Tuesday, May 23, 2017
Racism as American as Sweet Potato pie. My elementary school teachers used to describe me, in front of my face, as the "Negro school who reads so well".
"A trove of documents created during a federal investigation into Princeton University offers an unprecedented glimpse at how elite college admissions officers talk about race.
Outsiders have long debated how the secretive Ivy League admissions system considers the race of its applicants. Within the schools, such discussions form one of the most closely guarded elements of a process that has remained remarkably opaque for decades.
But documents obtained by BuzzFeed News show Princeton’s admissions officers repeatedly wrote of Asian-American applicants as being difficult to differentiate, referring to them dismissively as having “very familiar profiles,” calling them “standard premeds,” or “difficult to pluck out.” The comments were noted by civil rights investigators at the Education Department as they probed allegations of racial bias in the school’s admissions system.
Of a Hispanic applicant, an admissions officer wrote, “Tough to see putting her ahead of others. No cultural flavor in app.” Of a black student, another said, “Very few African Americans with verbal scores like this.
The documents highlight the tricky, perhaps impossible, legal tightrope that elite colleges must walk as they choose the lucky few they will accept each year. The schools want to select a racially diverse student body, but they cannot accept or reject applicants based primarily on their race. And they cannot set quotas for the number of students from a particular race who are admitted, even as the goal of a diverse student body essentially requires it.
At times, the documents show, admissions officers twist themselves into bizarre knots as they consider — and dance around — the issue of applicants’ race. “Were there a touch more cultural flavor I'd be more enthusiastic,” one officer wrote of a native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander.
The comments were unearthed by government investigators after two Asian-American students who had been rejected by the school complained of racial discrimination. In 2008, the Education Department began an investigation into the matter, collecting reams of detailed information on 539 individual applicants, probing how and why admissions officers decided who to admit.
In interviews with the Education Department, Princeton admissions officers who wrote the comments denied that they were comparing groups of applicants by race. Remarks that Asian-Americans fit a “familiar profile,” officers repeatedly told investigators, were not related to racial stereotypes, but résumés that were similar to other students.
An admissions officer who wrote “Not many Native Americans with scores like this” of one candidate told investigators they had been speaking only of broad, national trends, not comparing Native American applicants among one another.
The department's investigation ultimately backed this up, concluding that “at no point in time during the admissions process were ... applicants of any other racial group separated out to be compared specifically to other applicants of their same racial group." The investigators concluded that Princeton did not discriminate based on race or judge candidates solely by their race, instead using it as one piece in a broader picture of applicants.
Admissions officers had made comments "associated with Asian stereotypes," the investigators wrote, but they made similar comments about white and other minority applicants.
An investigator questioned an admissions officer after an Asian-American student was described eagerly by a another officer as a “first-generation Chinese student whose own life has not been easy, trying to make the lives of others better through service. One of the best we’ll ever see from [high school].”
The second officer was less enthusiastic. “Perfectly able and appealing,” the officer wrote. “Very familiar profile.”
"Bright premed, but like many others," another admissions officer wrote of an Asian-American applicant.
BuzzFeed News obtained a number of documents from the investigation through a Freedom of Information Act request. Princeton has sued the Education Department to prevent the release of many more, in a suit that involves an anti-affirmative action group, Students for Fair Admissions.
The files released show that in brief summaries meant to present applicants to a committee, officers candidly discussed the race of black, Latino, and Native American applicants, often seemingly searching for those who highlighted their racial backgrounds rather than checking off boxes on their Common Applications.
"Nice essays, sweet personality," one admissions officer said of a multiracial applicant. "Bi-racial but not [National Hispanic Recognition Program] and no recognition of her [background] in app by anyone." The National Hispanic Recognition Program recognizes high-performing students who are "at least one-quarter Hispanic/Latino.”
When one reader called an applicant's Native American heritage "appealing," the other noted that the only place the boy had mentioned the heritage was in a checkbox on his Common Application. He called himself "a white boy," the admissions officer noted.
The interviews do not show the same pattern with Princeton's Asian-American applicants. Admissions officers were only asked once about a time when they explicitly mentioned an applicant's Asian background as a positive — a half-Korean, half-Hispanic applicant that the officer called a "neat blend."
Asians With “Very Familiar Profiles”: How Princeton’s Admissions Officers Talk About Race
"Army Major Danny Sjursen, who grew up in Midland Beach, shares his research and reflections in a report that's intended to get Staten Islanders talking. Read Advance editor Brian J. Laline's introduction here. And comment on this report when you're done reading. (Sjursen will will engage in the comments Monday at 2:30 p.m.) Sjursen wishes to make it clear that the views expressed here are his alone, and do not reflect the official policy or position of the U.S. Army, Department of Defense, or the U.S. Government.
By Major Danny Sjursen, U.S. Army
November 2014. I watch with my students -- 16 West Point cadets -- as Eric Garner chokes to death in a grainy YouTube video. It all rushes back. See, I grew up in it -- a lower-middle-class white kid on the borderlands of Staten Island's East Shore. Wedged between, yet wholly apart from, the affluent, hyper-Caucasian South Shore and denser African-American enclaves to the northeast, Mid-Island kids gained some unique perspective.
We learned the ropes fast: Stick with your buddies and beware of the "other" (read: Puerto Rican) side of Midland Avenue.
The irony, of course, is we had plenty of problems on "our" side of the avenue. South Shore residents considered Midland Beach a "white trash" haven -- drugs marred the neighborhood and robbed my mother of two brothers. But on "our" side of town, see, we labeled petty offenders or addicts as characters, not criminals like the neighborhood Hispanics and North Shore blacks. Language is a peculiar, powerful device, delineating boundaries and partitioning the populace.
High school meant new lessons: Take heed of black teens riding the train in red hoodies -- probably Bloods gang members.
Purchasing one's first car brought a warning: Stay off Jersey Street and blow through the traffic light at Targee and Vanderbilt Avenue.
The message was clear. Play it safe and look out for minority communities in New Brighton and Park Hill. Subtle rules shaped our generational paradox. We were proud of the Island's own Wu-Tang Clan, yet wary of minorities in our midst -- blacks and Hispanics lost in segregated corners of a forgotten borough.
East Shore neighborhoods reflected the whole -- a radicalized geography in microcosm. And nothing so starkly polarizes the city like allegations of police brutality.
Tragedy strikes and we often race to familiar battle stations. North Shore minorities (and most of the city) rally to the victim, while the vast majority of South Shore whites vehemently defend the police and some, taking it a step further, attack African-Americans, activists writ large.
Consider the coded (and not-so-coded) language posted in Staten Island Advance online comments during a protest of the Garner grand jury decision held on the Staten Island Expressway.
"Let the people who pay for your government cheese and welfare checks get through so they can get to work -- so in turn you can continue to protest and not work." Or: "It's over! Law & order won. Now go home and start being respectful if the police ever stop you. Better yet, don't do anything that would give them reason to stop you."
Multiply these by a few thousand to get a sense of the intense backlash so pervasive in many corners of the borough.
THE BACKSTORY MATTERS
Lost in these seemingly age-old disputes, as in most political conversation, is even the barest sense of historical context. A few unanswered questions linger. Why did the police choke Garner on that North Shore street corner? Why were blacks incensed and whites unmoved?
The backstory matters.
Consider this: If slavery is America's original sin and wrought contemporary social strife, perhaps Staten Island's lengthy and determined history of racial segregation set the stage for Eric Garner's death.
The borough's relative lack of integration is hardly deniable: Though the Island remains about 60 percent white, more than 61 percent of African-Americans live in districts where blacks and Hispanics make up a hefty majority.
Over 65 percent of blacks also live in neighborhoods with greater than 50 percent of the population classified as low-to-moderate income. Minorities cluster in several hypersegregated census tracts in West Brighton (53 percent black, 5 percent white), Mariners Harbor (54 percent black, 7 percent white) and Stapleton (47 percent black, 7 percent white).
Driving 15 minutes south reveals a contrasting community fabric. You can hardly find an African-American in Annadale (0.2 percent), Prince's Bay (0.2 percent) or Eltingville (0.1 percent) -- where, incidentally, Daniel Pantaleo, the officer who choked Garner, resided.
Segregation does not -- and never did -- reflect mere personal preference. A confluence of individual, community and government decisions deliberately shaped an explicit racial housing pattern for Staten Island.
This isn't ancient history, either. Most of the story unfolded in the decades following the 1964 opening of the Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Despite boasting the United States' oldest free-black settlement, few minorities (about 4 percent) called Staten Island home by 1960.
That suited most residents just fine. Lacking a physical connection to the rest of New York City, the borough remained a curious hybrid -- at once rural, suburban and urban -- well into the 20th century.
"Native" Islanders crafted, and still propagate, the myth of a bucolic pre-Verrazano utopia, but in actuality 220,000 people lived here in 1960. That was more than Nashville, Tenn.; Charlotte, N.C.; or San Jose, Calif.
Nonetheless, for years Staten Islanders fretfully lived in the shadow of the Verrazano's looming construction. Many feared the impending change, afraid of crowds, apartment houses, crime and ... "Negroes."
Hundreds of local newspaper articles in the 1960s and '70s decried the influx of migrants from the "other" boroughs.
Naturally, many natives condemned black and white newcomers alike, but only African-Americans faced a multifaceted, systemic process of residential discrimination.
During debates over the comprehensive rezoning resolution from 1960 to 1961, South Shore community organizations doggedly battled the city planning commission to exclusively zone their neighborhoods for detached homes on 40- to 60-foot lots.
Nearly every civic organization fought, successfully, to prohibit attached structures, apartment buildings or any low-cost housing on the vast vacant tracts of -- largely city-owned -- land. With few in positions of power willing to lobby on behalf of impoverished minority communities, tedious and seemingly innocuous zoning maps converted Staten Island's oldest and densest North Shore districts into segregated prisons.
Blacks received no aid from fellow -- mostly Italian and Irish -- migrants, since many whites left other boroughs seeking refuge from minorities.
WHITE FAMILIES FILL SOUTH SHORE
Meanwhile, middle- and lower-middle-class white families filled up and enjoyed the immense expanse of the suburban South Shore.
Every public housing project completed after 1960 stood north of the expressway, even though the first three of four complexes (constructed from 1950 to 1954) were to the south.
In 1967, when city officials proposed a planned low- to medium-priced apartment community in the seemingly limitless acres of the Annadale neighborhood, the natives quickly balked. One builder bluntly summed up the locals' obstinacy: "Let's be honest. To them (apartments) means Negroes."
Thus, thousands of blacks and Hispanics seeking tranquility were instead corralled in duplicate ghettos -- Bronx facsimiles in neglected corners of Staten Island.
Should the rare family attempt to buy (and could afford) a Staten Island home, real estate agents regularly steered blacks to the older, densely populated and economically depressed northern sections.
Numerous federal and city housing audits confirmed this pervasive pattern of real estate bias throughout the 1960s, '70s, and '80s. Agents showed African-Americans only the houses in existing (North Shore) minority enclaves -- and even then, often jacked up down payments by 15 to 20 percent.
Unsurprisingly, these neighborhoods were situated adjacent to the recently padlocked factories and idle piers of one-time manufacturing centers in Stapleton and Mariners Harbor.
A perfect storm of inherited poverty, de-industrialization, plus pervasive housing and employment bias burdened blacks across the United States, but hit particularly hard on Staten Island. Relegated to the least desirable -- and economically destitute -- communities, most newcomers lacked the requisite education or skill set to transition into an increasingly professional, service-oriented economy.
The very industrial jobs -- of which there were once 12,200, or one-sixth, of the borough's workforce -- that had served as a catalyst for the upward mobility of white native Islanders moved south, to New Jersey or overseas, in the intervening decades.
Thus, reliable, blue-collar jobs were unavailable or denied (last hired, first fired) to blacks. African-Americans stagnated in impoverished districts of overcrowded, subpar schools and consequently social mobility opportunities dissipated.
NO ISOLATED INCIDENTS
White citizens' frequent violent outbursts -- which drew far more attention than black-on-white attacks -- enforced the boundaries of Staten Island's racial geography. Whether perpetrated by police officers or private citizens, such skirmishes reflected twin features of borough society -- a casual culture of prejudice and strict separation of racial spheres.
In April 1972, unknown assailants set fire to a New Dorp home the day before the new black family's scheduled move-in date, an attack the City Commission on Human Rights labeled "arson and terrorism."
August of the same year brought more tragedy when a police officer shot in the back and killed an unarmed, black 11-year-old in New Brighton as the boy allegedly fled in a stolen car. Although unclear exactly how many shots the officer fired, the body count was unmistakable -- one dead 11-year-old and both his companions wounded along with two bystanders on a nearby stoop.
That's five gunshot victims on account of a nonviolent crime. Months later, a Staten Island grand jury declined to indict the officers involved. Sound familiar?
The '80s ushered in a wave of racial incidents at New Dorp High School. In 1980, on the heels of a limited integration effort -- 85 percent of the student body remained white -- a "race riot" broke out so severe that outnumbered black students hastily evacuated in buses. White teens gave chase, hurling stones and racial slurs. Administrators temporarily shuttered the school and it was several days before black students could return.
Three years later, 15 white teenagers confronted Brooklyn students at a middle school picnic on nearby Miller Field.
"This park's for whites only," someone yelled.
"Go back where you belong," another cried.
With bottles tossed and punches thrown, a lone teacher waved a bat, desperately attempting to shield his students. Ultimately, police escorted the students out of the area in new school buses (theirs were littered with broken glass).
Interviewed later, one New Dorp store owner proudly defended the attack.
"We've got a neighborhood to protect," he declared. A teen outside the store chimed in: "You let in one colored, and you gotta let in a thousand!"
In 1985, 30 white teenagers stashed bats and tire irons in bushes near the bus route of black students headed south to New Dorp High. Although the targeted teen was not, in fact, on board, the frenzied youths smashed the bus windows and struggled to pry open the bus door, screaming, "Open the door so we can get that nigger!"
Check the archives. These were no isolated incidents, but rather a systemic and familiar pattern of racial violence spanning several decades. Nor are such attacks relics of a cruel, distant past.
On Labor Day 2003, white teens attacked a young black woman from New Jersey in a Great Kills park. Neighborhood kids yelled racial epithets, a verbal confrontation ensued and a white girl punched the black college student in the jaw. Two of the woman's friends were seriously injured by the Great Kills crew -- one cut with a sickle and another slashed with a knife (requiring 17 stitches).
Later, the NYPD suspended two officers who were found to have discouraged the victims from filing a complaint.
Or, think back to Election Night 2008, during which four white teens viciously beat a random Liberian immigrant with a steel pipe, landing the victim in a coma for several weeks.
Or just a year earlier when four white men screamed racial epithets as they brutally thrashed a young black man for allegedly jumping on their parked car.
THE INNOCENT CHILDREN
Tragically, innocent children bear the brunt of racial and class segregation. Take the awkward, yet formative, middle school years. Blacks and Hispanics comprise 70 percent of the student body at Intermediate School 51 (Port Richmond), 75 percent at I.S. 49 (Clifton) and 77 percent at I.S. 61 (New Brighton).
Drive half a dozen miles south -- or less -- and blacks are 2 percent at I.S. 75 (Huguenot) and an astonishing 0 percent at both I.S. 7 (Huguenot) and I.S. 34 (Tottenville). It should come as little surprise that students at I.S. 7 performed fully 30 percentage points over the city average on state math and English assessments while children at I.S. 49 scored 15 percentage points below the city average.
Separation matters. Sixty years later, U.S. Supreme Court Chief Justice Earl Warren's ruling in Brown v. Board of Education still resonates:
"Segregation of white and colored children in public schools has a detrimental effect upon the colored children. ... A sense of inferiority affects the motivation of a child to learn. ... (It), therefore, has a tendency to (retard) the educational and mental development of Negro children and to deprive them of some of the benefits they would receive in a racially integrated school system."
Why should it matter whether segregation is "official" -- written in law -- or "de facto" -- caused by injudicious policy and apathy -- when the effects on blameless children are the same?
A LOOK AT THE STATISTICS
Why, then, was it Eric Garner the detectives approached on that day? To broaden the point a bit, why did police stop a black man in the northeast corner of the Island?
Furthermore, why all the alarm -- and repeated police encounters -- regarding Garner's alleged sale of loose cigarettes?
Check the research: Whites and blacks use and distribute drugs at remarkably similar rates. In fact, Staten Island is quite representative. Though still the whitest borough, it has led the city in opioid (including heroin) overdoses over the past several years.
Probably owing to irresponsible minorities in North Shore housing projects, right? Hardly: In 2013, 32 of 34 heroin overdose victims were white.
The Island's south and whitest shore faces a veritable heroin pandemic. The Great Kills neighborhood (90 percent white, 0.3 percent black) is particularly hard-hit. The South Shore actually leads the newest borough drug crisis, but you wouldn't know it from the way the NYPD polices the Island.
Annually, from 2000 to 2009, the North Shore's 120th Precinct made an average of 775 felony drug arrests -- 14 times the average in the South Shore's 123rd Precinct -- and higher than the notorious 73rd Precinct in Brooklyn's Brownsville section.
Such disparate arrest statistics derive from outrageously uneven -- and recently discarded -- "stop and frisk" procedures in Staten Island's communities. "Stop and frisk" required little to no probable cause and left much to the discretion (and biases) of individual officers.
In the second quarter of 2013, the North Shore's 120th Precinct clocked in at an astounding 1,245 stops. That's four times the rate of the South Shore's 123rd Precinct (despite comparable populations), and way more than Brownsville's historically violent 73rd Precinct.
Among those stopped on the North Shore, 64 percent were black, 22 percent Hispanic and just 13 percent white -- this within a precinct population that is 40 percent white and just 22 percent black overall.
Lest one conclude that Staten Island blacks are disproportionately predisposed to crime, of the 75 suspects arrested -- just 6 percent of those frisked -- 23 percent were white.
Additionally, even with a highly white (85 percent) and token black (1 percent) population that they serve, police in the 123rd Precinct stopped African-Americans at four times the statistically appropriate rate. Worse still, the top two reasons for North Shore stops included "furtive movements" (50 percent) and "fits a relevant description" (24 percent) -- hardly explicit justifications.
Beyond the aggravating inconvenience of repeated stops, racial disparity in neighborhood policing has real, often tragic, consequences. More stops mean more arrests, usually for minor drug-possession offenses, which translates to disproportional incarceration rates.
Things spiral downward from there. A felony conviction translates to fewer employment opportunities, eviction from public housing, disqualification from government benefits and a lasting social stigma.
The stats astound. On the Northwest Shore, in the Mariners Harbor section, 77 percent of the population is black or Hispanic. In this remote corner of the Island, the prison admissions rate is 13 times higher than in Great Kills -- the very neighborhood most plagued by the South Shore heroin epidemic.
If the South Shore is battling heroin use and abuse, then why the utter lack of street-level stop-and-frisk in those neighborhoods? Easy. Most Island police live down there. So do their friends, neighbors, relatives and other "respectable" middle-class white people.
Imagine the public outcry in Great Kills or Annadale if police officers used the same aggressive, war-on-drugs, "stop-and-frisk tactics" against a few thousand white teenagers.
Most of the Island's wealth is in the South. So is political power (two-thirds of City Council districts are south of the expressway). And the North Shore selected its first-ever black elected official in 2009!
It's simple: Different policing produces different, usually inequitable, outcomes. This, in turn, creates powerful, lasting cultural stigmas that many Island residents still live with.
THE TRUTH DISCOMFITS
We are all, in a sense, prisoners of the borough's very old and quite deliberate racial geography.
Staten Island's spatial inequality triggers a stark racial mapping in the imagination. Perhaps this explains the offhand, if veiled, racial language we all learned while growing up.
Where did most blacks live on the Island? North of the "Mason-Dixon line" (the Staten Island Expressway).
Which housing projects were most dangerous? "Crack Hill," of course (the Park Hill Apartments).
What's the "bad" side of Midland Avenue? Easy: the Puerto Rican side.
It's but a short walk from these potent cultural constructs to biased, unjust public policy. In 2011, a Staten Island police officer pleaded guilty to charges of falsely arresting a black Stapleton man and bragged to a female friend about how he'd "fried another nigger."
In a leniency plea addressed to his federal district judge, the officer claimed that he "did not use that word out of a racist motivation, but, instead, as part of the culture that I was accustomed to." Language reflects culture, exudes meaning and exerts power.
The enforcement of racial hierarchy, contrary to popular imagination, does not require overt, Jim Crow-era decrees. The absence of "whites only" signs on public drinking fountains did not preclude construction of a complex, subtle and highly pervasive system of racial -- and spatial -- caste in Staten Island.
Notably, this mostly occurred after the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964 and Fair Housing Act of 1968.
Most citizens (even in my own family) fervently deny the very existence of such arrangements and, quite frankly, get anxious at the very suggestion.
But the truth discomfits -- perhaps it is well that it does -- and requires this admission: There's nothing accidental or inevitable about pervasive racial segregation.
The present was not preordained. Neither is our future. Human beings -- grass-roots citizens' councils, local power brokers, city bureaucrats and cranky curmudgeons -- made millions of decisions that erected a system of racial geography on Staten Island.
Like it or not, we avoid the historical context of local -- and national -- problems at our peril.
"Blissful" ignorance satisfies our natural desire for clear, simple solutions and obviates collective responsibility for an untidy past, but we'll find no wisdom in expediency.
Erecting a structure of systemic repression demands a subtraction of context. Tyranny is the deliberate removal of nuance. Rejecting one-dimensional analyses and considering the long game leads to an unnerving conclusion:
Eric Garner died because he was the wrong color, standing on the wrong corner, on the wrong side of Staten Island.
Major Danny Sjursen is a U.S. Army strategist and former history instructor at West Point. A native of Staten Island, he graduated from West Point and served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He earned his master's degree in history from the University of Kansas and is working on his Ph.D. in civil rights in New York City. His recent book, a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War titled "Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge," was released by University Press of New England in October 2015. He lives with his wife and three sons in Fort Leavenworth, Kan."
Disturbing, deep-rooted patterns in Staten Island's racial geography | SILive.com
Evil unleashed in America by the Trump administration. The Seven-Year Saga of One Undocumented Student in Georgia - The New Yorker
"In 2013, after a legal battle that had already stretched on for three years, Jessica Colotl, a twenty-six-year-old paralegal who was born in Mexico and raised in Georgia, thought that her immigration troubles were finally over. In 2010, she had been arrested for a traffic violation on the campus of Kennesaw State University, in Georgia, where she was a junior. She then spent thirty-eight days in an immigration-detention center, in Alabama, and was supposed to be deported, until a national outcry over her case led Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ice) to reconsider, and she was allowed to return home. Within days, however, she was rearrested, this time by the local sheriff, who claimed that she had given a false home address when she’d been booked into the county jail after her arrest. (The address corresponded to an old family residence listed on the insurance registration for the car Colotl was driving.) After several more months of legal wrangling, prosecutors offered her a plea deal, which she accepted out of desperation: community service in exchange for dropped charges. In 2012, she received protection against deportation from a federal program called Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (daca), and, in 2013, the charges against her were officially dismissed.
The outcome was a huge relief, but her life never completely went back to normal. Colotl had become infamous in Georgia. To anti-immigrant state lawmakers, she was the face of a problem that they insisted was out of control. In 2008, the legislature had passed a law forcing undocumented students to pay out-of-state tuition at public colleges. Colotl, who began college before the law was passed, wasn’t paying the out-of-state rate at the time of her arrest, and state Republicans tried to make an example out of her. They called on the Georgia Board of Regents, which oversees the public-university system, to root out undocumented students, who made up less than one per cent of the over-all student population. They also threatened to pass bills banning undocumented students from attending public universities. Their argument—that the undocumented were depleting state resources—was false. Undocumented residents in Georgia pay hundreds of millions of dollars in state taxes each year. Still, the Board of Regents bowed to the pressure and issued a policy banning undocumented students from the state’s top public universities. One member of the board told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that failing to act would have been “bad politics.” But the new policy devastated undocumented students in Georgia, many of whom had to give up on going to college altogether. In last week’s issue of the magazine, I wrote about a group of students who created their own underground school so that they could educate themselves.
This month, Colotl is back in the news. The Department of Homeland Security has stripped her of her daca status, and ice has announced that she is a priority for deportation. Why? The government is pointing to her 2010 traffic stop, saying, once again, that she lied to the arresting officers about her home address. The plea agreement she signed, in 2011, to try to put the legal saga behind her is now being cited by authorities as an admission of guilt."
The Seven-Year Saga of One Undocumented Student in Georgia - The New Yorker
Monday, May 22, 2017
"Donald Trump has left the country for his first foreign trip as president and what he has left behind is a brewing crisis that appears to deepen by the day, and even the hour.
There is a sense that blood is in the water, that Trump’s erratic, self-destructive behavior, aversion to honesty and authoritarian desire for absolute control may in some way, at some point, lead to his undoing and that the pace of that undoing is quickening.
Last week Deputy Attorney General Rod J. Rosenstein took the extraordinary step of naming former F.B.I. Director Robert Mueller as a special counsel to oversee the investigation of ties between the Trump campaign and Russia, and “any matters that arose or may arise directly from the investigation.”
This was a significant ratcheting up. This is a criminal inquiry, by an independent operator who is well respected. The investigation is now largely insulated from politics. This investigation must now run its course, whether that takes months or years, and go wherever the facts may lead.
But that has not stopped Trump from whining in a tweet, “This is the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history!” and saying during a commencement address:
“Look at the way I’ve been treated lately, especially by the media. No politician in history — and I say this with great surety — has been treated worse or more unfairly.”
Not only is this a laughable assertion that could only be uttered by someone who isn’t a student of history or a reader of books, but it also resurfaces one of Trump’s most vexatious qualities: perpetual wallowing in self-victimization and the shedding of his own tears for a spurious suffering that only exists in the muddle of his mind.
Grow up! Just correction is not jaundiced crucifixion. Any hell you’re in is a hell you made. You are the author of your own demise. You are not being unfairly targeted; instead your above-the-rules, beyond-the-law sense of privilege is being tested and found insufficient. It will not immunize you against truth and justice.
There are very serious questions here, ones that include but are not limited to collusion. They also now include the possibility of treason, obstruction of justice and making false statements.
It is increasingly clear that there is more to know than we now know.
There is more to know about former National Security Adviser Michael T. Flynn’s activities, and who knew what about those activities and when. There is more to know about the president’s interactions with James Comey and the reason for Comey’s firing. There is more to know about the true extent of contact between Trump associates and the Russians.
Did the president have inappropriate conversations with Comey, then director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation, in an effort to exculpate himself and mitigate inquiries about Flynn?
Trump’s and Comey’s accounts, at least as they are being reported, conflict on these counts. One of these men is lying. And while I am no fan of Comey — his buzzer-beating hijinks with Hillary’s email just before the election helped hand this country over to Trump and his cabal of corruption — I am more prone to believe him than Trump, a proven, pathological liar.
The crisis isn’t limited only to Trump.
Did Vice President Mike Pence not know that Flynn was under investigation by the F.B.I. for lobbying on behalf of Turkey until “March, upon first hearing the news”? How can that be when, as The New York Times reported last week, Flynn “told President Trump’s transition team weeks before the inauguration that he was under federal investigation for secretly working as a paid lobbyist for Turkey during the campaign, according to two people familiar with the case.” Pence led the transition team.
How can Pence claim ignorance when Representative Elijah E. Cummings, ranking member of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Pence a letter on Nov. 18, explicitly spelling out:
“Lt. Gen. Flynn’s General Counsel and Principal, Robert Kelley, confirmed that they were hired by a foreign company to lobby for Turkish interests, stating: ‘They want to keep posted on what we all want to be informed of: the present situation, the transition between President Obama and President-Elect Trump.’ When asked whether the firm had been hired because of Lt. Gen. Flynn’s close ties to President-elect Trump, Mr. Kelley responded, ‘I hope so.’ ”
It isn’t possible Pence knew nothing. I believe Pence is a liar like his boss.
We knew that Pence was a liar when during the vice-presidential debate he repeatedly claimed that Trump had not in fact said things that he was recorded on television saying.
The only difference between the two is delivery. Trump is bombastic and abrasive with his lies. Pence cleverly delivers his with earnestness and solemnity. But a lie is a lie.
The whole White House crew must be fully investigated and held to account. It is time for justice to be served and honor restored. The dishonest must be dislodged."
Blood in the Water - The New York Times
"Democrat Jon Ossoff is 7 points ahead of Republican Karen Handel in the race for Georgia’s 6th District House seat, according to a SurveyUSA survey released Monday.
Fifty-one percent of likely and actual voters in Georgia say they would vote for Ossoff if the election were held today. Forty-four percent say they would vote for Handel, while 6 percent are undecided.
The runoff will be held June 20, and is being closely watched by both parties as a potential bellwether for how President Trump could affect the 2018 elections.
Trump won Georgia’s 6th District by 1.5 percent in November despite the district typically voting Republican.
The Georgia seat was formerly held by Tom Price (R-Ga.), who is now Trump's Health Department secretary.
The SurveyUSA poll found that one issue Republicans have sough to make an issue in the race — Ossoff's current residency outside the district — is not catching on with voters.
Fifty-one percent say the location is “not an issue,” while 21 percent call it a “minor issue” and 27 percent call it a “major issue.” Another 2 percent are unsure.
Ossoff’s race with Handel is the most expensive House battle in history, with outside groups having poured more than $18 million into the race so far.
Democrats are casting the race as a referendum on Trump’s presidency, aiming to pick up a House seat once thought safely Republican.
Trump nominated Price as his secretary of Health and Human Services in November, with the Senate ultimately confirming the pick in February.
SurveyUSA conducted its latest survey of 549 likely and actual voters in Georgia via cell and landline telephone interviews from May 16-22. It has a 4.3 percent margin of error."
Poll: Democrat up 7 points in Georgia House race | TheHill
"Even the worst of among us occasionally makes a right decision even if for the wrong reasons.
"In a deft opinion by Justice Elena Kagan, the court essentially scraps Cromartie’s race vs. party distinction, replacing it with a more lenient rule. Kagan accomplishes this switcheroo in a footnote that will serve as the basis of innumerable future lawsuits, stating that courts may find proof of an unlawful racial gerrymander “when legislators have placed a significant number of voters within or without a district predominantly because of their race, regardless of their ultimate objective in taking that step.” Kagan continues:
So, for example, if legislators use race as their predominant districting criterion with the end goal of advancing their partisan interests—perhaps thinking that a proposed district is more “sellable” as a race-based VRA compliance measure than as a political gerrymander and will accomplish much the same thing—their action still triggers strict scrutiny. In other words, the sorting of voters on the grounds of their race remains suspect even if race is meant to function as a proxy for other (including political) characteristics.
Kagan then reviewed the evidence collected by the trial court, which had concluded that North Carolina’s gerrymander was primarily driven by race and failed to meet strict scrutiny. This finding, Kagan writes, was not “clearly erroneous”—the standard of review in racial-gerrymander cases. Thus, the trial court’s ruling striking down both districts must stand.
Amusingly, Kagan frames her opinion as little more than a pedestrian application of precedent. As election law expert and Slate contributor Rick Hasen writes, however, it is much more than that. The decision, Hasen explains, “means that race and party are not really discrete categories” in states where race is closely tethered to party, especially in the South. That means a legislature can no longer use race as a proxy for party in redistricting, then insist that it was really discriminating against Democrats, not blacks. “This will lead to many more successful racial gerrymandering cases in the American South and elsewhere,” Hasen speculates."
In Cooper v. Harris, the Supreme Court strikes a blow against racial redistricting.
"Sean Urbanski was arrested at the University of Maryland for stabbing Richard Collins III to death. Online, Urbanski favored alt-right propaganda.
The University of Maryland student accused of stabbing a black U.S. Army lieutenant to death apparently liked memes about Donald Trump, white supremacy, and the alt-right.
Sean Urbanski, 22, allegedly killed Richard Collins III on campus early Saturday morning. Collins, 23, was visiting friends, the Baltimore Sun reported, when witnesses told police that Urbanski told him to move out of the way. When Collins did not, Urbanski allegedly stabbed him.
Collins, an ROTC student, would have graduated from Bowie State University this week with a degree in business administration. He was commissioned as a second lieutenant in the Army last Thursday, school officials said.
Local authorities initially said the stabbing didn’t appear to be racially motivated, but the FBI began investigating it as a hate crime after it was revealed that Urbanski belonged to a racist Facebook group called “Alt-Reich Nation.”
The group has since been taken down and Urbanski’s social media accounts are all on lockdown except one: a profile on 9gag.com, a meme-sharing website. Urbanski rarely posted on the site, but he often upvoted and commented on racist and violent posts whose messages are consistent with the alt-right.
One post he liked was titled: Trump isn’t lying that hispanics are taking the land away and that times are bad...” The post included several graphics claiming the white race was dying at the hands of minorities."
Accused Killer of Black Soldier Liked Pro-Trump, Pro-White Memes
GOP Lawmaker: Lynch Anyone Who Takes Down Confederate Monuments | HuffPost
In Israel, Trump denies intel claim he was never accused of | MSNBC #ManchurianPresident is just plain stupid. This unforced error is hard to imagine.
#ManchurianPresident is just plain stupid. This unforced error is hard to imagine.
"In Israel, Trump denies intel claim he was never accused of
By Steve Benen
It’s been nearly two weeks since Donald Trump welcomed Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergei Kislyak into the Oval Office – at the request of Russian President Vladimir Putin – which has proven to be controversial for all sorts of reasons. It was the American president’s intelligence leak that probably mattered most.
We learned last week that Trump, for reasons that remain unclear, decided to share highly classified intelligence with his Russian guests. The sensitive secrets were provided to the United States by a third, unnamed country, and when the the Republican passed the intel on to the Russians, it sent shockwaves through the international community.
With this in mind, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, standing alongside the American president earlier, was asked at a brief press conference if he has any concerns about intelligence cooperation with the United States. He said he did not. At that point, the leaders were poised to be whisked off to their next event, but Trump stopped everyone because he had something to declare:
“Just so you understand, I never mentioned the word or the name ‘Israel.’ Never mentioned that during that conversation. They were all saying I did, so you have another story wrong. Never mentioned the word ‘Israel.’”
To put it mildly, that’s not what Trump was supposed to say.
The controversy was about the American president giving Russians highly sensitive intelligence that he was supposed to keep secret. Whether he also gave Russians the source of the intelligence isn’t important. Many of us heard rumors that Israel provided us with the information, but it’s a tangential issue.
Trump appeared to be effectively saying, alongside Netanyahu, “Sure, I divulged secrets to Russia, but don’t worry, I didn’t tell them that I received the secrets from Israel.”
In Israel, Trump denies intel claim he was never accused of | MSNBC
Michael Flynn Rejects Order to Hand Over Documents - The New York Times. Duh, of course he was going to invoke his 5th Amendment rights. Both Congressional committees and the Special Prosecutor must work out a limited immunity deal with him in order to compel his testimony. It is the only way to get to the truth and the bigger orangutan, LOL.
"WASHINGTON — Michael T. Flynn, President Trump’s former national security adviser, has rejected a subpoena from senators investigating Russian interference in the 2016 election and instead invoked his right against self-incrimination, a person familiar with his decision said Monday.
Mr. Flynn had been ordered by the Senate Intelligence Committee to hand over emails and other records related to any dealings with Russians. His decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right puts him at risk of being held in contempt of Congress, which can result in a criminal charge.
It is up to lawmakers to decide whether to pursue that path. It was not immediately clear how the committee’s leaders would respond, though Senator Richard M. Burr of North Carolina, the panel’s Republican chairman, signaled late last week that it might not take that route.
Mr. Flynn’s decision was first reported by The Associated Press.
Mr. Flynn’s legal issues have been a problem for the White House from the start. He is under scrutiny by congressional committees, federal law enforcement officials and the Pentagon’s inspector general for his ties to Russia and Turkey while advising the Trump campaign and then serving as a senior administration official with access to the top secrets of the United States and influence over national security decisions.
The Trump transition team was told weeks before the inauguration that Mr. Flynn was under federal investigation, The New York Times reported last week. White House officials have declined to comment.
Mr. Trump told James B. Comey, the F.B.I. director at the time, that he hoped the director would drop the investigation, according to a memo from Mr. Comey that was shared with The Times. The president made the request not long after Mr. Flynn was forced out of the administration for misleading Vice President Mike Pence and other White House officials about his communications with the Russian ambassador, Sergey I. Kislyak."
Michael Flynn Rejects Order to Hand Over Documents - The New York Times
"The U.S. Supreme Court on Monday ruled that Republicans in North Carolina unlawfully took race into consideration when drawing congressional district boundaries, concentrating black voters in a bid to diminish their overall political clout."
U.S. top court tosses Republican-drawn North Carolina voting districts
Trump to propose big cuts to safety net in new budget, slashing Medicaid and opening door to other limits - The Washington Post
"President Trump’s first major budget proposal on Tuesday will include massive cuts to Medicaid and call for changes to anti-poverty programs that would give states new power to limit a range of benefits, people familiar with the planning said, despite growing unease in Congress about cutting the safety net.
Trump to propose big cuts to safety net in new budget, slashing Medicaid and opening door to other limits - The Washington Post
"Trump’s main message was that Muslims must do more—much more—to fight militants who have proliferated from North Africa to South Asia since 9/11. ‘The nations of the Middle East cannot wait for American power to crush this enemy for them,’ he said. Reading slowly off a teleprompter, Trump urged, even demanded, ‘Drive them out! Drive them out of your places of worship! Drive them out of your communities! Drive them out of your holy land! And drive them out of this earth!’
Some of Trump’s language about Islam was right out of the Bush-Obama playbook. ‘This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects, or different civilizations,’ he said. ‘This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion.’ He declared it ‘a battle between good and evil.’
Trump notably did not use one of his favorite terms—‘radical Islamic terrorism.’ His national-security adviser, H. R. McMaster, has tried to get the President to avoid using the term, at least in public. During the campaign, Trump railed against Obama for not using it—and even charged that ‘anyone who cannot name our enemy is not fit to lead this country.’ In Riyadh, Trump’s original speech called for him, instead, to talk about ‘Islamist extremism.’ He veered off script, however, and talked about ‘confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamists and Islamic terror of all kinds.’ Many Muslims are sensitive to the implication that Islam and extremism are synonymous.
Trump’s strategy differed most strikingly from Bush’s and Obama’s in its largely military approach to extremism. One of the top objectives of his maiden foreign tour is to create a coalition of Arab and Muslim countries to tackle extremism, confront Iran, and foster peace between Israel and the Palestinians. The coalition has been informally dubbed an ‘Arab nato.’
The President seems to have largely abandoned notions of promoting political openings or addressing economic grievances that have fuelled so much of the dissent and militancy, especially among Arab youth. Even oil-rich Saudi Arabia has high youth unemployment, estimated to exceed thirty per cent. The kingdom has produced thousands of jihadis who have joined both isis and Al Qaeda."
"Part of Facebook’s problem is wrapped up in its corporate personality.
Facebook insists it is committed to being open.
But in their report about online hate crime, British MPs noted that ‘social media companies are highly secretive about the number of staff and the level of resources that they devote to monitoring and removing inappropriate content’. The MPs decried this lack of transparency.
That is why these documents, published in an abridged form, are so important. For the first time, millions of Facebook users will have a chance to assess the rules. The Facebook Files are an insight into the company’s thinking – and the challenges faced by moderators.
Their concerns are significant. They say keeping the site free of extremist content is a ‘mission impossible’ – and that Facebook cannot stop terrorists using it.
The pressure experienced by moderators has been reported before, but according to our sources little has changed. Staff come and go, burned out by regularly reviewing deeply upsetting material – from beheadings to animal abuse and cannibalism.
The British MPs noted that Facebook often deleted certain types of content when reacting to a media outcry. Videos of beheadings, a sexual assault on a child, and a man being stabbed were only removed when journalists asked about them – even though users had flagged the posts.
Facebook is reacting. It said it was using software to stop certain types of material – for example images of child sexual abuse and terrorism – hitting the site. It has said it is developing artificial intelligence to try to remove content more swiftly.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest Mark Zuckerberg has conceded there is room for improvement. Photograph: Stephen Lam/Reuters On top of this, it is hiring 3,000 more moderators. However, one of its executives, the head of policy Simon Milner, has conceded this may not be the solution. ‘There is not necessarily a linear relationship between the number of people you employ and the effectiveness of the work you do,’ he said.
So it would appear Facebook is attempting to service the car on the move, as it gathers speed and without the necessary tools."
Revealed: Google tried to block media coverage of gender discrimination case | Technology | The Guardian
"The DoL has accused Google of systematically underpaying women, and the court battle centers on the company’s refusal to hand over salary data the government has requested.
The motion for a dismissal – which a judge rejected, in part citing the first amendment – sheds light on Google’s aggressive efforts to end the case at a time when the tech industry is facing increasing criticisms over sexist workplace cultures, gender discrimination and widespread pay disparities. Critics said it appeared that Google was attempting to limit media scrutiny with unusual tactics that raise free press concerns and seem to contradict the corporation’s public claims that it is committed to transparency and accountability in its efforts to promote equal pay.
Google also attempted to restrict press access during a hearing last month. Following a private meeting with the judge about the Guardian’s reporting, Google’s attorney requested that the proceeding be closed to the media before continuing, but a DoL attorney objected and the judge sided with the government.
The DoL sued Google in January, alleging that the company had violated federal laws when it declined to provide salary history and contact information of employees as part of an audit. Google is a federal contractor, which means it must comply with equal opportunity laws and allow the DoL to inspect records.
Google – one of three Silicon Valley firms to face DoL lawsuits related to discrimination claims – has argued that the data request was overly broad and violates its workers’ privacy."
Sunday, May 21, 2017
Lawrence O’Donnell and Joy Reid talk Trump What will it take for Republicans to stand up to Donald Trump? And can the Democrats fight back without any clear leader? Joy Reid and Lawrence O’Donnell, host of The Last Word on MSNBC, discuss this and more. AM Joy on MSNBC
The Guardian has seen more than 100 internal training manuals, spreadsheets and flowcharts that give unprecedented insight into the blueprints Facebook has used to moderate issues such as violence, hate speech, terrorism, pornography, racism and self-harm.
There are even guidelines on match-fixing and cannibalism.
The Facebook Files give the first view of the codes and rules formulated by the site, which is under huge political pressure in Europe and the US.
They illustrate difficulties faced by executives scrabbling to react to new challenges such as “revenge porn” – and the challenges for moderators, who say they are overwhelmed by the volume of work, which means they often have “just 10 seconds” to make a decision.
“Facebook cannot keep control of its content,” said one source. “It has grown too big, too quickly.”
Many moderators are said to have concerns about the inconsistency and peculiar nature of some of the policies. Those on sexual content, for example, are said to be the most complex and confusing.
Revealed: Facebook's internal rulebook on sex, terrorism and violence | News | The Guardian
Saudi Arabia, U.A.E. Pledge $100 Million to World Bank’s Women Entrepreneurs Fund - WSJ
Donald Trump's attorney general Jeff Sessions has done more damage in his first 100 days than even his boss — Quartz
"US attorney general Jeff Sessions may not be part of the biggest investigation in the Department of Justice, but as he reaches 100 days in office, there’s little doubt that he’s had an important impact on the American criminal-justice system—potentially for years to come.
Despite the political turmoil of the Trump administration, Sessions has moved to reverse a tide of progressive reform and to fulfill his boss’s law-and-order agenda, a collection of concepts loosely articulated during the 2016 presidential campaign. Sessions’ biggest actions, from undermining federal oversight of police departments to cracking down on undocumented immigrants, have worried a wide array of lawmakers, law-enforcement leaders, advocates and scientists.
“Of all the cabinet members, maybe even the president, he has to this point had the most significant impact as to policy changes,” said Jesselyn McCurdy, the deputy director at the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) Washington Legislative Office told Quartz.
Unlike his boss, Sessions is delivering on what he has promised—sometimes on causes he has championed for decades."
Donald Trump's attorney general Jeff Sessions has done more damage in his first 100 days than even his boss — Quartz
Trump and Ryan are playing with peoples's lives for political and economic gain. We must make them pay dearly for their actions.
"WASHINGTON — When Aetna, the health insurance giant, announced this month that it was pulling out of the Affordable Care Act’s insurance exchange in Virginia in 2018, President Trump responded on Twitter: “Death spiral!”
When Humana announced plans to leave all the health law’s marketplaces next year, the president chimed in, “Obamacare continues to fail.”
Left unremarked on was a big reason for the instability: The Trump administration and Congress are rattling the markets.
The administration’s refusal to guarantee payment of subsidies to health insurance companies, the murky outlook for the Affordable Care Act in Congress and doubts about enforcement of the mandate for most people to have insurance are driving up insurance prices for 2018, insurers say in rate requests filed with state officials.
Opponents of President Barack Obama’s signature legislative achievement have made what may be a self-fulfilling prophecy: They repeatedly forecast the collapse of the health law, and then push it along.
Frustrated state officials have ideas for stabilizing the individual insurance market, but they say they cannot figure out where to make their case because they have been bounced from one agency to another in the Trump administration."
Trump, Shouting ‘Death Spiral,’ Has Nudged Affordable Care Act Downward - The New York Times
Trump Urges Muslim Leaders to Purge Their Societies of ‘Foot Soldiers of Evil’ - The New York Times Hypocrisy and dishonesty. What fraud of a President. He manipulates ignorant Americans like pieces on a Monopoly board,
Hypocrisy and dishonesty. What fraud of a President. He manipulates ignorant Americans like pieces on a Monopoly board, "RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — President Trump sought to rally leaders from around the Muslim world on Sunday in a renewed campaign against extremism, rejecting the idea that the fight is a battle between religions even as he promised not to chastise them about human rights violations in their own countries.
Mr. Trump, who during last year’s presidential campaign said he thought that “Islam hates us” and proposed a ban on all Muslims entering the United States, sounded different themes in a speech to Muslim leaders here in the Saudi capital. While declaring terrorism to be a “battle between good and evil,” he said that it should be fought by “decent people” of all religions.
Coming on the second day of Mr. Trump’s inaugural trip overseas as president, the address was designed as the centerpiece of his stop in Riyadh, where he met with Arab leaders and convened a larger gathering of Muslim leaders. In effect, the speech was meant as a reset from the harsher tone and policies Mr. Trump adopted as a candidate last year and in the early days of his presidency.
“This is not a battle between different faiths, different sects or different civilizations,” Mr. Trump said. “This is a battle between barbaric criminals who seek to obliterate human life and decent people, all in the name of religion. People want to protect life and want to protect their religion. This is a battle between good and evil.”
While he has criticized President Barack Obama and others for not using the phrase “radical Islamic terrorism,” his staff sought to ensure that he not use it in the speech here to this Muslim audience. The advance excerpts sent out by the White House had him instead embracing a subtle but significant switch, using the term “Islamist extremism.” Some experts say the word Islamist reflects extremists without tarring the entire religion.
But when that moment in the speech came, Mr. Trump went off script and used both words, Islamic and Islamist. “That means honestly confronting the crisis of Islamic extremism and the Islamist and Islamic terror of all kinds,” Mr. Trump said. It was unclear whether he stumbled over the different word or consciously rejected the change suggested by the text."
Trump Urges Muslim Leaders to Purge Their Societies of ‘Foot Soldiers of Evil’ - The New York Times
Lawmaker Faces Lynching Threats After Calling for Trump’s Impeachment. This is Trump's base, ignorant, poorly educate bigots. Hilary Clinton had it right; "basket of deplorables" speaking about one half of Trump supporters. I think she was being kind.
Conservative outlets don’t seem bothered by Trump “bowing” to Saudi king. Those hypocrites sure gave President Obama a hard time. They loke this crook though. #ResistanceIsNotFutile
"Remember when conservative news outlets went into a tizzy at the start of Barack Obama’s presidency when he bent at the waist during a handshake with Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah? Well it doesn’t seem that they’re quite as bothered by President Donald Trump also bending his head toward the Saudi king."
Conservative outlets don’t seem bothered by Trump “bowing” to Saudi king.
"...President Trump’s words and actions are straining the relationship between the executive and the other branches of government in ways that may ultimately diminish the power of the office. By showing he’s unworthy of the trust that a president customarily enjoys, Mr. Trump has essentially been daring Congress, the courts and even the bureaucracy to act against him.
And those institutions are taking him on.
The firing of James Comey as F.B.I. director illustrates how the president’s rash words have invited the trouble he now finds himself in, paving the way to last week’s appointment of a special counsel by the Justice Department to investigate potential ties between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Russian meddling in the election.
For a president, this is pretty much the definition of shooting oneself in the foot. Consider that, in explaining why he fired Mr. Comey, the head of the agency conducting the Russia inquiry, the president told Lester Holt of NBC, “And in fact, when I decided to just do it, I said to myself, I said, ‘You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.’ ” If that wasn’t startling enough, the president also reportedly told Mr. Comey in a private meeting, “I hope you can let this go,” referring to the agency’s investigation into his former national security adviser, Michael Flynn.
And then there was this report on Friday, which the White House did not deny, that in a meeting with Russian officials in the Oval Office this month, Mr. Trump told them: “I just fired the head of the F.B.I. He was crazy, a real nut job. I faced great pressure because of Russia. That’s taken off.” He added. “I’m not under investigation.”
Maybe. Maybe not. Either way, these comments and other reports have raised concerns that the president was trying to obstruct F.B.I. investigations. It’s up to Robert Mueller, the newly appointed special counsel, to determine whether a crime was committed. But Congress, as a coequal branch, also has the responsibility to investigate allegations of wrongdoing. And in fact, Congress has seen this before. The articles of impeachment prepared against Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton accused both of obstructing justice.
Now the question is whether the Republicans who control the investigative committees in Congress will push as hard as necessary to find out whether Mr. Trump abused his power and violated his oath of office. In a crucial development, the House Oversight Committee and other Congressional panels have requested all materials related to Mr. Trump’s and Mr. Comey’s communications.
The Senate Intelligence Committee also made the welcome announcement on Friday that Mr. Comey will testify in public sometime after Memorial Day. Still, it remains to be seen whether the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and House Speaker Paul Ryan are committed to truth seeking, with its potential cost for the Republican Party.
If members of the Republican leadership think Mr. Mueller’s appointment lets Congress off the hook, they’re wrong. His authority is limited. He works for President Trump’s Justice Department. He has no responsibility to air his findings, short of an indictment. And his investigation may drag on for years before we learn anything. Given that, it is imperative for Congress to fulfill its mandate to explore all of the relevant goings-on and to report to the public what it finds.
As a structural matter, Congress is the institution best positioned to address the harms President Trump is causing, including trampling on norms separating politics from law enforcement and damaging America’s standing abroad, as well as the potential conflicts of interest posed by his wide-ranging financial holdings and the hiring of family members into key White House jobs.
The courts, for their part, have already served as an early-warning system for checking the president.
The clearest example is the legal battle over Mr. Trump’s revised order banning travel from six majority Muslim countries, which was the second one issued following his campaign promise of “a complete and total shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.”
This month, at hearings on a case challenging the ban, judges from two courts of appeals wrestled over what weight, if any, to give Mr. Trump’s statements, which suggest that his underlying purpose was to, well, shut out Muslims rather than the stated purpose of protecting the country from terrorists.
Judges are normally unwilling to look beyond the text of an executive order to divine the motivations of the president, especially in the areas of national security and immigration, where his powers are at their zenith. But Judge Robert King of the United States Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit in Richmond, Va., pointed out that Mr. Trump “has never repudiated what he said about the Muslim ban — it’s still on his website.” (The text has since been taken down.)
The president’s words also tripped up his effort to withhold federal funds from cities and states that limit their cooperation with federal immigration agents. Challenged in court, the administration argued that Mr. Trump’s order, directed at so-called sanctuary cities, applied only to relatively small amounts of money. But Judge William H. Orrick of the United States District Court in San Francisco didn’t feel bound by the official explanation.
“If there was doubt about the scope of the order, the president and attorney general have erased it with their public comments,” Judge Orrick wrote, pointing out that Mr. Trump called the order “a weapon” and Attorney General Jeff Sessions threatened to “claw back” funds that were already awarded.
The courts have refused to give Mr. Trump the customary deference they give a president because this president so obviously has not earned it. Employees of the executive branch have gotten into the act as well. While all presidents must contend with leaks, revelations have been pouring out of the intelligence community and even the White House.
With the courts and the intelligence community increasingly arrayed against him, and Congress now investigating his campaign and actions in office, Mr. Trump finds himself in a much diminished presidency. If he remains in office for an extended period in this weakened state, it’s possible that Congress and the courts will essentially put the presidency into a kind of constitutional receivership until his term ends.
What would that look like? It’s hard to know, but it would be a striking setback to presidential power. After Watergate brought the presidency low, subsequent presidents took back power, largely with the acquiescence of Congress and the courts.
Both George W. Bush and Barack Obama flexed their executive muscles. Mr. Bush enhanced the president’s control over national security after the Sept. 11 attacks by opening Guantánamo, trying terrorism suspects before military tribunals, and authorizing warrantless wiretapping. Mr. Obama took unilateral aggressive actions to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and reform immigration.
They left the office stronger than when they arrived. Although their policies were controversial, both presidents were given deference because they made their judgments conscientiously and led the government professionally.
But Mr. Trump has created an entirely new problem for Congress, the courts and agencies: What do they do when the president himself is the pressing danger? Unlike other presidents, Mr. Trump has lacked the basic competence to manage the government. If Congress and the courts diminish the power of the office to constrain him, could they leave the office too weak for future presidents to be able to govern effectively?
The answer is that with the country at risk of serious harm from Mr. Trump, the damage to the office is secondary. The next president will just have to pick up the pieces."
Will the Presidency Survive This President? - The New York Times
"A good read, illustrating the obstacles that will have to be overcome holding Trump accountable for his obstruction of justice and other illegal acts that he may have engaged him. This is going to be a long political fight. Winning the House in 2018 will be the biggest step for the Democrats. This will give them subpoena power to force officials to testify at Congressional hearings."
Watergate? We’re Not There Yet - The New York Times
Saturday, May 20, 2017
"Are the insurance marketplaces created by the Affordable Care Act really on the verge of collapse, as President Trump and GOP leaders have repeatedly claimed?
Three months ago, this story would have started like this: It depends on where you look and who you ask.
Today, it goes something like this: They are in a fragile state pretty much everywhere.
With Trump threatening to withhold payments to insurers and expressing reluctance to uphold the mandate requiring most people to either buy insurance or pay a penalty, otherwise stable state markets are now in a precarious position. Others are experiencing issues they likely would have anyway, but with a layer of new instability on top. But just because many markets were stable doesn’t mean they were serving everyone well. The messy reality of these two intertwined issues — what keeps the markets stable and who they cover — often leaves politicians on both sides of the aisle telling half-truths about the health of Obamacare’s most public provision. A look at the ways marketplaces are succeeding and failing reveals opportunities for improvement and hints at why the political climate could make those improvements all but impossible.
For the last couple of decades, the term ‘death spiral’ has been used to describe a marketplace spinning out of control. In the face of rising premiums, healthy people bail from a marketplace, causing premiums to rise further, until the prices are unaffordable for everyone and the whole plan falls apart. The Obamacare marketplaces are not in a death spiral, according to various health policy experts, despite numerous Republicans’ claims to the contrary. In fact, the term, at least under its pre-Obamacare definition, is largely obsolete. That’s because the ACA fundamentally changed how the markets are organized. Now that the government is subsidizing health insurance, people with incomes just above the federal poverty line are largely protected from rising premiums — 83 percent of the people currently using the markets receive subsidies to help pay for their plans — and, healthy or sick, they are unlikely to flee the markets amid rising premiums.
However, growing costs in the marketplaces frequently determine whether someone with a slightly higher income1 will buy into the market. That’s because under the current system, those people receive low or no subsidies to offset the cost of insurance — they aren’t immune to the price increases. It’s those people who are at risk of being pushed out of an expensive market, said Robert Laszewski, a consultant to the health insurance industry. It’s a different kind of death spiral, one that leaves middle-income people without coverage options, instead of the sickest and poorest."