Robert Mugabe, Liberator Turned Dictator, Dies at 95

HARARE, Zimbabwe — Former Zimbabwean leader Robert Mugabe, an ex-guerrilla chief who took power when the African country shook off white minority rule and presided for decades while economic turmoil and human rights violations eroded its early promise, has died in Singapore. He was 95.

Mugabe enjoyed strong support among the population and even the West soon after taking over as prime minister and Zimbabwe’s first post-colonial leader. But he was reviled in later years as the economy collapsed and human rights violations increased. His often violent takeover of farms from whites who owned huge tracts of land made him a hated figure in the West and a hero in Africa.

His successor, President Emmerson Mnangagwa, announced Mugabe’s death in a tweet Friday, mourning him as an “icon of liberation.”

Singapore’s Foreign Ministry later said he died Friday at the Gleneagles Hospital there, saying it was working with Zimbabwe on arrangements for Mugabe’s body to be flown home. Mugabe had received medical treatment at the hospital in recent years.

Mugabe’s popularity began to rise again after Mnangagwa failed to deliver on promises of economic recovery and appeared to take an even harsher and more repressive stance against critics. Many began to publicly say they missed Mugabe.

Forced to resign amid pressure from the military, his party and the public in November 2017, Mugabe was defiant throughout his long life, railing against the West for what he called its neo-colonialist attitude and urging Africans to take control of their resources — a populist message that was often a hit, even as many nations on the continent shed the strongman model and moved toward democracy.

A target of international sanctions over the years, Mugabe nevertheless enjoyed acceptance among peers in Africa who chose not to judge him in the same way as Britain, the United States and other Western detractors.

“They are the ones who say they gave Christianity to Africa,” Mugabe said of the West during a visit to South Africa in 2016. “We say: ‘We came, we saw and we were conquered.’”

Even as old age took its toll and opposition to his rule increased, he refused to step down until the pressure became unbearable in 2017 as his former allies in the ruling party accused him of grooming his wife, Grace, to take over — ahead of long-serving loyalists such as Mnangagwa, who was fired in November 2017 before returning to take over with the help of the military.

Spry in his impeccably tailored suits, Mugabe maintained a schedule of events and international travel during his rule that defied his advancing age, though signs of weariness mounted. He walked with a limp, fell after stepping off a plane in Zimbabwe, read the wrong speech at the opening of parliament, and appeared to be dozing during a news conference in Japan. However, his longevity and frequently dashed rumors of ill health delighted supporters and infuriated opponents who had sardonically predicted he would live forever.

“Do you want me to punch you to the floor to realize I am still there?” Mugabe told an interviewer from state television who asked him in early 2016 about retirement plans.

After the fighting between black guerrillas and the white rulers of Rhodesia, as Zimbabwe was then known, ended, Mugabe reached out to whites. The self-declared Marxist stressed the need for education and built new schools. Tourism and mining flourished, and Zimbabwe was a regional breadbasket.

However, a brutal military campaign waged against an uprising in western Matabeleland province that ended in 1987 augured a bitter turn in Zimbabwe’s fortunes. As the years went by, Mugabe was widely accused of hanging onto power through violence and vote fraud, notably in a 2008 election that led to a troubled coalition government after regional mediators intervened.

“I have many degrees in violence,” Mugabe once boasted on a campaign trail, raising his fist. “You see this fist, it can smash your face.”

Mugabe was re-elected in 2013 in another ballot marred by alleged irregularities, though he dismissed his critics as sore losers.

Amid the political turmoil, the economy of Zimbabwe, traditionally rich in agriculture and minerals, deteriorated. Factories were closing, unemployment was rising and the country abandoned its currency for the U.S. dollar in 2009 because of hyperinflation.

The economic problems are often traced to the violent seizures of thousands of white-owned farms that began around 2000. Land reform was supposed to take much of the country’s most fertile land — owned by about 4,500 white descendants of mainly British and South African colonial-era settlers — and redistribute it to poor blacks. Instead, Mugabe gave prime farms to ruling party leaders, party loyalists, security chiefs, relatives and cronies.

Zimbabwe’s main opposition leader, Nelson Chamisa, said he was “mourning with the rest of Africa” over the death of Mugabe in the African tradition of Ubuntu, or humanity toward others, calling him one of Zimbabwe’s founding fathers and a freedom fighter.

However, Chamisa, who leads the Movement for Democratic Change, also acknowledged the pain over “decades of political disputes” surrounding his governance.

“Memories really go to the deficits of governance, goes to the issue of human rights situation in the country, goes to the collapse of systems,” he said.

He also said Mugabe’s death on foreign soil is a “sad indictment” of the country’s economic situation.

On the streets of Harare, the capital, people gathered in small groups Friday and discussed Mugabe.

“I will not shed a tear, not for that cruel man,” said Tariro Makena, a street vendor. “All these problems, he started them and people now want us to pretend it never happened.”

Others said they missed him.

“Things are worse now. Life was not that good but it was never this bad. These people who removed him from power have no clue whatsoever,” said Silas Marongo, holding an axe and joining men and women cutting a tree for firewood in suburban Harare. They needed the wood to beat severe electricity shortages that underline the worsening economic situation.

Amnesty International said Mugabe left behind “an indelible stain on his country’s human rights record.” Mugabe’s early years as a leader saw “notable achievements” through his heavy investment in health care and education, the human rights group said, but he later eroded his own track record.

“While casting himself as the saviour of Zimbabwe, Robert Mugabe inflicted lasting damage upon its people and its reputation,” Muleya Mwananyanda, Amnesty International’s Deputy Regional Director for Southern Africa, said.

Mugabe was born on Feb. 21, 1924, in Zvimba, 60 kilometers (40 miles) west of the capital of Harare. As a child, he tended his grandfather’s cattle and goats, fished for bream in muddy water holes, played football and “boxed a lot,” as he recalled later.

Mugabe lacked the easy charisma of Nelson Mandela, the anti-apartheid leader and contemporary who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994 after reconciling with its former white rulers. But he drew admirers in some quarters for taking a hard line with the West, and he could be disarming despite his sometimes harsh demeanor.

“The gift of politicians is never to stop speaking until the people say, ‘Ah, we are tired,’” he said at a 2015 news conference. “You are now tired. I say thank you.”


Torchia reported from Johannesburg.

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We Are Teetering on the Brink of War With Iran

What follows is a conversation between “The Age of Jihad” author Patrick Cockburn and Greg Wilpert of The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

GREG WILPERT: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore.

Iran’s President, Hassan Rouhani, stated on Wednesday that the 2015 Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA, also more commonly known as the Iran Nuclear Agreement, can still be temporarily saved if the United States allows Iran to take advantage of a $15 billion credit line from the European Union, as was proposed by France’s President, Emmanuel Macron. In the meantime, Rouhani also said that Iran will engage in a third violation of the JCPOA, which involves restarting nuclear research and development and the production of centrifuges for increased uranium enrichment.

PRESIDENT HASSAN ROUHANI: I announce the third step now. Our atomic energy organization is obliged to immediately start doing whatever technically required in the country in terms of research and development, and to abandon all commitments in terms of research and development under the JCPOA. We will witness development in research and development in the field of centrifuges, various types of new centrifuges, and whatever we need for enrichment, which will be handled by our atomic energy organization. And we will observe promptitude in this regard.

GREG WILPERT: In the last few weeks, Iran has tried to reach out to the US through diplomatic channels. Iran’s Foreign Minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, even came to the G7 Summit in France last month to try to meet with Trump. He later said, however, that Iran would not negotiate with the US unless sanctions are lifted first. In a related development, Israel’s Prime Minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, made a surprise visit to London on Thursday to meet with Britain’s Prime Minister, Boris Johnson. According to news reports of the visit, Netanyahu’s purpose was to convince Johnson to reject France’s proposal for a $15 billion credit line to Iran.

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Joining me now to discuss the latest developments with the Iran Nuclear Deal is Patrick Cockburn. He is an award-winning journalist and longtime correspondent for the British newspaper, The Independent. His most recent book is The Age of Jihad. Thanks for joining us again, Patrick.


GREG WILPERT: What do you make of these recent developments, the announcement that Iran will engage in this third step of violating the JCPOA, and the possibility of a $15 billion credit line to ease the US sanctions against Iran? Is there any chance that the Europeans— mainly France, Germany and the UK— could still save the JCPOA nuclear agreement?

PATRICK COCKBURN: I’m a bit doubtful about it. They have done a certain amount, this offer of a $15 billion credit line, to make up for the loss of Iranian oil revenue It was a French idea originally, but they are asking Iran to step right back into the old nuclear deal, but the Iranians are not likely to do that while they’re subject to US sanctions. US sanctions and the sanctioning of European companies or banks that deal with Iran, basically means that Iran is facing an economic siege.

So these are maneuvers. The Iranians want to show they’re being kind of moderate. They want to preserve this deal as they do. At the same time, they don’t want to look as though they’re pushovers, that sanctions are squeezing them to death, and they’ve got no alternative but to give up. This would be to surrender to what Trump calls the policy of maximum pressure. I think we’re a long way from any real agreement on this. It’s still escalating.

GREG WILPERT: Iran also just recently announced that it is releasing seven of the 23 crew members it is holding of a Swedish-owned, but British-registered tanker that Iran had seized last July. Iran’s Revolutionary Guard seized that tanker in retaliation for the British seizing an Iranian tanker near Gibraltar in early July, but the Iranian tanker has now been released. Now, how do you see the situation of these tankers evolving? Could such seizures of oil tankers eventually lead to an escalation and to even war?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Yes, they could. This is sort of a game of chicken. As you said, it started off on the 4th of July when the British rather melodramatically dropped 30 Royal Marine commandos on the deck of this vessel saying, “It was heading for Syria. This had nothing to do with sanctions on Iran, but was a breach of sanctions on Syria imposed by the EU.” This never sounded right because it’s a peculiar moment for Britain to suddenly put such energy into enforcing EU sanctions, when we all know that Britain is trying to leave the EU at the moment. There’s a great political crisis here in Britain about this. This looked as though it was on the initiative of Washington. Then, as was inevitable, the Iranians retaliated against British-flagged vessels in the Gulf. There was an escalation that seems to have died down at the moment.

As I see it, the Iranian policy is to maintain pressure by sort of pinprick attacks. There were some small mines placed on oil tankers of the United Arab Emirates. Then when we had the shooting down of the American drone, a whole series of events to show that they’re not frightened, that they can retaliate, but not bring it up to the level of war. That’s sort of the way the Iranians often react to this sort of thing, with some covert military measures and to create an atmosphere of crisis, but not bring a war about.

Of course, once you start doing this, it could slip over the edge of the cliff at any moment. The Iranians did a sort of mirror image of the British takeover of their tanker when they took over the British tanker crew, which are just being released, as you mentioned. They dropped 30 commandos on the deck. There was a British Naval vessel not so far away, not far enough to stop this, but let’s say that Naval vessel had been closer. Would they have opened fire on a helicopter dropping these 30 Iranian commandos on the boat? That would have brought us – would have been a war, and could have very rapidly escalated. We’re always on, as I said, the edge of the cliff in the Gulf with each side sort of daring the other to go further.

GREG WILPERT: Iran says that the Europeans have two months to save the nuclear agreement, but Iran’s economy and its people are suffering tremendously under the US economic sanctions. The Europeans don’t seem to be able or willing to do all that much to avoid these sanctions, or to help Iran overcome them it seems, despite a barter agreement that they tried to initiate. What happens if the JCPOA completely falls apart? That is, if this two-month deadline that Rouhani had said is missed, basically?

PATRICK COCKBURN: Well, it’s falling apart by inches, but there’s still quite a long way to go on that. I think the one thing that has emerged is that the US, Trump and Iran, don’t want war. At one time, the US was calling on – some of its senior officials were calling for a regime change. How far do they really believe this? When Trump decided not to retaliate for the drone being shot down, that shows that he wants to rely on sanctions on this sort of very intense economic siege of Iran, but I don’t think the Iranians are going to come running. Once they know there isn’t going to be an all-out war, they’ll try to sustain these sanctions, and the situation isn’t quite as desperate as it looks. Obviously, they’re suffering a lot. On the other hand, they’re not isolated. China and Russia give them a measure of support.

The EU, rather pathetically, says it’s trying to maintain the nuclear deal of 2015, but it’s rather underlining the political and military weakness of the EU that they haven’t been able to do much about it. Big companies are too frightened of US sanctions against them if they have any relations with Iran. So the Europeans aren’t coming well out of it. Obviously, their relations with Trump are pretty frosty. They also probably don’t think it’s worth a really big crisis between the EU, the European states, and America on this issue, but they are looking pretty feeble at the moment.

GREG WILPERT: We’re going to leave it there for now, but as always, we’re going to continue to follow this situation. I was talking to Patrick Cockburn, long time Middle East correspondent with The Independent. Thanks again, Patrick, for having joined us today.

PATRICK COCKBURN: Thank you very much.

GREG WILPERT: Thank you for joining The Real News Network.

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U.S. Propaganda Doesn’t Get More Shameless Than ‘Jack Ryan’

A new trailer out Thursday for Amazon’s television series “Jack Ryan” featuring the titular hero racing against time to stop Venezuela from obtaining a nuclear weapon was widely ridiculed for its jingoistic nature and reliance on conspiracist tropes, with critics deriding the plotline of the new season of the nationalist series.

“Stop what you’re doing and watch this, it is jaw-dropping,” tweeted “Chapo Trap House” podcast co-host Will Menaker.

“I would truly like to know more about who wrote and produced this series,” Menaker added.

Stop what you’re doing and watch this, it is jaw-dropping

— WillMenaker (@willmenaker) September 5, 2019

As Common Dreams has reported, President Donald Trump’s administration spent much of the first half of 2019 expending a great amount of diplomatic pressure in hopes of enacting a coup against Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro. The White House promoted the self-declared presidency of Juan Guaió and punished Venezuela with sanctions and an embargo. The Guaidó effort appears to be over, reportedly due in part to Trump’s short attention span.

Historian Gary Alexander pointed to the president’s national security advisor John Bolton, who endorses a bellicose foreign policy toward nearly every country in the world, as the ideological godfather of this season of “Jack Ryan.”

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“No matter how cynical you might be about propagandistic American media, you are not prepared for how much watching this trailer is like snorting 100% pure John Bolton,” said Alexander.

Central to the plot is the idea that Venezuela, once armed with nuclear weapons, would bomb the U.S.—a country with enough firepower to use a fraction of its weapons to flatten the Latin American country.

“A nuclear Venezuela you will not hear about in the news,” Krasinski says at one point in the trailer, “’cause we’ll already be dead.”

“American propaganda is so over-the-top and ridiculous,” said journalist Alex Rubinstein.

Abby Martin, host and creator of the show Empire Files, called out the show’s star John Krasinski for “propelling such absurd war propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration.”

You should be ashamed of yourself for propelling such absurd war propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration, @johnkrasinski

— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) September 5, 2019

The show is the “best in late imperial tv,” lawyer Chase Madar tweeted sarcastically.

That point was echoed by the Center for International Policy’s Freedom Forward project executive director Sunjeev Berry.

“Hollywood producers may identify as liberals,” said Berry, “but their ‘products’ keep scaring us into neocon fantasies of war.”

Adam Johnson, co-host of the podcast “Citations Needed,” mocked the series’ premise and pointed out that the propagandization of the show was the kind of media that U.S. news networks regularly accuse authoritarian regimes of forcing on their people.

“A nuclear Venezuela!” Johnson said in a tongue-in-cheek tweet. “Man I’m so glad we don’t have state media propagandizing us in this country.”

The series relies on tropes that depict the current Venezuelan government as an irrational actor—a presumption that was rejected by Splinter‘s Jack Mirkinson.

“I think Venezuela probably wants a stable currency and a promise that America won’t invade it before it wants a nuclear weapon,” wrote Mirkinson, “but who am I to quibble with this kind of propaganda?

The post U.S. Propaganda Doesn’t Get More Shameless Than ‘Jack Ryan’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Most Consequential Whistleblower Who Wasn’t

While so many have heard of whistleblowers Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden making history in recent years, few have heard the story of Katharine Gun, the subject of the film “Official Secrets,” directed and co-written by Gavin Hood. On the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence,” the “Official Secrets” director tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer that he learned about Gun from Ged Doherty, a producer he’d worked with on the film “Eye in the Sky” about drone warfare, and realized the whistleblower’s compelling story needed to be told.

In 2003, President George W. Bush and U.K. Prime Minister Tony Blair were attempting to bolster international support for the invasion of Iraq, and seemingly would stop at nothing to go to war with Saddam Hussein. One of their lesser-known efforts came across Gun’s desk at the U.K.’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) one fateful day, forcing her to choose between her career as a government analyst and translator, and blowing the whistle on an unethical scheme.

“Katharine was working at GCHQ,” Hood tells Scheer, “she’s a young Mandarin translator, and this memo comes across her desk suggesting that she help gather intelligence on the non-permanent members on the [United Nations] Security Council.”

At the time, Hood explains, Blair and Bush were facing considerable resistance from permanent members of the Security Council, including France, China and Russia, with regards to a war with Iraq. So instead of trying to convince powerful allies, a plan was concocted to essentially blackmail the leaders of countries such as Chile, Mexico, Bulgaria and others, to get them to vote in favor of a U.N. Security Council Resolution for war with Iraq. Upon seeing such a dubious request, the GCHQ analyst decides to bring it to the attention of the British public, putting even her own husband at risk in doing so.

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While Gun’s efforts paid off in some crucial ways, as we well know from some of the most shameful pages of recent Western history, the Iraq invasion was not stopped despite lack of support from the U.N. And, as Scheer points out, the result of the Iraq War is still playing out in horrific ways to this day.

“Official Secrets” is “really about the suppression of inconvenient truth on a grand level,” the Truthdig editor in chief says to the film director. “The biggest decision—do you go to war, do you kill people, do you cause mayhem—that’s what’s happened to Iraq. The Mideast is never going to be the same. You’ll never put it back together again.”

Gun’s own personal life was also irreparably impacted by her courageous decision.

“[Katharine] reached a point where she decided she would go and live in Turkey again with her husband … because she can’t get a job,” says Hood. “Even though she brought this truth to life, you go for a job interview, and—ah! You’re the person who blew the whistle on the security services. And she was right to, but we are so strangely suspicious.

“We have this confusion in our mind between admiration for the person who tells the truth, and a slight fear of them. And I don’t know why that is. Because we need people to tell the truth, or we’ll all end up in an authoritarian dictatorship. So I think she’s a wonderful example of an ordinary person doing something extraordinary.”

Listen to the full discussion between Hood and Scheer as the two talk about the reasons whistleblowing, in a better world, would be seen as unremarkable, whilst in our current political climate, it is something that puts a target on a hero’s back. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

ROBERT SCHEER: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, a very important filmmaker, Gavin Hood. He’s done a number of really interesting movies, but the reason I say he’s important is he’s put together actually the best movie, or maybe one of the best things I’ve read or seen on the Gulf War. The Second Gulf War, the lying about weapons of mass destruction war, the George W. Bush war that unfortunately Colin Powell, a man I greatly respect, defended in going before the U.N., and so forth. The movie is called “Official Secrets.And it centers on the much-maligned character of the whistleblower, but in this case, it’s a whistleblower you can’t attack the way people are attacking Chelsea Manning—or once attacked Daniel Ellsberg, who now is a hero, but people forget that he was facing 125 years in jail when Richard Nixon considered him a traitor. Here you have a character you simply cannot attack. A woman named Katharine Gun, a specialist in Mandarin Chinese, who was working at the British Intelligence Agency, the equivalent of our NSA, basically. And a memo comes across her desk, basically outlining how the NSA wants the British Intelligence Agency to cooperate with them in blackmailing representatives of nations on the Security Council–generally smaller ones–to support the U.S. going to war. And it was important for Britain, because without this war declaration, Tony Blair was hanging out to dry. And so I want to welcome this director, Gavin Hood. How did you come to make this film? And then we’ll get to the point of it.

GAVIN HOOD: Well, firstly, thanks very much for having me, Bob. Yes, I’d made a film called “Eye in the Sky” with a producer called Ged Doherty. And we’d enjoyed working together. And one day Ged called me up, and he said Gavin, have you ever heard of Katharine Gun? And it’s one of those moments where you feel you ought to have heard of someone, because that’s why he’s asking me, and I went—no, I haven’t. He said, well, just Google her and call me back, you know, when you’re ready.

RS: Let me just stop you right there. Because I have great guilt; I thought I knew everything about all this. I went to see your movie at the Writer’s Guild—I didn’t know who Katharine Gun was. And I was blown away. I’m not putting on—you know, she’s another Edward Snowden, she’s—we have had great whistleblowers. But talk about an unsung hero.

GH: Yes, she was. I mean, the thing that I like about Katharine—as I say, I Googled her, I called him right back. I said wait a minute, I really would like to meet this person. How come I don’t know about Katharine Gun? And part of the reason is because Katharine is actually very shy and humble and quiet, and not someone who naturally seeks out the limelight in any way. And what I found interesting about this story—because I lived through the Iraq War, and I thought I was, like you, reasonably knowledgeable about what had happened. And I had no idea about this little story that turns out to be quite a big story. Katharine was working at GCHQ, she’s a young Mandarin translator, and this memo comes across her desk suggesting that she help gather intelligence on the non-permanent members on the Security Council. Because the U.K. and the United States are saying, we need a U.N. resolution for war. And of course, China and Russia and France are saying, we don’t think this war’s a good idea. So these are the permanent members, and the non-permanent members that rotate on that Security Council are usually smaller countries; they rotate every two years. In this case it was Chile, Mexico, Angola, Guinea, Bulgaria, I think, and Pakistan. Well, you know, maybe if we lean on these guys a bit, they’ll vote in favor of this U.N. resolution, Security Council resolution for war. And one of the reasons that resolution was so important to Tony Blair was because his chief of the armed forces, Admiral Boyce, was refusing to set a foot into Iraq without clear, legal advice from the attorney general of the United Kingdom, Lord Goldsmith, saying that his troops would never be charged with a war crime because this was a legal war. And without getting into the weeds, I’ll quickly just say there’s two ways that that war would have been legal. One is a U.N. resolution for war, where we’re all collectively going to go and take down this dreadful man, Saddam Hussein—and no one’s shedding any crocodile tears for him. But the other way is, you have to prove self-defense. The good old-fashioned self-defense, which is why when they didn’t get that U.N. resolution for war, the WMD, weapons of mass destruction argument became what they relied on. “We’re going to be attacked by Iraq, they’re so dangerous, we have to take them out.” And those were the two sort of ways that they were trying to legally justify invading Iraq.

RS: But let’s just be very specific here. We are talking about a moment in which U.N. inspectors are in Iraq looking for these weapons, and they’re not finding them. And so what do you do when you don’t have the evidence to justify your going to war? After all, this war is supposed to be necessary because of the 9/11 attack on the United States–

GH: Yes.

RS: —is one reason. OK. The fact is, there was no connection ever shown between Saddam Hussein and Al Qaeda, or [Osama] bin Laden; on the contrary, it was the one country in the Middle East where Al Qaeda could not operate.

GH: Yes, because Saddam was a sort of secular, national socialist, if you like. I mean, he was like—he was—the Ba’ath Party was not a religious party, and he would have risked being thrown out by someone like Bin Laden. So the last person he wanted to be involved—neither of them, you know, particularly savory characters, but certainly not friends.

RS: Right. But this is not the point. We’re talking about national security, so savory or unsavory, you know, the U.S., Britain, everyone else is in bed with all sorts of unsavory characters. This is supposed to be because the security of the world, and of the American people, primarily—on George W. Bush’s idea—have been threatened by this attack on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon. OK. They go to war against a country that was opposed to al Qaeda, or the leader was opposed to al Qaeda. The other justification is there are supposed to be weapons of mass destruction.

GH: And there aren’t any.

RS: And what I find so amazing about this, the one lousy review you’ve gotten—

GH: [Laughs] Thank you for saying it’s “the one lousy,” because yes, we’re lucky most of them are fresh, but yes, we did get a little knock from our friends—

RS: You got very good reviews. And you know, in papers like the Los Angeles Times and elsewhere. But the New York Times has the chutzpah [Laughter] to run an attack on this movie, on the pettiest cinematographic, almost the lighting or the casting or something, conveniently ignoring that what you’re exposing are war crimes—war crimes—that the New York Times was complicit in. The New York Times had to apologize over the whole Judy Miller scandal of actually enforcing, not only carrying the propaganda of the George W. Bush, but goading the George W. Bush administration to go to war. Then had to apologize—

GH: They did apologize eventually, for falling for this nonsense, yeah.

RS: —falling for this malarkey, yet they do a review—you don’t have to endorse this. I know you’re a filmmaker—

GH: [Laughs] Bless you, Bob, but I—

RS: ––you need good reviews, and so forth. Maybe they’ll come up with another—

GH: No, it’s fine.

RS: But let me just say, I am so offended by this. You know, because after all, you read these reviewers for some guidance as to whether this is a movie you should go see or not. They don’t even mention that this thing goes to the center of the whole deception that the New York Times was involved with. I’m not going to belabor this point—

GH: I’m just going to let them—you know, the film has to stand on its own merits, and if they didn’t like it, they’re perfectly entitled not to like it. Fortunately, most of our other reviews are positive, so that’s good. But I think your point is right. I mean, you know, that particular review does focus on what seemed to be somewhat petty issues, and doesn’t in any way—as the L.A. Times does, or most of the other reviews—wrestle with this, the question. I mean, the film just doesn’t fall into an easy narrative structure. That is true. You know, in the conventional cinematic way, your leading character is a hero who overcomes adversity, beats the bad guy, makes some triumphant speech, or pulls out a sword in the end, beats the bad guy, and sets the world right. And this film just wouldn’t, couldn’t, and doesn’t do that, because it’s based on real events—

RS: Oh—let me defend it, by the way—

GH: No, I’m not trying to attack my own—[Laughs]

RS: This is a—no, but what you’re talking about is really a Type A, masculine image of the hero.

GH: Yes.

RS: You have this incredibly dignified, very smart, measured heroine, or hero, in Katharine Gun. A person who makes a point in the film that all of the reviewers seem to have ignored. Because we always get to the question of where is your loyalty. Was Edward Snowden loyal? Was Daniel Ellsberg loyal? And Katharine Gun, in the film—and she doesn’t have this bravado; she’s not saving the world—she just says, this is wrong.

GH: Yeah, exactly.

RS: You know, there’s Tony Blair, there’s George W. Bush, they’re telling the U.N. Security Council there’s an imminent danger, therefore we can’t wait for the result of the U.N. inspectors. We have to go to war because of an imminent danger. And she ways, my loyalty is not to the British government or the American government. My loyalty is to the people of this country.

GH: That’s right. She makes—she said that expressly, yeah.

RS: Expressly. And let’s just mention the backdrop to this. Margaret Thatcher had pushed through an Official Secrets Act. That’s why this movie—should mention the title, “Official Secrets”-is really about the suppression of inconvenient truth on a grand level. The biggest decision—do you go to war, do you kill people, do you cause mayhem—that’s what’s happened to Iraq. The Mideast is never going to be the same. You’ll never put it back together again. You’ve put the Saudis in a premier position, and the alternative to them is Iran. And this whole idea you were creating a moderate alternative is in the trash can—

GH: —Western democratic state. It was—it was just naive, actually, at the very least—stupid and—

RS: So it’s an absolute disaster—no, no—well, deeply cynical and stupid. But the fact of the matter is, and I’m objecting to what this, the review in the New York Times—and yes, I’m picking on them. Because they bear real responsibility for the war; that doesn’t mean they have to censor their reviewers, but it’s just—I would think it’s—

GH: It’s ironic in some way, that they’re—

RS: Yeah, you would just think someone would say, but wait a minute, the main point of this movie is that the officials of both England and the United States were lying in this open way at the U.N. And if they didn’t get the resolution, England wasn’t going to be able to follow suit. And this woman is sitting there, doing what you would hope every decent person in the world would do. Because we can’t treat whistleblowing as an expected, exceptional act; it should be the norm.

GH: Well, I think this is—thank you, Bob. I mean, I think what drew me to this story was that Katharine Gun is more like us than we would think. She’s an ordinary, young person going to her job. She happens to work for a national security agency, but she says—you know, I said to her at one point, why did you take this job? She said, well, the truth is I answered an ad in the Guardian newspaper—which is a liberal newspaper!—there they’d placed an ad for translators. And you know, translators who are very, very good at more than one language are hard to come by, apparently. And these are the sort of people you need in these agencies if you’re really going to listen in from a signals intelligence point of view and get accurate information. You need people who are steeped in another culture. But right there lies their dilemma, you see—and Katharine has talked about it—which is, if you’re going to need people who are, in a sense, multicultural, to help you gather information on perhaps a terrorist plot or whatever, you need to be sure that you play by the rules before you lose the loyalty of those very people that you need. Because if you start behaving as if the only thing you care about is your agenda, and you don’t really care about the truth of what’s happening in Iraq or whatever, there are people whose help you are seeking who actually do care about Iraq, or whatever other country they are—you know, whose language they are well versed in. They in a sense become multicultural citizens. And so expecting—there was one parliamentary committee member [laughs] who interviewed Katherine, essentially sort of the idea was that she just wasn’t British enough. And her answer was, well, you have a dilemma there. Because I am British. But I also have spent a tremendous amount of time living in other cultures, and that’s why I’m useful to you. But you must understand that I have respect for those other cultures, and if you start bending the rules and lying, it’s going to make people like me uncomfortable.

RS: But why doesn’t it make everyone uncomfortable?

GH: It should make everyone uncomfortable, you’re quite right.

RS: I mean, first of all, there’s validity, obvious validity, to what you’re saying. It applies to people, mostly on the analytics side or analysis side of the CIA—

GH: Yeah.

RS: And Edward Snowden was one of them. Daniel Ellsberg was another. Daniel Ellsberg actually had been in the Marines, but you know, a well-educated guy, read the Pentagon Papers, said this is information the American public—

GH: Needs to know.

RS: And at the time, he was vilified by Richard Nixon, but now he’s considered a hero. But in each case—

GH: And I think Katharine is the same, by the way.

RS: Oh, Katharine’s an—

GH: And Ellsberg has said that often.

RS: Oh, not only has he said it, he said what she did was far more important than what he did. Ellsberg, whom I have interviewed, we’ve done a podcast. I know him quite well, I was—actually attended as a reporter the Pentagon Papers trial. And at the time, you know, a lot of people said well, why did he do this, national security, is he embarrassing the troops, blah blah blah. You know, none of which turned out to be true. What really turned out to be true is there was no basis for the war, and the people pursuing the war knew it.

GH: And the same applies here, exactly the same, yeah.

RS: And so the question I asked them, and Ellsberg asked: Why are there so few whistleblowers? That’s really why I wanted to do this podcast. I want people to watch your movie, “Official Secrets.” It’s open, out now. No, really, I think it’s an incredible movie, I’m not going to go on about that. And really I think it’s—it’s just one of the best movies I’ve seen about politics of any kind. It’s measured, it doesn’t claim more than it knows. So I’ve given my pitch. But that’s not why I’m doing the podcast. I’m doing the podcast because I think, as with your work on drones, or “Rendition” and other things, you’re up against a really basic question of what do we mean by a citizen of this world? What do we mean by somebody who cares? What do we mean by—

GH: Loyalty, as you said earlier. Yeah.

RS: I’ll go even further, though. At a time when it’s the presumption of our legendary newspapers, or our—you know, the old print publications—that they somehow have real news, or, you know. And that here’s the president of the United States, Donald Trump, saying “fake news,” fake news, New York Times, his big argument. Well, the fact is, we’ve always had fake news. We’ve always had people lie to us. And the difference is, why don’t people in the know come out and tell us? And the—

GH: Because—

RS: —persistent thing, I just want to put it out there—

GH: ––mm-hmm, go, yeah—

RS: —by the way, I know you have to go speak at the—

GH: —no, no, this is great, keep going, keep going—

RS: ––I’ll go as long as you want. The fact of the matter is, the persistent concern that I have, as a journalist who’s covered this stuff for half a century, you know, is why are there so few whistleblowers. That’s what really gets to me. Because you would think what Katharine Gun did—and her name should become a household name—should be the norm. You’re sitting there and saying, my god, these people are lying to the world. They’re inventing a war. Lots of people—you don’t have to be an expert in lots of languages, which she is, and a very smart person, which she is. You would think any decent person, any ordinary telephone operator who intercepted this, should say: “Wow! This is wrong.”

GH: But I think—and you’re absolutely right, but here’s where I sort of approach it with some humility, and why I think Katharine’s a hero. We all have jobs, most people; you have to pay your bills. And for most people, when something comes across their desk—even if they’re not a spy, just someone working for Enron, working for Wall Street, working for a studio. The question that intrigued me in the film is: If you or I had something come across our desk that said the organization we’re working for is up to no good—they’re dodging their taxes, they’re doing this, they’re—whatever they are, when do you speak up? And Katharine—at the risk of losing your job. And Katharine risked—

RS: Is that a question?

GH: Well, no, no, I’m saying it’s—

RS: Well, let me just answer it, and then you can do the whole convoluted [Laughter]—I say you speak up right there and then.

GH: Exactly. You’re right. But I’m saying that most people wrestle with that. And they’re only risking losing their job. Katharine risked not only losing her job, but her freedom as well, and she had the courage to speak up. My point is, you’re right, and she is a shining example of someone who was willing, for the sake of what was right and for her own conscience, to risk not only her job, but her freedom.

RS: Not to give away the movie, but it does have a happy ending of sorts. Not happy in the sense that the war is stopped, this irrational—today, I doubt if you could find five people in London who actually would support that war, or what Blair did. Blair is actually an unpopular figure in connection with it. And yet, this one human being—I have to get—I mean, she wasn’t the only one that saw this memo.

GH: No, hundreds of people saw that memo, and yet as you point out, she was the only one who spoke up.

RS: Right. So in one of the reviews that I liked very much, the L.A. Times review by Kenneth Turan—who, full disclosure, he is my ex-brother-in-law and I feel very close to him—very good review. But he would describe her as a zealot. She’s not a zealot! She’s a decent, honest human being, a citizen.

GH: Right.

RS: Right? And we have to use that language, why? Because she’s so exceptional. So somebody who is exceptional, doing what any decent person should do, we call a zealot. But the fact of the matter is, we have a very low standard now of what we’re expecting from people. What Edward Snowden did, for goodness’ sake, everyone should be expected to do that.

GH: Or Reality Winner, for that matter. Reality Winner, who you know, who’s not as lucky as Katharine, and is sitting in prison for telling us that, you know, the 2016 elections were hacked.

RS: Yeah, or Chelsea Manning, who after all is in jail now because they are using her to break Julian Assange. We have a replay of the Pentagon Papers, Julian Assange is like the Washington Post, the publisher—

GH: No, you’re right, he’s a publisher, not a whistleblower. Yeah, you pointed that out quite rightly.

RS: Yeah, and Chelsea Manning, who was the whistleblower, and who revealed that we were killing civilians—“we” being the U.S. government—was killing civilians, killing reporters, shooting at innocent people, and enjoying it. And that gets revealed by a rather low-ranking member of the military force, and she’s now sitting once again in jail, even though she was, you know, pardoned on the other charge. It just seems to me that the movie is better than the way you’re presenting it.

GH: Than the way I’m presenting—[Laughs] No, I don’t want to not present—I love the movie, and that’s why I made it for the last few years. But you’re being very kind, thank you, Bob.

RS: No, I’m not being kind. I’m saying the movie got to me—

GH: Good! That’s really good for me.

RS: And it got to me because I don’t think any honest person, looking at this movie—I mean, they’ve managed to blacken the reputation of Julian Assange. Actually, that’s why the Pentagon Papers case fell apart. Why? Because the U.S. government, under Richard Nixon, was—as part of the dirty tricks that led to Watergate, broke into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychoanalyst’s office to get dirt on him. OK? So they’ve managed to dirty people, these heroic people. Some of them survived, like Ellsberg did. Julian Assange might not; he’s in jail, god knows what the Brits are doing to him before they pass him over to the Americans. But the key thing here is your heroine here, you know, Katharine Gun, seems to me unassailable in any respect. She is—and that’s why I object to the word zealot—she’s just somebody reading and saying, wait a minute, I’m watching the telly here, I’m watching Colin Powell lie to the U.N.—right? I’m watching my government, Tony Blair, I’m watching George Bush lie. And I know what they’re trying to do is blackmail—let’s go back to the story—

GH: Well, she gets that memo, yeah.

RS: Yeah, she gets a memo that they’re going to try to blackmail the lesser members—the temporary members of the Security Council on, what, personal stuff about their drinking or womanizing—

GH: Yeah—to hack their personal information, to see if they can dig up dirt. And they were at the same time also dispatching various people into those smaller countries to suggest that, you know, maybe we withdraw some funding or we lean on you economically. There was pressure coming on those countries from many sides. And but what happened is, when that memo was leaked, and when it was published in the Observer newspaper, the one thing that Katharine did achieve—and perhaps we don’t give her enough credit for this—was that when that memo was leaked, Chile, Mexico, all of those smaller countries were so outraged that they refused to even go to a vote. So they—the vote never happened. If they had [unclear], if Katharine hadn’t revealed that memo, who knows whether Tony Blair and George Bush may or may not have got the U.N. resolution that they really craved? In which case they would have had perfect cover, and the weapons of mass destruction would have been a non-issue. But the fact is, because there was no vote on that U.N. Security Council, that was why suddenly the weapons of mass destruction became so important. We rushed to war, and Katharine’s story, in a way, got trounced by a bigger story. Because we stopped being interested in why we’re going to war, and suddenly we’re just interested in watching bombs falling on Baghdad like we’re all watching some video game. And so I think that’s why it’s taken time to go back and ask the question, well, how did we get into this war? And suddenly Katharine’s story comes back around, after 16 years. I mean, I’m—the only thing that I think Katharine is a little sad about, and I don’t want to give the movie away, but in a way, her legal defense was shut down. And she never got her day in court. And in some ways, this movie is an opportunity for her to have her day in court, and her lawyer Ben Emmerson to have his day in court.

RS: And again, without giving away this movie, “Official Secrets”—which I urge people to watch, because we’re not doing it justice, frankly. It’s really laid out in the movie in a way—I’m hitting on things that interest me, that’s what I get to do here—

GH: [Laughs] It’s your show, mate!

RS: No, no, but it is really not in any way—I’m trying to get people to watch the movie, it’s not a substitute for watching it. Because it’s a great—it’s a great history lesson on manipulation. And I think it’s one of the more egregious examples of fake news coming—everybody forgets, fake news doesn’t just come from some isolated, Russian bot creator, or whatever. Fake news comes, most effectively, from governments. Of every kind. They have huge numbers of people, very skilled in creating fake news, selectively leaking it, and so forth. And what happened in this case is they had one kind of fake story, and it wasn’t gelling, and so forth—

GH: Well, they set up that Office of Special Plans, right? So when they weren’t getting the intel they wanted from the CIA—because many in the CIA, Scott Ritter being an example you mentioned earlier—I mean, there were people going, this is—the intel you want doesn’t exist. Well, that brings up an interesting question, because of course Rumsfeld then, and Bush, set up the Office of Special Plans with the neocons and Wolfowitz and Doug Feith and so on. And then they have a man called Abram Shulsky, whose real philosophy of life—and I think this is interesting in terms of this story—is he is quoted as saying, and you can look it up on Wikipedia, it’s not even a mystery. His version of what intelligence is, is he says the goal of intelligence is not truth, but victory. Now, that’s a military intelligence model. And that’s kind of chilling, because the traditional way we think of intelligence within the CIA is that the CIA, in theory, is supposed to be walled off from political influence, gather intelligence, and present their best understanding of what’s really going on in a particular place on the ground. That’s what our ideal CIA is supposed to do. And when folks who are following that kind of path in the CIA are not giving Bush what he wants, and not giving Rumsfeld what he wants, they literally set up the Office of Special Plans, a small unit in the Pentagon, staffed it with people who are neocons, and say this is the goal: the goal is to make regime change in Iraq. Give us what we need. And now you’re into total fake news; now you’re fake intelligence. And so there is a split right there. The military intelligence model is usually used because you’re already at war, and now we must win by whatever means. We must drop pamphlets, propaganda on those Germans, to tell them whatever we need to tell them, to get them to surrender. But that’s not the approach you should take when you’re leading up to whether you should go to war or not. You should be trying to gather the details of whether someone like Saddam Hussein, as much as you may not like him, is he actually a threat to this country. And the answer, as we now know, was absolutely not. So why are we drumming up this fake intelligence? Because you have an overarching agenda, which in hindsight is completely naive, that you’re going to bring Western-style democracy to the Middle East. And, you know, maybe be able to take your military bases out of Saudi Arabia, and calm the people who don’t want the bases in the Holy Land, and put them in Iraq, and then we’ll be right up against Israel and Iran, and we can bring democracy to the Middle East. Lovely idea, Tony; bloody naive if you’ve never been backpacking. You know that tribal loyalties are never going to sustain that. And so we get lied into a war. But what’s really upsetting is the way that Office of Special Plans was complicit in manufacturing intelligence. And that’s what Katharine felt when she got that memo. She says so beautifully in the film, and said in that interrogation: I don’t work for the government. I work for the British people, because governments change. And my loyalty—and you raised loyalty—is not to governments. It’s not, as Donald Trump would have it, to the president. It’s to the constitutional underpinnings of the democracy.

RS: Well, it’s also to honesty and truth. I mean, look, the movie comes up against the basic contradiction that you as a Brit should be familiar with. The basic question—I’ve raised it over and over on this podcast with different people, some who work for the CIA and so forth. Can you—the basic challenge of the founders of this country, in the United States, of the government, was the concern about being an empire. And what had happened to the British empire, and that extended to their poor behavior here in the colonies. And what information, and how easy it is to lie about what you’re doing elsewhere. If you’re doing it at home, people can observe; they can, you know, take a bus over there and see if it’s really true or not, or so forth. Or experience it, or so forth. But when you talk about foreign adventures, you lie with impunity. And what was interesting is this woman, Katharine Gun, who is sitting there–she is at the center of knowledge. That’s what I have found from interviewing a number of people who were in the CIA, or in the NSA or so forth. They’re at the center of this information. That’s what happened to Ellsberg. Ellsberg read the Pentagon Papers report, and he says, wait a minute! This is information about what’s supposedly going on over in Vietnam, this distant place that most people didn’t even know about when it started. And it’s all been a tissue of lies. You know, how can we be a republic, self-governed, if we are lied to with such impunity, right? That was the challenge.

GH: Right. Yep, the same thing here.

RS: That’s what your heroine—yeah, she’s sitting there saying, well, wait a minute, I know this to be all lies. I’m here, I see it. We don’t have evidence, there’s no support of what the New York Times ends up carrying, that there are weapons of mass destruction–no, there are not, you know. It’s not true. I know it’s not true; I’m sitting here, I’m privileged to have this information. Now something comes across and says, we’re going to cover up these lies by, you know, arm-wrestling these representatives of smaller nations to give us another reason for going to war, and justification. So, really, what we’re talking about is the survival not just of your power or something, of common sense. Because what the neocons were saying about Iraq was all silly, stupid, uninformed. Oh, democracy will flourish, and we’re backing these really good guys, and we’ll reconstruct the state. And it was all garbage, because—and in fact, just the opposite happened. People who were pro-Iran, and the Shiite majority finally got its voice, and—

GH: No, it’s been—there’s no question it’s been a disaster.

RS: Yeah, and Iran now is, you got two powers that you don’t like, Saudi Arabia and Iran, contesting for power. And unfortunately, Trump is on the side of Saudi Arabia, which is even less appealing than Iran. And so you make a hash of logic, and that’s really—

GH: And do you think it was—it’s so hard to fathom. Do you think Blair and Bush were just utterly naive? Because you know, nobody puts their head on their pillow going, “I’m a bad guy!” You know, they must have believed in their hearts that somehow the ends would justify the means. And so they get trapped more and more into the lie, because they are so determined to achieve this goal, because they think the democracy is going to flourish. Let the means be damned, you know. It’s almost—I’m not trying to be sympathetic towards them, but when you look at it as a writer and an actor, you go, what is this. If you were asked to play the character of Bush, or play the character of Blair, they don’t put their hands—go, ah, rubbing my hands together, I’m going to be the bad guy—not at all. They had to have utter faith. And it’s hubris. I mean, there’s a word for it: hubris. This naive sense that they’re so right, that the way they go about achieving their end doesn’t really matter. Lie, manufacture intelligence, tell the public whatever you think they need to hear, because once we achieve that goal, everything will be fine. And it just shows that the—you know, the way you go about things does matter. And one should never be so certain about your own end results, that you think achieving it, the way you achieve it doesn’t matter. I mean, one of the things—

RS: I—

GH: —sorry, I was just—

RS: Well, since you’ve turned this into an interview with me—

GH: [Laughs]

RS: Let me just say, I think you’re making a very dangerous assumption.

GH: Am I?

RS: That you have adults watching the store. I remember when I was a kid growing up in the Bronx, you know, they’d say you can’t walk away from the store and let your nephew watch it; you have to have adults watching it, or they’ll give away all the candy or something. You know, and you’re assuming Blair and Bush are serious, thoughtful adults—

GH: No, no, no, I’m—

RS: ––watching world affairs. And I think of them as rather shallow politicians, whatever their IQ; Blair is probably smarter than George W. Bush, who knows. Probably better schooled, maybe, although George—as Oliver Stone—I thought he captured the banality of George W. Bush quite brilliantly in his movie.

GH: I do think they’re banal, arrogant, hubristic, ah, entitled individuals. That’s the problem, that’s what I’m saying.

RS: And what gives them cover, what gives them cover is this thing I said earlier, foreign policy, national security. This is like this black box you don’t open. And then somebody comes through and says, “Oh, if we don’t act now, all hell is going to break loose, and you don’t know what I know.” I interviewed these people over and over, you know; I was in Vietnam at the time of the Gulf of Tonkin, and I actually bought it, because they seemed so certain. You find out 20 years later, I’m sitting at the L.A. Times and we finally get the secret document. And I went to my publisher, who had been in the Johnson White House—a terrific guy, Tom Johnson–I said, did you know this? He said well, I kind of—didn’t really know. I said, but so they lied! They lied 20 years ago, they went before the American public on the radio, and said we’ve been attacked at the Gulf of Tonkin in Vietnam, and it didn’t happen, and they knew already at that moment there was no evidence to support it.

GH: Right, and you—

RS: So then you have to ask yourself the question, would you trust somebody to buy a used car for you? Would you trust them to do anything—

GH: No. And you’re quite right.

RS: —that has such disrespect for looking at the facts, looking at the—no! They’re not, it’s not considered adult behavior. It’s driven by career, covering your behind, ambition—

GH: Entitlement, hubris. This is what I think. This is why I say that what’s so dangerous—

RS: And she, by the way, to take this to the conclusion, Katharine Gun—this movie, by the way, is worth watching just to experience a true hero, Katharine Gun. True hero. Because she is the adult in the room.

GH: Yep, very well said.

RS: And it just comes out, without bravado, without great flowery speeches. We’ve been going on and on—

GH: Well, thank you for that, Bob.

RS: —and talking to each other like this, and yet she is so clear in the movie—

GH: She’s really just doing, as you pointed out at the beginning, what our parents taught us to do as kids: tell the truth. She just feels she has to tell the truth. And then of course what I love is that she actually has moments where she goes, oh my god, maybe I don’t have to say any more. I’ve said enough, and I’ll get away with this. And then, as her friends begin to be interrogated, because someone’s leaked, she has another crisis of conscience. Which is: if I don’t speak up, my friends are going to be tarred with this thing, and ruin their careers. And so, once again: tell the truth. And she tells the truth again, when she confesses. And I just think there’s something we’re taught—I have young children; what do you want to tell them? You’re going to tell them, tell the truth. And then yet when you get out in the world—well, but maybe you can’t really tell the truth, we should lie to the people—no, we can tell the truth.

RS: Well, you’re going to have to also tell them that careerism doesn’t trump everything.

GH: Exactly.

RS: And—but the interesting thing about—Al Gore, the best thing Al Gore ever did was go along with the title of his movie, “An Inconvenient Truth,” on global warming. The fact is, the truth is often inconvenient.

GH: Yeah. And sometimes it puts you at great risk. That’s the only thing I’m—and most people would struggle in these circumstances if they were afraid of losing their job. Because a job is something important. And why Katharine is so brave is because she risked not only losing a job, but her freedom.

RS: OK, this is a good thing on which to end this, because you know, you have to go speak after your movie here at USC, where it’s being shown over at the cinema school. I appreciate your taking the time to come here. But let me just say, what offended me again—I hate to harp—I don’t hate to, actually, I’m enjoying harping on the New York Times review. What bothered me is they put down the character of Katharine Gun, not just the way [she was] played by the actress.

GH: Yeah, Keira Knightley, who’s wonderful in it.

RS: Yeah. But the very idea of this character. And yet, I thought to myself, you have just looked at heroism in the face, and you don’t recognize it. You know, where was the person at the New York Times, where you work? I’m not blaming you, film critic, for not getting it. Who there—who there, at the New York Times, stood up and said: “What we are doing is wrong, lying about or distorting the picture on weapons of mass destruction. And you should stop, and I will publicly criticize you.” You know, Chris Hedges, who writes now for Truthdig, the publication I edit, but he lost his job at the New York Times for being one of those truth-tellers.

GH: Well, there is exactly the point. That’s why I say Katharine’s story is inspiring to ask us the question, in whatever organization we work, whether it be the New York Times, or a law firm, or a studio, or a hairdressing salon—I don’t care where you work. When you see something going wrong, a lie being told, a fraud being committed, you know, something wrong—when do you speak up? And what’s so frustrating, as you pointed out when you say this is about whistleblowers, is we on the one hand, we say we admire people who speak the truth. And yet when whistleblowers do speak the truth, so often they are punished. I mean, even Katharine, having said all this, and—she reached a point where she decided she would go and live in Turkey again—with her husband, who’s an amazing man and they have a lovely daughter. She went back to Turkey, because she can’t get a job. Even though she brought this truth to life, you go for a job interview, and—ah! You’re the person who blew the whistle on the security services. And she was right to. But we are so strangely suspicious, we have this confusion in our mind between admiration for the person who tells the truth, and a slight fear of them. And I don’t know why that is. Because we need people to tell the truth, or we’ll all end up in an authoritarian dictatorship. So I think she’s a wonderful example of an ordinary person doing something extraordinary. And I take your point completely, that it shouldn’t be extraordinary. It should be what we all do. And yet we don’t.

RS: Yes. And then finally, though, if she’s the messenger, why do we shoot the messenger?

GH: Exactly.

RS: You know. And, you know, we do it because, again, this wonderful phrase, the inconvenient truth. Yes, it costs you. You know, look at—I mean, OK, Daniel Ellsberg, who is just a marvelous human being, as far as I’m concerned.

GH: Yeah, I’ve met him, he’s great. And he’s very fond of Katharine, and very supportive of Katharine. And has been very supportive of this movie, and came to see the film in San Francisco, and has spoken very kindly of the film.

RS: But I remember at the time, his colleagues at the RAND Corporation, which was a U.S. Air Force-funded research center and so forth, condemned him for interfering with their relationship to armed forces contracts. And you know, the question—I mean, I was stunned at that time, because by then, everyone knew the Vietnam War made no sense, and the whole development of it made no sense. And yet—and they had the documents in their own defense department that showed it made no sense, you know. And yet, people again, it gets to that word, he was making their career choices awkward.

GH: Well, this goes to your question of loyalty. Where does loyalty lie? And as a thematic idea in the film, I mean, Katharine is loyal to her conscience, but she is disloyal to her government; but she is loyal to the British people. She’s arguably somewhat disloyal to her husband, because she puts that marriage and his life at risk, because suddenly his wife is saying all these things, and suddenly they’re exposed. But she is loyal to a simple thing called conscience. And you’d think that would be normal, but it’s difficult, because so many people are loyal to something else—career, money, whatever it is. And those–so I don’t make light of that, because I do think people’s jobs matter. But that’s why it’s an act of courage. And we all need to be a little more courageous. If we could all be a little more courageous, the world would certainly be a better place.

RS: OK, I’m talking to Gavin Hood, who is the director and one of the writers of “Official Secrets.” I’m hoping it’s a movie that will have Oscar—

GH: Ah, bless you, thank you, Bob. [Laughs] Thank you.

RS: —no, for very good reason. I don’t know how—I can’t predict how a movie like this will do at the box office, or what have you. But I do think if the academy has any serious concern about showing courage in filmmaking, and I think great insight. But I’m going to ask you one final question, because you’ve done a number of movies, and a couple of the themes really come together. And it has a lot to do with anonymous death. The exercise of power in a way that we don’t have to see the victims. We don’t have to think of the–so much of this happens in that dark world, hidden from our observation. So take a few of your more recent movies that have that similar theme.

GH: Yes. Well, “Eye in the Sky” has a similar theme; “Rendition,” certainly. Here’s the thing. People often ask me, Why do you–why are you drawn to these themes? And the only answer I suppose I can come up with is, I grew up in apartheid South Africa in the ‘70s and ‘80s. I know what it’s like to live under real authoritarianism. Where quite literally, through the ‘80s while I was a young law student, we watched as the rule of law was systematically set aside, in particular with regard to emergency and security legislation. Meaning there was a time when, you know, as you are in most countries, you’re entitled at least to a trial if you’re arrested under the Official Secrets Act. Well, we reached a point in South Africa where at first it went to a 90-day detention without trial; then it went to 180 days, when the Supreme Court kind of kicked that back and said, you can’t rearrest someone. Oh, well, then we’ll take them for 180 days. The Supreme Court kicked that back. And then it was, well, now we will actually legislate under the state of emergency for indefinite detention without a right of a trial, and without the right of access to a legal representative. That’s how bad it can get. And it happens real fast. When the population gives over to the idea, as you were saying, that national security is more important than anything else. And all of a sudden, you’re living in what’s effectively a dictatorship. And so perhaps—and when I was a young—perhaps that’s why I’m drawn to these themes. And I will say now, as I’m an American citizen with my children born here, when I was a young law student in South Africa, we studied the U.S. Constitution, and all of those founding documents. Because we wanted something like that. And so for me, I actually regard this film as a patriotic endeavor. Not—some people say, well, you’re criticizing America. No, I’m not. I’m shining a light on what’s supposed to be great about America, which is that we have founding documents that say we have checks and balances; the executive should not, as Trump is trying to do now, be grabbing as much authority as possible. And when you look at a film like “Official Secrets,” I hope you see that it’s just an ordinary citizen, as you say, doing what’s right to preserve what’s supposed to be our democratic government. We are supposed to be ruled by the people, not by authoritarian dictators. So maybe that’s why I’m drawn to these themes, because I know what it’s like to live in a country where what perhaps many Americans take for granted is taken away.

RS: Well said. And on that note—

GH: On that note! That rather cheerful note. [Laughs]

RS: No, I think it is a cheerful note. And by the way, we owe a lot of that good stuff—at least in the Bill of Rights, but much of the spirit of the Constitution—to Tom Paine. Who was, after all, a renegade who came over from England and understood even somewhat limited monarchy by that time, thanks to the Magna Carta.

GH: Well, it’s the renegade who refuses to be subjugated.

RS: And I just—you know, it’s getting—the film’s getting very good reviews on Rotten Tomatoes, it’s gotten goo-d–what, Wall Street Journal, other papers. So I didn’t mean to pick on the New York Times to suggest that—[Laughter] I did mean to pick on the New York Times’ particular review, but I didn’t mean to suggest this movie is not finding a warm reception. You know, you got a standing ovation at the Writers Guild. Everyone that I’ve talked to has already seen the movie, certainly liked it. I want to put myself in that camp, as someone who actually found it—you know, it’s interesting. I found it quite thrilling. Because it doesn’t have the old macho, male lead, you know, of some heroic person who sees the truth and then acts on it. You have a quiet woman, well spoken, effective, thoughtful, modest human being, just being a—having a steel backbone and saying, no, this is wrong, and I’m not going along.

GH: Yeah. There’s something very simple about that. And if you’re expecting a kind of classical hero’s journey, where someone dons the cape and beats up the bad guy and changes the world forever—which seems to be, every time you have to be, the world has to be under threat, and you save the day. Katharine doesn’t. What she saves, if you’re being sort of sentimental about it, is her own conscience and her own soul, arguably. She does what’s right for her. And she just said, I couldn’t live with myself if I didn’t speak out. And maybe if more of us felt that way, we wouldn’t get ourselves into so much trouble. Never mind this big political feeling, just on a purely individual level. We all have to put our head on a pillow and say, how do I feel about myself? And sometimes we go too far down a track of doing the wrong thing, and then we’re in trouble. Katharine just reminds us that doing the right thing is actually good for your heart.

RS: Yeah, exactly. And since you brought up South Africa, let’s end on that note. What impressed me, I remember when Nelson Mandela was finally released, and he came here to Los Angeles. But I had thought about all those years he spent in prison and so forth.

GH: On Robben Island. Yeah.

RS: And what was amazing to me was how much of that non-macho quality he had, of a sense of limits, and consideration, and balance, and forgiveness, and all of that. And your hero—I don’t like to say “heroine,” because it implies it’s gender-based. But the hero of this film, Katharine Gun, is really exemplary. So that’s all I’m going to say.

GH: Thank you very much.

RS: The movie is worth watching to experience that sort of role model that we just don’t have. We have so many opportunists, and so few people who say, you know, there’s something more than my career and my survival. OK. Gavin Hood, director and writer of “Official Secrets,” or one of the writers of ”Official Secrets.” This has been another edition of Scheer Intelligence. is where you can find them. And we’re broadcasting here from the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. Sebastian Grubaugh has been our engineer, and our producer is Joshua Scheer. See you next week for another edition of Scheer Intelligence.



The post The Most Consequential Whistleblower Who Wasn’t appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Official: Trump to Challenge California Authority on Mileage

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration is moving forward with a proposal to revoke part of California’s authority to set its own automobile gas mileage standards, a government official said Thursday, confronting a state that has repeatedly challenged the administration’s environmental rollbacks.

The Environmental Protection Agency was preparing paperwork for the White House for the move, meant to help the administration set a single, less rigorous mileage standard enforceable nationwide, according to the official, who is familiar with the regulatory process and spoke on condition of anonymity because the plan has not been made public.

President Donald Trump has pushed for months to weaken Obama-era mileage standards nationwide and has targeted California’s decades-old power to set its own mileage standards as part of that effort.

Administration moves to rescind authority that Congress granted probably would end up in court. When President George W. Bush challenged California’s greenhouse gas emissions and mileage-setting ability, California fought it. The Obama administration subsequently dropped the Bush effort.

The Trump plan would have to be posted in the Federal Register and would be subject to public comment.

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His administration has tried to ease or remove scores of environmental regulations that it regards as unnecessary and burdensome. The tougher mileage standards were a key part of the Obama administration’s efforts to reduce climate-changing fossil fuel emissions.

California has sued the Trump administration 27 times on environmental matters alone, often as part of a group of states. Counting preliminary injunctions, California has won in court 19 times, said Sarah Lovenheim, a spokeswoman for California Attorney General Xavier Becerra.

Becerra, a Democrat, made clear his state would battle this move as well. “California will continue its advance toward a cleaner future. We’re prepared to defend the standards that make that promise a reality,” he said in a statement.

EPA officials did not immediately respond to a request for comment Thursday.

The mileage move would target California’s half-century-old authority under the Clean Air Act to set its own, tough tailpipe emission standards, which are closely linked to fuel efficiency.

California’s long struggles with smog mean the state has been setting its own standards since before the 1970 law was written. Congress allowed California to seek waivers from the national standards for that reason.

About a dozen states have opted to follow California’s pollution and mileage standards.

The waiver has allowed California, the state with the highest population and by far the biggest economy, to steer the rest of the nation toward cutting down on car and truck emissions that pollute the air and alter the climate.

Margo Oge, director of the EPA’s Office of Transportation and Air Quality from 1994 to 2012, said the Trump administration is likely to lose in a court challenge of California’s powers.

“There is nothing under the Clean Air Act that allows the EPA to revoke a waiver that was given to the state,” she said. “They cannot do that, in my view, based on 20 years managing the program.”

The Trump administration has proposed freezing gas mileage requirements for automakers at 2021 levels, thus eliminating Obama-era regulations that require them to rise about 5% per year on average for the fleet of new cars sold in the U.S. A final proposal is expected next month.

Trump’s own administration, in documents proposing to freeze the standards, puts the cost of meeting the Obama-era requirements at around $2,700 per vehicle. It claims buyers would save that much by 2025, over standards in place in 2016. But that number is disputed by environmental groups and is more than double the estimates from the Obama administration.

Consumer Reports found that the owner of a 2026 vehicle will pay over $3,300 more for gasoline during the life of a vehicle if the standards are frozen at 2021 levels.

Many in the auto industry don’t like the far tougher Obama-era mileage standards and fear it won’t be able to meet them, as U.S. consumers keep shifting away from sedans to less-efficient trucks and SUVs. Most automakers favor increasing mileage requirements at a lower rate than set under President Barack Obama. They also want one U.S. standard to avoid having to engineer separate vehicles for California and the states that follow its rules.

In July, four automakers — Ford, Honda, BMW and Volkswagen — broke from the rest of the industry and struck a deal with California agreeing to 3.7% increases in mileage per year. That’s less than the 5% annual increase under the Obama-era standards.

The side deal has irked Trump, who has chastised Ford in tweets.


Krisher reported from Detroit.

The post Official: Trump to Challenge California Authority on Mileage appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Pro-Israel Extremist Behind Trump’s Economic War on Iran

This is part one of a two part series on the growing impact of the US economic war on Iran.

Several US citizens have been questioned by the FBI and threatened with arrest for their participation in New Horizon, a public media conference held each year in Iran.

The interrogations and threats are the result of orders apparently delivered by Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence Sigal P. Mandelker, a militantly pro-Israel lawyer with longstanding ties to right-wing political networks.

Mandelker was reportedly involved in brokering the infamous Florida deal that allowed the wealthy child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein to avoid federal charges.

Since Mandelker’s appointment as Under Secretary of Treasury in 2017, she has been described on pro-Israel news sites as a “former Israeli” and “Israeli-born.”

Asked by The Grayzone if Mandelker currently holds Israeli citizenship, and if so, whether she was given a special exemption that allowed her to obtain a security clearance, the US Department of Treasury did not reply.

Mandelker’s actions against the US citizens who participated in New Horizon represent an under-acknowledged but significant escalation in the Trump administration’s strategy of “maximum pressure” to bring about regime change in Iran. As the Atlantic noted, Mandelker is “the one with her hand on the lever” of Trump’s unilateral sanctions policy against Iran.

Michael Maloof, a former security analyst in the US Department of Defense, was among the New Horizon attendees who has been visited by the FBI. Bureau agents appeared at Maloof’s Virginia home in the early morning last May to inquire about his participation in the conference. Sander Hicks, another participant in New Horizon, claimed that others who joined the conference had been threatened with arrest if they attended again.

“OFAC [the US Office of Financial Sanctions Regulations] is supposed to restrict exchanges of money, but this conference was just an exchange of ideas,” Maloof told The Grayzone. “They’re interpreting the regulations to say that even if you associate with someone who has been sanctioned, you are subject to fines and imprisonment. I haven’t seen anything in the regulations that allows that, but they’ve set the bar so low that anyone can be designated.”

Targeting a public media conference

The New Horizon Conference is an annual event overseen by Iranian TV host and filmmaker named Nader Talebzadeh and his wife, Zeina Mehanna, a Lebanese writer. Both were placed under financial sanctions this year by the Treasury Department’s Office of Financial Sanctions Regulations [OFAC] on the grounds that they had organized events where Iranian Revolutionary Guards Corps “recruitment and collection efforts were made.”

“We wrote to OFAC challenging them about their accusations, however, they only responded by acknowledging the receipt of our letter. Nothing more!” Mehanna complained to The Grayzone.

She insisted that “we are not in contact with the IRGC nor have we ever been funded by them.”

Negative scrutiny of the New Horizon Conference began in 2014 with a series of reports by the pro-Israel pressure group, the Anti-Defamation League [ADL]. The ADL openly coordinates with local and federal US law enforcement, and escorts law enforcement officials on annual training and lobbying tours of Israel.

According to the ADL, New Horizon was an “anti-Semitic gathering” that “included U.S. and international anti-Semites, Holocaust deniers and anti-war activists.”

There was some truth to the charge: over the years, New Horizon has played host to an array of conspiracy cranks and figures with disturbing records of vehemently anti-Jewish statements.

The event has also featured well-known anti-war activists and former US national security professionals seeking to forge relations with a country that has been under sustained Western economic and military attack for decades.

Peter Van Buren, an author and former diplomat who served in the State Department for 24 years, attended New Horizon this May in the city of Mashhad. He returned with a colorful account for Reuters of life in Iran under escalating US sanctions.

“Outside, in Mashhad city, there were no demonstrations, no flag burnings, and when I visited the central mosque here after Friday prayers more people were interested in a selfie with a foreigner than anything else,” Van Buren reported.

Maloof, too, said his attendance of the conference was motivated by a desire to build diplomatic bridges. “We felt that it was important for dialogue to go [to New Horizon]. And I don’t agree with the US position on Iran,” he explained.  “All we did was went there, talked and met with people, and this is the only way you’re going to have better relations.”

Maloof emphasized, “We’re all still US patriots, but we believe there’s another way to go about things than looking at everything in Iran through the prism of Israel.”

Asked if there was any interaction with IRGC officials or assets at the event, Maloof insisted, “We were not approached by anyone. And those of us who are national security veterans, we’re very attuned to that stuff.”

Under Mandelker’s guidance, the Trump administration designated the IRGC as a terrorist organization this April, provoking Iran to counter by branding all US military personnel in the Middle East as terrorists.

Since then, Mandelker has expanded her target list in Iran and across the region, even sanctioning institutions that collaborate with the US government.

Sanctioning a USAID partner

On August 30, the Treasury Department’s OFAC sanctioned an Iranian oil tanker and its captain after it was freed from detention in Gilbraltar. Mandelker claimed that the vessel was used to “transfer large volumes of oil, which attempt to mask and sell illicitly to fund the regime’s malign activities and propagate terrorism.”

That same day, Treasury sanctioned Jammal Trust Bank in Lebanon, claiming that it and its subsidiaries had been “brazenly enabling Hizballah’s financial activities.”

“Jammal Trust provides support and services to Hizballah’s Executive Council and the Martyrs Foundation, which funnels money to the families of suicide bombers,” Mandelker declared.

But Hezbollah has not employed suicide bombing as a tactic since the 1980’s. And as Asia Times noted, Jammal Trust partnered with the US Agency for International Development (USAID) as recently as last year on public initiatives intended to help impoverished communities in Lebanon.

Because Lebanon’s economy is so thoroughly dollarized, the sanctions represent a likely death sentence for Jammal, preventing it from carrying out transactions in the US currency.

Notably, the bank is owned by a Shia businessman with close ties to Lebanese Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri, and one of several who have been targeted under the watch of Mandelker. Berri was reportedly threatened with US sanctions this April by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo for his insufficient hostility to Hezbollah.

When New Horizon’s Mehanna was sanctioned, her personal savings account in Lebanon was frozen.

“I got a call that I need to go to the bank and close my account,” Mehanna told The Grayzone. “The teller told me that the bank was informed by US Treasury Department to close my account because it had dollars! They closed my account, gave me a mere $400, and I was told politely to leave.”

She said she was given no documentation that her account had been closed. She recalled, “We just left the bank in total shock and bewilderment.”

It was all in a day’s work for Mandelker, the most militant official to serve in a department overseen by a long line of pro-Israel ideologues.

“That is why we have this massive sanctions regime. Because we know Iran is threatening our great partner, Israel!”

At a gathering of the elite Aspen Security Conference this July, Mandelker put her extreme views on display when she accused former Obama officials of mollycoddling Iran.

Seated beside Wendy Sherman, Obama’s Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs, and Jeremy Bash, the CIA’s ex-chief of staff, Mandelker declared that Iran was “posing an incredibly destabilizing presence in the region. They’re threatening our great ally in the region, Israel!”

She went on: “And after the JCPOA [the Iran nuclear deal], what did the Obama administration do to curb that kind of behavior? Nothing!”

“That’s not true,” Sherman protested.

“Bad actors need money to do bad things,” Mandelker continued. “That is why we have this massive sanctions regime. Because we know Iran is threatening our great partner, Israel!”

While media at the event focused on the dust-up between Trump and Obama officials, they ignored the stunning admission by a US official to advancing provocative policies on Israel’s behalf.

But this was the role that Mandelker and her predecessors have played since her position was established during the second Bush administration by her mentor, Stuart Levey.

Like Mandelker, Levey is an unabashedly ultra-Zionist ideologue. His 1985 senior thesis at Harvard University was a paean to the creation of Israel, declaring that the Zionist movement had created a “morally exemplary” state that “would be a light unto other nations.”

As journalist Phil Weiss noted, Levey’s thesis advisor was Martin Peretz, the neoconservative former New Republic publisher who emigrated to Israel after triggering protests with his declaration, “Muslim life is cheap, especially for Muslims.”

At the dawn of the so-called “war on terror,” Levey successfully lobbied Bush’s national security team to turn up the heat on Iran, a country that considered Al Qaeda its mortal enemy. His weapon of choice was sanctions, convincing the Bush administration to blacklist Iran’s Central Bank and sever Tehran’s ties to the global financial system.

“Stuart Levey’s war is like ‘Charlie Wilson’s War,’ ” an unnamed State Department official told the New York Times, referring to a former Texas congressman’s campaign to undermine the Soviet Union by funneling arms to Afghan insurgents. “It’s the most direct and aggressive stuff we’ve got going. It delivers.”

Mandelker learned the ropes in Levey’s Office of Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, developing an innovative arsenal of financial weapons against the enemies of Israel, a state for which she and her boss clearly felt a passionate attachment.

She came to the job with the conservative movement credentials she gained as a clerk in the office of Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas and as a card-carrying member of the right-wing Federalist Society.

Mandelker’s husband, Stephen Capozolla, has worked as a spokesman for the Alliance for American Manufacturing, a Washington-based lobbying group, while pumping out columns denying climate change for the right-wing site,

In 2008, while Mandelker served in Bush’s Department of Justice, she approved the notorious deal that allowed the wealthy child sex trafficker Jeffrey Epstein to escape federal prosecution.

“I was told Epstein ‘belonged to intelligence’ and to leave it alone,” Alex Acosta, the former US attorney who brokered the deal, told the Trump administration’s transition team.

When Mandelker returned to government in March 2017, she earned immediate praise from Levey, her former boss, who called her “an asset.” Michael Chertoff, another close colleague, described her as his “eyes and ears” when he was at the Department of Homeland Security.

Pro-Israel websites also buzzed about the appointee, homing in on her alleged Israeli roots.

“Mandelker…isn’t just Jewish, she’s Israeli!”

The right-wing Jewish Press described Mandelker as an “Israeli-born deputy secretary,” while the Israeli security blog, Debka File, referred to her as a “former Israeli.” Meanwhile, the Jerusalem-based blogger, Jewlicious, called Mandelker a current Israeli citizen. When asked how he knew she maintained her citizenship, the blogger said he didn’t know, but that “she was born in Israel.”

Not only that, Sigal Mandelker, Under Secretary of the Treasury for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence, isn’t just Jewish, she’s Israeli! Is she in Jerusalem today? #USEmbassyJerusalem

— (((Jewlicious))) (@jewlicious) May 14, 2018

According to Mandelker’s bio at the Treasury Department, however, she was born in Chicago, Illinois.

The Treasury Department did not respond to questions from The Grayzone about Mandelker’s citizenship status. It would be unusual for a US official to obtain a security clearance while maintaining dual citizenship, however, Mandelker’s former colleague at the Department of Homeland Security, Michael Chertoff, was reportedly born an Israeli citizen.

Whatever her citizenship status is, Mandelker has made no secret of her desire to advance the geopolitical imperatives of “our great partner, Israel.”

Her sanctions blacklist is broadening by the day, resulting in even former US national security officials being visited by the FBI for their participation in an Iranian media event.

How the sanctioning of that conference came about is the subject of heavy intrigue. According to Mehanna, the co-founder of the New Horizon Organization, she and husband were targeted as the result of a separate US investigation into a former US counter-intelligence officer and her alleged handler, another American citizen.

The latter suspect American was an anchor for Press TV, Iran’s state broadcaster. Known as Mazrieh Hashemi, she was jailed by federal authorities this January when she attempted to return to the US to visit her family.

How Hashemi’s imprisonment was spun by US authorities into the sanctioning of New Horizon will be chronicled in the next installment of this series.

The post The Pro-Israel Extremist Behind Trump’s Economic War on Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Mike Pompeo Is Refusing to Sign Afghan Peace Deal

The death toll from the ongoing, 18-year war in Afghanistan stood at an estimated 147,124 military personnel and civilians in November 2018, according to an analysis from Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs. A 2018 survey from the Pew Charitable Trust found that almost half of Americans believe the U.S. has “mostly failed” in its goals during the war, and Trump was elected on a promise of ending the war.

U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, however, is so far declining to sign what Time magazine calls a “risky” deal that would wind down, if not end, the conflict.

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Zalmay Khalilzad, special representative for Afghanistan reconciliation at the State Department, spent nine months working with Taliban negotiators in Doha, Qatar, on an agreement. “If Trump approves and a deal is struck,” Kimberley Dozier writes in Time Magazine, “it could begin a withdrawal of some 5,400 U.S. troops, roughly a third of the present force, from five bases within 135 days.”

Most troops would leave by November 2020 if the Taliban agrees to three conditions: “Open negotiations with the U.S.-backed Afghan government; reduce violence near areas U.S. forces control, and keep foreign militants out of the areas they control,” multiple current and former U.S., European and Afghan officials told Time on condition of anonymity.

Time explains that some military and intelligence officials believe the deal has multiple downsides. As Dozier says, the current deal, whose details are still closely guarded, “doesn’t guarantee the continued presence of U.S. counterterrorism forces to battle al Qaeda, the survival of the pro-U.S. government in Kabul, or even an end to the fighting in Afghanistan.”

According to a recent report in The Daily Beast, this could also “demoralize the U.S.-backed regime in Kabul and especially the Afghan military and security forces,” who are largely dependent on U.S. support.

“The price of peace,” officials tell Time, “might include reversing much of the hard-won progress toward building a stable country over nearly two decades of war.” Among those risks include declining civil rights, weakening non-Taliban government institutions regionally and locally and increased corruption, among others.

Other international diplomats expressed skepticism of the Taliban’s motives. “The Taliban have been rather rude with the U.S. throughout the peace process, because they have the impression that a withdrawal deal is a desperate desire of the USA, not the Taliban,” a senior European diplomat in Kabul told The Daily Beast.

Those concerns aside, Time concludes that “the agreement may be the best deal the U.S. and its allies can get to head off a pre-emptive pullout of U.S. troops in time for the 2020 U.S. elections.”

The American military, Dozier continues, “[know] they need to reduce the number of troops to a smaller, cheaper footprint to mollify U.S. policymakers tired of writing checks after 18 years of war, and a U.S. public that doesn’t understand why the troops are still there.”

While Pompeo did not comment pre-publication, after the Time story was released, State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus told Time in an email that there is still a chance that Pompeo could change his mind.

Ortagus wrote: “There is no agreement to sign yet. If and when there is an agreement that is approved by all parties, including President Trump and if the Secretary is the appropriate signatory, he will sign it.”

Of course, much of this outcome depends on the often-mercurial president. “It isn’t over and done until Trump says it is,” a U.S. official with knowledge of the talks explained to The Daily Beast, “and as we know, the president’s thoughts on big deals like this often change at the last minute.”

The post Mike Pompeo Is Refusing to Sign Afghan Peace Deal appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Your Amazon Order Comes at a Steep Human Price

This story was co-published with The New York Times.

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.

WHEN SHE ADDED GABRIELLE’S NAME to the chart in her kitchen, Judy Kennedy could picture the annual ritual. At birthdays she would ask her newest grandchild to stand up straight, heels against the door frame, so she could mark Gabrielle’s height beside that of her other granddaughter in the Maine house the family has lived in since the 1800s.

But there are no lines for Gabrielle.

In January, the 9-month-old was killed when a driver delivering packages crashed a 26-foot rented box truck into the back of her mother’s Jeep. The baby was strapped into a car seat in the back.

The delivery driver, a subcontractor ferrying pallets of Amazon boxes from suburban Boston to five locations in Maine, said in an interview that he was running late and failed to spot the Jeep in time to avoid the crash.

If Gabrielle’s parents, who have hired lawyers, try to hold Amazon accountable, they will confront a company that shields itself from liability for accidents involving the drivers who deliver its billions of packages a year.

In its relentless push for e-commerce dominance, Amazon has built a huge logistics operation in recent years to get more goods to customers’ homes in less and less time. As it moves to reduce its reliance on legacy carriers like United Parcel Service, the retailer has created a network of contractors across the country that allows the company to expand and shrink the delivery force as needed, while avoiding the costs of taking on permanent employees.

But Amazon’s promise of speedy delivery has come at a price, one largely hidden from public view. An investigation by ProPublica identified more than 60 accidents since June 2015 involving Amazon delivery contractors that resulted in serious injuries, including 10 deaths. That tally is most likely a fraction of the accidents that have occurred: Many people don’t sue, and those who do can’t always tell when Amazon is involved, court records, police reports and news accounts show.

Even as Amazon argues that it bears no legal responsibility for the human toll, it maintains a tight grip on how the delivery drivers do their jobs.

Their paychecks are signed by hundreds of companies, but often Amazon directs, through an app, the order of the deliveries and the route to each destination. Amazon software tracks drivers’ progress, and a dispatcher in an Amazon warehouse can call them if they fall behind schedule. Amazon requires that 999 out of 1,000 deliveries arrive on time, according to work orders obtained from contractors with drivers in eight states.

Amazon has repeatedly said in court that it is not responsible for the actions of its contractors, citing agreements that require them, as one puts it, to “defend, indemnify and hold harmless Amazon.” Just last week, an operations manager for Amazon testified in Chicago that it signs such agreements with all its “delivery service partners,” who assume the liability and the responsibility for legal costs. The agreements cover “all loss or damage to personal property or bodily harm including death.”

Amazon vigilantly enforces the terms of those agreements. In New Jersey, when a contractor’s insurer failed to pay Amazon’s legal bills in a suit brought by a physician injured in a crash, Amazon sued to force the insurer to pick up the tab. In California, the company sued contractors, telling courts that any damages arising from crashes there should be billed to the delivery companies.

“I think anyone who thinks about Amazon has very conflicted feelings,” said Tim Hauck, whose sister, Stacey Hayes Curry, was killed last year by a driver delivering Amazon packages in a San Diego office park. “It’s sure nice to get something in two days for free. You’re always impressed with that side of it. But this idea that they’ve walled themselves off from responsibility is disturbing.”

“You’ve got this wonderful convenience with this technology,” he added, “but there’s a human cost to it.”

Amazon, the world’s largest retailer, is famously secretive about details of its operations, including the scale of its delivery network. In many of the accidents involving its contractors, drivers were using cars, trucks and cargo vans that bore no hint of Amazon’s corporate logo. The truck involved in Gabrielle Kennedy’s death, for example, was marked only “Penske Truck Rental.”

Amazon declined to answer questions about the demands it places on drivers, the anonymity of delivery vehicles or any requirement that these contractors indemnify Amazon.

The company said that even one serious incident was too many, but would not disclose how many people had been killed or seriously injured by drivers shuttling Amazon packages from warehouses to customers’ homes — the final leg of the journey, which the company calls the last mile.

In a written statement to ProPublica and to BuzzFeed, which published an article last week on Amazon’s delivery practices, Amazon said: “The assertions do not provide an accurate representation of Amazon’s commitment to safety and all the measures we take to ensure millions of packages are delivered to customers without incident.

“Whether it’s state-of-the art telemetrics and advanced safety technology in last-mile vans, driver safety training programs, or continuous improvements within our mapping and routing technology, we have invested tens of millions of dollars in safety mechanisms across our network, and regularly communicate safety best practices to drivers. We are committed to greater investments and management focus to continuously improve our safety performance.”

Among those killed in the Amazon delivery crashes ProPublica examined were a 22-year-old former Temple University student crushed when a contractor turned left into his motorcycle, an 89-year-old former Macy’s Herald Square saleswoman struck as she crossed a New Jersey street and an 89-year-old Pennsylvania grandmother hit in front of an Outback Steakhouse.

Telesfora Escamilla was walking in a Chicago crosswalk three days before Christmas in 2016 when an Amazon delivery contractor turned left and hit her. Escamilla had been preparing to celebrate the holidays and her 85th birthday with her family. Instead, they planned her funeral.

It’s difficult to determine the accident rate and safety records of Amazon’s army of contractors because the company does not disclose that information and much of its delivery operation falls into a regulatory void. The Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration, which regulates trucks and collects data on truck collisions, doesn’t track crashes involving the smaller cargo vans that are the workhorses of Amazon’s delivery force.

“Nothing applies,” said Chris Turner, director of crash and data programs at the Commercial Vehicle Safety Alliance, whose members include federal, state and local officials that enforce trucking rules.

The box truck that killed Gabrielle was big enough — more than 10,000 pounds — that the fatal crash would have been included in federal regulators’ records of the subcontractor, if the company hadn’t gone out of business after the accident. But nothing in the current reporting requirements would have connected it to Amazon.

On the day of the crash, Ellen Kennedy was on her way to drop off the baby at her mother’s house before heading to work at a veterinary practice. It was about 6:30 a.m., still dark.

Months later, Kennedy still can’t shake her memory of the delivery truck’s lights in her rearview mirror.

“I can’t eat or sleep because when I close my eyes all I see are the headlights coming at me and all I hear are my sickening screams as I try to open your door to get to you,” she wrote on Facebook. “And I beg God to tell me what I did so wrong that he gave me you, the child I longed for, and then took you away.”

IN THE RUNUP to Christmas 2013, Amazon had a lot to celebrate. That December, in a “60 Minutes” interview, its chief executive, Jeff Bezos, unveiled drones he said eventually would ferry customers their packages 30 minutes after they placed their orders.

“I know this looks like science fiction,” Bezos said as he showed Charlie Rose, the CBS correspondent, a video of a drone picking up a package from a conveyor belt and flying it to a doorstep. “It’s not.”

“Wow!” Rose exclaimed.

Amazon Prime, the loyalty program that had made two-day shipping standard almost a decade earlier, surged in popularity. More than a million customers signed up for Prime memberships in just the third week of December 2013. Sales hit a record high.

But UPS couldn’t keep up. Irate customers spent the holidays railing about missed gifts and disappointed children.

It was clear that if Amazon wanted to grow, it needed something other than dreams of drones.

The next spring, Amazon was testing contract couriers in San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, according to The Wall Street Journal. And in 2015, Amazon introduced Flex, an app that allows people to sign up for delivery shifts using their own vehicles. (Amazon considers Flex drivers independent contractors, too.)

Amazon won’t say what percentage of packages its contractors deliver, but industry analysts say the share is growing fast. Researchers at Cowen estimate that in 2015, UPS and the United States Postal Service handled 91% of Amazon’s domestic deliveries, while contractors and DHL had less than 3%. Amazon’s network of contractors will handle 23% of its American deliveries this year, Cowen estimates, and 43% by 2024.

Analysts and companies in the logistics industry think Amazon eventually will become a formidable competitor to UPS and to FedEx, which until recently also had a slice of Amazon’s business. Acknowledging the threat, FedEx severed its domestic shipping ties with Amazon last month.

It wasn’t so long ago that most consumers bought their goods at brick-and-mortar stores. Then Bezos figured out a way to make shopping effortless and deliveries fast. When the store travels to the customer, there’s no need to stock up all at once. A steady stream of purchases means many delivery trips.

Amazon is only getting faster in delivering orders, and its competitors are racing to catch up. Last April, after reporting a record $3.6 billion quarterly profit, Amazon’s chief financial officer, Brian Olsavsky, told Wall Street analysts that the company was investing $800 million to make free overnight delivery the default for Prime members in the United States.

The next day, Walmart teased on Twitter: “One-day free shipping … without a membership fee. Now THAT would be groundbreaking. Stay tuned.” Walmart began offering free overnight delivery of 220,000 popular items in a few American cities, with a goal of expanding to 40 major metropolitan areas.

The one-upmanship has continued. In June, Amazon said Prime members were eligible for free one-day shipping on 10 million products.

Analysts at Cowen estimate that Amazon shipped 2.3 billion packages last year in the United States. The final leg of that journey, from warehouse to doorstep, has always been the most expensive for online retailers.

Contractors are critical to keeping the cost down. Olsavsky told analysts in January that Amazon’s contractors could make deliveries for the same price as or less than the legacy carriers. And the contractor network is nimbler, allowing Amazon to add or subtract drivers quickly.

Today, Amazon relies on tiers of contractors, ranging from publicly traded logistics businesses to tiny companies providing just a handful of drivers, to the Flex drivers. And during some busy periods, Amazon hires temporary employees as drivers.

Amazon isn’t unique in its outsourcing. Uber and the food startup DoorDash, for example, rely on delivery contractors, as do many publishers, including The New York Times.

THE LAW GOVERNING independent contractors varies by state, but it all boils down to control: Does Amazon control enough aspects of the drivers’ jobs to make it responsible for their actions?

The question of where companies draw the line is a contentious one that has spurred litigation and legislation. FedEx has settled lawsuits in recent years brought by drivers who argued that they functioned as employees, not independent contractors. Last week, Uber and Lyft announced that they would spend $60 million to contest a proposed California law that would force them to treat their contract drivers as employees.

In lawsuits, people injured in crashes and drivers in wage disputes have argued that Amazon retains so much control that it effectively is the drivers’ employer.

To counter that argument, Amazon says the contractors hire and fire their own drivers. Yet work orders and the court testimony of an Amazon manager reveal that Amazon can demand that contractors bar particular drivers from its delivery force. It directs and tracks drivers’ routes. And Amazon is the sole client for many contractors.

The leverage Amazon holds over its delivery contractors was at the heart of bankruptcy proceedings for one such company, Tenet Concepts, last year in Fort Worth, Texas. Tenet formed in 2015 just to serve Amazon. The retailer paid a flat rate for each of Tenet’s delivery routes, which the contractor used to pay 300 employees, records show.

Then some drivers sued, alleging that Tenet had failed to pay them fairly. The drivers also sued Amazon, saying the online retailer was also their employer and that it, too, owed them money.

Tenet filed for bankruptcy protection, saying it couldn’t afford the anticipated $800,000 in legal costs to defend itself and, as required under its contract, Amazon. The bankruptcy judge, Russell Nelms, questioned why Tenet should have to pay for the defense of Amazon, when the critical issue was whether Amazon was the de facto employer.

Regardless of any indemnification provision, the judge said, “I think that’s an issue that Amazon on its own has to step up and defend, doesn’t it?”

“Well, Your Honor, Amazon doesn’t think that,” Laurie Rea, Tenet’s lawyer, responded. Amazon’s position, she said, was that Tenet had to pay defense costs and claims.

She added: “Amazon could cut them off right now, and that would be the end of the business and 300-plus people won’t have jobs. Because Amazon does have the upper hand.”

Ultimately, the court allowed Tenet’s bankruptcy to go forward, with the indemnity agreement in place. When Tenet crafted a plan to emerge from bankruptcy, it set up a monthly schedule to pay Amazon, now both a client and a creditor.

RENE ROMERO HAD WORKED as a truck driver in Honduras for decades, but had been delivering Amazon packages for only about two months before the crash that killed Gabrielle Kennedy, he said.

Romero’s job was to pick up pallets of packages at an Amazon warehouse south of Boston and deliver them to post offices around New England. He was working for DSD Vanomos, a business with just two trucks. It was a subcontractor for XPO Logistics, a large transportation company that handled “postal injection” deliveries for Amazon.

He would get to the warehouse at about midnight, he said, and wait to be assigned a route. His deadline for dropping off the packages was 6 a.m., he said, and the post offices would add them to mail routes.

On Jan. 10, Romero got a late start because there were other drivers ahead of him, he recalled in the interview. XPO said that according to its records, by 6 a.m. Romero had made it to two of the five post offices on his list. Romero said he was running late by the time he drove through Waterboro, Maine. On past trips, he said, he had been pressured by dispatchers.

“They’re calling you and saying: ‘Hey, did you get there yet? When are you going to get there?’” said Romero, 54.

It’s not clear whether those dispatchers worked for XPO or Amazon. XPO said it had a “joint dispatch” arrangement with Amazon, which declined to comment.

Still, he said, he didn’t think he had been speeding on the stretch of the town’s Main Street where Kennedy’s Jeep was stopped in front of him, waiting at an intersection to make a turn. He recalled the speed limit as 55 miles an hour — it’s actually 35 — but said he wasn’t going that fast because it was dark and foggy. He hit his brakes when he was about 10 feet away from the Jeep, he remembered, but couldn’t stop in time.

“Look,” he said, “the truth is I didn’t see the vehicle in front of me.”

He was charged with aggravated driving to endanger, a felony, and jailed.

Romero said he called the owner of DSD Vanomos, Denis Rolando Vasquez, to ask for help, only to be told that XPO had terminated its contract with DSD the day of the crash.

“He said, ‘You’re going to have to figure that out yourself,’” Romero recalled Vasquez saying about the criminal case.

In an interview, Vasquez said the driver hadn’t asked for help getting out of jail. Vasquez said XPO had been an important customer and that, without that work, his two-truck company couldn’t stay in business.

“The accident was something very terrible for all of us — for Rene and his family, and for me and my family, and especially for the child’s family,” Vasquez said. “Everybody lost here.”

XPO declined to comment when asked if it had indemnified Amazon.

An XPO spokesman, Bob Josephson, disputed Romero’s description of his work routine and the events leading up to the crash. Josephson said the driver had arrived at the Amazon warehouse at 1:11 a.m. and started his route at 1:50 a.m. — 10 minutes early. The deadline for dropping off his pallets of packages, Josephson said, had been 8 a.m., not 6.

When asked if XPO conveyed those expectations to Romero in Spanish, the language he spoke, Josephson responded that the instructions were in the “same format as previous days.” He added that just the week before, Romero had completed a delivery at one of the same Maine post offices at 7:26 a.m.

Romero couldn’t afford a lawyer. Delivering Amazon packages paid about $600 a week, and he had only $100 in the bank, according to court records. He qualified for a public defender. He spent seven days in jail before his daughter raised the money to bail him out.

In an interview in May, Romero said he hadn’t heard from his former boss or anyone from Amazon. “They just abandoned me,” he said.

This summer, the prosecutor’s office dropped the felony charge and began pursuing a civil offense — motor vehicle violation resulting in death — punishable with a fine and a suspension of driving privileges. The office did not respond to an inquiry about why it had dropped the felony charge.

IN ASSEMBLING ITS NETWORK of contractors, Amazon has fundamentally altered the career expectations and training of delivery drivers, turning what once was a steady union job with benefits into a transitory job.

“Logistics experience not required,” says an ad on an Amazon website, enticing aspiring entrepreneurs to start their own delivery contracting businesses with Amazon’s help. But the notion that anyone can do this kind of work belies the fact that being a delivery driver is among the deadlier jobs in America, according to data from the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics.

UPS trains its drivers in multimillion-dollar facilities where they are put through virtual-reality and obstacle-course hazards to learn to avoid them.

Flex drivers say Amazon trains them primarily through instructional videos they watch on their phones. When printed, Amazon’s delivery driver onboarding course from late 2017 is 39 pages, with less than half of one page devoted to defensive driving. One of the fatalities involving Amazon drivers was a 70-year-old Kansas grandfather on a Flex shift during the 2017 holiday rush.

In five of the 10 fatal crashes, drivers were making left turns. Studies have shown that left turns are more dangerous than right turns: They involve crossing oncoming traffic, and the vehicle pillar between the windshield and the side window can obstruct a driver’s view of pedestrians in crosswalks on the left. UPS says the algorithm that powers turn-by-turn directions for its drivers programs out most left turns.

Amazon has started building that safety feature into the routes of some of its delivery drivers but not others. Amazon contractors use two types of smartphone devices to scan packages: One includes left turns in its directions; the other avoids them, according to several drivers and a contractor who had to buy newer devices. Amazon declined to answer questions about the inconsistency.

While many career mail carriers and UPS drivers follow familiar routes every day, contract drivers for Amazon are often in unfamiliar territory, reliant on Amazon’s directions.

Nicolya Dorton, a former driver for a contractor called Scoobeez, said she often didn’t know where she was going when she delivered Amazon packages from a warehouse in San Leandro, California. Her shift was supposed to end at 6 p.m., she said, but she sometimes drove until 10 p.m. to finish deliveries. “You have to come back with an empty truck,” she said.

She recalled panicking one night in October 2016 when she saw a car coming toward her as she drove up what she thought was a one-way Oakland overpass (the street ran in both directions). She made a sudden U-turn and crashed, leading to a lawsuit filed by an injured driver, records show.

“I thought I was dead,” said Dorton, who stopped delivering for Scoobeez that night. “I think I had five or six packages left. I was way over time and trying to get it done and wound up getting into an accident.”

Other drivers echoed that feeling of pressure. Jeffrey Lines, a Texas driver who sued Tenet Concepts claiming the company had shorted his wages, testified in the bankruptcy case that when he’d delivered Amazon Prime Now packages — which he said had to arrive within an hour or two of the order — he couldn’t stop even to use a restroom.

“You can’t get a break,” said Lines, who stopped working for Tenet in January 2016, and whose wage claim was ultimately rejected. “Because if you take a break, you delay the orders, we get fired.”

GET HIT BY A UPS DRIVER or a mail truck, and it’s obvious who the driver’s employer is.

But many Amazon contractors use plain white vans or rented box trucks that have no visible connection to the e-commerce giant, and Flex drivers sign up for shifts driving their own vehicles. Dorton drove a white Enterprise cargo van; Lines, his own car.

Last September Amazon announced it was arranging for contractors to lease 20,000 cargo vans emblazoned with its logo. At the same time, the company has been fighting to keep other parts of its delivery force anonymous.

When the planning board of the Boston suburb Braintree passed zoning rules requiring that delivery vehicles serving a new Amazon warehouse there be labeled as part of the company’s delivery network, Amazon sued, saying the signage demands were unreasonable.

The lack of labeling can make it difficult for people outside Amazon to know the scope of the harm attributable to collisions, or for those injured to hold Amazon accountable. The driver hurt by Dorton’s sudden U-turn sued only Dorton, Enterprise and Scoobeez. Amazon’s role wasn’t immediately apparent.

Amazon has been a named defendant in 45 lawsuits related to the crashes ProPublica examined. In some instances, plaintiffs or judges ultimately dropped Amazon from the suits; other cases led to confidential settlements, and it is unclear whether the payouts came from Amazon or its contractors. Still other claims are in the early stages. Testimony in one case that went to trial in Chicago recently underscored the challenges of taking on one of the world’s most powerful companies.

When Raul Salinas, 77, was struck in a hit-and-run two years ago by an unlabeled white cargo van, his son suspected right away that the driver was tied to Amazon. Salinas, a pedestrian, was hit in the crosswalk of a street leading to the company’s Chicago warehouse.

The family struggled to get any information about who was behind the wheel, even after filing a negligence lawsuit against the company. The accident left Salinas, a retired trailer repairman, with broken ribs and a fractured arm and knee, and requiring surgery to reconstruct his shoulder. Hospitalized for more than a month, he now walks with a cane and has limited function in the injured arm.

Police surveillance video shows a white van hitting Salinas on the evening of Dec. 8, 2017, then driving around his body and running a stop sign before fleeing. The footage is too blurry to make out the license plate, but a witness told the police he saw an Amazon van. Another witness who testified at the trial last week said the driver was wearing a reflective vest, which many Amazon contractors’ drivers wear.

After paramedics took Salinas to the hospital, his son Stephen and an acquaintance went to the warehouse. Workers there denied any knowledge of the accident and called the police when Stephen Salinas slipped inside the warehouse and started yelling at the shift manager.

According to company records submitted in the court case, the shift manager, Kevin Barbosa, reported to Amazon’s Global Security Command Center that an outsider had entered the warehouse and said “in an aggressive manner” that his father had been hit by an Amazon van. Barbosa told Amazon security officials that the street where the accident occurred was a popular corridor for drivers going to and from the warehouse and that their white delivery vans bore no Amazon logos, the records show.

In response to a question from Salinas’ lawyer, Barbosa said he had wanted to investigate but was told not to by an Amazon supervisor. “I was pretty frustrated,” Barbosa added.

Amazon’s lead investigator, Dusko Tadic, did not go to the warehouse, interview drivers or inspect vans for damage that night, according to his testimony.

That weekend Tadic and another manager reviewed warehouse surveillance video that had captured every vehicle entering and exiting the night of the accident. Tadic said they saw white vans, but none with marks indicating an accident. He took notes, he said, but later threw out his notebook.

The cameras record in a loop, so about every nine days footage is recorded over — unless someone saves it. Tadic preserved the video of Stephen Salinas’ unauthorized entry but not the footage of the vans, according to court records.

He reviewed Amazon’s routing software but did not identify any vans passing through the intersection at the time of the crash.

Amazon’s lawyers argued that many companies use white vans and that there was no admissible evidence that the driver who struck Salinas had been delivering Amazon packages.

On Tuesday, Judge Joan E. Powell of the Cook County Circuit Court ruled in Amazon’s favor, saying that without knowing the driver’s identity and whether the truck was connected to Amazon, there was “too much uncertainty” in the case to send it to the jury.

BEFORE THE MORNING of Jan. 10, Ellen Kennedy, Gabrielle’s mother, felt like she finally had everything she ever wanted.

Her marriage had broken up not long after Gabrielle was born, but she and her ex-husband, Chad Kennedy, had ironed out a routine. She had primary custody. He had shared-parenting rights two days a week. Gabrielle’s grandmothers pitched in to help.

“I literally thought that I was never happier because I had my baby, and I was making it as a single mom,” Kennedy recalled in an interview.

After the crash, she said, she sat on the couch in her trailer watching videos of Gabrielle, crying and drinking.

“I just pushed everybody away,” she recalled.

Her car destroyed, she had no way to get to her job. She fell behind on her bills and lost her trailer home.

On what would have been Gabrielle’s first birthday, Kennedy wrote her a letter and posted it on Facebook. “Not a day, hour, minute or second goes by that I don’t think of you and wish you were here. I wonder how big you’d be now,” she wrote. “I long to see you crawling around and playing with your toys and laughing at the dogs.”

The message went on: “It’s not FAIR but I want you to know I love you so, so much and I wait for the day when I can see you again. ’Til that time, baby, watch over me. I need you. Love, your mama down here.”

Her ex-husband could not bear to see photos or videos of his daughter. He grew depressed and drank heavily, he said. In March, he spent eight days in the hospital being treated for liver problems. Doctors warned his mother, Judy, that he might not survive.

But he pulled through. “Gabrielle wouldn’t want me to die,” he said.

Both he and his ex-wife said they were sober now. He sleeps in a recliner in his parents’ living room. His mother sleeps on the couch so she can watch him and talk him through darker moments.

Ellen and Chad Kennedy have each retained a personal-injury lawyer, but neither has filed suit against the driver, the two contracting companies or Amazon.

Chad Kennedy and his father, Brian, were sitting on the porch one evening last May when the conversation turned to Amazon’s pursuit of speed — and customers’ demand for it.

“So what if the packages take three days instead of two?” Brian Kennedy said. “You know, it ain’t that big a deal to me. But maybe some people, if they don’t get it in two days, they raise Cain.”

His son agreed. “These big powerhouse companies like Amazon should realize what the impact is when they’re speeding up deliveries,” Chad Kennedy said. They should see “the tragic families that have lost somebody or have gotten hurt from somebody’s negligence,” he said, “just because they want a package a day before another service.”

Do you have information about Amazon you’d like to share? Email patricia.callahan@propublica.orgHere’s how to send tips and documents to ProPublica securely.

The post Your Amazon Order Comes at a Steep Human Price appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Puerto Rico, Military Schools to Lose Money for Trump’s Border Fencing

WASHINGTON—The Pentagon will cut funding from military projects like schools, target ranges and maintenance facilities to pay for the construction of 175 miles of fencing along the U.S.-Mexico border, diverting a total $3.6 billion to President Donald Trump’s long-promised barrier.

Projects in 23 states, 19 countries and three U.S. territories would be stalled or killed by the plan, though just $1.1 billion in cuts would strike the continental U.S., according to a list released Wednesday by the Pentagon. Almost $700 million would come from projects in U.S. territories, including Puerto Rico, with another $1.8 billion coming from projects on overseas bases.

Trump’s move would take the biggest step yet in delivering on his promise to build a wall to block immigrants from entering the country illegally. But it may come at the expense of projects that the Pentagon acknowledged may be difficult to fund anew. Capitol Hill Democrats, outraged over Trump’s use of an emergency order for the wall, promised they won’t approve money to revive them.

A senior defense official told reporters the Pentagon is having conversations with members of Congress to urge them to restore the funding. The official agreed that the department has “a lot of work ahead of us,” considering that Congress has given no guarantee it will provide money for the defunded projects. The official was not authorized to discuss the details publicly so spoke on condition of anonymity.

In addition, new stretches of fencing proposed along the Rio Grande and through a wildlife refuge in Arizona promise to ignite legal battles that could delay the wall projects as well.

The military base projects facing the chopping block tend to address less urgent needs like new parking at the U.S. Military Academy at West Point, New York, and a variety of small arms ranges at bases in Wisconsin and Oklahoma. But a “cyber ops facility” in Hampton, Virginia, and the expansion of a missile defense field at Fort Greeley, Alaska, face the ax, too.

Trump has so far succeeded in building replacement barriers within the 654 miles of fencing built during the Obama and Bush administrations. The funding shift will allow for about 115 miles of new pedestrian fencing in areas where there isn’t any now.

“The wall is being built. It’s going up rapidly,” Trump said Wednesday. “And we think by the end of next year, which will be sometime right after the election actually, but we think we’re going to have close to 500 miles of wall, which will be complete.”

New stretches of fencing are sure to spark legal battles with angry landowners and environmentalists. The Pentagon plan also fuels the persistent controversy between the Trump administration and Congress over immigration policies and the funding of the border wall.

“It doesn’t take any input from the local communities. It will take away from the private property rights,” said Rep. Henry Cuellar, D-Texas. “We are going to do everything we can to stop the president.”

Cuellar suggested Democrats will look at a must-pass funding bill this month — required to prevent a government shutdown Oct. 1 — to try to take on Trump. But a more likely venue for the battle could be ongoing House-Senate negotiations over the annual Pentagon policy measure.

Lawmakers who refused earlier this year to approve nearly $6 billion for the wall must now decide if they will restore the projects that are being used to provide the money.

“To pay for his xenophobic border wall boondoggle, President Trump is about to weaken our national security by stealing billions of dollars from our military,” said Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Fla., who chairs a key military construction panel. “The House of Representatives will not backfill any projects he steals from today.”

One of the Senate’s most endangered Republicans in the 2020 election, Arizona Sen. Martha McSally, reported that her state is getting nicked for just $30 million from a project that was being delayed anyway. Georgia, where two potentially competitive Senate races loom next year, would be spared entirely, though powerful Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., himself facing re-election, would lose a $63 million middle school at Fort Campbell.

“We need to secure our border and protect our military; we can and should do both,” McSally said. “I went to the mat to fight for Arizona projects and succeeded.”

Elaine McCusker, the Pentagon comptroller, said the now-unfunded projects are not being canceled. Instead, the Pentagon is saying the military projects are being “deferred.”

Congress approved $1.375 billion for wall construction in this year’s budget, same as the previous year and far less than the $5.7 billion that the White House sought. Trump grudgingly accepted the money to end a 35-day government shutdown in February but simultaneously declared a national emergency to take money from other government accounts, identifying up to $8.1 billion for wall construction.

The transferred funds include $600 million from the Treasury Department’s asset forfeiture fund, $2.5 billion from Defense Department counterdrug activities and now the $3.6 billion pot for military housing construction announced Tuesday.

The Pentagon reviewed the list of military projects and said none that provided housing or critical infrastructure for troops would be affected, in the wake of recent scandals over poor living quarters for service members in several parts of the country. Defense officials also said they would focus on projects set to begin in 2020 and beyond, with the hope that the money could eventually be restored by Congress.

The government will spend the military housing money on 11 wall projects in California, Arizona and Texas, the administration said in a filing Tuesday in a lawsuit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union. The most expensive is for 52 miles (84 kilometers) in Laredo, Texas, at a cost of $1.27 billion.

The Laredo project and one in El Centro, California, are on private property, which would require purchase or confiscation, according to the court filing. Two projects in Arizona are on land overseen by the Navy and will be the first to be built, no earlier than Oct. 3. Seven are at least partly on federal land overseen by the Interior Department, including a 31-mile stretch through the Cabezza Prieta National Wildlife Refuge in Arizona, a major wilderness area.

The 175 miles (282 kilometers) covered by the Pentagon funding represents just a fraction of the 1,954-mile (3,145-kilometer) U.S.-Mexico border.


Associated Press writer Elliot Spagat in San Diego contributed to this report.

The post Puerto Rico, Military Schools to Lose Money for Trump’s Border Fencing appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ralph Nader: Chuck Todd Is Everything Wrong With U.S. Media

Labor Day has come and gone. To most people it’s a day off and a splash of sales. The symbolism and meaning that inspired this national holiday back in 1894 has long since dissipated. Labor Day parades are affairs of the past, with very few exceptions, and those that still exist are facing dwindling participation – in the era of Donald the corporatist, no less.

Part of this neglect stems from major unions and their large locals. Labor leaders, year after year, miss the opportunity to speak through the local and national media about what’s on their mind regarding the state of workers today. I have urged labor leaders to develop a media strategy for Labor Day, since it is their one big day to give interviews and submit op-eds. Having major events or demonstrations on the needs of working families would invite coverage.

Even the usual excuse that the corporate press is not that interested goes away on Labor Day. The major labor chiefs just don’t take advantage of this yearly opportunity. That is one reason why over the years, raising the minimum wage; adopting card checks for union-desiring workers; pressing for full Medicare for All; and repealing the notorious, anti-union Taft Hartley Act of 1947 have remained at such low visibility.

On the other hand, the editors and reporters are not exactly reaching out for, say, interviews of Richard Trumka, the former coal miner who rose through the ranks and became the head of the AFL-CIO labor federation in Washington, DC. Trumka vs. Trump has a nice ring to it, but someone has to hit the bell.

There was little space devoted to labor policies, labor reforms, worker safety, the persistent private pension crisis, and the huge power imbalance in labor/management relations.

This Labor Day, The Washington Post and the New York Times had touching stories of workers in various jobs from a human interest point of view. There was little space devoted to labor policies, labor reforms, worker safety, the persistent private pension crisis, and the huge power imbalance in labor/management relations.

NBC’s Meet the Press, anchored by Chuck Todd, is symptomatic of the media’s indifference to showcasing Labor leaders on Labor Day.

Chuck Todd, the quick witted former citizen organizer, has lost control of his show to his corporate masters in New York City. He cannot even stop them from replacing his show entirely on the few Sundays when the NBC profiteers think there are more profits showing a major tennis, golf, or soccer tournament. My repeated complaints about this blackout to NBC chief, Andrew Lack, or to the corporatist chairman of the Federal Communications Commission, have received no reply.

Obviously, Chuck is working in a tough environment for any self-respecting journalist. But this past Sunday, Meet the Press reached a new low from its beginnings under the news-savvy Lawrence Spivak over 70 years ago. Meet the Press has become a ditto-head to the regular news shows’ saturation coverage. Todd covered Hurricane Dorian and the shootout in Texas, along with whether Joe Biden is too old for the Presidency. Repetitious and dull – he added nothing new for the audience.

The shrinking range of Meet the Press has been going on for some years. It focuses, with other network shows, on questioning politicians or their surrogates – sometimes the same guests on multiple shows – about inconsistencies, gaffes, thoughtless statements, or current political controversies. We don’t need to see yet another round with Trump’s Kellyanne Conway, who plays with Todd’s sharp questions.

The NBC corporate masters tell or signal to Todd who he can invite for his roundtable. He should never have corporatists from the American Enterprise Institute without having people from the Economic Policy Institute, Public Citizen, or Common Cause.

Brit Hume, before he went over to Fox, once told me that the real purpose of the Sunday shows was to let the Washington politicians have their say so they stay off the back of the networks. That was his way of explaining why the questions put to them were not as tough or deep as they could be.

Todd can be a tough questioner, but he is trapped in a cul-de-sac of predictability, trivia, and redundancy that demeans his talents.

Along with the other Sunday morning network news shows, Todd stays away from the all-important civic community – historically and presently the fountainhead for our democratic society. It is hard to name any blessing of America, great or small, that did not start with the work or demands of citizens. Improved civil rights and liberties, safer consumer products, workplace conditions and environments, nuclear arms treaties, and much more began this way. Citizen groups continue as watchdogs, documenting, litigating, lobbying, and pushing the powers that be on behalf of the American people.

In 1966, I was invited on Meet the Press by the legendary Lawrence Spivak to first highlight, on Sunday national TV, what needs to be done about unsafe cars. That helped auto safety action to move faster in Congress. The civic leaders of today are largely shut out from these forums. Civic startups cannot reach larger audiences and shape the politics of the day.

None of this is unknown to Chuck Todd. He has allowed his hands to be tied with golden handcuffs. One can almost sense his impatience with his roundtable guests spouting guarded opinions or conventional speculations suited to their current careers. But Chuck is very polite with them and his interviewees. As he has said, if you really go after these guests, they won’t come back next time. But why such a small pool? There are plenty of other fresh, courageous, accurate voices he can invite “next time.”  It’s that his corporate bosses won’t let him.

Todd has much more potential than to continue his increasingly trivialized, though sometimes temporarily sensationalized, role as an anchor of a withering show “brought to you by Boeing.” He should request reassignment or resign for more significant journalistic challenges. He really doesn’t need the money anymore.

The post Ralph Nader: Chuck Todd Is Everything Wrong With U.S. Media appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

U.S., Chinese Envoys to Meet in October for Tariff War Talks

BEIJING—U.S. and Chinese envoys will meet in early October for more talks aimed at ending a tariff war that threatens global economic growth.

Stock markets rose on Thursday’s announcement but there has been no sign of progress since Presidents Donald Trump and Xi Jinping agreed in June to resume deadlocked negotiations about trade and technology.

The agreement on timing came in a phone call conducted by the chief Chinese envoy, Vice Premier Liu He, with U.S. Trade Representative Robert Lighthizer and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, the Chinese Commerce Ministry said in a statement.

Officials will “conduct conscientious consultations” in mid-September to prepare, the ministry said. It gave no details but said the two sides want to create “favorable conditions.”

China’s main stock market index closed up 1% following the announcement. Tokyo’s Nikkei 225 gained 2.1% and South Korea’s main index rose 0.8%.

Beijing is balking at U.S. pressure to roll back plans for government-led creation of global competitors in robotics and other industries.

The U.S., Europe, Japan and other trading partners say those plans violate China’s market-opening commitments and are based on stealing or pressuring companies to hand over technology.

The U.S. and China have raised tariffs on billions of dollars of each other’s imports, disrupting trade in goods from soybeans to medical equipment and battering traders on both sides.

In their latest escalation, Washington imposed 15% tariffs on $112 billion of Chinese imports Sunday and is planning to hit another $160 billion Dec. 15 — moves that would extend penalties to almost everything the United States buys from China. Beijing responded by imposing duties of 10% and 5% on a range of American imports.

U.S. tariffs of 25% imposed previously on $250 billion of Chinese goods are due to rise to 30% on Oct. 1.

Asked whether Washington might postpone that increase, a Commerce Ministry spokesman, Gao Feng, said he had no additional details.

China has imposed or announced penalties on a total of about $120 billion of U.S. imports, economists estimate. Some have been hit with increases more than once, while about $50 billion of U.S. goods is unaffected, possibly to avoid disrupting Chinese industries.

Beijing also has retaliated by canceling purchases of soybeans, the biggest single U.S. export to China.

The Chinese government has agreed to narrow its politically sensitive trade surplus with the U.S. but is reluctant to give up development strategies it sees as a path to prosperity and global influence.

The trade war is taking a toll on both economies.

“Logically, it makes sense from economic and political standpoints for both Trump and Xi to put an end to the trade war,” said Daniel Ikenson, director of the center for trade policy studies at the libertarian Cato Institute. “The U.S. manufacturing sector appears to be contracting and signs point to a broadening U.S. economic slowdown… Meanwhile, the trade war is worsening troubles in the Chinese economy.”

Ikenson said Xi is getting pushback from other Chinese officials who “are unhappy with the trajectory and tenor of the U.S.-China relationship under his leadership, (believing) that Xi has been unnecessarily provocative.”

As a result, “there may be a window for striking a deal, which is far less significant than has been advertised, but which Trump and Xi can spin as respective wins to the domestic audiences they need to assuage,” Ikenson said.

Talks broke down in May over how to enforce any agreement.

China insists Trump’s punitive tariffs must be lifted once a deal takes effect. Washington says at least some must stay to make sure Beijing carries out any promises.

The last round of talks in July in Shanghai ended with no indication of progress. Neither government has given any indication it is ready to break the deadlock by offering concessions.

Some analysts suggest Beijing is holding out in hopes Trump will feel pressure to make a more favorable deal as his campaign for the 2020 presidential election picks up. Trump has warned that if he is re-elected, China will face a tougher U.S. negotiating stance.


AP Economics Writer Paul Wiseman in Washington contributed to this story.

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Progressives Can’t Play Nice With Democrats Anymore

Progressive activists often see a frustrating pattern. Many Democrats in office are good at liberal platitudes but don’t really fight for what we need. Even when constituents organize to lobby or protest, they have little leverage compared to big campaign donors, party leaders and corporate media spin. Activist efforts routinely fall short because—while propelled by facts and passion—they lack power.

Right now, in dozens of Democratic congressional districts, the most effective way for progressives to “lobby” their inadequate representatives would be to “primary” them. Activists may flatter themselves into believing that they have the most influence by seeking warm personal relationships with a Democratic lawmaker. But a credible primary campaign is likely to change an elected official’s behavior far more quickly and extensively.

In short, all too often, progressive activists are routinely just too frigging nice—without galvanizing major grassroots power.

With rare exceptions, it doesn’t do much good to concentrate on appealing to the hearts of people who run a heartless system. It may be tempting to tout some sort of politics of love as the antidote to the horrors of the status quo. But, as Martin Luther King Jr. wrote shortly before he was murdered, “love without power is sentimental and anemic.” Beyond speaking truth to power, it’s crucial to take power away from those abusing or squandering it.

In the long run, constituents’ deference to officeholders is a barrier to effectiveness—much to the satisfaction of people who reap massive profits from the status quo of corporate power, rampant social injustice, systemic racism, vast economic inequities, environmental destruction, and the war machinery.

If activists in New York’s 14th Congressional District had been content to rely on lobbying instead of primarying, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez would still be tending bar—and power broker Joe Crowley would still be serving his corporate clients as a Democratic leader in Congress.

The Bad Blues report issued in early summer (written by Jeff Cohen, Pia Gallegos, Sam McCann and myself for zeroed in on 15 House Democrats who deserve to be primaried in 2020. The report acknowledges that it is “by no means exhaustive—only illustrative,” adding: “There may well be a Democratic member of Congress near you not included here who serves corporate interests more than majority interests, or has simply grown tired or complacent in the never-ending struggles for social, racial and economic justice as well as environmental sanity and peace.”

A few words of caution: Running a primary campaign should be well-planned, far in advance. It should not be an impulse item. And it’s best to field only one progressive challenger; otherwise, the chances of ousting or jolting the incumbent are apt to be greatly diminished.

“It isn’t easy to defeat a Democratic incumbent in a primary,” the Bad Blues report noted. “Typically, the worse the Congress member, the more (corporate) funding they get. While most insurgent primary campaigns will not win, they’re often very worthwhile—helping progressive constituencies to get better organized and to win elections later. And a grassroots primary campaign can put a scare into the Democratic incumbent to pay more attention to voters and less to big donors.”

An example of a promising campaign to defeat a powerful corporate Democrat is emerging in Oregon’s 5th Congressional District, where six-term incumbent Kurt Schrader is facing a challenge in a slightly blue district that includes much of the Willamette Valley and the coast. The challenger is the mayor of the 20,000-population city of Milwaukee, Mark Gamba, who told us that Schrader “likes to pretend that he’s reaching across the aisle to get things done, but it almost always goes back to the corporations that back him financially.”

Schrader—a longtime member of the Blue Dog Coalition—gets a lot of money from corporate interests, including from the Koch Industries PAC. Last year, only one House Democrat was ranked higher on “key issues” by the anti-union, anti-environment U.S. Chamber of Commerce. Gamba intends to make climate a central issue of the campaign to unseat Schrader—who, he says, “has been notably absent on any substantive climate policy.” (Only four House Democrats have a lower lifetime environmental score than Schrader.)

Gamba also supports Medicare for All, while he says his opponent “is quietly but actively opposing Medicare for All or any law that actually cuts into the profits of the pharmaceutical and insurance industries.” A coalition of groups—including National Nurses United, Health Care for All Oregon-Action and Democratic Socialists of America—has scheduled a rally in front of Schrader’s Oregon City office on September 6. The organizers say: “We should convince him how affordable and equitable Medicare for All will be.”

In the few months since Gamba announced his primary challenge to Schrader, voices of opposition to the incumbent have become more significant. “I have called out Congressman Kurt Schrader for his continuing record of voting against the needs of workers,” the retiring Oregon AFL-CIO president, Tom Chamberlain, recently wrote. “On July 15, 2019, Schrader once again showed his corporate colors and voted against raising the federal minimum wage. I am always hopeful that a strong pro-worker candidate will emerge from Oregon’s 5th Congressional District so we can show Schrader the door to retirement.”

Among the top targets of the pathbreaking group Justice Democrats is corporate-tied Texas Congressman Henry Cuellar—a Democrat in name only. No Democrat voted more frequently with Trump in 2017-18, and none had a higher ranking in 2018 from the Chamber of Commerce. One of the rare Democrats backed by the Koch Industries PAC, Cuellar is loved by the NRA and disliked by pro-choice groups and environmentalists. Although representing a predominantly Latino district with many immigrants and children of immigrants, he won praise from Fox News for his “hardline talk” on deporting immigrant youths.

The good news is that Justice Democrats—which was instrumental in Ocasio-Cortez’s stunning 2018 victory—is backing a primary challenge to Cuellar in the person of Jessica Cisneros, a young human rights lawyer with a history of defending immigrants. The daughter of Mexican immigrants, she was born and raised in Laredo, the main population center in the strongly Democratic South Texas district. If Cisneros defeats the well-funded Cuellar in the primary, “the Squad” of House progressives would gain an exciting new member.

Insurgent progressives need a lot more allies elected to Congress as well as colleagues who feel rising heat from the left in their districts. That will require social movements strong enough to sway mainstream entrenched Democrats—with the capacity to “primary” them when necessary.

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Hurricane Dorian Batters the Carolinas as It Pushes Northward

CHARLESTON, S.C.—Hurricane Dorian raked the coastal Carolinas with howling, window-rattling winds and sideways rain Thursday, spinning off tornadoes and knocking out power to more than 200,000 homes and businesses as it pushed northward toward the dangerously exposed Outer Banks.

Leaving at least 20 people dead in its wake in the devastated Bahamas, Dorian made its way up the Eastern Seaboard, sweeping past Florida on Wednesday at a relatively safe distance. From there, the storm apparently grazed Georgia overnight, then hugged the South Carolina coast with more serious effects.

It strengthened briefly to a Category 3 hurricane, then dropped back to a Category 2, with winds of 110 mph, still a threat to hundreds of miles of coastline.

“Get to safety and stay there,” North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper said. “This won’t be a brush-by. Whether it comes ashore or not, the eye of the storm will be close enough to cause extensive damage in North Carolina.”

An estimated 3 million people in Florida, Georgia and the Carolinas were warned to evacuate as the storm closed in. Navy ships were ordered to ride it out at sea, and military aircraft were moved inland.

At least two deaths were reported on the U.S. mainland, in Florida and North Carolina, both involving men who fell while getting ready for the storm.

The National Hurricane Center’s projected track showed Dorian passing near or over North Carolina’s Outer Banks on Friday, lashing the thin line of islands that stick out from the U.S. coast like a boxer’s chin. Dorian was then expected to peel away from the shoreline.

“I think we’re in for a great big mess,” said Leslie Lanier, who decided to stay behind and boarded up her home and bookstore on Ocracoke Island on the Outer Banks, making sure to move the volumes 5 to 6 feet off the ground.

“We are thinking maybe we should have moved the books higher because of storm surge,” Lanier said. “But we’re kind of to the point where we can’t do much more.”

In an assault that began over Labor Day weekend, Dorian pounded the Bahamas with Category 5 winds up to 185 mph (295 kph), obliterating entire neighborhoods and triggering a humanitarian crisis.

About 830,000 people were under mandatory evacuation orders on the South Carolina coast alone.

The National Hurricane Center forecast as much as 15 inches of rain for the coastal Carolinas, with flash-flooding likely.

In Charleston, South Carolina, a historic port city of handsome antebellum homes on a peninsula that is prone to flooding even from ordinary storms, the wind sent sheets of rain sideways, thunder boomed in the night sky, and power flickered on and off as the storm closed in. More than two dozen blocks were closed by flooding in the city, where stores and restaurants downtown were boarded up with wood and corrugated metal.

The hurricane’s approach coincided with a rising tide in the afternoon that forecasters said could worsen flooding in the city.

Dorian also apparently spun off at least one tornado in North Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, damaging several homes, city spokesman Patrick Dowling said. The beach town of Emerald Isle, North Carolina, said a tornado touched there, too, and it posted pictures of smashed homes and RVs. No injuries were reported.

By late morning, in coastal Wilmington, North Carolina, just above the South Carolina line, heavy rain fell sideways, trees bent in the wind and traffic lights swayed.

At 11 a.m. EDT Thursday, the hurricane was centered about 50 miles (80 kilometers) southeast of Charleston, moving north at 8 mph (13 kph) with winds of 110 mph (175 kph) extending about 60 miles (95 kilometers) outward.

Hundreds of shelter animals from coastal South Carolina arrived in Delaware ahead of the storm. The News Journal of Wilmington, Delaware, said 200 were airlifted early Tuesday from shelters in danger of flooding. About 150 more were expected to arrive via land.

In Georgia, evacuation orders covering hundreds of thousands of people along the coast were lifted Thursday morning after the shoreline was largely spared by Dorian overnight.

Mayor Jason Buelterman of Tybee Island, Georgia, said the beach community of 3,000 people came through it without flooding, and the lone highway linking the island to Savannah on the mainland remained open throughout the night.

“If the worst that comes out of this is people blame others for calling evacuations, then that’s wonderful,” he said.

Tybee Islander Bruce Pevey went outside to take photos of unscathed homes to text to neighbors who evacuated. The storm, he said, turned out to be “a bunch of nothing.”


Associated Press reporters Russ Bynum in Tybee Island, Georgia; Gary Robertson in Raleigh, North Carolina; Jeffrey Collins in Carolina Beach, North Carolina; Jay Reeves in Birmingham, Alabama; and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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Hong Kong’s Mass Movement Isn’t Controlled by the U.S.

For the 13th weekend in a row, protesters took to the streets of Hong Kong last weekend, marching in the rain. Some tossed Molotov cocktails at police and faced water cannons and tear gas from law enforcement authorities. Their fight against Chinese domination has continued, surpassing most expectations, and has weathered multiple storms, including the arrest Friday of several prominent activist leaders, including Joshua Wong and Agnew Chow. On Sunday, protesters tried for a second time to shut down the busy international airport of the cosmopolitan trade hub, and on Monday, thousands of students boycotted the first day of school.

At the same time the actions were unfolding, Reuters reported that Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam had made remarks, captured on a recording, to business leaders behind closed doors expressing deep remorse for her role in the protests. Lam said, “For a chief executive to have caused this huge havoc in Hong Kong is unforgiveable. It’s just unforgiveable.” She added, “If I have a choice, the first thing [I would do] is to quit.” Lam’s introduction of an extradition treaty with China in June, that would potentially turn over dissidents to the Chinese government, had triggered the mass activism in the first place. Three months later, Hong Kong remains crippled by relentless opposition to the bill—which Lam suspended but had until recently refused to fully withdraw.  In a testament to the power of the movement’s persistence, Lam finally caved in and announced she will fully withdraw the extradition bill.

But a recent U.S.-based report on the Hong Kong protests has sowed doubt among American leftists as to the legitimacy of the Hong Kong protests. Writing in The Grayzone, Dan Cohen claims Hong Kong’s protesters are backed by the U.S. and marked by “nativism and mob violence.” Francis Yip, an associate professor of Christian theology at the Divinity School of Chung Chi College in the Chinese University of Hong Kong, has been closely following the protests. Yup told me in an interview that he was “appalled in reading this article,” which he says “has misunderstood the whole movement.” Yip contends there is a wide spectrum of political beliefs within the movement and that attempts to label it as left-wing or right-wing are futile. He maintains there is not the “kind of far-right people like the white supremacists in the United States,” to be found among Hong Kong’s activists.

Two million of Hong Kong’s seven million people have shown up to march in the streets. That’s the rough equivalent of about 93 million Americans marching on a single day in the U.S. As a comparison, if such a thing were to ever happen in this nation, it is likely that most parts of the American political spectrum would be represented among activists. Hong Kong’s mass movement may not be left-wing but neither is it right-wing, and attempts to force it to fit an American lens of “progressives versus conservatives” are shortsighted.

It is true that some prominent activists have met with American politicians in the United States. Jimmy Lai, who owns the prominent media outlet Next Digital and who is active in the movement, has met U.S. Vice President Mike Pence and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. According to Yip, the reason is likely a simple one: Lai was interested in making the case for Hong Kong’s protesters to whomever was in power in the U.S. The Chinese response to Lai’s meetings was swift and harsh, with a foreign office spokesperson condemning both Lai and the Trump administration, saying, “These national scum and Hong Kong sinners will always be nailed to the pillar of shame in our history.”

Pro-democracy activist Joshua Wong has also met U.S. House Speaker and Democratic Party leader Nancy Pelosi, seeking international support for the movement. Democratic Rep. Jim McGovern of Massachusetts and Republican Sen. Marco Rubio of Florida have introduced a The Hong Kong Free Press says the bill seeks to “impose penalties upon Hong Kong and mainland China officials who suppress basic freedoms in Hong Kong.” Clearly there are elements in both major parties in the U.S. that are eager to undermine China’s global standing and support the Hong Kong protests to that end. But does that mean the millions of Hong Kongers who have been mobilizing for months are pawns in a nefarious U.S. plot against China? Yip is adamant that is not the case. In fact, the assertion that the U.S. is behind Hong Kong’s protests—echoed in Cohen’s article—is exactly the case China has made to try to discredit the activists.

Hong Kong’s activists have reached out to anyone who will listen for support of their movement. Wong this week traveled to Taiwan to call on its people to show their support. Indeed, this is exactly what China fears.  China is worried that Hong Kong’s activism might inspire  dissidents in Taiwan, or even worse, those in mainland China. In fact, there are already reports that some mainland Chinese citizens have sneaked into Hong Kong to “support a society that offers freedoms unavailable back home.”

Perhaps that is why China has gone to such great lengths to control information about the protests, especially on social media platforms. Yip says, “China has been quite active in influencing public opinion through all kinds of propaganda.” Recently Twitter discovered nearly 1,000 fake accounts that originate in China and that, the tech company said in a statement “were deliberately and specifically attempting to sow political discord in Hong Kong, including undermining the legitimacy and political positions of the protest movement on the ground.” Facebook found a smaller number of accounts it says were linked to the Chinese government focusing on the Hong Kong protests. And Google said it “disabled 210 channels on YouTube” that were behaving in “a coordinated manner while uploading videos related to the ongoing protests in Hong Kong.”

There is no mention in Cohen’s article about the many documented instances of police brutality (here, here, here and here) aimed at Hong Kong’s protesters—only of the attacks that police have faced from activists. But it is precisely the acts of violence by law enforcement authorities symbolizing the Chinese government’s overreach that Hong Kongers are resisting. Documenting the police violence would offer a counternarrative to the idea that the millions of Hong Kong protesters have no real reason to march day after day.

When I asked Yip whether the Hong Kong police answer to local authorities or the Chinese government, he answered, “This is a very good question.” He added, “The police seems to be a force that is not in complete control under the local government.” According to Yip, this may be the reason why the chief executive has so far refused to set up an independent commission to investigate police brutality for fear of discovering who is giving the police their marching orders.

Hong Kong’s relative autonomy is now under question as China reevaluates the idea of “one country, two systems.” It is precisely because Hong Kong has been a freer society compared to mainland China that these protests are taking place. And because China cannot fully control international media coverage of Hong Kong, global scrutiny has held the authoritarian government at bay. Supporters of democracy ought to be cheering the efforts of any group fighting for their civil and human rights, whether or not the U.S. government has an interest in the outcome.

Watch Kolhatkar’s interview with Yip in the video below (via Rising Up With Sonali):

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Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Praises Pinochet in Chile

RIO DE JANEIRO — Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro criticized on Wednesday U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet, who is from Chile, by praising that country’s 1973 military coup.

Bachelet “forgets that her country is not Cuba only thanks to the courage of those who stopped the left in 1973,” Bolsonaro wrote on his Facebook page, adding that among the communists that were defeated then was her father.

Bachelet’s father Alberto, an air force officer who opposed Gen. Augusto Pinochet during the coup, was imprisoned and tortured. He died in captivity in 1974.

The president’s comments came as the U.N. official and former Chilean president raised concerns about an increasing rate of killings by police in Brazil as well as alleged restrictions on civil liberties.

Speaking in Geneva, Bachelet condemned a rise in police executions “amidst a public discourse legitimizing summary executions” and the “absence of accountability”.

Without naming the Brazilian president, Bachelet criticized his wish to celebrate Brazil’s 1964 military coup as well as the denial of past state crimes. An attitude, she said, that resulted in state agents feeling “above the law and effectively able to kill without being held accountable”.

Bolsonaro says Brazil is democratic and Bachelet’s remarks amount to meddling in Brazil’s affairs.

He compared her intrusion into “Brazilian sovereignty” to those recently made by French President Emmanuel Macron, who criticized Brazil for its handling of the Amazon fires and the country’s wider approach to climate change and the environment.

A former army captain, Bolsonaro has repeatedly praised Brazil’s 1964-1985 military regime.

Brazil’s national truth commission concluded in 2014 that at least 434 people were killed or disappeared in the hands of the state during the dictatorship. It is estimated that between 30,000 and 50,000 people were illegally arrested and tortured.

In 2016, when voting to impeach President Dilma Rousseff, a victim of torture by the Brazilian military regime, Bolsonaro dedicated his vote to a colonel in charge of the torture unit. “In memory of Col. Carlos Alberto Brilhante Ustra, the terror of Dilma Rousseff, I vote yes,” Bolsonaro said.

In Chile, several politicians came out in support of Bachelet, who was elected president twice. Sen. Isabel Allende, daughter of former president Salvador Allende, ousted by the 1973 military coup, said that French President Macron was right when saying that “the people of Brazil do not deserve the President who has”.


Associated Press reporter Eva Vergara in Chile contributed to this report.

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Trump’s Trade Wars Are Taking a Toll on America’s Pastime

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Since 1983, Kim Karsh has helped baseball teams deal with an inconvenient fact of the modern economy: Almost everything you need to play America’s homegrown sport is now made in China, from cleats to batting helmets.

Lately, supplying the game’s amateurs and fans has gotten more difficult. Karsh owns California Pro Sports in Harbor City, California, where invoices for big customers now include a caveat: Prices are up due to the Trump administration’s tariffs on Chinese imports, and they could rise further on short notice.

“We have to explain to our customers that the trade war affects them as it does us,” Karsh said. “We can pass on pretty much everything to the consumer. The problem is, now they will shop lower-quality items. Some understand, and other people don’t.”

Although duties set to kick in soon will affect all manner of sports equipment that hasn’t been made in America for decades, baseball enthusiasts are perhaps affected most because so many items are needed to play the game.

Baseball caps were hit first by the third round of China tariffs that went into effect at 10% last September and rose to 25% in January, on top of the 7.5% base tariff. Those added about a dollar to the cost of a hat, Karsh said. Trump’s tariff will rise to 30% in October, bringing the total to 37.5%, and possibly causing another price increase.

Retail prices for metal bats have already risen $5 to $10 each, Karsh said, even though a 10% hike on bats and other sporting goods was put off until Dec. 15 as the Trump administration made a concession to the Christmas shopping season. On Aug. 23, President Donald Trump said he would jack up the levy to 15%.

Baseballs themselves faced tariffs starting Sept. 1, and although Karsh said prices haven’t increased yet, he’s expecting to add between $3 and $5 per dozen. “If you can buy now that would be a plus,” Karsh told customers in August, figuring the only direction the tariffs will go is up.

Since the sporting goods industry has become so dominated by Chinese imports, teams have little ability to shop around. Meanwhile, equipment is not the only mounting cost, with rising fees at municipal fields and less volunteer labor from parents. That raises the barrier to entry for a game that’s supposed to be accessible to everyone.

“Baseball is struggling. The expense of playing the game has gone up sky high,” said Charles Blackburn, executive director of the National Amateur Baseball Federation, a 105-year-old volunteer group that organizes teams and tournaments. “It’s a tax on top of a tax. They’re discouraging people from playing the game of baseball.”

The story of how baseball gear became a product of China is the tale of globalization, writ small.

In the 1800s, when baseball consisted of loosely organized leagues with few uniform standards, balls were made in a factory in Natick, Massachusetts, and sewn together by women who worked out of their homes. The manufacturer, Harwood, developed the iconic figure-eight seam design involving 108 stitches and horsehide tanned on the outskirts of town.

As baseball developed, the major leagues standardized their balls and cut exclusive sourcing deals, first with Spalding and then with St. Louis-based Rawlings. Partly owned by Major League Baseball, Rawlings is now the nation’s largest supplier of baseball gear, and also a heavy importer from China.

Even slight alterations in baseball materials and construction can lead to heated debates, fueled most recently by a rise in home runs that some have theorized may have to do with the 5-ounce spheres having less drag. But the physical ball hasn’t changed much since 1977, when Rawlings officially started producing them for both the National and American Leagues. A cork center is coated with rubber, wound with hundreds of yards of wool and cotton yarn, and finished with hand-sewn leather. Since it remains a labor-intensive process — with no machine yet able to navigate those 108 stitches — manufacturers have moved around the world in search of lower wages and higher-volume suppliers of raw materials with less toxic production processes.

“We had the facilities and the know-how,” said Bill Sells, senior vice president for government affairs at the Sports and Fitness Industry Association. “And as the market developed, others became proficient at making balls, and it went overseas.”

While the major leagues won’t be affected much by tariffs on Chinese imports, everyone from Double A players down through the office softball team will be.

Rawlings made its balls in Puerto Rico until the 1960s, when it moved to Haiti — along with other ball manufacturers, like Wilson — in search of lower labor costs. As workers in Haiti agitated for higher pay and the political situation destabilized, Rawlings then moved production to Costa Rica, where balls are still produced for the major leagues and Triple A teams.

But in 1994, Rawlings started sourcing lower-end balls for mass consumption in China. Now, America imports $69.5 million worth of baseballs and softballs from China annually, compared with $18.5 million from the next-largest supplier, Costa Rica.

Only one company still produces baseball gloves in America — Texas-based Nokona, which sells mitts for hundreds of dollars each. Wooden bats are still produced in the U.S., which is rich in lumber. But metal and composite bats are largely made in China, and those are the ones used by club and school leagues with the tightest budgets.

Although U.S.-based sporting goods companies now produce almost none of their own gear, increasing the cost of imports from China could still jeopardize thousands of U.S. white collar jobs in design, product development, and sales and marketing.

Rawlings, which declined to comment, argued against tariffs in a June letter to the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. It said that if tariffs were imposed, “entire product lines” could be eliminated, and job losses within its 670-person domestic workforce would be “inevitable.”

So far, no major manufacturers have responded to Trump’s tariffs by saying they will move their supply chains out of China. Baden Sports, a family-owned sporting goods manufacturer based in Renton, Washington, tried to rush its orders to get inventory through customs before new duties take effect. After that, CEO Michael Schindler says they’ll try to distribute increased costs.

“We’re working hard with our suppliers to help alleviate the hit,” Schindler said. “The Chinese government changes the currency to account for about 2%. Then you pass a couple percent on to your customers, and you might eat a percent or two. Everybody participates in the pain. It’s in everybody’s best interest to keep the thing going.”

But Schindler acknowledged China may not be his company’s last stop. As China moves on to higher-tech products like electric cars, Schindler said, the painstaking work of ball manufacturing may migrate to nations earlier on in their industrial evolution, like Bangladesh and Malaysia — just as his company shifted from Taiwan and South Korea in the 1980s to Japan and on to China. For his next move, Schindler is thinking about someplace closer to his customers, like Mexico or the Dominican Republic.

The problem is, other countries don’t have the labor force or the port capacity yet to handle a total exodus from China. Also, relationships with suppliers are hard to build: Baden has worked with the same Taiwanese-owned company since 1979, as it moved with him from country to country. It’s easier to relocate within Asia than to move halfway across the world — especially when the tariff situation seems to change from week to week.

“If you’re not thinking about it, you’re nuts,” Schindler said. “It’s almost impossible to do anything about it quickly. And partially because when the tariffs were first talked about, you never really knew. It’s really hard to make hard and fast decisions when you really don’t know.”

Uncertainty also faces most baseball teams and leagues as they plan next season’s purchases.

The Fort Wayne TinCaps, a Class A team, has braced for a cost increase. The team bought 8,160 balls last year at $53 a dozen, which comes to $36,040. Rawlings has an exclusive contract to supply the TinCaps with Chinese-made baseballs, so there’s no way to bargain down the price. Although the TinCaps share the cost of bats and balls with their major league affiliate, the San Diego Padres, collectively the tariffs could mean a significant cost increase by next year.

And that could also affect the fan experience, from Double A teams on down, said team President Michael Nutter. One of the traditions of these games is tossing balls out to eager fans, which can get expensive if prices rise.

“I know some teams and operators are really strict with the baseballs and discourage players from throwing them to fans and trying to protect every single baseball,” Nutter said, while noting that he’ll continue to encourage fielders to be generous. “Really, to us, this is a cost of doing business.”

Youth sports have even less wiggle room. Tariffs have been on the minds of school baseball team managers across the country, many of whom operate on fixed budgets from local governments, dues paid by parents and ticket sales.

“Anytime there’s an increase in equipment cost, it gets passed on to the gate, or you have another fundraiser,” said Shelton Crews, executive director of the Florida Athletic Coaches Association. “I know up here in Tallahassee, parents have to raise so much money or make up the difference in cash.”

At a certain point, increased prices will translate into lower sales, especially for the mom-and-pop shops like Karsh’s that already operate on razor-thin margins.

“We can survive, but it’s very unfortunate what they’re doing,” Karsh said. “The manufacturers have put all their eggs in one basket. But there’s not much I can do about it. Not much anybody can do about it.”

The post Trump’s Trade Wars Are Taking a Toll on America’s Pastime appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

How the U.S. Shattered the Middle East

Yemen is a nightmare, a catastrophe, a mess—and the United States is highly complicit in the whole disaster. Refueling Saudi aircraft in-flight, providing targeting intelligence to the kingdom and selling the requisite bombs that have been dropped for years now on Yemeni civilians places the 100,000-plus deaths, millions of refugees, and (still) starving children squarely on the American conscience. If, that is, Washington can still claim to have a conscience.

The back story in Yemen, already the Arab world’s poorest country, is relevant. Briefly, the cataclysm went something like this: Protests against the U.S.-backed dictator during the Arab Spring broke out in 2011. After a bit, an indecisive and hesitant President Obama called for President Ali Abdullah Saleh to step down. A Saudi-backed transitional government took over but governed (surprise, surprise) poorly. Then, from 2014 to 2015, a vaguely Shiite militia from Yemen’s north swarmed southward and seized the capital, along with half the country. At that point, rather than broker a peace, the U.S. quietly went along with, and militarily supported, a Saudi terror-bombing campaign, starvation blockade and mercenary invasion that mainly affected Yemeni civilians. At that point, Yemen had broken in two.

Now, as the Saudi campaign has clearly faltered—despite killing tens of thousands of civilians and starving at least 85,000 children to death along the way—stalemate reigns. Until this past week, that is, when southern separatists (there was once, before 1990, a South and North Yemen) seized the major port city of Yemen, backed by the Saudis’ ostensible partners in crime, the United Arab Emirates. So it was that there were then three Yemens, and ever more fracture. In the last few days, the Saudi-backed transitional government retook Aden, but southern separatism seems stronger than ever in the region.

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Like Humpty-Dumpty in the nursery rhyme, it’s far from clear that Yemen can ever be put back together again. Add to that the fact that al-Qaida-linked militants have used the chaos of war to carve out some autonomy in the ungoverned southeast of the country and one might plausibly argue that the outcome of U.S.-backed Saudi intervention has been no less than four Yemens.

What makes the situation in the Arabian Peninsula’s south particularly disturbing is that supposed foreign policy “experts” in D.C. have long been hysterically asserting that the top risk to America’s safety are Islamist-occupied “safe havens” or ungoverned spaces. I’m far from convinced that the safe-haven myth carries much water; after all, the 9/11 attacks were planned in Germany and the U.S. as much as in, supposedly, the caves of Afghanistan. Still, for argument’s sake, let’s take the interventionist experts’ assumption at face value. In that case, isn’t it ironic that in Yemen—and (as I’ll demonstrate) countless other countries—U.S. military action has repeatedly created the very state fracture and ungoverned spaces the policymakers and pundits so fear?

Let us take an ever-so-brief tour of Washington’s two-decade history of utterly rupturing Greater Mideast nation-states and splintering an already fractious region. Here goes, from West to East, in an admittedly noncomprehensive list.

U.S. airstrikes and regime change policy in Libya has unleashed an ongoing civil war, divided the country between at least two warlords, and enabled arms and militiamen to cross the southern border and destabilize West Africa. Which means that Niger, Libya, Cameroon, Mali, Chad and Nigeria have seen their shared territory around Lake Chad become a disputed region, contested by a newly empowered array of Islamists. That, of course, led the U.S. military to plop a few thousand troops in these countries. That deployment is unlikely to end well.

In Israel/Palestine, decades of reflexive U.S. support for Israel and Donald Trump’s doubling down on that policy—by moving the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem and turning a blind eye to Israeli plans to annex much of the West Bank—have ensured, once and for all, that there can be no viable Palestinian state. Which means that the area is divided into at least three (for the Palestinians, at least) noncontiguous entities: Gaza, Israel and the West Bank.

In Syria, American meddling in the civil war, self-destructive support for various Islamists groups there and military intervention on behalf of the Kurds have broken Syria into a mostly jihadi, rebel-held northwest, Assad-regime center and U.S.-backed Kurdish east.

Just over the border in Iraq stands the gold standard of counterproductive U.S. fracture. There, an ill-fated, illegal U.S. invasion in 2003 seems to have forever broken into an autonomous Kurdish north, Shiite-held east and south and Sunni-controlled west. It is in that contested western region that Sunni jihadism has long flourished and where al-Qaida in Iraq, and its more extreme stepchild, Islamic State, metastasized and then unleashed massive bloodletting on both sides of the border.

Finally, in Afghanistan, the U.S. invasion and occupation—as well as any impending peace deal—ensured that this Central Asian basket case of a country will divide, for the foreseeable future, into Taliban-dominated Pashtun south and east and tenuous Tajik/Uzbek/Hazara minorities held north and west.

The point is that the U.S. has irreparably fractured a broad swath of the globe from West Africa to Central Asia. Interventionist pundits in both parties and countless think tanks insist that the U.S. military must remain in place across the region to police dangerous “ungoverned spaces,” yet recent history demonstrates irrefutably that it is the very intervention of Washington and presence of its troops that fragments once (relatively) stable nation-states and empowers separatists and Islamists.

The whole absurd mess boils down to a treacherous math problem of sorts. By my simple accounting, a region from Nigeria to Afghanistan that once counted about 22 state entities has—since the onset of the U.S. “terror wars”—broken into some 37 autonomous, sometimes hardly governed, zones. According to the “experts,” that should mean total disaster and increased danger to the homeland. Yet it’s largely U.S. military policy and intervention itself that’s caused this fracture. So isn’t it high time to quit the American combat missions? Not according to the mainstream policymakers and pundits. For them, the war must (always) go on!

Counterproductivity seems the essence of U.S. military policy in Uncle Sam’s never-ending, post-9/11 wars. Call me crazy, or wildly conspiratorial, but after serving in two hopelessly absurd wars and studying the full scope of American military action, it seems that maybe that was the idea all along.

The post How the U.S. Shattered the Middle East appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Jay-Z’s Shameful Partnership With the NFL

What follows is a conversation between Eddie Conway of The Real News Network and several members of Baltimore’s African American community. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

EDDIE CONWAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Eddie Conway, coming to you from Baltimore. I’m here in front of Conscious Head Barbershop, and we’re going to interview some of the people in the barbershop about Jay-Z’s latest deal with the football league.

ROGER GOODELL, NFL COMMISSIONER: Good man. Appreciate you. Thanks.

DARYL MCINTOSH: I respect the move, you know, Jay-Z. I follow hip-hop, so coming out of hip-hop, it’s something that’s never been done before. I respect what he’s trying to do, I guess, from the business side.

EDDIE CONWAY: Do you think it undermines what Kaepernick did when he took a knee to highlight the protests of Black Lives Matter?

DARYL MCINTOSH: I don’t think we’ve seen it yet. You know what I mean? I don’t think – I guess we’d have to see. We still have black people getting drafted in the NFL. We still have coaches. We still have people in other positions, so I don’t think that it necessarily undermines it.

KEVIN ACKWOOD: It changes the way people look at Jay-Z, because it’s totally undercutting Kaepernick and what he is trying to do—Not trying to do; the movement has already started. He set into motion from the first time he knelt.

JAY-Z: We all do different things and we all work differently for the same results. I don’t knock what he’s doing. And hopefully, he doesn’t knock what I’m doing.

KEVIN ACKWOOD: Everybody has a voice that wants to be heard. Kaepernick is just the first one to actually step up to the plate and do it. Jay-Z and Beyoncé, when the riots broke out in Baltimore, they bailed a whole bunch of people out down here. So you would think that they would be more for a revolutionary-type of movement, but it seems like they’re straddling the fence. Half and half. They’re half with the movement, and the other half against it.

RICARDO WINCHESTER: My overall impression is he’s a businessman, first and foremost. I mean, if anything you’re hearing about him, nine times out of ten it has to do with some sort of business. Up until lately, you’re hearing him more into, I guess you could say, activism.

EDDIE CONWAY: How do you think it fits into Black Lives Matter protests that’s been going around with Kaepernick taking a knee, with black people concerned about the amount of young black people being murdered by police? How do you think him lending his name and his image to the football league is undercutting that protest?

RICARDO WINCHESTER: In my opinion, what Kaepernick was doing, as far as the protest, was more symbolism over substance. I don’t think it led to any policies being passed or any of these officers going to prison for this so-called brutality that’s going—Well, it is going on.

REPORTER: Sorry to put it this way, but would you kneel or would you stand?

JAY-Z: Would I what?

REPORTER: Would you kneel or would you stand?

JAY-Z: Okay. I think we’ve past kneeling. I think it’s time to go into actionable items.

ANTONIO WILSON: He’s a big name. They need a big name right now. The black community will listen to Jay-Z more than they will listen to some old white dude that makes $50 million a year working for the NFL and nobody knows his name at all, but he’s an executive for them.

EDDIE CONWAY: So you’re saying it’s a good PR move for the white owners who are billionaires, and you’re saying that he’s kind of giving them credibility. Cred, say, for instance, by speaking out on their behalf.

ANTONIO WILSON: That’s when it gets really weird. Because he could either be a puppet, or he could be actually helping the black community.

REPORTER: Do you regard this partnership as a form of protest? I mean, are you looking to change things from the inside?

JAY-Z: Of course, yes. I’ll answer that first. I guess, I don’t have anything else to add to that. Just, yes.

JABARI NATUR: Business-wise, there’s a reason why I didn’t really like him. He came in, he was a big drug dealer, you know what I mean? He did a lot of damage at first in the community, you know what I mean, encouraging the whole drug culture and those different things, things of that nature. I didn’t like that. I didn’t agree with what Jay-Z did with the Clintons, when he stood with the Clintons, you know what I mean, when she was running for—I mean, I was like, “What is he doing?” But I still see him, on the other hand, he’s still putting out things that’s relevant, and I think he’s still teaching and, like I said, putting his life out before the world.

KEVIN ACKWOOD: I would like to know, what’s in it for Jay-Z?

EDDIE CONWAY: Or what’s in it for the black community?


EDDIE CONWAY: I think this is going to make or break his image in the next few months.

KEVIN ACKWOOD: It seemed like they were trying to just use his image to breathe some life back into the football, into the NFL. Because you just took all of these protests, all of these people sacrificing their jobs, people that haven’t even lost their jobs over this, or even been shunned by the world as a whole in general, people that love the NFL that turned away from it just because of what’s been going on. It’s a lot riding on that. And then Jay-Z just goes and sweeps it under the rug basically, and sings a song and all that. He just basically is running with the NFL.

DARYL MCINTOSH: I think when we look at some of the things that Jay-Z did recently, some of the things that he’s involved himself in, you know, with the Meek Mill situation—Meek Mill’s a popular hip-hop artist, so that became a big interest of what was going on with his case. Not necessarily police brutality, but I think more on the criminal justice reform side. And I think Jay-Z kind of stepped in and played a certain role in that. It’s interesting particularly for hip-hop, I think, in my opinion, to see hip-hop be involved in these type of conversations, and especially at that level.

EDDIE CONWAY: I’m aware that he probably—Jay-Z, that is— has done a lot of things. Some of it secret, in terms of Sean Bell’s children, funds to support them, other kinds of things that’s helped the black community.

RICARDO WINCHESTER: Whatever he’s doing with the NFL, I know he has things going on with the Patriots owner and a few other people as far as prison reform and things like that, and getting people out of jail. So maybe the NFL can partner in that effort, but I don’t see how anything else could come out of it.

EDDIE CONWAY: Are you aware that his getting people out of jail has something to do with his business deals with the electronic monitoring out in the community?

RICARDO WINCHESTER: Yeah. Yeah, I heard about that.

EDDIE CONWAY: His company is selling the software that is being used to watch the electronic monitors that people are forced to wear and—

RICARDO WINCHESTER: Right. That’s why I say he’s a businessman, first and foremost. Yeah.

EDDIE CONWAY: And he’s making money off of that.


EDDIE CONWAY: Maybe it’s prison reform in the sense that they’re not inside the prison, but now those bracelets are turning their homes into little prisons in the community. Is that the kind of reform you’re looking for, you would like to see?

RICARDO WINCHESTER: No. Not really, no. I mean, I guess you could say it’s a step in the right direction because maybe they not away from their families— if you want to look at the bright side of it. But other than that, no. I mean, prison reform, in my opinion, should be people just not being put in prison over these petty things and nonviolent drug offenses, and things like that.

JABARI NATUR: I would say so far as the industry is concerned, and somebody like Jay-Z, and when you’re dealing with the NFL, when you’re dealing with all these billionaires and people who got a whole lot of money, it’s a lot of gangster inside that organization, too, you know what I mean? You know what I mean? At some point, it could be like, “Hey, you’re going to do this.” Or, “This is what’s going to happen.” These are billionaires. These are people who got their money, a lot of them, from dirty stuff in the past, you know what I mean? So it could—

EDDIE CONWAY: Including him?

JABARI NATUR: Yeah, including him. Yeah, yeah, including him. Definitely. Definitely. Oh, and he know that. That’s why he know he got a lot of cleaning up to do.

The post Jay-Z’s Shameful Partnership With the NFL appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Sinister Forces Behind Boris Johnson’s Brexit Coup

Natasha Hakimi Zapata reports for Truthdig from London.

The last thing I want to do today is write about Brexit again, partly because I still can’t get over the nausea of the dizzying speed of events in British politics or the unease that’s taken hold since Boris Johnson was chosen as prime minister of the United Kingdom. (I say chosen because a bunch of Tory members deciding who the nation’s leader will be hardly can be considered an election.)

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Since former Prime Minister Theresa May’s astonishing three-vote-failure to pass her negotiated deal for leaving the European Union through Parliament, much ado about nothing has taken place in the House of Commons. Johnson, the notoriously power-hungry former London mayor who led the “Leave” campaign prior to the 2016 EU referendum, became prime minister in July despite no general election being held. This is due to rules that allow a new leader to be selected solely by the Tory members of Parliament and the party members, as long as the party in question continues to hold a majority of seats in Parliament (even if, like the Conservatives, it’s a slim majority of one). It’s also worth noting the makeup of the Tory Party membership, which totals about 160,000 people in a country with a population of about 67.6 million, are primarily white and middle class, as well as “more right-wing than the population as a whole,” according to the BBC. This means minorities and working-class Brits are sorely underrepresented in the ruling party. Add to these facts that 70% of Tory MPs are male, and it becomes clear the Conservatives are not concerned with any form of gender, class or ethnic representation that would reflect the wider U.K. population.

There is plenty to say about the U.K.’s new American-born leader, but perhaps most of it can be summed up by John Oliver’s segment on the duplicitousness behind the clownish, salt-of-the-earth image the elite-raised Johnson has cultivated throughout his careers as both a journalist and politician.

In the six weeks since Johnson has taken power, the Leave campaigner has tried to convince those in the U.K. they should prepare for a so-called no-deal Brexit on Oct. 31, while simultaneously maintaining the threat is mainly a negotiating tactic to try to obtain a better deal than May’s from the EU.

What on Earth Is a No-Deal Brexit?

In essence, a no-deal Brexit means exactly what it sounds like: the U.K. would leave the EU on Oct. 31, the deadline set forth by the EU when it gave its second extension to the U.K in April after May’s failure to pass her deal, without any agreements between London and Brussels. While on the surface this type of divorce may not seem too catastrophic, there have been plenty of studies and warnings to the contrary.

In a Guardian piece, the organization U.K. in a Changing Europe sought to outline the impacts of a no-deal, pointing out that while in the short-term the European bloc has taken temporary measures to stem some of the chaos that could arise, especially when it comes to EU citizen rights and travel, the politically fraught border between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland remains a huge cause for concern.

Many of the worse possible consequences–such as severe disruption to road and air transport links–are not on the table in the short term because the EU has unilaterally put into place temporary workarounds. Would these–some of which expire as soon as the end of December, just two months into no deal – survive a political confrontation over the U.K.’s “divorce bill”?

Similarly, while there is no prospect of EU citizens in the U.K. becoming irregular migrants overnight, the government’s recent incoherence on what no deal means for freedom of movement has made many feel, understandably, insecure–and it is still unclear how employers, landlords and public services will be expected to apply any new rules. The position for Britons in Europe is even more complex and uncertain.

… But perhaps the biggest and most dangerous unknown is what happens on the island of Ireland. The U.K. government has said it will not apply checks and tariffs at the Irish border–a stance which is at odds with its commitments under, inter alia, WTO rules. The EU, however, has made it clear it intends to apply the rules, though whether all checks will be imposed from day one is less obvious. Both sides are likely to blame the other, with unforeseeable political and economic consequences.

But as U.K. in a Changing Europe points out, one of the biggest misconceptions surrounding a no-deal is that it would somehow represent an end to the relationship between the 27-member state bloc and the United Kingdom. Negotiations between the two would take years to sort out, and would be done, in the case of a no deal, in a much more chaotic context given that arrangements will not have been made prior to the U.K.’s departure.

As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn highlighted on Wednesday in PMQs—a session in which parliamentarians ask the prime minister questions on any range of issues—one other significant outcome of crashing out of the EU without any agreement is the possibility of fresh food and medical supply shortages, as outlined in leaks from Johnson’s own government. The “Operation Yellow Hammer” papers, as the leaked documents are titled, also indicate the government expects massive delays at U.K. ports and a “hard border” in Ireland, which some believe would violate the Good Friday Agreement in which long-sought-after peace was established in Ireland. When Corbyn asked the prime minister repeatedly on Wednesday whether he was willing to release the Yellow Hammer documents, Johnson mostly dodged the question and railed on about not wanting to give away his EU negotiating tactics.

European officials, however, have repeatedly stated Johnson and his historically right-wing cabinet have not proposed a single alternative to the Irish backstop, the sticking point in the deal negotiated by Johnson’s predecessor May.

What Is Parliament Doing to Quash Johnson’s Mess?

While Parliament is currently in session in Westminster, Johnson’s recent request to Queen Elizabeth II for a prorogation, which would shut down Parliament for 23 working days until mid-October, was approved by the monarch. MPs from all parties have declared the move undemocratic as it would keep democratically elected leaders from voting on any legislation in the crucial crunch time before the Oct. 31 deadline. British author Laurie Penny summed this move up best in a tweet riffing off the Leave campaign slogan.

Three years ago: take back control! The people have spoken! If you oppose Brexit, you hate democracy!

Now: unelected Prime Minister gets hereditary monarch to suspend parliament in order to force through a disastrous no-deal Brexit that nobody voted for. #StopTheCoup #brexit

— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) August 28, 2019

On Tuesday, MPs from Labour, Liberal Democrats, the Scottish National Party, Wales’ Plaid Cymru and even some “rebel” Tories sought to begin proceedings to quickly pass legislation that would keep Johnson from forcing through a no-deal. In anticipation of a humiliating defeat, Johnson threatened to withdraw the whip from any member of his party who voted in favor of the legislation, a move that would basically kick them out of the Conservative Party and not allow them to run as a Tory in an upcoming election. As threats were thrown around, one Tory decided to leave in a theatrical display. Phillip Lee walked over to the opposite side of the chamber in the middle of a speech by the PM and defected to the Liberal Democrats, effectively putting an end to Johnson’s one-person majority.

The moment defecting Tory MP Phillip Lee takes his seat with the Liberal Democrats, leaving Boris Johnson’s government with no working majority

Live updates:

— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 3, 2019

By Tuesday evening, 21 other Tories, including Phillip Hammond, who was Theresa May’s Lord Chancellor, and the grandson of Winston Churchill, Nicholas Soames, were all kicked out of the party after helping the opposition parties impart a devastating blow on Johnson’s no-deal plans. The decision was seen as especially hypocritical given that Johnson and many members of his cabinet were deemed “rebels” themselves by May’s government for repeatedly voting against her deal.

In other words, Johnson blew up his own party on one of his first few days as prime minister in the House of Commons, a move that, as Corbyn described it, left him with “no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority.” The fledgling prime minister then said he would call a general election under the Fixed-Term Parliaments Act, which would require a two-thirds majority to get through parliament. Corbyn, however, has insisted Labour would not vote in favor of a snap election until a bill was passed that would ensure Johnson could not force the U.K. out of the EU on Oct. 31 without a deal. On Wednesday, parliamentarians met for another marathon of debates centering mostly on Brexit as the clock ticked toward both the forced suspension of parliament, which is set to begin from Sept. 9 to Sept. 12, just days after Parliament returned from a summer recess on Sept. 3. After a day chock-a-block with more Brexit-fueled fury on all ends, the bill proposed by Labour’s Hilary Benn that would impede a no-deal gained another Tory rebel voter on its second reading. The proposed legislation would impose an Oct. 19 deadline to either pass a deal or a no-deal in Parliament, or else be forced to request another three-month extension from the EU.

For those interested in the ongoing Shakespearean drama unfolding in and around the House of Commons, here are a few other theatrical tidbits from Tuesday night. Dominic Cummings, a senior aide to Johnson who many view as the mastermind behind the Leave campaign, was seen allegedly inebriated, shouting at Corbyn in Westminster.

Dominic Cummings is having an evening

— Thomas Colson (@tpgcolson) September 3, 2019

Meanwhile, Jacob Rees-Mogg, the newly minted leader of the House of Commons under Johnson, was lambasted for lying down during Tuesday’s session, an image that not only perfectly illustrates the arrogance and laziness Johnson’s government is quickly becoming known for, but also fed the internet meme-machine.

Also, this incredibly moving moment came on Wednesday, courtesy of Labour’s Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi who called the prime minister out on his hateful attacks on Muslim women who wear burkas.

In every corner of the globe and certainly here in America, every constituent deserves courageous Representatives who could call out hate and bigotry.

Demand it, expect it and don’t even allow them to coward!

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 4, 2019

Why Is Johnson Blowing Up His Own Government?

It’s hard to know what is going through the prime minister’s deliberately messy-haired head, especially given that part of the persona he’s cultivated is based on covering up his lack of preparedness with disarming charm. It’s possible Johnson actually wants a no-deal in order to bolster support for a trade deal with the U.S. that would be billed as an attempt to save the U.K. economy post-Brexit. Certainly, that’s what many in the opposition think, including Corbyn, who has billed any negotiations between Trump and Johnson as a disaster for the U.K.’s welfare state. Given that ghoulish Trump adviser Steve Bannon has been linked to Johnson, the Labour leader has plenty of reason to be alarmed about the future of his state.

I think what the US president is saying, is that Boris Johnson is exactly what he has been looking for, a compliant Prime Minister who will hand Britain’s public services and protections over to US corporations in a free trade deal.

— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) August 28, 2019

It’s also possible that Johnson saw a Tory rebellion and subsequent general election coming, and by deselecting “rebel’ MPs, has made room for hard-line Brexiters to run in their place to push through a no-deal or a hard Brexit in the event he’s even able to win an election. Corbyn and leaders of other parties, however, are doing what they can to delay a general election until after Oct. 17, when Johnson is set to negotiate with the EU, perhaps to call the prime minister’s bluff and show the public the new leader has no real plans to avoid a no-deal. Cummings in the meantime has been machinating a campaign that is expected to pit “the people versus the Parliament,” billing Johnson as a populist savior who wants to deliver the people’s democratic desires but is being thwarted by pesky parliamentarians.

Whether or not there’s any method to Johnson’s madness, what’s clear is the man is just as big a gambler as his predecessor David Cameron. Unfortunately for Johnson, there are already grassroots signs that the absurd game he’s playing with an entire kingdom is about to blow up in his smug face and hand Corbyn the premiership. I’ve written before that Theresa May was putting the nail in the coffin of the Conservative Party, but what I should’ve added was that the coffin was largely built by Bullingdon-Club buddies Cameron and Johnson with all the toxic white male hubris they could each muster. Now, Johnson’s finishing up what he helped start, and rapidly lowering the right-wing casket into the ground, where it rightfully belongs.

The post The Sinister Forces Behind Boris Johnson’s Brexit Coup appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

U.S. Made Separated Migrant Kids’ Intense Trauma Worse: Report

WASHINGTON—Migrant children who were separated from their parents at the U.S.-Mexico border last year suffered post-traumatic stress and other serious mental health problems, according to a government watchdog report Wednesday. The chaotic reunification process only added to their ordeal.

The Associated Press obtained a copy of the report in advance of the official release.

The children, many already distressed in their home countries or by their journey, showed more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress symptoms than children who were not separated, according to a report from the inspector general’s office in the Department of Health and Human Services.

Some cried inconsolably. Others believed their parents had abandoned them and were angry and confused. “Other children expressed feelings of fear or guilt and became concerned for their parents’ welfare,” according to the report.


EDITOR’S NOTE — This story is part of an ongoing joint investigation between The Associated Press and the PBS series FRONTLINE on the treatment of migrant children, which includes an upcoming film.


The report is the first substantial accounting by a government agency on how family separation under the Trump administration’s “zero tolerance” policy has affected the mental health of children. It was based on interviews with about 100 mental health clinicians who had regular interactions with children but did not directly address the quality of the care the children did receive.

“Facilities reported that addressing the needs of separated children was particularly challenging, because these children exhibited more fear, feelings of abandonment and post-traumatic stress than children who were not separated,” said Deputy Inspector General Ann Maxwell. “Separated children are also younger than the teenagers facilities were used to caring for.”

The separations have been widely criticized, and children’s health advocates have said the kids likely suffered trauma. A second report by the watchdog, also released Wednesday, found that thousands of childcare workers were given direct access to migrant children before completing required background and fingerprint checks.

One little boy, about 7 or 8, was separated from his father and did not know why, according to the inspector general. He believed that his dad was killed and he would also be killed.

“This child ultimately required emergency psychiatric care to address his mental health distress,” a program director told investigators.

Some of the separated children suffered physical symptoms because of their mental trauma, clinicians reported.

“You get a lot of ‘my chest hurts,’ even though everything is fine (medically). Children describe symptoms — ‘Every heartbeat hurts,’ ‘I can’t feel my heart’ — of emotional pain,” a clinician told investigators.

The report covers a period last year when facilities were overwhelmed under the “zero tolerance” policy, under which at least 2,500 children were separated from their parents. Children stayed behind in border custody while their parents were taken to federal court for criminal proceedings. Children held longer than 72 hours were transferred into HHS custody and placed in shelters that have traditionally cared for children who crossed the border alone.

Migrant children stay in the shelters, run by government-funded organizations, until released to a sponsor, usually a parent or close relative.

Previous reports have highlighted the disorganized reunification effort, and a lack of government planning on how to bring families together after they have been separated. Others have said thousands more children than initially reported may have been separated.

The watchdog said the longer children were in custody, the more their mental health deteriorated, and it recommended minimizing that time. It also suggested the creation of better mental health care options and the hiring of more trained staff.

The Administration for Children and Families, the HHS division that manages children, concurred with the recommendations and said it had already begun implementing them, including hiring a board-certified child, adolescent and adult psychiatrist to serve as a mental health team leader.

Department Assistant Secretary Lynn Johnson said in a letter to the watchdog that the average length of stay is much shorter now than it was last year, and noted the report was not a clinical review of treatment.

She wrote that “significant factors” beyond the agency’s control contributed to “the issues identified in the report.” Those included a surge in children at the border, the children’s unique mental health needs and a shortage of qualified bilingual clinicians, especially in rural areas.

She said that efforts were made to bring in more medical health professionals, but “adverse media coverage and negative public perception … have hampered efforts to expand.”

After a federal judge ordered the children reunified with their parents, guidance on how to do it kept changing and that led to further anxiety and distress, according to the report.

Some facilities said reunifications were scheduled with little notice or suddenly canceled.

In one case, a child was moved from a Florida facility to Texas to be reunited with her father. After the child made several trips to the detention center, she was returned to the Florida facility “in shambles,” without ever seeing him.

Investigators visited 45 facilities in 10 states during August and September of 2018, interviewing about 100 mental health clinicians who had regular interactions with children and staff.

During the interviews, there were almost 9,000 children in shelters; nearly 85% were 13-17 in age, 13% were 6-12 and 2% were infants to age 5.

At a minimum, each child in government custody is to receive one counseling session per week, plus two group sessions to discuss issues.

But the report found that mental health staff were overwhelmed. Usually there is one mental health clinician for 12 children, but during the period investigators studied, there were more than 25 children for one clinician.

A separate Office of Inspector General report also released Wednesday found 31 of the 45 facilities reviewed had hired case managers who did not meet Office of Refugee Resettlement requirements, including many without the required education. In addition, the review found 28 of the 45 facilities didn’t have enough mental health workers.

That meant some children didn’t receive proper treatment, the report found. And some children who suffered more severe illnesses — self-harming, suicidal behavior or actual suicide attempts — were not transferred quickly enough to residential treatment centers.

During a time when sponsors had to be fingerprinted, children were held in facilities for as long as 93 days. The fingerprints were sent to U.S. Customs and Immigration Enforcement and some people in the United States illegally were arrested. Advocates said many potential sponsors feared coming to get the children while the policy was in effect.

After it was ditched in March, the average length of stay dropped to 58 days and was 48 days in April.

The report also addressed the question of whether children were being given psychotropic medications after media reports described the practice. The report found the instances were very minimal; about 300 children overall between May and July of 2018 were prescribed antidepressants. Staff described reluctant children who didn’t want to take medication, and some concerns that dosage or type of medication may not have been right.

In the second report, only four of the 45 shelters reviewed by the U.S. Health and Human Services inspector general met all staff screening requirements. Caregivers at more than half of those shelters worked with migrant toddlers, children and teens who were separated from their parents or who were traveling alone before their background check results were complete.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said children deserve compassionate care.

“Grantees and contractors that fail to ensure their employees are checked appropriately should not be allowed to care for these children,” said Portman.

Federal investigators also found some shelters relying on employees to report their own criminal histories. A background check found one employee — who “self-certified” that she had no history for crimes involving child abuse — had a third-degree child neglect felony on her record.

The inspector general found the federal government granted waivers from conducting child protective service reviews at four behavioral health residential facilities last year, in violation of the agency’s rules which give authority to grant waivers only at emergency influx detention camps.

Those waivers, for caregivers at two facilities holding thousands of children at Homestead, Florida, and Tornillo, Texas, were previously disclosed. Tornillo has closed and Homestead is empty but on “warm status” and could be reactivated.


Burke and Mendoza reported from San Francisco.

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