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The Government Won’t Say How Much It’s Spending at Trump’s Properties

This month, The Washington Post detailed lots of previously undisclosed government spending at the president’s properties. For example, the Secret Service has paid $650 per night to stay at Mar-a-Lago, despite Eric Trump’s statement that his father’s company would provide rooms “for free — meaning, like, cost for housekeeping.”

The Post’s figures — adding up to $471,000 — are far from complete because government agencies have resisted disclosing their spending at Trump properties.

“He’s paying our money to himself,” the Post’s David Fahrenthold said in our latest episode of “Trump, Inc.” “There must be so much more we haven’t seen.”

While the president has visited his properties on nearly a third of his days since he took office, the Secret Service has not listed its spending on Trump properties in a public database of federal spending. And some of what has been disclosed has been misleading. The Post discovered that the nearly dozen payments listed as “Trump National Golf Club” were actually made to Mar-a-Lago, which is not a golf club.

The White House did not respond to the Post’s questions about the payments. The Secret Service said it always “balances operational security with judicious allocation of resources.” It did not explain why it hadn’t disclosed the spending in the government’s public database. And the Trump Organization said it’s not currently charging the Secret Service $650 per room per night.

There are still plenty of questions. For one: Why has the Secret Service spent hundreds of thousands of dollars at the Trump hotel in Washington, D.C., even on days when the president was not visiting?

Fahrenthold and his colleagues asked the government about that. They haven’t gotten an answer.

Listen to the episode below:

This story was co-published with WNYC. Know something about spending at Trump properties? Click here to find out how to securely share tips. (If you want to contact David Fahrenthold, he’s at @fahrenthold and fahrenthold@washpost.com. Tell him we sent you.)

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Bernie Sanders’ Campaign to Request Recount of Iowa Caucuses

WASHINGTON — Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign plans to ask for a partial recount of the Iowa caucus results after the state Democratic Party released results of its recanvass late Tuesday that show Sanders and Pete Buttigieg in an effective tie.

Sanders campaign senior adviser Jeff Weaver told The Associated Press in an interview Tuesday that the campaign has had a representative in contact with the Iowa Democratic Party throughout the recanvass process. “Based on what we understand to be the results, we intend to ask for a recount,” he said.

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A Sanders spokesman confirmed that the campaign still planned to pursue a recount after the party released its updated results.

In the new results, released by the Iowa Democratic Party, Buttigieg has 563.207 state delegate equivalents and Sanders has 563.127 state delegate equivalents out of 2,152 counted. That is a margin of 0.004 percentage points.

The AP remains unable to declare a winner based on the available information, as the results may still not be fully accurate and are still subject to the recount.

The caucuses were roiled by significant issues in collecting and reporting data from individual precincts on caucus night. There were also errors in the complicated mathematical equations used to calculate the results in individual caucus sites that became evident as the party began to release caucus data throughout the week.

The Iowa Democratic Party had previously said publicly that the only opportunity to correct the math would be a recount, but after a vote by its state central committee, the party changed that policy. It agreed to change some mathematical errors during the recanvass, in instances where “the rules were misapplied in the awarding of delegates” to viable candidates. That changed the results of the caucuses slightly, but resulted only in a slimmer margin separating the two front-runners.

The state party corrected 29 precincts overall in the recanvass, 26 of those because of mathematical errors and 3 because of reporting errors.

In a recount, party officials use the preference cards that caucusgoers filled out outlining their first and second choices in the room on caucus night and rerun all the math in each individual precinct.

The Iowa Democratic Party states in its Recount and Recanvass manual that “only evidence suggesting errors that would change the allocation of one or more National Delegates will be considered an adequate justification for a recount.” That means the errors must be significant enough to change the outcome of the overall caucus.

Iowa awards 41 national delegates in its caucuses. As it stands, Buttigieg has 13 and Sanders has 12. Trailing behind are Elizabeth Warren with eight, Joe Biden with six and Amy Klobuchar with one.

The 41st and final delegate from Iowa will go to the overall winner. The caucus won’t formally come to an end until the recount is completed.

In its recanvass request, the Sanders campaign outlined 25 precincts and three satellite caucuses where it believes correcting faulty math could swing the delegate allocation in Sanders’ favor and deliver him, not Buttigieg, that final delegate.

Until this year, the only results reported from that process was a tally of the number of state convention delegates — or “state delegate equivalents” — awarded to each candidate.

For the first time, the party in 2020 released three sets of results from its caucuses: adding the “first alignment” and “final alignment” of caucusgoers to the number of “state delegate equivalents” each candidate received.

During the caucuses, voters arriving at their caucus site filled out a card that listed their first choice; those results determined the “first alignment.” Caucusgoers whose first-choice candidate failed to get at least 15% of the vote at their caucus site could switch their support to a different candidate. After they had done so, the results were tabulated again to determine the caucus site’s “final alignment.”

The AP has always declared the winner of the Iowa caucuses based on state delegate equivalents, which are calculated from the final alignment votes. That’s because Democrats choose their overall nominee based on delegates.

While the first alignment and final alignment provide insight into the process, state delegate equivalents have the most direct bearing on the metric Democrats use to pick their nominee — delegates to the party’s national convention.

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Millionaires Have Officially Stopped Paying Into Social Security

On Wednesday, not even two full months into 2020, millionaires will stop paying into Social Security for the year due to the program’s payroll tax cap.

The cap limits annual wages subject to the Social Security payroll tax to the first $137,700. Sarah Rawlins, program associate at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), wrote Tuesday that the cap means “someone who makes $1,000,000 per year stops paying into the program on February 19, 2020.”

“That makes a millionaire’s effective tax rate well below the 6.2% of income that most Americans pay,” Rawlins noted. “Instead, it is less than 1% of a millionaire’s income. The Social Security tax is only levied on wages, excluding income from other sources like capital gains, meaning those with wages over the cap likely have an effective tax rate even lower than this estimate.”

“The burden of Social Security taxes falls more heavily on those who make less,” Rawlins added.

Social Security payroll tax cap is put into sharp focus this time each year. That’s when millionaires stop paying into #SocialSecurity for the year. Try CEPR’s handy calculator to see when you or your favorite 1% stops paying.https://t.co/La3exUHB0i

— CEPR (@ceprdc) February 18, 2020

Rawlins suggested that one way to make the Social Security financing system more progressive is “scrapping the payroll tax cap entirely and making everyone pay the same tax rate.”

“Social Security gives retirement, disability, and survivor benefits to almost 20 percent of the U.S. population, including at least six million children,” Rawlins said. “But it could do better.”

Rep. John Larson’s (D-Conn.) Social Security 2100 Act, introduced in the House in January 2019 with 208 Democratic co-sponsors, would apply the payroll tax to wages above $400,000.

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), a 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has proposed subjecting all income above $250,000 in order to “expand benefits across-the-board, including a $1,300 a year benefit increase for seniors with incomes of $16,000 a year or less.”

As Common Dreams reported last December, an analysis by Boston College’s Center for Retirement Research found that Social Security has become increasingly regressive in recent decades due to a number of factors, including soaring economic inequality.

“The program’s become less progressive,” said Jim Roosevelt, a former associate commissioner for retirement policy at the Social Security Administration and a grandson of former President Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who signed the Social Security Act into law in 1935.

“It doesn’t take care of the people at the lower- and middle-income levels as well as it was intended do,” Roosevelt said, “and it needs to be updated.”

The post Millionaires Have Officially Stopped Paying Into Social Security appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Soggy Neighborhoods Under Flash-Flood Warning in Mississippi

RIDGELAND, Miss. — Forecasters expected more heavy rains in parts of the flood-ravaged South on Tuesday, prolonging the misery for worried people who still can’t get back in homes surrounded by water.

Some of the hardest-hit areas were under a flash flood watch, as the National Weather Service said as much as 2 inches (5 centimeters) of rain, and even more in some spots — was expected to fall in a short amount of time in central Mississippi.

The national Weather Prediction Center in College Park, Maryland, projected the greatest likelihood of heavy rains in a band from eastern Louisiana across central parts of Mississippi and Alabama and into far west Georgia.

Authorities around Mississippi’s capital city of Jackson warned hundreds of residents not to return home until they get an all-clear following devastating flooding on Monday.

The receding flood left muddy water marks on the sides of cars at the Harbor Pines Mobile Home Community in suburban Ridgeland, not far from where managers of the Ross Barnett Reservoir have been trying to contain the swollen Pearl River. Water still surrounded dozens of trailer homes on Tuesday, but the water level had fallen 2 feet (0.6 meters) or more since Monday.

Anxious to get back into the home she evacuated on Thursday, Gloria Vera couldn’t reach her trailer because it was still surrounded by as much as 5 feet (1.5 meters) of water. She didn’t yet know if water got inside.

“I took nothing from the house when I left, only the clothes I am wearing,” Vera said in Spanish.

Dorothy Freeman felt fortunate because her mobile home was above water and she was able to get back in long enough to feed her cat and pick up personal items including her Bible.

“I’m praying for the people in the Jackson area that were hit even harder than us,” said Freeman, 87, who has lived in the community 21 years.

Crews were going lot-to-lot to check the duct work beneath mobile homes to determine how many had been inundated by water. The power remained off as a precaution and it wasn’t clear when residents would be allowed back home.

A near-record rainy winter led to agonizing choices for reservoir managers, who have had to release water that worsens flooding for some people living downstream while saving many other properties from damage.

The intensity and frequency of extreme rain events that fuel major flooding have increased in the Southeast, according to the most recent National Climate Assessment, released by the White House in 2018. Southern states are particularly vulnerable to increasingly heavy rains, according to the report, which cites four floods that each did more than $1 billion in damage between 2014 and 2016.

In the Savannah, Tennessee, area, two houses slid down a muddy bluff just below the Pickwick Dam on Saturday as the Tennessee Valley Authority released more than 2.5 million gallons (9.5 million liters) per second, adding to the anguish for owners of about 75 flooded properties downstream.

Hardin County Fire Chief and Emergency Management Director Melvin Martin said the landslide claimed not only two houses, whose residents got out safely, but also about 100 yards (91 meters) of the blufftop road. Meanwhile, most of the homes down by the river are vacation homes that were built on stilts, Martin said.

Boat captain Sam Evans, who lives in a historic riverboat on Pickwick Lake, says this year’s flooding is among the worst he’s seen. Navigating the Tennessee River by boat, he’s watched the banks gradually erode, and said it was only a matter of time before the bluff gave way.

“It has slowly been eroding and it finally let go,” Evans told The Associated Press on Tuesday.

The area suffered a devastating flood in 2003, but then about 14 years passed without a catastrophe, and developers got busy selling riverfront properties, Evans said. He thinks the buyers weren’t fully aware of the danger.

“Out-of-towners came in that didn’t do their homework,” he said. “Here comes a flood and it wipes them out … Buyer-beware when you buy below the dam. “

Things changed about three years ago, he said. “We’ve had three floods in the last three years, about the same time every year,” Evans said.

Darrell Guinn, a manager at the TVA River Forecast Center, said Tuesday that the river system is now at level where it can absorb more rain without further impacting flooded areas.

Sprawling fields turned into large lakes throughout West Tennessee, including in the small town of Halls, where a cold rain fell steadily Tuesday. A Tennessee Department of Transportation crew worked to close state Highway 88 outside Halls, as water began moving over the road that connects U.S. Highway 51 and the Mississippi River.

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Netanyahu Trial Clouds Last Days of Israel Election Campaign

JERUSALEM — The criminal trial for Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu will begin March 17, court officials announced Tuesday, shaking up the final stretch of a contentious election campaign and hurting the longtime Israeli leader’s hopes of forming a new government after the vote.

The announcement means that Netanyahu will appear in the Jerusalem court as a defendant just two weeks after the March 2 election. After a campaign in which Netanyahu has worked feverishly to divert attention from his legal woes, the final days of the race are almost certain to play into the hands of his opponents by focusing on the looming trial.

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Netanyahu was indicted in November on charges of fraud, breach of trust and accepting bribes in connection to a series of scandals. He is accused of accepting lavish gifts from billionaire friends and offering regulatory favors to local media moguls in exchange for positive news coverage. Netanyahu, Israel’s longest-serving prime minister, has denied any wrongdoing.

In a brief statement, the court said Netanyahu is expected to attend the initial hearing.

The March 2 election is Israel’s third in under a year. Like the previous elections in April and September, the upcoming vote is seen largely as a personal referendum on Netanyahu.

The previous elections ended in deadlock, with both Netanyahu’s Likud Party and the rival Blue and White, led by former military chief Benny Gantz, unable to secure parliamentary majorities. Opinion polls have predicted a similar outcome in the third.

Gantz said it was a “sad” development that would prevent Netanyahu from focusing on his duties as prime minister.

“Netanyahu will be preoccupied with himself alone. He will not be in a position to look out for the interests of Israel’s citizens,” he said.

Netanyahu responded to Gantz’s remarks by criticizing him without directly addressing the trial.

Netanyahu is desperate to remain as prime minister, a position he can use as a bully pulpit to rally public support. He has repeatedly sought to portray himself as the victim of a witch hunt by overzealous police, hostile prosecutors and the media.

With the exception of the prime minister, Israeli law requires public officials to resign if charged with a crime. That means that if Netanyahu is forced to give up his position, he would go on trial as a private citizen. Netanyahu last month gave up an attempt to seek immunity from prosecution after concluding he did not have enough support in parliament.

Throughout the current campaign, Netanyahu has gone to great lengths to make voters forget about his trial. Instead, he has sought to painted himself as a global statesman uniquely qualified to lead the country through tumultuous times.

He boasts of Israel’s emergence as a natural gas exporter, his strategy of confronting archenemy Iran and warming behind-the-scenes alliances with former Arab foes in the Persian Gulf.

But more than anything, he points to his close friendship with President Donald Trump, bragging that it gives Israel a unique opportunity to push its international agenda. Just three weeks ago, Netanyahu was welcomed at the White House for a festive event unveiling Trump’s long-awaited Mideast plan. The plan greatly favored Israel at the expense of the Palestinians.

Netanyahu then jetted off to Moscow, where he leveraged his good relations with President Vladimir Putin to win the release of a young Israeli woman who had been jailed on minor drug charges. In recent days, he has turned inward, promising young Israelis that he will lower the high cost of living and assuring voters the country is prepared for the coronavirus scare.

Gantz, meanwhile, has focused his campaign almost entirely on Netanyahu’s legal troubles and questioning his fitness to serve.

Yohanan Plesner, president of the Israel Democracy Institute, a Jerusalem think tank, said it is difficult to predict how thescheduling of the trialwill impact the election.

Although the country has long known Netanyahu would go on trial, the setting of the date draws new attention to his legal troubles and makes it the central issue of the final stretch.

“The more the discussion is about Netanyahu as a defendant rather than Netanyahu as a statesman obviously it does not work in Netanyahu’s favor,” he said.

The bigger impact of Tuesday’s announcement could come after the election.

Under Israel’s parliamentary system, the prime minister must form a majority coalition with smaller allied parties in order to rule. Opinion polls are once again predicting that both Gantz’s Blue and White and Netanyahu’s Likud will emerge as the largest parties, but still short of securing the necessary parliamentary majority with their partners.

Together, the two parties could control a majority of seats and form a unity government. Gantz has repeatedly said he is open to a power-sharing agreement with Likud, but not under Netanyahu’s leadership when he is facing serious criminal charges. The odds of Gantz compromising are even lower now that the trial is imminent.

Other parties, and perhaps even members of the Likud, may also be reluctant to line up behind a prime minister on trial.

That could turn attention to President Reuven Rivlin, who is responsible for choosing a prime minister-designate after the election.

The president typically holds several days of consultations after the election before choosing the head of the party who he believes has the best chances of forming a coalition. The designated prime minister is then given up to six weeks to negotiate a coalition deal with his partners, meaning Netanyahu’s trial will begin in the middle of this sensitive period.

After the last two elections, Rivlin gave Netanyahu the first crack at forming a government, and in September, he floated a power-sharing proposal in which Netanyahu and Gantz would rotate as prime ministers, with Netanyahu serving first.

Unless Likud defies the polls and scores an overwhelming victory, it will be difficult to tap Netanyahu as the prime minister-designate days before he goes on trial, Plesner said.

“The president’s roadmap for how to form a coalition no doubt will now dictate that Gantz would be first, rather than Netanyahu,” he said.

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Trump Commutes Blagojevich Sentence, Pardons Others

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump has gone on a clemency blitz, commuting the 14-year prison sentence of former Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich and pardoning former NYPD commissioner Bernie Kerik, among a long list of others.

Trump also told reporters that he has pardoned financier Michael Milken, who pleaded guilty for violating U.S. securities laws and served two years in prison in the early 1990s. Trump also pardoned Edward DeBartolo Jr., the former San Francisco 49ers owner convicted in a gambling fraud scandal who built one of the most successful NFL teams in the game’s history.

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Blagojevich, who appeared on Trump’s reality TV show, “Celebrity Apprentice,” was convicted of political corruption, including seeking to sell an appointment to Barack Obama’s old Senate seat and trying to shake down a children’s hospital. But Trump said he had been subjected to a “ridiculous sentence” that didn’t fit his crimes.

Kerik served just over three years for tax fraud and lying to the White House while being interviewed to be Homeland Security secretary.

“We have Bernie Kerik, we have Mike Milken, who’s gone around and done an incredible job,” Trump said, adding that Milken had “paid a big price.”

Earlier, the White House announced that Trump had pardoned DeBartolo Jr., who was involved in one of the biggest owners’ scandals in the sport’s history. In 1998, he pleaded guilty to failing to report a felony when he paid $400,000 to former Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards in exchange for a riverboat gambling license.

He also pardoned Ariel Friedler, a technology entrepreneur, who pleaded guilty to accessing a computer without authorization; Paul Pogue a construction company owner who underpaid his taxes; David Safavian, who was convicted of obstructing an investigation into a trip he took while he was a senior government official; and Angela Stanton, an author who served a six-month home sentence for her role in a stolen vehicle ring.

Blagojevich, a Democrat who hails from a state with a long history of pay-to-play schemes, exhausted his last appellate option in 2018 and had seemed destined to remain behind bars until his projected 2024 release date. His wife, Patti, went on a media blitz in 2018 to encourage Trump to step in, praising the president and likening the investigation of her husband to special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — a probe Trump long characterized as a “witchhunt.”

Blagojevich’s conviction was notable, even in a state where four of the last 10 governors have gone to prison for corruption. Judge James Zagel — who in 2011 sentenced Blagojevich to the longest prison term yet for an Illinois politician — said when a governor “goes bad, the fabric of Illinois is torn and disfigured.”

Blagojevich became the brunt of jokes for foul-mouthed rants on wiretaps released after his Dec. 9, 2008, arrest while still governor. On the most notorious recording, he gushes about profiting by naming someone to the seat Obama vacated to become president: “I’ve got this thing and it’s f—— golden. And I’m just not giving it up for f—— nothing.”

When Trump publicly broached the idea in May 2018 of intervening to free Blagojevich, he downplayed the former governor’s crimes. He said Blagojevich was convicted for “being stupid, saying things that every other politician, you know, that many other politicians say.” He said Blagojevich’s sentence was too harsh.

Prosecutors have balked at the notion long fostered by Blagojevich that he engaged in common political horse-trading and was a victim of an overzealous U.S. attorney, Patrick Fitzgerald. Fitzgerald said after Blagojevich’s arrest that the governor had gone on “a political corruption crime spree” that would make Abraham Lincoln turn over in his grave.

Mueller — a subject of Trump’s derision — was FBI director during the investigation into Blagojevich. Fitzgerald is now a private attorney for another former FBI director, James Comey, whom Trump dismissed from the agency in May 2017.

Trump also expressed some sympathy for Blagojevich when he appeared on “Celebrity Apprentice” in 2010 before his first corruption trial started. As Trump “fired” Blagojevich as a contestant, he praised him for how he was fighting his criminal case, telling him: “You have a hell of a lot of guts.”

He later poll-tested the matter, asking for a show of hands of those who supported clemency at an October, 2019 fundraiser at his Chicago hotel. Most of the 200 to 300 attendees raised their hands, The Wall Street Journal reported, citing several people at the event.

Blagojevich testified at his 2011 retrial, describing himself as a flawed dreamer grounded in his parents’ working-class values. He sought to humanize himself to counteract the blunt, profane, seemingly greedy Blagojevich heard on wiretap recordings played in court by prosecutors over several weeks. He said the hours of FBI recordings were the ramblings of a politician who liked to think out loud.

But jurors accepted evidence that Blagojevich demanded a $50,000 donation from the head of a children’s hospital in return for increased state support, and extorted $100,000 in donations from two horse racing tracks and a racing executive in exchange for quick approval of legislation the tracks wanted.

He originally convicted on 18 counts, including lying to the FBI, wire fraud for trying to trade an appointment to the Obama seat for contributions, and for the attempted extortion of a children’s hospital executive. The 7th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Chicago in 2015 tossed five of 18 convictions, including ones in which he offered to appoint someone to a high-paying job in the Senate.

The appeals court ordered the trial judge to resentence Blagojevich, but suggested it would be appropriate to hand him the same sentence, given the gravity of the crimes. Blagojevich appeared via live video from prison during the 2016 resentencing and asked for leniency. The judge gave him the same 14-year term, saying it was below federal guidelines when he imposed it the first time.

Blagojevich had once aspired to run for president himself but entered the Federal Correctional Institution Englewood in suburban Denver in 2012, disgraced and broke. Court documents filed by his lawyers in 2016 portrayed Blagojevich — known as brash in his days as governor — as humble and self-effacing, as well as an insightful life coach and lecturer on everything from the Civil War to Richard Nixon. Blagojevich, an Elvis Presley fan, also formed a prison band called “The Jailhouse Rockers.”

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NPR’s Egregious Takedown of Bernie Sanders, Fact-Checked

The Iowa caucuses officially began the Democratic primary, and even in this ongoing, extended battle for the White House, Iowa remains an important marker for candidates and the media. A close look at a piece by two of NPR’s leading political reporters, which aired just before the caucuses, provides a view of how journalists speak with authority on issues they seem to know very little about. The conversation between Mary Louise Kelly and her partner Mara Liasson, headlined “Where Iowa Falls in the Big Picture of the 2020 Election” (All Things Considered2/3/20), began with Kelly introducing the importance of Iowa for Democrats, but, she observed, it’s been on the “backburner,” after days of constant impeachment coverage.

Liasson agreed, then spent most of her introductory remarks on Trump, presenting him as legitimate as any past president:

Tomorrow night President Trump appears in the well of the House before he speaks to both houses of Congress for the big curtain-raiser for him, the State of the Union address. It’s the biggest audience he’ll have all year. It’s—every president gets to kind of kick off his re-election campaign with the State of the Union address, and we can expect to hear a campaign message from him tomorrow.

No mention was made that Trump had flouted the Constitution by refusing to cooperate with an impeachment hearing, or that Republican senators would fail to uphold the Constitution by voting to dismiss impeachment charges after a sham trial with no witnesses. Liasson’s critical remarks were reserved for the Democratic Party, both voters and candidates.

“I see a very unsettled race,” Liasson told Kelly, and continued, “Democrats are paralyzed by indecision.” One wonders which race she is looking at, as both state and national polls show that Democratic voters are anything but “paralyzed,” and for months have been anticipating the primary with “an incredible degree of excitement” (Vox2/3/20). One national Quinnipiac University poll (1/28/20) found a whopping 85% of Democratic voters were either “extremely” or “very” motivated to vote in the primary contests, characterizing their enthusiasm as “sky high.”

Liasson claimed that the main issue for the Democratic Party is “electability”—a fraught term often used to signal ideological orthodoxy rather than empirical chances of winning elections (FAIR.org10/25/19). She asserted that Democrats are “confused,” and “for good reason,” because Trump remains an “existential threat,” and not only are none of the candidates “a sure thing,” none even “seem likely to defeat” Trump.

Such handwringing is, again, not founded in facts or data. An NBC News/Wall Street Journal poll published the day before this broadcast—one day ahead of the Iowa caucuses—found that Trump was trailing all the leading 2020 Democratic candidates, with the top four candidates ahead of Trump in theoretical head-to-head matchups. Looking more broadly at polling, the two candidates who were then leading the Democratic field, Joe Biden and Bernie Sanders, had beaten Trump in 69 of 73 and 63 of 68 matchups, respectively.

The supposed lack of “electability” was solidified as a media obsession in mid-April of last year, when Obama’s former campaign manager, Jim Messina, now a political strategist for corporate Democrats (Common Dreams2/13/20), announced on the Powerhouse Politics podcast (ABC4/17/19) that “Sanders couldn’t beat Trump.” Messina went on to predict that the Democratic field would be honed down to Sen. Kamala Harris and former US Rep. Beto O’Rourke, along with Joe Biden, who had not yet entered the race.

Both Harris and O’Rourke dropped out of the race before the first vote was cast, while Biden’s polling numbers were in free fall after poor showings in both Iowa and New Hampshire. But despite Messina’s foggy crystal ball, his unelectability trope was adopted by pundits as a platitude. Vox (4/24/19) was one of the few to point out a few days later that Sanders actually had a very good electability record, having “consistently run ahead of Democratic Party presidential campaigns in Vermont” when he ran for reelection as a US representative. But “unelectable” is now an overworked spin pushed by centrist Democrats and their corporate media allies.

Liasson went on to worry about the “huge vulnerabilities” all the Democratic candidates have “for the president to exploit.” No mention is made of Trump’s mammoth negatives that present Democrats with enough ammunition to send him running, if they were so inclined. Indeed, corporate media have been incapable of imagining powerfully pointed, rhetorically effective, authentically truthful critical campaigns against Trump.

Instead, one of the most feared “vulnerabilities” frequently associated with post-Iowa front-runner Bernie Sanders is that he is a socialist. So common is this assertion that Data for Progress decided to explore it, using the Lucid survey sampling platform to test three different versions of a Sanders vs Trump polling question (Vox1/31/20).  The first version mentioned no affiliation, the second identified the candidate by party, and the third had Trump labeling Sanders a socialist, in this survey question:

If the 2020 US presidential election was held today, who would you vote for if the candidates were Democrat Bernie Sanders, who wants to tax the billionaire class to help the working class and Republican Donald Trump, who says Sanders is a socialist who supports a government takeover of healthcare and open borders?

In all three scenarios, Sanders won. He actually did slightly better when identified as a socialist as opposed to just a Democrat.

This third question also dispatched another of Liasson’s exaggerated negatives, the issue of “open borders.” But the wording she chose to represent the issue revealed her slant. Liasson asserted, “Majorities of voters don’t want to get rid of ICE or decriminalize border crossings.” What the National Immigration Forum found in November of last year was:

A majority of Americans told pollsters that they thought immigrants strengthened America, said immigrants have positive attributes such as “hard-working” and having strong family values, and that immigrants were good for America. The percentage of Americans who said they want immigration levels to be reduced is at the lowest level, in two different polls, since that question was first asked going back to 1965 (in Gallup’s poll).

These open-minded American attitudes toward immigration hold tight even in the face of the overt anti-immigrant racism, widely articulated at the highest levels of government, in an ongoing campaign the likes of which the US public has not been subjected to in nearly a century. The result is Trump’s premier accomplishment, a border wall, justified by anti-immigrant rhetoric. Americans may not be willing to say they favor decriminalizing the border, but they most certainly recoiled from the brutality of criminalization so evident on the weaponized borderlands of the American Southwest.

The New Republic (2/5/19) discussed the post-caravan opinion data, citing a Washington Post/ABC poll (4/30/19) that  suggested that voters opposed Trump’s draconian approach: The wall “remains extremely unpopular, with two voters opposing it for every one who supports it.” Most importantly, the survey demonstrated a desire to move beyond “securing” and further militarizing the border. We can only imagine what a powerful, careful, progressive Democratic campaign debate on open borders might actually accomplish.

As the two journalists continued to chat, Liasson took closer aim at Sanders, stating with bold authority that “you don’t even need to do the research part of oppo-research because his policy positions are opposed by big majorities of Americans.” Clearly, these journalists did little to no research preparing for this important broadcast. So many polls have documented what the public thinks about Sanders’ policy positions, and the evidence is overwhelming: From a wealth tax to minimum wage, they are extremely popular.

Last March, a CNBC/All-American poll illustrates this: support for paid maternity leave, 85%; government funding for childcare, 75%; boosting the minimum wage, 60%; free college tuition, 57%. Medicare for all came in at 54%. In October 2019, The Hill reported on an American Barometer survey that found “70% of the public supported providing ‘Medicare for All,’ also known as single-payer healthcare.”

Notably, the only issue included in that poll that garnered only a 28% approval rating was Andrew Yang’s idea of a universal basic income, even with the slogan “freedom dividend,” something Sanders has not focused on.

Another key policy proposal with broad public support is a wealth tax that both Sanders and Elizabeth Warren support. According to a Reuters/Ipsos poll (1/10/20), nearly two-thirds of respondents agree that the very rich should pay more. Among 4,441 respondents, 64% strongly or somewhat agreed that “the very rich should contribute an extra share of their total wealth each year to support public programs.” Support among Democrats was even stronger, at 77%, but a majority of Republicans, 53%, also agree with the idea.

Liasson continued with a carefully selected list of “unpopular” positions that Sanders has taken: “He wants to ban fracking and somehow win Pennsylvania.” But a poll released days earlier (Pittsburgh City Paper1/30/20) found that 48% of Pennsylvania voters support a ban on fracking, and just 39% opposed a ban; 49% felt the environmental risks outweighed the economic benefits, with 38% taking the reverse position.

“Even a majority of Democrats don’t want to end private health insurance,” she exclaimed. Actually, 77% of Democrats support “a national health plan, sometimes called Medicare for All, in which all Americans would get their insurance from a single government plan”—as do 61% of independents (KFF, 1/30/20).

What can we take away from this sad story brought to listeners by two formidable journalists, one who recently received high praise for her hardball questioning (NPR1/24/20) of Trump’s Secretary of State Mike Pompeo? Their ignorance is willful, and finds its roots in a profoundly ideological position, an ideology adopted by journalists who favor and are rewarded by corporate arguments promoted by corporate Democrats.

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Homeland Security Waives Contracting Laws for Border Wall

SAN DIEGO — The Trump administration said Tuesday that it will waive federal contracting laws to speed construction of a wall at the U.S.-Mexico border.

The Department of Homeland Security said waiving procurement regulations will allow 177 miles (283 kilometers) of wall to be built more quickly in California, Arizona, New Mexico and Texas. The 10 waived laws include requirements for having open competition, justifying selections and receiving all bonding from a contractor before any work can begin.

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The acting Homeland Security secretary, Chad Wolf, is exercising authority under a 2005 law that gives him sweeping powers to waive laws for building border barriers.

“We hope that will accelerate some of the construction that’s going along the Southwest border,” Wolf told Fox News Channel’s “Fox & Friends” on Tuesday.

Secretaries under President Donald Trump have issued 16 waivers, and President George W. Bush issued five, but Tuesday’s announcement marks the first time that waivers have applied to federal procurement rules. Previously they were used to waive environmental impact reviews.

The Trump administration said it expects the waivers will allow 94 miles (150 kilometers) of wall to be built this year, bringing the Republican president closer to his pledge of about 450 miles (720 kilometers) since taking office and making it one of his top domestic priorities. It said the other 83 miles (133 kilometers) covered by the waivers may get built this year.

“Under the president’s leadership, we are building more wall, faster than ever before,” the department said in a statement.

The move is expected to spark criticism that the Trump administration is overstepping its authority, but legal challenges have failed. In 2018, a federal judge in San Diego rejected arguments by California and environmental advocacy groups that the secretary’s broad powers should have an expiration date. An appeals court upheld the ruling last year.

Congress gave the secretary power to waive laws in areas of high illegal crossings in 2005 in a package of emergency spending for wars in Iraq and Afghanistan and minimum standards for state-issued identification cards. The Senate approved it unanimously, with support from Joe Biden, Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. The House passed it with strong bipartisan support; then-Rep. Bernie Sanders voted against it.

The waivers, to be published in the Federal Register, apply to projects that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers will award in six of nine Border Patrol sectors on the Mexican border: San Diego and El Centro in California; Yuma and Tucson in Arizona; El Paso, which spans New Mexico and west Texas, and Del Rio, Texas.

The administration said the waivers will apply to contractors that have already been vetted. In May, the Army Corps named 12 companies to compete for Pentagon-funded contracts.

The Army Corps is tasked with awarding $6.1 billion that the Department of Defense transferred for wall construction last year after Congress gave Trump only a fraction of the money. The administration has been able to spend that money during legal challenges.

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Bloomberg Makes Debate Stage, Facing Democratic Rivals for 1st Time

Billionaire Mike Bloomberg has qualified for the upcoming Democratic presidential debate, marking the first time he’ll stand alongside the rivals he has so far avoided by bypassing the early voting states and using his personal fortune to define himself through television ads.

A new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll published Tuesday shows Bloomberg with 19% support nationally in the Democratic nominating contest.

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The former New York City mayor, who launched his presidential campaign in November, will appear in Wednesday’s debate in Las Vegas alongside former Vice President Joe Biden, Sens. Bernie Sanders, Elizabeth Warren and Amy Klobuchar and former South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Fellow billionaire and philanthropist Tom Steyer is still hoping to qualify.

Bloomberg’s campaign said that it was seeing “a groundswell of support across the country” and that qualifying for Wednesday’s debate “is the latest sign that Mike’s plan and ability to defeat Donald Trump is resonating with more Americans.”

“Mike is looking forward to joining the other Democratic candidates on stage and making the case for why he’s the best candidate to defeat Donald Trump and unite the country,” Bloomberg campaign manager Kevin Sheekey said in a statement.

The Democratic National Committee recently changed its rules for how a candidate qualifies for the debate, opening the door for Bloomberg to be on stage and drawing the ire of some candidates who dropped out of the race for failing to make prior stages. The candidates were previously required to receive a certain number of campaign contributions to qualify, but Bloomberg, who is worth an estimated $60 billion, is not taking donations.

The prime-time event will be a stark departure from Bloomberg’s highly choreographed campaign. He’s poured more than $300 million into television advertising, a way to define himself for voters without facing criticism. While he’s campaigned in more than two dozen states, he does not take questions from voters and delivers a standard stump speech that lasts less than 15 minutes, often reading from a teleprompter.

He encounters the occasional protester, including one who jumped on stage recently in Chattanooga, Tennessee, yelling, “This is not democracy. This is a plutocracy!” But his friendly crowds usually quickly overwhelm the protesters with chants of “We like Mike!”

Bloomberg is likely to face far more direct fire in the debate. His fellow Democratic contenders have stepped up their attacks against him in recent days, decrying him for trying to “buy the election” and criticizing his support of the “stop-and-frisk” tactic while mayor of New York City that led police to target mostly black and Hispanic men for searches.

Bloomberg has barely crossed paths on the trail with his fellow Democrats. He decided to skip the first four voting states of Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada and South Carolina in favor of focusing on the 14 states that vote on March 3 and the contests that come afterward.

He rarely mentions his rivals by name, though his campaign is centered on the idea that none of them can beat President Donald Trump. And Bloomberg, more than anyone, has predicated his campaign on a potential Biden collapse. He’s been aggressive in targeting African American voters in the South, a core demographic for Biden’s campaign.

Biden said he doesn’t think “you can buy an election.”

“I’m going to get a chance to debate him on everything from redlining to stop and frisk to a whole range of other things,” Biden told reporters last week.

The poll released Tuesday shows Sanders leading in the Democratic primary contest, at 31% support nationally. After Bloomberg at 19%, Biden is at 15%, Warren at 12%, Klobuchar at 9% and Buttigieg at 8%. Steyer is at 2%, and Rep. Tulsi Gabbard is at less than 1%, with 5% undecided.

The telephone survey of 527 Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents was conducted by the Marist Poll at the Marist Institute for Public Opinion. It has a margin of error of plus or minus 5.4 percentage points.

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Extreme Weather Could Trigger a Recession Unlike We’ve Ever Seen

New research published Monday warns that extreme weather driven by the climate crisis could bring about an economic recession “the likes of which we’ve never seen before” if markets don’t do a better job assessing climate risks.

Paul Griffin, an accounting professor at the University of California, Davis Graduate School of Management, wrote in a paper for Nature Energy that financial markets have not sufficiently accounted for the major economic risks posed by the global climate crisis, even as extreme weather—from destructive hurricanes to prolonged drought—wreaks havoc across the globe.

“Unpriced risk was the main cause of the Great Recession in 2007-2008,” Griffin wrote. “Right now, energy companies shoulder much of that risk. The market needs to better assess risk, and factor a risk of extreme weather into securities prices… Without better knowledge of this risk, the average energy investor can only hope that the next extreme event will not trigger a sudden correction to the market values of energy firms.”

Griffin continued:

This past summer, the United States and Europe experienced record-breaking heat. Now linked reliably to climate change, excessive high temperature is among the deadliest of weather extremes. Not only can it disrupt agriculture, harm human health, and stunt economic growth, it can also overwhelm—and temporarily shut down—large parts of a state’s or a nation’s energy system, as in the case of the Pacific Gas and Electric Company (PG&E) in California.

Extreme heat events can create uncertain and longer duration power outages, threaten critical infrastructure, exacerbate energy supply and demand imbalances, and trigger significant legal liability for energy firms. Newer reports of an increase in the frequency and severity of extreme weather events, moreover, amplify those risks for energy firms.

Despite these obvious risks, investors and asset managers have been conspicuously slow to connect physical climate risk from extreme weather events to company market valuations.

Griffin is not the first financial expert to raise alarm about the potentially calamitous economic impacts of the climate crisis—which would come in addition to the emergency’s incalculable effects on humans, animals, plants, insects, and the planet as a whole.

The Switzerland-based Bank for International Settlements warned in a 115-page report (pdf) last month that the “increase in the frequency and intensity of extreme weather events could trigger non-linear and irreversible financial losses.”

“Climate change poses unprecedented challenges to human societies,” the report stated, “and our community of central banks and supervisors cannot consider itself immune to the risks ahead of us.”

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Boy Scouts’ Future Uncertain After Bankruptcy Filing

Barraged with sex-abuse lawsuits, the Boy Scouts of America filed for bankruptcy protection Tuesday in hopes of working out a potentially mammoth victim compensation plan that will allow the 110-year-old organization to carry on.

The Chapter 11 filing in federal bankruptcy court in Wilmington, Delaware, sets in motion what could be one of the biggest, most complex bankruptcies ever seen. Scores of lawyers are seeking settlements on behalf of several thousand men who say they were molested as scouts by scoutmasters or other leaders decades ago but are only now eligible to sue because of recent changes in their states’ statute-of-limitations laws.

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Bankruptcy will enable the Scouts to put those lawsuits on hold for now. But ultimately they could be forced to sell off some of their vast property holdings, including campgrounds and hiking trails, to raise money for a compensation trust fund that could surpass $1 billion.

The organization encouraged all victims to come forward to file claims.

The bankruptcy petition listed the Boy Scouts’ assets at between $1 billion and $10 billion, and its liabilities at $500 million to $1 billion.

“Scouting programs will continue throughout this process and for many years to come,” the Boy Scouts said in a statement. ”Local councils are not filing for bankruptcy because they are legally separate and distinct organizations.”

The Boy Scouts are just the latest major American institution to face a heavy price over sexual abuse. Roman Catholic dioceses across the country and schools such as Penn State and Michigan State have paid out hundreds of millions of dollars in recent years.

The bankruptcy represents a painful turn for an organization that has been a pillar of American civic life for generations and a training ground for future leaders. Achieving the rank of Eagle Scout has long been a proud accomplishment that politicians, business leaders, astronauts and others put on their resumes and in their official biographies.

The Boy Scouts’ finances have been strained in recent years by declining membership and sex-abuse settlements.

The number of youths taking part in scouting has dropped below 2 million, down from a peak of more than 4 million during the 1970s. The organization has tried to counter the decline by admitting girls, but its membership rolls took a big hit Jan. 1 when The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints — for decades a major sponsor of Boy Scout units — cut ties and withdrew more than 400,000 scouts in favor of programs of its own.

The financial outlook worsened last year after New York, Arizona, New Jersey and California passed laws making it easier for victims of long-ago abuse to file claims. Teams of lawyers across the U.S. have been signing up clients by the hundreds to sue the Boy Scouts.

Most of the newly surfacing cases date to the 1960s, ’70s and ’80s; the organization says there were only five known abuse victims in 2018. The Boy Scouts credit the change to an array of prevention policies adopted since the mid-1980s, including mandatory criminal background checks and abuse-prevention training for all staff and volunteers, and a rule that two or more adult leaders be present during all activities.

Many of the lawsuits accuse the organization of negligence and cover-ups, mostly from decades ago.

“We are outraged that there have been times when individuals took advantage of our programs to harm innocent children,” said Roger Mosby, the Boy Scouts’ president and CEO. “While we know nothing can undo the tragic abuse that victims suffered, we believe the Chapter 11 process, with the proposed trust structure, will provide equitable compensation to all victims while maintaining the BSA’s important mission.”

Among other matters to be addressed in bankruptcy court: the fate of the Boy Scouts’ assets; the extent to which the organization’s insurance will help cover compensation; and whether assets of the Scouts’ 261 local councils will be added to the fund.

“There are a lot of very angry, resentful men out there who will not allow the Boy Scouts to get away without saying what all their assets are,” said lawyer Paul Mones, who represents numerous clients suing the Boy Scouts. “They want no stone unturned.”

Amid the crush of lawsuits, the Scouts recently mortgaged major properties owned by the national leadership, including the headquarters in Irving, Texas, and the 140,000-acre Philmont Ranch in New Mexico, to help secure a line of credit.

Founded in 1910, the Boy Scouts have kept confidential files since the 1920s listing staff and volunteers implicated in sexual abuse, for the avowed purpose of keeping predators away from youth. According to a court deposition, the files as of January listed 7,819 suspected abusers and 12,254 victims.

Until last spring, the organization had insisted it never knowingly allowed a predator to work with youths. But in May, The Associated Press reported that attorneys for abuse victims had identified multiple cases in which known predators were allowed to return to leadership posts. The next day, Boy Scouts chief executive Mike Surbaugh wrote to a congressional committee, acknowledging the group’s previous claim was untrue.

James Kretschmer of Houston, among the many men suing for alleged abuse, said he was molested by a Scout leader over several months in the mid-1970s in the Spokane, Washington, area. Regarding the bankruptcy, he said, “It is a shame because at its core and what it was supposed to be, the Boy Scouts is a beautiful organization.”

“But you know, anything can be corrupted,” he added. “And if they’re not going to protect the people that they’ve entrusted with the children, then shut it down and move on.”

Critics of the Boy Scouts charged that the bankruptcy filing is aimed in part at the preventing the disclosure of further damning details.

“This bankruptcy is not about finances,” said Scott Coats, who sued in New York last month over abuse he claimed to have suffered in the 1970s. “This bankruptcy is about the reputation of the Boy Scouts of America and about silencing victims and keeping the truth away from the eyes of the public.”

Mike Pfau, a Seattle-based attorney whose firm is representing scores of men nationwide, said that while the Boy Scouts’ local councils are not included in the bankruptcy filing, the plaintiffs may go after their property holdings, too.

“We believe the real property held by the local councils may be worth significantly more than the Boy Scouts’ assets,” he said. He said one question will be whether the Boy Scouts transferred property to its local councils in hopes of putting it out of the reach of those suing the organization.

___

Associated Press video journalist John Mone in Houston contributed.

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The Mass Extinction Humans Don’t Realize Matters

Humankind could be about to bid farewell to friends it never got to know, as insect extinction overtakes countless species.

Most of the millions of insects that support life on the planet have yet to be named or described. And yet perhaps 500,000 species of beetles, butterflies, bees, ants and other six-legged creatures vital to the efficient working of natural ecosystems and commercial economies could be about to disappear – as a consequence of climate change and other pressures driven by human population growth.

And this note of alarm has been sounded within a few days in which other research groups have separately warned of the climate threats to beetles in the Amazon forest, to the burrowing mayflies of the American mid-west and to the bumblebees of North America and Europe.

Insects pollinate growing plants, dispose of dying ones and serve as lunch or supper for birds, amphibians, reptiles, bats and other mammals. There could be as many as 5.5 million distinct species of insect, of which no more than one in five has been observed, identified and catalogued by entomologists.

A million or more creatures fashioned by aeons of evolution and natural selection could be at imminent risk of extinction because of human advance. A group of 30 experts now urgently warns in the journal Biological Conservation that half of these could be insects.

“From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services”

“It is surprising how little we know about biodiversity at a global level, when only about 10 to 20% of insect and other invertebrate species have been described and named. And of those with a name, we know little more than a brief morphological description, maybe part of the genetic code and a single site where it was seen some years ago,” said Pedro Cardoso, of the Finnish Museum of Natural History in Helsinki, who led the study.

“With species loss, we lose not only another piece of the complex puzzle that is our living world, but also biomass, essential to feed other animals in the living chain, unique genes and substances that might one day contribute to cure diseases, and ecosystem functions on which humanity depends.”

The researchers argue that insect species are vulnerable to human changes to their natural habitat; to pesticide and fertiliser use; to light pollution, industrial pollution and even noise pollution. Climate change driven by fossil fuel combustion amplifies the hazard: the unfamiliar seasonal temperatures and the advance of spring mean for instance that butterflies have emerged ahead of the nectar plants that normally nourish them.

And a series of separate studies explore some of the impact of human-triggered changes to natural systems. Researchers report in the journal Biotropica that hotter and drier episodes in the Amazon rainforests have led not only to disastrous fires but to a dramatic collapse of dung beetle populations.

Vanishing beetles

These little creatures spread nutrients and seeds, and ecologists see them as evidence of the overall health of an ecosystem, which is why international teams of scientists have been monitoring dung beetles from 98 species across 30 forest plots in the Brazilian state of Pará.

In 2010, they counted 8000 beetles. In 2017, after an El Niño event had brought drought and fire to the region, they found only 2,600.

Mayflies, too, are seen as indicators of the health of rivers, lakes and streams: the more there are, the better the water quality. The burrowing mayfly makes a spectacular emergence each year from US waterways to darken the skies. Researchers have estimated more than 87 billion insects in one swarm, weighing more than 3,000 tonnes of potential bird and fish food.

But researchers report in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences that between 2015 and 2019 scientists used radar to monitor the swarms over Lake Erie and found that as a consequence of a warming climate and other pressures, numbers fell in that four-year sequence by 84%.

And in the journal Science, Canadian and British scientists report that they looked at more than a century of records of 66 species of bumblebee in North America and Europe, to find that, within one human generation, as global heating amplified the frequency of extreme temperatures and droughts, the likelihood of a bumblebee population surviving in a given place had fallen on average by 30%.

Not insects alone

That insects may be in trouble is not news: naturalists have measured huge losses over time in sample locations, often as a consequence of habitat destruction, but also as a consequence of local climate shifts in response to global heating. These losses have been mirrored in bird predator populations and even in changes in insects themselves.

As the authors of the Biological Conservation paper point out, the damage goes beyond the insect world. Other creatures depend on insects, directly or indirectly. So do humans.

“With insect extinctions, we lose much more than species,” Dr Cardoso and his colleagues write. “We lose abundance and biomass of insects, diversity across space and time with consequent homogenisation, large parts of the tree of life, unique ecological functions and traits, and fundamental parts of extensive networks of biotic interactions.

“Such losses lead to the decline of key ecosystem services on which humanity depends. From pollination and decomposition, to being resources for new medicines, habitat quality indication and many others, insects provide essential and irreplaceable services.”

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California to Apologize for Internment of Japanese Americans

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Les Ouchida was born an American just outside California’s capital city, but his citizenship mattered little after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor and the United States declared war. Based solely on their Japanese ancestry, the 5-year-old and his family were taken from their home in 1942 and imprisoned far away in Arkansas.

They were among 120,000 Japanese Americans held at 10 internment camps during World War II, their only fault being “we had the wrong last names and wrong faces,” said Ouchida, now 82 and living a short drive from where he grew up and was taken as a boy due to fear that Japanese Americans would side with Japan in the war.

On Thursday, California’s Legislature is expected to approve a resolution offering an apology to Ouchida and other internment victims for the state’s role in aiding the U.S. government’s policy and condemning actions that helped fan anti-Japanese discrimination.

President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s executive order No. 9066 establishing the camps was signed on Feb. 19, 1942, and 2/19 now is marked by Japanese Americans as a Day of Remembrance.

Assemblyman Al Muratsuchi was born in Japan and is one of the roughly 430,000 people of Japanese descent living in California, the largest population of any state. The Democrat who represents Manhattan Beach and other beach communities near Los Angeles introduced the resolution.

“We like to talk a lot about how we lead the nation by example,” he said. “Unfortunately, in this case, California led the racist anti-Japanese American movement.”

A congressional commission in 1983 concluded that the detentions were a result of “racial prejudice, war hysteria and failure of political leadership.” Five years later, the U.S. government formally apologized and paid $20,000 in reparations to each victim.

The money didn’t come close to replacing what was lost. Ouchida says his father owned a profitable delivery business with 20 trucks. He never fully recovered from losing his business and died early.

The California resolution doesn’t come with any compensation. It targets the actions of the California Legislature at the time for supporting the internments. Two camps were located in the state — Manzanar on the eastern side of the Sierra Nevada in central California and Tule Lake near the Oregon state line, the largest of all the camps.

“I want the California Legislature to officially acknowledge and apologize while these camp survivors are still alive,” Muratsuchi said.

He said anti-Japanese sentiment began in California as early as 1913, when the state passed the California Alien Land Law, targeting Japanese farmers who some in California’s massive agricultural industry perceived as a threat. Seven years later the state barred anyone with Japanese ancestry from buying farmland.

The internment of Ouchida, his older brother and parents began in Fresno, California. Three months later they were sent to Jerome, Arkansas, where they stayed for most of the war.

Given their young ages at the time, many living victims such as Ouchida don’t remember much of life in the camps. But he does recall straw-filled mattresses and little privacy.

Communal bathrooms had rows of toilets with no barriers between users. “They put a bag over their heads when they went to the bathroom” for privacy, said Ouchida, who teaches about the internments at the California Museum in Sacramento.

Before the last camp was closed in 1946, Ouchida’s family was shipped to a facility in Arizona. When the family was freed, they took a Greyhound bus back to California. When it reached a stop sign near their community outside Sacramento, “I still remember the ladies on the bus started crying,” Ouchida said. “Because they were home.”

The resolution, co-introduced by California Assembly Republican Leader Marie Waldron of Escondido, makes a passing reference to “recent national events” and says they serve as a reminder “to learn from the mistakes of the past.”

Muratsuchi said the inspiration for that passage were migrant children held in U.S. government custody over the past year.

Ouchida said Japanese families like his always considered themselves loyal citizens before and after the internments. He holds no animosity toward the U.S. or California governments, choosing to focus on positives outgrowths like the permanent exhibit at the California Museum that provides an unvarnished view of the internments.

“Even if it took time, we have the goodness to still apologize,” he said.

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Stop and Frisk Gets Renewed Attention in Bloomberg Candidacy

NEW YORK — David Ourlicht was a college student, walking down a street near campus, when he became one of millions of New Yorkers swept up in the era of stop and frisk.

A police officer accosted Ourlicht, deeming suspicious a bulge in his jacket. Police patted him down, told him to stand against a wall, emptied his pockets, finding nothing illegal, and accused him of lying about his address, according to court testimony. The 2008 encounter ended with a disorderly conduct summons, which was later dismissed.

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Ourlicht was embarrassed, angry and rattled, but not surprised. Police encounters like that had become a cornerstone of policing under then-Mayor Mike Bloomberg and a fact of life for Ourlicht, who is of black and white heritage, and his friends growing up.

He later joined a lawsuit that helped curb stop and frisk and became a lawyer himself. But his experiences with police, which he says began with getting beaten and handcuffed at 15 while trying to go up to his apartment, still cast a shadow over his life today.

“Every day I get into my car, every day I decide to step out of my house, it’s a psyching up that I have to do to myself,” Ourlicht said. “It’s always there.”

New York’s stop-and-frisk history is getting renewed attention as Bloomberg campaigns for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bloomberg long defended the practice, even after a federal judge found that the stops discriminated against those who were black or Latino. He abruptly apologized in November shortly before announcing his White House bid and has largely sought to move past the issue.

That became difficult last week when a 2015 recording of Bloomberg resurfaced in which he said the way to bring down murder rates is to “put a lot of cops” in minority neighborhoods because that’s where “all the crime is.”

Bloomberg said the remarks “do not reflect my commitment to criminal justice reform and racial equity.” He has since gotten endorsements from some members of the Congressional Black Caucus. And as he campaigned in the South last week, many black voters said they weren’t offended by the comments and were more focused on finding a candidate who could beat President Donald Trump.

But the former mayor likely will face more questions about the practice as his campaign gains traction. Bloomberg is on the cusp of qualifying for Wednesday’s presidential debate, where his rivals are sure to pillory him on stop and frisk to blunt his rise and appeal to African Americans, who are a critical voting bloc in the Democratic primary.

Stop and frisk is a term for a tactic police have long used: accosting, questioning and sometimes patting down people who officers think might be doing something illegal, but the suspicions didn’t necessarily amount to probable cause for an arrest.

The New York Police Department began increasing its emphasis on stop and frisk in the mid-1990s, when Republican Rudy Giuliani was mayor. But stops soared under Bloomberg – who held office as a Republican and later an independent — rising from about 97,000 stops in 2002 to a high of about 685,000 in 2011. There were fewer than 13,500 stops last year, according to NYPD data.

Over 80% of the people stopped during the surge of stop and frisk were black or Latino.

They include Hawk Newsome, 42, who said he was stopped dozens of times while living in the Bronx when Giuliani, then Bloomberg, served as mayor.

Too often, people overlook the psychological effects of the policy, he added.

“We felt like these cops could murder us. They were pulling out weapons on us and pushing us against the wall. There was this anxiety — we could be killed at any time,” said Newsome, chairman of Black Lives Matter of Greater New York. “Just growing up in it, it made you feel hopeless, like, ‘Damn, this is all my life will ever be. This is how they treat me. Look at our schools, look at our police. My life isn’t worth much.’”

Police and Bloomberg insisted that the stops helped drive crime down to record-low levels and that the tactic was legal.

Critics said stop and frisk amounted to racial discrimination with little impact on crime. About 10% of stops led to arrests or summonses, and only about 1% to weapons seizures.

In 2013, a federal judge declared that New York City’s use of the stops had violated civil and constitutional rights.

Bloomberg’s administration appealed the ruling. His successor dropped the appeal and agreed to reforms and a court-appointed monitor.

It remains to be seen whether voters of color in and outside New York will see past the practice and give serious consideration to Bloomberg. But the national conversation in recent years about racial inequity in the criminal justice system could keep stop and frisk in focus during the rest of the campaign cycle.

“It’s complicated,” said Dayvon Love, director of public policy of the grassroots think tank Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle in Baltimore.

“I think there’s more of a recognition that that approach doesn’t work to solve the problem of violence and homicide in communities around the country,” he said, but some people living in neighborhoods plagued by violence “would see the strategy, not necessarily to the extreme of Bloomberg’s approach, as the best option available to them to meet their immediate needs.”

From Love’s perspective, black people who are politically well-connected and “more interested in their own personal success” could gravitate toward someone like Bloomberg.

Many young voters outside New York don’t know much about Bloomberg’s record as mayor.

But for Brandon Kolawole, 24, of Chicago, mention of stop and frisk triggers a response of familiarity and dread.

“I’ve seen it, and I’ve dealt with it,” said Kolawole, who is black. “If the police see you, they can just pull you over, stop you and frisk you for whatever reason.”

Kolawole, who said he won’t vote in November, knows “very little” about Bloomberg and his role in expanding the policy. Kolawole has seen the presidential candidate’s ads on television promoting his work with former President Barack Obama but doesn’t know much about the former mayor’s time in office.

Warren Evans spent about 30 years in law enforcement in the Detroit area — six of those as a county sheriff and one as the city’s police chief. On Thursday, he endorsed Bloomberg for the Democratic nomination for president.

Evans, who is black and has been Wayne County’s elected executive for the past six years, understands the initial purpose of stop and frisk. But he says it failed because of “bad police practice and the inherent bias many officers have about communities of color.”

“I don’t think it’s going to resonate negatively over the long term” for Bloomberg, Evans told The Associated Press. “I agree with his final determination that when he looked at the data and understood what was going on, it wasn’t good policy and it wasn’t implemented well. But he has done what a lot of politicians don’t do. He didn’t fake an answer.”

___

Regina Garcia Cano reported from Baltimore and Jennifer Peltz from New York. Associated Press writers Corey Williams in Detroit, Noreen Nasir in Chicago and Jennifer McDermott in Providence, Rhode Island, contributed.

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Israel’s Gantz Vows to Form Government Without Netanyahu

JERUSALEM — Israeli opposition leader Benny Gantz is vowing to form a government that will include neither the indicted Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu nor the predominantly Arab parties in Parliament.

In a series of TV interviews two weeks before national elections, Gantz looked to project confidence that the March 2 vote will provide the decisive outcome that eluded the two previous elections last year.

Gantz’s Blue and White party is currently polling ahead of Netanyahu’s Likud, although neither appears to have a clear path to a parliamentary majority required to form a coalition government.

Gantz laid out two potential paths while speaking to Channel 12 News on Saturday night. He said he’s either going to partner with a broad range of “Jewish and democratic” parties — including the ultra-nationalist party led by apparent kingmaker Avigdor Lieberman. Or he could team up with the ruling Likud Party, but only if it gets rid of longtime leader Netanyahu, who’s fending off a slew of criminal corruption charges.

“Netanyahu has ended his historic role from a political standpoint. The Likud with Bibi cannot form a government, and without Bibi there’s unity,” he said, referring to Netanyahu by his nickname.

Gantz, a former military chief, has been campaigning furiously in pursuit of a knockout punch as the election grows nearer. He appears to have grown closer to Lieberman, whose nationalist Yisrael Beitenu party has bolted from Netanyahu’s right-wing camp and sparked the unprecedented stalemate in Israeli politics that led to the multiple repeat elections.

Both deny they have reached any pre-election alliance, but Lieberman has all but ruled out sitting in government with his former mentor. Lieberman has conditioned his participation in government upon the removal of the ultra-Orthodox Jewish parties that he says have wielded disproportionate power for too long and have been a consistent base for Netanyahu’s bloc.

“The Netanyahu era is over,” Lieberman said Saturday, expressing a newfound openness to sitting in government with left-wing parties he once shunned.

Still, the numbers don’t seem to add up without at least the tacit support of the Arab parties who are anathema to Lieberman’s hard-line brand of politics. Netanyahu has based his campaign on linking Gantz to the Joint List, an umbrella group of mostly Arab parties who represent the country’s 20% minority, saying he has no option of forming a government without them. Gantz denied he will invite them into his government, saying there is too wide an ideological gap between them. He also claims he will be strong enough to rule without their outside parliamentary support.

Joint List leader Ayman Odeh says he will act to topple any government that includes Lieberman, who has long railed against Arab lawmakers as a fifth column and as terrorist sympathizers. And unlike the previous round, he says he will not recommend Gantz as prime minister if he continues with an approach of “racism toward Arabs.”

Even with the corruption indictment against Netanyahu and the unveiling of President Donald Trump’s Mideast plan, polls are predicting a similar outcome to the previous election in September, when neither Gantz not Netanyahu could form a coalition in the time allotted to them. Netanyahu has since fended off an internal challenge to his Likud leadership and the party has refused previous suggestions it join a unity government without him. But Gantz is banking on a surge in support this time around, after judges have already been selected to preside over Netanyahu’s upcoming trial. The public also seems weary of the prospect of yet another deadlocked result and the potential for a fourth election.

Israel’s attorney general charged Netanyahu in November on three counts of bribery, fraud and breach of trust. Under Israeli law, public officials are required to resign if charged with a crime. But that law does not apply to the prime minister, who can use his office as a bully pulpit against prosecutors.

Netanyahu has failed in efforts to secure himself parliamentary immunity, and with his trial looming Gantz has been pushing for a fresh start.

“He’s about to go to trial. Just imagine that while he is sitting down to prepare for trial with a battery of lawyers about fateful issues from his personal standpoint, the military chief of staff needs to hold a very urgent meeting at night from a security standpoint,” Gantz said.

Netanyahu has tried to portray himself as a master statesman for securing pro-Israel pledges from President Donald Trump, such as extending Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley and the West Bank Jewish settlements. But Gantz said he too would implement the American president’s Mideast plan, without all of Netanyahu’s baggage.

“I don’t believe anything from Netanyahu. I think he says things only on a political level and doesn’t mean it,” he told Channel 12.

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How Emily’s List and Center for American Progress Sold Out to Michael Bloomberg

Billionaire Republican-turned-Democrat Presidential Candidate Michael Bloomberg was hit with two damaging front-page headlines Saturday.

The Washington Post  reported“Bloomberg for years has battled women’s allegations of profane, sexist comments.”

“Now, as Bloomberg is increasingly viewed as a viable Democratic candidate for president and the #MeToo era has raised the profile of workplace harassment, he is finding that his efforts to prevent disclosure are clashing against demands that he release former employees and complainants from their nondisclosure agreements.”

“The allegations that he tolerated a hostile office culture could undercut his ability to criticize President Trump’s alleged sexual misconduct and efforts to keep such claims private.”

And in a headline titled “Bloomberg’s Billions: How the Presidential Candidate Built His Influence” the New York Times exposes the corruption of two faux-progressive DNC-affiliated organizations, Emily’s List and the Center for American Progress who sold out their organization’s missions in return for millions of Bloomberg’s influence buying:

“In the fall of 2018, Emily’s List had a dilemma. With congressional elections approaching and the Supreme Court confirmation battle over Judge Brett M. Kavanaugh underway, the Democratic women’s group was hosting a major fund-raising luncheon in New York. Among the scheduled headline speakers was Michael R. Bloomberg, the former mayor, who had donated nearly $6 million to Emily’s List over the years.”

“Days before the event, Mr. Bloomberg made blunt comments in an interview with The New York Times, expressing skepticism about the #MeToo movement and questioning sexual misconduct allegations against Charlie Rose, the disgraced news anchor. Senior Emily’s List officials seriously debated withdrawing Mr. Bloomberg’s invitation, according to three people familiar with the deliberations, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.”

“In the end, the group concluded it could not risk alienating Mr. Bloomberg.”

And the Times on the Center for American Progress:

“In interviews with The Times, no one described being threatened or coerced by Mr. Bloomberg or his money. But many said his wealth was an inescapable consideration — a gravitational force powerful enough to make coercion unnecessary.”

““They aren’t going to criticize him in his 2020 run because they don’t want to jeopardize receiving financial support from him in the future,” said Paul S. Ryan, vice president of policy and litigation at the good-government group Common Cause.”

“That chilling effect was apparent in 2015 to researchers at the Center for American Progress, a liberal policy group, when they turned in a report on anti-Muslim bias in the United States. Their draft included a chapter of more than 4,000 words about New York City police surveillance of Muslim communities; Mr. Bloomberg was mentioned by name eight times in the chapter, which was reviewed by The Times.”

“When the report was published a few weeks later, the chapter was gone. So was any mention of Mr. Bloomberg’s name.”

“Yasmine Taeb, an author of the report, said in an interview that the authors had been instructed to make drastic revisions or remove the chapter, and opted to do the latter rather than “whitewash the N.Y.P.D.’s wrongdoings.” She said she found it “disconcerting” to be asked to remove the chapter “because of how it was going to be perceived by Mayor Bloomberg.””

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>For more on CAP&#39;s grotesque corruption – remember they only stopped accepting millions from the despots of the UAE last year under pressure – see here:<a href=”https://t.co/4yGJUznhlI”>https://t.co/4yGJUznhlI</a></p>&mdash; Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ggreenwald/status/1228744922238504961?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 15, 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”>We now know that the PAC Emily’s List, which confirmed it was affiliated with an attack ad against Sanders (despite his 100% pro choice record), has taken $6M from Bloomberg. We deserve better feminism. Meet Matriarch, helping progressive working-class women run for office: <a href=”https://t.co/YSxVSOHSrU”>https://t.co/YSxVSOHSrU</a></p>&mdash; francesca fiorentini (@franifio) <a href=”https://twitter.com/franifio/status/1228720982044446720?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”und” dir=”ltr”><a href=”https://t.co/Wx7mIY0jws”>https://t.co/Wx7mIY0jws</a> <a href=”https://t.co/BYrRsBmq1m”>https://t.co/BYrRsBmq1m</a></p>&mdash; aaron j (@afoolsaaron) <a href=”https://twitter.com/afoolsaaron/status/1228750989122891776?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 15, 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”>Consider that the most prominent liberal think tank scrubbed its report that made Bloomberg look bad *at the expense of honestly analyzing Islamophobia.*<br><br>The report whitewashed massive wrongs in the biggest city in the US at the expense of the people who were wronged. <a href=”https://t.co/6QSytfMq6j”>https://t.co/6QSytfMq6j</a></p>&mdash; Alex Kotch (@alexkotch) <a href=”https://twitter.com/alexkotch/status/1228796459988004867?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>February 15, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

 

 

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Esper Says Taliban Deal Is Promising but Not Without Risk

MUNICH — U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Saturday that a truce agreement between the United States and the Taliban that could lead to the withdrawal of American troops from Afghanistan is not without risk but “looks very promising.”

Ahead of a formal announcement of the seven-day “reduction in violence” deal, Esper said it was time to give peace a chance in Afghanistan through a political negotiation. He spoke a day after a senior U.S. official said the deal had been concluded and would take effect very soon.

Expectations are that agreement will be formally announced on Sunday and that the reduction in violence will begin on Monday, according to people familiar with the plan.

“So we have on the table right now a reduction in violence proposal that was negotiated between our ambassador and the Taliban,” Esper told an audience at the Munich Security Conference. “It looks very promising.”

“It’s my view as well that we have to give peace a chance, that the best if not the only way forward in Afghanistan is through a political agreement and that means taking some risk,” he said. “That means enabling our diplomats and that means working together with our partners and allies on the ground to affect such a thing.”

Esper and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo met on Friday in Munich with Afghan President Ashraf Ghani, who has been skeptical of the scheme, which, if successful, would see an end to attacks for seven days and then the signing of a U.S.-Taliban peace deal. All-Afghan peace talks would then begin within 10 days as part of the plan, which envisions the phased withdrawal of U.S. forces over 18 months.

In remarks later to a group of reporters, Esper declined to say whether the U.S. had agreed to cut its troop levels in Afghanistan to zero. He said if the 7-day truce is successful and the next step toward Afghan peace talks begins, the U.S. would reduce its troop contingent “over time” to about 8,600. There currently are about 12,000 U.S. troops in the country.

Ghani also refused to comment on many specifics of the plan but said the time had come “find a political solution to stop the war.”

He said it was impossible to know whether the Taliban might take advantage of a draw down in American military power in Afghanistan to reassert its their own presence, but said the only way to find out was to “engage in the peace process.”

“The critical test is going to be: will the Taliban accept an election?” Ghani said.

The president rejected the idea that the Taliban could be granted greater influence in certain regions of Afghanistan, saying it was “antithetical to the Afghan vision because we are a unified country.”

“The scope of the peace must be national. It cannot be sub-national because otherwise it will be a recipe for another round of conflict,” he said.

The United States has not agreed to suspend or end its counter-terrorism operations in Afghanistan, which have been focused mainly on an Islamic State affiliate, known as ISIS-K, and al-Qaida, said Pentagon spokeswoman Alyssa Farah, who was traveling with Esper.

“Under any agreement, General Miller retains the authorities necessary to protect U.S. national security interests, including the authorities and capabilities to strike ISIS-K and al-Qaida,“ she said, referring to U.S. Gen Scott Miller, the commander of American and coalition forces in Afghanistan.

The agreement was finalized last week by U.S. special envoy for Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad and Taliban representatives in Doha, Qatar. Esper said Ghani was supportive of the deal and had pledged to do his best to support it.

“I think he is fully on board,” Esper said of Ghani. “He wants to lead his part of the process, which if we get to that would be a a peace deal that would involve very soon afterward an inter-Afghan negotiation. He wants to be clearly a full partner in that and wants to lead on that and make sure that all Afghans come together.”

Ghani has bickered with his partner in the current Unity Government, Abdullah Abdullah, over who will represent Kabul at the negotiating table. Ghani has insisted he lead the talks, while his political opponents and other prominent Afghans have called for more inclusive representation.

Separately on Saturday, NATO chief Jens Stoltenberg told the security conference that he also supported the plan but stressed that the alliance’s mission in Afghanistan would continue in the short- and medium-term.

“We are not leaving Afghanistan but we are prepared to adjust our force level if the Taliban demonstrates the will and the capability to reduce violence and make real compromises that could pave the way for negotiations among Afghans for sustainable peace,” he said.

_____

David Rising contributed to this story.

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Shift to Digital Census Raises Fears of Iowa Caucuses-Like Breakdown

ORLANDO, Fla. — The stakes are high when a major civic exercise involves a large population, new technology that has not been thoroughly tested and an entire country waiting on the results.

Just ask the organizers of the Iowa caucuses, which offered a cautionary tale on the technological woes that could befall a big political event. Some observers worry that this year’s census carries the same potential for mayhem — except on an infinitely larger scale.

The U.S. Census Bureau plans to try out a lot of new technology. It’s the first once-a-decade census in which most people are being encouraged to answer questions via the internet. Later in the process, census workers who knock on the doors of homes that have not responded will use smartphones and a new mobile app to relay answers.

A government watchdog agency, the Census Bureau’s inspector general and some lawmakers have grown concerned about whether the systems are ready for prime time. Most U.S. residents can start answering the questionnaire in March.

“I must tell you, the Iowa (caucuses) debacle comes to mind when I think of the census going digital,” Eleanor Holmes Norton, the congressional delegate for the District of Columbia, said this week at a hearing on the census.

Cybersecurity is another worry. Experts consider the census to be an attractive target for anyone seeking to sow chaos and undermine confidence in the U.S. government, as Russia did in the 2016 presidential election.

In a worst-case scenario, vital records could be deleted or polluted with junk data. Even a lesser assault that interfered with online data collection could erode public confidence. In 2016, a denial-of-service attack knocked Australia’s online census offline, flooding it with junk data.

The Census Bureau says it’s ready. The agency promises that responses to the questionnaire will be kept confidential through encryption, and that it’s working with the Department of Homeland Security and private-sector security experts to thwart cyber attacks. To hinder illegitimate responses, the bureau is blocking foreign IP addresses and stopping bots from filling out fake responses, among many other measures.

The bureau says it has developed two secure data-collection systems, so that if one goes down, the other can substitute. Other mechanisms are in place to prevent failure and to back up essential functions.

“All systems are go,” bureau Director Steven Dillingham said.

For the past three years, the Government Accountability Office has placed the census on its list of high-risk programs, mainly because it is relying on technology that has not been used before.

Just last week, census officials decided to use a backup data-collection system for handling the online responses. That step was taken after officials grew concerned that the primary system, developed by a third-party contractor, would not be able to handle excessive traffic. The primary system experienced performance problems when up to 400,000 people were answering questions at the same time.

The backup system, called Primus, was developed in-house and can handle up to 600,000 users at once. But it was never tested during a test-run for the decennial census in Rhode Island two years ago.

“Late design changes such as a shift from one system to another can introduce new risks during a critical moment,” Nick Marinos, the GAO’s director of information technology, testified this week at the congressional hearing. “The bureau needs to quickly ensure that the system is ready and that contingency plans are finalized to reflect this change and fully tested before going live.”

Then there’s the mobile app for census takers who will be sent out to visit the homes of residents who have not filled out the forms by May. Bureau officials are still working to find out why the app sometimes needs to be restarted or reinstalled for it to work properly, according to a GAO report released this week.

In Iowa, a newly developed smartphone app was blamed for delaying the reporting of results from the first-in-the-nation presidential contest.

The Census Bureau has not finalized its backup plans for the online questionnaire system. As of the end of last year, the bureau still had to do 191 corrective actions for cybersecurity that were considered “high risk” or “very high risk,” the GAO said.

Last summer, the bureau’s Office of Inspector General identified several weaknesses in the agency’s backup planning efforts, including the ability to recover data stored in the cloud in the event of a large-scale attack or disaster.

In the same report, the inspector general said the bureau did not securely use commercial cloud services during census preparations and found many security deficiencies that indicated the agency was “behind schedule and rushed to deploy its systems” for the Rhode Island test-run.

The inspector general currently is conducting another audit of the bureau’s information-technology security, but there’s no word on when it will be finished, said Robert Johnston, the agency’s chief of staff.

In Iowa, fewer than 200,000 voters picked a candidate. The census will be conducted on a much grander scale as it attempts to count residents in almost 130 million households with the help of 52 IT systems. The nationwide headcount has been touted as the largest peacetime operation the government undertakes.

An accurate count is crucial for determining how many congressional seats each state gets and the distribution of $1.5 trillion in federal spending. Respondents who do not want to answer the questionnaire online can do so by telephone or by mailing in a paper form.

Dillingham told lawmakers that the concerns raised by the inspector general had been remedied. The Census Bureau is prepared to distribute millions of paper forms in the event a catastrophe prevents people from responding online, bureau officials added.

“We can recover data if we had a breach,” said Albert Fontenot, an associate director at the bureau. “At the worst case, we would send someone out to re-collect that data.”

___

Associated Press Technology Writer Frank Bajak in Boston contributed to this report.

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New Virus Cases Fall; WHO Says China Bought the World Time

BEIJING — China reported 143 virus deaths and a dip in new cases Saturday while the head of the World Health Organization praised the country’s efforts to contain the new disease, saying they have “bought the world time” and that other nations must make the most of it.

France, meanwhile, reported Europe’s first death from the new virus, a Chinese tourist from Hubei province, where the disease emerged in December. The United States was preparing to fly home American passengers quarantined aboard a cruise ship in Japan.

China reported 2,641 new cases in the 24 hours through midnight Friday, raising its total to 66,492. Mainland China’s death toll rose to 1,523.

The number of new cases was down from the 5,090 in the previous 24-hour period after authorities changed the basis for counting patients. Numbers of new cases have fluctuated, fueling both optimism the disease might be under control and warnings that such hopes are premature.

The U.N. health agency’s director-general, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, urged governments to step up their efforts to prepare for the virus, saying “it’s impossible to predict which direction this epidemic will take.”

Tedros told a gathering of international foreign and security policy leaders in Germany on Saturday that WHO is encouraged there has not yet been widespread transmission outside China and that “the steps China has taken to contain the outbreak at its source appear to have bought the world time.”

“We’re encouraged that an international team of experts is now on the ground working closely with Chinese counterparts to understand the outbreak,” Tedros told the Munich Security Conference.

But he said the agency is “concerned by the continued increase in the number of cases in China,” and by reports about the number of health workers who have been infected or died.

“We’re concerned by the lack of urgency in funding the response from the international community,” Tedros said.

“We must use the window of opportunity we have to intensify our preparedness,” he added. “China has bought the world time. We don’t know how much time.”

China’s government suspended most access to Wuhan, the city at the center of the outbreak, on Jan. 23. Restrictions have expanded to cities with a total of 60 million people in the broadest anti-disease measures ever imposed. Restaurants, shops and other businesses nationwide were ordered to close.

The Lunar New Year holiday was extended to keep factories and offices closed, but now officials have been ordered to revive business activity as economic losses mount.

Authorities have announced measures to try to curb new infections as millions of workers crowd into planes, trains and buses to return to densely populated cities.

Under the new measures, people returning to Beijing will have to isolate themselves at home for 14 days, according to a notice published Friday. It said people who fail to comply will face legal consequences but gave no details.

COVID-19, a disease stemming from a new form of coronavirus, has spread to more than two dozen countries.

The 80-year-old Chinese tourist who died in France was hospitalized Jan. 25 with a lung infection, according to Health Minister Agnes Buzyn. His daughter also fell ill but authorities say she is expected to recover.

In Japan, the U.S. Embassy said a chartered aircraft will arrive late Sunday to fly home Americans aboard the cruise ship Diamond Princess in Yokohama, near Tokyo. The passengers have been quarantined aboard the ship since Feb. 5, but they will face another two-week quarantine after arriving in the United States.

Those who return to the U.S. will fly to Travis Air Force Base in California and some will fly onward to Lackland Air Force Base in Texas, said an embassy statement. It said no one with symptoms would be allowed aboard the flight.

Hong Kong’s government said its residents aboard the cruise ship also will be flown home as soon as possible, and they too would face a second quarantine.

So far, 285 people from the cruise ship have tested positive for the virus. Japan’s Health Ministry allowed 11 passengers to disembark Friday. It said passengers above 80 years of age, those with underlying medical conditions and those who stayed in windowless cabins during the 14-day quarantine could move to a facility onshore.

On Thursday, the number of new cases reported by authorities in Hubei spiked to 15,152, mainly because China has changed the way it is counting. That included 13,332 that were diagnosed with doctors’ analyses and lung imaging instead of the previous standard of laboratory testing. Health authorities said the new method would facilitate earlier treatment.

Nine more temporary hospitals have opened in gymnasiums and other public buildings, with 6,960 beds in Hubei, the National Health Commission announced. It said 5,606 patients with mild symptoms were being treated.

The ruling Communist Party is trying to restore public confidence following complaints leaders in Wuhan suppressed information about the disease. The party faced similar criticism after the 2002-03 outbreak of severe acute respiratory syndrome, or SARS.

The party should “strengthen areas of weakness and close up loopholes” after the epidemic exposed “shortcomings and deficiencies,” President Xi Jinping said at a meeting of party leaders Friday, according to state media.

Extended closures of factories and businesses prevented a flood of travel after the Lunar New Year holiday, normally the Chinese industry’s busiest season, officials said at a news conference.

Total volume of daily travelers is down 80% from last year, according to a deputy transportation minister, Liu Xiaoming.

Business losses are so severe that forecasters have cut their outlooks for China’s economic growth.

The state-owned banking industry has provided more than 537 billion yuan ($77 billion) in credit to industries such as retail, catering and tourism that have been hurt most, according to Liang Tao, vice chairman of the China Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission.

This weekend, a team of WHO experts were due to begin a mission in China.

A WHO official, speaking at the conference in Munich, defended China’s handling of the outbreak.

“Some of the rhetoric for me has not been helpful, not been helpful at all. China has a strong public health and health system,” said Dr. Michael Ryan, WHO’s chief of emergencies. “I think we as the global community need to change our narrative if we’re going to work successfully with China and other countries to stop this disease.”

___

Associated Press writers Geir Moulson in Munich, Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Elaine Ganley in Paris contributed to this report.

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Being Joe Biden’s Brother Is Highly Lucrative

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Jim Biden was in a bind. An investor had put up $1 million to help Jim and his nephew Hunter buy a hedge fund. Then it turned out that the fund’s assets were worth less than the Bidens had thought. Now the investor wanted its money back.

It was December 2006, not long before Jim’s older brother and Hunter’s father, Joe Biden, then a Delaware senator, would announce his second campaign for president.

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Jim and Hunter Biden got a loan from a bank founded by one of Joe’s political backers — William Oldaker, an attorney for the senator’s presidential campaign and Hunter’s partner at a Washington law and lobbying firm.

Oldaker had strong ties to Joe Biden’s political operation, and at the time, the bank, WashingtonFirst, had nearly half a million dollars in deposits from a Joe Biden political committee Oldaker had helped set up.

But WashingtonFirst was less than three years old, and a $1 million loan was large for its size. The bank required that loans be well secured by borrowers’ assets. Jim Biden put up his house in Merion Station, Pennsylvania, as collateral, but he already had $1.5 million in three mortgages against the property, then roughly valued at just over $1.1 million. Hunter offered as security his recently purchased Washington home, for which he had borrowed almost the entire purchase price. Oldaker did not return phone calls, and a source close to Jim and Sara Biden said all of their loans were properly secured.

It was not the first time — or the last — during his long career that Jim Biden turned to Joe’s political network for the kind of assistance that would have been almost unimaginable for someone with a different last name. Campaign donors helped him face a series of financial problems, including a series of IRS liens totaling more than $1 million that made it harder to get bank financing. Jim Biden took out two more loans from WashingtonFirst before its sale in 2018.

These transactions illuminate the well-synchronized tango that the Biden brothers have danced for half a century. They have pursued overlapping careers — one a presidential aspirant with an expansive network of well-heeled Democratic donors; the other an entrepreneur who helped his brother raise political money and cultivated the same network to help finance his own business deals.

Jim Biden, 70, has cycled over the years from nightclub owner to insurance broker to political consultant and fundraiser to startup investor and construction company executive. But the through line of his resume was his bond with his brother, a Democratic Party stalwart in a position to push legislation or make government contracts happen.

“My sense is that Jim really has been trying to peddle himself on the Biden name for some time,” said Curtis Wilkie, who covered the Bidens as a Delaware political reporter.

Key Loans to Jim Biden Lender Loan Amount Loan Made Loan Repaid Joel Boyarsky
Donor and fundraiser
Businessman and former Jim Biden employer Up to $200,000 1997 2000 Leonard Barrack
Donor
Attorney and former Sara Biden employer $353,000 2000 2004 Thomas Knox
Donor and fundraiser
Businessman $400,000 2004 2013 WashingtonFirst Bank
William Oldaker, co-founder
Campaign lawyer and lobbyist $1,000,000 2006 2014 John Hynansky
Donor
Businessman $500,000 2015 2019 Trustar Bank
William Oldaker, co-founder
Former Biden campaign lawyer
Lobbyist $250,000 2019 Still Open Sources: Montgomery County, Pennsylvania, recorder of deeds; clerk of the circuit court, Collier County, Florida

Spokespeople for Jim Biden and Joe’s presidential campaign declined interview requests for the brothers. In response to questions, campaign spokesman Andrew Bates said that Joe Biden had no involvement in Jim Biden’s loans and did not arrange for supporters to help his brother. Bates also said that the former vice president knew “nothing” about his brother’s investments and was unaware that Jim had often been delinquent on his federal taxes or that the IRS had placed liens on his home. Bates said Oldaker is not involved in the 2020 campaign.

“The vice president and his brother have always understood and agreed that James’ business ventures are separate from and independent of Joe Biden’s career in public life,” Bates said.

A source with knowledge of Jim Biden’s finances said that he and his wife, Sara, have sometimes failed to pay their taxes on time because “they are largely self-employed and sometimes have an unclear picture of how their year will end financially,” but that they have always paid in full, including interest and penalties.

Recognizing a potential minefield, Joe has avoided responsibility for or financial involvement in his brother’s ventures, according to longtime advisers. Yet on occasion, as Jim pursued opportunities, Joe met with his potential clients or partners, at Jim’s request.

In 2002, Joe addressed a Washington conference of the National Association of State Treasurers, whom Jim was courting on behalf of lawyers who wanted to represent state pension funds. “Jim offered that his brother,” who usually took the train home to Delaware in the evening, “was just happening to be in town,” said Pamela Taylor, then the group’s executive director. “He said: ‘He’s going to spend the night in D.C. Would you like him?’”

Taylor reached out to Joe, who had previously been invited by Delaware’s state treasurer but hadn’t firmly committed. Joe spoke to the group over breakfast, analyzing the prospects for war in Iraq. “It was perfect,” Taylor recalled.

Jim Biden has been at his older brother’s side at nearly every critical juncture in Joe’s personal and political life. As fundraiser for his brother’s first Senate race in 1972, he helped launch Joe’s political career.

That same year, Jim broke the news to Joe that his wife, Neilia, and baby had died in a car accident, and he then watched over his brother day and night. When Joe was hospitalized with a brain aneurysm more than 15 years later, it was Jim who “was working the phone,” looking worldwide for the best neurosurgeon, according to Richard Ben Cramer’s book, “What It Takes,” which profiled the candidates for president in 1988.

But Jim has also been a political vulnerability. While a plagiarism scandal put pressure on Joe to drop out of the presidential race in 1987, protecting his brother from reporters asking about Jim’s shaky finances was the final impetus for Joe’s withdrawal, according to Cramer. “They were going after Jimmy; it wasn’t just Joe anymore,” Cramer wrote.

In the 2020 campaign, Joe’s family ties have again dogged him. President Donald Trump’s impeachment stemmed from allegations that he sought to damage Joe, a potential reelection opponent, by pushing Ukraine to investigate Hunter Biden’s relationship with a Ukrainian energy company, Burisma. Joe promised to establish clear boundaries for family business ventures.

On this week’s “Trump, Inc.” podcast, we’re looking at what happened in Ukraine from a different vantage point: not the politics but the finances.

Those close to Joe Biden say his relationship with Jim illustrates his fierce family loyalty. In the 2020 race, one adviser said, Jim “is trying very hard to stay out of the limelight.”

“For all his — let me find a kind word for it — entrepreneurship, Jimmy understands that he needs to keep his business separate from Joe’s career. Whether his relationships with unions, treasurers, law firms are the result of people who want to be nice to Jimmy because he’s Joe’s brother, that’s a thankless position to be in,” the adviser said.

In his 2007 autobiography, “Promises to Keep,” Joe gave a sense of Jim’s priorities. In the 1972 Senate campaign, Joe wrote, he changed his position on a capital gains tax reduction that would benefit potential big donors. Jim, his chief fundraiser, stewed for hours and then warned him, “I sure in hell hope you feel that strongly about capital gains because you just lost the election.” (Joe Biden won the race.)

It wasn’t their only clash. During Joe’s abortive presidential campaign in 2007, a Biden aide said, Jim “raised almost no money. He came in at the end when we were the most desperate.” Asked why, the insider said, “Family tensions.” At the same time, “there were always questions around Jimmy’s business dealings — what kind of blowback would there be for the campaign?”

Their upbringing shaped the brothers differently. Their father, Joseph R. Biden Sr., known as Big Joe, was a Wilmington car salesman. Joe later wrote that “money was so tight … I had to put cardboard in an old shoe until Dad’s next payday.”

Hard times kept the family close. “We could fight among ourselves inside the house, but we were not allowed to say a single syllable against a sibling on the outside,” Joe continued. One family friend said the Bidens’ struggles “rubbed off on how each of the boys were wired. With Joe it translated into, ‘I want respect.’ With Jimmy it translated into, ‘I want money.’”

Joe won a scholarship to the elite Archmere Academy and became a football star and class president. In 1962, he was a pool lifeguard in a predominantly African American Wilmington neighborhood, an experience he credits with helping him to understand race relations. He graduated from the University of Delaware and Syracuse University Law School.

Jim, six and a half years younger, went to local public schools. He was “aloof and had, perhaps, a bit of an attitude,” said classmate Steven Bennett. “Good luck in Senior High,” Jim wrote in Bennett’s junior high yearbook. “You’ll need it.” Jim studied at the University of Delaware over four semesters but did not earn a degree there, according to a university spokesperson.

Jim went into the nightclub business soon after Joe’s first Senate victory. With funding from Wilmington’s Farmers Bank, Jim and four partners operated a restaurant-lounge, Seasons Change. Its formula of dance music and Top 40 hits caught on, and when a larger space became available, Jim opened another club called The Other Side.

“They had a helluva run for a couple of years,” recalled Bob Bowersox, a band booker for both clubs who now runs a theater company in Key West, Florida.

Jim reported a net worth of about $10,000, but he and a partner were able to borrow $300,000 from First Pennsylvania Bank of Philadelphia for the expansion. His brother then sat on the Senate Banking Committee.

The Other Side made a splash, but not a profit. “I was a naive kid is what it was,” Jim told the Sunday News Journal in Wilmington in 1977.

Seasons Change folded in 1978 with more than half a million dollars in debts. The Federal Deposit Insurance Corp., which had assumed the Farmers Bank loans, sued Jim and his partners in 1980 for more than $168,000. (ProPublica could find no record of the lawsuit’s resolution.) By then, Jim had left the nightclub business, and Wilmington, for California.

“I remember as a banker thinking, ‘Thank God, I didn’t finance it,’” said Fred Sears, a retired Wilmington banker and Biden family friend. “I remember thinking, ‘Oh my God, is this going to spill over to Joe?’”

Three former Farmers Bank officers told the Wilmington Morning News in 1977 that they had financed Seasons Change because they believed the Biden name “would help attract a trendy free-spending crowd.”

And Joe Biden had called Farmers chairman to complain about a bank vice president threatening Jim, telling him that failure to pay would embarrass Joe. “They were trying to use me as a bludgeon,” Joe told the newspaper.

William Oldaker was not the only Joe Biden ally to boost Jim’s career or lend him money.

In the mid-1980s, Jim worked for a consulting and actuarial firm for employee pension plans headed by Joel Boyarsky, national finance chairman for Joe’s unsuccessful 1987 presidential bid. He and Jim did fundraising together for Joe.

As a Biden, Jim “gave me credibility,” said Boyarsky, now 81.

Boyarsky not only taught Jim about pensions but also helped him financially when Jim and Sara, a former Government Printing Office general counsel, bought a $650,000 villa outside Philadelphia.

The sellers gave them a full mortgage. And on the 1997 purchase date, Boyarsky also loaned them as much as $200,000, records show. Boyarsky said he may have made the loan but doesn’t remember it.

The next year, the IRS filed its first lien against Jim’s home to recover about $145,000 for two years of his overdue federal taxes.

The Bidens finished repaying Boyarsky in 2000. They borrowed more than $350,000 that year from Leonard Barrack, a Philadelphia lawyer and former DNC finance chairman. Joe Biden, the Senate Judiciary chairman, had named Barrack, a campaign donor, to his honorary council of advisers. A few months after the Barrack loan, Jim paid off the IRS.

Jim and Sara Biden’s relationship with Barrack soon soured. Barrack’s law firm sued the couple in 2004, alleging that it had hired Sara at Jim Biden’s request to court local government and pension fund clients. Jim Biden would also help generate business “through his family name and his resemblance to his brother, United States Senator Joseph Biden of Delaware,” the complaint said.

Instead, the firm alleged, Jim and Sara had used law firm resources to fuel their consulting company, the Lion Hall Group. The law firm said that it had paid Sara nearly $250,000, plus salary, for the couple to travel to Alaska, Hawaii, France and Italy.

Jim and Sara countersued and the parties reached a settlement in 2004, although its terms are unclear. Barrack did not respond to requests for comment.

The loan from Barrack was satisfied in May 2004, records show. A few months later, the couple borrowed $400,000 from businessman Thomas Knox, a Joe Biden donor and fundraiser who ran unsuccessfully for Philadelphia mayor in 2007. Jim Biden, a donor to Knox’s campaign, finished paying the loan in 2013.

Jim “has been a friend of mine for a while,” Knox said, adding that he may have met Joe through Jim. “There is nothing nefarious here.”

Roy Pinto was among those who discovered that Jim’s business ventures, like Joe’s campaigns, were a family affair.

In 2006, Pinto became vice chair of Corrections USA, an advocacy group for public prison guards. One of its members’ needs, he knew, was better insurance coverage. They worked dangerous jobs in buildings that were often antiquated and overcrowded. Disability insurance was limited to job injuries; if a stress-related condition flared up in retirement, they had to pay out of pocket.

So Pinto solicited bidders to supply comprehensive insurance for his then-8,000 members. A little-known brokerage, Biden & Caveney LLC, expressed interest. The firm had been established when Edward Caveney, who had negotiated insurance deals for dozens of Massachusetts cities and towns, hooked up with Jim Biden. They met through Boston connections, including Larry Rasky, a public relations consultant who had been communications director for both of Joe Biden’s presidential campaigns.

“Ed’s the guy with the feet on the street, (Jim) Biden would provide the name and contacts,” said one insurance executive who worked with Caveney.

Part of the brokerage’s strategy was to parlay the Biden name into access to law enforcement unions and organizations that admired Joe’s support for police. At one event, held in a luxury box at Fenway Park during a Boston Red Sox game, Jim courted representatives of police and firefighter organizations, with the help of James Machado, executive director of the Massachusetts Police Association.

Machado said in an interview that he was friendly with Caveney, who had pitched insurance products to law enforcement before. When Caveney asked for help and mentioned the Biden connection, Machado agreed. He had only met Jim once, but he’d known Joe “way back when,” and his police association had honored Joe.

“We provided an entree into some of the police departments for them to try and go in and pitch that product,” Machado recalled. “I was familiar with the Bidens. I felt comfortable with the Bidens.

Caveney also hoped that Jim Biden could help him grow business beyond Massachusetts, where he’d been entangled in a controversy. As insurance broker for Pittsfield, Massachusetts, Caveney let what was known as its “stop loss” coverage for employees’ health care lapse — despite taking almost $300,000 in city money to pay for it.

As a result, the city was exposed to $628,000 in claims. It was a “deep, deep shock,” said its treasurer, David Kiley. In the ensuing furor, Kiley was forced to resign, the mayor decided not to seek reelection and the Massachusetts attorney general launched an investigation into the city’s finances. Caveney reimbursed the $628,000 and half of his fee and was not criminally charged.

Pinto, the Corrections USA vice chair, was unaware of this incident. He was a registered Republican, but he admired Joe Biden’s criminal justice record. In meetings with Corrections USA executives, Jim and his partner offered an attractive package and emphasized their Washington clout. Jim “makes sure he tells you his brother is Joe Biden,” Pinto said. “‘We’re brothers, we’re close.’”

One day in 2007, Pinto recalled, was an all-out Biden blitz. In the morning, he and other Corrections USA executives took Amtrak from Philadelphia to Washington for meetings. When Jim boarded in Delaware, he “brought Joe back to say hello,” Pinto recalled.

On Capitol Hill, Pinto’s group met with the senator, who chaired the Judiciary Committee’s subcommittee on crime and drugs. Pinto had his photo taken with Joe, and a Biden aide discussed the group’s priorities. That evening, Pinto said, they dined with Hunter Biden, then a lobbyist with Oldaker in Washington.

Biden & Caveney gave a benefits overview at the group’s annual conference.

Then the deal fell apart. Pinto and another association executive said the group balked at Jim’s demand for an unusual arrangement to pay Biden & Caveney’s fees. They had assumed that Corrections USA would pay the fees out of member dues. But Jim insisted that the guards pay all dues — roughly $750,000 a year, deducted automatically from their paychecks — to Biden & Caveney. It would keep its fees of about $120,000 and disburse the rest to Corrections USA.

Spokespeople for Jim Biden and the Biden campaign disputed Pinto’s account of the breakup but did not explain why.

After registering as an insurance agent in at least 10 states, Biden & Caveney dissolved in 2011, records show. Dennis DiMarzio, formerly an insurance executive and Boston’s chief operating officer, who helped Biden & Caveney land government contracts, said that Caveney ended the partnership.

“In spite of the name Biden, I don’t think Jimmy was successful in bringing in contracts, which is surprising, because the name carries a lot of weight,” he said.

Both ex-partners stayed in the benefits business. Caveney established an employee benefits firm in Puerto Rico. Approached at his Massachusetts home, Caveney declined comment. Later, he did not return phone messages.

Jim Biden and his wife are principals of BBS Benefits Solutions in Connecticut, which caters to large employers and labor unions.

Its motto: “When families feel secure about their future, they can have peace of mind for today.”

Ed Caveney had problems in Pittsfield before he hooked up with Jim Biden. Some of Jim’s other associates encountered legal trouble after he worked with them — or while they were discussing potential partnerships.

In August 2007, Jim accompanied Joe to Oxford, Mississippi. The senator was running for president, and his supporters were holding a fundraiser for him at the Oxford University Club.

Among the hosts was plaintiff’s attorney Dickie Scruggs, dubbed “America’s most powerful trial lawyer” in a book by Wilkie, who teaches journalism at the University of Mississippi. Unbeknownst to Joe, Scruggs was then under federal investigation for bribing a local judge. The brother-in-law of former Republican Senate majority leader Trent Lott, Scruggs had gained fame — and nearly a billion dollars — by brokering a landmark 1998 settlement with four major tobacco companies, which paid more than $200 billion to 46 states to resolve tobacco-related health care claims.

That deal had come after the companies and state attorneys general first sought to wrap the state cases in a single federal settlement requiring the companies to pay more than $360 billion. As the bill reached the Senate, Scruggs retained Jim and Sara Biden’s Lion Hall Group to lobby for its passage.

In a lawsuit deposition, Scruggs vaguely explained Jim and Sara Biden’s role. “I’m not sure they’re lobbyists, but they are a firm that’s headed up by … the person I deal with in the firm, I don’t know who heads it up, is a gentleman named James or Jim Biden, B-I-D-E-N, who’s the brother of Sen. Joseph Biden,” he said. “And he gave us a great deal of advice about what was going on on Capitol Hill during the tobacco legislative effort.”

The bill, which Joe Biden supported, died in the Senate. Scruggs then crafted the settlement with the states, which did not require congressional approval.

Nine years later, when Jim came to Oxford, his old tobacco connections offered a new business opportunity. Among the other fundraiser hosts were Scruggs associates Steve Patterson and Timothy Balducci. Patterson was a former state auditor who resigned in 1996 and pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge of filing a false affidavit to keep from paying county taxes. A former aide to Mississippi Sen. John C. Stennis, Patterson had raised money for Joe Biden’s 1987 presidential bid.

At the time of the fundraiser, Patterson and Balducci, a lawyer, were looking for a Washington presence for a practice they were setting up in New Albany, Mississippi.

They added Sara Biden to the venture, to be called Patterson Balducci & Biden. But it collapsed as a federal bribery investigation caught Balducci on wiretaps arranging a $40,000 bribe for a local judge.

Balducci pleaded guilty and turned over details of the scheme that drew in Patterson, Scruggs and others. All pleaded guilty.

One of Scruggs’ lawyers early in the case was Joey Langston, who would soon plead guilty in another Scruggs-related judicial bribery case. Langston had hosted fundraisers for Joe Biden and solicited the senator’s legislative help.

Despite Langston’s guilty plea and subsequent disbarment, he and Jim Biden eventually became business associates. Both showed up as managers in Earthcare Trina International, a marketing firm affiliated with a Sacramento, California, health care company called Trina Healthcare.

“Biden was going to have a big bite of the apple,” said Shad Ellison, a corporate dealmaker who was asked to help raise money to open medical clinics that would administer Trina’s new diabetes treatment.

Trina’s “artificial pancreas treatment” was controversial. The federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services had stopped paying for the procedure in 2009, citing evidence that it doesn’t improve health outcomes. The American Diabetes Association agreed. Nevertheless, Trina’s founder, lawyer G. Ford Gilbert, tried to push a bill through the Alabama Legislature requiring private insurers to cover the treatment. He pleaded guilty in January 2019 to federal bribery charges and was sentenced to six months in prison.

Langston did not respond to a request for comment. A spokesman for Jim Biden did not respond to emailed questions about Trina.

In December 2013, Jim and Sara Biden invested $2.5 million in a luxury vacation home on Keewaydin Island near Naples, Florida. The six-bedroom house can only be reached by boat, and Joe Biden vacationed there when he was vice president.

While Jim and Sara Biden racked up renovation debts, the IRS slapped them with another $589,000 lien for unpaid 2013 federal taxes.

The financial obligations led them to another Joe Biden supporter. In May 2015, as first reported by Politico, they got a $500,000 mortgage loan from a corporation recently set up by auto dealer John Hynansky. Hynansky’s corporation at the time already had a mortgage on Jim and Sara Biden’s Pennsylvania house, records show. Hynansky did not return phone calls.

The Bidens paid the back taxes and then unloaded the Florida house for $1.35 million in 2018. Hynansky’s company released its mortgages on both properties.

One of Jim’s old patrons came to his aid as well. Oldaker — whose WashingtonFirst Bank loaned Jim and Hunter $1 milion in 2006 — is now a founder and director at a new bank, Trustar, based in Virginia. Jim Biden got a $250,000 loan from Trustar last December, records show. He secured it with another mortgage on his Pennsylvania house, which is now on the market for just under $2 million.

Kirsten Berg and Doris Burke contributed reporting.

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