SCCDP Allies

Zinke is latest Trump cabinet member to have abused travel privileges

Think Progress - 2 hours 51 min ago

The Interior Department’s inspector general has determined that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest member of President Donald Trump’s administration to have violated travel policies.

Zinke and his wife Lola were faulted by the Interior Department’s watchdog for numerous violations, including trying to obtain free travel and misuse of federal vehicles, according to Politico.

A new report says Zinke sought to designate his wife an agency volunteer in order to obtain free travel for her, that he often brought her in federal vehicles in violation of agency policy and that he neglected to get permission from ethics officials when he took campaign donors on a boat trip.

The Washington Post reports Zinke’s “decision to take an unarmed security detail on his overseas vacation cost taxpayers $25,000.”

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned in July after a series of controversies, including spending taxpayer money on first-class flights.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was fired in March following criticism for expenses incurred during a 10-day trip to Europe in 2017.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September 2017 after months of scrutiny over his taxpayer-funded private travel.

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin reportedly reimbursed taxpayers for his private travel to watch an eclipse with his wife.

Energy Secretary Rick Perry and Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao have also been criticized over taxpayer-funded travel expenses.

Zinke has been the subject of 14 federal investigations. The Trump administration reportedly tried to move a political appointee into the Interior Department’s watchdog role that is overseeing the many probes of Zinke. However, an Interior official appeared to walk back that decision on Thursday.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump tweets laughable lie about GOP support of coverage for pre-existing conditions

Think Progress - 4 hours 14 min ago

President Donald Trump, whose administration asked a court to end Obamacare’s protections for people with pre-existing medical conditions just last month, claimed “All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions” in a tweet on Thursday.

All Republicans support people with pre-existing conditions, and if they don’t, they will after I speak to them. I am in total support. Also, Democrats will destroy your Medicare, and I will keep it healthy and well!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2018

A day after Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) warned the GOP isn’t done trying to repeal Obamacare, Trump claimed any Republican who doesn’t support health coverage for pre-existing conditions “will after I speak to them.”

Trump’s Justice Department has argued that pre-existing conditions are unconstitutional as it supports a lawsuit filed by 20 Republican-led states. Last week, 50 Republican senators approved the Trump administration’s expansion of health plans that can deny coverage to people with pre-exiting medical conditions.

Here’s a list of every vulnerable House Republican who voted to gut pre-existing conditions coverage

Democrats were quick to respond to Trump’s lie, as Rep. Joe Kennedy (D-MA) recalled Republicans’ infamous celebration outside of the White House after the House voted to repeal Obamacare in May 2017. That effort later fell short in the Senate by one vote.

This is you and all your friends laughing hysterically about gutting preexisting conditions a year ago. You thought we forgot?

— Rep. Joe Kennedy III (@RepJoeKennedy) October 18, 2018

Sen. Brian Schatz (D-HI) urged the media to call Trump’s tweet a lie.

It is a lie. Say the word lie. They are not for protecting people with pre existing conditions. They are trying to undermine it in court, through the rule making process, and through the AHCA which they all voted for. Again, in this unique instance it’s ok to say it’s a lie.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) October 18, 2018

Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), who caucuses with Democrats and ran for the party’s presidential nomination in 2016, noted Trump’s attempts to sabotage Obamacare have threatened “thousands” of people with pre-existing conditions.

You're literally working alongside 20 Republican attorneys general to end protections for people with preexisting conditions.

No one can estimate how many thousands of those people will die if you and your Republican friends are successful.

— Bernie Sanders (@BernieSanders) October 18, 2018

Trump continues to lie about Democrats’ support of Medicare For All as Republicans discuss going after Medicare to lower the national debt.

With midterm elections around the corner and health care clearly at the forefront for many voters, numerous Republicans are scrambling to explain votes to weaken protections for people with pre-existing conditions, including the overwhelming majority of vulnerable House Republicans.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

New Seattle police union contract overturns key tenets of police accountability law

Think Progress - 5 hours 22 min ago

Almost a year and a half after Seattle celebrated the passage of a law streamlining police accountability and establishing an aggressive new civilian watchdog body, the city’s police union is looking to sabotage that progress — with Mayor Jenny Durkan’s (D) help.

Where police unions have often used contract negotiations to extract higher pay in exchange for assenting to reforms like these, the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild (SPOG) and Durkan have agreed to a contract that simply erases key tenets of the reform law signed by Durkan’s predecessor, the disgraced progressive Ed Murray, in June 2017.

The independent Community Police Commission (CPC) recommended the council reject the deal on Wednesday.The young but influential civilian board voted unanimously against the city’s new collective bargaining agreement with the Seattle Police Officers’ Guild Wednesday. The city doesn’t need CPC’s permission to finalize the police union deal, but the unanimously-passed resolution urging the City Council to vote it down will be hard to ignore — especially since it comes with a detailed list of ways Durkan and the union have agreed to override or flout the Council’s own law.

The CPC flagged scores of specific contractual provisions that violate both the letter and spirit of the 16-month-old ordinance, and noted that the contract explicitly commits Seattle to treat its language as overriding in any other unanticipated future conflicts between the 2017 law and the 2018 collective bargaining agreement.

One of the reform’s tentpoles is a new system for adjudicating disputes over disciplinary actions. The chief’s discipline is effectively irrefutable under the law’s mandate that no appeal can result in modifications to the decisions the chief makes in a case. The new system also ends the secretive arbitration process governing police union appeals in Seattle — a common system in police departments, and often cited as the central obstacle to effectively punishing even the most egregious proven misconduct. All appeals hearings must be open to the public and conducted by the city’s Public Safety Civil Service Commission (PSCSC), which can only kick an appeal into arbitration under certain strict conditions.

Like every other component of the 2017 law, the new disciplinary review process stemmed from an extensive and collaborative effort to hammer out durable policy. The union is, in effect, responding by yelling “nuh-uh” and stomping off in the same old direction. The contract Durkan wants ratified restores the classic arbitration system and erases the open-meetings requirement for all such appeals.

“[H]aving these hearings open to the public is the bare bones of improvement, and with this, even that minor improvement has now been eliminated,” the CPC’s markup says.

The law also creates an Office of Professional Accountability, modeled on similar civilian-led investigative bodies dedicated to civilian complaints elsewhere but designed to be more independent of police department influence than its sister institutions in Chicago and New York. Here, too, the contract language intentionally tramples the Council’s work. The CBA Durkan supports would bar OPA from investigating alleged criminal behavior by police, according to the CPC’s markup, and curtail the agency head’s authority over staffing decisions.

Durkan’s office did not immediately respond to questions about the specific criticisms CPC makes. But she disputed their read of the deal in a written statement to the Seattle Times, saying the contract “advances both police reform and public safety.” A press release touting the deal prior to CPC’s vote noted that Seattle officers have been operating without a contract since 2014 and celebrated the force’s progress at restoring community trust — polls have shown the department on an upswing with white and black locals alike — since a federal consent decree went into effect more than half a decade ago. SPOG’s media liaison was in a meeting when ThinkProgress called to get the union’s reaction to CPC’s criticisms.

The 2017 reforms also enshrined police leaders’ authority to reassign officers for either disciplinary or performance-based reasons. The contract pokes holes in that authority, forcing supervisors to both provide a formal written notice with evidence supporting their belief an officer is underperforming or harming their unit’s work and to give the officer between 30 and 90 days to fix their deficiencies. Supervisors can’t move a problem cop outright, despite the city law saying they can do exactly that.

As chartered in the 2017 law, OPA has an unusually strong toolkit for holding cops accountable for unprofessional, illegal, or dishonest behavior. The CBA’s back-door changes to OPA’s authority and policies would put the agency on a leash, likely dooming it to the same kind of shallow, slow, easily-ignored fecklessness that’s undermined similar civilian bodies in New York and Chicago.

The law called for a single-stream standard for OPA’s investigations regardless of the officer’s rank, but the CBA overrides that to restore a system of different standards for higher-ranking cops.

The law set OPA’s burden of proof for misconduct investigations at the “preponderance of evidence” standard common to legal proceedings everywhere, but the contract explicitly raises the bar for any potentially fireable offense that would be “stigmatizing to a law enforcement officer” and harm their ability to get hired to be a cop elsewhere — which, since police officers’ trustworthiness is central to their workplace viability, covers almost every alleged misconduct OPA would ever investigate.

Jeff Sessions’ symbolic act to undermine Chicago’s police reform plan

The law specifically said a cop can be disciplined for dishonesty without OPA having to prove they meant to lie, but the contract reverses that change too; OPA must prove not just wrong conduct but wrong thought, creating a chinstroking philosopher’s shield for cops and their union lawyers.

The restriction on OPA’s right to lead investigations on potential criminal acts by cops is especially troubling to the CPC.

“It is a significant weakness in Seattle’s system that there is no civilian oversight and independence for investigations of what may be the most serious types of allegations against officers, those involving possible criminal conduct. OPA is prohibited from doing anything other than referring the complaint to another unit in SPD or an outside law enforcement agency, and then accepting whatever investigation they conduct, regardless of the quality or length of time it takes,” the commission wrote in the contract margins.

“The contracts were supposed to be changed to allow OPA to have responsibility for and oversight over criminal misconduct investigations, eliminating the requirement that OPA must refer possible criminal cases to SPD or another law enforcement agency…so that OPA can handle complaints of criminal misconduct with all the same oversight and control as any other type of alleged misconduct.”

The contract also rolls back subpoena power for the city legal official who the law authorized to force officers and their families to give statements or furnish records in investigations, promises to consult the union on the makeup of the PSCSC even though it’s “a creature of State law and City ordinance and the City is under no obligation to bargain its composition,” the commission wrote.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Renewables’ ability to bounce back quickly after extreme weather events boosts nation’s defenses

Think Progress - 5 hours 36 min ago

When its other arguments failed to win over converts, the Trump administration turned to national security as one of its primary reasons to bail out financially struggling coal-fired and nuclear power plants. In a new report, the American Council on Renewable Energy (ACORE), a nonprofit trade group for the renewables industry, attempts to show how this argument is yet another desperate ploy by an administration hoping to appease its benefactors in the coal industry.

The report, “The Role of Renewable Energy in National Security,” highlights how renewable energy resources have withstood recent extreme weather events, helping to provide secure and reliable electricity to the nation, including U.S. Department of Defense installations.

Coal and nuclear power facilities, held up by the Trump administration as examples of resilient energy, have demonstrated a tendency to fail in periods of crises, the report notes.

Most recently, after Hurricane Florence dropped record levels of rainfall on North Carolina, large parts of the state lost electricity. But the solar power facilities in the state — North Carolina has the second-most solar capacity in the nation — sustained barely any damage and were back online quickly, even as coal and nuclear plants had continuing problems, the report says.

Climate change is imperiling half of all U.S. military sites globally

North Carolina is home to several large Defense Department installations that rely on electric power from the state’s grid, which is supplied by many of these solar facilities. The military and defense industries are the second largest employers in the state.

Meanwhile in Texas, wind energy facilities stood tall in September 2017 as Hurricane Harvey came ashore. While some wind turbines in the coastal region of Texas went into scheduled shutdown when the hurricane made landfall, the periods before and after Harvey hit saw increased levels of wind generation and limited damage to wind energy infrastructure, according to ACORE.

“Time and time again, renewable energy generators have demonstrated an incredible ability to withstand storms and bounce back quickly after extreme weather events that are becoming all too common in our country, ACORE spokesperson Gil Jenkins said Thursday in an email to ThinkProgress.

ACORE hopes to use its report to further underscore why it believes the Trump administration’s campaign to keep coal and nuclear plants afloat is misguided.

Trump’s plan, however, already appears to be in peril. Recent news reports suggest Trump officials are putting on hold its efforts to prop up ailing coal and nuclear plants.

Our new issue brief, "The Role of Renewable Energy in National Security," shows how #renewables enhance the resilience & security of our electric system and support our military's mission: #energytwitter

— American Renewable Energy (@ACORE) October 17, 2018

“We believe the media reports to be credible and consistent with our intelligence  stemming from conversations with officials at DOE and the White House,” ACORE chief executive Gregory Wetstone said Tuesday about news reports suggesting the administration was pulling back on its bailout plan.

Wetstone continued: “The change in posture reflects important progress in the efforts of ACORE and our members and allies (including the oil & gas groups we partnered with in opposition to the bailout) to educate key officials about the destructive economic repercussions of undermining competitive electricity markets.”

Wetstone warned, however, that it may be too early to declare victory on the issue.

“There is every reason to believe that the president and Energy Secretary Rick Perry remain committed to finding a way to bailout aging coal and nuclear power plants that are no longer economically viable,” he said. “And they may soon have a well-placed ally at the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission.”

On October 3, President Trump nominated Bernard McNamee for the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) seat vacated by the resignation of Robert Powelson. While Powelson opposed a coal bailout, McNamee supported the initial Department of Energy’s bail-out proposal during his time as deputy general counsel for DOE.

In August 2017, DOE released a grid reliability study that was followed by a proposal sent to FERC. The proposal sought to guarantee cost recovery for aging coal and nuclear plants that would otherwise retire because they can no longer compete economically.

Trump’s pro-coal agenda could get boost if this ‘diehard’ ally of fossil fuel industry is confirmed

DOE asserted that 90 days of on-site fuel supplies were necessary to ensure grid resilience in an effort to justify proposed subsidies. But FERC rejected the proposal in a unanimous decision in January.

In May, a leaked DOE memo revealed a draft administrative plan offering a different rationale for such subsidies. The memo called for an order that would require electricity grid operators, utilities and ratepayers to purchase electricity from select coal and nuclear plants identified by DOE at an unspecified subsidized price, on the basis that such action is essential for national security.

Then, in early June, Trump issued a statement directing Perry to prepare steps to prevent the loss of coal and nuclear power plants.

In anticipation that the Trump administration may continue to use national security arguments to justify further attempts to bail out coal and nuclear plants, ACORE emphasizes in its new report how renewable energy bolsters the resilience and security of the nation’s power grid and supports the mission of the U.S. military.

For more than a decade, Defense Department officials have sought to deploy renewable technologies at military facilities across the country and in support of overseas operations where they can reduce risk from exposed fuels lines and reduce casualties associated with fuel-supply convoys, according to the report.

The Trump administration’s proposals to subsidize continued operation of coal and nuclear generators that have often had to shut down in the face of extreme events “would undermine, rather than promote, grid security” for the nation and the military, the report concludes.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Jamal Khashoggi’s death and the crackdown within Saudi Arabia’s borders

Think Progress - 6 hours 43 min ago

In the last piece he wrote for The Washington Post, published on Wednesday night, Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi worried about the world turning a blind eye to the media crackdown in the Arab world.

Highlighting journalist arrests in his native country as well as in Egypt, Khashoggi wrote, “These actions no longer carry the consequence of a backlash from the international community. Instead, these actions may trigger condemnation quickly followed by silence.”

This is the last time we will see his byline. Khashoggi walked into the Saudi consulate on Oct. 2 and has not been seen since. Turkish officials, citing growing stacks of damning evidence, say he was murdered in a most gruesome fashion within the walls of that consulate. Turkish police are searching wooded areas outside Istanbul in connection with the case.

Saudi Arabia has thus far denied any knowledge of what happened to Khashoggi, and President Donald Trump is in full support of that line, although on Thursday his Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin said that he — like many others — will not be attending a major conference in Saudi Arabia later this month. He did not mention the outcry over Khashoggi as a reason for his decision.

U.S. asks Saudi to investigate itself on Khashoggi death, but Turkey could complicate things

Assuming the Turkish investigators are correct, what happened to Khashoggi, while shocking in its open violence, is not unique in the Gulf Arab kingdom. Activists and journalists with far fewer means and connections — to say nothing of the attention that comes with having the readership of The Washington Post — are routinely arrested there.

Those Saudi citizens, many unknown to the West, are detained in what Sherine Tadros, head of the U.N. office for Amnesty International in New York, describes as crackdowns happening “in the shadows.”

“This incident didn’t happen in isolation, it didn’t happen in a vacuum. It is part of an aggressive and escalated crackdown on dissenting voices that we’ve seen really escalate since June 2017, when the crown prince, Mohammed bin Salman, took up his position,” said Tadros.

The crown prince has gone after “anyone who has a different narrative about what’s going on in Saudi Arabia, anyone who dares question him,” she said, listing clerics, academics, journalists, and human rights activists — including Loujain al-HathloulAziza al Yousef,  and Eman al-Nafjan, who advocated for women’s right to drive in Saudi.

Arbitrarily detained since May, there’s little information on what’s happening with those activists.

Sherif Mansour, the Middle East and North Africa program coordinator at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) is dismayed that all of the arrests — even ones that directly contradict Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s “agenda of reform” have yet to prompt the U.S. to rethink its relationship of Saudi Arabia.

As Saudi women get the right to drive, activists who fought for that right remain jailed

“The crackdowns against bloggers and human rights activists — the ones who advocated for years for women’s right to drive — continue, even though this [giving women the right to drive] was a key component of the reform agenda that the crown prince presented and was celebrated,” said Mansour.

“These arrests [and CPJ’s efforts to highlight them] were not cause enough for a critical review this agenda, and … the arrests kept coming. There are more journalists there behind bars this year than last year,” he said.

This climate of crisis in journalism, he added, has been exacerbated by the U.S. failing to step up an “take leadership on press freedom,” including in Khashoggi’s case.

CPJ on Thursday joined Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, and Reporters Without Borders at the United Nations in New York to call for an impartial, international investigation into Khashoggi’s case within six weeks.

The status of the investigation remains in doubt. While Turkish authorities are pushing ahead, the Saudis continue to deny any wrongdoing. A former CIA expert told ThinkProgress earlier this week that the Saudis are likely to hang one or more of the 15-man team who is said to have played a role in killing Khashoggi out to dry.

Experts cast doubt on Saudi excuse as horrific details of Jamal Khashoggi’s death surface

“If I’m one of the guys who is member of the 15-member detail, I’m going to be real nervous about going home,” John Nixon told ThinkProgress on Tuesday. And, sure enough, by Thursday, Turkish media reported that one of the 15 men, Mashal Saad al-Bostani, a lieutenant of the Saudi Royal Air Force, had died in a “suspicious car accident” in the Saudi capital of Riyadh, with speculation rampant on the Saudi crown prince doing whatever necessary to get rid of witnesses and evidence.

Tadros said that Saudi Arabia needs to be called out for their actions, “so they are not able to simply whitewash this, and conduct their own internal investigation and say ‘Job done, let’s move on.”

A fair U.N. investigation, she said, is the “best shot at depoliticizing what has become a very politicized incident.”

“We can see what is happening — we can see the visit by [Secretary of State Mike] Pompeo to Riyadh, we can see what the Turks are leaking to the media, but not saying anything on record — it’s very clear what’s going on,” said Tadros.

“We are fighting a David-and-Goliath type battle here.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange keeps trying and failing to move to Russia

Think Progress - 6 hours 52 min ago

For over six years, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has tried repeatedly to leave the Ecuadorian Embassy in London without having to face any potential legal ramifications for skipping bail in the United Kingdom. With each new reported attempt, one destination seems to be at the top of Assange’s list: Russia.

This week, the Associated Press reported that Ecuadorian legislator Paola Vintimilla published documents detailing Ecuador’s plans to not only make Assange an Ecuadorian citizen, but to then appoint Assange as an Ecuadorian diplomat and assign him to Moscow.

Assange, whose Twitter privileges were revoked by the embassy earlier this year, reportedly requested Ecuadorian citizenship over a year ago. The documents lay out how the Ecuadorian government expedited Assange’s request, bypassing typical procedures. Assange’s planned position would have been as an Ecuadorian “political counselor,” but it’s unclear what duties, if any, the position would have actually required.

Unfortunately for Assange, the plan fell through when the British Foreign Office announced its opposition. As the documents, published and annotated by ABC, reveal, British authorities “do not consider Mr. Julian Assange to be an acceptable member of the [Ecuadorian] mission.” (It’s unclear how aware Russia was of the diplomatic plans, but Russian diplomats referred to this week’s revelations as “fake news.”)

As such, Assange remains isolated in the Ecuadorian Embassy in the U.K. — although he can at least keep the company of a cat.

Here is what the leaked Wikileaks messages can tell us about Assange’s conspiracy theories

The revelations are the latest in a litany of strange connections linking Assange to the Russian government. In December 2017, around the same time Ecuador attempted to appoint Assange as a diplomat, The Guardian reported that Russian diplomats had “held secret talks in London… to assess whether they could help [Assange] flee the U.K.”

The plan involved “smuggling” Assange out of the embassy, and then presumably to Russia. The operation was unsuccessful.

A few years beforehand, the Associated Press reported that Assange also tried to obtain a Russian visa via a Holocaust denier named Israel Shamir, whom Assange referred to as his “friend.” Shamir revealed that he had obtained the visa, but that it “had come too late to rescue [Assange] from the sex crimes investigation,” the AP wrote.

Finding his way to Russia would make certain sense for Assange. After all, Assange’s WikiLeaks published the emails Russian hackers stole from Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, a fact detailed in an earlier indictment from the office of Robert Mueller, the special counsel tasked with investigating possible Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

And then there’s Assange’s own history of spouting pro-Kremlin propaganda talking points, from claiming that Russian-backed separatists may not have downed Flight MH17 in Ukraine to defending Vladimir Putin during 2016’s Panama Papers revelations, which revealed billions of dollars attached to Putin’s inner circle.

Assange also had a show on the Russian propaganda channel RT a few years ago. Assange’s Twitter feed, which has been run by his legal campaign over the past few months, even tweeted out a link to RT amidst this week’s revelations, rather than link to coverage from other outlets.

In exchange for being let out of solitary confinement, Ecuador demands @JulianAssange to have no freedom of political expression and be subject to extensive spying

— #FreeAssange! (tweets by campaign) (@JulianAssange) October 16, 2018

Some six years into his tenure at the Ecuadorian embassy, and despite his efforts, Assange appears no closer to finding a new home than before. And given that Ecuador’s president isn’t exactly the biggest fan of Assange, the WikiLeaks founder appears to be running out of options.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

A Dutch physician is sending medication abortion to Americans by mail

Think Progress - 7 hours 7 min ago

If you have to travel 100 miles to terminate your pregnancy, ordering abortion pills online might be a more practical option for you. But while it’s relatively easy to purchase medication abortion on the internet, websites can feel sketchy or confusing as they don’t always provide the relevant information or instructions.

Dutch physician Rebecca Gomperts has addressed this problem, launching a new service called Aid Access that mails abortion pills to people living in the United States.

When taken together 24-hours apart, mifepristone and misoprostol can terminate a pregnancy up to 10 weeks. Both drugs are verified by the World Health Organization, and research suggests that people don’t have to be medical professionals to administer the pills themselves.

Gomperts told The Atlantic, which first reported the news, that she is filling each prescription for mifepristone and misoprostol herself and has been sending the medications to a trusted Indian pharmacist, who is then responsible for shipping the pills to U.S. residents. Gomperts is a prominent reproductive justice advocate and founder of Women on Web, a website that provides the abortion pill to people living in countries where it’s illegal.

While abortion is still technically legal in the United States, the courts have been chipping away at Roe v. Wade for years. Millions live in cities where the closest abortion provider is 100 miles away; 27 cities qualify as abortion deserts.

Gomperts launched the service six months ago in secret for patients with limited-to-no access to health care. She’s already sent pills to an estimated 600 women.

“It was in response to the urgent medical need,” she told ThinkProgress by email.

As President Trump lambastes other countries, like Canada, for their health care systems, falsely arguing that their residents often flock to the United States for health care, it turns out that the international community is actually helping U.S. residents who can’t access health care.

Trump lies about Medicare for All, says universal health care doesn’t work anywhere in the world.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s confirmation to the nation’s highest court means access can easily worsen as conservatives now hold a majority in the Supreme Court. Already, more than a dozen cases, primed by the anti-choice movement, are making their way to the Supreme Court, aiming to overturn or hobble Roe. 

“With a decidedly anti-abortion majority now on the Supreme Court, we are likely to see clinical abortion even more restricted or pushed out of reach entirely,” Jill Adams, chief strategist at The SIA Legal Team, said in a statement.

“It’s not surprising to see new efforts to distribute a safe, effective abortion option. Though abortion is legal, people who end their own pregnancies, and those who assist them, may be reported, arrested, or imprisoned. We should ensure that however a person decides to end a pregnancy, they can do so safely, effectively, and with dignity,” Adams added.

It is illegal for patients to self-administer the abortion pill in some parts of the country. Indeed, self-managed abortion is categorically banned in seven states. However, there is an ongoing effort to overturn decades-old laws that have led to the arrests or investigations of at least 20 patients.

The race to decriminalize self-induced abortion before Trump gets a new Supreme Court justice

“It’s really up to us to change those laws now so that we don’t end up replacing the coat hanger with a jail cell for women who self manage their abortion whether now or in the future,” Andrea Miller, president of the National Institute for Reproductive Health (NIRH), recently told ThinkProgress.

Simultaneously, advocates are hoping the conversation around self-managed abortion shifts from an act of desperation in the midst of Donald Trump’s America to an act of choice. Indeed, people may choose to terminate their pregnancy outside of a clinic setting for spiritual purposes or for a more comfortable setting.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Federal lawsuit shows how Harvard’s admissions favors the wealthy

Think Progress - 8 hours 9 min ago

The influence of applicants’ ties to donors in the admissions process at Harvard was revealed by lawyers in a Boston federal court this week. The trial is focused on challenging race conscious admissions, but in the process put the spotlight on a shadowy process that allows the wealthy to use their influence to secure a spot at the university.

The federal lawsuit accusing Harvard University of discriminating against Asian American students in its admissions process began its trial this week, and emails revealed the extent to which donors’ connections to students affected this process.

During the trial, Bill Fitzsimmons, who was the head of Harvard admissions for three decades, said he added relatives of donors to a list of students he tracks, regardless of the strength of their academic record and other factors that would determine if they were a good applicant. In emails to Fitzsimmons, the then dean of Harvard’s John F. Kennedy School of Government, David Ellwood, wrote in an email, “I am simply thrilled about all the folks you were able to admit. … All big wins.” He added that one donor “has already committed to a building” and “committed major money for fellowships,” the Boston Globe reported.

The Jared Kushners of the world have the real advantage in college admissions

In 2014, there was an email from the Harvard men’s tennis coach to Fitzsimmons that mentioned a student whose family donated over $1 million over four years and had donated to two professorships. The coach wrote, “we rolled out the red carpet and we’re all delighted that [the student] had a great time,” according to the Globe.

These emails evoke the claims of an anonymous Harvard admissions official who wrote in 2015 that the process was a “sham”:

So in the grand scheme of things, I realized I was powerless to say no to those who were only marginally deserving of an Ivy League spot, and completely unequipped to find those who could make the most of a top-shelf education but who never even thought to ask for one. Instead of giving people a boost on the ladder to upward mobility, I felt that I was simply there to make sure the children of the upper class stayed in the virtuous cycle that would keep them in the upper class. And there’s no point in staying in a volunteer job that brings you nothing but frustration.

Daniel Golden, a ProPublica editor, explored the power the wealthy have in the admissions process in his 2006 book, The Price of Admission: How America’s Ruling Class Buys Its Way into Elite Colleges — and Who Gets Left Outside the Gates. In an interview with ThinkProgress last year, Golden said the problem with legacies — or applicants related to someone who attended the university — has only grown worse since then. Even though legacies’ acceptance rates declined at Ivy League universities, he said, legacies still have more of an advantage over non-legacy students. And as schools lose small grassroot donors, they become more reliant on those donors.

Harvard has defended itself from these emails about donors and applicants by saying that the students were academically similar to other students in their classes and that the attention paid by donors helps the university pay for scholarships and financial aid.

The emails came up in a case attacking race conscious admissions at Harvard. The case is led by Edward Blum, a conservative legal strategist who worked on the Fisher v. University of Texas, Austin case, also an attack on race conscious admissions. Plaintiffs have alleged that Harvard used its personal rating category that considers character traits to reject Asian Americans and accept Black students and emphasizes records of Asian students having the best academic records but the lowest admissions rate.

Although the lawyers representing the nonprofit Blum leads, Students for Fair Admissions, argued that Asian Americans face discrimination in admissions thanks to the university favoring legacies, people with connections to donors, and recruited athletes, the lawyers also focused on Black applicants. Students for Fair Admissions made a chart showing that Black applicants, legacy applicants, and students with high personal ratings had a better chance of getting into the university, according to The Atlantic.

What you need to know about the case challenging affirmative action at Harvard

The lead attorney for Students for Fair Admissions, Adam Mortara, said, “The future of affirmative action is not on trial.” But later on, Mortara made it clear which group of students the plaintiff is focusing on when it comes to the supposed advantages they enjoy over Asian American students. Mortara said that Asians “dramatically and shockingly” score lower than Black students and Latinx students in personal ratings.

Mortara said that Harvard went too far in its “zeal” to consider race in admissions and “let the wolf of racial bias in through the front door,” NBC News reported.

Advocates for race conscious admissions are concerned that this latest attack could put decades of legal precedent allowing the consideration of race in danger, thanks to the recent addition of U.S. Supreme Court Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh. Universities are now allowed to consider race in their policies as long as they look at a variety of factors and qualities. The U.S. Supreme Court upheld UT Austin’s program in 2016, but Blum isn’t tired of fighting for “race blind admissions.” Legal experts say that this is Blum’s way of expanding the fight against race conscious admissions into private universities’ admissions policies.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Men and Christians experience higher amounts of discrimination than other groups, Trump voters claim

Think Progress - 8 hours 22 min ago

A new survey from YouGov and The Economist suggests that people who voted for President Donald Trump are living in a very different United States than those who voted for Hillary Clinton.

In a series of questions about the discrimination they perceive different groups to be experiencing, the respondents were far more concerned with the plight of men and Christians than with just about any other group.

The poll surveyed 1,500 U.S. adults this past Sunday through Tuesday, 28 percent of whom voted for Donald Trump in 2016. Participants were asked to share what they felt were the levels of discrimination against a variety of groups, including various ethnic groups (Arab, Asian, African, and Mexican Americans), religious groups (Christians, Jewish, and Muslim), LGBTQ people, immigrants, and men and women. And while Trump voters certainly acknowledged that various groups experienced some degree of discrimination, they expressed the most concern about men and Christians.

For example, nearly half of Trump voters (49 percent) claimed that men are experiencing “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of discrimination right now, compared to only 11 percent of people who voted for Clinton. The trend was similar for participants who identified as conservative (43 percent) compared to those who identified as liberal (14 percent).

How much discrimination do [men] face in America today? CREDIT: YouGov In contrast, Trump voters were not nearly as concerned about women. Only 30 percent of Trump voters believe women are facing “a great deal” or “a fair amount of discrimination, compared to 88 percent of Clinton voters.

How much discrimination do [women] face in America today? CREDIT: YouGov These numbers seem to reflect the contrasting narratives that followed the nomination of Justice Brett Kavanaugh in recent months. Trump, himself, repeatedly insisted that it’s a “very scary time for young men,” while women across the country were protested Kavanaugh given the multiple allegations of sexual assault against him.

When asked about religion, Trump voters seemed to show far more concern for Christians than for other religions. In fact, 38 percent of Trump voters responded that people who aren’t Christian have it easier in this country than Christians, while only 10 percent agreed Christians have it easier. In comparison, 53 percent of Clinton voters said Christians have it easier, and only 5 percent said other groups do, while the rest believed there was no difference.

The difference Trump voters saw shined through when asked separately about Christian, Jewish, and Muslim people. The poll found that 64 percent of Trump voters believed Christians face “a great deal” or “a fair amount” of discrimination, compared to 48 percent who felt the same for Jews, and 60 percent for Muslims. In a separate question, Trump voters also described anti-Semitism as a far less serious problem in the United States.

How much discrimination do [Christians] face in America today? CREDIT: YouGov Only 17 percent of Clinton voters felt Christians face high levels of discrimination, compared to 58 percent for Jews and 95 percent for Muslims.

HOW MUCH DISCRIMINATION DO [Muslim People] FACE IN AMERICA TODAY? CREDIT: YOUGOV Trump-voter apathy for other vulnerable groups followed a similar pattern. For LGBTQ people, only 41 percent of Trump voters considered discrimination a big problem, compared to 92 percent of Clinton voters. Likewise, only 46 percent of Trump voters were concerned with discrimination against immigrants compared to 92 percent of Clinton voters.

The juxtaposition between their responses for LGBTQ people and Christians seems to reflect years of conservatives claiming that expanding LGBTQ equality infringes on the “religious freedom” of Christians to discriminate against LGBTQ rights. This was particularly evident in the recent Masterpiece Cakeshop Supreme Court case, in which a Christian baker claimed he should be allowed to refuse to sell wedding cakes to same-sex couples.

HOW MUCH DISCRIMINATION DO [lesbian, gay, bisexual or transgender PEOPLE] FACE IN AMERICA TODAY? CREDIT: YOUGOV The poll did not ask respondents to comment directly on how much discrimination they perceive white people as experiencing, but they were asked whether white people or black people have it easier. Only 17 percent of Trump voters said white people have it easier, while 65 percent believed there was no difference. Meanwhile, 79 percent of Clinton voters believe white people have it easier.

When asked about various non-white groups, Trump voters consistently expressed less concern about discrimination than Clinton voters, including for Arab Americans (53 percent vs. 91 percent), Asian Americans (27 percent vs. 64 percent), African Americans (38 percent vs. 90 percent), and Mexican Americans (42 percent vs. 90 percent). For each of those groups, except for Asian Americans, Clinton voters were also far more likely to respond that there’s “a great deal” of discrimination, while Trump voters were more likely to state there was only “a fair amount.”

How much discrimination do [African Americans] face in America today? CREDIT: YouGov Compared to Clinton voters, Trump voters were notably less concerned with issues like gay rights, health care, Medicare, education, the environment, and gun control and more concerned about taxes, the budget deficit, terrorism, and immigration.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Nicaragua accused of using military-grade weapons to crush protesters

Think Progress - 9 hours 3 min ago

Nicaraguan security services have been using weapons of war as part of a brutal crackdown against anti-government protesters which has resulted in the deaths of hundreds, a report by Amnesty International claimed Thursday.

Nicaragua, under the rule of President Daniel Ortega, has been engulfed in demonstrations and clashes since April. More than 300 have been killed protesting against Ortega’s increasingly autocratic government, which has in turn unleashed a wave of violence against protesters.

According to Amnesty International, police and government-backed militias have used military-grade weapons against protesters who were mostly unarmed. The weapons documented include Russian-designed assault rifles with high-capacity drum magazines, sniper rifles, heavy machine guns and even rocket-propelled grenade launchers.

“[The report concludes] that a central plank [of the conflict]… was the Nicaraguan state’s persistent efforts to criminalize opponents,” Amnesty International said. “[It referred] to anyone who protested against the government as “terrorists” or “coup plotters” in an effort to justify its own violent actions.”

In addition, pro-Ortega forces are accused of regularly using torture, participating in extra-judicial executions and operating a “shoot to kill” policy. According to a previous Amnesty International report on Nicaragua, police used live ammunition to face off against a crowd of protesters, firing indiscriminately. The report noted that in the case of many of protester deaths, the bullets fired “are carefully aimed shots fired with precision at the head or jugular or chest.”

In Nicaragua, blood, rage, and the looming threat of dictatorship

Protesters who are merely arrested, however, face similarly horrifying repression. According to the newest Amnesty report and the Telegraph, masked pro-Ortega militia groups have arbitrarily detained and tortured protesters and organizers, often detaining them indefinitely under the guise of anti-terrorism laws.

“Torture is being used not solely as an instrument of punishment, but as a means of dissuading others from protesting,” Carolina Jimenez, deputy director for research at Amnesty International, told the Telegraph. “It is one element in a strategy of lethal repression intended to terrorise the population.”

It’s not just protesters who are suffering either, reporters have also been targeted. In October Austrian-American journalist David Goette-Luciak was forcefully deported from the country, while Nicaraguan journalist Ángel Gahona was shot dead in May while livestreaming a protest.

One of the consequences of this political violence has been an increased flow of refugees into Costa Rica. In August, CNN reported that the small Central American nation had received 8,000 asylum applications since April, with 15,000 more waiting for later registration.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Virginia GOP congressman tells recovering addict he has it bad too because he faces attack ads

Think Progress - 13 hours 1 min ago

Rep. Dave Brat (R-VA), who is locked in a toss-up re-election race against Democrat Abigail Spanberger, met with members of an addiction support group during a recent visit to the Chesterfield County Jail. When an inmate expressed concerns about the challenges she’d face upon release, the far-right Freedom Caucus member responded that he has it even worse, as he is facing negative campaign ads.

Brat told the woman, “You think you’re having a hard time. I’ve got $5 million of negative ads against me. How do you think I’m feeling?”

An odd moment from @DaveBratVA7th's visit to an addiction support group at Chesterfield County Jail: After an inmate describes some of the difficulties she'd face upon release, Brat says his life isn't all roses either, pointing to attack ads from @SpanbergerVA07

— Ben Paviour (@BPaves) October 18, 2018

“Nothing’s easy for anyone. You think I’m a congressman. Oh life’s easy, this guy’s off having steaks…” he lectured. “No one out there’s got some easy life. And you’ve got it hard, I’m not dismissing that. You’ve got some fears, real anxiety coming up with a job, and whatever.  And what you’ve got to find is a support system.”

Spanberger responded to Brat’s comments on Wednesday, tweeting that it is “absolutely shameful” for him “to compare the hardship of addiction and the struggles of recovery to his campaign.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump threatens to shut down southern border over migrant caravan

Think Progress - 13 hours 8 min ago

President Trump on Thursday threatened to shut down the southern border and call up the military if Mexico did not stop a migrant caravan from making its way north into the United States.

“I am watching the Democrat Party led (because they want Open Borders and existing weak laws) assault on our country by Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, whose leaders are doing little to stop this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to U.S.,” Trump tweeted Thursday morning, referring to the caravan, which is comprised of thousands of migrants seeking asylum in the United States and is currently traveling through Guatemala to get to the country’s border with Mexico.

“….In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught,” he continued. “[A]nd if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!..”

….In addition to stopping all payments to these countries, which seem to have almost no control over their population, I must, in the strongest of terms, ask Mexico to stop this onslaught – and if unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!..

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2018

Trump followed up the previous tweet with one labeling the immigrants in the caravan as criminals and drug dealers, and said the border is far more important to him than trade relations with Mexico.

“….The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA,” he wrote. “Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border. All Democrats fault for weak laws!”

….The assault on our country at our Southern Border, including the Criminal elements and DRUGS pouring in, is far more important to me, as President, than Trade or the USMCA. Hopefully Mexico will stop this onslaught at their Northern Border. All Democrats fault for weak laws!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 18, 2018

Earlier this week, the president threatened to pull foreign aid from the Central American countries from which many of the immigrants in the caravan are from.

Trump tweeted erroneously that his administration would cut funding to places like Honduras, Guatemala, and El Salvador, if they continued to “allow their citizens, or others, to journey through their borders and up to the United States, with the intention of entering our country illegally.”

“[A]ll payments made to them will STOP (END)!” he wrote.

Trump threatens to pull aid from Central American countries protected by TPS

Most of the immigrants in the caravan are fleeing dangerous living situations in their countries of origin and plan to apply for asylum at the U.S.-Mexico border through ports of entry, which is an entirely legal and non-criminal act.

In spite of this, Trump tweeted Tuesday that any immigrant entering the country illegally will be “arrested and detained, prior to being sent back to their country.”

Caravan leaders make the journey to the U.S.-Mexico border annually, in order to shepherd migrants seeking a safer or better life through dangerous terrain marked by threats of violence or death.

As ThinkProgress previously noted, many of the migrants’ home countries are afflicted by war, natural disaster, or severe poverty, forcing them to flee. Two of them, El Salvador and Honduras, were previously granted Temporary Protected Status (TPS) by the United States, which provides sanctuary from such conditions, though the latter’s protections will end in 2020. TPS designations are still in place for El Salvador, as well as a handful of other countries.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump has the right to ‘rhetorical hyperbole,’ says judge — but that doesn’t make it presidential

Think Progress - 14 hours 34 min ago

As if it wasn’t already glaringly apparent, a federal judge has, in his dismissal of adult film star Stormy Daniels’ defamation suit against President Donald Trump, offered an officially adjudicated assessment that the president’s words and behavior are not to be considered earnestly.

Or, to put it more bluntly, this judge has ruled that Trump is an unserious president.

In a ruling handed down Monday, U.S. District Judge S. James Otero — who is also overseeing Daniels’ pending lawsuit about her non-disclosure agreement — sided with the president and dismissed the adult-film actor’s defamation suit against Trump. Daniels filed the suit after the president, in a tweet, referred to her contention that a man had threatened her in an effort to dissuade her from speaking publicly about her alleged affair with the president as “a total con job.” 

A sketch years later about a nonexistent man. A total con job, playing the Fake News Media for Fools (but they know it)!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) April 18, 2018

In his dismissal decision, Otero wrote that it was fair game for the President of the United States to employ gross and over-the-top language to make a self-serving point. “The Court agrees with Mr. Trump’s argument because the tweet in question constitutes ‘rhetorical hyperbole’ normally associated with politics and public discourse in the United States. The First Amendment protects this type of rhetorical statement.”

Careful parsing of Otero’s dismissal points directly to the clear-eyed understanding of an absence of seriousness in the Oval Office. The judge found that “rhetorical hyperbole” — a literary device used to draw contrast and attention — is normal in everyday conversation.

And yes, this is undoubtably true. For example, I might say: “I’m so hungry, I could eat a horse,” and no one would mistake my words as being literally intended.

But this sort of casual conversation and imprecision in language is not what most Americans associate with normal verbiage when spoken by an American president. Of course, nothing about Trump or his grip on our national life is normal, and nearly everything that Trump does or says is aberrant. Trump doesn’t evince any concern that presidential rhetoric — which has the potential to move markets, sow conflicts, and engender panic — needs to be guarded, grave, and precise so as to not create chaos. Rather, he seems to relish in the absurdity of his sophomoric antics.

As if to underline this point, Trump immediate took to Twitter to gloat over Otero’s decision, heaping an extra scoop of rhetorical hyperbole on this sorry episode by insulting Daniels — crudely calling her a “horseface” — and pledging to attack Michael Avenatti, whom Trump referred to as Daniels’ “3rd rate lawyer.”

Self-proclaimed women respecter Donald Trump calls Stormy Daniels ‘Horseface’ on Twitter

Not everyone — including some Republicans — are down with Trump’s vulgar, locker-room behavior. Appearing recently on Fox News, Ari Fleischer, former press secretary to President George W. Bush, panned the current president’s frat-boy antics. “This is where the president is his own worst enemy,” Fleischer said. “He doesn’t need to call anybody horseface. You just don’t do that when you’re the president. . . . The president can counterpunch so hard, he often hits himself.”

Of course, to Trump’s supporters, it’s just good-old-boy fun, nothing to be overly concerned about — even it it’s the most powerful man in the world confusing and alarming everyone on the planet with this callow, unhinged rhetoric.

Consider, for example, a Pew Research Center poll conducted earlier this year which found that “of the minority that approved of Trump’s job performance, a majority – a bit under 60 percent – indicated that the rationale for their support stemmed from his personality and approach to the job vs. his policies or values.”

Linguists, such as Barbara J. King, an anthropology professor emerita at the College of William and Mary, are having a field day analyzing not only what Trump says, but how he says it. In a recent National Public Radio commentary, King noted the work of several language scholars who have examined the way Trump uses simple modifiers and braggadocios to persuade his audience.  King quoted linguist and cognitive scientist George Lakoff, who notes:

Language that fits that worldview activates that worldview, strengthening it, while turning off the other worldview and weakening it. The more Trump’s views are discussed in the media, the more they are activated and the stronger they get, both in the minds of hardcore conservatives and in the minds of moderate progressives.

This is true even if you are attacking Trump’s views. The reason is that negating a frame activates that frame . . . . It doesn’t matter if you are promoting Trump or attacking Trump, you are helping Trump.

In other words, there’s a message embedded within Trump’s maddening hyperbole. It doesn’t matter to him — or his followers — that he’s comes across as an ignoramus. Quite the contrary — it bonds them to him. 

But for everyone outside this sliver of the president’s supporters, Trump comes across as a reckless and narcissistic, too over-the-top in his responses to critics, and too quick to offer up a foolish utterance — all of which distracts from the gravitas of his office and duties.

A frivolous president is a puzzling challenge to those of us who want the leader of the free world to be clear, articulate, and level-headed in all his public statements and actions. There are those who remain forever in wait, expecting and hoping that one day he will recognize the seriousness of his office and make some attempt at statesmanship. Alas, the vigil continues as Trump romps with unabated glee over the august role he plays in the public’s eye.

“I’m president and you’re not,” Trump recently told CBS’ Leslie Stahl on “60 Minutes.”

It was the sort of comment — casual, colloquial, contemptuous, and canned — that brings tears of joy to the eyes of Trump’s core supporters. So what, if it the president is name calling and behaving — to use Vanity Fair’s Erika Harwood’s apt description — as “any seventh grader would pass on for being too obvious.”

Trump’s core supporters are enamored of the idea of an unserious president. Trump certainly shows no signs of disappointing them, no matter how much damage it does to the office of the president.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Even Fox News shows signs of Trump fatigue

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 4:37pm

President Donald Trump is on a media tour in advance of next month’s midterm elections. Unfortunately for him, nobody seems to be watching.

After rarely venturing outside of the conservative ecosystem for the overwhelming majority of his presidency, Trump conducted a wide-ranging interview with CBS’ 60 Minutes that aired on Sunday.

I will be interviewed on “60 Minutes” tonight at 7:00 P.M., after NFL game. Enjoy!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 14, 2018

Trump’s conversation with Lesley Stahl drew 11.7 million viewers, or as the Associated Press’ Zeke Miller noted, “just over half the audience that Stormy Daniels had on the CBS newsmagazine last spring.”

22 million people watched Daniels’ March appearance on 60 Minutes. Trump’s November 2016 interview on the show drew 20 million viewers.

To make matters worse for a president who notoriously craves media attention, even Fox News, Trump’s preferred network and news source, has lately taken to cutting away from his political rallies. Politico reports the decision is due to Trump’s low television ratings.

As he’s ramped up his rally schedule ahead of the midterms, viewership numbers for the raucous prime-time events have been roughly similar to — sometimes dipping below — Fox News’ regular programming, and the network has recently stopped airing most evening events in full.

Fox News’ move to cut back on Trump coverage has reportedly not gone unnoticed by the White House.

One senior White House official was unsure why the network would decide to cut away from presidential rallies, saying officials planned “to look into that” and wouldn’t be surprised if White House communications director Bill Shine, a former Fox News executive, was in touch with former colleagues about the trend.

Shine was ousted from Fox News for mishandling numerous sexual harassment complaints.

Trump remains deeply unpopular as Democrats aim to regain control of Congress in next month’s midterms.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

McConnell warns GOP will try to repeal Obamacare again if midterms go well for Republicans

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 3:14pm

With midterm elections fast approaching, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has let it be known that Republicans aren’t done trying to repeal Obamacare.

Calling the GOP’s previous attempt to end the Affordable Care Act “the one disappointment of this Congress from a Republican point of view,” McConnell told Reuters on Wednesday that his party could make another run at President Barack Obama’s signature health care law if Republicans expand their majorities during next month’s midterm elections.

“If we had the votes to completely start over, we’d do it. But that depends on what happens in a couple weeks,” McConnell said, referring to the November midterms. “We’re not satisfied with the way Obamacare is working.”

McConnell’s remarks come a day after he threatened to go after funding for Medicare and Social Security due to the “very disturbing” national debt. Of course, McConnell’s Senate passed a tax bill costing $1.4 trillion in December 2017 that has overwhelmingly benefited corporations.

Senators John McCain (R-AZ), Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), and Susan Collins (R-ME) were the only members of their party to vote against a July 2017 effort to repeal Obamacare. McCain, who died of brain cancer in August, famously cast the final and deciding vote in a 51-49 margin.

Despite attempts by Republicans, led by President Donald Trump, to sabotage Obamacare, enrollment for 2018 was at 96 percent of the previous year’s level.

Senator Brian Schatz (D-HI) reacted to McConnell’s comments on Twitter, noting that Republicans “really are coming after your healthcare.”

I think sometimes people think it’s some partisan talking point cooked up by pollsters or whatever. But they really are coming after your healthcare.

— Brian Schatz (@brianschatz) October 17, 2018

According to an August 19-21 poll conducted by Fox News, the Affordable Care Act was more popular with voters than the recently enacted Republican tax cuts. As Real Clear Politics reported two weeks ago, “Numerous national polls show health care topping the economy as the number one issue for voters this election cycle.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Fake Iranian news site provoked Pakistan’s nuclear threat against Israel

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 2:56pm

In late 2016, then-Pakistani Defense Minister Khawaja Asif took to Twitter to threaten Israel with nuclear war. The threat, which was later deleted, was prompted by something Asif had apparently come across earlier while online: A post originally published on the “AWD News” site, claiming that the Israeli defense minister had himself threatened nuclear war against Pakistan.

For nearly two years, the sourcing behind “AWD News” remained unclear.

But thanks to today’s massive revelations from Twitter about fake Russian and Iranian accounts, ThinkProgress has learned that “AWD News” was part of a social media and fake news campaign out of Iran. As Lee Foster, an analyst with FireEye — the cyber-security company tasked with unearthing fake Iranian social media operations — told ThinkProgress, “AWD News” is “part of the same operation” that FireEye uncovered on Facebook a few months ago.

That is to say: A fake Iranian news site aimed at English-speakers convinced the Pakistani Defense Minister to issue a nuclear warning against Israel in late 2016.

Tracked to Iran

ThinkProgress’s confirmation of the links in Iran to “AWD News” came via Wednesday’s substantial revelations from Twitter, which published approximately one million tweets “potentially originating in Iran.” This disclosure followed Facebook’s August announcement that it had removed hundreds of fake accounts that originated in Iran.

While Facebook has still not released the names of those accounts, one of the pages identified was “Free Scotland 2014,” a popular pro-Scottish Independence account. As it is, a number of the Iranian tweets released on Wednesday also advocated for Scottish secession.

Many of those tweets were straightforward, calling for people to say “‘Yes’ to Scotland independence and Britain’s Waning Imperialism.” They all linked out to one site: “AWD News.”

The site, as it is, fits a profile shared with many of the other fake and conspiratorial news sites outed as Iranian over the past few weeks. Bizarre grammar, strange syntax, and poor spelling all point to non-English speakers. (As one recent post read, “Hurricane and flood in Texas has made another chance for the analysts and critics to reassess the American society and the political flood devouring the country for months.”) Snopes noted that the site “doesn’t have more than a nodding acquaintance with facts.”

Like other fake Iranian sites — “US Journal,” “Liberty Front Press,” “The British Left” — “AWD News” doesn’t have much identifying information, and attempts to contact the site’s moderators were unsuccessful. It’s “About” section is also a jumble of broken English:

In an era of media disinformation, our focus has essentially been to center on the “unspoken truth”.Thanks to the independent journalists from all over the world,trying to arise awareness, we launched Spanish (Español), French (français), and German (Deutsch) language pages, which contain translations of AWDNEWS articles. As an independent news agency, We welcome all contributions… Funding for our news agency comes from site advertising and individual donors. As an independent media, our aim is to bring the latest news to our readers from a neutral stance, as good journalism should be.

And the site remains live, with material continuing to be published as of Wednesday. One of the most recent posts wondered if “the Saudis and CIA” were “afraid of [slain Saudi journalist Jamal] Khashoggi’s revelations about 9/11?”

Interestingly, while the site’s Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube pages have all been suspended, its Instagram account remains live, offering an insight into the page’s social media operations. Many of the posts are highly critical of both Israel and the U.S., while others are supportive of the current government in Tehran.

Fake posts, real weapons

None of the posts from “AWD News,” on social media or otherwise, gained anywhere near the prominence enjoyed by the late December 2016 piece that briefly sparked the aforementioned round of nuclear-tinged trash-talk. Headlined “Israeli Defense Minister: If Pakistan send ground troops to Syria on any pretext, we will destroy this country with a nuclear attack,” the post — which eventually spurred the Pakistani defense minister to remind Israel that “Pakistan is a Nuclear state too” — came with all of the typos and strange sentence constructions shared by the rest of the site’s content.

The post, as the Guardian noted, also misidentified Israel’s defense minister and a separate Pakistani official.

None of these obvious signs — nor the fact that Pakistan hasn’t even come close to sending ground troops to Syria — deterred Asif from responding. Shortly after Asif’s warning, the Israeli Ministry of Defense responded via Twitter, noting that the “AWD News” post was false.

reports referred to by the Pakistani Def Min are entirely false

— Ministry of Defense (@Israel_MOD) December 24, 2016

All told, the fact that a fake news site could spur a security warning from one nuclear-armed nation to another mirrors another similar incident: The December 2016 shooting at a Washington, D.C. pizzeria by a man who believed the #Pizzagate conspiracy theory was real. The “AWD News” fiasco, though, points to even more dangerous potential outcomes — one involving not only geopolitical tensions, but one showing how easy it is to quickly gin up new frictions between nuclear-armed states with the click of a mouse.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

UNC activist faces no penalties for defacing Confederate statue on campus despite being found guilty

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 2:11pm

A county judge in North Carolina has found Maya Little, a graduate history student at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, guilty of a misdemeanor for defacing a Confederate memorial on the campus, but declined to impose any penalties for her act of civil disobedience.

Orange County District Judge Samantha Cabe announced her decision after a day-long trial on Monday, the latest step in an ongoing drama surrounding the fate of the campus’ Civil War statue, better known as Silent Sam. The monument has stood on the campus of the university since 1913, dedicated to the men who took arms against the country on the behalf of “the Anglo Saxon race in the South.”

The trial against Little stemmed from her arrest during an April 30 protest against Silent Sam’s presence on the campus. During the protest, Little was videotaped by police body cameras shouting “Hey hey, ho ho, this racist statue’s got to go!” The video was played during her trial as evidence against her.

Scott Holmes, Little’s lawyer, argued that she shouldn’t be found guilty of breaking any law, but that if she were so judged she would have been justified because of the racist nature of the statue. “One person’s defacement is another person’s improvement,” Holmes said.

In her own defense, Little, a 26-year-old doctoral student of history, admitted that she smeared red ink, mixed with her own blood, on the pedestal that held Silent Sam in protest of the statue’s presence on campus. “The Orange County court system must also reckon with the Black blood that stains it,” Little read in a statement to the court. “Justice may not be found in this courthouse, but it can be found in community we have built when the police, University, and laws failed us.”

In rendering a decision, Cabe said it was obvious Little was guilty of defacing the statute, but granted her a “continued judgment.” Under North Carolina law, county judges may allow such discretion for minor crimes. As a result, Little has no technical conviction in the matter and will not have to pay court costs or restitution for the estimated cost of $4,050 to clean the statue.

Silent Sam has been a source of divisive tension on the UNC campus and the surrounding town for decades, but in recent years the monument has drawn refreshed negative publicity to the tiny college town that’s better known for basketball celebrations than confrontational street activism. The statue’s legacy as a monument to white supremacy is well known. At its dedication in 1913, Confederate Army veteran Julian Carr offered these remarks, which have been kept in the university’s official archives:

One hundred yards from where we stand, less than ninety days perhaps after my return from Appomattox, I horse-whipped a negro wench until her skirts hung in shreds, because upon the the streets of this quiet village she had publicly insulted and maligned a Southern lady, and then rushed for protection to these University buildings where was stationed a garrison of 100 Federal soldiers. I performed the pleasing duty in the immediate presence of the entire garrison, and for thirty nights afterwards slept with a double-barrel shot gun under my head.

More recently, national and international protests have focused on anti-Confederate symbolism following a church shooting at Emanuel African Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina and a deadly confrontation last year over a Confederate monument in Charlottesville, Virginia, between white supremacists and peaceful protesters near the University of Virginia. During this period, Silent Sam has emerged as a lightning rod of anti-racism activism on the UNC campus.

On the eve of the first day of classes in August, even as the UNC administration, state officials, and community activists debated the statue’s fate, a group of protesters toppled Silent Sam, thrusting the campus once again into the uncomfortable glare of international attention over how communities ought to deal with the historical significance of monuments to the nation’s slaveholding past. 

UNC’s ‘Silent Sam’ torn down by student protesters

Last week during the annual celebration of UNC’s founding, Chancellor Carol Folt issued an apology for the university’s role in slavery.

“As chancellor of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, I offer our university’s deepest apology for the profound injustices of slavery, our full acknowledgment of the strength of enslaved peoples in the face of their suffering, and our respect and indebtedness to them,” Folt said in her October 12 University Day remarks, commemorating the campus’ 225th anniversary. “And I reaffirm our university’s commitment to facing squarely and working to right the wrongs of history so they are never again inflicted.”

A day after Little’s trial, former UNC Chancellor James Moeser told the campus newspaper that he should have ordered the relocation of Silent Sam when he led the university from 2000-2008. “I actually regret that we didn’t remove the monument when we had a chance when I was chancellor,” Moeser said in in an online interview published Wednesday by The Daily Tar Heel. “The fact is there was no demand for it, but we could have done it, and we could have done it without tremendous controversy.”

Moeser said he didn’t know during his tenure that “this monument and others were erected in the white supremacy movement of the 1890s to the 1920s. And this monument was erected in 1913 as part of that whole movement funded by the Daughters of the Confederacy. It was an attempt to create the myth of the Lost Cause.”

But in recent years he’s learned otherwise and now opposes returning Silent Sam to its open-air pedestal on campus, preferring instead to house it on campus in a museum-like setting.

“It’s an important architectural landmark. It would be a great place to do a really well-built museum of the University’s history and civil rights history, and Silent Sam could be a part of that, because slavery and segregation are part of the story of civil rights,” Moeser told the newspaper. “To me, the monument cannot be outside anywhere, where it would be an attraction to demonstrations and continues police vigilance and potential violence. It’s a dangerous thing to have, so it needs to be in a curated space, inside some place in a museum.”

After her trial, Little told The Daily Tar Heel that she appreciated the judge’s decision, but would have considered it a total victory if the charges against her had been dropped as a signal of the state’s opposition to the statue’s presence on campus. “I’m going to continue fighting white supremacy at UNC, and Silent Sam was one facet of that, and he’s gone – thank God for that,” Little said.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Arizona Republican: Cops aren’t racist because I have met ‘Oriental’ police

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 2:01pm

After serving several terms as a Republican congressman from California, Frank Riggs is currently mounting his second statewide campaign in his new home state of Arizona. On Tuesday evening, the GOP nominee for Superintendent of Public Instruction attempted to claim that his record of working with police officers of different races showed him that cops are not racist — but did so by using a pejorative term to describe Asian-Americans.

His use of the offensive term “Oriental” surprised Melany de la Cruz-Viesca, the associate director of UCLA’s Asian American Studies Center. She told ThinkProgress that it is “very rare” to see a political candidate use this “outdated and problematic” term.

“One of our co-founders used to say that the term ‘Oriental’ makes it sound like you’re referring to a rug. Asian-Americans are not rugs, we are a human race,” she said.

Noting that the movement away from the term dates back to the civil rights movement in the 1960s, de la Cruz-Viesca likened the term to the use of the word “Negro” during the slavery era.

Riggs, who has worked as a charter school executive, advocates for teaching the theory of “intelligent design” in schools, attacked his Democratic opponent for having a “Socialist” campaign manager,” and was endorsed in this 2014 gubernatorial campaign by conspiracy theorist Ted Nugent.

He did not immediately respond to multiple ThinkProgress inquiries about his choice of language.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

By 2035, the ‘great fuel switch’ will mark the end of the age of oil and gas, analysts expect

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 2:00pm

Close to 20 percent of global power needs will be met by solar or wind energy by 2035, marking a shift from the age of oil and gas to the age of renewables, according to a new report from researchers at the consultancy Wood Mackenzie.

The growing focus on sustainability in many parts of the world, the report says, “is almost akin to a gravitational force, pulling things in one direction and driving the ‘great fuel switch,’ leaving little possibility for a reversal.”

Energy transitions, similar to the ongoing shift to renewables, are nothing new, Wood Mackenzie researchers write in the report released Wednesday, entitled “Thinking Global Energy Transitions: The What, If, How and When.” 

The current hydrocarbon-based economy has itself evolved out of many previous energy transitions, from the age of biomass to the age of coal, and, ultimately, to that of oil and gas. Each of these was different, but all took at least 30 to 50 years to unfold, the report says.

Technological advancements in the renewable energy industry, coupled with the growth of energy storage and the growth of electric vehicles, are driving the “large-scale commodity switch” away from fossil fuels, Prajit Ghosh, Wood Mackenzie’s head of global strategy, power and renewables, said Wednesday in a statement.

“The result is that the energy transition seems less the plot of a sci-fi movie and more of a feasible, albeit ambitious, plan,” Ghosh said.

The transition to solar and wind energy will replace the equivalent of about 100 billion cubic feet per day of natural gas demand in the global power sector, the report says. For comparison, demand for natural gas in the United States — the world’s largest consumer of natural gas — averaged about 74 billion cubic per day for all purposes, or about 20 percent of global natural gas consumption, in 2017.

Stunning drops in solar, wind costs mean economic case for coal, gas is ‘crumbling’

In the transportation sector, as much as 20 percent of all miles traveled globally by cars, trucks, and buses will use electric motors rather than gasoline or diesel. By 2040, oil demand displaced by a switch to electric vehicles will double to almost 6 million barrels per day. For comparison, total global oil consumption in 2017 — for all purposes — averaged about 98 million barrels per day.

Improving battery storage technology is helping make electric vehicles a viable solution for local air pollution concerns as well. Deeper decarbonization efforts by governments could require 40 to 60 percent of new car sales to be electric by 2035, according to the report.

“If autonomous electric vehicles and ride-sharing really take off, achieving these higher levels becomes possible in a relatively short time,” the report says.

When do you think we'll reach the global sustainability tipping point, when 20% of global power needs will be met by wind or solar? 2020, 2035 or 2050? Get our prediction here:

— Wood Mackenzie (@WoodMackenzie) October 17, 2018

Earlier this year, Bloomberg New Energy Finance reported that prices for solar, wind, and battery storage are dropping so rapidly that renewables are increasingly squeezing out all forms of fossil fuel power, including natural gas.

The sluggishness of countries to craft legislation or regulations, however, could slow the arrival of the transition. President Donald Trump’s plan to withdraw from the Paris climate agreement, the Trump administration’s rollback of vehicle emissions standards, and resistance in Canada to carbon pricing schemes, for example, could all stand in the way of the transition to renewables.

Many of these potential constraints, though, “are likely to be resolved,” especially by public-private partnerships that lead to even greater advances in clean energy technologies, Wood Mackenzie predicts.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

GOP lawmakers’ scores plummet on LGBTQ congressional scorecard

Think Progress - Wed, 10/17/2018 - 12:53pm

The Human Rights Campaign (HRC) has released its Congressional Scorecard for the 115th Congress — and it’s revealed some shocking drop-offs.

With Republicans in control of both Congress and the White House, lawmakers showed far less concern for the LGBTQ community, voting against their interests and ignoring legislation that would protect them.

Unlike in previous sessions, lawmakers over the past two years didn’t vote on a single bill that would have directly improved the standing of LGBTQ people. HRC thus designed a scorecard that recognized votes that were harmful to the LGBTQ people. This included obviously anti-LGBTQ votes, like Rep. Vicky Hartzler’s (R-MO) amendment to ban the military from covering transition-related medical costs for transgender troops, as well as votes to repeal aspects of the Affordable Care Act or the discharge petition for the Dream Act. In the Senate, it also included confirmation votes on anti-LGBTQ appointments, including Betsy DeVos, Jeff Sessions, Neil Gorsuch, Brett Kavanaugh, and Stuart Kyle Duncan.

In addition to voting in favor of LGBTQ people, HRC also awarded credit to lawmakers who co-sponsored pro-LGBTQ bills, even though none of them came to a vote. There were nonetheless quite a few zeros out a possible score of 100.

Nation’s largest climate study of LGBTQ students finds progress has plateaued

Several lawmakers suffered precipitous drops compared to how they voted in the 114th Session. These were almost entirely Republicans, though Sen. Joe Manchin’s (D-VA) score also took a tumble over the past two years.

The following Senators saw their scores drop by 25 points or more:

  • Rob Portman (R-OH): 85 →  0
  • Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV): 64 → 0
  • Ron Johnson (R-WI): 64 → 0
  • Dean Heller (R-NV): 57 → 0
  • Joe Manchin (D-WV): 85 → 30
  • Susan Collins (R-ME): 85 → 35
  • Bob Corker (R-TN): 32 → 0
  • Todd Young (R-IN): 32* → 0 (*Young’s previous score was for the House)
  • Richard Burr (R-NC): 32 → 0
  • Thom Tillis (R-NC): 32 → 0

The House also saw significant drops — all from Republicans — including even Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL), who is otherwise an out and proud LGBTQ ally and had scores of 100 in the previous two sessions. Her score dropped to 76 this session, due in large part to not cosponsoring several pro-LGBTQ bills.

The following members of Congress had drops larger than 25 points:

  • Mario Diaz-Balart (R-FL): 64 → 15
  • Bruce Poliquin (R-ME): 48 → 0
  • Tom Emmer (R-MN): 48 → 0
  • Dan Donovan (R-NY): 64 → 18
  • Rodney Frelinghuysen (R-NJ): 48 → 3
  • Lee Zeldin (R-NY): 48 → 3
  • Justin Amash (R-MI): 64 → 25
  • Carlos Curbelo (R-FL): 88 → 54
  • Adam Kinzinger (R-FL): 36 → 3
  • Fred Upton (R-MI): 48 → 15
  • Erik Paulsen (R-MN): 48 → 15
  • Mimi Walters (R-CA): 32 → 0
  • Tom Rooney (R-FL): 32 → 0
  • Rodney Davis (R-IL): 32 → 0
  • Luke Messer (R-IN): 32 → 0
  • Jim Renacci (R-OH): 32 → 0
  • Greg Walden (R-OR): 32 → 0
  • Sean Duffy (R-WI): 31 → 0
  • Susan Brooks (R-IN): 32 → 3

While a few lawmakers did see slight increases in their scores, the only notable spikes were Rep. Bil Shuster (R-PA, 0 → 25) and Rep. Barbara Comstock (R-VA, 0 → 40).

Across both chambers, 184 Democrats and zero Republicans received perfect scores, while 227 Republicans and zero Democrats received zeroes. Overall, Democrats in the House earned a higher average score than they had during the previous session.

In a statement accompanying the release of the scorecard, HRC president Chad Griffin noted, “While Donald Trump and Mike Pence have spent the past two years unleashing relentless attacks on the LGBTQ community, the 115th Congress has done little to hold them accountable or pass LGBTQ equality, while doing a great deal to undermine the rights of the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies