Utah Flies Employees to Mexico to Save on Prescription Drugs

SALT LAKE CITY—Ann Lovell had never owned a passport before last year. Now, the 62-year-old teacher is a frequent flier, traveling every few months to Tijuana, Mexico, to buy medication for rheumatoid arthritis — with tickets paid for by the state of Utah’s public insurer.

Lovell is one of about 10 state workers participating in a year-old program to lower prescription drug costs by having public employees buy their medication in Mexico at a steep discount compared to U.S. prices. The program appears to be the first of its kind, and is a dramatic example of steps states are taking to alleviate the high cost of prescription drugs.

In one long, exhausting day, Lovell flies from Salt Lake City to San Diego. There, an escort picks her up and takes her across the border to a Tijuana hospital, where she gets a refill on her prescription. After that, she’s shuttled back to the airport and heads home.

Related Articles by by by

Lovell had been paying $450 in co-pays every few months for her medication, though she said it would have increased to some $2,400 if she had not started traveling to Mexico. Without the program, she would not be able to afford the medicine she needs.

“This is the drug that keeps me functioning, working,” said Lovell, who works at an early-intervention program for deaf students that’s part of the Utah Schools for the Deaf and Blind. “I think if I wasn’t on this drug … I’d be on disability rather than living my normal life.”

The cost difference is so large that the state’s insurance program for public employees can pay for each patient’s flight, give them a $500-per-trip bonus and still save tens of thousands of dollars.

Other states have taken new approaches to addressing the high costs of prescription drugs. California is looking at launching its own generic-drug label. Louisiana has a Netflix-style program for hepatitis C drugs, where the state negotiated a deal to pay a flat fee rather than for each prescription.

Several states are looking at creating boards aimed at keeping prices affordable, and four have started what’s expected to be a lengthy process to begin importing drugs from Canada under a new Trump administration plan.

The Utah program was created under a 2018 state law dubbed “right to shop,” by Republican Rep. Norm Thurston. The Public Employees Health Program offers it only for people who use a drug on a list of about a dozen medications where the state can get significant savings. Of the 160,000 state and local public employees covered by the insurer, fewer than 400 are eligible, according to Managing Director Chet Loftis.

Officials have tracked the medications from the manufacturer to the pharmacy to the patient, to make sure people are getting the same drugs they would at home, he said. They contract with a specialty pharmacy that works with one of the region’s largest private hospital systems. A representative from a company, Provide Rx, escorts patients from the San Diego airport to Hospital Angeles in Tijuana and back across the border.

Lovell has a prescription from her doctor in Utah, and each time she travels to Mexico she sees a doctor at the hospital as well. She updates the doctor on her condition, gets her prescription, and takes it to the pharmacist, who gives her the medication.

Provide Rx also works with a dozen or so private companies, some of whom offer similar bonus programs to their staffers, said general manager Javier Ojeda.

Just over a year after the program began, the state has saved about $225,000, Loftis said.

Though the number of people participating is relatively small, the savings add up quickly. The annual U.S. list price for the drug Lovell takes, Enbrel, is over $62,000 per patient. With the Mexico program, after the cost of the flight and the bonus, the state still cuts its expenses in half.

“It makes sense for us to do this,” Loftis said.

Thurston had hoped more people would sign up, saving the state $1 million by now.

But officials are optimistic more people will sign on now that they see the program is working. They have expanded to offering flights to Canada, where there’s a clinic in the Vancouver airport and the travel costs are about the same.

While importation of prescription drugs is illegal because drugs sold in other countries haven’t been approved by the Food and Drug Administration, the U.S. allows people to bring in a three-month supply for personal use.

There have been long been more informal trips across the border elsewhere; Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders has taken bus trips with patients from border states into Canada to highlight the cost of prescription drugs. But the Utah program appears to be the only formal state program of its kind, said David Mitchell, a cancer patient and the founder of the advocacy group Patients For Affordable Drugs.

“It is unfortunate and, in fact, wrong that the citizens of this great country have to travel to other countries to get drugs they need at affordable prices,” he said.

Others say the “pharmaceutical tourism” approach has risks and doesn’t solve the issue of high prescription drug prices in the United States. Peter Maybarduk with the nonprofit advocacy group Public Citizen said people can come across unsafe medications in other countries, and it’s important not to undercut the importance of U.S. regulators.

“It is a Band-Aid for people who really need it,” he said. “We need reform of the system as whole.”

In most other countries, national health programs negotiate lower drug prices at large scale, and sometimes refuse to cover the most expensive ones. Meanwhile, patents generally run much longer in the U.S. than other countries, allowing for monopolies. Drug makers also often point to the high cost of creating a drug to bring to market.

Utah truck driver Jason Pierce has been grateful to find the drug Stelara, the only effective treatment for his psoriasis. It’s also expensive, so he and his wife, a Utah health department employee, started traveling to Mexico to get his shots.

Their insurance through her state job covers it completely, so the trips don’t save them any money. But with both flights covered through the state program and the $500 bonuses, they can make a short vacation.

“It’s pretty easy,” he said. The drug is “exactly the same.”

And the travel means the drug saves their public insurer thousands, helping save taxpayer money and bring down premiums, his wife, Robbin Williams, said.

“I just think it’s the moral and right thing to do,” she said.

The post Utah Flies Employees to Mexico to Save on Prescription Drugs appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

‘QAnon’ Conspiracy Theory Oozes Into Mainstream Politics

MILWAUKEE—President Donald Trump was more than halfway through his speech at a rally in Milwaukee when one of his hand gestures caught the eye of a supporter standing in the packed arena.

The 51-year-old woman believed the president had traced the shape of the letter “Q” with his fingers as a covert signal to followers of QAnon, a right-wing, pro-Trump conspiracy theory. She turned to the couple on her right and excitedly asked, “Did you see the ‘Q’?”

“He just did it?” asked Diane Jacobson, 63, of Racine, Wisconsin.

“Was that a ‘Q’?” added Jacobson’s husband, Randy, 64.

“I think it was,” replied their new friend, Chrisy. The Geneva, Illinois, resident declined to give her last name in part because she said she wanted to avoid negative “attention.”

Related Articles by

The Jacobsons met Chrisy and her husband, Paul, hours earlier in the line to get into the Jan 14 rally. The couples bonded over their shared interest in QAnon, which centers on the baseless belief that Trump is waging a secret campaign against enemies in the “deep state” and a child sex trafficking ring run by satanic pedophiles and cannibals.

What started as an online obsession for the far-right fringe has grown beyond its origins in a dark corner of the internet. QAnon has been creeping into the mainstream political arena for more than a year. The trend shows no sign of abating as Trump fires up his reelection campaign operation, attracting a loyal audience of conspiracy theorists and other fringe groups to his raucous rallies.

Trump has retweeted QAnon-promoting accounts. Followers flock to Trump’s rallies wearing clothes and hats with QAnon symbols and slogans. At least 23 current or former congressional candidates in the 2020 election cycle have endorsed or promoted QAnon, according to the liberal watchdog Media Matters for America, which compiled online evidence to support its running tally.

Conspiracy theorists aren’t the only fringe characters drawn to Trump rallies. The Oath Keepers, an anti-government group formed in 2009 after President Barack Obama’s election, has been sending “security volunteers” to escort Trump supporters at rallies across the country.

University of California, Davis history professor Kathryn Olmsted, author of a book called “Real Enemies: Conspiracy Theories and American Democracy, World War I to 9/11,” said it’s unclear whether QAnon has attracted more believers than other conspiracy theories that have intersected with U.S. politics.

“What’s different now is that there are people in power who are spreading this conspiracy theory,” she said, adding that Trump’s conspiracy-minded rhetoric seems to fire up part of his base. “Finally, there is someone saying they’re not crazy.”

Conspiracy theories are nothing new, but experts fear the powerful engine of social media and a volatile political climate have ramped up the threat of violence. An FBI bulletin in May warned that conspiracy theory-driven extremists have become a domestic terrorism threat. The bulletin specifically mentions QAnon.

A Trump campaign spokeswoman and a White House spokesman didn’t respond to emails seeking comment. Asked about QAnon in 2018, then-White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump “condemns and denounces any group that would incite violence against another individual.” Some major Trump supporters, including former White House aide Sebastian Gorka, have denounced QAnon.

For more than two years, followers have pored over a tangled set of clues purportedly posted online by a high-ranking government official known only as “Q.” Many followers believe the late John F. Kennedy Jr. is a Trump supporter who faked his death in a 1999 plane crash. Another core belief is that thousands of deep state operatives and top Democrats, including Hillary Clinton and Obama, will be rounded up and sent to Guantanamo Bay during an event called “The Storm.”

The first Q “drop” appeared on the 4chan imageboard in October 2017. The messages migrated to 8chan until a string of mass shootings by gunmen who posted manifestos on the site led to it getting forced offline in August. The disruption, which ended when the imageboard relaunched in November under the new name 8kun, hardly spelled the end of QAnon.

Travis View, a conspiracy theory researcher who co-hosts The QAnon Anonymous Podcast and has written about QAnon for the Washington Post under his pseudonym, said the sense of community forged by QAnon believers has helped it endure beyond the life span of other conspiracy theories.

“People in the QAnon community feel like they are banding together to uncover the real truth behind the scenes,” said View, who works as a marketer for a San Diego company and says he uses the pseudonym to protect himself. His acerbic comments about what he calls an “apocalyptic political cult” have earned him more than 20,000 followers on Twitter and vitriol from QAnon believers.

Before Trump’s rally in Milwaukee, thousands waited in line for hours to enter the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Panther Arena. Some wore apparel adorned with a “Q” or “WWG1WGA,” which stands for the QAnon slogan, “Where we go one, we go all.”

The frigid, gloomy weather didn’t dampen the spirits of QAnon follower Donna Shank, 50, of Burlington, Wisconsin. Shank, who said she voted for Obama in 2008, was ambivalent about politics before she stumbled across QAnon online and joined Facebook groups to learn more.

“I just woke up,” she said. “I was a sheep. I followed anything and everything.”

Diane Jacobson attached a pink “Q” and a blue “Q” to the back of her black “Make America Great Again” hat. She and her husband were eager to attend their first Trump rally.

“Trump is trying to tell us, to the best he can without compromising intelligence, what’s really going on,” she said.

Jacobson knows many people, including some of her relatives, scoff at QAnon.

“You really can’t argue with them,” she said.

Jacobson celebrated with her new friend, Chrisy, when the doors to the downtown arena opened.

“All these people believe me! I’m not crazy here!” Chrisy shouted.

Hours later, during Trump’s speech, Chrisy’s husband, Paul, grinned when the president said “the whole world is watching” what’s happening with protesters in Iran.

“That’s a Q reference,” Paul said, noting the phrase “the world is watching” has appeared several times in Q drops.

The May 30 bulletin sent by the FBI’s Phoenix field office warned of conspiracy theories inspiring violence by groups and “individual extremists,” according to an October court filing for a QAnon-related criminal investigation in Colorado. Police in the Denver suburb of Parker said Cynthia Abcug was accused of conspiring with QAnon supporters to kidnap her son from foster care. Abcug was arrested in Montana on Dec. 30 and awaits extradition to Colorado.

Internet-fueled conspiracies already have been linked to acts of real-world violence. A man charged with killing the reputed boss of the Gambino crime family last March showed off a QAnon symbol scrawled on his left hand during a court appearance. In 2017, a North Carolina man was sentenced to prison for firing a rifle in a Washington, D.C., pizza restaurant at the center of the debunked “Pizzagate” conspiracy theory that high-profile Democrats run a child sex trafficking ring out of the restaurant’s (nonexistent) basement.

Pizzagate and other far-right conspiracy theories have faded, but experts see no end in sight to QAnon’s popularity.

Nancy Rosenblum, a Harvard University professor emeritus of ethics in politics and government, said the apocalyptic nature of the QAnon narrative resonates with those who want to believe that their political enemies will be vanquished and a better future will rise from the ashes.

“What makes it unique is that Trump is the chosen one,” said Rosenblum, co-author of the book “A Lot of People Are Saying: The New Conspiracism and the Assault on Democracy.”


Associated Press reporter Colleen Slevin in Denver contributed to this report.

The post ‘QAnon’ Conspiracy Theory Oozes Into Mainstream Politics appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

N.H. Voters Say Sanders Has Best Chance of Toppling Trump

New polling out of New Hampshire showed voters in the state, who will go to polls on Tuesday in the Democratic primary, believe Sen. Bernie Sanders has the best chance of beating President Donald Trump in the general election.

The CNN survey was taken by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center between February 4 and 7, just after the Vermont senator garnered more votes than any other candidate in the Iowa caucuses.

Out of 715 adults surveyed, 29% of voters in the state said they believed Sanders could win in November, compared with 25% for former Vice President Joe Biden and 14% for former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>NH CNN Poll: <br>&quot;Who do you think has the best chance of winning in November?&quot;<br><br>Sanders 29% (+9 Since Jan 23)<br>Biden 25% (-16)<br>Buttigieg 14% (+6)<br>Warren 6% (-1)<br>Bloomberg 3% (+1)<br>Klobuchar 2% (-)<br>Gabbard 2% (-)<br>Yang 2% (+1) <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Political Polls (@PpollingNumbers) <a href=””>February 9, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“This seems like a pretty big deal,” tweeted journalist Krystal Ball.

In the primary, Sanders was favored by 28% of voters in the poll, versus 21% who supported Buttigieg. Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) had 11% and 9% of the vote, respectively. Another poll released Sunday by the Boston Globe, WBZ-TV, and Suffolk University showed Sanders leading Buttigieg in New Hampshire by two percentage points but placing both candidates in a statistical tie with the poll’s margin of error.

The surveys were released on the heels of the McIntyre-Shaheen 100 Club Dinner in Manchester, N.H., where supporters of Sanders reiterated their support for Medicare for All and slammed Buttigieg for his alignment with Wall Street interests.

Sanders supporters rejected the former mayor’s statement that the demand for a nominee supported by a grassroots movement rather than one backed by corporate interests is “divisive.”

A large group of Sanders supporters shouted their disapproval and chanted, “Wall Street Pete” as Buttigieg criticized the notion that a candidate “must either be for a revolution or for the status quo.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Chants of <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#WallStreetPete</a> drown out <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Buttigieg</a> when he takes a shot at <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Bernie</a>&#39;s grassroots movement.<a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Peter Daou (@peterdaou) <a href=””>February 9, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

At a campaign event at St. Anselm College in Goffstown, New Hampshire Friday, Sanders refrained from commenting on the mayor personally but questioned his ability to change the U.S. political and economic systems considering his financial ties to Big Pharma and other powerful corporate sectors.

“I like Pete Buttigieg, nice guy, but we are in a moment where billionaires control not only our economy but our political process,” Sanders said. “Do you think if you’re collecting money from dozens of dozens of billionaires you’re going to stand up to the drug companies and you’re going to throw their CEOs in jail if they’re acting criminally?”

Organizers for the Sanders campaign reported high numbers of canvassers arriving at field offices throughout the state over the weekend to help campaign, as some on-the-ground observers warned Buttigieg has appeared to have gained support following the Iowa caucuses, in which he won two more State Delegate Equivalents than Sanders and one delegate than the senator, but won fewer votes from caucusgoers.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Team NH continues to amaze me. Today we knocked over 150,000 doors — that’s more than 227 a minute or 4 per second! Talk about a POLITICAL REVOLUTION! <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#NotMeUs</a> <a href=”;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#Bernie2020</a></p>&mdash; Shannon Jackson (@shannondjackson) <a href=””>February 9, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“If we can’t know for sure” whether Sanders will win the primary Tuesday, tweeted Jacobin writer and supporter Meagan Day, “we have to fight like everything’s on the line!”

The post N.H. Voters Say Sanders Has Best Chance of Toppling Trump appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Multiple U.S. Casualties Reported in Afghanistan Firefight

KABUL, Afghanistan (AP) — American and Afghan military personnel were fired on while conducting an operation in Afghanistan’s eastern Nangarhar province, the U.S. military said Saturday.

There were multiple American casualties, but the number and the extent of the injuries were not immediately known, according to a U.S. official who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss information that has not been officially released.

U.S. military spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said in a statement that both Afghan and U.S. personnel were ‘engaged by direct firing.”

“We are assessing the situation,” Leggett said, without saying whether there were any casualties.

There were no other details.

The Taliban and the Islamic State group affiliate both operate in eastern Nangarhar province. The incident comes as Washington seeks to find an end to Afghanistan’s 18-year war, America’s longest.

Washington’s peace envoy Zalmay Khalilzad has been meeting with Taliban representatives in the Middle Eastern state of Qatar in recent weeks. He’s seeking an agreement to reduce hostilities to get a peace deal signed that would start negotiations among Afghans on both sides of the conflict.

In his State of the Union Address on Tuesday, President Donald Trump referenced the peace talks, saying U.S. soldiers were not meant to serve as “law enforcement agencies” for other nations.

“In Afghanistan, the determination and valor of our war fighters has allowed us to make tremendous progress, and peace talks are now underway, ” he said.


Associated Press writer Lolita C. Baldor in Washington contributed to this report.

The post Multiple U.S. Casualties Reported in Afghanistan Firefight appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Gunman Hides in Thailand Mall After Killing 20, Wounding 31

NAKHON RATCHASIMA, Thailand (AP)—An airport-themed mall filled with colorful Lego sculptures, a merry-go-round and huge replicas of landmarks from around the world became a shooting gallery Saturday as a Thai soldier opened fire during the midafternoon rush. Officials say at least 20 were killed and 31 injured.

Defense Ministry spokesman Lt. Gen. Kongcheep Tantrawanich said Sgt. Jakrapanth Thomma was behind the attack at the Terminal 21 Korat mall in Nakhon Ratchasima, a hub for Thailand’s relatively poorer and rural northeastern region. A police officer said he was angry over a land dispute.

Shortly before midnight, police announced they had secured the entire mall, but were still searching for the shooter. Public Health Minister Anutin Charnvirakul said there were no more bodies left inside, but added, “we don’t know whether there are any additional injuries or deaths or not.”

Police said the gunman was still inside. Gunfire could be head coming from the mall shortly before 3 a.m. as ambulances were brought closer to the scene, but reporters were kept away and no announcements were immediately forthcoming.

It was the country’s second mass shooting in about a month.

City and neighborhood police officers, who asked not to be identified because they were not authorized to release information, said the man took one or more guns from his base and drove to the Terminal 21 Korat mall, shooting as he went. Thai Rath television, which aired security camera footage showing a man with what appeared to be an assault rifle, said the incident began at about 3:30 p.m.

Video taken outside the mall showed people diving for cover as shots rang out. Nattaya Nganiem and her family had just finished eating and were driving away when she heard gunfire.

“First I saw a woman run out from the mall hysterically,” said Nattaya, who shot video of the scene on her phone. “Then a motorcycle rider in front of her just ran and left his motorcycle there.”

Anutin said that a doctor was shot while helping an injured person.

A police officer contacted by phone in the city of Nakhon Ratchasima said the soldier initially killed another soldier and a woman, and wounded a third person, apparently over a land dispute. Nakhon Ratchasima is also known as Korat.

Defense Ministry spokesman Kongcheep told Thai media that the first person killed was the commanding officer of the 22nd Ammunition Battalion, in which the shooting suspect also served. He said the gunman had fired at others at his base and took guns and ammunition before fleeing in an army Humvee that he drove to the mall.

The man believed to be the gunman appears to have posted updates to his Facebook page during the rampage.

“No one can escape death,” read one post. Another asked, “Should I give up?” In a later post, he wrote, “I have stopped already.”

Jakrapanth’s profile picture shows him in a mask and dressed in military-style fatigues and armed with a pistol. The background image is of a handgun and bullets.

In a photo circulated on social media that appeared to be taken from his Facebook page, the suspect can be seen wearing a green camouflaged military helmet while a fireball and black smoke rage behind him. The Facebook page was made inaccessible after the shooting began.

The gunman could scarcely have chosen a more target-rich environment in which to vent his rage.

The multi-level glass and steel mall is designed to resemble an airport terminal, complete with a mock control tower and departure gates. A large model passenger jet dangles from wires beside one of the main escalators.

Each of its seven retail floors is decorated to represent a different country. A giant replica of Paris’ Eiffel Tower soars to the ceiling, while a model of London’s Big Ben dominates another area, and a massive model of California’s Golden Gate Bridge spans an open courtyard. A two-story golden Oscar statue towers over a food court.

Hundreds of people were evacuated from the mall in small batches by police even as the gunman was being sought.

Nakhon Ratchasima is about 250 kilometers (155 miles) northeast of the Thai capital, Bangkok.

Many malls in Thailand, including Terminal 21’s namesake in Bangkok, have metal detectors and security cameras at entrances manned by uniformed but unarmed security guards. Checks on those entering are often cursory at best.

Nattaya, whose dining family left just before shooting broke out, did not know the full extent of the carnage until she arrived home. When she learned of the death toll, she fainted.

“I can’t believe this is happening in my hometown,” she said. “I mean, this shopping mall, we go there almost every other day.

Gun violence is not unheard of in Thailand. Firearms can be obtained legally, and many Thais own guns. Mass shootings are rare, though there are occasional gun battles in the far south of the country, where authorities have for years battled a long-running separatist insurgency.

The incident in Korat comes just a month after another high-profile mall shooting, in the central Thai city of Lopburi. In that case, a masked gunman carrying a handgun with a silencer killed three people, including a 2-year-old boy, and wounded four others as he robbed a jewelry store. A suspect, a school director, was arrested less than two weeks later and reportedly confessed, saying he did not mean to shoot anyone.


Tassanee Vejpongsa reported from Bangkok. Associated Press journalists Grant Peck, Preeyapa T. Khunsong and Adam Schreck contributed to this story.

The post Gunman Hides in Thailand Mall After Killing 20, Wounding 31 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Ousts Officials Who Testified in Impeachment Inquiry

WASHINGTON — Taking swift and harsh action against those who crossed him, President Donald Trump on Friday ousted two government officials who had delivered damaging testimony during his impeachment hearings. Trump made the moves just two days after his acquittal by the Senate.

First came news that Trump had ousted Lt. Col Alexander Vindman, the decorated soldier and national security aide who played a central role in the Democrats’ impeachment case. He was escorted out of the White House complex Friday, according to his lawyer, who said he was asked to leave in retaliation for “telling the truth.”

Related Articles by by The Real News Network by

“The truth has cost Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman his job, his career, and his privacy,” David Pressman, an attorney for Vindman, said in a statement. The Army said in a statement that Vindman and his twin brother, Lt. Col. Yevgeny Vindman, who also was asked to leave his job as a White House lawyer on Friday, had been reassigned to the Army.

Next came word that Gordon Sondland, Trump’s ambassador to the European Union, also was out.

“I was advised today that the President intends to recall me effective immediately as United States Ambassador to the European Union,” Sondland said in a statement.

Sondland was a crucial witness in the House impeachment inquiry, telling investigators that “Everyone was in the loop” on Trump’s desire to press Ukraine for politically charged investigations. He told lawmakers how he came to understand that there was a “quid pro quo” connecting a desired White House visit for Ukraine’s leader and an announcement that the country would conduct the investigations the president wanted.

Alexander Vindman’s lawyer issued a one-page statement that accused Trump of taking revenge on his client.

“He did what any member of our military is charged with doing every day: he followed orders, he obeyed his oath, and he served his country, even when doing so was fraught with danger and personal peril,” Pressman said. “And for that, the most powerful man in the world — buoyed by the silent, the pliable, and the complicit — has decided to exact revenge.”

The White House did not respond to Pressman’s accusation.

“We do not comment on personnel matters,” said John Ullyot, spokesman for the National Security Council, the foreign policy arm of the White House where Vindman was an expert on Ukraine.

Vindman’s status had been uncertain since he testified that he didn’t think it was “proper” for Trump to “demand that a foreign government investigate” former Vice President Joe Biden and his son’s dealings with the energy company Burisma in Ukraine. Vindman’s ouster, however, seemed imminent after Trump mocked him Thursday during his post-acquittal celebration with Republican supporters in the East Room and said Friday that he was not happy with him.

“You think I’m supposed to be happy with him?” Trump told reporters on the South Lawn of the White House. “I’m not. … They are going to be making that decision.”

Vindman, a 20-year Army veteran, wore his uniform full of medals, including a purple heart, when he appeared late last year for what turned out to be a testy televised impeachment hearing. Trump supporters raised questions about the immigrant’s allegiance to the United States — his parents fled the Soviet Union when he was a child —and noted that he had received offers to work for the government of Ukraine, offers Vindman said he swiftly dismissed.

“I am an American,” he stated emphatically.

Trump backers cheered Vindman’s removal, while Democrats were aghast.

“The White House is running a two for one special today on deep state leakers,” Rep. Paul Gosar, an Arizona Republican, wrote on Twitter.

A Twitter account used by the president’s reelection campaign, @TrumpWarRoom, claimed Vindman leaked information to the whistleblower whose complaint about Trump’s call ignited the investigation, and “colluded with Democrats to start the partisan impeachment coup.”

Former Trump NSC official Tim Morrison testified that others had brought concerns that Vindman may have leaked something. Vindman, in his own congressional testimony, denied leaking any information.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said the firing was another example of how the “White House runs away from the truth.”

“Lt. Col. Vindman lived up to his oath to protect and defend our Constitution,” Schumer said in a statement. “This action is not a sign of strength. It only shows President Trump’s weakness.”

Hillary Clinton, the 2016 Democratic presidential nominee, recalled how Vindman in testimony before the House impeachment panel said that he reassured his worried father that would be “fine for telling the truth.”

“It’s appalling that this administration may prove him wrong,” Clinton said in a tweet.

At last fall’s hearing, when the senior Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, Rep. Devin Nunes, addressed him as “Mr. Vindman,” the Iraq War veteran replied: “Ranking member, it’s Lt. Col. Vindman please.”

Defense Secretary Mark Esper was asked what the Pentagon would do to ensure that Vindman faces no retribution. “We protect all of our service members from retribution or anything like that,” Esper said. “We’ve already addressed that in policy and other means.”

Alexander Vindman is scheduled to enter a military college in Washington, D.C., this summer, and his brother is to be assigned to the Army General Counsel’s Office, according to two officials who were not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and so spoke on condition of anonymity.

Pressman said Vindman was among a handful of men and women who courageously “put their faith in country ahead of fear” but have “paid a price.”

“There is no question in the mind of any American why this man’s job is over, why this country now has one less soldier serving it at the White House,” Pressman said. “Lt. Col. Vindman was asked to leave for telling the truth. His honor, his commitment to right, frightened the powerful.”


AP writers Zeke Miller, Eric Tucker and Bob Burns contributed to this report.

The post Trump Ousts Officials Who Testified in Impeachment Inquiry appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Roger Kahn, Elegant ‘Boys of Summer’ Author, Dies at 92

MAMARONECK, N.Y. — Roger Kahn, the writer who wove memoir and baseball and touched millions of readers through his romantic account of the Brooklyn Dodgers in “The Boys of Summer,” has died. He was 92.

He died Thursday at a nursing facility in Mamaroneck, a Westchester County suburb, son Gordon Kahn said.

“Roger Kahn loved the game and earned a place in the pantheon of baseball literature long ago. He will be missed, but his words will live on,” Major League Baseball said in a statement.

The author of 20 books and hundreds of articles, Kahn was best known for the 1972 best-seller that looked at his relationship with his father through their shared love of the Dodgers, an object of nostalgia for the many fans who mourned the team’s move to Los Angeles after the 1957 season.

“At a point in life when one is through with boyhood, but has not yet discovered how to be a man, it was my fortune to travel with the most marvelously appealing of teams,” Kahn wrote.

“The Boys of Summer” was a story of lost youth, right down to its title, later borrowed for a hit Don Henley song about a man longing for his past. Kahn’s book moved back and forth between the early 1950s, when he covered the Dodgers for the New York Herald Tribune, and 20 years later, when some were ailing (Jackie Robinson), embittered (Carl Furillo) or in a wheelchair (Roy Campanella).

The book was an instant hit, although Kahn was criticized for sentimentalizing his story.

“Here is a book that succeeded for me despite almost everything about it,” wrote Christopher Lehmann-Haupt, a late book critic for The New York Times.

Retired Dodgers broadcasting great Vin Scully knew Kahn well from their days with the team — Kahn was a beat writer covering the club, and the same age as Scully.

“You couldn’t travel with them without getting emotionally involved. Roger captured that familial spirit of the players in those days,” Scully told The Associated Press on Friday. “The feeling in Brooklyn was always us against the world — the world would be the lordly pinstripers in the Bronx and almost lordly Giants in Manhattan.”

Scully said Kahn singularly distilled the essence of what it was like to be a Brooklyn player and fan of the team.

“He got it right,” Scully said. “Every year in Brooklyn it was wait till next year. It was only right that in all their years they wound up winning only one World Series and then left.”

Among those featured in the book was Carl Erskine, a star pitcher for those Dodgers.

“I turned 93 in December and for a lot of us who played with Brooklyn then and were in that book, I wouldn’t say it gave us eternal life, but it certainly enhanced our careers,” Erskine told the AP from his home in Anderson, Indiana.

Erskine said he and Kahn bonded over their love for poetry. That once came in particularly handy.

“It was still the early days of airplane travel for teams, and we were on one of those piston planes, flying over Pittsburgh on the way from Cincinnati back to New York,” Erskine recalled. “It was pretty bumpy, and were sitting next to each other. To calm our nerves, I started reciting a poem from Robert Service, it was ‘The Cremation of Sam McGee.’ That was able to distract us from the anxiety of that rough plane ride.”

Many years later, Erskine said they were together at a banquet in New York and Kahn mentioned he need to talk to the pitcher about something.

“So we went over to Toots Shor’s and he told me a sad story. He told me he was dry, that he was working on a book but couldn’t finish it and didn’t know whether anyone would read it,” Erskine said.

Hearing what the book was about — it was “The Boys of Summer” — Erskine spurred Kahn by invoking the name of a prominent New York newspaper writer from the Brooklyn era.

“How’d you like to wake up and find out that Dick Young had written your story?” Erskine prodded.

Erskine said he and Kahn stayed in touch over time, from letters in past days to emails in more recent times.

Kahn began his prolific career in 1948 as a copy boy for the Tribune, and soon became a baseball writer, working under famed sports editor Stanley Woodward. He recalled Woodward as “a wonder” who once cured a writer of using the cliche “spine-tingling” by telling him to “go out in the bleachers and ask every one of those fans if his spine actually tingled.”

He started writing about the Dodgers in 1952, and by age 26 was the newspaper’s prominent sports reporter, earning a salary of $10,000, and also covering the city’s other teams, the Giants and the Yankees.

In 1956, he was named sports editor at Newsweek magazine, and served at the Saturday Evening Post from 1963 to 1969 as editor at large. He also wrote for Esquire, Time and Sports Illustrated.

Kahn’s sports writing often drew on social issues, particularly race. He wrote at length about Robinson and his struggles in breaking baseball’s color line, and the two formed a long friendship.

“By applauding Robinson, a man did not feel that he was taking a stand on school integration, or on open housing. But for an instant he had accepted Robinson simply as a hometown ball player,” Kahn once wrote. “To disregard color, even for an instant, is to step away from the old prejudices, the old hatred. That is not a path on which many double back.”

When Kahn was inducted into the National Jewish Sports Hall of Fame in 2006, baseball Commissioner Bud Selig called him “an icon of our game.”

Among Kahn’s other sports books: 2004’s “October Men: Reggie Jackson, George Steinbrenner, Billy Martin, and the Yankees’ Miraculous Finish in 1978,” 1986’s “Joe and Marilyn: A Memory of Love,” and 1999’s “A Flame of Pure Fire: Jack Dempsey and the Roaring ’20s.”

One book caused lasting embarrassment: Kahn collaborated with Pete Rose on the 1989 authorized autobiography “Pete Rose: My Story.” Rose, the major league’s all-time hits leader, had recently been barred from baseball for betting on games and the book featured his insistence that the allegations were untrue.

But Rose acknowledged years later, in a subsequent memoir, that he did gamble. Kahn said his “first reaction was to reach for the barf bag.”

“I regret I ever got involved in the book,” Kahn told the Los Angeles Times in 2007. “It turns out that Pete Rose was the Vietnam of ballplayers. He once told me he was the best ambassador baseball ever had. I’ve thought about that and wondered why we haven’t sent him to Iran.”

Kahn also wrote two novels and two nonfiction books not related to sports: 1968’s “The Passionate People: What it Means to be a Jew in America,” and the 1970’s “The Battle for Morningside Heights: Why Students Rebel.” He maintained a friendship with the poet Robert Frost, whom he profiled in the Saturday Evening Post.

He later taught writing at several colleges and lectured at Yale, Princeton and Columbia. In 2004, he served a one-semester fellowship as the Ottaway Endowed Professor of Journalism at the State University of New York in New Paltz.

Kahn was born in Brooklyn in on Oct. 31, 1927, and inherited his love of baseball from his father, Gordon, who played third base for City College.

“There was nobody I enjoyed talking baseball with as much as this green-eyed, strong-armed, gentle, fierce, mustached, long-ball hitting, walking encyclopedia who was my father,” he wrote in his 1997 “Memories of Summer.”

Both of Kahn’s parents were teachers in Brooklyn. His mother, Olga, taught English literature and composition in high school. In recalling the influences on his life as a writer, Kahn mentioned how at bedtime his mother would tell him stories of Greek mythology.

Kahn lived in Stone Ridge in New York’s Hudson Valley.

In addition to his son, survivors include wife Katharine Kahn Johnson and daughter Alissa Kahn Keenan. Another son, Roger Laurence Kahn, died in 1987.

A funeral service is set for Monday in Katonah, New York.


Former Associated Press writer Jessica M. Pasko wrote this report. Contributing were AP Baseball Writer Ben Walker in New York, AP Sports Writer Beth Harris in Los Angeles and AP researcher Rhonda Shafner.

The post Roger Kahn, Elegant ‘Boys of Summer’ Author, Dies at 92 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bad Weather Moves into Eastern States; 5 Dead in South

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Extreme wind gusts, blowing snow and widespread flooding made traveling treacherous on Friday as a storm system moved into the northeastern United States, leaving rising water and at least five deaths in its wake across the South.

More than 400,000 homes and businesses were without power Friday after the National Weather Service warned of gusts up to 60 mph (97 kph) from Virginia into New England. Falling trees damaged homes and power lines in many places. North Carolina and Virginia, where hundreds of people had to be pulled from flooded homes, had the most customers without electricity, according to

With water levels were rising fast after up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of rain in just three days, the Tennessee Valley Authority said it began making controlled releases from some of its 49 dams in Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama and North Carolina. That could lead to more flooding downstream, so people who live near the water should be wary, said James Everett, senior manager of the utility’s river forecast center in Knoxville, Tennessee.

Creek water was still raging Friday in Alabama’s Buck’s Pocket State Park, where a person was seen inside a car as it disappeared under the surface two days earlier. Rangers walked for miles above the swollen creek but found no trace of the vehicle, so authorities sent up a state helicopter crew on Friday.

“The weather is better, but the water is not. The water is several feet higher than normal. It’s extremely high and fast.” Alabama Trooper Chuck Daniel told The Associated Press. “Until that water slows down, nobody’s going to get in that water.”

It took nearly three weeks last year to recover the body of an 18-year-old who was in a Jeep that got swept into the water in the same area.

The National Weather Service was using radar data and making damage assessments to confirm many reports of tornadoes touching down, including spots in Virginia and Maryland, near the nation’s capital, meteorologist Isha Renta told the AP. In the Tampa, Florida, area, tornadoes blew a tree onto a mobile home, trapping an elderly woman, and toppled a construction crane along interstate 275.

The dangerous winds formed the leading edge of a band of weather that stretched from Tennessee to Maine on Friday, blowing snow into northern states. As much as 4 inches (10 centimeters) fell overnight in Ohio, contributing to car accidents in the Akron area, and the Ohio Department of Transportation urged people to make room for nearly 1,300 state crews working to improve the icy conditions.

Up to 8 inches (20 centimeters) of snow was predicted in West Virginia, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared a state of emergency in Virginia, where he said more than 500 people had to be rescued from their homes as the waters rose.

Citing floods, rain, snow, power outages or all of the above, many school districts canceled classes in state after state.

Earlier, the weather destroyed mobile homes in Mississippi, Alabama and Florida, caused mudslides in Tennessee and Kentucky and flooded communities that shoulder waterways across the Appalachian region.

Authorities confirmed five storm-related fatalities, in Alabama, South Carolina, North Carolina and Tennessee.

Anita Rembert was killed and her husband was injured, but their child and two grandchildren were unhurt as high winds destroyed two mobile homes near the town of Demopolis, Alabama, according to the county’s emergency management director, Kevin McKinney. They emerged to a scene littered with plywood, insulation, broken trees and twisted metal.

At least four other people died in vehicles that were hit by falling trees or lost control in heavy rain or floods. Authorities pleaded with motorists to avoid driving where they can’t see the pavement.

A driver died in South Carolina when a tree fell on an SUV near Fort Mill, Highway Patrol Master Trooper Gary Miller said. The driver’s name wasn’t immediately released.

In North Carolina’s Gaston County, Terry Roger Fisher was killed after his pickup truck hydroplaned in heavy rain, plunged down a 25-foot (8-meter) embankment and overturned in a creek, the North Carolina State Highway Patrol said, according to news outlets.

An unidentified man died and two others were injured Thursday when a car hydroplaned in Knoxville, Tennessee, and hit a truck, police said in a news release.

And in Tennessee, 36-year-old teacher Brooke Sampson was killed and four people were injured when a rain-soaked tree fell on a van carrying Sevierville city employees, officials said. The crash, though still under investigation, appeared to have been weather-related according to preliminary information, said Tennessee Highway Patrol spokesman Lt. Bill Miller.

There’s little room to relax after this storm blows through, because there’s more wild weather to come.

“We do expect another storm system to come along about midweek next week and bring heavy precipitation to some of the same areas that just saw it over the past 24 hours. So something to keep an eye on for next week,” meteorologist Greg Carbin of the Weather Prediction Center told the AP.

Schools around New York were closed as the storm moved through the state. Operators of the Thruway reduced the highway’s speed limit from 65 mph (105 kph) to 45 mph (72 kph) across more than 100 miles (160 kilometers) amid snowy, icy conditions.

In northern New York, an ice storm left more than 35,000 customers without power as falling tree limbs brought down power lines.


Associated Press staffers Jeff Martin in Atlanta; Ben Finley in Norfolk, Virginia.; Tamara Lush in Tampa, Florida; Adrian Sainz in Memphis, Tennessee; John Raby in Charleston, West Virginia; and Andrew Welsh-Huggins in Columbus, Ohio; contributed to this report.

The post Bad Weather Moves into Eastern States; 5 Dead in South appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Antarctica Temperatures Trigger Fear of Rapid Ice Melt

Climate scientists on Friday revealed the latest troubling new observation in Antarctica, illustrating the consequences of the rapid warming of the area brought on by the manmade climate crisis.

As The Guardian reported Friday, researchers stationed at the Esperanza research station at the northern tip of the Antarctic peninsula found that temperatures reached 64.9º Fahrenheit (18.3º Celsius)—the highest temperature logged since scientists began recording the continent’s temperature in 1961.

#Antártida | Nuevo récord de temperaturas

Este mediodía la Base #Esperanza registró un nuevo récord histórico (desde 1961) de temperatura, con 18,3°C. Con este valor se supera el récord anterior de 17,5°C del 24 en marzo de 2015. Y no fue el único récord…

— SMN Argentina (@SMN_Argentina) February 6, 2020

The record-breaking temperature was logged a week after scientists at New York University and the British Antarctic Survey reported that the grounding line of the Thwaites glacier in Antarctica—where the ice meets ocean water—was 32º Fahrenheit.

The record-warm temperature was recorded in one of the fastest-warming regions of the world.

Lewis Pugh, an endurance swimmer and advocate for the world’s oceans, posted an image on social media of a swim he took in East Antarctica “to demonstrate how it is changing.”

“We need urgent and ambitious action to tackle this climate crisis!” Pugh tweeted.

I swam in East Antarctica to demonstrate how it is changing.

Argentinian scientists have just logged a record air temperature of 18.3°C on the Antarctic Peninsula.

We need urgent and ambitious action to tackle this climate crisis! #Antarctica2020

— Lewis Pugh (@LewisPugh) February 7, 2020

Podcast host and climate advocate Assaad Razzouk added that when the researchers at the Esperanza station recorded the record-warm temperature, the Antarctic peninsula was warmer than the United Kingdom.

Antarctica hits hottest temperature on historical record at 18.3C (65F): It’s warmer there right now than in the UK

That’s ANTARCTICA we’re talking about







— Assaad Razzouk (@AssaadRazzouk) February 7, 2020

The peninsula has warmed by about 5.4º Fahrenheit over the past 50 years. The latest reading broke the previous record of 63.5º Fahrenheit (17.5º Celsius), which was recorded in March 2015.

“The reading is impressive as it’s only five years since the previous record was set and this is almost one degree centigrade higher,” James Fenwick, a climate scientist at Victoria University of Wellington in New Zealand, told The Guardian. “It’s a sign of the warming that has been happening there that’s much faster than the global average.”

Even minor increases in temperatures in Antarctica alarm climate scientists, especially as researchers have observed the retreat of glaciers and even a massive cavity beneath the Thwaites glacier a year ago.

The consequences of such warm temperatures “are the collapse of the ice shelves along the peninsula,” Nerilie Abram, a climate scientist at the Australian National University, told The Guardian.

The void found beneath the Thwaites glacier last year intensified concerns among climate scientists that Antarctica is melting faster than experts have previously believed.

The collapse of the glacier is “completely plausible,” Ted Scambos, a scientist at the National Snow and Ice Data Center in Boulder, Colorado, who was not involved with the recent studies, told NBC News at the time.

“Thwaites has a really perfect storm going for it,” he added, referencing the findings of Pietro Milillo, a scientist at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory, who last year in a study pointed to “different mechanisms of retreat” leading to the glacier’s melting.

While temperatures on the Antarctic peninsula have warmed and the cavity beneath Thwaites has formed, the glacier is retreating at a rate of about 650 feet per year. The melting of the glacier can be attributed to about 4% of global sea level rise, Scambos told NBC News.

Thwaits is often called the “Doomsday Glacier” by scientists, as the collapse of the ice mass could lead to a global sea level rise of two feet, flooding coastal cities all over the world.

The post Antarctica Temperatures Trigger Fear of Rapid Ice Melt appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Syrian Advance Sends Hundreds of Thousands Fleeing in Idlib

BEIRUT — Turkey on Friday sent more troops and tanks to bolster its military presence in northwestern Syria, where President Bashar Assad’s forces have been advancing in a devastating, Russian-backed offensive that has sparked a massive wave of people fleeing in wet and blustery winter weather.

Syria’s Idlib region near the border with Turkey is the last rebel-held bastion in the war-ravaged country. The push by Assad’s forces into towns and villages in the province over the past months has uprooted more than a half-million people who fled the advancing troops. Many of them already have been displaced several times in the 8-year-old Syrian war.

Related Articles by Independent Media Institute by by

The campaign also has angered Turkey, which backs the rebels, and brought the two countries’ troops into a rare, direct confrontation: At least eight Turkish troops and civilians and 13 Syrian soldiers have been killed.

As Syrian and Russian warplanes indiscriminately pounded hospitals, clinics and schools in the enclave, civilians packed their belongings in cars, taxis and pickup trucks. They streamed toward the Turkish border with few options left that are outside Syrian government control.

Many end up in tents or sheltering in abandoned buildings during rainy and windy weather, with temperatures hovering around freezing but predicted to fall over the weekend.

“If they stay, they run the risk of falling victim to the indiscriminate violence taking place in urban areas. If they leave, they have nowhere to go, “ said Lorenzo Redalié, head of the Aleppo office of the International Committee of the Red Cross. ”The shelters can’t accommodate everyone, and it is more and more challenging for humanitarians to reach them and meet their needs.”

The Syrian offensive appears aimed for now at securing a strategic highway in rebel-controlled territory, as opposed to an all-out campaign to retake the entire province, including the city of Idlib, the densely populated provincial capital.

Earlier this week, Syrian government troops took control of the former rebel town of Saraqeb, which is strategic because it sits on the intersection of two major highways. One of them leads to the capital, Damascus, to the north, and another connects to the country’s western and eastern regions.

Turkey, which backs the Syrian opposition and has been monitoring a cease-fire in the rebel enclave, has protested the government assault, calling it a violation of the truce it negotiated with Russia. In recent weeks, Ankara sent in troops and equipment to reinforce monitoring points it set up to observe a previous cease-fire, which has since crumbled, and also deployed forces around towns that are threatened by the Syrian advance.

Associated Press video showed a long line of armored vehicles and trucks, some carrying tanks, filing into rebel-controlled rural areas of the province. The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights, which monitors the war, said the new troops were deployed west of the town of Saraqeb. It was fifth known deployment of new troops into Syria over the last week, according to the Observatory and other opposition news outlets.

‘’It is shocking that civilians continue to bear the brunt of hostilities between all parties to the conflict,” U.N. Human Rights spokeswoman Marta Hurtado said.

‘’It appears foreign powers are battling for territorial and political gains, while blatantly disregarding their obligation to protect civilians,” she told reporters in Geneva.

Idlib and nearby rural Aleppo are the last rebel-held areas in Syria. They are home to more than 3 million people, most of them already displaced by violence.

Hundreds of thousands of people have been on the move in recent weeks, fleeing toward areas closer to the Turkish border. Many of them are being housed in temporary shelters.

Of the 580,000 people who have been displaced since Dec. 1, UNICEF estimated that about 300,000 of them are children.

Also on Friday, Russia’s Defense Ministry accused Israel of nearly shooting down a Syrian passenger jet with 172 people aboard during a missile strike on the suburbs of Damascus a day earlier. A spokesman for the Israeli prime minister did not respond to a request for comment, and the AP was unable to verify the Russian allegation. Israel rarely acknowledges any strikes carried out in Syria.

Turkish officials say three Turkish observation posts are inside Syrian-controlled areas in Idlib. A security official, speaking on condition of anonymity in line with government rules, insisted the posts would not be evacuated.

Turkey’s Defense Ministry warned the army would respond “even more forcefully” to any attack on the observation posts, adding: “Our observation posts will continue carrying out duties.”

There was a brief respite Friday from the air campaign, residents and opposition activists said, with almost no bombardment reported. It was not clear whether that was due in part to a storm that battered the area with strong winds and heavy rain.

The violence has also raised tensions between Moscow and Ankara, which have been working together to secure cease-fires and political talks despite backing opposite sides of the conflict.

Turkish Foreign Minister Mevlut Cavusoglu said a Russian delegation is scheduled to arrive in Ankara on Saturday to discuss the situation in Idlib. A meeting between Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan and Russian President Vladimir Putin could follow, Cavusoglu said.

“We will do whatever is necessary to stop the human drama, the disaster” in Idlib, Cavusoglu said.


Associated Press Writer Jamey Keaten in Geneva, Daria Litvinova in Moscow and Zeina Karam in Beirut contributed.

The post Syrian Advance Sends Hundreds of Thousands Fleeing in Idlib appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Census Is Not Safe From Donald Trump

When the Supreme Court ruled in June that the Trump administration could not place a citizenship question on the 2020 census, civil rights advocates breathed a sigh of relief.

Derrick Johnson, president and CEO of the NAACP, called the outcome “a victory for democracy.”

“The administration deliberately sought to increase the political power of whites at the expense of already underrepresented communities,” Johnson said in a statement.

Trump administration officials had claimed the question was needed in order to properly enforce the Voting Rights Act of 1965. But just weeks before the ruling, documents uncovered by the daughter of the late GOP strategist Thomas B. Hofeller suggested a partisan motive for the question. By including it, Hofeller had determined, the administration could acquire detailed data that would aid in redrawing legislative districts “advantageous to Republicans and Non-Hispanic Whites.”

But shortly after being rebuffed by the high court, President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to mine their records to create a list of noncitizens anyway.

“We will utilize these vast federal databases to gain a full, complete and accurate count of the non-citizen population, including databases maintained by the Department of Homeland Security and the Social Security Administration,” Trump announced at a White House Rose Garden press conference in July. “We will leave no stone unturned.”

The same day, Trump issued an executive order requiring the Census Bureau to start collecting citizenship data – and ordering federal agencies to assist the bureau in this task.

In the months since, the bureau has been hard at work figuring out just how to build the president’s list. In a public meeting in September, the Census Bureau’s chief scientist, John Abowd, said a research program was underway at the bureau to meet the requirements of Trump’s executive order. And then he said something explosive: Even without a citizenship question, the bureau now can accurately identify whether a respondent is a citizen at least 90% of the time.

At that meeting of the Census Scientific Advisory Committee, Abowd said the bureau would augment census data with information collected by the Social Security Administration, Department of Homeland Security and state governments to estimate citizenship.

And in an interview in November, Abowd confirmed that the bureau was on track to provide the citizenship data Trump has been seeking, with 90% accuracy.

“That’s the number we’ve been saying,” Abowd said. “That’s based on the 2010 census and on the assumption that the techniques we used in combination with the 2010 census will be just as effective on the 2020 census.”

What the citizenship data will be used for isn’t yet entirely clear. Abowd insisted that the list of noncitizens will be used only for statistical purposes and that individuals’ citizenship status will be kept secret. And Trump’s July 11 executive order states that the list will be used only “for making broad policy determinations” and “has nothing to do with enforcing immigration laws against particular individuals.”

Civil rights organizations and legal scholars say it’s unlikely that Trump would brazenly turn over the Census Bureau’s list to U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Doing so would violate a federal law that specifically protects the privacy of census data. And to do so, he’d need the involvement of Census Bureau officials who have sworn an oath to protect the information they gather.

Still, advocates worry.

“I think it would be foolhardy to ever underestimate this administration’s willingness to violate the law,” said Thomas A. Saenz, president and general counsel of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund, which is suing the administration over its collection of citizenship data.

As early as 2018, statisticians at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine warned that the administration’s drive to compile a list of citizens appeared to push boundaries.

An academies statistics committee wrote in August of that year that plans to place a citizenship question on the census were not just a “ ‘reinstatement’ of a citizenship question to the decennial census for statistical purposes but rather the intended use of census responses as seed data to construct an ongoing citizenship status registry, something never before proposed as a task for the Census Bureau.”

“If it’s really a registry,” Don Dillman, a member of the committee, told a reporter, “I don’t know where it would start – and where it would end.”

The White House did not respond to several requests for comment for this story.

There are also lingering questions about how secure the data the Census Bureau is collecting will be.

In 2016, the bureau organized an internal “hack,” challenging a team of its data scientists to reverse engineer census responses from the broad aggregate datasets that are made public after each count. By applying a mathematical concept called the database reconstruction theorem, the team took the limited public records and successfully identified individual respondents with an extraordinary level of accuracy.

Meanwhile, the 2020 census is the first census ever to give respondents the option to fill out the form online, which millions of Americans are expected to do. And the Census Bureau’s new IT platforms may themselves be susceptible to data breaches. During a 2018 test of the bureau’s new systems, the census website was hacked from Russian IP addresses, Reuters reported.

Census Bureau officials insist their data systems are secure and say the agency is implementing an additional, far more effective method of keeping any 2020 data that is released anonymous.

If the Trump administration is going to build a list of noncitizens, said Keshia Morris, census project manager at Common Cause, which advocated against the citizenship question, then “I feel the Census Bureau is probably the best place to do that, because of their confidentiality protections. But if their security isn’t good enough and anyone, including our enemies, can hack that data, then it’s definitely something to be concerned about.”

When the Census Bureau hacked itself

Census data is supposed to be sacrosanct: locked away, free from prying eyes and special interests.

But while this privacy guarantee applies to individual census responses, the same isn’t true for aggregate data. The Census Bureau long has published hundreds of summary tables of its data – a statistical portrait of who Americans are and where they live and work. The information is widely used by business, government and academia to inform and shape an array of policy decisions.

For decades, the Census Bureau has employed statistical techniques to mask this public data to protect respondents’ privacy. In 2010, the bureau applied a “swapping” technique – essentially switching out information about some households that are at high risk of being individually identified for others within the same geographic area. For example, in 2010, as The New York Times reported, the bureau swapped out some data about a couple who were the sole residents of Liberty Island, which houses the Statue of Liberty. In order to protect the couple’s privacy, the bureau switched some of the couple’s answers with responses from another couple elsewhere in the state who shared similar characteristics.

Yet even before the 2010 census, some experts had warned that these summary tables could be used to reverse engineer the original individual census responses. Applying the database reconstruction theorem, summary databases could be combined with other publicly available information to reconstruct underlying personal data.

In response to these security concerns, Abowd in 2016 assigned a team of data scientists to see if they could hack the 2010 census in this way.

The results of this internal “attack” were eye-opening. The team was able to accurately reconstruct the census responses for individuals’ age, sex, race, ethnicity and census block for almost half of the U.S. population.

Alarmingly, the team also proved it could name names. By comparing results to personal information collected in a commercially available database, the team was able to correctly identify the names of about 17% of the total population, or about 52 million people.

Hackers might have gone further, bureau officials acknowledged.

“This attack that we simulated is really just the tip of a very large iceberg,” Census Bureau statistician Philip Leclerc told a meeting at the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine last year.

Robert Groves, who led the Census Bureau from 2009 to 2012, stressed that at the time of the 2010 census, the bureau was taking all the privacy measures it thought was necessary. It wasn’t until years later that he and others realized how susceptible the public data tables were to reconstruction.

“In retrospect, we were releasing more data than we probably should have,” Groves told Reveal.

A privacy panacea?

For the 2020 census, the bureau has embraced a new strategy for protecting its public data from hacks: a technique called differential privacy.

According to Harvard University computer scientist Cynthia Dwork, it’s a method of masking or camouflaging large amounts of data by creating a “synthetic” version of the data that’s been collected. That allows the findings and patterns of the information to be shared without the underlying data being published anywhere – and therefore vulnerable to being reconstructed.

Dwork, who helped develop the technique, describes differential privacy as “provably future-proof,” meaning it’s immune even to hacking techniques that haven’t been devised yet.

Abowd has echoed this “future-proof” claim at public meetings and in his interview with Reveal.

“The future-proof nature of differential privacy basically assumes infinite computing power and infinite knowledge,” Abowd told Reveal. “Suppose that you knew every bit in the confidential data except one. No amount of future computing will help you to get any closer to that one bit.”

Abowd said by email that differential privacy will be used to protect all the information the bureau collects, including the sensitive citizenship data. “The modern disclosure avoidance system that we have adopted for the 2020 Census, called differential privacy, will ensure that publications, even block-level publications, cannot be used for enforcement activities aimed at individuals, including immigration enforcement,” Abowd wrote.

Kobbi Nissim, a computer science professor at Georgetown University and an expert on database security issues, was more cautious.

“I’m one of the inventors of differential privacy, and I would say this is the best guarantee we have now, but I would not claim that it’s a panacea,” he said. “I think that anybody who is claiming that any measure of privacy protection is a panacea is short-sighted.”

Meanwhile, the Census Bureau faces another fundamental threat: straight-up hacking of the underlying data itself.

In its December report, Reuters found that an overcomplicated rollout of new technology has left the Census Bureau’s computer networks open to this risk. Hackers working from computers with Russian IP addresses attempted to access census data during a test run of the census website in 2018.

Census Bureau officials insist that the threats Reuters identified are overblown and that the sensitive data that will be collected from millions of Americans online will remain safe.

But given that the Census Bureau is for the first time collating perhaps the most sensitive data of all, citizenship data, not everyone is convinced.

“This is the kind of thing that you’d like to have a decade of experimentation with,” said Groves, the former Census Bureau director. “There is no zero risk. That’s just impossible, and that’s our problem.”

The post The Census Is Not Safe From Donald Trump appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Hiring Surges in January as Americans Flood Into Job Market

WASHINGTON — Hiring jumped last month as U.S. employers added a robust 225,000 jobs, bolstering an economy that faces threats from China’s viral outbreak, an ongoing trade war and struggles at Boeing.

The Labor Department also said Friday that a half-million people streamed into the job market in January, though not all of them found jobs. That influx meant that more people were counted as unemployed, and it boosted the jobless rate to 3.6% from a half-century low of 3.5% in December.

Related Articles by FAIR by by

The government’s monthly jobs report signaled that businesses remain confident enough to keep hiring, with the pace of job growth accelerating from a year ago. Solid consumer spending is offsetting drags from the trade war and declining business investment.

The job gains also give President Donald Trump more evidence for his argument that the economy is flourishing under his watch. The Democratic contenders vying to oppose him, who will debate Friday night in New Hampshire, have embraced a counter-argument: That the economy’s benefits are disproportionately benefiting wealthier Americans.

Economists cautioned that a large chunk of January’s job growth reflected temporary increases from unseasonably warm weather. Construction firms, hotels, and restaurants, which benefit from better outdoor conditions, accounted for about one-third of last month’s gains.

Still, taken as a whole, Friday’s job growth reflects an economy that shows continued strength 11-plus years into a record-long expansion.

“While favorable weather conditions likely flattered the headline figures in today’s employment report, the key takeaway is that jobs growth continues to run at a solid pace,” said Neil Dutta, head of economics at Renaissance Macro Research.

January’s jobs report doesn’t appear to reflect any economic damage from the coronavirus, which has sickened thousands in China, closed stores and factories there and led many international businesses to suspend operations involving China. The virus’ impact likely came too late in the month to affect Friday’s jobs data.

Nor did Boeing’s decision to halt production of its troubled 737 MAX appear to have much impact on last month’s hiring gain. But the repercussions could begin to restrain job growth in the coming months.

Despite the brisk pace of hiring in January, hourly pay is up just 3.1% from a year earlier, below a peak of 3.5% last summer, though still above the inflation rate.

The public’s confidence that jobs are plentiful is helping persuade more people outside the workforce to begin looking for one. The proportion of Americans either with jobs or actively looking for one rose to 63.4%, the highest since June 2013.

Friday’s report also included, for the first time, data on same-sex couples who were included in broader figures on married people. The overall unemployment rate for married men was 1.7% in January and for married women 2.1%.

With fewer unemployed people to choose from, many companies are having to work harder to fill jobs. Tracy Graziani, co-owner of Graziani Multimedia with her husband, Lou, says she has struggled to find workers with web developer skills in her town of Mansfield, Ohio, population 47,000, an hour from Cleveland and Columbus.

So the couple have decided to develop their own web specialist, hiring a college student part time and training him. With their business growing, they have little choice. A strong economy typically enables more companies to train their workers.

“We hope when he graduates, he’ll stay on with us,” Tracy Graziani said, though many college grads move away.

Friday’s employment report included the government’s annual revisions of estimated job growth. The revisions showed that hiring was slower in 2018 and early last year than previously estimated. Employers added 2.3 million jobs in 2018, down from a previous estimate of 2.7 million.

That total gives Trump slightly less to boast about. Job growth in 2018 had previously topped 2016’s total. But the revised figures indicate that hiring in each of the first three years of Trump’s tenure trails the pace in the final three years of the Obama presidency.

The revisions also lowered February 2019’s job gain from 56,000 to just 1,000. That revision barely maintained the record-long streak of hiring that began after the Great Recession and has now reached 112 months.

The report may help keep the Federal Reserve on the sidelines in the coming months. With wage growth moderate, companies will face less pressure to raise wages in the coming months. That should keep inflation in check.

Factory hiring, however, will likely be slowed in coming months by Boeing’s decision to suspend production of its troubled aircraft, the 737 MAX. One Boeing supplier, Spirit Aerosystems, has said it will cut 2,800 jobs. Those layoffs occurred after the government’s survey for the January jobs report and will likely affect the hiring figures released next month.

Still, manufacturers shed jobs in January for the third time in four months, cutting 12,000 positions, mostly because of layoffs in auto plants. Companies as a whole have cut back sharply on their spending on plants and equipment, in part because of Trump’s trade conflicts. That pullback in spending may continue to hamper manufacturers.

In the meantime, consumers remain confident about the economy and are spending steadily, benefiting such industries as restaurants, hotels, and health care. A category that mostly includes hotels and restaurants added a robust 36,000 jobs. Health care providers added more than 47,000.

All told, economists have forecast that the economy will expand at a roughly 2% annual rate in the first three months of this year, roughly the same as its 2.1% annual growth in the final three months of last year.

The post Hiring Surges in January as Americans Flood Into Job Market appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Pete Buttigieg Blasted for Declaring Himself ‘Official’ Victor in Iowa

Former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg and CNN came under fire late Thursday for uncritically boosting the latest batch of Iowa Democratic caucus results, which—as documented by news outlets and observers—contained a number of glaring errors that the Iowa Democratic Party has yet to fix.

After CNN anchor Chris Cuomo introduced Buttigieg at a town hall at Saint Anselm College Thursday night as the “leader” of the Iowa caucuses with “100%” of precincts reported, the former mayor declared, “That’s fantastic news to hear that we won.”

“Sen. Sanders clearly had a great night, too, and I congratulate him and his supporters,” said Buttigieg, who later sent an email to supporters proclaiming that he “officially won the Iowa caucuses.”

This is CNN’s frontpage right now.

let’s start with this: Everyone on Twitter & the NYT website now knows that it’s not actually “100%.” That there’s at least one if not more precinct missing.

I mean, I could go on, but come on.

— Taniel (@Taniel) February 7, 2020

But both Cuomo and Buttigieg failed during the town hall to note widespread concerns that the supposedly complete Iowa caucus results—which showed Buttigieg leading by one-tenth of a percentage point in state delegate equivalents (SDEs)—were riddled with obvious errors.

“I’m more embarrassed for CNN than for the [Iowa Democratic Party] tonight,” tweeted Daniel Nichanian, editor of The Appeal, who highlighted a slew of errors in the caucus results. “It’s one thing for a party to do PR (or whatever this is). It’s another thing for a media outlet to just take what’s effectively a party’s verifiably incorrect press release and broadcast it as if it’s gospel.”

CNN said it “plans to report a winner” as early as Friday afternoon if no candidate files an official request for a recount. “Unacceptable,” Jeff Hauser of the Revolving Door Project said of CNN and Buttigieg’s handling of the results.

The Associated Press, on the other hand, announced Thursday night that because “there is evidence the party has not accurately tabulated some of its results, including those released late Thursday that the party reported as complete,” it is unable to declare a winner.

Despite the Iowa Democratic Party’s claim that 100% of the precinct results have been reported—an assertion echoed by many media outlets—one observer highlighted what appeared to be a completely missing precinct. The Des Moines Register‘s tally of the caucus results remains at 99.9% with 1764 of 1765 precincts reporting.

“On quick examination, all of my ‘favorite’—forgive me—possible/likely errors are still there,” New York Times reporter Nate Cohn tweeted in response to the new batch of results. The Times reported Thursday that “more than 100 precincts reported results that were internally inconsistent, that were missing data, or that were not possible under the complex rules of the Iowa caucuses.”

“I suspect I can say this without crossing the line into opinion: this is the worst conceived and executed electoral contest I have ever seen,” Cohn added.

The Sanders campaign, which declared victory in Iowa Thursday on the basis of its overwhelming and clear lead in the popular vote, issued a statement Thursday night highlighting more than a dozen “discrepancies in the state delegate equivalent data” that it sent to the Iowa Democratic Party.

“Tonight’s release of data by the Iowa Democratic Party confirms Sen. Bernie Sanders won the Iowa caucus,” Sanders’ senior adviser Jeff Weaver said. “We also feel confident that the discrepancies we’re providing tonight, in addition to those widely identified in the national media, mean that the SDE count will never be known with any kind of certainty.”

“Given the rules changes we fought for that required the release of the popular vote count,” said Weaver, “SDEs are now an antiquated and meaningless metric for deciding the winner of the Iowa caucus.”

The latest results showed Sanders with a more than 6,000-vote lead over Buttigieg in the first alignment and a more than 2,600-vote lead in the final alignment.

The discrepancies released by the Sanders campaign can be viewed below:

.@BernieSanders campaign declares victory in the Iowa Caucus, calls the SDE totals an “antiquated and meaningless metric” and says the count “will never be known with any kind of certainty.” Releases a bunch of discrepancies in precincts they think will boost Sanders:

— Iowa Starting Line (@IAStartingLine) February 7, 2020

During his own town hall at Saint Anselm College Thursday night, just ahead of Buttigieg’s, the Vermont senator said “it is really sad that the Democratic Party of Iowa, if I may say so, screwed up the counting process quite so badly.”

“But at the end of the day,” Sanders added, “we ended up winning the popular vote.”

Sanders said he expects to end up with the same number of national pledged delegates in Iowa as Buttigieg and noted that he is now focused on winning the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary.

“We’ve got enough of Iowa,” Sanders said to laughter from the audience. “Move on to New Hampshire.”

The post Pete Buttigieg Blasted for Declaring Himself ‘Official’ Victor in Iowa appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Democrats Prepare for ‘Fiery’ N.H. Debate as Urgency Rises

MANCHESTER, N.H. — The Democratic Party’s seven strongest presidential contenders are preparing for what could be the fiercest debate stage clash of the 2020 primary season as candidates look to survive the gauntlet of contests that lie ahead.

The field has been shaken and reshaped by chaotic Iowa caucuses earlier this week, and Friday’s debate in New Hampshire — coming four days before the state’s primary — offers new opportunity and risk for the shrinking pool of White House hopefuls. At least one leading campaign was predicting a “forceful, fiery” performance.

Related Articles by by by

Two candidates, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and former Midwestern mayor Pete Buttigieg, enter the night as the top targets, having emerged from Iowa essentially tied for the lead. Those trailing after the first contest — including former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar — have an urgent need to demonstrate strength.

Billionaire activist Tom Steyer and New York entrepreneur Andrew Yang, meanwhile, are fighting to prove they belong in the conversation.

The rapidly evolving dynamic means that the candidates have a very real incentive to mix it up with their Democratic rivals in the 8 p.m. debate hosted by ABC. They may not get another chance.

“This is the time when voters are eager for candidates to show they can compare and contrast, but also show they’re in it to win it,” said Democratic strategist Lily Adams, who worked on California Sen. Kamala Harris’ unsuccessful 2020 presidential campaign. “Expect it to get more feisty.”

Sanders previewed one line of attack at a breakfast event in New Hampshire’s largest city by slamming Buttigieg for accepting campaign cash from wealthy donors, which Sanders and Warren have refused to do.

“I like Pete Buttigieg. Nice guy,” Sanders said before reading a series of headlines about wealthy donors backing Buttigieg. “But we are in a moment where billionaires control, not only our economy but our political life.”

Channeling an old folk ballad by Woody Guthrie, Sanders added: “This campaign is about, Which side are you on?’”

Traditionally, the knives come out during this phase in the presidential primary process.

It was the pre-New Hampshire debate four years ago on the Republican side when then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie devastated Florida Sen. Marco Rubio’s presidential ambitions with a well-timed take-down. Rubio never recovered, making it easier for Donald Trump to emerge as his party’s presidential nominee.

The stakes are particularly high this week for Biden, who has played front-runner in virtually every one of the previous seven debates but left Iowa in distant fourth place. While reporting irregularities have blunted the impact of the Iowa contest, Biden’s weakness rattled supporters who encouraged him to take an aggressive tack Friday night.

One of Biden’s more prominent New Hampshire backers, Democratic operative Jim Demers, said this is the time to fight.

“People want to see the fire, they want to see fight and they want to see the differences,” he said.

Lest there be any doubt about his intentions, Biden adopted a decidedly more aggressive tone with his rivals in the days leading up to Friday’s debate, having largely avoided direct attacks against other Democrats for much of the last year. But Wednesday in New Hampshire, the former vice president went after Sanders and Buttigieg by name and questioned their ability to beat Trump.

On Sanders, Biden seized on the Vermont senator’s status as a self-described democratic socialist. And on Buttigieg, he knocked the 38-year-old former mayor’s inexperience.

Biden also conceded the obvious — that his Iowa finish was underwhelming at best. He called it a “gut punch” before embracing the underdog role: “This isn’t the first time in my life I’ve been knocked down.”

Deputy campaign manager Kate Bedingfield highlighted Biden’s post-Iowa strategy of going more directly after his opponents, and she said it would continue on the debate stage.

“All of the candidates have progressive plans. Only one has a lifelong record of making them reality,” Bedingfield said. “You can expect in the debate tonight that Vice President Biden will make a forceful, fiery case for his candidacy and will raise some tough questions for voters to consider about who they want taking on Donald Trump.”

The seven-person field also highlights the evolution of the Democrats’ 2020 nomination fight, which began with more than two dozen candidates and has been effectively whittled down to a handful of top-tier contenders.

There are clear dividing lines based on ideology, age and gender. But just one of the candidates on stage, Yang, is an ethnic minority.

Two African Americans and the only Latino candidate were forced from the race even before voting began. The only black contender still in the running, former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick, did not meet the polling or fundraising thresholds to qualify for Friday’s event.

Beyond Biden’s struggles, there are several subplots to watch.

The debate is the first since a progressive feud erupted on national television between Sanders and Warren. The Massachusetts senator refused to shake her New England neighbor’s hand and accused him of calling her a liar moments after the Jan. 14 meeting in Iowa.

The pointed exchange threatened to cause a permanent fissure in the Democratic Party’s far-left flank. Warren has embraced her gender as a political strength in the weeks since, highlighting the successes of female candidates in the Trump era and her own record of defeating a male Republican to earn a seat in the Senate.

That said, she stressed unity at campaign stops in recent days: “We’ve got to pull together as a party. We cannot repeat 2016,” she said.

She even points to her sprawling campaign organization to prove her dedication to party unity, noting that aides from rival candidates no longer in the race have chosen to work for her.

“I have an open campaign,” Warren said during a rally Wednesday at a community college in Nashua. “An inclusive campaign, a campaign that invites people in.”

Yet Warren has been willing to attack before. Aside from the post-debate skirmish with Sanders, she seized on Buttigieg’s fundraising practices in past meetings.

While Warren and Sanders as presidential candidates have sworn off wealthy donors, Buttigieg and the rest of the field have continued to hold private finance events with big donors, some with connections to Wall Street. In fact, Buttigieg took the unusual step of leaving New Hampshire this week to hold three fundraisers with wealthy donors in the New York area.

Buttigieg should expect to be under attack Friday night, said Joel Benenson, a debate adviser to Buttigieg last year and a prominent Democratic pollster.

“He’s got to be prepared for incoming from the people behind him, who are going to be punching up and trying to take votes away,” Benenson said.

“He’s got to be prepared to counterpunch, as well, and push back strenuously, but drive his message even when he’s responding,” he added. “If they draw sharp contrasts, he has to, as well.”


Associated Press writers Will Weissert in Manchester, N.H., Thomas Beaumont in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

The post Democrats Prepare for ‘Fiery’ N.H. Debate as Urgency Rises appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ireland’s Two-Party System Shaken by Sinn Fein Surge

DUBLIN — Ireland’s elections are usually two-horse races. But this time there’s a third contender, as a party with historic links to the Irish Republican Army soars in the polls.

As Irish voters prepare to choose a new parliament on Saturday, a restive electorate is rattling the two parties that have dominated the country’s politics since it won independence from Britain a century ago, Fianna Fail and Fine Gael.

Related Articles by by by

Polls show a surprise surge — maybe even a lead — for Sinn Fein, the party historically linked to the IRA and its violent struggle for a united Ireland.

Sinn Fein is a major force in Northern Ireland, which is part of the U.K., but has long been a minor political player in the Republic, shunned by the bigger parties because of its ties to the IRA. But the party’s left-wing proposals for tackling Ireland’s housing crisis and creaking healthcare system are striking a chord, especially with young voters.

Sinn Fein President Mary Lou McDonald said this week that there was a “thirst for change” in Ireland.

“The people were ahead of the curve in real terms in articulating the kind of profound change that they want. People were telling us ‘We want change and by the way you are it, so get ready and serve us well,'” she said on Friday, the final day of campaigning.

The two big parties, whose origins lie on opposing sides of Ireland’s 1920s civil war, are fierce rivals but share a broadly center-right outlook. For decades power has alternated between them.

Ireland’s next Taoiseach, or prime minister, is highly likely to be either current Prime Minister Leo Varadkar of Fine Gael or Fianna Fail leader Micheal Martin.

But support for the two parties has fallen since the 2008 global financial crisis, which hit the debt-fueled “Celtic Tiger” economy particularly hard. Ireland was pushed to the brink of bankruptcy and forced to seek a humiliating international bailout that was followed by years of austerity.

The last election, four years ago saw voters shift in big numbers to protest parties and independents. It produced a Fine Gael minority government propped up by Fianna Fail votes.

Varadkar took office after becoming Fine Gael leader in 2017. The son of an Indian doctor and an Irish nurse, he was Ireland’s youngest-ever Taoiseach and its first openly gay leader. For many, he was the face of a confident, modern Ireland that has loosened the grip of the Roman Catholic church, legalized abortion and same-sex marriage, revitalized a long-stagnant economy and built up a thriving high-tech sector.

Internationally, Varadkar was the face of Ireland during Britain’s lengthy divorce negotiations with the European Union. The outcome of those talks was crucial to Ireland, the only EU country to share a land border with the U.K.

Most people think Varadkar and his party handled Brexit well, securing guarantees that people and goods will continue to flow freely between Ireland and the north. But that’s unlikely to bring him an electoral reward. Polls suggest Fine Gael is trailing both Sinn Fein and Fianna Fail, though the margins are narrow.

Jonathan Evershed, a postdoctoral researcher in government and politics at University College Cork, said Varadkar wasn’t getting much credit for his leadership on Brexit because Britain’s exit from the now 27-nation bloc, which became official on Jan. 31, is widely seen as “mission accomplished — there will be no hard border on the island of Ireland.”

That has left an election dominated by domestic problems, especially a growing homelessness crisis, house prices that have risen faster than incomes and a public health system that hasn’t kept up with demand.

Both Fine Gael and Fianna Fail say they will build more houses, ease hospital overcrowding and cut waiting times for medical treatment. But their proposals look like tinkering compared to Sinn Fein’s more radical — and costly — plans to raise taxes on the wealthy, freeze rents, build tens of thousands of new homes and lower the state pension age.

The big parties say Sinn Fein’s socialist plans would hurt businesses and hit economic growth. And they have tried to remind voters of the party’s ties to past violence.

Sinn Fein’s links with the IRA, which disarmed after Northern Ireland’s 1998 peace accord, became an issue late in the election, when the mother of a Northern Ireland man who was beaten to death in 2007 — a killing the family blames on the IRA — accused party members of slandering her son as a criminal and failing to reveal what they knew about his death.

Fianna Fail’s Martin said Sinn Fein was not fit to govern because “they have not cleansed themselves of their bloody past.”

Sinn Fein denied Irish republicans were involved in the killing, but the party was put on the defensive. McDonald — a capable, 50-year-old Dubliner who has helped the party shed its hard-line Troubles-era image — condemned the murder as “barbaric.”

Sinn Fein’s struggle for a united Ireland has been on the back burner during the election, but it is calling for a referendum on Northern Ireland rejoining the south within five years. That’s not something an Irish government could deliver without the support of Britain and Northern Ireland — highly unlikely in the short term.

But Brexit looks likely to nudge Northern Ireland’s economy closer to that of its southern neighbor, and could yet increase pressure for a poll on unification.

Under Ireland’s proportional representation system, no party is likely to get the 80 seats they need for a majority in the 160-seat Dail, parliament’s lower house, so some form of coalition government is likely.

Sinn Fein is running only 42 candidates, too few to win outright, but could hold the balance of power. Fianna Fail and Fine Gael both say they won’t form a coalition with Sinn Fein — but their resolve could be tested if the party does well.

Evershed said that, whatever the result, the election “has demonstrated the extent to which Sinn Fein has moved into the political mainstream.”

“They play the long game,” he said of the nationalist party. “If they don’t get into government this time, I think that they will view whatever happens as nonetheless a success, because it becomes a staging post for the next time.”

Varadkar, battling to keep his job, made a plea for voters to think before casting their ballots.

“Bear in mind that all change isn’t change for the better,” Varadkar said Tuesday during a televised leaders’ debate. “We saw in Britain with Brexit, people voting for change and they got Brexit. We saw Donald Trump being elected in the U.S. — that’s not the kind of change we want.”


Jill Lawless reported from London.

The post Ireland’s Two-Party System Shaken by Sinn Fein Surge appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Chinese Doctor Who Sounded the Alarm About Virus Outbreak Dies

BEIJING — A Chinese doctor who got in trouble with authorities in the communist country for sounding an early warning about the coronavirus outbreak died Friday after coming down with the illness.

The Wuhan Central Hospital said on its social media account that Dr. Li Wenliang, a 34-year-old ophthalmologist, was “unfortunately infected during the fight against the pneumonia epidemic of the new coronavirus infection.”

“We deeply regret and mourn this,” it added.

Li was reprimanded by local police for “spreading rumors” about the illness in late December, according to news reports. The outbreak, centered in Wuhan, has now infected over 28,200 people globally and killed more than 560, triggering travel restrictions and quarantines around the world and a crisis inside the country of 1.4 billion.

The World Health Organization tweeted: “We are deeply saddened by the passing of Dr Li Wenliang. We all need to celebrate work that he did” on the virus.

Within a half-hour of announcing earlier Friday that Li was in critical condition, the hospital received nearly 500,000 comments on its social media post, many of them from people hoping Li would pull through. One wrote: “We are not going to bed. We are here waiting for a miracle.”

Li was among a number of medical professionals in Wuhan who tried to warn colleagues and others when the government did not, The New York Times reported earlier this week. It said that after the mystery illness had stricken seven patients at a hospital, Li said of them in an online chat group Dec. 30: “Quarantined in the emergency department.”

Another participant in the chat responded by wondering, “Is SARS coming again?” — a reference to the 2002-03 viral outbreak that killed hundreds, the newspaper said.

Wuhan health officials summoned Li in the middle of the night to explain why he shared the information, and police later forced him to sign a statement admitting to “illegal behavior,” the Times said.

“If the officials had disclosed information about the epidemic earlier,” Li said in an interview in the Times via text messages, “I think it would have been a lot better. There should be more openness and transparency.”

In other developments in the outbreak:

Youngest Patient

A newborn in China became the youngest known person infected with the virus.

The baby was born Saturday in Wuhan and confirmed positive just 36 hours after birth, authorities said. But precisely how the child became infected was unclear.

“The baby was immediately separated from the mother after the birth and has been under artificial feeding. There was no close contact with the parents, yet it was diagnosed with the disease,” Zeng Lingkong, director of neonatal diseases at Wuhan Children’s Hospital, told Chinese TV.

Zeng said other infected mothers have given birth to babies who tested negative, so it is not yet known if the virus can be transmitted in the womb.

More Hospital Beds

China finished building a second new hospital Thursday to isolate and treat patients — a 1,500-bed center in Wuhan. Earlier this week, another rapidly constructed, 1,000-bed hospital in Wuhan with prefabricated wards and isolation rooms began taking patients.

Authorities also moved people with milder symptoms into makeshift hospitals at sports arenas, exhibition halls and other public spaces.

All together, more than 50 million people are under virtual quarantine in hard-hit Hubei province in an unprecedented — and unproven — bid to bring the outbreak under control.

In Hong Kong, hospital workers demanding a shutdown of the territory’s border with mainland China were on strike for a fourth day. Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam announced a 14-day quarantine of all travelers entering the city from the mainland starting Saturday, but the government has refused to seal the border entirely.

Quarantined Cruise Ships

Two docked cruise ships with thousands of passengers and crew members remained under 14-day quarantines in Hong Kong and Japan.

Ten passengers confirmed to have the virus were escorted off the Diamond Princess at the port of Yokohama near Tokyo, after 10 others were taken off the previous day. About 3,700 people were confined aboard the ship.

“It’s going to be like a floating prison,” passenger David Abel lamented on Facebook. He had set out on a 50th wedding anniversary luxury cruise but found himself in his cabin, eating a “lettuce sandwich with some chicken inside.”

More than 3,600 people on the other quarantined ship, the World Dream, underwent screening after eight passengers were diagnosed with the virus.


Testing of a new antiviral drug was set to begin on a group of patients Thursday, the official Xinhua News Agency reported. The drug, Remdesivir, is made by U.S. biotech company Gilead Sciences.

Antivirals and other drugs can reduce the severity of an illness, but “so far, no antivirals have been proven effective” against the new virus, said Thanarak Plipat, deputy director-general of Thailand’s Disease Control Department in the Health Ministry. He said there are a lot of unknowns, “but we have a lot of hope as well.”

More Fallout

From Europe to Australia and the U.S., universities that host Chinese students or have study-abroad programs are scrambling to assess the risks, and some are canceling opportunities and prohibiting student travel.

Central banks in the Philippines and Thailand have cut their interest rates to fend off economic damage from the outbreak in China, the world’s second-biggest economy, with 1.4 billion people. China is a major source of tourists in Asia, and corporations around the world depend on its factories to supply products and its consumers to buy them.

The organizers of the Tokyo Olympics again sought to allay fears that the 2020 Games could be postponed or canceled because of the crisis.


Associated Press writers Mari Yamaguchi in Tokyo and Elaine Kurtenbach in Bangkok contributed to this report.

The post Chinese Doctor Who Sounded the Alarm About Virus Outbreak Dies appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.