Too many Americans can’t tell fact from fiction

Timothy Egan writes: It would be much easier to sleep at night if you could believe that we’re in such a mess of misinformation simply because Russian agents disseminated inflammatory posts that reached 126 million people on Facebook.

The Russians also uploaded a thousand videos to YouTube and published more than 130,000 messages on Twitter about last year’s election. As recent congressional hearings showed, the arteries of our democracy were clogged with toxins from a hostile foreign power.

But the problem is not the Russians — it’s us. We’re getting played because too many Americans are ill equipped to perform the basic functions of citizenship. If the point of the Russian campaign, aided domestically by right-wing media, was to get people to think there is no such thing as knowable truth, the bad guys have won.

As we crossed the 300-day mark of Donald Trump’s presidency on Thursday, fact-checkers noted that he has made more than 1,600 false or misleading claims. Good God. At least five times a day, on average, this president says something that isn’t true.

We have a White House of lies because a huge percentage of the population can’t tell fact from fiction. But a huge percentage is also clueless about the basic laws of the land. In a democracy, we the people are supposed to understand our role in this power-sharing thing.

Nearly one in three Americans cannot name a single branch of government. When NPR tweeted out sections of the Declaration of Independence last year, many people were outraged. They mistook Thomas Jefferson’s fighting words for anti-Trump propaganda.

Fake news is a real thing produced by active disseminators of falsehoods. Trump uses the term to describe anything he doesn’t like, a habit now picked up by political liars everywhere.

But Trump is a symptom; the breakdown in this democracy goes beyond the liar in chief. For that you have to blame all of us: we have allowed the educational system to become negligent in teaching the owner’s manual of citizenship. [Continue reading…]

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Top Russian official tried to broker ‘backdoor’ meeting between Trump and Putin

The New York Times reports: A senior Russian official who claimed to be acting at the behest of President Vladimir V. Putin of Russia tried in May 2016 to arrange a meeting between Mr. Putin and Donald J. Trump, according to several people familiar with the matter.

The news of this reached the Trump campaign in a very circuitous way. An advocate for Christian causes emailed campaign aides saying that Alexander Torshin, the deputy governor of the Russian central bank who has been linked both to Russia’s security services and organized crime, had proposed a meeting between Mr. Putin and Mr. Trump. The subject line of the email, turned over to Senate investigators, read, “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite,” according to one person who has seen the message.

The proposal made its way to the senior levels of the Trump campaign before Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law and a top campaign aide, sent a message to top campaign officials rejecting it, according to two people who have seen Mr. Kushner’s message.

Though the meeting never happened, Mr. Torshin’s request is the latest example of how the Russian government intensified its effort to contact and influence the Trump campaign last year as Mr. Trump was closing in on the Republican presidential nomination. It came just weeks after a self-described intermediary for the Russian government told a Trump campaign aide, George Papadopoulos, that the Russians had “dirt” on Mr. Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton, in the form of “thousands of emails.”

Soon after Mr. Torshin’s outreach fizzled, Donald Trump Jr., the president’s eldest son, arranged a meeting at Trump Tower after being told that a Russian lawyer with ties to the Kremlin would bring damaging information about Mrs. Clinton to the meeting. [Continue reading…]

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Hope Hicks may hold the keys to Mueller’s Russia puzzle

Politico reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team is preparing to interview the woman who’s seen it all: Hope Hicks.

She’s been part of Donald Trump’s inner circle for years, first at Trump Tower and then as an omnipresent gatekeeper and fixer who could get emails or other communications directly to the boss during the 2016 campaign.

As a senior White House adviser and now as communications director, she’s been in the room for moments critical to Mueller’s probe, which has grown to include the president’s response to the Russia investigation itself.

Hicks’ history with Trump makes her one of the more useful witnesses for Mueller as he looks for insights into the president’s habits and moods. She also is one of the few people well positioned to recount the president’s reactions at various moments as the Russia scandal has sidetracked his presidency — including the Mueller appointment itself.

Mueller’s decision to request an interview with Hicks — who hasn’t been named in any criminal wrongdoing — also indicates he’s reached a critical point in the overall investigation, according to former prosecutors and veterans of past White House investigations. Typically, conversations with such senior-level aides are saved for near the end of a probe. [Continue reading…]

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How Jared Kushner’s newspaper became a favorite outlet for WikiLeaks election hacks

Foreign Policy reports: In the fall of 2014, Julian Assange, the embattled head of WikiLeaks, was meeting with a steady stream of supportive journalists in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London, where he had taken refuge to avoid extradition to Sweden on sexual assault charges. Among those seeking an audience with Assange was a freelancer working for the New York Observer, the newspaper owned and published by President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and key advisor, Jared Kushner.

Ken Kurson, the newspaper’s editor in chief — along with a freelance writer he’d hired — helped arrange a “no-holds-barred” interview with Assange that October.

“My editor Ken Kurson (kkurson@observer.com) and I are very interested in an interview with Julian Assange. This would be a cover story.… We will be in London the first week of October,” wrote Jacques Hyzagi, a freelance reporter for the Observer, to a press consultant who arranged interviews for WikiLeaks.

Kurson, when contacted by Foreign Policy, said he did not attend that meeting and has never communicated with Assange; he insists that the profile was Hyzagi’s idea. “We ran an interview pitched to us by a freelancer,” he wrote in an email.

“I have never communicated in any way with Julian Assange and this sort of fact-free, evidenceless charge is analogous to pizzagate and other totally ludicrous conspiracies,” he added.

Hyzagi did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

Yet a series of exchanges between Hyzagi and the WikiLeaks representative indicated that a meeting involving Kurson and Assange was in the works; at one point Leonardo DiCaprio was invited to tag along, according to emails obtained by FP. (DiCaprio did not end up attending.)

After that, the plan was to travel to Moscow to meet with Edward Snowden, the former U.S. National Security Agency contractor. Snowden’s team declined a request for an interview from Hyzagi, according to Ben Wizner, Snowden’s attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union. [Continue reading…]

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Gillibrand says Bill Clinton should have resigned over Lewinsky affair. What might have happened?

The New York Times reports: Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, Democrat of New York, who holds Hillary Clinton’s former seat, said on Thursday that Bill Clinton should have resigned the presidency after his inappropriate relationship with an intern came to light nearly 20 years ago.

Asked directly if she believed Mr. Clinton should have stepped down at the time, Ms. Gillibrand took a long pause and said, “Yes, I think that is the appropriate response.”

But she also appeared to signal that what is currently considered a fireable offense may have been more often overlooked during the Clinton era.

“Things have changed today, and I think under those circumstances there should be a very different reaction,” Ms. Gillibrand said. “And I think in light of this conversation, we should have a very different conversation about President Trump, and a very different conversation about allegations against him.” [Continue reading…]

As Democrats gain a semblance of retrospective moral clarity on the Clinton presidency, this isn’t going to carry much weight among Republicans. That is, it won’t — unless this resuscitation of conscience also includes the Clintons themselves.

How likely is that to happen?

Probably as likely as Donald Trump spontaneously declaring he’s realized he’s not fit for the presidency.

Nevertheless, it’s worth considering the likely consequences had Clinton resigned, not simply because of the current context but also because of the likely results of Al Gore having become president in 1998.

In the 2000 presidential election, there’s a reasonable chance that, as the incumbent, Gore would have comfortably defeated George W Bush.

We can assume that this wouldn’t have changed al Qaeda’s calculus and likewise that the U.S. intelligence agencies would have remained as ineffective in thwarting 9/11.

But what would have followed would have been vastly different: no war in Iraq; no fanciful promises to eradicate evil; no war on terrorism.

President Gore would surely have been capable of mustering the required gravitas demonstrating America’s capacity to demonstrate strength and restraint.

In other words, he could have responded to 9/11 with a sense of proportion, thereby ensuring that the aftermath was not more calamitous than the event.

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Al Franken should be investigated, and he should be held accountable

Ezra Klein writes: The allegation that Sen. Al Franken kissed and groped a woman with whom he was performing a comedy skit is serious, and should be taken seriously. It has also kicked off an energetic round of but-your-side-does-it-too on Twitter, where conservatives exhausted by the Roy Moore debacle of recent weeks are demanding that Democrats disavow Franken.

There are a couple of things to say about all this, but I want to start with this tweet by FiveThirtyEight’s Harry Enten:


1) The Democratic Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The Republican Party is full of men who have sexually abused women. The mass of Americans who belong to neither party is full of men who have sexually abused women. Peer into socialist circles, libertarian circles, tech circles, media circles, the construction trades — you will find men who have sexually abused women. America has allowed a culture of sexual abuse and harassment to flourish, and all of our industries and political parties exist within that culture. This is a systemic rot, not merely a few bad apples. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s sexual assault accusers demand justice in the #MeToo era: ‘We were forgotten’

People magazine reports: The recent accusations of sexual misconduct against a long list of powerful men in Hollywood and other industries have been widely believed — and led to resignations, loss of careers and other fallout.

Meanwhile, some of the women who accused Donald Trump of sexual harassment or assault during the presidential campaign wonder when the president might finally pay a price for what he allegedly did to them.

“Things just seem to fall off of Trump, I’m extremely disappointed,” says Jessica Leeds, 75, who alleges Trump tried to kiss her, fondle her breasts and put his hand up her skirt while on a flight to New York in the early 1980s. [Continue reading…]

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Does cooperating witness have info on Flynn tie to Turkey?

NBC News reports: A gold trader who is close to Turkish President Recep Erdogan is now cooperating with federal prosecutors in a money-laundering case, according to two sources with knowledge of the matter, and legal experts say prosecutors may be seeking information about any ties between the Turkish government and former National Security Advisor Mike Flynn.

Reza Zarrab, a dual Turkish-Iranian national, faces charges in federal court in Manhattan for skirting sanctions on Iran by allegedly moving hundreds of millions of dollars for the Iranian government and Iranian firms via offshore entities and bank accounts.

But Zarrab is now out of jail and speaking to prosecutors — a move President Erdogan had been desperately hoping to avoid. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller issued subpoena for Russia-related documents from Trump campaign officials

The Wall Street Journal reports: Special counsel Robert Mueller’s team in mid-October issued a subpoena to President Donald Trump’s campaign requesting Russia-related documents from more than a dozen top officials, according to a person familiar with the matter.

The subpoena, which requested documents and emails from the listed campaign officials that reference a set of Russia-related keywords, marked Mr. Mueller’s first official order for information from the campaign, according to the person. The subpoena didn’t compel any officials to testify before Mr. Mueller’s grand jury, the person said.

The subpoena caught the campaign by surprise, the person said. The campaign had previously been voluntarily complying with the special counsel’s requests for information, and had been sharing with Mr. Mueller’s team the documents it provided to congressional committees as part of their probes of Russian interference into the 2016 presidential election.

The Trump campaign is providing documents in response to the subpoena on an “ongoing” basis, the person said. [Continue reading…]

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Kushner got emails about WikiLeaks, Russia in 2016, lawmakers say

Politico reports: Jared Kushner received emails in September 2016 about WikiLeaks and about a “Russian backdoor overture and dinner invite” and forwarded them to another campaign official, according to a letter to his attorney from the bipartisan leaders of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Committee Chairman Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and ranking member Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said Kushner failed to turn over the relevant documents when they asked for them last month.

“We appreciate your voluntary cooperation with the Committee’s investigation, but the production appears to have been incomplete,” the pair wrote in a letter dated Thursday to Kushner’s attorney, Abbe Lowell.

Lowell said in a statement that he and Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and a White House senior adviser, had been responsive to the requests.

“We provided the Judiciary Committee with all relevant documents that had to do with Mr. Kushner’s calls, contacts or meetings with Russians during the campaign and transition, which was the request,” Lowell said, adding that he and Kushner had also told the committee they would be open to additional requests for information.

In a section of the letter titled “Missing documents,” Grassley and Feinstein said Kushner had handed over some materials but omitted communications that mentioned some of the people connected to the investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

“If, as you suggest, Mr. Kushner was unaware of, for example, any attempts at Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, then presumably there would be few communications concerning many of the persons identified,” the lawmakers wrote.

Grassley and Feinstein also alluded to documents they received from other witnesses on which Kushner was copied. [Continue reading…]

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Russia’s interference in the U.S. presidential election was a performance mostly for the benefit of non-American publics

Earlier this month, Ivan Krastev wrote: if we want to figure out why the Russians did what they did, we need to leave the terrain of spy games and move to the realm of foreign policy.

Here, we can start with a simple observation: While Russia’s meddling was a shock in the West, in Russia it was neither surprising nor scandalous. In my recent discussions with Russian foreign policy experts, they have made clear that if Moscow wants to be a world power, on an equal footing with Washington, it should be able and willing to match the United States. Russian leaders believe that Washington interferes in their domestic politics and that the United States intends to orchestrate a regime change in Moscow. So if they take that as given, the Kremlin should be able to similarly meddle and to show the world that it has the capabilities and will to do so. Reciprocal action is, after all, how you gain the respect of your enemies and the loyalty of your allies.

The common sense in Moscow foreign policy circles today is that Russia can regain its great power status only by confronting the United States, not by cooperating with it. [Continue reading…]

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Homeland Security official resigns after comments linking blacks to ‘laziness’ and ‘promiscuity’ come to light

The Washington Post reports: A political appointee in the Department of Homeland Security abruptly resigned after the disclosure Thursday he previously made derogatory remarks about black people and Muslims on conservative talk radio.

Rev. Jamie Johnson, who was appointed the head of the DHS’s Center for Faith-Based & Neighborhood Partnerships in April, appeared on the program in 2008. The comments resurfaced Thursday after CNN published a report about them with audio snippets.

Johnson’s incendiary comments about black people came on the show “The Right Balance,” on Accent Radio Network, CNN reported. An unidentified speaker on the show said “a lot of blacks are anti-Semitic” and asked Johnson why.

Johnson extolled the economic successes of American Jews and said “it’s an indictment of America’s black community that has turned America’s major cities into slums because of laziness, drug use and sexual promiscuity,” according to a recording posted by CNN. [Continue reading…]

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The deal Trump wants to scrap because he thinks it should remain in force longer

Jeffrey Lewis writes: There is an old joke about two elderly women at a Catskills resort. One says: “Boy, the food in this place is really terrible.” And the other one says: “Yeah, I know. And such small portions.”

That’s the same complaint raised by opponents of the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action (JCPOA), also known as the Iran nuclear deal. Donald Trump called it, “one of the most incompetently drawn deals I’ve ever seen.” And Rex Tillerson explained that, “in particular, the agreement has this very concerning shortcoming that the President has mentioned as well, and that is the sunset clause.”

Such a terrible deal. Yeah, and it ends so early!

Far from being incompetently drafted, the JCPOA imposed a number of important limits on Iran’s nuclear energy program to create a wider gap between Iran’s nuclear energy programs and a bomb. Second, the JCPOA greatly strengthened Iran’s safeguards arrangements to allow the International Atomic Energy Agency, or IAEA, to verify that gap. And it does not have a single sunset.

Prior to the JCPOA, Iran had built a large and capable uranium infrastructure that would have allowed Iran to produce enough highly enriched uranium (HEU) for a nuclear weapon in a matter of weeks if Iran chose to do so. Iran had nearly 20,000 centrifuges, including nearly 3,000 located in its deep underground facility near Qom. [Continue reading…]

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Saudis try to starve Yemen into submission

In an editorial, the New York Times says: Yemen would suffer “the largest famine the world has seen for many decades, with millions of victims” if Saudi Arabia did not immediately allow food and medicine to be offloaded at all of Yemen’s seaports, and permit the resumption of air services to the cities of Sana and Aden, the United Nations official Mark Lowcock warned Security Council diplomats last week.

Saudi Arabia tightened its blockade against Yemen on Nov. 5 after Iran-backed Houthi rebels threatened Riyadh with a ballistic missile. The Saudis have since partly lifted the blockade, but only of ports controlled by its allies. That is not nearly enough to get urgently needed food to nearly seven million Yemenis facing famine.

Misery has been Yemen’s lot after more than three years of unrelenting war. At least 10,000 people have been killed, many by Saudi-coalition bombings carried out with military assistance by the United States. A raging cholera epidemic has sickened some 900,000 people, and 17 million Yemenis are now completely dependent on humanitarian aid for survival. Ships and cargo planes ferrying food, medicine and vital fuel to Yemen’s war-ravaged civilians are inspected by the United Nations to make sure they are not transporting arms.

Impeding humanitarian assistance and using famine as a weapon are war crimes, and Saudi Arabia must realize that the world is finally taking notice. [Continue reading…]

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Burma: Widespread rape of Rohingya women, girls

Human Rights Watch reports: Burmese security forces have committed widespread rape against women and girls as part of a campaign of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims in Burma’s Rakhine State, Human Rights Watch said in a report released today.

The 37-page report, “‘All of My Body Was Pain’: Sexual Violence Against Rohingya Women and Girls in Burma,” documents the Burmese military’s gang rape of Rohingya women and girls and further acts of violence, cruelty, and humiliation. Many women described witnessing the murders of their young children, spouses, and parents. Rape survivors reported days of agony walking with swollen and torn genitals while fleeing to Bangladesh.

“Rape has been a prominent and devastating feature of the Burmese military’s campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya,” said Skye Wheeler, women’s rights emergencies researcher at Human Rights Watch and author of the report. “The Burmese military’s barbaric acts of violence have left countless women and girls brutally harmed and traumatized.”

Since August 25, 2017, the Burmese military has committed killings, rapes, arbitrary arrests, and mass arson of homes in hundreds of predominantly Rohingya villages in northern Rakhine State, forcing more than 600,000 Rohingya to flee to neighboring Bangladesh. Human Rights Watch has found that these abuses amount to crimes against humanity under international law. The military operations were sparked by attacks by the armed group the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army (ARSA) on 30 security force outposts and an army base that killed 11 Burmese security personnel. [Continue reading…]

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Keystone Pipeline leaks 210,000 gallons of oil in South Dakota

CNN reports: A total of 210,000 gallons of oil leaked Thursday from the Keystone Pipeline in Marshall County, South Dakota, the pipeline’s operator, TransCanada, said.

Crews shut down the pipeline Thursday morning and officials are investigating the cause of the leak.

This is the largest Keystone oil spill to date in South Dakota, said Brian Walsh, a spokesman for the state’s Department of Environment and Natural Resources.

In April 2016, there was a 400-barrel release — or 16,800 gallons — with the majority of the oil cleanup completed in two months, Walsh said.

About 5,000 barrels of oil spilled Thursday. [Continue reading…]

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America’s wildest place is open for business

Christopher Solomon writes: Several years ago a mapping expert pinpointed the most remote place in the Lower 48 states. The spot was in the southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park, 20 miles from the nearest road. Roman Dial read the news and wasn’t much impressed. To him, 20 miles — the distance a hungry man could walk in a long day — didn’t seem very remote at all.

Mr. Dial is a professor of biology and mathematics at Alaska Pacific University in Anchorage, and a National Geographic explorer. He decided to figure out the most remote place in the entire nation. His calculations led him to the northwest corner of Alaska, where the continent tilts toward the Arctic Ocean. The spot lay on the Ipnavik River on the North Slope, 119 miles west of the Haul Road (otherwise known as the Dalton Highway), which brings supplies and roughnecks to the oil fields at Prudhoe Bay.

Judged by miles, Mr. Dial reckoned, the place was six times more isolated than that corner in Yellowstone. So he decided to walk there. On the journey he and his companion didn’t see anyone else for 24 days.

Their destination lay within the National Petroleum Reserve-Alaska. NPR-A, as it is known, is the single largest parcel of public land in the United States. The reserve sprawls across nearly 23 million acres, which makes it larger than Maine or South Carolina or 10 other states. The reserve’s eastern border sits about 100 miles to the west of the more famous Arctic National Wildlife Refuge. Separating the two like a thorn between roses lies the industrial sprawl of Prudhoe Bay.

If the reserve still doesn’t ring a bell, you’re not alone. Even Google Earth doesn’t know it, though the reserve is 10 times the size of Yellowstone. “It is the wildest place in America that you’ve never heard of,” as one conservationist recently told me.
Yet the reserve deserves attention, now more than ever. The Trump administration has declared the nation’s public lands and waters open for business, particularly to oil and gas companies. In its first six months the administration offered more onshore leases to energy companies to drill on public property than the Obama administration did in all of 2016, the secretary of interior, Ryan Zinke, boasted to the conservative Heritage Foundation in late September.

“Our goal is an America that is the strongest energy superpower that this world has ever known,” he told the group, and added, “the road to energy dominance goes through the great state of Alaska.”

Nowhere is this more evident than on the North Slope. In April, Mr. Trump signed an executive order aimed at lifting President Barack Obama’s closure of federal Arctic waters to drilling, a decision now being challenged in court. Both the administration and the Republican-held Congress are trying yet again to open the Arctic refuge for oil exploration, an effort that provoked a fierce battle a dozen years ago. [Continue reading…]

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