Author Archive

A Debt Crisis Seems To Have Come Out Of Nowhere

By |

A Debt Crisis Seems To Have Come Out Of Nowhere
Illustration of looming debt crisis.

erhui1979/Getty Images

It’s a problem that has come seemingly out of nowhere. Over the last five years a worrisome number of low income countries have racked up so much debt they are now at high risk of being unable to pay it back — with potentially devastating consequences not just for their economies but for their citizens, many of whom are already living in extreme poverty.

That’s the sobering finding of a report by the IMF. And it’s got some prominent experts calling for urgent action. Among them is Masood Ahmed. Twenty years ago, as a top official at the International Monetary Fund, he spearheaded a historic agreement to wipe the slate clean for 36 poor countries that were being crushed by their loan interest and repayment bills. NPR spoke with Ahmed — who is now president of the Washington-DC think tank Center for Global Development — to find out how this latest debt debacle was set in motion, why it has him so alarmed, and what can be done to avert it. (This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.)

Just how far and how fast has this problem spread?

To get a sense, says Ahmed, consider that of the 59 countries the IMF classifies as “low-income developing countries,” 24 are now either in a debt crisis or at high risk of tipping into one. “That’s 40 percent of poor countries,” says Ahmed, “and it’s nearly double the number five years ago.”

Those in most trouble include two countries that have already defaulted on some of their loans: the Republic of Congo and Mozambique. Ahmed notes that these are not loans taken out by individual citizens. “This is money borrowed by governments,” he says. “So the definition of a debt crisis is that they are not able to meet their obligations. They are already unable to pay the interest on their debt or to keep to the repayment schedule they had agreed to.”

Four more countries are also already considered in “debt distress” because even though they haven’t outright defaulted they’ve reached a point where they are making only intermittent loan payments or cutting deep into their operations budget to pay off their debt. These are Chad, Eritrea, Somalia, South Sudan, Sudan and Zimbabwe. The remaining 16 are considered at high risk of falling into debt distress soon based on the IMF’s analysis of the amount of debt they’ve taken on compared to how much income their economies can actually be expected to generate in the near future. These too are mostly countries in sub-Saharan Africa such as Ghana, Zambia and the Central African Republic. But the list also includes seven nations from other regions, such as Afghanistan, Haiti, Tajikistan and Yemen.

What happens when a country can’t pay its debt? What are the consequences for ordinary citizens?

Ahmed notes that even extremely poor countries offer all sorts of services to their citizens — keeping public order, maintaining health clinics and schools, providing food to people at risk of famine, investing in new infrastructure that can help grow the economy and so on. And even before reaching the point of actual default, governments with unsustainable levels of debt must begin diverting ever more of their budget away from such services so they can meet their debt payments.

The most vulnerable citizens are often the first to suffer. “For instance, people who show up to their local [public] health clinic that is already only open once a week may now find that it also doesn’t have medicines,” says Ahmed. “Or that school that was going to open this year to meet the needs of a particular neighborhood, it gets postponed.”

So this is very much an on-the-ground crisis. “It’s easy for us to think of these as abstract financial numbers. But it’s very important to recognize that behind these numbers are the lives of people who are already living in very difficult circumstances.”

And what if a government does default?

It gets far worse because the entire economy can be thrown into paralysis. When a government can’t meet its existing debt obligations, explains Ahmed, “that makes it very hard to access new money.” Lenders that provide this type of financing aren’t going to want to throw good money after bad. And to keep up daily operations, governments need continual access to credit. Ahmed adds that these operations often include not just the provision of services to citizens but business activities that generate much of a government’s income — extracting and exporting natural resources like copper or oil, for instance. These kinds of operations can become impossible without day-to-day credit. “Just like for a small business, you need to be able to borrow on a day-to-day basis for your cash flow,” he says.

And as the day-to-day turns into year-to-year?

The consequences can be just as debilitating, says Ahmed. Once a country has defaulted it can forget about taking out loans or floating bonds to fund investments in infrastructure or other measures that would help grow its economy long term. Pretty much every type of lender that poor countries rely on is going to balk. This includes even international financial organizations, such as the World Bank, whose mission is to provide poor countries with low-interest loans or outright grants to help them develop. The thinking of officials at the World Bank, says Ahmed, is going to be “I don’t want the money to just go to another creditor.”

And so a kind of deadly feedback loop could be created: The country’s debts would prevent its economy from creating the growth needed to pay off those very debts.

What about that massive debt forgiveness for 36 countries that you helped broker back in the 1990s — the “debt relief” campaign made so famous by celebrities like the rock star Bono. Wasn’t that agreement supposed to end debt crises like these once and for all?

Yes, says Ahmed. And for about ten years the agreement was, in fact, remarkably successful. All sides had recognized their sins — the governments of the borrowing countries that had taken on the excessive debt and also the lenders that had pushed what had been in many cases clearly unsustainable loans — including governments of rich countries like the U.S., commercial banks from those countries and even the IMF and World Bank. In exchange for writing off the debt everyone vowed to be more responsible moving forward.

“But after a decade, memories start to get cloudy,” says Ahmed. “And these commitments are, of course, not binding. If a country wants to go out and borrow money, they’re going to go out and borrow.”

And in recent years a whole new class lenders emerged to offer up easy credit — most notably the government of China and various associated Chinese banks and development agencies. “You had Chinese financial institutions and China as a country really expanding its presence and its financial role in developing countries,” says Ahmed. “I find really striking [that] between 2013 and 2016 China’s share of the debt of poor countries increased by more than the share of all these traditional lenders [who had made the loans back in the 1990s] put together.

Another factor: In the years since the 2008 financial crisis, interest rates in wealthier countries have been stuck at very low levels. “So people who have assets and want to invest their money all wanted to look for opportunities.” These include managers of investments funds, pension funds and the like from wealthy countries. They had not historically been major sources of financing for poor countries. But in recent years they started snapping up bonds issued by African countries — whose economies at the time seemed to be growing at a healthy rate. These bonds offered much higher rates of return than bonds from wealthy nations.

Surely the borrowing nations also face some responsibility?

“Some countries quite frankly just took advantage of the availability of money,” says Ahmed. He points to cases of outright fraud and corruption in Mozambique, Moldova and the Gambia — in which government officials borrowed money on behalf of their nations, then apparently pocketed it for themselves.

Then there are cases of countries that derive most of their income from exporting a few commodities — for instance, Zambia, which relies on copper. In recent years, the prices for many commodities fell sharply and stayed flat — depressing their national income.

“Suddenly you find that what you thought was a level of debt you could manage is harder to maintain,” Ahmed says. Adding to the problem, instead of cutting their national budgets to account for the lost revenue, these countries turned to borrowing to make up the difference.

And then there were the cases of simply less-than-ideal management. “I’m thinking of countries like Ghana and Ethiopia,” says Ahmed, “where they just felt, you know people are willing to give us the money, let’s do it.” And then they failed to use the money for productive investments. “In many of these countries about half the increase in borrowing was not associated with an increase in investment. It was just used to spend more on current spending, things like salaries.”

So is there a fix?

Ahmed says it’s clear some kind of debt re-structuring and forgiveness is going to be needed. It will require getting all the creditors to the table to agree on the terms. “And that is not an easy thing to do.”

Back in the 1990s it took years of grinding negotiations. This time around the process is likely to be even more complicated because so many of the creditors are new to the game. “The IMF is still a very good place from which to have this conversation,” he says. But it is essential to bring in China and let it play a leadership role.

Given the challenges, this effort needs to start now, he says. Yet there seems to be a lack of urgency among world leaders. While IMF officials will be discussing the debt issue in Washington this Saturday as part of their annual spring meetings, it’s just one of a host of topics on the agenda.

What’s more, while the amount of debt involved may be crippling to poor countreries, it’s just a drop in the bucket of the global economy. This debt crisis is not going to cause a worldwide financial meltdown. So unlike the classic debtors in financial crises who benefit from being too big to fail, these nations could find themselves too poor to warrant a bailout.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Ariana Grande's 'No Tears Left To Cry' Pushes Past Grief

By |

Ariana Grande's 'No Tears Left To Cry' Pushes Past Grief

Ariana Grande in the Dave Meyers-directed music video for “No Tears Left to Cry.”

YouTube

hide caption

toggle caption

YouTube

The lead-in to Ariana Grande‘s comeback single, as per most pop diva returns, was ecstatic. Memes abounded online — of her cryptic, upside-down tweets, her low-slung ponytail. She rolled out a preview of her voice in an echo chamber of melisma. It’s a traditional pop roll-out, except with the gravity of loss and tragedy still hanging in the air.

“No Tears Left To Cry” comes as Grande’s first single since the bombing at her Manchester concert in May of last year, which killed 22 people and injured 59. There are slight cues to signify that these horrors continue to occupy her: the rainbow that crests her cheek on the single’s artwork, perhaps a callback to the “Somewhere Over The Rainbow” cover from her One Love Manchester performance; a butterfly flutters in the music video’s final moments, which, as noted by the BBC, serves as an emblem for Manchester.

[embedded content]
YouTube

If nothing else, “No Tears” eases Ariana Grande back into the public eye as a capital-P pop star without the weight of the Manchester tragedies breaking her. She feints through much of the song, for better or worse, turning a devastating, world-shattering moment into subject matter suited for a Max Martin production (here joined by Ilya Salmanzadeh). Grande addresses a “babe” as she gravitates toward “another mentality.” She’s “out here vibin’.” The vagaries can be read as indirectness, as is the “Show Me Love“-lite thump that underpins her still-sterling voice.

So too can the Dave Meyers-directed music video, which runs with the idea of the world toppling over and places it into aesthetic chaos. It’s the sort of visual that lends itself to plausible deniability. Grande struts and traipses across a brooding, topsy-turvy cityscape in one cut, is tessellated in shimmering lipstick and ensnared in a web of string lights elsewhere. In one particularly odd scene, she takes off her face and hangs it up with a collective of other faces.

“No Tears Left to Cry” isn’t a return-to-form filled with pop diva largess. But it doesn’t need to be. It’s the sign of Grande moving forward, her private grief turning into catharsis to be blasted on the airwaves.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Each Day That Passes, Pressure Grows For Chemical Inspectors Waiting In Syria

By |

Each Day That Passes, Pressure Grows For Chemical Inspectors Waiting In Syria

Inspectors from the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons have remained stuck in Damascus for nearly a week.

Ali Hashisho/Reuters

hide caption

toggle caption

Ali Hashisho/Reuters

As chemical weapons inspectors wait to investigate an alleged strike near the Syrian capital of Damascus, former inspectors say the challenges the current team faces are daunting.

The inspectors arrived in Syria on April 14, on a mission to investigate a suspected chemical attack in the Damascus suburb of Douma seven days earlier. Unconfirmed reports from the scene suggest that dozens may have died.

But so far the inspectors have been unable to reach the location of the attack to verify the facts for themselves. A United Nations reconnaissance team that visited the area on Tuesday came under fire and was forced to turn back. For now, the inspectors are sitting in their hotel rooms, waiting.

“There’s nothing they can do. They can’t force their way in,” says Dieter Rothbacher, a former chemical weapons inspector. The team wants to gather the evidence while it’s fresh, he says. “Every day that passes the pressure gets bigger.”

The inspectors were sent by the Organisation for the Prohibition of Chemical Weapons in The Hague. The OPCW is responsible for overseeing the Chemical Weapons Convention — a 1997 treaty banning the production, stockpiling and use of such weapons. Syria signed up to the conventionin 2013 after a chemical attack in another Damascus suburb left hundreds dead.

Even though the Syrian government is legally obligated by the convention, the inspectors have limited powers, says Jerry Smith, another former inspector who worked in Syria in 2013 and 2014. “The OPCW is not the world police,” he says.

In an email, an OPCW spokesperson declined to comment on when the nine-person investigation team would be able to enter Douma: “We are unable to share operational details about this deployment. This policy exists to preserve the integrity of the investigatory process and its results as well as to ensure the safety and security of OPCW experts and personnel involved.”

Smith says during his time in Syria, he operated under the watchful eye of the government of Syrian President Bashar Assad. He believes security forces were keeping close tabs on his every move. “I’m sure we were being listened to: our phone calls monitored and our computers hacked and our rooms bugged,” he says.

In 2013, chemical weapons inspectors working in the suburbs outside of Damascus were able to confirm the use of the nerve agent sarin.

Stringer/Reuters

hide caption

toggle caption

Stringer/Reuters

Smith went to Syria shortly after the government joined the Chemical Weapons Convention in order to avert U.S. strikes and appease its chief patron, Russia. He helped to destroy some 1,300 metric tons of declared chemical weapons and their precursors. Although Syrian government officials generally seemed happy to help the OPCW team, things could get tense. “Some of the visits, the inspectors had weapons pointed at them,” Smith says.

This time around, Syria invited the OPCW inspectors in to investigate the Douma attack. The invitation provided the inspectors with the legal basis to enter Syria, but it gives the Syrian government the ability to control their activities.

That makes the work of inspectors dramatically different from that of law enforcement. “In a police investigation, 99 percent of the stakeholders of that investigation want the truth to be found out,” Smith says. But in the case of the latest attack, a chief suspect is the same government that’s hosting the team.

Already the delays will make it difficult to determine what happened in Douma. Analysts and local rescue and medical workers who observed victims have suggested chlorine was used. Chlorine is a highly volatile compound that evaporates quickly, says Rothbacher. “The best places to sample now are the people who have supposedly been hit,” he says. But Syrian government officials will likely determine whom inspectors talk to and what they see.

Even if the inspectors can gather evidence, they won’t be able to point the finger at anyone. “The inspectors are basically there to collect facts,” says Ralf Trapp, a chemical weapons expert who has worked closely with the OPCW. “The question whether there was a violation of the chemical weapons convention, that’s a political question, that’s not really their job.”

The political process for ascribing blame is broken, Trapp adds. A U.N. system for investigating chemical weapons violations in Syria broke down last October, after Russia, a close ally of Syria, vetoed its renewal.

Without that political process, whatever facts the team can collect will likely be spun by all sides in the conflict. “Whatever they do will be imperfect, whatever they do will be criticized,” says Smith.

But the inspectors can do something few others can. The team is made up of scientists, medical experts and engineers from all over the world. Their work is careful and methodical. At the end of the day, it may be able to provide something sorely lacking: impartial data concerning the events in Douma.

“If you’re lucky with the science, the science will quite conclusively disprove some of the stories,” Smith says. But, he adds, “It’s a kind of a slow process.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Arizona Teachers Vote To Strike, Sparking First-ever Statewide Walkout

By |

Arizona Teachers Vote To Strike, Sparking First-ever Statewide Walkout

Arizona teachers and education advocates march at the Arizona Capitol protesting low teacher pay and school funding in Phoenix.

Ross D. Franklin/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Ross D. Franklin/AP

Teachers in Arizona held a strike vote on Thursday launching a first-ever statewide walkout turning down a proposed pay raise demanding instead increased school funding.

The Arizona Education Association and the grassroots group the Arizona Educators United announced that teachers will walk off the job April 26.

At issue is a plan crafted by Gov. Doug Ducey to give teachers a 20 percent raise by 2020, starting with a 9 percent hike next year.

Initially, Ducey’s plan drew support from two education advocacy groups, Save Our Schools Arizona and the Arizona Parent Teacher Association (AZPTA). But both groups have withdrawn their support saying the plan is not sustainable and likely will come at the expense of others in the educational system.

AZPTA President Beth Simek, in a video statement, said that an analysis from the Joint Legislative Budget Committee staff, coupled with her group’s research, led to their decision to oppose Ducey’s plan.

“In light of the funding streams that have come to light regarding the #20 by 2020 plan, we can no longer support the governor’s proposal,” said Simek. “As a voice for children, we hope to see the governor and legislature find a sustainable, long-term permanent funding source that does not hurt others in the process.”

School support staff groups say they feel left out of the governor’s plan.

In a tweet, Save Our Schools Arizona said “It is now clear the existing proposal is not sustainable or comprehensive as a means of increasing educator pay and re-investing in Arizona’s classrooms and schools.”

Both groups said that they are still ready to work with the governor on a new plan.

Arizona’s teachers plan to strike is an unprecedented move and comes with high risk.

According to the Associated Press:

“Teachers themselves could face consequences in this right-to-work state, where unions do not collectively bargain with school districts and representation is not mandatory. The Arizona Education Association has warned its 20,000 members about a 1971 Arizona attorney general opinion saying a statewide strike would be illegal under common law and participants could lose their teaching credentials.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Missing Nazi Submarine Found Near Denmark; Spoiler: Hitler Is Probably Not Onboard

By |

Missing Nazi Submarine Found Near Denmark; Spoiler: Hitler Is Probably Not Onboard

Researchers from the Sea War Museum Jutland announced they found a Nazi U-boat that disappeared a day after Germans surrendered to Danish forces in 1945.

AP

hide caption

toggle caption

AP

For more than 70 years historians have wondered what happened to a Nazi U-boat that disappeared after going “on the run” following the German surrender to Danish and Dutch forces at the end of World War II. And now there is an answer.

Researchers from the Sea War Museum Jutland, in northern Denmark, say they found the wrecked submarine earlier this month. Apparently, the U-3523, the most advanced sub of its day, has been partially buried in the seabed off the north coast of the country all along.

The discovery has put an end to decades of speculation that upon their defeat a crew of Nazis had used it to flee to South America. CBS reported some conspiracy theorists contended Adolf Hitler was with the officers who had been aboard and allegedly made it safely to Colombia.

“After the war, there were many rumors about top Nazis who fled in U-boats and brought Nazi gold to safety, and the U-3523 fed the rumors,” the museum said in a statement published on its website.

“The Type XXI was the first genuine submarine that could sail submerged for a prolonged time, and the U-3523 had a range that would have allowed it to sail nonstop all the way to South America,” officials said.

Researchers said no one knows what the intended destination of those onboard the submarine might have been. Nor is it currently evident whether it carries any valuables or additional passengers. What is certain is that all 58 crew members perished.

The museum reported the submarine was struck by British bombers on May 6, 1945, but the location given by the pilot at the time was off by 9 nautical miles. That explains how it went undiscovered for so long.

The museum used scanning technology to locate the sub, which was found 123 meters (404 feet) deep.

In the statement, the museum said:

U-3523 appeared on the screen during the museum’s scan of the seabed ten nautical miles north of Skagen, and the picture was very surprising. Most unusual the whole fore part of the U-boat lies buried in the seabed, while the stern is standing 20 meters [66 feet] above the bottom.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

That's A Wrap: Kanye's Koans, K-Dot's Prize, Drake's 'Scorpion,' J. Cole's 'K.O.D.'

By |

That's A Wrap: Kanye's Koans, K-Dot's Prize, Drake's 'Scorpion,' J. Cole's 'K.O.D.'

Kanye West returned to Twitter this week to post aphorisms… and announce several new albums, including one from Pusha-T (left).

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3

hide caption

toggle caption

Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images for Yeezy Season 3

Forget that old adage about hip-hop being a product of the streets. Nowadays, if you really want to keep your finger on the pulse, you better follow the tweets.

Consider the events this week in rap as exhibits A, B, C and D: In the last five days, three of the biggest, most elusive names in rap have taken to social media to tease fans with forthcoming album release dates, while rap’s reigning G.O.A.T. collected the big cheese.

It all started on Monday, when Kendrick Lamar won a damn Pulitzer Prize in music, the first of its kind awarded to any artist outside of classical or jazz. Word spread like wildfire on the web.

The same day, Drake announced on Instagram the forthcoming June release of Scorpion, which everybody instantly assumed to be an album, because why else would he have it screenprinted on the back of a shiny black jacket? (He later confirmed those assumptions to Rolling Stone.)

Later that same night, J. Cole, whose fans are well-adapted to his unannounced releases, tweeted out the details of a surprise listening show at New York’s Gramercy Theatre — “No phones, no cameras, no bags, no press list not guest list” — where he previewed his new 12-track album K.O.D., before announcing its Friday release five hours later.

Oh, and Kanye West returned to Twitter, spitting out the deepest aphorisms this side of Deepak Chopra. (“Some people have to work within the existing consciousness while some people can shift the consciousness,” is my personal fave. Go ahead and guess which one Kanye considers himself.) In an interview with his interior designer Alex Vervoordt, ‘Ye promised his own philosophy book was on the way. By Wednesday, he’d informed us that the tweets we were consuming were, in fact, the book: “oh by the way this is my book that I’m writing in real time,” he tweeted, because, why not?

The news everyone was waiting for — and the only reason Kanye ever returns to Twitter — finally came Thursday when he cryptically tweeted a few release dates: “my album is seven tracks,” he posted. “June 1.”

Kanye didn’t stop there, confirming a slew of GOOD Music release dates, including his long-rumored collaborative album with Kid Cudi (the duo now known as Kids See Ghosts) for June 8; Teyana Taylor for June 22; and Pusha T for May 25. (NPR Music has reached out to Def Jam in an attempt to confirm Kanye’s release dates.)

Coming from Kanye, of course, these dates could mean anything. Or nothing. His last major release, Life Of Pablo, got pushed back several times from his originally announced release date, and he continued to tweak the album long after its exclusive release on streaming platform Tidal.

But such is the ephemeral nature of hip-hop — or politics — today, where the formality of press releases has been usurped by the immediacy of informal tweets, complete with typos, unconfirmed info and the likelihood that all can be deleted at an artist’s whim. (Surprise, snitches!) You almost have to wonder if the genre’s biggest artists got together and plotted out this week in advance, you know, for the culture. If so, it’s the biggest troll ever.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Lykke Li's Two New Songs Dance At The Edges Of Pop Music

By |

Lykke Li's Two New Songs Dance At The Edges Of Pop Music

Lykke Li’s so sad so sexy comes out June 8.

Chloe Le Drezen/Courtesy of the artist

hide caption

toggle caption

Chloe Le Drezen/Courtesy of the artist

Lykke Li has always found her own path through pop music. She is and isn’t a part of that landscape, instead dancing along its edges where the grass grows wild. There was her whimsical, indie-electro debut from a decade ago, Youth Novel, the wide-ranging but altogether rollicking Wounded Rhymes, and 2014’s I Never Learn, which closed a conceptual trilogy, with anthemic production very much of its time, yet intimately reined in by Li’s voice.

In June, the Swedish artist will release so sad so sexy, and after listening to its first two singles, it’s clear Li has absorbed pop’s recent obsessions with the kind of care that comes from deep listening. “Hard Rain” finds her in lonely-in-the-woods-with-AutoTune mode, something James Blake or Bon Iver might make with a fire roaring somewhere nearby. Instead of loudly announcing her newfound love for trap music with bombast (as is often a pop singer’s wont), “Deep End” employs the triple-time subdivided beat with a dreamy sheen, simmering in its nodding rhythm — plus, it’s such a delight to hear Lykke Li sing, “Bae, you burned me / Your kiss is salty chlorine.”

[embedded content]
YouTube
[embedded content]
YouTube


so sad so sexy comes out June 8 via RCA Records.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Who Is The Mystery Man Behind @realDonaldTrump? (Besides The President)

By |

Who Is The Mystery Man Behind @realDonaldTrump? (Besides The President)

Journalist Robert Draper says White House social media director Dan Scavino has a hand in crafting about half of the president’s tweets.

Matt Rourke/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

Matt Rourke/AP

Just who controls the Twitter handle @realDonaldTrump? If you guessed the president, journalist Robert Draper says you might only be partially correct.

Draper’s recent New York Times Magazine article profiles White House social media director Dan Scavino — a man Draper estimates helps craft about half of the president’s tweets.

Scavino first met Trump on the golf course in 1990, when he worked as Trump’s caddie. Three decades later, Draper says, a certain golf-course dynamic still exists between the president and the man who helps manage his Twitter feed.

“Dan Scavino doesn’t have an ideology other than loving Donald Trump,” Draper says. “He does … whatever Trump wants him to do — and in that sense he was then and still is a kind of caddie.”

Draper says that Scavino deliberately shies away from the limelight: “[The White House] would prefer that we see [@realDonaldTump] as the unvarnished Donald Trump.” But, Draper adds, “Dan Scavino, a person most Americans have never heard of, is in a lot of ways a more acute window onto Trump than almost any other. … No one understands Trump’s base … more than Dan Scavino.”


Interview Highlights

On Scavino’s aggressive defense of the president on Twitter

Scavino is yet another individual who was a perfectly normal soul, so it seemed, until he fell down the Trump rabbit hole. As this Westchester County suburbanite, one would never have expected a person like Dan Scavino to become a Donald Trump attack dog, but that is, in fact, what has taken place — both on Trump’s Twitter account and on Dan Scavino’s personal Twitter account. … To the extent that Trump believes in (as he puts it) “counter-punching,” Dan Scavino is very much a part of that counter-punching mechanism.

On which of Trump’s tweets may have been crafted by Scavino

If you look at Trump’s Twitter page, you’ll see, for one thing, a few sort of anodyne things: “I’ll be at such-and-such a place at 1 o’clock.” Trump’s not writing that; Dan Scavino is.

Then you’ll see other things that will say, “I’m not the corrupt one; Hillary Clinton is corrupt.” And it will list three or four reasons why Hillary Clinton is the corrupt one, not Trump. Well, that’s Trump, but it’s Trump in “collusion,” as it were, with Scavino, who will supply the litany of examples.

There are also some tweets that Trump will dictate to Scavino and Scavino will then polish them up, make sure there are no grammatical errors or anything like that. Trump will look at them and then say, “OK, that looks good,” or “No, no. I want you to put this back in.” Then he’ll say, “Go ahead and hit send,” and Scavino will do so. …

There certainly are tweets that Trump himself writes in the dark of night or first thing in the morning that Dan Scavino sees when the rest of the world sees. That’s probably about half of the tweets overall. But of the 37,000 or so tweets that Trump has sent out, Dan Scavino is responsible for — at least as a “co-conspirator” to — about half of those.

On the Trump style of tweeting, with all-caps and exclamation points

Let’s for one thing establish … that none of us are in the room when individual tweets are happening. I would’ve loved to deconstruct a series of tweets for this story and say, “Here’s what Scavino supplied. Here’s what the first draft of this was.” I was unable. It happens to be an intimate act for President Trump … something that all takes place backstage.

Having said all of that, Trump more or less set his own template with the all-caps and saying “Sad!” but Scavino has added to that template. Trump didn’t know how to do a hashtag before [Scavino]. … [Trump] would have a general sentiment, but would lack specifics.

When we look at a Trump tweet, it is, in many ways, an amalgamation of Trump’s basic grievance — the establishment of a grievance or an establishment of a boast, supplied then with a few technical details such as hashtags and things. The all-caps is something Trump has been doing going back to, I’d say, 2012, before Scavino had any access to Trump’s Twitter account. He began, Scavino did, to “co-conspire” with Trump on the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account in 2015.

On the puzzling Trump tweet with the nonsense word “covfefe”

This was a tweet that took place, of course, six minutes after midnight on May 31, 2017, from the @realDonaldTrump Twitter account. It simply says, “Despite the constant negative press covfefe,” there’s nothing that takes place after that. Washington was roiling with an effort to decipher this word “covfefe,” scrambling in Urban Dictionaries trying to figure out its meaning. …

The reality is that, at the time, no one knew anything about that tweet. The word “covfefe” in the context of what that sentence seemed to be heading towards in all likelihood meant “coverage” and he just simply stopped writing. For what reason? We don’t know. Maybe his phone rang. Maybe he fell asleep. We’re not sure.

There’s a few tip-offs, by the way, as to why that tweet was completely Donald Trump. One of them is the hour, 12:06 am, the other is that it is a misspelling, a half-finished thought, a half-finished sentence. Scavino is essentially around to correct grammatical errors, correct misspellings.

The Trump White House was very resistant to deconstructing this stuff for me and elaborating on Dan Scavino’s role in President Trump’s individual tweets, but they did concede to me that yes, Scavino will correct misspellings and all that. Therefore it defies any rational imagination that Scavino would’ve allowed this to pass. This was in fact, for better or worse, the unvarnished Donald Trump at work.

On why Scavino refuses to be interviewed

Scavino is reticent for a couple of reasons. One of them is that he has watched one staffer after the next — most famously Anthony Scaramucci, who lasted for 10 days or so — to fall on their sword, to self-emulate, pick your metaphor, but basically to call too much attention to themselves, which is something the president can’t stand. As President Trump said when he was candidate Trump to Corey Lewandowski in 2016 when there was a glowing profile of Lewandowski that got a lot of attention he said to Lewandowski, “There’s only one star in this campaign.”

Scavino has learned that all too well. For that reason he has been reluctant to submit to any interviews. But the other reason, of course, is the one that we’re talking about, which is that this is a surprisingly sensitive subject. Trump values a lot of things, and Scavino supplies those: He values loyalty, he values love, but he also values the primacy of his “personal printing press” and wants the world to believe that it’s his and his alone.

On President Trump referring to North Korean leader Kim Jong-un as “rocket man” in a tweet

It has created heartburn for everybody in the West Wing when the president does something like that, going after a leader of a foreign country and attacking them, calling them names. The recognition that there will be repercussions is not lost on someone like Scavino, but no one tries to prevent him from doing it.

In the Bush administration I remember they used to say that people who would come in to tell the president something he didn’t want to hear was on the order of “walking into the helicopter propellers.” But Bush could actually take criticism far better than President Trump does. … Telling Trump you can’t or shouldn’t say this or that on Twitter is a grave offense to him. Scavino has learned, like anyone else who is a survivor in the West Wing, that there are some battles that just aren’t worth fighting.

On reporting by the Washington Post that shows Scavino’s possible ties to Russia

There were emails that indicated communications between Scavino in his capacity as social media director for the Trump campaign and a Russian Facebook page, a Russian version of Facebook, wanting to help out on the Trump campaign, wanting to post things on the site. There was a particular American intermediary, Rob Goldstone, who figures into a lot of this “Russiagate” stuff, who was putting Scavino in touch with these Russians.

Scavino’s reply, according to the emails that were read to The Washington Post, he replied with enthusiasm, “Yes indeed, I’d love to know more about this.” We now know, of course, that Russia had an involvement in the Facebook activities relating to the election — if not to Trump’s campaign itself. But that there were these interactions between the Russian Facebook page and the Trump campaign at least momentarily would seemingly be the kind of thing that would draw the interest of the special counsel. …

This means a lot of legal fees for Scavino, but, of course, it could mean a lot worse. It could mean that Scavino had an involvement with Russians whose interest it was to swing the election over to Donald Trump, obviously an interest that the Trump campaign shared. And if that collusion exists, it could well be that Dan Scavino is in the thick of it. If that’s the case, then he has more than just legal fees to be worried about.

Sam Briger and Seth Kelley produced and edited this interview for broadcast. Bridget Bentz, Molly Seavy-Nesper and Martina Stewart adapted it for the Web.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Cuba, Long Led By Castros, Hails A New President Outside The Family

By |

Cuba, Long Led By Castros, Hails A New President Outside The Family

The man who now leads Cuba: Miguel Diaz-Canel, 57. The Communist Party operative, seen here in Santa Clara last month, was elected president of the island nation Thursday.

Alejandro Ernesto/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Alejandro Ernesto/AFP/Getty Images

Updated at 1:08 p.m. ET

Miguel Mario Diaz-Canel Bermudez has been elected president of Cuba, officially ending the Castro family’s decades of domination of the country’s highest office. The Communist Party formally announced the presidency’s transition from Raul Castro on Thursday, in what might better be described as a coronation than an election.

In fact, if there was any surprise at all, it might be that Diaz-Canel, the 57-year-old party stalwart long expected to succeed Castro, did not win every vote cast after the party nominated him its sole candidate Wednesday. Just 603 of 604 Cuban lawmakers voted for him in a secret ballot that night.

After the result was announced Thursday, Diaz-Canel and Castro mounted the dais in front of the National Assembly and embraced in a gesture both real and deeply symbolic.

“The people have given this assembly the mandate to provide continuity to the Cuban Revolution during a crucial, historic moment that will be defined by all that we achieve in the advance of the modernization of our social and economic model,” Diaz-Canel told lawmakers in a televised address, as translated by The Associated Press.

A woman watches outgoing Cuban President Raul Castro (right) hoist the arm of his successor, Miguel Diaz-Canel, during a televised ceremony formally marking the latter’s election.

Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

hide caption

toggle caption

Yamil Lage/AFP/Getty Images

He outlined a vision of gradual policy evolution — and at the same time, he was careful to add that his predecessor, who has led Cuba since his late brother Fidel stepped down in 2008, would remain very much a force in the government. Raul Castro might be passing the presidential torch, as it were, but the 86-year-old leader remains head of the military and the ruling Communist Party.

Castro pledged to lead the party until 2021, at which point Diaz-Canel is expected to replace him in that position, as well.

“I confirm to this assembly that Raul Castro, as first secretary of the Communist Party, will lead the decisions about the future of the country,” Diaz-Canel said, according to the AP. “Cuba needs him, providing ideas and proposals for the revolutionary cause, orienting and alerting us about any error or deficiency, teaching us, and always ready to confront imperialism.”

Still, beneath the promises of continuity rests an important — if symbolic — changing of the guard. At nearly three decades Castro’s junior, Diaz-Canel hails from a generation that wasn’t even alive when Fidel Castro led the revolution ousting military dictator Fulgencio Batista in 1959.

And though he has publicly espoused party orthodoxy, Diaz-Canel has not been a cookie-cutter bureaucrat, exactly. NPR’s Carrie Kahn notes that as a young man, the longtime provincial leader who became first vice president “did sport long hair, loved rock music and even backed a local LGBT-friendly cultural center.”

It remains unclear what his tenure in the presidency will spell for Cuba’s fraught relations with its capitalist neighbor across the Straits of Florida.

Under the Obama administration, it had appeared the U.S. and Cuba, long frozen in stalemate, had been headed for a thaw. The two countries re-established diplomatic relations in 2015, and Cuba even hosted Obama on a state visit not long afterward.

But those newly established ties have frayed since President Trump took office, bringing a much more skeptical view on Cuba into the White House.

It is unlikely to be lost on the average Cuban, and certainly not on Cuban leadership, that this transition of power is occurring almost 57 years to the day since the Bay of Pigs invasion. That disastrous attempt to overthrow Fidel Castro’s then-nascent regime, which was led by Cuban exiles and supported by the CIA, ended within days and in humiliation for the would-be topplers.

For now, though, history weighs less in the balance than in the present for Cubans, many of whom, Carrie reports, are a little reticent to talk politics.

“What everybody is willing to talk about, though, is the poor economy here. On average, you know, a Cuban state salary is about $30 a month. You just can’t live off that here,” she tells All Things Considered.

“So people are hurting,” she adds, “and they really want to see the economy grow.”

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

Federal Judge Holds Kansas Elections Official In Contempt Of Court

By |

Federal Judge Holds Kansas Elections Official In Contempt Of Court

Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach speaks in Topeka, Kan., before a trial challenging his state’s proof-of-citizenship voter registration law.

John Hanna/AP

hide caption

toggle caption

John Hanna/AP

A federal judge has found Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach in contempt of court for disobeying a court order in a case testing that state’s controversial proof-of citizenship voting law.

U.S. District Judge Julie Robinson says Kobach violated her preliminary injunction to allow some potentially ineligible voters to remain eligible to cast a ballot, pending the outcome of the lawsuit.

The judge found that the Kansas secretary of state, who has crusaded against voter fraud, failed to update his office’s website informing some new voter applicants that they were still eligible to vote. She also found that Kobach’s office did not send postcards to such voters, who had not shown proof-of-citizenship documents when they registered, as the judge required.

Kobach is a Republican who once led President Trump’s now-disbanded commission on voter fraud.

The Kansas law, which went into effect in 2013, required people to show a citizenship document — a passport or birth certificate — in order to register to vote. In a lawsuit challenging the law, the American Civil Liberties Union argued that the law violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 and prevented more than 35,000 Kansans from voting.

In May 2016, Judge Robinson ordered Kobach to stop enforcing the controversial proof-of-citizenship requirement. The secretary of state appealed to the 10th Circuit Court of Appeals and lost. That panel called the Kansas law “a mass denial of a fundamental constitutional right.”

In March, Robinson heard a trial over the ACLU lawsuit in which Kobach himself represented the state. The judge has yet to issue a ruling in the case.

With her contempt order, she instructed Kobach to pay attorney’s fees to the American Civil Liberties Union.

“Defendant has a history of non-compliance with the preliminary injunction order,” wrote the judge in her 25-page contempt order.

“The judge found that Kris Kobach disobeyed the court’s orders by failing to provide registered voters with consistent information, that he willfully failed to ensure that county elections officials were properly trained,” Dale Ho, director of the ACLU’s Voting Rights Project, said in a statement. “Secretary Kobach likes to talk about the rule of law. Talk is cheap, and his actions speak louder than his words.”

A spokesman, Moriah Day, said in an e-mail to NPR that Kobach will appeal.

Kobach is currently running for governor of Kansas.

Let’s block ads! (Why?)

Read more »

AdSense
Wordpress SEO Plugin by SEOPressor