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Alfa-Trump Redux: Full Spectrum Circumstance

The Trump Tower – Alfa Bank story is back!

Back in October 2016, Franklin Foer wrote about some metadata analysis showing that a marketing server paid for by Trump Organization was messaging with a server at Russia’s Alfa Bank. The story, as Foer presented it, was quickly challenged. I myself focused on a side angle to the story: that in addition to communications with Alfa Bank, the Trump marketing server was also communicating with Grand Rapids’ Spectrum Health, which (the original public pitch of the story suggested) might show a tie between the DeVos family — or maybe Erik Prince — and Trump. From the vantage of October 2016, that didn’t make sense, as the DeVoses (as distinct from Betsy’s brother Erik) were actually remarkably hesitant to support Trump until after the DNS lookups ended.

Dexter Filkins has now reexamined the story. It concludes — via a proliferating set of academics and cybersecurity experts departing from the norm in both those fields and insisting on hiding their identities — that there must be some kind of communication going on.

(Max and his colleagues did not see any D.N.S. evidence that the Trump Organization was attempting to access the server; they speculated that the organization was using a virtual private network, or V.P.N., a common security measure that obscures users’ digital footprints.)

If this was a communications mechanism, it appeared to have been relatively simple, suggesting that it had been set up spontaneously and refined over time. Because the Trump Organization did not have administrative control of the server, Paul and Leto theorized that any such system would have incorporated software that one of the parties was already using. “The likely scenario is not that the people using the server were incredibly sophisticated networking geniuses doing something obscure and special,” Max said. “The likely scenario is that they adapted a server and vender already available to them, which they felt was away from prying eyes.” Leto told me that he envisioned “something like a bulletin-board system.” Or it could have been an instant-messaging system that was part of software already in use on the server.

Kramer, of Listrak, insisted that his company’s servers were used exclusively for mass marketing. “We only do one thing here,” he told me. But Listrak’s services can be integrated with numerous Cendyn software packages, some of which allow instant messaging. One possibility is Metron, used to manage events at hotels. In fact, the Trump Organization’s October, 2016, statement, blaming the unusual traffic on a “banking customer” of Cendyn, suggested that the communications had gone through Metron, which supports both messaging and e-mail.

The parties might also have been using Webmail—e-mail that leaves few digital traces, other than D.N.S. lookups. Or, Paul and Leto said, they could have been communicating through software used to compose marketing e-mails. They might have used a method called foldering, in which messages are written but not sent; instead, they are saved in a drafts folder, where an accomplice who also has access to the account can read them. “This is a very common way for people to communicate with each other who don’t want to be detected,” Leto told me.

I hope to return to some of the moves Filkins makes in his story generally after I come home from this trip. But for now, I just want to look at how Filkins deals with the Spectrum Health tie, which Filkins focuses on even more than Foer. Here’s how he introduces the connection:

Only one other entity seemed to be reaching out to the Trump Organization’s domain with any frequency: Spectrum Health, of Grand Rapids, Michigan. Spectrum Health is closely linked to the DeVos family; Richard DeVos, Jr., is the chairman of the board, and one of its hospitals is named after his mother. His wife, Betsy DeVos, was appointed Secretary of Education by Donald Trump. Her brother, Erik Prince, is a Trump associate who has attracted the scrutiny of Robert Mueller, the special counsel investigating Trump’s ties to Russia. Mueller has been looking into Prince’s meeting, following the election, with a Russian official in the Seychelles, at which he reportedly discussed setting up a back channel between Trump and the Russian President, Vladimir Putin. (Prince maintains that the meeting was “incidental.”) In the summer of 2016, Max and the others weren’t aware of any of this. “We didn’t know who DeVos was,” Max said.

This is a remarkable paragraph, repeating a lot of the shitty link analysis that people always do when they try to explain the Spectrum tie. In it, a children’s hospital named after Dick DeVos’ mother is the smoking gun in an international spy plot. Then, having utterly ignored the status of the relationship between the DeVoses and Trump at the time of the DNS lookups, Filkins looks at what has happened since: the appointment of close Mike Pence ally and leading GOP education ideologue Betsy to be Education Secretary, and Erik Prince’s covert meeting with an entirely different — and far more suspect — bank, using means that are precisely the kinds of means you’d expect Erik Prince to use (and not using the network of a hospital that his brother-in-law chairs but doesn’t run, because why the fuck would a Navy Seal use more covert methods that Navy Seals know well instead of using a server with an easily subpoenaed footprint in the US??).

The paragraph misses some other details of note. For example, after Dick got on a commercial puddle jumper to fly to interview with Trump, he was appointed to the FAA Advisory Board, another position for which he is an obvious and arguably well-qualified pick. It also doesn’t note that Prince — who is a separate political entity from his sister and brother-in-law — was threatening anti-Trump Republicans both before and after the election, something that might support this theory except for all the other more obvious ways Prince accomplished such efforts.

Which is to say that, while the piece acknowledges that to conclude the Trump – Alfa Bank records are suspect, you also have to explain why the Spectrum ones would be, it does no reporting to discern why that would be the case.

Later in the piece, after trying to explain DNC lookups involving a third entity that had previously only been alluded to (and only alluded to because without explanation, it would have and did problematize past claims), Filkins strains further to suggest the ties between Spectrum and Trump have been proven by events that have taken place since.

In one tranche of data that he gave them, they noticed that a third entity, in addition to Alfa Bank and Spectrum Health, had been looking up the Trump domain: Heartland Payment Systems, a payments processor based in Princeton. Of the thirty-five hundred D.N.S. queries seen for the Trump domain, Heartland made only seventy-six—but no other visible entity made more than two. Heartland had a link to Alfa Bank, but a tenuous one. It had recently been acquired by Global Payments, which, in 2009, had paid seventy-five million dollars for United Card Services, Russia’s leading credit-card-processing company; two years later, United Card Services bought Alfa Bank’s credit-card-processing unit. (A spokesperson for Global Payments said that her company had never had any relationship with the Trump Organization or with Alfa Bank, and that its U.S. and Russia operations functioned entirely independently.)

Spectrum Health has a similarly indirect business tie to Alfa Bank. Richard DeVos’ father co-founded Amway, and his brother, Doug, has served as the company’s president since 2002. In 2014, Amway joined with Alfa Bank to create an “Alfa-Amway” loyalty-card program in Russia. But such connections are circumstantial at best; the DeVos family seems far more clearly linked to Trump than to Russia.

It’s this sentence — “the DeVos family seems far more clearly linked to Trump than to Russia” — that exemplifies this story, and its epistemology, for me. It treats the DeVos family — Dick, his wife Betsy Prince DeVos, his brother Doug, his charitable mother Helen, and his brother-in-law Erik Prince, to say nothing of the hospital administrators that actually run Spectrum — as a monolith they’re simply not, reads their current varied relationships with Trump back into a history where only Erik’s relationship resembled his current one, and then concludes that a link with Dick through Helen-Betsy-Erik is all you need to explain why these presumed conspirators would use a hospital rather than any of the many entities the DeVoses privately hold (and therefore more directly manage) or the Prince entities that already have built-in covert channels with a proven past ability to reach out to oligarchs discretely.

I mean, I absolutely think there’s a place for more journalism on what Erik was doing during the election, his role as a cut-out to Trump, and how he has helped to discipline the Republican party since. Or, if you want to pursue some theory of nefarious plot explaining how the originally reluctant DeVoses came to become close Trump associates, you’d explore far more about Mike Pence’s obvious role in it all (to say nothing of Pence’s frequent meetings with the DeVoses since), something Jean Camp is well situated to do from Indiana.

But one thing any such journalism would show is that Prince has the ability to conduct convert communications via much more effective channels, and Betsy and Dick DeVos have the network to achieve their political goals via means that don’t require hijacking a hospital server they don’t directly control.

Meanwhile, the story doesn’t explore the tangential role of Alfa Bank, via Alex van der Zwaan, in the Skadden Arps part of the Paul Manafort story, and doesn’t explain that any focus on Alfa Bank prior to Trump’s inauguration might have distracted from the sanctioned Russian banks that, at least as far as is currently known, are the actual key players in the Trump Russia story. It also doesn’t explain that key events in any conspiracy between Trump and Russia were communicated via insecure Trump Organization hosted email, often (in Manafort’s case, for long after he had been indicted) backed up to the iCloud.

This Trump Tower – Alfa Bank story continues to spin journalists, not to mention academics and infosec experts, into uncharacteristic habits that don’t appear to be leading to any real clarity about the topic at hand.

After Three Suggestions of Doctored Data, Alfa Bank Claims They’re Being Framed

Remember this article from CNN that renewed the Alfa Bank funny server story? It totally pissed me off for the way it cited about seven people telling it there was no there there, and then reporting that there was based off one identified source (a US official, who could be a member of Congress) and other non-identified ones.

In addition, it claimed that Dick DeVos leads Spectrum Health — my local hospital. DeVos is currently Chairman of the Board, but the company is “led” by CEO and President Rick Breon. DeVos “leads” a company called Windquest Group, which invests in boutique things like an excellent wine bar and the fancy gym I belonged to before I joined the Y. The DeVos family “owns” a lot more, notably RDV Corporation, through which they own and mismanage the Orlando Magic. There are probably a jillion servers associated with RDV corporation that could (and probably do!) conduct secret communications. Which is another way of saying that if Dick DeVos wanted to conduct secret conversations with Donald Trump at a time when he was attracting attention because he was not yet even donating money to the candidate, he might have done it via a server more directly operated by his family. Hell, since DeVos spooked up brother-in-law Erik Prince was supporting Trump at that time of the weird server activity, why wouldn’t we expect spooky conversations to happen from one of Prince’s far-flung spook properties?

But perhaps the funniest part of the CNN story is that it pointed to evidence the story had been packaged — but it didn’t seem to understand that.

Other computer experts said there could be additional lookups that weren’t captured by the original leak. That could mean that Alfa’s presence isn’t as dominant as it seems. But Dyn, which has a major presence on the internet’s domain name system, spotted only two such lookups — from the Netherlands on August 15.

If there were lookups not recorded in the publicly released data — even if there were just two of them — then it shows that the publicly released data is incomplete.

Other outlets say was even more data sometimes excluded from the public story. The Intercept cataloged how different sets of material purportedly backing this story include different sets of IP addresses.

On Tea Leaves’ WordPress site, he claimed that “only two networks resolved the mail1.trump-email.com host.” This is contradicted by the very works of analysis furnished by Tea Leaves’ collaborators: The author of the white paper found that at least 19 IP addresses, all belonging to different networks except for the two that belong to Alfa Bank, had looked up Trump’s server. And these are only the 19 the author was able to observe in a short time period — it can’t be ruled out that there were many more, which quickly deflates the portrait of a shady Russian backchannel.

The white paper included DNS look-up data, but not nearly enough to reproduce the results. Rather than the 19 IP addresses we expected to see, the data only included three, and the DNS look-ups were not for the same time period that the paper described. Tea Leaves published a different set of data on the dark web, which we also looked at, but this set of data only included a total of four IP addresses. When we pressed Tea Leaves for the complete set of data so we could attempt to reproduce the analysis, he gave us a new, more comprehensive set of data, but still that included a total of only eight IP addresses, and it was missing an IP address belonging to a VPN service in Utah that accounted for a significant portion of the DNS look-ups described in the paper.

And Robert Graham states that a source of his says the data for June — one of the key months in question — was altered.

Tea Leaves and Jean Camp are showing logs of private communications. Where did these logs come from? This information isn’t public. It means somebody has done something like hack into Alfa Bank. Or it means researchers who monitor DNS (for maintaing DNS, and for doing malware research) have broken their NDAs and possibly the law.

The data is incomplete and inconsistent. Those who work for other companies, like Dyn, claim it doesn’t match their own data. We have good reason to doubt these logs. There’s a good chance that the source doesn’t have as comprehensive a view as “Tea Leaves” claim. There’s also a good chance the data has been manipulated.

Specifically, I have as source who claims records for trump-email.com were changed in June, meaning either my source or Tea Leaves is lying.

Until we know more about the source of the data, it’s impossible to believe the conclusions that only Alfa Bank was doing DNS lookups.

Here’s his latest post on this issue.

All the different sets of data (and the way the data was culled without evidence about how that was done), plus the fact that the entity behind this story goes by the name “Tea Leaves” and now refuses to talk to anyone about it, really ought to raise questions about a hoax. But not CNN. For CNN it was all proof of something there.

Now CNN reports that once in February and increasingly since CNN’s story about a non-story, someone has been spoofing lookups from Trump to Alfa.

[O]n Friday, Alfa Bank claimed hackers are now trying to perpetuate that suspicion by tricking the Trump Organization into sending communication toward the bank.

[snip]

One attack happened on February 18, the bank said. (The bank did not mention that to CNN before its story published on March 10.)

After CNN published its story about the puzzling Trump-Alfa situation, hackers stepped up their attack on the Trump Organization with “spoofed” signals for five hours, which were then directed back towards the bank, Alfa Bank said.

Hackers continued this attack on March 13, the bank said.

The bank contacted the FBI and offered “complete co-operation in finding the people behind attempted cyberattacks.” A US law enforcement official confirmed that the FBI was contacted.

[snip]

According to Alfa Bank’s description of recent events, hackers have recently tricked a Trump Organization computer server into sending internet traffic to Alfa Bank.

Hackers have “manufactured this deceit by ‘spoofing’ or falsifying DNS lookups to create the impression of communication between Alfa Bank and the Trump Organization,” the bank said in a statement.

Alfa Bank offered this analogy: “A simple analogy would be someone in the U.S. sending an empty envelope… to a Trump office… addressed to Trump, but on the back of the envelope the return address is Russia… instead of its own real address.”

“So, on cursory examination, Alfa Bank appears to have been receiving responses to queries it never actually sent.”

Alex McGeorge, head of threat intelligence at cybersecurity firm Immunity, said this is a prank “that is simple to do from pretty much any internet connected computer. We could probably manufacture this from a Starbucks.”

That someone is trying to manufacture something out of nothing here should not be surprising. There’s abundant reason to believe that’s what was always happening. And now that the FBI has been called back in by Alfa, I do hope they find an explanation about whether this is a Hillary person trying to taint Trump or Russia trying to do a limited hangout on other more damaging Alfa stuff. Maybe both have been faking this story at different times?

In any case, at this point, the story should be about why this story got packaged in the way it did, as much as any questions about how Trump sends spam around the world.

Update: Here’s the press release from Alfa. They’re also calling the larger story a hoax.

Alfa Bank’s working hypothesis is that an individual — possibly well known in internet research circles — may have fed selected DNS data to an anonymous cyber group to ensure they reached a specific (and erroneous) conclusion. Alternatively, the cyber group may have been complicit in the deceit. In the most recent cases, unknown individuals demonstrably attempted to insert falsified records onto Alfa Bank’s computer systems designed to create the same impression.

An Alfa Bank spokesperson said: «The anonymous cyber group, which is led according to news accounts by ‘Tea Leaves,’ cannot produce evidence of a link because there never has been one. Alfa Bank believes that it is under attack and has pledged its complete cooperation to U.S. authorities to find out who is behind these malicious attacks and false stories.»

Rick Snyder: One Unpopular Nerd

Public Policy Polling decided to see what Michiganders thought of the radical measures the ALEC Ducks passed last week.

They’re none too happy with it.

In addition to supporting unions 52-33 and opposing the so-called Right to Work law passed last week 41-51, Michiganders’ view of Rick Snyder has soured considerably.

ust last month when we took a first look at the 2014 landscape we talked about how much Rick Snyder had improved his popularity during his second year in office and how he led a generic Democrat for reelection by 6 points, even as Barack Obama won the state comfortably.

Last week he threw all that out the window.

We now find Snyder as one of the most unpopular Governors in the country. Only 38% of voters approve of him to 56% who disapprove. There are only 2 other sitting Governors we’ve polled on who have a worse net approval rating than Snyder’s -18. He’s dropped a net 28 points from our last poll on him, the weekend before the election, when he was at a +10 spread (47/37).

[snip]

Snyder trails every Democrat we tested against him in a hypothetical match up. He’s down 49/38 to 2010 opponent Virg Bernero, 47/39 to Congressman Gary Peters, 46/38 to State Senator Gretchen Whitmer, and 44/39 to former Congressman Mark Schauer. The Bernero numbers are what’s most striking there. Snyder defeated Bernero by 18 points in 2010, so Bernero’s 11 point advantage represents a 29 point reversal. The Democrats all lead Snyder despite having very little name recognition- only 44% of voters are familiar with Bernero, 36% with Peters, 28% with Schauer, and 27% with Whitmer.

And the Republican crazies in the legislature are even more unpopular.

The Republicans in the legislature are even more unpopular than Snyder after their spate of last minute legislation.

Only 31% of voters have a favorable opinion of them to 58% with an unfavorable one. Democrats lead the generic legislative ballot in the state by an amazing 56/32 margin, one of the most lopsided generic ballots we’ve ever seen in any state.

Which makes now the time to turn this radical agenda to an anvil on this party, even as they try to consolidate their power.

Unfortunately, PPP polled neither voters’ understanding about this legislation, measuring whether it has been influenced by Dick DeVos’ campaign to brand low wages as “freedom,” nor the gun bill, from which Snyder is (thankfully) backing away from.

So we don’t yet have a complete picture of how to best pile on this unpopular group of radicals.

But pile on we must.

Update: A number of hours after PPP released this poll, Snyder vetoed the guns-in-schools bill, citing concerns that schools could not opt out. While I’m sure that’s partly because of Newtown, I suspect he also noted his tumbling approval ratings.

Grand Rapids Press: A Pox on All Their Houses, But Not Our Own

The local rag posted an editorial “reflect[ing] the views of The Grand Rapids Press editorial board,” blaming almost everyone involved in the so-called “right to work” fight for the ugly way things went down Tuesday.

Right-to-work laws may or may not end up helping Michigan, but no one should be pleased with what happened in Lansing this week.

The whole process that led to the bills prohibiting workers from having to pay dues or fees to unions as a condition of employment has a patina of ick that unnecessarily divides and casts the state and its lawmakers in the national spotlight for all the wrong reasons.

[snip]

We’re disappointed in the whole lot.

The issue deserved the sunlight of the traditional legislative process, not moved through a lame duck session at breakneck speed amid threats and raucous protests, all played out in the national spotlight.

That’s not the Pure Michigan image we’re hoping to project as we rebuild the state’s economy and attract new businesses.

We all deserved better.

It blames Rick Snyder for betraying his “relentlessly positive” promises and flipflopping on an issue he had said wasn’t on his agenda.

It blames union leaders for all the violent images (some–perhaps most–not the unions’ fault), including the disputed tent collapse, the riot gear clad cops, and Jimmy Hoffa’s promise of a “civil war.”

It blames legislative leaders, calling out Doug Geiss and Dave Agema for their violent language and Lisa Posthumus Lyon for her hypocritical attempt to exempt her husband’s profession from the law.

Yet oddly (or maybe not so oddly), the Grand Rapids Press placed no blame on the man who, perhaps more than anyone else, bears responsibility both that this went down, and for the nasty way it was jammed through.

As (the umbrella that owns the Press) MLive’s own senior political columnist Tim Skubick explained, this went down in the way it did in significant part because of Grand Rapids’ most prominent citizen, Dick DeVos.

Surely you remember the GOP candidate for governor and former CEO of Amway. Well he’s back on the political field and he worked tirelessly behind Gov. Rick Snyder’s back to push Right to Work.

[snip]

Having performed the 180, Mr. DeVos ramped it up. He told senators that if they don’t vote for this thing, he would launch a petition drive to place this before the voters.

Recall that Mr. DeVos spent $35 million of his own money to beat Gov. Jennifer Granholm, (money wasted). Legislators on the other end of his phone calls knew he has the deep pockets to not only gather the required signatures, but also to find a way to sell it to the voters.

Other press outlets (and presumably Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville) were less polite, calling what DeVos and his anti-labor friends did “threats” and “arm-twisting.”

Precisely the kind of implicit violence the Press found so distasteful when union leaders or legislators did it.

It’s all very nice for the Press to blame people on the other side of the state for the ugliness in Lansing on Tuesday. But they’re utterly irresponsible if they don’t also blame the ugliness here at home.

They’re right: We all deserved better. And the place to start demanding better is from Dick DeVos.

The Libertarians Against Coercion Applauding Dick DeVos’ Coercion

I had a pretty revelatory experience last night interacting with a bunch of self-identified libertarians about alleged violence in Lansing yesterday and so-called Right to Work. I asked several of them why they were supporting a bill that should be anathema to libertarian principles. Here’s a more coherent version of the argument I made.

I also consider the restrictions right-to-work laws impose on bargaining between unions and businesses to violate freedom of contract and association. So I’m not cheerleading for the right-to-work law just passed in Michigan, which bans closed shops in which union membership is a condition of employment. I’m disappointed that the state has, once again, inserted itself into the marketplace to place its thumb on the scale in the never-ending game of playing business and labor off against one another.

[snip]

The ideal role for the government in business-labor relations is to stay the hell out of it and let the parties work things out themselves. I may preferone outcome or another, but I don’t have the right to enforce it by law, and that’s what right-to-work legislation does.

While I don’t embrace that view, it is the stance I would expect true libertarians to adopt. I’m gratified a couple of libertarians weighed in and pointed out the inconsistency of the arguments my interlocutors were making, which at least caused them some confusion (and led one to admit he would freeload on taxes if it were not for fear of legal repercussions).

One thing these self-identified libertarians kept coming back to, however, was alleged union coercion. They don’t want to be coerced into joining a union, paying dues or representation fees. These people at least pretended to be adamantly opposed to coercion.

Which is why this detail of Michigan’s union-busting is an important part of the narrative.

Michigan Senate Minority Leader Gretchen Whitmer, a Democrat told MSNBC that some of her Republican colleagues complained to her privately that DeVos was twisting their arms over the anti-union legislation.

“I spoke with someone in Republican leadership who was angry because these heavy-handed tactics were being used with the members,” she said. Republicans told her, she said, that DeVos had “threatened primaries, threatened to spend whatever it takes to beat them if they don’t support these bills.”

It’s not just Gretchen Whitmer saying this. Detroit Free Press said it specifically about Randy Richardville, who flipped his position on RtW.

Certainly, there are a large number of Michigan legislators who are beholden to Americans for Prosperity, or the Koch brothers. Word is the groups threatened Senate Majority Leader Randy Richardville’s leadership post, and promised him a primary challenge in 2014, if he refused to move right-to-work forward.

And Tim Skubick named DeVos too.

Having performed the 180, Mr. DeVos ramped it up. He told senators that if they don’t vote for this thing, he would launch a petition drive to place this before the voters.

Recall that Mr. DeVos spent $35 million of his own money to beat Gov. Jennifer Granholm, (money wasted). Legislators on the other end of his phone calls knew he has the deep pockets to not only gather the required signatures, but also to find a way to sell it to the voters.

Folks in MI are fairly clear about one thing: a billionaire who was soundly defeated by voters in 2006 has instead brought about a radical change in the state’s law by coercing people, precisely the kind of thuggishness “Right to Work” supporters claim unions engage in.

“Right to Work” supporters insist that no one should feel like their job depends on capitulating to coercion about who or what to support.

Except that Dick DeVos and his thuggish special interest group friends used precisely that kind of coercion to cram this law through. Randy Richardville, among others, was told his job depended on supporting policies and groups he otherwise wouldn’t support.

I guess libertarians like the kind of thuggishness billionaires engage in?

Breitbart Folks Appear to Fake Violence in Lansing

When I saw this video–claiming that a “violent mob” destroyed the tent the Koch brothers had paid for in front of the Michigan Capitol–I knew right away it was likely a false flag. After all, Stranahan, James O’Keefe’s buddy, first posted it. Within minutes it was up at Drudge.

Just as this whole narrative was rolling out, Dick DeVos’ paid hack was calling for RICCO [sic] charges against union leaders.

All this, in spite of the fact that witnesses say the Americans for Prosperity people were trying to provoke union members to violence, and witnesses reportedly saw AFP people loosening the ropes on the tents so they would come down. And in spite of the fact the place was crawling with cops (shipped in from around the state) who didn’t do see anything amiss. (Cops are as we speak arresting people engaging in civil disobedience at the Romney Building, where the Governor’s office is.)

Sadly, many of MI’s local journalists don’t know enough to distrust anything a Breitbart affiliate says and have repeated the violence narrative, based on such discredited sources.

This is developing (and I’m home sick, so working remotely). But it appears the KochBots just staged a false flag.

Update: And now Fox is going with the narrative.

And all this is happening just as Michigan State Police begin to mace those peaceful protestors at the Romney building.

So literally coinciding with the roll-out of actual police violence we’re seeing this narrative of violence.

Apparently according to Gongwer, a news service in MI, “State Police downplayed the incident and said no one was arrested.”

Read more

It’s Not about Workers, It’s about CEOs

Many of the editorials about the anti-union attack in MI have supported the unions or–even from conservative papers–criticized the way the Republicans crammed it through. This is one of the few in favor.

Predictably, this one, from Daniel Howes, either doesn’t know or chooses to deceive readers about how unions work.

And organized labor, fresh from a failed effort to enshrine collective bargaining rights in the state constitution, faces its most serious existential threat since the Sit-Down strikes and Battle of the Overpass cemented the institutional permanence of the UAW.

Until now. A right-to-work law that gives members the choice to join a union rank-and-file — or not to join — threatens to stanch materially the union dues flow, membership and, accordingly, the political muscle predominantly used by unions in the service of the Democratic Party.

Workers already have a choice whether to join a union or not. If that’s what Howes wants, that’s what he’s got already in Michigan.

But I appreciate it for one thing. Unlike the propaganda Snyder is tweeting out like a nervous school girl, which claims this offers anything for the workers–union and non-union–who will lose $1,500 in wages, Howes identifies honestly who this is meant to impress.

CEOs. Not workers.

It probably won’t. But the move, coupled with a coming financial workout for Detroit, is likely to reshape positively the debate about Michigan and its largest city among CEOs and investors looking for opportunity and growth — provided the national economy isn’t pushed back into recession by Washington’s plunge off a “fiscal cliff” of its own making.

This is the same “job creators” nonsense that Mitt spewed for a year, unsuccessfully.

But you have to look no further than this anti-union campaign to discern whether impressing CEOs will do a damn thing for workers.

In the million-dollar ad campaign Windquest and former Amway CEO Dick DeVos has ponied up, rather than using real Michiganders or paying local actors to bray about “freedom,” he used stock photos.

Even if you impress Dick DeVos, it seems (and he is the one bankrolling and twisting arms to make this happen, he’lll still treat workers like a cut and paste.

It’s very simple. Impressing CEOs who prefer disempowered, desperate workers doesn’t actually help workers.

White House Brags about Exporting our Pyramid Schemes to Korea

The list of statements of support for the Korea Trade Agreement the White House sent out last night tells you a lot about what you need to know about the trade agreement. Among others on the list are Tom Donohue, whose laundering of foreign money into election coffers had a significant role in the shellacking Democrats took in November. Donohue thinks this deal is great:

This agreement will create thousands of new jobs, advance our national goal of doubling exports in five years, and demonstrate that America is once again ready to lead on trade. The administration has done its part. Now it’s time for the new Congress to make passage of KORUS a top priority in January. We will do everything in our power to round up the votes.

Then there’s John Engler, who for a while as head of the National Association of Manufacturers instituted a policy of refusing to meet with Democrats.

Then there’s the CEOs of credit card nation, Vikram Pandit and Jamie Dimon.

But to me, the most telling endorser of this agreement is Dick DeVos, the CEO of Amway and perennially one of the biggest single funders of the Republican Party. DeVos is thrilled because this will help Amway meet their growth targets.

Like most companies, we support a more competitive playing field. This new trade agreement allows Amway to continue meeting aggressive growth targets, and gives a much needed boost for all export business in Michigan.

So we’re going to push through this trade agreement so Dick DeVos can expand his pyramid scheme, get richer, and funnel that money into the Republican Party.

But then, I guess that’s what Pandit and Dimon have in mind, too.

Fred Johnson Takes on Blackwater in Erik Prince’s Home Town

Fred Johnson is the Democratic candidate for Congress in MI’s 2nd Congressional District.

When his opponent–Crazy Pete Hoekstra lackey Bill Huizenga–claimed to want to cut costs in a debate the other day, Johnson called him on his hypocrisy regarding cutting spending on military contractors, starting with Blackwater. [my transcript]

Johnson: When that one question [about Blackwater] came up [in an earlier debate], we have a private corporation, that is taking taxpayer dollars to basically making profit off of war, they all agree that yeah, they should keep on using those kind of entities. If we’re going to have everything on the table–if you’re really serious about spending, if you’re really serious about cutting back, trimming the budget–those kind of things have to go too. Not to mention that those kind of corporations are beyond the purview of the US Constitution, the US Code of Military Justice, and they often times present as much a headache when it comes to diplomacy and when it comes to good relations, some of those countries being our defense partners.

So it’s kind of disingenuous to say, you know, we have a prioritization. I’m talking about, not just talking about it, I’m talking about actually doing it. I’m talking about going down there with the vision and the courage to make those cuts.

Johnson’s call on Huizenga’s hypocrisy is interesting for two reasons. First, MI-2 includes Holland (where Johnson lives). That’s Erik Prince’s home town.

But just as interesting–the reason why Huizenga and other Republicans in this part of the world are particularly vulnerable to this claim of hypocrisy–since they’re reliant on funding from Prince’s sister Betsy and her hubby, Dick DeVos, and boast about being high school friends with Prince.

Mind you, Republicans nationally are dependent on DeVos cash. But at a local level this hypocritical demand from Republicans that we keep paying more for security services that make us less safe so that their donors’ families can keep getting rich is palpable.

Help Fred Johnson.