Moral Low Ground

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Citing Racist Defense, Supreme Court Rules 6-2 to Stop Texas Execution of Duane Buck

The United States Supreme Court overturned the death sentence of a black Texas prisoner on Wednesday, citing racist testimony presented by his own legal defense team during his sentencing hearing.

The Houston Chronicle reports the court’s 6-2 decision in Buck v Davis allows convicted murderer Duane Buck, 53, to go back to a lower court and request a new sentencing hearing due to legal improprieties. Buck, who shot his ex-girlfriend and her friend dead in a street in front of her children in 1995, was sentenced to death after one of his own defense witnesses testified he posed a future threat because he is black.

Chief Justice John Roberts, who delivered the ruling in favor of Buck, wrote that he “may have been sentenced to death in part because of his race.” Roberts added the witness’ testimony “said, in effect, that the color of Buck’s skin made him more deserving of execution. No competent defense attorney would introduce such evidence about his own client.”

“This is a disturbing departure from a basic premise of our criminal justice system: Our law punishes people for what they do, not who they are,” the chief justice said.

Conservative justices Clarence Thomas and Samuel Alito dissented, with Thomas arguing that racism should take a back seat to “the heinousness of petitioner’s crime and his complete lack of remorse.”

More than 100 civil rights leaders, clergy, elected officials, former prosecutors and judges and even a former Texas governor had called for a new sentencing hearing for Buck free of racial bias.

Harris County District Attorney Kim Ogg said Buck’s case will be reviewed following the high court’s ruling. “Racially charged evidence has no place in any courtroom and this administration will not tolerate its presence,” Ogg said in a statement. “We remain committed to seeking justice for the victims of Duane Buck’s heinous criminal acts, and will do so without what Chief Justice Roberts described as the ‘strain of racial prejudice’ present at the 1997 trial in which Buck was convicted.”

Buck’s attorneys welcomed the ruling. “Today, the Supreme Court made clear that there is no place for racial bias in the American criminal justice system,” NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund litigation director Christina Swarns said in a statement. Texas Defender Service senior staff attorney Kate Black said the ruling “gives us hope that the ugliness of Mr. Buck’s tainted death sentence will soon be put behind us and he will receive a life sentence.”

Buck can now receive a new sentencing hearing and could possibly have his sentence reduced from death to life imprisonment.

Ex-CIA Agent Sabrina De Sousa, Convicted in Italy Rendition Case, Arrested in Portugal

Sabrina De Sousa (Photo: Democracy Now!)

A former Central Intelligence Agency agent wanted in Italy after being convicted of illegally kidnapping an Egyptian cleric who was sent to Egypt under the Bush-era extraordinary rendition program has been arrested in Portugal.

Sabrina De Sousa, now 61 years old, was one of 26 Americans convicted in absentia by an Italian court in 2007 for the 2003 kidnapping of Egyptian cleric Hassan Mustafa Osama Nasr, also known as Abu Omar. The suspected terrorist was walking to his Milan mosque for noon prayers when he was nabbed by CIA agents. Nasr was then transported to Egypt in a controversial George W. Bush-era practice known as extraordinary rendition, the extrajudicial transfer of detainees from one country to another. While in Egypt, Nasr was brutally tortured —  he was raped twice, his genitals were shocked with electricity and he was beaten so badly that he lost hearing in one ear — before being released after a judge ruled there was insufficient evidence to warrant his continued detention. An Italian court later convicted Nasr in absentia and sentenced him to six years in prison for terrorism-related activities.

CIA surveillance photo of Abu Omar before his 2003 abduction and extraordinary rendition in Italy.

De Sousa, who posed as a diplomat while working undercover for the CIA in Italy, was sentenced to four years behind bars for her role in Nasr’s rendition. The New York Times reports De Sousa, a native of India who is also a dual citizen of the United States and Portugal, was briefly detained in Portugal in October 2015 under a European arrest warrant. She was arrested on Monday as she attempted to leave Portugal to visit relatives in India.

NBC News reports De Sousa will be extradited to Italy to serve her prison sentence following a Portuguese court’s order. Her Portuguese lawyer, Manuel Magalhaes e Silva, told reporters his client had lost her two-year fight against extradition. Silva expressed concerns over legal proceedings in Italy.

“Last May, a Portuguese court ruled that she could be extradited to Italy on condition that she would be granted a second trial, as she was convicted in absentia,” he said. “But the Italians are now saying that this won’t be the case as her lawyer attended the trial until the end even if she wasn’t there, so she should just serve her four years sentence.”

The US government said it was “deeply disappointed” by the conviction and sentencing of its former agent. “This is a matter that US officials have been following closely,” acting State Department spokesman Mark Toner said in a statement. “We have asked our European counterparts what their next steps may be, but we are not in a position to detail those discussions.”

Former CIA Milan station chief Robert Lady, who was sentenced to eight years in prison for his role in Nasr’s rendition, was arrested in Panama in July 2013 before being released the following day. In December 2015, Italian President Sergio Mattarella reduced the sentences of Lady and another CIA operative convicted in the case. Silva said De Sousa’s Italian lawyer has already reached out Mattarella to ask for an official pardon.

US Customs Agents Force All Passengers on Domestic SFO-JFK Flight to Show ID

(Photo: Anne Garrett/Twitter)

In a highly unusual move, US Customs and Border Protection (CBP) agents in New York ordered passengers disembarking from a domestic flight on Wednesday to show their identification.

CBS San Francisco reports passengers on Delta flight 1583 from San Francisco to New York were met by customs agents at their arrival gate at John F. Kennedy International Airport. The agents demanded all passengers show identification before they could exit the plane. CBP explained it was searching for an individual wanted for an immigration violation who might have been aboard the cross-country flight.

“CBP at John F. Kennedy Airport was contacted by US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) yesterday, February 22, 2017, to assist in locating an individual possibly aboard Delta flight 1583 from San Francisco International Airport to JFK,” the agency said in a statement. “This individual was ordered removed by an immigration judge. To assist our law enforcement partners, two CBP officers requested identification from those on the flight in order to help identify the individual. The individual was determined not to be on the flight.”

Vice News editor Anne Garrett was aboard the flight and tweeted a photo of the unusual — and, to some passengers, frightening — checkpoint.

NBC New York reports some passengers were unnerved by the experience. “It didn’t feel normal. I’ve been on a million domestic flights, I didn’t ever have that experience,” passenger Kelley Amadei said. After being cleared to exit the flight, Amadei asked the agents what was happening. “He said, ‘It’s not for you to to worry about, we do it from time to time,'” she said. “I said, ‘I’ve been on a thousand flights, I used to travel three weeks out of the month. I never had it happen on a domestic flight and I’ve never had it happen on an international flight.’ He just looked at me and said ‘leave it alone.'”

Manhattan resident Matt O’Rourke was also on the flight. He said flight staff announced over the intercom that all passengers should be ready to show their IDs upon landing. “The head flight attendant came on and said, ‘Please have your papers ready’ three or four times,” O’Rouke told Gothamist. Passengers then asked why papers were necessary on a domestic flight. “Someone corrected her and she said, ‘Oh I mean photo IDs,'” he added. “To which people were kind of weirded out.”

“I flew almost 200,000 miles last year,” O’Rouke added. “I’ve never had my ID checked getting off a domestic flight.”

New York Civil Liberties Union attorney Jordan Wells said “CPB does not have carte blanche to detain people for questioning without suspicion just because they step off of a domestic flight within 100 miles of a border.”

“It is not an always-and-everywhere police force, and any attempt to expand its operations beyond its authority would raise serious concerns,” Wells told Gothamist.

A CBP official told Gothamist that such checks are “not a new policy” and that it is “not unusual for us to assist our fellow law-enforcement agencies.”

‘Get Out of My Country’: Indian Engineer Srinivas Kuchibhotla Shot Dead in Kansas Bar

Srinivas Kuchibhotla

A Kansas man allegedly mistook a pair of Indian-born engineers relaxing in a suburban Kansas City bar for Middle Easterners and told them to “get out of my country” before he shot them both, one of them fatally, on Wednesday.

The Kansas City Star reports 51-year-old Adam Purinton of Olathe, Kansas was charged with premeditated first-degree murder on Thursday for the shooting death of Srinivas Kuchibhotla, 32, who died at a hospital following the 7:15 p.m. incident at Austins Bar & Grill near 151st Street and Mur-Len Road in Olathe, 22 miles (35 km) southwest of Kansas City.

Kuchibhotla stopped by the bar to have a drink with his friend Alok Madasani when the deadly incident occurred. Witnesses said Purinton was spouting racial slurs at the men before he attacked them. After yelling at Kuchibhotla to “get out of my country,” Purinton allegedly shot him and Madasani. When 24-year-old Ian Grillot attempted to stop the gunman, he too was shot, taking a bullet in the chest. Grillot had been hiding behind a table and counting the number of shots fired; when he thought the shooter was out of bullets he jumped up to confront him.

“I guess I miscounted,” he told the Star from his hospital bed. “I wasn’t really thinking when I did that. It… wasn’t right, and I didn’t want the gentleman to potentially go after somebody else… I was just doing what anyone should have done. It’s not about where he’s from, or ethnicity. We’re all humans.”

Madasani, 32, was released from a hospital on Thursday, while Grillot is still recovering there. Purinton has additionally been charged with two counts of attempted first-degree murder in connection with their shootings.

Purinton fled on foot following the shootings, sparking a multi-state manhunt. Five hours later, the suspect appeared at the bar of an Applebee’s restaurant in Clinton, Missouri, 80 miles (129 km) from the murder scene. He allegedly told a bartender there he needed a place to hide out because he just killed “two Middle Eastern men.” The bartender alerted police, who arrested Purinton, a Navy veteran and former pilot and air traffic controller, without incident.

Kuchibhotla worked with Madasani on the Aviation Systems Engineering team at Olathe-based Garmin Ltd. His LinkedIn page said he managed helicopter programs. Originally from Hyderabad, India, Kuchibhotla was known as an exceptional engineer. “He was very sharp. A top-of-his-class kind of guy,” said former boss Ron Larson, who told the Star Kuchibhotla was instrumental in helping his company develop its first fly-by-wire planes. “His personality was exceptional. He was the kind of employee every manager would want.”

“I couldn’t say anything slightly bad about Srinivas,” Larson added. “He was well-liked by anybody. He was excellent in all categories. He was a low-maintenance employee and did whatever was asked of him.”

“Srini was the kindest person you would meet, full of love, care and compassion for everyone,” a GoFundMe page started to raise money for the victim’s family said. “He never uttered a word of hatred, a simple gossip, or a careless comment. He was brilliant, well-mannered and simply an outstanding human being. His wife Sunayana and his family are now faced with incredible grief and a multitude of expenses.”

Johnson County District Attorney Steve Howe was joined by local leaders, as well as local and federal law enforcement officials, when the charges against Purinton were announced at Olathe police headquarters on Thursday. “We pray that those in mourning will find comfort in the outpouring of love and support across our community,” Olathe Mayor Michael Copeland said. Olathe Police Chief Steven Menke called the shooting “a tragic and senseless act of violence.”

Kuchibhotla is possibly the first fatal victim of the xenophobic, anti-Muslim violence that has been surging since the election of President Donald Trump. The civil rights monitoring and advocacy group Southern Poverty Law Center counted more than 1,000 bias-related incidents in the month following the election. Indians have long been mistaken for Muslims and attacked, sometimes fatally, by Americans, most of them right-wing bigots. Members of the Sikh religion have been targeted, both mistakenly as Muslims and in other attacks, most notably the 2012 white supremacist massacre of six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin.

Even before Trump’s election, hate crimes targeting Muslims were on the rise, with such attacks soaring by 67 percent in 2015 to their highest levels since the 9/11 attacks, according to 2016 FBI statistics.

The American Embassy in Delhi, India swiftly condemned the Olathe shootings. “The United States is a nation of immigrants and welcomes people from across the world to visit, work, study, and live,” MaryKay Carlson, the US charge d’affaires, said in a statement. “US authorities will investigate thoroughly and prosecute the case, though we recognize that justice is small consolation to families in grief.”

ICE Agents Forcibly Remove Asylum-Seeker Awaiting Brain Tumor Surgery from Texas Hospital

Sara Beltran-Hernandez (family photo)

US immigration officers forcibly removed a Salvadoran asylum seeker in desperate need of brain surgery from a Texas hospital on Wednesday and transferred her to a for-profit prison without contact with her family and almost no access to her lawyers.

The New York Daily News reports relatives of 26-year-old Sara Beltran-Hernandez fear she will die if she does not undergo surgery to remove a tumor in her brain diagnosed after she collapsed earlier this month following complaints of severe headaches, nosebleeds and memory loss. Beltran-Hernandez was detained by Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agents when she illegally entered the United States after fleeing domestic violence and other threats in her native El Salvador in late 2015.

She has been imprisoned ever since at the for-profit Prairieland Detention Center in Alvarado, Texas, which is run by Emerald Correctional Management, a Louisiana-based private prison corporation that has been accused of abusing detained immigrants at other lockups. Relatives residing in New York City have attempted to petition for her asylum.

After she collapsed last week, Beltran-Hernandez was taken to Huguley Hospital in Fort Worth, where doctors diagnosed her with a brain tumor and informed her she needed surgery. However, family spokeswoman Melissa Zuniga told reporters ICE agents forcibly removed her from the hospital Wednesday evening, binding her wrists and ankles before transporting her back to prison. “They had her tied up from hands and ankles,” Zuniga said. “She was brought in a wheelchair and is not being given treatment even though her nose continues to bleed and she has told them her head is exploding.”

When Beltran-Hernandez’s relatives inquired about her treatment on Wednesday night, they were informed that she was no longer on a surgery wait list. “ICE was preparing paper work to get her back to the detention center,” Zuniga said. The Associated Press reports Beltran-Hernandez has been denied most contact with her lawyers and relatives.

“Requests by family members to visit ICE detainees who have been hospitalized are permitted but must be approved in advance with ICE and the appropriate consulate,” the agency explained in the statement.

Beltran-Hernandez’s hospital removal came a day after President Donald Trump moved to greatly expand the Department of Homeland Security’s power to deport millions of undocumented immigrants and to increase the number of Border Patrol agents by 15,000 in what one prominent critic called a “deportation force on steroids.” Trump promised during the 2016 presidential campaign to create a deportation force to round up and expel up to 11 million people who entered the country illegally. Trump also promised such mass deportations would be handled “in a very humane way.”

During the Trump administration’s short-lived ban on refugees, asylum seekers, immigrants and all other travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations, reports of desperate people being denied life-saving medical care in the United States, or being forcibly separated from their families while receiving such treatment here, shocked the conscience of the world. One particular incident, in which a four-month-old Iranian baby was denied permission to enter the US for surgery to repair a fatal heart defect, sparked such outrage that the infant was issued a waiver from the ban.

The government’s reliance upon, and funding of, private prisons to house detained immigrants has been denounced by immigrant and human rights advocacy groups, while for-profit prison companies are elated at the prospect of even greater profits than they currently enjoy. The stock prices of most publicly-traded private prison companies have soared since Trump’s election, with Geo Group and CoreCivic’s shares soaring 138 percent and 89 percent respectively since November 8. While Emerald Corrections is a privately-held company, it still stands to profit tremendously from operating prisons in what human rights advocates fear could be an age of mass deportations.

Emerald Corrections has faced harsh criticism of how it runs its prisons, from questionable lobbying and hiring practices to alleged detainee abuse so appalling that one former guard quit her job citing “inhumane” prisoner treatment at the Rolling Plains Regional Jail and Detention Center in Haskell, TX. “Animals were treated better than the inmates,” the whistleblower guard, Judy Morell, told federal investigators. “I refuse to be a part of it any more.”

This isn’t the first time Emerald Corrections has been accused of denying a prisoner urgent medical care. When a 17-year-old Palestinian Rolling Plains prisoner locked in solitary confinement began complaining he was urinating blood, guards mocked him and told him he was “probably dying.” The teen was denied medical care for 10 days.

ICE told the Daily News Beltran-Hernandez would receive all necessary medical care, with “access to 24 hour emergency medical care and to any required specialized treatment at an outside facility.”

“ICE takes very seriously the health, safety and welfare of those in our care,” agency spokeswoman Dani Bennett said.

However, the imprisoned woman’s family fears the worst could happen. “We’ve tried calling everyone. We’ve called the White House, we tried calling Mayor de Blasio, we tried calling Obama, we’ve tried calling senators,” Zuniga told the Daily News. “We just want her out of there. I fear we may be too late.”

Trump Rolls Back Civil Rights Protection for Transgender Students

A gender-inclusive restroom at the University of California, Irvine. (Photo: Ted Eytan/Flickr Creative Commons)

Ignoring alarming rates of bigotry and violence against transgender youth, the Trump administration on Wednesday revoked an Obama era policy protecting the civil right of transgender public school students to use restrooms matching their gender identity.

President Donald Trump campaigned with the trans-friendly viewpoint that transgender students should be allowed to use whichever bathroom “they feel is appropriate.” However, the departments of Education and Justice informed the Supreme Court on Wednesday that they were ordering US public schools to ignore guidance memos issued by the Obama administration in 2015 and 2016 affirming the civil right of transgender students to use the school restrooms that match their gender identity.

“Title IX of the Education Amendments of 1972 (Title IX) and its implementing regulations prohibit sex discrimination in educational programs and activities operated by recipients of federal financial assistance,” the 2016 guidance memo states. “This prohibition encompasses discrimination based on a student’s gender identity, including discrimination based on a student’s transgender status.”

“We must ensure that our young people know that whoever they are or wherever they come from, they have the opportunity to get a great education in an environment free from discrimination, harassment and violence,” former Obama-era education secretary John B. King Jr. explained upon issuing the 2016 memo.

The Trump administration swiftly reversed federal protection for transgender students, explaining Education Secretary Betsy DeVos arguing that “this is an issue best solved at the state and local level.”

“Schools, communities, and families can find – and in many cases have found – solutions that protect all students,” added DeVos, who according to the New York Times initially opposed the revocation.

However, LGBTQ advocates scoffed at the notion that many states would actually protect the rights of transgender students. Thirteen states sued the Obama administration over what they called its “unconstitutional” protection policy. Critics doubt whether DeVos — whose family has a long history of supporting anti-LGBTQ causes and organizations — or Sessions, who has consistently opposed hate crime, employment discrimination and other protections for LGBTQ people, will ensure transgender students are adequately protected from harm.

The Obama guidelines, which threatened to withhold federal funding from school districts that force students to use restrooms that do not conform to their gender identity, have already been temporarily blocked by a federal judge in Texas, who ruled in August that the administration did not follow proper rule-making procedure when drafting the directive.

The Oakland, California-based legal advocacy group Transgender Law Center said the underlying law guaranteeing equality remains on the books, noting that “fortunately, the White House does not have the power to singlehandedly change federal law, and school districts across the country are still legally obligated to comply with Title IX and protect transgender students.”

It can be dangerous to be transgender in America. Violence, sometimes deadly, against trans people is on the rise. Recent statistics on violence against transgender youth are scarce, however a 2011 study by the National Center for Transgender Equality found the vast majority — 82 percent — of trans youth felt unsafe at school. Nearly 90 percent reported being harassed in school, and a majority said they were physically attacked. A majority of trans students also reported being cyberbullied. More than one in 10 said they were victims of sexual assault.

According to the study, abuse was most common in the South, where 83 percent of transgender students reported being harassed and where the majority of the states that sued the Obama administration over its civil rights defense are located.

Many conservative groups welcomed the news of the rollback of transgender civil rights protection. “Our daughters should never be forced to share private, intimate spaces with male classmates, even if those young men are struggling with these issues,” Vicki Wilson, a member of Students and Parents for Privacy, told BBC News. “It violates their right to privacy and harms their dignity.”

The leading right-wing blog The Daily Caller hailed what it called a “return to normalcy” and noted the concern of “transgender enthusiasts.” One reader commented that the “best way to cure gender confusion [is to] look in your underwear.”

LGBTQ civil rights and some education advocates expressed anger and fear over the administration’s move. “By rescinding these protections, the Trump administration is compromising the safety and security of some of our most vulnerable children,” American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten told BBC News. “Reversing this guidance tells trans kids that it’s okay with the Trump administration and the Department of Education for them to be abused and harassed at school for being trans.”

However, both Sessions and DeVos said in their statements that they want all pupils, “including LGBTQ students,” to enjoy learning environments that are free from “discrimination, bullying and harassment.”

“Attacking our children… is no way to say you support and respect LGBTQ people,” countered National Center for Transgender Equality Executive Director Mara Keisling in an interview with the Washington Post.

The Supreme Court announced last October that it would rule in the case of a transgender high school student in Virginia whose school banned him from using the boys restroom. Meanwhile, progressive school districts across the nation said they would ignore Trump’s reversal and work to ensure transgender students enjoy the equality they deserve.

“CPS (Chicago Public Schools) led the way among school districts on bathroom policies for transgender students and staff, and we have no intention of backing down no matter what President Trump does to discriminate against the LGBTQ community,” district spokeswoman Emily Bittner told the Chicago Tribune.

“At a time when civil rights are under attack, we will continue to work locally to protect all of our residents from harassment and discrimination,” San Francisco Mayor Ed Lee affirmed in a joint statement with Interim San Francisco Unified School District Superintendent Myong Leigh and Board of Education President Shamann Walton. “All students deserve to learn in an atmosphere that is free of fear and discrimination. While attending school, no child should feel overwhelmed by the simple decision of which bathroom to use, or fear the consequences of entering a locker room.”

Trump Hiring Freeze Forces Closure of Military Child Care Programs

Gen. William E. “Kip” Ward, US Africa Command (AFRICOM) commander, takes a moment to engage with children enrolled in the CDC program at Kelley Barracks in Stuttgart, Germany. (US Army photo)

President Donald Trump’s federal hiring freeze — which he promised would not include the military —  has forced at least two US Army bases to indefinitely suspend some important child care programs.

Military.com reports military families with children who are stationed at Fort Knox in Kentucky and US Army Garrison Wiesbaden in Germany were notified last week that child development center (CDC) programs would end and no new enrollment would be accepted. Among the affected programs are part-day preschool.

“Effective immediately, no new children will be enrolled in the CDC,” the letter, signed by Fort Knox garrison commander Col. Stephen Aiton, said. “Also, effective 27 February 2017, the CDC will no longer accommodate childcare for our hourly care and part day families until further notice.”

“We are prevented from bringing new caregivers on board but are still having our usual staff turnover and illnesses, which creates challenges to maintaining ratios and providing quality childcare,” the letter explained.

Part-day programs will be suspended at Wiesbaden starting March 1. “The closure is a result of staff shortage due to the federal hiring freeze,” a letter signed by Wiesbaden garrison commander Col. Todd Fish explained. On January 23, President Trump signed an executive order fulfilling a campaign pledge to freeze hiring of federal workers, “except for the military.”

According to Sgt. Maj. of the Army Daniel Dailey, child care programs make up about half of the Army’s $1.1 billion annual family programs budget. Some 5,500 children are currently on program wait lists at the 230 CDC locations around the world. Wait times to enter day care programs average around four months.

Some military and veterans groups blasted the Trump administration for harming troops and their families. “If you don’t think @realDonaldTrump’s #hiringfreeze hurts our military, and military families, think again. This just leaked online,” tweeted VoteVets, a progressive veteran advocacy group.

“People need to understand that this hiring freeze has a real impact on people’s lives,” Emily Bewley, a Wiesbaden military spouse who received the CDC suspension letter, wrote. “President Trump sees numbers in a budget to be cut. What he doesn’t see is the countless number of military families who are being affected by this. The people who are getting hurt in this situation are the children of our military, who already sacrifice so much for our country. While I don’t think it was ever his intent to hurt military families, the fact is, he has. There was a better way for this to be done, if he would have taken the time to find it.”

Swedish Prime Minister Schools Trump as President Defends Terror Attack Lie

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven. (Photo: Wikipedia)

Facing widespread ridicule after apparently inventing a terror attack in Sweden, President Donald Trump defended his “alternative fact” gaffe with another swipe at the Nordic nation, even as its prime minister attempted to educate him on some basic facts.

Kicking off his 2020 presidential campaign, Trump spoke in Melbourne, Florida on Saturday, where he defended his defeated executive order banning people from seven Muslim-majority nations from entering the United States by citing European countries and cities where Islamist terror attacks have recently occurred. “You look at what’s happening in Germany,” the president said. “You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden… Sweden… who would believe this? Sweden, they took in large numbers, they are having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening Brussels, you look at what’s happening all over the world.”

There have been Islamist terror attacks in Brussels and in Germany. But there have been no such attacks in Sweden. There has been a recent terror attack in Sweden — a small group of white supremacists attacked a refugee asylum center in Gothenburg in January, seriously injuring one person.

Swedes were bemused and amused by Trump’s latest “alternative fact,” with some expressing mock solidarity with the “victims” of another one of the administration’s invented Islamist attacks, this one purportedly at Bowling Green, Kentucky. Former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted “Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking?” The hashtag #LastNightInSweden was trending on Twitter throughout the long holiday weekend. Amid all the transatlantic embarrassment and mockery, Trump took to Twitter to explain that the fake terror attack he mentioned “was in reference to a story that was broadcast on Fox News concerning immigrants and Sweden.”

Swedish Prime Minister Stefan Löfven was not amused by the American president’s disparagement of his nation, one of the world’s most prosperous and socially advanced. Löfven responded to Trump with some uncharacteristic Swedish boasting:

“It’s up to the president to decide what he wants to say. I can only say the World Economic Forum states that — written, ‘Why Sweden beats other countries at just about everything.’ OECD reports that we have a very strong economic development in terms of, for example, GDP per capita. The European Commission states that Sweden is Europe’s most innovative country. The Global Innovation Index says Sweden is number two when it comes to innovative countries. So, we have some very strong facts that shows that Sweden is also handling the situation. But as I said, yes, we have challenges, like all other countries. There’s no doubt. We have a situation in the world where 65 million people had to flee their country’s last year, or the year before that — 65 million. So that’s a worry for us together.”

One Swedish statistic that might particularly rankle the billionaire businessman-turned US president: Sweden ranks first on Forbes’ annual list of the Best Countries for Business — the United States is far behind in 23rd place.

Trump was apparently unmoved by these facts, doubling down on his false comment in a Monday morning tweet saying, “Give the public a break – The FAKE NEWS media is trying to say that large scale immigration in Sweden is working out just beautifully. NOT!” The president has repeatedly — but falsely — linked Europe’s relatively generous refugee policies to an epidemic of crime, a claim made often by the alt-right “fake news” sites from which he gets both his information and multiple White House staff members.

In reality, overall crime is decreasing in Sweden, despite the massive influx of more than 100,000 Syrian refugees into the country of less than 10 million inhabitants. That’s the equivalent of the United States accepting nearly 3.2 million Syrians. To date, the US has welcomed only around 13,000 Syrians fleeing a devastating civil war in their homeland. Asked about Trump’s spurious claims of increased refugee crime, Mattias Gardell, a professor of comparative religion and head of the Centre for Multidisciplinary Studies on Racism at Uppsala University in Sweden, told Democracy Now! this was yet another example of “alternative facts.”

“That’s another illustration of alternative facts,” Gardell said. “In fact, for a decade or more, crime rates, especially violent crime rates, have been going down. And if you judge by or compare by capita, United State has five — United States has five times as much murders as has Sweden. So, it’s not true.”

Trump Admits Fox News Source of Fake Swedish Terror Attack Claim

President Donald Trump is caught up in yet another “alternative fact”-based “fake news” gaffe. (Photo: Gage Skidmore/Flickr Creative Commons)

Embarrassed by yet another “alternative fact”-based “fake news” gaffe, President Donald Trump on Sunday admitted that the Islamist terror attack he falsely suggested happened last night in Sweden was something he saw on Fox News.

Trump was widely ridiculed over the weekend after he mentioned Sweden along with Germany and Belgium as victims of recent Islamist terrorist attacks. “We’ve got to keep our country safe,” Trump said in defense of his blocked executive order temporarily banning refugees, immigrants and other travelers from seven Muslim-majority nations during a campaign-style speech in Melbourne, Florida. “You look at what’s happening in Germany. You look at what’s happening last night in Sweden… Sweden… who would believe this? Sweden, they took in large numbers, they are having problems like they never thought possible. You look at what’s happening Brussels, you look at what’s happening all over the world.”

There have been Islamist terror attacks in Brussels and in Germany. But there have been no such attacks in Sweden. Trump’s remarks are causing considerable confusion there.

“Sweden? Terror attack? What has he been smoking? Questions abound,” former Swedish prime minister Carl Bildt tweeted. The Swedish Embassy in Washington, DC tweeted “We look forward to informing the US administration about Swedish immigration and integration policies.”

With the hashtag #LastNightInSweden trending on Twitter, Trump took to his favorite social platform Sunday morning to explain his comments were informed by an interview he saw on Fox News — a network whose viewers have been repeatedly found to be the least-informed. “My statement as to what’s happening in Sweden was in reference to a story that was broadcast on @FoxNews concerning immigrants & Sweden,” the president tweeted.

Trump had been watching a segment of “Tucker Carlson Tonight” on Fox News in which documentarian filmmaker Ami Horowitz, known for his inflammatory anti-Muslim work, claimed Swedish officials are covering up crimes committed by immigrants, especially rapes — an assertion that has been repeated in many “fake news” headlines on Breitbart.com and other conservative sites, but which simply is not true.

Henrik Selin, deputy director of the Swedish Institute, a government agency that promotes Sweden around the world, told the New York Times he did not “have a clue what [Trump] was referring to… Obviously, this could be connected to the fact that there has been a lot of negative reporting about Sweden, since Sweden has taken in a lot of refugees.”

Selin slammed Islamophobic media reports as “highly exaggerated and not based in facts,” adding that “some of the stories were very popular to spread in social media by people who have the same kind of agenda — that countries should not receive so many refugees.”

Speaking about the alleged Swedish government cover-up of immigrant crimes, Selin said “that kind of claim has been in the political debate for 15 years now. But nobody has been able to prove there is a cover-up. On the contrary, the fact is that crime rates are going down.”

Swedish and international news media relished the opportunity to mock Trump’s latest “alternative fact.” The leading Swedish newspaper Aftonbladet published a list of “everything that happened last night in Sweden,” including a man who set himself on fire, a police pursuit of a drunken driver and a concupiscent moose that “thrice humped” a wooden moose in an old man’s garden. No terror attacks.

“What happened in Sweden Friday night?” tweeted a bemused Chelsea Clinton, “Did they catch the Bowling Green Massacre perpetrators?”

British Parliament to Debate Rescinding Trump State Visit Invitation

British Prime Minister Theresa May and Donald Trump meeting at the White House in Washington, DC on January 27, 2017. (Photo: UK Government)

Lawmakers in the United Kingdom will debate on Monday whether the British government should withdraw an invitation to President Donald Trump for a state visit.

The Washington Post reports a petition calling for Trump’s disinvitation has collected more than 1.8 million signatures as of Sunday, far more than the 100,000 needed to trigger a mandatory parliamentary debate.

“Donald Trump should be allowed to enter the UK in his capacity as head of the US Government, but he should not be invited to make an official State Visit because it would cause embarrassment to Her Majesty the Queen,” the petition states. “Donald Trump’s well documented misogyny and vulgarity disqualifies him from being received by Her Majesty the Queen or the Prince of Wales. Therefore during the term of his presidency Donald Trump should not be invited to the United Kingdom for an official State Visit.”

A counter-petition urging the government to allow the state visit because Trump “is the leader of a free world and UK is a country that supports free speech and does not believe that people that appose our point of view should be gagged” has received more than 300,000 signatures and will also be debated in Parliament.

British Prime Minister Theresa May, a Conservative, was the first foreign leader to meet with Trump at the White House, where she invited him for an official state visit on a date to be determined. Such events are hosted by the Queen and feature great pomp and ceremony; over the course of the 65-year reign of Elizabeth II, only two American presidents — George W. Bush in 2003 and Barack Obama in 2011 — have been so honored. When Bush visited, tens of thousands of Londoners took to the capital’s streets in protest.

The British government is standing by its decision to invite Trump for a state visit. “HM Government believes the President of the United States should be extended the full courtesy of a State Visit,” it said in a statement. “We look forward to welcoming President Trump once dates and arrangements are finalised.”

The Evening Standard reports thousands of protesters are expected to rally outside Parliament on Monday evening as lawmakers debate the petition. “We are calling for a nationwide day of action to stand up and say no to the future of hatred, racism and division that Donald Trump is trying to create – and to say no to the disgraceful complicity of Theresa May and the British government in supporting him,” organizers of the “Defend Migrants, Stop Trump” protest said. A large anti-Trump protest on January 30, part of the UK-wide #StandUpToTrump movement, ground Whitehall traffic to a halt as tens of thousands of Londoners marched to Downing Street.

There is considerable support for disinviting Trump among the British opposition. Senior female Labour MPs have vowed to boycott Trump’s visit. “I could not be there clapping a man who is a self-confessed groper,” former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman told the Observer. “His views on many issues are unacceptable. And on foreign policy he seems to think he can just bully other countries and get his way. That we should sit there smiling and clapping is… well for me it is out of the question.”

The Speaker of the House of Commons, John Brecow, has been accused of violating the neutrality of his office after saying he believed Trump was unfit to address Parliament due to his “racism and sexism.”

According to an IPSOS Mori survey published in the Evening Standard, a slim majority of Britons are in favor of Trump’s state visit — with considerably more men than women backing the billionaire businessman.

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