All posts by MPolitics

Obama Tells Students Democracy Depends on Their Vote in November

Former U.S. president Barack Obama, who has maintained a low public profile since leaving office, entered the midterm election battle Friday with a simple message: “You need to vote because our democracy depends on it.”

“A glance at recent headlines should tell you that this moment really is different. The stakes really are higher. The consequences of any of us sitting on the sidelines are more dire,” Obama told students at the University of Illinois-Urbana Champaign, where he accepted an ethics in government award.

In keeping with tradition, Obama has been reluctant to publicly comment on his successor, U.S. President Donald Trump, despite the fact Trump was a frequent critic of Obama.

The former president said the current state of Washington politics “did not start with Donald Trump. He is a symptom, not the cause. He’s just capitalizing on resentments that politicians have been fanning for years. A fear and anger that’s rooted in our past but is also born out of the enormous upheavals that have taken place in your brief lifetimes.”

Obama implored the students “to show up” at the polls in November, noting that only one in five young eligible voters cast ballots in the 2016 presidential election.

“This whole project of self-government only works if everybody’s doing their part. Don’t tell me your vote doesn’t matter,” he declared.

Obama’s appearance at the central Illinois university campus was the first of several campaign events in the coming weeks at which he will urge Democratic voters to cast ballots in November’s midterm elections to take control of Congress from Donald Trump’s Republican Party. 

The former president also will attend a Southern California event for seven Democratic candidates for the House of Representatives in Republican-controlled districts that supported Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton over Trump two years ago.

Obama will campaign in Ohio next week for Democratic gubernatorial candidate Richard Cordray, a former Obama administration official.

He will return to Illinois later this month and then appear in Pennsylvania, a key state that Democrats hope will help deliver the 23 seats needed to regain control of the House and stop the advancement of Trump’s agenda.

The Democratic and Republican parties have traditionally experienced sharp declines in voter turnout in non-presidential elections. But the November 6 election is widely perceived as a referendum on Trump, who regularly touts his accomplishments such as tax cuts and deregulation. However, a widening investigation into Russia’s interference in the 2016 election that Trump won and more frequent questions about his fitness for office have cast a pall over his presidency.

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Trump Officials Denounce Anonymous Attack From ‘The Quiet Resistance’

Top officials within the Trump administration, from Vice President Mike Pence to several key Cabinet members, have denied that they authored an anonymous opinion piece in the New York Times critical of President Donald Trump’s leadership. Publication of the column has set off a furious debate in Washington about the Trump presidency and a high-stakes guessing game as to who the mysterious dissident voice may be. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Trump Officials Denounce Anonymous Attack From ‘The Quiet Resistance’

Top officials within the Trump administration, from Vice President Mike Pence to several key Cabinet members, have denied that they authored an anonymous opinion piece in the New York Times critical of President Donald Trump’s leadership. Publication of the column has set off a furious debate in Washington about the Trump presidency and a high-stakes guessing game as to who the mysterious dissident voice may be. VOA National correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.

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Times’ Decision to Publish Anonymous Column Carries Risks

The coup of publishing a column by an anonymous Trump administration official bashing the boss could backfire on The New York Times if the author is unmasked and turns out to be a little-known person, or if the newspaper’s own reporters solve the puzzle.

Within hours of the essay’s appearance on the paper’s website, the mystery of the writer’s identity began to rival the Watergate-era hunt for “Deep Throat” in Washington, and a parade of Trump team members issued statements Thursday saying, in effect, “It’s not me.”

The Times’ only clue was calling the author a “senior administration official.” James Dao, the newspaper’s op-ed editor, said in the Times’ daily podcast that while an intermediary brought him together with the author, he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was “totally confident” in the identity.

How large the pool of “senior administration officials” is in Washington is a matter of interpretation.

It’s a term used loosely around the White House. Press offices often release statements or offer background briefings and ask that the information be attributed to a senior administration official.

The Partnership for Public Services tracks approximately 700 senior positions in government, ones that require Senate confirmation. Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert on the federal bureaucracy, said about 50 people could have legitimately written the column — probably someone in a political position appointed by Trump.

He suspects the author is in either a Cabinet-level or deputy secretary position who frequently visits the White House or someone who works in the maze of offices in the West Wing.

Perhaps not

Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that, based on her experience with the Times and sourcing, “this person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you’d expect.”

That would be a problem for the Times, partly through no fault of its own, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The column attracted so much attention — as much for its existence as for what it actually said — that it raised the expectation that the author is someone powerful, she said.

If the person is not among the 20 top people in the administration, “the Times just gets creamed,” said Tom Bettag, a veteran news producer and now a University of Maryland journalism instructor. “And I think it gets held against them in the biggest possible way. I have enough respect for the Times to believe that they wouldn’t hold themselves up to that.”

It would look like the Times was trying to stir the pot if it were not a high-level person, said Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press.

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, told Todd on MSNBC that if the author had come to the Post it would provoke a serious discussion, because the newspaper has not in the past run anonymous op-ed columns. She said no one approached the Post to hawk the column.

“When you give someone anonymity on this, you are putting your credibility on the line,” Marcus said.

News organizations have different standards for using information from unnamed sources. Frequently, they try to give some indication of why the person would be in a position to know something — the senior administration official, for example — and why anonymity was granted. In this case, the newspaper considered that the person’s job would clearly be at risk and that the person could even be physically threatened, Dao said.

He did not see much difference in the use of anonymity in news and opinion pages.

Longtime Trump target

The Times has long been a target of President Donald Trump’s vitriol. He criticized the newspaper for printing the column and said the Times should reveal its source for reasons of national security.

“There’s nothing in the piece that strikes me as being relevant to or undermining the national security,” Dao said.

The newspaper maintains a strict policy of separation between its news and opinion side, and the decision to publish the column without identifying the author was made by Dao and his boss, editorial page editor James Bennet, in consultation with publisher A.G. Sulzberger. The paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, is responsible for the news side and was not part of the decision.

Few people at the paper know the writer’s identity, Dao said, and he could not see any circumstances under which it would be divulged.

The Times’ own news story about the column said the author’s identity was “known to the Times’ editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House.”

Like hundreds of other reporters in Washington, the Times’ news staff is trying to find out the writer’s name. If the Times learns the identity, it could raise serious questions about the newspaper’s ability to protect a confidential source among people who don’t know — or don’t believe — that one part of the newspaper will keep important information away from another.

“You could write a novel about this,” said Jamieson, author of the upcoming Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President. “If they engage in successful journalism, at some level they discredit themselves.” 

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Times’ Decision to Publish Anonymous Column Carries Risks

The coup of publishing a column by an anonymous Trump administration official bashing the boss could backfire on The New York Times if the author is unmasked and turns out to be a little-known person, or if the newspaper’s own reporters solve the puzzle.

Within hours of the essay’s appearance on the paper’s website, the mystery of the writer’s identity began to rival the Watergate-era hunt for “Deep Throat” in Washington, and a parade of Trump team members issued statements Thursday saying, in effect, “It’s not me.”

The Times’ only clue was calling the author a “senior administration official.” James Dao, the newspaper’s op-ed editor, said in the Times’ daily podcast that while an intermediary brought him together with the author, he conducted a background check and spoke to the person to the point that he was “totally confident” in the identity.

How large the pool of “senior administration officials” is in Washington is a matter of interpretation.

It’s a term used loosely around the White House. Press offices often release statements or offer background briefings and ask that the information be attributed to a senior administration official.

The Partnership for Public Services tracks approximately 700 senior positions in government, ones that require Senate confirmation. Paul Light, a New York University professor and expert on the federal bureaucracy, said about 50 people could have legitimately written the column — probably someone in a political position appointed by Trump.

He suspects the author is in either a Cabinet-level or deputy secretary position who frequently visits the White House or someone who works in the maze of offices in the West Wing.

Perhaps not

Jennifer Palmieri, former communications director for Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential campaign, tweeted that, based on her experience with the Times and sourcing, “this person could easily be someone most of us have never heard of and more junior than you’d expect.”

That would be a problem for the Times, partly through no fault of its own, said Kathleen Hall Jamieson, communications professor and director of the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania. The column attracted so much attention — as much for its existence as for what it actually said — that it raised the expectation that the author is someone powerful, she said.

If the person is not among the 20 top people in the administration, “the Times just gets creamed,” said Tom Bettag, a veteran news producer and now a University of Maryland journalism instructor. “And I think it gets held against them in the biggest possible way. I have enough respect for the Times to believe that they wouldn’t hold themselves up to that.”

It would look like the Times was trying to stir the pot if it were not a high-level person, said Chuck Todd, host of NBC’s Meet the Press.

Ruth Marcus, deputy editorial page editor of The Washington Post, told Todd on MSNBC that if the author had come to the Post it would provoke a serious discussion, because the newspaper has not in the past run anonymous op-ed columns. She said no one approached the Post to hawk the column.

“When you give someone anonymity on this, you are putting your credibility on the line,” Marcus said.

News organizations have different standards for using information from unnamed sources. Frequently, they try to give some indication of why the person would be in a position to know something — the senior administration official, for example — and why anonymity was granted. In this case, the newspaper considered that the person’s job would clearly be at risk and that the person could even be physically threatened, Dao said.

He did not see much difference in the use of anonymity in news and opinion pages.

Longtime Trump target

The Times has long been a target of President Donald Trump’s vitriol. He criticized the newspaper for printing the column and said the Times should reveal its source for reasons of national security.

“There’s nothing in the piece that strikes me as being relevant to or undermining the national security,” Dao said.

The newspaper maintains a strict policy of separation between its news and opinion side, and the decision to publish the column without identifying the author was made by Dao and his boss, editorial page editor James Bennet, in consultation with publisher A.G. Sulzberger. The paper’s executive editor, Dean Baquet, is responsible for the news side and was not part of the decision.

Few people at the paper know the writer’s identity, Dao said, and he could not see any circumstances under which it would be divulged.

The Times’ own news story about the column said the author’s identity was “known to the Times’ editorial page department but not to the reporters who cover the White House.”

Like hundreds of other reporters in Washington, the Times’ news staff is trying to find out the writer’s name. If the Times learns the identity, it could raise serious questions about the newspaper’s ability to protect a confidential source among people who don’t know — or don’t believe — that one part of the newspaper will keep important information away from another.

“You could write a novel about this,” said Jamieson, author of the upcoming Cyberwar: How Russian Hackers and Trolls Helped Elect a President. “If they engage in successful journalism, at some level they discredit themselves.” 

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Feds Lift Roadblock to Copper Mining Near Boundary Waters

The Trump administration on Thursday lifted a roadblock to copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeastern Minnesota, reversing a decision made in the final days of the Obama administration.

The Obama administration in late 2016 withdrew around 234,000 acres of the Rainy River watershed near Ely from eligibility for mineral leasing pending a two-year study, citing the potential threat from acid mine drainage to the nearby Boundary Waters, the country’s most-visited wilderness area. The move could have led to a 20-year ban on mining and prospecting on the land.

The most immediate beneficiary is Twin Metals Minnesota, which hopes to build a copper-nickel-precious metals mine south of Ely. It plans to submit its first formal mining plan to regulators in the next 18 months.

The land is part of the Superior National Forest, which is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency under the Department of Agriculture. The USDA canceled the withdrawal Thursday, saying its review revealed no new scientific information and that interested companies may soon be able to sign mineral leases in the area.

“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

The decision had been expected. President Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Duluth in June that his administration would soon rescind the withdrawal.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, The Wilderness Society and allied groups denounced the decision as a sellout to foreign corporate interests. They blasted the agency for failing to complete the study, despite Perdue’s assurances to a congressional committee in May 2017 that it would and that no decision would be made until it was finished.

“The Trump Administration broke its word to us, to Congress, and to the American people when it said it would finish the environmental assessment and base decisions on facts and science,” Alex Falconer, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement.

Forest Service spokesman Brady Smith said the agency determined that there was no need to complete the assessment, based on what it had learned over the last 15 months. But he said the Forest Service met its obligations to conduct a scientific analysis that included multiple opportunities for public feedback.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the lead Democrat on a subcommittee that funds the Forest Service, issued a statement accusing Perdue of breaking his promise to her panel, “bending to political pressure from a foreign mining company and abandoning sound science.” She said Perdue’s word “cannot be trusted.”

But Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta, welcomed the decision, which will also give a freer hand to other companies that have conducted exploratory drilling in the area.

“This important action ensures that federal lands that have been open to responsible mining activity for decades will remain open, offering the Iron Range region the potential for thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth,” Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne said in a statement.

The Trump administration in May reinstated two key mineral leases for Twin Metals that the Obama administration had declined to renew. Environmental groups are challenging that decision in court.

The Twin Metals project is not as advanced as the planned PolyMet mine, which would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine if it gets final approval of its permits. PolyMet sits several miles away in a different watershed.

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Feds Lift Roadblock to Copper Mining Near Boundary Waters

The Trump administration on Thursday lifted a roadblock to copper-nickel mining near the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness of northeastern Minnesota, reversing a decision made in the final days of the Obama administration.

The Obama administration in late 2016 withdrew around 234,000 acres of the Rainy River watershed near Ely from eligibility for mineral leasing pending a two-year study, citing the potential threat from acid mine drainage to the nearby Boundary Waters, the country’s most-visited wilderness area. The move could have led to a 20-year ban on mining and prospecting on the land.

The most immediate beneficiary is Twin Metals Minnesota, which hopes to build a copper-nickel-precious metals mine south of Ely. It plans to submit its first formal mining plan to regulators in the next 18 months.

The land is part of the Superior National Forest, which is controlled by the U.S. Forest Service, an agency under the Department of Agriculture. The USDA canceled the withdrawal Thursday, saying its review revealed no new scientific information and that interested companies may soon be able to sign mineral leases in the area.

“It’s our duty as responsible stewards of our environment to maintain and protect our natural resources. At the same time, we must put our national forests to work for the taxpayers to support local economies and create jobs,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement.

The decision had been expected. President Donald Trump said at a campaign rally in Duluth in June that his administration would soon rescind the withdrawal.

The Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, The Wilderness Society and allied groups denounced the decision as a sellout to foreign corporate interests. They blasted the agency for failing to complete the study, despite Perdue’s assurances to a congressional committee in May 2017 that it would and that no decision would be made until it was finished.

“The Trump Administration broke its word to us, to Congress, and to the American people when it said it would finish the environmental assessment and base decisions on facts and science,” Alex Falconer, executive director of the Campaign to Save the Boundary Waters, said in a statement.

Forest Service spokesman Brady Smith said the agency determined that there was no need to complete the assessment, based on what it had learned over the last 15 months. But he said the Forest Service met its obligations to conduct a scientific analysis that included multiple opportunities for public feedback.

U.S. Rep. Betty McCollum, the lead Democrat on a subcommittee that funds the Forest Service, issued a statement accusing Perdue of breaking his promise to her panel, “bending to political pressure from a foreign mining company and abandoning sound science.” She said Perdue’s word “cannot be trusted.”

But Twin Metals, which is owned by the Chilean mining company Antofagasta, welcomed the decision, which will also give a freer hand to other companies that have conducted exploratory drilling in the area.

“This important action ensures that federal lands that have been open to responsible mining activity for decades will remain open, offering the Iron Range region the potential for thousands of new jobs and billions of dollars in economic growth,” Twin Metals CEO Kelly Osborne said in a statement.

The Trump administration in May reinstated two key mineral leases for Twin Metals that the Obama administration had declined to renew. Environmental groups are challenging that decision in court.

The Twin Metals project is not as advanced as the planned PolyMet mine, which would become Minnesota’s first copper-nickel mine if it gets final approval of its permits. PolyMet sits several miles away in a different watershed.

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Twitter Bans Jones, ‘Infowars,’ Citing Abuse

Twitter has permanently banned far-right media personality Alex Jones for violating its policy against “abusive behavior.”

Jones, who is known as a conspiracy theorist, has about 900,000 followers on Twitter. His Infowars website has hundreds of thousands of followers, as well.

Twitter accused Jones of violating its policy after he was seen on television berating and insulting a CNN reporter waiting to enter congressional hearings on social media policies.

Jones called the reporter a smiling “possum caught doing some really nasty stuff” and also made fun of his clothes.

Twitter had previously suspended Jones’ account, but now he is banned from posting on the social media site.

Jones has yet to comment.

Jones is one of the country’s most controversial media figures, known for saying the President George W. Bush White House was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre a fake. Some of the parents of the murdered children are suing Jones.

The congressional hearings were focused on whether such social media sites as Google and Facebook are prepared against fake foreign accounts that may be aimed at influencing U.S. elections.

The hearings came just after President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine of being biased against him.

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Twitter Bans Jones, ‘Infowars,’ Citing Abuse

Twitter has permanently banned far-right media personality Alex Jones for violating its policy against “abusive behavior.”

Jones, who is known as a conspiracy theorist, has about 900,000 followers on Twitter. His Infowars website has hundreds of thousands of followers, as well.

Twitter accused Jones of violating its policy after he was seen on television berating and insulting a CNN reporter waiting to enter congressional hearings on social media policies.

Jones called the reporter a smiling “possum caught doing some really nasty stuff” and also made fun of his clothes.

Twitter had previously suspended Jones’ account, but now he is banned from posting on the social media site.

Jones has yet to comment.

Jones is one of the country’s most controversial media figures, known for saying the President George W. Bush White House was responsible for the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. He also called the 2012 Sandy Hook Elementary school massacre a fake. Some of the parents of the murdered children are suing Jones.

The congressional hearings were focused on whether such social media sites as Google and Facebook are prepared against fake foreign accounts that may be aimed at influencing U.S. elections.

The hearings came just after President Donald Trump accused Google’s search engine of being biased against him.

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Facebook, Twitter, Step Up Defenses Ahead of Midterm Election

Facebook and Twitter executives defended their efforts to prevent Russian meddling in U.S. midterm elections before congressional panels Wednesday. The social media companies’ efforts to provide assurances to lawmakers come amid warnings from internet researchers that Moscow still has active social media accounts aimed at influencing U.S. political discourse. VOA’s Congressional Correspondent Katherine Gypson has more from Capitol Hill.

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