mr. Collins said in a statement. “This also creates a false reassurance that Facebook’s stated policies are always robust and effectively policed.”

The fallout from the reports added to questions Facebook was already confronting over the use of its platform by those seeking to spread Russian propaganda and fake news. The social media giant has grappled with the criticism over the issue for much of the past year, and struggled to keep public opinion on its side.

Over the weekend, Facebook was on the defensive. Top executives took to Twitter to argue that the company’s protections had not been breached, and that Facebook was thus not at fault.

“This was unequivocally not a data breach,” tweeted Andrew Bosworth, a Facebook executive. “No systems were infiltrated, no passwords or information were stolen or hacked.”