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Vladimir Putin’s goal was to destabilize the United States. This week showed how he’s succeeding

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There has been plenty of fighting over exactly what Vladimir Putin's goal was in interfering in the 2016 U.S. election. The intelligence community has concluded he favored Donald Trump, but Trump has publicly cast doubt on this, and members of his administration have regularly sought to obscure it.
In a way this all misses the point. The even-bigger motivation wasn't necessarily about Trump personally; it was about destabilizing the American system of government. “Russian efforts to influence the 2016 US presidential election represent the most recent expression of Moscow’s longstanding desire to undermine the US-led liberal democratic order,” begins the January 2017 report from the U.S. intelligence community. Trump, by virtue of his controversial style and tendency to destroy societal norms, simply became the most obvious conduit — arguably a near-perfect one, in fact.
And this week showed just what a success it all has been for Putin.
Nearly every week we feel as though we've crossed the Rubicon, but this week outflanked the vast majority of them. The president of the United States publicly suggested his attorney general shut down an investigation of the president of the United States. Tensions between President Trump and the media boiled over at a couple Trump rallies, and the White House seemed to double down on its emerging campaign to tag the media not just as “fake news” but the “enemy of the American people.” And a growing number of Trump supporters at those same rallies seemed to be embracing a particularly bizarre, baseless and dangerous conspiracy theory known as “QAnon” — which could soon, with just one tweet from our conspiracy-theorist president, explode.
Large swaths of the country have decided that Trump is guilty of collusion and obstruction of justice. Many have also decided he is beholden to Putin — that the Russian president does have that much-discussed kompromat on Trump. There are certainly much more innocent explanations, including that Trump is merely the world's most politically powerful contrarian — a guy who can't be controlled and who is bent on getting and keeping the country's attention no matter what it takes.
But the practical implications are really the same: Whatever his reasons, we have a president who is quite happy to destabilize the system of American government — and indeed thinks that's the goal in many ways. And destabilizing it he is.
Trump's style has at once drawn his supporters to rally around him almost unflinchingly and forced others to adopt new, unfamiliar tactics. Democrats have increasingly warmed to a more extreme response to Trump, up to and including impeachment, public harassment of Trump officials, and shuttering Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). The media, whose job it is to promote and protect the truth, has been forced into an unusually antagonistic relationship with Trump, given his more than 4,000 misleading claims and falsehoods as president and his flouting of political and diplomatic norms. And for Trump's supporters, this has reinforced the us-vs.-them dichotomy. Everyone is digging in.
Leading that list is Trump. Mere hours after his top national security officials on Thursday emphasized their hard work to prevent a repeat of 2016 in November's election, Trump was emphasizing a positive relationship with Putin. He has also increasingly called the special-counsel investigation that seeks accountability for 2016 (and has indicted more than two dozen Russians) a “witch hunt” that is chasing after a “hoax.” And the most recent word from him also suggests he still doesn't totally buy the intel community's conclusions. Through all of it, Trump has challenged his supporters to place inordinate faith in him and to embrace his scorched-earth tactics, and they have obliged.
I've written before about how I think this all will end poorly, with no easy resolution and the distinct possibility of a full-fledged crisis. With so many people so vehemently subscribing to polar-opposite versions of the truth and prescriptions for the country's future, sometimes it seems a historic clash is inevitable. The best we can say is that the system has held strong — that the economy is buzzing along and that Trump's affronts to our allies and flirtation with our enemies hasn't actually led to the disaster that many Trump opponents have predicted.
The trouble with the state of affairs is that, if and/or when that crisis arrives, we're unusually ill equipped to deal with it, because we have almost no sense of agreement about the underlying causes and two sides with very real senses of serious political aggrievement. And that means we may have almost no real ability to come together and deal with it.

The $717 Billion Defense Bill That Just Breezed Through the Senate Should Be a National Scandal

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With little debate or public attention, the Senate just followed the House in approving $717 billion for the nation’s military, meaning the bill is headed for the president’s signature. The passage is no surprise. The National Defense Authorization Act is one of the few pieces of federal budget legislation that sails through every year, without fail, on a bipartisan basis.
Yet, the bill deserves fierce debate—and dissent. At $717 billion, the package provides a historically high military budget. By my calculations based on numbers from the Office of Management and Budget, in 1997, after Cold War spending was ratcheted down from its Reagan-era peak, military spending was $386 billion after adjusting for inflation. By the height of spending during the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, it had more than doubled to $799 billion. Yet today, despite massive troop drawdowns and multiple declarations of victory from the war on terror, military spending in 2019 will remain $268 billion more than it was before the start of the Iraq and Afghanistan wars.
In other words, U.S. war spending remains severely bloated, as spending on vital public goods—like education and water systems—falters.
A win for arms manufacturers
That a $717 billion spending package could pass with so little debate or contention is a symptom of our elected leaders' deference to the Pentagon. But it’s also a sign of a seemingly unrelated old adage: It’s the economy. In too many instances, old-fashioned pork and provincial interests are the real motivations.
So, what is the military buying, and why? And just as important, what isn’t the federal government buying as it hoards cash for the military?
One answer is that the bill represents a big win for weapons contractors, providing funds for 77 new F-35 jet fighters—the Lockheed Martin show horse that has been in development for nearly 20 years and is billions of dollars over budget. Even military spending champion Sen. John McCain, for whom the bill is named, has called the jet fighter “a scandal and a tragedy” for its schedule and budget problems.
An earlier House version of a defense spending bill had increased the number of F-35 fighters to 93: 16 more than the Pentagon asked for. That bill, which is no longer under consideration, came from a subcommittee chaired by Representative Kay Granger (R-Texas), whose district is home to a key Lockheed facility where the F-35 is made.
The bill also includes funds for 13 new ships, three more than the Navy asked for. The justification for two of the three additional ships was openly economic: The bill provides funding for three new ships of the same kind as a Navy ship that caused a minor scandal when it was stranded in ice off the coast of Montreal this winter. A congressional staffer involved with the defense bill negotiations commented that authorizing just one ship would be “damaging to the two construction yards” in Wisconsin and Alabama, where the ships are built. Like the F-35, the ship is also made by Lockheed Martin, the biggest federal contractor with more than $44 billionin military contracts in 2017.
Among new initiatives, the bill provides $65 million for a new nuclear weapons program, that would repurpose existing weapons into “low-yield” weapons, compared to most of the nuclear warheads the United States has today. But, these “low-yield” weapons would be comparable in power to the weapon the United States dropped on Hiroshima, and equal to roughly 1,000 of the conventional MOABs, or “Mother of All Bombs” that Trump authorized for its first-ever combat use in Afghanistan in 2017. The new weapons are likely to be adapted from Trident missiles, made of course by none other than Lockheed Martin.
In a few instances, reason prevailed over profligate spending. The figure of 77 F-35 fighters is too high, but it’s better than the 93 the House subcommittee recommended. The Senate version of the authorization bill placed modest limits on the president’s military parade, requiring that no troops be deferred from real military needs to march through the streets of our nation’s capital. And perhaps most significant from a spending perspective, the Senate – though not the House – deferred the president’s repeated request to add a whole new branch of the armed services: the so-called Space Force.
Runaway military spending
As is usually the case, the bill passed with wide bipartisan majorities in both the House (359-54) and the Senate (87-10). If there is one thing sacred in U.S. federal budgeting, it is the military budget.
But, while the politics may pave the way for seemingly unending military spending, one interesting pattern emerged from the votes. Among the 10 “no” votes in the Senate were four of the five most-often mentioned Democratic presidential mentions: Senator Elizabeth Warren (Mass), Senator Bernie Sanders (Vt.), Senator Kamala Harris (Calif.) and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand (N.Y.). Senators Sanders and Gillibrand both voted no on the bill last year, but the others are new converts. Senator Cory Booker (D-N.J.), who is also often mentioned as a possible candidate, voted yes. Could the politics of a presidential race help focus questions about the United States’ runaway military spending and dangerous new weapons programs?
It’s a difficult question. The economics of the bill can trap usually-progressive legislators. Senator Warren voted no this year, but last year her yes vote was trumpeted by a statement championing funding for Hanscom and Westover Air Force bases, both in Massachusetts.
A heavy price
The tragedy is that the short-term economic gains from military funding often come at the expense of more meaningful jobs gains that could come through investing in health care, education, clean energy and more. It’s worth a look at what could be, if those 10 “no” votes multiplied and the military had to budget more carefully.
What if the war on terror were to really end, and the military budget returned to its post-Cold War, pre-9/11 days, averaging about $415 billion a year?
That would save roughly $300 billion a year—a sum that could finance Senator Sanders’ plan for free college and help address the country’s backlog of unfunded infrastructure needs—including water systems, roads, bridges, electricity and schools.
The military authorization bill must become a place for dissent and discussion. Rubber stamping ever-growing military spending is good for the Lockheed Martins of the world, but the rest of us pay a heavy price.

Judge says Trump administration '100%' responsible for finding deported migrant parents

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A federal judge on Friday rejected a Trump administration request to make the ACLU primarily responsible for locating migrant parents who were deported after they were separated from their children, making clear that the government bears "100 percent" of the burden.
U.S. District Judge Dana Sabraw said the ACLU and a team of non-governmental organizations, volunteers, and pro-bono attorneys can help locate about 400 parents who were deported and have not yet been located by the government. But Sabraw said that ACLU lawyers, who are representing plaintiffs in the class-action lawsuit, are not the ones who separated the families in the first place.
"The reality is that for every parent who is not located, there will be a permanently orphaned child, and that is 100 percent the responsibility of the administration," Sabraw said. "The government has the sole burden and responsibility and obligation to make (reunifications) happen."
The judge also scolded administration officials for moving so slowly to track down the deported parents. He cited an estimate that only about a dozen of the parents have been found in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, asking, "Is that true?"
The judge said the government needs to appoint an official or a leadership team from the State Department or the Department of Health and Human Services to step in and take charge. He said the process should be similar to that used last month when HHS appointed Jonathan White to reunite the first group of separated families, which led to more than 1,400 reunifications within the judge's 30-day deadline.
"What is absolutely essential ... is that the government identify a single person of the same talent and energy and enthusiasm and can-do spirit as Commander White to head up the reunification process of the remaining parents," Sabraw said. "There has to be someone to hold to account and to supervise the entire process."
Friday's hearing marked the latest step following the decision by President Donald Trump to implement a "zero tolerance" immigration enforcement policy that resulted in the separation of more than 2,500 children from their parents.
The policy required that most people apprehended trying to illegally cross the U.S.-Mexico border were to be charged with a criminal violation and sent to immigration detention centers or federal prisons to await deportation hearings. That prompted the government to keep them apart from their children, due to a U.S. law and a 1997 court settlement, known as the Flores Settlement, that limits the detention of children to no more than 20 days.
The policy was widely condemned, and the president signed an executive order June 20 ending the practice to help mitigate the problem. A week later, Sabraw ruled that the practice may have violated the due process rights of the families and ordered the administration to reunite them within 30 days.
Lawyers on both sides are now at odds over whether the government has met the judge's deadlines and whether the government is doing enough to reunite parents who have been deported.
On Tuesday, a bipartisan group of senators grilled administration officials over the family separation crisis. During the hearing, a senior Department of Health and Human Services official said he repeatedly warned the Trump administration that the separation policy would not be in "the best interest of the child."
On Wednesday, a group of 14 bipartisan senators sent a letter to the heads of the departments of Justice, Homeland Security, and Health and Human Services, demanding information on the status of separated families, including those where the parents have been deported.
And on Thursday, Ivanka Trump, the president's daughter and senior adviser, weighed in, calling the family separation practice a "low point" in her father's presidency. 
Sabraw is scheduled to hold another court hearing next week to get a status update from both sides on the reunification efforts.

Trump Administration Misled Public on Poverty in U.S., Ignored Economic Advisers, Documents Show: Report

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Internal documents from the U.S. Department of State show the Trump administration tried to deceive the public on poverty levels in the U.S. by offering misleading and inaccurate statements, despite White House economic advisers’ concerns.
Comments like “best to leave it off,” “I’d not get into this” and “you may want to rethink this” were left by the president’s own economic advisers in the margins of a draft statement prepared for the United Nations, and were mostly ignored, according to emails and a document obtained by Foreign Policy and Coda Story.
In December 2017, a member of the U.N. Human Rights Council visited the U.S. to report on whether the “government’s policies and programs aimed at addressing extreme poverty are consistent with its human rights obligations.” The council issued a scathing report in May, highlighting the 40 million Americans who live in poverty and 5.3 million of who live in “Third World conditions.” Citing U.S. Census Bureau data for its claims, the report alleged that Trump's economic policies, such as tax cuts and reductions in social programs, led to further inequalities. 
The report’s conclusion offered five basic suggestions: Decriminalize being poor; acknowledge the plight of the middle class; acknowledge the damaging consequences of extreme inequality; recognize a right to health care; and get real about taxes. 
The Trump administration issued its own rebuttal the following month, writing, “Accusations that the United States shows ‘contempt and hatred’ for the poor, including accusations of a criminal justice system designed to keep low-income persons in poverty while generating public revenue, are inaccurate, inflammatory, and irresponsible.”
The State Department emails and document obtained reportedly show much of that draft statement was questioned by members of the White House Council of Economic Advisers who were consulted about its accuracies prior to its release. Many of the comments and suggestions were ignored or only partially adhered to for the final draft.
Next to the statement “The U.S. is entering a new era of economic growth and prosperity,” an economic adviser left the comment: “Already 8-9 years long … which started under Obama and we inherited and then expanded. But it will end prob in 1 – 2 years. So I’d not get into this.” The administration ignored the suggestion in the final version. 
At another point, the draft claimed that “people experiencing a housing crisis in a community have fair and equal access and are connected to available housing and related assistance based on their strengths and needs.” An adviser’s comment that read “Massive waiting lists for vouchers — not sure this is our strong suit” also went ignored in the final version.
When the draft mentioned $18 billion set aside as federal disaster relief money for hurricanes that wiped out much of Puerto Rico’s infrastructure in 2017, an adviser wrote, “Pretty sure that’s peanuts compared to what the mainland got so you may want to rethink this.”
In an email to Newsweek Friday, a State Department official said they "do not comment on our deliberative or interagency discussions, nor allegedly leaked documents."
Newsweek’s request for comment from the White House was not immediately answered, but White House Deputy Press Secretary Lindsay Walters told Foreign Policy that the Council of Economic Advisers was “in complete agreement with the economic assessment in the United States’ rebuttal to the U.N.’s Report on Poverty.”
Mari Stull, a senior Trump administration appointee at the State Department, said in an internal email that the U.N. report issued in May, which she called “biased, politically charged propaganda,” contributed directly to the Trump administration’s controversial decision to leave the U.N. Human Rights Council the very next month. At the time, U.N. ambassador Nikki Haley claimed the reason was that the Human Rights Council was unfairly targeting Israel, a major U.S. ally.

Chile has become the first South American country to legally ban the widespread commercial use of plastic bags.

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Chile has become the first South American country to legally ban the widespread commercial use of plastic bags.
The new legislation, approved by Congress and enacted by President Sebastián Piñera, gives small shops two years to adapt to a total ban.
Larger business will have six months to stop using plastic bags.
In the meantime they will only be allowed to hand out two carrier bags per customer.
Businesses that break the rules will face a fine of $370 (£280). 
Scientists say plastic pollution has a devastating impact on marine wildlife and affects the health of humans.

'Throwaway culture'

Mr Piñera said the new rules were a great step for a cleaner Chile.
"We want to go from a throwaway culture, where everything is used and chucked away, to the healthy culture of recycling," he said.
"There are 7.6 billion inhabitants in the world. We can't continue polluting as if each one of us owned the Earth."
He handed out reusable cloth bags at a ceremony marking the ban on Friday.
The legislation was proposed by his predecessor, Michelle Bachelet, who banned the use of plastic bags in Chile's Patagonia region. 
Several other countries have also been taking steps to combat plastic pollution.
In January, Panama approved legislation curbing the commercial use of plastic bags.
Businesses there were given up to 24 months to phase out the use of plastic carrier bags.
In England, a 5p compulsory charge per bag was introduced in 2015.

Twitter Explodes Over Donald Trump’s ‘Disgusting’ Attack On LeBron James: 'LeBron puts children through school. Trump puts children in cages.'

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Tweeters erupted in anger after President Donald Trump trashed NBA superstar LeBron James on Friday night.
Trump used Twitter to bash both James and CNN host Don Lemon, after finally watching an interview between the pair that aired on Monday. 
During the interview, James (who in July signed for the Los Angeles Lakers) accused Trump of enabling racists and using sports to divide the country.
Lemon responded early Saturday with this tweet:
James is yet to react. But following Trump’s rant, hundreds of Twitter users jumped to his defense ― with many highlighting how the basketball legend had this week opened a new school for at-risk children (a joint venture between Akron Public Schools and his foundation) in his hometown of Akron, Ohio: