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A Deadly Epidemic Is Hitting Trump Supporters the Hardest

We hear a lot about suicide when celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade die by their own hand. Otherwise, it seldom makes the headlines. That’s odd given the magnitude of the problem.

In 2017, 47,173 Americans killed themselves. In that single year, in other words, the suicide count was nearly seven times greater than the number of American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and 2018.

A suicide occurs in the United States roughly once every 12 minutes. What’s more, after decades of decline, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people annually — the suicide rate — has been increasing sharply since the late 1990s. Suicides now claim two-and-a-half times as many lives in this country as do homicides, even though the murder rate gets so much more attention.

In other words, we’re talking about a national epidemic of self-inflicted deaths.

Worrisome Numbers

Anyone who has lost a close relative or friend to suicide or has worked on a suicide hotline (as I have) knows that statistics transform the individual, the personal, and indeed the mysterious aspects of that violent act — Why this person?  Why now? Why in this manner? — into depersonalized abstractions. Still, to grasp how serious the suicide epidemic has become, numbers are a necessity.

According to a 2018 Centers for Disease Control study, between 1999 and 2016, the suicide rate increased in every state in the union except Nevada, which already had a remarkably high rate.  In 30 states, it jumped by 25% or more; in 17, by at least a third.  Nationally, it increased 33%. In some states the upsurge was far higher: North Dakota (57.6%), New Hampshire (48.3%), Kansas (45%), Idaho (43%).

Alas, the news only gets grimmer.

Since 2008, suicide has ranked 10th among the causes of death in this country. For Americans between the ages of 10 and 34, however, it comes in second; for those between 35 and 45, fourth. The United States also has the ninth-highest rate in the 38-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Globally, it ranks 27th.

More importantly, the trend in the United States doesn’t align with what’s happening elsewhere in the developed world. The World Health Organization, for instance, reports that Great Britain, Canada, and China all have notably lower suicide rates than the U.S., as do all but six countries in the European Union. (Japan’s is only slightly lower.)

World Bank statistics show that, worldwide, the suicide rate fell from 12.8 per 100,000 in 2000 to 10.6 in 2016.  It’s been falling in ChinaJapan (where it has declined steadily for nearly a decade and is at its lowest point in 37 years), most of Europe, and even countries like South Korea and Russia that have a significantly higher suicide rate than the United States. In Russia, for instance, it has dropped by nearly 26% from a high point of 42 per 100,000 in 1994 to 31 in 2019.

We know a fair amount about the patterns of suicide in the United States.  In 2017, the rate was highest for men between the ages of 45 and 64 (30 per 100,000) and those 75 and older (39.7 per 100,000).

The rates in rural counties are almost double those in the most urbanized ones, which is why states like Idaho, Kansas, New Hampshire, and North Dakota sit atop the suicide list. Furthermore, a far higher percentage of people in rural states own guns than in cities and suburbs, leading to a higher rate of suicide involving firearms, the means used in half of all such acts in this country.

There are gender-based differences as well. From 1999 to 2017, the rate for men was substantially higher than for women — almost four-and-a-half times higher in the first of those years, slightly more than three-and-a-half times in the last.

Education is also a factor.  The suicide rate is lowest among individuals with college degrees. Those who, at best, completed high school are, by comparison, twice as likely to kill themselves.  Suicide rates also tend to be lower among people in higher-income brackets.

The Economics of Stress

This surge in the suicide rate has taken place in years during which the working class has experienced greater economic hardship and psychological stress.  Increased competition from abroad and outsourcing, the results of globalization, have contributed to job loss, particularly in economic sectors like manufacturing, steel, and mining that had long been mainstays of employment for such workers. The jobs still available often paid less and provided fewer benefits.

Technological change, including computerization, robotics, and the coming of artificial intelligence, has similarly begun to displace labor in significant ways, leaving Americans without college degrees, especially those 50 and older, in far more difficult straits when it comes to finding new jobs that pay well. The lack of anything resembling an industrial policy of a sort that exists in Europe has made these dislocations even more painful for American workers, while a sharp decline in private-sector union membership — down from nearly 17% in 1983 to 6.4% today — has reduced their ability to press for higher wages through collective bargaining.

Furthermore, the inflation-adjusted median wage has barely budged over the last four decades (even as CEO salaries have soared).  And a decline in worker productivity doesn’t explain it: between 1973 and 2017 productivity increased by 77%, while a worker’s average hourly wage only rose by 12.4%. Wage stagnation has made it harder for working-class Americans to get by, let alone have a lifestyle comparable to that of their parents or grandparents.

The gap in earnings between those at the top and bottom of American society has also increased — a lot. Since 1979, the wages of Americans in the 10th percentile increased by a pitiful 1.2%. Those in the 50th percentile did a bit better, making a gain of 6%.  By contrast, those in the 90th percentile increased by 34.3% and those near the peak of the wage pyramid — the top 1% and especially the rarefied 0.1% — made far more substantial gains.

And mind you, we’re just talking about wages, not other forms of income like large stock dividends, expensive homes, or eyepopping inheritances.  The share of net national wealth held by the richest 0.1% increased from 10% in the 1980s to 20% in 2016.  By contrast, the share of the bottom 90% shrank in those same decades from about 35% to 20%. As for the top 1%, by 2016 its share had increased to almost 39%.

The precise relationship between economic inequality and suicide rates remains unclear, and suicide certainly can’t simply be reduced to wealth disparities or financial stress. Still, strikingly, in contrast to the United States, suicide rates are noticeably lower and have been declining in Western European countries where income inequalities are far less pronounced, publicly funded healthcare is regarded as a right (not demonized as a pathway to serfdom), social safety nets far more extensive, and apprenticeships and worker retraining programs more widespread.

Evidence from the United StatesBrazilJapan, and Sweden does indicate that, as income inequality increases, so does the suicide rate. If so, the good news is that progressive economic policies — should Democrats ever retake the White House and the Senate — could make a positive difference. A study based on state-by-state variations in the U.S. found that simply boosting the minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit by 10% appreciably reduces the suicide rate among people without college degrees.

The Race Enigma

One aspect of the suicide epidemic is puzzling.  Though whites have fared far better economically (and in many other ways) than African Americans, their suicide rate is significantly higher. It increased from 11.3 per 100,000 in 2000 to 15.85 per 100,000 in 2017; for African Americans in those years the rates were 5.52 per 100,000 and 6.61 per 100,000. Black men are 10 times more likely to be homicide victims than white men, but the latter are two-and-half times more likely to kill themselves.

The higher suicide rate among whites as well as among people with only a high school diploma highlights suicide’s disproportionate effect on working-class whites. This segment of the population also accounts for a disproportionate share of what economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have labeled “deaths of despair” — those caused by suicides plus opioid overdoses and liver diseases linked to alcohol abuse. Though it’s hard to offer a complete explanation for this, economic hardship and its ripple effects do appear to matter.

According to a study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the white working class accounted for 45% of all income earned in the United States in 1990, but only 27% in 2016.  In those same years, its share of national wealth plummeted, from 45% to 22%.  And as inflation-adjusted wages have decreased for men without college degrees, many white workers seem to have lost hope of success of any sort.  Paradoxically, the sense of failure and the accompanying stress may be greater for white workers precisely because they traditionally were much better off economically than their African American and Hispanic counterparts.

In addition, the fraying of communities knit together by employment in once-robust factories and mines has increased social isolation among them, and the evidence that it — along with opioid addiction and alcohol abuse — increases the risk of suicide is strong. On top of that, a significantly higher proportion of whites than blacks and Hispanics own firearms, and suicide rates are markedly higher in states where gun ownership is more widespread.

Trump’s Faux Populism

The large increase in suicide within the white working class began a couple of decades before Donald Trump’s election. Still, it’s reasonable to ask what he’s tried to do about it, particularly since votes from these Americans helped propel him to the White House. In 2016, he received 64% of the votes of whites without college degrees; Hillary Clinton, only 28%.  Nationwide, he beat Clinton in counties where deaths of despair rose significantly between 2000 and 2015.

White workers will remain crucial to Trump’s chances of winning in 2020.  Yet while he has spoken about, and initiated steps aimed at reducing, the high suicide rate among veterans, his speeches and tweets have never highlighted the national suicide epidemic or its inordinate impact on white workers. More importantly, to the extent that economic despair contributes to their high suicide rate, his policies will only make matters worse.

The real benefits from the December 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act championed by the president and congressional Republicans flowed to those on the top steps of the economic ladder.  By 2027, when the Act’s provisions will run out, the wealthiest Americans are expected to have captured 81.8% of the gains.  And that’s not counting the windfall they received from recent changes in taxes on inheritances. Trump and the GOP doubled the annual amount exempt from estate taxes — wealth bequeathed to heirs — through 2025 from $5.6 million per individual to $11.2 million (or $22.4 million per couple). And who benefits most from this act of generosity?  Not workers, that’s for sure, but every household with an estate worth $22 million or more will.

As for job retraining provided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the president proposed cutting that program by 40% in his 2019 budget, later settling for keeping it at 2017 levels. Future cuts seem in the cards as long as Trump is in the White House. The Congressional Budget Office projects that his tax cuts alone will produce even bigger budget deficits in the years to come. (The shortfall last year was $779 billion and it is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020.) Inevitably, the president and congressional Republicans will then demand additional reductions in spending for social programs.

This is all the more likely because Trump and those Republicans also slashed corporate taxes from 35% to 21% — an estimated $1.4 trillion in savings for corporations over the next decade. And unlike the income tax cut, the corporate tax has no end date. The president assured his base that the big bucks those companies had stashed abroad would start flowing home and produce a wave of job creation — all without adding to the deficit. As it happens, however, most of that repatriated cash has been used for corporate stock buy-backs, which totaled more than $800 billion last year. That, in turn, boosted share prices, but didn’t exactly rain money down on workers. No surprise, of course, since the wealthiest 10% of Americans own at least 84% of all stocks and the bottom 60% have less than 2% of them.

And the president’s corporate tax cut hasn’t produced the tsunami of job-generating investments he predicted either. Indeed, in its aftermath, more than 80% of American companies stated that their plans for investment and hiring hadn’t changed. As a result, the monthly increase in jobs has proven unremarkable compared to President Obama’s second term, when the economic recovery that Trump largely inherited began. Yes, the economy did grow 2.3% in 2017 and 2.9% in 2018 (though not 3.1% as the president claimed). There wasn’t, however, any “unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before” as he insisted in this year’s State of the Union Address.

Anyway, what matters for workers struggling to get by is growth in real wages, and there’s nothing to celebrate on that front: between 2017 and mid-2018 they actually declined by 1.63% for white workers and 2.5% for African Americans, while they rose for Hispanics by a measly 0.37%.  And though Trump insists that his beloved tariff hikes are going to help workers, they will actually raise the prices of goods, hurting the working class and other low-income Americans the most.

Then there are the obstacles those susceptible to suicide face in receiving insurance-provided mental-health care. If you’re a white worker without medical coverage or have a policy with a deductible and co-payments that are high and your income, while low, is too high to qualify for Medicaid, Trump and the GOP haven’t done anything for you. Never mind the president’s tweet proclaiming that “the Republican Party Will Become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’”

Let me amend that: actually, they have done something. It’s just not what you’d call helpful. The percentage of uninsured adults, which fell from 18% in 2013 to 10.9% at the end of 2016, thanks in no small measure to Obamacare, had risen to 13.7% by the end of last year.

The bottom line? On a problem that literally has life-and-death significance for a pivotal portion of his base, Trump has been AWOL. In fact, to the extent that economic strain contributes to the alarming suicide rate among white workers, his policies are only likely to exacerbate what is already a national crisis of epidemic proportions.

The post A Deadly Epidemic Is Hitting Trump Supporters the Hardest appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

American Inequality Creates the Fascism We Fight Against

See if you can answer the following if / then statement without the help of a calculator, tape measure or quaaludes:

If inequality, then instability.

If instability, then _____ . …

I assume everybody remembers “if / then” statements from middle school? One day your jaded teacher, who had clearly just had some sort of relationship issue, walked into the room and said, “Class, it works like this: IF Tom is a good-looking man, THEN he is a pedophile. …That will be on the exam, so write it down!”

It’s unclear whether learning if / then statements ever helped a single child later in life, especially when compared to the crucial life skills we were never taught in school, such as the manipulation tactics of unfettered consumerist cultures or how to hide your wallet in your shoe when having sex with an Olive Garden waitress you just met. (Our education system doesn’t create useful humans.)

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It won’t shock you when I say the U.S. is home to an abundance of inequality and instability. The Dow Jones almost saw its worst December since the Great Depression. No one bought anything for the holidays from a company other than Amazon. Mom and Pop shops have nearly resorted to simply selling Mom and Pop. And worker wages are so stagnant they give Matt Lauer’s career a run for its money. Yet at the same time, the stock market sets new record highs almost every single year.

This is from Nomi Prins at TomDispatch:

“… [I]f you really want to grasp what’s been happening, consider that, between 2009 and 2017, the number of billionaires whose combined wealth was greater than that of the world’s poorest 50% fell from 380 to just eight.”

And in the U.S., it’s even worse. It’s three. Three dudes have the same wealth as the bottom 50% of everyone! Yet most Americans seem fine with it—at least in the sense that we’re only expressing our anger via strongly worded tweets rather than hurling flaming bottles filled with lighter fluid and urine.

Could you imagine how fucking angry people would be if this were about anything other than money? For some reason we expect the ultra-rich to have all of the money. If three guys had 50% of the nation’s iPhones or Siamese cats or York Peppermint Patties, we would lose our goddamn minds. Every casual conversation would include the following declarations: “Who the FUCK do they think they are? I want a York Peppermint Patty, and I don’t get one? But those three dick helmets have a pile the size of Rhode Island?! … I want some of that chocolatey, minty goodness.”

All of this is to say America boasts more inequality than LeBron James’ high school basketball team. (No one ever passed Danny Lipschitz the rock.)

Former bankrupt philandering con man and current President of the United States Donald Trump regularly brags about how low the nation’s unemployment numbers are. He does this for two reasons. One: He wants to win reelection to prove to everyone that he’s doing a great job at a job he doesn’t want nor cares to actually do. (He has never wanted to be president. He just wants others to know that he IS president. And that distinction matters a lot.) The second reason he brags about low unemployment numbers is because the unemployment numbers are very low. However, much like a sausage filled with sawdust, those numbers are packed with people who have stopped searching for work and others with shit jobs.

Not too long ago, Walmart was caught having a canned food drive for their own employees on Thanksgiving. If you work at Walmart and you can’t afford Thanksgiving dinner, that doesn’t mean customers need to donate some Spam. It means working at Walmart is less a job and more a partial enslavement opportunity. Think about that: Workers at one of the largest corporations in the world within one of the richest countries in the world can’t even afford to feed their families.

Amazon probably would have a food drive for their warehouse employees, except those workers aren’t allowed to stop to eat solid foods. Instead, Amazon patented a device that pumps nutrients into their workers rectally, at surprise intervals. You can choose to take the rectal nutrients in Power Bar form, but it’s truly uncomfortable. (I made this system up, but doesn’t it sound like something Amazon would do?)

Inequality.org has a chart that shows the top 0.1%’s share of total U.S. income over time. It’s peaking right now, and the previous peak on the chart happened just before the 2008 collapse. The only other peak occurred just before the Great Depression.

The top 400 U.S. earners have hugely increased how many millions they bring home every year. The top tier is still benefiting from that peak on the chart from just before the 2008 financial collapse … for which our Justice Department prosecuted nobody. They’re still looking for the guy who caused it. They’re gonna crack the case any minute. I picture our Department of Justice looking a lot like the college dorm room of the kid who dropped out to start a porn website. Not sure if that’s just me.

So what has caused this breathtaking level of inequality? There are several culprits. One is Bill Clinton’s gutting of the Glass-Steagall Act, which former creepy proponent of racial segregation and fervent Amtrak rider Joe Biden supported as well. Another is the Federal Reserve’s “quantitative easing,” which is basically a massive giveaway to Wall Street while the rest of us on Main Street stand there like idiots with our gonads in our hands! (Before you get offended that I’m implying women can’t be Main Street idiots, please recall that both men and women have gonads.) And yet another reason for the inequality we now see is the near obliteration of strong unions.

Also at Inequality.org, you can find a chart that lines up the percentage of income the top 10 percent take home as compared to union membership in America. When union membership goes down, the rich get a lot richer, because the workers have no power to stop the ruling elite from stealing everything. And right now, union membership is at a record low—about 10.7%.

If inequality, then instability.

Even the largest financial firms like JPMorgan Chase and Goldman Sachs have stated the next financial crisis will happen by 2020.

But this level of inequality carries other ramifications. It causes people to protest and cast votes outside of the “normal” establishment candidates. This can produce great leaders looking to help decrease inequality, like Jeremy Corbyn in the U.K. or Andrés Manuel López Obrador in Mexico. Or it can lead to fascistic, anti-immigrant, nationalist tendencies like it has in Italy, France, Brazil, (the United States) and elsewhere. Luckily the good ol’ US of A is there to fight the leftists and prop up the fascists!

In terms of the outwardly racist President Jair Bolsonaro in Brazil, The Wall Street Journal endorsed him during his run, and as Brazilian journalist Marcelo Zero wrote, “The CIA Has Its Fingerprints on Brazil’s Election.” Thanks to leaked documents, we now know the prosecution that kept left-wing candidate Lula da Silva out of office was a fraud. And while our government actively tries to destroy leftist presidents like Nicolas Maduro in Venezuela, they partner with and fund neo-Nazi groups in the Ukraine.

(You know, the nice thing about partnering with neo-Nazi groups? When you stay at their house, they almost always have clean sheets for you. … There might be some holes in them, but it’s better than nothing.)

Truly left-wing leaders like Corbyn must be undermined by the ruling elite and the media those elite own. Outlets like the BBC and The Washington Post can’t get enough of claiming Corbyn is an anti-Semite by intentionally conflating criticism of Israel with criticism of Jewish people.

Of course, our own lefty Bernie Sanders was carefully undermined to make sure he lost the 2016 Democratic presidential primary. In case you forgot, the New York City Board of Elections admitted in court that it broke the law—purging 200,000 voters. Then what did we get instead of the democratic socialist? We got a racist nationalist.

So let’s go back to our if / thens:

If inequality, then instability.

If instability, then popular uprisings.

If popular uprisings, then either lefty leaders or neo-fascists.

This will all be on the exam, so write it down.

If you think this column is important, please share it. Also you can check out Lee Camp’s live comedy special here.

This column is based on a monologue Lee Camp wrote and performed on his TV show “Redacted Tonight.”

The post American Inequality Creates the Fascism We Fight Against appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

India Could Pull Off a Green Energy Miracle

Solar energy is one of the fastest-growing energy sectors in the world, and has the great advantage of producing no carbon dioxide, a greenhouse gas that is raising the average surface temperature of the earth.

India is now for the first time in history investing more in solar energy than in coal.

There is a simple reason for this. Coal costs roughly 5 cents a kilowatt hour to generate electricity. India just let a bid for 1.2 gigawatts of solar energy and four companies scooped it up at 3.6 cents a kilowatt hour. The only advantage coal and gas had is that the sunk costs of plant construction have already been written off. But in India today, it is actually cheaper to build a new solar park than to go on operating a coal plant.

Over-all, India is now the lowest-cost producer of solar electricity, at about 8.5 cents a kilowatt hour. Solar photovoltaic has been declining annually by about 23% year on year since 2010.

Another 720 gigawatt bid was fulfilled by two companies for 3.86 cents a kilowatt hour.

Moreover, the solar panels, useful as they are for inexpensive energy production, also have other implications.

Indian farmers are hampered by the cost of powering irrigation. They typically depend on monsoon rains (which can turn to destructive floods), or they spend money that they cannot afford on water pumps fueled by diesel.

Solar to the rescue! The company Khethworks is introducing solar-powered irrigation pumps, which avoid the expense and carbon of diesel, and which could greatly increase India’s food supply.

India wants to put in 175 gigawatts of wind and solar energy by 2022, which would equal half of all India’s electricity consumption. New Delhi will likely fall somewhat short in these efforts, but may fulfill 75% of its goals, which itself would be highly impressive.

Asia hosts over 3 million photovoltaic power jobs, nearly 90% of the global total.

India has grown from 3 gigawatts of installed capacity in 2014 to over 30 GW in 2019!

India might not be able to triple that amount but it will at least double it to 60 gigawatts. From the beginning of time till now, the US has only put in 63 gigawatts of solar, total, and Japan has done 60. For India to catch up to those two countries (#2 and #3 for solar panels) in only two years will be almost a miracle.

The post India Could Pull Off a Green Energy Miracle appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

All the Urgent Issues the Democratic Debates Will Leave Out

The Democratic National Committee has announced the lineups for its first two presidential primary debates, which will be hosted by NBC on June 26 and 27. For many voters, it will be their first real chance to learn about and evaluate the candidates. But despite new nods to diversity, there is little evidence so far to suggest that the debates will be any less circumscribed and shallow than those in the past.

In response to pressure from Democratic and environmental activists, DNC chair Tom Perez rejected the idea of holding a climate debate, because it “would be putting our thumb on the scale”—presumably not in favor of the planet, but on behalf of Jay Inslee, the candidate who requested the debate. It’s true that the scandal over the DNC’s scale-tipping for Hillary Clinton in the 2016 primaries should make it sensitive to such concerns. The trouble is, the DNC builds the scale itself, and it’s hardly neutral to begin with.

The accelerating pace of climate disruption (graphic: Washington Post, 6/14/19)

By establishing thresholds for both polling and number of financial contributors that have to be reached in order to participate in debates (with more stringent thresholds in place for upcoming debates), the DNC throws the advantage to politicians who can afford the outrageously expensive online ad buys necessary to drum up far-flung supporters. And Inslee is far from the only candidate in favor of such a debate, as Perez suggested; more importantly, Democratic voters overwhelmingly want a climate debate, and they consistently name climate change and the environment as top issues.

But never fear; corporate media will take care of it: “I have the utmost confidence that, based on our conversations with networks, climate change will be discussed early and often during our party’s primary debates,” Perez wrote.

There are strong reasons to doubt this; there has been a near-blackout on climate-related questions in presidential and primary debates in the past several years. Even if the debates do raise climate questions, the particulars of the questions matter. In an entire debate devoted to climate change, candidates would be hard-pressed to evade specifics, but in two-hour events covering a wide range of issues, viewers will be lucky to get more than a couple of minutes on what is arguably the most complex emergency facing the next president—and some candidates will almost certainly escape climate questions entirely.

There are other serious issues facing the country—inequality, healthcare, racist police violence, immigration and reproductive justice jump to mind. If candidates are willing to spend a couple of hours comparing ideas on a particular topic, and voters are interested, why stand in the way?

NBC Democratic debate moderators José Diaz-Balart, Savannah Guthrie, Lester Holt, Chuck Todd and Rachel Maddow.

The media hosts are also attempting to preempt voters’ concerns about diversity: The first host, NBC, has announced its moderator team, and four out of five are not non-Latino white men over the age of 45—quite a reversal of fortune for those in the latter category. This change has rightfully been praised, and hopefully the other media hosts will follow suit in future debates. But corporate diversity is still, ultimately, corporate, and we can still expect the range of ideas expressed to be sharply limited.

The hand-wringing over the inclusion of “opinionator” Rachel Maddow as a moderator highlights the lack of space for progressive perspectives in the debates. In the 2016 primaries, corporate media included right-wing commentator Hugh Hewitt alongside CNN anchors to question Republican primary candidates; no progressive commentator was included in a Democratic debate. Maddow, whose Russia obsession keeps her “left” perspective a safe distance from any challenge to MSNBC corporate advertisers, is unlikely to give voice to key progressive concerns in the way Hewitt unabashedly represented the right.

Instead, tightly controlled by the parties and the media, the televised debates prioritize style over substance, encouraging candidates to eschew clear policy positions in favor of bland platitudes. Of course, if corporate media’s goal were an informed electorate, voters would already know more about the candidates’ positions than about their jockeying in the polls, and the debates would carry less weight.

New York Times (6/17/19)

But beyond the DNC debates, media could elevate the conversation with more and better coverage of the candidate forums being organized to address particular topics—which, because they are “forums” and not “debates,” seem to evade the DNC’s ban on specificity. On June 17, for example, the Poor People’s Campaign held a forum on poverty and systemic racism, which nine candidates attended. Questions were mostly asked by poor people and activists rather than journalists, and the narrow focus meant that the candidates had to dive deep on an issue that was not raised by moderators in a single one of the nine DNC debates in the last election cycle.

As the first event in which Biden faced his opponents, the forum received fairly widespread coverage, but most outlets focused almost exclusively on Biden (e.g., Washington Post), with some covering only his comments on bipartisanship, not poverty (e.g., Newsweek). Even in the New York Times, which refreshingly treated the event itself as newsworthy, key voices were notably absent: those of the poor.

The post All the Urgent Issues the Democratic Debates Will Leave Out appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Rehashes Gripes, Rips ‘Radical’ Democrats in 2020 Launch

ORLANDO, Fla.—Jabbing at the press and poking the eye of the political establishment he ran against in 2016, President Donald Trump officially kicked off his reelection campaign Tuesday with a grievance-filled Florida rally that focused more on settling scores than laying out his agenda for a second term.

Addressing a crowd of thousands at Orlando’s Amway Center, Trump complained he had been “under assault from the very first day” of his presidency by a “fake news media” and “illegal witch hunt” that had tried to keep him and his supporters down.

And he painted a disturbing picture of what life would look like if he loses in 2020, accusing his critics of “un-American conduct” and telling the crowd that Democrats “want to destroy you and they want to destroy our country as we know it.”

“A vote for any Democrat in 2020 is a vote for the rise of radical socialism and the destruction of the American dream,” he said, ripping “radical” and “unhinged” Democrats even as he made only passing mention of any of the men and women running to replace him.

The apocalyptic language and finger-pointing made clear that Trump’s 2020 campaign will probably look a whole lot like his improbably successful run three years ago. While Trump’s campaign has tried to professionalize, with shiny office space and a large and growing staff, and despite two-and-a-half years occupying the Oval Office as America’s commander-in-chief, Trump nonetheless remained focused on energizing his base and offering himself as a political outsider running against Washington.

And he appeared eager for a rerun of 2016, spending considerably more time focused on former Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, whose name elicited “Lock her up!” chants, than on his current 2020 challengers, even though she is not on the ballot.

Trump aides scheduled the kickoff near the four-year anniversary of the day when the bombastic reality television star and New York tabloid fixture launched his longshot campaign for president with a famous escalator ride in front of a crowd that included paid actors.

Trump spoke fondly of his 2016 run, calling it “a defining moment in American history.” And he said that, in the years since, he had fundamentally upended Washington, staring down “a corrupt and broken political establishment” and restoring a government “of, for and by the people.”

Of course, Trump never really stopped running. He officially filed for re-election on January 20, 2017, the day of his inauguration, and held his first 2020 rally in February, 2017, in nearby Melbourne, Florida. He has continued holding his signature “Make America Great Again” rallies in the months since.

Still he gave lip service to the hype, telling the Orlando crowd he was standing “before you to officially launch my campaign for a second time.”

Trump is hoping to replicate the dynamics that allowed him to capture the Republican Party and then the presidency in 2016 as an insurgent intent on disrupting the status quo. Back then, he successfully appealed to disaffected voters who felt left behind by economic dislocation and demographic shifts. And he has no intention of abandoning that mantle, even if he is the face of the institutions he looks to disrupt.

He underscored that on the eve of the rally in the must-win swing state of Florida, returning to the hard-line immigration themes of his first campaign by tweeting that, next week, Immigration and Customs Enforcement “will begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States.” That promise, which came with no details and sparked Democratic condemnation, seemed to offer a peek into a campaign that will largely be fought along the same lines as his first bid, with very few new policy proposals for a second term.

Early Democratic front-runner Joe Biden said Tuesday that Trump’s politics are “all about dividing us” in ways that are “dangerous — truly, truly dangerous.”

Another leading Democratic contender, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, said Trump had delivered “an hour-and-a-half speech of lies, distortions and total, absolute nonsense.”

But those involved in the president’s reelection effort believe that his brash version of populism, combined with his mantra to “Drain the Swamp,” still resonates, despite his administration’s cozy ties with lobbyists and corporations and the Trump family’s apparent efforts to profit off the presidency.

Advisers believe that, in an age of extreme polarization, many Trump backers view their support for the president as part of their identity, one not easily shaken. They point to his seemingly unmovable support with his base supporters as evidence that, despite more than two years in office, he is still viewed the same way he was as a candidate: the bomb-throwing political rebel.

Trump tried to make the case that he had made good on his 2016 promises, including cracking down on illegal immigration and boosting jobs.

Near the end of the rally, Trump ran through a list of promises for a second term, pledging a new immigration system, new trade deals, a health care overhaul and a cure for cancer and “many diseases,” including the eradication of AIDS in America.

Florida is considered a near-must-win state for Trump to hold onto the White House, and both parties have been mobilizing for a fierce and expensive battle in a state that Trump has visited as president more often than any other.

While Trump bested Clinton there in 2016, a Quinnipiac University poll released Tuesday found Biden leading Trump 50%-41%, and Sanders besting him 48%-42%.

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Lemire reported from New York. Associated Press writers Kevin Freking, Josh Replogle and Zeke Miller contributed to this report.

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$1 Billion Worth of Cocaine Seized in Historic Bust at Philadelphia Port

PHILADELPHIA—U.S. authorities seized more than $1 billion worth of cocaine Tuesday from a ship at a Philadelphia port, calling it one of the largest drug busts in American history.

The U.S. attorney’s office in Philadelphia announced the massive bust on Twitter on Tuesday afternoon, saying law enforcement agents seized about 33,000 pounds (15,000 kilograms) of cocaine from a large ship at the Packer Marine Terminal. Members of the crew were arrested and face federal charges.

Agents with dogs swarmed the colossal container ship Tuesday afternoon, including one officer who could be seen climbing into the back of a large red container on wheels.

The drug seizure is the latest in a series of large cocaine busts along the East Coast. In a March bust in Philadelphia, drug dogs sniffed out 1,185 pounds (538 kilograms) of cocaine worth about $38 million — at that time the city’s largest seizure of the drug in more than two decades.

In February, customs agents seized 3,200 pounds (1,451 kilograms) at the Port of New York and New Jersey with a street value estimated at $77 million. That was the largest cocaine bust at the ports since 1994.

Online ship trackers said the vessel seized in Philadelphia, named MSC Gayane, sails under the flag of Liberia and arrived in Philadelphia after 5 a.m. Monday. The ship’s previous ports of call were the Bahamas on June 31, Panama on June 9, Peru on May 24 and Colombia on May 19, records show.

Federal authorities say Colombia is the primary supplier of cocaine to the U.S.

The ship’s owner, MSC Mediterranean Shipping Co., said in a statement it was “aware of reports of an incident at the Port of Philadelphia in which U.S. authorities made a seizure of illicit cargo.” The privately owned Swiss shipping company said it “takes this matter very seriously and is grateful to the authorities for identifying any suspected abuse of its services.”

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Michael Rubinkam reported from northeastern Pennsylvania.

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Conservatives Play the Victim as Harvard Pulls Parkland Student’s Acceptance

Kyle Kashuv, a survivor of the 2017 shooting at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School in Parkland, Fla., announced on Twitter on Monday that Harvard rescinded his acceptance because of racist comments written on a shared Google doc and in text messages when he was 16. The decision enraged many prominent conservative pundits, who saw the decision as yet more evidence their viewpoints are under attack.

Last month, a video that included screenshots of the comments, including racial slurs, was posted by Ariana Ali, a former classmate. Kashuv, as The New York Times points out, used “a racial slur for African Americans more than a dozen times. … In a different screenshot of a text message, Mr. Kashuv also used the slur to refer to black student athletes.” The video led Harvard to rescind the acceptance.

Ben Shapiro, editor in chief of the Daily Wire, emphasized the private nature of the comments in his commentary: “Is the new standard that if you said something on a private message board when you were 16 years old that we should deny you the possibility of a degree at a top college, so long as those who join you on that message board decide to out you?”

In Reason, Robby Soave called Harvard’s decision a “major victory for the online mobs of cancel culture.”

Kashuv’s political views are often at odds with his fellow Parkland survivors. After the horrific Parkland shooting, many of the surviving students, including David Hogg and Emma Gonzalez, became activists. They organized the March for Our Lives in support of gun control and often spoke out against the policies of the Trump administration. Kashuv was an outlier among his classmates, a conservative defender of the Second Amendment who met with President Trump and favored arming school staff instead of limiting access to guns.

Kashuv told Vox’s Jane Coaston that he was contrite: “What I said there is something that I’m deeply embarrassed by, and I’m truly regretful.” He said, “I know that forgiveness isn’t given, it’s earned,” and described reaching out to Harvard’s Office of Diversity and Inclusion to seek guidance.

Conservative commentator Erick Erickson brought religion into the debate, tweeting that “the progressive blackballing of Kyle Kashuv is a reminder that there’s no concept of grace in the secular religion.”

This reaction, as Ashley Fetters observes in The Atlantic, proved to be a popular one among the right. She explains:

<blockquote>When a public figure’s racist, sexist, or otherwise offensive behavior comes to light, widespread condemnation and calls to stop supporting that person tend to follow—especially on social media, where people often say that person is “canceled.” Some conservatives feel this shows an unwillingness to acknowledge a person’s growth and learning from mistakes.</blockquote>

Pleas to forgive Kashuv also raise questions of who gets to be forgiven or who gets punished, and how often people of color are not afforded the opportunity for forgiveness.

As Fetters observes, ”When some right-leaning voices discussed the deaths of unarmed black children, including Trayvon Martin, Tamir Rice, Michael Brown, and Laquan McDonald, who were gunned down on the mere suspicion of wrongdoing, they focused on perceived misbehavior on the part of the kids.”

At least one Republican, however, isn’t buying Kashuv’s contrition. Former Rep. David Jolly, R-Fla., told MSNBC’s Stephanie Ruhle that his comments “are the social media postings we see of a shooter.”

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Shanahan Steps Down Amid Reports of Violent Domestic Incidents

WASHINGTON—After months of unexplained delays, Acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan stepped down Tuesday before his formal nomination ever went to the Senate, citing a “painful” family situation that would hurt his children and reopen “wounds we have worked years to heal.”

President Donald Trump announced Shanahan’s departure in a tweet, and said Army Secretary Mark Esper would be the new acting Pentagon chief.

“I believe my continuing in the confirmation process would force my three children to relive a traumatic chapter in our family’s life and reopen wounds we have worked years to heal,” Shanahan said in a statement. “Ultimately, their safety and well-being is my highest priority.”

The acting defense secretary did not provide specifics about the family situation. But The Washington Post published an interview with Shanahan on Tuesday, shortly before Trump tweeted that his nomination would not go forward. In the interview, Shanahan spoke about the circumstances surrounding his 2011 divorce and said he didn’t want to drag his children through the experience again.

Court records show that his ex-wife, Kimberly, was arrested several times on charges that included burglary, property damage and assault. The assault charge was a misdemeanor for domestic violence in August 2010 when, according to police records, she hit Shanahan a number of times, giving him a bloody nose and black eye. The police report said she was not injured, and he was not charged.

“Bad things can happen to good families … and this is a tragedy, really,” Shanahan told the Post.

In his statement, Shanahan said he asked to be withdrawn from the nomination process and he resigned from his previous post as deputy defense secretary. He said he would work on an “appropriate transition” but it wasn’t clear how quickly he will leave the job.

Defense officials said leaders are trying to decide when Esper would take over the job. Officials were meeting Tuesday afternoon to discuss transition plans. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they weren’t authorized to publicly discuss internal deliberations.

In his tweet, Trump simply said Shanahan had done “a wonderful job” but would step aside to “devote more time to his family.” Later, Trump told reporters at the White House that he heard about the problems for the first time Monday.

“I didn’t ask him to withdraw, but he walked in this morning,” said Trump. “He said it’s going to be a rough time for him because of obviously what happened.”

In noting Esper’s move, Trump added, “I know Mark, and have no doubt he will do a fantastic job!” He said it’s “most likely” he will nominate Esper for the job “pretty soon.”

The post atop the Pentagon has not been filled permanently since retired Gen. James Mattis abruptly stepped down in December after delivering a blunt letter to Trump outlining a list of foreign policy differences and a warning that the administration should not allow relations with allies to fray.

Shanahan was put in place as acting secretary, but it wasn’t until May that Trump announced he would nominate Shanahan. That formal nomination has never come, inexplicably delaying the Senate process.

On Capitol Hill, the Shanahan news was met with mixed reactions.

Top Democrats said his sudden withdrawal underscores the shortcomings of White House vetting for key Trump administration jobs.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer said Tuesday that “this Shanahan fiasco shows what a shambles, what a mess” the administration’s national security policy is.

Senators said they were largely unaware of allegations involving Shanahan’s family situation when he was confirmed as deputy defense secretary in 2017. Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham said he had heard “rumors” of potential problems.

Democratic Sen. Richard Blumenthal raised the possibility that Shanahan deliberately concealed the domestic problems, and he called for an investigation by the Defense Department’s inspector general. Shanahan, he said, “had an obligation to reveal it himself. This is potentially a violation of law.”

Trump defended the vetting process, calling it “great,” and said the Shanahan issues were “very unfortunate,” and they “came up a little bit over the last short period of time.”

Shanahan, a former Boeing executive, has been leading the Pentagon as acting secretary since Jan. 1, a highly unusual arrangement for arguably the most sensitive Cabinet position.

His prospects for confirmation have been spotty due in large part to questions about his lengthy work as former Boeing executive and persistent questions about possible conflicts of interest.

The Defense Department’s Inspector General cleared Shanahan of any wrongdoing in connection with accusations he had shown favoritism toward Boeing during his time as deputy defense secretary, while disparaging Boeing competitors.

In Shanahan’s tenure at the department he’s had to deal with a wide array of international hotspots, ranging from missile launches by North Korea to the sudden shift of military ships and aircraft to the Middle East to deal with potential threats from Iran.

Shanahan, 56, had extensive experience in the defense industry but little in government. In more than four months as the acting secretary, he focused on implementing the national defense strategy that was developed during Mattis’ tenure and emphasizes a shift from the resources and tactics required to fight small wars against extremist groups to what Shanahan calls “great power” competition with China and Russia.

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Associated Press writers Matthew Daly in Washington and Gene Johnson in Seattle contributed to this report.

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The Drumbeat for War With Iran Sounds All Too Familiar

This piece originally appeared on anti-war.com.

Maybe they did; maybe they didn’t. That’s not the point. Even if Iran did attack a couple tankers in the Gulf of Oman – as the Trump team assures us it did – there’s no reason for a war. As I’ve written repeatedly, war with the Islamic Republic would be ill-advised, illegal, and immoral. It simply isn’t necessary. Wars of choice should be avoided at all costs. Besides, the U.S. has a nasty habit of pointing to alleged naval provocations as a justification for aggressive wars. So much so, in fact, that it’s hard not to assume the worst and mistrust the official story from Washington.

Remember the Maine! On February 15, 1898, the US battleship exploded in Havana harbor while showing the flag in Spanish-held Cuba. The press and the government immediately blamed Spain and the result was war. The problem is that most experts now agree that the explosion was likely an accident and Spain had nothing to do with it. Nonetheless, the US embarked on an imperial “splendid, little war” that spanned the globe from Cuba to the Philippines. And, while the US quickly triumphed in the rather lopsided contest, it eventually bogged down in a decade long repressive counterinsurgency in the Philippine Islands. Thousands of American soldiers died along with hundreds of thousands of Filipinos.

Then there was the Gulf of Tonkin affair. In August of 1964, the USS Maddox was allegedly attacked by North Vietnamese torpedo boats. President Lyndon Johnson used the provocation to escalate US military involvement in South Vietnam. The result was 58,000 dead American soldiers and a few million Vietnamese deaths in an ultimately futile war of choice. The problem is that at least the second reported incident appears to never have happened at all. What’s more, American military and intelligence services had long been waging an illegal campaign of raids on radar stations, bridges, and other coastal targets in North Vietnam. In that sense, the initial North Vietnamese attack on the Maddox can be understood as defensive rather than aggressive. Nonetheless, LBJ simplified the rather complex events and used them to push through Congress a blank check for war in Vietnam. Only two senators opposed the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. The rest is history.

The point is that the United States has a sordid history of using alleged naval attacks as a rationale to embark on foolish and offensive wars. This track record alone ought to invite a healthy dose of skepticism about the official story from Washington. That doesn’t mean jumping to panicked conclusions and buying into conspiracy theories about false flag attacks. Rather, it should give us pause before starting a war on account of a couple damaged foreign oil tankers. Combat should always be a last resort, even if the US seems to have forgotten that over the last 18 years of forever war. Unless undertaken in national defense or in response to genuine threats to vital strategic interests, war should not be a serious option. Nothing Iran may or may not be up to in the Persian Gulf reaches that threshold.

Let us assume, then, that Iran was responsible for the attacks, after all. This still demands an understanding of the full context of the events. No doubt, Iran had the capability to sink the vessels, but didn’t. This implies that the attacks were likely a warning to US allies, that yes, America can impose brutal sanctions on Iran, but that the Islamic Republic, too, can affect the global economy and the free flow of Gulf oil. After all, the US is, arguably, engaged in veritable economic warfare against Iran, and threatening outright war on the daily. This despite the fact that Iran does not possess nuclear weapons and was – according to our own intelligence services – adhering to the Obama-negotiated nuclear deal. Can anyone really blame Iran for acting out and taking arguably defensive action in its geopolitical neighborhood?

The problem is that Americans seem inherently incapable of walking a mile in other countries’ shoes and considering the view from Tehran. A fair account of U.S.-Iranian relations over the last 70 or so years demonstrates that Washington was, more often than not, the aggressor. The CIA toppled a duly elected nationalist prime minister in 1953, replacing him with a brutal royal dictator. The US backed Iraq’s Saddam Hussein in his brutal invasion of the Islamic Republic from 1980-88 and even accidentally shot down a Iranian civilian airliner killing hundreds. For this, President Bush the elder refused even to apologize. Few Americans remember this unsavory history, but I assure you that few in Iran can forget it.

That said, now is a time for measured caution, to take pause before jumping to conclusions or taking hasty action. The opposite course rarely ends well as we saw in Cuba and Vietnam. There is still merit in diplomacy, that seemingly lost art. If Trump wants to be a true maverick, he’d override his more hawkish Iranophobe advisers – think Bolton and Pompeo – and use the tanker incidents to reset the relationship with Iran. Don’t count on it though – it seems the Donald will do anything that undoes Obama-era policies. It’s a pathology, after all, and it may even cause another unnecessary war. Stay tuned!

Danny Sjursen is a retired US Army officer and regular contributor to Antiwar.com. His work has appeared in the LA Times, The Nation, Huff Post, The Hill, Salon, Truthdig, Tom Dispatch, among other publications. He served combat tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan and later taught history at his alma mater, West Point. He is the author of a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, Ghostriders of Baghdad: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge. Follow him on Twitter at @SkepticalVet.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

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Trump Says U.S. Will Begin Deporting Millions

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump is threatening to deport millions of people living in the United States illegally, heralding a plan that could help energize his supporters just ahead of formally announcing his reelection bid.

The U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement next week will “begin the process of removing the millions of illegal aliens who have illicitly found their way into the United States,” Trump said in a pair of tweets Monday night.

“They will be removed as fast as they come in,” he wrote.

An administration official said the effort would focus on the more than 1 million people who have been issued final deportation orders by federal judges but remain at large in the U.S. The official spoke on condition of anonymity to explain the president’s tweets.

Other U.S. officials with knowledge of the preparations have said the operation was not imminent, and that ICE officials were not aware the president would make public sensitive law enforcement plans on Twitter. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly.

It is unusual for law enforcement agencies to announce raids before they take place. Some in Trump’s administration believe that decisive shows of force — like mass arrests — can serve as effective deterrents, sending a message to those considering making the journey to the U.S. that it’s not worth coming.

The acting head of ICE Mark Morgan said in an interview with journalists earlier this month that there would be enforcement action coming that would include deporting families, and that it would be done humanely.

Trump has threatened a series of increasingly drastic actions as he has tried to stem the flow of Central American migrants crossing the southern border, which has risen dramatically on his watch. He recently dropped a threat to slap tariffs on Mexico after the country agreed to dispatch its national guard and step-up coordination and enforcement efforts.

A senior Mexican official said Monday that, three weeks ago, about 4,200 migrants were arriving at the U.S. border daily. Now that number has dropped to about 2,600.

Immigration was a central theme of Trump’s 2016 campaign and he is expected to hammer it as he tries to fire up his base heading into the 2020 campaign.

Trump will formally launch his re-election bid Tuesday night at a rally in Orlando, Florida — a state that is crucial to his path back to the White House.

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NAFTA 2.0 Is Just Another Gift to the 1 Percent

Mick Mulvaney, a millionaire who is President Trump’s acting chief of staff and director of the Office of Management and Budget, awarded himself another job last week: spokesman for labor.

Referring to the proposed new NAFTA, he told the Wall Street Journal, “We know that labor supports it.”

That, right there, is the problem with NAFTA, old and new. One percenters like Mulvaney, self-dealing corporate honchos and fancy-pants corporate lobbyists negotiated the deals. Those fat cats claimed they spoke for labor. But when they opened their mouths, only the word profit emerged.

They didn’t give a damn about jobs or wages or workers’ welfare. The ravages NAFTA inflicted on the non-rich prove that. The proposed new NAFTA is barely different. Mulvaney, though he tried to usurp labor’s voice, is far from labor’s mouthpiece. Labor speaks for itself. And it is railing against NAFTA, old and new.

The United Steelworkers (USW) union opposed NAFTA from the outset and even filed suit in an attempt to prevent it from taking effect. Like 1992 independent presidential candidate Ross Perot, the union knew NAFTA was a giant vacuum that would suck American and Canadian factories and jobs south of the Mexican border, where wages were, and remain, untenably low and environmental laws unenforced.

In the quarter-century under NAFTA, more than 1 million American jobs were lost, U.S. wages stagnated and U.S. trade deficits with Mexico increased. That 1 million is a 2013 number and does not include untold thousands of U.S. jobs lost more recently at the likes of Carrier furnace, UTC electronics and Rexnord bearings factories, all in Indiana, and General Motors’ Lordstown assembly plant in Ohio. Rexnord told its 350 Indianapolis workers they could keep their jobs if they’d work for Mexican wages—that is, for less than U.S. minimum wage.

That’s what NAFTA did: It pitted U.S. and Canadian workers earning family-supportive wages against Mexican workers subsisting on pathetic pay and mostly denied the right to form independent labor unions that would help raise those wages. At the same time, NAFTA displaced 2 million Mexican family farmers as U.S. agricultural products, sometimes subsidized, flowed tariff-free south of the border. Workers in all three countries suffered.

Corporations like Carrier and Rexnord that had perfectly profitable factories in the United States ginned up revenues by moving to Mexico and paying workers there a pittance. The minimum wage in Mexico is $5.10 a day—yes, a day—for most workers and $8.79 a day for those in factories near the U.S. border. Corporations also profited by skipping off to a country that turned a blind eye toward pollution.

The promise was that a new NAFTA would fix all that, disengaging the vacuum that pulled factories south and upgrading environmental enforcement.

Some of the new provisions seem, on the surface, like they could help. The proposed deal requires that workers earning an average of $16 an hour produce 40 percent of car and truck parts by 2023 to get tariff-free treatment. There is some evidence, however, that this requirement may already have been met. And the auto companies have refused to release data to support the claim that this would be an important provision. It may help retain jobs in higher wage countries like the United States and Canada but is unlikely to increase wages or move jobs there.

In addition, under the proposed new deal, to be tariff-free, 75 percent of vehicle components would have to be produced in one of the three countries. That’s significantly higher than the current 62.5 percent and would reduce importation of parts from countries that illegally subsidize their industries like China. But a good portion of the jobs that might result will probably be created in Mexico.

Also, while these changes may help autoworkers, they do nothing for furnace workers and those in a multitude of other industries.

More significant to preventing a new NAFTA from failing workers like the old NAFTA would be enforcement of Mexico’s new labor laws. As it is now, labor unions in Mexico frequently are fakes, created and controlled by corporations. The new laws, passed in April, empower Mexicans to form their own worker-controlled labor unions that could negotiate for higher wages and exercise the right to strike without workers suffering violent attacks by authorities.

Realistically, however, free unions aren’t going to pop up overnight in hundreds of thousands of Mexican workplaces. Unions must be formed, voted in and certified, and then would have to successfully negotiate labor agreements at factories where owners will dig in their heels to remain in control.

For workers to get real unions and labor agreements, the Mexican government will have to actively assure workers’ rights. But right now, Mexico has no budget for implementation and has not even started to hire the hundreds of judges and inspectors that the new law requires or to review some 700,000 current labor agreements to determine their validity. The structure to eliminate fake unions and certify worker-controlled organizations is supposed to be phased in over four years, but corporatists and other opponents already are attempting to thwart the labor reforms with lawsuits and other actions. For Mexican workers, nothing has changed.

Based on the long history of labor suppression in Mexico, organized labor in Canada and the United States legitimately fears free unions won’t emerge in Mexico without swift and certain enforcement mechanisms written into the text of the new NAFTA.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi said it best: “If you don’t have enforcement, you’re just having NAFTA again with sprinkles on top.”

Bad experience jaundiced labor toward ethereal enforcement—that is, enforcement based on nothing but sleight of hand and empty promises. In 2008, the AFL-CIO and six Guatemalan trade unions filed a formal complaint that Guatemala had failed to enforce its labor laws as required by the Central American Free Trade Agreement, known as CAFTA and similar to NAFTA.

The allegations included that Guatemala failed to register unions, neglected to implement minimum wage regulations and refused to investigate or prosecute violence against trade unionists, including murders intended to intimidate workers.

Nine years later, after inquiries, failed settlements and formation of a CAFTA arbitration panel, next to nothing was done. Particularly galling was the official U.S. position that the assault and murder of Guatemalan trade unionists was a domestic criminal matter, not an issue to be resolved by CAFTA labor law requirements.

Mechanisms embedded in trade deals to enforce labor provisions are crucial. But, ultimately, labor needs trade deals negotiated with workers at the table from the start to ensure that human well-being is the priority, not assuaging one percenter greed.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

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The U.S. Is Only Further Isolating Itself From Its Allies Over Iran

What follows is a conversation between Colonel Lawrence Wilkerson and Marc Steiner of the Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

GREG WILPERT It’s The Real News Network and I’m Greg Wilpert in Baltimore. Iran announced on Monday that it would soon violate the 2015 nuclear agreement that it signed with the US, Russia, China, Germany, France, the UK, and the European Union. A spokesperson for Iran’s atomic energy organization said that within days, Iran will have stockpiled more enriched uranium from its nuclear power plants than is allowed under the agreement, which is known as the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action, or JCPOA. Here’s what Iran’s spokesperson had to say.

IRANIAN GOVERNMENT SPOKESPERSON Today, the countdown to having more than 300 kilograms of enriched uranium reserves has started. In 10 days, in other words on June 27th, we will reach this target.

GREG WILPERT The spokesperson also said that Iran will not violate the treaty if Britain, France, Germany, and the full European Union follow through on promises to find ways for Iran to circumvent US economic sanctions. The Trump administration had reimposed sanctions against Iran last year, arguing that the JCPOA should be renegotiated and made much tougher on Iran, even though all parties agree that Iran has not violated the terms of the agreement. Meanwhile, sanctions against Iran are having a serious effect on Iran’s economy, especially on its ability to export oil and to import lifesaving medicines. Joining me now to discuss this latest development in the confrontation between the US and Iran, is Colonel Larry Wilkerson. He’s a former Chief of staff to Secretary of State Colin Powell, and now he’s Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Thanks for joining us again, Larry.

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Good to be with you.

GREG WILPERT So this announcement about exceeding the JCPOA uranium stockpile limit comes in the midst of ever-increasing tensions between the US and Iran. And last week, you know, the US accused Iran of launching an attack on two oil tankers in the Strait of Hormuz, through which 20 percent of the world’s oil supply flows. Given this context, where do you see this conflict between the US and Iran heading now with this most recent announcement about exceeding or violating the JCPOA?

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON I think we’re looking at a tit-for-tat game here now. Iran, earlier, had said that it would do things in contravention of the JCPOA if it were provoked. I don’t see how anyone looking at the situation could say that Iran has not been provoked, and majorly so. It was particularly looking at if the sanctions were closed down on oil sales and that’s what would cause them to revisit their adherence to the JCPOA. Well, we’ve done that, and I don’t see any reason for them not to do this now, given the provocation that we’ve given them. What we’ve done really is start this game, as I said a tit-for-tat, where we do this and then Iran does that, and then so on and so forth. And in this case, Iran is just saying back to us, okay, if the Europeans aren’t going to give us some relief on sanctions, and if you’re going to continue to tighten your sanctions as much as possible, then we are going to do something that will make you think twice about that. And that is, increase, or in this case decrease, our breakout time for developing a nuclear weapon.

That’s essentially what we’re talking about here in the hopes that the United States will either relieve some pressure on the sanctions. Or, more likely, they’re hoping the Europeans will grow some courage, moral and political courage, and do what they said they would do, which is to go around US sanctions. Whether it’s with a new financial transaction system or whatever, the Europeans need to grow up and become an independent body, if you will, and do what they said they would do if they want this nuclear agreement to stay alive. It’s clearly what the Iranians said they would do. One could expect him to do it. And ultimately, what will happen here, of course, is if none of this works is Iran will gradually work its way towards what we prevented with the JCPOA. That is, a nuclear weapons program. And if I were they, I would be doing the same thing given the degree of provocation that the largest economic and financial power in the world with the most powerful military has placed upon, them even to the point of lying constantly about what Iran is doing.

Let’s just examine Michael Pompeo, the Secretary of State’s, words recently. There is no doubt, he said, August 2002, Dick Cheney. There is no doubt that Saddam Hussein has weapons of mass destruction. Mike Pompeo doesn’t even have the creativity to find a new expression, a new sentence structure. There is no doubt that Iran is responsible for bumpty, humpty, humpty, you know, all kinds of provocations— firing on tankers, the war in Yemen, and so forth, and so on. So if were Iran and I were looking— and there’s no love in my heart for the Iranian leadership— but if were Iran and I were thinking rationally, and I think they are, I’d be doing exactly the same thing. I’d be threatening us back with the most potent weapon they have, which is the potential to develop a nuclear weapon.

GREG WILPERT So I’m just turning briefly to this tanker attack that you mentioned. Many US allies have also expressed doubts about the US claim that Iran was behind it or that there was no doubt about it. What are your thoughts about it?

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON It makes some sense only in the tactical realm. That is to say, if Iran is trying to pick here and pick there, you know this tit-for-tat game, it doesn’t make any sense in the strategic game. The only people it makes sense for in the strategic game are the Emirates and the Saudis. That is to say, Mohammed bin Zayed and Mohammad bin Salman who want the United States, desperately want the United States, to attack the regime in Tehran. Whether it’s a bombing campaign or a full out invasion, I don’t think they care. As others have said, Saudi Arabia is willing to fight Iran to the last dead at American. That’s what they want. So in a strategic sense, it makes every bit of sense to me that the Saudis or the UAE or their proxies, would be doing this sort of thing so that it’d be blamed on Iran. But at the tactical realm, I could see that Iran might be using some of these incidents—that’s all they are; no real damage has been done thus far— to pry the United States, to provoke the United States, to see if they can get something out of the United States.

Do they want new talks? Probably, ultimately, they do want to sit down with President Trump, but they don’t want to sit down with President Trump under any kind of conditions. Secretary Pompeo saying recently that there are no preconditions for talks, is not satisfying at all. As I’ve said before, Tehran is not Kim Jong un. Tehran does not need state verification, which is what Kim Jong un needed, by sitting down across from an American President. Tehran, thank you very much, is a state. A very historical state. A state for a long time. A very big state. It is not North Korea. Iran is going to sit down with the United States for new talks only if it is treated respectfully and well. That’s a possibility. It’s a remote possibility because of what I just said, because Mike Pompeo and John Bolton know that too and they’re not about to respect Iran to sit down. Now, the president’s a different matter. The president wants to sit down and talk and come up with a new deal. So if he can bring enough pressure to bear on his staff and is smart enough to work around that staff and to get a message to President Rouhani, for example through Oman or whomever, then we might see talks. I don’t think the president wants war. I just don’t.

GREG WILPERT Although, I would say that his advisers seem to be more intense— such as, John Bolton and Mike Pompeo— no?

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON They do, but then one wonders if that’s not being orchestrated. I know that it’s extremely difficult to imagine about this president, who has no imagination, no creativity, apparently no morals, lies all the time, and goes out and says things like, “Angela Merkel can stay in office for years and years, why can’t I? We need to change the constitution,” and so forth. This is a nut case in many respects, but in this respect, Iran and the JCPOA and a new deal, Donald Trump would take it in a heartbeat. He’d particularly take it as we draw closer to these elections, which look more and more like, even with the disarray of the Democrats, he’s going to lose.

GREG WILPERT Now, just turning again to the role of the allies. That is, Iran says it would comply with the JCPOA if European countries help Iran circumvent US sanctions. Now, meanwhile, the US is of course doing everything it can to stop Europeans from helping Iran. The main countries of Europe clearly do not want to see a war or more conflict with Iran. Do you think that they will eventually help defy the USA on the sanctions issue? And if so, what would that mean for US-European relations?

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Well, this is a matter of serious concern. We are doing as much damage to the transatlantic relationship with Donald Trump, John Bolton, Mike Pompeo onboard in Washington, as we began to do with George Bush, Dick Cheney, Condoleezza Rice, and others in 2001, 2002, and particularly 2003 with the invasion of Iraq. Were we to somehow go ahead and make war on Iran, either by a massive bombing campaign or that followed by an invasion or whatever, I think you could look at the transatlantic link as being severed. So that’s how serious the situation we walked ourselves into now with Germany, France, England, and so forth. I don’t even see England going along with this if that scenario were to develop. So if the Europeans were to find that their equivalent GDP, their combined GDP is equivalent to ours or even slightly ahead of it, they’ve 400 million people. They are massively, potentially as powerful financially, economically, and even militarily, as we are, but they can’t get their political act together.

If this were to be the beginning of getting that political act together— that is to say, they do defy us effectively and maintain the JCPOA without us— that isolates us in a major way. It also proves to the world what the world is going to find out very shortly anyway. And that is, that Charles de Gaulle was right when he said the dollar was the most pernicious weapon America wields, and they’re going to do something about it. And the Europeans are going to be paving the way. They’re going to be showing the rest of the world that something can be done about the pernicious power of the dollar, and we’re going to have some other mechanism in the world to do financial transactions and so forth. And the dollar is going to recede as the transactional and basic currency of the world. That will hurt the United States dramatically, particularly with a $20-plus trillion national debt, and an over $500 billion annual interest payment on that debt. So these are things that are going to develop over the next few years that are going to haunt the United States, if we don’t start making better decisions.

GREG WILPERT Now finally, when Secretary of State Michael Pompeo was asked recently in Congress whether the administration would use the 2001 authorization to use military force for possible strikes against Iran, Pompeo actually ended up dodging the question. Do you think this administration would actually go so far as to ignore the authorization and initiate strikes against Iran without Congress, or might Congress still approve an authorization? How do you see the situation in that regard?

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Well, you know, I watched this with two more, much more competent administrations. I watched it with the first Gulf War with George H.W. Bush, Brent Scowcroft, Dick Cheney, Colin Powell, and Jim Baker. And I watched as the consultations took place about whether or not to go to Congress, and only because H.W. Bush insisted that we go to Congress did we do so. We got the authorization for the use of military force there. Then, I watched it again in 2001 and then again in 2003. Of course, there was no real debate about going after Afghanistan, but there was some debate about Iraq. I have watched it since be bastardized, be used for all manner of further extension of warfare under the so-called global war on terror, and it’s about time it stopped. The Congress is becoming increasingly aware that it’s about time it stopped.

Would the Republicans in the Congress and a few Democratic allies be able to grant President Trump an authorization were he to ask for one? That’s one possibility and I don’t discount that possibility entirely. But would Trump go ahead as Pompeo suggested in his testimony recently in the Senate? Would they go ahead and say that they already have permission and do it? I don’t doubt that for a moment either, but I think the old decision by the Supreme Court in regard to Harry Truman rings a clarion call here. And that decision said— this was Truman and his action with regard to the steel strikes, as I recall— and the Justice who wrote the opinion said, when the president operates in consonance with Congress, his power is increased manifold, is very much increased. When the president operates in dissonance with the Congress— that is to say, the Congress is not going along with him— then his power is decreased markedly. So Trump’s got to consider that, and they do not have Congressional authorization. They will have to go back to Congress. If they don’t go back to Congress, they will be in deep kimchi.

GREG WILPERT Okay. Well, on that note, we’re going to leave it here. I was speaking to Colonel Larry Wilkerson, Distinguished Adjunct Professor of Government and Public Policy at the College of William and Mary. Thanks again, Larry, for having joined us today.

COLONEL LAWRENCE WILKERSON Thanks for having me. Take care.

GREG WILPERT And thank you for joining The Real News Network.

The post The U.S. Is Only Further Isolating Itself From Its Allies Over Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Facebook Plans Its Own Digital Currency for 2 Billion-Plus Users

SAN FRANCISCO—Facebook already rules daily communication for more than two billion people around the world. Now it wants its own currency, too.

The social network unveiled an ambitious plan Tuesday to create a new digital currency similar to Bitcoin for global use, one that could drive more e-commerce on its services and boost ads on its platforms.

But the effort, which Facebook is launching with partners including PayPal, Uber, Spotify, Visa and Mastercard, could also complicate matters for the beleaguered social network. Facebook is currently under federal investigation over its privacy practices, and along with other technology giants also faces a new antitrust probe in Congress.

Creating its own globe-spanning currency — one that could conceivably threaten banks, national currencies and the privacy of users — isn’t likely to dampen regulators’ interest in Facebook.

“It’s a bold and strategic move that has clear risks as well as opportunities tied to it,” said Wedbush Securities analyst Dan Ives. “This could raise further raise yellow flags as more regulators focus on Facebook.”

The digital currency, called Libra, is scheduled to launch sometime in the next six to 12 months. Facebook is taking the lead on building Libra and its underlying technology; its more than two dozen partners will help fund, build and govern the system. Facebook hopes to raise as much as $1 billion from existing and future partners to support the effort.

Company officials emphasized Libra as a way of sending money across borders without incurring significant fees, such as those charged by Western Union and other international money-transfer services. Libra could also open up online commerce to huge numbers of people around the world who currently don’t have bank accounts or credit cards.

“If you fast forward a number of years, consumers all over the world will have the ability to access the world economy,” Facebook executive David Marcus said in an interview with The Associated Press.

Facebook also could use its own currency to drive more people to make purchases from ads on its social media sites, said Gartner analyst Avivah Litan, who based her comments on press reports about Libra that preceded Facebook’s formal announcement. “This is about fostering more sales within an ad to get more business from advertisers to make ads more interesting on Facebook,” she said.

Backing by familiar corporations might also make Libra the first Bitcoin-like currency with mass appeal. Such “cryptocurrencies” have generally failed to catch on despite a devout following among curious investors and innovators. Bitcoin itself remains shrouded in secrecy and fraud concerns, not to mention wild value fluctuations, making it unappealing for the average shopper.

Webush analyst Ives said how well it is received will boil down to execution and “how comfortable consumers feel around Facebook and cryptocurrency.”

Libra will be different, Facebook says, in part because its value will be pegged to a basket of established currencies such as the U.S. dollar, the euro, the yen and others. Each purchase of Libra will be backed by a reserve fund of equal value held in real-world currencies to stabilize Libra’s value.

To be sure, recent history reminds us that many big Facebook announcements never really take off. Two years ago, for instance, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg promised that “augmented reality,” in which phones and other devices project digital images into real-world surroundings, would be a major focus for the company. Such AR applications remain all but invisible today. Same goes for the online shopping chatbots that Zuckerberg unveiled a year earlier, saying they would revolutionize e-commerce in its Messenger app.

Facebook won’t run Libra directly; instead, the company and its partners are forming a nonprofit called the Libra Association, headquartered in Geneva, that will oversee the new currency and its use. The association will be regulated by Swiss financial authorities, Facebook said.

“No single company should operate this,” Marcus said. “It should be a public good.”

The company has also created a new subsidiary, Calibra, that is developing a digital wallet to allow people to buy, send and use Libra. Calibra pledges that it won’t share transaction data from details of Libra user’s financials with Facebook unless compelled to do so in criminal cases. Still, if people are using Facebook products to buy things and send money, it’s possible Facebook will be able to track some data about shopping and money transferring habits.

Calibra won’t require users to have a Facebook account to make a free wallet. And it will allow people to send Libra back and forth on two of Facebook’s core messaging apps — WhatsApp and Messenger. Instagram messages won’t be included, at least at first.

Libra partners will create incentives to get people and merchants to use the coin. That could range from Uber discounts to a Libra bonus paid when users set up a Calibra wallet, although the companies haven’t laid out specifics.

Many privacy questions remain unanswered, though. Cryptocurrencies such as Libra store all transactions on a widely distributed, encrypted “ledger” known as the blockchain. That could make the Libra blockchain a permanent record of all purchases or cash transfers every individual makes, even if they’re stored under pseudonyms rather than real names.

Facebook said that if people use Calibra or similar wallets, their individual transactions won’t be visible on the Libra blockchain.

Earlier this year, Zuckerberg announced a new privacy-focused vision for the company after months of backlash for its treatment of personal customer information. Zuckerberg’s vision — which has mostly not been detailed publicly — will rely heavily on privacy-shielded messaging apps in an attempt to make the services more about private, one-to-one connections.

Many analysts believe Zuckerberg wants to create a U.S. version of the Chinese service WeChat, which combines social networking, messaging and payments in a single app. Libra would take Facebook a step closer to that end.

___

AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in New York contributed to this report.

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U.N. Officials Fear Trump Planning ‘Massive’ Bombing Campaign in Iran

As the Trump administration prepares to deploy 1,000 additional troops to the Middle East in a move critics warned will heighten the possibility of all-out war with Iran, United Nations officials reportedly believe the U.S. is also planning a major “aerial bombardment” of an Iranian nuclear facility.

United Nations officials are “assessing the United States’ plans to carry out a tactical assault on Iran,” the Jerusalem Post reported Monday, citing anonymous diplomatic sources at the U.N. headquarters in New York.

“According to the officials, since Friday, the White House has been holding incessant discussions involving senior military commanders, Pentagon representatives, and advisers to President Donald Trump,” the Post reported. “The military action under consideration would be an aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program.”

One “Western diplomat” told the Post that the bombing campaign would be “massive” but “limited to a specific target.”

The reported plans come after the Trump administration blamed Iran for attacks on two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman last week, citing video and photographic evidence that has been characterized as inconclusive at best and completely false at worst.

While raising concerns about the sourcing of the Post‘s report, critics raised alarm at the possibility that the Trump administration is planning to bomb Iran, noting that even a single airstrike would likely prompt a devastating military conflict in the Middle East.

“If this is true, they are even bigger lunatics than we realized,” Cenk Uygur, host of the online news show “The Young Turks,” tweeted late Monday. “If Trump starts a war with Iran, he will have kept none of his promises and created an unimaginable disaster in the Middle East.”

there would be no going back from this. There’s no such thing as a “one and done” military strike on Iran https://t.co/D8vONAJnhD

— Kumars Salehi (@KumarsSalehi) June 17, 2019

Ryan Costello, policy director at the National Iranian American Council (NIAC), noted that the Post‘s reporting “tracks with what Pentagon officials said is [the] most likely option last month.”

Citing an anonymous Pentagon source, Newsweek reported last month that “if anything is likely to happen involving the [Trump administration’s] preliminary Iran options, it would involve a heavy guided missile strike campaign in an attempt to lead Tehran to the negotiation table with Washington.”

According to report, the option being considered is an “aerial bombardment of an Iranian facility linked to its nuclear program.” This tracks w/ what Pentagon officials said is most likely option last month – “a heavy guided missile strike campaign.” pic.twitter.com/ytSboq5aat

— Ryan Costello (@RN_Costello) June 17, 2019

Just before announcing the deployment of 1,000 more troops to the Middle East, the Pentagon on Monday released  a “timeline” and additional photos that it said provide more proof that Iran was behind the tanker attacks last week.

But, as Politico reported, “Nothing in the photos or accompanying documents reveal evidence of the placement of the magnetic mines on the ship.”

While the Trump administration has attempted to convince European nations to echo its narrative that Iran was responsible for the attacks, representatives of major European nations—with the exception of the United Kingdom—have expressed skepticism and called for an independent investigation.

“The video is not enough,” German Foreign Minister Heiko Maas told reporters after the U.S. military released footage last Thursday purporting to show Iranians removing an unexploded mine from the side of one of the damaged tankers.

“We can understand what is being shown, sure, but to make a final assessment, this is not enough for me,” Maas said.

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Trump Wasn’t the Only Candidate to Test Our Campaign Laws

By now, anyone who pays the slightest attention to politics knows that Donald Trump told ABC’s George Stephanopoulos in an Oval Office interview last week that he would “take” opposition research on his 2020 election rivals, even from a foreign source like Russia, China or (eyeroll) Norway. Trump also said that he might not notify the FBI about his receipt of such information, and that FBI Director Christopher Wray was “wrong” to suggest in a recent Senate hearing that the law requires the bureau to be alerted.

Trump’s remarks sent howls of “collusion” across the landscape of cable news and the mainstream press. Pundits asked if the president had forgotten the lessons of 2016 and the Mueller probe. Had Trump gone, in the words of New Yorker columnist Susan B. Glasser, from proclaiming “no collusion” to admitting that he was, after all was said and done, “pro-collusion?”

In a rare display of unity, leading Democrats and Republicans assailed the president for apparently opening the door to a new round of election meddling. Even Lindsey Graham—Trump’s most loyal congressional enabler—gave the president a thumbs down. Asked by reporters if he would take foreign opposition research, Graham replied: “A foreign government comes to you as a public official and offers to help your campaign giving you anything of value, whether it be money or information on your opponent, the right answer is no.”

Graham was quick to add, however, that Democrats were just as culpable for paying ex-British spy Christopher Steele to prepare his much-ballyhooed dossier on Trump’s ties to Russia. “I hope my Democrat colleagues will be equally offended,” Graham said, “by the fact that this actually did happen in 2016 where a foreign agent was paid for by a political party to gather opposition research. All those things are wrong.”

For once, I find myself in partial agreement with the often-raving sycophant from South Carolina. In the run-up to the 2016 election, both the Trump and Clinton campaigns pushed the law governing opposition research and elections to the limits, albeit in different ways. Alarmingly, Trump’s rambling chin-wag with Stephanopoulos threatens to stretch the limits even further in 2020.

To understand the relationship between opposition research and election law, it’s necessary to go back to the Supreme Court’s 1976 decision in Buckley v. Valeo.

In Buckley, the court drew the now-familiar sharp distinction between “contributions” made to political campaigns by outsiders and “expenditures” made by political candidates and their campaign committees. The court held that Congress, in passing the Federal Election Campaign Act (FECA), could lawfully restrict contributions to candidates to prevent “quid pro quo” corruption or the “appearance of corruption.” But the court also struck down important provisions of the FECA, holding that the First Amendment prohibited Congress from limiting the amount of money candidates and their committees could spend on elections from their own coffers.

The Buckley ruling would later serve as the legal basis for the court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which opened the door to unlimited “independent expenditures” by super PACs, corporations and unions.

Both Buckley and Citizens United left intact the FECA’s ban on electoral contributions by foreign persons, entities and governments. As the act stipulates, it is “unlawful” for a “foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election.” The act also prohibits the solicitation, acceptance or receipt of foreign contributions, as well as conspiring with foreign nationals to receive contributions.

For donations worth $25,000 or more, knowing and willful violations of the act are punishable by up to five years in prison.

The foreign-contribution ban got the Trump campaign and Donald Trump Jr. in hot water with special counsel Robert Mueller. In his report, Mueller documented scores of contacts between Russian nationals and the campaign, including the widely publicized Trump Tower meeting of June 9, 2016, that promised to provide Junior with “dirt” on Hillary Clinton. Fortunately for the Trumps, Mueller concluded the contacts were insufficient to establish a criminal conspiracy.

Mueller also declined to pursue an FECA violation against Junior or anyone from the campaign because he was uncertain that he could prove the monetary value of the promised opposition research on Clinton. Even more significantly, according to the report, Mueller was unsure he could prove Junior or his associates knowingly and willfully intended to violate the act in convening the Trump Tower meeting. Ignorance, in the end, saved the day for the campaign.

Heading into the 2020 election, the ignorance excuse will no longer be available to the president. After two years of the Mueller investigation and all the attendant media coverage, no one—not even our blathering 45th commander in chief—could plausibly claim that accepting opposition research from a foreign source is legal.

But what about Clinton and the Democrats? With all the attention on Trump, it’s easy to forget the Clinton campaign’s election law transgressions associated with paying for the Steele dossier.

As many election law experts have noted, payments for opposition research, even if conducted by foreign nationals or governments, aren’t considered campaign contributions. Rather, they are seen as campaign expenditures, which are lawful and may be not be subject to monetary ceilings, as the Buckley case long ago instructed.

Nonetheless, the FECA requires candidates and their campaigns to itemize and report each expenditure in excess of $200 to the Federal Election Commission. Campaigns are also required to report the “purpose” of each disbursement. Knowing and willful violations of campaign-finance reporting requirements are punishable just as severely as knowing receipt of illegal campaign contributions.

So, what did the Clinton team do wrong in the last election?

In October 2017, the nonpartisan Washington, D.C.-based Campaign Legal Center (CLC) filed a complaint with the FEC, charging the Democratic National Committee and Clinton’s presidential committee, Hillary for America, with failing to accurately report the money funneled to Steele. According to Reuters, Steele was paid $168,000 for creating the dossier. Yet nowhere is Steele listed in the campaign’s FEC filings.

A CLC spokesperson confirmed with me last week that its complaint against the DNC and Hillary for America remains pending, unrebutted and unresolved at the FEC.

Whatever the FEC ultimately decides, neither major party, given the past, can honestly claim the high road when it comes to opposition research and elections. The Republican National Committee reportedly has already retained a variety of intelligence firms to conduct opposition research in the run-up to 2020. It would be truly shocking if the DNC hasn’t done the same.

Opposition research may be an intrinsic and unavoidable feature of American politics, but it isn’t too much to demand that our politicians be held to account, civilly and criminally, for courting foreign influence. And while we’re at it, we should also demand that our leaders, once in office, steer clear of intruding in elections abroad—something no nation on earth has perfected more expertly than our very own.

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Wall Street Has Its Top Democratic Hopefuls All Picked Out

The Iowa caucus is still more than six months away and the Democratic Party has yet to hold its first primary debate, but Wall Street is already zeroing in on its favorites for 2020. To the surprise of nobody, Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., are conspicuously absent from its list of preferred candidates.

According to The New York Times, the financial industry is throwing its support behind South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg, as well as Sen. Kamala Harris, D-Calif., and former Vice President Joe Biden. The article notes that the same New York donors have also given to the campaigns of local politicians Sen. Kirtsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio.

“Interviews with two dozen top contributors, fund-raisers and political advisers on Wall Street and beyond revealed that while many are still hedging their bets, those who care most about picking a winner are gravitating toward Mr. Biden and Ms. Harris, while donors are swooning over Mr. Buttigieg enough to open their wallets and bundling networks for him,” writes the Times’ Shane Goldmacher. “These dynamics raise the prospect of growing financial advantages for some candidates and closed doors for others.”

Goldmacher’s findings follow a separate Times report from April that revealed “long-time party financier” Bernard Schwartz had hosted a series of Democratic dinners in New York and Washington in which members of the party’s corporate wing actively discussed how to slow Sanders’ momentum. (At the time, the Vermont senator had raised more than $18 million from individual donors, and there was a “growing realization” among strategists that he could “end up winning this thing.”) Those gatherings included such prominent names as Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., Center for American Progress President Neera Tanden and Buttigieg himself.

In Mayor Pete, Harris and Biden, Wall Street executives do not appear to see a viable threat. Goldmacher continues: “They are attracted to Mr. Biden’s ideological moderation and his seeming chances of victory over President Trump in 2020; they are inspired by Mr. Buttigieg’s charisma and intellect; and they are drawn to Ms. Harris’s potential as a possible primary victor even as she now trails in the polls, in addition to her potential to reassemble the kind of winning multiethnic electoral coalition that elected Mr. Obama twice.”

By contrast, the industry has expressed varying degrees of hostility toward Warren and Sanders. Both have made punishing corporate greed centerpieces of their campaign, with the former introducing the Accountable Capitalism Act and the latter calling to break up banks that are too big to fail, to name but two of their more prominent proposals. In a recent speech at George Washington University titled “How Democratic Socialism Is the Only Way to Defeat Oligarchy and Authoritarianism,” Sanders quoted directly from President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s 1936 campaign address challenging the nation’s monied interests:

We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace–business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

They had begun to consider the government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that government by organized money is just as dangerous as government by organized mob.

Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me — and I welcome their hatred.”

Biden currently leads the Democratic field with 32.2% of the vote, per Real Clear Politics, followed by Sanders (15.2%) and Warren (11.6%). Buttigieg and Harris round out the top five at 7% and 6.8%, respectively.

Read the New York Times report here and a transcript of Sanders’ speech here.

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Oregon Tackles Climate Change With Cap-and-Trade Proposal

SALEM, Ore. — Oregon is on the precipice of becoming the second state after California to adopt a cap-and-trade program, a market-based approach to lowering the greenhouse gas emissions behind global warming.

Supporters call it the United States’ most progressive climate policy, saying it not only cuts emissions but invests in transitioning the state economy and infrastructure to better prepare for more intense weather events as climate change worsens.

“We have an opportunity to invest a substantial amount into low-income communities off the backs of the 100 or so major polluters that caused this problem,” said Shilpa Joshi, with the lobbying group Renew Oregon. Joshi has spent years working with dozens of organizations around the state to help shape the final legislation.

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Cap and trade has been a top priority this year for Oregon’s majority Democrats, and Gov. Kate Brown has said she would sign the measure, noting in a statement that “Oregon can be the log that breaks the jam nationally” on climate policy.

Though the program’s approval is shaping up to be a sure bet, a decade’s worth of baggage from California’s cap-and-trade program has fractured support for the policy among environmental groups. Some question whether Oregon can truly meet its lofty emission goals and keep its promise to prioritize investments in low-income communities and Native American tribes’ ability to prepare for a changing climate.

The division underscores a larger fight on the left over how to best tackle climate change, which scientists warn poses a global existential threat. Some progressives have balked at any solutions less than those outlined in the Green New Deal, a sweeping climate platform from U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez that calls for the decarbonization of nearly every industry.

“Strong climate policy requires steep regulations on business and a total transformation of our current infrastructure,” said Shawn Fleek with OPAL Environmental Justice, one of the main organizations on the left against the bill. “Cap and trade does none of that. Just like in California, Oregon’s bill has instead turned into a Frankenstein’s monster in handouts to industry.”

Under a cap-and-trade program, the state puts an overall limit on emissions and auctions off pollution permits or “allowances” for each ton of carbon industries plan to emit. Only the largest polluters are targeted, and the idea is that as the emissions limit becomes stricter over time, it will be in industries’ financial interest to switch to green technology. Oregon’s program would begin in 2021, and the state wants to reduce emissions to 80% below 1990 levels by 2050.

Most of the money raised — estimated to total $550 million in the first year — would be used to fund a sweeping progressive platform that encourages further emission cuts and prioritizes investments in low-income and tribal communities’ ability to respond to climate change.

“We’re seeing the effects of climate really hammer people who can least afford it,” said Rep. Karin Power, a Democrat from Milwaukie and one of two key lawmakers behind the bill.

The proposal also contains a $10 million investment to protect workers adversely affected by climate change policy, as some in transportation or manufacturing sector could face layoffs. The legislation provides unemployment benefits and pathways to clean energy jobs that, under the law, must provide competitive wages and benefits.

It’s provisions like these that make the changes some of the country’s most progressive, Joshi said.

“We are showing other states that it’s not an impossible dream to hold big polluters accountable and use the funds to invest in clean energy and in our most vulnerable communities,” she said.

Detractors on the left note Oregon’s program, like California’s, offers concessions to nearly every industry to dampen the potential financial impact. For the program’s first few years, the state will cover a majority of pollution allowances for some industries, including natural gas and utilities companies. The fossil fuel industry is essentially the only one on the hook for paying the full price.

The plan gets mixed reviews from industries. While some, including Nike and Uber, have come out in favor of cap and trade, others from the logging and agricultural sector say it will lead to increased fuel prices, mass layoffs and shuttered businesses.

Stimson Lumber, west of Portland, laid off 60 sawmill workers in anticipation of cap and trade and other new taxes pursued by Democrats. CEO Andrew Miller said in a statement that rural and agricultural communities are paying the price for “Oregon’s assault on businesses.”

And opponents from both parties note cap and trade likely won’t radically reduce emissions. While California’s emissions have noticeably dropped since the state implemented its program less than a decade ago, only 20% of those reductions can be tied to cap and trade.

Dallas Burtraw, an economist with the think tank Resources for the Future who advises California’s cap-and-trade program, said cap and trade is still the most efficient way to reduce emissions. High pricing is a powerful motivator in encouraging businesses to invest in green technology, something Burtraw said will set Oregon apart and possibly provide an economic boost.

California’s program has added 2 million jobs and grown its GDP by $700 billion since taking effect in 2012. The nine northeastern states with a more limited cap-and-trade program saw $1.4 billion in net economic benefits and 14,500 new jobs from 2015 to 2017, according to a report from Analysis Group.

“These programs can cut emissions all while providing a more stable business environment that will attract new investors,” Burtraw said.

For Sen. Michael Dembrow, the other main lawmaker behind Oregon’s bill, the program is less about solving the global climate crisis and more about raising the money needed to prepare for a heating planet’s worst effects.

“This is a worldwide problem, and if we hit businesses too hard with regulations, they’ll simply move out of Oregon and pollute at the same rates somewhere else,” the Portland Democrat said. “That solves nothing.”

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Skyrocketing Drug Prices Have Americans Taking Desperate Measures

With the rising cost of health insurance premiums and prescription drugs, Americans are scrambling for ways to cover lifesaving care. Injuries and illness, whether due to freak accidents or as chronic issues, often come “at a staggeringly high financial cost,” writes Jeffrey Young in HuffPost.

Sometimes this means Americans resort to crowdfunding their medical care. As Young explains, “more than 50 million donors contributed more than $5 billion to GoFundMe campaigns between 2010 and 2017.” For the 7.5 million Americans with diabetes who rely on insulin to survive, it might mean international travel. As Emily Rauhala reports in The Washington Post, Americans who can’t afford insulin here are making trips to Canada.

“It felt like we were robbing the pharmacy,” said Quinn Nystrom, a Type-1 diabetic who joined a caravan driving from Minnesota to Fort Frances, Ontario. There, she paid $1,200 for a supply of insulin that would have cost $12,000 at home.

The price of insulin has risen considerably from when Nystrom was diagnosed with diabetes as a child in the late 1990s. She told the Post that “her family paid about $15 to $20 a vial. Now, at 33, she sometimes pays more than $300 for the same amount.”

As reported by USA Today, a March Senate Finance Committee hearing revealed that “The price for one vial of Eli Lilly’s Humalog surged from $35 in 2001 to $234 in 2015. From 2013 to this year, Novo Nordisk’s Novolog jumped from $289 to $540 and Sanofi’s Lantus from $244 to $431, according to a committee letter.”

Part of what causes both insulin’s high prices, and peoples’ desperation to drive to Canada to obtain it, is that “Insulin is not an optional medication,” says Simeon Taylor, a University of Maryland School of Medicine diabetes researcher. “People have to buy insulin no matter what the cost is. That gives a lot of strength to the people selling insulin.”

Rauhala notes that the practice of buying drugs in Canada is not recommended by U.S. officials and in fact, “some of it might be illegal under Food and Drug Administration guidelines.” But, as organizers of the caravan (who use that word as a reference to migrants traveling to the U.S. border) told Rauhala, they’re aiming to raise awareness of their plight.

“When you have a bad health-care system, it makes good people feel like outlaws,” Lija Greenseid, who led the caravan and has a 13-year-old daughter with Type 1 diabetes, told the Post. She added, “It’s demeaning. It’s demoralizing. It’s unjust.”

Federal and state legislatures are aware of the practice, and Democrats and Republicans alike are proposing bills that would allow importing multiple prescription drugs from Canada. Canadian experts are divided on the idea. Steve Morgan, a Canadian health economist who has advised his government on health policy, told Politico in February that “the Canadian shelves would run dry,” if such bills were passed.

By contrast, Barry Power, director of therapeutic content with the Canadian Pharmacists Association, told the Post that he hasn’t seen impacts on Canadian insulin supplies. The exact number of people who are traveling to Canada to buy insulin or other prescription drugs is unknown, although it’s enough of a trend for the Canadian Pharmacists Association to track it.

Power also said that in Canada, drug prices are kept low through national policy, which involves price caps and negotiations with drug companies, which, he told the Post, “is something the U.S. could do.”

Meanwhile, the Minnesota caravan heads out to Canada again next month. Interest has grown so much, the Post notes, that they’re switching from cars to a bus.

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Iran Speeds Up Uranium Enrichment as Mideast Tensions Mount

TEHRAN, Iran — Iran will surpass the uranium stockpile limit set by its nuclear deal in the next 10 days, an official said Monday, raising pressure on Europeans trying to save the accord a year after the U.S. withdrawal lit the fuse for the heightened tensions now between Tehran and Washington.

The announcement by Iran’s nuclear agency marked yet another deadline set by Tehran. President Hassan Rouhani already has warned Europe that a new deal needs to be in place by July 7 or the Islamic Republic would increase its enrichment of uranium.

Atomic energy spokesman Behrouz Kamalvandi suggested that Iran’s enrichment could reach up to 20%, just a step away from weapons-grade levels.

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It appears as if Iran has begun its own maximum pressure campaign on the world after facing one from President Donald Trump’s administration that deeply cut into its sale of crude oil abroad and sent its economy into freefall. Europe has so far been unable to offer Iran a way around the U.S. sanctions.

The development follows apparent attacks last week in the Strait of Hormuz on oil tankers, assaults that Washington has blamed on Iran. While Iran has denied being involved, it laid mines in the 1980s targeting oil tankers around the narrow mouth of the Persian Gulf through which a fifth of the world’s crude oil passes.

“If this condition continues, there will be no deal” anymore, Kamalvandi said. He accused the Europeans of “killing time” as the clock runs down.

Rouhani, greeting France’s new ambassador to Tehran on Monday, similarly warned that time was running out on the deal.

“The current situation is very critical and France and the other parties to the (deal) still have a very limited opportunity to play their historic role for saving the deal,” Rouhani said, according to his website.

The announcement appeared timed to strike just as European foreign ministers met in Luxembourg. Federica Mogherini, the European Union’s top diplomat, declined to specifically address the Iranian announcement.

“At the moment, as of today, Iran is still technically compliant and we strongly hope, encourage and expect that Iran continues to comply,” Mogherini told journalists. She insisted she would await the next report on the issue from the U.N.’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.

Under terms of the 2015 nuclear deal with world powers, Iran can keep a stockpile of no more than 300 kilograms (660 pounds) of low-enriched uranium. Kamalvandi said that given Iran’s recent decision to quadruple its production of low-enriched uranium, it would pass the 300-kilogram limit on Thursday, June 27.

The Vienna-based IAEA said last month that Iran remained within its stockpile limits and declined to comment on Iran’s announcement. Kamalvandi said Iran would continue to allow the U.N. to inspect its nuclear facilities for the time being.

He also raised the specter of increasing its enrichment levels, saying Iran needs 5% enriched uranium for its nuclear power plant in southern Iranian port of Bushehr and 20% enriched fuel for its Tehran research reactor.

The nuclear deal limits Iran to enriching uranium only to 3.67%, enough for power plants and other peaceful purposes.

But after America pulled out of the nuclear accord and escalated sanctions, Rouhani set a July 7 deadline for Europe to come up with better terms for the deal or Tehran would boost enrichment further. So far, a European mechanism called INSTEX to protect trade with Iran has yet to take off.

The danger, nuclear nonproliferation experts warn, is that at 20% enrichment, only a fraction of atoms need to be removed to enrich up to weapons-grade levels of 90%. Iran maintains its nuclear program is for peaceful purposes, but the 2015 deal grew out of Western concerns about the program.

Under the accord, Iran agreed to limit its uranium enrichment in exchange for the lifting of economic sanctions. Since Trump took office, the U.S. has steadily stripped away at the accord, and he pulled America out of the deal in May 2018.

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said the international community should reinstate sanctions if Iran follows through on its threats, adding: “In any case, Israel will not allow Iran to obtain nuclear weapons.”

Tensions have risen in the region since last month. The U.S. rushed an aircraft carrier strike group and other military assets to the Middle East in response to what it said were threats from Iran.

Meanwhile, a series of mysterious attacks have targeted oil tankers, and the U.S. blames Iranian-laid limpet mines. Iranian-backed Houthi rebels in Yemen also have launched a series of drone and missile attacks on Saudi Arabia.

Iran’s paramilitary Revolutionary Guard, which the U.S. suspects in the attacks, answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei and operates outside of the traditional military’s control.

Gen. Mohammad Hossein Bagheri, the chief of the general staff of Iran’s armed forces, denied Tehran was involved in the tanker attacks, saying Monday the country only would respond in “an open, strong and severe way” if needed.

But he also reiterated Iran’s traditional stance on the Strait of Hormuz.

“If we decide to block the Strait of Hormuz, we will to do it in a way that even a drop of oil won’t pass the strait,” Bagheri added.

Kamalvandi spoke to Iranian journalists at the country’s Arak heavy water nuclear reactor. Such reactors produce plutonium that can be used in nuclear weapons. Iran, under the nuclear deal, had reconfigured the facility to address Western concerns on that issue.

However, Kamalvandi said the country could rebuild the facility to make it produce plutonium. He made a point to give an interview to Iranian state television, standing next to the open pit where the reactor would be in the facility.

As the camera panned down to what would be the reactor’s core, Kamalvandi stressed that piping could be replaced and the reactor could be built to make plutonium. Hard-liners opposed to the nuclear deal had constantly accused the agency of filling the entire pit with concrete.

“They had previously photoshoped a picture of this place having been filled up with concrete,” Kamalvandi said.

He added: “The message that we tried to get across to Europeans today was that not much time is left for them.”

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Raf Casert in Brussels and Frank Jordans in Berlin contributed.

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GOP Mutters, Quietly, as Trump Sidesteps Senate for Top Aides

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s latest anointment of an acting head of a major federal agency has prompted muttering, but no more than that, from Republican senators whose job description includes confirming top administration aides.

Their reluctance to confront Trump comes as veterans of the confirmation process and analysts say he’s placed acting officials in key posts in significantly higher numbers than his recent predecessors. The practice lets him quickly, if temporarily, install allies in important positions while circumventing the Senate confirmation process, which can be risky with Republicans running the chamber by a slim 53-47 margin.

The latest example is Ken Cuccinelli, who last week was named acting director of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services. He is an outspoken supporter of hard-line immigration policies and his appointment was opposed by some key Senate Republicans.

Definitive listings of acting officials in Trump’s and other administrations are hard to come by because no agency keeps overall records. Yet Christina Kinane, an incoming political science professor at Yale, compiled data in her doctoral dissertation, “Control Without Confirmation: The Politics of Vacancies in Presidential Appointments.”

Kinane found that from 1977 through mid-April of this year — the administrations of President Jimmy Carter through the first half of Trump’s — 266 individuals held Cabinet posts. Seventy-nine of them held their jobs on an acting basis, or 3 in 10.

Under Trump, 22 of the 42 people in top Cabinet jobs have been acting, or just over half.

And though Trump’s presidency has spanned only about 1 in 20 of the years covered, his administration accounts for more than 1 in 4 of the acting officials tallied. Kinane’s figures include holdovers from previous administrations, some of whom serve for just days.

“This is not a new thing,” Kinane said of presidents’ use of acting officials. “It is, however, a considerably higher number” under Trump, she said.

While Republicans widely blame Democratic opposition to Trump’s nominees for his use of acting officials to fill some posts — a characterization Democrats reject — many also say his reliance on that alternative is costly.

“It has the potential to spill over into other nominations that the president’s prioritized,” Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., said of Cuccinelli’s appointment. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, said acting officials have “tenuous footing” for overseeing their agencies, while Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, said she wants confirmed department chiefs because she “wants to know who’s on point” for the administration on issues.

Yet no Republicans said they had challenged Trump’s use of acting officials. Many of them complained openly when President Barack Obama named special White House advisers informally called czars. And a year after President Bill Clinton named civil rights lawyer Bill Lann Lee acting attorney general for civil rights in 1997, Congress passed a law limiting the time acting officials can serve, generally to no more than 210 days.

“I don’t know who spends their day worrying” that their acquiescence was fraying the Senate’s constitutional power to advise and consent on nominees, said Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas.

Democrats and experts disagree on the importance of the Senate’s role.

“They’re almost like they’re willing to act as staff members (of the White House) rather than independent senators,” said Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., a senator since 1975.

“They’re not standing up for their own institution,” said Kathryn Dunn Tenpas, a nonresident scholar at the Brookings Institution who has studied White House staffing.

Cuccinelli, a former attorney general of Virginia, has taken hard-line positions on immigration, such as opposing citizenship for American-born children of parents living in the U.S. illegally. He once led a conservative group that considered Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., too moderate, and many Republicans doubt Cuccinelli could win confirmation.

“That’s probably the only way they could get him in there,” the No. 2 Senate GOP leader, John Thune of South Dakota, said of Trump’s naming Cuccinelli acting director.

Also in an acting position are two Cabinet secretaries, Kevin McAleenan of the Homeland Security Department and Patrick Shanahan at the Defense Department. Others in the acting roles are Director Russell Vought of the Office of Management and Budget, U.N. Ambassador Jonathan Cohen and White House chief of staff Mick Mulvaney. All but Mulvaney would need Senate approval to become permanent, and Trump has sent the Senate a nominee for just one of those jobs: Kelly Craft to be the ambassador to the U.N.

A White House spokesman did not provide a list of acting officials or comment on why Trump was relying on them, despite requests over several days. Trump has said he likes naming acting officials, telling reporters in January, “It gives me more flexibility.”

But one explanation is that under Trump, the process of filling jobs has been slow and riddled with missteps.

Trump has withdrawn 63 nominees so far, doubling the 31 Obama retracted at this point in his first term, according to the nonpartisan Partnership for Public Service, which studies ways to improve government effectiveness. He’s also decided against nominating some candidates after realizing the GOP-led Senate would reject them, including two would-be picks for the Federal Reserve: businessman Herman Cain and conservative commentator Stephen Moore.

In addition, Trump’s 568 nominations during his first year in office were more than 100 fewer than Obama submitted during that period, partnership figures show.

Max Stier, the group’s president and CEO, said Trump’s use of acting officials is partly because his campaign’s preparations for its transition into power were “the worst of any recent president.” But he said a desire to avoid difficult or rejected Senate confirmations “does appear to be one element, and the most obvious example of that is Ken Cuccinelli.”

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