The Plot to Subvert an Election: Unraveling the Russia Story So Far

From today’s New York Times:

ON AN OCTOBER AFTERNOON BEFORE THE 2016 ELECTIONa huge banner was unfurled from the Manhattan Bridge in New York City: Vladimir V. Putin against a Russian-flag background, and the unlikely word “Peacemaker” below. It was a daredevil happy birthday to the Russian president, who was turning 64.

In November, shortly after Donald J. Trump eked out a victory that Moscow had worked to assist, an even bigger banner appeared, this time on the Arlington Memorial Bridge in Washington: the face of President Barack Obama and “Goodbye Murderer” in big red letters.

Police never identified who had hung the banners, but there were clues. The earliest promoters of the images on Twitter were American-sounding accounts, including @LeroyLovesUSA, later exposed as Russian fakes operated from St. Petersburg to influence American voters.

The Kremlin, it appeared, had reached onto United States soil in New York and Washington. The banners may well have been intended as visual victory laps for the most effective foreign interference in an American election in history.

For many Americans, the Trump-Russia story as it has been voluminously reported over the past two years is a confusing tangle of unfamiliar names and cyberjargon, further obscured by the shout-fest of partisan politics. What Robert S. Mueller III, the special counsel in charge of the investigation, may know or may yet discover is still uncertain. President Trump’s Twitter outbursts that it is all a “hoax” and a “witch hunt,” in the face of a mountain of evidence to the contrary, have taken a toll on public comprehension.

But to travel back to 2016 and trace the major plotlines of the Russian attack is to underscore what we now know with certainty: The Russians carried out a landmark intervention that will be examined for decades to come. Acting on the personal animus of Mr. Putin, public and private instruments of Russian power moved with daring and skill to harness the currents of American politics. Well-connected Russians worked aggressively to recruit or influence people inside the Trump campaign.

To many Americans, the intervention seemed to be a surprise attack, a stealth cyberage Pearl Harbor, carried out by an inexplicably sinister Russia. For Mr. Putin, however, it was long-overdue payback, a justified response to years of “provocations” from the United States.

And there is a plausible case that Mr. Putin succeeded in delivering the presidency to his admirer, Mr. Trump, though it cannot be proved or disproved. In an election with an extraordinarily close margin, the repeated disruption of the Clinton campaign by emails published on WikiLeaks and the anti-Clinton, pro-Trump messages shared with millions of voters by Russia could have made the difference, a possibility Mr. Trump flatly rejects.

Read the complete article here.

Clear and troubling picture of voter suppression: ‘One Person, No Vote’

From today’s Los Angeles Times:

Near the end of “One Person, No Vote: How Voter Suppression Is Destroying Our Democracy,” Carol Anderson reminds us that “voting is neither an obstacle course nor a privilege. It’s a right.” Anderson offers this statement after demonstrating how, over the course of 120 years, the Mississippi Plan of 1890 has been cloaked, refitted and disseminated throughout the South and into Western and Midwestern states in an effort to stall or halt black, Latino, young and poor citizens from participating freely in American elections.Alabama state troopers beat voting rights marchers, including John Lewis, front right, in Selma on March 7, 1965.

Made to be “intentionally racially discriminatory,” the Mississippi Plan was the umbrella phrase for “a dizzying array of poll taxes, literacy tests, understanding clauses, newfangled voter registration rules, and ‘good character’ clauses” arranged to erase the social, political and economic gains that African Americans had made during Reconstruction. Although the plan was announced as an attempt to return “ ‘integrity’ to the voting booth” following the late 19th century rise of Southern black political power, it actually delivered Jim Crow in full feather. Anderson calls the Mississippi Plan “legislative evil genius.”

“One Person, No Vote” is Anderson’s follow-up to “White Rage” (2016), her live wire case study of white America’s violent, retributive resistance to African Americans’ fighting for, acquiring and enacting citizenship in full. The Charles Howard Candler professor of African American Studies at Emory University, Anderson has a gift for illustrating how specific historical injustices have repercussive, detrimental influence on contemporary American life.

Read the complete article here.

Students nationwide stage walkouts for stricter gun laws after last month’s deadly school shooting in Florida

From today’s LA Times:

Students across the country — from middle school to college — walked out of class Wednesday, calling on state and federal legislators to enact stricter gun laws one month after the mass shooting at Florida’s Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School.

Seventeen students and staff members were killed at the school in Parkland, Fla., on Feb. 14. On Wednesday, students at hundreds of schools across the nation left class at 10 a.m. local time for 17 minutes — one minute for each victim.

At Marjory Stoneman Douglas, two walkouts took place. Citing safety concerns, student government officials and administrators urged students not to leave campus, but to walk to the football field with teachers. Some students balked at the idea of a chaperoned walkout, saying they wanted to get off campus and spread their message to the broader public.

As students made their way to the football field, past a sculpture of the school Eagle mascot, they walked hand in hand or with their arms around each other. Only a few carried placards. There were no chants. Helicopters buzzed overhead.

David Hogg, 17, one of several students at the school who’ve gained national prominence for advocating gun control, livestreamed the walkout on his YouTube channel.

“We have to stand up now and take action,” Hogg said. He interviewed several of his classmates.

“This is about the need for change,” another student told Hogg. “Yes, the prayers from politicians are nice, but we need real change.”

Organized by the youth branch of the Women’s March, called Empower, the National School Walkout is urging Congress to take meaningful action on gun violence and pass federal legislation that would ban assault weapons and require universal background checks for gun sales.

Read the complete article here.

Some Dems ready to loosen tough bank regulations passed after financial crisis

From today’s LA Times:

Before the 2008 financial crisis, BAC Community Bank in Stockton made about 100 mortgage loans a year. Now, after new regulations mandated in the Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act, the figure is down to about two dozen.

“We were never a big mortgage lender, but we did quite a bit more before Dodd-Frank,” said Bill Trezza, the bank’s chief executive. “It basically pushed us out of that to the point where we will do mortgages only for our customers if they request it.”

He and other small bankers hope that’s about to change. And a political shift is making that possible.

Nearly a decade after the financial crisis, some Democrats are ready to go along with a Republican push to significantly loosen the landmark law enacted to try to prevent the next one.

Senate legislation focused on easing new mortgage and other rules for small and mid-sized and regional banks has been co-sponsored by a dozen Democrats, several of them moderates up for re-election this year in states won by President Trump in the 2016 campaign.

The bipartisan support has the bill on track to be approved as soon as this week in what would be the first major overhaul of the 2010 Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act.

The House, which has approved more extensive financial deregulation, is likely to go along with the Senate’s more modest changes. Trump, who has called Dodd-Frank “a very negative force” in the economy and vowed during the campaign to dismantle it, would be expected to sign any bill that reduces its authority.

“The tone has shifted in D.C. from where regulation was necessary to protect the economy to the concern where regulation has gone too far and might be a drag on the economy,” said Ed Mills, a Washington policy analyst for financial services firm Raymond James. “Where that shift has occurred, it gave an opening to the smaller and medium-size banks to pursue these changes.”

But while there’s broad support for easing unintentional burdens in the law for small banks, many liberal Democrats are fighting the bill from Senate Banking Committee Chairman Mike Crapo (R-Idaho). They say it goes too far by also providing significant benefits for some larger financial institutions.

The legislation would exempt about 30 banks and other firms from the stricter oversight put in place by Dodd-Frank after the 2008 financial crisis. That 2010 law was an attempt to prevent a repeat of the bailouts and damage to the economy.

Read the complete article here.

When Wall Street Writes Its Own Rules, It’s An Age of Unprecedented Corruption

From today’s New York Times:

On July 25, 2013, a high-ranking federal law enforcement officer took a public stand against malfeasance on Wall Street. Preet Bharara, then the United States attorney for the Southern District of New York, held a news conference to announce one of the largest Wall Street criminal cases the American justice system had ever seen.

Mr. Bharara’s office had just indicted the multibillion-dollar hedge fund firm SAC Capital Advisors, charging it with wire fraud and insider trading. Standing before a row of television cameras, Mr. Bharara described the case in momentous terms, saying that it involved illegal trading that was “substantial, pervasive and on a scale without precedent in the history of hedge funds.” His legal action that day, he assured the public, would send a strong message to the financial industry that cheating was not acceptable and that prosecutors and regulators would take swift action when behavior crossed the line.

Steven A. Cohen, the founder of SAC and one of the world’s wealthiest men, was never criminally charged, but his company would end up paying $1.8 billion in civil and criminal fines, one of the largest settlements of its kind. He denied any culpability, but his reputation was still badly — some might argue irreparably — damaged. Eight of his former employees were charged by the government, and six pleaded guilty (a few later had their convictions or guilty pleas dismissed). Mr. Cohen was required to shut his fund down and was prohibited from managing outside investors’ money until 2018.

Now, with the prohibition having expired in December, Mr. Cohen has been raising money from investors and is set to start a new hedge fund. He’ll find himself in an environment very different from the one he last operated in. His resurrection arrives as Wall Street regulation is under assault and financiers are directing tax policy and other aspects of the economy — often to the benefit of their own industry. Mr. Cohen is a powerful symbol of Wall Street’s resurgence under President Trump.

As the stock market lurched through its stomach-turning swings over the past week, it was hard not to worry that Wall Street could once again torpedo an otherwise healthy economy and to think about how little Mr. Trump and his Congress have done to prepare for such a possibility. Stock market turbulence typically prompts calls for smart and stringent financial regulation, which is not part of the Trump agenda. One of Mr. Trump’s first acts as president was to fire Mr. Bharara, who made prosecuting Wall Street crime one of his priorities. Mr. Trump has also given many gifts to people like Mr. Cohen.

Read the complete article here.

Justice Department Dismisses Corruption Case Against Menendez

From today’s New York Times:

The Department of Justice on Wednesday dismissed all the remaining charges against Senator Robert Menendez, a decision that underscores how a 2016 Supreme Court ruling has significantly raised the bar for prosecutors who try to pursue corruption cases against elected officials.

The motion to dismiss comes less than two weeks after prosecutors said they were intent on retrying Mr. Menendez, a New Jersey Democrat, and it allows him to run for re-election without having to face a second trial.

The Justice Department on Wednesday cited last week’s decision by Judge William H. Walls to throw out several charges the senator had faced, including bribery counts stemming from accusations that Mr. Menendez lobbied on behalf of a wealthy Florida eye doctor in exchange for political donations. All charges against the doctor, Salomon Melgen, were also dismissed.

“Given the impact of the court’s Jan. 24 order on the charges and the evidence admissible in a retrial, the United States has determined that it will not retry the defendants on the remaining charges,” said Nicole Navas, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, declining to provide any more details about the agency’s rationale.

The unraveling of the case against Mr. Menendez is the latest example of how difficult it has become to win public corruption cases after the Supreme Court’s landmark decision to overturn the conviction of the former Republican governor of Virginia, Bob McDonnell, who had been accused of accepting luxury items, loans and vacations in exchange for helping a businessman, Jonnie R. Williams Sr.

Read the complete article here.

Millions of ex-cons lost the right to vote. Now they might get it back.

From today’s NBC News:

Dean Turner never voted before he went to prison. But his right to cast a ballot was the last barrier to rebuilding his life once he got out.

Released in February 2016, after more than a decade behind bars for selling drugs, the 50-year-old Virginian worked his way up from dishwasher to line chef by Googling how to cook. He started mentoring young men, and coaches a writing class at Virginia Commonwealth University based on the book he helped write while incarcerated. But until last fall, Turner was one of the estimated 6.1 million Americans — 2.5 percent of the nation’s voting-age population — barred from voting by a felony conviction.

“When you’re able to vote, that means you have a voice in the world,” Turner told NBC News. Former Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat, restored his voting rights last year, and Turner cast his first-ever ballot in November 2017.

“It was the best feeling,” he said. “That was the little stamp of approval that I turned myself around, I’m a citizen of society.”

Virginia isn’t the only state with a recent push to restore voting rights to ex-offenders. AlabamaWyoming and Maryland have also begun easing voting restrictions for released felons, while Florida organizers announced Tuesday that they had succeeded in gathering enough signatures for a ballot initiative this November that would rewrite the state’s permanent felon voting ban and give an estimated 1.5 million ex-offenders the vote.

Nearly every state has laws to prevent people convicted of a felony — a crime more serious than a misdemeanor — from voting, though policies vary. Some 14 states disenfranchise felons while in prison, and another 22 disenfranchise during post-release periods like probation and parole as well, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

But Virginia is one of 12 states that bars ex-offenders from voting even after their sentences are complete. In order for ballot access to be restored, these states require waiting periods, an application process, or action from the state’s governor. McAuliffe used his executive authority to individually reinstate voting rights to some 173,000 ex-offenders, including Turner, before leaving office in January.

Read the complete article here.

MLK Day 2018, A Time to Reflect on Socio-Economic Injustice In All Forms

In honor of MLK Day, we post a short educational video here with excerpts from Martin Luther King, Jr. and James Baldwin that draw the connection between racial injustice and economic inequality in the United States. Their insights are as true today as they were fifty years ago, showing just how far we’ve come and how far we have to go. If we want peace, we must work for justice in all its forms.

In Cutting taxes, the Economic Odds and Historical Experience Are Against Trump

From today’s New York Times:

When President Trump adds his distinctive signature to the tax bill, he will also be making a huge bet that the Republican strategy of deep cuts for businesses and wealthy individuals will fuel extraordinary growth across the board.

Perhaps more than any other American political leader, Mr. Trump knows that long shots, like his own presidential bid, sometimes pay off. In that vein, he and congressional Republicans are arguing that their bitterly contested and expensive rewrite of the tax code will ultimately create more jobs and raise wages.

If they are proved correct, they will be repudiating not only historical experience, but most experts. From Congress’s own prognosticators to Wall Street’s virtuosos, scarcely any independent analyses project anything like the rosy forecasts offered by the president’s top economic advisers.

To Mr. Trump and his allies, the normal models just do not fully capture the high-octane “rocket fuel” embedded in the tax plan. Mr. Trump intuitively understands just how much attitudes and expectations can shape economic decisions.

With a businessman in the White House, Mr. Trump argues that companies, large and small, have a renewed faith in the economy. And the corporate tax cut, combined with the rollback in regulation, will prompt waves of new investment and hiring, as middle-class Americans liberally spend the extra money in their pockets.

Read the complete article here.

Al Franken will resign from Senate after more allegations of sexual improprieties

From today’s LA Times:

Al Franken announced Thursday he will resign his Senate seat, falling to a whirlwind of sexual misconduct allegations like those that have enmeshed other politicians, business leaders and media figures across the country in recent months.

The Minnesota Democrat, a second-term senator once seen as a potential presidential candidate in 2020 or beyond, earlier had said he would not leave office but would submit to a Senate ethics investigation into his behavior. He had acknowledged some misconduct, but denied other allegations.

His fate appeared sealed, however, on Wednesday, when more than half of Senate Democrats issued calls for his resignation in an uprising led by female senators. The choreographed move came as yet another woman came forward to accuse Franken of unwanted advances before he was elected to the Senate, and Senate Democratic leader Charles E. Schumer of New York privately met with Franken to tell him the time had come to quit.

Franken’s announcement marked the second departure this week of a once-heralded Democrat caught in unsavory accusations. On Tuesday, the senior member of the House, Rep. John Conyers Jr. of Michigan, quit after multiple complaints by aides that he had sexually harassed them.

The departure marks the end of the legislative career that began when Franken squeaked into office on an exceptionally narrow win, was reelected more easily and had emerged as a well-regarded member of the party’s growing liberal wing.

Franken’s resignation will not change the balance of power in the Senate, where Republicans hold the majority with 52 seats. Minnesota Gov. Mark Dayton, a fellow Democrat, will appoint a replacement to serve until a special election can be held in November 2018. The winner of that election will hold the seat until what would have been the end of Franken’s second term, in January 2021.

Read the entire article here.