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New evidence shows contact between Trump official and Republican redistricting expert over census citizenship question, contradicting earlier DOJ claims

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Tara Bahrampour reports in the Washington Post:

Newly released documents show that contrary to statements by the Trump administration, a member of the president’s transition team communicated directly about adding a citizenship question to the 2020 Census with a Republican redistricting strategist who determined the question would help Republicans and non-Hispanic whites.

The documents, released Tuesday by the House Oversight and Reform Committee, show text messages about the question between transition team member Mark Neuman and the strategist, Thomas Hofeller, in the summer of 2017, at a time when other evidence shows administration members were actively discussing how the question might be added to the survey.

A Justice Department spokesman in May flatly denied allegations of contact between Hofeller and the administration. The spokesman also had said an unpublished study by Hofeller from 2015 showing the question would benefit Republicans and whites had “played no role” in the administration’s push to add the question.

But July 2, two weeks after a request from the Oversight Committee, Neuman produced documents confirming he had communicated with Hofeller and his business partner, Dalton “Dale” Oldham, on how to craft the question, according to a memo released by the committee Tuesday.

The memo cites an email sent Aug. 30, 2017, from Neuman, who was an adviser to Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross on the citizenship question, “asking Mr. Hofeller to review language for a letter Mr. Neuman was drafting to request the addition of a citizenship question.”

The letter, addressed from the Justice Department to the director of the Census Bureau, argued that data from a citizenship question was needed to ensure “compliance with requirements of the Voting Rights Act and its application in legislative redistricting,” the memo said, adding that the language Mr. Neuman sent to Mr. Hofeller was part of that draft letter.

In the email, Neuman appeared to critique one argument against adding the question: that the Census Bureau had other ways to obtain information the government wanted on citizenship.

“We understand that the Bureau personnel may believe that ACS [American Community Survey] data on citizenship was sufficient for redistricting purposes. We wanted the Bureau to be aware that two recent Court cases have underscored that ACS data is not viable and/or sufficient for purposes of redistricting,” he wrote to Hofeller, according to the memo.

A citizenship question currently appears on the ACS, which goes to a small sample of American households each year. The decennial census, which goes to all households, has not asked a citizenship-related question since 1950.

Referring to Hofeller’s partner, Mr. Neuman wrote: “Please make certain that this language is correct. Dale doesn’t return my calls,” the memo said, adding that Hofeller replied the same day, saying, “Dale just read it, and says it is fine as written.”

Neuman later sent a draft letter that included the language approved by Hofeller and Oldham to the Justice Department, according to the memo.

The Justice Department did not respond to inquiries about the newly released documents. A Commerce Department spokesperson called the committee actions “a PR stunt primarily intended to malign senior officials in the Trump Administration,” adding that the department has cooperated “in good faith“ with the committee.

The timing and impetus of the department’s involvement became a flash point during litigation over the question. The Justice Department wrote a letter in December 2017 requesting that the Commerce Department, which oversees the Census Bureau, add it, but documents released during the lawsuits revealed Ross had actively solicited the request from the Justice Department.

The government had said it needed the citizenship question on the decennial form to better enforce the Voting Rights Act. But census experts, civil rights organizations and the bureau’s internal analysis said the question probably would depress response rates among immigrants and minorities, resulting in underrepresentation of those groups.

Data from the decennial census is used to allocate hundreds of billions of dollars in federal funding each year, and for redistricting and congressional reapportionment.

The administration backed off trying to add the question in July, after a Supreme Court ruling found its rationale for adding it to be “contrived.” But members of Congress, led by recently deceased congressman Elijah E. Cummings (D-Md.), continued to push for information related to the government’s 19-month quest to add it.

The administration did not respond to congressional subpoenas over the matter, and in July the House voted to hold Ross and Attorney General William P. Barr in criminal contempt for failing to provide documents connected to it.

The question of Hofeller’s involvement came to light in May, as the question was being litigated, when new evidence discovered on his hard drives after his death suggested the administration had worked with him to craft the question. . .

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We’ve come to this: the Department of Justice now lies to Congress and the public. The US is doomed.

Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 8:23 pm

Here’s How Corporate America Took Over America

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Kevin Drump posts at Mother Jones:

Have American businesses become more concentrated over the past 30 years? Anecdotally, it seems like the answer is yes. The Big 8 accounting firms are now the Big 4. There are only four cell phone companies, soon to be three. Four airlines control 80 percent of the American market. The car industry consolidated into the Big Three decades ago. Four companies control two-thirds of the cloud computing market.

But in spite of this anecdotal feeling, it’s an undecided question among economists about whether American businesses are really a lot more concentrated than they used to be. Anyone can pick a few examples of industries that have consolidated, but what happens when you look rigorously at the business community overall?

We’re not going to solve this question today, though in general I’ve been more persuaded by the researchers who say that consolidation has, in fact, happened, and the result has been increasingly monopolistic behavior among US corporations.

One of those researchers is French transplant Thomas Philippon, who is introduced to us today in the New York Times by David Leonhardt. Philippon’s research has convinced him that we have indeed gone through an era of considerable consolidation, and it’s mainly due to weak enforcement of antitrust laws. In Europe, which has much stronger antitrust enforcement than we do, Philippon reports that the top firms have increased their market share far less than American firms. As a result, prices charged to consumers have also increased far less than in America. Here is Philippon’s conclusion about how this has affected American workers:

The consolidation of corporate America has become severe enough to have macroeconomic effects. Profits have surged, and wages have stagnated. Investment in new factories and products has also stagnated, because many companies don’t need to innovate to keep profits high. Philippon estimates that the new era of oligopoly costs the typical American household more than $5,000 a year.

I find that $5,000 number quite easy to believe. In fact, it seems a little low to me. But how did it happen? Even with weak antitrust enforcement (thanks Robert Bork!), how do companies get away with raising prices and cutting pay? They still have some competition, after all. The answer to that, I think, is the long Republican war against unions:

The destruction of the American working class is a two-part story. First, it was necessary to get rid of unions. As long as they were around, they’d demand a fair share of profits for workers no matter what the competition landscape looked like. That war lasted from about 1947 to 1981. When Ronald Reagan broke the air-traffic controllers union it was the final straw. Unions had already been decimated both by Republican laws and by Republican-led-efforts to train companies in how to resist unionization. Democrats never had the will to fight back hard enough, and after Reagan they never had the power. Republicans won their war against unions decisively.

It was only then, with unions effectively out of the way, that corporations could start consolidating and taking an ever bigger share of profits for top executives and shareholders, leaving workers with stagnating wages and grinding working conditions. No union, for example, would accept the practice of “clopening,” where an employee is required to close up a store at night and then turn right around and open in the morning. Nor would they accept the ever-more-common practice of expecting workers to be on call at all times, never knowing for sure what their work schedule will be. As much as low pay, these are the kinds of things that make work such a burden for the working class these days.

So this is the story. Spend three or four decades wiping out the power of labor unions, and then you can spend the next three or four decades turning the United States into a plutocracy with no one to effectively fight you about it.

And you have to give Republicans credit: Not only did they cobble together this plan and execute it brilliantly, they’ve managed even . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

12 November 2019 at 11:06 am

“I Will Never Let Boeing Forget Her”

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Alec MacGillis reports in ProPublica:

Samya Stumo liked to ride pigs. This was on her family’s farm, in Sheffield, Massachusetts. Caring for the pigs was one of her chores, so she would hop on an old, dilapidated Army jeep and drive a water tank to the sty, where she would fill the troughs and take a ride. She was 9 years old.

Samya had always been precocious. She started playing cello when she was 3, the year before her younger brother, Nels, became ill with cancer. When her mother, Nadia Milleron, returned from the hospital one day, Samya told her that she had learned to read.

Nels died, at the age of 2, shortly after Nadia had another son. The loss played a role in Samya’s eventual choice of studies: public health. So did the strain of activism in her family. Her mother’s uncle is Ralph Nader, the transportation-safety crusader turned progressive advocate and third-party presidential candidate. Her father, Michael Stumo, who grew up on a farm in Iowa, made frequent trips to Washington to lobby for small manufacturers and family farmers.

For Samya and her two surviving brothers, the family ethic was clear: seek justice for the disadvantaged, even if it means challenging authority. Samya could carry this to comic extremes. On a camping trip, she mounted a tree stump and inveighed against the family’s patriarchal dynamics, while everyone else, suppressing laughter, hurried to set up before dark.

In 2015, Samya graduated from the University of Massachusetts and won a scholarship to pursue a master’s degree in global public health at the University of Copenhagen. Afterward, when she was 24, she got a job with ThinkWell, a nonprofit based in Washington, D.C., which works to expand health coverage in developing nations. ThinkWell sent her to East Africa to open offices there. The night before she left, earlier this year, she had dinner with Ralph Nader and his sister Claire.

During a stopover in Addis Ababa, the capital of Ethiopia, Samya texted her family to say that she would arrive in Nairobi in a few hours. Then she boarded Ethiopian Airlines Flight 302. She sat in Row 16, beside a Somali-American trucker from Minnesota. There were 149 passengers, from 35 countries, and eight crew members.

The plane, a Boeing 737 MAX 8, took off at 8:38 a.m. on March 10. A minute and a half later, it began to pitch downward. A sensor on the nose had malfunctioned, triggering an automated control system. The cockpit filled with a confusing array of audio and visual warnings. The pilots tried to counter the downward movement, but the automated system overrode them. Six minutes after takeoff, the plane dived into the earth at 575 miles per hour, carving out a crater 32 feet deep and 131 feet long, and killing everyone on board.

That day, Stumo, Milleron and their younger son, Torleif, flew to Addis Ababa. The crater had been cordoned off, but Milleron and Tor rushed past the barrier. “It was mostly dirt,” Stumo said later. “Where’s the plane? Where’s the pieces? This plane had just buried itself right straight into the ground vertically and just disintegrated.”

This was the second crash of a 737 MAX in five months, after a Lion Air jet plunged into the Java Sea in late October 2018. Investigators quickly focused on the automated system that had pushed down both jets, a feature new to this model of the 737. But a counternarrative gained force, too: that the crashes were, above all, the fault of insufficiently trained foreign pilots. “Procedures were not completely followed,” Boeing’s CEO, Dennis Mui­lenburg, said at a contentious news conference in April.

It has been more than a decade since a commercial airline crash in the United States resulted in fatalities, but airplane disasters are an unwelcome reminder of the inherent risk of flying. Some 2.7 million people fly on U.S. airlines every day; we’d rather not think about the brazenness of launching ourselves thousands of miles in a fragile tube, 30,000 feet above the earth. The appeal of blaming foreign pilots is easy to see. For the past eight months, however, the Stumo family has dedicated itself to demonstrating a scarier reality: that Boeing, the pride of American manufacturing, prioritized financial gain over safety, with the federal government as a collaborator.

Since the crash, the family members have made more than a dozen trips to Washington — a routine they expect to continue: They recently found an apartment in town. They have met separately with two dozen members of Congress, and with the heads of the Federal Aviation Administration and the National Transportation Safety Board, and testified before a House committee. They were the first American family to sue Boeing, accusing the company of gross negligence and recklessness. They have sought out whistle-blowers and filed Freedom of Information requests. They got a meeting for themselves and 11 other victims’ families with Elaine Chao, the secretary of transportation. Afterward, they held a large vigil outside the department’s headquarters. When the vigil broke up, I talked with Gregory Travis, a software engineer and pilot who has written extensively about the crashes. “Every past crash that I can think of was an accident, in that there was something that wasn’t really reasonably foreseeable,” Travis told me. “This was entirely different, and I don’t think anyone understands that. This was a collision of deregulation and Wall Street, and the tragic thing is that it was tragic. It was inevitable.”


I met the Stumos in 1996, in Winsted, a former mill town of 8,000 people in northwest Connecticut. After emigrating from Lebanon in the 1920s, Milleron’s grandfather opened a restaurant there. Her grandmother, Ralph Nader’s mother, lived in the town until her death, in 2006, at 99. Nader still visits from Washington, and his family funds two activists to monitor local affairs and bend them in a progressive direction.

Milleron and Stumo met in law school, at the University of Iowa, and afterward settled in Winsted, moving into a house on Hillside Avenue and starting a family. First Adnaan, then Samya, then Nels. They began attending an Orthodox Christian church in a nearby town. Nadia worked part time, as a court-appointed lawyer. Michael commuted 25 miles to a Hartford law firm, and joined the Winsted school board.

I came to Winsted for my first job, at the Winsted Journal, a weekly paper. At the first school board meeting I covered, Michael arrived late from Hartford. He was wearing a suit that hung loosely on his lanky 6-foot-1-inch frame. He carried a briefcase. He was only 29, but he looked every bit the engaged citizen and responsible father.

Michael and I met a few times at a gloomy bar on Main Street, where he offered a wry perspective on Winsted politics and the plight of small-town America. He invited me over for breakfast. I remember warm sunlight, pancakes, small kids and being impressed by Nadia, a tall woman with long, dark hair and an intently appraising gaze.

I was soon gone from Winsted, to a daily paper near Hartford. In 1999, after the birth of Tor and the death of Nels, the Stumo family bought a ramshackle 18th-century house on a farm, over the Massachusetts line. It had been owned by sheep farmers who published a magazine called The Shepherd; old issues were strewn about the house, and manure was piled 4 feet high in the barn. Michael worked for months cleaning the house and clearing out the barn with a tractor.

A year later, . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

11 November 2019 at 10:40 am

Trump rails against impeachment: ‘They shouldn’t be having public hearings’

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And yet Republicans demanded transparency and in fact stormed a hearing room (in which Republicans were represented) to demand transparency. Odd. Brett Samuels reports for The Hill:

President Trump on Friday said there should be no public hearings in the impeachment inquiry as he railed against the process unfolding in the House.

“They shouldn’t be having public hearings. This is a hoax,” Trump said as he left the White House for events in Georgia.

The comments mark a sharp break from Trump’s allies, who have spent recent weeks complaining about the lack of transparency in the ongoing impeachment inquiry. The first public hearings in the process are set to take place next week.

House Democrats are investigating allegations that Trump abused his office by urging foreign governments to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden, his domestic political rival, as well as Biden’s son.

The committees leading the impeachment inquiry this week released transcripts of their closed-door hearings with several current and former officials.

Each of the testimonies indicated that there was widespread concern about the role of Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, in the administration’s Ukraine policy and described a campaign by Giuliani to oust a U.S. ambassador.

A few witnesses testified that a White House meeting with the Ukrainian president was contingent on his publicly announcing investigations that Trump wanted.

Trump on Friday blasted the impeachment proceedings in his most extensive public comments since the first transcripts were released on Monday. He attacked Democratic lawmakers leading the impeachment process and suggested an attorney for the whistleblower who raised concerns about his call with the Ukrainian president should be sued “and maybe for treason.”

Trump downplayed the potentially damaging effects of the transcripts that have been released thus far, claiming he was unfamiliar with many of the witnesses and that none of them had first-hand information.

“I’m not concerned about anything,” Trump said. “The testimony has all been fine. I mean for the most part, I’ve never even heard of these people. There are some very fine people. You have some Never Trumpers. It seems that nobody has any first-hand knowledge.”

The president asserted that the only thing that counts is the partial transcript from his July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky. While Trump has insisted that document shows the call was “perfect,” it depicts the president urging his Ukrainian counterpart to “look into” the Bidens after Zelensky brought up the need for military assistance.

Trump added  . . .

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Emphasis added.

Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2019 at 1:59 pm

Hillary Clinton’s Zombie Impeachment Memo That Could Help Fell Trump

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Darren Samuelsohn reports in Politico:

document Hillary Clinton helped write nearly a half century ago has returned from the dead to threaten the man she couldn’t vanquish in 2016.

The bizarre, only-in-D.C. twist centers on a congressional report penned by a bipartisan team of young attorneys that included Hillary before she was a Clinton and written in the throes of Watergate. Then, unlike now, not a single lawmaker had been alive the last time Congress impeached a president. They had little understanding of how to try and remove Richard Nixon from the White House. So they tapped Clinton and a team of ambitious staffers to dive into the history of impeachment, stretching back to the 14th century in England: How has impeachment been used? What were the justifications? Can we apply it to Nixon?

The resulting document became a centerpiece of the congressional push to drive the Republican president from office. But then Nixon resigned. The memo was buried.

That was just the report’s first life.

In an ironic twist, the document was resurrected in the late 1990s. Republicans gleefully used it to bolster their unsuccessful bid to oust Clinton’s now-husband, President Bill Clinton. Then it faded from public conscience — again.

Until now, that is. The 45-year-old report has become a handbook House Democratic lawmakers and aides say they are using to help determine whether they have the goods to mount a full-scale impeachment effort against President Donald Trump, the same man who three years ago upended Hillary Clinton’s bid for a return trip to the White House.

Essentially, Clinton, albeit indirectly, might get one last shot at accomplishing what she couldn’t in 2016 — defeating Trump.

“I can only say that the impeachment Gods have a great sense of humor,” Alan Baron, an expert on the topic who has staffed four congressional impeachments against federal judges, said of the recurring role Hillary Clinton keeps playing in this story.

It started in early 1974.

The walls were closing in on a beleaguered President Nixon. His aides were going down one by one. He had tried — and failed — to halt the investigations into his behavior by cleaning house during the infamous “Saturday Night Massacre.”

On Capitol Hill, Hillary Rodham, a 26-year-old law school graduate, was hired by the House Judiciary Committee to work on a bipartisan staff effort to help determine whether to impeach Nixon. She joined a team of aspiring lawyers that also included Bill Weld, who would go on to his own illustrious career as a top Justice Department prosecutor, Massachusetts governor and most recently as a long-shot 2020 GOP primary challenger against Trump.

Over a couple of months just before the climactic end of the Watergate scandal, the team dug deep into constitutional and legal arcana scouring documents that dated to the country’s founding, as well as century-old newspaper clippings in the Library of Congress.

The resulting title of the report, “Constitutional Grounds for Presidential Impeachment,” may elicit yawns. But what they produced became a seminal 64-page road map with appendices that looks into what counts as an impeachable offense.

At the time, lawmakers needed the guidance. They had not had to think seriously about these issues for more than 100 years, when Congress rebelled against President Andrew Johnson over his handling of reconstruction after the Civil War.

The staffers’ research broke ground by making an accessible argument that a president doesn’t have to commit a straight-up crime for Congress to consider the historic step of impeachment.

“The framers did not write a fixed standard. Instead they adopted from English history a standard sufficiently general and flexible to meet future circumstances and events, the nature and character of which they could not foresee,” the House staffers, including the future first lady, wrote about the ill-defined constitutional working of “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

Their exhaustive report also included a whirlwind history lesson about how America’s founders had been well-versed in impeachment when they included the language in several clauses of the Constitution — the British Parliament had used the impeachment process as a check on royalty for more than 400 years, dating to the 14th century.

And the process hadn’t just been used to remove alleged criminals from office. In the United States, 83 articles of impeachment had been voted out of the House up to that point against a dozen federal judges, one senator and Andrew Johnson, and fewer than a third actually involved specific criminal acts. Far more common, they wrote, was that the House was dealing with allegations that someone had violated their duties, oath of office or seriously undermined public confidence in their ability to perform their official functions.

“Because impeachment of a President is a grave step for the nation, it is to be predicated only upon conduct seriously incompatible with either the constitutional form and principles of our government or the proper performance of constitutional duties of the presidential office,” the House staffers concluded.

While the document Hillary Rodham and her colleagues produced got marked as a staff report, the Democrat-led House Judiciary Committee still used it to justify their historic votes against Nixon. In fact, two of the three articles of impeachment adopted by the powerful panel — dealing with the Republican president’s abuse of power and contempt of Congress — didn’t cover areas that fall neatly into the category of federal crimes. A final staff report submitted to the House just days after Nixon made history as the first president to resign from office quoted from the staff’s earlier analysis.

More than two decades later, though, Clinton may have wished she had never helped write the document.

It was 1997, eight months before the Monica Lewinsky scandal broke. President Bill Clinton was facing Republican outrage over everything from allegations of campaign finance irregularities to Whitewater, the probe into the Clinton’s Arkansas real estate investments. To legitimize their anger, some Republicans turned to a document that likely hadn’t been discussed for a generation — the 1974 impeachment report Hillary Clinton had worked on.

Georgia GOP Rep. Bob Barr resurfaced the report in a sarcasm-laced op-ed in the Wall Street Journal that opened with the line “Dear Mrs. Clinton.”

The conservative congressman went on to thank the first lady for giving lawmakers a “road map” to consider her husband’s impeachment with a report that “appears objective, fair, well researched and consistent with other materials reflecting and commenting on impeachment.”

“And it is every bit as relevant today as it was 23 years ago,” he added.

In time, both parties would cite from the Judiciary Committee’s 1974 staff report as they fought over whether the conduct associated with President Clinton’s sexual relationship with Lewinsky merited impeachment.

Calling the Watergate document “historic,” then-Virginia GOP Rep. Bob Goodlatte argued in the fall of 1998 that Clinton’s offenses, like those of Nixon, had extended beyond questions of obstruction of justice to whether the president betrayed the public trust. Then-Rep. Charles Canady, a Florida Republican chairing a House subcommittee on the Constitution, referred repeatedly to the Watergate panel’s work during the House debate and later in Bill Clinton’s Senate trial, which ultimately concluded with his acquittal.

Democrats, meanwhile, had a different read on the group’s findings.

California Rep. Zoe Lofgren, who had worked for a member of the Judiciary Committee during Watergate, shared copies of the more than 20-year-old report with colleagues from both parties and posted a link to it online — she had an offer from law school students to type it out so it could be searchable by word but internal ethics rules prevented that move. Her primary argument was that Clinton’s lies about his relationship with Lewinsky, while immoral, didn’t match the historical precedents outlined as qualifying for impeachment in the 1974 staff analysis.

“The interesting thing is they cited it for purposes it didn’t support. I wonder whether they read it or whether they had index cards prepared by their staff,” Lofgren said in a recent interview when asked about the Republicans who were using the report to justify removing Clinton from office.

Ted Kalo, a former top Democratic aide on the Judiciary panel, said there was widespread bipartisan agreement that the Watergate staff report mattered — even amid the differing interpretations.

“Great books have been written and eloquent testimony was given in the 1998 hearing on the topic, but even in 1998, the 1974 staff report was considered to be state of the art,” he said.

“It’s the most concise, easily understood document on the history of the impeachment clause and the intent of the framers, including the issue of what constitutes an impeachable offense that I’ve come across. And it faithfully and logically describes what was intended to be the appropriate scope of the House’s impeachment power,” he added.

Now it’s 2019. President Donald Trump is an unindicted criminal co-conspirator who has fended off myriad congressional probes and watched his aides go to prison over an investigation into the Trump campaign. Most Democrats — not to mention their fervent progressive base — are clamoring for impeachment. And yet again, the 1974 impeachment report is getting a rereading on Capitol Hill.

Just as the Watergate staff suggested, the . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

9 November 2019 at 1:54 pm

Is Facebook Mark Zuckerberg’s Revenge for the Iraq War?

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Peter Canellos offers an interesting perspective in Politico, and I can agree that when the George W. Bush administration was pushing the US to invade Iraq — a totally discretionary move, since Iraq posed no danger whatsoever to the US (unlike, say, Saudi Arabia, the home of 19 of the 9/11 terrorists) — the mainstream media at that time seemed to go right along, downplaying any reports that undermined the push to war. (Not all of the mainstream media: the Atlantic published several lengthy articles that made a cogent argument against the attack and invasion, including a piece by James Fallows titled, as I recall, “Iraq: The 51st State.”)

Canellos writes:

Mark Zuckerberg’s recent media blitz included a lot of scripted lines that belie his intentions—such as his assertion during a cozy chat with News Corp CEO Robert Thomson that journalism is crucial for democracy—and one that rings strikingly, resoundingly true: His claim at an October 17 speech at Georgetown University that his views on free expression were shaped by his collegiate frustrations over the failure of the mainstream media to expose the weaknesses of the Bush administration’s case for war in Iraq.

The comment passed with relatively little notice, except among skeptics who saw it as a self-serving, ex-post-facto justification for Facebook’s reluctance to impose constraints on its users’ political assertions. But it was a rare personal admission from one of the least-known and most privacy-obsessed of moguls, and offered an organic, true-to-his-experiences explanation for his decisions at Facebook, many of which have proved to be ruinous for the mainstream media. It turns out it wasn’t just the profit motive that drove Facebook to become the prime source of information around the world; Zuckerberg wished to supplant the mainstream media out of something closer to real animus.

“When I was in college, our country had just gone to war in Iraq,” he explained. “The mood on campus was disbelief. It felt like we were acting without hearing a lot of important perspectives. The toll on our soldiers, families and our national psyche was severe, and most of us felt powerless to stop it. I remember feeling that if more people had a voice to share their experiences, maybe things would have gone differently. Those early years shaped my belief that giving everyone a voice empowers the powerless and pushes society to be better over time.”

This is the closest Zuckerberg has ever come to acknowledging a formative event, an aha moment, that shapes his perceptions of the relative merits of the mainstream media and social media. And it feels authentic to the moment; by late 2003, when the 19-year-old computer whiz was pondering the world from a Cambridge dorm room, it had started to dawn on the country that many of the justifications for the Iraq war were faulty—especially the reports of weapons of mass destruction. Young people rightly extended their anger from the Bush administration to the mainstream media that had failed to alert the country to the flimsiness of the government’s case.

If there was any doubt that those resentments linger, Zuckerberg laced his speech with encomiums to the fresh, clean air of direct democracy and backhanded swipes at the mildewed professional media. “People having the power to express themselves at scale is a new kind of force in the world—a Fifth Estate alongside the other power structures of society,” he declared. “People no longer have to rely on traditional gatekeepers in politics or media to make their voices heard, and that has important consequences.”

He defended political ads on Facebook as a voice for the voiceless, saying he considered banning them but reversed himself because “political ads are an important part of the voice—especially for local candidates, up-and-coming challengers, and advocacy groups that may not get much media attention otherwise. Banning political ads favors incumbents and whoever the media covers.”

The specter of a 35-year-old mogul making off-the-cuff decisions about how much speech (or “voice”) is healthy for society engenders a queasy feeling. It suggests that Elizabeth Warren and others may be right that too much monopolistic power exists on one platform— especially one that coyly presents itself as an innocent conduit for information while blithely acknowledging its governing power over constitutional liberties. But pending future action, such power is indeed vested in the character and values of Mark Zuckerberg.

Zuckerberg’s criticism of mainstream media might be honestly earned. Like Vietnam before it, the debate over the Iraq war dominates the political attitudes of a big slice of the generation that grew up around it. But it also represents only one window on the much larger, and more complicated, question of how best to provide a check and balance to the power of government, and to properly inform the populace. Zuckerberg may have come to his views sincerely, through his own impressions. Like other youthful conversions, they may be very hard to shake. But they aren’t remotely the last word on the question.

For while Zuckerberg may be open about his intentions, he can seem almost willfully blind to their consequences. In his speech, he tries to capture the long arc of American history, veering from the civil rights movement to the repression of socialists during World War I to the era of #MeToo and #BlackLivesMatter. He quotes Frederick Douglass and Martin Luther King Jr. But he never mentions the words “conspiracy theory” or “Donald Trump.”

That left a ghost in the lecture hall at Georgetown, shadowing all of Zuckerberg’s pronouncements and justifications: the abject failure of his chosen mode of communication in the 2016 election, a lapse that threatens to recur if not corrected and that carries more enduring consequences for America than the sins of the mainstream media in the early 2000s.

***

Back when a handful of major news outlets held outsized influence over the national political dialogue, it was common to rail against these unelected gatekeepers. By habitually returning to the mean, insisting on reporting whose candidacy seemed most viable and whose views comported with Main Street assumptions, those media arbiters perpetuated a bland centrism, or so the theory went. They chopped the ends off of the political spectrum, left and right. People who challenged the system had to struggle to be taken seriously.

This critique found a persuasive advocate in the late Ross Perot, who happened to be both a fan of conspiracy theories (particularly regarding POWs) and the CEO of a data firm. Almost three decades ago, when the only web on anyone’s mind was Charlotte’s, Perot envisioned a running national plebiscite, in which average citizens voted like senators. They would simply plug their choices into their home computers, thereby diminishing the importance of Congress and the media’s control of the national debate surrounding its actions.

Perot’s vision of a daily Brexit has yet to come to pass, but his desire to . . .

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Written by LeisureGuy

8 November 2019 at 6:15 pm

Trump campaign contest to win a meal with Trump was a fraud

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The contest was purely a fraud — another Trump scam. Popular Information reports:

A heavily-promoted contest to win breakfast with President Trump in New York City on September 26 was a fraud. The purported winner of the contest, Joanna Kamis, did not have breakfast with Trump. Instead, she was invited to a breakfast at a New York City restaurant that Trump did not attend. Kamis was later permitted to take a photo with Trump.

The promise of breakfast with Trump was used in hundreds of Facebook ads to entice supporters to donate money. The ads were clear that donors would be entered into a contest to share a meal with Trump. “This is your LAST CHANCE to meet me this quarter, and I really want to discuss our Campaign Strategy for the rest of the year with you over breakfast,” Trump said in a Facebook ad in September.

The contest was also promoted extensively over email. A September 20 email to Trump’s list, which reportedly includes at least 20 million people, was sent with the subject line “Breakfast for two.” The email contains a copy of a message Trump allegedly sent to his campaign: “Can you send me an updated list of Patriots who have entered to have breakfast with me in New York City first thing tomorrow morning? Are my top supporters on the list? I really want to get their opinion on my 2020 Campaign Strategy over breakfast.”

The Trump campaign sent at least four other email messages about the breakfast in September with subject lines like “The president really wants to have breakfast with you.”

The revelation of the fraudulent contest comes two days after Popular Information released the results of an investigation of 15 contests the Trump campaign has held to win meals with Trump. While other campaigns enthusiastically promote photos of candidates dining with low-dollar donors, Popular Information could not find evidence that anyone actually won a meal with Trump.

The Trump campaign did not respond to requests for information about contest winners from Popular Information or a reporter from the Washington Post. But when Vanity Fair picked up the story on Monday, Trump communications director Tim Murtaugh tweeted that “people win the contests each time.” Murtaugh, however, did not provide any proof to substantiate his claim.

The controversy continued to gain steam. Richard Painter, a former associate counsel in the Bush White House, told Newsweek that the failure to deliver on the promised meals with Trump could be criminal. “You’re raising campaign cash, you’re lying to people. If you obtain money from people through false pretenses that’s a violation of federal mail fraud and wire fraud statutes,” Painter said.

Late Wednesday afternoon, . . .

Read the whole thing. Screen grabs at the link.

This is criminal fraud. Later in the article:

Under numerous state laws, the Trump campaign is required to provide the winner of each contest upon request. That’s why the Trump campaign’s official rules of each contest state it will do so if you send a self-addressed stamped envelope.

REQUESTING RULES, NAME OF WINNER, OR DESCRIPTION OF PRIZE: To receive a written copy of the Promotion rules, the name of the Promotion winner, or a description of the Prize, please send your request and a self-addressed and stamped return envelope to Trump Make America Great Again Committee, 138 Conant Street, 2nd Floor, Beverly, MA 01915.

(Some contests list a different address.)

But a New York Times reporter, Katie Rogers, revealed on Tuesday that she had sent “several letters” via this process but did not receive a response. The Trump campaign’s failure to respond likely violates state law. This, for example, is Texas’ contest law:

Written by LeisureGuy

7 November 2019 at 10:59 am

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