• 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.]

    Briefly:

    • 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.”

Sen. Bill Nelson Concedes To Rick Scott In Florida’s US Senate Race

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After two recounts, it looks like the race for Florida's U.S. Senate seat is finally over and that Republican Gov. Rick Scott is the winner.  

Democratic Sen. Bill Nelson conceded the race to Scott on Sunday afternoon. Scott declared victory following the Nov. 6 election, but the race was close enough to trigger both a machine and hand recount. The final results published Sunday showed Scott led Nelson by about 10,000 votes. The Associated Press reports Florida officials will certify the election results Tuesday.

This was the most expensive race this election season — about $181 million was spent on it, including spending by both candidates and outside groups.

Scott was a multimillionaire businessman who had never run for office before he won the governor's seat in 2010. He couldn't run for re-election as Florida's governor because of the state's term limits.

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Trump on Khashoggi Death Tape: ‘No Reason for Me to Hear It’

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by DEB RIECHMANN and JONATHAN LEMIRE / The Associated Press.

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump said there is no reason for him to listen to a recording of the “very violent, very vicious” killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which has put him in a diplomatic bind: how to admonish Riyadh for the slaying yet maintain strong ties with a close ally.

Trump, in an interview that aired Sunday, made clear that the audio recording, supplied by the Turkish government, would not affect his response to the Oct. 2 killing of Khashoggi, a columnist for The Washington Post who had been critical of the Saudi royal family.

“It’s a suffering tape, it’s a terrible tape. I’ve been fully briefed on it, there’s no reason for me to hear it,” Trump said in the interview with “Fox News Sunday.” ”I know everything that went on in the tape without having to hear it.”

On Saturday, Trump said his administration will “be having a very full report over the next two days, probably Monday or Tuesday.” He said the report will include “who did it.” It was unclear if the report would be made public.

American intelligence agencies have concluded that the crown prince ordered the killing in the Saudi Consulate in Turkey, according to a U.S. official familiar with the assessment. The official was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity. Others familiar with the case caution that while it’s likely the crown prince was involved in the death, there continue to be questions about what role he played.

Trump noted to “Fox News Sunday” that the crown prince has repeatedly denied being involved in the killing inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul.

“Will anybody really know?” Trump asked. “At the same time, we do have an ally, and I want to stick with an ally that in many ways has been very good.”

A Republican member of the Senate intelligence committee said that so far, there is no “smoking gun” linking the crown prince to the killing. Sen. Roy Blunt of Missouri, who has received a confidential intelligence briefing on the matter, told ABC that “it’s hard to imagine” that the crown prince didn’t know about the killing, but he said, “I don’t know that we absolutely know that yet.”

He said that Congress will await the Trump administration’s report in the next two days and that the U.S. will need to be clear about the ramifications of sanctions, given Saudi Arabia’s strategic role in the Middle East.

For his part, Sen. Lindsey Graham, a Trump ally, said the crown prince has been a “wrecking ball” in the relationship between the U.S. and Saudi Arabia.

“I hate to say that because I had a lot of hope for him being the reformer that Saudi Arabia needs, but that ship has sailed as far as Lindsey Graham’s concerned,” the South Carolina Republican told NBC’s “Meet the Press.”

“I have no intention of working with him ever again,” said Graham, who is in line to be the next chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Intelligence officials have been providing information to Trump for weeks about the death, and he was briefed again by phone Saturday by CIA Director Gina Haspel and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo as he flew to California. White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders provided no details of his call but said the president has confidence in the CIA.

“The United States government is determined to hold all those responsible for the killing of Jamal Khashoggi accountable,” the State Department said in a statement. “Recent reports indicating that the U.S. government has made a final conclusion are inaccurate. There remain numerous unanswered questions with respect to the murder of Mr. Khashoggi.”

The statement added: “The U.S. government has taken decisive measures against the individuals responsible, including visa and sanctions actions. We will continue to explore additional measures to hold those accountable who planned, led and were connected to the murder. And, we will do that while maintaining the important strategic relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia.”

Before his call on Air Force One, Trump told reporters that when it came to the crown prince, “as of this moment we were told that he did not play a role. We’re going to have to find out what they have to say.” That echoed remarks by national security adviser John Bolton, who said earlier this week that people who have listened to an audio recording of the killing do not think it implicates the crown prince.

Trump has called the killing a botched operation that was carried out very poorly and has said “the cover-up was one of the worst cover-ups in the history of cover-ups.”

But he has resisted calls to cut off arms sales to the kingdom and has been reluctant to antagonize the Saudi rulers. Trump considers the Saudis vital allies in his Mideast agenda.

But members of Congress are pushing Trump for a tougher response to the killing. The administration this past week penalized 17 Saudi officials for their alleged role in the killing, but American lawmakers have called on the administration to curtail arms sales to Saudi Arabia or take other harsher punitive measures.

Turkish and Saudi authorities say Khashoggi, a Saudi who lived in the United States, was killed inside the consulate by a team from the kingdom after he went there to get marriage documents.

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The Dangerous Rush to Judgment Against Julian Assange

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Bill Blum.

After years of speculation, we now know that WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been accused by the Justice Department of committing crimes against the United States. We know this because an assistant U.S. attorney named Kellen S. Dwyer screwed up and inadvertently disclosed in a motion filed on Aug. 22 in an unrelated case that Assange has been secretly charged in an accusation that has been placed under seal.

The unrelated case is pending in the Eastern District of Virginia against Seitu Sulayman Kokayi, 29, who, according to The Washington Post, is linked to international terrorism and whose father in-law has been convicted of committing terrorist acts.

What we don’t know about the prosecution of Assange is virtually everything else.

For starters, we don’t know whether the charging document lodged against Assange is an indictment or simply a complaint. The difference is important because indictments are handed down by a grand jury, while complaints are generated by the Justice Department on its own initiative and are usually preliminary and superseded by subsequent indictments. If the charging document is an indictment, it would imply the department is ready to roll, and that a trial will commence as soon as Assange is arrested and extradited. (The Supreme Court has held that federal criminal trials cannot start in the defendant’s absence.)

More important, we don’t know the nature of Assange’s alleged offenses, when they allegedly were committed, or when the charges against him were filed.

Has he been charged under the Espionage Act of 1917 for publishing classified material? Has he been accused of hacking in violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act in connection with the publication of emails taken from the Democratic National Committee during the 2016 presidential election campaign, or for receiving and publishing intelligence documents related to the CIA last year? Does he stand accused as a principal (primary actor), or is he viewed as an aider and abettor or a co-conspirator, either of Chelsea Manning, who leaked national-defense material to WikiLeaks in 2010, or the 12 Russian military officers who were indicted this July by special counsel Robert Mueller for stealing the Democratic National Committee’s emails?

We also don’t know whether Mueller’s office is responsible for going after Assange, or whether former Attorney General Jeff Sessions can claim the credit. In an April 2017 press conference, Sessions announced that arresting Assange was “now a priority.” The same month, Mike Pompeo, then director of the CIA and current secretary of state, remarked in a speech delivered to the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a Washington, D.C., think tank: “It is time to call out WikiLeaks for what it really is—a non-state hostile intelligence service often abetted by state actors like Russia.”

It’s possible that Pompeo is right, and that Assange is in fact a Russian agent and not a legitimate publisher entitled to First Amendment protections. But possibilities are not proof. Speculation is not evidence.

It’s vital to remember in this respect something we are taught in high school civics: Even the lowliest of defendants in our criminal justice system is presumed innocent until proven guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. Whether you love Assange and see him as a source of transparency in an age of government secrecy or regard him as a pro-Trump threat to democracy, he is entitled to that presumption. Anything less represents a dangerous rush to judgment that undermines the rule of law.

Writing in The Intercept last week, Glenn Greenwald decried the intensifying support for Assange’s extradition, not only on the right, but also among liberal Democrats who feel stung by Trump’s election and incensed by the help he may have received from Russian intelligence in scoring his improbable victory at the polls.

Trump, who professed his “love” for WikiLeaks during the campaign, is now on board with targeting Assange. Ever the opportunist, the president could easily flip back to the position he advocated in 2010 in an interview with Fox News, when he declared that Assange should receive the death penalty if brought to the U.S.

It’s important not to get swept up in the anti-Assange mania afoot today, not only because the mania undercuts the presumption of innocence, but because of the significant dangers posed to the First Amendment. As the Congressional Research Service (CRS) noted in a 34-page analysis published in 2017:

“While courts have held that the Espionage Act and other relevant statutes allow for convictions for leaks to the press, the government has never prosecuted a traditional news organization for its receipt [and publication] of classified or other protected information.”

In the trial of Assange, the government no doubt will contend that WikiLeaks is not a legitimate news organization. It is unlikely, however, the Trump Justice Department will be able to draw a principled line between publishers that merit First Amendment protection and those who do not.

The Obama administration declined to indict Assange because of what was described as the “New York Times problem”—that if Assange were charged, The New York Times, the Post and The Guardian, among others, would also have to be prosecuted for publishing classified material.

To get around the “New York Times problem,”  the Trump DOJ will have two basic options:

First, it could elect to blow through the problem, arguing that just because the Espionage Act has never been applied to a publisher in the past, there’s a first time for everything. Indeed, as the CRS’ 2017 analysis notes, the text of the act actually prohibits both the illegal acquisition and the subsequent dissemination of classified material.

Nor would the Supreme Court’s landmark decision in the Pentagon Papers case preclude the prosecution of Assange. The ruling in the Pentagon Papers case held only that the government could not enjoin The Times from publishing the material disclosed by Daniel Ellsberg. It did not hold that The Times could not be prosecuted post-publication. Although the Nixon administration decided as a matter of policy not to do so, the court did not resolve whether it could have charged The Times. The issue still has not been put to rest.

Should the Trump administration succeed in obliterating the “New York Times problem,” no publication would be safe from the administration’s vengeance and overreach. Small independent news organizations—think, Truthdig, The Intercept, The Nation and others on the left—would be especially vulnerable.

Second, in lieu of a blunderbuss assault on the “New York Times problem,” the Justice Department might argue that even if WikiLeaks is considered a publisher, the First Amendment should not apply to foreign news outlets.

Surprisingly, there is scant case law on the subject. What little there is, however, suggests that even if foreign publishers may not be seen as beneficiaries of the First Amendment, the amendment safeguards the rights of Americans to read material of their own choosing.

As a little-known and long-deceased federal district court judge, Stanley Weigel, held in 1964 in an obscenity case:

“Even if it be conceded, arguendo, that the ‘foreign press’ is not a direct beneficiary of the Amendment … the Amendment does protect the public of this country. … The First Amendment surely was designed to protect the rights of readers and distributors of publications no less than those of writers or printers. Indeed, the essence of the First Amendment right to freedom of the press is not so much the right to print as it is the right to read.”

I am not a fan of Assange. Like many, I fear that he has gone over to the dark side in the global battle against regressive nationalism. But I am not willing to sacrifice or bend the First Amendment—not even a little—in an effort to silence him or rush him to some kind of American justice.

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Over 91,000 Pounds Of Ground Turkey Recalled Ahead Of Thanksgiving

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A major turkey manufacturer has recalled over 91,000 pounds of turkey just days ahead of Thanksgiving due to a fatal salmonella outbreak.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture found strains of salmonella in 1-pound packages of Jennie-O's 93 percent lean, 85 percent lean, taco-seasoned and Italian-seasoned ground turkey products.

The infected samples come from a production batch in September that shipped nationwide. The recalled products have a use-by date of Oct. 1 or 2, but regulators worry they could still be in freezers.

Though this is the first major recall linked to the current outbreak, infected products have led to one death, at least 164 reported illnesses and 63 hospitalizations this year.

Regulators have also found traces of salmonella in raw turkey pet food and live turkeys from several companies, which suggests the bacteria may be more widespread than they initially thought.

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Florida Adds CVS And Walgreens To Its Opioid Lawsuit

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The state of Florida is now suing two of the largest pharmacy chains in the country over their distribution of opioids.

Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi has added CVS and Walgreens as defendants in a complaint first filed in May against companies that make and distribute opioids.

The amended lawsuit alleges the defendants — which also include Purdue Pharma, the maker of OxyContin — engaged in deceptive marketing practices and helped to fuel the national opioid epidemic. 

The suit calls out CVS and Walgreens as being two of the state's biggest opioid distributors, noting the latter sold 285,800 orders of oxycodone in a town of just 3,000 people over a one-month time span. Florida, which is seeking a jury trial, alleges the two chains violated state law because they failed to "stop suspicious orders of opioids" and "dispensed unreasonable quantities of opioids from their pharmacies."

Walgreens wouldn't comment on the lawsuit, but a CVS spokesman told The Associated Press that it's "without merit."

According to the CDC, over 42,000 people died from opioid overdoses in 2016, the last year for which data is available. Forty percent of those deaths involved a prescription opioid.

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This week at the court

Read more of this story here from SCOTUSblog by Andrew Hamm.

This week at the court

The Supreme Court will release orders from the November 16 conference on Monday at 9:30 a.m; John Elwood’s Relist Watch compiles the petitions that were relisted for this conference.

The calendar for the December sitting, which will begin on Monday, November 26, is available on the Supreme Court’s website.

The post This week at the court appeared first on SCOTUSblog.

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US And China Unable To Find Common Ground At APEC Summit

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Tensions between the U.S. and China plagued the APEC Summit, and for the first time in its history, the meeting's leaders did not issue a formal joint statement.

The APEC Summit is an economic forum between 21 nations with an interest in the Indo- Pacific region.

Under its "One Belt, One Road" initiative, China has been fostering infrastructural development and encouraging trade in some of the developing countries in the region.

But China's effort's have been met with criticism by the U.S. At the summit, Vice President Mike Pence accused China of overwhelming developing countries with loans, engaging in unfair trade practices and stealing intellectual property.

"Know that the United States offers a better option. We don't drown our partners in a sea of debt. We don't coerce or compromise your independence. The United States deals openly and fairly. We do not offer a constricting belt or a one-way road. When you partner with us, we partner with you, and we all prosper," Pence said.

World leaders at the summit also failed to reach a consensus on the potential reform of the World Trade Organization. Though no joint statement was released, Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O'Neill is expected to release a statement as the summit's chairman.

Additional reporting by Newsy affiliate CNN

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Andrew Gillum Concedes In Florida’s Gubernatorial Race

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The race to become Florida's next governor officially ended Saturday when Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum conceded in a video posted on Facebook.

"R. Jai and I wanted to take a moment to congratulate Mr. DeSantis on becoming the next governor of the great state of Florida," Gillum said.

The Democratic challenger previously conceded to GOP candidate Ron DeSantis on election night. But Gillum later withdrew that concession when the margin in the unofficial vote tally shrunk enough to trigger a machine recount.

But that recount ended Thursday with DeSantis maintaining a lead of nearly 34,000 votes over Gillum — that wasn't a small enough margin to move on to a hand recount.

DeSantis responded to Gillum's latest concession, writing on Twitter: "This was a hard-fought campaign. Now it's time to bring Florida together."

Additional reporting from Newsy affiliate CNN

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The Only Catch in the Non-Stop Coverage of Donald J. Trump

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Tom Engelhardt / TomDispatch.

Face it: it’s been an abusive time, to use a word he likes to wield. In his telling, of course, it’s he or his people who are always the abused ones and they — the “fake news media” — are the abusers. But let’s be honest. You’ve been abused, too, and so have I. All of us have and by that same fake news media.

It isn’t complicated, really. Thanks to them, to those cable news talking heads who never stop yammering about him, to the reporters who clamor over his every word or twitch, he’s always there, 24/7. I know that it’s still called covering the news, but it’s a phrase that no longer faintly fits the situation. Yes, a near majority of Americans voted for him as president, but no one voted to make him a living (and living-room) icon, a never-ending presence not just in our world, but in all our private worlds, too.

Never, not ever, has a single human being been so inescapable. You can’t turn on the TV news, read a newspaper, listen to the radio, wander on social media, or do much of anything else without almost instantly bumping into or tripping over… him, attacking them, praising himself, telling you how wonderful or terrible he feels and how much he loves or loathes… well, whatever happens to be ever so briefly on his mind that very moment.

And if that isn’t really almost too obvious to write down, then what is? Still, just briefly, let’s try to take in the obvious. Let me put it this way: never, not since Adam or certainly Nebuchadnezzar, not to speak of Eve or Cleopatra, has anyone in history been so unrelentingly focused upon or mercilessly covered — so, in a sense, fawned upon (and, of course, “abused”). In the past, I’ve labeled what we’re living through “the white Ford Bronco presidency” because, for the last nearly three years, the media has covered him as if he were indeed O.J. Simpson in that car fleeing the police over his wife’s murder, as if, that is, there were nothing else on Earth worth gluing our eyeballs to, and not as in O.J.’s case for a relatively few hours, but for what already seems like an eternity.

In a way, this is the simplest piece I’ve ever written, because whoever you are, wherever you live in this country (or possibly on the planet), whatever you think of him, positive or negative, you already know all of this. You’ve already discussed it with your friends. You’ve certainly wondered what would happen if the mainstream media suddenly stopped attending to Donald Trump — and oh yes, I hadn’t mentioned his name until now, because why bother? You never had a doubt, did you?

My guess on the effect of such a withdrawal of coverage: he’d shrivel up and die. Your guess may be different, but it doesn’t matter because we’re clearly never going to find out. Even the recent presidential decision to take away CNN White House correspondent Jim Acosta’s press pass — doctored video of his behavior and all — after a distinctly abusive press conference (“I’ll tell you what: CNN should be ashamed of itself having you working for them. You are a rude, terrible person. You shouldn’t be working for CNN”), was only the cause for yet another deluge of coverage. None of Acosta’s media compatriots, not even at CNN, decided, for instance, to protest by refusing to cover another White House event until he got that pass back (though CNN is suing the Trump administration). None of them evidently even seriously considered closing the door, shutting the gate, turning their backs on you-know-who. That clearly is the twenty-first-century media version of thinking about the unthinkable.

Honestly, who doesn’t talk about all this in the face of a presidency that’s in your face, all our faces, in a way that no other president, emperor, king, autocrat, dictator, movie star, celebrity, or [feel free to fill in whatever I haven’t thought of here] has ever before been. His every phrase, tweet, complaint, bit of praise, parenthetical comment, angry snit, insult, or even policy decision is reported, discussed, gnawed on, considered, reconsidered, yakked about nonstop, hour after hour after endless hour, reshown in clip after repetitive clip. This is, in short, a unique historical experience of ours and ours alone. How could we not talk about it all the time?

The Media Critic-in-Chief

Oh wait! Oddly enough, in case you hadn’t noticed, there’s one place where it’s barely talked about at all, where silence largely reigns, and to my mind that couldn’t be stranger.

Here’s the only catch in the non-stop coverage of Donald J. Trump (2015 to 2018 and beyond): that same mainstream media that can’t get enough of him, that eats up and gnaws on his every odd phrase, gesture, act, or passing thought, is essentially silent on only one thing: the coverage itself. The most obvious subject in the world — not him, but the thing that keeps him going, that keeps the whole ship of state more or less afloat at this point — the unprecedented focus on him just doesn’t seem to be a subject fit for significant coverage, even though it’s a commonplace in our conversations out here in what still passes for the real world. We may regularly roll our eyes, but the mainstream media programmatically never does. Not in public anyway. And as was true from the beginning of the Trump era, from the New York Times and Politico to the Atlantic magazine, media outfits have hired yet more people to cover… well, Donald Trump (and not just from Washington either) and ploughed right on.

But do they cover themselves? Hardly. Media critics inside those mainstream companies have become an ever rarer species. The New York Times, for instance, let go of its “public editor” in May 2017 and left it to perhaps random tweeters to handle how the paper was covering anything. And that’s been typical. Or put another way: there’s really only one media critic left in the mainstream world — and you know just who he is! (A typical tweeted comment of his: “A very big part of the Anger we see today in our society is caused by the purposely false and inaccurate reporting of the Mainstream Media that I refer to as Fake News. It has gotten so bad and hateful that it is beyond description. Mainstream Media must clean up its act, FAST!”) And sometimes that criticism couldn’t be more personal. (“Loser,” he recently called White House reporter April Ryan. “What a stupid question that is,” he said to CNN’s Abby Phillip. “What a stupid question. But I watch you a lot, you ask a lot of stupid questions.”) I’m referring, of course, to America’s media-critic-in-chief now in residence in Washington, D.C., when, of course, he isn’t out in the provinces getting a little love from his adoring “base” in those endless rallies for the midterm elections and, of course, the ones for the 2020 campaign, which began long ago.

And naturally enough, the “fake news” reporters can’t cover those rallies enough or discuss them and what he says at them more often. But again, there’s one catch, one lacuna, in all this. They almost never cover Donald J. Trump’s rally of rallies in that same analytical and dissecting fashion. I’m thinking, of course, of the rallies that truly keep him going — and by that I mean his endless set of interactions with… yep, the media. After all, without being eternally in their glowing spotlight, without that endless coverage of everything him, what would he be?

In a sense, those hordes of reporters crowding into his world are his most adoring fans (even if many of them may loathe him personally). They may not literally bathe him in love (as his fans in those stadiums do), but they certainly bathe him in what he loves most, what clearly keeps him up and running: attention.  And from each of those media “rallies” of his, however small, however impromptu, however angry or insulting, no matter the nature of the words exchanged, he clearly comes away feeling clean as a new-born babe (though they perhaps feel dirty as… well, who knows what).

It may not be a love affair, but it certainly is an affair to remember. And despite the fact that his official news conferences may be rare, he manages to meet the press (to use a thoroughly outmoded phrase) constantly and in ways too numerous to mention. I’m sure you won’t be surprised to learn that he’s taken more questions from reporters — even if he’s regularly mangled and shredded them — than all our recent presidents (except that other classic narcissist, Bill Clinton).

The Donald’s Earned Media World

Being the canny self-promoter that he is, Donald Trump knows the value of those exchanges, no matter their nature. He knows that the specifics of what the media may write or say about him matter remarkably little, as long as they cover him in this totalistic fashion, as long as they never stop bathing him in his own ultimate form of glory. They are, as he would be the first to tell you, his “earned media.” In fact, just the other day at his post-election news conference, he had this little exchange with a reporter:

“Q: Mr. President, first off, I personally think it’s very good to have you here because a free press and this type of engagement —

“The President: I do, too. Actually? I do, too.

“Q: Yes. It’s vital to democracy.

“The President: It’s called ‘earned media.’ It’s worth billions. Go ahead.”

Let’s be clear: Donald Trump is no fool. He knows that he’s got not just a knack but the knack for accruing “earned media” — that is, unpaid for publicity and advertising. Estimates were that he got a staggering $5.6 billion of it during his 2015-2016 election campaign and, exactly as he implied in that knowing aside, it’s never ended. And yes, it is “vital” to him, if not to “democracy.” Think of him, in fact, as President Earned Media.

Since we are talking about a mutual affair, however, the opposite is also true: Donald Trump is the media’s version of… at the risk of being completely repetitious, earned media. No one’s put it better than former CBS head Leslie Moonves — recently taken down by the #MeToo moment — during the 2016 election campaign. “It may not be good for America,” he said, “but it’s damn good for CBS.” He added, “The money’s rolling in and this is fun. I’ve never seen anything like this, and this [is] going to be a very good year for us. Sorry. It’s a terrible thing to say. But bring it on, Donald. Keep going.” And, as we all know, Donald did.

Keep in mind that the media had been thrown into chaos and confusion by the growth of the online world of the Internet, as many news businesses faltered and staff cuts were widespread. How convenient, then, to stumble upon such genuine human clickbait, someone on whom you could focus your attention so relatively cheaply and profitably. So much for covering the world, a distinctly expensive proposition! Talk about bargain basement candidacies and presidencies!

From the moment he descended that escalator in Trump Tower in June 2015, Donald Trump became the media equivalent of a freebie — someone viewers and readers just couldn’t help watching, hearing about, reading about. It was like stumbling on a gold mine in the desert. As it turned out, Americans were indeed ready to have the talking heads of CNN (now the president’s eternal punching bag), MSNBC, and Fox News yammer on hour after hour, day after day, about him and only him. It was, in its own way, a genuine miracle for news companies that had found themselves up against the wall and it couldn’t have been more real, or — as, at some level, Donald Trump himself grasped — more fake.

Put it all together and you can understand how a major Trump rally — oops, I mean that post-election news conference of his — actually worked. But first let me take a moment, in truly Trumpian fashion, to thank myself on your behalf. Like you, I watched clips of that news conference. Then I did all of you a favor and actually read the whole 17,000-plus words of it, one hour and 26 minutes worth of his and their words, so you wouldn’t have to.

And believe me, it was quite a performance as the president called on/ignored reporters desperate to get his attention, insulted them, spoke with them, spoke against them, spoke over them (“We are a hot country. This is a hot White House…”), spoke around them, described them (“I come in here as a nice person wanting to answer questions and I have people jumping out of their — their seats, screaming questions at me…”), wandered away from them, wandered away from himself, ignored or didn’t answer their questions, was incoherent for significant stretches of time, or couldn’t even hold onto a thought. And by the way, the reporters there more than matched him (“One, I was tempted to ask you why you like Oprah so much, but I think I’ll go on to the question that…”), blow for blowhard (“Based off of that, how would you say, over the last two years, God plays — what kind of a factor He plays in the day-to-day execution of the Office of the Presidency?…”).

Read the whole thing and you’d have to be struck — even by the less-than-soaring standards of past presidential news conferences — by how little (with a bow to Gertrude Stein) there there actually was there. The president’s incoherence was remarkably well matched by the dreariness of the generally expectable, largely thought-free questions he was asked on a limited set of topics.

As always, though, there were those Trumpian moments that aren’t likely to leave your head soon thereafter. There was, for instance, the exchange in which the president called on PBS’s Yamiche Alcindor, a relatively rare black reporter in that room. She began her question this way, “On the campaign trail, you called yourself a nationalist. Some people saw that as emboldening white nationalists. Now people are also saying…”

At that point, the president promptly interrupted to respond: “I don’t know why you’d say that. That’s such a racist question.” (Something he’d then repeat twice more.) The pure chutzpah of that response should have taken anyone’s breath away, but it was also a reminder of the strange sense of freedom Trump feels to say anything in the presence of the media, including mocking or insulting three black female reporters at that news conference.

And this can only happen again and again and again. It’s hard not to feel that we are all now eternally watching two sets of addicts who simply can’t exist without or get enough of each other.

Toward the end of that news conference, one of the reporters began a question (also focused on white nationalism) this way: “Thank you, sir. And I think we’d all love to have more of these, if you’re willing…”

It tells us so much about our twenty-first-century Trumpian world that anyone in that press corps would wish for more of the same. I have a feeling that somewhere in all of this someone, maybe Bob Mueller, should indict all of them for fraud. In the meantime, the rest of us remain in a world wallpapered with Donald Trump, a world in which the fake news media, which is his truest “base,” just can’t get enough of him.

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How Media Coverage of Trans Issues Set the Stage for Formalized Discrimination

Read more of this story here from Truthdig RSS by Alyson Escalante / FAIR.

Time magazine (5/29/14) declared a “transgender tipping point” in 2014, but corporate media continue to treat trans identity as a matter of controversy.

The New York Times (10/21/18) received access to a memo from the Trump administration calling for the Department of Health and Human Services to adopt a definition of sex founded on “a biological basis that is clear, grounded in science, objective and administrable.” The memo called for a definition that assumed a male/female sex binary, determined by the sex assigned to a person at birth based on genital appearance. Four days after this decision, the Department of Justice argued that it is legal to discriminate against transgender people in issues of employment.

Many in the media have been quick to denounce the Trump administration in the wake of these actions—without, however, assessing the ways that media coverage of trans issues have set the stage for this formalized discrimination. Ever since the so-called “trans tipping point”—how Time magazine (5/29/14) characterized the spate of attention given to “Orange Is the New Black’s” Laverne Cox—news media have been fascinated with transgender issues, often using the controversial nature of transgender rights to attract readership. Media outlets have featured many pieces over the last few years that do not simply sensationalize transgender lives, but attempt to frame them as up for debate.

This framing is not new for news media. Writing for the “culture wars” section of The Cut (2/7/16), Jesse Singal previously wrote on the firing of sexologist Kenneth Zucker, who is most famous for arguing against accepting the gender identification of transgender youth. Singal framed Zucker’s firing, from the Child Youth and Family Gender Identity Clinic in Toronto, as the result of transgender activists who were opposed to the questions Zucker is asking. This was depicted as an important debate being been shut down—“allowing a vital scientific question…to be decided by activists.”

Jesse Singal (The Cut, 2/7/16) treated gender identity as a debate club topic.

The underlying assumption of this piece was that transgender lives are up for debate in the first place, and that scientific authorities ought to be a vocal voice in this debate. For Singal, the fact that these authorities deny transgender individuals’ self-identification was less important than the necessity of debate. What was striking about Singal’s piece was the way that it framed transgender individuals as a controversy that needs to be resolved, not by transgender individuals themselves, but through emphasizing the voices of those who study and often speak over transgender individuals. Implicit in Singal’s call for debate is the paternalistic assumption that Zucker is more capable of understanding transgender issues than transgender individuals are.

Singal’s piece was particularly pertinent for understanding the Trump administration’s actions, given that the administration specifically appealed to an “objective” and scientific definition of sex. This appeal mirrors Singal’s own framing of self-identification and science as at odds, and justifies scientists and experts speaking over transgender individuals.

WaPo: Transgender bathroom users will not endanger women, but twisted social norms might

By “twisted social norms,”  the Washington Post headline (1/17/17) means the “left’s ultimate aim…to abolish gender distinctions entirely.”

The opinion sections of online news sites have also facilitated the idea that human rights are a “controversy” if the humans are transgender. For example, in an opinion piece in the Washington Post (1/17/17), Thomas Wheatley argues that while allowing transgender people to use their own genders’ bathroom facilities will not hurt women, the left “trivializes the debate as a patently obvious matter of civil rights.” Wheatley maintains that this debate is important because the “broader trend toward gender nullification — and its dissolution of prudent, time-tested boundaries of conduct”—will “directly endanger women,” because “traditional gender roles still serve as a deterrent to predatory behavior” (as if “predatory behavior” can’t be an expression of “traditional gender roles”).

By providing a platform to Wheatley, the Post allowed an abstract debate about hypothetical social norms to take precedence over protecting the right of transgender individuals to safely exist in public. While Singal’s piece framed scientific debate as more important than transgender rights, Wheatley promoted debates about social values as more important: “I do not want to vilify Mother’s Day as transphobic or chide basic chivalry as wrongful discrimination,” he declared.

Wheatley attempted to use a both-sides framing by brushing aside the most odious arguments against transgender rights, but ultimately only did so to make his later rejection and insistence on debate look more reasonable. This clearly demonstrates the extent to which Wheatley sees transgender lives as an abstract rhetorical talking point for a broader debate—about how “a wholly inclusive construction of gender…strips gender of all concrete meaning”—rather than as real human lives with their well-being at stake.

For transgender individuals, the stakes are high; questions of bathroom access deal with the ability to exist in public at all. An actual and fair analysis of the issue would take these concerns seriously and emphasize the effects that these issues have on transgender lives.

NYT: Is It Time to Desegregate the Sexes?

Acknowledging that trans people know their own gender “has produced a surprisingly broad backlash, from secular feminists as well as evangelical conservatives.” (New York Times, 10/15/16)

Likewise, a New York Times article by Judith Shulevitz (10/15/16), headlined “Is It Time to Desegregate the Sexes?,” argued that Obama era definitions of sex (the same definitions the federal government is scrapping) have been broadened too far in an attempt to protect transgender students. The article maintained that anti-transgender sentiment cannot be described as “mere intolerance,” because some anti-transgender activists are non-religious, presenting anti-transgender radical feminists as a more rational voice in opposition to transgender rights.

The article also framed the debate about transgender rights as an issue of “clashing values”: “Religious pluralism requires accommodation of the demure as well as the less inhibited.” While the piece makes several defenses of trans rights, the idea that we need to debate the federal definitions of sex set the stage for the Trump administration to change those definitions. In fact, the administration is responding to the same concerns that Shulevits says we must fairly consider. While the Times (10/21/18) now bemoans the administration’s proposal that transgender people be “defined out of existence,” its opinion section previously provided a platform for advocating these very definitional changes.

Following the release of the memo, media reporting has continued to use the framework of debatability to talk about the administration’s actions. An Economist piece (10/27/18) titled “Who Decides Your Gender?” condemns the memo, but goes on to suggest that allowing self-identification could harm efforts to “keep women and children safe.” It argues that “deciding how to balance competing rights and how to weigh risks will demand careful debate.” The idea that transgender people’s right to self-identify and exist in public spaces is up for debate is itself central to the justifications the Trump administration has provided for their actions.

Outlets like the New York Times and Economist simultaneously condemn the administration’s assault on transgender rights while propping up the framework that has been used to justify them. If media are truly interested in weighing risks, they ought to begin by understanding the intense forms of marginalization and discrimination that transgender individuals face. Unless we start with these ugly realities, any call for debate will simply function to render transgender lives abstract and potentially disposable.

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