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Updated: 40 min 17 sec ago

Who Paid Michael Cohen All That Money?

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump's presidential campaign against Hillary Clinton pretty much consisted of two messages. He claimed she didn't have the "strength and stamina" to be president, which was a straight-up sexist and ageist hit on her for being an older woman. The fact that he's older than she is simply wasn't relevant. As we now know, Trump felt the need to dictate his own medical report, since he wasn't sure enough of his own good health to undergo a real physical. And it turns out that Trump spends more time watching TV, playing golf and enjoying "executive time" than any president in modern memory. He's not exactly the Energizer Bunny.

The other main theme, of course, was "Crooked Hillary." Trump accused Clinton of being corrupt, traitorous and criminal over and over again.

Recall this ad, which encapsulated that running theme:

PAY TO PLAY POLITICS. #CrookedHillary pic.twitter.com/wjsl8ITVvk

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) October 12, 2016

Remember that Trump was the one who bragged about buying politicians and who was actually involved in a pay-to-play scheme during the campaign, when he paid off Florida Attorney General Pam Bondi to drop the state's suit against Trump University. She did so, became a top Trump supporter and was considered for a job in the Cabinet.

After the revelations this week about Trump's personal lawyer and longtime Trump Organization executive Michael Cohen, it has become clear that pay-to-play was baked into his administration from the beginning. Stormy Daniels' lawyer, Michael Avenatti, released a document detailing a series of suspicious payments made to Cohen's shadowy LLC, Essential Consultants, which was ostensibly created for the purpose of paying hush money to Daniels. The payments came from several companies, including AT&T and the drug company Novartis, which was surprising. What raised the most eyebrows was a payment of nearly half a million dollars from a company associated with one of the richest oligarchs in Russia. Several of these companies have admitted paying Cohen for his "insights" into the Trump administration and vague "consulting services," all of which add up to one thing: pay to play. Michael Cohen is not a guy anyone would ever accuse of having insight into anything.

But he did have a close relationship with the president of the United States, and he was still helping him "fix" problems like Stormy Daniels. Apparently these companies thought he could fix something for them as well.

According to news reports, we are supposed to believe that Michael Cohen cold-called a major drug manufacturer's CEO and pitched his services. The company, Novartis, agreed to pay $1.3 million over the course of a year for his services. Then, when some Novartis executives met with Cohen in person they concluded that "this was a probably a slippery slope to engage him" and decided not to bother asking him to do any work. But they paid him in full anyway because they didn't want to anger the president.

You have to wonder where the Novartis brass got the idea that the president might take out his anger on the company if they canceled a contract with a guy who, at least officially, didn't even work for Trump anymore. Did Cohen "suggest" that? He has certainly made veiled and not-so-veiled threats on Trump's behalf in the past. In fact, that was a big part of his job description.

According to The Washington Post, companies were eager to work with anyone associated with Trump, and Cohen landed a cushy spot with the high-powered law firm of Squire Patton Boggs, which signed him to a $500,000 deal. They showed him off like a prize pony to impress clients with their own Trump insider. It's not as bizarre as it seems that Cohen was able to work this pay-to-play angle with big-name companies, and if it doesn't pass the ethical smell test, it also isn't blatantly illegal.

But why in the world would Cohen accept large wads of cash for access to Trump from a Russian-affiliated company at the same time that the new president was the subject of a counter-intelligence investigation for possible conspiracy with Russia? The story is that Cohen happened to meet up with Andrew Intrater, the company’s American chief executive, at the Trump inauguration. Intrater attended that event with his cousin, Viktor Vekselberg, who is one of the richest men in Russia and a close associate of Vladimir Putin. They claim they just wanted Cohen's consulting expertise, but I think we know by now that's absurd. The question for Special Counsel Robert Mueller is whether or not this was some kind of bribe and whether these guys knew they were sending money to a company that was paying off the president's onetime girlfriend. That would have been a nice little bit of kompromat if they did.

The financial documents released by Avenatti also appear to show the byzantine payment scheme between Cohen and Elliott Broidy, the former Republican National Committee finance chair and major Trump donor. Broidy allegedly used Cohen to pay $1.6 million to his onetime Playboy Playmate mistress who had terminated a pregnancy, with Cohen getting $250,000 on top of that in installments. That one remains a curious case as well.

This analysis by Paul Campos in New York magazine puts together all the publicly available details and speculates convincingly that Broidy was actually fronting for Donald Trump, a man whose relationships with Playboy Playmates are well known. In fact, Broidy has done this sort of thing before:

Elliott Broidy even has a history of paying off the girlfriend of the public official he is bribing. https://t.co/RkyYJGYTAG pic.twitter.com/pmt6mJa6o7

— Andrew Prokop (@awprokop) May 8, 2018

Maybe the facts will prove that Cohen was simply selling access to the president and foolishly used the same Delaware LLC that he created to pay off Stormy Daniels and later used to pay off Broidy's mistress as well. But that doesn't seem likely, especially since the feds have come down on him like a ton of bricks for some reason. He may have scraped up a few corporate clients who thought it would be a good idea to grease the president's old associate, but this scheme looks like it was really about porn-star payoffs and covering up potential scandal. After all, that's Cohen's real field of expertise.

Those documents also show that there's a lot more cash that passed through Essential Consulting than can be attributed to these clients. The question is, who else was paying and for what? And where is all that money?

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Categories: Latest News

Arms and Influence: How Saudi Leaders Took Donald Trump for a Ride

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:00

Donald Trump, Saudi Arabia's King Salman bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (2nd L) and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi (L) put their hands on an illuminated globe during the inauguration ceremony of the Global Center for Combating Extremist Ideology in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, on May 21, 2017. (Photo: Bandar Algaloud / Saudi Royal Council / Handout / Anadolu Agency/Getty Images)

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It's another Trump affair -- this time without the allegations of sexual harassment (and worse), the charges and counter-charges, the lawsuits, and all the rest. So it hasn't gotten the sort of headlines that Stormy Daniels has garnered, but when it comes to influence, American foreign policy, and issues of peace and war, it couldn't matter more or be a bigger story (or have more money or lobbyists involved in it). Think of it as the great love affair of the age of Trump, the one between The Donald and the Saudi royals. And if there's any place to start laying out the story, it's naturally at a wedding, in this case in a tragic ceremony that happened to take place in Yemen, not Washington.

On Sunday, April 22nd, planes from a Saudi Arabian-led coalition dropped two bombs on a wedding in Yemen. The groom was injured, the bride killed, along with at least 32 other civilians, many of them children.

In response, the Saudis didn't admit fault or express condolences to the victim's families. Instead, they emphasized that their "coalition continues to take all the precautionary and preventative measures" to avoid civilian casualties in Yemen. This disconnect between Saudi rhetoric and the realities on the ground isn't an anomaly -- it's been the norm. For four years, the Saudis and their allies have been conducting airstrikes with reckless abandon there, contributing to a staggering civilian death toll that now reportedly tops 10,000.

The Saudis and their close ally, the United Arab Emirates (UAE), have repeatedly reassured American policymakers that they're doing everything imaginable to prevent civilian casualties, only to launch yet more airstrikes against civilian targets, including schools, hospitals, funerals, and marketplaces.

For example, last May when Donald Trump landed in Saudi Arabia on his first overseas visit as president, Saudi lobbyists distributed a "fact sheet" about the prodigious efforts of the country's military to reduce civilian casualties in Yemen. Five days after Trump landed in Riyadh, however, an air strike killed 24 civilians at a Yemeni market. In December, such strikes killed more than 100 Yemeni civilians in 10 days. The Saudi response: condemning the United Nations for its criticisms of such attacks and then offering yet more empty promises.

Through all of this, President Trump has remained steadfast in his support, while the US military continues to provide aerial refueling for Saudi air strikes as well as the bombs used to kill so many of those civilians. But why? In a word: Saudi Arabian and UAE money in prodigious amounts flowing into Trump's world -- to US arms makers and to dozens of lobbyists, public-relations firms, and influential think tanks in Washington.

Trump's Love Affair With the Saudi Regime

Saudi Arabia's influence over Donald Trump hit an initial peak in his first presidential visit abroad, which began in Riyadh in May 2017. The Saudi royals, who had clearly grasped the nature of The Donald, offered him the one thing he seems to love most: flattery, flattery, and more flattery. The kingdom rolled out the red carpet big time. The fanfare included posting banners with photos of President Trump and Saudi King Salman along the roadside from the airport to Riyadh, projecting a five-story-high image of Trump onto the side of the hotel where he would stay, and hosting a male-invitees-only concert by country singer Toby Keith.

According to the Washington Post, "The Saudis hosted the Trumps and the Kushners at the family's royal palace, ferried them around in golf carts, and celebrated Trump with a multimillion-dollar gala in his honor, complete with a throne-like seat for the president." In addition, they presented him with the Abdul-Aziz al-Saud medal, a trinket named for Saudi Arabia's first king, considered the highest honor the kingdom can bestow on a foreign leader.

The Saudis then gave Trump something he undoubtedly valued even more than all the fawning -- a chance to pose as the world's greatest deal maker. For the trip, Trump brought along a striking collection of CEOs from major American companies, including Marillyn Hewson of Lockheed Martin, Jamie Dimon of JPMorgan Chase, and Stephen Schwarzman of the Blackstone Group. Big numbers on the potential value of future US-Saudi business deals were tossed around, including $110 billion in arms sales and hundreds of billions more in investments in energy, petrochemicals, and infrastructure, involving projects in both countries.

The new president was anything but shy in claiming credit for such potential mega-deals. At a press conference, he crowed about "tremendous investments in the United States... and jobs, jobs, jobs." On his return to the US, he promptly bragged at a cabinet meeting that his deal-making would "bring many thousands of jobs to our country... In fact, will bring millions of jobs ultimately." Not surprisingly, no analysis was offered to back up such claims, but it's already clear that some of these deals may never come to fruition and many of those that do are more likely to create jobs in Saudi Arabia than in the United States.

Still, President Trump's love affair with that country's royals only intensified, leading to a triumphant US visit last month by Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, the power behind the throne in that nation. He is also the architect of its brutal Yemeni war, where, in addition to those thousands of civilians killed thanks to indiscriminate air strikes, millions have been put at risk of famine due to a Saudi-led blockade of the country. But neither of these activities that, Democratic Congressman Ted Lieu has noted, "look like war crimes" nor Saudi Arabia's abysmal internal human rights record drew a discouraging word from Trump or anyone in his cabinet. First things first. There were business deals to be touted -- and so they were.

Mohammed bin Salman's visit to the White House took place on the very day that the Senate was considering a bill to end US support for Saudi Arabia's Yemeni bombing campaign. While senators debated the constitutional authority of Congress to declare war and the human-rights impact of US support for the Saudi war effort, Trump was boasting yet again about all those jobs that arms sales to Saudi Arabia would create, adding -- in a sign of the total success of the Saudi charm offensive -- that the relationship between the two countries "is now probably as good as it's really ever been" and "will probably only get better."

The centerpiece of Trump's meeting was a show-and-tell performance focused on how Saudi arms sales would boost American jobs. As he sang the praises of those Saudi purchases, he brandished a map of the United States with the legend "KSA [Kingdom of Saudi Arabia] Deals Pending" above a red oval that said "40,000 US jobs." Prominent among them were jobs in the swing states that put Trump over the top in the 2016 elections: Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, and Florida. Score another point for Saudi influence in the form of Trump's firm belief that his relationship with that regime will bolster his future political prospects.

So the public courtship of Trump by the Saudi royals is already paying large dividends, but public flattery and massive arms deals are just the better-known part of the picture. The president has been heavily courted privately as well, both through personal connections and through an expansive lobbying operation, which it's important to map out, even if there's no administration show-and-tell on the subject.

The Personal Courtship

As a start -- as has been widely publicized -- Jared Kushner, the president's son-in-law and officially anointed point man on Middle Eastern peace (an outcome he is uniquely ill-equipped to deliver), has struck up a beautiful friendship with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. Their relationship was solidified at a March 2017 lunch at the White House, followed by numerous phone calls and several Kushner visits to Saudi Arabia, including one shortly before the prince cracked down on his domestic rivals. Though that crackdown was publicly justified as an anti-corruption move, it conveniently targeted anyone who could conceivably have stood in the way of bin Salman's consolidation of power. According to Michael Wolff in Fire and Fury, after bin Salman's power play, Trump joyfully told Kushner, "We've put our man on top!" -- an indication that Kushner had offered a Trump stamp of approval to the prince's political maneuver during his trip to Riyadh.

The friendship has clearly paid off handsomely for the Saudis. Kushner was reportedly the main advocate for having Trump make his first foreign visit to that country -- over the objections of Secretary of Defense James Mattis, who felt it would send the wrong signal to allies about Trump's attitudes towards democracy and autocracy (as indeed it did). Kushner also strongly urged Trump to back a Saudi-UAE blockade and propaganda campaign against the Gulf state of Qatar, which Trump forcefully did with a tweet: "So good to see the Saudi Arabia visit with the King and 50 countries already paying off. They said they would take a hard line on funding extremism and all reference was pointing to Qatar. Perhaps this will be the beginning of the end to horror of terrorism!"

Trump later changed his mind on this issue -- after learning that Qatar hosts the largest US military air base in the Middle East and after Qatar launched a PR and lobbying offensive of its own. That small, ultra-wealthy state hired nine lobbying and public relations firms, including former Attorney General John Ashcroft's, in the two months after the Saudi-UAE blockade began, according to filings under the Foreign Agents Registration Act. Most notably, the Qataris agreed to spend $12 billion on US combat aircraft just weeks after Trump's tweet.

Wherever Trump ultimately ends up on the campaign against Qatar (driven in part by a Saudi belief that its emir hasn't sufficiently toed a tough enough line on Iran), Kushner's role in the affair gives new spin to the old phrase "The personal is the political." According to a source who spoke to veteran reporter Dexter Filkins, Kushner's antipathy toward Qatar may have been driven in part by anger over its unwillingness to bail his father out of a bad Manhattan real estate investment with a massive loan.

Another snapshot of the Saudi-UAE urge to get up close and personal with The Donald lies in the strange case of George Nader, a political operative and senior advisor to the UAE, and Elliott Broidy, who reportedly can get face time with President Trump as needed. Nader evidently successfully persuaded Broidy to privately press Trump to take positions ever more in line with Saudi and UAE interests on Qatar and in their urge to see Secretary of State Rex Tillerson head for the exit. Whether or not Broidy's appeals were instrumental in Trump's decisions, he can't be faulted for lack of effort. His exploits underscore how far both countries are willing to go in their efforts to bend US foreign policy to their needs and interests.

In his campaign to win over Broidy, Nader gave him a cool $2.7 million to fund an anti-Qatar conference sponsored by the Foundation for Defense of Democracies, a sum that was also followed by more than $600,000 in donations for Republican candidates.

The keynote speaker at that conference was House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce, who then crafted a sanctions bill against Qatar and -- miracle of miracles -- shortly thereafter received a campaign contribution from Broidy. Wherever those funds came from, it strains credulity to believe that this was all coincidental. To sweeten the deal, Nader also dangled the prospect of major contracts for Broidy's private security firm, Circinus. One deal with the UAE, for $200 million, has already been sealed, while a Saudi one is in the works. At this point, who knows whether any of this was illegal, but in the world of Washington influence peddling, what's legal is often as scandalous as what's not.

The Lobbying Courtship

If such deep connections between Saudi Arabia and the Trump administration sometimes seem to surface out of nowhere, they all too often stem from an extraordinarily influential, if largely unpublicized, Saudi lobbying and public relations campaign.

Following the November election, the Saudis wasted no time in adding more firepower to their already robust influence operation in this country. In the less than three months before Trump was sworn in as president in January 2017, the Saudis inked contracts with three new firms: a Republican-oriented one, the McKeon Group (whose namesake, Howard "Buck" McKeon, is the recently retired chairman of the House Armed Services Committee); the CGCN Group, a firm well connected to conservative Republicans whose clientele also includes Boeing, which sells bombs to Saudi Arabia; and an outfit associated with the Democrats, the Podesta Group, which later dissolved after revelations about its work with Paul Manafort, Trump's former campaign manager, and Russian banks under sanction.

Before Trump even made it to Riyadh that May, according to an analysis of Foreign Agents Registration Act records, the Saudis signed contracts with six more public relations firms and then added two more immediately after severing diplomatic ties with Qatar in early June. All told, in just the first year of the Trump administration, the Saudis spent more than a million dollars monthly on more than two dozen registered lobbying and public relations outfits. The UAE was not far behind, boasting 18 registered lobbying and public relations firms in 2017, including more than $10 million dollars that year alone that went to just one of them, the Camstoll Group.

All this lobbying firepower gave those two countries an unparalleled ability to steer US foreign policy on the Middle East. Among other avenues of influence, their campaign included a steady stream of propaganda flowing to policymakers about the war in Yemen.

Large foreign lobbies of this sort also enjoy an even more direct path to influence through campaign contributions. While it's illegal for foreign nationals to make such contributions in US elections, there's an easy workaround for that -- just hire lobbyists to do it for you. Such firms and figures have, in the past, admitted to serving as middlemen in this fashion and are known to have sometimes given handsomely. For example, a study by Maplight and the International Business Times found that registered lobbyists working at just four firms hired by the Saudis gave more than half a million dollars to federal candidates in the 2016 elections.

Another important avenue of influence for the Saudis and Emiratis: their financial contributions to Washington's think tanks. The full extent of their reach in this area is hard to grasp because think tanks and other non-profits aren't required to disclose their donors and many choose not to do so. However, an eye-opening New York Times exposé in 2014 revealed an expansive list of think tanks that received money from the Saudis or Emiratis, including the Atlantic Council, the Brookings Institution, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, and the Middle East Institute. In the age of Trump, it's a reasonable bet that it has only gotten worse.

A War Alliance?

There is more at stake in Washington's present web of ties to those two lands than just business. The uncritical embrace of such reckless, extreme, and undemocratic regimes by President Trump and many members of Congress has far-reaching implications for the future of American foreign policy in the Middle East. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has asserted that Iranian leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei "makes Hitler look good" and has suggested military action against Iran on a number of occasions. Add to this the prince's successful efforts to keep the Trump administration on board in supporting his war in Yemen, plus Riyadh's political interference in Qatar and Lebanon, and there is a real danger that Trump's uncritical embrace of the Saudi regime could spark a regional war. The indiscriminate killing of Yemenis by the Saudi coalition, with the help of US weapons, has already contributed to the world's largest humanitarian crisis, while reportedly making the al-Qaeda franchise in Yemen "stronger than ever."

There is much concern in official Washington about Trump's seemingly cavalier attitude towards longstanding US alliances, but in the case of Saudi Arabia, a major change of course would undoubtedly be advisable. The least we can do is help make sure that the people of Yemen don't fear for their lives at their own weddings.

Categories: Latest News

The Hubris of American Exceptionalism Devalues the Rest of the World

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:00

The idea of American exceptionalism is a hubris that reeks of bigotry and is harmful to life in other nations. In this excerpt of David Swanson's new book, Curing Exceptionalism: What's Wrong With How We Think About the United States, he discusses the US's long history of devaluing life in other nations.

A Trump supporter carries an American flag as police monitor the scene during a "Make America Great Again" rally in Salem, Oregon, on March 25, 2017. (Photo: Alex Milan Tracy / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

No, the United States is not exceptional and David Swanson explains why in Curing Exceptionalism: What's Wrong With How We Think About the United States. Get the book now by donating to Truthout. Click here. 

US exceptionalism is a hubris that reeks of bigotry and is harmful to life in other nations, David Swanson argues in this excerpt from his book.

What we're dealing with is not just valuing the United States, but also devaluing the rest of the world -- and not just as observers, but as people who believe they have the right, if not the duty, to impose their will on the rest of the world. Exceptionalism is an attitude that tends to include arrogance, ignorance, and aggression, and these tend to do a great deal of damage.

In recent polling on possible future wars, a majority in the United States is willing to support an air attack, even a nuclear attack, on a foreign country, such as Iran or North Korea, that kills 100,000 civilians if it is an alternative to a ground attack that could kill 20,000 Americans. In fact, the US public has largely sat by for the past 17 years of wars in which the nations attacked have suffered tens and hundreds of times more deaths than the US military. Americans overwhelmingly tell pollsters that it is fine to kill non-Americans with US drones, but illegal to kill US citizens. Keith Payne, a drafter of the 2018 US Nuclear Posture Review, back in 1980, parroting Dr. Strangelove, defined success to allow up to 20 million dead Americans as the price for killing a much higher number of non-Americans. The US government has placed compensation for an Iraqi life at no more than $15,000, but the value of a US life at no less than $5 million.

When people ask how President Harry Truman could have used nuclear weapons that killed so many Japanese people unless he actually believed he was saving at least some significant number of US lives, they are assuming that Truman placed some positive value on the life of a Japanese person. Truman was the same man who had earlier remarked, "If we see that Germany is winning we ought to help Russia and if Russia is winning we ought to help Germany, and that way let them kill as many as possible." US Secretary of State Madeleine Albright famously remarked that the deaths of a half million Iraqi children was "worth it," without really being pressed to explain what the "it" was. During the war on Vietnam, the US military bragged on a weekly basis about how many people it killed. In recent wars, it has avoided mentioning that topic. But in neither case does it weigh the non-US lives taken against whatever the supposed good is that's being attempted, as it might do if it believed those lives had any value.

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"American exceptionalism" is a myth.

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This is where exceptionalism looks like a form of bigotry. One type of person is much more valuable. The other 96 percent of humanity is just not worth very much. If people in the United States valued all human lives equally, or even remotely close to equally, discussions of foreign aid funded by the US government would sound very different. The US government budget devotes less than 1 percent to foreign aid (including weapons "aid") but the US public on average believes that 31 percent of the budget goes to foreign aid. Reducing this mythical generosity is extremely popular with the US public. The US public usually sees itself as enormously generous to the rest of the world, but often believes its imagined generosity to be unappreciated. Several years into the war on Iraq that began in 2003, a plurality in the United States believed, not only that Iraqis should be grateful, but that Iraqis were in fact grateful for a war that had scholars using the term "sociocide" to describe its impact on Iraqi society.

US exceptionalism does not just devalue the individual lives of others. It also devalues the earth as a whole. US policy is generally not shaped by concern for its impact on the planet's environment. And the attitude of constant competition for the most growth on a finite planet is destructive and ultimately self-defeating. As an exceptionalist -- or, as the US government would call the same attitude in someone else, a rogue -- the United States keeps itself out of more international treaties than do its peers. It also keeps itself out of the jurisdiction of courts of international law and arbitration. This position hurts the US public, by denying it new developments in human rights. And it deals a severe blow to the rule of law elsewhere, because of the prominence and power of the world's leading rogue nation.

The US Constitution and US laws are not independently updated to match world standards. In fact, it seems that the further the United States' ancient constitution falls behind, the more it is treated as a sacred relic never to be improved. In an exceptionalist outlook, it is the responsibility of foreigners to learn from the US Constitution, not the responsibility of the US public to learn from the constitutions or laws more recently developed elsewhere. If you give rights to the environment or to indigenous people, you're being silly. If we give rights to corporations, we're being American -- and that's not to be questioned. End of discussion.

In an exceptionalist worldview it is of absolutely zero interest that many countries have figured out big advances in healthcare coverage or gun control or fast trains or green energy or drug treatment. Why would anyone in the United States care to hear such news! A study of presidents' state of the union speeches between 1934 and 2008 found 2,500 mentions of other countries, but only 3 suggestions that the United States might learn anything from any of them. As the Greatest Nation on Earth it is the rightful US role to continue bumbling along with its always greatest policies, even if those policies kill us -- but especially if they merely kill other people.

The United States not only turns away ideas. It also turns away actual emergency aid offered by other countries following natural disasters. What are human lives in comparison with national pride?

Copyright (2018) by David Swanson. Not to be republished without permission of the publisher.

Categories: Latest News

The FCC Loses a Champion of Net Neutrality as Mignon Clyburn Steps Down

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:00

As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn prepares to step down, much of the progress she championed on behalf of consumers, communities of color and the underserved is unraveling under the commission's Republican majority. While the GOP's decision to kill net neutrality is facing political backlash and Democrats are attempting to position themselves as the champions of consumers, Clyburn's legacy is more relevant than ever. 

Federal Communications Commission Commissioner Mignon Clyburn listens to a fellow commissioner speak during a FCC hearing on the internet on February 26, 2015, in Washington, DC. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

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In 1968, President Lyndon B. Johnson's National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders -- better known as the Kerner Commission -- released a landmark report examining what had caused a series of violent uprisings in cities across the country. The report warned that the United States was "moving toward two societies, one black, one white -- separate and unequal."

Among other racial problems, the report cited the mass media's coverage of the uprisings and its treatment of Black people in general. News outlets had failed to convey to their main audience of white people the underlying causes of the riots, such as rampant poverty and inequality, and Black people did not see themselves accurately represented in the media. The report called on the media to expand coverage of the Black community, integrate the activities and civic concerns of Black people into everyday news coverage and bring more Black journalists into the field.

For outgoing Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn, the Kerner report is a historical milestone. Since then, Black and Latinx activists have challenged local broadcasters for failing to serve their communities and worked to create media that center their stories, but US media have also experienced rampant corporate consolidation and the rise of right-wing outlets like Fox News.

"The sad part of it is, there are only a few conclusions in that report that are not applicable to today," Clyburn told a panel of leaders from media and digital rights groups focused on people of color during a discussion on Tuesday.

Clyburn's acknowledgment that there is much more work to be done comes as the commissioner prepares to leave the FCC, where she has served for eight years, including a stint as the commission's first Black chairwoman in 2013. During her tenure, Clyburn has consistently fought for people of color and consumers in general. Her commitment to the underserved brought her close to media justice and digital rights groups like the National Hispanic Media Coalition and Color of Change, which showered her with praise during a virtual "town hall" this week.

"I remember just being incredibly impressed with how clear you are about the community that you serve," Color of Change Executive Director Rashad Robinson told Clyburn, remembering his first visit to her office at the FCC.

The advocates lauded Clyburn for meeting directly with people impacted by FCC policies and amplifying their voice on the national stage. They cheered her commitment to bringing down phone rates for prisoners that tear families apart and pull them into debt. They thanked her for defending the Lifeline program, which subsidizes phone and internet service for low-income households.

Clyburn is also a strong advocate of net neutrality rules that prevent internet providers with playing favorites with online content. As Clyburn and her allies pointed out on Tuesday, many people still get their news from traditional media like local TV, but only a small handful of television broadcasting licenses are in Black hands. The internet has acted as a sort of equalizer in the notably unequal world of media ownership, allowing people of color to amplify their stories and challenge racist narratives in real time.

"I'm not posing a solution necessarily, but I can say that these [web] platforms that are currently more open -- if we win the fight for keeping them more open -- then maybe we can work our way into ownership of the legacy platforms," Clyburn said of media ownership among communities of color.

The future of net neutrality is highly uncertain. Clyburn is leaving the FCC amid a Trump-era deregulatory blitz spearheaded by Chairman Ajit Pai, who has used his Republican majority on the commission to issue an order repealing landmark net neutrality rules that Clyburn helped establish in 2015. Clyburn has seen much of the progress she championed at the FCC unravel under Pai, who initiated a long list of deregulatory moves that Clyburn says will harm people the FCC is charged with protecting: low-income families, underserved Indigenous communities, disabled people, as well as women and people of color.

Pai has also shown little interest in a cause central to Clyburn's legacy -- reducing exorbitant phone rates paid by prisoners and their families. After years of work by grassroots activists, the FCC issued a historic order capping costs for calls to and from prisons and jails in 2016. However, a lawsuit filed by prison phone companies has held up the order in the court, leaving higher rates in place. It's a stark reminder of how difficult it can be to get things done in the FCC's highly politicized atmosphere, even when a strong advocate for marginalized people is in a leadership position.

"It was a no-brainer that this would be something that I would be an advocate for," Clyburn said when asked why she chose to be a champion for prisoners. "What kind of legacy would I have if everything is good and shiny [but] my people from my communities cannot afford to keep in touch with their loved ones?"

Meanwhile, Clyburn's Democratic colleagues in Congress are working to hammer Republicans over net neutrality. Polls consistently show that voters in both parties don't trust internet providers and do support the net neutrality rules Pai awkwardly threw out. Senate Democrats introduced a resolution on Wednesday to undo Pai's decision to repeal the FCC rules amid a mass online day of action held by web platforms and net neutrality advocates. The resolution faces an uphill battle but could force Republicans to abandon the party line or take an unpopular, anti-consumer position ahead of the midterms.

Clyburn said that the FCC has shifted from a "consumer-centric, consumer-based approach to an industry-led point of view" now that Pai is in charge. Democrats are betting that this won't fly with voters and are positioning themselves as the party that stands up for digital consumers in the internet age. Thanks to Clyburn and media justice activists, issues like net neutrality also resonate with communities of color in the party's base. Clyburn says she plans to continue her advocacy outside the FCC. Her fellow Democrats would do well to keep her close. There is still plenty of work to be done.

Categories: Latest News

Will Congress Authorize Indefinite Detention of Americans?

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:00

Sen Bob Corker and Sen. Tim Kaine talk during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts," March 11, 2015. Sens. Corker and Kaine have introduced an Authorization of Military Force bill to Congress. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

A proposed 2018 Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF) could potentially give President Trump unlimited power to wage war and also provide a basis for indefinitely detaining US citizens in military custody without criminal charges. If passed, the bill could imperil a citizen's right to challenge whatever military adventures the president decides to undertake.

Sen Bob Corker and Sen. Tim Kaine talk during a Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "The President's Request for Authorization to Use Force Against ISIS: Military and Diplomatic Efforts," March 11, 2015. Sens. Corker and Kaine have introduced an Authorization of Military Force bill to Congress. (Photo: Tom Williams / CQ Roll Call)

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Under the guise of exercising supervisory power over the president's ability to use military force, Congress is considering writing Donald Trump a blank check to indefinitely detain US citizens with no criminal charges. Alarmingly, this legislation could permit the president to lock up Americans who dissent against US military policy.

The bill that risks conveying this power to the president is the broad new Authorization for Use of Military Force (AUMF), S.J.Res.59, that is pending in Congress. Senate Foreign Relations Committee chair Bob Corker (R-Tennessee) and Democratic committee member Tim Kaine (Virginia) introduced the bipartisan bill on April 16, and it has four additional co-sponsors.

This proposed 2018 AUMF would replace the 2001 AUMF that Congress gave George W. Bush after the September 11 attacks. Although the 2001 AUMF authorized the president to use "all necessary and appropriate force" only against individuals and groups responsible for the 9/11 attacks, three presidents have relied on it to justify at least 37 military operations in 14 countries, many of them unrelated to 9/11.

But the 2018 AUMF would codify presidential power to make war whenever and wherever he chooses.

To read more stories like this, visit Human Rights and Global Wrongs.

S.J.Res.59 allows the president "to use all necessary and appropriate force" against Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Yemen, Libya and Somalia, al-Qaeda, ISIS (also known as Daesh), the Taliban and their "associated forces" anywhere in the world, without limitation.

A president may conceivably claim that a US citizen who writes, speaks out or demonstrates against US military action is a "co-belligerent" and lock him or her up indefinitely without charge.

"Associated forces" is defined as "any organization, person, or force, other than a sovereign nation, that the President determines has entered the fight alongside and is a co-belligerent with al Qaeda, the Taliban, or ISIS, in hostilities against the United States or its coalition partners."

However, the bill contains no definition of "co-belligerent." A president may conceivably claim that a US citizen who writes, speaks out or demonstrates against US military action is a "co-belligerent" and lock him or her up indefinitely without charge.

Under the new AUMF, the president could tell Congress he wants to use force against additional countries or "associated forces" that are not listed in the bill. It would put the burden on Congress to say no by a two-thirds vote, a virtually impossible margin to achieve in the current political climate.

The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights -- a treaty the United States has ratified, making it part of US law under the Constitution's Supremacy Clause -- forbids arbitrary detention without charge.

Supreme Court Hasn't Sanctioned Indefinite Detention for US Citizens

Nevertheless, in the 2004 case of Hamdi v. Rumsfeld, the Supreme Court upheld the enemy combatant designation of US citizen Yaser Hamdi, who had been apprehended in Afghanistan in 2001. But the Court limited its holding to people fighting against US forces in Afghanistan, and did not include the broader "war on terrorism."

The Court also stated that US citizens held as enemy combatants must be provided due process to contest the factual basis for their detention before a neutral decision maker.

The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether a US citizen who is apprehended in the United States can be detained indefinitely.

Justice Sandra Day O'Connor wrote for the Court's plurality, "We have long since made clear that a state of war is not a blank check for the President when it comes to the rights of the Nation's citizens," adding, "even the war power does not remove constitutional limitations safeguarding essential liberties."

The Supreme Court has not ruled on whether a US citizen who is apprehended in the United States can be detained indefinitely. It declined to decide the case of José Padilla, who was arrested at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport in 2002 and held in military custody as an enemy combatant by the Bush administration, relying on the 2001 AUMF. The Court ruled that Padilla's habeas corpus petition was mistakenly filed in New York instead of South Carolina.

Criminal charges were eventually brought against Padilla in 2005. Padilla had been held in isolation for more than three years and tortured while in custody.

Padilla was tried and convicted in 2007 of conspiracy charges and providing material support to terrorism, and sentenced to 17 years imprisonment. In 2014, his sentence was increased to 21 years. Meanwhile, the Fourth Circuit and the Second Circuit US Courts of Appeal came to opposite conclusions about whether an American citizen apprehended on US soil could be held indefinitely as an enemy combatant.

"John Doe" is another American citizen detained by the US government. In September 2017, the US-Saudi citizen was named an enemy combatant for allegedly fighting for ISIS and has been held in military custody in Iraq ever since. Although the 2001 AUMF never mentioned ISIS, the government used it as a basis to detain Doe. In April, the Department of Defense attempted to transfer Doe to Saudi Arabia and avoid a judicial ruling in the case, but a federal judge in Doe v. Mattis blocked the move.

It is not clear how passage of the proposed 2018 AUMF would affect Doe's case.

Does Defense Authorization Act Permit Indefinite Detention?

There is a 1971 US statute that says, "No citizen shall be imprisoned or otherwise detained by the United States except pursuant to an Act of Congress." An AUMF is an Act of Congress.

Another Act of Congress is the National Defense Authorization Act for fiscal year 2012 (NDAA). Relying on the 2001 AUMF, the 2012 NDAA purported to codify the president's authority to hold US citizens in military custody indefinitely.

Section 1021 of the NDAA says, "Nothing in this section shall be construed to affect existing law or authorities relating to the detention of United States citizens, lawful resident aliens of the United States, or any other persons who are captured or arrested in the United States."

When he signed the NDAA, Barack Obama declared in a signing statement that section 1021 does not "limit or expand the authority of the President or the scope of the Authorization for Use of Military Force," pledging that "my Administration will not authorize the indefinite military detention without trial of American citizens."

Obama's statement implied that while a president does have the power to indefinitely detain Americans, he chose not to exercise that power.

Sen. Lindsey Graham (R-South Carolina) supported the NDAA, stating that it would "basically say in law for the first time that the homeland is part of the battlefield," adding that people could be held without charge by the military, "American citizen or not."

Nothing in the 2018 AUMF would prevent the president from adding an American organization or individual to the list set forth in the bill.

Noam Chomsky, Daniel Ellsberg, Chris Hedges and other journalists and human rights activists sued the US government, claiming the 2012 NDAA would have a chilling effect on their freedom of speech because they could be arrested. A federal district court judge found section 1021(b)(2) unconstitutional and issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the government from relying on it.

But the Second Circuit Court of Appeals lifted the injunction in 2013, stating that section 1021 of the NDAA "has no bearing on the government's authority to detain American citizen plaintiffs" because "Section 1021 simply says nothing about the government's authority to detain citizens."

The 2018 AUMF Might Be Used to Indefinitely Detain Americans

Nothing in the 2018 AUMF would prevent the president from adding an American organization or individual to the list set forth in the bill, according to Christopher Anders of the ACLU.

The 2018 AUMF has no expiration date. Every four years, the president would be required to give Congress a proposal to repeal, modify or maintain the authorization. Once again, it puts the onus on Congress, by a two-thirds majority, to take contrary action.

S.J.Res.59 may not make it to the floor of the Senate and/or the House. Congress has thus far resisted enacting a new AUMF that could be seen in any way to limit the president's military authority.

Ironically, however, the enactment of this new 2018 AUMF could both enshrine the president's unlimited power to wage war and also provide the president with a basis for indefinitely detaining US citizens in military custody without criminal charges.

If this bill were to pass, it would imperil our right to speak out and challenge whatever military adventures the president decides to undertake.

Categories: Latest News

The GOP's Midterm Strategy Is All About the Courts

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 21:00
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If there is one factor responsible for massively impacting President Donald Trump's surprise 2016 election victory, it had to be the open seat of the late Supreme Court Justice Antonin Scalia. By refusing to allow a confirmation hearing for President Barack Obama's appointee -- Judge Merrick Garland – and leaving the seat vacant for over a full year, the GOP easily propelled the religious right to the polls.

No wonder they're trying so hard to recreate that crisis.

There's little doubt for Republicans that the 2018 midterms are going to be a hard slog. They've under-performed in every election and special election that has taken place since President Trump was sworn into office. Even without that bellwether, the party in the White House traditionally gets hammered in the next midterm. And on top of that, President Trump has been one of the most polarizing, unpopular presidents in history, making him a drag on any GOP ticket.

Of course, Trump was a drag in 2016, too, which is why Republicans chose to campaign primarily on their own, focusing like a laser beam on the issue of the courts. It worked surprisingly well, creating a blueprint for the right to follow again this election. Now that November is fast approaching, Republicans are ramping up the rhetoric, too.

For the religious right, President Trump has been the leader they never thought they'd see -- fervently anti-abortion, anti-Muslim and willing to embrace and promote religious liberty for Christians over all other policy issues. Social conservative leaders are chomping at the bit to return the U.S. to the mythical 1950s -- an era where gays were closeted, schools segregated and full of public prayer, women stayed home with children and birth control was a sin.

That's why conservatives are making a point to tell their followers just how close they are to making this a reality.

According to Right Wing Watch, far-right legal activist Mat Staver of Liberty Counsel told a religious right radio audience that they must hit the polls come the midterm, since that could be the point when a GOP majority in the Senate finally pushes the last remaining Supreme Court justice to overturn legal abortion and marriage equality.

Miranda Blue reports:

Staver added that social conservatives are 'one midterm election away from eventually overturning the Roe v. Wade decision' because 'there will be at least one, maybe two more' Supreme Court vacancies during Trump's first term in office.

If Trump is able to replace any liberal or moderate justice "with someone like Gorsuch," he said, "that means the abortion decision, the same-sex marriage decision, all of those things that went the wrong way will ultimately be in the balance to be reversed. So literally we are a few months away."

Staver isn't the only one rallying the far-right voting troops, either. Tony Perkins at Family Research Council points out that the midterms could well lead to extreme abortion bans like Iowa's new six-week "heartbeat ban" being upheld if the right judge makes it through.

According to RWW's Jared Holt:

"We are anticipating another retirement from the [Supreme] Court. Is it going to come this year? Don't know," Perkins said on 'Washington Watch.' "But a case like this usually -- it's going to take a while to get all the way up to the Supreme Court. So, the probability that there will be a new justice on the court by the time this gets to the court is very high."

The courts worked so well as a political tool in 2016 that Judicial Crisis Network -- an influential and extremely well funded right-wing legal action group -- is launching a campaign to accuse Democrats of "obstructing" President Trump's judicial appointments. It's a rich accusation, considering that the GOP blocked most of President Obama's nominees at the end of his term and left a mass of vacancies for the next president to fill.

Judicial Crisis Network's Carrie Severino announced:

President Trump and Senate Republicans have confirmed a record number of exceptionally qualified judges who will follow the law and uphold the Constitution. Senate Democrats, led by Chuck Schumer (D-NY), want to stop that progress so that liberal extremists can maintain control of our courts. Confirming President Trump's extraordinary nominees is a top priority for JCN, and we are committed to doing whatever necessary to end the Democratic obstruction.

That "whatever necessary to end the Democratic obstruction" inevitably means defeating Democrats in the midterms -- and creating a Republican Senate super majority is just icing on the campaign cake.

Will the courts be a compelling enough issue to drive GOP voters to the polls in November? The Republican Party definitely hopes so. After all, without the courts, they're stuck campaigning with nothing but President Trump.

Categories: Latest News

Redistricting and the 2018 Elections: Can Democrats Stop the GOP's Winning Streak?

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 08:10

(Photo: adamkaz / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The 2018 elections will affect who draws the political maps for redistricting after the 2020 census. Republicans understood this 10 years ago and implemented a strategy that led to a decade of Democratic Party defeats at nearly every level of government. Now Democrats are seeking to reverse this trend, but no matter how the balance of power shifts, this form of partisan gerrymandering is a problem for representative democracy.

(Photo: adamkaz / iStock / Getty Images Plus)

The four states that held primaries last night for the coming 2018 elections -- OhioIndianaNorth Carolina and West Virginia -- are overwhelmingly controlled by the GOP. Republicans control all eight state legislative bodies within them, with 396 Republican state legislators compared with 189 Democrats. Three of the four states are Republican trifectas, meaning the GOP controls their governorships in addition to all of their legislative bodies.

If Democrats hope to claim and sustain majority status in Congress anytime soon, they will need to reverse this GOP domination of state governments in 2018. State legislators who are elected in 2018 will be among those tasked with rewriting the maps for the 2020 redistricting. As a result, a vote in 2018 can have an impact for a decade. The importance of this was explained by infamous Bush operative Karl Rove who in 2010 said, "He who controls redistricting, can control Congress."

Republicans clearly understood the importance of redistricting 10 years ago and strategized accordingly. Now, the GOP controls almost every body of government in the US: The House, Senate, White House33 governorships and 69 of 99 state legislative bodies.

The GOP's electoral successes occur, however, even though the country is moving left on economic issues and social issues. Support for gay marriagelegal marijuanaguaranteed health care and citizenship for undocumented immigrants is at an all-time high. Support for military interventionism is down. On the whole, young voters are well to the left of their older generations, and only 42 percent say they prefer capitalism to socialism.

The fact that the US government is leaning right, even as the populace is leaning left is a problem in a representative democracy. This disjunction was particularly apparent when Senate Republicans addressed health care policy, the top concern for Americans, according to numerous polls. The Better Care Reconciliation Act -- the GOP's top legislative priority -- was supported by only 12 percent of Americans at one point. There is just not much appetite for GOP policies. This is one reason Donald Trump was able to win the primary against contemporary Republicans by (publicly anyway) breaking with the party on trade.

So, how is it, absent a flood of support for GOP policies, that the Republicans have been winning elections at every level for a decade? And what does it say about the pervasive effect gerrymandering has on our democracy?

REDMAP in 2010: How the GOP Keeps Winning

David Daley, who has covered this issue for Salon, traces the answer to this first question back to June 2009 at the Hermitage, a pricey Nashville hotel. It was here, Daley said in an interview with Truthout, where the Republican State Leadership Committee (RSLC) first presented the Redistricting Majority Project. It became known better as REDMAP, which Daley calls an "audacious strategy that would soon transform American politics."

REDMAP was a shrewd twist on gerrymandering, the undemocratic practice of drawing maps to maximize partisan gain. The focus was deliberate: target key state legislative seats, since these legislators would be redrawing the maps after the 2010 census.

"At the time many of these seats were not competitive races," said Harvard professor Gary King, an expert on legislative redistricting, in an interview with Truthout. "They knew if they could control a legislature, they could move a district. It was a massive advantage."

By 2010, Daley reports, the RSLC decided to invest $30 million in 107 carefully chosen state legislative races, most of which was used for ad blitzes late in the campaign. By the time the election was over 650 state legislative seats changed party hands. Tim Barnes, former president of finance for RSLC, boasted after the election in a thank you note to donors that of 70 competitive districts, "Republicans now control the redrawing of at least 47 of those districts ... Democrats are responsible for 15 districts and a non-partisan process determines the additional eight."

This chart shows the decline in Democratic Party power at all levels of government since 2010. (Source: Data from Carl Klarner/ the Lucy Burns Institute)

Distribution of Political Party Control of US State Legislatures From 1990 to 2017

This chart shows the GOP dominance of State Legislatures in recent years. Note how poorly Democrats have done since 2010. (Source: Statista)

It must be noted that the Democratic Party also engages in gerrymandering and can be as aggressive as Republicans. Former Governor Martin O'Malley helped take a Republican seat in Maryland using gerrymandering during the 2010 redistricting. This approach led to litigation that is now before the Supreme Court (Benisek v. Lamone). "Part of my intent was to create ... a district where the people would be more likely to elect more Democrats than a Republican," O'Malley conceded in a deposition.

But despite a clear willingness to use gerrymandering for their own gain, Democrats were not up to the task in 2010. "They simply lacked the foresight of the GOP and were focused on top-of-the-ticket races," King said. "Not coming up with a viable counterstrategy once it was apparent what the GOP was doing, was really ineptitude."

King notes that Rove outlined this plan in the Wall Street Journal. "It wasn't like the Republicans were being secretive about it the whole time," he said. Still, the Democrats were unable to respond effectively.

Meanwhile, the Republicans made use of data and technology that did not exist in prior rounds of redistricting, improving their ability to microtarget the rights seats. "Partisan gerrymandering is as old as American politics, of course," said Daley, who also authored a 2016 book on the subject. "But from 1790 to 2010 it was a different era. New technology has since turned it into an art," ushering in "the steroid era of gerrymandering."

Indeed, researchers in 2016 found that "partisan bias in congressional district maps [in 2010] tripled compared to the post-2000 districts."

Stacking the Deck

To study the success of REDMAP is also to witness the harmful effects of gerrymandering. For the last decade, the maps written by mostly Republicans have given the GOP a lot more seats than Democrats, without getting a lot more votes. King uses the 2012 and 2014 Wisconsin elections to demonstrate the impact.

Here Republicans received 48 percent of Assembly votes statewide in 2012. The districts were drawn in such a way, however, that they won 60 percent of Assembly seats. In 2014, under the same redistricting plan, King notes in a Boston Globe op-ed, "Democrats received 48 percent of the vote, but just 36 percent of the seats." This means the map lacks "partisan symmetry," the subject of an important coming Supreme Court case Gill v. Whitford. (This is one of two important gerrymandering cases coming before the court, along with Benisek v. Lamone but neither are likely to impact the 2020 redistricting process, no matter the ruling).

One can see the disenfranchising impact of gerrymandering here. Wisconsin's voters got Republican majorities even when they voted for Democrats. In a sense the legislators -- not the citizens -- are choosing which votes count and where.

Daley also cites instances of extreme gerrymandering and its fallout. He writes:

Republicans held the U.S. House in 2012, despite earning 1.4 million fewer votes than Democratic congressional candidates, and won large GOP majorities in the Ohio, Wisconsin, Michigan and North Carolina state legislatures even when more voters backed Democrats.... Even in Virginia last November [2016], Democrats won nearly a quarter of a million more votes than Republicans -- and it still wasn't enough to overcome district lines rigged to guarantee the GOP a built-in advantage. In Alabama, where Doug Jones recently became the first Democrat elected to the U.S. Senate in decades, disgraced GOP candidate Roy Moore still carried six of the state's seven gerrymandered congressional districts.

Another consequence of gerrymandering is its detrimental effects on third parties. Both the Libertarian Party and the Green Party have criticized the process.

"Third parties [suffer] greatly as a result of partisan gerrymanders. In 2014, 58 percent of Americans agreed that a third party is needed in the United States; gerrymandering, however, makes it nearly impossible for third party candidates to come to power," writes Lexi Mealey in the Harvard Political Review. "In districts designed to ensure the success of one of two major parties, candidates that do not conform to either ideology are left with an extremely limited, if existent, voter base."

Redistricting Battle Starts With Coming Elections

Democrats have been reeling ever since REDMAP, without a viable counterstrategy. Now the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee (DLCC) and progressive grassroots organizations are apparently heeding the lessons from the last census in an attempt to prevent another decade of GOP control. They are letting everyone know that the 2018 election will have an impact on the makeup of Congress for a full decade, as did the 2010 debacle. Winning the states, the DLCC notes on its website, is "the only sure way to prevent GOP gerrymandering from ever again deciding the outcome of a national election."

If things are going to change, voters have to be fully awakened as to how district lines are the building blocks of our democracy.

This emphasis is apparent from the DLCCs response to a key state legislative victory for Democrats in Florida. "We look forward to gaining more ground in 2018 and 2020 elections ahead of critical redistricting," said Jessica Post, executive director of DLCC, in a statement after the election. "Tonight's win comes on the heels of the DLCC announcing a new record for first quarter fundraising of more than $5 million."

CNN reported it was the "36th GOP-held state legislative seat to change parties since Trump took office" and is being cited by Democrats as "evidence it can win in Republican strongholds."

"Special elections have been favoring Democrats," said Tyler King, a staff writer at Ballotopedia, in an interview with Truthout. "In 2017, Democrats flipped 14 seats compared to three flipped by Republicans. In 2018, all six flipped seats have gone to Democrats. Special elections aren't always the best bellwether because they often have special circumstances attached to them, but it is notable ... Democrats are in a better position to win seats in state legislatures in 2018 than they have been since 2010."

Obama v. GOP Maps

In his last State of the Union in 2016, Barack Obama said "We have to end the practice of drawing our congressional districts so that politicians can pick their voters and not the other way around." One can understand why he emphasized this on his way out of the White House. When Obama was elected in 2008, Democrats had dominated their second straight election and took a supermajority in Congress.

"When Democrats won in 2008, they thought they would be able to hold on to these majorities with the Obama coalition. They did not see this coming," Daley said.

When the GOP rebounded in 2010 and redrew the maps, Obama never had a Democratic House again. His party lost the Senate and as many as 1,000 state legislative seats during his presidency.

Obama's window to pass meaningful reforms was much smaller than he likely anticipated -- the Affordable Care ActDodd-Frank and the stimulus bill were all passed in his first two years in office. The GOP Congress, solidified by groundwork laid out in REDMAP, effectively ruined any chance Obama had of passing significant legislation for the rest of his presidency. They also deprived him of a Supreme Court Justice. It is therefore understandable why the former president attended a fundraiser by the National Democratic Redistricting Committee (NDRC), led by his former Attorney General Eric Holder, to raise awareness on GOP redistricting success and its consequences.

 "Since 2011, Republicans gerrymandered the country more aggressively than at any time in our history," the NDRC says on its website. "Your vote might not count the way you think it does."

It is an accurate, if hypocritical claim. The existence of the NDRC, in addition to the emphasis on redistricting by the DLCC, however, are evidence that the Democrats recognize the stakes of these elections. In fact, they have been planning for many years. In 2014, MSNBC reported on how the party was already looking toward the 2020 redistricting battle, "targeting legislative chambers in key states over the next four election cycles with the specific aim of influencing redistricting."

It won't be easy, however. The GOP has released an updated version of the plan: REDMAP 2020. A memo released by the RSLC from two years ago signaled the GOP's commitment: a $125 million investment goal to "expand Republican-controlled legislative chambers in advance of 2020 redistricting," and "help the Republican redistricting data acquisition efforts and provide targeted legal strategic advice in redistricting cases."

If Democrats can't stop the Republicans from controlling so many state legislatures, some speculate, it could become almost impossible for them to recover anytime soon. As a Washington Post article observed, "without vitality in the states, the Democrats will remain what they became in recent years: a hollowed-out political institution."

The Role of the Grassroots

While Democrats have been hurt by gerrymandering, that fact by no means excuses the party's poor performance. Losing to Donald Trump was an epic embarrassment. The Democratic Party let a Republican with no experience win as an anti-establishment crusader against a person who is a relic of the Democratic Party's 1990s-era turn to the right. Clinton performed especially poorly in areas impacted by trade deals like NAFTA in 2016, deals which she proudly supported for most of her career. Now, evidence is surfacing that shows the Democrats are repeating these mistakes from their past.

So, while gerrymandering has hurt the Democratic Party badly, the Democrats' deference to the donor class and regressive neoliberal orthodoxies are their own fault. "The Democrats have a major working-class problem," Norman Solomon, co-author of an "autopsy" of Democrats post-2016, tells Truthout. "This is why it is important there are also grassroots organizations working on the issue of 2020 redistricting."

A number of organizations unaffiliated with the Democratic Party are tackling this issue head on: Flippable, the Democracy Alliance, the New Virginia Majority, the League of Women Voters and countless more. Some grassroots candidates have been inspired by the Bernie Sanders campaign and its focus on running a down-ballot strategy. This is important, since legislative elections have become increasingly less competitive over the last 30 years, according to a study by Harvard's Carl Klarner.
"To have a working democracy you need people, quality candidates, running for these seats. The lack of competitiveness made it easier for [the GOP] to succeed," Gary King said.

Issues surrounding the census are not often seen as hot-button topics. They typically don't blow up on social media. But as people in the US learn of the roots of GOP power while experiencing life under a dangerous Republican-controlled government, more are paying attention. "People are catching on," Daley said, noting that Trump's recent decision to politicize the 2020 census by asking questions about legal citizenship has further mobilized opposition.

"I think a lot of people woke up on November 5, 2016, and started to ask themselves why, if we are a closely divided country, why isn't this reflected in our elections," Daley said. "GOP control and gerrymandering are a huge part of this story. If things are going to change, voters have to be fully awakened as to how district lines are the building blocks of our democracy."

Categories: Latest News

Healing a City Afflicted With Police Brutality -- Activist Cat Brooks on Organizing to Run for Mayor of Oakland

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 07:57

You can tell a city's morals and values by what they put their money into, says Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project, executive director of the Justice Teams Network and mayoral candidate for Oakland, California. She discusses her work around police accountability and healing justice and the need to prioritize mental health and restorative justice over law enforcement.

Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and the executive director of the Justice Teams Network. (Photo: Pax Ahimsa Gethen / Flickr)

Welcome to Interviews for Resistance. We're now more than a year into the Trump administration, and activists have scored some important victories in those months. Yet there is always more to be done, and for many people, the question of where to focus and how to help remains. In this series, we talk with organizers, agitators and educators not only about how to resist but also about how to build a better world. Today's interview is the 121st in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.

Today we bring you a conversation with Cat Brooks, co-founder of the Anti Police-Terror Project and the executive director of the Justice Teams Network. Brooks discusses her organization's work in reining in police violence and providing healing justice to the families of those killed by police. She also explains how she is running for mayor of Oakland, California, and how she would govern in partnership with the people.

Sarah Jaffe: Let's talk a little bit about the Justice Teams Network and how this idea came to be.

Cat Brooks: It really has two beginnings. One is the Anti Police-Terror Project (APTP) in the city of Oakland in December of 2014 ... we developed our rapid response model to officer-involved shootings because we felt like there was a pattern that was happening following the murders of Black people by law enforcement that was not acceptable, and that included only having one version of the story: the cop's. Two is the demonization of the person who is shot, and three is the targeting and attacking and non-support of the family. We rolled it out in December of 2014 and we were doing it in Oakland.

Then, Patrisse Cullors, who is the co-founder of Black Lives Matter, was also doing rapid response in her community and had been doing some version of it, formally or informally, her entire life. And so she, too, wanted to formalize a rapid response model and had this idea of, "What would it be if we had a series of people across the state that were doing this work?" and our model, the model I just mentioned, we decided to utilize that as the primary model that we would train people on, and combine that with her organization's Healing Justice Model because as much as we need rapid response physically, [we] also ... need to deal with the trauma not only inflicted on families but also on the community. So, that is two years ago, we started meeting with people around the state and coming together in retreats and having phone calls and we were finally officially able to launch on Wednesday.

Can you talk a little bit more about what goes into the rapid response model? What are the pieces that you have to bring together in order to respond to these, unfortunately, all-too-common moments?

Sure. This is what happens: When the cops kill somebody ... our Facebook pages go off, our Twitter pages go off, our personal phones go off. We then send an email out to a list of about 500 people who are trained and are active in the database, who are trauma-informed investigators. That means they have been trained on how to engage communities and people that have dealt with various traumas. They go to the scene, they talk to community members. They look at the pictures. They scour the scene for any video footage that might be in existence of the incident. Sometimes they will pick up evidence that might be helpful that the cops leave behind.

Then, hopefully, they find someone that is connected to the family at that scene. If they don't, they come back ... and they scour social media. Because, inevitably, in this day and age, someone who was there has posted something to Twitter. Once we have connected with the family, we have got two primary agenda items. One is to, within 24 hours, either hold a vigil or support the community in holding their own. The second, of course, is to see what they need. Then, in talking to the family, it is about finding everything out about the person that was killed. So, the news by that time, of course, has come out and said, "Oh, the police shot a Black man -- "Black suspect" is actually how they say it most of the time -- he had a gun and he stole a lollipop and he stole a lollipop in 1922 from Samuel Adams," as if whatever happened in 1922 has anything to do with why he's dead now.

We then come out with our narrative -- the family's narrative: "They liked the color blue, they went to church on Sundays. They were parents. They took care of their mother." Just humanize them, because ... when you talk about people, like dentists, students, mothers, lawyers, cashiers, whatever, we are having a different conversation.

Then, from there, we connect them to our legal team, which is pro bono legal support, and then we support them with communications, legal, fundraising -- they have to hold a funeral, often have to raise money for independent autopsies because often the one you get comes from law enforcement, they're not going to challenge what law enforcement said happened. Then, we walk with them, and that is a long walk because while the story is in the media for a week, maybe two, for families, this is years and years and years, it never ends. The pain never ends.

That brings us to the question of the Healing Justice Model and how and why it is so important to provide spaces for people in the community to heal and be supported in these times.

The Healing Justice Model works in a couple of ways. One is the vigil -- that is not only a media moment, it's also a space for the community to come together, to pray, light candles and collectively grieve. We also have a database of healers that do everything from energy work to reiki to licensed psychologists, and those things are always free of charge. We have people that are on a 24-hour hotline. If somebody calls in, we can connect them to life and mental health assistance. Then, we do things like what we are going to do today, actually at Santa Rita Jail, where we are going to go deal directly with the impact of militarized policing and incarceration and provide healing support for people coming out of jail and families and loved ones.

So, it takes on all sorts of things, but the point is to insert organizing, protest, rage -- to insert healing into that, talking about mental health, "How are you doing today? What do you need?" and walking with the people throughout that process.

We hear a lot about self-care these days, but not so much about a model of collective care.

Yes, actually that is a great point. Melina Abdullah, who is the founder of Black Lives Matter LA chapter, said something that I like to quote wherever I can: Self-care is problematic in the way it manifests a lot of times because it usually means that the two or three people who aren't going to let the work lay down for any reason end up carrying an unfair burden. Honestly, it can insinuate that, "Okay, so Marlene is having issues, so she is going to go deal with those issues by herself." As opposed to Marlene coming to people and saying, "I am having a hard time. This work is impacting me and the group figures out what my needs are," and that is done in the community and not in isolation.

The other thing you're working on is also focusing through this on policy changes and particularly on these Police Officer Bills of Rights. Could you talk a little bit about that?

I think this work that we are engaging in is radical.... It is radical legislative shifts both at the state level and the local level. At the state level, there is this thing called the Police Officer Bill of Rights that provides law enforcement with what I call a blue wall of secrecy. An impenetrable blue wall. You can't know anything about officers, you can't know the details of an investigation, you don't know when a cop comes to your community, does he have a history, a record of utilizing brutality? The first thing that families say is, "Why? Why did this happen to my loved one?" We then move from the whys to the whats, and I often have to tell them, "I can't tell you that. No, you can't know the names of the officers. No, you can't know what is going on with the investigation because of this law, a state-wide law." And so, we are working on three pieces of legislation -- two that directly deal with that at the state level that would radically shift the way our bodies are policed.

Then, we are also doing a public information campaign because a lot of organizers and activists and families know that the Police Officer Bill of Rights exists, but don't really know what it is; it's written in legalese. We're doing a guide, a video series, and then we are going to do town halls around the state so people know what it is. Then, ideally, we will get it on the 2020 ballot to vote on repeal.

Talking about repealing things like that, what are some proactive policies that would help prevent these things rather than just have to respond to another person killed?

So, there are two.... One is an active bill right now. It is called AB 931 ... that would change the legal standard that cops can use to justify lethal force. It means they can no longer say, "I feared for my life" or shoot first and ask questions later. It means that they really could only do that when there was literally no other option and it would criminalize police officers who put themselves inside of a situation, i.e. jumping in front of a car and then do harm. So, that is one, you can change the standard that the state uses.

We also advocate for accountability. Cops kill, taxpayers in the city that they're in cover their civil suits. What would it look like to law enforcement if they had to cover that out of their pension fund, for instance? Then, there is also, at the local level, a strong divest/invest movement. So, in Oakland, for instance, the Oakland Police Department gets over 40 percent of the general fund, and then, on top of that, every year they clock millions of dollars of unauthorized budgetary spending in overtime. We are working to implement resolutions that would move those funds from law enforcement -- not all of them. Right now, we're starting with half, but they get 40 percent of the general budget. We want 25 percent to go into mental health issues, to go to restorative justice programs that don't rely on law enforcement to solve conflict.

So, you are running for Mayor of Oakland.

Oh my god. Yes.

Talk about how you made that decision.

The people asked me and for almost a year, I was getting inquiries on Facebook, I was getting inquiries from faith leaders, educators, "Cat, you should run. Cat, you should run," and I had no interest. I like my life and I like activism the way I was doing it. That said, I spend a lot of energy and time, and my organization spends a lot of energy and time pushing back on policies of the administration. The last three years have brought us nearly 3,000 people sleeping in the streets, a police department mired in a rape scandal and a musical chairs of chiefs. So, I really went "Okay"

I think that people ... call it the Trump Effect. People like me say, "What is happening to our country? What has happened to our communities?" and are ready to imagine a new way of governing and a new way of living. So, I said, "Yes."

I know you just made the announcement, but what are some of the things that are going to be key to your platform as you run?

So again, I want to reimagine community safety. What does it look like to not spend so many resources on law enforcement and spend more resources on communities? You can tell a city's morals and values by what they put their money into. What would it look like to develop budget priorities in process with community and communities could decide what we spend our money on?

There is a lot of chatter around sanctuary. What is sanctuary for all people? What would it look like for a city to have the real power to stop the harassment and intimidation of, yes, undocumented people, but also LGBTQIA people, Black people, Brown people and Indigenous people?

Education. Our city government and our school board government are completely disconnected. What does a closer partnership look like? Then, how do we protect our teachers? Teachers are being pushed out of the city because they can't afford to live here. Developing a teacher training and retention program and prioritizing affordable housing for our teachers. Those are a couple of the things, but we are going to spend the next six to eight weeks doing community town halls on a variety of issues and develop the platform with the people, because it is not the Cat Brooks campaign, it is the people's campaign.

How would it change, do you think, your relationship with the movement, to be in elected office?

That is the scariest part. I think that by and large, I am trusted by the community. I have a track record and I have deep relationships. Activists tend to have an antagonistic lean towards politicians, for good reason, and of course we've seen over and over again that we put our people in office and ... I don't know if there is a special brand of water that gets delivered to their homes, or what happens, but they turn into these people that we don't recognize.

I had a deep conversation with people before the campaign. I said, "Alright, y'all, if I do this?" and I am remaining in this conversation. We know that being in office is a trade-off, is a compromise in a way that I haven't had to do compromise before; but working in the next six months putting in ... that accountability measure. [To] my anarchist friends who tell me they'll still love me if I take office, I say, "You hold me accountable ... and I will be accountable to you." And that is collective governing, I guess. I don't see it as, "If I win, then I go in and I start making decisions." The same model that we're using developing the platform is how we govern, in partnership with the people.

Anything else you want people to know about your campaign, about the Justice Teams Network?

I think the part of the campaign I'm excited about is the organizing. When in Oakland we say that we have got 3,000 unhoused people on the streets -- they can vote. They don't need a physical address. All they need is an intersection. We are going to register and transport unhoused people to the polls. People that are sitting in Santa Rita Jail and North County Jail, if they're not actively on parole or have a felony conviction, they can vote. So, I am excited about that. Yes, it's going to be six months of organizing, not six months of campaigning. I think that that can be exciting.

How can people keep up with you and the Justice Teams Network and your campaign?

JusticeTeams.orgCatBrooksForOakland.com, and we are on Twitter [@JusticeTeamsNet] and Facebook.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.

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Categories: Latest News

Take the Money and Run: Trump Tax Cuts Boost Earnings of ALEC Corporations Which Promptly Layoff Workers

Wed, 05/09/2018 - 06:19
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Nine major publicly-traded corporations that are funders of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC), just reported earnings from the first quarter of 2018. Trump's recent massive corporate tax cuts were sold as a job creation mechanism, but rather than creating jobs, all nine companies reported layoffs that have recently taken place or are planned for 2018.

ALEC, global corporations, and state politicians vote behind closed doors to rewrite state laws that govern your rights. These so-called "model bills" reach into almost every area of American life and often directly benefit the corporations writing or voting on the legislation.

The federal Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017 -- pushed hard by the Koch Caucus in Congress -- lowered the federal income tax rate from 35 percent to 21 percent and the Trump Administration promised that the cuts would cause corporations to invest, expand, and hire new workers, as well as pay bonuses or increase wages.

The Center for Media and Democracy just concluded an analysis of nine companies that are major players in ALEC, showing that even with the tax cut, those corporations have laid off or will lay off employees. Comcast, for example, said it will save $128 million from the tax cut, and announced 500 layoffs. Caterpillar reported that it will pay 9 percent less in income taxes, but also announced it is closing facilities.

Eli Lilly reported that it lowered its corporate income tax rate by almost one-third but announced 3,500 layoffs at the end of 2017, layoffs that are still taking place. Energy companies are expected to be major beneficiaries of the tax cut; but two ALEC energy companies, Chevron, and Marathon Petroleum, reported large tax savings as well as layoffs for the year.

The Center for Media and Democracy did not cherry-pick companies to find those that announced both tax savings and layoffs. Excluded were coal companies, for example, such as ALEC members Dominion Resources and Peabody Energy, which are downsizing as coal sales continue to decline. Nor did we choose companies that saved money on income taxes because they lost money. The nine companies analyzed below all made large profits.

What the companies did with the profits was a corporate choice. In most cases companies bought back shares, a practice which then increases the earnings per share and the dividends paid to shareholders. The boards of these companies vote for these share repurchases, and directors which own large numbers of shares greatly benefit from this repurchasing.

Warren Buffett's Berkshire Hathaway has already made an extra $29 billion from the tax cut. Most of that is because his companies boosted dividends by repurchasing shares. Berkshire Hathaway owns the Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad, an ALEC company.

CMD has written that ALEC-member corporations laid off 12,000 workers in 2017.

Hundreds of billions of dollars in tax savings has not slowed the firings. And economist Dean Baker tells us the firms are failing to invest these tax dollars to expand their operations as promised.

Chevron: Chevron, like most oil companies, greatly benefited from the tax cut. Its earnings have grown and it has credited the tax cut as one reason for the increase.

So far, Chevron has announced 300 layoffs for this year.

The layoffs are partly due to a decision by the company to repurchase shares, thus boosting the earnings per share for wealthy shareholders. "There's still little evidence that the corporate tax benefits are finding their way to employees."

Marathon: Marathon Petroleum increased its earnings in the first quarter and its income taxes declined by almost half. The company, based in Houston, made share repurchases of $1.33 billion, again, like Chevron, a decision to increase dividends rather than expand operations and hiring (or invest in renewable energy).

"Houston energy companies have reported at least $20 billion in tax benefits from the recently enacted tax overhaul, but whatever savings the firms realize will likely go to well-heeled investors rather than support the local economy through hiring, pay raises and expansions."

Despite a tax-cut benefit and increased earnings Marathon has announced layoffs of employees.

Comcast: "1st quarter 2018 net income attributable to Comcast Corporation includes a $128 million net income tax benefit because of federal tax legislation enacted in 2018."

Before Christmas Comcast laid off 500 salespeople, even though it anticipated a tax savings in the first quarter 2018.

Verizon: Verizon paid $1.388 billion in income taxes in the first quarter 2018, compared to $1.629 billion for the comparable period in 2017. It is not known based on data provided by the company how much of that tax savings of $241 million is a result of the new tax cut bill, but Verizon earned substantially more in this year's first quarter; the taxes should have been higher, not lower. Company earnings in the first quarter were 23 percent higher than the first three months of 2017.

Verizon is closing some of it calling centers, resulting in the layoff of 3,000 employees.

Pfizer: Pfizer reported a quarterly earnings increase of 23 percent from one year ago, thanks in part "...to lower restructuring costs and a much-lower tax rate."

Pfizer has abandoned efforts to find drugs related to treating Alzheimer's and is set to lay-off 300 employees.

Times Warner: The company paid substantially lower income taxes in the first quarter 2018 vs. first quarter 2017. The company does not report how much was from the tax cut legislation or other factors, except to say it benefited from the cut. In the first quarter 2018 Times Warner increased its revenue by $261 million and its profit by 15%.

Times Warner has announced layoffs at many of its properties including CNN and Turner Broadcasting, but larger layoffs are expected if its merger with AT&T is approved by a case pending in federal court.

Eli Lilly: Pharmaceutical firm Eli Lilly, a director sponsor of ALEC's 2017 membership meeting, laid off 3,500 workers in the fourth quarter of 2017 (2,300 of whom took a buyout).

In its press release announcing its first quarter 2018 earnings, Lilly told investors: "The effective tax rate was 15.9 percent in the first quarter of 2018, compared with 21.2 percent in the first quarter of 2017. The lower effective tax rate for the first quarter of 2018 was primarily due to US tax reform enacted in December 2017..."

Caterpillar: Caterpillar reported an income tax decline of 9% in the first quarter 2018 relative to the same period in 2017.

Caterpillar is expected to close some facilities with an estimate of 800 layoffs.

Altria: Tobacco giant Altria reported a 30 percent increase in earnings per share for the first quarter 2018 relative to the same period one year ago. The company says, "...in the first quarter we benefited from a lower tax rate as a result of Federal income tax reform, something for which we long advocated." Altria repurchased $513 million in shares.

Altria has announced layoffs in Virginia.

Categories: Latest News

Iran Again in the Crosshairs as War Hawks Rejoice

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00

A woman passes a mural painted on the wall of the former US Embassy in Tehran, Iran. Donald Trump announced withdrawal from the Iran nuclear deal on May 9, 2018. US (Photo: Fatemeh Bahrami / Anadolu Agency / Getty Images)

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After Donald Trump finished sloughing his way through a piteously thin explanation for withdrawing the US from the Iran nuclear deal on Tuesday afternoon, he slumped his way to the door, looking for all the world like an old hound badly in need of a nap ... where he was greeted by newly minted national security adviser John Bolton, who was smiling under his mustache like some feral Cheshire cat.

If you are wondering why the US just bailed on a deal that made the world a safer place, Bolton the avowed regime changer and the promise of war to come explain much of it. He has been craving a war with Iran for six presidential administrations and counting, and is now in a better position to exert his will over foreign policy than ever before. Back in the George W. Bush days, his lies had to filter up through several superiors before reaching the president's ears. Now, he's in the big round room with the man himself, footloose and filter-free.

Among other very bad things, dumping this deal drives a huge wedge between the US and its European allies. Europe could choose to continue working with Iran within the mechanisms of the deal, except Trump made it clear that secondary sanctions would be levied against any country that did so. Vladimir Putin, who has wanted to see the end of NATO since time out of mind is very pleased right now.

Kim Jong Un likely watched the proceedings on Tuesday with a gimlet eye. On the eve of his alleged meeting with Trump over North Korea's nuclear weapons program, this sudden shredding of a functional deal with Iran must be giving him pause. Why on Earth would he, or anyone else for that matter, enter into an agreement with the United States if this is how such deals wind up?

Fear not, however. Disgraced Lt. Colonel and soon-to-be National Rifle Association president Oliver North is fully behind Mr. Trump's decision to withdraw from the Iran deal. There is a gruesome symmetry to North's support and sudden media prominence: The man who was caught red-handed illegally selling war weapons to the Iranian regime is now joining the NRA's efforts to sell war weapons to the American people. This time, however, the loot from those sales won't be used to fund an illegal war in Central America, but will instead fund Republican congressional campaigns from sea to shining sea. Ain't progress grand?

History is grinding together right now like ball bearings in a blender, so we should pause a moment to recall how we got here. Remember all that Bush-era blather about "bringing democracy to the Mideast" by way of invasion, war and plunder? As it happens, Iran had a vibrant democracy cooking not so long ago, and a forward-thinking one at that, until the West destroyed it for oil.

Before 1951, the West had complete control of Iran's oil riches by way of the Anglo-Persian Oil Company (now known as British Petroleum). The leadership of Iran deferred to the West in all things, until a genuinely democratic revolution saw the election of Mohammad Mosaddegh to the office of prime minister in 1951.

Mosaddegh sought and implemented a number of progressive reforms, including a form of Social Security, rent control and broader rights for citizens. Ultimately, he authored his own political doom when he nationalized Iran's oil resources. This did not sit well with Britain and the United States.

Swiftly, British Intelligence and the CIA deployed what became known as Operation Ajax, a plot to overthrow Mosaddegh and regain control of Iran's oil supply. In 1953, Mosaddegh was overthrown and eventually replaced with a West-friendly leader named Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, also known as the Shah. Any semblance of Mosaddegh's democratic reforms were swept away almost overnight. The Iranian people fell back into a state of oppression under the Shah. Mohammad Mosaddegh died in 1967.

The cork finally popped in 1979 when Pahlavi was overthrown during the Iranian Revolution, US embassy staff were taken hostage for 444 days and -- perhaps worst of all from a US perspective -- the government of Iran under the Ayatollah Khomeini aligned itself with the Soviet Union in the Cold War game of thrones playing out throughout the Middle East.

This is where Oliver North enters the conversation. During the Reagan administration, Iran and Iraq were engaged in a brutal war, with the Soviets backing the Ayatollah while the United States armed and funded Saddam Hussein. Simultaneously, the Reagan administration wanted to wage a secret war in Central America on the side of the right-wing Contras in Nicaragua and Honduras, but Congress had forbidden the administration from doing so via the Boland Amendment.

The US had been Iran's largest arms supplier during the Shah's reign, but President Jimmy Carter had instituted an arms embargo after the Revolution, one that President Ronald Reagan reaffirmed upon taking office. In 1981, National Security Council member Oliver North and a cohort of government officials that included CIA Director William Casey undertook a scheme to get around the congressional ban on Contra funding by selling missiles to Iran through various cutouts and using the cash to help the Contras.

A number of missile sales took place until the whole thing nearly exploded the Reagan administration in 1986. Congressional hearings were called and famously played for days on live television. Former Senator John Tower of Texas, former Secretary of State Edmund Muskie and former National Security Advisor Brent Scowcroft released what was called the Tower Commission Report detailing what took place during the scandal. Ultimately, however, nothing significant came of what can easily be described as one of the darkest scandals in US political history.

Oliver North was indicted on 16 felonies, among which were obstruction of justice and destruction of evidence, and was ultimately convicted of three, but those convictions were later vacated and dismissed because other witnesses may have been unduly affected by his immunized testimony before Congress. The ACLU assisted North in this endeavor.

To sum up: Iran's organic democracy was crushed in 1953 when Britain and the US launched a plot to regain control of their oil stores. A pro-Western regime was installed to keep that oil flowing until the 1979 Revolution turned everything sideways. Two years later, Oliver North started selling missiles to Iran and used the revenues to help kill nuns in Central America until he got busted. Flash forward 30 years, and soon-to-be NRA president North is once again in the arms trade, cheerleading a feckless president who is edging us closer to war with the country North once sold weapons to in defiance of the law.

The demise of the Iran nuclear deal has given John Bolton what he wanted, provided Trump with fodder for his base, pleased Russia, confused North Korea, exacerbated tensions with Iran and throughout the Middle East, re-introduced Oliver North as a person whose opinion carries weight and made an already chaotic world less safe. Just another day at the office.

Categories: Latest News

Medea Benjamin: The Peace Movement Must Mobilize to Support Diplomacy in Iran and North Korea

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00

President Trump announced Tuesday he is pulling the United States out of the landmark 2015 Iran nuclear deal, brokered by his predecessor, President Obama. That same day, Trump's new Secretary of State Mike Pompeo flew to North Korea to finalize plans for President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un to hold a landmark face-to-face meeting. For more on President Trump, the Iran nuclear deal and efforts to avoid nuclear proliferation and nuclear war, we speak with Media Benjamin, co-founder of CodePink, author of "Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran." She has also participated in the peace delegation to North Korea, Women Cross DMZ.

TRANSCRIPT 

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, Medea, I wanted to ask you -- you were very involved in the peace movement against the Iraq War. I'm wondering what your sense is of what needs to be done now to prevent a further deterioration of relationships between the United States and Iran, and what you think the peace movement should do, especially in light of the fact that some polls show as much as 63 percent of the American people believe the pact with Iran should be maintained.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, that's right. And we have to mobilize that public opinion, Juan. We've put out a letter to the people of Iran, an apology from the American people. We'd like hundreds of thousands of people to sign that. It's up on the CodePink.org website. We're reaching out to Iranians as people-to-people ties. We're also reaching out to our colleagues in Europe to see how we can strengthen their efforts and actually impose sanctions on the United States.

We have to push our Congress to be speaking out against what Trump has done, and change the Congress come November. We have to tell the Iranians and the world community that Trump is hopefully not long to be in the White House, and that we want to get someone in there and people in Congress who will represent the American people, who, as you say, overwhelmingly are in support of the Iran nuclear deal and certainly don't want another war in the Middle East.

We've seen how devastating the last 16 years have been to the people in the region, but also to our own economy. And we see right now, even from what Trump has done, the price of oil going up. And this is going to affect every single American. So we need to mobilize people -- left, right, independent -- to stop Trump from taking us into war with Iran. And I --

AMY GOODMAN: I want to also -- go ahead.

MEDEA BENJAMIN: One last thing, just to say that there will be no solutions to any of the conflicts in the Middle East without Iran. We need Iran to work together to end the violence, the conflicts in the Middle East, in general.

AMY GOODMAN: So, also want to talk about what this means for North Korea, when the president of the United States pulls out of a pact, this multi-country pact with Iran. I want to go back to Trump speaking yesterday.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Today's action sends a critical message: The United States no longer makes empty threats. When I make promises, I keep them. In fact, at this very moment, Secretary Pompeo is on his way to North Korea in preparation for my upcoming meeting with Kim Jong-un. Plans are being made. Relationships are building. Hopefully a deal will happen, and, with the help of China, South Korea and Japan, a future of great prosperity and security can be achieved for everyone.

AMY GOODMAN: So, President Trump says, "When I make promises, I keep them." When the U.S. makes promises, he breaks them. What does this mean, Medea Benjamin, for North Korea? You've also been extremely involved in trying to fight for peace on the Korean Peninsula. You were part of Women Cross the DMZ. What message is this sending on the eve of, apparently, this summit that will take place between Kim Jong-un and Trump?

MEDEA BENJAMIN: Well, it certainly sends a message that Trump cannot be trusted. It sends the message to the world community, though, that you are in a better position to negotiate if you already have nuclear weapons, so you better get them quickly.

It also -- I think we have to recognize that one of the saving graces around the issues of Korea is the people of South Korea and how much they have mobilized and how much pressure there is from the South to have a deal. I'm on my way to South Korea with Women Cross the DMZ at the end of this month to meet with those groups. And I think, at least in the case of the Korean Peninsula, the North and South, no matter what Donald Trump, are determined to come to a peace deal.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we're going to leave it there, as we move on to the primaries that took place in four states around the country, who won and who lost. We want to thank Medea Benjamin. Her book is Inside Iran: The Real History and Politics of the Islamic Republic of Iran. And thank you to Trita Parsi of the National Iranian American Council. This is Democracy Now! Of course, we'll continue to cover the fallout from the U.S. pulling out of the Iran nuclear agreement. Stay with us.

Categories: Latest News

Winners and Losers From Tuesday's Primaries

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00

Voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina headed to the polls Tuesday to decide a number of key primaries. In West Virginia, the state's Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a closely watched US Senate primary, defeating US Rep. Evan Jenkins and former coal baron Don Blankenship. Blankenship had served a year in prison after 29 miners died in the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. He faced intense criticism after releasing an ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his "China family." Patrick Morrisey will now face the conservative Democratic Sen. Joe Manchin in November. In Ohio, Richard Cordray defeated former Congressmember Dennis Kucinich in the state's Democratic primary for governor. Cordray served as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He will now face Mike DeWine in November to determine who will replace outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich. In Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence's brother Greg Pence won the Republican primary for a congressional seat in eastern Indiana. Female candidates were also big winners on Tuesday. According to Politico, there were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot Tuesday, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of them. In Ohio, Rachel Crooks, one of at least 19 women who have accused President Trump of sexual harassment and assault, won an uncontested primary for a seat in the state's House of Representatives. For more, we speak with Tim Murphy, a senior reporter at Mother Jones, and Kevin Robillard, senior political reporter for HuffPost.

TRANSCRIPT

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Voters in West Virginia, Ohio, Indiana and North Carolina headed to the polls Tuesday to decide a number of key primaries. In West Virginia, the state's Republican Attorney General Patrick Morrisey won a closely watched U.S. Senate primary, defeating U.S. Representative Evan Jenkins and former coal baron Don Blankenship. Blankenship had served a year in prison after 29 miners died in the 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine disaster. He faced intense criticism after releasing an ad attacking Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his, quote, "China family." Patrick Morrisey will now face the conservative Democratic Senator Joe Manchin in November.

In Ohio, Richard Cordray defeated former Congressmember Dennis Kucinich in the state's Democratic primary for governor. Cordray served as the first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He will now face Mike DeWine in November to determine who will replace outgoing Ohio Governor John Kasich.

AMY GOODMAN: In Indiana, Vice President Mike Pence's brother, Greg Pence, won the Republican primary for the congressional seat in eastern Indiana that was once, well, Vice President Pence's.

Female candidates were also big winners Tuesday. According to Politico, there were 20 open Democratic House primaries with women on the ballot, and voters selected a female nominee in 17 of those 20 races. In Ohio, Rachel Crooks, one of at least 19 women who have accused President Trump of sexual harassment and assault, won an uncontested primary for a seat in the state's House of Representatives.

To talk more about these races and other primary results, we're joined by two guests. In New York, Tim Murphy, he's a senior reporter at Mother Jones. His latest story is headlined "Donald Trump's Attacks on the Justice System Are Helping This Ex-Con Coal Baron's Campaign." And in Washington, we're joined by Kevin Robillard, senior political reporter for HuffPost.

Tim, I want to begin with you in West Virginia, because while Don Blankenship did not win, the man who went to prison related to the deaths of 29 miners at one of his Massey Energy coal mines, he did rock the Republican Party. And I wanted to go right now to his ad. This is one of Don Blankenship's ads where he attacked the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell, and his so-called China family. McConnell, who has opposed Blankenship's Senate run, is married to Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao.

DON BLANKENSHIP: Hi. I'm Don Blankenship, candidate for U.S. Senate, and I approve this message. Swamp Captain Mitch McConnell has created millions of jobs for China people. While doing so, Mitch has gotten rich. In fact, his China family has given him tens of millions of dollars. Mitch's swamp people are now running false negative ads against me. They are also childishly calling me "despicable" and "mentally ill." The war to drain the swamp and create jobs for West Virginia people has begun. I will beat Joe Manchin and ditch Cocaine Mitch, for the sake of the kids.

AMY GOODMAN: "Cocaine Mitch" and the "China family." And Elaine Chao's father, he referred to as the "China person." Now, you might just say, "Well, he lost. That's the point." But this was very significant in Republican politics.

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, and it's important to note that Don Blankenship lost last night, but these kinds of attacks and this kind of campaign has worked for Republicans in the recent past. You don't have to look any further than President Donald Trump. It worked for Roy Moore, to a point. And there's reason to think it will work again. Don Blankenship happened to be uniquely fatally flawed for a state like West Virginia. He had just come out of federal prison. His probation --

AMY GOODMAN: Wasn't he hated?

TIM MURPHY: He has described himself as the most hated man in Mingo County, which, ironically, was one of only four counties that he actually won last night, on the Republican side. So he was, you know, uniquely situated to lose this primary. The fact that it got as close as it did --

AMY GOODMAN: You said, "His probation…"?

TIM MURPHY: His probation period ends on Wednesday, so he can finally drive outside of the state of West Virginia if he wishes to. And he was a longtime resident of Las Vegas, until he came back to run for Senate. So, perhaps he'll return home. So, this has worked for Republicans in the past, and it might work for them again. And the fact that Blankenship came as close as he did, you know, and threw the Republican Party into crisis mode, suggests that this is a really deep-seated problem.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But wasn't part of that that he had a few million dollars of his own money to throw into the campaign, because, otherwise, he wouldn't be able to mount all these television ads and all of the social media ads that he also mounted?

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, and that gets into this kind of, you know, new Trumpian era of the Republican Party. Blankenship left Massey Energy in 2011 with an $86 million golden parachute. He loaned his campaign about $2 million, and he spent that on some of the lowest-quality campaign ads that you'll ever see. So, he just pumped in, you know, ad after ad after ad, all basically on the level of what you just saw. If it wasn't "Cocaine Mitch," it was attacking his opponents, it was attacking President Obama, African-American judges, you name it.

AMY GOODMAN: He refers to "Negroes," not "African Americans."

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, he referred to that in one of these interviews. And he also, you know, ran an ad where he just showed the faces of the judges on the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals who upheld his conviction, four African-American judges, just so people knew.

AMY GOODMAN: Now, he is not -- he's saying it's not that he referred to the "China family" or "Cocaine Mitch." He is saying it's because Trump refused to endorse him.

TIM MURPHY: Yeah. And when Trump came out and said, "Vote for anybody else," Blankenship went out and said, "Well, I'm Trumpier than Trump." You know, it turns out, Republican voters maybe didn't want to go Trumpier than Trump. And I think, at the end of the day, that probably made a pretty big difference. It wasn't that his opponents really went after him, because up until the final days they didn't really touch Don Blankenship at all.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, I'd like to bring in Kevin Robillard into the discussion. Your big takeaway from yesterday's voting around the country, and especially the Ohio race, with Richard Cordray and Dennis Kucinich, two stalwarts of the sort of progressive or liberal wing of the Democratic Party going head to head against each other?

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah, that race, a lot of people thought, was going to be quite close. It ended up basically being pretty much a romp by Cordray. He even won in Cuyahoga County, which is Kucinich's home county, that includes the city of Cleveland. So, really, it really ended up being Cordray was sort of backed by elements of the left and, you could probably say, the Democratic establishment in the state. He had the backing of Elizabeth Warren, the Massachusetts senator who, obviously, came up with the idea for the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. He also had the backing of former Ohio Governor Ted Strickland, who was the last Democrat to get elected governor. Kucinich had the backing of Our Revolution, which is sort of the political group that came out of Bernie Sanders's campaign, but not of Bernie Sanders himself, which may have made a difference here.

But, really, it ended up being a pretty big sweep by Cordray, and really just shows the Democratic establishment is still pretty good at winning these gubernatorial primaries. At this point they've won the last several in a row, dating back to last year's Virginia gubernatorial race. And they also won in New Jersey and in Illinois recently. So, really, it shows that the Democratic establishment still has a pretty big hold on these Democratic primaries, and that, for the most part, all this liberal energy we're seeing hasn't necessarily translated into wins for sort of the most progressive candidates on the ballot. No one is saying that Richard Cordray isn't progressive, but clearly Dennis Kucinich was sort of on the left of him.

AMY GOODMAN: Dennis Kucinich ran along with Akron City Councilwoman Tara Samples, who is African-American, to be his lieutenant governor. But I want to turn to Richard Cordray delivering his victory speech last night.

RICHARD CORDRAY: I've spent my entire career fighting for Ohio consumers, retirees and families. I've taken on powerful interests and gotten your money back when people mistreated you or tried to take advantage of you. Meanwhile, Mike DeWine has been serving those at the top, enabling powerful interests to have their way in Washington, and now in Columbus. Instead of being an advocate, he let Ohioans be taken advantage of for too long, costing us too much and undermining our future.

AMY GOODMAN: That was Richard Cordray, who you may remember was first director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Let's go on, Kevin Robillard, to other major races and also the significance of, in the Democratic primaries across these four states, 17 of 20 women who ran won.

KEVIN ROBILLARD: [inaudible] how much being a woman is now an advantage in a Democratic primary. The party has been trending that way for a few years now, but this has really -- this year has really came into its own. If you look, you can go back to the first round of primaries in Illinois and Texas, you saw some similar results there. And really, it shows that much of the energy in the Democratic Party right now is sort of related to the Women's March, is related to the defeat of Hillary Clinton. And it's sort of interesting how now a woman in a Democratic primary sort of symbolizes change in a way that when Hillary Clinton was running, they almost ended up symbolizing the status quo. So, that shift has been really significant, and it's really helped a lot of women candidates win their Democratic primaries around the country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Kevin, I wanted to ask you about a race in North Carolina that may be considered a minor race but really has perhaps major implications in Durham, the race for sheriff, where the candidate who pledged not to cooperate with ICE ended up winning and possibly will now become the first African-American county sheriff in Durham.

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah, that's really interesting. What we've seen a lot of is progressive energy being put toward sort of, basically, law enforcement positions. This is a sheriff's race in North Carolina, where the incumbent Democrat had worked with the Trump administration, had worked with ICE. The new -- the person who won and will likely win in November -- Durham is a pretty Democratic area -- has pledged not to cooperate with ICE.

We've also seen this in district attorney primaries throughout the country, in Philadelphia last year. I think we could see it coming up next month. There are a series of primaries in California where there are number of progressives running for district attorney positions. It's been a really interesting place to see where this energy has gone. You've seen groups like the ACLU, you've seen George Soros, who's obviously a big liberal donor, has gotten involved in some of these fights. And it's a place where progressives are really making some progress, ousting more established Democrats, in a way that they aren't necessarily doing a little bit further up the ballot, say, at the gubernatorial or Senate level.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, let's go to hear the winner of the Durham sheriff's race, Clarence Birkhead, speaking last night after winning the primary.

CLARENCE BIRKHEAD: We have to do everything we can possibly do to keep our families together, to not cooperate with ICE. That work starts today. We have to do everything we can possibly do to clean up our jail, to treat individuals who are incarcerated with humanity and dignity, make sure they have the services they need. We're going to keep our Durham safe, get guns off the street, work together for a new Durham, a safe Durham for everyone.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was Clarence Birkhead, speaking last night after winning the primary that will likely propel him to become the first African-American Durham County sheriff. And the importance in terms of a state like North Carolina, also possibly states like Georgia and Alabama, that have seen -- not only have large African-American populations, but have seen influxes in recent years of a considerable number of people from Latin America, of immigrants from Latin America, into those states, Kevin?

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah, it's really been interesting, and it's sort of a way for -- again, for sort of at a very low level, to fight back against some of the Trump administration's immigration policies. And I think you're starting to see that sort of alliance come together, or coalition come together, to basically fight these policies at the local level. And this is one example of that.

AMY GOODMAN: And talk about what happened in Indiana, Kevin.

KEVIN ROBILLARD: Yeah. So, in Indiana, there were sort of two big takeaways. First, there was Greg Pence, who's obviously the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, won his brother's congressional seat pretty easily, basically walked into the seat, didn't really seem to do much campaigning or many media interviews.

The other big race in Indiana was the Senate primary to see who's going to take on Democratic Senator Joe Donnelly in the fall. That was won by Mike Braun, who is a sort of a former state legislator but really has built his career in business. He ran as sort of a miniaturized version of Trump, in some ways. He's not nearly as sort of bombastic as Trump is, doesn't have the penchant for saying sort of as many crazy things as Trump does, but definitely said, you know, "I'm here to support the Trump agenda. I'm an outsider like Trump."

The other big takeaway from that is that he beat two sitting congressmen. This was actually a really bad night for sitting members of Congress who were running for higher races. Both in Indiana, two lost. Rep. Evan Jenkins lost in West Virginia. And in Ohio, Congressman Jim Renacci won the Republican nomination for Senate, but did it pretty underwhelmingly. He didn't manage to break 50 percent of the vote.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Murphy, let's go back to West Virginia, very quickly. Talk about Richard Ojeda, the pro-marijuana, pro-coal Democrat, who voted for Trump, and now regrets it. He won the Democratic primary for a congressional seat in West Virginia. This is a clip from a report that you did, Tim.

RICHARD OJEDA: We haven't had anybody in Washington, D.C., in quite some time that's actualy fought for the 3rd Congressional District. We haven't. We're a state that is broke. We're not really a state, we're a colony. Everything that we've ever had in this state has been sent out of West Virginia to make other people millionaires and billionaires, and the people of West Virginia have always been poor.

AMY GOODMAN: Tim Murphy, your comment?

TIM MURPHY: Yeah, Richard Ojeda, you know, at first glance, almost looks like kind of a unicorn in Democratic politics. He's pro-gun. He's pro-coal. He got elected to a seat that President Donald Trump carried by about -- you know, he won with like 70 percent of the vote in 2016. But he is riding a really significant wave in West Virginia and sort of across the country. He was at the vanguard of the teachers' strike last winter. He was sort of, you know, the Paul Revere of the teachers' strike, gave a big floor speech in January that signaled that this was something that was on the horizon. He's gotten a lot of momentum from teachers in West Virginia. He's led the push, you know, for more teacher pay. He's also led the push to build a marijuana industry in the state. So he is running on a real kind of populist wave that sort of offers a counter to a lot of what we've seen from President Trump.

AMY GOODMAN: And he won.

TIM MURPHY: And he won his primary.

AMY GOODMAN: The Democratic primary. Well, we're going to leave it there, continue, of course, to follow election politics. Tim Murphy is senior reporter at Mother Jones. Thanks so much. And I also want to thank our guest Kevin Robillard, who is with HuffPost.

In breaking news, President Trump says North Korea has released three Americans imprisoned in North Korea. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will return with them to the United States.

That does it for our show. By the way, Democracy Now! is accepting applications for our paid video production fellowships, as well as a variety of paid internships. Find out more at democracynow.org. Also, I'll be speaking at UC Santa Cruz in California on May 17th along with Daniel Ellsberg. Check our website at democracynow.org.

Categories: Latest News

"This Thing Is Ugly -- and It's Going to Get Worse": Daniels' Lawyer Challenges Trump and Cohen Over Russian Money

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00
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Michael Avenatti upended the entire narrative around the Stormy Daniels case against President Donald Trump Tuesday evening when he provided documents suggesting that his client's complaint is actually tied to charges of potential Russian collusion by the Trump campaign.

After he released the document, which claims that Trump's lawyer Michael Cohen received $500,000 from a company tied to a Russian oligarch after the election, Avenatti appeared on MSNBC's "The Last Word" with host Lawrence O'Donnell to offer a challenge to the president and his attorney. The money, Avenatti said, was sent to the same shell company that Cohen set up to pay his client.

"Michael Cohen, if you're watching this, authorize your attorneys to release the bank statements, the source documentation from this account to the American people, to the media, so that people can get to the bottom of this. And to the extent that we haven't been accurate about something, then they can prove it up," Avenatti said. "But Lawrence, that's not going to happen."

He continued: "This thing is ugly -- and it's gonna get worse for the president and for Michael Cohen. And it doesn't matter how many times they send out Rudy Giuliani to call us names, call me an 'ambulance chaser,' do everything in his power to distract away from the facts."

Categories: Latest News

The Terrible Risks of No Good Guys With Guns

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00

©Andrews McMeel Syndication

Categories: Latest News

"Despicable on Every Level": After Massive Gift to Rich, Trump Demands $7 Billion Cut to Child Health Insurance

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00

President Donald Trump pumps his fist during an event to celebrate Congress passing the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act with Republican members of the House and Senate on the South Lawn of the White House December 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo: Chip Somodevilla / Getty Images)

Months after ramming through deficit-exploding tax cuts for billionaires and large corporations, President Donald Trump and the GOP are now looking for programs to slash to make up the difference -- and they're starting with children's healthcare.

According to a Washington Post report late Monday, Trump is "sending a plan to Congress that calls for stripping more than $15 billion in previously approved spending," $7 billion of which would come from the broadly popular Children's Health Insurance Program (CHIP).

"Not much surprises me anymore in American politics. But this is despicable on every level," wrote Rep. Barbara Lee in response to Trump's proposed cuts. "But this is despicable on every level."

The #GOPTaxScam gave a trillion dollars to billionaires & massive corporations. Now, Republicans want to gut the Children’s Health Insurance Program to pay for it.

Not much surprises me anymore in American politics. But this is despicable on every level. https://t.co/8KhY2xz4OM

— Rep. Barbara Lee (@RepBarbaraLee) May 7, 2018

Described by one Trump administration official as "the biggest rescission request that has ever been sent to Congress," the proposal needs a mere majority in both the House and Senate to pass.

Speaking with the Post on Monday, Rep. Mark Walker (R-NC) said the Trump administration has assured Republicans that this package of spending cuts is just the first of many.

As the Post reported, CHIP and is just one over over 30 programs the White House is moving to slash.

After handing out giant tax cuts to the rich & big corps, #Trump, in an effort to appease radical conservatives, wants to take healthcare away from many kids to cover some portion of the $2T increased national debt created by the #TrumpTaxScam. https://t.co/JWTeqcOc42

— For Tax Fairness (@4TaxFairness) May 8, 2018

"This proposal is a shameful betrayal of children," Sen. Bob Casey (D-Penn.) wrote in response to reports of Trump's proposal. "This administration and congressional Republicans passed a massive tax giveaway to their donors and big corporations, and now they want vulnerable children to pay for it."

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Categories: Latest News

A Prisoner in Gina Haspel's Black Site

Tue, 05/08/2018 - 21:00

While most of her career as a CIA operative remains secret, newly available documents shed light on a pivotal moment in the career of President Donald Trump's choice to head the nation’s spy agency, Gina Haspel. Her nomination has already revived the country's unresolved debate over interrogation methods that many experts consider torture.

Gina Haspel arrives to testify before the Senate Intelligence Committee on her nomination to be the next CIA director in the Hart Senate Office Building on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on May 9, 2018. (Photo: Mandel Ngan / AFP / Getty Images)

He was a small man, one interrogator recalled, and so thin that he would slip in his restraints when the masked CIA guards tipped the waterboard upward to let him breathe.

Abd al-Rahim al-Nashiri, a 37-year-old Saudi, did not deny having been a terrorist operative for Osama bin Laden. He admitted his role in the bombing of the USS Cole in 2000, an attack that killed 17 Navy sailors. Captured two years later in Dubai, he talked openly about planning more attacks.

But any bravado had disappeared well before Nashiri's CIA captors strapped him naked to a hospital gurney in a windowless white cell and began pouring water into his nose and mouth until he felt he was drowning. He pleaded with them to stop. They continued.

They "were going to get the truth out of him," the interrogator told Nashiri, according to a previously undisclosed CIA cable. "They were going to do this again, and again, and again until he decided to be truthful."

More than 15 years after Gina Haspel oversaw the questioning of Nashiri at a secret prison in Thailand, she will go before the Senate on Wednesday to seek confirmation as President Donald Trump's choice to become the next director of the CIA.

While her nomination has already revived the country's unresolved debate over interrogation methods that many experts consider torture, nearly everything Haspel has done in her long CIA career has remained secret, blotted out by the black ink that obscures classified information in public records.

But a trove of partially declassified CIA documents, released earlier this year in response to a Freedom of Information Act request and provided to ProPublica, offers a glimpse at one coercive interrogation she is known to have supervised.

Those records describe how Nashiri was slammed repeatedly against a wall, locked up in a tiny "confinement box" and told (inaccurately) that the black-clad security officers guarding him were Navy sailors who would pummel him if he did not divulge his secrets. One interrogator told Nashiri he needed to be "tenderized" like a piece of meat.

As Haspel prepares for confirmation hearings before the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence, the question is not whether her past will haunt her, but whether she can persuasively argue that her experience with harsh interrogations has convinced her not to allow their use again.

"She has told senators in her meetings with them that the CIA will not renew a detention and interrogation program under any circumstances," a CIA spokesman said.

The Trump administration's pitch for Haspel has not been straightforward. The president, who campaigned on a promise that he would bring back waterboarding and "a heck of a lot worse," complained in a tweet on Monday morning that Democrats were opposing Haspel because "she was too tough on Terrorists."

"Win Gina!" he exhorted her.

The agency itself, which generally prides itself on avoiding politics, has taken an unusually active and open role in lobbying for Haspel's candidacy. On Monday, the CIA delivered a fuller set of classified records to the Senate, inviting senators to read a detailed history of Haspel's career in secure rooms on Capitol Hill. But the agency has thus far declassified almost no substantive information about her work as an operations officer or senior official.

"Nominees will say practically anything to get confirmed," Sen. Ron Wyden of Oregon, a Democratic member of the intelligence committee, said in an interview. "I believe the American people have a right to know who this nominee is. I believe there is a significant amount of information about the key period, from 2002 to 2007, which can be declassified without compromising our country's security."

To provide a fuller picture, ProPublica interviewed current and former officials and reviewed thousands of pages of documents, including some that had not previously been made public. This story focuses on Haspel's CIA career and her brief experience leading one of the agency's so-called black sites. A second article will examine her role in the agency's 2005 destruction of 92 interrogation videotapes that were recorded before and during her time at the secret prison in Thailand.

Agency colleagues cast her role in both the tapes affair and the interrogation program as evidence of her consummate loyalty -- not only to her boss, but to CIA officers who served in clandestine prisons around the world. But her personal views on such issues as the morality and effectiveness of brutal interrogation methods have remained opaque.

For several years, former officials said, she was deeply involved in the agency's fight against al-Qaida, often working closely with the detention program. Later, she held top posts in the Clandestine Service when the agency waged an extraordinary campaign to try to refute a scathing report on the program by the Senate intelligence committee. The vehemence of those challenges led both Democrats and Republicans to question the CIA's own reckoning with the mistakes it made.

According to one intelligence official, it was Haspel's bona fides as a front-line veteran of the campaign against al-Qaida that helped win Trump's admiration early on in his presidency, when he named her the agency's deputy director. "He likes the idea that she was a risk-taker," the official said.

At the same time, many of the former CIA officials who have rallied to support her nomination say privately that it is because of Trump's often-unbridled impulses to action that the leadership of a sober operations professional -- and especially one reluctant to put her officers at risk -- could serve as a crucial restraint.

Haspel would be the first woman to run the agency and the first operations officer since Richard Helms in the 1970s. But even she has at times seemed ambivalent about the idea.

As debate over her candidacy intensified late last week, officials said she had offered to withdraw if the debate over her candidacy might draw the CIA into a damaging new controversy over its interrogations after 9/11. At the urging of the White House, she later agreed to go forward, officials said.

***

In a gauzy biographical sketch, the agency has portrayed Haspel as a proud native Kentuckian, one of five children who grew up on military bases overseas while their father served in the Air Force. It describes her as a passionate fan of the University of Kentucky Wildcats and the country-music legend Johnny Cash, who stares down at visitors from a 5-foot poster on her office wall.

One of the few operations the agency disclosed in any detail is surely among her least controversial: She helped arrange a telephone call between then-President Ronald Reagan and Mother Theresa, who was concerned about a wheat shortage in an African nation where Haspel was stationed in the late 1980s.

Of her three decades of professional work as a CIA operative, midlevel manager and senior official, the agency has offered a list of vague titles like "deputy group chief" and "senior-level supervisor." None of them reveal much about the work she did.

Haspel, now 61, joined the CIA in 1985, some seven years after graduating from the University of Louisville with an honors degree in journalism and languages.

The agency's Directorate of Operations, where she began, was an environment that many women at the time found challenging, if not inhospitable. Many of the D.O. bosses believed that women were generally less effective than men at recruiting agents overseas -- the crucial task of undercover case officers.

(In 1994, the CIA settled a series of gender-discrimination lawsuits that about one-third of the women in the directorate were reported to have agreed to join as a class action. The agency spokesman said he did not know and could not comment on whether Haspel was among them.)

Haspel did not strike colleagues as a woman who was uncomfortable in the gung-ho, macho environment of the D.O. After her childhood exposure to the military, she had also worked after college running the library and language lab for an Army special forces detachment at Fort Devens, Massachusetts.

"She's pretty steely," one former agency official said. "She's smart and good and effective, but probably not who you'd ask out for a beer."

In the waning years of the Cold War, Haspel shipped out to Africa as a case officer, work that she described in the agency biography as being "right out of a spy novel." She later became chief of a small agency station in "an exotic and tumultuous capital" overseas, where she was credited with helping to organize the capture of two suspects wanted for the 1998 bombing of two US embassies in Africa.

Before 9/11, Haspel requested a transfer to the CTC, as the agency's Counterterrorism Center is known, a unit that brought together undercover operatives like Haspel with intelligence analysts and other specialists. After the attacks, the CTC would grow exponentially, becoming a dominant power center within the Directorate of Operations.

According to one colleague who worked with her, she was also quick to absorb the anger of the most ardent CTC veterans -- including some who shared a deep sense of guilt at having failed to act more effectively to prevent the 9/11 attacks. "It was, `Get the bastards,'" the officer recalled. "She was on that side of the quotient."

There, Haspel quickly won the trust of Jose Rodriguez, a hard-charging former head of the agency's Latin America Division who became the CTC's chief of operations and then, in mid-2002, its director.

The challenges of counterterrorism work suited her, colleagues said. In the intense, almost frenzied environment, she was unflappable. "She never said no to an assignment," one former colleague recalled. "If there was a problem, she'd throw a huge effort at it and fix it."

The CIA would not disclose Haspel's specific responsibilities during the two years after the 9/11 attacks, other than to say she was the deputy chief of a group within the CTC.

In the summer of 2002, in the months before Haspel went to Thailand to oversee the black site there known as the "Cat's Eye," the CTC had been consumed with its first "enhanced interrogation," that of a Palestinian militant known as Abu Zubaydah.

The interrogation methods approved by the Justice Department for Zubaydah became the basis for a menu of coercive techniques that was later used on other "high-value" detainees -- those who were believed to know about active terror plots. They included prolonged sleep deprivation; stress positions; confining the prisoner inside small, wooden boxes; slamming him into a plywood wall; and waterboarding.

Zubaydah's interrogation was led by the two former military psychologists, James Mitchell and J. Bruce Jessen, who as private consultants helped to devise the CIA's methods.

Having worked for years in military survival programs, the two men focused on a method they had seen "break" countless American commandoes who were being trained to resist interrogation: the waterboard. Over a 17-day period, the two psychologists subjected Zubaydah to the simulated drowning procedure 83 times, CIA cables show, as he gagged, vomited, became "hysterical" and suffered "involuntary spasms of the torso and extremities."

The treatment shook some of the CIA officers who witnessed it, declassified documents show. "Several on the team profoundly affected … some to the point of tears and choking up," one of them wrote on Aug. 8.

Members of the CIA team warned officials at the agency's headquarters repeatedly that Zubaydah did not seem to have the information that the officials were so convinced he possessed, and that the interrogators might be pushing the harsh methods too far. At one point, Mitchell would later recall, CTC officials told the psychologists to stop acting like "pussies."

By the time Haspel was "read in" to the highly secret program weeks later, the Zubaydah interrogation had been deemed an unequivocal success. The prisoner, who had been pronounced "fully compliant" and was being debriefed on a daily basis. He never did provide any kind of intelligence about future attacks CTC officials were convinced he had been hiding. (This year, ProPublica retracted a 2017 story that inaccurately reported Haspel was in Thailand overseeing the questioning of Zubaydah.)

In October, a few weeks after her 46th birthday, Rodriguez sent Haspel to Thailand to take over as chief of base.

***

Haspel quickly won the respect not only of the interrogation team but also, apparently, of the prisoner himself. Rodriguez wrote in his memoir that Zubaydah referred to her as the "emira," the Arabic word for commander or princess. (The same term was commonly used for the commander of terrorist training camps, like the one in Afghanistan, Khaldan, for which Zubaydah had served as a recruiter.)

As base chief, Haspel supervised the interrogators, guards and medical personnel at the prison. Some records indicate that she would have been the only CIA officer on the ground empowered to halt the interrogation without headquarters authorization. The newly released records do not say if she ever exercised that authority or if she was physically present when Nashiri was interrogated.

A cable from the Thai black site on Oct. 29, 2002, suggests a moment of relative calm soon after Haspel's arrival. It noted that the "COB," or chief of base, had interviewed the prisoner herself, encouraging him "to take advantage of the opportunity to set the record straight on any issues about which he has either been less than forthcoming or has obfuscated."

The pace quickened on Nov. 15 when Nashiri was delivered to the black site. Mitchell and Jessen had flown to Afghanistan to interview him. After a brief interview, they decided he was likely a "resister," and officials at CIA headquarters authorized the use of what were euphemistically termed "enhanced methods."

The new prisoner had long been in the agency's sights. Agency analysts had tied him to a series of al-Qaida attacks, including the USS Cole bombing in the Yemeni port of Aden. He was also believed to have plotted the 1998 bombings of two US embassies in Africa, in which more than 224 people were killed. (He had not.)

Under Haspel's supervision, the interrogators immediately set to work. Naked but for his shackles and hood, Nashiri was locked into a coffin-like wooden box for hours at a time. When his answers were deemed evasive or inadequate, he was sometimes moved into the smaller box for up to two hours as additional punishment.

After being extracted from one box or the other, the cables show, Nashiri would sometimes be led in his shackles to the plywood wall, where a rolled towel would be wrapped around his neck. That allowed the interrogators to slam him loudly into the wall while minimizing the risk of whiplash.

All the while, the interrogators threatened to do worse.

Nashiri did not do much resisting. After he was locked into the smaller box for the first time, early in his stay at the black site, he began to talk about two of the main operations to which he would be linked in US intelligence summaries: an aborted plan to attack oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, and a plot -- for which he was trying to raise funds when he was captured -- to crash a small airplane into a ship in the Emirati harbor of Port Rashid.

By the seventh day of his "aggressive" interrogations, Nashiri earned modest rewards. A cable from that day said that his questioning began with the gift of a towel, which he could use to cover himself. But it noted that his answers were "confused" and "disjointed," and the interrogators became angry. If they needed to, they warned him, they would "get his full attention the hard way."

Finally, after answering questions in what the interrogators deemed "a useful way," they promised him further rewards: They would remove the chain between his handcuffs and his shackles, but warned him that if he tried "anything aggressive," the black-clad members of the security team "will kill you."

The interrogators said Nashiri would also get a haircut and a shave, and a pair of pants to wear. As they left, the prisoner "appeared to relax," the cable states. But then he made the mistake of asking if someone could possibly clean his dirty fingernails, or if he could do so himself. One interrogator turned and asked Nashiri to repeat what he said.

"Listen to me," the American said angrily, squatting down to look him in the face. "This is not -- not -- a hotel. We are not in the business of kissing your ass. We are not in the business of grooming you."

As the interrogators stepped out of the cell, the security team surrounded the prisoner. They then forcibly shaved his head and beard with an electric razor, the cable states, as he "cried and grimaced theatrically."

On the 12th day of aggressive methods, documents show, the interrogators turned to the waterboard.

The guards, who were typically clad in black fatigues and balaclavas, tied him to a hospital gurney, an arrangement that turned out to be precarious. Nashiri was so slight that he nearly slid off as the gurney was tilted upward to let him clear the water from his sinuses. "We were concerned that he would fall off the gurney and get hurt," Mitchell wrote. "We were all feeling uncomfortable."

After three sessions, the waterboarding was stopped because "he gave us enough to convince us that the harshest of our approved tactics no longer were needed," Mitchell wrote.

Nashiri's questioning unexpectedly halted at the end of November when The New York Times learned that al-Qaida suspects were being held in Thailand. CIA officials persuaded the newspaper not to publish the information. They nonetheless ordered Haspel to shut down the black site immediately, assuming that if Times reporters could learn of its existence, others would soon find out.

The interrogators tried to turn Nashiri's imminent transfer to advantage. They told him he was being sent to "a much worse place," one cable notes. Comparing the prisoner to a piece of meat, the interrogators said the dark days he faced were their fault because they had failed to "tenderize" him properly.

As Nashiri wept, the interrogators ticked through another list of questions, warning that if he did not give them the answers they wanted, "conditioning methods would be applied."

On Dec. 4, Zubaydah and Nashiri were put aboard a CIA jet and flown to a new black site, code-named "Quartz," that had been set up in a two-story villa that Polish intelligence used for training in a remote northeastern corner of their country.

Haspel appears to have returned to CIA headquarters. A CIA spokesman declined to comment on whether she had any further input into Nashiri's interrogation or made any recommendations to the officers who managed his interrogations in Poland.

Various psychological evaluations of Nashiri have found lasting scars. In addition to a phobia of water, he has been diagnosed with anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. A psychiatric expert, Sondra Crosby, called him "one of the most damaged victims of torture" she had ever examined.

Nashiri is now facing death-penalty charges before a military commission at Guantanamo Bay stemming from the attack on the Cole and on a French-flagged oil tanker.

***

Over the two years that followed, former officials say, Haspel's career continued to intersect with the rendition and detention program. The CIA created a new mini-organization to manage a global network of secret prisons that expanded to include Romania, Lithuania, Morocco and elsewhere.

Beginning in December of 2002, the CTC's Renditions Group -- previously charged with the capture and transport of suspected terrorists -- took over management of all detention and interrogation facilities. It was renamed the Renditions, Detentions and Interrogations Group, or RDG.

By its scale and scope, the group's work was breathtaking. CIA officers swept up suspects all over the world, in ever-greater numbers, with many undercover operations running simultaneously. The large majority of the 119 men detained and sent to black sites were captured during this period.

There were notable errors. Some of the detainees turned out be victims of mistaken identity or false accusations. More than two dozen failed to meet the agency's own minimal standards for being picked up.

As some of the agency's post-9/11 secrets have been declassified, it has become clearer that some officers within and around the CTC tried repeatedly to stop what they considered the excessive and pointless use of waterboarding and other methods. Haspel's position in those debates could not be ascertained, but she has more often been identified with officials like her former boss, Rodriguez, who often overruled those challenges.

By 2003, however, the political winds had begun to shift. That summer, CIA officials grew concerned after statements by the Bush administration that the United States was treating detainees humanely and complying with the international Convention Against Torture.

On July 29, the CIA director, George Tenet, met with selected members of President Bush's National Security Council, including Vice President Dick Cheney and Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice, seeking formal reaffirmation of their support for the interrogation program.

According to the Senate intelligence committee report, the CIA officials made their case by exaggerating both the amount and importance of the intelligence they had gained from the interrogations to that point. A slide from the CIA presentation claimed that the "termination of this program will result in loss of life, possibly extensive."

The agency won the reaffirmation it sought.

***

In the late summer of 2004, Haspel finally left the CTC.

She was promoted to become deputy chief of the CIA's National Resources Division, a branch of the agency that recruits foreign students, diplomats and others inside the United States, and gathers voluntary information from Americans who work or travel abroad.

It was a bit of a backwater after CTC, but much lower stress and a significant rise in rank. The division chief, Hank Crumpton, was also a CTC veteran, having led paramilitary operations against the Taliban after 9/11. He had kept his eye on Haspel.

"She was by then a leader within CTC," he recalled in an interview. "She was gritty. A real great, blue-collar work ethic. She would take on any challenge. And just a great team player because she had no ego. People wanted to work with her."

Haspel's respite was short-lived. In November 2004, the CIA's two most senior operations officials quit in a dispute with aides to Porter Goss, a former Republican congressman from Florida who had replaced Tenet as the CIA director. Where Tenet had worried about waning political support for the black site program, Goss wanted to ratchet up the pressure on al-Qaida. He elevated Rodriguez to run the operations directorate, and Crumpton heard from him not long thereafter.

"Jose called and said he was taking her to be his chief of staff," Crumpton recalled of Haspel. It was not a negotiation. "He basically told me to quit whining and go find another deputy."

Her title notwithstanding, the job carried important operational responsibilities and was an even bigger step up the ladder. Some colleagues questioned privately whether Haspel was a suitable pick.

"She has been underestimated her entire career," Crumpton said. "One, because she's a woman. Two, because she's not an extrovert, she's not a back-slapper. She's all steak and no sizzle."

In another high-pressure environment, Haspel continued to be known for her remarkable work ethic. Colleagues also appreciate the way she complemented her boss: Rodriguez was the forceful personality; Haspel commanded the details.

Haspel joined Rodriguez in advocating for the destruction of the videotapes that had been recorded of Zubaydah and Nashiri in 2002, officials said.

Rodriguez gave the order to destroy the tapes in 2005, and the revelation two years later that he had done so prompted a separate, criminal investigation by a special prosecutor in which Haspel was brought back from London, where she was the agency's station chief, and questioned at length. No charges were ultimately brought in the case, in part, officials said, because those involved had acted on the advice of lawyers that what they were doing was legal.

The destruction of the tapes prompted new congressional scrutiny of the interrogation program. Democratic staffers on the Senate intelligence committee sifted through a mountain of classified documents and compiled a highly critical report that accused the CIA of repeatedly misleading the White House, the Justice Department and the public about the brutality and efficacy of the effort.

In 2013, Haspel's past seemed to catch up with her. President Obama's director of the CIA, John Brennan, had named her as acting director of the Clandestine Service, putting her in charge of spying and covert operations. But Brennan dropped the idea of giving her the job permanently when Democrats on the Senate intelligence committee vociferously objected.

Soon after his inauguration, Trump moved Haspel up once again, naming her the agency's deputy director under former Republican congressman Mike Pompeo.

While Trump has not hesitated to reignite the debate over torture, he later suggested that he would seek the advice of Defense Secretary James Mattis and other senior national security officials on the subject. A CIA spokesman also said Haspel had in fact told several senators early on in her tenure as the deputy director that she opposed any resumption of an "enhanced" interrogation program.

One factor complicating Haspel's position is that her most prominent supporters include former agency officials who led an aggressive campaign to refute the Senate report, arguing anew that the interrogation methods they sanctioned were both necessary and effective.

Most of those supporters now acknowledge that "some mistakes were made," as former CIA director Gen. Michael Hayden put it last week. They underscore that highly coercive interrogation methods are prohibited by current US law, and suggest that the CIA has no stomach for getting back in that business.

"There is no way that an agency officer of Gina's character and experience will send CIA officers out there to do this again," Hayden said on a podcast last week. "If you're worried about the future on this particular question, Gina Haspel -- you can't pick a better person."

Categories: Latest News

The Death Cult of Trump: A Planet in Ruins

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 21:00

A puppet of Donald Trump with missiles takes part in an antiwar parade in Turin, Italy, May 1, 2017. (Photo: MikeDotta / Shutterstock.com)

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They are the extremists. If you need proof, look no further than the Afghan capital, Kabul, where the latest wave of suicide bombings has proven devastating. Recently, for instance, a fanatic set off his explosives among a group of citizens lining up outside a government office to register to vote in upcoming elections. At least 57 people died, including 22 women and eight children. ISIS's branch in Afghanistan proudly took responsibility for that callous act -- but one not perhaps quite as callous as the ISIS suicide bomber who, in August 2016, took out a Kurdish wedding in Turkey, missing the bride and groom but killing at least 54 people and wounding another 66. Twenty-two of the dead or injured were children and the bomber may even have been a child himself.

Such acts are extreme, which by definition makes the people who commit them extremists.  The same is true of those like the "caliph" of the now-decimated Islamic State, Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi, who order, encourage, or provide the ideological framework for such acts -- a judgment few in this country (or most other places on the planet) would be likely to dispute. In this century, from Kabul to Baghdad, Paris to San Bernardino, such extreme acts of indiscriminate civilian slaughter have only multiplied. Though relatively commonplace, each time such a slaughter occurs, it remains an event of horror and is treated as such in the media. If committed by Islamists against Americans or Europeans, suicide attacks of this sort are given 24/7 coverage here, often for days at a time.

And keep in mind that such extreme acts aren't just restricted to terror groups, their lone wolf followers, or even white nationalists and other men in this country, armed to the teeth, who, in schools, workplaces, restaurants, and elsewhere, regularly wipe out groups of innocents. Take the recent charges that the Syrian government of Bashar al-Assad used outlawed chemical weapons in a rebel-held suburb of Damascus, that country's capital, killing families and causing havoc. Whether that specific act proves to have been as advertised or not, there can be no question that the Assad regime has regularly slaughtered its own citizens with chemical weapons, barrel bombs, artillery barrages, and (sometimes Russian) air strikes, destroying neighborhoods, hospitals, schools, markets, you name it. All of this adds up to a set of extreme acts of the grimmest kind. And such acts could be multiplied across significant parts of the planet, ranging from the Myanmar military's brutal ethnic-cleansing campaign against that country's Rohingya minority to acts of state horror in places like South Sudan and the Congo. In this sense, our world certainly doesn't lack either extreme thinking or the acts that go with it.

We here in the United States are, of course, eternally shocked by their extremism, their willingness to kill the innocent without compunction, particularly in the case of Islamist groups, from the 9/11 attacks to ISIS's more recent slaughters.

However, one thing is, almost by definition, obvious. We are not a nation of extreme acts or extreme killers. Quite the opposite. Yes, we make mistakes. Yes, we sometimes kill. Yes, we sometimes even kill the innocent, however mistakenly. Yes, we are also exceptional, indispensable, and great (again), as so many politicians and presidents have been telling us for so many years now. And yes, you might even say that in one area we are extreme -- in the value we put on American lives, especially military ones. The only thing this country and its leaders are not is extremist in the sense of an al-Qaeda or an ISIS, an Assad regime or a South Sudanese one. That goes without saying, which is why no one here ever thinks to say it.

Brides and Grooms in an Extreme World

Still, just for a moment, as a thought experiment, set aside that self-evident body of knowledge and briefly try to imagine our own particular, indispensable, exceptional version of extremity; that is, try to imagine ourselves as an extreme nation or even, to put it as extremely as possible, the ISIS of superpowers.

This subject came to my mind recently thanks to a story I noticed about another extreme wedding slaughter -- this one not by ISIS but thanks to a Saudi "double-tap" airstrike on a wedding in Yemen, first on the groom's party, then on the bride's. The bride and possibly the groom died along with 31 other wedding goers (including children). And keep in mind that this wasn't the first or most devastating Saudi attack on a wedding in the course of its brutal air war in Yemen since 2015.

To take out a wedding, even in wartime, is -- I think you could find general agreement on this -- an extreme act. Two weddings? More so. And nowhere near the war's battle lines? More so yet. Of course, given the nature of the Saudi regime, it could easily be counted as another of the extreme governments on this planet. But remember one thing when it comes to that recent wedding slaughter, another country has backed the Saudi royals to the hilt in their war in Yemen: the United States. Washington has supported the Saudi war effort in just about every way imaginable -- from refueling their planes in mid-air to providing targeting intelligence to selling them billions of dollars of weaponry and munitions of every sort (including cluster bombs) used in that war. This was true in the Obama years and is, if anything, doubly so at a moment when President Trump has put so much energy and attention into plying the Saudis with arms. So tell me, given that the staggering suffering of civilians in Yemen is common knowledge, shouldn't our support for the Saudi air war be considered an extreme policy?

Keep in mind as well that, between December 29, 2001, when US B-52 and B-1B bombers killed more than 100 revelers at a wedding in a village in eastern Afghanistan, and December 2013 when a CIA drone took out a... yep... Yemeni wedding party, US air power wiped out all or parts of at least eight weddings, including brides, grooms, and even musicians, killing and wounding hundreds of participants in three countries (and only apologizing in a single case). The troops of present Secretary of Defense James Mattis, when he was commanding the 1st Marine Division in Iraq in 2004, were responsible for one of those slaughters. It took place in Western Iraq and was the incident in which those musicians died, as reportedly did 14 children. When asked about it at the time, Mattis responded: "How many people go to the middle of the desert... to hold a wedding 80 miles from the nearest civilization?" And that response was no more callous or extreme than the New York Daily News's front-page headline, so many years later, for that US drone strike in Yemen: "Bride and Boom!"

Imagine, for a moment, that a wedding party in some rural part of the United States had been wiped out by a foreign air strike and an Iraqi insurgent leader had responded as Mattis did or an Iraqi paper had used some version of the News's headline. I don't think it's hard to conjure up what the reaction might have been here. Add another little fact to this: to the best of my knowledge, TomDispatch was the only media outlet that tried to keep a record of those American wedding slaughters; otherwise they were quickly forgotten in this country. So tell me, doesn't that have a feeling of extremity and of remarkable callousness to it? Certainly, if those massacres had been the acts of al-Qaeda or ISIS and American brides, grooms, musicians, and children had been among the dead, there's no doubt what we would be saying about them 24/7.

A New Kind of Death Cult?

Now, for a moment, let's consider the possible extremism of Washington in a more organized way. Here, then, is my six-category rundown of what I would call American extremity on a global scale:

Garrisoning the globe: The US has an estimated 800 or so military bases or garrisons, ranging from the size of American small towns to tiny outposts, across the planet. They exist almost everywhere -- Europe, South Korea, Japan, Australia, Afghanistan, the Middle East, Africa, Latin America -- except in countries that are considered American foes (and given the infamous Guantánamo Bay Detention Center in Cuba, there's even an exception to that). At the moment, Great Britain and France still have small numbers of bases, largely left over from their imperial pasts; that rising great power rival China officially has one global garrison, a naval base in Djibouti in the horn of Africa (near an American base there, one of its growing collection of outposts on that continent), which much worries American war planners, and a naval base, in the process of being built, in Gwadar, Pakistan; that other great power rival, Russia, still has several bases in countries that were once part of the Soviet Union, and a single naval base in Syria (which similarly disturbs American military planners). The United States, as I said, has at least 800 of them, a number that puts in the shade the global garrisons of any other great power in history, and to go with them, more than 450,000 military personnel stationed outside its borders. It shouldn't be surprising then that, like no other power in history, it has divided the world -- every bit of it -- as if slicing a pie, into six military commands; that's six commands for every inch of the globe (and another two for space and cyberspace). Might all of this not be considered just a tad extreme?

Funding the military: The US puts approximately a trillion dollars annually in taxpayer funds into its military, its 17 intelligence agencies, and what's now called "homeland security." Its national security budget is larger than those of the next eight countries combined and still rising yearly, though most politicians agree and many regularly insist that the US military has been badly underfunded in these years, left in a state of disrepair, and needs to be "rebuilt." Now, honestly, don't you think that qualifies as both exceptional in the most literal sense and kind of extreme?

Fighting wars: The United States has been fighting wars nonstop since its military invaded Afghanistan in October 2001. That's almost 17 years of invasions, occupations, air campaigns, drone strikes, special operations raids, naval air and missile attacks, and so much else, from the Philippines to Pakistan, Afghanistan to Syria, Libya to Niger. And in none of those places is such war making truly over. It goes without saying that there's no other country on the planet making war in such a fashion or over anything like such a period of time. Americans were, for instance, deeply disturbed and ready to condemn Russia for sending its troops into neighboring Ukraine and occupying Crimea. That was considered an extreme act worthy of denunciations of the strongest sort. In this country, though, American-style war, despite invasions of countries thousands of miles away and the presidentially directed targeting of individuals across the globe for assassination by drone with next to no regard for national sovereignty is not considered extreme. Most of the time, in fact, it's seldom thought about at all or even seriously debated. And yet, isn't fighting unending wars across thousands of miles of the planet for almost 17 years without end, while making the president into a global assassin, just a tad extreme?

Destroying cities: Can there be any question that, in the American mind, the most extreme act of this century was the destruction of those towers in New York City and part of the Pentagon in Washington, DC, on September 11, 2001, with the deaths of almost 3,000 unsuspecting, innocent civilians? That became the definition of an extreme act by a set of extremists. Consider, however, the American response. Across significant parts of the Middle East in the years since, the US has had a major hand in destroying not just tower after tower, but city after city -- Fallujah, Ramadi, and Mosul in Iraq, Raqqa in Syria, Sirte in Libya. One after another, parts or all of them were turned into literal rubble. A reported 20,000 munitions were dropped on Raqqa, the "capital" of the brief Islamic State, by US and allied air power, leaving at least 1,400 civilians dead, and barely a building untouched or even standing (with the Trump administration intent on not providing funds for any kind of reconstruction). In these years, in response to the destruction in whole or part of a handful of buildings, the US has destroyed (often with a helping hand from the Islamic State) whole cities, while filling the equivalent of tower after tower with dead and wounded civilians. Is there nothing extreme about that?

Displacing people: In the course of its wars, the US has helped displace a record number of human beings since the last days of World War II. In Iraq alone, from the years of conflict that Washington set off with its invasion and occupation of 2003, vast numbers of people have been displaced, including in the ISIS era, 1.3 million children. In response to that reality, in "the homeland," the man who became president in 2017 and the officials he appointed went to work to transform the very refugees we had such a hand in creating into terrifying bogeymen, potentially the most dangerous and extreme people on the planet, and then turned to the task of ensuring that none of them would ever arrive in this country. Doesn't that seem like an extreme set of acts and responses?   

Arming the planet (and its own citizens as well): In these years, as with defense spending, so with the selling of weaponry of almost every imaginable sort to other countries. US weapons makers, aided and abetted by the government, have outpaced all possible competitors in global arms sales. In 2016, for instance, the US took 58% of those sales, while between 2002-2016, Washington transferred weaponry to 167 countries, or more than 85% of the nations on the planet. Many of those arms, including cluster bombs, missiles, advanced jet planes, tanks, and munitions of almost every sort, went into planetary hot spots, especially the Middle East. At the same time, the citizens of the US themselves have more arms per capita (often of a particularly lethal military sort) than the citizens of any other country on Earth. And appropriately enough under the circumstances, they commit more mass killings. When it comes to weaponry, then, wouldn't you call that extreme on both a global and a domestic scale?

And that's only to begin to plunge into the topic of American extremity. After all, we now have a president whose administration considers it perfectly normal, in fact a form of "deterrence policy," to separate parents from even tiny children crossing our southern border or to cut food aid and raise the rent on poor Americans. We're talking about a president with a cult-like following whose government is ideologically committed to wiping out environmental protections of every sort and pushing the further fossil fuelization of the country and the planet, even if it means the long-term destruction of the very environment that has nurtured humanity these last thousands of years. 

Think of this perhaps as a new kind of death cult, which means that Donald Trump might be considered the superpower version of an Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi. As with all such things, this particular cult did not come from nowhere, but from a land of growing extremity, a country that now, it seems, may be willing to preside over not just cities in ruin but a planet in ruin, too. Doesn't that seem just a little extreme to you?

Categories: Latest News

Journalists Rise Up Against Wall Street Hedge Fund Decimating Newsrooms Across the Country

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 21:00

Journalists are orchestrating a rising rebellion against censorship and layoffs implemented by the nation's second-largest newspaper chain, Digital First Media, and the New York-based hedge fund that controls it, Alden Global Capital. Reporters from Digital First publications around the country will rally outside outside Alden Global Capital's office here in New York City to demand that the hedge fund either invest in its newspapers or sell them. The hedge fund is known for slashing and downsizing its papers to maintain high profit margins. Since 2010, Digital First Media has cut budgets and staffs at newspapers across the country, including the Oakland Tribune, the San Jose Mercury News and the St. Paul Pioneer Press. In recent months, Digital First Media cut 30 percent of the newsroom at The Denver Post. Meanwhile, the private company reported profits of almost $160 million in 2017 and a 17 percent operating margin -- far higher than other newspaper publishers. For more, we speak with Elizabeth Hernandez, a breaking news reporter for The Denver Post; Julie Reynolds, an investigative journalist who has been covering Alden Global Capital for years; and Dave Krieger, the former editorial page director at the Boulder Daily Camera before being fired last month for self-publishing an article critical of Alden Global Capital.

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Cecile Richards on Attacks on Women's Health, From Iowa Abortion Ban to Rising Violence at Clinics

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 21:00

On Friday, Iowa's governor signed one of the nation's most restrictive abortion bills. The new law requires any woman seeking an abortion to undergo an abdominal ultrasound. The law bans abortion if a fetal heartbeat is detected, which often occurs at six weeks -- before many women even know they are pregnant. Meanwhile, in South Carolina, Democratic lawmakers used a filibuster to defeat a Republican abortion ban that would have prohibited as many as 97 percent of abortions in the state. This comes as a federal appeals court ruled last month that an Indiana abortion law signed by Vice President Mike Pence when he was the state's governor in 2016 was unconstitutional. The law restricted a woman's ability to seek an abortion, including in cases where the child would be born with a disability. For more on the attacks to women's reproductive rights nationwide, we speak with Cecile Richards, who has just stepped aside as president of Planned Parenthood after 12 years. She's just published a new memoir, Make Trouble: Standing Up, Speaking Out, and Finding the Courage to Lead. In the book, she writes, "For the first time in my life, I'm wondering whether my own daughters will have fewer rights than I've had."

Please check back later for full transcript.

Categories: Latest News

Following "Horrific" Allegations of Assault and Abuse Against Women, New York Attorney General Schneiderman Resigns

Mon, 05/07/2018 - 21:00
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New York Attorney General Eric Schneiderman has announced his resignation, effective Tuesday, after reporting in The New Yorker Monday evening included on-the-record accusations of assault and sexual violence against the prominent politician and highly-visible Democrat by several women who had previously been in relationships with him.

Written by investigative journalists Jane Mayer and Ronan Farrow, the news story offered a devastating portrayal of Schneiderman's private life that showed him as someone with a habit of drinking alcohol to excess and pattern of behavior, alleged his victims, in which "he repeatedly hit them, often after drinking, frequently in bed and never with their consent."

In addition to incidents of assault, some of the women said that Schneiderman threatened them -- either with physical harm or that he would turn the powers of his office against them.

"The actions of NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are horrific," declared Shaunna Thomas, co-founder of UltraViolet, in response to the story. "This is unacceptable in any scenario, but especially when the abuser is the chief law enforcement officer for the State of New York." Thomas' group called on the AG to resign immediately.

Just hours after the story broke, Schneiderman did exactly that and announced his resignation.

"It has been my great honor and privilege to serve as Attorney General for the people of the State of New York," Schneiderman said in a statement late Monday. "In the last several hours, serious allegations, which I strongly contest, have been made against me. While these allegations are unrelated to my professional conduct or the operations of the office, they will effectively prevent me from leading the office’s work at this critical time."

As the state's AG, Schneiderman has become a national figure pushing high-profile cases and become an outspoken -- and legally potent -- critic of the Trump administration. In addition to fighting for women's rights -- including his role in prosecuting a case against Harvey Weinstein in the wake of sexual assault allegations that led to the powerful film producer's downfall -- Schneiderman has also been a leading voice within the Democratic Party's apparatus of pushing for holding powerful fossil fuel companies accountable for the climate crisis and combating the influence of large corporations with lawsuits and other legal actions.

None of that, however, protected Schneiderman from the shock and outrage from progressives in New York Democratic circles and beyond:

The descriptions by these brave women of the physical and sexual abuse they suffered at the hands of NY Attorney General Eric Schneiderman are sickening. It is the right decision for him to resign immediately.

— Cynthia Nixon (@CynthiaNixon) May 8, 2018

If you're shocked to learn that leftist men like Schneiderman are also abusers, you haven't been listening to women.

— Evan Greer (@evan_greer) May 8, 2018

This Schneiderman story… just so horrifying. Really awful. And there are so many stories like this, with men who are less famous. Read @quasimado @dliebelson
for more: https://t.co/b6NxidA2S7

— Amanda Terkel (@aterkel) May 8, 2018

The Eric Schneiderman story is tragic for the people he hurt, and for the people he might have otherwise helped. You just want to scream in frustration and sadness.

— Bill McKibben (@billmckibben) May 8, 2018

With Schneiderman out, it didn't take long for people to begin contemplating his possible replacement:

The Assembly Democrats -- who effectively would control the choice of appointing a @AGSchneiderman replacement before Election Day -- will hold a closed door conference at 9 AM Tuesday to discuss. https://t.co/LpGjbp2zOd

— Yancey Roy (@YanceyRoy) May 8, 2018

I see a lot of people tweeting @PreetBharara’s name as a possible Schneiderman replacement.

The chances of the NY Legislature — home to many he once prosecuted — picking him are less than zero.

— Jon Campbell (@JonCampbellGAN) May 8, 2018

New York media mentions @ZephyrTeachout as a potential replacement for just-resigned state AG Eric Schneiderman. I respect that she may decide this isn’t the right time to run. But I find something at once hopeful and reassuring in the sound of “Attorney General @ZephyrTeachout.” pic.twitter.com/3BOln9QcPx

— John Nichols (@NicholsUprising) May 8, 2018
Categories: Latest News

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