Ex-Trump adviser says phone may have been tapped, without offering proof

15 days ago

Carter Page writes to congressional examiners to describe fear, which he suggests would support Donald Trumps claim Trump Tower was wiretapped

A former foreign policy consultant to Donald Trump has written to congressional examiners claiming, without evidence, that his mobile phone may have been tapped last year.

Carter Page, a businessman, suggests this would support the view that the Trump campaign headquarters at Trump Tower in New York was under surveillance, since he works nearby and was a frequent visitor there.

The president has asserted in a series of tweets that Trump Tower was wiretapped by Barack Obama just before the election but did not explain his basis for the allegation, eventually calling for the House and Senate intelligence committees to investigate.

Page, like Trump, has challenged US policy towards Russia and called for warmer relations between the two countries. He visited Moscow last July and December and has not denied gratifying the Russian ambassador to the US during last Julys Republican convention, where the Trump campaign successfully lobbied to fell anti-Russia language from the party platform.

In a letter addressed to Richard Burr and Mark Warner, chairman and vice-chairman of the Senate intelligence committee, Page notes media reports that secret court orders were issued last October to allow the FBI to conduct surveillance of US persons in an investigation of possible contacts between Russian banks and the Trump Organization.

Having spoken in favor of some of Mr Trumps policies on other Fox News Group programs during the 2016 campaign as a campaign surrogate and given the peaceful relationship I have had with Russian citizens since my years in the US Navy, it may be understandable why I would be an related political target if such sick activities had indeed been committed as alleged in the previously cited media reports, he writes.

For your datum, I have frequently dined in Trump Grill, had lunch in Trump Caf, had coffee sessions in the Starbucks at Trump Tower, attended events and spend many hours in campaign headquarters on the fifth floor last year. As a sister skyscraper in Manhattan, my office at the IBM Building( 590 Madison Avenue) is literally connected to the Trump Tower building by an atrium.

Page continues: So if prior media reports may be believed that surveillance was indeed undertaken against me and other Trump advocates, it should be essentially deemed as a proved fact that the American people concerns that Trump Tower was under surveillance last year is entirely correct.

He says he keeps his cellphone on at all times except when flying, partly because of a a chronic medical condition that requires permanent access to a particular app.

In what is presumably a reference to the recent publication of documents by WikiLeaks demonstrating the CIA maintains the technical capability to hack customer devices, Page adds: All of this is particularly relevant following recent accusations surrounding surveillance techniques.

The Senate committee will examine Russias interference in the election, which intelligence agencies concluded was carried out to hurt Hillary Clintons campaign, and potential links between Russia and Trumps associates. The panel has asked about a dozen individuals and organisations, including the White House, to conserve relevant materials.

The FBI is also carrying out its own separate investigation. Trump has repeatedly denied any knowledge of improper contacts and the White House has complained about a fake narrative being recycled.

Page, an petroleum and energy industry consultant who has spent significant time in Russia, told the Guardian he would be more than happy to testify to the Senate committee. He admitted that he had no proof that his phone was put under surveillance but denied he was attempting to put up a smokescreen, turning his flame instead on the Clinton campaign.

My phone appears clean to me, he wrote in an email. More to the point and if they were indeed doing a J. Edgar Hoover-style political attack based on my faiths , nothing Ive ever written or said on it could be maybe construed as breaking any U.S. Law … as per the false proof and concocted allegations of the Lying Crooked Hillary campaign.

Over the past year the Trump campaign and administration have issued conflicting statements over its relationship with Page.

Adam Jentleson, senior strategic adviser at the Center for American Progress Action Fund, has argued , referring to one of Pages trips to Moscow , the change to the RNC platform and the first batch of DNC emails from WikiLeaks : Two weeks in July 2016 prove why Page could be such an important piece of the puzzle.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Bikers for Trump: ‘He’ll get my election because he’s off his goddamn rocker’

16 days ago

Ahead of the New Hampshire primary, Adam Gabbatt went to the Chop Shop Pub in Seabrook and found out that the locals dont mince words when asked why theyre rooting for The Donald

Theres a guy here whos not like us.

It is Super Bowl night at the Chop Shop Pub, a biker bar in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Bill The Boss Niland is addressing the crowd over a microphone. They call him the Boss because he is the boss of the bar.

He talks funny, Bill continues.

The clientele look at each other, wondering who this interloper could be. Im standing near the front. Im curious too. I look over my shoulder.

His names Adam, Bills says. He is talking about me. He calls up here and says: Do we have any bikers here?

This is true, I did.

Well, do we?

There are cheers and calls of: Yes!

The Boss drawn attention to me. Hes with the Guardian, he says. He has a thick New England accent and it definitely sounds like Gahhhhhdian.

I wave. There are a couple of cheers.

Im at the Chop Shop to mingle with some bikers ahead of Tuesdays primary. New Hampshire has the second most motorcycles per capita of all 50 nations, so I would be remiss not to expend some time with the biker demographic. The bar is a one-story house with a small fish pond in the entryway region. There are nine gnomes all over the pond and several goldfish in the pond. There is also a skull in it.

Outside

Bill Niland outside the Chop Shop Pub in Seabrook, New Hampshire. Photo: Kim Hebert for the Guardian

Introduction over, Bill puts the microphone down. The TV volume is turned up for the Super Bowl. A human with a long greys ponytail leans over.

Any politician who thinks weve got to be disarmed needs to be strung up and killed. Write that.

The humen name is Bobby King. Bobby has an interesting voting history. He usually votes for himself, as a write-in nominee. He is yet to win an election. There was a three-year period where someone else had his election, however.

And I voted for my daughter from when she was 10 to 13.

Bobby, 49, is at the bar with his girlfriend, Cherie. They have been dating for five years, although Bobby says it has been on and off. Cherie is noted in the biking community for her ability to fall asleep on the back of Bobbys motorcycle. It is a large motorcycle, an Ultra Classic.

Its the biggest Harley. Its like a fucking Winnebago. I think its got three bedrooms, two bathrooms, that kind of thing.

This election there is one candidate, Bobby says, who might convince him to extend his referendum beyond his immediate household. That candidate is Donald Trump.

Trump is the only one whos going to have my vote because hes off his goddamn rocker, Bobby says. Hes right, build a goddamn wall. Hes got the right ideas.

A big sandwich arrives and Bobby starts feeing it. I go to buy another drink because bottles of beer are$ 1 each before 6.30 pm and it is currently 6.29 pm. Lady Gaga has just finished singing The Star-Spangled Banner and video games is about to start. Everyone stood up for “the member states national” anthem, facing a US flag on the wall. There is another US flag on the ceiling, and US flag bunting draped along the bar.

Hank

Hank( far left ), Bill( centre left) and friends at the Chop Shop Pub. Photo: Kim Hebert for the Guardian
Things got a little hazy, later on.

I get chatting to a woman wearing a leopard-print scarf and grey leather boots. I ask her what her name is.

Its Cooky, she says. With a Y, because Im not a food.

Cooky, 65, explains her political faith. She likes Trump. She likes Trump because he will create jobs and safeguard our borders, hes gonna have good taxation scheme and hes self funding so nobody can buy him.

The other thing I believe Donald Trump would be good for is the veterans and Ive read up on him and he is very generous and has helped a lot of people.

But he doesnt boasting that about himself, Cooky adds, of a man who has spent the past week boasting about how he has helped veterans.

Cookys husband Paul likes Trump too. Everyone likes Trump here.

He has a big heart and at his age he realizes that were going in the wrong direction, Paul says. Paul is wearing a New England Patriots sweater. He depicts me a picture of his motorcycle, a Harley Electra Glide. Its a big motorcycle.

You press a button and the windshield goes up and down, Cooky says. The Electra Glide also comes equipped with a heated seat and heated handlebar grips. The pair like to blast music out of the Electra Glides speaker system as they ride. They like country music, but also the Cure and Depeche Mode.

We start talking about the Cure but my introduction from the Boss has built me quite popular, and a man called Rick Sargent is hovering. He is another Trump supporter, although he is concerned what might happen should the businessman become president.

If Trump gets in office I candidly think hell be assassinated, Rick says. He doesnt offer a great deal of proof for his theory but he certainly says it with conviction.

Political insiders are frightened shitless of someone like him get in there, Rick says, gravely. And accurately. He says he will vote for Trump in the primary, to send a message that something needs to change.

Its getting towards the end of the second quarter by this time and people have been buying me drinkings for some time. Its getting lively in the Chop Shop.

The Boss comes over and puts a plastic Viking helmet on my head. I have my picture taken with a former marine called Hank , noted for his bushy brown beard. A human called Timothy invites me to come back in the summer for a bar crawl. I construct three new Facebook friends.

I take the Viking hat off but am told only Bill can decide when someone can stop wearing the Viking hat. Theres a shop in the corner of the bar selling Chop Shop merchandise. A woman helps me try on a skull ring, which is far too big for what she describes as my little hands.

Im sitting on a stool, still wearing the Viking helmet, trying to describe the bars interior in handwriting that I will be able to read the next day when a man called Bubba simply Bubba comes over.

Its a really nice place, he says of the Chop Shop. Its like a big family.

Bubba is a Trump supporter: Hes bringing a point of view that isnt common in politics.

Also appealing is the concept that Trump is a businessman, hes not a career politician. Everyone likes that. Bubba says some other things too, but the generosity of the Chop Shop household is beginning to take its toll, and when I look back at my notes it looks like Ive been drawing pictures of a rough ocean.

I go looking for Bill and find him in a back office wearing a top hat. He offers no explain for the top hat. He says he is known for wearing it and I am about to ask why when my phone rings. Its a cab driver I called 20 minutes ago. Hes outside and hes angry that I am nowhere to be seen.

Bill bodyguards me out of the bar and I get in the taxi. Its only then I realise a) I never even asked Bill who he is going to vote for, and b) I didnt say goodbye to any of my new, Trump-supporting biker friends.

Oh, and c) at some phase I managed to shed the Viking hat.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

How will educational status affect the US election result?

17 days ago

White voters without a college degree partially make up Trumps support base, while Democrats increasingly rely on non-white voters and people with degrees

The longer an American has stayed in school, the more likely he or she is to register to vote and to cast a ballot on election day.

At one extreme, in the 2012 presidential election just 21.6% of adults who left school before ninth grade voted. At the other, according to statistics from the Census Bureau, 74.7% of adults who had an advanced degree voted. Though the precise numbers may not be known, observers are aware of the link between education and voting its one of the clearest correlations in political behavior research.

Educational

Its generally assumed that an education for those who are able to afford it improves civic engagement: that educated people feel they have a greater stake in society and feel it is worth their time to vote. In terms of shaping outcomes in 2016, though, its not just turnout that matters the way educational status tends to align with party inclination counts too.

Again, the results are pretty clear. The Democratic party is preferred by college graduates, even though as recently as 2002 that was not the case. Thats partly because non-white Americans now make up a larger share of the college population, and those voters are less likely to be Republican.

This election has been dominated by headlines about the non-college educated white Americans who form Republican nominee Donald Trumps support base. In 2012, about 55% of that demographic group showed up to vote, and 60% voted Republican.

Educational
Photograph: Pew Research Center

To understand how those people might affect this election, consider a few different hypothetical scenarios:

1. Non-college educated whites are no less likely to be Republican in 2016 and 100% of them show up to vote which, lets face it, would never happen. According to polling analysis site FiveThirtyEights calculations, Hillary Clinton would still narrowly win, by two percentage points.

2. Non-college educated white people are no more likely to vote, but 98% of those who do vote, vote for Trump which, again, is never going to happen. Trump would win by a landslide of 27%.

3. Now consider a more realistic final hypothesis. Non-college educated white people become a little more Republican and a little more likely to vote lets suggest that turnout rises to 65% from 55% and Republican vote share rises to 70% from 60%. Trump would win the White House with 52% of the national vote.

All of these scenarios, however, assume that nothing else has changed since 2012 that other educational groups like college graduates and other racial groups show up in the same numbers, with the same voting intentions, as they did four years ago. Clearly, that wont be the case. This election has repeatedly shown that no party can afford to rest on its laurels about whom it can count on to vote.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The Chosen Wars review: examine of American Jews uncovers familiar schisms

24 days ago

Steven Weisman determines contention and dispute at every stage of Jewish American history including modern-day politics

On election day 2016, Hillary Clinton won more than 70% of the Jewish election. But that number tells only part of a narrative. In some predominately Orthodox Jewish precincts, Donald Trump’s numbers were straight out of the rust belt or the deep south.

As in the rest of the electorate, religious commitment and educational attainment shaped how Jews voted. In the overwhelmingly religion Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, Trump took 68% of the vote. In New Jersey’s Lakewood Township, he won with a 50 -point margin. By contrast, the island of Manhattan was a sea of Democratic blue.

The political cleavages that mark the broader American scenery existing between America’s Jews. Just as Jews were to be found on both sides of slavery, secession and the civil war, they are again combatants in a political skirmish. Think of Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader.

Welcome to The Chosen Wars, a narrative of the Jewish journey in the different regions of the American scenery. Steven Weisman, who covered politics and economics at the New York Times for a one-quarter of a century, marshals an impressive array of facts to argue that the competing tugs of separatism and assimilation have been present ever since Jews landed in the New world in the 17 th century, that even among the devout the broader culture affected religious practice, and that Jewish communal participation has ebbed and flowed with time.

As Weisman frames things,” Jewish belief in the Jewish people’s own unique identity … has been so strong that it remains a foundation of Jewish life in the United States .” He also acknowledges that identity” has always been and is very likely be one of contention and dispute “. Things are alloyed.

The book chronicles how the constitution’s establishment clause led to the laity’s domination within the synagogue. Most notably for Weisman, a schism within a Charleston shul triggered a landmark lawsuit and decision. Unlike Europe, the civil authorities would not pick sides even when asked. Ultimately, a South Carolina appellate court ruled in 1846 that the judiciary must avoid” questions of theological dogma, depending on speculative religion, or ecclesiastical rites “.

In other words, they would let the Jews duke it out among themselves.

At hours they actually did. Weisman describes an actual riot that have broken out on Rosh Hashanah 1850 in Albany, New York, over the nature of the Messiah. The police were called and the congregation scattered, but not before the synagogue chairwoman taunted the rabbi, Isaac Wise, saying:” I have $100,000 more than you .” Yet it was Wise’s rejection of a personal and national Messiah that shaped Reform Judaism. It represented a break from 2,000 years of tradition.

The book also examines how Darwin and criticism impacted attitudes toward the Bible, divine authorship taking a make. Emil Hirsch, a Reform Rabbi and professor at the University of Chicago, declared:” Modern scholarship has spoken, and its voice cannot be hushed .”

To put things in context, even those more traditionally minded were forced to respond or adjust to science.

On the one hand, within the Hasidic movement the dominant mantra remains:” If you are still troubled by the theory of evolution, I can tell you without anxiety of contradiction that it has not a shred of evidence to subsistence it .”

On the other, within Orthodoxy’s more modern circles there was a retreat from taking the creation narrative and Genesis’s timeline literally. A “day” came to be read as eons, and the Divine Hand could be found guiding the Descent of Man.

Said differently, distinctions are now being drawn between the ” historical credibility of biblical narrative “ and its ” theological truths “.

Donald
Donald Trump receives a gift at the Western Wall in Jerusalem. Photograph: Jonathan Ernst/ Reuters

Weisman dedicates Orthodoxy its due as a force to be reckoned with. From Long Island’s Five Towns to the Upper East Side, and in the Young Israel of New Rochelle and Scarsdale, the denomination is no longer acting like a poor relation.

The Chosen Wars occasionally loses sight of relevant skirmishes within American Protestantism. Weisman does a deep diving on the battle waged from the pulpit on bondage and secession but constructs no reference to its antecedents. In a sense, 19 th-century Jews arrived late to that party.

In 1700 Samuel Sewall, a Massachusetts businessman and magistrate, penned The Selling of Joseph, which served as a theological rebuttal to the contention that blacks were inferior in the eyes of God, and that their plight as slaves was preordained as the purported descendants of Ham and Canaan, Noah’s cursed son and grandson.

Sewall, a magistrate during the Salem witchcraft trials, contended that” Joseph was rightfully no more a Slave to his Brethren, than they were to him: and they had no more Authority to Sell him, than they had to Slay him “. Against that backdrop, the” Curse of Ham“, invoked in a New York synagogue in the run-up to the civil war, sounds like a recapitulation of an earlier argument posited by slavery-sympathetic southern clergy.

Weisman is optimistic about the future of American Jewry. But if the Puritan ultimately succumbed to the temptations of the figuratively precluding forest, there is no reason to presume Jews will be much different. After all, Jewish immigration to America was about fleeing from the Old World and living the American Dream , not founding a City on a Hill.

Looking at America’s religion scenery, “nones” are now the single most important subgroup among millennials. Among America’s Jews, the narrative is not much different. Three in 10 reject denominational identity. Outside the Orthodox community, the Jewish birthrate is below “the member states national” median. American Jewry will probably endure, but its demographics stand to be different: from the looks of things, more religious but less educated, affluent and influential.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Trump’s rise and Brexit vote are more an outcome of culture than economics

1 month, 4 days ago

Populists are tapping into the outrage of those who have been losing the cultural battles over race, gender and social identity in a globalised world

If Donald Trump loses the US election, will the tide of populism that threatened to overwhelm the world after the Brexit vote in June begin to wane? Or will the revolt against globalisation and immigration simply take another form?

The rise of protectionism and anti-immigrant sentiment in Britain, America, and Europe is widely believed to reflect stagnant incomes, widening inequality, structural unemployment, and even excessive monetary easing. But there are several reasons to question the link between populist politics and economic distress.

Most populist voters are neither poor nor unemployed; they are not victims of globalisation, immigration, and free trade. The main demographic groups behind the anti-establishment upsurge have been people outside the workforce: pensioners, middle-aged homemakers, and men with low educational qualifications receiving disability payments.

In Britain, where detailed analyses of the votes actually cast in the Brexit referendum are now available, the group most directly affected by low-wage competition from immigrants and Chinese imports people under 35 voted against Brexit by a wide margin, 65% to 35%. Meanwhile, 60% of pensioners who voted backed the leave campaign, as did 59% of voters with disabilities. By contrast, 53% of full-time workers who participated wanted Britain to remain in Europe, as did 51% of part-time workers.

The British data suggest that cultural and ethnic attitudes, not direct economic motivations, are the real distinguishing features of anti-globalisation voting. Asked whether social liberalism is a force for good or a force for ill, 87% of remain voters said it was a force for good, while 53% of Leave voters called liberalism a force for ill. On multiculturalism, the difference was even starker 65% of leave voters were against it, while 86% of remainers approved. Another analysis published by the BBC after the referendum found one of the strongest predictors of a leave vote to be support for capital punishment.

In America, polls suggest that gender is an even more important indicator of support for Trump than age or education. Early this month, when Trump was only a few points behind Clinton in overall support, a Washington Post/ABC poll compared voting intentions with the 2012 election. It found not only that white men backed Trump by a margin of 40 percentage points, but also that their support for Trump was 13 points higher that it was for Mitt Romney, the 2012 Republican nominee.

White women, by contrast, marginally supported Clinton and had swung by 15 percentage points against the Republicans. Among voters without a college education, the gender difference was even starker: less-educated white men favored Trump by a 60% margin and had swung in favor of the Republicans by 28 percentage points, while women had swung by 10 percentage points in the opposite direction and only marginally supported Trump.

It seems, therefore, that the conflicts generally ascribed to economic grievances and globalisation are actually the latest battles in the culture wars that have split western societies since the late 1960s. The main relevance of economics is that the 2008 financial crisis created conditions for a political backlash by older, more conservative voters, who have been losing the cultural battles over race, gender, and social identity.

The dominance of free-market ideology before the crisis allowed many controversial social changes, ranging from income inequality and intensified wage competition to greater gender equality and affirmative action, to go almost unchallenged. Progressive social liberalism and conservative free-market economics seemed to be two sides of the same coin. But when free-market economic liberalism failed in the 2008 crisis, political challenges to social liberalism could no longer be deflected by invoking impersonal economic laws.

But if social change can no longer be legitimised as the necessary condition for economic progress, it seems unlikely that democracies will now vote to reinstate the social conditions before the ascendancy of economic liberalism and globalisation. Racial and gender equality are now backed by clear majorities in the US, Britain, and most European countries, and even apparently popular policies such as trade protectionism and strict immigration controls rarely muster more than 30-40% support in opinion surveys. Why, then, did Brexit win, and why is it still possible that Donald Trump will be the next US President?

Both Brexit and Trump were powered by an unstable alliance between two very different, even contradictory, movements. The bulk of their supporters were indeed social conservatives and protectionists who wanted to undo the social changes that began in the late 1960s.

Two of the most effective slogans of the Brexit and Trump campaigns have been Take back control and I want my country back. But the social conservatives inspired by such atavistic and authoritarian sentiments do not make up majorities in any western country. On its own, social conservatism could never mobilise more than 30-40% of voters. To achieve majorities, the socially conservative protectionists had to unite with the remnants of the Thatcher-Reagan laissez faire movement, who resent the interventionist economic management of the post-2008 period and want to intensify the competition, deregulation, and globalisation that social conservatives resent.

This unstable political compound is now dissolving in the US, and also in Britain, where prime minister Theresa Mays government is divided between ideological nationalists and economic liberals. If the US election on 8 November confirms Trumps failure to bind social conservatives and economic liberals into a winning coalition, similar disintegration is likely among European populists, too.

In that case, the Brexit vote will begin to look like an aberration not the start of a powerful new trend toward nationalism, protectionism, and de-globalisation, but the end of a backlash against modernity by an unstable alliance of social authoritarians and laissez faire market liberals. It will be the last gasp of an ageing generation that tried to impose its nostalgic parochialism on an increasingly cosmopolitan younger generation, but succeeded in only one unfortunate country.

  • Anatole Kaletsky is chief economist and co-chair of Gavekal Dragonomics. A former columnist at the Times, the International New York Times and the Financial Times, he is the author of Capitalism 4.0, The Birth of a New Economy.

Project Syndicate

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Rand Paul celebrates Festivus with ‘airing of grievances’ against 2016 rivals

1 month, 10 days ago

Kentucky senator and presidential hopeful turns to Seinfeld-inspired tradition to vent about Donald Trumps Yiddish and Marco Rubios absenteeism

As families across the US come together in joy two days before Christmas, Rand Paul has chosen instead to tweet out his annual list of Festivus Grievances. As the Kentucky senator explained last year, thats what Festivus is for.

Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) December 23, 2014

Christmas is a time for joy. For sharing blessings w/family & friends. It is not a time to air grievances. That’s what #Festivus is for.

The presidential candidate is celebrating the season, as is his tradition, with a cathartic venting of feelings on social media under the hashtag #Festivus, which references the fictional holiday popularised by the sitcom Seinfeld.

But now that Paul is running for president, he is taking special care to direct his grievances against his GOP opponents.

Where to start but @realDonaldTrump, Paul began. If u bring the Yiddish, know what it means. Guess thats more of a kvetch than a grievance.

He hit the real estate mogul with allegations of attempted sartorial bribery. After the debates, @realDonaldTrump always trying to give us parting gifts of his made in China ties. Weird.

Next, fellow Senator Ted Cruz came under Pauls Festivus fire, with a thinly veiled reference to birther-truthism over Cruzs Canadian roots:

Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) December 23, 2015

My friend @tedcruz has still not pledged to issue exec order declaring Canadian “bacon” is not real bacon. Makes me suspicious. #Festivus

Paul hit out at each of his rivals in turn: at Carson for his mumbling, at Christie for his support of the Dallas Cowboys, at Jeb Bush for his awkwardness. Paul even hit out at Democratic candidates Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders, for toilet breaks and socialism respectively.

Florida senator Marco Rubio came under particular fire, for his low turnout record in the Senate while hes been campaigning:

Dr. Rand Paul (@RandPaul) December 23, 2015

to my absentee friend @marcorubio, I didn’t put your $170k+ salary in my waste report today. But I could have #Festivus

In the spirit of the season, Paul also released his Waste Reports Airing Of Grievances: Festivus 2015, a report from the Senate homeland security and governance subcommittee on federal spending, which Paul chairs.

Happy Festivus! the report begins. Once again, the federal government found new and inventive ways to waste the tax dollars of hard-working Americans this year.

The report, which claims to have identified $1,026,957,650 in wasteful spending, took the government to task for more than 30 programs it considered frivolous, including paying for a community college to develop a curriculum of winemaking studies (an $853,000 grant to Washington community colleges, according to the report) and federal agencies spending money on yoga instructors for employees.

The report also slammed the Pentagon for spending $43m on a compressed natural gas (CNG) filling station in Afghanistan.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

How to talk to strangers: a guidebook to bridging what divides us

1 month, 10 days ago

The more we do to interact with people who arent like us, the better off well be in the face of hatred that has become so visible thanks to Donald Trump

We seem to have lost the capacity to live with our differences in peace. The complex lines that divide us are now exposed, and they run deeper than we supposed from what we see as the most pressing issues facing the country, to our values, to our understanding of race, gender and liberty. In her concession speech, Hillary Clinton herself observed: We are a far more divided society than we realized.

In the Seattle Times, Nicholas Confessore and Nick Corasanti described the electorate as unprecedentedly segregated socially and geographically: About half of Americans now live near people more politically like them than not, whether in conservative rural townships or sprawling liberal cities. Few Trump supporters report having close friends voting for Mrs Clinton. Many Clinton advocates are more likely to see Trump voters on television than in person.

Republicans and Democrat have always been on opposite sides of political and social fences. Whats new, what might feel insurmountable, is the degree of change. The gap has widened very quickly over the past two decades. Weve arrived at perhaps the most difficult moment in recent history: approximately half the electorate have voted into the presidency of the United States an openly bigoted, racist, xenophobic, sexist, sex predator. Divisiveness personified in an authoritarian leader.

In the face of pervasive, violent hatred that has become so visible and so normalized, people are struggling with what to do, how to take action.

Republicans
Republican and Democrats have always been on opposite sides of political and social fences. Whats new is the degree of change. Photograph: Julia Rothman

I want to suggest that many actions we can take will be local: talking to the strangers we intersect routes with on the street and sidewalks, in coffeehouse and parks, stores and restaurants. And the more we do this in places that require us to interact with people who arent like us, the very best.

People who arent like you and who you dont know exist for you merely as categories. Abstractions. People who are different than you who you satisfy in physical space and talk with not at are someones. The more we can have contact with people who arent like us, the more we are challenged, invited, required to see them as humen, as specific individuals with a context. Hate breeds on watching people as categories and abstractions.

When I say contact, I entail contact in person. Researchers at MIT found that our interactions in physical space with peers have a much more significant effect on our notions and sentiments than any other relationships, and more than our online lives. Physical interactions, researcher Alex Pentland wrote in Nautilus, are much better at changing sentiments than digital media and offer a greater chance of reaching consensus.

Researchers
Our interactions in physical space with peers have a much more significant effect on our faiths and sentiments than any other relationships. Photo: Julia Rothman

Sociologists, policymakers and urban planners have long examined and supported an idea “ve called the” contact hypothesis, which, at its most basic, says that increased positive contact with people who arent like you lessens prejudice. Researchers recently turned their attention to the negative interactions catalogued in contact hypothesis analyzes and found that a significant factor had been overlooked. A negative interaction carries far more emotional weight than a positive one and tends to increase prejudice. It takes so much goodness between people to overcome negative experiences.

Nothing about what is going on right now supports the idea that anyone should give anyone else the benefit of the doubt, and I dont advocate empathizing with tormentors and racists. But every time I nod or say hello to a stranger in the past few days and they return it, I know some human decency remains.

In our smallest positive interactions with strangers in passing, we experience something called fleeting intimacy. Thats a brief encounter that devotes us a momentary feeling of connectedness, of belonging. I think we need to start using our interactions with strangers to generate what Ill call fleeting confederations . We need to do the things that make for mutual acknowledgement of our fundamental humanity the smiles and hellos and brief dialogues in which we recognize a stranger as a person. We also need to recognize a new dimension to these moments. We can show one another we are not fitted with loathe. We can show we are allies and we will protect each other.

Kio Stark is the author of When Strangers Meet .

Read more: www.theguardian.com

The do-some things Congress: the most impactful laws passed in 2015

1 month, 14 days ago

It may have a reputation as a do-nothing body, but the US Congress managed to pass more than 100 bills into law including the landmark USA Freedom Act

In 2015, Congress passed more than 100 laws that were then signed by President Barack Obama. Some, like the omnibus budget deal agreed in December, accomplished the most basic task of funding the federal government. There were also 14 different bills to rename individual post offices, including one sponsored by Representative Steve Chabot to name the post office in Springboro, Ohio after longtime local mail man Richard Dick Chenault. But besides keeping the lights on and renaming post offices, the federal government actually did a few consequential things in 2015. These are seven of the more interesting new laws of the year.

USA Freedom Act

In June, Congress passed the first significant rollback of government surveillance in decades. The USA Freedom Act, which was passed with bipartisan support, ended bulk collection of phone records by the United States government after Edward Snowden revealed the National Security Agency program. Instead, phone companies would hold those records. The bill also ended a brief lapse in many government surveillance powers after key provisions of the Patriot Act had expired just two days before it was signed into law. But its considered a modest reform by many privacy advocates. While the NSA will have to go through court to get phone records, it wont face the same obstacle to obtain bulk communications on the internet and social media records.

Every Student Succeeds Act

In December, Congress passed the first major update to No Child Left Behind, the landmark Bush-era education reform bill. The Every Student Succeeds Act loosened many of the testing requirements around No Child Left Behind while giving states more autonomy in setting goals for academic achievement. The resulting bipartisan compromise appealed to many in both parties, reducing the federal role in education while also loosening standards that were objected to by teachers unions. However, it still left many questions about whether it would be successful in its goal to close the achievement gap that disproportionately left minority students in poor areas at an educational disadvantage.

Energy Efficiency Improvement Act of 2015

A bipartisan bill co-sponsored by swing-state senators Rob Portman of Ohio and Jeanne Shaheen of New Hampshire, this legislation took some modest steps toward improving energy efficiency in buildings. In particular, the legislation created a voluntary program called Tenant Star, which provides incentives for landlords to make spaces they lease in commercial buildings energy efficient. The proposal is modeled after the Energy Star program, which does the same in newly built buildings. The bill, which passed both the House and Senate by voice vote, also contains a provision that exempted some water heaters from federal energy efficiency standards.

Iran Nuclear Agreement Review Act

The stage was set for the controversial nuclear deal with Iran this year by a bipartisan proposal from senators Bob Corker of Tennessee and Ben Cardin of Maryland to ensure that Congress had the opportunity to vote on any agreement. The Iran deal was originally designed to be an executive agreement in order to thwart the need for Congress to approve the deal as a treaty. This compromise bill, which easily passed both the Senate and the House, gave Congress the opportunity to block a deal. However, it made it difficult for this to happen and required a congressional resolution disapproving of the agreement to receive consent of two-thirds of each chamber. Eventually, although majorities in both the House and the Senate opposed the deal, it was not enough to block implementation.

Steve Gleason Act

Louisiana senator David Vitter suffered a shocking and humiliating loss in his attempt to be his states governor this year. However, he did notch one success in 2015: the Steve Gleason Act, named after a former New Orleans Saints player who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS). The legislation allows Medicare and Medicaid to cover speech-generating devices for those suffering from ALS. Gleason currently uses such a device that allows him to use eye movements to communicate.

Drinking Water Protection Act

Congress actually passed one piece of environmental legislation in 2015, the Drinking Water Protection Act. However, the bill is not terribly ambitious; it guards against the rise of algal toxins in the Great Lakes and requires the Environmental Protection Agency to monitor the threat posed by algae blooms to drinking water. The legislation came in the aftermath of a 2014 water crisis in Toledo, Ohio, when an algal bloom in Lake Erie left more than 500,000 people without drinking water. The bloom is the result of intensive farm runoff from fertilized fields high in phosphorus. Toxic algae then feasts on the phosphorus, creating massive floating dead zones.

Microbead-Free Waters Act of 2015

Starting in 2017, Americans will no longer be allowed to buy beauty products with microbeads, tiny plastic spheres used to aid in exfoliation. The microbeads are so small that they pass through water filtration systems and end up in the ocean. Along the way, they absorb chemicals and toxins. Fish and sea life end up eating the toxic microbeads and then, of course, humans end up eating the fish. Several states had already banned microbeads and many companies were starting to phase them out of their products because of health and environmental concerns. This bill makes the process uniform across the country.

Read more: www.theguardian.com

Make ‘feminism’ the word of the year until females feel safe

2 months, 6 days ago

As the jaunt of abusive humen continues and the world assures the power of women behind this cultural moment, we have to continue the hard work

This week a man attempted a terrorist attack in New York’s Port Authority subway station, but his bomb explosion early and the attacker was the only one seriously injured. Despite what Twitter would have you believe, New York- as it does- went on very much the same. People groused about metro delays and went on with their day .~ ATAGEND It was just one of many days that induced me proud to be a native New Yorker. We could all take a lesson from that sort of resilience and posture, to be honest: we won’t let terrible people attain us feel terrible. We will live our lives, and refuse to be terrorized.

On a happier note, though the outing of abusive humen continues, the world is starting to recognize the power of women behind this incredible culture moment: Merriam-Webster named “feminism” the word of 2017. Now we just have to continue to make it the movement of the year( and next year, and the next) until girls can start to feel safe in their own country.

Glass half full

The unthinkable happened and Doug Jones won the Alabama special election. It’s a low bar- getting excited over an accused child-molester and explicit racist losing- but in a time when wins are few and far between, I’ll take it.

What I’m RTing

Melissa Silverstein (@ melsil)

Hollywood, you are seriously so fucked up about women. Seem at the outfits. pic.twitter.com/ 2gQiTHN5JY

December 8, 2017

Adam Serwer

Read more: www.theguardian.com

‘You don’t tell yourself no’: Stacey Abrams’ bid to be America’s first black female governor

2 months, 21 days ago

After winning Georgias Democratic primary, Abrams tells Lucia Graves about her uphill battle to win in a state with a history of segregationist governors

For Stacey Abrams to became the first black female governor- and in Georgia , no less- would take a miracle. Then again, according to the politics of convention, it already took one for her to get this far.

” We have to be hopeful enough and courageous enough to believe in the unexpected ,” said LaTosha Brown, co-founder of Black Voters Matter, at Abrams’ primary victory party on Tuesday night at a hotel ballroom in downtown Atlanta. Abrams easily defeated her fellow former Georgia state legislator, Stacey Evans.

Already Abrams has stimulated history, becoming the state’s first black nominee for governor and the first black female major party nominee for the job in America.

She will go on to face the victor of the state’s Republican runoff election in July. In a state that hasn’t seen a Democratic governor elected since 1998, she’ll be fighting an uphill battle.

But when Abrams took the stage on Tuesday, before concourses of volunteers and a large group of schoolchildren who had met, as one chaperone put it,” to come ensure history being built”, her emphasis was less on her own barrier-breaking than on how far the state had come.

” We are writing the next chapter of Georgia’s future where no one is unseen , no one is unheard and no one is uninspired ,” she said in her opening remarks.

That’s an important page-flip in a state with a history of segregationist governors whose country flag featured the Confederate emblem until 2001. Even now, just 8 %~ ATAGEND of the state’s officeholders are women of color, even though they constitute 23% of the population. On stage on Tuesday, Abrams was equally at ease quoting the book of Esther and policy particulars, describing what she’s called the ” Georgia of tomorrow “~ ATAGEND. It was clear, even in the first moment of the new stage of the election, that there would be no fulcrum to the political center.

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‘ We have the numbers in Georgia ,’ Abrams said. Photo: Public domain

As she later explained in an interview:” My job is not to worry about the Republican. They are going to try to out-Trump each other and demonstrate who can be more xenophobic and more pro-gun. That’s not my narrative .”

As the Georgia state senator Nan Orrock put it:” We know what the other side’s about and good golly, they have no shame .”

Abrams’ election will test her faith that Democrat don’t have to adopt moderate views to have widespread appeal. A handful of special-election Democratic primaries this week presented a mixed image for the party across the board.

But Abrams isn’t interested in reading tea leaves.

Her strategy is grounded in voter participation for historically under-engaged demographics and her underlying philosophy that changing ideology is much harder than changing behaviour. That entails getting more people to the polls, and Abrams, who has argued Georgia isn’t red,” it’s just blue and confused”, has been working assiduously on voter enfranchisement endeavours for years.

This could just be the year she demonstrates her claim. Georgia has never been considered a swing country, but Abrams likes to point out that states aren’t” swing countries” until they swing.

” We have the numbers in Georgia ,” she told me. And though she permitted that it had taken years to construct that electoral capacity,” I know if we talk about those issues and if we do the ground game of reaching voters and explaining to them why this election matters, we will see not only the historic turnout that we saw in the primary, but we’ll consider historic turnout in members of the general .”

Electioneering won’t inevitably bear that out. But Abrams’ campaign is equal parts voter registration numbers and belief- specifically, a belief that someone with her face and her heart can win.

On Tuesday night, such disciples were in abundance.

” Five or six months from now, she’s going to make history ,” said the Atlanta deacon Henry Moon.” I believe ,” he told, thumping himself over the heart for emphasis. “You’ve got to believe.”

Abrams’ life story is a study in pushing the boundaries of the possible.

Born one of six children to poor mothers in Mississippi, Abrams was not a victim of her circumstance. She graduated magna cum laude from Spelman College, was a Harry S Truman scholar and went on to become the first in their own families to buy a house. She received a master’s degree from the Lyndon B Johnson School of Public Affair at the University of Texas at Austin and a statute degree from Yale.

She also wrote numerous romance fictions, for the purposes of the the nom de plume Selena Montgomery, and when we first met over coffee, she delighted in details of how she once wrote an ex into prison as vengeance.

As both a writer and a legislator, Abrams has made an art of imagining what does not yet exist.

As the Maryland gubernatorial candidate Ben Jealous recalled in a tweet after her election, where reference is first met Abrams at an event for student organizers 25 years ago,” she told me then she would be the first black governor of Georgia. I told her I believed her .”

Stacey
Stacey Abrams takes the stage to proclaim victory in the primary on Tuesday night. Photo: Jessica McGowan/ Getty Images

It’s a confidence, Abrams said, bear of her upbringing. Her mothers grew up in Jim Crow Mississippi and had to fight for the right to vote.

” They created us to believe we were capable of anything ,” she said.” My dad told us,’ You don’t tell yourself no- let everyone else do that. You go for what you think you can have .”

And she did.

Abrams would go on to become the youngest deputy city attorney in Atlanta, according to the mayor who hired her; she was elected to the Georgia state house in 2006 and became Democratic leader in the country house in 2011.

That she defined her sights so high is all the more remarkable given what America tells women about aspiration. Hillary Clinton was lambasted for it in the 2016 presidential cycle, and sure enough, an early ad from the Republican Governors Association( RGA) accused Abrams of the same.

Asked to respond, she didn’t deny a thing.

” I have the ambition we can actually induce life better for people. I have the ambition that politics and policy can work together to build things good. We shouldn’t want leaders who don’t have ambition ,” she said,” who can’t dream beyond the moment .”

And no one can accuse Abrams of that failing.

Unfortunately for the RGA, her aspiration is contagious, according to the woman who was elected to Abrams’ statehouse seat after she resigned to run for governor.” She genuinely depicts women and people of color that our goals and our ambitions- our prospects don’t have a ceiling ,” told Bee Nguyen, who has transgressed some records of her own as the first Vietnamese American female elected to the country general assembly.

” Stacey’s vision for Georgia includes all of us ,” Nguyen told.” She’s the only candidate who even talks about Asian Americans as being a part of our electorate in Georgia .”

Seeing unseen or minority constituents, listening to their concerns and elevating their voices are some of Abrams’ sweet places, according to many who took the stage on Tuesday night.

Abrams’ own identity, she has said, devotes her” a complex understanding of America “. But largely, it dedicates her a propensity to listen.

” I believe there are more Democrats who are ready to lift their voices ,” she said.” And that’s what our campaign is about .”

She also thinks, in an epoch when Americans are hungry for authenticity in politics, there’s no substitute for telegraphing values of her own.

” There’s no one who’s going to convince me that reproductive access should not exist. That civil right are a peril. They’re never going to convince me that I should not stand up for labor unions. Those are ideological beliefs that I hold ,” she said.

So no, she said, there will be no pivot in members of the general. And she’s not worried about losing votes over it.” They’re going to know that because I was consistent throughout the campaign, I would bring that same consistency and authenticity to the governor’s office .”

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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