TruthDig.com News

House Impeachment Panel Tables Motion to Subpoena Whistleblower

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the House impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump (all times local):

4:10 p.m.

A motion to issue a congressional subpoena to compel the whistleblower whose complaint led to the House impeachment inquiry to appear behind closed doors has been put off.

Related Articles by by TomDispatch by

House intelligence Committee Chairman Rep. Adam Schiff had said earlier Wednesday that the panel would take up the motion after two diplomats completed their public testimony.

As Schiff proposed tabling the motion, Republican Rep. Mike Conaway of Texas, who had raised the motion earlier in the day, said, “I know you’re afraid of hearing from the whistleblower.”

The committee voted along party lines to table the motion.

The impeachment inquiry was sparked after the whistleblower’s complaint about President Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy. The complaint alleged Trump pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate Joe Biden’s family.

__

3:37 p.m.

Testimony in the House’s first public impeachment hearing has ended, with more hearings to come.

State Department officials William Taylor and George Kent testified for more than five hours Wednesday about their concerns with President Donald Trump’s requests that Ukraine investigate Democrats as the U.S. withheld military aid to the country.

Democrats are investigating those requests, and whether they were linked, as they move toward an impeachment vote.

Republicans said the witnesses didn’t have firsthand knowledge and noted the aid was eventually released. The U.S. government released the money after pressure from senators in early September.

Next up will be former U.S. Ambassador to Ukraine Marie Yovanovitch, who was ousted in May on Trump’s orders. She will testify Friday.

Next week, the House Intelligence Committee will hear from eight more witnesses in the impeachment probe.

___

3:30 p.m.

A Republican lawmaker in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump says the whistleblower is the “one witness” who should be brought in front of the American people.

Rep. Jim Jordan of Ohio says the whistleblower, whose complaint touched off the inquiry, should come before the committee. He says he wants to know the identity of the whistleblower, a CIA officer assigned to the White House.

Jordan earlier complained that the witnesses Wednesday testifying publicly for the first time didn’t have firsthand knowledge of the accusations and never spoke directly to President Donald Trump.

The whistleblower has not been asked to testify.

Democratic Rep. Peter Welch of Ohio said he’d be glad to have the person who started it all testify: “President Trump is welcome to sit right there.”

___

3 p.m.

The two veteran diplomats testifying in the House impeachment hearing are denying President Donald Trump’s accusation that they adamantly oppose him.

Shortly before Wednesday’s House Intelligence Committee hearing began, Trump tweeted, “NEVER TRUMPERS!” He mentioned no evidence.

California Democratic Rep. Eric Swalwell asked both men if Trump’s claim was true.

State Department official George Kent said he’s served under three Republican and two Democratic presidents during his 27 years of service. He said he serves “whatever president is duly elected” and carries out their foreign policies. He oversees U.S. policy in Ukraine and other countries in Eastern Europe and the Caucasus.

William Taylor answered, “No sir.” Taylor is the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine and was recruited by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to serve there.

___

2:40 p.m.

Republicans say two State Department witnesses testifying in Democrats’ first impeachment hearing can’t know if President Donald Trump did anything wrong because they haven’t met him.

Ohio Rep. Mike Turner asked diplomats William Taylor and George Kent if either had ever met Trump. Both said they had not.

Democrats are investigating Trump’s requests that Ukraine investigate Democrats as military aid was withheld. Taylor and Kent have said they had concerns about the requests and understood one was conditioned on the other.

Republicans say there’s no case because they are basing their knowledge on secondhand information and because the aid was eventually released. The aid was released following a congressional outcry.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham tweeted about Turner’s exchange and said “This country deserves so much better.”

___

2:15 p.m.

Republican Rep. Jim Jordan has told the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine that he is “wrong” to have said there was a clear understanding that President Donald Trump was withholding military aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations of Democrats.

Jordan was questioning William Taylor during the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry.

Taylor has said his understanding was based on conversations with other diplomats. But Jordan said the president of Ukraine never announced an investigation and the aid was eventually released.

The aid was released in September following an outcry in the U.S. Congress.

Jordan mockingly called Taylor the Democrats’ “star witness” and said he’s “seen church prayer chains that are easier to understand than this.”

Taylor responded that he didn’t consider himself a star witness.

___

1:50 p.m.

A lawyer handling the questioning for Republican lawmakers during the impeachment proceedings is suggesting that the Trump administration’s interactions with Ukraine could have been more “outlandish” than they actually were.

Steve Castor asked William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, if the “irregular channel” the administration used for outreach to Ukraine was “not as outlandish as it could be.”

Taylor laughed, but then conceded that it was not.

Taylor has described an “irregular channel” in which Ukraine policy was delegated to President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union, for the purpose of advancing the president’s personal and political interests.

___

1:30 p.m.

Ukraine is playing a starring role in historic U.S. impeachment hearings — but Ukrainians themselves seem more worried about a divisive government plan for land reform.

Ukraine’s day was wrapping up by the time Wednesday’s public hearing started in Washington, and local newscasts focused on a bill that would allow Ukrainians to sell their land for the first time in nearly 20 years. Kyiv residents had strong opinions about that measure, but appeared perplexed by the details of what’s happening in the U.S. Congress.

Ukrainian officials have sought to distance themselves from the impeachment inquiry.

Former legislator Serhiy Leshchenko is among the few following the proceedings closely. He fears that Ukraine may have to wait for next year’s U.S. election to renew normal relations with Washington.

1:15 p.m.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee says President Donald Trump “would have a perfectly good reason for wanting to find out what happened” if there were indications that Ukraine meddled in the 2016 presidential election.

California Rep. Devin Nunes is questioning State Department witnesses in the first public hearing in the Democrats’ impeachment probe.

National security officials have told Congress they don’t believe Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election.

Democrats opened the investigation after a whistleblower complaint revealed that Trump had requested that Ukraine investigate political rival Joe Biden and his family and Ukraine’s role in the 2016 election.

Democrats say the requests for politically motivated investigations are impeachable, but Republicans disagree.

___

12:45 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he’s been “too busy” to watch the first public impeachment hearing.

But he told reporters as he meets with his Turkish counterpart in the Oval Office that he’s “sure” he’ll “get a report” from staff on the hearing, which he dismisses as a” witch hunt” and a “hoax.”

Trump is also criticizing the use of staff lawyers to question witnesses. He’s dismissing Daniel Goldman, the investigations chief for Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, and Steve Castor, the chief investigative counsel for Republicans, as “television lawyers.”

William Taylor and George Kent are testifying Wednesday in the first public hearing of the House impeachment inquiry.

Investigators are examining whether Trump abused the power of his presidency by pressing Ukraine’s leader to investigate his political rivals.

___

12:15 p.m.

President Donald Trump is calling the public impeachment hearings that kicked off Wednesday the “single greatest scam in the history of American politics.”

Trump is responding to the hearings with a new video directed at his supporters and released by the White House.

Trump says in the video filmed in the White House Rose Garden that Democrats want to take away his viewers’ guns, health care, freedom and votes.

He adds that, “They’re trying to stop me because I’m fighting for you. And I’ll never let that happen.”

Trump has spent the morning responding to the hearing on Twitter. He will be holding a press conference alongside his Turkish counterpart later in the day.

__

12:10 p.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine is telling impeachment investigators that detailed notes he took about what he saw as irregular policy in Ukraine may be provided to Congress “sooner or later.”

William Taylor says the notes “may be coming” even though the State Department has so far defied a subpoena to provide documents related to President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine.

Dan Goldman, chief of investigations for the House intelligence panel, responded that they would “welcome” those notes.

Taylor has said that he based his testimony about concerns over the policy on detailed notes, including notepads he kept at his desk and in his pocket. But Trump has directed federal agencies not to cooperate with the impeachment investigation, and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said he won’t provide the documents.

Taylor is testifying Wednesday in the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.

___

12:05 p.m.

As the House opens public hearings in its impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump, it also is continuing the closed-door sessions.

Two more witnesses are expected this week. David Holmes a State Department official, was invited to appear Friday. And Mark Sandy, the associate director for national security programs at the White House Office of Management and Budget, was invited for Saturday.

That’s according to an official working on the impeachment inquiry who was not authorized to divulge details of the closed-door hearings.

It’s not clear they will appear. Some witnesses have, others have not.

House members have heard from several witnesses on whether Trump withheld security aid to Ukraine in exchange for investigations into Joe Biden’s son’s role on the board of a Ukrainian gas company and possible interference in the 2016 U.S. elections.

— By Mary Clare Jalonick

___

11:55 a.m.

William Taylor, the top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine, says that a cellphone conversation his aide overheard between another diplomat and President Donald Trump in July shows that the president cares more about investigations into Democrat Joe Biden than he does about Ukraine.

In Democrats’ first public impeachment hearing, Taylor said “yes, sir” when House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff asked him if the importance of that overheard conversation was that Trump cared more about the politically motivated probes he was requesting from Ukraine than he did about the East European ally itself.

Taylor told lawmakers that the unnamed aide had told him about the cellphone conversation he overheard between European Union Ambassador Gordan Sondland and Trump on July 26.

He said he didn’t know about that call when he first testified behind closed doors Oct. 22.

___

11:45 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine says he thought it was “crazy” and “illogical” for the Trump administration to make military aid contingent on Ukraine announcing investigations into political rival Joe Biden.

William Taylor made the statements in response to questioning from Daniel Goldman, the investigations chief for Rep. Adam Schiff, the Democratic chairman of the House Intelligence Committee.

Taylor said the security assistance was important not only to Ukraine but to America’s own military interests. He said “it made no sense” to withhold that money and was “counterproductive to all of what we had been trying to do.”

Goldman showed Taylor text messages he sent to other diplomats explaining his belief that it was “crazy” to withhold the military aid for political gain.

___

11:40 a.m.

President Donald Trump isn’t watching the public House impeachment hearings against him.

That’s according to Stephanie Grisham, the president’s chief spokeswoman. Grisham tells reporters by email that Trump is participating in meetings in the Oval Office.

She writes: “Not watching. He’s working.”

Trump is scheduled around noon to receive Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (REH’-jehp TY’-ihp UR’-doh-wahn) for meetings, including a separate gathering with senators invited by the White House. Trump and Erdogan are also slated to hold a joint news conference at the White House.

Trump opened Wednesday by lashing out on Twitter at the inquiry and the two career U.S. diplomats who are testifying.

The inquiry focuses on a July telephone call in which Trump sought to get the leader of Ukraine to investigate Trump’s political rivals.

Trump denies wrongdoing and has described the conversation as “perfect.”

___

11:30 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine says two other envoys invoked President Donald Trump’s history as a businessman in trying to explain the U.S. relationship with Ukraine.

William Taylor described for lawmakers a September phone call in which Gordon Sondland, the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, told him that Trump is a businessman and that businessmen ask people who owe something to pay up before they write out a check.

He says Kurt Volker used the same language several days later while they were together at the Yalta European Strategy Conference in Ukraine.

Taylor says he told both that the explanation made no sense and that the Ukrainians did not owe Trump anything and that holding up security assistance for domestic political gain was “crazy.”

Taylor is testifying Wednesday in the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.

11:15 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine says he was told that military aid to Ukraine and a White House visit for the new leader were contingent on a public announcement of investigations.

William Taylor told a House committee investigating impeachment against President Donald Trump that another diplomat, Ambassador Gordon Sondland, said “everything” was dependent on whether Ukraine’s president publicly announced investigations into Joe Biden’s son and potential interference in the 2016 presidential election.

Taylor says he was told Trump wanted the Ukrainian leader “in a public box” by making the statement.

But no statement was ever released.

___

11:12 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine says his staff recently told him they overheard President Donald Trump speaking on the phone to another diplomat about investigations.

William Taylor made the statement Wednesday in the first public hearing in the House impeachment inquiry.

Taylor says some of his staff were at a restaurant with Ambassador to the European Union Gordon Sondland on the day after the July 25 call between Trump and new leader of Ukraine.

Taylor told the committee that Sondland called Trump from the restaurant and the staff could hear Trump on the phone asking about “the investigations.”

Sondland told the president that the Ukrainians were ready to move forward.

The House is looking into allegations that Trump asked Ukraine to dig up dirt on the son of his Democratic rival Joe Biden and potential interference in the 2016 presidential elections.

Trump has said he did nothing wrong.

___

11: 03 a.m.

The top U.S. diplomat in Ukraine tells House lawmakers investigating impeachment that he noticed there were two policy channels operating with Ukraine, a “regular” and an “irregular” one.

William Taylor says the president’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani was guiding requests through the irregular channel, which was unaccountable to Congress.

Taylor says it slowly became clear to him that conditions were placed on Ukraine’s new president.

He had to order investigations into possible Ukrainian interference in the 2016 U.S. election, and also look into Joe Biden’s son Hunter, who sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

Taylor is testifying Wednesday in the first public hearings in the House impeachment inquiry.

___

10:55 a.m.

President Donald Trump’s reelection campaign is trying to turn public impeachment hearings into a fundraising boon.

The campaign has emailed and texted supporters urging them to give.

And they’re setting a fundraising goal of $3 million over the next 24 hours.

Trump and his campaign have been trying to turn the inquiry into a rallying cry for supporters by making the case that it is an attempt by Democrats to invalidate the results of the 2016 election and harm Trump’s chances in 2020.

They’re calling the hearings “fake” and a “TOTAL SCAM.”

One email reads that, “It’s time to make a statement” and “do something so EPIC that even the FAKE NEWS media won’t be able to ignore us while these baseless Witch Hunt Trials go on.”

___

10:50 a.m.

A top State Department official says he never saw any effort by U.S. officials to shield from scrutiny a Ukrainian natural gas company where Hunter Biden sat on the board.

George Kent is testifying Wednesday in the House impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump.

Investigators are looking into allegations that Trump asked the new Ukrainian president to dig up dirt on the son of Joe Biden, a Democratic political rival.

Hunter Biden sat on the board of the Ukrainian gas company called Burisma. Kent said he raised concerns in 2015 that his status could create the perception of a conflict of interest.

But Kent said he never saw any attempt to shield Burisma from scrutiny because of Biden’s connection to the company.

___

10:45 a.m.

There was an early clash at the first public impeachment hearing over the identity of the whistleblower whose complaint sparked the inquiry.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff said he would do everything necessary to protect the whistleblower’s identity. Schiff said he would “not permit the outing of the whistleblower.”

Republican Rep. Mike Conaway asked Schiff to subpoena the whistleblower to appear behind closed doors. Schiff said he would consider the request after two diplomats appearing before the committee on Wednesday conclude their public testimony.

The impeachment inquiry was sparked after the whistleblower’s complaint about President Donald Trump’s July 25 telephone call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy alleged that Trump pressured the Ukrainian leader to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden’s family.

Schiff said he does not know the whistleblower’s identity.

___

10:42 a.m.

A top State Department official tells a House committee investigating whether President Donald Trump should be impeached that he does not believe the U.S. should ask other countries to engage in “selective, politically associated investigations.”

George Kent, a deputy assistant secretary of state, is testifying Wednesday in the first public hearing. He has already testified in a closed session.

Kent says such “selective actions” undermine the rule of law regardless of the country.

House investigators are looking into allegations that Trump withheld military aid to Ukraine unless the new leadership agreed to investigate the son of Democratic political rival Joe Biden.

Biden’s son sat on the board of a Ukrainian gas company.

___

10:35 a.m.

The top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee says Democrats’ impeachment inquiry is “a carefully orchestrated media smear campaign.”

In his opening statement in the first public House impeachment hearing, California Rep. Devin Nunes says Democrats “turned on a dime” after the investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election and then focused on Ukraine.

He told the hearing’s two witnesses that he would like to welcome them, but said that Americans’ trust in government has been damaged as “elements of the civil service have decided that they, not the president, are really in charge.”

State Department officials George Kent and William Taylor have told lawmakers they had concerns about Trump’s Ukraine policy.

Nunes said the hearings are “an impeachment process in search of a crime.”

___

10:30 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says “there are still missing pieces” in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump.

He notes that the Trump administration has withheld many documents and several witnesses did not appear at Trump’s direction.

Schiff says that will force Congress to consider “whether Trump’s obstruction of the constitutional duties of Congress constitute additional grounds for impeachment.”

He says “this is not what our founders intended.”

___

10:22 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the impeachment inquiry is a test of “what kind of conduct or misconduct” Americans will expect of their president.

As the first public hearings begin, Schiff is seeking to frame the impeachment inquiry as a choice of what sort of presidential behavior will be tolerated.

Schiff asks if the House finds that Trump abused his power, invited foreign election interference or tried to coerce an ally to investigate a political rival, “must we simply get over it?”

That had been the message of White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney in a press conference last month, when he said it was normal for the U.S. to place conditions on foreign aid.

Schiff adds: “Is that what Americans should now expect from their president?”

___

10:18 a.m.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff says the questions at the heart of the impeachment inquiry are simple but also “terrible” to consider.

He says the matter boils down to whether President Donald Trump sought to condition a White House visit or military aid on Ukraine’s willingness to open an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden. And if he did, is that “abuse of power” incompatible with the office of the presidency.

Schiff says the answers to those questions will affect not only the future of the Trump administration but also of the presidency itself, and what kind of behavior the American public can expect from the commander in chief.

Schiff spoke Wednesday in opening the first public hearing in the impeachment inquiry.

__

9:25 a.m.

President Donald Trump is lashing out at a pair of witnesses who are set to testify as the House impeachment inquiry goes public.

Trump tweeted “NEVER TRUMPERS!” before Wednesday’s hearing opened on Capitol Hill with testimony from William Taylor, the charge d’affaires in Ukraine, and George Kent, a career diplomat. Trump sought to undermine Kent and Taylor with the tweet suggesting they are among members of the foreign policy establishment that never supported him.

Taylor and Kent worked for Republican and Democratic administrations. There’s no evidence they engaged in partisan activity opposing Trump.

The impeachment inquiry centers around a July 25 telephone call Trump had with Ukraine’s leader and Trump’s attempt to pressure the government to investigate his political rivals.

Trump maintains that the telephone conversation was “perfect” and that he did nothing wrong in his relations with Ukraine.

The Republican president also tweeted Wednesday: “READ THE TRANSCRIPT!”

___

8:40 a.m.

The Kremlin has drawn a parallel between the impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump and accusations of Russia’s interference in his election.

Asked about the hearings opening Wednesday, Russian President Vladimir Putin’s spokesman Dmitry Peskov responded that “there are a lot of things far-fetched.”

Peskov compared the proceedings to the U.S. claims of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election, which he described as having “little relation to reality.”

The Kremlin has shrugged off special counsel Robert Mueller’s exposure of Russian interference in the vote.

Mueller found there wasn’t enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But Mueller charged 12 Russian military intelligence officers with breaking into Democratic Party computers and the email accounts of officials with Hillary Clinton’s campaign.

Democrats are looking into Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to investigate his rival Joe Biden’s family. Trump calls the impeachment proceedings a “scam.”

The post House Impeachment Panel Tables Motion to Subpoena Whistleblower appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Venice ‘on Its Knees’ After Worst Flood in 5 Decades

VENICE, Italy—The worst flooding in Venice in more than 50 years prompted calls Wednesday to better protect the historic city from rising sea levels as officials calculated hundreds of millions of euros in damage.

The water reached 1.87 meters (6.14 feet) above average sea level Tuesday, the second-highest level ever recorded in the city and just 7 centimeters (2½ inches) lower than the historic 1966 flood. Another wave of exceptionally high water followed Wednesday.

“Venice is on its knees,’’ Mayor Luigi Brugnaro said on Twitter. “St. Mark’s Basilica has sustained serious damage, like the entire city and its islands.”

Related Articles by Climate News Network by Climate News Network by Climate News Network

One death was blamed on the flooding, on the barrier island of Pellestrina. A man in his 70s was apparently electrocuted when he tried to start a pump in his dwelling, said Danny Carrella, an official on the island of 3,500 inhabitants.

In Venice, the crypt beneath St. Mark’s Basilica was inundated for only the second time in its history. Damage was also reported at the Ca’ Pesaro modern art gallery, where a short circuit set off a fire, and at La Fenice theater, where authorities turned off electricity as a precaution after the control room was flooded.

Italy’s culture minister, Dario Franceschini, said no damage had been reported to art collections in museums throughout the city. Many sites remained closed to tourists, and La Fenice canceled concerts Wednesday and Thursday evening.

Tourists floated suitcases through St. Mark’s Square, where officials removed walkways to prevent them from drifting away. Wooden boards that shop and hotel owners have placed on doors in previous floods couldn’t hold back the water.

The water was so high that nothing less than thigh-high boots afforded protection, and one man was even filmed swimming bare-chested in St. Mark’s Square during what appeared to be the height of the flood.

“I have often seen St. Mark’s Square covered with water,’’ Venice’s patriarch, Monsignor Francesco Moraglia, told reporters. “Yesterday there were waves that seemed to be the seashore.”

Brugnaro said damage would reach hundreds of millions of euros. He called on Rome to declare a state of emergency.

“We are not just talking about calculating the damages, but of the very future of the city’’ Brugnaro told reporters. “Because the population drain also is a result of this.”

He described “untold damages, to houses, shops, activities, not to mention monuments and works of art. We risked our lives as well.”

The flooding was caused by southerly winds that pushed a high tide, exacerbated a full moon, into the city.

Rising sea levels because of climate change coupled with Venice’s well-documented sinking make the city built amid a system of canals particularly vulnerable. The sea level in Venice is 10 centimeters (4 inches) higher than it was 50 years ago, according to the city’s tide office.

Damage included five ferries that serve as water buses, a critical means of transportation. Photos on social media showed taxi boats and gondolas grounded on walkways flanking canals.

Brugnaro blamed climate change for the “dramatic situation” and called for a speedy completion of a long-delayed project to construct offshore barriers.

Called “Moses,” the moveable undersea barriers are meant to limit flooding. But the project, which has been opposed by environmentalists concerned about damaging the delicate lagoon ecosystem, has been delayed by cost overruns and corruption scandals, with no launch date in site.

Luca Zaia, governor of the Veneto region, told SkyTG24 that the barriers were almost complete, but it wasn’t clear if they would work against such flooding.

“Despite 5 billion euros under water, St. Mark’s Square certainly wouldn’t be secure,’’ Zaia said, referring to one of Venice’s lowest points, which floods when there is an inundation of 80 centimeters (2.6 feet).

Zaia also expressed concern about snowfalls in the mountains above Venice, where up to 1.2 meters (4 feet) was expected.

Across the Adriatic Sea, an intense storm with powerful winds caused floods in towns in Croatia and Slovenia.

In the Croatian town of Split, authorities said the flooding submerged the basement area of the Roman-era Diocletian’s Palace, where emergency crews battled to pump out the water.

Hydrographic Institute Croatia said sea levels on Wednesday in Split and Ploce were the highest since 1955, when monitoring started.

___

Colleen Barry reported from Milan. Jovana Gec in Belgrade also contributed.

The post Venice ‘on Its Knees’ After Worst Flood in 5 Decades appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Is Trump the Most Corrupt President in American History?

What follows is a conversation between former whistleblower Bill Black and Marc Steiner of The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

MARC STEINER: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Marc Steiner. Great to have you all with us.

The impeachment hearings are scheduled to begin tomorrow. What could be the Republican defense? I think it was well articulated by Louisiana Senator John Kennedy on Face the Nation this past Sunday.

JOHN KENNEDY: The quid pro quo, in my judgment, is a red herring. Here are the two possible scenarios. Number one, the president asked for an investigation of a political rival. Number two, the President asked for an investigation of possible corruption by someone who happens to be a political rival. The latter would be in the national interest. The former would be in the President’s parochial interest and would be over the line.

I think this case is going to come down to the president’s intent, his motive; did he have a culpable state of mind? For me, Margaret, there are only two relevant questions that need to be answered. Why did the president ask for an investigation?

MARGARET BRENNAN: Mm-hmm.

JOHN KENNEDY: Number two–and this is inextricably linked to the first question–what did Mr. Hunter Biden do for the money?

MARC STEINER: So the Republicans are searching for a defense, but what do they really have? Is there a there there? Many progressives argue that there is no there there with Ukrainegate or “quid pro quo.” Is that real? Republicans are panicking. And on the verge of public impeachment hearings, some argue politically that impeachment might enhance Trump’s chance of victory in 2020; others saying no effect at all, we don’t know any of that. Others support this is the only way to oust him and consider him the most corrupt president in U.S. history.

Some would say, “There are three things.” In one article on Slate: “It’s sex, power and money that are the downfall of the powerful.” Is that the case here? Trump may have all three, but what’s going on here? And what is that there there, that the impeachments will base their work on? We’ll examine how all this corruption may play out, what it might mean and realize ahead of this impeachment hearings. And is it really a precedent for any of this at all? What did we learn from the past?

We’re joined once again by Bill Black, who is associate professor of economics and law at the university of Missouri, Kansas City. He is a white collar criminologist, former financial regulator, author of The Best Way to Rob a Bank is to Own One. And Bill, welcome back. Good to have you with us.

BILL BLACK: Thank you.

MARC STEINER: So what’s your first reactions to Senator Kennedy?

BILL BLACK: Um…

MARC STEINER: That’s what I thought it would be. I knew that was going to be your answer.

BILL BLACK: You see, all you have to say is that “I’m using the power of the United States government to attack at my political opponent because I really think that my political opponent is a bad person,” and then it’s okay; it’s completely kosher. No, that’s not right. Even as a technical matter of law, in fact, this is precisely the kind of thing that the founding fathers cited in the Federalist Papers and such as their great fear, the use of the power of the office for personal gain, particularly in circumstances where one might be making foreign powers happy.

Indeed, one of the earliest impeachments in the history of the United States was for a federal official who was, in that case, involved in machinations with the United Kingdom against the United States of America. So if they try to make that their legal defense, it will fail. But of course law has its limits in the impeachment process, which ultimately is inherently a political act as well.

MARC STEINER: So what do you say to those, even some progressive voices and maybe talk to a few later this week, who would say that there is no real quid pro quo there that this is Ukraine-gate is just kind of nothing. It’d be like Russia-gate. It’s all a waste of time and it’s not getting to the heart of the issue or how do you respond to that when you look at what’s going on around?

BILL BLACK: Trump’s corruption is, I think, in many ways the heart of the issue. He is the most corrupt president in the history of the United States and it’s not even close. Harding and Grant had been relegated to footnotes in history of U.S. corruption. And on top of that, he is the most pro corruption president of any president of the United States.

MARC STEINER: What does that mean?

BILL BLACK: So for example, he came into office with the express goal of weakening as much as possible, the foreign corrupt practices act and the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act is a statute against the bribery of foreign public officials by United States persons, right? Typically, business types. Now, this is one of the best things that we ever adopted. The Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. The Europeans mocked us when we did it originally over 20 years ago saying, “Corruption is the way of the world and you’re just not going to be able to compete with us, you fools.”

In places like Germany, you could not only bribe foreign officials; you could openly declare it as a tax expense on your income tax returns for the corporation. But that changed in the OECD, Organization of Economic Cooperation and Development. Essentially the top 30-ish economies now mandates that you have some version of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. Trump as a businessperson hated the act and came into this office determined to weaken it wherever possible. And the administration is weakening it.

MARC STEINER: Now, let me ask you a quick question. It is just to describe something for our viewers for a moment. When you say he weakened it, and when he came in specifically one of the things he wanted to do was to do that, how has he weakened it? What do you mean? Detail that just a little bit for us.

BILL BLACK: So it, it’s in multiple ways but the largest single way is that they’ve redirected enforcement towards minor cases and towards minor penalties. So, that pretty much does it in terms of the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act. They’ve made it a very process oriented as opposed to actually putting the people that bribe public officials, the powerful ones, in prison as we used to do. But on top of that, Attorney General Barr is noted for one thing in particular, historically. He is a leading opponent of the False Claims Act. The False Claims Act allows Americans to bring actions on behalf of the U.S. Government when people through corrupt means are defrauding the United States of America.

So this is whistleblowers. And as you can see, the administration despises whistleblowers because they are the scourge of powerful corruption. And so Barr excoriated whistleblowers as low lives that needed to be crushed and that we should get rid of the entire statute, which by the way was adopted in the Civil War under President Lincoln as a means of preventing corrupt corporations from by bribing public officials to make a fortune. In the case of you Ukraine, you have direct corruption as the goal of the administration. So you have the treasury secretary openly putting cronies who are major political donors to him on the board of Ukrainian oil corporations, which I thought was the criticism of Biden’s side.

And then you have Giuliani with these “associates” who are also under indictment for personal corruption in all of this, in which Giuliani and others are refusing to testify as to what in God’s name they were using their power to try to accomplish. But these folks are indeed very well known. And again, the Department of Justice, the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Southern district of New York in the indictment has said that they are working in league with organized criminals–leading organized criminals at that–from Russia.

MARC STEINER: And then you have Lev Parnas and Igor Fruman, who are working with Rudy Giuliani, the two Ukrainians who are involved with the mob and money. They went there to say, “Go after Biden and give us some more money.”

BILL BLACK: They went there on an anti-corruption mission, right?

MARC STEINER: Right.

BILL BLACK: So this is hilarious. So whatever Trump does or accuses anyone of doing, just like Charles Keating back in the day used to accuse us as regulators of doing the things type of things that he did. He was convinced that the only reason we could be standing up to his crimes was because we must be a short selling his stock because of course that’s what he would have done as a regulator. Of course, it never entered our minds to try to do any such things. But that’s what he always accused people of, precisely the kinds of things–securities fraud in his context–that he was doing. And so Trump instantly goes to corruption because that is what he does. Indeed, just he settled the case in which he ripped off the charities.

MARC STEINER: Right? Exactly.

BILL BLACK: So this is a profoundly corrupt person whose instinct is always to corrupt the system.

MARC STEINER: So a couple of questions, just taking a step backwards to the impeachment of president Richard Nixon. And a couple of things here; two questions about this. A) is that when that was going on… And there was a much more of a bipartisan push to get through some impeachment going against Nixon. But the Republicans and others, because they were open to hearings, were allowed to question whatever was being brought up by those who were on the committee. The Republicans are arguing they are not given the same rights to do that now. Let’s touch on this. How about that for a second? Because this is going to be a powerfully persuasive argument among the public, especially among those who were saying, “I like Trump. I want to vote for president for Donald Trump.” Or those who may be teetering. So it becomes a major issue. So what is your take on that? Since you’ve been…

BILL BLACK: Okay. So let’s divide it up. First there was the Republican freak out about the fact that they were taking depositions in front of the committee members, but not in front of the cameras. Right?

MARC STEINER: Right.

BILL BLACK: That was under rules adopted by the Republicans. Those are literally the rules adopted by the Republican leaders of the house of representatives. To say that this was an outrage, it is a hilarious, in fact, of course everybody uses the analogy. Indeed, you can go on the official website of the house, and this hasn’t changed under Democrats, and you’ll see that they explain that it the house functions like a grand jury in the impeachment process. And as people know, the grand jury is a process in which you don’t tell the public what questions they are asking so the criminal suspects can’t coordinate their testimony.

In any event, the rules of the Democrats have now adopted for the open phase of the investigation give far more rights than any rules in the past that either the Republicans or Democrats have used on impeachment. So, you know, that whole thing is going to be mooted out. Now what you are going to have is something we have never seen before in the impeachment process. People trying to turn it into gorilla theater. This was wonderful, a fake takeover of the and such. And you’ve seen the special appointment of Jim Jordan, the disgraced former wrestling coach of Ohio State because he’s quite willing to do anything and everything for Trump and he’s … so he’s clearly going to try to stage guerrilla theater. And he’s going to try to out the whistleblower to intimidate not just the whistleblower but more importantly from their perspective, anybody from being a future whistleblower.

They’re going to attack the Biden’s even though that actually has nothing to do with all of this. It’s simply a pretext for the use and abuse of the power. Again, you don’t need a quid pro quo looks like the Democrats are finally waking up and not using that as a trap. Using both the Latin which the public doesn’t understand and the fact that you don’t need a this for that under this provision. It has long been known that this is an abuse whether you get something in return. Simply the attempt to use governmental power for personal gains against political opponents is more than sufficient to establish the grounds for impeachment and indeed for conviction in the Senate.

MARC STEINER: So before we run out of time–we’re close to our time limit here. You raised the issue of Jordan and maybe others outing the whistleblower. Supposing that happened, what would that mean? And in terms of both a whistleblower and in terms of, you know, just exposing this and you alluded to that in your comments. So talk just for a moment very quickly about what that would mean if that actually happened. Because it could very well happen, them finding out who it is and letting it out.

BILL BLACK: Yes. They claim to have already found out and they, you know, put it on Twitter and things like that. So I’m a serial whistleblower and a co-founder of Bank Whistleblowers United. What we’ve found is a unique asset of the United States compared to other nations is we have many more people willing to speak truth to power in circumstances even when it really is very threatening if your identity comes out. My two co-founders of Bank Whistleblowers United are these super bankers who did everything right. Their warnings proved to be absolutely correct.

They didn’t try to be whistleblowers, they tried to warn people internally to do the right thing and such. And now 11 years later, they remain unemployed and unemployable in every aspect of the financial industry in the United States, which is their home. So this effort is to punish this whistleblower. Not even so much for their hate of this whistleblower that I’ve though obviously they do, but to deter future whistleblowers that will out future crimes or existing crimes we don’t know about yet of this administration. That’s what they’re desperate to do. That’s the whole goal.

And then, of course, they will smear that person to demonstrate how miserable they can make their life–again, as a way of deterring future folks. That’s what’s at issue. And anybody who is interested in speaking truth to power ought to be powerfully against this kind of abuse of the system. And again, we have never had in any of these impeachment outcomes this willingness on the part of one party, not only to defend conduct that they know is in fact actually criminal, but to also destroy the people with integrity who did try to speak truth to power. And that is shameful.

MARC STEINER: Yeah. And there’s a vast difference here. Maybe next time we get into a bit more between what’s happening here and what happened with Richard Nixon, which was this bumbling, idiotic move to go after a person who’s going to defeat anyway and breaking into his offices. But this is actually if true conspiring with another government to go after it. Another political figure in this country.

BILL BLACK: And sent to extort that foreign government in this context.

MARC STEINER: Exactly, extort. So Bill, it’s always a pleasure to talk to you. I look forward to talking right to more about this with you as this unfolds and hearing your thoughts and ideas and analysis. But Bill Black, always going to talk to you. Thank you so much for being with us once again.

The hearings begin tomorrow. We’ll be covering what goes on there; George Kent, Marie Yovanovitch. And we can tell you who will be testifying tomorrow, as we’ll have folks coming on this week to debate more of that. Several different sides of looking at what’s going on with these impeachment hearings. So stay tuned, follow that, and thank you all for joining us.

I’m Marc Steiner here for The Real News Network. Take care.

The post Is Trump the Most Corrupt President in American History? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Even Rudy Giuliani’s Podcast Deal Is Incredibly Shady

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

After John Solomon ran columns in The Hill that touched off a disinformation campaign against Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden, the publication had discussions with Rudy Giuliani about a business venture.

As ProPublica revealed last month, Giuliani associate Lev Parnas had helped arrange an interview Solomon conducted with a Ukrainian prosecutor who claimed the Obama administration interfered with anti-corruption cases involving high-profile people, including Biden’s son Hunter. Giuliani, President Donald Trump’s personal lawyer, trumpeted Solomon’s work on cable news. The Hill articles are now a central component of the Trump impeachment investigation.

Less than four months after Solomon’s reporting, Giuliani and The Hill actively pursued a deal to create a podcast together, with Solomon acting as an intermediary, according to emails obtained by ProPublica. The project, which never came to fruition for unclear reasons, featured the former New York City mayor interviewing various public figures. The emails include recordings of lengthy chats with the commissioner of Major League Baseball, Rob Manfred, and a retired Marine Corps general named James T. Conway.

The Conway interview largely concerned MEK, the dissident Iranian group that the United States had designated a terrorist group until 2012. MEK has paid Giuliani at least $20,000 for appearances and lobbying on its behalf. Conway declined to comment on the interview.

Giuliani told ProPublica that the podcast grew out of discussions with The Hill’s owner, Jimmy Finkelstein, a Republican and longtime friend who served as a fundraiser for Giuliani’s failed 2008 presidential run.

“I was talking to Jimmy about a podcast that didn’t happen,” Giuliani said in an email, adding that “John Solomon was just trying to help Jimmy get it done.”

Solomon repeatedly declined to comment, saying, “I refer you to The Hill for any matters involving Hill business.”

He said he had no formal business relationship with Giuliani.

“He has never had anything to do with my personal or private business, at all. He does not now, nor will he ever,” Solomon said.

The Hill, confirming the Giuliani discussions, said it was planning to create a “podcast network with a multitude of political voices from all sides.”

Giuliani said he was “never paid” for his podcast work. “I continue to believe that your interest in this is not legitimate,” he said in emails to ProPublica. “Don’t ever try to give me bull I’ve been around too long. This is a hit job on a perfectly legitimate situation.”

Giuliani himself seems to have had a wry attitude about his close relationship with Solomon. In late June, a month before Trump urged Ukraine’s leader to investigate his top political rival, the president’s personal attorney went to a London cigar shop with Parnas and his partner Igor Fruman.

Giuliani later emailed a photo of the moment to Solomon, with a subject line that began: “Smoked Filled Room.”

Federal prosecutors in Manhattan indicted Parnas and Fruman last month on allegations that they illegally funneled money into U.S. political campaigns. Giuliani is under investigation by the same office, according to multiple reports.

Details on Solomon’s role in the genesis of the campaign against Biden continue to emerge from the Democrats’ effort to impeach the president.

This month, the House committees carrying out the impeachment inquiry released text messages from September between Kurt Volker, Trump’s former special envoy to Ukraine, and Gordon Sondland, the ambassador to the European Union. Volker informs Sondland that Giuliani will “talk w Solomon” and that the president’s attorney had “urged” him to do the same.

Solomon told ProPublica last month that his reporting was accurate and defended his sourcing, saying, “No one knew there was anything wrong with Lev Parnas at the time.”

Internal records show The Hill’s higher-ups were concerned about Solomon’s mixing of journalism and business. At one point in 2017, the then-publisher warned in an internal memo that Solomon was engaged in “reputation killing stuff.”

The memo alleged that Solomon brokered a branded content deal while influencing news coverage that benefited the group that paid for the content. Solomon deferred comment about those deals to the Hill.

When asked if he was compensated for arranging those deals, he repeatedly declined to answer.

While Solomon has left The Hill, he continues to publish stories about Ukraine and the Bidens on his personal blog. He is also a Fox News contributor. Giuliani, in turn, continues to use his work to advance the counternarrative that it was the former vice president, not Trump, who is mired in a scandal involving a foreign power.

On Nov. 5, for instance, Solomon published a story on his personal website that featured State Department emails that he said were evidence that the Ukrainian gas company on whose board Hunter Biden sat used its affiliation with the vice president’s son to leverage a meeting with a top State Department official to improve the firm’s image.

The next day, Giuliani posted an image on Twitter of one of the emails from Solomon’s story.

“Total smoking gun!” the president’s lawyer proclaimed.

The post Even Rudy Giuliani’s Podcast Deal Is Incredibly Shady appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Cuba’s Ingenious Lesson for Cities Facing Hunger

When countries run short of food, they need to find solutions fast, and one answer can be urban farming.

That was the remedy Cuba seized with both hands 30 years ago when it was confronted with the dilemma of an end to its vital food imports. And what worked then for Cuba could have lessons today for the wider world, as it faces growing hunger in the face of the climate crisis.

When the Soviet Union collapsed in the 1990s, most of Cuba’s food supplies went with it. To stave off severe malnutrition the people of the capital, Havana, found an imaginative answer: urban gardening. That’s now seen as a possible blueprint for the survival of city populations in a warming world.

Related Articles by Independent Media Institute by by

The Rapid Transition Alliance has published a longer account of Cuba’s very fast move towards self-sufficiency as part of its series Stories of Change, which describes cases of large-scale, rapid transformation that can seem difficult to achieve but which have often worked before.

The problem of hunger for the Cubans arose because during the Cold War they had stopped producing food of their own and turned over most of their farmland to sugarcane plantations to supply the Soviet Union. In return for these mountains of sugar Moscow provided Cuba with food, chemical fertilisers and fuel oil for its cars and tractors.

U.S. Sanctions

The Soviet collapse brought the breakdown of this trade, and food rationing for city dwellers. And Cuba lost its main food supply while it was still coping with strict US sanctions. Reverting to conventional farming would have taken time and was in any case difficult because the Soviet fertilisers, fuel and pesticides had also dried up.

So the highly-educated urban citizens, faced with rationing which reduced the average Cuban’s daily calorie intake from 2,600 in 1986 to 1,000-1,500 in 1993, organised themselves to grow their own food in improvised urban allotments.

At first, struggling with little know-how and without fertilisers, their yields were low, but by producing compost and other organic growing mediums, plus introducing drip-fed irrigation, they began to see improvements.

Short of chemicals, the gardeners resorted to biological controls like marigolds (where opinions today are mixed)  to deter harmful insects.

By 1995 Havana alone had 25,000 allotments tended by families and urban cooperatives. The government, realising the potential benefits, encouraged the movement.

Soil quality was improved with a mixture of crop residues, household wastes and animal manure to create more compost and soil conditioners. The extra fresh vegetables and fruit this provided quickly improved urban dwellers’ calorie intake and saved many from malnutrition.

In the Cuban climate, with irrigation changes and soils undergoing constant improvement from added organic matter, the allotments could produce vegetables all year round. Lettuce, chard, radish, beans, cucumber, tomatoes, spinach and peppers were grown and traded.

There is evidence as well that the extra exercise which these urban gardeners got from tending their allotments, plus the time they spent outdoors in the open air, benefited their health.

Eventually, realising that self-sufficiency was the only way to feed the population, the government banned sugarcane growing altogether. Lacking fertiliser, many former plantations were turned over to organic agriculture. The shortage of oil for tractors meant oxen were used for ploughing.

Partial Solution

Cuba’s experience of urban agriculture inspired many environmentalists to believe that this is at least part of the solution to the food shortages threatened by climate change. By 2008 food gardens, despite their small scale, made up 8% of the land in Havana, and 3.4% of all urban land in Cuba, producing 90% of all the fruit and vegetables consumed.

As a result the calorie intake of the average Cuban quickly rose to match that of Europeans, relying on a diet composed mainly of rice, beans, potatoes and other vegetables – a low-fat diet making obesity rare.

Because of the climate, though, wheat does not grow well in Cuba, and the island still has to import large quantities of grain for bread. Meat is in short supply and also has to be mainly imported.

Despite this, Cuba’s experience since the Cold War ended in the 1990s shows that large quantities of fresh food can be grown in cities and that urban agriculture is sustainable over decades.

For other countries vulnerable to sudden loss of food supplies, Cuba’s experience suggests that urban farming can be one way of staving off potential famine when imports are restricted, expensive or simply unobtainable.

The post Cuba’s Ingenious Lesson for Cities Facing Hunger appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Right-Wing Bolivian Senator Defies Constitution, Declares Herself President

Bolivian Senator Jeanine Añez, a leader of the nation’s right-wing opposition party, declared herself interim president of the country Tuesday night despite lacking the constitutionally required number of lawmakers to approve her appointment.

“I assume the presidency immediately and will do everything necessary to pacify the country,” declared Añez, who has a history of racist attacks against indigenous Bolivians.

Related Articles by Independent Media Institute by Independent Media Institute by FAIR

As CNN reported, members of former President Evo Morales’ leftist party did not attend the session Tuesday, leaving “the legislative chamber short of the legal minimum number of lawmakers required to appoint her.”

“The Bible returns to the Palace,” right-wing Senator Jeanine Áñez says after declaring herself President of #Bolivia w/out presence of MAS Senators, who make up 2/3 majority, so no quorum. They did not attend because they feared for their safety. Military roams streets of La Paz https://t.co/BUPNoxDQP2

— Ben Dangl (@bendangl) November 13, 2019

Morales, who resigned Sunday under threat from the Bolivian military and police forces, tweeted late Tuesday that “the most crafty and disastrous coup in history has been consummated.”

“A coupist right-wing senator calls herself president of the Senate and then interim president of Bolivia without a legislative quorum, surrounded by a group of accomplices and led by the armed forces and the police that repress the people,” said Morales, who accepted asylum in Mexico.

According to the New York Times, “the military high command met with Ms. Añez for more than an hour at the government palace Tuesday night in what her aides described as a planning session to keep the peace. At the end of the meeting, pictures were released of the senior officers saluting Ms. Añez.”

Earlier Tuesday, thousands of Morales supporters marched in opposition to the coup:

#Bolivia | Thousands of demonstrators peacefully march from El Alto to La Paz, rejecting the coup against @evoespueblo. pic.twitter.com/cH8Qe8SZnB

— teleSUR English (@telesurenglish) November 12, 2019

The Guardian reported that hundreds of Morales backers rallied near the Bolivian assembly building late Tuesday to denounce Añez’s assumption of the presidency as illegitimate.

“She’s declared herself president without having a quorum in the parliament,” Morales supporter Julio Chipana told The Guardian. “She doesn’t represent us.”

The post Right-Wing Bolivian Senator Defies Constitution, Declares Herself President appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Court: Warrantless Searches of Phones Violate Fourth Amendment

BOSTON — A federal court in Boston has ruled that warrantless U.S. government searches of the phones and laptops of international travelers at airports and other U.S. ports of entry violate the Fourth Amendment.

Tuesday’s ruling in U.S. District Court came in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union and the Electronic Frontier Foundation on behalf of 11 travelers whose smartphones and laptops were searched without individualized suspicion at U.S. ports of entry.

ACLU attorney Esha Bhandari said the ruling strengthens Fourth Amendment protections of international travelers who enter the United States every year.

The ACLU describes the searches as “fishing expeditions.” They say border officers must now demonstrate individualized suspicion of contraband before they can search a traveler’s device.

The government has vigorously defended the searches as a critical tool to protect America.

The number of electronic device searches at U.S. ports of entry has increased significantly, the ACLU said. Last year, the government conducted more than 33,000 searches, almost four times the number from just three years prior.

Documents filed as part of the lawsuit claim the scope of the warrantless searches has expanded to assist in enforcement of tax, bankruptcy, environmental and consumer protection laws, gather intelligence and advance criminal investigations.

The court documents also said agents with U.S. Customs and Border Protection and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement consider requests from other government agencies in determining whether to search travelers’ electronic devices. They added that agents are searching the electronic devices of not only targeted individuals but their associates, friends and relatives.

“By putting an end to the government’s ability to conduct suspicionless fishing expeditions, the court reaffirms that the border is not a lawless place and that we don’t lose our privacy rights when we travel,” Bhandari said in a press release.

The post Court: Warrantless Searches of Phones Violate Fourth Amendment appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Sanford Suspends GOP Presidential Primary Challenge to Trump

CONCORD, N.H. — Mark Sanford dropped his challenge to President Donald Trump for the Republican presidential nomination on Tuesday, saying the focus on impeachment has made it difficult for his campaign to gain traction.

“You’ve got to be a realist,” Sanford said outside the New Hampshire statehouse. “What I did not anticipate is an impeachment.”

The former South Carolina governor and congressman announced his decision to suspend his campaign on the eve of televised impeachment hearings in the U.S. House. He centered his campaign on warnings about the national debt but emphasized that the impeachment effort hurt his 2020 bid.

Related Articles by by by

“It was a long shot, but we wanted to try and interject this issue, how much we’re spending, into the national debate which comes along once every four years,” Sanford said. “I don’t think on the Republican side there is any appetite for a nuanced conversation on issues when there’s an impeachment overhead.”

Sanford’s departure from the race is the latest blow to the struggling “Never Trump” movement that has failed to attract a marquee GOP challenge for Trump this cycle. The only major options available for Never Trump Republican primary voters are now former Massachusetts Gov. William Weld and former Illinois Rep. Joe Walsh. Sanford did not commit to supporting either of the challengers’ campaigns Tuesday.

“I give him credit for taking a shot, for trying really,” said Bill Kristol, a director of Defending Democracy Together, a 501(c)(4) anti-Trump conservative group. “So few Republicans have had the nerve to step up at all.”

Weld, in a statement, said Sanford’s “voice in the primaries will be missed.” In an interview, Walsh said he never understood why Sanford entered the race.

“This isn’t about the debt and this isn’t about tariffs and it’s not about any issue,” Walsh said. “Trump’s unfit. It’s an emergency, and that’s the only reason you get into a primary against a sitting president.”

When Sanford floated a bid over the summer, some people who have known and worked with him for decades questioned whether the whole campaign was a publicity stunt. Joel Sawyer, Sanford’s longtime gubernatorial spokesman and press secretary, said in July that while Sanford’s commitment to fiscal restraint is deeply engrained in his persona, it was matched by his desire for publicity and limelight.

The 59-year-old Sanford won three terms for U.S. House in the 1990s, then two four-year terms as governor before an extramarital affair marred the end of his second term. But Sanford’s secret 2009 rendezvous to Argentina to visit his paramour while his in-the-dark gubernatorial staff told reporters he was hiking the Appalachian Trail however did not end his ability to win elections.

After a brief hiatus and a divorce, he returned to politics and won a special election to his old U.S. House seat in 2013, holding on twice more before his criticism of Trump led to a 2018 primary loss.

Sanford had carried over about $1.3 million from his U.S. House days to his presidential primary challenge to Trump, but Sanford’s presidential fundraising had been lackluster without the help of the prominent Republicans who boosted his past campaign efforts.

Sanford was less critical of Trump than the other primary competitors, though he warned voters in New Hampshire that Trump could become the modern-day Herbert Hoover, who was president when the Great Depression began. The point of his campaign, Sanford emphasized, was not to “bash Trump.”

Impeachment aside, Sanford’s campaign faced other hurdles as a handful of state parties canceled their primaries and other nominating contests, including in Sanford’s home state of South Carolina, to show their support for Trump’s reelection.

But the noise of impeachment, not an election, is what drove Sanford from the race.

“Again, our campaign may be a casualty of this process, but there’s a much bigger casualty out there,” Sanford said Tuesday. “That’s debate on any subject out there other than impeachment.”

___

Associated Press writer Meg Kinnard in Columbia, S.C., contributed to this report.

The post Sanford Suspends GOP Presidential Primary Challenge to Trump appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Israel Targets Islamic Jihad Leader, Sending Message to Iran

JERUSALEM — Israel on Tuesday targeted two senior commanders from the Palestinian militant group Islamic Jihad, killing one in the Gaza Strip and missing the second in Syria as it stepped up its battle against Iran and its proxies across the region.

The death of Bahaa Abu el-Atta and his wife as they slept in their home in eastern Gaza set off the heaviest fighting in months between Israel and Islamic Jihad, an Iranian-backed militant group that is even more hard-line than Gaza’s Hamas rulers. Gaza militants fired scores of rockets into Israel throughout the day, some reaching as far as Tel Aviv, while Israeli warplanes responded with a series of airstrikes on Islamic Jihad targets. Five other militants were killed.

“Whoever thinks that it is possible to hurt our citizens and evade our long arm is mistaken,” Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said at a meeting of top security officials at Israeli military headquarters in Tel Aviv.

Related Articles by by FAIR by

He described Abu el-Atta as a “ticking time bomb” and “the main instigator of terrorism” from Gaza, responsible for many rocket attacks on Israel and planning more.

He said the killing had been approved 10 days earlier, and that Israel had waited for the “optimal conditions” to hit him while minimizing civilian casualties. He said Israel was not interested in escalation but warned: “This could take time.”

Egypt, which frequently mediates between Israel and Gaza militants, was working to de-escalate tensions, according to officials in Cairo. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

In a possible sign the fighting could be brief, Gaza’s ruling Hamas militant group did not take part in Tuesday’s rocket fire. Although larger and more powerful than Islamic Jihad, Hamas is also more pragmatic. With Gaza’s economy in tatters, it appears to have little desire for another round of fighting with Israel.

Netanyahu has repeatedly said in speeches in recent weeks that Iran, Israel’s archenemy, is becoming increasingly aggressive across the region and vowed to strike back.

Iran has forces based in Syria, Israel’s northern neighbor and supports Hezbollah militants in Lebanon. In Gaza, it supplies Islamic Jihad with cash, weapons and expertise. Netanyahu has also claimed that Iran is using Iraq and far-off Yemen to plan attacks against Israel. Hamas also receives some support from Iran.

Israel frequently strikes Iranian interests in Syria. But Tuesday’s airstrike in Damascus appeared to be a rare assassination attempt of a Palestinian militant in the Syrian capital.

Syria’s state-run news agency said Israeli warplanes fired three missiles at the home of Akram al-Ajouri, a member of Islamic Jihad’s leadership living in exile. Ajouri was not harmed, but his son and granddaughter were killed, the report said. The Israeli military had no comment.

The airstrike came at a sensitive time for the Israeli leader. After two inconclusive elections this year, Netanyahu heads a caretaker government and is fighting for his political survival ahead of a possible indictment on corruption charges.

After Netanyahu failed to cobble together a parliamentary coalition following an election in September, his chief rival, Benny Gantz, is now trying to form a government.

Despite their bitter rivalry, the two projected a message of unity on Tuesday. Gantz, a former military chief who led a 2014 war against Gaza militants, said he had been consulted by Netanyahu ahead of the overnight airstrike and called it the “right decision.”

Both men have expressed support for a unity government between their parties in order to avoid yet another election. But both have demanded that they lead the government.

A successful military operation could bolster Netanyahu as he seeks to stay in power — especially if he is indicted on corruption charges, as expected, in the coming weeks.

Netanyahu has sought to portray himself as the only leader capable of steering Israel through its many security challenges. Remaining prime minister would leave him in the best position to fight any charges, since all other Cabinet ministers must automatically resign if indicted.

Efraim Inbar, president of the Jerusalem Institute for Strategy and Security, said protracted fighting could push the two men toward compromise. “It could be used as a moment for a national unity government,” he said.

But Stav Shaffir, a lawmaker with the dovish Democratic Union, questioned the timing and motives of the killing. “It’s hard not to ask questions about timing,” she tweeted. “Above every decision hovers a cloud of suspicions.”

The Gaza airstrike killed Abu el-Atta as he slept at home, destroying the top floor of his apartment building. Abu el-Atta’s relatives and the Islamic Jihad said Abu el-Atta’s wife was killed and the two wounded were their children.

Islamic Jihad is much smaller than Hamas. But with the strong support of Iran, it has become much more aggressive in its confrontations with Israel. It often acts without Hamas’ support.

In recent weeks, Israeli media had identified Abu el-Atta as a senior militant responsible for repeated rocket attacks, including a late-night barrage over the Jewish sabbath two weeks ago. His father said the Islamic Jihad commander had been in hiding in recent weeks, fearing he would be targeted.

Minutes after the group confirmed the death, rockets were fired toward Israel. Air raid sirens continued to go off throughout the day as far away as Tel Aviv.

By nightfall, the army said nearly 200 rockets had been fired, with about half landing in open spaces and dozens more intercepted by Israel’s Iron Dome defense system. But in one instance, a rocket landed on a highway, just meters (yards) from a passing vehicle. In another, a rocket pierced the roof of a residential home.

The Mada rescue service said two people were treated for shrapnel wounds.

In response, Israel shut down crossing points into Gaza and reduced the permissible fishing area off the territory’s coast to 6 nautical miles. Schools were closed, and people were told to stay home in communities stretching from the Gaza border all the way to Tel Aviv, about 90 kilometers (55 miles) away. Public shelters were opened and restrictions were placed on large gatherings.

As the rocket fire persisted, Israel struck a series of Islamic Jihad targets throughout Gaza, killing at least three militants.

The attacks also came at a difficult time for Islamic Jihad’s Iranian patrons, who are struggling under crippling U.S. sanctions.

Iran’s regional influence is also being challenged by unprecedented, economically driven mass protests in Iraq and Lebanon — two countries where Tehran wields major influence. Tehran fears the unrest could spark a backlash against its proxies in those countries, and Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei has accused the U.S. and its regional allies of fomenting it.

___

Akram reported from Gaza City, Gaza Strip. Associated Press writers Patty Nieberg in Jerusalem, Zeina Karam in Beirut and Albert Aji in Damascus contributed.

The post Israel Targets Islamic Jihad Leader, Sending Message to Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Mulvaney Won’t Sue Over Impeachment, Declines to Cooperate

WASHINGTON — White House acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney said Tuesday that he no longer plans to sue over the House impeachment proceedings and will instead follow President Donald Trump’s directions and decline to cooperate.

It’s the latest reversal in position by Mulvaney, who last week asked to join the lawsuit of another Trump adviser before changing his mind Monday and saying that he intended to bring his own case. It appears to resolve once and for all a four-day legal dispute that exposed divisions among current and former Trump administration officials about how best to respond to Democratic demands for cooperation and testimony.

In a court filing Tuesday, one day before the impeachment inquiry enters a critical phase of public hearings, Mulvaney said he no longer planned to ask a judge for guidance on whether he must cooperate with the House. He said he would rely on Trump’s instructions “as supported by an opinion of the Office of Legal Counsel of the U.S. Department of Justice, in not appearing for the relevant deposition.”

Related Articles by by

Mulvaney had been subpoenaed to appear last week for a closed-door deposition before House impeachment investigators but did not show up.

House Democrats had seen him as a potentially important witness, in part because he has publicly confirmed the contours of a quid pro quo arrangement in which the Trump administration would release military aid to Ukraine in exchange for the country announcing an investigation into Democratic rival Joe Biden. His name has also repeatedly surfaced in the testimony of other witnesses who have cooperated.

After skipping his appearance, Mulvaney asked to join a lawsuit brought by Charles Kupperman, the president’s former deputy national security adviser. That case, filed last month, asked a judge to decide whether Kupperman had to comply with a subpoena from the House or a competing directive from the White House that he not testify.

Mulvaney had argued that his circumstances were similar to that of Kupperman, but lawyers for both Kupperman and the House of Representatives opposed his request to join the suit and highlighted what they said were key differences, including the fact that Mulvaney has spoken publicly about the events at the center of the impeachment inquiry.

U.S. District Judge Richard Leon said in a conference call on Monday that he was “not inclined” to grant Mulvaney’s request.

The Justice Department legal opinion that Mulvaney references says close advisers to the president are immune from having to testify to Congress because “preparing for such examinations would force them to divert time and attention from their duties to the President at the whim of congressional committees.”

The post Mulvaney Won’t Sue Over Impeachment, Declines to Cooperate appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Supreme Court Lets Sandy Hook Shooting Lawsuit Go Forward

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court said Tuesday that a survivor and relatives of victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting can pursue their lawsuit against the maker of the rifle used to kill 26 people.

The justices rejected an appeal from Remington Arms that argued it should be shielded by a 2005 federal law preventing most lawsuits against firearms manufacturers when their products are used in crimes.

The case is being watched by gun control advocates, gun rights supporters and gun manufacturers across the country, as it has the potential to provide a road map for victims of other mass shootings to circumvent the federal law and sue the makers of firearms.

Related Articles by by The Conversation by

The court’s order allows the lawsuit filed in Connecticut state court by a survivor and relatives of nine victims who died at the Newtown, Conn., school on Dec. 14, 2012, to go forward.

The lawsuit says the Madison, North Carolina-based company should never have sold a weapon as dangerous as the Bushmaster AR-15-style rifle to the public. Gunman Adam Lanza used it to kill 20 first graders and six educators. It also alleges Remington targeted younger, at-risk males in marketing and product placement in violent video games. Lanza was 20 years old.

“The families are grateful that the Supreme Court upheld precedent and denied Remington’s latest attempt to avoid accountability,” said Joshua Koskoff, a lawyer for the Sandy Hook families.

“We are ready to resume discovery and proceed towards trial in order to shed light on Remington’s profit-driven strategy to expand the AR-15 market and court high-risk users at the expense of Americans’ safety,” he said.

Messages seeking comment were left with a lawyer for Remington Arms on Tuesday.

Before the school shooting, Lanza shot his mother to death at their Newtown home. He killed himself as police arrived at the school. The rifle was legally owned by his mother.

The Connecticut Supreme Court had earlier ruled 4-3 that the lawsuit could proceed for now, citing an exemption in the federal law. The decision overturned a ruling by a trial court judge who dismissed the lawsuit based on the 2005 federal law, named the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.

The federal law has been criticized by gun control advocates as being too favorable to gun-makers. It has been cited by other courts that rejected lawsuits against gun-makers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, including the 2012 Colorado movie theater shooting and the Washington, D.C., sniper shootings in 2002.

The National Rifle Association, 10 mainly Republican-led states and 22 Republicans in Congress were among those urging the court to jump into the case and end the lawsuit against Remington.

___

Collins reported from Hartford, Connecticut.

The post Supreme Court Lets Sandy Hook Shooting Lawsuit Go Forward appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Nation’s Largest Nurses Union Endorses Bernie Sanders for President

Pointing to his tireless advocacy on behalf of Medicare for All, his bold proposals to combat the climate crisis, and his commitment to “putting people above profits,” National Nurses United—the largest union of registered nurses in the U.S.—announced Tuesday morning that it is endorsing Sen. Bernie Sanders in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

“National Nurses United has endorsed Bernie Sanders because we need a president who will unite all workers to fight for social, economic, racial and gender justice, and who will champion bold ideas on workplace democracy, Medicare for All, and climate change,” tweeted NNU executive director and registered nurse Bonnie Castillo.

NNU, which also endorsed Sanders in the 2016 presidential race, boasts over 150,000 members nationwide and has been a driving force in the grassroots push to build support for Medicare for All across the United States.

“We are so proud that together, in 2016, Bernie Sanders and NNU elevated Medicare for All to the national mainstream, where it has advanced to a top 2020 presidential race issue,” Castillo said in a statement. “Nurses are beyond tired of watching our patients suffer and die needlessly, simply due to inability to pay, and we know Bernie Sanders is, and has been, leading on Medicare for All through his advocacy and Senate legislation.”

.@NationalNurses has endorsed @BernieSanders because we need a president who will unite all workers to fight for social, economic, racial and gender justice, and who will champion bold ideas on workplace democracy, #MedicareforAll, and climate change. #nursesforbernie pic.twitter.com/Vo5G0UFFXD

— Bonnie Castillo (@NNUBonnie) November 12, 2019

Jean Ross, president of NNU, said that “for nurses, our solidarity is a matter of life or death for our patients.”

“We need a president who makes it easier for us to stand together and hold our employers accountable,” Ross added. “Bernie Sanders is leading all the candidates on labor, with his Workplace Democracy Act and as a co-sponsor of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act.”

NNU said it will officially endorse Sanders at a press conference on Friday, Nov. 15.

“Nurses are the backbone of American health care,” Sanders tweeted in response to the endorsement Tuesday. “I want to thank National Nurses United for not only the strong support of our campaign—but for the courage they have shown in helping to lead the effort for a Medicare for All program.”

“Together,” Sanders added, “we will make health care a right.”

The post Nation’s Largest Nurses Union Endorses Bernie Sanders for President appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

11,000 Scientists Warn We’re Headed Toward ‘Untold Suffering’

In an unprecedented step, more than 11,000 scientists from 153 nations have united to warn the world that, without deep and lasting change, the climate emergency promises humankind unavoidable “untold suffering.”

And as if to underline that message, a US research group has predicted that – on the basis of experiments so far – global heating could reduce rice yields by 40% by the end of the century, and at the same time intensify levels of arsenic in the cereal that provides the staple food for almost half the planet.

And in the same few days a second US group has forecast that changes to the world’s vegetation in an atmosphere increasingly rich in carbon dioxide could mean that – even though rainfall might increase – there could be less fresh water on tap for many of the peoples of Europe, Asia and North America.

Warnings of climate hazard that could threaten political stability and precipitate mass starvation are not new: individuals, research groups, academies and intergovernmental agencies have been making the same point, and with increasing urgency, for more than two decades.

New analysis

The only argument has been about in what form, how badly, and just when the emergency will take its greatest toll.

But the 11,000 signatories to the statement in the journal BioScience report that their conclusions are based on the new analysis of 40 years of data covering energy use, surface temperature, population growth, land clearance, deforestation, polar ice melt, fertility rates, gross domestic product and carbon emissions.

The scientists list six steps that the world’s nations could take to avert the coming catastrophe: abandon fossil fuel use, reduce atmospheric pollution, restore natural ecosystems, shift from animal-based to plant diets, contain economic growth and the pursuit of affluence, and stabilise the human population.

Their warning appeared on the 40th anniversary of the first world climate congress, in Geneva in 1979.

Surprising rice impact

“Despite 40 years of major global negotiations, we have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis,” said William Ripple of Oregon State University, one of the leaders of the coalition. “Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected.”

Both the warning of catastrophic climate change and the steps to avoid it are familiar. But researchers at Stanford University in the US say they really did not expect the impact of world temperature rise on the rice crop – the staple for two billion people now, and perhaps 5 bn by 2100 – to be so severe.

Other groups have already warned that changes in seasonal temperature and rainfall could reduce both the yields of wheatfruit and vegetables, and the nutritional values of rice and other staples.

The Stanford group report in the journal Nature Communications that they looked more closely at what climate change could do to rice crops. Most soils contain some arsenic. Rice is grown in flooded paddy fields that tend to loosen the poison from the soil particles. But higher temperatures combined with more intense rainfall show that, in experiments, rice plants absorb more arsenic, which in turn inhibits nutrient absorption and reduces plant development. Not only did the grains contain twice the level of arsenic, the yield fell by two-fifths.

“We have continued to conduct business as usual and have failed to address this crisis. Climate change has arrived and is accelerating faster than many scientists expected”

“By the time we get to 2100, we’re estimated to have approximately 10bn people, so that would mean we have 5 billion people dependent on rice, and 2bn who would not have access to the calories they would normally need,” said Scott Fendorf, an earth system scientist at Stanford.

“I didn’t expect the magnitude of impact on rice yield we observed. What I missed was how much the soil biogeochemistry would respond to increased temperature, how that would amplify plant-available arsenic and then – coupled with temperature stress – how that would really impact the plant.”

And while the rice croplands expect heavier rains, great tracts of the northern hemisphere could see vegetation changes that could have paradoxical consequences. In a wetter, warmer world plants could grow more vigorously. The stomata on the leaves through which plants breathe are more likely to close in a world of higher levels of atmospheric carbon dioxide, meaning less water loss through foliage.

And while this should mean more run-off and a moister tropical world, a team at Dartmouth College in the US report in the journal Nature Geoscience that in the mid-latitudes plant response to climate change could actually make the land drier instead of wetter.

Water consumption rises

“Approximately 60% of the global water flux from the land to the atmosphere goes through plants, called transpiration. Plants are like the atmosphere’s straw, dominating how water flows from the land to the atmosphere. So vegetation is a massive determinant of what water is left on land for people,” said Justin Mankin, a geographer at Dartmouth.

“The question we’re asking here is, how do the combined effects of carbon dioxide and warming change the size of that straw?”

The calculations are complex. First, as temperatures soar, so will evaporation: more humidity means more rain – in some places. As atmospheric carbon dioxide levels soar, driven by fossil fuel combustion, plants need less water to photosynthesise, so the land gets more water. As the planet warms, growing seasons become extended and warmer, so plants grow for a longer period and consume more water, and will grow more vigorously because of the fertility effect of higher carbon dioxide concentrations.

The calculations suggest that forests, grasslands and other ecosystems will consume more water for longer periods, thus drying the soil and reducing ground water, and the run-off to the rivers, in parts of Europe, Asia and the US.

Avoiding the worst

And that in turn would mean lower levels of water available for human consumption, agriculture, hydropower and industry.

Both studies are indicators of possible hazard, to be confirmed or challenged by other scientific groups. But both exemplify the complexity of the challenge presented by temperature rises of at least the 2°C set by 195 nations in Paris in 2015 as the limit by the century’s end; or the 3°C that seems increasingly likely as those same nations fail to take the drastic action prescribed.

The world has already warmed by almost 1°C above the long-term average for most of human history. So both papers shore up the reasoning of the 11,000 signatories to the latest warning of planetary disaster. But that same warning contains some steps humankind could take to avert the worst.

“While things are bad, all is not hopeless,” said Thomas Newsome, of the University of Sydney, Australia, and one of the signatories. “We can take steps to address the climate emergency.”

The post 11,000 Scientists Warn We’re Headed Toward ‘Untold Suffering’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Mini Mercury Glides Across Sun’s Vast Glare in Rare Transit

CAPE CANAVERAL, Fla. — Mini Mercury skipped across the vast, glaring face of the sun Monday in a rare celestial transit.

Stargazers used solar-filtered binoculars and telescopes to spot Mercury — a tiny black dot — as it passed directly between Earth and the sun on Monday.

The eastern U.S. and Canada got the whole 5 ½-hour show, weather permitting, along with Central and South America. The rest of the world, except for Asia and Australia, got just a sampling.

Mercury is the solar system’s smallest, innermost planet. The next transit isn’t until 2032, and North America won’t get another shot until 2049.

In Maryland, clouds prevented NASA solar astrophysicist Alex Young from getting a clear peek. Live coverage was provided by observatories including NASA’s orbiting Solar Dynamics Observatory.

“It’s a bummer, but the whole event was still great,” Young wrote in an email. “Both getting to see it from space and sharing it with people all over the country and world.”

At Cape Canaveral, space buffs got a two-for-one. As Mercury’s silhouette graced the morning sun, SpaceX launched 60 small satellites for global internet service, part of the company’s growing Starlink constellation in orbit.

___

The Associated Press Health and Science Department receives support from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute’s Department of Science Education. The AP is solely responsible for all content.

The post Mini Mercury Glides Across Sun’s Vast Glare in Rare Transit appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Election in Spain Only Deepens Political Uncertainty

MADRID — A general election called to end political deadlock in Spain has only deepened uncertainty about the future of the European Union’s fifth-largest economy and raised the possibility of yet another ballot — the fifth in five years — next year.

No party achieved a clear mandate to govern in Sunday’s vote, which was the second election in seven months and was intended to clear away the stalemate. Further weeks or months of political jockeying now lie ahead.

Incumbent Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s left-of-center Socialists captured the most seats, with 120. But that is far short of a majority in the 350-seat chamber, meaning the Socialists will have to negotiate deals with other parties if they are to govern.

The outcome also threw up a new roadblock: Support surged for far-right party Vox, which was launched just six years ago.

It collected 52 seats, more than double its showing in the last election in April, making it the third largest party in parliament behind the Socialists and the conservative Popular Party, which recovered to collect 88 seats.

Across Europe, far-right parties have made gains in recent years, setting off alarm bells about the bloc’s political direction.

Some analysts put down Vox’s rise to nationalist sentiment stirred up as a result of mass protests by separatists in the wealthy northeastern region of Catalonia. The protests have included recent violent clashes with police that left more than 500 people injured.

The push for Catalan independence, which the national government won’t allow, is Spain’s most serious political issue in decades and shows no signs of abating. Three Catalan separatist parties won a combined 23 seats, one more than in April.

José Ignacio Torreblanca, an analyst and head of the Madrid office of the European Council on Foreign Relations, said the Catalan separatists helped give rise to Vox.

“The one thing that the Catalans have achieved is to get a radical right equally as radical as they are on the other end, a kind of a mirror thing and with that make everyone’s life more miserable,” he said.

On Monday, Catalan radicals resumed their protests by blocking a major highway crossing the border between France and Spain and promising to keep it closed for three days. French police pushed them back toward Spain and scuffles broke out.

Vox leader Santiago Abascal said Monday that his party won’t support a Socialist government and issued a warning: “We demand that order be restored in Catalonia.”

Contemplating the election outcome and another fragmented parliament, many people on the streets of Madrid were scratching their heads Monday over what would happen next.

“I think we are worse than before: We are more divided,” said Antonio Prados, a 44-year-old police officer. “I don’t know, there’s a possibility to form a government, but I don’t know how they will come up with the numbers.”

Andrew Dowling, an expert on contemporary Spanish politics at Cardiff University in Wales, said Sánchez’s plan to reconfigure parliament to his benefit had backfired, leaving Spain once again at the mercy of an unpredictable political landscape.

“The Spanish Socialist party made a major miscalculation in calling new elections,” Dowling said.

The next step will be for parliamentarians to select a house speaker in the coming weeks and then for talks between King Felipe VI and party leaders to begin so that one of them, most likely Sánchez, will be called on to try to form a government.

Sanchez was meeting with his party leadership later Monday. Party secretary José Ábalos said Sánchez will sound out other party leaders over the coming days and seek to form a government as soon as possible.

Ábalos said the Socialists would not build any coalitions with parties on the right, indicating it would seek support instead from other leftist groups and regional parties.

But Sánchez’s closest political allies, the left-wing United We Can party, fell from 42 to 35 seats. Sunday’s ballot also went badly for the right-of-center Citizens party, which captured just 10 seats in parliament, down from 57 seats in April. Party leader Albert Rivera quit Monday.

In all, 12 parties gained parliamentary representation.

Capital Economics, a London-based research company, said it expected no short-term economic difficulties after Sunday’s vote because Spain’s economy has remained healthy despite the past four years of political gridlock.

But it warned Monday that deep, long-term economic reforms are needed in Spain’s labor markets and pension systems to keep Spain competitive.

___

Hatton reported from Lisbon, Portugal. Associated Press reporters Helena Alves in Madrid and Felipe Dana on the France-Spain border contributed to this report.

The post Election in Spain Only Deepens Political Uncertainty appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bolivian President Evo Morales’ Removal Denounced as Coup

Bolivia’s socialist President Evo Morales was forced to resign Sunday under threat from the nation’s military, police forces, and violent right-wing protestors who have burned and ransacked the homes of members of Morales’ party, assaulted supporters of the president, and kidnapped a Bolivian mayor.

Political leaders and activists around the world immediately denounced Morales’ ouster as a military coup that leaves Bolivia without a constitutionally elected government. Williams Kaliman, the chief commander of the Bolivian armed forces, pressured Morales to resign earlier Sunday.

“The coup mongers are destroying the rule of law,” Morales, Bolivia’s first indigenous president, tweeted hours after announcing his resignation in a televised address.

Morales said he and his vice president, Álvaro García Linera, resigned because they “don’t want to see any more families attacked” under orders from right-wing former president Carlos Mesa and opposition leader Luis Fernando Camacho.

“This is not a betrayal to social movements,” Morales added. “The fight continues. We are the people, and thanks to this political union, we have freed Bolivia. We leave this homeland freed.”

Morales’ resignation came following his announcement early Sunday that he would hold new elections after the U.S.-dominated Organization of American States (OAS) questioned Morales’ October victory and claimed the vote was fraught with irregularities. Trump administration officials and Republican lawmakers like Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.) were quick to parrot the OAS.

Mark Weisbrot, co-director of the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR), tweeted Sunday that OAS “never did find any evidence of fraud in the October 20th election, but the media repeated the allegation so many times that it became ‘true,’ in this post-truth world.”

The latest OAS “audit”, repeats a major falsehood from their previous reports, pretending that there was an “unusual” jump in Evo’s vote margin towards the end of the quick count. But the change was in fact gradual, as later-reporting areas were more pro-Evo than earlier ones: pic.twitter.com/oFiUFFAl5H

— Mark Weisbrot (@MarkWeisbrot) November 10, 2019

Former Brazilian President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva, who was freed from prison Friday after spending more than a year behind bars on politically motivated charges, was among those who denounced the coup in Bolivia late Sunday.

“There was a coup in Bolivia and comrade Evo Morales was forced to resign,” Lula tweeted. “It is unfortunate that Latin America has an economic elite that does not know how to live with democracy and the social inclusion of the poorest.”

A chorus of political leaders in Latin America and across the globe echoed Lula.

Jeremy Corbyn, the U.K. Labour leader, said Sunday that to see Evo Morales who, along with a powerful movement, has brought so much social progress forced from office by the military is appalling.”

“I condemn this coup against the Bolivian people,” said Corbyn, “and stand with them for democracy, social justice, and independence.”

U.S. Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) tweeted Sunday: “There’s a word for the president of a country being pushed out by the military. Its called a coup.”

There’s a word for the President of a country being pushed out by the military. It’s called a coup.

We must unequivocally oppose political violence in Bolivia. Bolivians deserve free and fair elections.

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 11, 2019

Morales’ resignation did not bring a halt to right-wing violence, the Washington Post reported.

“Socialist officials denounced the ransacking of Morales’ home late Sunday,” according to the Post. “The former head of Bolivia’s electoral tribunal, Maria Eugenia Choque, was detained, police said.”

Amid widespread chaos and concerns for Morales’ safety, the government of Mexico said it would grant the ousted Bolivian president asylum upon request.

“In Bolivia there is an ongoing military operation, we reject it, it is similar to those tragic events that bloodied Latin America in the last century,” Marcelo Ebrard, Mexico’s foreign minister, tweeted late Sunday. “Mexico will maintain its position of respect for democracy and institutions. Coups, no.”

The post Bolivian President Evo Morales’ Removal Denounced as Coup appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bolivia President Resigns Amid Military, Public Pressure

LA PAZ, Bolivia — Bolivian President Evo Morales announced his resignation Sunday under mounting pressure from the military and the public after his re-election victory triggered weeks of fraud allegations and deadly protests.

The decision came after a day of fast-moving developments, including an offer from Morales to hold a new election. But the crisis deepened dramatically when the country’s military chief went on national television to call on him to step down.

“I am sending my resignation letter to the Legislative Assembly of Bolivia,” the 60-year-old socialist leader said in a statement.

Morales’ claim to have won a fourth term last month plunged the country into the biggest crisis of his nearly 14 years in power. The unrest left three people dead and over 100 injured in clashes between his supporters and opponents.

Earlier in the day Sunday, the Organization of American States said in a preliminary report that it had found a “heap of observed irregularities” in the Oct. 20 election and that a new vote should be held.

Morale agreed to that. But within hours, military chief Gen. Williams Kaliman made it clear that would not be sufficient.

“After analyzing the situation of internal conflict, we ask the president to resign, allowing peace to be restored and stability to be maintained for the good of our Bolivia,” Kaliman said.

The leadership crisis escalated in the hours leading up to the resignation announcement. Two government ministers in charge of mines and hydrocarbons, the Chamber of Deputies president and three other pro-government legislators announced their resignations. Some said opposition supporters had threatened their families.

In addition, the head of Bolivia’s Supreme Electoral Tribunal stepped down after the OAS findings were released. Also, the attorney general’s office said it will investigate judges on the tribunal for alleged fraud.

Morales in 1996 became the first president from Bolivia’s indigenous population, and he went on to preside over a commodities-fed economic boom in South America’s poorest country. The former leader of a coca growers union, he paved roads, sent Bolivia’s first satellite into space and curbed inflation.

But many who were once excited by his fairy-tale rise have grown wary of his reluctance to leave power.

He ran for a fourth term after refusing to abide by the results of a referendum that upheld term limits for the president. He was able to run because Bolivia’s constitutional court disallowed such limits.

After the Oct. 20 vote, Morales declared himself the outright winner even before official results indicated he obtained just enough support to avoid a runoff with opposition leader and former President Carlos Mesa. A 24-hour lapse in releasing results fueled suspicions of vote-rigging.

The OAS sent a team to conduct what it called a binding audit of the election. Its preliminary recommendations included holding new elections with a new electoral body.

“Mindful of the heap of observed irregularities, it’s not possible to guarantee the integrity of the numbers and give certainty of the results,” the OAS said in a statement.

During the unrest since the election, protesters have torched the headquarters of local electoral tribunal offices and set up roadblocks that paralyzed parts of Bolivia.

Pressure on Morales increased ominously on Saturday when police on guard outside Bolivia’s presidential palace abandoned their posts and police retreated to their barracks in at least three cities.

__

Associated Press writer Luis Andres Henao in Buenos Aires, Argentina, contributed to this report.

The post Bolivia President Resigns Amid Military, Public Pressure appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Iran Discovers New Oil Field That Could Boost Its Reserves by 33%

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran has discovered a new oil field in the country’s south with over 50 billion barrels of crude, its president said Sunday, a find that could boost the country’s proven reserves by a third as it struggles to sell energy abroad over U.S. sanctions.

The announcement by Hassan Rouhani comes as Iran faces crushing American sanctions after the U.S. pulled out of its nuclear deal with world powers last year.

Rouhani made the announcement in a speech in the desert city of Yazd. He said the field was located in Iran’s southern Khuzestan province, home to its crucial oil industry.

Some 53 billion barrels would be added to Iran’s proven reserves of roughly 150 billion, he said.

“I am telling the White House that in the days when you sanctioned the sale of Iranian oil and pressured our nation, the country’s dear workers and engineers were able to discover 53 billion barrels of oil in a big field,” Rouhani said.

Oil reserves refer to crude that’s economically feasible to extract. Figures can vary wildly by country due to differing standards, though it remains a yardstick of comparison among oil-producing nations.

Iran currently has the world’s fourth-largest proven deposits of crude oil and the world’s second-largest deposits of natural gas. It shares a massive offshore field in the Persian Gulf with Qatar.

The new oil field could become Iran’s second-largest field after one containing 65 billion barrels in Ahvaz. The field is 2,400 square kilometers (925 square miles), with the deposit some 80 meters (260 feet) deep, Rouhani said.

Since the U.S. withdrew from the 2015 nuclear deal, the other countries involved — Germany, France, Britain, Russia and China — have been struggling to save it. However, they’ve offered no means by which Iran can sell its oil abroad.

Any company or government that buys Iran’s oil faces harsh U.S. sanctions, the threat of which also stopped billions of dollars in business deals and sharply depreciated Iran’s currency, the rial.

Iran has since gone beyond the deal’s stockpile and enrichment limits, as well as started using advanced centrifuges barred by the deal. It also just began injecting uranium gas into centrifuges at an underground facility.

The collapse of the nuclear deal coincided with a tense summer of mysterious attacks on oil tankers and Saudi oil facilities that the U.S. blamed on Iran. Tehran denied the allegation, though it did seize oil tankers and shoot down a U.S. military surveillance drone.

The post Iran Discovers New Oil Field That Could Boost Its Reserves by 33% appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

NRA Turmoil Creates Rift Among Some Big Donors

Joe Olson was once such a passionate supporter of the National Rifle Association that he pledged to bequeath several million dollars from his estate to the gun organization upon his death.

But the steady drip of investigations and misspending allegations and a shakeup at the top ranks of the NRA compelled him to alter his will. The NRA will no longer get his money.

“The rot had gotten worse and I simply decided: No, I’m not giving those people my money,” Olson said.

Olson reflects what has become a new challenge for the NRA as its legal and financial issues stack up: the loss of big donors.

The NRA attributes much of its success and power to rank-and-file members who contribute a few dollars here and there throughout the year, but it’s the big-ticket donors who fuel the organization’s finances. They also play a role in who serves on the board of directors and are active on the NRA social and fundraising scene, whether it’s at galas or hunting trips.

And there are signs that some of them are growing uneasy over the NRA’s troubles.

One of them went so far to as to file a lawsuit against the NRA claiming misuse of funds and started a website that seeks changes to the NRA — from the ouster of longtime CEO Wayne LaPierre, to halving the size of the 76-member board of directors.

The donor, David Dell’Aquila, also claims that he has gotten others like him to withhold millions of dollars.

Over the years, Dell’Aquila has given about $100,000 and he and his wife pledged to bequeath several million dollars from an estate he amassed after a career as a technology consultant.

Large donors have long been a reliable source of money for the NRA, helping fuel the clout that it wields in American politics.

In 2017, the NRA received seven donations of more than $1 million, including one for more than $18 million, according to tax records. The NRA’s 2018 records are not available yet, meaning it’s too early to know how the recent turmoil engulfing the group affected contributions.

Despite the handful of million-dollar-plus donors, the group saw its overall contributions plummet from $124 million in 2016 to $98 million in 2017.

An NRA member for about 20 years, Dell’Aquila became more heavily involved after attending an annual meeting for the first time in 2015 in Nashville, Tennessee, where he lives. A longtime hunter, Dell’Aquila said it was after that meeting that he decided to contribute big sums to the NRA, seeing it as an organization that would help preserve gun rights.

He went in with gusto, becoming a member of the Charlton Heston Society, an elite group of NRA faithful. Then, earlier this year, Dell’Aquila started to hear the rumors and see media reports of excessive spending by NRA leaders. He witnessed the showdown that spilled out in the public during this year’s annual meeting, when then-President Oliver North was denied a second term after seeking LaPierre’s resignation.

When Dell’Aquila asked some NRA directors and others at headquarters for more information on how donations were being spent, he said he didn’t get sufficient answers.

“I was just getting lip service,” he said.

A few months ago, he filed a lawsuit against the NRA claiming it has engaged in fraud and financial misconduct. The lawsuit cites many of the allegations that have emerged in other legal cases in recent months, including that LaPierre expensed hundreds of thousands of dollars in wardrobe purchases at a high-end clothier.

Carolyn Meadows, the NRA’s new president, called the lawsuit “a misguided and frivolous pursuit.”

“Here’s all you need to know: This lawsuit parrots claims from an individual who has worked for anti-NRA organizations and openly campaigned against our cause and our Association. End of story,” Meadows said.

While some big donors such as Olson and Dell’Aquila have pulled back, other big donors have doubled down.

Janet Nyce, a longtime member who along with her husband has contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars over the years, said she called up NRA headquarters and felt they were open and honest about the challenges facing the organization, assuring her that the donations were being well spent.

When she got a call one day from another NRA member asking if she wanted to participate in a movement to withhold donations, she and her husband instead pulled out their wallets and wrote out checks to the NRA.

“We are supporting the NRA, there’s just no two ways about it,” she said.

Joe Gregory, who is the CEO of an investment firm and founder of the NRA’s Golden Ring of Freedom — a group of NRA donors who have contributed or pledged at least $1 million — chalked up the turmoil to internal politics and defended LaPierre’s expenses as a necessary part of being a CEO.

The demands pushed by Dell’Aquila, he said, “border on being unrealistic and not serious.”

He’s especially disappointed to see some of his fellow big donors start to abandon the NRA, particularly as the 2020 presidential election approaches and the NRA’s influence in preserving the Second Amendment is at stake.

“It’s important that we stick together,” he said.

For Dell’Aquila’s part, he’s not ready to back down from his fight.

He’s even planning to attend next year’s annual meeting, which will again be held in Nashville. He said he wants to see if LaPierre and others in the inner circle will talk with him.

“I’m not one to back down,” he said.

The post NRA Turmoil Creates Rift Among Some Big Donors appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Justices Take Up High-Profile DACA Case Over Young Immigrants

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court is taking up the Trump administration’s plan to end legal protections that shield 660,000 immigrants from deportation, a case with strong political overtones amid the 2020 presidential election campaign.

All eyes will be on Chief Justice John Roberts when the court hears arguments Tuesday. Roberts is the conservative justice closest to the court’s center who also is keenly aware of public perceptions of an ideologically divided court.

It’s the third time in three years that the administration is asking the justices to rescue a controversial policy that has been blocked by several lower courts.

The court sided with President Donald Trump in allowing him to enforce the travel ban on visitors from some majority Muslim countries, but it blocked the administration from adding a citizenship question to the 2020 census.

Roberts was the only member of the court in the majority both times, siding with four conservatives on the travel ban and four liberals in the census case. His vote could be decisive a third time, as well.

The program before the court is Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals, an Obama-era program that aimed to bring out of the shadows people who have been in the United States since they were children and are in the country illegally. In some cases, they have no memory of any home other than the U.S.

With Congress at an impasse over a comprehensive immigration bill, President Barack Obama decided to formally protect people from deportation while also allowing them to work legally in the U.S.

But Trump made tough talk on immigration a central part of his campaign and less than eight months after taking office, he announced in September 2017 that he would end DACA.

Immigrants, civil rights groups, universities and Democratic-led states quickly sued, and courts put the administration’s plan on hold.

There are two questions before the Supreme Court: whether federal judges can even review the decision to end the program and, if they can, whether the way the administration has gone about winding down DACA is legal.

In that sense, the case resembles the dispute over the census citizenship question, which focused on the process the administration used in trying to add the question to the 2020 census. In the end, Roberts wrote that the reason the administration gave for wanting the question “seems to have been contrived.”

There also are similarities to the travel ban case, in which the administration argued that courts had no role to play and that the executive branch has vast discretion over immigration, certainly enough to justify Trump’s ban. In the Supreme Court decision, Roberts wrote that immigration law gives the president “broad discretion to suspend the entry of aliens into the United States. The President lawfully exercised that discretion.”

The Supreme Court fight over DACA has played out in a kind of legal slow motion. The administration first wanted the justices to hear and decide the case by June 2018. The justices said no. The justice Department returned to the court a year ago, but the justices did nothing for more than seven months before agreeing to hear arguments.

The delay has bought DACA recipients at least two extra years because a decision now isn’t expected until June 2020, which also could thrust the issue into the presidential campaign.

In part the court’s slow pace can be explained by a preference to have Congress legislate a lasting resolution of the issue. But Trump and Congress failed to strike a deal on DACA.

Janet Napolitano, the University of California president who served as Obama’s homeland security secretary when DACA was created, said the administration seems to recognize that ending DACA protections would be unpopular.

“And so perhaps they think it better that they be ordered by the court to do it as opposed to doing it correctly on their own,” Napolitano said in an interview with The Associated Press. She is a named plaintiff in the litigation.

Solicitor General Noel Francisco, who is arguing the administration’s case at the Supreme Court, pushed back against that criticism.

“We think the way we did it is entirely appropriate and lawful. If we did it in a different way, it would be subject to challenge,” Francisco said at a Smithsonian Institution event exploring the current Supreme Court term.

The Trump administration has said it moved to cut off the program under the threat of a lawsuit from Texas and other states, raising the prospect of a chaotic end.

Then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions determined DACA to be unlawful because Obama did not have the authority to adopt it in the first place. Sessions cited an expansion of the DACA program and a similar effort to protect undocumented immigrants who are parents of American children that were struck down by federal courts. A 4-4 Supreme Court tie in 2016 affirmed the lower court rulings.

Texas and other Republican-led states eventually did sue and won a partial victory in a federal court in Texas.

The administration’s best argument is a simple one, said Josh Blackman, a professor at South Texas College of Law in Houston: “The Supreme Court should allow the Trump Administration to wind down a policy it found to be unlawful, even if reasonable judges disagree about DACA’s legality.”

Trump has said he favors legislation on DACA, but that it will take a Supreme Court ruling for the administration to spur Congress to act.

On at least one point, Trump and his DACA critics agree.

“Only legislation can bring a permanent sense of stability for all of these people,” said Microsoft president Brad Smith. Microsoft joined the challenge to the administration because, Smith said, 66 employees are protected by DACA.

The Department of Homeland Security is continuing to process two-year DACA renewals so that in June 2020, hundreds of thousands of DACA recipients will have protections stretching beyond the election and even into 2022.

If the high court rules for the administration, it is unclear how quickly the program would end or Congress might act.

The post Justices Take Up High-Profile DACA Case Over Young Immigrants appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Pages