Sunday, October 29, 2017

Trump Tries to Shift Focus as First Charges Reportedly Loom in Russia Case

President Trump, in a series of Sunday morning tweets, attacked Hillary Clinton, saying Republicans were pushing back against the Russia allegations by looking into her. Credit Doug Mills/The New York Times
WASHINGTON — President Trump’s frustration at the investigations into his campaign’s ties with Russia boiled over on Sunday, as he sought to shift the focus to a litany of accusations against his 2016 rival, Hillary Clinton, a day before the special counsel inquiry will reportedly produce the first indictment in the case.
In a series of midmorning Twitter posts, Mr. Trump said Republicans were now pushing back against the Russia allegations by looking into Mrs. Clinton. But the president, who has often expressed anger that his allies were not doing more to protect him from the Russia inquiries, made it clear he believed that Mrs. Clinton should be pursued more forcefully, writing, “DO SOMETHING!”
He did not specify who should take such action, though critics have accused him of trying to improperly sway the inquiries.
Mr. Trump was apparently referring in his tweets to revelations last week that Mrs. Clinton’s campaign and the Democratic National Committee had paid for research that was included in a salacious dossier made public in January by BuzzFeed. The dossier contained claims about connections between Mr. Trump, his associates and Russia.
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The president was also reviving unproved allegations that Mrs. Clinton was part of a quid pro quo in which the Clinton Foundation received donations in exchange for her support as secretary of state for a business deal that gave Russia control over a large share of uranium production in the United States.
And he was returning to questions about Mrs. Clinton’s use of a private email server and how James B. Comey, the former F.B.I. director, handled an investigation into the matter, which was closed with no charges being filed. Mr. Trump initially cited the email case as a reason for firing Mr. Comey before conceding that it was because of the Russia inquiry.
The president’s Twitter fusillade came as he and his advisers braced for the first public action by Robert S. Mueller III, the special prosecutor named after Mr. Comey’s ouster to investigate Russian meddling in the 2016 election. As part of his inquiry, Mr. Mueller is believed to be examining whether there was collusion between Mr. Trump’s campaign and Moscow, and whether the president obstructed justice when he fired Mr. Comey.
CNN reported on Friday that a federal grand jury in Washington had approved the first charges in Mr. Mueller’s investigation, and that plans had been made for anyone charged to be taken into custody as early as Monday. CNN said the target of the charges was unclear.
Multiple congressional committees have undertaken their own investigations into Russian meddling in the elections, following up on the conclusion of United States intelligence agencies that Moscow sought to sway the contest in favor of Mr. Trump — an idea that he has frequently dismissed as a hoax.
Speaking on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday, Senator Rob Portman, Republican of Ohio, said the president had been “too defensive” about Mr. Mueller’s inquiry. “We ought to instead focus on the outrage that the Russians meddled in our elections,” said Mr. Portman, who serves on the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
The president’s tweets came days after House Republicans announced that they were opening new investigations into two of Mr. Trump’s most frequently cited grievances: the Obama Justice Department’s investigation of Mrs. Clinton’s emails and the uranium deal.
Mr. Trump is working to fuel those inquiries. The White House acknowledged on Friday that the president had urged the Justice Department to lift a gag order on an informant in a federal investigation into Russia’s attempts to gain a foothold in the United States’ uranium industry during the Obama administration.
Critics called the move improper presidential interference in a federal criminal inquiry, but Mr. Trump’s advisers said he was merely encouraging transparency.
In recent days, Mr. Trump has suggested that he believes that the questions he has been raising about Mrs. Clinton’s conduct should put to rest any allegations about his own actions, and end the scrutiny of Russia’s meddling in the election.
“This was the Democrats coming up with an excuse for losing an election,” Mr. Trump told reporters last week. “They lost it by a lot. They didn’t know what to say, so they made up the whole Russia hoax. Now it’s turning out that the hoax has turned around, and you look at what’s happened with Russia, and you look at the uranium deal, and you look at the fake dossier. So that’s all turned around.”
Senator Susan Collins, a Maine Republican who serves on the Intelligence Committee, said on CBS’s “Face the Nation” on Sunday that while she had seen “lots of evidence that the Russians were very active in trying to influence the elections,” she had yet to encounter “any definitive evidence of collusion.”

Friday, October 27, 2017

The Governor Blocked Medicaid Expansion. Now Maine Voters Could Overrule Him.

Brandy Staples, right, knocked on doors in Bath, Maine, last week on behalf of a referendum to expand Medicaid. She urged her second cousin Cynthia Mitchell, center, to vote for it. Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times
PORTLAND, Me. — Night after night, in the sharp autumn air, canvassers are knocking on doors across Maine in hopes of getting tens of thousands of poor adults insured through Medicaid. Gov. Paul LePage, a Republican, has five times vetoed expanding access to the program under the Affordable Care Act. Next month, voters here will be the first in the nation to decide the issue by referendum.
But even in this liberal city, canvassers have encountered resistance from some as they stood on creaky porches and leaf-strewn steps to argue, as Lily SanGiovanni did the other night, that “health care is a human right.”
“My only question is where is the money coming from?” asked Michael Bunker, 35, a gym owner who spent 10 minutes debating the issue on his doorstep with Ms. SanGiovanni, a volunteer with Mainers for Health Care, the lead pro-expansion group. “I agree everyone should have free health care, it sounds great. But I can’t sign anything that’s just going to add to the federal debt.”
The referendum on Nov. 7 represents a new front in the pitched political battles over health care. Maine is one of 19 states whose Republican governors or legislatures have refused to expand Medicaid under Obamacare, and the other holdouts — particularly Utah and Idaho, where newly formed committees are working to get a Medicaid expansion question on next year’s ballot — are closely watching the initiative, whose outcome may offer clues about the salience of the issue in next year’s midterm congressional elections.
Gov. Paul LePage’s frequently harsh stance on government safety net programs appeals to many voters in the state’s more rural regions. Credit Robert F. Bukaty/Associated Press
After President Trump and Republicans in Congress spent much of the year trying to repeal the health law and cut spending on Medicaid, a half-century old entitlement program that covers one in five Americans, the pro-expansion side in Maine is hoping to benefit from energized public support for it.
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Turnout may be the biggest challenge for the advocacy groups leading the effort. There are no national or statewide races here to drive people to the polls this year. And Mr. LePage’s stance on government safety net programs appeals to many voters in the state’s more rural regions. He derides Medicaid expansion as “pure welfare” that would burden the state’s taxpayers.
Senator Susan Collins of Maine, one of the few Republicans who firmly opposed the Obamacare repeal bills, is not taking a position on the ballot measure — she never does on referendums, according to her staff. But leaders of the campaign are hoping her outspoken support for Medicaid during the repeal battles will help.
About 80,000 additional Mainers would become eligible for the program if the ballot measure were to succeed, according to the nonpartisan Maine Office of Program and Fiscal Review, although those with income above the poverty line currently qualify for subsidized coverage through the Obamacare marketplace. In all, more than 2.5 million poor uninsured adults across the country would gain access to Medicaid if the holdout states expanded the program, joining about 11 million who have already signed up under the law.
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Brandy Staples, left, and Kate Brennan go door to door to urge voters to back Medicaid expansion in Bath, Maine last week. Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times
Kari Medeiros, 40, of Eastport, a tiny town in the state’s poorest county, earns less than $5,000 a year cleaning houses and pet sitting, and has back pain that has worsened to the point where she can barely mop and sweep.
“With MaineCare I believe I’d be able to find a provider who would see me,” she said, referring to the state’s Medicaid program. “But a lot of people here don’t vote. So many families here are having addiction problems with their loved ones, and they’re not focused on going to vote — even though those are the people that need it the most.”
Under the Affordable Care Act, the federal government picked up the entire cost of new enrollees under Medicaid expansion for the first three years and will continue to pay at least 90 percent. (States cover a significantly larger portion of the expenses of the regular Medicaid program.) The law allows any citizen with income up to 138 percent of the poverty level — $16,642 for an individual, $24,600 for a family of four — to qualify.
The main arguments for expanding the program here are that it would help financially fragile rural hospitals, create jobs and provide care for vulnerable people who have long gone without it.
R.J. Miller, 33, who suffers from psoriatic arthritis that causes severe joint pain and swelling, said he worries about relying indefinitely on free care to control his condition. Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times
But Mr. LePage and other opponents say that Maine should know better. The state undertook a more modest expansion of Medicaid in 2002, under former Gov. John Baldacci, a Democrat. Afterward, Maine struggled with budget shortfalls and fell behind on Medicaid payments to hospitals.
“People don’t want to acknowledge the unintended consequences that Maine has already experienced,” said Brent Littlefield, a political adviser to Mr. LePage who is serving as the spokesman for Welfare to Work, the committee leading the opposition. He said that even with the federal government paying most of the cost — a situation that could change if Congress eventually succeeds in repealing Obamacare — the state could owe close to $100 million a year, according to estimates from the LePage administration.
The Office of Program and Fiscal Review has estimated a lower state cost, about $54 million a year once the federal share drops to 90 percent in 2021. Maine would not receive the full 90 percent match for parents of young children because many already qualify for the program.
Maine’s legislature, which is controlled by Democrats in the House and Republicans, by one vote, in the Senate, could move to block the referendum if it were to pass, but since it voted for Medicaid expansion five times already, supporters and opponents alike believe it is unlikely to meddle. And the governor would have no authority to veto the outcome. The only other threat would be if Congress succeeded in repealing the Affordable Care Act and ended the Medicaid expansion program.
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Robert Schmidt, a veteran, said he was conflicted about supporting free coverage for low-income people regardless of whether they worked. Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times
Supporters of the measure have knocked on 150,000 doors since July and have run four television ads statewide. Mainers for Health Care had raised about $480,000 as of early October, including $375,000 from the Fairness Project, a left-leaning group founded in California. It is putting out national appeals for donations, including through Organizing for Action, the political group that grew out of former President Barack Obama’s campaigns.
Welfare to Work had raised $192,500, with its contributions coming from a handful of frequent Republican donors in the state. Mr. Littlefield would not discuss the opposition’s strategies but the group has at least two ads running on television statewide and Mr. LePage has been blasting the initiative on talk radio and in other public comments.
Canvassers for the measure have found one of the biggest obstacles is lack of knowledge about the issue, even among those who would benefit. Nicole Simard, 33, interrupted Ms. SanGiovanni a few seconds into her pitch, saying, “I agree, I agree. I have friends that are suffering right now, that don’t have insurance. My sister is one.” Like many people Ms. SanGiovanni encountered that night, Ms. Simard said she had not been aware of the referendum but that she would vote for it.
“Absolutely, 100 percent,” she promised.
The following night in Bangor, about two hours north, canvassers encountered Robert Schmidt, a veteran who said he was conflicted about free coverage for low-income people regardless of whether they worked.
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Nurses Cokie Giles, far left, and Cynthia Martinez-Edgar, far right, talk to James Klemenz (cq) (second from left) and Kirsten Reed at their home while going door to door to urge voters to back Medicaid expansion. Credit Sarah Rice for The New York Times
“I had to sign my life away to get my free care,” he said of the government coverage he receives as a veteran. “I can’t do handouts. On the other hand, with all the money we spend across the world, why aren’t we taking care of our own people?”
Mr. Schmidt, who is 53 and works at a big-box store, said he was not sure how he would vote.
A few houses down, his neighbors, Kirsten Reed and James Smith, told the canvassers that they would eagerly vote for Medicaid expansion now that they had been reminded about it. Both uninsured, Mr. Smith, a carpenter, and Ms. Reed, an artist and writer, said they had seen a pro-expansion ad on television but had forgotten about it.
“I could have easily been someone who believes in this but didn’t get out and vote,” Ms. Reed, 44, told the canvassers, Cokie Giles and Cynthia Martinez, both nurses.
State Representative Heather Sirocki, a Republican active in fighting the ballot measure, said the uninsured could always sign up for charity care at hospitals, which are obligated to provide it to people under a certain income level.
At the Oasis Free Clinic in Brunswick, which sees about 450 uninsured patients a year, R.J. Miller, 33, who suffers from psoriatic arthritis that causes severe joint pain and swelling, said he worried about relying indefinitely on free care to control his condition.
“I’ve lived in other countries where nobody’s going to let you fall all the way down,” said Mr. Miller, a jazz drummer. “We buy into the American legend of, ‘You can take care of yourself anywhere, kid.’ That’s a bad lesson to teach everybody.”

Spain Moves to Take Control Over Catalonia

Independence supporters gathered outside the Catalan Parliament in Barcelona, Spain, on Friday. Credit Jack Taylor/Getty Images
BARCELONA, Spain — In a major escalation of Spain’s territorial conflict, the Spanish Senate on Friday authorized the government to take direct control of the fractious region of Catalonia, just after Catalan lawmakers declared the region’s independence.
The dueling actions set up a potential showdown over the weekend, as Spain careened into its greatest constitutional crisis since it embraced democracy in 1978.
The Senate voted 214 to 47 to invoke Article 155 of Spain’s Constitution, granting Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy a package of extraordinary powers to suppress Catalonia’s independence drive. The measure will go into effect after it is published in the government register, which is expected to happen Friday night.
In a speech on Friday before the vote, Mr. Rajoy had said he had “no alternative” because the Catalan leader, Carles Puigdemont, and his separatist cabinet had pursued an illegal and unilateral path that was “contrary to the normal behavior in any democratic country like ours.”
Undeterred by the government’s threat, and after a bitter debate, separatists in the Catalan Parliament passed a resolution to “create a Catalan republic as an independent state.” Lawmakers opposed to independence walked out of the chamber in protest before the vote.
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Mr. Puigdemont came close on Thursday to calling early regional elections, but dropped the idea and instead told Catalonia’s Parliament that it would make a decision on independence the next day. He leads a fragile separatist coalition that has 72 of the body’s 135 seats
During the debate that preceded the vote, Catalan lawmakers traded accusations and in turn described the occasion as “historic” and “happy,” or else “tragic” and a serious violation of Spain’s Constitution.
Separatist lawmakers in the Catalan Parliament applauded after the resolution passed. Those opposed to independence walked out in protest before the vote. Credit David Ramos/Getty Images
Addressing the Catalan Parliament in Spanish, Carlos Carrizo, a lawmaker from Ciudadanos, a party that opposes secession, told Mr. Puigdemont and separatist lawmakers that, far from creating a new Catalan republic, “you will go down in history for having fractured Catalonia and for sinking the institutions of Catalonia.”
In front of the assembly, he tore apart a copy of the independence resolution. “Your job is not to promise unrealizable dreams but to improve the daily lives of people,” he said.
Before the independence vote, Marta Rovira, a separatist lawmaker, told the assembly that “today we start on a new path” to build “a better country.” She added: “We are creating a country free of repression.”
Catalan lawmakers who voted for independence could face prosecution for sedition, or even rebellion.
Marta Ribas, a Catalan lawmaker, said that Madrid’s use of Article 155 was unjustified, but also argued that “it’s a mistake to respond to one outrageous act with another outrageous act.” She added: “A declaration of independence won’t protect us from the 155, quite the contrary.”
In the streets outside Parliament in Barcelona, not far from a boisterous pro-independence rally, a few Catalans quietly expressed similar frustrations.
The Oct. 1 referendum did not give the Catalan government the legitimacy to vote to secede, said Federico Escolar, 53, a cafe owner.
“Most of the people who would have voted no did not participate,” Mr. Escolar said while smoking a cigarette outside his cafe. “It was not a proper referendum. It was illegal.”
Walking into a nearby subway station, Christina Juana, a 38-year-old social worker, agreed.
“Neither Puigdemont nor the Catalan government knows exactly what the Catalan people’s opinion is,” Ms. Juana said.
Mr. Puigdemont’s government has been flouting Spain’s Constitution since early September, when separatist lawmakers voted to hold a binding referendum on independence on Oct. 1 as a key step toward statehood.
Catalans who went to the polls voted overwhelmingly to approve independence, but the referendum took place without legal guarantees and with most opponents of independence staying away.
The referendum was marred by clashes between the Spanish national police and Catalan citizens that left hundreds injured, including police officers.
Before the Catalan Parliament’s vote for independence on Friday, large crowds had gathered outside in anticipation of what they hoped would be a historic day for Catalonia.
Many were draped in flags as they watched the parliamentary debate on two large screens, cheering during speeches by pro-independence lawmakers and hissing those of their opponents. When proceedings hit a lull, the crowds cycled through a series of pro-independence chants.
“Spanish occupiers!” was one, a reference to the national police officers who tried to stop the Oct. 1 referendum by force. “Leave Catalonia!”
Prime Minister Mariano Rajoy of Spain addressing the Senate in Madrid on Friday. Credit Chema Moya/European Pressphoto Agency
“I feel very, very happy,” said Emili Ara, a 79-year-old retired realtor, who said he had hoped for Catalan independence for most of his life, even in the days when the concept had little widespread appeal.
“The people living here, both those who voted yes and those who voted no, will be able to see their sons and grandsons enjoy a much better future,” he added.
The optimism of Mr. Ara and his family was not dented by the prospect of the Spanish government’s moving to take over administration of the region.
“We have to declare independence even if we end up with less autonomy than we have now,” said Eulalia Ara, Mr. Ara’s 39-year-old daughter. “We can’t continue in this situation because we are being repressed by the Spanish state.”
And even “if they steal our Parliament and our government,” said Jordi Ara, Mr. Ara’s 18-year-old grandson, “we will still have our beliefs!”
Elsewhere in the crowd, separatist protesters saw little problem with declaring independence even though less than 43 percent of voters participated in the referendum.
“Two months ago, I would have said that 43 percent was not enough,” said Ester Romero, 25, a sales manager who had come to the rally after picking up her degree certificate.
“But after all the oppression, after all the police hitting people during the referendum, it’s enough.”

Thursday, October 19, 2017

Forget Marx and Mao. Chinese City Honors Once-Banned Confucian.


The city of Guiyang has led a Chinese revival of interest in Wang Yangming, a 16th-century Confucian scholar, with attractions including a park devoted to him. Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times
GUIYANG, China — Nearly 500 years after he died, the Chinese philosopher Wang Yangming once again wielded a calligraphy brush, carefully daubed it into a tray of black ink and elegantly wrote out his most famous phrase: “the unity of knowledge and action.”
A crowd murmured its approval as his assistant held up the paper for all to see.
“I respect Wang Yangming from the bottom of my heart!” blurted Cao Lin, 69, a retiree.
Watching the scene unfold was Zhou Ying, who manages Wang — or at least a very realistic robot that not only looks like Wang but is able to imitate his calligraphy and repeat more than 1,000 of his aphorisms.
“This is exactly what we’re hoping to achieve with the robot,” Ms. Zhou said as Wang began writing another saying. “We feel this is a way to get people interested in these old ideas.”

Yellow R.
Yangtze R.
Hong Kong
South China Sea
250 miles

Promoting these old ideas has been a priority for President Xi Jinping, who has rekindled enthusiasm for traditional culture as part of a broader push to fill what many Chinese see as their country’s biggest problem: a spiritual void caused by its headlong pursuit of prosperity.
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And when China’s most powerful leader in 40 years endorses a philosopher, even a long-dead Confucian one, people rush to take action.
The epicenter of Wang’s revival has been this city of four million people perched on a plateau in China’s mountainous south. When Wang spent three years in exile here in the early 16th century, Guiyang was a remote outpost on imperial China’s southern border.
Today, as the capital of one of China’s poorest provinces, it has high-speed rail service to the coast and is trying to position itself as a center of big data — and traditional culture.
Since Mr. Xi began promoting the philosopher three years ago, officials in and around Guiyang have built a Wang Yangming-themed park, constructed a museum to showcase his achievements, turned a small cave into a shrine in his honor and, yes, commissioned a robot to bring him to life.


In honor of Wang, Guiyang has built a museum, a park and even a robot that looks like him, and that replicates his calligraphy. Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

“It’s a way to promote moral behavior in society as a whole,” said Larry Israel, a scholar at Middle Georgia State University in Macon who has written about the revival.
Restoring a sense of public morality has been a policy goal of Mr. Xi, who is set to be reappointed as Communist Party leader at the party’s 19th congress starting Wednesday.
In his efforts to address the country’s spiritual shortcomings, Mr. Xi has spoken favorably of Confucius, praised Buddhism and presided over a revival of traditional religious practices that were once condemned as superstitious.
But he has seemed most comfortable praising the life and works of Wang Yangming.
Born in 1472, Wang was a scholar with a promising career in the imperial court in Beijing when, in 1506, he spoke out against the cruelty of a well-known courtier. That offense earned him banishment to faraway Guiyang.
During his years here, Wang ran a post house on the edge of town. That gave him time to meditate on the philosophical problem that would define his legacy: understanding how people know right from wrong. His conclusion: People have an inborn conscience that they must act upon, regardless of the consequences.


The philosopher’s calligraphy, as replicated by the robot. Wang is at the center of a new propaganda drive by Xi Jinping, China’s strongest leader in decades. Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

It was this advocacy of moral action that apparently appeals to the no-nonsense Mr. Xi, who has cracked down on vice and corruption within the party’s ranks. Mr. Xi frequently refers to Wang, who regained favor in 1509, and then loyally served the emperor as a military leader who quashed a rebellion.
However, some see Wang, with his emphasis on following one’s internal moral compass, as a risky thinker for an authoritarian state to embrace.
“Wang Yangming can pave the way for a philosophy of autonomy — that standards don’t come from outside. that they are inner,” said Sébastien Billioud, co-author of a recent book on Confucian thought in today’s China. “And of course autonomy is always dangerous for authoritarian regimes.”
During the first decades of communist rule, Wang’s works were banned as “bourgeois.” Even into the 1990s, it was still risky to talk about him at academic conferences.
“We held small private meetings” to discuss Wang, recalled Zhang Xinmin, a philosophy professor at Guizhou University on the city’s outskirts. “We were monitored the whole time,” he said.


The cave where Wang lived near Guiyang. Mr. Xi hopes Wang’s philosophy will fill a moral void in an increasingly wealthy China. Credit Lam Yik Fei for The New York Times

The ban on Wang began to lift around 2000 with a revival in the popularity of Confucian studies. Then, in 2014, Mr. Xi explicitly told local leaders to promote Wang’s thoughts. Suddenly, Wang Yangming was China’s hottest philosopher since Marx.
“It was completely unexpected,” Professor Zhang said.
Wang’s rehabilitation has turned Guiyang into a hive of activity. One reason is that until a recent promotion, the province was led by one of Mr. Xi’s protégés, Chen Min’er.
Mr. Chen’s loyalty is on display at the Guiyang Confucius Academy, a vast complex of museums, fountains, dioramas and lecture halls on the city’s outskirts. When it opened in 2013, it made little mention of Wang. But now there is a museum devoted to him nearly as big as the hall to Confucius himself.
“Both Uncle Xi and Chen Min’er love him,” said Xu Qi, the party official in charge of the museum.
Guiyang’s embrace of Wang can also show how much work Mr. Xi still has before him.
On the city’s north side is the Yangming Cave, where Wang taught and whose name he adopted as his own. (His name at birth was Wang Shouren.) The cave is now encircled by a cultural park that is the centerpiece of a 600-acre real estate project of luxury high-rises and malls.
A senior local official, who asked not to be identified because of the delicacy of the issue, said the project was being investigated for corruption. When asked what he intended to do about it, however, his answer didn’t seem exactly in keeping with Wang’s advocacy of independent moral action.
“We are waiting,” he said, “until after the 19th Party congress to see how to proceed.”