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Daily Archives: January 12th, 2020


 

By AMANDA SEITZ, ERIC TUCKER and RICHARD LARDNER, Associated Press 1 hr ago
With President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial set to begin in the Senate, some Republican allies continue to promote a discredited theory that accuses Ukraine of interfering in the 2016 U.S. election to keep him from winning.
The notion, which is not supported by U.S. intelligence agencies, has nonetheless been embraced by a president reluctant to acknowledge the reality of Russian election interference, and anxious to show he had reason to be suspicious of Ukraine as the U.S. withheld crucial military aid last year.
The effect: blurring the facts of the impeachment case for many Americans before it even reaches trial.

“The ultimate victim is democracy, is the stability of our nation,” said Nina Jankowicz, a disinformation expert at the nonpartisan Wilson Center, a Washington, D.C.-based think tank.
The president’s demand that Ukraine look into its own purported interference and investigate a political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden, while the U.S. withheld the aid is at the heart of the congressional investigation that produced Trump’s impeachment in the House on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress.
An Associated Press review shows the idea of Ukrainian interference took root during Trump’s presidential campaign, was spread online and then amplified by Russian President Vladimir Putin before some of America’s elected officials made it their truth.
As U.S. authorities collected evidence in 2016 that Russia had hacked Democratic National Committee servers, former Trump campaign chairman Paul Manafort suggested Ukraine, not Russia, had likely committed the attack, his deputy Rick Gates later told the FBI.
That September, Trump confidant Roger Stone tweeted, “The only interference in the U.S. election is from Hillary’s friends in Ukraine,” referring to Trump opponent, Hillary Clinton.
But Trump’s FBI director rejected those allegations. U.S. intelligence agencies blame Russia for interfering on Trump’s behalf, and special counsel Robert Mueller has charged 25 Russians with hacking Democratic email accounts and waging a covert social media campaign to sway public opinion.
Yet, against all evidence, the theory’s shape-shifting nature over the years has compounded its staying power. Stone’s 2016 tweet, for instance, referenced a nebulous type of “interference,” centered around Ukraine officials reportedly favoring Clinton over Trump.

The tweet highlighted a Financial Times article that described efforts by ex-Ukrainian parliament member Serhiy Leshchenko, who opposed Trump’s bid, to expose off-the-books payments by Ukraine’s pro-Russia political party, including to Manafort.
Leshchenko maintains his efforts don’t amount to interference. Still, some Republican lawmakers, including a few contacted by AP, have cited the article to support the Ukraine interference argument.
“I think both Russia and Ukraine meddled in the 2016 election,” Republican Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana said last month on “Meet the Press.”
Internet suspicions casting doubt on Russia’s hack of the DNC and Clinton campaigns intensified as Trump prepared to take office.
“So how and why are they so sure about hacking if they never even requested an examination of the computer servers? What’s going on?” Trump tweeted on Jan. 5, 2017, the day after a BuzzFeed News article revealed the FBI did not physically examine the Democrats’ servers to determine Russia infiltrated the system
In February 2017, Putin publicly claimed Ukraine’s entire government had supported Clinton and now needed to “improve relations” with the new Trump administration.
By that April, Trump himself promoted the theory, falsely suggesting in an AP interview that CrowdStrike, the cybersecurity firm that traced the hack to Russia, had strong ties to Ukraine.
“I heard it’s owned by a very rich Ukrainian, that’s what I heard,” Trump said. “Why didn’t they allow the FBI in to investigate the server?”
In fact, CrowdStrike is a California company founded by two U.S. citizens — George Kurtz and Dmitri Alperovitch, who was born in Russia and lives in America.
And the FBI didn’t need to physically take the DNC servers to confirm CrowdStrike’s findings. CrowdStrike gave the FBI digital images that captured everything from emails, browsing history and files of the DNC system, the company says.
But Trump took his suspicions about the servers directly to newly elected Ukraine president Volodymyr Zelenskiy in a now infamous July 25 phone call that spurred the articles of impeachment against Trump.
“I would like you to find out what happened with this whole situation with Ukraine, they say CrowdStrike … I guess you have one of your wealthy people…” Trump asked. “The server, they say Ukraine has it.”
CrowdStrike released a blog post rebuffing Trump’s claims. The president’s own advisers rebutted the theory to no avail, former White House aide Fiona Hill told impeachment investigators.
Trump keeps the claim alive. He insisted to Fox News viewers in November that he only withheld aid from Ukraine to investigate corruption there, hinting once again that’s where the DNC’s servers are hidden.
“You know, the FBI has never gotten that server,” Trump said. “That’s a big part of this whole thing. Why did they give it to a Ukrainian company?”
Parts of the Ukraine theory have been echoed by the president’s Republican allies — some of whom concede Russia interfered but posit Ukraine did too.
“Russia’s campaign to interfere in our election was real and systematic. It is also true that Ukrainian officials did not want…then-candidate Trump to win. The two are not mutually exclusive,” the office of Republican Sen. Ted Cruz said in a statement. Cruz himself has said there’s “considerable evidence” of Ukraine interference.
As his Senate trial nears, Trump has pressed GOP senators to rally behind him — asking personal attorney Rudy Giuliani to brief them on his trip to Europe, where he searched for witnesses and documents.
Hill, a Russia expert, told Congress in November that political leaders who spread such falsehoods about Ukraine polarize the U.S., making it a target for misinformation campaigns by foreign powers like Russia.
She warned: “These fictions are harmful even if they are deployed for purely domestic political purposes.”
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Associated Press writers Mary Clare Jalonick in Washington and Yuras Karmanau in Kyiv contributed to this report.

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Afua Hirsch 2 days ago

The British press has succeeded in its apparent project of hounding Meghan Markle, the Duchess of Sussex, out of Britain. The part it perhaps didn’t bargain for, however, is the loss of Prince Harry — a much loved royal and a key part of the family’s global brand — along with her.
In a statement released this week, the couple said they want to “carve out a progressive new role” within the royal family and will “step back as ‘senior’ members, and work to become financially independent.”
The British press reacted with surprise at the “shock move abroad,” described variously as “seismic,” “selfish,” “rogue” and “an atrocious lapse of judgment.”
If the media paid more attention to Britain’s communities of color, perhaps it would find the announcement far less surprising. With a new prime minister whose track record includes overtly racist statements, some of which would make even Donald Trump blush, a Brexit project linked to native nationalism and a desire to rid Britain of large numbers of immigrants, and an ever-thickening loom of imperial nostalgia, many of us are also thinking about moving.
From the very first headline about her being “(almost) straight outta Compton” and having “exotic” DNA, the racist treatment of Meghan has been impossible to ignore. Princess Michael of Kent wore an overtly racist brooch in the duchess’s company. A BBC host compared the couple’s newborn baby to a chimpanzee. Then there was the sublimely ludicrous suggestion that Meghan’s avocado consumption is responsible for mass murder, while her charity cookbook was portrayed as somehow helping terrorists.
Those who claim frequent attacks against the duchess have nothing to do with her race have a hard time explaining these attempts to link her with particularly racialized forms of crime — terrorism and gang activity — as well as the fact that she has been most venomously attacked for acts that attracted praise when other royals did them. Her decision to guest-edit British Vogue, for example, was roundly condemned by large parts of the British media, in stark contrast to Prince Charles’s two-time guest editorship of Country Life magazine, Prince Harry’s of a BBC program and Kate Middleton’s at Huffington Post, all of which were quietly praised at the time.
Her treatment has proved what many of us have always known: No matter how beautiful you are, whom you marry, what palaces you occupy, charities you support, how faithful you are, how much money you accumulate or what good deeds you perform, in this society racism will still follow you.
In Britain’s rigid class society, there is still a deep correlation between privilege and race. The relatively few people of color — and even fewer if you count only those who have African heritage — who rise to prominent success and prosperity in Britain are often told we should be “grateful” or told to leave if we don’t like it here.
The legacy of Britain’s history of empire — a global construct based on a doctrine of white supremacy — its pioneering role in the slave trade and ideologies of racism that enabled it, and policies of recruiting people from the Caribbean and Africa into low-paid work and then discriminating against them in education and housing, is with us today: The scandal surrounding the wrongful deportation of black British people in recent years is still reverberating.
Meghan’s decision to join the family that is the symbolic heart of the establishment responsible for this troubled history was perplexing to many black British people, as we wondered whether she fully appreciated the institution she had entered.
Both she and Harry appear to have gained crystal clear vision as to their reality. It’s no wonder the couple want to leave and — as the coded statement that they want to raise their son Archie “with the space to focus on the next chapter” seems to suggest — protect him from the bile to which they’ve been exposed.
The British press, having attacked the couple continuously, now reacts with shock at this move. But the clues have been there for some time for anyone willing to read them.
There was the decision not to give Archie a title from birth — something that is expected among royal children of this rank but which Meghan and Harry appear to have chosen to avoid. Then there were the rumors last spring that they might relocate to a country in southern Africa.
In recent months, the couple have begun bypassing official royal channels and communicating with the press directly — most notably when the duchess said in a television documentary that she found adjusting to royal life “hard,” and Harry revealed that the tragic experience of the death of his mother, Diana, Princess of Wales, made him want to “protect” his wife and family.
All were signs that the couple would not abide by royal business as usual, to the extent that even announcing this decision to step down from their roles as senior royals appears to have taken Buckingham Palace by surprise.
I am not at all surprised. This was the bitter shadow of their sunny May 2018 wedding. How many of us suspected — hoping but doubting we were wrong — that what would really initiate Meghan into her new role as a Briton with African heritage would be her experience of British racism. And ironically, by taking matters into their own hands, Harry and Meghan’s act of leaving — two fingers up at the racism of the British establishment — might be the most meaningful act of royal leadership I’m ever likely to see.
Afua Hirsch teaches journalism at the University of Southern California. She is the author of “Brit(ish): On Race, Identity and Belonging,” which won a Royal Society of Literature Jerwood award.

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1 day ago

Editor’s note: The opinions in this article are the author’s, as published by our content partner, and do not necessarily represent the views of MSN or Microsoft.

All of us have experienced the challenges of a regular press briefing whether at the White House, the State Department or the Pentagon. We all had days where the last place we wanted to be was behind one of those podiums. But day after day, we persisted.

We believed that regular briefings were good for the American people, important for the administrations we served, and critical for the governing of our great country.
We’d like to share what we mean by that. In any great democracy, an informed public strengthens the nation. The public has a right to know what its government is doing, and the government has a duty to explain what it is doing.
For the president and the administration this is a matter of both self-interest and national interest. The presidents we served believed a better-informed public would be more supportive of the president’s policy and political objectives.
And a well-informed citizenry would be better equipped to understand the difficult choices and decisions presidents must make, especially in times of crisis and challenge. Bringing the American people in on the process, early and often, makes for better democracy.
An informed press corps strengthens our ability to govern. Yes, presidents are now able to communicate directly via the internet, social media and tweets. But most Americans will learn about the work of the White House in the reports they see, read, and hear in what we collectively call “the press.”
The press will report a story to the best of their ability whether they are briefed by the administration or not. But regular briefings generally lead to better and more responsible reporting.
The process of preparing for regular briefings makes the government run better. The sharing of information, known as official guidance, among government officials and agencies helps ensure that an administration speaks with one voice, telling one story, however compelling it might be.
Regular briefings also force a certain discipline on government decision making. Knowing there are briefings scheduled is a powerful incentive for administration officials to complete a policy process on time. Put another way, no presidents want their briefers to say, day after day, we haven’t figured that one out yet.
In times of military conflict and international crisis, these briefings take on even more importance. Americans want to know the latest developments and seek the truth. On social media, wild rumors can fly, and our adversaries can manipulate disinformation to their advantage. This is now well documented.
For that reason, among many, the country needs trusted sources of information delivered on a timely and regular schedule. That is the fundamental responsibility of people who serve as spokesmen and women for presidents, cabinet secretaries and other high-ranking government officials.
These briefings also have the great benefit of communicating among our soldiers and diplomats around the world who are hungry for information. Talk to any military family here at home or a family with diplomats serving overseas and they will tell you how much their loved ones rely on regular information, whether the news is good or bad.
Using the powerful podiums of the State Department, Pentagon and White House is a powerful tool for keeping our allies informed and letting our enemies know we are united in our determination to defeat them both on the battlefield and in the world of public diplomacy.
The media world has changed radically since the last major war in the Middle East. We have many more tools of public diplomacy to demonstrate our military resolve both at home and abroad. But as powerful as those new tools are, they do not bring the same force of power, both soft and hard, that officials of the United States government need.
Credible men and women, standing in front of those iconic backgrounds at the White House, State Department and Pentagon, are essential to the work the United States must do in the world.
We respectfully urge the resumption of regular press briefings across our government, especially in the places where Americans want the truth, our allies in the world want information, and where all of us, hopefully, want to see American values reflected.

Signed,
Ambassador Richard Boucher, former spokesman and Assistant Secretary of State (administrations of George H. W. Bush, Bill Clinton and George W. Bush)
Ambassador Nicholas Burns, former State Department spokesman (George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush)
Jay Carney, former White House press secretary (Barack Obama)
Victoria Clarke, Assistant Secretary of Defense for public affairs (George W. Bush)
Robert Gibbs, former White House press secretary (Barack Obama)
Adm. John Kirby, former Assistant Secretary of State, former Pentagon press secretary (Barack Obama); Kirby is a CNN analyst.
Joe Lockhart, former White House press secretary (Bill Clinton); Lockhart is a CNN political commentator.
George Little, former Assistant to the Secretary of Defense for public affairs (Barack Obama)
Scott McClellan, former White House press secretary (George W. Bush)
Michael McCurry, former White House press secretary and State Department spokesman (Bill Clinton)
Dee Dee Myers, former White House press secretary (Bill Clinton)
Jen Psaki, former State Department spokeswoman and White House communications director (Barack Obama); Psaki is a CNN political commentator.
Jake Siewert, former White House press secretary (Bill Clinton)

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Colin Beresford 3 days ago , Car and Driver

 
The Star Tribune found that farmers are choosing to buy older tractors to save money and so that they can repair the tractors themselves.
A new tractor can cost well over $150,000, while one built 40 some years ago with little use could cost a third of that.
Tech-heavy new tractors often require a dealership repairman to make any necessary fixes.
Regardless of who you think the typical Tesla owner is, they don’t—because they can’t—put their car on vehicle ramps to fix whatever problem they’re having. And just like those Tesla owners, farmers with a tractor built in the last decade, and sometimes more, are unable to perform the repairs they once could on their equipment.
Tractors, like cars—electric or otherwise—are becoming more and more reliant on technology and computers, which forces repairs to be done by dealers. And as those changes are phasing out the farmer in the repair process, older tractors are becoming more sought after in the Midwest, according to a report from the Minneapolis Star Tribune newspaper.
Now, when a tractor built in the late 1970s or 1980s goes up for auction, a bidding war tends to ensue, the paper notes. Although a lot has changed in tractors in the past few decades, what really matters to farmers hasn’t. Old tractors have similar horsepower to the tractors built today, and they’re built well enough to last the 15,000 hours a farmer expects from a tractor.
Recently a record-setting $61,000 was paid for a 1979 John Deere 4640 with 826 hours on it. At a time when a new tractor from John Deere can set a farmer back $150,000, that was still just a fraction of the price of new. Anyone who has bought a sturdy used car and saved a ton on depreciation understands that concept. And better yet, when that owner has something go wrong with their older tractor, they don’t have to wait for a service truck from the dealership to make the necessary repairs, which can also cost up to $150 an hour for service.
When that dealership repair technician shows up, they will likely plug a computer into the tractor to diagnose the problem, a reality that has created a monopoly of sorts as to who can repair new tractors. Often only the tractor dealership has the technology necessary to make repairs, barring independent repair shops from doing that work. For many years, independent car repair chains fought a similar development in the automotive world, and in 2014, automakers agreed to a right-to-repair deal, making access to diagnostic tools standard across the industry. Since tractors don’t have similar legislation concerning their repair, farmers are going to lengths such as gaining access to the tractors’ software through Ukrainian firmware to make repairs.
That isn’t to say that farmers don’t appreciate a more tech-equipped tractor. One farmer in the Star Tribune retrofitted his 1979, John Deere, with satellite-guided automatic steering. And a Wall Street Journal article from May 2019 revealed that some farmers have their tractor cabins equipped with screens to watch Netflix or video chat with other farmers.
Beyond being a cost-saving measure, for some farmers, buying an old tractor that they can repair on their own gives them back the power and control they would lose by owning a new tractor. And that is something that we all can appreciate.

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