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Iran Raises Nuclear Stakes, Threatens Higher Enrichment

TEHRAN, Iran—Iran on Saturday said it now uses arrays of advanced centrifuges prohibited by its 2015 nuclear deal and can enrich uranium “much more beyond” current levels to weapons-grade material, taking a third step away from the accord while warning Europe has little time to offer it new terms.

While insisting Iran doesn’t seek a nuclear weapon, the comments by Behrouz Kamalvandi of the Atomic Energy Organization of Iran threatened pushing uranium enrichment far beyond levels ever reached in the country. Prior to the atomic deal, Iran only reached up to 20%, which itself still is only a short technical step away from weapons-grade levels of 90%.

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The move threatened to push tensions between Iran and the U.S. even higher more than a year after President Donald Trump unilaterally withdrew America from the nuclear deal and imposed sanctions now crushing Iran’s economy. Mysterious attacks on oil tankers near the Strait of Hormuz, Iran shooting down a U.S. military surveillance drone and other incidents across the wider Middle East followed Trump’s decision.

“So far, Iran has showed patience before the U.S. pressures and Europeans’ indifference,” said Qassem Babaei, a 33-year-old electrician in Tehran. “Now they should wait and see how Iran achieves its goals.”

Iran separately acknowledged Saturday it had seized another ship and detained 12 Filipino crewmembers, while satellite images suggested an Iranian oil tanker once held by Gibraltar was now off the coast of Syria despite Tehran promising its oil wouldn’t go there.

Speaking to journalists while flanked by advanced centrifuges, Kamalvandi said Iran has begun using an array of 20 IR-6 centrifuges and another 20 of IR-4 centrifuges. An IR-6 can produce enriched uranium 10 times as fast as an IR-1, Iranian officials say, while an IR-4 produces five times as fast.

The nuclear deal limited Iran to using only 5,060 first-generation IR-1 centrifuges to enrich uranium by rapidly spinning uranium hexafluoride gas. By starting up these advanced centrifuges, Iran further cuts into the one year that experts estimate Tehran would need to have enough material for building a nuclear weapon if it chose to pursue one.

“Under current circumstances, the Islamic Republic of Iran is capable of increasing its enriched uranium stockpile as well as its enrichment levels and that is not just limited to 20 percent,” Kamalvandi said. “We are capable inside the country to increase the enrichment much more beyond that.”

Iran plans to have two cascades, one with 164 advanced IR-2M centrifuges and another with 164 IR-5 centrifuges, running in two months as well, Kamalvandi said. A cascade is a group of centrifuges working together to more quickly enrich uranium.

Iran has already increased its enrichment up to 4.5%, above the 3.67% allowed under the deal, as well as gone beyond its 300-kilogram limit for low-enriched uranium.

While Kamalvandi stressed that “the Islamic Republic is not after the bomb,” he warned that Iran was running out of ways to stay in the accord.

“If Europeans want to make any decision, they should do it soon,” he said. France had floated a proposed $15 billion line of credit to allow Iran to sell its oil abroad despite U.S. sanctions. Another trade mechanism proposed by Europe called INSTEX also has faced difficulty.

Kamalvandi also said Iran would allow U.N. inspectors to continue to monitor sites in the country. A top official from the U.N.’s International Atomic Energy Agency was expected to meet with Iranian officials in Tehran on Sunday.

The IAEA said Saturday it was aware of Iran’s announcement and “agency inspectors are on the ground in Iran and they will report any relevant activities to IAEA headquarters in Vienna.” It did not elaborate.

In Paris, U.S. Defense Secretary Mark Esper said Iran’s announcement wasn’t a surprise.

“The Iranians are going to pursue what the Iranians have always intended to pursue,” Esper said at a news conference with his French counterpart, Florence Parly.

For his part, Trump has said he remains open for direct talks with Iran. A surprise visit by Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif to the Group of Seven summit in France last month raised the possibility of direct talks between Trump and Iranian President Hassan Rouhani, perhaps at this month’s United Nations General Assembly in New York, though officials in Tehran later seemed to dismiss the idea.

Meanwhile Saturday, Iranian state TV said the tugboat and its 12 crewmembers were seized on suspicion of smuggling diesel fuel near the Strait of Hormuz. The report did not elaborate. In Manila, the Philippines’ Department of Foreign Affairs said it was checking details of the reported seizure.

Also Saturday, satellite images showed a once-detained Iranian oil tanker pursued by the U.S. appears to be off the coast of Syria, where Tehran reportedly promised the vessel would not go when authorities in Gibraltar agreed to release it several weeks ago.

Images obtained by The Associated Press from Maxar Technologies appeared to show the Adrian Darya-1, formerly known as the Grace-1, some 2 nautical miles (3.7 kilometers) off Syria’s coast.

Iranian and Syrian officials have not acknowledged the vessel’s presence there. Authorities in Tehran earlier said the 2.1 million barrels of crude oil onboard had been sold to an unnamed buyer. That oil is worth about $130 million on the global market, but it remains unclear who would buy the oil as they’d face the threat of U.S. sanctions.

The new images matched a black-and-white image earlier tweeted by John Bolton, the U.S. national security adviser.

“Anyone who said the Adrian Darya-1 wasn’t headed to #Syria is in denial,” Bolton tweeted. “We can talk, but #Iran’s not getting any sanctions relief until it stops lying and spreading terror!”

U.S. prosecutors in federal court allege the Adrian Darya’s owner is Iran’s Revolutionary Guard, which answers only to Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. On Wednesday, the U.S. imposed new sanctions on an oil shipping network it alleged had ties to the Guard and offered up to $15 million for anyone with information that disrupts its paramilitary operations.

___

Gambrell reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates. Associated Press writers Robert Burns in Paris, David Rising in Berlin and Jim Gomez in Manila, Philippines, contributed to this report.

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Bahamas ‘Hour of Darkness’: 43 Dead, With Toll to Rise

ABACO, Bahamas—The hurricane death toll is rising in the Bahamas, in what its leader calls “this hour of darkness.”

Search and rescue teams were still trying to reach some Bahamian communities isolated by floodwaters and debris Saturday after Hurricane Dorian struck the northern part of the archipelago last Sunday. At least 43 people died.

Several hundred people, many of them Haitian immigrants, waited at Abaco island’s Marsh Harbour in hopes of leaving the disaster zone on vessels arriving with aid. Bahamian security forces were organizing evacuations on a landing craft. Other boats, including yachts and other private craft, were also helping to evacuate people.

Avery Parotti, a 19-year-old bartender, and partner Stephen Chidles, a 26-year-old gas station attendant had been waiting at the port since 1 a.m. During the hurricane, waves lifted a yacht that smashed against a cement wall, which in turn collapsed on their home and destroyed it.

“There’s nothing left here. There are no jobs,” said Parotti, who hopes to start a new life in the United States, where she has relatives.

Dorval Darlier, a Haitian diplomat who had come from the Bahamian capital of Nassau, shouted in Creole, telling the crowd that sick people along with women and children should be evacuated before men.

Prime Minister Hubert Minnis said late Friday that 35 people were known dead on Abaco and eight on Grand Bahama island.

“We acknowledge that there are many missing and that the number of deaths is expected to significantly increase,” he said. “This is one of the stark realities we are facing in this hour of darkness.”

On Saturday, U.S. President Donald Trump tweeted that Minnis had told him that there would have been “many more casualties” without U.S. help. Trump credited the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the U.S. Coast Guard and the “brave people of the Bahamas.”

The U.S. Coast Guard has evacuated some people from devastated areas by helicopter. The United Nations, the British Royal Navy, American Airlines and Royal Caribbean and other organizations have mobilized to send in food, water, generators, roof tarps, diapers, flashlights and other supplies.

Marvin Dames, security minister in the Bahamas, said authorities were striving to reach everyone, but the crews can’t just bulldoze their way through fallen trees and other rubble because there might be bodies not yet recovered.

“We have been through this before, but not at this level of devastation,” Dames said.

Dames said the runway at the airport on Grand Bahama island had been cleared and was ready for flights. Authorities also said that all ports had been reopened on that island and Abaco, both of which were devastated by the Category 5 storm.

On Grand Bahama, a long line formed at a cruise ship that had docked to distribute food and water. Among those waiting was Wellisy Taylor, a housewife.

“What we have to do as Bahamians, we have to band together. If your brother needs sugar, you’re going to have to give him sugar. If you need cream, they’ll have to give you cream,” she said. “That’s how I grew up. That’s the Bahamas that I know.”

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Hemp Legalization Has Made It Harder to Prosecute People for Marijuana

After passage of the 2018 federal farm bill legalized hemp production, states scrambled to pass their own laws legalizing hemp and CBD. But in doing so, they may have inadvertently signed a death warrant for the enforcement of marijuana prohibition.

Forty-seven states have now legalized hemp, but only 11 have legalized marijuana. The other 36 may be in for a refresher course in the law of unintended consequences.

Hemp and recreational marijuana both come from the same plant species, cannabis sativa. The only thing that differentiates hemp and weed is the level of the intoxicating cannabinoid, THC. Under federal law and most state laws, hemp is defined as cannabis sativa containing less than 0.3 percent THC. In those states that have yet to legalize marijuana, hemp is thus legal, but THC-bearing weed is not.

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But what police and prosecutors in those states are finding is that they can’t tell the difference between the two. Their field drug tests can detect cannabis sativa, but they can’t detect THC levels. Likewise, police drug dogs can sniff out cannabis, but can’t distinguish between hemp and marijuana.

And if they can’t prove the substance in question is illegal marijuana and not legal hemp, they don’t have a case. Some state crime labs can test for THC levels, but those labs are busy, the tests are costly, and even police and prosecutors are questioning whether it’s worth tying up resources to try to nail someone for possessing a joint or two.

In Ohio, after the Bureau of Criminal Investigation (BCI) analyzed the state’s new hemp law, it sent an August 1 advisory to prosecutors warning that traditional tests could not differentiate between hemp and marijuana and that the agency was months away from “validating instrumental methods to meet this new legal requirement.”

In the meantime, the BCI suggested, prosecutors could turn to private, accredited laboratories, but it also recommended that they “suspend any identification” by traditional tests and not prosecute “any cannabis-related items […] prior to the crime laboratory you work with being capable to perform the necessary quantitative analysis.”

That prompted Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein to announce a week later that he will no longer prosecute misdemeanor marijuana possession cases and that he was dropping all current and pending cases, too.

“The prosecution of marijuana possession charges would require drug testing that distinguishes hemp from marijuana,” Klein said in a written statement. “Without this drug-testing capability, the city attorney’s office is not able to prove misdemeanor marijuana possession beyond a reasonable doubt” because “our current drug-testing technology is not able to differentiate.”

The prosecutor in surrounding Franklin County, Ron O’Brien, who would handle felony pot possession cases, said his office would probably put those cases on hold unless they involved very large quantities. That’s because even though there are labs in the state capable of measuring THC levels, they still have to be accredited to do so, a bureaucratic procedure that could take months, with a backlog of marijuana cases accumulating in the meantime.

And those tests cost money. That’s why state Attorney General Dave Yost (R) announced in mid-August that the state was creating a special grant program to help local police agencies pay for testing that can differentiate between hemp and marijuana. It allocates $50,000 to help with testing until state-budgeted funding to upgrade state crime labs kicks in next year.

“Just because the law changed, it doesn’t mean the bad guys get a ‘get of out of jail free’ card,” Yost said. “We are equipping law enforcement with the resources to do their jobs.”

He also took a pot shot at Columbus City Attorney Klein, saying: “It’s unfortunate that Columbus has decided to create an island within Franklin County where the general laws of the state of Ohio no longer apply.”

For now, though, it seems like “the general laws of the state of Ohio no longer apply” just about everywhere in the state when it comes to prosecuting marijuana cases.

In Texas, prosecutors have already dropped hundreds of low-level marijuana cases and said they won’t pursue more without further testing. Again, it’s that inability of standard tests to tell the difference between hemp and marijuana.

“The distinction between marijuana and hemp requires proof of the THC concentration of a specific product or contraband, and for now, that evidence can come only from a laboratory capable of determining that type of potency—a category which apparently excludes most, if not all, of the crime labs in Texas right now,” read a June advisory from the Texas District and County Attorneys Association.

Since then, top prosecutors from across the state and across the political spectrum, including those in Bexar (San Antonio), Harris (Houston), Tarrant (Fort Worth), and Travis (Austin), have dismissed hundreds of cases and are refusing more:

“‘In order to follow the Law as now enacted by the Texas Legislature and the Office of the Governor, the jurisdictions … will not accept criminal charges for Misdemeanor Possession of Marijuana (4 oz. and under) without a lab test result proving that the evidence seized has a THC concentration over 0.3%,’ wrote the district attorneys from Harris, Fort Bend, Bexar and Nueces counties in a new joint policy released … [in July].”

Travis County officials said they had dropped 32 felony and 61 misdemeanor marijuana cases, and they wouldn’t be doing any more—at least for now.

“I will also be informing the law enforcement agencies by letter not to file marijuana or THC felony cases without consulting with the DA’s Office first to determine whether the necessary lab testing can be obtained,” Travis County District Attorney Margaret Moore tweeted.

As in Ohio, law enforcement is awaiting the availability of certified testing labs, but in the meantime, pot prosecutions are basically nonexistent in most of the state’s largest cities. And now, some Austin city council members are even wondering whether cops there should bother to hand out tickets for pot possession.

It’s not just Texas and Ohio. Once Florida’s hemp law went into effect, the Miami-Dade State Attorney’s Office announced it would no longer prosecute small-time marijuana cases and police in numerous southwest Florida towns and cities are also putting marijuana arrests on pause.

“Since there is no visual or olfactory way to distinguish hemp from cannabis, the mere visual observation of suspected cannabis—or its odor alone—will no longer be sufficient to establish probable cause to believe that the substance is cannabis,” wrote Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle. “Since every marijuana case will now require an expert and necessitate a significant expenditure by the State of Florida, barring exceptional circumstances on a particular case, we will not be prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana possession cases.”

Other state attorneys across the state are issuing similar memos. In Gainesville, prosecutors are dropping all cannabis charges. But other prosecutors say they will continue to review each case individually, with some like Tallahassee saying they will try “a variety of arguments” before the courts, while other places like Orlando and the Treasure Coast say they will wait until after they receive lab tests before filing charges.

Just across the state line in Georgia, similar scenes are playing out. Gwinnett County Solicitor General Brian Whiteside has begun dropping marijuana cases brought forward since that state’s hemp law went into effect, and the Gwinnett County Police Department is now writing tickets for pot possession instead of making arrests.

In Cobb County, Solicitor General Barry Morgan warned there would be no blanket dismissal of marijuana cases, but the police chief there sent a memo to his staff saying that “arresting someone for misdemeanor marijuana possession is not recommended.”

In Athens-Clarke County, police have been instructed to stop making arrests or issuing citations. Instead, they will seize the substance in question and write a report. Once testing is available and the THC level is above legal limits, they will then seek an arrest warrant. And DeKalb County is dismissing marijuana cases too, with Solicitor General Donna Coleman-Stribling saying the county “will not proceed with any single-count marijuana cases occurring after the passage of this new law.”

It’s not just marijuana arrests and prosecutions that are at stake. Neither police nor drug dogs can sniff out the difference between hemp and marijuana. That is going to make it more difficult for police to develop probable cause to search people or vehicles, and it’s likely to lead to the early retirement of a generation of drug dogs.

“The dogs are done,” said State Attorney Jeff Siegmeister of Florida’s Third Judicial District. “If they’re pot-trained, I don’t know how we can ever re-certify them. Unless they’re trained in the future in a different way, in my area, every dog is going to be retired.”

“The dog doesn’t put up one finger and say, ‘cocaine,’ two fingers and say, ‘heroin,’ and three fingers and say, ‘marijuana,’” admitted Florida Sheriff’s Association President Bob Gaultieri. “We had a very, very hard bright line up until this point that if a cop walks up to a car and you smell marijuana, well no matter what it was, any amount of THC is illegal, so if you smelled it, that gave you probable cause. … Now that bright line isn’t bright anymore. Now if you walk up to a car and you smell marijuana, you have to conduct an investigation, and that along with other things may give you probable cause.”

And it isn’t just a handful of states. Any state that has legalized hemp with less than 0.3 percent THC but hasn’t legalized marijuana could face similar quandaries.

“This is a nationwide issue,” said Duffie Stone, president of the National District Attorneys Association and a South Carolina prosecutor. “This problem will exist in just about every state you talk to.”

There is one quick fix, though: Legalize marijuana.

 

This article was produced by Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Phillip Smith is a writing fellow and the editor and chief correspondent of Drug Reporter, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has been a drug policy journalist for the past two decades. He is the longtime author of the Drug War Chronicle, the online publication of the non-profit StopTheDrugWar.org, and has been the editor of AlterNet’s Drug Reporter since 2015. He was awarded the Drug Policy Alliance’s Edwin M. Brecher Award for Excellence in Media in 2013.

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Lost in India

“The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges”

A book by Aatish Taseer

Aatish Taseer’s luscious passages about India’s many hidden worlds are as moving as his reflections on identity, place, and his search for an elusive “home.” Yet there is a whiff of fraudulence about Taseer. Hints of the impostor shadow him—a double-impostor really, since his deceptions seem designed to fool not only us but himself as well. He accomplishes neither. The odd thing is that his duplicitousness does not alienate us, but pulls us in closer. Somehow, we can’t abandon this trickster.

In “The Twice-Born: Life and Death on the Ganges,” Taseer writes of his journey to India, returning from London, where he currently lives. He grew up in Delhi, the son of a nonpracticing Sikh mother, a prominent journalist, and a Pakistani Muslim father. Taseer’s father and Taseer’s mother had a brief extramarital affair, and shortly afterward his father returned to his wife. His father, Salman Taseer, later became the governor of Punjab in Pakistan. He was assassinated in 2011, after speaking out against the blasphemy laws, which he considered archaic. He described himself to Taseer as a cultural Muslim.

Click here to read long excerpts from “The Twice-Born” at Google Books.

Taseer was raised by his mother and maternal grandparents, who were part of India’s English-speaking upper class. He had very little contact with his father during his formative years. Their few interactions were fraught with tension. Taseer wrote about their relationship in his earlier autobiographical work, “Stranger to History”; he openly criticized his father in the book, dismayed with his father’s more intolerant views and his erroneous proclamations about the Holocaust.

In his new work, Taseer shares with us his intentions:

<blockquote>“My time in the West had given me an outside view of my world in Delhi, robbing my life there of its easy, unthinking quality. I thought I should do something, by way of traveling or learning, that would help me establish a connection with India at large, the country that lay beyond the seemingly impermeable confines of life in Delhi. I wondered if I should learn Sanskrit, the ancient language of India. It was no longer spoken, but, like Latin or ancient Greek, it retained its liturgical function among India’s Hindu majority. I would have had some notion of a vast body of literature in Sanskrit, but, as more an absence than a presence, it was further proof of an intellectual inheritance that had not come down to me. Absences can be suggestive, and I wondered if a voice from the past might serve as a beginning point in my quest to reconnect with India’s history and language. That was why I went to see Mapu, an old friend of my mother’s. He was among the few people I knew who had sought to regain what a colonial education had denied him: he had attempted a version of Frantz Fanon’s ‘return to self.’”</blockquote>

When Taseer explains to Mapu his desire to study Sanskrit in Benares, Mapu is impressed with what he believes to be the young man’s religious zealousness. Taseer’s desire to learn Sanskrit, however, is more of an “attempt to deal intellectually with a country whose reality perturbed me.” Mapu describes Benares as a magical place where one can “see in miniature every major event that had etched itself onto India’s consciousness. The entire history of the subcontinent lay in bits and pieces on its river shore…”—bits and pieces like the British rule that came to India in 1794, and the eventual ascent of Nehru in 1947, two events that Mapu felt robbed India of its Hindu culture. Mapu sends Taseer to a potential guru, Kamlesh Dutt Tripathi, a Brahmin—a social class of priests and teachers—at the top of the Hindu caste system. Brahmins make up less than 10% of India’s enormous population, who mostly live in dire poverty. The Brahmins are considered “twice-born”: once at birth, and again when they are initiated by rite into the ancient vocation of the mind.

Taseer is too timid to approach Tripathi at first, as the great man speaks with other Sanskrit scholars, debating esoteric issues. But Taseer pours himself into his studies, learning the epics, plays, treatises, court poems, and literary analyses that are part of his cultural heritage. He begins to think that perhaps he had been raised with a “passionless aversion to his own culture.” But soon enough, doubts surface. Although it is incredibly stimulating to glimpse the antiquity of a “sacralized form of learning, to witness was not to participate.” The world of ritual was closed off to him: “a break had occurred, and I was on the other side of it.”

Taseer comes to see Tripathi, with whom he was initially so impressed, as inflexible, obsessed with the past, and blind to the contributions of modernity. Tripathi sends him to another Brahmin guide, P.K. Mukhopadhyay. Mukhopadhyay tells Taseer of a student he invited to supper in his home. He fed the student, but was “forced” to ask him to clean his own plate and utensils after eating because he was from a lower caste: “The deed of a past life had left the young man Mukhopadhyay spoke of, spiritually unclean.” Taseer, appalled, confronts Mukhopadhyay about the elitism and racism that he embraces; Mukhopadhyay is unmoved. The Indian constitution has outlawed caste, but it still remains an essential part of life in India. Taseer is not only disillusioned with Mukhopadhyay; he is angry. He no longer sees him as a mystic or someone with access to revelations closed off to him, but rather a privileged man who hides under the umbrella of caste, oblivious to the suffering that surrounds him. Taseer leaves him.

He roams the streets of Benares and is approached by soothsayers, palmists, witch doctors, astrologers, exorcists, and other “holy” men who offer prayers that start to sound like threats. He writes that the streets of Benares have a demonic energy that was “primal, cruel, full of laughter.”

Still uncertain about who he is or wants to be, Taseer returns to New York City and his new husband, a man he met from the American South on a dating app. But he doesn’t tell us much about him, or about his mother, besides how often she was away while he was a child. He discussed his anxieties about his father with multiple therapists. Taseer does mention his maternal grandmother, who delighted him with stories about the Hindu faith, and he recalls that at 5 or 6 he began lighting incense and chanting prayers and offering marigolds to the gods. But it didn’t last long. When Taseer was in India, a religious Brahmin asked him directly whether he believed in God. Taseer said no, and the Brahmin told him that he has no dharma: having no place in the world that is meaningful or righteous. In some ways, Taseer agrees with him.

A recent video on the internet of Taseer speaking at Amherst College about “The Twice-Born” is painful to watch. Taseer reads his prepared text quickly, swallowing his words, and rarely looks up at the students. Fielding the students’ questions, he seems lost and has trouble speaking extemporaneously. He still can’t explain why he went to India and what he was looking for. He has difficulty describing what he believes now. He has trouble defining who he is. He seems nervous. But he also seemed to me to be mourning all that he still could not say and feel—all the emotional wounds he could not confront. And yet, as with his book, he kept me pulled tightly into his orbit despite his fumbling presentation. Somehow, I could not look away.

 

 

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Lesbians Are a Target of Male Violence the World Over

Since coming out as a lesbian at the age of 15 in 1977, I have seen the world change for the better. When I met other lesbians soon after leaving home to find the “gay scene,” I was shocked to hear stories of women losing custody of their children, in some cases to violent ex-husbands, for the simple reason that they were in a same-sex relationship.

Over the decades in the U.K., I have seen and experienced anti-lesbian violence firsthand. I have been attacked on more than one occasion—physically assaulted by anti-gay bigots, and sexually assaulted by a man who thought he could “straighten me out.” I’ve lost housing and jobs as a result of being a lesbian.

The first time I was physically attacked was in a gay and lesbian bar in the U.K. I was 16, and out with David, a gay friend who had taken me under his wing. We were dancing and laughing, having great fun. David was encouraging me to talk to other girls, but I was too shy. Suddenly, a small group of men was upon us, pointing their fingers in our faces. “Are you a puff [faggot]?” one of them asked David. “Prove you are a proper man and fuck her,” another growled, pulling me over to David by my hair. I was terrified, and David started crying. People had begun to notice what was happening, but no one approached us.

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The men were big and menacing, with shaven heads and combat clothing. I lived close to a garrison town, and there were high levels of sexual assaults by soldiers in the vicinity.

After a few minutes of being swung around by my arms and my hair, and David being jabbed in his stomach and groin, the men spat at us and left the club, laughing. David and I never spoke of the incident—he, I suspect, feeling the deep shame and stigma that I did.

A year later, I moved to a large city in the north of England. Leeds was far more diverse than my home town, but unfortunately had become a key base for a group of fascists known as Combat 18 (the numbers 1 and 8 representing the numerical order of Adolf Hitler’s initials in the alphabet).

I lived in a hostel with my girlfriend, who was black. Our windows were regularly broken by young fascist males, and graffiti daubed on our front door. One evening, we were chased through a park by skinheads brandishing chains, shouting that they were going to “skin and rape” the “black bastard” and her “n*****-loving queer.” We escaped into a neighbor’s house, where we had to endure a lecture on how we had brought “trouble to the neighborhood,” and the neighbor demanding to know whether we had to “shove what you are down everyone’s throats.”

At the time, I had a job cleaning in a gay and lesbian bar that was run by a straight couple, Bob and Doreen, and their son, Simon. Bob and Doreen had retired from the police service, and saw financial opportunities in running a bar for the many lesbians and gay men who had gravitated to the city from the surrounding rural areas and small towns. “The queers have loads of money,” Bob used to say. “They don’t have kids to feed.”

One day, when I was cleaning the apartment above the pub, Bob and Simon attempted to rape me. They were laughing, telling me I needed a “good fuck.” I managed to escape only because they heard Doreen come up the stairs.

There have been many other times when I have been attacked or endangered by men who targeted me for being a lesbian. I was once thrown down the stairs by a nightclub bouncer and punched in the face by a man in the street when I refused his advances. I learned to fight back, stay out of nightclubs, and to view these attacks as part of a misogynistic backlash by men who feel threatened by women’s sexual and social autonomy.

Throughout my early years, there were very few public role models. The depiction of lesbians was hardly flattering. Butch, predatory and deeply unattractive, these images served as a warning to women not to “cross over to the dark side.”

Lesbians in the U.K. have fought for and achieved legislative equality with heterosexuals. We can marry, adopt and foster children, and have next-of-kin rights with a same-sex partner. It is now illegal to fire us from our jobs or refuse goods and services on the grounds of our sexuality.

These changes also are prevalent across the majority of states in the U.S. and in numerous other countries around the world. But there are still plenty of places that have either rolled back the rights of lesbians, such as Russia under President Vladimir Putin, or, under the influence of religious fundamentalists, have introduced archaic and extremely punitive legislation affecting LGBTQ people.

I decided to investigate the horrific story of violence towards lesbians, because this is a tale that is rarely told. “We hear about the oppression of gay men and of trans people,” one senior U.N. official told me at a meeting on sexual orientation and gender identity rights, “but rarely do lesbians come anywhere near the top of the list, even when we are zoning in on LGBT rights.”

Uganda

My journey took me to Uganda, a beautiful country in East Africa that has some of the worst legislation on and social attitudes toward lesbian and gay rights on the planet.

Its Parliament passed an anti-homosexuality bill in 2013 that lengthened sentences for consensual homosexual sex and extended punishment to those promoting homosexuality. It is illegal to be gay in most African countries, and in Uganda, same-sex encounters can land a person in prison for, on average, seven years. Same-sex marriage is illegal.

The first LGBTQ organization in Uganda was Freedom and Roam Uganda (FARUG), founded in 2003 by three lesbians. I met Gloria, who joined FARUG in 2015, during a recent trip to Uganda. She explained what a struggle it has been to keep the organization afloat in a country so openly hostile to LGBTQ people.

“In our community, butch women, dykes and lesbians face the most stigma, discrimination and violence, because the world was seeing them as men,” Gloria said. “We knew they were going to be targeted, but what happened has a lot to do with the trans movement, especially trans men. Many of the out trans men started as lesbians. I think they discovered their identity as they went on. So, many people are going to be targeted, not only lesbians but even trans men still in the process of trying to deal with the changes to do with their sexuality.”

Homophobic legislation in Uganda has its roots in the religious right in the United States. In 2009, American evangelist Scott Lively traveled to Uganda to set up an anti-gay movement, enlisting support from local preachers such as Pastor Sember, who ran a church within Makerere University. “The evangelists started the anti-gay movement and would go into churches preaching hate against LGBT persons. Before then, there was hate, but there wasn’t a solid religious propaganda, so they started that movement,” explained Gloria, who was a student at Makerere at the time. “Pastor Sember stands in church one Sunday and says, ‘We’re going to have a huge crusade that is aimed at fighting homosexuality in Uganda.’ They got around 10,000 people on that crusade, and there was a lot of hate speech. During that crusade they were talking about how homosexuality is infiltrating the nation, and how white people have brought homosexuality here and how they are paying Ugandans to become homosexual.”

The result was a build-up of public anger toward the LGBT community in Uganda. “We knew they were coming after us,” Gloria said. “During that time, FARUG struggled a lot. In 2016, our organization operated without money. I remember having an extraordinary meeting, and the person who is now our director stood up and said, ‘This is our child. If we do not stand, this organization is going to fall, but I need you to understand that we started this movement. When I talk about the movement, it’s not just about me, it’s about you. It’s not just us the activists, it’s the fact that you can still move in the street, that you can still access medical care, that we can still represent you in court when people are being terrible to you.’”

I spoke with Amanda, 29, who came to FARUG for “social Friday,” a monthly gathering where LBQ women can relax with their friends, meet new members and, later in the day, drink and dance.

Amanda was present at the notorious police raid of the Venom bar in 2016. “There were police all over the place accusing us of holding a gay wedding,” she recalled. “They said we were thieves and arrested us on the premises. It was so scary. I phoned my sister and said, ‘If anything happens to me, I am at this place.’ We were there for hours. Then some kid jumped off the fourth floor of the building to escape the police. It was so bad.”

Simon Mpinga is the pastor at the Living Gospel World Mission church in Kawuga village, on the edge of Kampala. Mpinga also preaches at the Fellowship of Affirming Ministries church, known for its inclusion and acceptance of lesbians and gay men. I went to meet him with Nasiche, a lesbian who told me she refuses to give up her faith “just because of those pastors that hate us.”

Mpinga greeted us at the door of his small church, which was full of congregants enjoying a meal of rice and beans. Tall and handsome, he was wearing a bright T-shirt and a big smile. I asked what led him to open a LGBTQ-inclusive church in the face of such resistance. “As I was growing up,” he explained, “I saw bigotry towards LGBT people happening in the churches. The moment people discovered that someone was gay or bisexual, they would push them out of the ministry, discriminate against them, speak ill about them; they would be psychologically tortured and become depressed. It was a terrible thing.”

I asked what specific problems lesbians face in Uganda. “Initially, the women were oppressed just for being women,” he answered. “So I think that the women are in double jeopardy. They are women and they are sexual minorities. Women are looked at as weak, they are unrecognized in society, especially in African society because, when you look at the different religions here, they don’t recognize women. They are not ordained as priests; they cannot be given the pulpit to speak about anything. So, we need to concentrate on the lesbians.”

I met with Ruth Muganzi from Kuchu Times, Uganda’s LGBTQ media platform. “We set up KT in December 2014, just after Uganda had passed what we call the ‘identify and kill the gay bill,’” she told me. “We realized the media had been a very powerful tool in the hands of the anti-government movement. They [could] tell false stories about how gay people deal with money and children. But these media spaces never allowed gay people to share our stories, so we created KT. There was a need for our stories to be out there; there was a need to question the things that were being shared. There wasn’t a space for us, so we created our own.”

I met Namazzi as she was coming into the FARUG Friday social. “I told my best friend [that I am a lesbian] and the first thing she said was, ‘You are beautiful. Are you telling me there are no men out there who want to be in a relationship with you, so you decided to go and have a relationship with girls?’ So, I told her, ‘No, it’s because I want girls; the men are there, but I want girls.’ We are still friends, but not best friends anymore.”

Very few of the coming-out stories I heard at FARUG were positive. “I have lost some of my family members,” Lailah told me. “Some don’t talk to me, some don’t understand me. At Christmas, you’re expected to go to the village and be with your family, but they say, ‘That one, she’s gay.’ So, I don’t go home. I call and talk to them, but it’s really hard. I miss my family.”

Annise was sitting on the floor of the courtyard, drinking a beer, her baseball cap pulled low over her face. “My friend was in an abusive marriage and her husband thought she was a lesbian with her best friend,” she told me. “When she ran away from the marriage and the abuse, the husband followed her to her friend’s house because he thought they were lovers. He tried to attack them and keeps threatening to kill them.”

Over and over, the women at FARUG spoke about police brutality. “Some friends and I were listening to music and drinking at a bar when the police suddenly arrived,” Hope recounted. “I saw some people jump over a wall to escape the beatings, and others hid in the toilets. Those of us who were left were ordered to stand in a corner. The police then marched us slowly all the way to the police station.”

Grace, a 30-year-old feminist activist and proud lesbian, approached me at FARUG and told me that she is “sick of gay men and trans women demanding all the attention from the international community. We are the mothers of the movement; we are the ones to start the revolution. We have less representation. We don’t have the faces and voices out there to amplify our issues the way we need them to. I don’t know if it’s because we’re shy and most of us are in the closet. We have less of a profile.”

On my last day in Uganda, police raided an International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia and Biphobia event in Kampala. When I arrived with Mutyaba and others, we saw police officers guarding the entrance and dozens of people waiting nearby. “This is disgusting,” said Natukunda, a young, butch lesbian in her 30s who had travelled almost 20 miles to attend. “Police don’t have a legal right anymore to stop us meeting in public, so they say they heard a gay wedding was taking place.”

Eventually, a new venue was found, and dozens of LGBTQ activists moved the food, beer and sound system from the original venue, while armed police officers stood by. The party was in full swing by the time I left for the airport. As I was saying my goodbyes, shouting over the loud reggae music, one of the young women, proudly embracing her girlfriend, told me, “This movement is not going to end. We are getting bigger; we are getting stronger.”

Brazil

When Marielle Franco, a black lesbian activist, was murdered in Rio de Janeiro in 2018, she became the symbol of the campaign to end violence against women in Brazil. Franco was shot dead while returning from an action she had organized called Young Black Women Moving Structures. Franco was one of the few activists who dared to speak about the political violence in Brazil. The term “lesbocide,” first used by a collective of lesbian women in Chile, means “the death of lesbians as a result of lesbophobia or hatred, repulsion, and discrimination against the lesbian existence.” Lesbocide is on the rise, and lesbians all over the world are endangered by this misogynistic hatred.

FannyAnn Eddy, 30, was found dead one morning in 2004 at the Sierra Leone Lesbian and Gay Association’s offices. Her assailants had raped her repeatedly before breaking her neck and stabbing her. That April, Eddy had spoken at the U.N. Commission on Human Rights. “We face constant harassment and violence from neighbors and others,” she had said. “Their homophobic attacks go unpunished by authorities, further encouraging their discriminatory and violent treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people.”

Between 2014 and 2017, the murders of lesbians in Brazil alone increased by almost 25%; the majority of the victims were young and black.

I spoke to Milena Peres, a 25-year-old lesbian, over Skype. Peres is on a team of researchers in Brazil that is investigating the murders and suicides of lesbians. She came out in her early teens and suffered as a consequence. “I suffered abuse from my family, school colleagues and people in general,” she said.

According to Peres, “The murder or suicide of a lesbian plays the social role of frightening other lesbians, demoralizing and devaluing the lesbian existence, as well as enhancing men’s power over the lives and deaths of women.” If a lesbian is raped, it will be recorded as a rape only, and not a specific hate crime against a lesbian.

Luana Barbosa dos Reis Santos was murdered in 2016. She was stopped and searched by police in the favela where she lived. When she asked to be searched by a female officer, the police considered her request a sign of contempt for their authority, and and they attacked her in front of her entire family. She died five days later as a result of her injuries. Before she died, Reis Santos recorded a video describing the violence. She has become an important symbol of lesbian resistance in Brazil. “We want justice for Luana, because the situation has never been resolved, and her family and the people involved in the case are still facing situations of great danger and pain,” Peres said.

A report titled “Dossier on the Killing of Lesbians in Brazil” shows the alarming increase in the number of lesbians murdered in the country over the last few years. According to the study, 180 lesbians were reported killed between 2000 to 2017. The publication was compiled by the Research Group on the Killing of Lesbians – The Untold Stories, an association that gathers data and stories about gay women who fall victims to this crime in Brazil.

“Lesbophobia isn’t just an act of specific violence that can occur at any given moment,” Peres said. “What we suffer from also defines us. We are isolated, discredited, made invisible, attacked and violated in the most diverse ways every single day. Death lurks after us, as does mental illness, profound isolation and the aforementioned systematic devaluation.”

A poll of 800 lesbians in Brazil found that more than 80 percent reported having suffered some form of anti-lesbian violence. Forty percent said they were unemployed, more than three times that of the general population. “The women seen as not complying with so-called feminine standards are virtually always the most strongly affected in job interviews”, Juliana told me. An accountant in her 40s, Juliana lives with her partner, Marcia, and their child. “I am always turned down for jobs, despite being better than the male applicants,” she said. “The boss will say, ‘This man has kids, you are a woman, your husband can look after you.’”

Suane Soares is a professor of bioethics at the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro, where she researchs human rights and feminism. “I was raised in a family in which the expression of a lesbian sexuality was highly reprimanded,” said Soares, who came out as a lesbian six years ago at the age of 28. “It was only by coming into contact with feminism and by becoming financially independent that I had the opportunity to define and fully understand myself as a lesbian. I lost a lot of personal ties, spaces and opportunities with people who never accepted me.”

Brazil is a country marked by profound social and cultural inequalities. To be a lesbian in the northern region, I was told by those I interviewed, is very different from being a lesbian in the south. And white lesbians have very different experiences from black, “quilombola” or indigenous lesbians. “The lesbian invisibility is expressed through the systemic annihilation and denial of the lesbian existence, of the disparagement and creation of myths about us which do not speak truth to who we are and how we live,” Peres said. “When we are murdered, our deaths aren’t accurately disclosed, and our memories are disrespected.”

London

Earlier this year, in my home city of London, two lesbians were beaten up by a group of men when they refused to kiss in front of them. The image of the bloodied, distressed women attracted international media attention, but violence by members of the public is commonplace for lesbians in England.

In Walsall Garth, toward the north of England, Ellie-Mae Mulholland, 18, was beaten in July by a gang of men who told her, “You and your girlfriend are going to get it 10 times worse next time.”

Even some gay men have contributed to the culture of aggression and contempt toward lesbians in the U.K. Last year, at Manchester Pride, one of the organizers said of a small group of lesbians who were demanding better representation and inclusivity at Pride events, that they should be dragged off by their “saggy tits.”

Iran

In Iran, women’s rights and their freedom of movement and expression are extremely restricted, and the strictly patriarchal structure allows fathers, brothers and husbands to assert direct control over women and girls. For lesbians, life is especially difficult.

“Being Lesbian in Iran,” by the human rights campaign group OutRight International, found that violence and abuse is endemic.

Maryam, a lesbian from Tehran, was forced to marry her first cousin when she was 14. He was 22 years her senior. From the beginning, she had no physical or emotional attraction to her husband. In response, he became abusive and forced Maryam to see a doctor to “cure” her lack of sexual interest. The medication she was given made Maryam very depressed.

Finally, after years of abuse, violence and marital rape, Maryam managed to get a divorce. She entered a relationship with Sara, but, because of family pressure, could only see her secretly. At one point, Sara contemplated undergoing sex reassignment surgery so that she could legally live with Maryam. The couple finally decided to run away to a small town in northern Iran. In response to a neighbor’s complaint about the two women living together, police raided the couple’s home and arrested them.

The police held them, separately, in detention for several days and pressured them to confess the nature of their relationship. Following a 30-minute trial based on their forced confessions, Maryam and Sara were each sentenced to 100 lashes and jail time. Maryam said that she and her partner were both flogged on the first day of their imprisonment. They suffered intense physical and psychological trauma as a result.

Azadeh, in her 20s, is from northern Iran. She was abducted by intelligence officers and forced to undergo a “reorientation course” and violent interrogation after they became suspicious of her sexual orientation. “The interrogators tortured me by pouring boiling water on my skin and beating me, especially on the head,” she said. “More than physical torture, I was subjected to verbal abuse. They kept telling me that I was a ‘pussy licker.’”

The Global Picture

Lesbian human rights campaigner Yelena Grigoryeva, who campaigned in Russia for LGBTQ rights and freedom for Ukrainian political prisoners, was murdered earlier this year near her home. According to friends, Grigoryeva had reported threats of violence to the police, but no action was taken.

In 2018, two women, aged 22 and 32, were found guilty of “attempting to have sex” in the conservative state of Terengganu, Malaysia. They were each caned six times in the country’s high court, an event witnessed by 100 people. It was the first time women were caned for lesbianism. Activist Thilaga Sulathireh, from Justice for Sisters, was in the court at the time. “It was shocking, and it was a spectacle,” she recalled “This case shows a regression for human rights. Not only for LGBT people, but all persons.”

So-called corrective rape is common in South Africa. Women suspected of being lesbians are often targeted and assaulted in order to “make them straight.” In Cape Town, I met Precious, a 19-year-old who was gang-raped near her township by a group of men who told her she “had the devil in her.”

“They told me I was evil,” she said. “One of them said he would beat the evil out of me, but through my vagina, because that is where the devil had taken hold of me. I am now HIV positive and have been rejected by my family. Even my girlfriend left me, because they put the fear of God into her, as well as me.”

Sarmilla Malla, a 19-year-old in the Jagatsinghpur district of Odisha, India, was tied to a tree and beaten when she was found in bed with her girlfriend. The following day, Malla told the local press, “I was dragged out of my house by my neighbors. They beat me up and tied me to a tree. They abused me and kicked me when my parents tried to rescue me. We are madly in love with each other.”

In the U.S., lesbians are not safe from harm. In New York last year, a 20-year-old woman was hospitalized and suffered a broken spine after being attacked in the subway by a man using anti-gay slurs, according to the New York City Police Department. As the woman walked away, the man grabbed her from behind and pushed her to the ground, smashing her head on the pavement.

In addition to violence and sexual assault by men, many lesbians worldwide suffer from the intolerant and archaic attitudes of others.

In Cincinnati, Tiffany and Albree Shaffer were fundraising in May to pay for medical bills for their 18-month-old daughter, Callie, who was diagnosed with cancer. The couple set up a GoFundMe page to help with the spiralling medical costs. Then the couple received a message from a woman on Facebook: “My prayers for Callie. I was going to donate $7,600 to her but I found out her parents are lesbian. I’ve chosen to donate to St Jude due to that fact.”

Hatred of lesbians is a result of patriarchal attitudes that demand subservience and capitulation to men. Lesbianism is a threat to bigoted misogynists who believe women need to be “kept in line,” either by a father or a husband. Lesbianism is an affront to these men, for the simple reason that we have refused compulsory heterosexuality and have openly and unashamedly rejected men sexually. Until we eradicate sexism, anti-lesbian violence will be all too common.

The post Lesbians Are a Target of Male Violence the World Over appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ex-Starbucks CEO Schultz Rules Out Independent 2020 Bid

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz says he’s no longer considering an independent presidential bid.

Schultz said Friday in a letter posted on his website, “I have concluded that an independent campaign for the White House is not how I can best serve our country at this time.”

Schultz faced intense resistance from Democratic activists who feared an independent run would give President Donald Trump an easier path to reelection. Schultz says not enough people are willing to back an independent because they fear doing so “might lead to reelecting a uniquely dangerous incumbent president.”

Schultz announced in June he was taking a “detour” from a possible independent 2020 bid, citing health concerns. The billionaire businessman said at the time he’d revisit his presidential ambitions after Labor Day.

The post Ex-Starbucks CEO Schultz Rules Out Independent 2020 Bid appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Joni Ernst Says the Quiet Part Loud

Senator Joni Ernst (R-IA) just said out loud what Republican politicians usually only talk about in secret meetings with their billionaire donors: The GOP wants to cut our earned Social Security benefits—and they want to do it behind closed doors so that they don’t have to pay the political price.

At a recent town hall, Ernst stated that Congress needs to “sit down behind closed doors” to “address Social Security.” She vaguely asserted, “A lot of changes need to be made in this system going forward.” But, she complained, if these changes were proposed in public, she would be accused of pushing “granny over a cliff.” It is not hard to figure out what “changes” she has in mind.

There are many “changes” that should be made to strengthen Social Security and make it even better than it already is. But none of those have to be done secretly.

Congress should address our nation’s looming retirement income crisis by increasing Social Security’s modest benefits. Congress should combat rising income and wealth inequality, by requiring the wealthiest Americans to contribute to Social Security at the same rate as the rest of us.

Congress should enact caregiver credits for those who perform essential but unpaid labor caring for their children, aged parents, and other family members. Those crucial caregivers should receive credit toward future Social Security benefits so they don’t retire into poverty.

In addition, Congress should update the way that Social Security’s benefits are adjusted so that they reflect the high health care and prescription drug costs that beneficiaries experience. The annual cost of living adjustment is intended to keep benefits from eroding, to allow beneficiaries to tread water. But without updating the measure of inflation, those benefits are losing value each year.

Those are just some of the improvements that Congress should make. But those are not the “changes” Ernst has in mind, because none of those changes need to be done behind closed doors. Numerous pieces of legislation proposing those changes have been introduced in Congress—though none by Senator Ernst or her Republican colleagues.

Indeed, 210 House Democrats have co-sponsored the Social Security 2100 Act, which expands Social Security’s modest benefits, while ensuring that all benefits can be paid in full and on time through the year 2100 and beyond. Every Democratic presidential candidate opposes cutting Social Security benefits, and nearly all support expanding them. Meanwhile, neither Donald Trump nor a single Republican member of Congress is sponsoring or cosponsoring any legislation that increases benefits or even ensures that they can be paid in full and on time beyond 2035.

No action is the same as supporting cuts. As Representative John Larson (D-CT), chairman of the House’s Social Security Subcommittee and the author of the Social Security 2100 Act, has explained, “The hard truth of the matter is that Republicans want to cut Social Security, and doing nothing achieves their goal.”

Larson and his Democratic colleagues are calling Republicans’ bluff. Under Democratic control, Congress has held numerous hearings on Social Security and the importance of protecting and expanding it. Larson and his Democratic colleagues are planning to have a recorded, public vote on the Social Security 2100 Act this fall.

The legislation has enough votes to pass the House of Representatives. But don’t expect Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) to bring it to a vote in the Senate. And don’t expect Senator Ernst or her other Republican colleagues to urge him to do so.

With respect to Social Security, just as with the issue of legislating background checks and other overwhelmingly popular commonsense legislation to reduce the epidemic of gun violence, Republican politicians will not say what they are for. In the case of gun legislation, they block action. In the case of Social Security, they block action unless Democrats agree to go behind closed doors so the public doesn’t know who pushed the cuts.

We should not let Republican politicians get by with platitudes about “saving” and “fixing” Social Security. And we certainly shouldn’t let them hide behind closed doors and undermine our Social Security.

As polarized as the American people are over many issues, we are not polarized about Social Security. Republicans, Democrats and Independents, of all ages, races and genders, overwhelmingly agree. We understand that Social Security is more important than ever. We overwhelmingly reject any cuts to its modest benefits.

The only group that disagrees is Republican Party donors. As an ideological matter, they hate Social Security because it puts the lie to their assertions that government can’t work. They do not want to pay their fair share. Indeed, they would love to get their hands on the money now flowing to Social Security.

When President George W. Bush proposed destroying Social Security by privatizing it, the American people overwhelmingly rejected his plan. But Republican politicians learned the wrong lesson. As unpopular as Bush’s proposal was, he was at least willing to advocate for it publicly. Rather than recognize the proposal was the problem, Ernst and her fellow Republicans think the problem was being honest with the American people.

Like Bush, they want to enact a Social Security proposal that is deeply unpopular. But unlike Bush, they want to enact it in the dark of night. Fortunately, their Democratic colleagues won’t let them get away with that undemocratic act. Nor should the American people.

All of us who have a stake in Social Security—which is every one of us—should insist that those seeking our vote tell us if they support expanding or cutting Social Security. If they refuse to tell us, if they ramble on about their desire to “save” or “fix” or “strengthen” Social Security in secret, we should draw the obvious inference: They want to cut Social Security. We should use the election to ensure they do not have the power to do that—and certainly not behind closed doors.

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

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Robert Mugabe, Liberator Turned Dictator, Dies at 95

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Others said they missed him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Torchia reported from Johannesburg.

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We Are Teetering on the Brink of War With Iran

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

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

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

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

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

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

PATRICK COCKBURN: Thank you.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PATRICK COCKBURN: Thank you very much.

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

The post We Are Teetering on the Brink of War With Iran appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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

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

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

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

Stop what you’re doing and watch this, it is jaw-dropping https://t.co/eiUtkJv3FX

— WillMenaker (@willmenaker) September 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

You should be ashamed of yourself for propelling such absurd war propaganda on behalf of the Trump administration, @johnkrasinski https://t.co/2vhQJmoaV1

— Abby Martin (@AbbyMartin) September 5, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Most Consequential Whistleblower Who Wasn’t

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

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

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

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

<iframe width=”702″ height=”395″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/V3vIYy38Fys” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

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

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

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

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

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

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

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

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

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

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

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

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

GH: Yes.

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

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

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

GH: And there aren’t any.

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

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

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

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

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

GH: [Laughs] Bless you, Bob, but I—

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

GH: No, it’s fine.

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

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

RS: Oh—let me defend it, by the way—

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

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

GH: Yes.

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

GH: Yeah, exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GH: Yeah.

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

GH: Needs to know.

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

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

RS: Oh, Katharine’s an—

GH: And Ellsberg has said that often.

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

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

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

GH: Loyalty, as you said earlier. Yeah.

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

GH: Because—

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

GH: ––mm-hmm, go, yeah—

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

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

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

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

RS: Is that a question?

GH: Well, no, no, I’m saying it’s—

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

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

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

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

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

GH: Right.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GH: Good! That’s really good for me.

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

GH: Well, she gets that memo, yeah.

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

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

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

GH: [Laughs] It’s your show, mate!

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

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

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

GH: Right. Yep, the same thing here.

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

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

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

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

RS: I—

GH: —sorry, I was just—

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

GH: [Laughs]

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

GH: Am I?

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

GH: No, no, no, I’m—

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

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

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

GH: Right, and you—

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

GH: No. And you’re quite right.

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

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

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

GH: Yep, very well said.

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

GH: Well, thank you for that, Bob.

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

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

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

GH: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

GH: Exactly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RS: Well said. And on that note—

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

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

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

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

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

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

GH: On Robben Island. Yeah.

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

GH: Thank you very much.

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

 

 

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

Official: Trump to Challenge California Authority on Mileage

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Krisher reported from Detroit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Targeting a public media conference

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sanctioning a USAID partner

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“That’s not true,” Sherman protested.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mike Pompeo Is Refusing to Sign Afghan Peace Deal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Your Amazon Order Comes at a Steep Human Price

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

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

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

But there are no lines for Gabrielle.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Wow!” Rose exclaimed.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I just pushed everybody away,” she recalled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The trade war is taking a toll on both economies.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

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Progressives Can’t Play Nice With Democrats Anymore

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Progressives Can’t Play Nice With Democrats Anymore appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Hurricane Dorian Batters the Carolinas as It Pushes Northward

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

The post Hurricane Dorian Batters the Carolinas as It Pushes Northward appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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