Head of congressional ethics office sued for abusing position, accused of assaulting women

Foreign Policy reports: A top congressional ethics official who oversees investigations into misconduct by lawmakers is accused in a federal lawsuit of verbally abusing and physically assaulting women and using his federal position to influence local law enforcement, according to a complaint filed in a federal court in Pennsylvania last month.

The ongoing lawsuit against Omar Ashmawy, staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics, stems from his involvement in a late-night brawl in 2015 in Milford, Pennsylvania, and includes a range of allegations relating to his behavior that evening and in the following two-and-half years.

Ashmawy’s office conducts the preliminary investigations into allegations of misconduct in the House of Representatives, deciding which cases to pursue or refer to the Committee on Ethics. He is named in congressional documents as the official who presented one of the investigations into John Conyers, the Democratic lawmaker from Michigan accused of sexual harassment, to the ethics committee for further action.

Among other allegations, Ashmawy is accused in the lawsuit of “threatening to use his position as staff director and chief counsel of the Office of Congressional Ethics to induce a criminal proceeding to be brought against Plaintiff and/or others,” according to the federal lawsuit filed against him.

In court filings and in statements to Foreign Policy, Ashmawy denied the allegations laid out in the lawsuit. [Continue reading…]

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Sheriffs-gone-wild in Trump’s America

The New York Times reports from Decatur, Alabama: One evening last fall, an informant for the Morgan County sheriff entered the office of a small construction business near this old river town and, he said, secretly installed spyware on a company computer. He had no warrant.

The sheriff, Ana Franklin, wanted to know who was leaking information about her to a blogger known as the Morgan County Whistleblower.

The blogger had been zeroing in on the sheriff’s finances, specifically $150,000 that by law should have gone toward feeding inmates in the county jail. Instead it had been invested in a now-bankrupt used-car dealership run by a convicted bank swindler.

Now the sheriff has become ensnared, along with others, in a wide-ranging government investigation. The Federal Bureau of Investigation is looking at her stewardship of taxpayer money, as well as the dealership and its financial links to prominent people in town, including several state law enforcement agents, according to more than a half-dozen people who say they have spoken to the F.B.I. Government divers recently searched the bottom of a creek for evidence.

What, if anything, investigators have uncovered is not known. But The New York Times found that since taking office in 2011, Sheriff Franklin has failed to comply with court orders, has threatened critics with legal action and has not publicly accounted for tens of thousands of dollars raised through charity events.

Her activities point to questions about the broad powers afforded America’s county sheriffs, newly emboldened in the era of President Trump. Unlike appointed municipal police chiefs, sheriffs answer only to voters, giving them often-unfettered dominion not just over county law enforcement but over the jail and the lucrative service contracts that go with it. [Continue reading…]

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Britain grows increasingly hostile to EU citizens

Der Spiegel reports: Whenever Agnieszka Pasieczna opens the curtains of her children’s bedroom, she finds herself facing four electronic eyes staring at her. The cameras, each around the size of a fist, are mounted on a gray wall around eight meters away, like silent witnesses for the prosecution. “I see you, I see everything,” her English neighbor once shouted over at her. Since then Agnieszka has kept her curtains closed even during the day.

The 39-year-old Polish woman lives with her husband and five children in Great Yarmouth, a town on England’s eastern periphery. It has 40,000 residents and a gaudy strip of amusement park rides along the beach front, referred to with no small degree of hyperbole as “The Golden Mile.” A character in the Charles Dickens classic “David Copperfield” once described the town as “the finest place in the universe.” But that was over 150 years ago.

The Pasieczna family moved to Great Yarmouth 12 years ago from their hometown of Wroclaw. There were jobs here, with the rural hinterlands dotted with farms, feed lots and meat processing plants. The Polish newcomers felt welcome and settled in quickly. They painted their living room mint green, hung deer antlers on the wall and bought two Yorkshire terriers. When Agnieszka gave birth to a daughter, she named her Diana, “like the princess.” Life was good – until the summer of 2016.

It started with little things. “This is England, speak English,” said one woman to Agnieszka as she was speaking Polish with her children. “Go back to your own country,” Diana was told in school. Then, this spring, her neighbor mounted the first of the cameras on the wall and said: “I’m going to take care of this damn Polish problem!” After several instances of intimidation, Agnzieszka called the police. She was told: “If you don’t like the cameras, maybe you should move away.”

It’s been like this for the past 18 months – and not just for the Pasiecznas, and not just in Great Yarmouth, where almost three out of four voters backed Brexit in June 2016, almost the highest result in the country. Since the Brexit referendum, there has been a significant rise in reports of abuse, threats and harassment against EU citizens. Some of them have been bizarre, some shocking. And others simply ridiculous. [Continue reading…]

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In ten months, Trump has lied six times as often as his predecessor lied in eight years

The New York Times reports: After we published a list of President Trump’s lies this summer, we heard a common response from his supporters. They said, in effect: Yes, but if you made a similar list for previous presidents, it would be just as bad.

We’ve set out to make that list. Here, you will find our attempt at a comprehensive catalog of the falsehoods that Barack Obama told while he was president. (We also discuss George W. Bush below, although the lack of real-time fact-checking during his presidency made a comprehensive list impossible.)

We applied the same conservative standard to Obama and Trump, counting only demonstrably and substantially false statements. The result: Trump is unlike any other modern president. He seems virtually indifferent to reality, often saying whatever helps him make the case he’s trying to make.

In his first 10 months in office, he has told 103 separate untruths, many of them repeatedly. Obama told 18 over his entire eight-year tenure. That’s an average of about two a year for Obama and about 124 a year for Trump. [Continue reading…]

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Record number of journalists jailed as Turkey, China, Egypt pay scant price for repression

Elana Beiser reports: The number of journalists imprisoned worldwide hit another new record in 2017, and for the second consecutive year more than half of those jailed for their work are behind bars in Turkey, China, and Egypt. The pattern reflects a dismal failure by the international community to address a global crisis in freedom of the press.

Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen such as Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping. At the same time, President Donald Trump’s nationalistic rhetoric, fixation on Islamic extremism, and insistence on labeling critical media “fake news” serves to reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists. Globally, nearly three-quarters of journalists are jailed on anti-state charges, many under broad and vague terror laws, while the number imprisoned on a charge of “false news,” though modest, rose to a record 21.

In its annual prison census, CPJ found 262 journalists behind bars around the world in relation to their work, a new record after a historical high of 259 last year. The worst three jailers are responsible for jailing 134–or 51 percent–of the total. CPJ has been conducting an annual survey of journalists in jail since the early 1990s. [Continue reading…]

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Russia could cut off internet to NATO countries, British military chief warns

The Guardian reports: Russia could pose a major threat to the UK and other Nato nations by cutting underwater cables essential for international commerce and the internet, the chief of the British defence staff, Sir Stuart Peach, has warned.

Russian ships have been regularly spotted close to the Atlantic cables that carry communications between the US and Europe and elsewhere around the world.

Air Chief Marshall Peach, who in September was appointed chair of the Nato military committee, said Russia had continued to develop unconventional warfare. He added that threats such as those to underwater cables meant the UK and its allies had to match the Russian navy in terms of modernising its fleet.

“There is a new risk to our prosperity and way of life, to the cables that crisscross our sea beds, disruption to which through cable-cuts or destruction would immediately – and catastrophically – fracture both international trade and the internet,” he said.

The warning came a fortnight after the centre-right thinktank Policy Exchange issued a report saying 97% of global communications and $10tn in daily financial transactions were transmitted through such cables. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Al Jarreau — ‘Tell Me’

 

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Doubting the intelligence, Trump pursues Putin and leaves a Russian threat unchecked

The Washington Post reports: In the final days before Donald Trump was sworn in as president, members of his inner circle pleaded with him to acknowledge publicly what U.S. intelligence agencies had already concluded — that Russia’s interference in the 2016 election was real.

Holding impromptu interventions in Trump’s 26th-floor corner office at Trump Tower, advisers — including Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, and designated chief of staff, Reince Priebus — prodded the president-elect to accept the findings that the nation’s spy chiefs had personally presented to him on Jan. 6.

They sought to convince Trump that he could affirm the validity of the intelligence without diminishing his electoral win, according to three officials involved in the sessions. More important, they said that doing so was the only way to put the matter behind him politically and free him to pursue his goal of closer ties with Russian President Vladi­mir Putin.

“This was part of the normalization process,” one participant said. “There was a big effort to get him to be a standard president.”

But as aides persisted, Trump became agitated. He railed that the intelligence couldn’t be trusted and scoffed at the suggestion that his candidacy had been propelled by forces other than his own strategy, message and charisma.

Told that members of his incoming Cabinet had already publicly backed the intelligence report on Russia, Trump shot back, “So what?” Admitting that the Kremlin had hacked Democratic Party emails, he said, was a “trap.”

As Trump addressed journalists on Jan. 11 in the lobby of Trump Tower, he came as close as he ever would to grudging acceptance. “As far as hacking, I think it was Russia,” he said, adding that “we also get hacked by other countries and other people.”

As hedged as those words were, Trump regretted them almost immediately. “It’s not me,” he said to aides afterward. “It wasn’t right.”

Nearly a year into his presidency, Trump continues to reject the evidence that Russia waged an assault on a pillar of American democracy and supported his run for the White House.

The result is without obvious parallel in U.S. history, a situation in which the personal insecurities of the president — and his refusal to accept what even many in his administration regard as objective reality — have impaired the government’s response to a national security threat. The repercussions radiate across the government. [Continue reading…]

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Autocrats and dictators follow Trump’s lead by attacking ‘fake news’

The New York Times reports: President Trump routinely invokes the phrase “fake news” as a rhetorical tool to undermine opponents, rally his political base and try to discredit a mainstream American media that is aggressively investigating his presidency.

But he isn’t the only leader enamored with the phrase. Following Mr. Trump’s example, many of the world’s autocrats and dictators are taking a shine to it, too.

When Amnesty International released a report about prison deaths in Syria, the Syrian president, Bashar al-Assad, retorted that “we are living in a fake-news era.” President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, who is steadily rolling back democracy in his country, blamed the global media for “lots of false versions, lots of lies,” saying “this is what we call ‘fake news’ today.”

In Myanmar, where international observers accuse the military of conducting a genocidal campaign against the Rohingya Muslims, a security official told The New York Times that “there is no such thing as Rohingya,” adding: “It is fake news.” In Russia, a Foreign Ministry spokeswoman, Maria Zakharova, told a CNN reporter to “stop spreading lies and fake news.” Her ministry now uses a big red stamp, “FAKE,” on its website to label news stories it dislikes.

Around the world, authoritarians, populists and other political leaders have seized on the phrase “fake news” — and the legitimacy conferred upon it by an American president — as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy. In countries where press freedom is restricted or under considerable threat — including Russia, China, Turkey, Libya, Poland, Hungary, Thailand, Somalia and others — political leaders have invoked “fake news” as justification for beating back media scrutiny. [Continue reading…]

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Roy Moore turns refusal to concede into religious crusade: ‘Immorality sweeps over the land’

The Washington Post reports: A day after losing the Senate race in Alabama to Democrat Doug Jones, Roy Moore has issued a new statement refusing to concede the election until completion of the final count. But it wasn’t your typical post-election statement.

It was a four-minute fire-and-brimstone video about abortion, same-sex marriage, school prayer, sodomy and “the right of a man to claim to be a woman and vice versa.”

“We are indeed in a struggle to preserve our republic, our civilization and our religion and to set free a suffering humanity,” Moore said. “Today, we no longer recognize the universal truth that God is the author of our life and liberty. Abortion, sodomy and materialism have taken the place of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.”

In the video issued by the campaign Wednesday evening, Moore said his campaign is still waiting for the official vote count from Alabama officials. He did not say he would necessarily seek a recount, for which his campaign would have to pay unless the margin turned out to be within half a percentage point. Alabama Secretary of State John Merrill has called it “highly unlikely” that Jones would not be certified as the winner. [Continue reading…]

I’m not a Christian, but somehow this line from Timothy appears relevant: “For the time will come when people will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear.”

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‘Nikki Haley stuck a knife in his back’: Roger Stone is already writing the story of Trump’s downfall

Gabriel Sherman writes: In the closing days of the Alabama Senate election, Steve Bannon told people that Donald Trump’s political survival depended on Trump supporting Roy Moore. Bannon’s argument, according to those who spoke with him, was that establishment Republicans and Democrats would use Moore’s defeat as a political weapon to force Trump to face the sexual harassment allegations that have dogged him since the 2016 election. Bannon called Alabama Trump’s “firebreak.”

Last night, the flames leapt into the West Wing. Moore’s dramatic loss to Democrat Doug Jones in a state Trump carried by 62 percent is sowing panic among some of Trump’s kitchen Cabinet. “This shows the public is taking the sexual harassment issue seriously. The president has a big problem,” a Republican close to the White House told me. Even before the election, Democrats renewed calls for Trump to resign for his alleged treatment of women. This week, three of Trump’s accusers launched a media tour to elevate the issue. Even a member of Trump’s administration weighed in. U.N. Ambassador Nikki Haley said on Face the Nation that Trump’s accusers should be “heard” and “dealt with.”

One Trump ally is making plans to commercialize Trump’s downfall. Longtime Trump confidant Roger Stone told me he is working on a book titled The Unmaking of the President as part of a multi-book deal with Skyhorse Publishing. (Last fall, Skyhorse published Stone’s campaign account, The Making of the President 2016.) “I’ve been writing it as we go along,” he told me. [Continue reading…]

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Harvey Weinstein is my monster too

Salma Hayek writes: In the 14 years that I stumbled from schoolgirl to Mexican soap star to an extra in a few American films to catching a couple of lucky breaks in “Desperado” and “Fools Rush In,” Harvey Weinstein had become the wizard of a new wave of cinema that took original content into the mainstream. At the same time, it was unimaginable for a Mexican actress to aspire to a place in Hollywood. And even though I had proven them wrong, I was still a nobody.

One of the forces that gave me the determination to pursue my career was the story of Frida Kahlo, who in the golden age of the Mexican muralists would do small intimate paintings that everybody looked down on. She had the courage to express herself while disregarding skepticism. My greatest ambition was to tell her story. It became my mission to portray the life of this extraordinary artist and to show my native Mexico in a way that combated stereotypes.

The Weinstein empire, which was then Miramax, had become synonymous with quality, sophistication and risk taking — a haven for artists who were complex and defiant. It was everything that Frida was to me and everything I aspired to be.

I had started a journey to produce the film with a different company, but I fought to get it back to take it to Harvey.

I knew him a little bit through my relationship with the director Robert Rodriguez and the producer Elizabeth Avellan, who was then his wife, with whom I had done several films and who had taken me under their wing. All I knew of Harvey at the time was that he had a remarkable intellect, he was a loyal friend and a family man.

Knowing what I know now, I wonder if it wasn’t my friendship with them — and Quentin Tarantino and George Clooney — that saved me from being raped. [Continue reading…]

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Rex Tillerson, in meeting with U.S. diplomats, says Russia ‘interfered’ in election

The Daily Beast reports: Beleaguered Secretary of State Rex Tillerson acknowledged in a closed-door meeting with U.S. diplomats on Tuesday that Russia “interfered in democratic processes here,” something President Trump still describes as “fake news” intended to delegitimize his presidency.

It’s a precarious position for Tillerson to take, even privately. Tillerson’s job is on thin ice, as rumors swirl that he will be swapped out for CIA Director Mike Pompeo. Within the department, Tillerson’s support is wafer-thin, as diplomats have come to see his purpose as hollowing out U.S. diplomacy.

Publicly, Tillerson has been a bit more circumspect about the Kremlin question. In April, Tillerson called the “question of Russian interference” in the election something that was “fairly well-established.” In August, Tillerson told his Russian counterpart, Sergey Lavrov, that the election meddling engendered “serious mistrust between our two countries.” [Continue reading…]

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U.S. ready for talks with North Korea ‘without preconditions’, Tillerson says

The Guardian reports: Rex Tillerson has said that the US is ready to begin exploratory talks with North Korea “without preconditions”, but only after a “period of quiet” without new nuclear or missile tests.

The secretary of state’s remarks appeared to mark a shift in state department policy, which had previously required Pyongyang to show it was “serious” about giving up its nuclear arsenal before contacts could start. And the language was a long way from repeated comments by Donald Trump that such contacts are a “waste of time”.

Tillerson also revealed that the US had been talking to China about what each country would do in the event of a conflict or regime collapse in North Korea, saying that the Trump administration had given Beijing assurances that US troops would pull back to the 38th parallel, which divides North and South Korea, and that the only US concern would be to secure the regime’s nuclear weapons.

Earlier this week it emerged that China is building a network of refugee camps along its 880-mile (1,416km) border with North Korea, in preparation for a potential exodus that could be unleashed by conflict or the collapse of Kim Jong-un’s regime. [Continue reading…]

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UN envoy: North Korea would not commit to peace talks but ‘door ajar’

Reuters reports: United Nations political affairs chief Jeffrey Feltman said on Tuesday that senior North Korean officials did not offer any type of commitment to talks during his visit to Pyongyang last week, but he believes he left “the door ajar.”

Feltman, the highest-level U.N. official to visit North Korea since 2011, met with Foreign Minister Ri Yong Ho and Vice Minister Pak Myong Guk during a four-day visit that he described as “the most important mission I have ever undertaken.”

“Time will tell what was the impact of our discussions, but I think we have left the door ajar and I fervently hope that the door to a negotiated solution will now be opened wide,” Feltman told reporters after briefing the U.N. Security Council behind closed doors on his visit.

“They need time to digest and consider how they will respond to our message,” he said, adding that he believed Ri would brief North Korean leader Kim Jong Un on their discussions. [Continue reading…]

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Afghan president under fire as critics chafe at overdue vote

The New York Times reports: Over the past year, as Afghanistan’s strained power-sharing government struggled in the face of intense criticism, Western officials repeatedly stepped in to urge patience.

American and European diplomats shuttled to the blast-wall-protected villas of the country’s political elite, asking them to give President Ashraf Ghani some space to keep pursuing the reforms that had rankled so many. In return, Mr. Ghani would finally deliver parliamentary elections (already delayed by two years) before the next presidential vote.

But the year is closing with little progress toward the elections, still scheduled for next July, although now almost certain not to occur then. Mr. Ghani’s critics — and there are more than ever — are losing patience, turning to public demonstrations, issuing ultimatums or threats, and joining in calls for a nationwide, traditional referendum on his authority.

The Afghan president, in return, has reacted in ways that many Western officials see as panicked. He has ordered sudden corruption investigations against critics, barred government employees from joining demonstrations and been accused of grounding the flight of a powerful northern governor to keep him from joining an opposition meeting.

One fear is that the rising factional animosity could lead to open mutiny — in the middle of a raging war against the Taliban and Islamic State loyalists — against a government that Western officials have gone all out to hold together. [Continue reading…]

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Following the developing Iranian cyberthreat

File 20171121 6013 1qqleza.jpg?ixlib=rb 1.1
The Iranian Cyber Army has taken over many websites.
Zone-H, CC BY-NC-ND

By Dorothy Denning, Naval Postgraduate School

Iran is one of the leading cyberspace adversaries of the United States. It emerged as a cyberthreat a few years later than Russia and China and has so far demonstrated less skill. Nevertheless, it has conducted several highly damaging cyberattacks and become a major threat that will only get worse.

Like Russia and China, the history of Iran’s cyberspace operations begins with its hackers. But unlike these other countries, Iran openly encourages its hackers to launch cyberattacks against its enemies. The government not only recruits hackers into its cyberforces but supports their independent operations.

[Read more…]

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Think our governments can no longer control capitalism? You’ve been duped

Larry Elliott writes: Blue Planet 2 demonstrated the terrifyingly fragile state of nature’s ecosystem. One of the key messages from the BBC series was that a delicate balance exists in the oceans between predators and prey. If there are too many predators, the stocks of prey fall. The predators go hungry and their numbers dwindle, allowing the prey to recover. Balance is restored.

Humans have their equivalent of this predator-prey model. It is best demonstrated by the workings of the labour market, where there is a constant struggle between employers and employees over the proceeds of growth. Unlike the world of nature, though, there is no self-righting mechanism. One side can carry on devouring its prey until the system breaks down. Over the past 40 years, employers have been the predators, workers the prey.

Consider the facts. By almost any measure, the past decade has been a disaster for living standards. Unemployment has fallen from its post financial-crisis peaks across the developed world but workers have found it hard to make ends meet. Earnings growth has halved in the UK even though the latest set of unemployment figures show that the jobless rate is the lowest since 1975.

The reason is not hard to find. Unions are far less powerful; collective bargaining in most of the private sector is a thing of the past; part-time working has boomed; and people who were once employed by a company are now part of the gig economy. [Continue reading…]

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