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Michelle Goldberg: If This Is a Constitutional Crisis, Act Like It

Source: New York Times

If This Is a Constitutional Crisis, Act Like It

Democrats in Congress need to deploy all their powers, including impeachment.

By Michelle Goldberg
Opinion Columnist

May 9, 2019

In their best-selling 2018 book “How Democracies Die,” the Harvard professors Steven Levitsky and Daniel Ziblatt wrote about the concept of “constitutional hardball,” in which politicians “deploy their institutional powers as broadly as they can get away with.” One example they gave was the way that Nicolás Maduro, the Venezuelan president, responded when the opposition party won control of the country’s legislature in a landslide 2015 election. To thwart his political enemies, Maduro turned to the Venezuelan supreme court, which was packed with loyalists, and which “effectively incapacitated” the legislature by striking down most of its bills. The letter of the law was maintained even as the system was subverted.

Now a clash between an autocratic president who disdains democratic norms and a chamber of the legislature controlled by the opposition is playing out in the United States. Donald Trump has said that he intends to fight all congressional subpoenas. The House Judiciary Committee just voted to recommend that Attorney General Bill Barr be held in contempt after Barr ignored a deadline to produce documents from the investigation of Robert Mueller, the special counsel. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is blatantly refusing to comply with the law requiring him to turn Trump’s tax returns over to the House Ways and Means Committee. Former White House Counsel Don McGahn is refusing to comply with a House subpoena, and Trump’s son Donald Trump Jr. has signaled that he might not cooperate with a subpoena from the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Some have argued that this isn’t yet a constitutional crisis because Congress’s constitutional remedies haven’t been exhausted; it can still turn to the courts to enforce its prerogatives. That’s little comfort for many Democrats, who despair of a fair hearing before our Supreme Court, whose conservative majority includes two judges chosen by Trump in part for their expansive view of executive power. But however you define constitutional crisis, there’s no question we’re in a moment of constitutional hardball. So far, however, only Republicans really seem to be playing.

At a Thursday news conference, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi said that a constitutional crisis has begun. “The administration has decided they are not going to honor their oath of office,” she said, echoing Representative Jerry Nadler, Democratic chairman of the Judiciary Committee. In addition to Barr, Pelosi said the House could hold others in contempt. Yet she repeated the Democratic refrain that the House needs to engage in further investigation rather than impeachment. “What we want to do is get the facts, we want to do it in a way that is the least divisive to our country,” she said.

Pelosi is a sharp and pragmatic woman, and her evident belief that impeachment carries strategic risks for Democrats should be taken seriously. But it is incoherent to argue that Trump constitutes an existential threat to the Constitution, and that Congress should wait to use the Constitution’s primary defense against such a threat. Democratic fear of divisiveness — even as Republicans gleefully embrace it — is leading to unilateral political disarmament.


Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/09/opinion/constitutional-crisis-trump-pelosi.html

E.P.A. Leaders Disregarded Agency's Experts in Issuing Asbestos Rule, Memos Show

Source: New York Times

E.P.A. Leaders Disregarded Agency’s Experts in Issuing Asbestos Rule, Memos Show

By Lisa Friedman
May 8, 2019

WASHINGTON — Senior officials at the Environmental Protection Agency disregarded the advice of their own scientists and lawyers in April when the agency issued a rule that restricted but did not ban asbestos, according to two internal memos.

Because of its fiber strength and resistance to heat, asbestos has long been used in insulation and construction materials. It is also is a known carcinogen. Last month’s rule kept open a way for manufacturers to adopt new uses for asbestos, or return to certain older uses, but only with E.P.A. approval.

Andrew Wheeler, the E.P.A. administrator, said when the rule was issued that it would significantly strengthen public health protections. But in the memos, dated Aug. 10, more than a dozen of E.P.A.’s own experts urged the agency to ban asbestos outright, as do most other industrialized nations.

“Rather than allow for (even with restrictions) any new uses for asbestos, E.P.A. should seek to ban all new uses of asbestos because the extreme harm from this chemical substance outweighs any benefit — and because there are adequate alternatives to asbestos,” staff members wrote.


Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/08/climate/epa-asbestos-rule-scientists.html

AP FACT CHECK: Trump brings Puerto Rico fiction to Florida

Source: Associated Press

AP FACT CHECK: Trump brings Puerto Rico fiction to Florida

May 8, 2019

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump brought his enduring fiction about hurricane aid for Puerto Rico to a rally crowd in Florida on Wednesday.

Pledging unstinting support for more hurricane recovery money for Floridians, he vastly exaggerated how much Puerto Rico has received.

Trump laced his speech in Panama City Beach with a recitation of falsehoods that never quit, touching on veterans’ health care, the economy, visas and more. A sampling:

TRUMP: “We gave to Puerto Rico $91 billion” — and that’s more, he said, than any U.S. state or entity has received for hurricane aid.

THE FACTS: His number is wrong, as is his assertion that the U.S. territory has set some record for federal disaster aid. Congress has so far distributed only about $11 billion for Puerto Rico, not $91 billion.


Read more: https://apnews.com/587202f6106f48579a4f5406b841da26

Hungary forces 11 Afghan asylum-seekers into Serbia: rights body

Source: Reuters


Hungary forces 11 Afghan asylum-seekers into Serbia: rights body

BUDAPEST (Reuters) - Hungary forced 11 Afghan nationals to cross into Serbia after rejecting their asylum requests, a rights advocate said on Wednesday, and deported a 12th convicted of people smuggling back to Kabul.

The deportation of a further five Afghans, all members of the same family, was temporarily suspended following an appeal to the European Court of Human Rights by the Hungarian Helsinki Committee, a human rights group.

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) said Hungary’s action to force the two families to leave the country was “a flagrant violation of international and EU law”.

Under Hungarian law, the claims of asylum-seekers arriving from a country that Hungary deems safe are rejected, the agency said in a statement, adding that the case highlighted “deep concerns” over that practice.


Read more: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-europe-migrants-hungary-deportations/hungary-forces-11-afghan-asylum-seekers-into-serbia-rights-body-idUSKCN1SE2JW

White House backs Stephen Miller proposal to let Border Patrol agents to conduct asylum interviews

Source: CNN

White House backs Stephen Miller proposal to let Border Patrol agents to conduct asylum interviews

By Geneva Sands, Priscilla Alvarez and Evan Perez, CNN
Updated 1727 GMT (0127 HKT) May 8, 2019

Washington (CNN) — The Department of Homeland Security is moving to have front line Border Patrol agents assess migrants' initial claims for refuge, an aggressive step pushed by White House adviser Stephen Miller that could make the asylum claim process more difficult for migrants.

Miller has pushed for months to have Border Patrol conduct these interviews, according to a US official, despite agency concerns it adds more duties to an already overburdened force and immigration advocates' worries it will result in deportations with without the opportunity to apply for asylum.

Currently, US Citizenship and Immigration Services asylum officers conduct the credible fear interview, wherein officers will decide whether an individual has a "credible fear of persecution" that could make them eligible for asylum in the United States.

In March, then-Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen agreed to a pilot project, in part as a way to satisfy Miller's demands while trying to ensure it could be done effectively within legal bounds and without affecting border security operations, the official added.

Nielsen left the administration last month, as President Donald Trump and White House immigration hardliners, including Miller, deemed her insufficiently tough when it came to stemming the flow of migrants at the border.


Read more: https://edition.cnn.com/2019/05/08/politics/border-patrol-credible-fear-screening/index.html

Aid sector action to tackle abuse 'completely unsatisfactory', say MPs

Source: The Guardian

Aid sector action to tackle abuse 'completely unsatisfactory', say MPs

International development committee evidence session on fighting sexual misconduct finds little has changed

Rebecca Ratcliffe
Wed 8 May 2019 13.35 BST Last modified on Wed 8 May 2019 17.08 BST

Private aid companies and charities will be asked to reappear before MPs, after evidence given on tackling sexual abuse was condemned as “completely unsatisfactory”.

Stephen Twigg, chair of the international development committee (IDC), said he intended to invite representatives of both groups back.

“We had some concerns with the evidence from Bond [the body that represents charities] but frankly, the concerns about the private sector are enormous – and nothing you have said today has served to reassure me,” said Twigg.

Rory Stewart, who appeared before MPs on Tuesday for the first time as secretary of state for international development, said dramatic improvements had been made on safeguarding over the past 12 months.


MPs were told that that last week’s meeting of a cross-sector network set up by private contractors to tackle sexual abuse was the first since the UK government’s safeguarding summit in October. MPs also heard that private sector companies had decided not to sign up to safeguarding commitments presented at the summit.


Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/may/08/aid-sector-action-to-tackle-abuse-completely-unsatisfactory-say-mps

Documents suggest Russian plan to sway South Africa election

Source: The Guardian

Documents suggest Russian plan to sway South Africa election

Specialists linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin appeared to promise ‘to support the ruling ANC’

Jason Burke in Johannesburg and Luke Harding
Wed 8 May 2019 15.17 BST Last modified on Wed 8 May 2019 17.19 BST

Russian specialists planned to influence South Africa’s general election in order to strengthen the ruling African National Congress party (ANC), documents seen by the Guardian and local media in South Africa suggest.

The documents were apparently prepared by an organisation linked to Yevgeny Prigozhin, a St Petersburg businessman who is close to Vladimir Putin. They promise a campaign “to support the ruling ANC ahead of elections” and to counteract and “discredit” the pro-western Democratic Alliance party. It is unclear whether the plan was executed. The plan was first reported by the Daily Maverick newspaper.

Voting booths opened on Wednesday in South Africa’s sixth general election since the first free polls in the country in 1994. The ANC has held power ever since but faces widespread discontent among voters angered by a series of major corruption scandals, power cuts, inflation and unemployment.

There is little doubt that the ANC will obtain a majority in parliament and that the incumbent president, Cyril Ramaphosa, will get a new mandate. However, supporters say he needs to show he has reversed a steady decline in the ANC’s popularity if he is to implement an ambitious reform agenda that has stalled since he took power last year.

The plan to interfere in South Africa’s election was coordinated by a Russian political technologist, Peter Bychkov, who works for Prigozhin, according to the documents. The disinformation campaign was plotted by a Russian-owned NGO, the Association for Free Research and International Cooperation (Afric), under the guise of research.


Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/08/documents-suggest-russian-plan-to-sway-south-africa-election

Hungary fails to deport families to Afghanistan

Source: BBC

Hungary fails to deport families to Afghanistan

By Nick Thorpe
Eastern Europe Correspondent

8 May 2019

Hungary tried and failed to deport three Afghan families to Afghanistan on Tuesday, in a move that rights groups say is a breach of international law.

It was intended to prove the right-wing Fidesz government's resolve to fight what it calls "illegal migrants".

However, the European Court of Human Rights intervened in one family's case.

The mother of the second family fainted and was taken to hospital, while the third chose to be deported to nearby Serbia rather than Afghanistan.

The hardline stance by Fidesz comes ahead of elections to the European Parliament later this month.


Read more: https://www.bbc.com/news/world-europe-48198645

241m Europeans 'may have received Russian-linked disinformation'

Source: The Guardian

241m Europeans 'may have received Russian-linked disinformation'

Research says malign actors online tried to craft individual narrative for each EU state

Daniel Boffey in Brussels
Wed 8 May 2019 10.23 BST Last modified on Wed 8 May 2019 10.24 BST

Around half of all Europeans could have been exposed to disinformation promoted by social media accounts linked to Russia before the European elections, an analysis suggests.

Evidence of 6,700 so-called “bad actors” posting enough content to reach up to 241 million users was discovered by researchers examining the scale of the threat.

There was no “all-purpose” content but locally created material was being amplified to craft a narrative for each EU member state, according to the study of a 10-day period from 1 to 10 March.

The report’s authors found specific evidence of malign actors seeking to shape specific news developments in Europe, including the debate over whether the Commons should back Theresa May’s Brexit deal during which divisive content was actively spread.


Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/may/08/241m-europeans-may-have-received-russian-linked-disinformation

How Chinese Spies Got the N.S.A.'s Hacking Tools, and Used Them for Attacks

Source: New York Times

How Chinese Spies Got the N.S.A.’s Hacking Tools, and Used Them for Attacks

By Nicole Perlroth, David E. Sanger and Scott Shane
May 6, 2019

Chinese intelligence agents acquired National Security Agency hacking tools and repurposed them in 2016 to attack American allies and private companies in Europe and Asia, a leading cybersecurity firm has discovered. The episode is the latest evidence that the United States has lost control of key parts of its cybersecurity arsenal.

Based on the timing of the attacks and clues in the computer code, researchers with the firm Symantec believe the Chinese did not steal the code but captured it from an N.S.A. attack on their own computers — like a gunslinger who grabs an enemy’s rifle and starts blasting away.

The Chinese action shows how proliferating cyberconflict is creating a digital wild West with few rules or certainties, and how difficult it is for the United States to keep track of the malware it uses to break into foreign networks and attack adversaries’ infrastructure.

The losses have touched off a debate within the intelligence community over whether the United States should continue to develop some of the world’s most high-tech, stealthy cyberweapons if it is unable to keep them under lock and key.


Read more: https://www.nytimes.com/2019/05/06/us/politics/china-hacking-cyber.html
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