The Feds’ Bulk Collection of Our Data Records Has Been Expensive and Useless. But That Doesn’t Mean It’s Going to Stop.

“This new report shows that the mass collection of Americans’ phone records turned out not to be a particularly good tool for tracking down terrorism. Its authors determined that the NSA wrote only 15 intelligence reports based on information from call records accessed through the law. Of those, 11 duplicated information that was already in FBI records. Two contained information that the FBI had received through other means. One led the FBI to vet an individual, but it ultimately decided not to open an investigation. So that just leaves just one case where the bureau received unique info that it decided to use to open a foreign intelligence investigation.

All that for $100 million!”

Trump Slowly Enlisting More Agencies in ‘Whole of Government’ Response to Virus

““We need the federal government to play its role,” Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York said Monday. “The federal government has tremendous capacity.”

Much of that capacity is untapped. Hospital ships are at port. The Department of Veterans Affairs, legally designated as the backup health care system in national emergencies, awaits requests for help. The veterans department has a surplus of beds in many of its 172 hospital centers and a robust number of special rooms for patients with breathing disorders.

The sprawling system of emergency doctors and nurses ready to be deployed by the Department of Health and Human Services — known as the National Disaster Medical System — is also still waiting for orders, other than to staff locations where passengers offloaded from cruise ships are being quarantined.

And the Defense Department, home to 1.3 million active-duty troops and a civilian and military infrastructure that has made planning for national emergencies almost an art form, has yet to be deployed to its fullest capabilities. Senior Pentagon officials say they are ready to assist in any way that is ordered, but they also caution that much of the military’s emergency medical care is designed for combat trauma or natural disasters, and not mass quarantine for infections.

The last time a big infectious disease epidemic emerged, President Barack Obama dispatched nearly 3,000 American troops to Liberia to build hospitals and treatment centers to help fight Ebola. The Pentagon opened a joint command operation at a hotel in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, to coordinate the international effort to combat the disease, and the American military provided engineers to help construct additional treatment facilities and sent people to train health care workers in West Africa to deal with the crisis.”

“Defense Secretary Mark T. Esper said on Tuesday that the Pentagon will make available to the Department of Health and Human Services up to 5 million N95 masks, which can be used to help protect health workers and vulnerable people against the virus. The first 1 million, he said, would be available immediately.

The Pentagon is also making available 2,000 ventilators for hospitals, a number that would likely fall far short of the expected need. “When you look at how many people who may need it”

“Field hospitals and the hospital ships Comfort and Mercy are designed for trauma wounds, not viruses, and doctors would have to be assigned from elsewhere to staff them. The ships, each with a 1,000-bed capacity, have helped in natural disasters like tsunamis, hurricanes and earthquakes, not quarantines.

Defense Department officials said that one possibility for the Comfort would be to station in New York Harbor and absorb non-coronavirus patients in New York, which could free up hospital beds in Manhattan to attend to infectious cases.”

“Oregon sent a letter to Vice President Mike Pence on March 3 asking for 400,000 N95 masks. For days, it got no response, and only by March 14 received its first shipment, of 36,800 masks. But there was a problem. Most of the equipment they got was well past the expiration date and so “wouldn’t be suitable for surgical settings,” the state said.

New York City also put in a request for more than 2 million masks and only received 76,000; all were expired, said Deanne Criswell, New York City’s emergency management commissioner. The city is also requesting additional beds for intensive care units and medical teams to staff a convention center that may be turned into a temporary medical facility.”

“FEMA officials said the Department of Health and Human Services remains in charge of the federal response, and it too is waiting for orders from the agency before it moves to ramp up assistance.”

“In previous national emergencies, FEMA would be responsible for finding out where to obtain masks, ventilators, hospital beds and tents from either the military or the private sector and ensuring the supplies are delivered to states, according to Michael Chertoff, the secretary of homeland security under President George W. Bush who oversaw the response to Hurricane Katrina.

“They have relationships and know where to look for things,’ Mr. Chertoff said. “Without that it’s not clear to me who would be doing the coordination and facilitation function.””

CPAC Promised To Take on Socialism but Couldn’t Even Take on Trump’s Spending

“Republicans have often criticized Democrats for their expensive policies and rallied behind spending cuts, but now that Trump is in the White House, many conservatives seem to have abandoned the idea entirely. Rush Limbaugh, the inflammatory right-wing radio host and recent recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, regularly railed against former President Barack Obama for his reckless approach to fiscal issues. In July, he appeared to have changed his position.

“How many years have people tried to scare everybody about [the deficit]?” he said on his show. “Yet here we’re still here, and the great jaws of the deficit have not bitten off our heads and chewed them up and spit them out.””

California’s Government Has Turned Homelessness Into Big Business

“You might have noticed California is enduring housing and homeless crises. The market solution to housing shortages is simple: Government should reduce regulations, slow-growth restrictions, rent controls and fees that limit supply and drive up prices. Let builders build. Homelessness is a more complicated problem because homeless people often have addiction and mental-health issues, but more housing would help.

I can’t say exactly how it will work, just as I can’t say exactly how a molly bolt gets from the foundry in India to Home Depot in Sacramento. But I can tell you what won’t work—namely the policies our government now is championing. Gov. Gavin Newsom spent most of his recent State of the State speech detailing a blueprint for dealing with the “disgraceful” homeless situation, which involves more public spending and programs.”

“An investigation from this newspaper group found that a third of the apartments being built through the $1.2 billion Prop. HHH bond measure, which voters approved in 2016 to fund supportive housing, “will each cost more than $546,000, the median sale price of a condominium in Los Angeles.” The report found it “uncertain if the program will reach its goal of 10,000 new permanent housing units.”

I’d think it’s fairly certain the bond will run out of cash before its targeted numbers are met and city leaders will be back asking voters for more money. It’s also certain such projects will at best help a fraction of LA’s homeless. Some projects in Southern California have seen per-unit costs approaching $700,000. This is nuts.”

Before Trump’s inauguration, a warning: ‘The worst influenza pandemic since 1918’

“The briefing was intended to hammer home a new, terrifying reality facing the Trump administration, and the incoming president’s responsibility to protect Americans amid a crisis. But unlike the coronavirus pandemic currently ravaging the globe, this 2017 crisis didn’t really happen — it was among a handful of scenarios presented to Trump’s top aides as part of a legally required transition exercise with members of the outgoing administration of Barack Obama.”

“The Trump team was told it could face specific challenges, such as shortages of ventilators, anti-viral drugs and other medical essentials, and that having a coordinated, unified national response was “paramount” — warnings that seem eerily prescient given the ongoing coronavirus crisis.”

“But roughly two-thirds of the Trump representatives in that room are no longer serving in the administration. That extraordinary turnover in the months and years that followed is likely one reason his administration has struggled to handle the very real pandemic it faces now, former Obama administration officials said.”

“Obama aides, in op-eds and essays ripping the Trump administration’s handling of the coronavirus, officially called COVID-19, have pointed to the Jan. 13, 2017, session as a key example of their effort to press the importance of pandemic preparedness to their successors.
In a Friday op-ed, Susan Rice, Obama’s national security adviser, blasted Trump for comments such as “you can never really think” that a pandemic like the coronavirus “is going to happen.” She mentioned the 2017 session as one of many instances of the Obama administration’s efforts to help its successor be ready for such a challenge. She also slammed the Trump team for dismantling the National Security Council section that would play a lead role in organizing the U.S. response to a global pandemic.”

“Lisa Monaco, Obama’s homeland security adviser, explained the thinking behind the January 2017 session in a recent essay for Foreign Affairs. “Although the exercise was required, the specific scenarios we chose were not,” she wrote. “We included a pandemic scenario because I believed then, and I have warned since, that emerging infectious disease was likely to pose one of the gravest risks for the new administration.””

“The Trump campaign, like the rest of America, was shocked to win the November 2016 election. Soon afterward, Trump cast aside his team’s transition prep work that had happened already and started over; some of his aides described tossing carefully collected binders full of possible personnel picks into trash bins. It was days, sometimes weeks, before his nominees and their aides showed up to meet the people they were replacing — if they did so at all — or to engage in transition meetings. Obama aides said they left detailed memos for their successors, but that quite often it appeared those memos were never read. Many on the Obama side were genuinely surprised that so many actually showed up for the Jan. 13, 2017, exercise, and there were expectations that some would skip it. On the Obama side, several agencies were represented by their second-in-command at the meeting for reasons including a belief that Trump’s principals wouldn’t show.
The gathering was held to satisfy a requirement in a 2016 law that updated the procedures around presidential transitions to require, among other things, that the outgoing administration “prepare and host interagency emergency preparedness and response exercises.” Obama also mentioned it in a 2016 executive order laying out his transition goals.”

“some Obama aides who attended said they were left with the impression that many of the Trump aides showed up to simply check off a box more than to learn. The impression was boosted in part because the transition overall was going so poorly. Several Trump nominees had barely even spoken to their Obama counterparts.”

““The problem is that they came in very arrogant and convinced that they knew more than the outgoing administration — full swagger,” one former Obama administration official who attended said.”

“Asked whether information about the pandemic exercise reached the president-elect, a former senior Trump administration official who attended the meeting couldn’t say for sure but noted that it wasn’t “the kind of thing that really interested the president very much.”
“He was never interested in things that might happen. He’s totally focused on the stock market, the economy and always bashing his predecessor and giving him no credit,” the person said. “The possibility things were things he didn’t spend much time on or show much interest in.
“Even though we would put time on the schedule for things like that, if they happened at all, they would be very, very brief,” the former official continued. “To get the president to be focused on something like this would be quite hard.”
Anything associated with Obama or his administration was also a no-go zone for Trump aides. If you brought them up, “that would be an immediate rejection, like, ‘Why are they even here? Why the fuck did you ask them?’””

Will Tennessee Finally Reform Its Draconian Drug-Free School Zone Laws?

“A bill moving through the Tennessee state legislature would reform the state’s harsh drug-free school zone laws, which were the subject of a 2017 Reason investigation.”

“Reason’s data showing that more than a quarter of the state’s total land area within city limits is covered by drug-free zones”

“Tennessee’s laws blanket large swaths of the cities, turning minor drug violations into mandatory sentences that rival—and sometimes exceed—punishments for rape and murder.”

“One such case was Calvin Bryant, who at age 20 was sentenced in 2008 to 17 years in Tennessee state prison—15 of them mandatory—for selling ecstasy to a confidential informant out of his Nashville apartment, which happened to be within 1,000 feet of a school.
If Bryant had been convicted of second-degree murder, he would have been eligible for an earlier release. That crime carries a minimum 15-year sentence but includes a possibility for release within 13.

After serving 10 and a half years in prison, Bryant was released in 2018 after prosecutors struck a deal to release him on time served. Bryant now mentors inner-city youth through a nonprofit organization he started.

“I hold myself accountable for participating in a drug transaction, but do I feel like I should have gotten 17 years?” he testified at Wednesday’s hearing. “I don’t.””

“drug-free school zone offenders were ineligible for classes or other educational programming because of their mandatory minimum sentences.

“There were no chances for me to take classes with this charge because I was serving 100 percent, a mandatory minimum,” Bryant testified. “Due to us not earning good time, we don’t get to participate in classes, so it’s hard to better yourself in that kind of situation.””

The biggest challenge to America’s coronavirus response? Trump.

“President Donald Trump’s handling of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States has so far been a disaster.

He initially downplayed the severity of the outbreak at home, directly contradicting his top health officials. He’s displayed a stunning lack of knowledge about basic things like how vaccines work and how quickly a coronavirus vaccine could realistically be developed and distributed to Americans. And he’s publicly spread misinformation about how deadly the disease, officially known as Covid-19, is.

All of that is extremely counterproductive to effective crisis response, especially for dealing with something so complicated as the novel coronavirus.”

““This isn’t a normal crisis,” Konyndyk said, “and atypical crises require real leadership from the top to solve.””

“I, along with others, got to meet President Obama for a few minutes in the Oval Office because of our Ebola work. The moment I walked in, he started quizzing me about the Ebola burial teams, which was an important but fairly detailed element of the overall response. The fact that he was aware of those teams, and could ask me detailed questions about them, absolutely blew my mind.

You just don’t see that attention to detail with Trump. I really sympathize with the people who are working on this response within the government right now. Remember: It’s many of the same people — in fact, it’s mostly the same people — that worked on Ebola and other crises. They’re all career people.

What that tells you is that the team isn’t a determining variable here. The president is.”

“Think back to when Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma hit the US in 2017. Both of those were standard-issue, major hurricane events. They hit states in the mainland United States that were well prepared and had strong disaster management agencies. The government response therefore was mostly fine — bureaucracies were set up for moments like that.

But when you have nonstandard crises — like what Hurricane Maria did to Puerto Rico or this coronavirus outbreak — they require a president to get the government out of its comfort zone, to push it to do something it is not built to do. There’s really no one else in the government to do that.”

“There were all these different moving pieces that all sat in different parts of the federal government. They weren’t put together to facilitate a coherent response. It really took presidential leadership and the installation of a “czar” to finally bring order to that chaos. Ultimately, it was President Obama making very abundantly clear, to the entire federal bureaucracy, that this was a first-tier priority for him and that everyone needed to step up.

The other really important element to that was also not accepting business-as-usual rationales from the agencies.

There were many times during the Ebola response in 2014 when I, on behalf of my team, or others in the government, would be getting pressed by the White House to do something. We would say, “Look, we can’t do that,” or, “We’re working as hard as we can.” And the White House, to their credit, would come back with some variation of, “Well, that’s all well and good, but it’s not getting the job done.””

“President Trump’s insistence that the strategy of keeping the disease out of the country was succeeding really handicapped the rest of the response. Here’s why: It makes it harder for the government to plan for the moment the strategy stops working. That’s critical in this kind of situation.

The whole point of an overseas containment strategy is to buy you time. It delays the arrival of an outbreak in a country, but it cannot ultimately stop it. You’re not, or you shouldn’t be, hoping that that will be all that you need to do.

I don’t think the president understands that, and I don’t know how openly his team dissuades him of that view.”

“The first time a US official talked about a pivot to preparedness was when the Centers for Disease Control’s Nancy Messonnier detailed last month how she’d started talking to her kids about the disruption they might face in their lives. And the president and his allies went ballistic. It’s a microcosm of the dynamic at play here, that even acknowledging the reality that this strategy might not fully work or might not be fully sufficient set the president off.”

Turkey used a new weapon in Syria that was so effective it looks like Russia won’t dare confront Turkey directly

“The Turkish military’s devastating display of power against the Syrian army last week — which saw the destruction of hundreds of regime tanks, artillery pieces and armored vehicles — came from a cheap but effective domestic drone program that NATO officials say has changed the military equation against Russia in Syria’s Idlib Province.

The confrontation began in late February. Syrian regime forces, backed by Russian air support and “special forces advisors”, began to push into Idlib, the last major area held by rebels against Syrian dictator Bashar Assad’s regime. Syria’s civil war has lasted nearly a decade.”

“Turkey’s response was to send thousands of regular army units into Idlib to prevent the pocket’s collapse.”

“Turkey has a new ace up its sleeve, one that forced Russia to think twice about escalating against President Recep Erdogan’s government, military sources told Insider.

Turkey’s offensive was conducted with about 100 domestically produced drones launching cheap guided munitions with deadly efficiency.”

“US policies restricting sales of armed drone technology to Turkey out of concerns the technology would be used on Kurdish targets as critical to the development of a domestic program. By 2007 the Turkish military had tired of limitations on what it could buy from the Americans. Disappointed by the poor performance of Israeli drones on the market, it then began to develop their own program.”

“While Turkey guards the exact cost of producing the Bayraktar TB2 as a state secret, it sold 12 drones and three ground command centers to Ukraine last year for $69 million. At less than $6 million per drone, the TB2 is about a third of the cost of the similarly capable US produced Reaper MQ-9, which retails for US allies at about $16 million a piece.”