Mother Jones Magazine

A 9-Year-Old Is Facing Murder Charges in Illinois. The Judge Had to Teach Him What “Arson” and “Alleged” Mean.

On Monday, a nine-year-old boy in a checkered shirt sat in a juvenile court in Woodford County, Illinois, accused of murdering several of his relatives by setting fire to a mobile home. As he slid forward in his chair, his feet barely reached the ground.

The Chicago Tribune captured the scene at the arraignment hearing, where Judge Charles Feeney tried to explain the charges to the confused elementary schooler:

Feeney read the first count to the boy, saying that he’s alleged to have “committed the offense of first-degree murder and you…set fire to trailer residence…thereby caused the death of Jason Wall.” When Feeney asked the boy if he understood, he shook his head no. “What don’t you understand,” he asked.

“What I did,” the boy said. The judge started over, stopping on certain words to define them for the boy.

The judge introduced another count by comparing it to the previous: that it was “essentially the same thing, that you set the fire to the trailer residence on same date and everything, only in this instance, Ariel Wall died. Do you understand what is alleged in count four?”

“Yes,” [the boy] said.

“In count five, it alleges essentially the same thing, only it alleges the death of Rose Alwood. Do you understand what is alleged in count five?”

“Yes,” the boy said. A moment later, the boy’s attorney, Peter Dluski, spoke up. “Your honor—I apologize—he told me he doesn’t know what alleged means.”

The judge explained it to the boy until he nodded and then spoke that he understood. “It means someone accuses you,” the judge said. “If I accuse you of wearing a purple shirt…I allege you’re wearing a purple shirt. Is that true?”

“No,” the boy said. Feeney explained other words and aspects of the case…

“He wants to know what arson is, your honor,” Dluski said.

“Arson…is the name of a crime. That you knowingly caused a fire to occur at real property―what real property means is like a home… Real property was damaged. ”

The boy, whom Mother Jones will not name because of his age, is accused of intentionally setting the April blaze that killed four of his relatives and his mom’s boyfriend near Goodfield, Illinois. The case has garnered national attention, and prompted outcry from juvenile justice advocates who say a nine-year-old is far too young to be prosecuted in court.

If convicted, he would not be sent to juvenile hall because of his youth. But the court could put him on years of probation, according to the Tribune. And if he were to violate any of the complicated terms of probation, he could be detained after he turns 10, and sent to prison once he turns 13.

“It’s very unusual,” Elizabeth Clarke, president of the Juvenile Justice Initiative in Illinois, told the Washington Post of the case. “It’s a shocking approach that the prosecutor chose to take.”

Katie Alwood, the boy’s mother, told CBS News that her son was recently diagnosed with schizophrenia, ADHD, and bipolar disorder.

While it is rare for a child so young to face such serious charges, Illinois is not the only state that allows nine-year-olds to be put in this situation. Far from it. Twenty-nine states have no lower age limit for prosecuting children in juvenile court, which means it’s perfectly legal to bring charges against children of any age, according to the National Juvenile Defender Center. That’s even as the Supreme Court has recognized that children are less culpable than adults because their brains aren’t developed yet. And it’s despite research showing that early involvement in the criminal justice system can be bad for kids’ health and make them more likely to commit crimes later.

The National Juvenile Defender Center put together a map showing the situation in each state:

National Juvenile Defender Center

The boy will continue to fight his case; the judge set another hearing for November. Alwood told CBS News that her son deserved a second chance: “Yes, it was a horrible tragedy, but it’s still not something to throw his life away over.”

Diplomat’s Testimony Drew “Direct Line” Between Military Funds and Biden Probe

The top US diplomat in Ukraine testified Tuesday that he was informed by a Trump administration official that the president had conditioned military aid for the country on an investigation into Trump’s political rivals, the Washington Post reports.

In closed-door testimony to House impeachment investigators, William B. Taylor alleged that he had been told by Gordon Sondland—the GOP megadonor and hotel magnate who Trump appointed as ambassador to the European Union—that both military assistance for the war-torn country and a White House visit for its new president would be contingent on an announcement that Ukrainian officials would investigate Democrats. The Post, which obtained Taylor’s opening statement, reported:

“During that phone call, Amb. Sondland told me that President Trump had told him that he wants President [Volodymyr] Zelensky to state publicly that Ukraine will investigate Burisma and alleged Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election,” Taylor said in the statement…

“Amb. Sondland also told me that he now recognized that he had made a mistake by earlier telling the Ukrainian officials to whom he spoke that a White House meeting with President Zelensky was dependent on a public announcement of investigations—in fact, Amb. Sondland said, ‘everything’ was dependent on such an announcement, including security assistance,’” Taylor told House investigators.

“He said that President Trump wanted President Zelensky ‘in a public box’ by making a public statement about ordering such investigations.”

In his July call with Zelensky, Trump asked the Ukrainian president to cooperate with Attorney General Bill Barr and Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal lawyer, on matters related to Burisma—a Ukrainian gas company tied to Biden’s son—as well as on a series of conspiracy theories surrounding the 2016 election and the origins of the FBI’s Russia probe. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-Fla.), a member of the House Oversight and Reform Committee who witnessed Taylor’s deposition, told the New York Times Tuesday that Taylor “drew a very direct line…between President Trump’s decision to withhold funds and refuse a meeting with Zelensky unless there was a public pronouncement of him by investigations of Burisma and the so-called 2016 conspiracy theories.”

Trump has insisted that there was no connection between the suspension of military aid to Ukraine and his attempts to pressure Zelensky into investigating Democrats, often repeating the phrase “no quid pro quo.” But Trump’s chief of staff, Mick Mulvaney, publicly contradicted this line last week, when he appeared to admit that Trump had indeed linked military aid to an investigation related to the 2016 actions of the Democratic National Committee, which Wasserman Schultz ran at the time. Mulvaney later attempted to retract that admission.

Lunchtime Photo

This is a California shrub deerweed. I saw several of these in Colombia too, though I suppose it might have been the very similar coastal deer broom. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture, so I’ll never know for sure.

April 20, 2019 — Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Orange County, California

New Evidence Hints at Another Justice Department Coverup

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) released evidence on Tuesday that the Justice Department buried the whistleblower complaint about President Donald Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president by failing to refer the matter to the Federal Election Commission (FEC). Klobuchar suggested the Justice Department violated a longstanding agreement between the agencies to share information about possible campaign finance violations for potential enforcement action.

To recap: The whistleblower complaint at the heart of the impeachment inquiry didn’t just contain evidence that the president pressured a foreign government to help him win reelection. It also contained evidence of a potential campaign finance violation. When President Trump asked for dirt on his political opponent, he likely illegally solicited a “thing of value” from a foreign national.

In August, Justice Department officials decided that rather than turn the whistleblower complaint over to Congress, department lawyers would assess the allegations against Trump, including evidence that the president had broken campaign finance law. After what news reports described as a cursory review, the department declined to launch a criminal investigation, finding that Trump had not asked for a “thing of value.” This was a stretch; campaign finance experts generally agree that opposition research damaging to an opponent, which campaigns can pay a lot of money for, is clearly valuable. The FEC also considers it a “thing of value.” Nevertheless, the department lawyers declared the matter case closed.

But under a 1978 memorandum of understanding between the department and the FEC—which, like Justice is authorized to penalize campaign finance violations—the complaint should have been passed onto the FEC even if the department declined to launch a criminal investigation, so the election watchdog can determine whether a civil penalty is called for. 

Earlier this month, Klobuchar set out to uncover whether the Justice Department had honored this agreement, sending two letters to the FEC inquiring whether it had received any such referral. On October 18, the commission’s Democratic chair, Ellen Weintraub, confirmed to Klobuchar that the FEC had not been notified. “The refusal to inform the FEC and refer the matter regarding the President’s call to the FEC as required to do, as the Justice Department is required, undermines our campaign finance system and is unacceptable in a democracy,” Klobuchar said in Tuesday statement.

What’s unclear so far is why no such referral was made. Either the Justice Department dropped the ball, or Klobuchar has helped discover another avenue in the administration’s sprawling coverup.

Trump Flips Off Female Astronaut

My sister rightly commands me to show you Donald Trump’s reaction to being gently corrected by a female astonaut on board the space station:

As any high school boy can tell you, yes, Trump flipped her off in a semi-deniable way. Such class. And the Sun returns the favor by replaying his gesture in slo-mo just to make sure everyone gets it.

How Climate Policy Dominated Canada’s Election

This story was originally published by the National Observer and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

The governing Liberal Party had largely positive results in Monday night’s federal election when it came to key politicians on environmental files, with the exception of Amarjeet Sohi, who had been the natural resources minister.

“With at least 63 percent of voters casting ballots for parties that put forward strong climate platforms, it is clear that a majority of Canadians asked for more ambitious and urgent climate action,” said Catherine Abreu, executive director of Climate Action Network Canada.

“People voted out of fear of the Conservatives today, rejecting their threats to roll back climate policy. At the same time, voters did not have enough confidence in the Liberal climate record to hand them another majority.”

Environment Minister Is Reelected

Catherine McKenna, the Trudeau government’s one and only environment and climate change minister, was re-elected in her riding of Ottawa Centre on Monday.

As of 11:50 p.m. ET, McKenna was leading the NDP’s Emilie Taman by over 8,000 votes, or 47 percent. The Conservative Party candidate, Carol Clemenhagen was in a distant third.

Over the last four years McKenna was tasked with stickhandling a difficult balancing act—promoting the Trudeau government’s carbon pollution pricing regime while backing the government’s purchase of the Trans Mountain pipeline and expansion project.

She became the face of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s environmental battle early on, a position that would give her an enormous public profile.

Months after the Trudeau government signed a climate plan with the provinces, McKenna was contending with legal threats from Saskatchewan in early 2017 as she asserted the federal “right” to price pollution. (So far, courts have upheld that right; Ontario’s case is being appealed to the Supreme Court.)

As right-leaning politicians tilted against environmental policies across the country, winning provincial elections in Alberta, Ontario and elsewhere, they often invoked McKenna’s name personally. Online trolls targeted her; the abuse drifted into the real world and led to the minister requiring protection.

In a bid to perhaps differentiate her candidacy from the rest of the Trudeau team, McKenna put up unusual election signs in colors like bright pink, black and white that sported phrases such as “vote for gun control” and “vote for public service jobs.” Former Liberal prime minister Jean Chretien also campaigned with McKenna.

Taman, a former public prosecutor, battled McKenna for control of the young, densely populated riding. Taman had been the NDP’s hope to bring Ottawa Centre back to the party, after McKenna scored an upset victory in 2015.

The riding is filled with many young professionals who work in the city’s downtown, as well as young families who want to live in the core of the city. It was considered a toss-up through the last hours of the campaign.

Taman became well known in Ottawa after being denied permission to run by the public service in 2015, but ran anyway in Ottawa-Vanier, bringing the public service commission to court to overturn its decision.

This year, Taman ran on a campaign emphasizing inequality, the climate crisis and confronting intolerance.

Green Party Scores an Upset Victory

Green Party candidate Jenica Atwin scored an upset victory in the New Brunswick riding of Fredericton on Monday.

Atwin, who ​has worked in First Nations education, had the wind at her sails, boosted by Green success in the region. New Brunswick Green Leader David Coon, for example, has held the provincial riding of Fredericton South since 2014.

The Greens also made a breakthrough provincially in P.E.I., capturing over 30 percent of the vote and securing eight seats. Greens also elected their first Ontario MPP, and in spring, a second federal Green Party MP was elected.

Atwin was able to beat Liberal incumbent Matt DeCourcey as well as fight off Conservative candidate Andrea Johnson. CBC News said Atwin had won at 11:45 p.m. ET with 14,318 votes or 33.3 percent.

Atwin ran as a provincial Green in 2018 and campaigned on healthcare with a focus on mental health.

She has worked with Oromocto First Nation and then Kingsclear First Nation at Fredericton HIgh School, the Brunswickan reported. She has also carried out educational research on behalf of Indigenous communities in New Brunswick, according to the newspaper.

Anti-Pipeline Activist Elected as Liberal

When Stephen Guilbeault described his decision to leave the environmental activist world and run for the Liberals recently to the National Post, he summed it up as “been there, done that, got the T-shirt.”

On Monday, it was clear this position paid off for Guilbeault, as he coasted to victory in his riding of Laurier–Sainte-Marie.

CBC News said Guilbeault had won the riding at 11:49 p.m. ET with 6,555 votes or 42 percent.

The populous, small riding was held by the NDP’s Hélène Laverdière, who announced she would not run in 2019. Laverdière took the riding away from former Bloc leader Gilles Duceppe.

It is the third-most dense riding in Canada, and younger and poorer compared to the average across the country. Guilbeault fought off a challenge from the NDP’s Nimâ Machouf.

Guilbeault stunned the environmental activism community when he decided to run for the Trudeau camp. Guilbeault, who has protested pipelines, formerly worked as an activist for Greenpeace before co-founding Quebec environmental organization Equiterre.

He benefited from massive name recognition, but also found himself campaigning for a government that bought the Trans Mountain pipeline expansion project. He explained his position as a desire to support the Liberal environmental package as a whole.

“If you only look at a tree, you lose sight of the forest,” he told CTV News. “I understand why some people are so angry about the pipeline…you have every right to be angry but look at the whole picture.”

National Resources Minister Loses Seat 

Tim Uppal, the former Harper government junior minister, won his rematch against Amarjeet Sohi, who became the Trudeau government’s infrastructure minister and then its natural resources minister, in Edmonton Mill Woods.

Sohi, the former three-term Edmonton city councillor was in a tough fight against Uppal, who Sohi beat in 2015 by just 92 votes, in a race that went to judicial recount.

CBC News said Uppal was elected with over 50 percent of the vote, or 17,588 votes.

Sohi was one of only three Liberals in Alberta, along with fellow Edmontonian Randy Boissonnault and Calgarian Kent Hehr. The Liberals have been polling far back in second place in the prairies.

In his first ministerial job, Sohi showcased billions of dollars in funding for major infrastructure initiatives, some of which involved mega-projects like light rail developments that the Liberals were hoping would cut carbon pollution.

But after he was shuffled into the natural resources profile, he found himself defending many policies that had become political roadkill in his home province of Alberta.

Uppal remained involved in politics, playing a “key role” in the campaign of Alberta Premier Jason Kenney, his former Harper government cabinet colleague, CBC reported.

Uppal also campaigned using similar messaging as Kenney’s provincial campaign: attacking the Trudeau government’s C-69, the government’s overhaul of its environmental assessment regime, and C-48, which imposes an oil tanker moratorium along British Columbia’s north coast, as well as the carbon tax.

Liberal at TMX Terminus Leading in Riding

The Trans Mountain oil pipeline snakes through Alberta and British Columbia to end up at the Burnaby Terminal in the Vancouver area.

Throughout the election it has cast a political shadow over the riding—but Terry Beech, the Liberal incumbent, was leading in his riding of Burnaby North-Seymour late into election night.

Beech, who won the riding with 36 percent in 2015, battled it out this election campaign with Svend Robinson, a 25-year former MP, as well as Heather Leung, who was a Tory candidate but was dropped due to comments deemed offensive.

Beech was leading Robinson by 1,021 votes as of 12:15 a.m. ET.

He voted against the pipeline project, and has maintained that his constituents don’t support it.

Robinson, who suffers from bipolar disorder, was planning a political comeback. His career was disrupted after he stole an engagement ring from an auction and pleaded guilty to theft over $5,000 in 2004.

Burnaby North-Seymour is smaller and less dense than average. It is richer than the average across the country, and well-educated, with more than half holding postsecondary degrees.

Fisheries Minister Keeps His Seat 

Jonathan Wilkinson, the Trudeau government’s fisheries minister and the former Parliamentary secretary for the environment to Catherine McKenna, hung on to his riding of North Vancouver.

As of 12:04 a.m. ET, Wilkinson was leading his Conservative rival Andrew Saxton by 2,200 votes.

In 2015, Wilkinson, a former constitutional negotiator, beat out former Harper government Parliamentary secretary for finance Andrew Saxton, who had held the seat between 2008 and 2015. The riding had been reliably conservative until 2004.

Like Sohi in Edmonton, Wilkinson faced a rematch in his riding with Saxton. The Liberal minister, who helped promote the government’s multi-billion dollar Oceans Protection Plan, accused his People’s Party opponent of spreading misinformation this campaign.

Obamacare Premiums Are Down in 2020

Oh hey, look at this:

Nearly three years into President Trump’s aggressive efforts to undermine the Affordable Care Act, prices…will actually drop next year, and the number of insurers offering plans will go up.

Here it is in chart form:

Not bad.

Is WeWork Even Worth $8 Billion?

The WeWork saga is nearing an end:

SoftBank Group Corp. won approval from WeWork’s board to take control of the troubled co-working startup, in a deal that would hand co-founder Adam Neumann nearly $1.7 billion and sever most of his ties with the company….The deal is expected to value the company at about $8 billion, a far cry from what it was expected to fetch in an initial public offering earlier this year and even less than the $47 billion at which a January investment from SoftBank pegged its worth.

This whole thing is even crazier than it looks. For starters, the outside world has known for years that WeWork’s business model was nuts. The Wall Street Journal made that clear two years ago and there were plenty of hints years before that. The company was a nothingburger propped up by the mad stylings of Adam Neumann.

What’s even crazier is that SoftBank must have known this all along. It’s one thing for the outside world to be fooled, but Softbank was a major investor. They must have seen the books. They must have known about Neumann’s sketchy insidery deals. They must have known there was nothing really special about yet another office leasing company, even if it did “activate the space” and appeal to millennials. Space is space.

So how is it that within the span of ten months, SoftBank reduced its valuation of WeWork from $48 billion to $8 billion? Was their January valuation all just part of the scam?

And here’s another little nugget to chew on: even now, on a revenue basis, WeWork is valued at more than 5x the level of IWG, its stodgy old competitor that does pretty much the exact same thing they do. Even after all the revelations of the past few weeks, WeWork still looks plenty overvalued.

If Anyone Should Be Complaining About Unfair Political Attacks It’s Hillary Clinton

Donald Trump says he’s being lynched, and I suppose he ought to know. After all, he was the king of the “Lock her up” chant in 2016, and to this day he’s seemingly convinced that Hillary Clinton committed high crimes and misdemeanors with her emails when she was Secretary of State.

And in a way, who can blame him when Clinton’s email problems produced flood-the-zone coverage like this in our nation’s paper of record?

The wheels of justice grind slow but exceeding fine, and three years later the State Department has finally decided that no one really did anything wrong after all:

“While there were some instances of classified information being inappropriately introduced into an unclassified system in furtherance of expedience,” the report said, “by and large, the individuals interviewed were aware of security policies and did their best to implement them in their operations.”

The report concluded, “There was no persuasive evidence of systemic, deliberate mishandling of classified information.”

I guess I hardly need to tell you where this article ended up, do I?

Lest you think it’s unfair to hold the Times accountable for a conclusion reached three years after their Hillary jihad took place, they could have reached the same conclusion themselves if they’d actually read the entire FBI report, which was released in early September of 2016. I read it, and it flipped my view of Emailgate completely from “sloppy bad judgment but not illegal” to “Hillary did nothing wrong, period.” Of course, the FBI report was 58 pages long, so who can blame anyone for just skimming it? Clinton was obviously sleazy and had been her whole life, so what were the odds that the email affair was just another Republican hit job?

Pretty high, actually, but the Times still hadn’t figured that out in 2016. Bygones, I suppose. Still, you’d think there might at least be an apology in the works or something.

Trump Compares Impeachment to a “Lynching”

Shortly after a new poll showed that half of Americans now support his removal from office, President Donald Trump on Tuesday offered up a wildly inappropriate and offensive comparison:

So some day, if a Democrat becomes President and the Republicans win the House, even by a tiny margin, they can impeach the President, without due process or fairness or any legal rights. All Republicans must remember what they are witnessing here – a lynching. But we will WIN!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 22, 2019

The “lynching” description does not resonate with most Americans, who increasingly support Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Even a handful of Republican lawmakers now back the probe. It does, however, come as the latest self-victimizing tantrum Trump has thrown in recent weeks, as key witnesses in the Ukraine scandal have ignored the White House’s demand for silence with testimony damning for Trump and his allies. And this time he did it by likening his political situation to the brutal murders of African Americans.

Those depositions continue with Bill Taylor, the top US diplomat to Ukraine, who is set to appear before House investigators today. Taylor, in text messages released by Democrats earlier this month, had called Trump’s Ukraine policy “crazy.”

The Pro-Trump Super PAC at the Center of the Ukraine Scandal Has Faced Multiple Campaign Finance Complaints

This story was originally published by ProPublica, a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

Last year, a Department of Defense contractor quietly donated half a million dollars to a group supporting President Donald Trump’s reelection.

Once a watchdog organization noticed it, the contribution raised an alarm. Federal contractors are not allowed to donate to political entities. And groups are required by law to examine all donations for potential legal issues. If they discover that a contractor has made a contribution, the money has to be returned.

The other unusual aspect of the donation was the man behind it. Randy Perkins, the founder of DOD contractor AshBritt Environmental, had no history of six-figure contributions to federal political groups, although he has been a regular donor to Republicans for the past 15 years. He ran unsuccessfully for Congress as a Democrat in 2016.

The watchdog group pointed out that the money came in a day after AshBritt won a supplemental contract award worth $460,000 from the DOD for wildfire cleanup, bringing its contract total to about $1.7 million.

Asked about the donation, Perkins said he had meant to make a personal donation to express his support for specific Trump policies: “I actually think this administration cares deeply about children and mental health issues.” He said the contract extension had nothing to do with the contribution.

America First Action, the Trump super PAC that accepted the donation, adjusted its report on the source of the funds only after the watchdog group, the Campaign Legal Center, filed a complaint with the Federal Election Commission. Since America First’s creation in 2017, it has refunded just a fraction of 1% of all the funds it has raised.

If you’ve been hearing about America First recently, it’s likely because two associates of presidential lawyer Rudy Giuliani were arrested on allegations that they illegally funneled money to the group.

But that case is not the only problem that has ensnared the PAC as its role in backing Republican candidates has grown.

In another instance, the American subsidiary of a Canadian company made three donations totaling $1.75 million to America First in 2018. In another complaint, the Campaign Legal Center questioned the source of the donation and alleged that Wheatland Tube LLC may have violated laws against foreign nationals contributing to federal campaigns. The company declined to comment on the matter.

Last year, Common Cause, the political reform group, asked the FEC to determine whether the Trump campaign had illegally coordinated with America First and America First Policies, a related group that can raise money without disclosing its donors. The complaint alleged that the president and his campaign were improperly soliciting contributions for the two entities.

The FEC has not acted on any of these complaints to date, and it currently lacks a quorum to vote on enforcement actions proposed by its staff.

“The number of complaints is pretty remarkable,” said Ann Ravel, a Democrat who served as chair of the FEC in 2015.

America First communications director Kelly Sadler told ProPublica that the group takes its obligations seriously and goes to great lengths to comply with the law.

The PAC has denied any wrongdoing in the criminal case against the Giuliani associates. Sadler said the contribution at the heart of the indictment has been placed in a segregated account and will remain there “until these matters are resolved and a court determines the proper disposition of the funds.”

As a super PAC, America First can take unlimited donations from corporations and individuals. In return, it is not supposed to coordinate with campaigns, which are restricted in the amount of donations they may accept.

America First has raised more money to support Trump’s reelection than any super PAC. It is currently chaired by Linda McMahon, and it has raised nearly $50 million over the last two years, including about $9 million in this election cycle to reelect Trump.

Its affiliated nonprofit group, America First Policies, was co-founded by Brad Parscale, now the president’s campaign manager.

McMahon, a former professional wrestling executive, until March was a member of the president’s cabinet, overseeing the Small Business Administration. She also donated $1 million to the PAC, whose public filings show 19 donations of at least $1 million.

The PAC’s top donors include casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and Geoffrey Palmer, a billionaire California developer. Richard and Elizabeth Uihlein, who run a shipping supplies company, donated half a million dollars each.

In the 2018 election, America First spent more than $29 million supporting Republican candidates in House and Senate races. Former Texas Rep. Pete Sessions, a powerful GOP leader, received heavy backing from the PAC—$3 million toward a contest he would go on to lose.

The $500,000 donation attributed to AshBritt was among a flood of big donations coming into the PAC in the spring of 2018. The company, based in Deerfield Beach, Florida, does disaster cleanup work.

The Campaign Legal Center’s complaint got little attention. Under FEC rules, a committee has 30 days to confirm the legality of a questionable donation or to refund it; nearly three months passed before the PAC amended its filing to show the donation as being made directly by Perkins.

Perkins said he tried to rectify the matter by providing “all paperwork to the FEC” and resubmitting forms to America First stating that the funds were in fact drawn from a corporate account that would later be taxed as personal income.

“When I wrote the check, I cleared it with America First,” Perkins told ProPublica.

Perkins acknowledges that the optics of his America First donation are less than ideal.

“The facts might be a problem,” he said. “But they are facts.”

A few weeks after Perkins’ donation, the PAC received $325,000 from Global Energy Producers, the Florida energy company that is now at the center of a presidential impeachment inquiry. The PAC was referred to as “Committee 1” in the federal indictment of Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman.

The two men, according to the indictment, were key characters in a coercion campaign to recall the United States ambassador to Ukraine, Marie L. Yovanovitch, which they believed would pave the way for an investigation into Trump’s Democratic rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, and his son Hunter.

The indictment also alleges that Fruman and Parnas promised to fundraise for Sessions. Around the same time, Sessions wrote to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo urging Yovanovitch’s ouster.

Sessions, who is now running for Congress in a new district, did not respond to messages from ProPublica. In a statement issued on his behalf, he acknowledged meeting with the two Florida businessmen several times but said he took no action on their behalf.

Sessions denied that his letter to Pompeo was directly related to the meetings. He said he will donate the contributions Parnas and Fruman gave to his campaign to Texas charities.

Hundreds of Cities Have Adopted a New Strategy for Reducing Crime in Housing. Is It Making Neighborhoods Safer—or Whiter?

The catalyst for Faribault, Minnesota’s crime-free housing law came one night in October 2013, when more than a dozen residents gathered at a city council meeting to air concerns about the state of their historic downtown. They were worried, as a local reporter recounted, about public safety and building codes. But not far from the surface, the complaints centered on the growing community of Somali immigrants, many of whom lived around the central business district of this city of 23,000 people, about an hour south of Minneapolis.

Not far from the surface, the complaints centered on the growing community of Somali immigrants.

Business owners were frustrated that Somali men often gathered on sidewalks to talk, blocking access to storefronts. One parent said there was now “an element of fear among the kids—especially the girls.” Shopkeepers said their businesses were infested with cockroaches because the tenants living upstairs were leaving out food. “These bugs are not indigenous to Minnesota,” Tami Schluter, who owned a bed-and-breakfast, said in a statement to the council. But, she continued, “Who wants to admit their business has bugs? Complaints about other problems gets the business owner labeled as a bigot!”

Asher Ali, a Somali community leader, tried to respond to the claims being tossed around. “When you see me talking to friends and you feel scared, I cannot treat that problem,” he said. But his words did little to abate the grievances. “Please do something for the people I cater to,” said Janna Viscomi, an owner of Bernie’s Grill, who had previously complained to the Faribault Daily News about people standing in the way of her customers. Schluter blamed landlords for not taking better care of renters who might not know their legal rights. “We need to do a better job,” she told the council, “of educating incoming tenants as to our culture and our laws.”

Police Chief Andrew Bohlen thought the business owners were overlooking a more pressing safety issue. In a memo he sent out before the meeting, he assured council members that crime levels weren’t rising downtown, and that a proposed measure to stop loitering would likely be “unenforceable.” The real issue, he believed, was a few “problem tenants” at three rental properties outside of the downtown area, who together had been the subject of 103 complaints in one year for disorderly conduct and other disturbances.

One of those tenants was Thelma Jones, an African American health aide who rented a five-bedroom house with three of her kids and a grandson. Jones’ neighbors, who were white, had called the police on her family at least 82 times in two years, complaining about barbecues and kids jumping on a trampoline. The neighbors also griped about her yard, which they said was messy. Some suspected that members of Jones’ family were using drugs.

None of these incidents led to a criminal conviction. But nuisance calls like these, the police chief believed, were draining resources from his department. As he and a second city official wrote in another memo, “problematic tenants” would push “quality tenants” away and “ultimately change the landscape of tenants renting within Faribault.” He urged the council to adopt guidelines laid out by the International Crime Free Association, which were already in place in St. Paul, Rochester, and dozens of other Minnesota cities. The rules, known as the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program, make it easier for landlords to remove certain renters. Landlords who receive certification through the program are taught to use a lease addendum that allows them to evict anyone suspected by police of engaging in criminal conduct in or around their homes. They attend an eight-hour training, run background checks on prospective tenants, and are encouraged to evict an entire household if a single member or guest is thought to be breaking the law.

After more meetings, in June 2014, the council voted unanimously to pass a sweeping housing law that capped the number of tenants in rental units and required landlords to adhere to a version of the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program. Landlords who didn’t could be charged with a misdemeanor, fined, and jailed for up to 90 days.

Faribault’s new law, which applied to private rentals, mirrored controversial federal legislation that already applied to public housing tenants. In 1988, President Ronald Reagan signed the Anti–Drug Abuse Act, which used evictions to deter drug dealing and other criminal activity in publicly funded housing. Two more bills, signed by George H.W. Bush and Bill Clinton, strengthened the initial law, creating what’s known as the one-strike policy. If, for instance, a teenager commits a minor offense like smoking pot in or around her federally subsidized apartment, her family may be booted from their residence. In May, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) raised concerns about this rule during a hearing with Housing Secretary Ben Carson, arguing that it unfairly punished entire families and disproportionately harmed people of color. Carson suggested he’d be open to reforming it. In July, Ocasio-­Cortez and Sen. Kamala Harris (D-Calif.) introduced legislation that would eliminate the one-strike policy.

The expansion of one-strike rules into the private rental market is “very, very troubling.”

Far less attention has been paid to the crime-free housing programs for private rentals that hundreds of cities and towns have adopted over the past three decades. Some cities have implemented the program as a set of voluntary guidelines for landlords, while others, including Fort Worth, Texas, and San Bernardino, California, have made versions of these rules into law. The expansion of these provisions into the private housing market is “very, very troubling,” says Katy Ramsey, a former tenants’ attorney who teaches law at the Univer­sity of Memphis. Focusing on evicting people “who might be any hint of a threat” is “probably just a proxy for other things that people consider to be undesirable.” Crime-free housing programs, she wrote recently in the UCLA Law Review, put “an unprecedented number of people, many of whom are low-income people of color, at risk of eviction and homelessness.”

The International Crime Free Association, whose founder developed the model that most crime-free housing programs are based on, estimates its guidelines have been implemented in more than 2,000 cities in 48 states since the early 1990s. It says its program teaches landlords how to “keep illegal activity off rental property,” a goal it presents in stark terms. A training manual used by multiple cities that have adapted its program refers to criminals as a “two-legged urban breed of predator.” Criminals are “like weeds,” it continues. “As a weed grows, it roots, it sprouts and it chokes out healthy plants.” The association’s founder boasts that the program helped one couple renovate their property by evicting the occupants of 67 out of 71 units.

Police and city officials maintain that these programs work. The International Crime Free Association claims properties that have implemented its guidelines experience, on average, a 75 percent reduction in crimes or 911 calls. Crime did fall in Faribault after the crime-free housing law passed, in part because it was “driving problem tenants out of town,” says Paul Reuvers, an attorney for the city. RuthAnn Eide, a crime prevention coordinator at the St. Paul Police Department and a committee chair of the Minnesota Crime Prevention Association, said she had never seen the program enforced in a discriminatory way. “Maybe decades ago in the dark ages, when personal and institutional racism was running rampant,” she said. “It’s just not like that anymore.”

Thelma Jones, whose family was evicted from their home, recalls that a neighbor told her to “go back to where you came from.”

Andy Richter

Yet these programs’ critics argue that, decades after redlining prevented many African Americans from owning houses, crime-free housing policies have become blunt tools for forcing people of color out of neighborhoods, or for preventing them from moving in at all. Last year, Thelma Jones and six other Faribault residents, with help from the American Civil Liberties Union, sued Faribault in federal court, claiming that the city’s rental housing law was passed “with the express intent and purpose to discriminate against Somali and Black people.” If the case proceeds to trial early next year, it will be the first time a judge has had to weigh in on whether a codified version of the program violates the Fair Housing Act.

The idea for a crime-free housing program had been floating around Faribault for years. During a review of the police department in 2008, a consultant suggested the city adopt it. That recommendation came just as the city’s Somali community started to expand. From 1993 to 2005, while civil war raged in Somalia, about 12,000 refugees from the country relocated to Minnesota. By 2009, roughly 175 were living in Faribault. Nearly 900 more moved to the city over the next seven years, and many found work at the Jennie-O meat factory. For years before the Somalis arrived, and Cambodian refugees and Latino immigrants before them, Faribault had been about as white as a town could get. (In 1924, the Ku Klux Klan’s Minnesota chapter held its first convention on the fairgrounds.) From 2000 to 2010, the number of black people in the town more than tripled, to almost 8 percent of the population. Today, more than a fifth of the city’s population are people of color.

Some residents welcomed the Somali newcomers, and nonprofits sprang up to connect them with English classes and jobs. Many Somali families settled around the city’s small business district, where rents were cheap. Then-Mayor John Jasinski, who was pushing a redevelopment scheme for the downtown area, had some concerns. “The family makeup of having kids and things like that living downtown isn’t the best,” he said in a television interview in 2016. “You’ll drive by and see maybe them playing kickball in a parking lot, and people get offended by that.” He suggested trying to make the downtown area “a little bit more vibrant” with fancier, lower-­density units as well as finding the immigrant families housing elsewhere.

As part of the redevelopment plan, the city offered loans to property owners who renovated their buildings and followed the new crime-free housing program. In a video produced by the city, Jasinski and then–City Administrator Brian Anderson said they were putting more police on the streets to support the program, and, as Ander­son put it, “get rid of” some of the “undesirable” people in town. Viscomi, who was elected to the city council after the housing law passed, said in an interview in late 2016, while she was running for mayor, that Faribault needed to attract wealthier families and businesses or it would “flip like Detroit in a few years.”

Not long afterward, in November 2016, Donald Trump held an election rally in Minneapolis. “Here in Minnesota you have seen firsthand the problems caused with faulty refugee vetting, with large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state, without your knowledge, without your support or approval,” he told the crowd. “You’ve suffered enough.” After Trump took office, some residents in Faribault said they were relieved by his “travel ban,” which had suspended refugee resettlement. “I think slowing things down would be good,” Viscomi told the Minneapolis Star Tribune when asked about the ban. “I don’t want to see families separated, but in the other regard, there needs to be somebody saying, ‘Hey, let’s breathe here.’”

Shortly after Faribault’s housing law went into effect, Rukiya Hussein, a Somali immigrant whose husband worked at the meat plant, gave birth to a baby girl. A month later, according to court documents, she got a letter from her landlord saying her family needed to move out of their three-bedroom apartment because there were now six kids in the household, one more than the occupancy limit allowed. The experience prompted Hussein to join the ACLU lawsuit.

Abdi Hussein (no relation to Rukiya Hussein), who works at a halal market, says he couldn’t find an apartment big enough for his wife and five kids after his landlord asked them to leave their two-bedroom place. They ended up renting a house they couldn’t afford. As a result, he sent his wife and kids to Kenya, where they will stay until he can save enough money to buy a house in the city. Hussein says he feels fairly welcome in Faribault. But he knows many Somali families affected by the housing law, including more than a dozen that have moved away altogether.

Ali Ali, one of the plaintiffs in the case at the Somali Community Resettlement Office.

Andy Richter

Rukiya Hussein, another plaintiff. One month after having her last child she was given an eviction notice.

Andy Richter

The city has not tracked how many people have been evicted because of the occupancy limit imposed by the housing law. Yet Alejandro Ortiz, an ACLU attorney who is leading the case against Faribault, notes that many Somali families, which are more likely to be larger, have been forced out of their homes by the limit. The ACLU’s lawsuit against the city asserts the law was intentionally implemented to restrict the number of Somalis in Faribault. The suit cites comments made by Anderson and Viscomi as evidence that the law was passed with discriminatory intent.

By December 2017, six property owners were on probation for violating Faribault’s rental housing law, and one had been jailed for noncompliance. The crime-free housing program had led to the eviction of 90 “problem tenants,” according to a city budget document. Michael Tousignant, a landlord in Faribault, said the police forced him to evict a mother with three kids because her husband was caught dealing cocaine, even though the husband was not on the lease. She was also arrested, but all charges against her were dropped, and Tousignant says she had been a good tenant. He recalls that when he questioned the police about the eviction, which he believed was unfair, an officer “basically said, ‘I threw her out because I wanted to,’” and then wrote him a ticket under the rental housing law. (The city denies that an officer said this.)

Thelma Jones, the renter whose neighbors kept calling the police on her family, was evicted in early 2017, around the time prosecutors charged her landlord with not properly registering the property or attending the eight-hour training, according to the lawsuit.

The tenants suing the city argue that Faribault adopted the rental housing law with the intent of removing families of color from within its limits.

Jones, Hussein, and the other tenants suing the city argue that Faribault adopted the rental housing law with the intent of removing families of color from within its limits. And regardless of its intent, the plaintiffs argue, the law disproportionately harms people of color. Black people are much more likely than white people to rent homes; 90 percent of Faribault’s black households are renters, compared with 28 percent of white households. Black people are also more likely to be arrested and incarcerated, which makes them more likely to be flagged in a background check or kicked out of their homes under one-strike policies. (In 2015, nearly 45 percent of people arrested for disorderly conduct in Faribault were black.) “The crime-free housing programs extend injustices in the criminal justice system and import them into housing,” says Ortiz.

As of late last year, according to an attorney for the city, 21 percent of the people evicted due to the crime-free housing program were black; 11 percent of the city’s population was black in 2017. The ACLU says an even higher number of black people may have been affected by the program, because the city came up with these statistics only after the lawsuit was filed, in part by asking a police officer to recall the race of evicted tenants. The city has not kept any data on the race of people evicted due to the occupancy limit or denied housing because of rental application rejections triggered by background checks.

A slide from a presentation that the city of Faribault used to train landlords. The presentation was obtained by the ACLU during legal proceedings.

Attorneys for Faribault say the allegation of racial discrimination is “frivolous, vexatious, and a sham,” and that the rental housing law’s goal is to ensure people have safe and sanitary homes. The city also denies that it encouraged landlords to reject any potential tenants with criminal records; the ACLU notes that the Department of Housing and Urban Development has advised against such policies since 2016. The city says property owners still have the ultimate say about who they rent to. However, a training document the city gave to landlords lists “criminal history” among the “suggested criteria” for rejecting rental applicants. A PowerPoint document used to train landlords as recently as 2017 states that “a criminal record does not bar you from renting to an applicant,” but adds that the crime-free housing law will be enforced against landlords who sign leases with tenants when a “criminal history is evident.” It then spells out the consequences, which could include a $1,000 fine, probation, and court appearances. “Landlords faced with this choice will do what the city obviously wants them to do, otherwise they’ll face potential jail time,” Ortiz says.

Though she was evicted after her landlord’s failure to follow the law, Jones believes she was forced out of her home because of discrimination. She argues she was labeled a “problem tenant” simply because her white neighbors had called the police on her so many times. She recalls that a neighbor told her to “go back to where you came from.” The city’s attorneys argue race had nothing to do with her eviction. Yet they also allege that “substantial criminal activity” occurred at her house, including people “smoking pot and doing drugs.” (In 2013, Jones’ son was arrested and accused of breaking into a restaurant and bringing cash registers back to her garage. The charges were dismissed, though he was convicted of a misdemeanor for property damage.) “No one should have to endure the despicable conduct of the Jones family,” they wrote in legal documents responding to the lawsuit, noting that another black family moved into the house after the Joneses. “The fact a black family lives there now and has been welcomed by the community, belies any allegation her family was subjected to any discrimination whatsoever,” they stated.

“It’s similar to the claim of, ‘I can’t be racist because I have black friends,’” Ortiz responds. “They keep saying ‘criminal activity,’ but I don’t hear anything specific,” says Jones, who remembers having a good relationship with her landlord. “I have teenagers—their friends come and go. That does not mean they are selling drugs…Once again, they are stereotyping because I’m black.”

In official descriptions of their crime-free housing policies, most cities point back to Mesa, Arizona, as the birthplace of the program. They usually don’t include much about its architect. In 1992, Tim Zehring was a young police officer in the Phoenix suburb. He was six years into the job and exasperated that he was spending so much time answering calls about noise, suspicious activity, and assaults at apartment complexes. Too often, he thought, landlords called the police when problems arose, but they didn’t do enough to vet their tenants in the first place.

He’d heard about the Landlord Training Program, which had been started in Portland by a man named John Campbell, who was worried about drug crimes in his neighborhood. The idea was to train landlords to screen tenants, improve the design of their apartments to deter crime, spot warning signs of drug activity, and develop rental agreements that would make it easier to evict someone after they broke the law. The Justice Department offered Campbell funding to take the program national. Zehring reached out to him after learning the Tucson Police Department was experimenting with his program, and Campbell agreed to let the Portland model be adapted. But Zehring wanted to make some changes. Tucson’s version of the program had been criticized for potentially discriminating against low-income people of color. He also worried its title would scare off tenants who viewed the word “landlord” as synonymous with “slumlord.” Zehring made some tweaks and proposed a new name: the Crime Free Multi-Housing Program.

Tim Zehring’s letter to John Campbell (p. 1). View the entire document on DocumentCloud

In the mid-’90s, Campbell visited Mesa and reviewed training materials to see how Zehring had implemented his ideas. What he observed concerned him. During one training, Zehring emphasized that landlords may legally turn down any applicant with a felony conviction. (Zehring says that his teachings follow HUD guidance and that he does not encourage blanket bans on people with criminal records.) Mesa police, Campbell says, “missed the point about focusing on healthy communities and tended to side with the landlords.” As Campbell recalled, “The more I looked at it, the more nervous I got about what it was they were doing. This wasn’t the direction we felt comfortable with. We took steps to ask them to no longer use our materials, period.” (In 1995, Campbell accused the Mesa Police Department of sharing his materials without permission; an attorney for the Mesa department denied any copyright infringement, and Campbell never filed a lawsuit.)

A council member worried Faribault was going to “flip like Detroit in a few years.”

Rather than rely on Campbell’s training documents, Zehring helped Mesa develop its own program. In 2000, he created the International Crime Free Association to promote his model. The group conducts trainings for law enforcement officials, who then train local landlords. Landlords receive workbooks that sometimes describe the threat of crime in loaded terms. “When you think of predators, you might think of the lion,” reads a workbook copyrighted by the Mesa police in 1996. “Lions only hunt when hungry; but criminals are always a danger.” When landlords turn down a rental applicant, it advises, “Plan your words very carefully—discrimination suits are filed when managers say too much!” More recent adaptations of the workbook used in California, Illinois, Missouri, and Tennessee included many of these quotes. (Mesa still uses some of the program’s training materials.) 

Zehring is proud of his work. In a recent phone call, when I tried to ask him a question, he told me not to interrupt because “I know what questions you’re going to ask.” He then talked for about 30 minutes straight. At times, he launched into oddly detailed hypothetical scenarios, like the story of an evicted man who called a judge an “idiot,” to which the imaginary judge responded, “Shut up. You’re ignorant!” 

“One of the problems in our society is everyone screams, ‘My rights, my rights, I know my rights!’” he said. “Well, I’m gonna tell you, what they don’t know is their responsibilities.” Zehring says he never intended for police to order evictions, and that he envisioned his model as a voluntary program that would teach landlords about their rights and respon­sibilities. He says he urges towns not to codify his model or punish landlords who don’t comply. And he argues that the Supreme Court already ruled that crime-free housing programs were constitutional in a 2002 case called Department of Housing and Urban Development v. Rucker. Attorneys I spoke with noted that this decision upheld public housing authorities’ use of the one-strike rule, but does not apply to the private rental market.

Campbell continues to train police departments with his own materials, which he describes as “community oriented,” as opposed to putting “police at the top of the pyramid.” He says that while evictions for criminal behavior are sometimes warranted, he tries to teach landlords that mass evictions are unnecessary. “This has really been an exercise in deep breathing for me,” he says of his experience with Zehring. The International Crime Free Association program “is sort of a very warped outcome that we’ve tried to distance ourselves from. And it’s been very hard to watch it happen.”

The legal challenge to Faribault’s rental housing law builds on a 2015 Supreme Court ruling that the Fair Housing Act prohibits not only housing policies enacted with discriminatory intent, but also those that disproportionately harm a particular group of people. In 2016, under the Obama administration, HUD issued a guideline clarifying that crime-free housing ordinances violate the Fair Housing Act “when they have an unjustified discriminatory effect, even when the local government had no intent to discriminate.” Yet the Trump administration recently proposed a policy change that would make it harder to file complaints to HUD about disparate impacts in either public housing or private rentals.

The Faribault lawsuit could significantly affect how cities enforce crime-free housing ordinances. If the laws are found to be discriminatory and are struck down, landlords would no longer be forced to evict certain tenants. But that wouldn’t leave property owners without any recourse. Existing laws usually allow owners to evict renters who engage in criminal behavior on the property. Landlords may also amend leases to prohibit drug use. And the civil courts that handle evictions based on claims of criminal activity have a much lower burden of proof than criminal courts. Ramsey, the former housing attorney, points out that crime-free policies may not deter crime anyway: The drop in police calls caused by the rules, she writes, “could also be a result of a chilling effect…on crime reporting when citizens fear the consequences of eviction.”

The ACLU has been challenging crime-free housing policies around the country. In 2017, Hesperia, California, revised its crime-free housing ordinance after the ACLU argued that it discriminated against people on probation. (“I want them the hell out of my town, and I don’t care where they go,” a city council member had said of people with criminal records, according to court documents.) Savannah, Georgia, suspended its voluntary program in 2018 after the ACLU complained about a requirement that landlords reject anyone with a conviction for a violent felony, two nonviolent felonies, or three misdemeanors. Officials in Painesville, Ohio, amended their program after the ACLU pointed out that its screening for criminal records discriminated against black people. In July, the Washington attorney general’s office filed a lawsuit against the city of Sunnyside, which it said had used its program to evict mainly “Latinos/as, residents with children, and women,” sometimes without court orders.

The Liga Guerrero 2018 champion Somali team plays in the quarter finals of this year’s tournament, winning 4-3 at Faribault Middle School.

Andy Richter

In October, Faribault’s city council granted preliminary approval to amendments to its rental housing law. Under the proposed changes, children younger than two would be exempt from the occupancy limit, and the city would specify that the crime-free housing program does not restrict landlords from renting to people with criminal records. A HUD guidance sheet would also be included in the training manual for landlords. “We are pleased the City of Faribault acknowledges its rental licensing ordinance, as it exists, is problematic and is open to revising it,” said Teresa Nelson, the legal director of the ACLU of Minnesota. “However, none of the changes it is proposing alter the unlawfulness of its ordinance as described in our lawsuit.”

“The city has an obligation under the Fair Housing Act to not discriminate in housing on the basis of, among other traits, race and national origin,” she continued. “It is the city’s failure to meet this obligation—not the landlords—that is driving this lawsuit.”

As the case with her name on it continues, Thelma Jones is still feeling the effects of Faribault’s law. After she was evicted, she found an apartment in another part of town. It’s on the second floor, and climbing the stairs is difficult because she has an inflammatory lung disease. Without a yard, she had to give up the kids’ trampoline and the family’s poodle mix. The new two-bedroom place is too small for all her kids. Her 23-year-old daughter, Priyia Lacey, who was pregnant at the time of the eviction, had to look for somewhere else to live. Lacey struggled to find housing because her background check revealed an old warrant and assault judgment, according to the ACLU lawsuit. Without a room in her mom’s apartment, she had to sleep in friends’ living rooms with her infant son.

Jones doesn’t host parties at home anymore and rarely invites anyone over for dinner, worried about triggering more complaints from her neighbors. “It’s clear they think what they did to me and my family is okay,” she says. “They don’t care how positive you are to the community: I work hard day in and day out in the health care field—I take care of people, probably some of their relatives—and they don’t care.” She thinks every day about packing up and leaving town for good. “Any black person that thinks they want to move to Faribault and gonna make that their home,” she says, “they are making the biggest mistake of their life.”

Independents Are Repulsed By Donald Trump’s Conduct

PRRI released the results of a new poll recently, and they always something interesting to see. You can read the full results here, but here’s a sample:

Even Republicans, who support Trump by a massive margin, say that his personal conduct makes them less likely to vote for him. More importantly, independents are hugely turned off by Trump’s behavior. These are the votes he needs to win, and it sure doesn’t look like he’s making any inroads there.

The Opioid Settlement Will Fund Desperate Counties—But Could Come at a Steep Cost

Just hours before a high-profile federal opioid trial was to begin in Cleveland on Monday morning, drug companies reached a $260 million settlement deal with Ohio’s Summit and Cuyahoga counties. The two counties are bellwether plaintiffs—test cases for how the more than 2,700 counties, cities, and tribal lands suing drug companies in the same federal lawsuit would fare. Monday’s news suggests that a multi-billion dollar settlement deal resolving the thousands of cases is on the horizon.

Summit and Cuyahoga—and, indeed, all of the plaintiffs in the federal case—are grappling with competing demands. On the one hand, cash-strapped municipalities want to avoid years of protracted litigation and secure money to cover addiction treatment, emergency services, and other costs associated with responding to the epidemic. Cuyahoga and Summit Counties have been particularly devastated by the opioid crisis: Akron, in Summit County, rented refrigerated trailers to handle the influx of bodies; the Cuyahoga County medical examiner told me in 2017 that the overdoses amounted to a “tidal wave.”

“If I were those companies, I wouldn’t want [the exhibits] to see the light of day either,” said one attorney. 

On the other hand, settling might not garner nearly as much the plaintiffs would like: $260 million is far less than the more than $7 billion the two Ohio counties originally sought to cover addiction treatment, emergency services, and other costs associated with the epidemic. Crucially, settling enables drug companies to avoid airing dirty laundry during a highly anticipated trial. The details of the settlement have not yet been made public, but often, settlement terms require sealing, deleting, or shredding thousands of pages of damning evidence. 

“I wouldn’t hold it against these counties or states that settle these cases because they desperately need the money to tackle this problem,” said Dr. Andrew Kolodny, who studies opioid policy at Brandeis University and who was a paid expert witness in Oklahoma’s recent trial against Johnson & Johnson. “The problem with settling is that the public doesn’t get to really see or learn about all of the wrongdoing. What’s become public is only the tip of the iceberg.”

Under the terms of the settlement in Ohio, the three companies responsible for distributing the majority of America’s drugs from pharmaceutical makers to pharmacies—McKesson, Amerisource Bergen, and Cardinal Health—will pay a combined $215 million immediately to Summit and Cuyahoga Counties to settle charges that they failed to report suspicious orders of drugs. Teva, an Israeli generics drugmakers, will pay $20 million and contribute $25 million in opioid addiction treatment Suboxone. (Walgreens, a defendant in the same case, didn’t settle; its case has been postponed.) Several other drug companies—including Purdue Pharma, Johnson & Johnson, and Endo—settled with the two counties earlier this fall.

For now, the drug companies that have settled still have to contend with the 2,700 other plaintiffs in the federal case (with the exception of Purdue Pharma and fentanyl maker Insys, which have declared bankruptcy). But Monday’s news suggests a willingness on behalf of the companies to pay now rather than face trials that would likely reveal internal emails, sales calls, distribution reports, and marketing strategies. “If I were those companies, I wouldn’t want [the exhibits] to see the light of day either,” said Jonathan Novak, a former Drug Enforcement Agency attorney who now represents plaintiffs in other opioid lawsuits. “The language that’s all over these documents—the emails, et cetera—it’s not a good look, and it’s not a humanitarian look.”

The exhibits that were already made public in the trial included, for example, a damning 2001 email from Purdue’s former president, Richard Sackler, about meeting with patient advocacy groups: “Our goal is to bind these organizations more closely to us than heretofore, but also to align them with our expanded mission and to see that the fate of our product(s) are inextricably bound up with the trajectory of the pain movement,” he wrote. Exhibits that came to light earlier this year in a separate opioid trial, Oklahoma’s case against J&J—the first such case to go to trial to date—showed how the company became the country’s leading supplier of opiate raw ingredients, growing mutant poppies in Tasmania and selling narcotics to Purdue, among other drug manufacturers.

Still, sealing evidence in drug cases is common practice. A recent Reuters investigation found that judges frequently sealed evidence related to public health and safety in cases involving drugs and other defective products without giving “their reasons for allowing secrecy, though they are required to do so.” One prime example: Back in 2001, West Virginia accused Purdue Pharma of misleading doctors about the addictive risks associated with its blockbuster opioid OxyContin. The discovery phase included thousands of internal memos, sales calls, and marketing plans. The evidence was never made public. 

If evidence gathered over several years of discovery in the federal case is sealed, Kolodny worries that valuable information about the way the epidemic came to be—including the way that drug companies influenced politicians, medical journals, continuing medical education, and organizations that create standards for physicians and hospitals—will be lost. “If everything gets sealed and shredded as part of the settlement,” he said, “we never get to learn these lessons and act on them.”

Is First-Class Flying Getting Cheaper?

Back when I used to fly a lot, I always wondered why business class seats were so much more expensive than coach. They weren’t twice as expensive, as you’d expect, they were four times, maybe five times as expensive. Why?

I don’t fly very much anymore so I don’t care as much. However, a few months ago, when I flew to Bogotá, Avianca Airlines offered me a first class, fully-reclining pod seat for $700, compared to $400 for a coach seat. What a bargain! But I figured I had just lucked out with some kind of Avianca deal and thought no more about it.

Today, though, I booked a flight home on American. The coach fare was $587, which is really $617 when you add in my one checked bag. A first-class seat was $694 with free checked bags. When did this start happening? Is it because I booked a flight that was only two days away? Have first/business class seats gotten cheaper? Did I just get lucky? Or what?

Facebook’s Newest Election Policies Still Leave Trump Free to Lie

On Monday, Facebook founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg took the unusual step of personally announcing the removal of four manipulation campaigns from the company’s platforms. During a call announcing elections-related policy changes, Facebook said the operations, three of which originated in Iran and the other from Russia, targeted the US, North Africa, and Latin America, were examples of “coordinated inauthentic behavior” campaigns designed to make content artificially popular while concealing who is behind a message.

“Actors in these nations are continuing to attempt to interfere in elections and public debate around the world, and including in the US,” Zuckerberg said on a Monday call with reporters, boasting that the company was “more prepared heading into 2020,” and boasting its detection of the networks “should provide some confidence that our systems here are working.”

“It is fairly early…they’re still trying to build their audience, and they put a bunch of effort into concealing who they were.”

The company has taken down more than 50 such networks over the last year. Monday’s announcement, which followed a speech Zuckerberg gave on Thursday defending his company’s record on free expression, is proof that tools designed to identify such behavior earlier are working, said Nathaniel Gleicher, Facebook’s head of cybersecurity policy.

“It is fairly early in their operational cycle,” he said, offering an assessment of the network operators’ progress. “They’re still trying to build their audience, and they put a bunch of effort into concealing who they were and hiding and having very good operational security. But we were able to find them and stop them before they were able to complete their operation—really as they were just getting going.”

The company also used the call to announce several new and updated policies around elections, including a ban on voter suppression ads encouraging people not to cast ballots. A number of steps are aimed at increasing information about who is spreading messages on the platform, include showing the confirmed owner of a page, labeling state-controlled media on their pages and in the company’s Ad Library, instituting a US presidential candidate spending tracker, making fact-checking labels clearer, and promising an “initial investment of $2 million” for media literacy projects “to help people better understand the information they see online.”  The company also outlined plans to offer more secure accounts to candidates, elected officials, and their teams, along with heightened monitoring for potential hacks.

One policy unaffected by Monday’s announcement is one rolled out in late September exempting politicians from third-party fact-checking on the grounds that what politicians say is inherently newsworthy and should be “seen and heard,” even if untruthful. On Thursday, before a crowd at Georgetown University and in the face of wide criticism related to the policy, Zuckerberg defended his company as a force for good in the world, a platform where everyday people express ideas. He told the crowd that though he’d considered banning political advertising in the past, the impulse to “pull back from free expression” throughout history has always been wrong, even in times of considerable social strife. One example he cited, the repression of Martin Luther King Jr. during the civil right struggle, drew a rebuke from King’s daughter, Bernice, suggesting that the very kinds of disinformation the company’s policy allows politicians to engage in helped get her father killed. 

I heard #MarkZuckerberg‘s ‘free expression’ speech, in which he referenced my father. I’d like to help Facebook better understand the challenges #MLK faced from disinformation campaigns launched by politicians. These campaigns created an atmosphere for his assassination.

— Be A King (@BerniceKing) October 17, 2019

In response to her comments, Zuckerberg said Monday that the King’s assassination is “clearly a major national tragedy and I think she’s right that these issues around hate and disinformation likely played a role in the environment” around his murder. But he doubled down on the premise of last week’s remarks, saying that King “never lost faith in the importance of free expression” before his death.

“If you only ever focus on the downside or the risk of certain things, then you are naturally, over time, going to restrict things maybe more than would be ideal and best,” he said.

Lunchtime Photo

As you may recall, I fell into a creek during my trip along the Blue Ridge Parkway earlier this year. This picture is the reason why.

You see, I took some shots of the creek and then saw the flowers on the other side. Perhaps it would be a better picture, I thought, if I could get those flowers in the foreground. So I tiptoed my way across to the opposite bank, but lost my balance and fell in halfway across. Thanks to my instinctive sense of self-preservation, however, I sacrificed my body in order to keep the camera from getting wet.

In retrospect, the obvious question is: why didn’t I just take off my shoes and walk across normally? Beats me. That sure would have been smart.

The other question is: was it worth it? I would say probably not, since the flowers aren’t prominent enough to make a big enough difference. But your mileage may vary.

May 7, 2019 — Otter Creek, Blue Ridge Parkway, Virginia

Trump Scoffs at “Phony Emoluments Clause” While Complaining About G-7 Scandal

While defending his now-reversed decision to hold the G-7 Summit at his Doral resort, President Donald Trump scoffed at the section of the Constitution that prevents federal officeholders from receiving gifts from foreign governments.

“You people with this phony emoluments clause,” he said, during an interview at the White House Monday, before continuing with a different thought. “And by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2-to-5 billion to be president, and that’s OK, between what I lose and what I could have made.”

Last month, a federal appeals court dealt Trump a legal blow when it ruled that one of several lawsuits alleging that Trump is violating the emoluments clause can go forward. As we explained, the court noted that foreign officials have routinely spent money at the president’s properties:

When Trump took office, he refused to give up ownership or control of his business empire—which includes restaurants and hotels in New York City and Washington, D.C.—though he said he would no longer maintain day-to-day oversight. It’s an unprecedented situation: No other presidents, at least in recent history, have come to office with such an extensive business operation. Critics claimed that Trump was violating the emoluments clause—a section of the Constitution that prohibits the president from accepting payments from foreign governments—because foreign officials almost immediately began spending at the president’s hotels in New York and Washington.

In December 2017, in one of the first big court cases dealing with the issue, a federal judge in New York threw out a suit brought by the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington and a group of restauranteurs in New York. The judge ruled that the plaintiffs’ argument—that their businesses had suffered because foreign governments were instead patronizing Trump-owned establishments in hopes of currying favor with the president—was too speculative. But in a 2-1 decision Friday, the 2nd Circuit Court of Appeals overruled the trial judge, stating that the plaintiffs had a right to attempt to prove their argument. The court noted that numerous foreign officials have said in the press that they booked events at Trump properties to make a good impression.

On Monday, Trump sought to defend his actions by comparing himself to George Washington. “Other presidents were wealthy,” he said. “George Washington was actually considered a very, very rich man at the time. But they ran their businesses.”

Watch the video below:

Donald Trump just scoffed at the section of the Constitution that prevents federal officeholders from receiving gifts from foreign governments: “You people with this phony emoluments clause—And by the way, I would say that it’s cost me anywhere from $2-5 billion to be president."

— Mother Jones (@MotherJones) October 21, 2019

Read Nancy Pelosi’s “Fact Sheet” About Trump’s Ukraine Call

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) released a “fact sheet” Monday detailing President Donald Trump’s “shakedown” of Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky, as well as a “pressure campaign” to get Zelensky to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and a subsequent “cover up,” the Washington Post reports.

“President Trump has betrayed his oath of office, betrayed our national security and betrayed the integrity of our elections for his own personal political gain,” Pelosi’s document states.

The document, titled “Truth Exposed,” includes text messages from Ambassadors Gordon Sondland, Kurt Volker, and Bill Taylor.

Read the full document here: