Thousands of California soldiers forced to repay enlistment bonuses a decade after going to war

Short of troops to fight in Iraq and Afghanistan a decade ago, the California National Guard enticed thousands of soldiers with bonuses of $15,000 or more to reenlist and go to war.

Now the Pentagon is demanding the money back.

Nearly 10,000 soldiers, many of whom served multiple combat tours, have been ordered to repay large enlistment bonuses — and slapped with interest charges, wage garnishments and tax liens if they refuse — after audits revealed widespread overpayments by the California Guard at the height of the wars last decade.

Investigations have determined that lack of oversight allowed for widespread fraud and mismanagement by California Guard officials under pressure to meet enlistment targets.

But soldiers say the military is reneging on 10-year-old agreements and imposing severe financial hardship on veterans whose only mistake was to accept bonuses offered when the Pentagon needed to fill the ranks.

“These bonuses were used to keep people in,” said Christopher Van Meter, a 42-year-old former Army captain and Iraq veteran from Manteca, Calif., who says he refinanced his home mortgage to repay $25,000 in reenlistment bonuses and $21,000 in student loan repayments that the Army says he should not have received. “People like me just got screwed.”

In Iraq, Van Meter was thrown from an armored vehicle turret — and later awarded a Purple Heart for his combat injuries — after the vehicle detonated a buried roadside bomb.

Susan Haley, a Los Angeles native and former Army master sergeant who deployed to Afghanistan in 2008, said she sends the Pentagon $650 a month — a quarter of her family’s income — to pay down $20,500 in bonuses that the Guard says were given to her improperly.

“I feel totally betrayed,” said Haley, 47, who served 26 years in the Army along with her husband and oldest son, a medic who lost a leg in combat in Afghanistan.

Haley, who now lives in Kempner, Texas, worries they may have to sell their house to repay the bonuses. “They’ll get their money, but I want those years back,” she said, referring to her six-year reenlistment. 

The problem offers a dark perspective on the Pentagon’s use of hefty cash incentives to fill its all-volunteer force during the longest era of warfare in the nation’s history.

Even Guard officials concede that taking back the money from military veterans is distasteful.

“At the end of the day, the soldiers ended up paying the largest price,” said Maj. Gen. Matthew Beevers, deputy commander of the California Guard. “We’d be more than happy to absolve these people of their debts. We just can’t do it. We’d be breaking the law.”

Facing enlistment shortfalls and two major wars with no end in sight, the Pentagon began offering the most generous incentives in its history to retain soldiers in the mid-2000s.

It also began paying the money up front, like the signing bonuses that some businesses pay in the civilian sector.
“It was a real sea change in how business was done,” said Col. Michael S. Piazzoni, a California Guard official in Sacramento who oversaw the audits. “The system paid everybody up front, and then we spent the next five years figuring out if they were eligible.”

The bonuses were supposed to be limited to soldiers in high-demand assignments like intelligence and civil affairs or to noncommissioned officers badly needed in units due to deploy to Iraq or Afghanistan.

The National Guard Bureau, the Pentagon agency that oversees state Guard organizations,  has acknowledged that bonus overpayments occurred in every state at the height of the two wars.

But the money was handed out far more liberally in the California Guard, which has about 17,000 soldiers and is one of the largest state Guard organizations.

In 2010, after reports surfaced of improper payments, a federal investigation found that thousands of bonuses and student loan payments were given to California Guard soldiers who did not qualify for them, or were approved despite paperwork errors.

Army Master Sgt. Toni Jaffe, the California Guard’s incentive manager, pleaded guilty in 2011 to filing false claims of $15.2 million and was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison. Three officers also pleaded guilty to fraud and were put on probation after paying restitution.

Instead of forgiving the improper bonuses, the California Guard assigned 42 auditors to comb through paperwork for bonuses and other incentive payments given to 14,000 soldiers, a process that was finally completed last month.

Roughly 9,700 current and retired soldiers have been told by the California Guard to repay some or all of their bonuses and the recoupment effort has recovered more than $22 million so far.

Because of protests, appeals and refusal by some to comply, the recovery effort is likely to continue for years.

In interviews, current and former California Guard members described being ordered to attend mass meetings in 2006 and 2007 in California where officials signed up soldiers in assembly-line fashion after outlining the generous terms available for six-year reenlistments.

Robert Richmond, an Army sergeant first class then living in Huntington Beach, said he reenlisted after being told he qualified for a $15,000 bonus as a special forces soldier.

The money gave him “breathing room,” said Richmond, who had gone through a divorce after a deployment to Afghanistan in 2002 and 2003.

In 2007, his special forces company was sent to the Iraqi town of Hillah, 60 miles south of Baghdad in an area known as the “Triangle of Death” because of the intense fighting.

Richmond conducted hundreds of missions against insurgents over the next year. In one, a roadside bomb exploded by his vehicle, knocking him out and leaving him with permanent back and brain injuries.

He was stunned to receive a letter from California Guard headquarters in 2014 telling him to repay the $15,000 and warning he faced “debt collection action” if he failed to comply.

Richmond should not have received the money, they argued, because he already had served 20 years in the Army in 2006, making him ineligible.

Richmond, 48, has refused to repay the bonus. He says he only had served 15 years when he reenlisted, due to several breaks in his Army service.

He has filed appeal after appeal, even after receiving a collection letter from the Treasury Department in March warning that his “unpaid delinquent debt” had risen to $19,694.62 including interest and penalties.

After quitting the California Guard so the money wouldn’t be taken from his paycheck, he moved to Nebraska to work as a railroad conductor, but was laid off.

He then moved to Texas to work for a construction company, leaving his wife and children in Nebraska. With $15,000 debt on his credit report, he has been unable to qualify for a home loan.

“I signed a contract that I literally risked my life to fulfill,” Richmond said bitterly. “We want somebody in the government, anybody, to say this is wrong and we’ll stop going after this money.”

Though they cannot waive the debts, California Guard officials say they are helping soldiers and veterans file appeals with the National Guard Bureau and the Army Board for Correction of Military Records, which can wipe out the debts.

But soldiers say it is a long, frustrating process, with no guarantee of success.

Robert D’Andrea, a retired Army major and Iraq veteran, was told to return a $20,000 bonus he received in 2008 because auditors could not find a copy of the contract he says he signed.

Now D’Andrea, a financial crimes investigator with the Santa Monica Police Department, says he is close to exhausting all his appeals.

“Everything takes months of work, and there is no way to get your day in court,” he said. “Some benefit of the doubt has to be given to the soldier.”

Bryan Strother, a sergeant first class from Oroville north of Sacramento, spent four years fighting Guard claims that he owed $25,010.32 for mistaken bonuses and student loans.

Guard officials told Strother he had voided his enlistment contract by failing to remain a radio operator, his assigned job, during and after a 2007-08 deployment to Iraq.

Strother filed a class-action lawsuit in February in federal district court in Sacramento on behalf of all soldiers who got bonuses, claiming the California Guard “conned” them into reenlisting.

The suit asked the court to order the recovered money to be returned to the soldiers and to issue an injunction against the government barring further collection.

In August, Strother received a letter from the Pentagon waiving repayment of his bonus.

“We believe he acted in good faith in accepting the $15,000,” a claims adjudicator from the Pentagon’s Defense Legal Services Agency wrote in the letter. He still owed $5,000 in student loan repayments, it said.

Within weeks, lawyers for U.S. Atty. Phillip A. Talbert in Sacramento petitioned the court to dismiss Strother’s lawsuit, arguing that it was moot since most of his debt had been waived. A federal judge is supposed to rule on the government’s motion by January.

“It’s a legal foot-dragging process to wear people out and make people go away,” said Strother. “It’s overwhelming for most soldiers.”

Indeed, some have just given up, repaying the money even before exhausting their appeals.

“It was tearing me up, the stress, the headaches,” said Van Meter, the former Army captain from Manteca who paid off his $46,000 debt by refinancing his mortgage. “I couldn’t take it anymore. The amount of stress it put us through financially and emotionally was something we wanted to move past.”

New Podesta Email Exposes Dem Playbook For Rigging Polls Through "Oversamples"

by Tyler Durden
Earlier this morning we wrote about the obvious sampling bias in the latest ABC / Washington Post poll that showed a 12-point national advantage for Hillary.  Like many of the recent polls from Reuters, ABC and The Washington Post, this latest poll included a 9-point sampling bias toward registered democrats
"METHODOLOGY – This ABC News poll was conducted by landline and cellular telephone Oct. 20-22, 2016, in English and Spanish, among a random national sample of 874 likely voters. Results have a margin of sampling error of 3.5 points, including the design effect. Partisan divisions are 36-27-31 percent, Democrats - Republicans - Independents."
Of course, while democrats may enjoy a slight registration advantage of a couple of points, it is no where near the 9 points reflected in this latest poll. 

Meanwhile, we also pointed out that with huge variances in preference across demographics one can easily "rig" a poll by over indexing to one group vs. another.  As a quick example, the ABC / WaPo poll found that Hillary enjoys a 79-point advantage over Trump with black voters.  Therefore, even a small "oversample" of black voters of 5% could swing the overall poll by 3 full points

Moreover, the pollsters don't provide data on the demographic mix of their polls which makes it impossible to "fact check" the bias...convenient.

ABC Poll

Now, for all of you out there who still aren't convinced that the polls are rigged, we present to you the following Podesta email, leaked earlier today, that conveniently spells out, in startling detail, exactly how to rig them.  The email starts out with a request for recommendations on "oversamples for polling" in order to "maximize what we get out of our media polling."
I also want to get your Atlas folks to recommend oversamples for our polling before we start in February. By market, regions, etc. I want to get this all compiled into one set of recommendations so we can maximize what we get out of our media polling.
The email even includes a handy, 37-page guide with the following poll-rigging recommendations.  In Arizona, over sampling of Hispanics and Native Americans is highly recommended:
Research, microtargeting & polling projects
Over-sample Hispanics
-  Use Spanish language interviewing. (Monolingual Spanish-speaking voters are among the lowest turnout Democratic targets)
Over-sample the Native American population
For Florida, the report recommends "consistently monitoring" samples to makes sure they're "not too old" and "has enough African American and Hispanic voters."  Meanwhile, "independent" voters in Tampa and Orlando are apparently more dem friendly so the report suggests filling up independent quotas in those cities first.
Consistently monitor the sample to ensure it is not too old, and that it has enough African American and Hispanic voters to reflect the state.
-  On Independents: Tampa and Orlando are better persuasion targets than north or south Florida (check your polls before concluding this). If there are budget questions or oversamples, make sure that Tampa and Orlando are included first.
Meanwhile, it's suggested that national polls over sample "key districts / regions" and "ethnic" groups "as needed."

-  General election benchmark, 800 sample, with potential over samples in key districts/regions
-  Benchmark polling in targeted races, with ethnic over samples as needed
-  Targeting tracking polls in key races, with ethnic over samples as needed


And that's how you manufacture a 12-point lead for your chosen candidate and effectively chill the vote of your opposition. 

Trump's 'Gettysburg address' unveils first-100-days agenda as he promises 'the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime'

Trump's 'Gettysburg address' makes closing argument for choosing him and unveils first-100-days agenda as he promises 'the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime'

  • 'First 100 days' agenda speech formalized his mainstay political pledges with promises of legislation and executive orders
  • Called it a 'Contract with the American Voter,' modeling it after the 1994 Republican 'Contract with America'
  • Trump touted 'the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime' and made his final substantive pitch to frame the campaign's last two weeks
  • Told an audience of about 300 invited guests that he will 'drain the swamp' in Washington
  • Borrowed a line from Abraham Lincoln's 1863 speech, saying he would replace D.C. elites 'with a new government of, by and for the people.' 
  • A Trump aide said the Civil War battlefield site is appropriate because 'Gettysburg was the moment when the war turned'
  • The candidate briefly visited the site of the famed Civil War battle after his speech 
Donald Trump planted a flag on hallowed ground Saturday morning by laying out near the Gettysburg National Battlefield what he would do in his first 100 days as President of the United States.

Touting 'the kind of change that only arrives once in a lifetime,' Trump told an audience of about 300 invited guests that he will 'drain the swamp' in Washington, replacing the current government 'with a new government of, by and for the people.'

The symbolism factor was high, with a campaign aide telling reporters Friday night that the Civil War battle in Gettysburg memorialized by President Abraham Lincoln in 1863 'was the moment when the war turned.'

The Republican nominee left the podium and made a beeline in his motorcade for the National Military Park – the battlefield memorial – spending about as much time there as it took Lincoln to speak his 272 words.

Trump's own war – a two-front clash against both Hillary Clinton and the mass media – will come to a climax on November 8 when most Americans will choose a leader for the next four years.

He summed up the substance of his campaign in a 'Contract With The American Voter' – a point-by-point set of initiatives that track with the themes he has focused on for 16 months.

'It is a contract between myself and the American voter, and begins with restoring honesty, accountability and change to Washington,' Trump said.

Included are six anti-corruption pledges, seven actions related to jobs and trade and five on immigration and the 'rule of law.' He ended his contract with a list of 10 bills he said he would try to quickly shepherd through Congress. 

Aides promised the Republican nominee would put more meat on the bare bones of some of his mainstay pledges, but little in the speech broke new ground.

Instead, Trump formalized his signature pledges by announcing a legislative package that he said he would help shepherd through Congress.

He also reiterated a laundry list of executive actions that he has sketched out in speeches stretching back more than a year. 

The small crowd gathered in a hotel ballroom was a far cry from the 10,000 rowdy fans he typically draws, but they brought moments of enthusiasm.

The audience rose to their feet and chanted 'Trump! Trump! Trump!' as he entered. One man shouted: 'We love you!'

And in a sign of how deeply the GOP's most negative campaign slogan has taken root, half the crowd chanted 'Lock her up!' at the first mention of Hillary Clinton's name.

Trump reinforced his improbable but now undeniable populist bona fides, casting Clinton as the embodiment of a corrupt political establishment that's willing to throw the middle class under bus the day after Americans vote.

'Hillary Clinton is running against all of the American people, and all of the American voters,' he said.

The billionaire real estate tycoon minced no words about his fears that rampant voter fraud could cost him and other Republicans a fair shot at winning 17 days from now. 

Citing Pew Research Center numbers, he said that '1.8 million dead people are registered to vote.'

'And some of them are voting. I wonder how that happens!' 

He also referred to 2.8 million people who are 'registered in more than one state' and said that '14 per cent of non-citizens are registered to vote.'

Saturday's two loudest applause lines were Trump's pledge to repeal and replace the Obamacare medical insurance law and to end federal funding for 'sanctuary cities' – Democrat-run municipalities that offer safe harbor to illegal immigrants.

Saturday marked the second time Trump has engaged in the customary 'first 100 days' routine: In June he tacked a laundry list on to a speech castigating the Clintons for profiting from a 'special interest monopoly' in Washington.

That set of promises was predictably vague, including pledges to 'appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution,' 'stand up to countries that cheat on trade' and 'pass massive tax reform to create millions of new jobs.' 

But on Saturday, for instance, those vagaries were supplemented by some concrete initiatives.

His famed wall on the U.S. border got a budget line-item with a proposed piece of legislation that will fund its construction – 'with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States.'

Trump's light overtures on tax reform were ornamented with a few new numbers: a 35 per cent tax cut for middle-class families with two children, and a reduced 10 per cent rate for American companies that bring overseas money back home.

Before rattling off his policy to-do list, Trump aired more grievances against the journalism profession and the parade of women who have accused him of unwanted kissing and groping years – and in some cases decades – ago.

He said after the election, he plans to sue them.

'Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. 

The events never happened. Never,' Trump declared. 

'All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.'

He also said he would litigate against the Democratic Party for allegedly paying saboteurs to start fistfights at his campaign rallies.

That set of promises was predictably vague, including pledges to 'appoint judges who will uphold the Constitution,' 'stand up to countries that cheat on trade' and 'pass massive tax reform to create millions of new jobs.' 

But on Saturday, for instance, those vagaries were supplemented by some concrete initiatives.

His famed wall on the U.S. border got a budget line-item with a proposed piece of legislation that will fund its construction – 'with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States.'

Trump's light overtures on tax reform were ornamented with a few new numbers: a 35 per cent tax cut for middle-class families with two children, and a reduced 10 per cent rate for American companies that bring overseas money back home.

Before rattling off his policy to-do list, Trump aired more grievances against the journalism profession and the parade of women who have accused him of unwanted kissing and groping years – and in some cases decades – ago.

He said after the election, he plans to sue them.

'Every woman lied when they came forward to hurt my campaign. Total fabrication. 

The events never happened. Never,' Trump declared. 

'All of these liars will be sued after the election is over.'

He also said he would litigate against the Democratic Party for allegedly paying saboteurs to start fistfights at his campaign rallies.

The policy agenda Trump described, a senior campaign aide said Friday night, was far beyond what Democrat Hillary Clinton could put on the table.

She can't articulate her policy goals, the aide said, because her donors haven't yet told her what to think.

'Secretary Clinton has no core,' the aide charged during a conference call, quoting a Democratic aide in a hacked email recently released by WikiLeaks.

'Her policies are determined by the checks that are given to her, and nothing else. And of course no one actually disagrees with that. Everyone understands that she's a special-interest-driven candidate.'

The aide described Saturday's event as 'our chance to lay out a positive vision for the country, from Mr. Trump, about what he's going to do in his first 100 days in office, and how he's going to go about doing it.' 

Clinton won't follow suit – 'she can't even go there' – the aide predicted, 'because she doesn't even know what checks she's going to get between now and when she would hypothetically be elected.' 

The aide promised 'new material' on Saturday but quickly played it coy, saying: 'I don't want to say what it will be.'

'What you're seeing tomorrow, is Mr. Trump identifying the 10 most important principles for the first 100 days, and then offering policy solutions to go with those.'

Trump's Gettysburg address comes with just 17 days to go before the Nov. 8 election. He and Clinton have debated three times. And, most worrisome for Republicans, an estimated 4 million Americans have already cast ballots through early voting programs.

As the call was going on, Trump himself appeared on the Fox News Channel with host Sean Hannity to preview Saturday's speech in an equally vague fashion.

'We're going to be lowering taxes. We're going to be strengthening our borders,' he said, remixing buzzword bromides that have been speech staples for months.

'We're going to be getting rid of regulations,' Trump continued. 'The regulations are going to be gone ... we need them for security or we need them for certain things like the environment, but our regulations are just taking over our companies. We can't compete anymore.'

'We're going to be terminating, repealing and replacing Obamacare. We're going to be saving our Second Amendment, There are a lot of things, Sean. It's gonna be - I think it's gonna be very special.'

A second senior campaign aide on Friday night's conference call compared Trump's promised policy brain-dump to a famous 1994 Republican congressional gambit responsible in part for the GOP taking over the lower chamber of Congress after 40 years in the minority.

'I worked on the original "Contract with America" back in the mid-'90s,' that second aide said.

'And I think the most important aspect from that contract, in addition to the 10 principles, was the accountability provision – that basically the Republican candidates in 1994 said, "If we fail to bring these to a vote in the first 100 days, you can kick us out".

Acknowledging that 'it's a little bit different when you're the president,' the second aide said that 'the sentiment will be the same, which is that changes need to come very rapidly. And progress needs to come very rapidly.'

The policy proposals Trump will unveil Saturday, the aide said, 'are not going to wait until deep into his term, or in his second term.'

The comparison with the Contract with America could be fraught with trouble, even though its architect Newt Gingrich is advising Trump's campaign.

When Gingrich became Speaker of the House, his rank-and-file pledged to enact eight budget reforms and bring 10 specific bills to a vote.

The bills met with varying levels of success: Some became law while others died in the U.S. Senate or met the business end of President Bill Clinton's veto pen. The U.S. Supreme Court later ruled one was unconstitutional.

By 2000 the president of the libertarian Cato Institute determined that the 'Contract' never accomplished what its authors set out to.

'The combined budgets of the 95 major programs that the Contract with America promised to eliminate,' Ed Crane wrote, 'have increased by 13%.'

Like the GOP prior to 1994's electoral takeover, much of Trump's October has been spent playing defense. But the aide suggested he's jumping back on offense while the Clinton campaign is trying to coast to victory.

'We're just running two different campaigns in the home stretch,' the aide said.

'They're going to sit on their lead. They're going to wait out the clock. You have a lot of folks commenting that she doesn't have to do anything except show up or not show up.

'We just have a different take on it. We just think that taking the case directly to the voters ... is really the way to go.'

'If you listen to them out on the stump – Vice President Biden today, Senator Kaine, President Obama – they're talking most predominantly about Donald Trump,' the aide said.

'And Donald Trump wants to talk predominantly about issues that affect everyday Americans. And that is the difference, and that will continue to be the difference.'


1. 'Middle Class Tax Relief And Simplification Act': Economic plan designed to grow the economy 4 per cent per year and create 25 million new jobs. Involves tax cuts, trade reform, regulatory relief, lifting restrictions on energy production, and encouraging companies with offshore funds to bring them back to America.

2. 'End The Offshoring Act': New tariffs on goods brought into the U.S. by American companies that relocate jobs outside the U.S.

3. 'American Energy & Infrastructure Act': Uses public-private partnerships and tax incentives to generate $1 trillion in infrastructure investment over 10 years

4. 'School Choice And Education Opportunity Act': Redirects education dollars to allow parents to choose any public, private, charter, magnet, religious or home school; ends the 'Common Core' federal standards; and expands vocational and technical education

5. 'Repeal and Replace Obamacare Act': Replaces the Affordable Care Act with health savings accounts, removes barriers to purchasing health insurance across state lines, allows states to manage Medicaid funds and speeds up drug approval inside the Food and Drug Administration

6. 'Affordable Childcare and Eldercare Act': Provides tax deductions for childcare and elder care and incentivizes employers to provide on-site childcare services

7. 'End Illegal Immigration Act': Funds a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border, 'with the full understanding that the country of Mexico will be reimbursing the United States'; establishes 2-year mandatory minimum federal prison sentence for illegally re-entering the U.S. after deportation, 5-year mandatory minimum for felons who illegally re-enter, and 5 years for coming back after multiple deportations; increases penalties for overstaying visas

8. 'Restoring Community Safety Act': Creates a Task Force On Violent Crime, increases federal funding of police forces and boosts federal support for anti-gang prosecutions

9. 'Restoring National Security Act': Eliminates the federal defense 'sequester' to restore military funding, guarantees veterans the option of private health care if VA facility wait times are long, institutes new defenses against cyber-attacks, and establishes new immigration screening based on 'values'

10. 'Clean up Corruption in Washington Act': Enacts new ethics reforms affecting politicians and their staffers.

Swedes turn against migrants amid violence

SWEDEN’S open-door policy has WRECKED Europe’s most liberal nation as the Swedes turn against migrants amid an unprecedented rise in violence and sex attacks.

For years Sweden has regarded itself as a “humanitarian superpower” - making its mark by offering refugee to those fleeing war and persecution.

But people’s patience with their visitors is wearing thin following a year of violence, sickening sex assaults and the death of social worker Alexandra Mezher, 22, who was knifed to death at an asylum centre for unaccompanied children at the hands of a Somalian migrant who claimed he was 15.

At the time, her grieving mother, an immigrant herself from the Middle East said: “Immigration has destroyed Sweden.”

Sweden, a country of 9.8million, took 163,000 asylum seekers in 2015.

The influx included 35,400 unaccompanied minors - nine times more than 2015.

But nothing could prepare Stockholm for the rise in crime and an abuse of the criminal system.

And so much so, a nation, which once prided itself on giving a warm welcome to outsiders, has reported a rise in arson attacks against migrant shelters, while support for the right-wing Swedish Democrats has surged.

In January, authorities were forced to admit there were at least 70 girls in migrant centres were asylum child brides, according to the Daily Telegraph.

Meanwhile, officials fear many migrant children are slipping through the net by lying about their age. Some 667 minors reportedly had their ages adjusted by officials in 2015.

In one horrific case, a Afghan called Ali Bahaman reportedly raped a 15-year-old girl at a children’s psychiatric clinic in Stockholm.

He claimed to be 15, but dental examinations showed he was actually around 19-years-old.

And with initial good intentions, now comes the heavy backlash as the famously liberal nation crumbles under the pressure of the influx of refugees who are believed to have double the chance of becoming employed than a native Swede.

The Swedish Migration Board now keeps the location of migrant centres confidential - a decision made after a note was posted on the door of a hotel housing migrants in north Sweden saying: “This is the last warning. Leave our town.”

While welfare and housing benefits to asylum seekers have been cut.

But not everyone is hostile - Lutheran Bishop Eva Brunne called on churches in Sweden to remove crosses so it didn’t offend Muslims, which was met with an almighty backlash.

Tim Stanley, writing for the Daily Telegraph added: “Liberals beware: evidence is mounting the open borders are unpopular and will not stay open for long.

“An act of generosity is likely to be followed by an act of intolerance - as Sweden’s asylum seekers
will tell you.”

Russia taunts US biggest military offensive since the Cold War

The assault on the city will also serve to highlight US inaction in the run-up to election day and may aid Donald Trump.

Yesterday, ahead of this morning’s debate with Hillary Clinton, his presidential campaign released a letter from defence experts backing plans to increase the size of the US military.

Royal Navy warships are due to escort a group of eight Russian warships, including the country’s only aircraft carrier, as they sail past the UK on their way to the Mediterranean.

Senior Royal Navy officers expect the task force to sail past the UK as early as Thursday in a show of strength dismissed as “posturing” by defence sources.

But a senior Nato diplomat said the deployment from the Northern Fleet’s base near Murmansk would herald a renewed attack in Aleppo.

“They are deploying all of the Northern Fleet and much of the Baltic Fleet in the largest surface deployment since the end of the Cold War,” the diplomat said.

“This is not a friendly port call. In two weeks, we will see a crescendo of air attacks on Aleppo as part of Russia’s strategy to declare victory there.”

The additional military firepower is designed to drive out or destroy the 8,000 rebels in Aleppo, the only large city still in opposition hands, and to allow Vladimir Putin, the Russian president, to start a withdrawal.

An intensified air campaign in eastern Aleppo, where 275,000 people are trapped, would further worsen ties between Moscow and the West, which says the Kremlin may be responsible for war crimes.

Mr Trump has consistently praised Mr Putin as a strong leader and has promised a closer relationship with Russia if he wins the Nov 8 US election. He has suggested that, if elected, he would meet the Russian president before the inauguration in January.

Mr Putin has returned the compliment, calling the Republican nominee “outstanding and talented” – one of his closest political allies, Vladimir Zhirinovsky, urged Americans to vote for Mr Trump, calling him a “gift to humanity”.

Barack Obama said earlier this week that Mr Trump’s admiration of Mr Putin was “unprecedented in American politics”.

Mr Obama said: “Mr Trump’s continued flattery of Mr Putin and the degree to which he appears to model many of his policies and approaches to politics on Mr Putin ... is out of step with not just what Democrats think but out of step with what up until the last few months, almost every Republican thought.”

HMS Dragon (foreground) with the Russian aircraft carrier 'Admiral Kuznetsov' in 2014 Credit: EPA / MoD
The Royal Navy has deployed two warships to meet the Northern Fleet group, led by the carrier Admiral Kuznetsov. The frigate HMS Richmond is already escorting the group off the coast of Norway, while the destroyer HMS Duncan was last night on its way.

HMS Dragon is due to sail to meet two Russian corvettes travelling towards the UK from the direction of Portugal. Photographs of the vessels, taken on Monday, were released by the Norwegian military.

A Norwegian newspaper quoted the head of the Norwegian military intelligence service saying the ships involved “will probably play a role in the deciding battle for Aleppo”.

Democratic operatives lose jobs after video sting on voter fraud

Conservative undercover journalist James O'Keefe (Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

by   The Washington Post

Robert Creamer, husband of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., and Scott Foval -- two little-known but influential Democratic political operatives -- have left their jobs after video investigations by James O'Keefe's Project Veritas Action found them entertaining dark notions about how to win elections.

Foval was laid off on Monday by Americans United for Change, where he had been national field director. Creamer announced Tuesday night that he was "stepping back" from the work he was doing for the unified Democratic campaign for Hillary Clinton.

The moves came after 36 hours of coverage, led by conservative and social media, for O'Keefe's video series "Rigging the Election." In them, Foval is filmed telling hidden-camera toting journalists about how they've disrupted Republican events; Foval also goes on at length about how an organization might cover up in-person voter fraud. In another Tuesday night statement, the Creamer-founded Democracy Partners, which used Foval as a contractor, denounced both Project Veritas and the statements caught on camera.

"Our firm has recently been the victim of a well-funded, systematic spy operation that is the modern day equivalent of the Watergate burglars," said the firm. "The plot involved the use of trained operatives using false identifications, disguises and elaborate false covers to infiltrate our firm and others, in order to steal campaign plans, and goad unsuspecting individuals into making careless statements on hidden cameras. One of those individuals was a temporary regional subcontractor who was goaded into statements that do not reflect our values."

Both "scalps," as O'Keefe refers to them, drew new attention to a campaign that had become viewed very skeptically by political reporters. O'Keefe's 2009 sting of ACORN led to the destruction of that group; a 2011 sting of NPR executives led to two resignations. Subsequent investigations found discrepancies between how the undercover journalists approached their targets and how they packaged what the targets said. In the latter case, then-NPR executive Ron Schiller quoted a Republican who viewed Tea Party activists as "racist"; the edited clip made it appear that Schiller himself held that opinion.

Project Veritas and Project Veritas Action — the latter group created to more freely cover political activity — had a more fitfully successful record. In a series of videos, O'Keefe and other journalists posed as registered voters to expose how easy it would be to obtain ballots fraudulently where voter ID was not required. But there were high-profile failures, too. A sting in which a journalist posed as a Canadian citizen and purchased Hillary Clinton campaign merchandise was unveiled at a press conference where the first question was: "Is this a joke?" A mole sent to work for a Democratic campaign in Wisconsin was exposed and fired. A call to the Open Society Foundations, founded by the frequent conservative target, went awry when a Project Veritas journalist left the phone off the hook. The result was shared with New Yorker reporter Jane Mayer.

The result of all that was that the "Rigging the Election" videos got a skeptical reception — at first. But the video of Foval, a Wisconsin-based politico with a long resume, had him bragging about a litany of political dirty tricks. In the first video, he boasts of "conflict engagement in the lines of Trump rallies," takes credit for the violence that canceled a Trump rally at the University of Illinois in Chicago, admits he's paid "mentally ill" people to start trouble, and says there's a "Pony Express" that keeps Democratic operatives in touch, regardless of whether they work for super PACs or the campaigns not permitted to coordinate with super PACs.

In the second video, Foval spends five minutes discussing how voters might be brought from outside Wisconsin to commit voter fraud, buying cars with Wisconsin plates to avoid looking suspicious.

"We've been bussing people in to deal with you f---kin' a--holes for fifty years and we're not going to stop now," he says.

Since the video's release, Foval has responded to media requests by saying the video did not deserve attention from "legitimate news organizations." A call to Creamer on Tuesday night went to voicemail. But while neither man is defending the content of the videos, the editing raises questions about what was said and what may come out later.

Foval, who repeatedly ties a noose with his tongue, also seems to overhype his successes. Reporters who covered the Trump UIC appearance found that students, not Americans United for Change, were responsible for the shut down of the Trump rally; the video's evidence to the contrary is that Zulema Rodriguez, an activist paid in February by the DNC, says on tape that she was there and "did that." In the first video, O'Keefe makes much of the term "bird-dogging," which Foval describes as putting people at the front of rope lines to make sure "they're the ones asking questions."

"It's a word we had not heard until we began this investigation," O'Keefe says, noting that the term appears in WikiLeaks e-mails that include Clinton staffers.

But it's not a new term, and certainly not secret. Bird-dogging is a fairly common activist tactic, and
reporters often recognize it when seemingly "perfect" questions come from a political audience. In August 2015, Foval told the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel that People for the American Way, his employer at the time, was "bird-dogging all of" the Republican presidential candidates. What was seen as a nuisance political tactic then becomes, in the video sting, a secretive form of voter/candidate intimidation.

In the "voter fraud" video, Foval looks -- somehow -- even worse, describing how voters could be sent to midwestern states to cast fraudulent ballots. But when PVAction edits this into a narrative, something gets lost. Foval says that "Bob Creamer comes up with a lot of these ideas," but what the "ideas" are is lost to a quick edit. After a quick introduction of Creamer that covers his 2005 conviction for tax evasion, Creamer is seen talking to a journalist posing as a possible donor, rambling a bit as he describes how to get voter IDs to people who need them.

"What do you really need, okay?" says the journalist. "What makes you a citizen? And if you look at that checklist, it's an ID card of any kind that shows you who you are and a pay stub that shows you're getting paid at a local address some place."

"To get registered, you mean?" asks Creamer.

"Yeah," says the journalist. "Let's say I had business inside of, say, Illinois or Michigan, and I hired people, and I had addresses for them, I could write them checks, I could use them as day laborers or whatever and use them and find my way around the voter registration law for Hispanics."

Creamer quickly begins jotting down names of voter registration groups: "There are a couple of different organizations, that's their big trick." But while the implication is that the journalist is pitching mass voter fraud, he never says as much, and Creamer never agrees to it. In another tape, filmed at a restaurant, Creamer hears another version of the pitch and says "my fear is that someone would decide that this is a big voter fraud scheme."

In the end, PVAction's evidence that Creamer might help with a voter fraud scheme is that Foval hints at it. In a follow-up clip, Foval tells the undercover journalist that Creamer was not on board with any scheme to grant ID cards, but that he told Creamer it could be handled by someone else. "We talk about a lot of things we don't talk about," Foval says conspiratorially. In PVAction's telling, the "someone else" might be DREAMer activist Cesar Vargas, who is filmed saying he might be able to help another undercover journalist, if not in 2016.

But Vargas, as of now the only target of these videos who has not lost a job, claims that PVAction left out exculpatory video of the interview. "They have a transcript of our conversation to confirm I told them that voting twice was illegal," Vargas wrote on Facebook on Tuesday. "I will not respond to FOX News or the trolls but let them have their field day of conspiracies."

If that video exists, PVAction is not going to make it easy to watch. In the past, and in the immediate wake of some bad publicity, the group posted the entirety of its video stings online. It no longer does this.

"The reporting process and methods of Project Veritas Action are proven successful and effective and are the protected intellectual property and trade secrets of Project Veritas Action,” said Steve Gordon, a spokesman for the PVAction Fund. “This policy is in accordance with the practices of news organizations globally and is generally accepted as the professional norm.”

But Foval's sacking and Creamer's "stepping back" have already given the Trump campaign the confidence to run with these stories. On Tuesday night's episode of "Hannity" on Fox News, two campaign representatives said that the PVAction tapes validated everything Trump had said about the possible threat of election theft, and called for a hasty FBI investigation into anyone connected to Robert Creamer.

Creamer is the husband of Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill. In 2006, he was sentenced to five months in federal prison for bank fraud and a tax violation.

Creamer was convicted in a check-kiting scheme to keep afloat an Illinois consumer group he had led. A federal prosecutor said Creamer "stole" money from banks in the form of unintended, interest-free loans.

"Once again, Donald Trump was ahead of his time," said Trump campaign manager Kellyanne Conway. "We see that it goes right to the top."

"The FBI should be opening an investigation into these people right now," said Trump ally and former Speaker of the House Newt Gingrich.

David Weigel is a national political correspondent covering the 2016 election and ideological movements. Follow @daveweigel
Copyright © 2016, Chicago Tribune

State investigating allegations of voter fraud in Tarrant, TX

As the presidential candidates near the homestretch of their campaigns, Hillary Clinton thanked those across the political aisle for their support while Donald Trump attacked her for being all talk and no action. Late night shows with the Bidens also featured a shoutout to Matlock. Cristina Rayas & Meta Viers

Less than a month before the Nov. 8 election, allegations of voter fraud in Tarrant County are under investigation by the state, prompting concern that the timing may intimidate some voters — and possibly lay groundwork for the Legislature to enact more restrictions on voting next year.

The complaints focus on mail-in ballots, which allow people to vote from their homes without any ID or verification of identity.

Supporters have long said mail-in balloting is crucial for overseas residents, the military and senior citizens. Critics maintain that such voting is ripe for abuse and raises concerns about “vote harvesting,” in which people could fill out and return other people’s ballots.

Some say the investigation is politically motivated; others say it’s addressing a practice that has been a problem for years.

“The Republicans have been looking for a blockbuster case to demonstrate that voter fraud isn’t just a series of small mistakes,” said Brandon Rottinghaus, a political science professor at the University of Houston. “If some of these allegations turn out to be true, they may finally have their white whale.

“Whether there is lawbreaking or not, the issue of voting is polarized and revelations this close to an election are bound to have an effect on Democratic Party and affiliated groups’ efforts to get out the vote. Voters may be hesitant to sign up for or vote through a mail-in ballot, let alone give it to someone else. This may reduce turnout in some heavily Democratic areas that utilize this process.”

Local officials say workers with Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office have been in the reliably red Tarrant County gathering paperwork and interviewing potential witnesses.

The attorney general’s office declined to “confirm or deny investigations” or comment on the situation. When asked for the complaints that started the local investigation, attorney general’s workers declined to release them, expressing concern that doing so might hamper a criminal investigation.

The Tarrant County Elections Administration has declined to comment on the issue.

“There could be a problem,” Tarrant County Judge Glen Whitley said. “I really believe our folks are very much on top of things.

“That’s the whole problem with mail-in ballots,” he said. “Someone requests a ballot and we don’t know if they got the ballot, filled it out and returned it. The voter fraud they are referring to can only
be corrected by doing away with mail-in ballots.”

Mail-in ballots

The mail-in ballots involved in the state investigation are from the primary elections, local officials say.

At issue is how often people may assist others — or physically help by witnessing — with filling out applications for mail-in ballots or the ballots themselves.

Texans may assist as many people as they like in requesting mail-in ballots. But each person is allowed to witness only one request for a mail-in ballot per year, unless it’s for more than one immediate family member.

In the primaries, about 20,000 applications for mail-in ballots were received at the Tarrant County elections office, Whitley said.

Of those, 131 involved witnesses. Of those 131, five people witnessed more than one mail-in ballot. Four of those five people witnessed requests from multiple family members, which is allowed. One apparently witnessed five applications from the same address, a nursing home or a retirement center.

That case was turned over to state investigators.

“We’re not currently involved with the AG’s investigation,” said Samantha Jordan, a spokeswoman with the Tarrant County district attorney’s office. “It’s possible they may decide at some point to seek our assistance with some local cases, but we are not to that point yet.”

Jordan said the DA’s office supports the investigation.

Protecting the purity of the voter registration process goes directly to the heart of our system of government. Samantha Jordan, spokeswoman for the Tarrant County district attorney’s office
“It’s important to ensure our processes are running as efficiently and effectively as they’re meant to be,” she said. “Protecting the purity of the voter registration process goes directly to the heart of our system of government.”

Jordan said there is one case of alleged voter fraud in the local system right now — Rosa Maria Ortega of Grand Prairie, who was arrested last year and accused of voting in two elections although she is not a U.S. citizen. She is accused of voting in person during the November 2012 general election and the May 2014 Republican primary runoff in Dallas County “when she knew she was not a United States citizen,” according to a Tarrant County grand jury indictment. A trial in the case is scheduled for Oct. 31 in Criminal District Court No. 3.


 ‘Reform the election code’

Aaron Harris of North Richland Hills, a Republican political consultant, is expected to talk about the issue during a meeting that begins at 6:45 p.m. Monday at the Elks Lodge, 3233 White Settlement Road in Fort Worth.

The meeting announcement states that “there is evidence that two current elected officials are in office due to election fraud” and Harris will reveal “the elected officials who possibly benefited from the alleged crimes.”

Harris, a former campaign manager for state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, has opposed bond programs including the one that was proposed for John Peter Smith Hospital last year. He has worked with Dallas businessman Monty Bennett to campaign against directors on the Tarrant Regional Water District board.

He has been looking into voting concerns, including those expressed by former state Rep. Lon Burnam, D-Fort Worth, who lost his re-election bid in 2014 by 111 votes.

Burnam filed a lawsuit challenging the results, saying he believed that an “illegal computerized-signature vote-by-mail operation” was run by his opponent, Ramon Romero, who now is the representative for Texas House District 90.

Burnam dropped the lawsuit months later after judges refused to require county election officials to release the vote-by-mail applications that were in question.

“Virtually every local election I know anything about has been disproportionately impacted by mail-in ballot harvesting program run by a handful of people,” Burnam said. “The only way to fix it is to automatically mail ballots out to all voters over 65.”

Romero said he believes that Paxton’s office will find there are “completely false accusations” in the local complaint.

If there’s an investigation, so be it. Let them investigate. I’m going to continue to do what I’ve always done, encourage people to vote early, in person or by mail. If this has an ill effect on people’s right to vote by mail, … it’s unfortunate. State Rep. Ramon Romero, D-Fort Worth

“If there’s an investigation, so be it. Let them investigate,” he said. “I’m going to continue to do what I’ve always done, encourage people to vote early, in person or by mail. If this has an ill effect on people’s right to vote by mail, … it’s unfortunate.”

Gov. Greg Abbott weighed in on the issue after Empower Texans posted a blog statement about the AG looking into a “vote-harvesting scheme” in Tarrant County. “Largest Voter Fraud Investigation in Texas History Underway in Tarrant County,” he tweeted. “We will crush illegal voting.”

Abbott’s office declined to comment beyond the governor’s tweet.

Harris, of DFW-based Direct Action Texas, said he has long heard rumors about the “manipulation of the elections system in Tarrant County.”

“This vote harvesting operation preys on the elderly and the economically disadvantaged, who are among our most vulnerable neighbors,” he said in a statement. “This research has uncovered major flaws in the election code and its enforcement. We were happy to assist the AG’s office in their investigation.

“Given the magnitude of this issue, we must reform the election code to restore the integrity of the process.”

Legislative focus?

State Rep. Cindy Burkett, R-Sunnyvale, passed House Bill 148 in 2013 to make ballot harvesting illegal.

Burkett’s bill was designed to ensure that campaign workers are no longer paid based on the number of mail-in ballots they collect and mail. It now is a crime to offer payment based on the number of ballots a person collects during a Texas election.

Anyone convicted of “ballot harvesting” faces a misdemeanor charge that could bring 30 days to one year in jail, as well as a fine of up to $4,000. Repeat offenders face a state jail felony charge, jail time up to two years and as much as a $10,000 fine.

Burkett has said the new law “is an attempt to weed out the ‘bad actors’ that are preying on vulnerable Texans and corrupting our democratic process.”

The House Elections Committee has held several hearings, listening to complaints and concerns from voters and officials alike. Members have discussed the possible need for election law reform.

“We understand that, despite all the lollipops and rainbow talk we hear that there is no election fraud, there is rampant voter fraud in parts of this state,” state Rep. Mike Schofield, R-Katy, said during a recent hearing.

During a separate hearing, officials with the Texas attorney general’s office responded to concerns.

They were asked whether problems are isolated to perhaps a voter mistakenly voting here or there, or whether there were organized groups creating voter fraud.

“It’s certainly organized groups engaging in voter harvesting,” said Jonathan White, an assistant attorney general with the attorney general’s office.

A local Democrat speaking privately said this investigation is becoming public now, just in time to make it an issue in the 85th Legislature, since part of the Republican-led voter ID law has been overturned by the courts.

“Now they are going to try to propose legislation that would make it harder to vote by mail,” the officeholder said. “Texas has gotten whipped up on voter ID, so they are trying this.”

Some Republican political consultants say privately that they don’t think there’s much to the local investigation.

“It’s amazing, but there’s nothing there,” one said. “The law they want changed now is mail-in ballot.

“It would be hard to imagine that we could get rid of ballots by mail,” the GOP consultant said.

“There are too many people who can’t make it to the polls — the entire military, people in the hospital, people who are forced to be out of town. It’s not practical to get rid of it.”

Local concerns

The investigation has prompted concern among officials.

The Tarrant County Republican Party recently sent out an email titled “Emergency Voter Fraud Information Inside Alert,” asking Republicans to serve as election judges and alternate judges.

“History has repeatedly shown that Democrats will do everything they can to buy, steal and cheat their way to victory at the ballot box,” the email stated. “It is up to us to ensure that every vote here in Tarrant County is PROTECTED and LEGAL.”

The email also asked for poll watchers for both early voting and Election Day.

“We especially need poll watchers in Democrat-controlled locations,” the email stated. “Voter ID is still required in Texas. We want to make sure OUR VOTER ID LAW IS FOLLOWED.”

Tarrant County Democratic Chairwoman Deborah Peoples said she was shocked that the local Republican Party would send out such a message.

“This is supposed to be the kinder, gentler Republican Party,” she said. “They say they’re reaching out to everybody in the party. Then the first opportunity they have, they turn around and say, ‘Those Democrats lie cheat and steal to win an election.’

“This is part of the loss of civility of political parties,” she said. “It’s really sad.”

The Democratic Party also sent out a note requesting election workers.

“The General Election is fast approaching,” wrote Vera Roberts, liaison for the local Democratic Party. “Election Judges, Alternate Judges and clerks are needed throughout Tarrant County to serve on Tuesday, November 8, 2016.”

Anna M. Tinsley: 817-390-7610, @annatinsley

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