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Video Shows Teen’s Horrible Death in U.S. Immigration Detention Center

Footage from an immigrant detention center in Texas obtained by Pro Publica and published online Thursday shows the final hours of 16-year-old Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez—who died from complications of the flu while in custody—but also strongly indicates the border patrol agents responsible for his care lied about what happened that night.

“As immigration authorities sat by, a child lay dying from the flu on a slab of concrete in a pool of his own vomit next to a toilet.”
—Jess Morales Rocketto, Families Belong Together

Carlos, according to the news outlet,

was seriously ill when immigration agents put him in a small South Texas holding cell with another sick boy on the afternoon of May 19.

A few hours earlier, a nurse practitioner at the Border Patrol’s dangerously overcrowded processing center in McAllen had diagnosed him with the flu and measured his fever at 103 degrees. She said that he should be checked again in two hours and taken to the emergency room if his condition worsened.

While a log kept by officers at the McAllen detention center in Texas says that Carlos, born in Guatemala, was given wellness checks three times over the course of four hours during the overnight, the video footage reveals that his seemingly lifeless body remained where it was—on the floor by the cell’s toilet—from approximately 1:30am until Carlos’ cellmate discovers him there after waking up past 6:00am. Notably, while the local police say the obtained the video footage from CBP, it contains a four-hour gap that the CBP has still not explained even as they refuse to hand over or acknowledge the existence of a complete recording of the night.

Pro Publica explained it decided to publish the available portion of the video “because it sheds light on the Border Patrol’s treatment of a sick child and shows the government’s account was not true.”

A 16-yr-old boy died in Border Patrol custody. He had the flu

They didn’t take him to the hospital
They didn’t release him
They didn’t even seem to check on him as he was dying on the floor of his cell, contrary to the govt’s account

We have the videohttps://t.co/DE0BDzyviI

— Eric Umansky (@ericuman) December 5, 2019

The annotated video—the original of which was obtained from local law enforcement in Texas who investigated the death—details the final hours of Carlos life [warning the footage is graphic]:

Response to the video and accompanying reporting was a mix of a sadness, shock, and outrage.

“As immigration authorities sat by, a child lay dying from the flu on a slab of concrete in a pool of his own vomit next to a toilet,” said Jess Morales Rocketto, chair of the immigration rights group Families Belong Together.

“Carlos Gregorio Hernandez Vasquez’s death was preventable,” Rocketto added. “As flu season is upon us, the Trump administration has ignored the CDC’s demands to vaccinate children in their immigration jails.     Three children have died of flu-related illnesses on the Trump administration’s watch in the past year.  We need action immediately to get children the life-saving care they deserve and ensure that no more kids die in cages.”

Children are dying in cages at the border. Where’s your outrage for children who are actually being traumatized and abused?! https://t.co/MDlaWKC4yu

— Alex (@AlexMcMackivan) December 5, 2019

“Impeach Trump for this,” said another user on Twitter.

As the Pro Publica notes towards the end of its long and detailed reporting on Carlos’ death while in U.S. custody “reverberated beyond the small village of San Jose del Rodeo” from where he came.

“Friends posted video of his funeral and a village wake on social media, with emotional tributes to him,” the outlet reports. “Guatemalan immigrants outside New York City held a fundraiser to help support his family, one of the goals Carlos had in coming to the U.S.”

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Kerry Endorses Biden as Ad Cites NATO Leaders Mocking Trump

NEW HAMPTON, Iowa — John Kerry, the former secretary of state and 2004 Democratic presidential nominee, endorsed Joe Biden for president on Thursday, buoying the former vice president’s argument that his international experience should be a deciding factor for voters in 2020.

“I’ve never before seen the world more in need of someone who on day one can begin the incredibly hard work of putting back together the world Donald Trump has smashed apart,” Kerry said in a statement.

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The Biden campaign rolled out Kerry’s endorsement as it continued to portray Trump as a dangerous and erratic commander in chief and head of state. The campaign amplified its argument with an online ad featuring video of other world leaders mocking Trump at a Buckingham Palace reception held alongside the NATO summit this week.

Biden, at an event in New Hampton, Iowa, expressed embarrassment over the world reaction to the video capturing Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, French President Emmanuel Macron and British Prime Minister Boris Johnson laughing about Trump earlier this week in London.

“Did you ever think you’d see that?” Biden asked.

Yet before Biden could bolster his argument by celebrating Kerry’s high-profile endorsement, he demonstrated that foreign affairs isn’t a seamless issue for his candidacy. That came during a tense exchange with a voter in New Hampton.

Biden reacted testily and then grew angry at his campaign town hall when an 83-year-old retired farmer queried the candidate about his son Hunter Biden accepting a lucrative post on the board of a Ukrainian energy company while Biden handled U.S.-Ukraine relations as vice president. The issue is near the heart of House impeachment proceedings against Trump after disclosures that the president sought Ukraine’s help in investigating the Bidens. Ukraine officials have said there was nothing illegal about Hunter Biden’s business dealings.

The voter, who declined to give his name, pressed Biden on why it was acceptable for Hunter Biden to capitalize on his father’s power while Democrats assail Trump for self-dealing.

“You’re a damn liar, man, that’s not true,” Biden boomed as the man continued to argue that “You don’t have a backbone … any more than Trump.” When the man finally told Biden he wouldn’t vote for him, Biden replied, “I knew you weren’t voting for me.”

Separately, the man told the 77-year-old Biden that he worries the former vice president is too old for the presidency. Biden challenged the man to a pushup contest and an IQ test. The man later told reporters that he prefers Elizabeth Warren, a 70-year-old Massachusetts senator, for president.

Biden drew applause during the exchange from other attendees, a point the candidate noted afterward to reporters. “I didn’t lose my temper,” he said. “What I wanted to do was shut this down. You saw the reaction here.”

He added that he knows Trump will keep pushing the Hunter Biden story line in a general election campaign that promises “to be even meaner.”

Biden has touched on Trump’s belligerent style on the world stage repeatedly this week as he travels across Iowa, whose Feb. 3 caucuses open Democrats’ 2020 voting. He believes that international experience — with his six terms as a Delaware senator and two terms as vice president — is a winner for him in a primary and potential general election.

“Foreign policy is a major issue” for voters he encounters, Biden said in an interview. “It’s not an issue that they say, well … I think we should take this number of troops out of there and that number of troops there and I’m worried about what’s going on in Ukraine,” he said. “They just know something’s not right. It’s uncomfortable. They know.”

He added that he not only has a better demeanor and skill set for the job than Trump, but he also has more relevant experience, deeper knowledge and more extensive relationships abroad than his Democratic competitors. “It’s not in their wheelhouse,” Biden said. “I mean, it doesn’t mean they can’t learn it, doesn’t mean they’re not smart as hell.”

Biden believes that international experience — with his six terms as a Delaware senator and two terms as vice president — is a winner for him in a primary and potential general election.

Meanwhile, Biden said he looks forward to Kerry, who won the 2004 Iowa caucuses, joining him in the state on Friday.

“John’s a good friend,” Biden said. “He knows what’s at stake.”

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U.S. Considers Sending Several Thousand More Troops to Mideast

WASHINGTON — The Pentagon is considering sending several thousand additional troops to the Middle East to help deter Iranian aggression, amid reports of escalating violence in Iran and continued meddling by Tehran in Iraq, Syria and other parts of the region.

John Rood, defense undersecretary for policy, told senators Thursday that Defense Secretary Mark Esper “intends to make changes” to the number of troops deployed in the region. Other officials said options under consideration could send between 5,000 and 7,000 troops to the Middle East, but they all stressed that there have been no final decisions yet. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal deliberations.

The troop deliberations follow several decisions since spring to beef up the U.S. presence in the Middle East because of a series of maritime attacks and bombings in Saudi Arabia that the U.S. and others have blamed on Iran.

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President Donald Trump has approved those increases, even though he also routinely insists that he is pulling U.S. troops out of the Middle East and withdrawing from what he calls “endless wars” against extremists. In October, Trump told his supporters that despite the sacrificing of U.S. lives in Iraq and other parts of the Middle East, the region is less safe and stable today. “The single greatest mistake our country made in its history,” he said, “was going into the quicksand of the Middle East.”

Asked about a possible troop increase, Trump told reporters Thursday that “We’ll announce whether we will or not. Certainly there might be a threat. And if there is a threat, it will be met very strongly. But we will be announcing what we may be doing — may or may not be doing.”

Military leaders have argued that the U.S. needs to increase its presence in the region in order to deter Iran from conducting more and broader attacks. Rood provided no details to back up why the additional troops are needed, but said the U.S. is concerned about recent intelligence indications suggesting an increased threat from Iran.

Rood was asked several times about reports that 14,000 more troops could be sent to the region. He repeatedly said Esper hasn’t made a decision yet, but didn’t specifically confirm or deny the number, so his answers appeared only to confuse senators. Shortly after the hearing, Pentagon press secretary Alyssa Farah sent out a statement flatly denying the 14,000 number, saying Esper told the Senate committee chairman Thursday morning that “we are not considering sending 14,000 additional troops” to the region.

The troop discussions came as the Trump administration on Thursday accused Iranian security forces of killing more than 1,000 people in crackdowns against recent protests that have swept the country.

The estimated death toll is significantly higher than previously estimates from human rights groups and others, and the administration did not present documentary evidence to back up the claim. But Brian Hook, the U.S. special representative for Iran, told reporters the tally was based on a variety of reports coming out of Iran as well as intelligence analyses.

Speaking at the State Department, Hook said the U.S. had received and reviewed video of one specific incident of repression in the city of Mahshahr in which the Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps had mowed down at least 100 protesters with machine-gun fire.

He said the video was one of tens of thousands of submissions the U.S. has gotten since Secretary of State Mike Pompeo appealed last month for Iranians to submit evidence of atrocities by the authorities in putting down the protests. In it, he said IRGC forces can be seen opening fire on protesters blocking a road and then surrounding those who fled to nearby marshlands where they were sprayed with bullets.

“In this one incident alone the regime murdered as many as 100 Iranians and possibly more,” Hook told reporters at the State Department. He did not display the video but said the actions it depicted corresponded to accounts of a brutal nationwide crackdown on the demonstrations, which started in response to gasoline price increases and rationing.

“We have seen reports of many hundreds more killed in and around Tehran,” he said. “And, as the truth is trickling out of Iran, it appears the regime could have murdered over 1,000 Iranian citizens since the protests began.” The dead include 13- and 14-year-old children, he said.

Speaking at the White House, Trump said Iran had “killed hundreds and hundreds of people in a very short period of time” and called for international pressure to be applied. “They are killing protesters. They turned off their internet system. People aren’t hearing what’s going on,” he told reporters while hosting a lunch for the ambassadors of U.N. Security Council members.

Iran’s mission to the United Nations did not immediately respond to a request for comment, and there was no immediate comment on state media in Iran.

There was no known public video that supported Hooks’ allegation of a massacre in Mahshahr, although he said the State Department had gotten more than 32,000 responses to Pompeo’s appeal for videos and other evidence using the encrypted messaging app Telegram, which is popular in Iran.

Nor has there been any widely accepted claim matching Hook’s death toll of more than 1,000. Amnesty International believes at least 208 people have been killed and that the number could be higher. Iran has disputed that figure, but has refused to offer any nationwide statistics of the number of injuries, arrests or deaths from the unrest.

However, Hook’s numbers appear to match a figure put out late Wednesday by the Iranian exile group called the Mujahedeen-e-Khalq, which has paid Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani for speeches at its events in the past.

The MeK alleged late Wednesday that more than 1,000 people had been killed. It published a list of 320 people it said it had identified so far as having been killed but did not provide proof.

Iran has alleged MeK supporters and those backing exiled Crown Prince Reza Pahlavi, the son of the country’s late shah, of being behind the unrest alongside foreign powers. It has not offered evidence to support those allegations.

In addition to the deaths, Hook said more than 7,000 protesters had been detained, with many sent to two prisons. Hook said that Pompeo had notified Congress on Thursday that both prisons would be hit with U.S. sanctions for gross human rights abuses. It was not immediately clear when those designations would occur.

Hook’s comments come as the U.S. steps up its “maximum pressure campaign” on Iran that it began after withdrawing from the landmark 2015 nuclear deal last year. That campaign has been highlighted by the imposition of increasingly tough sanctions and an increase in rhetoric critical of Tehran and its leadership.

As part of the pressure campaign, Hook announced that the U.S. is offering a reward of up to $15 million for information leading to the whereabouts of a top IRGC commander now believed to be supporting rebels in Yemen. He said Abdul Reza Shahalai was responsible for numerous attacks against U.S. forces in Iraq and had been behind a foiled plot to murder the Saudi ambassador to the United States in a Washington restaurant.

___

Lolita C. Baldor, Robert Burns and Deb Riechmann in Washington and Jon Gambrell in Abu Dhabi, United Arab Emirates, contributed to this report.

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Tufts University Severs Ties with Family Behind OxyContin

BOSTON — Tufts University is cutting ties with the billionaire family that owns OxyContin maker Purdue Pharma, saying it will strip the Sackler name from its campus and accept no further donations amid concerns over the family’s role in the opioid crisis.

University officials announced the decision Thursday, ending a relationship that has spanned nearly four decades and brought $15 million to the school’s science and medical programs. Tufts leaders said they considered the issue for more than a year before concluding it is inconsistent with the school’s values to display the family’s name.

“We had to deal with the reality that the Sackler name has become associated with a health care epidemic. Given our medical school’s mission, we needed to reconcile that,” Peter Dolan, chairman of Tufts’ board of trustees, said in an interview.

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A firm that represents the Sackler family did not immediately respond to a message seeking comment.

The change was announced at the same time officials released findings from an outside review examining the school’s ties with the Sacklers and Purdue Pharma. The inquiry, commissioned by the school, found no major wrongdoing but concluded there was an “appearance of too close a relationship between Purdue, the Sacklers and Tufts.

The family’s ties with Tufts date to 1980, when the three founding brothers of Purdue Pharma provided a donation to establish the Sackler School of Graduate Biomedical Sciences. Tufts separately named its medical school building after one of the brothers, Arthur, after he made a donation in 1983.

Arthur Sackler’s wife, Jillian, served on the university’s board of trustees for a decade starting in 1986. And Richard Sackler, a Purdue board member and former CEO, sat on the medical school’s board of advisers for nearly two decades until he left in 2017.

Officials said the Sackler name will now be dropped from all campus facilities and programs, including the biomedical sciences school, the medical school, a laboratory and two research funds. A sign bearing Arthur Sackler’s name on the facade of the medical school was being removed Thursday.

Tufts joins a growing number of colleges seeking distance from the Sackler family amid pressure from students and activists. Several have stopped accepting gifts from the family, including Cornell and Yale universities. Others, including Brown University, said they will redirect past donations to support addiction treatment.

An Associated Press review in October found that prestigious universities around the world accepted at least $60 million from the Sacklers over the past five years. Some critics say schools should return the money so it can be used to help cities and states harmed by the opioid crisis.

Past donations to Tufts will continue to be used for their original purpose, officials said, but the university will establish a $3 million endowment to support research and education on addiction. The school also plans to create an educational exhibit exploring Tufts’ history with the Sacklers.

Previously known for their philanthropy, the Sacklers have more recently gained attention for their role in the opioid crisis. Purdue Pharma filed for bankruptcy this year amid thousands of lawsuits accusing it of aggressively pushing OxyContin despite its addiction risks. Some of the suits target individual members of the family, who deny wrongdoing.

Students and faculty at Tufts have long called on the school to sever ties with the Sacklers, especially those in science and medicine programs. Dr. Harris Berman, dean of the medical school, said the building’s name had become an “embarrassment.”

“Our alumni, our board of advisers all have been troubled by the fact that we’ve got the Sackler name all over the place,” Berman said in an interview. “I think there’s going to be a great sigh of relief among all of them that we’ve finally done the right thing. Certainly I feel that way.”

Tufts also faces criticism over its direct ties to Purdue Pharma. In 1999, the company paid to establish a master’s program on pain research and education, and continued to fund it for a decade. One of the company’s senior executives became a lecturer in the program and was appointed as an adjunct professor.

Massachusetts Attorney General Maura Healey alleged in a January civil complaint that Purdue used the partnership with Tufts to bolster its reputation and promote OxyContin. In response, Tufts’ president ordered the outside review examining the relationship.

The inquiry, led by a former U.S. attorney, found that Purdue and the Sacklers contributed a combined $15 million to Tufts since 1980. Much of the family’s funding supported research on cancer and neuroscience.

Investigators found no evidence that the funding significantly skewed Tufts’ research or academic programs, but they believe the family and its company benefited from the relationship in subtler ways.

In 2002, for example, the director of the Tufts pain program appeared in an advertisement for Purdue, with his Tufts affiliation prominently displayed. In 2015, the medical school chose not to assign students to read “Dreamland,” a book on the opioid crisis, largely because it was too critical of the Sacklers, the review found.

“We do believe that Purdue intended to use the relationship with Tufts to advance its own interests and, in a few particular instances, there is some evidence that it was successful in exercising influence,” the report found.

Tufts leaders say they plan to implement a slate of recommendations included in the report. It called for “heightened scrutiny” of donors, greater transparency surrounding research donors, and the creation of a committee to review large gifts that “raise questions of conflicts of interest, reputational risk for the university or other controversy.”

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Sailor Who Killed Two and Himself at Pearl Harbor Identified

HONOLULU — A Navy sailor shot three civilians, killing two of them, before taking his own life at Pearl Harbor just days before thousands were scheduled to gather at the storied military base to mark the 78th anniversary of the Japanese bombing that launched the U.S. into World War II.

Rear Adm. Robert Chadwick, the commander of Navy Region Hawaii, said the service would evaluate whether security should be upgraded before the annual ceremony. About a dozen survivors of the 1941 bombing were expected to attend, along with dignitaries and service members.

The shooter was identified Thursday as 22-year-old G. Romero, according to a military official who spoke on condition of anonymity to provide details that had not been made public.

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Chadwick said he didn’t know the motive behind Wednesday’s shooting at the naval shipyard within the base. The third victim was hospitalized.

It wasn’t known if the sailor and the three male civilians had any type of relationship, or what the motive was for the shooting, Chadwick said.

“We have no indication yet whether they were targeted or if it was a random shooting,” Chadwick said.

The sailor was assigned to the fast attack submarine USS Columbia, which is at Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam for maintenance.

He was identified as a 22-year-old enlisted sailor, according to a military official speaking on condition of anonymity to provide details that hadn’t been made public

It wasn’t immediately known what type of weapon was used or how many shots were fired. Chadwick said that was part of the investigation. Personal weapons are not allowed on base.

Names of the victims will not be released until next of kin have been notified.

“Our thoughts are with the families of the victims and everyone involved. I can say that we are mobilizing support services for naval shipyard personnel as well as everyone else who may be affected by this tragic event,” Chadwick said.

The base went into lockdown at about 2:30 p.m. when the first active shooter reports were received. The base reopened a few hours later. Witnesses were still being interviewed hours after the shooting.

The shipyard repairs, maintains and modernizes the ships and submarines of the U.S. Pacific Fleet, which is headquartered at Pearl Harbor. The base is the home port for 10 destroyers and 15 submarines. It also hosts Air Force units.

Hawaii Gov. David Ige said the White House has offered assistance from federal agencies and that the state is also ready to help if needed.

“I join in solidarity with the people of Hawaii as we express our heartbreak over this tragedy and concern for those affected by the shooting,” Ige said in a statement.

Mass shootings and gun violence are rare in Hawaii. In 1999, a Xerox service technician fatally shot seven coworkers. In 2006, a man fatally shot his taxi driver and a couple taking photos of the city lights from a lookout point in the hills above Honolulu.

Hawaii had the lowest gun death rate among the states in 2017, according to the Giffords Law Center to Prevent Gun Violence. The islands have strict firearms laws, including a ban on assault weapons and large capacity ammunition magazines.

The shipyard is across the harbor from the wreckage of USS Arizona, which sank in the Dec. 7, 1941, Japanese attack. It’s also across from the visitors center, which will host Saturday’s ceremony. More than 2,300 Americans were killed in the bombing.

The shipyard has played a key role in naval history, most notably during World War II. Shipyard workers were given just days to repair the USS Yorktown, an aircraft carrier severely damaged during the Battle of the Coral Seat in 1942, because the Navy needed to quickly send the ship to Midway to meet Japanese forces there.

Some 1,400 shipyard workers labored around the clock for almost 72 hours to patch the carrier together. The planes the Yorktown delivered to Midway sank one of the four aircraft carriers Japan sent to the battle and helped destroy two others. The Battle of Midway turned the tide of the war in the United States’ favor.

___

Associated Press writers Lolita C. Baldor in Washington, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher in Honolulu and Mark Thiessen and Rachel D’Oro in Anchorage, Alaska, contributed to this report.

The post Sailor Who Killed Two and Himself at Pearl Harbor Identified appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bernie Sanders Pulls Ahead in Crucial Primary

new poll released Thursday found that Sen. Bernie Sanders is leading the 2020 Democratic presidential field in California—but you wouldn’t have known it by reading the Los Angeles Times’ original headline on the survey, which mentioned Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Vice President Joe Biden, but not the senator from Vermont.

“Warren and Biden lose ground in California’s shifting 2020 Democratic race,” read the newspaper’s initial headline which, in the face of backlash, was later changed to, “Warren and Biden lose ground, Sanders moves ahead in California’s shifting 2020 Democratic race.”

While the Times changed its headline, it did not alter the body of the story, which doesn’t mention Sanders until the third paragraph.

“The Democratic presidential contest in California remains extremely fluid—but not enough, at least so far, to provide an opening for Michael Bloomberg,” reads the story’s lede paragraph.

The poll, conducted for the Times by the U.C. Berkeley Institute of Governmental Studies, found that Sanders is leading the California presidential primary race at 24% support and has gained 5% since September.

Warren polled in second place at 22% (down 7% since September), Biden in third at 14% (down 6% since September), and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg in fourth at 12% (up 6% since September). The survey’s margin of error is plus or minus 4%.

Here are the results of this poll:

Sanders 24%
Warren 22%
Biden 14%
Buttigieg 12%

Now look at the headline.

It takes the LA Times three paragraphs to mention who is leading.https://t.co/f6J9JFEsZa pic.twitter.com/gi1hw0KN8M

— Ari Rabin-Havt (@AriRabinHavt) December 5, 2019

“The person who gained ground is not allowed to be in the headline,” Faiz Shakir, Sanders’ campaign manager, tweeted in response to the Times original headline.

Despite Sanders’ jump since September, the Times framed the survey solely around Warren and Biden’s fall.

“That erosion has benefited Sen. Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who narrowly tops the primary field,” the Times reported.

The new survey, the Times noted, also found that Sanders is leading 2020 Democratic field in California “on three other attributes—being the candidate who would bring the right kind of change to Washington (28%), the one who comes closest to sharing voters’ values (27%) and the candidate who best understands the problems of ‘people like you’ (28%).”

The newspaper’s treatment of Sanders on this poll was for many observers just the latest example of a trend by many mainstream outlets of ignoring, sidelining, or otherwise downplaying the Sanders presidential campaign—a phenomenon some refer to as the #BernieBlackout.

The post Bernie Sanders Pulls Ahead in Crucial Primary appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Mass Strikes in France Shut Eiffel Tower, Trigger Clashes

PARIS — The Eiffel Tower shut down, France’s high-speed trains stood still and tens of thousands of people marched through Paris and other cities Thursday in a massive and sometimes chaotic outpouring of anger at the government’s plan to overhaul the retirement system.

Small groups of masked activists smashed store windows, set fires and hurled flares on the sidelines of the otherwise peaceful Paris march, prompting volleys of tear gas from police in body armor.

Unions launched the open-ended, nationwide strikes Thursday over President Emmanuel Macron’s centerpiece reform in the biggest challenge to the centrist leader since the yellow vest movement against economic inequality erupted a year ago.

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Opponents fear the changes to how and when workers can retire will threaten the hard-fought French way of life. Macron himself remained “calm and determined” to push it through, according to a top presidential official.

The Louvre Museum warned of strike disruptions, and subway stations across Paris shut their gates. Many visitors — including the U.S. energy secretary — canceled plans to travel to one of the world’s biggest tourist destinations.

Tourists discovered historic train stations standing empty, with about nine out of 10 of high-speed TGV trains canceled. Signs at Paris’ Orly Airport showed “canceled” notices, with authorities saying 20% of flights were grounded.

Some travelers showed support for the striking workers. Others complained about being embroiled in someone else’s fight.

“I had no idea about the strike happening, and I was waiting for two hours in the airport for the train to arrive and it didn’t arrive,” said vacationer Ian Crossen, from New York. “I feel a little bit frustrated. And I’ve spent a lot of money. I’ve spent money I didn’t need to, apparently.”

Vladimir Madeira, a Chilean tourist vacationing in Paris, said the strike has been “a nightmare.” He hadn’t heard about the protest until he arrived, and transportation disruptions foiled his plans to travel to Zurich.

Beneath the closed Eiffel Tower, tourists from Thailand, Canada and Spain echoed those sentiments.

Paris authorities barricaded the presidential palace and deployed 6,000 police officers as activists — many in yellow vests — gathered around the Gare de l’Est train station for the march.

Police ordered all businesses, cafes and restaurants in the area to close. Authorities banned protests in the more sensitive neighborhoods around the Champs-Elysees avenue, the presidential palace, Parliament and Notre Dame Cathedral.

Police carried out security checks of more than 9,000 people arriving for the demonstration and detained 71 even before it started. Embassies warned tourists to avoid the protest area.

The mood was impassioned in the crowd as it moved toward the Republique Plaza, with protesters waving red flares in the gray sky at the head of the crowd.

Health workers showed up to decry conditions in hospitals. Students pointed to recent student suicides and demanded government action. Environmentalists emphasized that climate justice and social justice are one and the same.

And young and old roundly condemned the new retirement plan, which they fear would take money out of their pockets and reduce the period of relaxation the French expect in the last decades of their lives.

Skirmishes broke out between police firing tear gas and protesters throwing flares at a protest in the western French city of Nantes, and thousands of red-vested union activists marched through cities from Marseille on the Mediterranean to Lille in the north.

Lacking public transportation, commuters used shared bikes or electric scooters despite near-freezing temperatures. Many people in the Paris region worked from home or took a day off to stay with their children, since 78% of teachers in the capital were on strike.

The big question is how long the strike will last. Transport Minister Elisabeth Borne said she expects the travel troubles to be just as bad on Friday, and unions said they will maintain the Paris subway system strike at least through Monday.

Joseph Kakou, who works an overnight security shift in western Paris, walked an hour to get to his home on the eastern side of town.

“It doesn’t please us to walk. It doesn’t please us to have to strike,” he said. “But we are obliged to, because we can’t work until 90 years old.”

The deeply unpopular Macron is expected to reveal the details of his retirement reform plan next week. The government has promised not to touch the official retirement age — 62, though earlier for certain physically demanding professions — but the plan will encourage some people to work longer.

To Macron, the retirement reform is central to his plan to transform France so it can compete globally in the 21st century. The government argues France’s 42 retirement systems need streamlining.

While Macron respects the right to strike, he “is convinced that the reform is needed, he is committed, that’s the project he presented the French in 2017” during his election campaign, the presidential official said. The official was not authorized to be publicly named.

___

Sylvie Corbet, Alex Turnbull, Nicolas Garriga, Mstyslav Chernov, Francois Mori in Paris contributed to this report.

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Pelosi Asks House Democrats to Draft Articles of Impeachment

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi compared President Donald Trump to a despotic tyrant in a press conference Thursday and announced she has asked House Judiciary Chairman Jerry Nadler to prepare articles of impeachment.

“The facts are uncontested,” said Pelosi, a California Democrat. “The president abused his power for his own personal political benefit at the expense of our national security.”

Watch Pelosi’s announcement:

The House Intelligence Committee released its 300-page report on the president’s abuse of power on Tuesday. The document details how Trump used the release of Congressionally-approved military aid to Ukraine to pressure that country’s leader, President Volodymyr Zelensky, to publicly announce he was investigating Trump’s potential 2020 election rival, former Vice President Joe Biden.

“The president leaves us no choice but to act,” said Pelosi.

Pelosi: “Today, I am asking our chairman to proceed with articles of impeachment.” pic.twitter.com/RQM7l83n3G

— Brian Stelter (@brianstelter) December 5, 2019

Pelosi’s decision to move forward on impeachment was “a historic announcement that comes as absolutely no surprise to anyone in the Capitol, since this is what the Dems have been moving toward for weeks now,” said Politico’s Jake Sherman.

“It’s on,” tweeted New York Times editor Katie Robertson.

As Common Dreams reported, the Judiciary Committee held a hearing Wednesday with legal experts who argued that Trump’s behavior met the standard of impeachment.

“Put simply, a candidate for president should resist foreign interference in our elections, not demand it,” said Stanford Law School professor Pamela Karlan. “If we are to keep faith with the Constitution and our Republic, President Trump must be held to account.”

The post Pelosi Asks House Democrats to Draft Articles of Impeachment appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump’s Actions Impeachable, Scholars Say, as Democrats Go All In

WASHINGTON — Three leading legal scholars testified Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s attempts to have Ukraine investigate Democratic rivals are grounds for impeachment, bolstering the Democrats’ case as House Speaker Nancy Pelosi made sure they’re prepared for that momentous next step.

Meeting behind closed doors ahead of an initial Judiciary Committee hearing to consider potential articles of impeachment, Pelosi asked House Democrats a simple question: “Are you ready?”

The answer was a resounding yes.

Though no date has been set, the Democrats are charging toward a Christmastime vote on removing the 45th president. It’s a starkly partisan undertaking, a situation Pelosi hoped to avoid but now seems inevitable.

Trump is alleged to have abused the power of his office by putting personal political gain over national security interests, engaging in bribery by withholding $400 in military aid Congress had approved for Ukraine; and then obstructing Congress by stonewalling the investigation.

Across the Capitol on Wednesday, the polarizing political divide over impeachment, only the fourth such inquiry in the nation’s history, was on display.

At the Judiciary hearing, Democrats sided with the scholars who said Trump’s actions reached the Constitution’s threshold of “bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” Republicans pointed to the lone professor they were allowed to invite, who said impeachment was not warranted.

Democrats in the House say the inquiry is a duty. Republican representatives say it’s a sham. And quietly senators of both parties conferred on Wednesday, preparing for an eventual Trump trial.

“Never before, in the history of the republic, have we been forced to consider the conduct of a president who appears to have solicited personal, political favors from a foreign government,” said Rep. Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., as he gaveled open the landmark House hearing.

Nadler said Trump’s phone call seeking a “favor” from Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy wasn’t the first time he had sought foreign help to influence an American election, noting Russian interference in 2016. He warned against inaction with a new campaign underway.

“We cannot wait for the election,” he said. “ If we do not act to hold him in check, now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain.”

Trump, attending a NATO meeting in London called the hearing a “joke” and doubted many people would watch because it’s “boring.”

Once an outsider to the GOP, Trump now has Republicans’ unwavering support. They joined in his name-calling the Judiciary proceedings a “disgrace” and unfair, the dredging up of unfounded allegations as part of an effort to undo the 2016 election and remove him from office.

“You just don’t like the guy,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel. Trump rewarded some of his allies with politically valuable presidential tweets as the daylong hearing dragged into the evening.

Despite the intent of America’s Founding Fathers to create a durable system of legal checks and balances, impeachment is an admittedly political exercise. Thus Pelosi asked her still-new majority if they were willing to press onward, aware of still-uncertain electoral risks.

At the Democrats’ private morning meeting, support for the impeachment effort was vigorous, though voting to remove Trump could come hard for some lawmakers in regions where the president has substantial backing.

The Democratic lawmakers also delivered a standing ovation to Rep. Adam Schiff, whose 300-page Intelligence Committee report cataloged potential grounds for impeachment, overwhelmingly indicating they want to continue to press the inquiry rather than slow its advance or call a halt for fear of political costs in next year’s congressional elections.

)The meeting was described by people familiar with it, who were unauthorized to discuss it by name and were granted anonymity.

Meanwhile, Trump’s team fanned out across the Capitol with Vice President Mike Pence meeting with House Republicans and White House officials conferring with Senate Republicans to prepare for what could be the first presidential impeachment trial in a generation.

White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, who has declined for now to participate in the House proceedings, relayed Trump’s hope that the impeachment effort can be stopped in the House and there will be no need for a Senate trial, which seems unlikely.

White House officials and others said Trump is eager to have his say. Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said, “He feels like he has had no opportunity to tell his side of the story.”

Trump lambastes the impeachment probe daily and proclaims his innocence of any wrongdoing at length, but he has declined to testify before House hearings or answer questions in writing.

At the heart of the inquiry is his July 25 phone call asking Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats including Joe Biden. Trump at the time was withholding $400 million in military aid from the ally, which faced an aggressive Russia on its border.

At Wednesday’s session, three legal experts called by Democrats said impeachment was merited.

Noah Feldman, a Harvard Law School professor, said he considered it clear that the president’s conduct met the definition of “high crimes and misdemeanors.” Said Michael Gerhardt, a University of North Carolina law professor, “If what we’re talking about is not impeachable … then nothing is impeachable.”

Pamela Karlan, a Stanford Law School professor and former Obama administration Justice Department official, drew criticism for mentioning Trump’s teenage son, Barron, in a wordplay, violating an unwritten but firm Washington rule against dragging first family’s children into politics.

The only Republican witness, Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, dissented from the other legal experts. He said the Democrats were bringing a “slipshod impeachment” case against the president, but he didn’t excuse Trump’s behavior.

“It is not wrong because President Trump is right,” Turley said. “A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record.”

New telephone records released with the House report deepened Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s known involvement in what investigators call the “scheme.”

Asked about that, Trump told reporters he doesn’t know why Giuliani was calling the White House Office of Management and Budget, which was withholding the military aid to Ukraine.

“You have to ask him,” Trump said. “Sounds like something that’s not so complicated. … No big deal.”

Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower’s complaint, the Intelligence Committee’s Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report found that Trump “sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process and endangered U.S. national security.” When Congress began investigating, it says, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.

Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for investigations of Biden and his son.

Democrats once hoped to sway Republicans to consider Trump’s removal, but they are now facing an ever-hardening partisan split over the swift-moving proceedings that are dividing Congress and the country.

While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment in a matter of days, with a Judiciary Committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. Then the matter would move to the Senate for a trial in 2020.

___

Associated Press writers Matthew Daly, Zeke Miller, Alan Fram, Andrew Taylor, Colleen Long, Eric Tucker and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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George Zimmerman Sues Trayvon Martin’s Parents, Others for $100 Million

George Zimmerman, the former Florida neighborhood watch volunteer who shot and killed unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in 2012, is suing the victim’s family, prosecutors, and the media for $100 million in damages.

Zimmerman was acquitted of murdering Martin in 2013.

“Imagine killing an unarmed child and then suing his parents,” tweeted Center for Policing Equity president Phillip Atiba Goff.

The lawsuit, which Zimmerman’s lawyer Larry Klayman—a right-wing legal advocate—filed in Polk County Circuit Court in Florida Wednesday names Martin’s mother, Sybrina Fulton, as the lead defendant. Fulton is running for Congress in Florida’s District 1.

According to the Miami Herald:

The suit in Polk County Circuit Court cites information in a documentary about the case that accuses the Martin family of engineering false testimony, and the director has scheduled a press conference this week in Coral Gables to coincide with a film screening there. The suit seeks $100 million in civil damages, alleging defamation, abuse of civil process and conspiracy. A copy of the suit was distributed to media Wednesday by the movies’ director, Joe Gilbert. The case does not yet appear on the online docket of the Polk court system.

Zimmerman, Klayman, and Gilbert will host a press conference Thursday afternoon at the Coral Gables Art Cinema.

Documentary filmmaker Billy Corben said in a tweet he was outraged at the cinema’s involvement in what he called a “disgraceful sham.”

Shame on @gablescinema for hosting this disgraceful sham: George Zimmerman announces lawsuit against family of Trayvon Martin, publisher, prosecutors for $100 million with press conference and documentary screening at Coral Gables Art Cinema https://t.co/R2hOIjoVoN @mike23mena pic.twitter.com/V8LkdegSWC

— Billy Corben (@BillyCorben) December 4, 2019

 

New York State Assembly member Yuh-Line Niou couldn’t believe what she was reading.

“This killer wants to do what?!” said Niou.

The post George Zimmerman Sues Trayvon Martin’s Parents, Others for $100 Million appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Georgia Governor Picks Political Newcomer for U.S. Senate

ATLANTA — Georgia’s Republican governor has chosen a wealthy businesswoman and political newcomer to fill an upcoming vacancy in the U.S. Senate, flouting President Donald Trump’s preferred candidate in a play for moderate suburban voters.

Gov. Brian Kemp formally announced his selection of Kelly Loeffler on Wednesday, pushing aside intense criticism from hard-core Trump advocates who wanted Kemp to appoint Rep. Doug Collins, one of Trump’s staunchest defenders in Congress.

Kemp and Loeffler moved quickly to extinguish the rebellion from the right, pitching the little-known candidate as a Trump supporter and emphasizing her rural roots.

“I’m a lifelong conservative, pro-Second Amendment, pro-Trump, pro-military and pro-wall,” Loeffler said. “I make no apologies for my conservative values and I look forward to supporting President Trump’s conservative judges.”

And Loeffler has been quickly embraced by Senate GOP leadership and prominent members of the state party, which could make any top-tier Republican candidate rethink plans to challenge her for the seat. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell called her “a terrific appointment.”

Loeffler will succeed three-term Sen. Johnny Isakson, who is stepping down at the end of the month because of health issues. She will be only the second woman in history to represent Georgia in the U.S. Senate.

The tension between Republicans underscores a divide within the party on how the GOP can best position itself for success in 2020: by firing up and turning out hardcore Trump conservatives or pivoting to try to win back suburban moderates that have fled the party since Trump’s election. Kemp’s selection of Loeffler, and the embrace she’s received from Senate leadership, signals that party leaders recognize the perils of catering to the right and hitching every wagon to the president.

It comes down to “a difference in philosophy over how to win,” said Kerwin Swint, director of the school of government and international affairs at Kennesaw State University.

“Trump wants Collins obviously for his steadfast support of him, but Trump also believes in the base strategy of winning elections. That’s how he won, that’s how Kemp won,” Swint said. “Kemp understands that that’s how he won, but he looks at what’s happening in Georgia, the changing demographics, particularly female voters in metro Atlanta, and so I think his strategy and his thinking is, how long can we rely on this base strategy to win?”

The seat will be up for grabs again in a November 2020 special election for the final two years of Isakson’s term, and then again in 2022. Also on next year’s ballot will be Republican Sen. David Perdue, who is running for a second full term.

With both of Georgia’s GOP-held Senate seats on the ballot alongside Trump in 2020, the race is raising the state’s profile as a political battleground where Republicans still dominate but Democrats have made substantial inroads in recent elections.

Loeffler is the co-owner of the Atlanta Dream professional woman’s basketball franchise and CEO of financial services company Bakkt, which offers a regulated market for bitcoin. She was previously an executive at Intercontinental Exchange, a behemoth founded by her husband that owns the New York Stock Exchange. Bakkt is a subsidiary of Intercontinental Exchange.

Trump made clear that he preferred Collins to Loeffler, but has resigned himself to the pick, according to a person familiar with his thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity in order to describe the private discussions.

Collins has publicly left open the door to challenging Loeffler for the seat, but McConnell said she has his backing as well as that of the National Republican Senatorial Committee. “She will be an incumbent Republican Senator,” McConnell said.

Democrats, meanwhile, hope to capitalize on dissatisfaction with Washington and break the GOP’s hold on the Deep South. They’re spending big in Georgia, where demographic changes making the state less rural and more diverse could create opportunities for an upset.

Democrat Matt Lieberman, the son of former U.S. senator and vice presidential candidate Joe Lieberman, is campaigning for the seat, and several other Democrats are mulling potential bids.

In September, Kemp took the unusual step of opening an online application process for Isakson’s Senate seat and asked everyone from congressmen to ordinary Georgians to apply.

The governor’s office was soon flooded with hundreds of applications. Many were sincere. Others, like one submitted for Kermit the Frog, were not.

Loeffler submitted her application just hours before the online portal was closed, prompting speculation that she may have done so at Kemp’s urging.

Other top Republicans who applied include Collins, former congressman Jack Kingston, state House Speaker Pro Tempore Jan Jones and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

___

Zeke Miller reported from London.

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McKinsey Has Its Fingerprints All Over Trump’s Immigration Policy

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

This article is co-published with The New York Times.

Just days after he took office in 2017, President Donald Trump set out to make good on his campaign pledge to halt illegal immigration. In a pair of executive orders, he ordered “all legally available resources” to be shifted to border detention facilities and called for hiring 10,000 new immigration officers.

The logistical challenges were daunting, but as luck would have it, Immigration and Customs Enforcement already had a partner on its payroll: McKinsey & Company, an international consulting firm brought on under the Obama administration to help engineer an “organizational transformation” in the ICE division charged with deporting migrants who are in the United States unlawfully.

ICE quickly redirected McKinsey toward helping the agency figure out how to execute the White House’s clampdown on illegal immigration.

But the money-saving recommendations the consultants came up with made some career ICE staff uncomfortable. They proposed cuts in spending on food for migrants, as well as on medical care and supervision of detainees, according to interviews with people who worked on the project for both ICE and McKinsey and 1,500 pages of documents obtained from the agency after ProPublica filed a lawsuit under the Freedom of Information Act.

McKinsey’s team also looked for ways to accelerate the deportation process, provoking worries among some ICE staff members that the recommendations risked short-circuiting due process protections for migrants fighting removal from the United States. The consultants, three people who worked on the project said, seemed focused solely on cutting costs and speeding up deportations — activities whose success could be measured in numbers — with little acknowledgment that these policies affected thousands of human beings.

In what one former official described as “heated meetings” with McKinsey consultants, agency staff members questioned whether saving pennies on food and medical care for detainees justified the potential human cost.

But the consulting firm’s sway at ICE grew to the point that McKinsey’s staff even ghostwrote a government contracting document that defined the consulting team’s own responsibilities and justified the firm’s retention, a contract extension worth $2.2 million. “Can they do that?” an ICE official wrote to a contracting officer in May 2017.

The response reflects how deeply ICE had come to rely on McKinsey’s assistance. “Well it obviously isn’t ideal to have a contractor tell us what we want to ask them to do,” the contracting officer replied. But unless someone from the government could articulate the agency’s objectives, the officer added, “what other option is there?” ICE extended the contract.

The New York Times reported last year that McKinsey ultimately did more than $20 million in consulting work for ICE, a commitment to one of the Trump administration’s most controversial endeavors that raised concerns among some of McKinsey’s employees and former partners. The firm’s global managing partner, Kevin Sneader, assured them in a 2018 email that the firm had never focused on developing, advising or implementing immigration policies. He said McKinsey “will not, under any circumstances, engage in work, anywhere in the world, that advances or assists policies that are at odds with our values.”

But the new documents and interviews reveal that the firm was deeply involved in executing policies fundamental to the Trump administration’s immigration crackdown. McKinsey’s recommendations for spending cuts went too far for some career ICE employees, and a number of the proposals were never implemented.

McKinsey has faced mounting scrutiny over the past two years, as reports by The New York Times, ProPublica and others have raised questions about whether the firm has crossed ethical and legal lines in pursuit of profit. The consultancy returned millions of dollars in fees after South African authorities implicated it in a profiteering scheme. The exposure of its history advising opioid makers on ways to bolster sales induced the usually secretive firm to declare publicly that its opioid work had ended. Last month, the Times reported that McKinsey’s bankruptcy practice is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. The firm has denied wrongdoing in each case, but it apologized for missteps in South Africa.

“The scope of our work, contractually agreed to during the Obama administration, was designed to help the agency find ways to operate more effectively and cost-efficiently,” a McKinsey spokesman said of the firm’s consulting for ICE. “The focus of our work did not change as a result of these executive orders. The assertion that McKinsey’s work was ‘redirected’ because of these orders is inaccurate.”

In a statement, ICE spokesman Bryan D. Cox said McKinsey’s work “yielded measurable improvements in mission outcomes, including a notable decrease in the time to remove aliens with a final order of removal.”

McKinsey responded quickly to Trump’s executive orders on immigration. On Feb. 13, the consultants presented ICE officials a set of “initiatives to improve ICE Hiring and address the Executive Order,” according to an accompanying slide deck.

Hiring 10,000 immigration officers was an immense undertaking, and similar attempts to swiftly ramp up staffing, under the administrations of George W. Bush and Barack Obama, ended badly. They resulted in lax hiring standards, according to experts, and a subsequent spike in misconduct and corruption cases among Border Patrol officers.

To expedite the process in 2017, McKinsey proposed hiring en masse, including what the consultants called “super one-stop hiring”: ICE could rent a gymnasium or similar space and compress the recruitment, screening and hiring process into a single day. The consultants, they wrote in a slide deck, aimed “to reduce time to hire by 30-50% (hundreds of days)” — significantly improving ICE’s capability to staff the president’s immigration crackdown.

By the summer of 2017, according to contracting records and a former ICE official, the agency had begun to adopt McKinsey’s proposals to speed up hiring. (ICE has hired only a fraction of the 10,000 officers called for because of budget constraints.)

Within months, McKinsey was making significant strides toward advancing the Trump administration’s policy goals. The firm’s work showed “quantifiable benefits,” ICE officials stated in an October 2017 contracting document, “including increased total removals and reductions in time to remove a detainee.”

As some McKinsey consultants worked on the staffing challenge, others took aim at the logistical hurdles posed by an expected influx of detainees flowing from the Trump administration’s directive to enforce immigration laws more strictly.

The consulting team became so driven to save money, people involved in the project said, that consultants sometimes ignored — and even complained to agency managers about — ICE staffers who objected that McKinsey’s cost-cutting proposals risked jeopardizing the health and safety of migrants.

Cox, the ICE spokesman, denied that McKinsey’s recommendations could harm the well-being or due process rights of detainees. McKinsey’s spokesman said the firm’s work aimed to identify where detention center contractors were overcharging ICE — long a concern of watchdog agencies — and to propose remedies.

McKinsey, the firm’s presentations show, pursued “detention savings opportunities” in blunt ways. The consultants encouraged ICE to adopt a “longer-term strategy” with “operational decisions to fill low cost beds before expensive beds.” In practice, that meant shunting detainees to less expensive — and sometimes less safe — facilities, often rural county jails.

“There’s a concerted effort to try to ship folks ICE sees as long-term detainees to these low-cost facilities run by local sheriffs’ offices where conditions are abysmal,” said Eunice Cho, a senior staff attorney at the American Civil Liberties Union who focuses on issues involving the detention of immigrants. (The ACLU has brought several lawsuits against ICE, including over its detention policies, during the Trump administration.)

McKinsey also looked to cut costs by lowering standards at ICE detention facilities, according to an internal ICE email and two former agency officials. McKinsey, an ICE supervisor wrote in an email dated March 30, 2017, was “looking for ways to cut or reduce standards because they are too costly,” albeit, the supervisor added, “without sacrificing quality, safety and mission.”

The consultants found it difficult to attach a dollar figure to the standards themselves, the former ICE officials said. So they shifted their focus to trimming operating costs at several detention centers and coaching agency officials as they renegotiated contracts with companies managing some of those facilities. The renegotiated contracts saved ICE $16 million, according to Cox, the ICE spokesman, who insisted that no “degradation to service” resulted.

One of Trump’s executive orders had directed immigration agencies to concentrate resources near the southern border, and the consultants prioritized slashing costs at those facilities.

The McKinsey proposals that most troubled agency staffers — like cutting spending on food, medical care and maintenance — were not incorporated into the new contracts, one former ICE official said. Internal project emails point to cutbacks in guard staffing as the source of most cost savings.

But the McKinsey recommendations remain on the books at ICE. The consultants analyzed how the agency could save money at detention centers beyond those where they helped renegotiate contracts — including several near the border, like ICE’s largest family detention facility, in Dilley, Texas — and Cox said these analyses remain reference points for future efforts to curb spending. A report issued this summer by the Department of Homeland Security’s inspector general raised concerns about food quality and upkeep at several ICE facilities, both categories on which McKinsey recommended ICE spend less.

McKinsey’s work at ICE ended in July 2018. Among agency officials, there was growing dissatisfaction with the consultants’ work, and leadership turnover in the agency had left the consulting firm with few defenders, two former ICE officials said.

But the firm’s work supporting the Trump administration’s immigration clampdown has continued. Just a week after Sneader announced that the ICE engagement was over, McKinsey signed a $2 million contract to advise Customs and Border Protection as it drafted a new border strategy to replace the Obama administration’s approach, and it has since signed still another contract with CBP — worth up to $8.4 million — that will keep the firm at the agency through September 2020 at least.

Among the border strategy priorities listed in McKinsey slide decks for the CBP are: “invest in impedance and denial capability,” “work with partner agencies and components to maximize programs that discourage illegal entries” and, in one instance, simply, “Wall.”

Update, Dec. 3, 2019: This story has been updated to include additional comments from McKinsey.

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Fiery Disagreements as Trump Impeachment Hearing Opens

WASHINGTON — The House Judiciary Committee’s first impeachment hearing quickly burst into partisan infighting Wednesday as Democrats charged that President Donald Trump must be removed from office for enlisting foreign interference in U.S. elections and Republicans angrily retorted there were no grounds for such drastic action.

The panel responsible for drafting articles of impeachment convened as Trump’s team was fanning out across Capitol Hill. Vice President Mike Pence met behind closed doors with House Republicans, and Senate Republicans were to huddle with the White House counsel as GOP lawmakers stand with the president and Democrats charge headlong into what has become a one-party drive to impeach him.

Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., gaveled open the hearing saying, “’The facts before us are undisputed.”

Nadler said Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president last July wasn’t the first time Trump sought a foreign power to influence American elections, after Russian interference in 2016, and if left unchecked he could do again in next year’s campaign.

“We cannot wait for the election to address the present crisis,” Nadler said. “‘The president has shown us his pattern of conduct. If we do not act to hold him in check, now, President Trump will almost certainly try again to solicit interference in the election for his personal political gain.”

Republicans protested the proceedings as unfair to the president, the dredging up of unfounded allegations as part of an effort to undo the 2016 election and remove Trump from office.

“You just don’t like the guy,” said Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, the top Republican on the panel. He called the proceedings a “disgrace” and a “‘sham.”‘

Several Republicans immediately objected to the process, interjecting procedural questions, and they planned to spend much of the session interrupting, delaying and questioning the rules.

“This is not impeachment, this is a simple railroad job,” Collins said.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said Democrats “haven’t made a decision” yet on whether there will be a vote on impeachment. She was also meeting privately with the Democratic caucus. But a vote by Christmas appears increasingly likely with the release of a 300-page report by Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee that found “serious misconduct” by the president.

“The evidence that we have found is really quite overwhelming that the president used the power of his office to secure political favors and abuse the trust American people put in him and jeopardize our security,” Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., told The Associated Press. “Americans need to understand that this president is putting his personal political interests above theirs. And that it’s endangering the country.”

The Judiciary Committee was hearing Wednesday from legal experts to determine whether Trump’s actions stemming from the July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president rose to the constitutional level of “high crimes and misdemeanors” warranting impeachment. The report laid out evidence that the Democrats say show Trump’s efforts to seek foreign intervention in the U.S. election.

New telephone call records released with the report deepen Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani’s known involvement in what House investigators called the “scheme” to use the president’s office for personal political gain by enlisting a foreign power, Ukraine, to investigate Democrats including Joe Biden, and intervene in the American election process.

Trump told reporters in London, where he is attending a NATO meeting, he really doesn’t know why Giuliani was calling the White House’s Office of Management and Budget, which was withholding $400 million in military aid to the ally confronting an aggressive Russia at its border.

“’You have to ask him,” Trump said. “Sounds like something that’s not so complicated. … No big deal.”

At the hearing, in an opening statement obtained by the AP, Republican witness Jonathan Turley, a law professor at George Washington University, said that the Democrats were bringing a “slipshod impeachment” case against the president based on secondhand information. Still, Turley didn’t excuse the president’s behavior.

“It is not wrong because President Trump is right,” according to Turley. He called Trump’s call with Ukraine “anything but ‘perfect,” as the president claims. “A case for impeachment could be made, but it cannot be made on this record,” he said.

The remaining three witnesses, all called by Democrats, argued for impeachment, according to statements obtained by the AP.

Michael Gerhardt of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill argued, “If Congress fails to impeach here, then the impeachment process has lost all meaning.”

The political risks are high for all parties as the House presses only the fourth presidential impeachment inquiry in U.S. history.

In a statement, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump.” She said the report “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”

Trump has called the impeachment effort by Democrats “unpatriotic” and said he wouldn’t be watching Wednesday’s hearing.

The Intelligence Committee’s Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report provides a detailed, stunning, account of a shadow diplomacy run by Giuliani, resulting in layers of allegations that can be distilled into specific acts, like bribery or obstruction, and the more amorphous allegation that Trump abused his power by putting his interests above the nation.

Based on two months of investigation sparked by a still-anonymous government whistleblower’s complaint, the report relies heavily on testimony from current and former U.S. officials who defied White House orders not to appear.

The inquiry found that Trump “solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection,” Schiff wrote in the report’s preface. In doing so, the president “sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security,” the report said. When Congress began investigating, it added, Trump obstructed the investigation like no other president in history.

Along with revelations from earlier testimony, the report included previously unreleased cell phone records raising fresh questions about Giuliani’s interactions with the top Republican on the intelligence panel, Rep. Devin Nunes of California, and the White House. Nunes declined to comment. Schiff said his panel would continue its probe.

Republicans defended the president in a 123-page rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for a “favor” — investigations of Democrats and Biden and his son. They say the military aid the White House was withholding was not being used as leverage, as Democrats claim — and besides, the $400 million was ultimately released, although only after a congressional outcry.

For Republicans falling in line behind Trump, the inquiry is simply a “hoax.” Trump criticized the House for pushing forward with the proceedings while he was overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water’s edge.

Democrats once hoped to sway Republicans to consider Trump’s removal, but they are now facing an ever-hardening partisan split over the swift-moving proceedings that are dividing Congress and the country.

Possible grounds for impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to open investigations into Trump’s political rivals. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faces an aggressive Russia at its border.

The report also accuses Trump of obstruction, becoming the “first and only” president in U.S. history to “openly and indiscriminately” defy the House’s constitutional authority to conduct the impeachment proceedings by instructing officials not to comply with subpoenas for documents and testimony.

For Democrats marching into what is now a largely partisan process, the political challenge if they proceed is to craft the impeachment articles in a way that will draw the most support from their ranks and not expose Pelosi’s majority to messy divisions, especially as Republicans stand lockstep with the president.

While liberal Democrats are pushing the party to go further and incorporate the findings from former special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 election and other actions by Trump, more centrist and moderate Democrats prefer to stick with the Ukraine matter as a simpler narrative that Americans understand.

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with a Judiciary Committee vote next week. The full House could vote by Christmas. Then the matter moves to the Senate for a trial in 2020.

The White House declined an invitation to participate Wednesday, with counsel Pat Cipollone denouncing the proceedings as a “baseless and highly partisan inquiry.” Cipollone, who will brief Senate Republicans on Wednesday, left open the question of whether White House officials would participate in additional House hearings.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Andrew Taylor, Colleen Long, Eric Tucker and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

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NATO Downplays Divisions as Infighting Roils Alliance

WATFORD, England — NATO leaders sought Wednesday to paper over their differences on an array of issues, such as the military alliance’s future priorities, but insisted they would respond as one in the event of any attack on any 29 member countries.

In their closing communique to a summit just north of London, the leaders also announced that they would set up a commission of experts to study NATO’s political decision making. That appears to be a direct response to the recent lament from French President Emmanuel Macron of a “brain death” in the trans-Atlantic military alliance.

“We stand together, all for one and one for all,” NATO Secretary-General Jens Stoltenberg told reporters after meeting at a luxury hotel and golf resort. “Our commitment to Article 5, the collective defense clause of our alliance, is iron-clad.”

Ahead of the summit, Macron had complained about a lack of U.S. leadership. President Donald Trump branded his remarks as “very disrespectful,” while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan suggested that Macron himself was “brain dead.”

The infighting is mostly due to Turkey’s offensive in northern Syria, which began in October. Macron has complained that Trump pulled U.S. troops out of the region without warning his NATO allies; a move that Turkey saw as a greenlight to send its troops in.

Countries across the European Union are particularly concerned as to what may transpire. The worry in many EU capitals is that some extremist fighters escaped during Turkey’s offensive, and that the fighting could spark a new wave of refugees.

To help ease tensions, leaders agreed to “a forwarding-looking reflection process” to be led by Stoltenberg. Details were sketchy, but the commission, “drawing on relevant expertise,” would study ways “to further strengthen NATO’s political dimension including consultation.”

Germany and France had both put forward similar schemes, although Macron riled many allies with his pre-summit remarks and NATO officials have pointedly suggested that they were more impressed by Berlin’s proposal.

After three summits in consecutive years, the leaders decided that they would take a year off and meet again in 2021. That means there won’t be another one until after the next presidential election in the United States, which is by far NATO’s most powerful and influential member country.

Earlier, summit host Prime Minister Boris Johnson — also busy with a divisive British election campaign — was one of many leaders who played down the organization’s differences.

“Clearly it is very important that the alliance stays together, but there is far, far more that unites us than divides us,” Johnson said.

He said NATO’s success is due to “the very simple concept of safety in numbers. At the heart of it is a pledge that we will come to one another’s defense: all for one and one for all.”

Erdogan didn’t speak to waiting media. Trump arrived via a different entrance, away from media and said he would leave without holding a press conference.

In a tweet, he said: “We won’t be doing a press conference at the close of NATO because we did so many over the past two days. Safe travels to all!”

Macron refused to apologize for his remarks, saying they had ignited a debate at NATO about important strategic issues.

“It’s allowed us to raise fundamental debates,” he said, chief among them being “how to build sustainable peace in Europe.”

He said NATO “debates should be about other things than budgets and finances.”

Stoltenberg noted that European allies and Canada have added $130 billion to their defense spending since 2016, even as Trump has complained that they are too slow to boost their military budgets.

“This is unprecedented, this is making us stronger,” Stoltenberg said of the spending effort.

After Russia annexed the Crimean Peninsula in 2014, NATO countries halted their post-Cold War spending cuts and began to raise spending. They pledged to “move toward” spending 2% of their annual GDP on national defense by 2024.

Trump said Tuesday that much more needs to be done.

“You could make the case that they’ve been delinquent for 25-30 years,” Trump said. The figure of 2%, he added, “is a very low number, it really should be 4.”

Luxembourg Prime Minister Xavier Bettel conceded that “we have experienced easier times. But we’re allies after all and we’re going to speak about everything.”

“The atmosphere last night was much more relaxed than what I expected after hearing what had happened over the last 24 hours. But I think differences can arise. We just have to talk about them,” Bettel said, referring to receptions late Tuesday at Buckingham Palace and at Downing Street.

The post NATO Downplays Divisions as Infighting Roils Alliance appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump to Strip Food Aid From 750,000 by Mid-2020

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that it has finalized a plan to tighten punitive work requirements for food stamp recipients, a move that would strip nutrition assistance from an estimated 750,000 low-income people by mid-2020.

“Pay attention. This is what cruelty looks like,” tweeted the Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights in response to the completed rule, which would be the first of a series of proposed food stamp cuts to take effect.

The rule change, which was first unveiled earlier this year, would restrict states’ ability to exempt people without dependents from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program’s work requirements. The rule is set to take effect April 1, 2020.

“For able-bodied adults without dependents, U.S. law limits SNAP benefits to three months, unless recipients are working or in training for 20 hours a week,” the Wall Street Journal reported Wednesday. “States can waive those limits in areas where unemployment runs 20% above the national rate, which was 3.6% in October.”

The Trump administration’s proposal to curtail states’ ability to waive work requirements sparked a flood of outrage from aid groups, Democratic lawmakers, and ordinary people. During the rule’s 60-day public comment period, tens of thousands of people decried the measure as an immoral attack on the most vulnerable by an administration that has worked tirelessly to fatten the pockets of the rich.

“The comments make it clear that most Americans not only oppose but are utterly repulsed by this plan to punish the poorest among us by denying them help to feed themselves,” Scott Faber, senior vice president for government affairs at the Environmental Working Group (EWG), said in a statement in April.

According to an Urban Institute study (pdf) published last week, the Trump administration’s three proposed SNAP changes combined would strip federal food aid from 3.7 million people.

“The basics of the situation are clear,” Rolling Stone‘s Patrick Reis wrote Tuesday. “When it came to tax cuts for corporations and the wealthy, Trump and Republicans felt the nation’s finances were firm enough to give up more than $1,500,000,000,000. When it’s time to spend a fraction of that to help poor people eat, that’s when the well has supposedly run dry.”

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The Radioactive Legacy We Are Leaving Our Children

After 70 years of building and operating nuclear power plants across the world, governments are bequeathing to future generations a radioactive legacy.

They remain unable to deal with the huge quantities of highly radioactive spent fuel they produce, says a group of independent experts − and as more reactors are reaching the end of their lives, the situation is worsening fast.

That is the conclusion of the first World Nuclear Waste Report (WNWR), produced by a group which says there are ever-growing challenges in waste management and no sustainable long-term solutions. They include two British academics: the economist Professor Gordon MacKerron, of the University of Sussex, and the independent radiation biologist Dr Ian Fairlie.

“Despite many plans and declared political intentions, huge uncertainties remain, and much of the costs and the challenges will fall onto future generations,” the report says.

Persistent risk

The waste, which can remain dangerous for more than 100,000 years, constitutes a continuous health hazard because of the routine release of radioactive gas and liquid waste into the environment. Yet it is likely to be another century before the problem is solved, the WNWR report says.

It notes: “The continued practice of storing spent nuclear fuel for long periods in pools at nuclear power plants (wet storage) constitutes a major risk to the public and to the environment.” There are now an estimated 250,000 tons of spent fuel in storage in 14 countries.

Despite its stark findings, the report makes no comment on the ethics of continuing to build nuclear stations when there is no way to get rid of the wastes they create.

The authors do not even quote the sixth report of the UK Royal Commission on Environmental Pollution from 1976, only 20 years after the dawn of the nuclear age, chaired by the physicist Sir Brian Flowers.

Beyond reasonable doubt

That said: “There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until it has been demonstrated beyond reasonable doubt that a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future.”

Successive British governments, along with the rest of the world, ignored Flowers. 40 years on, there are massive stockpiles of radioactive waste in every nuclear nation across the planet.

However, because the problem is now so vast, this latest report concentrates on describing the issues faced in the democracies of Europe where there is a lot of official information available. Even here, governments have failed to properly estimate the true cost of dealing with the waste, and most are many decades away from finding any solutions.

Finland is the only country in the world currently building a permanent repository for its high-level waste. Many other countries have tried and failed, either because the geology proved unsuitable or because of objections from those affected.

“There should be no commitment to a large programme of nuclear fission power until a method exists to ensure the safe containment of long-lived, highly radioactive waste for the indefinite future”

As a result, spent fuel from reactors and other highly dangerous waste is in interim storage that carries severe safety risks, not least from loss of cooling water or terrorist attack. There are 60,000 tons of spent fuel in store in Europe alone.

The bill for dealing with the waste is huge, but no government has yet calculated accurately what it is, nor has any put aside enough funds to deal with it. By mid-2019 there were 181 closed nuclear reactors globally, but only 19 had been fully decommissioned, with just 10 restored as greenfield sites.

The report does not comment on governments’ competence or honesty, but it does make it clear they are not facing up to reality. For example, the UK has more than 100 tons of stored plutonium, for which it has no use − but it refuses to class plutonium as a waste. The report says it will cost at least £3 billion ($3.8bn) “to manage” whatever decision is reached to deal with it.

Each of the countries in Europe that has nuclear power stations is studied in the report. Spent fuel is the single most dangerous source of highly radioactive waste, and all 16 countries in Europe with highly irradiated fuel have yet to deal with it. France has the highest number of spent fuel rods with 13,990 tons in cooling ponds, Germany 8,485, the UK 7,700.

Information withheld

France has the largest unresolved stockpile of all categories of nuclear waste, plus the legacy of a uranium mining industry. The cost of decommissioning and waste management was put at €43.7 billion ($60.3bn) in 2014, but this is almost certainly an underestimate, the report says.

Looking outside Europe, the US probably has the largest and most complex volumes of nuclear waste in the world, the experts say. Yet it has no plans for dealing with it, and vast quantities of all types of waste are in temporary storage.

The authors admit that, despite their year-long study, the report cannot be comprehensive. This is because information from some countries, for example Russia and China, is not available. But they add that across the world all governments are failing to face up to the size of the task and its costs.

Although some countries had set notional dates for dealing with their wastes as far into the future as 2060, others had no idea at all. The authors promise to produce updated reports in future years.

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Google Co-Founders Step Down From Management Roles

SAN FRANCISCO — The co-founders of Google are stepping down as executives of its parent company, Alphabet, ending a remarkable two decades during which Larry Page and Sergey Brin shaped a startup born in a Silicon Valley garage into one of the largest, most powerful — and, increasingly, most feared — companies in the world.

Sundar Pichai, who has been leading Google as CEO for more than four years, will take on additional duties as Alphabet’s CEO, the position held by Page. The company isn’t filling Brin’s position as president.

Page and Brin started Google soon after they met as Stanford University graduate students in 1995.

What began as a way to catalog the growing internet has now become one of the most influential companies in the world. Google dominates online search and digital advertising and makes the world’s most widely used operating system for smartphones, Android. It’s hard to make it through a whole day without using one of Google’s services — ranging from online tools to email, cloud computing systems, phones and smart speaker hardware.

Yet Google has been facing pressure from privacy advocates over its collection and use of personal information to target advertising. It also faces allegations that it abuses its dominance in search and online advertising to push out rivals.

Google is the subject of antitrust inquiries from Congress, the Department of Justice and a contingency of states in the U.S. and from European authorities. The company has also faced harsh criticism about the material on its services. Its video streaming business, YouTube, was fined $170 million to settle allegations it improperly collected personal data on children without their parents’ consent.

Longtime tech analyst Tim Bajarin of Creative Strategies doesn’t expect much to change with the executive shuffle. And if anything does, he said, it will be due to government regulation.

Pichai assured employees in an internal email that his new job wouldn’t mean he was taking a step back from Google.

“I want to be clear that this transition won’t affect the Alphabet structure or the work we do day to day,” he wrote. “I will continue to be very focused on Google and the deep work we’re doing to push the boundaries of computing and build a more helpful Google for everyone.”

Alphabet — an umbrella corporation that the two created in 2015 — still boasts Google as its central fixture and key moneymaker. But it’s also made up of what are known as “other bets,” or longshot projects. That includes drone company Wing and self-driving car firm Waymo.

Page and Brin, in announcing the news Tuesday, said the company has “evolved and matured” in the two decades since its founding. Both promised to stay active as board members and shareholders.

“Today, in 2019, if the company was a person, it would be a young adult of 21 and it would be time to leave the roost,” they wrote in a blog post.

Page and Brin, both 46, both have been noticeably absent from Google events in the past year. Both stopped making appearances at the weekly question-and-answer sessions with employees, and Page didn’t attend this summer’s Alphabet shareholders meeting even though he was still in the CEO role.

Alphabet has been positioning Pichai as the de facto leader for quite some time. It has made him the top executive voice at shareholders meetings, on earnings call and as a spokesman at congressional hearings.

Pichai, 47, has worked at the company for 15 years, serving as a leader in projects to build Google’s Chrome browser and overseeing Android. Pichai, who has an engineering background, took over as the head of Google’s products before being promoted to CEO when Alphabet was created. Pichai is known as a soft-spoken and respected manager.

Last year, Google raised hackles in Congress by refusing to send Page or Pichai to a hearing on Russian manipulation of internet services to sway U.S. elections. Congressional officials left an empty chair while top executives from Facebook and Twitter appeared. Offended lawmakers derided Google as “arrogant.”

Although Bajarin said he doesn’t believe Brin and Page are leaving “because the fire is getting hotter,” he said Pichai’s role at Google has been preparing him for the increased government scrutiny.

Brin and Page still hold a majority of voting shares of Alphabet. According to a regulatory filing in April, Page holds 42.9% of the company’s Class B shares and 26.1% of its voting power. Brin holds 41.3% of the Class B shares and 25.2% of the voting power. According to Forbes magazine, Page has a net worth of $52.4 billion and Brin $56.8 billion.

“Keep in mind, they are not losing their title as billionaires, but they are changing their roles,” Bajarin said.

Google’s stock increased less than 1% in after-hours trading after the news was announced.

Google’s longest serving CEO is still Eric Schmidt, the former executive brought into the role in 2001 as a so-called “adult supervisor” for Brin and Page. Schmidt stepped into the position as the company’s board worried about the relative inexperience of Brin and Page to manage the growing company. He remained CEO until 2011, when Page once again became chief executive. Schmidt stayed on the board until this year.

Page grew up in Michigan, where his late father, Carl, was a computer scientist and pioneer in artificial intelligence, and his mother taught computer programming. Page began working on personal computers when he was just 6 years old in 1979, when home computers were a rarity. The geeky impulses carried into his adulthood, leading him to once build an inkjet printer out of Legos.

___

AP Technology Writers Mae Anderson in New York and Barbara Ortutay in San Francisco contributed to this story.

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Desperate Asylum Seekers Running Through Traffic at Border Crossing

PHOENIX — For months, asylum seekers have been prohibited from filing their claims at U.S. border crossings under a much-criticized Trump administration policy. Now some are sprinting down vehicle lanes or renting cars to try to make it inside the U.S.

The migrants’ efforts are causing traffic delays at Arizona crossings because U.S. Customs and Border Protection officials had to barricade lanes used by cars legally entering the U.S. from Mexico, officials said.

Shoppers, teachers and visitors traveling to the U.S. through Nogales, Mexico, endured up to five-hour waits Monday and over the weekend, causing concerns among local officials whose tax base relies on Mexican shoppers, especially during the holiday season.

In a statement, Customs and Border Protection said it’s committed to the safety of border crossers, adding that there’s been an increase of incursions through vehicle lanes “by asylum seekers attempting to evade established entry processes.”

“These tactics interfere with CBP officers conducting their responsibilities and exacerbates wait times for daily commuters,” the agency said in a statement. “CBP will not allow ports to be overrun, or unauthorized entry.”

The traffic jams could hurt sales at stores in Nogales, Arizona that depend on Mexican shoppers during the holiday season, said Mayor Arturo Garino.

Garino, a part-time teacher, said some students and teachers who live in Mexico but attend and work at schools across the border in the U.S. have been leaving their homes as early as 5 a.m. to arrive on time.

Garino said Mexican authorities were not doing enough to stem the problem. The Arizona Daily Star reported the Nogales, Sonora, police officers were checking cars headed north to the border on Monday afternoon.

The metal barricades are large and are meant to seal off traffic lanes.

About 3,000 migrants are living in Nogales, Mexico as they wait their turns to seek asylum, said Katie Sharar, communications director for the Kino Border Initiative, a religious-based group that provides meals to needy migrants on the Mexican side of the border.

Under a policy by the Trump administration known widely as “metering,” the asylum-seekers must wait in an unofficial line in Mexico until U.S. authorities call them up in a process that usually lasts several months.

Another policy, colloquially known as “Remain in Mexico,” requires asylum seekers to return to Mexico after they have made credible fear claims to justify their asylum requests and wait there while their immigration cases are pending.

“I think there’s just a lot of desperation and uncertainty. They don’t know what’s happening to them, they don’t know how the policy changes are gonna affect them,” Sharar said.

Sharar said she wasn’t familiar with the migrants who have run through vehicle lanes.

Customs and Border Protection did not respond to email and phone messages regarding questions about the migrants who rushed the border, what countries they come from and whether they were detained or faced criminal charges.

Arizona Gov. Doug Ducey, a Republican, said his first concern is public safety and that he is confident that U.S. officials will resolve the border traffic problems.

___

Associated Press writer Bob Christie in Phoenix contributed to this report.

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How Loan Companies Prey on an Unsuspecting Public

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Cecila Avila was finishing a work shift at a Walmart. David Gordon was at church. Darrell Reese was watching his granddaughter at home. Jessica Albritton had pulled into the parking lot at her job, where she packed and shipped bike parts.

All four were arrested by an armed constable, handcuffed and booked into jail. They spent anywhere from a few hours to a couple of days behind bars before being released after paying a few hundred dollars in bail or promising to appear in court.

None of the four, who live in northern Utah and were detained last year, had committed a crime. They had each borrowed money at high interest rates from a local lender called Loans for Less and were sued for owing sums that ranged from $800 to $3,600. When they missed a court date, the company obtained a warrant for their arrest.

Avila was handcuffed and marched down the main aisle in the Walmart in front of customers and co-workers. “It was the most embarrassing thing,” said Avila, 30, who has worked at the store for eight years. At the time of the arrest, Loans for Less had applied to garnish her wages. “It just didn’t make any sense to me,” she said. “Why am I being arrested for it?”

It’s against the law to jail someone because of an unpaid debt. Congress banned debtors prisons in 1833. Yet, across the country, debtors are routinely threatened with arrest and sometimes jailed, and the practices are particularly aggressive in Utah. (ProPublica recently chronicled how medical debt collectors are wielding similar powers in Kansas.)

Technically, debtors are arrested for not responding to a court summons requested by the creditor. But for many low-income people, who are not familiar with court proceedings, lack access to transportation, child care options or time off, or move frequently and thus may not receive notifications, it’s a distinction without a difference.

Reese, a 70-year-old Vietnam veteran, said he missed a hearing because he couldn’t afford to put gas in his car. Gordon, 46, said he was never personally notified of the court date. Avila and Albritton, 32, said they couldn’t take time off work.

In Utah, payday lenders and similar companies that offer high-interest, small-dollar loans dominate small claims court. Loans for Less, for example, filed 95% of the small claims cases in South Ogden, a suburban city of 17,000 about a half-hour north of Salt Lake City on the interstate, in fiscal year 2018, according to state data.

Across Utah, high-interest lenders filed 66% of all small claims cases heard between September 2017 and September 2018, according to a new analysis of court records conducted by a team led by Christopher Peterson, a law professor at the University of Utah and the financial services director at the Consumer Federation of America, and David McNeill, a legal data consultant and CEO of Docket Reminder.

Companies can sue for up to $11,000 in Utah’s small claims courts, which are stripped of certain formalities: There are rarely lawyers, judges are not always legally trained and the rules of evidence don’t apply.

Lenders file thousands of cases every year. When defendants don’t show up — and they often don’t — the lenders win by default. Once a judgment is entered, companies can garnish borrowers’ paychecks and seize their property. If borrowers fail to attend a supplemental hearing to answer questions about their income and assets, companies can ask the court to issue a bench warrant for their arrest.

Arrest warrants were issued in an estimated 3,100 small claims cases during the period studied by Peterson’s team. Almost all of the warrants — 91% — were issued in cases filed by payday, auto title or other high-interest lenders. The number of people who are jailed appears to be small. The state does not track the information, but ProPublica examined a sampling of court records and identified at least 17 people who were jailed over the course of 12 months.

Most people scramble to meet bail to avoid being incarcerated. Others, like Avila, Gordon and Albritton, are booked into jail and held until they pay. They often borrow from friends, family, bail bonds companies and even take on new payday loans.

“Bail” has a different meaning in Utah than it does in other states — one that tilts the power even more in the direction of lenders and other creditors. In 2014, state legislators passed a law that made it possible for creditors to get access to bail money posted in civil cases. Prior to that, bail money would return to the defendant. Now, it is routinely transferred to high-interest lenders. The law has transformed the state’s power to incarcerate into a powerful tool to guarantee that loan companies get paid.

As Peterson put it, “They’re handcuffing and incarcerating people in order to get money out of them and apply it towards insanely high interest rate loans.”

Small claims cases are heard once a month at City Hall in South Ogden, a former frontier town nestled between Hill Air Force Base and the Wasatch Mountains. On a sunny Monday morning in July, I walked past black-and-white portraits of City Council members and paused in front of a metal detector outside the courtroom on the ground floor.

“Are you here for small claims court?” a bailiff asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“You can check in with her,” he said, pointing at a makeshift station in a hallway in front of the courtroom. “You probably won’t need to go inside to see the judge.”

The person standing at a high-top post office-style table a few feet from a wall decal that read “Welcome to the South Ogden City Kiosk” was not a court official.

She was Valerie Stauffer, 44, a senior collections officer with Loans for Less. Reddish-brown hair tied back, the bespectacled Stauffer clutched dozens of beige and blue file folders, one for each borrower whose case was on the docket that day. She then piled them into a foot-high stack on the table next to her car keys and phone.

Loans for Less offers auto title and installment loans, which are higher-stakes versions of payday loans. Traditional payday loans, often for sums in the low hundreds of dollars, are typically due on the borrower’s next payday. The loans carry interest with annual percentage rates that run into triple digits. Borrowers provide postdated checks or access to their bank account as collateral. Auto title loans involve similarly stratospheric interest rates — Loans for Less charges up to a 300% APR — and larger sums of money, since the money is secured by the title to a borrower’s car. The loans are then paid back within a month, or in installments that might stretch over several months.

Loans for Less has six employees across two branches in Salt Lake City and Ogden. More than half of its borrowers, the company said, are repeat customers. The company’s website promises to help borrowers “get the cash you need” for the “lowest possible rates.” Loans for Less, the website says, is “up-front, fair, and honest with everyone.”

At 9 in the morning, there were already a handful of defendants lining up to meet with Stauffer. She quickly leafed through the stack to identify a borrower’s case and spoke to each one in a hushed voice. Stauffer handed out questionnaires requesting details of each person’s financial life: employer’s name, bank account numbers, whether the defendant rents or owns a home.

I spoke to Stauffer in between her meetings. She said that Loans for Less is “a little more aggressive than most.” Not all lenders will take borrowers to court, garnish their wages or request bench warrants, she said. Stauffer quickly added that she tackles the “more extreme” cases: “The ones that have taken the money and ran,” she said. “The ones who have no intention of paying their money back.”

Zachery Limas and his wife, Amber Greer, both 24, waited in the lobby area for their audience with Stauffer. Limas had borrowed $700 from Loans for Less last summer for a down payment on a 2012 Hyundai Santa Fe, an SUV with enough space to accommodate car seats for three children, one of whom was then on the way. (Limas and Greer had another loan with a different company to cover the balance of the purchase price.) Since the $700 loan came with a 180% APR, Limas would have to pay back around $1,400 — double the amount borrowed — within 10 months. At the time, he earned $16.87 an hour driving a forklift at a warehouse; she worked at Subway.

Limas said he made a few payments before a new owner took over his employer and he was laid off. By the time he found a new job, Greer had given birth to their child and stopped working. With his entire paycheck going toward basic expenses like rent and electricity, they could no longer afford to pay back the loan. In March, Loans for Less won a default judgment against Limas for $1,671.23, which included the outstanding balance plus court fees. “We can’t catch up. We can’t do this,” Greer said. “There’s no way we’re ever going to catch up, especially not with the interest rate that they have.”

After Limas missed a court date for the second time, a constable came to their home, threatening to take him to jail unless he paid $200 in bail at the door. “Obviously, we don’t have extra money like that lying around,” he said. Greer called a friend of her mother’s and borrowed the money, jotting down her card details over the phone.

Standing outside the courtroom, the couple told Stauffer they had met with a lawyer and planned to file for Chapter 7 bankruptcy, which would put the lawsuit on hold and eventually discharge their debts. Stauffer was not sympathetic and tried to persuade them to agree to a payment plan. “Even if they’re broke,” Stauffer said later, “we’ll set up $25 a month.” The couple refused.

Limas and Greer say they went to court planning to speak to a judge. After addressing their case with Stauffer, they asked her if they were “good to go.” When she said yes, according to Greer, they took that to mean that they had fulfilled their obligations at the courthouse. Limas and Greer left. They were absent when their case was heard before a judge an hour later.

These hallway negotiations between payday lenders and borrowers are ubiquitous in small claims courts across Utah. They raise red flags, according to consumer advocates. Borrowers are typically unfamiliar with the courts and can’t afford to hire lawyers; collectors deal with dozens of cases every month. Consumers might not understand that they are meeting with a representative from a payday loan company rather than a court-appointed official, said April Kuehnhoff, an attorney at the National Consumer Law Center. They might not understand that they have a right to a hearing before a judge or that government benefits like Social Security and disability are exempt from collection. “The settlement agreement just gets rubber-stamped by the court and people get railroaded through this process,” she said.

Stauffer maintained that she is trying to help. “We try and set up arrangements outside of court to make it easier on them. That way, they don’t have to go in front of the judge,” she said. “Any judge intimidates people, so it’s easier just to try and set up arrangements outside.”

At a quarter to 10, Stauffer gathered her folders and walked inside the courtroom. She had 52 cases to be heard, which represented all but two of the cases on the court’s docket that day. Stauffer had been able to strike a deal with a handful of debtors. None of them followed her inside the courtroom. I sat with a handful of people in the gallery.

Judge Bryan Memmott was presiding. Temporarily stationed in South Ogden, he spends most of his time handling minor criminal and civil matters in the justice court in Plain City, about 15 miles away. A former partner at a small law firm near Phoenix, specializing in real estate and bankruptcy law, Memmott began his legal career in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps in the Air Force. He seemed at ease with Stauffer and talked to her as though they were colleagues. (Memmott declined to be interviewed for this article.)

“Why don’t you tell me what cases you’ve got and we’ll go through them that way?” he said.

Stauffer laughed. “OK,” she said. “So I’ll go in alphabetical order.”

The judge moved quickly, approving judgments as soon as Stauffer shared a defendant’s name and the amount they owed. When the judge lingered once on a case for more than 30 seconds, he begged her pardon: “Sorry. My computer’s being a little slow. I was going between screens. I apologize.”

“No, you’re OK,” Stauffer said.

In many cases, a judgment had been previously entered and borrowers had missed the follow-up hearing. “Can we get a bench warrant?” Stauffer asked in one such case. Memmott obliged, setting the bail amount at $200.

During the half-hour hearing, Memmott issued 21 such warrants. He never refused a request by Stauffer.

When they came to Limas’ case, Stauffer told the judge that Limas had paid $200 in bail but had told her he was planning to file for bankruptcy. “We were going to set up arrangements,” she explained. “He walked out.”

Memmott didn’t wait for Stauffer to request that the Limas’ bail be transferred to Loans for Less. “He hasn’t filed bankruptcy yet,” the judge said, “so we’ll forfeit the bail [to the company] and issue a new warrant. If he files bankruptcy, we’ll stay the proceedings.”

“So, what’s your new warrant,” he said, glancing at Stauffer. “$300?”

“OK,” she said.

After the hearing was over, Stauffer stepped into the hallway to talk to a constable stationed by the metal detectors outside the courtroom. He works for Wasatch Constables, a company hired by South Ogden to serve as bailiffs in its courthouses.

The company is also deputized by payday lenders, who pay them a fee to serve warrants on debtors. S. Steven Maese, who was then Wasatch’s chief operating officer, defended his company’s work for payday lenders. “The biggest misconception, I would say, is that people think that they are being punished for owing money — they are not,” he said. “A warrant is a wake-up call to say that you need to comply with court proceedings.”

Stauffer lowered her stack of folders to the gray folding tables near the metal detectors. The officer leaned over and snapped a picture of an address in one of her folders, ready for his next job.

A few weeks after the hearing, a constable showed up at the home of Limas and Greer to arrest him. Greer said she was able to provide evidence of the couple’s bankruptcy filing and the constable went away, but not before informing her that court records indicated Limas had missed his court date.

At first blush, Utah would seem an unlikely home to a concentration of companies that specialize in peddling high-interest loans to low-income, often minority customers. Utah has one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country, and its population is more middle class and white than the rest of the U.S. Yet a quarter of the state’s population lives in a household that earns less than $39,690 a year.

The presence of 417 payday and title loan stores in Utah — more than the number of McDonald’s, 7-Eleven, Burger King and Subway stores combined — is symptomatic of an age in which financial precariousness is widespread. Across the country, wages have stagnated for decades, failing to keep up with the cost of living. That helps explain why 12 million Americans take out payday loans every year, according to Pew Charitable Trusts. As an often-quoted study by the Federal Reserve Board has noted, a quarter of adults in the U.S. would not be able to handle an unexpected $400 expense without borrowing or selling something to pay for it.

There’s also a policy reason behind the ubiquity of payday lenders in Utah. After the U.S. Supreme Court relaxed restrictions on interest rates in 1978, Utah became one of the first states to scrap its interest rate limits in the hopes of luring credit card and other finance companies. A favorable regulatory climate in Utah made lenders feel welcome. The first payday loan store opened in Salt Lake City in 1985, and other companies soon flocked.

Today, Utah is home to some of the most expensive payday loans in the country. The average annual interest rate hovers at 652%, according to the Center for Responsible Lending, a nonprofit research and policy organization. (The center was started with support from the Sandler Foundation, which is also a major funder of ProPublica.) Payday lenders charged annual percentage rates as high as 2,607% in 2019, according to the Utah Department of Financial Services. Utah is one of six states where there are no interest rate caps governing payday loans.

When it comes time to pay, just a few weeks after getting a loan, most borrowers find they can’t afford to do so, according to the federal Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. As a result, the vast majority of payday loans — 80% — are rolled over or renewed within two weeks. Most loans go to borrowers who have taken out at least seven loans in a row. Many people pay more in fees than the amount borrowed and get stuck in a cycle of debt.

Payday lenders counter that they offer a crucial service to people with poor credit. Loans for Less says it helps people who are short on rent, behind on utility bills or at risk of overdrafting on their bank accounts. Many of the company’s customers can’t qualify for bank loans, credit cards or a paycheck advance. “It’s not our intention to take people to jail over debt,” the company wrote in a statement. “Warrants are issued for their failure to appear in court. We are more than willing to work with our customers.”

The federal government has never regulated payday lenders. Under the Obama administration, the CFPB began the laborious process of drafting federal regulations. The agency finished writing what were meant to be the final rules in 2017, after the Trump administration had taken office. The most notable provision would require payday, vehicle title and some installment lenders to ascertain, in advance, a borrower’s ability to repay the loan without sacrificing basic living expenses like rent and food. The industry aggressively lobbied against the provision, which would have curtailed its profits, and so far it has not gone into effect. The Trump administration has delayed the payday lending rules and is considering a proposal to gut them.

In the absence of federal regulation, rules vary wildly among states. Fifteen states and the District of Columbia have banned payday loans entirely. A handful have strictly limited the industry. For example, South Dakota, once a leader in lifting interest rate limits, voted in 2016 to cap rates for short-term loans at 36% APR. Payday lenders have since left the state.

In Utah, by contrast, efforts to regulate the industry have faced fierce opposition. In 2009 and 2012, two bills, one to cap payday loans at an APR of 100% and a second to prevent lenders from issuing more than one loan per consumer, both failed. The second bill prompted the industry to flood the sponsor’s constituents with robocalls and direct mail, contributing to his defeat at the polls. (He won again in 2016). In 2014, Utah lawmakers passed their bill to allow bail to be paid to creditors in civil cases.

Over the past few years, there’s been a steady resurgence in the number of small claims suits filed by high-interest lenders. The numbers are now approaching the previous peak, which occurred during the Great Recession. Peterson’s study found that, in addition to the high volume of suits, lenders had a lower-dollar threshold for suing than others do: Lenders took people to court for a median of $994, about one-third of the median amount claimed by other plaintiffs.

“They just fight more aggressively,” Peterson said.

It’s unclear how many people across the country are arrested every year for missing hearings over payday loans. Tens of thousands of arrest warrants are issued every year in debt-related lawsuits, according to the American Civil Liberties Union, which examined cases in 26 states in a 2018 report. Arrest warrants were issued against debtors who owed as little as $28.

Some policymakers have proposed a federal interest rate cap that would effectively ban payday loans. In May, presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., introduced the Loan Shark Prevention Act, which would cap interest rates at 15%. Last month, a group of lawmakers introduced the Veterans and Consumers Fair Credit Act, which would extend the 36% interest rate maximum for active-duty service members to everyone. “You have to ask yourself, if it’s immoral to give this type of loan to somebody who is in the military now, how is it OK to give the loan to anybody else?” said Rep. Glenn Grothman, R-Wis., the only Republican sponsor of the bill. Both bills will face substantial difficulty getting through the Senate, according to experts.

Advocates are also calling on state legislatures to take action. The ACLU would like to see a complete ban on arrest warrants in debt collection cases. In the absence of this, consumer advocates have recommended a number of reforms: creditors should give consumers 30 days notice before filing a lawsuit; they should do more to verify that a consumer lives at an address on file; debtors should be immediately released after a warrant is served or taken to a hearing on the same day that they are arrested.

In December 2016, Jessica Albritton took out a $700 auto title loan from Loans for Less. Albritton had four kids under the age of 8 and barely scraped by on her $10-an-hour wage. It had been a hard year. Christmas was coming up.

Albritton used the title of her 1984 Fleetwood trailer as collateral. She signed a contract with a 192% APR. If Albritton fulfilled the agreement, she would be paying $1,383.76 over six months to extinguish a $700 loan.

On Christmas morning that year, her children woke up to gifts from Santa Claus: new clothes and shoes, Legos and other toys. They recounted the day in a journal tucked inside a compartment underneath the family’s nativity set. “We’ve written in it every year,” Albritton said, recalling the tradition that started before she had kids. “It’s literally almost full.”

Albritton made some payments but struggled to keep up. She cut back her work hours to go to school part time to study cosmetology and barbering. The school fees ate at her budget. Bills like rent and car payments took priority. Albritton said she informed the company when she couldn’t meet a payment because of an electricity bill. “When times got hard,” she said, “they were not understanding.”

In April 2017, Loans for Less filed a small claims suit against Albritton in South Ogden. In Utah, the plaintiff is usually responsible for making arrangements to serve papers to defendants in a civil case. Instead of delivering the court notice to Albritton, records show, Loans for Less hired a constable who left the documents with her father.

Albritton missed the hearing at the end of July 2017. Loans for Less won the case by default. At that point, her outstanding balance was $1,239.96. The company also asked her to shoulder the cost of filing the case and hiring a constable to serve the papers.

Two months later, Albritton missed another hearing. She’d run out of vacation days and couldn’t take time off, she said. The judge issued a bench warrant, setting the bail at $200.

James Houghtalen, the constable hired by Loans for Less, served the warrant on a Sunday morning. “She informed me that I woke her upon my arrival,” he wrote in his notes, which were included in a court filing. Houghtalen gave her the option of paying $200 in bail or going to jail. Albritton didn’t have the money, so her mother paid, borrowing the $200 from Check City, another payday lender.

Two weeks later, Albritton filed for Chapter 7 bankruptcy. “They were constantly after me,” she said. Filing bankruptcy shields debtors from collections, at least temporarily, but the process can be cumbersome and expensive. Albritton wasn’t able to complete her case; it was terminated on Jan. 29, 2018.

The next day, Albritton got up early and pulled into the parking lot at work. It was cold outside. As she stepped out of her car, someone called her name. Houghtalen, the constable, had been waiting for her. “You didn’t show up to court,” he said. Confused, she responded, “But I have a bankruptcy case.”

Without further explanation, Albritton asserted in an interview with ProPublica, Houghtalen “slammed” her against his car and handcuffed her. Albritton said the constable didn’t give her a chance to pay and took her phone away so she couldn’t make any calls. Albritton was taken to Weber County Jail, where she was held in a cell with other women. She was released four hours later after paying another $300 in bail. That money, along with $200 in bail from the previous arrest, was forfeited to Loans for Less.

Houghtalen delivered the borrower to jail in every such case ProPublica could find involving Loans for Less. He has a history of misconduct, according to public records. In 2013, the Utah Peace Officer Standards and Training Council concluded that he had failed to turn in $450 in cash from two defendants. Houghtalen told investigators he didn’t know what happened to the money. The council suspended his peace officer certificate for three years as a result.

Houghtalen is also the subject of an ongoing disciplinary investigation, according to the Utah Department of Public Safety’s response to a public records request. The department declined to comment on the specific charges. Houghtalen did not respond to multiple requests for comment. Loans for Less said it was unaware of the ongoing investigation.

After Albritton’s arrest last year, Loans for Less tried to garnish her wages. That effort was stymied, Albritton said, because 25% of her paycheck was already being withdrawn over an unpaid electric bill.

Albritton’s life began spiraling as her debts mounted. In March 2018, she split up with her partner. Albritton and her four children moved into a domestic-violence shelter and then a government-subsidized apartment. Her ex surrendered the trailer to Loans for Less against her wishes, she said. The company sold it at auction for $500 but continued to pursue her for the remaining balance. Albritton agreed to contribute $25 a week but then struggled to pay up. Loans for Less re-initiated legal proceedings. (“We’ve been willing to work with her a ton,” said Kimberly Jones, the legal manager at Loans for Less. “I don’t want anyone to go to jail.” Jones added, “from time to time she would make these arrangements and [then] she would just go MIA for three to four months and obviously not keep the arrangements.”)

In late September, a constable came by and notified her of a new $400 warrant. On a Monday night a few weeks after that, Albritton stood in her kitchen, defrosting bags of frozen meat and green beans. The kids jumped up and down on the gray couch in the living room. The previous weekend, they picked pumpkins at a farm. She was going to take them trick or treating in her parents’ neighborhood.

Albritton had a court date in two weeks. “This is too much for me right now,” she said. “I’m moving. I just had a death in the family. I have four kids. I have a friggin $10-an-hour job. It’s more than what I can handle.”

Albritton felt under constant scrutiny by Loans for Less. Her cellphone was filled with messages from constables. She scrolled through her phone, reading aloud text messages she said were sent by different constables. “This is what got me,” Albritton said, repeating one message: “Hi Jessica, if you want to see me again, just say so. Don’t keep putting it off so I have to come back.”

Loans for Less occupies a bungalow south of Salt Lake City. A bold yellow banner outside declares the company offers the “lowest rates” with “no credit check.”

Inside the store on the counter, a green pen holder has a different message on it: “If you think nobody cares if you’re alive, try missing a payment.”

I visited with a photographer in October and asked to speak to the company’s owner, Ralph Sivertson. The receptionist said he wasn’t in the office but promised to pass on a message. Our photographer obtained her permission to photograph the pen holder.

We were walking back to our car moments later when Sivertson bolted out into the parking lot. He was furious about the pen holder photo. “It’s a joke!” he said.

Sivertson, 54, has a stocky build and salt-and-pepper stubble. He was reluctant to be interviewed, he said, because he thinks payday lenders get a bad rap. Sivertson said he’s in business to help people. But he was also blunt about how integral lawsuits are to his operation. “At this point, small claims court is in the model,” he said. “If we didn’t have that avenue, I’ll be honest … we could be out of business.”

When we asked about arresting customers, Sivertson said he had heard about it happening a few times. “I don’t see a need for that. I don’t like it. And I’m going to make sure that doesn’t happen.” He then insisted that constables should have some discretion to arrest debtors who are threatening or belligerent. He promised to take a second look at the practice. “That’s unnecessary,” he said. “Not over a $500 loan.”

Two weeks later, another constable working for Loans for Less texted Albritton about an upcoming court date.

“My lawyer told me not to go,” Albritton texted back. “She is taking care of it.”

“Okay,” the constable wrote. “I was hoping that I wouldn’t have to come out and arrest you for not appearing so I am glad that’s not going to happen.”

The post How Loan Companies Prey on an Unsuspecting Public appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

House Report Outlines Evidence for Trump Impeachment

WASHINGTON — The House released a sweeping impeachment report Tuesday outlining evidence of what it calls President Donald Trump’s wrongdoing toward Ukraine, findings that will serve as the foundation for debate over whether the 45th president should be removed from office.

The 300-page report from Democrats on the House Intelligence Committee makes the case that Trump misused the power of his office and, in the course of their investigation, obstructed Congress by stonewalling the proceedings. Based on two months of investigation, the report contains evidence and testimony from current and former U.S. officials.

“The impeachment inquiry has found that President Trump, personally and acting through agents within and outside of the U.S. government, solicited the interference of a foreign government, Ukraine, to benefit his reelection,” the report said.

“The President engaged in this course of conduct for the benefit of his own presidential reelection, to harm the election prospects of a political rival, and to influence our nation’s upcoming presidential election to his advantage,” it said. In doing so, “the President placed his own personal and political interests above the national interests of the United States, sought to undermine the integrity of the U.S. presidential election process, and endangered U.S. national security.”

The House intelligence panel will vote later Tuesday, in what is expected to be a party-line tally, to send the document to the Judiciary Committee ahead of a landmark impeachment hearing Wednesday.

“It will be up to the Congress to determine whether these acts rise to the level of an impeachable offense,” said Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the Intelligence Committee, said in a joint statement with the chairmen of the Oversight and Foreign Affairs Committee, who drafted the report.

“With the release of our report, the American people can review for themselves the evidence detailing President Trump’s betrayal of the public trust.”

In a statement, White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham said, “Chairman Schiff and the Democrats utterly failed to produce any evidence of wrongdoing by President Trump.” She said the report “reads like the ramblings of a basement blogger straining to prove something when there is evidence of nothing.”

Ahead of the release, Republicans defended the president in a rebuttal claiming Trump never intended to pressure Ukraine when he asked for a “favor” — investigations of Democrats and Joe Biden. They say the military aid the White House was withholding was not being used as leverage, as Democrats claim, and besides the $400 million was ultimately released, although only after a congressional outcry.

Trump at the opening of a NATO leaders’ meeting in London on Tuesday criticized the impeachment push as “unpatriotic” and “a bad thing for our country.”

The findings in The Trump-Ukraine Impeachment Inquiry Report draw deeply from history, citing Alexander Hamilton and other Founding Fathers, to explain grounds for impeachment.

“Rather than a mechanism to overturn an election, impeachment was explicitly contemplated as a remedy of last resort for a president who fails to faithfully execute his oath of office ‘to preserve, protect and defend the Constitution of the United States,” the report said.

The report will lay the foundation for the House Judiciary Committee to assess potential articles of impeachment starting Wednesday, presenting a history-making test of political judgment with a case that is dividing Congress and the country.

Trump said he will not watch the judiciary panel’s hearing, saying it’s “all nonsense, they’re just wasting their time.”

Democrats once hoped to sway Republicans to consider Trump’s removal, but they are now facing the prospect of an ever-hardening partisan split over the swift-moving proceedings on impeaching the president.

The findings are expected to forcefully make the Democrats’ case that Trump engaged in what Schiff, D-Calif., calls impeachable “wrongdoing and misconduct” in pressuring Ukraine to investigate Biden and Democrats while withholding military aid to the ally.

For Republicans offering an early rebuttal ahead of the report’s public release, the proceedings are simply a “hoax,” with Trump insisting he did nothing wrong and his GOP allies in line behind him. Trump tweeted his daily complaints about it all and then added a suggestive, if impractical, question: “Can we go to Supreme Court to stop?”

Trump criticized the House for pushing forward with the proceedings while he was overseas, a breach of political decorum that traditionally leaves partisan differences at the water’s edge.

He predicted Republicans would actually benefit from the impeachment effort against him.

For the Democrats, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi faces a critical moment of her leadership as she steers the process ahead after resisting the impeachment inquiry through the summer, warning at the time that it was too divisive for the country and required bipartisan support.

Possible grounds for impeachment are focused on whether Trump abused his office as he pressed Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a July 25 phone call to open investigations into Trump’s political rivals. At the time, Trump was withholding $400 million in military aid, jeopardizing key support as Ukraine faces an aggressive Russia at its border.

The report also is expected to include evidence the Democrats say suggests obstruction of Congress, based on Trump’s instructions for his administration to defy subpoenas for documents and testimony.

The next step comes when the Judiciary Committee gavels open its own hearing with legal experts to assess the findings and consider potential articles of impeachment ahead of a possible vote by the full House by Christmas. That would presumably send it to the Senate for a trial in January.

The Democratic majority on the Intelligence Committee says its report, compiled after weeks of testimony from current and former diplomats and administration officials, will speak for itself in laying out the president’s actions toward Ukraine.

Republicans preempted the report’s public release with their own 123-page rebuttal.

In it, they claim there’s no evidence Trump pressured Zelenskiy. Instead, they say Democrats just want to undo the 2016 election. Republicans dismiss witness testimony of a shadow diplomacy being run by Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, and they rely on the president’s insistence that he was merely concerned about “corruption” in Ukraine — though the White House transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelenskiy never mentions the word.

“They are trying to impeach President Trump because some unelected bureaucrats chafed at an elected President’s ‘outside the beltway’ approach to diplomacy,” according to the report from Republican Reps. Devin Nunes of California, Jim Jordan of Ohio and Michael McCaul of Texas.

Schiff said the GOP response was intended for an audience of one, Trump, whose actions are “outside the law and Constitution.”

Democrats could begin drafting articles of impeachment against the president in a matter of days, with voting in the Judiciary Committee next week.

Republicans on the committee, led by Rep. Doug Collins of Georgia, plan to use procedural moves to stall the process and portray the inquiry as unfair to the president.

The White House declined an invitation to participate, with counsel Pat Cipollone denouncing the proceedings as a “baseless and highly partisan inquiry” in a letter to Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y.

Trump had previously suggested that he might be willing to offer written testimony under certain conditions, though aides suggested they did not anticipate Democrats would ever agree to them.

Cipollone’s letter of nonparticipation applied only to the Wednesday hearing, and he demanded more information from Democrats on how they intended to conduct further hearings before Trump would decide whether to participate.

Nadler said Monday if the president really thought his call with Ukraine was “perfect,” as he repeatedly says, he would “provide exculpatory information that refutes the overwhelming evidence of his abuse of power.”

House rules provide the president and his attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses and review evidence before the committee, but little ability to bring forward witnesses of their own.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Jill Colvin contributed to this report.

The post House Report Outlines Evidence for Trump Impeachment appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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