The Word Nobody Wanted to Say at the U.N. Climate Action Summit

The leaders of more than 70 countries have made a promise that sounds nothing short of revolutionary. By 2050, they say they will reach “net zero,” putting no more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere than can be somehow canceled out.

While the net zero buzzword was as ubiquitous at last week’s United Nations Climate Action Summit as the presence of teenage activist Greta Thunberg, the details of how the countries would reach their ambitious goals were elusive. There was little talk of eliminating the use of fossil fuels, a drastic but economically tricky and politically painful step that would guarantee those emissions reductions.

Instead, some experts fear, the answer involves an overreliance on offsets, a word that has become so unfashionable, it has been replaced by euphemisms like “nature-based solutions.” In general, offsets allow polluters to get credit for cutting their own emissions by paying someone in another city, state or country to reduce theirs.

ProPublica reported on the historic failure of many setups like these, which have not actually canceled out the amount of carbon they’ve promised. After the story, the UN, which had long supported such projects, published a warning that “carbon offsets are not our get-out-of-jail free card.”

And yet, the excitement about buying and selling carbon credits was palpable at the summit, especially among those who stand to benefit from them. They gathered at a Climate Week forum hosted by the International Emissions Trading Association, an alliance including oil companies, banks and environmental consultants that get paid to run offset projects.

Shell CEO Ben van Beurden said that, because “heavy industry will not have technological solutions to just go without carbon-based energy,” alternatives for reducing CO~2~, including offsets, were “unavoidable.”

Since 2018, major oil companies including Shell have invested $50 billion in fossil fuel projects.

Van Beurden called on policy experts to create trustworthy standards so companies and countries could buy and sell carbon credits on a global scale. “In a way, I don’t care where the standard comes from … as long as it works,” he said. “We want to actually be able to make money out of this.”

Getting to net zero will likely require offsets because certain industries like aviation and shipping still lack the technology to ditch fossil fuels altogether.

The countries that have declared net zero targets only make up a small slice of global emissions, and they don’t include major polluters like China, the United States or India. While the U.S. hasn’t made the pledge as a nation, New York state has set its own benchmark. Its net zero plan, among the most ambitious in the world, calls for reducing emissions 85% by 2050 and using offsets from restoring forests and wetlands to soak up the remaining 15%.

Projects like those, which fall under the umbrella of what are called nature-based solutions, can undoubtedly help the environment, with benefits that go beyond climate change. The question is whether global funding for these programs — many of which are located in less industrialized countries with limited funding — will come as international aid or in exchange for offsets that benefit the funder.

There are no global regulations on the type and quantity of offsets that governments could use to reach net zero. Right now, most credits are sold on what’s called the voluntary market, and they don’t count toward a country’s regulatory climate goals like the ones under the Paris climate agreement, the landmark pact almost every nation made to reduce greenhouse gasses.

The momentum is headed toward approving offsets for those goals, with the heavy backing of IETA and the oil industry.

In December, politicians at the next major climate talks in Santiago, Chile, will continue to debate the rules that could enable large-scale use of offsets and carbon trading. Offsets could also get a boost under separate negotiations on airline emissions.

And this month, California regulators approved the Tropical Forest Standard, guidelines that open the door for the state and other governments to meet some of their emissions reductions by paying to preserve tropical forests.

Tzeporah Berman, a Canadian activist who spoke at a Climate Week event, said policymakers have been distracted from the bottom line: that solving the climate crisis requires keeping fossil fuels in the ground.

Last March, more than 90 researchers and academics signed a letter urging policymakers not to rely on carbon markets or offsets to solve climate change, citing a history of environmental and social problems.

Others argue that the solution to those problems isn’t to restrict offsets, but to strengthen the rules and monitoring of programs to make sure they can deliver on their carbon benefits. “We ought to focus on making sure that emissions reductions are real and verified,” Nathaniel Keohane, an environmental economist at Environmental Defense Fund, told ProPublica. “If this is a tool that can help drive down emissions, then we ought to use it.”

Keohane said that even if the world maximizes its use of offsets, major polluters like the United States won’t be able to reach net zero without also slashing their own fossil fuel use. There just aren’t enough carbon credits to do it for them.

Until countries start filling in the details of how they plan to get to net zero, Frédéric Hache, a former investment banker who scrutinizes environmental markets, worries the benefit could wind up existing only on paper. “Everybody talks about the level of ambition and nobody questions the how,” he said. “The how is at least as important, because that’s where all the greenwashing takes place.”

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Who Would FDR Endorse?

During her speech at Washington Square Park in New York last week, which drew a massive crowd of both supporters and curious bystanders, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren evoked the legacy of Frances Perkins, the longest-serving secretary of labor and first female member of the presidential Cabinet.

The Warren campaign’s decision to stage a speech at the famous park in lower Manhattan was inspired partly by the fact that it is a block away from the infamous Triangle Shirtwaist Factory, where 146 garment workers—most of them young immigrant women—died in a fire in 1911. The disaster, as Warren told her audience, prompted major reforms, which Perkins was instrumental in pushing. As the presidential candidate put it in her speech, “With Frances working the system from the inside, the women workers organizing and applying pressure from the outside, they rewrote New York state’s labor laws from top to bottom to protect workers.”

Twenty years later, Franklin D. Roosevelt selected Perkins as his labor secretary (a position she would hold during his entire presidency), and the administration passed everything from Social Security and unemployment insurance to minimum wage and the Wagner Act, which guaranteed labor’s right to organize. One “very persistent woman,” Warren declared, “backed up by millions of people across [the] country,” achieved major structural reforms that had a transformative effect on the country.

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Warren isn’t the first 2020 Democratic candidate to give a major speech on the legacy of the New Deal. In June, in his widely discussed speech on democratic socialism, Sen. Bernie Sanders repeatedly invoked FDR and his “bold and visionary leadership” as an example for what we need today.

Though some commentators (including me) questioned the Vermont senator’s decision to make FDR and New Deal liberalism the focal point of a speech about democratic socialism, which presumably goes beyond Roosevelt’s brand of social democracy (a program designed to preserve and stabilize American capitalism, not replace it), from a strategic standpoint, it makes perfect sense to employ Roosevelt as a model for the kind of leadership needed in the 21st century.

Roosevelt, along with members of his administration like Perkins, fought for transformative change that was, in Sanders’ words, “opposed by big business, Wall Street, the political establishment, by the Republican Party and by the conservative wing of FDR’s own Democratic Party.” At the time, Roosevelt was called everything from a fascist to a communist, and he had to deal with smears from members of his own party, such as 1928 Democratic presidential candidate Al Smith, who founded a group called the Liberty League to oppose the New Deal. At a 1936 Liberty League rally, Smith gave a then-27-year-old Joseph McCarthy a template for his future tactics, painting Roosevelt as a Bolshevik in disguise: “There can be only one capital, Washington or Moscow. There can be only … the clear, pure fresh air of free America, or the foul breath of communistic Russia. There can be only one flag, the Stars and Stripes, or the flag of the godless union of the Soviets.”

Roosevelt and his administration didn’t just face ad hominem political attacks, but institutional barriers that threatened to make real structural reform impossible. With a conservative majority, the Supreme Court ruled numerous New Deal policies unconstitutional, and stood in the way of any kind of economic reform. At one point, historian Jeff Shesol tell us in his 2010 book, “Supreme Power: Franklin Roosevelt vs. The Supreme Court,” FDR thought that the court would “nullify virtually everything of significance that the administration had done.” This thought didn’t lead Roosevelt to despair, however, as he believed that after the “nine old men” overruled his popular reforms, it wouldn’t be long before “the nation’s streets were filled with marching farmers, marching miners, and marching factory workers.” In other words, Roosevelt was prepared for a fight, and counted on popular support against the so-called “economic royalists.” There would always be those who cried “unconstitutional” at “every effort to better the condition of our people,” Roosevelt observed in 1937. “Such cries have always been with us; and, ultimately, they have always been overruled.”

Roosevelt’s struggle with the Supreme Court culminated with his plan to add more justices to the court, which ultimately failed, but not before the court—Justice Owen Roberts in particular—shifted its tune on New Deal legislation.

Both Warren and Sanders have invoked Roosevelt and the New Deal not just because of policies, but because of the aggressive style of politics that Roosevelt and his team employed to achieve such transformative change. Roosevelt wasn’t afraid of being denounced as a communist or a dictator by right-wing detractors, and he eagerly embraced conflict with the wealthy business leaders who funded such groups as the Liberty League. Roosevelt used the bully pulpit to push his progressive agenda and famously welcomed the hatred of his opponents, who stood against economic and political reform widely supported by the American people—just as many progressive reforms are today.

One of the most frequent criticisms leveled at progressive candidates, often from centrists who claim to sympathize with their agenda, is that their plans are unrealistic and will never make it past Congress, let alone the Supreme Court. Reporting on Warren’s speech at Washington Square Park, The Atlantic’s Russell Berman observed that while Warren’s policy plans are “detailed and specific, her strategy for achieving them is less so.” Like Sanders, Warren calls for a sustained grassroots movement to pressure Washington, but, according to Berman, “that was also Obama’s plea, and while the former president was able to enact the Affordable Care Act, Wall Street reforms, and a large economic-stimulus package early in his tenure, his entreaties for outside help did not succeed in pressuring Republicans to support his plans.”

This is the conventional wisdom one often hears today about the Obama years, and while it is certainly true that President Obama faced unprecedented Republican obstructionism, it is simply false to claim that the 44th president fought aggressively for a progressive agenda and did everything he could to push for radical change. Even before he entered office, Obama had settled on a “pragmatic” response to the financial crisis, hiring centrists and neoliberal ideologues like Timothy Geithner, Larry Summers and Rahm Emanuel, while desperately working to achieve a “post-partisan” consensus (which was far more naive than the progressive approach toward movement-building).

One notable example of the Obama administration’s timid response was its failure to push for legislation that would have allowed judges to modify the terms of home mortgages, colloquially known as “cram down.” As David Dayen reported in 2015, it was within Obama’s power to prevent millions of people from losing their homes (just as it was within the administration’s power to criminally prosecute bank executives for their fraudulent behavior). “The administration’s eventual program, HAMP, grew out of the banking industry’s preferred alternative to [cram down], one where the industry, rather than bankruptcy judges, would control loan restructuring,” Dayen writes. “Unfortunately, the program has been a success for bankers and a failure for most hard-pressed homeowners.”

The idea that Obama was once a populist, and that a Warren or Sanders administration would end up just like the Obama administration did, is simply wrong. The two leading progressive candidates have already expressed a willingness to adopt the Rooseveltian style of politics that Obama was never willing to adopt, and the 44th president never favored the structural changes that the former do. “I am prepared to go to every state in this union and rally the American people around [a progressive] agenda to put pressure on their representatives, whether they are Democratic or Republican,” Sanders recently remarked in an interview, saying that he would also support primary challenges to Democrats who are not supportive of progressive policies like “Medicare for All.” This is an aggressive strategy in the tradition of Roosevelt, and it is the only strategy that could potentially lead to his progressive agenda becoming a reality in the future.

It is completely legitimate to ask how progressives would pass major legislation without a supermajority in Congress, and the fact is that Roosevelt had much more favorable circumstances in 1933 than any Democratic president is likely to have in the foreseeable future. There are certain measures that could give Democratic presidents some wiggle room. Warren has advocated eliminating the filibuster, for example, while Sanders has, curiously, rejected this approach, favoring the complicated budget reconciliation process instead.

None of this will matter, however, if progressive Democrats don’t manage to create a wave of popular enthusiasm for their agenda. It is important for progressive leaders to be honest and forthright about this to their supporters. None of their proposals stands a chance without a popular movement that goes well beyond the election cycle. Roosevelt understood the power of popular will; perhaps it is time for Democrats to refresh their memory.

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Ex-Dallas Officer Who Killed Neighbor Found Guilty of Murder

DALLAS — A white former Dallas police officer who shot her black unarmed neighbor to death after, she said, mistaking his apartment for her own was convicted of murder Tuesday in a verdict that prompted tears of relief from his family and chants of “Black Lives Matter” from a crowd outside the courtroom.

The same jury that found Amber Guyger guilty in the September 2018 death of her upstairs neighbor, Botham Jean, will consider her fate after hearing additional testimony starting Tuesday afternoon. She could be sentenced to from five to 99 years in prison under Texas law.

The jury took a matter of hours to convict Guyger, 31, after six days of testimony.

Cheers erupted in the courthouse as the verdict was announced, and someone yelled “Thank you, Jesus!” In the hallway outside the courtroom, a crowd celebrated and chanted “black lives matter.” When the prosecutors walked into the hall, they broke into cheers.

After the verdict was read, Guyger sat alone, weeping, at the defense table.

Jean’s friends and family testified later Tuesday at the punishment phase of the trial, to explain how his death has affected them. First on the stand was Allison Jean, who said her son was killed just before he was due to turn 27.

“My life has not been the same. It’s just been like a roller coaster. I can’t sleep, I cannot eat. It’s just been the most terrible time for me,” she said.

Botham Jean’s sister, Allisa Findley, told the jury that she and her mother cry a lot, her formerly “bubbly” younger brother has retreated as if into a shell, and that her father is “not the same.”

“It’s like the light behind his eyes is off,” Findley said.

She said her children are now afraid of police.

Guyger’s defense attorneys can argue that she deserves a light sentence because she acted out of sudden fear and confusion. The judge is expected to provide guidance on sentencing law.

It is unclear how long the punishment phase of the trial will last.

The basic facts of the unusual shooting were not in dispute throughout the trial. After a long shift at work and still in uniform, Guyger walked up to Jean’s apartment — which was on the fourth floor, directly above hers on the third — and found the door unlocked. Thinking the apartment was her own, she drew her service weapon and entered.

Jean, an accountant from the Caribbean island nation of St. Lucia, had been eating a bowl of ice cream when Guyger entered his home and shot him.

The shooting drew widespread attention because of the strange circumstances and because it was one in a string of shootings of unarmed black men by white police officers.

“A 26-year-old college-educated black man, certified public accountant, working for one of the big three accounting firms in the world … it shouldn’t take all of that for unarmed black and brown people in America to get justice,” Benjamin Crump, one of the lawyers for Jean’s family, said at a news conference Tuesday.

Crump said the verdict honors other people of color who were killed by police officers who were not convicted of a crime.

Attorney Lee Merritt, who also represents the family, underlined Crump’s words.

“This is a huge victory, not only for the family of Botham Jean, but this is a victory for black people in America. It’s a signal that the tide is going to change here. Police officers are going to be held accountable for their actions, and we believe that will begin to change policing culture around the world,” Merritt said.

The jury that convicted Guyger was largely made up of women and people of color.

Dallas Police Association President Mike Mata declined to comment Tuesday afternoon, saying Guyger’s lawyers asked him to wait until after sentencing. The group, which represents city police officers, has paid for Guyger’s legal defense and security.

The verdict may have defused tensions that began simmering Monday when jurors were told they could consider whether Guyger had a right to use deadly force under a Texas law known as the castle doctrine — even though she wasn’t in her own home.

The law is similar to “stand your ground” measures across the U.S. that state a person has no duty to retreat from an intruder. Prosecutor Jason Fine told jurors that while the law would have empowered Jean to shoot someone barging into his apartment, it doesn’t apply “the other way around.”

Guyger was arrested three days after the killing. She was later fired and charged with murder . Tension has been high during the trial in Dallas, where five police officers were killed in an attack three years ago.

Guyger tearfully apologized for killing Jean and told the jurors she feared for her life upon finding the door to what she thought was her apartment unlocked. Guyger said Jean approached her when she entered the unit with her gun out. Prosecutors suggested he was just rising from a couch toward the back of the room when the officer shot him.

In a frantic 911 call played repeatedly during the trial, Guyger said “I thought it was my apartment” nearly 20 times. Her lawyers argued that the identical physical appearance of the apartment complex from floor to floor frequently led to tenants going to the wrong apartments.

But prosecutors questioned how Guyger could have missed numerous signs that she was in the wrong place, asked why she didn’t call for backup and suggested she was distracted by sexually explicit phone messages with her police partner.


Associated Press writer Jill Bleed in Little Rock, Arkansas, contributed this report.

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Elizabeth Warren’s Student Debt Plan Can’t Compare to Sanders’

Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have both offered proposals to cancel student debt, a nearly $1.6 trillion burden on borrowers and a major drag on the economy. While both are aggressive attempts to address the student debt crisis, there is a major difference between the two plans: the Sanders plan is likely to create at least one million more jobs than Warren’s, since it cancels roughly $1 trillion more in outstanding debt.

The figure of one million additional jobs was derived from the conclusions of a 2018 report from the Levy Economics Institute at Bard College, which used widely accepted macroeconomic models (the Fair and Moody’s models) to project the macroeconomic effect of canceling all student debt. The Levy report used a start date in 2017 for its projections.

As the graph below shows, the models used in the Levy report show that several million jobs are created by the cancellation of all student debt (the exact amount varies, depending on the economic model used):

Source: “The Macroeconomic Effects of Student Debt Cancellation,” Kelton et al., Levy Economics Institute, 2018

Averaging these figures, the report shows that approximately 4.4 million jobs would be created by full cancellation in the first five years. Using these figures, it’s possible to approximate the differing effects of the Warren and Sanders plan with the following steps:

First, reducing the Levy report’s numbers by 60 percent gives us something in the neighborhood of 2.6 million fewer jobs under Warren’s plan. Given that the debt is now larger than it was in the Levy study, that number could be bumped by 10 or 15 percent.

That calculation is, however, too crude. It’s fair to assume that the stimulus effect of cancellation is greater on the lower end of the income spectrum, where urgent needs are going unmet, and would be somewhat smaller for the relatively well-off (although not wealthy) households included in the Sanders plan. The multiplier effect of government stimulus measures is also likely to be smaller in the current economy. To ensure that these factors are considered, I have cut the job difference by nearly half to arrive at the figure of one million more jobs created with full cancellation.

The idea that student debt cancellation creates jobs is intuitive, as well. If 44 million student debt holders are relieved of their debt burden, they will have more money to spend each month for food, entertainment, and other purchases. Studies have shown that student debt is also keeping younger people from forming households (which, ironically, means a lower benefit under the Warren plan if they’re living with their parents). Household formation, which is the result of longer-term thinking about affordability, in turn means the purchase of home items, cars, and houses.

With those factors in mind, I asked the lead author of the Levy report whether it would be safe to say that the Sanders plan would create a million more jobs than the Warren plan. Professor Stephanie Kelton, of Stony Brook University, replied that a full study would be required to answer the question with confidence. But Kelton said the one-million-jobs figure “looks reasonable.” (Kelton, an adviser to Sen. Sanders, is also a macroeconomist and professor. She is not employed by the campaign.)

Why It Matters

Both proposals would create jobs for working people, and the additional one million from Sanders’ plan would be useful. Despite today’s “excellent” job numbers, the working economy isn’t as good as the headlines would have us believe. The number of open jobs (7.2 million) is essentially unchanged from last year’s, and is declining slightly. That means there is relatively little pressure to pay workers more. Wage growth remains weak. It’s not a great time to be a working person in this country.

The biggest losers in this job economy are millennials, the same group that bears the heaviest burden of student debt. (Student debt affects all adult age groups, including seniors, but falls heaviest on younger adults.) Millennials have become the largest generation in the American workforce, and are still suffering the economic consequences of entering the workforce during the Great Recession.

At $1.6 trillion, full student debt cancellation rivals Trump’s tax cut in its scope. It would, however, be far more effective at creating jobs and stimulating the economy. Because the benefits of Trump’s cut were directed toward higher earners, who have much less pressure to spend, the Trump cut left the trajectory of job growth essentially unchanged.

Muddled Debate

That distinction has been obscured in what has been, at least so far, a muddled debate.

Headlines like Vice’s “Elizabeth Warren Is Taking Her Plan to Cancel 75% of Student Debt to Congress” have added to public confusion over the two candidates’ plans. Warren’s $640 billion proposal would, in fact, cancel only 40 percent of all outstanding student debt. The confusion has also been compounded, no doubt unintentionally, by Sen. Warren’s remark during her second presidential debate that her plan would “cancel student debt for 95 percent of the people who have it.”

That statement, while true, could leave some listeners with the wrong impression. Warren’s plan would cancel at least some student debt for 95 percent of debt holders, and all debt for 75 percent of borrowers (the source of Vice’s erroneous headline). But some borrowers owe more than others, which is why the Warren plan leaves roughly $1 trillion in student debt in place. Twenty-five percent of borrowers, more than 10 million people, would still have student debt under Warren’s plan.

Warren’s plan, unlike Sanders’, caps the amount to be canceled at $50,000 per person. That figure is progressively reduced for income above $100,000 per year per household until it reaches $250,000, at which point no cancellation is offered. But households making $100,000 year aren’t necessarily prosperous. While they are not impoverished, a working couple—say, a bus driver and schoolteacher making $51,000 each—aren’t especially well-off by most standards, especially if they’re raising children. If one or more children with student debt lives and works at home, their added income would further reduce the debt relief to a family that may well be struggling.

The desire to limit debt reductions for these households may have some tactical vote-seeking value, especially in a political culture that has directed intra-middle-class resentment toward better-off workers rather than the wealthy. That doesn’t make it the best policy for working people of any age, race, or income level. In fact, because of its limits, Warren’s plan would have a significantly smaller stimulus effect and would therefore help all workers somewhat less.

The Roots of Opposition

The point needs to be reiterated: Full student debt cancellation, of the kind Sanders is proposing, would create at least a million more jobs than the Warren plan. Why, then, would progressives oppose it?

Some of the liberal opposition is often grounded in the mistaken belief that Warren’s plan would do more to reduce the racial wealth gap than Warren’s. The opposite is true: full cancellation would reduce the racial wealth gap more than Warren’s plan would. As economist Marshall Steinbaum, a co-author of the Levy report, later concluded: “The more debt cancellation there is, the more racial wealth inequality is reduced—at least among the plans that have actually been proposed.”

There is also a deep attachment to targeted economic programs in certain liberal circles, based on the sense that government programs should be focused solely on individuals in dire need. (I wrote an essay in The American Prospect on that topic.) For student debt cancellation, this is often framed as a desire to avoid helping the “wealthy.” But truly wealthy individuals are unlikely to hold student debt. If they have family wealth, there would have been no need to borrow for college. If they have subsequently become wealthy, their advisers have almost certainly told them to pay off student debt, which normally charges high interest rates.

It’s true that there are some mildly prosperous professionals who hold a large amount of student debt. But it takes a strange moral logic to deny jobs for a million working people out of fear that, say, a well-to-do orthodontist on Long Island might get a break she doesn’t deserve. There is no such liberal compunction about infrastructure programs, for example, even though they could make a few construction executives wealthy as they create jobs for working people.

The million-plus additional jobs created by full cancellation would go to a broad array of working people in a range of fields, in industries that range from restaurants to sales, and from auto manufacturing to construction. A large percentage of them would go to people of color, which would further reduce the racial wealth gap at a time when the African American unemployment rate remains roughly double that of whites.


To sum up:

  • Full cancellation creates at least a million more jobs than Warren’s partial cancellation.
  • Full cancellation does more to reduce the racial wealth gap than Warren’s plan does.
  • Full cancellation will almost certainly do much more to benefit millennials, the generation that’s been hardest hit by student debt and is the largest percentage of the workforce.
  • Full cancellation will almost certainly do much more to help black workers, who are experiencing twice the unemployment of white workers.

There are other benefits to full cancellation, too. It’s easier to explain to voters. Its million-job advantage makes it easier to build support among people who have never gone to college or acquired student debt, groups that might otherwise resent student debt cancellation. It would stimulate more economic growth, with greater advantages for the entire economy (including investors). And it wouldn’t be subject to gaming, the way Warren’s plan would be. (Children would claim to live elsewhere, people would move taxable income from year to year, couples would defer marriage, etc.)

Elizabeth Warren has many impressive policy proposals, and is very possibly unaware of the differing impact of her means-tested student debt plan on working people. There is every reason to hope she will reconsider after reviewing the advantages of a broader proposal, and join with Sen. Sanders in supporting full student debt cancellation.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Richard “RJ” Eskow is senior adviser for health and economic justice at Social Security Works. He is also the host of The Zero Hour, a syndicated progressive radio and television program.

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Elizabeth Warren Has Mark Zuckerberg Thoroughly Spooked

When Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress last year, it was apparent that “lawmakers still don’t really understand how Facebook works,” as Kurt Wagner wrote in Recode. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., brought printouts of Facebook groups. Sen. Orrin Hatch, R-Utah, asked how the social network is able to make money despite being a free service, seemingly oblivious to the news that the internet contains ads, Morgan Sung pointed out in Mashable.

Having potential regulators who don’t quite understand what they’re regulating is an advantage for a tech CEO like Zuckerberg. As Wagner pointed out, “he walked away with a victory.” This is perhaps why Zuckerberg is not thrilled with the idea of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., becoming president.

“If she gets elected president, then I would bet that we will have a legal challenge, and I would bet that we will win the legal challenge,” Zuckerberg said during one of two open meetings this summer whose recordings were leaked to The Verge.

Warren was quick with a response. “What would really ‘suck,’ ” she tweeted, “is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>What would really “suck” is if we don’t fix a corrupt system that lets giant companies like Facebook engage in illegal anticompetitive practices, stomp on consumer privacy rights, and repeatedly fumble their responsibility to protect our democracy. <a href=””></a></p>&mdash; Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) <a href=””>October 1, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”” charset=”utf-8″></script>

The New York Times writes on Tuesday that “the surfacing of grievances” between Warren and Zuckerberg “has the effect of publicly pitting one of the leading Democratic candidates for president against the head of the world’s largest social network, at a time when Silicon Valley in general and Facebook in particular continue to be scrutinized for their efforts to combat disinformation and prevent election interference in 2020 and beyond.”

Zuckerberg also answered questions from employees on a variety of topics, including his decision not to appear at government hearings in Europe, whether large tech companies are prepared for the 2020 election, whether they should be broken up, and his opinions on competitors like Twitter and TikTok.

He claimed that breaking up companies like Facebook, Google and Amazon “is not actually going to solve the issues,” referring to election security. He added, “And, you know, it doesn’t make election interference less likely. It makes it more likely because now the companies can’t coordinate and work together.”

Zuckerberg plays down the stresses and often harrowing working conditions of Facebook’s content moderators. When an employee asks about The Verge’s previous reporting on their experiences, he says the articles were “a little overdramatic,” adding that when a company has 30,000 people working for it, there are going to be a wide range of work experiences.

Read the full transcript of both meetings here.


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Bigots Welcome on America’s Police Forces

Prison guard Geoffery Crosby was a member of more than 50 extremist groups on Facebook, including scores of racist groups dedicated to the Confederacy. Missouri Sheriff’s Deputy Richard Crites was – and still is – posting anti-Muslim rants on his personal Facebook page. In Georgia, despite warnings from his chief, Abbeville police Officer Joel Quinn continues to post a steady stream of conspiracy theories and right-wing memes on Facebook, including recently sharing an anti-Semitic meme.

In June, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting identified hundreds of police officers across the country who were members of closed racist, Islamophobic, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook. We sought reaction from more than 150 law enforcement departments about their officers’ involvement in these extremist groups. Yet only one department – the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which fired a detective for racist posts – has publicly taken any significant action.

More than 50 departments promised investigations, but few have taken any other steps. The Portland Police Bureau said “no jurisdiction existed” for it to take any action against an officer whose Islamophobic comments were posted before he joined the agency. The New York Police Department said it couldn’t substantiate reporting showing one of its officers had posted misogynistic comments, even though we obtained screenshots.

Social media activity isn’t just a public-facing display of officers’ beliefs and biases. Officers are susceptible to being radicalized online just like so many civilians, said Christy Lopez, a Georgetown Law professor who oversaw the Department of Justice’s civil rights investigation into the Ferguson Police Department.

“It’s hard when you get out there as a new officer, you’re from a sheltered community somewhere, and you start to see a lot of pain and harm that is often happening in poor communities of color,” Lopez said. “And it is easy for officers who are trying to deal with the emotional impact of that to start to dehumanize people.”

Facebook’s algorithms can deepen this problem. After we joined extremist groups as part of our investigation, Facebook suggested new – and often even more troubling – groups to join or pages to like. It was easy to see how users, including police officers, could be increasingly radicalized by what they saw on their news feed.

That, in turn, plays into a long-stated goal of white supremacists and other extremists: to lure converts in initially with edgy humor and memes before introducing ever more hateful ideas.

Lopez said police departments must ensure cops get continued training not just on how to behave online, but on how to deal with the trauma and stress they encounter on the streets. Departments also must monitor and counsel their employees on social media use – not just to avoid looking bad, but also to stop vulnerable employees from getting sucked in by hateful ideas.

At the Ketchikan Police Department in Alaska, Lt. Andrew Berntson said he sits down with new recruits and discusses how to use social media positively to engage with the community instead of isolating yourself from it. Berntson said agencies need to investigate applicants before hiring them. Departments should scour the social media postings of potential recruits, he said, looking for warning signs that applicants have racist or other discriminatory views.

“You have to get a good view of who this person is, because that’s most likely what they’re going to continue to be,” Berntson said. “If they have predisposed opinions, you need to flush that out in the hiring process.”

Social media searches are just part of the backgrounding process, Berntson said. Departments should also reach out to friends, relatives and former employers to gauge a candidate’s suitability, he said. Small town departments should ask around about a future recruit’s associations and connections, to establish whether they have ever been involved with extremist groups, Berntson said. And in big cities, departments should check with the detectives who investigate extremist groups, to see if a potential recruit has ever been involved with any of the groups on the department’s radar.

Police departments could also duplicate efforts like Reveal’s – researching and joining local chapters of extremist groups on Facebook and other social media sites to monitor them and check for current or potential officers, Berntson said.

“Every department should basically maximize their resources to cover themselves. If they have access to information, or can get it, they should use it,” he said. “Best-case scenario, you’ll find that someone is fine. But the worst-case scenario is that you don’t find out about someone’s past, then an officer hurts or kills somebody and the department gets sued.”

Even then, the world of extremism has learned to adapt and shift to deliberately camouflage hateful activity online. Departments therefore have the challenge of staying up to date with the latest lingo and themes hate groups are using, said Megan Squire, a computer science professor and expert on extremism at Elon University in North Carolina.

“The vocabulary, the jargon these hate groups use is deliberately to keep outsiders out,” Squire said. “If you’re hiring a 20-year-old, they’re going to have memes and terminology that your average 40- or 50-year-old isn’t going to know naturally like they would know a swastika.”

Keeping up with the latest trends in extremism is no simple task, Squire said, but departments could outsource their research, working with local academics or activists to build knowledge about how hate groups communicate online. There are also valuable resources available online, she said, like the Anti-Defamation League’s Hate Symbols Database.

And the International Association of Chiefs of Police runs the Center for Social Media, which publishes guidelines and “awareness briefs” to inform police departments about questionable online activity and how to identify and investigate extremists online.

The organization didn’t respond to several calls for comment. A guide to “cybervetting” potential recruits on its website, despite being almost 10 years old, provides extensive guidance for departments. The document details how a department can set up a vetting policy and lays out the legal parameters departments can work inside – explaining how departments should balance privacy concerns with the need to know more about their recruits.

Opacity of departments 

In Savannah, Georgia, Chief Sedrick Rivers, of the Savannah/Hilton Head International Airport Police, said the information we uncovered about one of his officers has been instrumental in helping him draft new policies for social media use at the department. We tried to follow up with him to learn more. After initially opening up to us, however, Rivers then stopped taking our calls.

New York Police Department Officer Randy Paulsaint was active inside several closed Facebook groups that denigrate and insult women. When we provided screenshots that showed his activity and his status as a police officer, the NYPD called our claims “unsubstantiated.” The NYPD didn’t respond to repeated calls to elaborate on that explanation.

We tried to understand whether the officers we identified on Facebook had been involved in real-life issues around discrimination. However, all but 13 states keep their police disciplinary records secret.

The public isn’t allowed to view Paulsaint’s disciplinary records because they’re confidential in New York. Therefore Reveal couldn’t establish whether an officer who called women “money grabbing whores” and who posted a GIF of a woman being kicked in the head by a man has a history of treating women with respect in his police work.

Given the revelations of the past few months from Reveal, ProPublica and the Plain View Project, and the long-standing and well-known history of racial bias and discrimination in American policing, departments need to keep detailed records on the conduct of their employees from their first day on the job, said Samuel Sinyangwe, co-founder of Campaign Zero, which works with local activists and governments to combat discrimination in policing.

And those records should be open to the public for review, he said.

“There’s an established research literature that complaints against officers, officers that are named in misconduct lawsuits, officers who have an above-average number of use-of-force incidents – that all of those things are predictive of future misconduct,” Sinyangwe said.

Not only are police disciplinary records largely shielded from public view, but departments across the country even routinely destroy misconduct records, Campaign Zero found. Sinyangwe said he didn’t know of any departments that could be held up as a success story.

In 2016, the organization studied the union contracts of 81 of the 100 largest police departments in the country. More than half required departments to purge records that would help identify officers with histories of misconduct.

“You look at a city like Cleveland, which signed a contract with the police union to systematically purge records of officer discipline after one or two years,” Sinyangwe said. “They’re actually destroying the evidence that’s needed to identify the most problematic officers and prevent these incidents from happening in the future.”

There are efforts around the country to shed light on police practices, however.

In recent years, some activist groups have focused on altering police union contracts to include new rules for police accountability and transparency.

In Texas, for example, the Austin Justice Coalition demanded a seat at the negotiating table between the city and the police union in 2017, after two high-profile incidents of alleged police brutality.

The grassroots group fought for greater transparency from local cops, and while it didn’t get everything it wanted, the coalition was able to negotiate substantial reforms, like changing police rules on purging disciplinary records, and creating an anonymous, online complaints process against officers.

Chas Moore, co-founder and executive director of the coalition, said his group has secured funding to work with grassroots organizations from 10 different cities to emulate the work.

“The police union contract has become the new fight,” he said. “That’s where it starts.”

If police chiefs, commissioners and sheriffs want to lead with courage and dedication to the community, they need to address how every member of their community is treated, said Vera Bumpers, former president of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives.

“Leadership always sets the tone for how an agency moves forward,” Bumpers said. “The message to recruits can’t just be a one-time message. We have to continually promote professionalism and the fair treatment of all.”

This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and Matt Thompson and copy edited by Stephanie Rice.

Will Carless can be reached at wcarless@revealnews.orgFollow him on Twitter: @willcarless.

The post Bigots Welcome on America’s Police Forces appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Corporate Media’s Insidious Palestine Propaganda

Prior to the elections in Israel/Palestine in September—marred by blatant racism posturing as the “democratic process,” with millions of Palestinians living under varying degrees of Israeli rule unable to vote due to their ethnicity—Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu generated headlines for repeatedly pledging to annex nearly a third of the illegally occupied West Bank, in violation of international law, to gain support for his and the Likud party’s reelection (New York Times9/10/19).

The Trump administration’s refusal to release details before the September election on presidential son-in-law Jared Kushner’s “Vision for Peace” plan, which would supposedly resolve the enduring conflict between Israelis and Palestinians, was only the latest demonstration of the farce the administration’s “peace plan” has always been for Palestinians.

However, corporate media coverage of “Vision for Peace” continued to transmit the perspective of US official sources, constantly referring unironically to the proposal as a “peace plan,” “peace initiative” or “peace process.” The more difficult and honest approach to reporting on the so-called “peace plan”—by analyzing the plan on its predictable outcomes, rather than its professed objectives—wasn’t taken, despite the media’s own reporting indicating how the plan could never lead to peace.

The Washington Post’s “Kushner Presents Vision of a Middle East at Peace but No Details How to Get There” (6/25/19) tellingly only referred to the Trump administration’s proposal as a “peace plan” in its photo captions, and instead described it as an “economic plan” or a “White House plan” in the text of the article, when it reported on the economic component of Kushner’s plan to raise “$50 billion in regional investment projects over the next decade.” Perhaps this is due to it reporting that the plan has been met with “widespread skepticism” and has already been “rejected by the Palestinian leadership,” who claim that the US can’t be “an honest peace broker after taking several pro-Israel measures,” such as “recognizing the contested city of Jerusalem as Israel’s capital.”

Others have observed how Kushner’s “Peace to Prosperity” plan resembles a real estate developer’s brochure, mentioning “human capital” and “property rights” without mentioning “human rights,” along with buzzwords like “unleashing economic potential” and “enhancing Palestinian governance.” Other pro-Israel measures omitted from the article that make it impossible to accept the US as an honest broker include the Trump administration’s support for Israel’s illegal annexation of the Syrian Golan Heights (FAIR.org4/4/19), the closure of the Palestinian diplomatic post in Washington, the transfer of the US embassy to Jerusalem and the slashing of aid to Palestinian refugees (Guardian6/25/19).

When the Wall Street Journal (8/1/19) reported on the Kushner team’s meetings in Israel and other Arab countries to promote his “peace plan,” it depicted Kushner as a good-faith negotiator and peacemaker trying to “breathe life into Middle East peace efforts.” This despite reporting that he and his team were snubbing Palestinian leaders and their demands, as Kushner’s team was evading a guarantee of full statehood for Palestinians in favor of a vacuous “autonomy.”

The Journal noted that Kushner didn’t bother meeting with “any Palestinian officials” on this trip, and reported how Palestinian officials have long demanded an independent state on the boundaries that existed before the 1967 war, along with East Jerusalem as its capital and the right of refugees to return to land currently in Israel, which is “generally echoed” by “Arab countries.” That Kushner has never seen the Palestinians as genuine negotiating partners has never been more obvious since he expressed his colonialist dismissal of Palestinians as incapable of self-governance (Axios6/2/19).

The Los Angeles Times (6/23/19) insisted on referring to the Trump administration’s “Vision for Peace” as a “peace plan,” “peace process” or “peace initiative” throughout its article, despite quoting statements that contradict such benign motives from sources “privy to Kushner’s work,” like former Israeli Defense minister and “hard-liner” Avigdor Lieberman:

Lieberman said the term “peace process” was irrelevant in the explosive region. “You will never see, at least in the next generation, any peace in the Middle East.”

The LA Times utilized this Newspeak even as it offered the assessment of Daniel Benjamin, the director of Dartmouth College’s John Sloan Dickey Center for International Understanding:

“The Trump administration’s policy for the region is to give the Israelis everything that Netanyahu wants and set up a scenario in which the Palestinians are forced to reject it,” thus providing the White House with “the excuse it needs to continue a basically punitive policy towards the Palestinians,” he said.

FAIR has documented how the New York Times has been one of the most credulous media outlets in covering the Israeli/Palestinian conflict (e.g., FAIR.org5/16/194/26/19), and its coverage of the Kushner plan is no different. Although the Times’ “Trump to Open Middle East Peace Drive With Economic Incentives” (5/19/19) reported on Netanyahu’s plans to annex part of the West Bank (which would make a two-state solution impossible), and Kushner rejecting an independent Palestinian state, that wouldn’t stop its later reporting from dubbing the Trump administration’s proposal a “peace plan.”

The Times (6/1/19) continued to unironically refer to the US proposal as a “peace plan” or “peace initiative,” even as it observed that Trump planned to “throw his full weight behind Benjamin Netanyahu’s campaign to save his job as prime minister of Israel”—without mentioning that Netanyahu is facing multiple indictments for corruption. It also had no problem analyzing the “political calculus” behind the Trump administration’s plan:

Mr. Trump, eager not to alienate evangelical voters or influential pro-Israel donors like the casino magnate Sheldon Adelson, is unlikely to present a plan that would put Israel or Mr. Netanyahu in an awkward position. For both leaders, therefore, the political calculus will argue for a plan that makes as few demands of Israel as possible.

Corporate media refused many other easy opportunities to discredit the Trump administration’s professed desire for peace. How could a genuine peace agreement be reached when the officials in charge of the plan, like Kushner, US ambassador to Israel David Friedman and former chief negotiator Jason Greenblatt, were all supportive of and bankrolling Israel’s illegal settlements, and have overseen some of the most punitive anti-Palestinian measures in US history (Jacobin7/9/19)? How could peace be achieved when the staunchly pro-Israel US plan involved approving Netanyahu’s plan to annex parts of the West Bank considered to be the “food basket” of Palestinians, and rendering a viable Palestinian state impossible by fragmenting it into isolated enclaves within Israel (Intercept9/11/19)?

Corporate media also gave scant coverage to the absurdity of a “peace plan” that tries to sell potential investments in Gaza and the West Bank as a “hot IPO,” and doesn’t mention Israel’s illegal occupation strangling the Palestinian economy (CounterPunch11/20/15). The UN has found that the Palestinian economy would be at least twice as large if it weren’t for the occupation (Al-Jazeera9/9/16), while companies doing business in the settlements contribute to and profit from land confiscations and violations of the rights of Palestinian workers (Al-Jazeera1/9/16).

Although there has been vigorous debate between those who support a two-state solution to the Israel/Palestine conflict (Guardian11/2/12Nation7/2/14) and a single, multiethnic, democratic state, advocates for a one-state solution continue to be marginalized in the corporate media discussion (FAIR.org6/1/18), despite gaining ground among Palestinians and other people abroad. Rather than treating the denial of democratic rights to Palestinians as a human rights problem, the extension of those rights is portrayed as a threat to Jewish Israelis (FAIR.org2/1/19).

Seen from the perspective of those advocating a one-state solution, US and Israeli support for annexing parts of the West Bank is simply an acknowledgment of the reality that Israel/Palestine can only have one government, and a confirmation that democracy is the only path to peace. Whichever path one favors, it should be clear that in media Newspeak, “peace plan” is a propaganda term that only refers to whatever Washington is proposing at any given time.

The post Corporate Media’s Insidious Palestine Propaganda appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Chris Hedges: Democrats Cast Their Lot With Elites on Impeachment

House Democrats subpoenaed President Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani Monday, seeking documents related to his work in Ukraine. Last week, Guliani admitted on television that he had urged the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rival and 2020 Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden. This comes as House Democrats continue to build their case for impeaching the president, following a whistleblower complaint focused on a phone call in which Trump asked the Ukranian president to do him a “favor” investigating the actions of Democrats, including Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Meanwhile, Trump is continuing to threaten lawmakers who are pushing impeachment, and publicly admitted he is trying to find out the identity of the anonymous whistleblower, in possible violation of whistleblower protection laws. We host a debate on impeachment with John Bonifaz, co-founder and president of Free Speech for People, one of the organizations demanding Trump’s impeachment, and Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist.

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: We begin today’s show with the growing impeachment inquiry into President Donald Trump. House Democrats subpoenaed Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani on Monday, seeking documents related to his work in the Ukraine. Last week, Giuliani admitted on television that he had urged the Ukrainian government to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden.

This comes as House Democrats continue to build their case for impeaching the president, following a whistleblower complaint filed by an intelligence officer who was detailed to work at the White House at one point. The whistleblower complaint focused on a phone call in which Trump asked the Ukrainian president to do him a, quote, “favor” by investigating the actions of Democrats, including Joe Biden and his son Hunter. On Monday, The Wall Street Journal revealed that Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was among the administration officials who were on the controversial July 25th phone call.

Meanwhile, evidence is growing that the Trump administration also pressured other nations, including Australia and Italy, to take steps to help Trump politically. The New York Times reports Trump personally pressed Australia’s prime Minister to help Attorney General William Barr with his review of the origins of the Mueller probe. Barr also traveled to Italy last week, where he reportedly pressed Italian officials to help his probe.

AMY GOODMAN: President Trump is continuing to threaten lawmakers pushing impeachment. On Monday, Trump suggested House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff should be arrested for treason.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Adam Schiff made up a phony call, and he read it to Congress, and he read it to the people of the United States. And it’s a disgrace. This whole thing is a disgrace. There’s been tremendous corruption, and we’re seeking it. It’s called drain the swamp.

AMY GOODMAN: Trump also publicly admitted he’s trying to find out the identity of the anonymous whistleblower, in possible violation of whistleblower protection laws.

REPORTER: Mr. President, do you now know who the whistleblower is, sir?

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Well, we’re trying to find out about a whistleblower, when you have a whistleblower that reports things that were incorrect.

AMY GOODMAN: In a series of tweets over the weekend, President Trump accused the unnamed whistleblower of spying on the president, promising, quote, “big consequences.” He also threatened civil war if impeachment proceedings move forward. 2020 presidential hopeful Senator Kamala Harris tweeted Monday, “Look let’s be honest, @realDonaldTrump’s Twitter account should be suspended.”

Well, for more, we host a debate on impeachment. Joining us here in New York City are two guests. John Bonifaz is an attorney and political activist specializing in constitutional law and voting rights. He’s the co-founder and president of Free Speech for People, one of the organizations calling for Trump’s impeachment. John Bonifaz is the co-author, with Ron Fein and Ben Clements, of The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump. Chris Hedges is also with us. He’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist, columnist for the news website Truthdig. His latest article is headlined “The Problem with Impeachment.” He’s written numerous books, including, most recently, America: The Farewell Tour.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! John Bonifaz, let’s begin with you. Why do you feel Donald Trump should be impeached?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Donald Trump is a threat to our republic. He defies the Constitution and the rule of law almost on a daily basis. And really, from the moment he took the oath of office, he’s showed this disregard for the Constitution, refusing to divest from his business interests all over the world and directly colliding with the anti-corruption provisions of the Constitution, the foreign and domestic emoluments clauses. But, unfortunately, the impeachable offenses do not stop there. He has been repeatedly abusing his power and abusing the oath of office, and he must face impeachment proceedings.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And yet, the House is currently, in its inquiry, looking basically at one issue, at what happened with the phone call in Ukraine. And, Chris Hedges, you’ve said that the fatal mistake that Trump made is trying to take down a fellow member of the ruling elite. Could you —

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, it reminds me of the Watergate hearings, where the activities that were carried out by the Nixon White House against the Democratic headquarters in Watergate were directed at the elites. All of those activities had been carried out before, including break-ins into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office, against antiwar activists. But it’s when those activities were targeted at the elite. And I think that’s exactly what we’ve seen, and that’s what’s triggered such a reaction, including from Pelosi, who up until now has been very reluctant to carry out impeachment. But what they’ve done, or what Trump, the Trump White House, has done, is target the favored nominee by the Democratic donor class.

JOHN BONIFAZ: That’s not necessarily an argument to not proceed with impeachment proceedings. It’s an argument to expand the scope of the impeachment inquiry to cover all of his impeachable — Donald Trump’s impeachable offenses, from the obstruction of justice, from giving aid and comfort to white supremacists and neo-Nazis, racist abuses of power, placing children and their families in imprisonment unconstitutionally at the southern border. All of the impeachable offenses need to be covered by these impeachment proceedings, not just the Ukraine scandal.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, yeah, I agree with that, and I’m not against impeachment. The problem is that — and you use the phrase “rule of law” — from the very moment Trump took office, he was violating the emoluments clause; very clear evidence that he attempted to obstruct justice during the Mueller investigation; inciting violence and racism; using taxes to punish people he considered political opponents, Jeff Bezos, in particular, at Amazon. Yes, it’s all there, but what has been disturbing for me is the shredding of the rule of law, the inability on the part of the ruling elites on both sides of the aisle to stand up for the rule of law, until now.

And that gets to the much deeper issue that there are — essentially, we live in a two-tiered legal system, where poverty has been criminalized. We live in a city where Eric Garner was strangled to death by New York City police for allegedly selling loose cigarettes, which he wasn’t on the day he was killed — he was, in fact, not doing anything — and then Wall Street, which has essentially rewritten the rules to — and so, my worry about impeachment, which I’m not against impeachment, is that people see it as a panacea. I think many in the Democratic Party, in particular in the liberal class, have personalized our problems in the figure of Donald Trump. And, in fact, the malaise runs much deeper. This is what I spent the last two years doing in my book America: The Farewell Tour. It is the rupturing of what the sociologist Émile Durkheim calls the social bonds — that’s where you get the term “anomie” — the disenfranchisement of well over half the country, the inability of them to actualize themselves, and acting out in self-destructive pathologies, whether that’s hate groups, the opioid crisis, gambling, sexual sadism, etc.

And so, go ahead with impeachment, but if we don’t begin to address the underlying malaise and disenfranchisement and rage — and legitimate rage — on the part of the white working class — however much Trump lies — and, of course, he lies like he breathes — the Clintons also lied, in far more damaging ways to the working class, and, in particular, the white working class, than Donald Trump. And we know from polls that right before the election in 2016, you had 55% of those who said they were voting for Trump, it was because they disliked Hillary Clinton, only 44%. So, Trump was kind of weaponized. You know, he was the middle finger to the establishment. He was weaponized against the man. And if we don’t begin to deal with those issues, impeachment itself will rend the fabric of American society further into antagonistic tribes. And we have to acknowledge the fact we are a country awash in weapons, 300 million weapons, you know, mass shootings on the average of one a day. And we almost saw, with Cesar Sayoc, the complete decapitation of the Democratic Party with pipe bombs. That’s the territory we’re headed towards.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to go to Texas Congressmember Al Green. He’s the first one to have called for impeachment, several years ago. On Monday, he tweeted, “Mr. President, maliciously attacking a whistleblower and promoting civil unrest to avoid impeachment won’t save you. You should have already been impeached for your bigotry, corruption, and disloyalty to our country. #CivilWar2 #ImpeachNow” Democracy Now! spoke to Congressmember Green last week.

REP. AL GREEN: We have a responsibility to the country and to the future. The future is going to be one that will allow a president to assume that there are no guardrails, if we don’t act now. We have to demonstrate that Congress will honor the Constitution and that we have principle that we will place above politics, that we will place the people above our political parties. And I think that if we do this, we will consider democracy and not Democrats; we will consider the republic and not Republicans.

AMY GOODMAN: Houston Congressmember Al Green was speaking just after Nancy Pelosi had announced that the impeachment inquiry was going to go forward, something he has called for for several years. But, John Bonifaz, as a lawyer, can you explain? Now they’re going after Trump for Ukraine and for pressuring the Ukrainian president to investigate his political rival, Joe Biden, and his son Hunter. How does this expand? I mean, we know the same thing happened with Clinton. It started with Whitewater, but it ended up around his relationship with an intern.

JOHN BONIFAZ: Well, I think we have to first look at why Congress has started these impeachment proceedings. The narrative right now among conventional thinkers is it started because of the explosive evidence that emerged from the Ukraine scandal. But, in fact, that’s not really true. For many months, there’s been a people’s movement building, demanding impeachment proceedings along all the impeachable offenses that this president has already committed. And this was the last straw. This evidence coming from this scandal finally pushed Congress, those who were sitting on the fence, including Speaker Pelosi, to do the right thing and start the impeachment inquiry, which is why we should not let up now with this movement. We need to pressure members of Congress to expand the scope to include the very racist abuses of power Congressman Green has talked about, the emoluments violations, the obstruction of justice and so forth. I don’t disagree with Chris that we have a two-tiered judicial system here, but that doesn’t mean we don’t hold this president accountable for his abuses of power that had begun from the moment he took the oath of office.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to break and then come back to this discussion. John Bonifaz, attorney and political activist, he is for impeachment, has written a book on it. Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist, questioning is impeachment the way to go now. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with them in a minute, and then we’ll be joined by the mayor of Newark, Ras Baraka. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “You Can Tell the World” by Jessye Norman and the New York Philharmonic. The legendary opera singer died Monday at the age of 74. This is Democracy Now!,, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, we’re continuing our debate on the impeachment of President Donald Trump with John Bonifaz, attorney and political activist, and Chris Hedges, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author and activist. Chris, I wanted to ask you if we could go a little deeper into what’s going on here. You mentioned this whole issue of the potential for even deeper conflict in the United States. But I want to ask you, as someone who has studied these systems at length over many years: Are we reaching the point where capitalist democracy has reached its limits? We’re seeing, in many countries around the world, total paralysis of governments, in Britain. Peru, the president just recently suspended the national assembly; the assembly is refusing to listen to his orders. And here in the United States, we’re seeing a virtual paralysis of our government as a result of this response to an authoritarian dictator. Is it the reality that democracy, given the huge polarization of wealth, has reached its limits in what it can accomplish?

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I think democracy has been destroyed by global capitalism, that we have the facade of democracy. Lobbyists write our rules. The Supreme Court inverts constitutional rights. The whole idea that unlimited corporate cash is defined by our Supreme Court as the right to petition the government or a form of free speech is an inversion of constitutional rights. The fact that we are the most spied-upon, watched, monitored population in human history — and I covered the Stasi state in East Germany. And I think that that is the far more grave consequence of unfettered or unregulated capitalism, which, as Karl Marx correctly pointed out, is a revolutionary force. So, yes, Juan, I think you hit on a very important point.

And so, the capitalist class, essentially, which has orchestrated this, the largest transference of wealth globally upwards in human history, is determined to beat back even, I would call them, kind of moderate figures, like Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, essentially New Deal Democrats, and they will turn to support demagogues like Trump, like Boris Johnson, Orbán, etc., that we are seeing arise, rather than carry out policies that will ameliorate the vast disparity in power and wealth. And there was just — I was reading The New York Times on the way in here, and they were writing that — there was an article about Elizabeth Warren and how the donor class within the Democratic Party is — which, of course, backs Joe Biden, which gets back to the whole reaction, I think, by the Democratic leadership over this issue of Ukraine — that they’ve made it very clear that they will swing to Trump rather than support, in particular, Warren or Sanders.

And so, yes, there is a complete breakdown within the democratic institutions that once made piecemeal and incremental reform possible. And this just goes all the way back to Weimar, or when I covered Yugoslavia, that when there is that societal breakdown, the capitalist class, they may find — they do find a figure like Trump vulgar and repugnant, but they will back him as opposed to, I would even call them, political moderates, like Warren or Sanders, who talk about righting the gross inequality in terms of power and in terms of economics that has taken place.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John Bonifaz, what about this Trump retweeting the statements of this extremist minister, a Pentecostal minister, from Texas that civil war may be possible if people try to impeach Trump? What about this issue that there are people on the right in America that are demonstrably willing to fight to keep Trump in power?

JOHN BONIFAZ: So, first of all, Harvard law professor John Coates responded yesterday to that tweet, saying that’s a separate, independent ground now for impeachment proceedings, for the president to retweet that kind of statement and try to incite violence. But we also not be thinking somehow that this president has not already done that kind of incitement of violence. He has. The El Paso shooter cited his rhetoric in regards to that terrible mass shooting.

And this president will continue to engage in destructive behavior and abuses of power, regardless of whether or not we are somehow claiming that he should be held accountable during the election. That’s why impeachment needs to move forward, because he’s a direct and serious threat to our republic today. And that’s why the Framers placed the impeachment power in the Constitution.

The other point I would make here is that we cannot cower to these threats of violence by saying that mob rule gets to rule the day. We have to lift up the Constitution and the promise that no one is above the law, not even the president of the United States.

AMY GOODMAN: So, this impeachment proceeding is moving fast. You have at least the plan of the House Intelligence Committee next week to bring in the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, who was pushed out, Marie Yovanovitch, and then, on Thursday, Kurt Volker, the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, who just quit, and Michael Atkinson, the intelligence inspector general, who will testify on Friday. Then, also on Friday, subpoena deadlines for Mike Pompeo, who’s in Italy right now. In October, now this month, Rudy Giuliani also has been subpoenaed. So, the process of how this will work? On Monday, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell told CNBC the Senate would have no choice but to take up Trump’s impeachment if the House charges the president.

MAJORITY LEADER MITCH McCONNELL: It’s a Senate rule related to impeachment, that would take 67 votes to change, so I would have no choice but to take it up. How long you’re on it is a whole different matter. But I would have no choice but to take it up, based on a Senate rule on impeachment.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Senator Mitch McConnell, Senate majority leader. What does that look like? I mean, just you’ve studied the impeachment process. So, it goes from the House to the Senate. What does a trial look like? John Roberts, the chief justice, would preside over it?

JOHN BONIFAZ: Yes, he would preside, and the Senate would need to hear from the House. There would be House managers who present the articles of impeachment with the evidence to the Senate, and the Senate sits as the jury in this instance.

And I think it’s significant that Senator McConnell has made this statement, because he, of course, is facing a re-election, or potentially not, in the state of Kentucky. And he knows, he sees where the public is moving on this. We’ve already seen a huge spike just in the last week in terms of public support for this impeachment inquiry. CBS News had it 55% of the public supporting this. So, senators, both Republican and Democratic, are going to need to cast their vote on this historic question and decide where they stand. And they will face consequences if they do not uphold the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Chris Hedges, I wanted you to respond to New York Congressmember Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who told reporters Friday it would be much worse if Congress doesn’t move forward with impeachment proceedings.

REP. ALEXANDRIA OCASIO–CORTEZ: What we’re seeing with these developments from Ukraine are extremely serious. And whether — you know, we can’t ask ourselves about whether we’ve moved too slow or too quickly. We have to ask ourselves what we’re doing right now. … The president has committed several impeachable offenses, he himself. What he has admitted to is already impeachable, regardless of future developments. What he has already admitted to is an impeachable offense, among others. I anticipate and I believe there will be discussion as to whether, when we draft or when the Judiciary examines the question on filing potential articles of impeachment, what those articles will include. … I think we have to hold this president accountable, and we have to protect our democracy. And I believe that we’ll be doing so right now.

AMY GOODMAN: So, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was a major force in pushing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to conduct an impeachment inquiry.

CHRIS HEDGES: Well, I’m not against impeachment. The problem is impeachment, divorced from confronting the decay and disintegration of our democratic institutions and the vast social inequality that has fed the rage on the part of the white working class, will potentially make things worse. I mean, I think that, yes, we do have to honor — and we should have, two-and-a-half years ago, begun to honor — the rule of law.

But, you know, there are millions of Trump supporters who look at him as primarily a cult figure, who see in his power an extension of their own power, a way to compensate for their own sense of disempowerment. And it’s very clear that they will react. They already have attempted to react with violence. Ocasio-Cortez herself has been the recipient of death threats. And this violence against her has been stoked by the president.

And so, my big fear is that somehow people think that impeachment is the panacea. Removing Trump — and, you know, Noam Chomsky, probably correctly, points out that Pence will be worse, because he comes out of the community of Christian fascists. I speak as a seminary graduate. They’re heretics. And so, it is very dangerous for those figures who —

AMY GOODMAN: What do you mean, they’re heretics?

CHRIS HEDGES: Heretics? Jesus didn’t come to drop the — bless the dropping of iron fragmentation bombs across the Middle East or bless the white race above other race or hold up America. I mean, this is heretical. And the failure on the liberal church to call out these people for who they are, and give them religious legitimacy — that’s another show — I think, has been perhaps the greatest failing of the liberal church, which I come out of.

And so, our problems are far more severe. Trump is the product. He is what’s vomited up from a failed democracy, in the same way that I saw figures like Radovan Karadzic or Slobodan Milosevic vomited up from the failed democracy of Yugoslavia, or you can go back to Weimar Nazis. So, we have to begin to address the fundamental root causes that have created the political crisis and the economic crisis, the social and even cultural crisis that we are in. And if we don’t reknit those social bonds, if we don’t confront that crisis, impeachment may very well pour gasoline on the growing antagonisms and violence that is besetting this country.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: And, John Bonifaz, I wanted to ask you, though — if Nancy Pelosi’s decision to move forward on an impeachment inquiry on this issue of the phone conversation with the Ukrainian — with Ukraine’s president, I feel like I’m in Casablanca: Surprise, there’s gambling at this establishment. Right? I mean, isn’t the ability of presidents of the United States to pressure foreign leaders to do what they want sort of part of the process of how the United States wields power? Or is it just the situation here that the president did it directly himself rather than have one of his minions exert the pressure?

JOHN BONIFAZ: No, the issue is that he solicited foreign interference to help his election campaign, not that he solicited pressure or forced a country to do something that he claims was for the U.S. foreign policy.

JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, that itself has happened. Didn’t the Reagan administration convince Iran to hold back the release of the — I mean, Ronald Reagan’s people convinced Iran to hold back the release of the Iranian hostages until the president was inaugurated.

JOHN BONIFAZ: There’s no question there’s a history of impeachable offenses being committed by other administrations. But I do want to come back to this idea that impeachment is a panacea. No one in the impeachment movement — and this has been a people’s movement pressuring for impeachment proceedings. No one is suggesting it’s a panacea. What is required is that Congress do its job and hold this president accountable for his abuses of power. But that doesn’t mean we can’t walk and chew gum at the same time.

Free Speech for People has been around for 10 years. We’ve been taking on big money in politics and corruption in government, and we will continue to do that in the fight for our democracy. But we did not believe we could be true to that mandate without also taking on the unprecedented corruption of this presidency.

And I do want to add, you know, because this is a people’s movement, the pressure needs to continue, and will continue, on Congress to expand the scope of its inquiry beyond the Ukraine scandal. On October 13th, there will be a national day of action called by one of our organizational allies, By the People, for marches all across the country. Already a number of marches have been organized on the eve of Congress returning from its recess. People can find out more about that by going to and But this is why we are where we are today, is because people have demanded this, millions of people all over the country, that Congress do its job and uphold the Constitution.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, of course, we’ll continue discussions like these, and I thank you so much for being with us, John Bonifaz, attorney, political activist, co-founder and president of Free Speech for People, one of the organizations calling for Trump’s impeachment. John Bonifaz is co-author of The Constitution Demands It: The Case for the Impeachment of Donald Trump. And Chris Hedges, formerly with The New York Times, the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, award-winning author, activist, columnist for the news website Truthdig. His latest article, “The Problem with Impeachment.” He has written numerous books; his last, America: The Farewell Tour.

When we come back, we turn to the water crisis in Newark with Mayor Ras Baraka. Stay with us.


AMY GOODMAN: “The Healers” by the late Randy Weston, performing on Democracy Now! in 2012. On Sunday, Lafayette Avenue in Brooklyn, New York, where he lived, was co-named Randy Weston Way.

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Court: FCC Can Dump Net Neutrality, but States Can Set Own Rules

WASHINGTON — The Federal Communications Commission could dump rules that keep internet providers from favoring some services over others, but couldn’t bar states like California from enacting their own prohibitions, a federal court ruled.

While Tuesday’s ruling handed Trump-appointed regulators a partial victory, consumer advocates and other groups viewed the ruling as a victory for states and local governments seeking to put in their own net neutrality rules.

The FCC’s 2015 net neutrality rules had barred internet providers such as AT&T, Comcast and Verizon from blocking, slowing down or charging internet companies to favor some sites or apps over others.

After the FCC repealed the rules, phone and cable companies are permitted to slow down or block services they don’t like or happen to be in competition with. Companies could also charge higher fees of rivals and make them pay for higher transmission speeds.

Such things have happened before. In 2007, for example, The Associated Press found that Comcast was blocking or throttling some file-sharing. And AT&T blocked Skype and other internet calling services on the iPhone until 2009.

The court now says that’s all permissible — as long as companies disclose it.

But in Tuesday’s decision, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit ruled that the FCC failed to show legal authority to bar states from imposing any rules that the agency repealed or that are stricter than its own.

“This ruling empowers states to move forward in the absence of a federal approach to consumer protections,” said Lisa Hayes, co-CEO of the Center for Democracy & Technology.

States already have come up with their own net neutrality laws, including one in California that was put on hold until Tuesday’s court decision. Congressional Democrats have attempted, unsuccessfully, to reverse the FCC’s repeal.

The federal court directed the FCC to rework its order to include the impact of its repeal on public safety. FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said the agency will address the “narrow issues” cited by the court.

“Today’s decision is a victory for consumers, broadband deployment, and the free and open internet,” Pai said in a statement. He maintained that speeds for consumers have increased by 40% since the agency’s 2017 repeal “and millions more Americans have gained access to the internet.”

Net neutrality has evolved from a technical concept into a politically charged issue, the focus of street and online protests and a campaign issue lobbed against Republicans and the Trump administration.

The FCC has long mulled over how to enforce it. The agency had twice lost in court over net-neutrality standards before a Democrat-led commission in 2015 voted in a regime that made internet service a utility, bringing phone and cable companies under stricter oversight. An appeals court sanctioned the 2015 rules.

After the 2016 election, President Donald Trump appointed a more industry-friendly FCC chairman. Pai repealed the net neutrality rules in 2017, saying they had undermined investment in broadband networks.

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Hong Kong Protester Shot as China Marks Its 70th Anniversary

HONG KONG — In a fearsome escalation of violence, Hong Kong police shot a protester in the chest at close range Tuesday, leaving the teenager bleeding and howling on the ground. Tens of thousands joined anti-government demonstrations that spread across the semi-autonomous Chinese territory in a challenge to Beijing’s dominance as the Communist Party celebrated 70 years in power.

The officer fired the single pistol shot as protesters swarmed toward him, Police Commissioner Stephen Lo said, hitting the 18-year-old on the left side of his chest. Lo defended the action as “reasonable and lawful,” saying the officer feared for his life and had no other choice.

Hong Kong’s hospital authority said the teen was one of two people in critical condition, with a total of 66 injured as fierce clashes between protesters and police wracked China’s freest and most international city.

While officers have fired warning shots in the air on multiple occasions during months of unrest, this was the first time a protester has been struck by gunfire. The shooting marked a dramatic surge in violence that spread chaos to multiple areas.

Lo said there was no order for police to shoot if they are under threat but they can use appropriate force. He described protesters as “rioters,” saying they have committed widespread criminal acts — from attacking police officers, including 25 who were injured, to destroying public property and vandalizing shops and banks linked to China.

“The officer was under attack, his life was threatened. … He made a very quick decision and shot the assailant. I believe it was his best judgment at the time,” Lo said.

He added that although the officer also had a rifle for rubber bullets, the event unfolded very quickly. He didn’t answer questions on why the officer fired at the teen’s chest and not his limbs.

Apart from the incident in Tsuen Wan, where the teen was shot, he said officers also fired five warning shots in four other areas, although no one was injured. Police arrested more than 180 protesters, he added.

Local TV stations showed two officers with bloodied faces pointing pistols as protesters who sought to spoil the Oct. 1 anniversary of Communist rule fought pitched battles with riot police.

Video that spread quickly on social media appeared to show the officer opening fire as the masked teenager came at him with a metal rod, striking the officer’s shooting arm. Taken by the City University Student Union, it showed a dozen black-clad protesters throwing objects at a group of police and closing in on the lone officer who pointed his gun and opened fire. The protester toppled backward onto the street, bleeding from below his left shoulder.

As another protester rushed in to try to drag away the wounded youth and was tackled by an officer, a gasoline bomb landed in the middle of the group of officers in an explosion of flames.

“Whilst there is no excuse for violence, the use of live ammunition is disproportionate, and only risks inflaming the situation,” U.K. Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said of the protests in the former British colony that returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

Riot police fired tear gas in at least six locations and used water cannons in the business district as usually bustling streets became battlefields. Determined to thumb their noses at Chinese President Xi Jinping, protesters ignored a security clampdown that saw nearly four dozen subway stations closed.

Chanting anti-China slogans and “Freedom for Hong Kong,” the dense crowd dressed in mournful black snaked for over a mile (1.6 kilometers) along a broad thoroughfare downtown in defiance of a police ban. Some carried Chinese flags defaced with a black cross. Organizers said at least 100,000 people marched in the biggest rally Tuesday. Police didn’t give an estimate.

“They are squeezing our necks so we don’t breathe the air of freedom,” said King Chan, a 57-year-old homemaker who marched with her husband.

Demonstrators tossed wads of fake bank notes usually used at funerals into the air. “The leaders who won’t listen to our voice, this is for them,” said marcher Ray Luk.

Thousand others confronted police across the city, the largest number of simultaneous protests since the unrest began in early June over a now-shelved extradition bill that activists say was an example of how Hong Kong’s freedoms and citizen rights are being eroded. The movement has since grown into an anti-Chinese campaign with demands for direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.

The smell of stinging tear gas and smoke from street fires started by protesters engulfed the Wan Chai, Wong Tai Sin, Sha Tin, Tuen Mun, Tsuen Wan and Tsim Sha Tsui areas. Protesters used power tools to fashion bricks into missiles and came armed with gas bombs. Police said protesters used corrosive fluid in Tuen Mun, injuring officers and some reporters.

A water cannon truck sprayed blue water, used to identify protesters, to disperse crowds from advancing to government offices.

“Today we are out to tell the Communist Party that Hong Kong people have nothing to celebrate,” said activist Lee Cheuk-yan as he led the downtown march. “We are mourning that in 70 years of Communist Party rule, the democratic rights of people in Hong Kong and China are being denied. ”

Activists carried banners saying, “End dictatorial rule, return power to the people.”

As protesters hoped, the chaos in Hong Kong contrasted with anniversary festivities in Beijing, which included a muscular parade of military might. Among those attending was Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam, whose leadership during the crisis has made her a hate-figure for many protesters.

As the city’s government marked the anniversary with a solemn morning ceremony, police used pepper spray to break up a brief scuffle between Beijing supporters and a small group of pro-democracy protesters.

Hong Kong Chief Secretary Matthew Cheung told hundreds of guests at a reception that the city has become “unrecognizable” due to the violence. Cheung said Beijing fully supports the “one country, two systems” framework that gives Hong Kong freedoms and rights not enjoyed on the mainland.


Associated Press writer Kelvin Chan in London contributed.

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The Most Harrowing Lesson of ‘Ukrainegate’

Amid the impeachment furor, don’t lose sight of the renewed importance of protecting the integrity of the 2020 election.

The difference between Richard Nixon’s abuse of power (trying to get dirt on political opponents to help with his 1972 reelection, and then covering it up) and Donald Trump’s abuse (trying to get Ukraine’s president to get dirt on a political opponent to help with his 2020 reelection, and then covering it up) isn’t just that Nixon’s involved a botched robbery at the Watergate while Trump’s involves a foreign nation.

It’s that Nixon’s abuse of power was discovered during his second term, after he was reelected. He was still a dangerous crook, but by that time he had no reason to inflict still more damage on American democracy.

Trump’s abuse has been uncovered 14 months before the 2020 election, at a time when he still has every incentive to do whatever he can to win.

If Special Counsel Robert Mueller had found concrete evidence that Trump asked Vladimir Putin for help in digging up dirt on Hillary Clinton in 2016, it would have been the “smoking gun” that could have ended the Trump presidency.

Now that Trump is revealed to have asked Volodymyr Zelensky for dirt on Biden in the 2020 election, who’s to say he isn’t also asking others, including Putin?

The Washington Post reported that Trump told Russian officials, in a 2017 meeting in the Oval Office, that he was unconcerned about Moscow’s interference in the 2016 U.S. election (White House officials limited access to these remarks, as they did to his outreach to Zelensky).

American intelligence warns that Russia will continue to try to interfere in our elections. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has agreed to add just $250 million to protect election machinery from cyberattacks, while experts say billions are needed.

Trump is in a better position to make such deals than he was in 2016 because as president he’s got the power and money to make any foreign rulers’ life exceedingly comfortable, or uncomfortable.

As we’ve learned, Trump uses whatever bargaining leverage he can get, for personal gain. That’s the art of the deal.

Who can we count on to protect our election process in 2020?

Certainly not Attorney General William Barr. Trump urged Zelensky to work with Barr to investigate Joe Biden, even telling Zelensky that Barr would follow up with his own phone call.

Barr’s Justice Department decided Trump had not acted illegally and told the acting director of national intelligence to keep the whistle-blower complaint from Congress.

This is the same attorney general who said Mueller’s report cleared the Trump campaign of conspiring with Russia when in fact Mueller had found that the campaign welcomed Russia’s help, and that Mueller absolved Trump of obstructing justice when Mueller specifically declined to decide the matter.

Barr is not working for the American people. He’s working for Trump, just like Rudy Giuliani is working for Trump, as are all the other lapdogs, toadies and sycophants.

Fortunately, some government appointees still understand their responsibilities to America. We’re indebted to the anonymous intelligence officer who complained about Trump’s phone call to Zelensky, and to Michael Atkinson, inspector general of the intelligence community, who deemed the complaint of “urgent concern.”

But if the 2020 election is going to be—and be seen as—legitimate, the nation will need many more whistle-blowers and officials with integrity.

States must upgrade all election machinery and equip them with paper ballots that can be audited. Facebook and YouTube must devote more resources to protecting against malicious foreign trolls and bots.

All of us will need to be vigilant.

Over the last two and a half years, Trump has shown himself willing to trample any aspect of our democracy that gets in his way—attacking the media, using the presidency for personal profit, packing the federal courts, verbally attacking judges, blasting the head of the Federal Reserve, spending money in ways Congress did not authorize, and subverting the separation of powers.

Trump believes he’s invincible. He’s now daring our entire constitutional and political system to stop him.

The real value of the formal impeachment now underway is to put Trump on notice that he can’t necessarily get away with abusing his presidential power to win reelection. He will still try, of course. But at least a line has been drawn. And now everyone is watching.

Regardless of how the impeachment turns out, Trump’s predation can be constrained as long as his presidency can be ended with the 2020 election. If that election is distorted, and if this man is reelected, all bets are off.

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Americans Enable Unspeakable Atrocities Every Day

This piece originally appeared on

Not so long ago, in November 2010, I took command of B Troop, 4th Squadron, 4th US Cavalry in a ceremony at Fort Riley, Kansas. It was, for me, a proud day. Army officers are taught to revel in their unit’s history, and the 4th Cavalry Regiment had a long, storied past indeed. On that cool, late fall day, the squadron’s colors – a flag with battle streamers – fluttered. One read: Bud Dajo, Philippine Islands – a reference to one of the regiment’s past battles. The unit crest pictured on the flag and pinned on our uniforms included a volcano and a kris – the traditional wavy-edged sword of the regiment’s Moro opponents in the Philippines – but hardly a trooper in the formation knew a thing about that war, battle, or the 4th Cavalry’s sordid past in the islands.

Bud Dajo was hardly a battle at all. It was a massacre. Some 1,000 Moro separatists, including their families, who opposed the US military occupation of Jolo Island, had fled to the crest of a volcano to avoid American conquest and retribution. Then, from 5-8 March 1906, the 4th Cavalry, along with other army formations, bombarded the overmatched Moros – few had firearms at all – then rushed the summit. The Moro men fought desperately and managed to inflict some 20 deaths on the charging American troopers, but they’d never stood a chance. Reaching the volcanic top, the cavalrymen fired down into the crater until all but six defenders and occupants were dead, a 99% casualty rate. The victorious troopers then proudly posed for a photograph, standing above the dead – which included hundreds of women and children – as though they were naught but big game trophies on a safari hunt.

Few Americans remember the US invasion, occupation, and pacification – a neat euphemism, that – of the Philippine Islands, but Filipinos will never forget. Perhaps half a million locals died (one-sixth of the total population) at the hands of superior US military technology, induced disease and starvation. The war also reflected and affected the US Army culture of the day. Most of the generals were veterans of the vicious Indian Wars of extermination in the previous decades. Racially pejorative terms for the Filipinos entered the military vernacular. Some, such as “nigger,” were reappropriated; others, like gugu – thought to be the etymological precursor to the Vietnam-era epithet gook – were new. The war also informed the army’s leadership for many years. The first twelve of the US Army’s chiefs of staff, including General John Pershing of World War I fame, had all served in the Philippines. The legacy was quite long. Even General George Marshall, architect of World War II victory and a future Secretary of State, had served in the islands as a fresh lieutenant.

The war bloodied and frustrated the US Army, too. Some 4,000 soldiers died, many more were wounded, and the conventional conflict and counterinsurgency raged from 1898-1913, making the Philippine War the second longest in American history, after Afghanistan, that is. The war did, in a peculiar moment during the 2016 presidential campaign, briefly earn a shout out from Donald Trump. In order to bolster his own calls for war crimes against terrorists and their families, he told an apocryphal – and debunked – story about how Pershing had once ordered bullets dipped in pig’s blood (considered unclean in Muslim culture), had 49 prisoners executed with them, and then set the one survivor free to inform his comrades of what awaited them should they continue to resist. The result, said Trump, “for 25 years there wasn’t a problem, okay?”

U.S. soldiers pose with Filipino Moro dead after the First Battle of Bud Dajo, March 7, 1906, in Jolo, Philippines.

It made for great rhetoric, but awful history. Not only had the incident never occurred but the war had dragged on for years after even the army’s worst atrocities, including the 1906 Bud Dajo massacre. A cool seven further years, in fact. Besides, Pershing – though himself flawed and later architect of his own volcanic Moro massacre of 200-300 souls in 1913 – had been largely sympathetic to the locals. He learned their language, ate their food, traveled unarmed to meet their leaders, and became the honorary father to a local sultan’s wife. When his superior, General Leonard Wood – who today has a prominent active fort named after him in Missouri – ordered the assault on Bud Dajo, Pershing had surveyed the results and declared “I would not want to have that on my conscience for the fame of Napoleon.”

Back home in the states, many prominent consciences were indeed shocked by the massacre, and, in particular, the trophy photo taken by the victorious troopers. The image flooded the papers, the 1906 version of going viral. At that time, unlike today, there was a substantial (if not majority) anti-imperialist movement brewing. It’s lead literary spokesman, Mark Twain, said of the Bud Dajo “battle,” “We abolished them utterly, leaving not even a baby alive to cry for its dead mother.” These words were hardly trifling, and the rhetoric and activism of anti-imperialists succeeding in getting opposition to empire and the Philippine occupation into the platform of even the highly racist, Jim Crow-era, Democratic Party.

The photograph also galvanized African-American civil rights activists. W.E.B. Du Bois declared the crater image to be “the most illuminating I’ve ever seen,” and considered displaying it on his classroom wall “to impress upon the students what wars and especially wars of conquest really means.”

Nothing even approaching that level of intellectual outrage exists now, as the American Empire spreads its tentacles the world over. Few public intellectuals – to the extent that endangered species even exists these days – even notice the extent of their nation’s ongoing war crimes in the Greater Middle East. Take Afghanistan, for example, the only war longer than the American debacle in the Philippines. After 18 indecisive and bloody years of combat, the US military and its Afghan allies now kill more civilians annually than the vicious Taliban. That ought to be cause for pause, reflection, concern. Only it isn’t, not in Washington, not even in most universities. We’re a long way from Du Bois posting the Bud Dajo picture on his classroom wall.

Men carry the coffin of one of the victims after a drone strike that killed 30 pine nut farmers in Nangarhar province, Afghanistan, on Sept. 19, 2019.

Not that there haven’t been plenty of shocking photos of the civilian victims of US bombing these past weeks. Over the course of just several days in late September, the military (“accidentally,” it claimed) struck two weddings, and a group of thirty innocent pine nut farmers. Total civilian deaths approached 100, with many of the victims (in the weddings) women and children. Their crimes, apparently: gathering while Afghan! That’s right, in militarized Afghanistan, merely forming sizable groups – for ceremonies, funerals, farming – appears, to drone operators and bomber pilots, apparently criminal and threatening.

Far too often, way more routinely than Americans are apt to remember, US aircraft have subsequently slaughtered civilians – thereby bolstering Taliban narratives and recruitment, and sowing distrust of the U.S.-backed Kabul regime. Nevertheless, you’d never know it back here in the safety of the homeland. These war crimes hardly crack mainstream media and the macabre photo evidence barely raises an American eyebrow. That’s apathy manifested as tragedy.

So consider this modest piece of mine, this brief history lesson and connection to contemporary US empire, a plea of sorts to the teachers of America. Want to be a true patriot, a forceful educator, and decent human being? Well, do your students a favor: post the photos of recent US military airstrikes upon civilians in Afghanistan – the war crimes of the 21st century – on your classroom walls. Du Bois, and Twain, would be proud…and that’s hardly bad intellectual company to keep…

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Bernie Sanders Tops Democrats With Record Third Quarter

The presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders announced Tuesday that it raised $25.3 million from 1.4 million individual donations in the third quarter of 2019, the largest fundraising quarter of any 2020 Democratic White House contender thus far.

“The billionaire class should be very, very nervous,” Sanders tweeted. “The working people of this country are ready for a political revolution.”

The Sanders campaign said the average third-quarter donation was just $18, “teacher” was the most common profession of donors, and Starbucks, Amazon, and Walmart were the most common employers of donors.

Sanders’s third-quarter fundraising boom was “fueled by a September haul that set a Bernie 2020 record for total amount raised and number of individual contributions in a single month,” the campaign said in a press release.

“The final day of the third quarter was the second biggest fundraising day of the campaign,” said the campaign. More than 99.9 percent of Sanders’s donors since the start of the campaign in February can give again.

Bernie’s Q3 fundraising:
$25.3 million total

$18 average

Over 1.4 millions donations

More than 99.9% of donors can give again

Most frequent donations by occupation: Teachers

100% funded by grassroots donations

The people want a political revolution.

— Joe Calvello (@the_vello) October 1, 2019

In a statement, Sanders campaign manager Faiz Shakir said “Bernie is proud to be the only candidate running to defeat Donald Trump who is 100 percent funded by grassroots donations—both in the primary and in the general.”

“Media elites and professional pundits have tried repeatedly to dismiss this campaign,” Shakir added, “and yet working-class Americans keep saying loudly and clearly that they want a political revolution.”

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The Conversations With Foreign Leaders Trump Doesn’t Want Us to Hear

This piece originally appeared on Informed Comment.

CNN reports that in addition to Trump’s Ukraine conversation last July, the transcripts his telephone calls with Saudi crown prince Mohammed Bin Salman and Russian president Vladimir Putin were also stored in a super highly classified server. The implication is that his staff heard him commit crimes in the course of those calls, and wanted to deep-six the transcripts to guard against whistle-blowing.

It would be great to know what illegal things Trump said to Bin Salman. But we already know that Trump and his administration have committed crimes with regard to Bin Salman. Some are war crimes, as with US support for the Bin Salman’s fruitless and destructive war on Yemen, which has killed tens of thousands, displace millions, and placed 10 million at risk of starvation.

Trump and his son-in-law Jared Kushner, along with secretary of state Mike Pompeo, have run interference for Bin Salman regarding the extensive evidence that he was behind the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi this time last year, as The Daily Beast reported.

There isn’t much doubt that Bin Salman ordered the grisly murder of Khashoggi, given all the evidence that has come out. The US Central Intelligence Agency came to the conclusion that Bin Salman is guilty and leaked it to the Washington Post last November. The conclusion was based in part on signals intercepts, which showed Bin Salman repeatedly calling the hit team. The United Nations commission on the matter came to the same conclusion.

So why are Trump, Kushner and Pompeo denying the CIA assessment (Pompeo is probably the least popular former CIA director ever inside the agency)? What private quid pro quo do they have with Bin Salman?

Bin Salman reportedly once remarked that Kushner was in his back pocket. This according to an Intercept piece by lex Emmons, Ryan Grim, and Clayton Swisher.

They reported that Kushner discussed with the crown prince the problem of dissident Western Saudis whose critical voices were getting in the way of Trump-Saudi policy initiatives. Kushner denies the allegation.

But what if Kushner bad-mouthed Khashoggi, whose Washington Post columns were critical of both Trump and Bin Salman? Bin Salman was already annoyed with Khashoggi, but was his American role as a thorn in the side of Trump the straw that broke the camel’s back?

I don’t know if we’ll ever get access to the secrets of the Trump circle and that of Bin Salman. If we do, there are likely to be damaging revelations about the corruption of both regimes.

All this isn’t Saudi-bashing. Many Americans have an irrational dislike of Saudi Arabia, in part because of its puritan religious traditions and the way in which some of its young men went radical (most notoriously, Usama Bin Laden). The young generation of Saudis, however, is often extremely worldly and well-educated, bright and innovative. Most Americans don’t know any Saudis, who are warm and generous. We should all wish the country well.

Just as America deserves better than Trump, Saudi Arabia deserves better than Mohammed Bin Salman.


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Greta Thunberg Inspired More Than Just Our Youth

Look what Greta started and what she did to me! I took part in the recent climate-strike march in New York City — one of a quarter-million people (or maybe 60,000) who turned out there, along with four million others across all seven continents. Then I came home and promptly collapsed. Which tells you one thing: I’m not 16 years old like Greta Thunberg, the Swedish teen who almost singlehandedly roused a sleeping planet and is now described as “the Joan of Arc of climate change.” Nor am I the age of just about any of the demonstrators I stopped to chat with that afternoon, however briefly, while madly scribbling down their inventive protest signs in a little notebook.

But don’t think I was out of place either. After all, the kids had called on adults to turn out that day and offer them some support. They understandably wanted to know that someone — other than themselves (and a bunch of scientists) — was truly paying attention to the global toilet down which their future was headed. I’m 75 and proud to say that I was walking that Friday with three friends, two of whom were older than me, amid vast crowds of enthusiastic, drum-beating, guitar-playing, chanting, shouting, climate-striking kids and their supporters of every age and hue. The streets of downtown Manhattan Island were so packed that sometimes, in the blazing sun of that September afternoon, we were barely inching along.

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It was impressive, exuberant, and, yes, let me say it again, exhausting. And that sun, beautiful as it was, didn’t help at all. At one point, I was so warm that I even stripped down to my T-shirt. I have to admit, though, that I felt that orb was shining so brightly at the behest of those young school strikers to make a point about what planet we were now on. It was about 80 degrees Fahrenheit during that march, which fortunately was to a park on the tip of Manhattan, not to somewhere in Jacobabad, Pakistan, now possibly the hottest city on Earth (and growing hotter by the year) with a temperature that only recently hit 124 degrees Fahrenheit.

That night, back in my living room, I slumped on the sofa, pillows packed behind me, and turned on NBC Nightly News to watch anchor Lester Holt report on the breaking stories of that historic day in which climate strikers and their supporters had turned out in staggering numbers from distant Pacific islands to AfricaEurope, the Americas, and — yes — Antarctica. Even — bless them — a small group of young Afghans in that desperately embattled land was somehow still capable of thinking about the future of our planet and risked their lives to demonstrate! “I want to march because if I don’t survive this war,” said Sarah Azizi, one of those Afghans, “at least I would have done something for the next generation that they can survive.” (Where, though, were the Chinese demonstrators in a country that now releases more greenhouse gases into the atmosphere than any other, though the U.S. remains by far the largest emitter in history?)

Let me add one thing: I’m a religious viewer of Lester Holt or at least what I can take of his show (usually about 15 minutes or so). The reason? Because I feel it gives me a sense of what an aging slice of Americans take in as the “news” daily on our increasingly embattled planet. If you happen to be one of the striking school kids with a certain perspective on the adults who have gotten us into our present global fix, then you won’t be shocked to learn that those “Fridays for Future” global demonstrations proved to be the sixth story of the day on that broadcast. But hey, who can blame Lester Holt & Co? (“Tonight, several breaking headlines as we come on the air!”) After all, not far from Chicago, an SUV (“Breaking news! Shocking video!”) had busted ever so photogenically into a mall and rambled around for a while knocking things over (but hurting no one) before the driver was arrested. No comparison with millions of human beings going on strike over the heating of a planet on which life forms of every sort are in increasing jeopardy.

Then, of course, there was story number two: the “deadly tour bus crash” in Utah (“Also breaking, the highway horror!”) that killed four people near a national park. Hey, no comparison with a planet going down. Then there was the obvious crucial third story of the night, the “surprise move” of football’s New England Patriots to drop Antonio Brown, “the superstar facing sexual misconduct allegations,” from their roster. Fourth came an actual weather emergency, “the growing disaster, a new round of relentless rain on the Texas coast, the catastrophic cutting-off of communities, the death toll rising!” And staggering downpours from Tropical Depression Imelda, 40 inches worth in the Houston area, were indeed news. Of course, Lester offered not the slightest hint, despite the demonstrations that day, that there might be any connection between the seventh-wettest tropical cyclone in U.S. history and climate change. And then, of course, there was Donald Trump. (“Allegations President Trump pressured Ukraine’s leader eight times in a single phone call to investigate the son of rival Joe Biden!”) He’s everywhere and would probably have been bitter, had he noticed, to come in a rare and distant fifth that night. He was expectably shown sitting in his usual lost-boy pose (hands between legs, leaning forward), denying that this latest “whistleblower firestorm” meant anything at all. And finally, sixth and truly last, at least in the introductory line-up of stories to come, was humanity’s “firestorm” and the children who, unlike the grown-ups of NBC Nightly News, actually grasp the importance of what’s happening to this planet and so many of the species on it, themselves included. (“…And walking out of class, millions of students demanding action on climate change…”)

As I’ve written elsewhere, this sort of coverage is beginning to change as, in 2019, the climate crisis enters our world in a far more obvious way.  Still, it’s fairly typical of how the grownups of this planet have acted in these years, typical of what initially upset Greta Thunberg. Admittedly, even that day and the next, there was far better coverage to be found in the mainstream media. The Guardian, for instance, impressively streamed climate-crisis news all day and, that evening, the PBS NewsHour made it at least a decently covered second story of the day (after, well, you-know-who and that secret whistleblower). Meanwhile, a new initiative launched by the Columbia Journalism Review and the Nation magazine to heighten coverage of the subject has already drawn at least 300 outlets globally as partners. (Even Lester Holt has begun giving it a little more attention.)

And though it may not be timely enough, change is coming in polling, in the media, and elsewhere, and those children I saw marching in such profusion that day will indeed help make it happen. Opinion will continue to change in the heat of the oncoming moment, as in the end will governments, and that will matter, even if not as fast as would be either useful or advisable.

“Don’t Be a Fossil Fool”

Let me stop now and look back on that New York demonstration, more than a week gone, where, at one point, people all around me waving hand-made blue signs visibly meant to be ocean waves were chanting, “Sea levels are rising and so are we!”

To understand what’s happening on this planet of ours from the bottom up, what our future might truly hold in a post-Trumpian world (that’s still a world), I wish you could have spent a little time, as I did that day, with those marchers. But I think there’s a way you still can. As I mentioned, I spent those hours, in part, feverishly jotting down what was written on the endless array of protest signs — some held, some pasted onto or slung over shirts, some, in fact, actual T-shirts (“No More B[oil], Leave it in the ground”). Some had clearly been professionally printed up. (Perfect for the age of Trump, for instance: “The universe is made of protons, neutrons, electrons, and morons.”) Many were, as participants told me, not original but slogans found online and turned into personal expressions of feeling, often with plenty of decoration. That would, for instance, include the mock-Trumpian “Make America Greta Again” and “There Is No Plan[et] B. Green New Deal!”).

Sign at New York climate-strike march on September 20, 2019.  Photo: Jim O’Brien

Many of the signs were, however, clearly original, some done with ultimate care, others scrawled wildly. Some were profane (“Fuck Trump, the Earth is Dying!” from a 14-year-old boy or “Clean the Earth, it’s not Uranus”); some were starkly blunt (“Act now before the show is over”); some politically oriented (“We’re not red or blue, we’re green”); some pop-culturally on target (“Winter is not coming”); some wry (“Don’t be a Fossil Fool”); some politically of the moment (“Real science, Fake president,” “Less AC, More AOC”); some critiques of capitalism (“If we can save the banks, we can save the world,” “We can’t eat money, we can’t drink oil”); some wise (“The climate is changing, why aren’t we?”); some culturally sly (“#MeToo, said Mother Earth”); or clever indeed (“This sign is reusable, STOP AND THINK”).

There were those two kids I ran into. The younger, a girl of 10, was carrying a homemade sign that said, “Dear Donald, Hate to break it to you, but climate change is real. XOXO Love, Earth”; her brother, 14, held up a two-word sign all his own that simply said, “Mulch Trump.” Touché! A college student’s sign read, “I am studying for a future that is being destroyed.” A 20-year-old woman held one that said, pungently enough in our present American universe, “Eco not Ego.”

A boy, 8, was blunt: “Save our future.” An 11-year-old girl no less blunt: “If you won’t act like adults, we will.” A 10-year-old boy had written plaintively: “I’m too old 2 die,” while another, a year older, offered this mordant message: “I don’t want to live on Mars. I want to live in Manhattan 30 years from now.” Many signs were, in their own way, upbeat, but some were deeply dystopian as in one woman’s that said: “Don’t think of this summer as the HOTTEST summer in the last 125 years. Think of it as the coolest summer of the NEXT 125 years.”

There was the woman with a sign that read “Science is not a liberal conspiracy.” When my friend congratulated her on it, she responded, “I wish I hadn’t been wearing this sign for seven years!” There was the woman carrying a sign that proclaimed, “Here for my son’s future.” Mounted on it was a photo of a bright-looking baby boy. When asked, she assured me with a smile that he was indeed her child whom she had given this line: “Mom, why didn’t you do more?”

And if you don’t think this — multiplied by millions across the planet — is hopeful, despite heatmongers like Donald Trump and Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro now being in power, think again.

Let me assure you, I know what it feels like when a movement is ending, when you’re watching a nightmare as if in the rearview mirror, when people are ready to turn their backs on some horror and pretend it’s not happening. That was certainly what it felt like as the streets emptied of demonstrators in 2003 — and there had indeed been millions of them across the planet then, too — in the wake of the Bush administration’s invasion of Iraq. It will not, however, be as easy to turn away from climate change as it was from the Iraq War and its consequences (if, at least, you didn’t live in the Middle East).

The new climate crisis movement is, I suspect, neither a flash in the pan (since global warming will ensure that our “pan” only gets hotter in the years to come), nor a movement about to die. It’s visibly a movement being born.

“And I Mean It!” 

Eight-year-old boy’s sign at New York climate-strike march on September 20, 2019.  Photo: Jim O’Brien

There was the 63-year-old grandmother carrying a sign that said: “I want my granddaughter to have a future! She’s due on February 1, 2020.” My heart went out to her, because the afternoons I spend with my own grandson are the joys of my life. (He was marching elsewhere that day in a self-decorated T-shirt that said, “Plant more trees.”) Yet there’s seldom one of those afternoons when, at some unexpected moment, my heart doesn’t suddenly sink as I think about the planet I’m leaving him on.

So, even at my age, that march meant something deep and true to me. Just being there with those kids, a generation that will have to grow up amid fossil-fuelized nightmares whose sponsors, ranging from Big Energy companies to figures like Donald Trump, are intent on committing the greatest crime in human history. It’s certainly strange, not to say horrific, to have so many powerful men (and they are men) intent on quite literally heating this planet to the boiling point for their own profit, political and economic, and so obviously ready to say to hell with the rest of you, to hell with the future.

So, yes, there’s always the possibility that civilization as we know it might be in the process of ending on this planet. But there’s another possibility as well, one lodged in the living hopes and dreams of all those kids across a world that is already, in a sense, beginning to burn. It’s the possibility that something else is beginning, too. And it’s never too late for something new. Increasing numbers of the young are now starting to make demands and, in the wake of that march, I have the feeling that the demanding won’t stop until they get at least some of what they want — and the rest of us so desperately need.

In the end, I’m with the eight-year-old boy who had clipped (quite literally) to the back of his T-shirt what may have been my favorite sign of the march. Begun by him but obviously partially written out by an adult at his inspiration (and then decorated by him), it said: “I’m not cleaning up my room until the grownups clean up the planet — and I mean it!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

As well he should!!!!!!!!!!!!!

The post Greta Thunberg Inspired More Than Just Our Youth appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Donald Trump Is Finished

I’m not going to bury the lede: Donald John Trump, the 45th president of the United States, is going to be impeached. Not only that, but whether or not the GOP-controlled Senate convicts Trump of “high crimes and misdemeanors,” his presidency is drawing to a close. Unless a political deus ex machina comes to his rescue, he will not serve a second term.

Numerous actions and events have brought us to this impeachment precipice, virtually all of them initiated by Trump himself. He is the architect of his own demise, and there is no turning back.

As of Saturday, some 225 members of the House of Representatives were on record endorsing an impeachment investigation. Their ranks included independent Justin Amash of Michigan and Republican Mark Amodei of Nevada. The last high-profile House Democratic holdout, Tulsi Gabbard of Hawaii, announced her support Friday. The total will only expand in the coming weeks.

Trump, for his part, appears increasingly exhausted, paranoid and incoherent, not unlike Ricard Nixon in the final stages of Watergate. The president has taken to Twitter even more than usual, spewing vitriol and blurting out threats of revenge against his many presumed enemies.

For those who are unfamiliar with the procedure or who could simply use a refresher, impeachment is the constitutional mechanism by which a president, vice president or “civil officer of the United States” can be accused of “treason, bribery or other high crimes and misdemeanors” and removed from office upon conviction.

The specific provisions governing the process can be found in Article 1, Section 2 and Article 2, Sections 3 and 4 of the Constitution, which define the respective powers of the legislative and executive branches of the federal government.

Together, the provisions establish a two-step process. As explained in a 2015 study, “Impeachment and Removal,” prepared by the nonpartisan Congressional Research Service: “First, a simple majority of the House impeaches—or formally approves allegations of wrongdoing amounting to an impeachable offense, known as articles of impeachment. The articles of impeachment are then forwarded to the Senate where the second proceeding takes place: an impeachment trial. If the Senate, by vote of a two-thirds majority, convicts the official of the alleged offenses, the result is removal from office. …” [Emphasis in original]

Although scores of federal officials have been the subject of congressional impeachment resolutions since the nation’s founding, the House has referred only 19 individuals to the Senate for impeachment trials—15 federal judges (including Supreme Court Justice Samuel Chase in 1805), one senator, one cabinet member and two presidents, Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99. The Senate has conducted 16 impeachment trials, convicting eight lower-court judges. The rest were acquitted.

Nixon, whose name is most often associated with impeachment, was never formally impeached. Rather than face certain conviction in the Senate, Nixon resigned before the full House could vote on three articles of impeachment passed by the Judiciary Committee in 1974.

As the accusatory body, the House has the authority to decide what constitutes an impeachable offense in any particular instance. The Constitution provides only general guidance, defining the grounds for impeachment as “treason, bribery and other high crimes and misdemeanors.”

While treason and bribery are clear enough, to grasp the meaning of “high crimes and misdemeanors”—the basis most commonly invoked over the decades and which will surely be cited against Trump—we have to look back to the Constitutional Convention of 1787.

The Founding Fathers debated impeachment and the notion of high crimes and misdemeanors extensively at the convention. James Madison described impeachment as “indispensable . . . for defending the community [against] the incapacity, negligence or perfidy of the chief magistrate.” George Mason argued, “No point is of more importance than that the right of impeachment should be continued. Shall any man be above justice?” Benjamin Franklin quipped dryly that impeachment was preferable to the European method of displacing a king—assassination.

But of all the Founders, Alexander Hamilton is credited with defining the scope of impeachment. In Federalist (Paper) No. 65 (1788), Hamilton described the legal process as embracing not only overt criminal conduct, but also serious violations of the “public trust.”

True to Hamilton’s reasoning, over the course of our history, charges of high crimes and misdemeanors have been alleged for a wide array of wrongdoing, both criminal and noncriminal, including abuse of power, obstruction of justice, corruption, bribery and perjury.

No one, not even Nixon, is more deserving of impeachment than Donald John Trump. In 2015, while Trump was a presidential candidate, I warned of the dangers he posed to immigrants, the First Amendment, and civil rights and liberties in general. Soon after the election, I began writing about his inevitable impeachment.

The principal debate now among mainstream Democrats and progressives is no longer whether Trump should be impeached, but how extensive the articles drafted against him should be. Well before the Ukraine scandal erupted into public view last week courtesy of a whistleblower’s complaint, Trump was liable for a long laundry list of impeachable offenses. Among the many derelictions I have cited, Trump can credibly be accused of:

  • Committing campaign finance violations by paying hush money to two women with whom he allegedly had extramarital affairs, Karen McDougal and porn star Stormy Daniels;
  • Obstructing justice in connection with the investigation by special counsel Robert Mueller;
  • Defying congressional subpoenas;
  • Using the presidency for personal economic gain;
  • Abusing the pardon power to reward political allies;
  • Attacking the press and the judiciary;
  • Threatening to prosecute political opponents;
  • Abusing emergency powers to build his border wall;
  • Incarcerating undocumented immigrant children in concentration camps;
  • Attempting to strip millions of Americans of health insurance;
  • Promoting tax reform to benefit the super-rich;
  • Gutting environmental regulations and pulling out of the Paris climate accord;
  • Refusing to enforce the Voting Rights Act; and
  • Curbing the use of federal consent decrees to counter police misconduct.

The mafia-like shakedown of Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelensky—as reflected in the declassified “Memorandum of Telephone Conversation” (memcon) that details the July 25 conversation between the leaders—only adds fuel to an already raging fire.

As shown by the memcon, which is organized in the form of an edited transcript, the American president promised to release American military assistance to Ukraine in return for a “favor”—that Zelensky use the power of his office to investigate alleged Ukrainian support for the Democrats during the 2016 American presidential campaign, as well as alleged corruption charges involving Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Trump urged Zelensky to talk to and “cooperate” with Attorney General William Barr and Trump’s private attorney, former New York City mayor Rudy Giuliani, for both purposes.

This is an abuse of power in black and white, aimed at using a foreign government to bring down a political rival. Arguably, it may also establish the elements of two federal felonies: extortion and bribery.

Since the release of the memcon, the Ukraine scandal has spiraled further out of control. Evoking memories of the Watergate coverup, it has been confirmed that White House lawyers ordered the original verbatim digitized transcript of Trump’s phone call with Zelensky be moved to a highly classified system maintained by the National Security Council, which is accessible only to a small circle of officials. It has also been reported that Trump has similarly restricted access to records of past conversations with Russian President Vladimir Putin and Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

On Thursday, Trump upped the impeachment ante in a talk at a private event in New York. Comparing information leakers and whistleblowers to traitors deserving of the death penalty, he said: “You know what we used to do in the old days when we were smart? Right? The spies and treason, we used to handle it a little differently than we do now.”

Still, the issue of where to draw the line in the articles of impeachment against Trump is tricky. Impeachment is a political process, but it bears similarities to criminal prosecutions. And as any experienced defense attorney can tell you, more than a few strong prosecutions have failed due to overcharging, which can complicate, mar and muddy an otherwise straightforward narrative. (As a young lawyer, for example, I won the reversal of a defendant’s conviction of attempted murder that stemmed from overcharging, according to the published opinion issued by the California Court of Appeal.)

To tell the story of Trump’s malfeasance and corruption, three articles of impeachment, the same number that forced Nixon from the Oval Office, should suffice:

  1. Abuse of power for Ukraine.
  2. Using the presidency for personal gain.
  3. Obstruction of justice for the Mueller investigation and the wholesale defiance of congressional subpoenas.

Democrats have little to fear from a Trump impeachment. The current situation is much more akin to 1974, which saw Nixon’s popularity steadily erode until his resignation, than 1999, which saw Bill Clinton’s popularity climb. A CBS News Poll released Sunday showed a whopping 55% of respondents favor the impeachment inquiry. A Quinnipiac University Poll survey released on Monday went beyond the inquiry, finding respondents evenly split, 47 percent to 47 percent, on whether they support impeaching President Trump and removing him from office, a 10-point swing in favor of impeachment over a five-day period.

As the congressional impeachment hearings move forward, public support can be expected to increase. Even if the Senate refuses to convict, Trump’s reelection prospects will be crippled, as Democrats will be able to target Trump and the GOP in the 2020 elections for betraying the Constitution.

For the progressive left, impeachment presents a rare opportunity to hold a tyrant to account, and to merge the impeachment issue with a broader agenda for genuine social and political change. While some progressives may balk at forging a tactical alliance with mainstream Democrats, the choice should be a no-brainer. The impeachment train has left the station. Either get on board and help steer, stand aside, or get run over.

The post Donald Trump Is Finished appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Facebook Touts Bans While Taking Hate Groups’ Cash

Facebook has made a point of announcing anti-hate speech policies that include the blocking of white nationalist posts and outright bans of people like Alex Jones and Louis Farrakhan for their hateful content, However, the social media giant has taken millions in advertising fees from hate groups and their leaders, according to Sludge’s Alex Kotch, who reviewed Facebook advertising data.

Kotch explains that Facebook “hosts and profits from pages, some verified, of numerous organizations identified as hate groups by the Southern Poverty Law Center [SPLC], a nonpartisan nonprofit that has been tracking and reporting on extremism since the 1970s.”

Per Sludge:

<blockquote>From May 2018, when Facebook began publishing its archive of political and social advertisements, to September 17, 2019, at least 38 hate groups and hate figures, or their political campaigns, paid Facebook nearly $1.6 million to run 4,921 sponsored ads. Some ads call undocumented immigration an “invasion.” Others claim that LGBTQ people are “evil.”</blockquote>

Among the groups that Sludge found had paid for Facebook ads include the anti-immigrant groups Federation for American Immigration Reform (FAIR, who spent $910,000) and Californians for Population Stabilization ($20,000), the Islamophobic Clarion Project ($55,000) and at least three anti-LGBTQ groups: Alliance Defending Freedom ($392,000), the Family Research Council ($107,000 total, including ads specifically for their president) and Illinois Family Institute ($33,000).

Examples of statements include “100% OF ILLEGAL ALIENS ARE CRIMINALS,” posted by Americans for Legal Immigration PAC (ALYPAC). Sometimes the post themselves aren’t specifically racist, but the groups posting them are, as with the Proud Boys, whose founder, Gavin McInnes, has made a number of hateful comments, including, “Muslims have a problem with inbreeding,” during an 2018 speech.

“It reaches a lot of people with some very toxic ideologies,” Keegan Hankes, interim research director of SPLC’s Intelligence Project, explained to Sludge. “Obviously, that’s incredibly worrisome, if not a little unsurprising given Facebook’s track record specifically around these ideologies.” Keegan Hankes,

Facebook has been struggling with how to address hate speech for years, and especially so since the 2016 election. In March, when a shooter in Christchurch, New Zealand,  wanted to broadcast his horrific acts, he did so on Facebook. While it was watched 4,000 times on Facebook itself, “it spread rapidly across the internet and was reposted millions of times,” extending its reach widely, as The New York Times pointed out.

The shooter’s plans for the El Paso, Texas, shooting were also mentioned on the site. In Sri Lanka and Myanmar, Facebook posts contributed to sectarian, mostly anti-Muslim violence, so much so that Sri Lanka banned the site, preventing citizens from accessing it. As Emily Stewart wrote in Recode in April, the company “is seemingly endlessly behind the curve when it comes to monitoring the content on its platform.”

It took multiple deaths in New Zealand, the United States, Sri Lanka and Myanmar for Facebook to announce the ban on white nationalism content in a post on the company’s newsroom. They did so, the post explained, “because [hate speech posts] creates an environment of intimidation and exclusion and in some cases may promote real-world violence.”

In 2018, Vice’s Motherboard obtained leaked training manuals for Facebook’s content moderators, which stated that while Facebook didn’t support “white supremacy,” the company  does allow “praise, support and representation” of white nationalism and white separation “as an ideology,” according to one of the slides obtained by Motherboard. Facebook’s reasoning reportedly was that the latter “doesn’t seem to be always associated with racism (at least not explicitly).”

That explanation for not taking action on white nationalism is reflective of what the SPLC’s Hankes told Sludge about who the company is willing to go after, and who it is scared of: “Facebook is much more willing to take action against these toxic ideologies when it’s politically expedient”—as in when it will not result in criticism from mainstream conservatives, he explained, adding, “And these are the exact ideologies that have a lot of traction in mainstream conservatism right now.”

In response to Sludge’s reporting, a Facebook spokesperson who requested anonymity said, “We are reviewing the content [Sludge] flagged and taking action against any posts or ads that violate our policies.”

Read Sludge’s full report here.

The post Facebook Touts Bans While Taking Hate Groups’ Cash appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trafficking of Females Goes Beyond Sex

Nadja was brought to Germany from Bulgaria almost two years ago, at the age of 19. She told me that before arriving in Germany, she was told she would be working in either a beauty salon or a jewelry shop specializing in watches, that her housing would be paid for, and that her salary would allow her to send money home to support her family. Coming from the EU’s poorest country, where four out of 10 people are at risk of poverty or social exclusion, she was tempted by the promise of free professional training—something she would never have received in Bulgaria.

Once Nadja arrived in Germany, rather than being welcomed by the agent who claimed to represent the jewelry store and beauty salon owners, she was met at the train station by a woman who said that Nadja would work at her and her husband’s home in a rural area of Brandenburg, near Berlin. Initially, Nadja thought nothing of the change—she was happy to have a job.

Nadja soon discovered, however, that her job involved housecleaning and cooking for the family, including four children between the ages of 2 and 12, as well as caring for a sick elderly woman. Nadja was not allowed out of the home for two months, and she was not paid any salary for the first six months. Her employers told her that this was in exchange for her ticket and “training,” even though Nadja received no training and was forced to work 18-hour days. Her employers also kept her passport for the first year, insisting it was security for the money they invested in her.

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When Nadja was finally allowed to go into the nearby town on a half-day off, her female employer went along as chaperone. The woman accompanied her everywhere. After Nadja’s brother had an accident at home, the family returned her passport so that Nadja could travel to Bulgaria for one week. She returned early to Germany so that she could job-hunt before meeting her employers. She was able to find a job in one of Germany’s many vape shops, which, even at minimum wage ($9.75 in 2018), paid her far more than the roughly $2 per hour she was receiving from her 90-hour-a-week domestic forced labor.

When I asked Nadja why she didn’t leave the family for whom she worked, she explained that they effectively held her hostage at their home—she had no friends and knew nobody, and they instilled in her a distrust of other Germans. She was unaware that what the family had done was illegal. Even today, seven months after leaving her exploiters, as she grapples with the trauma of having been trafficked, she fears she might be deported for addressing this issue with German authorities.

Nadja’s story is familiar to anyone who has met refugees with little to no education in Germany. The country is lauded for having some of the most hospitable visa requirements for foreigners from outside the eurozone, but the numbers of women and girls who come to the country, sold a lie about their future employment, are shockingly high. Awareness of how women are trafficked to Germany with false promises of decent-paying jobs is still quite low.

Women involved in various forms of labor exploitation are often not recognized as victims. One reasons for this, according to the German Network and Coordination Office Against Trafficking In Human Beings, is that trafficking is frequently portrayed in the media as uniquely sexual in nature. In reality, the exploitation of females goes far beyond sex: forced begging, slavery or practices akin to slavery; forced criminal activities; forced marriage; adoption; and organ removal. And yet, official statistics in Germany codify only two types of trafficking offenses: those for the purpose of sexual exploitation and those for the purpose of labor exploitation.

On any given day in 2016, there were 167,000 people living in conditions of modern slavery in Germany, according to the Global Slavery Index. Elise Gordon, of the Australian philanthropic Minderoo Foundation, told me that her organization estimates that 71 percent of modern slavery victims throughout the world are women and girls. The German government believes the actual number of people in modern-day slavery and forced labor exploitation is higher than official statistics show. It is estimated that 90 percent of women trafficked in Germany are trafficked for the purposes of sexual exploitation, but this statistic is likely inaccurate. Janina Mitwalli, in her study on this topic, criticizes the European Commission’s “Study on the Gender Dimension of Trafficking in Human Beings,” noting that this report “is reduced to sexual exploitation only. This approach perpetuates and cultivates the public’s associations with trafficking in human beings.”

Mitwalli observes that there is far less media coverage of exploitation of women working in nonsexual industries, such as meat-processing or agriculture. This skewed coverage contributes to the lack of legal protection from nonsexual forms of exploitation.

We know from recent studies in Germany that females are exploited for labor primarily within the agricultural, domestic and entertainment sectors—more specifically, within the fields of cleaning, food service, caretaking, nursing and the meat industry. Most experts agree that the reported 167,000 cases of human slavery in Germany today is just the tip of the iceberg of a far larger exploited group.

According to Behshid Najafi, counselor and co-director of Agisra, a nongovernmental organization that specializes in psychosocial counseling and support in Cologne:

<blockquote>The problem is that women trafficked for the purposes of labor are almost always sequestered within the private sector—they don’t have a work permit, so they are exploited by the families hiring them. They tend to work in the care profession, taking care of the elderly, children, the infirm, and because of this they can’t know about us to contact us and we don’t know where they are to contact them. They are not organized so it makes it very hard to identify these victims. They are also isolated by these families with threats of going to the police.”</blockquote>

Specialist after specialist confirms that there are very few institutions to which people can turn when they are victims of labor exploitation. And if a trafficking victim cannot be identified, there is no way to track or combat this form of exploitation.

Catalina Guia, a counselor from Arbeit und Leben, an NGO in Dusseldorf, explains why the rights of women and girls are easily overlooked within the current German protection legal framework, despite last year’s G20 Strategy against Child Labor and Forced Labor: “Because society is still patriarchal and change is very slow and the law is too permissive in the face of human rights.”

There is some progress. For instance, since 2005, there are now female-specific migration reasons recognized in Germany’s immigration law. According to a provision in Section 60 of the Residence Act, women facing potential genital circumcision, forced marriage or oppression due to their gender can claim a special refugee status. But while these human rights violations are recognized under German law, the governmental agencies adhere to a strict verification process, making it difficult for women to prove their cases. In short, the law exists on paper, but the burden of proof is placed on the victim to such a degree that her claim can often backfire.

One of the more obvious resolutions to this problem is a future where immigrants and all women have universal income, effectively erasing the power of traffickers to take advantage of the most marginalized. Another is to change how laws fiscally treat immigrants far differently than nationals.

Adina Schwartz, of Jadwiga, a German NGO specializing in assisting female victims of human trafficking, says that Germany is a transit and destination country for human trafficking, not a source country. She underscores the importance of prevention in the origin countries, as well as educating Germans about the signs of trafficking. “It is not as easy to prosecute labor exploitation and domestic servitude as it is for sexual exploitation,” Schwartz says. Jadwiga is developing a program in Bulgaria called Forwika, which, in Schwartz’s words, “helps young girls to develop their awareness and not fall into the hands of traffickers.” She says that the top three origin countries for the trafficking of females are Romania, Bulgaria and Hungary, although there are human trafficking victims in Germany from other EU member states, as well as from Africa and Asia.

The Bundeskriminalamt, Germany’s federal police office, publishes a yearly report on labor exploitation. Its 2017 study reveals that labor exploitation is clearly underinvestigated, with 180 victims and only 11 investigations. The same report shows that investigations of sexual exploitation registered 489 victims, with 327 investigations.

Not only do many NGOs and even the United Nations view women and girls as primarily victims of sexual exploitation, reflecting this bias in their research. Media efforts on behalf of well-intentioned feminists who focus solely on the sexual nature of female trafficking also have a negative effect. Since the 2000 U.N. Women’s Conference in New York, we have not seen enough attention paid to the labor exploitation of women and girls. In fact, what we have seen since the 1990s is a discourse that recycles the tropes of sexual exploitation of females, further entrenching sexist notions that men are exploited for labor, while women and girls are exploited only for sex.

The post Trafficking of Females Goes Beyond Sex appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

American Higher Education Is Even More Corrupt Than It Looks

This story is a collaboration between ProPublica and New York magazine.

The unhappy heroine of “The Mistakes Madeline Made,” which premiered Off Broadway in 2006, hates working as one of 15 personal assistants to a financier and his family. The patriarch, she observes, “runs his home the way he runs his hedge fund — using a model to protect his family against the possibility of loss or waste or even just the unexpected.” His “Household System” demands perfection: Even the hunt for a duplicate pair of New Balance sneakers is to be executed with the logistical finesse of a Navy SEAL strike.

The play was written by Elizabeth Meriwether, who would go on to create the sitcom “New Girl” for Fox. Her fictionalized account of her brief stint working for the Wall Street billionaire David E. Shaw never reached a wide audience, but the script became samizdat among the harried members of Shaw staff — as the family’s highly compensated, Ivy-educated, hierarchical cadre is known. Her disgruntled protagonist’s job making sure “nothing bad can ever happen to this family” has felt familiar to some of Meriwether’s successors.

The 68-year-old Shaw made his estimated $7.3 billion fortune by bringing the computing revolution to finance. D.E. Shaw & Co., the legendary hedge fund that bears his name, pairs proprietary trading algorithms with obsessive risk management. Less well publicized, however, are the various ways in which Shaw has applied his fund’s risk-averse, quantitative approach to nearly every aspect of his life. Employees tell stories about Shaw wanting Chinese food or a comfortable mattress, and Shaw staff exhaustively researching and testing the options in advance. It was company lore that before Shaw traveled, an assistant would take the exact same trip — same car service, same airport, same seat on the plane — to eliminate any inefficiencies. Shaw has been said to purchase tickets for several different flights on the same day in case his plans change.

He has even devised a model to protect his family from the possibility of loss or disappointment (what some might call the stuff of life itself) in that most uncertain of contemporary futures markets — namely, the college-admissions process. Like other couples of ample means, Shaw and his wife, financial journalist Beth Kobliner, have sent their three children to an elite prep school, supported them with hyperqualified nannies and tutors, and encouraged their extracurricular interests. But while the typical snowplow parent quietly eliminates potential obstacles by clearing the road ahead, Shaw and Kobliner have seemingly bulldozed an entire mountain. Even though their children were by all accounts excellent students, the Shaws pursued a remarkably elaborate and expensive pattern of philanthropy to seven of the most renowned universities in the country.

Starting in 2011, when the oldest of their three children was about two years away from applying to college, the Shaw Family Endowment Fund donated $1 million annually to Harvard, Yale, Princeton and Stanford and at least $500,000 each to Columbia and Brown. The pattern persisted through 2017, the most recent year for which public filings are available, with a bump in giving to Columbia to $1 million a year in 2016 and 2017. The foundation, which lists Kobliner as president and Shaw as treasurer and secretary, has also contributed $200,000 annually to the Massachusetts Institute of Technology since 2013.

The total donations for “general” purposes across seven years and seven elite schools are $37.3 million, which represents 62% of the foundation’s giving over that period. At minimum, experts in higher-education fundraising say, Shaw and Kobliner’s strategy improved their children’s chances of getting into at least one of the country’s top universities. At best, it would allow them to choose whichever blue-chip school they preferred, making selecting a college as easy as ordering from a takeout menu.

Most American tycoons who sweeten their children’s admissions prospects rely on a major donation to a single college, often their alma mater. And yet, from a hedge funder’s perspective, investing in multiple colleges is a classic asymmetric bet — one with minimal risk and massive potential upside. “For someone of his mentality, making a portfolio bet would make a lot of sense,” said one former Ivy League development officer. “I can tell you that within the hedge-fund community and private-equity community, this wouldn’t be unusual. It’s common for people to be giving to two or three or four schools.” (Just how many of these donations are made is hard to know because, while those from foundations like the Shaws’ are typically publicly reported, gifts from individuals are not.)

As Parke Muth, an independent counselor and former associate dean of admissions at the University of Virginia, explained, the very wealthy “are accustomed to diversifying their investments, and they apply that same philosophy to their kids’ choices.”

For his own college education, David Shaw, who grew up in Los Angeles, went to the University of California, San Diego, where he studied math, physics and information science. In 1973, he entered Stanford’s Ph.D. program in computer science. After earning his doctorate, he got a job teaching at Columbia. One former colleague remembers that Shaw arrived in New York driving a Ferrari and had his own public-relations representative, which was unusual for a faculty member. Profiles of Shaw over the years have reported that he left Columbia because Morgan Stanley & Co. made him an offer that was too good to refuse, but that may have been only part of the equation. He was also in his up-or-out year at Columbia, and his promising research project on an experimental supercomputer was perceived to have run into difficulties. “I don’t believe he was going to get tenure,” said Stephen Unger, emeritus professor of computer science. “His clock was running out.” (Through a spokesperson, the Shaw family declined to be interviewed for this story.)

At Morgan Stanley, Shaw realized that computers could do far more than simply help humans gain a financial edge; if programmed correctly, they could replace our faulty intuitions entirely. In 1988, he left Morgan Stanley to found D.E. Shaw & Co., which he conceived of as a research firm that happened to study the intersection of computing and finance. The company’s proprietary algorithms scoured markets across the world for tiny price anomalies. Shaw “pursued numerical precision with a zealous intensity,” Sebastian Mallaby writes in his 2010 book on hedge-fund giants, “More Money Than God.” “It was no good telling him that a programming task might take three to eight weeks; you had to say that it would take 5.25 but with an error of two weeks.”

The conventional wisdom in the hedge-fund world is to bet big. DESCO, as Shaw’s firm is known internally, did things differently. Its philosophy, explained one former trader at the firm, is to “bet small and bet many, many times.” Traders are advised never to make a bet that could cripple the firm. “They definitely practice what I would call extreme diversification,” the trader added. “It permeates the culture.”

To fill its storied ranks, D.E. Shaw & Co. depended on the same criteria elite colleges use in their own admissions processes. No matter one’s age or status, every applicant — from secretarial workers to traders lured from top mathematics and physics departments — had to submit their SAT scores. “It was incredibly insulting to recruit professors from MIT and ask them for their SAT scores and high school GPA,” a recruiter recalls. “They would be like, ‘I’m a tenured professor, why are you asking?’” When former Treasury secretary and Harvard president Lawrence Summers applied for a job at the firm in 2006, he was required to solve brainteasers.

Housed in a glass skyscraper near Times Square, D.E. Shaw & Co. ranks as one of the five highest-grossing hedge funds of all time. The company employs around 1,200 people, including 87 Ph.D.s and 25 International Math Olympiad medalists. At one point in the aughts, of the five employees in the D.E. Shaw mailroom, three had degrees from Columbia and one was a concert pianist from Carnegie Mellon, according to a former worker. Among its alums are John Overdeck and David Siegel, who left to form their own legendary quant firm, Two Sigma, as well as Jeff Bezos and his ex-wife, MacKenzie Tuttle. Eric Schmidt, the former Google chairman, owns a 20% stake in the firm, which he has said “feels like Silicon Valley in Manhattan.” Shaw owns almost all of the rest.

Although Shaw left the day-to-day management of the hedge fund nearly two decades ago, he’s still the chairman, and it remains molded in his image: decidedly elitist, tight-lipped and risk-averse. The firm has always operated in stealth mode, keen to protect its secret formulas. “Shaw mostly prohibited us from talking to colleagues in other groups — or sometimes even our own office mates — about what we were doing,” Cathy O’Neil, who worked at DESCO as a quant from 2007 to 2009, wrote in her 2016 book, “Weapons of Math Destruction.” (As soon as most applicants arrived at their first interview, they signed nondisclosure agreements. If hired, they signed more, which may be why former employees spoke with us anonymously.)

This secrecy and vigilance extended to the company’s extreme caution on legal and compliance issues. One of Shaw’s common sayings, repeated at an annual training session by a compliance officer, was that it was important to avoid risks and legal trouble because Shaw wanted to make sure that his kids could go to college. “He used to say that semifacetiously, as a way of saying, ‘I’m depending on this firm for my future income,’” one former employee recalled. The management of the Shaw family’s foundation reflects this prudence. At the end of 2017, more than 90% of its investments were in short-term Treasury bills.

Shaw left the hedge fund in 2001 to found D.E. Shaw Research, which applied computer simulations to the arduous process of drug development. At both places, former employees said Shaw cared about saving time almost as much as he cared about minimizing risk. “The one thing you can’t get back is his time,” a former employee who worked at the hedge fund recalled. “So you spend as much of your time to get him back his time. My bosses would tell me that if my spending eight hours on something would save David five minutes, it would absolutely be a good use of my time.”

Shaw, who often dressed in cargo shorts, a T-shirt and New Balance sneakers, wanted to make sure that wherever he went, he could stroll in and begin working. Desks and computers were set up to his liking. His guidelines for visitors to his office were equally specific. In the early 1990s, he became frustrated that people who came by when he was busy would walk away before he could see who they were and what they wanted. In a two-and-a-half-page interoffice memo titled “Stopping by David’s Office,” he detailed his solution: hand signals. To indicate that Shaw should return a visit, he wrote, “the visitor points back over his or her shoulder.” To indicate the opposite, “the visitor makes the ‘don’t bother’ or ‘no thanks’ sign, moving his or her hand back and forth, with palm showing, as if cleaning a window, while possibly shaking his or her head and/or wrinkling his or her nose.”

Shaw’s hand signals were parodied in an advice column in the company’s internal newsletter. Columnist “MarySue” explained to “Frustrated in Finop” how to interpret Shaw’s gestures. “You saw a basic left-right combination, which means ‘I’m on the phone with Bill Clinton (left shoulder point) and the Dalai Lama (right ear pull) right now.’”

Shaw and Kobliner, then a staff writer for Money magazine, were married in New York in 1993. Two years later, they had their first child, Rebecca, now 23, followed by Adam, 21, and Jacob, a high school sophomore. In orchestrating his family life, Shaw borrowed the methods of his hedge fund, much as “The Mistakes Madeline Made” describes. Many of the personal assistants on Shaw staff had impressive credentials. “It felt like getting into college all over again to get a job there,” a former staffer recalled. “It felt like a huge accomplishment.”

Hiring for Shaw staff was done separately from that of the firm but was comparably rigorous. Recruiters would sometimes swap out mathematical brainteasers for hypothetical problems that might arise for the family: If David is concerned about ticks, how would you prevent them from invading his property? David doesn’t like fluoride: How would you figure out the bottled-water brands that have the least? If money were not an issue, how would you design a safety helmet for a child?

Once hired, Shaw staff soon learned that many of these questions were far from hypothetical. One staffer remembered being told to find a rug for a child’s bedroom that was both cost-effective and “the best.” “Everything was like that,” the staffer said. Shaw also instructed his staff to protect the family’s 38,000-square-foot Hastings-on-Hudson estate from Lyme disease. One proposal supposedly involved building a moat — dry and lined with sheer glass — that would prevent tick-carrying squirrels and deer from entering the property.

As in the corporate world, responsibilities for different tasks and specialties, such as medical research, travel and child care, were divvied up among various Shaw staff; some assisted other assistants. “Devoted professional couple with three wonderful, school-aged children,” read one ad the family posted in 2011, “seeks highly intelligent, amiable, responsible individual to serve as part-time personal assistant helping with child care, educational enrichment, and certain other activities at various times during afternoons, evenings, and weekends.” The ad went on to explain that the assistant would have a private room on a different floor from the family’s apartment and that “an aptitude for math and science is a plus, though not required.”

The existence of this fleet-footed band of assistants — armed with advanced degrees and six-figure salaries and fighting an ever-losing battle against contingency — appears to have been a well-kept secret. Even the children’s friends who visited the Shaws’ apartment on the Upper West Side were not aware that the family owned other apartments in the building brimming with personal staff.

Shaw staffers confirmed that the standard was as Meriwether depicted it: perfection. Those who didn’t measure up suffered the consequences. Meriwether, who joined Shaw staff as a 22-year-old Yale graduate, was fired after forgetting to put snacks — bottled water and Asian pears sliced a quarter of an inch thick — into the car that picked the children up from school, according to two people familiar with the incident.

While Shaw was shifting his focus to medical research, Kobliner was expanding her personal-finance franchise. In books like “Make Your Kid a Money Genius (Even If You’re Not)” and “Get a Financial Life,” she fashioned herself as a self-help guru for the financially dazed and dispossessed. Kobliner has described her “mission” in life as encouraging people to have “open, honest conversations about money.” She advises parents who give charitably to include their children in those decisions and warns that “giving shouldn’t mean taking from others.”

One of her areas of expertise is how to pay for college. In her writing, media interviews and YouTube videos, she cautions parents not to “follow the herd with your donating dollars” or pin their hopes for their children on getting into brand-name colleges. “Don’t believe the hype,” she tells them. “You might find yourself obsessing over those annual college rankings. Don’t take them too seriously.” The sensible solution, she argues, is for families to “pick a few financial safety schools” — public universities close to home. A degree from an elite college, she reminds readers, may not translate into higher earnings in later life. “The Ivy League isn’t necessarily the gravy train.”

This is not quite the message imparted by Horace Mann, the exclusive prep school where the Shaws sent their children. At Horace Mann, the need to battle for slots at the nation’s most prestigious colleges is ingrained in students from an early age. Peers of the Shaw children remember classmates talking about where they wanted to go to college — and understanding that they might very well not go there — as early as the sixth grade. “It is difficult to dodge the school’s reputation as a ‘pressure cooker,’ college-obsessed school when, for example, a seventh-grade class has divided into teams named after the eight Ivy League institutions,” noted an editorial in the school’s newspaper, The Record, in a 2014 issue printed shortly before Rebecca Shaw’s graduation.

Conversations around choosing classes and clubs were tied to which would be most useful for college applications. Among her extracurriculars, Rebecca founded the Anti-Bullying Leadership Network. The summer before applying to college, she organized a conference on bullying at the City University of New York’s Graduate Center auditorium, where she spoke alongside leading academics and experts. “The speakers seemed like something that came to be through Rebecca’s parents’ connections,” one former classmate said. Over the years, some of their institutions had been recipients of the Shaws’ giving. Speakers included Lisa S. Coico, president of City College (the Shaw foundation has donated $3 million to the school to endow a chair in Kobliner’s father’s name); Thomas Kelly, the head of Horace Mann (to which the family has donated at least $3.9 million); and Sarah Hurwitz, special assistant to then-President Barack Obama. Shaw is one of the country’s top donors to the Democratic Party. Both he and Kobliner served on presidential advisory committees, and Rebecca later authored a guest post about the Anti-Bullying Leadership Network on an Obama White House blog.

By the time Rebecca applied to college, the family foundation had been donating millions to premier universities for at least two years. Large giving to multiple colleges isn’t as redundant as it may sound. “People sometimes feel, A million dollars should give me a lot of clout,” said Ron Brown, former director of gift planning at Princeton. “In the scheme of things, not so much. … A million-dollar gift doesn’t have the impact it used to have 20 years ago.”

At the same time, prestigious colleges have become even harder to get into. In 2015, for example, more than 8,000 students with perfect grade-point averages applied to Harvard, which admits about 2,000 candidates each year. “It’s quite a rarefied pool,” William Fitzsimmons, Harvard’s dean of admissions, later observed. Harvard admitted only 4.5% of applicants this year, half of its acceptance rate a decade ago. Yale, Princeton, Columbia and Brown all accepted fewer than 7% of applicants in 2019. Since certain groups, including alumni children and recruited athletes, are admitted at considerably higher rates, the odds against other applicants who don’t enjoy any such preference are even longer.

It was these anxieties that the independent college counselor Rick Singer infamously exploited in his wealthy clientele. Singer told his clients they could no longer rely on a major gift to one university — what he called the “back door” to college admissions. Instead, he sold them on the “side door” of fraud, persuading dozens of rich families to pay him a total of more than $25 million to secure spots at schools like USC, Georgetown, Yale and Stanford through inflating test scores and bribing college coaches. At least 52 people, including 35 parents, have been charged in the scheme, nicknamed “Varsity Blues” by the FBI. Fifteen parents have pleaded guilty, including actress Felicity Huffman, who was sentenced in September to 14 days in prison for paying $15,000 to inflate her daughter’s SAT score.

Shaw and Kobliner’s giving strategy was a lawful — if exceedingly more expensive — response to the same upper-class angst. In essence, they created multiple back doors. At a time of renewed debate about whether colleges are vehicles of social mobility or a means of reproducing class privilege, such a philanthropic adaptation suggests that the ultrarich won’t easily surrender their advantages. It “looks like a clever plan, but not illegal,” said William Zabel, a New York attorney who spent two decades as the head of Princeton’s planned-giving advisory committee.

Others questioned whether Shaw’s donations were intended to gain an edge for his children. Mark Lipton, a professor of management at the New School who has worked with the hedge fund, said that while Shaw cares deeply about his family, “he’s a real meritocracy fan. My hunch is that he invests in his kids from Day One so they can get in at these schools on their own. What’s so self-evident, whether it’s for his own kids or not, is the extraordinary importance he puts on the best higher education.”

Spokespeople for the universities enriched by the Shaws’ family foundation said they too are meritocracy fans and seek “applicants of exceptional ability and character,” as Harvard’s Rachael Dane put it. Yale, said spokesperson Karen Peart, “takes great care in its admissions process, and we stand behind the merit of all of our students.” Ernest Miranda of Stanford said “a donation does not purchase a place” there. “Stanford does not accept gifts if it knows a gift is being made with the intention of influencing the admissions process.”

Nevertheless, the Shaws’ pattern of giving has several signs that experts associate with parental campaigns to boost their children’s chances. Neither Shaw nor Kobliner graduated from Harvard, Yale or Princeton, three of the four universities to which the foundation has made annual seven-figure gifts.

Their favoring of institutions they didn’t attend runs counter to the traditional practice of wealthy Americans. When donors have no previous ties to a university, explained Brown, the former director of gift planning at Princeton, gifts are usually restricted to a specific academic purpose, such as funding a research program in their field of interest or a friend’s faculty chair. The Shaw family foundation has made dozens of smaller, targeted gifts to medical or computer-science research at schools over the years, yet its largest annual donations to Harvard, Yale, Stanford, Princeton, Brown, Columbia and MIT have been unrestricted.

Such general-purpose gifts, which are especially prized by universities, tend to be relatively small. In 2018, only 3% of total giving to Stanford and 4% to Yale was unrestricted, according to Ann Kaplan, who oversees a fundraising survey at the Council for Advancement and Support of Education. In other words, a major unrestricted donation to a school, especially from someone who had no connection with it, would stand out. “It would be a flag,” Brown said. “Someone would ask him: ‘We’re very grateful for these gifts, but tell me why. Why now? What do you hope to accomplish?’”

Brown and Baker said development offices at elite universities generally won’t discuss a large gift with a prospective donor who has a child applying or about to apply, because admitting the student would look like a quid pro quo. When Shaw began giving, his daughter was just outside that window. More than likely, each university’s development office would have notified its admissions counterparts of applicants whose parents, like the Shaws, had become major donors.

“It’s obvious he picked the four schools he’d rather get into with a million dollars a year and the lesser schools with half a million a year,” said Zabel, the former head of Princeton’s planned-giving advisory committee. “If it didn’t help at Yale, he wouldn’t mind if it helped at Princeton. It’s pretty clear he’s hedging his bets.” Zabel now specializes in setting up private foundations for wealthy clients, some of whom have donated to two or three colleges to help their children get in but never as many as six or seven. Muth, the former University of Virginia admissions dean, said he knew of several Asian billionaires who gave millions to multiple elite universities to which their children were applying in recent years. Dismayed by their efforts to buy acceptances, Muth declined to work with them.

Well-heeled parents ply universities with donations even when their children, like Rebecca and Adam, are high achievers. “Friends of mine who wield a lot of influence, I tell them, ‘Just don’t do it,’ but they find it irresistible,” explained the former Ivy League development officer. “It’s a tragedy, actually. People will tell you that it’s a prisoner’s dilemma and that you just have to play by the rules of a perverted system.”

Rebecca and Adam excelled academically at Horace Mann, no small feat given its notoriously challenging curriculum. They were National Merit finalists, scoring in the top 1% on the sophomore-year PSAT test. Both belonged to the Cum Laude Society, ranking in the top 20% of their class. Adam received honors in computing and communications, English, Japanese, mathematics and science; Rebecca received honors in English, mathematics and psychology. In her senior year, Rebecca won the school’s community-service award and co-wrote and co-directed “Upper West Side Story,” a high school-themed musical that parodied the school’s culture.

Jacob, the Shaws’ youngest child, goes to Horace Mann and attended Stanford’s summer jazz program for teens. Kobliner and Jacob co-authored a children’s book, “Jacob’s Eye Patch,” in 2013, the year he turned 9. Editorial guidance and illustrations were provided by Pulitzer Prize-winning cartoonist and screenwriter Jules Feiffer. (“They live in a large, makes-you-want-to-kill apartment, it’s so spacious and gorgeous,” said the 90-year-old Feiffer. “They offered me real money, and I was in the market for real money.”)

In the fall of her senior year, Rebecca was accepted early at Yale. In 2016, Adam — who classmates say was also accepted at Stanford and Harvard — joined her in New Haven. Adam has served as president of the Yale chapter of Phi Alpha Theta, an honor society for history students. Rebecca majored in psychology. At Yale’s graduation ceremony in 2018, she and her boyfriend performed a comedy skit titled “Moving On,” in which she pretended to break up with him. It went viral on YouTube with over 4 million views, and this year she was hired as a writer on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon.”

Yale’s acceptance of Adam and Rebecca gratified Kobliner, who had applied there herself and been rejected. “I walk around Yale and tell all their friends that I didn’t get in,” Kobliner, who attended Brown instead, said in a 2018 radio interview. In her columns, she has advised readers on how to handle such rejections with equanimity. “Getting into your ninth-choice school might not feel as good as opening an envelope — or a DM — from the exclusive private college of your fantasies,” she wrote on her blog in March. “But no matter where your kid goes, she’ll have experiences, make friends, and learn things that will change her life. And that makes for an amazing picture, even if it’s not one you can post on the ’gram.”

ProPublica research reporter Doris Burke contributed to this story.

The post American Higher Education Is Even More Corrupt Than It Looks appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Corporate Media Will Defend Trump to the Bitter End

Here’s a Doonesbury cartoon by Garry Trudeau from 1974:

Doonesbury (7/23/74)

Things never change, do they—or do they? In 1974, of course, there was an expectation that if Richard Nixon were impeached and put on trial in the Senate, there was a chance that at least some Republicans would vote to remove him from office—which is why Nixon resigned when it looked like impeachment and a Senate trial were a certainty.

In 2019, of course, few see any likelihood at all that a Republican-dominated Senate would ever vote Trump out of office, regardless of what charges the House might impeach him with—even if he knocked over a bank, say, or shot the proverbial “somebody on Fifth Avenue.”

What’s changed between 1974 and 2019? The biggest transformation was the realization of the longstanding Republican dream—perhaps first articulated in a memo drafted by Roger Ailes for the Nixon White House (Gawker6/30/11)—of a right-wing media network that would do an end-run around what was seen as a media establishment hostile to the GOP: “It avoids the censorship, the priorities and the prejudices of network news selectors and disseminators,” Ailes’ GOP TV proposal promised.

The idea that the media establishment was inherently hostile to Republicans was largely a delusion; newspapers endorsed Nixon over Democratic challenger George McGovern 753 to 56, after all. But merely not having the selling of conservative policies as their primary motivation made corporate media an obstacle and therefore an enemy—and Ailes worked tirelessly to create a parallel media system that would deliver the news as the right wing wants it to be seen—”The Way Things Ought to Be,” as the title of a book by Ailes protege Rush Limbaugh put it.

The main value of Fox News, the cable behemoth launched by Ailes on behalf of right-wing media mogul Rupert Murdoch, is that it teaches conservative viewers that no facts or logic can force them to believe anything they don’t want to believe. Much as the tobacco and fossil fuel industries created their own realms of pseudo-scholarship where smoking doesn’t cause lung cancer and greenhouse gasses don’t warm the planet, Fox creates a parallel universe where conservatives are always victims, never villains, and any evidence to the contrary is simply—as the shopworn saying goes—”fake news.”

The corporate media establishment is devoted to the peculiar notion of “objectivity” (FAIR.org7/20/12)—which, somewhat counterintuitively, rejects the idea that there is an objective reality that journalists can meaningfully describe, and instead limits reporters’ role to repeating claims made about reality by various sources. On matters of national importance, these sources mostly consist of powerful government officials, including representatives of the major opposition party. This system allows reality as described in the most prestigious media outlets to be defined by the leadership of the two-party establishment—which turned out to be a good recipe for a stable, self-sustaining political class (one whose policy proposals could be counted on not to threaten the profits of media owners or sponsors).

Stable, that is, until one party figures out that the system allows them to say whatever they want. The rise of the right-wing media machine allowed Republicans to create their own self-serving fantasy world—and the rules of the centrist establishment meant that that bizarro version had to be incorporated into the consensus media reality. When the president is accused of a crime, he need not disprove the allegations, but merely needs to  put forward a version of events in which he is the one fighting crime, and his accuser a traitor working on behalf of a shadowy cabal. This becomes the unquestioned reality of the right-wing parallel universe—and an on-the-other-hand option offered by the centrist press.

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