This is the core cause of pervasive discrimination and sexual harassment

1 day 3 hours ago
Harassment and discrimination persist because leadership only addresses it bureaucratically, incrementally and ever so cautiously.

Anti-feminist politicos and talk show yakkers try to ridicule the reality that women in our rich and advanced society might endure any "oppression." America isn't Afghanistan, they snort. Women here get to vote. Girls play all kinds of sports and can grow up to be astronauts or CEOs or anything. Why, we even had one nominated for president two years ago! Well, women certainly have made strides from the colonial chauvinism of 1789, and they've escaped much of the suffocating paternalism of the "Father Knows Best" years. But is that our highest standard? It's ridiculous, dishonest and socially destructive to pretend that the 51 percent majority of us are getting anywhere near the fair share of power and respect they're due.

In corporations, universities, government offices and elsewhere, there is usually an oppressive male culture and a repressive power structure that routinely shortchange women on pay (generally a third less than men doing comparable work, with black and Latina women making even less) and on promotions. That's bad enough, but adding insult to injury, prevailing conventional wisdom blames women for this! They're not "career-oriented," or they're too thin-skinned, or they're not aggressive enough, or they're too moody, and they need to "lean in" more. Delve just a smidgeon deeper, however, and voila! The core cause of this deep and pervasive discrimination is the glaring inequality of powerthat men hold over women. 

Amazingly, the impact on workingwomen of blunt-force sexual crudity by superiors has only recently been deemed a major cause of workplace problems. Spurred by the explosion of hundreds of thousands of #MeToo revelations, harassment has finally climbed to the top-of-the-charts ranking of things holding back women in practically every line of employment:

1. In recent surveys, 81 percent of women say they've experienced some form of sexual harassment.

2. About half of girls say they've encountered harassment in their schools.

3. Employers and officials usually discount the veracity of women/girls who complain, and accept the denials of men who're accused.

4. Male hierarchies, meekly supported by some women, tend to ostracize and retaliate against victims who report abuse.

5. Some 80 percent of young women who've been harassed on the job tell surveyors that rather than file a complaint that higher-ups won't take seriously, they just leave the jobs. Some places just don't think it's a big deal that their organizational hierarchy tolerates a grab-ass mentality and allows abuse. Their attitude is, "Hey, no one's making you work here." More commonly, though, harassment and discrimination persist because leadership only addresses it bureaucratically, incrementally and ever so cautiously. While those in charge of these companies and groups loudly condemn all such actions as "unacceptable," they quietly accept the actions by doing nothing more than setting up a "diversity committee" or providing some "sensitivity training."

A couple of abuser factors are in play here: One is that the offenders lawyer up, so the response to the abuse ends up focused primarily on limiting the institution's liability, rather than concentrating on cleansing the toxic culture. Second is what I call "The Willie," borrowed from Willie Nelson's humorous idea that he wants his tombstone to read, "He meant well." In a nefarious twist of Nelson's droll humor, honchos of many high-profile brand-name outfits these days proclaim that they are committed to leading the charge for justice and respect for women in the workplace, but whoa! Let's not push too hard, too fast.

Jamie Dimon is a prime example of those who cry for progress but then throttle back to a putt-putt pace. As CEO of JPMorgan Chase, Dimon has cultivated an image of an enlightened Wall Streeter who touts the merits of having female decision-makers throughout the bank's corporate structure. "It is the right thing to do, plain and simple," he told New York Times interviewer Rebecca Blumenstein in September. Yet, when she gently noted that JPMorgan's 11-member governing board includes only two women (18 percent), Dimon's enlightenment dimmed. He says he can only go so far in trying to do the right thing: "It's hard for me to do a board search and say I'm only going to look at women." Really? Why?

Time's Up Legal Defense Fund, a partnership with the National Women's Law Center, helps workers who are experiencing harassment -- in any industry -- with free legal help. See nwlc.org/legal-assistance and donate here: timesupnow.com.

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Jim Hightower, JimHightower.com

'Trump's delusional state': Ex-DOJ official says the president can't grasp his own legal risk — or the 'national security emergency' he created

1 day 14 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098652'; Click here for reuse options! "It's not surprising that our American policy for Russia for the last two years."

In a new interview with Reuters, President Donald Trump tried to downplay the voluminous evidence ofcontacts between his campaign and Russia — including some information that was just released in the criminal sentencing memos of key aides in the run-up to the election.

Despite Trump's efforts to cast aside these suspicious findings, former Acting Solicitor General Neal Katyal explained on "Anderson Cooper 360" why the new details are so troubling.

When asked whether the contacts with Russia were "peanut stuff," as Trump claimed, Katyal said, "Heavens, no."

"I mean, what this interview demonstrates more than anything is Donald Trump's delusional state," he continued. "This is of a piece with 'Totally clears the president. Thank you!' last week after the Cohen memos and things like that. The idea that this is 'peanut stuff,' the fact that he lied to the American people during the campaign time and again, said, 'no dealings with Russia, no dealings with Russia' — and then, lo and behold — 'we had dealings with Russia,' that's not just potentially a felony. It's also a national security emergency."

Katyal concluded: "The Russians have had for two years very compromising information. They knew, because they were the other party to these transactions, that the president lied to the American people. And, you know, it's not surprising that our American policy for Russia for the last two years."

Watch the clip below:

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Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Trump issues an ominous and dangerous warning about the consequences of impeachment

1 day 15 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098651'; Click here for reuse options! Trump believes he has the people on his side in the event of impeachment. Evidence is scant.

With Democrats now taking over the House, and new revelations from the prosecutions of President Donald Trump's inner circle coming out by the day, talk is inevitably turning toward the possibility the president could be impeached before his term is out.

But Trump himself insists he's not worried about that in a new interview with Reuters in the Oval Office.

"It's hard to impeach somebody who hasn't done anything wrong and who's created the greatest economy in the history of our country," Trump said. "I'm not concerned, no. I think that the people would revolt if that happened," he said.

This notion of a pro-Trump "revolt" in the event of impeachment is a common theme among the president's allies. In August, Trump's lawyer Rudy Giuliani used the exact same words.

But how likely is such a "revolt"? If polls are any indication, not likely at all. Survey after survey after survey has shown that more Americans want Trump impeached than approve of the job he's doing.

It may well be the case that the decent economy is keeping Trump's numbers from cratering. But even there, this is hardly the "greatest economy ever," and in any case the economy isn't growing faster than it was under President Barack Obama.

Regardless of whether a revolt is likely to happen, it is utterly irresponsible for a president to longingly speculate about civil unrest in the event that a lawful process removes him from power. But gleefully imagining violence is one of Trump's signature moves, from telling his supporters he'd pay the legal fees if they "knock the crap" out of protestors, to his suggesting that his opponent might be shot by gun rights supporters.

And as for Trump's claim that he "hasn't done anything wrong," prosecutors with the Southern District of New York would strenuously disagree, as they have all but laid out that he directed his former attorney to commit a campaign finance felony to pay off women he slept with — which incoming House Judiciary Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) believes could amount to impeachable offenses. When asked about these payments by Reuters, Trump insisted that "there was no violation based on what we did," and then rounded off by saying, "Hillary Clinton — her husband got money, she got money, she paid money, why doesn’t somebody talk about that?"

Whether or not this misbehavior brings down Trump, his belief that the American people would have his back in impeachment proceedings is likely misplaced. And he should hope that belief is never put to the test.

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Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

'God forbid!' MSNBC panel breaks into hysterical laughter at GOP congressman's pathetic and damning defense of Trump

1 day 15 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098650'; Click here for reuse options! The GOP efforts to whitewash Trump's wrongdoing are transparently embarrassing.

As the evidence that President Donald Trump committed serious crimes piles up, the Republican Party's defenses of his actions are growing even more pathetic and ridiculous.

On MSNBC's "Deadline: White House" on Tuesday, the sheer absurdity of officials' responses to questions about Trump's wrongdoing caused the entire panel to break into uproarious laughter.

Sen. Orrin Hatch (D-UT), for one, essentially claimed that it doesn't matter whether Trump committed a crime. House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy made an even more preposterous point about Trump's apparent criminal violation of campaign finance laws — what host Nicolle Wallace said was a "Wait — did you really mean to say that out loud?" moment.

"If [Rep. Adam] Schiff taking this beyond to go forward and say that there's an impeachable offense because of a campaign finance problem, there's a lot of members of Congress who would have to leave for that place," McCarthy said in a Fox News interview.

After playing that clip Tuesday on "Deadline: White House," former GOP strategist Steve Schmidt quipped: "God forbid!"

At that comment, the whole panel burst out laughing.

Watch the clip below:

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Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

'A very good ally': Trump still refuses to disavow Saudi crown prince after Khashoggi killing

1 day 15 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098648'; Click here for reuse options! The president was once again given the opportunity to condemn the man implicated in the murder of a Washington Post journalist. Once again, he refused.

On Tuesday, Reuters interviewed President Donald Trump. And when the subject came around to Saudi Arabia, the president was sickeningly unwilling to disavow the Saudi crown prince's involvement in the killing of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. In fact, he voiced his full-throated support for both the prince and the nation:

Trump refused to comment on whether Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman was complicit in the murder, but he provided perhaps his most explicit show of support for the prince since Khashoggi’s death more than two months ago.

"He's the leader of Saudi Arabia. They’ve been a very good ally," Trump said in an interview in the Oval Office.

Asked by Reuters if standing by the kingdom meant standing by the prince, known as MbS, Trump responded: "Well, at this moment, it certainly does."

Some members of Saudi Arabia's ruling family are agitating to prevent MbS from becoming king, sources close to the royal court have told Reuters, and believe that the United States and Trump could play a determining role.

"I just haven't heard that," Trump said. "Honestly, I can't comment on it because I had not heard that at all. In fact, if anything, I’ve heard that he’s very strongly in power."

By now, the fact that the prince had a hand in the gruesome execution of Khashoggi at the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, Turkey is all but beyond dispute. Both the Turkish government and the CIA agree he ordered the killing to remove a key critic of the regime. The U.S. government possesses a tape of the murder, which reveals Khashoggi was cut to pieces with a bone saw while he was still alive, and which implicates the crown prince. And the U.S. Senate is considering a resolution to condemn Salman.

But Trump has been unwilling to say anything critical of the crown prince or of the Saudi regime as the horrific details have unfolded, initially claiming that it wasn't that big a deal because Khashoggi was not a U.S. citizen. He subsequently backtracked and said that there could be "severe" consequences for Saudi Arabia if it is proven they killed Khashoggi, but he continues to insist that the verdict is not in on Salman yet, saying "maybe he did and maybe he didn't!" His full-throated support for Salman in the Reuters interview suggests he is no longer even pretending to care.

Trump has claimed we need Saudi Arabia because of a $110 billion arms deal he is overseeing, but our weapons sales are actually nowhere near that high — even our trade with Switzerland is larger than the Saudi arms deal. An alternative theory is that Trump feels kinship to the Saudi royal family because of his personal business ties with them.

Whatever his motivations, it is clear Trump has no real interest in pursuing justice.

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Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

'Waiting for the guillotine': Another Trump official reportedly expected to be fired as John Kelly gets kicked out

1 day 16 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098649'; Click here for reuse options! The GOP's devastating loss in the midterms and the coming investigations could prompt a big White House shake-up.

With White House Chief of Staff John Kelly heading for the exit — though perhaps a bit later than initially planned — President Donald Trump is preparing for more staff shake-ups, according to the Wall Street Journal.

Unsurprisingly, Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen appears to be the most vulnerable. Kelly handpicked Nielsen as his replacement when he left DHS, and multiple reports have made clear that he has continued to protect her even as the president has grown increasingly frustrated with her job performance.

Without Kelly around, Nielsen's remaining days in the administration are sure to be brief.

“People there are waiting for the guillotine,” a former DHS official told the Journal. 

Before the midterm elections, multiple reports suggested there would soon be many top-level departures in the administration — which has already had a spectacularly high rate of turnover as it is. But so far, the firings of Jeff Sessions and John Kelly have been the most significant changes to the administration since the midterms. Don McGahn, former White House counsel, was forced out before the elections.

According to the Journal, staffing up the White House Counsel's office is a major priority as the newly elected Democratic House majority plans for expansive investigations of the president and the White House.

Deeply troubling reports about Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke had driven speculation that he would soon be leaving as well. But as the furor around his alleged misdeeds has subsided, so too have calls for his removal.

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Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

'Irrational and unhinged': Conservative writer explains how Chuck Schumer and Nancy Pelosi outsmarted Trump

1 day 17 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098647'; Click here for reuse options! Through completely unforced errors, the president backed himself into a corner and took responsibility for a government shutdown, writes Jennifer Rubin.

On Tuesday, a televised meeting between President Donald Trump and Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi (CA) and Chuck Schumer (NY) to negotiate border security and a spending resolution ended horribly for the president.

After the Democrats refused to give him an inch on his cherished pet project of a border wall, and Pelosi referred to the possibility of a "Trump shutdown," Trump lost it and ... agreed with Democrats that he would own any shutdown.

"I am proud to shut down the government for border security … I will take the mantle. I will be the one to shut it down," Trump said. "If we don't get what we want, one way or the other, whether it's through you, through military, through anything you want to call, I will shut down the government."

It was a massive, unforced blunder. And, writes conservative columnist Jennifer Rubin in the Washington Post, it means Trump has lost the fight over funding the government before it even begins.

"The first rule of shutdown fights is never say you are for a shutdown," said Rubin. "Voters invariably oppose this kind of stunt and see it as evidence of incompetence and unnecessary rancor by the governing party. In short, since Republicans control everything and are likely to be blamed for shuttering the government, the last thing President Trump wants to do is say he is for a shutdown."

"Ironically, it was Democrats who tried to spare Trump the embarrassment," Rubin added, noting that Pelosi had offered to turn the cameras off and have the discussion in private, and Trump insisted instead on self-destructing out in the open. "It was an extraordinary moment when Trump not only lost the high ground as president but made Democrats look like the grown-ups."

Shutdowns tend to be poisonous for the party that instigates them. When Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) shut down the government to try to defund the Affordable Care Act in 2013, the GOP's approval crashed, and Cruz later backtracked and tried to claim it was Democrats who shut down the government to fund the Affordable Care Act.

Moreover, Rubin notes, The New York Times has reported that Trump cannot use "the military" to build the wall, as he threatened, because federal law prohibits spending defense money to construct a solid barrier at the border. And in any case, if he could do that (or, you know, make Mexico pay for it), why is he demanding Democrats give him the money in the first place?

"It is not clear how Trump could have appeared more irrational and unhinged," Rubin says.

Trump's tirade, writes Rubin, will throw any attempt by the GOP to whip the votes for a spending bill into chaos. "Hard-liners in the House and Senate will be emboldened by his rant. To keep the government running, GOP leadership may have to turn to Democrats for votes, giving Pelosi and Schumer leverage not only on the border wall but on other spending items as well."

"In some ways, a shutdown at the end of 2018 would put an exclamation point on one of the worst years in memory for Republicans," concludes Rubin. "The president is under investigation in multiple venues. Republicans lost 40 seats and with them the House majority. Indeed that number might be 41 thanks to substantial evidence of election fraud by Republicans in North Carolina's 9th Congressional District. Legislatively, Republicans have accomplished next to nothing this year. If they shut down the government, they'll wind up confirming that the party of Trump is not only unethical but also incompetent and dysfunctional. Christmas sure came early for Democrats."

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Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

Trump's latest racist attack on immigrants echoes Nazi propaganda

1 day 18 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098646'; Click here for reuse options! There are deeply pernicious trends in the president's rhetoric.

In a disturbing continuation of his years-long effort to stoke paranoia and visceral hatred of immigrants, President Donald Trump employed a false and malicious rhetorical attack Tuesday that has been echoed by both Fox News and Nazi propaganda.

Speaking to reporters in the Oval Office, Trump suggested falsely that a border wall could help reduce the non-existent problem of disease outbreaks across the border.

"One of the problems that people don't talk about, you have a tremendous medical problem coming into our country...communicable disease," Trump said. "Tremendous problems. People don't want to talk about it."

This line has been repeated on Fox News, where one contributor baselessly asserted that immigrants were bringing in a range of diseases including smallpox — which has, of course, been eradicated in the wild.

But the whole line of attack is just not true. While there can be cross-border concerns about public health issues, there's absolutely no reason to believe that there's a serious threat of infectious diseases coming into the United States.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that this is so," Arthur Caplan, director of the division of medical ethics at New York University’s Langone Medical Center, told Politifact when Trump made a similar claim over the summer. "No study or survey shows this. There is no outbreak or bump in disease attributable to immigrants."

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has noted that there can be some transmission of disease across the border. But as Snopes pointed out, this is largely because of authorized border crossings, not the undocumented immigrants that Trump is always bemoaning. (And the best way to fight the spread of these illnesses is vaccination, which Trump has also spread baseless fears about, not a useless border wall.)

Snopes also noted that when undocumented immigrants do experience outbreaks of infectious disease, it is often because of the terrible conditions they are held in by the government when confined. So while Trump argues fighting undocumented immigration is about preventing diseases, it can actually increase the spread of disease. Snopes explained:

In short, while detained populations of people held in close quarters carry a higher risk for the transmission of communicable diseases such as scabies or tuberculosis within that population, no evidence suggests that those populations pose a health risk to the surrounding communities. Efforts on the internet to make that risk appear acute do so by misrepresenting out-of-date figures and by ignoring the epidemiological realities of a world that sees one billion people cross international borders every year.

This form of rhetoric is particularly disturbing for the parallels it has to Nazi propaganda. The United States Holocaust Memorial Museum documents the history:

A recurrent theme in Nazi antisemitic propaganda was that Jews spread diseases.

To prevent non-Jews from attempting to enter the ghettos and from seeing the condition of daily life there for themselves, German authorities posted quarantine signs at the entrances, warning of the danger of contagious disease. Since inadequate sanitation and water supplies coupled with starvation rations quickly undermined the health of the Jews in the ghettos, these warnings became a self-fulfilling prophecy, as typhus and other infectious diseases ravaged ghetto populations. Subsequent Nazi propaganda utilized these man-made epidemics to justify isolating the “filthy” Jews from the larger population.

While it's important to not equate present forms of violence and discrimination with the actions of the Nazis, observing the similar trends and parallels between hateful ideologies that baselessly spread fears to alienate, demonize, and dehumanize certain groups is important to avoid repeating the horrifying cruelties of the past. It would go too far to say that Trump's use of rhetoric similar to historical anti-Semitism is a sign that he is putting us on the road to another Holocaust — but going down that road in any amount should be entirely unacceptable.

Watch Trump's comments below:

TRUMP ludicrously suggests a border wall is needed to keep "medical problems" out of the country.

"One of the problems that people don't talk about, you have a tremendous medical problem coming into our country. Tremendous problems. People don't want to talk about it." pic.twitter.com/sEAIWvfWyI

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018 var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_copyright_notice = '2018 Alternet'; var icx_content_id = '1098646'; Click here for reuse options!  Related Stories
Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Nancy Pelosi just insulted Trump's 'manhood' after fiery Oval Office debate: reports

1 day 19 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098643'; Click here for reuse options! Trump is threatening to shut down the government over border wall funding.

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi insulted President Donald Trump Tuesday, according to multiple reports, about one of the issues he's most sensitive about: his manhood.

After a fiery debate with Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, Trump, and Vice President Mike Pence in the Oval Office in front of cameras, Pelosi made the pointed remarks behind the scenes.

Trump's big sticking point in the debate is his demand for funding for a border wall between the United States and Mexico. It was a key campaign promise of his — though importantly, he repeatedly insisted that Mexico and not American taxpayers would fund the wall. Trump has dropped that part of the promise since it has proved — as any informed person could have predicted — impossible.

He repeatedly equated paying for the wall with having border security, even though the risks from the border remain relatively low. Even many advocates who favor greater border security believe a larger wall would be pointless.

“It’s like a manhood thing with him — as if manhood can be associated with him,” Pelosi reportedly said in a closed-door meeting with colleagues, according to Politico and the Washington Post. “This wall thing.”

Of the off-the-rails debate with Trump, Pelosi reportedly said: “I was trying to be the mom... It goes to show you: you get into a tinkle contest with a skunk, you get tinkle all over you.”

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Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

CIA officials express 'extraordinary frustration' over Trump's 'lack of comprehension' of US intelligence

1 day 20 hours ago
“Either it doesn’t resonate, or there is a lack of comprehension,” one official complained to Miller.

One of the complaints that former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson had about President Donald Trump was that he doesn’t like to read and isn’t fond of absorbing new information. And according to a new article by the Washington Post’s Greg Miller, there are some people in the U.S. intelligence community who share that view of the president.

A U.S. intelligence official who spoke to Miller on condition of anonymity asserted that “there is extraordinary frustration” with Trump in the intelligence community. The CIA and other agencies, the official told Miller, continue to devote enormous “time, energy and resources” to ensuring that the president receives quality information—but Trump’s attitude makes “all of that a waste.”

Miller points out that in recent weeks, the most publicized example of Trump being dismissive of CIA intelligence has been his view of CIA Director Gina Haspel’s evaluation of Saudi Crown Mohammed bin Salman: according to Haspel, U.S. intelligence overwhelmingly shows that journalist Jamal Khashoggi was killed on direct orders from the Saudi crown prince—an assertion that Trump has rejected. But foreign policy with Saudi Arabia, according to Miller, is only one of the areas in which Trump can be dismissive of the intelligence community.

Trump, Miller explains, has concluded that because of his administration’s negotiations, there is “no longer a nuclear threat from North Korea.” But Miller quickly adds that “there is no such view” among intelligence analysts.

Miller notes that there are some areas in which “Trump’s views are more closely aligned with those of the intelligence community”—for example, “Chinese aggression in Asia and online and the threat posed by Islamist terror groups.” Miller stresses, however, that “for every area of agreement, there are examples of significant disparity.”

Trump has bragged about terminating the Obama Administration’s nuclear arms agreement with Iran, insisting that he has made the Iranian government less of a threat. But Miller points out that according to the CIA, “Iran’s religious rulers remain firmly entrenched.”

Miller also quotes an anonymous official as saying that Trump’s favorable views on Russian President Vladimir Putin have been an ongoing concern for the CIA. According to the official, “there was a gasp” at the CIA when Trump was so favorable to Putin at the Helsinki Summit last summer.

Miller concludes his article by quoting an anonymous official who expressed frustration over intelligence briefings with the president.

“Either it doesn’t resonate, or there is a lack of comprehension,” the official complained to Miller. “You feel frustration and helplessness, in a way. What else can you do?”

Alex Henderson, AlterNet

Imagine a world without war -- where migrants are welcomed and women are not targets

1 day 20 hours ago
Fighting indifference with justice on International Human Rights Day.

Not often does good news come on International Human Rights Day—December 10. It is mostly a somber occasion, a day to reflect on the values of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) and a day to bemoan the gap between those values and our reality.

Little of the high-minded dreams have come to life. Hunger and war, desolation and alienation define our times as sharply as they did for those pioneers who wrote that text in the years after World War II. They had the Holocaust and the atomic bomb as their context.

It is worthwhile to point out that it was the Indian delegate—Hansa Mehta—who objected to the phrase “all men are born free and equal.” She insisted that it be changed to “all human beings are born free and equal.” Hansa Mehta was thinking of women when she made that alteration. She knew that the costs of war and hunger are borne so sharply by women. So did Minerva Bernardino (Dominican Republic) and Begum Shaista Ikramullah (Pakistan), both of whom made key interventions into that declaration.

This year, two important events took place on December 10. First, the nations of the world signed on to a Global Compact for Migration. Second, the Nobel Peace Prize went to Nadia Murad and Denis Mukwege, both campaigners against sexual violence as a weapon of war. These are two events that drive forward the good side of history.

Migration

In Marrakesh, Morocco, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres hosted an important meeting on migration. The upshot of this meeting was a non-binding Global Compact for Migration that provides the basis for international cooperation on migration and that makes the case for migrants to be treated with dignity.

The United Nations’ Special Representative for International Migration—Louise Arbour—greeted the Compact’s passage as a “wonderful occasion, really a historic moment.” Discussion over the Compact had been ongoing for the past 18 months, placed on the table by the deaths of thousands of migrants in the Mediterranean Sea and by the terrible reaction by Europe and the United States to the migrants.

There has been so little recognition that most migrants flee from war and economic collapse—conditions created by policies made by the governments of Europe and North America. The people who make the long journey across the Sahara Desert or along the length of Central America are survivors of trade policies and extractive industries that destroy their livelihoods and lives. A true global compact would abandon those policies. But we are far from that.

Louise Arbour noted that nothing really would come of this Compact unless the countries implemented its initiatives. It is not likely that countries such as the United States will honor the Compact. Nonetheless, here is another piece of paper with multilateral agreement that one can wave under the nose of Trump and the other xenophobes. It is a red rag to the bull.

Sexual Violence in War

The horror of war is unimaginable. Those who have been to a battlefield know its terrors: the sounds, the smells, the casualness of the killing, the hunger, the uncertainty, the peril. In the shadows lurk terrors even graver, the “invisible war crime”—Binaifer Nowrojee said at Sierra Leone’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. This is the crime of wartime sexual violence.

No doubt that this violence is old. But it is shocking nonetheless. Professor Claudia Card, in an article from 1996 on “Rape as a Weapon of War,” suggests that mass murder has many methods. One way is to kill people—by gunshot or by gas or by atomic bomb. Another, she says, “is to destroy a group’s identity by decimating cultural and social bonds.” Martial rape, she says, does both. It kills people and it kills the bonds of a community.

It was shocking to hear what ISIS did to the Yazidi community—the capture of women who were then forced to be sex slaves, the rape of thousands. It is what catapulted Nadia Murad to the headlines, her bravery moving her from being a survivor of horrific violence to being a brave spokesperson for justice and against war. She accepted her Nobel Prize on Monday and said, “thank you very much for this honor, but the fact remains that the only prize in the world that can restore dignity is justice and the prosecution of criminals.”

What the Yazidis experienced is not uncommon elsewhere. Reading the Truth and Reconciliation documents from Sierra Leone or the reports from the Democratic Republic of the Congo and Afghanistan is chilling. It is difficult to forget men like Mosquito, who raped a 19-year-old woman in Telu Bongor, Sierra Leone and then—according to the young woman—“ordered his men to continue the act.” “Even now,” she says, “the pain is with me.”

Denis Mukwege is from east Congo. He is a gynecologist who has watched his society be torn apart. War has been its condition for decades, war premised on the theft of raw materials that feed a world hungry for its digital goods (the mineral coltan is essential to capacitors). Mukwege’s Nobel Prize speech rattles. “Turning a blind eye to tragedy is being complicit,” he said. “It’s not just perpetrators of violence who are responsible for their crimes. It is also those who choose to look the other way.”

It is easy to be fascinated by the brutality of Mosquito, but what about the brutality of the system that produces Mosquito and the women he devastated? It is the victim, Mukwege said, who is valued less than the commercial goods that slip out of the Congo and are shipped from the ports of Mombasa, Kenya, and Dar es Salaam, Tanzania, to factories far afield. It is worth pointing out that the worker who mines for coltan or tantalum makes less than US$1 per day, while a kilo of tantalum is likely to fetch somewhere around US$200. Violence to control these mines is the author of rape.

Safety

The Global Compact for Migration is not so far from the question of sexual violence in war. I remember the attacks on Somali refugees in the camps in Kenya in 1993. The logic of the rapists was appalling—to punish the Somalis, to enjoy the spoils of war. What was there for the Somali women in the isolated camps in Kenya is now there for the Rohingya women as they flee rape by Myanmar’s military and as they struggle with the stigma of birthing children from the sexual violence. The echoes are loud and horrifying, reminders of the Pakistani soldiers raping women in East Pakistan (now Bangladesh) as a weapon to break the confidence of the liberation struggle. There is an echo of the rape and murder of 14-year-old Abeer Qassim Hamza al-Janabi and her family by U.S. soldiers in Yusufiyah, Iraq. There are loud echoes, loud screams for justice.

There is the echo from the Indian state of Manipur, where the soldiers of the Assam Rifles raped and killed Thangjam Manorama—one more victim in a line of victims (the story is told movingly by Anubha Bhonsle in Mother, Where’s My Country?). She was raped multiple times, the autopsy showed, and she was shot 16 times in her vagina. One day, fed up with the violence, 12 Manipuri women went out on the street, removed their clothes in front of Imphal’s Kangla Fort, where the army was headquartered, and shouted, “Indian Army, rape us, kill us.” One of the women—Soibom Momon Leima—later said, “They had their weapons. We only had our body.”

The 12 women of Manipur said that they had let out their “war cry.” Denis Mukwege said from the Nobel pulpit, “If there is a war to be waged, it is the war against the indifference which is eating away at our societies.” There is terrible indifference, silence.

This article was produced by Globetrotter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.  Related Stories
Vijay Prashad, Independent Media Institute

Lawmakers humiliate themselves by peppering Google CEO with embarrassingly uninformed questions

1 day 20 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098641'; Click here for reuse options! These are the people who are supposed to make the country's laws.

Cybersecurity, online privacy, and the role of massive internet companies in our lives are key issues the government will have to tackle in the years to come. But if Tuesday's congressional hearing with Google CEO Sundar Pichai is any indication, the prospect for future progress on these pressing topics is not bright.

At the hearing, instead of focusing on key issues like abuse of consumer data or the ever-increasing risks of internet-based crimes and warfare, many members of Congress revealed their complete lack of understanding of the industry they are supposedly overseeing and their petty focus on the imagined "bias" against right-wing viewpoints.

Perhaps the most ridiculous example of this phenomenon was when racist Rep. Steve King (R-IA) complained that his daughter saw a negative ad about him on her iPhone.

"How does that show up on a 7-year-old's iPhone who's playing a kids' game?" King asked.

"Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company," Pichai said, to devastating effect.

After @SteveKingIA raises inscrutable concerns about iPhones, Google CEO Sunday Pichai patiently informs him, "Congressman, iPhone is made by a different company." pic.twitter.com/TiNZ1t3VRo

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) December 11, 2018

King tried to recover, saying the phone might have been an Android, but he had already humiliated himself. He had no details about what he was talking about and had no reason to think the CEO of Google was the person he should be directing his question to. It's also not clear why there's a problem in the scenario described at all — a 7-year-old might be playing a game that adults can also enjoy that could feature political ads. 

Others pursued similarly embarrassing lines of inquiry.

Rep. Steve Chabot (R-OH), for example, complained that it was hard to find positive news reports about the GOP's failed Obamacare replacement bill in 2017. Pichai noted that this is hardly evidence of Google's personal biases, as negative news about Google executives, too, often shows up in search results.

But Chabot also didn't seem to consider the fact that the reason so many of the results were negative was that the bill itself was widely panned — even by many conservatives. And the piece of information that he was particularly irritated to see ubiquitously reported — that the law would cause millions of people to lose their health insurance — was simply the most salient fact to come out of the Congressional Budget Office's own analysis of the bill.

In an even more blatantly tech-illiterate demonstration, Rep. Lamar Smith (R-TX) asked whether anyone had ever been punished for manipulating Google Search results, Pichai responded that such manipulation was impossible. Smith baselessly responded that he believes that, in fact, it is possible.  

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Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Kellyanne Conway reveals that John Kelly will stay on longer as chief of staff as Trump scrambles to find a replacement

1 day 21 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098640'; Click here for reuse options! Trump has denied that few want the job.

It seems President Donald Trump just can't get rid of White House Chief of Staff John Kelly, no matter how much he loathes him.

Kellyanne Conway, a counselor to the president, announced Tuesday that Kelly will be staying on past the end of the year, despite Trump's previous remarks saying he will be gone before then, as the Washington Post reported. Conway said he will be staying until Jan. 2 "at least" and added, when asked, that Trump may choose to keep him on even longer.

“I know they both love this country and want there to be a transition to the next leader here," she said.

When Trump first announced Kelly's ouster — in an apparent burst of spite — he said he would announce the chief of staff replacement in a day or two. But those plans were scrapped with Kelly's presumed replacement, vice presidential Chief of Staff Nick Ayers, posted on Twitter that he didn't want the job.

Since then, numerous reports have suggested that top candidates — including Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Office of Management and Budget Direct Mick Mulvaney — withdrew themselves from consideration. Rep. Mark Meadows (R-NC) has been one of the few people openly vying for the job, though it's not clear how serious this proposition is.

Trump has pushed back on the idea that he's struggling to find a replacement for Kelly. But the fact that his original timetable was scrapped and Conway now says Kelly could stay on indefinitely hardly strengthens his argument.

Of course, in the Trump White House, everything is up in the air — even after it's been announced. Kelly could be out by the end of the week and Conway herself could take his place. We never know what's going to happen until it happens — and sometimes, not even then.

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Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

'It was glorious': Internet cheers Pelosi and Schumer for standing their ground against Trump's 'petulant tantrum'

1 day 22 hours ago
By the end of the meeting, Schumer had baited the president into bragging: “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Democratic congressional leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer gave President Donald Trump an earful in the Oval Office — and social media users loved it.

The incoming House Speaker and the Senate Minority leader met Tuesday with Trump and Vice President Mike Pence, and the pair of Democratic lawmakers blasted the president for threatening a government shutdown over his proposed border wall.

“If I needed the votes for the wall in the House, I would have them in one session — it would be done,” Trump said.

“So go do it,” Pelosi responded.

By the end of the meeting, Schumer had baited the president into bragging: “I am proud to shut down the government for border security.”

My God, when *Chuck Schumer* is raining down dunks on you, that's just embarrassing.

— Kevin M. Kruse (@KevinMKruse) December 11, 2018

Pence staring at his hands... https://t.co/7CxXnIosBz

— amy walter (@amyewalter) December 11, 2018

If you read Mike Pence's lips here he's repeating the Serenity Prayer like a mantra https://t.co/Wj2W8S1tZX

— Anne Helen Petersen (@annehelen) December 11, 2018

mike pence honestly looks like he's about 10 seconds from letting out a bat-like screech https://t.co/dbaE7rOKeN

— Ashley Feinberg (@ashleyfeinberg) December 11, 2018

Trump has been able to hide how deeply stupid and bad at politics he is, because for 2 years he hasn't had to deal with anyone but craven, suck-uppy Republicans who laugh at his weird non-jokes and placate him and bend over backwards to make him feel smart and capable. But now... https://t.co/K8xBDw2DYT

— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) December 11, 2018

Trump has no idea what he’s in for the next two years and how different things are about to be for him. https://t.co/agZgkIWUBI

— Matthew Miller (@matthewamiller) December 11, 2018

THE PRESIDENT has just robbed Republicans of the ability to say Democrats are shutting down government.

This is going to be quite the month

— Jake Sherman (@JakeSherman) December 11, 2018

It’s gonna be really great when Republicans insist Trump didn’t say what he said

— Brian Tashman (@briantashman) December 11, 2018

Two adults dealing with a petulant, unbriefed, unprepared tantrum. White House corroding so much of the gravity and majesty of the Oval Office. https://t.co/7sgnj94D52

— Tom Nichols (@RadioFreeTom) December 11, 2018

Padding the walls of the Oval is going to run into money

— Charles P. Pierce (@CharlesPPierce) December 11, 2018

Schumer says The Post gave Trump a bunch of pinocchios on claims that the wall is being built. Trump sits on it for a second, realizes he has a play.

"The Washington Post," he says, scoffing. He turns to Pence for support. Pence's expression doesn't change.

— Philip Bump (@pbump) December 11, 2018

Smock ‘em, Chuck https://t.co/ZA0Spu2SgQ

— Jonathan M. Katz (@KatzOnEarth) December 11, 2018

Like a boss, @NancyPelosi refused to let Trump mansplain his nonsense to her. It was glorious.

— Karoli (@Karoli) December 11, 2018

Nancy Pelosi just did something that not a single Republican has had the guts to do in 2 years.

Stand up to Trump, in public, to his face. pic.twitter.com/jtLrE5Sir5

— Judd Legum (@JuddLegum) December 11, 2018  Related Stories
Travis Gettys, Raw Story

‘That was wild’: Pelosi and Schumer corner Trump as he spews lies about the border wall — and insists he’s ‘proud’ to shut down the government

1 day 22 hours ago
var icx_publication_id = 18566; var icx_content_id = '1098636'; Click here for reuse options! The meeting unfolded as cameras in the room captured Trump falsely claiming that “a lot of the wall is built.”

In a truly remarkable meeting on Tuesday, Donald Trump and Mike Pence met with Democratic leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer to discuss a pending government shutdown over the president’s demand for border wall funding.

The meeting unfolded as cameras in the room captured Trump falsely claiming that “a lot of the wall is built.”

“So we have done a lot of work on the wall, and wall is built, and lot of people don't know that and a lot of the wall is renovated,” Trump claimed.

“We have a lot of disagreements here,” Schumer said, noting that the Washington Post fact-checked Trump’s claim about the wall being built.

“[They] gave you a whole lot of Pinocchios,” Schumer said.

The president grew increasingly frustrated with the Democratic leaders, at one point remarking that if he doesn't get what he wants, he'll gladly shut down the government.

“I am proud to shut down the government for border security, Chuck,” Trump asserted. “I will be the one to shut it down.”

Pelosi and Schumer both insisted that Trump should not shut the government down over border wall funding, with Pelosi branding the move “the Trump shutdown."

Speaking with MSNBC’s Andrea Mitchell after the meeting, reporter Peter Alexander remarked, “That was wild.”

Watch the full videos below:

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Elizabeth Preza, AlterNet

A deep look at how the IRS was gutted

1 day 23 hours ago
An eight-year campaign to slash the agency’s budget has left it understaffed, hamstrung and operating with archaic equipment. The result: billions less to fund the government. That’s good news for corporations and the wealthy.

This story was co-published with The Atlantic.

In the summer of 2008, William Pfeil made a startling discovery: Hundreds of foreign companies that operated in the U.S. weren’t paying U.S. taxes, and his employer, the Internal Revenue Service, had no idea. Under U.S. law, companies that do business in the Gulf of Mexico owe the American government a piece of what they make drilling for oil there or helping those that do. But the vast majority of the foreign companies weren’t paying anything, and taxpaying American companies were upset, arguing that it unfairly allowed the foreign rivals to underbid for contracts.

Pfeil and the IRS started pursuing the non-U.S. entities. Ultimately, he figures he brought in more than $50 million in previously unpaid taxes over the course of about five years. It was an example of how the tax-collecting agency is supposed to work.

But then Congress began regularly reducing the IRS budget. After 43 years with the agency, Pfeil — who had hoped to reach his 50th anniversary — was angry about the “steady decrease in budget and resources” the agency had seen. He retired in 2013 at 68.

After Pfeil left, he heard that his program was being shut down. “I don’t blame the IRS,” Pfeil said. “I blame the Congress for not giving us the budget to do the job.”

Had the billions in budget reductions occurred all at once, with tens of thousands of auditors, collectors and customer service representatives streaming out of government buildings in a single day, the collapse of the IRS might have gotten more attention. But there have been no mass layoffs or dramatic announcements. Instead, it’s taken eight years to bring the agency that funds the government this low. Over time, the IRS has slowly transformed, one employee departure at a time.

The result is a bureaucracy on life support and tens of billions in lost government revenue. ProPublica estimates a toll of at least $18 billion every year, but the true cost could easily run tens of billions of dollars higher.

The cuts are depleting the staff members who help ensure that taxpayers pay what they owe. As of last year, the IRS had 9,510 auditors. That’s down a third from 2010. The last time the IRS had fewer than 10,000 revenue agents was 1953, when the economy was a seventh of its current size. And the IRS is still shrinking. Almost a third of its remaining employees will be eligible to retire in the next year, and with morale plummeting, many of them will.

The IRS conducted 675,000 fewer audits in 2017 than it did in 2010, a drop in the audit rate of 42 percent. But even those stark numbers don’t tell the whole story, say current and former IRS employees: Auditors are stretched thin, and they’re often forced to limit their investigations and move on to the next audit as quickly as they can.

Without enough staff, the IRS has slashed even basic functions. It has drastically pulled back from pursuing people who don’t bother filing their tax returns. New investigations of “nonfilers,” as they’re called, dropped from 2.4 million in 2011 to 362,000 last year. According to the inspector general for the IRS, the reduction results in at least $3 billion in lost revenue each year. Meanwhile, collections from people who do file but don’t pay have plummeted. Tax obligations expire after 10 years if the IRS doesn’t pursue them. Such expirations were relatively infrequent before the budget cuts began. In 2010, $482 million in tax debts lapsed. By 2017, according to internal IRS collection reports, that figure had risen to $8.3 billion, 17 times as much as in 2010. The IRS’ ability to investigate criminals has atrophied as well.

Corporations and the wealthy are the biggest beneficiaries of the IRS’ decay. Most Americans’ interaction with the IRS is largely automated. But it takes specialized, well-trained personnel to audit a business or a billionaire or to unravel a tax scheme — and those employees are leaving in droves and taking their expertise with them. For the country’s largest corporations, the danger of being hit with a billion-dollar tax bill has greatly diminished. For the rich, who research shows evade taxes the most, the IRS has become less and less of a force to be feared.

The story has been different for poor taxpayers. The IRS oversees one of the government’s largest anti-poverty programs, the earned income tax credit, which provides cash to the working poor. Under continued pressure from Republicans, the IRS has long made a priority of auditing people who receive that money, and as the IRS has shrunk, those audits have consumed even more resources, accounting for 36 percent of audits last year. The credit’s recipients — whose annual income is typically less than $20,000 — are now examined at rates similar to those who make $500,000 to $1 million a year. Only people with incomes above $1 million are examined much more frequently.

We submitted a detailed list of questions to the IRS and asked about the budget cuts’ effects on the agency’s enforcement efforts. The agency replied with a brief statement. “The IRS has substantial resources to identify and audit noncompliant taxpayers and continues to deter those attempting to evade their legal obligations,” it said.

In ProPublica’s interviews with dozens of tax professionals and more than 50 former and current IRS employees — part of an ongoing series on the state of tax enforcement — many agency veterans wondered whether the damage of the past several years will ever be undone. And they had a greater worry: that the American public will inevitably realize how weak the IRS has become.

The effects of an explosion in tax cheating would be dire. The nation’s already soaring budget deficit would surge by hundreds of billions of dollars more, pushing it well past $1 trillion. Commissioners of the IRS, starting with President George W. Bush’s appointee, Douglas Shulman, have warned Congress about a crisis like this since the budget cuts began, in 2011. But after eight years, Republican lawmakers, who are chiefly responsible for the reductions, show no signs that they think the danger is urgent. By the time the danger becomes indisputable, immense harm will already have been done.

“In the last few years, it was really frustrating,” said Pam Reicks, a former manager at the IRS who, until she retired at the end of last year, oversaw a program to audit wealthy taxpayers with undeclared offshore bank accounts. “It’s like in the fall when you bob for apples,” she told us. “You’ve got a tub of apples and can’t use your hands to grab them. You can see all this abuse and fraud, and people not paying their taxes, but can’t use your hands to get it.”

The IRS has never been a popular cause on Capitol Hill. But Democrats and Republicans long shared a grudging consensus that the agency’s basic work of tax collection deserved protection.

That changed when the Republican Party came into power in 1994 and Newt Gingrich became the speaker of the House. The new majority’s main priority was tax cuts, and vilifying the IRS helped its case. Some conservatives favored a “fair tax,” a consumption tax based on purchases. Proponents said that this simplified approach to taxation would allow them to “abolish” the IRS.

The notion wasn’t a fringe position within the party. Former Sen. Richard Lugar of Indiana, a respected mainstream Republican, ran for president in 1996 on a platform of abolishing the IRS. A Republican congressman in 1998 introduced a bill to repeal the Internal Revenue Code by 2002. “Abolish the IRS” remains a potent talking point. Ted Cruz, the Republican senator from Texas, campaigned on the slogan when he ran for president in 2016.

In 1997 and 1998, the Republican-controlled Senate held a series of dramatic hearings on alleged abuses by the IRS. Agency employees testified behind black curtains with their voices disguised, like Mafia snitches, to protect their identity. The testimony depicted an organization run amok, with claims of biased examiners and lurid tales of agents in flak jackets storming establishments. One restaurant owner told of a raid to seize business records at the home of an employee, during which agents forced a teenage boy to the floor at gunpoint and made a group of teenage girls at a slumber party get dressed “under the watchful eyes of male agents.” A USA Today headline read: “Witnesses Accuse IRS Investigators of ‘Gestapo-like’ Raids.”

Congress followed the hearings with a sweeping overhaul of the agency, limiting the IRS’ collection powers and independence and giving taxpayers new protections. In the Senate, the reform bill passed 97–0, and President Bill Clinton signed it.

It was only afterward that the Government Accountability Office debunked the allegations of IRS abuses. “Generally, we found no corroborating evidence that the criminal investigations described at the hearing were retaliatory against the specific taxpayer,” the report stated. “In addition, we could not independently substantiate that IRS employees had vendettas against these taxpayers.”

By then it was too late. Reeling from the new law and the public attacks, IRS audits and collections tumbled to historic lows.

Recovery took years, but because the IRS wasn’t a locus of partisan warfare during the presidency of George W. Bush, it did happen. By 2010, under the administration of Barack Obama, the IRS’ budget hit its high point: $14 billion in today’s dollars, about $2.5 billion above where it is today. Collections rebounded.

But that spring, over unified Republican opposition, Democrats passed the Affordable Care Act. The sprawling health care bill was also, indirectly, a sprawling tax bill, since it relied on the IRS to help administer many of its provisions.

In the midterm elections that followed, Republicans took the House of Representatives in a wave similar to that of 1994. The first bill introduced by House Republicans in 2011 was a budget that slashed funding across the government and took special aim at the IRS. In addition to calling for a cut to its budget of $600 million, the bill prohibited the IRS from using any of its funding to carry out key parts of the Affordable Care Act. It didn’t pass.

Since then, Republicans have cited the ACA as a reason to withhold funding from the IRS. In 2013, in response to an IRS request for a budget increase, former Rep. Ander Crenshaw, a Florida Republican who then sat on the House Appropriations Committee, said: “Any kind of increase of this magnitude was going to be a challenge for some very basic reasons. There are a lot of objections to the Affordable Health Care Act, a lot of objections to Obamacare.”

The agency faces a structural political problem. On one side are anti-tax Republicans, while on the other are Democrats who fear publicly supporting the taxman. “This is an agency that doesn’t have any friends,” said James Dyer, a Republican who worked for years on the House Appropriations Committee staff. “There’s no advocacy on the Hill for them except what they do for themselves.”

In 2013, the IRS’ bulwarks collapsed. First, as part of a budget deal with Obama’s administration, Republicans got what they had previously sought: a $600 million cut, which came on top of cuts in the previous two years. Then things got even worse. In May, an IRS inspector general reported that the agency had targeted right-leaning nonprofits for scrutiny, igniting what came to be known as the Lois Lerner scandal, named for the manager who had overseen the effort. Shortly thereafter, another report criticized the IRS for loose spending on its conferences. Republicans seized on both scandals, calling hearings and launching investigations.

To head an agency that was now devastated by budget cuts and scandal, Obama appointed John Koskinen. He was a turnaround specialist, a Mr. Fix-It who, at 74, emerged from retirement for one last job. Most recently, he’d led Freddie Mac after the mortgage giant was taken over by the government during the 2008 financial crisis. Fifteen years before, the Clinton White House tapped him to oversee preparations to avert the Y2K crisis. He was a Washington version of Winston Wolfe from “Pulp Fiction,” if Wolfe were unfailingly polite and liked working with large bureaucracies.

A pragmatist, Koskinen is someone who, by his own description, almost never gets angry. To deal with the crisis, he embarked on a morale-boosting cross-country tour, starting in Cincinnati, the center of the nonprofit scandal. He toured two cities a week for three and a half months. Ultimately, he spoke with more than 22,000 IRS employees. They didn’t gripe, he told us; they were focused on getting the resources to do their job. “This was as good a workforce as I have ever worked with.”

Cutting the IRS budget didn’t make sense to him. It was one of the few areas of government that had a positive return on investment. Koskinen told the Senate, “I don’t know any organization in my 20 years of experience in the private sector that has said, ‘I think I’ll take my revenue operation and starve it for funds.’”

When that argument failed, Koskinen tried to ease the vitriol through a personal connection. In 2014, he contacted Hal Rogers, who was then the Republican chairman of the House Appropriations Committee. Koskinen had grown up in Ashland, Kentucky, not far from Rogers’ district. He requested a meeting, couldn’t get in and kept at it. After a few calls, he threatened Rogers’ staff that he would come and sit in their offices until Rogers met with him. They capitulated. When Koskinen and Rogers finally sat down together, sure enough, they knew folks in common. One of Koskinen’s good friends had gone to college with Rogers. The two had a friendly meeting.

The next time Koskinen went to the Hill to testify, Rogers welcomed him warmly: “It is always good to see someone with strong Kentucky roots in the hearing room, particularly during basketball season.” He added, “I think much of you personally, Mr. Commissioner.” Then Rogers launched into a litany of criticisms: The IRS was trying to implement the Affordable Care Act against Congress’ wishes; it was spending too much, wasting too much, resisting reforms and letting the poor commit too much fraud. By that time, the Republican narrative had taken hold: The IRS had to be “held accountable” for wasting millions on lavish conferences and persecuting conservative nonprofits for their political beliefs.

These charges ignored inconvenient facts. The IRS conference spending had already plummeted, from $38 million in 2010 to $5 million in 2012 — beforethe Republicans first criticized the agency for overspending. And inspector general reports later pointed out that the IRS division that oversaw tax-exempt organizations had also targeted progressive groups and concluded that the IRS had taken prompt action to address the previously identified problems in the nonprofit unit.

Nevertheless, the scandals provided the rationale for ongoing budget cuts. The IRS lacked the “moral authority” to appeal for a budget increase, said Republican Rep. Paul Ryan, then the chair of the House Budget Committee, in 2013.

The cuts also forced discipline, Republicans argued. “We deliberately lowered the IRS funding to a level that would make the IRS think twice about what you are doing and why you are doing it,” Crenshaw told Koskinen in a hearing, “because you don’t have a single dime to spare on anything frivolous or foolhardy or even mediocre.”

Neither Crenshaw nor any other current or former Republican member of Congress agreed to speak with ProPublica about the IRS. Some staffers talked on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak to the press on the record and acknowledged that the budget cuts were a mistake. Asked about the cuts, a Hill Republican staffer said, “It was punishment,” adding that the IRS clearly “needs more money and needs more people.”

The lowest point for Koskinen — and for the IRS — came when, a few weeks before Christmas in 2014, after four years of consistent cuts, Congress slashed an additional $350 million from the agency’s budget. Because the cut came three months into the fiscal year, and only a few months before filing season began, it sent the agency scrambling. Desperate, Koskinen even considered briefly shutting down the IRS. Koskinen’s deputy said that this was the only time he saw his boss angry. “That night, I had trouble getting to sleep,” Koskinen said. “Normally I go to sleep in about 22 seconds. It drives my wife crazy.”

The sudden cut meant that the IRS couldn’t hire enough seasonal employees to answer taxpayer questions. As a result, almost two-thirds of the tens of millions of taxpayer calls would go unanswered that year.

Koskinen was outspoken about the cause of the poor service. He liked to counter the constant urging to do “more with less” with a dose of realism. In fact, he said, the IRS would do “less with less”: answer fewer calls and do fewer audits.

That upset Republicans, who charged in a contentious 2015 hearing that IRS mismanagement, not the budget cuts, was causing the decline in service. Mike Kelly, a Republican representative from Pennsylvania, attacked Koskinen, the ever-optimistic turnaround specialist, for being too negative. “I would encourage you to be a little more upbeat,” Kelly told Koskinen. “It is spring! Let’s talk about the good side of it.” The congressman also didn’t like Koskinen’s frequent quip that the budget cuts were really a “tax cut for tax cheats.”

“I don’t think that I would want to be a cheerleader, telling those people that don’t want to pay their taxes: ‘Hey, you know what? We are not going to be able to come after you,’” said Kelly, adding that “those comments are better kept internally.”

Koskinen replied with a speech he’d given many times before and would give again. A collapse in tax compliance was really possible, he said. People will catch on. He worried about the U.S. becoming Italy or Greece. “What I don’t want to do is have somebody later on say, ‘You never warned us,’” he told Congress. “This is your warning.”

It’s a decision that everyone who works at the IRS has to make: How will you respond when someone asks, “So what do you do?” Answer forthrightly, and you’re bound to be met with either iciness or open hostility. Over her 30-year career, Pam Reicks, the former IRS manager, adopted a solution that’s common for IRS lifers. “I work for the government,” she’d say.

Not that she was the least bit embarrassed by what she did. She was proud to play a role in making sure that the tax system was fair and that the rich paid their share. The walls of her home office are covered with family pictures, awards from the IRS and an American flag. Get her started on the topic of auditing, and her large eyes will grow wide as she excitedly tells you why it’s such tricky, interesting detective work.

When Reicks joined the IRS in 1987, she saw it as an exciting way to expand her world. Born and raised in Red Cloud, Nebraska (population 1,000), she was curious and eager to learn. She began her career in Waterloo, Iowa, first auditing individuals and then working her way up to businesses. She preferred auditing businesses, because poring over the books of companies taught her how they really worked.

Reicks moved to Des Moines and climbed her way to management. She tried to inspire agents with her enthusiasm. “I’m, Go, IRS!, you know?” she said with a laugh. “Go team!

By 2011, she had shifted to a new job, one that offered plenty to satisfy her curiosity. At the time, the IRS was cracking down on Americans hiding money in tax havens. The Justice Department, with the help of whistleblowers, had pierced the veil of secrecy that shielded Switzerland’s bank accounts. Banks sent lists showing thousands of account holders — many of them probable tax cheats — to U.S. authorities. But the scope of the problem was too big. The IRS simply couldn’t audit everybody who had an offshore account.

One solution was to allow people to turn themselves in. The IRS launched programs that offered reduced penalties to those who came forward voluntarily, before an audit was opened. Tens of thousands did. But, of course, an unknown number of tax dodgers did not. Reicks’ new job, as a senior manager in the offshore program, was to help the IRS figure out how many of those people it could audit.

Auditing taxpayers with accounts in tax havens is hard. Revenue agents have to investigate the scope of any cheating and figure out whether it was intentional. Tracking down the necessary documents from foreign countries can add frustrating delays. The average time to complete an offshore audit, Reicks remembered, was close to three years.

Part of her task was to make sure that managers and revenue agents, who feel pressure to show productivity, did not cut these audits short. Some of the cases involved huge amounts of money. But IRS employees aren’t supposed to think about that. Since the IRS-reform bill in 1998, the agency is prohibited from evaluating agents based on how much money they bring in. Instead, they are evaluated on how efficiently they open and close audits. “You have to account for your time,” Reicks said, “and if you’re not churning out the exams, you have to explain why you’re not.”

The budget cuts meant agents had to trudge through these jungles without a map. Not only were there fewer agents every year to do these audits, but many of the ones who remained were less experienced. Training and travel budgets had been slashed along with everything else. The agents conducting these audits were scattered across the country, as was Reicks’ team of 11 experts, who were supposed to guide them. In-person training became a rare luxury. Instead, most instruction was done online: PowerPoint slides appeared on a screen while someone talked. “But this stuff is so complicated that without somebody sitting in front of you, you don’t know if they’re getting what you’re saying,” Reicks said.

The entire IRS has seen a similar shift. As a result, training has become less effective, IRS employees told ProPublica, and the thoroughness of audits has diminished. It’s also made the IRS a worse place to work.

“The last time I was aware of hiring,” said Marie Allen, who retired in 2016 after a 32-year career at the IRS that included time auditing wealthy taxpayers, “I saw the young, angel, baby-faced agents coming in. They were told to sit down in a cubicle, given a computer and told, ‘This is your training.’” A couple of trainees decided to quit rather than suffer through weeks more of this, she said. “So we lost young talent by basically boring them to death.”

Even established employees can feel themselves falling behind, making it harder to match up against sophisticated opponents. “We’re staying stagnant in what we know,” said an IRS employee who works on audits of corporations. Add to that the pressure to close audits as quickly as possible, and auditors often feel like they are rushing past signs of suspicious activity. “All I have time for is low-hanging fruit, basically,” the employee said. “It’s not only not fair to American taxpayers, it’s not very satisfying for me, either.”

As time went on, Reicks said, the IRS was able to undertake fewer and fewer audits of offshore accounts. Given a list of American accounts in a tax haven, the IRS would often be able to audit only 10 to 15 percent of them, she remembered. That meant the agency was not able to adequately pursue tens of thousands of people who had kept their bank accounts secret from the U.S. government.

In 2015, shortly after congressional Republicans forced the sudden $350 million cut that so upset Koskinen, Reicks began a new stage of her career. To prepare its managers for possible elevation to the executive level, the IRS puts them in temporary assignments. Over the course of a couple years, Reicks would get a different job every three to six months. But while the type of work changed at each assignment, the basic problem she faced did not: There weren’t enough people to do the work.

Her final assignment put her in charge of exam activities at two of the IRS’ “campuses” in the Northeast. At the campuses, in row upon row of cubicles, thousands of tax examiners and customer service reps review correspondence and answer phone calls from taxpayers.

Employees, Reicks said, constantly asked whether the IRS was going to hire more workers. With no good news to report, the best Reicks could do was assure them that they were responsible only for the work assigned to them, not for the work the IRS should be doing. “I get that the four desks around you are all empty,” she remembered saying. “This is what we have. We will adjust the workload accordingly.”

Lacking staff, the IRS has shrunk programs — even those that brought in billions. One such casualty: pursuing taxpayers who do not bother to file tax returns. Tracking those people and businesses down, determining what they owe and then reviewing what they submit in response is time-consuming. “Why generate new work when we don’t have the resources to do the work we have right now?” asked Shantelle Kitchen-Nelson, who managed a collections campus in Philadelphia in 2017 and recently retired.

As the IRS has fallen further and further behind on collecting the debts of those who filed a return but didn’t pay their taxes, many of those obligations have been allowed to surpass the 10-year statute of limitations. “For our customers,” said Jay Freeborne, a tax professional in Seattle who advises clients with tax debts, “those are touchdowns. When debts expire, we high-five them.”

“This is a great time for not being compliant with paying taxes,” said Richard Schickel, a former IRS collection agent who now counsels taxpayers. “I have 11 clients who owe more than $1 million who are not being worked at all.”

As Reicks toured different parts of the IRS, she was impressed by her colleagues. But she was working 80-hour weeks, often advising on offshore issues in addition to her current assignment, and living for chunks of time in hotels. On top of all that, her mother and brother had died in the same month.

She decided not to put herself up for promotion and moved back to Nebraska, to live in Omaha, near her sister. She returned to her old job of supervising offshore audits full time. But by then, in 2017, things had grown noticeably worse.

Reicks looked forward to the end of the year, when she’d reach 30 years of service and be eligible to retire with full retirement benefits. She’d always thought she’d stay longer than that. But she realized that she couldn’t.

“I got tired,” she said.

It’s unclear when — or whether — Congress might begin to reinvest in the IRS. The best that can be said is that it’s been a few years since the last deep cut.

In 2015, when the IRS ability to answer taxpayer phone calls hit a low point, the budget discussions on Capitol Hill took a turn. Republicans agreed to boost the agency’s funding — but only part of it. The “taxpayer services” portion, which goes toward hiring seasonal employees to answer the phones, got bumped up. The “enforcement” portion of the budget continued to be pared: Today, adjusting for inflation, it’s $1.5 billion lower than it was in 2010, a decrease of 23 percent.

This year, Republicans again selectively increased IRS funding. The massive new tax cut law has dumped loads of extra work on the IRS, which now has to write rules interpreting the legislation, reprogram aged computer systems and retrain its employees. Republicans understand that if the IRS fails to roll out their tax overhaul well, they might feel the political consequences. To help the agency cope, Congress handed it an extra $320 million, with the instruction that the money be used solely to implement the new law.

The budget for 2019 is likely to be more of the same. When asked whether lawmakers might eventually provide increased funds to hire auditors and collectors, Republican Hill staffers told ProPublica that the members of Congress they work for will follow the lead of the new IRS commissioner, Charles Rettig. If Rettig, who was confirmed in September, asks for more money for the 2020 budget, Congress might support it, they said.

Rettig, a tax lawyer with decades of experience defending wealthy clients against the IRS, has been publicly noncommittal so far. Pressed by Democratic senators at his confirmation hearing, all he would say was that “one of [his] top priorities would be to analyze the budget.” This was a stark contrast to Koskinen’s outspoken advocacy.

In the meantime, the IRS continues to shrink. Annual revenue from audits is down by about $10 billion, adjusted for inflation, since 2010, and billions more have been lost by not pursuing nonfilers and other sources of unpaid tax debts. If the IRS had maintained a level of enforcement similar to that of the years from 2004 to 2010, it would have collected about $18 billion more than it did last year, ProPublica estimates. The total shortfall since 2011 has been about $95 billion.

The true cost is likely much larger, since IRS enforcement has a magnifying effect. People who undergo audits are less likely to evade taxes in the future, just as nonfilers who are caught are more likely to file voluntarily, studies have shown. Take away enforcement, and evaders are emboldened and grow in number.

One factor that has helped obscure this deterioration is the growth of the U.S. economy, which has pushed up tax receipts since the Great Recession. The IRS took in $3 trillion in 2017, up from $2 trillion in 2011. Republicans have pointed to this as proof that nothing is amiss: “You could argue,” Crenshaw said to Koskinen in a 2016 hearing, “if you collect more revenue with less money, then maybe if you had even less money you would collect even more revenue.”

But the increase in receipts is misleading. During that period, for example, the top marginal tax rate went up, so the richest taxpayers were paying more. More important, in 2011, Americans had deep losses from the 2008 financial crisis that were still depressing tax obligations. In the following years, receipts outpaced economic growth, a typical phenomenon during recoveries. Still, that increase was weaker than government analysts expected. Even before last year’s tax cuts, tax receipts as a percentage of GDP never reached the levels of the late 1990s or mid-2000s.

It will be years before we know whether tax cheating has in fact increased. The last IRS report to assess what it calls the “tax gap,” issued in 2016, analyzed the period from 2008 to 2010. It found that taxpayers had paid about 82 percent of the taxes they truly owed. If the rate of compliance in 2017 was the same, that would translate to $667 billion in missing taxes.

Even the tiniest drop in compliance would cost billions more. But no one we spoke with who has worked at the IRS thinks the drop is likely to have been small. “One day it will be clear,” Koskinen said, “but by that time, you’re in deep yogurt.”

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Paul Kiel, Jesse Eisinger, ProPublica

Here's why a universal basic income won't solve the racial wealth gap

1 day 23 hours ago
The racial wealth gap is real. But a guaranteed income is not going to fix it.

Yes, I feel the current distribution of wealth is grotesquely unfair. Yes, I believe that those who cannot or will not work should not be allowed to starve. Yes, I would be against plans to eliminate or cut the existing welfare system as long as it is needed. Yes, I believe that we should build a community in which everyone’s needs are met.

Yet I oppose a universal guaranteed basic income.

My objections have surprised many people, but they are consistent with what I think is the solution to our economic justice problem. I favor deep democracy replacing the rule of capital in our lives. This would require reparations and the reconstruction of the commons to include the Earth and the financial resources that have been created by our labor within exploiting systems.

Guaranteed basic income is simply more widely available welfare. It would only help people have more access to consumption without altering anything about how production is organized. It would not alter wealth distribution and ownership. And it would require a new bureaucracy staffed by agents and experts to regulate and allocate this universal distribution of money.

Our economy suffers from the fact that communities are not having their needs met and a quality of life equitably elevated by all. Neither the self-regulated market nor the intervention of government has been successful in doing this to the satisfaction of the many. We are told not to bother to understand how we got into the situation we are in, but rather forget the past and look ahead to the future.

I’m reminded of a story that I was told by the Rev. Bongani Finca who was involved in South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation work. A Black South African, Tabo, confronted a White man, Mr. Smith, who had disrespected him and stolen his prize cow. With the prospect of amnesty for telling the truth, the White man admitted to having done what he was accused of, recognized how horribly wrong it was, and asked for forgiveness, saying that he was truly sorry. Tabo was visibly relieved for having an opportunity to confront his oppressor and get an apology. They shook hands and embraced. As Mr. Smith, stood to leave, free, with his amnesty, the Black man called out to stop him. The White man turned back with a questioning look on his face, not sure why he was being stopped. Tabo, the Black South African, asked him, “But what about the cow?” Mr. Smith was visibly angry: “You are ruining our reconciliation,” he shouted, “This has nothing to do with a cow.”

That is the question we must ask all those who say the past is long gone but still retain ownership of the herd produced by that old cow. We won’t forgive and forget until we get the cow back. But just suppose that the Mr. Smiths in the world make a counteroffer: “I’ll tell you what, why don’t I just give you a supply of butter?” “The hell,” Tabo might reply. “If you give me back my cow, I can give you butter!”

Guaranteed income is merely a supply of butter.

It makes two assumptions, both of which I think are false: It assumes that the government can simply pay out the money without having other negative consequences for the economy as a whole, and it also assumes that there is a rational amount of money and process for its allocation that experts can figure out and apply fairly.

What is true is that labor is the sole creator of value. Therefore, the money has no place to come from but out of the social surplus, either as taxes or reduced wages. In other words, there is a political and economic price to be paid that cannot be avoided.

What I do think we need is reparations, the democratization of wealth, the re-creation of the commons, and the outlawing of financial systems of theft and speculation. Communities must become their own developers through broadly democratic planning and democratic access to nonextractive financing.

A good friend of mine, Dara Cooper, an organizer with the National Black Food and Justice Alliance, sent me an email that ended with this quote from revolutionary and Burkina Faso’s former president, Thomas Sankara:

“We must produce more because the one who feeds you usually imposes his will upon you.”

The key is democracy and expanded opportunities to be productive rather than enhanced consumption. We need the cow back, not just a supply of butter.

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Ed Whitfield, YES! Magazine

Here's how Trump, DeVos and Mulvaney helped banks and colleges steal from students

2 days ago
A suppressed report outlines abusive practices, fee gouging by Wells Fargo and others

The Trump Administration hid a study documenting financial abuse of students by some banks working hands-in-glove with colleges, the latest example of how instead of “draining the swamp” Donald Trump is turning official Washington into a paradise for swamp monsters.

The suppressed fee gouging report was made by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau or CFPB.

Students attending colleges which have marketing agreements with banks and other financial institutions paid much higher overdraft and account fees than students at schools with no such deals, the study found.

“Wells Fargo charged students the most of all those with college campus marketing agreements—an average of $46.99 per account per year, while banks without such deals charged students an average of $11.93 in fees,” Kate Berry of American Banker reported.

Some nonprofit credit unions also engaged in fee gouging. The University of Kentucky Federal Credit Union, for example, charged $37 per account annually, the study found.

One lender has charged $600 just to issue loan checks.

The Trump administration wants to kill the CFPB, as we have documented in nine previous DCReport articles. Lacking authority to do that, Team Trump has turned the bureau into a protection agency for the worst banking practices, damaging millions of consumers. Hiding findings of abusive practices and disloyalty to customers are key parts of this Trumpian strategy.

We know of the study only because it was mentioned last August in a scathing resignation letter by Seth Frotman, a CFPB assistant director and student loan ombudsman. Frotman accused Mick Mulvaney, who is Trump’s director of the Office of Management and Budget as well as acting director of the CFPB, of suppressing the report because it showed large banks knowingly ripped off students by charging high or inappropriate fees.

Frotman’s resignation letter charged that under Mulvaney the bureau was “shielding bad actors from scrutiny” while both undercutting enforcement of laws to protect consumers and undermining the bureau’s independence.

Referring to his extensive travels and especially his talks with military families who were conned by financial product sales agents, Frotman wrote that “American families need an independent consumer bureau to look out for them when lenders push products they know cannot be repaid, when banks and debt collectors conspire to abuse the courts and force families out of their homes and when students loan companies are allowed to drive millions of Americans to financial ruin with impunity.”

Mulvaney offered a cavalier response in a CNBC interview. Mulvaney said that he had never even heard of Frotman and had been told that while ombudsman Frotman never complained about the issues raised in his resignation letter. He avoided dealing with the substance of the issue—lender disloyalty to customers.

The study was pried loose by Allied Progress through the Freedom of Information Act, a nonprofit consumer watchdog created in 2015, during the Obama Administration, by Karl Frisch, a lifelong communications adviser for Democratic candidates and progressive organizations.

The fees in the study Mulvaney suppressed are modest compared to a test of student loan fees I made in 2008. The cost to a bank of sending a payment electronically is so minute that many banks charge nothing for the service.

After failing to get NelNet, a student loan servicer, to discuss its fees, I took out a Sallie Mae student loan for one of my children, an action I described in my 2012 book The Fine Print. NelNet divided the loan into two payments, one for each semester. It levied a $300 fee for the cost of issuing the first check. I repaid the loan immediately to avoid a second $300 charge.

Responsibility for protecting students from lenders falls to the CFPB under the law creating it. That law was sponsored by Senator Elizabeth Warren, a Massachusetts Democrat whom Trump loathes. The duty to police colleges so they do not help banks abuse students falls to the federal Department of Education, where Betsy DeVos, the education secretary, has repeatedly taken the side of bankers against the interests of students, as well as parents and grandparents who co-sign student loans. Some of her anti-student actions are detailed in It’s Even Worse Than You Think, my book about the Trump administration.

Hiding the study until it was flushed out using the 1966 Freedom of Information Act is just the latest example of how Trump has aggressively worked to do the opposite of what he promised in his inauguration speech:

“What truly matters is not which party controls our government, but whether our government is controlled by the people… January 20th, 2017, will be remembered as the day the people became the rulers of this nation again. The forgotten men and women of our country will be forgotten no longer. Everyone is listening to you now. You came by the tens of millions to become part of a historic movement the likes of which the world has never seen before. At the center of this movement is a crucial conviction: that a nation exists to serve its citizens.”

A core finding of the suppressed report is that marketing deals between colleges and banks enrich the banks at the expense of students.

“The bureau and other government entities have expressed concern over the relationship between revenue sharing provisions in contracts and fees charged to student accountholders,” the report says. “These provisions raise questions about potential conflicts of interest, including whether revenue sharing encourages higher-fee financial products that crowd out competition from providers of accounts for which student accountholders” would pay less.

Bank representatives say the report is hooey.

The report found that 573 colleges had marketing agreements. About 1.3 million students paid $27.6 million in fees to 14 banks and credit unions in the 2016-17 academic year, the report states.

In a form of what is apparently a legal kickback, 116 colleges were paid $16.7 million by banks and credit unions to promote financial accounts in 2017, deals designed to capture young customers whose financial resources would be expected to grow over time. PNC Bank paid colleges $7.6 million, U.S. Bank paid $3.2 million and Wells Fargo paid $2.1 million.

Significantly, lower fees were paid by students at the 457 colleges which did not get kickbacks. The estimated 839,000 students at colleges without marketing agreements paid $11.93 on average in fees, compared with $36.52 for the 482,000 students who used accounts at colleges with marketing agreements.

These fees differences indicate there is no enforcement of a 2015 Obama era rule by the Education Department requiring colleges to exercise reasonable diligence to make sure that under marketing agreements with banks students pay fees “consistent with or below prevailing market rates.”

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David Cay Johnston, DC Report

Trump's delusional alternate social media universe reveals his mounting concerns over the Mueller probe

2 days ago
Trump unloads a barrage of tweets out of fantasy land.

Trump has ended a newsy week with a fountain of what by even his own standards are pretty down-is-up and untrue statements.

For a president increasingly isolated and facing a growing number of challenges from the world, politics and incoming investigations, there is a distinct reflection of self-delusion and an air of desperate flailing strong enough for all to sense. It’s a sign that we all should strap in for more as these investigations come closer to him.

Indeed, “The White House is adopting what one official termed a ‘shrugged shoulders’ strategy for adverse news, calculating that most GOP base voters will believe whatever the president tells them to believe,” according to one Washington Post report.

In just a few days, Trump:

  • Blamed rioting protests in Paris on failed efforts to address climate change and claimed that protesters were calling for Trump to intervene. Um, no – on all counts. The protests are aimed at a fuel tax, and there were no calls for Trump to save France. The French foreign minister asked that Trump stop tweeting about France.
  • Claimed that the prosecutorial sentencing reports for Paul Manafort, his former campaign chairman, and Michael Cohen, his longtime fixer, “cleared” Trump of any possible “collusion” charges. Actually, those court filings identified Trump as directing the scheme to pay hush-money settlements to two women for their silence about sex, in violation of campaign finance laws. The filings also opened new and earlier avenues for Special Counsel Robert S. Mueller III to pursue about contacts by Russians with Trump’s campaign. “Prosecutors investigating President Trump and his team draw a portrait of a candidate who personally directed an illegal scheme to manipulate the 2016 election and whose advisers had more contact with Russia than Trump has ever acknowledged,” said The New York Times, and up to 14 Russian contacts per The Washington Post.
  • Blasted former James Comey Jr. for his testimony to House Republican-majority committees as lies. “Leakin’ James Comey must have set a record for who lied the most to Congress in one day. His Friday testimony was so untruthful! This whole deal is a Rigged Fraud headed up by dishonest people who would do anything so that I could not become President. They are now exposed!” No, Comey’s testimony actually suggested the FBI had started to investigate four Americans who did not include the president.
  • After declaring success in meeting with Chinese leader Xi Jinping over the tariffs issues, Trump declared himself “a tariff man” in favor of retaining tariffs, triggering a 1,700-point turndown in the stock market.
  • Insisted again that Saudi Crown Prince Muhammad bin Salman was blameless in the assassination of writer Jamal Khashoggi in Turkey despite CIA findings to the opposite. Trump’s stance irked even key Republican senators.
  • By contrast, Trump remained silent about reported Republican voter fraud in a North Carolina congressional race, about a monthly jobs report that fell substantially short of expectations and played up his dismissal of Chief of Staff John F. Kelly Jr. as being Kelly’s idea. Better yet, the would-be replacement, Nick Ayers, told him he didn’t want the job beyond a couple of months.
  • Meanwhile, Trump said he still wants to meet again with North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un despite evidence that no progress has been made toward nuclear disarmament, in accordance with what Trump said that they had agreed.
  • He even credited a non-existent Wall for having stopped an immigrant caravan rather than a combination of interminable waiting for asylum seekers at ports of entry and adverse court rulings challenging his policies. Nevertheless, he continued to press for money for the wall even if it means a partial government shutdown.

As a result, over the last weeks, the president has found himself almost without friends at international meetings, facing disruptive job churn at the White House, competing demands and a rising tide of problems.

We know that the announced tariffs against China are not working as had been expected by the White House and that the Middle East is hanging on by a thread with U.S. support for Saudi Arabia resulting in widespread starvation among Yemenis caught in a proxy war. We know our allies are unsure of their place with official Washington, and that autocrats worldwide are taking note that they can escape from punishment for human rights abuses by buying a few American airplanes, as does Saudi Arabia.

At the center, of course, is the Russia election-influence investigation. Mueller has given some new hints this week, but most of the probe’s scope and importance remains hidden. It is up to us to knit together what details are known.

Axios.com offered that information “we already now know is highly damning and highly detailed. The scary thing for Trump — Mueller knows a helluva lot more than we now know.” It’s worth keeping in mind as we hear concern about one detail or another.

Said Axios: We now know, for example, that several Russian officials reached out to a half-dozen Republicans close to Trump and his campaign, including his eldest son, his closest adviser, his lawyer, and his campaign manager. We know that Russia offered in those chats campaign assistance — “synergy,” they called it. We know now of no one around Trump who alerted the FBI of this effort to subvert our elections.

We know that 12 Russian intelligence officers were indicted for hacking the DNC and releasing material for the purpose of hurting the Clinton campaign via WikiLeaks. We know that Trump associates Roger Stone and Jerome Corsi attempted — successfully, in some instances — to get in touch with WikiLeaks and that they are under investigation for whether they had advance knowledge. We know Donald Trump Jr. and others met with Russians promising dirt on Hillary Clinton.

We now know Trump was negotiating a Trump Tower in Moscow during the presidential campaign — and hid this from the public and lied about it. We now know Mueller believes, based on his court filing, the “Moscow Project was a lucrative business opportunity that sought, and likely required, the assistance of the Russian government.”

We know every arm of the U.S. intelligence concluded Russia sought to systematically influence the election outcome. We now know Trump officials continued talking with the Russians during the post-election transition, with Jared Kushner and Jeff Sessions failing initially to disclose any contacts with Russians. We now know Jared Kushner suggested a secret backchannel with the Russians.

And we now know Trump fired FBI director James Comey, Attorney General Jeff Sessions and White House counsel Don McGahn in part over their handling of the probe. Meanwhile, Manafort and Cohen are headed for jail.

I wonder if the fountain needs a rest and regroup time.

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Terry H. Schwadron, DC Report

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