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Holocaust Hypocrisy: Hawks Use Legacy of Auschwitz To Push War

AntiWar.com News -

People should remember the past in order to avoid making the same mistake twice. The trouble is that they usually remember the wrong things and therefore end up making ones that are even worse. Take last week’s epic gathering in Jerusalem to mark the seventy-fifth anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz. The commemoration, which drew … Continue reading "Holocaust Hypocrisy: Hawks Use Legacy of Auschwitz To Push War"

The post Holocaust Hypocrisy: Hawks Use Legacy of Auschwitz To Push War appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

The US Is Recycling Its Big Lie About Iraq To Target Iran

AntiWar.com News -

Sixteen years after the U.S. invasion of Iraq, most Americans understand that it was an illegal war based on lies about nonexistent"weapons of mass destruction." But our government is now threatening to drag us into a war on Iran with a nearly identical "big lie" about a nonexistent nuclear weapons program, based on politicized intelligence … Continue reading "The US Is Recycling Its Big Lie About Iraq To Target Iran"

The post The US Is Recycling Its Big Lie About Iraq To Target Iran appeared first on Antiwar.com Original.

GOP Doesn’t Have Votes Yet to Block Bolton, McConnell Concedes

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON — Republican leaders do not yet have the votes to block Democrats from summoning John Bolton or other witnesses at President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell conceded to fellow GOP senators late Tuesday. It could be a major hurdle for Trump’s hopes to end the trial with a quick acquittal.

McConnell gave the news to senators, according to a Republican familiar with a closed-door meeting of GOP senators and granted anonymity to discuss it.

McConnell convened the meeting shortly after Trump’s legal team made its closing arguments in the trial.

Democrats are demanding several witnesses, especially Bolton, Trump’s former national security adviser who writes in a forthcoming book that Trump told him he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. That’s the crux of one major article of impeachment against the president.

There are still several days before any potential witness vote would be taken. A decision to call more witnesses would require 51 votes to pass. With a 53-47 majority, Republicans can only afford to lose three.

The news came as Trump’s legal team argued forcefully against the relevance of testimony from Bolton and concluded their defense as the Senate braced for debate on witnesses.

While scoffing at Bolton’s manuscript, Trump and the Republicans have strongly resisted summoning Bolton to testify in person about what he saw and heard as Trump’s top national security adviser.

Senate Republicans spent two days behind closed doors discussing ideas to satisfy those who want to hear more testimony without prolonging the proceedings — or jeopardizing the president’s expected acquittal.

Those lost steam, and Democrats showed no interest.

Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, called a proposal for senators to be shown the manuscript in private, keeping Bolton out of public testimony, “absurd.”

“We’re not bargaining with them. We want four witnesses, and four sets of documents, then the truth will come out,” Schumer said.

Senators are being warned that if they agree to call Bolton to testify or try to access his book manuscript, the White House will block him, beginning a weeks-long court battle over executive privilege and national security. That had seemed to leave the few senators, including Sen. Mitt Romney of Massachusetts, Susan Collins of Maine and Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, who have expressed a desire to hear new testimony without strong backing.

Also, other Republicans including Sen. Pat Toomey want reciprocity — bring in Bolton or another Democratic witness in exchange for one from the GOP side. Some Republicans want to hear from Biden and his son, who was on the board of a Ukrainian gas company when his father was vice president.

A day after the defense team largely brushed past Bolton, attorney Jay Sekulow addressed the controversy head-on by dismissing his manuscript — said to contradict a key defense argument about Trump’s dealings with Ukraine — as “inadmissible.”

“It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” Sekulow said.

The argument built on a separate one Monday night from Trump attorney Alan Dershowitz, who said that nothing in the manuscript — even if true — rises to the level of an impeachable offense. Sekulow also sought to undermine the credibility of Bolton’s book by noting that Attorney General William Barr has disputed comments attributed to him by Bolton.

The legal team also delved into areas that Democrats see as outside the scope of impeachment, chastising former FBI Director James Comey and seizing on surveillance errors the FBI has acknowledged making in its Russian election interference probe.

Trump’s attorneys argued that the Founding Fathers took care to make sure that impeachment was narrowly defined, with offenses clearly enumerated.

“The bar for impeachment cannot be set this low,” Sekulow said. “Danger. Danger. Danger. These articles must be rejected. The Constitution requires it. Justice demands it.”

Before consideration of witnesses, the case now moves toward written questions, with senators on both sides getting 16 hours to pose queries. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.

“I don’t know that the manuscript would make any difference in the outcome of the trial,” said Roy Blunt of Missouri, a member of GOP leadership. And some Republicans said they simply don’t trust Bolton’s word. Rand Paul of Kentucky called Bolton “disgruntled”’ and seeking to make money off his time at the White house.

John Kelly, Trump’s former White House chief of staff, told an audience in Sarasota, Florida, that he believes Bolton.

White House officials privately acknowledge that they are essentially powerless to block the book’s publication, but could sue after the fact if they believe it violated the confidentiality agreement Bolton signed against disclosing classified information.

Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine’s leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.

Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.

On Tuesday, as he was resting his case, Cipollone played video clips from House Democrats during the presidential impeachment of Bill Clinton — including several who are now managers of the Trump impeachment trial — in an attempt to depict them as hypocritical for sounding the alarm then about the partisan dangers of impeachment.

“What they are asking you do is to throw out a successful president on the eve of an election, with no basis, and in violation of the Constitution,” Cipollone said. “Why not trust the American people with this decision? Why tear up their ballots?”

Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump’s refusal to allow administration officials to testify only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White House has had Bolton’s manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from Bolton’s attorney.

No matter the vote on witness, acquittal still seems likely given that Republicans hold a 53-47 majority in the Senate and conviction would require a two-thirds majority.

According to data compiled by C-SPAN, the House managers used just under 22 of their 24 hours over three days, while the White House team used almost 12 hours, or half their time.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

The post GOP Doesn’t Have Votes Yet to Block Bolton, McConnell Concedes appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Biden Won’t Commit to Backing Sanders if He’s the Nominee

TruthDig.com News -

MUSCATINE, Iowa — Former Vice President Joe Biden stopped short Tuesday of saying he’d support Bernie Sanders if the progressive Vermont senator wins the Democratic presidential nomination.

“I’m not going to make judgments now,” Biden told reporters in Muscatine, six days before the Iowa caucuses. “I just think that it depends upon how we treat one another between now and the time we have a nominee.”

Biden had previously promised to support the Democratic nominee, “regardless” of who it is. At some stops along the campaign trail, Biden has even pledged to “work like hell” to help any of his rivals defeat President Donald Trump.

Yet tensions are rising between Biden and Sanders on the campaign trail. The two men reflect the larger ideological battle between a Democratic establishment in which Biden has spent his career and the progressive left that has surged in influence since Sanders’ failed bid for the Democratic presidential nomination in 2016.

The two have jousted over their records on Social Security, foreign policy and trade. Sanders recently apologized to Biden after one of the senator’s high-profile supporters penned a column asserting that Biden has a “corruption problem.” And Biden has ratcheted up his suggestions in recent days, without naming Sanders, that the party will lose big in November if it makes a sharp leftward turn.

Asked later Tuesday whether he can defeat Sanders, a democratic socialist elected in Vermont as an independent, Biden smiled, nodded and then boarded his campaign bus. Biden is in the middle of his final tour of the state before the Monday caucuses begin Democrats’ 2020 voting. Sanders is balancing his campaign with Trump’s Senate impeachment trial on Capitol Hill.

Polls ahead of the Iowa caucuses suggest Sanders and Biden are in a tight race with Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana. Sanders has confidently predicted victory in Iowa and in the Feb. 11 New Hampshire primary that follows, telling his supporters that the party establishment is “nervous” about his strength. His advisers argue that such momentum would dent Biden’s long-standing advantage in most national polls of Democratic voters.

Biden’s advisers maintain that the state is a toss-up, and they’ve said for months that the former vice president doesn’t have to win in Iowa because he maintains a wide advantage among nonwhite voters who will have strong sway over states that vote after Iowa and New Hampshire.

Last week, Sanders’ 2016 rival for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton, initially refused to say whether she would endorse the Vermont senator if he wins the 2020 nomination — “I’m not going to go there yet,” she said — and she offered a broad condemnation of his style of politics. Later, she walked back her comments, saying her No. 1 priority was “retiring Trump” and that “as I always have, I will do whatever I can to support our nominee.”

 

The post Biden Won’t Commit to Backing Sanders if He’s the Nominee appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Washington Post Leadership Devalued Jamal Khashoggi’s Legacy

Mother Jones Magazine -

The Washington Post’s decision to suspend reporter Felicia Sonmez for her factually true tweets about the credible rape allegation against Kobe Bryant in the moments after his death was explained in a misguided statement Monday from the Post’s managing editor, Tracy Grant, saying Sonmez’s tweets “demonstrated poor judgment that undermined the work of her colleagues.” 

Hardly. The offending tweets, which the Post had initially said were in violation of its standards guidelines:

Screenshots from Felicia Sonmez

 Erik Wemple/Washington Post

Even if Sonmez’s tweets showed poor judgment (they didn’t) or undermined her colleagues (they didn’t, as more than 200 Post staffers immediately came to her defense in a letter of solidarity), the fact that the Post suspended her, an assault survivor herself, for naming Bryant’s history in assessing his legacy is not just a stain on the Post and a setback for Sonmez. It’s a renunciation and sidelining of another Post reporter’s legacy: that of Jamal Khashoggi.

In 2018, Khashoggi, a Saudi dissident and Post contributor, was murdered after entering the Saudi consulate in Istanbul, a killing ordered by state officials to silence a sharp critic. The Post has loudly and rightly honored his legacy as a courageous, unflinching reporter undeterred by theocratic bullies and corrupt gatekeepers who would impose the highest price on him. In his first Post op-ed, a year earlier, Khashoggi had written plainly about his reasons for becoming a reporter: He wanted to expose “the fear, intimidation, arrests and public shaming” of people “who dare to speak their minds.”

The Post’s editors just devalued that legacy.

When reporters like Khashoggi or Sonmez or anyone else take a risk by making factually true statements on social media, to suspend them for doing so is to trade in Khashoggi’s legacy, even briefly, for an online mob’s appeasement. It is to condone the assumption that certain public figures’ conduct is beyond the scope of journalistic exposure on social media. And it discourages sexual assault survivors from coming forward as potential sources for corporate-owned media reporters.

As the world continues to assess the roles of race, rape, and reporting in Bryant’s legacy, what’s also clear is that the half life of Khashoggi’s legacy, and his lessons for the Post’s management, appears to be fading.

On Tuesday, a day after announcing Sonmez’s suspension, the Post reinstated her. Grant, the paper’s managing editor, responded to a request for comment with a statement through the Post’s communications office:

After conducting an internal review, we have determined that, while we consider Felicia’s tweets ill-timed, she was not in clear and direct violation of our social media policy. Reporters on social media represent The Washington Post, and our policy states “we must be ever mindful of preserving the reputation of The Washington Post for journalistic excellence, fairness and independence.” We consistently urge restraint, which is particularly important when there are tragic deaths. We regret having spoken publicly about a personnel matter.

A little “restraint” would have been useful before suspending a reporter for speaking her mind.

Like All Building Projects, California’s Housing Bill Is Behind Schedule and Causing Headaches

Mother Jones Magazine -

Earlier this month, it looked like California’s hotly contested housing legislation, Senate Bill 50, might fail yet again. As it was nearing a fatal deadline, bill author state Sen. Scott Wiener caught a break: Senate President Pro Tempore Toni Atkins moved the bill out of the Appropriations Committee, where it was held up since last year by a vocal SB 50 critic, and into the Rules Committee—creating a much clearer path forward for the bill to become law. Now it could see a vote on the Senate floor as soon as Wednesday. 

It was just one more turn in the merry-go-round of years-long drama surrounding the legislation that has the power to completely transform the state’s transit and housing landscape. The bill, which requires higher density housing around transit hubs, has from the start been contentious even among factions on the left (much like a lot of housing policy discussion these days). To oversimplify: The debate essentially comes down to those who think the key is more housing, plain and simple (YIMBYs); those who may acknowledge California needs more housing but who don’t want the landscape to change around them (NIMBYs); and those who know the state urgently needs more housing, but who are first and foremost concerned about who that housing is for (housing justice advocates). 

SB 50 “touches on so many concerns and anxieties in our state.”

Making matters more complicated here is that while SB 50 is a housing bill, it’s about so much more than shelter. “It touches on so many concerns and anxieties in our state,” Wiener says. “It touches on affordability. It touches on people’s views about the kinds of housing that we’re building. It touches on our approach to climate change, sustainability. It touches on displacement and gentrification. It touches on the look and feel of people’s neighborhoods. It touches on race and class issues.” 

“This is legislation that makes some really significant changes to how we do land use in California and how we’ve done it for the last 170 years,” he adds.

Since SB 50 was shelved last May, Wiener has been working with key stakeholders to amend it and broaden its support. In January, he debuted the new version, which has until Friday January 31 to make it out of the Senate or perish. The amended bill has recently garnered new endorsements from city officials and organizations like the United Farm Workers, but it still faces significant opposition, including from groups representing low-income communities.

With just days left to decide SB 50’s fate, Mother Jones breaks down the major fault lines—and what’s still proving to be particularly sticky.

Local control

The debate over SB 50 (and housing in general) increasingly focuses on the idea of local control, which—along with zoning—is alternatingly seen as a community’s best chance to protect itself or the biggest obstacle to even and equitable progress.

One the one hand, broad single family zoning is a driver of the state’s severe housing shortage, and zoning (through redlining) has been used to racially segregate cities. On the other, zoning can be a tool to protect people from environmental hazards and displacement (inclusionary zoning) or to preserve a neighborhood, and many local officials and residents feel decisions affecting communities should be made by those who live in them. It’s complicated—and it’s not just California struggling over these questions. As my colleague Aaron Wiener (no relation to the lawmaker) has reported, legislators in Virginia are considering a contentious bill to change single family housing zoning regulations, something Oregon and Minneapolis also did recently. 

Local control—along with zoning—is alternatingly seen as the best chance for a community to protect itself or the biggest obstacle to even and equitable progress.

It’s no surprise, then, that the most significant change from the previous version of the bill aims to ease concerns that SB 50 takes away too much control from local governments. In its latest iteration, cities can decide where to make zoning changes near transit as long as density requirements are met. Cities have two years to come up with their own plans or they’ll face SB 50’s one-size-fits all standard. (“Sensitive communities”—segregated and low-income areas and those vulnerable to displacement and gentrification—have five years.) The bill also bars cities from concentrating new housing in low-income communities and forbids the demolition of buildings with renters. (There are some concerns, though, about the mechanisms to actually enforce these protections.)

Some further details around local control still need to be ironed out, which Wiener says Gov. Gavin Newsom’s office has offered to facilitate.

“Sensitive communities” 

Throughout SB 50, special rules, conditions, or exemptions are laid out to protect “sensitive communities,” but questions remain around the term’s broad definition and just who will be included or left out of the designation.

Still, some affordable housing organizations want sensitive communities to be exempt from SB 50 requirements altogether, with the possibility of opting in. “Our cities, towns, and communities have been shaped by different histories, economic drivers, and present-day conditions. State policy must be responsive to these differences. Race and class inequality and top-down policies that excluded people of color and low-income people, such as redlining and Urban Renewal, have had devastating, multi-generational consequences on these communities while further concentrating wealth and opportunity in others,” a coalition of 27 housing justice groups and public interest law firms wrote in a letter to Wiener last week. “To protect sensitive communities, SB 50 must accurately identify all sensitive communities and preserve meaningful self-determination in those communities so that they can plan for an inclusive future. As drafted SB 50 does not accomplish this.”

Affordability

Currently, SB 50 requires new housing developments save 15 to 25 percent of units for lower-income residents, depending on the project size. And 40 percent of low-income units must be reserved for local residents.

“Our cities, towns, and communities have been shaped by different histories, economic drivers, and present-day conditions. State policy must be responsive to these differences.”

While YIMBYs warn against raising affordability requirements—arguing developers would then be reluctant to build, given high construction costs—affordability advocates say SB 50, as it stands, will exacerbate the already existing imbalance between market-rate housing and low- and moderate-income units. “SB 50 is stimulating market rate development by increasing the value of land through zoning, and when you do that you’re actually creating value to the development side of the equation,” says Peter Cohen, co-director of the Council of Community Housing Organizations, a coalition of 26 affordable housing developers and advocates in San Francisco and one of the co-signers on the letter of opposition to Wiener.  “There’s got to be some giveback. No matter where you are in the state or what size the project is, there should be some affordability requirement above what may already be required. So far, it’s not cutting muster.”

Wiener says he’s currently finalizing negotiations with stakeholders to make the requirement regarding low-income units more robust.

Transportation investment

The Board of Supervisors in San Francisco (a city Wiener represents) has repeatedly voiced its opposition to SB 50, and one of its still-yet unaddressed concerns is a demand for simultaneous investment and improvement in infrastructure and transportation, given that new housing would be centered around transit. In a resolution opposing the bill, the supervisors asked that it be amended to “ensure areas impacted by SB 50…receive increased transportation incentives, especially where services and infrastructure are currently inadequate, subject to delays and overcrowding, and/or deficient in their state of repair.” (They suggested a state-funded grant, allowing fees for private developers, and California Environmental Quality Act exemptions.) 

Wiener rejects that argument as grounds to nix SB 50: “Yes, we need more transit funding, but we also need more housing, and if you condition one on the other happening, you’re probably not going to achieve either,” he says. “The idea that we’re going to say to people, ‘You have to continue to live in your car until we get around to perfecting the transit. You need to continue to commute in from Stockton until we perfect our transit’—that is a specious and terrible argument. These are all important [issues]. And we have to do all of them.”

He continues, “but it’s not the reality of life that you do everything all at the same time.”

“The idea that we’re going to say to people, ‘You have to continue to live in your car until we get around to perfecting the transit’—that is a specious and terrible argument.”

Then there are people, like Appropriations Committee chair state Sen. Anthony Portantino, who feel that mandates like those in SB 50 could have unintended consequences that could even discourage new transit projects. But Wiener argues Portantino’s preferred incentive-based approach won’t cut it. “When you look at the magnitude of our housing shortage, millions of homes, 25 percent of the nation’s homeless population and 50 percent of the nation’s unsheltered homeless population, when you look at the poverty rates, when you look at the explosion of super commuters and congestion in our freeways and carbon emissions, this a massive emergency. The idea that we’re going to just say, ‘We’re going to give you some incentives to do the right thing’—that hasn’t worked in the past, and that will never work at the scale that we need.” 

So, what’s next?

If SB 50 passes through the state Senate by January 31, the Assembly will start to consider the bill in committee hearings in four months or so. 

In the interim, Wiener says the bill will continue to change. “Even though I was very disappointed when the bill was delayed last May, it is a stronger bill now than it was then, and we made a lot of progress in the last seven months.” Wiener says. “In retrospect, as disappointing as it was, it did give us an opportunity to make the bill better, and to build an even broader coalition. The reality is in the legislature that, there are very rarely fast direct paths to anything of significance. You’ve got to work at it, sometimes for multiple years, and that’s ok.”

Cohen, for one, remains to be convinced. “This kind of experience of drip feeding little changes one by one, and especially as the clock starts to run out and the legislative process is really frustrating,” he says. “It doesn’t feel as though it’s a really earnest way of hearing the feedback from communities and organizations that are actually working on the ground.”

Ultimately, if SB 50 fails again, Wiener says he’ll head right back to the drawing board. “This isn’t going away. We have to reform our approach to zoning,” he says. “If we want California to have a future economically, environmentally, a future where we remain diverse, we have to fix this. We’re not going to let this idea by.” 

Trump Lawyer Says Bolton Should Testify

Mother Jones Magazine -

Jay Sekulow makes the case that . . . something. You tell me:

Sekulow read several statements denying Bolton’s allegation that Trump directly tied the withholding of military aid to Ukraine to investigations into his political rivals.

Sekulow then sought to emphasize what remains unknown about Bolton’s still-unpublished book, calling it “an unpublished manuscript that maybe some reporters have an idea of maybe what it says.” Sekulow continued: “I mean, that’s what the evidence — if you want to call that evidence — I don’t know what you’d call that — I’d call it inadmissible — but that’s what it is.”

Well, that might be true. I suppose it could be hearsay, but only because courts will reject evidence if a more direct source is available. For example, a book might be inadmissible if the author is available to testify.

Which is true in this case. So I agree with Sekulow: Bolton’s book is inadmissible. The only proper source for this evidence is testimony from Bolton himself.

Thanks, Jay! I’m glad we’re all in agreement about this.

Lunchtime Photo

Mother Jones Magazine -

This is a pretty little waterfall in Sumapaz National Park in Colombia. But instead of showing you both a normal exposure and a long exposure, as I often do, I’m showing you two long exposures taken from slightly different distances. As I recall, I wanted to try a few other angles, but it started to rain so I packed up and headed back to the car. Still, even between just these two I can’t decide which I like better.

August 6, 2019 — Sumapaz National Park, Colombia

Budget Deficit to Break $1 Trillion Despite Strong Economy

TruthDig.com News -

WASHINGTON — An annual congressional report says the U.S. budget deficit is likely to burst through the symbolic $1 trillion barrier this year despite a healthy economy.

Tuesday’s Congressional Budget Office report follows a burst of new spending last year and the repeal in December of several taxes used to help finance the Affordable Care Act. Those have combined to deepen the government’s deficit spiral well on into the future, with trillion-dollar deficits likely for as far as the eye can see.

The annual CBO update of the government’s economic and fiscal health estimates a $1 trillion deficit for the ongoing fiscal year, which would bring the red ink above $1 trillion for the first time since 2012, when former President Barack Obama capped four consecutive years of $1 trillion-plus budget deficits. The government, slated to spend $4.6 trillion this year, would have to borrow 22 cents of every dollar it spends.

Most economists say the most relevant way to look at the deficit is to measure it against the size of the economy, with deficits at 3 percent or so of gross domestic product seen as sustainable. The latest report shows deficits averaging 4.8 percent of GDP over the course of the coming decade.

“As a result of those deficits, federal debt would rise each year, reaching a percentage of the nation’s output that is unprecedented in U.S. history,” the CBO report says.

Obama’s deficits came as the U.S. economy recovered from the deep recession of 2007-2009. The return of trillion-dollar deficit now comes as the economy is humming on all cylinders, with the CBO predicting that the jobless rate nationwide will average below 4 percent through at least 2022. The growth rate is predicted to average 2.2 percent this year.

“The economy’s performance makes the large and growing deficit all the more noteworthy,” said CBO Director Phillip Swagel. “Changes in fiscal policy must be made to address the budget situation, because our debt is growing on an unsustainable path.”

The government reported a $984 billion deficit for the 2019 budget year. Cumulative deficits over the coming decade are expected to total $13 trillion — a total that would have gone higher save for CBO’s belief that yields on Treasury notes will remain unusually low as the government refinances its $23 trillion debt.

The recent surge in the deficit has followed passage of the 2017 Trump tax bill, which has failed to pay for itself with additional economic growth and revenues as promised by administration figures like Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. The surge in deficits also follows a final rewrite last summer of a failed 2011 budget deal to increase spending of both defense and domestic programs.

Divided government isn’t helping the deficit picture as the Democratic-controlled House led the way in repealing $377 billion worth of “Obamacare” tax hikes, including a so-called Cadillac tax on high-cost health plans. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., was also a driving force in last summer’s budget accord, which is scored at adding $1.7 trillion to the deficit over the coming decade.

CBO holds a traditional view of economists that debt that’s too high has a “crowding out” effect on private sector investment in the economy and can lead to higher interest rates and maybe even a European-style debt crisis. But interest rates have remained low despite CBO’s alarms and more liberal economists hold a much more dovish view of the effects of higher deficits on the economy.

The CBO report landed amid an intensifying presidential campaign in which concerns about the deficit are not really an issue. President Donald Trump has promised to leave Social Security pensions and Medicare benefits off the table as his administration seeks ways to blunt the political impact of the eye-popping deficit figures.

The administration’s budget is being released next month but is likely to be largely ignored, especially as election-year politics take over.

The post Budget Deficit to Break $1 Trillion Despite Strong Economy appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Palestinians Call on World to Reject Trump ‘Peace’ Deal

TruthDig.com News -

The so-called “peace deal” authored by White House adviser Jared Kushner was met with protests and condemnation by Palestinians on Tuesday ahead of an expected announcement by U.S. President Donald Trump and Israeli Prime Benjamin Netanyahu in Washington, D.C.

With critics calling it the opposite of a peace plan as well as an effort for both leaders to distract from domestic legal and political scandals, the proposal was set to be unveiled jointly by the two leaders just hours after Netanyahu was formally indicted on corruption charges back home and amid the second week of an impeachment trial against Trump in the U.S. Senate.

Palestinian leaders urged the international community to boycott the plan that the pair are set to unveil, with Prime Minister Mohammad Shtayyeh calling the deal “nothing but a plan to finish off the Palestinian cause.”

“This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan.”
—Mohammad Shtayyeh, Palestinian prime minister“This is a plan to protect Trump from impeachment and protect Netanyahu from prison. It is not a Middle East peace plan,” Shtayyeh said. “We reject it and we demand the international community not be a partner.”

The deal reportedly will allow Israel to annex large swaths of Palestinian territories, all of contested Jerusalem, and Israeli settlements.

Kushner, Trump’s son-in-law, and U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman—vocal proponents of Israeli settlements in the West Bank—were largely responsible for drafting the deal, while Palestinian leaders were not invited to the discussions.

Trump said Monday that the deal was “very good for” Palestinians and called it “historic.”

“Palestinian freedom isn’t for Trump to give away or for Netanyahu to steal,” countered Rabbi Alissa Wise, acting co-executive director at Jewish Voice for Peace (JVP), on Twitter.

Palestinian freedom isn’t for Trump to give away or for Netanyahu to steal. #DOAPeacePlan

— Rabbi Alissa Wise (@AlissaShira) January 27, 2020

Sending love and rage to Palestinians all over the globe today. I’m certain that in response to these callous, vicious overreaches they just confirm that the world will rise to realize freedom for Palestine and us all. https://t.co/TwxeN4pn2C

— Rabbi Alissa Wise (@AlissaShira) January 28, 2020

Palestinian freedom isn’t for Trump to give away or for Netanyahu to steal. #DOAPeacePlan

— Rabbi Alissa Wise (@AlissaShira) January 27, 2020

Shtayyeh said the deal “contradicts the basics of international law and inalienable Palestinian rights,” and Palestinian leadership threatened to withdraw from the Oslo Accords—in which Israel recognized the Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) as a party to peace negotiations—over the plan.

At protests on the Gaza Strip, Palestinians held up pictures of Trump and Netanyahu with red marks crossing them out.

“We will not allow this deal to pass and we will resist it in every way in order not to open the way for it, as we consider it as a way to put an end to our national rights,” Talal Abu Zarifa, Democratic Front leader, told the Middle East Eye at a demonstration.

“We will not allow this deal to pass”

Palestinians gear up for mass protests to denounce Trump’s Israel-Palestine plan, which they say is an attempt to finish off their cause. pic.twitter.com/6huGvATeiA

— Middle East Eye (@MiddleEastEye) January 28, 2020

Palestinians in Rafah (Gaza Strip) protesting Trump Mideast peace plan. More Palestinian protests expected later Tuesday and Wednesday. pic.twitter.com/l48dDpygTo

— Khaled Abu Toameh (@KhaledAbuToameh) January 28, 2020

On social media, JVP highlighted a number of actions taken by the Trump administration in the past three years to undermine Palestinians’ human rights, including cuts to humanitarian aidendorsing Israeli sovereignty over Jerusalem, and claiming Israel has ownership of Golan Heights in Syria.

We know that no peace can come without justice for Palestinians, and that means building and supporting a broad-based effort that allows for self-determination and equality. JVP commits to working towards this future for all in Israel/Palestine. #DOAPeacePlan pic.twitter.com/Hk4ADFpzcQ

— Jewish Voice for Peace (@jvplive) January 28, 2020

“We know that no peace can come without justice for Palestinians, and that means building and supporting a broad-based effort that allows for self-determination and equality,” tweeted the group. “JVP commits to working towards this future for all in Israel and Palestine.”

The post Palestinians Call on World to Reject Trump ‘Peace’ Deal appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Praises Pompeo for Cursing Out Female Reporter: “You Did a Good Job on Her”

Mother Jones Magazine -

Halfway into his remarks at the White House unveiling the administration’s long-awaited Middle East peace plan, President Donald Trump on Tuesday found a moment to lavish praise on Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, who in recent days has been accused of bullying a female NPR reporter.

“That’s impressive Mike,” Trump said. “That reporter couldn’t have done too good a job on you.” He then paused before adding the punchline, “I think you did a good job on her, actually.”

The remarks delighted audience members, some of whom seemed both shocked and thrilled by the jab at NPR reporter and All Things Considered host Mary Louise Kelly. Last Friday, Kelly revealed that Pompeo had recently berated her with expletives after she asked about his role in the Ukraine scandal at the center of impeachment. The conflict extended into the weekend when on Saturday, Pompeo, in turn, accused her of blindsiding him in the interview, adding a snarky comment suggesting that Kelly, who received a master’s degree in European history from Cambridge, was unable to identify Ukraine on a map. Pompeo’s claim of having been lied to about the substance of the interview, however, quickly fell apart when emails between Kelly and the State Department acknowledging that questions on Ukraine had been agreed to were made public. 

Trump, looking visibly pleased with himself, quickly returned to his teleprompter remarks on Tuesday. But the jarring moment appeared to reveal the general approach of Pompeo’s State Department, where officials have remained silent over its decision to bar NPR’s diplomatic correspondent from an upcoming overseas trip with Pompeo. It also emphatically telegraphed the president’s approval of Pompeo’s treatment of both the media and women, two groups that Trump has openly and frequently disdained. 

Trump praises Pompeo after he bullied an NPR reporter and then prohibited another NPR reporter from traveling with him: "That reporter couldn't have done too good a job on you … I think you did a good job on her actually." pic.twitter.com/FsUfCkXi6D

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) January 28, 2020

Kobe Bryant’s Obits Treated His Rape Allegation as a Matter of Image Not Substance

Mother Jones Magazine -

A horrifying helicopter crash that killed retired NBA star Kobe Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven other people on Sunday generated a global outpouring of grief, tributes, and memorials. But for many observers and fans, Bryant’s death has raised conflicting feelings about how to properly grieve and remember someone who was both a beloved celebrity and a powerful man accused of rape.

It’s a familiar problem, especially if you were (or still are) a fan of Michael Jackson, Woody Allen, Roman Polanski, or Bill Cosby: Should the worst actions of our cultural heroes change how we remember them? Should these men still be celebrated, canceled, or simply (and simplistically) characterized as “complicated”?  “What do we do with the art of monstrous men?” Claire Dederer asked in an eloquent essay published in the early days of the #MeToo movement. “We can’t watch or listen to or read the great work without remembering the awful thing. Flooded with knowledge of the maker’s monstrousness, we turn away, overcome by disgust. Or…we don’t. We continue watching, separating or trying to separate the artist from the art.”

Basketball was Bryant’s art, as thousands of words in articles and TV segments and social media posts have detailed in the last two days. The Washington Post described him as a “tireless competitor” and “global sports icon.” Bryant “helped restore the Lakers to glory,” the New York Times wrote; he was “a mammoth figure from almost the moment he arrived” in the NBA, who built an “unmatched legacy.” The Los Angeles Times, his hometown paper, eulogized him as “one of the greatest in the history of the game.” 

However, there are other facts that exist alongside the fact of Bryant’s incomparable stature on the court. In July 2003, Bryant allegedly raped a 19-year-old employee of a resort in Colorado where he was staying. Prosecutors charged him with sexual assault and false imprisonment. As a 2016 Daily Beast article about the case reported, the evidence against Bryant included a rape kit exam that documented injuries “not consistent with consensual sex,” the woman’s blood on Bryant’s shirt, a bruise on her neck, and corroborating testimony from a bellman at the hotel. In a press conference, Bryant insisted the sex was consensual and unforced, characterizing the incident as “adultery.”

The woman’s name and transcripts of closed legal hearings were leaked and the national media aired details about her sexual and mental health history, which Bryant’s lawyers used to paint her as unstable, promiscuous, and hungry for fame. Shortly before trial was scheduled to begin in September 2004, she backed out, and prosecutors dropped the charges. Bryant issued a remarkable apology that all but acknowledged that the incident had crossed a legal boundary: “Although I truly believe this encounter between us was consensual, I recognize now that she did not and does not view this incident the same way I did.… I now understand how she feels that she did not consent to this encounter.”

Obituaries for Bryant in major newspapers and news outlets do not erase the allegation of sexual assault, but they mention this episode with varying degrees of detail. The Washington Post sets up the incident by noting that Bryant’s “reputation as a teammate and sports role model were matters of controversy.” It describes a clash between Bryant and Shaquille O’Neal before making a perfunctory reference to the allegation its fourteenth paragraph, emphasizing its impact on Bryant’s reputation:

Mr Bryant’s image already had changed a year earlier, when a female employee of a Colorado resort accused him of sexually assaulting her. Although charges were eventually dropped, a civil settlement was reached and Mr. Bryant’s image as a clean-cut cultural darling was tarnished.

This terseness may reflect an institutional preference. On Monday, the Washington Post suspended reporter Felicia Sonmez for posting a series of tweets that included a link to the Daily Beast article and statements arguing that the rape allegation was part of Bryant’s legacy. Sonmez, who said she received death and rape threats in response to her posts, deleted the tweets after being instructed to do so by managing editor Tracy Grant, who said the posts “displayed poor judgment.”

The Washington Post‘s treatment of the allegation was echoed by CNN, which swiftly lays out the timeline of the “controversy” before returning to Bryant’s athletic achievements. While the New York Times also introduces the sexual assault allegation in the context of Bryant’s image, writing that the case “would change how many people saw Bryant,” though he would remain “hugely popular.” Its obituary, titled “Kobe Bryant’s Brilliant and Complicated Legacy,” dedicates a more detailed paragraph to recapping the legal developments.

The Los Angeles Times engages with the case against Bryant more deeply. “His aggression and agility on the court came with a darker side as well,” Thomas Curwen and David Wharton write in the opening of their 5,000-plus word obit, before summarizing the allegation and how the case was resolved. Later, they describe how Bryant’s relationship with his wife, Vanessa, was “part fairy tale and part extended family drama” until the rape allegations exploded their domestic life.

None of these four obituaries mention the more graphic evidence of the case or the incident’s impact on Bryant’s accuser. The Los Angeles Times’ comes closest, hinting at her victim-blaming and slut-shaming in its reference to “a media whirlwind fed by themes of sex, celebrity and race.” It notes that the case was “marked by serious blunders” and that Bryant’s attorney had “talked about a history of ‘black men being falsely accused of this crime by white women.'” Yet it also sums up the episode as a matter of bad optics for Bryant: “By [2004], some sponsors had severed their deals with Bryant, his reputation tarnished.” (Nike returned to using pictures of Bryant in 2005.)

The obits largely characterize the rape allegation in terms how it affected Bryant’s public image, ultimately portraying it as a minor part of his story. This reflects the media’s rehabilitation and celebration of Bryant over the past 15 years, in which he was allowed to return to grace around the same time he started winning championships again. That public narrative was, in turn, enforced by the non-disclosure agreement Bryant’s accuser signed when he settled her civil suit.

The pressure to remain silent does not just weigh on survivors, particularly following a tragedy such as this. Yet as Somnez wrote on Sunday in a since-deleted tweet, “Any public figure is worth remembering in their totality. Even if that figure is beloved and that totality upsetting.” 

Trump Team: Impeachment Not About ‘Unsourced Manuscripts’

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s legal team neared the end of his impeachment trial defense Tuesday, painting him and his aides as hounded by investigation and taking a dismissive swipe at an unpublished book by John Bolton that is said to contradict a key defense argument.

“It is not a game of leaks and unsourced manuscripts,” said Trump attorney Jay Sekulow. “That’s politics, unfortunately.”

He was referring to reports of a forthcoming book by former Trump’s former national security adviser, who writes that Trump told him that he wanted to withhold military aid from Ukraine until it helped with investigations into Democratic rival Joe Biden. Trump and his lawyers have repeatedly insisted he never tied the security aid to political investigations.

While scoffing at the manuscript, Trump and the Republicans have strongly resisted summoning Bolton to testify in person about what he saw and heard as Trump’s top national security adviser.

One of the president’s lawyers, Deputy White House Counsel Pat Philbin, told the senators that America’s Founding Fathers took care to make sure that impeachment was narrowly defined, with impeachable offenses clearly enumerated.

“There has to be a defined offense in advance,” Philbin said.

News of the Bolton’s manuscript clouded White House hopes for a big finish Tuesday as well as a swift end to the impeachment trial. Democrats are demanding witnesses, and some Republicans are expressing openness to the idea.

One Republican, Sen. James Lankford of Oklahoma, is floating an idea to subpoena Bolton’s book manuscript so senators can see the evidence themselves — but only in private.

It’s an idea that may be gaining traction even as other Republicans have warned against a protracted legal dispute with the White House, which has tried to block administration officials.

GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham wrote on Twitter that he “totally” supports Lankford’s proposal. Graham, a key Trump ally, said the Bolton document should be made available to the Senate, in a classified setting, “where each Senator has the opportunity to review the manuscript and make their own determination.”

However, Chuck Schumer, the Senate’s top Democrat, called the proposal, which would keep Bolton out of public testimony, “absurd.”

“We’re not bargaining with them. We want four witnesses, and four sets of documents, then the truth will come out,” Schumer said.

Senate Republicans were to meet behind closed doors to consider next steps.

The Bolton revelations distracted from hours of arguments Monday by Trump’s lawyers, who declared anew that no witness has testified to direct knowledge that Trump’s delivery of aid was contingent on investigations into Democrats. Bolton appeared poised to say exactly that if summoned by the Senate.

“We deal with transcript evidence, we deal with publicly available information,” Trump attorney Jay Sekulow said. “We do not deal with speculation.”

Trump is charged with abusing his presidential power by asking Ukraine’s leader to help investigate Biden at the same time his administration was withholding hundreds of millions of dollars in security aid. A second charge accuses Trump of obstructing Congress in its probe.

On Monday, Trump’s attorneys, including high-profile lawyers Ken Starr and Alan Dershowitz, launched a historical, legal and political attack on the entire impeachment process. They said there was no basis to remove Trump from office, defended his actions as appropriate and assailed Biden, who is campaigning for the Democratic nomination to oppose Trump in November.

Former Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi devoted her presentation to Biden and his son Hunter, who served on the board of a Ukraine gas company when his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv. The legal team argued that Trump had legitimate reasons to be suspicious of the younger Biden’s business dealings and concerned about corruption in Ukraine and that, in any event, he ultimately released the aid without Ukraine committing to investigations the Republican president wanted.

Trump has sought, without providing evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Though anti-corruption advocates have raised concerns, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

Democrats say Trump released the money only after a whistleblower submitted a complaint about the situation.

Starr, whose independent counsel investigation resulted in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton — he was acquitted by the Senate — bemoaned what he said was an “age of impeachment.” Impeachment, he said, requires an actual crime and a “genuine national consensus” that the president must go. Neither exists here, Starr said.

“It’s filled with acrimony and it divides the country like nothing else,” Starr said of impeachment. “Those of us who lived through the Clinton impeachment understand that in a deep and personal way.”

Dershowitz, the final speaker of the evening, argued that impeachable offenses require criminal-like conduct — a view largely rejected by legal scholars. He said “nothing in the Bolton revelations, even if true, would rise to the level of an abuse of power or an impeachable offense.”

“Purely non-criminal conduct, including abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, are outside the range of impeachable offenses,” Dershowitz said.

Even as defense lawyers laid out their case as planned, it was clear Bolton’s book had scrambled the debate over whether to seek witnesses. Trump’s legal team has rejected Bolton’s account, and Trump himself denied it.

“I NEVER told John Bolton that the aid to Ukraine was tied to investigations into Democrats, including the Bidens,” Trump tweeted. “If John Bolton said this, it was only to sell a book.”

Republican senators face a pivotal moment. Pressure is mounting for at least four to buck GOP leaders and form a bipartisan majority to force the issue. Republicans hold a 53-47 majority.

“John Bolton’s relevance to our decision has become increasingly clear,” GOP Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah told reporters. Sen. Susan Collins of Maine said she has always wanted “the opportunity for witnesses” and the report about Bolton’s book “strengthens the case.”

At a private GOP lunch, Romney made the case for calling Bolton, according to a person unauthorized to discuss the meeting and granted anonymity.

Other Republicans, including Sen. Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, said if Bolton is called, they will demand reciprocity to hear from at least one of their witnesses. Some Republicans want to call the Bidens.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell hadn’t known know about Bolton’s book, his office said. But the GOP leader appeared unmoved by news of the book. His message at the lunch, said Indiana GOP Sen. Mike Braun, was, “Take a deep breath, and let’s take one step at a time.”

Once the president’s team wraps up its arguments, senators have 16 hours for written questions to both sides. By late in the week, they are expected to hold a vote on whether or not to hear from any witnesses.

Trump and his lawyers have argued repeatedly that Democrats are using impeachment to try to undo the results of the last presidential election and drive Trump from office.

Democrats, meanwhile, say Trump’s refusal to allow administration officials to testify only reinforces that the White House is hiding evidence. The White House has had Bolton’s manuscript for about a month, according to a letter from Bolton’s attorney.

___

Associated Press writers Alan Fram, Mary Clare Jalonick, Andrew Taylor, Matthew Daly, Laurie Kellman and Padmananda Rama contributed to this report.

The post Trump Team: Impeachment Not About ‘Unsourced Manuscripts’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Peace In Our Time

Mother Jones Magazine -

Jared’s Mideast peace plan is finally finished! Let’s see what he came up with after three years of grueling work:

Mr. Trump’s plan would guarantee that Israel would control a unified Jerusalem as its capital and not require it to uproot any of the settlements in the West Bank that have provoked Palestinian outrage and alienated much of the outside world.

….The proposal imagines new Israeli borders that cut far into the West Bank, and, at least in the short term, calls for what Mr. Netanyahu has described as a Palestinian “state-minus,” lacking an army or air force.

Ooh, a “state-minus.” Bibi sure has a way with words. I’m sure the Palestinians will leap to endorse this plan.

Did Jared actually produce any of this plan? It appears that it was created by asking Netanyahu to write a draft and then simply releasing it under the White House seal. Which is the whole point, of course. This wasn’t designed to be a serious peace plan; it was designed to be a 2020 campaign document showing how much Trump loves Israel.

And while we’re on the subject, here’s some related news:

Hours before President Trump was expected to unveil his plan to address the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu suffered a major political setback when prosecutors in his own country proceeded with a three-count indictment against him for alleged bribery, fraud and the coercing of favorable coverage from Israeli media outlets.

Of the three parties to peace talks, one is under indictment, one is being impeached, and the third has boycotted the whole thing. It’s hard to imagine why people aren’t taking this seriously.

Trump Unveils Controversial Peace Plan for the Middle East

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WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump unveiled his long-awaited Middle East peace plan Tuesday, calling for the creation of a State of Palestine with its capital in portions of east Jerusalem. He declared it a “win-win” opportunity for both Israel and the Palestinians.

The plan ends speculation as to whether his administration, in preparing a proposal without input from Palestinian leaders, would abandon a “two-state resolution” to the conflict.

Trump, releasing the plan before a pro-Israel audience at the White House with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu by his side, acknowledged that he has done a lot for Israel, but he said he wanted the deal to be a “great deal for the Palestinians.” Trump said the deal is a “historic opportunity” for Palestinians to achieve an independent state of their own.

The plan more than doubles the territory currently under Palestinian control, although it also recognizes Israeli sovereignty over major settlement blocs in the West Bank, something to which the Palestinians will almost certainly object. The Palestinians have already rejected the proposal, accusing Trump of being biased in favor of Israel as he has adopted policies that bolster Israel at their expense.

The plan does call for a four-year freeze in new Israeli settlement construction, during which time details of a comprehensive agreement would be negotiated. However, it was not immediately clear if the freeze could be extended if a final deal is not concluded in the four years.

The 50-page political outline goes further in concessions to the Palestinians than many analysts had believed was likely. However, it would require them to accept conditions they have been previously unwilling to consider, such as accepting West Bank settlements. It builds on a 30-page economic plan for the West Bank and Gaza that was unveiled last June and which the Palestinians have also rejected,

Under the terms of the “peace vision” that Trump’s son-in-law and senior adviser Jared Kushner has been working on for nearly three years, the future Palestinian state would consist of the West Bank and Gaza, connected by a combination of above-ground roads and tunnels.

Netanyahu and his main political challenger in March elections, Benny Gantz, had signed off on the plan.

The White House event came as Trump’s impeachment trial continues in the Senate and Israel’s parliament had planned a hearing to discuss Netanyahu’s request for immunity from criminal corruption charges. Netanyahu withdrew that request hours before the proceedings were to begin, but Israel’s parliament, the Knesset, is still expected to meet. The body had been likely to vote against immunity, dealing Netanyahu a blow.

In the run-up to the March 2 election, Netanyahu had called for annexing parts of the West Bank and imposing Israeli sovereignty on all its settlements there. Israel captured the West Bank in the 1967 Mideast war, and the Jordan Valley in particular is considered a vital security asset.

Security responsibility for the Jordan Valley would remain in Israel’s hands for the foreseeable future but could be scaled back as the nascent Palestinian state builds its capacity, under the terms of the plan, which says that statehood will be contingent on the Palestinians meeting international governance criteria.

U.S. officials, speaking on condition of anonymity ahead of the plan’s release, said they expected negative responses from the Palestinians, as well as Turkey and Iran, but were hopeful that Jordan and Egypt, the only two Arab nations to have peace treaties with Israel, would not reject it outright. The officials said they expected Gulf Arab states like Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and others to cautiously welcome the plan.

The reaction of Jordan, which would retain its responsibilities over Jerusalem’s al-Aqsa Mosque under the plan, will be particularly significant, according to the officials, who said Kushner and others were reaching out to Arab leaders ahead of the rollout.

The Palestinians see the West Bank as the heartland of a future independent state and east Jerusalem as their capital. Most of the international community supports their position, but Trump has reversed decades of U.S. foreign policy by siding more blatantly with Israel. The centerpiece of his strategy was recognizing Jerusalem as Israel’s capital and moving the American Embassy there. He’s also closed Palestinian diplomatic offices in Washington and cut funding to Palestinian aid programs.

Those policies have proven popular among Trump’s evangelical and pro-Israel supporters and could give him a much-needed boost from his base as he gears up for a reelection battle this year.

But the Palestinians refuse to even speak to Trump and they called on support from Arab leaders. The Palestinian leadership also has encouraged protests in the West Bank, raising fears that the announcement in Washington could spark a new round of violence. Ahead of the announcement, the Israeli military said it was reinforcing infantry troops along the Jordan Valley.

The post Trump Unveils Controversial Peace Plan for the Middle East appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Catholic Leaders Haven’t Answered for the Church’s Child Abuse

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This story is co-published with the Houston Chronicle.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

It took 40 years and three bouts of cancer for Larry Giacalone to report his claim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a Boston priest named Richard Donahue.

Giacalone sued Donahue in 2017, alleging the priest molested him in 1976, when Giacalone was 12 and Donahue was serving at Sacred Heart Parish. The lawsuit never went to trial, but a compensation program set up by the archdiocese concluded that Giacalone “suffered physical injuries and emotional injuries as a result of physical abuse” and directed the archdiocese to pay him $73,000.

Even after the claim was settled and the compensation paid in February 2019, however, the archdiocese didn’t publish Donahue’s name on its list of accused priests. Nor did it three months later when Giacalone’s lawyer, Mitchell Garabedian, criticized the church publicly for not adding Donahue’s name to the list.

Church leaders finally added Donahue to the list last month after ProPublica asked why he hadn’t been included. But that, too, sowed confusion. Despite the determination that Giacalone was entitled to compensation, Donahue’s name was added to a portion of the list for priests accused in cases deemed “unsubstantiated” — where the archdiocese says it does not have sufficient evidence to determine whether the clergy member committed the alleged abuse.

“To award a victim a substantial amount of money, yet claim that the accused is not a pedophile, is an insult to one’s intelligence,” said Garabedian, who has handled hundreds of abuse cases over the last 25 years. “It’s a classic case of the archdiocese ducking, delaying and avoiding issues.”

Donahue, in an interview with ProPublica, denied the allegation by Giacalone.

Over the last year and a half, the majority of U.S. dioceses, as well as nearly two dozen religious orders, have released lists of abusers currently or formerly in their ranks. The revelations were no coincidence: They were spurred by a 2018 Pennsylvania grand jury report, which named hundreds of priests as part of a statewide clergy abuse investigation. Nationwide, the names of more than 5,800 clergy members have been released so far, representing the most comprehensive step toward transparency yet by a Catholic Church dogged by its long history of denying and burying abuse by priests.

But even as bishops have dedicated these lists to abuse victims and depicted the disclosures as a public acknowledgement of victims’ suffering, it has become clear that numerous alleged abusers have been omitted and that there is no standard for determining who each diocese considers credibly accused.

A spokesman for the Boston Archdiocese initially said Donahue wasn’t on its list of accused priests because he was still being investigated and subsequently called the delay an “oversight.”

Even when dioceses and religious orders identify credibly accused clergy members, the information they provide about those named varies widely. Some jurisdictions turn over far more specifics about problem priests — from where they worked to the number of their victims to the details of their wrongdoing — than others.

The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, or USCCB, has issued no instructions on disclosures related to credibly accused priests, leaving individual dioceses and religious orders to decide for themselves how much or how little to publish. The USCCB says it does not have the authority to order dioceses to release names or to resolve disputes over who should be on the lists, though in 2002 after a scandal in Boston, the conference did put in place new protocols intended to ensure alleged abuse by clergy was reported and tracked.

“Recognizing the authority of the local bishop, and the fact that state and local laws vary, the decision of whether and how to best release lists and comply with varying civil reporting laws have been the responsibility of individual dioceses,” said Chieko Noguchi, a USCCB spokeswoman.

While the USCCB can propose policies for church leaders in the U.S., the bishops themselves are appointed by the pope and answer to him.

ProPublica has collected the 178 lists released by U.S. dioceses and religious orders as of Jan. 20 and created a searchable database that allows users to look up clergy members by name, diocese or parish. This represents the first comprehensive picture of the information released publicly by bishops around the country. Some names appear multiple times. In many cases, that accounts for priests who were accused in more than one location. In other instances, dioceses have acknowledged when priests who served in their jurisdiction have been reported for abuse elsewhere.

Kathleen McChesney, a former FBI official who helped establish a new set of child protection protocols within the USCCB in the early 2000s, has urged bishops and religious orders for nearly two decades to create a comprehensive list of accused clergy. She said our database will allow the public to better track dioceses’ disclosures, rather than seeing each list in isolation.

“People don’t know where to look,” McChesney said. “The contribution of the one list will help a lot of people to perhaps identify someone that they believe abused them.”

Still, much crucial information remains missing. Despite the recent surge of releases, 41 dioceses and dozens more religious orders have yet to publish lists, including five of seven dioceses in Florida, home to more than 2 million Catholics.

The database also doesn’t include many accused clergy members whom bishops have yet to acknowledge, even if they’ve issued lists. An organization called Bishop Accountability has long maintained its own database of publicly accused priests, drawn from court records, news articles and church documents. The organization’s list includes more than 450 names connected to dioceses that have not released disclosures.

The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, or SNAP, an advocacy organization for victims of clergy abuse, has pushed dioceses to identify known abusers and turn over records on them for decades. This process has finally begun, but the church’s obdurate culture of concealment remains, said David Clohessy, who led the group for nearly 30 years.

“They continue to be as secretive as possible, parceling out the least amount of information possible and only under great duress,” Clohessy said. “They are absolute masters at hairsplitting — always have been and still are.”

“Do we now know the names of more predator priests than before? Yes, of course. Are we anywhere near full transparency? Absolutely not.”

A Lack of Standards

Until recently, only a few dozen bishops had released lists of priests with credible allegations against them. Many did so only when compelled by courts, as a condition of bankruptcy proceedings.

That changed after August 2018, when the Pennsylvania attorney general, Josh Shapiro, published a 900-page grand jury report detailing not only abuse but a systematic cover-up by church leaders throughout the state. The report came just weeks after the resignation of then- Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, D.C., and one of the highest ranking Catholic leaders ever felled by abuse allegations.

“The overall feel was like 2002 happening all over again,” Kevin Eckery, a Diocese of San Diego senior administrator, said, referring to the intense scrutiny that followed a Pulitzer Prize-winning Boston Globe investigation into sexual abuse by priests. “You could see that there was a need for a response that was about action and not a response that was about more words.”

Many of the 178 dioceses that have released new or updated lists of accused clergy since last year have cited the Pennsylvania grand jury report as a reason for doing so.

Still, without a consensus among church leaders on what constitutes a credible accusation, bishops have used vastly different standards to determine who should be named.

The Archdiocese of Seattle, which released its list prior to the grand jury report, began by dividing allegations into three categories: cases in which priests admitted the allegations or where allegations were “established” by reports from multiple victims; cases that clearly could not have happened; and cases that fell into a gray area, like those that were never fully investigated at the time they were reported. The archdiocese decided it would name priests whose cases fell into the first category and leave out the second group, but it sought additional guidance on the third set of cases.

“There’s the question of who determines it to be credible,” said Mary Santi, the chancellor and chief of staff for the Archdiocese of Seattle. “We decided that we couldn’t be the determiners of that.”

The Seattle Archdiocese brought in McChesney to help choose which names to disclose. Dozens of dioceses have turned to outside advisers, hiring former judges, former local law enforcement agents and law firms while others relied on internal review boards, composed of mostly non-clergy members.

Ultimately, dioceses have set different limits on what to publish. The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas disclosed the names of priests even in cases in which officials could not substantiate the allegations themselves. In New Hampshire, the Diocese of Manchester’s bishop also opted for greater transparency than most, disclosing clergy members who were currently under investigation and who had died before an inquiry was complete.

Other jurisdictions, however, drew tighter lines, sometimes based on idiosyncratic criteria. In Nebraska, the Archdiocese of Omaha leaves out names of seminarians with “substantiated” allegations of abuse against minors. In Ohio, the Diocese of Toledo did not identify priests who died before a victim came forward because they “posed no threat,” the diocese’s website explained.

SNAP leaders have pushed the diocese to publish those names, so far to no avail. “Their lack of transparency is devastating to those left in their wake,” Claudia Vercellotti, a SNAP leader in Toledo, said. “It defies logic that even when the church leader is dead, they are still protecting them over offering healing and transparency to the victims.”

Many dioceses have chosen not to include members of religious orders, such as the Jesuits, who have been accused of abuse. Religious order members, who make up 30% of U.S. priests, are taught and ordained within those orders, but they often spend much of their time working in the parishes and schools of local dioceses.

The Archdiocese of Milwaukee, at the direction of its court-appointed bankruptcy committee, discloses extensive information about each accused priest it names, including timelines of their careers and documentation of when and where they abused their victims.

But it leaves out religious order priests and priests who died before victims reported the abuse. Names of the deceased are only added if enough victims come forward to “show a trend,” though the archdiocese does not define how many allegations that would require.

Jerry Topczewski, chief of staff for Milwaukee Archbishop Jerome Listecki, said there’s room for debate over which accused clergy members should be named, but each diocese has to draw the line somewhere.

“At some point you have to make a decision,” Topczewski said. “Someone’s always going to say your list isn’t good enough, which we have people say, ‘Your list is incomplete.’ Well, I only control the list l can control and that’s diocesan priests.”

It’s impossible to know how many accused clergy members dioceses have opted not to put on their lists.

Bishop Accountability applies different standards for inclusion on its list than church leaders, tracking public accusations against nuns and other clergy members often left off the official rolls.

As a result, there are sometimes substantial gaps between the group’s tallies and those of dioceses.

The Archdiocese of Boston currently lists 171 names. Bishop Accountability lists 279, including dozens of religious order priests omitted from the official list as well as several priests who died before victims came forward.

“For every person who’s left off a list, bishops ought to be aware that they are retraumatizing survivors and doubling the insult and doubling the pain,” Terence McKiernan, the founder of Bishop Accountability, said.

Lost in the Archives

Over his 40-year career, Alfredo Prado was accused of abusing children repeatedly, in nearly every corner of Texas where he was assigned by his order, the Missionary Oblates of Mary Immaculate.

Today, he’s named on six separate diocesan lists of credibly accused priests. Yet each jurisdiction gives different information about him, making it difficult to piece together the arc of his career, the totality of his wrongdoing or what became of him.

The year Prado was ordained is shown on one list as 1958 and on two lists as 1957. The Diocese of San Angelo and the Diocese of Victoria refer to him as “Alfred” rather than “Alfredo.” San Antonio is the only diocese that discloses the total number of children he was accused of abusing within its jurisdiction, five.

His status is also characterized differently from one diocese to another. He’s described as suspended by the Diocese of Corpus Christi, dismissed from his religious order and the clerical state by the Archdiocese of San Antonio, and laicized (or returned to the lay state) by the Diocese of San Angelo. The Diocese of Amarillo adds that he fled to Costa Rica, but it doesn’t say when (according to news reports, it was in the early 2000s). The Diocese of San Angelo says Prado died, but doesn’t list the year. Only the Diocese of Victoria provides a complete bio for Prado, noting each time his status changed, though the list does not confirm he’s dead.

ProPublica contacted Prado’s order, which has not released its own list; an administrator said the order did not know if Prado was alive or dead.

Prado’s story is a striking example of inconsistencies in the information that bishops disclose about accused clergy members. Perhaps most remarkable is that it happened in Texas, where church leaders have made an effort to coordinate their releases. Nationally, the disparities in disclosures are even more pronounced.

At one end is the Diocese of Sacramento in California, which issues a release on each credibly accused clergy member, outlining identifying information that helps distinguish one priest from another such as their ordination dates, seminaries, birthdays and every place they served within the diocese. Leaders also disclose each accusation submitted against the clergy member, including the year it was reported, the nature of the abuse and the victim’s age and gender.

The Diocese of Ogdensburg in upstate New York is at the other end of the spectrum. Its list provides the first and last name of accused priests, with hardly any additional information.

Most disclosures fall somewhere in between. The Diocese of San Bernardino in California, for example, outlines each clergy members’ current status in the church, the assignments they held within the diocese, the dates of abuse and when the diocese reported the incident to law enforcement.

Dioceses consistently label clergy who have died as “deceased,” which accounts for about half of the priests in ProPublica’s database. Jurisdictions are far less uniform in giving information about living members’ current locations or standing in the church. Over 700 clergy members’ status isn’t given or is marked as “unknown.”

Details about credibly accused priests’ abuse are scarce. Church leaders have disclosed the number of allegations made against roughly 10% of the clergy members they’ve named, according to a ProPublica data analysis.

In the early 2000s, dioceses across the country filled out detailed surveys compiled by researchers at the John Jay College of Criminal Justice for the first-ever nationwide study of sexual abuse by clergy. The USCCB mandated the study as one of the new safety initiatives outlined in the 2002 Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Dioceses have continued reporting new allegations annually to the Center for Applied Research in the Apostolate at Georgetown University.

Two John Jay researchers who helped diocesan employees fill out the initial surveys say that sometimes the lack of details about abuse by priests stems from sparse recordkeeping or different ways of defining abuse, especially when it comes to older allegations.

“It was thought about differently, so it was recorded differently than it would be today,” one of the researchers, Karen Terry, said.

Still, dioceses have other information that they often do not disclose, including schools or parishes clergy members were assigned to while serving in a diocese.

McChesney, whose firm, Kinsale Management Consulting, has worked with a few dozen dioceses and religious orders on their disclosures over more than a decade, says dioceses typically keep thorough records of who is serving and when.

“If you want to find out if somebody was baptized in 1889 in La Crosse, Wisconsin, you can find that,” she said.

Disclosing those details can help survivors, especially those who were young at the time of their abuse, to distinguish between clergy with common or similar names, McChesney said.

Only about 58% of the clergy members listed have information about what parishes or schools they served in. Often, the assignment histories provided by dioceses list only a priest’s appointments within that diocese, not where they worked or what positions they held over the rest of their careers.

“It’s so simple,” McChesney said. “All it takes is a good research look and frankly, if you look sometimes at websites of dioceses and universities in the area, you can put that together.”

Mary Gautier, a senior research associate at the Georgetown center, said smaller dioceses with limited budgets don’t always have the money or staff to dig through their archives.

“One thing that the church is very good at is recordkeeping … but it’s very, very time consuming and labor intensive to really go through years and years and years of personnel records and track all this out,” Gautier said. “And I mean doing hand searches. There’s none of this computerized, of course.”

Decades of Rage

After his years in Boston, Donahue spent much of the last 20 years of his career serving in Honduras, where he established and ran schools funded by his organization, the Olancho Aid Foundation. He was back in the United States for medical care in 2015 when he was informed of the first of two abuse allegations made against him. The second accusation, by Giacalone, came in 2017.

In the interview with ProPublica, Donahue denied both men’s allegations and said he assumed his accusers had confused him with someone else or were looking for a payoff from the church. One accuser says he was abused for several years, up until 1981, but Donahue noted that in 1980, he moved to another assignment, elsewhere in Massachusetts.

“I never met either one of them,” Donahue said in the interview at his house in Cape Cod. “From a faith perspective, I’m trying to think there’s a reason I’ve gone through this cross, for the last three years, with these false allegations. Why me? I don’t know.”

After the first abuse allegation, in 2015, Donahue was prohibited by the archdiocese from participating in public ministry or entering parish or school property and was barred from returning to his work in Honduras.

The accuser who came forward in 2015, also represented by Garabedian, has submitted a claim through the archdiocese’s compensation program and is waiting for the church to decide if the claim is credible, Garabedian said.

Giacalone, now 55, says Donahue’s abuse led to decades of rage, alcoholism and drug use. He said he started drinking the day Donahue touched him. “What was I going to turn to?” he told ProPublica. “I thought I’d get relief. The first couple times, yeah, it helped me forget. But getting stinking drunk doesn’t really do anything for you.”

Giacalone said that he was held back in school and dropped out at one point, and that he had trouble holding down work and had run-ins with the police from an early age. In December 2010, he faced assault charges after his wife told police he had threatened and pushed her; the charges were dropped after she refused to go forward with a case.

He doesn’t blame the dispute with his wife or other low points in his life directly on his sexual abuse, but says it colored everything that followed. “It all stems, mostly, from that incident,” he said.

When a reporter told Giacalone that the Boston Archdiocese had found his accusation against Donahue to be “unsubstantiated,” even after the decision that Giacalone had to be compensated, he shook his head.

“I feel bad for their parishioners,” he said. “They are living a lie too.”

Katie Zavadski of ProPublica and Nicole Hensley of The Houston Chronicle contributed reporting.

Logos for the Dioceses of San Angelo, Victoria and Amarillo by Roberto221. Logos for the Archdiocese of San Antonio and the Diocese of Corpus Christi by Alekjds. Logo for the Diocese of Lubbock by Jayarathina.

The post Catholic Leaders Haven’t Answered for the Church’s Child Abuse appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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