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April 25 2017 12:36 PM

Minnesota Native Running for Governor in Virginia Really, Really Wants You to Know He Loves Confederate Statues

 

Corey Stewart is a 48-year-old lawyer who was born and raised in Duluth, Minnesota. Naturally, he has now become the nation's most prominent defender of the white supremacist monument that was taken down in New Orleans on Monday. (The monument commemorated an 1874 attack against the city's integrated police force by a white paramilitary group and literally included an inscription praising the restoration of "white supremacy" to the South.) That's because Stewart is running for governor as a Trump-style Republican in Virginia, which is a state that's involved in its own Confederate-monument controversies, and boy is he really, really trying to make some hay out of this defending-the-Confederacy thing. I don't have room to print all his tweets about the subject—counting retweets, he's sent 17 of them in the last 15 hours—but here are some of the highlights:

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(New Orleans' move was proposed by its mayor and approved 6-1 by its city council.)

(New Orelans also plans to take down statues of Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, and Confederate general P.G.T. Beauregard.)

Washington and Jefferson, of course, were Virginians, and the question of how to address their support for the slave trade is a pressing one at their estate museums in Monticello and Mount Vernon.

Here's another ISIS thing with a helpful graphic for social media sharing:

I liked this one especially:

Yeah, this defense of Robert E. Lee could really cost you among the Trump supporters you are trying to court in a Southern-state Republican primary. Truly a profile in courage!

I'm Corey Stewart, and I approved this message about wishing I could build a time machine so I could hug and kiss Jefferson Davis and Robert E. Lee.

April 25 2017 11:51 AM

Why Is Trump Bashing Canada All of a Sudden?

Mexico, President Trump’s usual favorite punching bag, isn’t the only U.S. neighbor on the receiving end of the president’s ire this week.

That tweet comes a day after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross announced a new 20 percent tariff on Canadian softwood lumber imports, a move denounced by Canada as “unfair and unwarranted.”  Why are we so mad at Canada all of a sudden?

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The dairy dispute is fairly wonky, though undoubtedly important to farmers on both sides of the border. Basically, Canadian dairy farmers were upset that ultra-filtered milk from the U.S., used to make cheese and other products, was being imported to Canada in the same category as milk powder, which has low tariffs. So last summer, the Canadian government reclassified ultra-filtered milk as regular milk, which is heavily taxed. Some U.S. politicians, notably New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker, have accused the Canadian government of protectionism—trying to box out American dairy farmers so that Canadian dairy farmers can sell more at home. Canada says the U.S. is producing too much milk, flooding the global market.

It seems like Trump became aware of the issue last week while visiting Wisconsin, where a local processor recently told farmers it was canceling its contract with them because it had lost its Canadian business. In a speech at a factory in Kenosha, Trump said:

"We're going to get together and we're going to call Canada. And we're going to say, 'What happened?' And they might give us an answer but we're going to get the solution, not just the answer."

As for the lumber dispute, the issue there is that U.S. manufacturers argue that Canadian producers receive an effective government subsidy because their timber is grown on public land, as opposed to the U.S. where the land is mostly private. So now the U.S. is going to charge Canadian lumber more on its way into the U.S.

Canada is the second-largest U.S. trading partner, and these are the sorts of issues that come up, though usually not via the president’s Twitter account. What’s interesting is that the administration seems to be taking on these disputes piecemeal, rather than focusing on renegotiating NAFTA, a centerpiece of Trump’s campaign. Ross, the administration’s point-person on NAFTA, has expressed frustration at Congress dragging its feet in granting the president authority to renegotiate the treaty and confirming a new U.S. Trade Representative.

So, for now, the president appears to just be trying to make political hay over individual trade disputes. This presents a tricky political challenge to Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. For all that he has been presented at the dynamic and tolerant anti-Trump, Trudeau has also been doing his best to win the favor of the administration, backing Trump on issues like the Keystone XL pipeline and signaling his willingness to renegotiate NAFTA. It’s going to be harder to strike that balance if Canada continues to find itself on the receiving end of Trump’s Twitter tirades.

April 24 2017 9:41 PM

Guards Who Left a Prisoner to Die of Dehydration, After Water Was Cut for Seven Days, Could Face Charges

Prosecutors on Monday laid out details of the desperate final week of life for Terrill Thomas, an inmate at a Milwaukee County jail, who last April died of dehydration in solitary confinement a week after prison officials turned off the water to his cell. Country prosecutors are now looking into whether the prison guards committed a crime in the death of the 38-year-old Thomas; the preliminary hearing into the guards' conduct began Monday.

“Through an opening statement and testimony from several witnesses, prosecutors laid out how the confluence of the violation of a sheriff's office policy, an unusual jail practice, Thomas' mental illness and inattentiveness by corrections officers led to Thomas' death,” the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reports. “Thomas was in jail following an arrest on charges that he shot a man, drove to the Potawatomi casino and fired two rounds inside the building. Family members said he was in the throes of a mental breakdown.”

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From the Journal Sentinel:

Terrill Thomas spent seven straight days holed up in a solitary confinement cell with no running water, slowly withering away… Thomas started the weeklong stretch at the Milwaukee County Jail belligerent and loud, the result of an untreated mental illness, prosecutors said. But as the days wore on, he grew weak and dehydrated. He lost nearly 35 pounds and turned quiet, never asking for or receiving medical attention. Barely two hours into his eighth day in solitary, jail staff found Thomas, 38, dead on his jail cell floor, the result of profound dehydration…
… In his opening statement, Assistant District Attorney Kurt Benkley said surveillance videos show three corrections officers cut off the water in Thomas' cell—a disciplinary measure after Thomas flooded another cell—and never turned it back on. The same officers never documented the water cutoff or notified supervisors, leaving fellow corrections officers in the dark… In theory, Thomas could have caused a commotion over his lack of water. But Benkley said the evidence will show Thomas' bipolar disorder—which the jail's staff knew about—  made it apparent he "was unable to tell people about his basic needs."

There were at least 20 guards on the solitary confinement wing over the course of the week Thomas was held there; it’s unclear how many knew Thomas’ water had been shut off and to what extent they knew of his mental illness. The administration of the jail falls under the purview of Milwaukee County Sheriff David Clarke, a high-profile supporter of Donald Trump’s campaign, whose cowboy hat and tough-on-crime bravado made him popular ally for Trump’s “American carnage” claims and elevated the sheriff to such an extent that he was under consideration, at one point, to lead the Department of Homeland Security.

April 24 2017 8:16 PM

Bill O’Reilly Just Put Out a Podcast—and He Sounded a Lot Like Donald Trump

Bill O’Reilly is back. No, not on the Fox News Channel. No, not settling more sexual harassment lawsuits. (Well, maybe soon settling more sexual harassment lawsuits.) But O’Reilly returned to his website for his No Spin News podcast on Monday, less than a week after being dismissed from the Fox News Channel. There had been intense speculation about what exactly O’Reilly would say, and whether he would discuss the abrupt end to his career as the top-rated host on cable news. He did briefly address the allegations against him, and lay out a little bit of what his future holds. But more than anything else, what he showed—and not for the first time—is that he and Donald Trump are working from the same playbook.

O’Reilly opened by announcing that the podcast, which he has hosted since 2009, would now turn into “a genuine news program.” It’s not clear precisely what that means, but Monday’s episode proved again that O’Reilly can talk ad nauseam in his compellingly demagogic manner. The beginning of the show was largely about his recent troubles—or rather the “trouble” he has placed himself in by allegedly terrorizing his former co-workers. O’Reilly stated that he couldn't “say a lot” and that he was “sad” about the situation. But he was at his Trumpiest, too, saying, “I’m very confident the truth will come out, and when it does, I don’t know if you’re going to be surprised—but I think you’re going to be shaken, as I am. There’s a lot of stuff involved here. Now, I can’t say any more, because I just don’t want to influence the flow of the information. I don’t want the media to take what I say and misconstrue it.” There you have it: a little conspiracy-mongering, vague hints of menace, cursory media-bashing, and the prediction that people will be shocked when the supposedly real information comes out. (Perhaps Barack Obama’s nefarious wiretapping scheme will be uncovered on the same day.)

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The rest of the program was classic O’Reilly. He briefly touched on a number of issues, from France (largely just noting the threat it faces from French Muslims), to Ann Coulter’s troubles speaking at the University of California–Berkeley, which allowed him to take some shots at PC culture and squeeze in a subtle plug for his new book. (Ever the expert at using even bad publicity to his advantage, O’Reilly is offering this week’s episodes of his podcast free; in the future it will be for “premium members” of his website.) When he talked about Trump, he said precisely the same thing that the president did, via Twitter over the weekend, about Trump’s approval ratings. (Both quasi-acknowledged the historically low approval ratings; both said it didn’t really count, because the media was so biased.)

The only really awkward part of the podcast—O’Reilly remains an immensely skilled broadcaster—came near the end, when he was answering viewer questions. One was about O’Reilly and Fox News, and whether he still had positive feelings toward the network. “We made history,” O'Reilly began. “That vehicle was fabulous for me.” He wasn’t speaking particularly smoothly, and he seemed unsure—either because he was attempting to control his volcanic rage, or because he was dancing around a nondisclosure agreement—what to say. Eventually, he asked rhetorically, “Why wouldn’t I wish them the best?” He sounded like he wanted to add more, but didn’t. Fortunately there was another viewer email to turn his attention to, and within seconds he was ranting about the evils of socialism. Trump may be unpopular with the general public, but he still has support from his base; something tells me that O’Reilly, too, will have no trouble keeping his.

April 24 2017 8:03 PM

State Department Removes Blog Post Promoting Trump’s Mar-a-Lago

Update: The ShareAmerica blog post touting Mar-a-Lago has been taken down from the State Department-run website. "The intention of the article was to inform the public about where the President has been hosting world leaders," a short statement on the original page now reads. "We regret any misperception and have removed the post."

***

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Original post, April 24, 2017, 3:17 p.m.: Donald Trump has done his best to rebrand his Mar-a-Lago club as the “Winter White House” in a not-so-subtle attempt to raise the stature of the private Palm Beach resort and possibly to offer an excuse for why he goes there so often. The president has spent seven of the 14 weekends he has been in office at the club, and he—and his staff—have made sure to use his preferred nomenclature whenever possible. But Trump’s rebranding effort has also gotten an unexpected and less-noticed push from elsewhere within the federal government: via the State Department’s foreign outreach program.

As spotted Monday by journalist Amy Westervelt, the Department-run news site ShareAmerica ran a story earlier this month that read an awful lot like a press release for the Trump-owned club. A snippet, which ran under the subhead “A dream deferred”:

Upon her death in 1973, [Marjorie Merriweather Post] willed the estate to the U.S. government, intending it to be used as a winter White House for the U.S. president to entertain visiting foreign dignitaries. Her plan didn’t work, however. Presidents Richard Nixon and Jimmy Carter never used the property. And in 1981 the government returned the estate to the Post Foundation because it was costing too much money to maintain.
That opened the way for Trump, a real-estate magnate, to purchase the property in 1985. When he acquired the house, Trump also bought the decorations and furnishings that Post had collected over the years, preserving Mar-a-Lago’s style and taste. … Post’s dream of a winter White House came true with Trump’s election in 2016. Trump regularly works out of the house he maintains at Mar-a-Lago and uses the club to host foreign dignitaries.

The post was also reblogged on the website of the U.S. embassy in the United Kingdom and shared on the Facebook page of the U.S. Embassy in Albania. The fact that government-funded websites are promoting the president’s for-profit venture drew an immediate complaint from Norm Eisen, a former White House ethics czar under Obama and a frequent critic of the current president, as well as Rep. Mark Takano, a California Democrat:

ShareAmerica is run by the State Department’s Bureau of International Information Programs, and describes itself as a “platform for sharing compelling stories and images that spark discussion and debate on important topics like democracy, freedom of expression, innovation, entrepreneurship, education, and the role of civil society.” Its current homepage features a mishmash of stories, ranging from one on the donation of one of the world's largest private collections of insects to a U.S. university, to one on the global economic damage caused by counterfeit smartphones and pirated music. A request for comment from the bureau concerning the Mar-a-Lago story and the decision to publish it was not immediately returned.

It’s also not the first time that this administration has put out what amounts to a press release for a private entity with ties to a high-ranking official. Last month, the White House issued a release touting a new domestic investment by Exxon Mobil that borrowed heavily from the one put out by the oil company itself. Exxon was previously led by current secretary of state Rex Tillerson, who under an ethics agreement with the federal government has until May 2 to sell off his remaining shares in the company he used to run.

In the grand scheme of Trump-themed conflicts of interest, this appears to be a small one. The president, after all, continues to blur the line between his own personal interests and those of the United States—as do his eldest sons every time they travel the globe flanked by Secret Service details that double as government-sanctioned sales props for the family business. Nonetheless, the ShareAmerica post suggests that Trump’s ethics—or more specifically, lack thereof—are spreading out from the White House into other sectors of the government.

Know anything about a potential conflict of interest in the Trump administration? DM Josh Voorhees on Twitter, or email him at josh.voorhees@slate.com.

April 24 2017 7:43 PM

Mark Halperin Was Right. Sitting Next to a Dog on a Plane Is the Worst.

A few weeks ago, I was in the waiting area for a crowded four-hour United flight when I noticed a fellow member of Boarding Group 4 had a dog. The dog was on a leash, but the leash seemed long to me. Its owner wasn’t carrying any sort of cage or container. Clearly, this dog was going to be one of my fellow passengers. It was brown and medium-size and had hair, I think. If I were inclined to notice more than that when it comes to dogs, I wouldn’t be telling this story.

“Unbelievable,” I thought to myself, and then, the last resort of the miffed: “If anything happens, I’m going to tweet about it.” To my great relief, I soon saw the dog and its owner settling into a row far ahead of mine. The flight passed without incident.

A second wave of relief passed over me this week, when I realized how narrowly I had missed making an enemy of the entire internet. By now, this weekend’s most notorious canine tale has been well covered by both the watchdog and lapdog press. It started when NBC News Senior Political Analyst Mark Halperin tweeted the following from his first-class seat on a Delta red-eye on Friday night:

April 24 2017 6:36 PM

Is the Senate Actually Going to Start Investigating Russia, or What?

The Senate’s investigation into Russian interference in November’s election seems to be going nowhere fast. From Yahoo News’ Michael Isikoff:

More than three months after the Senate Intelligence Committee launched its investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 election — including allegations of collusion by associates of President Trump — the panel has made little progress and is increasingly stymied by partisan divisions that are jeopardizing the future of the inquiry, according to multiple sources involved in the probe.
The committee has yet to issue a single subpoena for documents or interview any key witnesses who are central to the probe, the sources said. It also hasn’t requested potentially crucial evidence — such as the emails, memos and phone records of the Trump campaign — in part because the panel’s chairman, Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., has so far failed to respond to requests from the panel’s Democrats to sign letters doing so, the sources said.
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Isikoff writes that the committee has been dragging its feet on just about every aspect of its investigation. Access to intelligence documents has been limited to a handful of aides; documents from key witnesses like Michael Flynn, Carter Page, and Paul Manafort haven’t been requested; and interviews with those witnesses have yet to be scheduled, even though Page, Manafort, and former Trump adviser Roger Stone have volunteered for them.

“So what has the committee been doing for three months? The five staffers assigned to the case have been methodically reviewing the classified raw intelligence documents that formed the basis for the Jan. 6 assessment [of Russia’s interference in the election],” Isikoff writes, “and that, in turn, has lead to the discovery of more documents that are potentially relevant, sources say.”

The Daily Beast’s Tim Mak writes that those staffers don’t have any investigative experience. “Most of them lack a background in Russia expertise,” he wrote in a story published on Sunday. “Not one of the seven is a lawyer.” Those staffers moreover have other distracting obligations:

Of the seven, two are the staff directors of the committee—an enormously demanding job even in the calmest of circumstances, which limits their involvement. One of the seven even attends law school part-time.
“To do a serious investigation would require not less than a dozen full-time staffers … [with] counterintelligence, prosecutorial skills to do it, and people who have a very good sense of the forensic accounting world of Russia and Europe. Without that sort of expertise, you’re not going to get anywhere,” [attorney Scott] Horton said. “I don’t think they’re deploying the resources that are necessary to do a real investigation.”

The House’s investigation, you might recall, has itself been a mess. Until our elected representatives get their acts together, it’ll be up to the media to continue getting to the bottom of things. Super sleuth Louise Mensch, of course, remains on the case:

April 24 2017 6:10 PM

Today in Conservative Media: A Toast to Marine Le Pen

As the first round of the French presidential election came to a close on Sunday, Marine Le Pen and Emmanuel Macron—whom Breitbart characterized as a “globalist former Rothschild investment banker”—advanced toward a runoff election.

April 24 2017 5:56 PM

Republican Judge Resigns to Protest North Carolina GOP’s Attack on Courts

The battle between North Carolina’s Republican-dominated General Assembly and its Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper has centered, in large part, around the judiciary. The GOP knows that many of its efforts to consolidate power are unlawful, and the courts have not hesitated to block legislative overreach. In response, North Carolina Republicans are attempting to simultaneously hobble the courts and pack them with partisans. Legislative Republicans are close to passing two bills that would strip Cooper of the authority to appoint many judges, delegating that task to the General Assembly instead. And they have already passed a bill shrinking the state Court of Appeals from 15 judges to 12—a brazen effort to prevent Cooper from filling the vacancies left by three Republican judges set to step down during his term. Cooper vetoed the bill, but the legislature will soon enact the measure through veto override.

On Monday, however, one of these judges took a stand against the GOP’s chicanery, resigning in protest of the bill targeting the Court of Appeals. Judge J. Douglas McCullough, a Republican, will reach the mandatory retirement age of 72 next month, requiring him to step down. At that point, the General Assembly will almost certainly have overridden Cooper’s veto, preventing him from appointing McCullough’s successor. So McCullough stepped down on Monday, allowing Cooper to appoint John Arrowood to replace him. Arrowood is a well-respected Democratic attorney who briefly sat on the Court of Appeals a decade ago. He is the court’s first openly gay member.

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In an interview with the Raleigh News & Observer, McCullough explained that the GOP bill would unduly burden the court by increasing the judges’ workload. (Most cases are heard by three-judge panels; on a smaller court, each judge would have to hear more cases.) He also pointed out that a 12-member court can be deadlocked on those rare, usually significant cases that are heard by the full court. But his key concern seemed to be GOP’s assault on his court. In his interview, McCullough fondly recalled the era when Republican Gov. Jim Martin governed North Carolina alongside a Democratic-controlled General Assembly. In those days, McCullough noted sharply, the legislature “did not interfere with [the governor’s] power to make appointments to the judiciary.”

McCullough is a Republican and a conservative; he is no Democratic sympathizer. But it’s notable that the North Carolina GOP’s attack on the judiciary has so alienated him that he would rather let a Democrat replace him—as will happen under current law—than be complicit in Republicans’ scheme. In its quest for total domination over state politics, the General Assembly is driving away even its former allies. McCullough deserves credit for taking a stand against its ongoing legislative coup.

April 24 2017 5:02 PM

Berkeley Republicans Sue Over Ann Coulter Event

On Monday, the University of California—Berkeley College Republicans and the Young America’s Foundation filed a lawsuit against Berkeley over the postponement of a planned speech by Ann Coulter last week, ostensibly over security concerns. Coulter, whose speech was initially cancelled and then moved back a week, has said she intends to appear at Berkeley on the originally scheduled date, this Thursday, April 27, with or without Berkeley's approval. From the lawsuit:

This case arises from efforts by one of California’s leading public universities, UC Berkeley — once known as the birthplace of the “Free Speech Movement” — to restrict and stifle the speech of conservative students whose voices fall beyond the campus political orthodoxy. Though UC Berkeley promises its students an environment that promises free debate and the free exchange of ideas, it had breached this promise through the repressive actions of University administrators and campus police, who have systematically and intentionally suppressed constitutionally-protected expression by Plaintiffs...simply because that expression may anger or offend students, UC Berkeley administrators, and/or community members who do not share Plaintiff’s viewpoints.
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The repressive actions alleged by Berkeley Republicans and YAF include previous wrangling over a scheduled and ultimately cancelled speech by David Horowitz and Berkeley’s offer to reschedule Coulter’s speech for May 2—a date lawyers representing the groups say is unsuitable because it falls during a study period for students. Berkeley responded to lawyers by reiterating that security concerns, not Coulter’s opinions, had informed their decision. “Student organizations’ access to event venues on campus is subject to the availability of venues of appropriate size and the ability of the University to provide adequate security,” chief campus counsel Christopher Patti wrote in a letter to the lawyers.

“This Semester,” he wrote additionally, “UC Berkeley has dedicated more resources—in the form of staff time, administrative attention, police resources, and cash outlay—to facilitating BCR’s expressive activities than have been devoted to any other student group in memory.” Here Patti refers to the fracas surrounding Milo Yiannopoulos scheduled talk in February, which was ultimately cancelled and drew violent protests. A day after Milo had been scheduled to appear, Berkeley College Republicans released a statement thanking "UCPD and the university administration for doing all they could to ensure the safety of everyone involved."

Yiannopoulos, as it happens, announced plans for a "Free Speech Week" at Berkeley later this year on Friday. "We will hold talks and rallies and throw massive parties, all in the name of free expression and the First Amendment," he wrote on his Facebook page. "If UC Berkeley does not actively assist us in the planning and execution of this event, we will extend festivities to an entire month. We will establish a tent city on Sproul Plaza protesting the university's total dereliction of its duty and encourage students at other universities to follow suit."

The Coulter lawsuit comes less than a week after a federal judge granted an injunction forcing Auburn University to let white nationalist Richard Spencer speak at a planned event. That speech too had been cancelled on security grounds. “This is a moment to savor,” Spencer said in a video following the ruling. “We just achieved a great victory.” If far right speakers continue to force the hands of public universities—through legal action or simply by showing up as Coulter and Yiannopoulos intend to do—further victories are sure to come.

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