In Mexico, massacre of family underlines surging violence

Associated Press  World

In Mexico, massacre of family underlines surging violence

Mark Stevenson, Associated Press    July 10, 2017

COATZACOALCOS, Mexico (AP) — The bullet-riddled bodies of the Martinez children were found on a bloody floor, huddled next to the corpses of their parents in a rented shack.

The family of six was massacred, authorities believe, because the Zetas cartel suspected the father, an unemployed taxi driver, had played some part in a rival gang’s attack that killed a Zeta gunman.

The response underlines the no-holds-barred tactics of drug gangs that are splintering and battling one another for control in much of Mexico, which recently recorded its highest monthly murder total in at least 20 years.

Despite President Enrique Pena Nieto’s promises of a safer nation when he came to office five years ago, the violence is outpacing even the darkest days of the drug war launched by his predecessor.

“It has taken on the proportions of a ring of hell that would be described in Dante’s ‘Inferno,'” said Mike Vigil, former chief of international operations for the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration and author of the book “Deal.”

“Their strategy was strictly going after the kingpin. … That was pretty much not the way to go because, you know, you cut off a head and others take its place,” Vigil added. “You have weak institutions, weak rule of law, weak judiciary, massive corruption, particularly within the state and municipal police forces, and all of that contributes to the escalating violence.”

In the first five months of 2017, there were 9,916 killings nationwide — an increase of about 30 percent over the 7,638 slain during the same period last year. In 2011, the bloodiest year of the drug war, the figure for the same January-May period was 9,466.

In some places the bloodshed has accompanied the rise of the upstart Jalisco New Generation cartel and the breakup of the once-dominant Sinaloa cartel into warring factions following the arrest of drug lord Joaquin “El Chapo” Guzman, who was extradited to the United States in January.

At least 19 people died in turf battles pitting Guzman’s son, brother and former allies against each other late last month in the western state of Sinaloa, according to investigators.

In the northern border state of Chihuahua, shootouts last week between Sinaloa gunmen and the gang known as La Linea killed at least 14.

In the Gulf Coast oil city of Coatzacoalcos, Veracruz Gov. Miguel Angel Yunes said the slaying of a top gunman in late June prompted the Zetas to kill the entire Martinez family: Clemente; his wife Martimana; 10-year-old Jocelin; Victor Daniel, 8; Angel, 6; and Nahomi, 5.

All died in the house where they washed cars for $1 each.

“They didn’t have anything, not even furniture. They slept on the floor,” grandmother Flora Martinez said, sobbing. “I don’t understand why they did this, why they did this to my little ones. They were innocent, they didn’t know anything.”

For years it was understood that the Zetas were untouchable in this part of the state. Just ask Sonia Cruz, whose son was killed in Coatzacoalcos in July 2016 in a case that remains unsolved.

“They (police) told me that when ‘la mana’ (drug cartels) are involved, that’s where they stop investigating,” Cruz said.

But last year’s election of Yunes, the first opposition candidate to win the governorship from the long-ruling Institutional Revolutionary Party, may have broken old alliances between criminals and corrupt officials.

The new governor has shown some willingness to go after the Zetas: The local cartel leader who allegedly ordered the Martinez killings, known as “Comandante H,” was arrested a few days afterward.

Yunes said the man had “operated with absolute freedom in Coatzacoalcos since 2006” and accused business people in the city of acting as fronts for ill-gotten properties that actually belonged to the gangster.

Raul Ojeda Banda, a local anti-crime activist, said that some were forced to go along with the scheme: “Some were pressured, threatened.”

Violence in the area has also been exacerbated by Jalisco cartel incursions and other pressures that have threatened key sources of income for the Zetas.

Part of “Comandante H’s” business model involved large-scale kidnapping for quick ransom, with targets ranging from locals to oil workers to Central American migrants whom gang members tortured to extort payments from relatives in the United States.

But the Zetas abducted so many locals that those who were able moved out of the city, and those who remained began blocking off their neighborhoods at night to keep kidnappers out.

An oil industry slump amid low crude prices resulted in fewer energy workers around to prey upon. And suddenly there were fewer migrants as well. Donald Trump’s election discouraged some from trying to reach the U.S. and others avoided southern Veracruz for fear of being attacked.

“The vast majority of them are robbed. It is a lucky one who isn’t,” said priest Joel Ireta Munguia, the head of a Coatzacoalcos migrant shelter run by the Roman Catholic Church. He estimated the number of Central Americans passing though the city has declined by almost two-thirds.

The wave of violence has also touched regions that were long seen as peaceful.

The Jalisco cartel is believed to have allied with a faction of the Sinaloa gang in a war for the Baja California Sur state cities of Los Cabos and the nearby port of La Paz.

Dismembered bodies, severed heads and clandestine graves have now become almost routine in the once-placid resorts.

Dwight Zahringer, a Michigan native who lives in an upscale neighborhood in Los Cabos, said one victim was found at the entrance to his neighborhood recently.

“That was more of a message that the narco-traffickers wanted to deliver, sort of to say, ‘We can come right up into your Beverly Hills and dump dismembered bodies on your doorstep,'” Zahringer said. “I’m from Detroit. We’re used to seeing crime. But heads being left in coolers — that’s a little extreme.”

Law Professor: The obstruction of justice case against Trump is already a slam dunk

Business Insider-Slate

Law Professor: The obstruction of justice case against Trump is already a slam dunk

Samuel Buell, Slate  July 8, 2017

In the weeks since the New York Times reported that President Trump allegedly asked James Comey to drop a pending criminal investigation of Michael Flynn, there has been much debate about whether the president committed obstruction of justice.

Looking at the entire affair from the standpoint of strict legal analysis, there’s just one conclusion: All available evidence says he did.

Under such a plain legal analysis, of the sort my students and I conduct in the law school classroom, it is highly likely that special counsel Robert Mueller will find that there is a provable case that the president committed a federal felony offense.

The Justice Department, as well as many scholars, have opined that a sitting president cannot be indicted and tried for a crime. So the ultimate issue, whatever Mueller’s findings, will come down to the political question of impeachment. But Mueller’s determination will be critical because the crime of obstruction would be the most legally potent charge in any impeachment debate, as it was in the articles of impeachment against both Presidents Nixon and Clinton.

It’s worth looking at the already strong publicly available evidence, as well as the supposed flaws in that case. Even taking into account possible shortcomings, the current case for an obstruction of justice charge is crystal clear.

Looking at it from the perspective of a prosecutor or a law school class, the three basic legal elements of obstruction of justice are satisfied in this case. First, Trump’s alleged directive to his former FBI director would qualify as an effort to interfere with an investigation. Federal courts have said that virtually any act can create such liability for obstruction and that the act need not, by itself, be unlawful or even nefarious.

Second, Trump’s act allegedly was taken with a specific “official proceeding”-the potential prosecution of his former national security adviser-in mind as the object of the effort to obstruct.

It’s important to note that the relevant criminal statute prohibits obstruction of legal proceedings that might not yet be underway at the time of the offense but that could come to fruition-an investigation of Flynn was ongoing at that point, but there may not yet have been a grand jury.

As long as the suspect has a specific potential proceeding in mind-any possible prosecution of Flynn would do here-this requirement is satisfied.

Third, Trump’s alleged actions clearly indicate a “corrupt” intent, which federal court rulings have said is a state of mind meaning “with an improper purpose to obstruct justice.” There have been many federal cases in which efforts to derail or even slow a criminal investigation in order to protect associates were proven in court to meet this requirement. That is what apparently happened here.

There are other issues at play, of course. Some have argued that, elements of the crime aside, the president simply cannot be prosecuted for exercising his power to direct federal law enforcement priorities no matter how malevolent his intentions. This argument disturbingly equates the power to do something with the legality of exercising that power.

The Supreme Court has already acknowledged the inescapable logic that the president’s authority over federal law enforcement does not include the freedom to prevent investigation and prosecution of himself and his close aides, as presidential powers expert Richard Pildes has explained. The opposing line of argument would excuse a parade of horribles including, hypothetically, a president who ordered his FBI director to mire an election opponent in a costly and distracting investigation for political reasons, or a president who ordered the halt to a murder investigation that might implicate a staff member.

A related claim is that the existence of the presidential pardon implies the power to snuff out any investigation at any stage. But no sensible rendition of the constitutional framers’ intention could hold that their actual purpose was to grant the president a monarchical prerogative to ordain any legal outcome, on any subject, and at any time.

The principal defense to date from Trump and his advocates has been on the facts. They have denied much of the sequence of events laid out in Comey’s testimony and in press accounts about his contemporaneous documentation of the meetings in question. Even assuming that this defense eventually points to specific contested facts and somehow resolves the president’s own contradictory statements, the approach is going nowhere.

By the standards of federal criminal cases, Comey’s credibility-on recall, detail, résumé, demeanor, bias, intelligence, contemporaneous documentation, and other standard witness metrics-is exceptionally strong. After watching Comey’s testimony before the Senate Intelligence Committee, no experienced federal criminal lawyer, speaking candidly, would say otherwise. The chances of impactful cross-examination are minimal.

Comey’s testimony also appears to be extensively corroborated. In addition to Comey’s own writings, which would be admissible as evidence if Comey’s credibility were attacked, President Trump allegedly made statements to others in the administration, to diplomats, and to the public that would bolster Comey’s account.

A prosecutor would also attempt to corroborate innocent details in Comey’s story as well as incriminating ones, including those that support the credibility of witnesses. For example, Comey’s testimony that he spoke with Attorney General Jeff Sessions the day after his Oval Office meeting and asked not to be left alone with the president again was corroborated by Sessions himself.

Critically, the entire sequence of events-the alleged requests for “loyalty,” the strange White House dinner, the handling of Comey’s firing, the directive to Sessions and others to leave the Oval Office before the alleged Flynn request, even the president’s dealings with others, such as the former U.S. attorney in Manhattan-fit together to portray a consistent and compelling story about the president’s purpose in urging Comey to end the investigation of Flynn.

Another implausible argument advanced on behalf of the president is that his alleged statements to Comey about dropping the Flynn investigation were not a directive because the president said only that he “hoped” Comey would act accordingly. (Trump denies saying even this.)

As a matter of common sense, the argument that a person with immense power cannot mean to influence an underling when making a “mere” suggestion should strike anyone familiar with the milieu of The Sopranos as frivolous.

As a matter of law, expressing “hope” can constitute obstruction of justice. The judicial decisions in obstruction of justice cases are replete with examples of people prosecuted for attempting to influence others subtly and through less than direct orders.

Yet another uninformed point has been made by some that Trump did not actually obstruct the Flynn investigation: Comey took no action, and even after Comey’s firing, the matter goes on. There is probably no point on which the law of obstruction of justice is clearer: The crime consists of the effort to obstruct, not any actual obstruction. The obstruction statutes themselves include the words endeavor and attempt in their definitions of the offense.

In all the challenges to a potential obstruction case, there is only one issue of substance: whether the president can be proven to have acted with “corrupt” intent to obstruct justice when exercising his supervisory power over federal law enforcement personnel and their activities. Trump could try the novel argument that he lacked the “corrupt” mental state in his dealings with Comey because he believed himself to be exercising his lawful authority to control the enforcement of federal law.

The ultimate question is not whether President Trump thought he was legally allowed to cajole Comey about the Flynn investigation-ignorance of the law would be no excuse-but whether, when he did so, the president acted with a purpose that was “improper.”

Clearing the room before he allegedly raised the Flynn matter with Comey is strong evidence the president knew what he was doing was “improper.” It is also impossible to see how Trump’s purpose here can be deemed “proper” without placing the president above the law. Even the president’s keenest defenders must concede that attempting to stop the Flynn matter by offering a bribe to Comey or threatening his family, physically or economically, would have been improper.

Trump’s alleged actions were somewhat less flagrant here. But courts have ruled, for example, that an attorney can be charged with obstruction when engaging in conduct that would otherwise be ordinary and allowable for a lawyer-like filing lawsuits or giving advice to witnesses-if the lawyer does so for the purpose of protecting himself or his associates from prosecution.

Similarly, if a president wields his normally legal executive power for the purpose of halting the investigation of himself or his associates, he acts with an “improper purpose” to obstruct justice.

Moving to the specifics of this case only makes this clearer. Although strong norms place authority over Department of Justice investigations in the attorney general’s hands, a president might argue that he is entitled to order an investigation closed if he thinks it is a meritless waste of resources. But no evidence supports this as President Trump’s motive in this matter. He himself has reportedly said otherwise. In any event, if a live investigation places the president at serious personal risk, legally or politically, it is impossible for him to exercise independent judgment on the merits of the matter.

A last line of defense might be to concede the argument for a legal case for obstruction but claim that no prosecutor would bring it. Individuals who come in contact with criminal investigations commonly engage in behavior intended to thwart the government, with lying being the most common such behavior. Prosecutors let the vast majority of this stuff go.

This is different, though.

Intervention in a potential criminal case against a former top government official by the highest of government officials falls well toward the serious end of the obstruction spectrum.

The president, who swears a constitutional oath to “take Care that the Laws be faithfully executed,” should be held to the highest standard where it comes to interference with justice.

One thing is worth reiterating: The question of prosecutorial discretion on obstruction of justice will not be before Mueller while President Trump remains in office.

Given the near-consensus that a sitting president should not be indicted, any court of law in this matter will have to await a private citizen Trump.

So, Mueller will have no reason in the near term to go beyond stating that the president violated the law when he allegedly isolated Comey in the White House and pressured him to drop the Flynn investigation, and that there is a prosecutable case for that conduct. Members of Congress will then have to decide whether the president should be impeached for this crime-a matter of political not prosecutorial discretion.

Read the original article on Slate Copyright 2017

The huge gap between America’s rich and super-rich exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about inequality

Business Insider

The huge gap between America’s rich and super-rich exposes a fundamental misunderstanding about inequality

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa    July 7, 2017

Destabilizing levels of income inequality, once a problem reserved for developing nations, is now a defining social and political issue in the United States.

Donald Trump seized on the issue during the presidential campaign, vowing to become a voice for forgotten Americans left behind by decades of widening wealth disparities.

While America’s enormous gap between rich and poor and the sorry state of its middle class are well-documented, a less prominent trend tells an equally important story about the American economy: the divide between the well-off and the stratospherically rich.

This particular pattern is especially important since some economists and conservative commentators have tried to blame inequality on educational levels, arguing that those with college degrees have fared well in the so-called knowledge economy while those with a high school diploma or less lack the skills to do the jobs available.

Others, however, point to runaway salaries for top executives in industries like energy and finance as the key underlying drivers of inflation, which has been characterized by huge gains at the very top of the income distribution. Executive compensation is driven in large part by corporate boards that have cozy relationships with firms’ CEOs, rather than market forces.

From Aspen, Colorado, the New York Times columnist David Brooks recently wrote:

“There is a structural flaw in modern capitalism. Tremendous income gains are going to those in the top 20 percent, but prospects are diminishing for those in the middle and working classes. This gigantic trend widens inequality, exacerbates social segmentation, fuels distrust and led to Donald Trump.”

Gabriel Zucman, an economist at the University of California, Berkeley and a preeminent researcher of inequality, wasted little time in countering the argument.

“Tremendous gains are not going to the top 20%. They are going to top 1%,” he tweeted at Brooks, adding that this is key to understanding the Republican Party’s agenda.

Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution, makes a similar case as Brooks.

“The strong whiff of entitlement coming from the top 20 percent has not been lost on everyone else,” he wrote in a recent opinion piece. His book is titled “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.”

Nicholas Buffie, an economic-policy researcher in Washington, eloquently took issue with the 20% argument in a blog he wrote when he was at the Center for Economic and Policy Research.

“The problem with this type of analysis is that it misleads readers into thinking that a large group of well-educated Americans have benefited from the rise in inequality,” Buffie said. “In reality, the ‘winners’ from increased inequality are really a much smaller group of incredibly rich Americans, not a large group of well-educated, upper-middle-class workers.”

In other words, blaming America’s wealth divide merely on educational differences may be easy, but not particularly useful.

The richest US families own a startling proportion of America’s wealth

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa    June 28, 2017

Distribution matters.

The United States has long taken pride in being the richest nation in the world. It remains so despite China’s quick game of catch-up and much larger population, at least when it comes to the broadest measure of a country’s economic output, gross domestic product (GDP).

Yet deep inequalities, which became a hot-button political issue in the wake of a deep recession and financial crisis that highlighted those disparities, paint a different picture of how well off most Americans really are.

Research from Berkeley economists has found incomes at the top 0.001% of the income strata surged a whopping 636% between 1980 and 2014, while wages for the bottom half of the population were basically stuck in place.

Critics of that body of work say its use of pre-tax data masks some of the equalizing effects of the tax code, and thus overstates inequality. If that were indeed the case, a look at the distribution of wealth as opposed to just income, while harder to measure, could be a better barometer as to the true state of America’s social divide.

This chart courtesy of Deutsch Bank economist Torsten Slok shows the picture with regards to wealth is even bleaker. The richest 10% of families are worth a combined $51 trillion, equal to 75% of total household wealth. To put that figure in perspective, US GDP totaled $18.5 trillion in 2016.

This eye-popping chart on inequality is a slap in the face of America’s middle class

Pedro Nicolaci da Costa     June 13, 2017

Why does the US economy still feel iffy to most Americans despite an eight-year economic expansion and historically low unemployment?

Look no further than this eye-popping chart of income growth between 1980 and 2014 courtesy of Berkeley’s elite-squad of inequality research, including Thomas Piketty, Emmanuel Saez, and Gabriel Zucman.

Featured in a recent blog from the University of Chicago’s Booth School of Business, the graphic highlights just how stratospheric income growth has been for the very wealthiest Americans — and how stagnant, in contrast, wages have been for the rest.

That’s not a typo on the right. Incomes for the top 0.001% richest Americans surged 636% during the 34-year period. Wow.

There’s more. “The average pretax income of the bottom 50% of US adults has stagnated since 1980, while the share of income of US adults in the bottom half of the distribution collapsed from 20% in 1980 to 12% in 2014,” writes Howard Gold, founder and editor of GoldenEgg Investing, in the Chicago Booth blog.

“In a mirror-image move, the top 1% commanded 12% of income in 1980 but 20% in 2014. The top 1% of US adults now earns on average 81 times more than the bottom 50% of adults; in 1981, they earned 27 times what the lower half earned.”

Here’s a link to the full paper for the academically inclined.

This, Right Here. This Is Where Obama Choked.


This, Right Here. This Is Where Obama Choked.

The American people had damn near an absolute right to know this information.

By Charles P. Pierce      June 23, 2017

It so happens that Friday is an official Ratfcking Holiday, and a very important one. It’s June 23 or, as we who celebrate it like to call it, Smoking Gun Day. It was 45 years ago to the day that H.R. Haldeman stopped by the Oval Office and, with a tape recorder whirring merrily away in a drawer, he and Richard Nixon discussed how to get the CIA to turn off the FBI’s investigation of Watergate because that investigation was moving into “some productive areas.” They talked about ripping scabs open, and “that whole Bay of Pigs thing,” and having Walters tell Gray not to go into this thing any further, period. “All I can conclude,” Patrick Buchanan reportedly said when this tape finally came to light, “is that the old man has been shitting us.”

So, in honor of the day, The Washington Post comes up with an amazing tale of the way ratfcking is done in the modern era. It begins with a top-secret communique delivered to President Barack Obama last August.

Inside was an intelligence bombshell, a report drawn from sourcing deep inside the Russian government that detailed Russian President Vladi­mir Putin’s direct involvement in a cyber campaign to disrupt and discredit the U.S. presidential race. But it went further. The intelligence captured Putin’s specific instructions on the operation’s audacious objectives — defeat or at least damage the Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton, and help elect her opponent, Donald Trump.

The dynamite, she go boom.

At that point, the outlines of the Russian assault on the U.S. election were increasingly apparent. Hackers with ties to Russian intelligence services had been rummaging through Democratic Party computer networks, as well as some Republican systems, for more than a year. In July, the FBI had opened an investigation of contacts between Russian officials and Trump associates. And on July 22, nearly 20,000 emails stolen from the Democratic National Committee were dumped online by WikiLeaks.

I seem to remember this remarkable coincidence.

The piece is too long, too well reported, and too detailed to summarize in block quotes, but what it makes sadly clear is that the culture of secrecy within the intelligence community worked invariably to empower the ratfcking, rather than to hinder it.

Over that five-month interval, the Obama administration secretly debated dozens of options for deterring or punishing Russia, including cyberattacks on Russian infrastructure, the release of CIA-gathered material that might embarrass Putin and sanctions that officials said could “crater” the Russian economy.

All well and good. Go get ’em, tiger.

However, like so many things about the Obama administration, the response to what the Russians did was measured and allegedly proportional. (“I feel like we choked,” one official told the Post.) But, you may ask, what about the election that was going on at the same time the Obama administration was retaliating for Russian interference in its process?

They were concerned that any pre-election response could provoke an escalation from Putin. Moscow’s meddling to that point was seen as deeply concerning but unlikely to materially affect the outcome of the election. Far more worrisome to the Obama team was the prospect of a cyber-assault on voting systems before and on Election Day. They also worried that any action they took would be perceived as political interference in an already volatile campaign. By August, Trump was predicting that the election would be rigged. Obama officials feared providing fuel to such claims, playing into Russia’s efforts to discredit the outcome and potentially contaminating the expected Clinton triumph.

This, right here. This is where they choked. The American people had damned close to an absolute right to the information their government already had. The most fundamental act of citizenship is the right to cast an informed vote. The idea that the Obama administration withheld the fact that the Russians were ratfcking the election in order to help elect a vulgar talking yam is a terrible condemnation of the whole No Drama Obama philosophy. Would Donald Trump have raised hell if the White House released what it knew? Of course, he would have. But, as it was, the American people went to vote with only about half of the information they needed to assess his candidacy. This was a terrible decision.

Before departing for an August vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Obama instructed aides to pursue ways to deter Moscow and proceed along three main paths: Get a high-confidence assessment from U.S. intelligence agencies on Russia’s role and intent; shore up any vulnerabilities in state-run election systems; and seek bipartisan support from congressional leaders for a statement condemning Moscow and urging states to accept federal help.

Ah, yes. “Bipartisan support.” The brilliant snow-white unicorn pursued by that administration for nearly eight years. How did that work out? How did it ever work out?

On Aug. 15, Johnson arranged a conference call with dozens of state officials, hoping to enlist their support. He ran into a wall of resistance. The reaction “ranged from neutral to negative,” Johnson said in congressional testimony Wednesday. Brian Kemp, the Republican secretary of state of Georgia, used the call to denounce Johnson’s proposal as an assault on state rights. “I think it was a politically calculated move by the previous administration,” Kemp said in a recent interview, adding that he remains unconvinced that Russia waged a campaign to disrupt the 2016 race. “I don’t necessarily believe that,” he said.

Really, now. How did it ever work out?

The meeting devolved into a partisan squabble.

“The Dems were, ‘Hey, we have to tell the public,’ ” recalled one participant. But Republicans resisted, arguing that to warn the public that the election was under attack would further Russia’s aim of sapping confidence in the system. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) went further, officials said, voicing skepticism that the underlying intelligence truly supported the White House’s claims. Through a spokeswoman, McConnell declined to comment, citing the secrecy of that meeting. Key Democrats were stunned by the GOP response and exasperated that the White House seemed willing to let Republican opposition block any pre-election move.

So they choked a second time, scared out of what they should have done by Mitch McConnell, ace conniver. (What the hell did they expect? Patriotism?) I repeat: the American people needed to know this before they voted, spin and fauxtrage and punditry be damned. They had a right to factor the question, “Why does Putin want this guy to be president?” into their thinking in the voting booth.

When U.S. spy agencies reached unanimous agreement in late September that the interference was a Russian operation directed by Putin, Obama directed spy chiefs to prepare a public statement summarizing the intelligence in broad strokes. With Obama still determined to avoid any appearance of politics, the statement would not carry his signature.

It’s at moments like this that I wish he’d never given that speech in Boston in 2004. It froze him into a public persona and a political stance that made even justifiable partisan politics look like base hypocrisy. It is entirely possible that, at what we must now believe was a critical moment (if not the critical moment) of his presidency, the better angels of a president’s nature were the voices he should have avoided at all cost.

Anyway, read the whole thing. It’s a fascinating window into presidential decision-making on the fly, as well as a look at how intelligence is gathered and managed. The 2016 presidential election was corrupted at its heart, and we do not know yet how fully it was corrupted, and that’s the most lasting scandal of all.

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‘What they’re basically saying is, in America it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because we are black,’ said Noah of the newly released dashcam video.

Daily Beast, Horrifying

‘It Broke Me’: ‘The Daily Show’ Host Trevor Noah’s Emotional Reaction to Philando Castile Dashcam Video

‘What they’re basically saying is, in America it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because we are black,’ said Noah of the newly released dashcam video.

Marlow Stern    June 22, 2017

On Friday, Officer Jeronimo Yanez was acquitted of second-degree manslaughter charges and two counts of dangerous discharge of a firearm in the shooting death of Philando Castile back on July 6, 2016, in St. Anthony, Minnesota.

Castile, a black man who was beloved by the children at J.J. Hill Montessori Magnet School in nearby St. Paul, where he worked as a cafeteria supervisor—“He remembered their names. He remembered who couldn’t have milk. He knew what they could have to eat and what they couldn’t,” a teacher at the school told Time—was in the car with his girlfriend, Diamond Reynolds, and her 4-year-old daughter when he was shot down by Yanez. Reynolds captured the aftermath on Facebook Live, in a streaming video in which she pleaded with police as Castile lay dying in the vehicle.

Yanez was acquitted in the shooting death of Castile despite the existence of audio and a dashcam video in which Castile can be heard calmly informing the officer that he had a firearm on his person—which he had a license to carry—and that he was “not pulling it out,” a plea echoed by Reynolds, only to have Yanez scream “DON’T PULL IT OUT!” before firing seven shots at Castile, with five of them hitting him, and two of the bullets entering his heart. On Wednesday, the dashcam video of Castile’s death was released.

“Honestly, I thought that I felt all that I could feel about this story—until I got home, and I watched a newly released video,” said host Trevor Noah on The Daily Show Wednesday night. “And if you’ve already watched this video, you don’t have to watch it again. I wouldn’t say anyone has to watch this video. But if you haven’t seen it, it is graphic, and you probably should watch it. And we’re going to play it for you now.”

Noah then played the highly disturbing dashcam video, in which you can see Officer Yanez at the side of Castile’s vehicle along with their exchange—which, at least from an audio standpoint, appeared to align with Reynolds’ testimony. After Castile informs Yanez that he has a weapon on his person and is not reaching for it, you see the policeman scream “DON’T PULL IT OUT!” before firing seven bullets at Castile. Reynolds has claimed that Castile was reaching for his ID.

“I wont lie to you. When I watched this video, it broke me. It just… it broke me,” said Noah, clearly distraught. “You see so many of these videos and you start to get numb, but this one? Seeing the child—that little girl—getting out of the car after watching a man get killed, it broke my heart into little pieces. I thought of every joke people make about, ‘Oh, the most confusing day in the ’hood is Father’s Day. People don’t know where their parents are. Haha. Black dads.’ That’s a black dad that’s gone. That’s a child that grows up not knowing what it’s like to have somebody in their life.”

“You know what’s the most painful thing? For years, people said that there’s a simple solution to a police shooting: Just give the police body cameras, film everything, and then there will be no question about what happened,” Noah continued. “Black people have been saying for years: Just give us an indictment. Just an indictment. Just get us in front of a jury of our peers—of our follow citizens. We’ll show them the video, the evidence, and they will see it, and then justice will be served. And black people finally get there, and it’s like… what? Nothing?”

“You hear the stories but you watch that and—forget race, are we all watching the same video? The video where a law-abiding man followed the officer’s instructions to the letter of the law, and then was killed regardless? People watched that video and then voted to acquit?”

“It’s one thing to have the system against you—the district attorneys, the police unions, the courts—that’s one thing. But when a jury of your peers—your community—sees this evidence and then decides that even this is self-defense? That is truly depressing. Because what they’re basically saying is in America, it is officially reasonable to be afraid of a person just because we are black. And that’s the truth of what we saw with this verdict.”

Cops Suspect Slain Muslim Teen Nabra Hassanen Was Raped

Daily Beast

Unspeakable…..Cops Suspect Slain Muslim Teen Nabra Hassanen Was Raped

Darwin Martinez Torres is locked up for the violent attack on the girl whose death raised fears of a hate crime. ICE said he entered the U.S. illegally.

Natalia Megas     June 20, 2017 

Fairfax, Virginia — Authorities suspect Nabra Hassanen may have been raped before she was murdered on Sunday, according to two sources with knowledge of the investigation.

The killing of Hassanen, a 17-year-old Muslim girl, sent shockwaves through the country after a recent string of violent attacks on Muslims and racial minorities. Police said they are not investigating her death as a hate crime.

Hassanen’s body was found in a pond in Sterling, Virginia, hours after Darwin Martinez Torres allegedly struck her with a baseball bat, took her away, and killed her. One source said police found a woman’s pair of underwear near Hassanen’s body, and investigators are awaiting test results from vaginal swabs.

When asked if Hassanen was raped, Fairfax County Police Department Lt. Col. Deputy Chief of Police Tom Ryan said at a Monday press conference: “There was an assault that occurred in Fairfax County and we had another assault that occurred in Loudoun County.”

Torres, 22, is in Fairfax County jail custody for the attack on Hassanen. Torres, a national of El Salvador, entered the United States illegally, Immigrations and Customs Enforcement spokesperson Carissa Cutrell told The Daily Beast. Cutrell said ICE has asked to take custody of Torres after he’s released from Fairfax County jail.

“It appears that the suspect became so enraged over this traffic argument that it escalated into deadly violence,” Fairfax County police spokeswoman Julie Parker said Monday. She added the case may be potentially prosecuted in Loudoun County “due to elements of the various crimes and where they occurred.”

According to a preliminary investigation, sources said, Hassanen and a group of about 15 Muslim teenagers were walking and riding bikes back to the All Dulles Area Muslim Society (ADAMS) mosque in Sterling after leaving a nearby fast food restaurant at about 3:40 a.m. on Sunday.

One boy in the group began arguing with Torres, the sources said, before one of the teens allegedly threw a drink at Torres’ vehicle.

Torres drove his vehicle onto the curb as the teens scattered, the sources said. Witnesses told police that Torres chased part of the group, including Hassanen, with a metal baseball bat into a nearby McDonald’s parking lot.

Hassanen reportedly tripped over her abaya, which is when Torres caught up with her and struck her with the bat in the head, rendering her unconscious. Torres then allegedly dragged her body to his vehicle and drove to another location where police suspect he raped her.

A source close to the investigation said Hassanen may have regained consciousness and resisted during the sexual assault before Torres struck her again. Autopsy results showed that Hassanen suffered blunt force trauma to the upper body.

Hassanen’s body was later found in a pond.

The Washington Post reported Hassanen was the first born of four daughters, a diligent and popular student who just finished 10th grade. The Hassanen family lived in a modest apartment near Washington, D.C., usually overflowing with friends and laughter.

“It’s a family where if you’re feeling down and you need to laugh, this is where you go,” Samar Ali, 26, who grew up in the Hassanens’ apartment complex told the Post.

“Why would you kill a kid? What did my daughter do to deserve this?” her mother said to the Post.

America’s Oligarchs Will Control 70% Of National Wealth By 2021

MintPress News

America’s Oligarchs Will Control 70% Of National Wealth By 2021

A new study by the Boston Consulting Group has found that while wealth inequality is growing on a global scale, it has kicked into overdrive in the United States – where America’s 1% are expected to control 70 percent of the nation’s private wealth by the year 2021.

By Whitney Webb      June 20, 2017

America’s rich just won’t quit getting richer, according to a new study released in mid-June by the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a global management consulting firm. The study, which seeks to analyze the global wealth management industry, as well as the evolution of private wealth, uncovered some startling statistics that suggest that global financial inequality will grow significantly by the year 2021.

The firm found that the already massive gap between the world’s wealthy elite – the approximately 18 million households that hold at least than $1 million in assets – and everyone else is continuing to widen at a remarkable rate. The estimated 70 million people who make up these households were found to control 45 percent of the world’s $166.5 trillion in wealth. And in just four more years, it is estimated that they will control more than half of the world’s wealth, despite representing less than 1 percent of the world’s current population.

However, while rising inequality is a global phenomenon, it is especially pronounced in the United States. While wealth inequality in the U.S. is by no means an unknown phenomenon, the U.S. is significantly more unequal than most other countries, with the nation’s elite currently holding 63 percent of the private wealth. The U.S. elite’s share of national wealth is also growing much faster than the global average, with millionaires and billionaires expected to control an estimated 70 percent of the nation’s wealth by 2021.

The U.S.’ high wealth inequality largely owes to post-World War II government policies that have seen almost a quarter of all national income go to its wealthiest residents. Meanwhile, wages for the majority of Americans have remained stagnant for decades – in contrast to the richest Americans, their future economic outlook is incredibly bleak by comparison.

The U.S. is also home to more billionaires and millionaires than anywhere else in the world, which partly explains how U.S. policy has come to favor them over the years. According to Bloomberg, two out of five millionaires and billionaires live in the United States – and their ranks are growing.

While the world’s richest citizens may be pleased by the results of BCG’s recent study, there is plenty for them to be worried about if history is any indicator. Indeed, history shows that societies with drastic wealth inequality are much more unstable and more likely to experience drastic economic failure or outright societal collapse.

For instance, a 2014 study conducted by the National Socio-Environmental Synthesis Center noted that over-consumption and wealth inequality have occurred in the collapse of every civilization over the last 5,000 years. That same study also warned that rising inequality could easily lead to an unsustainable use of resources and the “irreversible collapse” of global industrial civilization.

This warning seems particularly prescient, given that wealth inequality in the U.S. is well above that of past civilizations that eventually collapsed as a result of these factors. For example, at the time of the collapse of the Roman Empire, the top 1 percent of the Roman elite controlled just 16 percent of the society’s wealth, a measly figure compared to the percentage commanded by the 1-percenters of the U.S.

While the BCG study paints a rosy picture for the world’s millionaires and billionaires, particularly in the United States, they should be gravely concerned that their growing accumulation of wealth could have drastic consequences – not just for those poorer than them, but for everyone.

Whitney Webb is a MintPress contributor who has written for several news organizations in both English and Spanish; her stories have been featured on ZeroHedge, the Anti-Media, 21st Century Wire, and True Activist among others – she currently resides in Southern Chile.

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court

The Atlantic

The Standing Rock Sioux Claim ‘Victory and Vindication’ in Court

A federal judge rules that the Dakota Access pipeline did not receive an adequate environmental vetting.

Robinson Meyer      June 14, 2017

A federal judge ruled in favor of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe on Wednesday, handing the tribe its first legal victory in its year-long battle against the Dakota Access pipeline.

James Boasberg, who sits on D.C. district court, said that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers failed to perform an adequate study of the pipeline’s environmental consequences when it first approved its construction. In a 91-page decision, the judge cited the Corps’ study of “the impacts of an oil spill on fishing rights, hunting rights, or environmental justice” as particularly deficient, and he ordered it to prepare a new report on its risks.

The court did not, however, order the pipeline to be shut off until a new environmental study is completed—a common remedy when a federal permit is found lacking. Instead, Boasberg asked attorneys to appear before him again and make a new set of arguments about whether the pipeline should operate.

The tribe faces a mixed result: The ruling may establish some important precedents, particularly around environmental justice and treaty rights. But there’s no indication that the requirement to perform a new study will alter the outcome of the case—or even get the pipeline switched off in the interim.

“This is a a very significant victory and vindication of the tribe’s opinion,” said Jan Hasselman, the lead attorney for the case and an employee of Earthjustice, an environmental-advocacy group that represented the Standing Rock Sioux.

“The court slices things pretty thin, but there were three major areas that he found deficient, and they’re not insignificant. They’re central to the problems that we’ve been highlighting the whole time,” Hasselman told me.

Energy Transfer Partners, which owns and operates the pipeline, did not respond to a request for comment before publication. A representative for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could not be reached.

The Dakota Access pipeline runs 1,100 miles across much of the Great Plains, connecting the Bakken oil formation in North Dakota to a refinery and second pipeline in Illinois. Oil began flowing through the pipeline earlier this month.

The pipeline became a rallying point for both climate activists and indigenous civil-rights advocates last year, as thousands of people—many of them Native Americans—gathered on the Standing Rock reservation to protest and physically obstruct the pipeline’s construction. By late October, Standing Rock had become the largest and most high-profile Native protest in the United States in four decades.

Boasberg’s ruling centered on two ways that the Corps’s environmental study was inadequate. First, he said, the Standing Rock Sioux are assured certain hunting and fishing rights in their most recent treaty with the U.S. government. Many of the tribe’s members rely on fish or hunted game as a steady food source.

Before approving the pipeline, the Corps did not study whether an oil spill at the pipeline would kill most of the river’s fish. It also did not report on whether the chemicals used to clean up a spill could poison local game, rendering them unfit for human consumption

“Even though a spill is not certain to occur at Lake Oahe, the Corps still had to consider the impacts of such an event on the environment,” the judge said.

This emphasis on consideration points to the broader nature of the legal fight: This case is not about how the pipeline may harm Standing Rock, but whether the Corps adequately studied and reported on those harms before approving it in the first place. Most environmental-law cases in the United States are fought on this kind of procedural territory—it’s a product of the National Environmental Policy Act of 1970, which mandates the government study the environmental effects of any decision it makes but does not require it to make especially green decisions.

Boasberg’s second complaint with the Corps was on similar methodological grounds. According to federal regulation, every major project constructed near a poor community, community of color, or Native American reservation must be studied on environmental-justice grounds. The Corps shrugged off many of these rules, arguing that no affected group lived within a half-mile of the pipeline route.

The Corps was technically correct. The Dakota Access pipeline runs 0.55 miles north of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation.

“Federal agencies are given a lot of leeway until they do something that just, on the face of it, seems ridiculous,” says Sarah Krakoff, a law professor at the University of Colorado. “I think that that’s what happened here.”

Boasberg’s decision, she said, had implications far beyond Standing Rock and this particular pipeline dispute.

“In the vernacular, it’s a big deal,” she told me. “It’s an important step for a court to recognize that both environmental-justice claims and the failure to adequately analyze Indian treaty rights can be the basis for the reversal of an agency’s environmental analysis.”

With the project so far along, she said it was unclear if any procedural problem could convince Boasberg to temporarily shut down the project.

The tribe was not successful on every claim. The judge ruled that the Corps did not violate administrative law when it quickly approved the pipeline earlier this year. He has also previously ruled that the Dakota Access pipeline does not infringe on Standing Rock’s cultural heritage, nor does it damage the religious practice of another group of Sioux, the Cheyenne River Tribe.

The complicated legal history of the Dakota Access pipeline has stemmed from one important conflict: The pipeline mostly runs across private land, allowing Energy Transfer Partners to quickly secure permission and construct most of it last year. But it also must cross the Missouri River, a federal waterway controlled by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Therefore the dispute at Standing Rock has played out over the last year as the vast majority of the pipeline stood completed and ready for operation. In late July 2016, the Corps first granted an easement allowing the pipeline’s construction. But less than two months later, in early September, the Obama administration stepped in and asked Energy Transfer Partners to voluntarily stop work on the project. It also announced it was reviewing the Corps’s easement.

President Barack Obama revoked the permit entirely in early December 2016 at the end of that review. His administration also ordered Energy Transfer Partners and the U.S. Army Corps to study whether the pipeline could be re-routed.

That study did not last long. On his fifth day in office, President Donald Trump reversed Obama’s order and told the Corps to approve the pipeline as quickly as possible.

The president celebrated the pipeline during a speech last week in Cincinnati. “The Dakota Access pipeline is now officially open for business—a $3.8-billion investment in American infrastructure that was stalled,” he said. “Nobody thought any politician would have the guts to approve that final leg. And I just closed my eyes and said: Do it.”

“It’s up, it’s running, it’s beautiful, it’s great. Everybody is happy, the sun is shining, the water’s still clean. When I approved it, I thought I’d take a lot of heat. But I took none, actually none. But I take so much heat for nonsense that it probably overrode the other,” Trump added.

Hasselman referenced the speech as he spoke to me Wednesday. “That’s such a perfect metaphor for this whole process,” he said. “The government closed its eyes to the impacts of this pipeline on the people of Standing Rock—and their history at the hands of the same government.”

David Archambault III, the chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux, told me last week that while he is not ultimately optimistic about the legal battle, he feels duty-bound to pursue it.

“When we first entered into this, we understood the history, we knew the facts, we knew the laws,” he said. “We still have to bring it all up. Because just because [the situation] is legally right, it’s morally and ethically wrong. What happened at Standing Rock is a movement, and you don’t see the benefits of a movement until way later.”

Fox News Was Attacking Barack Obama for Using Dijon Mustard at This Point in His Presidency


Fox News Was Attacking Barack Obama for Using Dijon Mustard at This Point in His Presidency

Chris Riotta, Newsweek      June 9, 2017 

Donald Trump isn’t the only president to have faced harsh criticisms just months into office. At this point in former President Barack Obama’s tenure as the leader of the free world, right-wing news outlets were condemning his use of Dijon mustard as a condiment. Yes, really.

In news from eight years ago that appears to be from some alternate reality, Obama left the White House and went out for a local bite to eat with vice president and BFF Joe Biden in May. The two politicians ordered hamburgers, MSNBC journalist Andrea Mitchell reported at the time, with the sitting president requesting mustard on his red meat.

The story was featured on Sean Hannity’s show, Hannity’s America, as a screen showed a photoshopped image of Obama surrounded by bottles of mustard with the words “PRESIDENT POUPON” plastered on a red and white banner.

Let that soak in for a minute. Trump tweeted his support for Fox News Friday, commending them for the network’s morning show Fox And Friends’ “great reporting” job on ex-FBI Director James Comey’s Thursday testimony. The network’s rejection of Obama’s taste palette compared to its incredible support of the embattled Trump White House was seen by Twitter users as shocking at best, and propagandistic at worst.

Reporters Dominic Holden and Sahil Kapur from BuzzFeed and Bloomberg both shared similar tweets reflecting on Fox News’ coverage of Obama’s presidency just months after his first inauguration following the highly anticipated hearing. Comey’s testimony provided details on his nine conversations with Trump before the president fired him in an effort he says was to ease pressure off of the administration from the ongoing federal investigation into Russia’s meddling in last year’s election.

Trump reportedly described his former FBI director as a “nut job” in a conversation with Russia’s top diplomats in the Oval Office, explaining his reasoning for firing Comey before allegedly revealing top secret intelligence to Russian Ambassador to the U.S. Sergey Kislyak and Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov.

Fox News has spent the last five months strongly supporting Trump’s conservative agenda, defending the president against ongoing controversies enveloping his White House and accusations of collusion with the Russian Kremlin. The network has also continued to push fake news about former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s health, following a televised commencement speech critical of Trump.

Compare Fox’s defense of the Trump/Russia investigation to the mustard scandal its conservative TV personalities were decrying Obama’s presidency over just eight years ago. Then remind yourself that, yes, this is the new normal.

Obama criticized Fox News and Sean Hannity at the time in an interview with Fox News’ former anchor Bill O’Reilly, noting the extremism and hate he was facing from the right during his short time in the Oval Office.

Was a Georgia Congressional Candidate Responsible for Purging Korean American, Latino and African American Voters?

Was a Georgia Congressional Candidate Responsible for Purging Korean American, Latino and African American Voters?

Greg Palast, on the Thom Hartmann Program with Thom Hartmann  May 30, 2017

Was a Georgia Congressional Candidate Responsible for Purging Voters? Greg Palast Reports From Georgia’s 6th Congressional District for the Thom Hartmann Program

As Secretary of State, Karen Handel was the one who signed Georgia up to Crosscheck and started implementing the racially-biased-by-design Kris Kobach / Donald Trump program. They were really going after the Asian-American voters in the 6th, who statistically are far more likely to vote blue. She removed thousands of voters from the rolls to whitewash her own district. She actually never arrested anyone for voting twice, she just made the accusation to get the non-white voters off the rolls…

They began a criminal investigation of the Asian-American voter registration group AALAC. They grabbed all their files, their computers, they intimidated them, and so the Korean-American registration drive came to a dead halt. Then all charges and allegations were dropped.

Then they made similar allegations against another major group, The New Georgia Project, who were registering African-Americans and Latinos in the district. That investigation is still going on. The Georgia Bureau of Investigation kicked in the door of the group, and again took computers and files and threatened criminal charges for illegally registering voters — whatever the heck that is. Again, no charges, just intimidation in an attempt to shut down the African-American group as they did the Asian-American group…

You had thousands of Asian-Americans who were not allowed to register in the Sixth, and you have to understand, Jon Ossoff only lost by 3,700 votes in April.

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Greg Palast (Rolling Stone, Guardian, BBC) is the author of The New York Times bestsellers, The Best Democracy Money Can Buy and Billionaires & Ballot Bandits, now out as major motion non-fiction movie — available to view worldwide from just $2.99: the