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Updated: 2 hours 19 min ago

ICE is arresting the sponsors of undocumented children

3 hours 30 min ago

The Trump administration is using the process of placing undocumented immigrant children with sponsors as a way to track down and arrest undocumented individuals, according to a CNN report.

From early July through early September, Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) detained 41 undocumented immigrants who came forward to take care of undocumented children in government custody, and the agency is reportedly planning to go after more.

Children who arrive in the U.S. unaccompanied are often placed with family or members or in the homes of adults who applied to care for the children as they fight to legally stay in the country. That means some of the sponsors arrested over the last few months could have been relatives of the children.

Without their sponsors, undocumented immigrant children fall back into federal custody, maintaining the cycle of indefinite detention.

This news was initially made public on Tuesday, when ICE senior official Matthew Albence testified that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and ICE signed a memorandum of agreement to fingerprint and perform background checks on any potential sponsors of immigrant children.

ICE confirmed that the arrests occurred after the agreement was signed and that 70 percent of the arrests were because the agency discovered the individual was in the country illegally.

The move to put potential sponsors through a harsher vetting process was in response to concerns over whether unaccompanied minors were being placed in potentially dangerous situations and HHS’ inability to account for the whereabouts of hundreds of “missing” children.

Just as ThinkProgress reported back in April, when the #WhereAreTheChildren hashtag went viral, these children were never really “missing” at all. In reality, once undocumented children are placed with sponsors (which is a family member 85 percent of the time) they are no longer HHS’ responsibility. The agency’s only obligation is to conduct a cursory wellness call to the child’s sponsor.

What you should know about the 1,500 ‘missing’ immigrant children

Occasionally, a sponsor will miss the call from the government, forcing HHS to admit that it can’t say with certainty where that child is at that moment. But for sponsors who are undocumented, they likely will choose not to further interact with immigration officials out of fear of the child’s safety or their own ability to remain in the U.S.

The Trump administration appears to have caught on to that and is using the child placement process to find and detain undocumented immigrants.

A side effect of harsher vetting processes, however, would be fewer potential sponsors for unaccompanied minors — something federal immigration agencies and HHS can’t really afford right now, considering the record number of children in detention facilities.

According to recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR), 13,312 immigrant children were in federal custody as recently as Wednesday, with existing ORR facilities at 92 percent capacity. In May 2017, the number of immigrant children in federal custody was around 2,400.

It is important to reiterate that the increase in children at federal detention centers is not the result of an influx in border crossings, but rather because of how the administration has sharply reduced the number of children being released, placing an immense strain on the migrant shelter network tasked with looking after them.

Keeping the deportation and detention machine running, however, is extremely costly.

In order to keep up with the spiking detentions, HHS is planning to divert $266 million dollars in funding originally allocated for programs like Head Start, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and cancer research, in order to help pay for the detention of undocumented children. And that’s not even including the $169 million the Trump administration cut from other programs to pay for ICE detentions.

According to immigration officials, an average of 43,000 immigrants are being detained every day, which is more than Congress authorized in the current budget. As a result, ICE is requesting an additional $1 billion from the federal government, according to a budget document obtained by The Washington Post. If Congress denies its request, the agency has threatened that thousands of immigrants in federal custody could suffer “reductions in services.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Rubio gets mad at John Kerry for talking to Iran, forgets he signed Republicans’ 2015 letter to Iran

5 hours 11 min ago

Former Senator and Secretary of State John Kerry, who has been an outspoken critic of President Donald Trump, has come under scrutiny from conservatives for his relationship with Iran.

The Massachusetts Democrat told conservative talk show host Hugh Hewitt that he has been communicating with Iran Foreign Minister Javad Zarif about the nuclear deal he helped negotiate under President Barack Obama in an interview that aired last week.

“What I have done is tried to elicit from him what Iran might be willing to do in order to change the dynamic in the Middle East for the better. What do you do to try to get peace in Syria? I mean, those are the things that really are preoccupying, because those are the impediments to people, to Iran’s ability to convince people that it’s ready to embrace something different.”

Trump responded by tweeting that Kerry’s “illegal meetings” would “undercut our great work.”

John Kerry had illegal meetings with the very hostile Iranian Regime, which can only serve to undercut our great work to the detriment of the American people. He told them to wait out the Trump Administration! Was he registered under the Foreign Agents Registration Act? BAD!

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

In a news conference the following day, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo claimed Kerry’s “unseemly and unprecedented” conversations were “literally unheard-of.”

Now Sen. Marco Rubio (R-FL) is getting in on the act. The Florida Republican asked the Department of Justice to investigate Kerry’s actions on Tuesday.

I have asked the @TheJusticeDept to determine if John Kerry has violated federal laws by meeting with Iranian officials in an effort to save the #IranDeal. https://t.co/Gedbn9D0E6 #FoxNews

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 18, 2018

Rubio retweeted Fox & Friends on Thursday morning to argue that Kerry had violated the Logan Act, which forbids private citizens from having “any correspondence” with foreign governments.

Any citizen who without authority of the U.S. commences or carries on any correspondence or intercourse with any foreign govt or any officer or agent thereof…with intent to defeat the measures of the U.S…shall be fined or imprisoned not more than 3 years or both #LoganAct https://t.co/OPXJoaFPlk

— Marco Rubio (@marcorubio) September 20, 2018

Later Thursday, he went on Fox News to suggest Kerry had broken the Foreign Agents Registration Act (FARA), which requires “public disclosure” of relationships with international entities. The segment was tweeted out from the official Twitter account for Rubio’s press office.

On @foxandfriends I discussed why @TheJusticeDept should investigate whether John Kerry’s recent meetings with Iranian officials on the #IranDeal is in violation of the #LoganAct and #FARA. pic.twitter.com/z2PD4RuHs8

— Senator Rubio Press (@SenRubioPress) September 20, 2018

There are several possible flaws with these accusations. As USA Today explained, “FARA’s provisions don’t extend to activities conducted entirely overseas, so where Kerry interacted with (Zarif) matters.” Kerry told Hewitt that the meetings took place at global conferences in Norway and Germany. Also, the incidents in question reportedly occurred before Trump announced his decision to withdraw the U.S. from the Iran nuclear deal. And it should be pointed out that no one been convicted of violating the Logan Act since it was passed by Congress 219 years ago.

As Kerry noted to Fox News last week, most former secretaries of state have continued to be involved in global affairs without accusations of impropriety:

“Every secretary of state, former secretary of state continues to meet with foreign leaders, goes to security conferences, goes around the world. We all do that. And we have conversations with people about the state of affairs in the world in order to understand them. We don’t negotiate. We are not involved in interfering with policy. But we certainly have reasonable discussions about nuclear weapons, the world, China, different policies obviously.”

Of course, Rubio was one of the 47 Republican senators who signed a letter sent to Iran’s leadership in 2015, while Obama’s White House was negotiating the nuclear deal, that said any agreement between the two nations without their approval could be undone by the next president “with the stroke of a pen.” Rubio has not commented on whether his 46 Republican colleagues or he should also be subjected to potential FARA or Logan Act charges.

Former Trump campaign manager Paul Manafort was convicted of FARA violations and former Trump national security adviser Michael Flynn was accused of FARA violations. It has also been suggested that Donald Trump Jr. and Jared Kushner may have violated the Logan Act with their involvement in the infamous June 2016 Trump Tower meeting with Russian agents. In addition, Kushner could have committed FARA violations, according to the financial disclosures forms that he has revised over 40 times since filing them.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

The depths of one of Europe’s largest money laundering scandals have been exposed

5 hours 23 min ago

For years, the Estonian branch of the Denmark-based Danske Bank ignored repeated warnings about specific clients and the source of their money.

The warnings came from regulators and government officials alike — even from the Russian Central Bank. Now, more than a decade later, we’re just beginning to understand the total cost of the bank’s unwillingness to heed any concern about its clients and the source of the billions the bank was helping launder.

This week, Danske Bank, Denmark’s biggest lender, released the findings of an investigation into the Estonian branch’s work from 2007 to 2015. The conclusions were staggering. The bank revealed that it had handled over $230 billion in that time period, a significant percentage of which was suspicious — representing, as the Financial Times noted, “one of the largest money laundering scandals ever uncovered.”

Here’s how the U.S. is helping massive theft in Venezuela

All told, the bank investigated some 15,000 non-resident clients and nearly 10 million payments, as well as over 8 million emails. Focusing on over 6,000 of the non-resident clients in particular, the “vast majority have been found to be suspicious,” according to the investigation.

Perhaps the most damning aspect of the entire investigation? The bank still has no idea exactly how many clients poured tens of billions of dollars through the bank in order to clean the cash. As the bank wrote, “We are not able to provide an accurate estimate of the amount of suspicious transactions.”

Heads have already begun to roll. On Wednesday, Danske Bank CEO Thomas Borgen announced his resignation. “Even though the investigation conducted by the external law firm concludes that I have lived up to my legal obligations, I believe that it is best for all parties that I resign,” Borgen said.

The bank also announced that over 40 “employees and agents” were “involved in some suspicious activity” regarding the transactions, and reported these employees to Estonian authorities. The bank described the employees’ actions as potentially fitting the bill of “internal collusion.” 

“It is good that Danske Bank has published this investigation, but the fact that they ignored thousands of high risk accounts for years demands accountability,” wrote pro-transparency watchdog Global Witness in an analysis.

Global Witness analysis points to the importance of centralized EU anti-money laundering oversight in the wake of massive Danske Bank scandal. See ASD’s earlier post from @JoshKirschGMF on the importance of aggressive fines. https://t.co/wTvBYVy6B9 https://t.co/Hhjnkkf1iX

— Securing Democracy (@SecureDemocracy) September 20, 2018

The fallout, though, has just begun. Given that the bank has still failed to identify all of the suspicious transactions in particular — and the fact that American authorities recently announced an investigation into the bank — further information on which officials, politicians, and businessmen were using and abusing Danske Bank’s lax oversight is likely forthcoming.

But the bank did reveal that numerous clients appeared linked to some of the most notorious other money laundering operations of the past few years. For instance, the bank wrote that some 75 customers were involved in the “Azerbaijani Laundromat,” the primary money laundering scheme from Azerbaijan’s dictatorship.

And Bill Browder, the former hedge fund manager who has become one of the primary activists behind new sanctions against Russia, has long alleged that Danske Bank played a key role in helping launder proceeds from a tax scheme that Browder’s former accountant, Sergei Magnitsky, uncovered. Magnitsky was later killed while imprisoned by Russian authorities for uncovering the scheme; the U.S.’s Magnitsky Act, which sanctions corrupt Russian officials, is named in his honor.

This is truly shocking. After being at the helm of the bank with the biggest money laundering scandal in European history, Danske CEO Thomas Borgen will still receive a bonus of €2.8m-€3.6m https://t.co/KlJWoob0OG

— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) September 19, 2018

BREAKING: From the Danske Bank Russian money laundering report. 42 employees and agents have been involved in suspicious transactions. 8 have been referred to the Estonian police pic.twitter.com/xqDJROwEnZ

— Bill Browder (@Billbrowder) September 19, 2018

Ironically, one of the most notable warnings about the Estonian branch’s money laundering operations came not from Western partners, but from the Russian Central Bank. In 2007, the Russian Central Bank warned Danske about possible “criminal activity in its pure form, including money laundering.” The Russian Central Bank estimated that the Estonian branch may have been laundering “billions of rubles monthly.”

Years later, according to the Wall Street Journal, Danske Bank’s anti-money laundering head identified a number of clients at the Estonian branch who had been placed on the Russian Central Bank’s blacklist. Danske Bank, though, appears to have done nothing about it — and we still have no idea how much money was laundered in the interim.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Russian anti-doping program reinstated despite failing to meet key guidelines

5 hours 52 min ago

In an unsurprising yet somehow still stunning decision, the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) voted on Thursday to lift their ban on Russia’s anti-doping program (RUSADA), which was suspended in 2015. After “missing” just one Olympics — the 2018 winter games in South Korea — Russia’s pseudo-exile from the international sporting community appears to be coming to a swift end, well before the next summer Olympics in 2020.

Travis T. Tygart, the CEO of the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, released a no-holds-barred statement calling the decision “bewildering and inexplicable,” and a “devastating blow to the world’s clean athletes.”

In the years since RUSADA was first decertified, more information has been made public about the extent of the state-sponsored doping programs in Russia. In the summer of 2016, an investigation commissioned by WADA (the McLaren Report) found that the Russian Ministry of Sport erased at least 312 positive doping tests between 2011 and 2015. Additionally, in 2016, a whistleblower exposed the way that he would swap dirty urine samples with clean ones in the middle of the night during the 2014 Sochi Olympics, in what was called “one of the most elaborate — and successful — doping ploys in sports history.”

WADA previously set forth a roadmap to reinstatement for RUSADA, which primarily included fully accepting the findings of the McLaren Report, and opening up the doors of the RUSADA laboratory for inspection by WADA.

RUSADA is currently 0-for-2. It didn’t matter.

The dirty secret behind Russia’s 2014 Olympic success

Last week, the BBC reported that WADA reached a “compromise” with RUSADA — it narrowed the scope of what RUSADA had to admit to in terms of the McLaren Report, and offered to have an independent expert examine select samples and data from the Moscow laboratory, in lieu of full access.

The international sporting community is, understandably, outraged.

Vicki Aggar, a former Paralympic rower for Great Britain and a member of the WADA athlete committee, said this was the “wrong, unethical decision” in a piece for the BBC.

“I know I speak for the majority when I say I am immensely frustrated that WADA — the global anti-doping authority no less — has substituted backing the rights of millions of clean athletes worldwide for the appeasement of a handful of sports administrators instead,” Aggar said. “Put simply, they want this put behind them – and they want Russia back at any cost.”

Tygart said that the only way forward is to completely reform WADA, which is notoriously underfunded and increasingly inept:

The world’s athletes want the International Olympic Committee (IOC) – and the conflict that their involvement brings to clean sport – to stay well away from WADA. They want a WADA with teeth, authority, sanctioning power and the determination to get the job done of cleaning up sport and restoring the trust of the billions of sports fans and athletes worldwide. Today, that job must start – and it starts by reforming WADA and giving it the power to regulate as any good global watchdog must do. It starts by WADA actually listening to the world’s clean athletes who are speaking up, right here and right now. It starts by removing the inherent conflict of interest that comes about from the IOC fox guarding the WADA henhouse.

Even some within WADA’s executive ranks have spoken out against the organization’s vote.

“This casts a dark shadow over the credibility of the anti-doping movement,” Linda Hofstad Helleland, the Vice President of WADA and one of two executives to vote against RUSADA’s reinstatement, said in a statement.

“This is one of the most critical decisions the anti-doping community has ever been confronted with. As an organization, WADA’s number one job is to be true to our values of fair sport. And today we made the wrong decision in protecting the integrity of sport and to maintain public trust in the anti-doping work.”

It’s unclear where the future of the anti-doping movement goes from here, but it’s clear that trust in WADA is eroding at a rapid pace.

“Today we failed the clean athletes of the world,” Helland said.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

HHS to cut funds from Head Start, cancer research to pay for the detention of immigrant children

6 hours 41 min ago

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) is planning to divert millions of dollars in funding originally allocated for programs like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the National Institutes of Health (NIH) in order to pay for the growing number of detained immigrant children, according to an HHS letter obtained by Yahoo! News.

The letter was addressed to Sen. Patty Murray (D-WA), ranking member on the Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions, and outlined HHS Secretary Alex Azar’s plan to reallocate up to $266 million in funding for the current fiscal year, which ends in less than two weeks. The funding would go to the Unaccompanied Alien Children (UAC) program housed inside the Office of Refugee Resettlement (ORR).

Of the $266 million, $80 million will come from other refugee programs within HHS that have faced serious budget cuts as the Trump administration continuously reduces the number of refugees admitted to the U.S.

The remainder will come from programs like Head Start, an HHS-funded initiative that provides early-childhood education to low-income pre-kindergartners. Nearly $6 million will be pulled from the Ryan White HIV/AIDS program, and $13.3 million from the National Cancer Institute. According to the letter, funding for programs dedicated to mental and maternal health is also being reallocated, as is money for women’s shelters and substance abuse programs. 

The news comes just one week after it was reported the Trump administration diverted another $200 million from other programs in order to pay for the continued detention of undocumented immigrants by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Trump used $169 million from other programs to pay for ICE immigrant detention

HHS will likely use the funds to keep up with the growing number of detained immigrant children.

According to recent data from the Office of Refugee Resettlement, 13,312 immigrant children were in federal custody as recently as yesterday. In May 2017, that number was around 2,400.

With the capacity of ORR’s existing facilities approaching 92 percent, HHS is looking for ways to accommodate the growing population.  As ThinkProgress has previously reported, HHS officials have said they would add an additional 3,800 beds at the Tornillo, Texas-based emergency tent-city for immigrant minors, effectively tripling its current capacity. The estimated cost of operating at these emergency facilities is $750 per child per day — nearly triple the cost of a regular ORR shelter.

It’s worth noting that immigration detention facilities are not facing capacity shortages due to a recent influx of children crossing the border, but rather because of the broken immigration system in the U.S. The current administration has sharply reduced the number of children being released and allowed to live with families and other sponsors, which has a placed an immense amount of strain on the migrant shelter network tasked with looking after them.

And this is likely just the beginning. In Azar’s letter to Sen. Murray, Azar stated that, based on  “an increased length of time needed to safely release unaccompanied alien children to sponsors, HHS is preparing for the trend of high capacity to continue.”

Immigration law enforcement agencies are having some difficulty keeping up with the Trump administration’s haphazard deportation and detention demands, so much so that ICE has requested an additional $1 billion from the federal government, according to budget document obtained by The Washington Post.

According to immigration officials, an average of 43,000 immigrants are detained every day, which is more than Congress authorized in the current budget.

ICE has threatened that thousands of immigrants in federal custody may suffer “reductions in services” if Congress denies the funding they requested.

 


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Anti-transgender bigots sink to new low with latest ad

6 hours 42 min ago

This November, Massachusetts voters will consider Question 3, a referendum on whether to retain a 2016 law protecting transgender people from discrimination in public places. Opponents of the law — who call themselves “Keep MA Safe” — have unveiled their first ad of the campaign season, and it regurgitates all of the same demonizing “bathroom safety” tropes from past fights against trans equality.

Unlike previous anti-trans ads, which focused on children, the “No on 3” ad instead shows an adult woman making use of a women’s locker room. A creepy cisgender man is already waiting in the bathroom stall, eyeing her as she undresses and letting out a guttural moan. “What does Massachusetts Question 3 mean to you?” the ad asks. “It means any man who says he is a woman can enter a women’s locker room, dressing room, or bathroom at any time — even convicted sex offenders.”

The ad goes on to claim that women who complain to authorities about someone suspicious in the bathroom will themselves be arrested and fined up to $50,000. “This bathroom bill puts our safety at risk,” the ad concludes. “It goes too far.”

The facts of the ad are nonsense. As a recent academic study — and many analyses before it — concluded, there is zero evidence to suggest that protecting transgender people from discrimination in any way makes facilities less safe for women and children. It just doesn’t happen.

Massachusetts’ law even contains a provision to ensure that it would remain illegal to assert a gender identity “for an improper purpose,” like the one portrayed in the ad.

Likewise, the claim that women will be punished for reporting suspicious activity seems to be invented out of whole cloth. None of the laws related to discrimination dictate fines more than a few thousand dollars, and that’s for actual discriminatory acts. Even false reporting of a crime only results in fines up to $500 under Massachusetts law.

No on 3’s new ad follows in a long line of very similar ads portraying transgender protections as threats to safety. A previous version of the ad showed a young girl using a restroom as a man entered her stall. It first appeared in the 2015 fight over the Houston Equal Rights Ordinance, and was later recycled in North Carolina and in a campaign against Target for its trans-inclusive policies.

A 2012 ad against LGBTQ protections in Anchorage, Alaska (also recycled in later campaigns), shows animated gym owner Steve, who would be “forced to open the women’s locker room to anyone who claims a female identity.” It also includes the same warning about how Steve could be fined or jailed if he doesn’t comply.

Another version of the trope dates back as far as 2008. That version of the ad, also used in multiple campaigns, shows a playground scene with another creepy guy following a young girl into the women’s restroom. Here’s a version of that ad that attacked the Gainesville, Florida City Commission for protecting transgender people from discrimination.

The message of the ad hasn’t changed in over a decade — nor has the lie at its core — though it has certainly gotten more menacing with each passing rendition. But that’s because for many voters, the scare tactic still works. Even in a blue state like Massachusetts, polling has been relatively split on Question 3.

Proponents of keeping the protections are vastly outspending their opponents, and they are capitalizing on research showing that transgender visibility can reduce transphobia and increase support for transgender equality. Their ads primarily show transgender people — including transgender kids — discussing their experiences and the importance of the law.

A similar strategy was successful at convincing voters in Anchorage to retain a similar LGBTQ ordinance when it was challenged in a referendum earlier this year.

Nevertheless, the campaign itself, along with its demonizing ads, will likely have damaging effects on the mental health of transgender people across the state.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Duke Energy issues ‘high-level’ emergency alert, toxic coal ash ponds risk flooding after Florence

8 hours 5 min ago

On Thursday morning, almost a week after Hurricane Florence made landfall in North Carolina, the storm’s floodwaters overran a lake which had been flooded by tons of coal ash earlier in the storm. Residents now risk coal ash-polluted water flowing back into a river upstream of Wilmington.

The Associated Press reported that Duke Energy, the power company that runs the retired coal power plant which generated several large dumps and landfills of toxic coal ash on the banks of the Cape Fear River, “activated a high-level emergency alert” Thursday morning.

The river overtopped an earthen dike separating it from Sutton Lake, which is a former cooling pond from the retired coal plant. This took place just a few miles upstream from Wilmington, North Carolina, the city which has seen the worst of the storm.

A PRE-FLOOD SCREENSHOT FROM GOOGLE MAPS OF THE CAPE FEAR RIVER BEGINNING IN THE UPPER LEFT, TRAVERSING SOUTH PAST SUTTON LAKE AND ITS NEARBY COAL ASH PILE. THE CITY OF WILMINGTON IS DOWNSTREAM IN THE BOTTOM RIGHT OF THE IMAGE. (CREDIT: GOOGLE MAPS SCREENSHOT)

A Duke Energy spokesperson told the AP that the earthen dike did appear stable in spite of the river waters flooding over it into the lake. With the power plant retired, the lake is now a destination for recreational fishing and boating.

Over the weekend, one breach acknowledged by Duke (and another disclosed by the EPA but denied by Duke) caused the landfill to dump at least 2,000 cubic yards of coal ash into Sutton Lake, which is enough to fill 180 dump trucks.

A Duke Energy press release from Wednesday claimed no effect on water quality but did acknowledge the presence of cenospheres — coal combustion byproducts — in Sutton Lake.

Now, with the floodwaters mixing into Sutton Lake, residents face the alarming possibility of coal ash-polluted water flowing back into a river upstream of Wilmington.

Nuclear plant declares emergency, second breach reported at coal ash site amid Florence’s rains

The Sutton site was cited for a stormwater permit violation in 2014, and Duke submitted plans to close the coal ash ponds at the former power plant location.

This is not the only site of coal ash dumps being taken away by floodwaters. On Sunday, the AP reported that “three old coal ash dumps capped with soil were inundated by the Neuse River,” at a different site farther north, closer to Greenville.

In addition to coal ash, Florence’s rains have also caused 30 hog manure lagoons to overtop and spill feces and urine into the environment. Three lagoons have breached, with a total 132 sites at risk as of Thursday afternoon.

Beyond the long-term effects of coal ash and pig waste flowing into the water system, the toxins and contaminants could pose risks for residents already hit by the storm. Some Florence refugees resorted to bathing in the storm’s floodwaters when their shelters or homes ran out of clean water.

Opponents decry Scott Pruitt’s plan to roll back groundwater protections at coal ash sites

Meanwhile, the Trump administration has taken steps to relax regulations on coal ash ponds and hog waste lagoons.

Before Florence hit, President Trump said that his administration was “all ready” to respond to the storm, and told reporters, “we’re getting tremendous accolades from politicians and the people.”

Right now, everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence – and they are 100% correct. But don’t be fooled, at some point in the near future the Democrats will start ranting…

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

As the storm finished dumping record levels of rain on the Southeast, Trump bragged that “everybody is saying what a great job we are doing with Hurricane Florence.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

California businesses use their power to illegally harass the homeless, study finds

8 hours 8 min ago

Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) are harassing homeless people and violating California’s state laws through their political spending and likely through cruel actions such as confiscation of homeless people’s possessions, University of California Berkeley researchers found in a study released Tuesday.

BIDs, as their name would suggest, have geographic boundaries, and are allowed to fund projects within those boundaries to supplement public services. They generate revenue through assessing businesses and properties in the district. California was one of the first states to enact statutes that authorized BIDs, the study noted.

The UC Berkeley Law School’s Public Policy Clinic said that, although the data doesn’t establish a causal relationship between the increase of BIDs and criminalization of the homeless, the data researchers have suggests a “positive relationship between BID policy advocacy and the rising enactment of anti-homeless laws.”

BIDs use property assessment revenue, which includes public property to fight for laws that criminalize the homeless for doing things human beings have no choice but to do, such as sleeping, eating, and sitting. The study mentions the example of the Downtown Sacramento Partnership’s fight to keep an anti-camping ordinance in 2016 and California BIDs’ fights against legislation that advocates for homeless people’s rights.

By using property assessment revenue to advocate for measures that are intended to push out homeless people, BIDs may be violating the state law, since it raises statutory and constitutional concerns. Researchers explained that “Assessment-funded policy advocacy expenses in the Union Square BID, the Downtown Sacramento Partnership, and Oakland’s Jack London Improvement District represent the full or partial salary costs of various personnel who engage in policy advocacy.”

San Francisco ballot initiative would tax richest businesses to help homeless

BIDs are also risking criminal liability when they use security and police to violate homeless people’s legal rights. BIDs work with local police and, in some cases, have their own security try to remove homeless people from the area. The increasing enforcement of laws targeting the homeless correlates with a rise in BIDs throughout the state, researchers said.

Some examples of this include a Sacramento BID executive contacting the Sacramento Police Department to let them know about camping and loitering. The executive wrote, “[There’s] been quite a few homeless hanging out behind the donut shop at 26th and Franklin again … Hoping you can help out.”

But BIDs aren’t always relying on laws to move homeless people out of their districts. Even when homeless people are not violating the laws that target them for being homeless, BIDs reach out to the police. In one case, a Sacramento BID representative asked a police lieutenant to remove a sleeping homeless person who also appeared to be ill and had a “hacking cough.” In another email from a Sacramento police officer, they said, “We are still struggling with having the legal authority and penal code to deal with [homeless people] at our RT bus stops.”

Albuquerque’s Homeless Will Be Evicted From Tent City For Fourth Time In Five Weeks

Some BIDs create security programs to “identify, target, and monitor specific homeless individuals,” such as Downtown Oakland and Lake Merritt/ Uptown District Association’s Known Persons Database for panhandlers. A homeless woman said that a San Diego BID private security guard ran his bike into her multiple times as she slept in a public space. There have also been cases in California of BIDs taking homeless people’s possessions, which may violate state and federal law, the researchers said.

Earlier this month, the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals — the federal appeals court governing the western U.S — said cities can’t arrest or cite someone for sleeping outdoors unless officials can prove the homeless person had availability at a shelter or other indoor housing option. In the past decade, there has been an increase in cities that outlaw sleeping in public. This ruling affected cities in California, Montana, Arizona, Idaho, Nevada, Oregon, Washington, and Alaska.

California accounted for nearly half of the homeless population in the U.S. in 2017, according to the U.S. Housing and Urban Development Department. The state’s homeless population rose almost 14 percent from 2016. Housing costs are going through the roof in California. According to Apartment List data analyzed by Christian Science Monitor, a list of 15 U.S. cities with the most expensive one-bedroom apartments showed that almost half were in California.

Adam Murray, executive director of Inner City Law Center, which creates strategies to end homelessness, told the Monitor, “Way too often we try to solve homelessness by just solving homelessness, as opposed to solving the underlying drivers pushing people into homelessness. There’s not nearly enough attention put in place on homelessness prevention and, more generally, on affordability of housing for extremely low-income folks.”

Baltimore Police Quietly Evict Homeless Camp Under Bridge

UC Berkeley researchers recommended that the state legislature take up measures such as prohibiting BIDs from spending property assessment revenue on policy advocacy and policing and repealing their authority to spend that revenue on security. They also suggest putting restrictions on BIDs’ authority to assess revenue from publicly owned properties. Cities should also refuse collaborations with BIDs that violate homeless people’s rights, they wrote. 

Of course, BIDs are just one party involved in the continued violation of homeless people’s rights. City and state authorities frequently sweep homeless encampments and destroy property and disrupt homeless communities, while providing little, if any, support to homeless people. In Washington state, Clark County workers regularly confiscated and destroyed homeless people’s property, according to a 2016 lawsuit. The county’s law enforcement policy said property could be taken if a camp were abandoned. But in a lawsuit brought by homeless people, plaintiffs’ lawyers said they came back from trips to local charities for meals to find that their things had been taken.

In D.C., there are also sweeps of homeless encampments, and government officials have argued that the sites pose a “security, health, or safety risk, and/or interferes with community use of public space.” But Ann Marie Staudenmaier, an attorney who works closely with homeless people in D.C. told ThinkProgress in 2016 that the government doesn’t have a right to seize or destroy homeless people’s property simply because they did something illegal. Staudenmaier said she believes the sweeps are done “to appease outraged neighbors” more than acknowledge the needs of the homeless.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

3 lagoons of pig waste have breached after Hurricane Florence

8 hours 21 min ago

Three hog waste lagoons are believed to have breached due to Hurricane Florence’s record rainfall, according to the North Carolina Pork Council. Six sites have suffered structural damage so far and nearly 130 other lagoons are overflowing or at risk of flooding.

This is almost four times the number of sites considered at risk since Monday. It is also significantly worse than the damage caused by Hurricane Matthew in 2016, which only resulted in a partial breach of one lagoon while 14 others were inundated.

But the full extent of the damage will likely only be known once more people are able to return to their homes and farms. Widespread flooding is still blocking many roads, making many areas inaccessible and the majority of industrial animal farms sit in very low-lying counties.

According to the latest figures released by the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) on Thursday afternoon, 132 lagoons are either damaged or have been significantly flooded. This means hog waste from the factory farm lagoons — uncovered holes in the ground that hold a mix of water, excrement, and anaerobic bacteria — is being released into the flood waters, risking widespread contamination.

According to the North Carolina Pork Council’s September 19 update, of the lagoons that have breached — meaning there was structural damage due to the lagoon’s banks eroding — two have lost all of their liquids while solid waste remains contained. There are no details about the third breach.

A further 30 lagoons have been so flooded the waste has overflowed, while 21 others are fully inundated by water and are at risk of overflowing. Seventy-five others have less than three inches to go before they’re flooded over.

Hurricane Florence’s torrential rains could drown millions of farm animals in North Carolina

North Carolina is known for its pork industry. The state has 9.7 million pigs, which produce 10 billion gallons of manure each year. The majority of the state’s 2,100 industrial farms sit in the low-lying counties of Sampson and Duplin, which have now each had a lagoon breach.

When the untreated waste enters the water it can lead to algal blooms and mass fish die-offs. Salmonella, giardia, and E. coli are all possible contamination risks. Excess nitrates linked to manure can also pose health risks, including blue baby syndrome. Previous contamination experienced due to Hurricane Matthew included food poisoning and skin infections. Elevated fecal coliform bacteria in the water was still found four months after the storm hit, according to DEQ analysis.

But it’s not just during storms that public health is at risk. Some 160,000 North Carolinians live within a half-mile of a pig or poultry farm. Earlier this year, residents finally settled a long-standing complaint with DEQ that alleged the state’s general permitting process for swine farms disproportionately burdened communities of color.

Many also fear that due to budget cuts, operations often aren’t inspected as frequently as some residents and environmental groups would like. There are also persistent concerns about groundwater pollution given the manure is still being stored in open-air, unlined pits.

After years of unsafe practices, North Carolina seeks environmental redemption

Farmers are working with the state DEQ to manage the situation, a statement on Wednesday by the Pork Council states. For some, this means lowering the lagoon levels by transferring liquids off site using tanker trucks or piping it to nearby lagoons that have more space.

Farmers have taken “extraordinary steps” to protect their animals, the council says, including staying in the barns “for days without access to the outside world.” Meanwhile others can only access their barns by boat or helicopter.

The storm, however, has so far killed 5,500 pigs and 3.4 million chickens. The total livestock deaths due to Hurricane Florence is double that of Hurricane Matthew two years ago. Until the ultimate impact of the storm is assessed, Hurricane Floyd in 1999 remains the most devastating to the state’s agriculture industry. This storm caused 55 waste ponds to flood and killed millions of farm animals, including 100,000 pigs and hogs.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Amid doubts over White House’s ability to respond to Florence, Trump touts legacy in Puerto Rico

8 hours 28 min ago

On the one year anniversary of Hurricane Maria, President Donald Trump is hailing his administration’s recovery efforts in Puerto Rico as “historic” even as Puerto Ricans continue to struggle with the hurricane’s enduring legacy.

The tragedy, which is believed to have killed nearly 3,000 people, has largely been seen as a stain on Trump’s presidency, one that has fueled concerns over the White House’s ability to effectively manage the growing crisis posed by Hurricane Florence.

In a press release marking the one year anniversary of Maria on Thursday, the White House touted its efforts in Puerto Rico as a landmark achievement.

“Never before has FEMA coordinated federal resources to rebuild an entire island of this size,” the statement said, going on to argue that “significant progress” has been made on the island and that Puerto Rico is largely back to its pre-Maria state.

“Puerto Rico’s entire electrical grid failed following Hurricane Maria, but today power has been restored to 99.99 percent of customers able to receive an electrical connection. Water systems were inoperable following Hurricane Maria, but today 99 percent of customers have had water restored,” the statement asserted.

Meet the Puerto Ricans who were pushing for renewables long before Hurricane Maria

That characterization paints a relatively rosy picture of what in reality was the longest blackout in U.S. history.

When Maria made landfall in Puerto Rico as a Category 4 hurricane last year, the storm almost immediately devastated the island and destroyed its precarious electrical grid. In the months following the storm, much of Puerto Rico remained without power and, in many cases, water.

Hospitals were overwhelmed and stretched to their breaking point, while schools shuttered en masse amid water damage and an exodus of students to the mainland. Today, some Puerto Rican towns are in much the same state as in the days immediately following the hurricane.

One of the most disputed elements of the storm’s aftermath has been its death toll — something which the president to this day refuses to recognize.

Despite overwhelming evidence of a significant uptick in deaths, Puerto Rico’s government maintained an official death toll of 64 until last month. Studies have placed the death toll at anywhere between 1,052 and 5,740 people, with most estimates placing the number between 1,400 and 3,000. A George Washington University study commissioned by Puerto Rico’s government ultimately estimated the number to be 2,975, which is now the official death toll as of August 2018.

Reckoning over the true scope of Maria’s damage has been exacerbated by the mainland’s response. In the days following the hurricane, Trump toured the island, only to downplay the disaster and largely place blame for the island’s devastation on its pre-existing financial crisis.

He later defended his administration’s handling of Puerto Rico’s recovery process, even as power failed to return to the island and residents increasingly protested the missteps made by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The agency inconsistently supplied food and water aid, in addition to sending workers to the island without Spanish language skills.

FEMA to ICE fund transfer draws Democratic fire as Florence death toll rises

FEMA has since acknowledged poor preparation and under-staffing in the agency’s own assessment of its response to Maria. A March investigation by Politico also found that the Trump administration favored recovery efforts in Texas after Hurricane Harvey over Puerto Rico after Maria.

Through it all, Trump has doubled down and rejected criticism, even actively disputing the island’s revised death toll and accusing Democrats of overstating the numbers in order to cast the White House in a negative light.

The fallout from Maria is echoing through present day, as the Carolinas reel from the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, which made landfall last Friday. At least 37 people have died in connection with the storm and many areas remain under water and inaccessible to residents. Toxic sites also pose a hazard, with breaches reported at coal ash sites and a number of hog lagoons currently leaking waste that could compromise the health of people along with the environment.

Florence marks another major environmental crisis for the Trump administration, but many Americans seem skeptical that the White House is prepared.

Trump’s second-class response to Hurricane Maria deepens the divide with Puerto Rico

A Politico poll released this week found that of 1,564 registered voters surveyed, 49 percent trusted the federal government “not much” or “not at all” to handle local disaster relief efforts; 43 percent said they would trust such efforts “a lot” or “some.” Fifty-one percent also called Trump’s response to Maria “inappropriate,” while 55 percent said the government had not done enough in terms of disaster relief for Puerto Rico.

Trump toured North Carolina on Wednesday, with mixed results, and congratulated his administration’s efforts in addressing the storm. Meanwhile, Democratic senators are probing an administration decision to transfer nearly $10 million from FEMA during hurricane season to the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency, which oversees much of the detention and deportation of undocumented immigrants.

Environmental advocates have also argued that the administration’s rollback of environmental regulations will make it much harder for North Carolina and its neighbors to recover from Florence.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Republican mailer targets progressive candidate for her ‘vulgar’ potty mouth

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 4:26pm

The Republican Party of Florida sent out mailers attacking Democratic candidate for House District 47, Anna Eskamani, for her vocabulary, saying her “vulgar” potty mouth is “everything wrong with politics today.”

One side warns, “EXPLICIT MATERIALS ON OPPOSITE SIDE.”

On the other side: “EXPLICIT LANGUAGE WARNING: Edited to Meet Decency Standards. Anna Eskamani in her own words: ‘I don’t take SH*T ever,’ ‘Look at the SH*T we have to put up with,’ ‘F*CK the patriarchy.'”

“Ask yourself, is this the example our leaders should be setting for our children?” the mailer asks, concluding, “Anna Eskamani: Extremely Partisan. Extremely Vulgar. Extremely Wrong for Central Florida.”

This attack ad funded by @FloridaGOP has some truth to it, because I refuse to back down when it comes to fighting for the hard working families of Orange County & I’m not going to take advice from political hacks like @StocktonReeves or the entrenched lobbyists who back him. 1/3 pic.twitter.com/IYzBctxfpN

— Anna V. Eskamani (@AnnaForFlorida) September 19, 2018

Eskamani, an Iranian-American and the former senior director for Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, was tipped off to the mailer from supporters in the district.

“I was expecting this kind of attack because the Republican Party can’t win on issues,” Eskamani told ThinkProgress in an interview. “The only thing they have is to attack is my character, my words, and my movement.”

While the mailers were paid for by the Republican Party of Florida, they were on behalf of her opponent, incumbent state Rep. Stockton Reeves (R). According to Eskamani, Reeves and the Florida GOP used a similar line of attack against Reeve’s Republican primary challenger, who is also a woman.

“There is just such a double-standard when it comes to how women and male candidates are treated,” Eskamani said. “It’s also just so hypocritical because Republicans are the party of Donald Trump — someone who is an actual sexual harasser.”

Facing contentious midterm elections in November, Republicans are frantically grasping at straws trying to use anything they can against their Democratic challengers. Unfortunately for Republicans, however, this strategy often winds up making the Democrat look cool in comparison.

This is best exemplified by Sen. Ted Cruz’s (R-TX) and the Texas GOP’s attempts to smear Cruz’s opponent, Democratic Texas representative Beto O’Rourke, by pointing to the fact that he can skateboard and play guitar. Ultimately, their efforts just made O’Rourke look incredibly rad.

Texas GOP on Beto O’Rourke: This guy rules, don’t vote for him

Cruz similarly attacked his opponent for his foul mouth, posting a video of O’Rourke saying things like “Fuck that!”, “How fucked up is that?”, and  “What the fuck are these guys doing?”

A lighthearted reminder: A #LaborDay picnic is a great place to bring the kids. A Beto O’Rourke rally? Not so much… #TXSen

— Ted Cruz (@tedcruz) September 3, 2018

“If Beto shows up in your town, maybe keep the kids at home,” the narrator of the video says, before cutting to another video of Beto saying, “Because this is fucked up.”

Then there was the infamous tweet from the Texas GOP that lampooned O’Rourke for being in a band when he was younger.

Maybe Beto can’t debate Ted Cruz because he already had plans… pic.twitter.com/LdqKTh3yK4

— Texas GOP (@TexasGOP) August 28, 2018

The tweets didn’t stress out the O’Rourke campaign that much, as they are likely more focused on the extremely tight race to flip a Senate seat blue in November.

Eskamani isn’t bothered by the attacks against her either.

“This is why voters are so disconnected from the Republican Party,” she said. “I’m going to focus on the issues and what really matters for central Florida families.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump admits Fox News hosts influenced his decision to declassify key Russia documents

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 3:25pm

Any doubt about the feedback loop between President Donald Trump and Fox News can be put to rest, as the president credited Fox’s Sean Hannity, Lou Dobbs, and Jeanine Pirro for his decision to declassify key Russia documents in an interview with The Hill released on Wednesday.

As ThinkProgress reported on Tuesday, Trump’s declassification of materials relating to the FBI’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election was made “at the request of” top congressional Republicans, including Rep. Devin Nunes (R-CA), who was a member of the Executive Committee for Trump’s White House transition.

Despite concerns about potential national security issues resulting from Trump’s actions, especially since neither the Department of Justice nor FBI were reportedly involved in the decision, the president praised Fox News and Fox Business hosts for making the recommendation to him during a conversation with Hill.tv’s John Solomon and Buck Sexton.

“I have been asked by so many people that I respect, please — the great Lou Dobbs, the great Sean Hannity, the wonderful great Jeanie Pirro. (laughs)

No, she takes it so personally. And that’s not, let’s say they like me. But this is beyond liking me. They know that this is one of the great scandals in the history of our country.”

Trump also mentioned Fox News’ Gregg Jarrett when he was asked about the declassification of Russia documents earlier in the interview.

“You know Gregg Jarrett wrote a book called the Russian Hoax. It actually is a hoax. I call it a witch hunt, but it’s a hoax. Beyond a witch hunt.”

Hannity first referenced Trump’s ability to declassify Russia documents on the July 23 episode of his Fox News show, according to Media Matters’ Nick Fernandez. Hannity and Dobbs have discussed the subject at least a dozen separate times on their shows since then.

Trump’s mention of how Fox News influenced his decision to declassify documents was not included in The Hill’s article about the interview, which contained a note that “brief segments where the president went off the record or made personal observations unrelated to the interview” were removed. However, the names of Hannity, Dobbs, Pirro, and Jarrett appear in the transcript released later on Wednesday.

Solomon, who conducted the interview for Hill.tv, has a long history of twisting the truth to defend Trump.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Greece to move 2,000 refugees to mainland after increasing suicide attempts by children

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 1:11pm

Authorities in Greece say they will move roughly 2,000 asylum seekers from the Moria refugee camp holding over 9,000 people on the island of Lesbos to the mainland, Reuters reported on Wednesday.

While the effort is stated as to ease overcrowding, it comes days after Doctors without Borders (MSF) released information on the alarming number of children either self-harming or attempting suicide at the camp.

Their staff has found that between February and June of this year, nearly a quarter of refugees between the ages of 6 and 18 being observed had either tried to hurt or kill themselves. Others suffer from panic attacks, anxiety, and constant nightmares. Some are flat-out unable to speak.

This comports with ThinkProgress’s reporting in February and March, when MSF alerted us to rapes and suicide attempts in Moria.

Refugees fled to Greece for safety. They arrived at a living hell.

In a bid to keep migrants and refugees out the European Union, the E.U. has struck several deals, all of which have had dire consequences for those fleeing war, hunger, or persecution to reach their shores.

A deal with Turkey has resulted in a crackdown on the route between it and Greece, forcing migrants to take more dangerous paths. Libyan militias have been paid to keep migrants there, locked up in abhorrent conditions in detention centers. And Greece is getting funding to essentially disincentivize migrants and asylum seekers from the journey by containing them in Greece, and then, gradually, returning them either to Turkey or to their countries of origin.

ThinkProgress reported from three refugee camps in Greece earlier this year, including Moria, where authorities keep visitors on a short leash, and even limit the activities of groups such as Human Rights Watch and MSF, with the latter resorting to setting up a children’s clinic directly outside the gates of Moria in an attempt to reach the camp’s ill children.

On Monday, Alessandro Barberio, a clinical psychiatrist with MSF on Lesbos, wrote an open letter outlining the horrors she has witnessed there. It’s worth noting that MSF’s staff is accustomed to treating people in war zones. Greece is not a war zone.

Saying that Moria is in “a state of emergency,” Barberio wrote:

In all of my years of medical practice, I have never witnessed such overwhelming numbers of people suffering from serious mental health conditions as I am witnessing now amongst refugees on the island of Lesbos. The vast majority of people I see are presenting with psychotic symptoms, suicidal thoughts — even attempts at suicide — and are confused. Many are unable to meet or perform even their most basic everyday functions, such as sleeping, eating well, maintaining personal hygiene, and communicating.

Even with the 2,000 being sent to the mainland, the camp will still be well over its capacity of 3,100.

In a slow-moving, manufactured crisis that has to be seen to be believed, thousands of migrants and asylum seekers have been packed into the horrendously over-crowded camp — a military compound — over the past few years.

Europe’s policy of containment follows refugees from Greek islands to mainland

The lack of sufficient toilets, showers, and basic medical care means that scabies, measles, and other afflictions burn through the camp’s vulnerable population.

Living in cramped containers or summer tents, the residents of Moria suffer, many of them mentally unraveling, having reached a breaking point after their perilous journey lands them in a filthy, indefinite limbo — not just on Lesbos, but elsewhere Greece as well.

The U.N. has urged Greek authorities to move people to the mainland and to improve conditions for those remaining in the camps — the majority of whom are families from Iraq, Afghanistan, and Syria — all countries torn up by all-out war.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Comey says Manafort plea deal may mean it’s the ‘fourth quarter’ of Mueller investigation

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 1:06pm

Paul Manafort, President Donald Trump’s former campaign manager, agreed to a plea deal on Friday that includes cooperation with special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian interference in the 2016 U.S. election.

Though Manafort’s plea agreement signals a major moment in the special counsel’s probe, especially since it contains “pardon-proof” language to prevent Trump from exonerating his former campaign manager, Mueller’s team has been notoriously tight-lipped about its work.

James Comey, the former FBI director who was fired by Trump in May 2017 after the president reportedly requested “loyalty” from him and allegedly asked Comey to stop the investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia, told NPR’s St. Louis Public Radio he believes Manafort’s plea deal “may represent that we’re in the fourth quarter” of Mueller’s probe.

When (host Don) Marsh asked him where he thinks the Mueller investigation is at currently, Comey said there’s “an argument to be made that the conviction – the plea and cooperation by Paul Manafort – may represent that we’re in the fourth quarter.”

“The way you normally do investigations is you work from the bottom up, and so they’re getting pretty high,” he said. “But again, the reason I’m hesitant to even say that is [because] Bob Mueller’s conducted his investigation like a pro – you know nothing about it except through his public filings, and that’s the way it’s supposed to be. And so I can’t say with certainty where he is.”

Despite Trump’s ongoing claims that Mueller’s investigation is a “witch hunt,” it has resulted in over 100 criminal charges against dozens of people, including guilty pleas from Trump’s former national security adviser, former campaign manager, and multiple former campaign advisers.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Jeff Sessions wants to detain asylum seekers indefinitely

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 12:36pm

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions signaled Wednesday he may overturn a Board of Immigration Appeals (BIA) precedent regarding bond for detained immigrants seeking asylum.

Sessions is reviewing a BIA decision in the Matter of X-K, which held that immigration judges have the power to release certain detained migrants on bond.

Another ominous #immigration move from AG Sessions, telegraphing that he's likely to overrule an earlier decision allowing bond hearings for asylum applicants who _pass_ a credible fear interview—such that now, they could remain in detention indefinitely:https://t.co/f9QioSrUvH pic.twitter.com/0POcgivSfd

— Steve Vladeck (@steve_vladeck) September 19, 2018

If overturned, even asylum applicants who have passed a credible fear interview — meaning they have proven to a court that going back to their country of origin could result in persecution, death, or torture — would face indefinite detention.

By citing a 2017 Supreme Court decision that ruled federal law does not require immigration judges to grant bond hearings, Sessions is performing some odd legal gymnastics to expand the detention of asylum seekers. Because the SCOTUS decision said immigration bond isn’t required, Sessions is considering whether immigration judges can grant bond to asylum seekers at all.

Immigration judge says woman’s forced labor was “material support” for terrorists

Immigration bond is often the only way out for many individuals in detention. Without bond hearings, thousands of detained immigrant families could languish for years in the custody of Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE).

Meanwhile, the federal government is working to rewrite the rules of detention laid out in the Flores Settlement — a lawsuit that ruled immigrant children cannot be detained for longer than 20 days. Before Flores, immigrant children were held in an old hotel fenced with concertina wire alongside unrelated adults. Many immigration attorneys fear the administration is heading back in that direction.

“I believe there is a deliberate attempt to impair these children mentally, physically, and spiritually, and part of doing that is to isolate them,” Hope Frye, an immigration attorney, told NBC News.

Immigration officials argue that detention, compared to ankle bracelets, for example, leads to more removals and dissuades immigrants from coming to the U.S.

The administration appears to not have thought through all the consequences of this requested change. There is virtually no concern among administration officials over the long-term effects indefinite detention has on children, as demonstrated by a Tuesday Senate Homeland Security hearing on family detention. During the hearing, two Trump administration immigration officials struggled to explain the consequences of indefinite detention. They hadn’t even read a letter from two physicians who act as DHS “subject-matter experts” to the Senate’s Whistleblower Protection Caucus, warning that expanding family detention “poses a high risk of harm to children and their families.”

While not an official decision, Sessions’ move Tuesday night is a clear signal that the DOJ is looking to deal a blow to immigrants fleeing dangerous circumstances in their home countries.

Sessions has targeted aslyum-seeking immigrants before.

Earlier this summer it was reported that Sessions was drafting a plan to effectively bar people from receiving asylum if they entered the country between ports of entry (where many immigrants were routinely turned away). The plan would also codify an opinion written by Sessions that sought to restrict asylum for victims of domestic and gang violence. At the time, a source told Vox the regulation would be “the most severe restrictions on asylum since at least 1965.”

Sessions has also rescinded guidance that dictated refugees and asylum seekers have the right to work in the U.S. while their case is pending and rescinded another guidance that encouraged businesses not to mandate U.S. citizenship as a job requirement.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump to Hurricane Florence victim: ‘At least you got a nice boat out of the deal’

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 11:38am

During his tour of affected areas in North Carolina in the aftermath of Hurricane Florence, President Donald Trump on Wednesday stopped to remark about what he saw as one man’s new fortune.

According to White House pool reports, Trump spoke with an older man standing in front of a small brick house, behind which was a large yacht that had washed ashore and was shipwrecked against the man’s wooden deck.

When asked if this was his boat, the man told Trump, “no.” He went on to complain to the president that his insurance company didn’t want to pay for the damage to his home from the storm.

Responding to the man, Trump assured him he would find out the name of his insurance company, and said, “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.”

“I think it’s incredible what we’re seeing,” Trump continued. “This boat just came here.”

“They don’t know whose boat that is. What’s the law? Maybe it becomes theirs,” he added.

Trump to a homeowner in New Bern, NC, who had a yacht wash up in his backyard: “At least you got a nice boat out of the deal.” pic.twitter.com/twtT3it8ul

— Mark Landler (@MarkLandler) September 19, 2018

"sorry your house is destroyed but maybe you can live in this cool yacht that washed up?" https://t.co/hb49XRUMuE

— Nathalie Baptiste (@nhbaptiste) September 19, 2018

Earlier in the day, during a press conference, Trump acknowledged the scale of Florence’s damage. The storm has caused widespread flooding, leaving some towns completely isolated, and is among the most devastating to ever hit the Carolinas.

“Some of the flooding is epic, hard to believe,” he said, later promising that “whatever we have to do at the federal level, we will be there.”

His attention, however, quickly turned to more personal matters. According to White House pool reports, Trump asked a state official “How is Lake Norman doing?”

The president was assured the area, just north of Charlotte, North Carolina, was doing alright. “I love that area. I can’t tell you why, but I love that area,” Trump responded. Lake Normal is home to a Trump National Golf Club.

This isn’t the first time that Trump has shown a lack of empathy for the victims of natural disaster. During his trip to Texas for a briefing on Hurricane Harvey last year, Trump praised FEMA’s response efforts and congratulated local officials. Notably absent from his comments following the briefing, however, was any mention of people who had died or been displaced by the storm.

Trump has shown the absolute minimum amount of empathy for Houston victims

And in his now infamous comments to Hurricane Maria victims in Puerto Rico, Trump told survivors they should be happy the storm wasn’t “a real catastrophe like Katrina.”

Official numbers now put the death toll in Puerto Rico from last year’s hurricanes at nearly 3,000 — a number Trump refuses to recognize and instead says is a conspiracy by his political opponents.

Trump’s empathy deficit

He also reportedly questioned the need for flashlights in Puerto Rico just days after the storm hit, when only 7 percent of the island’s power had been restored. Months later, power outages were still common and Hurricane Maria was blamed for causing the largest blackout in U.S. history.

At least 34 people have died so far from Hurricane Florence. During his televised briefing Wednesday morning Trump said, “to the families who have lost love ones, America grieves with you, and our hearts break for you… We will never leave your side. We’re with you all the way.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Head of Trump’s Iran Action Group touts unoriginal strategy: More sanctions

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 11:24am

With a speech before the conservative Hudson Institute on Wednesday morning, Brian Hook, head of the newly formed Iran Action Group, reiterated the Trump administration’s only policy on Iran: Sanctions.

Sanctions against Iran, sanctions against anyone investing in Iran, and, of course, asking other countries to support the U.S.’s sanctions against Iran.

The Trump administration has said that it is willing to talk to Iran (a gesture deemed as inauthentic by Tehran), but requires that Iran meet the 12 demands Secretary of State Mike Pompeo outlined in May, which include the country’s ballistic missiles program, and foreign policy in the region.

“I didn’t hear anything new in terms of policy… I didn’t see any carrots out there,” he said. “I suspect the Iranians are going to try and wait out the Trump administration,” said Micheal Elleman, senior fellow for Missile Defence at the International Institute for Strategic Studies.

The threat of Iran’s ballistic missiles, he said, is “more of a straw man — everyone is scared of missiles… but I don’t know what the administration is offering. I’ve heard nothing new from Hook this morning.”

Watch Hook’s full speech:

The current sanctions approach fails to address Iran’s security concerns — its neighbors, Iraq and Afghanistan, are occupied by U.S. forces, and nearby Gulf Arab countries host U.S. military bases.

“Putting more pressure on them and threatening them even more, is not going to contain [Iran’s] bad behavior, or the behavior we don’t like,” said Elleman. “I just don’t see where this more aggressive strategy is headed. If I’m Iran, I look at it as a prelude to regime change.”

Hook repeated President Donald Trump’s key lines, blaming Iran for everything that is going wrong in the Middle East — from Iraq, which the U.S. invaded in 2003, to Yemen, where the U.S. is supporting the Saudi Arabia-led campaign that has lead to the slaughter of thousands of  civilians.

He described essentially all of Iran’s weapons capabilities as a threat — short-range missiles and long-range missiles alike. But even Iran has said that it doesn’t need all of those weapons.

“Iran said it doesn’t need missiles that fly beyond 2,000 km [1242 miles]… Let’s take up on that offer and create an agreement that’s verifiable that prevents Iran from developing ‘ICBM’s [Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles], which Hook kept talking about, which I don’t know what evidence he has that they’re even developing,” said Elleman.

Missiles, though, play a big part in Iran’s “defense and deterrence” strategy, he said. Because Iran can’t match the conventional superiority of the United States, it has to rely on proxies or asymmetrical military capabilities — as in the Persian Gulf waters.

“Are they a threat? Yes, but the actual threat posed by their ballistic missiles… it’s not that significant,” said Elleman. “It’s more of a harassment weapon than anything else.”

Hook also “conflated Iran’s legitimate battlefield weapons with nuclear-capable missiles — and those are two different categories. They just happen to operate under the same principle,” said Elleman.

Only two missiles, he said were designed to be nuclear-capable.

It’s worth noting that Iran has been found to be in full compliance with the terms of the 2015 nuclear deal — the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action — which has seen Iran subjected to repeated inspections by the U.N. nuclear watchdog agency in exchange for sanctions relief.

As is often the case in these sorts of events, the audience — including the press — had to submit written questions, which were vetted by the moderator before being issued to Hook.

Somehow, no one had any critical questions.

The sole voice of dissent belonged to CodePink co-founder Medea Benjamin, who managed to get on stage after Hook’s speech and before the Q&A, to accuse Hook of “making the case for war with Iran.” She asked, “how did war with Iraq turn out?” before being carted off by two men. Her appearance was edited out of the Hudson Institute’s feed, but C-SPAN3 carried it:

The moderator, Rebeccah Heinrichs, referred to Benjamin as their “little friend” and responded to her point that the sanctions would harm the Iranian people.

“To the contrary, actually, part of the Trump administration’s approach to Iran, which I think has been remarkable and right on, which is to say, no, the Iranian government has been the number one threat to the Iranian people and peace in Iran,” said Heinrich.

In his reply, Hook said the Trump administration is showing “strong, clear, robust” support of the Iranian people, “validating the demands that they’re making.”

Once the regime behavior changed — which, actually, is Iran’s entire foreign policy portfolio — Hook said “there’s a very bright future in store.”

Lion’s tails and ‘demented words’: Sunday night’s intense U.S-Iran exchange

U.S. sanctions do not enjoy the support of the Iranian people living inside the country. However, the Trump administration has reached out to a select diaspora, including the former terrorist group MEK, which is wildly unpopular among Iranians, and others sympathetic to their perspective, such as the individuals invited to Secretary Pompeo’s speech in July (members of media, from whom Pompeo did not take questions on the record, not withstanding).

Hook was appointed as the head of the “elite team” on Aug. 16 by Secretary Pompeo.

The former director of policy planning, Hook first started work on Iran during George W. Bush’s second term in office in 2006. He was adviser to then U.N. Ambassador (now National Security Adviser) John Bolton, who has advocated for bombing Iran and was a vocal critic of 2015 Iranian nuclear deal.

President Trump pulled the U.S. out of the JCPOA in May, and has threatened other countries — including other parties to the JCPOA: China, Russia, the United Kingdom, France, and Germany — with sanctions should they do business in Iran or purchase Iranian oil after the oil sanctions hit in November.

U.S. sanctions intended to crush Iran’s already struggling economy

Other sanctions on Iran have already been re-imposed.

All of the other countries in the deal support the agreement and are trying to find a means of staying in it and protecting their companies from U.S. sanctions.

“What the U.S. and the international community concluded was an Iran with nuclear weapons is the biggest threat. Let’s cap that and work on the other issues,” said Elleman, adding that he’s not a fan of the sunset clauses — the timeline included in the JCPOA, which is not a permanent agreement — but addressed that did not require the U.S. to pull out.

“I can’t imagine why the Iranians would come to the table and trust the United States at this point,” said Elleman, a former weapons inspector who worked in Iraq. “I think getting out of the JCPOA will go down as one of the greatest unforced blunders outside of the Iraq invasion in the last 25 years.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

Texas official thinks the mistake in his racist attack on a black quarterback was making it publicly

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 11:16am

On Sunday afternoon, after a frustrating Houston Texans loss to the Tennessee Titans, school superintendent Lynn Redden laid bare his racism in the comments of the Houston Chronicle’s Facebook page.

“That may have been the most inept quarterback decision I’ve seen in the NFL,” Redden said, referring to the play of Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson. “When you need precision decision making you can’t count on a black quarterback.”

According to the Chronicle, Redden “deleted the comment after he realized it was a public post.” Oops!

As racists often do, he then defended his racism with more racism.

“Over the history of the NFL, [black quarterbacks] have had limited success,” Redden told Chron.com, in defense of his comments. It’s a common trope, but one that’s rooted in racism, not statistics.

Then and now: Cam Newton and the ongoing plight of the black quarterback

A quick primer for the benefit of all the other Reddens out there who insist on sharing their loud and wrong opinions on the internet: black quarterbacks do not have the same kinds of statistical successes as their white peers because black athletes were systemically steered away from the quarterback position until very, very recently. Marlin Briscoe, who made history in 1968 as the first black quarterback to start a game in the NFL, was forced to change his position to wide receiver to extend his career. Fifty years later, football commentators are still making the same argument about a black quarterback, this time in reference to Baltimore Ravens rookie Lamar Jackson, who oh by the way won the Heisman Trophy.

But logic never seems to carry much weight with racists. If it did, Redden might be swayed by the Texans’ recent history: since the start of the 2014 season, the team has started nine quarterbacks. Eight of them have been white. Does Redden think they were exemplars in the decision making department? Does he miss the brilliant mind and accuracy of Brandon Weeden? What about Ryan Mallett, Case Keenum, Bryan Hoyer, T.J. Yates, Brock Osweiler, or Tom Savage?

Watson has the potential to be the best quarterback in Texans history. He was well on his way to a record-breaking rookie season in 2017 before tearing his ACL. He’s still working on regaining his form, but any fan longing for Tom Savage to save the day is nothing short of delusional.

Redden is (for now) the superintendent of the Onalaska Independent School District in Texas. Onalaska is an incredibly small city, with only 1,174 people as of the 2000 census. According to the same census, 91.23 percent of its residents are white, and only 6.56 percent are black. In the 2016-17 school year, less than one percent of the students in grades 7-12 in Onalaska were African American.

He told the Chronicle that he hopes none of his students read his racist comment about Watson — a comment that, I remind you, he made on a public Facebook page, and then tried to justify…with statistics!

Bill O'Brien blasts racist comments made by Onalaska ISD superintendent Lynn Redden about @deshaunwatson: pic.twitter.com/Y4PC9NJRBr

— Mark Berman (@MarkBermanFox26) September 19, 2018

Bill O’Brien, the head coach of the Texans, addressed the comments at the start of his press conference on Wednesday, calling them  “outdated, innacurate, ignorant, [and] idiotic.”

“I’ll just let DeShaun’s proven success on the field, and his character off the field, speak for itself,” O’Brien said. “He’s one of the greatest guys I’ve ever coached, he represents everything that’s right about football, about life.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

The subtle way Neil Gorsuch stabbed Brett Kavanaugh in the back

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 10:58am

As recently as two years ago, there was a very clear playbook for federal appeals court judges who hoped to someday sit on the Supreme Court. Keep your head down. Build prestige in the subtle ways judges gain status within the elite ranks of the legal profession. And whatever you do, don’t take positions on issues that inflame political debate about the Supreme Court.

There’s at least one exception to this rule. Justice Samuel Alito had a very clear anti-abortion record as a lower court judge. But this exception is easy to explain. Alito was nominated largely to reassure conservatives who rebelled at President George W. Bush’s initial decision to name the enigmatic Harriet Miers to the Supreme Court.

Until very recently, most papable judges hoping to someday become a justice tried to steer clear of public controversy. Let your political allies privately reassure the White House of your conservative views, but by all means don’t give the opposition party evidence it can use against you in your confirmation hearing.

All of that changed with Neil Gorsuch.

The Gorsuch playbook

In his final years as a federal appellate judge, Gorsuch threw out the old rule book. He wrote completely gratuitous opinions — in one case, Gorsuch literally attached a separate concurring opinion to one of his own majority opinions — announcing some of his right-wing views. For the most part, these opinions focused on Gorsuch’s desire to weaken, if not strip, federal agencies’ power to regulate industry, a top conservative priority touted by the Federalist Society.

The Little-Noticed Conservative Plan To Permanently Lock Democrats Out Of Policymaking

And it worked! As David Kaplan reports in his book, The Most Dangerous Branch: Inside the Supreme Court’s Assault on the Constitution, the opinion Gorsuch attached to his own opinion “proved decisive in clinching” the Trump White House’s decision to name Gorsuch to the Supreme Court. (That opinion criticized “Chevron deference,” a doctrine requiring courts to defer to many decisions made by federal regulatory agencies.)

After Gorsuch successfully campaigned for a promotion by announcing his agenda, other papable judges took notice, and they altered their own behavior to match his. Judge Raymond Kethledge, one of a handful of judges Donald Trump interviewed for the current Supreme Court vacancy, raced to the University of Michigan to deliver a lecture announcing that he also opposes Chevron. The eventual nominee, meanwhile, addressed a different problem.

Judge Brett Kavanaugh’s record leaves little doubt that he would join Gorsuch in dismantling much of the administrative state — although Kavanaugh may use more subtle methods than the blunderbuss Gorsuch deploys against doctrines he disagrees with. Until last year, however, Kavanaugh had no public record on Roe v. Wade.

In the pre-Gorsuch world, that would have been a check mark in his favor. It would have meant that he could skate through his confirmation hearing denying that he’s made up his mind to kill Roe, and no one on the Democratic side of the room could have pointed to evidence in his record that refutes this claim.

After Gorsuch, however, Kavanaugh had to worry more about convincing the Trump White House to make him the nominee than he did about what happened in his hearing. Judge Kavanaugh’s hopes of being nominated could fade quickly if other nominees outmaneuvered him to his right. If Kavanaugh didn’t have a clear record on abortion, the nomination might have gone to Judge Amy Coney Barrett, whose opposition to Roe is fairly clear.

So Kavanaugh twice went on record as an abortion opponent in 2017. Prior to Gorsuch’s rewriting the rules, this is something that would have been utter lunacy for a judge hoping to become a justice to do.

The first such occasion was a speech he gave to the conservative American Enterprise Institute, in which he criticized the Supreme Court’s opinion in Roe and praised Justice William Rehnquist’s dissent. The second was a judicial opinion, in Garza v. Hargan, where Kavanaugh argued that the Trump administration could literally hold an undocumented woman prisoner, at least temporarily, in order to prevent her from having an abortion.

In fairness, Kavanaugh was randomly assigned to a three-judge panel hearing the Garza case and couldn’t have avoided taking some position on this matter. Nevertheless, compare the way he handled Garza to the way he handled an equally fraught case in 2011.

Seven-Sky v. Holder was one of the many cases claiming that the Affordable Care Act is unconstitutional. The two judges with whom Kavanaugh heard this case voted to uphold the law. For his part, however, Kavanaugh kept his cards close to the chest, claiming simply that his court should not even decide the case because it lacked jurisdiction.

A unanimous Supreme Court eventually rejected Kavanaugh’s jurisdictional argument.

Judge Kavanaugh, in other words, knows how to make inconvenient cases go away. In 2011, when judges seeking promotion tried to avoid hot button issues, he successfully did the same in Seven-Sky. In 2017, after Gorsuch rewrote the judicial nominations playbook, Kavanaugh seized the opportunity to prove his anti-abortion bona fides.

“Settled law”

Yet, while Kavanaugh’s decision to out himself as anti-Roe may have helped secure his nomination, it placed him in a very awkward position during his hearing. After Trump nominated Kavanaugh, the judge repeatedly claimed that Roe is “settled law” or “settled as precedent of the Supreme Court.”

It is a common tactic for judges who oppose Roe to use this sort of misleading language to describe the opinion at their confirmation hearing. Chief Justice John Roberts, for example, claimed that Roe is “settled as a precedent of the court.” Yet he’s been an consistently anti-abortion vote on the Supreme Court.

Had Kavanuagh followed the pre-Gorsuch playbook, his stated view that Roe is “settled” wouldn’t exactly be believable, but it wouldn’t be an obvious effort to mislead the Senate either. Instead, by staking out a position on Roe in 2017, Kavanaugh stripped himself of credibility to claim that Roe is somehow “settled.” That, and a series of other questionable statements by Kavanaugh, created the impression that he was, at best, evasive at his confirmation hearing — and, at worst, actively deceptive.

Kavanaugh’s credibility, or lack thereof, may now determine whether or not he is confirmed to the Supreme Court. On Sunday, psychology professor Christine Blasey Ford came forward with an accusation that Kavanaugh attempted to rape her when they were both in high school. The Senate Judiciary Committee plans to hold a hearing on these allegations this Monday, where Kavanuagh and Blasey are currently expected to be the only witnesses (although Blasey has not yet accepted this invitation to testify).

Judge Kavanaugh’s chances of becoming Justice Kavanaugh, in other words, are likely to hinge on whether a majority of the Senate finds his testimony credible. He would be in a much stronger position if he had not undermined his credibility in his first hearing — that is, if he hadn’t tried to present Roe as “settled” after going out of his way to reassure the Trump White House that he is, indeed, a vote against Roe.

The Gorsuch playbook, in other words, may be a good way to catch the eye of a White House eager to place hardline conservatives on the Supreme Court. And it is an equally effective way to reassure conservative activists who are still paranoid about President George H.W. Bush’s decision to secure a spot on that Court for the moderate liberal Justice David Souter. But it is a terrible way for a nominee to appear honest and trustworthy if they insist on claiming that opinions they have already criticized are “settled law.”


Categories: SCCDP Allies

3D-printed gun activist Cody Wilson accused of sexually assaulting a minor

Wed, 09/19/2018 - 10:53am

Cody Wilson, a gun activist who has been in the national spotlight recently fighting for 3D-printed guns, has been accused of sexually assaulting a minor, according to reports from local outlets in Austin, Texas.

The victim was only identified as “juvenile female under the age of 17,” and in an interview last month, she told counselors at the Center with Child Protection that she met Wilson on the website SugarDaddyMeet.com. Documents reportedly show that Wilson called himself “Sanjuro” and claimed he was a “big deal.” He identified himself as “Cody Wilson” in a conversation with her, according to a KVUE report.

According to the Austin Statesman, Wilson and the victim exchanged nude pictures.

The victim reportedly told police that she met Wilson on August 15 at a coffee shop. Surveillance video of their meeting reportedly reveals that Wilson arrived at the meeting in a car with plates that match those registered to his nonprofit, Defense Distributed.

Wilson then took her to a nearby hotel, where they were captured again on surveillance cameras. The victim told police he took her to a room, where he sexually assaulted her and then gave her $500. He is not in custody.

A very detailed affidavit for arrest warrant in Travis County, Texas, alleges 3D printed gun blueprints maker Cody Wilson met a 17-year-old girl through https://t.co/05fQkknZiI, and they had sex in an Austin hotel. pic.twitter.com/pK8aTt6haH

— Steve Dorsey (@steve_dorsey) September 19, 2018

In recent weeks, Wilson has made national news after shrugging off the potential of someone being killed or injured by one of the 3D guns printed from his blueprints.

“I literally believe in the Second Amendment, to the point that it’s alright and it should be expected that there will be social costs for protecting a right like this,” he said in an interview with Fox News Sunday when he was asked about the potential impact of his blueprints. “Why is the people’s right to keep and bear arms on the Bill of Rights? Why is it even protected? Because we know that there are downsides and that there are consequences to allowing free people to own the means of self defense. Of course we should expect and have a mature attitude that bad things can happen.”

His comments on Fox News Sunday came just days after a federal judge in Texas blocked efforts by gun control activists — including the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence, Everytown for Gun Safety, and the action group Giffords founded by former Rep. Gabby Giffords (D-AZ) — to keep 3D-printed guns out of the hands of the public.

A federal judge in Seattle, however, issued an order blocking the publication of the blueprints last month. Wilson said at a press conference later that he had begun selling them other ways, including emailing them or mailing them on USB drives.

UPDATE, 4 p.m. Eastern Time: Police in Austin say Wilson has not yet been taken into custody, BuzzFeed News reported Wednesday afternoon. His last known location is Tapei, Taiwan. Authorities say they are working with U.S. Marshals to locate him after he missed his flight to the United States.

Wilson reportedly left the country after being told he was under investigation.


Categories: SCCDP Allies

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