The Rip Off Society

The New York Times

Fausset, Richard (5/4/20)

 

“ The state of Mississippi allowed tens of millions of dollars in federal anti-poverty funds to be used in ways that did little or nothing to help the poor, with two nonprofit groups instead using the money on lobbyists, football tickets, religious concerts and fitness programs for state lawmakers, according to a scathing audit released on Monday.”

 

According to the report, released by the state auditor’s office, the money also enriched celebrities with Mississippi ties, among them Brett Favre, a former N.F.L. quarterback whose Favre Enterprises was paid $1.1 million by a nonprofit group that received the welfare funds. The payments were for speaking engagements that Mr. Favre did not attend, the auditors said.

 

Other large sums went to a family of pro wrestlers whose flamboyant patriarch, Ted DiBiase, earned national fame performing as the “Million Dollar Man.” In a news conference on Monday, Shad White, the state auditor, said it was possible that many recipients of the money did not know it had come from the federal welfare program.

 

Mr. Favre could not be reached for comment Monday. Mr. DiBiase declined to comment.

 

Mr. White called the findings “the most egregious misspending my staff have seen in their careers.” The audit found that more than $98 million from the federal Temporary Assistance for Needy Families program, or TANF, was funneled to the two Mississippi-based nonprofit groups over three years. About $94 million of that was “questioned” by state auditors, meaning the money was in all likelihood misspent or the auditors could not verify that it had been spent legally, Mr. White said.

 

The breadth of the audit — which auditors said included funds that were “misspent, converted to personal use, spent on family members and friends of staffers and grantees or wasted” — raises broad questions about the efficacy of America’s social safety net.

 

In 1996, the TANF program converted the old federal welfare system, in which cash benefits to poor families were deemed an entitlement, to a system of block grants issued to the states. The new program created work rules and time limits on aid — and, notably, gave each state much more leeway on how to spend the money. Critics say that states do not have to clearly justify that they are spending the money on helping the poor.

 

“There’s this incredible amount of flexibility,” said LaDonna Pavetti, vice president for family income support policy at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities. “It could allow for a lot of things to happen.”

 

Mississippi Republican lawmakers concerned about the misuse of federal funds have enacted safeguards to prevent fraud by potential welfare recipients. A ThinkProgress article found that in 2016, only 167 of the 11,700 Mississippi families who applied for a TANF payment were approved.

 

For those who support anti-poverty initiatives, the unfolding scandal has left a particularly bitter taste. “It’s just, ‘How can you?’” said Oleta Garrett Fitzgerald, southern regional director for the Children’s Defense Fund.

 

Monday’s audit comes after the arrest in February of John Davis, the former director of the Mississippi Department of Human Services, the agency that distributes the federal welfare block grants. Mr. Davis is accused of taking part in a multimillion-dollar embezzlement scheme.

 

Five other people were charged in the apparent scheme, including Nancy New, a politically connected figure who was the executive director of the Mississippi Community Education Center, one of the two nonprofit groups mentioned in the report. All have pleaded not guilty.

 

According to the auditor’s report, sub-grantees who received federal money through Mr. Davis’s group told auditors that Mr. Davis often signed off verbally on the projects they intended to fund, leaving holes in any paper trail. Mr. Davis’s nephew and brother-in-law received work contracts, either through his department, Ms. New’s group, or the other nonprofit group that received money, the Family Resource Center of North Mississippi, the audit states.

 

Mr. Davis, in a statement to a congressional committee last year, said that Mississippi welfare officials were using the program “to address the needs of those we serve. We see this as a way to eliminate one of the last barriers to finding true self-sufficiency for those who seek to not be dependent on needs-based programs.”

 

The report also shed light on payments made to entities connected to the wrestling family, and the mixture of self-help and evangelizing that the welfare money was supposedly funding. Mr. DiBiase is listed on federal tax forms as the principal officer of a religious nonprofit called Heart of David Ministries. The report shows the ministry received roughly $1.9 million over three years.

 

One of his sons, Ted DiBiase Jr., also a wrestler, is listed on state records as the registered agent and officer of a company called Priceless Ventures, which offered a self-help program, “The Law of 16.” The company received more than $2 million, auditors said.

 

A Law of 16 workbook submitted to Congress features inspirational quotes from Ted DiBiase Jr. and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

 

Auditors said that another son of the elder Mr. DiBiase, Brett DiBiase, also a wrestler, was paid with welfare funds to teach antidrug classes. But Mr. DiBiase, who was one of the six people indicted in February, never gave those classes, auditors said.

 

Ms. New, the head of the Mississippi Community Education Center, is a well-connected longtime educator who ran a private school in Jackson. Her work in the welfare field was feted by conservatives for helping poor people achieve self-sufficiency.

 

Mr. White’s office, in a statement, said the group was “particularly dependent” on TANF funding “and engaged in significant misspending.” From 2016 to 2019, the statement said, the group was given more than $60 million in welfare money, and raised less than $1.6 million from other sources.

 

Among the questionable spending by the nonprofit, the statement said, was the purchase of three trucks costing more than $50,000 each, which Mr. White said were used by Ms. New and two of her sons. Her lawyer could not be reached for comment.

 

The broader scandal is one of numerous major problems the state is facing, including the coronavirus pandemic and a prison system in crisis.

 

Danny Blanton, a spokesman for the human services department, said on Monday that steps were being taken to clean it up, including a planned forensic audit. Mr. White said that a state criminal investigation into the misuse of funds continues, in coordination with federal investigators.

Monday Morning Rundown: Bailout Payoffs, Pollution for Profit, Seizure of PPE, Elimination of Over-Sight

SUNDAY 17 MAY 2020: Morning Rundown:

Pollution for Profit

https://www.nytimes.com/2020/05/14/climate/trump-drinking-water-perchlorate.html

  • A new E.P.A. policy would revoke a 2011 finding that the chemical perchlorate should be regulated. This is a toxic chemical that contaminates water and has been linked to fetal and infant brain damage.
  • This policy defies a court order that required the agency to establish safe drinking-water standards for the chemical by the end of June.
  • The policy both acknowledges that exposure to high levels of the chemical can cause I.Q. damage and also opts not to limits the use of the chemical.
  • Both the Defense Department and military contractors such as Lockheed Martin and Northrop Grumman waged aggressive efforts to block the controls on the chemical.
  • The administration is using the fact that states like California and Massachusetts regulate the chemical to argue that few public water systems now contain perchlorate at high levels and so the nationwide monitoring of the chemical would outweigh the benefits.

The Elimination of Oversight

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/15/state-department-inspector-general-fired-261536

  • Trump has removed State Department Inspector General Steve Linick and replaced him with a buddy of Mike Pence’s.
  • This is just another move in a series of movies to eliminate independent government watchdogs.
  • Trump said in a letter that his replacement “meets the appropriate qualifications” for the position. The appropriate qualifications are unquestioning subservience to Donald Trump and his cronies.
  • Part of this replacement is evidently an attempt to protect Secretary Pompeo from an investigation into his misuse of a political appointee to perform personal task for him and his wife.
  • In the past few months, Trump has removed Health and Human Services Inspector General Christi Grimm who had issued a report critical of the administration’s response to the coronavirus. He also removed the Intelligence community’s inspector general, Michael Atkinson.

Federal Seizure of PPE

https://www.citizensforethics.org/foia/fema-coronavirus-ppe-seizures/

  • After having refused to assume the duty of a federal government and left the states to fend for themselves to secure desperately needed PPE, federal authorities are now seizing and rerouting personal protective gear.
  • Massachusetts, Virginia and New Jersey have reported seizures of PPE shipments.

https://www.politico.com/news/2020/05/16/uss-theodore-roosevelt-sailors-test-positive-coronavirus-261873

Sailors with Coronavirus

  • Thirteen sailors aboard the USS Theodore Roosevelt who had Covid 19, have now tested positive again after being returned to the ship.

The Bailout Scam

https://www.propublica.org/article/another-private-jet-company-owned-by-a-trump-donor-got-a-bailout-this-one-for-20-million?utm_source=pardot&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=majorinvestigations&utm_content=river

  • A Nebraska-based private jet company whose principle owner donated to Trump and the Republicans before the 2016 election, received a $20 million taxpayer-paid for aid from the federal bailout package in March.
  • This was the second private plane company founded or owned by Trump donors to receive funds designed for the airline industry.
  • The other company’s founder gave nearly $50,000 to the Republican National Committee and Trump. They got $27 million in federal funds.
  • Why are you not furious?

Georgia Justice: Voting Machines and the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Stenographic Reporting

mark niesse

This is a short article, a small point, but ideology and attitudes are made up of countless small points, repeatedly pounded home that go into constructing people’s opinions.

This is an article that appeared in the Atlanta Journal-Constitution today.

Article: https://www.ajc.com/news/state–regional-govt–politics/amid-budget-cuts-georgia-pays-keep-old-voting-machines-storage/lPTO8DwteQouaFssNpImeN/?utm_source=Iterable&utm_medium=email&utm_campaign=campaign_1220886

Niesse, Mark (5/15/20) “Amid budget cuts, Georgia pays to keep old voting machines in storage.” Atlanta Journal-Constitution.

First, there is the headline.  The headline opposes the budget cuts from the state of Georgia and the money being spent to house voting machines used in the 2016 (and I think 2018) elections.  The obvious message is that we are wasting tax payer money to house unneeded voting machines when we are in the middle of deep budget cuts.

Here is the first sentence of the article:

“As Georgia is preparing for deep budget cuts, the state government is paying $432,000 a year to store 30,000 voting machines that will never be used again.”

First, as a reader pointed out, why should it cost almost half a million dollars to store some voting machines for a year?

Second,  the reporter is asserting something he has no knowledge of, that is whether the machines will be “used” again.  The voting machines will certainly be used again if they are evidence in a lawsuit to see whether there were election improprieties.  And, that impropriety will certainly not be uncovered if the voting machines are destroyed.

So, the argument that the reporter is just reporting the facts is clearly absurd.  It is not a fact that these machines will “never be used again.”  This is an assumption on the part of the reporter, clearly the assumption that the state of Georgia wants people to believe.

So, why does the reporter take on as fact an assumption that supports the state’s side in this dispute over the voting machines?

An attorney for the secretary of state’s office, Bryan Tyson, in a letter on May 9, asserts:

“Continuing to preserve the DREs (the voting machines) at a significant cost to Georgia taxpayers in times of national crisis for state budgets across the country is wasteful and unnecessary.”  This was a letter directed toward the plaintiffs in the lawsuit, the citizens of Georgia who want to know whether or not these voting machines were compromised in some way.

The citizens involved want to preserve the machines, to find out whether “viruses or malware” which might have infected the machines might have spread to the state’s replacement voting system.

There has been a proposal to destroy two-thirds of the machines but no agreement on which machines to dispose of.  This makes perfect sense.  If the machines were infected, why destroy any of the evidence that might demonstrate that fact?

“We’ve tried to work with them,” said David Cross, an attorney for a group of plaintiffs suing the state. “If we could at least do an analysis of a reliable statistical sample, we could see if the old system was compromised.”

This seems to be a reasonable position.  But, the reporter after noting that statement, then repeats the scare statistics of budget cuts as if this had anything to do with the voting machines.

“All state agencies, including the secretary of state’s office, are planning for 14% budget cuts in the upcoming fiscal year — more than $3.5 billion.  The secretary of state’s office is preparing to slice $3.2 million from its $24 million budget through a hiring freeze, licensing board changes and leaving some positions unfilled, Deputy Secretary of State Jordan Fuchs said.”

“There are so many ways we could spend money outside storage costs,” Fuchs said. “We could use that for fighting real security threats rather than activist’s lawsuits.”

That’s how the reporter chooses to end the article, with a statement by the Deputy Secretary of State calling the people on the other side of the lawsuit “activists” (which I presume is in his mind a negative thing) and maintaining that this fight is not about “real security threats.”

The AJC reporter should be ashamed of this stenographic reporting.

I am a resident of Georgia.  I am tired of the graft, corruption, hubris and collusion that goes into making the state government part of the Republican for-profit free-for-all con game.

 

 

 

The Brunswick News and the Arbery Killing

videoVideo of protest about the killing of Ahmaud Arbery.

This is a letter to the editor that appeared in the Brunswick News (5/14/20).  It needs to be pointed out, however, that the Brunswick News is consistently filled with right-wing material and right-wing political commentary from syndicated columnists.  The editorial page regularly includes an article by the now deceased Billy Graham.  The newspaper also frequently publishes what are essentially campaign ads for the current Representative, (Not your) Buddy Carter.

Letter to the Editor, Brunswick News.  5/14/20.

I never thought that I would be a protester. My mom and dad raised me to respect the law and to submit to authority.

Then a young man was murdered.

I initially called for peace and trust. I worked with law enforcement officials during my career in child protection. In my day, we all dedicated our lives to being moral and ethical servants of our community.

Somehow, Jackie Johnson was elected to work with us, as our chief law enforcement officer. Things changed.

A police officer stalked his wife and subsequently killed her. He was shielded by the DAs office.

A former employee, armed and angry, kills a young man. We now know that she instructed that her former employee not be arrested before recusing herself and hand-picking her successor, who likewise refused to make an arrest. We then learn that he was also conflicted and indebted to DA Johnson through his son’s employment.

The governor needs to suspend DA Johnson until such time as she can be investigated. We need to be able to have faith that “equal protection under the law” are not hollow words.

DA Johnson, step down. We have no faith in you.

Mark Newman

The Shooting of Ahmaud Arbery and the Absence of Justice in South Georgia

videoIn February 2020, when police were called to the scene of a shooting, they found a colleague of theirs, Gregory McMichaels and his son Travis at the scene.  As a later released video showed, McMichaels and his son had hunted down Ahmaud Arbery and shot him in the street.  According to reporting by the New York Times (5/8/20) Gregory McMichaels had Ahmaud Arbery’s blood on his hands when police arrived.

But, officers at the scene took down the version of the killing told them by the assailants, their former colleague and his son, and sent them home.

Later somebody in the department phoned Ahmaud Arbery’s mother and told her that Aubery had been involved in a burglary and was shot by the home owner.  This was a lie.  We still do not know who phoned Arbery’s mother.

Peter Murphy, a Glynn County Commissioner, defended the Police Department’s decision not to make an arrest in the shooting.

Bob Coleman, also on the Gynn County Commission, only recently escaped being prosecuted for insurance fraud by letting his wife cop a plea to the charges which involved Coleman’s business.

When I phoned Michael Browning, the head of the Glynn County Commission, to express my opinion that it was inappropriate for a member of the Glynn County Commission to have escaped insurance fraud charges by making an agreement with the prosecutor to let his wife plead to the charges, I was laughed at, insulted and told: “Get your head out of your ass.”

Everyone on the Glynn County Commission needs to be replaced.  Please, don’t put campaign signs in your yard for these men.  Please don’t vote for these men.  The community deserves better than this.

Authoritarian State Watch

barr

Charges have been dropped against Michael Flynn.

Paul Manafort is released from prison.

Lawyers for the President argued before the Supreme Court yesterday that the President (if he’s a Republican) should not ever be investigated or prosecuted while in office – no subpoenas, no testimony, no indictments.  “Criminal process targeting the President” violates the Constitution, Jay Sekulow said.

Right-wing justices whined that making a Republican president abide by the law was harassment.  Holding a Republican President accountable to the law is trying to “torment” the president.

 

“Nothing will change.” Joe Biden

biden

Well, it seems that advisors around the White House were not able to keep Trump from having the disgusting and embarrassing pressers every day.  He was out there again reading meaningless statistics, not wearing a mask, and becoming incensed when reporters asked him innocuous questions.

I have come to despise that sing-song voice he uses when he reads aloud.  And, he read aloud today.  I am sure his staff tried to get him to confine himself to reading aloud, but of course he couldn’t do that.  And, like usual, he made an ass out of himself attacking a female reporter.

The female reporters in these White House briefings could provoke a total melt down from Trump if they just persisted in asking relevant questions and refused to back down.  Or if one of them, just one of them, asked Trump if he realized that their job was to ask questions and his was to answer them.  But, as it stands now, none of them are prepared to do this.

When I complained once about the servility of the White House press on Twitter, I received multiple replies explaining to me that reporters couldn’t ask pointed questions because they might lose the positions they had worked so hard to attain.  This line of reasoning drives me crazy.

We have evidently become a society in which people simply assume that it is normal to abase themselves in order to keep a job.  I cannot count the number of times I have heard political pundits state in a matter-of-fact manner that members of Congress can’t do this or that because they might then have an opponent in a primary, or God-forbid lose an election.

When did we become a country in which it was assumed that everybody would just do what they were told, sacrifice any standard, abandoned any integrity, kiss any ass just to hold a job?  When did this become normal?

I’m sorry, but what ever happened to doing what is right?  I know, it went out of fashion.  I miss it.

Other notes from the News:

AFP.com (5/10/20)

  • The Supreme Court will tomorrow take up whether Trump is going to be forced (like every other person) to turn over his tax returns. He is the first president since Nixon to refuse to do so.  Trump’s lawyers have argued that this request for the tax returns is designed to “torment the president.”
  • Trump’s attorneys are arguing that he enjoys total immunity as long as he is in the White House.
  • In a friend of the court brief, lawyers argued that if the Supreme court rules for Trump and his lawyers “it will fundamentally alter the basic principles of accountability on which our democracy depends.”’
  • There are a lot of people who are still maintaining that our “institutions are holding.” I am not one of them.

Trudo, Hanna and Hunter Woodall (5/11/20) Daily Beast

In an interview on April 30, Joe Biden revealed that “…there’s some major Republicans who are already forming ‘Republicans for Biden.” He then specified that they were “major officeholders.”

  • “You don’t want something like this out on the street before it needs to be,” a GOP source said. “It just makes it much harder to do.”
  • Names that are being bandied about apparently include Jeff Flake, Bill Kristol, Michael Steele, Steve Schmidt, David Jolly and Mona Charen and John Kasich. .
  • Reached for comment, a spokesperson for the Biden campaign said, in part, “Vice President Biden is running for president to unite our country and rebuild the soul of the nation, and to accomplish that we need to bring together Americans from across the political spectrum to build the broadest possible coalition to defeat Donald Trump.”
  • At one point in late 2019, Biden even floated the prospect of selecting a Republican running mate.
  • In late April, Biden stated that he would consider naming Republicans to his Cabinet.

Derysh, Igor (Salon, 6/19/19).

  • In June of 2019, Biden assured rich donors at a New York fundraiser that “nothing would fundamentally change” if he is elected.
  • He promised not to “demonize” the rich and that “no one’s standard of living will change, nothing would fundamentally change.”
  • This was just after Biden appeared at the Poor People’s Campaign Presidential Forum where he said that poverty “was the one thing that can bring this country down.” “We have,” he stated “all the money we need to do it.”
  • Biden went on to say that the rich should not be blamed for income inequality, pleading to the donors, “I need you very badly.”
  • For the rich donors in New York: “I hope if I win this nomination, I won’t let you down. I promise you,” he added.
  • Biden also complained that some Democrats criticized his eagerness to work with Republicans after Republicans spent years blocking President Obama’s agenda and moving further right.
  • Biden pointed out that his ability to work with segregationists like former Mississippi Sen. James O. Eastland and Georgia Sen. Herman Talmadge showed that he could “bring people together,”
  • “I was in a caucus with James O. Eastland,” Biden said. “He never called me ‘boy,’ he always called me ‘son.'”
  • “At least there was some civility,” he said. “We got things done. We didn’t agree on much of anything. We got things done. We got it finished. But today, you look at the other side and you’re the enemy. Not the opposition — the enemy. We don’t talk to each other anymore.”

I hate to tell Joe Biden, but the problem here is not that we don’t talk to Republicans.  The problem is that we have listened to Republicans.  They want to establish a one-party Christian Nationalist state that has no room for democracy.

You cannot compromise, bring together, be civil to people who are trying to destroy democracy.  You either fight them or you let them win.  Joe Biden will let them win.  He has done it his entire career.

A discussion of politics, law, justice, and crime.