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Grassroots Movements Now Built With Digital Tools

Grassroots organizing is the key to building a movement, and much of it today is done online. Connections made through social media sites such as Facebook and Twitter bring supporters to rallies, and dozens of online sites help politicians and activists manage vast amounts of data, disseminate their message and connect with supporters.

Several candidates in last year’s French presidential election turned to a U.S.-based company called NationBuilder for digital tools to manage their outreach. The election’s surprise winner, 39-year-old Emmanuel Macron, did not, but he later turned to the company to build a legislative majority in the National Assembly.

His field of candidates in the legislative election in June 2017 included many political novices, but Macron gained a majority of the assembly’s 577 seats, securing 350 seats for his La Republique En Marche! party with coalition partner Mouvement Democrate.

“Macron ended up using us to field an entire government, to run his legislative elections,” said NationBuilder CEO Lea Endres at the company’s headquarters in Los Angeles. “There are people all over the world in 112 countries” who do the same, she said, “political parties and political candidates, nonprofit organizations, small businesses, large businesses.”

Causes across the spectrum

The company is one of dozens of sources for the digital tools that activists use. Others include the open-source CiviCRM for nonprofit management and the petition-writing site Change.org.

NationBuilder says it attracts people across the political spectrum, from Republicans in Maryland and several southern U.S. states to Jagmeet Singh, the newly elected leader of Canada’s left-leaning New Democratic Party. A Sikh, Singh is the first member of an ethnic minority group to serve as permanent leader of a major Canadian party.

Brexit

The debate surrounding Brexit, the 2016 vote to withdraw Britain from the European Union, spurred activists on the “remain” side. They used NationBuilder to target supporters, sending targeted emails to supporters in specific parts of the country “to set up a campaign group or support one that’s already there, or promote an action that’s happening locally,” said James MacCleary, campaign director for the European Movement UK.

“It gives an ability to be very flexible with our data and get away from global email blasts,” he said. The group is pressing for a national referendum on the final Brexit agreement.

For any organization or cause, supporters receive targeted emails that help to build relationships, according to Ryan Vaillancourt, director of sales enablement at NationBuilder.

For environmental groups, an email might say “you told us six months ago that you want to get involved in this organization and the reason that you cared about this campaign is that you’re passionate about the environment,” Vaillancourt explained. “We’ve got an event coming up, it’s down the street from you, and we’d love to see you there.”

Adapts to technology

With a presence in more than 100 countries, the company adapts to local needs in places like Africa, where “they’re not about long email lists and long newsletters,” said Toni Cowan-Brown, NationBuilder’s vice president for European Business Development. “They want to be able to communicate with people on their smartphones because that’s the biggest and richest technology source that they have right now,” she said.

From political parties to nonprofits, promoting a cause or building a movement are all about people, and the tools to connect and motivate them, these tech developers say, are found today online.

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John Brennan Accuses Trump of Trying to Silence Those Who Challenge Him

Former CIA Director John Brennan is accusing President Donald Trump of trying to silence him over his allegations of collusion between the Trump campaign and Moscow. The White House revoked Brennan’s security clearance Wednesday, arguing that the former spy chief’s remarks exhibited what it called “erratic conduct.” White House Correspondent Patsy Widakuswara has more.

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Attorney General Sessions’ Order to Speed Immigration Cases

U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions issued an order Thursday seeking to speed up the handling of deportation cases, telling immigration judges they should only issue continuances in immigrant removal proceedings for “good cause.”

Sessions, in an interim decision, said immigration judges could grant motions for continuances in removal cases “only ‘for good cause shown.’”

The “good-cause standard,” he noted, “limits the discretion of immigration judges and prohibits them from granting continuances for any reason or no reason at all.”

Unlike the federal judiciary system, U.S. immigration courts fall under the Justice Department’s jurisdiction, and the attorney general can intervene.

Sessions has been unusually active in this practice compared to his predecessors, exercising his intervention authority to make it harder for some people to legally remain in the United States.

Backlog of cases

The Justice Department has been struggling to reduce a backlog of deportation cases. An analysis by the Government Accountability Office last year found that the number of cases that drag on from one year to the next more than doubled between 2006 and 2015, mainly because fewer cases are completed per year.

Spokesman Devin O’Malley said the Justice Department had hired more immigration judges and reduced the time it took to hire them. But, he said, “unnecessary and improper continuances … continue to plague the immigration court system and contribute to the backlog.”

Check on judges’ authority

The attorney general said in his decision Thursday that the “use of continuances as a dilatory tactic is particularly pernicious in the immigration context” because people in the country illegally who want to remain have an incentive to delay their deportation as long as possible.

He said requiring judges to grant continuances solely for good cause would be “important check on immigration judges’ authority that reflects the public interest in expeditious enforcement of the immigration laws.”

Sessions said critical in showing good cause is whether the person is likely to succeed in efforts to remain in the United States, either by appealing for asylum or receiving approval to remain through some other channel.

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US Energy Secretary Praises Mexico’s Energy Independence Goal

U.S. Energy Secretary Rick Perry says he supports the plans of Mexican President-elect Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador to increase the country’s energy independence, even if it could mean fewer purchases from U.S. refineries.

The U.S. is opening new markets for its energy products daily and having Mexico develop its own energy resources will only benefit North America’s economic security, Perry said.

Perry spoke to reporters Wednesday in Mexico City after meeting with Lopez Obrador’s pick to become Mexico’s energy secretary, Rocio Nahle. He spoke on condition the remarks would not be released until Thursday.

Last month, Lopez Obrador announced a $16 billion investment plan to increase Mexico’s oil production, refinery capacity and electrical generation.

Mexico’s crude production dropped to 1.88 million barrels per day in the first half of 2018, compared to 3.4 million barrels per day in 2005.

Lopez Obrador, who takes office Dec. 1, wants Mexico to stop buying gasoline and diesel abroad. He has promised to invest in Mexico’s refineries and build a new one.

“Developing your energy resources and the prosperity that comes with it is a very, very good goal for this administration,” Perry said. He said the U.S. is ready to help Mexico work toward that.

Nahle said Wednesday via Twitter that her meeting with Perry was characterized by “mutual respect,” the term that Lopez Obrador has used to describe the kind of relationship he wants with the U.S.

Perry acknowledged that President Donald Trump had said some “harsh things” about Mexico, but attributed it to Trump’s negotiating style and said he believes Trump genuinely wants to have a good relationship with the U.S. neighbor.

“I think the president does have a very respectful and appreciative view of Mexico,” Perry said. “The president is different than maybe anybody that’s ever served there before.”

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Pompeo Forms ‘Iran Action Group’ for Post-Nuclear Deal Policy

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is forming a dedicated group to coordinate and run U.S. policy toward Iran as the Trump administration moves ahead with efforts to force changes in the Islamic Republic’s behavior after withdrawing from the Iran nuclear deal.

The State Department said Pompeo will announce the creation of the Iran Action Group on Thursday. Officials said the group will be headed by Brian Hook, who is currently the State Department’s director of policy planning. Hook led the Trump administration’s ultimately unsuccessful attempt to negotiate changes to the nuclear deal with European allies before the president decided in May to pull out of the accord.

Since withdrawing, the administration has re-imposed sanctions that were eased under the deal and has steadily ramped up pressure on Iran to try to get it to stop what it describes as “malign activities” in the region. In addition to its nuclear and missile programs, the administration has repeatedly criticized Iran for supporting Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Shi’ite rebels in Yemen and anti-Israel groups. It has also in recent weeks stepped up criticism of Iran’s human rights record and is working with other nations to curb their imports of Iranian oil.

The administration is warning Iran’s oil customers that they will face U.S. sanctions in November unless they significantly reduce their imports with an eye on eliminating them entirely. It has also told businesses and governments in Europe that they may also be subject to penalties if they violate, ignore or attempt to subvert the re-imposed U.S. sanctions.

In his new job, Hook is to oversee implementation of the administration’s entire Iran policy, the officials said. Pompeo and other officials have denied that the administration is seeking to foment regime change in Iran and maintain they only want to see the government change course. Pompeo created a similar group dedicated to working on North Korea policy while he was director of the CIA.

Hook is expected to be replaced as policy planning chief by Kiron Skinner, a foreign policy academic and adviser to several Republican presidential candidates who served on President Donald Trump’s national security transition team and very briefly at the State Department after Trump took office, according to the officials who were not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters and spoke on condition of anonymity.

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White House: US ‘Crushing It’ on Economic Growth

The United States economy, the world’s largest, is “crushing it,” White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow declared Thursday.

“This is the hottest business economic environment in the world today,” Kudlow told reporters at the White House.

“President [Donald] Trump completely changed the business environment here for the better,” Kudlow said. “And that’s why we’re crushing it on the economy. My message today is very simple, the biggest political event this year is an economic boom that virtually no one expected could happen. We’re growing. Three percent in the first half, 4 percent in the second quarter.”

Trump has made a tax cut and sharply curtailed government regulation a cornerstone of his 17-month presidency.

Kudlow predicted that “the boom is sustainable. The workforce is growing,” and “business and consumer confidence is high and rising.”

He defended Trump’s imposition of tariffs on an array of imports from across the world.

“People like to go at him” on tariffs, Kudlow said. “That’s silly. Don’t blame Trump. Blame the breakdown of the world trading system. That’s a point I love to make. I make it all the time. China being the biggest culprit, but not the only culprit.”

Kudlow said the World Trade Organization “is broken. People have been raising tariffs and non-tariff barriers, violating rules we thought had been in place for over 20 years. The president believes that it’s in the American interest, both workers, farmers, the whole economy — we have got to clear away all the existing protectionism that he inherited and start over and turn a new leaf.”

Trade with Turkey

He said that in the newest tariff dispute with Turkey, Trump imposed higher levies on Turkish steel and aluminum exports irrespective of Washington’s ongoing dispute with Ankara over its detention of an American pastor, Andrew Brunson, who is awaiting trial on espionage and terrorism-related charges. Trump has unsuccessfully demanded Brunson’s release.

“I think that basically the president is dissatisfied with Turkey on trade,” Kudlow said. But he said trade and the Brunson case were not linked.

“I can just tell you policy-wise, they are not connected,” he said. “Personally, I think they ought to release the pastor, but that is not part of the discussion.”

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Explainer: How Do Security Clearances Work?

U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday revoked the security clearance of former CIA Director John Brennan. We take a look at what that means.

What is a security clearance?

A security clearance allows a person access to classified national security information or restricted areas after completion of a background check. The clearance by itself does not guarantee unlimited access. The agency seeking the clearance must determine what specific area of information the person needs to access.

What are the different levels of security clearance?

There are three levels: Confidential, secret and top secret. Security clearances don’t expire. But, top secret clearances are reinvestigated every five years, secret clearances every 10 years and confidential clearances every 15 years.

Who has security clearances?

According to a Government Accountability Office report released last year, about 4.2 million people had a security clearance as of 2015, they included military personnel, civil servants, and government contractors.

Why does one need a security clearance in retirement?

Retired senior intelligence officials and military officers need their security clearances in case they are called to consult on sensitive issues.

Can the president revoke a security clearance?

Apparently. But there is no precedent for a president revoking someone’s security clearance. A security clearance is usually revoked by the agency that sought it for an employee or contractor. All federal agencies follow a list of 13 potential justifications for revoking or denying a clearance, which can include criminal acts, lack of allegiance to the United States, behavior or situation that could compromise an individual and security violations.

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Jury Gets Manafort Case

The fate of President Donald Trump’s former campaign chief Paul Manafort is in the hands of the jury.

The six men and six women will start deliberating Thursday on whether Manafort is guilty of tax and bank fraud. 

Manafort’s life was “littered with lies” as he pursued a lavish lifestyle, a U.S  prosecutor said in his closing argument  Wednesday. 

“Mr. Manafort lied to keep more money when he had it, and he lied to get more money when he didn’t,” prosecutor Greg Andres said.

Defense doesn’t call any witnesses

But defense attorney Richard Westling told the jury Manafort should be acquitted. He said the government had not met its burden to prove that Manafort was “guilty beyond a reasonable doubt,” the standard for a conviction in the U.S. legal system.

Westling said that is the reason the defense decided to rest Its case without calling any witnesses to testify, including Manafort himself.

Westling attacked the government’s contention that Manafort hid millions of dollars in offshore accounts to avoid U.S. taxes so he could fund luxurious purchases. He said Manafort had an adjusted net worth of $21.3 million at the end of 2016.

“Given this evidence, how can we say he didn’t have money?” Westling said.

Westling also attacked the prosecution’s star witness — Manafort’s former deputy chairman in the Trump campaign Rick Gates — as a liar and a thief. 

Gates had already pleaded guilty before Manafort’s trial to helping him hide millions in income from U.S. tax authorities and is awaiting sentencing.

Along with hours of testimony about Manafort’s finances, Gates acknowledged he stole hundreds of thousands of dollars from Manafort in part to finance an extra-marital affair in London and lied about his own role in hiding money in offshore accounts.

Prosecutor Andres alleges that overall, Manafort “failed to pay taxes on more than $15 million” in income. It is money the government claims he used to buy palatial mansions,  elaborate landscaping, fancy suits and jackets, electronics and other high-priced items. 

Much of the money, the government alleges, came from Manafort’s lobbying for deposed Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych, who was toppled in a popular 2014 uprising in Kyiv before fleeing to exile in Russia.

But Andres alleged that when the stream of money from Yanukovych dried up four years ago, Manafort financed his luxurious lifestyle by securing about $20 million in bank loans in the U.S. by lying about his assets and debts on loan applications.

“He lied and lied again,” Andres said.

Prosecutors offer two weeks of testimony

Prosecutors for special counsel Robert Mueller presented two weeks of testimony against Manafort, accusing him of hiding millions of dollars in offshore accounts he earned while lobbying for Yanukovych in the years before Manafort joined Trump’s campaign.

The case has drawn particular interest in the U.S. because it is the first trial conducted by Mueller’s prosecutors in their wide-ranging investigation of Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

They are probing whether Trump associates conspired with Russia to help Trump win the White House and whether Trump, as president, obstructed justice by trying to thwart the investigation.

However, the case against Manafort, a long-time Washington lobbyist, only peripherally touched on the campaign. Instead, it dealt almost totally on accusations about his financial transactions and what he did with the money from Yanukovych and the bank loans.

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Trump Revokes Security Clearance of Former CIA Director

The security clearance of a former Central Intelligence Agency director was revoked Wednesday by U.S. President Donald Trump, who said in a statement that John Brennan had been sowing “division and chaos” about his administration.

The clearances of other former officials also were under review, including those of former U.S. National Intelligence Director James Clapper, former FBI Director James Comey, former Obama administration national security adviser Susan Rice, former National Security Agency Director Michael Hayden and former Deputy Attorney General Sally Yates. 

“Security clearances for those who still have them may be revoked, and those who have already their lost their security clearance may not be able to have it reinstated,” White House press secretary Sarah Sanders said to reporters Wednesday, reading out the statement in the president’s name.

Sarah Sanders Reads Trump Statement Revoking Clearances

Sanders, responding to reporters’ questions, denied that Brennan and others were being singled out because they were critics of Trump.

The president’s statement accused Brennan of “erratic conduct and behavior” that “has tested and far exceeded the limits of any professional courtesy that may have been due to him.” It also accused Brennan of “a history that calls into question his objectivity and credibility.” 

Brennan has been extremely critical and outspoken about the president’s conduct. For example, he called Trump’s performance at a joint press conference last month with Russian President Vladimir Putin in Finland ​ “nothing short of treasonous.”

Brennan, on Twitter, termed Trump’s action Wednesday part of a broader effort “to suppress freedom of speech and punish critics,” adding that it “should gravely worry all Americans, including intelligence professionals, about the cost of speaking out.”

Brennan, who spent 25 years with the CIA, concluded: “My principles are worth far more than clearances. I will not relent.” 

“Two things, in my view, are true at the same time,” Carmen Medina, former CIA deputy director of intelligence,  told VOA. “It was unwise for Brennan to be so vitriolic in his comments — unwise but not illegal. And it is an abuse of power for Trump to revoke clearances, unless he can prove misuse of classified information, which I don’t think he can.”

Such former top officials, as a matter of courtesy, retain their government clearances so that they may be able to consult with current government officials or take outside positions for contracted entities that are involved with sensitive intelligence matters.

An official with knowledge of the process told VOA that senior intelligence officials “had no hand in this, no role in this.” 

Both the Office of the Director of National Intelligence and the Central Intelligence Agency referred to the White House all questions from VOA about the matter.

Senator Rand Paul, a Kentucky Republican, applauded the president’s action, saying he had urged the president to do so because Brennan’s “behavior in government and out of it demonstrate why he should not be allowed near classified information.”

“He participated in a shredding of constitutional rights, lied to Congress, and has been monetizing and making partisan political use of his clearance since his departure,” Paul said in a statement.

​Danger seen to free speech, security

But critics of the move to strip Brennan’s clearance called it a threat to free speech and even national security.

“It’s unprecedented. I don’t know of a case where this has ever been done in the past,” former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper said on CNN. 

Clapper, a retired Air Force lieutenant general who had been appointed to top intelligence posts by both Republican and Democratic presidents, called Trump’s action “an infringement of our right to speak and apparently the appropriateness of being critical of this president, in which one degree or another all of us have been.”

Clapper noted he’d had no access to intelligence information since he left government on the day Trump was inaugurated, succeeding Barack Obama.

The threat to pull his security clearance, Clapper added, would not silence him. “I don’t plan to stop speaking when I’m asked my views on this administration,” Clapper said on CNN.

Retired General Michael Hayden, who headed both the CIA and NSA during his career, said losing his clearance would “have a marginal impact” on the work he’s doing now. He also said fear of losing that clearance wouldn’t stop him from speaking his mind.

“With regard to the implied threat today that I could lose my clearance, that will have no impact on what I think, say or write,” he said in an emailed statement.

Most of the names on the list that Sanders read “have been open or outspoken about the administration or have directly run afoul of it,” Clapper said.

The current administration has questioned the loyalties of such officials, viewing their comments as attacks against the president, especially those focusing on the intelligence findings that Russia intervened in the 2016 election won by Trump.

Paul Pillar, a former senior CIA officer now with Georgetown University in Washington, told VOA that arguments could be made for and against former senior officials retaining security clearances after they’ve left those positions.  But he added that the decision should not be made because of opinions they express.

Politicization of process

“Deciding on such a basis represents a corruption and politicization of an important national security process,” Pillar said. “The harm to U.S. national security comes from that corruption, much more so than from not being able to get advice in classified channels from John Brennan or any other former official. What’s to stop Trump from politicization of the clearance process for currently serving officials?”

A former CIA deputy director, John McLaughlin, speaking on MSNBC after Sanders read the names, said, “The message that goes out is: Be careful what you say” about Trump. 

McLaughlin said it was critical for intelligence professionals, especially those still in their jobs, to be able to deliver unpleasant news to a president, and he expressed hope that Trump’s action would not have a chilling effect on those who brief the president.

“This has zero to do with national security. This is an Official Enemies List. The offense: exercising 1st Amendment rights,” tweeted Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general of the Justice Department, which oversees federal law enforcement.

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Ilhan Omar Closer to Becoming First African Refugee in Congress

Minnesota state lawmaker Ilhan Omar is one step closer to making history as the first refugee from the African continent – and the second Muslim American woman – elected to the U.S. Congress. She is seeking to replace Keith Ellison, the first Muslim American in the body, who currently represents the liberal Minneapolis district that favors Democrats. VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports.

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