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Oil Tycoon T. Boone Pickens Dies at Age 91

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Pickens’ methods angered his targets.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Former Associated Press writer Betsy Blaney contributed to this report.

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Government Will Propose Banning Flavors Used in E-Cigarettes

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Afghanistan May Never Recover From the U.S. Invasion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Been There, Done That

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Price Peace?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed to this story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Associated Press writer Michael R. Sisak contributed.

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Brazil’s Amazon Crisis Is Rooted in Its Fascist Past

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Tax Pledge 2020 Candidates Should Make to Middle Class Voters

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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The Surprising Way the Healthcare Industry Fuels Climate Change

If the global healthcare sector were a country, it would be the fifth-largest greenhouse gas (GHG) emitter on the planet, according to a new report. Its authors, who argue for zero carbon emissions, say it is the first-ever estimate of healthcare’s global climate footprint.

While fossil fuel burning is responsible for more than half of the footprint, the report says there are several other causes, including the gases used to ensure that patients undergoing surgery feel no pain.

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It is produced by Health Care Without Harm (HCWH), an international NGO seeking to change healthcare worldwide so that it reduces its environmental footprint and works for environmental health and justice globally. It was produced in collaboration with Arup.

The report says the European Union healthcare sector is the third largest emitter, accounting for 12% of the global healthcare climate footprint. More than half of healthcare’s worldwide emissions come from the top three emitters – the EU, the US and China. The report includes a breakdown for each EU member state.

An earlier report, published in May this year in the journal Environmental Research Letters, said the health care sectors of the 36 countries sampled were together responsible in 2014 for 1.6 GtCO2e (gigatonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent), or 4.4% of the total emissions from these nations, and 4.4% is the total used in the HCWH report.

(Carbon dioxide equivalency is a simplified way to put emissions of various GHGs on a common footing by expressing them in terms of the amount of carbon dioxide that would have the same global warming effect, usually over a century.)

“Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease”

HCWH says well over half of healthcare’s global climate footprint comes from fossil fuel combustion. But it identifies several other causes for concern as well. One is the range of gases used in anaesthesia to ensure  patients remain unconscious during surgery.

These are powerful greenhouse gases. Commonly used anaesthetics include nitrous oxide, sometimes known as laughing gas, and three fluorinated gases: sevoflurane, isoflurane, and desflurane. At present, the greater part of these gases enter the atmosphere after use.

Research by the UK National Health Service (NHS) Sustainable Development Unit shows the country’s anaesthetic gas footprint is 1.7%, most of it attributable to nitrous oxide use.

The UN climate change convention (UNFCCC) found that in 2014 a group of developed nations with 15% of the global population, 57% of the global GDP and 73% of global health expenditure was also responsible for 7 MtCO2e of medical nitrous oxide use. (“MtCO2e” means “million metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent”.)

The UNFCCC concluded that the full impact of the gas’s global use in anaesthesia “can be expected to be substantially greater”.

Use is growing

For fluorinated gases used in anaesthesia, global emissions to the  atmosphere in 2014 were estimated to add 0.2% to the global health care footprint. Because of the growing use of these gases, increasingly chosen  in preference to nitrous oxide, the footprint from anaesthetic gases is also likely to increase.

In measured tones, HCWH says: “Wider adoption of waste anaesthetic capture systems has the potential to be a high impact health care-specific climate mitigation measure” – or in other words, trap them and dispose of them carefully before they can just escape through an open window to join the other GHGs already in the atmosphere.

But HCWH adds a warning: “For many individual health facilities and systems of hospitals the proportion of the contribution of both nitrous oxide and fluorinated anaesthetic gases to their climate footprint can be significantly higher.

“For instance, Albert Einstein Hospital in São Paulo, Brazil found that GHG emissions from nitrous oxide contributed to nearly 35% of their total reported GHG emissions in 2013.”

Its report said choosing to use desflurane instead of nitrous oxide meant a ten-fold increase in anaesthetic gas emissions.

Other remedies available

The HCWH report also sounds the alert about metered-dose inhalers (MDIs), devices which are typically used for the treatment of asthma and other respiratory conditions, and which use hydrofluorocarbons as propellants. These are also highly potent greenhouse gases, with warming potentials between 1,480 and 2,900 times that of carbon dioxide.

Again, though, the report says the full global emissions from MDIs will probably be much greater than today’s figure. Alternative ways of using MDIs, such as dry powder -based inhalers, it says, are available and provide the same medicines without the high global warming potential propellants.

The report argues for the transformation of the healthcare sector so that it meets the Paris Agreement goal of limiting temperature rise attributable to climate change to 1.5°C.

HCWH says hospitals and health systems should follow the example of the thousands of hospitals already moving toward climate-smart healthcare via the Health Care Climate Challenge and other initiatives.

Welcoming the report, the director-general of the World Health Organization, Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said hospitals and other health sector facilities were a source of carbon emissions, contributing to climate change: “Places of healing should be leading the way, not contributing to the burden of disease.”

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Will John Bolton’s Firing Save Us From War With Iran?

This piece first appeared on Informed Comment

In the wake of the firing of national security adviser and full-time warmonger John Bolton, secretary of state Mike Pompeo and treasury secretary Dan Mnuchin held a press conference on Tuesday. Both reaffirmed that Trump is open to meeting Iran’s President Hassan Rouhani “without preconditions.” They also, however, affirmed that the Trump administration would continue its policy of “maximum pressure” against that country. This phrase is a euphemism for an American financial and trade blockade on Iran attempting to prevent it from selling its petroleum and to prevent countries from trading with Iran or investing in it.

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The American blockade has, as you might expect, made Iran more belligerent rather than less. It is gradually easing the restrictions it had accepted on its civilian nuclear enrichment program (though so far it hasn’t done anything with obvious military implications, and still has no military enrichment program, contrary to what American reporters and politicians mysteriously keep saying). The blockade has also led to what are likely Iranian acts of sabotage against oil tankers in the Straits of Hormuz (I suppose on the theory that if Iran can’t export its oil, then neither can anyone else in the Gulf).

One of Bolton’s many zany/ WW III-risking escapades was to convince Britain to detain an Iranian tanker off Gibraltar this summer, on extremely dubious legal grounds. The dubiousness was recognized by the Gibraltar supreme court, which ordered the tanker released, since the European Union stance on Iran is very different from that of the US. Iran replied by taking some British-flagged ships captive, which could have led to serious conflict if only Britain had, like, an actual government or one that could spare a thought for Iran in the midst of dealing with the dire threat of the phalanx of Polish waiters serving London’s diners.

Bolton also had plumped in mid-June for a US airstrike on Iran after it shot down an American drone over what Iran claimed was Iranian waters. Bolton had been having wet dreams about bombing Iran for decades and was on the verge finally of reaching climax, but deflation abruptly occurred as Trump stepped in to cancel the attack.

Trump is all for talking tough and deploying economic warfare, but he believes his base is tired of seeing US blood and treasure squandered in the Middle East. George W. Bush’s Iraq War is estimated to cost $6 trillion when you factor in medical care for the thousands of badly wounded veterans. The US deficit is $22 trillion, but would be a third of that without the Bush wars. The deficit is a drag on the US economy, which is why despite high employment rates most American workers aren’t paid a living wage.

Bolton, in contrast, never saw a war or military intervention he didn’t fall head over heels in love with. Trump himself joked that if Bolton had his way, we’d be in four wars now.

Trump, having never ceased being a reality show star, wants the big splash of a public summit with an enemy, as with North Korea. He is clearly completely uninterested in whether these personal summits actually achieve anything practical (as the ones with North Korea have not). He had been planning a similar photo op with the Taliban in Afghanistan, but for some reason choked like a dog at the last minute. Maybe it was *everyone* around him telling him it was a bad idea to host the Taliban at Camp David around the anniversary of 9/11.

To be fair, Trump’s personal summits are not the worst thing in the world. Churchill used to say that jaw-jaw is better than war-war. But Bolton thought that they were the worst things in the world, which is why he now has the leisure to write a memoir of regrets about how he never managed to get the US into another four wars.

The big question now is whether Trump will try to pull a North Korea with Iran, and whether Iran is pragmatic enough to do it. President Rouhani intimated in late August that he would even meet Trump if it resulted in good things for the Iranian nation. The next day he had clearly been slapped down by Iran’s clerical leader, Ali Khamenei, and other hard liners. Rouhani reversed himself and said he could only meet Trump if the US first cancelled the severe sanctions it had slapped on Iran.

Now that Bolton is out and Trump’s Afghanistan photo op may have fallen through, he may be hungering for a supposed foreign policy victory on which the Republicans could run in 2020. Trump has an idee fixe that getting out of the Middle East, or reducing tensions there dramatically, will be enormously popular with his base. That is why he tried to get entirely out of Syria (former secretary of defense James Mattis resigned over that one), and why he wanted to get entirely out of Afghanistan.

So maybe he will do something with regard to Iran, at least behind the scenes, that would make it attractive even to Khamenei for Rouhani to meet with Trump.

 

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GOP Holds N.C. House Seat but Shows Weakness in Suburbs

RALEIGH, N.C. — Conservative Republican Dan Bishop won a special election Tuesday for an open House seat in North Carolina, averting a demoralizing Democratic capture of a district the GOP has held for nearly six decades. But his narrow victory didn’t erase questions about whether President Donald Trump and his party’s congressional candidates face troubling headwinds approaching 2020.

Bishop, 55, a state senator best known for a North Carolina law dictating which public bathrooms transgender people can use, defeated centrist Democrat Dan McCready. Bishop tied himself tightly to Trump, who staged an election-eve rally for him in the district, and Tuesday’s voting seemed no less than a referendum on the president, who quickly took credit for the triumph.

“Dan Bishop was down 17 points 3 weeks ago. He then asked me for help, we changed his strategy together, and he ran a great race. Big Rally last night,” Trump tweeted. No polling has emerged publicly that showed Bishop with a deficit of that magnitude. Operatives from both parties and analysts had long said the race was too close to call.

The results in the district underscored the rural-urban split between the parties, with Bishop running up substantial numbers in outlying areas and McCready eroding GOP advantages in suburban areas. McCready’s moderate profile resembled that of many Democrats who won in Republican-leaning districts in the 2018 midterms and, even with the loss on Tuesday, showed the durability of that approach.

Bishop’s margin was far less than the 11 percentage points by which Trump captured the district in 2016. And it was only slightly greater than when then-GOP candidate Mark Harris seemed to win the seat over McCready, 36, last year — before those results were annulled after evidence surfaced of vote tampering.

Republicans have held the seat since 1963, and its loss would have been a worrisome preface to the party’s presidential and congressional campaigns next year.

“I think it means Trump is going to get a second term and Republicans will retake the majority,” House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said in an interview with The Associated Press. Many analysts think a GOP takeover will be difficult.

Special elections generally attract such low turnout that their results aren’t predictive of future general elections. Even so, the narrow margin in the GOP-tilted district suggested that Democrats’ 2018 string of victories in suburban districts in red states including Texas, Oklahoma and Kansas could persist next year.

There is almost no pathway to Republicans regaining House control next year unless they avoid losing more suburban districts and win back some they lost last year.

The district stretches from Charlotte, one of the nation’s financial nerve centers, through its flourishing eastern suburbs and into less prosperous rural counties along the South Carolina line. More than half its voters were expected to come from the suburbs.

Since Trump became president, voters in such communities — particularly women and college-educated voters — have abandoned Trump in droves over his conservative social policies and vitriolic rhetoric on immigration and race.

Suburban defections would also jeopardize the reelection prospects of Trump, who’s already facing slipping poll numbers. Limiting the erosion of those voters will be crucial for him to retain swing states like North Carolina, which he won by less than 4 percentage points in 2016.

But Tuesday’s vote showed that Bishop benefited from the district’s conservative leanings.

“Bishop, his policies follow my convictions — after hearing Bishop, knowing that he’s for the Second Amendment and he’s against illegal immigration,” said Susie Sisk, 73, another retiree from Mint Hill. The registered Democrat said she voted for Bishop.

McCready, a former Marine turned financier of solar energy projects, was banking on the district’s suburban moderates to carry him over the top.

Along with a GOP victory in a second vacant House district in North Carolina, Republicans pared the Democratic majority in the House to 235-199, plus one independent. That means to win control of the chamber in 2020, Republicans will need to gain 19 seats, which a slew of GOP retirements, anti-Trump sentiment among moderate voters and demographic changes suggest will be difficult.

In the day’s other special election, Republican Greg Murphy, a doctor and state legislator, as expected defeated Democrat Allen Thomas to keep a House district along North Carolina’s Atlantic coast.

That seat has been vacant since February, when 13-term GOP Rep. Walter Jones died, and Trump won it handily in 2016.

The bathroom law that Bishop sponsored was repealed after it prompted a national outcry and boycotts that The Associated Press estimated cost North Carolina $3.7 billion.

Bishop bound himself tightly to Trump, backing his proposed border wall with Mexico and accusing Trump critics of being intent on “destroying him.” In a TV spot airing Election Day, he said his opponent is “backed by radicals” as the screen flashed the faces of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Democratic presidential contender Bernie Sanders and outspoken liberal Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

McCready used his creation of a company that’s financed solar energy projects to cast himself as a job creator and environmental champion. He also focused on containing health care costs and ran a spot featuring his trademark promise to prioritize “country over party.”

In 2018, McCready lost by 900 votes to Harris, the Republican. That decision followed allegations of vote fraud by a Republican political consultant, and Harris opted to not run again.

Another jolt of notoriety occurred in July when Trump staged a rally for Bishop in nearby Greenville. Trump said four Democratic women of color should “go back” to their home countries, though all but one was born in the U.S. The crowd began chanting “Send her back.”

___

Associated Press writer Emery P. Dalesio contributed to this report from Raleigh, N.C.

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Netanyahu Vows to Begin Annexing West Bank Settlements

JERUSALEM — Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu vowed on Tuesday to annex the heart of the West Bank if he wins reelection next week, a move that could inflame the Middle East and extinguish any remaining Palestinian hope of establishing a separate state.

Arab leaders angrily condemned Netanyahu’s remarks, and a U.N. spokesman warned the step would be “devastating” to the prospects for a two-state solution.

Netanyahu said he would extend Israeli sovereignty over the Jordan Valley — an area seen as the breadbasket of any Palestinian state — shortly after forming a new government and would move later to annex other Jewish settlements.

Such action would swallow up most of the West Bank territory sought by the Palestinians, leaving them with little more than isolated enclaves.

Netanyahu said it was important to act as President Donald Trump prepares to unveil his Mideast peace plan after the Sept. 17 election.

“This is a historic opportunity, a one-time opportunity, to extend Israeli sovereignty on our settlements in Judea and Samaria, and also on other important regions for our security, for our heritage, and for our future,” Netanyahu said, using the biblical terms for the West Bank.

The prime minister was not clear about the status of the Palestinians on the West Bank.

Over 2.5 million Palestinians live there and in east Jerusalem, in addition to nearly 700,000 Jewish settlers. Israel already has annexed east Jerusalem in a move that is not internationally recognized.

Netanyahu is locked in a tight race, and his announcement, the most detailed vision for the region that he has presented during his decade in power, was the latest in a series of frenetic moves he has made in recent days to try to rally hard-line voters.

The proposal was dismissed by opponents as election theatrics. They have accused Netanyahu of trying to divert attention from a corruption scandal and Israel’s security challenges. Later in the day, he was whisked away from a campaign event in southern Israel after Palestinian militants fired rockets toward the area.

Netanyahu’s plan would hinge on a number of factors, most critically whether Trump would back him. But Trump’s team of Mideast advisers is dominated by supporters of the settlements, and the muted reaction Tuesday from the U.S. indicated there would be little resistance.

U.S. officials said Netanyahu had told them about his proposal ahead of time and that they had not raised any objections because they do not believe it will affect prospects for an eventual peace agreement. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk to the media.

The Israeli leader spoke as the White House announced the firing of national security adviser John Bolton. Bolton was a strong supporter of Netanyahu’s tough policies against Iran and had visited the Jordan Valley with the Israeli leader in June.

The Palestinians seek the West Bank, east Jerusalem and the Gaza Strip — areas captured by Israel in the 1967 Mideast war — as part of a future independent state.

For Israel, the Jordan Valley is considered a security asset because it provides a buffer zone against potential attacks from the east. Many moderate Israelis believe Israel should retain some element of control in the area under a peace deal.

Palestinians, however, say there can be no independent state without the area, which comprises nearly a quarter of the West Bank. It is home to many Palestinian farms and also is one of the few remaining areas of the territory where the Palestinians have open space to develop.

Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas said all agreements with Israel will be canceled if Netanyahu presses forward.

“We have the right to defend our rights and achieve our goals by all available means, whatever the results, as Netanyahu’s decisions contradict the resolutions of international legitimacy and international law,” he said.

The international community, along with the Palestinians, overwhelmingly considers Israeli settlements in the West Bank and east Jerusalem illegal.

Netanyahu’s plan would turn Palestinian population centers into enclaves that he said he would seek to link to neighboring Jordan. Unlike Israeli settlers, West Bank Palestinians are not Israeli citizens and do not have the right to vote.

Jordan’s foreign minister, Ayman Safadi, condemned the announcement as “a serious escalation that undermines all peace efforts.”

At the United Nations, Secretary-General Antonio Guterres also rejected the proposal. “Such a prospect would be devastating to the potential of reviving negotiations, regional peace and the very essence of a two-state solution,” said U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric.

Netanyahu’s challengers accused him of playing politics. Yair Lapid, a leader of the Blue and White party, dismissed it as an “an election stunt.” Ehud Barak, a former prime minister who is campaigning to oust Netanyahu, said the prime minister “has no public or moral mandate to determine things so fateful to the state of Israel.”

During the hard-fought campaign, Netanyahu has alleged fraud in Arab voting areas and has been pushing to place cameras in polling stations on election day. He also claimed to have located a previously unknown Iranian nuclear weapons facility, and later this week he flies to Russia for a lightning meeting with President Vladimir Putin.

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The Opioid Crisis’ Chief Culprit Has No Defense

This story is a collaboration between ProPublica and STAT.

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.

Purdue Pharma has tried to refute accusations that it fueled the opioid crisis by arguing it was a small player in the U.S. market for prescription pain relievers. But a new ProPublica analysis of government data shows that the company, the maker of OxyContin, had a far bigger impact than it portrays.

Purdue’s position rests on a Drug Enforcement Administration database, made public by a court order in July, which shows Purdue sold 3.3% of the prescription opioid pain pills in the U.S. from 2006 to 2012.

Last month, when Purdue moved to dismiss a lawsuit by the Massachusetts attorney general alleging that it had downplayed the addiction risk of its potent drug, the company highlighted the DEA statistic in a slide presentation. One slide was headlined: “Purdue makes a very small fraction of opioids nationally.”

Company lawyer Timothy Blank told the judge, “The notion that Purdue has created this epidemic is a serious misconception.”

The number promoted by Purdue, however, is an inadequate measure of market share and understates the company’s role in the opioid epidemic, according to experts and the new ProPublica analysis. That’s because the percentage of sales doesn’t take the potency and dose of the pills into account. The analysis favored by Purdue treats every pain pill as the same, whether it is a 5 milligram Percocet or an 80 milligram OxyContin. It’s analogous to measuring alcohol sales by equating a 12-ounce glass of 100 proof whiskey with a similar-sized can of light beer.

ProPublica analyzed the same data set touted by Purdue but accounted for the wide variation in strengths of prescription painkillers. Besides counting the number of pills sold, the analysis measured the amount and potency of opioid that they contained. Higher doses of opioids are associated with a greater risk of overdose.

On that basis, the market share of Purdue is 16% — about five times higher than the number cited by the company. That makes Purdue the third-largest seller of opioids from 2006 to 2012, behind generic pain pill makers Actavis Pharma and SpecGx, a subsidiary of Mallinckrodt.

“All opioids are not created equal,” said Len Paulozzi, a former medical epidemiologist at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention who researched prescription opioid overdose risk. He said it is important to adjust for potency because “the risk of an overdose, whether fatal or nonfatal, is directly related to the dosage a person receives.”

Purdue’s contention that it was a minor participant in the opioid painkiller market is both a legal and a public relations strategy. The company has been working to settle more than 2,000 lawsuits blaming it for helping to create the public health disaster, and also to protect the reputation and legacy of the Sackler family, its owners. Once praised for their philanthropy, the Sacklers have more recently been condemned by politicians and advocates for their stewardship of Purdue.

Settlement talks, which included a provision that the Sacklers contribute at least $3 billion of their own money, recently reached an impasse and Purdue is considering filing for bankruptcy, the Associated Press reported Saturday. The Sacklers have been separately sued by more than a dozen states, including Massachusetts and Connecticut, for their role in overseeing the company’s allegedly illegal marketing of OxyContin.

Purdue has long experience at countering criticism of OxyContin. The first reports that people were abusing the drug surfaced two decades ago. Since then, Purdue has repeatedly argued that its flagship drug has done more good than harm. Even when Purdue pleaded guilty in 2007 in federal court to a criminal charge of illegally marketing OxyContin by downplaying addiction risks, it blamed misstatements by employees who didn’t follow company directives. More recently, the company and representatives of the Sackler family have said that the opioid crisis is now driven by “illegal street drugs” such as heroin and fentanyl.

Purdue declined to comment on the ProPublica analysis.

By minimizing OxyContin’s market share, the per-pill sales data that Purdue prefers also muffles the drug’s outsized impact in certain states, especially in the Northeast. For example, Purdue’s lawyer told the Massachusetts judge that the company sold just 4.6% of the prescription pain pills in the state from 2006 through 2012. But when the total amount of opioid ingredient in each pill is considered, Purdue’s market share in the state is actually more than four times higher at 20.5%.

In some states, when sales are adjusted for potency, Purdue sold more painkiller medication than any other company: Purdue was the top seller in Rhode Island, with 31.2% of the opioid market, as well as in Connecticut, where it had 28.5%. In Ohio, which has consistently ranked among states with the highest rates of overdoses, Purdue had one-fifth of the market. In 13 states, Purdue was responsible for 20% or more of retail opioid painkiller sales.

The market share nationally of some companies dropped when potency was considered. SpecGx, which has 37.7% of the market on a per pill basis, fell to 29%. Actavis declined from 34.6% of the total pill market to 30.4% in the ProPublica analysis.

The analysis of the DEA data cited by Purdue was first done by The Washington Post. It partnered with the publisher of the Charleston Gazette-Mail in West Virginia in a joint legal action that prompted the release of the DEA database. The database, called Automation of Reports and Consolidated Orders System, or ARCOS, tracks every opioid pill sold in the country from manufacturer to distributor to pharmacy.

The Post limited its analysis to shipments of oxycodone and hydrocodone, which accounted for three-fourths of all pill shipments to pharmacies. ProPublica also restricted its analysis to the same two drug classes sold by retail outlets and practitioners because the numbers cited by Purdue in court are based on that methodology.

The reason Purdue’s market share is significantly larger when measuring the amount of opioid ingredient sold is because OxyContin is formulated at strengths many times higher than most other pain pills.

When Oxycontin was unveiled in 1996, Purdue’s marketing campaign touted it as providing longer pain relief while allowing patients to take fewer pills each day. To accomplish that, Purdue packed into each pill a large amount of opioid that was slowly released over a 12-hour period. Its largest dose, until it was taken off the market in 2001 amid safety concerns, was a 160 milligram pill.

Abusers quickly figured out how to crush OxyContin tablets and remove the opioid inside. Some snorted it, while others reduced it to liquid form and injected it.

In determining the amounts of opioid painkillers sold by Purdue and other manufacturers, ProPublica calculated a rate called morphine milligram equivalent, or MME, which is commonly used by public health agencies, including the Food and Drug Administration and the CDC.

The calculation standardizes different types of opioids to the same morphine equivalent. Hydrocodone, the opioid in Vicodin, has a potency that is equivalent to morphine. Oxycodone, the opioid in OxyContin, is one and a half times more potent than morphine. When converting to morphine equivalents, the amount of hydrocodone in a pill is multiplied by one, while oxycodone is multiplied by 1.5.

Using this formula, an 80 milligram pill of OxyContin has an MME of 120 while a 5 milligram Vicodin pill has an MME of 5.

The average total MME for a pill sold by Purdue in the DEA database was 61.5. By comparison, the average MME per pill sold by the largest manufacturer during this time frame, Actavis Pharma, was 11. For the second biggest manufacturer, SpecGx, it was even lower at 9.6 MME.

CDC guidelines advise against prescribing more than 90 MME per day. OxyContin users are typically directed by their doctors to take two pills per day. Based on the DEA database, the typical prescription from 2006 to 2012 would have totaled 123 MME a day — an amount 37% above the maximum recommended by the CDC.

A CDC review in 2016 concluded that higher opioid dosages are associated with increased overdose risk. One of the studies cited by the CDC found that patients taking between 50 and 100 MME of painkillers a day were up to 4.6 times more likely to overdose than those taking less than 20 MME. For patients receiving more than 100 MME a day, the risk was up to nine times higher than for the lower dose group.

“If Purdue sold a lot of 80 milligram pills, they are going to have proportionately more of the market on an MME basis,” said Gary Franklin, the medical director for the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries. “That is an important point to get out. People are dying from these higher doses.”

Franklin, who is an unpaid expert for the state of Washington in its lawsuit against Purdue, cautioned that other factors increase overdose risk as well. For instance, people who take benzodiazepines, such as Xanax, at the same time as opioids can fatally overdose on lower doses of painkillers.

The FDA, in a staff report this year, also found that a higher daily dose of opioid pain relievers “likely contributes causally to increased risk of intentional and unintentional opioid overdose.” The agency noted that other factors influence overdose risk and that a substantial portion of overdose victims either did not have a prescription for the pills they took or were prescribed a lower daily dose.

Until 2010, according to the DEA’s National Drug Threat Assessment Summary, OxyContin was “by far” the most commonly abused prescription painkiller in the country. In 2010, Purdue introduced a reformulated version of OxyContin that is harder to abuse. The new version can still be abused if crushed or taken orally, but it does not provide as potent a high as the older version, according to the agency.

In the Massachusetts hearing last month, Purdue relied on the lower per pill market share in oral arguments before the judge and in the accompanying slide presentation of data. One slide stated, “DEA Data Refute the Commonwealth’s Allegations.”

“What the commonwealth has done is create an extraordinary misperception in the community, and it is a dangerous misperception,” Purdue’s attorney Blank told the judge at the Aug. 2 hearing, according to a transcript of the proceeding. “The attorney general says it is all on Purdue. It is not all on Purdue.”

“All those prescriptions are not equal,” responded Assistant Attorney General Sandy Alexander. “Some of those prescriptions are for two pills of the lowest dose opioid. Purdue specialized in the most dangerous prescriptions because they were the most profitable.”

The Massachusetts lawsuit cites internal Purdue records in alleging the company pushed higher doses because they were the most profitable. Authorities also allege that the company knew patients taking more of the drug were more likely to overdose. One Massachusetts doctor, who was paid more than $80,000 by Purdue to give talks to other physicians, prescribed 24 of the highest dose OxyContin pills a day for a single patient, according to the state complaint.

“Purdue specialized in getting patients on the highest doses for the longest periods of time,” Alexander told the judge. “Those prescriptions, when you count them, they’re not all equally valuable to a drug company and they’re not all equally dangerous to the people of Massachusetts.”

Purdue’s market share from 2006 to 2012 would have likely been even higher save for an anomaly in the history of the drug. For a brief time, including the years 2006 and 2007, OxyContin had generic competition. Its sales slumped from $1.3 billion in 2005 to $752 million in 2006 and $1 billion in 2007, according to health care data firm IQVIA. Purdue sued the generic makers and gradually eliminated competition from them so that by 2008, OxyContin sales more than doubled from the prior year to $2.3 billion.

By that measure, dollar sales, Purdue has long been the market leader for prescription opioids. Internal Purdue records indicate OxyContin had more than 28% of the total market share in gross sales each year from 2008 through 2018. Since 1996, sales of OxyContin have totaled more than $35 billion. The Sackler family received at least $8 billion in company profits during that time, according to court records.

ProPublica news apps developer Mike Tigas contributed to this report.

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Democratic Think Tank Center for American Progress Isn’t Fooling Anybody

The Center for American Progress has laid off the unionized staff members of its news site, ThinkProgress. In a statement posted on the ThinkProgress site, the center announced  it was “transitioning ThinkProgress back to its roots by offering analysis of the news, policy and politics.” Former staffers were concerned the site would turn into a communications arm for the think tank’s scholars and staff, which would be against the union contract that guaranteed editorial independence.

The Center for American Progress is one of the most prominent liberal think tanks in Washington, D.C. The nonprofit took in from $40 million to $50 million from 2013-16. It said editorially independent ThinkProgress, which, as the Daily Beast writes, “helped define progressivism during the Obama years,” was running a deficit for years, and it was looking to sell the site.

A statement from the ThinkProgress union countered that “ThinkProgress was not founded to be profitable.” When the center announced its plans for the site, the union’s statement continued, “We now know this was never about money. This was always about power and control.”

As Jack Crosbie writes in Splinter, “In the end, CAP’s arrogant certainty that it could essentially borrow a line out of the Bustle playbook after stressing its support for unions for years and years resulted in public humiliation and less revenue.” It’s not outright union busting, but nonetheless troubling for a supposedly liberal think tank to shutter its editorially independent and unionized news site.

Jason Gordon, the director of communications for the Writers Guild of America, which represents the union, told the Daily Beast, “in light of new developments on the future of ThinkProgress, we are continuing conversations with CAP and exploring our legal options.”

During the Obama presidency, ThinkProgress helped start the careers of multiple prominent journalists and political operatives. Per the Daily Beast:

<block>A testament to its success is found in the list of prominent alumni currently working in politics and journalism. That list includes Faiz Shakir, who now serves as Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign manager; Amanda Terkel, the D.C. bureau chief of the Huffington Post; Nico Pitney, the political director at NowThis; Alex Seitz-Wald, a top campaign reporter for NBC News; Ali Gharib, a senior news editor at The Intercept; and Matt Yglesias, one of the founding members of Vox.</blockquote>

Former ThinkProgress staffers, including The Intercept’s Lee Fang, also suggested the shuttering was about tensions between center-leaning higher-up staff and donors and more leftist writers:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>ThinkProgress used to dig into money in politics, influence of lobby power in DC. Then CAP leadership gutted it back in 2012. Later they got a &quot;union&quot; but that didn&#39;t change any of the fundamental power dynamics at CAP. Recent develops prove it.</p>&mdash; Lee Fang (@lhfang) <a href=”https://twitter.com/lhfang/status/1171190510486052864?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>September 9, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

 

The center’s initial statement on ThinkProgress’s closure said it would not be canceling recurring donations to ThinkProgress automatically; donors would have to contact the center to opt out. However, a center spokesperson later said it was reversing its initial decision and would end the recurring donations.

The Daily Beast reported the spokesperson also said the center was “shelving plans to keep the site running and would instead have it archived,” a small victory for the laid-off writers after the union said they were considering legal action.

 

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Proof Joe Biden Has the Mainstream Media in His Pocket

Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden last month released a new Iowa TV ad called “Personal,” which recounts the former vice president’s personal tragedy of losing his wife and daughter to a car crash, and the subsequent loss of his son Beau Biden from brain cancer.

Biden presented his story as a celebration of for-profit health insurance by saying that he “couldn’t imagine” what it would’ve been like if their insurance didn’t cover the healthcare required “immediately,” and that he couldn’t “fathom” what would’ve happened if the insurance companies had said for the last six months of his son’s life, “You’re on your own.”

The advertisement continued Biden’s practice of dishonestly conflating Republicans who want to repeal the Affordable Care Act—also known as Obamacare—with those advocating a national health insurance program like most developed countries have. He mentions in the same breath Donald Trump’s efforts to repeal the ACA and proposals for a Medicare for All system, as advocated by rival primary contenders like Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren:

Health care is personal to me. Obamacare is personal to me. When I see the president try to tear it down, and others propose to replace it and start over. That’s personal to me too. We’ve got to build on what we did because every American deserves affordable healthcare.

Corporate media uncritically transmitted the ad’s message as if it were merely a campaign strategy, instead of explaining what Biden, Sanders and Warren’s proposals actually are, and clarifying for voters whether Biden’s charges against his primary opponents are accurate.

CNN’s report (8/27/19), “Biden Gets ‘Personal’ in New TV Ad in Iowa Focused on Healthcare,” mainly noted that Biden’s new ad …

…highlights his continued support for the Affordable Care Act, at a time when other progressive Democratic candidates are pushing for a “Medicare for All” approach.

CNN also falsely asserted that Medicare for All advocates are proposing to enroll everyone in a national health insurance program and “eliminate” private health insurance. In fact, no Medicare for All proponent supports banning private health insurance. For example, Sanders’ Senate bill—which is cosponsored by other candidates like Cory Booker, Kamala Harris and Elizabeth Warren—bans private health coverage that duplicates the coverage offered by the government, because it would be rendered obsolete, and still allows for supplemental private coverage (The Week7/3/19).

The Washington Post’s “Biden Knocks Trump, Democratic Rivals in New TV Ad Touting Affordable Care Act” (8/27/19) trivialized the issue of healthcare by covering Biden’s ad in terms of the political horserace, emphasizing the role it plays in his campaign strategy—rather than explaining the differences between the various candidates’ proposals. The Post’s John Wagner merely notes that Biden’s ad “knocks both President Trump and some of his Democratic hopefuls” and “suggests they are all a threat to the Affordable Care Act.”

The Hill (8/27/19) continued the Post’s horserace-focused coverage, noting that Biden’s ad “appears to hit Biden’s 2020 rivals for proposing ideas to replace Obamacare,” and that it “illustrates the Biden campaign’s latest effort to tie the former vice president to the Obama administration.”

CBS (8/27/19) framed Biden’s ad as “an emotional appeal to Iowa caucus voters” and mentioned his proposal to add a public option, while uncritically transmitting Biden’s false assertion that his “Democratic rivals” want to “scrap the law and start over,” which Biden has slammed as “unrealistic.”

The New York Times’ report, “Why This Joe Biden Health Care Ad Stands Out” (8/27/19), stood out for its bad reporting, functioning essentially as an advertisement for the advertisement. The Times’ Katie Glueck described the ad as an “extraordinarily emotional appeal” for Biden’s candidacy and his healthcare proposal, describing it as being “striking” for its “wrenching images,” and mentioning how some voters have cited Biden’s “ability to connect with people after facing so much personal adversity of his own” to explain their support. The Times never mentions what Biden’s healthcare proposal actually is—perhaps because the ad itself doesn’t do so.

Instead, the Times reported on Warren’s rising poll numbers in Iowa and how “emphasizing his partnership with Mr. Obama” has “been a central strategy in Mr. Biden’s campaign.” The piece claimed that Biden has “not always been comfortable” using the deaths of family members for political purposes, because it would tread on “sacred ground,” but this hesitation now appears to be gone.

But when reports on Biden’s “Personal” ad observe that it is an “oblique” attack against Sanders and Warren’s Medicare for All proposals, they have a journalistic obligation to investigate whether or not these attacks are true.

Corporate media have shown they have no problem devoting attention to tracking other falsehoods Biden has told on the campaign trail, like when he offered “my word as a Biden” that a false war anecdote was “the God’s truth” (Washington Post8/29/19). Perhaps this is because telling lies about Medicare for All protects insurance industry profits (FAIR.org4/29/19), which are not threatened by the exposure of fake war stories?

Others have already documented the numerous falsehoods Biden has told about Medicare for All, among them the notion that Medicare for All advocates are trying to “scrap Obamacare” and cause a “hiatus” or a lapse in coverage for up to three years (Jacobin7/18/19). Medicare for All advocates don’t support repealing the ACA or creating a lapse in coverage; Sanders’ bill in particular has a four-year transition period in which Medicare is continually expanded to cover everyone (Common Dreams7/15/19).

While horserace coverage predominated, some exceptional reports attempted to gauge the accuracy of Biden’s attacks on Medicare for All proponents by explaining their proposals. CNBC (7/15/19) explained that Medicare for All wouldn’t “do away with the ACA in the same way that repeal of the ACA would,” and noted that Sanders’ legislation would create a “more comprehensive government-run system” that would include dental, vision and mental health services, while eliminating deductibles and co-pays. Vice News’ “Joe Biden: It Would Be An Insult to My Dead Son for Everyone to Have Healthcare” (8/27/19) offered an excellent breakdown of Biden’s ad and its falsehoods:

In all, the ad is saying that healthcare is personal to Joe Biden because his son died; that as a father, he believes the best and most legitimate way to honor his dead son’s legacy would be to implement further incremental regulatory reform, along the lines of what Barack Obama did; and that people who disagree and think that radical reform is necessary—among them, presumably, the 80% or so of Democrats who say it’s important to nominate a presidential candidate who supports Medicare for All—are dishonoring his son’s legacy.

If Joe Biden wants to get personal, I can also get very personal. Before my mother passed away last month, following an amputation for bone cancer, I was caring for and accompanying her to many doctors’ appointments, and I recall the numerous times my mother was rejected from hospitals for not having the proper insurance, along with delays, redundant tests and the frequent anxiety of wondering whether her insurance would cover her treatment—because we don’t live in a country where healthcare is a human right.

People can use personal tragedies as justification for perpetuating and inflicting injustices on others, and they can also use those tragedies as inspiration and motivation to prevent others from going through the same hardships. Biden’s latest ad is an example of the former masquerading as the latter, and corporate media’s coverage of it exemplifies how some personal tragedies are amplified and others neglected to protect corporate profits.

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Donald Trump Smears the Victims of Hurricane Dorian

Echoing the racist and dehumanizing rhetoric he has repeatedly deployed against Mexican immigrants, Muslims, and others, President Donald Trump on Monday told reporters—without offering a shred of evidence—that there may be “very bad gang members” and “drug dealers” among those fleeing the Bahamas in the aftermath of Hurricane Dorian.

The president’s comments sparked outrage, with the Sierra Club responding that “Donald Trump’s racism and cruelty knows no bounds.”

“He needs to do his job and respond to the ongoing humanitarian crisis,” the group tweeted. “We rise in solidarity with the Bahamian people.”

Trump’s remarks came hours after hundreds Bahamian refugees were ordered off a ferry headed for Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, purportedly because they did not have U.S. visas. Brian Entin, a reporter for WSVN 7 News in Miami who was on the vessel, said “this is not normal” and noted Bahamians can usually travel to the U.S. with just a passport and a printout of their police record.

“We have to be very careful,” Trump told reporters Monday, defending the decision to remove hurricane victims from the ferry and warning that “very bad people” could be attempting to enter the U.S. after Dorian devastated the Bahamas, killing dozens and destroying tens of thousands of homes.

Watch:

Trump defends prohibiting some people from hurricane-ravaged Bahamas from entering the United States because he doesn’t want “very bad people and some very bad gang members and some very very bad drug dealers” here. pic.twitter.com/BL7q93xtfD

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) September 9, 2019

In a statement Monday night,  Varshini Prakash, co-founder of the youth-led Sunrise Movement, said the move to deny hurricane victims entry is “disgraceful and goes against everything we are supposed to stand for as a nation.”

“These are people whose homes and livelihoods have been totally destroyed, who have lost family members,” said Prakash. “But instead of welcoming them with open arms and offering support, we’re sending them back to an island with little shelter, no food, and no access to basic necessities.”

Prakash said Sunrise and allies are planning to rally outside Customs and Border Protection (CBP) offices in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday to demand that the Trump administration “stop turning away people fleeing destruction.”

“As the climate crisis makes storms like Dorian stronger and deadlier, will we build bigger walls and keep polluting and making the crisis worse, or will we give the most vulnerable a safe haven in their time of most dire need and commit ourselves to tackling this crisis?” added Prakash. “The survivors of Hurricane Dorian are climate change refugees fleeing disaster, and they deserve compassion and support, not isolation and exclusion.”

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Number of Uninsured Americans Rises for 1st Time in a Decade

WASHINGTON — The number of Americans without health insurance edged up in 2018 — the first evidence from the government that coverage gains from President Barack Obama’s health care plan might be eroding under President Donald Trump.

The Census Bureau also said in an annual report Tuesday that household income rose last year at its slowest pace in four years and finally matched its previous peak set in 1999. Median household income rose 0.9% in 2018 to an inflation-adjusted $63,179, from $62,626 in 2017.

The data suggest that the economic expansion, now the longest on record at more than 10 years, is still struggling to provide widespread benefits to the U.S. population. Solid gains in household incomes in the past four years have returned the median only to where it was two decades ago. And despite strong growth last year in the number of Americans working full time and year-round, the number of people with private health insurance remained flat.

One bright spot in the report was that the poverty rate fell for a fourth straight year to 11.8%, its lowest point since 2001. The proportion of households led by women that were poor fell to a record low.

“While any reduction in poverty or increase in income is a step in the right direction, most families have just barely made up the ground lost over the past decade,” said Elise Gould, senior economist at the liberal Economic Policy Institute.

Though income inequality narrowed last year, it remains near record levels reached in 2017. Last year, the richest 5% of the U.S. population captured 23% of household income.

An estimated 27.5 million people, 8.5% of the population, went without health insurance in 2018. That was an increase of 1.9 million uninsured people, or 0.5 percentage point.

More people were covered by Medicare, reflecting the aging of the baby boomers. But Medicaid coverage declined. The number of uninsured children also rose, and there were more uninsured adults ages 35-64.

Though the increase in the number of uninsured Americans last year was modest, it could be a turning point, the first real sign that coverage gains under Obama could be at least partly reversed. This year, the number of uninsured could rise again because a previous Republican-led Congress repealed fines under the Affordable Care Act for people who remain uninsured if they can afford coverage.

The Census report is sure to play into 2020 presidential politics. Health care is the leading issue for Democrats, with proposals including Sen. Bernie Sanders’ call for a government-run system to cover everyone and former Vice President Joe Biden’s idea for expanding Obama’s law and adding a government plan open to virtually anyone.

Democrats are laying the blame Trump, long accusing his administration of deliberately undermining Obama’s health care law. House Speaker Nancy Pelosi on Tuesday blamed Trump’s “cruel health care sabotage” for the rising number of uninsured people. In a statement, the California Democrat said Trump’s ongoing efforts to erode Obama’s health law have forced Americans to “live in constant fear of an accident or injury that could spell financial ruin for their families.”

Trump spent most of his first year in office unsuccessfully trying to get a Republican Congress to repeal the Affordable Care Act. He is now asking a federal appeals court to overturn it as unconstitutional. The president also slashed the program’s sign-up season ad budget and scaled back funding to help people navigate the enrollment process. Trump also removed a subsidy for insurers, thereby triggering a jump in premiums.

Yet ACA enrollment has held fairly steady, with about 20 million people covered by its mix of subsidized private plans and a Medicaid expansion for low-income individuals. The Census report found that Medicaid coverage declined by 0.7 percent from 2017.

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Trump Dismisses John Bolton, Says They ‘Disagreed Strongly’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump on Tuesday forced out John Bolton, his hawkish national security adviser with whom he had significant disagreements on Iran, Afghanistan and a cascade of other global challenges.

The two men offered opposing accounts on Bolton’s less than friendly departure, a leave-taking example of what had been a fractious relationship almost from the start.

Trump tweeted that he told Bolton Monday night his services were no longer needed at the White House and Bolton submitted his resignation Tuesday morning. Bolton responded in a tweet of his own that he offered to resign Monday “and President Trump said, ‘Let’s talk about it tomorrow.'”

Trump said that he had “disagreed strongly” with many of Bolton’s suggestions as national security adviser, “as did others in the administration.”

The departure comes at a trying moment for the Trump administration on the world stage, weeks ahead of the United Nations General Assembly and as the president faces pressing decisions on a host of foreign policy issues.

In recent months, tensions have risen between Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo over influence in the president’s orbit and how to manage the president’s desire to negotiate with some of the world’s most unsavory actors.

Since joining the administration in the spring of last year, Bolton has espoused skepticism about the president’s whirlwind rapprochement with North Korea and has advocated against Trump’s decision last year to pull U.S. troops out of Syria. He masterminded a quiet campaign inside the administration and with allies abroad to persuade Trump to keep U.S. forces in Syria to counter the remnants of the Islamic State and Iranian influence in the region.

Bolton was also opposed to Trump’s now-scrapped notion to bring Taliban negotiators to Camp David last weekend to try to finalize a peace deal in Afghanistan.

South Carolina Sen. Lindsey Graham, who was traveling with Trump Monday, said reports of Bolton’s dissent on the Taliban meeting was a “bridge too far” for Trump.

One Republican familiar with the disagreements between Trump and Bolton said the adviser’s opposition to a possible meeting between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani was a precipitating factor in the dismissal. French President Emmanuel Macron has been trying to broker such a meeting, possibly on the sidelines of the upcoming U.N. General Assembly, in the hope of salvaging the international Iran nuclear deal that Trump withdrew from.

Bolton and his National Security Council staff were also viewed warily by some in the White House who viewed them as more attuned to their own agendas than the president’s — and some administration aides have accused Bolton’s staff of being behind leaks of information embarrassing to Trump.

Bolton’s ouster came as a surprise to many in the White House. Just an hour before Trump’s tweet, the press office announced that Bolton would join Pompeo and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin in a briefing. A White House official said that Bolton had departed the premises after Trump’s tweet and would no longer appear as scheduled.

In a further sign of acrimonious relationship, a person close to Bolton told reporters that they had been authorized to say one thing — that since Bolton has been national security adviser there have been no “bad deals” on Iran, North Korea, Russia, and Syria. The person, who did not divulge who had given the authorization, was not allowed to discuss the issue by name and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

When asked to respond to the person’s comment, White House press secretary Grisham smiled and told reporters: “I don’t know how to read” it. “Sounds like just somebody trying to protect him,” she added.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., said the move was a cause for worry.

“I’m legitimately shaken by the grave instability of American foreign policy today,” Murphy tweeted. “I’m no Bolton fan, but the world is coming apart, and the revolving door of U.S. leadership is disappearing America from the world just at the moment where a stable American hand is most needed.”

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said Charles Kupperman, the deputy national security adviser and a former Reagan administration official and defense contracting executive, would fill Bolton’s role on an acting basis. Trump said he would name a replacement for Bolton next week.

Bolton was named Trump’s third national security adviser in March 2018 after the departure of Army Gen. H.R. McMaster.

Bolton was always an unlikely pick to be Trump’s third national security adviser, with a world view seemingly ill-fit to the president’s isolationist “America First” pronouncements.

He’s championed hawkish foreign policy views dating back to the Reagan administration and became a household name over his vociferous support for the Iraq War as the U.S. ambassador to the U.N. under George W. Bush. Bolton briefly considered running for president in 2016, in part to make the case against the isolationism that Trump would come to embody.

Still, Trump has admired Bolton for years, praising him on Twitter as far back as 2014. Trump has told allies he thinks Bolton is “a killer” on television, where Bolton is a frequent face on Fox News, though the president has voiced some unhappiness about Bolton’s trademark mustache.

___

AP writers Matthew Lee and Jonathan Lemire contributed.

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American Barbarity on the Border

The United States’ current immigration system is functioning exactly the way it is supposed to—it is designed to make people suffer.

The amount of violence the U.S. inflicts on people from around the world is all done in our name. It has become such a common occurrence that, like a fire alarm that blares randomly every day, it has lost all sense of urgency. We tune it out until it becomes white noise.

This is the case for the tens of thousands of asylum seekers at the U.S.-Mexico border who are the targets of Trump and his administration’s dehumanizing, intentional cruelty.

The featured series of photographs is from my third assignment to that border, where I have been covering the ongoing and ever-escalating refugee/humanitarian crisis.

This time, I crossed over from Brownsville, Texas, into Matamoros, Mexico. I was embedded with the Atlanta-based group Lawyers for Good Government—a nonprofit organization founded by Traci Feit Love after the 2016 election that has not tuned out the border crisis. Members of the organization have spearheaded a program called Project Corazon and have mobilized nearly 50 other heavy-hitting law firms, all of whom are working on a pro-bono basis to help prepare asylum seekers for upcoming immigration court hearings.

This was unlike Tijuana, Mexico—across the border from San Ysidro, California—where hives of various law enforcement agencies were a common sight when I was there last December and January. In Matamoros, the cartels seem to rule and run the border. I saw a gaggle of armed Federales officers only once there, a half-dozen of them “Mad-Max”-ing atop two militarized trucks through the border area. They were gone within seconds.

Here in Matamoros, no one I speak with on the ground has much trust for the Federales (or the Mexican government, for that matter), and frankly, I could not determine whether their absence makes me feel better or worse.

Cartel scouts masquerade as penny entrepreneurs, selling trinkets and food while walking past the cars waiting in line to drive through customs and into the U.S. They watch everything that is going on in and around the plaza, where dozens of tents are set up on a swath of concrete and roast throughout the day as the temperature often climbs over 100 degrees.

Even now, during hurricane season, it is difficult to move the asylum seekers into shelters, farther from the border. Their overriding fear is that they’ll be taken away, perhaps bused back to the country they had fled. For many, that is a death sentence.

Two rugged trees offer umbrellas of dappled shade in this makeshift community. It’s prime real estate for everyone trying to find a modicum of normalcy, to have a family meal, charge a cellphone, create a sidewalk school for the children, learn the “next steps” from the volunteer lawyers, laugh, play, cry, joke, comfort and tell their stories, hoping that someone will listen.

In a pre-border-crossing meeting with the volunteer lawyers who have been flown in as part of Project Corazon, Texas-based lawyer Jodi Goodwin explains one of the cartel’s abduction tactics: “If you see a bunch of shiny SUVs pull up to the plaza, you alert each other and immediately leave, get across the border.” Goodwin speaks from experience; she has been working with asylum seekers in Mexico for over two decades.

Everyone is a target there. The children are in acute danger of kidnapping (and of contracting life-ruining illnesses). The women live in perpetual fear of sexual assault and, I was told, some carry condoms to—perhaps, maybe—engineer self-care while being brutally raped, a scenario that is baffling to fathom. Many of the men carry around an invisible bulk of their broken lives—which is true for the women and children, too.

Most everyone living in this camp had at one prior point made it into the United States and had made their case for asylum. Some had to swim across the Rio Grande, which is approximately 100 yards away from the tents, but they still had to pay the cartels to allow them to do so. And because there is no running water (or any services to speak of), they often pay the cartels so they can wash clothes or bathe in the river too.

Months before, Salvadoran migrant Oscar Alberto Martínez Ramírez and his nearly 2-year-old daughter, Valeria, had drowned on this very stretch of river trying to reach Brownsville, Texas. The viral photo of their bodies floating face-down near the riverbank depicts the desperation for a better life that more and more migrants are forced to endure.

It is because of Trump’s “Return to Mexico” policy that most asylum seekers are back in Matamoros, where they are stuck in horrific limbo, waiting for their day in U.S. immigration court. The backlog, however, is depressing. According to a New York Times article on the pending immigration cases in the court system, ”the average case now takes 578 days to complete.”

To read article after article about the disastrous U.S. immigration policy—or to simply listen to pundits or politicians argue about asylum seekers as if it’s an exercise in high school debate—can make the very real plight of thousands of people seem like an abstraction. But to see it, to bear witness to this suffering is a way of humanizing, a way of showing others that these are people who could be your sister, your brother, your mother, your father, your friend.

PHOTO ESSAY | 25 photosScenes From Matamoros (Photo Essay)

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Johnson to Suspend U.K. Parliament After 3 Defeats on Brexit

LONDON—The simmering showdown between Prime Minister Boris Johnson and Britain’s Parliament over Brexit came to a head as lawmakers delivered three defeats to the government’s plans for leaving the European Union, before being sent home early Tuesday for a contentious five-week suspension of the legislature.

In a session that ran past midnight, Parliament enacted a law to block a no-deal Brexit next month, ordered the government to release private communications about its Brexit plans and rejected Johnson’s call for a snap election to break the political deadlock.

Parliament was then set to be suspended at the government’s request until Oct. 14, a drastic move that gives Johnson a respite from rebellious lawmakers as he plots his next move.

Johnson said he would cut short the parliamentary term so he can outline his domestic agenda at a new session of Parliament in October. But opponents called the move anti-democratic and illegal.

“It is blindingly obvious why we are being shut down — to prevent scrutiny,” Labour Party Brexit spokesman Keir Starmer said.

In the first of the day’s blows to Johnson, an opposition-backed measure designed to stop Britain from crashing out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a divorce deal became law after receiving the formal assent of Queen Elizabeth II. The law compels the government to ask the EU for a three-month delay if no deal has been agreed by Oct. 19.

Legislators also demanded the government release, by Wednesday, emails and text messages among aides and officials relating to suspending Parliament and planning for Brexit amid allegations that the suspension is being used to circumvent democracy.

Under parliamentary rules, the government is obliged to release the documents.

In a statement, the government said it would “consider the implications of this vote and respond in due course.”

Britain is due to leave the EU on Oct. 31, and Johnson says the country’s delayed exit must happen then, with or without a divorce agreement to smooth the way. But many lawmakers fear a no-deal Brexit would be economically devastating, and are determined to stop him.

“I will not ask for another delay,” Johnson said. But he has few easy ways out of it. His options — all of them extreme — include disobeying the law, which could land him in court or even prison, and resigning so that someone else would have to ask for a delay.

The prime minister has had a turbulent week since Parliament returned from its summer break on Sept. 3. He kicked 21 lawmakers out of the Conservative group in Parliament after they sided with the opposition, and saw two ministers quit his government — one of them his own brother.

Early Tuesday, lawmakers rebuffed, for a second time, Johnson’s request for an early election, which he said was “the only way to break the deadlock in the House.”

Opposition parties voted against the measure or abstained, denying Johnson the two-thirds majority he needed. They want to make sure a no-deal departure is blocked before agreeing to an election.

“We’re eager for an election, but as keen as we are we, we are not prepared to inflict the disaster of a no deal on our communities, our jobs, our services, or indeed our rights,” Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn said.

Johnson acknowledged Monday that a no-deal Brexit “would be a failure of statecraft” for which he would be partially to blame.

On a visit to Dublin, Johnson said he would “overwhelmingly prefer to find an agreement” and believed a deal could be struck by Oct. 18, when leaders of all 28 EU countries hold a summit in Brussels.

The comments marked a change of tone, if not substance, for Johnson, who is accused by opponents of driving Britain at full-tilt toward a cliff-edge Brexit.

Irish Prime Minister Leo Varadkar warned Johnson that “there’s no such thing as a clean break,” and if Britain crashed out, it would “cause severe disruption for British and Irish people alike.”

Johnson and Varadkar said they had “a positive and constructive meeting,” but there was no breakthrough on the issue of the Irish border, the main stumbling block to a Brexit deal.

The EU says Britain has not produced any concrete proposals for replacing the contentious “backstop,” a provision in the withdrawal agreement reached by Johnson’s predecessor Theresa May that is designed to ensure an open border between EU member Ireland and the U.K.’s Northern Ireland.

An open border is crucial to the regional economy and underpins the peace process that ended decades of sectarian violence in Northern Ireland.

Opposition to the backstop was a key reason Britain’s Parliament rejected May’s Brexit deal with the EU three times earlier this year. British Brexit supporters oppose the backstop because it locks Britain into EU trade rules to avoid customs checks, something they say will stop the U.K. from striking new trade deals with countries such as the United States.

Varadkar said he was open to any alternatives that were “legally workable,” but none had been received so far.

“In the absence of agreed alternative arrangements, no backstop is no deal for us,” he said.

Meanwhile, Speaker John Bercow, whose control of business in Britain’s House of Commons has made him a central player in the Brexit drama, announced he would step down after a decade in the job.

The colorful speaker, famous for his loud ties and even louder cries of “Order!” during raucous debates, told lawmakers he will quit the same day Britain is due to leave the EU, Oct. 31.

Throughout the three years since Britain voted to leave the EU, Bercow has angered the Conservative government by repeatedly allowing lawmakers to seize control of Parliament’s agenda to steer the course of Brexit.

He said he was simply fulfilling his role of being the “backbenchers’ backstop” and letting Parliament have its say.

“Throughout my time as speaker, I have sought to increase the relative authority of this legislature, for which I will make absolutely no apology,” he said.

___

Gregory Katz contributed to this story.

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North Korea Fires Projectiles Hours After Offering Talks With U.S.

SEOUL, South Korea—North Korea launched two unidentified projectiles into the sea on Tuesday, South Korea’s military said, hours after the North offered to resume nuclear diplomacy with the United States in late September.

South Korea’s Joint Chiefs of Staff said in a statement that the North Korean projectiles fired from its South Phyongan province, which surrounds its capital city of Pyongyang, flew across the country before landing in the waters off its east coast.

It said South Korea will monitor possible additional launches by North Korea. But the statement gave no further details like exactly what projectile North Korea fired.

On Monday night, the North’s first vice foreign minister, Choe Son Hui, said North Korea is willing to resume nuclear diplomacy with the United States in late September but that Washington must come to the negotiating table with acceptable new proposals. She said if the proposals don’t satisfy North Korea, dealings between the two countries may come to an end.

Choe’s statement and the following projectile launches were apparently aimed at pressuring the United States to make concessions when the North Korea-U.S. talks restart. North Korea is widely believed to want the United States to provide it with security guarantees and extensive relief from U.S.-led sanctions in return for limited denuclearization steps.

U.S. President Donald Trump called North Korea’s announcement “interesting.”

“We’ll see what happens,” Trump said. “In the meantime, we have our hostages back, we’re getting the remains of our great heroes back and we’ve had no nuclear testing for a long time.”

There was no immediate comment from the White House following reports of the launches.

In the late-night statement carried by state media, Choe said North Korea is willing to sit down with the United States “for comprehensive discussions in late September of the issues we have so far taken up, at a time and place to be agreed.”

Choe said she hopes the United States will bring “a proposal geared to the interests of the DPRK and the U.S. and based on decision methods acceptable to us.” DPRK stands for the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the North’s official name.

She warned that “if the U.S. side fingers again the worn-out scenario which has nothing to do with new decision methods at the DPRK-U.S. working negotiation to be held with so much effort, the DPRK-U.S. dealings may come to an end.”

Talks on North Korea’s nuclear disarmament fell apart in February when Trump rejected North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s demand for sweeping sanctions relief in return for partial disarmament at their second summit in Vietnam.

It was a huge embarrassment for the young North Korean leader, who made a dayslong train trip to the Vietnamese capital to obtain the sanctions relief he needs to revitalize his country’s troubled economy.

In April, Kim said he was open to another summit with Trump but set the end of the year as a deadline for the U.S. to offer improved terms for an agreement to revive the nuclear diplomacy.

Kim and Trump met again at the Korean border in late June and agreed to restart diplomacy, but there have no public meetings between the sides since then.

In recent months, North Korea has carried out a slew of missile and rocket tests to protest joint military drills between the U.S. and South Korea that North Korea views as an invasion rehearsal. Some experts said the North Korean weapons tests were also a demonstration of its expanding weapons arsenal aimed at boosting its leverage ahead of new talks with the United States.

Most of the North Korean weapons tested in July and August have been short range. This suggests that North Korea hasn’t wanted to lift its self-imposed moratorium on nuclear and long-range missile tests, which would certainly derail negotiations with Washington.

Trump has downplayed the latest North Korean weapons tests, saying the U.S. never restricted short-range tests.

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