President Donald Trump and Attorney General Jeff Sessions at the FBI National Academy graduation ceremony in December 2017. Evan Vucci/AP
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Ten days before Christmas, Attorney General Jeff Sessions held a rare press conference to discuss one of his top priorities in his first year at the Justice Department. “We’ve seen a deadly increase in violent crime,” he said, announcing that the department was dispatching 40 additional federal prosecutors across the country to combat what Sessions believes is a dawning new era of violent crime. “The overall violent crime rate is up by nearly 7 percent, a reversal of a downward trend. Robberies are up. Assaults are up. Rape is up by nearly 11 percent. And murder is up by more than 20 percent.” (It’s true that the violent crime rate has ticked up over the past two years, but it’s still barely more than half of what it was 15 years ago.)
The administration’s focus on crime made it all the more surprising that the FBI’s annual Crime in the United States report, the gold standard of crime statistics, lacked a significant amount of data that experts have relied upon for years to assess crime trends. Until this year, the report contained 81 main tables that allowed researchers to track everything from the rate of violent crime to the racial breakdown of arrests. But when the 2016 report came out in September, there were only 29 tables. The information needed to understand and verify the crime stats cited bythe attorney general, as well as the work of local law enforcement around the country, was suddenly harder to obtain.
The decision to remove the data hampers the ability ofcriminologists and journalists to analyze crime trends at the same time that the administration is transforming the justice system to respond to rising violent crime rates. There’s little clarity on why and when the decision to withhold the data was made, although the FBI has claimed the move was part of a years-long process to revamp how it collects and disseminates crime data to the public. FBI Director Christopher Wray told a congressional panel earlier this month that the missing tables will be added back into the latest report. But beyond 2016, it remains uncertain whether researchers will have access to all these critical crime data.
One of the main areas drastically cut back in the 2016 report was data on homicides. The report no longer contained information on the relationship between the victim and culprit, making it harder to track intimate partner and family violence. Data that would allow researchers to analyze gang- and drug-related homicides was likewise missing. The report did not include information on victim and offender age, sex, race, or ethnicity, nor did it specify which weapons were used in which circumstances. The FBI removed significant information on arrests, reducing the number of arrest tables from 51 to 7, according to FiveThirtyEight. Also gone is a breakdown of drug arrests by type of narcotic, preventing researchers from observing trends in arrests for opioids, a national health crisis that the Trump administration has made a priority.
In response to the missing data, the Crime & Justice Research Alliance, a group that represents the policy interests of thousands of criminologists, sent a letter to Sessions, Wray, and several members of Congress with oversight responsibilities for the Justice Department, asking for the missing data to be added back into the report. “Given this administration’s public statements about addressing violent crime, victims’ rights, the opioid epidemic and terrorism, it is unfortunate that the 2016 report removes key data about these topic areas,” the letter stated. The data deletions, the letter concluded, “mean that progress on critical Administration priorities, such as reducing gang and drug-related homicides, cannot be evaluated with up-to-date evidence.”
A House Judiciary Committee aide says the committee’s staff have helped “facilitate discussions between the Crime & Justice Research Alliance and the FBI” since the letter’s release. The aide did not specify the outcome of those discussions.
Crime researchers have noted an increase in violent crime in the past two years, but the administration’s diagnosis of the problem often doesn’t line up with experts’ conclusions. Sessions’ claim that sanctuary cities have more violent crime, for example, is not supported by evidence. Claims about violence perpetrated by undocumented immigrants likewise have no proof in crime data. Despite frequent references by President Donald Trump and his attorney general to MS-13, a gang with ties to Central America and known for its grisly murders, experts say the group is responsible for a tiny percentage of homicides. “Immigration has had nothing to do with the homicide rise,” says Richard Rosenfeld, an expert in crime statistics at the University of Missouri-St. Louis. “That just happens to be one of the obsessions of our current attorney general. Gangs have been around a long time. It’s not Central American gangs, gangs filled with immigrants—they’re not playing an appreciable role in the rise.”
“This is the first administration, the first Justice Department, in which promulgating errors [about gang violence] is so central to their platform and policy positions,” David Kennedy, a gang policy specialist who has worked with Republicans and Democrats, told the Boston Globe in October.
Rosenfeld, who wrote a report for the National Institute of Justice on rising homicide rates, first noticed the missing data when he attempted to update his latest report for the government office. He could find data on neither drug-related homicides nor drug arrests by drug type. “I was stymied,” he says. This area is of particular interest to Rosenfeld, who believes that the uptick in homicides is linked to the country’s opioid crisis.
In October, FiveThirtyEightreported that the data deletions were not made in consultation with the FBI’s Advisory Policy Board, which would normally have been consulted on changes to the crime report. Instead, the bureau’s public affairs office helped determine which tables to remove based on “web analytics to determine how often tables were viewed online,” according to a press release about the latest report. The FBI attributed the table deletions to a years-long process of revamping the annual crime report in order “to streamline the publications…and to reduce the number of data tables in the reports.” A new online tool, the Crime Data Explorer, would supplement the slimmer annual crime report, the FBI stated.
Despite years of planning to rework the crime report, researchers and state-level program officers were not apprised of the deletions. Criminologists like Rosenfeld only discovered the deletions after the report’s release. Rosenfeld says he would welcome the new tool but doesn’t understand why the FBI would make the data harder to come by in the meantime.
Rep. José Serrano (D-N.Y.), one of the lawmakers who received the letter from the Crime & Justice Research Alliance, told Mother Jones in a statement that the data should be returned to the report and that the Justice Department should “investigate who approved this change and why.”
Wray downplayed the issue at an FBI oversight hearing on December 7. He echoed the bureau’s official position that the data was unnecessary because it was “largely just alternative views of data that was still in the report.” But Wray affirmed that the bureau would add the missing data back into the 2016 report. Mother Jones asked the department whether the data will continue to be included going forward but did not receive a response.
The FBI’s own press release from the fall indicates that the future of this data and whether it will remain easily searchable is uncertain. The FBI will track which of the scrapped tables are individually requested “to determine which, if any, of the deleted tables should be included in future publications or made available through” the data explorer it is building out, the bureau said.
Mueller investigation is tainted, he should step down: Rep. Biggs Fox Business
Since it came to light that FBI agent Peter Strzok was removed as special counsel from Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russia collusion allegations, there have been increasing concerns that the probe is marred by biases. Rep. Andy Biggs (R-Ariz…
Police: FBI hate crime report inaccurate due to local errors Seattle Times
OGDEN, Utah (AP) Authorities say seven of the 11 hate crimes counted in an annual FBI report for a northern Utah county were misclassified. The Standard-Examiner reports authorities in Weber County linked the uptick in hate crime last year to …
Russiagate Is Devolving Into an Effort to Stigmatize Dissent The Nation.
According to a report in the New York Times published at the time of the suit’s filing, Mr. Trump and his political advisers, including Mr. Stone, have repeatedly denied colluding with Russia, and the 44-page complaint, filed on Wednesday in the …
American Elections Remain Unprotected The Atlantic
Two weeks before the inauguration of President Donald Trump, the U.S. intelligence community released a declassified version of its report on Russia’s interference in the 2016 election. It detailed the activities of a network of hackers who infiltrated…
It was a tweet went largely overlooked by the mainstream media due to the holiday timing. It was misunderstood by some at the time. It still hasnt been expanded up on. Yet it was a moment whose implications are still being felt. Democratic Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, who sits on one of the committees investigating the Trump-Russia scandal, tweeted a strong hint that Special Counsel Robert Mueller may have a mole within Donald Trumps ranks.
Heres what Senator Whitehouse specifically tweeted: Here’s a happy holiday thought: imagine if someone in GOP anti-Mueller campaign were actually cooperating with Mueller, and gathering evidence of intent to obstruct justice. Just sayin’. I’d love to see those emails! Some within the Resistance immediately began lecturing Whitehouse for having given away Muellers secret. However, this missed the point entirely.
If Mueller does have a mole on Trumps team, Trump wont be able to identify that person simply because he knows theres a mole. Instead hell go out of his gourd with paranoia. So will everyone else on Trumps side. None of them will trust each other, for fear one of them might be the mole, even though there may not even be a mole. Thats the brilliance of Whitehouses strategy, of course. There doesnt have to be a mole. With one tweet, hes arguably done more damage to Trumps congressional posse than an actual mole could do.
Congress has been on recess since the tweet in question. Well have to wait until its back in session before we can observe the actions of those Congressmen in Trumps posse. How will their behavior toward each other change now that they have to at least consider the possibility that one of them is secretly spying for Robert Mueller? Keep in mind that Sheldon Whitehouse wouldnt have posted such a tweet without Muellers blessing.
The KGB Playbook for Infiltrating the Middle East Daily Beast
As with the previously discussed training manual for an KGB officers looking to recruit agents on Soviet soil, this document remains classified by the Putin government owing to its utility as a historical case study for contemporary foreign …
Everything Is Awesome! Well, Almost. Politico
The percentage of Americans without health insurance, which plunged to historic lows under Obama, has also begun to creep up as the Trump administration has discouraged Obamacare enrollment, and could rise further if Trump succeeds in slashing Medicaid …
Certainly not the late J. Edgar Hoover’s antipathy toward Dr. Martin Luther King as revealed again in the recent discovery of a long-ago letter from the FBI director to his third in command, William Sullivan, who headed domestic intelligence, and shared the concern about King… or if he didn’t, he found it prudent to say he did.
In the letter dated Nov. 18, 1964, Hoover thanks Sullivan for his praise of his boss’s handling of a long press conference with women correspondents to whom he explained how the bureau works. He also talked about King, noting that response in letters had overwhelmingly agreed with him. He then tells Sullivan his own views are the same as Sullivan’s that King’s “exposure is long overdue,” adding that “maybe he is now beginning to get his just desserts. I certainly hope so.”
Whether from inherent racism by one who took over the bureau at the height of Jim Crow in the South and the rebirth of the Ku Klux Klan and did nothing about it all those years or the fact he thought King to be a tool of the Communists, his feelings about the civil rights giant were well known to the press, to those around him in the bureau, Congress, and Justice Department and to a great deal of the public.
The animosity between the two was palpable and King had accused Southern FBI agents of doing nothing to alleviate the injustices. Hoover denied that his agents had failed to act because of their Southern leanings. In the midst of all this vitriol, King received an anonymous hate letter that clearly threatened violence. The minister and others believed it was a plant from the FBI. Sullivan testified in Congress that he knew of the letter but denied having anything to do with it and was against it although a draft copy was later found in Sullivan’s files.
A year earlier, the FBI was able to get permission from Attorney General Robert Kennedy to begin electronic surveillance of King at all levels, including bugging his hotel rooms, offices, etc. What was discovered was not any affiliation with communism but sexual incidents that were taped by listening agents – one of these was explicit and Hoover played that tape around town to those friendly in the press and others of influence to prove King’s indiscretions.
Why would the Kennedys – Robert and John – agree to permit this intrusion into the life of a winner of the Nobel Peace Prize at a time John was facing a tough re-election? Because Hoover had evidence that gave him leverage _ the knowledge that President Kennedy had been having a passionate affair with Judith Campbell who had been introduced to him by Frank Sinatra and was also an intimate of Chicago mobster Sam Giancana. Hoover lost little time making Bobby Kennedy aware he knew about the Mafia “party girl,” warning him at a luncheon of the difficulties of this situation, including the fact she had carried messages between Giancana and the president.
The implications to Kennedy were clear, especially since the administration had pledged to go after organized crime and despite the fact that his own father, Joseph, was alleged to have had dealings with the Mafia including in John’s election campaign. The president’s long relationship with Campbell, later to become Judith Exner, would have been nearly impossible to explain and it prompted one of his best friends, Ben Bradley, executive editor of the Washington Post, after it was revealed a decade later, to say that Kennedy would have been impeached had it been known.
During the Senate Watergate hearings it was revealed that Sullivan, called “the professor” because of his decidedly rumpled, un-FBI look and his intenseness, had written a memo to White House General Counsel John Dean, outlining the political use of the bureau by presidents over the years. It was not released, but interviews with Hoover’s top lieutenants re-created most of its claims such as black bag break-ins at foreign embassies, unauthorized surveillance of a personal nature, and on and on.
I knew Bill Sullivan well but we never discussed the King matter. I talked to him from his home in New Hampshire and we planned lunch when he got to Washington the following week to appear before a Senate committee chaired by Frank Church. He was shot and killed over that weekend by an errant hunter.
— Dan Thomasson is an op-ed columnist for Tribune News Service and a former vice president of Scripps Howard Newspapers. Readers may send him email at: email@example.com .
Police are investigating a possible quadruple homicide in the Upstate New York city of Troy after four bodies were found in the basement of a home there. The four bodies were found inside a home at 158 Second Ave. on Tuesday, Troy Police Sgt. Mark Maloy confirmed to TIME. Maloy said all four deaths …
Footage on social media shows multiple police vehicles, ambulances, and fire engines outside the Gigant Hall leisure center, where the supermarket is located on the ground floor. “There was a bang. Emergency personnel are already on the scene. The evacuation has been completed, and there was no …
The Perekrestok supermarket is located on the ground floor of the Gigant Hall leisure center, in the northwest part of St Petersburg. ‘There was a bang. Emergency personnel are already on the scene. The evacuation has been completed, and there was no fire,’ a local Emergencies Ministry official told news …
Special counsel Robert Mueller is questioning Republican National Committee (RNC) staffers about whether the Trump campaign’s digital operations team worked with Russia to target U.S. voters, Yahoo News reported on Wednesday.
The Mueller team, which is investigating whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia to influence the outcome of the 2016 election, is now focusing on whether Trump’s team helped Russia target voters in key swing states through online ads, according to the report.
Russia used social media and political advertising to target voters and foment social discord during the 2016 campaign. Russian online posts masqueraded as American far-right and far-left political entities and even attempted to ignite racial tensions. Russian trolls and bots also targeted social media users across the U.S. in the lead-up to the election.
Two sources told Yahoo News that Mueller is investigating whether the Russian trolls and bots gained assistance from a joint RNC and Trump campaign data operation, which was managed by Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law and adviser.
Kushner is reportedly cooperating with the special counsel’s investigation (his representatives declined to comment). The FBI already was investigating Kushner’s activities during his time working on the Trump campaign, and Kushner’s legal team is now looking into hiring an emergency public relations company to deal with high-profile clients.
Voter data played a large role in the Trump campaign’s efforts in 2016, and investigators have been looking into whether Trump collaborated with Russia to influence voters. The RNC provided the Trump campaign with useful demographic data about voters, information that was used by the campaign to target voters with political messaging that would appeal to them. Many experts have marveled at the high level of sophistication of Russia’s online campaigns to target voters in swing states, and some have suggested they may have received help from inside the U.S.
Members of the House Intelligence Committee questioned social media giants Facebook, Twitter and Google last month about whether there was any coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to create online ads. The companies said they would provide additional information.
Investigators also have been looking into whether Russia provided the Trump campaign with voter information stolen by Russian hackers.
Meanwhile, the Trump campaign paid the data company Cambridge Analytica $5.9 million to buy television ads and help with other campaign efforts. The RNC reportedly worked closely with the company on Trump campaign business.
It was later revealed that the data company’s CEO approached WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange to gain access to private emails allegedly stolen from Hillary Clinton, copies of which WikiLeaks had allegedly obtained from Russian hackers.
WikiLeaks, which leaks classified information, is believed to have ties to the Russian government. During the presidential primaries last year, the organization released private emails stolen from members of the Democratic National Committee just in time for the committee’s convention, allegedly in an attempt to hurt Hillary Clinton.
A clear message to the thugs of the world The Bakersfield Californian
Sergei Magnitsky, a Russian tax lawyer, died beaten and alone in a Moscow prison cell eight years ago. He was ill and neglected. He had exposed the theft of hundreds of millions of dollars by a corrupt cabal, and he paid for it with his life. Now, in a …and more »
President Donald Trump is right about one thing — he may never be charged with “collusion.” Despite its current use as a sort of catchall term for the Trump administration’s alleged ties to Russian meddling, “collusion” is only a federal crime in the area of antitrust law. In this legal context, collusion occurs when two or more people or entities decide to gain an unfair market advantage and/or secretly limit open competition.
One of the quintessential examples of collusion is an agreement to engage in price-fixing. Or put another way, collusion has nothing to do with the Trump campaign and the Russian government.
So if you’ve been talking about whether or not the Trump campaign colluded with the Russian government in the 2016 presidential election, you’ve been saying it wrong. But you’re also in good company. The vast majority of the public and the press routinely, and erroneously, use the word collusion to refer to a host of potential federal crimes. This does not mean the investigation is fake news, but it does mean we have been using the wrong term to describe it.
And while we are discussing inapplicable crimes, it is worth noting that Trump and his campaign staff and administration will almost certainly not be charged with treason, either. Under the U.S. Constitution, “Treason against the United States shall consist only in levying war against them, or in adhering to their enemies, giving them aid and comfort.” Here the word “enemies” means nations with which we are at war. We are not currently at war with Russia, and therefore one cannot commit treason by aiding Russia, even if the aid meant swaying the 2016 presidential election.
Now that we know which charges we will not see, we must ask which charges we might see as a result of special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and administration and the Russian government.
Let us begin at the beginning. Before Donald Trump became President Trump, the FBI was looking into connections between the Russian government and the Trump campaign. In May of 2017, Trump famously fired the director of the FBI, James Comey, who was ultimately in charge of that investigation.
That firing in and of itself may be illegal if it amounts to obstruction of justice. The question boils down to whether Trump fired Comey to try to slow or halt that investigation and/or because Comey wouldn’t pump the brakes on the investigation.
Following Comey’s firing, it became clear to many outside observers that a special counsel needed to be appointed to pick up where Comey left off. Due to Attorney General Jeffrey Sessions recusing himself from matters involving the Russia investigation, the job of picking the counsel fell to Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein. Rosenstein’s subsequent pick of former FBI director Robert Mueller was —at the time at least — heralded by politicians on both sides of the aisle as proof that there were some adults left in the federal government.
But Mueller’s investigation is much more specific than just seeing if Trump or his affiliates “did something wrong.” He needs evidence that a specific Constitutional provision or statute was violated.
Police are investigating a possible quadruple homicide in the Upstate New York city of Troy after four bodies were found in the basement of a home there.
The four bodies were found inside a home at 158 Second Ave. on Tuesday, Troy Police Sgt. Mark Maloy confirmed to TIME. Maloy said all four deaths are being treated as suspicious, but declined to offer further details on the investigation.
Troy Police Capt. Daniel DeWolf told the Albany Times Union that the building’s property manager was the first to discover the bodies in the residence, but no other details about the victims have been released.
“It’s horrible. Terrible. Sad — sad especially at this time of year,” DeWolf said. “We’re going to do everything we can to look into this and get to the bottom of what happened here.”
A block of Second Avenue has reportedly been shut down while police investigate.
Correction: A previous version of this blog post incorrectly reported that the Trump administration had approved the first-ever commercial sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine. It stated that Defense Secretary Jim Mattis had publicly supported arms sales to Ukraine; Mattis did not explicitly do so. This post has …
The decision to sell the Javelin missiles also comes not long after the Trump administration approved a limited weapons sale between American manufacturers and Ukraine of Model M107A1 sniper systems, ammunition and associated equipment. “The United States has decided to provide Ukraine …
Investigators are considering two possibilities — that the driver lost control of the bus or that the busmalfunctioned, state media reported. “The driver was detained and the authorities instituted a criminal case citing the services falling short of security requirements and encroachments on the safety …
He dealt with the F.B.I. investigation into whether Hillary Clinton mishandled classified information when she used a private email server. Republicans, including Mr. Trump, have relentlessly criticized the F.B.I. for the way it handled that investigation. Mrs. Clinton was not charged, nor were any of her aides. Mr. McCabe has also been deeply involved in the F.B.I.’s investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election and the potential involvement of the Trump campaign.
The Russia investigation is being led by a special counsel, Robert S. Mueller III, who has already charged four people associated with Mr. Trump’s presidential campaign. One of them, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to lying about his contacts with the Russians, while another pleaded guilty to lying about his conversation with the Russian ambassador to the United States.
Mr. Mueller’s inquiry has infuriated the president, who has called the investigation a witch hunt and has pressed repeatedly for a shake-up at the F.B.I. Mr. McCabe was deputy director when the F.B.I. opened the investigation in July 2016.
The president crowed on Saturday that James A. Baker, the F.B.I. general counsel, who was seen as an ally of Mr. Comey’s, would soon step down from that post, although he will remain at the bureau.
Mr. McCabe became a political piñata after his wife decided to run as a Democrat for a Virginia State Senate seat. As part of her campaign, she accepted nearly $500,000 in contributions from the political organization of Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a longtime friend of Mrs. Clinton and her husband, former President Bill Clinton.
Pressure on Mr. McCabe and Mr. Wray intensified this month after The New York Times reported that a top F.B.I. lawyer and counterintelligence agent traded disparaging text messages about the president. Both the agency and the lawyer had worked closely on the Clinton and Russia investigations. However, Mr. Mueller decided to pull the agent off the Russia investigation. The lawyer, who was close to Mr. McCabe, had already left Mr. Mueller’s team by the time the texts were discovered.
Republicans seized on the texts to claim that the F.B.I.’s leadership was politically slanted. Agents have rejected that assertion, calling it insulting and untrue.
Mr. McCabe, who is seen as highly intelligent, rose quickly through the ranks of the F.B.I., eventually running national security, then the bureau’s second-largest field office, before moving back to headquarters, where he was put on track to be deputy director. He has many supporters in the F.B.I. who consider him beyond reproach.
His defenders say he has done his job admirably in the face of intense partisan attacks while navigating crisis after crisis.
“The political hit job on McCabe — his supposed ideological bias, the fact his wife ran for office as a Democrat, the attacks on his competence — are way out of line,” said Frank Montoya Jr., a former senior F.B.I. official who retired in 2016 and worked closely with Mr. McCabe. “The people who are making these baseless accusations don’t know McCabe. I do. The guy’s a total pro. His only motivation is to support and defend the Constitution.”
His detractors see Mr. McCabe as an ambitious creature of Washington who did not spend enough time as an agent working with informants and making cases. Those critical of Mr. McCabe believe he lacked the operational experience to become director and needed to spend more time in the field.
But even among some of those who dislike Mr. McCabe, he earned their grudging respect when he stood up to Mr. Trump and defended the F.B.I. and Mr. Comey’s tenure during a heated congressional hearing in May while he was acting director.
Mr. McCabe’s plan to retire at some point after he was eligible to retire was first reported by The Washington Post. Mr. McCabe will most likely follow the path of other highly qualified F.B.I. senior officials eligible to retire who leave after securing a lucrative job in the private sector.
Mr. Peña Nieto’s Institutional Revolutionary Party, also known as the PRI, pioneered this system during its 70 years in power. Former President José López Portillo explicitly laid out the government’s expectations decades ago — he was even quoted as saying that he did not pay the media to attack him — and the practice continued when the opposition claimed the presidency in 2000, then again in 2006.
But the government’s influence over the media goes well beyond the advertising spigot, with officials sometimes resorting to outright bribery. In Chihuahua, the former governor spent more than $50 million on publicity, officials say, in a state saddled with huge public debts. Yet that was just the official figure.
Prosecutors have also collected signed receipts for bribes to local journalists — payoffs so common that some reporters were even listed as government contractors, documents show. With so much government money circling around, entire news websites sprang up with a single purpose, prosecutors contend: to support the former governor’s agenda.
“The relation between the media and power is one of the gravest problems in Mexico,” said Javier Corral, the new governor of Chihuahua. “There is collusion, an arrangement, in terms of how the public resources are managed to reward or punish the media. It’s carrot and stick: ‘Behave well, and I’ll give you lots of money and advertising. Act bad and I’ll get rid of it.’”
RELIANCE ON PUBLIC ADVERTISING
Pick up a newspaper, tune into a radio station or flip on the television in Mexico and you are greeted with a barrage of government advertising. In some papers, nearly every other page is claimed by an ad promoting one government agency or another. At times, as much airtime is dedicated to venerating the government’s work as it is to covering the news.
The extraordinary spending comes at a time when the Mexican government is cutting budgets across the board, including for health, education and social services. The federal government spent as much on advertising last year, about $500 million, as it did to support students in its main scholarship program for public universities.
The co-opting of the news media is more fundamental than any one administration’s spending on self-promotion, historians say. It reflects the absence of the basic pact that a free press has with its readers in a democracy, where holding the powerful accountable is part of its mission.
“It’s a common problem in the developing world, but the problem is much, much graver in Mexico,” said David Kaye, the United Nations special representative for freedom of expression. “It’s remarkable what the government spends.”
Most news outlets have relied on public advertising for so long that they would not survive without the government, giving officials tremendous leverage to push for certain stories and prevent others, analysts, reporters and media owners say.
“This is an economic problem,” said Carlos Puig, a columnist at the newspaper Milenio, which receives substantial government funding. “The classic American model does not exist here.”
Last year, a public outcry erupted after a top official in the Peña Nieto administration went to Milenio’s offices to complain about a story. The article, criticizing a national anti-hunger initiative, was taken down from the newspaper’s website right after the visit.
The piece later went back up, with a far less damning headline. The newspaper says the reason was simple: The article was “deplorable,” an inaccurate and “vulgar” attempt to smear an official, requiring an apology to readers. But journalists and democracy advocates, citing the power of government advertising, cried foul and the reporter resigned in protest, claiming to have been censored. Eventually, the original headline was restored.
Overt government interference is often unnecessary. Sixty-eight percent of journalists in Mexico said they censored themselves, not only to avoid being killed, but also because of pressure from advertisers and the impact on the company’s bottom line, according to a three-year study by Mexican and American academics.
Francisco Pazos did. He worked for years at one of the largest papers in Mexico, Excélsior. One of his most frustrating moments came in late 2013, he said, when the government was in the throes of a fight with commuters over a transit fare increase.
Mr. Pazos said he tried to explore the commuters’ anger in detail, until an editor stopped him, telling him the paper was no longer going to cover the controversy.
“I came to understand there were issues I simply couldn’t cover,” Mr. Pazos said. “And eventually, I stopped looking for those kinds of stories. Eventually, you become a part of the censorship yourself.”
Many media owners and directors say they have so few independent sources of income outside the government that they face a stark choice: wither from a lack of resources, or survive as accomplices to their own manipulation.
“Of course, the use of public money limits freedom of expression, but without this public money there would be no media in Mexico at all,” said Marco Levario, the director of the magazine Etcétera. “We are all complicit in this.”
The model means that some media outlets in Mexico can scarcely afford their own principles. Twenty years ago, the newspaper La Jornada was one of the most beloved in the nation, a critical voice and a must-read for intellectuals and activists who carried the tabloid around town, tucked under their arms.
But the years have not been kind to the paper. A few years ago, it was on the cusp of financial ruin. Then the government intervened, rescuing the publication with more than $1 million in official advertising and, critics say, claiming its editorial independence in the process.
“Now they own them,” Mr. Levario said. “The paper has been like a spokesman for the president.”
Other business ties link news outlets to the government. Many media companies are part of larger conglomerates that build roads or other public projects. The same person who owns Grupo Imagen, which includes radio, television and print media, also owns a major construction firm, Prodemex. It has earned more than $200 million in the past five years building government facilities, and will play a role in the construction of the new Mexico City airport.
La Jornada, Excélsior and Excélsior’s parent company, Grupo Imagen, did not respond to repeated requests for comment.
The nation’s Supreme Court recently took up the issue of official advertising, ruling in November that the government must act on the president’s promise to regulate the flow of public money in an unbiased way.
“The absence of regulation in official publicity allows for the arbitrary use of communications budgets, which restricts indirectly freedom of expression,” said Arturo Zaldívar, a Supreme Court justice.
In a statement, the president’s office referred to its official advertising as a form of constitutionally backed publicity that enables it to inform and educate the public about its work. But it rejects the assertion that such spending skews the media’s coverage of important issues or stifles free speech in any way.
“Every day journalists in Mexico question, with absolute freedom, the government’s actions and those of our representatives, including the president,” it said. “There is a permanent criticism from Mexican journalists toward the government. Just by opening any newspaper, turning on the television and going to social media, you can verify this.”
When he came to office in 2012, the president vowed to more fairly distribute the government’s advertising dollars. Shortly after his election, Mr. Peña Nieto’s team came up with a plan to regulate media spending, according to three people familiar with the proposal.
But Aurelio Nuño, the president’s former chief of staff, said the effort never got far enough to produce a draft of any legislation that could yield action. The effort was subsumed by other campaign promises and left behind, he said.
‘HEATING THEM UP’
As the editor for recruiting at the newspaper Reforma, Diana Alvarez has grown accustomed to the flexible definition of journalism in Mexico.
A few years back, she said, she interviewed one young woman from a large paper in Mexico City. The woman, who had a master’s degree in journalism, said her job at the paper consisted of creating files of negative press clippings on governors across the country.
Those files were turned over to the paper’s sales department, which then approached the governors to sell them “coverage plans” to improve their public image, the young woman explained.
Mrs. Alvarez rattled off more examples. One applicant, an editing candidate, boasted that he knew how to work his relationships with politicians to score more advertising money.
He called it “heating them up,” which involved showing the target a critical story that his newspaper was planning to publish. Then, as he explained to Mrs. Alvarez, an advertising contract with his paper would help “put out the fire.”
Yet another applicant, a former state government employee, said he knew how to “deal with the press,” Mrs. Alvarez recalled. He told her how he had been in charge of distributing envelopes filled with cash for reporters as bribes.
“I wish I could say these are isolated cases, or just a few, but it isn’t the case,” Mrs. Alvarez said. “There have been many like these, where they come and speak about these practices in a way that makes you realize they have normalized them.”
Daniel Moreno, the director of the digital publication Animal Político, says he receives almost nothing from the federal government, and relatively small amounts from state governors.
It’s not because he doesn’t want the money, Mr. Moreno says. It’s just that the kind of critical coverage his news team does is not rewarded with government contracts, he contends.
Recently, Mr. Moreno said he received a call from officials in the state of Morelos, which spends about $3,000 a month with him on advertising. The governor’s wife was going through a rough period over claims that she was politicizing aid for earthquake victims — an accusation she rejected — so a state official suggested that Animal Político do a few positive stories on her.
Mr. Moreno politely declined.
“They were pretty offended,” he said with a shrug. “And I’m pretty sure that money is gone.”
Still, that was better than it is with most states, Mr. Moreno said. As a policy, Animal Político publishes a banner on pieces that are paid advertising, so readers know the work is not independent journalism, he said.
But officials in the states of Chiapas, Oaxaca and Sonora have refused to pay for content unless it is published without the banner, he said. Mr. Moreno refused.
“I’ve lost more money than I’ve earned that way,” he said with a laugh.
This month, news organizations came together to denounce the violence against the press in Mexico, where the murders of journalists hit a record this year. Thirty-nine media groups signed on.
But a few, including Animal Político, were missing — on purpose. They had insisted on some extra lines in the announcement about the damage that official publicity does to free speech.
A small uproar ensued, they said. Some large newspapers that rely heavily on government money objected.
Ultimately, the letter was sent without the lines — and without the signature of Mr. Moreno and his compatriots. The news media, it appeared, would not challenge its livelihood.
AN EXPOSÉ RAISES QUESTIONS
On Aug. 23, Ricardo Anaya, the president of the opposition National Action Party and now a candidate for president in next year’s election, woke up to find his name and family splashed across the front page of El Universal, a major newspaper.
The story went into details about his father-in-law’s real estate empire and, more pointedly, the ways in which Mr. Anaya’s political career had helped propel that fortune.
The narrative was a familiar one in Mexico: A political leader had used his influence to enrich himself and his family. El Universal laid out the addresses and values of the various properties, and even published head shots of his entire extended family, 14 people in all. News outlets across the country carried the story.
The only thing missing, a court ultimately decided, was accuracy. Mr. Anaya managed to show that much of the information was flawed, skewed or simply wrong. While his in-laws clearly owned a number of properties, many had been in their possession before his political career began, public deeds showed.
Even more puzzling, Mr. Anaya said, were the photographs of his family. They had not been public before, as far as the family knew. In fact, they looked an awful lot like passport pictures.
Given that such photos were held by the foreign ministry, which issues passports, Mr. Anaya suspected that his rivals in the government had leaked the pictures to the newspaper.
“They are trying to destroy my political career with this campaign,” he contended. “You can’t compete with a government that pays $500 million a year to the media.”
For the next two months, the newspaper dedicated more than 20 front pages to Mr. Anaya, accusing him of misusing public funds, benefiting financially from his position and fracturing his party.
Mr. Anaya filed suit. In October, the court found that El Universal had misrepresented his in-laws’ wealth and wrongly accused Mr. Anaya of using his office to benefit them.
El Universal claimed that it was entitled to publish the story under the right to freedom of expression, an argument the judge questioned because the paper “had not based its investigation in facts.” The newspaper has appealed the court’s decision.
The case raises national questions of trust in a country where the news media receives so much money in government advertising.
El Universal receives more government advertising than any other newspaper in the nation, about $10 million last year, Fundar found. Critics argue that the newspaper has become something of an attack dog for the government ahead of presidential elections next year.
The suggestion is “false and offensive,” the newspaper says. Government advertising “does not affect in any way the editorial line of the newspaper,” it says, adding that “thinkers of all political parties” are represented in its pages.
Not all its journalists agree. In July, a half-dozen columnists announced their resignations in protest over what they called biased coverage, saying the owners had destroyed the institution’s credibility.
Salvador Frausto, an investigative editor who earned the paper many awards, also left. Colleagues said he was clearly uncomfortable with how close the paper was becoming to the PRI and its new presidential candidate, José Antonio Meade.
The person who replaced Mr. Frausto as the new investigative editor was most recently a press officer at the foreign affairs ministry, according to his LinkedIn profile.
And the news director of El Universal had close ties with the new candidate: His wife was Mr. Meade’s international press chief at the finance ministry.
The paper says that there is no conflict of interest, and that it does not tolerate biased coverage of any kind.
But it isn’t the first time the paper’s journalists have challenged its independence. Writers said that in 2012, when Mr. Peña Nieto was running for office, editors and news directors began changing columns critical of the candidate, sometimes at the last minute, without warning them.
“The reason I resigned is because I no longer felt like I was guaranteed a free space,” Andrés Lajous, now a doctoral student at Princeton University, wrote in an article recounting the events.
‘IT WAS THE FEDS’
Witnesses were calling it an execution.
In January 2015, Laura Castellanos, an award-winning reporter, was sent by editors at El Universal to cover a pair of shootouts involving the federal police.
At the time, self-defense groups had taken up arms to fight against organized crime, and Ms. Castellanos, who had written extensively on the subject, was considered an expert.
She spent 10 days reporting the story, tapping old sources and interviewing witnesses in the state of Michoacán, where 16 had been killed and dozens wounded.
The issue was especially delicate because a close ally of the president, Alfredo Castillo, who had been appointed to oversee the security situation in Michoacán, claimed that the deaths came from a shootout with armed assailants.
Ms. Castellanos said she recorded interviews with 39 people — victims, bystanders, hospital workers — and came to a different conclusion. The federal police had summarily executed unarmed suspects, including some as they surrendered on their knees with their arms in the air, she said her reporting showed.
After days of editing and fact-checking, she said the story was ready to run. Only it didn’t.
Ms. Castellanos and her editors were not surprised. Mr. Peña Nieto was already under heavy public pressure for his handling of the disappearance of 43 college students, as well as his wife’s purchase of a multimillion-dollar home from a major government contractor.
But after two and a half months — during which time one of her sources was tortured and killed, she said — Ms. Castellanos worried her story would never run.
Working with lawyers, she said she discovered a loophole in her contract — one that allowed her to publish the material elsewhere.
One of the few publications willing to take the story was a new website founded by Carmen Aristegui, another award-winning reporter, who had lost her radio station job after breaking the story about the president’s wife.
But the morning the Michoacán story was scheduled to publish, under the headline “It Was the Feds,” Ms. Aristegui’s website went dark.
Eventually, they figured out what happened: The website had been hacked.
The two eventually published the story, but the case again raised questions about independence in a country awash in government advertising.
Neither the killings, nor the hacking, have been fully resolved. El Universal said it had not published Ms. Castellanos’s story because it did not meet the newspaper’s standards.
The next year, Ms. Castellano’s article was awarded Mexico’s most coveted journalistic prize: the national award for investigative reporting.
American intelligence has requested information about the bank FBME. According to the documents of the Cyprus Central Bank, about half of its clients were Russians.
The FBI requested data on the previously closed FBME bank, which the US Treasury had previously accused of money laundering, from the Cypriot authorities. Intelligence suspects the bank of servicing influential customers from Russia, according to The Guardian, citing its sources.
The Guardian‘s interlocutors suggest that the inquiry may be related to the investigation into a matter of possible interference of Russia in the election of the US President in 2016. Special prosecutor Robert Mueller subordinates this case. Previously, the US Central Bank requested information on FBME from the Central Bank of Cyprus.
In the documents of the Central Bank of the republic, which were at the disposal of the newspaper, it appears that about half of FBME clients were Russians. In particular, these are member of the Federation Council of Russia Alexander Shishkin and businessman Vladimir Smirnov. It was also reported that the bank housed 23 accounts of Russian billionaire Mikhail Prokhorov.
FBME bank was liquidated in 2017. A year earlier, it was under Washington’s sanctions, and in 2014 the US Treasury had accused the organization of money laundering.
Buckley Kuhn-Fricker recently discovered private tweets on her daughter’s phone that concerned her. The tweets, which she believed were connected to the boyfriend, included one that responded to a photo of a candy shop featuring a Jewish dreidel with the comment “ima run in there with my swastika …
<a href=”http://Heavy.com” rel=”nofollow”>Heavy.com</a>–9 hours ago
Scott Fricker and Buckley Kuhn Fricker grew upset with their daughter’s teenage boyfriend because of his alleged neo-Nazi views and tried to block the budding relationship, and now he’s accused of murdering them both. The 17-year-old suspect in the double slayings of the Reston, Virginia couple has not …
Scott Fricker, 48, and Buckley Kuhn-Fricker, 43, had forbidden their daughter to see the teen after family and friends said the couple discovered a Twitter account they believed was linked to the teen. It retweeted tweets praising Hitler, made derogatory comments about Jews, called for “white revolution,” and …
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A spokesman for the Department of Homeland Security said Saturday that two recent terror suspects made their way into the U.S. via chain migration. (Reuters)
The Department of Homeland Security said chain migration is the common element in two cases allegedly tied to terrorism activities, according to a statement released Saturday.
In the statement on Twitter, Acting Press Secretary Tyler Houlton said DHS “can confirm the suspect involved in a terror attack in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania, and another suspect arrested on terror-related money laundering charges were both beneficiaries of extended family chain migration.”
Chain migration is when an immigrant gains legal entry into the U.S. via sponsorship by a family member who’s already a legal resident or citizen. The Trump administration launched a campaign against the immigration system, in favor of a more merit-based structure, favoring education and job potential as factors.
The memo referred to Ahmed Aminamin El-Mofty, 51, who it said was a naturalized U.S. citizen admitted to the U.S. from Egypt on a family-based visa. El-Mofty went on a shooting spree Friday in Harrisburg and was reportedly targeting police officers.
“He fired several shots at a Capitol police officer and at a Pennsylvania state police trooper in marked vehicles,” Dauphin County District Attorney Ed Marsico said. The state trooper was injured but is “doing well,” he said.
El-Mofty pursued the trooper to a residential neighborhood and encountered law enforcement officers, who ultimately killed him after he fired “many shots” at them.
The statement also mentioned Zoobia Shahnaz, who DHS said was a naturalized U.S. citizen who entered from Pakistan, also on a family-based visa. Shahnaz was indicted on Dec. 14 after she allegedly laundered more than $85,000 through Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies overseas to the Islamic State.
Acquiring the money through fraudulently obtained credit cards and a bank loan, Shahnaz laundered the funds to people in Pakistan, China and Turkey and “planned to travel to Syria and join ISIS,” federal officials said.
Shahnaz was charged in federal court with bank fraud, conspiracy to commit money laundering and three counts of money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
In the DHS statement Saturday, Houlton said, “These incidents highlight the Trump administration’s concerns with extended chain migration.”
“Both chain migration and the diversity visa lottery program have been exploited by terrorists to attack our country,” Houlton said. “Not only are the programs less effective at driving economic growth than merit-based immigration systems used by nearly all other countries, the programs make it more difficult to keep dangerous people out of the United States and to protect the safety of every American.”
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