Covers the period:
2017-01-01 00:00:00 ..
2017-06-23 18:50:26 UTC
2017-06-27 14:52:26 UTC
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We had three different political stories submitted. In the interest of trying to keep political discussions from spilling over into other stories, I have merged them all into this one story. If you are not interested in politics, you are free to ignore this story — another story will be along presently. --martyb
Theresa May will visit Buckingham Palace at 12:30 BST to seek permission to form a new UK government, despite losing her Commons majority.
She is seeking to stay in office on the understanding that the Democratic Unionists of Northern Ireland will support her minority administration.
With one seat left to declare, the Tories are eight seats short of the 326 figure needed to command a majority.
In other news:
* The UK stock market is up but the pound is down
* European leaders react with a mix of incredulity, conciliatory statements; Brexit plans in tatters
* Record number of female MPs returned; overall high turnout
Former FBI director James B. Comey on Thursday essentially laid out an obstruction of justice case against President Trump and suggested senior leaders in the bureau might have actually contemplated the matter before Trump removed him as director.
Comey did not explicitly draw any legal conclusions. Whether justice was obstructed, he said, was a question for recently appointed special counsel Robert Mueller. But he said Trump’s request to terminate the FBI’s investigation into former national security adviser Michael Flynn left him “stunned,” and senior FBI officials considered it to be of “investigative interest.”
Of particular concern, Comey said, was that Trump asked other officials to leave him alone with his FBI director in the Oval Office before saying of Flynn: “He is a good guy. I hope you can let this go.”
“Why did he kick everybody out of the Oval Office?” Comey said. “That, to me as an investigator, is a very significant fact.”
Today, President Donald J. Trump announced he will nominate Christopher Asher Wray as the new Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Wray graduated cum laude from Yale University in 1989, then continued on to receive his law degree from Yale Law School in 1992. He started his legal career as a clerk to Judge J. Michael Luttig of the United States Court of Appeals.
In 1997, Wray began his extensive public service career as an Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Georgia. In May 2001, Wray became the Associate Deputy Attorney General of the Department of Justice and within five months he was appointed the Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General. He was a vital member of the DOJ’s operations during and following the 9/11 attacks.
Wray was appointed to serve as the Assistant Attorney General in charge of the U.S. DOJ’s Criminal Division by President George W. Bush and was confirmed unanimously by the Senate. He led federal criminal law investigations in areas, including: securities fraud, healthcare fraud, Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and trade sanctions violations, bank secrecy and money laundering offenses, public corruption, and intellectual property piracy and cybercrime. While he was head of the Criminal Division from 2003 to 2005, Wray worked tirelessly to counteract the wave of corporate fraud scandals and to restore trust in the U.S. financial system. At the end of his term, Wray was given the Edmund J. Randolph Award, which is the DOJ’s most prestigious award for leadership and public service.
Since leaving the DOJ in 2005, Wray has worked as a litigation partner at King & Spalding. He chairs the King & Spalding Special Matters and Government Investigations Practice Group, which specializes in white-collar crimes and regulatory enforcement. He has represented Fortune 100 companies and ranked as a leading litigator by Chambers USA, Best Lawyers in America, and Legal 500. Wray has performed successful oral arguments in front of the U.S. Supreme Court, as well as the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eleventh Circuit.
His wealth of experience in government enforcement and jurisprudence makes Christopher A. Wray an outstanding choice as Director of the Federal Bureau of Investigation.
Gerrymandering has a long and unpopular history in the United States. It is the main reason that the country ranked 55th of 158 nations — last among Western democracies — in a 2017 index of voting fairness run by the Electoral Integrity Project
[...] Lawsuits fighting partisan gerrymandering are pending around the country, and a census planned for 2020 is expected to trigger nationwide redistricting. If the mathematicians succeed in laying out their case, it could influence how those maps are drawn.
[...] States such as Arizona and Iowa, which have independent or bipartisan commissions that oversee the creation of voting districts, fared much better. In a separate analysis, Daniel McGlone, a geographic-information-system data analyst at the technology firm Azavea in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, ranked each state’s voting districts for compactness as a measure of gerrymandering, and found that Maryland had the most-gerrymandered districts. North Carolina came second. Nevada, Nebraska and Indiana were the least gerrymandered.
[...] In the summer of 2016, a bipartisan panel of retired judges met to see whether they could create a more representative set of voting districts for North Carolina. Their maps gave Mattingly a chance to test his index. The judges’ districts, he found, were less gerrymandered than in 75% of the computer-generated models — a sign of a well-drawn, representative map. By comparison, every one of the 24,000 computer-drawn districts was less gerrymandered than either the 2012 or 2016 voting districts drawn by state legislators
[...] Political scientist Nicholas Stephanopoulos at the University of Chicago, Illinois, takes a much simpler approach to measuring gerrymandering. He has developed what he calls an “efficiency gap”, which measures a state’s wasted votes: all those cast for a losing candidate in each district, and all those for the victor in excess of the proportion needed to win. If one party has lots of landslide victories and crushing losses compared with its rivals, this can be a sign of gerrymandering.
Note: Please try to keep the discussion on the topic of gerrymandering.
The Republican-controlled house and senates of Kansas voted to increase taxes and to override the governor's veto of a bill to increase taxes.
The current governor pushed through tax cuts, intended to grow Kansas' economy, but during the tax cuts, Kansas' growth was lower than the country's overall growth.
The increase follows years in which the state was unable to balance its budget, and the funding for education was found to be unconstitutionally low.
In my view, state budgets are likely to take a hit from Trump's stealth tax increase: by reducing funding for programs and forcing the states to step in, the states will have to find extra money to fill the gaps.
The Trump administration has rolled out a new questionnaire for U.S. visa applicants worldwide that asks for social media handles for the last five years and biographical information going back 15 years.
The new questions, part of an effort to tighten vetting of would-be visitors to the United States, was approved on May 23 by the Office of Management and Budget despite criticism from a range of education officials and academic groups during a public comment period.
Critics argued that the new questions would be overly burdensome, lead to long delays in processing and discourage international students and scientists from coming to the United States.
Under the new procedures, consular officials can request all prior passport numbers, five years' worth of social media handles, email addresses and phone numbers and 15 years of biographical information including addresses, employment and travel history.
Officials will request the additional information when they determine "that such information is required to confirm identity or conduct more rigorous national security vetting," a State Department official said on Wednesday.
The State Department said earlier the tighter vetting would apply to visa applicants "who have been determined to warrant additional scrutiny in connection with terrorism or other national security-related visa ineligibilities."
The Guardian reports:
The European Union has rejected Donald Trump's offer to renegotiate the Paris climate agreement and pledged instead to bypass Washington to work with US business leaders and state governors to implement the historic accord's commitments.
Less than 24 hours after the US president announced his decision to withdraw from the 2015 agreement and strike a new, less ambitious deal with the rest of the world, Brussels declared its outright refusal to engage in such talks.
EU officials will instead cut out the White House to deal directly with the US states and major corporations, many of whom have already pledged to live by the terms forged in Paris.
China vows to partner with the EU on clean energy.
But Beijing and Brussels have been preparing to announce their intention to accelerate joint efforts to reduce global carbon emissions.
According to a statement being prepared before an EU-China summit in Brussels on Thursday and Friday, the new alliance will say they are determined to "lead the energy transition" toward a low-carbon economy.
The EU's climate commissioner, Miguel Arias Cañete, told the Guardian: "The EU and China are joining forces to forge ahead on the implementation of the Paris agreement and accelerate the global transition to clean energy."
Let's not wait for the guy with the awkward handshake anymore.
That's the gist of documents, seen by the Financial Times*, about the upcoming EU-China summit this Friday in Brussels.
Cooperation on the deployment of electric cars, energy efficiency labelling, and scientific research into green innovation. Further increasing the share of renewable energy, by boosting interconnected power networks. Setting up a scheme for emissions trading in China, with an eye of coupling that scheme to the pioneering EU version. Money to fund developing countries' climate plans.
"The increasing impacts of climate change require a decisive response", the joint statement reads,"Tackling climate change and reforming our energy systems are significant drivers of job creation, investment opportunities and economic growth."
* EU and China strengthen climate ties to counter US retreat. Financial Times, Wednesday May 31, 2017. [Paywalled]
NPR, formerly National Public Radio, reports
Timothy Loehmann, the police officer who shot and killed 12-year-old Tamir Rice in 2014, was fired by the Cleveland Police Department [May 30]. At a news conference, city authorities announced that the reason for his termination wasn't the deadly incident that brought him to national attention, but rather violations he committed in the course of his hiring process.
"Patrol officer Loehmann had been charged with rule violations concerning his application process to be considered a cadet with the Division of Police--specifically, answers he had provided on his personal history statement", Michael McGrath, the city's director of public safety, told reporters in prepared remarks.
The Cleveland Plain Dealer explains that Loehmann failed to disclose the full circumstances of how his time at a previous police department ended:
"Loehmann was allowed to resign from the Independence department after six months following a series of incidents where supervisors determined he was unfit to be a police officer.
"The disciplinary letter cites a letter in Loehmann's personnel file from Independence that says he was emotionally immature and had 'an inability to emotionally function'. The letter also cites an emotional breakdown Loehmann had on the gun range in Independence."
Cleveland authorities also announced that Frank Garmback, the officer driving the patrol car at the time Loehmann shot Tamir, would be suspended for 10 days for administrative rule violations of his own. He would also be required to take a tactical training course.
The penalties cap a review process conducted by Cleveland's Critical Incident Review Committee, or CIRC, in the wake of Tamir's death and the widespread protests it elicited. As the Plain Dealer reported last month, CIRC already "found no fault in the officers' actions leading up to, during and after the Nov. 22, 2014 shooting at Cudell Recreation Center on Cleveland's West Side".
President Donald Trump plans to make good on his campaign vow to withdraw the United States from a global pact to fight climate change, a source briefed on the decision said on Wednesday, a move that promises to deepen a rift with U.S. allies.
White House officials cautioned that details were still being hammered out and that, although close, the decision on withdrawing from the 195-nation accord - agreed to in Paris in 2015 - was not finalized.
[...] The source, speaking on condition of anonymity, said Trump was working out the terms of the planned withdrawal with U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, an oil industry ally and climate change doubter.
[...] The CEOs of Dow Chemical Co, ExxonMobil Corp, Unilever NV and Tesla Inc all urged Trump to remain in the agreement, with Tesla's Elon Musk threatening to quit White House advisory councils of which he is a member if the president pulls out.
On Twitter, Trump indicated that an announcement was coming soon.
"I will be announcing my decision on the Paris Accord over the next few days," he wrote. "MAKE AMERICA GREAT AGAIN!"
[...] Opponents of the climate deal were concerned after White House economic advisor Gary Cohn told reporters that the president was "evolving on the issue" during his trip overseas.
His daughter Ivanka and son-in-law Jared Kushner reportedly channelled support for the deal behind the scenes at the White House, encouraging climate change activists that Trump might change his mind. Trump's Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, the former Exxon CEO, also supported remaining in the treaty.
There is a federal law saying that lobbyists need to be granted a waiver to work in the administration. This is overseen by the Office of Government Ethics. Historically, for both Democrat and Republican administrations, the White House has complied with providing these waivers.
The Trump Administration has not provided these waivers. Walter Shaub, the director of the OGE, has set a deadline of June 1 to provide these documents. The White House Council has provided instructions to employees to not provide this documentation, claiming providing them would be an undue administrative burden. This raises the question of why it would be an undue burden: due to the number of people provided waivers or the extent of the waivers granted.
Editorializing a bit, it is both heartening that the head of the office for Ethics is willing to proverbially "walk the talk" by putting his own position at risk to do the right thing, as well as depressing that such behavior is the laudable exception rather than the accepted norm.
Common Dreams reports
Speaking to CNBC on Monday [May 22], [Commerce Secretary Wilbur] Ross, who accompanied Trump on the weekend trip to Riyadh, said he found it "fascinating" that he did not see "a single hint of a protester anywhere there during the whole time we were there. Not one guy with a bad placard".
[...] Bruce Riedel, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in the Center for Middle East Policy, told CNBC afterwards that Saudi Arabia is among the "most repressive" of free speech in the Middle East, adding: "Saudi Arabia is an absolute monarchy which forbids any political protest or any manifestation of dissent. It is also a police state that beheads opponents."
In Why Were the Saudi Streets So Quiet?, also via Common Dreams, Medea Benjamin adds:
Protest is illegal in the kingdom. It's also against the law to "distort the reputation of the kingdom" or "break allegiance with the ruler". A 2014 anti-terrorism law treats virtually all free expression as acts of terrorism, including "calling for atheist thought"; "contacting groups or individuals opposed to the Kingdom"; and "seeking to disrupt national unity" by calling for protests. People who dare dissent are publicly flogged, tortured in prison, and sometimes publicly beheaded.
The Interior Department is facing a lawsuit from a Christian geologist who claims he was not allowed to collect rocks from Grand Canyon National Park because of his creationist beliefs.
In the suit filed earlier this month, the Australian geologist, Andrew Snelling, says that religious discrimination was behind the National Park Service's (NRS's) decision to deny him a permit to gather samples from four locations in the park.
Snelling had hoped to gather the rocks to support the creationist belief that a global flood about 4,300 years ago was responsible for rock layers and fossil deposits around the world.
NPS's actions "demonstrate animus towards the religious viewpoints of Dr. Snelling," the complaint alleges, "and violate Dr. Snelling's free exercise rights by imposing inappropriate and unnecessary religious tests to his access to the park."
The lawsuit was filed May 9 in the U.S. District Court for the District of Arizona. NPS has yet to respond to the allegations.