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Thursday, October 18, 2018

"Think Disney is expensive now? Prices just went up — before you even walk in the gate."

The headline for the article is technically correct (they're raising parking fees), but it's a little misleading.

And the article itself is poorly written and links to a piece from March about Disney charging for resort parking - a move that Disney has (for now) rescinded.

And this is exactly what's wrong with the media today. A sensational headline followed by sub-par reporting, with references to reports that are either wrong or which have changed.

I expect more from the media overall.

Media reporting.

Sunday, October 14, 2018

If you live in Florida, here's the info you need to vote:

As for polling places, check these links, based on your county:

Early voting begins in many places as early as next week! You should make a plan and bring a friend!

Elections always have consequences ... make a plan to #Vote

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Just remember to not let apathy overtake you as we head into the mid term elections. Get out there and vote. Early voting is available in most states and will start as early as 10/22. 

Here are a few quotes to remind you about voting...

"Should things go wrong at any time, the people will set them to rights by the peaceable exercise of their elective rights. "

Thomas Jefferson, The Jeffersonian Cyclopedia


"A share in the sovereignty of the state, which is exercised by the citizens at large, in voting at elections is one of the most important rights of the subject, and in a republic ought to stand foremost in the estimation of the law. "

Alexander Hamilton, The Papers of Alexander Hamilton


"Now more than ever the people are responsible for the character of their Congress. If that body be ignorant, reckless, and corrupt, it is because the people tolerate ignorance, recklessness, and corruption."

James Garfield, "A Century of Congress" published in Atlantic, July 1877.


"Let each citizen remember at the moment he is offering his vote that he is not making a present or a compliment to please an individual--or at least that he ought not so to do; but that he is executing one of the most solemn trusts in human society for which he is accountable to God and his country. "

Samuel Adams, The Writings of Samuel Adams

Make a plan. #GetOutTheVote

I mentioned in an earlier post that my grandmothers family history revealed a bit of a mystery.  I wanted to explore that a little....

My grandmother was always fairly secretive about her family and her past.  She would lie, mislead, and otherwise obfuscate her past.  As I mentioned, her mother was around for most of my childhood, so I got some nuggets from her that help me understand this more, and raises more questions.

Here's the story: she was born in 1914 to an immigrant mother, and a father who had been in the country for one generation.  Her mother's lineage is easy enough to trace.  But her father is more of an enigma. 

She was born with a Jewish name, and it seems clear both of her parents were Jews.  But the mystery starts with a decision made in about 1930 when her father decided to change the family name.  Why then?  I realize there were always whispers of anti-semitism, but this was before the rise of Hitler.  And he was a painter by trade and a sometime semi-professional wrestler, so it seems mildly unlikely that his name would have cost him jobs.

And so far, I haven't found anything official about their name change.  Did they just adopt a new one?

My grandmother had once told me that her past was secret and her father told her never to speak of it.  Were they hiding?  Running?  Was there a simple explanation like his wrestling career would go farther with a name like "Field" ?

So here they were during the depression, living as best they could.  Then, he died in 1935.  My grandmother and her mother made ends meet however they could.  But they had literally nothing.  They boarded at various houses, they lived with relatives, they took whatever jobs they could.

My grandmother told me that she often would contrive something to try and get work - or outright lie at times.  That strikes me as an interesting piece of information.  She dropped out of high school to make a living.

A few years later, she met my grandfather.  What they had in common, I have no idea.  But the two of them, and her mother decided to board somewhere together to save money. 

And here's the next mystery.  She got married at some point, and had my dad.  In what order, and on what dates, is a little fuzzy.  She had documents that showed the dates, but we learned after she died that some of them were forged, or altered.  And some of them were based on earlier documents that had also been altered (more on that later).

In any case, at some point in the early 1940s, the 4 of them decided to move to Florida.  My grandmother .... hustled .... to make money.  My grandfather worked odd jobs, but mostly was a painter.  Later, my great grandmother moved out and it was just the three of them and a really bad marriage.

They divorced in the early 1950s, and my father bounced between the two of them.  But how they both managed to earn wages was another mystery.  My grandmother was the "entertainment coordinator" at one of the Miami Beach hotels in the heyday. 

And this is where the documents took an interesting turn.  She had a marriage certificate to her husband recreated that had some errors on it.  And she also filed a "delayed birth certificate" with the state of new york, which was wrong on a few counts, and listed her name as "Fields" (with an s), and some information that made it all seem legit. Both documents had raised seals, so how did she get these?  I know for a fact that she managed to change my father's date of birth on official documents - and that posed some issues when he applied for Social Security; his info simply didn't match.

And then she remarried.  A Cuban national, whose past is totally obscure.  She always said he was nefarious or something like that, so you have to wonder.  Then, there's the story about her having done jail time for attempting to commit arson to get insurance money.  She didn't own anything - who stood to benefit? 

While she was in jail, my dad lived with a great aunt in NY.  After she got out, my grandmother severed connections with her aunt?  Why?  What was happening there? 

Its a little odd.  The evidence here would suggest that my grandmother was a bit of a con artist, a grifter, someone who did whatever it took to make ends meet.  Who was she, really?

Later, she would marry a man who was a little older, who had been successful in retail.  They ran shops together, they travelled together, and for the first time she really didn't have to worry about money.  He left her enough to live on for a few years when he died.

The funny thing is that I recall his family didn't like her, particularly.  They accepted her, but questioned her motives. 

Some years later, she married for the 4th time, and this time it was a well-to-do widower.  She cared for him, and helped him lead a fun life in later years.  But his family hated her, and thought she was a gold digger. Could it be true?

I would suggest it was more happy accident.  She died with a little money, though, so her later years were comfortable.

So my questions are all around who she really was, why the name change, and how she made ends meet.

Its peculiar, I tell you.

And that's the mystery that was uncovered by simply doing a little genealogy. They say you can expect surprises. And I stumbled into one.

The family mystery of sorts

I was always connected to my mom's side of the family.  We all knew the basic history, and knew ancestor's names and where they came from.  Sure my grandfather would tell tall tales sometimes, but the basic history matched up.

So when my mom's sister did a DNA test, there were no real surprises.  A couple of things were interesting, but yep, we were descended from Spain and had some roots in Venezuela.  Good.

To me, the more intriguing part of this part of the family lineage came because of who my grandfather's father knew, and how he was connected to politicians and so forth before the second world war.

And then, how my grandfather (and some of his siblings) became defacto spies working for the OSS during the second world war.  The story there is intriguing, and one day I'll have to get into it.

My point here is that on that side of my family, there were no surprises, really. 

Now on my dad's side we thought we knew who we were.  We knew some family names, and some relatives.  But we were missing details and didn't know as much as maybe we could have.  My grandfather on that side was illiterate, and didn't know much about his family history more than a generation back.  His brother's children, though, attempted to do some genealogy research in the 80s.

But they were looking up history between Ireland and Newfoundland with a family name as common as ours...good luck.  They hit a lot of dead ends.  But they did give us some insights that would pay off later.

My grandmother on that side was always cagy and coy when it came to her background.  I knew the family had changed their name at some point.  I knew some things about her mother because I had the good fortune to meet her; she died when I was in high school.  So I knew nuggets, but not all that much.

And so my dad took a DNA test, and it came back with a moderately surprising result: we weren't as Irish as we thought we were, and it turns out my grandmother was Jewish (the markers for the Jewish lineage are quite pronounced, and though people in the lineage lived many places, they typically intermarried, keeping the DNA markers strong).  But he also had some Iberian (ie, Spanish) and Syrian, and some Eastern Eurpoean in his lineage.

Starting with what I knew of my grandmother, great grandmother, and what my relatives had discovered about my grandfather, I set off on a quest to learn more.

Oh the internet is an amazing thing.  And the fact that census data is released 72 years after its collected, meant I had access to info my relatives didn't.

Over a week or so, I discovered that Syrian and Iberian connection both came through the same side - as near as I can figure, relatives (who were probably Jewish) were kicked out of Spain at a time around the inquisition and likely wound up in Damascus.  Then, a few generations later, a family immigrated to Newfoundland and married into that part of our family.


Then, on my grandmothers side, I was able to track down her original birth record, and found her given family name, and learned that her father had immigrated to the US from "Austria" which I quickly discovered probably meant Hungary.  As I understand it, immigrants from Hungary would use Austria as country of origin when heading through Ellis Island as it was easier.

And that pretty well summed up his history.  I had no idea about most of it, and was moderately surprised.  But it honestly doesn't change anything about who I am.  Its just neat to learn about who I am and where I come from.

That said, they say the DNA results do often surprise. And this one did, because it uncovered a mystery about my grandmother's side that was more intriguing than any of the results.

I'll post more about that later....

Genealogy - my own story.

Thursday, October 11, 2018


When I tour the country I often meet with community members who desperately want to change our broken criminal justice system, but don't know how. Thankfully, just in time for the midterm elections, the ACLU has launched, an online voter education tool that equips people with all the information they need on where candidates in their state stand on criminal justice reform. All you have to do is visit the site, enter your address, and you'll see which candidates are fueling our mass incarceration crisis and which are committed to ending it.

Our criminal justice system was built on white supremacy, racism, and discrimination. It's designed to incarcerate Black and brown people at disproportionate rates, as well as poor people, who often can't afford cash bail or a good attorney. For centuries this system has separated families and destroyed communities, locking up more people than any other country on earth.

It shouldn't be this way. We have to elect officials who will fight for us and our communities.

In November, we have a chance to vote for a fair, smart justice system. We can vote for candidates committed to ending cash bail, extreme sentencing, and brutality from police officers and prosecutors.

I'm proud to partner with the ACLU to help ensure we elect people who adhere to the ideals we pledge allegiance to. People who believe in liberty and justice for all.

Vote Smart Justice PSA with artist, actor, and activist, Common.

We have the power to create a justice system that doesn't treat people of color less than human. One that doesn't instill fear in communities of color. One in which Black lives matter. Isn't it time for change?

In this video, I run down all the reasons our justice system is unjust – and all the ways we can #VoteSmartJustice at the ballot box.

We can't let the injustice go on any longer. I know I'm going to vote in November. Are you in, too?

Thanks for voting,

Artist, Actor, Activist

can I count on you to #VoteSmartJustice this fall?

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

Trump-Russia news: the past 48 hours in Mueller investigation news, explained - Vox

The past 48 hours in Mueller investigation news, explained

We've gotten news on Alfa Bank, Psy-Group, and Peter W. Smith — three long-simmering subplots of the Russia investigation.

Robert Mueller.
Win McNamee/Getty Images

New reports over the past two days have brought increased attention to three long-simmering subplots in special counsel Robert Mueller's Russia investigation.

First, the Wall Street Journal revealed new details about GOP operative Peter W. Smith's quest to obtain Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers during the 2016 campaign — including that he raised at least $100,000 for the effort and then pitched in $50,000 of his own money. (Smith was found dead last year, and local authorities ruled his death a suicide.)

Second, the New Yorker revisited the question of mysterious online communications between a Russian bank and a domain tied to the Trump Organization. This topic came up during the campaign and was received skeptically, but now the New Yorker quotes experts who've reviewed the data and still suspect there's something there.

Third, the New York Times revealed that an Israeli firm called Psy-Group pitched its "social media manipulation" services to Trump campaign aide Rick Gates in early 2016, but that Gates didn't hire the firm. Mueller's team has been investigating Psy-Group closely for months for reasons that are not entirely clear but seem to be about whether the firm did in fact do work on behalf of Trump's campaign.

All three of these storylines could be quite consequential — or they could have relatively innocuous explanations. But as former Justice Department official Matthew Miller observed on Twitter, all this news should remind us of the staggering complexity of the Mueller investigation, and that there's still so much we don't know about what he's found.

Peter W. Smith: what happened when he sought Hillary Clinton's emails from Russian hackers?

Michael Flynn
Michael Flynn.
The Washington Post/Getty Images

What we already knew: During the 2016 campaign, 80-year-old GOP operative Peter W. Smith recruited a team to try to obtain Hillary Clinton's 33,000 deleted emails from "dark web" hackers — including hackers he thought were "probably around the Russian government." It's not clear if Smith had any success, but we know he tried because he freely admitted all this to reporter Shane Harris in May 2017.

Then, 10 days after Smith told his story to Harris (but before it published), Smith was found dead in a Minnesota hotel, with a plastic bag over his head and a source of helium attached. Per the Chicago Tribune, an accompanying note said Smith was taking his life because of a "RECENT BAD TURN IN HEALTH SINCE JANUARY, 2017," and because of "LIFE INSURANCE OF $5 MILLION EXPIRING." The note stated that "NO FOUL PLAY WHATSOEVER" was involved in his death. Local authorities ruled his death a suicide.

Since Smith's death, we've learned that he name-dropped Michael Flynn a lot during the email quest, and that Smith distributed a document suggesting "Trump campaign" involvement. Harris also reported that US intelligence reports describe Russian hackers talking about how to get Clinton emails to Flynn through an intermediary. Mueller's team started looking into the matter last year.

What's new: On Sunday, the Wall Street Journal's Byron Tau, Dustin Volz, and Shelby Holliday reported several fascinating new details about Smith's operation and investigators' interest in it.

First off, they described how Smith communicated with some associates about the project. He and others had access to a Gmail account with the name "Robert Tyler." Sometimes, rather than sending emails, they would simply type messages in the "drafts" folder to try to avoid a paper trail. (The other person could then log in and see the draft.)

Second, they revealed that a large amount of money was involved. They describe an October 11, 2016, email in the account from an unknown person called "ROB" to Smith, mentioning in an apparent code that "$150K" will "allow us to fund the Washington Scholarship for the Russian students." The code is somewhat undercut by the subject line ("Wire Instructions — Clinton Email Reconnaissance Initiative") and a mention that "the students are very pleased with the email releases they have seen" (WikiLeaks had begun posting John Podesta's emails a few days earlier).

Finally, the Journal reporters say that Mueller's team has remained quite focused on John Szobocsan, a business associate of Smith's who was involved in the email operation, was interviewed by the special counsel's team three times this year, and went before a grand jury in August.

The questions remaining: Did Smith's operation come up with nothing in the end, as he claims? After all, Clinton's deleted emails were never released. Was he operating independently (as he claimed to Harris), or was the Trump campaign involved somehow (as his document claimed)? And, uh, are local authorities correct that he killed himself?

Smith may be dead, but Flynn is alive and cooperating with Mueller, so he may have provided some answers. But the fact that a grand jury was hearing testimony about this as recently as August suggests it's still very much under scrutiny.

Psy-Group: did this social media "manipulation" company end up helping Trump, or not?

Erik Prince, who met with Psy-Group owner Joel Zamel, George Nader, and Donald Trump Jr.
Erik Prince, who met with Psy-Group owner Joel Zamel, George Nader, and Donald Trump Jr.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty

What we already knew: This year, Mueller's investigators have focused intently on a new set of non-Russian supporting characters in the scandal: a trio who met with Donald Trump Jr. in August 2016 to discuss how they could help the Trump campaign on social media.

There's Joel Zamel, owner of the Israeli "social media manipulation" company in question, Psy-Group. There's George Nader, an adviser to the crown prince of the United Arab Emirates. And there's Erik Prince, the American private security company CEO and brother of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who had a mysterious meeting with a Russian financier in Seychelles after the election. (Also shortly after the election, Nader paid Zamel about $2 million, for unclear reasons.)

Mueller has questioned both Zamel and Nader at US airports and called them in for grand jury testimony, and he's even sent FBI agents to Israel to dig into Psy-Group. But we still haven't gotten the full picture of why, and how it might relate to Russian interference.

What's new: On Monday, the New York Times's Mark Mazzetti, Ronen Bergman, David Kirkpatrick, and Maggie Haberman reported that Psy-Group actually pitched Trump campaign aide Rick Gates on their services back in March 2016.

At the time, the big question was whether Trump could hold on to enough delegates at the Republican convention to lock down the nomination. Psy-Group wrote a proposal that "veteran intelligence officers" would create psychological profiles of thousands of delegates and bombard them with "authentic looking" but fake online messages to encourage them to back Trump. However, Gates did not end up hiring Psy-Group, it seems.

The questions remaining: This has clearly been a major focus for Mueller this year, and the big question is why he's so focused on Psy-Group and this cast of characters. Might it involve information provided by his cooperators, Michael Flynn and Rick Gates?

The answer is unclear, but reading between the lines, Mueller may suspect Psy-Group did in fact end up doing social media manipulation on Trump's behalf (Zamel has denied this), that George Nader (who paid Psy-Group $2 million after the election) and Erik Prince were involved, and that there may even have been a Russian angle.

Alfa Bank: what is up with a Russian bank's online contacts with a Trump domain?

A branch of Alfa Bank in Minsk
A branch of Alfa Bank in Minsk.
Viktor Drachev\TASS via Getty Images

What we already knew: All the way back in October 2016, Franklin Foer asked in a reported piece: "Was a Trump server communicating with Russia?" He asked because computer scientists crawling the internet for signs of Russian hacking online had noticed something odd: that two servers owned by Russia's Alfa Bank had repeatedly looked up a Trump Organization domain ( over several months. Then two days after New York Times reporter Eric Lichtblau asked Alfa's lobbyists for comment on the matter, the Trump domain was deleted, which seemed odd.

But Foer's piece was received skeptically. For one, when Lichtblau's Times piece finally ran, it was under the soon-to-be infamous headline "Investigating Donald Trump, FBI sees no clear link to Russia," and said the FBI had "ultimately concluded that there could be an innocuous explanation, like a marketing email or spam, for the computer contacts." Other media outlets and commentators chimed in to opine that because the Trump domain was administered by a separate company handling the Trump Organization's marketing emails, the "spam" explanation or some other mistake was more likely.

So the conventional wisdom became that Foer's piece was probably wrong, and that's remained the case even after Trump-Russia links started looking a lot less conspiratorial. Still, CNN reported in March 2017 that the FBI was still looking into the topic.

What's new: On Monday, the New Yorker's Dexter Filkins revisited the issue at length. He talked to members of the initial group of computer experts who first surfaced the matter, who reaffirmed their analysis that this was not a coincidence. He also revealed that a former FBI investigator and Democratic Senate staffer, Dan Jones, had assembled two separate teams of computer scientists to independently look over the server data.

They concluded that the domain lookups were deliberate and likely entailed some form of communication (perhaps use of an instant messaging service). "Is it possible there is an innocuous explanation for all this?" one told Filkins. "Yes, of course. And it's also possible that space aliens did this. It's possible — just not very likely." In the article, they elaborate at length as to why they think so (and Alfa Bank continues to dispute their claims).

The questions remaining: I'm not equipped to judge the technical details of this argument, but if you do buy it, the questions of what this communication actually entailed and who was involved remain unanswered.

The piece notes that one of the only other companies to repeatedly look up the Trump domain was Spectrum Health, a Grand Rapids, Michigan, nonprofit whose board chairman is Dick DeVos — brother-in-law of the aforementioned Erik Prince. It also mentions that the curious server traffic mostly occurred within the time Paul Manafort chaired the Trump campaign, though it continued after he resigned in August 2016.

Now, of these three stories, Alfa Bank is the one with the weakest evidence that Mueller is still investigating it. (The FBI looked into the matter before Mueller's appointment, but we don't have a more recent report confirming continued interest.) Still, Manafort recently flipped, meaning if he does know anything nefarious about this, Mueller probably now knows too, so stay tuned.

Short. Sweet. To the point. That's the beauty Dave's iPhone. 

Trump-Russia news: the past 48 hours in Mueller investigation news, explained - Vox

All about "the witch hunt"