Unsealed Documents Show That Kris Kobach Is Dead Set on Suppressing the Right to Vote

For almost a year, Kris Kobach, the secretary of state of Kansas, has struggled to hide the truth about his efforts to lobby the Trump administration to make it much harder for Americans to vote. Part of that struggle ended today when a federal court ordered excerpts of Kris Kobach’s testimony disclosed along with other documents obtained by the American Civil Liberties Union in our challenge to his restrictive voter registration regime.

The unsealed materials confirm what many have suspected: Kobach has a ready-made plan to gut core voting rights protections enshrined in federal law. And he has been covertly lobbying Trump’s team and other officials from day one to sell them the falsehood that noncitizens are swinging elections.

As the de facto head of President Trump’s election commission, Kobach has positioned himself to lead an all-out assault on the right to vote.

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Here are three big plays from Kobach’s voter suppression playbook.

rest at https://goo.gl/jnDvSd

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2-person Montana company Whitefish Energy just lost its $300M contract to fix Puerto Rico’s grid

https://goo.gl/kyTAvm

The head of Puerto Rico’s government power company says the agency will scrap a $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings once it finishes current work on Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

Power company director Ricardo Ramos said Sunday that he’s bowing to a demand by the U.S. territory’s governor, Ricardo Rossello. Ramos says the cancellation will delay work by 10 to 12 weeks.

The contract for the small Montana company has come under intense scrutiny, and audits of the Whitefish contract at a local and federal level are under way.

Roughly 70 percent of the island remains without power more than a month after Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory on Sept. 20.

Earlier, Puerto Rico’s governor demanded that the board of the island’s power company cancel the $300 million contract with Whitefish Energy Holdings amid increased scrutiny of the Montana company’s role in Hurricane Maria recovery efforts.

The announcement by Rossello comes as federal legislators seek to investigate the contract awarded to the small company from Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s hometown.

"There cannot be any kind of distraction that alters the commitment to restore electrical power as soon as possible in Puerto Rico," Rossello said, adding that nearly $8 million has been paid to Whitefish so far.

Whitefish spokesman Chris Chiames told The Associated Press that the company would soon issue comment. Power company spokesman Carlos Monroig did not return messages for comment.

Rossello said he has requested that crews from New York and Florida come help restore power in Puerto Rico as he criticized the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers for not meeting its goals. The agency could not be immediately reached for comment.

The power station Central San Juan of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is seen in San Juan.Alvin Baez-Hernandez | Reuters
The power station Central San Juan of Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority (PREPA) is seen in San Juan.

Audits of the Whitefish contract at a local and federal level are ongoing, and the governor also announced the appointment of an outside coordinator to oversee the power company’s purchase and contracting division.

"If something illegal was done, once again, the officials involved in that process will feel the full weight of the law, and I will take administrative actions," Rossello said.

Roughly 70 percent of the island remains without power more than a month after Hurricane Maria struck the U.S. territory on Sept. 20 as a Category 4 storm with winds of up to 154 mph (245 kph).

Ramos has said that PREPA reached a deal with Whitefish just days before the hurricane struck, saying that he spoke with at least five other companies that demanded similar rates, in addition to a down payment the agency did not have. Ramos also said the Federal Emergency Management Agency had approved of the deal, something the agency has denied.

Arian Rodriguez covers himself with a tarp as residents wait in the rain to register with FEMA more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island, on October 9, 2017 in Jayuya, Puerto Rico.Getty Images
Arian Rodriguez covers himself with a tarp as residents wait in the rain to register with FEMA more than two weeks after Hurricane Maria hit the island, on October 9, 2017 in Jayuya, Puerto Rico.

FEMA said it has not approved any reimbursement requests from the power company for money to cover repairs to the island’s electrical system. The contract said the utility would not pay costs unallowable under FEMA grants, but it also said, "The federal government is not a party to this contract."

FEMA has raised concerns about how Whitefish got the deal and whether the contracted prices were reasonable. The 2-year-old company had just two full-time employees when the storm hit, but it has since hired more than 300 workers.

A Whitefish contract obtained by The Associated Press found that the deal included $20,277 an hour for a heavy lift Chinook helicopter, $650 an hour for a large crane truck, $322 an hour for a foreman of a power line crew, $319 an hour for a journeyman lineman and $286 an hour for a mechanic. Each worker also gets a daily allowance of $80 for food, $332 for a hotel room and $1,000 for each flight to or from the mainland.

Whitefish Energy Holdings is based in Whitefish, Montana. Zinke, a former Montana congressman, knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski, and Zinke’s son also had a summer job at a Whitefish construction site.

"I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico," Zinke recently said in a statement linked to a tweet. "Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless."

Democrats also have questioned the role of HBC Investments, a key financial backer of Whitefish Energy. The Dallas-based company’s founder and general partner, Joe Colonnetta, has contributed thousands of dollars to Trump and other Republicans. Chiames has said Colonnetta’s political donations were "irrelevant" and that the company would cooperate with any federal authorities.

This week, Rep. Rob Bishop, the Utah Republican who heads the House Natural Resources Committee, sent the power company director a letter demanding documents, including those related to the contract with Whitefish and others that show what authority the agency has to deviate from normal contracting processes. A Bishop spokesman did not immediately return a message for comment on Sunday.

A federal control board that oversees Puerto Rico’s finances announced this week that retired Air Force Col. Noel Zamot will be in charge of power reconstruction efforts. Rossello and other officials have rejected the appointment, saying the local government is in charge of a power company that is $9 billion in debt and that had struggled with ongoing outages before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit last month.

https://goo.gl/kyTAvm

While Equifax Victims Sue, Congress Limits Financial Class Actions

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While Equifax Victims Sue, Congress Limits Financial Class Actions (marketwatch.com) 161

Posted by EditorDavid

on Sunday October 29, 2017 @02:34PM from the cause-and-no-effect dept.

An anonymous reader quotes a local NBC news report: Stories are starting to pour in about those impacted by last month’s massive Equifax data breach, which compromised the private information of more than 140 million people. Katie Van Fleet of Seattle says she’s spent months trying to regain her stolen identity, and says it has been stolen more than a dozen times. "I kept receiving letters from Kohl’s, from Macy’s, from Home Depot, from Old Navy saying ‘thank you for your application,’" she said to CNN affiliate KCPQ. But she says she’s never applied for credit from any of those places. Instead, Van Fleet and her attorney Catherine Fleming say they believe her personal data was stolen during the massive Equifax security breach… Fleming has filed a class-action lawsuit against Equifax, saying they were negligent in losing private information on more than 140 million Americans… "Countless people, I mean, I’ve really, truly lost count, and the stories that like Katie’s, the stories I hear are heart-wrenching," Fleming said.

But are things about to get worse? Marketwatch reports: It will become harder for consumers to sue their banks or companies like Equifax… The Senate voted Tuesday night to overturn a rule the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau worked on for more than five years. The final version of the rule banned companies from putting "mandatory arbitration clauses" in their contracts, language that prohibits consumers from bringing class-action lawsuits against them. It applies to institutions that sell financial products, including bank accounts and credit cards. Consumer advocates say it’s good news for companies like Wells Fargo or Equifax, which have both had class-action lawsuits filed against them, and bad news for their customers… Lisa Gilbert, the vice president of legislative affairs at Public Citizen, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., said the Senate vote shouldn’t impact cases that are already ongoing. However, there will "certainly" be more forced arbitration clauses in contracts in the future, and fewer cases brought against companies, she said.


rest at https://goo.gl/DzrazT

Portuguese ISP Shows What The Net Looks Like Without Net Neutrality

"In Portugal, with no net neutrality, internet providers are starting to split the net into packages," argues a California congressman — retweeting a stunning graphic. An anonymous reader quotes BoingBoing’s Cory Doctorow: Since 2006, Net Neutrality activists have been warning that a non-Neutral internet will be an invitation to ISPs to create "plans" where you have to choose which established services you can access, shutting out new entrants to the market and allowing the companies with the deepest pockets to permanently dominate the internet… the Portuguese non-neutral ISP MEO has mistaken a warning for a suggestion, and offers a series of "plans" for its mobile data service where you pay €5 to access a handful of messaging services, €5 more to use social media; and €5 more for video-streaming services.
The congressman notes this arrangement offers "a huge advantage for entrenched companies, but it totally ices out startups trying to get in front of people, which stifles innovation."

rest at https://goo.gl/CgXXj8

Flynn Is Said to Have Misled White House on Russian Talks https://goo.gl/wJcdEs

"The Justice Department warned the White House that Mr. Flynn had misled senior Trump administration officials about whether he had discussed American sanctions against Vladimir V. Putin’s regime during a phone call with Russia’s ambassador to the United States weeks before the inauguration, and that he could be open to blackmail by Russia, said a former senior official. At the same time, Mr. Pence has told administration officials that he believes Mr. Flynn lied to him by saying he had not discussed the topic of sanctions on a call with the ambassador in late December. Even the mere discussion of policy — and the apparent attempt to assuage the concerns of an American adversary before Mr. Flynn took office — represents a remarkable breach of protocol. "

rest at NYT https://goo.gl/wJcdEs

.@TimCunniff Dollar-a-dose, off-patent drug being marketed in the US for $89,000 as a muscular dystrophy treatment https://goo.gl/c9Kd5x

Deflazacort, a steroid, can be purchased online from non-US sources for $1.00, but now it’s being marketed by Illinois’s Marathon Pharmaceuticals for $89,000 as Emflaza, to treat Duchenne muscular dystrophy, which predominantly affects men in their 20s.

The drug’s never been approved in the US, and Marathon has a special dispensation to market it for the rare disease, so it gets to name its price.

In many ways, Marathon is taking a page from Shkreli’s playbook. By bringing a drug that’s been well-established as safe in other markets to the U.S. for the first time in order to treat a rare disease, the company doesn’t just control its pricing destiny — it will also receive a coveted "priority review voucher" which it can hawk to another firm for tens (or even hundreds) of millions of dollars. If not, the company can use it to expedite a future drug approval in order to gain a first-to-market advantage.

In fact, one of Marathon’s clinical trials that the FDA used as part of its decision-making process was conducted more than 20 years ago, saving the firm plenty of study costs.

Duchenne drugs have fostered recent controversy in the U.S. Last year, the FDA approved a pioneering Duchenne treatment from Sarepta Therapeutics (SRPT, -5.15%) over the protests of its own scientific advisers who said it lacked proven efficacy. Unlike Sarepta, Marathon’s product doesn’t actually address the protein deficiency at the heart of the disease, but rather has shown promise in improving muscle strength.

This Pharma Company Is Selling a Decades-old Drug to Treat Muscular Dystrophy for $89,000 [Sy Mukherjee/Fortune]

rest at https://goo.gl/c9Kd5x