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Trump's Team Is Finally Answering Robert Mueller's Questions — Getting to the Heart of the Russian Collusion Probe: Report

October 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Matthew Chapman, AlterNet

For now, Mueller has accommodated a highly unusual request from Trump's team.

On Monday, CNN reported that President Donald Trump's legal team is preparing responses to written questions submitted by special counsel Robert Mueller as part of the Russia investigation:

The questions are focused on matters related to the investigation of possible collusion between Trump associates and Russians seeking to meddle in the 2016 election, the sources said. Trump's lawyers are preparing written responses, in part relying on documents previously provided to the special counsel, the sources said.

“We are in continuing discussions with the special counsel and we do not comment on those discussions,” said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow.

There may be more rounds of questions after the first answers are returned. The special counsel had insisted that there be a chance for follow-up questions as well. But after a prolonged back-and-forth over months, the two sides agreed to start with a first round of questions.

Additionally, the two sides have still not come to agreement on whether the President will be interviewed in person by investigators who are also probing whether Trump obstructed justice by firing FBI Director James Comey.

The Trump team's demand to be able to answer questions in writing was in itself a highly unusual move for Mueller's prosecutors to accommordate. When Rudy Giuliani first suggested this, there was speculation that it might have simply been a bluff.

“Typically prosecutors do *not* send written questions to a subject in lieu of an interview. The value of obtaining written answers is limited for several reasons. For one thing, they can be prepared by attorneys and carefully worded to be evasive, vague, or misleading,” tweeted former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti. “That said, this entire situation is highly unusual. Trump is the subject of a criminal investigation, which means he has potential criminal liability. Usually defense attorneys would not let a subject of a criminal investigation be interviewed by prosecutors.”

“So what can we glean from the decision to ask written questions on collusion while negotiations are pending regarding a sit-down interview on other topics?” Mariotti continued. “One obvious implication …read more


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Mexican Americans Fought on Both Sides of the U.S. Civil War

October 11, 2018 in History

By Becky Little

Most of them lived in Texas.

Mexican-American soldiers fighting off a Union General at the Battle of Valverde in 1862.

When the Civil War broke out in 1861, there were tens of thousands of Mexican Americans living in California, Texas and the New Mexico territory; all former parts of Mexico that the U.S. had claimed in the 1840s. With the wounds of the Mexican-American War fresh, these Mexican Americans now found themselves in the middle of the United States’ war with itself.

At first tejanos, aka Mexican Americans in Texas, “tried to avoid declaring support for either side,” writes Sonia Hernandez, a professor of history and Latino/a and Mexican American studies at Texas A&M University, in an email.

“Some outright avoided joining either side because tejanos were accused of disloyalty even before the war officially broke out,” she writes. “Tejanos could avoid conscription by claiming Mexican citizenship and some were in fact Mexican citizens. Still others, overwhelmed with the growing divide, chose sides.”

A map detailing the parts of Mexico that were claimed by the United States, including present-day Texas, New Mexico, and California.

Jerry D. Thompson, a history professor at Texas A&M International University, estimates that a few thousand Mexican Americans joined the Confederate troops and over 10,000 joined the Union Army and Militia. Though there was some overlap, most Mexican Americans who joined the Union lived in the U.S. territory of New Mexico or the state of California, while most who joined the Confederacy lived in Texas, one of the states that seceded. At least 2,500 tejanos joined the Confederate Army.

Mexico had banned slavery when it won its independence from Spain in 1821, and some Mexican Americans may have joined the Union because they opposed U.S. slavery. “There is some evidence that there was a mini underground railroad here in south Texas that was largely fueled by tejanos, usually poor tejanos, who would help runaway slaves escape into Mexico,” says Thompson. “We know there were thousands of runaway slaves in Mexico.”

At the same time, there were wealthy Mexican Americans who owned slaves and those whose income depended on the slave trade. “You also had well-to-do individuals like Colonel Santos Benavides here in Laredo who actually became the highest ranking tejano officer in the Confederate Army,” says Thompson. “There are instances of him acting as …read more


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Hillary Clinton Just Gave a Simple Reason Why We Know Trump's Desperate Conspiracy Theory About Russian Collusion Is Nonsense

October 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

It was straight and to the point.

As President Donald Trump bounces from state to state to perform at campaign rallies in an effort to sooth his ego, he's reverted to some of his oldest habits, including attacking Hillary Clinton with baseless conspiracy theories.

This week, he indulged in one of his favorite narratives to try to turn the tables of the Russia investigation. He said that it was not his team that colluded with Russia, but Clinton.

“There was collusion between Hillary, the Democrats, and Russia,” Trump said to cheers of “lock her up.” “There was a lot of collusion with them and Russia and lots of other people.”

It was, of course, evidence-free nonsense — a fact that is emphasized by the complete meaninglessness of the idea that Democrats colluded with “other people.”

In responding to a news report about Trump's ridiculous claims, Clinton's Twitter account posted simply:

The tweet refers to an event in July 2016 when Trump explicitly asked the Russians to hack Clinton's emails. According to an indictment from special counsel Robert Mueller, Russian hackers that very same day attempted to access her personal accounts.

This tweet alone is virtually enough to refute the idea that Clinton's team, not Trump's, conspired with the Russians. But it's long been obvious, and confirmed by the U.S. intelligence community, that the Russian government had a clear preference for Trump over Clinton and acted to diminish her chances of prevailing in the election. During that time, Trump was openly cheering the efforts to hack Clinton and her aides and interfere in the election.

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'I'm Just Disgusted!': MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace Unleashes Her Outrage About Trump's Self-Serving Meeting with Kanye During Multiple National Crises

October 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

“How are we talking about the president's needs?”

While the United States faces multiple national crises — including a deadly and devastating Hurricane plowing through the Southeast and rising tensions with ally Saudi Arabia over reports that it murdered Washington Postreporter Jamal Khashoggi — President Donald Trump decided on Thursday to host the spectacle of a lunch with Kanye West in the Oval Office.

MSNBC's Nicolle Wallace called out the absurd display on her show “Deadline: White House” as her guests argued that the lunch with West was designed to bolster Trump's ego.

“How, with people dead in Florida and a green card holder, a journalist for the Washington Post, missing and possibly dismembered — how are we talking about the president's needs?” she said. “I'm just disgusted! How do our conversations always go to his primal needs for attention!”

MSNBC Host Chris Wallace later chimed in: “This same guy, Kanye, said George W. Bush didn't care about black people during [Hurricane] Katrina.”

“I remember,” said Nicolle Wallace, a former staffer at the Bush White House.

“And in the middle of Hurricane Michael, this guy says, 'I like you!'” Chris Wallace said. “A little contradiction there.”

Watch the clip below:

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One Judge Overseeing a Mueller Probe Case Just Took an Unusual Step in Paul Manafort's Sentencing

October 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Cody Fenwick, AlterNet

Manafort has begun cooperating with Mueller's investigation.

Despite that fact that Paul Manafort has pleaded guilty to charges brought against him by special counsel Robert Mueller and has begun cooperating with investigators, one judge overseeing the case thrown the spotlight back on President Donald Trump's former campaign chair by questioning the plea deal.

Judge T.S. Ellis issued an order Thursday calling part of the agreement “highly unusual.” His objection is based on the 10 charges over which a jury deadlocked in his Virginia court while finding Manafort guilty on eight other charges. Manafort later pleaded guilty to charges brought against him — also by the special counsel — in a separate case in Washington, D.C.

But the special counsel hasn't determined whether it will drop the 10 deadlocked charges against Manafort. Instead, as part of the cooperation deal reached with Manafort's legal team, the special counsel said it would make a decision about the remaining charges depending on the outcome of Manafort's cooperation.

“It is not surprising that vexes the judge,” explained lawyer Ken White on Twitter. “It’s not usual to keep live counts (with no guilty plea or conviction) open indefinitely.”

However, White noticed that there was one part of Ellis' order that was also out of the ordinary.

“The less usual part of Ellis’ grumpiness is where he suggests they should sentence Manafort promptly based on his cooperation to date. That’s very non-standard. Long sentencing delays to accommodate cooperation are routine,” said White.

This is because prosecutors want to use the prospect of a reduced sentence as an incentive for cooperators to provide useful information for other cases.

“Now prosecutors can ask the judge to reduce a sentence further after sentencing to reward ongoing cooperation — that’s Rule 35, to which Judge Ellis alludes. But that’s atypical in my experience,” White continued. “Usually they just wait to sentence until cooperation is done.”

White also acknowledges that Ellis has a history, particularly in this case, of making a lot of noise about a particular issue before making reasonable concessions. So he may well be convinced to eventually adopt the prosecutors' timeline — which, presumably, they've …read more


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Frye Festival Organizer Sentenced to 6 Years in Prison on Multiple Counts of Fraud

October 11, 2018 in Blogs

By Alex Henderson, AlterNet

“The remorse I feel is crushing,” Billy McFarland say.

Billy McFarland, the 26-year-old organizer and founder of the Fyre Festival, has been sentenced to six years in federal prison for multiple counts of fraud. McFarland’s attorneys had asked the court for leniency, saying that he suffered from bipolar disorder—and the disgraced promotor repeatedly apologized for his actions. Nonetheless, U.S. District Judge Naomi Buchwald felt that a six-year sentence was in order.

Buchwald told the court, “Bipolar does not excuse behavior,” pointing out that McFarland had blatantly lied to investors. Nonetheless, the sentence could have been harsher: he was facing the possibility of up to 20 years in prison. 

According to prosecutors, McFarland stole more than $26 million from Fyre Festival investors and contractors.

One of the fraud charges stemmed from a failed festival in the Bahamas. McFarland promoted that event with the help of celebrity investors who included Kendall Jenner and rapper Ja Rule.

Clad in a prison jumpsuit, McFarland told the court, “The remorse I feel is crushing. I lived every day with the weight of knowing that I literally destroyed the lives of my friends and family.”

Some of the people McFarland defrauded spoke out in court, included Joe Nemeth—who is in his late fifties and stressed that McFarland “financially ruined my and my wife’s life.”

Thanks to McFarland, Nemeth asserted, he can forget about ever being able to retire. 

Nemeth told the court, “It took me 20 years of saving my lunch money to save $180,000. I hope the justice system has the last laugh at Mr. McFarland.”

In March, McFarland pled guilty to two counts of wire fraud in connection with the Fyre Festival. But in June, he was arrested again—this time, for a ticket-selling scam he called NYC VIP Access. McFarland falsely claimed to offer access to the Victoria’s Secret Fashion show and other major events—and that scam, according to prosecutors, brought in at least $150,000 in addition to the millions stolen from Fyre Festival investors.  


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Human Sacrifice: Why the Aztecs Practiced This Gory Ritual

October 11, 2018 in History

By Dave Roos

In addition to slicing out the hearts of victims and spilling their blood on temple altars, the Aztecs likely also practiced a form of ritual cannibalism.

An Atztec human sacrifice atop the Mesoamerican temple pyramid.

When the Spanish conquistador Hernán Cortés and his men arrived in the Aztec capital of Tenochtitlán in 1521, they described witnessing a grisly ceremony. Aztec priests, using razor-sharp obsidian blades, sliced open the chests of sacrificial victims and offered their still-beating hearts to the gods. They then tossed the victims’ lifeless bodies down the steps of the towering Templo Mayor.

Andrés de Tapia, a conquistador, described two rounded towers flanking the Templo Mayor made entirely of human skulls, and between them, a towering wooden rack displaying thousands more skulls with bored holes on either side to allow the skulls to slide onto the wooden poles.

Aztec Encounter (TV-PG; 1:28)

Reading these accounts hundreds of years later, many historians dismissed the 16th-century reports as wildly exaggerated propaganda meant to justify the murder of Aztec emperor Moctezuma, the ruthless destruction of Tenochtitlán and the enslavement of its people. But in 2015 and 2018, archeologists working at the Templo Mayor excavation site in Mexico City discovered proof of widespread human sacrifice among the Aztecs—none other than the very skull towers and skull racks that conquistadors had described in their accounts.

While it’s true that the Spanish undoubtedly inflated their figures—Spanish historian Fray Diego de Durán reported that 80,400 men, women and children were sacrificed for the inauguration of the Templo Mayor under a previous Aztec emperor—evidence is mounting that the gruesome scenes illustrated in Spanish texts, and preserved in temple murals and stone carvings, are true. Why did they carry out such brutal ceremonies? John Verano, an anthropology professor at Tulane University, explains the practice held spiritual significance for the Aztecs.

“It was a deeply serious and important thing for them,” says Verano. Large and small human sacrifices would be made throughout the year to coincide with important calendar dates, he explains, to dedicate temples, to reverse drought and famine, and more.

The rationale for Aztec human sacrifice was, first and foremost, a matter of survival. According to Aztec cosmology, the sun god Huitzilopochtli was waging a constant war against darkness, and if the darkness won, the world would end. The keep the sun moving across the sky and preserve their …read more


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The Apollo Mission That Nearly Ended With a Mutiny in Space

October 11, 2018 in History

By Eric Niiler

There were arguments over food, helmets and spacesuits that required 30 minutes for astronauts to use the bathroom.

The prime crew of Apollo 7: (L-R) Command Module pilot Don F. Eisele, Commander Walter M. Schirra Jr. and Lunar Module pilot Walter Cunningham.

By 1968, America’s space program was on the brink. A launchpad fire at Cape Canaveral killed three astronauts as they were conducting tests in their space capsule in January 1967. After 20 months of congressional hearings, political fallout and a spacecraft redesign, three new astronauts prepared for a mission dubbed Apollo 7: Wally Schirra, Donn Eisele and Walter Cunningham.

The crew’s 11-day mission to orbit the Earth was a shakedown cruise for an eventual trip to the moon. It was the first time three men flew in space together, and also the first time NASA broadcast a television feed from space. Apollo 7 was a crucial step toward Apollo 11’s epic journey in July 1969.

But it is also remembered for the testy exchanges between the crew and NASA officials on the ground that almost turned into a mutiny.

Astronauts were unhappy from the start.

The lessons from Apollo 7 continue to resonate a half century on as both NASA and private space companies plan for human missions back to the moon and perhaps Mars. Nearly any technical problem can be solved when crew and ground controllers cooperate, but as Apollo 7 showed, disagreements can turn a mission upside down, experts say.

“The crew was going to do what the crew was going to do,” says Teasel Muir-Harmony, curator of space history at the Smithsonian Air and Space Museum. “You can listen to the audio. It is quite tension-filled. It wasn’t playful banter.”

There were arguments over whether to launch at all, conflicts over a television broadcast, complaints about the food, and unhappiness with spacesuits that required 30 minutes for astronauts to use the bathroom. Schirra, a 45-year-old former Gemini astronaut and a Navy test pilot, was at the center of the disputes. He had already decided to leave NASA when he was selected for the Apollo 7 mission.

“He had very little at stake,” Muir-Harmony says. “That might have something to do with some of his insubordination.”

Apollo 7 lifting off from Cape Kennedy Launch Complex 34 on October 11, 1968.

Wally Schirra was shaken by the death of a fellow astronaut.

Schirra was badly shaken by the …read more


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America's Disastrous Occupation of Afghanistan Turns 17

October 11, 2018 in Economics

By Doug Bandow

Doug Bandow

America has now passed the 17-year mark in Afghanistan. U.S.
troops have been fighting there for longer than the Revolutionary
War, Civil War, World War I, and World War II combined. Yet
Washington is further away than ever from anything that might pass
for victory.

More than 2,300 American military personnel and 3,500
contractors have died in Afghanistan. The latest death occurred
last week—Specialist James A. Slape from Morehead City, North
Carolina. Another 1,100 allied soldiers have been killed, almost
half of them from the United Kingdom. More than 20,000 Americans
have been wounded. The direct financial cost has amounted to $2
trillion, with another $45 billion budgeted for this year.

And for what?

After so many years of senseless combat, Erik Prince’s proposal
to turn the conflict over to contractors almost sounds reasonable.
His lobbying efforts in Kabul have not been notably successful, but
some day American personnel will come home. And then Washington’s
friends in Afghanistan will find themselves on their own.

And the Taliban are in
their strongest position in just that many years.

Seventeen years ago the Bush administration was forced to act.
After the 9/11 attacks, it was imperative to disrupt if not destroy
al-Qaeda and punish the Taliban regime for hosting terrorist
training camps. Washington quickly succeeded: al-Qaeda was degraded
and dispersed, the Taliban was overthrown and punished. Washington
should have left as quickly as it came. But the Bush administration
had other hopes: to create a friendly, liberal, democratic state in
Central Asia.

If there was ever a chance to establish a stable regime in
Kabul, it was right after the Taliban’s ouster. However, the
Bush administration immediately turned to Iraq, which had nothing
to do with 9/11. That shift allowed for a Taliban revival. Even
after twice increasing force levels—which peaked at 110,000
U.S. and 30,000 allied troops in 2011—the Obama
administration was only able to limit the insurgency’s reach.
Around that time I twice visited Afghanistan, and found that
private, off-the-record opinions of allied military personnel,
civilian contractors, and Afghan officials were uniformly

Most saw the operation as a staying action at best. Since then
allied troop levels have fallen precipitously, but the large Afghan
security forces are an inadequate substitute. Afghan officials
figure that as many as a third of soldiers and police are
“ghosts,” existing only for payroll purposes. Attrition
rates and desertions are soaring. Reported Anthony Cordesman of the
Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Afghan National
Security Forces “performance will probably worsen due to a
combination of Taliban operations, ANSF combat casualties,
desertions, poor logistics support, and weak leadership.” To
make up for that failure, “U.S. Special Operations troops
increasingly …read more

Source: OP-EDS

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A Smarter Plan for Immigrant Welfare

October 11, 2018 in Economics

By David Bier, Alex Nowrasteh

David Bier and Alex Nowrasteh

The Trump administration recently unveiled a plan to prevent
immigrants who the government predicts might be unable to support
themselves financially from entering the country. But the proposal
relies too much on guesswork. A bill introduced by Wisconsin
Republican Glenn Grothman, which would allow immigrants into the
country without giving them access to the welfare system, is a
preferable alternative.

The Department of Homeland Security’s proposed
regulation— the “public charge”
—poses a major problem for legal immigrants. It would
bar them from entry if a bureaucrat predicts that they
might use some welfare here. But because the
law makes them eligible for it, legal immigrants could always
potentially use welfare at some point, even if they never
have and never would. It may be difficult for many to convince the
government otherwise.

If the administration’s goal is truly to prevent overuse
of welfare benefits, however, Grothman’s bill provides a
better strategy to support immigrant self-sufficiency and protect
taxpayers. It bans access to all means-tested welfare and
entitlement programs for immigrants until they become citizens.
That means verified U.S. citizens could access federal welfare
benefits like food stamps, Medicaid, and Medicare, but no
noncitizens would be able to.

A bill introduced by
Wisconsin Republican Glenn Grothman would allow immigrants into the
country without giving them access to the welfare

According to our estimates using data based on noncitizen use of
welfare and entitlements in the Census Bureau’s
Survey of Income and Program Participation
, Grothman’s bill
could save U.S. taxpayers about $60 billion in the first year that
it takes effect (it provides a two-year grace period). Most rigorousestimates show that immigrants already pay more
than enough in taxes to cover the cost of their benefits, but
Grothman’s bill would end any debate over the fiscal impact of
immigration by making it unambiguously positive.

Under Rep. Grothman’s bill, legal immigrants could
continue to come to the United States to live and work as they do
now. The only difference is that they will be totally barred from
all welfare benefits and entitlement programs. Rather than building
a virtual wall around the country to keep out legal
immigrants—like the public charge rule would
do—Grothman’s bill builds a virtual wall around the welfare state.

His bill would expand a 1996 law that restricted federal welfare to
only noncitizens who were eligible to become U.S. citizens after
living here as a legal permanent resident for five years. The
Grothman bill would take the next logical step by limiting all
benefits only to those who actually go through …read more

Source: OP-EDS