California to Let College Athletes Sign Endorsement Deals

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Defying the NCAA, California’s governor signed a first-in-the-nation law Monday that will let college athletes hire agents and make money from endorsements — a move that could upend amateur sports in the U.S. and trigger a legal challenge.

Under the law, which takes effect in 2023, students at public and private universities in the state will be allowed to sign deals with sneaker companies, soft drink makers or other advertisers and profit from their names and likenesses, just like the pros.

Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom and others cast the law as an attempt to bring more fairness to big-money college sports and let athletes share in the wealth they create for their schools.

“Other college students with a talent, whether it be literature, music, or technological innovation, can monetize their skill and hard work,” he said. “Student athletes, however, are prohibited from being compensated while their respective colleges and universities make millions, often at great risk to athletes’ health, academics and professional careers.”

Newsom tweeted a video showing him signing the law during a special episode of HBO’s “The Shop: Uninterrupted” alongside NBA superstar LeBron James and other athletes.

He predicted other states will introduce similar legislation. Two lawmakers in South Carolina have already announced plans to do so.

The new law applies to all sports, though the big money to be made is in football and basketball. It bars schools from kicking athletes off the team if they get paid. It does not apply to community colleges and prohibits athletes from accepting endorsement deals that conflict with their schools’ existing contracts.

The NCAA, which had asked Newsom to veto the bill, responded by saying it will consider its “next steps” while also moving forward with “efforts to make adjustments to NCAA name, image and likeness rules that are both realistic in modern society and tied to higher education.”

The NCAA, which has 1,100 member schools and claims nearly a half-million athletes, said that changes are needed but must be done at a national level through the athletic association, not through a patchwork of state laws.

Before the governor signed the bill, the NCAA cautioned that the law would give California universities an unfair recruiting advantage, which could prompt the association to bar them from competition.

Powerhouses like the University of Southern California, UCLA, Stanford and the University of California, Berkeley, could find themselves banned.

But while the NCAA is the top governing body for college sports, membership is voluntary. If the California schools are forced out, they could form a new governing body.

The law represents another instance of California jumping out in front of other states and positioning itself in the vanguard of change. The movement to allow college athletes to profit from their hard work on the court or the playing field has been cast as a matter of civil rights and economic fairness.

Professional athletes have endorsed the law, including James, whose 14-year-old son is a closely watched basketball prospect in Los Angeles and will be 18 when the measure takes effect.

On Instagram, James exulted over the signing of the measure, saying it will “change the lives for countless athletes who deserve it!”

He added: “NCAA, you got the next move. We can solve this for everyone!”

Democratic state Sen. Nancy Skinner, the bill’s author, said it corrects a longtime wrong: “For decades, college sports has generated billions for all involved except the very people most responsible for creating the wealth. That’s wrong.”

The new law does not go so far as to allow colleges and universities to pay athletes directly for their play.

The NCAA has steadfastly refused to pay players in most cases. But a committee led by Ohio State Athletic Director Gene Smith and Big East Commissioner Val Ackerman is studying other ways players could make money. Its report is expected in October.

The NCAA does let some athletes accept money in some instances. Tennis players can accept up to $10,000 in prize money per year, and Olympians can accept winnings from their competitions.

Also, many schools pay players yearly cost-of-living stipends of $2,000 to $4,000.

The NCAA reported $1.1 billion in revenue in 2017.

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Donald Trump’s Repugnant New Attack on the Homeless

JACQUELINE LUQMAN:  This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. The president is driving the discussion about rising homelessness in this country and he’s targeting California in particular.

PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: Nearly half of all the homeless people living in the streets in America happen to live in the state of California. What they are doing to our beautiful California is a disgrace to our country. It’s a shame. The world is looking at it. Look at Los Angeles with the tents and the horrible, horrible, disgusting condition.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now, of course, his rhetoric is callous and he doesn’t focus on the human toll of homelessness at all. But what he also does not address are the causes of homelessness. Which if he did, if we did as a nation, could inform the solutions to the issue. That is if we really cared to address them at all. So maybe if we look at one of the groups of people who are hit the hardest by the homeless crisis, we might be able to formulate some solutions to this problem, if that’s really what we want to do.

Here to talk with me about this community in LA County and how they are particularly hard hit by this crisis is Gale Holland. Gale covers homelessness and poverty for The Los Angeles Times. Gale, thank you so much for joining me today.

GALE HOLLAND: Thank you for having me, Jacqueline.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And I want to thank you for writing the piece on the Pacoima community that was recently published in the LA Times. That was an incredible and shocking piece that was published. But before we get into it, I want to address a part of what Trump said because I want us to put the homeless issue in California in some context. Let’s talk about some real numbers. Homelessness is a growing issue in California, right?


JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And it is an issue that has grown exponentially because homelessness has risen in California steadily since 2011 reaching almost 60,000 people that were documented as homeless this year, right?

GALE HOLLAND: Absolutely.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Now to your article about the community in Pacoima, California. That’s a particularly interesting and unique community because this group of people that you highlighted in your article were basically the children of a middle-class, working-class African American community in Pacoima, California. Pacoima is unique and noteworthy because it was one of the few places in Los Angeles County where African Americans could buy homes before the 1960 Fair Housing laws, right?

GALE HOLLAND: Particularly suburban places. There were other neighborhoods in urban Los Angeles that didn’t have racial covenants to keep black people and other people of color out. But in the suburbs, and particularly in the San Fernando Valley, home of the Valley girl, the covenants were pretty ubiquitous across most of the communities other than Pacoima. And so in Pacoima, the people who settled there were – it was a range like there always is everywhere. But basically, this was the doctors, the teachers, the judges. As well as the factory workers, the ice-cream salesmen, the retailers, the insurance salesmen because there was a possibility of home ownership that wasn’t available and in a suburban setting with yards or a bit more space than in the inner city.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So this was a thriving working-class, middle-class, but even professional-class black community in the ’60s. And then in the ’70s, the Fair Housing laws were implemented and some black people with a little more money, with a little higher education, moved out of that community, moved farther out into the suburbs where housing was more open to them. But you still had a thriving working-class, black community because manufacturing jobs were still in existence in the area.

GALE HOLLAND: Yeah. And a lot of people don’t think of LA as a manufacturing hub, but it was. And we had a major General Motors factory plant that produced the Camaro. I think a lot of people remember the Camaro. And there was a Pfister office, you know, kitchen fixtures plant and a few other plants. So they were line jobs, there were administrative jobs. And then like I said, there were the kinds of professional jobs that those people would have probably perhaps wanted to do somewhere else but weren’t able to because of these racial covenants restricting them from going elsewhere in the Valley. And the Valley at that time was fairly developed.

One irony that I found out in my reporting is basically, again, it’s not as well-known as like Chicago or even maybe – no, not Baltimore, but some of the other cities that are known for the Great Migration of African Americans from the South. Just kind of like a mini little place for the Great Migration. And when a lot of the founding families arrived, people were absolutely living in tents and now their ancestors are back to living in tents. So I mean, I’m sorry, their descendants, are back to living in tents. So it’s just a very cruel irony of history and [inaudible].

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s talk about the factors that contributed to the descendants of those original African American people who migrated to this area, to that area in the country, lived in tents until they could achieve their “American dream” and buy a house. And now their descendants are living in tents again because we’re talking about the collapse of US manufacturing that hit that area particularly hard, right?

GALE HOLLAND: Right. Because the other than jobs that were available for people who were in the aerospace industry. And of course, after World War II, the aerospace industry had really pioneered in Southern California and specifically in that part of the Valley. So it was also the decline of the aerospace industry. And I think people didn’t realize it till later that this is what really—People think of LA as Hollywood and Hollywood being where the money is in LA, but in actuality, the aerospace industry and some of its offshoots like the auto industry are feeder industries to the big planes – is where a lot of the wealth of LA was created right after World War II. And this is where these people, their families had jobs.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And then after you have the erosion of the economic base, the elimination of jobs so people could afford their homes, then you had the introduction of crack cocaine, the proliferation of crack cocaine in an already economically devastated and racially segregated community, where you did not see the proliferation of that drug in many other communities that were not predominantly poor and predominantly black. And then on the tail end of that or during that proliferation, you also had mass incarceration that went along with that. So this community of a former thriving middle-class black community, many of those residents are now, as you said earlier, on the streets, living in tents again.

GALE HOLLAND: Right. I think it actually isn’t many. It just feels like many because of course there should be none. But there should be no people living on the street, but there are. And in this one camp which had been driven over the years, they’ve been out there in various configurations for three to five years, some of them have been driven from neighborhood to neighborhood. And finally, according to them, the LAPD told them to go under this freeway overpass because they would not be impacting homes and schools as much. And so the homeless services provider that’s trying to help them find housing says that there’s 50 people out there. And even in Los Angeles, whereas some of the pictures you are showing show there are block after block of tents, it doesn’t stop being shocking. But 50 people in one place in the middle of the suburb, I think was very shocking to a lot of people and it was certainly shocking to me.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes, certainly. And when you consider that many of those people are from the same community. And then when you look at this issue—

GALE HOLLAND: Not a lot of them are from the same community, but many of them are related. It’s only my former, you know, brother-in-law’s second wife. They know each other. And so they may be on the sidewalk, but they’re still part of the community. [crosstalk] all the time to help them. The reason I bring this up is that a lot of times people ask me, why don’t their families take care of them? Well, in many cases, their families are trying to still take care of them. They’re out there in the streets trying to help them.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So then when we look at this issue from a macro view, not just for Pacoima in the neighborhood of Pacoima, we look at LA County as a whole that has an African American population of only about 9%, but has a 40% of the homeless population is African American. So then we begin to ask why that is. And now we look at more data where a recent study outlines that it’s the systemic racial issues that you raised in your article as well as the economic issues of manufacturing, job loss, and housing issues that also contribute to a disproportionate number of African Americans being represented among the homeless community. But these issues also contribute to homelessness in general. So can you give more insight into this study?

GALE HOLLAND: Well, I think that just looking at Pacoima in terms of people arrived from the South with no wealth and they were able to buy these houses and build this very nice community. But when the tide came up, industrial disinvestment at that time, the community was extremely stigmatized as a place where there was a lot of drug trafficking and other crime. So their houses were worth nothing. So there was no wealth for them to pass on to their children to sustain themselves as they entered adulthood and tried to move on having their own families and this kind of thing.

And then at the same time, I don’t know how big a factor this was, but some of the people I talked to talked about within own families, because their parents no longer were able to work very close to Pacoima, they had to drive up to the High Desert communities where the aerospace industry and other industrial jobs that hadn’t fled overseas had gone to these very low-price areas in the High Desert here. The drive, there would be long commutes, family life was disrupted. And so they lost out on those counts as well.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So when we hear this president, and Ben Carson and others in this administration propose to use the police to clear away homeless encampments even more than what is being done now to criminalize homelessness and to put homeless people in federal facilities, which are basically prisons and detention centers. That’s clearly horrible for all people, for all homeless people. But what does it mean in particular for this group of people who have already been stigmatized, as you said, and discriminated against and have already faced so much victimization? What does it mean for people who truly have been victimized by the collapse of this American economy?

GALE HOLLAND: Well, I think one thing that you see immediately if you talk to these people is there’s so much trauma. There’s people who watched their children get killed in front of them. There’s people who lost their parents for lack of healthcare or the hospitalization, they weren’t able to get there on time. And so it’s not as simple as just get them an apartment. There’s a lot of healing that has to go on for a lot of these people. And it just compounds for the people who, like Mr. Trump and Ben Carson, who are angered by seeing tents in the street, the amount of time that they’ve been left there, both the circumstances that occurred in their neighborhood as they growing were up and also the direct racism they experience, and then some of the things that have gone on since then, they need a lot of services like mental health services.

I think there’s many people out there that need mental health services and drug addiction or abuse services. And one thing that I think a lot of people don’t realize is that, and I think the research is still out on this, but there’s a lot of people that believe that the prevalence of drug abuse in the streets, it’s not that these were drug abusers who therefore landed in the streets. There are certainly those people who weren’t able to keep up the job or whatever, but there’s an awful lot of people that started using drugs in the street to self-medicate or for mental health problems that may have led to them being in the street. So I also think that one thing I’ve learned from reporting on this for five years is that it’s one thing to say you’re going to take a criminalization approach to homelessness, but one would need to ask oneself, how many police do we really have?

If there’s 59,000 people, there’s 10,000 officers in the city of Los Angeles. Of course, homelessness is a 24/7 thing. If you think you’re going to police those people around the clock, year-round, with 10,000 officers and have every other law enforcement issue to deal with the same time, I’m not sure how serious those calls for that as a solution are because there just aren’t the resources. There aren’t the resources to impose the kind of orders that they want. And then the same problem with incarceration. There are plenty of people that clinicians here in Los Angeles would like to see enter mental health facilities and could benefit from it, and they aren’t able to. The resources have not been dedicated to that. And even the sheriff a long time ago said he would not take low-level drug dealers into the jail because he would be overrun by them. So—

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So, Gale, let me ask you this final question. The rhetoric coming from this administration is very similar to the “build the wall” rhetoric where there is demonization of a particular group of people, blaming those people who are marginalized and victimized for all of the problems of this country. Do you think that the administration taking this type of approach, further demonizing homeless people and particularly vulnerable groups of homeless people, is that going to exacerbate the problem in your opinion?

GALE HOLLAND: Well, I think that political analysts and our political reporters feel that he’s using it as a wedge issue to rile up his base and hoping that that will help him with his reelection effort. Again, he came out of here, he spent a few days here. The only order he made was something about water quality being affected by having street camps. I think California is perhaps among the top states in dealing with its water quality, it’s air quality. We have problems because we’re very overcrowded as a state. I just don’t know how serious he is about it. So it leads one to believe that actually, it’s more of an electioneer stunt, as the Democrats say.

Particularly as the cities that he’s attacking are Democratic-led cities and cities with people of color where the politicians have been critical of the language that he’s used about immigrants. And of course, for us in Los Angeles where Latinos are not a minority, not even close, it’s beyond the pale to have that particular group demonized as people who haven’t given to our society or our country because it’s so much of our city. And they make the city go around. Every group does. But—

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yeah. It sounds like all of the things you mentioned, of course, housing, of course, an end to a racial discrimination, just acknowledging racial discrimination that has contributed significantly to homelessness for so many people of color. And certainly substance abuse, mental health abuse, which, of course, ties into Medicare for All and other social programs that could address this issue and mitigate it for hundreds of thousands of people across this country. But that’s not where we are. And it looks as though we have much more work to do in this arena of addressing and relieving homelessness in this country. But Gale Holland, thank you so much for joining me today and bringing us this story of the Pacoima community, and what it means in the larger context of addressing homelessness in this country.

GALE HOLLAND: Well, thank you for the opportunity.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.

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U.K.’s Johnson Denies Wrongdoing as Personal Allegations Mount

MANCHESTER, England — U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson battled to fend off allegations of improper patronage and groping a woman as he prepared a final push Monday to fulfill his pledge to lead Britain out of the European Union in just over a month.

Johnson sought to energize Conservative members and lawmakers — weary after three years of gridlock over Britain’s stalled departure from the European Union — at the party’s annual conference, but he was forced to deny a journalist’s claim that he had grabbed her thigh at a private lunch two decades ago.

Sunday Times columnist Charlotte Edwardes said the incident took place when she worked at The Spectator, a conservative newsmagazine, while Johnson was its editor.

Asked if the allegation was true, Johnson said: “No.”

Edwardes stood by her story, tweeting: “If the prime minister doesn’t recollect the incident then clearly I have a better memory than he does.”

Johnson also is under scrutiny for claims that an American businesswoman, Jennifer Arcuri, received money and perks from London coffers while Johnson was mayor of the capital between 2008 and 2016.

He denies any wrongdoing involving Arcuri, who was given grants and places on overseas trade trips for her small tech startup, saying everything was done “with full propriety.” The case has been referred to Britain’s police watchdog, which will decide whether to investigate Johnson for misconduct in public office.

Johnson, who took over as Conservative leader and prime minister from Theresa May two months ago, has vowed that Britain will leave the European Union on the scheduled date of Oct. 31 with or without a divorce deal governing future relations with the bloc. His foes in Parliament — who include some longtime members of his own party — are determined to avoid a no-deal exit, which economists say would plunge Britain into recession.

Legislators have already passed a law that compels the government to seek a delay to Brexit if it can’t strike a deal with the EU by Oct. 19. But with Johnson saying he would rather be “dead in a ditch” than postpone Britain’s departure, opposition parties are seeking ways to make sure he complies.

Opposition leaders held a strategy meeting Monday in London, with no definitive conclusion. They ruled out an immediate attempt to topple the government with a no-confidence vote.

Jo Swinson, leader of the centrist Liberal Democrats, said the parties would continue to meet “to plan out different scenarios and different options, including the possibility of an insurance option of a government of national unity” if Johnson’s government was brought down by lawmakers.

The personal allegations against Johnson overshadowed the Conservative Party’s four-day annual conference in the northwestern England city of Manchester, where Johnson is trying to rally the party — and prepare for an election that could come within weeks — under the slogan “Get Brexit Done.”

Billboards around the cavernous Manchester convention center promised a bright future in which Britain is no longer consumed and divided by Brexit: “Get Brexit done — invest in schools and police.”

Johnson denied that the claims of misconduct were a distraction from the message he was trying to convey.

“I think what the public want to hear is what we are doing to bring the country together and get on with improving their lives,” he said.

The Conservative conference follows a tumultuous week for Johnson. Last week the U.K. Supreme Court declared that Johnson’s attempt to suspend Parliament for five weeks was illegal. He cut short a trip to the United States, racing home to face the House of Commons, where lawmakers greeted him with cries of “Resign!” He then lost a vote on a normally routine matter — a request to adjourn for a week so that Conservatives could attend their conference.

Johnson was also accused of inflaming tensions in Britain with populist, people-versus-politicians rhetoric. He branded an opposition law ordering a Brexit delay as the “Surrender Act” and said postponing the country’s departure would “betray” the people who voted in a 2016 referendum to leave the EU. He also dismissed the complaints of some opposition lawmakers who reported they have received death threats.

Johnson later claimed he had been “a model of restraint.”

The allegations cut little ice with many Conservative delegates, who cheered and shouted “Boris!” as Johnson walked into the conference center from a nearby hotel.

“Is your conference ruined?” a journalist shouted.

Johnson made no reply.

Treasury chief Sajid Javid said he had “full faith in the prime minister,” adding: “I don’t think it’s a good idea to get drawn into personal allegations.”

But some Conservatives expressed unease. Health Secretary Matt Hancock said he knew Edwardes and “I entirely trust what she has to say.”

And Justine Greening, a former Conservative minister who was expelled from the party in Parliament for backing opposition attempts to stop a no-deal Brexit, said the allegations were “deeply concerning.”

“They go to the heart of this question about character and integrity of people in public life and what standards the electorate have a right to expect,” she said.


Associated Press writer Gregory Katz in London contributed.


Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at:

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Ralph Nader: Trump Can’t Be Impeached for Ukraine Alone

Donald Trump said he believes the Constitution lets him do “whatever I want as President.” In over two and a half years, Trump has been a serial violator of the Constitution, unmatched by any president in American history. Just about every day he is a constitutional outlaw.

Constitutional scholar Bruce Fein has documented twelve categories of major constitutional transgressions. Some are also statutory crimes. Many of these involve Trump overpowering the critical separation of powers that our founders rigorously established to assure that the president does not become a monarch like King George III.

Trump has been a serial violator of the Constitution, unmatched by any president in American history. Just about every day he is a constitutional outlaw.

The framers were very clear that Congress and only Congress can appropriate monies for the Executive branch to spend; that only Congress can declare war; that the president must faithfully execute the laws; and that the Congress has the full authority to investigate the executive branch for abuses, irregularities, illegalities, or the need for new laws. Trump totally defies Congressional subpoenas for documents and witnesses. That grave overthrow of constitutional government is alone enough for eviction from office.

When he is not openly violating the Constitution, Trump lies and commits impeachable offenses.

The most recent violation was in seeking from a foreign power—Ukraine—assistance in influencing our presidential election in his favor by investigating a major challenger—former Vice President Joseph Biden and his son. He dangled a $250 million military aid package (maybe more) to Ukraine by suspending it before speaking to Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky on the telephone.

This “betrayal of his oath of office, betrayal of our national security, and betrayal of the integrity of our elections,” in Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s words, finally moved the reluctant House leader. After being AWOL on all the other serious, repeated flouting of constitutional behavior, she is now focusing on Trump and Ukraine.

Much has been reported about Trump’s chronic lying. He lies daily, sometimes hourly, with his tweets and public blather. The Washington Post has catalogued over 12,000 prevarications and false statements since January 2017. Not enough, however, has been made of the aggregate effects of such lying as a living. Trump creates illusions about himself, about his alleged achievements, and about conditions in the United States and world. He spreads constant lies and transmits the lies of others. Often these are monstrous lies, which slander innocent people and trick his supporters into believing him because they think no president could possibly lie like that to them. These are dangerous obsessions for a president.

Trump says he wants everyone to have “beautiful” health insurance, yet he pushes Congress to change Obamacare, stripping twenty million people of health insurance without any substitute program.

Trump brags about consistently defying Congressional statutes by dismantling federal agencies established to protect all Americans where they live, work, and raise their families.

Trump says we have the cleanest air and water ever, yet his henchmen are running these agencies into the ground and repealing or weakening life-saving pollution controls. The result is more toxic air in your lungs, more child asthma, and dirtier drinking water.

Trump lies about voter fraud, about not using his office to enrich his business, and about all the new factories coming to the U.S. He even lies about the weather, damaging the credibility of the National Weather Service. He denies his sexual exploits and hush money payments. He rejects without evidence ten serious obstruction of justice actions documented in the Mueller Report.

Trump denies that his cuts in food stamps will leave over half a million children without a free school lunch. He denies that his tax cut overwhelmingly benefited the super-rich and major corporations.

Trump says his nominees are extremely qualified. In reality, whether it is the EPA, the public lands agency, the Department of Labor, or the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Trump has chosen lawless people whose main qualification was urging the abolition or weakening of these federal law enforcers against corporate crimes and abuses.

Trump falsely says that climate disruption is not scientifically established, but a “Chinese hoax,” while our country in plain sight is being battered by record breaking heat waves, hurricanes, floods, droughts, and tornadoes.

Trump says coal, oil, and gas are better for America than wind power (which he says causes cancer) and solar energy, which are cheaper and safer.

Trump is actually increasing deadly greenhouse gases as a result and worsening the climate crisis that the Pentagon calls a national security risk.

Trump regularly calls legislators investigating him “sick,” “treasonous,” “crooked,” and “low-IQ.” Truthfully these are descriptions of him.

Trump keeps promising to control soaring drug prices while refusing to get that job done.

Trump lies about the massiveness of his wealth, yet opposes any release of his tax returns.

Trump says brutal dictators are doing great for their people, ignoring the obvious facts.

Trump operates in a vast cocoon of falsity and refuses to read and consult with people who are not sycophants. This is an egomaniacal, narcissistic illusionist who could start wars, has his hand on the nuclear trigger, and believes he is about the law and Congressional controls.

Trump regularly calls legislators investigating him “sick,” “treasonous,” “crooked,” and “low-IQ.” Truthfully these are descriptions of him.

Trump, unlike Clinton who was impeached by the House in 1998, has successfully resisted testifying or being questioned under oath. He is a many sided fugitive from justice, one or more steps above of the law.

Pelosi is making a mistake if she doesn’t go forward with the full articles of impeachment against Trump. Relying on the Ukraine betrayal is not enough to counter the attack by Trump’s avalanche of lies, phony distractions, and possibly a “wag the dog,” desperation overseas.

The post Ralph Nader: Trump Can’t Be Impeached for Ukraine Alone appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Democratic Party Couldn’t Care Less About Whistleblowers

All of a sudden, MoveOn wants to help “national security” whistleblowers.

Well, some of them, anyway.

After many years of carefully refusing to launch a single campaign in support of brave whistleblowers who faced vicious prosecution during the Obama administration—including Army whistleblower Chelsea Manning, NSA whistleblowers Thomas Drake and Edward Snowden, and CIA whistleblowers John Kiriakou and Jeffrey Sterling— has just cherrypicked a whistleblowing hero it can support.

“The stakes could not be higher for the whistleblower, who took a great personal risk to defend our democracy,” MoveOn declared in a mass email Sunday afternoon, referring to the intelligence official who went through channels to blow the whistle on Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s president. “We need to have the whistleblower’s back.”

I agree wholeheartedly.

But what about Manning, Drake, Snowden, Kiriakou and Sterling, who also took great personal risks on behalf of democracy? With its digital finger to the wind, MoveOn refused to engage in a campaign to help any of them. Manning, Kiriakou and Sterling were railroaded into prison and remained there for years; Snowden has been forced to stay in exile and Drake endured years of persecution under threat of decades behind bars.

I experienced MoveOn’s refusal firsthand when, in December 2015, I wrote to the group’s campaign director with a request. After a sham trial, Sterling had gone to prison six months earlier for allegedly providing information to New York Times reporter James Risen that he included in a book. “Is there a way that MoveOn could use a bit of its list to promote this petition in support of Jeffrey Sterling?” I asked.

The answer that I received was disappointing—merely a suggestion that the petition be put on MoveOn’s do-it-yourself platform, where it would not be supported with distribution to any of MoveOn’s email list. After pressing further, I got an explanation from MoveOn that had a marketing sound: “It looks like we have definitely done a lot of testing on Snowden and Manning in the past, but unfortunately nothing quite reached the level of member support where we were able to send it out.”

That approach has endured. In the last decade, MoveOn—which says it has an email list of 8 million “members”—has refused to do any campaigns to help Manning, Drake, Snowden, Kiriakou or Sterling.

(Full disclosure: The organization where I’m national coordinator,, has campaigned in support of all five of the above-named whistleblowers, with petitions, news conferences, protests, and fundraising.)

Now, the whistleblower initiative that MoveOn has started might seem like a welcome change of direction. But it’s actually worse than problematic.

The organization that MoveOn just teamed up with—Whistleblower Aid—explicitly does not support people like Snowden, Drake, Kiriakou, Sterling, and Manning, or the more recent whistleblower Reality Winner. The founding legal partner at Whistleblower Aid, Mark Zaid, has maintained a vehement position against the unauthorized release of classified information for many years.

“As a matter of law, no one who leaks classified information to the media (instead of to an appropriate governmental authority) is a whistleblower entitled to legal protection,” Zaid wrote in a Washington Post op-ed piece in 2017. “That applies to Winner, Snowden and Chelsea Manning, no matter what one thinks of their actions. The law appropriately protects only those who follow it. Anyone who acts contrary does so at their own peril.”

According to Zaid and his organization—which MoveOn is now avidly promoting and helping to subsidize—if the White House whistleblower’s memo had been bottled up via official channels and then had been leaked to a news organization, the whistleblower leaking the memo would not be, and should not be, “entitled to legal protection.”

But, as Snowden has often emphasized, the official scenario of going through channels is a dangerous myth for “national security” whistleblowers. The reason Snowden didn’t go through channels is that he saw what happened to whistleblowers who did—like Drake, who was targeted, harassed, and then prosecuted on numerous felony counts. Snowden clearly understood that going through channels would achieve nothing except punishment, which is why he wisely decided to go directly to journalists.

MoveOn has not only refused to support courageous whistleblowers like Snowden, Drake, Manning, Kiriakou and Sterling—who’ve informed the world about systematic war crimes, wholesale shredding of the Fourth Amendment with mass surveillance, officially sanctioned torture, and dangerously flawed intelligence operations.

Now, MoveOn is partnering with a legal outfit that actually contends such brave souls don’t deserve any protections as whistleblowers. Despite its assertion that “protecting whistleblowers is critical for a healthy democracy,” MoveOn is now splitting donations with an organization that supports the absence of legal protections for many of them.

The post The Democratic Party Couldn’t Care Less About Whistleblowers appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Urgent Issue Presidential Candidates Are Finally Talking About

At this September’s Democratic presidential debate — held at a historically black college in Houston — some 14 million Americans tuned in to watch the 10 leading candidates debate each other for the first time.

The debate set another important precedent: All of the candidates spoke out against the systemic racism that has toxified the country and endangered our communities for centuries.

Some candidates promised to fight racial inequity with policies that would close the racial wealth gap or reduce maternal mortality disparities between white Americans and communities of color. Others stressed the need for gun control after the racist attack in El Paso.

And, vitally, all promised to address the deep racial inequities in our criminal justice system.

These conversations are encouraging. It’s been 400 years since the first enslaved Africans were brought to the U.S. And after four centuries, it’s well past time for our country’s political leaders to embrace proactive policies to create lasting change.

From fugitive slave laws to Jim Crow to stop and frisk, the U.S. criminal justice system especially has targeted, and too often unjustly punished, Black Americans. Through practices like racial profiling and excessive force, today’s criminal justice system upholds centuries-old patterns of racial surveillance and targeting.

I’m reminded every time I leave my house how I’m seen by others — and the threat they may perceive as I go about my everyday routine.

In recent months Black men have had the cops called on them while looking for a parking spot or depositing a paycheck. These ever-present headlines remind me, and those who look like me, of the burden of being a Black man in America.

As a parent, it’s not lost on me that one of my most important jobs is to prepare my three children for the injustice and racism they will face in this world. Many Black families already know how emotionally draining it is to have “the talk” on how to engage with police to stay safe.

If you’re white, you might not have had to have the same conversation with your loved ones or the children in your life. But it’s time for all of us now to step up and talk to each other.

I’m heartened that presidential candidates are proposing bold policies to address the injustice African Americans in the U.S. continue to endure, but we all share the responsibility to talk about racial inequity. As the president and other political leaders stoke hate and fear to normalize racism, we all must be intentional about creating change.

White Americans, in particular, can demonstrate their commitment to racial justice by talking to neighbors, colleagues, and friends about issues like racial profiling. All of us, regardless of the color of our skin, should continue to push America to strive to live the values of justice and equity that we process — and put hate and discrimination behind us for good.

We must recognize the enemy as more than a racist president who weaponizes bigotry and division, and as more than the criminal justice officials who disproportionately profile communities of color. The enemy is the racism and oppression that’s at the heart of our institutions and the normalization of that bigotry in our communities.

And we must fight, together, to dismantle these — and every — system of oppression.

The post The Urgent Issue Presidential Candidates Are Finally Talking About appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Impeach All the Presidents

Sorry, liberals, but Nancy Pelosi’s newly announced impeachment inquiry will not end Donald Trump’s presidency prematurely, no matter how badly Democratic voters may want it. Even if he’s convicted in the House, a Republican-controlled Senate is sure to deny Pelosi the requisite 67 votes needed to remove him from office. Maybe that isn’t such a bad thing, either. After all, evicting Trump would elevate a bonafide Christian fascist to commander in chief in the person of Mike Pence.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that Trump doesn’t deserve to be kicked out of office. He’s run this country like he’d run a nepotistic crime family, a corrupt Atlantic City casino, or some combination of the two. The latest Ukraine scandal is, indeed, a serious matter. In fact, early polls suggest plenty of Americans support impeachment, and there is value in creating a public record of Trump’s abuses.

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It’s just that: 1) it’s far more palatable and strategic to beat Trump at the ballot box; and 2) the real presidential abuses of power are systemic and not unique to the former reality show host. What’s more, Democrats’ efforts to impeach could well end up backfiring, handing Trump an undeserved second term.

Let’s start with that last point. Recent history, both at home and abroad, suggests that when an opposition party adopts “impeach the bastard” as its political message, the hated leader tends to benefit at the polls. The slapstick Monica Lewinsky charade into which Republicans threw all their energy in the late 1990s, to offer one example, ended up bolstering Bill Clinton’s popularity.

More recently, in Italy, the Partito Democratico failed miserably in its efforts to evict buffoonish populist Silvio Berlusconi. (While it eventually drove him from office, it never defeated him at the ballot box.) What’s worse, Berlusconi has been succeeded by a slew of authoritarians who mimic many of his worst qualities. Do Democrats really want to empower the next, perhaps even uglier, manifestation of the Trump monster?

Make no mistake, Trump voters won’t take impeachment lying down. In 2016, the then-Republican candidate for president wasn’t kidding, or wrong, when he said his supporters would stick with him even if he murdered someone in broad daylight in New York City. An impeachment “end run” that fails to achieve its desired aim could make Democrats look not just weak but desperate, unwilling to engage with the real issues of the 2020 election: health care, reparations, taxes, immigration and so forth.

Most urgent right now is that we recognize that neither Trump’s alleged interference in the 2020 elections nor his apparent obstruction of justice in the Russiagate investigation ranks among the worst of his offenses. Disturbingly for mainstream liberals, these abuses of power have a long history that also implicate his recent predecessors, including one Barack Obama.

It blows my mind that congressional Democrats will draw a red line on Ukraine while virtually ignoring decades of presidential misconduct. Where was Congress when Obama, then Trump, sponsored Saudi Arabia’s war crimes in Yemen? Both presidents provided military assistance to a cause that could not have proceeded without it. And both failed to secure the constitutionally mandated approval from Congress.

Where was the legislative branch when George W. Bush, then Obama, then Trump, twisted the already questionable post-9/11 authorizations for the use of military force (AUMFs) to expand U.S. wars across the greater Middle East that have shattered the region? Or when Bush perennially, and illegally, detained accused “terrorists” at Guantanamo Bay? Or when Obama assassinated an American citizen in a drone strike without any semblance of due process? Or when Trump militarized the southern border, separated families, stuck kids in cages, and then denied them soap or toothbrushes? Are we to believe that none of these unilateral and constitutionally prohibited executive actions met the threshold of “high crimes and misdemeanors?” Give me a break.

Most likely, this latest impeachment gambit is too little far too late—an act of political theater full of sound and fury signifying nothing. Oh, it’ll make for great entertainment, thrilling a corporate media that long ago abandoned news for spectacle. But as has become the American way, it will invariably ignore the systemic rot that made Trump’s election, and the dictatorial actions of recent presidents, possible in the first place.

So here’s my modest proposal for Congress and the American people, if (or more likely when) the former fails to deliver: Impeach the military-industrial complex and the venal corporate arms dealers, the “merchants of death” who profit from worldwide slaughter. Impeach the “revolving door” generals like Jim Mattis who slide seamlessly from the military to the boards of the nation’s largest defense contracting firms. Impeach the militarized police forces and mass incarceration structure that transform impoverished black and brown communities into occupied enemy territory. Impeach yourselves, Congress, for being asleep at the wheel for decades now, for wallowing in tribal stalemate and eschewing your constitutionally mandated duty to declare and oversee this nation’s wars. Impeach the whole damn system of American empire, both at home and abroad.

As I close, I’d be remiss if I didn’t disclose the genesis for this article’s title. Ryan Keen, a friend, former soldier, poet, and fellow member of the antiwar group, About Face: Veterans Against the War, exchanged frustrated texts with me following the Pelosi impeachment announcement. “It won’t work,” he wrote. It will make Democrats “look impulsive.” He later added that impeachment is a “charade they know won’t come to fruition.”

Ryan served in the U.S. Army in Iraq as a prison guard at Camp Cropper for some of the “high-value” detainees the U.S. held there. He observed abuse, torture and early signs that America might just be creating a “terror university” in its jails, creating, in the process, the seedbed of ISIS.

For a decade and a half, Ryan has struggled with a whole range of veterans’ mental health crises, from PTSD to depression. He’s a self-taught man who relies on his experience in war as the foundation for his activism. Ryan has no advanced degree in international relations, nor did he study political science at a fancy university. But he knows something Pelosi doesn’t, something he wrote me the morning after she delivered her address: “The issue isn’t the person, it’s the system.”

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Could Washington’s Impeachment Drama Spark China Trade Deal?

WASHINGTON — The Democratic impeachment inquiry may do at least one thing for President Donald Trump: It could give him more incentive to resolve his trade war with China.

As the political heat rises in Washington, a deal with Beijing would allow Trump to claim a much-needed victory and divert some attention from an explosive congressional investigation into his dealings with Ukraine.

Analysts say Trump’s conflict with Beijing, which has shaken financial markets and further darkened the global economic outlook, could be headed for some tentative resolution in the coming months. Talks between the two countries are set to resume in October.

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“The political mess may now encourage President Trump to accept an imperfect deal with China,” Hussein Sayed of the foreign exchange brokerage FXTM wrote in a report. “After all, he needs to prove that he’s the master of deal-making, and now is the right time to raise his approval rating higher.”

At the same time, however, the impeachment inquiry may have dimmed the prospects for other items on Trump’s trade agenda, including his push for congressional approval of a revamped North American trade agreement. That would require backing from the Democratic-led House, and relations between the two parties may now be more inflamed than ever.

The impeachment proceedings will likely dominate Washington for months, siphoning time and energy from the normal business of government — debating, compromising, legislating, policymaking. The likelihood of meaningful legislative gains was already slight. Now, it appears even more remote.

White House Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham went so far as to assert that the House Democrats’ investigation “destroyed any chances of legislative progress for the people of this country.”

By contrast, a tentative resolution in Trump’s China trade war wouldn’t need congressional approval, one reason for some renewed optimism.

The world’s two biggest economies are engaged in the biggest trade war since the 1930s. The Trump administration alleges that Beijing deploys predatory tactics — including stealing technology and forcing foreign companies to hand over trade secrets — in its drive to surpass America’s technological supremacy.

Trump has imposed tariffs on more than $360 billion in Chinese imports and is set to raise the taxes on most of them next month. He plans to tax an additional $160 billion in Chinese goods Dec. 15 — thereby extending his tariffs to just about everything China ships to the United States. Beijing has retaliated by taxing $120 billion in U.S. imports.

The U.S. business community is eager for an end to the exchange of tariffs, which has raised costs and created uncertainty about where to situate factories, hire suppliers and sell products.

Even before members of Congress began pursuing an impeachment investigation, Chinese leaders were speculating Trump might want a deal to bolster his political standing, said Willy Lam, a politics specialist at the Chinese University of Hong Kong.

“Even though the likelihood of impeachment going through is low, the Chinese will think they hold some kind of advantage over the U.S., and Trump might tend to be more conciliatory given his domestic troubles,” said Lam. “He needs a triumph overseas to burnish his position.”

President Xi Jinping also might want at least a temporary agreement to strengthen his own political position as China’s ruling Communist Party’s Central Committee heads into a key meeting in October.

“Xi Jinping is anxious to have something to show the Central Committee members on the Sino-U.S. front,” Lam said.

It isn’t clear what Beijing might be willing to offer as a compromise. Lam said one possibility might be improved protection of foreign patents and copyrights, although Beijing in the past has resisted U.S. demands to write such commitments into law.

This week, Trump himself suggested that some sort of trade pact with China “could happen sooner than you think,” repeating his oft-stated assertion that Chinese leaders “want to make a deal very badly.”

Congress is meantime considering whether to ratify one of the Trump administration’s signature achievements: a pact reached last year with Canada and Mexico to replace the 25-year-old North American Free Trade Agreement.

Trump’s trade representative, Robert Lighthizer, has been trying to address congressional Democrats’ complaints. Those include criticism that the US-Mexico-Canada agreement wouldn’t sufficiently protect American workers who must compete with lower-wage Mexican laborers.

Lighthizer is among the few Trump administration officials who enjoy good relations with House Democrats, and the two sides have stressed that they are working in good faith to address their differences over the agreement, known as the USMCA.

“Lighthizer has worked long and hard to keep it out of the realm of conflict over the broader Trump agenda,” said Rufus Yerxa, president of the National Foreign Trade Council and a former U.S. trade official.

But the impeachment proceedings threaten to poison the atmosphere. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, the Republican chairman of the Finance Committee, urged Democrats not to “use impeachment proceedings as a basis to not act on policy that will directly benefit Americans like the USMCA.”

Daniel Ujczo, a trade lawyer at Dickinson Wright PLLC in Columbus, Ohio, suggested that heightened partisanship has probably torpedoed any hope of a grand bargain in which, say, the administration agrees to some gun-control measures in return for the Democrats approving the USMCA.

“I don’t think USMCA is dead for 2019,” he said. “But it’s definitely on life support.”

Still, Ujczo said, “I don’t see anybody giving up on ratification” — though it likely will spill over into 2020. Lawmakers face intense pressure from business and farm groups eager to have the pact take effect and end uncertainty over U.S. trade with Canada and Mexico, which last year amounted to $1.4 trillion.

Asked whether the impeachment inquiry will keep Congress from approving USMCA, the Mexican undersecretary for foreign trade, Luz Maria de la Mora, told reporters Wednesday: “No. We really think the USMCA is in its own track and other issues are domestic political issues …. We feel that there is good support for USMCA.”

Even during the Watergate investigation into President Richard Nixon, Yerxa recalled, Congress managed to make progress on what became a major piece of legislation, the Trade Act of 1974.

Yerxa also said he thought that impeachment proceedings could weaken Trump politically and embolden Congress to reassert control over trade policy. The Constitution gives Congress authority over trade. But lawmakers over the years have yielded their power to the White House, allowing the president, for example, to tax imports that the Commerce Department declares to be a threat to national security.

Trump has used the authority aggressively. He has imposed tariffs on foreign steel and aluminum and threatened to tax auto imports, too. Sens. Pat Toomey, R-Penn., and Mark Warner, D-Va., have introduced legislation to restrain the president’s ability to tax imports on national security grounds.

“Things like that are going to gain steam,” Yerxa said. “People in Congress are going to be looking for ways of reestablishing congressional control.”


McDonald reported from Beijing. AP Writer Luis Alonso Lugo in Washington contributed to this report.

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With Vote Over, Afghanistan Faces Possible Political Chaos

KABUL, Afghanistan — Presidential elections are over, and Afghanistan now faces a period of uncertainty and possible political chaos. Saturday’s vote was marred by violence, Taliban threats and widespread allegations of mismanagement and abuse. It was the fourth time Afghans have gone to the polls to elect a president since 2001 when the U.S.-led coalition ousted a regressive Taliban regime.

The latest election seems unlikely to bring the peace sought by Afghans, tired of an increasingly brutal war, or an easy exit for the United States, seeking to end its longest military engagement.

The preliminary vote count won’t be known before Oct. 17 and the final tally on Nov. 7. If there is no clear winner, a second round of voting will be held.

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Initial estimates and observations at polling stations suggest a light turnout among 9.6 million eligible voters.

Afghanistan’s National Security Adviser Hamdullah Mohib said that those who turned up at polling stations “risked their lives to show that they want to be in control of their own future.”


For Afghans, Saturday’s vote mirrored the deeply flawed 2014 presidential polls.

Then, like now, the leading rivals for president were Ashraf Ghani and Abdullah Abdullah; then, like now, allegations of widespread fraud and a deeply flawed and sloppy election process swirled over the voting; then, like now, violent attacks marred voting, even forcing the closure of some polls. This time roughly 468 polling centers were not opened because it wasn’t possible to secure them against Taliban attacks.

In 2014, the United States stepped in to cobble together a so-called unity government fearing the allegations of fraud could plunge the country into violence. President Ghani was induced to share power with Abdullah, who was made Chief Executive, a new post.

International observers say there will be no mediation this time around. Before Saturday’s polls the U.S. issued stiff warnings against fraud and even seemed to take direct aim at Ghani’s government refusing to pay more than $160 million in aid projects directly to the government saying it was too corrupt.


The next step in the process is to bring the votes from across the country to the Independent Election Commission compound in the capital Kabul, where they will be counted again. The initial counting and recording was done at the site of the polling and then the ballots were transferred to district centers and finally to the capital.

In a country at war, Afghanistan’s security agencies say the exercise is a difficult and in some areas painfully slow process.

Abdullah said his biggest worry was ballot box stuffing. Controversial turnout figures could further tarnish the results.


President Ghani steadfastly maintained the elections were necessary to give the next government legitimacy as Afghanistan’s representative to negotiate with the Taliban. During a year of talks between the United States and the insurgents, Ghani complained bitterly about being excluded from the talks. Taliban have refused to talk directly to Ghani’s government, while meeting with other prominent Afghans, saying Ghani is a U.S. puppet.

Just as a deal between the U.S. and Taliban seemed imminent, U.S. President Donald Trump on Sept. 7 — just weeks before presidential polls — declared the deal “dead” blaming Taliban violence.

A presidential election result that is hotly contested and overwhelmed with accusations of fraud could threaten any early attempt to restart the peace talks.

A contested vote result could also plunge Afghanistan into violence as supporters of the leading presidential contestants are heavily armed and have long-standing animosities that could erupt into violence.

The post With Vote Over, Afghanistan Faces Possible Political Chaos appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

More Violence Grips Hong Kong Ahead of China’s National Day

HONG KONG — Protesters and police clashed in Hong Kong for a second straight day on Sunday, throwing the semiautonomous Chinese territory’s business and shopping belt into chaos and sparking fears of more ugly scenes leading up to China’s National Day holiday this week.

Riot police repeatedly fired blue liquid — used to identify protesters — from a water cannon truck and multiple volleys of tear gas after demonstrators hurled Molotov cocktails at officers and targeted the city’s government office complex.

It was a repeat of Saturday’s clashes and part of a familiar cycle since pro-democracy protests began in early June. The protests were sparked by a now-shelved extradition bill and have since snowballed into an anti-China movement.

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“We know that in the face of the world’s largest totalitarian regime — to quote Captain America, ‘Whatever it takes,'” Justin Leung, a 21-year-old demonstrator who covered his mouth with a black scarf, said of the violent methods deployed by hard-line protesters. “The consensus right now is that everyone’s methods are valid and we all do our part.”

Protesters are planning to march again Tuesday despite a police ban, raising fears of more violent confrontations that would embarrass Chinese President Xi Jinping as his ruling Communist Party marks 70 years since taking power. Posters are calling for Oct. 1 to be marked as “A Day of Grief.”

“So many youngsters feel that they’re going to have no future because of the power of China,” Andy Yeung, 40, said as he pushed his toddler in a stroller. “It’s hopeless for Hong Kong. If we don’t stand up, there will be no hope.”

Hong Kong’s government has already scaled down the city’s National Day celebrations, canceling an annual fireworks display and moving a reception indoors.

Despite security concerns, the government said Sunday that Chief Executive Carrie Lam, Hong Kong’s leader, will lead a delegation of over 240 people to Beijing on Monday to participate in National Day festivities.

Sunday’s turmoil started in the early afternoon when police fired tear gas to disperse a large crowd that had amassed in the popular Causeway Bay shopping district. But thousands of people regrouped and defiantly marched along a main thoroughfare toward government offices, crippling traffic.

Protesters, many clad in black with umbrellas and carrying pro-democracy posters and foreign flags, sang songs and chanted “Stand with Hong Kong, fight for freedom.” Some defaced, tore down and burned National Day congratulatory signs, setting off a huge blaze on the street. Others smashed windows and lobbed gasoline bombs into subway exits that had been shuttered.

Police then fired a water cannon and tear gas as the crowd approached the government office complex. Most fled but hundreds returned, hurling objects into the complex.

Members of an elite police squad, commonly known as raptors, then charged out suddenly from behind barricades, taking many protesters by surprise. Several who failed to flee in time were subdued and detained in a scene of chaos.

The raptors, backed by scores of riot police, pursued protesters down roads to nearby areas. Officers continued to fire a water cannon and more tear gas, and the cat-and-mouse clashes lasted late into the night. Streets were left littered with graffiti on walls and debris.

The demonstration was part of global “anti-totalitarianism” rallies to denounce “Chinese tyranny.” Thousands rallied in Taipei, Taiwan’s capital, while more than 1,000 took part in a rally in Sydney.

The protracted unrest, approaching four months long, has battered Hong Kong’s economy, with businesses and tourism plunging.

Chief Executive Lam held her first community dialogue with the public on Thursday in a bid to defuse tensions but failed to persuade protesters, who vowed to press on until their demands are met, including direct elections for the city’s leaders and police accountability.

Earlier Sunday, hundreds of pro-Beijing Hong Kong residents sang the Chinese national anthem and waved red flags at the Victoria Peak hilltop and a waterfront cultural center in a show of support for Chinese rule.

“We want to take this time for the people to express our love for our country, China. We want to show the international community that there is another voice to Hong Kong” apart from the protests, said organizer Innes Tang.

Mobs of Beijing supporters have appeared in malls and on the streets in recent weeks to counter pro-democracy protesters, leading to brawls between the rival camps.

Many people view the extradition bill, which would have sent criminal suspects to mainland China for trial, as a glaring example of the erosion of Hong Kong’s autonomy when the former British colony returned to Chinese rule in 1997.

China has denied chipping away at Hong Kong’s freedoms and accused the U.S. and other foreign powers of fomenting the unrest to weaken its dominance.


Associated Press journalists Ken Moritsugu in Beijing and Katie Lam and John Leicester in Hong Kong contributed to this report.

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An Unlikely Weapon in the Fight Against Climate Change

Climate scientists say seabed carbon storage could be a new ally to help reduce greenhouse gas emissions by a volume greater than all the carbon dioxide pumped into the atmosphere from the planet’s coal-burning power stations.

It is the biggest ally possible: the 70% of the globe covered by ocean.

In a detailed argument in the journal ScienceOve Hoegh-Guldberg of the University of QueenslandEliza Northrop of the World Resources Institute in Washington DC and Jane Lubchenco of Oregon State University outline five areas of action that could mitigate potentially calamitous climate change driven by profligate use of fossil fuels.

These include renewable energy, shipping and transport, protection of marine and coastal ecosystems, fisheries and aquaculture and – perhaps in future – carbon storage on the sea bed.

“Make no mistake: these actions are ambitious, but we argue they are necessary, could pay major dividends towards closing the emissions gap in coming decades, and achieve other co-benefits along the way”, they write.

“For far too long, the ocean has been mostly absent from policy discussions about reducing carbon emissions and meeting the challenges of climate change”

The argument was deliberately timed to coincide with a major new report by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change on the oceans and the cryosphere.

If the world’s nations pursue ocean policy ambitions in the right way, they could reduce global greenhouse gas emissions by up to 4 billion tonnes of CO2 equivalent by 2030 and up to 11 billion by 2050.

And this could tot up to 21% of the reductions required in 2050 to limit warming to the declared 1.5°C target favoured at the Paris climate summit in 2015, and up to a fourth of all emissions for the formal 2°C target identified in the agreement.

“Reductions of this magnitude are larger than the annual emissions from all current coal-fired power plants worldwide,” they argue.

The first step is to set clear national targets for getting renewable energy from the restless seas, in terms of offshore windtidal and wave energy,  by 2030 and then by 2050.

Other benefits

Then the trio want nations to think about ways to reduce or eliminate carbon from the world’s shipping fleets. That means alternative fuels and a revolution in shore-based supply chains. Fuel efficiency in existing technologies could be improved, and hybrid power systems – including fuel cells and battery technologies – should be explored.

And, they point out, the sea itself is a carbon consumer. Mangrove swampsseagrass meadows and salt marshes could be considered as “blue carbon ecosystems” in the way that terrestrial forests are considered “sinks” for atmospheric carbon.

These coastal and submarine “forests” make up only1.5% of the area of the land-based forests and woodlands, but their loss and degradation are equivalent to 8.4% of carbon emissions from terrestrial forests now being destroyed by human intrusion. So it would pay to restore and protect such marine habitats.

There would be other benefits: harvested seaweed could be turned into food, cattle feed, fertiliser, biofuels and bioplastics. Some seaweeds could help in even more dramatic ways.

Experiments with a red alga called Asparagopsis taxiformis, they say, “can reduce methane emissions from ruminants by up to 99% when constituting only 2% of the feed, and several other common species show potential methane reductions of 33 to 50%.”

‘Daunting’ change needed

The scientists urge a diet shift towards fish and seafood in pursuit of sustainable low-carbon protein; they also want to see the fishing industry worldwide pursue lower emissions while optimising the sustainable global catch.

“Such large-scale shifts in food policy and behaviour are daunting,” they concede. But there would be considerable climate benefits.

And, they admit, there are “considerable challenges” to the idea that carbon dioxide captured at source could be safely and cheaply stored on the seabed for many thousands of years. But they say “the theoretical potential” is very high.

“For far too long, the ocean has been mostly absent from policy discussions about reducing carbon emissions and meeting the challenges of climate change,” they conclude.

“Ocean-based actions provide increased hope that reaching the 1.5°C target might be possible, along with addressing other societal challenges, including economic development, food security and coastal community resilience.”

The post An Unlikely Weapon in the Fight Against Climate Change appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bernie Sanders Is Tied With Joe Biden in Crucial State: New Poll

New CNN polls from two key early states released Sunday solidify the notion that the Democratic Party presidential primary has largely become a three-way race between Joe Biden, Bernie Sanders, and Elizabeth Warren.

The new polling figures show that Sanders and Biden are tied for first place in Nevada (both receiving 22%), while a third-place Warren trails slightly at 18% — just four points behind and within the margin of error. In Nevada, the state survey (pdf)—coupled with national demographic trends—suggests Sanders first-place finish has much to do with his strong support from Latinx voters and the working class.

In Nevada, notes CNN,  Sanders “does about twice as well among whites without a college degree in our sample than whites with a college degree. That matches what we see nationally.” With Warren surging in other recent state and national pollsCNN political analysis Henry Enten said “our Nevada poll is the best news for Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders by far” over the last couple of weeks.

In South Carolina, meanwhile, the poll (pdf) shows Biden with 37% — a more commanding lead over Warren’s spot in second place with 16% and Sanders’ 11% which landed him in third place. Both in Nevada and South Carolina, no other candidate escaped low single digits.

New CNN poll of likely Dem primary voters in SC:

Biden – 37%
Warren – 16%
Sanders – 11%
Buttigieg – 4%
Harris – 3%
Steyer – 3%

And NV caucus goers:

Biden – 22%
Sanders – 22%
Warren – 18%
Harris – 5%
Buttigieg – 4%
Steyer – 4%
Yang – 3% @jennagiesta

— Dan Merica (@merica) September 29, 2019

According to Enten’s review of the South Carolina data:

Perhaps the biggest question of the Democratic primary race is whether Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren can extend her appeal beyond her white well-educated base. Specifically, can she earn the support of black voters, who are the base of the Democratic Party?

Our South Carolina poll suggests the Massachusetts senator has a lot of work to do. She gets only 4% of the black likely primary voters. That looks quite similar to the 2% Warren was earning amongst this group in previous polls by Fox News and Monmouth University.

For comparison, Warren’s at 28% among white voters in our South Carolina poll.

While Biden received the support of 45% of black voters in the South Carolina poll, Sanders was at 13% compared to Warren’s 4%.

“Black voters, of course,” notes Enten, “make up a majority or near a majority of Democratic primary voters in southern primaries such as Alabama, Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi and South Carolina. Warren’s going to run into some major problems in southern primaries if she can’t do better with this bloc of voters.”

As Vox‘s Dylan Scott detailed last week, there is much evidence now to support the idea that the primary has become a three-way race:

The three leading candidates have pulled away from the rest of the field. Sen. Kamala Harris and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg have enjoyed moments of strong polling, but they haven’t been able to sustain it. Others — Sen. Cory Booker, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Amy Klobuchar — are still languishing in the low single digits after months of campaigning. They are starting to confront the real possibility of getting cut from future debates, as the Democratic National Committee raises its standards.

Biden still enjoys a decent polling lead in national polls, according to the Real Clear Politics average, but Warren has been steadily rising behind him, and Sanders still carries a lot of support.

With announcement this week of an official impeachment inquiring into President Donald Trump by House Democrats, the stakes of the 2020 elections continue to rise. One thing national polls have repeatedly shown is that Biden, Sanders, and Warren all beat Trump in hypothetical general election matchups.

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American History for Truthdiggers: A Once, Always and Future Empire

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 38th and last installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, who retired recently as a major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. 

Part 38, the final installment of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17; Part 18; Part 19; Part 20; Part 21; Part 22; Part 23; Part 24; Part 25; Part 26; Part 27; Part 28; Part 29; Part 30; Part 31; Part 32; Part 33; Part 34; Part 35; Part 36; Part 37.

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There is a widespread belief that American history is best viewed in a linear context. The United States, the narrative goes, began as a flawed experiment in democracy—replete with slavery and bigotry at the start—but has gradually and consistently improved into a more perfect union, a millenarian nation on its way toward serving as an example for the world, a “city on a hill.” Minorities, according to this notion, may have once been oppressed but have gained equal rights and equal protection under the law; America might have conquered Indian and Mexican land but has long since set aside its imperial ways. As such, both at home and abroad, the U.S., though still imperfect, is a force for good in the world.

It’s a comforting narrative, but inconsistent with reality, with the facts and arc of our history. Progress, such as it is, has been wildly inconsistent and halting since the Anglo colonization of the eastern coast of North America. Take the plight of African-Americans. Theirs has been a history of false starts, dreams deferred and hopes enlivened only to be dashed. Consider, for example, that more blacks were U.S. House members and senators in 1877 than in 1967. In the wake of the Civil War, the reforms of Reconstruction launched African-Americans into positions of power they would not regain for nearly a century. During this time, Northern whites abandoned them to the whims of Southern bigots, and the result was Jim Crow—systemic segregation, a parallel apartheid system in the American South. A further example is that blacks finally saw their voting rights protected by the 1965 Voting Rights Act—which required the federal government to carefully review electoral procedures in the former Confederate states—only to find many of those protections stripped away by a reactionary Supreme Court early in the 21st century. Clearly, there’s very little that is progressive or linear in the journey of black Americans.

Taking such a broad view of American history further, one can cogently argue that the U.S. couldn’t even be considered a true democracy until 1965, when many blacks finally received the right to vote more than 240 years after slaves first arrived on these shores and almost two centuries after the Declaration of Independence was written. Still, few citizens think in or frame their country in those terms. Furthermore, America still runs a parallel system of governance for its remaining colonies, which Washington euphemistically labels territories. In the conquered islands of Puerto Rico, American Samoa, Guam and many others, the residents have no representation in Congress or say in the election of the presidents, who hold the power to send them off to fight and die in foreign wars. <i>These</i> people, in fact, represent the victims and refuse of America’s second empire.

That, indeed, is the key point. The U.S. was imperial from the first, the very moment when a band of English aristocrats in search of precious gold landed at Jamestown in what is today Virginia. Since that day in 1607, America has never ceased to be a settler-colonial empire in the vein of czarist Russia, British South Africa and modern Israel. Its manner of empire may well have changed, but its reality never meaningfully altered as the U.S. proceeded through three distinct phases of imperialism. First, from 1607 to 1897, British colonists, and then self-styled Americans, displaced and destroyed countless native peoples, eventually spreading a (perceived) superior way of life from the Atlantic to the Pacific oceans, another take, indeed, on the phrase “from sea to shining sea.” America’s relationship with conquered native peoples proceeded through phases of displacement, genocide, containment and finally confinement on often barren reservations. This legacy system remains today in what must be considered a series of internal colonies similar to South African “bantustans” and to Palestinian enclaves in the West Bank and Gaza Strip. In addition to overrunning outmatched natives, the U.S. also drummed up a war on false pretenses and proceeded to conquer the northern third of Mexico (1846-1848), even occupying its capital and forcing a regime change of its government.

In phase two (1898-1945), with the frontier “closed,” Native Americans safely confined and a truncated Mexico firmly in its place south of the Rio Grande River, expansionist Americans sought colonies across the seas. After starting another war under false pretenses in 1898, this time with imperial Spain, the U.S. snatched the massive Philippines, Cuba, Puerto Rico and a slew of Pacific islands. Finding the strange inhabitants of these lands too brown and too “barbaric” to integrate into coequal states, the U.S. ruled them first as direct colonies and then as unequal territories and commonwealths. It is instructive, indeed, that occupying American troops took to calling the indigenous peoples of these islands “niggers,” borrowing this slur from the nation’s original sin of slavery, racism and internal colonization and apartheid. That transition was seamless and continued well into the next, third, phase of American empire, in which Arabs and Muslims were quickly labeled “sand niggers” by many Americans sent to fight wars in the Greater Mideast.

After emerging from the Second World War relatively unscathed—at least in comparison with war-ravaged Europe and Asia—the U.S. sought global hegemony in phase three (1946 to the present) of its imperial journey. Rather than retreat behind its ocean boundaries, America remained militarily deployed abroad while politicians crafted a veritable national security militarist state at home. Although technology, particularly in transportation, obviated the need for physical control and direct governance of old-style colonies, the U.S.—far from eschewing empire—spread its imperial tentacles over the world. In the name, alternately, of fighting communism, spreading democracy and protecting human rights globally, the U.S. military constructed, occupied and operated from an “empire of bases.” Two decades after the 9/11 terror attacks had justified ever more blatant expansion, the U.S. military counted 800 bases in 80 countries, on every inhabited continent. The U.S. warfare state had unashamedly divided every square inch of the globe into discrete military commands overseen by generals and admirals who often serve in the manner of Roman proconsuls. At the time of writing, America, rather than offering a peaceful example to the world, is at war in at least seven countries. Post-World War II justifications and enemies may have changed from “Red” communists to brown terrorists, but the outcomes have remained remarkably consistent.

In all phases of American imperialism the empire has, inevitably, come home, often poisoning any hope for meaningful democracy, meritocracy or equality within U.S. borders. The racism and white supremacy necessary to wage wars of conquest, plunder and extermination against Indians and Mexicans not only stemmed from but added to existing currents within the expanding nation’s borders. Anti-immigrant nativism and xenophobia catapulted back to the homeland from American occupation and colonial suppression across the seas. Systems of mass surveillance perfected in the Philippines set the stage for a similar program meant to squelch dissent during the world wars and morphed into today’s tech-savvy digital “bugging” of American life. In another example, imperial counterinsurgency abroad informed the internal repressive tactics of the later “war on drugs,” waged mostly within America’s internal colonies of impoverished black and brown neighborhoods and native reservations.

During phase three of the American empire, the results of this imperial “coming home” have been immense. Permanent “terrorist” detention at Guantanamo, torture, prisoner abuse at Abu Ghraib, the Patriot Act, illegal rendition and National Security Agency wiretapping, unthinkable to many Americans before 9/11, are modern outgrowths of a consistent American imperial structure and history. Perhaps the most disturbing outgrowth of late-stage U.S. empire is the phenomenon of militarized “warrior cops,” equipped with surplus Army equipment and clothed in camouflage fatigues, policing poor communities of color like occupied territory. These law enforcement personnel, which include a disproportionate number of military veterans, have transported counterinsurgency and conventional warfare tactics into the internal colonies of America—forgotten spaces full of forgotten, and forsaken, people.

The vast, vast majority of this imperial history unfolded long before Donald Trump arrived on the national scene. It is a legacy of empire bequeathed to generations of Americans by their forefathers across the centuries. Men (and the top leaders have always been men) from each and every major American political party have built, expanded and maintained this dual structure of internal and external imperialism. Empire is perhaps the only truly bipartisan national endeavor. Furthermore, class, that most unspoken of American maladies, has often been at the root of American systems of oppression. The division of the working class along ethnic and religious lines, and then the suppression of the remaining class-conscious activists, helped make the imperial machine palatable in the first place. That an outspoken, buffoonish, billionaire businessman came to rule, to serve as de facto emperor, of the American imperial complex on the back of his claims to represent working-class people and “Make America Great Again” is indicative of the power of class cooption and racial subjugation. Supporters of Donald Trump, “deplorable” though they might be in the eyes of their opponents, when viewed in context are inherently American.

Trump in Context: Reflections of America’s Dark Side

President Trump is no aberration. No doubt the election of a shady real estate magnate, tabloid playboy and reality-TV-star-turned-xenophobic-populist was a profound matter. That said, much of the Trump effect is a modern-day reflection of America’s historical trends and baggage. In fact, with just a touch of difference, the coalition that elected Trump is a standard alliance of four distinct interest groups (and peoples) that put Republicans in office for decades and maintained American imperialism and internal oppression long before that political party had even been founded. These are anti-taxation (usually hyper-wealthy) libertarians, foreign-policy hawks with imperial proclivities, intolerant brands of evangelical Christians, and racist xenophobes. The genius of Trump, then, was not unlike that of Ronald Reagan or Richard Nixon before him. All managed to appeal to these wide and seemingly dissimilar and contradictory groups and pull them under a big tent, despite subsequently governing mainly in the interests of wealthy elites. The main glue, of course, was in racial appeals to white identity that held together, first, the Southern Democrats (1830s-1950s) and then a transformed Southern-dominated Republican Party (from the 1960s to the present).

In the area of domestic policy, Trump’s defense of white supremacist violence, harsh oppression of immigrants and refugees, reflexive support for militarized cops and refusal to act to tamp down a national epidemic of gun violence seemed to many progressive-minded Americans to be uniquely heinous. In reality, Trump and his supporters have simply rebranded older forms of racism, nativism and homegrown militarism that had long been crucial links in American society. Furthermore, as in earlier administrations, lines between what constitutes domestic and foreign policy are blurred under Trump. As such, barbed wire along the southern border with Mexico has a direct link with the walling and wiring off of adjacent neighborhoods by the U.S. military in Baghdad.

Trump’s massive tax cuts, statistically highly skewed to benefit the very rich, were far more consistent than anomalous. The massive income inequality that results from this tax revision and regular cuts to social welfare programs may be reaching record levels but is a standard aspect of American economics and not unlike the prevailing situation during the Gilded Age (1877-1914). The president’s call for a “Muslim ban,” which finally morphed into a “travel ban” against a select group of Muslim-majority countries, also has plenty of historical precedent. The Chinese Exclusion Act, the 1924 Immigration Act (which limited migration from Slavic, Jewish and Asian communities) and massive internment of Japanese-Americans during World War II are only a few of the antecedents of Trumpian policy and procedure.

In the realm of foreign policy, Trump has, it must be said, spoken and tweeted in ways that are out of step with the traditionally expansionist foreign-policy-hawk wing of his coalition’s quartet. His calls for the end of “dumb” wars and missions in the Middle East no doubt appealed to many in a war-weary public and demonstrated an earthy (if uniformed) commonsense. Still, his lack of follow-through on this front—whether due to his own dishonesty or the influence by the wildly hawkish advisers surrounding him—demonstrates the prevailing power of the national security structure, or what his supporters term the “deep state.” In practice, Trump has only increased the scale of U.S. bombing and worldwide military deployments, and even brought America to the brink of war with states as separated and diverse as Iran and Venezuela.

Nevertheless, one should not let self-styled liberals or Democratic partisans off the hook. Their manufacturing of and obsession with “Russiagate”—the so-far-unsubstantiated claim that the Trump campaign colluded with Vladimir Putin and Russian intelligence to win the 2016 U.S. presidential election—has heightened a new Cold War and, given the long, sordid history of American meddling in foreign elections, illustrated the obtuseness of the “liberal” class. Trump then expanded Cold War 2.0 to include a growing China by waging foolhardy economic warfare against Beijing. Finally, Trump’s right-wing authoritarian ambitions have not only spread to a number of foreign countries but built upon the precedents set by former American Presidents Nixon, Franklin and Theodore Roosevelt, William McKinley and even Andrew Jackson. Taken as whole and in proper context, then, Trump is an all-American president, and his promise to “Make America Great Again” is little more than a recasting of regular calls to return to the whiter, more oppressive, less equal United States of the past.

The American Future: Republic or Empire, Democracy or Oligarchy

In the light of the correct, if discomfiting, facts, one must conclude that America carries the baggage of four dark historical themes. These are genocide, racism, hypercapitalism, and empire. Today’s Thanksgiving myths to the contrary, English colonists and later self-branded Americans never seriously considered coequal coexistence with indigenous peoples. Through the spread of diseases (sometimes purposefully), wars of conquest, policies of confinement and cultural attacks on native ways of life, the U.S. devastated American Indians. By 1890, these First Peoples were nearly extinct.

Racism, which began in the form of “original sin” color and caste-based chattel slavery, not only poisoned but pervaded the American experiment. For more than half of its history, Anglo-American society built itself largely on the literal and figurative backs of black slaves. When the obscenely bloody American Civil War brought de jure slavery to an end, de facto slavery (both economic and social) continued for a century in the guise of a structural system of apartheid segregation. Even today, black poverty and a massive black-white wealth gap, as well as police suppression and institutional racism, continue to maintain a permanent African-American underclass. Furthermore, regular appeals to “law and order” throughout American history ensured that black and brown people have filled the nation’s prisons, culminating in today’s structure of mass incarceration in which more blacks are in some phase of the modern correction system than were slaves in 1861.

Capitalism, which reached its most extreme form on America’s shores, also characterized the development and progress of the United States. Generations of historians, pondering the socialism and social democratic and labor parties that developed in the Old World of Europe and across the global south, have been befuddled by the question of why there has been no widespread socialism in America. Though there are no easy answers, some have noted that a peculiar American strain of hyper-individualism, purposeful racial and ethnic divisions of the working class and pervasive attacks on labor unions combined to halt the influence of even mild forms of collectivism and social welfare in this country. Gilded Age wealth inequality mirrored colonial-era aristocracy and set the stage for today’s record degree of income disparity. American taxation has always—with one brief exception, from the 1930s to the 1960s—been exceptionally low and regressive, slanted from the first to benefit the super rich.

Empire, by now, should speak for itself. Throughout its history the United States has maintained a dual-track system of imperialism. Black urban ghettos and Southern sharecropping communities, to say nothing of Indian reservations, served and serve as monuments to internal empire. Conquered native and Mexican lands in North America and captured Spanish Pacific and Caribbean colonies personified external empire for centuries. Since the Second World War, expeditionary U.S. military basing and historically unprecedented interventionism characterized modern foreign empire. This legacy of empire has always “come home to roost,” in varying forms of nativist xenophobia, militarized policing and the squelching of internal dissent and civil liberties. Empire, for America, has always been a way of life.

In spite of it all, hope—however weakened—for a truly democratic, inclusive and peaceful America remains. The immense power of the military-industrial complex and corporate oligarchs and their misguided xenophobic and racist foot soldiers has, no doubt, only made that American dream seem more distant than ever. Nonetheless, history has consistently demonstrated the potential power of motivated people to shut down the system and force positive change. That change, that progress, however, is more unlikely than ever to come from the three foundational institutions formed by the U.S. Constitution.

The executive branch has seized so much power—especially in foreign affairs—that presidents (sometimes not even elected by a plurality of the voters) operate more like dictators than servants of the people. The legislative branch, the Congress, is stalemated by tribally partisan division, is veritably owned by well-funded lobbyists and long ago ceded its constitutionally mandated duty to declare war and oversee foreign affairs. As such, the people’s purported representatives cannot be counted on to roll back empire either at home or abroad. The courts, especially the Supreme Court, have become highly politicized and increasingly dominated by archaic, reactionary, conservative “originalists” who interpret the Constitution as though it and they were in an 18th-century time capsule. After a brief spell of progressive, activist decisions (1954-1971), the courts have rolled back minority protections and affirmative action and even—in the infamous Citizens United decision—handed over political power to the wealthiest slice of Americans. Furthermore, these unelected judges have refused to weigh in on the legality of U.S. imperial policy and presidential war-making abroad.

Change, reform, revolution even, must explode from the grass roots, from organized people power. The precious, highly lauded institutions of American representative democracy have failed the people yet again. Only new collectivist bodies, egalitarian citizen groups, can wield the power to demand a new path for the nation. The odds are stacked against them, no doubt. Those who control the current system count on citizen apathy, reinforce it even, and know they cannot continue indefinitely to hold the reins without it. The owners of this country—the corporations and their proxy politicians—fear a cross-class, multicultural movement by poor and working people more than anything. Power rightfully belongs to the people, was promised to them by America’s very founding document. After all, the preamble to the Constitution stipulates that the government exists to serve not the states, the rich, the corporations or the military, but the American people. They can seize control of their collective destiny if they have the courage and the will to take it.

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To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974” (2019).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).

<em>Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a retired U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “<a href=” “>Ghost Riders of Baghdad</a>: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at <a href=””>@SkepticalVet</a> and check out his podcast, “<a href=”″>Fortress on a Hill</a>,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.</em>

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Impeachment Firestorm Scorches William Barr

WASHINGTON—As Washington plunges into impeachment, Attorney General William Barr finds himself engulfed in the political firestorm, facing questions about his role in President Donald Trump’s outreach to Ukraine and the administration’s attempts to keep a whistleblower complaint from Congress.

Trump repeatedly told Ukraine’s president in a telephone call that Barr and Trump personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani could help investigate Trump’s Democratic rival Joe Biden, according to a rough transcript of that summertime conversation. Justice Department officials insist Barr was unaware of Trump’s comments at the time of the July 25 call.

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When Barr did learn of that call a few weeks later, he was “surprised and angry” to discover he had been lumped in with Giuliani, a person familiar with Barr’s thinking told The Associated Press. This person was not authorized to speak about the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Giuliani, a former New York City mayor, often appears in rambling television interviews as a vocal defender of the president. Giuliani represents Trump’s personal interests and holds no position in the U.S. government, raising questions about why he would be conducting outreach to Ukrainian officials.

Barr is the nation’s top law enforcement officer and leads a Cabinet department that traditionally has a modicum of independence from the White House.

Yet to Trump, there often appears to be little difference between the two lawyers.

“I will have Mr. Giuliani give you a call and I am also going to have Attorney General Barr call and we will get to the bottom of it,” Trump told Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, according to the memo of the call that was released by the White House this past week.

Since becoming attorney general in February, Barr has been one of Trump’s staunchest defenders. He framed special counsel Robert Mueller’s report in favorable terms for the president in a news conference this year, even though Mueller said he did not exonerate Trump.

Kathleen Clark, a legal ethics professor at Washington University School of Law in St. Louis, said Trump is treating the country’s attorney general as if he’s just another personal lawyer.

“I think it represents a larger problem with President Trump,” she said. “To him, it appears Giuliani and Barr both have the same job.”

Trump has frequently lauded Barr and his efforts to embrace the president’s political agenda. That’s in stark contrast to Trump’s relationship with his first attorney general, Jeff Sessions, whom the president repeatedly harangued in public.

Trump’s frustration with Sessions made clear how the president views the Justice Department — as a law enforcement agency that exists to carry out his wishes and protect him. Despite a close relationship during the 2016 campaign, Trump never forgave Sessions for withdrawing from the government’s investigation into 2016 election interference, a move that ultimately cleared the way for Mueller’s investigation.

Barr has come under the scrutiny of congressional Democrats who have accused him of acting on Trump’s personal behalf more than for the justice system. Democrats have also called on Barr to step aside from decisions on the Ukraine matter. Those close to Barr, however, have argued there would be no reason to do so because he was unaware of the Trump-Zelenskiy conversation.

The department insists Barr wasn’t made aware of the call with Zelenskiy until at least mid-August.

Barr has not spoken with Trump about investigating Biden or Biden’s son Hunter, and Trump has not asked Barr to contact Ukranian officials about the matter, the department said. Barr has also not spoken with Giuliani about anything related to Ukraine, officials have said.

Trump has sought, without evidence, to implicate the Bidens in the kind of corruption that has long plagued Ukraine. Hunter Biden served on the board of a Ukrainian gas company at the same time then-Vice President Joe Biden was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine. Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either Biden. There is no evidence that Hunter Biden was ever under investigation in Ukraine.

The Justice Department was first made aware of Trump’s call when a CIA lawyer mentioned the complaint from the unidentified CIA officer on Aug. 14. Other Justice Department lawyers were later also made aware of the accusations after the whistleblower filed a complaint with the intelligence community’s internal watchdog.

The watchdog later raised concerns that Trump may have violated campaign finance law. The Justice Department said there was no crime and closed the matter.

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Syria Demands Withdrawal of All U.S., Turkish Forces

UNITED NATIONS—Syria’s top diplomat on Saturday demanded the immediate withdrawal of American and Turkish forces from the country and said his government reserves the right to defend its territory in any way necessary if they remain.

Foreign Minister Walid al-Moallem’s remarks to the United Nations General Assembly were made as Turkey and the United States press ahead with a deal to create a safe zone along Syria’s border with Turkey.

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On the political front, he reaffirmed the government’s support for the recently agreed committee to draft a new constitution for the country. As has been the government’s tone since the start of the 2011 uprising in Syria, the foreign minister took a hard line, stressing there must be no interference from any country or timeline imposed on the process.

Al-Moallem’s speech highlighted the enormous challenges to achieve reconciliation in Syria, where over 400,000 people have been killed during the conflict and millions more have fled.

The more than eight-year conflict has also drawn numerous foreign militaries and thousands of foreign fighters to Syria, many to support the now-defeated Islamic State extremist group and others still there backing the opposition and battling government forces.

“The United States and Turkey maintain an illegal military presence in northern Syria,” al-Moallem said. “Any foreign forces operating in our territories without our authorization are occupying forces and should withdraw immediately.”

If they refuse, he said, “we have the right to take any and all countermeasures authorized under international law.”

There are around 1,000 U.S. troops in Syria on a mission to combat Islamic State militants. The United States also backs and supports Kurdish groups in the northeast that are opposed to the Syrian government and have fought against Sunni extremist groups.

U.S. President Donald Trump had said he wants to bring the troops home, but military officials have advocated a phased approach.

Al-Moallem described Turkey and the United States as “arrogant to the point of holding discussions and reaching agreements on the creation of a so-called ‘safe zone’ inside Syria” as if it was on their own soil. He said any agreement without the consent of the Syrian government is rejected.

The deal between the U.S. and Turkey keeps U.S.-backed Syrian Kurdish fighters, considered terrorists by Turkey, away from Syria’s northeastern border with Turkey. It involves an area five to 14 kilometers deep (three to eight miles), as well as the removal of heavy weapons from a 20-kilometer-deep zone (12 miles). The length of the zone has not yet been agreed to by both parties but will likely stretch hundreds of kilometers.

Most of Syria is now under the control of the Syrian government, which is backed by Russia and Iran. However, Syrian rebels and extremists still hold Idlib in the northwest, and U.S-backed Kurdish groups hold parts of the oil-rich northeast.

The Syrian government maintains that Idlib remains a hotbed for “terrorists” and al-Moallem vowed that its “war against terrorism” will continue “until rooting out the last remaining terrorist.”

In a breakthrough on the political front, earlier this week U.N. Secretary General Antonio Guterres announced the formation of the committee that would draft Syria’s new constitution, which he said could be an important step toward ending the war.

The U.N. chief announced Saturday that the committee will meet for the first time in Geneva on Oct. 30. Its rules state that a new constitution will be followed by “free and fair elections under United Nations supervision.”

The committee was authorized at a Russian-hosted Syrian peace conference in January 2018, but it took nearly 20 months for the sides to agree on the 150 members — particularly on a 50-member civil society of experts, independents, tribal leaders and women to serve alongside 50 members from the government and 50 members from the opposition. The U.N. was authorized to put together the civil society list but the choices faced objections, mainly from the Syrian government.

Under the newly announced terms, the “Syrian-led and Syrian-owned” committee, with U.N. envoy Geir Pedersen as facilitator, will amend the current 2012 constitution or draft a new one.

Al-Moallem stressed that the committee will operate without preconditions, its recommendations must be made independently, and “no deadlines or timetables must be imposed on the committee.”

On another long-simmering dispute, al-Moallem accused Israel of starting “another phase of escalation” through its repeated attacks on Syrian territory and the territory of other neighboring countries.

He stressed that “it is a delusion” to think that the Syrian conflict would force the government to forfeit its “inalienable right” to recover the Golan Heights which Israel captured during the June 1967 war. The annexation is not recognized under international law.

The Trump administration in March signed a proclamation recognizing Israel’s sovereignty over the Golan Heights, reversing more than a half-century of U.S. policy in the Middle East. He also moved the U.S. Embassy to Jerusalem in recognition of Israel’s claims of the city as its capital.

“It is a delusion,” al-Moallem stressed, “to think that the decisions of the U.S. administration on the sovereignty over the Golan would alter historical and geographical facts or the provisions of international law.”

“The Golan has been and will forever be part of Syria,” he said.

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Subpoenas Mark First Concrete Steps for Trump Impeachment

WASHINGTON — House Democrats took their first concrete steps in the impeachment investigation of President Donald Trump on Friday, issuing subpoenas and demanding documents from Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and scheduling legal depositions for other State Department officials.

At the end of a stormy week of revelation and recrimination, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi framed the impeachment inquiry as a somber moment for a divided nation.

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“This is no cause for any joy,” she said on MSNBC.

At the White House, a senior administration official confirmed a key detail from the unidentified CIA whistleblower who has accused Trump of abusing the power of his office. Trump, for his part, insisted anew that his actions and words have been “perfect” and the whistleblower’s complaint might well be the work of “a partisan operative.”

The White House acknowledged that a record of the Trump phone call that is now at the center of the impeachment inquiry had been sealed away in a highly classified system at the direction of Trump’s National Security Council lawyers.

Separately, Trump adviser Kellyanne Conway told reporters that the whistleblower “has protection under the law,” something Trump himself had appeared to question earlier in the day. He suggested then that his accuser “isn’t a whistleblower at all.”

Still at issue is why the rough transcript of Trump’s July 25 phone call with Ukraine’s president was put on “lock down,” in the words of the whistleblower. The CIA officer said that diverting the record in an unusual way was evidence that “White House officials understood the gravity of what had transpired” in the conversation.

The whistleblower complaint alleges that Trump used his office to “solicit interference from a foreign country” to help himself in next year’s U.S. election. In the phone call, days after ordering a freeze to some military assistance for Ukraine, Trump prodded new Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to dig for potentially damaging material on Democratic rival Joe Biden and volunteered the assistance of both his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, and U.S. Attorney General William Barr.

Pelosi refused to set a deadline for the probe but promised to act “expeditiously.” The House intelligence committee could draw members back to Washington next week.

Pelosi said she was praying for the president, adding, “I would say to Democrats and Republicans: We have to put country before party.”

At the White House, it was a senior administration official who acknowledged that the rough transcript of Trump’s conversation with Ukraine’s Zelenskiy had been moved to a highly classified system maintained by the National Security Council. The official was granted anonymity Friday to discuss sensitive matters.

White House attorneys had been made aware of concerns about Trump’s comments on the call even before the whistleblower sent his allegations to the intelligence community’s inspector general. Those allegations, made in mid-August, were released Thursday under heavy pressure from House Democrats.

All the while, Trump was keeping up his full-bore attack on the whistleblower and the unnamed “White House officials” cited in the complaint, drawing a warning from Pelosi against retaliation.

Late Thursday, Trump denounced people who might have talked to the whistleblower as “close to a spy” and suggested they engaged in treason, an act punishable by death. Then on Friday, he said the person was “sounding more and more like the so-called Whistleblower isn’t a Whistleblower at all.”

He also alleged without evidence that information in the complaint has been “proved to be so inaccurate.”

Pelosi told MSNBC, “I’m concerned about some of the president’s comments about the whistleblower.”

She said the House panels conducting the impeachment probe will make sure there’s no retaliation against people who provided information in the case. On Thursday, House Democratic chairmen called Trump’s comments “witness intimidation” and suggested efforts by him to interfere with the potential witness could be unlawful.

Rep. Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, a member of the intelligence committee, said the president calling whistleblowers spies is “obscene … just grotesque.”

“If you ask me, I’d like to hear from everybody that was mentioned in that whistleblowers report. I like to hear from Rudy Giuliani, from the attorney general. I think Mike Pompeo has explaining to do as well as the State Department.”

Trump’s Friday comment questioning the whistleblower’s status seemed to foreshadow a possible effort to argue that legal protection laws don’t apply to the person, opening a new front in the president’s defense, but Conway’s statement seemed to make that less likely.

The intelligence community’s inspector general found the whistleblower’s complaint “credible” despite finding indications of the person’s support for a different political candidate.

Legal experts said that by following proper procedures and filing a complaint with the government rather than disclosing the information to the media, the person is without question regarded as a whistleblower entitled to protections against being fired or criminally prosecuted.

“This person clearly followed the exact path he was supposed to follow,” said Debra D’Agostino, a lawyer who represents whistleblowers. “There is no basis for not calling this person a whistleblower.”

Lawyers say it also doesn’t matter for the purposes of being treated as a whistleblower if all of the allegations are borne out as entirely true, or even if political motives or partisanship did factor into the decision to come forward.

Giuliani, already in the spotlight, was scheduled to appear at a Kremlin-backed conference in Armenia on Tuesday, but he said Friday he would not be attending. The agenda showed him speaking at a session on digital financial technologies. Russian President Vladimir Putin also was scheduled to participate in the conference.

Republicans were straining under the uncertainty of being swept up in the most serious test yet of their alliance with the Trump White House.

“We owe people to take it seriously,” said Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., a onetime Trump rival who is now a member of the intelligence committee.

“Right now, I have more questions than answers,” he said. “The complaint raises serious allegations, and we need to determine whether they’re credible or not.”

A swift resolution to the impeachment inquiry may not be easy. The intelligence committee is diving in just as lawmakers leave Washington for a two-week recess, with the panel expected to work while away. One person familiar with the committee’s schedule said that members might return at the end of next week.

Findings will eventually need to be turned over to Rep. Jerrold Nadler’s Judiciary Committee, which is compiling the work of five other panels into what is expected to be articles of impeachment. The panel will need to find consensus.

Meanwhile, Trump’s reelection campaign took to accusing Democrats of trying to “steal” the 2020 election in a new ad airing in a $10 million television and digital buy next week.

The ad also attacks Democrat Biden, highlighting his efforts as vice president to make U.S. aid to Ukraine contingent on that country firing a prosecutor believed to be corrupt. The ad claims that the fired prosecutor was investigating the former vice president’s son.

In fact, the prosecutor had failed to pursue any major anti-corruption investigations, leaving Ukraine’s international donors deeply frustrated. In pressing for the prosecutor’s ouster, Biden was representing the official position of the U.S. government, which was shared by other Western allies and many in Ukraine.


AP writers Lisa Mascaro, Laurie Kellman, Mary Clare Jalonick, Alan Fram, Matt Lee, Padmananda Rama and Matthew Daly contributed to this report.

The post Subpoenas Mark First Concrete Steps for Trump Impeachment appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Can Literature Really Be an Agent of Political Resistance?

“Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment”

A book by Juliana Spahr

Can literature be an agent of political resistance? Has literature been an effective vehicle of social movements in the past? Today we often think of poetry as activism, but does even the most radical poetry really do anything to challenge oppressive forms of nationalism or to propose meaningful alternatives to the nation-state? To all these questions, Juliana Spahr’s new book, “Du Bois’s Telegram: Literary Resistance and State Containment,” answers clearly: no, not really.

The titular telegram is one that W. E. B. Du Bois sent to the Congress of Black Writers and Artists in 1956 after he was prevented from attending. The telegram — which he asked to be read at the event — exposed that he was detained and silenced by the US State Department because of his political convictions. It goes on to warn that “[a]ny Negro-American who travels abroad must […] not discuss race conditions in the United States” or make any declarations which could be deemed controversial or against a US nationalist agenda, lest they be silenced too.

Taking Du Bois’s telegram as a concise statement of facts, Spahr is deeply skeptical of previous arguments that assert that literature can play a role in political resistance. Although such arguments might be made with theoretical sophistication, she claims that, with a couple notable exceptions, they rest on an optimistic ahistoricism that lacks analysis of structural issues, or, even worse, sees resistance itself as static. So, partially as a corrective, Spahr focuses on specific historical examples in order to investigate her hunch that literature has indeed become more nationalist in the last 100 years, and, in any case, not the actual place where resistance to the state happens.

Click here to read long excerpts from “Du Bois’s Telegram” at Google Books.

Across the book, Spahr tracks moments in US literature that began as autonomous and politically resistant and illustrates how this potential was squashed, co-opted, suppressed, or watered down by various forms of government intervention including cultural diplomacy, harassment, the institutionalization of private foundations, or direct financial influence from the State Department. This interest in the way government has shaped and redirected literature toward its nationalist agendas is a proxy for a larger question about the relationship between literature and politics. Drawing from formulations of nationalism set by Myung Mi Kim, Benedict Anderson, and Pascale Casanova, Spahr’s study assumes that there are standard-language forms of literature that reinforce state agendas. Her interest, however, is in literature that uses nonstandard techniques to push against these conservative forms; her argument is that even these works wind up reinforcing the power of the state.

In the book’s most endearing moments, this historical materialist approach is also a personal fall-from-grace story. Spahr was trained to love leftist avant-garde literature in her PhD program at SUNY Buffalo, and there she cultivated the conviction that literature that used English in non-standard ways had the potential to change the world. But then, after her involvement in pro-sovereignty protests in Hawai’i in the 1990s and Occupy Oakland in the 2010s, she feared that it all was for naught. She began to question the conviction that literature could do anything, then she became increasingly sure of it, and finally she set out to investigate, ultimately realizing that her mission with “Du Bois’s Telegram” was to use historical examples to illustrate the impossibility of literature embodying resistance.


The historical examples that Spahr illuminates in her study stretch from avant-garde modernism at the turn of the 20th century, through movement literatures of the 1960s and ’70s, to literature in English that includes other languages (published en masse at the turn of the 21st century), and ends with nationalist literature of the Bush era. The way the book is structured is telling. The first chapter is entitled “Turn of the Twenty-First Century: A Possible Literature of Resistance” and the last is entitled “Turn of the Twenty-First Century: The National Tradition.” Indeed, not only does the book start out with a sort of hopeful revolutionary potential that Spahr then illustrates is usurped into nationalism, but each chapter also follows this structure.

Spahr’s first example of “Stubborn Nationalism” is avant-garde modernism, which she describes as a response to “the large sweeping changes that colonialism brought to Europe.” This diverges from the more common story that casts modernism as a total political and aesthetic revolution (against, for example, the conservatism of the agrarian New Criticism). Instead, Spahr places modernism within a global framework that was at least working through issues of imperialism, even if it wasn’t anti-imperialist.

In line with many scholarly arguments about this period, “Du Bois’s Telegram” pinpoints a turn after World War II. If Gertrude Stein’s early writing is autonomous or resistant (Spahr thinks maybe it is in “Tender Buttons”), then her later work is unabashedly nationalist and also used directly for cultural diplomacy during the Cold War in the 1950s. Spahr connects studies about how private foundations worked with the State Department to studies exposing the FBI’s surveillance of black writers, to research on the larger impact of the cultural Cold War. For example, she describes how the CIA, taking a special interest in abstract modernism, used anticommunist advocacy groups and private foundations as conduits to fund little magazines, exhibitions, and conferences. Much of this ground has been covered by critics like Frances Stonor Saunders, Andrew Rubin, and Greg Barnhisel, but Spahr draws a bigger picture, illustrating how these phenomena affected decolonial movements in Africa, for example.

Part of her strategy of creating a more global account includes citing some scholarship (Lynn Mally’s “Culture of the Future: The Proletkult Movement in Revolutionary Russia,” for example) to show that US cultural diplomacy and Soviet cultural diplomacy were not so different from each other:

<blockquote>As the Soviet Union federalized support for the arts, the United States established the Works Progress Administration. As the Soviet Union tended to fund and organize not only national events such as the Soviet Writers’ Congresses, but also events like 1949’s Cultural and Scientific Conference for World Peace that was held in New York and the First International Peace Conference held in Paris, so the Congress for Cultural Freedom organized the International Day of Resistance to Dictatorship and War in Paris the same year.</blockquote>

Putting these histories together is one of the many ways that Spahr refuses to either celebrate or condemn. The book never blames or takes sides. The tone is factual — even the most autonomous and resistant literature could not stay that way for long. This is not because individual writers grow greedy, complacent, or eschew previous commitments once the government supports them. Whether someone is a puppet for the state or whether she tries to use state funds to resist state agendas is not the point of Spahr’s study. Rather, the way that potentially revolutionary or resistant literature is neutralized or repressed through its nationalist packaging is what is at stake here. This focus is important for rebutting arguments about artists’ individual “agency,” even if they are part of conferences, cultural centers, and publications funded by the government.

The factual, blameless tone is also helpful for examining our contemporary moment, when nationalist projects have begun to incorporate literature that could be considered both avant-garde and political. (An emblematic moment of this trend is when Fluxus artist Alison Knowles and conceptual poet Kenneth Goldsmith read at the White House in 2011.) Spahr attributes this transformation of the avant-garde into nationalism to a few factors, notably the ways that higher education (and MFA programs in particular) have helped to consolidate nationalist literature. She also highlights the influence of literary nonprofits and foundations that support leftist missions with government funds.


Perhaps the biggest contribution of “Du Bois’s Telegram” is its research and writing on movement literatures. The revolutionary potential of literatures of the 1960s and ’70s that worked in tandem with Black Power or the Chicano movement, for example, is strong, and Spahr nourishes the flames on these pages. Spahr beautifully explicates Gwendolyn Brooks’s “RIOT” and Rodolfo Gonzales’s “I Am Joaquin,” illustrating their autonomy, their political impact, and their importance. She writes that they “very literally change the map” of the divide between modernism and the New Critical conservatism by offering a separate form and possibility. This moment of revolutionary resistance is short-lived, but instead of claiming that it died off, Spahr illustrates how, due to private funding, co-optation, gentrification, and privatization, it morphs into multicultural literature concerned with inclusion but not resistance. Spahr illustrates this process most clearly in her discussion of Black Arts Repertory Theatre/School, which ended up funded and monitored by both the CIA and FBI, ultimately going from an anti-imperialist, anti-capitalist arts space to a riot prevention program.

Just before she tells the story of how this organization and others were neutralized, Spahr makes what I consider to be a radical move for a scholar: she argues for not just more scholarly attention to this type of literature, but also that scholars allow the potential of movement literature to remain alive within their scholarship. She writes, “If scholars considered movement literature as a whole, rather than as a series of racially segregated subcategories such as Black Arts and Nuyorican and so on, it would be the dominant U.S. literary tradition in the last half of the twentieth century.” This provocation is immense in that it would change the way we read, teach, and study. Spahr continues,

<blockquote>In short, the moment that produced not only Gonzales’s “I Am Joaquin” and Brooks’s “Riot” is a moment when a more militant politics put a certain pressure on U.S. literary production and out of this pressure came works that were calls for revolution that challenged racialized and gendered universalism, were frequently contestatory towards capitalism, and refused accommodationist inclusions.</blockquote>

We should see these works as dominant, Spahr argues; we should amplify them in our works today, perhaps allowing them to live continuously.

I teach a class about literature and politics that jumps around the 20th century to cover politically resistant texts even though it is listed as a survey period coverage class for “American Literature: Post-Civil War to Present.” In this class, we read a few of the texts Spahr is also interested in here: Stein’s “Tender Buttons,” some works from the Black Arts Movement. I do what many teachers do; I try to allow these moments of potential to build on each other. It sounds like Spahr does this in her classes also. The parts of “Du Bois’s Telegram” that discuss students and classrooms are revelatory. For example, Spahr learns the importance of polyvocality in Stein’s work from her students at University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa, who point out that it is written in a sort of pidgin that uses techniques from oral literary traditions. These insights activate modernist texts anew.

It is in these small moments in the classroom and in the scholarly ignition of seemingly dead works that I see glimmers of revolution, or at least hopeful possibility of one. Without attention to these moments, “Du Bois’s Telegram” can be construed as so deeply pessimistic, not only about the potential of literature, but also about the possibilities of literary scholarship, that the whole project rings of a sort of conservativism. In this book, Spahr takes her job as a critic to mean reporting the facts, and the facts might be summarized this way: literature has not done anything in the 20th century, and in this current climate, it is impossible to see how it could make change in the future. Spahr admits that her matter-of-fact tone about the inner workings of the poetry world seems as if she has “been visiting from a foreign land,” and this can feel somewhat disconcerting, especially since in addition to being a scholar, Spahr is a poet of leftist resistance.


Spahr’s first scholarly book, “Everybody’s Autonomy: Connective Reading and Collective Identity” (University of Alabama Press, 2001) argued that there are certain works of formal innovation — works that use non-standard English — that are politically resistant, even “anarchic,” because they suggest a certain type of reading. There she argues that works by authors like Gertrude Stein, Harryette Mullen, and Theresa Hak Kyung Cha, “[allow] readers self-governance and autonomy, where the reading act is given as much authority as the authoring act.” These sorts of texts “concentrate on possibilities of response to various forms of oppression”; Spahr argues that they present a “way out of the abyss” by creating autonomous communities of reader-authors. This notion of autonomy is very different from the way she defines the same term in “Du Bois’s Telegram.” Whereas in “Everybody’s Autonomy” it could be a potential collective practice of literary production and study, in the newer book autonomous literature is “free from outside interference, from the market, from the government.” The interlocutors and influences in “Du Bois’s Telegram” are scholars like Anderson, Casanova, and Franco Moretti, who are interested in large-scale shifts rather than reading practices or the potential of individual works of literature.

This is where the personal narrative threaded into “Du Bois’s Telegram” is helpful. What happened between then and now is a deep leftist melancholia for Spahr and many of us; this bleak moment requires new methods. But is there some way to keep both impulses? Can we celebrate the potentiality of literary works — even activate them through scholarship — while also remaining attentive to larger structures and social formations that work to neutralize or redirect that potential? Is the pessimism in “Du Bois’s Telegram” a crucial part of the dialectic of revolutionary thought or is it a stagnant factuality that forecloses revolution altogether?

There are some answers at the end of “Du Bois’s Telegram” when Spahr combats claims about the revolutionary potential of books like Claudia Rankine’s “Citizen: An American Lyric,” Layli Long Soldier’s “Whereas,” and Solmaz Sharif’s “Look” (works that could seemingly fall under the celebratory argument of “Everybody’s Autonomy”). Spahr explains that though these meaningful avant-garde and political books are getting more attention from the general public than works like these have in the past, their reach is still limited. She points out that they are all published by one press, all the writers came out of MFA programs, and “[t]he audience for this work is institutional and professional.”

Her claims about audience rely on recent NEA reports that show that Americans do not read much literature (she leans on the decade study which spans 2002–2012). However, more recent NEA studies have shown that poetry reading has rebounded. Between 2012 and 2017, 76 percent more adults reported that they read poetry and that number seems to have the highest concentration in young people (adults 18–24). My guess is that this number has to do with Instapoets, but also with politically resistant poets like Claudia Rankine. “Citizen” made its way into the public sphere in a much larger way than “Du Bois’s Telegram” acknowledges, charting best-seller lists, earning awards outside of the poetry category, and even provoking news stories with a flash of its cover at a Trump rally. The moments created around contemporary political poetry are akin to what Ernst Bloch calls concrete utopias, and what José Esteban Muñoz takes up as the realm of educated hope, “an insistence on potentiality or concrete possibility for another world.” It is possible for critics to take up this mantle and show how literature can at times successfully skirt an Adorno-esque notion that non-political art is actually fostering political awareness. But that doesn’t mean that they have to argue that merely reading “Citizen” or “Look” will decolonize or instantiate liberation either.

The last chapter of “Du Bois’s Telegram” asserts, “[l]iterature has been sequestered into irrelevance. The FBI no longer has to develop files on writers because the terms on which literature is written, who it is written for, and where it is possible to write it have changed.” Certainly, the book has masterfully told the story of the terms, ownership, and location of literary production. But irrelevance? Spahr does not quite let this be the last word, lightly reminding us that “[t]here are all these things literature can do,” even if it hasn’t yet, and ends the book with a short conclusion containing just a shard of something else. The educated hope that ends “Du Bois’s Telegram” is based on a nod to Fred Moten and Stefano Harney’s theory of the undercommons and Kristin Ross’s writing about the Paris Commune. If only all those MFAs without secure academic jobs — a similar situation to that which helped spark the Paris Commune when more than two-thirds of the graduates from the École des Beaux-Arts could not get work as artists — would start the revolution today, perhaps they could change these formations, Spahr suggests. I can’t help but think of all those disgruntled literature PhDs in and outside the academy who take the category of scholarship as a site of potentiality and autonomy, too. Whether we call it “study,” scholarship, literature, or some form of utopia imbued in any of these forms, revolutionary potential is not only a matter of facts but of collective imagination.

This review originally appeared on the Los Angeles Review of Books.


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Judge Blocks Trump Rules for Detained Migrant Kids

LOS ANGELES — A U.S. judge on Friday blocked new Trump administration rules that would enable the government to keep immigrant children in detention facilities with their parents indefinitely.

U.S. District Court Judge Dolly Gee in Los Angeles said the rules conflict with a 1997 settlement agreement that requires the government to release immigrant children caught on the border as quickly as possible to relatives in the U.S. and says they can only be held in facilities licensed by a state.

Gee said the Flores agreement — named for a teenage plaintiff — will remain in place and govern the conditions for all immigrant children in U.S. custody, including those with their parents.

“The agreement has been necessary, relevant, and critical to the public interest in maintaining standards for the detention and release of minors arriving at the United States’ borders,” the judge wrote in her decision.

“Defendants willingly negotiated and bound themselves to these standards for all minors in its custody, and no final regulations or changed circumstances yet merit termination of the Flores agreement.”

The Trump administration sought to end the agreement and issued the new rules with the hope of detaining immigrant children in facilities with their parents. The move came as part of a broader crackdown on asylum seekers arriving on the Southwest border, many of them families with children from Central America.

The Flores agreement allows for the settlement to be phased out when rules are issued for the custody of immigrant children that are consistent with its terms.

Attorneys who represent detained immigrant children welcomed Gee’s position, which she initially conveyed to them in a draft ruling during a court hearing Friday. They said they wouldn’t let the administration use young immigrants to try to deter migrants fleeing desperate conditions from seeking asylum in the United States.

“We will continue vigorously to defend the rights of detained immigrant children,” Neha Desai, director of immigration at the National Center for Youth Law, told reporters.

The Department of Justice said the administration is disappointed with the ruling because it did what was required to implement the new rules.

Attorneys for both sides said they would be willing to meet and discuss whether some aspects of the rules aren’t subject to the settlement. Gee gave them until Oct. 4 to do so.

More than 400,000 immigrants traveling in family groups with children have been stopped on the Mexico border in the past year.

In its crackdown, the Trump administration has had migrants await immigration court hearings in Mexico and required those who cross through a third country to seek refuge there before applying for asylum in the U.S.

Immigrant advocates have decried the changes, which threaten asylum for many people fleeing violence in their countries.

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What Isn’t Mentioned About the Trump-Ukraine ‘Scandal’

This article was originally published on Consortium News.

The most crucial aspects of the Trump-Ukraine “scandal,” which has led to impeachment proceedings against Donald Trump, are not being told, even by Republicans.

Trump was very likely motivated by politics if he indeed withheld military aid to Ukraine in exchange for Kiev launching an investigation into Democratic presidential frontrunner Joe Biden, though the transcript of the call released by the White House between Trump and Ukrainian President Volodymr Zelinsky does not make certain such a quid-pro-quo.

But what’s not being talked about in the mainstream is the context of this story, which shows that, politics aside, Biden should indeed be investigated in both Ukraine and in the United States.

We know from the leaked, early 2014 telephone conversation between Victoria Nuland, then assistant secretary of state for European and Eurasian affairs, and Geoffrey Pyatt, then U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, that then Vice President Biden played a role in “midwifing” the U.S.-backed overthrow of an elected Ukrainian government soon after that conversation.

That’s the biggest crime in this story that isn’t being told. The illegal overthrow of a sovereign government.

As booty from the coup, the sitting vice president’s son, Hunter Biden, soon got a seat on the board of Ukraine’s biggest gas producer, Burisma Holdings. This can only be seen as a transparently neocolonial maneuver to take over a country and install one’s own people. But Biden’s son wasn’t the only one.

A family friend of then Secretary of State John Kerry also joined Burisma’s board. U.S. agricultural giant Monsanto got a Ukrainian contract soon after the overthrow.  And the first, post-coup Ukrainian finance minister was an American citizen, a former State Department official, who was given Ukrainian citizenship the day before she took up the post.

After a Ukrainian prosecutor began looking into possible corruption at Burisma, Biden openly admitted at a conference last year that as vice president he withheld a $1 billion credit line to Ukraine until the government fired the prosecutor. As Biden says himself, it took only six hours for it to happen.

Exactly what Biden boasted of doing is what the Democrats are now accusing Trump of doing, and it isn’t clear if Trump got what he wanted as Biden did.

Threats, Bribes and Blackmail

That leads to another major part of this story not being told: the routine way the U.S. government conducts foreign policy: with bribes, threats and blackmail.

Trump may have withheld military aid to seek a probe into Biden, but it is hypocritically being framed by Democrats as an abuse of power out of the ordinary. But it is very much ordinary.

Examples abound. The threat of withholding foreign aid was wielded against nations on the UN Security Council in 1991 when the U.S. sought authorization for the First Gulf War. Yemen had the temerity to vote against. A member of the U.S. delegation told Yemen’s ambassador: “That’s the most expensive vote you ever cast.” The U.S. then cut $70 million in foreign aid to the Middle East’s poorest nation, and Saudi Arabia repatriated about a million Yemeni workers.

The same thing happened before the Second Gulf War in 2003, as revealed by whistleblower Katharine Gun (who will appear Friday night on CN Live!). Gun leaked an NSA memo that showed the U.S. sought help from its British counterpart in signals intelligence to spy on the missions of Security Council members to get “leverage” over them to influence their vote to authorize the invasion of Iraq.

In 2001 the U.S. threatened the end of military and foreign aid if nations did not conclude bilateral agreements granting immunity to U.S. troops before the International Criminal Court.

More recently, the U.S. used its muscle against Ecuador, including dangling a $10 billion IMF loan, in exchange for the expulsion of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange from its London embassy.

This is how the U.S. conducts “diplomacy.”

As former UN Secretary General Boutros Boutros Ghali wrote:

“Coming from a developing country, I was trained extensively in international law and diplomacy and mistakenly assumed that the great powers, especially the United States, also trained their representatives in diplomacy and accepted the value of it. But the Roman Empire had no need for diplomacy. Nor does the United States. Diplomacy is perceived by an imperial power as a waste of time and prestige and a sign of weakness.”

This fundamental corruption of U.S. foreign policy, which includes overthrowing elected governments, is matched only by the corruption of a political system that exalts partisan political power above all else. Exposing this deep-seated and longstanding corruption should take precedence over scoring partisan scalps, whether Biden’s or Trump’s.

The post What Isn’t Mentioned About the Trump-Ukraine ‘Scandal’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Immigration Officials’ Unholy Reliance on Google Translate

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

It’s a common internet experience: throw a foreign phrase into Google Translate or any other online translation tool and out comes a farcical approximation of the real thing.

That’s why many experts — even Google itself — caution against relying on the popular Google Translate for complex tasks. Google advises users that its machine translation service is not “intended to replace human translators.”

Yet the U.S. government has decided that Google Translate and other machine translation tools are appropriate for one task: helping to decide whether refugees should be allowed into the United States.

An internal manual produced by U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, the federal agency charged with admitting immigrants, instructs officers who sift through non-English social media posts of refugees that “the most efficient approach to translate foreign language contents is to utilize one of the many free online language translation services provided by Google, Yahoo, Bing, and other search engines.” The manual includes step-by-step instructions for Google Translate.

The manual was obtained by the International Refugee Assistance Project through a public records request and shared with ProPublica.

Language experts said the government’s reliance on automatic translation to dig into refugee social media posts was troubling and likely to be error-filled since the services are not designed to parse nuance or recognize slang. The government may misconstrue harmless comments or miss an actually threatening one.

“It’s naive on the part of government officials to do that,” said Douglas Hofstadter, a professor of cognitive science and comparative literature at Indiana University at Bloomington, who has studied language and analogies. “I find it deeply disheartening and stupid and shortsighted, personally.”

Asked about the agency’s use of machine translation tools, USCIS spokeswoman Jessica Collins said in an emailed statement that review of publicly available social media information “is a common sense measure to strengthen our vetting procedures.”

USCIS has stated that “information collected from social media, by itself, will not be a basis to deny refugee resettlement.”

In 2017, Facebook apologized after its machine-translation service translated a post by a Palestinian man that said “good morning” as “hurt them” in English or “attack them” in Hebrew.

As a test, ProPublica asked language professors to copy and paste tweets written in casual language into Google Translate and compare the results with how they would interpret the tweets.

One recent Urdu-language post on Twitter included a sentence that Mustafa Menai, who teaches Urdu at the University of Pennsylvania, translated as “I have been spanked a lot and have also gathered a lot of love (from my parents).”

Google translated the sentence as “The beating is too big and the love is too windy.”

The Trump administration has vastly expanded the role of social media in deciding whether people can move or travel to the United States. Refugee advocates say the government’s reliance on machine-translation tools raises further concerns about how immigration officers make important decisions affecting applicants’ lives and U.S. national security.

USCIS has itself found that automated translation falls short in understanding social media posts. An undated draft internal review of a USCIS pilot social media vetting program concluded that “automatic foreign language translation was not sufficient.”

A separate pilot review conducted in June 2016 stated that “native Arabic language and subject matter expertise in regional culture, religion, and terrorism was needed to fully vet” two cases in which potentially derogatory social media information was found. The documents were published by the Daily Beast in January 2018.

The manual, much of which is redacted, only addresses procedures for a narrow subset of refugees: people whose spouses or parents have already been granted refugee status in the U.S., or so-called follow-to-join cases. In 2017, 1,679 follow-to-join refugees were admitted to the U.S., about 3% of total refugee admissions, according to government data.

“It defies logic that we would use unreliable tools to decide whether refugees can reunite with their families,” said Betsy Fisher, strategy director at IRAP. “We wouldn’t use Google Translate for our homework, but we are using it to keep refugee families separated.”

In a federal lawsuit in Washington state that is now in the discovery phase, IRAP is challenging the Trump administration’s suspension of the follow-to-join refugee program.

It is unclear how widely the manual’s procedures are used throughout USCIS, or if its procedures are identical to those used for vetting all refugees or other types of immigrants.

The manual is undated, but it was released to IRAP in response to a request for records created on or after Oct. 23, 2017.

USCIS did not respond to questions on whether the manual’s procedures are used to vet other refugees, when it was put into use or if it is still in use.

“The mission of USCIS first and foremost is to safeguard our homeland and the people in it,” Collins said. “Our first line of defense in these efforts is thorough, systematic vetting.”

In the 2018 fiscal year, USCIS conducted 11,740 social media screenings, according to an agency presentation.

The USCIS manual acknowledges that “occasionally,” online translation services may not be adequate for understanding “foreign text written in a dialect or colloquial usage,” but it leaves it up to individual officers to decide whether to request expert translation services.

Without foreign language fluency, an officer is unlikely to know whether a post needs additional review, said Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel at the Brennan Center for Justice.

Google and Verizon, which owns Yahoo, did not respond to questions about the use of their services when vetting refugees. Emily Chounlamany, a Microsoft spokeswoman, said “the company has nothing to share on the matter.”

Language experts say satire is another problematic area. A recent satirical Persian-language tweet showed a picture of Iranian elites raising their hands, with text stating, “Whose child lives in America?” (The tweet is commentary on a recent controversy in Iran regarding high-ranking officials’ close relatives living in the West.) The text was translated by Google as “When will you taste America?” Microsoft’s result was: “Who is the American?”

“The thing about Persian and the Iranian culture is that people love to make jokes about anything,” said Sheida Dayani, who teaches Persian at Harvard University and instructs her students to avoid using Google Translate or similar tools for their assignments. “How are you going to translate it via Google Translate?”

Automated translation services are the “absolute wrong technology” for immigration officers making important decisions, Dayani said.

The use of translation tools has come up in other contexts. After a highway patrol trooper in Kansas conducted a warrantless search of a Mexican man’s car in 2017 by asking the man for consent to do so in Spanish via Google Translate, a U.S. district judge threw out the search evidence, finding that the defendant did not fully understand the officer’s commands and questions.

Google has touted improvements in its translation tool in recent years, most notably its use of “neural machine translation,” which it has gradually rolled out for more languages. Researchers in the Netherlands have found that while the neural machine translation method improves quality, it still struggles to accurately translate idioms.

One major problem with machine translation is that such tools do not understand text in the same way that a person would, Hofstadter said. Rather, they are engaged in “decoding” or “text substitution,” he said.

“When it involves anything that is subtle, you can never rely on it because you can never know if it’s going to make grotesque errors,” Hofstadter said.

Machine-translation services are typically trained by using texts that have already been translated, which tend to use more formal speech, for instance official United Nations documents, said David Guy Brizan, a professor at the University of San Francisco who researches natural language processing and machine learning.

Language iterates too quickly, especially among young people, for even sophisticated machine-translation services to keep up, Brizan said. He pointed to examples of English-language phrases currently popular on social media such as “low-key” or “being canceled” as ones that automated services could struggle to convey.

He added that nontextual context like videos and pictures, the parties involved in a conversation and their relationship, and cultural references would be completely lost on machine translation.

“It requires a cultural literacy across languages, across generations, that is sort of impossible to keep up with,” he said. “You can think of these translation programs acting as your parents or grandparents.”

Rachel Thomas, director of the Center for Applied Data Ethics at the University of San Francisco, said that while machine-translation capabilities are improving, anyone depending on algorithms or computers should think carefully about the recourse for people wronged by those systems’ mistakes.

Refugees rejected for admission can request a decision review, but advocates say they are typically given little detail as to why they were rejected.

Efforts to scrutinize social media posts of some people trying to enter the United States began under the Obama administration, and they were encouraged by Democrats and Republicans in Congress. USCIS launched a social media division within its Fraud Detection and National Security division in July 2016, building on pilot programs operating since 2015.

The Trump administration has dramatically increased social media collection as part of a push for “extreme vetting” of people entering the country. In May, the State Department updated its visa forms to request social media identifiers from most U.S. visa applicants worldwide.

In September, the Department of Homeland Security published a notice stating it intended to request social media information from a broad swath of applicants, including people seeking U.S. citizenship or permanent residence, refugees and asylees.

Jeff Kao contributed to this story.

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