Senior executives from the firm at the heart of Facebook’s data breach boasted of playing a key role in bringing Donald Trump to power and said they used “unattributable and untrackable” advertising to support their clients in elections, according to an undercover expose.
In secretly recorded conversations, Cambridge Analytica’s CEO, Alexander Nix, claimed he had met Trump “many times”, while another senior member of staff said the firm was behind the “defeat crooked Hillary” advertising campaign.
“We just put information into the bloodstream of the internet and then watch it grow, give it a little push every now and again over time to watch it take shape,” said the executive. “And so this stuff infiltrates the online community, but with no branding, so it’s unattributable, untrackable.”
Caught on camera by an undercover team from Channel 4 News, Nix was also dismissive of Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who had questioned him over Russian meddling in the 2016 campaign.
Senior managers then appeared to suggest that in their work for US clients, there was planned division of work between official campaigns and unaffiliated “political action groups”.
That could be considered coordination – which is not allowed under US election law. The firm has denied any wrongdoing.
Cambridge Analytica said it had a firewall policy in place, signed by all staff and strictly enforced.
The disclosures are the latest to hit Cambridge Analytica, which has been under mounting pressure since Sunday, when the Observer reported the company had unauthorised access to tens of millions of Facebook profiles – and used them to build a political targeting system.
In Tuesday’s second instalment of an undercover investigation by Channel 4 News in association with the Observer, Nix said he had a close working relationship with Trump and claimed Cambridge Analytica was pivotal to his successful campaign.
“We did all the research, all the data, all the analytics, all the targeting. We ran all the digital campaign, the digital campaign, the television campaign and our data informed all the strategy,” he told reporters who were posing as potential clients from Sri Lanka.
The company’s head of data, Alex Tayler, added: “When you think about the fact that Donald Trump lost the popular vote by 3m votes but won the electoral college vote that’s down to the data and the research.
“You did your rallies in the right locations, you moved more people out in those key swing states on election day. That’s how he won the election.”
Another executive, Mark Turnbull, managing director of Cambridge Analytica’s political division, was recorded saying: “He won by 40,000 votes in three states. The margins were tiny.”
Turnbull took credit for one of the most well known and controversial campaigns of the last presidential campaign, organised by the political action group Make America Number 1.
“The brand was ‘Defeat Crooked Hillary’. You’ll remember this of course?” he told the undercover reporter. “The zeros, the OO of crooked were a pair of handcuffs … We made hundreds of different kinds of creative, and we put it online.”
Turnbull said the company sometimes used “proxy organisations”, including charities and activist groups, to help disseminate the messages – and keep the company’s involvement in the background.
When the undercover reporter expressed worries that American authorities might seize on details of a dirty campaign, Nix said the US had no jurisdiction over Cambridge Analytica, even though the company is American and is registered in Delaware.
“I’m absolutely convinced that they have no jurisdiction,” he told the purported client. “So if US authorities came asking for information, they would simply refuse to collaborate. “We’ll say: none of your business.”
Turnbull added. “We don’t talk about our clients.”
Speaking to Channel 4 News before seeing the undercover film, Hillary Clintonsaid: “There was a new kind of campaign that was being run on the other side, that nobody had ever faced before. Because it wasn’t just all about me. It was about how to suppress voters who were inclined to vote for me … when you have a massive propaganda effort to prevent people from thinking straight, because they’re being flooded with false information.”
In the report, Nix also implied that it was possible to mislead authorities by omission, discussing his appearance in front of the House intelligence committee, for its inquiry into possible Russian election meddling.
The Republicans only asked three questions, which took five minutes, he told the reporter. And while the Democrats spent two hours questioning him, he claimed they were so far out of their depths that he didn’t mind responding.
“We have no secrets. They’re politicians, they’re not technical. They don’t understand how it works,” he said, when asked about whether he was forced to testify.
He went on to describe how political candidates are manipulated.
“They don’t understand because the candidate never, is never involved. He’s told what to do by the campaign team.” The reporter asks if that means the candidate is just a puppet, and Nix replies simply: “Always.”
In another exchange, Tayler describes an apparently planned division of spending on the campaign trail, with the candidate organising “positive” messages, with negative attack ads left to the super Pacs, which may engage in unlimited political spending independently of the campaigns.
“As part of it, sometimes you have to separate it from the political campaign itself … campaigns are normally subject to limits about how much money they can raise. Whereas outside groups can raise an unlimited amount.”
“So the campaign will use their finite resources for things like persuasion and mobilisation and then they leave the ‘air war’ they call it, like the negative attack ads to other affiliated groups.”
This raises questions over whether Cambridge Analytica blurred the boundaries between official campaign groups, which have spending limits, and unaffiliated political action groups or super Pacs.
The latter can spend as much as they want but must not coordinate with the candidate they support.
The Campaign Legal Center has accused Cambridge Analytica over allegations of illegal coordination of this nature.
It has filed evidence with the FEC alleging that the super Pac Make America Number 1 made illegal contributions to Trump’s campaign, “engaging in unlawful coordinated spending by using the common vendor Cambridge Analytica”.
Cambridge Analytica said it had never claimed to have won the election for Donald Trump.
“This is patently absurd. We are proud of the work we did on that campaign, and have spoken in many public forums about what we consider to be our contribution to the campaign.”
It said there was no evidence of coordination between the Make America Number 1 super Pac and the Trump campaign. The company said it was not under investigation.
It has accused the Channel 4 News undercover investigation of grossly misrepresenting how the company conducts its business.
However, speaking to the BBC on Monday, Nix said he had “huge amounts of regret that we undertook this meeting and spoke with a certain amount of hyperbole”.
On Tuesday the website Politico reported that Trump’s 2020 campaign was moving to distance itself from Cambridge Analytica. A campaign official told Politico it had no existing contracts with the firm and no plans to hire it in the future.
Mueller subpoenas Trump Organization for documents related to Russia – report
Reported order is first time special counsel has asked for documents directly related to Trump’s businesses in course of investigation
FROM THE GUARDIAN
Thu 15 Mar 2018 14.25 EDTLast modified on Thu 15 Mar 2018 15.55 EDT
The special counsel, Robert Mueller, has subpoenaed the Trump Organization to turn over documents, including some related to Russia, the New York Times reported on Thursday, in a sign that the investigation is inching closer to the president.
Trump Organization ‘negotiated with sanctioned Russian bank in 2016’
The subpoena was delivered in “recent weeks” and includes an order for the Trump Organization to turn over all documents related to Russia and other topics he is investigating, the Times reported, citing two people briefed on the matter.
It is the first known order directly related to Trump’s sprawling business empire.
Asked by the New York Times last year whether he would consider Mueller examining his and his family’s finances a “red line”, Trump said: “I would say yeah. I would say yes. By the way, I would say, I don’t – I don’t – I mean, it’s possible there’s a condo or something, so, you know, I sell a lot of condo units, and somebody from Russia buys a condo, who knows?”
He added: “I don’t make money from Russia. Other than I held the Miss Universe pageant there eight, nine years.”
On Twitter, Trump has said he has had “nothing to do with Russia – no deals, no loans, no nothing”.
But on Wednesday Democratic lawmakers investigating possible collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin alleged that the future president’s private company was “actively negotiating” a business deal in Moscow with a sanctioned Russian bank during the 2016 election campaign.
The statement by Democrats on the House intelligence committee, who have had access to internal Trump Organization documents and interviewed key witnesses, raises new questions about the Trump Organization’s financial ties to Russia and its possible willingness to deal with a bank that had been placed under US sanctions.
The Democrats did not indicate the source of their information.
One month before Trump laid down this “red line”, Don McGahn, the White House counsel, reportedly threatened to quit after Trump asked him to have Mueller fired because the president believed he had a number of conflicts of interest that disqualified him from overseeing the investigation.
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Meanwhile a new poll from Pew Research Center found 61% of Americans were very or somewhat confident Mueller will conduct a fair investigation.
Opinions divided along party lines. Some 46% of Republicans and Republican-leaning independents agreed, while for Democrats the figure was 75%.
The study, carried out before Thursday’s announcement of sanctions on Russian intelligence for its interference in the 2016 elections, also found 55% of Americans either not at all or not too confident that the Trump administration will take serious action to prevent Russia from influencing future elections in this country.
Mueller was appointed in May 2017 to investigate whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to sway the 2016 presidential election.
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He is also reportedly investigating whether Trump obstructed justice by firing former FBI director James Comey, who has said he refused to give the president his loyalty.
The White House referred all inquiries to the Trump Organization. A lawyer for the Trump Organization did not wish to comment on the record.
At her regular media briefing, press secretary Sarah Sanders declined to address reports of the subpoena directly.
“As we’ve maintained all along and as the president has said numerous times, there was no collusion between the campaign and Russia,” Sanders told reporters. “We’re going to continue to fully cooperate out of respect for the special counsel. We’re not going to comment: for any specific questions about the Trump Organization, I’d refer you there.”
Additional reporting by David Smith
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It will be crucial to see if guns can be brought under some control this time. Yes mental health, Yes temporary measures to secure schools (but not guns for teachers or school staff (POLICE), NO to enhanced assault rifles, semi automatics/ AR-15’s etc., for anyone under 21 AND strict limitations on their use/ownership by anyone outside the military except for licensed security personnel and carefully monitored firing ranges (in other words about 5% of their current availability. FLS/ POLITIX
Monday, February 19, 2018
|Vermont has some of the weakest gun laws in the country. After the school shooting in Florida last week, Vermont’s governor — Phil Scott, a Republican — initially vowed that those laws would remain the same.|
|But then he changed his mind.|
|He changed it just one day after his initial response. Why? In the meantime, an 18-year-old from Poultney, Vt. — a small town in the southwestern part of the state — was arrested for allegedly planning yet another school shooting.|
|“If we are at a point when we put our kids on a bus and send them to school without being able to guarantee their safety, who are we?” Scott said, according to Seven Days, a Vermont publication. “I need to be open-minded, objective and at least consider anything that will protect our kids.”|
|The governor’s about-face may be only words, but it’s still encouraging. And encouragement is important. I fully understand the instinct to despair about guns: Kids keep dying, and things never seem to change. But the only way they will change is if people outraged by gun violence resist despair.|
|“This world-weary prediction of inaction is pernicious,” ProPublica’s Alec MacGillis wrote this weekend, in a perceptive mini-essay on Twitter. “It demoralizes those who are actually motivated to fight against gun violence. And it lets off the hook those who are opposed to reform.”|
|MacGillis continued: “The NRA’s influence depends heavily on the PERCEPTION of its power. By building up the gun lobby as an indomitable force, pessimistic liberals are playing directly into its hands.”|
Republicans want to keep immigration out of this spending fight. Trump just called for a shutdown over it.
Republicans want to keep immigration out of this spending fight. Trump just called for a shutdown over it.
President Trump’s State of the Union speech had soaring rhetoric — and many dubious facts and figures. Many of these claims have been fact-checked repeatedly, yet the president persists in using them.
Here is a guide to 18 claims, in the order in which Trump made them. As is our practice with live events, we do not award Pinocchio rankings, which are reserved for complete columns.
“Since the election, we have created 2.4 million new jobs, including 200,000 new jobs in manufacturing alone.”
Trump often inflates the number of jobs created under his presidency by counting Election Day, rather than when he took the oath of office. There have been about 1.8 million jobs created since January 2017, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. That’s the slowest gain in jobs since 2010, which indicates how well job growth was going before Trump took office.
There were 184,000 manufacturing jobs created in the 11 months since Trump took the oath of office, compared with a loss of 16,000 in 2016, according to the BLS. This is a substantial one-year gain, but it’s still more than 1 million manufacturing jobs below the level at the start of the Great Recession.
“After years of wage stagnation, we are finally seeing rising wages.”
Trump once again takes credit for something that began to happen before his presidency. Wages have been on an upward trend since 2014, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, and in fact their growth slowed during the first year of Trump’s presidency.
Looking closely at the data, it’s possible to argue wages were stagnant from 2000 to 2014, but the median salary has been increasing steadily since then and actually declined in the fourth quarter of 2017, from $353 a week to $345 in inflation-adjusted dollars.
“African American unemployment stands at the lowest rate ever recorded, and Hispanic American unemployment has also reached the lowest levels in history.”
This is a flip-flop by Trump. During the 2016 campaign, Trump used to claim a Four-Pinocchio statistic that 58 percent of African American youths were unemployed. The official Bureau of Labor Statistics unemployment rate for black youth at the time was 19.2 percent — about one-third of the rate used by Trump. Now that he’s president, Trump appears all too happy to cite the unemployment rate for African Americans, bragging that it’s the best since the turn of the century.
The African American unemployment rate has been on a relatively steady decline since it hit a peak of 16.8 percent in March, 2010, during the Great Recession. The rate had already fallen to 7.7 percent when Trump took the oath of office — it is now 6.8 percent — so Trump taking credit for this is like a rooster thinking the sun came up because he crowed.
Similarly, Hispanic American unemployment had also been trending lower before Trump’s presidency. It hit a low of 4.8 percent in several months in 2017, as well as in one month in 2006.
“Unemployment claims have hit a 45-year low.”
If Trump had given this speech last week, his claim might have been accurate. The number of people who filed unemployment claims hit 216,000 for the week that ended Jan. 13, the lowest level since January 1973. But there are more recent data now for the week that ended Jan. 20. New jobless claims rose to 233,000, the lowest since December. So it’s a six-week low, not a 45-year low.
“The stock market has smashed one record after another, gaining $8 trillion in value. That is great news for Americans’ 401(k), retirement, pension and college savings accounts.”
Trump frequently brags about the rising stock market — he’s done it about once every three days as president — even though during the 2016 campaign he had said it was “a big fat bubble” that was about to pop.
Trump is correct that $8 trillion in wealth has been created since the election — or $6.9 trillion since he took the oath of office, according to the Wilshire 5000 Index of stocks. But much of that gain in wealth did not trickle down to most Americans. Only about 50 percent of Americans own stocks directly or through retirement funds, according to a Gallup survey. And most of the value in stocks is held by the top 10 percent.
Moreover, the U.S. rise in 2017 was not unique. When looking at the Standard & Poor’s 500-stock index, it’s clear U.S. stocks haven’t rallied quite as robustly as their foreign equivalents. So it’s hard for Trump to make the case that his stewardship is making that much of a difference if stocks are doing better in other developed countries.
In fact, Trump even falls short in comparison to Barack Obama’s first year. The S&P 500 gained about 33.3 percent from inauguration through Jan. 29 under Obama, compared with 25.5 percent under Trump.
Bragging about the rise of the stock market could backfire on the president if there is a sudden downturn. Stocks fell more than 1 percent Tuesday, as rising bond yields are becoming competitive with stocks that pay big dividends and traders are looking for less risky places to put their money. According to Trump’s metric, almost $360 billion worth of wealth in the stock market disappeared Tuesday.
“Just as I promised the American people from this podium 11 months ago, we enacted the biggest tax cuts and reform in American history.”
Trump repeatedly claims he passed the biggest tax cut in U.S. history, but it’s just not true. He’s earned Four Pinocchios for this claim before — but repeated it 57 times in his first year as president.
The best way to compare tax cuts (or spending plans) over time is to measure them as a percentage of the national economy. Inflation-adjusted dollars are another option, but a percentage of gross domestic product helps put the impact of the bill into context. Trump’s tax cut, according to Treasury Department data, is nearly 0.9 percent of GDP — compared to 2.89 percent of GDP for Ronald Reagan’s 1981 tax cut. Trump’s tax cut is only the eighth-largest — and is even smaller than two of Barack Obama’s tax cuts.
“Our massive tax cuts provide tremendous relief for the middle class and small businesses.”
Trump is spinning the effects of his tax plan. Most of the benefits in the tax bill flow to corporations and the wealthy, according to numerous independent analysts.
More than three-quarters of the $1.1 trillion in individual tax cuts will go to people who earn more than $200,000 a year in taxable income, who constitute only about 5 percent of all taxpayers, according to a report by Moody’s Investors Service that warned the tax plan will have negative consequences for the fiscal health of federal and local governments.
Many of the tax cuts for individuals expires in 2025 — unless renewed by Congress — while the corporation tax cuts do not expire. The standard deduction was increased, as Trump noted, but personal and dependent exemptions were eliminated, muting the impact of the increase.
“We slashed the business tax rate from 35 percent all the way down to 21 percent, so American companies can compete and win against anyone in the world. These changes alone are estimated to increase average family income by more than $4,000.”
Trump is citing a White House Council of Economic Advisers report that has been widely criticized for the $4,000 estimate, including by the economist whose work is cited in making this forecast. (The economist, Mihir A. Desai, told the New York Timesthat actual income gain would be $800.)
Desai said he did not think the numbers added up. Our friends at FactCheck.org offered a good illustration. With almost 126 million households in the United States, an average of $4,000 per household would mean an income gain of $500 billion. Yet the United States collected just under $300 billion in corporate taxes in fiscal 2017.
The average household would get a tax cut of $1,610 in 2018, an increase of about 2.2 percent in that average household’s income, according to the Tax Policy Center.
“Since we passed tax cuts, roughly 3 million workers have already gotten tax cut bonuses — many of them thousands of dollars per worker.”
Trump is citing a list maintained by Americans for Tax Reform, an anti-tax group, which says 285 companies have offered bonuses, pay increases or increased 401(k) contributions because of the tax plan. The group says at least 3 million Americans have received tax bonuses, many about $1,000 or $2,000; the list only identifies one company (IAT Insurance Group of North Carolina) as offering $3,000.
With about 126 million full-time workers in the United States, less than 2.5 percent have received these one-time bonuses so far. Many of the companies offering bonuses are in the financial services industry.
“Since we passed tax cuts … Apple has just announced it plans to invest a total of $350 billion in America, and hire another 20,000 workers.”
Trump suggests Apple is investing $350 billion in the United States over five years because of a tax package he signed into law in December.
That’s a stretch.
Apple announced a five-year investment plan in January, which includes $30 billion in capital expenditures and roughly $275 billion in domestic spending. This represents the bulk of its $350 billion investment plan. But the company did not say whether these moves were long in the planning or spurred by the tax changes.
Apple did say it would be making a $38 billion tax payment to repatriate overseas profit under a provision of Trump’s tax law. And like other big U.S. companies, Apple responded to the tax legislation by handing out bonuses to its employees.
It’s not clear from Apple’s announcement that it is dialing up U.S. investment levels. The tech giant spent “between $12 billion and $15 billion on projects such as facilities or land globally in the past few years, though it has not said how much of that went to U.S. projects.”
“In our drive to make Washington accountable, we have eliminated more regulations in our first year than any administration in history.”
Trump has clearly waged a battle against regulations but many of his claims cannot be verified.
Trump appears to be counting ”regulatory actions” so many of the items being delayed or withdrawn were not regulations yet. According to a Bloomberg News analysis, almost a third of the regulatory reversals actually began under earlier presidents. “Others strain the definition of lessening the burden of regulation or were relatively inconsequential, the kind of actions government implements routinely,” Bloomberg reported.
In fact, it is unclear whether Trump has cut more regulations in his first year than any other president. When the Fact Checker examined this question, experts said that the amount of withdrawn regulations is not necessarily the best metric, because these are rules that never went into effect. Moreover, often it takes another rule to repeal a previous rule. Research by the Mercatus Center at George Mason University shows that regulatory restrictions actually grew during Trump’s first year, but at a much slower pace than other presidents in their first year.
“We have ended the war on American energy — and we have ended the war on beautiful clean coal. We are now an exporter of energy to the world.”
There’s no such thing as “clean coal.” Power plants can mitigate some of the effects of burning coal by capturing and burying carbon-dioxide emissions, but that doesn’t cleanse the coal itself. By saying his administration “ended the war on clean coal,” Trump appears to be referencing the Environmental Protection Agency’s decision to repeal the Clean Power Plan implemented under President Barack Obama, which had pushed states to favor energy sources that produce fewer carbon emissions than coal.
Trump also says the United States is “now an exporter of energy,” but the United States has long been an energy exporter. Trump pledged during his campaign to turn the country into a net energy exporter, meaning it sells more energy to other countries than it buys from them. But that hasn’t happened and the U.S. Energy Information Administration estimates it won’t happen until sometime between 2020 and 2030.
According to the EIA, the United States was expected to become a net exporter of natural gas in 2017, and exports of crude oil and petroleum products more than doubled from 2010 to 2016. It’s important to note that the United States lifted restrictions on exporting crude oil in December 2015, while Obama was in office.
“Many car companies are now building and expanding plants in the United States — something we have not seen for decades. Chrysler is moving a major plant from Mexico to Michigan.”
Trump’s timeline is mixed up. Fiat Chrysler is investing $1 billion in a factory in Michigan, but that plan was in motion before Trump’s election in 2016, according to Sergio Marchionne, the Fiat Chrysler chief executive. Marchionne specifically credited talks with the United Auto Workers in 2015, not Trump.
“America is a nation of builders. We built the Empire State Building in just one year — isn’t it a disgrace that it can now take 10 years just to get a permit approved for a simple road?”
This isn’t the first time Trump has pointed to building and infrastructure projects from earlier in American history. He made similar claims about the Golden Gate bridge and the Hoover Dam in June 2017.
But in all of these cases, Trump is only focusing on the literal construction time — ignoring the bureaucratic negotiations, planning and preparation that took place leading up to construction and are required to make large-scale projects feasible. Moreover, for the Empire State Building, it actually took 13 months to build.
“The third pillar ends the visa lottery — a program that randomly hands out green cards without any regard for skill, merit or the safety of our people.”
Trump is stretching the truth here. The Diversity Visa Lottery Program, more commonly known as the Green Card lottery, isn’t random as Trump suggests.
Individuals apply for the visa system, and must have at least a high school diploma or work in specific industries to be eligible for the program. As the term “lottery” implies, applicants are selected via a randomized computer drawing. The selected applicants undergo a background check, interview and medical tests before entering the country, and some applicants undergo an additional in-depth review if they are considered a security risk. Plus, selected applicants can be deemed ineligible for a number of reasons including adverse medical conditions, criminal behavior, and security or terrorism concerns.
A 2007 report from the Government Accountability Office did point to substantial fraud risks within the program and proposed using data to mitigate these risks. However, the State Department at the time disagreed with the report’s findings, saying that it already had managed these risks.
“The fourth and final pillar protects the nuclear family by ending chain migration. Under the current broken system, a single immigrant can bring in virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives.”
“Chain migration” refers to the practice of immigrants bringing other members of their families to the United States. Under U.S. law, there is a preference for relatives already living in the United States, so a U.S. citizen can petition for a green card for spouses, children, parents or siblings. So, for example, a sibling of a U.S. citizen could come to the United States, bringing along spouses and minor children. The rules are stricter for green card holders: they can only petition for a spouse or unmarried children.
The suggestion that either a U.S. citizen or a green card holder could bring in “virtually unlimited numbers of distant relatives” is an exaggeration to say the least. There’s often a lengthy wait list. As of November, according to the State Department, nearly 4 million people are waiting to get off the list, including 2.3 million“family fourth” preferences — children of siblings of citizens.
“In recent weeks, two terrorist attacks in New York were made possible by the visa lottery and chain migration. In the age of terrorism, these programs present risks we can no longer afford.”
Trump is referring to Sayfullo Saipov, an Uzbek immigrant who entered the United States through the diversity visa lottery program, and Akayed Ullah, a Bangladeshi immigrant who entered through an extended relative as part of a program Trump calls “chain migration.”
Saipov drove a rented truck into a crowd of pedestrians and bicyclists in Manhattan in October, killing eight in the deadliest terrorist attack in New York since 9/11. Ullah attempted to bomb a New York City subway station with a crude explosive device, but the device failed and only Ullah was injured.
Trump presents these two cases as evidence that the diversity visa program and chain migration open the door to terrorist attacks. But two immigration cases out of thousands a year is not statistically significant.
Note that Trump steered clear of mentioning a new report from the Homeland Security and Justice departments, which links the same two immigration programs to terrorism cases. That report describes two international terrorism-related cases linked to chain migration, and two other cases tied to the diversity visa program. Again, not a statistically significant number.
It’s a big deal to claim that any policy exposes the country to more terrorist attacks, and it requires more proof than a few anecdotal cases.
“We are proud that we do more than any other country to help the needy, the struggling and the underprivileged all over the world.”
In raw dollars, the United States does contribute more development aid. But the United States is also richer, so as a percentage of gross national income, the United States ranks relatively low, according to 2016 figures published by the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development.
The United States contributed $33.6 billion, followed by Germany with almost $25 billion. But Norway contributed 1.1 percent of GNI, whereas the United States ranked 22nd out of 29 wealthy countries tracked by the organization. That ranking placed it between Slovenia and Portugal.
In a massive victory for Democrats, a federal court hearing a challenge to North Carolina’s Republican-drawn congressional map struck it down on Tuesday evening as a partisan gerrymander designed to benefit the GOP in violation of the constitution. The ramifications of this ruling are enormous: If current district lines are replaced with a nonpartisan map, Democrats could gain anywhere from two to five seats, according to an analysis by Stephen Wolf, as shown at the top of this post.
The case could also give further ammunition to plaintiffs seeking to invalidate gerrymandered maps elsewhere on the same grounds. Republicans will inevitably appeal to the Supreme Court, which is adjudicating two other similar cases, so the outcome may yet change. It’s important to note that the Supreme Court has never before sustained a challenge to a map on the basis that it impermissibly benefits one political party over another, but it recently signaled a new openness toward doing so, so there’s a real chance this ruling could stand. And if new lines are put in place for this year’s midterm elections, that would go a long way toward helping Democrats win back the House.
Citing his success in business and on television, as well as his victory in presidential politics on “my first try,” Trump tweeted that his record “would qualify as not smart, but genius….and a very stable genius at that!” He suggested that the “Fake News Mainstream Media” are trying to smear him by using the “playbook” on President Ronald Reagan, who some believed suffered from mental deterioration due to age in the latter years of his two terms. Reagan was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease after leaving office.
During a news conference at the presidential retreat in Maryland, where Trump and GOP leaders were formulating their 2018 agenda, the president denounced the book’s author, New York media writer Michael Wolff, and a high-profile source, former White House chief strategist Stephen K. Bannon. Trump, whose personal lawyer sent a cease-and-desist letter in an effort to stop publication of “Fire and Fury: Inside the Trump White House,” has also called for tougher libel laws.
“It’s a disgrace that he can do something like this,” said Trump, who has previously threatened to silence news organizations over critical coverage. “Libel laws are very weak in this country. If they were stronger, hopefully, you would not have something like that happen.”
Trump’s outburst magnified attention on the book that his aides have derided as “fantasy” and “complete fiction,” but it also seemed to reveal a president who relishes constant conflict as feeling more besieged and isolated. With his approval ratings at historic lows after nearly one year in office, Trump has gone from battling Democrats and foreign leaders to fending off doubts from his closest advisers and even, reportedly, family members.
Wolff, appearing on NBC’s “Today Show” on Friday, said that “100 percent” of Trump’s team, including daughter Ivanka Trump and son-in-law Jared Kushner, both White House advisers, doubted the president’s competency and grew more alarmed by his temperament during the first months of his presidency.
The president undoing himself systematically one day at a time.
BEIJING — North Korean leader Kim Jong Un boasted in an annual New Year’s Day speech Monday that he had a nuclear button on his desk and that the entire United States was within range of his weapons — but he also vowed not to attack unless threatened.
Kim promised to focus this year on producing nuclear warheads and missiles for operational deployment. But he also struck a conciliatory note, opening the door to dialogue with South Korea and saying he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics to be held in his southern neighbor in February.
“The United States can never fight a war against me and our state,” he said in the nationally televised speech. “It should properly know that the whole territory of the U.S. is within the range of our nuclear strike and a nuclear button is always on the desk of my office, and this is just a reality, not a threat.”
But Kim also said that North Korea was a peace-loving and responsible nuclear power, and would not use its nuclear weapons unless “hostile aggression forces” encroach on its sovereignty or interests.
“This year, we should focus on mass-producing nuclear warheads and ballistic missiles for operational deployment,” Kim said. “These weapons will be used only if our security is threatened.”
North Korea conducted its sixth and most powerful nuclear test in September and launched its most high-tech intercontinental ballistic missile in November, ignoring international condemnation and steadily tightening sanctions.
In typically bellicose language, it declared the latest round of United Nations sanctions imposed last month an “act of war,” and Kim said his country had achieved the historic feat of “completing” its nuclear forces.
North Korea’s nuclear capabilities do not yet match Kim’s boasts, experts say, since it is far from clear it could successfully deliver a nuclear weapon on one of its missiles. Yet there is little doubt its capabilities have advanced significantly in the past year.
But Kim, dressed in a Western-style gray suit and tie, also offered a potential olive branch to Seoul, saying it is imperative to lower military tensions on the Korean Peninsula and improve ties with the South.
He said that the path to dialogue was open and that he would consider sending a delegation to the Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
“North Korea’s participation in the Winter Games will be a good opportunity to show unity of the people, and we wish the Games will be a success,” he said. “Officials from the two Koreas may urgently meet to discuss the possibility.”
South Korea has been trying to reassure the rest of the world that the Olympics will be safe despite the nuclear tensions, and President Moon Jae-in has said North Korea’s participation would ensure their safety. He also proposed last month that Seoul and Washington postpone annual joint military drills until after the Olympics, and he generally takes a less-confrontational approach to relations with the North than his predecessor, Park Geun-hye.
John Delury, a professor of international relations at Yonsei University in Seoul, said Kim’s message to Seoul was “more promising” than he had anticipated, addressing in a specific and actionable way South Korea’s desire to make the Games a success.
“That should give hope to those in the South who are trying to get something going and open a channel at least,” he said.
The idea of improving relations between the two Koreas is one that is frequently spoken about but seldom achieved, and Kim’s warmer words could also be seen as an attempt to drive a wedge between Seoul and Washington.
While Kim’s words were more combative toward the United States, he also refrained from a personal attack on President Trump, after the two men engaged in several rounds of mutual name-calling in 2017, Delury noted.
When asked about North Korea’s nuclear claims Sunday night, Trump said only, “We’ll see, we’ll see.”
Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Kim’s claims about his country’s nuclear capability underscored that there was no viable “military solution” to denuclearizing North Korea and that sanctions alone would not persuade Pyongyang to halt or reverse its nuclear buildup.
“To avoid a nuclear conflict and the full-scale deployment of an operational North Korean strategic deterrent force, U.S. leaders, in concert with South Korea, should redouble efforts to engage North Korea in direct talks and cease any further explicit or implicit threats of military action against the North,” he said in an email.
“The upcoming Olympics provide an important opportunity to break the ice and to begin discussions with the North Koreans on mutual steps that reduce the chances of miscalculation and war,” he added.