John Bolton’s Living Obituary

“I confess I had no desire to die in a Southeast Asian rice paddy. I considered the war in Vietnam already lost.” —John Bolton, in his Yale University 25th reunion book 

Fitting words from the gold standard in Washington “chicken hawks.” For John Bolton has made a career of sending other people’s sons, daughters, husbands and wives to fight and die in wars just as ill-advised, immoral and unwinnable as the Vietnam conflict he consciously avoided by joining the Maryland National Guard. That the man has done so, with a straight, mustachioed face, for decades now is a testament to his truly remarkable lack of self-awareness, empathy or shame. It’s almost impressive.

Like a bad penny, Bolton has weaved in and out of public life, either as an insider in Republican administrations since Reagan’s or waiting in the wings, voicing opposition to Democratic executives. For now, though, Bolton is out, fired this week by Donald Trump just after the president foolishly spiked seemingly promising peace talks with the Taliban. On this issue and most others, Bolton was the leading administration opponent of anything that resembled peace or military withdrawal from America’s countless, 9/11 vengeance-seeking forever wars. As such, his departure must cautiously be celebrated, though one fears whomever Trump may appoint to replace Bolton as national security adviser. Odds are it won’t be Sen. Rand Paul or Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, no matter how hard we anti-interventionists wish and dream.

Related Articles by by by

Bolton lives on, of course, and expect to see his ubiquitous face back on Fox News, keynoting paid events hosted by the bizarre Iranian terrorist cult, the People’s Mujahedin, and shuffling through the halls of one of Washington’s many neoconservative think tanks. So it seems appropriate to review highlights in the life and work of the man who never met a regime he didn’t want to change. Indeed, his personal trail of failure and policy disaster befits the times and illustrates the absurdity of U.S. military operations worldwide. Consider it a living obituary to a true hawk’s hawk.

During the Reagan and Bush I years, a younger Bolton bounced between the State and Justice departments and got his first taste of dabbling with proxy war, interventionism and regime change operations in Central America. He was even caught up in the Iran-Contra scandal, in which the Reagan team secretly and illegally sold arms to the Iranians, laundered the windfall through Israel and funded Contra death squads in Nicaragua. More than 100,000 people died at the hands of various U.S.-backed, right-wing militias in Central America during the 1980s, though hardly anyone remembers this now that the U.S. war machine has moved on to bigger and better things in the Greater Middle East.

Wallowing in opposition during the Clinton years, Bolton was once again plucked into government during the disastrous Bush II administration. First, as undersecretary of state for arms control, he helped derail nuclear negotiations with North Korea and helped sell the Iraq invasion on the basis of flawed, frankly dishonest, assertions that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction. The death count in Iraq since 2003, though uncertain, easily has topped 280,000.

Furthermore, unsatisfied with his technical position, Bolton stepped out of his lane to argue, in a speech responding to Bush’s “Axis of Evil” address, that the U.S. should add Cuba, Libya and Syria to the Iran-Iraq-North Korea axis on Uncle Sam’s regime-change checklist. He even publicized the totally unsubstantiated claim that Cuba had a WMD program of its own. Ultimately, he got his wish in Iraq and Libya; Bolton was still working on toppling the governments of Syria and Iran before his firing.

Next, he briefly served as ambassador to the United Nations, though Bush had to use a recess appointment due to expected opposition to Bolton in the Senate. This was an odd—though fitting for the Bush team—position for a man long opposed to the very concept of the U.N. or collective diplomacy in general. Indeed, in 1994, Bolton had said, “There is no United Nations. There is an international community that occasionally can be led by the only real power left in the world, and that’s the United States, when it suits our interests and when we can get others to go along.”

Finally, and most recently, Bolton—the worst possible choice for the position—served as perhaps the most hawkish national security adviser in history. Throughout his tenure, he called for and worked toward instigating war with and regime change of the governments of Iran and, in a Cold War throwback move, Venezuela. Bolton’s obsession with Iran was particularly noteworthy—he’d previously written a New York Times op-ed unsubtly titled “To Stop Iran’s Bomb, Bomb Iran”—and helped push Trump and the U.S. right to the brink of war with the Islamic Republic this year. To his credit, Trump seemed to stare over the cliff into the abyss, then flinched and inched backwards, deciding—for now—against a military strike and overruling Bolton’s pugnacious advice.

Most recently, Bolton—along, it must be said, with a bipartisan array of Trump advisers, congressional representatives and media pundits—opposed any attempt to negotiate peace with the Taliban, the only near-term hope for extracting U.S. troops from an endless, failed war in Afghanistan. This was Bolton’s last victory, as Trump caved to his and the entire establishment’s pressure and canceled the talks, labeling them “dead.” But this was perhaps the last straw for The Donald, whose “instincts” have long been to pull out and who fancies himself an epic dealmaker, as he lost an opportunity for a grand but necessary diplomatic dog and pony show at Camp David.

On the Afghan peace talks, Bolton seems to have won the battle; still, with his firing, let us collectively hope he may yet lose the war. With Bolton gone, one major (though far from the last) roadblock to ending the war in Afghanistan has been removed. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo should be the next to go, and Trump should clean house and craft a new national security team that agrees with the vast majority of the American people, and, according to recent polls, two-thirds of U.S. veterans: that it’s time to end our nation’s disastrous and bloody forever wars. That may be unlikely, but it’s not impossible. Trump is just erratic enough, just unprincipled enough, to turn on a dime and resurrect the “dead” Taliban talks within days or weeks, sending Bolton rolling in his living grave.

So, yes, Bolton is out of government—for now—but have no fear, he’ll be just fine. In the year prior to his appointment as national security adviser, Bolton reportedly earned some $2.2 million in speaking fees and Fox News appearances. Apparently, drumming up war with, well, anyone and everyone is a profitable venture. Meanwhile, America’s wars, so to speak, must go on, in what must be termed the “Age of Bolton.”

The post John Bolton’s Living Obituary appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Meet the Fabulist Behind Trump’s Reelection Campaign

This article was co-published with Texas Monthly.

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up for ProPublica’s Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox as soon as they are published.

On the evening of May 30, Brad Parscale, the campaign manager of Donald J. Trump for President Inc., gave a speech to a gathering of the faithful. Parscale is a striking figure: 6-foot-8, with a trademark Viking beard and a penchant for bombast. He was a phenom of the 2016 election, rising, in a matter of months, from an anonymous web designer in San Antonio to the Trump campaign’s reputed digital savior. Parscale has become a frequent warmup act at Trump rallies and a prized attraction in GOP fundraising circles.

On this occasion, he was speaking to the Miami Young Republicans. Parscale regaled the audience with his litany of Trump’s achievements, according to a recording of the speech (provided by Palm Beach Post reporter Christine Stapleton). He warned of the “crazy socialist Democrats” who want to “slaughter” babies in the third trimester; admit “all of South America” to the U.S. through open borders; and render jet-fueled planes illegal and “farming cows” extinct. “I don’t know about you guys,” Parscale told them. “I really like steak.”

Parscale then turned to his own rhetorical question: “How the heck did you get from East Topeka, Kansas, 43 years old, to become the right-hand man to the Trump family?” That’s a truly remarkable tale, although much, as it turns out, is not quite as Parscale describes it.

In the speech, Parscale painted his own life story as a testament to the need for Trump. He served up a vivid account of facing crushing personal and professional setbacks (“I was down and out”) before launching a business on a shoestring, then prospering through hard work and self-reliance. He is evidence of the American dream, Parscale declared. His life, he said, shows “why we all need to go out and fight for the president. So that all of our kids can have that same possibility to have that dream happen for them.”

In fact, Parscale’s accounts of his life and his work for the president comprise a classic Trumpian tale: They’re a combination of hyperbole, half-truths and the occasional fiction. Indeed, Parscale shares more than one trait with his most important client. He has embraced political beliefs not in evidence before the 2016 campaign. Like Trump, he has adapted to opportunities as they arose. And like Trump, Parscale is largely unencumbered by the concerns for consistency and accuracy that are the hobgoblins of smaller minds. “When I give a speech, I tell it like a story,” Parscale says when asked about his biographical embellishments and errors. “My story is my story.”

Consider what Parscale has said about his own compensation this campaign season. He has repeatedly emphasized that he is refusing to take the customary cut of the campaign’s digital ad spending. “I felt like as campaign manager it would seem not very ethical and very good of myself to pay myself a percentage of my decisions,” Parscale told CNN earlier this year. Instead, he said, he is accepting a relative pittance for his efforts: an annual “retainer” of $300,000, plus unspecified bonuses. “I wanted to set a high mark,” he told Breitbart News. As he put it: “I don’t do this for a percentage. I do this for my country and for President Trump.”

But that wasn’t the full story. Parscale’s no-commissions policy did not apply when the client was the Republican National Committee, whose main mission, at least when it comes to employing Parscale’s firm, is reelecting Trump. That work represented $18 million in billings for Parscale Strategy since he was named 2020 campaign manager, dwarfing the $4.8 million his companies have received directly from Trump committees.

In an interview for this article, Parscale confirmed he was taking commissions on the portions of the $18 million that was used to buy advertising, but he declined to discuss specifics. Parscale said he saw no conflict of interest because the party was making the decisions. “That’s the RNC’s money,” he said. “If they call me tomorrow and say, ‘We’re not spending any more money on this,’ there’s nothing I can do.”

Parscale then changed his position following that interview and two articles in other publications that examined Parscale’s compensation. The RNC told ProPublica and Texas Monthly in early September that, at Parscale’s request, it would no longer purchase digital ads through his firms. “Going forward, all RNC digital buys will be made directly to the host sites,” party spokesman Mike Reed says. “This is to ensure complete transparency and to give Democrats and the press no way to mislead and wrongly accuse anyone of impropriety.”

Parscale and his fees have attracted an unusual amount of attention, but they’re only part of the story. He has also spearheaded what appears to be the Trump campaign’s takeover of the RNC to the benefit of the president — and the seeming detriment of other Republican candidates. Other presidents have consolidated control over their party; similar criticisms were made of Barack Obama. But the extent of Trump’s takeover is unprecedented, according to experts. They say it inflicted damage on Republican congressional candidates in the 2018 elections, and could do so again in 2020.

One previously unreported example: Since Trump’s election in 2016, critical “voter scores” — sophisticated polling-based analytics that the RNC provides to party committees and candidates — have conspicuously omitted an essential detail for any down-ballot race: how voters in specific states and congressional districts feel about Trump. Republican insiders believe these analytics are being withheld to try and prevent GOP candidates from publicly distancing themselves from the president or leaking unfavorable results that embarrass Trump.

“They don’t want you to know if it isn’t good,” says former RNC chairman Michael Steele, a vocal Trump critic. “There’s a lot of data they’re sitting on that they’re not sharing.” Steele adds that today, “the RNC is not an independent actor; the RNC is now a part of the Trump campaign. The question now isn’t, ‘What do you need?’ The question is, ‘Do you support Donald Trump?’”

In both power and money, the 2020 Trump campaign dwarfs the 2016 incarnation. “You have less than a handful of people who now control the entire ecosystem” of the Republican Party, says one prominent former RNC official, and Parscale is one of that handful. A big part of his sway stems from the massive quantities of money he raises. Parscale sits atop a juggernaut that reported gathering $108 million just in the second quarter this year and that is well on its way to becoming what he claims will be America’s first billion-dollar campaign.

All of which raises the ultimate question for Parscale: He won big in 2016 as an upstart among a small band of political insurgents. Can he win again in 2020 as the captain of an operation so big and established that one operative refers to it as the “Death Star”?

In political terms, Brad Parscale was a nobody before his association with Trump. In the span of just a few years, he has reinvented himself, transforming from an apolitical digital geek — building local websites in T-shirts and cargo shorts for a small San Antonio company — into a hyperpartisan president’s raging avatar, bestriding the national stage in Ermenegildo Zegna suits.

“He was not that guy three years ago,” says John Dickson, a principal of Denim Group, a prominent San Antonio cybersecurity firm, who met Parscale during the 14 years Parscale worked in that city. “He was not a bomb-thrower or an ideologue. He was a savvy business guy, a hustler.”

Indeed, before Trump, Parscale’s Twitter feed was far more Deep Nerd than Deep State — exchanges of coding tips and bro talk. He almost never weighed in on politics. Back then, his Twitter targets weren’t Bernie and Biden, but Luby’s and Chipotle, for falling short on his culinary expectations (“sad there are no standards on how much you get in a salad…”).

Parscale and his parents say he adapted so quickly to meeting Trump’s needs because his own father is very much like him: impatient, unfiltered and larger-than-life.

“I’m not a silver-spoon-type person,” Dwight Parscale declares during a three-hour conversation in the 19th Hole restaurant at Club at Sonterra, the San Antonio country club where he holds court many mornings. “I worked my ass off all my life, and I didn’t know any other way. … Am I worth over a million bucks? Yes. But that’s not that much today. I’ve never considered myself rich.”

Dwight Parscale, 73, was a lawyer but says he abandoned the profession around age 50 after an unfriendly local judge handed down an “outrageous” opinion, prompting him to announce to friends, “I’m going to beat the crap out of him!” He adds, “I finally calmed down and went home and told my wife I’m not going to practice law anymore.”

Aside from Dwight Parscale’s legal practice, he and his wife, Rita, operated a string of businesses over the years, sometimes three at once. They included a swimming pool company, a scuba shop, real estate enterprises, restaurants and a Western-themed nightclub featuring a mechanical bull imported from Fort Worth.

Brad Parscale has spoken of a modest upbringing, describing himself as a “farm boy from Kansas.” In fact, he grew up on a suburban cul-de-sac. He attended Topeka-area public schools, where he was a good student and a basketball star. A frustrating college sports career, ended by injuries to his leg and back, took him to four schools. He graduated from Trinity University in San Antonio in 1999, majoring in international business and economics. (He regularly describes it, incorrectly, as an Ivy League school.)

Dwight Parscale, meanwhile, had become the CEO of a Topeka technology company, NewTek, and moved its headquarters to San Antonio before a falling-out with the founder that ended in litigation. The Parscales then relocated to Southern California, where Dwight Parscale became the CEO of a small 3D animation software company called Electric Image.

Brad Parscale went to work for his dad after college, becoming sales manager for Electric Image at a salary of $95,000. Rita Parscale helped manage the company’s books. By the fall of 2001, the Parscales say, they were trying to sell to private investors when the deal, and their business, collapsed amid the economic swoon that followed 9/11.

In his Miami speech, Parscale said he had “just had my first child, married” when he moved out to California, along with “an adopted son,” before the failure of Electric Image and the loss of his job, “within a few months” of the 2001 World Trade Center attacks, sent him reeling. “In a year of that, I lost my wife. Not died — separated. … We got divorced, ended back in Texas.”

In fact, Parscale wasn’t married then, much less divorced. He had become a father in July 1999, at age 23, just weeks after graduating from college. The mother was a 22-year-old woman he’d met while she was working at a San Antonio tanning salon he patronized; she had a son from a previous relationship.

Court records show that the two didn’t marry until March 2003, three years and eight months after their daughter was born. Parscale filed for divorce in August 2004. The split wasn’t finalized until October 2007, when he was 31. Parscale never adopted his first wife’s son.

Electric Image’s failure is also more complex than he has portrayed it. The company filed for bankruptcy in August 2002, declaring $188,453 in assets and nearly $2 million in debt, including $100,068 owed to the IRS for unpaid withholding taxes.

Parscale and his parents improperly transferred company funds and assets to themselves, according to a lawsuit against the three family members filed by a U.S. bankruptcy trustee, a claim disputed by the family. Exhibits in the case show checks, all signed by Rita Parscale in August 2003, for $33,000 paid to Dwight Parscale, $4,800 to Rita Parscale and $6,200 to Brad Parscale. According to the bankruptcy trustee’s filings, Dwight Parscale had taken the company’s business records “to the garbage dump” before the family left California and returned to Texas.

The trustee also accused the Parscales of improperly transferring Electric Image assets for use by a new company in San Antonio, EI Technology Group, which later listed Brad Parscale as CEO. (He continued selling software through EI for years until 2009.)

The matter was finally settled in 2006, with the Parscales agreeing to repay a portion of the disputed funds. “We paid out of our pocket $86,000,” Rita Parscale says. She calls the claims of misappropriation “a bunch of baloney.”

Back in San Antonio, Brad Parscale became a website developer, incorporating in October 2005 what became Parscale Media. He has repeatedly spun a memorable origin tale. He said he started the business with his last $500, seeking clients by approaching them in the tech aisle at a local Borders bookstore.

“Life is amazing,” he wrote in a May 2016 tweet. “My first day I had $500 to my name and tapped shoulders for work. No one knew me.” In 2017, he tweeted from a speech in Monaco about delivering “my story of starting with $500.” In its online biography promoting him for paid speeches (fee range $25,000 to $40,000), the speaker’s bureau representing Parscale repeats that “he invested his last $500 in Parscale Media.”

Parscale may have started his business in late 2005 with $500. But it’s unlikely it was his last $500. Courthouse records show that Parscale, who had begun investing in rental properties, owned three San Antonio homes at the time (each carried a mortgage).

There was no question about the business’s early struggles. In 2008, Parscale’s operation was sandwiched between a car wash and a tattoo parlor and smack in the flight path of the San Antonio airport. “Every time you had a meeting in there,” recalls Ryan Kelly, a San Antonio digital marketing consultant who worked closely with Parscale, “you’d feel like a plane was going to fly right through the office.”

From the start, Parscale displayed qualities that would serve him well with Trump. He was a great salesman. He was a quick study and intensely loyal to his customers. And he worked like a maniac.

In San Antonio, Parscale built a volume business. He did fast, inexpensive work for small enterprises like Dury’s Gun Shop, Quest Plumbing and D&D Farm and Ranch. He pitched clients by day, often making cold calls, and cranked out websites at night. On the side, he sold his own software add-ons to website developers.

At the start, Parscale knew little about digital marketing and even less about design. But he recognized his limitations. Says Natalie Silva, a San Antonio marketing consultant who worked with Parscale for two years starting in 2007: “He was the type of guy who would oversell capabilities and then figure it out — ‘well, I’ll go find someone.’ He would bring in the people he needed to do the things he couldn’t do.”

By 2009, Parscale Media, on its website, claimed a staff of seven and pitched Parscale as “a true pioneer of the industry” with “over 13 years of professional web experience.” (That would date back to 1996, his sophomore year in college.) It also trumpeted “prestigious” Top 10 web designer awards “as seen in” Forbes and Texas Monthly magazines. In fact, both citations were paid marketing promotions, published as advertisements in the two publications.

As his reputation grew, Parscale sometimes found himself paired on projects with a San Antonio graphic and web designer named Jill Giles, who’d run her own small firm since 1984. Giles handled the projects’ look and branding strategy; Parscale did the under-the-hood work.

The two could not have been more different. Giles was 20 years older, a tiny, soft-spoken woman with blond curls and refined taste; a committed Democrat, she socialized with urban liberals. Parscale was a red-headed giant with a booming voice who lived in the suburbs. He dressed, Giles later joked to friends, “like a German tourist,” wearing T-shirts, shorts and sandals with socks to work. (Giles declined to be quoted.)

But in an age when businesses built their reputations and brands online, marrying design and tech skills made sense. They formed Giles-Parscale Inc. in July 2011. They set up shop inside the walled compound Giles owned on the edge of downtown, building out separate, industrial-chic structures for the design and digital teams.

Afflicted with chronic back pain from his basketball injuries, Parscale presided over his domain from an unusually tall standing desk; on difficult days, he sometimes conducted business stretched out on the floor.

With Parscale leading the sales effort, Giles-Parscale won prestigious new contracts. Dickson, the San Antonio tech businessman, saw Parscale dazzle the executive committee of the San Antonio Economic Development Foundation, winning its website and digital work. “He’s like Don Draper. He’s a great pitchman,” says Dickson. “There are just so few who can walk in, pick up the vibe in the room and say the right thing.”

It was just nine months after the merger, in April 2012, that Parscale got his first opportunity to work for the Trump Organization. Asked to bid on designing a website for Trump International Realty, Parscale — eager to land the legendarily cheap celebrity client — won the job with an outrageously low bid of $10,000.

In his Miami speech, Parscale described the Trump Organization call as coming at a moment when he was still struggling. “At this point,” he said, “I have six employees. … I’m living in an $80,000 house, driving a Dodge Charger.” In fact, in 2012, Giles-Parscale had a staff of 30. Parscale lived in a $500,000 home with a swimming pool on a golf course and drove a Lexus.

Parscale simply “made up” his $10,000 price for the initial 2012 work, he later told The Washington Post, with the aim of hooking the Trumps as a client: “I recognized that I was a nobody in San Antonio, but working for the Trumps would be everything.”

Giles-Parscale soon became the go-to choice for other Trump work: the Trump Winery website, Melania Trump’s skin care products website; the Eric Trump Foundation website (Parscale did the latter work for free).

In November 2013, Eric Trump, in Texas for an event, stopped by Giles-Parscale with his future wife to meet the family’s webmaster. Parscale took them out for a steak dinner afterward, then promoted the visit on Twitter: “Hung out with \@EricTrump & his fiancé today. Truly was honored to have their time. One #supercool couple.”

Parscale insisted that Giles-Parscale made “a lot of money” from the Trump businesses. “Over the next five years,” reported the Post, “the Trump Organization sent hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of website-related work to Parscale.”

A knowledgeable Giles-Parscale colleague says that’s not true. “We always lost money on the Trump commercial stuff. Brad wanted it so bad he would bid it ridiculously cheap. He would say, ‘Oh no, this is going to lead to a lot of other work.’… We all knew that we should have been charging more money for it.”

What came next is widely known: In February 2015, the Trumps asked Parscale to craft a simple landing page for the presidential exploratory committee. Parscale did it for $1,500, completing the work on his laptop at home over a weekend. He got another call in June and agreed to build the Trump presidential campaign’s website for $10,000.

Jill Giles was mortified. A lifelong Democrat, she told friends she found Trump’s candidacy “repellant,” and she didn’t want her firm to have anything to do with it. But Parscale reassured his partner: “Nothing will come of this. This isn’t going to last long.”

Indeed, 10 days after Trump announced his candidacy for president, Parscale met two top local Republicans for lunch. But he wasn’t there to chat about the race for the White House. Parscale wanted their support as he considered running for a seat on the San Antonio City Council. Says one of the lunch participants, Robert Stovall, then the Bexar County Republican chairman: “He was very serious about it.”

The two men told Parscale they couldn’t back him. The seat’s conservative incumbent was likely to run one last time in 2017. They didn’t want Parscale to challenge him. Throughout the conversation, Stovall says, one thing was clear: “Brad didn’t think the announcement of Trump running for president was going to be a long-term thing. Everyone was just chuckling about it.”

After Trump’s upset victory in 2016, Parscale would receive acclaim for his central role in a campaign whose intensive, targeted use of social media was without precedent. But it was nondigital skills that proved essential to Parscale’s ascent: learning to navigate the cutthroat culture of Trump’s political world. “He’s a rare survivor of Trump 1.0,” notes Kurt Luidhardt, co-founder of Prosper Group, a political consulting firm that worked on the 2016 campaign. “That’s a big feat to pull off.”

Not that there weren’t some close calls for Parscale. The first came in late 2015, when an array of technical problems and lapses dogged the Trump website. Volunteer data wasn’t getting promptly downloaded. State campaign offices weren’t listed. And the website sometimes functioned poorly or crashed, hitting a low point in early December.

“Today was insane,” Parscale wrote his bosses on Dec. 7, 2015, a day on which traffic spiked as hackers tried to overwhelm the website with a so-called distributed denial of service attack. His email’s recipients included Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski, political director Michael Glassner and communications chief Hope Hicks. “About 4 p.m. CST time the traffic on the website increased by about 700,000x the normal traffic…The site has become very unresponsive because it is designed to do 200-300K people a day, not a million in a few minutes.”

“I can build to handle these numbers,” Parscale added, “but at this time I have not spent the cost to make it work this large…I am sorry for the problems today, these numbers were just insane high fast.”

Glassner conferred by email with Matt Braynard, the campaign’s data chief. The two men had been discussing the website problems for weeks. Glassner asked if the day’s traffic would have been a problem if another company ran the Trump website. His email’s subject line: “Transition away from Brad.”

“My suspicion was the answer was no,” Braynard replied, “but I’ve confirmed” that the crash wouldn’t have happened if another firm was running the site. He promised to quickly “compose a summary of reasons why I believe we should transition.”

But before he could do so, Glassner ended the discussion. “We’re going to stick with Brad,” he emailed the next day. Glassner later explained the reason simply: “Brad is considered family.” (Braynard departed the campaign himself a few months later and now runs a nonprofit seeking to register conservative voters.)

Parscale had cultivated a crucial relationship with Trump son-in-law Jared Kushner, who had taken a special interest in the campaign’s digital efforts. Kushner became his most essential ally, enlisting Parscale as his proxy. Parscale understood a fundamental rule of life of Trump’s world: The family’s favor meant everything. “He focused on the kids,” says estranged Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman, who met Parscale during the campaign. “Once the kids like you, you’re in with Trump.”

Parscale regularly announced his interactions with various Trumps and assiduously flattered them. His Twitter profile today proclaims: “Proud to work for America’s best POTUS.” He has described Trump as “like a second father to me” and recently proclaimed the family “a dynasty that will last for decades.” In tweets, he has called the Trumps “the most amazing family” and pronounced Kushner “a great leader” and “a genius. Also the nicest guy ever.

In 2016, several factors conspired to elevate Parscale’s role. One was the Trump campaign’s raging distrust of the usual suspects from the GOP’s political “swamp,” including both Washington operatives and the Republican National Committee.

Trump also harbored contempt for conventional political practices. With his universal name recognition and domination of media headlines, Trump, who had pledged to bankroll his own primary campaign, had neither the need nor the desire to spend heavily on TV ads. That opened the door to a low-cost alternative in Parscale’s sweet spot: Facebook.

With Kushner’s backing and a small budget, Parscale began crafting Facebook ads directed at voters in key primary states. He’d also built a website page to sell “Make America Great Again” gear, which became a profit center for the campaign.

Through the end of 2015, the Trump campaign had paid Giles-Parscale just $39,000, mostly for “website development,” according to Federal Election Commission filings. By February 2016, his firm was receiving monthly six-figure sums for “digital consulting.” In June, he was named the campaign’s digital director.

Back in San Antonio, Parscale’s work for Trump had roiled his firm. At the start, Parscale had managed the website from home on his laptop. But as his duties grew, he began tapping Giles-Parscale staff for help, recruiting a few designers after first asking, “You got a problem with Trump?”

At the start, Parscale had portrayed the Trump work as just another contract, telling a San Antonio reporter: “We don’t have a say in his views. We are just a mechanism for his delivery.” Giles held to the view that he was, as ever, going overboard to please his client. “I think he would have been equally enthusiastic if he were doing it for Hillary,” she told friends.

By the spring primaries, it became impossible to pretend the work wasn’t affecting Giles-Parscale. Campaign operatives were appearing regularly in the office. “Nobody in their right mind thought it would go very far,” Giles explained to friends months later. “It was kind of scope creep. One day you wake up and say, ‘Holy shit, how did this happen?’”

Giles finally told Parscale he needed to take the Trump work elsewhere. In early June, after it was clear that Trump had locked up the GOP nomination, Parscale secured office space on the third floor of a building near the San Antonio airport. He announced plans to hire a general election digital team of as many as a hundred staffers. With that, Parscale largely abandoned Giles-Parscale.

As Parscale assumed his new role as the Republican nominee’s digital chief, he faced a big question: Now what do we do? He’d never helped run anything approaching the scale and complexity of a presidential campaign.

At that stage, most presidential nominees would already have dozens of experienced digital operatives on board. Clinton had more than a hundred. Trump had just one data staffer in New York and no data infrastructure. “He had to scale from two people to national in 30 seconds,” says Bill Skelly, a veteran RNC data consultant who worked with the 2016 campaign.

Parscale frantically began conferring with an array of consultants, seeking their advice. He was open about how much he didn’t know and bombarded everyone with questions.

With Trump now the certain nominee, his campaign and the Republican National Committee — warily viewed as a haven of “Never Trumpers” — had forged an uneasy alliance. The RNC dispatched about a dozen staff members to San Antonio: experts in political strategy, email fundraising, data and digital marketing.

Conflict soon erupted over power and money. In June 2016, the most immediate flashpoint was the joint fundraising agreement Trump had signed with the RNC, as was customary for the party’s presidential nominee. It provided for fundraising emails to go out in the name of the candidate, seeking donations of $200 or less.

All the funds were to flow into a joint committee, to be split 80-20 between the campaign and the party, and the two sides were to share the valuable donor data the emails generated. Trump clearly needed the help. He hadn’t done any email fundraising during the primaries, and, as of June 1, he had just $1.3 million in his campaign coffers, compared with Clinton’s $42 million.

Yet Trump was refusing to cooperate with the RNC, which wanted both its promised money and the donor lists. Trump’s campaign, relying on private firms, finally dispatched his first fundraising letter on June 21, but it was a disaster. Although the campaign reported raising about $3 million in one day, more than half of the emails were caught in spam filters. Trump-haters had also slipped in prank addresses, generating embarrassing publicity about the campaign seeking illegal donations from members of the Australian, British and Icelandic parliaments.

The letter also directed all resulting donations to the Trump campaign rather than to the joint committee. RNC officials were furious. They wanted their promised cut — and control over the entire fundraising apparatus. “There was a lot of real angst happening at that moment about Brad,” recalls one GOP operative on the scene.

The RNC decided to play hardball. Ahead of the July 4 holiday weekend, it ordered all the RNC staffers working in San Antonio for Trump — more than a dozen — to leave. A former senior RNC official recalls the committee’s digital director, Gerrit Lansing, explaining what happened this way: “I pulled everyone out. They don’t know what the fuck they’re doing down there.” Lansing told the RNC official he had even suggested to RNC chief of staff Katie Walsh that he would quit if Parscale wasn’t fired.

Lansing declined to comment on the record about this episode. Walsh says “there was a negotiation. … I don’t accept the premise that there was any sort of conflict.”

Parscale arrived at his new offices on Friday, July 1, to find the place virtually empty. The lone RNC staffer who remained in town was Gary Coby, director of digital advertising, who had quickly gained Parscale’s trust.

Coby later stood by as Parscale phoned Kushner, effectively pleading for his job. “He just kind of humbled himself to Jared,” Coby recalls. “He said: ‘Obviously it’s your guys’ call. But I’ll do anything for the candidate and the family. … I love this family. … Whatever you guys decide, you can count on me for anything you need or want.’” Adds Coby, “He was making his case as if his role was in jeopardy.”

Parscale managed to keep his job — and to broker peace between the campaign and the RNC. Unlike much of Trump’s inner circle, which viewed the GOP as the enemy, Parscale recognized that the party possessed critical political infrastructure that was impossible for Trump’s makeshift team to replicate. As Parscale puts it: “When I showed up at the RNC for my first meeting, I expected them to be my enemy. I was told that by many in Trump world. But I learned very quickly that for everyone to be successful, we need to be working hand in hand.”

By the middle of the following week, Parscale and his bosses had signed on to a deal with the RNC. The Trump campaign would get all the proceeds from text message appeals and ads on social media sites like Facebook, YouTube, Google and Twitter. All donations from email fundraising — a bigger pot — would be split, though the RNC would cover all the costs. The RNC would run the joint email program and get access to Trump’s growing donor file.

Notes one campaign adviser: “I’ve always thought that was the moment when Brad realized if I play nice with these people, they’re going to play nice with me. And he’s maintained that ever since. I am convinced to this day Brad is who he is because he made peace with the RNC. At every point since then, the benefit of that arrangement has been reinforced. He’s navigated all the levers of power very effectively. Honestly, I think that’s what he’s best at.”

Any collaboration with the Trumps, of course, required support from the family, and Parscale worked to ensure that too. After the RNC fundraising showdown, he urged Kushner to sign off on joining forces with the RNC on the digital front. Parscale also met Eric Trump in Washington for a tour of the Trump International Hotel construction site, dirtying his suit before attending a high-level briefing at RNC headquarters on the party’s plans for the campaign’s ground game. Parscale then backed that plan during a three-hour Acela train trip with Eric to Manhattan and convinced him to support the plan, too. “That’s the day we all got married,” Parscale says of the campaign and the RNC.

After the 2016 election, much was written about the Trump campaign’s use of new Facebook tools to “microtarget” voters, sophisticated data analytics and rapid-fire testing of thousands of campaign ad permutations. Parscale was hailed as an innovative “genius,” an impression he encouraged. “I understood early that Facebook was how Donald Trump was going to win,” he told Lesley Stahl, of “60 Minutes,” in 2017. “Twitter is how he talked to the people. Facebook was going to be how he won.”

Parscale also claimed that after being given broad new responsibilities late in the race, he’d spotted critical voter shifts and “changed all the budgets around” in the campaign’s final days. He says he diverted “every nickel and dime” from hopeless Virginia and sure-win Ohio into advertising in Michigan and Wisconsin, where Trump notched narrow upsets.

“If you don’t know what you’re talking about, you think he’s a 21st-century Steve Jobs,” says a Republican consultant who knows Parscale. “He’s not an asshole. He’s kind of a huckster. But he’s smart enough to realize he’s a huckster.”

Parscale’s true gift wasn’t deploying new, cutting-edge uses for technology. It was skillful management: cobbling together and empowering a fast-moving, opportunistic digital team staffed by experts from the RNC, commercial ad placement firms and social media companies, which flew about a dozen employees into San Antonio to work alongside Parscale’s team. At Parscale’s direction, the digital operation carried out an unprecedented tilt toward social media, for which the Trump campaign spent nearly half its media budget.

Parscale’s all-in approach toward Facebook was perfectly suited to his unique candidate. “The key to digital success is bottling lightning, and with Donald Trump, the lightning strikes every five minutes,” says Wesley Donehue, CEO of Push Digital, who worked on Marco Rubio’s failed bid for the 2016 presidential nomination. “You will never be able to replicate any digital strategy you had for Donald Trump for any other candidate or any corporation because there is no other Donald Trump.”

Academics and political strategists say digital ads don’t do much to persuade voters to switch candidates. They’re aimed primarily at raising money, firing up the base and suppressing turnout among opposition voters — which perfectly matched Trump’s needs.

In large part, Parscale’s approach was a matter of necessity. In 2016, Trump was anathema to the GOP’s traditional wealthy donors. But small-dollar contributors — “the Army of Trump,” Parscale would later call them — loved him. Trump’s supporters were uniquely responsive to donation appeals on social media; his celebrity and gut-level appeal commanded eyeballs. “The hardest thing in digital advertising is getting people’s attention,” says Coby. “You got a cheat code with Trump.”

Trump’s online and email fundraising generated a record $239 million in small-dollar donations, far more than Hillary Clinton’s and more than two-thirds of his donation total, according to the nonpartisan Campaign Finance Institute. This made Trump competitive in a race where he was outspent nearly 2 to 1.

Parscale’s growing role remained pretty much a secret for weeks into the general election race. But in mid-August, a new FEC filing was about to reveal that Giles-Parscale, an obscure San Antonio firm, had become the campaign’s biggest vendor, receiving $12.5 million to date. That prompted Wired to run a quick, flattering profile of him. Trump, according to a former RNC official, soon began referring to Parscale as “my $10 Million Man.”

By the October FEC filing, that figure had multiplied. Giles-Parscale had received more than $20 million in the previous month, on its way to a jaw-dropping final $94 million tally from the Trump committees. After Trump read media reports spotlighting Parscale’s most recent take, he erupted. Making a rare descent to the campaign’s makeshift offices in Trump Tower, he cornered his digital director in the kitchen and flew into a spitting rage, screaming, “Where the fuck is my money?”

Parscale told Trump that the vast majority was simply passed through his firm and went toward buying ads. After salaries and various consulting fees, he insisted, he’d received only a small percentage — far below what’s typical — as profit. Deputy campaign manager Dave Bossie, who had jumped between the two men, backed Parscale’s story. According to two witnesses, the confrontation ended when Kellyanne Conway sneezed on Trump, distracting him from his fury.

Inside the walls of Giles-Parscale, Hillary Clinton’s concession speech, on the morning after Election Day, was met with tears. For months, many at the firm had clung to a hope: Trump would surely lose; Parscale would come back. Everything would go back to the way it was.

Early in 2016, Parscale appeared to be putting down roots in San Antonio. In January, he and his second wife had spent $801,456 on a new 6,145-square-foot home in a gated country-club community near his parents. But after Trump’s victory, he wasn’t about to go back to selling websites. His partner, Giles, was just as eager to part ways.

The two partners agreed: Parscale, the hot commodity, would take the lead in seeking a buyer who could run the digital business. In the meantime, he was busy taking victory laps, attending election post-mortems at Harvard and in Silicon Valley, giving a speech in Monaco and sitting for interviews. He’d assigned a copywriter who had worked on the Trump campaign to write a Wikipedia profile for him.

On Aug. 1, 2017, the sale of Giles-Parscale was announced, to a company called CloudCommerce Inc. The commercial marketing business would become Parscale Digital. The design side would be renamed Giles Design Bureau. The political work — along with Parscale himself — would move to Florida as an independent company called Parscale Strategy.

A press release described the deal as a $9 million all-stock purchase of Parscale’s business. Parscale was also to receive $1 million in cash for his web hosting company, become the face of the parent company and receive a seat on the board. Giles got stock options, along with rent for use of her building and about $700,000 cash.

In reality, in selling to CloudCommerce, an obscure California penny-stock company, Parscale had jumped into a mess of his own making. For starters, his stock would be worth $9 million only if the shares rose exponentially. And the company, as Trump might say, was a doozy.

CloudCommerce had lost money for seven straight years, according to Securities and Exchange Commission filings, prompting its accountants to voice “substantial doubt” about its ability to remain “a going concern.” In the days before the acquisition was announced, its stock was trading at less than a penny.

The company had a distinctly dodgy past. A former CEO and a second executive had pleaded guilty to federal fraud charges in a scheme to pump up the price of the company’s shares. Its current CEO had once filed for personal bankruptcy. CloudCommerce, whose leadership had vowed to rapidly grow the enterprise enough to uplist it onto a major exchange, had changed names and business strategies three times, while seeking to entice acquisition targets, as one email put it, with the prospect of “riding the tidal wave” of company shares “to early retirement.” (CloudCommerce did not respond to requests for comment.)

After the sale, Parscale began deploying his digital-marketing tactics on a new product: himself.

On Aug. 8, he tweeted about a 500% spike in CloudCommerce’s share price, from less than a penny to 5 cents, that had greeted the announcement.

Much like Trump, CloudCommerce and its new marquee player worked to lure business by creating a premium brand that would convey the value of his personal magic. They called it “the Parscale Effect.” Digital ads for Parscale Strategy’s website, which featured juddering images of Parscale and admiring media headlines (“Donald Trump’s Michael Bay”), declared: “Brad Parscale shaped the 2016 presidential election with a data driven digital strategy to influence action. Find out how the Parscale Effect can transform your business.”

Parscale approached political contacts, asking if they’d want to sell their firms in exchange for CloudCommerce stock, according to two people with direct knowledge. At least two turned him down. One recalls Parscale’s pitch: “He told me he was going to list CloudCommerce on Nasdaq, and we were all going to be really rich.”

Parscale’s political success intrigued some high-profile clients. In mid-2017, Mark Cuban, owner of the Dallas Mavericks, hired Parscale for a “sales analytics” project, to see if he could help sell basketball tickets. “I figure, we’ll see if what he does can make a difference. … I’m a big believer that when it comes to data, you don’t take sides. You look to see results,” says Cuban, a reality TV star who has toyed with running for president. In the end, Parscale’s impact was “in line with what we did with other advanced metrics companies,” says Cuban. “It helped, but wasn’t anything dramatic.”

Parscale was hired to boost ticket sales for “Only the Brave,” a Hollywood movie about an elite Arizona firefighting team. He retained a Trump surrogate, Marcus Luttrell, a former Navy SEAL and war hero who was depicted in the movie “Lone Survivor,” to endorse the film, according to Variety, and Parscale promoted the movie on Twitter without disclosing he’d been paid to do so: “A film about real American heroes. Risked it all to save others. Can’t wait to honor these men by watching the movie! #onlythebrave #maga”

Ultimately, CloudCommerce was unable to successfully exploit Parscale’s commercial business, which largely went on hiatus as Parscale turned back to politics. CloudCommerce continues to lose money and bleed cash. The company’s SEC filings now list Parscale’s role as Trump’s campaign manager as a “risk factor,” citing the president’s unpopularity with some employees and customers.

“Brad thought if he got on board and applied some of his techniques, a penny stock becomes a dollar stock and $1 million becomes $100 million,” says Jeremy Sloan, a San Antonio lawyer who represented Parscale in the CloudCommerce deal and has known him for a decade. “I remember telling him: ‘Dude, you’re taking a risk here — selling your whole company, all these assets you’re selling for stock. If you go from one penny to $3, that’s great. But if you go from one to zero, that $9 million headline turns into $90,000.’”

As of Sept. 9, CloudCommerce shares were trading for less than a cent.

Parscale’s efforts to monetize his role in Trump’s victory met with more success in the political world.

Trump pioneered the nonstop presidential campaign, filing for reelection on the day of his inauguration, and Parscale positioned himself to capitalize on it. He incorporated Parscale Strategy, his political-consulting business, just 10 days later. Although Parscale lacked a formal campaign title until being named campaign manager in February 2018, he never stopped working for Trump — or getting paid for it.

During the 14 months before Parscale’s selection, his firms received more than $13 million. The money came from three different Trump campaign committees, the RNC, the presidential inaugural committee, a pro-Trump super PAC and a “dark money” organization. Parscale unsuccessfully sought work from at least two other GOP campaign committees.

Parscale simultaneously served as a co-founder of and senior adviser to America First Policies, a pro-Trump “dark money” group, and its sibling, the super PAC America First Action, which quickly became a paid refuge for Trump campaign veterans. The two groups are allowed to raise unlimited sums but are legally barred from coordinating with the campaign. Activist group Common Cause claims, in complaints to the FEC and the Justice Department, that the two groups have illegally coordinated with the Trump campaign. The complaints are still pending. (A spokesperson for America First declined to comment.)

Up through his appointment as Trump’s campaign manager on Feb. 27, 2018, the two America First groups paid Parscale’s firm more than $3.5 million for “media advocacy,” website services and work in congressional special-election campaigns. Days after his appointment, America First ceased paying Parscale Strategy, presumably to avoid running afoul of laws barring the super PAC from coordinating with Trump’s campaign.

Instead, America First Action soon began making payments for similar services to a new entity, incorporated in Delaware on March 2, called Red State Data & Digital. Parscale told ProPublica and Texas Monthly that he formed Red State to allow his employees to continue working for America First while he distanced himself from the group. Parscale didn’t mention that one of the employees was his wife, a fact subsequently revealed by CNN. Red State Data & Digital has received $923,201 from America First Action.

Red State represents Parscale’s attempt to channel those funds to a legally separate entity. “The lawyers suggested it for firewall purposes so it would have its own billing,” says Parscale. “It was legally recommended to me. I don’t even see the bills. I have employees that work for them, and they are firewalled from me.”

Such maneuvers are part of “a really troubling trend” — a “fig leaf” — to form campaign vendors that are “legally distinct but practically inseparable” from a campaign, says Adav Noti, former associate general counsel for the FEC, who is now senior director for the nonprofit Campaign Legal Center. “One serves the super PAC, one serves the campaign, but they’re run by the same people. You can firewall off staff people, but you can’t firewall your own brain. I would be very skeptical about that. Candidates and their advisers are not supposed to be coming in any contact with soft money.”

In 2016, Parscale, out of necessity, ceded much of the Trump campaign’s digital operations to the RNC. For the 2020 election, the tables are turned: Trump’s reelection campaign has effectively taken over the party organization.

The tone was set early at the top, with the installation of Ronna McDaniel, a fierce Trump loyalist, as RNC chair. But with Parscale’s help, Trump’s control over the committee has gone deeper. The group’s willingness to do Trump’s bidding has extended to its handling of voter data, for which Parscale has helped empower two former RNC chiefs of staff (who happen to be married to each other), Katie Walsh and Mike Shields. They’re the winners in an intraparty struggle that has shifted power, money and staff from the RNC to the party’s private repository of voter information, called the Data Trust. Parscale was named to the Data Trust board in May 2017.

The changes have degraded the GOP’s data operation, which is critical for winning elections, according to critics, including Bill Skelly, a longtime Republican data consultant no longer doing RNC work, and Jesse Kamzol, an RNC data director who was ousted in mid-2017. They believe out-of-date and incomplete information in the party-supplied voter files, used for voter contact and turnout efforts, contributed to the GOP’s poor performance in the 2018 midterms.

One example: sophisticated RNC voter score projections for Rep. John Culberson, a nine-term incumbent defending a suburban Houston seat held by Republicans for a half-century, showed Culberson winning his race handily, with a 56% to 35% margin among likely voters 11 weeks before Election Day, documents reviewed by ProPublica show. Other polls during this period consistently showed Culberson and Democrat Lizzie Fletcher in a far closer race. Culberson ultimately lost 52.5% to 47.5%.

Former RNC data experts blame such problems on poor data “hygiene,” the tedious work of keeping the files accurate and current. Says one: “They’re getting wrong addresses, wrong phone numbers, wrong emails. … They’re not updating it. They’re building voter files and political data sets. It’s not a technical thing; it’s kind of an art. Imagine you suddenly went from having a bunch of Picassos and Monets. Then you go to someone who can finger-paint.”

Shields, who served as a senior adviser to the Data Trust until July 31, says all changes occurred “with the full knowledge of the Trump campaign and Brad.” He adamantly denies any systemic problems. He and RNC officials defend the quality of the data and blame the criticism on a “small pocket” of political operatives who have lost business in the Trump era. Skelly denies any such motivation, saying, “It is right to continue to innovate and look for change, but not for its own sake.”

More conspicuously, since Trump’s election, the RNC — at his campaign’s direction — has excluded critical “voter scores” on the president from the analytics it routinely provides to GOP candidates and committees nationwide, with the aim of electing down-ballot Republicans.

Republican consultants say the Trump information is being withheld for two reasons: to discourage candidates from distancing themselves from the president, and to avoid embarrassing him with poor results that might leak. But they say its concealment harms other Republicans, forcing them to campaign without it or pay to get the information elsewhere.

Indeed, RNC “voter score” documents from 2018 include a wealth of voter information for a given district, including attitudes toward the major parties, state elected officials, local candidates, critical issues and even Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. There is no data on Trump. To the contrary, according to one GOP expert, 2016 Trump information previously made available was conspicuously withheld starting in mid-2017.

“There has been a major decision to lock down the Trump voter scores,” says a former national GOP data official, who was repeatedly blocked from obtaining the information. He calls this “Trump-first mentality” at the RNC “outside the norm” and a “major hindrance” to the success of down-ballot candidates.

According to RNC documents, the scores are used to guide an array of campaign efforts, including field programs, fundraising, digital advertising and communications. Says a former RNC data officer: “It’s definitely hurting the party not to release that information. I wish we could have handed it over.”

Current and former party officials from two major battleground states confirm that the RNC refused their repeated requests for Trump data. “What voters in our state think about Donald Trump matters,” says the executive director for one state. “There are people who loved our governor but were turned off by the president. We deliver different messages to people who need to be convinced to come out to our side. How are we supposed to run campaigns if we’re flying blind on thinking about the president?”

When asked about this, Walsh, who serves as a senior adviser to the RNC, embraces the proposition that the committee now — properly — does the president’s bidding. Because Trump effectively paid for the voter data by raising money for the RNC, according to this view, his campaign was fully entitled to withhold it even from other Republicans. “I don’t think most campaigns give their data out to other campaigns for free,” Walsh says. “So I don’t see why the president would be expected to. That’s all data work done by the RNC, and the head of the party is the president. So it’s his data.”

Says one veteran GOP consultant: “They should just put ‘TRUMP’ signs in front of the Republican National Committee building now, just like every other building he’s got.”

The 2020 Trump campaign could not be more different from 2016. Parscale has been methodically assembling a political war machine, largely along traditional lines. He has created a large-dollar fundraising network; begun training sessions for field recruits; and established outreach groups for African Americans, women and Hispanics. (In 2016, the campaign didn’t even translate its website into Spanish.) Parscale has also spent tens of millions building contact files of Trump donors and supporters, harvested from responses to Facebook ads and rally sign-ups.

Parscale’s life feels a lot bigger-scale these days, too. He now lives in a $2.4-million home on the Intracoastal Waterway in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. He now drives a Ferrari and a BMW X6. Since his star turn on “60 Minutes,” Parscale has become a recognizable conservative political celebrity. He has 361,000 Twitter followers, up from 3,793 just three years ago.

Parscale has assumed the role of Trump’s troll-in-chief, backing his boss’s boasts and false claims; generating ads playing to voters’ fears; twisting the knife on the president’s opponents; and caricaturing Democrats’ policies. Recently, the Trump campaign circulated an ad on Facebook claiming that every Democratic presidential candidate would eliminate private health insurance. As a website called Popular Information first pointed out, the ad included a photo of five candidates raising their hands affirmatively at their June 27 debate, but it omitted the fact that they were responding to a different question. When I asked him about the ad, Parscale ignored the false photo and displayed some Trumpian defiance. “Make no mistake,” he says. “All Democrats from Bernie to Biden will eliminate private insurance either outright or as a consequence of the public option crowding out private insurance.”

Parscale seems to revel in the combat — at least part of the time. “I barely leave the house,” he says. “We don’t even go to dinner any more. We eat in. It’s not worth it anymore.” The world is now divided among fans who want to pose with him for a selfie and antagonists who’d rather throw things at him. In that way, as in so many others, he has come to resemble his boss.

Correction, Sept. 11, 2019: This story originally misidentified where the firefighting team that is the subject of the movie “Only the Brave” is from. The team is from Arizona, not California.

The post Meet the Fabulist Behind Trump’s Reelection Campaign appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Administration to Drop Obama-Era Water Protection Rule

TRAVERSE CITY, Mich. — The Trump administration is revoking an Obama-era regulation that shielded many U.S. wetlands and streams from pollution but was opposed by developers and farmers who said it hurt economic development and infringed on property rights.

Even before the official announcement, scheduled for later Thursday, environmental groups blasted the administration’s action, the latest in a series of moves to roll back environmental protections put into place under former President Barack Obama.

The Waters of the United States rule being revoked defines which waterways are subject to federal regulation.

Related Articles by OtherWords by by Common Dreams

“This action officially ends an egregious power grab and sets the stage for a new rule that will provide much-needed regulatory certainty for farmers, home builders and property owners nationwide,” Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler and R.D. James, assistant secretary of the Army for civil works, wrote in a column published Thursday by the Des Moines Register.

Since enactment of the Clean Water Act in 1972, the federal government has gone beyond protection of navigable waterways and their major tributaries to assert jurisdiction over “isolated ponds and channels that flow only after it rains,” the officials wrote.

“As the definition expanded, so too has Washington’s power over private property and the states’ traditional authority to regulate their land and water resources,” they said.

President Donald Trump had ordered the agencies to develop a replacement policy that has a more restrictive definition of protected wetlands and streams, leaving fewer subject to federal protection.

Environmentalists say the move would leave millions of Americans with less safe drinking water and allow damage of wetlands that prevent flooding, filter pollutants and provide habitat for a multitude of fish, waterfowl and other wildlife.

The Natural Resources Defense Council said the Trump administration’s action would be challenged in court.

“The Clean Water Rule represented solid science and smart public policy,” it said in a statement. “Where it has been enforced, it has protected important waterways and wetlands, providing certainty to all stakeholders.”

But Don Parrish, congressional relations director for the American Farm Bureau Federation, says the 2015 regulation that extended federal protection to many U.S. wetlands and waterways created uncertainty about where farmers could cultivate land.

“It would be great if farmers didn’t have to hire an army of consultants and lawyers just to be able to farm,” he said.

Republican Sen. Kevin Cramer of North Dakota says the Obama rule was “an unconstitutional power grab that did nothing to advance good water management.”

The question of which waters are covered under the Clean Water Act has inspired decades of lawsuits and congressional debate.

A sharply divided Supreme Court in 2006 produced three differing opinions, leading the Obama administration to craft its rule. It provided federal oversight to upstream tributaries and headwaters, including wetlands, ponds, lakes and streams that can affect the quality of navigable waters.

The regulation drew quick legal challenges. Courts prevented it from taking effect in parts of the U.S.

Betsy Southerland, who was director of science and technology in EPA’s Office of Water during the Obama administration, said repealing its regulation would create further regulatory confusion.

“This repeal is a victory for land developers, oil and gas drillers and miners who will exploit that ambiguity to dredge and fill small streams and wetlands that were protected from destruction by the 2015 rule because of their critical impact on national water quality,” Southerland said.

The post Administration to Drop Obama-Era Water Protection Rule appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Supreme Court Asylum Ruling Carries Dire Implications

The right-wing Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that President Donald Trump’s near-total ban on Central American asylum-seekers can take effect as it faces legal challenges, a move immigrant rights groups decried as cruel, unlawful, and potentially deadly.

The high court’s unsigned order overturned a federal court injunction from July that stopped implementation of the restrictions, which the ACLU and other organizations have said are clearly illegal.

“The Supreme Court has stayed the lower court injunction of asylum ban 2.0, a slapdash, ill-conceived, patently illegal policy that will essentially put asylum out of reach for all but Mexican nationals,” Charanya Krishnaswami, Americas advocacy director at Amnesty International USA, said on Wednesday. “Lives will be lost while the case churns through the courts.”

As the New York Times reported, the Supreme Court’s ruling will allow the Trump administration to “enforce new rules that generally forbid asylum applications from migrants who have traveled through another country on their way to the United States without being denied asylum in that country.”

“The court’s order was a major victory for the administration,” the Times noted, “allowing it to enforce a policy that will achieve one of its central goals: effectively barring most migration across the nation’s southwestern border by Hondurans, Salvadorans, Guatemalans, and others.”

The Supreme Court is giving a green light to this Administration to continue its inhumane treatment of vulnerable people.

— Raul M. Grijalva (@RepRaulGrijalva) September 12, 2019

SCOTUS allowed Trump’s cruel and unlawful asylum ban to proceed. This means:

Everyone at our border, except Mexican nationals, will be barred from safety.

Families, children, and vulnerable individuals will be sent back to danger.

The border will become an asylum-free zone.

— Amnesty International (@amnestyusa) September 12, 2019

While no vote was recorded on the asylum ruling, Justices Sonia Sotomayor and Ruth Bader Ginsburg voiced opposition to the decision.

“Once again the executive branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,” Sotomayor wrote in her dissent. “Although this nation has long kept its doors open to refugees—and although the stakes for asylum seekers could not be higher—the government implemented its rule without first providing the public notice and inviting the public input generally required by law.”

Lee Gelernt, an attorney with the ACLU, which is challenging the Trump administration’s asylum ban, said the Supreme Court’s ruling “is just a temporary step” and expressed hope that “we’ll prevail at the end of the day.”

“The lives of thousands of families are at stake,” said Gelernt.

The post Supreme Court Asylum Ruling Carries Dire Implications appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

House Votes to Bar Arctic Drilling; Senate Action Unlikely

WASHINGTON — The Democratic-controlled House on Thursday voted to reinstate a decades-long ban on oil and gas drilling in Alaska’s Arctic National Wildlife Refuge — a largely symbolic move aimed at reversing a plan by President Donald Trump to drill in the pristine refuge.

The 225-193 vote comes as the Trump administration has begun planning to sell oil and gas leases in the remote refuge, home to polar bears, caribou, migratory birds and other species. An environmental impact analysis could be released soon.

The drilling was authorized under a 2017 tax cut approved by the Republican-controlled Congress, an action the House vote attempts to undo. The bill now goes to the GOP-controlled Senate, where action is unlikely. Trump has vowed to veto the bill if it reaches his desk.

Related Articles by by Reveal

The bill’s Democratic sponsor, Rep. Jared Huffman of California, said there are “some places too wild, too important, too special to be spoiled by oil and gas development. The Arctic Refuge Coastal Plain is one of those special places.”

But Republicans, including all three members of Alaska’s congressional delegation, said drilling can be done safely with modern techniques and would decrease U.S. dependence on foreign oil and create jobs for Alaskans.

Rep. Don Young, R-Alaska, said Huffman “certainly takes a great interest in how we Alaskans operate. I would suggest he pay more attention to the issues in his own back yard and let me handle mine.”

Young called the Democratic bill “a sham” and said, “Despite the Democrats’ ongoing efforts, this is not a wilderness area. Let me say again: the (area set aside for drilling) is designated for development.”

Alaskans, including Alaska natives, overwhelmingly want to see the refuge opened to development, Young said. “Alaskans know and have repeatedly shown that responsible development and environmental stewardship can go together.”

Huffman and other bill supporters noted that the 19.6 million acre refuge is home to more than 200 different wildlife species, including bird species that migrate to states and districts across the country.

“You don’t have to have visited the refuge to be impacted and impressed by its ecological beauty,” Huffman said. The Porcupine caribou herd is a vital source of subsistence for the indigenous Gwich’in people and the herd’s survival will be imperiled by oil and gas development, he said.

Republicans and Democrats have fought over Arctic drilling for nearly four decades. Former President Bill Clinton vetoed a GOP plan to allow drilling in the refuge in 1995, and Democrats led by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell defeated a similar plan in 2005.

The plan to allow drilling was included in the 2017 tax bill after lawmakers were unable to get a stand-alone measure approved.

The vote on Alaska drilling comes after the House approved two bills Wednesday that would permanently bar drilling off the Atlantic and Pacific coasts and extend a moratorium on drilling off Florida’s west coast.

Coastal lawmakers from both parties said the bills would protect U.S. coasts from drilling that can pollute crucial waters — and lead to disasters such as the 2010 BP spill in the Gulf of Mexico.

Opponents, mostly Republicans, said the bills undercut domestic energy security and limit thousands of job opportunities.

The Senate is not expected to vote on either of the offshore bills, which Trump has vowed to veto.

The post House Votes to Bar Arctic Drilling; Senate Action Unlikely appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Democratic Debate: Top 2020 Contenders Finally on Same Stage

HOUSTON — Despite the miles traveled, the tens of millions of dollars raised and the ceaseless churn of policy papers, the Democratic primary has been remarkably static for months with Joe Biden leading in polls and Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders vying to be the progressive alternative. That stability is under threat on Thursday.

All of the top presidential candidates will share a debate stage, a setting that could make it harder to avoid skirmishes among the early front-runners. The other seven candidates, meanwhile, are under growing pressure to prove they’re still in the race to take on President Donald Trump next November.

The debate in Houston comes at a pivotal point as many voters move past their summer vacations and start to pay closer attention to the campaign. With the audience getting bigger, the ranks of candidates shrinking and first votes approaching in five months, the stakes are rising.

Related Articles by by

“For a complete junkie or someone in the business, you already have an impression of everyone,” said Howard Dean, who ran for president in 2004 and later chaired the Democratic National Committee. “But now you are going to see increasing scrutiny with other people coming in to take a closer look.”

The ABC News debate is the first confined to one night after several candidates dropped out and others failed to meet new qualification standards.

If nothing else, viewers will see the diversity of the modern Democratic Party. The debate, held on the campus of historically black Texas Southern University, features several women, people of color and a gay man, a striking contrast from the increasingly white and male Republican Party. It will unfold in a rapidly changing state that Democrats hope to eventually bring into their column.

Perhaps the biggest question is how directly the candidates will attack one another. Some fights that were predicted in previous debates failed to materialize with candidates like Sanders and Warren in July joining forces to take on their rivals.

The White House hopefuls and their campaigns are sending mixed messages about how eager they are to make frontal attacks on anyone other than Trump.

That could mean the first meeting between Warren, the rising progressive calling for “big, structural change,” and Biden, the more cautious but still ambitious establishmentarian, doesn’t define the night. Or that Kamala Harris, the California senator, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, look to reclaim lost momentum not by punching upward but by reemphasizing their own visions for America.

Underscoring his establishment roots, Biden released a new ad hours before the debate aimed at deflecting further criticism of President Barack Obama’s administration. At the Detroit debate this summer, Biden said he was “a little surprised” at the flak he took from fellow Democrats about Obama’s legacy.

“He was a president our children could and did look up to,” Biden says in the new ad. “I was proud to serve as his vice president, but never more proud than the day we passed health care.”

Biden, who has led most national and early state polls since he joined the field in April, is downplaying the prospects of a titanic clash with Warren, despite their well-established policy differences on health care, taxes and financial regulation.

For her part, Warren says consistently that she has no interest in going after Democratic opponents.

Yet both campaigns are also clear that they don’t consider it a personal attack to draw sharp policy contrasts. Warren, who as a Harvard law professor once challenged then-Sen. Biden in a Capitol Hill hearing on bankruptcy law, has noted repeatedly that they have sharply diverging viewpoints. Her standard campaign pitch doesn’t mention Biden but is built around a plea that the “time for small ideas is over,” an implicit criticism of more moderate Democrats who want, for example, a public option health care plan instead of single-payer or who want to repeal Trump’s 2017 tax cuts but not necessarily raise taxes further.

Biden, likewise, doesn’t often mention Warren or Sanders. But he regularly contrasts the price tag of his public option insurance proposal to the single-payer system that Warren and Sanders back.

Ahead of the debate, the Biden campaign emphasized that he’s released more than two decades of tax returns, in contrast to the president. That’s a longer period than Warren, and it could reach back into part of her pre-Senate career when she did legal work that included some corporate law.

Biden’s campaign won’t say that he’d initiate any look that far back into Warren’s past, but in July, Biden was ready throughout the debate with specific counters for rivals who brought up weak spots in his record.

There are indirect avenues to chipping away at Biden’s advantages, said Democratic consultant Karen Finney, who advised Hillary Clinton in 2016. Finney noted Biden’s consistent polling advantages on the question of which Democrat can defeat Trump.

A Washington Post-ABC poll this week found that among Democrats and Democratic-leaning voters, Biden garnered 29% support overall. Meanwhile, 45% thought he had the best chance to beat Trump, even though just 24% identified him as the “best president for the country” among the primary field.

“That puts pressure on the others to explain how they can beat Trump,” Finney said.

Voters, Finney said, “want to see presidents on that stage,” and Biden, as a known quantity, already reaches the threshold. “If you’re going to beat him, you have to make your case.”

Some candidates say that’s their preferred path.

Harris, said spokesman Ian Sams, will “make the connection between (Trump’s) hatred and division and our inability to get things done for the country.”

Buttigieg, meanwhile, will have an opportunity to use his argument for generational change as an indirect attack on the top tier. The mayor is 37. Biden, Sanders and Warren are 76, 78 and 70, respectively — hardly a contrast to the 73-year-old Trump.

There’s also potential home state drama with two Texans in the race. Former Rep. Beto O’Rourke and former Obama housing secretary Julian Castro clashed in an earlier debate over immigration. Castro has led the left flank on the issue with a proposal to decriminalize border crossings.

For O’Rourke, it will be the first debate since a massacre in his hometown of El Paso prompted him to overhaul his campaign into a forceful call for sweeping gun restrictions, complete with regular use of the F-word in cable television interviews.

O’Rourke has given no indication of whether he’ll bring the rhetorical flourish to broadcast television.

The post Democratic Debate: Top 2020 Contenders Finally on Same Stage appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Mainstream Media’s Appetite for War is Insatiable

On the 18th anniversary of the September 11 attacks, the illegal US occupation of Afghanistan continues as the longest overseas war in American history. Although President Donald Trump recently declared that peace negotiations over the withdrawal of US troops with the Taliban are “dead,” reportedly because of the death of a US soldier from a suicide bomb attack in Kabul last week, the status of future negotiations is still unclear.

The Costs of War Project has found that about 147,000 people have been killed in the Afghanistan War since 2001, more than 38,000 of them civilians. However, corporate media continued to defend the “forever war” in Afghanistan by concern-trolling over an “overly hasty” withdrawal before the recent collapse in negotiations (FAIR.org1/31/19).

If signed, the deal would have had the US withdraw 5,400 of its 14,000 troops in Afghanistan within 135 days—bringing it down to about the same level of troops stationed there at the start of the Trump administration—with additional phased withdrawals contingent upon the Taliban’s promise to prevent Afghanistan from being a launching pad for international terrorist attacks, and progress on a political agreement between them and the Afghan government.

The Washington Post editorial board’s “Trump Risks Turning a Chance for Success in Afghanistan Into a Shameful Failure” (8/19/19) dismissed the deal as “weak” and a “flimsy accord,” and argued that there’s “little reason to abandon the country in haste.” The Post argued that Obama’s reduction of troops in Iraq was a “mistake” and cautioned that Trump should avoid repeating Obama’s mistake of “committing to troop pullouts from conflict zones without first ensuring that the result is not a political and military disaster,” citing the potential danger of a Taliban takeover and a strengthening of extremist groups. The editorial did not weigh the potential human rights abuses by a future Taliban government against the tens of thousands of civilians actually killed by the ongoing conflict; the only deaths the paper mentioned were those of US troops.

The Los Angeles Times (8/14/19) painted an especially ludicrous picture of the US as a benevolent savior in Afghanistan, after warning that an “overly hasty downsizing” of US military and civilian presence could risk “some of the progress made in human rights and development,” expressing concern that a reduction in “thousands of people” working at the US embassy and civilian aid programs would be “premature.” The LA Times said this despite massive USAID programs already having been criticized as “a failure and a waste of taxpayers’ money” by government watchdog groups, and functioning primarily as a pipeline of public funds into investors’ pockets (CounterPunch12/5/12).

When not editorializing against the Afghanistan negotiations in their coverage, corporate media went out of their way to grant anonymity and a platform to “critics” who characterized full US military withdrawal after almost 18 years of occupation as “premature” (New York Times9/7/19USA Today9/8/19) and worried about the US “giving up its leverage” (NBC News, 9/9/19).

The New York Times (8/2/19) gave a platform to retired generals Jack Keane and David Petraeus to lobby for keeping thousands of “Special Operations forces” in Afghanistan:

“US troops in Afghanistan have prevented another catastrophic attack on our homeland for 18 years,” General Keane said in an interview. “Expecting the Taliban to provide that guarantee in the future by withdrawing all US troops makes no sense.”

The Times might have pointed out that the September 11 attacks were carried out by militants based in the United States and recruited in Germany.

CNN’s  “Trump Meets Security Officials on Afghanistan as Concerns Mount About US Withdrawal” (8/16/19) featured anonymous “critics” who found that the “US/Taliban peace plan” could “end America’s longest-running war,” but “could also trigger a surrender for the US and a betrayal of the Afghan government.”

The Wall Street Journal (8/16/19) reported:

Critics of a prospective deal said any agreement with the Taliban amounts to defeat for the US-led effort, saying the Taliban seek to reclaim control of the country, not battle extremists or work with the Afghan government as the US had hoped.

The Washington Post (8/16/19) found that:

Some critics have expressed concern that the United States could be giving away much of its leverage by announcing a troop withdrawal up front, before progress in inter-Afghan negotiations has been achieved.

NBC News’ “US Withdrawal From Afghanistan Could Trigger ‘Catastrophic’ Civil War, Ex-US Diplomats Warn” (9/3/19), was based on an Atlantic Council commentary by nine former diplomats:

“A major troop withdrawal must be contingent on a final peace,” the former diplomats wrote. “The initial US drawdown should not go so far or so fast that the Taliban believe that they can achieve military victory.”

Who are these “critics,” and how come journalists don’t go out of their way to tap other kinds of sources for their reports? While there was no shortage of sources critical of US withdrawal efforts in these reports, corporate media hosted a narrow spectrum of debate by leaving no room for sources critical of the war’s moral and legal legitimacy who advocated a complete withdrawal.

The discussion also left out those who were critical of the “peace talks” for reasons that differ from those of hawkish government and military officials. Legal scholar Marjorie Cohn and the Costs of War Project have criticized the US/Taliban peace talks, arguing that they wouldn’t have led to real peace because they ignored the role of regional Afghan militias, funded and directed by the CIA, in subverting peace (Intercept8/21/19). These CIA-backed forces have violated laws of war designed to protect civilians by engaging in torture and killings with near impunity, pushing people toward the Taliban. Central to the US/NATO coalition’s security strategy, these militias carry out approximately seven times as many offensive operations against the Taliban as the regular Afghan forces (New York Times12/31/188/12/19).

Not only do corporate media credulously assume that the US has always been interested in peace, conveniently forgetting that the US rejected offers from the Taliban to hand Osama bin Laden over and surrender soon after the invasion (Intercept, 8/22/17), they also erroneously presume that the US possesses the legal and moral prerogative to enforce a deal to determine the future of Afghanistan.

While it’s certainly true that things could get worse if the US withdraws, these reports conveniently omit that the US military’s very presence is a major obstacle to peace in Afghanistan. Political scientist Robert Pape studied every  suicide bomb attack in the world since 1980, like the one ostensibly responsible for scuttling the peace talks. His finding: 95 percent of all suicide bombings are a response to military intervention, and often occupation (Nation12/2/15). The Taliban have long held that a complete withdrawal of foreign troops and an end to the occupation is a necessary precondition for any political settlement with the Afghan government.

Although the Afghan government and the international coalition—primarily the US—have caused most of the civilian deaths during the first six months of 2019, media scholar and FAIR contributor Greg Shupak is correct to point out (In These Times8/1/18):

The United States and its partners also share blame for Afghan civilian deaths caused by anti-government forces. According to the International Military Tribunal at Nuremberg conducted after World War II, a war of aggression is “the supreme international crime differing only from other war crimes in that it contains within itself the accumulated evil of the whole.” What this means is that whoever starts a war is responsible for all the atrocities that occur in that war. The 2001 US-led invasion of Afghanistan was a war of aggression. The attack was not authorized by the United Nations, which means it was illegal.

FAIR has documented that corporate media have often covered for the US government’s role in cultivating Muslim extremists (Extra!1/02), and for its effective cooperation with Osama bin Laden’s explicit strategy of bogging the US down in expensive, bloody wars in Muslim countries (Extra!7/11).

The Afghans are one of the least happy populations ever recorded (Gallup, 10/26/18). Yet corporate media’s propagandistic coverage discourages the US from doing the one thing that might help change that: get out.

The post The Mainstream Media’s Appetite for War is Insatiable appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

‘The Goldfinch’ Flutters but Doesn’t Take Wing

Back in 17th-century Holland, “The Goldfinch,” a diminutive trompe l’oeil painting by Carel Fabritius, depicted a colorful house pet chained to its feeder. Shortly after the painting was made, Fabritius, 32, died in a 1654 munitions explosion in Delft. Yet the painting survived.

Fabritius and Donna Tartt’s 2014 novel, “The Goldfinch,” have in common the painting and an explosion. Her Dickensian page-turner follows a 13-year-old who sees the painting with his mother at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art moments before a terrorist bomb levels a wing of the museum. Yet painting—and boy—survive.

Narrated by protagonist Theo Decker, the novel unfolds chronologically, stoking the reader’s emotional investment in his loss, displacement and future. Not so John Crowley’s eye-popping, narratively scrambled adaptation that opens like a noir, just before the story’s denouement.

Tricky thing, adapting a beloved novel for the screen. Crowley did a lovely job with “Brooklyn,” Colm Toibin’s portrait of a young Irish immigrant in America in the 1950s. That movie flowed.

Frustratingly—and I think it’s because of the many flash-forwards and flashbacks in Peter Straughan’s screenplay—this grief-shrouded film moves like molasses, inching back and forth for 2 ½ hours. (Straughan did the script for the similarly slow and elliptical 2011 film version of “Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy.“)

Still, I watched the movie with equal parts interest and irritation—interest in how the young Theo (Oakes Fegley, quite fine) gets passed along, like the painting itself, to a series of caretakers who variously nurture or abuse him; irritation with the jumps in time and exasperation at the pacing.

One aspect of the film had my unalloyed appreciation: Roger Deakins’ cinematography has an emotive spectrum and depth lacking in some of the performances, particularly those of Ansel Elgort (adult Theo) and of Luke Wilson (his estranged father). The relative coolness and warmth, monochrome and polychrome of his imagery conveys emotional volumes. And when Theo has nightmares about the bombing, the faded image of his memories is quite startling.

The most significant adult performances come from Nicole Kidman and Jeffrey Wright as Theo’s caretakers, essentially his surrogate mother and father. Kidman’s Mrs. Barbour, a Park Avenue lady of pedigree, initially comes off chilly and stilted. Over the film’s course, her character ripens in compassion and is surprisingly touching. In a more consistent performance, Wright is quite moving as Hobie, an antiques restorer whose business partner, Blackwell, has died in the Met bombing.

Like Theo, Blackwell’s niece, Pippa (played by Aimee Laurence as a teenager and Ashleigh Cummings as an adult), also survives the bombing. For the young man, she is the only one who understands his loss and grief. His love for Pippa sustains him.

I liked the film more than not. While the story’s symbolism about surviving disaster and loss may be better suited to a novel than to a film, in the end the movie, like the painting for which it’s named, has the talismanic power. The Goldfinch is chained to its feeder, as Theo is linked to the humans who sustain him.

The post ‘The Goldfinch’ Flutters but Doesn’t Take Wing appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Meet the Palestinian Teen Who Beat U.S. Deportation

Ismail Ajjawi, a 17-year-old Palestinian student who grew up in a refugee camp in Lebanon, had achieved something remarkable: admission to Harvard University with a full scholarship. One can only imagine his feelings as he landed in the United States on Aug. 23, at Boston Logan International Airport. But he didn’t get far. He was pulled aside by U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers, and later described being questioned about his religious beliefs and practices. He was forced to surrender his phone and computer for examination, after which a CBP officer yelled at him, saying they had found social media posts that were critical of the U.S. — not from him, but from some of his friends. With that, Ismail’s visa was rescinded, and he was deported back to Lebanon.

“I scored the highest marks in biology in the south region in the official Lebanese Baccalaureate and the eighth overall in Lebanon. … I aim to double major and to study medicine in the future,” Ismail said in a video produced by UNRWA, the United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees. UNRWA runs over 700 schools for more than 500,000 students in the Israeli-occupied Palestinian territories and in Palestinian refugee camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Syria. UNRWA provides health care at scores of clinics, and additional social services for the Palestinian refugee population.

Related Articles by by by Informed Comment

Ismail Ajjawi continued: “The environment in school and in the camp is very challenging. Overpopulation is a big issue … the houses are too close to each other … there’s no privacy for Palestinian students to study. Every year, these limited opportunities decrease.”

His treatment at Logan Airport and his summary deportation provoked outrage, from fellow and sister students at Harvard, to Harvard President Lawrence Bacow, to international organizations. Summer Lopez of the free speech organization PEN America wrote, “That Ajjawi should be prevented from taking his place at Harvard because of his own political speech would be alarming; that he should be denied this opportunity based on the speech of others is downright lawless.”

A diverse coalition of student and community groups organized a petition demanding that Ismail be admitted to the U.S., which thousands of people signed. One of Ismail’s new classmates is David Hogg, who survived last year’s Parkland, Florida, school massacre and went on to become a prominent gun control advocate. Hogg tweeted: “I cried reading this. The joy and excitement of moving into Harvard today was stolen from my classmate Ismail B. Ajjawi.”

Ismail was supported in his studies by the U.S.-based nonprofit organization AMIDEAST. “Ismail … went in Beirut to a competitive college club that helped coach him on how you apply to an American university,” Theodore Kattouf, president and CEO of AMIDEAST and a former U.S. ambassador to the United Arab Emirates and Syria, said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour. Ironically, Ismail benefited from a U.S. government “opportunity grant” that funded some of his college prep activities.

Just over a year ago, the Trump administration announced that it was going to cancel U.S. payments to UNRWA, which amount to $360 million of the aid agency’s $1.2 billion annual budget. While a consortium of 42 nations and organizations worked to fill the gap, “We continue feeling this hit of losing our biggest donor,” Matthias Schmale, director of UNRWA operations in Gaza, said on “Democracy Now!”

“This is a situation in which most Palestine refugee children find themselves in,” Schmale added, speaking from Gaza City. “They have the benefit of getting an education through the United Nations, through the UNRWA schools, but sadly, the opportunities are few and far between in terms of getting out.”

AMIDEAST’s Kattouf credits both the work of Harvard and the U.S. Embassy in Beirut for quickly restoring Ismail’s visa, allowing him to return to Massachusetts to begin college, just in time for classes.

While Ismail Ajjawi finally made it to school, the situation for Palestinians continues to deteriorate. Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu has promised, if reelected next week, to annex at least one-third of the West Bank, further crushing any hopes of a viable Palestinian state. In the Gaza Strip, during the Great March of Return that has been ongoing since March 2018, over 7,400 peaceful protesters have been injured with live ammunition fired by the Israeli military, and at least 210 Palestinians have been killed, including children and medical personnel.

The siege of Gaza must be lifted, and students from there, the West Bank and from refugee camps in the surrounding area must be free to study, at home or abroad. The injustice Ismail Ajjawi suffered at the hands of Logan Airport’s federal agents must be fully investigated, and prevented from happening again.

The post Meet the Palestinian Teen Who Beat U.S. Deportation appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Tentative Opioids Settlement Falls Short of a Nationwide Deal

HARTFORD, Conn.—A tentative settlement announced Wednesday over the role Purdue Pharma played in the nation’s opioid addiction crisis falls short of the far-reaching national settlement the OxyContin maker had been seeking for months, with litigation sure to continue against the company and the family that owns it.

The agreement with about half the states and attorneys representing roughly 2,000 local governments would have Purdue file for a structured bankruptcy and pay as much as $12 billion over time, with about $3 billion coming from the Sackler family. That number involves future profits and the value of drugs currently in development.

In addition, the family would have to give up its ownership of the company and contribute another $1.5 billion by selling another of its pharmaceutical companies, Mundipharma.

Related Articles by ProPublica by

Several attorneys general said the agreement was a better way to ensure compensation from Purdue and the Sacklers than taking their chances if Purdue files for bankruptcy on its own.

Arizona Attorney General Mark Brnovich said the deal “was the quickest and surest way to get immediate relief for Arizona and for the communities that have been harmed by the opioid crisis and the actions of the Sackler family.”

But even advocates of the deal cautioned that it’s not yet complete.

“I don’t think there’s a settlement,” said Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost whose state was among those supporting it. “There is a proposal that’s been accepted by a majority of attorneys general, but there are quite a few significant states that have not joined at this point.”

“There’s still a lot of telephone calls going on. I think we see the outlines of a thing that might be, but it’s not yet,” Yost said in an interview.

Opioid addiction has contributed to the deaths of some 400,000 Americans over the past two decades, hitting many rural communities particularly hard.

The lawsuits against Stamford, Connecticut-based Purdue paint it as a particular villain in the crisis. They say the company’s aggressive marketing of OxyContin downplayed addiction risks and led to more widespread opioid prescribing, even though only a sliver of the opioid painkillers sold in the U.S. were its products.

The tentative agreement and expected bankruptcy filing would remove Purdue from the first federal trial over the opioids epidemic, scheduled to begin next month in Ohio.

In a statement after Wednesday’s announcement, the company said that it “continues to work with all plaintiffs on reaching a comprehensive resolution to its opioid litigation that will deliver billions of dollars and vital opioid overdose rescue medicines to communities across the country impacted by the opioid crisis.”

Even with Wednesday’s development, many states have not signed on. Several state attorneys general vowed to continue their legal battles against the Sacklers and the company in bankruptcy court. Roughly 20 states have sued members of the Sackler family in state courts.

Connecticut, Iowa, Massachusetts, Nevada, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, North Carolina and Wisconsin were among the states saying they were not part of the agreement.

“Our position remains firm and unchanged and nothing for us has changed today,” Connecticut Attorney General William Tong said in a statement.

“The scope and scale of the pain, death and destruction that Purdue and the Sacklers have caused far exceeds anything that has been offered thus far,” Tong said. “Connecticut’s focus is on the victims and their families, and holding Purdue and the Sacklers accountable for the crisis they have caused.”

Pennsylvania Attorney General Josh Shapiro called the tentative deal “a slap in the face to everyone who has had to bury a loved one due to this family’s destruction and greed.”

He said he intends to continue fighting the Sacklers, who he said did not have to acknowledge any wrongdoing in their agreement.

“This is far from over,” he said.

Ryan Hampton, a Los Angeles-based advocate for people in recovery from opioid addiction, said he was launching “a massive effort” among victims’ families and others impacted by the crisis to urge state attorneys general not to accept the deal.

“The amount of money that’s being offered in this settlement doesn’t even scratch the surface for what’s needed,” Hampton said. “We want to see Purdue have their day in court. We know more money will come if this case goes to trial.”

Wednesday’s announcement came just days after a group of attorneys general negotiating directly with Purdue and the Sacklers said they had reached an impasse in talks. At the time, several attorneys general said they were not confident Purdue would pay the amount promised and wanted more assurance that the money would come through.

In the latest settlement agreement, New York Attorney General Letitia James accused the Sacklers of “attempting to evade responsibility and lowball the millions of victims of the opioid crisis.”

On Wednesday, the Sackler family said in a statement that it “supports working toward a global resolution that directs resources to the patients, families and communities across the country who are suffering and need assistance.”

“This is the most effective way to address the urgency of the current public health crisis, and to fund real solutions, not endless litigation,” it said.

Some 2,000 lawsuits brought by local governments, Native American tribes, unions and hospitals have been consolidated under a federal judge in Cleveland, who has been encouraging the parties to settle. U.S. District Court Judge Dan Polster invited state attorneys general, who had filed their own lawsuits, to lead the negotiations.

How any money from the settlement would be divided among all the entities is not entirely clear. Nevertheless, attorneys representing the local governments issued a statement saying they recommended the governments agree to the deal as a way to bring relief to their communities.

In March, Purdue and members of the Sackler family reached a $270 million settlement with Oklahoma to avoid a trial on the toll of opioids there.

A court filing made public in Massachusetts this year asserts that members of the Sackler family were paid more than $4 billion by Purdue from 2007 to 2018. Much of the family’s fortune is believed to be held outside the U.S., which could complicate lawsuits against the family over opioids.

The Sacklers have given money to cultural institutions around the world, including the Smithsonian Institution, New York City’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and London’s Tate Modern.


Mulvihill reported from New Jersey. Associated Press writers Jonathan J. Cooper in Phoenix, Carla K. Johnson in Seattle and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus, Ohio contributed to this report.

The post Tentative Opioids Settlement Falls Short of a Nationwide Deal appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Untold History of Charles Manson

The 50th anniversary of the Manson family slayings have inspired a rash of new essays and retrospectives, and almost ubiquitous among them is the same basic premise: that the seven murders committed by Charles Manson’s cultists in August 1969 marked not just the “death of the ’60s” but the indefinite deferral of the dream they contained. From the very titles of the works exploring the family’s crimes to a new summer blockbuster starring Brad Pitt and Leonardo DiCaprio, this notion continues to dominate the public imagination.

“We tell ourselves stories in order to live,” Joan Didion writes in her seminal essay, “The White Album,” imposing “a narrative line upon disparate images” so as to adduce some clear moral or lesson from our experiences. In Didion’s recollection of the ’60s, memory may be kaleidoscopic, and events cannot be put in a linear order.

What is clear for Didion is that the gruesome violence of the Tate-LaBianca tragedy denoted the end point of the decade, the wages of a strange, unhinged time. Her recounting of the era centers upon the Manson slayings as the grim culmination of all that messy campus activism, dissolute rock musicians, black nationalism and strange new communes popping up like dandelions. In Didion’s telling, “no one was surprised” that five people had been slaughtered in Roman Polanski’s Benedict Canyon mansion—a curious note to strike about a crime that continues to shock to this day.

In the decades since its publication, the basic thesis of “The White Album” has become consensus. Manson, who died in prison in 2017, lives on as an Antichrist come to Los Angeles—the ultimate boogeyman to warn against the freak lifestyle of his time and place.

But this narrative doesn’t merely do a grave disservice to the Manson family’s victims by minimizing their suffering as the mere collateral of history. Conflating the likes of Tex Watson and Lynette “Squeaky” Fromme with the wider cultural revolutions of the era is itself a highly pernicious and dubious proposition, serving a largely reactionary interpretation of the crimes. Such a view not only does little to advance a meaningful understanding of the murders but validates a widespread hostility, then and now, toward the counterculture, as though it was the exclusive domain of a single, nightmarish guru.

This transformation of Manson, a barely literate career criminal, into the malevolent force responsible for ending an epoch, rests on a curious contradiction. In this version of events, Manson is a uniquely evil, ultraviolent force whose exploitation of the counterculture’s naivete ultimately destroyed a time of peaceful idealism and brotherly love. This is the case made in Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time in Hollywood,” which revels in the innocence those murders allegedly destroyed.

Tarantino’s film prompts the question: Just how innocent was the age that preceded the Tate-LaBianca murders? Even the most cursory examination of the decade indicates that it was incredibly, unceasingly violent. For an essay purportedly about the ’60s, Didion’s “The White Album” ignores the most murderous Californian of the time, Richard Nixon. There is no mention of the Vietnam War and the wider savagery visited upon Southeast Asia. Meanwhile, she portrays the campus activists of the era as faintly ridiculous dead-enders engaged in  “industrious self-delusion,” their ultimate motives seemingly unworthy of exploration.

Race riots, horrific carpet-bombing, the assassinations of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King  and the Kennedys—these are just the period’s most recognizable acts of carnage. Brutality was the status quo, and most of it originated not from the panoply of militant activists associated with the ’60s but from a mainstream acting in the name of law and order. Police and security service action against the counterculture was endemic; from spying to dirty tricks to assaults on such activists as Abbie Hoffman, such efforts involved prominent, powerful reactionaries, including those in the White House.

Dark conspiracies were afoot. As journalist Tom O’Neill reveals in his new book, “Chaos: Charles Manson, the CIA, and the Secret History of the Sixties,” FBI COINTELPRO agents had successfully engineered the murders of two Black Panthers on the UCLA campus in 1969, using informants to prod a rival black nationalist group into the crimes. In May of that year, the California Highway Patrol, operating under then-Gov. Ronald Reagan, fired shotguns at dozens of students at the University of California at Berkeley, killing one and blinding another. That December, Black Panther leaders Mark Clark and Fred Hampton were killed in a Chicago police raid, with a wealth of evidence pointing to their extrajudicial murder.

By making the Manson family murders the fulcrum of her essay, Didion didn’t merely depoliticize the era; she recast history, however eloquently, to conform with her cultural beliefs as a stalwart Barry Goldwater voter. So if the popular understanding of the California cult has often been a cynical one, deployed selectively to sully the ’60s counterculture as inherently sinister, what can we learn from the tragedy? And what is the best way of understanding the seemingly incomprehensible events of August 1969?

The answers likely hold crucial lessons for 2019. Prosecutor Vincent Bugliosi’s description of Manson as a “right-wing hippie” in his best-selling account of the case, “Helter Skelter,” is largely accurate. Manson, a grifting former pimp, had no political ethos beyond perhaps his white supremacism, which only grew more pronounced after he was incarcerated. Indeed, the entire hippie phenomenon of 1969 was hardly as political as popular memory leads us to believe. As Hunter S. Thompson reported in his 1967 essay on San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, hippies were not the student activists who had roiled campuses around the country in the years before; they were apolitical waifs who retreated from the kind of confrontation the activism of the day entailed.

Manson once called himself “The Gardener” because he collected flower children. The nickname was unfortunately apt, as he largely preyed on teenage girls, some as much as 15 years younger than himself. More than the savage violence for which it’s remembered, this was perhaps the defining feature of the Manson family. Its cult leader systematically exploited the psychological vulnerabilities of extremely young women, already alienated from their middle-class families of origin, and “love-bombed” them to make them feel special, valued and unique.

Reading the accounts of his manipulation, Manson emerges not as a mysterious Svengali with a unique gift for mind control but as a more conventional domestic abuser, alternating between threats and inducements. On Spahn Ranch, his disciples were completely isolated from all external influences. They weren’t even allowed to own wristwatches.

Tragically for Manson’s first victims, the desires he exploited to such disastrous effect were pervasive to women of the era. “I seemed to want more out of life than what was expected of young girls at that time,” recounted convicted killer Leslie Van Houten during an interview from prison with Diane Sawyer in 1993. “Drugs, sex. Y’know, breaking away from the norm.”

Van Houten was hardly alone. By 1969, countless women were peacefully raising their children on communal estates like the Hog Farm, away from mainstream society. Yet it was Van Houten who helped stab Rosemary LaBianca to death.

The crimes of the Manson family were singularly horrific, but it is equal parts dangerous and irresponsible to paint them as the inevitable result of an alternative lifestyle. Indeed, the greed, racism and fame-seeking, which defined and animated Manson, remain as common to American life today as they were then. It is the misogyny of his crimes—embodied most awfully with the death of an eight-and-a-half-months-pregnant Sharon Tate—that seems most striking now.

Perhaps the least-explored horror of the Manson family murders was the way they reflected, through the broken glass of one struggling songwriter, mainstream American desires. We have a duty to remember this, no matter how comforting it would be to consign such beasts to the shadows. The killer, to echo the famous short story, was calling from inside the house.

The post The Untold History of Charles Manson appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Supreme Court OKs Enforcement of Trump Asylum Limits

WASHINGTON—The Supreme Court is allowing nationwide enforcement of a new Trump administration rule that prevents most Central American immigrants from seeking asylum in the United States.

The justices’ order late Wednesday temporarily undoes a lower-court ruling that had blocked the new asylum policy in some states along the southern border. The policy is meant to deny asylum to anyone who passes through another country on the way to the U.S. without seeking protection there.

Most people crossing the southern border are Central Americans fleeing violence and poverty. They are largely ineligible under the new rule, as are asylum seekers from Africa, Asia and South America who arrive regularly at the southern border.

Related Articles by OtherWords by FAIR

The shift reverses decades of U.S. policy. The administration has said that it wants to close the gap between an initial asylum screening that most people pass and a final decision on asylum that most people do not win.

Justices Ruth Bader Ginsburg and Sonia Sotomayor dissented from the high-court’s order. “Once again, the Executive Branch has issued a rule that seeks to upend longstanding practices regarding refugees who seek shelter from persecution,” Sotomayor wrote.

The legal challenge to the new policy has a brief but somewhat convoluted history. U.S. District Judge Jon Tigar in San Francisco blocked the new policy from taking effect in late July. A three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals narrowed Tigar’s order so that it applied only in Arizona and California, states that are within the 9th Circuit.

That left the administration free to enforce the policy on asylum seekers arriving in New Mexico and Texas. Tigar issued a new order on Monday that reimposed a nationwide hold on asylum policy. The 9th Circuit again narrowed his order on Tuesday.

The high-court action leaves the administration free to impose the new policy everywhere while the court case against it continues.

The post Supreme Court OKs Enforcement of Trump Asylum Limits appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy

The Doha talks between the United States and the Taliban to work out a peace deal to end Afghanistan’s 18-year conflict began with a whimper a year ago. They ended Saturday with a presidential tweet from the White House that was no less than a bang that resounded around a startled world.

Having come so close to a peace deal, it was difficult to understand why President Donald Trump and thus the U.S. backed off. True, an American soldier was killed in an attack by the Taliban last week along with a Romanian soldier and 10 Afghan civilians. But 15 U.S. soldiers have been killed since the Doha talks began, and the Taliban had yet to formally renounce violence.

Most shaken by the turn of events in the peace process were the Taliban leaders themselves and their patrons in Pakistan.  It had been a Herculean task to bring the killers of 2,300 American and 45,000 Afghan soldiers and 32,000 Afghan civilians to the negotiating table. Then they had to be persuaded to agree in principle to a peace process for power sharing. Some loose ends still had to be tied up, but there was hope. Credit for this goes to the tireless shuttle diplomacy spread over nine months by the Afghan-born American diplomat, Zalmay Khalilzad. He has been strangely silent in the last two days.

Related Articles by by

The abrupt tweet had two shocks wrapped in it. First, Trump said he was set to meet with the Taliban leadership at Camp David. He was also to meet the Afghan president separately. The summit had been kept a secret and the world came to know about it only when it was called off, along with the negotiations that were expected to lead to the formal signing of a peace deal.

So it was back to square one, leaving the Taliban and Islamabad in a state of shock. The Taliban called the Trump announcement “an antipeace move” that would hurt the American interests. Because it never suspended hostilities, there is nothing to stop it from unleashing more violence. After all it was the Taliban attack in Kabul that had provoked Trump’s abrupt response.

Pakistan is the one facing a dilemma. It has to weigh the pros and cons of a situation over which it has no control. On Monday, the Pakistan Foreign Office urged the two sides to “re-engage to find a negotiated peace from the ongoing political settlement process.”

It is now an open secret that religious groups of all varieties have been used by the Pakistan spy agency and the establishment to promote their strategic and political interests. Many of them were actually the creation of the power brokers. The Taliban were organized in 1994 by Pakistani Gen. Hameed Gul, the chief of the Inter-Services Intelligence spy agency, to gain control of Afghanistan when the country was in a state of chaos after Russia’s withdrawal. The Taliban continued to be used as strategic assets by the Pakistan army that never looked with favour at an independent Afghanistan.

Many retired security officers in Pakistan have recently admitted there has been a change of heart in Pakistan vis-à-vis the militant and religious extremists. Small wonder Pakistan American pull-out from the peace process leaves Pakistan in a quandary.

Of late, Pakistan has also clamped down on the religious militants who have created trouble for the government in its relations with India, especially in the Kashmir context. Pakistani religious militants have been rather silent about the tragedy unfolding in Kashmir at the hands of the Indian army and Prime Minister Narendra  Modi’s oppressive police.

If the Taliban go totally on the warpath, one cannot be sure how that will affect Pakistan’s Kashmir front.

Pakistan also is struggling with the Financial Action Task Force, an inter-governmental body set up by governments in Southeast Asia and Pacific region to keep an eye on the implementation of laws against money laundering and terror financing. It is working to determine whether it has done enough to implement the laws. If a country is placed on the black list, sanctions are imposed on it. Pakistan has been placed in the Gray List and is struggling to keep itself out of the black list.  .

These difficult times come just as Pakistan’s regional prospects had been looking up. But all it can do now is wonder whether the 18-year war in Afghanistan will ever end.

The post Trump Leaves Afghanistan and Pakistan at His Mercy appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Oil Tycoon T. Boone Pickens Dies at Age 91

OKLAHOMA CITY — T. Boone Pickens, a brash and quotable oil tycoon who grew even wealthier through corporate takeover attempts, died Wednesday. He was 91.

Pickens was surrounded by friends and family when he died of natural causes under hospice care at his Dallas home, spokesman Jay Rosser said. Pickens suffered a series of strokes in 2017 and was hospitalized that July after what he called a “Texas-sized fall.”

An only child who grew up in a small railroad town in Oklahoma, Pickens followed his father into the oil and gas business. After just three years, he formed his own company and built a reputation as a maverick, unafraid to compete against oil-industry giants.

Related Articles by Reveal

In the 1980s, Pickens switched from drilling for oil to plumbing for riches on Wall Street. He led bids to take over big oil companies including Gulf, Phillips and Unocal, castigating their executives as looking out only for themselves while ignoring the shareholders.

Even when Pickens and other so-called corporate raiders failed to gain control of their targets, they scored huge payoffs by selling their shares back to the company and dropping their hostile takeover bids.

Later in his career, Pickens championed renewable energy including wind power. He argued that the United States needed to reduce its dependence on foreign oil. He sought out politicians to support his “Pickens Plan,” which envisioned an armada of wind turbines across the middle of the country that could generate enough power to free up natural gas for use in vehicles.

“I’ve been an oilman all my life, but this is one emergency we can’t drill our way out of,” he said in 2009.

Pickens’ advocacy for renewable energy led to some unusual alliances. He had donated to many Republican candidates since the 1980s, and in the 2004 presidential campaign he helped bankroll television ads by a group called Swift Boat Veterans for Truth that attacked Democratic nominee John Kerry. A few years later, Pickens endorsed a Kerry proposal to limit climate change.

Pickens couldn’t duplicate his oil riches in renewable energy. In 2009, he scrapped plans for a huge Texas wind farm after running into difficulty getting transmission lines approved, and eventually his renewables business failed.

“It doesn’t mean that wind is dead,” Pickens said at the time. “It just means we got a little bit too quick off the blocks.”

Pickens flirted with marketing water from West Texas, acquiring water rights in the early 2000s in hopes of selling it to thirsty cities. But he couldn’t find a buyer, and in 2011 he signed a deal with nearby regional water supplier to sell the water rights beneath 211,000 acres for $103 million.

In 2007, Forbes magazine estimated Pickens’ net worth at $3 billion. He eventually slid below $1 billion and off the magazine’s list of wealthiest Americans. In 2016, the magazine put his worth at $500 million.

Besides his peripatetic business and political interests, Pickens made huge donations to his alma mater, Oklahoma State University — the football stadium bears his name, and he gave $100 million for endowed faculty positions.

Pickens’ foundation gave $50 million each to the University of Texas’ M.D. Anderson Cancer Center in Houston and UT Southwestern Medical Center at Dallas. He was among those who signed a “giving pledge” started by billionaire investor Warren Buffet and Microsoft co-founder Bill Gates, promising to donate a majority of his wealth to charity.

“I firmly believe one of the reasons I was put on this Earth was to make money and be generous with it,” he said on his website.

Pickens was born in 1928 in Holdenville, Okla. His father was a landman, someone who secures mineral-rights leases for oil and gas drilling. His mother ran a government office that handled gasoline-rationing coupons for a three-county area during World War II.

A child of the Depression, Pickens credited his father with teaching him to take risks and praised his grandmother for lessons in being frugal. If young Boone continued to leave the lights on after leaving a room, she declared, she would hand the electric bill to the boy so he could pay it.

Pickens went to work by age 12, getting a newspaper route. He expanded it by buying the routes on either side of his — marking his first venture into acquisitions.

Although only 5-foot-8, Pickens was a star guard on his high school basketball team in Amarillo, Texas, and earned a sports scholarship to Texas A&M University. He lost the scholarship when he broke an elbow, and he transferred to Oklahoma A&M, now Oklahoma State.

After graduating with a degree in geology, he joined Phillips Petroleum Co., where his father, T. Boone Pickens Sr., was working. The younger Pickens was unhappy with his job from the start.

After just three years, he borrowed some money and found two investors to start his own business, called Petroleum Exploration. That was a predecessor to Mesa Petroleum, an oil and gas company in Amarillo, which Pickens took public in 1964.

By the 1980s, the stock of the major petroleum producers was so cheap that it became cheaper to get new oil reserves by taking over a company than by drilling. Pickens set his sights on acquiring other companies.

In 1984, Mesa Petroleum made a profit of more than $500 million from a hostile bid for Gulf Corp., then the fifth-largest oil company in the United States, when Gulf maneuvered to sell itself instead to Chevron. Before that, Pickens earned $31.5 million by driving Cities Service into the arms of Occidental Petroleum.

Later that year, Pickens launched a bid for his old employer, Phillips Petroleum. It was an unpopular move in Bartlesville, Okla., where Phillips was headquartered. Residents held 24-hour prayer vigils to support the company.

Pickens’ methods angered his targets.

“He’s only after the almighty buck,” G.C. Richardson, a retired executive of Cities Services, said in 1985. “He’s nothing but a pirate.”

Pickens insisted that he was a friend of ordinary shareholders, who benefited when his forays caused the stock price of a company to rise.

Pickens’ star faded in the 1990s. He lost control of debt-ridden Mesa, and his bullishness on natural gas prices turned out to be a costly mistake.

After leaving Mesa, Pickens in 1996 started BP Capital Management, a billion-dollar hedge fund focused on energy commodities and equities that delivered mammoth gains.

There were difficult times in his personal life. In 2005, Pickens looked on as one of his sons, Michael, was arrested on securities-fraud charges — he pleaded guilty and was sentenced to five years’ probation and ordered to repay $1.2 million.

Pickens owned a ranch in the Texas Panhandle, another in Oklahoma, and a vacation retreat in Palm Springs, California.

After his fall in July 2017, he wrote on Linkedin that he was still mentally strong, but “I clearly am in the fourth quarter.”


Former Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report.

The post Oil Tycoon T. Boone Pickens Dies at Age 91 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Government Will Propose Banning Flavors Used in E-Cigarettes

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump said Wednesday his administration will propose banning thousands of flavors used in e-cigarettes to combat a recent surge in underage vaping.

The Food and Drug Administration will develop guidelines to remove from the market all e-cigarette flavors except tobacco, Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar told reporters during an Oval Office appearance with the president, first lady Melania Trump and the acting FDA commissioner, Ned Sharpless.

Related Articles by

Trump said vaping has become such a problem that he wants parents to be aware of what’s happening. “People are going to watch what we’re saying and parents are going to be a lot tougher with respect to their children,” he said.

Melania Trump recently tweeted her concerns over the combination of children and vaping.

It will take several weeks to develop the proposed flavor restrictions, which will be subject to public input before taking effect.

Trump’s first public comments on vaping come as health authorities investigate hundreds of breathing illnesses reported in people who have used e-cigarettes and other vaping devices.

No single device, ingredient or additive has been identified, though many cases involve marijuana vaping devices.

The proposal announced by Trump officials would only apply to nicotine vaping products, which are regulated by the FDA.

The FDA has had the authority to ban vaping flavors since 2016, but has previously resisted calls to take that step. Agency officials instead said they were studying if flavors could help smokers quit traditional cigarettes.

But parents, politicians and health advocates have increasingly called for a crackdown on flavors , arguing that they are overwhelmingly to blame for a recent surge in underage vaping by U.S. teens.

“We simply have to remove these attractive flavored products from the marketplace until they can secure FDA approval, if they can,” Azar said.

Azar said flavored products could apply for FDA permission to reenter the market. But under agency standards, only products that represent a net benefit to the nation’s public health can win FDA clearance.

Azar said the administration would allow tobacco-flavored e-cigarettes to remain available as an option for adult smokers. But he said that if children begin using those products, “we will take enforcement action there also.”

A 2009 law banned all flavors from traditional cigarettes except menthol. But that law did not apply to e-cigarettes, which were then a tiny segment of the tobacco market.

A ban on flavors would represent a huge blow to the vaping industry, including companies such as Juul, which has grown into a multibillion dollar business by selling mint, fruit and dessert flavored-nicotine products.

Juul and other vaping companies argue that their products are intended to help adult smokers wean themselves off traditional paper-and-tobacco cigarettes. But there is little evidence that e-cigarettes are effective for helping smokers quit.

Federal law prohibits e-cigarette and all other tobacco sales to those under 18. But last year, 1 in 5 high school students reported vaping in the past month, according to government survey figures. Government health officials have called the trend an “epidemic,” and new statistics due out this fall are expected to show the problem worsening.

More than 80 percent of underage teens who use e-cigarettes say they picked the product because it “comes in flavors that I like,” according to government surveys.

A few local governments, including San Francisco, have passed bans on flavored tobacco. And this month Michigan moved to become the first state to ban flavored electronic cigarettes. But other proposed flavor bans have stalled in state legislatures this year, often facing opposition from vaping lobbyists.

E-cigarettes have been on the U.S. market for more than a decade. FDA officials have repeatedly delayed enforcing regulations on them, responding to industry complaints that it would wipe out thousands of small vaping companies.

Most experts agree the aerosol from e-cigarettes is less harmful than cigarette smoke since it doesn’t contain most of the cancer-causing byproducts of burning tobacco. E-cigarettes generally heat liquid containing nicotine. But there is virtually no research on the long-term effects of vaping.

The post Government Will Propose Banning Flavors Used in E-Cigarettes appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Afghanistan May Never Recover From the U.S. Invasion

When the conflict that the Vietnamese refer to as the American War ended in April 1975, I was a U.S. Army captain attending a course at Fort Knox, Kentucky. In those days, the student body at any of our Army’s myriad schools typically included officers from the Army of the Republic of Vietnam (ARVN).

Since ARVN’s founding two decades earlier, the United States had assigned itself the task of professionalizing that fledgling military establishment. Based on a conviction that the standards, methods, and ethos of our armed forces were universally applicable and readily exportable, the attendance of ARVN personnel at such Army schools was believed to contribute to the professionalizing of the South Vietnamese military.

Related Articles by by by

Evidence that the U.S. military’s own professional standards had recently taken a hit — memories of the My Lai massacre were then still fresh — elicited no second thoughts on our part. Association with American officers like me was sure to rub off on our South Vietnamese counterparts in ways that would make them better soldiers. So we professed to believe, even while subjecting that claim to no more scrutiny than we did the question of why most of us had spent a year or more of our lives participating in an obviously misbegotten and misguided war in Indochina.

For serving officers at that time one question in particular remained off-limits (though it had been posed incessantly for years by antiwar protestors in the streets of America): Why Vietnam? Prizing compliance as a precondition for upward mobility, military service rarely encourages critical thinking.

On the day that Saigon, the capital of the Republic of Vietnam, fell and that country ceased to exist, I approached one of my ARVN classmates, also a captain, wanting at least to acknowledge the magnitude of the disaster that had occurred. “I’m sorry about what happened to your country,” I told him.

I did not know that officer well and no longer recall his name. Let’s call him Captain Nguyen. In my dim recollection, he didn’t even bother to reply. He simply looked at me with an expression both distressed and mournful. Our encounter lasted no more than a handful of seconds. I then went on with my life and Captain Nguyen presumably with his. Although I have no inkling of his fate, I like to think that he is now retired in Southern California after a successful career in real estate. But who knows?

All I do know is that today I recall our exchange with a profound sense of embarrassment and even shame. My pathetic effort to console Captain Nguyen had been both presumptuous and inadequate. Far worse was my failure — inability? refusal? — to acknowledge the context within which that catastrophe was occurring: the United States and its armed forces had, over years, inflicted horrendous harm on the people of South Vietnam.

In reality, their defeat was our defeat. Yet while we had decided that we were done paying, they were going to pay and pay for a long time to come.

Rather than offering a fatuous expression of regret for the collapse of his country, I ought to have apologized for having played even a minuscule role in what was, by any measure, a catastrophe of epic proportions. It’s a wonder Captain Nguyen didn’t spit in my eye.

I genuinely empathized with Captain Nguyen. Yet the truth is that, along with most other Americans, soldiers and civilians alike, I was only too happy to be done with South Vietnam and all its troubles. Dating back to the presidency of Dwight D. Eisenhower, the United States and its armed forces had made a gargantuan effort to impart legitimacy to the Republic of Vietnam and to coerce the Democratic Republic of Vietnam to its north into giving up its determination to exercise sovereignty over the entirety of the country. In that, we had failed spectacularly and at a staggering cost.

“Our” war in Indochina — the conflict we chose to call the Vietnam War — officially ended in January 1973 with the signing in Paris of an “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.” Under the terms of that fraudulent pact, American prisoners of war were freed from captivity in North Vietnam and the last U.S. combat troops in the south left for home, completing a withdrawal begun several years earlier. Primary responsibility for securing the Republic of Vietnam thereby fell to ARVN, long deemed by U.S. commanders incapable of accomplishing that mission.

Meanwhile, despite a nominal cessation of hostilities, approximately 150,000 North Vietnamese regulars still occupied a large swathe of South Vietnamese territory — more or less the equivalent to agreeing to end World War II when there were still several German panzer tank divisions lurking in Belgium’s Ardennes Forest. In effect, our message to our enemy and our ally was this: We’re outta here; you guys sort this out. In a bit more than two years, that sorting-out process would extinguish the Republic of Vietnam.

Been There, Done That

The course Captain Nguyen and I were attending in the spring of 1975 paid little attention to fighting wars like the one that, for years, had occupied the attention of my army and his. Our Army, in fact, was already moving on. Having had their fill of triple-canopy jungles in Indochina, America’s officer corps now turned to defending the Fulda Gap, the region in West Germany deemed most hospitable to a future Soviet invasion. As if by fiat, gearing up to fight those Soviet forces and their Warsaw Pact allies, should they (however improbably) decide to take on NATO and lunge toward the English Channel, suddenly emerged as priority number one. At Fort Knox and throughout the Army’s ranks, we were suddenly focused on “high-intensity combined arms operations” — essentially, a replay of World War II-style combat with fancier weaponry. In short, the armed forces of the United States had reverted to “real soldiering.”

And so it is again today. At the end of the 17th year of what Americans commonly call the Afghanistan War — one wonders what name Afghans will eventually assign it — U.S. military forces are moving on. Pentagon planners are shifting their attention back to Russia and China. Great power competition has become the name of the game. However we might define Washington’s evolving purposes in its Afghanistan War — “nation building,” “democratization,” “pacification” — the likelihood of mission accomplishment is nil. As in the early 1970s, so in 2019, rather than admitting failure, the Pentagon has chosen to change the subject and is once again turning its attention to “real soldiering.”

Remember the infatuation with counterinsurgency (commonly known by its acronym COIN) that gripped the national security establishment around 2007 when the Iraq “surge” overseen by General David Petraeus briefly ranked alongside Gettysburg as a historic victory? Well, these days promoting COIN as the new American way of war has become, to put it mildly, a tough sell. Given that few in Washington will openly acknowledge the magnitude of the military failure in Afghanistan, the incentive for identifying new enemies in settings deemed more congenial becomes all but irresistible.

Only one thing is required to validate this reshuffling of military priorities. Washington needs to create the appearance, as in 1973, that it’s exiting Afghanistan on its own terms. What’s needed, in short, is an updated equivalent of that “Agreement Ending the War and Restoring Peace in Vietnam.”

Until last weekend, the signing of such an agreement seemed imminent. Donald Trump and his envoy, former ambassador to Afghanistan Zalmay Khalilzad, appeared poised to repeat the trick that President Richard Nixon and National Security Advisor Henry Kissinger pulled off in 1973 in Paris: pause the war and call it peace. Should fighting subsequently resume after a “decent interval,” it would no longer be America’s problem.  Now, however, to judge by the president’s Twitter account — currently the authoritative record of U.S. diplomacy — the proposed deal has been postponed, or perhaps shelved, or even abandoned altogether.  If National Security Advisor John Bolton has his way, U.S. forces might just withdraw in any case, without an agreement of any sort being signed.

Based on what we can divine from press reports, the terms of that prospective Afghan deal would mirror those of the 1973 Paris Accords in one important respect. It would, in effect, serve as a ticket home for the remaining U.S. and NATO troops still in that country (though for the present only the first 5,000 of them would immediately depart). Beyond that, the Taliban was to promise not to provide sanctuary to anti-American terrorist groups, even though the Afghan branch of ISIS is already firmly lodged there. Still, this proviso would allow the Trump administration to claim that it had averted any possible recurrence of the 9/11 terror attacks that were, of course, planned by Osama bin Laden while residing in Afghanistan in 2001 as a guest of the Taliban-controlled government. Mission accomplished, as it were.

Back in 1973, North Vietnamese forces occupying parts of South Vietnam neither disarmed nor withdrew. Should this new agreement be finalized, Taliban forces currently controlling or influencing significant swaths of Afghan territory will neither disarm nor withdraw. Indeed, their declared intention is to continue fighting.

In 1973, policymakers in Washington were counting on ARVN to hold off Communist forces. In 2019, almost no one expects Afghan security forces to hold off a threat consisting of both the Taliban and ISIS. In a final insult, just as the Saigon government was excluded from U.S. negotiations with the North Vietnamese, so, too, has the Western-installed government in Kabul been excluded from U.S. negotiations with its sworn enemy, the Taliban.

A host of uncertainties remain.  As with the olive branches that President Trump has ostentatiously offered to Russia, China, and North Koea, this particular peace initiative may come to naught — or, given the approach of the 2020 elections, he may decide that Afghanistan offers his last best hope of claiming at least one foreign policy success. One way or another, in all likelihood, the deathwatch for the U.S.-backed Afghan government has now begun. One thing only is for sure. Having had their fill of Afghanistan, when the Americans finally leave, they won’t look back. In that sense, it will be Vietnam all over again.

What Price Peace?

However great my distaste for President Trump, I support his administration’s efforts to extricate the United States from Afghanistan. I do so for the same reason I supported the Paris Peace Accords of 1973. Prolonging this folly any longer does not serve U.S. interests. Rule number one of statecraft ought to be: when you’re doing something really stupid, stop. To my mind, this rule seems especially applicable when the lives of American soldiers are at stake.

In Vietnam, Washington wasted 58,000 of those lives for nothing. In Afghanistan, we have lost more than 2,300 troops, with another 20,000 wounded, again for next to nothing. Last month, two American Special Forces soldiers were killed in a firefight in Faryab Province. For what?

That said, I’m painfully aware of the fact that, on the long-ago day when I offered Captain Nguyen my feeble condolences, I lacked the imagination to conceive of the trials about to befall his countrymen. In the aftermath of the American War, something on the order of 800,000 Vietnamese took to open and unseaworthy boats to flee their country. According to estimates by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, between 200,000 and 400,000 boat people died at sea. Most of those who survived were destined to spend years in squalid refugee camps scattered throughout Southeast Asia. Back in Vietnam itself, some 300,000 former ARVN officers and South Vietnamese officials were imprisoned in so-called reeducation camps for up to 18 years. Reconciliation did not rank high on the postwar agenda of the unified country’s new leaders.

Meanwhile, for the Vietnamese, north and south, the American War has in certain ways only continued. Mines and unexploded ordnance left from that war have inflicted more than 100,000 casualties since the last American troops departed. Even today, the toll caused by Agent Orange and other herbicides that the U.S. Air Force sprayed with abandon over vast stretches of territory continues to mount. The Red Cross calculates that more than one million Vietnamese have suffered health problems, including serious birth defects and cancers as a direct consequence of the promiscuous use of those poisons as weapons of war.

For anyone caring to calculate the moral responsibility of the United States for its actions in Vietnam, all of those would have to find a place on the final balance sheet. The 1.3 million Vietnamese admitted to the United States as immigrants since the American War formally concluded can hardly be said to make up for the immense damage suffered by the people of Vietnam as a direct or indirect result of U.S. policy.

As to what will follow if Washington does succeed in cutting a deal with the Taliban, well, don’t count on President Trump (or his successor for that matter) welcoming anything like 1.3 million Afghan refugees to the United States once a “decent interval” has passed. Yet again, our position will be: we’re outta here; you guys sort this out.

Near the end of his famed novel, The Great Gatsby, F. Scott Fitzgerald described two of his privileged characters, Tom and Daisy, as “careless people” who “smashed up things and creatures” and then “retreated back into their money or their vast carelessness” to “let other people clean up the mess they had made.” That description applies to the United States as a whole, especially when Americans tire of a misguided war. We are a careless people. In Vietnam, we smashed up things and human beings with abandon, only to retreat into our money, leaving others to clean up the mess in a distinctly bloody fashion.

Count on us, probably sooner rather than later, doing precisely the same thing in Afghanistan.

The post Afghanistan May Never Recover From the U.S. Invasion appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

U.K. Court Rules Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament Unlawful

LONDON — A Scottish court dealt another blow to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s Brexit plans Wednesday, ruling that his decision to suspend Parliament less than two months before the U.K. is due to leave the European Union was an unlawful attempt to avoid democratic scrutiny.

The government immediately said it would appeal, as the political opposition demanded Johnson reverse the suspension and recall lawmakers to Parliament.

With Brexit due in 50 days, the court ruling deepened Britain’s political deadlock. Johnson insists the country must leave the EU on Oct. 31, with or without a divorce deal to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.

Related Articles by by The Real News Network  by

In a surprise judgment, justices at Scotland’s highest civil court said the government’s action was illegal “because it had the purpose of stymieing Parliament.” But the Court of Session judges said Britain’s Supreme Court must make the final decision at a hearing next week.

Johnson claims he shut down the legislature this week so that he can start afresh on his domestic agenda at a new session of Parliament next month. But the five-week suspension also gives him a respite from rebellious lawmakers as he plots his next move to break the political impasse over Brexit and lead Britain out of the EU by Oct. 31, “do or die.”

The Scottish judges said “the only inference that could be drawn was that the U.K. government and the prime minister wished to restrict Parliament.”

They ruled that the suspension, known as prorogation, was “null and of no effect,” but referred the matter to the Supreme Court for resolution. A hearing there is due to begin Tuesday.

Catherine Haddon, a senior fellow at independent think-tank the Institute for Government, tweeted that the ruling “does not (yet) change the prorogation itself. Though of course will add to pressure.”

Opposition politicians, however, insisted that the government must recall Parliament. Lawmakers were sent home this week despite the objections of House of Commons Speaker John Bercow and opposition lawmakers, who held up signs in the chamber saying “Silenced.”

“He should do the right thing now, which is to reopen Parliament, let us back to do our job and to decide what to do next,” said Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer.

Dominic Grieve, one of 21 lawmakers kicked out of the Conservative group in Parliament by Johnson last week after voting against the government, said it was possible the prime minister had misled Queen Elizabeth II — whose formal approval is needed to suspend Parliament — about his motives.

He said if that turned out to be true, the prime minister would have to “resign — and very swiftly.”

The court ruling came after more than 70 opposition lawmakers challenged the government’s decision shut down Parliament until Oct. 14 — just over two weeks before Britain is due to leave the EU.

Last week, a court in Edinburgh rejected the lawmakers’ challenge, saying it was a matter for politicians, not the courts, to decide. But that was overturned Wednesday on appeal.

The British government said it was disappointed by the decision and would appeal to the Supreme Court.

It noted that another challenge to the suspension, brought by transparency campaigner Gina Miller, was rejected at the High Court in London last week by judges who said the decision was inherently political and “not a matter for the courts.”

With a no-deal Brexit looming, rebel members of the governing Conservatives joined with the opposition to deliver a series of blows to Johnson in the days before Parliament was suspended. They passed a law that orders the government to seek a three-month delay to Brexit if no agreement has been reached by late October, and rejected Johnson’s call for a snap general election.

Britain’s 2016 decision to leave the European Union has left the country’s politics gridlocked and tested to the limit the U.K.’s largely unwritten constitution.

Both the Conservatives and main opposition Labour Party are divided over Brexit, and voters of all stripes are fed up.

Johnson, one of the leaders of the 2016 “leave” campaign, is trying to deliver Brexit and counter an electoral threat from the newly founded Brexit Party. Its leader Nigel Farage took out newspaper ads Wednesday, offering an electoral pact with the Conservatives if Johnson backed a “clean break” — a no-deal Brexit.

But Johnson’s office said “the PM will not be doing a deal with Nigel Farage.”

Labour is caught between those who want to go through with Brexit — albeit a softer version — and a faction that wants to reverse the decision.

Leader Jeremy Corbyn says the party will negotiate a new and improved withdrawal agreement with the EU. But his deputy, Tom Watson, argued Wednesday that there is “no such thing as a good Brexit deal” and Labour should campaign to remain in the bloc.

Johnson says he wants to strike a new deal with the bloc after the agreement made by his predecessor Theresa May was rejected three times by Britain’s Parliament. But EU officials say the U.K. has made no concrete proposals.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said Wednesday that “we still have a chance to achieve this in an orderly way,” but that Germany was also prepared for a no-deal Brexit.


Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.

The post U.K. Court Rules Johnson’s Suspension of Parliament Unlawful appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

18 Years Later, America Vows to ‘Never Forget’ 9/11

NEW YORK — Americans commemorated 9/11 with solemn ceremonies and vows Wednesday to “never forget” 18 years after the deadliest terror attack on American soil.

Victims’ relatives assembled at ground zero, where the observance began with a moment of silence and the tolling of bells at 8:46 a.m. — the exact time a hijacked plane slammed into the World Trade Center’s north tower.

“As long as the city will gift us this moment, I will be here,” Margie Miller, who lost her husband, Joel, said at the ceremony, which she attends every year. “I want people to remember.”

Related Articles by by

After so many years of anniversaries, she has come to know other victims’ relatives and to appreciate being with them.

“There’s smiles in between the tears that say we didn’t do this journey on our own, that we were here for each other,” she said.

President Donald Trump laid a wreath at the Pentagon, telling victims’ relatives there: “This is your anniversary of personal and permanent loss.”

“It’s the day that has replayed in your memory a thousand times over. The last kiss. The last phone call. The last time hearing those precious words, ‘I love you,’ ” the president said.

Vice President Mike Pence was scheduled to speak at the third crash site, near Shanksville, Pa.

The nation is still grappling with the aftermath of 9/11. The effects are visible from airport security checkpoints to Afghanistan, where the post-9/11 U.S. invasion has become America’s longest war.

Earlier this week, Trump called off a secret meeting at Camp David with Taliban and Afghan government leaders and declared the peace talks “dead.” As the Sept. 11 anniversary began in Afghanistan, a rocket exploded at the U.S. Embassy just after midnight.

The political legacy of the 9/11 flowed into the ground zero ceremony, too.

After reading victims’ names, Nicholas Haros Jr. used his turn at the podium to tear into Democratic Rep. Ilhan Omar of Minnesota over her recent “Some people did something” reference to 9/11.

“Madam, objectively speaking, we know who and what was done,” Haros, who lost his mother, Frances, said as he reminded the audience of the al-Qaida attackers.

“Our constitutional freedoms were attacked, and our nation’s founding on Judeo-Christian values was attacked. That’s what ‘some people’ did. Got that now?” he said to applause.

Omar, one of the first Muslim women elected to Congress, has said she didn’t intend to minimize what happened on Sept. 11, and she accused critics of taking her words out of context.

Another relative at ground zero underscored that Muslims were among the dead. Zaheda Rahman called her uncle, Abul Chowdhury, a “proud Muslim-American man who lived his life with a carefree nature, a zeal for adventure and a tenacity which I emulate every single day.”

Haros’ remarks weren’t the only political message to draw applause at ground zero. So did Debra Epps’ plea for tighter gun laws.

“This country — in 18 years, you would think it had made changes to bring us to more peace. However, gun violence has gone rampant,” said Epps, who lost her brother, Christopher.

The anniversary ceremonies center on remembering the nearly 3,000 people killed when hijacked planes slammed into the trade center, the Pentagon and the field in Pennsylvania on Sept. 11, 2001.

All those victims’ names are read aloud at the ground zero ceremony by loved ones — now, quite often, ones so young they knew their slain relatives barely or not at all.

Jacob Campbell was 10 months old when his mother, Jill Maurer-Campbell, died on 9/11.

“It’s interesting growing up in a generation that doesn’t really remember it. I feel a connection that no one I go to school with can really understand,” Campbell, a University of Michigan sophomore, said as he attended the ceremony.

Others made a point of spotlighting the suffering of firefighters, police and others who died or fell ill after exposure to the smoke and dust at ground zero.

A compensation fund for people with potentially Sept. 11-related health problems has awarded more than $5.5 billion so far. More than 51,000 people have applied. Over the summer, Congress made sure the fund won’t run dry.

The sick gained new recognition this year at ground zero, where the new 9/11 Memorial Glade was dedicated this spring.

Sept. 11 has become known also as a day of service. People around the country volunteer at food banks, schools, home-building projects, park cleanups and other charitable endeavors on and near the anniversary.


Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed.

The post 18 Years Later, America Vows to ‘Never Forget’ 9/11 appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Brazil’s Amazon Crisis Is Rooted in Its Fascist Past

During the 1980s a series of shocking images and films appeared of massive devastation underway in the Amazonian state of Rondonia. There, an area of old growth rainforest roughly equivalent to the size of Great Britain was being ripped down at record rate. As the fires generated huge smoke clouds, thousands of indigenous people who had been living in the forest died off at the hands of the ranchers and farmers, gunned down, poisoned or deliberately infected with smallpox.

This devastation, portrayed in landmark documentaries such as “Decade of Destruction” by Adrian Cowell, was being financed by the World Bank, who had convinced the unelected, authoritarian Brazilian Military dictatorship that ripping down a large part of the rainforest would be good for the economy. The result of this partnership was the notorious, 1981 Polonoroeste project. With Polonoroeste, the World Bank lent around $440 million (around $1 billion) to and provided technical support for an authoritarian military dictatorship, known for committing acts of genocide against indigenous tribes in the Amazon, to pave dirt highway 364, (impassable during rainy season at the time), connect a network of service roads cutting into the rainforest for 100km on either side of the highway, and provide infrastructure for the arrival of 30,000 migrant families from Southern Brazil. Brazilian taxpayers, who had no say in the matter, would be forced to pay back the loan with interest for decades to come while neoliberal Presidents like Fernando Henrique Cardoso used Brazil’s debt as an excuse for not adequately funding the health and education systems. 0.19% of the project’s budget was allocated for environmental protection.

Related Articles by The Real News Network by by ProPublica

In the academic paper Boulevard of Broken Dreams, Robert H. Wade analyzes internal communications inside the World Bank during the implementation of Polonoroeste. Programs Division Chief Robert Skillings had been in the World Bank since 1947, and considered the project to be his final masterpiece before his retirement. In case after case, he had every bank technocrat who criticized the operationality, ethics, human rights and environmental strategies removed from the project. Many people inside the bank knew that an environmental and human rights disaster was underway, but their criticism was silenced. As international outcry grew, he replaced the director of the Brazil Department with a protege of aggressively ideological neoliberal Bank Vice President and Chief Economist Anne Kruger.

“He couldn’t understand all the fuss about Indians,” Wade writes,   “he remarked. ‘They wear T shirts and sneakers just like everyone else’. He openly disparaged [his predecessor’s] work on Amerindian protection. ‘It’s all bullshit’, they heard him say.”

To the World Bank, the bottom line was that ripping down trees, just like burning petroleum, helps short term GDP growth. It still does. Treating environmental damage as an externality remains one of the biggest problems with monetarist/neoliberal economics to this day. If mid and long term environmental damage were calculated into their development models, they would collapse.

The debacle in Rondonia led to the emergence of international environmental NGOs as important players on the international stage. As a result of the failure of Polonoroeste, the World Bank began consulting NGOs on all of its future development projects in the 3rd World, although they would often give them little more than lip service.

Satellite images today show Polonoroeste’s legacy on the rainforest in Rondonia.

Polonoroeste represented one of the last large scale development projects by the Military Dictatorship, which was deposed in 1985. To this day, Military officials from the time refuse to admit that it was failure. Afterall, Rondonia is now one of the nations top producers of GMO Soy and Beef for international markets, and, although these activities are low labor intensity, they make a lot of money for the big ranchers and agribusiness value chain suppliers and the international corporations who profit off of them, like Cargill, which is currently expanding its capacity to export GMO soy from its Porto Velho grain terminal from 3.5 to 6 million tons per year.

I traveled up to Rondonia during the final week of July. While I was there I learned that a group of geographers at the local federal university has coined a term to describe the Bolsonaro government’s plan for neighboring Amazonas state, which still had 98% forest cover as of 2018. They argue that the government is planning to duplicate Polonoroeste in Amazonas through a process which they call, “Rondonization”.

When Dilma Rousseff was President, Highway 319, connecting Porto Velho to Amazonas state capital Manaus, was a dirt road that was impassible during the rainy season. After the 2016 coup, Michel Temer cut funding to Ibama, the environmental protection/policing agency, by 51% and began paving highway 319. The 120 kilometer stretch of highway between Porto Velho and the Amazonas town of Humaitá, which is currently the epicenter of fires burning in Amazonas, is now paved. Before, it could take up to two days to get there from Porto Velho. Now, as the droves of international journalists swarming to the area have discovered, it is reachable in a matter of hours. The Bolsonaro government has further gutted Ibama and rendered it dysfunctional, firing the superintendents in 22 states and ordering them to halt all activities unless they are approved in Brasilia, by enemies of environmentalism connected to international agribusiness.

The government is moving forwards with paving the rest of the highway up to Manaus, and plans to lay in a network of similar service roads which, as local activist Ramon Cajui told me, work as “veins sucking everything out of the forest.”

During the time that the Military Dictatorship and World Bank worked together on the ecological and human rights tragedy of Polonoroeste, Jair Bolsonaro was an Army Captain. 16 of his cabinet ministers are retired Generals who also worked in the Dictatorship. They don’t think there was anything wrong with the project, either from an environmental or a human rights perspective. This is why they are now setting out to “Rondonize” the rest of the rainforest.

The post Brazil’s Amazon Crisis Is Rooted in Its Fascist Past appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Tax Pledge 2020 Candidates Should Make to Middle Class Voters

Presidential candidates should take a pledge: The middle class should not pay one dollar more in new taxes until the super-rich pay their fair share.

Already candidates are outlining ambitious programs to improve health care, combat climate change, and address the opioid crisis — and trying to explain how they’ll pay for it.

Related Articles by by by Common Dreams

President Trump, on the other hand, wants to give corporations and the richest 1 percent more tax breaks to keep goosing a lopsided economic boom — even as deficit hawks moan about the exploding national debt and annual deficits topping $1 trillion.

Eventually someone is going to have to pay the bills. If history is a guide, the first to pay will be the broad middle class, thanks to lobbyists pulling the strings for the wealthy and big corporations.

Here’s a different idea: Whatever spending plan is put forward, the first $1 trillion in new tax revenue should come exclusively from multi-millionaires and billionaires.

Four decades of stagnant wages plus runaway housing and health care costs have clobbered the middle class. In an economy with staggering inequalities — the income and wealth gaps are at their widest level in a century — the middle class shouldn’t be hit up a penny more until the rich pay up.

The biggest winners of the last decade, in terms of income and wealth growth, have not been even the richest 1 percent, but the richest one-tenth of 1 percent. This 0.1 percent includes households with incomes over $2.4 million, and wealth starting at $32 million.

They own more wealth than the bottom 80 percent combined. Yet these multi-millionaires and billionaires have seen their taxes decline over the decades, in part because the tax code favors wealth over work.

This richest 0.1 percent receives two-thirds of their income from investments, while most working families have little capital income and depend on wages. But our rigged system taxes most investment income from wealth at a top rate of about 24 percent — considerably lower than the top 37 percent rate for work.

One way to ensure that the wealthy pay first is to institute a 10 percent surtax on incomes over $2 million. This “multi-millionaire surtax” would raise nearly $600 billion in revenue over 10 years, according to an upcoming study from the Tax Policy Center.

The surtax would apply to income earned from work (wages and salaries) and to investment income gained from wealth, including capital gains and dividends. So those with capital income over $2 million would not get a preferential tax rate.

The multi-millionaire surtax is easy to understand, simple to apply, and effective — because it covers all kinds of income, making it difficult for the wealthy to avoid.

And it is laser focused on the super-rich. Anyone earning below $2 million a year will not pay a dime.

As a nation, we will need to raise trillions to protect Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid, and to address urgent priorities such as health care, climate change, child care, higher education, opioid addiction, and more.

The middle class should have 100 percent confidence that they won’t be asked to pony up until Wall Street speculators and billionaires pay the piper.  A multi-millionaire surtax is a good first step.

The post The Tax Pledge 2020 Candidates Should Make to Middle Class Voters appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.