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AP
Channeling maybe-yes, maybe-no Mueller: Speak, Bob, Speak!
 
 05.12.19

WASHINGTON — See Bob investigate. Read Bob’s report. Wait, Bob, what?

For nearly two years, the nation watched and waited as special counsel Robert Mueller investigated President Donald Trump and his campaign for potential collusion with Russia and obstruction of justice.

The release of a redacted version of Mueller’s 448-page report last month offered a long-awaited moment of closure for many — and an utterly unsatisfying cliffhanger for plenty of others.

Three weeks of public parsing and analysis have left them wondering just what Mueller was trying to say and what he really thinks, particularly on the question of obstruction, where the document drew no conclusion. That uncertainty has given partisans on both sides an opening to frame the findings to their liking and left many Americans, unlikely to read the full report, scratching their heads about what to believe and whom to trust.

Enough with the printed page, they say, enough with the punditry: Speak, Bob, speak!

Melissa Garcia, a 29-year-old health counselor, pauses outside a restaurant in Quakertown, Pennsylvania, to compare the two-volume Mueller report to the kind of “terms and conditions” legalese that most consumers skip right over. She’d love a “CliffsNotes version” from Mueller himself.

“I would just ask him to sum it up because he knows it the best. I’d want the shorthand version but the most important details,” says Garcia, an independent who supported Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Republican Becky McBreen, a 58-year-old Trump voter from Schuylkill Haven, Pennsylvania, who works at an aluminum company, says she’d like to ask Mueller: “Leaving out the political bias, do you, in your heart of hearts, truly think that Trump colluded with Russia to sabotage Hillary?” (The report did not find a criminal conspiracy between Russia and the Trump campaign.)

Democrat Adam Singer, a 52-year-old e-commerce worker who was running errands in Miami Beach, Florida, says he’s eager for Mueller to “get up publicly on television and give his take on the report.”

“I don’t believe we have been told the whole story,” Singer says.

It’s not just ordinary Americans who are craving clarity.

Having pored over the report once, Rep. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., is now on her second reading of it. And she still has questions.

“That’s why we need him to testify,” she said. “I think he owes it to us.”

Richard Ben-Veniste, who served as one of the lead prosecutors on the Watergate investigation, says Mueller “probably could have been clearer.”

“It would certainly be in the public interest for Robert Mueller to answer questions, clarify and expound upon his investigation and his report,” says Ben-Veniste.

Absent a firm answer from the special counsel himself, plenty of others — including Trump — have stepped forward to act as interpreters of the oracle.

In a letter summarizing the report before its release, Attorney General William Barr declared he did not believe the evidence was sufficient to prove that Trump had obstructed justice.

Trump, no fan of the special counsel, this past week called Mueller’s report “the Bible” and inaccurately claimed it was “totally exonerating.”

Hundreds of former federal prosecutors, on the other hand, signed on to an open letter concluding that Mueller’s report shows Trump would have been charged with obstruction if he were anyone other than the president.

Jacob Frenkel, a former federal prosecutor, sees a case for impeachment in what he describes as Mueller’s “clear and comprehensive report.” He puts the blame for any confusion on those engaged in “politics and prejudgment.”

Likewise, Democratic Rep. Adam Schiff of California, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, blames Barr for creating “deliberate confusion” about Mueller’s findings by misrepresenting his “very precise” report. Even so, Schiff says he, too, would like to hear from Mueller.

So far, Mueller has largely let the report speak for itself and left the chattering class to provide the commentary.

He did send Barr a letter in March complaining about how Barr had summarized the report’s key findings, writing that he had left “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.”

Beyond that, though, all the public has gotten of Mueller in the past few weeks is fleeting glimpses of him around town.

Democrats on Capitol Hill are pushing for Mueller, who is still an employee of the Justice Department, to testify before the House Judiciary Committee but that’s up in the air. Trump has both said that Mueller shouldn’t testify and that it’s up to Barr to decide. Barr said he wouldn’t object. But hopes that Mueller would testify this coming week appear to have faded as talks drag on.

If the Justice Department tries to block Mueller’s testimony, Democrats could issue a subpoena to try to compel his appearance.

In the meantime, plenty of people are itching to get a firsthand fill from Mueller.

Without that, “it’s almost like going off of hearsay,” says Michelle Martin, a 48-year-old physician’s assistant from Round Rock. “You have to have the facts to make an educated opinion.”

Attorney Frenkel, though, warns people shouldn’t get their hopes up too high even if Mueller does testify.

“The speechmaking and agenda-driven questioning on both sides, unfortunately, will leave few satisfied if the special counsel testifies before Congress,” he wrote in an email.


Roads
editor's pick
Active Transportation Plan seeks to correct chronic lack of sidewalks, bike lanes
 Rhiannon Saegert  / 
 05.12.19

After a long look at McLennan County’s sidewalks and bike lanes, or lack thereof, the Waco Metropolitan Planning Organization is urging local governments to prioritize cross-town pedestrian and cycling connections.

The MPO’s draft Active Transportation Plan, a long-term planning document, homes in on specific issues throughout the county, focusing on instances of pedestrians or cyclists being injured or killed by vehicles, mapping out sidewalks, categorizing them based on condition and making a massive list of recommendations. MPO Director Chris Evilia said the plan prioritizes projects that would create a basic network of pedestrian- and bicycle-friendly routes linking Waco-area communities.

“We’ve got some facilities here and there, but they aren’t connected to anything,” Evilia said. “It’s not an ideal setup, but we have to start from somewhere, and we’re kind of starting from the very beginning.”

Large chunks of Waco lack sidewalk of any kind, often leaving residents without the option to travel on foot safely or comfortably. Evilia said residential developments between World War II and 2009 rarely, if ever, included sidewalks. Hewitt, Woodway, West Waco, North Waco, Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview all developed during that time period.

Evilia said MPO officials are discussing the possibility of making sidewalk construction or rehabilitation part of any road construction project.

“Now, that adds cost to that process, and there’s been some reluctance to do that,” Evilia said. “I think that given the interest in bicycle and pedestrian accommodation, maybe that’s a conversation we can keep moving forward.”

City of Waco ordinances require some sidewalks along main roads in residential areas, and some subdivisions include extensive sidewalk networks that are marketed as amenities. New businesses often build sidewalks, but not always. Evilia said surrounding cities like Bellmead and Lacy Lakeview, however, lack even the limited requirements Waco enforces.

“Bellmead has a lot of commercial and retail development especially, but it’s still a very rural transportation design,” Evilia said. “So, we’re seeing issues in Bellmead.”

In a seven-year stretch between 2009 and 2016, Bellmead accounted for about a third of the pedestrian deaths in McLennan County. Bellmead has about 4% of the county’s population.

Evilia said concerns about Waco’s air quality, traffic and parking have pushed walking and cycling to the forefront of people’s minds in recent years and provided motivation for the Active Transportation Plan.

The plan recommends adding bike lanes throughout the county and notes Waco has only about 7.25 miles of striped on-street bike lanes, not including the limited lanes at Baylor University. It also recommends ordinances requiring new businesses to include bicycle parking.

Since 2017, MPO Senior Planner Chelsea Phlegar has reached out to local schools, colleges and community organizations and has conducted an online survey to inform the draft plan. The draft is available at waco-texas.com/cms-mpo. The MPO board will accept public input on the draft through July 5.

“The city staff can take a look at that as a starting framework,” Phlegar said. “It’s like a guidebook. It’s a plan from the regional agency.”

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

Waco Bicycle Club members ride in the narrow bike lane on Park Lake Drive.

Phlegar said Waco’s transportation infrastructure was shaped by the same trends that shaped many American cities. The urban core developed on a grid, with pedestrians in mind. Cars became the dominant form of transportation after World War II, a mindset that extended to the developing suburbs.

“You can see by the ’60s and ’70s that everyone was driving and no one was expecting to be walking anymore,” Phlegar said. “So, a lot of those suburbs were not developed with sidewalks.”

Phlegar said the plan is primarily a tool for Waco and surrounding communities. She said MPO can implement some pedestrian projects, but local governments have the most control.

“It really and truly needs to have local implementation as well as regional implementation,” Phlegar said. “To me, ATP is a master plan, especially when you’re not just looking at engineering projects, but potential policies. It’s a menu of options.”

The plan also gives Waco and surrounding communities a leg up when it comes to applying for grants.

“The grant applications will always say, ‘Is there an adoptive plan that has gone through a public process where you’ve considered this?’ Now, cities can point to this ATP and already have that first foot in the door.”

MPO worked closely with a cycling and pedestrian work group, composed of members of the Waco Bicycle Club and Waco Walks. The group gave first-person accounts of routes already being used, specific problem areas and routes that have potential.

“I leaned on them very heavily, especially the bike club, when it came to mapping out regional bike routes that would connect the different cities,” Phlegar said.

Waco Walks founder Ashley Bean Thornton said when she first started the organization her intention was to encourage people to walk. She soon realized that meant encouraging the city to build the necessary infrastructure as much as convincing individuals of the value of walking.

“It was kind of a chicken-and-egg thing,” Thornton said. “Nobody is going to spend money on sidewalks if nobody walks. Well, when there’s no sidewalk, nobody walks.”

She said the group also discovered East Waco’s sidewalks are aged, inconsistent in size and broken in places.

“Part of what we’re doing is pointing out where it’s not a great place to walk but it could be a great place to walk,” Thornton said. “East Waco was a great example of that, though it’s getting much better.”

She said sidewalks are not the only element that matters. An area also needs to feel comfortable for pedestrians.

“Like I said, there are sidewalks under the freeway, but it’s not welcoming at all,” Thornton said. “So, how do you make it to where people feel safe? Not just that it is safe, but it feels safe.”

Cyclists have had run-ins with poorly maintained pavement as well. Cracks and bumps that are uncomfortable in a car can become dangerous for bicycles. Dave Morrow, outreach coordinator for the Waco Bicycle Club, said he has watched interest in cycling and walking grow in the last few years, but safety is still a concern.

Staff photo — Jerry Larson  

An SUV crosses into the narrow bike lane on Park Lake Drive near 19th Street. A pedestrian died after being hit by a vehicle in the intersection last year, not long after another pedestrian was hit and killed just outside the intersection on 19th.

On Rock Creek Road, a four-inch lip of concrete jutting out of the road caused two separate incidents. A club member crashed after hitting the spot and broke his collarbone, and a member of the Waco Triathlon Club was injured at the same spot. The county’s maintenance department has since fixed the pavement.

Morrow said he is encouraged by recent development in downtown, including sidewalks, improved lighting and bike racks.

“Rightfully so, the city is concentrating on where we have a tourist presence,” Morrow said. “A really good, walkable downtown is key for businesses and tourists.”

PDF: Waco cycling map

The club worked with the MPO and the city for two years to produce a bicycle map now available from the Waco Convention and Visitors Bureau. The map lists suggested bike paths, pedestrian paths, bike lanes and the locations of planned bike lanes.

“In general, the awareness of cyclists and pedestrians has increased,” Morrow said.

He said in his experience, Waco drivers are fairly considerate about sharing the road with bicycles. However, bike lanes can often become littered with debris, tree branches from pruning projects and trash cans.

“We encourage our folks to ride single file, we try to signal our turns, and most of us use flashing lights,” Morrow said. “We respect other drivers. We’re just on a slower moving vehicle.”

The plan’s recommendations would make the county more livable for disabled residents as well. Meg Wallace, founder of Amberley Collaborative, a Waco-based disability advocacy group, has been wrestling with the issue since she first moved to Waco. In 2017, Wallace attended public improvement meetings intended to examine the 17th, 18th and 19th Street corridor.

At the time, she was an intern at Calvary Baptist Church. She said one church member, an elderly person who lived on 18th Street and walked to church, said she felt unsafe doing so because of the state of the roads.

“It was really bad,” Wallace said. “There was no safe crossing. There was no good way for her to get to church, and she only lived half a block away.”

She said when new development brings new sidewalks, it leads to a patchwork of new and old sidewalks that are functionally disconnected from each other. In some maddening instances, one side of a street has a sidewalk with curb cut ramps, but the opposite side does not.

“In places I felt like they’re following the letter of the law, but not the spirit of the law,” Wallace said. “All you can do is roll into the street. It might meet the legal requirements, but it doesn’t provide accessibility.”

Wallace said while those issues are far from being properly addressed, she feels somewhat optimistic about the transportation plan.

“They’re thinking about how the old and the new intersect, and they’re trying to connect them somehow,” Wallace said. “They are thinking about accessibility.”


AP
Why tariff war threatens Beijing's global economic ambitions
 
 05.12.19

BEIJING — China’s intensified tariff war with the Trump administration is threatening Beijing’s ambition to transform itself into the dominant player in global technology.

The United States is a vital customer and source of technology for Chinese makers of electronics, medical equipment and other high-tech exports — industries that the ruling Communist Party sees as the heart of its economic future.

Yet to the Trump administration, they’re a threat to America’s industrial leadership.

Beijing managed to keep Chinese economic growth steady in the most recent quarter despite a drop in exports to the United States. It did so by boosting government spending and bank lending. But China’s technology exporters suffered huge sales drops of up to 40 percent, which ate into profits that pay for technology research.

The tariff war is compounding the pain felt by many Chinese companies. They are already enduring stiffened resistance in the United States and Europe to Chinese acquisitions of technology through joint ventures with foreign companies or, with financing by state-run banks, outright purchases.

China might now have to take the “tougher route” of developing more of its own technology, with less access to foreign partners and know-how, said Rajiv Biswas, chief Asia economist for IHS Markit.

“It may be a slower path,” Biswas said.

The government and companies are pouring billions of dollars into research. Huawei, the telecom equipment giant and China’s first global tech brand, spent $15 billion last year — more than Apple Inc.

All of this has helped make China an emerging heavyweight in telecoms, artificial intelligence and other fields. Yet the United States, Europe, Japan and other governments complain that Beijing has done so in part by stealing technology or pressuring foreign companies to hand over trade secrets.

Washington is pushing Beijing to roll back plans for a government-led creation of global competitors in robotics, electric cars, artificial intelligence and an array of emerging technologies. Beijing’s trading partners argue that such plans violate its commitments to further open its vast consumer and business markets.

The struggle compounds the challenges for President Xi Jinping’s government by threatening to delay or disrupt its economic plans. China’s leaders are reluctant to yield; they need higher-tech industries to keep incomes rising. Many producers of textiles, shoes and toys have already migrated to Vietnam, Cambodia and other lower-cost economies.

China’s ruling Communist Party responded to an economic downturn last year by stepping up spending and lending. That effort reversed a campaign to curb reliance on debt, which had soared so high that rating agencies had downgraded China’s credit rating for government borrowing.


AP
AP Explains: Militias have patrolled US border for decades
 
 05.12.19

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — An armed group in New Mexico whose leader faces federal firearms possession charges drew national attention last month for detaining asylum-seeking Central American families near the U.S.-Mexico border.

It’s not the first time an armed militia patrolled the border amid immigration and racial tensions. Throughout U.S. history, private, armed groups have been hired or appointed themselves to police the U.S-Mexico border for a variety of reasons — from preventing black slaves from fleeing to stopping Chinese immigrants from crossing over illegally.

A look at the history of armed groups patrolling the border:

Slave Patrols

After the Mexican-American War, slave-hunting groups began monitoring the border between Texas and Mexico and watching for black slaves who had run away.

Slavery had been abolished in Mexico, and slaves from as far as Alabama sought to escape to Mexico through the southern Underground Railroad before the U.S. Civil War.

Historians say the armed horsemen sometimes went into Mexico illegally to try to capture runaway slaves but were met with resistance from the Mexican government and people. Mexico refused to return the slaves who fled there.

University of Texas doctoral candidate Maria Esther Hammack has documented how Mexican Americans helped runaway slaves avoid the patrols and escape to Mexico in the mid-1800s.

Texas Rangers

The Texas Rangers were recommissioned after the U.S. Civil War. Although the group was known for fighting Native American tribes and alleged bandits, historians say it also functioned as a private militia on behalf of wealthy landowners and ranchers concerned about cattle and horse thefts.

During the early 1900s, the Texas Rangers operated with impunity along the Texas-Mexico border on the grounds that they were protecting U.S. residents from Mexican outlaws who would cross over and raid ranches. But, according to historians, the Texas Rangers often attacked Mexican Americans in Texas border towns, raiding homes without warrants, torturing suspects and sometimes killing innocent people.

Tensions were especially high during the Mexican Revolution as refugees attempted to cross over and escape the violence. In 1919, the Texas Rangers executed 15 Mexican American men and boys from Porvenir, Texas, in what would later be called the Porvenir Massacre. None of the Rangers would serve any jail time and the massacre would later lead to reforms.

‘The wet line’

After World War II, many Mexican American civil rights leaders openly expressed alarm at the growing number of Mexican immigrants coming into the U.S. illegally. They also felt white businessmen and ranchers used the immigrants to keep the wages of Mexican Americans low because they couldn’t unionize. Cesar Chavez, the co-founder of the United Farm Workers, believed white growers used Mexican immigrants as strikebreakers.

In 1973, members of the United Farm Workers under the guidance of Chavez’s cousin, Manuel, set up a “wet line” along the U.S.-Mexico border near San Luis, Arizona, to halt Mexican migration. (The term “wet” refers to a racist epithet aimed at Mexican immigrants.) Manuel erected 17 tents along a 25-mile stretch of the border and had members physically attack migrants. The Yuma Daily Sun newspaper reported that cars were torched, men were beaten with a plastic hose and one man claimed attackers burned the soles of his feet.

Miriam Pawel, in her 2014 book “The Crusades of Cesar Chavez: A Biography,” wrote that the Mexican labor federation — the Confederación de Trabajadores de México — broke with the United Farm Workers and denounced the “wet lines” as a campaign of terror. The labor group’s leader, Francisco Modesto, said hundreds of beatings occurred and two men were castrated.

White supremacists

In 1977, then-Ku Klux Klan national director David Duke announced that members of the white supremacist group would patrol the U.S.-Mexico border. He said armed members would assist the U.S. Border Patrol in stopping immigrants from getting into the U.S. illegally.

The U.S. Border Patrol in the 1990s under then-President Bill Clinton, a Democrat, increased enforcement in urban areas like El Paso, Texas, and San Diego, and migrants started shifting their path through the Arizona desert, prompting militias to form. The groups were accused of unlawfully detaining Latinos, and in some cases, physically attacking them.

Among those forming was the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps founded by Chris Simcox and J. T. Ready, a former neo-Nazi. The group urged citizens to take it upon themselves to guard the region.

Glenn Spencer also created the American Border Patrol in southern Arizona and touted it as a “shadow Border Patrol.” The Southern Poverty Law Center lists the American Border Patrol as an extremist group.


AP
AP EXPLAINS: Why send a US aircraft carrier to the Gulf?
 
 05.12.19

DUBAI, United Arab Emirates — The USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier strike group is being deployed to the Persian Gulf to counter an alleged but still-unspecified threat from Iran, the latest in a long line of such deployments to the strategic region.

It comes as Iran has started backing away from its 2015 nuclear deal with world powers in response to U.S. President Donald Trump’s decision last year to withdraw from the accord and restore crippling sanctions.

A look at the aircraft carrier strike group and how it may fit into Washington’s strategy.

A city at sea

The USS Abraham Lincoln is a Nimitz-class, nuclear-powered aircraft carrier. Commissioned in 1989, the carrier has berthing to carry over 6,000 officers and enlisted sailors. At 1,092 feet, it is nearly as long as the Empire State Building is tall. It has a 4.5-acre flight deck that carries F-18 Super Hornet fighter jets, MH-60 Seahawk helicopters and other aircraft. Inside, its narrow passageways and tight metal stairs lead through a labyrinth of work and living spaces.

Never alone

The Lincoln, like other aircraft carriers, moves in a strike group for protection. Accompanying the Lincoln to the Mideast are three destroyers — the USS Bainbridge, the USS Mason and the USS Nitze — as well as the guided-missile cruiser the USS Leyte Gulf and a Spanish frigate, the ESPS Mendez Nunez. The Lincoln also can defend itself with machine guns and missiles.

Mobile threat

A carrier allows the military to move an air field into areas where it may not have access to ground facilities. It can cut flight times for warplanes, allowing them to be over battlefields longer. It also serves as a way for a country to project power into a region that may be far from home, which the Lincoln will do once it transits the Strait of Hormuz, the mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a third of all oil traded at sea passes.

Iranian responses

The Strait of Hormuz, though considered an international waterway, cuts through Iranian territorial waters.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, a paramilitary force answerable only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, often follows and cuts in front of carriers with a swarm of fast boats. Iran also flies surveillance drones over aircraft carriers, with the footage often appearing on state television months later as propaganda. They also test-fire missiles and their own weapons as carriers pass.

While there hasn’t been an armed naval confrontation between Iran and the U.S. since 1988, the encounters can be tense. Iran several times over the years has conducted drills in which they destroy mock-up aircraft carriers similar to the Lincoln. Given the tension between the Iran and the U.S., especially recently, any incident involving the carrier could have far-reaching and unpredictable consequences.