• Breaking: Hillary Clinton’s campaign will participate in Wisconsin recount

    26/Nov/2016 // 263 Viewers


    Lawyer Marc Elias said the campaign has been exploring whether “outside interference” affected the election but played down the notion that the recount initiated by Green Party candidate Jill Stein would change the outcome.
    This is a developing story

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  • Breaking! Trump’s presidency, overseas business deals and relations with foreign governments could all become intertwined

    26/Nov/2016 // 298 Viewers


    Days after Donald Trump’s election victory, a news agency in the former Soviet republic of Georgia reported that a long-stalled plan for a Trump-branded tower in a seaside Georgian resort town was now back on track.

    Likewise, the local developer of a Trump Tower planned for ­Buenos Aires announced last week, three days after Trump spoke with Argentina’s president, that the long-delayed project was moving ahead.

    Meanwhile, foreign government leaders seeking to speak with Trump have reached out to the president-elect through his overseas network of business partners, an unusually informal process for calls traditionally coordinated with the U.S. State Department.

    All of it highlights the muddy new world that Trump’s election may usher in — a world in which his stature as the U.S. president, the status of his private ventures across the globe and his relationships with foreign business partners and the leaders of their governments could all become intertwined.

    In that world, Trump could personally profit if his election gives a boost to his brand and results in its expansion overseas. His political rise could also enrich his overseas business partners — and, perhaps more significantly, enhance their statuses in their home countries and alter long-standing diplomatic traditions by establishing them as new conduits for public business.

    It is also possible, of course, that a controversial presidency inflaming international opposition could cause damage to the brand.

    Trump has done little to set boundaries between his personal and official business since winning the presidency.

    He has indicated that his children may take over the business, but he has also appointed them to formal roles with his presidential transition and included daughter Ivanka on calls with world leaders. And he has continued to offer signs that he may remain engaged, at least on some level, in his private ventures.

    For instance, Trump took a break from selecting his Cabinet last week for a brief meeting in his Trump Tower office with the developers of a Trump project in Pune, India, shaking hands and posing for photos with the men. When asked about the meeting, Trump told the New York Times: “I mean, what am I going to say? ‘I’m not going to talk to you, I’m not going to take pictures’?”

    Trump also acknowledged to the Times, after he received a congratulatory visit the weekend after the election from British politician Nigel Farage, that he “might have” encouraged the leader of the UK Independence Party to oppose offshore windmill farms, like one he has fought off the Scottish coast because he believes it will mar the view from his Trump Turnberry golf resort there.

    Trump has reacted defensively to suggestions that his conversations about his private business are somehow inappropriate. He told the Times this week, “the law’s totally on my side. The president can’t have a conflict of interest.”

    On Monday evening, he tweeted: “Prior to the election, it was well known that I have interests in properties all over the world. Only the crooked media makes this a big deal!”

    Ethics experts say that if Trump takes no action to distance himself from his business holdings, he is likely to face questions about whether he is pursuing policy in the national interest or for his own business advantage. It is also possible that Trump could run afoul of a constitutional provision prohibiting presidents from accepting favors, or “emoluments,” from foreign leaders.

    Trump representatives did not respond to questions this week about his business interests in Argentina, Georgia or elsewhere.

    It is unclear how much real progress Trump’s election has prompted for some of these foreign projects, several of which had stalled in recent years. Some of the promises of renewed activity could be the work of foreign partners who have paid for the use of his name and who may be looking to take advantage of the moment as a marketing opportunity.

    The Trump project in Argentina, for instance, has not been issued new permits since Election Day, a city official in Buenos Aires said. But public reports that the project is moving ahead show how foreign developers could stand to benefit if their governments were to grease the skids for Trump-branded projects as a way to curry favor with the new American president.

    In Argentina, President Mauricio Macri connected by phone with President-elect Trump and his daughter Ivanka on Nov. 14. Three days later, Trump’s development partner in Argentina, the YY Development Group, put out word that the $100 million project was moving forward, featuring on its website a South American news report touting the progress. “The magnate Donald Trump expands his ‘ultraexclusive’ towers in South America,” the story read.

    The development firm’s chief executive, Felipe Yaryuri, has touted his personal relationship with the Trumps, particularly with Trump’s son Eric. He was in Trump campaign headquarters on election night, posting a photo of himself with Eric Trump and tweeting that he had breakfast with Eric Trump the day after the election. Again, Trump officials declined to respond to inquiries about the tweets.

    Yaryuri declined to be interviewed but said in a statement that his company has filed permit requests with the city of Buenos Aires that are awaiting approval. A city official said the request was made earlier this year but that no determination had been made.

    Macri, the president, denied reports in local media that Trump had mentioned the project to him in their post-election conversation. However, a spokesman confirmed that Macri had relied on the Trump business partner to put him in touch with the newly elected president, a sign of how the local developer’s stature has risen since the American election.

    Entanglements between Trump’s business interests and his official relationships also appear possible in Georgia, a U.S. ally where many are fearful of Trump’s potential rapprochement with Russian President Vladimir Putin.

    Trump swept into the Black Sea resort town of Batumi in 2012 and announced that a new luxury Trump Tower would soon rise from the empty field in which he stood with the country’s then-president.

    Once scheduled to break ground in 2013, however, the project was halted by an economic downturn, a local land planning dispute and, some analysts said, the electoral defeat of then-Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili, a personal friend of Trump’s who had championed the deal.

    In recent months, long-standing roadblocks to the project’s groundbreaking resolved without government assistance, said ­Giorgi Rtskhiladze, a U.S.-based partner working with the local developer, the Silk Road Group, which paid Trump a licensing fee to put his name on the building.

    Rtskhiladze said the developers informed the Trump Organization in September or October that the project could now proceed. After Trump was elected, he said he emailed a congratulatory note to Trump’s adult children and to a top Trump Organization executive — and reiterated that developers are prepared to move forward. He said Trump executives have indicated the project is being “reevaluated,” as they discuss how his company will be operated after Trump takes office.

    “We’re ready,” Rtskhiladze said. “We’re waiting for them to give us the green light.”

    He said it would add distinction to the project to bear the name of the U.S. president.

    “There’s only one word: Pride,” he said of how he would feel to help construct a building bearing Trump’s name. “What else can you possibly feel? You can’t even imagine it, and then suddenly it happens.”

    Although the United States stood beside Georgia when it was invaded by Russia in 2008, leaders of the small nation fear that an ascendant Russia could escalate simmering hostilities. The current Georgian government is led by political rivals of Saakashvili’s, the president who brought Trump to Georgia in 2012 but who has since left the country.

    Georgian officials antsy with Trump’s rhetoric on Russia and eager to forge their own good relationship with the new American president could be tempted to curry favor by pushing ahead with the proposed 47-story building bearing his name, predicted Lincoln Mitchell, an American expert on Georgian politics who served as a paid adviser to the current governing party in 2012.

    “The gray areas Trump has between where his job as president ends and where his business interests begin, that’s normal in that part of the world. Renewing this deal, that’s just an obvious thing to do,” said Mitchell, who opposed Trump’s election, quitting his job this summer writing for the New York Observer, which is owned by Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner.

    Indeed, on Georgian state television last week, a U.S.-based Georgian real estate entrepreneur enthusiastically predicted that Trump’s win would mean a new era of economic cooperation and growth for both countries. In a separate interview with The Washington Post, the entrepreneur, Roman Bokeria, expressed optimism that a new Trump Tower would soon rise in Batumi.

    “Cutting the ribbon on a new Trump Tower in Georgia will be a symbol of victory for all of the free  world,” said Bokeria, chief executive of Miami Red Square Realty.

    Rtskhiladze said the project will move forward based only on the “attractive business case” that can be made for it, not any government intervention.

    While Trump and his advisers have noted that U.S. conflict of interest and gift laws do not apply to the president, a bipartisan group of ethics experts has emphasized that the U.S. Constitution prohibits the president from accepting favors — emoluments is the constitutional term — from foreign leaders.

    “It appears from the reports we’re seeing this week that Donald Trump may be opening up a wholesale emoluments business,” said Norm Eisen, former White House ethics counsel to President Obama, who is joining with colleagues from both parties to sound an alarm about the perils of Trump’s business holdings.

    “The pattern we are seeing this week of stalled Trump projects jump-starting and the president-elect himself conceding that he may have raised business issues with a foreign official is stunning,” he said.

    Irene Caselli in Buenos Aires and Nick Miroff in Havana contributed to this report.

    The post '' Trump’s presidency, overseas business deals and relations with foreign governments could all become intertwined'' appeared first on The Washington Post

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  • GM, US auto union reach tentative labor agreement

    26/Oct/2015 // 229 Viewers

     Getty/AFP/File / by Joe Szczesny | General Motors has 50,000 employees who are members of the United Auto Workers, which had been looking to claw back some concessions made in order to help the company survive the economic crisis


    DETROIT (AFP) - 

    General Motors and the United Auto Workers reached a tentative agreement on a new four-year labor deal Sunday, only minutes before a midnight strike deadline.

    "We believe that this agreement will present stable long-term significant wage gains and job security commitments to UAW members now and in the future," said UAW President Dennis Williams.

    "We look forward to presenting the details of these gains to local union leaders and the membership," he said.

    GM has 50,000 employees who are UAW members.

    The union bargaining committee announced the settlement just 17 minutes before a midnight strike deadline that had been imposed the day before.

    The agreement secured significant economic gains and job security protections, the union said in a statement.

    The bargaining committee unanimously voted to send the proposed tentative agreement to local union leaders who make up the UAW National GM Council, the UAW said in a statement.

    The agreement's details are being withheld pending the GM Council's meeting, but are expected to parallel those of the union's agreement with Fiat Chrysler Automobiles (FCA), which included a 53 percent pay increase for lower-wage "second-tier" workers.

    The union had been looking to claw back some concessions made in order to help GM survive the economic crisis. The company has regained is footing and now is posting healthy profits.

    Under the deal, second-tier workers will also reach higher paying "first-tier" wages after eight years.

    The FCA contract also called for first-tier workers to get a three percent pay increase, the first in nine years, according to the UAW.

    The union plans to make the details of the agreement available immediately after the UAW National GM Council votes Wednesday.

    UAW Vice President Cindy Estrada called the agreement transformative.

    "The significant gains in this agreement are structured in a way that will provide certainty to our members and create a clear path for all GM employees now and in the future," she said.

    "The agreement not only rewards UAW-GM members for their accomplishments, but it protects them with significant job security commitments."

    GM said the tentative agreement was a positive development for both the company and the union.

    "The new UAW-GM national agreement is good for employees and the business," said Cathy Clegg, GM North America Manufacturing and Labor Relations vice president.

    "Working with our UAW partners, we developed constructive solutions that benefit employees and provide flexibility for the company to respond to the needs of the marketplace."

    by Joe Szczesny

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  • Trump says world would be a better place if Gaddafi, Saddam still ruled

    26/Oct/2015 // 364 Viewers

     Al Bello, Getty Images, AFP | Top Republican presidential candidate Donald Trump makes an appearance at Madison Square Garden on October 17, 2015 in New York City

    The world would be a better place if dictators such as Saddam Hussein and Moamer Kadhafi were still in power, top Republican US presidential hopeful Donald Trump said in comments aired Sunday.

    The billionaire real estate tycoon also told CNN's "State of the Union" talk show that the Middle East "blew up" around US President Barack Obama and former secretary of state Hillary Clinton, his biggest Democratic rival in the race for the White House.

    "100 percent," Trump said when asked if the world would be better off with Saddam and Kadhafi still at the helm in Iraq and Libya.

    Both strongmen committed atrocities against their own people and are now dead. Saddam, the former Iraqi president, was toppled in the 2003 US-led invasion of Iraq and was executed in 2006.

    Kadhafi -- who ruled Libya for four decades -- was ousted and slain in October 2011 amid a NATO-backed uprising.

    "People are getting their heads chopped off. They're being drowned. Right now it's far worse than ever under Saddam Hussein or Kadhafi," Trump said.

    "I mean, look what happened. Libya is a catastrophe. Libya is a disaster. Iraq is a disaster. Syria is a disaster. The whole Middle East. It all blew up around Hillary Clinton and around Obama. It blew up."

    Calling Iraq the "Harvard of terrorism," Trump said the country had turned into a "training ground for terrorists."

    "If you look at Iraq from years ago, I'm not saying he (Saddam) was a nice guy. He was a horrible guy but it's better than it is now," Trump said.

    He also said the United States should have taken Iraq's oil, saying it was now being bought by China, and also going to Iran and the Islamic State group.

    "They have plenty of money because they took the oil because we were stupid," he said of IS. "I said take the oil when we leave."

    'Trump doctrine'

    Trump said his foreign policy strategy would be centered around beefing up the US military.

    "All I know is this: we're living in Medieval times ... We're living in an unbelievably dangerous and horrible world," he said.

    "The Trump doctrine is simple," he added. "It's strength. It's strength. Nobody is going to mess with us. Our military will be made stronger."

    Trump on Sunday also went after his Republican rival Ben Carson, who has surged past him in the closely watched, early-voting state of Iowa.

    According to a Bloomberg/Des Moines Register poll out Friday, Carson claims 28 percent support from likely voters in the Republican Iowa caucus, compared to 19 percent for Trump.

    It was the second poll in two days that had Carson knocking Trump off his perch in Iowa, an intensely fought-over state because it votes first in the lengthy US nominating contests.

    "Ben Carson has never created a job in his life (well, maybe a nurse)," Trump tweeted of the retired pediatric neurosurgeon, a fellow political newcomer.

    "I have created tens of thousands of jobs, it's what I do."

    But Carson, who has cemented his support among Christian evangelicals, shrugged off Trump's darts in an interview with Fox News Sunday, saying, "I refuse to get into the mud pit."

    "He is who he is. I don't think that's going to change. And I am who I am. That's not going to change either," he said of Trump.

    Surprise over Carson gains

    In his interview with CNN, Trump acknowledged he was "surprised" by Carson's advance, calling an Iowa event he was at several days ago a "love fest."

    "I like Ben but he cannot do with trade like I do with trade. He can't do a lot of things like I do," Trump said, adding that Carson was also "very, very weak on immigration" and a "low energy person."

    A new CBS News 2016 "Battleground Tracker" poll out Sunday showed Trump and Carson tied in Iowa at 27 percent, with Trump holding onto double digit leads over the doctor in South Carolina and New Hampshire.

    The poll was based on 3,952 interviews done October 15-22, with the margins of error varying per state -- 6.5 percent in Iowa, 6.6 percent in New Hampshire and 5.3 percent in South Carolina.

    Alleging that President Barack Obama has "divided this country," Trump said that, in contrast, he would bring about bipartisanship.

    "I get along with everybody. I will be a great unifier for our country," he told CNN.


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  • Carson faces backlash over Muslim president comment

    26/Oct/2015 // 214 Viewers

     Sean Rayford, AFP | Republican presidential candidate Ben Carson speaks at a health care summit in Greenville, South Carolina, on September 18, 2015

    The question has suddenly emerged as a test of US White House hopefuls: can a Muslim be president of the United States?

    The Republican contender Ben Carson ignited a storm of controversy at the weekend, by stating that he saw Islam as incompatible with the charge of head of state.

    After leading Republicans echoed his viewpoint, or gave ambiguous answers, the Democratic frontrunner Hillary Clinton on Monday answered, resoundingly, yes.

    "Can a Muslim be President of the United States of America? In a word: Yes. Now let's move on," Clinton said on Twitter.

    She attached to her tweet an extract of the fourth article of the US Constitution which read, "No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States."

    That clause was questioned by Carson this weekend.

    "I would not advocate that we put a Muslim in charge of this nation. I absolutely would not agree with that," the retired neurosurgeon said Sunday on NBC.

    Carson later confirmed his stance, telling The Hill newspaper that the next president should be "sworn in on a stack of Bibles, not a Koran."

    'Unfit to lead'

    In response, the Council on American-Islamic Relations asked Carson to withdraw from the race Monday, saying he was "unfit to lead because his views are in contradiction with the US Constitution."

    Republicans were split in their response. Senator Ted Cruz disagreed with Carson's stance, saying, "I am a constitutionalist."

    Senator Lindsey Graham said on Twitter that "America is an idea, not owned by a particular religion" and that Carson's statement showed he was not qualified to be president.

    But Republican frontrunner Donald Trump was more ambiguous. When asked whether he would be comfortable with a Muslim as president, told NBC on Sunday, "I don't know if we have to address it right now, but I think it is certainly something that could happen."

    The controversy erupted Thursday when Trump, who like Carson has not held elected office, failed to correct or interrupt a supporter who told him, "We have a problem in this country. It's called Muslims."

    The supporter then asserted that President Barack Obama is a Muslim, a false claim first aired four years ago and still believed by 29 percent of Americans according to a recent poll.

    'Waste of time'

    Trump has defended his lack of pushback since.

    "I've never had a problem with Muslims," he told NBC on Monday. "I assumed he was talking about the radical Islam."

    Repeating comments he made on Sunday, Trump said he has "many friends" that are Muslims.

    "I know so many Muslims that are such fabulous people," he said Sunday. "The fact is, there is a problem with some, and it's a very severe problem and it's a problem that's taking place all over the world."

    Long before setting his sights on the presidency, Trump stoked right-wing conspiracy theories in 2011 as a leading proponent of the notion that Obama may be a Muslim and born outside the United States.

    Sunday, he would say only that he takes Obama "at his word" that he is Christian.

    Other candidates have grown increasingly frustrated with the resurrecting of old controversies.

    Asked about Trump's punting on the question of Obama's religion Sunday, Senator Marco Rubio, polling fourth among Republican White House candidates, said the issue was "a big waste of time."

    "Of course," he told ABC on Sunday. "He's born in the United States. He's a Christian. He's the president of the United States for the next year and a half and we're going to move on."


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  • I could have defeated TRUMP if I ran against him in Nov 8 presidential election

    27/Dec/2016 // 1729 Viewers

    Outgoing U.S. President Barack Obama said he could have defeated Republican Donald Trump in the Nov. 8 presidential election if he had run against him.

    Obama told his former senior adviser David Axelrod in an interview for the “The Axe Files” podcast, produced by the University of Chicago Institute of Politics and CNN, aired on Monday.

    He argued that Americans still subscribed to his vision of progressive change, asserting that he could have succeeded in this year’s election if he was eligible to run.

    “I am confident in this vision because I’m confident that if I had run again and articulated it, I think I could’ve mobilised a majority of the American people to rally behind it.

    “I know that in conversations that I’ve had with people around the country, even some people who disagreed with me, they would say the vision, the direction that you point towards is the right one.”

    The two-term president also said that there was a difference between the hope-and-change vision he heralded in 2008, which won him outstanding victory over Republican John McCain.

    “In the wake of the election and Trump winning, a lot of people have suggested that somehow, it really was a fantasy.

    “What I would argue is, is that the culture actually did shift, that the majority does buy into the notion of a one America that is tolerant and diverse and open and full of energy and dynamism.”

    Neither Trump nor Democratic Hillary Clinton won a majority of the vote in the 2016 contest.

    While Clinton beat Trump in the popular vote by almost 2.9 million ballots, Trump won more electoral votes and consequently, the presidency.

    In the 50-minute session, Obama repeated his suggestion that Democrats had ignored entire segments of the voting population, leading to Trump’s win.

    He implied that Clinton’s campaign had not made a vocal enough argument directed toward Americans who had not felt the benefits of the economic recovery.

    “If you think you’re winning, then you have a tendency, just like in sports, maybe to play it safer”.

    He, however, said he believed Clinton “performed wonderfully under really tough circumstances” and was mistreated by the media.

    The podcast interview was Obama’s latest post-election analysis, which had focused on Democrats’ failure to convince non-urban voters and a media preoccupied with negative stories about Clinton.

    Obama said his party this year had not made an emotional connection to voters in hard-hit communities, relying instead on policy points he said did not make enough of an impact.

    “We’re not there on the ground communicating not only the dry policy aspects of this, but that we care about these communities, that we’re bleeding for these communities.

    “It means caring about local races, state boards or school boards and city councils and states legislative races.

    “And not thinking that somehow, just a great set of progressive policies that we present to the New York Times editorial board will win the day,” he said.

    Obama cited an unlikely model for future Democratic success: Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who he said had executed an effective – if obstructionist – strategy.

    “Mitch McConnell’s insight, just from a pure tactical perspective, was pretty smart and well executed, the degree of discipline that he was able to impose on his caucus was impressive.

    “His insight was that we just have to say no to that,” Obama said.

    He said part of his post-presidential strategy would be developing young Democratic leaders, including organisers, journalists and politicians, who could galvanise voters behind a progressive agenda.

    The outgoing president also said that he would not hesitate to weigh in on important political debates after he leaves office.

    Following a period of introspection after he departs the White House, Obama said he would feel a responsibility as a citizen to voice his opinions on major issues gripping the country during Trump’s administration.

    He, however, said that he would not necessarily weigh in on day-to-day activities.

    “At a certain point, you make room for new voices and fresh legs.

    “That doesn’t mean that if a year from now, or a year-and-a-half from now, or two years from now, there is an issue of such moment.

    “Such import, that isn’t just a debate about a particular tax bill or, you know, a particular policy, but goes to some foundational issues about our democracy that I might not weigh in.

    “You know, I’m still a citizen and that carries with it duties and obligations,” the outgoing president said.

    Obama’s first acts out of office, however, will be lower-profile, according to him.

    He said he would focus on writing a book and self-analysing his time in office.

    The two-term president and his family plan to live in Washington while his younger daughter finishes high school, he disclosed.

    “I have to be quiet for a while. And I don’t mean politically, I mean internally. I have to still myself.

    “You have to get back in tune with your centre and process what’s happened before you make a bunch of good decisions,” he said.

    As he concludes his term, Obama is growing sentimental about his time at the White House, according to him.

    He said he grew misty in a meeting of senior aides recently thinking about the end of the Obama era.

    “I got through about four minutes of the thing and then started, you know, getting the hanky out.

    “It feels like the band is breaking up a little bit,” the outgoing 44th U.S. president said.

    NAN recalls that Obama was inaugurated as the 44th U.S. President on Jan. 20, 2008, the only Black man in the history of U.S. to be elected president.

    NAN also reports that the former Illinois senator, who still receives high popularity ratings among Americans, won re-election for the second and last term in 2012, will be out of office on Jan. 20, 2017.

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  • Breaking: ‘It made me hate the police’: Ugly encounters with officers fuel loss of trust, costly payouts

    27/Dec/2016 // 528 Viewers


    Viola Briggs in the apartment where she now lives in Southeast Washington. A 2012 police raid on her former apartment triggered a citizen complaint and a civil lawsuit. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
    The sound of a battering ram against wood would have been jarring enough, but Viola Briggs had a metal front door.

    The only warning that it was about to come crashing open was a knock and a three-word shout: “Police! Open up!”

    The 55-year-old legal assistant had just finished watching an episode of “CSI: Miami” on her computer. She would have opened the door but didn’t have time to take a step. She shouted for her older brother, who lived with her in their Southwest Washington apartment. Then, suddenly, the door frame gave way and 13 police officers rushed in, weapons drawn.

    Over the past two years, one graphic video after another has captured ugly and sometimes deadly interactions between police officers and black residents of the communities they serve. From one city to the next, the shaky-framed images have fueled demonstrations and made household names of the dead: Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, Walter Scott, Alton Sterling, Philando Castile.

    But for Briggs, and many people like her across the country, their trust in the police was eroded long before videos of police shootings were going viral on Facebook and Twitter. It was destroyed in moments that were not caught on camera and that might have gone unnoticed if they hadn’t been reported.

    An extensive examination of citizen complaints and civil lawsuits filed against D.C. police over the past decade shows that even in a city with a majority-black department and a robust civilian oversight office with newly enhanced powers, hundreds of incidents occur each year in which people feel mistreated by those who are supposed to protect them.

    In one case, a 65-year old African American man said he was leaving a library in Southeast Washington when he was detained and handcuffed, even though he did not fit the description of the threatening library patron police had been called about. In another, an officer admitted to spreading a black man’s buttocks twice in an unlawful body-cavity search but denied that he “jammed” a finger inside him, as the man claimed.

    Since 2005, the city has agreed or been ordered to pay at least $31.6 million in 173 cases alleging police misconduct, including claims of false arrest and excessive use of force, according to a Washington Post analysis of data obtained from the D.C. attorney general’s office.

    Complaints against police — and the settlements that sometimes result — are common across the country. Baltimore, which has a similar-size police force, paid $5.7 million in 102 court judgments and settlements for alleged misconduct between 2011 and September 2014, according to a Baltimore Sun analysis of city and court records. During roughly that same period, alleged police misconduct cost the District $2.9 million in 38 cases.
    But since then, the District’s payouts have risen sharply. In the first nine months of 2016, misconduct lawsuits cost city taxpayers at least $3.8 million in judgments or settlements. And last week, the family of Terrence Sterling, a motorcyclist fatally shot Sept. 11 by a D.C. police officer, filed a $50 million lawsuit against the city and the police department alleging that the 31-year-old “was unarmed and posed no danger” when he was killed.
    Some of the District’s lawsuits detail beatings that resulted in hospital stays. Others tell of people who had committed no crimes before contentious encounters with police landed them in jail.
    Viola Briggs and her brother, Frank Briggs, were the recipients of a settlement this year.
    The two had moved into their apartment three months before the night of Jan. 20, 2012, when the officers, several wearing ski masks, held them at gunpoint.
    Police had a search warrant for drugs but did not find any, according to a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of the siblings. The case, launched against the city and the 13 officers involved, argued that the warrant was based on a conversation with a confidential informant and that investigators did not attempt to corroborate the information or research who lived at the residence.
    Once inside, the officers ordered the siblings to lie on the floor. Viola Briggs did. But as her brother, then 56 and suffering from back pain so debilitating that he qualified for disability, slowly lowered himself, an officer shoved him to the ground, according to the suit.
    Before that day, Viola Briggs said, she held a deep respect for law enforcement. One of her three sons is an Army captain who has considered joining a civilian police force, she said. She regularly donated to the Fraternal Order of Police. And, after two U.S. Capitol Police officers were killed in the line of duty, she wrote this on a Washington Post online memorial site: “I would like to express my sincere condolences to the family of the two brave officers who gave their lives for the protection of others. May GOD be with you in your time of need and may HE also bring you peace.”
    After the raid on her apartment, she said, she was left not only with a broken door but also with a shattered sense of security. For years, she slept with a baseball bat at her side and a chair shoved against the door.
    “It made me hate the police,” Briggs said. “Not all of the police. It made me hate the police at the 7th District because of what they did to me.”
    ‘Progress’ vs. ‘shortcomings’
    In the 1990s, when the District was known as the nation’s murder capital, the city also led the country in the rate of fatal police shootings, a Washington Post investigation at the time found. The reputation for lethal force prompted a 2001 Justice Department investigation and a 10-year reform effort.
    “I feel like we’ve made a lot of progress,” said former D.C. police chief Cathy L. Lanier, who spent 26 years on the force, 10 as the chief, before leaving in September to work for the National Football League. “We’re now in a position where people know their officers by name, and they have a relationship with the police, and they feel comfortable that we are here to look out for them.”
    Former D.C. police chief Cathy L. Lanier said she is proud of the progress the department made during her tenure in improving community relations. (Jahi Chikwendiu/The Washington Post)
    Complaints and civil lawsuits can be a gauge of the relationship between police and the community, she said. But it is only one measure. Instead, she pointed to an audit released this year that examined the department’s performance in the years since the reform efforts ended. It found that the command staff “remained committed to limiting and managing use of force — and to fair and constitutional policing” and called the department “a leader on these issues.”
    But the audit also found “significant shortcomings” in the department. The quality of use-of-force investigations had deteriorated, the report said, and a large number of less serious use-of-force cases­ go unreported and uninvestigated. The audit also found that several officers had been flagged for repeated involvement in use-of-force incidents, citizen complaints and other violations.
    One officer, who is not named in the report, had more than 100 such incidents listed on his record in a 16-year span, “including numerous uses of force found to be unjustified,” the audit found. Another officer had 50 incidents noted on his record.
    Lanier conceded that her power to root out abusive officers was limited. The city’s 3,500 officers — 54 percent black, 35 percent white, 8 percent Latino — are represented by a police union. Even when officers were fired for “legitimate, sustained misconduct complaints,” Lanier said that she was forced, through arbitration, to rehire some of them. She estimates that at least 30 such officers were rehired during her tenure as chief.
    In the past six years, 86 officers have been terminated, according to data The Post obtained from the department.
    “It’s a bitter pill to swallow as a D.C. resident when I know that the police chief here doesn’t have the authority to say, ‘This is a bad officer and shouldn’t be in the department,’ ” Lanier said, “and an arbitrator, who has no stake in it and doesn’t live in the city, can say, ‘Put that officer back on the street,’ and have him patrolling your neighborhood.”
    In an email, Matt Mahl, the president of the D.C. police union, called some misconduct complaints and lawsuits “frivolous” and expressed hope that body cameras would help protect officers against false accusations. “We have seen time and time again,” he wrote, “where members of the public file complaints against officers to the Office of Police Complaints, and they do subpar investigations that tend to give more credence to what the complainer says than to officers with zero evidence, and an officer’s reputation is damaged for the remainder of their careers.”
    Kris Baumann, a former D.C. officer and police union official, also noted that the number of misconduct allegations is tiny given the huge number of interactions D.C. police have with the public each year.
    “I think there is a good case to be made that D.C. police officers do an extraordinary job in dealing with residents, tourists and victims of crime.” Baumann said. “That doesn’t mean when a police officer does something they shouldn’t be doing, it’s not important. It is important.”
    Viola Briggs does not know what happened to the officers she and her brother named in the lawsuit. A D.C. police spokesman said that the case was reviewed by the internal affairs bureau but that no disciplinary action was taken against the officers and no one was fired. Ten of the 13 are still with the department.
    Briggs said that many of her neighbors would have remained quiet about the raid but that she could not.
    Days after the police search, when plywood still covered the hole where she once had a door, Briggs took two courses of action available to D.C. residents who believe that their rights have been violated.
    She filed a report with the Office of Police Complaints. And she found an attorney to file a notice of claim with the D.C. Office of Risk Management, a step needed to sue the District.
    ‘I feel ‘VIOLATED’!’
    The Office of Police Complaints received a record 1,442 requests for information about reporting misconduct this year. The actual number of complaints filed in fiscal 2016, which ended Oct. 1, was 438 — 31 more than in fiscal 2015 but less than the 574 in 2012.
    At the same time, the office has been granted more authority than ever before.
    The D.C. Council voted this year to give the complaints office the power to review all use-of-force incidents, which were previously handled internally. This means that the office’s staff can look at — and publicly disclose — how the police department handles fatal encounters such as the one that led to the death of Terrence Sterling. The council also gave the office the authority to directly refer officers for additional training. Previously, the office was limited to recommending disciplinary action, but the choice of punishment was left to the police chief.
    Michael G. Tobin, who heads the Office of Police Complaints, said that when he gives presentations to cities that are considering creating civilian oversight operations, he tells them that without enough power, these agencies are just “window dressing.” About 150 cities nationwide — less than 1 percent — have police-oversight agencies, all with different levels of authority, he said.
    Tobin’s staff, in investigating a complaint, can interview witnesses, visit the scene of the encounter and view footage from police body cameras. They can also interview the officers involved; there are rooms with two-way mirrors at the agency’s headquarters above the McPherson Square Metro station in downtown Washington.
    Tobin, who worked as a Milwaukee police officer and assistant city attorney before coming to the District, considers the work crucial. He said he has seen how one person’s ugly interaction with an officer is amplified as it is recounted to relatives and neighbors, reinforcing the perception that “the police are not here to help.”
    In the past two fiscal years, more than two-thirds of the complaints were filed by African Americans — who make up less than half of the city’s population — and the vast majority of encounters occurred in the city’s poorest neighborhoods.
    “One bad incident destroys the reputation of the police department,” Tobin said. “If we can improve community trust in the police department, every officer’s job will be easier. People will talk to them. People will give them tips.”
    Last month, the Police Complaints Board, which oversees the work of Tobin’s office, issued a report criticizing the foul, denigrating language some officers used during traffic stops and other interactions.
    Other residents describe harassment by police. In a complaint filed against three officers in November, a man said he was walking along Malcolm X Avenue in Southeast Washington across the street from a car that had been stopped by police. He said he told the occupants to make sure they got the officers’ names and badge numbers — and that’s when one of the officers yelled at him.
    “Wanna come look at it?” the officer asked, according to the complaint.
    When the man crossed the street, the officer then said, “Oh, you just jaywalked now, sir.”
    After the man refused to show his ID, he was arrested for failure to identify himself, although he had a legal right not to do so. He was also charged with failure to obey in an emergency and jaywalking. After a review of the incident and the body-camera footage, a complaint examiner, chosen from a pool of lawyers in the District, determined that the officers had acted improperly.
    Police misconduct cases­ were difficult to prove in the past, Tobin said, but that is changing with the ubiquity of cellphones and the growing number of police body cameras. D.C. Mayor Muriel E. Bowser announced last week that all uniformed patrol officers are now equipped with body cameras.
    Jeffrey Light, a District civil rights lawyer who has litigated many cases against the police department, said civilian oversight agencies are usually created with the best of intentions. But in reality, he said, they often do not help a person whose rights have been violated. He said that many times, his clients wind up in jail after negative interactions with police and are more worried about getting out than filing complaints within the 90-day requirement. Other times, he said, someone will file a complaint only to receive a letter months later saying it was dismissed.
    Of the 526 complaints that were closed in the District in 2015, only a small fraction were upheld. The vast majority — 306 — were dismissed, while 209 were handled administratively, through mediation or some other way. Of the 11 cases where misconduct was suspected, a complaint examiner determined that eight involved wrongdoing. The discipline for the officers involved in those cases ranged from an official reprimand to a five-day suspension without pay.
    When Viola Briggs filed her complaint in 2012, she listed the nature of the incident as “Invasion of privacy,” “Harassment” and “Traumatization.” The last line of her handwritten description of the events reads,“I feel ‘VIOLATED’!”
    Less than three months later, she received a letter from the Office of Police Complaints that said, “After examining the information provided, we have concluded that there is no reasonable cause to believe that police misconduct occurred in the case.”
    ‘Nerves on edge’
    The ACLU’s Washington office has two attorneys, so it chooses its legal battles carefully. Legal Director Arthur Spitzer said that when his office takes on police misconduct, the cases­ either involve complicated legal questions or a larger pattern of wrongdoing.
    Spitzer said his office, working with the firm Crowell & Moring, represented Viola and Frank Briggs because their case spoke to the carelessness of police in making sure they had the right location for a warrant — and the fear the raid left in its wake.
    The plywood the siblings used to cover the hole left by police was eventually replaced with a flimsy wooden door that left a large gap at the top. The lawsuit blames that door for contributing to a break-in at the apartment. The suit also cited the officers’ unnecessary force as further aggravating Frank Briggs’s back problems and leaving Viola Briggs with anxiety and trouble sleeping.
    “Every little noise I heard in the hall, I’d jump,” Viola Briggs said. “It just keeps your nerves on edge because you never know.”
    Viola Briggs holds the urn containing her brother’s ashes. Frank Briggs died a month before their settlement check arrived. (Michael Robinson Chavez/The Washington Post)
    Viola Briggs, who at one time earned $85,000 annually but has struggled to find employment in recent years, said that before the incident, she was well aware that police officers sometimes overstep boundaries. When one of her sons was 19, he was pulled over on the way to a job interview and made to lie on the ground in his dress clothes. She said he was so upset by the encounter that he never made it to his interview. Even so, she said, her perception of police changed when it was her on the floor, handcuffed and hyperventilating.
    “They don’t care,” she said. “They’re supposed to be here to protect the citizens. But they don’t care, so why should we?”
    An examination of civil lawsuits filed against the D.C. police department in recent years shows that the misconduct alleged by the Briggs siblings is far from the most egregious. In a pending case, a man said he ended up in the hospital after officers allegedly punched, kicked and stomped on his face and body.
    Keith Blakeney had committed no crime on July 6, 2013, according to his lawsuit. Instead, he was walking home from his mother’s house in Southeast Washington when he took a shortcut through an alley and encountered a group of officers who had just handcuffed four or five people.
    “What’s up, Peaches?” an officer called to Blakeney three times, according to the suit. He finally replied, “Just minding my business. What’s up with y’all? It’s a shame we can’t chill in our own neighborhood in peace without y’all coming through and harassing us.”
    “What did you say, motherf---er?” an officer asked before the alleged violent encounter began, according to the suit.
    Blakeney’s attorney, Brian McDaniel, who has handled other police misconduct cases in the city, said these types of encounters between officers and African American men are “something that is all too regular” and make people feel “powerless.”
    In the suit, Blakeney is asking for at least $5 million in compensatory and punitive damages.
    In addition to the $31.6 million that the lawsuits have cost the city in police misconduct cases, the District has also settled complaints before they even reached the courts. Those payouts have totaled nearly $3.2 million since 2011, according to data obtained by The Post from the Office of Risk Management through a public records request.
    Among the cases that have reached litigation, the majority of settlements involved allegations of false arrest, accounting for about 8 of every 10 cases. The settlement amounts for those ranged from $100 to $13.3 million. The latter award was shared by hundreds of World Bank protesters who claimed that officers unfairly arrested them. The median payout for all false arrest cases­ was $25,000.
    The Briggses’ case was settled for $55,000.
    Viola Briggs said she has put her share toward moving into a new apartment, one where she feels safer. But as she sat on her sofa there one morning, it was clear she still worried about unexpected intruders. A baseball bat and golf club leaned against the wall by the front door.
    Frank Briggs moved out shortly after their encounter with the police. Even so, for years, he called his sister daily to check on her and to remind her to push a chair against the door.
    Viola Briggs said the incident left him angry and in pain. But those who saw him every day at his job, handing out newspapers near the Ronald Reagan Building downtown, did not know that. They considered him a friend and filled a poster board with compliments about how his easy smile brightened their days. Viola Briggs keeps it in her apartment, along with a black and gold urn. The name Frank Briggs is written on it.
    His family said he died of natural causes May 2, 2016.
    The settlement check arrived on June 2.
    Peter Hermann and Jennifer Jenkins contributed to this report. - The Washington Post

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  • Wireless: the next generation

    27/Feb/2016 // 326 Viewers


    The mother of all wireless is coming. 5G will bring drastic change


    THE future is already arriving, it is just a question of knowing where to look. On Changshou Road in Shanghai, eagle eyes may spot an odd rectangular object on top of an office block: it is a collection of 128 miniature antennae. Pedestrians in Manhattan can catch a glimpse of apparatus that looks like a video camera on a stand, but jerks around and has a strange, hornlike protrusion where the lens should be. It blasts a narrow beam of radio waves at buildings so they can bounce their way to the receiver. The campus of the University of Surrey in Guildford, England, is dotted with 44 antennae, which form virtual wireless cells that follow a device around.

    These antennae are vanguards of a new generation of wireless technologies. Although the previous batch, collectively called “fourth generation”, or 4G, is still being rolled out in many countries, the telecoms industry has already started working on the next, 5G. On February 12th AT&T, America’s second-largest mobile operator, said it would begin testing whether prototype 5G circuitry works indoors, following similar news in September from Verizon, the number one. South Korea wants to have a 5G network up and running when it hosts the Winter Olympics in 2018; Japan wants the same for the summer games in 2020. When the industry holds its annual jamboree, Mobile World Congress, in Barcelona this month, 5G will top the agenda.

    Mobile telecoms have come a long way since Martin Cooper of Motorola (pictured), inventor of the DynaTAC, the first commercially available handset, demonstrated it in 1973. In the early 2000s, when 3G technology made web-browsing feasible on mobiles, operators splashed out more than $100 billion on radio-spectrum licences, only to find that the technology most had agreed to use was harder to implement than expected.

    The advent of 5G is likely to bring another splurge of investment, just as orders for 4G equipment are peaking. The goal is to be able to offer users no less than the “perception of infinite capacity”, says Rahim Tafazolli, director of the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey. Rare will be the device that is not wirelessly connected, from self-driving cars and drones to the sensors, industrial machines and household appliances that together constitute the “internet of things” (IoT).

    It is easy to dismiss all this as “a lot of hype”, in the words of Kester Mann of CCS Insight, a research firm. When it comes to 5G, much is still up in the air: not only which band of radio spectrum and which wireless technologies will be used, but what standards makers of network gear and handsets will have to comply with. Telecoms firms have reached consensus only on a set of rough “requirements”. The most important are connection speeds of up to 10 gigabits per second and response times (“latency”) of below 1 millisecond (see chart).

    Yet the momentum is real. South Korea and Japan are front-runners in wired broadband, and Olympic games are an opportunity to show the world that they intend also to stay ahead in wireless, even if that may mean having to upgrade their 5G networks to comply with a global standard once it is agreed. AT&T and Verizon both invested early in 4G, and would like to lead again with 5G. The market for network equipment has peaked, as recent results from Ericsson and Nokia show, so the makers also need a new generation of products and new groups of customers.

    On the demand side, too, pressure is mounting for better wireless infrastructure. The rapid growth in data traffic will continue for the foreseeable future, says Sundeep Rangan of NYU Wireless, a department of New York University. According to one estimate, networks need to be ready for a 1,000-fold increase in data volumes in the first half of the 2020s. And the radio spectrum used by 4G, which mostly sits below 3 gigahertz, is running out, and thus getting more expensive. An auction in America last year raked in $45 billion.

    But the path to a 5G wireless paradise will not be smooth. It is not only the usual telecoms suspects who will want a say in this mother of all networks. Media companies will want priority to be given to generous bandwidth, so they can stream films with ever higher resolution. Most IoT firms will not need much bandwidth, but will want their sensors to run on one set of batteries for years—so they will want the 5G standard to put a premium on low power consumption. Online-gaming firms will worry about latency: players will complain if it is too high.

    The most important set of new actors, however, are information-technology firms. The likes of Apple, IBM and Samsung have a big interest not only in selling more smartphones and other mobile devices, but also in IoT, which is tipped to generate the next big wave of revenues for them and other companies. Google, which already operates high-speed fibre-optic networks in several American cities and may be tempted to build a wireless one, has shown an interest in 5G. In 2014 it bought Alpental Technologies, a startup which was developing a cheap, high-speed communications service using extremely high radio frequencies, known as “millimetre wave” (mmWave), the spectrum bands above 3 gigahertz where most of 5G is expected to live.

    To satisfy all these actors will not be easy, predicts Ulf Ewaldsson, Ericsson’s chief technology officer. Questions over spectrum may be the easiest to solve, in part because the World Radiocommunication Conference, established by international treaty, will settle them. Its last gathering, in November, failed to agree on the frequencies for 5G, but it is expected to do so when it next meets in 2019. It is likely to carve out space in the mmWave bands. Tests such as the one in Manhattan mentioned above, which are conducted by researchers from NYU Wireless, have shown that such bands can be used for 5G: although they are blocked even by thin obstacles, they can be made to bounce around them.

    For the first time there will not be competing sets of technical rules, as was the case with 4G, when LTE, now the standard, was initially threatened by WiMax, which was bankrolled by Intel, a chipmaker. Nobody seems willing to play Intel’s role this time around. That said, 5G will be facing a strong competitor, especially indoors: smartphone users are increasingly using Wi-Fi connections for calls and texts as well as data. That means they have ever less need for a mobile connection, no matter how blazingly fast it may be.

    Evolution or revolution?

    Technology divides the industry in another way, says Stéphane Téral of IHS, a market-research firm. One camp, he says, wants 5G “to take an evolutionary path, use everything they have and make it better.” It includes many existing makers of wireless-network gear and some operators, which want to protect their existing investments and take one step at a time. On February 11th, for instance, Qualcomm, a chip-design firm, introduced the world’s first 4G chip set that allows for data-transmission speeds of up to 1 gigabit per second. It does the trick by using a technique called “carrier aggregation”, which means it can combine up to ten wireless data streams of 100 megabits per second.

    The other camp, explains Mr Téral, favours a revolutionary approach: to jump straight to cutting-edge technology. This could mean, for instance, leaving behind the conventional cellular structure of mobile networks, in which a single antenna communicates with all the devices within its cell. Instead, one set of small antennae would send out concentrated radio beams to scan for devices, then a second set would take over as each device comes within reach. It could also mean analysing usage data to predict what kind of connectivity a wireless subscriber will need next and adapt the network accordingly—a technique that the 5G Innovation Centre at the University of Surrey wants to develop.

    One of the most outspoken representatives of the revolutionary camp is China Mobile. For Chih-Lin I, its chief scientist, wireless networks, as currently designed, are no longer sustainable. Antennae are using ever more energy to push each extra megabit through the air. Her firm’s position, she says, is based on necessity: as the world’s biggest carrier, with 1.1m 4G base stations and 825m subscribers (more than all the European operators put together), problems with the current network architecture are exacerbated by the firm’s scale. Sceptics suspect there may be an “industrial agenda” at work, that favours Chinese equipment-makers and lowers the patent royalties these have to pay. The more different 5G is from 4G, the higher the chances that China can make its own intellectual property part of the standard.

    Whatever the motivation, Ms I’s vision of how 5G networks will ultimately be designed is widely shared. They will not only be “super fast”, she says, but “green and soft”, meaning much less energy-hungry and entirely controlled by software. As with computer systems before them, much of a network’s specialised hardware, such as the processor units that sit alongside each cell tower, will become “virtualised”—that is, it will be replaced with software, making it far easier to reconfigure. Wireless networks will become a bit like computing in the online “cloud”, and in some senses will merge with it, using the same off-the-shelf hardware.

    Discussions have already begun about how 5G would change the industry’s structure. One question is whether wireless access will become even more of a commodity, says Chetan Sharma, a telecoms consultant. According to his estimates, operators’ share of total industry revenues has already fallen below 50% in America, with the rest going to mobile services such as Facebook’s smartphone apps, which make money through ads.

    The switch to 5G could help the operators reverse that decline by allowing them to do such things as market their own video content. But it is easier to imagine their decline accelerating, turning them into low-margin “dumb pipes”. If so, a further consolidation of an already highly concentrated industry may be inevitable: some countries may be left with just one provider of wireless infrastructure, just as they often have only one provider of water.

    If the recent history of IT after the rise of cloud computing is any guide—with the likes of Dell, HP and IBM struggling to keep up—network-equipment makers will also get squeezed. Ericsson and Nokia already make nearly half of their sales by managing networks on behalf of operators. But 5G may finally bring about what has been long talked of, says Bengt Nordstrom of Northstream, another consulting firm: the convergence of the makers of computers and telecoms equipment, as standardisation and low margins force them together. Last year Ericsson formed partnerships first with HP and then with Cisco. Full mergers could follow at some point.

    Big, ugly mobile-phone masts will also become harder to spot. Antennae will be more numerous, for sure, but will shrink. Besides the rectangular array that China Mobile is testing in Shanghai, it is also experimenting with smaller, subtler “tiles” that can be combined and, say, embedded into the lettering on the side of a building. In this sense, but few others, the future of mobile telecoms will be invisible. - The Economist

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  • Roadmap for Developing Economies: A Conversation with Dr. Ngozi Okonjo–Iweala

    27/Jan/2016 // 1070 Viewers

    Written by Akshan de Alwis, UN Correspondent


    Born to academics in what was then still a British colony, Ngozi Okonjo-Iweala was a teenager when civil war broke out in Nigeria seven years after independence, and she ended up working as a cook for the Biafran rebels on the frontlines. After leaving Nigeria to study economics at Harvard and then MIT, she spent two decades at the World Bank, eventually becoming a vice president. In 2003, Okonjo-Iweala returned to Nigeria to serve as finance minister in the administration of President Olusegun Obasanjo, but she resigned in frustration in 2006. (To opponents of her reform agenda, she had become known as “Okonjo-Wahala,” a play on the Hausa word for “trouble.”) After another stint at the World Bank, this time as a managing director, she was invited back to Nigeria by President Goodluck Jonathan in 2011 to head his economic team and once again take up the post of finance minister. With the election of Muhammadu Buhari as Nigeria’s President in March, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala now is a senior advisor at Lazard and the chair of the board of GAVI, The Vaccine Alliance.

    In this unique interview, Dr. Okonjo-Iweala, who served on the UN Secretary General’s High-level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post 2015 Development Agenda, reveals thoughtful and insightful guidelines for other developing countries, and discusses overarching goals for the advancement of the recently adopted Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

    AD: During your tenure as Finance Minister, Nigeria became the biggest economy in Africa, overtaking South Africa in 2014. You are credited with the measures taken to turn Nigeria around. The National Economic Empowerment and Development Strategy (NEEDS) development plan has been highly influential throughout the developing world. What are the lessons that you can share with other developing nations, both in Africa and around the world?

    NOI: First of all, we tried to find out why has the country not been doing well all these years. You have to really dig. People talk very glibly about the lack of reforms or corruption and such, but you need to go beyond that—really get granular about why your country is not performing well. When we dug into it the first time in 2003, and did this study that lead to the NEEDS document and to the reform. It was finding out that one of the biggest sources of instability and lack of growth in the Nigerian economy—that had been growing at about 2.3 to 2.5 percent per annum, with a population growth rate of 2.8 percent—one of the biggest reasons was that we didn’t know how to manage volatility. Oil prices would go up, we’d spend everything, they’d then crash, and so on and so forth. So we really went to look at the core reason—no one had ever really done that in the country. The World Bank had done some studies, but none of the policy makers had really looked at this or paid attention. So when we tried to map this, we saw that our expenditures were volatile, incomes were volatile, GDP growth was volatile, and no country can reform with that kind of volatility. So of course we had to put in place a mechanism, and I think that was one of our biggest successes from the first time.

    AD: It must be difficult maintaining economic stability when so much of Nigeria’s success is associated with the current oil price? Despite having a massive oil industry, Nigeria famously struggled with paying back its outstanding debts to the IMF and Paris Club.

    NOI: The first concrete step was to bring in some macroeconomic stability into the economy, managing the fiscal framework much better. We put in place what they call an “oil-price-based fiscal rule,” which the linking of the way we budget to the price of oil and just smoothing out consumption and expenditures. So we put all those things in place, and you could see – the World Bank had estimated that Nigeria was losing three percentage points per year due to volatility, and lo-and-behold, when we developed something called the “Excess Crude Oil Account” into which we could just put the savings. When we decided to budget at an oil price lower than the one prevailing in the market, and delinked our budget from the volatility, we were able to save an amount over and above that price we used in the budget because oil prices were going up then – I saved them into a sort of stabilization fund, which we call the Excess Crude OilAccount, so in bad times we could draw on those savings to smooth our consumption. When we put all of these mechanisms into place, growth tripled – almost to six percent to seven percent per annum. So one of the key lessons is that macroeconomic stability matters – if you’re a natural resource producer, managing volatility matters, grappling with that matters.

    AD: Oil is an exhaustible resource, and ultimately rather volatile. There have also been significant efforts to diversify Nigeria’s economy – to move away Nigeria’s economy from this central pillar of oil, right?

    NOI: Very much so. The second thing we tried to do or beginning to do was some of the structural reforms that would be necessary for the economy. We tried to look at what were the biggest sources of fiscal drain, we looked at enterprises, and we looked at those places in the economy where we needed to tackle issues that could unleash private sector investment. Or course, infrastructure was one of the big ones. So we started with telecommunications reform, brought in the private sector, auctioned licenses, and lo-and-behold, that whole sector was unleashed. And you could see the effects: it used to be 0.8 percent of GDP, by my second time around, it had grown to 9 percent of GDP. Huge. Just as an example, and then we started reforming the power sector, we started looking at some of the really special issues, and then of course, the government was over. I’ve captured a lot of this in my book. So the lessons are macro stability, structural reforms, and building institutions. If you want to sustain development, and leave a lasting impact, you really need to put in systems, processes, and institutions that will drive development going forward – same with the SDGs. We really started to look, what are the missing pieces? Our whole financial management framework, if you’re going to finance the SDGs, you need to diversify your economy away from one resource, you need to strengthen your revenue management framework, you need to present leakages. We put into place financial management systems with biometrics that really began to build a framework that would take us away from cash management with the problems of corruption and leakages to electronic management systems for finance.

    We also built institutions – you notice that in many developing countries, owning a home is not very easy. There is no robust mortgage system that works, like in America, the UK, and so on. This is also one of the reasons why people become corrupt – they try to steal money because they want to go and build their house, they don’t have any way to get money or resources, they have to save until the end of their working life before they’re able to own a home. That’s not really the way that it should be. In developed countries they tried to put in place a system so that you’re young, you get married, you can start paying, and by the time you retire you can own your home. So this is a big, institutional and social gap in many of our countries. So in Nigeria, the second time around, we tried to build the Nigerian mortgage refinance institution – a system that could begin to put liquidity into the mortgage system and allow our young people to have homes, that one day they can own a home. I also strongly believe that it contributes to tackling corruption, because all of the corruption of people stealing this and that is them trying to save up resources for homes and so on.

    AD: How do Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) play into the economic landscape of Nigeria? Many developing nations have struggled to foster SMEs growth, as many lack access to capital they require to expand. What steps did you take to better incorporate SMEs into Nigeria’s economic growth?

    NOI: We also built, in order to finance SMEs – you find that they are excluded from the financial system; they don’t have access or it’s too expensive – so we built the Development Bank of Nigeria, and it’s just in its infancy now, but at full-fledge, it’s supposed to provide resources to SMEs so that they can begin to grow, since they’re the engine of job creation within the economy. This is another trend that is critically important: how do you foster growth within an economy, how do you help informal enterprises to grow and create more jobs, because often it’s not the huge businesses that create the most jobs. So building an institution that can begin to plug the gap and be sustainable – the same as many countries have done: the German’s have KfW, the American’s have the Small Business Administration. We don’t have these kind of things in our countries, and because we’re missing these institutions that means we continue to struggle. So the second lesson that I’d say we learned that is important for development is to really look for what is missing institutionally from your economic landscape, and try to put them in, because without those institutions built, you will not be able to develop. And then undertake the right structural reforms in those regulatory reforms, freeing up space for business that will enable your private investment to take place, because the government create the jobs needed. So you really need to the necessary things.

    AD: You’ve now left the Nigerian government twice – each time before all of your developments could yet come to full fruition. What other plans did you envision for Nigeria?

    NOI: The last thing I want to say that we have not yet done – we haven’t done it, so I’m not claiming it – but we seriously looked at this, because we saw that the type of growth that we were getting was coming with more inequality and was not creating enough jobs. So we got the growth finally, but when you looked at the quality of the growth, it wasn’t something that you could really be too happy about, because we have youth unemployment, the growth wasn’t creating enough jobs, and it was leading to more inequality, which is a problem that faces the whole world. So the last thing we’re doing is looking at the quality of that growth, to make sure that it’s being created in the right sectors that will create jobs, like agriculture for instance. We have a huge comparative advantage there, so trying to do the natural thing and enable growth in the agriculture sector and not just growth but development along the value chains to create jobs. Trying to encourage services, even the creative industries, like the film industry, the arts. And the thing with this sector is that it creates a lot of jobs without government help, this was happening on its own. But they were getting to the point where they needed additional help. Nigeria has developed a whole film industry, called Nollywood, which is the third largest in the world after Hollywood and Bollywood, and it’s created a lot of jobs – 200,000 direct jobs and about one million indirect jobs. So encouraging the film industry, which went from 0 percent of GDP ten years ago to about 1.4 percent now.

    We’re also working on a social safety net, for those at the very bottom of the ladder, because sometimes people are so down they cannot talk advantage of the economic improvements. So how do you pick them up and make sure that their children do not fall into the poverty trap all over again? So we’re looking at what the Brazilians, Colombians, and Mexicans have done so well. The building of a national social safety net centered around conditional cash transfers, and using that as a basis to make sure that we start transforming the lives of child at the bottom end of the income ladder by giving them, their parents, their mothers in-fact, cash-transfers to make sure they send them to school, get them immunized, and things like that so that the next generation would not also fall into poverty but have the tools to which to escape poverty. That last part is what we were working on when the government was over, and it’s something that some would suggest that some countries should look at if they really want to improve the quality of growth and move towards the SDGs.

    AD: Do you see developments like Mobile Banking as a potential vehicle to help with this process of normalizing growth?

    NOI: Mobile banking has taken off in places like Kenya like wildfire, and in Nigeria it’s taken off. It’s not as well as in Kenya, but it’s really helping. For instance, it’s also helping to fight corruption. One of the ways Akinwumi Adesina, the Minister of Agriculture and current President of the African Development Bank, during my second time in government, got rid of the corruption in fertilizer and subsidies payments to farmers – there was a lot of corruption, so that only 11 percent of farmers were ever getting their subsidies and fertilizer – and what it was getting rid of the intermediaries, the middle-men and women who helped to distribute this fertilizer. What he did instead was develop an electronic wallet, such that farmers, through their mobile phones, would receive electronic vouchers, which they could send to the agro-dealer. The agro-dealer can now go to the bank and submit these vouchers and collect their money.

    AD: As the final word, you’ve passionately fought corruption throughout your career. What is the role of fighting corruption and illicit cash flows in achieving the SDGs?

    NOI: The size of the flows, not just African countries, but worldwide – is estimated at one trillion dollars a year according to International Financial Integrity. But even if you just look at the costs to Africa, 50 billion (from the Thabo Mbeki report on illicit financial flows) is significantly more than the aid flows to the continent. So in terms of the numbers, the issue of transparency, and the issue of fighting corruption, the world needs to pay very strong attention to this issue of illicit financing and illicit capital flows. Harnessing this will help with the financing of some of the goals of the SDGs.





    Diplomatic Courier

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  • Breaking News: Obama in deep mess, implicated barely one week he handed over

    27/Jan/2017 // 7812 Viewers

    Trump will find the truth

    We have spent the past 2 months hearing about how Russians were responsible for hacking the election process in order to let Trump win. Anyone paying attention knows this is a ridiculous claim.

    It was one more ploy in the left’s arsenal to discredit Trump. This one, Obama took way too far, issuing sanctions against Russia. He actually punished them for something they never did! Fortunately Putin did not respond aggressively.

    Democrats did not want to accept a Trump win, but could they have tampered with the election to try and prevent it? The answer is not only yes they could have, but yes they did. Or maybe there was more sinister motive, perhaps for revenge?

    Georgia Secretary of State Brian Kemp, who oversees the voting systems, is a long-time vocal critic of Obama and Jeh Johnson. He spoke out against their attempt to designate local and state election machinery as part of federal “critical infrastructure.”

    John Roth, the Inspector General of the Department of Homeland Security (DHS), began an investigation into former DHS Secretary Jeh Johnson and his use of DHS systems on election night.

    Representatives Jason Chaffetz and Jody Hice co-signed a letter to Roth, asking him to open the investigation.

    Chaffetz, who also is the chairman of the powerful House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, told Roth, “If these allegations are true, they implicate state sovereignty laws and various other constitutional issues, as well as federal and state criminal laws.”

    Kemp also wrote to then President-elect Donald Trump, telling him “I respectfully write today to request that you task your new Secretary of Homeland Security with investigating the failed cyberattacks against the Georgia Secretary of State’s network firewall.

    Johnson could have attempted the hack into the Georgia state voting system in order to influence the outcome of the election in that state. Johnson never would have done this alone. Obama would have ordered and possibly even overseen the operations.

    In a letter to Brian Kemp, Roth outlined the scope of the investigation; “a series of ten alleged scanning events of the Georgia Secretary of State’s network that may have originated from DHS-affiliated IP addresses.”
    The “scans” are designed to test security weaknesses in a network. It’s the electronic equivalent of “rattling doorknobs” to see if they’re unlocked. Or, to send a message to a recipient.

    Georgia had firewall systems in place that stopped all 10 of the attacks before they could do any damage. Georgian IT specialists were able to trace the 10 scans back to a DHS IP address.

    Title 18 of the federal code makes it a federal crime to “having knowingly accessed a computer without authorization” and to damage or impair the integrity or availability of data, a program, a system, or information.  If convicted, Obama and Johnson could be fined and receive up to 20 years for each offense.

    The timing is convenient. Four of the 10 attempts against the Georgia network occurred as Kemp was about to talk to DHS officials about the attacks, or coincided with his public testimony about his opposition to the critical infrastructure designation.

    Kemp stated, “It’s certainly concerning about the dates. That’s a pretty easy dot to connect. Certainly from a political perspective it makes a lot of sense to ask that question.

    The attacks against the network began on February 2. The last effort to penetrate the Georgia system, which Kemp called a “large attack,” occurred November 15th, a week after the election but before the state certified its results.

    Kemp said he hopes the Inspector General gets to the bottom of the attacks and determines if there is a possibility the hacks were timed to intimidate him.

    Kemp is simply grateful the investigation has finally begun, “We’re certainly excited and glad that we’re just going to get our questions answered. That’s all we’ve been asking for and we think we deserve to know what was going on.  The explanation they (DHS) have been giving us leaves a lot of holes unanswered.”

    Apparently Johnson has given several explanations for the attempted intrusion. One was that an unnamed contractor hit the site “as part of his normal job duties” to confirm professional licenses.

    Kemp said the DHS answers have continued to change over time; “First they said it was an individual in Corpus Christi Texas who worked for border patrol that had a bug in his Microsoft software that was causing it.  And then they moved off of that, and said that it was somebody in Georgia at FLETCO down in Gleynn County on the coast of Georgia. We’ve never been given the name of the employee.  We haven’t been able to talk to them.  We expect OIG would want to talk to that employee.”

    The investigation could take some time since so many minor players seem to be involved. No doubt that Obama was in charge but he had to have people doing the actual dirty work. We can only hope it will all come out in the investigation.


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