• TUSD-WB: An open letter to Leila Counts

  • OT2018 #8: “Animal Magnetism”

    Read more of this story here from SCOTUSblog by First Mondays.

    OT2018 #8: “Animal Magnetism”

    The First Mondays national tour continues! This week we’re live at Duke Law School, with not one but two great guest hosts: Professors Marin Levy and Steve Sachs. We catch up on recent SCOTUS news and talk through a recent set of opinions from the “shadow docket.” Then, as both of our guests are civil procedure experts, we take a deep dive into Nutraceutical Corp. v. Lambert, a nerdy-but-interesting procedural case that arises from some particularly spicy factual allegations. Listen to the end for a surprise during the audience Q&A, as perhaps our most distinguished questioner ever crashes the party.

    The post OT2018 #8: “Animal Magnetism” appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

  • Trump’s Rhetoric Is Meant to Destroy Thought and Democracy

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Henry A. Giroux / Salon.

    In an age when speed overcomes thought, a culture of immediacy blots out any vestige of historical memory and markets replace social categories, language loses its critical moorings and becomes what Chris Hedges has called “a gift to demagogues and the corporations that saturate the landscape with manipulated images and the idiom of mass culture.”

    No longer a vehicle for critique, doubt or possibility, language in the age of Donald Trump upholds the cultural and political workstations of ignorance and paves the way for a formative culture ripe with the death-saturated practices and protocols of fascist politics. As a species of neoliberal fascism eradicates social bonds and democratic communal relations, vulgarity parades as political wisdom and moral cowardice becomes a mark of pride. In a neoliberal age that has a high threshold of disappearance, the sins of a Vichy-inspired history have returned and are deeply rooted in a Republican Party that is as criminogenic as it is morally irresponsible and politically corrupt.

    Of course the threads of a fascist politics weave through both political parties, which have sold their souls to the financial elite, though the Democrats do their work under the cover of self-righteousness and constitutional liberties while the Republicans bask in their embrace of corruption and a craven silence in the face of Trumpism. Vast apparatuses of pedagogical regulation endlessly work to produce a kind of Orwellian magic realism in which fiction and reality collapse into each other and the label of “fake news” provides a camouflage for serial liars.

    The bad-faith vocabulary of individual responsibility, self-reliance, and choice eliminates the notions of soul crushing constraints and broader systemic forces, and in so doing produces armies of individuals stuck in the debilitating grip of social atomization, low self-esteem and the anxieties produced in landscapes of battered schools, rusting towns and meaningless work, if available. The destruction of collective structures capable of resisting the discourse of fascist politics go hand in hand with a culture awash in civic illiteracy and a culture of cruelty. Persistent denigration now leads to unbridled racism, the resurgence of white nationalism and an indifference to rampant criminality at the highest levels of government.

    Robert Jay Lifton’s description of an earlier historical moment as a “death-saturated age in which matters of violence, survival, and trauma inescapably bear down on daily experience” has returned in a new form with a vengeance under the Trump regime. Yet such an age has been met by those in power with a silence that reeks with the scourge of complicity and the moral blindness of a kind of willful ignorance.

    Where is the collective rage among the Republican Party over Trump’s endless rhetorical tropes of hate and demonization that both wound and undermine the foundations for a civil society? What can be said about an administration and its followers that refuse to respond to the accusation that Trump’s highly charged rhetoric both legitimates and fuels acts of violence? Why does the American public not erupt in outrage when the Trump administration makes the anti-Semitic claim that George Soros is funding the caravan of migrant workers, and engages in outright racist slurs by calling Maxine Waters a “low IQ person” and demeaning the intelligence of basketball great LeBron James and CNN anchor Don Lemon? What kind of signals does this type of rhetoric send to numerous fascist groups that support him?

    Trump thrives on promoting social divisions and often references violence as a means of addressing them. His praise of Greg Gianforte, then a Montana congressional candidate (and now a congressman) for body-slamming a Guardian reporter in 2017 registers as a mark of pride. Oblivious to the horrors of the past, Trump once called the Nazi protesters in Charlottesville “very fine people.” Unsurprisingly, David Duke, former head of the Ku Klux Klan, praised Trump for the remark. This is the politics of fascism wrapped in the discourse of indifference and disappearance.

    The language of compassion, community and vulnerability is erased from government media sites, as is any reference to climate change. References to compassion, the grammar of ethics, justice and democracy wither as the institutions that enable and promote them are defunded, corporatized or privatized. The language of egoism, self-interest, hyper-masculinity and a vapid individualism erase any reference to social bonds, public commitments, the public good and the commons. Even worse, under the blitz of a rhetoric of bigotry, hatred and dehumanization, the ability to translate private issues into lager systemic and public concerns is diminished. The language of fascism is now reinforced by a culture of immediacy, stupidity, ignorance and civic illiteracy, and as such promotes a culture in which the only obligation of citizenship is consumption and the only emotion worth investing in is unbridled anger largely directed at Blacks, undocumented immigrants, Muslims, and the oppositional media.

    In the age of Trump, self-reflection is a liability. Reason and informed judgment are increasingly viewed as archaic and outdated. Trump both embodies and models an age in which power and ignorance reinforce each other. One recent example brings this point home in spades. Following  the mass shooting at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, Trump was criticized for his ongoing rhetoric of bigotry, dehumanization and violence. He responded with his usual felonious flight from any sense of moral and political responsibility by stating that he was going to “tone up” his rhetoric rather than tone it down. He lies endlessly, shreds standards for discerning the truth, and produces falsehoods daily in order to divert the media from addressing serious topics ranging from health care to attacks on Social Security and the Mueller investigation.

    Peter Baker and Linda Qiu of the New York Times reinforce this charge by pointing to the litany of lies Trump produced while campaigning for the midterm elections. They write:

    As he barnstorms the country trying to help Republican allies, President Trump has offered voters this fall a litany of misleading statements and falsehoods that exaggerate even legitimate accomplishments and distort opponents’ views beyond the typical bounds of political spin. In the past couple of weeks alone, the president has spoken of riots that have not happened, claimed deals that have not been reached, cited jobs that have not been created and spun dark conspiracies that have no apparent basis in reality. He has pulled figures seemingly out of thin air, rewritten history and contradicted his own past comments.

    The endless lying is about more than diversion or a perpetual motion machine of absurdist theater. It is also about creating a mediascape where morality disappears and a criminogenic culture of thuggery, corruption, white supremacy and violence flourishes — and democracy dies. History seems to be repeating itself in a script in which language collapses into an ecosystem of falsehoods, militarism and racism.

    Jason Stanley, in his book, “How Fascism Works,” argues that the 10 pillars of a fascist politics are alive and well in the United States. The pillars he points to are the mythic past, propaganda, anti-intellectualism, unreality, hierarchy, victimhood, law and order, sexual anxiety and appeals to the heartland. History offers us a reliable narrative of the horrific consequences of a society in which the elements of a fascist politics are at work and points to how, closer to the current historical moment, anti-Semitism is couched in the language of globalization and the call for racial and social cleansing is echoed in the discourse of borders and walls. What historical memory reveals in this case is an emergence of a form of fascist politics that alarmingly resembles the 1930s.

    In an age when civic literacy and holding the powerful accountable for their action are dismissed as “fake news,” ignorance becomes a breeding ground not just for hate but also for a culture that represses historical memory, shreds any understanding of the importance of shared values, refuses to make tolerance a non-negotiable element of civic dialogue and allows the powerful to poison everyday discourse.

    State-sanctioned ignorance is more than fodder for late-night comedy shows. It also provides the psychological conditions for individuals and groups to associate the discourse of “pollution” and disposability with what Richard A. Etlin calls “a biologically racialist worldview, which divides the human race according to the dichotomy of the pure and impure, the life-enhancing and the life-polluting.” This is a language mobilized by the energies of the ethically dead, and resonates strongly with the anti-Semitism that was at the center of the genocidal policies of the Third Reich.

    The endpoint of the language of disappearance can also be seen in the warehousing of minorities of class and color into the school-to-prison pipeline, a carceral system that represents a bloated and punitive  21st-century apparatus of apartheid, and a regime of law and order in which young black men are indiscriminately subjected by the police to racial harassment and extreme violence. The language and logic of disappearance is also evident in attempts to both punish and make invisible the voices of the poor, homeless and sick who lack basic economic rights such as health care, housing, a living-wage job and quality education. As the language of violence saturates American society, the underlying causes resulting in the killing of journalists both at home and abroad disappear in the spectacle of lies and tweet-bombs that emerge from the White House daily. Trump, obsessed with weaponizing Twitter, is Archie Bunker in drag, who outdoes his comedy routine by, as Matthew Miles Goodrich observes, “railing against fake news, in a moment where Khashoggi was dismembered for being a dissident member of the press.”

    The Trump administration has now joined ranks in enabling the vile discourses of racism and anti-Semitism, which have returned to an unusual and dangerous extent in Hungary, Poland and a number of other countries now moving towards fascism. These discourses have come back to life, occupying centers of power, while surfacing among alt-right and other neo-Nazi groups in the United States. It is difficult to ignore, but apparently among politicians easy to forget, that Trump’s racist remarks set the tone for his presidential campaign and have been the driving force during his presidency. Under the Trump administration, people who should be considered a threat to democracy are now at the center of power and embraced by Trump. Moreover, as Trump increasingly appeals more and more to his base, his discourse becomes more extreme and his condoning and fomenting of violence more intensified.

    The threads of a general political and ideological crisis run deep in American history. With each tweet and policy decision, Trump pushes the United States closer to a full-fledged fascist state. His words sting, but his policies can kill people. Trump’s endless racist taunts, dehumanizing expressions of misogyny, relentless attacks on all provisions of the social state and ongoing contempt for the rule of law serve to normalize a creeping fascist politics. Moreover, his criminogenic disdain for any viable sense of civic and moral responsibility gives new meaning to an ethos of a selfishness and a culture of cruelty, if not terror, that has run amok in the United States.

    An aura of corruption, lies, mendacity and violence defines this administration. The erosion of public values and the rule of law are now accompanied by a worldview that wreaks havoc on everything it touches. The walking dead now inhabit the White House and they have a ravenous appetite for destruction and civic catastrophe. Preoccupied with apocalyptic delusions, they view the current age as one of privileged disposability — a period in which racial and social cleansing informs their model of politics and governance. This is the politics of invented danger, rooted in a discourse that chomps on the flesh of the body politic, whose power is in part haunted by a paranoia over the possibility or threat posed by repressed ideals of the promise and possibility of a radical democracy.

    Some high-profile Republicans have dismissed the charge of fascism against the current administration as fraudulent or claim that the real threat to national sovereignty comes from anyone who is not white or for that matter even Democrats. For Trump as well as his spineless Republican allies and many of his unquestioning followers, facts or morality appear never to get in the way of acknowledging the degree to which Trumpism has normalized violence as a tool to squelch dissent or threaten journalists and others critical of Trump’s fascist politics.

    Many in Trump’s fan base suffer from more than a bad-faith act of adoration for the strongman; they also represent a corrosive element of fandom marked by what appears to be a gleeful allegiance to the structures of white supremacy.The rhetoric of violence, hate and intolerance has morphed into the service of fashioning Trump as the undisputed strongman at the center of a stupefied cult, and as a symbol for criminalizing those individuals and groups considered disposable and outside the ultra-nationalist notion of America as a white public sphere.

    Under Trump, violence defines the political sphere, if not politics itself, and has become a mythic force in which all meaning, desire, relations and actions are framed with a friend/enemy divide. This is the worldview of the demagogue, and points alarmingly to a resurgence of a fascist ideology updated for the 21st century. Trump’s rhetoric of hate resembles the Nazi obsession with the discourse of elimination, ritualistic acts aimed at purging critical thought and undermining informed judgment. This is the discourse of barbarians, and a petri dish for nourishing the virus of a fascist politics.

    Of course, Trump is not simply some eccentric clown who happened to be elected by a body of angry and desperate sleepwalking voters. He is symptomatic of a savage form of neoliberalism that over the past 40 years has promoted a war against the welfare state, the most vulnerable and those deemed excess while punishing everyone else with austerity policies that also made the financial elite richer and major corporations more powerful. Extreme wealth and inequality has found its savior and unabashed apostle in Donald Trump — a populist for the rich. Trump is distinctive in that he merges the worst of casino capitalism with an unapologetic reverence for white supremacy and bigotry. Government welfare for the rich and misery for everyone else, mixed with relentless racism that has dispensed with the old dog-whistle variety for the bullhorn variety of Bull Connor, archenemy of the civil rights movement in the 1960s.

    Trump delights in smearing those individuals and groups he considers disposable. He has brazenly attacked journalists even in the face of a growing number of assaults on them — over 1,000 killed in the last decade across the globe. He has endlessly defended Saudi Arabia’s role in torturing and killing Jamal Khashoggi, unabashedly suggesting that the profits from trading in weapons of death are more important than defending civil and human rights.

    Trump delights in producing and suggesting cruel policies that might have seemed unimaginable a decade ago. For instance, he now threatens to use an executive order to end birthright citizenship, believing his nativist impulses can overturn the 14th Amendment to the Constitution. His racism appears unbounded, given his endless attacks on immigrants, Muslims and blacks. When asked about his history of racism, he dismisses it, stating that the term is applied by Democrats to Republicans who occupy positions of power. He wages war on the planet through his support for the fossil fuel industry and his ongoing deregulation of corporate practices that pollute the environment.

    The debris of violent shootings, racism, religious intolerance, the fog of celebrity culture and the destruction of civic culture has cast an apocalyptic shadow over the future of both democracy and the United States. Trump represents a ghost of the past, and we should be terrified of the way it emboldens and resonates with what is happening both in the United States and in other countries such as Brazil, Poland, Turkey and Hungary.

    Trump’s love affair with some of the world’s most heinous dictators and his hatred of democracy echoes a period in history when the unimaginable became possible, when genocide was the endpoint of dehumanizing others, and the mix of nativist and nationalist rhetoric ended in the horrors of the death camp. The world is at war once again: It is a war against democracy, and Donald Trump is leading the battle. Trump is our demagogue-in-residence, and the discourse of fascist politics and illiberal democracy no longer resides outside the United States. The menacing abyss of fascism is now at our doorstep.

  • Monday round-up

    Read more of this story here from SCOTUSblog by Edith Roberts.

    Monday round-up

    The Supreme Court added two cases to its docket on Friday, including In re Department of Commerce, et al., a dispute arising out of a challenge to the administration’s decision to include a question about citizenship on the 2020 census form; the court scheduled oral argument in the case for February 19, 2019. Amy Howe covers the order list for this blog, in a post that was first published at Howe on the Court. At Bloomberg, Greg Stohr reports that “[t]he justices will consider the Trump administration’s bid to limit the evidence that can be used in the challenge, which has been the subject of a trial in federal court in New York.” Hansi Lo Wang reports at NPR that “[t]he high court will weigh whether Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross can be deposed and what other evidence can be considered.” Additional coverage comes from Lyle Denniston at Constitution Daily, Lawrence Hurley at Reuters, Richard Wolf for USA Today, Lydia Wheeler at The Hill, and Deanna Paul and Robert Barnes for The Washington Post.

    On Friday, the Supreme Court was asked to substitute Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein for Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker as the respondent in a pending cert petition in a gun-rights case, on the ground that that Whitaker’s appointment violated both a federal statute governing Justice Department succession and the appointments clause of the Constitution. Steve Vladeck covers the motion for this blog. At Law.com, Marcia Coyle reports that “[l]egal scholars, members of Congress and others across the political spectrum have debated the legality of Whitaker’s appointment, and [this] court filing marked the latest challenge to the designation of Whitaker as acting attorney general.” Additional coverage comes from Jess Bravin and Brent Kendall for The Wall Street Journal, Adam Liptak for The New York Times, Devlin Barrett for The Washington Post, Lawrence Hurley at Reuters, Richard Wolf and Kevin Johnson for USA Today, Greg Stohr at Bloomberg, Lydia Wheeler at The Hill and Mary Papenfuss at BuzzFeed News. [Disclosure: Goldstein & Russell, P.C., whose attorneys contribute to this blog in various capacities, is among the counsel to the petitioner in this motion.]


    • Zoe Tillman reports for BuzzFeed News that “US Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh received an enthusiastic welcome at this year’s Federalist Society convention, with hundreds of members of the influential conservative lawyers group erupting into cheers and applause when his name was announced at the kick-off dinner” last week.
    • At The Progressive, Bill Blum suggests that “expanding the number of Supreme Court justices” would “not only allow for [Justices Ruth Bader] Ginsburg and [Stephen] Breyer to step down, if they so choose, but would also permit the appointment of younger justices who would be capable of preventing the present conservative bloc from returning American jurisprudence to the late 19th century.”

    We rely on our readers to send us links for our round-up.  If you have or know of a recent (published in the last two or three days) article, post, podcast, or op-ed relating to the Supreme Court that you’d like us to consider for inclusion in the round-up, please send it to roundup [at] scotusblog.com. Thank you!

    The post Monday round-up appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

  • Fire Crews Making Progress On California Wildfires

    Read more of this story here from Newsy Headlines by Newsy Headlines.

    Watch Video

    Survivors of the deadliest wildfire in California history gathered together Sunday to hold a vigil for victims in the town of Paradise. 

    So far, the Camp Fire has killed 77 people, scorched at least 150,000 acres and destroyed more than 13,000 structures. As of Sunday night, fire crews have it 65 percent contained.

    Firefighters are also battling the Woolsey Fire at the other end of the state. So far, it's burned more than 96,000 acres and killed three people — bringing the statewide death toll from the fires up to 80.

    Up until now, both blazes have been fueled at least partly by high winds and dry conditions, but meteorologists say rain is finally in the forecast later this week. 

    But the predicted downpours are reportedly a double-edged sword. The water should help douse the flames, but it's also supposed to bring gusty winds that could make fire behavior erratic.

    The rain could also slow down the search for more victims of the two wildfires, by washing away evidence like bone fragments. 

    Just for the area hit by the Camp Fire, almost 1,000 people are still unaccounted for. Though officials have cautioned that some of the names on their list could be people who evacuated and are staying in areas where the cell service is down. 

    Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN.

  • The Dangers That Lurk Behind Trump’s Paris Fiasco

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Rajan Menon / TomDispatch.

    You’ve probably had your fill of the media coverage, punditry, tweets, and wisecracks surrounding President Trump’s controversial trip to Paris, officially undertaken to honor the Allied soldiers, especially the Americans, who perished in France during World War I. By now, we’re used to the president’s words and deeds prompting eye-rolling and jokes. But on this occasion, as on others, Trump’s behavior reflects deeper and dangerous political trends — ones he both exemplifies and fosters. This makes the Paris drama worth revisiting.

    Getting Away From It All

    Maybe it wasn’t quite a “blue wave” in the House of Representatives (though it certainly qualified as a “pink wave”). Still, the Democrats did remarkably well in this month’s congressional elections, better than in any midterms since 1974. They seem set to gain between 35 and 40 seats (a few contests remain undecided), including in places Trump carried decisively in 2016.

    Of course, a House run by a Democratic majority isn’t good news for Donald Trump — and he knows it. The prospect of subpoenas demanding his tax returns and documents relating to his business deals (among other things) and the possibility of impeachment, even if not conviction in the Senate, are enough to worry a man who spends most of his time thinking about himself.

    That’s why the president fired Attorney General Jeff Sessions the minute the election results became clear. He’d never forgiven Sessions for recusing himself from overseeing Robert Mueller’s investigation and was happy to replace him with a manifestly unqualified loyalist, Matt Whitaker, a “great guy” he knew well until he didn’t know him at all. Whitaker was a safe choice; his opposition to the Mueller probe was already well established. Trump’s decision to appoint him as acting attorney general may or may notbe unconstitutional — leave that to the legal mavens — but the blatantly political and self-interested urge behind it was evident, and not just to liberals.

    Given his burden of worries, then, Trump had good reason to regard his Paris trip, planned well in advance, as an opportunity to escape Washington and revel in the pomp and pageantry that mark presidential trips abroad. This one, however, turned out to be anything but a pleasant distraction because, once again, Donald Trump proved to be not only his own best friend, but also his own worst enemy.

    A PR Debacle in Paris

    No sooner had Air Force One touched down in Paris than the president in his usual fashion made news, drawing attention to his impulsiveness, his vindictiveness, and his contempt for facts. The medium — no surprise here — was his cherished political weapon, Twitter, from which he seems no more capable of separating himself than a melting-down child can from his pacifier or favorite stuffed animal. Trump on Twitter is Trump in the raw: all id, without a scintilla of superego.

    On this occasion, even before Air Force One touched down in Paris, he took aim at his host, French President Emmanuel Macron, whom he accused of saying, in a radio interview, that the United States was among the threats against which Europe needed to build a “true European army.” (“President Macron of France has just suggested that Europe build its own military in order to protect itself from the U.S., China and Russia. Very insulting, but perhaps Europe should first pay its fair share of NATO, which the U.S. subsidizes greatly!”) Quelle horreur!

    The president’s outburst, in classically Trumpian syntax, triggered a backlash that brings to mind a quip about 1950s Secretary of State John Foster Dulles that British historian Andrew Roberts attributes to Winston Churchill: “He’s the only bull I know who takes his china closet with him.”

    As it happens, Macron hadn’t painted the United States as an enemy in his actual interview. He did urge Europeans to become more independent militarily and more generally reduce their dependence on Washington. So what? Trump himself had long demanded just that. He did so even beforebecoming the Republican presidential nominee and has never stopped since. He complains continually that NATO states are ripping off America, devoting less of their gross domestic product to military expenditures than does the United States, while leaving it to Uncle Sam to protect them.

    Reading Trump’s fiery tweet you might have believed that Macron had portrayed the U.S. as an actual military threat to Europe on par with the Russians. He did, in fact, mention the United States while discussing the threats anti-democratic movements and radical nationalism posed to the continent. He also claimed that Europe would be “the principal victim” of Trump’s recent unilateral decision to scrap the 1987 Cold War era treaty on Intermediate-Range Nuclear Forces (INF). The American president’s characterization of his comments, however, was simply false.

    Nor were Macron’s observations about the United States baseless. Trump and National Security Advisor John Bolton despise multilateral institutions, including the European Union (EU). When asked during an interview with CBS Evening News this summer to list America’s “biggest foe,” the president included the EU, citing its trade policies. Ditto multilateralism. In what was widely seen in France as a snub, his schedule didn’t even include Macron’s maiden Paris Peace Forum, created to foster international cooperation on transnational issues.

    As for Trump’s defenestration of the INF treaty, it does indeed threaten Europe’s security. That agreement holds the singular distinction of having eliminated an entire category of nuclear arms — about 2,700 missiles — thereby reducing the chances that the two Cold War superpowers would turn Europe into a nuclear battleground. Bolton has long opposed the treaty and his appointment probably sealed its fate. The administration withdrew from the agreement without any serious consultations with European allies, despite its obvious importance to them. Nor did Trump’s foreign policy team make serious efforts to ascertain whether negotiations might address U.S. concerns about Russia’s Novator 9M729, a new missile whose range appears to contravene the treaty’s limits.

    Give the president credit for consistency, though. He again demonstrated that he doesn’t require Twitter to make waves (which often leave him drenched). Though he routinely flaunts his patriotism and reverence for the U.S. military, he failed to turn up at the AisneMarne American Cemetery, which contains the graves of 2,289 U.S. Marines killed while fighting five German divisions in the brutal June 1918 Battle of Belleau Wood. The White House communications staff chalked up Trump’s absence from this scheduled appearance to rain and the poor visibility that grounded Marine One, the president’s helicopter. But presidential trips always have a Plan B for just such contingencies and Aisne is only about 50 miles from Paris. White House Chief of Staff John Kelly and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs General Joseph Dunford both managed to make it by car, as did French President Macron and German Prime Minister Angela Merkel. Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau even paid homage to the Canadian dead at a burial site slightly more than 100 miles from the French capital, also in the rain.

    In a clumsy bid to stem mounting criticism, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders invoked Trump’s bottomless regard for the convenience of Parisians. The president, she said, was loath to disrupt that city’s traffic flows with a last-minute motorcade. Trump later visited an American military cemetery near the city, but the damage was done. The criticism came fast and furious — and, adding insult to injury, largely via Twitter. Winston Churchill’s grandson called Trump a “pathetic inadequate” for failing to brave rain in order to honor fallen soldiers. Britain’s Defense Minister noted acidly that “thankfully, rain did not prevent our brave soldiers from doing their job,” while the French Army similarly mocked him. Michael Hayden, the former CIA and NSA director under President George W. Bush, reacted to a photo of world leaders walking together without Trump in attendance with this: “WHAT (Actually, what the ****, but you know what I mean.)” And before the trip was over, it would only get worse.

    NATO “Diplomacy” à laTrump

    Trump’s conduct in Paris was anything but an aberration. Take his attacks on NATO allies for failing to carry more of the burden for Europe’s defense. Now, it’s certainly reasonable to suggest that the current purpose of a Cold War alliance should be rethought. It’s also proper to ask why its European members, whose combined gross domestic product (GDP), according to NATO data, is about $17 trillion (versus $19.5 trillion for the United States), can’t devote more money to their own defense. Of course, the GDP of the putative threat, Russia, is only around $1.5 trillion — less than Canada’s and slightly more than Spain’s. Just four of NATO’s 29 European members have met the two-percent-of-GDP target for military spending that the alliance agreed on years ago, and 15 allocate less than 1.5% (compared to 3.5% for the U.S.).

    So, yes, what the wonks call “burden-sharing” should certainly be on the table, but that’s not all that should be there. Trump harps on military spending as a percentage of GDP while slamming NATO allies as slackers and free riders, but he never asks why American defense spending (just shy of $700 billion for 2018) needs to be as large as it is: greater than that of the next 14countries combined. In other words, is the problem Europe’s military stinginess or America’s global profligacy? Can European military “weaknesses” be attributed solely to insufficient spending? What about a host of other things like rampant duplication in the manufacturing of major armaments? And anyway, how meaningful is a comparison between the military budgets of European states whose armed forces have a largely continental mission and the military spending of a country whose forces are basedacross the planet and involved in a host of wars and conflicts?

    But such matters are of no interest to President Trump. His NATO policy, if it can even be called that, consists largely of impromptu one-liners, insults, threats, false statements, and gross inconsistencies of all kinds. Typically, in 2017, he insisted to the German newspaper Bild that NATO was “obsolete,” only to backtrack a few months later at a news conference with NATO’s secretary general standing beside him. “I said it was obsolete. It’s no longer obsolete,” he claimed, insisting that the alliance hadn’t previously fought terror and now was doing so — a thoroughly fantastical claim.

    On other occasions, he’s cast doubt on whether the United States would even defend NATO states under attack, no matter the obligations in Article V of the treaty that created the alliance. This July, he added to the uncertainty by offering a scenario for just such a situation: “So let’s say Montenegro — which joined last year — is attacked.  Why should my son go to Montenegro to defend it from attack? Why is that?” (Of course, his children are no more likely to be in the now-all-volunteer U.S. military than he was.)

    On November 12th, hard on the heels of his Paris fiasco, he again declared, on Twitter (naturally): “It is time that these very rich countries either pay the United States for its great military protection, or protect themselves… and Trade must be FREE and FAIR!” The United States, he complained, was providing this expensive service “for the great privilege of losing hundreds of billions of dollars with these same countries on trade.” We get nothing, he added, “but Trade Deficits and Losses.” In the weird world of Trumponomics, success in trade apparently requires that the U.S. run a surplus with every country it buys from and sells to. (What if all countries took that position?)

    If his true aim was to reform the NATO alliance, the last thing he’d do would be continue tweeting intemperately in the rain. If, however, you don’t care a whit about NATO or the European Union and what you actually want is to dominate the news cycle, while whipping up your base, then that’s exactly what you do. Besides, presenting U.S. support for NATO — for, that is, a set of countries that since 1945 have never said “no” to Washington on more or less anything — as a social service or an act of charity is a bit rich.

    Leading NATO is one of the roles that has long enabled American leaders and the Washington foreign policy establishment to brag about being, as former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously said, the planet’s “indispensable nation” — allowing American presidents to travel the world preening like emperors while inspecting their provinces. Europe may be the world’s second most important center of economic power, but its dependency on Washington for its security has long ensured that it would play second fiddle to the United States. Moreover, NATO is a central element in the worldwide network of military bases the United States uses for projecting its power far and wide.

    As if the backlash from his initial Twitter attack on Macron didn’t faintly satisfy him, the president went at it again as soon as he returned to Washington. He promptly mocked the French president’s proposal (which German Chancellor Angela Merkel quickly endorsed) for a European military force with a sneering putdown: “Emmanuel Macron suggests building its own army to protect Europe against the U.S., China, and Russia. But it was Germany in World Wars One & Two — How did that work out for France? They were starting to learn German in Paris before the U.S. came along. Pay for NATO or not!” Not only was the jibe tasteless, it was another instance of Trump being fact-free as Macron had never called for a European army to counter a potentially American military strike.

    Besides, given Trump’s fulminations about Europeans freeriding at America’s expense, why wasn’t he happy to hear that continent’s leaders talking about becoming more militarily self-sufficient? But perhaps what the president really wants is for Europe to write Uncle Sam yearly checks, while sticking with NATO and remaining a subordinate principality whose leaders he can insult at whim.

    Trump and Europe’s “Nationalist” Right

    Add to all of this one more factor: President Trump’s clear sympathy for far-right, xenophobic movements (and their admiration for him), especially at a time when such extreme nationalist groups have become the biggest threat to democracy and tolerance within the European Union.

    Here again, his incendiary statements have been anything but one-off gaffes; they have been systematic and, as in Paris, ongoing. While still the president-elect, he volunteered that Nigel Farage, the interim leader of the right-wing, nativist UK Independence Party who had voiced support for Trump’s presidential aspirations, would do “a great job” as British ambassador to the United States. Farage pronounced himself “very flattered” and was clearly taken by the idea, but Number 10 Downing Street, not amused, retorted tartly, “There is no vacancy. We have an excellent ambassador to the U.S.” As it happened, Trump got together with Farage before he even held his first official meeting with Prime Minister Theresa May.

    And when it came to praising xenophobic European politicians, Farage was just the first European version of a Trumpian-style politician to get in line. There’s Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban, who’s been busily eroding his country’s democratic institutions, whipping up anti-immigrant sentiment and Islamophobia, closing his border to refugees from war-torn countries, emitting anti-Semitic dog whistles, and posing as the protector of Hungary’s “Christian culture.” He acclaimed Trump’s America First nationalism as a death knell for multilateralism. In turn, Trump and his team have warmed to Orban. This August, Trump’s friend and recently appointed ambassador to Hungary, David Cornstein, gushed that the president admired Orban because the latter was “a very strong leader.” Trump has yet to host Orban at the White House, but the prime minister’s top officials have met with Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo.

    Then there’s the Polish government led by that country’s Law and Justice Party (PiS). Its ideology is a kissing cousin’s to Orban’s, so much so that Polish leader Jaroslaw Kaczynski has praised the Hungarian prime minister as an ally in resisting the EU’s insistence on democratic governance. No matter: while visiting Poland in July 2017, Trump hailed that PiS-ruled country as a defender of Western values, despite its government’s attacks on the independence of the Polish judiciary and media. This September, one day after the EU referred Poland to the European Court of Justice for politicizing its judicial system, Trump, in a speech to the U.N. General Assembly, again lauded that country for the way its people were defending “their independence, their security, and their sovereignty.”

    Also noteworthy is the mutual admiration between Trump and France’s far-right National Front. In February 2017, its leader, Marine Le Pen, who would later run against Macron for the French presidency, exclaimed: “I have only reason to rejoice in Donald Trump’s actions” and Trump in turn hailed her “as the strongest candidate… strongest on borders… and she’s the strongest on what’s been going on in France.” She lost to Macron, but this February, her niece, Marion Maréchal-Le Pen (she later dropped the “Le Pen”), a rising star in the National Front who may become its leader someday, joined President Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and Nigel Farage in addressing the Conservative Political Action Conference and praised Trump’s America First narrative.

    Then there’s Matteo Salvini, Italy’s deputy prime minister and leader of the far-right, immigrant-bashing Northern League. He dreams of a future alliance among Europe’s ultranationalist parties, as does former Trump adviser Steve Bannon. Salvini met Trump in 2016, backed his quest for the presidency, and then released a photograph of both of them smiling in a thumbs-up pose and another of him holding a Trump campaign poster. This September, by then perhaps the most influential member of Italy’s new government, he offered a blanket endorsement of Trump’s policies. Steve Bannon met the Italian leader that month and, while speaking of his plan to form a trans-Europe populist alliance, reported that “we have Salvini on board.”

    It’s telling that Trump favors the most anti-democratic European governments and movements, the ones that peddle bigotry, while choosing to pick fights with the leaders of BritainGermany, and now France. It’s no less revealing that other European far-right figures find him so appealing. None of this, however, should be surprising. The narratives of Europe’s right and the president’s rhetoric overlap, as do the policies they favor.

    And it never ends: the vitriolic tweets, the falsehoods, the fondness for far-right groups, the penchant for demeaning allies. It’s easy enough to take all of this as just the White House’s ongoing version of Saturday Night Live. But that would be a mistake. Behind it lurks a future in which nationalism could shatter Europe, proving hazardous for Europeans and Americans alike.

  • Hemp fields offer a late-season pollen source for stressed bees

    Read more of this story here from Latest Headlines | Science News by Susan Milius.

    Colorado’s legal fields of low-THC cannabis can attract a lot of bees.
  • How Police Make Unsolved Rape Cases Look Like Successes

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Bernice Yeung / Reveal.

    Andy Leisher didn’t like what he was seeing on the security cameras from his post at the front desk of the Ramada Inn in Janesville, Wisconsin. On the closed-circuit television in front of him, Leisher watched as a man in his 30s kissed what appeared to be a teenager in the motel hot tub.

    It put him on alert. “It just felt awkward,” Leisher said of the scene. “She just seemed really young, and he seemed really old. Or too old to be with her.”

    When Leisher, a part-time pastor, confirmed that the girl was 16, he called the police. A few hours later, police arrested 31-year-old Bryan Kind, and he was charged with having sex with a child and possession of child pornography. He’s pleaded not guilty.

    After collecting Kind’s cellphones, Janesville police also found naked photos of a girl from Maryland, and they sent the information to authorities there.

    It wasn’t news to the Baltimore County Police Department. About a month before the May 2017 arrest, the department closed its investigation into Kind on allegations that he had sex with a 13-year-old girl.

    It went on Baltimore County’s books as a success, another rape case cleared.

    But Kind had walked free. He wasn’t charged with any crime. The Police Department hadn’t arrested him, even though it had a thick investigative file on him.

    Across the country, dozens of law enforcement agencies are making it appear as though they have solved a significant share of their rape cases when they simply have closed them, according to an investigation by Newsy, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting and ProPublica based on data from more than 60 police agencies nationwide.

    They are able to declare cases resolved through what’s known as exceptional clearance. Federal guidelines allow police to use the classification when they have enough evidence to make an arrest and know who and where the suspect is, but can’t make an arrest for reasons outside their control.

    Although criminal justice experts say the designation is supposed to be used sparingly, our data analysis shows that many departments rely heavily on exceptional clearance, which can make it appear that they are better at solving rape cases than they actually are.

    Because exceptional clearance data is not readily accessible to the public, we read through hundreds of police reports and sent more than 100 public records requests to the largest law enforcement agencies in the country. We analyzed data for more than 70,000 rape cases, providing an unprecedented look at how America’s police close them.

    Nearly half of the law enforcement agencies that provided records cleared more rapes through exceptional means than by actually arresting a suspect in 2016, the data analysis shows.

    The Baltimore County Police Department, for example, reported to the public that it cleared 70 percent of its rape cases in 2016, nearly twice the national average. In reality, the department made arrests about 30 percent of the time, according to its internal data. The rest were exceptionally cleared.

    About a dozen departments that provided data had twice as many exceptional clearances as arrests in 2016. To the public, this effectively made it seem as though they had solved three times the number of rapes that they actually had.

    For example, the Oakland Police Department in California cleared 60 percent of rapes reported in 2016, according to agency data. For every case they resolved through arrest, Oakland police cleared more than three by exceptional means, data provided by the department shows.

    In Hillsborough County, Florida, home to Tampa, the Sheriff’s Office cleared 12 percent of rapes in 2016 by arrest. It cleared more than three times as many by exceptional means.

    In Austin, Texas, where 2 out of 3 cleared rape investigations were closed by exceptional means in 2016, Police Chief Brian Manley said the high numbers are driven by the fact that so few victims decide to cooperate with police.

    “It’s the unfortunate reality of sexual assault in this country,” he said.

    Officials from Baltimore County, Oakland and Hillsborough County declined to comment about their exceptional clearance rates.

    Cassia Spohn is the director of Arizona State University’s School of Criminology and Criminal Justice and a co-author of seminal research on exceptional clearance. She said agencies’ overuse of exceptional clearance is “misleading at best and duplicitous at worst.”

    “The public is concerned about the degree to which the police are able to arrest individuals who commit serious violent crimes,” Spohn said. “And if the vast majority of those clearances do not involve the arrest of a suspect, what does that say about that law enforcement agency?”


    In November 2015, the stepfather of a 13-year-old girl from the suburbs of Baltimore went to the local Child Advocacy Center, run by the police department, to report that Bryan Kind, a 29-year-old man, was using a mobile app to chat with his stepdaughter in a way that he found alarming and inappropriate.

    The case that emerged would become an example of how police departments close investigations by exceptional clearance without having fully exhausted all available avenues. It also represents a case in which the classification was used improperly.

    The stepfather’s report originally was made to Cpl. Stacey McDaniel of the Howard County Police Department, who took on the investigation. Over the course of nearly a year, she collected evidence and hours of videotaped interviews in an effort to support the claim that Kind was having sex with the teen.

    A review of the police file shows that although the girl initially denied having sex with Kind, McDaniel was patient in developing a relationship with the girl over time. After three conversations over about seven months, the teen eventually felt comfortable sharing details about their relationship with the detective.

    McDaniel learned that in the summer of 2014, when the girl was 12, she started using a mobile app called Kik to message Kind, whom she’d met online. Their online romance flourished based on what she says were shared interests, such as cooking and car shows, which the girl watched on YouTube.

    They both also liked Shakespeare. “We would always relate ourselves to Romeo and Juliet. It’s like, ‘When you’re here, oh everything’s fine and I would die without you,’ ” the teen told McDaniel.

    When the teen’s parents found out about her online chatting with Kind, they took away her phone and messaged Kind to tell him to stop talking to their daughter. But Kind began sending her handwritten letters, she told police. For a while, the girl borrowed her friends’ phones at school to chat with Kind until he sent her a new one, which she kept under her mattress.

    In June 2015, Kind offered to drive 10 hours from Gladwin, Michigan, to see the girl. About a month later, the teen said he visited again and they went to Wendy’s for lunch and then to a motel, where they had sex, according to the police report. Afterward, they went to a pizza place nearby and he dropped her off at her house. They met up again at the motel the next day and had sex again, she said.

    Almost two months later, Kind returned to see the girl, who cut middle school to meet him. They had lunch at Applebee’s and played mini golf. Then they went to the same motel as before.

    In addition to earning the teen’s trust, McDaniel also collected emails that Kind and the teen had sent each other and found the motel where they allegedly had sex. The detective subpoenaed the guest registry for the motel to show that Kind paid for a room in cash on the three days the girl recalled him taking her there.

    But it turned out that the motel where the alleged crimes had taken place was outside McDaniel’s jurisdiction. About a year into the investigation, she was forced to turn it over to the neighboring law enforcement agency, the Baltimore County Police Department. Howard County police declined to comment or make McDaniel available for an interview.

    Despite receiving a thorough and documented investigation, Baltimore County police let the case falter. The case file went to Detective Dana Kaczynski, who did not interview the suspect or attempt to arrest him.

    His efforts were focused on reaching the girl’s family. The detective called her mother, who told him that her daughter was doing well, and she would speak with her family about moving forward with the investigation.

    Over the next six months, Kaczynski tried calling the teen’s mother several more times. He never heard back, so he sent a letter.

    “As I have investigated these types of cases for many years, I understand the impact and stress on the family,” the detective wrote in April 2017. “Since I have not heard from you, my intention is to suspend my investigation for now. It can, however, be reopened in the future, if desired.”

    About two weeks after sending the letter, the detective closed the case, and on the final page of the police report, it says the case was cleared by exceptional means.

    In doing so, the department was able to present the case to the public as solved.

    In recognition that crime investigation is complicated, law enforcement is able to forego making arrests – even when officials have enough evidence to do so and know who the suspect is – if there are specific circumstances out of their control.

    These exceptional circumstances include situations in which the suspect dies or already has been arrested elsewhere. In rape cases, the most common reasons police clear cases this way are because a victim won’t cooperate or a prosecutor declines to take the case forward, experts say. Police also are supposed to have probable cause to make an arrest.

    In the Kind case, there was a known suspect and evidence, but a victim who did not want to cooperate with police. When Baltimore County reviewed the case at our request, spokesman Shawn Vinson said the department in fact didn’t have probable cause to make an arrest. This would make the case an improper use of exceptional clearance.

    Instead, the department could have suspended the case or left it open for further investigation. In either scenario, it wouldn’t have been able to present it as cleared.

    The Baltimore County Police Department did not make Kaczynski available for comment.

    Ultimately, the suspect went on to be accused of having sex with another underage girl in Wisconsin.

    Tom McDevitt is a retired lieutenant with the Philadelphia Police Department who helped develop a national model for handling sex crimes. He reviewed the Kind investigative file generated by both police departments in Maryland.

    He said more could have been done before closing the case by exceptional means. For example, either department could have interviewed the suspect to see whether they could elicit a confession or gotten a search warrant to seize his phone and computer.

    “You’ve got to look at these cases, that every single one of them has a potential to be a serial rapist,” he said.

    Vinson acknowledged that the Baltimore County Police Department “could have taken extra steps in this case,” though he would not say what those specific steps should have been.

    He said the agency reopened the investigation following our queries into how it was handled. However, the victim still has not expressed a willingness to participate in the investigation or prosecution, Vinson said, so the case has been suspended.

    Kind did not respond to requests for comment directed to him or his attorney about the allegations made against him in Wisconsin or Maryland. He told a detective in Wisconsin that he didn’t have sex with the girl there.

    Beyond the Kind case, there are wider concerns about the way the Baltimore County Police Department is handling rape cases. A lawsuit filed in September by two women alleges that the department has tried to put an overly positive spin on its clearance rates by misclassifying rape cases as either a “suspicious circumstance” or closing too many cases by exceptional means.

    The Police Department has not yet filed a legal response to the allegations related to how it closes cases and declined to discuss its use of exceptional clearance, citing the pending lawsuit.


    In Austin, the Police Department touts its high clearance rates to illustrate to the public and local politicians that it is effective in solving crimes.

    In June 2016, Brian Manley went before the City Council to ask for more money for his department. Using slides and statistics, he showed how the department’s case clearances for violent crimes, including rape, “far exceed” the national average. He also noted that clearance rates are a “very critical and appropriate measure of our performance.”

    At a February 2017 meeting, a city councilman asked Manley – then the interim police chief – how he should interpret police clearance rates.

    “Clearance rates show the effectiveness of the work we’re doing,” Manley said. “So if we had a lower clearance rate than the national average, or if we saw a drop, then maybe we don’t have enough resources dedicated to a certain unit.”

    “We want a high clearance rate,” he said.

    But Sgt. Elizabeth Donegan said the department’s use of exceptional clearance provides a false impression to the public. She had a firsthand view of how the department operated as a supervisor of its Sex Crimes Unit for nine years.

    Her superiors pressured her to close more rape cases by exceptional means, she said in an interview.

    “I had been told on two different occasions from the same commander under two different lieutenants that I needed to go back in and look at these cases that were suspended and change the clearance code because we were not up to the national average of exceptional clearance in Austin,” she said.

    Donegan says she never changed the clearance numbers as she was asked.

    “It gives a false sense to the community that this case has been thoroughly investigated and it’s closed,” said Donegan, who retired last year as a sergeant in the Sex Offender Apprehension and Registration Unit. “It’s not truthful.”

    In 2011, Donegan was transferred out of the Sex Crimes Unit. The next year, the share of rapes cleared by exceptional means jumped more than 50 percent, our data analysis shows.

    Donegan says there’s a culture within policing that overemphasizes closing cases because these numbers are presented to the public, and they’re the metric by which the department and police chief often are judged.

    A nationally recognized trainer on sexual assault investigations, Donegan said clearance rates are the wrong measure for judging good police work. “All of these numbers at the end really mean nothing if we haven’t done a thorough investigation,” she said.

    The Austin Police Department acknowledged that our analysis, which found the increase in exceptional clearances between 2011 and 2012, is accurate. The department said the rates jumped after it discovered some cases were being misclassified as suspended instead of exceptionally cleared because victims didn’t cooperate with the investigation.

    “We are responsible for reporting appropriately, so it was the right thing to do to make that change,” Manley said.

    Manley said that just prior to our interview, he confirmed with the Texas Department of Public Safety that his department is using the correct criteria to clear cases.

    State officials, however, said they had not reviewed the Austin Police Department’s cases and merely provided the department with a definition of exceptional clearance.

    As for Donegan’s claims that she was asked to reclassify cases, Manley said he believes she is trustworthy, but there was a “difference of opinions on what the appropriate way to clear cases were,” Manley said.

    In the past six years, the Austin Police Department has exceptionally cleared more than 1,400 rape cases, according to our analysis. Manley confirmed the findings.

    Austin’s handling of sexual assault cases is currently under scrutiny after a class-action lawsuit called into question the operations of both the Police Department and district attorney’s office.

    Marina Conner, a student at the University of Texas at Austin, is one of the women who brought the case. She says she was raped in 2015 in a parking garage by a man who tried to sell her drugs after a night out with friends. She was drunk, and he slammed her head against a wall before raping her, she said.

    “I remember crying,” she said. “I remember saying, ‘Stop,’ and ‘No,’ and I remember the pain mostly.”

    She had a sexual assault forensic exam done. On the form, under “Impressions from the exam,” the examiner wrote “sexual assault,” among other findings.

    Conner reported the crime to the police. Law enforcement officials found her alleged assailant, and he told them that he’d had consensual sex with Conner.

    Her case eventually was rejected by the district attorney.

    The Travis County district attorney’s office told Conner that it turned down her case because there was no DNA evidence found in the rape kit, she said. She said prosecutors were concerned about the “CSI effect,” or the expectation by a jury that DNA evidence is necessary to get a conviction.

    Margaret Moore, the district attorney in Travis County, declined to discuss Conner’s case, citing pending litigation. In a statement, Moore said: “Probable cause to arrest does not equate with sufficient evidence to go forward with prosecution in any type of complaint.”

    When prosecutors decline cases in which police have identified a suspect and have probable cause to make an arrest, the police can exceptionally clear the case. That’s how the Austin Police Department classified Conner’s case in 2017. In doing so, it was able to put forward to the public that her case had been solved.

    When we told Conner how her case was closed, she was outraged.

    “It sounds like a good thing if you tell someone a case was cleared – it doesn’t sound like I was violently raped and my rapist is still out there,” she said. “Makes me feel like I am being silenced, makes me feel like they’re trying to sweep rapes under the rug.”


    For decades, the federal government has been trying to transition to a more sophisticated crime tracking system that advocates say will give policymakers a better understanding of national trends. It also will bring greater transparency to how rape cases are cleared and why.

    But the more refined system creates another way for departments to make rape cases disappear.

    The National Incident-Based Reporting System now is in use by about 40 percent of law enforcement agencies, many of them small to midsize. It collects more granular data that allows users to distinguish exceptional clearances from arrests, and it requires agencies to explain why they are closing cases that way.

    But this more robust system doesn’t track cases classified as unfounded, which means police have deemed reports false or baseless. Law enforcement agencies have been criticized for misusing this designation for decades, leading to scandals in Baltimore, Philadelphia, New Orleansand elsewhere.

    The government task force that created the new system of crime data collection specifically recommended in 1985 that the Bureau of Justice Statistics continue to track unfounded cases. Neither the bureau nor the FBI could explain why the recommendation was not followed.

    Erica Smith oversees the unit at the Bureau of Justice Statistics dedicated to implementing the more sophisticated crime statistics system. She said dropping unfounded cases from the data collection is unacceptable and she will work to get the federal government to correct the problem.

    “This was not on my radar at all,” Smith said. “If we’re losing a really critical piece of information in that process, I will not have done my job appropriately.”

    Our investigation found that the updated system routinely reports zero unfounded reports for the police agencies that use it.

    When we obtained records directly from 19 law enforcement agencies, beyond what they report to the new system, we found that seven had unfounded case rates above 10 percent. That’s higher than what previous research has shown to be the national average.

    The Prince William County Police Department in Virginia, for example, showed no unfounded cases in the government’s updated system in 2016. However, internal department records show that it classified nearly 40 percent of all rape cases as unfounded, the highest rate of any of the 19 departments from which we received records.

    In an interview, Prince William County Police Chief Barry M. Barnard acknowledged his department had an unusually high rate of unfounded cases. As a result of our queries, he has asked for a formal review of 39 cases designated as unfounded in 2017.

    More than 10 percent of rape cases had been misclassified as unfounded, the review found. However, he said he is confident that the cases were investigated properly.

    “I think we have some work to do,” he said. “When should a case be made unfounded? When should it not? When should it be cleared this way? When should it be kept active? I think we need to put those definitions into our sexual assault response policies. And we need to train our staff, and then we’re going to have regular reviews of our unfounded cases.”

    The FBI has not responded to multiple requests for comment on the apparent flaw in its data collection system for unfounded cases.

    Experts say they’re concerned that the way data is collected is distorting how police approach rapes and other crimes.

    “The act of data collection is shaping behavior,” said David Jaros, a law professor at the University of Baltimore and a former criminal defense attorney. “So much of how sex offense cases are handled is based on the incentives of the actors dealing with them.”

    Jaros said there are organizational pressures for law enforcement agencies to make their crime and clearance rates look good, increasing the appeal of exceptional clearances and labeling cases as unfounded. Prosecutors’ offices are equally under pressure to keep their conviction rates high, even if it means passing on more cases than they should, he said.

    Corey Rayburn Yung, a law professor at the University of Kansas who studies criminal law procedure and sex crimes, said “statistics-driven policing” has created scandal after scandal when it’s discovered that law enforcement agencies have gamed their numbers related to how they process rape cases.

    Yung said rape is particularly susceptible to manipulation because it is underreported and doesn’t have the same kind of external checks that other major crimes do. Murder can be checked against vital health statistics, for example, and robbery can be tracked independently using insurance data.

    The overuse of exceptional clearance is just the latest example of how law enforcement can make rape cases go away, he said.

    “This pattern has happened over and over,” Yung said of rape crime statistics subterfuge. “Usually, the department cleans house, brings in new people, and it happens again.”

  • Are We About to Face Our Gravest Constitutional Crisis?

    Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Chris Hedges.

    Before this lame-duck Congress adjourns in December we could face the most serious constitutional crisis in the history of the republic if Donald Trump attempts to shut down the investigation by special counsel Robert S. Mueller III.

    A supine and pliant Republican Party, still in control of the House and the Senate, would probably not challenge Trump. The Supreme Court, which would be the final arbiter in any legal challenge to the president, would probably not rule against him. And his cultish followers, perhaps 40 million Americans, would respond enthusiastically to his trashing of democratic institutions and incitements of violence against the press, the Democratic Party leadership, his critics and all who take to the streets in protest. The United States by Christmas, if Trump plays this card, could become a full-blown authoritarian state where the rule of law no longer exists and the president is a despot.

    Trump has flouted the Constitution since taking office. He has obstructed justice by firing the director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, James Comey, and Attorney General Jeff Sessions, replacing Sessions with the Trump partisan Matthew Whitaker. The president regularly ridicules the Mueller investigation and insults its leader. In a tweet last week he called the investigation a “witch hunt,” a “total mess” and “absolutely nuts,” and he went on to assert that Mueller and his investigators were “screaming and shouting at people” to make them provide “the answers they want.” He called those involved in the probe “a disgrace to our nation.”

    He has repeatedly delivered diatribes against the press as “the enemy of the people,” belittled, mocked and insulted reporters during press conferences and defended his revoking of the White House press credentials of a CNN reporter. He and his family openly use the presidency for self-enrichment, often by steering lobbyists and foreign officials to Trump’s hotels and golf courses. He has peddled numerous conspiracy theories to discredit U.S. elections and deployed military troops along the southern border to resist an “invasion” of migrants. However, an attempt to fire Mueller and shut down the investigation would obliterate the Constitution as a functional document. There would be one last gasp of democracy by those of us who protest. It is not certain we would succeed.

    The potential crisis the nation faces is far more serious than the one that occurred when it was revealed that President Richard Nixon had funded and covered up the June 17, 1972, burglary at Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate complex in Washington. (Nixon’s lying about the secret bombing of Cambodia, which occurred from March 18, 1969, to May 26, 1970, and killed over half a million people, was, like all crimes of empire, never formally addressed and was not cited in the impeachment documents that were prepared.) The institutions tasked with defending democracy and the rule of law were far more robust during the Nixon constitutional crisis: There were Republicans in the Congress willing to hold the president accountable to the law; the courts were independent; the press had widespread credibility. In addition, the president met the onslaught of charges and revelations by retreating from the public. None of this is true now. Trump, with Fox News acting as a megaphone for his hate speech and conspiracy theories, has been holding Nuremberg-like rallies across the country to prepare the roughly 40 percent of the public who remain loyal to him to become shock troops. His followers are filled with hate and resentment for the elites who betrayed them. They are hungry for revenge. They do not live in a fact-based universe. And they are awash in weapons.

    “Trump knows once the Democrats control the House, they can subpoena the records of his administration,” Ralph Nader said when I reached him by phone in Connecticut. “He’s going to want to get this over with, even if it sparks a constitutional crisis, while the Republicans still control the Congress. There’s little doubt this will all come to a head before the Christmas holidays. Unfortunately for Mueller, he has not issued a subpoena to the president that would have protected him [Mueller]. If he had issued a subpoena, which he has every right to do, especially after being rebuffed in hours and hours of private negotiations for information from the president, he would be protected. Once you issue a subpoena, you have a lot of law on your side. If Trump defied a subpoena, he would get in legal hot water. But short of a subpoena, it’s just political back and forth. By not issuing a subpoena Mueller is more vulnerable to Whitaker and Trump.”

    So far, there have been no hints from the Mueller investigation’s criminal charges or the guilty pleas by Trump associates that the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the 2016 presidential election. Paul Manafort, Trump’s former campaign chairman, was found guilty on eight of the 18 counts that Mueller brought against him, but none of his crimes had anything to do with the presidential election or Russian influence. Manafort’s financial crimes included five counts of tax fraud, one of hiding foreign bank accounts and two of bank fraud. These crimes predated the Trump campaign. Rick Gates, the former deputy campaign chairman, pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the United States and making false statements. George Papadopoulos spent 14 days in jail for lying to the FBI. Michael Cohen, Trump’s onetime lawyer, pleaded guilty to making illegal campaign contributions by paying hush money to the porn actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels, and Playboy model Karen McDougal. Cohen, due to be sentenced Dec. 12 in U.S. District Court in Manhattan on charges of tax evasion, making false statements to a bank and the two campaign contribution violations, appears to be cooperating with the investigation, like most of those who have been indicted.

    In February Mueller indicted 13 Russians and three Russian entities on charges of interfering in the 2016 U.S. elections, indictments that would not, I suspect, have taken place without hard evidence, but these indictments still do not appear to link the Trump campaign directly to Russia in an act of collusion. Perhaps the expected indictments of Roger Stone, reportedly for his alleged contacts with WikiLeaks, and Jerome Corsi, who said he expects to be indicted for “giving false information to the special counsel or to one of the other grand [juries],” will connect Trump and Russia, but until now the Mueller investigation appears to be focused on financial crimes, which appear rampant within the Trump business organization and among Trump associates. It is questionable, however, whether financial crimes will be enough to justify impeachment proceedings. Trump says he has finished answering written questions submitted to him from Mueller’s team and has promised to turn them over this week.

    “Trump is in a dimension by himself,” said Nader. “He has inured the public to all kinds of scandals, bad language, accusations, admissions, harassment of women, boasting about it, lying about his business and keeping his tax returns a secret. You have to have an even higher level of damning materials in the [Mueller] report in order to breach that level of inurement that the public has become accustomed to.”

    Trump wields the power of the presidential pardon and has suggested he can use it to pardon relatives and himself. There is no legal precedent for such pardons, but the Supreme Court would probably uphold whatever novel legal interpretation the Trump White House would use. Trump might also try to divert attention away from the political meltdown by starting another war.

    “Trump may try to save himself by starting hostilities abroad,” Nader said. “He is especially inclined to do this because of his extraordinary psychological instabilities and impulsiveness. He also has a monumental ego that lets him live in a fantasy world. The signal that he is planning this kind of move, a move he would carry out if he loses all other options to stay in office and be re-elected, will be if he replaces chief of staff John Kelly with a war hawk and his secretary of defense, James Mattis, with another war hawk. He has two war hawks who would like to see this happen. One is John Bolton, his national security adviser, and the other is the secretary of state, Mike Pompeo. Bolton and Pompeo have similar views about using military might abroad and ignoring constitutional, statutory and treaty restraints. They would like to see Kelly and Mattis removed. Pompeo, a graduate of West Point, has ambitions to become secretary of defense. If you see Kelly and Mattis replaced with warmongers, this move might reveal his ultimate trump card. He can use a war to shut down political opposition and dissent in the name of supporting the troops.”

    Trump has a few weeks before the Democrats take control of the House. This may give him enough time to carry out his constitutional coup and consolidate power. Our decayed democratic institutions, including a corporate press that has rendered the working class and the poor invisible and serves as an apologist for corporate power, are detested by many Trump Republicans. Trump can rally his cultish supporters, hermetically sealed in their non-reality-based belief system, to attack and demolish the last of our democratic protections.

    “We have a tremendous dearth of readiness by major constituencies such as civic groups, the legal profession, the business community and academia to deal with someone who misuses his authority, power and resources,” Nader warned. “Nobody knows how to do it more precisely, relentlessly, strategically and tactically than the cunning Donald J. Trump.”

    Editor’s note: See an Oct. 17 column by Chris Hedges on Ralph Nader’s latest book, “How the Rats Re-Formed Congress.”

Obstacle course races: A rising trend here to stay for the long haul

Read more of this story here from Arizona Sonora News Service by Alex DeMarzo/Arizona Sonora News.

Spartan Race participant climbing up an obstacle. (Photograph by: Alex DeMarzo/Arizona Sonora News)

As dawn appears over the Fort McDowell Rodeo Grounds in Phoenix, thousands gather to unleash their inner warrior as they compete in an obstacle course known as the Spartan Race.

According to a Running USA, annual obstacle course race participants surpassed the number of annual participants in marathons and half marathons in 2015. Running USA is non-profit organization created to improve the status and experience of distance running across America.

With similar races such as Warrior Dash, Tough Mudder and American Ninja Warrior, Spartan Race remains one of the leaders in this type of training.

Not just a military-style fitness competition, the Spartan Race is considered more of a lifestyle, mentality and community.

“Being a Spartan goes back to that old warrior mindset of training. Trying to be the hardest, most physically and mentally fit person you can possibly be,” said Christopher Tallant, coordinator of the mountain district for Spartan.

The Spartan lifestyle is considered a back-to-basics approach.

A woman participates in the 100-pound bag lift obstacle during the Spartan Race in Phoenix, Ariz. (Photograph by: Alex DeMarzo/ Arizona Sonora News)

Chris Chavez, a Spartan veteran, has competed in 28 races throughout the country in  four years. He considers his first race on Jan. 25, 2014, to be the his most impactful.

“My first race was a life-changing moment,” Chavez said. “At the time, I was unemployed, overweight, and depressed. I really just let life get to me and was in a terrible spot.”

He was fed up with life and wanted to make a change.

“After completing that first race, it had just destroyed me mentally, physically, and in really every single way imaginable. If it was any easier, it wouldn’t have as much of an impact it did on me,” Chavez said. “From that moment on, it lit a fire in me and I try to live to be better than I was the day before.”

In his youth, Chavez was diagnosed with Type 1 Diabetes. Every time he trains, he carries an insulin pump with him.

Since Chavez competed in his first race, he has lost 85 pounds by keeping that Spartan mentality.

But the race isn’t just about losing weight, Tallant said.

“The camaraderie around the Spartan community is something that cannot be put into words,” Tallant said.

Ryan Banda has participated in other obstacle courses over the last two years, but he never tried out a Spartan Race until this year. In fact, the Phoenix race was his second Spartan event  in 2018.

“The biggest difference from the other races I have participated in and Spartan is the obstacles are much harder and require more physical strength,” Banda said.

Spartan Race competitor liking a 150 pound stone. (Photograph by: Alex DeMarzo/ Arizona Sonora News)

“Other races are more like jumping over a six foot wall or crawling through mud. Where at a Spartan Race, you have obstacles like lifting a 100-pound bag 30 feet in the air and flipping over a 500-pound tire.”

This event attracts both competitive racers such as Eric Scott, who has completed 30 Spartan Races since 2013, and casual racers such as Darryl Vigil, who just completed his first event.

Scott’s friend, a Navy Seal, introduced him to the Spartan races.  They started training three days a week, then he showed up to his first race in Temecula, California, in 2013 and finished 23rd out of 5,000 people in the open class.

Scott found the events exhilarating, and a couple of months after his first race, he was competing in Las Vegas, where he finished ninth overall.

“It was the most athletic sport that I have ever done. Everything else was just a singular discipline, whether it was cycling, triathlon, or a marathon,” he said. “This was nice because it encompasses all your athleticism.”

Obstacle course races, especially Spartan, usually attract more males than females. The underlining sociological aspect of this is tied to gender roles, and the need for men to feel masculine, researchers say.

According to an article written by Dr. Michael S. Kimmel, sociology professor at Stony Brook University, masculinity is perception that society has put on men. He said men test themselves to preform heroic feats and take enormous risks in order to have their manhood confirmed by other men.

The down-and-dirty style of the Spartan Race helps fulfill the need for males to be considered “a man’s man.”

Alex DeMarzo is a reporter for Arizona Sonora News, a service from the School of Journalism with the University of Arizona. Contact him at alexdemarzo@email.arizona.edu. 

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“The Young Karl Marx”: Raoul Peck on New Film Examining How Marx Developed Critique of Capitalism

Read more of this story here from Democracy Now! by Democracy Now!.


World-famous filmmaker Raoul Peck is releasing a film today in Los Angeles and New York on the life and times of Karl Marx. It’s called “The Young Karl Marx.” The film’s release comes as the head of the National Rifle Association, Wayne LaPierre, broke his silence after last week’s Florida school shooting that left 17 dead, attacking gun control advocates as communists in an address to the Conservative Political Action Conference, or CPAC. We speak with acclaimed Haitian filmmaker and political activist Raoul Peck about his new film and the role of Marxism in organizing for gun reform.

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Masha Gessen: Russiagate Has Become a Conspiracy Trap Obscuring How Trump Is Damaging Nation

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Russia-American journalist Masha Gessen talks about how President Trump has benefited from what she calls the “conspiracy trap” around Russia’s role in the 2016 election. She wrote last year, “Russiagate is helping him—both by distracting from real, documentable, and documented issues, and by promoting a xenophobic conspiracy theory in the cause of removing a xenophobic conspiracy theorist from office.”

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Masha Gessen: Did a Russian Troll Farm’s Inflammatory Posts Really Sway the 2016 Election for Trump?

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The Justice Department recently indicted 13 Russians and three companies in connection with efforts to influence the 2016 presidential election. The indicted are accused of orchestrating an online propaganda effort to undermine the U.S. election system. The indictment claims the Russians spread negative information online about Hillary Clinton and supportive information about Donald Trump, as well as Bernie Sanders—but some are warning against overstating what Russia accomplished. For more, we speak with award-winning Russian-American journalist Masha Gessen, a longtime critic of Russian President Vladimir Putin. Her recent piece for The New Yorker is titled “The Fundamental Uncertainty of Mueller’s Russia Indictments.”

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Headlines for February 23, 2018

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