About The Stranger

Each week (Sat. 12-2am) I stave off the evil and stale with the fresh and the weird on Mutiny Radio! (www.pcrcollective.org); the oddest topics, the most multifarious (that's multifaceted + nefarious) tunes, and newly-lacquered commentary on The Stranger in a Strange Land! Stay tuned for more adjectives! Follow The Stranger on Mixcloud

Federal Judge Rules That Texas Intentionally Discriminated Against Minority Voters

from April 11, 2017 at 01:42AM http://bit.ly/2oAiLxp

An election official checks a voter’s photo identification at an early voting polling site in Austin, Texas on Feb. 26, 2014.

A federal judge Monday ruled that the state of Texas intentionally discriminated against African American and Hispanic voters when it enacted a draconian voter ID law in 2011. The ruling could pave the way for courts to require Texas to get approval from federal authorities before making future changes to its voting laws.

This is the second time Judge Nelva Gonzales Ramos has found that state lawmakers purposefully engaged in illegal discrimination when it adopted the photo ID requirement in 2011. In 2014, Ramos found that the law had a discriminatory effect and intent. A finding of discriminatory effect is sufficient to force a voting law to be change, but a discriminatory intent finding can open a state up to more significant punishments. The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld Ramos’ finding of discriminatory effect but asked her to reconsider the question of intent. Her ruling on Monday reaffirmed her previous decision.

Critics of the photo ID law pointed to the fact that Texas lawmakers allowed voters to use concealed gun permits, which are more likely to be held by white voters. But the law disallowed identification cards issued to state employees and public university students, which are more likely to be used by minorities. In her opinion, Ramos pointed out that Republican lawmakers refused to include more forms of acceptable ID, reduce the cost of acquiring an ID, adopt a more lenient policy toward expired documents, or approve voter education about the new requirements. “[T]hese efforts revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on nonracial grounds, to suppress minority voting,” Ramos wrote in her opinion.

In 2013, the Department of Justice joined civil rights groups, Democratic lawmakers, and voters in challenging the law. On the day President Donald Trump was inaugurated, the department signaled that it might change its position. In February, the department’s lawyers asked the court to allow the US government to withdraw from the case and urged. The DOJ also urged Ramos not to rule on the intent question until the Texas legislature had taken steps this spring to amend the law, which the Fifth Circuit had ordered it to do. Ramos allowed the federal government to withdraw from this part of the case but rejected its request to hold off on the intent ruling. However, Ramos did indicate that she would wait until the legislature recessed to issue any remedy in conjunction with her findings.

The intent finding is a major victory for voting rights advocates because the courts have wide latitude to remedy intentional racial discrimination. Most importantly, a finding of intent allows the courts, if they choose, to put jurisdictions under federal oversight so that future changes to election procedures must be approved by the DOJ. Civil rights groups are requesting such a remedy and feel their argument for putting Texas back under federal supervision—which ended when the Supreme Court gutted a central provision of the Voting Rights Act in 2013—is strong. Last month, a three-judge panel in a federal district court in San Antonio found, in a separate case, that Republicans had racially gerrymandered congressional districts in order to weaken the growing power of minority voters. Taken together, voting rights attorneys believe the two findings of racially discriminatory intent make a convincing case that Texas should be placed under federal supervision.

“This is a great win for Texas voters, but it shouldn’t surprise anyone who looked seriously at the evidence,” Myrna Pérez, deputy director of the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center said in a statement after Ramos’ ruling. “Texas legislators crafted a law they knew would hurt minority voters, without any good justification or attempt to ameliorate the harms, and they mangled the legislative process to get it through.”

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y

Trump Is Now Threatening to Sabotage Millions of Insurance Plans

from April 13, 2017 at 08:15AM http://bit.ly/2pkeVaf

President Donald Trump is now threatening to wipe out health insurance for millions of people in order to make a political statement. In an interview with the Wall Street Journal Wednesday, Trump suggested that unless Democrats agree to his plans to dismantle Obamacare, he might use his executive authority to intentionally trigger a death spiral for the individual insurance markets.

Specifically, Trump threatened to stop making payments to insurance companies to reimburse them for subsidies that help offset the costs of deductibles and copayments for low-income people. Those subsidies are mandated by Obamacare; if the feds stopped reimbursing insurers for this expense, they would likely abandon the individual markets and leave millions without coverage.

The president seemed to acknowledge in the interview that halting the reimbursements would likely result in the health care markets collapsing, but he said he might go through with it in order to extract concessions from Democrats. "Obamacare is dead next month if it doesn’t get that money," Trump told the paper. "I haven’t made my viewpoint clear yet. I don’t want people to get hurt…What I think should happen and will happen is the Democrats will start calling me and negotiating."

Obamacare includes a host of mechanisms to make buying insurance easier and more affordable for people who don’t receive coverage through their employer and have to buy it on the individual market. The law primarily does this by offering subsidies—varying by income—to offset the costs of premiums for people who earn up to 400 percent of the poverty level. But the law was also designed to provide $7 billion per year in "cost sharing reduction" payments to insurance companies so that people below 250 percent of the poverty line would have lower deductibles and copayments.

These payments were explicitly included in the health care law, but through the convoluted quirks of legislative procedure, Republicans have alleged that Congress technically didn’t "appropriate" money for the program. The Obama administration went ahead and started making the payments anyway, and in 2014 House Republicans sued the White House, saying that the administration shouldn’t be able to spend that money. A federal district judge sided with Republican last year, and the Obama administration appealed.

After Trump’s inauguration, both the White House and Congress sought to stall the lawsuit, asking the courts to give them more time to figure out whether or not Obamacare will be repealed. When the GOP repeal bill failed last month, Trump was faced with a dilemma: He could order his administration to keep fighting the House’s lawsuit, or he could ditch the appeal and end the reimbursement payments. It sounds like Trump may now be leaning toward the latter. In addition to his Journal interview, Trump reportedly has become active behind the scenes, as well. According to Politico, the president called Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and dictated a statement that he wanted the agency to release on the issue.

As Trump himself said, ending the program would be a disaster for Obamacare. It would cause insurance companies to flee the individual markets (which, in some parts of the country, already suffer from a lack of insurance options). And the remaining insurance offerings would jump in price. An analysis by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that premiums for a baseline plan would jump 19 percent if cost sharing disappears.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y

The United States Dropped a 21,600-Pound Bomb In Afghanistan

from April 13, 2017 at 06:27AM http://bit.ly/2pgBQpu

On Thursday, US forces dropped the largest conventional bomb in its arsenal on an ISIS tunnel complex in Nangahar province, eastern Afghanistan. The GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast, aka the "Mother of All Bombs," or "MOAB," is a 21,600-pound bomb developed in 2003 during the first Iraq War. Its explosion is reportedly equivalent to 11 tons of TNT and creates a one-mile blast radius in every direction. As one of its creators stated at the time of its testing, "It is the largest guided bomb in the history of the world with a tremendous impact and detonation." This marks its first use in combat, and serves as a reminder that the longest war in US history rages on over 15 years after the US first invaded Afghanistan.

United States Forces-Afghanistan issued a statement Thursday morning confirming the strike, stating that it was "designed to minimize the risk of Afghan and U.S. Forces conducting clearing operations in the area while maximizing the destruction of ISIS-K fighters and facilities." General John W. Nicholson, Commander of US Forces in Afghanistan, said, "As ISIS-K’s losses have mounted, they are using IEDs, bunkers and tunnels to thicken their defense. This is the right munition to reduce these obstacles and maintain the momentum of our defensive against ISIS-K."

In Thursday morning’s press briefing, White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said, "The GBU-43 is a large, powerful, and accurately delivered weapon. The US took all precautions against civilian casualties." When reporters asked for details, Spicer declined to comment further.

"The hard truth is…when explosive weapons are used in populated areas, over 90 percent of those killed or injured will be civilians," Iain Overton, the executive director of Action on Armed Violence, said in an e-mail. "And when explosive violence is used in lesser populated areas, at least 25 percent of those killed or injured will be civilians. In short, the bigger the blast you create, the more civilians will be killed."

Bill Roggio, a senior fellow at the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, told Military Times, "What [the MOAB] does is basically suck out all of the oxygen and lights the air on fire. It’s a way to get into areas where conventional bombs can’t reach."

Matthew Bolton, director of the International Disarmament Institute at Pace University, is worried that the military’s decision could encourage other countries to develop or deploy similar weapons. Bolton also says it is unlikely that this sort of weapon could spare civilians. "It is difficult to imagine how it might be used in the kind of wars the US now fights—often in urban areas—without posing serious dangers to civilians," he says, "both as a result of its immediate wide area effect and the impact on vital infrastructure like electricity, water, sewers, schools, and health services."

While the number of civilian casualties and destruction to civilian property remains unknown, the strike comes amidst concerns that the Trump administration has loosened the rules of engagement that had sought to minimize civilian casualties for airstrikes against ISIS in Syria and Iraq. During the campaign, Trump promised that in the fight against ISIS he would "bomb the shit out of ’em" and pledged to "take out their families."

Last month, Lt. Gen. Steve Townsend, the top US commander in Iraq, acknowledged that the coalition "probably had a role" in an airstrike in al-Jadida, Iraq, that killed as many as 240 Iraqi civilians. According to Airwars, an international airstrikes monitoring organization, March marked the third month in a row in which alleged US-led coalition civilian casualty events outnumbered those of Russia, and the number of US munitions dropped in the first three months of 2017 is up 59-percent over last year.

Of the MOAB, Overton adds, "That bomb cannot be targeted, it cannot be proportional and it cannot but kill civilians."

This story has been updated.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y

Former Trump Adviser Can’t Recall If He Discussed Sanctions With Russians

from April 13, 2017 at 04:02AM http://bit.ly/2pkiWLD

Did Carter Page, a Trump campaign adviser, speak to anyone in Russia about the United States potentially lifting sanctions imposed on Vladimir Putin’s government when he was in Moscow during the campaign last summer? Not at all, but, then again, maybe.

That’s what Page said during an interview with George Stephanopoulos on Good Morning America Thursday.

Page’s comments came days after the Washington Post reported that the FBI had obtained a secret order from a Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Court to monitor Page’s communications last summer. To obtain that warrant, known as a FISA warrant, the FBI would have had to persuade a judge that there was probable cause to suspect that Page had been acting as an agent of the Russia government. The Post described the revelation as the "clearest evidence so far that the FBI had reason to believe during the 2016 presidential campaign that a Trump campaign adviser was in touch with Russian agents." Page has not been accused of any crimes, and he has repeatedly denied he ever acted as an agent for any foreign power.

Page visited Russia last July—reportedly with approval from the Trump campaign—and gave a speech at the New Economic School in Moscow criticizing US policy toward Russia. He left the campaign in September amid allegations that he had privately communicated with Russian officials during the trip. Page denied those allegations. On ABC Thursday, Page acknowledged that he briefly said "hello" to one of the school’s board members, when Stephanopoulos asked whether he had met with anyone in the Russia government or connected to Russian intelligence.

Stephanopoulos also asked Page whether he had ever told any Russians in the United States or abroad that Trump "would be open to easing sanctions on Russia."

"Absolutely not," Page replied at first.

Stephanopoulos followed up: "Never? Not once?"

"I never offered that," Page said again. "Nothing along those lines. Absolutely not."

Then Page seemed to reconsider his response. "I mean—it may—topics—I don’t remember—we’ll see what comes out in this FISA transcript," he said. "I don’t recall every single word that I ever said. But I would never make any offer or intimate anything."

"But it sounds like from what you’re saying it’s possible that you may have discussed the easing of sanctions," said Stephanopoulos.

"Something may have come up in a conversation," Page responded. "I have no recollection, and there’s nothing specifically that I would have done that would have given people that impression."

Pressed again by Stephanopoulos on whether he had discussed easing sanctions with any Russians, Page said, "Someone may have brought it up—I have no recollection. And if it was, it was not something I was offering or that someone was asking for."

Page’s comments on ABC follow an interview he gave Wednesday to CNN’s Jake Tapper, in which Page said that during his Russia trip he spoke with students, scholars, and business people about the 2016 campaign. Page told Tapper that he had never had any "direct conversations" with anyone in Russia about the possibility of Trump ratcheting back on sanctions:

TAPPER: When you went to Russia last summer, did you ever talk to any Russian about the Trump campaign or about the Clinton campaign or about the 2016 election in general?

PAGE: No Russian official. I was speaking at a university, and I spoke with many scholars and students and parents that were at the graduation celebrating their kids’ achievements. Other than that, nothing.

TAPPER: I didn’t ask Russian official, I just asked any Russian because obviously, Russians, as you know in Russia, people are affiliated with private industry but they also do work with the government, et cetera.

PAGE: Sure.

TAPPER: So—but you did not talk to any Russian at all other than students and parents and scholars about the presidential election?

PAGE: I met a few business people, but no negotiations about anything in terms of anything related to the campaign whatsoever.

TAPPER: Well, I’m not talking about negotiations, but as long as you bring it up, I mean, have you ever conveyed to anyone in Russia that you think President Trump might have been more willing to get rid of the sanctions that were imposed against Russia after they invaded and seized Crimea, which I know are sanctions that you oppose and you think are ineffective. Did you ever talk with anyone there about maybe President Trump, if he were elected—then-candidate Trump, would be willing to get rid of the sanctions?

PAGE: Never any direct conversations such as that. I mean, look, it’s—

TAPPER: What do you mean direct conversations? I don’t know what that mean, direct conversations.

PAGE: Well, I’m just saying no—that was never—I’ve never said, no.

Read more at: Politics | Mother Jones http://bit.ly/1tZ6E7y

DeVos Pick to Head Civil Rights Office Once Said She Faced Discrimination for Being White

from April 14, 2017 at 02:12AM http://bit.ly/2pkdPen

Candice Jackson (Mike Wintroath/AP Photo)

The new acting head of the U.S. Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights once complained that she experienced discrimination because she is white.

As an undergraduate studying calculus at Stanford University in the mid-1990s, Candice Jackson “gravitated” toward a section of the class that provided students with extra help on challenging problems, she wrote in a student publication. Then she learned that the section was reserved for minority students.

“I am especially disappointed that the University encourages these and other discriminatory programs,” she wrote in the Stanford Review. “We need to allow each person to define his or her own achievements instead of assuming competence or incompetence based on race.”

Although her limited background in civil rights law makes it difficult to infer her positions on specific issues, Jackson’s writings during and after college suggest she’s likely to steer one of the Education Department’s most important — and controversial — branches in a different direction than her predecessors. A longtime anti-Clinton activist and an outspoken conservative-turned-libertarian, she has denounced feminism and race-based preferences. She’s also written favorably about, and helped edit a book by, an economist who decried both compulsory education and the landmark Civil Rights Act of 1964.

Jackson’s inexperience, along with speculation that Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos will roll back civil rights enforcement, lead some observers to wonder whether Jackson, like several other Trump administration appointees, lacks sympathy for the traditional mission of the office she’s been chosen to lead.

Her appointment “doesn’t leave me with a feeling of confidence with where the administration might be going,” said Theodore Shaw, director of the Center for Civil Rights at the University of North Carolina School of Law, who led Barack Obama’s transition team for civil rights at the Department of Justice.

“I hope that she’s not going to be an adversary to the civil rights community and I hope that the administration is going to enforce civil rights laws and represent the best interests of those who are affected by civil rights issues.”

On Wednesday, DeVos formally announced Jackson’s position as deputy assistant secretary in the Office for Civil Rights, a role that does not require Senate confirmation. The 39-year-old attorney will act as assistant secretary in charge of the office until that position is filled. DeVos has not yet selected a nominee, who would have to receive Senate confirmation. As acting head, Jackson is in charge of about 550 full-time department staffers, who are responsible for investigating thousands of civil rights complaints each year.

Jackson referred ProPublica’s interview request to the U.S. Department of Education, which did not respond to our request. Neither Jackson nor the department responded to ProPublica’s emailed questions.

Jackson takes over an office that has been responsible for protecting students from racial, gender, disability and age discrimination for decades. Under the Obama administration, the office increased its caseload. It emphasized to colleges that they could give preferences to minorities and women to achieve diversity, and advised them to be more aggressive in investigating allegations of rape and sexual harassment on campus. Some of the guidance from the office provoked controversy, particularly among Republicans who have long called for the office to be scaled back.

Jackson grew up in the Pacific Northwest, where her parents operate two medical practices, specializing in family and aesthetic medicine. Her father, Dr. Rick Jackson, also ran unsuccessfully for Congress and is a country music singer under the name Ricky Lee Jackson. Jackson’s brothers have acting and music careers as well. Jackson and her mother have helped provide “business and legal” management for her father and brothers, according to a biography on her website from 2016.

In 2009, Jackson co-wrote a Christian country song with her father and brother, called “Freedom, Family and Faith.” The lyrics had an anti-government tinge: “Some politician wants our liberty/ They say just trust me, we’re all family/ I’ve got a family and hey, it’s not you/ Don’t need Big Brother to see us through.”

While in college, Jackson joined the Stanford Review as a junior, after transferring to the university in 1996 from a community college in Los Angeles. When she arrived, according to a Review article she wrote during her senior year, she was “eager to carry the message of freedom to Stanford through the only conservative publication on campus.”

Eric Jackson, no relation, who is Candice’s friend, former classmate and book publisher, said the conservative perspective of the Stanford Review often went against the status quo on campus. It took “courage,” he said, to write for the publication, which was co-founded in 1987 by PayPal billionaire and Donald Trump adviser Peter Thiel. “A number of us got death threats,” he recalled.

One topic of heated debate on campus was affirmative action, which California banned in public institutions, such as universities, in 1996. The prohibition did not affect private universities, like Stanford, which could continue to employ preferential policies both in admissions and in special programs designed to assist minority students in college-level math and science courses.

During her senior year, Candice Jackson penned her objections in an op-ed, contending the university “promotes racial discrimination” with its practices.

“As with most liberal solutions to a problem, giving special assistance to minority students is a band-aid solution to a deep problem,” she wrote. “No one, least of all the minority student, is well served by receiving special treatment based on race or ethnicity.”

Jackson was far from the only critic of such minority-only programs. In 2003, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology opened up similar programs to all races.

In another article Jackson penned for the Review during her senior year, entitled “How I Survived Stanford Without Entering the Women’s Center,” she condemned feminism on campus.

“In today’s society, women have the same opportunities as men to advance their careers, raise families, and pursue their personal goals,” she wrote. “College women who insist on banding together by gender to fight for their rights are moving backwards, not forwards.”

In the article, she encouraged women to choose conservatism over feminism. “I think many women are instinctively conservative, but are guided into the folds of feminism before discovering the conservative community,” she wrote.

She concluded, “[t]he real women’s issues are conservative ones.”

Her former Stanford Review colleague, Eric Jackson, told ProPublica that her college writings are nearly 20 years old and that it’s important to understand the context of her commentary. “The feminist culture she was critiquing was different than what happens today,” he said. Jackson, he added, is “very pro-woman.”

After Stanford, Jackson “exchanged conservatism for libertarianism,” she later wrote. She did a summer fellowship at the Ludwig von Mises Institute, a free-market think tank in Auburn, Alabama, according to an institute publication. The institute was reportedly founded with money raised by former congressman and 1988 Libertarian Party presidential candidate Ron Paul, and is a leading hub of contemporary libertarian scholars.

While at the Institute, Jackson provided editorial assistance on a book of collected essays by the institute’s co-founder, economic historian Murray N. Rothbard. A charismatic figure who devoted his life to ideas, Rothbard died a few years before Jackson’s fellowship. Mark Thornton, an economist and a senior fellow at the Mises Institute who vaguely recalled Jackson but did not specifically remember her role at the center, said that her editorial assistance may have involved proofreading.

Rothbard’s 1999 book, “Education: Free and Compulsory,” advocated for a voluntary education system, denouncing government-mandated schooling. Currently, all U.S. states require students to attend school until they are at least 16 years old.

“To force these children to be exposed to schooling, as the State does almost everywhere, is a criminal offense to their natures,” wrote Rothbard. “In any case, the instruction has almost no effect on these children, many of whose hours of life are simply wasted because of the State’s decree.”

Roger Severino, the new head of the Office for Civil Rights within Health and Human Services, has opposed transgender patients’ rights, same-sex marriage and Planned Parenthood. Read the story.

This was not Jackson’s only connection to Rothbard’s work. She also wrote two papers analyzing his theories. One essay compared his philosophy to that of libertarian novelist Ayn Rand. In the other, she wrote that his 1982 book, “The Ethics of Liberty,” “shines as a monumental achievement, meeting Rothbard’s goal of setting forth ‘a positive ethical system … to establish the case for individual liberty.’”

In other essays, published on a former colleague’s website, Rothbard called the Civil Rights Act of 1964 “monstrous,” and lambasted one provision of it, which prohibited employment discrimination, as “a horrendous invasion of the property rights of the employer.”

Rothbard was “about as fringe as you could be and still be a tenured professor,” said Bryan Caplan, an economics professor at George Mason University, who met him twice.

If someone was a follower of Rothbard, Caplan told ProPublica, “instead of thinking of discrimination as a rampant problem, they would say the free market would take care of it.”

Jackson has often collaborated on articles with William Anderson, an associate scholar at the Mises Institute and a professor of economics at Frostburg State University in Maryland. Their work has appeared in the publication Reason and on the website of Llewellyn Rockwell, a co-founder and chairman of the Mises Institute.

Anderson, who told ProPublica that he has known Jackson for years, said that she would likely approach her position at the Education Department from “the standpoint of individual rights and due process.”

After graduating from Pepperdine University’s School of Law in 2002, Jackson also worked for Judicial Watch, a conservative legal advocacy group, for nearly two years as a litigation counsel, according to her LinkedIn page.

In the past few years, she has operated her own law firm. According to a recent biography on her website, her practice specialized in “business, entertainment, and litigation matters,” for a range of clients, “from restaurants to medical clinics, and from authors and musicians to filmmakers and record labels.”

In 2005, Jackson wrote a book on the allegations of sexual misconduct against Bill Clinton, titled “Their Lives: The Women Targeted by the Clinton Machine.” She gained national attention last October after she arranged for several of Bill Clinton’s accusers to attend a presidential debate between Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton. Jackson sat with the women in the front of the audience. A few days before the debate, Jackson established Their Lives Foundation. In registration documents, she described two of its purposes as “giving public voice to victims of women who abuse positions of power” and “advocating for and against candidates for political office.”

Less than a week after the debate, Jackson posted on Facebook that her foundation “supports all victims of power abusers,” but labeled Trump’s accusers “fake victims.” Since the initial announcement of her Education Department role, her Facebook page has been taken offline.

Research assistance provided by Vivian Lam.

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS

The Trump Administration Lost Again in Court, This Time on Voter ID

from April 11, 2017 at 07:36AM http://bit.ly/2oIEUtQ

A sign directs voters to a polling place in Dallas, Texas. (Bilgin S. Sasmaz/Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

A federal court in Texas has again ruled the state’s 2011 voter identification law intentionally discriminated against minorities. It’s the latest loss in the case for Texas — which has spent years unsuccessfully defending the law. But it also has implications for the Trump administration.

In February, the new administration abruptly abandoned the crux of the Justice Department’s opposition to the voter ID law. Government lawyers also asked the judge to delay her decision on whether the law intentionally discriminated against blacks and Latinos.

Judge Nelva Ramos Gonzales rejected their request for a delay. And Monday, she ruled that the law “was passed, at least in part, with a discriminatory intent in violation of the Voting Rights Act of 1965.”

When it passed in 2011, Texas’s law had the country’s strictest voter ID provisions. It required one of seven forms of Texas or federally issued IDs to vote and allowed exemptions only for disability or age. It allowed no exception for low income voters.

Civil rights groups have long argued that the law was meant to disenfranchise minority voters, who often lack the ID required. The Obama administration and other plaintiffs brought suit against the bill in 2013. They won in 2014, but Texas appealed. In 2016, a federal appeals court agreed the law had a discriminatory impact, but asked Judge Ramos to reconsider whether legislators had intended for that to be the case.

Last August, Ramos signed off on a compromise to temporarily fix the law ahead of the November election. Voters could sign an affidavit explaining why they didn’t have ID, and then show an alternate form of non-photo ID to cast their ballots. Legislation that essentially locks that compromise in place is now being considered.

Proponents of voter ID argued that the case for intentional discrimination was no longer valid because of the new bill. Lawyers for the Trump Department of Justice echoed that perspective and urged Ramos to delay her decision until the new bill could work its way through the Legislature.

“Regardless of what the record was at the time, the record is clearly evolving,” John Gore, the new deputy assistant attorney general for the DOJ’s civil rights division, told Ramos in a Feb. 28 hearing in Corpus Christi, Texas, which ProPublica attended.

Gore said empathically that the new legislation created “a new legislative mosaic.” He added: “It paints a new picture of Texas’ intent with regard to voter ID.”

Over the course of Gore’s arguments, which lasted only a few minutes, Ramos repeatedly asked him to explain how a bill proposed in 2017 would impact how she should rule on whether a law passed six years prior had been intentionally discriminatory. Gore did not give a direct answer.

The DOJ, now overseen by Jeff Sessions, is walking back years of effort aimed at limiting the harmful effect of state voter ID measure on minorities. Read the story.

Ramos dismissed the government’s bid for delay last week, saying she would rule on whether the law was intentionally discriminatory “in due course.” In her ruling issued yesterday, the judge wrote that Texas’ passage and defense of the law “revealed a pattern of conduct unexplainable on non-racial grounds, to suppress minority voting.”

While the state claimed the law was necessary to combat in-person voter fraud, Ramos noted that there is little evidence of such fraud.

The DOJ declined comment on the decision. Texas is likely to appeal the ruling.

Ramos has scheduled a hearing for June to decide on a remedy for the law, which could include putting Texas back under federal voting rights oversight.

The Supreme Court declined to hear the case in January, saying the case had not yet worked its way through the lower courts. But the justices will have an opportunity to consider it again. If they do, said Rick Hasen, an election law expert and professor at the University of California, Irvine’s law school, “the newly reconstructed five conservative majority could well reverse on all claims.”

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS

Official Involved in Bush-Era Purge of Gay Employees Now in Trump Administration

from April 10, 2017 at 04:52AM http://bit.ly/2pkf9Oy

by Justin Elliott

It was one of the uglier scandals of the Bush administration: Top officials at an agency dedicated to protecting whistleblowers launched a campaign against their own employees based on suspected sexual orientation, according to an inspector general report.

Staffers were abruptly reassigned from Washington, D.C., to a new office 500 miles away in Detroit in what the head of the office reportedly described as an effort to “ship [them] out.” Staffers who refused were fired.

Crude anti-gay emails were found in the agency chief’s account.

Now one of the major players in the scandal has a new assignment: He works in the Trump administration.

In December, James Renne was appointed to the Trump “landing team” at the Office of the Director of National Intelligence, as part of the transition effort between the election and the inauguration. He was then hired Jan. 30 in a senior role at the Department of Agriculture, though his exact job duties are not clear.

Renne was part of the wave of early political appointees on so-called “beachhead teams,” whose role is to lay the groundwork for the new administration’s policies. (We published details on hundreds of beachhead hires, obtained through public records requests.)

In the Bush administration, Renne was hired in 2004 as deputy special counsel of the Office of Special Counsel, the small federal agency that is supposed to protect employees across the government from retaliation for whistleblowing. The tenures of Renne and his boss, Special Counsel Scott Bloch, were almost immediately mired in controversy after career employees said they were improperly fired. Language stating that job discrimination protections extend to sexual orientation also disappeared from the agency website.

A little-noticed inspector general report, released in 2013, depicts Renne as a central player in the efforts. Bloch and Renne, it found, hatched the plan to abruptly open a new “Midwest Field Office” in Detroit and reassign career staff there. Employees who declined to move lost their jobs.

The report found that the employees were targeted for no legitimate reason, pointing to “facts which reflect that Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne may have been motivated in their actions by a negative personal attitude toward homosexuality and individuals whose orientation is homosexual.”

One evening shortly after he was hired in 2004, Renne took the lead in removing the language from the agency’s website about how job protections cover sexual orientation, the report says.

From the report: “Mr. Renne was depicted as intently searching the OSC website with the assistance of a senior career official to identify passages which interpreted [the nondiscrimination law] as extending protection to employees on the basis of their sexual orientation. According to this account, Mr. Renne demanded that OSC’s information technology manager remove these materials from the website immediately.”

Here Are More Than 400 Officials Trump Has Quietly Deployed Across the Government

ProPublica has obtained a list of more than 400 people hired by the Trump administration to fill key roles across the federal government. Read the story.

That change was later the subject of congressional hearings.

Renne did not respond to requests for comment. The Department of Agriculture, which hired him, declined to comment.

The scandal at the Office of Special Counsel dragged on for years, spawning congressional and criminal investigations.

In a formal complaint filed at the time, the employees who were reassigned to Detroit pointed to a “Concerned Catholic Attorneys” letter Renne had signed in 2000 that is a broadside against a range of gay rights efforts. It warns that the “homosexual lobby’s power has grown exponentially.”

The inspector general report found that Renne played a central role in the plan to open a Detroit office, noting that “the reorganization was formulated by Mr. Bloch and Mr. Renne very early in their tenure.” An outside consultant they hired to help with the plan told investigators that “it appeared that Mr. Bloch may have been heavily influenced by Mr. Renne.”

That consultant, retired Lt. Gen. Richard Trefry, told investigators:

Mr. Bloch indicated to General Trefry that there was a sizeable group of homosexuals employed by OSC, which had developed during the years prior to his taking office, that he “had a license” to get rid of homosexual employees, and that he intended to “ship them out.”

The report continues:

Further, in the portions of Mr. Bloch’s official e-mail account that were available to the investigative team, there were crude and vulgar messages containing anti-homosexual themes that appeared to have been forwarded from his personal email. … Similarly, Mr. Bloch’s public media references to [his predecessor as Special Counsel, Elaine] Kaplan contained repeated, negatively-phrased assertions regarding her sexual orientation. For example, in interviews he granted during 2007, Mr. Bloch described her as a “lesbian activist,” a “public lesbian,” a “well-known gay activist”, and similar depictions.

Now in private practice, Bloch told ProPublica the report is “filled with untruth, outright falsehoods, and innuendo.” When the report was released, Bloch denied that he ever talked about targeting gay employees.

The inspector general report says it was based on interviews with more than 60 people and examination of over 100,000 emails.

The affected employees ultimately came to a settlement with the government. The terms were not released.

During the investigation into his tenure, Bloch’s home and office were raided by the FBI and he ultimately pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor charge arising from his hiring the company Geeks on Call to do a “seven-level wipe” on his government computers. Years later, Bloch later unsuccessfully sued the government over his firing.

There’s little public record of what Renne has been doing since his time working with Bloch. The Trump landing team announcement identified him as working for Renne Law. A fellow member of the Office of the Director of National Intelligence landing team said that Renne had worked at the ODNI inspector general office. And Bloch said he also heard that Renne had gotten a job in the intelligence community after their work together. An ODNI spokesman declined to comment.

Do you have information about the Trump administration’s beachhead teams and their role at federal agencies? Contact Justin at Justin@propublica.org or via Signal at 774-826-6240. Here is a guide for how to leak to ProPublica.

Read more at: ProPublica: Articles and Investigations http://bit.ly/1lISYtS

Demonstrators protest DA’s decision to exonerate officers in fatal police shooting

from April 12, 2017 at 02:37PM http://bit.ly/2pk6Fah

Some 25 people took to the street in front of Mission Police Station on Wednesday night to protest the San Francisco District Attorney’s decision not to bring criminal charges against the two officers involved in the February, 2015 shooting of Amilcar Lopez Perez.

The decision was announced hours earlier and comes after more than two years of demonstrations and public scrutiny of the officer-involved shooting that anti-police brutality activists and some community members say was unjustified.

At 8:45 p.m., several protesters held up an 8-foot banner banner imprinted with the slain man’s image, using it to block off Valencia Street at 17th Street. Officers who had been redirecting traffic then told a reporter on site that their “time is up” and the officers began to retreat.

The protest’s organizers briefly contemplated moving the protest elsewhere, but decided to remain at Mission Station and as the demonstration continued,  so did traffic congestion at the intersection, and the officers returned by 9 p.m. to direct traffic.  Protesters could be heard chanting “indict, convict, send these killer cops to jail” and “stand with your community, end police impunity.”

“This city is for the struggle,” said one of the protesters.  Another said in reference to the District Attorney’s decision that the weekly vigils held in honor of the Perez Lopez for the past year in front of the station are likely over.

“We now are in a new phase of our struggle,” said Father Richard Smith of St. John’s Episcopal Church, who organized the vigils and spearheaded a movement calling for police accountability in the shooting. Just what they would be doing in the future was unclear.

Several passersby stopped to check in with the protesters amid the honking of passing cars – their drivers raising their fists in the air in a show of support. Others passed by the intersection in silence.

By 9:10 p.m., the group of protesters had dwindled down to about a dozen people. Those who remained locked arms and formed a human chain along a crosswalk at the intersection – in unison, the group began reciting the names of civilians who have died at the hands of law enforcement.

This is a developing story. We will update as more information comes in.

Some two dozen people gathered on the street in front of Mission Police Station to protest decision in the police shooting of Amilcar Perez Lopez. Photo by Laura Wenus

Photo by Laura Wenus

Read more at: MissionLocal http://bit.ly/2pgo3iW

US drops ‘mother of all bombs’ on Afghanistan

from April 13, 2017 at 07:41AM http://bit.ly/2pgoz0v

The United States has dropped the GBU-43 Massive Ordnance Air Blast – otherwise known as ‘the mother of all bombs’ – onto a cave complex in eastern Afghanistan.

Weighing almost 10,000 kilos and at a cost of some 15 million euros, it is the largest non-nuclear bomb Washington has ever used in combat.

White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer outlined the US’ strategy concerning the operation.

“The GBU-43 is a large, powerful and accurately delivered weapon. We targeted a system of tunnels and caves that ISIS fighters used to move around freely, making it easier for them to target U.S. military advisers and Afghan forces in the area,” he said.

The bomb is so large it had to be dropped from the rear of a cargo plane.

The strike targeted part of Nangarhar Province, near the border with Pakistan. No concrete information has been given on how successful it was.

Last week, in the same area as the bomb was dropped, a US soldier was killed as he conducted operations against ISIL.

“We have the greatest military in the world and they’ve done a job as usual so we have given them total authorisation and that’s what they are doing and frankly that’s why they’ve been so successful lately,” Donald Trump told the media.

More than 15 years after a US invasion ousted the Taliban government, the security situation in Afghanistan remains precarious.

Numerous militant groups continue to try to gain control of territory within the country.

The news of the strike came a matter of hours after the Pentagon admitted an air strike over Syria had mistakenly killed 18 rebels from the US-backed Syrian Democratic Forces.

According to Washington, a partnered force had mistakenly identified the target location as an ISIL position.

Read more at: Euronews RSS http://bit.ly/1SYzMbo

US coalition mistakenly kills 18 allied Syrian rebels

from April 13, 2017 at 01:42AM http://bit.ly/2pgodGZ

At least 18 members of the American-backed Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF) were killed in a US-led coalition air strike that mistakenly targeted them in Syria’s Raqqa province.

In a statement released on Thursday, US Central Command (CENTCOM) said 18 SDF fighters died in the air raid south of the city of Tabqa on April 11. The attack was believed to be hitting members of Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, also known as ISIS).


SDF was founded in Syria’s mainly Kurdish northeastern region in October 2015, and is made up of at least 15 armed factions, mostly fighters from the Kurdish People’s Protection Units and the Free Syrian Army. 

“The strike was requested by the partnered forces, who had identified the target location as an ISIS fighting position. The target location was actually a forward Syrian Democratic Forces fighting position,” CENTCOM said.

“The coalition’s deepest condolences go out to the members of the SDF and their families. The coalition is in close contact with our SDF partners who have expressed a strong desire to remain focused on the fight against ISIS despite this tragic incident.”

The coalition added it is assessing the cause of the friendly fire attack. 


READ MORE: Evacuation from Syria’s Madaya and Zabadani begins


The UK-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said on Thursday at least 25 other SDF fighters were killed in clashes against ISIL in the suburbs of Tabqa.

The incident occurred as US-backed Syrian forces prepare to retake Raqqa, ISIL’s stronghold in Syria, as they move in from the city’s north.

SDF captured the strategic Tabqa airbase from ISIL last month.The airbase is 45km west of Raqqa, 

Raqqa province was taken by ISIL in January 2014 from the former al-Qaeda affiliate in Syria, and ISIL seized Tabqa’s airbase from the Syrian government in August 2014. 

Source: Al Jazeera News

Read more at: Al Jazeera English http://bit.ly/1FQbY1B