Mueller Rejects Flynn’s Attempt to Portray Himself as Victim of the F.B.I. – The New York Times

“A sitting national security adviser, former head of an intelligence agency, retired lieutenant general and 33-year veteran of the armed forces knows he should not lie to federal agents,” prosecutors wrote in court papers. “He does not need to be warned it is a crime to lie to federal agents to know the importance of telling them the truth.”

Brazil Will Test a Government in Direct Connection with Voters

Can they avoid full blown fascism? Will Brazil be the second Venezuela?

Jair Bolsonaro and his vice president-elect are retired military officers, and the president-elect will appoint seven other officers to the ministerial cabinet. Since he was elected president of Brazil, the far-right politician has shown his predilection for participating in military ceremonies, such as the graduation of Navy officers in Rio de Janeiro seen in this photo. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil-Fotos Públicas

Jair Bolsonaro and his vice president-elect are retired military officers, and the president-elect will appoint seven other officers to the ministerial cabinet. Since he was elected president of Brazil, the far-right politician has shown his predilection for participating in military ceremonies, such as the graduation of Navy officers in Rio de Janeiro seen in this photo. Credit: Tânia Rêgo/Agência Brasil-Fotos Públicas

By Mario Osava
RIO DE JANEIRO, Dec 14 2018 (IPS)

The government that will take office on Jan. 1 in Brazil, presided over by Jair Bolsonaro, will put to the test the extreme right in power, with beliefs that sound anachronistic and a management based on a direct connection with the public.

“People’s power no longer needs intermediation, new technologies allow a new direct relationship between voters and their representatives,” Bolsonaro said when he received the document officially naming him president-elect by the Superior Electoral Tribunal on Dec. 10 in Brasilia.

It is no secret what role was played by the social networks, especially WhatsApp, in Brazil’s October elections, which led to the election of a lawmaker with an obscure 27-year career in Congress.”Democracy is not in crisis because of WhatsApp, but because of the lack of a social pact, because trade unions and political parties are no longer representative…He (president-elect Jair Bolsonaro) knew how to use the social networks to present himself as the solution (and) they may or may not help him once he’s in the government.” — Giuseppe Cocco

But now he has to govern. Based on his speeches and recent experience, Bolsonaro, 63, will continue to turn to the social networks as president and successful disciple of U.S. President Donald Trump.

“But they are two very different realities, the elections and governing. The president-elect has shown that he is still campaigning, but now it’s not about promises, it’s about presenting results,” said Fernando Lattmann-Weltman, professor of political science at the Rio de Janeiro State University (UERJ).

“Without satisfactory results, the greatest risk is that the government will become unviable, if its relations with the other branches of power and with institutions and organised groups deteriorate,” and the strong expectations of change created in the elections are frustrated, he said.

Bolsonaro also made the usual promise that he would govern for all, as “president of Brazil’s 210 million people.” But experts agree that direct communication with voters is biased and tends to fuel antagonism that lingers after the elections, as in the case of the United States of Donald Trump.

Social networks expand the possibilities of dialogue between people, as interactive media accessible to growing parts of the population. But they are not public like the press, radio and open television. They are limited to family, friends or circles of common interest.

As a political tool, they often give rise to groups of shared opinions and beliefs, or digital sects. They do not promote debate, argumentation and confrontation of ideas, also because in general they are used for short messages, slogans and “fake news”.

In this sense, they aggravate polarisation and antagonism. A government based on these connections would tend to accentuate conflicts, crises and threats to democracy, analysts argue.

“Democracy is not in crisis because of WhatsApp, but because of the lack of a social pact, because trade unions and political parties are no longer representative,” said Giuseppe Cocco, a professor at the School of Communication at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro.

Social networks do have a “club effect,” but today they are “an indisputable aspect of our lives” in their various dimensions, whether it be material production, communication, services or even politics, he told IPS.

In Cocco’s view, “its use in the election campaign does not explain Bolsonaro’s triumph,” which he said was due to the desire of the majority of Brazilian voters for a change against corruption, a political system that has lost credibility, the economic crisis and growing crime and insecurity.

“He knew how to use the social networks to present himself as the solution,” he said, adding that “they may or may not help him once he’s in the government,” depending on how he uses them.

Jair Bolsonaro receives the document officially naming him president-elect of Brazil, next to his wife, two of his five children - one of whom is a member of the lower house and the other a senator - and their wives. A staunch defender of the traditional family, his will have a strong presence in his government, which has already begun to spark conflicts and scandals involving some of his offspring. Credit: Roberto Jayme/Ascom/TSE-Fotos Públicas

Jair Bolsonaro (C-L) receives the document officially naming him president-elect of Brazil, next to his wife, two of his five children – one of whom is a member of the lower house and the other a senator – and their wives. A staunch defender of the traditional family, his will have a strong presence in his government, which has already begun to spark conflicts and scandals involving some of his offspring. Credit: Roberto Jayme/Ascom/TSE-Fotos Públicas

But there are a number of researchers around the world who say the social networks have had a negative effect on democracy, due to their use in the wide dissemination of “fake news”.

They also refer to foreign interference in elections, such as the suspected Russian meddling in the 2016 U.S. presidential elections, and to pressure exerted by directly connected voters as if they were “the voice of the people.”

At the same time, Whatsapp has become the most widely utilised instrument when it comes to organising major social mobilisations, such as the truck driver strike that paralysed Brazil in May and the “yellow vest” uprising in France, which began on Nov. 17 as protests against fuel price hikes and ballooned into a much broader movement.

In the past that role was played by the landline telephone, now almost completely replaced by the cell phone. Social networks like Twitter and Facebook became decisive in elections like Trump’s in 2016 and mobilisations such as the “Arab Spring” in North Africa, said Cocco, an Italian who has lived in Brazil since 1995.

But it is not only a technical evolution; WhatsApp is a “closed network” that does not allow the provenance of the messages to be identified, or whoever is responsible when messages that could be criminal are disseminated, in contrast with other media.

This warning comes from Alessandra Aldé, postgraduate professor of Communication at UERJ and coordinator of a research group on this application, who repeated it in interviews given to local media after the October elections.

Bolsonaro used WhatsApp massively in his election campaign.

In addition, businessmen allegedly used their own money to spread false accusations on WhatsApp against the candidate of the leftist Workers’ Party, Fernando Haddad, in violation of the country’s election laws, reported the daily Folha de São Paulo on Oct. 18, 10 days before the presidential runoff election.

Many analysts point to similarities between Trump and Bolsonaro because of their electoral success driven by social networks and their extreme right-wing policies.

But the Brazilian leader was elected with “a more fragile support base,” without the backing of a party like Trump’s Republican Party, or of experienced lawmakers, Lattman-Weltman told IPS.

Bolsonaro comes from a military background. In 1988, the retired army captain became a city councillor in Rio de Janeiro. Two years later he was elected to the lower house of Congress, and was eventually re-elected six times. He never held an executive branch position and was not a leader of any political party.

The party he joined in May, the Liberal Social Party (PSL), only won a single seat in the lower house of Congress in 2014. But in October it garnered 52 of the 513 seats, and gained a foothold in the Senate for the first time, taking four seats – five percent of the total. A large part of its success was due to the sudden popularity of Bolsonaro.

Another risk, with perhaps more serious and immediate consequences, is the beliefs of the two central power groups in the next government, one deeply religious and the other military. “God above all” was the slogan of Bolsonaro’s campaign and of the government that begins its four-year term on Jan. 1.

Seven armed forces officers will form part of the 22-member ministerial cabinet. In addition there is the president and his vice president, retired General Hamilton Mourão, making up the most militarised government in the history of Brazil’s democracy.

Bolsonaro has rejected, for example, the holding of the world climate conference in Brazil in 2019, and threatens to pulls out of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change, saying it jeopardises Brazil’s sovereignty over 136 million hectares of Amazon rainforest, because of a plan to turn it into an ecological corridor, the Triple A.

This type of fear is widespread among the Brazilian military, who also suspect that land reserved for indigenous people may become part of the international domain or independent, which is why they resist the demarcation of indigenous reserves.

But actually the Andes-Amazon-Atlantic (Triple A) ecological corridor was proposed by a Colombian environmental organisation, Gaia Amazonas, and was neither approved by nor is part of the climate talks.

The post Brazil Will Test a Government in Direct Connection with Voters appeared first on Inter Press Service.

Trump’s Inauguration Paid Trump’s Company — With Ivanka in the Middle

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by Ilya Marritz, WNYC, and Justin Elliott, ProPublica

When it came out this year that President Donald Trump’s inaugural committee raised and spent unprecedented amounts, people wondered where all that money went.

It turns out one beneficiary was Trump himself.

The inauguration paid the Trump Organization for rooms, meals and event space at the company’s Washington hotel, according to interviews as well as internal emails and receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica.

During the planning, Ivanka Trump, the president-elect’s eldest daughter and a senior executive with the Trump Organization, was involved in negotiating the price the hotel charged the 58th Presidential Inaugural Committee for venue rentals. A top inaugural planner emailed Ivanka and others at the company to “express my concern” that the hotel was overcharging for its event spaces, worrying of what would happen “when this is audited.”

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If the Trump hotel charged more than the going rate for the venues, it could violate tax law. The inaugural committee’s payments to the Trump Organization and Ivanka Trump’s role have not been previously reported or disclosed in public filings.

“The fact that the inaugural committee did business with the Trump Organization raises huge ethical questions about the potential for undue enrichment,” said Marcus Owens, the former head of the division of the Internal Revenue Service that oversees nonprofits.

Inaugural workers had other misgivings. Rick Gates, then the deputy to the chairman of the inaugural, asked some vendors to take payments directly from donors, rather than through the committee, according to two people with direct knowledge. The vendors felt the request was unusual and concerning, according to these people, who spoke on condition of anonymity because they signed confidentiality agreements. It is not clear whether any vendors took him up on his request.

The revelations about the inauguration’s finances show how Trump blurred the lines between his political and business lives, as the real estate mogul ascended to the presidency.

On Thursday, The Wall Street Journal reported that federal prosecutors in New York have opened a criminal investigation into whether the inaugural committee misspent money and whether donors gave in return for political favors, citing people familiar with the matter. In addition, The New York Times reported that prosecutors are examining whether foreigners illegally funnelled money to the inauguration.

Peter Mirijanian, a spokesman for Ivanka Trump’s ethics lawyer, said: “When contacted by someone working on the inauguration, Ms. Trump passed the inquiry on to a hotel official and said only that any resulting discussions should be at a ‘fair market rate.’ Ms. Trump was not involved in any additional discussions.”

Mirijanian did not provide evidence that Ivanka Trump sought a fair market rate.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said it “is not aware of any pending investigations and has not been contacted by any prosecutors. We simply have no evidence the investigation exists.” The White House and a lawyer for Gates did not immediately respond to requests for comment. A spokesman for the Manhattan federal prosecutors’ office declined to comment. The Trump Organization did not comment.

“That doesn’t have anything to do with the president or the first lady,” White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders told reporters on Thursday night, when asked about the story in the Journal.

President-elect Trump was repeatedly briefed on inaugural planning and specific events, according to one committee worker with direct knowledge. WNYC and ProPublica have seen presentations that were shown to the president-elect, complete with renderings and floor plans.

Trump’s 2017 inauguration committee, which was chaired by his friend the businessman Tom Barrack, raised nearly $107 million from donors including the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson and AT&T. The January 2017 festivities cost almost twice President Obama’s 2009 inauguration, previously the most expensive. The nonprofit that planned Trump’s inauguration booked many spaces in the Trump International Hotel, located in the Old Post Office building near the White House, including a ballroom, hotel rooms and work spaces, as well as paying for meals there, according to several people who worked on the inauguration.

How the inaugural committee managed to spend all the money it raised remains a mystery, nearly two years after the event. While groups that support political candidates or issues must publicly detail their spending, an inaugural committee is required to list only its top five contractors. That leaves about $40 million unaccounted for.

Greg Jenkins, who led George W. Bush’s second inauguration, was perplexed by the Trump team’s mammoth fundraising haul. “They had a third of the staff and a quarter of the events and they raise at least twice as much as we did,” Jenkins told WNYC and ProPublica this year. “So there’s the obvious question: Where did it go? I don’t know.”

As planning for the inauguration was underway in December 2016, Ivanka Trump was still an executive vice president at the Trump Organization. But she was reportedly preparing to move to Washington and take on a greater public role. She now serves as an adviser to the president.

Around the middle of the month, with Inauguration Day scarcely a month away, Ivanka Trump was asked to help resolve a dispute between inaugural planners and her family’s Washington hotel, according to emails.

The problem: Organizers thought the hotel was charging too much money.

Emails show that Ivanka Trump connected Gates with Mickael Damelincourt, managing director of the hotel. Damelincourt responded with a new rate of $175,000 per day for use of the Presidential Ballroom and meeting rooms, offering a $700,000 charge for four days of use.

It is not clear what the earlier price was, but Damelincourt’s revised rate did not satisfy one of the lead organizers of the inauguration, Stephanie Winston Wolkoff.

In an email to Ivanka Trump and Gates, Wolkoff, who had previously managed the Metropolitan Museum’s annual gala and fashion shows at Lincoln Center, expressed discomfort with the price.

“I wanted to follow up on our conversation and express my concern,” Wolkoff wrote in the December email.

“These events are in PE’s [the president-elect’s] honor at his hotel and one of them is for family and close friends. Please take into consideration that when this is audited it will become public knowledge,” she wrote, noting that other locations would be provided to the inaugural committee for free.

“I understand that compared to the original pricing this is great but we should look at the whole context,” Wolkoff wrote, suggesting a day rate of $85,000, less than half of the Trump hotel’s offer.

A former Trump hotel staffer confirmed that the inaugural committee paid for inaugural week events at the hotel. It’s not clear what price the committee ultimately paid. Previous media coverage has focused on spending by outside groups at the Trump hotel but it was not known that the official inaugural committee itself spent significant sums there.

Wolkoff also raised concerns about spending in a conversation with then-Trump attorney Michael Cohen, according to the story in the Journal. Federal prosecutors have a recording of that conversation, according to the Journal. The Times story suggests that conversation took place well after the inauguration.

Wolkoff, who is a friend of first lady Melania Trump, did not respond to a request for comment. Wolkoff’s firm, WIS Media Partners, was the inauguration’s highest-paid contactor, according to the committee’s tax filing. Wolkoff was scrutinized in media accounts this year because the firm received nearly $26 million. Most of that of the money was passed on to subcontractors, according to a person familiar with the spending. It is possible that payments to the Trump hotel were included in that sum.

If the Trump hotel charged the inaugural committee above-market rates, it could violate tax rules, according to Owens, the nonprofit tax expert who is now a partner at the law firm Loeb & Loeb.

If a person with “substantial influence” over a nonprofit group charges the group above-market rates in a transaction with their outside business, the IRS can impose steep fines. In this case, Donald Trump could qualify as a person with such influence. Should the tax agency find that a violation occurred, the Trump Organization would have to refund any overcharge and the inaugural committee would be hit with a 25 percent tax on the money, Owens said.

Owens added that IRS audits of nonprofits are increasingly rare. Since the inaugural committee was incorporated in Virginia, the state attorney general there could also have standing to investigate its operations.

A spokeswoman for the inaugural committee said its finances “were fully audited internally and independently and are fully accounted. … These were funds raised from private individuals and were then spent in accordance with the law and the expectations of the donors.”

The inaugural committee spent money at the Trump International in Washington in other ways as well. Many workers came from California and New York and stayed at the hotel, eating their meals there and holding meetings. Receipts reviewed by WNYC and ProPublica show they typically paid about $350 a night. According to an inaugural worker, 15 to 20 inaugural workers stayed at the hotel most nights for roughly a month in the run-up to the inauguration, at a total cost of what could be more than $200,000.

The professional resumes of top Trump hotel staffers indicate they worked closely with the presidential inaugural committee. The hotel’s director of food and beverage says on his LinkedIn profile that he was “working with PIC [Presidential Inaugural Committee] during the 2017 Inauguration” and a “related series of very special events.”

The day before Trump’s swearing in, the inaugural committee hosted a Leadership Luncheon in the hotel’s Presidential Ballroom, featuring his cabinet nominees and major donors. “This is a gorgeous room,” the president-elect told the crowd. “A total genius must have built this place.” And the night of the inauguration itself, Trump’s family and close allies such as Sean Hannity celebrated into the early morning at an exclusive after-party in the Trump hotel’s grand lobby. Thousands of red, white and blue balloons were released from the rafters.

Some vendors for the inauguration became concerned when Gates, a top inaugural committee official, asked them to take payments outside of the normal committee invoicing process, according to two people with knowledge of what happened. He proposed that they be paid for their work directly from a would-be donor rather than by the committee. Gates told the vendors that the inaugural committee had received pledges of more money than was initially targeted, and, therefore, he wished to reduce the publicly reported sum raised.

Gates did not respond to a request for comment. Last February, he pleaded guilty to unrelated charges of lying to the FBI and conspiracy, as part of special counsel Robert Mueller’s inquiry.

Over the summer, Gates was cross examined about his work for the inauguration in the trial of his former boss, Paul Manafort. Gates conceded that he might have charged personal expenses to the committee. “It’s possible,” he said.

In a separate episode this year, a U.S. lobbyist pleaded guilty to helping a Ukrainian businessman and member of Parliament buy tickets to the inauguration, in violation of rules barring the committee from taking foreign money. The inaugural committee was not accused of wrongdoing in that case.

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6-Year-Old Separated From His Father Tells Judge He Wants to Go Home

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by Eva Ruth Moravec for ProPublica

Nearly an hour into Judge Anibal Martinez’s afternoon immigration docket, the bailiff called out Wilder Maldonado’s name. The 6-year-old hadn’t made a fuss about the wait, quietly coloring pictures of animals. Now, he set aside his blue crayon, tiptoed up to the defendant’s table and took a long, deep breath.

Wilder Hilario Maldonado Cabrera, chubby-cheeked with a toothless grin, has done a lot of waiting. He and his father left grinding poverty El Salvador for the United States in June, but they were caught by Border Patrol agents after they illegally entered the country. The agents then separated the pair — along with nearly 3,000 others — as part of the administration’s zero-tolerance policy. Faced with sweeping condemnations, the administration retreated from the policy and, led by immigrant advocates and lawyers, began putting the families back together. Wilder’s case is one of the last that remains unresolved.

Since their separation, Wilder has been living in a temporary foster home in San Antonio while his father is held in an immigration detention facility less than an hour’s drive away. Wilder has spent the last six months — one-twelfth of his life — in limbo, waiting for his father’s plea for asylum to work its way through the system and determine whether the two of them could start a new life in the United States, or be sent back to the one they left.

Part of Wilder’s waiting involved coming to Martinez’s court. Wilder was last here a few weeks ago, right before Thanksgiving. That day, he was striking, wearing a hat stitched with two googly eyes and a red yarn mohawk. This time, he dressed without flourish, in a dark denim jacket with gray sleeves. Last time, he appeared alone, without a lawyer. This time, his father’s lawyer, Thelma O. Garcia, appeared on both the father and son’s behalf.

Garcia said that Wilder’s father had been denied asylum and had decided not to appeal any further. He’d grown desperate sitting in detention, while his wife and three other children remained back in El Salvador struggling to cobble together enough money to eat. He was his family’s sole breadwinner, Garcia said, and if he wasn’t going to be able to stay here, he needed urgently to go home. And he wanted take Wilder with him.

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But one of the quirks of the zero-tolerance reunification system required Wilder to affirmatively tell a judge that he wanted to go. That’s why Garcia had joined him in court.

“We are requesting a voluntary departure for this young man,” Garcia said.

“He wishes to return to El Salvador?” the judge asked.

“Yes,” Garcia said.

“Would his return place him in any danger or harm?” the judge asked.

“The parents are there for him, and he should not be in any danger,” she said.

Then the judge peered down from the bench at Wilder. “You want to go home to your mother?”

Wilder nodded eagerly, smiling at the judge, who he referred to as “El Señor.”

Then the judge ordered it so, and he set a six-week deadline for Wilder to leave the country, as if his departure was up to him.

At that moment, the only departure that really seemed to matter to Wilder was getting out of the courtroom. He yawned and looked around for his caseworker. He asked Garcia, whose hands he’d adorned with stickers, whether she’d call him to play again sometime. Then, as he got up to leave, he was asked how he felt. His answer suggested that the moment was bittersweet. He wants to go home to his mother and sisters, but he’s also become attached to his foster parent, a woman he calls “tía,” or aunt.

“I’m tired,” he said. “And I’m sad because I have to leave my tía.”

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Team Trump says it’s making school lunches ‘great again.’ It’s making them less healthy

It wasn’t until the Trump administration recently rolled back nutritional standards for school lunches that I became aware of an organization called the School Nutrition Assn., which sounds like the sort of group that fights to protect our kids from the ravages of junk food.

So it was with more…

‘She did it all’: Grammy award-winning singer Nancy Wilson dies aged 81

RIP

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Wilson, whose hits ranged from R&B to jazz and funk and called herself a ‘song stylist’, died in California after a long illness

Grammy award-winning singer Nancy Wilson, whose hits ranged from R&B to jazz and funk, died at her California home at age 81 on Thursday after a long illness, her publicist has said.

Wilson, who came to fame as a torch singer in the 1960s, called herself a “song stylist” and resisted labeling as a jazz singer for most of her career since she could cross many genres.

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