Portland police texts with far-right group spark probe
By GILLIAN FLACCUS
Friday, February 15
PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — The city of Portland, often in the spotlight for its liberal leanings, has been roiled by the revelation that a police lieutenant in charge of containing protests texted repeatedly with the leader of a far-right group involved in those demonstrations.
The mayor asked the police chief Friday to investigate “disturbing” texts between Lt. Jeff Niiya, who is the head of the Police Bureau’s rapid response team, and the leader of a Washington-based group called Patriot Prayer that has repeatedly crossed into Oregon to stage right-wing rallies and marches.
The events in Portland and other West Coast cities routinely draw crowds of self-described anti-fascists, who show up in force to try to shut down leader Joey Gibson and his followers.
Police have struggled to contain the violent clashes and residents have grown used to events that shut down streets for hours, leave downtown windows shattered and end in open brawls, fires, injuries and dozens of arrests.
The text messages , first obtained by the Willamette Week newspaper through a public records request, show Niiya communicating with Gibson before, during and after those clashes.
In texts spread over months, Niiya at times details the movement of a rival anti-fascist protest group, warns Gibson by text that a friend of Gibson who is a member of a documented hate group could risk arrest by showing up in Oregon and congratulates Gibson on his decision to run for an open U.S. Senate seat in Washington state.
“The hate against me will multiply because I am running for office, so when I come into Portland and Seattle the energy will be high. I know it’s a pain in the ass for you guys, but I will do the best I can to work with you,” Gibson texted Niiya on Jan. 22, 2018.
After learning Gibson was a candidate, Niiya responded: “I won’t say anything. Thank you for trusting me and letting me know. I appreciate it.”
It’s not unusual for police to talk with those organizing protests in advance to work on planning, which makes it harder to say if these texts were out of line without hearing Niiya’s account, said Heidi Beirich, director of the intelligence project at the Southern Poverty Law Center, an organization that tracks hate groups and extremist activity.
But the texts did seem “odd for their chattiness,” she said, and warrant an investigation.
While Patriot Prayer is not considered a hate group, its members often align themselves with known hate groups and white supremacists, she added.
The Portland Police Commanding Officers Association said in a statement Friday that Niiya was following orders by establishing communication with Gibson. The Willamette Week reported that Niiya texted with an anti-fascist protester as well in 2017 — communications that led to that person being disowned by her fellow activists.
“Everything was about de-escalating and avoiding conflict. It was his job and he does that with several activists,” Gibson said in a phone interview on Friday.
“There were several times when he was literally begging for me to leave Portland — and on numerous occasions, I would do it.”
Niiya did not immediately return phone messages seeking comment.
In a statement, Portland Mayor Ted Wheeler said police must remain objective and that the texts appear to “cross several boundaries.”
“They also raise questions about whether warrants are being enforced consistently and what information is being shared with individuals who may be subject to arrest,” he said.
In one text, Niiya tells Gibson he does not see a need to arrest Gibson’s assistant, Tusitala “Tiny” Toese, who often brawls with anti-fascist protesters, even if he was the target of a warrant, unless Toese committed a new crime. Toese is a member of the Proud Boys, a documented hate group.
“Just make sure he doesn’t do anything which may draw our attention,” Niiya texted Gibson on Dec. 9, 2017. “If he still has the warrant in the system (I don’t run you guys so I don’t personally know) the officers could arrest him. I don’t see a need to arrest on the warrant unless there is a reason.”
Portland Police Chief Danielle Outlaw said in a statement that an internal review would be conducted to determine if policies were violated.
“If anything is identified that is deemed outside of our values and directives, it will be addressed,” Outlaw said.
Niiya will no longer work with police department’s rapid response team during the investigation, police said in a statement, and a community “listening session” was scheduled by the police for next week.
City Commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty said the “broken policing system in Portland” must be addressed.
Follow Gillian Flaccus on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/gflaccus
One-party rule in 49 state legislatures reflects flaws in democratic process
February 20, 2019
Author: Nancy Martorano Miller, Associate Professor of Political Science, University of Dayton
Disclosure statement: Nancy Martorano Miller does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.
Partners: University Of Dayton provides funding as a member of The Conversation US.
Across the U.S., Republicans control 30 statehouses and the Democrats control 18. That is the largest number of one-party controlled state legislatures since 1914.
Minnesota is currently the only state where there’s not one party in control of the state legislature – Republicans have a majority in the state Senate chamber, while Democrats hold the state House chamber.
The Democrats’ so-called “blue wave” in the 2018 midterm elections was not big enough to put a major dent into the Republican’s control of state legislatures.
As a scholar of state politics, I believe partisan gerrymandering is a major reason why the Democratic wave fizzled as it reached the states. It is also why Democrats will likely have a difficult time regaining control in states as the redistricting process begins in 2020.
The power of partisan gerrymandering
Partisan gerrymandering is the practice of drawing legislative districts that overwhelmingly favor one political party over another.
It creates safe seats for candidates of a particular party. Districts are created that contain mostly voters that support the majority party in the legislature, because in the redistricting process, the majority party gets to determine district boundaries. Recently, the Republican Party has simply been better at it.
In 2010, the Republican Party used redistricting to draw state legislative district lines that helped the party hold back the 2018 blue wave.
For example, in Pennsylvania, Michigan and North Carolina, a majority of people across each state voted for Democratic state House candidates. However, the Republican party still won a large majority of the legislative seats.
Because Democratic voters were spread out across many districts with very few districts having a majority of Democratic voters. Democratic candidates would need to win the votes of many Republicans to win the seat.
Policy impacts of partisan gerrymandering
This historic number of state legislatures controlled by one party will have important consequences for redistricting in 2020.
In 2020, the United States government will count its citizens as it does every 10 years through the census.
This also marks the beginning of the 2020 redistricting cycle. In 1962, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in Baker v. Carr that congressional districts must be drawn to ensure that each citizen receives equal representation in Congress and in state legislatures. So congressional and state legislative district lines will be redrawn to reflect population changes documented by the census.
In most states, the state legislature is responsible for drawing the new congressional and state legislative district lines. This means that when one party controls both chambers, they are likely to draw lines that protect and increase their hold on the legislature. There is little the minority party can do to stop them.
One-party control of state legislatures affects more than just redistricting. It also makes it easier for the party in power to adopt more extreme public policies.
In Democratic controlled states like New York, these may include passage of laws that protect the rights of laborers, women, immigrants and LGBTQ people and increase restrictions on gun ownership. In Republican controlled states like Texas, laws might aim at protecting the rights of gun owners and the life of the unborn. Some of these policies may not match the preferences of the greater public in a state.
When partisan gerrymandering limits electoral competition, legislators worry less about re-election. Less worry about re-election can mean less need to appeal to the full range of constituents in their districts when passing laws.
For example, the influential conservative nonprofit the American Legislative Exchange Council, or ALEC, has successfully helped legislators introduce and pass legislation in many states that support a national conservative agenda. ALEC does this by writing the legislation and providing it to legislators.
Meanwhile, the State Innovation Exchange, a progressive nonprofit, provides research, training and policy expertise to state legislators interested in supporting a national progressive agenda. Their goal is to help state legislators introduce and pass progressive public policies.
Is change in the air?
As partisan gerrymandering has become more prevalent and extreme, citizens have become increasingly disenchanted and less supportive of the process.
In 2017, the League of Women Voters – a nonpartisan organization that encourages informed and active participation in government – sued the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania arguing that the state’s congressional map violated the state’s constitution. The Pennsylvania Supreme Court ruled that the districts favored Republicans in a way that undercut Pennsylvania’s voters’ ability to exercise their state constitutional right to vote in free and equal elections. In the ruling, the court stated that the congressional map “was designed to dilute the votes of those who in prior elections voted for the party not in power in order to give the party in power a lasting electoral advantage.”
As a result, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court invalidated the districts and drew a more competitive map itself. The new map led to the election of a congressional delegation that better reflects the party affiliation of Pennsylvania voters.
Currently, partisan gerrymandering litigation is pending in 12 states. A 2017 Brennan Center report analyzed the congressional district maps. They found consistent and high partisan bias in a number of states.
In 2018, voters in Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah voted to make the redistricting process nonpartisan. They join Arizona, California, Idaho, Washington, Montana and Alaska in using independent redistricting commissions that are outside the influence of the legislature to draw legislative district lines. Most of these commissions have only existed since the late 1990s and early 2000s. The one exception is Washington, which adopted its independent redistricting commission in 1983.
A number of states, like Ohio, have also adopted reforms that give the minority party a larger voice in the process, but will still do little to stop the adoption of a partisan map. The hope is that the amount of bias will decrease.
Studies have shown that nonpartisan or bipartisan redistricting commissions lead to more competitive districts and potentially better representation for citizens. Pennsylvania, Michigan, Missouri, Colorado and Utah could be the start of a trend. The widespread adoption of nonpartisan or bipartisan commissions could lead to representation that is more responsive to citizen interests. Responsive governments are good for citizens.
Lawmakers seek probe of ICE force-feeding of immigrants
By GARANCE BURKE and MARTHA MENDOZA
Wednesday, February 20
Nearly 50 Democratic lawmakers called for a watchdog investigation of U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement on Tuesday after the agency confirmed it had been force-feeding immigrant detainees on a hunger strike.
Reporting by The Associated Press revealed late last month that nine Indian men who were refusing food at a Texas detention facility were being force-fed through nasal tubes against their will.
On Thursday, all force-feeding at the detention center near the El Paso airport abruptly stopped after a U.S. district judge said the government had to stop involuntarily feeding two of the detained immigrants.
The 49 lawmakers are calling for the Department of Homeland Security Office of Inspector General to investigate on-site conditions of ICE facilities and the policies surrounding the involuntary force-feeding of immigrant detainees. Earlier this month, the Geneva-based United National human rights office said that the United States could be violating the U.N. Convention Against Torture.
“We implore you to exercise your oversight responsibilities to make improving conditions at immigration detention facilities a top priority for ICE and ensure the humane treatment of detainees in federal custody,” said the letter spearheaded by Oregon Democratic Rep. Suzanne Bonamici and Texas Democratic Rep. Veronica Escobar, who toured the El Paso Processing Center and met with the men after the initial reports of the force-feeding. “These complaints reveal unequivocal abuses of power that violate the rights of detainees.”
ICE declined to comment directly on the request for an investigation Tuesday but said the agency has “a strict zero-tolerance policy for any kind of abusive or inappropriate behavior in its facilities.” The agency said that if allegations of inappropriate behavior surfaced, they would be investigated by DHS Office of the Inspector General and ICE’s Office of Professional Responsibility.
“For their health and safety, ICE closely monitors the food and water intake of those detainees identified as being on a hunger strike,” the agency said in a statement. “ICE does not retaliate in any way against hunger strikers.”
The inspector general’s office did not immediately return a call or email seeking comment.
Detained immigrants have sporadically staged hunger strikes around the country for years, protesting conditions they face while seeking asylum.
ICE said Tuesday 13 immigrants from Cuba, India, Mexico and Nigeria held in detention facilities nationwide were refusing food, but none were being force-fed. That included 10 detainees at the El Paso Processing Center, one at the Irwin County Detention Center in Georgia, one at the Krome Service Processing Center in Florida, and one at the Central Arizona Correctional Center.
One hunger striker in El Paso, an asylum seeker from the Indian state of Punjab, had previously described the process as involving being dragged from his cell three times a day and strapped down on a bed as a group of people poured liquid into tubes inserted into his nose.
Force-feeding, which began under court order earlier this year, had not previously been reported. Before it began in El Paso, advocates said they weren’t aware it had happened before.
In the Arctic Refuge, a Life Force Hangs in the Balance
Indigenous Alaskans consider the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge sacred land. So should other Americans.
By James Campbell | February 20, 2019
A lot has been written lately about the possibility of drilling for oil in the Arctic National Wildlife Refuge.
This is hardly new. In 2001, as George W. Bush and his Interior Secretary Gail Norton were pushing to open up the Refuge, a photographer friend and I flew from the Canning River at the western edge of the Refuge to Prudhoe Bay. In 60 miles, we’d traveled from the largest protected wilderness area in the United States to one of the largest industrial complexes in the world, measuring over 200,000 acres.
Prudhoe Bay resembled Gary, Indiana in the 1980s, its giant stacks coughing smoke and fire. It was a stark reminder that wilderness and oil have long had an uneasy relationship in Alaska.
Although politicians and oil companies have been trying to get at the Refuge’s reserves for decades, their most recent attempt might be the most daring.
In 2017, Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski, long a proponent of drilling in the Refuge, stuck a provision in the tax overhaul bill that characterized oil exploration as a means to grow federal revenues. Although President Trump had entered office saying that he would “honor the legacy of Theodore Roosevelt,” one of our greatest environmentalists, he quickly praised Murkowski’s maneuver for opening up land that “for 40 years this country was unable to touch.”
For nearly 40 years, the U.S. government has determined that oil drilling would be incompatible with the purposes of the Refuge. Recently, however, the Department of the Interior has been moving forward with a plan to sell drilling leases as early as next year, fast-tracking complicated environmental studies used to identify and address potentially negative consequences of drilling, and bypassing the public review period.
Although the fate of the Arctic Refuge is a federal issue of national interest — a 2017 poll showed that 70 percent of registered voters nationwide opposed drilling — just one hearing has been held outside of Alaska.
The indigenous Gwich’in people call the coastal plain of the Refuge “The Place Where Life Begins” and consider it sacred land. We, too, can attest to its spiritual quality. In the summer of 2014, my then 16-year-old daughter and I joined two Alaskan friends and backpacked over the bare and rugged peaks of the Brooks Range and canoed down the Hulahula River to the Arctic Ocean.
As a father, and a lover of wilderness, the fight to save the coastal plain is a personal one. On our adventure across the Refuge, I saw my daughter come alive. I saw her trepidation transformed into excitement and awe. I saw that awe as we encountered two grizzly cubs, and again, later, when a bold polar bear came to investigate our camp. I saw it when we were awakened in the morning by the howling of wolves and when we scouted the Hulahula River, picking out our line through the big rapids.
For me, the fight to save the Refuge will always be about that trip with my daughter and the feeling we had each day that we were witnessing a life force up close, a life force that today hangs in the balance.
James Campbell is the Author of Braving It (Lowell Thomas Travel Writing Silver Medalist), The Final Frontiersman, and The Ghost Mountain Boys, and the Co-Executive Producer of Discovery Channel’s The Last Alaskans. Distributed by OtherWords.org.
Lawyer: Ex-FBI official McCabe still facing investigation
By ERIC TUCKER
Thursday, February 21
WASHINGTON (AP) — A criminal investigation into whether former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe made false statements during an internal probe into a news media disclosure remains open, his attorney said Thursday.
“We’ve had dealings with the U.S. attorney’s office” in Washington that has been handling the case, said lawyer Michael Bromwich. “We are in continuing communication with them.”
The Justice Department inspector general last year referred for investigation and possible prosecution allegations that McCabe lied under oath when questioned about the source of information in a 2016 Wall Street Journal story about an FBI inquiry into the Clinton Foundation.
McCabe has acknowledged that he permitted subordinates to speak to the reporter to correct what he said was a false narrative, but he has denied that he lied to investigators.
He has called his March 2018 firing, which arose from the false statement allegations, politically motivated. Bromwich said McCabe will soon sue the Justice Department over his firing.
McCabe is a frequent target of President Donald Trump’s wrath and has just published a book highly critical of Trump.
The investigation into the news media disclosure exposed a rift between McCabe and former FBI Director James Comey.
McCabe told the inspector general’s office that he told Comey after the article was published that he had allowed the officials to share information about the call and that Comey responded that it was a “good” idea to rebut a one-sided narrative. But Comey is quoted in the report as saying McCabe never told him he had approved sharing details of the call and, in fact, had left him with the opposite impression.
Asked about his current relationship with Comey, McCabe replied tersely, “We don’t really have a relationship now.”