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Illinois Governor Moves to Reinstate Thousands of Suspended Driver’s Licenses

This article originally appeared on ProPublica.

Some 55,000 motorists will regain their right to drive this year after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Friday that ends the practice of suspending licenses over unpaid parking tickets.

The law, known as the License to Work Act, goes into effect in July.

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“Tens of thousands of Illinoisans lose their licenses each year for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to drive,” Pritzker said at a news conference on Chicago’s West Side, an area of the city that’s been heavily hit by ticket debt and license suspensions. “If you’re living below or near the poverty line and you’re looking at a choice between your unpaid parking tickets or your kids’ medicine or your family’s next meal, well, that’s no choice at all.”

The new law ends license suspensions for a number of non-moving violations, including the largest category: unpaid parking, standing and vehicle compliance tickets. Previously, 10 unpaid tickets from those categories could trigger a suspension.

Friday’s bill signing caps the end of a three-year effort by a coalition of advocates who have argued that limiting impoverished residents’ ability to drive makes it difficult for many of them to get to work, much less pay off their ticket debt.

The issue gained traction after a February 2018 investigation by ProPublica Illinois found Chicago’s ticketing and debt collection practices disproportionately hurt black motorists, sending thousands of them into bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy was more affordable, ProPublica Illinois found, than signing up for onerous ticket payment plans. Bankruptcy also allows motorists to get their licenses reinstated and regain possession of impounded vehicles.

In a subsequent analysis, ProPublica Illinois found that license suspensions tied to ticket debt disproportionately affected motorists in largely black sections of Chicago and its suburbs. Later, ProPublica Illinois collaborated with WBEZ Chicago and found a variety of problems, including geographic disparities and duplicative ticketing, tied to violation for vehicles that lacked a city sticker.

A cash-strapped city employs punitive measures to collect from cash-strapped black residents — and lawyers benefit.

State Sen. Omar Aquino, a Chicago Democrat, said the reporting “shed the light on how, unfortunately, there were some practices in our own state that we should’ve been embarrassed about.” Advocates leading the demand for reform at the state level include the Chicago Jobs Council, Woodstock Institute, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Heartland Alliance and Americans for Prosperity-Illinois.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on ending the city’s regressive system of fines and fees, has already ushered in a number of reforms, including debt relief, reducing some penalties, changing payment plans and ending the practice of seeking license suspensions over unpaid parking tickets. City Clerk Anna Valencia, one of the first public officials to publicly call for reforms, said Friday she plans to continue to push for more changes.

The change to state law couldn’t come soon enough, said Stephen Carpenter, a 38-year-old from Chicago who had been considering filing for bankruptcy for months. Carpenter’s license was suspended about two years ago over unpaid parking tickets. On Friday, he said he’d accrued about $19,000 in ticket debt, mostly for expired plates citations, in the southwest suburb of Palos Hills. He relies on rides from his wife or rideshare services, which he estimates costs him upward of $300 a month.

He called the legislation a “light at the end of the tunnel” and said he now won’t file for bankruptcy. “If I would have [done] that, that would prevent me from getting a house in two years the way we were planning to do,” said Carpenter, who fears ruining his credit. “I’m going to toughen it out until [the law goes into effect].”

The law does not address license suspensions for debt tied to red-light or speed camera tickets; five unpaid camera tickets can trigger a license suspension. Advocates said Friday they are considering proposing legislation to also end those suspensions. A June 2018 Woodstock Institute report found that motorists from low-income and minority communities receive a disproportionate share of red-light camera tickets.

Asked whether he would consider legislation to end license suspensions for camera ticket debt, Pritzker said the issue was “absolutely worthy of consideration. We have to look at the information and make sure we’re doing it in the right way.”

The post Illinois Governor Moves to Reinstate Thousands of Suspended Driver’s Licenses appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Gun Rights Showdown Brewing in Virginia

Militia groups, pro-gun hardliners and far-right fringe factions, including white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, converged on Virginia’s capital Monday as the state’s new Democratic majority considers legislation that would enact sweeping gun control measures. The chatter on extremist sites have been touting how [Jan. 20] could be “the first shot of the next civil war,” or, as these groups call it, “the boogaloo.” Truthdig photojournalist Michael Nigro is on the scene in Richmond, documenting the protests with live videos and photography that will comprise a photo essay. Below is a clip from Monday’s protests: The Associated Press reports:

Thousands of gun-rights activists — some making deliberate displays of their military-style rifles — crowded the streets surrounding Virginia’s Capitol building Monday to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation.

Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency days ahead of the rally, banning all weapons, including guns, from the event on Capitol Square. The expected participation of fringe militia groups and white supremacists raised fears the state could again see the type of violence that exploded at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Virginia’s current gun laws:

* Do not require a permit to purchase rifles, shotguns or handguns. * Do not require firearm registration. * Do not require licensing. * Do not require a permit to carry a rifle or shotgun. * Do not “regulate the transfer or possession of .50-caliber rifles or large-capacity ammunition magazines.” * Do not require a background check before transferring a firearm between unlicensed people. * Do not impose a waiting period before the sale of a firearm. * Do not require owners to report lost or stolen guns. There are several restrictions in place. For example, concealed carry is allowed, but requires a court-issued permit. Dealers must contact state police—which conducts a background check—before a sale. State police are also required to be at gun shows to conduct background checks “at the request of the parties to the transaction.” Proposed changes in Virginia seek to: * Ban assault weapons, silencers, high-capacity magazines and other “dangerous weapons.” * Require background checks on all firearm transactions. * Reinstate the law—repealed in 2012—allowing no more than one handgun purchase a month. * Allow municipalities to enact “ordinances that are stricter than state law.” Among the examples cited: rules banning guns in libraries or municipal buildings. * Require lost or stolen guns to be reported to authorities within one day. * Allow law enforcement to “temporarily separate a person from firearms if the person exhibits dangerous behavior that presents an immediate threat to self or others.” * Prohibit the subjects of protective orders from possessing guns. * Toughen punishment for allowing access of a loaded, “unsecured” firearm to someone 18 or younger.

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Trump’s Impeachment Defense, Prosecutors Dig In

WASHINGTON — Advocates for and against President Donald Trump gave no ground Sunday on his Senate impeachment trial, digging in on whether a crime is required for his conviction and removal and whether witnesses will be called.

But even as Trump’s defense team and the House prosecutors pressed their case on the television talk shows, mystery still surrounded the ground rules for the impeachment trial, only the third in American history, when it resumes Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was shedding no light on what will be the same as — and different from — the precedent of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999.

All sides agitated to get on with it, none more than the four Democratic senators running for president and facing the prospect of being marooned in the Senate heading into Iowa’s kickoff caucus on Feb. 3.

“The president deserves a fair trial. The American people deserve a fair trial. So let’s have that fair trial,” said Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, one of the seven impeachment prosecutors who will make the case for Trump’s removal.

But what’s fair is as intractable a showdown as the basic question of whether Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to help him politically merits a Senate conviction and removal from office. The stakes are enormous, with historic influence on the fate of Trump’s presidency, the 2020 presidential and congressional elections and the future of any presidential impeachments.

Whatever happens in the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said, Trump will “be impeached forever.”

Members of Trump’s team said that if they win a vindication for Trump, it means “an acquittal forever as well,” Trump attorney Robert Ray said Sunday. “That is the task ahead.”

The House on Dec. 18 voted mostly along party lines to impeach, or indict, Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He is the third president to be impeached in U.S. history.

Trump denies both charges as the products of a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” and has cast himself as a victim of Democrats who want to overturn his 2016 election.

For all of the suspense over the trial’s structure and nature, some clues on what’s to come sharpened on Sunday.

The president’s lawyers bore down on the suggestion that House impeachment is invalid unless the accused violated U.S. law.

“Criminal-like conduct is required,” said Alan Dershowitz, author of a book about the case against impeaching Trump.

The argument refers to an 1868 speech by Benjamin Curtis, who after serving as a Supreme Court justice acted as the chief lawyer for President Andrew Johnson at his Senate impeachment trial.

In his speech before the Senate, Curtis argued that “high crimes and misdemeanors” must correspond to an actual law on the books at the time the offense was committed.

“There can be no crime, there can be no misdemeanor, without a law, written or unwritten, express or implied,” Curtis told the Senate. “There must be some law; otherwise there is no crime. My interpretation of it is that the language ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ means ‘offenses against the laws of the United States.’”

Johnson was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans have long signaled the strategy, which has, in turn, been disputed by other scholars.

“Rubbish,” said Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor and author of his own book about the history of impeachment for the Trump era.

“It’s comically bad. Dershowitz either knows better or should,” said Bowman, who said he had Dershowitz as a law professor at Harvard. “It’s a common argument, and it’s always wrong.”

He said Johnson was acquitted for multiple reasons but not because Curtis was right in his characterization of high crimes and misdemeanors. The proposition was “amply rebutted” by the House managers in the Johnson case, Bowman said.

Dershowitz on Sunday pushed another, more personal and perhaps difficult narrative. He described himself as something other than a full member of the defense team, merely a speaker about the Constitution. He refused to endorse the strategy pursued by other members of that team or defend Trump’s conduct. He noted he didn’t sign the White House’s brief for the trial.

He acknowledged that his argument really is against having new testimony introduced.

“There’s no need for witnesses,” he said.

Democrats strongly disagree, and a few Republicans said they want to know more before deciding. New information from Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is being incorporated in the House case. At the same time, Senate Democrats want to call John Bolton, the former national security adviser, among other potential eyewitnesses, after the White House blocked officials from appearing in the House.

With Republicans controlling the Senate 53-47, they can set the trial rules — or any four Republicans could join with Democrats to change course.

McConnell has said he has 51 votes to start the trial before making a decision on calling witnesses. But he hasn’t released the ground rules publicly, giving him and the White House more control over their Sunday remarks. McConnell has said he’s working closely with the president’s team.

“It’s telling that none of us have seen this resolution, except, I suppose, the White House lawyers,” said the lead impeachment prosecutor, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Crow spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Dershowitz was on CNN and ABC’s “This Week.” Ray was on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” Schiff appeared on ABC’.

___

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

The post Trump’s Impeachment Defense, Prosecutors Dig In appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Illegal Crossings Plunge as U.S. Extends Policy Across Border

YUMA, Ariz. — Adolfo Cardenas smiles faintly at the memory of traveling with his 14-year-old son from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border in only nine days, riding buses and paying a smuggler $6,000 to ensure passage through highway checkpoints.

Father and son walked about 10 minutes in Arizona’s stifling June heat before surrendering to border agents. Instead of being released with paperwork to appear in immigration court in Dallas, where Cardenas hopes to live with a cousin, they were bused more than an hour to wait in the Mexican border city of Mexicali.

“It was a surprise. I never imagined this would happen,” Cardenas, 39, said while waiting at a Mexicali migrant shelter for his fifth court appearance in San Diego, on Jan. 24.

Illegal crossings plummeted across the border after the Trump administration made more asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. The drop has been most striking on the western Arizona border, a pancake-flat desert with a vast canal system from the Colorado River that turns bone-dry soil into fields of melons and wheat and orchards of dates and lemons.

Arrests in the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector nearly hit 14,000 in May, when the policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico took effect there. By October, they fell 94%, to less than 800, and have stayed there since, making Yuma the second-slowest of the agency’s nine sectors on the Mexican border, just ahead of the perennially quiet Big Bend sector in Texas.

Illegal crossings in western Arizona have swung sharply before, and there are several reasons for the recent drop. But Anthony Porvaznik, chief of the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, said the so-called Migration Protection Protocols have been a huge deterrent, based on agents’ interviews with people arrested.

“Their whole goal was to be released into the United States, and once that was taken off the shelf for them, and they couldn’t be released into the United States anymore, then that really diminished the amount of traffic that came through here,” Porvaznik said.

In the neighboring Tucson sector, arrests rose each month from August to December, bucking a border-wide trend and making it the second-busiest corridor after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Porvaznik attributes Tucson’s spike to the absence of the policy there until three months ago.

In late November, the administration began busing asylum-seekers five hours from Tucson to El Paso, Texas, for court and delivering them to Mexican authorities there to wait. This month, officials scrapped the buses by returning migrants to Mexico near Tucson and requiring them to travel on their own to El Paso.

More than 55,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico to wait for hearings through November, 10 months after the policy was introduced in San Diego.

The immigrants were from more than three dozen countries, and nearly 2 out of 3 were Guatemalan or Honduran, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Mexicans are exempt.

Critics say the policy is unfair and exposes asylum-seekers to extreme violence in Mexican border cities, where attorneys are difficult to find.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups asked to put the policy on hold during a legal challenge. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Oct. 1 and has not indicated when it will decide.

On Tuesday, critics scored a partial victory in a separate lawsuit when a federal judge in San Diego said asylum-seekers who are being returned to Mexico from California must have access to hired attorneys before and during key interviews to determine if they can stay in the U.S. while their cases proceed.

Immigration judges hear cases in San Diego and El Paso, while other asylum-seekers report to tent camps in the Texas cities of Laredo and Brownsville, where they are connected to judges by video.

In Yuma, asylum-seekers are held in short-term cells until space opens up to be returned to Mexicali through a neighboring California sector. Those interviewed by The Associated Press waited up to a week in Yuma, though Border Patrol policy says people generally shouldn’t be held more than 72 hours.

Volunteers visit Mexicali shelters to offer bus tickets or a two-hour ride to Tijuana, along with hotel rooms for the night before court appearances in San Diego.

Cardenas, who worked construction in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said he feels unsafe in Mexico and that it was impossible to escape gangs in Honduras. “They are in every corner,” he said.

Enma Florian of Guatemala, who crossed the border illegally with her 16- and 13-year-old sons near Yuma in August, doesn’t know if she would stay in Mexico or return to Guatemala if denied asylum in the U.S. The grant rate for Guatemalan asylum-seekers was 14% for the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, compared with 18% for Salvadorans, 13% for Hondurans and 11% for Mexicans.

“The dream was to reach the United States,” she said, holding out hope that she will settle with relatives in Maryland.

While illegal crossings have nosedived in Yuma, asylum-seekers still sign up on a waiting list to enter the U.S. at an official crossing in San Luis, Arizona. U.S. Customs and Border Protection calls the Mexican shelter that manages the list to say how many asylum claims it will process each day. The shelter estimates the wait at three to four months.

Angel Rodriguez, one of 143 Cubans on the shelter’s waiting list of 1,484 people, has had bright moments in Mexico, including a beautiful Christmas meal. But the 51-year-old rarely goes outside and he dreads the possibility of being forced to wait for hearings in Mexico after his number is called to make an initial asylum claim in the U.S.

“That’s sending me to hell again,” said Rodriguez, who hopes to settle with friends in Dallas or Miami. “If I’m going to seek asylum, I’m going to look to a country that is the safest and respects human rights. That country is the United States of America.”

The post Illegal Crossings Plunge as U.S. Extends Policy Across Border appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

National Archives ‘Wrong’ to Blur Images of Anti-Trump Signs

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The National Archives said Saturday it made a mistake when it blurred images of anti-Trump signs used in an exhibit on women’s suffrage.

The independent agency is charged with preserving government and historical records and said it has always been committed to preserving its holdings “without alteration.”

But the archives said in a statement Saturday “we made a mistake.” The archives’ statement came one day after The Washington Post published an online report about the altered images.

The archives said the photo in question is not one of its archival records, but rather was licensed for use as a promotional graphic in the exhibit.

“Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image,” the agency said.

The current display has been removed and will be replaced as soon as possible with one that uses the original, unaltered image, the archives said.

The exhibit about the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, blurred some anti-Trump messages on protest signs in a photo of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington.

Signs that referred to women’s private parts, which also were widespread during the march, which was held shortly after Trump took office, also were altered.

The archives said it will immediately begin a “thorough review” of its policies and procedures for exhibits “so that this does not happen again.”

The American Civil Liberties Union called on the archives to issue a more detailed explanation.

“Apologizing is not enough,” Louise Melling, the organization’s deputy legal director, said in a statement. “The National Archives must explain to the public why it took the Orwellian step of trying to rewrite history and erasing women’s bodies from it, as well as who ordered it.”

Archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman told the Post for its report that the nonpartisan, nonpolitical federal agency blurred the anti-Trump references “so as not to engage in current political controversy.”

References to female anatomy in the signs were obscured in deference to student groups and young people who visit the archives, Kleiman told the newspaper.

Kleiman did not respond to an emailed request for comment Saturday from The Associated Press. The public affairs office at the archives emailed the statement.

The archives issued the apology as thousands again gathered in Washington and in cities across the country Saturday for Women’s March rallies focused on issues such as climate change, pay equity and reproductive rights.

The post National Archives ‘Wrong’ to Blur Images of Anti-Trump Signs appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Doctors Sound the Alarm on Climate Emergency

LONDON — The doctors are worried about the climate emergency. In recent days the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it’s halting investments in climate-changing fossil fuel and mining companies.

The RCP, the British doctors’ professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, which has funds in global stock markets amounting to nearly £50 million (US$65m), says it will start divesting immediately from the worst-polluting oil and gas companies, which are mainly in the US.

As part of a phased disinvestment policy the RCP – the oldest medical college in England, with more than 35,000 members – says that within the next three years all investments in fossil fuel companies not aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change
will be withdrawn.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”, says Dr Will Stableforth of the RCP.

“As physicians we have a duty to speak out against this industry and hold it accountable for the damage it is doing to human health.”

Gathering impetus

The RCP’s action forms part of a fast-growing worldwide movement involved in withdrawing investment funds from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of health organisations – both in the UK and elsewhere – has already announced similar divestment moves.

According to the campaign group +350, investment and pension funds managing more than $11 trillion round the globe have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund investment management company with nearly $7tn assets under its control, has announced it will withdraw funds from firms sourcing 25% or more of revenues on thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Larry Fink, BlackRock’s head, says investors are becoming increasingly aware of climate change in assessing various companies’ long-term prospects.

“Awareness is rapidly changing and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”, Fink told fund managers and chief executives this week.

“In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

The banking and insurance sectors are also being forced to confront the dangers posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently became the world’s first central bank to introduce a climate change “stress test”,  requiring the UK’s banks and insurance companies to evaluate their exposure to the risks of a warming world.

Despite the moves on divestment and tighter finance controls on climate change-related investments, investors – along with the fossil fuel companies themselves – continue to pump millions into various projects around the world.

BlackRock and other major fund management groups talk of their commitment to sustainability and helping in the fight against climate change, but remain leading fossil fuel investors.

Greenwash continues

Although investments in the coal industry have declined, multi-million dollar investments in new projects are still being made, particularly in Asia.

Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, estimates that between January 2018 and September last year oil and gas companies approved $50bn worth of new projects.

“Gas and mining companies have been furiously trying to “greenwash” their images and promote false solutions to the climate crisis”, says Dr Deidre Duff of the UK-based Medact health charity.

“But in reality, these companies are devastating human and planetary health and exacerbating health inequalities around the world.”

 

The post Doctors Sound the Alarm on Climate Emergency appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Sanders Team Slams Biden for Claiming Social Security Video Was ‘Doctored’

Highlighting a major contrast between the current top two candidates in the Democratic primary field in terms of how they have addressed the issue over their long legislative careers, the Bernie Sanders campaign hit back against a claim made by Joe Biden earlier in the day in which the former vice president said there was “doctored video” being circulated by the Sanders campaign that showed him agreeing with former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about the need to cut Social Security.

“It’s simply a lie, that video is a lie,” Biden said at a campaign event in Iowa when asked about his position on Social Security by an attendee.

Biden said the video was attributable to “Bernie’s people,” and that he was looking for the Sanders campaign “to come forward and disown it but they haven’t done it yet.”

According to Reuters:

After Biden’s comments, his campaign said the candidate was referring to recent claims by Sanders that Biden has proposed cutting Social Security in the past. The Sanders campaign has pointed to a speech Biden gave to the Brookings Institution think tank in 2018, when Biden said of Ryan’s plan to reform the tax code: “Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to after? Social Security and Medicare.”

For its part, the Sanders campaign appeared to relish the opportunity to have the issue discussed in detail. National press secretary Briahna Joy Gray tweeted a video capturing Biden’s comments at the Iowa event and said she hoped “the media covers this as a substantive policy disagreement.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Hope the media covers this as a substantive policy disagreement. <br><br>And I hope they play the video. <a href=”https://t.co/L1EI6XRgQr”>https://t.co/L1EI6XRgQr</a></p>&mdash; Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) <a href=”https://twitter.com/briebriejoy/status/1218638746641453056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 18, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

David Sirota, a speechwriter and frequent message amplifier for the Sanders campaign, sent an email out Saturday evening that stated: “Biden claimed that one video of him pushing Social Security ‘adjustments’ was doctored—but Biden’s absurd assertion has been widely debunked and discredited by reporters and Social Security advocates.”

Journalists who have looked at the issue closely, including The Intercept‘s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim, agreed it is not accurate to describe the video Biden is referencing as “doctored.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I hope <a href=”https://twitter.com/PolitiFact?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@PolitiFact</a> at least check this claim from Biden. <br><br>There was no doctored video. That’s a fabrication. Interesting to see if Politifact let’s this stand: <a href=”https://t.co/LSrqyPlzzD”>https://t.co/LSrqyPlzzD</a></p>&mdash; Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1218665981041610752?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 18, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Grim reported in a piece published Monday that Biden has “advocated cutting social security for 40 years.”

And despite the Biden campaign’s now repeated assertion that the comments about agreeing with Paul Ryan were taken out of context, Grim’s reporting argues that “Biden’s record on Social Security is far worse than one offhand remark.” According to Grim:

Biden’s fixation on cutting Social Security dates back to the Reagan era. One of Ronald Reagan’s first major moves as president was to implement a mammoth tax cut, tilted toward the wealthy, and to increase defense spending. Biden, a Delaware senator at the time, supported both moves. The heightened spending and reduced revenue focused public attention on the debt and deficit, giving fuel to a push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

In the midst of that debate, Biden teamed up with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for a freeze on federal spending, and insisted on including Social Security in that freeze, even as the Reagan administration fought to protect the program from cuts. It was part of the Democratic approach at the time not just to match Republicans, but to get to their right at times as well, as Biden also did on criminal justice policy.

That push by Biden to join forces with Republicans to cut spending on social programs like Medicaid and Social Security in the mid-nineties included numerous speeches and statements Biden made in the Senate, many of them also captured on video and available to watch. Sirota, in particular, has been prolific in sharing them online:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I want you to watch this clip of Biden touting his repeated efforts to cut Social Security, and then I want you to remember that Biden told reporters “I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done.”<a href=”https://t.co/TKtv3XxoZB”>https://t.co/TKtv3XxoZB</a><a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BidenSocialSecurityCuts?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BidenSocialSecurityCuts</a> <a href=”https://t.co/MIAx4nO9Qa”>pic.twitter.com/MIAx4nO9Qa</a> <a href=”https://t.co/vKIlVqYQZk”>https://t.co/vKIlVqYQZk</a></p>&mdash; David Sirota (@davidsirota) <a href=”https://twitter.com/davidsirota/status/1218685773970427904?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>This video now has almost 450,000 views. Keep retweeting it. Don&#39;t let <a href=”https://twitter.com/JoeBiden?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@JoeBiden</a> get away with misleading Iowa voters about his repeated efforts to undermine Democrats and help the GOP try to slash Social Security. Retweet it and spread the word.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BidenSocialSecurityCuts?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BidenSocialSecurityCuts</a> <a href=”https://t.co/LVo8PXK36a”>https://t.co/LVo8PXK36a</a></p>&mdash; David Sirota (@davidsirota) <a href=”https://twitter.com/davidsirota/status/1218694301028245504?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

In a statement Saturday evening, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir also pushed back against the accusation that it has misrepresented in any way some of the positions Biden has taken or remarks he’s made about Social Security.

“Joe Biden should be honest with voters and stop trying to doctor his own public record of consistently and repeatedly trying to cut Social Security,” Shakir said.

“The facts are very clear: Biden not only pushed to cut Social Security—he is on tape proudly bragging about it on multiple occasions,” he continued. “The vice president must stop dodging questions about his record, and start explaining why he has so aggressively pushed to slash one of the most significant and successful social programs in American history, which millions of Americans rely on for survival.”

In a column this week, Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said it is no longer possible for Biden to outrun his record on attacking Social Security—a history that Republicans will surely weaponize against him in the general election.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Politicians only use euphemisms like “adjustments” when they really mean “cut.”<br><br>There’s no reason to use euphemisms to talk about protecting and expanding Social Security, because that’s incredibly popular: <a href=”https://t.co/kEFnbs8QJe”>https://t.co/kEFnbs8QJe</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ONoC5qGtqD”>https://t.co/ONoC5qGtqD</a></p>&mdash; SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SSWorks/status/1218693756590927874?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Biden in 2018 on Social Security after his ideal tax plan is implemented: “it still needs adjustments, but it can stay.”<br><br>He does not mean adjusted upward, that would make no sense. He is saying, in 2018, it still needs cuts. If you’re a fact checked and don’t see that… <a href=”https://t.co/6MO9qtET64″>pic.twitter.com/6MO9qtET64</a></p>&mdash; Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1218681195938111489?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 18, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Biden’s record, argued Lawson—who endorsed Sanders officially in December—would be a “a major vulnerability should he become the Democratic nominee. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump continually promised to protect Social Security and Medicare. That was a lie. But lying has never bothered Trump, and he’ll be happy to use the same playbook in 2020.”

 

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Harry, Meghan to Give Up Public Funds, ‘Highness’ Titles Under Deal

LONDON — Goodbye, your royal highnesses. Hello, life as — almost — ordinary civilians.

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are quitting as working royals and will no longer use the titles “royal highness” or receive public funds for their work under a deal announced Saturday by Buckingham Palace.

Releasing details of the dramatic split, triggered by the couple’s unhappiness with life under media scrutiny in the royal fishbowl, the palace said Harry and Meghan will cease to be working members of the royal family when the new arrangements take effect within months, in the “spring of 2020.”

The couple will no longer use the prestigious titles His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness, but they are not being stripped of them.

They will be known as Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Harry will remain a prince and sixth in line to the British throne.

The agreement also calls for Meghan and Harry to repay 2.4 million pounds ($3.1 million) in taxpayers’ money that was spent renovating a house for them near Windsor Castle, Frogmore Cottage. The use of public funds to ready their home had raised ire in the British press.

The announcement came after days of talks among royal courtiers sparked by Meghan and Harry’s announcement last week that they wanted to step down as senior royals and live part-time somewhere in Canada.

The couple’s departure is a wrench for the royal family, but Queen Elizabeth II had warm words for them in a statement Saturday.

The 93-year-old queen said she was pleased that “together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.”

“I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” Elizabeth said.

“It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life,” she added.

Despite the queen’s kind words, the new arrangement will represent an almost complete break from life as working royals, especially for Harry. As a devoted Army veteran and servant to the crown, the prince carried out dozens of royal engagements.

It is not yet clear whether Harry and Meghan will continue to receive financial support from Harry’s father, Prince Charles, who used revenue from the Duchy of Cornwall to help fund his activities and those of his wife and sons.

The duchy, chartered in 1337, produced more than 20 million pounds ($26 million) in revenue last year. It is widely regarded as private money, not public funds, so Charles may opt to keep details of its disbursal private.

While he and Meghan will no longer represent the queen, the palace said they would “continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty” while carrying out their private charitable work.

The withdrawal of Harry from royal engagements will increase the demands on his brother, Prince William, and William’s wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Buckingham Palace did not disclose who will pay for the couple’s security going forward. It currently is taxpayer-funded and carried out primarily by a special unit of the Metropolitan Police, also known as Scotland Yard.

“There are well established independent processes to determine the need for publicly funded security,” it said.

Harry and Meghan have grown increasingly uncomfortable with constant media scrutiny since the birth in May of their son, Archie. They married in 2018 in a ceremony that drew a worldwide TV audience.

Meghan joined the royal family after a successful acting career and spoke enthusiastically about the chance to travel throughout Britain and learn about her new home, but disillusionment set in fairly quickly.

She launched legal action against a newspaper in October for publishing a letter she wrote to her father. Harry has complained bitterly of racist undertones some media coverage of his wife, who is biracial.

There has also been a breach in the longtime close relationship between Harry and William, a future king, over issues that have not been made public.

The couple’s desire to separate from the rest of the family had been the subject of media speculation for months. But they angered senior royals by revealing their plans on Instagram and a new website without advance clearance from the queen or palace officials.

Elizabeth summoned Harry, William and Charles to an unusual crisis meeting at her rural retreat in eastern England in an effort to find common ground.

The result was Saturday’s agreement, which is different from Harry and Meghan’s initial proposal that they planned to combine a new, financially independent life with a reduced set of royal duties.

It is not known where in Canada the couple plan to locate. They are thought to be considering Vancouver Island, where they spent a long Christmas break, or Toronto, where Meghan filmed the TV series “Suits” for many years.

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Gun-Rights Activists Gear Up for Show of Force in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. — Police are scouring the internet for clues about plans for mayhem, workers are putting up chain-link holding pens around Virginia’s picturesque Capitol Square, and one lawmaker even plans to hide in a safe house in advance of what’s expected to be an unprecedented show of force by gun-rights activists.

What is provoking their anger in this once reliably conservative state is the new Democratic majority leadership and its plans to enact a slew of gun restrictions. This clash of old and new has made Virginia — determined to prevent a replay of the Charlottesville violence in 2017 — ground zero in the nation’s raging debate over gun control.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League’s yearly rally at the Capitol typically draws just a few hundred gun enthusiasts. This year, however, thousands of gun activists are expected to turn out. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.

“We’re not going to be quiet anymore. We’re going to fight them in the courts and on the ground. The illegal laws they’re proposing are just straight up unconstitutional,” said Timothy Forster, of Chesterfield, Virginia, an NRA member who had one handgun strapped to his shoulder and another tucked into his waistband as he stood outside a legislative office building earlier this week.

VCDL president Philip Van Cleave said he’s heard from groups around the country that plan to send members to Virginia, including the Nevada-based, far-right Oath Keepers, which has promised to organize and train armed posses and militia.

Extremist groups have blanketed social media and online forums with ominous messages and hinted at potential violence. The FBI said it arrested three men linked to a violent white supremacist group Thursday who were planning to attend the rally in Richmond, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an active investigation.

Democrats have permanently banned guns inside the Capitol, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency Wednesday that bans all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square, during the rally to prevent “armed militia groups storming our Capitol.” Gun-rights groups asked the Virginia Supreme Court to rule Northam’s declaration unconstitutional, but the court on Friday upheld the ban.

Northam said there were credible threats of violence — like weaponized drones being deployed over Capitol Square. On Friday, the FAA issued a temporary flight restriction, including for drones, over Capitol airspace during the rally.

The governor said some of the rhetoric used by groups planning to attend Monday’s rally is reminiscent of that used ahead of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. One woman was killed and more than 30 other people were hurt when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters there.

The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police are all coordinating the event and have plans for a huge police presence at Monday’s rally that will include both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Police plan to limit access to Capitol Square to only one entrance and have warned rally-goers that they may have to wait hours to get past security screening.

Nonessential state staff were being told to stay away. Del. Lee Carter, a Democratic Socialist, said he’s planning to spend Monday at an undisclosed location because of threats he has received.

“I ain’t interested in martyrdom,” Carter tweeted.

Northam lamented that such precautions were necessary for what’s been a peaceful yearly event, but said pro-gun activists have “unleashed something larger, something they may not be able to control.”

The pushback against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates in November. Much of the opposition has focused on a proposed assault weapons ban, which would affect thousands of owners of the popular AR-15-style rifles. One version of the bill, which Democrats later disavowed, would have required current owners of the rifles to turn them in or face felony charges.

That bill was the spark that created the massive pushback, according to Sen. Creigh Deeds, one of the few moderate Democrats left in Virginia who represents rural areas.

“That allowed people who like to inflame passions to say, ‘Look, they’re really coming after your guns, they’re coming after you,’” Deeds said.

Thousands of gun owners from around the state packed municipal meetings to urge local officials to declare their communities “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” opposed to “unconstitutional” gun restrictions like universal background checks. More than 125 cities, towns and counties have approved sanctuary resolutions in Virginia.

Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, have also been flocking to Richmond to show their support for the proposed legislation. More than 200 volunteers with Moms Demand Action held a rally on Jan. 6. Gun control became a leading issue in the 2019 Virginia legislative elections after a city employee in Virginia Beach opened fire on his co-workers in May, killing 12 and injuring four others.

Janet Woody, a retired librarian from Richmond and a Moms volunteer, said she believes the proposed package of legislation can help reduce gun violence.

“I just feel so angry and helpless because of all these massacres,” she said. “You can call your legislator or write, but there comes a point where you just have to get out in the street.”

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Riots in Lebanon’s Capital Leave More Than 150 Injured

BEIRUT — Police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in Lebanon’s capital Saturday to disperse thousands of protesters amid some of the worst rioting since demonstrations against the country’s ruling elite erupted three months ago. More than 150 people were injured.

Thick white smoke covered the downtown Beirut area near Parliament as police and protesters engaged in confrontations that saw groups of young men hurl stones and firecrackers at police who responded with water cannons and tear gas. Some protesters were seen vomiting on the street from inhaling the gas.

The violence began after some protesters started throwing stones at police deployed near the parliament building, while others removed street signs, metal barriers and branches of trees, tossing them at security forces.

The clashes took place with the backdrop of a rapidly worsening financial crisis and an ongoing impasse over the formation of a new government after the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October.

Lebanon has witnessed three months of protests against the political elite who have ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The protesters blame politicians for widespread corruption and mismanagement in a country that has accumulated one of the largest debt ratios in the world.

The protesters had called for a demonstration Saturday afternoon with the theme “we will not pay the price” in reference to debt that stands at about $87 billion, or more than 150% of GDP.

As rioting took place in central Beirut, thousands of other protesters arrived later from three different parts of the city to join the demonstration. They were later dispersed and chased by police into nearby Martyrs Square that has been a center for protests.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces called on all peaceful protesters to “immediately leave the area of riots for their own safety.” It added that some policemen who were taken for treatment at hospitals were attacked by protesters inside the medical centers.

As clashes continued, some two dozen men believed to be parliament guards attacked the protesters’ tents in Martyrs Square, setting them on fire. A gas cylinder inside one of the tents blew up. The fire spread quickly and charred a nearby shop.

The bells of nearby St. George Cathedral began to toll in an apparent call for calm, while loudspeakers at the adjacent blue-domed Muhammad Al-Amin mosque called for night prayers.

Later in the evening, hundreds of protesters chanting “Revolution” chased a contingent of riot police near the entrance of the mosque, forcing them to withdraw. Inside the mosque, several men were treated for gas inhalation and some families were said to be hiding inside.

“We call on the security forces to be merciful with women and children inside the mosque,” a statement blared through the mosque’s loudspeakers.

President Michel Aoun called on security forces to protect peaceful protesters and work on restoring clam in downtown Beirut and to protect public and private property. He asked the ministers of defense and interior and heads of security agencies to act.

“The confrontations, fires and acts of sabotage in central Beirut are crazy, suspicious and rejected. They threaten civil peace and warn of grave consequences,” tweeted Hariri, the caretaker prime minister, who lives nearb y. He called those behind the riots “outlaws” and called on police and armed forces to protect Beirut.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it took 65 people to hospitals and treated 100 others on the spot, calling on people to donate blood. As the clashes continued, more ambulances were seen rushing to the area and evacuating the injured.

Late on Saturday most of the protesters were forced out of the area by police firing tear gas and sometimes rubber bullets. Still, security remained tight as more reinforcements arrived.

Panic and anger have gripped the public as their local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60% of its value in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and foreign inflows dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most of its basic goods.

Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers.

Earlier this week, protesters carried out acts of vandalism in a main commercial area in Beirut targeting mostly private banks.

Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab had been expected to announce an 18-member Cabinet on Friday, but last-minute disputes among political factions scuttled his latest attempt.

___

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb, Hussein Malla, Hassan Ammar and Bilal Hussein contributed to this report.

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Thousands Gather for Women’s March Rallies Across the U.S.

WASHINGTON — Thousands gathered in cities across the country Saturday as part of the nationwide Women’s March rallies focused on issues such as climate change, pay equity, reproductive rights and immigration.

Hundred showed up in New York City and thousands in Washington, D.C., for the rallies, which aim to harness the political power of women, although crowds were noticeably smaller than in previous years. Marches were scheduled Saturday in more than 180 cities.

The first marches in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of people to rallies in cities across the country on the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. That year’s D.C. march drew close to 1 million people.

In Manhattan on Saturday, hundreds of people who gathered at separate events in Foley Square and Columbus Circle planned to converge at Times Square as part of a “Rise and Roar” rally.

“Today, we will be the change that is needed in this world! Today, we rise into our power!” activist Donna Hill told a cheering crowd in Foley Square.

In Denver, organizers opted to skip the rally after the march and instead invited participants to meet with local organizations to learn more about issues such as reproductive rights, climate change, gun safety and voting.

Several thousand came out for the protest in Washington, far fewer than last year when about 100,000 people held a rally east of the White House. But as in previous years, many of the protesters made the trip to the nation’s capital from cities across the country to express their opposition to Trump and his policies. From their gathering spot on Freedom Plaza, they had a clear view down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, where the impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate next week.

In Washington, three key issues seemed to galvanize most of the protesters: climate change, immigration and reproductive rights.

“I teach a lot of immigrant students, and in political times like this I want to make sure I’m using my voice to speak up for them,” said Rochelle McGurn, 30, an elementary school teacher from Burlington, Vermont who was in D.C. to march. “They need to feel like they belong, because they do.”

Peta Madry of New London, Connecticut, was celebrating her 70th birthday in D.C. by attending her fourth Women’s March with her sister, Cynthia Barnard, of San Rafael, California. Both women were wearing handknitted pink hats that date from the first march. With pained expressions, they spoke about Trump’s determination to reverse the policies of his predecessor Barack Obama and his treatment of women.

“Look what he’s doing to Greta Thunberg,” Madry said, referring to the teenage climate activist. “He’s the biggest bully in the world.”

Melissa McCullough of Georgetown, Indiana, said when she recently turned 50 she promised herself that she would get more involved politically. “I’m here to protest Trump, as a woman,” she said.

Her daughter, 19-year-old University of Cincinnati student Elizabeth McCullough, chimed in to say that most women’s issues are human issues, and they talked about the need to protect immigrants.

“You have to push to protect everyone or no one’s safe,” Melissa McCullough said.

The protesters planned to march around the White House, but Trump wasn’t there. He is spending the holiday weekend at his resort in Florida.

Organizers of the Washington march faced criticism from some local African American activists for failing to focus on local issues and damaging the ability of local activists to organize.

“Local D.C. is a domestic colony and the actions of national organizers have to recognize that,” Black Lives Matter D.C. wrote in a letter this week to Women’s March organizers. “Here in D.C., these unstrategic mass mobilizations distract from local organizing, often overlook the black people who actually live here and even result in tougher laws against demonstration being passed locally.”

___

Associated Press reporter Michael Hill in New York City contributed to this report.

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White House Seeks to End Michelle Obama Guidelines on School Nutrition

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration on Friday proposed rolling back nutrition guidelines for school meals that had been promoted by Michelle Obama as part of her campaign to combat child obesity.

The impact, child nutrition advocates said, will be less fruit and vegetables and more foods like pizza and fries in the school meals program, which serves 30 million children, most from low-income families.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who announced the rule changes on Obama’s birthday, said they were needed to give schools more flexibility and reduce waste while still providing nutritious and appetizing meals.

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Under the proposal, schools would be allowed to cut the amount of certain types of vegetables served at lunch, and legumes offered as a meat alternative also could be counted as part of the vegetable requirement. Potatoes could be served as a vegetable.

The proposal also would allow schools to reduce the amount of fruit at on-the-go breakfast served outside the cafeteria.

Gay Anderson, president of the School Nutrition Association, said that while the nutrition standards had been a success overall, some requirements led to reduced participation in the program, higher costs and waste.

“USDA’s school meal flexibilities are helping us manage these challenges and prepare nutritious meals that appeal to diverse student tastes,” Anderson said in a statement.

Advocates of the school meals program assailed the changes.

“The Trump administration’s assault on children’s health continues today under the guise of ‘simplifying’ school meals,” Colin Schwartz, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s deputy director for legislative affairs, said in a statement.

The proposal would give schools greater flexibility in offering entrees for a la carte purchases, which Schwartz said would “create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, French fries, and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day.”

Geraldine Henchy, director of nutrition policy at the Food Research & Action Center, said the bottom line should be nutrition, but the revisions to the a la carte rule would result in students getting “a lot more fats, a lot more sodium, a lot more calories.”

Specifically, the proposal would reduce the amount of red and orange vegetables that would have to be offered every day at lunch.

For breakfasts taken to go, fruit servings could be reduced from a cup to half a cup.

Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said the proposal “threatens the progress we’ve made toward improving nutrition in schools.”

“For many children, the food they eat at school is their only access to healthy, nutritious meals,” he said.

As first lady, Obama championed healthier school meals as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign.

The 2010 Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act set nutrition standards for school meals, requiring schools to offer fruits and vegetables and more whole-grain foods and to limit calories, fat and sodium.

The proposed rule is the second move by the Trump administration to scale back the school lunch program’s nutrition standards. Under a 2018 rule, the administration reduced the whole grains that had to be served and allowed low-fat chocolate milk. Before the rule change, only fat-free flavored milk was permitted.

Perdue announced the proposed changes in San Antonio, Texas.

“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals,” he said.

The agency also proposed changes to the summer meals program, which serves 2.6 million children.

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Trump Defense Team Includes Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump has assembled a made-for-TV legal team for his Senate trial that includes household names like Ken Starr, the prosecutor whose investigation two decades ago resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz will deliver constitutional arguments meant to shield Trump from allegations that he abused his power.

The additions on Friday bring experience in the politics of impeachment as well as constitutional law to the team, which faced a busy weekend of deadlines for legal briefs and other documents before opening arguments begin on Tuesday.

The two new Trump attorneys are already nationally known both for their involvement in some of the more consequential legal dramas of recent American history and for their regular appearances on Fox News, the president’s preferred television network.

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Dershowitz is a constitutional expert whose expansive views of presidential powers echo those of Trump. Starr is a veteran of partisan battles in Washington, having led the investigation into Clinton’s affair with a White House intern that brought the president’s impeachment by the House. Clinton was acquitted at his Senate trial, the same outcome Trump is expecting from the Republican-led chamber.

Still, the lead roles for Trump’s defense will be played by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who also represented Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

There are some signs of tension involving the president’s outside legal team and lawyers within the White House.

The White House would not confirm the fuller roster of the president’s lawyers Friday, and some officials there bristled that the announcement was not coordinated with them. Hours after Dershowitz announced his involvement with the team in a series of tweets on Friday, he played down his role by saying that he would be present for only an hour or so to make constitutional arguments.

“I’m not a full-fledged member of the defense team,” he told “The Dan Abrams Show” on SiriusXM. He has long been a critic of “the overuse of impeachment,” he said, and would have made the same case for a President Hillary Clinton.

A legal brief laying out the contours of the Trump defense, due at noon on Monday, was still being drafted, with White House attorneys and the outside legal team grappling over how political the document should be. Those inside the administration have echoed warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the pleadings must be sensitive to the Senate’s more staid traditions and leave the sharper rhetoric to Twitter and cable news.

White House lawyers were successful in keeping Trump from adding House Republicans to the team, but they also advised him against tapping Dershowitz, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. They’re concerned because of the professor’s association with Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire who killed himself in jail last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

A Fox News host said on the air that Starr would be parting ways with the network as a result of his role on the legal team.

Other members of Trump’s legal defense include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general; Jane Raskin, who was part of the president’s legal team during Mueller’s investigation, and Robert Ray, who was part of the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rivals as he was withholding security aid, and his efforts to block the ensuing congressional probe.

Senators were sworn in as jurors on Thursday by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The president insists he did nothing wrong, and he complains about his treatment daily, sometimes distracting from unrelated events. On Friday, as Trump welcomed the championship LSU football team to the Oval Office for photos, he said the space had seen “a lot of presidents, some good, some not so good. But you got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that?”

While the president speaks dismissively of the case, new revelations are mounting about his actions toward Ukraine.

The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.

At the same time, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, has turned over to prosecutors new documents linking the president to the shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani. The voluble Giuliani is not expected to play a formal role on the impeachment defense legal team, according to one official.

The GAO report and Parnas documents have applied fresh pressure to senators to call more witnesses for the trial, a main source of contention that is still to be resolved. The White House has instructed officials not to comply with subpoenas from Congress requesting witnesses or other information.

Views on it all are decidedly mixed in the Senate, reflective of the nation at the start of this election year.

“I’ll be honest, a lot of us do see it as a political exercise,” Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa told reporters on a conference call. “The whole process has really been odd or unusual or bizarre in some mannerisms. …”

Others spoke of the seriousness of the moment.

“Totally somber,” tweeted Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He sits next to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of four senators running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the fall, and said they agreed their “overwhelming emotion was sadness.”

All said they will be listening closely to all arguments.

As she filed for re-election Friday in West Virginia, GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told reporters, “I think it’s been a very politicized process to this point and the president hasn’t had a chance to present his side.”

Starr, besides his 1990s role as independent counsel, is a former U.S. solicitor general and federal circuit court judge.

More recently, he was removed as president of Baylor University and then resigned as chancellor of the school in the wake of a review critical of the university’s handling of sexual assault allegations against football players. Starr said his resignation was the result of the university’s board of regents seeking to place the school under new leadership following the scandal, not because he was accused of hiding or failing to act on information.

Dershowitz’s reputation has been damaged in recent years by his association with Epstein. One of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has accused Dershowitz of participating in her abuse. Dershowitz has denied it and has been battling in court for years with Giuffre and her lawyers. He recently wrote a book rejecting her allegations, called “Guilt by Accusation.”

Giuffre and Dershowtiz are also suing each other for defamation, each saying the other is lying.

_____

Associated Press writers David Caruso in New York, David Pitt in Iowa, Anthony Izaguirre in West Virginia, Sean Murphy in Oklahoma and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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Trump Vastly Overestimates America’s Readiness for War

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 was co-published with The New York Times.

Between the killing of Iran’s most important general and Iran’s missiles hurtling toward American troops in Iraq, President Donald Trump took time to discuss America’s military prowess.

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“The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment,” he tweeted on Jan. 5. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way.”

Besides being wrong (the military has not spent that much), he repeated a mistake that military leaders have made for years: emphasizing weapons over the fitness of the men and women charged with firing them.

Over the past 18 months, ProPublica has dug into military accidents in recent years that, all told, call into question just how prepared the American military is to fight America’s battles.

If forced to fight in the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula, the Navy and Marine Corps are likely to play crucial roles in holding strategic command of the sea and defending against ballistic missiles.

Those branches, though, do not need billions of dollars of new weapons, our examination revealed. They need to focus on the basics: its service members, their training and their equipment.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog, has been sounding the alarm for years, to little effect. In 2016, the GAO found that years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan had taken their toll: “The military services have reported persistently low readiness levels.”

In 2018, the agency focused on the Navy and Marine Corps. All seven types of aircraft it tracked, from cargo planes to fighters like the F/A-18D, had repeatedly missed goals for being prepared for missions. “Aviation readiness will take many years to recover,” the GAO said.

In a report last month, the GAO found that only about 25% of Navy shipyard repairs were completed on time. “The Navy continues to face persistent and substantial maintenance delays that affect the majority of its maintenance efforts and hinder its attempts to restore readiness,” it said.

The services’ problems with readiness burst into public view in the summer of 2017, when two American destroyers collided with two commercial ships in separate incidents that left 17 sailors dead and scores injured. They were the Navy’s worst accidents at sea since the 1970s.

Both the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain were deployed to the 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan. What both ships needed, ProPublica found, was more time to train and more sailors.

Neither ship was fully qualified for its battle missions; neither ship had a full crew; both ships had patched together navigation systems that failed to work at times.

Sailors on both ships described being shortchanged in training and exhausted by the pace of operations. One-hundred-hour work weeks were not uncommon.

On the Fitzgerald, for instance, a sailor had to manually press a button more than 1,000 times to refresh a radar screen tracking nearby traffic. On the evening of the collision on June 17, the Fitzgerald was under the control of a relatively inexperienced officer who ordered the destroyer to turn directly into the path of a cargo carrier.

On the McCain, the Navy had installed a touch-screen navigation system as a cheaper alternative to traditional steering wheels and throttles. The design of the new system was so confusing that the sailors using it accidentally guided the McCain into an oil tanker in the Singapore Strait on Aug. 21.

Dakota Bordeaux, the young sailor steering the ship, said of the new navigation system, “There was actually a lot of functions on there that I had no clue what on earth they did.”

It was not that the Navy was unaware of the problems. Top commanders had simply ignored urgent messages for help. Military leaders wanted missions completed. They cared less about whether the men and women on duty were forced to cut corners to do them.

In January 2013, Vice Adm. Thomas Copeman issued a warning at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, one of the premier gatherings of Navy officers in charge of warships. Readiness, he said, was headed toward a “downward spiral.”

“It’s getting harder and harder I think for us to look the troops in the eye,” Copeman told the audience.

“If you’re an admiral in the Navy,” he later told ProPublica, “you may have to make that decision to send people into combat, and you better not have blood on your hands the rest of your life because you didn’t do everything you could in peacetime to make them ready.”

The Navy’s surface forces needed $3.5 billion, he said, just to fix what was wrong with training alone. Copeman raised the specter of a “hollow” Navy without those additional funds.

Three years later Janine Davidson, the undersecretary of the Navy, sounded the alarm again. The Navy remained short of adequately trained sailors and reliable ships.

“It’s sleepwalking into a level of risk you don’t realize you have,” she said to ProPublica.

The 7th Fleet, the largest of the Navy’s forward-deployed fleets, was perhaps most vulnerable. In 2017, top officers laid out the armada’s dire conditions for its senior commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin.

Training was down. Certifications, which crews received after proving they were prepared to handle crucial war-fighting duties, had dropped from 93% completed in 2014 to 62% in 2016. That year, only two of the fleet’s 11 destroyers and cruisers received all recommended maintenance. One ship got only a quarter of its scheduled upkeep.

Aucoin sent the assessment to the top brass. But the portrait of crisis got him nothing.

Low-level officers on the decks of ships and high-ranking leaders up the chain of command said they made similar warnings and were shut down. Scores of sailors reached out to us and testified to some combination of fear, lack of training and an absence of confidence in the Navy’s leadership.

“If the Navy paid more attention to the job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation of sailors, then a lot of these other systemic issues will fix themselves,” one sailor wrote.

We examined other Navy episodes directly relevant to today’s situation with Iran. In 2016, the crew of two American gunboats was seized in the Persian Gulf by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military force dominated by Qassim Suleimani, the major general killed by a drone strike outside the Baghdad Airport this month.

The sailors on the gunboats undertook a last-minute mission without proper training or equipment and were captured after straying into the waters surrounding an Iranian naval base on Farsi Island. An international incident was avoided only through military pressure and last-minute diplomatic maneuvers.

We also examined the state of the Navy’s minesweepers. The Persian Gulf is one of the few places in the world where such ships may prove indispensable. Nearly a quarter of the world’s oil supplies pass through the Strait of Hormuz at the gulf’s entrance. The Iranians have threatened to use mines to block it in case of conflict.

The Navy has fewer than a dozen minesweepers, many in disrepair. One sailor told us the sonar meant to detect mines was so imprecise that in training exercises it flagged dishwashers, crab traps and cars on the ocean floor as potential explosives.

“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” another sailor said of his own minesweeper, which had not left port in 20 months.

The Department of the Navy oversees the Marine Corps. And a Marine Corps aviation accident in December 2018 raised its own questions about readiness. A midair collision between a F/A-18D Hornet and a KC-130J Hercules fuel tanker over the Pacific left six Marines dead.

The same patterns showed up again: Local commanders had warned higher-ups of a lack of training, nonfunctioning aircraft and faulty equipment.

Squadron 242, whose fighter jets were involved in the accident, was designed to leap quickly into an attack against North Korea in case of conflict. The commander’s own reports showed the squadron was consistently not capable of completing seven of its 10 “mission essential tasks,” such as armed reconnaissance and traveling into enemy airspace to bomb known targets.

In commentary written in response to the findings of a safety board investigation after the incident, the commander for the tanker squadron, which lost five Marines in the crash, was unsparing.

“In an [area of operations] where the mantra of ‘Fight Tonight’ is repeated everywhere,” Lt. Col. Mitchell Maury said, referring to the Pacific, “we are not manned, trained, and equipped to execute to the appropriate level of effectiveness.”

In isolation, each of the events seemed an unfortunate accident — regrettable, to be sure, but not a cause for widespread alarm.

But our reporting showed a broad and alarming pattern. The Navy and the Marine Corps had routinely ignored their sailors and Marines, their equipment and their training. The result: men dying during peacetime.

Are the two branches ready to fight a war against Iran tonight? It’s a question that nobody hopes to ever answer. But it’s a question that goes beyond expensive new weapons.

The post Trump Vastly Overestimates America’s Readiness for War appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bernie Sanders Leads in New Post-Debate National Poll

Amid a series of endorsements from key groups and allies in crucial primary states this week—and despite the “brouhaha” with Sen. Elizabeth Warren—a new national poll shows Sen. Bernie Sanders now in the lead over former Vice President Joe Biden and the rest of the Democratic primary field.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll released late Thursday, Sanders received support from 20% of registered Democratic primary voters surveyed. That figure was enough to edge out Biden who received 19% and the 12% of voters who say they back Warren. Rounding out the top five finishers in the nationwide poll—conducted this week between Jan. 15-16—were former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (9%) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (6%).

While the poll has a 5-point margin of error that puts Biden and Sanders in a statistical tie, the results show Sanders gaining steam and Biden remaining flat compared to a similar poll taken last week. In addition, Reuters noted in its reporting, “The poll shows that standing does not appear to have been hurt by his recent confrontation with Warren” that captured political headlines throughout the week.

“Warren, who is aligned with Sanders on a variety of issues, has accused him of telling her in 2018 that a woman could not be elected president,” noted Reuters. “Sanders disputes that claim, and the two sniped at each other after this week’s presidential debate about how they were framing the conversation in public.”

The new national poll showed Sanders’ and Warren’s support remains unchanged among women voters compared to polling prior to the dust-up, with approximately 15% supporting Sanders and 11% supporting Warren.

It’s just one poll, but it looks like Bernie is unhurt and Warren unhelped by the brouhaha.

And, speaking of Bernie Bros: “So far, Sanders’ and Warren’s support remains unchanged among women, with about 15% supporting Sanders and 11% supporting Warren.” https://t.co/ZGX5exm7qn

— Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood) January 17, 2020

Meanwhile, a new Emerson poll out of New Hampshire released Friday showed Sanders maintaining a discernible lead in the nation’s first primary state.

With the support of 23% of state primary voters, Sanders was followed by Buttigieg in second place at 18%, while Biden and Warren were tied in third with 14% each. Sen. Amy Klobuchar rounded out the top five with 10%.

#NEW New Hampshire Post-debate @7News / @EmersonPolling:

Sanders 23
Buttigieg 18
Biden 14
Warren 14
Klobuchar 10
Yang 6
Gabbard 5 pic.twitter.com/HTtM6NUKfI

— Political Polls (@PpollingNumbers) January 17, 2020

Sanders has been experiencing a surge in both national and state-level polling for weeks, a show of momentum that coincides with a raft of new endorsements by national groups and allies in key primary states that include Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, California, and Wisconsin.

On Thursday, the Clark County Black Caucus in Nevada officially endorsed Sanders. The CCBC represents members in the state’s largest county and cited Sanders’ commitment to social, economic, and racial justice as the key reason for offering their support.

“Bernie Sanders has been a lifelong advocate for civil rights and economic justice. His presidential campaign goes the furthest in addressing issues that impact the African American community nationally and here in Nevada,” caucus chairwoman Yvette Williams said in a statement. “As representatives of this community, CCBC looks forward to working with Sen. Bernie Sanders to ensure our political system works for everyone.”

The CCBC’s endorsement came just two days after the largest teachers union in Nevada also announced their official backing of Sanders on Tuesday, and an endorsement Wednesday by the national group Make the Road Action, which advocates for immigrant rights and social progress.

On Thursday, Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from the key mid-western state of Wisconsin who also co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued his endorsement of Sanders.

I am proud to endorse @BernieSanders for President of the United States.

After three years of Trump, Wisconsinites want someone who they can trust with values they share.

Bernie never stopped fighting for working families & I am joining him in the fight to defeat Donald Trump. pic.twitter.com/0UphQV3mrv

— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) January 16, 2020

“Sanders’ authenticity, honesty, and movement for equality is the antidote our nation needs now,” Pocan said. “I am proud to endorse a candidate that shares my progressive values and has long been an advocate for the issues Wisconsinites care most about. From health care to a living wage, it’s time we work for working people, and with Bernie Sanders as president—we can do just that.”

The post Bernie Sanders Leads in New Post-Debate National Poll appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

1st Malaria Vaccine Tried Out in Babies in 3 African Nations

TOMALI, Malawi — A pinch in the leg, a squeal and a trickle of tears. One baby after another in Malawi is getting the first and only vaccine against malaria, one of history’s deadliest and most stubborn of diseases.

The southern African nation is rolling out the shots in an unusual pilot program along with Kenya and Ghana. Unlike established vaccines that offer near-complete protection, this new one is only about 40% effective. But experts say it’s worth a try as progress against malaria stalls: Resistance to treatment is growing and the global drop in cases has leveled off.

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With the vaccine, the hope is to help small children through the most dangerous period of their lives. Spread by mosquito bites, malaria kills more than 400,000 people every year, two-thirds of them under 5 and most in Africa.

Seven-month-old Charity Nangware received a shot on a rainy December day at a health clinic in the town of Migowi. She watched curiously as the needle slid into her thigh, then twisted up her face with a howl.

“I’m very excited about this,” said her mother, Esther Gonjani, who herself gets malaria’s aches, chills and fever at least once a year and loses a week of field work when one of her children is ill. “They explained it wasn’t perfect, but I feel secure it will relieve the pain.”

There is little escaping malaria — “malungo” in the local Chichewa language — especially during the five-month rainy season. Stagnant puddles, where mosquitoes breed, surround the homes of brick and thatch and line the dirt roads through tea plantations or fields of maize and sugar cane.

In the village of Tomali, the nearest health clinic is a two-hour bike ride away. The longer it takes to get care, the more dangerous malaria can be. Teams from the clinic offer basic medical care during visits once or twice a month, bringing the malaria shot and other vaccines in portable coolers.

Treating malaria takes up a good portion of their time during the rainy season, according to Daisy Chikonde, a local health worker.

“If this vaccine works, it will reduce the burden,” she said.

Resident Doriga Ephrem proudly said her 5-month-old daughter, Grace, didn’t cry when she got the malaria shot.

When she heard about the vaccine, Ephrem said her first thought was “protection is here.” Health workers explained, however, that the vaccine is not meant to replace antimalarial drugs or the insecticide-treated bed net she unfolds every night as the sun sets and mosquitoes rise from the shadows.

“We even take our evening meals inside the net to avoid mosquitoes,” she said.

It took three decades of research to develop the new vaccine, which works against the most common and deadly of the five parasite species that cause malaria. The parasite’s complex life cycle is a huge challenge. It changes forms in different stages of infection and is far harder to target than germs.

“We don’t have any vaccines against parasites in routine use. This is uncharted territory,” said Ashley Birkett, who directs PATH’s Malaria Vaccine Initiative, a nonprofit that helped drugmaker GlaxoSmithKline develop the shot, brand-named Mosquirix.

The bite of an infected mosquito sends immature parasites called sporozoites into the bloodstream. If they reach the liver, they’ll mature and multiply before spewing back into the blood to cause malaria’s debilitating symptoms. At that point, treatment requires medicines that kill the parasites.

Mosquirix uses a piece of the parasite — a protein found only on sporozoites’ surface — in hopes of blocking the liver stage of infection. When a vaccinated child is bitten, the immune system should recognize the parasite and start making antibodies against it.

Scientists also are searching for next-generation alternatives. In the pipeline is an experimental vaccine made of whole malaria parasites dissected from mosquitoes’ salivary glands but weakened so they won’t make people sick. Sanaria Inc. has been testing its vaccine in adults, and is planning a large, late-stage study in Equatorial Guinea’s Bioko Island.

And the U.S. National Institutes of Health soon will start initial tests of whether injecting people periodically with lab-made antibodies, rather than depending on the immune system to make them, could offer temporary protection during malaria season. Think of them as “potentially short-term vaccines,” NIH’s Dr. Robert Seder told a recent meeting of the American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene.

For now, only babies in parts of Malawi, Kenya and Ghana are eligible for the Mosquirix vaccine. After the vaccine was approved in 2015, the World Health Organization said it first wanted a pilot roll-out to see how well it worked in a few countries — in real-world conditions — before recommending that the vaccine be given more widely across Africa.

“Everyone is looking forward to getting it,” said Temwa Mzengeza, who oversees Malawi’s vaccine programs. Those eager for the shots include her husband, whom she had to stop from trying to get them, she said.

Mzengeza used to come down with malaria several times a year until she started following her own advice to sleep under a net every night. Unlike many other kinds of infections, people can get malaria repeatedly, building up only a partial immunity.

In the pilot program that began last year, 360,000 children in the three countries are meant to be vaccinated annually. The first dose is given at about age 5 months and the final, fourth booster near the child’s second birthday.

Experts say it is too early to know how well the vaccine is working. They’re watching for malaria deaths, severe infections and cases of meningitis, something reported during studies but not definitively linked to the vaccine.

“To do something completely new for malaria is exciting,” said researcher Don Mathanga, who is leading the evaluation in Malawi.

The rainy season has brought new challenges, making some rural roads impassable and complicating efforts to track down children due for a shot. So far in Malawi, the first dose reached about half of the children targeted, about 35,000. That dropped to 26,000 for the second dose and 20,000 for the third.

That’s not surprising for a new vaccine, Mzengeza said. “It will pick up with time.”

At the health clinic in Migowi in Malawi’s southern highlands, workers see signs of hope. Henry Kadzuwa explains the vaccine to mothers waiting at the clinic. He said there was a drop in malaria cases to 40 in the first five months of the program, compared to 78 in the same period in 2018.

Even though he wishes his 3-year-old daughter, Angel, could receive the vaccine, “it’s protecting my community. It also makes my work easier,” Kadzuwa said. The Migowi area has one of the country’s highest rates of malaria, and a worn paper register in the clinic’s laboratory lists scores of cases.

At the clinic, Agnes Ngubale said she had malaria several years ago and wants to protect her 6-month-old daughter, Lydia, from the disease.

“I want her to be healthy and free,” she said. “I want her to be a doctor.”

And she has memorized the time for Lydia’s second dose: “Next month, same date.”

___

Neergaard reported from Washington.

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Chief Justice Arrives at Capitol for Impeachment Trial

WASHINGTON — The chief justice of the United States arrived Thursday at the U.S. Senate to preside over President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, ready to swear in the senators with an oath to ensure “impartial justice” as jurors for only the third such proceeding in American history.

Chief Justice John Roberts made the short trip across the street from the Supreme Court before being ushered to the Senate chamber. He was to be sworn in himself before administering the oath it to the senators.

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The Constitution mandates the chief justice serve as the presiding officer. Roberts, who has long insisted judges are not politicians, is expected to serve as a referee for the proceedings rather than an active participant. Senators will ultimately render the verdict.

The Senate opened the impeachment trial at the start of the election year as Trump seeks another term, a test not only of his presidency but also of the nation’s three branches of power and its system of checks and balances. Several senators are running for the Democratic Party’s nomination to challenge Trump in November.

Earlier Thursday, House Democrats prosecuting the case stood before the Senate and formally read the articles of impeachment against Trump.

“Hear ye, hear ye, hear ye!” said the Senate’s sergeant at arms, calling the proceedings to order at noon.

Senators filled the chamber, sitting silently at their seats under strict trial rules that prohibit talking or cellphones, as the ceremonial protocol shifted the proceedings out of Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s Democratic-run House to the Republican-majority Senate.

Seven lawmakers prosecuting the charges, led by Rep. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee and Rep. Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, made the solemn walk across the Capitol for a second day.

“With the permission of the Senate, I will now read the articles of impeachment,” said Schiff, standing at a lectern in the well of the chamber, a space usually reserved for senators.

All eyes were on him.

“House Resolution 755 Impeaching Donald John Trump, president of the united States, for high crimes and misdemeanors,” he began, reading the nine pages.

The other House prosecutors stood in a row to his side.

Trump faces a charge that he abused his presidential power by pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, using military aid to the country as leverage. Trump was also charged with obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe. Ahead of the proceedings the Government Accountability office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.

The president calls the impeachment a “hoax,” even as new information emerges about his actions toward Ukraine that led to the charges against him.

Pelosi said new allegations from an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, only reinforces the need for the Senate to consider further testimony about the president’s actions toward Ukraine.

Pelosi noted that typically a special prosecutor would investigate but she doubted that would happen.

“This is an example of all of the president’s henchmen,” Pelosi said, “and I hope that the senators do not become part of the president’s henchmen.”

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell opened the chamber Thursday decrying Pelosi’s decision to hand out “souvenir pens” after she signed the resolution to transmit the charges to the Senate.

“This final display neatly distilled the House’s entire partisan process into one perfect visual,” McConnell said. “’It was a transparently partisan process from beginning to end.”

Democratic Senate leader Chuck Schumer renewed his party’s request that the trial include new witnesses and documents not available for the House impeachment proceedings.

“What is the president hiding? What is he afraid of?’’ Schumer said.

“The gravity of these charges is self-evident,” he said. “The House of Representatives have accused the president of trying to shake down a foreign leader for personal gain.”

The president has suggested recently that he would be open to a quick vote to simply dismiss the charges, but sufficient Republican support is lacking for that. Still, an eventual vote to acquit Trump is considered highly likely.

On Wednesday, in a dramatic procession across the U.S. Capitol, House Democrats carried the charges to the Senate.

“Today we will make history,” Pelosi said as she signed the documents, using multiple pens to hand out and mark the moment. “This president will be held accountable.”

Moments later the prosecutors walked solemnly through the stately hall, filing into the Senate back row as the clerk of the House announced the arrival: “The House has passed House Resolution 798, a resolution appointing and authorizing managers of the impeachment trial of Donald John Trump, president of United States.”

Opening arguments are to begin next Tuesday after the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

Earlier Wednesday, the House voted 228-193, almost entirely along party lines, ending a weeks-long delay to deliver the charges with a tally reflecting the nation’s split.

The top Republican in the House, Kevin McCarthy of California, said Americans will look back on this “sad saga” that tried to remove the president from office with the “weakest case.”

The president’s team expects acquittal with a Senate trial lasting no more than two weeks, according to senior administration officials. That would be far shorter than the trial of President Bill Clinton, in 1999, or the first one, of President Andrew Johnson, in 1868. Both were acquitted.

The seven-member prosecution team is led by the chairmen of the House impeachment proceedings, Reps. Adam Schiff of the Intelligence Committee and Jerrold Nadler of the Judiciary Committee, two of Pelosi’s top lieutenants.

On Wednesday, Schiff released new records from Lev Parnas, an associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, about the Ukraine strategy, including an exchange with another man about surveilling later-fired U.S. Ambassador Marie Yovanovitch.

Schiff said the new evidence should bring more pressure on McConnell, who is reluctant to allow witnesses to testify and prefers swift acquittal. The White House has instructed officials not to comply with House subpoenas for testimony and documents.

“The challenge is to get a fair trial,” Schiff said in an interview with The Associated Press. “It shouldn’t be a challenge — if the senators are really going to live up to their oath to be impartial, they’ll want a fair trial. That’s obviously not where Mitch McConnell is coming from.”

The managers are a diverse group with legal, law enforcement and military experience, including Hakeem Jeffries of New York, Sylvia Garcia of Texas, Val Demings of Florida, Jason Crow of Colorado and Zoe Lofgren of California.

Two are freshman lawmakers — Crow a former Army Ranger who served in Iraq and Afghanistan, Garcia a former judge in Houston. Demings is the former police chief of Orlando and Jeffries is a lawyer and member of party leadership. Lofgren has the rare credential of having worked on the congressional staff investigation of President Richard Nixon’s impeachment — he resigned before the full House voted on the charges — and then being an elected lawmaker during Clinton’s.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins of Maine is leading an effort among some Republicans, including Mitt Romney of Utah, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska and Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, to consider Senate witnesses. She told reporters she was satisfied the rules will allow votes on that.

Romney said he wants to hear from John Bolton, the former national security adviser at the White House, who others have said raised alarms about the alternative foreign policy toward Ukraine being run by Giuliani.

Any four senators could force an outcome. Republicans control the chamber, 53-47, but it takes just 51 votes during the trial to approve rules or call witnesses. It also would take only 51 senators to vote to dismiss the charges against Trump.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Alan Fram, Matthew Daly, Andrew Taylor, Mary Clare Jalonick, Laurie Kellman, and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

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Giuliani Associate: Trump Had Knowledge of Ukraine Pressure

WASHINGTON — A close associate of President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani is claiming Trump was directly involved in the effort to pressure Ukraine to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden.

Lev Parnas says he delivered an ultimatum in May, at Giuliani’s behest, to the incoming president of Ukraine that no senior U.S. officials would attend his inauguration and vital American security aid would be withheld if an investigation into Biden wasn’t announced.

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He said Trump was aware of Giuliani’s efforts to secure an investigation and the president was briefed regularly.

If true, Parnas’ account undercuts a key Republican defense of Trump during the impeachment investigation — that Trump’s withholding of vital military aid to Ukraine last summer wasn’t a quid pro quo for Biden investigations.

“President Trump knew exactly what was going on,” said Parnas, a Soviet-born Florida businessman facing a raft of criminal charges related to campaign finance violations. “He was aware of all my movements. I wouldn’t do anything without the consent of Rudy Giuliani, or the president.”

Parnas made several potentially explosive claims in a televised interview Wednesday night with MSNBC’s Rachel Maddow. The day after Parnas said he delivered the message, the State Department announced that Vice President Mike Pence would no longer be attending the inauguration of Ukrainian President Volodymir Zelenskiy.

Parnas alleged that Trump ordered Pence to stay away at the behest of Giuliani to send a clear message to the incoming Ukrainian administration that they needed to take seriously the demand for an investigation into Biden, a Democratic presidential candidate seen as a potential threat to Trump’s 2020 reelection.

Parnas said every communication he had with Zelenskiy’s team was at the direction of Giuliani, whom he regularly overheard briefing Trump about their progress by phone.

Giuliani called Parnas’ statements “sad.”

“I feel sorry for him,” Giuliani said Wednesday in a text message to an AP reporter. “I thought he was an honorable man. I was wrong.”

Asked directly if Parnas was lying, Trump’s lawyer replied, “I’m not responding yet.”

Parnas said he also heard Giuliani and another Trump-aligned defense lawyer, Victoria Toensing, briefing Attorney General William Barr by phone about their efforts to pressure the Ukrainian government to announce the investigation into Biden and his son Hunter’s business dealings.

“Barr was basically on the team,” Parnas said.

The Justice Department said in September that Trump had not spoken to Barr about having Ukraine investigate the Bidens and that the attorney general had not discussed Ukraine with Giuliani. Justice Department spokeswoman Kerri Kupec said Wednesday that Parnas’ claims were “100% false.”

The new accusations came as House Democrats made public a trove of documents, text messages and photos from Parnas’ smartphones that appear to verify parts of his account.

The documents, released just ahead of the start of the impeachment trial, could raise pressure on the Senate as it debates whether to hear witnesses.

A federal judge earlier this month ruled that Parnas could provide the materials to Congress as part of the impeachment proceedings. Democrats voted in December to impeach Trump for abuse of power and for obstruction of Congress.

A House committee chairman said Wednesday his panel will investigate what he says are “profoundly alarming” text messages among the newly disclosed materials that have raised questions about the possible surveillance of former Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch before she was ousted by the Trump administration last spring.

The messages show that Robert F. Hyde, a Republican candidate for Congress from Connecticut, disparaged Yovanovitch in messages to Parnas and gave him updates on her location and cellphone use.

Rep. Eliot Engel, a New York Democrat who chairs the House Foreign Affairs Committee, said the messages are “profoundly alarming” and “suggest a possible risk” to Yovanovitch’s security in Kyiv before she was recalled from her post.

“These threats occurred at the same time that the two men were also discussing President Trump’s efforts, through Rudy Giuliani, to smear the ambassador’s reputation,” Engel said.

He said the committee staff flagged the information for the State Department’s Bureau of Diplomatic Security and is seeking assurances that proper steps have been taken to ensure the security of Yovanovitch and committee staff. He said he also wanted to know what, if anything, the State Department knew about the situation.

“This unprecedented threat to our diplomats must be thoroughly investigated and, if warranted, prosecuted to the fullest extent of the law,” Engel said.

The text and phone records show Parnas communicating with Giuliani multiple times a day before Yovanovitch’s removal, as well as a handwritten note that mentions asking Ukraine’s president to investigate “the Biden case.”

Among the documents is a screenshot of a previously undisclosed letter from Giuliani to Zelenskiy dated May 10, 2019, which was shortly after Zelenskiy was elected but before he took office. In the letter, Giuliani requests a meeting with Zelenskiy “as personal counsel to President Trump and with his knowledge and consent.”

The Associated Press reported in October that Zelenskiy had huddled three days earlier, on May 7, with a small group of key advisers in Kyiv to seek advice about how to navigate the insistence from Trump and Giuliani for a probe into the Bidens. He expressed his unease about becoming entangled in the American elections, according to three people familiar with the details of the three-hour meeting. They spoke on the condition of anonymity because of the diplomatic sensitivity of the issue, which has roiled U.S.-Ukrainian relations.

One of the documents released by Democrats is a note from Parnas handwritten on stationery from the Ritz-Carlton Hotel in Vienna that says “get Zalensky to Annonce that the Biden case will be Investigated.”

Parnas told Maddow he took the notes as he was speaking by phone to Giuliani, receiving precise instructions about the demands Trump wanted to convey to Zelenskiy’s team.

Trump asked Zelenskiy in a July 25 call to investigate the Bidens. Hunter Biden served on the board of a gas company based in Ukraine.

Parnas and his business partner, Igor Fruman, both U.S. citizens who emigrated from the former Soviet Union, were indicted last year on charges of conspiracy, making false statements and falsification of records. Prosecutors allege they made outsize campaign donations to Republican causes after receiving millions of dollars originating from Russia. The men have pleaded not guilty.

Parnas’ lawyer, Joseph Bondy, told The New York Times that his client is looking to cooperate with prosecutors in his case, who are investigating Giuliani and his dealings in Ukraine.

“We very much want to provide substantial assistance to the government,” Bondy told the Times.

Parnas told the newspaper that although he didn’t speak with Trump directly about the efforts, he met with the president on several occasions and was told by Giuliani that Trump was kept in the loop.

In several of the documents, Parnas communicated with Giuliani about the removal of Yovanovitch. The ambassador’s ouster, ordered by Trump, was at the center of the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry. Yovanovitch testified in the House impeachment hearings that she was the victim of a “smear campaign.”

Trump on the July call told Zelenskiy that Yovanovitch was “going to go through some things.” She had been recalled from her diplomatic post roughly three months earlier.

On April 23, just before Yovanovitch was directed to return to the United States, Giuliani texted Parnas, “He fired her again.” Parnas texted back, “I pray it happens this time I’ll call you tomorrow my brother.”

Parnas also received messages from Hyde, who referred to Yovanovitch as a “bitch.”

After texting about the ambassador, Hyde gave Parnas detailed updates that suggested he was watching her. In one text, Hyde wrote: “She’s talked to three people. Her phone is off. Her computer is off.” He said she was under heavy security and “we have a person inside.”

Hyde texted Parnas that ”they are willing to help if we/you would like a price,” and “guess you can do anything in Ukraine with money … is what I was told.”

Parnas texted back: “lol.”

Lawrence Robbins, an attorney for Yovanovitch, called for an investigation into the messages.

In a Twitter post Tuesday, Hyde called Parnas a “dweeb” and suggested the messages about surveilling the ambassador were a joke. He said he welcomed an investigation.

Parnas, in turn, also said Wednesday that Hyde’s texts shouldn’t be taken seriously.

The text messages show that Parnas consulted Giuliani in January 2019 after the U.S. denied a visa to former Ukrainian Prosecutor General Viktor Shokin. Giuliani replied: “I can revive it.”

The following day, Giuliani told Parnas, “It’s going to work I have no 1 in it.” Giuliani then predicted “he will get one,” before giving Parnas the phone number for Jay Sekulow, the leader of the president’s personal legal team. Sekulow is expected to be part of Trump’s legal team during the impeachment trial.

Trump has repeatedly denied knowing Parnas and Fruman, despite numerous photos that have emerged of the men together. Among the materials released from Parnas’ phone this week were more photos of him with Trump, as well as the president’s son Donald Trump Jr., first daughter Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner.

Asked by Maddow about Trump’s denials of knowing him, Parnas said he had spoken one-on-one with the president numerous times.

“He lied,” Parnas said of the president. “I mean, we’re not friends. Me and him didn’t watch football games together, we didn’t eat hot dogs. But he knew exactly who we were, who I was especially.”

___

Associated Press writers Michael Balsamo, Lisa Mascaro and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

The post Giuliani Associate: Trump Had Knowledge of Ukraine Pressure appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

New Rules Could Muddle Results of Iowa Caucuses

WASHINGTON — For the first time, the Iowa Democratic Party will report three sets of results from the party’s presidential caucuses. And there is no guarantee that all three will show the same winner.

Each set of results represents a different stage of the caucus. The new rules for the Feb. 3 contest were mandated by the Democratic National Committee in a bid to make the process more transparent.

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In the past, Iowa Democrats reported only one set of results: the number of state convention delegates won by each candidate through the caucus process. Democrats choose their party’s eventual White House nominee based on national convention delegates, and the state delegates are used to determine those totals in Iowa.

The Associated Press will declare a winner in Iowa based on the number of state delegates each candidate wins. The AP will also report all three results.

Q: What results will Iowa Democrats release out of the caucus?

A: There will be three sets of results: tallies of the “first alignment” of caucus-goers, their “final alignment” and the total number of State Delegate Equivalents each candidate receives.

This is the first time the party has made public the first and final alignment results.

Q: What do those categories mean, and how will the results be determined?

A: Caucuses are different from primaries. In a primary, voters go to the polls, cast their ballots and leave. At a caucus, voters gather at local precincts and declare support for their chosen candidate — then some have an opportunity to switch sides.

In Iowa, voters arriving at their caucus site will fill out a card that lists their first choice. Those results will be tabulated and will determine the results of the “first alignment.”

But that’s not the end of the night.

Caucus-goers whose first-choice candidate fails to get at least 15% of the vote can switch their support to a different candidate. The threshold can be higher at some precincts. If voters don’t choose another candidate, their vote won’t count in the final alignment. They can choose “uncommitted” — but that choice only gets reported if it, too, gets at least 15% of the vote.

The results of this stage will be tabulated to determine the caucuses’ “final alignment.” Only candidates who receive at least 15% of the vote at that precinct — the so-called viable candidates — will be counted in the final alignment. Non-viable candidates get zero votes in the final alignment.

There’s one more step.

The final alignment votes are then used to calculate the number of state convention delegates awarded to each candidate. The party calls these state delegate equivalents, because they represent the number of delegates each candidate will have at the party’s state convention in June. That, in turn, determines how many national convention delegates each candidate receives.

Iowa will award 41 pledged delegates to the Democratic National Convention, based on the results of the party caucuses.

Q: Who will the AP declare the winner of the Iowa caucuses?

A: The AP will declare the winner of the Iowa caucuses based on the number of state delegate equivalents each candidate receives.

That’s because Democrats choose their overall nominee based on delegates. The other results will provide valuable insights into the process and the strength of the various candidates, but the state delegate equivalents have the most direct bearing on the metric Democrats use to pick their nominee.

Iowa and national Democratic Party figures also emphasize this is the number to watch.

Q: Could different candidates top each of the three categories of results?

A: Yes.

For example, Candidate A could beat Candidate B in the first alignment voting. But Candidate B could get more support from voters who initially voted for non-viable candidates. After those voters switch to a different candidate, Candidate B could end up with the most votes in the final alignment.

The final alignment votes are used to calculate the state delegate equivalents, so the results should be similar. However, in a very close race, it is mathematically possible to have different winners there, too.

Q: Why are Democrats making this change?

A: The new rules were mandated by the DNC as part of a package of changes sought by Bernie Sanders following his loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential primaries. The changes were designed to make the caucus system more transparent and to make sure that even the lowest-performing candidates get credit for all the votes they receive.

And it’s not just Iowa that is affected by the changes. The Nevada Democratic caucuses on Feb. 22 will also report three sets of results.

___

Stephen Ohlemacher is the AP’s Election Decision Editor.

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White House Violated Law in Freezing Ukraine Aid, Watchdog Claims

WASHINGTON — The White House violated federal law in withholding security assistance to Ukraine, an action at the center of President Donald Trump’s impeachment, a federal watchdog agency said Thursday.

The Government Accountability Office said in a report that the Office of Management and Budget violated the law in holding up the aid, which Congress passed less than a year ago, saying “the President is not vested with the power to ignore or amend any such duly enacted law.”

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The aid in question was held up last summer on orders from Trump but was released in September after Congress pushed for its release and a whistleblower’s complaint about Trump’s July call with the Ukrainian leader became public.

The independent agency, which reports to Congress, said OMB violated the Impoundment Control Act in delaying the security assistance Congress authorized for Ukraine for “policy reasons,” rather than technical budgetary needs.

“Faithful execution of the law does not permit the President to substitute his own policy priorities for those that Congress has enacted into law,” wrote the agency’s general counsel, Thomas Armstrong, in the report.

Capitol Hill Democrats seized on the report as evidence of a lawless White House, led by Acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney, who is a key figure in the impeachment investigation of Trump. He is still officially the OMB director.

“The OMB, the White House, the administration broke — I’m saying this — broke the law,” said House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.

“Congress makes funding decisions, and the Trump Administration’s illegal impoundment of these vital national security funds was a brazen assault on the checks and balances inherent to our democracy,” said House Appropriations Committee Chairwoman Nita Lowey, D-N.Y. “Given that this illegal conduct threatened our security and undermined our elections, I feel even more strongly that the House has chosen the right course by impeaching President Trump. No one is above the law.”

OMB has argued the hold was appropriate and necessary.

“We disagree with GAO’s opinion. OMB uses its apportionment authority to ensure taxpayer dollars are properly spent consistent with the President’s priorities and with the law,” said OMB spokeswoman Rachel Semmel.

Trump was impeached last month on charges of abusing his power for pressuring Ukraine to investigate Democratic rivals, as he was withholding the aid, and for obstructing Congress’ ensuing probe. The Senate is set to begin its trial on Thursday.

The GAO finding concludes that the White House budget office “withheld the funds for an unauthorized reason in violation” of the Impoundment Control Act, a federal law that requires the executive branch to spend money that is appropriated by Congress.

The impoundment control law is rigorously adhered to by career officials in agency budget offices, who can face severe trouble for violating it.

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