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Updated: 12 hours 58 min ago

U.S. cuts to Egypt aid a ‘half-hearted’ measure of restoring rights

3 hours 12 min ago

Citing an unnamed official source, Reuters on Tuesday broke the news that the United States will withhold $95.7 million in aid to Egypt and delay another $195 million because of the country’s “failure to make progress on respecting human rights and democratic norms.”

The response to the aid cut and delay was swift, if confusing. Foreign Minister Sameh Shoukry initially said that he would not meet with Trump’s advisor Jared Kushner on Wednesday in Cairo to discuss regional matters. But according to the Associated Press, Egyptian President Abdel Fatah al-Sisi and Shoukry both met with Kushner.

Hussein Baoumi, Amnesty International’s Egypt campaigner, told ThinkProgress that while the rights group “applauds the move by the U.S.” to hold Egypt accountable on its treatment rights groups and NGOs, there is a feeling that the measure is “half-hearted.”

“We are disappointed that this concern is not reflected in the continued transfer of arms, which are used in the repression and human rights violations in Egypt,” said Baoumi

According to a 2016 report issued by Congressional Research Service, Egypt ranks second on the list of developing countries signing arms transfer deals, with $11.9 billion in agreements signed in 2015.

Sisi has consistently ignored calls – domestic and international – to reverse course on crackdowns and measures such as the ratification of a new law that, according to a joint letter signed by NGOs, “ushers in unprecedented levels of repression and will criminalize the work of many NGOs, making it impossible for them to function independently.”

So will Sisi now bow to the demands of the United States?

“Unfortunately, it doesn’t seem like likely,” said Baoumi. “However, the U.S. does have lots of leverage on Egypt,” he said, pointing to the fact that Shoukry did, ultimately meet with Kushner as proof that Egypt is not willing to cut down any lines of communication with the United States.

“[The U.S.] can use this leverage to push for some sort of policy change in favor of a more democratic society, in favor of removing restrictions on freedom of expression, and in favor of cutting down on impunity and human rights offenses,” said Baoumi

According to Human Rights Watch, there have been at least 7,400 military trials in the country since Sisi assumed power in 2013, deposing President Mohamed Morsi and designating the Muslim Brotherhood party that backed him as a terrorist organization.

The sum does not represent the full extent of U.S. aid to Egypt, which runs at around $1.3 billion each year, with the funds being up in the air since April, when Sisi visited President Donald Trump in Washington, D.C.

Defense News reported at the time:

…the White House’s 2018 budget plans may target military aid to Egypt in a larger move to slash funding for diplomacy and development. The White House’s initial budget proposal has proposed replacing Washington’s longstanding foreign military financing program with a loans program — except for the aid committed to Israel.

Bahey eldin Hassan, director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, said that withholding aid could make a difference, but, “It depends, at the end of the day, how the Trump administration will be committed to this decision,” said Hassan, who was forced to flee Egypt for France in a 2015 crackdown on NGOs.

Sisi too, has some leverage — Egypt is considered an important U.S. partner in the region.

“Sisi and his media have been celebrating his ‘honeymoon’ with President Trump, selling to the Egyptian public that other countries around the world are like Egypt – a one-man-show with no administration,” said Hassan.

But the answer to how Sisi will ultimately handle this ultimatum might be seen in how Egypt’s foreign ministry responded to news of the cuts.

Al Ahram reported the official response to the aid cut, which reflected a “misjudgement about the nature of strategic relations.” The statement continued, “Egypt’s stability in light of the economic and security challenges facing the Egyptian people and also and implies a mixing of cards that may have negative repercussions on achieving Egyptian-American common interests.”

“‘Don’t be concerned about Egyptians who are subjected to torture and extrajudicial killing’ – this is the main message, if you read between the lines,” said Hassan.

“They conveyed another message: If you insist on paying attention to the human rights of Egyptians, we can’t guarantee that we can take care of your security concerns in the region,” he said, adding that Sisi had no doubt emphasized these points with Kusher. “But anyway, the United States has a record of turning a blind eye to human rights [violations] not only in Egypt, but other parts of the world for the sake of short-term security interests.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

University officials say white supremacists are recruiting their students

3 hours 29 min ago

University of Missouri officials on Wednesday warned students that white supremacists were attempting to recruit on campuses across the country.

“One of the core values of the University of Missouri is respect. As such, we are committed to fostering a community of inclusion,” officials wrote in a letter. “We are aware that white supremacist groups are recruiting on college campuses across the U.S. If you become aware of any activity that might violate university policies, please contact the Office of Civil Rights and Title IX […].”

University spokesman Christian Basi told ThinkProgress that officials had “become aware” of incidents at other schools and decided to issue the statement after finding a flyer on the MU campus. Basi noted that officials were not aware of any other attempts at recruitment, but felt the need to alert students regardless.

One faculty member said he was thought it was appropriate to take extra precautions.

“I haven’t seen or heard anything about white supremacist groups trying to recruit on Mizzou’s campus,” said Joshua Kranzberg, assistant professor of journalism. Still, he added, “As a faculty member, I work hard to make sure all of my students feel safe and comfortable. It’s the most important part of my job. Hate and division have no place here at Mizzou, and I’ll do whatever it takes to keep my students safe.”

The full statement pic.twitter.com/S0nQh34Dq8

— Mizzou (@Mizzou) August 23, 2017

The University of Missouri has faced issues of this nature in the past. In 2015, the school officials warned that a number of Facebook pages called “White Student Union” had begun cropping up at various universities across the country, parading as legitimate student organizations. An MU-specific page, Mizzou White Student Union, featured “familiar MU columns towering over the Columbia campus green, a bronze Thomas Jefferson posed in a school garden, as well as a string of comments denouncing the Black Lives Matter movement and the recent MU student protests that set off a national push by students fighting for racial equality”, according to the Kansas City Star.

The Southern Poverty Law Center claimed at the time that the pages had been created by white supremacist groups looking to recruit MU students into their ranks.

“We are trying to find out who is behind them,” said Leonard Zeskind, president of the Institute for Research and Education on Human Rights. “It could be a white supremacist group, students at the university or someone outside the university. …[It’s] definitely a racist response to anti-racist activity.”

A few weeks earlier, both New York University and the University of Illinois warned students of similar fake “White Student Union” pages claiming to be affiliated with their schools.

“There is no such organization as this at NYU, the Facebook page is using NYU’s logo illegally and without permission, and we have contacted Facebook to demand the NYU logo be removed,” NYU Director of Public Affairs Matt Nagel told the New York Daily News at the time. “We reject — and we call on others to reject — efforts such as this to derail or distort candid, thoughtful discourse on race.”

University of Illinois student Karen Olowu, a Black Students for Revolution organizer, told MSNBC that she wasn’t surprised the white supremacist pages existed.

“Historically, this happens when people of color gather to support themselves,” she said, referencing nationwide Black Lives Matter protests taking place at the time. “This group [was] formed to to terrorize us.”

The University of Missouri has a documented history of racist incidents that have kept officials on alert in recent years. In 2010, according to the school’s paper, The Maneater, freshman Sean Fitzgerald and senior Zachary Tucker were sentenced to two years unsupervised probation and 80 hours community service after the duo scattered cotton balls on the Gaines/Oldham Black Culture Center lawn. Prosecuting attorney Ryan Haigh said at the sentencing hearing that the act was “not your classic littering case” but something “far different” with obvious racist overtones.

In a September 2015 Facebook post, then-Student Government President Payton Head recounted an incident in which a group of white students in a pick-up truck yelled racial slurs at him. Protests erupted in the days that followed, after Head and other students claimed the school had not responded appropriately to Head’s concerns or the slew of other racist incidents he mentioned in his post, and by early November, student Jonathan Butler, had launched a hunger strike as well, demanding that University of Missouri System President Tim Wolfe resign.

Wolfe announced his departure one week later.

 

Categories: SCCDP Allies

House Republican warns of ‘global history sanitation movement’ that will shutter Holocaust Museum

3 hours 33 min ago

During a recent interview on an Arkansas radio station, Rep. Rick Crawford (R-AK) seconded President Trump’s opposition to taking down Confederate monuments, and characterized those who want to remove tributes to white supremacy from public areas as wanting to “sanitize history and make it politically correct so that everybody can breathe easy and not feel any level of offense.”

Echoing the slippery-slope argument Trump has repeatedly invoked, Crawford expressed concern that removing Confederate monuments could lead to the destruction of Roman statues and usher in a broader “global history sanitation movement that basically says all of these statues have to come down because they might offend some people.”

“At what point are we gonna shut down the Holocaust Museum?” Crawford said, conflating a museum commemorating victims of Nazi violence with Confederate monuments that serve as tributes to slavery and white supremacy. “Is that on the agenda at any point, because it makes people uncomfortable? I mean, it never stops.”

Republican congressman says Black Lives Matter is ‘just as engaged in hate’ as white supremacists

Crawford went on to question how many people even object to monuments of Confederate leaders in the first place.

“Who was really walking around letting this weigh on him in 2017?” he said. “How many people can drive by the courthouse and see a state of Robert E. Lee and find that just so offensive that they can’t carry on their day?”

“Let’s get past all that stuff and just use those as points in history and try to remember.”

Crawford later took aim at former President Obama and Democrats.

“Where was President Obama when five police officers were assassinated in Dallas?” Crawford asked, ignoring the fact that Obama traveled to Dallas in the summer of 2016 and delivered a speech denouncing a shooting he described as “an act not just of demented violence but of racial hatred.”

“How much more information do you need when a radical Islamist comes into a nightclub in Orlando and kills multiple people, how much more information do you need to denounce radical Islam?” he added. “In San Bernardino, when 14 people are killed by a radical Islamist couple, how much information do you need to denounce that act?”

Crawford later offered another false equivalence, this time between the white supremacist violence that happened in Charlottesville and other incidents that weren’t as unambiguously motivated by racial hatred. He criticized Democrats for expecting Trump to quickly and unambiguously denounce white supremacists, and for then calling him out when he failed to do so.

“We still don’t hear from folks on the left and leadership in the Democrat party,” he said. “They reserve judgment because they don’t want to hurt anybody’s feelings and they want a complete account of everything that happened before they make a statement. But they don’t give us that same courtesy when they decide that a statement needs to be made, it needs to be made now and to their satisfaction, and then it’s a complete meltdown because the president didn’t respond as quickly as they thought he should.”

Trump cited a desire to “see the facts” while attempting to explain his several-day delay between the white supremacist violence in Charlottesville and the half-hearted statement he read denouncing white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and the KKK. But even after the facts were made clear, Trump subsequently defended white supremacists, telling reporters during a news conference last week that he thought there “were very fine people on both sides.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Our justice system doesn’t help sexual assault survivors who aren’t Taylor Swift

3 hours 33 min ago

A week ago, a jury ruled in favor of Taylor Swift against former radio DJ David Mueller, who she said sexually assaulted her in 2013. Mueller sued Swift first, claiming her accusations were false. Then Swift countersued for sexual assault.

Headlines across a number of outlets portrayed Swift’s win as a win for all women who have been sexually assaulted. Sexual assault incidents such as groping, which is what Swift experienced, are often minimized and treated as unworthy of reporting to police. But will Swift’s trial change that?

Although the decision to touch someone’s body without asking shows a disregard for people’s bodily autonomy, our culture tolerates groping, particularly of women. The most obvious example of this cultural acceptance is the fact that our current president has a history of sexual assault accusations and has bragged about sexually assaulting women. Now, Swift’s case may have encouraged other women who have experienced sexual assault to speak loudly on the issue and maybe even report their assaults.

The Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network (RAINN) told SELF that it saw a 35 percent increase in use of its hotline, which provides confidential counseling to survivors, in the few days after Swift’s trial.

Swift’s refusal to back down during her testimony probably resonated with and inspired many women. Mueller’s attorney grilled her with questions about why she was smiling in the photo taken after she was groped and if she was disappointed in her bodyguard for not protecting her against the groper — all questions designed to focus on her reaction instead of the actions of the man accused of groping her. Many women are familiar with this line of questioning.

When asked if she felt guilty about Mueller losing his job, Swift responded, “I am being blamed for the unfortunate events of his life that are a product of his decisions and not mine.”

Only 344 out of every 1,000 sexual assaults are reported to police according to RAINN’s data, and some victims said they didn’t think the assault was important enough to report. One huge factor in why survivors don’t report sexual assault is their knowledge that the police probably won’t take it seriously. People can pursue civil cases against the person who assaulted them, but the person they’ve accused could always fire back and file a civil suit against them. And when that happens, they won’t have Swift’s resources — a fact that Swift acknowledged in her statement following the court victory.

A number of reports on how police handle sexual assault cases suggests that victims are right to question whether police will actually believe them or even follow up on their claims. Last year, the Department of Justice released a report on Baltimore’s police department and its mishandling of sex crimes. The report found that detectives made “minimal to no effort to locate, identify, interrogate, or investigate suspects” and would ask victims questions such as “Why are you messing up that guy’s life?” There also may be pressure for police officers to keep crime reports off the books to keep crime levels low, NYPD officials told the New York Times in 2011. A woman who reported being groped by a bicyclist two days in a row told the Times that the policeman responded by saying, “These things happen.” Another 2013 report from Human Rights Watch found that the Washington, D.C. Metropolitan Police Department failed to document or investigate many complaints of sexual assault between October 2008 and 2011. In some cases, police treated victims “callously and skeptically” and discouraged them from reporting. Sometimes police even threatened to prosecute them for false reporting.

“To hear him tell me he didn’t believe me was a slap in my face. It just knocked me down, it was a punch in my stomach,” one victim told Human Rights Watch.

Since public transportation is a common place women face groping and public lewdness from male strangers, subway officials should, in theory, be prepared to take women’s reports seriously. Often, the opposite happens and women are discouraged from reporting it. An example of this attitude is the treatment a New York woman, Tiffany Jackson, received when she approached a subway official after a man masturbated in front of her in 2015. When she went to the subway conductor, she said he “rolled his eyes, annoyed, and radioed dispatch… The conductor grumbled and told me to just go upstairs and report the incident to the booth.” As she headed in that direction, the man who masturbated in front of her then began following her.

“They acted like I was more of a nuisance than trying to help me, and sent me right in the path of danger,” Jackson said. The incident was only taken seriously once she posted the evidence to Instagram.

There are many more stories of police failing to take women’s reports of public lewdness and sexual assault seriously. And of course, some women are afraid of sexual violence from police officers themselves. As The Nation reported, sexual misconduct among police officers is a “persistent problem in some police departments” and many are repeat offenders.

To encourage more victims to come forward with reports of sexual assault, police need to investigate sexual misconduct within their own police forces and tackle sexual assault myths that make it difficult for victims to seek justice. In 2012, Marywood University researchers looked at written surveys from 429 police officers and found a significant relationship between interviewing skills and rape myth acceptance. Hopefully, with better training on how to interview sexual assault survivors, officers could avoid retraumatizing survivors of sexual violence, and in time, more people would feel comfortable coming forward to report these crimes.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump tells Phoenix crowd Joe Arpaio will be ‘just fine’

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 8:36pm

President Donald Trump suggested to the crowd gathered for a campaign-style rally in Phoenix, Arizona Tuesday night that he may pardon Sheriff Joe Arpaio, a former anti-immigrant law enforcement official who was found guilty of racially profiling Latinos and other immigrants during his tenure.

“Was Sheriff Joe convicted for doing his job?” Trump teasingly asked his audience at the Phoenix Convention Center. “He should have had a jury, but you know what? I’ll make a prediction. I think he’ll be just fine. Okay? But, but I won’t do it tonight because I don’t want to cause any controversy, is that alright? But Sheriff Joe can feel good.”

Trump later claimed that his harsh anti-immigration proposals were akin to “liberating” Americans from undocumented immigrants. “The people of Arizona know the deadly and heart breaking consequences of illegal immigration, the lost lives, the drugs, the gangs, the cartels, the crisis of smuggling and trafficking, MS-13,” Trump added. “We’re throwing them out so fast, they never got thrown out of anything like this. We are liberating towns out on Long Island. We’re liberating. Can you imagine in this day and age, in this day and age in this country, we are liberating towns. This is like from a different age.”

Earlier in the day, White House Deputy Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said the president would not use Tuesday’s rally to pardon former Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio, however. The sheriff was also not invited to the rally. The so-called “toughest sheriff in America,” who was found guilty of criminal contempt of the court late last month, could be sentenced to prison for demonstrating “flagrant disregard” of a federal judge’s order to stop racially profiling Latinos in his state.

Trump once claimed “I love Hispanics” on Cinco De Mayo, but pardoning Arpaio would be an incredibly tone deaf move that fails to show his love for Latinos in the state of Arizona. As a former sheriff, Arpaio has intentionally made lives difficult for immigrants by routinely detaining suspected undocumented immigrants to turn over to federal immigration authorities for potential deportation proceedings. Both Arpaio and his deputies have indiscriminately detained immigrant parents and children and other people of Latino origin for hours without a warrant. He has also humiliated people in detention by subjecting them to wear pink underwear and making them stay in outdoor detention facilities in the triple-digit heat. What’s more, Arpaio’s racial profiling lawsuit has cost taxpayers almost $56 million since 2007.

The president won’t be doing himself any favors in Arizona if he goes through with the pardon. A recent poll by the Phoenix-based polling group OH Predictive Insights, which surveyed 1,065 Arizonans from Friday to Sunday, more than half of residents don’t want the president to pardon Arpaio.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s revisionist Charlottesville history omits infamous ‘many sides’ remark

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 8:12pm

Much of President Donald Trump’s speech at a rally Tuesday in Phoenix, Arizona seemed to be off script, but he edited at least one thing.

At the rally, Trump rehashed his response to the Unite the Right rally that brought together white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members two weekends ago in Charlottesville. The rally resulted in the death of one woman who was killed when a white supremacist drove his car into a group of counter-protesters.

In his original remarks the day of the United the Right rally, Trump said there was violence “on many sides,” a comment that drew swift condemnation from across the political spectrum.

At his rally in Arizona, Trump began to criticize how the media had covered his response to the rally and the death of the woman, Heather Heyer, but left out the controversial phrase when he began to re-read his original comments.

Trump conspicuously avoids condemning white supremacists in Virginia, blames ‘many sides’ for violence

“So here is my first statement when I heard about Charlottesville,” Trump said. “I don’t want to bore you with this, but it shows you how dishonest they are. And most of you know this anyway. So here’s what I said really fast. Here’s what I said on Saturday.”

Trump took out a paper from his jacket and began reading the remarks from August 12.

“We’re closely following the terrible events unfolding in Charlottesville, Virginia,” Trump said. “This is me speaking. We condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence. That’s me speaking on Saturday. Right after the event.”

.@Lawrence: Trump is "lying to his audience" by misquoting himself, omitting when he condemned violence in Charlottesville "on many sides." pic.twitter.com/CCTJ4bCzju

— The Last Word (@TheLastWord) August 23, 2017

The next quote Trump read from the speech was, “It has no place in America. What is vital now is a swift restoration of law and order and the protection of innocent lives. No citizen should ever fear for their safety, security in our society.”

What Trump left out was the end of the sentence “we condemn in the strongest possible terms this egregious display of hatred, bigotry, and violence,” which concludes, in the official statement posted on the White House website, with “on many sides.”

When the White House was pressed on the “many sides” comment, a White House spokesman doubled down, saying, “The president was condemning hatred, bigotry, and violence from all sources and sides.”

Per White House spokesperson pic.twitter.com/jNtzGqmslU

— Ben Jacobs (@Bencjacobs) August 12, 2017

Two days later, last Monday, Trump finally condemned white supremacists, neo-Nazis, and KKK members by name. But the next day, Trump took his original remarks a step further, saying—at a press conference that was purportedly about infrastructure—that there were “very fine people” who marched in the Unite the Right rally.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

PHOTOS: Thousands protest Trump in Phoenix, Arizona

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 7:35pm

President Donald Trump opened up his remarks at a campaign-style rally in Arizona with an attempt to diminish the number of protesters outside the venue opposing him.

“Just so you know from the Secret Service, there aren’t too many people outside protesting,” he said at the Phoenix Convention Center on Tuesday night.

That was false. Thousands of people gathered in downtown Phoenix in Arizona for hours ahead of his rally to protest the president’s first political event after the deadly violence in Charlottesville, Virginia.

Some Arizona lawmakers were hesitant to welcome Trump. Notably, Phoenix Mayor Greg Stanton (D) implored the president to delay his visit so soon after the president remarked that “both sides” of protesters, including white supremacists and peaceful protesters, were responsible for the violence that killed one woman and grievously injured dozens in Charlottesville.

“America is hurting,” Stanton wrote in a Washington Post opinion piece published Monday. “And it is hurting largely because Trump has doused racial tensions with gasoline. With his planned visit to Phoenix on Tuesday, I fear the president may be looking to light a match.”

Some people faced off with Trump supporters who stood behind police lines and barricades as they snaked their way through city blocks to enter the Convention Center. Although minor scuffles and shouting matches broke out, no arrests were made as of 6 p.m. local time. Protesters held signs opposing the Trump presidency and moved around peacefully outside the center. They also chanted slogans like “wrong side of history” and “walk of shame.”

Here are some scenes from the protest:

Crowd of 1000+ with Puente Human Rights Movement on the move to #TrumpinPHX #TrumpRally @azcentral pic.twitter.com/LFRicTgcAH

— Jason Pohl (@pohl_jason) August 22, 2017

The MAGA line still snaking down several blocks, waiting to get into #PhoenixRally @realDonaldTrump pic.twitter.com/N8J2DlR3Uz

— Megan Cassidy (@meganrcassidy) August 22, 2017

 

It's not capacity. pic.twitter.com/Z092fkgxmd

— David Catanese (@davecatanese) August 23, 2017

A good couple thousand outside an hour+ before Trump rally begins. Go-to chant at Trump supporters walking by: "Walk of shame" pic.twitter.com/tTdVM5HQra

— Vaughn Hillyard (@VaughnHillyard) August 23, 2017

Proud of my #Resistance peeps at the #PhoenixRally. #TrumpinPhx #PhoenixStrong pic.twitter.com/T35WrmeEYD

— Arizona Votes (@AZVotes) August 22, 2017

In front of the convention center holding down space and resisting right before Trump speech of hate! @realDonaldTrump #NoPardonNotWelcome pic.twitter.com/Km6Zytmpp9

— Puente Arizona (@PuenteAZ) August 23, 2017

In front of the convention center holding down space and resisting right before Trump speech of hate! @realDonaldTrump #NoPardonNotWelcome pic.twitter.com/Km6Zytmpp9

— Puente Arizona (@PuenteAZ) August 23, 2017

Spotted outside Trump's Phoenix rally. pic.twitter.com/HLxAWp0pZn

— Kurtis Lee (@kurtisalee) August 23, 2017

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Republican congressman says Black Lives Matter is ‘just as engaged in hate’ as white supremacists

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 2:04pm

During an interview with a Fayetteville radio station on Tuesday, Rep. Robert Pittenger (R-NC) claimed there is no meaningful distinction between Black Lives Matter demonstrators and the white supremacists and neo-Nazis who recently rallied in Charlottesville, Virginia. That rally left a counter-protester dead and 19 others injured after an alleged Nazi sympathizer drove his vehicle through a crowd of people.

Asked by the host what he took away from the violence in Charlottesville, Pittenger quickly steered the conversation away from groups like the KKK, which seek to terrorize minority groups and establish whites as the master race. Instead, he focused his criticism on Black Lives Matter, a group that works to stop the unjustified killing of black people, saying the group was “just as engaged in hate” as neo-Nazis, the KKK, and other white supremacists.

“You look at the actions of Black Lives Matter and people like Al Sharpton who have not condemned it — we never heard President Obama condemn the violence of Black Lives Matter,” Pittenger said. “And so it’s a bit disingenuous to me that so much pressure and criticism has been put on President Trump for what he didn’t say, and yet when these things happen on the other side, there’s silence.”

Trump cites ‘another side’ for violence at white supremacist rally — ‘you can call them the left’

The host pushed back, asking Pittenger, “Can you really compare Black Lives Matter to Nazis and the KKK and white supremacists?” But Pittenger didn’t back down, saying “hate in all forms is wrong” and asking, with regard to Black Lives Matter, “where is the spirit of Martin Luther King in all this?”

Unconvinced, the host challenged Pittenger again. He pointed out that Black Lives Matter is not a hate group and said, “You’re not going to have a Black Lives Matter person drive a car into a crowd of people and kill a bunch of people.”

“How do you know that?” Pittenger interjected, before going on to claim that “they’ve done other things… some of the people involved have demonstrated hate.”

In September of last year, Pittenger apologized for racially charged criticism he made of protesters who had gathered in Charlotte in response to the death of Keith Lamont Scott at the hands of a cop.

Pittenger, who represents part of Charlotte, said during a BBC-TV interview that some of the protesters who took to the streets in the city “hate white people.”

“The grievance in their minds — the animus, the anger — they hate white people because white people are successful and they’re not,” he said, before taking aim at people who receive welfare. It is a welfare state. We have spent trillions of dollars on welfare, and we’ve put people in bondage, so they can’t be all they’re capable of being.”

Pittenger subsequently apologized in a statement, saying his comment “doesn’t reflect who I am.”

“My intent was to discuss the lack of economic mobility for African Americans because of failed policies,” he added. “I apologize to those I offended and hope that we can bring peace and calm to Charlotte.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Democrats on Trump’s voting commission iced out since last meeting

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 1:53pm

When President Trump announced the formation of his Commission on Election Integrity in May, the White House said the group would “study vulnerabilities in voting systems” and “utilize all available data” in order to strengthen elections. But several Democrats serving on the bipartisan panel said they have had no voting-related communication and have been assigned no tasks since they first met in July.

“I have not received much information nor been working on much,” West Virginia county clerk Mark Rhodes told ThinkProgress on Tuesday, clarifying that by “much,” he meant anything at all.

Rhodes said commission chair Mike Pence and vice-chair Kris Kobach, Kansas’ Republican secretary of state, have given him no information about what he is supposed to be doing between meetings, and he has no idea if the co-chairs or Republican members are hard at work without Democratic input. “I honestly don’t know because I haven’t spoken to anybody else that’s on the committee,” he said.

Since the initial July 19th meeting, Kobach himself has been busy as commission co-chair. On July 26, he followed up his controversial letter requesting a massive amount of voter data from all 50 states — a request that was at least partially rejected by 44 states — with a second letter addressing the backlash and requesting publicly available voter information. Still Rhodes heard nothing.

“I’ve just been reading some articles and studies and things of that nature on my own,” he said. “Nothing assigned by the chairs.”

The only communication he has received has been regarding plans for the next meeting — Rhodes said the commissioners have been told to keep September 12th free. At that time, he hopes the co-chairs will have collected and analyzed voter data from the states so the panel can compare the numbers and begin its work.

Rhodes is one of 12 members of the commission that includes five Democrats and seven Republicans. Democratic member David Dunn also told ThinkProgress that the commission hasn’t “had a lot of communication.”

“The only information I have received was at the first meeting. Nothing else,” Dunn, a former Arkansas state legislator and government affairs lobbyist, said in an email Tuesday. “I did get an email that said to hold Sept. 12 open for another meeting. Nothing else.”

A third Democratic commissioner, Maine’s Secretary of State Matt Dunlap, told ThinkProgress that has received the same amount of information as Rhodes and Dunn. “I’ve had no more communication than them,” he said.

Dunlap also does not know if Republican members are studying any voting systems or data without input from Democrats. He said he finds it “unusual” that more than a month has gone by and he hasn’t been asked to do anything.

If any voting-related work is being conducted, it’s likely being done by Pence or Kobach, who worked without commission input when he sent a follow-up letter requesting voter data from states. Dunlap said at the time the second request for data went out that commissioners had not discussed the letter before Kobach sent it to all 50 states.

A representative for Kobach did not respond to a request for comment. Marc Lotter, the vice president’s press secretary, told ThinkProgress Tuesday that “the work continues,” but would not comment directly on why the Democrats haven’t received any communication other than logistical planning.

“I know information is going out,” he said. “There’s constant [mumble] to all the members, the work continues, and we will see them again at their next meeting here next month.”

Lotter clarified that he meant constant “communication,” contradicting the three Democratic members, and said the commissioners will “get updated on the work as it is continuing during its next meeting.” He would not say whether the co-chairs or Republicans had been conducting work without Democratic input.

“The next meeting is being scheduled as we speak,” he said. “We’ll get an update on all the relevant materials moving forward.”

It’s not difficult to imagine that Pence and Kobach are working without input from Democratic commissioners to push for voter purges or similar efforts to make it harder for people to vote. Both men have long histories when it comes to suppressing votes and advocating for policies like photo ID laws or the use of cross-check systems that result in qualified Americans being blocked from the polls.

Trump administration agencies are also working alongside the co-chairs to keep the commission’s work secret. After its Freedom of Information Act requests went unanswered, the Brennan Center for Justice announced Monday it had filed a lawsuit in federal court to compel the Department of Justice, the Department of Homeland Security, and the Office of Management and Budget to disclose information pertaining to the commission. The advocacy group argues that the public is legally entitled to know about the group’s operations, methods, and intentions.

“When the public is not able to oversee the work of a presidential panel like this, there is a risk of abuse, which could negatively impact voting rights across the country,” Wendy Weiser, director of the Brennan Center’s Democracy Program, said in a statement.

According to the president’s May executive order, the panel will “spend the next year completing its work and issue a report in 2018.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Nuclear power plants are ‘bleeding cash’

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 1:50pm

“It sometimes seems like U.S. and European nuclear companies are in competition to see which can heap greater embarrassment on their industry,” the Financial Times wrote earlier this month.

This appears to be the summer that the final nails are put in the coffin of the much-overhyped U.S. nuclear renaissance — despite President Trump’s comment in June that “we will begin to revive and expand our nuclear energy sector, which I’m so happy about.”

The nuclear industry is so uncompetitive now that over half of all existing U.S. nuclear power plants are “bleeding cash” according to a Bloomberg New Energy Finance (BNEF) report released earlier this summer. BNEF found that $2.9 billion is lost every year by just 55 percent of all the nuclear plants in the United States.

But, as the chart below shows, even the profitable plants have the narrowest of positive operating margins.

Negative operating margins are not a good thing.

And if existing nukes are so uneconomic, it’s no shock that new nuclear plants are completely unaffordable. The nuclear industry has priced itself out of the market for new power plants, at least in market-based economies.

Even the nuclear-friendly French — who get most of their power from nukes — can’t build an affordable, on-schedule next generation nuclear plant in their own country.

Earlier this month, two South Carolina utilities decided to abandon construction of two nuclear plants after spending some $9 billion. The twin plants, known as the V.C. Summer Nuclear project, are less than 40 percent finished. They were originally expected to cost $11.5 billion and be operational in 2018, but the latest projections gave at least a three-year delay and a total cost of $25 billion. The utilities plan to pass on some of the loss to customers by raising rates.

“The U.S. plants risk becoming an even bigger fiasco than those involving the European Pressurized Reactor at Flamanville in France and Olkiluoto, Finland,” said the Financial Times. Those plants “although years late and billions of euros over budget, at least look likely to be completed in the next couple of years.”

Vogtle in Georgia is “the last nuclear plant under construction in the U.S.” Bloomberg reported two weeks ago. Back in March, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution called the project “a financial quagmire.” The Westinghouse plants, originally priced at $14 billion, are “currently $3.6 billion over budget and almost four years behind the original schedule.” Recently, Southern Company released new estimates that put the total project cost at $25 billion.

Last week, Bloomberg reported that the developers of the Vogtle plant, “are seeking more federal support for the project, potentially increasing a record $8.3 billion loan guarantee it has already been promised.” But it’s not clear how likely that is given Energy Secretary Rick Perry turned down a request from the South Carolina developers for $3 billion in support.

Nuclear industry prices itself out of power market, demands taxpayers keep it afloat

It is hard to justify a taxpayer-backed loan for a nuclear plant that is all but certain to be a money loser from the moment it is turned on, assuming that ever even happens.

“Let it be written that environmentalists didn’t kill the nuclear power industry, economics did,” explains Houston Chronicle business columnist Chris Tomlinson in a piece headlined, “Nuclear power as we know it is finished.”

Since new construction is all but dead in this country for the foreseeable future, the remaining question is whether taxpayers should subsidize existing ones because of their low carbon pollution — as happened in the states of New York and Illinois. I argued in May that existing nuclear plants can make a plausible case for a modest short-term subsidy. But while that may happen in some states, the AP reported Tuesday that Ohio Governor John Kasich “can’t see supporting a proposed bailout of Akron-based FirstEnergy’s two nuclear plants that’s now stalled in the state Legislature.”

Stunning drops in solar and wind costs turn global power market upside down

Whatever happens in the near term, the future of new power generation belongs to renewables.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Nearly 30 million Americans think it’s okay to have neo-Nazi views

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 1:23pm

A frightening new poll has found that 9 percent of Americans believe it’s “acceptable” to hold white supremacists or neo-Nazi views — the equivalent of nearly 30 million people.

The survey, which was conducted by the Washington Post and ABC News, showed that of those 9 percent, a third “strongly agreed” with the statement, “Do you think it’s acceptable or unacceptable to hold neo-Nazi or white supremacist views?”

Overall, 10 percent of respondents described themselves as supporters of the “alt-right” movement, an attempted rebranding of the white supremacist movement, while 41 percent said they had no opinion on the matter. The survey found that 42 percent thought that Trump had put white supremacists and neo-Nazis “on equal standing with those who opposed them”.

The poll, which was conducted in the wake of the protests in Charlottesville, also showed that 56 percent of respondents disapproved of Trump’s response to the violence that took place that weekend, while 28 percent approved.

The Unite the Right rally in Virginia brought a slew of international condemnation, but there had been a steady uptick in far-right violence even before Charlottesville.

In February, 51-year-old Kansas resident Adam Purinton allegedly killed Indian tech engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla; Purinton had allegedly used racial slurs against Kuchibhotla and his friend, Alok Madasani, and questioned their immigration status before shooting both of them.

In May, Jeremy Joseph Christian was accused of slashing the throats of two commuters in Portland, Oregon after allegedly hurling anti-Muslim slurs at a young woman in a hijab and her friend.

Racist overtones plagued the Charlottesville rally as well. The Southern Poverty Law Center documented several of the flags present that day, and noted that one of them, the flag of “Kekistan” — a green banner modeled on the Nazi flag with the 4chan symbol in the top left — has become “a kind of tribal marker of the white supremacist movement.” According to the SPLC, it’s “mainly useful to the alt-right as a trolling device for making fun of liberals and ‘political correctness.”

James Alex Fields Jr. (pictured second from left) took part in a far-right protest before launching his car into a group of counter-protestors (Credit:Alan Goffinski/AP)

Other flags used at the rally included that of the Traditionalist Workers Party, which advocates for racially pure nations, and one often used by the white supremacist group Vanguard America. James Alex Fields Jr., the man who allegedly drove a car into a group of anti-fascist counter-protesters in Charlottesville, killing one, was pictured holding up a black shield emblazoned with Vanguard America’s logo.

The killing in Charlottesville drew international outrage, but the SPLC has documented another 11 white nationalist hate groups based in Virginia alone – including several around Washington D.C.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Court hands pipeline opponents a major victory

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 1:15pm

The D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals issued a decision Tuesday that forces the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) to reconsider the environmental impacts of the Sabal Trail pipeline and two related pipeline projects that run from Alabama to Florida.

In a case brought by the Sierra Club and two local environmental groups, a panel of three judges ruled that FERC had failed in its Environmental Impact Statement (EIS) to adequately consider the greenhouse gas emissions from power plants that will be served by the natural gas pipeline.

“We conclude that the EIS for the Southeast Market Pipelines Project should have either given a quantitative estimate of the downstream greenhouse emissions that will result from burning the natural gas that the pipelines will transport or explained more specifically why it could not have done so,” Judges Judith Rogers and Thomas Griffith wrote. “As we have noted greenhouse-gas emissions are an indirect effect of authorizing this project, which FERC could reasonably foresee, and which the agency has legal authority to mitigate.” A third judge, Janice Rogers Brown, dissented.

The Certificate of Public Convenience and Necessity for the project, which authorized its construction, has been vacated and remanded to FERC while the agency reviews the EIS in light of the decision. 

“Today’s decision requires FERC to fulfill its duties to the public, rather than merely serve as a rubber stamp for corporate polluters’ attempts to construct dangerous and unnecessary fracked gas pipelines,” Sierra Club attorney Elly Benson said in a statement.

“FERC would like to say, ‘We’re approving the pipeline. Here are the impacts of digging a trench and laying a pipe,’ but that’s not what federal law requires,” Benson explained on the phone. “FERC is well aware that this 1.1 billion cubic feet of gas a day is going to be burned at power plants. That is not speculative.” 

Under the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), federal agencies are required to consider the environmental impacts of major projects, as well as any related actions the project’s will trigger.

The case was one in a slew of cases that the Sierra Club and others have brought against FERC, challenging the agency’s environmental analyses. Challenges to FERC’s failure to examine the greenhouse gas emissions related to natural gas export facilities failed when the court ruled that export terminals were the purview of the Department of Energy. At least three cases against the Department of Energy’s permits are awaiting either hearings or decisions.

But this is the first case to successfully challenge FERC’s greenhouse gas emissions analysis — and it could have repercussions up and down the East Coast. There are currently hundreds of miles of proposed pipeline on FERC’s docket or under construction, including the Atlantic Sunrise Pipeline, the Atlantic Coast Pipeline, and the Rover Pipeline. Since the Marcellus shale boom in Ohio, Pennsylvania, and West Virginia, natural gas developers have been seeking ways to move the gas to population hubs from Massachusetts to Florida.

Appalachian pipeline emissions would be equal to 42 coal-fired power plants

But a report by Oil Change International in 2016 found that if all the proposed natural gas pipelines were approved and became operational, the related infrastructure and combustion would produce enough emissions to prevent the United States from meeting its obligations under the Paris climate accord. (President Donald Trump has subsequently announced that the United States would withdraw from the landmark 2015 agreement to reduce emissions in an effort to prevent 2°C global warming and the catastrophic effects that will come with it.) Natural gas is 80 percent methane, a potent greenhouse gas, which traps heat 86 times more effectively than CO2 over a 20-year span. Advocates for natural gas tout the fact that it burns nearly twice as cleanly as coal, but leakage from drilling and transportation operations have been estimated to more than compensate for its cleaner combustion.

It was not immediately clear what would happen with the Sabal pipeline and the two related projects, which all began operating in July.

FERC declined to outline next steps, saying it is agency policy “not to comment on court cases.” Requests for comment from project developers Next Era Energy and Spectra Energy Partners were not returned Tuesday afternoon.

A spokeswoman for the project told the Miami New Times that “the court’s decision will not affect… operations at this time.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

The president can’t stop hiring people who oppose LGBTQ rights

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 12:06pm

Sam Clovis, President Trump’s pick to head science research within the Department of Agriculture, has a record of virulently anti-LGBTQ comments, CNN reported on Monday.

In 2014, Clovis commented on LGBTQ rights at a campaign stop in his bid for the Republican Party nomination for an Iowa Senate seat. Echoing many anti-LGBTQ conservatives, Clovis compared belonging to the LGBTQ community to pedophilia:

If we protect LGBT behavior, what other behaviors are we going to protect? Are we going to protect pedophilia? Are we going to protect polyamorous marriage relationships? Are we going to protect people who have fetishes?

But it would have been far more surprising if Clovis had a record of being supportive of LGBTQ people. Most of Trump’s picks for cabinet positions have poor records on LGBTQ rights, if they didn’t outright oppose them. And it isn’t rare for Republicans considered for positions within the administration to compare being queer or trans to being a pedophile or an alcoholic. Here are some of the other anti-LGBTQ people Trump tapped for major positions within his administration:

Ben Carson

When Trump tapped Ben Carson for Housing and Urban Development Secretary, LGBTQ advocacy groups were worried about fair housing protection. That’s because the HUD secretary has a record of making homophobic and transphobic comments. Carson has said it isn’t “fair” to “everyone else” that transgender people should use the bathroom of their gender.

“I think everybody has equal rights, but I’m not sure that anybody should have extra rights — extra rights when it comes to redefining everything for everybody else and imposing your view on everybody else,” Carson told Fusion’s Jorge Ramos.

In a 2013 interview with Sean Hannity, Carson compared gay people to pedophiles. Carson said:

“Marriage is between a man and a woman, it’s a well established fundamental pillar of society. And no group, be they gays, be they NAMBLA, be they people who believe in bestiality, it doesn’t matter what they are. They don’t get to change the definition, so it’s not something that’s against gays, it’s agianst anybody who wants to come along and change the fundamental definitions of pillars of society-it has significant ramifications.”

Carson apologized for those “poorly chosen words” weeks later. During his confirmation hearing, Carson said he would “absolutely” protect LGBTQ people from discrimination, his first speech as HUD secretary suggested otherwise.

Rick Perry

The Secretary of Energy has made similarly disparaging comments about the LGBTQ community. When asked if he considered homosexuality to be a disorder in 2014, Perry said, “Whether or not you feel compelled to follow a particular lifestyle or not, you have the ability to decide not to do that. I may have the genetic coding that I’m inclined to be an alcoholic, but I have the desire not to do that, and I look at the homosexual issue the same way.”

Perry also supported what is known as conversion therapy for queer people, which is widely regarded to be a harmful practice, and also supported the ban on gay members and leaders in the Boy Scouts of America, even after the ban was repealed.

Perry hasn’t dialed down his homophobia in recent years. After becoming energy secretary, he wrote a piece for the Houston Chronicle accusing the first openly gay student body president of Texas A&M of stealing the election and blaming his win on the university’s “quest for ‘diversity.'”

Tom Price

Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary has opposed LGBTQ rights at every turn. He called the U.S. Supreme Court’s marriage equality decision a “sad day for marriage.” In 2013, on a conference call with Tea Party Unity, Rabbi Noson Leiter blamed Hurricane Sandy on gay people. Price agreed. He added:

“The consequences of activity that has been seen as outside the norm are real and must be explored completely and in their entirety prior to moving forward with any social legislation that would alter things. I’m always struck by people who wake up one morning and think that they’ve got a grand new way of doing something when as you all know that the tried and true traditions in history that made us great are preserved and have survived because they are effective.”

But Price’s legislative actions have spoken for themselves. He voted against the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act, which allocates federal funding to investigate and prosecute crimes against LGBTQ people.

In the spring, Trump tapped Theresa Manning for the head of federal family planning programs at HHS. Manning came from the anti-LGBTQ Family Research Council, which calls same-sex parenting “inadequate” and says same-sex marriages undermines fidelity within a marriage.

Jeff Sessions

Attorney General Jeff Sessions has a long record of anti-LGBTQ actions and statements. Like Price, Sessions opposed the Matthew Shepard and James Byrd, Jr. Hate Crimes Prevention Act.

In the 1990s, when he was Alabama’s Attorney General, he tried to block a conference on LGBTQ student issues at the University of Alabama. Throughout the early 200s, Sessions made a number of homophobic statements. In 2004, he said he promised to fight against marriage equality.

More recently he delivered a speech to Alliance Defending Freedom, which has been the Southern Poverty Law center calls an anti-LGBTQ hate group. The group has opposed same-sex couples’ adoption of children, supported businesses that discriminate against LGBTQ people, and has filed lawsuits against schools supporting transgender students.

Betsy DeVos

Education Secretary Betsy DeVos hasn’t been nearly as vocal about her positions on LGBTQ rights as other prominent members of the administration. DeVos did say she supported same-sex marriage in January after reports that in 1999, she and her husband Dick DeVos donated $275,000 to Focus on the Family, a conservative Christian non-profit that believes in gay conversion. But since January, none of her actions have suggested she is a true ally to people in the LGBTQ community.

Under her leadership, the administration rolled back Department of Education guidance that protected the rights of LGBTQ students and allowed school districts more flexibility in how they accommodate transgender students. The Washington Post and New York Times reported that she was resistant to these changes, but the changes happened all the same, and she did not resign in protest.

Since then, DeVos hasn’t done anything to prove that she will fight for LGBTQ students’ rights. During a June hearing, DeVos fielded questions from a congressional panel. Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-OR) asked her if the department would continue to provide federal funding to schools with anti-LGBTQ policies. Instead of taking a stand for LGBTQ students’ rights, DeVos responded, “In areas where the law is unsettled, this department is not going to be issuing decrees. That is a matter for Congress and the courts to settle.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Breitbart defends white supremacists on Bannon’s first week back

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 12:05pm

During Steve Bannon’s first full weekday back running Breitbart, the website he once called “the platform for the alt-right” published a defense of the VDare Foundation, a white supremacist organization that cancelled a conference scheduled to take place in April 2018 after a Colorado Springs resort owner warned they couldn’t ensure attendees’ safety.

The piece, written by openly xenophobic former Colorado congressman Tom Tancredo, claims the resort owners’ decision — which came in response to pressure from local officials — shows that “the left does not need to show up and disrupt an event, they can merely threaten to do so and city officials run for cover like cockroaches.”

Breitbart pretends to oppose racism, fires writer who posted string of bigoted tweets

Tancredo, who works as a regular Breitbart columnist, doesn’t mention that that VDare is a white supremacist organization. According to Media Matters, VDare’s website has run articles under headlines like, “One Problem With These Hispanic Immigrants Is Their Disgusting Behavior,” “Indians Aren’t That Intelligent (On Average),” “Diversity Is Strength! It’s Also…Hispanic Immigrants Taking Over FBI’s Ten Most Wanted,” “America Does Not Need ANY Immigrants From Africa,” and “Roll Over, JIHAD—There’s Also HIJRA, Muslim Conquest By Immigration.”

Tancredo has been described by Bannon as “one of the top immigration experts in the country.” As Media Matters notes, Tancredo’s byline has appeared on incendiary columns arguing in favor of European colonization and making the case that multiculturalism is a “virus” that’s “destroying” that United States. Early last year, Tancredo wrote that because of America’s immigration policies, “Muslim rape culture … could be coming to a town near you all too soon.”

Bannon, who ran Breitbart before joining the Trump campaign last summer and then followed Trump to Washington, D.C., was ousted from his role as White House chief strategist last Friday. Before the day was through, he presided over a Breitbart editorial meeting. Bannon told the Weekly Standard that he feels “jacked up” to get back to the site, adding, “Now I’m free… I’ve got my hands back on my weapons. Someone said, ‘It’s Bannon the Barbarian.’ I am definitely going to crush the opposition.”

“The populist-nationalist movement got a lot stronger today,” Breitbart News Editor-in-Chief Alex Marlow said a statement regarding Bannon’s return.

White nationalism normalized: Politico co-founder offers effusive praise for Breitbart

Though Bannon tried to distance himself from white nationalism shortly after the election, Breitbart’s decision to run the Tancredo column on his first full day back indicates that the site will continue to defend and promote white nationalism — sometimes under the guise of the First Amendment.

Breitbart ran the Tancredo column on the same day German footballer Lukas Podolski threatened to sue the publication for publishing a photo of him on a jet ski under an article with the headline, “SPANISH POLICE CRACK GANG MOVING MIGRANTS ON JET-SKIS.”

Breitbart with an EPIC fail – that's Lukas Podolski, you know, the German footballer pic.twitter.com/DN3GiqGxYO

— Lee Hurley (@HLeeHurley) August 20, 2017

Breitbart later affixed the following Editor’s Note to the story:

A previous version of this story included an image of Lukas Podolski on a jet ski. This image appeared as an illustration of a person on a jet ski. Breitbart London wishes to apologise to Mr. Podolski. There is no evidence Mr. Podolski is either a migrant gang member, nor being human trafficked. We wish Mr. Podolski well in his recently announced international retirement.

Bannon’s return comes after a tough stretch of time for Breitbart. According to Sleeping Giants, a online group that has successfully pressured hundreds of advertisers to abandon Breitbart.com, the site has lost more than 2,500 advertisers in recent months.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Pakistan on Trump’s Afghanistan plan: Nope

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 11:11am

President Donald Trump’s new military plan for Afghanistan, announced on Monday, features leaning heavily on Pakistan and India.

In addition to announcing that he would send an unspecified number of U.S. troops to Afghanistan to continue America’s longest war, Trump also accused Pakistan on Monday of giving “safe haven to agents of chaos, violence, and terror” and asked India — with which Pakistan has a very contentious relationship — to do more to help. It’s not clear why Trump thought that it would be a good idea to further pit the two nuclear powers against each other to help development in Afghanistan, and it hasn’t been received well so far in South Asia.

Aitzaz Ahsan, Pakistan People’s Party’s central leader, told ThinkProgress that “enormous disappointment” is the dominant response to Trump’s speech in Pakistan. “There is no takeaway for Pakistan at all. Encouraging India to establish itself in Afghanistan is enabling it to create a grip around Pakistan,” said Ahsan, who accused India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “hostility towards Pakistan.”

“Pakistan has been the front line state against terror and has been fighting terrorist organizations on the ground. It has lost more soldiers in this fight than any other country,” said Ahsan, describing his country as a “modern, liberal society which is threatened and in jeopardy because of the extremists groups.”

Ahsan said he hoped Monday’s statement “like many of Mr. Trump’s statements” will “not mean what he actually says – and that the Pentagon and State Department, whose officials are more grounded in this situation and have a better better appreciation of Pakistan’s fight against terror… will prevail over what Mr. Trump has said.”

Sameer Lalwani, deputy director at the Stimson Center’s South Asia program, said the strategy might boil down to “trying to coerce Pakistan with a poor set of cards.”

“The strategy hasn’t written off Pakistan in that they’ll never be responsive to U.S. inducements and coercions… and that has been tried multiple times over by the Bush and Obama administrations and ultimately didn’t bear fruit, so it’s hard to see how this will work better.”

“What the intention might have been is to send a message to Pakistan, saying that we can turn to other partners if you don’t cooperate with us. That’s can be a useful threat in theory,” said Lalwani, adding that “the devil is in the details” as “the credibility of that threat lies in whether India is capable or willing to escalate its efforts in Afghanistan.”

India has already been one of the leading providers of economic aid to Afghanistan, and Lalwani said that it’s unclear if it is willing to do more. Economic aid and perhaps some arms sales aside, any military involvement on behalf of India is “very, very unlikely.” Indeed, Lalwani explains that the focus of U.S.-India relations has been to keep China in check and build up India’s maritime capacity to take on a larger role in the security management of the Indian Ocean.

“Ultimately encouraging India to get involved in a land war in Central Asia detracts from that broader objective… India is going to calculate that its not in its best interest to get involved in Pakistan,” said Lalwani.

Then there was a single line in Trump’s speech about both India and Pakistan being nuclear powers, which said Lalwani, was “very confusing” and fraught with danger.

As the United States tries to turn up the heat by looking to India or cutting aid to Pakistan, Pakistan as options too — it can shut down land and air routes that take supplies to U.S. troops to Afghanistan, for instance.

“By applying more pressure on Pakistan, you fuel their worst fears on security issues, and because they’re outmatched conventionally [weapons-wise] they double down on their nuclear capabilities, and that makes things even riskier,” said Lalwani.

The Afghan view: Finally, a plan

Fawzia Koofi, an Afghan lawmaker and women’s rights advocate told ThinkProgress that Trump’s plan was at least something, at a time when Afghans feared that the United States would pull out entirely. The official Afghan response to Trump’s plan in Afghanistan has been largely positive.

“Not only me, but many Afghans have been waiting for a clear position from the United States for a very long time – since the new administration came into position,” said Koofi, adding that given Trump was previously in favor of pulling out, Monday night’s statement left Afghans “hopeful that the longer term strategic partnership in Afghanistan will continue.”

Given that expectation, what Trump offered was seen as a clear strategy on at least two points: “that President Trump has not made his strategy time-bound, but rather, need-bound, and that was very good advice from his advisors that he listened to,” said Koofi.

“The other was his very clear message on Pakistan… right now more than 15 terrorist groups are functioning in Pakistan, including Taliban, al-Qaeda and the Haqqani Network, and even some Daesh [ISIS] are coming from there,” said Koofi, echoing a long-standing Afghan view that Pakistan is heavily responsible for the unrest on its soil.

Trump mentioned India and Pakistan both have nuclear weapons, and asked that India “to help us more” with development in Afghanistan, but for now, it’s still unclear what shape that would take and to what extend Pakistan would feel comfortable with India’s reach into Afghanistan. This, said Koofi, is a strategy that, while necessary, “will expedite war for some time.”

Trump painted a picture of what victory would look like for the United States on Monday: “Attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan, and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.”

But what does victory, to the extent that it’s even possible, look like for Afghanistan?

“Having Afghan security forces standing on their own feet, supporting Afghan institutions, which he [Trump] didn’t mention in his strategy, to engage civilians in the democratic process so that they are a strong nation… a state with a rule of law,” said Koofi. “But [in his plan] there was no talk of civilian engagement at all.”

“These are ambitious wishes, but it’s something that Afghan people would like to see.”

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Bill Cosby has a new lawyer: The man who won Michael Jackson’s acquittal

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 10:54am

For the retrial of his sexual assault case, Bill Cosby has a new lawyer and a new date. He will now be represented by Thomas Mesereau, the attorney best known for winning Michael Jackson’s acquittal in his 2005 child molestation trial. And the retrial, which was originally scheduled for November 6, will be postponed until next spring. Montgomery County Judge Steven T. O’Neill set the tentative start date for March 15 and expects it to run until April 1.

Cosby was accused of drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand in 2005, when she was an administrator at Temple University. Though nearly 60 women have publicly accused Cosby of sexual misconduct, Constand is the first alleged victim to see her day in criminal court. The trial, which began on June 5, was expected to last two weeks but was completed in just eight days. The defense called only one witness; their case lasted all of six minutes.

After 52 hours of deliberation, the trial ended with a hung jury. Judge O’Neill declared a mistrial; district attorney Kevin Steele immediately announced that he would retry Cosby.

The reckoning of Bill Cosby: a comprehensive timeline

Cosby already went through three lawyers before his case went to trial. He fired two of them — Marty Singer and Christopher Tayback — and one, Monique Pressley, quit.

Attorney Tom Mesereau arrives for Bill Cosby's pretrial hearing in Cosby's sexual assault case at the Montgomery County Courthouse in Norristown, Pa.,Tuesday, Aug. 22, 2017. CREDIT: AP Photo/Matt Rourke

And with only three months to go before the retrial was slated to begin, Brian J. McMonagle, who represented Cosby at his trial this summer, also quit. McMonagle was reportedly not pleased with the way Cosby’s spokesman, Andrew Wyatt, “handled the trial — often speaking publicly without McMonagle or [his co-counsel] Agrusa.”

Mesereau has represented a fleet of famous clients, though, save for Jackson, those cases mostly met anticlimactic ends: He defended Mike Tyson in his 2001 rape case (but the charges were later dropped), Suge Knight in his murder case (ongoing, but Mesereau left that team in 2016), and Robert Blake in his 2004 murder case (he resigned citing “irreconcilable differences” before the trial began).

In 2010, CNN called Mesereau the go-to lawyer for “when a case spirals out of control” in a piece that chronicled his work with both celebrity clients and his pro bono work on behalf of “little-known defendants from the Deep South.” He manages a free legal clinic in South Central L.A. In his own words, Mesereau is an “unconventional, unpredictable trial lawyer” whose “accomplishments in the courtroom are extraordinary and unprecedented.”

Cosby trial ends with passionate closing statements: ‘It’s not romantic. It’s criminal.’

Another big change for the retrial will be the source of the jury pool. For the original trial, the jury was selected from Pittsburgh; Cosby’s legal team at the time argued that local jurors would be biased against Cosby due to the aggressive political campaigns of the candidates for District Attorney the previous year. (Both men used Cosby, and promises to successfully prosecute him, in their campaign ads.) The retrial jury will be selected from Montgomery County, where the trial will be held.

Cosby faces three counts of aggravated indecent assault. If convicted, he faces up to a decade in prison.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Trump’s aides urge him to keep DREAMers as he deports their parents

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 9:29am

President Donald Trump’s aides are urging him to protect undocumented immigrants brought to the country as kids, McClatchy DC reported Tuesday, in exchange for harsher policies that aim to make life difficult for immigrants.

Trump’s aides are hoping the president could offer a legal pathway to citizenship to so-called DREAMers, as he negotiates with Congress for an immigration plan that would provide border wall funding, add more detention centers, cut legal immigration, and enforce E-Verify, a tool used by employers to check for legal status, according to a half-dozen people who spoke with McClatchy DC Bureau reporter Anita Kumar.

The reporter pointed out that the group of aides who spoke to the president on cutting this deal include “former and current White House chiefs of staff, Reince Priebus and John Kelly, the president’s daughter, Ivanka Trump, and her husband, Jared Kushner, who both serve as presidential advisers.” But people in Trump’s circle who oppose any protection for DREAMers include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, senior policy advisor Stephen Miller, and White House Deputy Chief of Staff Rick Dearborn.

“He [is] getting conflicting advice inside, and that’s caused hesitation,” Rosemary Jenks, director of Numbers USA, an immigration-restrictionist policy group, told McClatchy. (NumbersUSA’s founder John Tanton once called for American culture to remain “a European-American majority.”) “Obviously [the] president doesn’t want to make a decision but he has to.”

Trump could use a proposal to protect DREAMers as it teeters closer to the September 5 deadline set by ten state officials who have threatened to sue the government if it does not end the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) initiative. That program has provided temporary deportation relief and work authorization to upwards of 800,000 people who were brought to the United States before they were 16 years old and have fulfilled certain requirements.

The plan being floated faces criticism from immigrant advocates and some Democratic lawmakers, who are opposed to saving DACA beneficiaries in exchange for immigration enforcement measures that could put their families at risk of detention.

“My brother has DACA and my parents are undocumented,” Cristina Jimenez, the executive director of the undocumented activist group United We Dream, said in an emailed statement. “I ask Members of Congress and all people to think of their own families before considering this latest ‘deal’ from Trump to use my brother’s welfare to put a hit out on my parents. Would you cut a deal which would result in your own mother being chased down and locked into a detention camp to be tormented and abused? The deal is morally wrong and must be rejected.”

It is reprehensible to treat children as bargaining chips. America’s DREAMers are not negotiable. #DefendDACA https://t.co/wErMfpWBlh

— Nancy Pelosi (@NancyPelosi) August 22, 2017

Trump's White House wants to hold DACA recipients hostage in order to force an egregious anti-immigrant agenda. https://t.co/iNsGWLz1LI

— Hispanic Caucus (@HispanicCaucus) August 22, 2017

Immoral and wrong. Dreamers are not bargaining chips. #DefendDACA. https://t.co/grd7x3oKiD

— Vanita Gupta (@vanitaguptaCR) August 22, 2017

Categories: SCCDP Allies

Lawyers start brilliant ‘Adopt-a-Nazi’ campaign to troll white supremacist rally

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 9:23am

A group of Jewish lawyers in San Francisco has discovered a clever new way to fight white supremacy: adoption.

Of course, the Jewish Bar Association isn’t actually encouraging anyone to adopt or sponsor white supremacists. Instead, the group is asking the public to donate to its “Adopt-a-Nazi (Not Really)” GoFundMe campaign, which is being used to raise funds for the Southern Poverty Law Center (SPLC), a nonprofit legal advocacy organization that monitors hate groups across the country and litigates on behalf of marginalized groups. So far, the campaign has raised more than $92,000—far beyond its original goal of $10,000.

The strategy is simple: according to the GoFundMe page, donors are encouraged to give some amount of money for each of the 300 expected attendees at an upcoming “free speech” rally put on by the right-wing Patriot Prayer group at Crissy Field on August 26. Many of the attendees will likely be white nationalists or members of similar hate groups.

According to the Adopt-a-Nazi campaign, no donation is too small.

“Two cents per attendee is a $6 donation,” organizers wrote. “A dime is $30. Why not a quarter? That’s only $75.”

Campaign organizer and JBASF boardmember Cody Harris told NBC Bay Area that he was inspired by the German town of Wunsiedel, which in 2014 organized a “Nazis against Nazis” walk meant to fundraise for an anti-white supremacist organization; there, donors pledged to give €10 for every meter neo-Nazi marchers walked on their annual pilgrimage to the former burial grounds of Hitler’s deputy führer, Rudolf Hess.

The hilarious way a German town turned neo-Nazis against Nazism

“The townspeople [in Wunsiedel] turned a Nazi march into a charity walk to combat Naziism,” Harris wrote on the campaign’s GoFundMe page. “We can do the same right here in our city.”

Speaking with NBC Bay Area, Harris added, “These extremist groups are spoiling for a fight. They are basically trolls – they want a reaction, they want violence in the streets. It serves their purposes. … We instead must channel our anguish and anger towards something positive. This campaign is an easy way to do that.”

As the growing totals show, the public has responded positively.

“The overall response has exceeded our wildest expectations,” Harris told ThinkProgress in an email, noting that the campaign had to raise its goal after the first day—and then several times after that—to make room for the donations that began pouring in. “Many donors leave comments along with their donations. Some express defiance, others make jokes, still others tell personal stories about why they’ve chosen to donate. But they all express thanks for having a non-violent, productive way to combat extremism. We’ve had a few trollish comments on our social media accounts, but that comes with the territory. The positive response has far outweighed any negativity.”

The Adopt-a-Nazi campaign isn’t the only one that’s sprung up ahead of the planned Patriot Prayer gathering. According to SFGate, one Facebook event is encouraging people to not clean up after their pets in the days leading up to the rally, in order to turn the park into “a minefield of dog poop.”

“Leave a gift for our Alt-Right friends,” the event description reads. “Take your dog to Crissy Field and let them do their business and be sure not to clean it up!”

The right-wing Patriot Prayer rally follows closely on the heels of several clashes in other cities, including a neo-Nazi/white supremacist rally in Charlottesville that left one woman dead and a similar “free speech” rally in Boston that was quickly dwarfed by counter-protesters. Although Patriot Prayer organizer Joey Gibson claims that the San Francisco gathering is not a white supremacist or white nationalist rally, lawmakers at the local, state, and national level are still concerned that things could spiral out of control.

“Patriot Prayer attracts white nationalists and other hate groups to its rallies,” wrote Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), in a letter to the Park Service. “Given this track record, there is a very real potential that Patriot Prayer will use its permit to demonstrate at Crissy Field as a free pass to incite violence.”

This article has been updated to include additional comments from JBASF board member Cody Harris.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

A picture of Afghan women in miniskirts helped convince Trump to send more troops

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 9:14am

National security adviser H.R. McMaster showed Donald Trump a 1972 picture of college students in Kabul wearing miniskirts to help persuade him that America’s longest war could finally be won.

McMaster was reportedly eager to prove to Trump that the country was not a lost cause, and that Western norms could still return, the Washington Post reported.

To convince Trump that Afghanistan was not lost cause, McMaster showed him 1972 photo of Afghan women in miniskirts. https://t.co/wRpwYoawjA pic.twitter.com/rX7S2jEJfA

— Jim Roberts (@nycjim) August 22, 2017

Prior to his election Trump described the NATO mission in Afghanistan as a “complete waste” and “not in our national interest.” He advocated withdrawing outright from the war-torn country.

But in a speech on Monday, Trump announced the United States would send more troops to Afghanistan. Although he declined to provide the number of additional troops, White House official said it would be about 4,000.

“We will fight to win,” Trump declared. “From now on, victory will have a clear definition, attacking our enemies, obliterating ISIS, crushing al-Qaeda, preventing the Taliban from taking over Afghanistan and stopping mass terror attacks against America before they emerge.

“We want them [Afghans] to succeed, but we will no longer use American military might to construct democracies in far-away lands or try to rebuild other countries in our own image. Those days are now over.”

“This has been many months in the making,” said Kellyanne Conway, the president’s counselor. “The hallmark of leadership is a deliberative process, not an impulsive reaction, and that is precisely the protocol he followed here.”

Trump also announced that U.S. commanders would be given more autonomy to fight against terrorists and insurgents in the way they saw fit, saying that “micromanagement from Washington D.C. does not win battles.” This potentially clears the way for commanders on the ground to pay less attention to the potential for civilian casualties then under previous rules of engagement.

But Trump’s blustering rhetoric, and his insistence that the United States would not engage in nation-building, seems to contrast with the argument McMaster used to win Trump over — that more troops could mean a return to more Western norms.

If Trump said he will not "dictate" to Afghans about own "complex society," why would he care about "Western norms" among a select group pic.twitter.com/KSmEbbscCw

— Ali M Latifi (@alibomaye) August 22, 2017

Women’s rights made relatively steady progression through the early 20th century in Afghanistan. Women had been eligible to vote since 1919, and gendered separation was abolished in the 1950s. However, after the U.S.-backed insurgency during the Soviet-Afghan war forced the USSR to withdraw from the country, the Taliban seized control. Women and girls were promptly banned from school, work, leaving the house unsupervised and speaking publicly. Punishments included being beaten for attempting to study, or stoned to death if found guilty of adultery.

Sixteen years after the initial NATO intervention in 2001, the Taliban are now estimated to control nearly 50 of the country’s 400 administrative areas.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

A nun called out Paul Ryan on health care last night. His response was awkward.

Tue, 08/22/2017 - 9:02am

House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) attempted to answer a nun’s question about health care during his first town hall in two years on Monday evening, insisting that his plans to repeal the Affordable Care Act and alter tax policy are in line with the Catholic faith he claims.

But like many Catholics who have challenged Ryan on policy in recent years, the nun did not appear impressed.

The exchange occurred late Monday evening, when Sister Erica Jordan, a Dominican nun from Wisconsin, stood up and asked a question that accused Ryan and his party of failing to uphold the tenets of Catholic teaching.

“I know that you’re Catholic, as am I, and it seems to me that most of the Republicans in the Congress are not willing to stand with the poor and working class as evidenced in the recent debates on health care and the anticipated tax reform,” Jordan said. “So, I’d like to ask you: how do you see yourself upholding the  church’s social teaching that has the idea that God is always on the side of the poor and dispossessed as should we be?”

Jordan’s question is a timely one, especially in Catholic circles, where the GOP effort to gut Obamacare was deeply unpopular. Catholic nuns staunchly opposed the effort, with thousands signing on to a letter in June condemning the Senate bill as “against our Catholic faith teaching.” Their sentiment was echoed by the Sisters of Mercy in another statement published a few days later, with authors arguing that “health care is a right” and the GOP bill will make the poor and vulnerable “suffer.” The Catholic Health Association, headed by Sister Carol Keehan, also rebuked the bill.

Even U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops—which has clashed with nuns over health care legislation—spoke out against the GOP-led effort, describing it as “simply unacceptable.”

This Catholic nun pushed Obamacare through Congress. Now she’s fighting to save it.

But as the crowd applauded Jordan’s question, Ryan launched into a lengthy polemic purporting that his legislative proposals are, in fact, in keeping with Catholic teaching.

“Sister, this may come as a surprise to you but I completely agree with you,” he said, as sister Jordan stared at him stone-faced. “Where we may disagree on how to achieve that goal. We exercise judgment in practices or faith. For me — for the poor that’s key to the Catholic faith. That means mobility, economic growth, equality of opportunity.”

He went on to add: “I think we need to change our approach on fighting poverty. Instead of measuring success on how much money we spend or how many programs we create or how many people on those programs, let’s measure success and poverty on outcomes.”

His response harkens back to an argument the House Speaker has made for years; namely, that his small-government policy proposals—which often including slashing program that aid lower-income Americans—will somehow help the poor. This argument was a big part of his effort to pass a budget bill in 2012, when he claimed that small government approaches mirrored the Catholic concept of “subsidiarity.”

Yet Ryan’s version of Catholic theology—which parallels a decades-long conservative effort to craft religious ideology that blasts the “underserving poor”—was immediately met with resistance from, again, nuns. Sister Simone Campbell and her lobbying group NETWORK launched a cross-country campaign called “Nuns on the Bus” that spoke out against Ryan’s budget, which she described as “immoral.” His understand of subsidiarity was also panned in Catholic publications.

Ryan did not appear to recall any of this as he spoke on Monday evening, however. Instead, he lifted up Catholic Charities as a “model” for how the government should tackle poverty — and showed a shocking lack of knowledge about American Catholicism.

“We have to fix that, by making sure we can customize these before the to help a person get to where she is to where she wants and needs to be…The model I’m talking about is the Catholic Charities model,” he said. “Cristo Rey parish has cafeterias that do an amazing job, in spite of government, doing wrap around visits for the poor to making sure they get to where they need to be. If government will help do that I think we can go a long way in fighting poverty.”

Ryan’s response is awkward for several reasons. For starters, Cristo Rey reportedly no longer exists, having merged with another parish years ago. Moreover, Catholic Charities doesn’t do its work “in spite of” government. It relies on it: Catholic Charities USA gets nearly half of its operating budget from the federal funds, as do scores of other faith-based charities. When Ryan championed president Donald Trump’s budget proposal—which slashed welfare programs—earlier this year, an anti-hunger faith group released a study estimating that every religious congregation in America would need to raise $714,000 a year for 10 years to shoulder the burden of caring for the poor.

And once again, Ryan’s claims fail to pass the nun test. Catholic Charities head Dominican Sister Donna Markham vehemently opposed the health care bill repeal effort he started earlier this year, urging senators to reject the bill by saying its passage “will have a devastating impact on the poor, marginalized and vulnerable in our country.”

Try as he might, it seems Paul Ryan still has a nun problem.

Categories: SCCDP Allies

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