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This Week In Garbageville

Russian hacking, Trumpcare, and kleptocracy

We hope you all enjoyed the White House's “Infrastructure Week” as much as we did. It was supposed to involve a bunch of announcements about building things but instead we mostly watched the world burn.

The AHCA: still bad, still happening

Even as former FBI director James Comey was testifying on Thursday, some lower-key but just as high-stakes drama was also playing out on the Hill: Senators and staffers alike wondered if the Senate will be able to pass the American Health Care Act under “reconciliation” rules, which only require a simple majority (and thus no Democratic votes). The argument is about process, not policy (you can read about it here), but the situation underscores the rather sneaky approach Republicans have had in ramming the legislation through: They are avoiding public discussions, committee hearings, outside input, and generally sunlight in any form. That is, of course, because the bill is wildly unpopular and will hurt millions of people.

Should I be paying attention this?

Yes. With so much attention focused on Comey/Russia, it's quite possible that the GOP will try to pass this terrible, mean-spirited, unjust, and divisive bill and hope no one notices.

Don't let them get away with it.

Rotten fruit from a rotten tree

An investigation uncovered evidence that the president of the United States conspired with his son to limit the amount of money donated from the Eric Trump Foundation to a children's cancer charity — and the story barely made a ripple in the news. Forbes magazine (hardly known for its liberal leanings, by the way) published a long exposé of the foundation, which was originally a fairly standard small charity operation. In 2012, however, the foundation morphed into something closer in structure to “a drug cartel's money-laundering operation than a charity's best-practices textbook,” according to Forbes. All told, Eric's charity (“charity”) funneled over a million dollars to the Trump Organization, which is not a charity.

Should I be paying attention this?

OK, well, if it continues, this technically could fall under the broad swath of actions that violate the Constitution's emoluments clause and thus join the long list of things Congress could use as a reason to impeach Trump. More practically... ugh, it's a blip on the awfulness radar, just more evidence that Eric Trump is a terrible person. Though, we would note, Eric Trump is a person, a distinction he neglected to grant to his father's critics earlier this week, when he told Sean Hannity, “I've never seen hatred like this. To me, they’re not even people.”

Dehumanizing language is typical in autocracies, of course. You might want to keep an eye on that, actually.

Russian hackery

According to a top-secret National Security Agency document obtained by The Intercept, Russian hackers gained access to some parts of American voter registration systems in the days leading up to the election. They did this primarily by duping local election officials into opening malware-infected files by posing as the vendor in charge of electronic voting systems.

Should I be paying attention to this?

Yes. While we already knew that Russia had tried to influence the election, before this report we thought it was restricted to hacking into the emails of the Democratic National Committee and Democratic political operative John Podesta. Now we know that Russia went even further.

It's important to note that the report does not say that the hackers were able to gain access to the voting machines or vote tabulations themselves, so there is no evidence that hackers were able to change people's votes directly. However, there are ways that the hackers could have influenced the election results indirectly even without such access. For instance, they could have selectively deleted people's voter registrations, which would make it harder (though not impossible) to vote. Or brought down the computers that tracked voter registration, which could cause longer lines at the polls. If they did this at Democratic-leaning precincts but not Republican-leaning ones, it could have influenced the vote as well.

We don't have any evidence that suggests what, if any, actions the hackers took, but the big takeaway is that we need to be more careful with our elections. Paper ballots, automatic registration, and automatic recounts would go a long way toward mitigating the damage from such attacks in the future. And we need to maintain vigilance about The Whole Russia Thing, because new revelations seem to unfold every couple of weeks.