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NYT: Trump Team Had "Repeated Contacts" With Russian Intelligence During the Presidential Campaign

Mother Jones

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Phone records and intercepted calls show that members of Donald J. Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign and other Trump associates had repeated contacts with senior Russian intelligence officials in the year before the election, according to four current and former American officials.

American law enforcement and intelligence agencies intercepted the communications around the same time that they were discovering evidence that Russia was trying to disrupt the presidential election by hacking into the Democratic National Committee….The intercepts alarmed American intelligence and law enforcement agencies, in part because of the amount of contact that was occurring while Mr. Trump was speaking glowingly about the Russian president, Vladimir V. Putin….The officials said the intercepted communications were not limited to Trump campaign officials, and included other associates of Mr. Trump.

….Officials would not disclose many details, including what was discussed on the calls, which Russian intelligence officials were on the calls, and how many of Mr. Trump’s advisers were talking to the Russians.

This is from Michael Schmidt, Mark Mazzetti, and Matt Apuzzo at the New York Times. If Trump thought that firing Michael Flynn was going to stop the recent bloodletting, he thought wrong.

Just to make this clear: At the same time that Russian intelligence was hacking various email accounts in order to sabotage Hillary Clinton, multiple members of the Trump team had repeated phone calls with senior Russian intelligence officials. And during this entire time, Trump himself was endorsing a foreign policy that appeared almost as if it had been dictated to him by Vladimir Putin.

As a number of people have pointed out, the American intelligence community has all but declared war on Trump since his inauguration. I hardly need to spell out why this is dangerous. At the same time, it’s sure becoming a lot clearer why they’re so alarmed by the guy.

And by the way, I shouldn’t miss this chance to flog my favorite hobbyhorse again: FBI Director James Comey, who knew all about this, pushed hard not to make it public during the campaign. Instead he considered it more important to inform Congress that he had discovered additional copies of Hillary Clinton’s emails on Anthony Weiner’s laptop. Priorities.

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NYT: Trump Team Had "Repeated Contacts" With Russian Intelligence During the Presidential Campaign

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Raw Data: Here’s What Violent Crime Really Looks Like Over the Past Decade

Mother Jones

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Donald Trump keeps saying that the murder rate is the highest it’s been in 45 years. This is wildly untrue, but other people are joining the bandwagon anyway. Jeff Sessions says the current rise in crime is a “dangerous permanent trend.” Talk show hosts agree. America is a dark and dangerous place, and it’s getting more dangerous all the time.

Aside from outright lies, a lot of this is based on cherry-picked statistics. The murder rate in Chicago has skyrocketed over the past three years. Los Angeles has seen a substantial rise in its violent crime rate. Etc. But if you’re interested in the whole picture, I have it for you below, complete and un-cherry-picked.

You’re all used to seeing long-term crime charts from me because I’m usually illustrating the effect of lead on crime over the past 50 or 60 years. Those charts show national crime rates plummeting in the 90s and early aughts. This time, though, the chatter is all about recent increases in murder and violent crime in big cities. For starters, then, here are the basic numbers for the past decade on violent crime in large cities from the National Crime Victimization Survey:1

The data goes through 2015,2 and shows that big-city violent crime did tick upward slightly in 2015. More generally, though, violent crime has displayed a noisy but steadily downward trend over the past decade. In 2015, violent crime in big cities was nearly a third lower than it was in 2007.

Next up is violent crime from the FBI’s Uniform Crime Reports. This is based on reports from police departments, and includes detailed data at the city level. Here are violent crime rates in America’s ten biggest cities3 through the first half of 2016:4

Some big cities have indeed shown worrying upward trends: Chicago, San Antonio, and Los Angeles are all up over the past two or three years. At the same time, Philadelphia, New York City, and San Diego are all down. More generally, except for San Antonio every single one of these cities has a lower violent crime rate than in 2006, ranging from 4 percent down (San Jose) to 40 percent down (Dallas and Philadelphia). The overall violent crime rate for all big cities is up over the past two years, but still lower than it was in 2006.

Finally, here are the murder rates in our ten biggest cities:

Chicago, obviously, is a big outlier, with a high and rising murder rate (up 53 percent over the past two years). The three biggest cities in Texas have also seen big recent increases. Philadelphia, Los Angeles, and New York City are down compared to 2015.

You can draw different conclusions from this data depending on what you look at.5 However, this is the best data we have. This is reality. Whatever you decide to say about violent crime, it needs to be based on this.

1The NCVS data on violent crime doesn’t include homicide because, obviously, you can’t call up people and ask if they’ve been murdered in the past year. Generally speaking, however, violent crime as a category includes murder, rape, robbery, and aggravated assault.

2Unlike the other charts in this post, this one starts in 2007 because the Bureau of Justice Statistics warns that a change in methodology in 2006 makes it difficult to compare 2006 to other years.

3Because of a dispute over methodology, Chicago has no official numbers for forcible rape before 2015. Because of this, it also has no official numbers for violent crime. However, it’s pretty easy to create a close estimate of the rape rate and then use that to recreate the violent crime rate. That’s what I’ve done here.

4I’ve annualized the rates for the first half of 2016 so they’re comparable to the other years.

5It’s worth mentioning that property crime is also down over the past decade. Ditto for crime in smaller cities and towns. I haven’t shown any of that here because big-city violent crime seems to be the topic of the moment. However, you might be interested in a little-known bit of crime trivia that will surprise most people: violent crime in big cities has fallen so much that it’s actually lower than anyplace else. The safest places in America are the biggest and smallest cities. It’s the medium-sized cities that now have the biggest violent crime problems.

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Raw Data: Here’s What Violent Crime Really Looks Like Over the Past Decade

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Check Out Kellyanne Conway’s Version of an Apology

Mother Jones

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Just to follow up on last night, here is Kellyanne Conway’s apology for telling the nation about the “Bowling Green massacre” on prime time TV last night. It’s a masterpiece:

Just an honest mistake! What she meant to say, apparently, was this:

Two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized, and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green terrorists.

This makes no sense, of course. The two Iraqis were the masterminds behind the two Iraqis? Please. So here’s Conway’s version of a mea culpa:

Tell a tall tale about what she meant to say.
Link to a four-year-old story which—if you actually read it—says only that the FBI is conducting “dozens of current counter-terrorism investigations.”
Mount a grievance against a reporter who quoted her correctly on the Today show.
Compliment herself for her class and grace because she chooses not to bring down her slavering hordes on an editor who did nothing wrong.
Pretend that the White House didn’t spend days upon endless days moaning and bellyaching about the MLK Jr. bust story—a story that was corrected in less than half an hour.

Mission accomplished! Millions of people have now heard about the Bowling Green massacre. Conway has, technically, admitted she was wrong, so the media won’t bother following up and virtually no one will hear that no such massacre took place. You’d think that would be victory enough, but just for good measure she then attacked a reporter and told the world what a wonderful, gracious person she is. What a pro.

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Check Out Kellyanne Conway’s Version of an Apology

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The Press Corps We Deserve

Mother Jones

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“FAKE NEWS—A TOTAL POLITICAL WITCH HUNT!” President-elect Donald Trump’s Twitter account blared last week, after CNN reported that US intelligence officials had briefed him and President Barack Obama on an alleged Russian operation to co-opt him and gather compromising information.

The allegations, summarized in a memo that a former foreign intelligence official passed to the FBI last summer, were not new. They were first reported by MoJo‘s David Corn on October 31. That was, to state the obvious, eight days before the election; it was also three days after FBI Director James Comey announced that the bureau had discovered what might be a new batch of Hillary Clinton’s emails. Though those emails hadn’t yet been reviewed (and turned out to reveal nothing) Comey thought they were significant enough to bring them to the world’s attention. He did not make a similar announcement about this other trove of information. Make of that what you will.

Nor, it should be noted, did the rest of the press devote even a fraction of the attention it lavished on the email announcement to the Russia story; some even speculated that a batch of Russia-related stories that broke that day had to be the result of an “oppo dump,” suggesting that the journalists were covering this issue simply because Clinton forces were pushing it. (This assumption is still poisoning the debate, but that’s for another day.)

Let’s be absolutely clear: David’s story was the result of enterprise reporting and fact-checking. Mother Jones did not choose to publish the memos themselves or detail the specific allegations because we were not able to independently verify them. (As David noted on Twitter, “even Donald Trump deserves journalistic fairness.”)

What we were able to verify, though, was that the former intelligence professional was who he said he was, that he had the respect of many others in his field, that he’d taken his information to the FBI, and that the bureau had followed up.

That an authoritarian foreign power might be seeking to compromise the next president of the United States was news, and it deserved further investigation by the FBI as well as the press. (Mother Jones will definitely stay on the beat—just a few hours ago, David published his latest scoop on this matter.) That neither institution drew sufficient public attention to it may prove to be an error of historic consequence. But that moment has passed. Now, with Trump taking office as the 45th president, the urgent task is to learn from it.

One lesson is that fearless, independent reporting is more critical than ever. If you believe that, consider supporting our nonprofit newsroom. Your donation goes directly to the work that David and his fellow reporters and editors do every day.

Another lesson is that journalists’ reflexive instinct to undercut or ignore each other’s work—standard competitive point-scoring in a normal environment—may have a cost. Because we are no longer in a normal environment. That was chillingly demonstrated in Trump’s response when the Russia dossier story finally became blew open last week.

First came those tweets calling it fake news—a term, don’t forget, that came into use to describe made-up stories intended to boost Trump. (Trump isn’t alone with this rhetorical sleight of hand. Lots of people, on the right and the left, now use “fake news” as a synonym for “news I disagree with.” That’s a perversion of the concept.)

Then, with the press corps assembled at his tower the next morning, Trump sent out his spokesman and his vice president to slam and humiliate the outlets that had made the story big news again, lumping together CNN, which had been careful not to publish the memos or details, and BuzzFeed, which had made the controversial choice to run the documents in full. “Sad” and “pathetic” were some of the kinder terms used.

Finally, Trump went in for the kill. He called BuzzFeed a “failing pile of garbage.” He refused to take a question from CNN’s Jim Acosta, calling CNN “fake news.” His spokesman later told Fox News that he would “remove” Acosta if he demanded the right to ask a question again.

This response deserves a little unpacking, because it is a dry run for what we can expect going forward. In just a couple of tweets and a handful of comments, Trump sought to (a) discredit all of the press for the decisions of some; (b) neutralize a term that describes, in part, propaganda ginned up by Moscow to help his candidacy; (c) use that term to dismiss a story of enormous concern to the public; and last but not least, (d) play a divide-and-conquer game with the press itself.

The president-elect had started the news conference by complimenting some news outlets (that he did not name) for the “professional” manner in which they handled the Russian intelligence story. But then, as Acosta asked him to “give us a chance to ask a question, sir,” he shook his head: “Not you. Your organization is terrible. Quiet!”

Sorting the press into “good” and “bad” is a tried-and-true tactic of media manipulation. It aims to push reporters to conduct themselves in a way that will land them on the good list, to be rewarded with access, and to fear ending up on the bad list that may come in for punishment and exile. Quiet. Or else.

(What that punishment could look like is already becoming apparent, with Trump demanding that Congress investigate NBC’s decision to report a leak of another element of the Russia story.)

The president-elect and many of his supporters have long made clear their contempt for reporters who pursue inconvenient stories. When they impugn real reporting as “fake news” and use that slur to dodge vital questions, it’s an attack on all journalists—and on the audience. On you.

As citizens, as participants in democracy, you deserve journalists who ask hard questions and refuse to back down when the president tells them to shush. You deserve a press that doesn’t wave off conflicts of interest and possible ties to foreign autocrats as just another wrinkle in the who’s-up-who’s-down of political competition. You need a Fourth Estate that goes exactly where powerful people don’t want it to go.

But the economics of media are such that we are not assured that kind of watchdog press unless we build an alternative to a model where newsrooms are owned by entertainment corporations and financed by cheap advertising. Those corporations and advertisers have lots of interests; a vigorous and unrestrained press is not necessarily the first one. If you sign up as a sustaining donor to Mother Jones, you become part of building the alternative.

Journalists don’t always talk about the backstory to our reporting, and that’s been to our disadvantage. Here at MoJo, we have been seeking to jump-start that conversation with our series of articles on the media business and our own campaign to build a reader-supported model. In the coming year, we hope to roll out more ways for you to participate in that conversation, and in the journalism itself. But don’t be shy to jump in right now: What did you think of how Trump characterized the press? Do you think MoJo should have published the Russia memos? Tell us in the comments, on Facebook, on Twitter, or by sending us an email.

P.S. Just have to add this other bit of news that broke just as we were about to publish: Mother Jones has been nominated for three National Magazine Awards (the Oscars of our industry), for general excellence, reporting (for Shane Bauer’s prison investigation), and Magazine of the Year. That’s a huge honor to the insanely hard-working team here—and to you, our readers, who make it all possible. Thank you.

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The Press Corps We Deserve

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Today in Politics As I Experienced It

Mother Jones

One of the benefits of being sick—oh, bollocks. There are no benefits to being sick. However, with a couple of short interludes, I slept until about 1:30 in the afternoon today, which is 4:30 for you elitist East Coasters. That means I missed the whole day. So when I finally felt well enough to reach over to the table for my tablet, I was able to take in the entire glorious panorama of 2017’s first Friday the 13th all at once. I shall now present it to you approximately as I experienced it.

Donald Trump met today with Steve Harvey, Geraldo Rivera, and a physicist who says global warming is going to be good for us.

Rep. Steve King unveiled his scale model of a wall on the Mexican border:

Very nice, don’t you think? The wall is made from graham crackers spray painted gray, and the razor wire is made from dental floss rolled around an empty saran wrap tube and stiffened using egg whites. All that’s missing is little tiny Mexicans on one side looking frustrated because they can no longer get into the United States.

Big banks continue to show gangbuster results on hopes that Trump and his congressional allies will get rid of all those annoying regulations that Obama passed after they nearly destroyed the world during the Great Crash. On the same day, Moody’s reminded us what all those regulations were about when it agreed to pay nearly a billion dollars to settle claims over “certain statements” it made during the runup to the Great Crash.

A few days ago FBI Director James Comey refused to say if the FBI was investigating Donald Trump’s ties to Russia. “I would never comment on investigations in an open forum,” he said to general snickering. Still, at least this left open the possibility that he’d inform Congress in a closed session.

No such luck—and Democrats are apoplectic. The Huffington Post collected a potpourri of comments: “No credibility…disappointed, outraged…not trust him at all…great sense of disappointment.” Rep. Adam Schiff, the ranking Democrat on the House Intelligence Committee, told ABC News: “I think there’s been a profound question raised as to whether director Comey is dealing in an evenhanded manner with the investigation of the Clinton emails and any investigation that may or may not be happening with respect to the Trump campaign.”

House Republicans decided by fiat that deficit spending caused by repealing Obamacare doesn’t count:

However, Newt Gingrich thinks this doesn’t go nearly far enough. The CBO is simply out of its depth dealing with the genius who fixed the Wollman Ice Rink thirty years ago. Trump is going to bring that same hard-charging, entrepreneurial spirit to Washington, and the CBO can’t deal with it:

The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) is simply incompatible with the Trump era….It is a left-wing, corrupt, bureaucratic defender of big government and liberalism. Its scoring of ObamaCare was not just wrong, it was clearly corrupt.

….Every reform effort will get a false score from CBO. It is impossible for the current CBO to come anywhere close to an honest, accurate score of a red tape cutting, entrepreneurially hard charging system.

I’m pretty sure the proper translation of this is, “The CBO refuses to score massive tax cuts for the rich as deficit reducing.” But maybe I’m just being cynical?

The first leg of California’s bullet train will cost 50 percent more than currently budgeted, according to a review by the Federal Railroad Administration.

On the day that President Obama announced sanctions against Russia for its election hacking, the Trump national security team suddenly got as agitated as a teenage girl about to go to her first prom. Jonathan Landay and Arshad Mohammed of Reuters have the story:

Michael Flynn, President-elect Donald Trump’s choice for national security adviser, held five phone calls with Russia’s ambassador to Washington on the day the United States retaliated for Moscow’s interference in the U.S. presidential election, three sources familiar with the matter said.

The calls occurred between the time the Russian embassy was told about U.S. sanctions and the announcement by Russian President Vladimir Putin that he had decided against reprisals, said the sources.

I’m sure there was nothing untoward going on here. They were probably just asking each other what they planned to wear to the inauguration.

Finally, Max Sawicky writes something useful about Russia. Those of us who loathe Putin’s Russia are not engaging in latter-day red baiting, he says. Far from it:

Today, kleptocratic, capitalist Russia is among the moneyed interests in the world. It’s tempting but simplistic to see Russian leaders as a fairly narrow species of nationalist interlopers in U.S. domestic politics. More to the point, they are allied with germinating, reactionary forces internationally, if only lately inside the United States.

….These movements, need we be reminded, are viciously, violently racist, misogynist, anti-immigrant, anti-Semitic, and homophobic. Similar groups run amok in Russia itself with the apparent indulgence of the authorities. The Trump campaign has brought like-minded creatures out from under the rocks of the U.S. right.

….The U.S. welfare/regulatory state with all its flaws contains many seeds for a better system. Trump, with an assist from a cavalcade of shady backers, including Putin’s Russian oligarchy, threatens to uproot these seeds. It’s possible to exaggerate Putin’s role, but it would be wrong to discount it altogether. Any complete survey of the forces colluding against progressive goals must now include the Russian state.

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Today in Politics As I Experienced It

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