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Cornered by Mueller, Trump Hires a Hatchet Man

March 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Jefferson Morley, AlterNet

Joseph diGenova, former U.S. attorney-turned-conspiracy-theorist, joins the White House defense team.


With the hiring of talking head attorney Joseph diGenova for his legal team, President Trump signaled Monday how he plans to fend off special prosecutor Robert Mueller’s investigation: with a conspiracy theory.

Trump’s previous defenses have been overwhelmed by an avalanche of facts. The president’s claim that the charges of collusion between his campaign and the Russian government are a “hoax” and “fake news” have been refuted by guilty pleas from three former top aides, Michael Flynn, George Papadopoulos and Richard Gates. All three have admitted making false statements to Mueller’s investigators.

The indictment of 13 Russians for interfering in the 2016 election is replete with references to collaborating Americans “known and unknown to the grand jury.” In light of Mueller's recent subpoena for the records of the Trump Organization, those words elevate the threat to the White House.

By firing career FBI agent Andrew McCabe, denouncing Mueller's alleged “Witch Hunt” and hiring diGenova, Trump is doubling down on the theory that a cabal of liberal FBI agents and Justice Department officials have invented the charges against him. DiGenova will fill in the details.

Hatchet Man

DiGenova is a theatrical character. The son of an opera singer, he grew up fascinated by politics. He worked on the Church Committee, which investigated the CIA in the mid-1970s. He became chief of staff for Republican Senator Charles Mathias, a moderate, and then U.S. attorney for the District of Columbia. In the 1980s, he launched the corruption investigations that would eventually ensnare D.C. Mayor Marion Barry.

“Barry didn’t understand that law enforcement is a continuum, and that there are a lot of people who care about corruption,” diGenova once said, an observation that also applies to his newest client.

DiGenova can’t help Trump and Co. much on the legal front. All the president’s men are learning that bleating “Benghazi” or “email server” may appeal to Fox News and Breitbart editors, but provides no protection from a subpoena or jail term. And so guilty pleas and cooperating witnesses are …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Proof the American Dream Has Been Indefinitely Deferred

March 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

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An alarming new study finds that homeownership in the U.S. is rapidly becoming a thing of the past.


For generations, homeownership and the equity that comes with it have symbolized the American Dream. But a recent study from the apartment search website RentCafe.com finds that in the aftermath of the Great Recession, homeowners now constitute a minority in 22 of the United States' most populous cities. More and more, the U.S. is becoming a nation of renters, especially in its larger urban areas.

In January, RentCafe took an in-depth look at U.S. Census Bureau data from 2006-2016. During that 10-year period, the percentage of renters increased in 97 of the country's 100 biggest cities. In San Diego, for example, the number of renters jumped from 47.9 percent of the population to 53.4 percent. Renters accounted for 47.3 percent of Chicago residents in 2006; in 2016, that number was 51.3 percent. Meanwhile, Memphis has seen its population of renters climb from 44.6 to 56.6 percent.

Other cities where renters have become more numerous than homeowners over the same 10-year period include Honolulu (56.1 percent in 2016 vs. 44.6 percent in 2006), Sacramento (50.3 percent in 2016 vs. 45.3 percent in 2006), Minneapolis (50.7 percent in 2016 vs. 44.5 percent in 2006), Reno (52.4 percent in 2016 vs. 47.8 percent in 2006), Baltimore (52.5 percent in 2016 vs. 45.5 percent in 2006), Austin, Texas (51.3 percent in 2016 vs. 48.4 percent in 2006), and Toledo, Ohio (50.3 percent in 2016 vs. 38.3 percent in 2006). RentCafe also notes that a number of cities, including New York, Boston, Los Angeles and Miami, already contained a majority of renters prior to 2006, and each saw their numbers grow.

The Great Recession, which officially began in December 2007 and accelerated with the crash …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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Facebook's Latest Data Breach Reveals Silicon Valley's Fortunes Are Built on Pilfering Privacy

March 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Steven Rosenfeld, AlterNet

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Facebook has the keys to our personal lives. And that's just the beginning of the end of our privacy.


One of the worst weeks in Facebook’s history—its stock tumbled, Congress and Parliament demanded top executives testify and explain, and the Federal Trade Commission opened a new investigation—is due to a simple fact: the company shares and sells privacy-breaching profiles of millions of users.

Facebook’s latest troubles rose to the top of the news this weekend when a series of investigative reports in the U.S. and Britain found that private political consulting firm Cambridge Analytica, created by Trump’s former political guru Steve Bannon, had stolen 50 million Facebook user profiles. The profiles were intended to be used in the 2016 election for the electoral equivalent of psychological warfare: to push, prod, play on prejudices, you name it, and provoke millions of Americans in swing states to vote for Donald Trump—or not to vote for Hillary Clinton.

It turns out Trump’s campaign didn’t use Bannon’s psychological warfare machine after all. Cambridge Analytica's data simply wasn’t as good as Facebook’s own customized advertising platforms, in conjunction with the Republican Party’s voter files. Beyond that takeaway, to stop giving Bannon credit where it's not due, Facebook’s problems stem from the fact that it's a privacy-busting social media platform.

But this feature, which some people find deeply disturbing, isn’t unique in Silicon Valley. Rather, it is indicative of what’s coming under the rapidly developing Internet of Things. That realization puts Facebook’s latest political turmoil, and the various governmental responses, into an odd category: what’s noisy today isn’t likely to change what’s coming tomorrow, as the loss of privacy is a given for the touted benefits of a wired world.

“This is not a story about hacking or data breaches, but about Facebook’s privacy policies,” …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Sexist, Racist Implications of the 'Walk Up, Not Out' Movement

March 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Kylie Cheung, AlterNet

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Walk Up demands nothing of the policymakers who are actually in positions to make change.


Last Wednesday, students across the country participated in a national walkout in support of gun control reform in the wake of last month’s shooting at a Parkland, Florida, high school. Young people walked out of their classrooms and into the streets to engage in courageous political expression, in sharp contrast with adults in Congress who have yet to take action. But other protests in the wake of the Parkland shooting have been as impactful, and certainly not as logical.

The student walkout itself has drawn protest from those who disagree that gun control is the solution. The “Walk Up, Not Out” movement is led by parents who believe more “kindness” among students, rather than gun control legislation, will end gun violence. Those at the helm of Walk Up have shared ideas such as increased school security measures that would effectively transform schools into prisons and could have negative consequences for students of color. They have also expressed support for mental health resources while ignoring how scapegoating the mentally ill fails to address the real problem. The real problem is guns and insufficient regulation of gun owners who have access to weapons that kill hundreds in minutes (the mentally ill are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of gun violence).

Walk Up’s ultimate premise is that the responsibility for ending school violence should be placed on the shoulders of young people who are in school to learn, while demanding nothing of the policymakers who are actually in positions to make change. The movement seems to place the blame for shootings on those who are purportedly complicit in the bullying and marginalizing of students who go on …read more

Source: ALTERNET

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The Forgotten Fire That Leveled New York

March 21, 2018 in History

By Erin Blakemore

View of the Great Conflagration, 1835. (Credit: The New York Public Library)

The night of December 16, 1835 was frigid, so cold that the East River froze. Yet onlookers crowded on its banks in Brooklyn that night, watching New York burn down.

As they watched, the city’s entire financial district went from the thriving center of American business to a pile of ash and rubble. The river itself even burned at one point as turpentine leaked from storehouses onto the water, chased by fire. “The whole city seemed an awful sheet of flame,” wrote George William Sheldon, a chronicler of New York’s early fires.

Now known as the Great Fire of 1835, the conflagration destroyed half a billion dollars’ worth of property, leveled 17 city blocks, and nearly took down a booming city. And though it’s much less famous than its counterpart in Chicago, New Yorkers can thank this blaze for the water they drink and the streets they traverse even today.

The thought of New York not being one of America’s most important cities seems laughable now, but in 1835 it had only recently gained prestige and national respect. A decade earlier, the Erie Canal had shifted the country’s balance of economic power toward New York State, which now had a direct line to wealthy Midwestern cities. New York Harbor was now America’s biggest, most important port, surpassing the combined trade of Baltimore, Boston and New Orleans. And in response, the city had boomed.

View of the Great Conflagration, 1835. (Credit: The New York Public Library)

Business, financial and trade districts crowded Lower Manhattan. So did new residents: The city’s population went up over 60 percent between 1820 and 1830. Construction of wooden buildings increased exponentially, but the city’s water supply couldn’t keep up with the pace of development. Not only did New York experience a cholera epidemic spurred on by poor sanitation and the city’s stagnant water in 1832, but it lacked a professional fire department with which to fight fires.

The New York City Fire Department was run on a volunteer basis, and relied on the help of men who hung around the station in …read more

Source: HISTORY

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A New TTIP Is the Way to Ease the EU-U.S. Trade Conflict

March 21, 2018 in Economics

By Simon Lester

Simon Lester

Trade conflict between the United States and EU is on the rise.
Earlier this month, President Donald Trump made the formal decision
to impose steel and aluminum tariffs on most U.S. trading partners,
with formal exemptions for Canada and Mexico, and probably
Australia as well. Any other country with a “security
relationship” with the United States was told that it was
“welcome to discuss with the United States alternative ways
to address the threatened impairment of the national security
caused by imports from that country.” This offers the EU some
small hope of a deal that avoids tariffs, but it will have to
negotiate.

Unfortunately, that negotiation does not look promising at the
moment, given Trump’s recent Twitter attacks on the EU’s
horrific barriers & tariffs on U.S.
products
” and its “large Tariffs and Barriers” on U.S.
products. It looks like President Trump wants to leverage the steel
and aluminum tariffs to bring down EU trade barriers.

In response, the EU will have to develop a constructive approach
to trade relations with the United States. While EU leaders may be
reluctant to deal with President Trump, they will have to do so way
or another. The question is whether it will be through an
antagonistic trade war or a peaceful negotiation, if possible. The
EU should push for the latter, and it should do so in the form of a
renewal of negotiations for the Transatlantic Trade and Investment
Partnership (TTIP). Despite any reluctance to engage with the
bullying they feel is coming from the Trump administration right
now, EU leaders should consider this option, as it might be the
most productive approach to U.S.-EU trade relations.

Trump is looking for some
sort of deal with the European Union. A renewed TTIP might be the
best one available.

Trump is not actually wrong about the existence of EU trade
barriers. What he and his advisers are overlooking, however, is
that the United States has high barriers too. Both the United
States and the EU maintain
a wide range
of tariffs, some of which are quite high. The
average EU tariff is slightly higher, by some measures, but not by too much. And
regulatory barriers, which are harder to quantify, are also high on
both sides of the Atlantic.

The first task of EU trade officials will be to set out in
specific detail the U.S. trade barriers faced by EU companies.
These include tariffs such as a 25 percent duty on light trucks,
discriminatory government procurement policies and regulatory
barriers in financial services and other sectors. Once the facts
are all …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Profligacy Still Carries the Day in Washington, D.C.

March 21, 2018 in Economics

By Michael D. Tanner

Michael D. Tanner

It probably won’t be celebrated at the White House, but the
Trump administration passed a major milestone last week: It added
its first $1 trillion to the national debt.

Of course, the administration can take solace in the fact that
it took President Trump 14 months to reach this dubious mark, while
President Obama hit it in just seven months. But then again,
President Obama was in the middle of a recession as opposed to an
economic boom. President George W. Bush, hardly an exemplar of
budgetary restraint, took nearly five times as long to run up his
first trillion dollars of red ink.

We now owe more than $21 trillion in debt, more than 100 percent
of GDP, and roughly $65,000 for every man, woman, and child in this
country. With annual deficits projected to exceed $1 trillion for
as far as the eye can see, the debt is expected to top $23 trillion
within a decade. From there the sky is the limit as the unfunded
liabilities of programs such as Social Security and Medicare kick
in.

As Congress prepares to
pass a massive spending package, worries about our out-of-control
national debt are nowhere to be found.

One might hope that this rising flood of red ink would concern
someone in Washington. Instead, Congress is preparing to pass an
omnibus spending bill that will make things dramatically worse.

The $1.3 trillion spending bill will fund much of the federal
government for the fiscal year that began October 1 of last
year
. Yes, you read that right: Congress is voting on a
funding bill for a year that is already half over. And if the bill
fails to pass by Friday, we will once again face the prospect of a
partial government shutdown.

But as ridiculous as the process may be, the omnibus bill is far
worse. We likely won’t know everything that is in the bill until
after it’s passed. Some items, such as funding for President
Trump’s border wall, anti-abortion riders, and $900 million for a
rail-and-tunnel project connecting New York and New Jersey that is
opposed by President Trump, are still being negotiated, even as the
House prepares to vote as early as today. It is unlikely that more
than a handful of members will have actually read the bill before
the vote.

That won’t stop the bill from passing on a bipartisan basis, of
course, because it will be stuffed with plenty of goodies for both
parties. Overall, it will increase federal spending by the largest
amount since 2009. Democrats are reportedly set to get a $63
billion increase in domestic …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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Washington Throws the Kurds Under the Bus, Again

March 21, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

Turkey and its Syrian allies have expelled Kurdish forces from the border city of
Afrin. And as Ankara brutalized civilians and soldiers alike in its
war on alleged terrorists, the Trump administration did little more
than complain.

Now Ankara is threatening to move east in Syria toward Manbij,
where U.S. troops are stationed alongside Kurdish fighters on whom
America relied to defeat the Islamic State. Washington reportedly
has agreed to move the Kurds away from their homes to the
other side of the Euphrates River, another sellout of
America’s only real allies in Syria.

Yet perhaps abandoning those who did so much to help is less
embarrassing than failing to recognize the inevitability of such a
retreat. The U.S. never should have backed a Kurdish statelet and
military along the Turkish border. And the Kurds shouldn’t
have held out hope that America’s moral concern for them
would somehow supersede Washington’s larger foreign policy
aims.

One could say the writing was on the wall. Last fall, the
Kurdish authorities discovered that America would not defy the Iranian, Iraqi, and Turkish
governments
to protect Kurdistan after it held an independence
referendum. Years before, Washington had armed Turkey as Ankara
(which did not even recognize the Kurds as a separate people)
fought a brutal campaign against Kurdish separatists.

And raises the question
of why we ever made a post-ISIS commitment to them in the first
place

In Syria, the Obama administration tried to do everything, only
to find out how hard it was to do anything. Washington wanted to
oust Assad, defeat ISIS, back “moderate” insurgents,
enlist Sunni Gulf countries against Sunni radicals, cooperate with
radical groups that included al-Qaeda’s local affiliate,
limit Iranian influence, strengthen Kurdish forces, pacify Turkey,
and manage Russia. The Islamic State was essentially defeated, but
everything else went FUBAR.

The demise of ISIS offered the administration an opportunity to
declare victory and bring home America’s troops. Syria has
never mattered much to the U.S.; today it matters far more to its
neighbors and to Russia. Its civil war remains a humanitarian
tragedy, but its disposition won’t much affect the Middle
East’s balance of power, which Washington and its allies
dominate. Better to stop squandering resources for no good purpose
than to keep feeding weapons and troops into the distant Syrian
maw.

Instead the Trump administration has decided to maintain some
2,000 troops in Syria’s north. The president justified plans
for a “border security force” as necessary to prevent
any ISIS revival, but that seems unnecessary with Syrian, Turkish,
Iranian, Russian, and insurgent forces all available nearby. The
Islamic State is far more likely to morph …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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9 Warning Signs That You Should Avoid a Restaurant

March 21, 2018 in Blogs

By Melissa Kravitz, AlterNet

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Look for these red flags before placing your order.


In the era of Instagram, Yelp, OpenTable, and a seemingly endless flow of food blogs and amateur food critics, it's nearly impossible to go anywhere without a restaurant recommendation. But how do you know that the cute little Italian place your cousin swore served the best meal she ever had is worth dining at, especially when you walk by and something looks amiss?

Unsolicited advice aside, you may find yourself in a town or city where even the local paper lacks a food critic, or worse, your phone is dead and you can't look up a place to grab a quick meal. Hot lists and arbitrary, user-generated ratings aside, we asked the experts how they can tell a restaurant should be avoided, within a few minutes of getting seated (or briskly pivoting away at the entrance).

Be wary of restaurants displaying pictures of food. (image: Allison Giguere/Flickr)

1. Unfriendly staff.

If your server doesn't treat you like a human being, this may be your cue to find somewhere else to eat. “I pay attention to the friendliness of service,” Ken McCoy, owner of Farmhouse Hospitality's The Flying Cock and The Horny Ram, says. “It's irksome when my server or bartender walks up and goes straight to, 'What can I get you?' A little small talk goes a long way.” An understaffed restaurant may not leave servers with a lot of time for pleasantries, which is not a character judgment, but rather a hint that the service you're about to get will be less than attentive. Consider returning another time when more servers are on the floor.

2. Crusty ketchup.

The reason to flee may be in the …read more

Source: ALTERNET