FBI Director James Comey was personally aware of reports from a "credible" Western former intelligence agent about Russia's alleged "cultivating, supporting, and assisting" of President-elect Donald Trump and his campaign, The Guardian reported late Tuesday, because Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) personally handed them to Comey in a Dec. 9 meeting, according to "a source aware of the meeting."
The Russia-Trump dossier began as opposition research during the campaign, but "its author was sufficiently alarmed by what he discovered to send a copy to the FBI," The Guardian says, and McCain, who was informed about the allegations from "an intermediary from a Western allied state," then "dispatched an emissary overseas to meet the source," whom he was "sufficiently impressed" with to feel obliged to pass the allegations on to Comey. But FBI agents were already concerned enough about ties between Trump's inner circle and Russia that they had sought court approval to monitor campaign officials, The Guardian reports:
The Guardian has learned that the FBI applied for a warrant from the foreign intelligence surveillance (FISA) court over the summer in order to monitor four members of the Trump team suspected of irregular contacts with Russian officials. The FISA court turned down the application, asking FBI counter-intelligence investigators to narrow its focus. According to one report, the FBI was finally granted a warrant in October, but that has not been confirmed, and it is not clear whether any warrant led to a full investigation. [The Guardian]
The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court is famously compliant with surveillance requests, declining just 11 of the more than 33,900 it had received in 33 years as of 2013 — or an approval rate of 99.97 percent (though that may be a slightly misleading number) — and no requests were denied in 2014 and 2015, according to the Electronic Privacy Information Center. Comey, when pressed by senators on Tuesday, would not say if the FBI is still investigating any ties between Russia and the president-elect. Trump tweeted that the reports are "FAKE NEWS" and "A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!" You can read more about those alleged ties at The Guardian, and the unverified (sometimes NSFW) allegations themselves at BuzzFeed News. Peter Weber
Five months after visiting the Obama White House to celebrate their 2016 World Series win, the Chicago Cubs expressed mixed feelings about the team's invitation to the Trump White House on Wednesday. "I just don't feel like I want to go," reliever Pedro Strop admitted to the Chicago Sun-Times.
Other Cubs were similarly ambivalent, with pitcher Justin Grimm saying he'd go if he didn't have family in town and relief pitcher Hector Rondon adding, "I prefer to stay in my room, get rest, and get prepared for the game."
Of 22 players interviewed by the Chicago Sun-Times, 10 said they were skipping the White House visit. But first baseman Anthony Rizzo said, "I'm going because it's the United States of America, and I'd rather not live anywhere else except this country. It's an honor. No political ties. It's the White House." Pitcher Mike Montgomery, who is also attending, was not quite as enthusiastic as his teammate but said it would be "maybe a little disrespectful to turn it down."
Reliever Carl Edwards Jr. is turning down the invitation — because he has better plans. "I'm trying to go see, like, the dinosaur museums," he said. Jeva Lange
Facebook teaches its censors to protect 'white men' from hate speech but to ignore comments about 'black children'
Documents detailing how Facebook chooses to censor content were published by ProPublica on Wednesday — and they might raise a few eyebrows. One particularly questionable slide used to train censors teaches that "white males" are a protected category and attacks against them warrant users being blocked while unprotected "subsets," such as "black children," are fair game for vile internet trolls.
The reason is because Facebook "protects" people on the grounds of sex, religious affiliation, national origin, gender identity, serious disability or disease, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and race, but does not protect social class, continental origin, appearance, age, occupation, political ideology, religions, or countries. "Irish women," then, is a protected category, but not "Irish teens."
Facebook defended its policy as an imperfect attempt to apply consistent protection of minorities and genders around the globe. "The policies do not always lead to perfect outcomes," admitted the head of global policy management at the company, Monika Bickert,. "That is the reality of having policies that apply to a global community where people around the world are going to have very different ideas about what is okay to share."
Internal docs show which groups Facebook’s policies protect from hate speech. Right answer? Black children? Female drivers? No, “white men”. pic.twitter.com/euaJtKUWPP
— Aral Balkan (@aral) June 28, 2017
Sometimes the policies appear to have especially imperfect outcomes, though. For example, swastikas are allowed on Facebook due to a rule permitting the "display [of] hate symbols for political messaging," but the statement "the French are the best but the Irish suck" would be banned because another rule states "it's okay to claim superiority for a nation ... but not at the expense of another nationality."
A recent thorny issue for Facebook has been speech regarding migrants:
After the wave of Syrian immigrants began arriving in Europe, Facebook added a special "quasi-protected" category for migrants, according to the documents. They are only protected against calls for violence and dehumanizing generalizations, but not against calls for exclusion and degrading generalizations that are not dehumanizing. So, according to one document, migrants can be referred to as "filthy" but not called "filth." They cannot be likened to filth or disease "when the comparison is in the noun form," the document explains. [ProPublica]
Perhaps it is unfair to compare the actions of a politician today to his promises made 27 years ago — it's hard enough to get politicians to live up to campaign promises made in the last election cycle. But this 1990 campaign ad from Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), now the Senate majority leader laboring to push through a massive health-care bill, seems fairly relevant.
"When I was a child and my dad was in World War II, I got polio," McConnell said in the ad, uncovered by Jeff Nichols, a Chicago historian. "I recovered, but my family almost went broke. Today, too many families can't get decent, affordable health care. That's why I've introduced a bill to make sure health care is available to all Kentucky families, hold down skyrocketing costs, and provide long-term care." In 1990, McConnell was running for a second term against Democrat Harvey Sloane, a doctor and former Louisville mayor, and the ad ends with a voiceover: "You don't have to be a doctor to deliver health care to Kentucky."
1990 Roger Ailes ad for Sen. McConnell. Parents “almost went broke.” when Mitch had polio, so he fights for “decent, affordable health care” pic.twitter.com/vwUmJ61vmj
— Jeff Nichols (@backwards_river) June 26, 2017
McConnell is still introducing health-care bills and still promising to "hold down skyrocketing costs," but the Congressional Budget Office predicts that his Better Care Reconciliation Act would result in 22 million fewer Americans with health insurance in a decade, starting with 15 million fewer insured next year. The bill's steep Medicaid cuts and structural changes would have an outsize impact on children and people in long-term nursing-home care. Kentucky has a total population of about 4.4 million, and its Republican Gov. Matt Bevin is scaling back the successful ObamaCare program instituted by his predecessor, former Gov. Steve Beshear (D) — who, incidentally, McConnell beat in his 1996 race.
As a side note, McConnell overcame polio with help from the Warm Springs Institute, funded by the organization that would become the March of Dimes; the March of Dimes is one of the medical groups McConnell declined to meet with last week over its concerns about his new health-care bill. Peter Weber
Americans are overwhelmingly unhappy with the Senate Republicans' proposed health-care legislation, a new NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist poll has found. Just 17 percent of people said they approved of the GOP's ObamaCare replacement, called the Better Care Reconciliation Act, while 55 percent said they disapproved.
That number ought to be a warning sign for the GOP, as it signals many members of the party's own base are not happy with the proposed solution. Just 35 percent of Republicans support the bill, the poll found, and 21 percent oppose it. Another 68 percent of independents oppose the Better Care act.
Overall, more Americans want ObamaCare expanded than curbed: 46 percent of Americans said ObamaCare should do more, while just 7 percent believe the Republicans' plan to reduce ObamaCare is the better option.
"With numbers like these, it's not surprising the Republican leadership in Congress is having a difficult time building consensus," the director of the Marist College Institute for Public Opinion, Lee Miringoff, told NPR. The poll surveyed 1,205 adults between June 21 and June 25 over landline and mobile phones. The margin of error is plus or minus 2.8 percent. Jeva Lange
Republican efforts to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act stalled Tuesday, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell delaying the vote until after the July 4 recess in hopes of rallying more support. President Trump expressed his frustration on Wednesday, in particular with a New York Times report that cited a Republican senator who believed, after a White House meeting, that "the president did not have a grasp of some basic elements of the Senate plan."
The failing @nytimes writes false story after false story about me. They don't even call to verify the facts of a story. A Fake News Joke!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2017
Some of the Fake News Media likes to say that I am not totally engaged in healthcare. Wrong, I know the subject well & want victory for U.S.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 28, 2017
The New York Times' Glenn Thrush replied to Trump's complaint. "Call your office, sir," he tweeted. "[The New York Times] spoke to many, many, many members of your staff yesterday — [and] ran everything by your team." Jeva Lange
Senate Republican leaders have not given up on their health-care bill, after Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) delayed a planned vote for this week until after the July 4 recess. McConnell and his lieutenants are trying to find changes that will bring at least 50 of the 52 Senate Republicans in line on the Better Care Reconciliation Act (BCRA), and one tool they are using is money. Monday's Congressional Budget Office score sent some Republicans running for cover, but it also gave McConnell $188 billion he could spend winning over members of his caucus.
Even before pulling the bill from an imminent floor vote, McConnell was considering channeling some of that pot of cash to health savings accounts, to win over conservative holdouts like Sens. Ted Cruz (Texas) and Mike Lee (Utah), Politico reports, while more moderate Republicans from states that expanded Medicaid under ObamaCare lobbied for shallower cuts to Medicaid and more money to fight opioid addiction. Tuesday was supposed to be "all about side deals," a Senate aide told Politico, though McConnell clearly did not reach such deals with enough senators as of Tuesday night.
McConnell's other move on Tuesday was to gather his entire GOP caucus at the White House, where President Trump listened to the concerns of GOP senators, sitting between two key holdouts, Sens. Susan Collins (Maine) and Lisa Murkowski (Alaska). Last week, senior political appointees at the Labor Department and Homeland Security Departments ordered staffers to write up a rule that would allow more H-2B temporary foreign work visas, "specifically mentioning innkeepers and fisheries in Maine and Alaska," Pro Publica reports, citing "three people with knowledge of the discussions." Collins and Murkowski have been pushing for more H-2B visas for their states for months, ahead of the peak summer season, to no avail.
No political officials directly tied the expedited visa rule to the BCRA, and a spokeswoman for Collins insisted, "There is no link — and there has been no attempt to link — this issue with the health-care bill." But staffers were concerned enough about the legal and ethical ramifications of tailoring the H-2B policy to fit two specific states that they pushed back. "It's not appropriate to pick and choose [which state or industry] should be winners and losers," said Laurie Flanagan at the H2-B Workforce Coalition. You can read more about foreign work visas and health-care politics at Pro Publica. Peter Weber
On Tuesday, the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrilla group officially disarmed, handing over the last of its 7,132 weapons to United Nations officials overseeing the peace deal FARC leaders signed with President Juan Manuel Santos last year, and giving the U.N. the coordinates to 900 weapons caches hidden around Colombia. Santos attended the demilitarization ceremony in the rural town of Mesetas, as did FARC commander Rodrigo Londono, or Timochenko, and 2,000 other former FARC guerrillas, local officials, and supporters of the controversial peace accord.
The FARC has "exchanged arms for words," and "peace is irreversible," Santos told the crowd. "Now we are just one people, just one nation. Long live peace." Londono focused on his movement's transition from paramilitary to political group, guaranteed 10 seats in Congress for two terms, starting in 2018. "Today doesn't end the existence of the FARC, it merely replaces the armed struggle with exclusively legal means," Londono said, explaining that the group's goal is the same — attaining power — even if its methods were different.
Such a disarmament by FARC rebels and beginning of a transition to civil society "once seemed unimaginable," the Los Angeles Times notes. Still, "although violence has decreased, Colombia is not yet tranquil." About 250 FARC guerrillas won't disarm, and the 1,000-member National Liberation Army (ELN) is still at war with Colombia, as are drug cartels. Also, Santos' political rivals are vowing to amend or undo the peace deal, and lots of things could still go awry. Tuesday's ceremony was a "day of joy" and a clear step toward a "more inclusive and peaceful Colombia," says Lisa Haugaar at the U.S. human rights group Latin America Working Group. "But everyone must play their part to have real peace, or this chance will be lost for another generation." Peter Weber