A journey through a land of extreme poverty: Welcome to America

Ed Pilkington reports: We are in Los Angeles, in the heart of one of America’s wealthiest cities, and General Dogon, dressed in black, is our tour guide. Alongside him strolls another tall man, grey-haired and sprucely decked out in jeans and suit jacket. Professor Philip Alston is an Australian academic with a formal title: UN special rapporteur on extreme poverty and human rights.

General Dogon, himself a veteran of these Skid Row streets, strides along, stepping over a dead rat without comment and skirting round a body wrapped in a worn orange blanket lying on the sidewalk.

The two men carry on for block after block after block of tatty tents and improvised tarpaulin shelters. Men and women are gathered outside the structures, squatting or sleeping, some in groups, most alone like extras in a low-budget dystopian movie.

We come to an intersection, which is when General Dogon stops and presents his guest with the choice. He points straight ahead to the end of the street, where the glistening skyscrapers of downtown LA rise up in a promise of divine riches.

Heaven.

Then he turns to the right, revealing the “black power” tattoo on his neck, and leads our gaze back into Skid Row bang in the center of LA’s downtown. That way lies 50 blocks of concentrated human humiliation. A nightmare in plain view, in the city of dreams.

Alston turns right.

So begins a two-week journey into the dark side of the American Dream. The spotlight of the UN monitor, an independent arbiter of human rights standards across the globe, has fallen on this occasion on the US, culminating on Friday with the release of his initial report in Washington.

His fact-finding mission into the richest nation the world has ever known has led him to investigate the tragedy at its core: the 41 million people who officially live in poverty.

Of those, nine million have zero cash income – they do not receive a cent in sustenance. [Continue reading…]

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Trump’s nominee for U.S. District Court Judge can’t answer basic questions of law

CNN reports: A Trump judicial nominee struggled to answer basic legal questions posed to him by a Republican senator on Wednesday, including his lack of experience on trial work, the amount of depositions he’d worked on and more.

During his testimony, Matthew Spencer Petersen, who currently serves as a commissioner on the Federal Election Commission, was asked a string of questions by GOP Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana about his experience on trials, including how many depositions Petersen had worked on–the answer was less than five — and the last time he had read the Federal Rules of Civil Procedure — he said he couldn’t remember.

Petersen is up for a seat on the US District Court for the District of Columbia. [Continue reading…]

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Why 41 percent of white millennials voted for Trump

Matthew Fowler, Vladimir E. Medenica and Cathy J. Cohen write: In the year since Donald Trump was elected president of the United States, many have continued to debate what motivated those who voted for him. We wanted to understand Trump voters among millennials, the generation that will make up the largest share of the voting-eligible population in the upcoming 2018 midterms. Most millennials voted for Clinton, as predicted.

But when we disaggregate the millennial vote by race and ethnicity we find some interesting things — including, notably, that 41 percent of white millennials voted for Donald Trump in 2016.

Why?

Two popular explanations have emerged post-election: 1) economic anxiety, and 2) racial resentment. Many commentators have argued that a sense of economic loss drove many white working-class voters toward Trump. Meanwhile, here at the Monkey Cage, Michael Tesler has explained that support for Trump was especially linked to racial resentment.

Examining our data from the GenForward Survey, we find a hybrid explanation. First, white millennial Trump voters were likely to believe in something we call “white vulnerability” — the perception that whites, through no fault of their own, are losing ground to other groups. Second, racial resentment was the primary driver of white vulnerability — even when accounting for income, education level or employment. [Continue reading…]

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The Russia facts are hiding in plain sight

David Ignatius writes: President Trump’s recent denunciations of the Russia investigation recall the famous legal advice: “If the facts are against you, argue the law. If the law is against you, argue the facts. If the law and the facts are against you, pound the table and yell like hell.”

Trump shouted out his defense earlier this month: “What has been shown is no collusion, no collusion!” he told reporters over the whir of his helicopter on the White House lawn. Since then, Trump’s supporters have been waging a bitter counterattack against special counsel Robert S. Mueller III, alleging bias and demanding: “Investigate the investigators.”

But what do the facts show? There is a growing, mostly undisputed body of evidence describing contacts between Trump associates and Russia-linked operatives. Trump partisans have claimed that Mueller’s investigation is biased because some members of his staff supported Trump’s rival, Hillary Clinton. But Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein disagreed Wednesday, arguing that Mueller “is running his office appropriately.”

As Republicans seek to discredit the investigation, it’s useful to remember just what we’ve learned so far about how the Trump campaign sought harmful information about Clinton from sources that, according to U.S. intelligence, were linked to Moscow. This isn’t a fuzzy narrative where the truth is obscured; in the Trump team’s obsessive pursuit of damaging Clinton emails and other negative information, the facts are hiding in plain sight. [Continue reading…]

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House intelligence panel is rushing to complete Russia probe

The New York Times reports: The House Intelligence Committee is racing to complete its investigation of Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election, scheduling a host of witness interviews here and in New York for next week as Congress heads for its break, and, Democrats said, leaving other leads unfollowed.

Some of the most important witnesses are to be interviewed in New York by committee staff early next week, possibly leaving Democrats to choose between attending those depositions or voting on the massive tax bill coming before the House.

And in an indication that Republicans hope to wrap up their probe, the House committee has yet to schedule a single interview after the holidays, according to two committee officials familiar with the schedule. That has left Democrats fearful that the majority is trying to finish the investigative portion of its work by the end of next week, before the committee can connect the dots on one of the most serious efforts by a hostile foreign actor to hijack American democracy.

“I feel no need to apologize for concluding an investigation,” said Representative Trey Gowdy of South Carolina, one of the Republicans leading the investigation. [Continue reading…]

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Music: Al Jarreau — ‘One Way’

 

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FBI agent removed from Russia probe held views about Trump similar to those expressed by Tillerson

The Wall Street Journal reports: Two FBI employees who used to work for Special Counsel Robert Mueller have already been criticized by Republicans for texts they shared insulting President Donald Trump.

A review of their correspondence shows Mr. Trump wasn’t their only target: They held dim views of other prominent figures, from Chelsea Clinton to Obama administration Attorney General Eric Holder to their new boss, Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The 300-plus texts, contained in 90 pages of Justice Department documents handed over to Congress late Tuesday, reveal a more complete portrait of Peter Strzok, a senior counterintelligence agent, and lawyer Lisa Page, dealing with the stresses of their jobs, handling politically sensitive investigations, and their extramarital relationship.

Mr. Strzok was the lead investigator into Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton’s handling of classified information on her email server, and he later was spearheading the work of agents assigned to Mr. Mueller’s team. When Mr. Mueller learned of his text messages this summer, Mr. Strzok was reassigned to the bureau’s human-resources division. Ms. Page worked temporarily for Mr. Mueller but has been reassigned.

Neither Mr. Strzok or Ms. Page could be reached for comment, and a spokesman for Mr. Mueller has declined to comment on the matter.

Mr. Trump’s allies say that their critiques of Mr. Trump—they called the then-candidate “an idiot,” “douche” and “TERRIFYING”—call into question whether Mr. Mueller’s probe into Russia’s meddling in the 2016 presidential election can be free of bias.

At a congressional hearing Wednesday, Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein defended the integrity of the Mr. Mueller’s investigation, saying it was free of any bias or taint.

Officials described the messages as having been flagged by the Justice Department’s inspector general as relevant to its investigation into how the Federal Bureau of Investigation handled its probe of Mrs. Clinton’s server.

Although many of their texts targeted Mr. Trump, others also drew their ire. Over the course of 16 months of correspondence, starting in August 2015 and ending on Dec. 1, 2016, that was culled from their work phones, Mr. Strzok said he loathed Congress and called presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I., Vt.) an “idiot.” He suggested the death penalty was appropriate for Edward Snowden, a National Security Agency contractor who pilfered reams of sensitive information. He said Ms. Clinton, daughter of Bill and Mrs. Clinton, was “self-entitled.” And he described House Speaker Paul Ryan (R., Wis.) as “a jerky.”

He said, “I’m worried about what happens if HRC is elected,” apparently referring to Mrs. Clinton. He didn’t elaborate on his concerns. [Continue reading…]

What would be truly nightmarish would be to live in a country where government officials on all ranks felt duty bound to publicly and privately express unqualified admiration for political leaders.

Would Trump and his supporters prefer we live in a fascist state? Perhaps.

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Trump campaign’s digital director does not deny having had contacts with foreign governments

Business Insider reports: The ranking members of the House Oversight and Judiciary committees want to subpoena two of the data firms hired by President Donald Trump’s campaign team for documents related to their potential engagement with foreign actors like Russia and WikiLeaks during the election.

Reps. Elijah Cummings and Jerry Nadler sent a letter to Cambridge Analytica’s CEO Alexander Nix and Giles-Parscale cofounder Brad Parscale — who also served as the Trump campaign’s digital director — in October. The letter asked whether their firms received “information from a foreign government or foreign actor” at any point during the election.

The letter was also sent to the heads of Deep Root Analytics, TargetPoint Consulting, and The Data Trust, which were among the outfits hired by the Republican National Committee to bolster the Trump campaign’s data operation.

Whereas Deep Root, TargetPoint, and The Data Trust responded to the documents request, Cambridge Analytica did not. Parscale’s response, moreover, was insufficient, the Democrats said.

“As I made clear in the 60 Minutes interview cited in your letter, I share your concerns and would not want foreign governments meddling in our elections,” Parscale wrote, referring to his interview with CBS earlier this year about Russia’s election interference. “But as I stated in that same interview, I do not have any firsthand knowledge of foreign interference in the 2016 election.”

He added: “I respectfully decline to make document productions and respond to inquiries that are duplicative” of the work being done by the congressional intelligence committees and special counsel Robert Mueller.”

Parscale’s letter mirrored those written by the RNC data firms and used virtually the same language — with one notable exception. Whereas the firms’ letters included a line denying that they had had contact with any “foreign government or foreign actor,” Parscale’s did not. [Continue reading…]

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Mueller sought emails of Trump campaign data firm, Cambridge Analytica

The Wall Street Journal reports: Special Counsel Robert Mueller has requested that Cambridge Analytica, a data firm that worked for President Donald Trump’s campaign, turn over documents as part of its investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, according to people familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller asked the firm in the fall to turn over the emails of any Cambridge Analytica employees who worked on the Trump campaign, in a sign that the special counsel is probing the Trump campaign’s data operation.

The special counsel’s request, which the firm complied with, wasn’t previously known. The emails had earlier been turned over to the House Intelligence Committee, the people said, adding that both requests were voluntary.

On Thursday, Cambridge Analytica Chief Executive Alexander Nix interviewed via videoconference with the House Intelligence Committee, according to a person familiar with the matter.

Mr. Mueller’s request for employee emails was made before media outlets reported in October that Mr. Nix had contacted WikiLeaks co-founder Julian Assange during the 2016 campaign, according to a person familiar with the matter. The Sweden-based WikiLeaks last year published a trove of Hillary Clinton -related emails that U.S. intelligence agencies later determined had been stolen by Russian intelligence and given to the website. [Continue reading…]

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The FCC just voted to repeal its net neutrality rules, in a sweeping act of deregulation

The Washington Post reports: Federal regulators voted Thursday to allow Internet providers to speed up service for websites they favor — and block or slow down others — in a decision repealing landmark Obama-era regulations overseeing broadband companies such as AT&T and Verizon.

The move by the Federal Communications Commission to deregulate the telecom and cable industries was a prominent example of the policy shifts taking place in Washington under President Trump and a major setback for consumer groups, tech companies and Democrats who had lobbied heavily against the decision.

The 3-2 vote, which was along party lines, enabled the FCC’s Republican chairman, Ajit Pai, to follow through on his promise to repeal the government’s 2015 net neutrality rules, which required Internet providers to treat all websites, large and small, equally. The agency also rejected some of its own authority over the broadband industry in a bid to stymie future FCC officials who might seek to reverse the Republican-led ruling.

The result was a redrawing of the FCC’s oversight powers, at a time of rapid transformation in the media and technology sectors. [Continue reading…]

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NY Attorney General Schneiderman: I will sue to stop illegal rollback of net neutrality

New York Attorney General Eric T. Schneiderman writes: The FCC’s vote to rip apart net neutrality is a blow to New York consumers, and to everyone who cares about a free and open internet. The FCC just gave Big Telecom an early Christmas present, by giving internet service providers yet another way to put corporate profits over consumers. Today’s rollback will give ISPs new ways to control what we see, what we do, and what we say online. That’s a threat to the free exchange of ideas that’s made the Internet a valuable asset in our democratic process.

Today’s new rule would enable ISPs to charge consumers more to access sites like Facebook and Twitter and give them the leverage to degrade high quality of video streaming until and unless somebody pays them more money. Even worse, today’s vote would enable ISPs to favor certain viewpoints over others.

New Yorkers deserve the right to a free and open Internet. That’s why we will sue to stop the FCC’s illegal rollback of net neutrality.

Today’s vote also follows a public comment process that was deeply corrupted, including two million comments that stole the identities of real people. This is a crime under New York law – and the FCC’s decision to go ahead with the vote makes a mockery of government integrity and rewards the very perpetrators who scammed the system to advance their own agenda.

This is not just an attack on the future of our internet. It’s an attack on all New Yorkers, and on the integrity of every American’s voice in government – and we will fight back. [Continue reading…]

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Lindsey Graham: There’s a 30 percent chance Trump attacks North Korea

The Atlantic reports: It’s become a grim ritual in Washington foreign-policy circles to assess the chances that the United States and North Korea stumble into war. But on Wednesday Lindsey Graham did something different: He estimated the odds that the Trump administration deliberately strikes North Korea first, to stop it from acquiring the capability to target the U.S. mainland with a long-range, nuclear-tipped missile. And the senator’s numbers were remarkably high.

“I would say there’s a three in 10 chance we use the military option,” Graham predicted in an interview. If the North Koreans conduct an additional test of a nuclear bomb—their seventh—“I would say 70 percent.”

Graham said that the issue of North Korea came up during a round of golf he played with the president on Sunday. “It comes up all the time,” he said.

“War with North Korea is an all-out war against the regime,” he said. “There is no surgical strike option. Their [nuclear-weapons] program is too redundant, it’s too hardened, and you gotta assume the worst, not the best. So if you ever use the military option, it’s not to just neutralize their nuclear facilities—you gotta be willing to take the regime completely down.” [Continue reading…]

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Trump allies say Tillerson has ‘not learned his lesson’ and cannot continue in job for long

The Washington Post reports: Secretary of State Rex Tillerson seemed focused this week on rebooting his image as a beleaguered Cabinet member on the outs with his boss and his own employees — holding a rare town hall with employees, promising foreign trips into 2018 and saying he is “learning” to enjoy his job.

But then he went off script by offering another invitation for diplomatic talks with nuclear-armed North Korea, putting him at odds once again with President Trump and senior White House officials, who are increasingly exasperated with the secretary of state and say he cannot remain in his job for the long term.

The episode highlights the deep distrust between the White House and Tillerson and suggests how difficult it will be for the relationship to continue. While Trump and Tillerson have clashed on several policy issues — including negotiating with North Korea, the U.S. withdrawal from the Paris climate accord and planning to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem — much of the distance between them seems personal and probably irreversible, White House officials said.

Tillerson, one White House official said, “had not learned his lesson from the last time,” when Trump publicly rebuked his top diplomat on Twitter over the wisdom of talking to North Korea. [Continue reading…]

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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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