Donald Trump is allowing oil companies to conceal payments to foreign governments

from February 15, 2017 at 04:26AM http://bit.ly/2kL1gpW

Donald Trump

(Credit: AP Photo/Manuel Balce Ceneta, File)

President Donald Trump has just eliminated an anti-corruption rule that required oil companies to inform regulators when they make payments to foreign governments before mining and drilling abroad.

The Cardin-Lugar regulations were part of the Dodd-Frank Act, which was passed by President Barack Obama in response to the 2008 financial crisis. President Trump repealed the provision using a bill known as the Congressional Review Act, which permits incoming presidents to overturn new federal regulations. The bill had not been used for this purpose in 16 years.

“It’s a big deal,” President Trump told reporters in the Oval Office after signing the resolution. “The energy jobs are coming back. Lots of people going back to work now.”

Zorka Milin, a senior legal adviser to the advocacy group Global Witness, was much more ominous.

“Trump has given an astonishing gift to the American oil lobby,” Miller told The Guardian. “Oil, gas and mining companies listed across the EU, including Russian companies, have already disclosed $150 billion of payments in resource-rich countries, with no ill effects. This makes a mockery of claims by US oil companies such as Exxon that greater transparency would damage companies’ competitiveness. If the European companies can do it, you have to ask – what are US companies trying to hide?”

This isn’t the first time that President Trump has attacked financial regulations or promoted the oil industry. Earlier this month he denounced the Dodd-Frank Act as “horrible for big business, but it’s been worse for small business. Dodd-Frank is a disaster.” Similarly, Trump’s energy policy has been driven by the unsustainable notion that America’s economy would benefit from continuing to expand the production of fossil fuels.

Read more at: Salon.com http://www.salon.com

Nazis Once Published List of Jewish Crimes, Trump Now Pushing to Do the Same for Immigrant Crimes

from February 3, 2017 at 04:50PM http://bit.ly/2l3520W

The plans for the weekly list, to be published by the Department of Homeland Security, were included in Trump’s executive orders signed last week.

The Trump administration has announced plans to publish a weekly list of crimes committed by unauthorized immigrants living in so-called sanctuary cities, where local officials and law enforcement are refusing to comply with federal immigration authorities’ efforts to speed up deportations. The plans for the weekly list, to be published by the Department of Homeland Security, were included in Trump’s executive orders signed last week. We speak to Andrea Pitzer. Her upcoming book is called "One Long Night: A Global History of Concentration Camps."

TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you talk about what President Trump has said he’s going to do: keep a list of, quote, "immigrant crimes"?

ANDREA PITZER: Well, this weekly report that he has called for recalls a number of things from the past that we have seen before, which is this move to isolate and identify and then vilify a vulnerable minority community in order to move against it. When he—I just went back last night and reread his speech from when he declared his candidacy, and the Mexican rapist comment was in from the beginning, and so this has been a theme throughout. And we see back in Nazi Germany there was a paper called—a Nazi paper called Der Stürmer, and they had a department called "Letter Box," and readers were invited to send in stories of supposed Jewish crimes. And Der Stürmer would publish them, and they would include some pretty horrific graphic illustrations of these crimes, as well. And there was even a sort of a lite version of it, if you will, racism lite, in which the Neues Volk, which was more like a Look or a Life magazine, which normally highlighted beautiful Aryan families and their beautiful homes, would run a feature like "The Criminal Jew," and they would show photos of "Jewish-looking," as they called it, people who represented different kinds of crimes that one ought to watch out for from Jews. So this preoccupation with focusing in on one subset of the population’s crimes and then depicting that as somehow depraved and abnormal from the main population is something we’ve seen quite a bit in the past, even in the U.S. Before Japanese-American internment, you had newspapers like the San Francisco Chronicle running about the unassimilability of the Japanese immigrants and also the crime tendencies and depravities they had, which were distinguished from the main American population.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, of course, this flies in the face of all studies that have shown that the crime rate among immigrant populations in the United States is actually lower than it is among ordinary American citizens, but yet this is attempting to take isolated incidents or particular crimes and sort of raise them to the level of a general trend, isn’t it?

ANDREA PITZER: It is. And I think it’s part of a disturbing narrative in which you strip out the broader context and the specificity of actions like this, and you try to weave them into this preset narrative of good and evil somehow, that really ends up being simple and dishonest and very counterproductive for the society as a whole. But yes, in general, these groups would want to keep a lower profile. They would want to stay off law enforcement’s radar. And so, this is one of the reasons that’s been suspected that it’s actually a lower crime rate. But if you get a few dramatic images—and don’t forget now, this won’t be coming out—you know, Breitbart has had this "black crimes" tag that they’ve used to try to do a similar thing in the past. And now we have Bannon in the White House. And it’s sort of a scaling-up and doing this with a different minority group, and you’ll have these, what will no doubt be, very dramatic narratives that will come forward that will eclipse the larger picture. And they’re going to have the imprimatur of a government report, which I think is another disturbing aspect.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you, Andrea Pitzer, about the White House considering a plan to make visitors reveal cellphone, internet data. Describe the role mass surveillance plays in authoritarian societies.

ANDREA PITZER: Well, over time, we’ve seen that it’s very hard to have an authoritarian or a totalitarian society, a state that runs, without a secret police. And you can’t—what you need the secret police for is to gather information secretly. The surveillance techniques and abilities that we have today are really unparalleled in history. And while we can’t yet be sure what the Trump administration’s motives are, what they have at their disposal is far greater than what was had in Soviet Russia, in Nazi Germany. I’m thinking in particular of Himmler complaining that he had trouble keeping track of all the people he needed to, because he needed so many agents. But when you have the kind of technology that we do, you don’t need as many people, if you have the right tools to use. And so, the ability to gather that kind of information and then potentially use it, domestically or on foreigners who happen to be here, I think is something that’s worth paying attention to and to be concerned about.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Donald Trump Just Made It Way Easier for Your Financial Adviser to Rip You Off

from February 3, 2017 at 04:59AM http://bit.ly/2kRWGaq

Donald Trump rolled out his latest executive action Friday afternoon, and it’s a huge handout to the financial industry at the expense of consumers. Trump ordered the Department of Labor to explore overturning—or at least weakening—a dull-sounding Obama administration regulation known as the "fiduciary rule." And while the details of that will be up to Trump’s labor secretary, his order does at least push back the start date for the rule, which was supposed to go into effect in April. "The rule is a solution in search of a problem," White House Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Friday.

The fiduciary rule is the sort of technical-sounding tweak that doesn’t whip up a ton of attention during political campaigns, but it could have a major impact on the amount of money middle-class Americans are able to save for their retirements. The essence of the rule isn’t all that complicated. It simply requires the retirement fund managers overseeing your 401(k) or IRA to actually act in your best interest—rather than sacrificing your interests for their own personal gain.

It’s an intuitive concept, but it’s one that hasn’t always been practiced by the industry. President Barack Obama’s Labor Department spent six years writing the details of how exactly the fiduciary rule would work, publishing a finalized version last year. The department estimated that retirement accounts across the country lost a total of $17 billion per year due to investment advice that clearly isn’t in the consumer’s interest. Earlier Friday, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a report detailing the rampant kickbacks that financial advisers receive when they recommend certain financial products to their clients. "It’s far too easy for an adviser to sell just one more annuity, regardless of whether it is a prudent choice for the investor, when a free vacation or an international cruise is waiting for him on the other side of the sale," the report says. "These conflicts can result in devastating consequences for retirees."

Trump’s directive was rolled out Thursday night by Gary Cohn, a former Goldman Sachs president who now heads Trump’s National Economic Council. Cohn offered a bizarre explanation for the move during an interview with the Wall Street Journal, arguing that the fiduciary rule limits consumers’ choices. "This is like putting only healthy food on the menu because unhealthy food tastes good but you still shouldn’t eat it because you might die younger." Except unlike splurging on a Big Mac, where you know what you’re getting, consumers tend to be unaware when their financial adviser’s hidden conflicts of interest are siphoning away their retirement savings.

Around the time Trump officially signed the order Friday, Warren blasted him on Twitter:

Trump paired his fiduciary rule memorandum with a separate order instructing various federal regulators to begin exploring how they can roll back financial rules put in place by Dodd-Frank, the 2010 Wall Street reform law enacted by congressional Democrats and Obama in the wake of the financial crisis. Much like Trump’s earlier executive order attacking Obamacare, the anti-Dodd-Frank measure doesn’t offer much in the way of specifics; rather, it appears to be intended to set a general tone for how Trump’s administration will tackle financial regulation.

Trump neatly summed up the reason for his opposition to the Obama measures during a meeting with CEOs Friday morning: Financial reform made life harder for his uber-rich friends. "Frankly I have so many people, friends of mine, that have nice businesses," he said. "They can’t borrow money, they just can’t because the banks won’t let them borrow because of the rules and regulations in Dodd-Frank."

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

How Trump’s USDA Could Hurt Puppies

from February 6, 2017 at 07:10PM http://bit.ly/2kvptR3

It may have just gotten a lot harder to spot puppy abusers: A section of the US Department of Agriculture’s website that provided documents detailing animal abuse was taken down last Friday, without warning. For more than 10 years, the government agency posted information on violators of the Animal Welfare Act and Horse Protection Act. Citizens, journalists, and animal advocacy organizations like the Humane Society relied on these reports to identify zoos, animal research labs, horse breeders, and dog breeders who violated the laws.

The USDA said in a statement last week that it had taken action after conducting a review of the types of information it posts, and stated that it is committed to the "privacy of individuals with whom we come into contact." The agency said people will now have to file Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the same information, though this process can take many months, if not years.

The Humane Society says three of its campaigns will be deeply affected by the change. John Goodwin, the senior director of the organization’s Stop Puppy Mill campaign, uses the reports to create the Horrible Hundred—a list of "puppy mills," or producers who breed large numbers of dogs in unsanitary conditions. "Here we have a government action that benefits no one except people who are caught abusing animals and don’t want the public to know," Goodwin said.

Marty Irby, a senior director of the Humane Society’s Rural Outreach and Equine Protection, likened the reports to the Department of Justice’s public information on sex offenders. "If your neighbor severely abuses a dog who is kept in a cage for breeding purposes and gets caught," he said, now "that person is going to be protected." Irby added that the USDA reports provided an easily accessible resource for people looking to buy or show horses. Now, he argues, violators of the Horse Protection Act can more easily hide. 

The USDA’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service stated that a review of this process has been going on for a year and cited the Privacy Act as a reason for removing the information. Yet the decision came at a time when people are paying extra attention to how Trump’s USDA will differ from his predecessor’s. As my colleague Tom Philpott reported last December, Brian Klippenstein, the leader of Trump’s USDA transition team, lobbied against Humane Society-backed initiatives in Massachusetts that would curb the use of pig gestation stalls and chicken cages in the state. Before he was appointed to the transition team, Klippenstein was the executive director of Protect the Harvest, a nonprofit that aims to "inform America’s consumers, businesses, and decision-makers about the threats posed by animal rights groups and anti-farming extremists." The group makes its feelings about the Humane Society clear on its website, dubbing the organization a "fake charity" and claiming it wants to put breeders out of business by heavily regulating them.

Klippenstein stepped down as executive director of Protect the Harvest in December. A spokeswoman for the nonprofit told Mother Jones that while it had no involvement in the USDA’s decision to remove the reports, the nonprofit is "concerned about the privacy of people who obey the law" and that "all government agencies should be protecting the privacy of people who submit compelling information." She later called back to say that Protect the Harvest has no position on the issue.

It’s still unclear whether the removal of the information on the USDA website is a permanent change. In the meantime, this isn’t just bad news for animal welfare advocates. Since 2011, pet store owners in seven states have been required to source puppies from companies that have no USDA violations. Without these reports, business owners will have a tougher time knowing whether their suppliers violate anti-puppy mill laws.

Investigative reporters have referenced the USDA’s documents to uncover and report on animal abuse in the past. Mother Jones senior editor James West used nearly 1,000 USDA documents to investigate severe animal negligence at a roadside zoo in Maine. The zoo owners were subjects of Yankee Jungle, a reality show on Animal Planet that was canceled after MoJo published West’s story.

The Humane Society of the United States filed legal action against the USDA on Monday. Goodwin said the organization plans to fight the USDA’s decision "all the way." "The USDA has a lot to explain for denying public access to this information," he said.

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

Trump’s First Military Raid Was a Massacre of Civilians, Including an 8-Year-Old Girl

from January 31, 2017 at 06:04AM http://bit.ly/2keQpU8

The victim was the third member of her Yemeni-American family to be killed by the U.S.

The first military raid carried out under the administration of President Donald Trump was a disaster, U.S. officials acknowledge. According to a Yemeni politician, it was a massacre of women and children.

On Sunday, January 29, Secret Joint Special Operations Command (JSOC) forces carried out a raid in southern Yemen — Trump’s first clandestine operation. An unnamed senior military official told NBC News, "Almost everything went wrong." Officials acknowledged that several civilians were killed, along with members of al-Qaeda.

Among the victims was an 8-year-old girl named Nawar al-Awlaki, the daughter of Anwar al-Awlaki, a U.S. citizen and extremist propagandist with links to al-Qaeda who was assassinated in a drone strike in Yemen in 2011. President Obama personally authorized the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki, without trial. Two weeks after his death, another U.S. drone strike killed Anwar’s son, 16-year-old U.S. citizen Abdulrahman al-Awlaki. Unlike his father, Abdulrahman did not have any links to al-Qaeda.

Nawar, the latest civilian victim of U.S. violence in the Middle East, was Abdulrahman’s sister. She is at least the third member of the al-Awlaki family to be killed by the U.S.

Nawar was not the only innocent victim of President Trump’s first raid (which, despite earlier media reports to the contrary, was approved by Trump, not Obama). According to her grandfather, Nasser al-Awlaki, a politician who previously served as Yemen’s agriculture minister, U.S. SEALs killed even more civilians. Nasser spoke with Yemeni sources to get to the bottom of what happened during the raid. He told NBC News that Nawar was sitting in a house with her mother when she was suddenly shot in the neck. She died after suffering for two hours.

"Other children in the same house were killed," Nasser said.

After the raid on this house, the SEALs "entered another house and killed everybody in it, including all the women," Nasser continued. Then, "They burned the house."

The U.S. government disputes this account. While conceding that some civilians were killed, U.S. officials claimed some of the women were actually militants who fired at the SEALs.

The exact circumstances around the killing vary according to the source, as does the death toll. The Pentagon says 14 combatants were killed, along with "numerous" civilians. Yemeni officials estimate as many as 59 militants and civilians were killed, Nasser al-Awlaki said.

There is a precedent for U.S. officials lying about secretive raids carried out by Special Operations forces. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Seymour Hersh wrote an expose claiming the Obama administration lied about the circumstances surrounding the killing of al-Qaeda kingpin Osama bin Laden by SEALs (although multiple accounts of the incident contradicted each other in the first place).

Moreover, investigative journalist Jeremy Scahill has probed how U.S. forces tried to cover up a raid in Afghanistan in which they killed several women and children. Afghan investigators and witnesses said, after the 2010 attack, that U.S. forces dug the bullets out of the body of at least one pregnant Afghan woman they had shot.

Anwar al-Awlaki was an influential extremist Islamist with connections to al-Qaeda, for which he was accused of recruiting. Anwar reportedly consulted with and influenced the militants involved in several terror attacks, including three of the 9/11 hijackers; the Fort Hood shooter, Nidal Hasan; and the so-called underwear bomber, Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab. His propaganda was also credited with radicalizing the Tsarnaev brothers, who carried out the Boston Marathon bombing.

It is unclear whether the killing of Anwar al-Awlaki’s daughter was intentional or accidental. President Trump campaigned on a pledge to go after not only extremist Islamist militants but also members of their families.

The intentional killing of civilian family members of combatants is a war crime under international law.

Reporting on the raid has been sloppy. It took two days for most major media outlets to acknowledge that U.S. forces had killed the 8-year-old girl, although Arabic media sources reported the incident hours after it took place. American reporters for the most part uncritically echoed what anonymous U.S. government officials had told them.

Many of the stories immediately published after the raid on January 29 reflected positively on an operation that allegedly led to the deaths al-Qaeda leaders. Headlines emphasized that one U.S. commando lost his life but made no mention of the civilian casualties. 

Buried in a little-noticed earlier report by Reuters, Nasser spoke of Nawar’s death. He lamented, "Why kill children? This is the new [U.S.] administration — it’s very sad, a big crime."

Al-Qaeda is already using the latest attack in Yemen for propaganda purposes. In a statement quoted by NBC News, operatives in the Arabian Peninsula condemned the SEALs for shooting women and children "in cold blood," and accused them of having "no human values." The extremist group has been expanding rapidly in Yemen, where the U.S. has carried out a covert drone war since 2002.

JSOC, which carried out the disastrous raid, is notorious for overseeing, along with the CIA, the covert drone assassination program. In Yemen, hundreds of people have been killed by U.S. drones, including civilians at weddings and funerals. A United Nations report found that from mid-2014 to mid-2015, more civilians were killed in U.S. drone strikes than al-Qaeda militants.

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

The Trump Deportation Regime Has Begun

from February 10, 2017 at 04:48AM http://bit.ly/2lyrPib

Early Thursday, immigration attorneys in Los Angeles started getting calls from clients across the city. Some callers reported being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents at their homes. Others were caught at their workplaces, including one man detained at a Target store. The first round of Trump-era deportation sweeps had begun.

The news quickly filtered back to immigrant rights activists, who confirmed the detentions and alerted their networks. According to Angelica Salas, the executive director of the Coalition for Humane Immigrant Rights of Los Angeles (CHIRLA), as many as 134 immigrants were detained in the sweep. Based on her conversations with lawyers, many of those detained had outstanding orders for deportation—and some were sent back to Mexico as early as Thursday afternoon.

On Thursday evening, activists held a vigil at ICE’s downtown Los Angeles field office. Later, an estimated 100 to 150 protesters blocked a nearby highway on-ramp:

In a Friday afternoon press release, ICE said 160 immigrants were arrested during what it called a "five-day targeted enforcement operation" in Southern California that was "aimed at at-large criminal aliens, illegal re-entrants, and immigration fugitives." Of the 160, ICE claimed that 150 had criminal histories, and that 5 of the remaining 10 had final orders of removal or had been previously deported. While the release said "many of the arrestees had prior felony convictions for serious or violent offenses," ICE did not give a full breakdown of those convictions. 

Earlier Friday, an ICE spokeswoman told Mother Jones that "enforcement surges have been part of our operational play book for many years." The subsequent press release echoed that line: "The focus was no different than the routine, targeted arrests carried out by ICE’s Fugitive Operations Teams on a daily basis."

The sweep was the second high-profile ICE action in two days. On Wednesday night, immigration agents in Phoenix found themselves swarmed by protesters when they attempted to deport Guadalupe García de Rayos, a 35-year-old Mexican immigrant with two teenage children who are American citizens. García de Rayos had been caught using a fake Social Security number during an ICE workplace raid in 2008.

García de Rayos’ deportation sent shock waves through the immigrant rights community and dominated Spanish-language media on Thursday. Ever since the 2008 raid, she had checked in annually with ICE to review her case—brief meetings that always resulted in her walking free, even though she had been convicted of a felony and later had a deportation order against her. This partly reflected the Obama administration’s emphasis on deporting serious criminal offenders. But her deportation to Nogales, Mexico, signals that the Trump administration plans to follow through with its plans to remove all undocumented immigrants who’ve committed "acts that constitute a chargeable offense"—which, as Vox‘s Dara Lind has pointed out, could include everything from entering the country illegally to driving without a license. (In a statement to reporters Thursday, ICE said it will "focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions who have final orders of removal.")

"A lot of things have changed since January 20," says CHIRLA’s Salas. She notes that during the Obama years, ICE would typically give groups like CHIRLA basic information such as names and the number of people detained following any large sweep or workplace raid. But Salas says she finds it troubling that following Thursday’s actions, there was little to no communication with the agency. "It’s important that we don’t get used to the idea that they don’t have to give out this information," she says.

CHIRLA is currently focusing on educating immigrant communities on civil and constitutional rights. According to a new report from the Pew Research Center, greater Los Angeles is home to 1 million undocumented immigrants—second only to the New York City area, which is home to 1.15 million. On Friday, the group ran hourly know-your-rights workshops, and it’s also holding legal clinics where immigrants can get advice. Similar efforts have been happening nationwide: Earlier this week, for example, public school educators in Austin, Texas, handed out flyers to students in English and Spanish about what to do in an encounter with immigration officials.

Salas says that organizers’ next step is to continue to engage elected officials. Notably, Rep. Ruben Gallegos (D-Ariz.) and California State Senate President Pro Tem Kevin de León have criticized ICE on Twitter over the last day.

"We have to set the tone," Salas says, "that this is not acceptable."

This story has been updated.

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

Flynn discussed sanctions with Russians before Trump took office, contrary to assertions: reports

from February 10, 2017 at 03:05AM http://bit.ly/2l32DDd
US National Security Advisor Michael Flynn discussed the issue of US sanctions with Russia’s ambassador weeks before Donald Trump was sworn in as president. The talks took place just as then-President Barack Obama was ordering new actions against Russia over its alleged interference in the US election.

Read more at: PRI.org Latest from The World and the GlobalPost https://www.pri.org/

3 Reasons to Believe America Could Become a Police State Under Trump

from February 10, 2017 at 07:08AM http://bit.ly/2keJj24

A civil rights attorney weighs in on "Big Picture" with Thom Hartmann.

Trump has been in office for three weeks, but "Big Picture" host Thom Hartmann is already preparing for the awesome surveillance power his administration may use on its citizenry.

"What starts out as a small, necessary, temporary invasion of privacy soon becomes permanent. Then, once it becomes permanent, that surveillance power grows and grows… until it becomes borderline impossible to remove," Hartmann warned. 

On Friday, President Trump promised to reveal new security measures during a news conference with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe. The announcement came on the heels of the 9th Circuit court’s ruling against Trump’s immigration ban, which he has vowed to appeal.

"Is the U.S. moving closer to becoming a police state with the so-called war on terror as an excuse?" Hartmann asked of Mike Papantonio, a civil rights attorney and author of Law and Disorder (2016). 

"This is simply a push to pause. We’re just making a decision saying that to go forward with this would [cause] irreparable harm in so many ways," Papantonio said of the 9th Circuit’s ruling, before offering three reasons America could devolve into a police state under Trump. 

1. Most people don’t know the law.

"Border patrol agents can get away with a lot of things simply because most Americans, and especially non-Americans, they’re not fully aware of the law," argued Papantonio. "Can a border patrol agent legally require you to turn over your social media or cell phone password? No, but people do it. And it’s gonna be case by case."

2. Social media anonymity has yet to be ruled on.

"The First Amendment allows the right to anonymous speech. But whether or not online speech, for example, something you say on Twitter or Facebook counts as ‘anonymous’ is something that hasn’t been decided by the courts," he explained, which leaves plausible deniability for government operatives. 

"When an agent asks for things such as, ‘What sites do you visit, let me see your telephone,’ [they can then say] ‘We need to know more, so I’m going to take your fingerprints, we’re going to investigate…try to get across the border later," Papantonio told Hartmann. 

3. Trump believes he’s above the law, or will challenge it.

"Everything that we’re going to start hearing is going to have an argument with it, the argument being, We got some notice that there’s some cooperation between the ACLU and some cell of terrorists, and we’re worried about it," Papantonio hypothesized. "That’s the problem here, this ball just keeps moving in any direction someone creative wants to push it."

The ACLU warned Trump on November 9: "Should President-elect Donald Trump attempt to implement his unconstitutional campaign promises, we’ll see him in court," the group tweeted before announcing an expansion plan to fight Trump’s policies this week. 

"Just last week, 50 ACLU affiliates filed coordinated Freedom of Information Act requests seeking information from Customs and Border Protection field offices about how the Muslim ban was interpreted and implemented at airports across the country," Anthony D. Romero, ACLU executive director said on Wednesday. 

As Papantonio predicts, interpretation of Trump’s orders by those he depends on most will be "totally discretionary in so many ways." 

Watch:

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Gorsuch in His Youth: ‘Fascism Forever’

from February 2, 2017 at 01:12AM http://bit.ly/2l16VYA

Trump’s Supreme Court nominee headed an anti-leftist student group to battle liberal school administration.

Supreme Court nominee Neil Gorsuch founded and led a student club called “Fascism Forever,” while attending a private prep school in suburban Washington in the 1980s.

The yearbook of Georgetown Prep described the club as an anti-faculty student group that battled against the “liberal” views of the school administration, according to the UK Daily Mail.

“In political circles, our tireless President Gorsuch’s ‘Fascism Forever Club’ happily jerked its knees against the increasingly ‘left-wing’ tendencies of the faculty,” said the yearbook. Gorsuch led the club all four years he attended the elite all-boys Jesuit school in Bethesda, Maryland.

Gorsuch’s willingness to flaunt anti-democratic ideas in service of his conservative politics continued through his four years at Columbia University in New York City where he founded a chapter of the Federal Society, the conservative law network. His senior photo was accompanied by a “joke” from Henry Kissinger: “The illegal we do immediately. The unconstitutional takes a little longer.”

While Gorsuch’s teenage politics could—and no doubt will—be portrayed as “youthful indiscretion” or irreverence in the face of “political correctness,” they will certainly raise problems for Gorsuch’s nomination. Confirmation hearings of Supreme Court justices often focus on the elusive question of “temperament,” especially among Republic moderates in the Senate who will decide Gorsuch’s fate.

Gorsuch will no doubt dismiss his youthful beliefs as the product of immaturity, not an unreasonable defense. (Democrats would defend a liberal nominee who had joined the Socialist Workers Party in high school or quoted a rapper with a criminal record in their yearbook photo.)

But Gorsuch now has the challenge of explaining away his immaturity while reaffirming his lifelong commitment to conservative politics, a tricky task especially in front of television cameras. His youthful antics open up a fertile field of inquiry for Democratic senators still bristling over the refusal of Senate Republicans to even consider Merrick Garland, President Obama’s nominee for the Supreme Court through the last ten months of Obama’s presidency.

Critics will have the opportunity to highlight the continuity between Gorsuch’s youthful indulgence of "fascism" and his right-wing jurisprudence as an adult. Gorsuch will seek to draw a clear bright line between the two, which will not be easy. The confirmation hearings of the 49-year-old federal judge now loom as a hazardous minefield for the nominee and his supporters. 

Democrats will want to know:

What did you know or think of fascism in high school? Did you identify with the fascist leaders like Adolf Hitler, Benito Mussolini, and Augusto Pinochet? When you proclaimed yourself a fascist over those four years, did anyone ever tell you about the victims of fascist regimes? What did you say? What did you think was funny about Henry Kissinger’s quip? His willingness to act illegally? Or his desire to violate constitutional norms? Why did you find that humorous?

“Apparently, the young Mr. Gorsuch felt that celebrating fascism was some sort of politically incorrect joke," commented Mark Potok, senior fellow at the Southern Poverty Law Center. "Fascism is not a joke. There is nothing amusing about it. It has been responsible for the deaths of tens of millions of people, the destruction of much of Europe, and the attempted genocide of the Jews. The idea that a potential Supreme Court justice may still harbor such notions is chilling, indeed.”

The discovery of Gorsuch’s youthful politics also raises questions about the competence of the Trump White House. Did the president’s advisers not know of Gorsuch’s immature antics (if that’s what they were)? Or did they know of his fondness for anti-democratic jokes, and decide to nominate him anyway?

Either answer is revealing. Neither helps the prospect of Gorsuch’s confirmation.

 

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo

Exposed: Israeli Gov’t Plotted to Subvert British Political System with Front Groups, ‘Take Down’ Critics

from January 15, 2017 at 04:37PM http://bit.ly/2ixd4dt

An Israeli embassy official planned to set up a pro-Israel front group to influence Labour Party policy.

An undercover investigation has exposed how an official working in Israel’s embassy in the United Kingdom planned to "take down" lawmakers who supported Palestinian rights and to create pro-Israel political groups that claimed to be independent.

Shai Masot, a senior political officer at Israel’s embassy in London and an officer in the Israeli army, was caught on camera plotting with a Conservative British civil servant to target the deputy foreign minister and "pro-Arab" members of Parliament who are on a "hitlist."

After Masot’s comments were exposed, the Israeli government distanced itself from the diplomat and said it would be ending his position at the embassy.

The U.K. Foreign Office immediately declared the issue to be "closed." Hours later, however, another revelation dropped: The Israeli embassy official was also planning to set up an ostensibly independent pro-Israel group to influence Labour Party policy, while hiding its links to the Israeli government. He also despised Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, whom he disparaged as "crazy."

The Labour shadow foreign secretary called for an investigation into the scandal and characterized the Israeli embassy’s plans as "a national security issue."

Masot’s comments were filmed by an undercover reporter at Al Jazeera. The video of the Israeli diplomat’s conversation has not yet been released, but it is part of a four-part series that will begin broadcasting on January 15. The Guardian obtained early access to the video and first reported these stories.

On Saturday, January 7, The Guardian published a video clip from the Al Jazeera investigation that shows a conversation between Shai Masot and Maria Strizzolo, a civil servant who has worked for top Conservative Party officials. The two discussed ways to tarnish the reputations of members of Parliament who are critical of the Israeli government. "If you look hard enough, I’m sure that there is something that they’re trying to hide," Strizzolo said, adding, "A little scandal, maybe."

"Can I give you some MPs that I would suggest you would take down?" Masot asked Strizzolo. As one of such targets, the Israeli diplomat named Deputy Foreign Minister Alan Duncan, who has spoken out in support of Palestinians. “I thought we had, you know, neutralized him just a little bit, no?” Strizzolo asked. Masot replied, “No.”

The two also singled out Crispin Blunt, the chair of the House of Commons’ foreign affairs select committee and a supporter of Palestinian rights. Masot lamented that he is "pro-Arab" and Strizzolo said he is on a "hitlist."

Blunt told The Guardian that "this apparent activity of a diplomat of a foreign state in the politics of the United Kingdom is formally outrageous and deserving of investigation."

Strizzolo resigned after her comments were exposed. She tried to downplay her discussion with Masot, claiming the "context of the conversation was light, tongue-in-cheek and gossipy."

The British Foreign Office, controlled by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Teresa May, did its best to downplay and dismiss the exposé: "The Israeli ambassador has apologised and is clear these comments do not reflect the views of the embassy or government of Israel. The U.K. has a strong relationship with Israel and we consider the matter closed.”

The scandal was far from over, however. The opposition Labour Party led by Jeremy Corbyn called for the government to launch an immediate investigation into what it called "improper interference in our democratic politics." Shadow Foreign Secretary Emily Thornberry remarked, “The exposure of an Israeli embassy official discussing how to bring down or discredit a government minister and other MPs because of their views on the Middle East is extremely disturbing.”

The next day, Sunday, January 8, The Guardian published further revelations about the Israeli diplomat’s plans. New video clips from Al Jazeera’s investigation showed the Israeli embassy official admitting that there are pro-Israel groups in the U.K. that claim to be independent, "But we help them, actually."

In conversations with a young man by the name of Robin, Masot said he hoped to create a youth branch of the pro-Israel group Labour Friends of Israel. But when the leftist Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the Labour Party in a historic landslide victory, Masot’s plans hit a dead end. "So instead of that I took a delegation to Israel," he added.

Masot believed Robin was an activist with Labour Friends of Israel. In reality, he was an undercover reporter for Al Jazeera.

The Israeli embassy official condemned Corbyn as "a crazy leader" and said he wanted him to lose the Labour leadership election. “I would prefer that the party will not stay with Corbyn,” Masot said, adding hopefully that some Labour MPs who visited the Israeli-occupied West Bank "are against Corbyn."

Masot implored Robin to launch a new group called Young Labour Friends of Israel, but insisted it must claim to be independent. “Not a lot of young people want to be affiliated. For years, every MP that joined the parliament joined the LFI. They’re not doing it any more in the Labour party," Masot lamented.

Video shows the Israeli diplomat introducing Robin as the "chairman" of the group Young Labour Friends of Israel. Footage also reveals Masot’s plans to launch the group City Friends of Israel.

On his LinkedIn account, Masot said his duties included "founding several political support groups in the UK to maximise the Israeli ‘firewall’" and facilitating “adjustments to legislation.”

Although the Israeli government withdrew the diplomat and distanced itself from him, William Patey, a former British ambassador, told The Guardian, “The idea that he would be operating on his own I find fanciful. We know there is a lobby in this country that seeks to portray in the best possible light and seeks to isolate and denigrate critics of Israeli policy.”

Read more at: Alternet http://bit.ly/1nDoAlo