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Lawyer: Trump Whistleblower Willing to Take Written GOP Questions

WASHINGTON — A lawyer for the whistleblower who raised alarms about President Donald Trump’s dealings with Ukraine said Sunday his client is willing to answer written questions submitted by House Republicans.

The surprise offer, made to Rep. Devin Nunes, the top Republican on the House Intelligence Committee, would allow Republicans to ask questions of the whistleblower, who spurred the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry, without having to go through the committee’s chairman, Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Attorney Mark Zaid tweeted that the whistleblower would answer questions directly from Republican members “in writing, under oath & penalty of perjury,” part of a bid to stem escalating efforts by Trump and his GOP allies to unmask the person’s identity. Only queries seeking the person’s identity won’t be answered, he said.

“Being a whistleblower is not a partisan job nor is impeachment an objective. That is not our role,” Zaid tweeted. “So we have offered to @DevinNunes.”

“We will ensure timely answers,” he said.

Nunes’ office did not have immediate comment.

The offer comes as Trump has repeatedly demanded the release of the whistleblower’s identity, tweeting Sunday that the person “must come forward.” The whistleblower raised concerns about Trump’s July 25 call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, in which he pressed Zelenskiy to investigate Trump’s political rivals. That call became the catalyst for the impeachment inquiry.

The whistleblower’s secondhand account of the call has been providing a road map for House Democrats investigating whether the president and others in his orbit pressured Ukraine to probe political opponents, including former Vice President Joe Biden.

“Reveal the Whistleblower and end the Impeachment Hoax!” Trump tweeted.

Trump later Sunday pushed the news media to divulge the whistleblower’s identity, asserting that the person’s accounting of events is incorrect. The whistleblower’s complaint has been corroborated by people with firsthand knowledge of the events who have appeared on Capitol Hill.

“They know who it is. You know who it is. You just don’t want to report it,” Trump told reporters at the White House. “And you know you’d be doing the public a service if you did.”

U.S. whistleblower laws exist to protect the identity and careers of people who bring forward accusations of wrongdoing by government officials. Lawmakers in both parties have historically backed those protections.

The Associated Press typically does not reveal the identity of whistleblowers.

The whistleblower has become a central fixation for Republicans, and in particular the president. Republicans view a political opportunity in unmasking the CIA official, whom the intelligence community’s inspector general said could have “arguable political bias.” The inspector general nevertheless found the whistleblower’s complaint to be “credible.”

The president believes that if he can expose bias in the initial allegations against him, he can paint the entire impeachment inquiry it launched as a partisan, political probe. To this point, Republicans have largely fought the impeachment inquiry on process, not substance, believing it was tainted because interviews were conducted in closed sessions — ignoring that GOP lawmakers were in attendance — and complaining that House Speaker Nancy Pelosi had not called a vote to launch the matter.

But Pelosi called such a vote last week and the inquiry may soon shift into open hearings. Now, Trump is demanding that his allies defend his actions, insisting that he did nothing wrong while arguing that quid pro quos like the one allegedly offered Ukraine are common occurrences while leveraging power in conducting foreign policy.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Sunday that he had not yet discussed the whistleblower’s offer with Nunes, but stressed that the person should answer questions in a public appearance before the committee.

“When you’re talking about the removal of the president of the United States, undoing democracy, undoing what the American public had voted for, I think that individual should come before the committee,” McCarthy told CBS’ “Face the Nation.”

“We need an openness that people understand this,” he added.

Zaid said his team had addressed the issue of alleged bias with Republican members of the committee and had stressed the need for anonymity to maintain the safety of the whistleblower and that person’s family, “but with little effect in halting the attacks.”

“Let me be absolutely clear: Our willingness to cooperate has not changed,” tweeted Andrew P. Bakaj, another attorney representing the whistleblower. “What we object to and find offensive, however, is the effort to uncover the identity of the whistleblower.”

Bakaj wrote on Saturday that “their fixation on exposing the whistleblower’s identity is simply because they’re at a loss as to how to address the investigations the underlying disclosure prompted.”

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Associated Press writer Jonathan Lemire in New York contributed to this report.

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Attacker Stabs Several, Bites Off Politician’s Ear as Hong Kong Boils

HONG KONG — A knife-wielding man slashed several people and bit off part of the ear of a pro-democracy politician in Hong Kong on Sunday, as riot police stormed several malls to thwart protesters who have been demanding government reforms for nearly five months.

The bloody attack erupted outside one of those shopping complexes, Cityplaza on Hong Kong Island. Local media said the attacker told his victims that Hong Kong belongs to China.

Television footage showed the man biting the ear of district councilor Andrew Chiu, who had tried to stop him from leaving after the stabbings. The attacker was then badly beaten up by a crowd after the attack, before police arrived. Five people were injured, two critically and two seriously, news reports said.

The attack came late Sunday, a day in which protesters had been urged online to gather at seven locations, including malls, to sustain a push for political reform following a chaotic day of clashes with police on Saturday.

Most of the rallies didn’t pan out as scores of riot police took positions, searching and arresting people, dispersing crowds and blocking access to a park next to the office of the city’s embattled leader, Carrie Lam.

Some small pockets of hardcore demonstrators were undeterred.

As protesters chanted slogans at the New Town Plaza shopping mall in Sha Tin, police said they moved in after some “masked rioters” with fire extinguishers vandalized turnstiles and smashed windows at the subway station linked to the mall.

At two malls in the New Territories in the north, protesters vandalized shops, threw paint and attacked a branch of Japanese fast food chain Yoshinoya, which has been frequently targeted after the chain’s owner voiced support for the Hong Kong police.

Police rushed into one of the malls after objects were thrown at them. At another, protesters used umbrellas and cable ties to lock the mall entrance to prevent police from entering.

Later in the day, police stormed Cityplaza after some protesters sprayed graffiti at a restaurant. A human chain by dozens of people was broken up and angry shoppers heckled the police.

The protests began in early June over a now-shelved plan to allow extraditions to mainland China but have since swelled into a movement seeking other demands, including direct elections for Hong Kong’s leaders and an independent inquiry into police conduct.

Lam has refused to budge on the demands, and instead has focused on measures that she said contributed to protesters’ anger, such as creating jobs and easing housing woes in one of the world’s most expensive cities. She invoked emergency powers last month to ban face masks at rallies, provoking further anger.

Her office said Sunday that Lam, currently in Shanghai, will head to Beijing on Tuesday. She is due to hold talks Wednesday with Chinese Vice Premier Han Zheng and join a meeting on the development of the Greater Bay Area that aims to link Hong Kong, Macao and nine other cities in southern China.

The ambitious project will help make it easier for Hong Kong residents to work and reside in mainland Chinese cities, and bolster the flow of people and goods, Lam’s office said in a statement.

But the plan has also sparked concerns over China’s growing influence over the territory. Many protesters fear Beijing is slowly infringing on the freedoms guaranteed to Hong Kong when the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

On Saturday, protesters for the first time attacked the Hong Kong office of China’s state-owned Xinhua News Agency in a show of anger against Beijing, a day after China warned of tightening its grip on the city to quell the unrest. The attack on Xinhua came after chaos broke out downtown, with police firing tear gas and protesters tossing gasoline bombs.

Xinhua in a statement strongly condemned the “barbaric acts of mobs” that had vandalized and set fire to the lobby of its Asia-Pacific office building. The Hong Kong Journalists Association also deplored “any act of sabotage against the media” and called for an end to violence against the press.

Protesters have frequently targeted Chinese banks and businesses. In July, demonstrators threw eggs at China’s liaison office in Hong Kong and defaced the Chinese national emblem in a move slammed by Beijing as a direct challenge to its authority.

On Friday, the Communist Party in Beijing vowed to “establish and strengthen a legal system and enforcement mechanism” to prevent foreign powers from sowing acts of “separatism, subversion, infiltration and sabotage” in Hong Kong.

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U.S. Judge Blocks Trump’s Health Insurance Rule for Immigrants

PORTLAND, Ore. — A federal judge in Portland, Oregon, on Saturday put on hold a Trump administration rule requiring immigrants prove they will have health insurance or can pay for medical care before they can get visas.

U.S. District Judge Michael Simon granted a temporary restraining order that prevents the rule from going into effect Sunday. It’s not clear when he will rule on the merits of the case.

Seven U.S. citizens and a nonprofit organization filed the federal lawsuit Wednesday contending the rule would block nearly two-thirds of all prospective legal immigrants.

The lawsuit also said the rule would greatly reduce or eliminate the number of immigrants who enter the United States with family sponsored visas.

“We’re very grateful that the court recognized the need to block the health care ban immediately,” says Justice Action Center senior litigator Esther Sung, who argued at Saturday’s hearing on behalf of the plaintiffs. “The ban would separate families and cut two-thirds of green-card-based immigration starting tonight, were the ban not stopped.”

The proclamation signed by President Donald Trump in early October applies to people seeking immigrant visas from abroad — not those in the U.S. already. It does not affect lawful permanent residents. It does not apply to asylum-seekers, refugees or children.

The proclamation says immigrants will be barred from entering the country unless they are to be covered by health insurance within 30 days of entering or have enough financial resources to pay for any medical costs.

The rule is the Trump administration’s latest effort to limit immigrant access to public programs while trying to move the country away from a family based immigration system to a merit-based system.

The White House said in a statement Sunday that it strongly disagrees with the decision.

“Once again, a nationwide injunction is permitting a single judge to thwart the President’s policy judgment on a matter where Congress expressly gave the President authority,” said the statement from Press Secretary Stephanie Grisham.

“It is wrong and unfair for a single district court judge to thwart the policies that the President determined would best protect the United States healthcare system — and for the United States taxpayers to suffer the grave consequences of the immense strain inflicted on the healthcare system from subsidizing uncompensated care for those seeking admission.

Under the government’s visa rule, the required insurance can be bought individually or provided by an employer and it can be short-term coverage or catastrophic.

Medicaid doesn’t count, and an immigrant can’t get a visa if using the Affordable Care Act’s subsidies when buying insurance. The federal government pays for those subsidies.

According to the Migration Policy Institute, a nonpartisan immigration think tank, 57% of U.S. immigrants had private health insurance in 2017, compared with 69% of U.S.-born, and 30% had public health insurance coverage, compared with 36% of native-born.

The uninsured rate for immigrants dropped from 32% to 20% from 2013 to 2017, since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act, according to Migration Policy.

There are about 1.1 million people who obtain green cards each year.

“Countless thousands across the country can breathe a sigh of relief today because the court recognized the urgent and irreparable harm that would have been inflicted” without the hold, said Jesse Bless, director of federal litigation at the American Immigration Lawyers Association.

Earlier this year, the administration made sweeping changes to regulations that would deny green cards to immigrants who use some forms of public assistance, but the courts have blocked that measure.

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Oil Companies Must Cut Production by 35% to Meet Paris Climate Accord

A new report released Friday claims that if fossil fuel companies want to have any chance of hitting Paris Climate Accord numbers by 2040, they will have to cut production by over a third.

“Oil and gas companies seem to be operating under a business as usual mindset in which they can grow without limit, while taking minimal steps to reduce the greenhouse gas emissions they are responsible for,” said environmental advocacy group As You Sow energy program manager Lila Holzman. “This report emphasizes that no company is taking sufficient action to reduce the risk of climate breakdown.”

Carbon Tracker’s “Balancing the Budget” details the long road for extractive industries “to keep emissions within international climate targets and protect shareholder value.”

As @ExxonMobil & @Chevron announce their quarterly earnings, our new report, Balancing the Budget, shows they must cut production 55% & 35% to meet the #ParisAgreement & protect investors https://t.co/QGYmQw58GI

— Carbon Tracker (@CarbonBubble) November 1, 2019

“We estimate that as a group, the major oil and gas companies need to reduce production by 35% to 2040 to stay within their B2DS budgets,” the report explains. “Within this decline there is significant variation, from Shell (-10%) to ConocoPhillips (-85%) reflecting current and future project mix.”

The news was met with a sense of urgency from climate advocates, who said that fossil fuel companies need to make a choice.

“As oil and gas majors keep one foot a decarbonizing world and one foot in business as usual this report shows how that position is untenable for much longer,” tweeted Fletcher School dean Rachel Kyte.

As You Sow president Danielle Fugere said that the report confirmed what climate activists have been saying for years.

“Oil and gas companies’ investments are taking the world down a catastrophic pathway that threatens the planet and the global economy,” said Fugere. “We are already seeing destructive impacts worldwide—and the world has only warmed one degree.”

“To right the ship and set us on a sustainable course, investors must demand that these companies set Paris-aligned targets and begin strategically reducing investments in oil and gas projects,” Fugere added. “This is a necessary step on the pathway toward preserving a livable planet.”

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Airbnb Bans ‘Party Houses’ After California Shooting Kills 5

ORINDA, Calif. — Airbnb’s CEO said the company was taking actions against unauthorized parties in the wake of a deadly shooting at a Halloween party held at an Airbnb rental home in California.

In a series of tweets, Brian Chesky said Saturday the San Francisco-based company is expanding manual screening of “high risk” reservations and will remove guests who fail to comply with policies banning parties at Airbnb rental homes.

He also said the company is forming a “rapid response team” when complaints of unauthorized parties come in.

“We must do better, and we will. This is unacceptable,” he tweeted.

Five people died after a Thursday night shooting that sent some 100 terrified partygoers running for their lives in the San Francisco suburb of Orinda.

The four-bedroom home had been rented on Airbnb by a woman who told the owner her dozen family members had asthma and needed to escape smoke from a wildfire, the person with knowledge of the transaction told The Associated Press. A fire burning in Sonoma County about 60 miles (97 kilometers) north of Orinda earlier in the week fouled the air over a wide area.

The owner was suspicious of a one-night rental on Halloween and before agreeing reminded the renter that no parties were allowed, said the person with knowledge of the transaction, who was not authorized to publicly disclose the information and spoke only on condition of anonymity.

The owner, Michael Wang, said his wife reached out to the renter Thursday night after neighbors contacted them about the party. The renter said there were only a dozen people at the home but Wang said he could see more people on video from his doorbell camera.

“We called the police. They were on the way to go there to stop them, but before we got there the neighbor already sent us a message saying there was a shooting,” he told the Chronicle.

No arrests had been made and there was no immediate word on a motive for the attack. Two guns were found at the property, authorities said.

Three people, all from the Bay Area, died at the scene and a fourth died at the hospital, authorities initially said. The Contra Costa County Sheriff’s Office identified them Friday evening as Tiyon Farley, 22, of Antioch; Omar Taylor, 24, of Pittsburg; Ramon Hill Jr., 23; and Javin County, 29. The sheriff’s office identified a fifth victim, 19-year-old Oshiana Tompkins of Vallejo and Hercules, late Friday night, saying she died at a hospital.

Taylor’s father, Omar Taylor Sr., said his son was hired to play music at the party.

“Wrong place, wrong time,” he told The East Bay Times.

Other people were wounded by gunshots or injured in the panic that followed, authorities said.

The party at the four-bedroom house apparently was advertised on social media as an “Airbnb mansion party.”

Orinda, with a population of about 20,000, requires short-term rental hosts to register with the city annually and pay an occupancy tax. The maximum occupancy is 13 people.

Orinda city documents show officials issued violations in March for exceeding the home’s maximum occupancy and illegal parking. City Manager Steve Salomon said the homeowner had resolved previous complaints lodged in February over occupancy and noise and in July over overflowing trash.

Airbnb is “urgently investigating” what happened, spokesman Ben Breit said in an email.

Airbnb has banned the renter from its platform and the home has been removed as a listing, he said.

One attendee said he was enjoying the music and watching people dance when he heard shots and people started running.

The screaming seemed to last forever, said Devan, who asked that his last name not be used because he feared for his safety.

“Everybody started running, scrambling,” he said. “People were just collapsing and friends were helping friends. It was a scary situation and then as everyone is panicking and stuff, there were more shots.”

Devan shot a video posted to Instagram that showed a wounded man on the ground and a police officer standing over him and a woman saying she needs to go to the hospital “because my hand’s been blown off.”

On Friday, police tape surrounded the block as people came to collect their cars and other belongings. One woman in tears told reporters the father of her child had been killed. She left before giving her name.

Romond Reynolds picked up the car of his son, 24-year-old Armani Reynolds, who he said was left comatose by the shooting.

“All I know is that he’s a victim and was at the wrong place at the wrong time,” Reynolds said.

Neighbor Shahram Saki, 61, said in a phone interview that some fleeing partygoers hid in the bushes in his front yard and others begged to be let into his home.

“They were screaming for help. I told them, ‘You gotta get out of here,'” Saki said. “I was scared to death, anything could have happened.”

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Dazio reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers Janie Har in San Francisco and Brady McCombs in Salt Lake City contributed.

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UAW President Taking Leave Amid Corruption Probe

DETROIT — The United Auto Workers announced Saturday that President Gary Jones is taking a paid leave of absence amid a federal investigation of corruption within the union.

The UAW said Jones requested the leave, which is effective Sunday. UAW Vice President Rory Gamble will serve as acting president.

“The UAW is fighting tooth and nail to ensure our members have a brighter future. I do not want anything to distract from the mission,” Jones said in a statement.

The union is in the middle of negotiating new four-year contracts with Detroit automakers.

UAW-represented workers at General Motors Co. recently approved a new contract after a 40-day strike. Union members are scheduled to begin voting Monday on a proposed contract with Ford Motor Co., which Gamble helped negotiate. If Ford workers ratify the agreement, the UAW will begin bargaining with Fiat Chrysler.

The FBI has been investigating fraud and misuse of funds at the UAW for more than two years. Ten people have been convicted so far, including union leaders and auto company officials.

Jones has not been charged, but federal agents searched his suburban Detroit home in August in connection with the investigation.

In a recent court filing, federal prosecutors alleged that seven top UAW officials had conspired since 2010 to embezzle funds through schemes such as submitting false vouchers for conference expenses.

The Detroit News, citing sources familiar with the investigation, said Jones is one of the unnamed union leaders.

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U.K. Temporarily Halts Fracking in What Critics See as ‘Election Stunt’

LONDON — The British government announced Saturday that it will no longer allow fracking because of new scientific analysis that casts doubts on the safety of the controversial practice, but some critics called the action an election stunt and demanded a permanent ban.

The government said the decision was based on a finding by the Oil and Gas Authority that it is not possible to clearly predict the likelihood or severity of earthquakes linked to fracking operations.

The decision to announce a moratorium on fracking means the government will no longer support its use of for shale gas extraction and planning proposals with fracking will not be moved forward.

Business and Energy Secretary Andrea Leadsom said the new scientific report makes clear that the government cannot rule out future “unacceptable impacts” on local communities where fracking is allowed.

“For this reason, I have concluded that we should put a moratorium on fracking in England with immediate effect,” she said.

The government’s new position was announced at the start of what is expected to be a hard-fought campaign ahead of a Dec. 12 national election. There have been considerable protests against fracking in recent years.

The announcement drew praise from local activists and environmental groups although some called for a permanent ban on the practice, not just a halt in the approval process.

Activist Maureen Mills from the Halsall Against Fracking group, said the decision was welcome because fracking had taken an “immeasurable” toll on her region of northwestern England.

“Our communities are left physically and mentally drained and devastated. For what? Years of anguish, research, protest, tears and fears,” she said. “Stopping this industry has always been our goal and our reasons are now being taken seriously.”

But politicians from the opposition Labour Party and the Liberal Democrats warned that the government’s reversal on fracking may be a temporary ploy to garner votes during the upcoming national vote.

Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn called the move “an election stunt” that would likely be reversed the day after the vote if Prime Minister Boris Johnson is still in power.

“We’re quite clear, we will end fracking. We think it’s unnecessary, we think it’s pollutive of ground water systems, and also all the evidence from Preston New Road in Lancashire is it’s actually dangerous and has caused serious earth tremors,” Corbyn said.

Rebecca Newsom, head of politics at Greenpeace, said fracking has no future in Britain because of widespread opposition.

“Opening up a new fossil fuel industry in this climate emergency was always an awful idea and it’s only seemed worse as the industry has lurched from mishap to disaster,” she said. “Grassroots activists across the country deserve huge credit.”

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Beto O’Rourke Announces He’s Dropping 2020 Presidential Bid

WASHINGTON — Beto O’Rourke, the former Texas congressman, announced Friday that he was ending his Democratic presidential campaign, which failed to recapture the enthusiasm, interest and fundraising prowess of his 2018 Senate race.

Addressing supporters in Iowa, O’Rourke said that while his campaign was ending, he planned to stay active in the fight to defeat President Donald Trump. “I will be part of this and so will you,” he said.

O’Rourke was urged to run for president by many Democrats, including supporters of former President Barack Obama, who were energized by his narrow Senate loss last year in Texas, a reliably Republican state. He raised a record $80 million from donors across the country, visited every county in Texas and used social media and livestreaming video to engage directly with voters. He ultimately lost to incumbent Republican Sen. Ted Cruz by 3 percentage points.

But O’Rourke, 47, struggled to replicate that model in the presidential primary, and both his polling and his fundraising dwindled significantly in recent months.

“Though it is difficult to accept, it is clear to me now that this campaign does not have the means to move forward successfully,” he wrote in a Medium post formally announcing the end of his campaign. “Acknowledging this now is in the best interests of those in the campaign; it is in the best interests of this party as we seek to unify around a nominee; and it is in the best interests of the country.”

O’Rourke’s decision comes as the Democratic primary enters a critical stretch. With three months until the kickoff Iowa caucuses, polls consistently show a trio of candidates leading the way: former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, with Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, showing strength in Iowa, as well. Lower polling candidates face difficult questions about whether they have the money to sustain a campaign through the first primary contests.

Earlier this week, Kamala Harris, another candidate who entered the race to much fanfare, announced she was downscaling her campaign, laying off some staffers and reorienting almost exclusively to focus on Iowa.

O’Rourke entered the race as the feel-good, dynamic candidate who had the ability to appeal to both Republicans and Democrats and work across the aisle in Washington. He met with

But he immediately faced criticism that he had a sense of entitlement, particularly after the release of a Vanity Fair interview on the eve of his campaign launch in which he appeared to say he was “born” to be in presidential politics.

After quickly pulling in $9.4 million during his first two weeks in the race, O’Rourke’s financial situation deteriorated. By the end of June, he was spending more than his campaign was taking in. By the end of September, he had just $3.2 million cash on hand while spending double that over the previous three months, campaign finance records show.

Perhaps more significantly, the small-dollar contributions that fueled his Senate bid and the early days of his presidential campaign slowed to a $1.9 million trickle.

The former congressman also struggled to articulate a consistent vision and messaging as a presidential candidate.

He spent several weeks trying to build his campaign around climate change, calling global warming the greatest existential threat the country had ever faced. But as the excitement over his candidacy began to fade, O’Rourke was forced to stage a “reintroduction” of his campaign to reinvigorate it. After a gunman opened fire at a Walmart in his hometown of El Paso, killing 22 people, O’Rourke more heavily embraced gun control, saying he would take assault weapons away from existing owners.

As O’Rourke’s standing in the presidential primary plummeted, some Democrats urged him to return to Texas for another Senate run. He has repeatedly denied having any interest in that race.

O’Rourke’s decision came hours before he was supposed to join other Democratic contenders at a party dinner in Iowa. Campaign volunteers were still collecting voter information and handing out “Beto” stickers” outside the event amid a steady rain as the candidate announced he was dropping out.

O’Rourke did not endorse another Democrat for the nomination, saying the country will be well served by any of the other candidates, “and I’m going to be proud to support whoever that nominee is.”

Trump quickly weighed in on O’Rourke’s exit, saying in a tweet: “Oh no, Beto just dropped out of race for President despite him saying he was “born for this.” I don’t think so!”

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Associated Press writer Brian Slodysko contributed to this report from Washington. Weissert reported from Des Moines, Iowa.

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Google Buys Fitbit for $2.1 Billion, Vows to Protect Health Data

Google is buying Fitbit for about $2.1 billion, enabling the internet company to step back into the hotly contested market for smartwatches and health trackers.

Fitbit is a pioneer in wearable fitness technology, but it’s been shredded by that competition. Google, meanwhile, has been developing Wear OS software for other manufacturers to build wearable devices, but they haven’t gained much traction in the face of competition from Fitbit, Apple, Samsung and others.

The deal to buy Fitbit could give Google a needed boost.

“Google doesn’t want to be left out of the party,” said analyst Daniel Ives of Wedbush Securities. “If you look at what Apple has done with wearables, it’s a missing piece of the puzzle for Google.”

Matt Stoller of the Open Markets Institute, a research group that focuses on competition and consolidation, said health care is one of the few industries big enough to help a company as large as Google keep growing.

The deal, expected to close next year, will likely face scrutiny from federal and state antitrust investigators that have launched probes this year. “It’s obviously embarrassing to enforcers if they allow it without any sort of scrutiny,” Stoller said.

Fitbit makes a range of devices, from basic trackers that mostly count steps to smartwatches that can display messages and notifications from phones.

They can track a range of fitness activities, such as running, cycling and swimming, along with heart rates and nightly sleep patterns. Fitbit typically asks for date of birth, gender, height and weight to help with calorie and other calculations. Some users also use Fitbit devices and its app to track food and water intake. Women can also track their periods.

Google said it won’t sell ads using the sensitive health data that Fitbit devices collect, continuing promises made by Fitbit.

But that likely won’t stop Google from sucking up other personal data from Fitbit devices. Fitbit also has GPS models that could track users’ locations. That could help Google know that a runner stopped at a coffee shop on the way back, allowing Google to then display ads for rival coffee shops.

More importantly, having a Google device on the wrist could drive its wearers to use Google services even more — giving Google more ways to collect data and sell ads.

Google’s announcement suggests that Fitbit will be absorbed into Google’s main business, rather than staying as an independent subsidiary of parent company Alphabet. That follows the trend of smart home device maker Nest, which was folded back into Google in 2018 after being a stand-alone company under Alphabet.

Fitbit has 28 million active users worldwide and has sold more than 100 million devices.

Its market capitalization soared to just under $10 billion after becoming a public company in 2015. But its value this week is well below $2 billion. When rumors of a potential buyout by Google surfaced earlier this week, Fitbit shares soared almost 30%. The stock jumped another 15% in morning trading Friday.

Alphabet said it will pay $7.35 per share for the company, which were trading at $7.20 each after the deal was announced. Alphabet shares gained less than 1% in morning trading.

“With Google’s resources and global platform, Fitbit will be able to accelerate innovation in the wearables category, scale faster, and make health even more accessible to everyone,” Fitbit co-founder and CEO James Park said in a statement.

Fitbit has been expanding its partnerships with major health care companies such as Humana to encourage healthier living and disease management. John Hancock announced incentives last year on all its policies for people willing to share data gathered by health-monitoring devices and offers Fitbits for free to active participants.

Last year, Fitbit acquired a cloud-based health coaching platform used to help manage conditions including diabetes and hypertension.

Research firm IDC ranks Fitbit fourth in global shipments of digital watches, fitness trackers and other wrist-worn devices, behind second-place Apple, and Chinese companies Xiaomi and Huawei, which took the first and third positions. Samsung came in fifth.

IDC noted that Fitbit pioneered the market but has suffered from poor reception this year to the Versa Lite smartwatch, though that was offset by the popularity of its newly launched Inspire wristbands. A study by Canalys, focused on the North American market, showed Fitbit second behind Apple and ahead of Samsung, though Apple and Samsung experienced the most gains.

Google’s lack of wearables has been a blind spot that it is fixing with the Fitbit purchase and the upcoming launch of its earbuds, the Pixel Buds, this spring, UBS analyst Eric Sheridan said in a research note.

Sheridan said that health, fitness and wellness were a key focus for tech platforms. He predicted that Google would integrate its answer to Apple’s Siri, called Assistant, with Fitbit along with its watch software.

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AP Technology Writers Tali Arbel and Frank Bajak contributed to this report.

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China Can Sanction $3.6 Billion in U.S. Trade, WTO Says

GENEVA — The World Trade Organization said Friday that China can impose tariffs on up to $3.6 billion worth of U.S. goods over the American government’s failure to abide by anti-dumping rules with regard to Chinese products.

The move hands China its first such payout at the WTO at a time when it is engaged in a big dispute with the United States. The two sides have recently imposed tariffs on hundreds of billions of dollars’ worth of goods, but did not do so through the WTO, which helps solve trade disputes.

Friday’s announcement from a WTO arbitrator centers on a case with origins long before the current trade standoff: a Chinese complaint filed nearly six years ago seeking over $7 billion in retaliation.

The decision means China can impose higher tariffs against the United States than China is currently allowed under WTO rules, and will be given leeway as to the U.S. products and sectors it would like to target.

Parts of a WTO ruling in May 2017 went in favor of China in its case against some 40 U.S. anti-dumping rulings, involving trade limits on Chinese products that the United States says are or were sold below market value.

However, the WTO arbitrator honed down the award to base it on some 25 Chinese products — including diamond sawblades, furniture, shrimp, solar panels, automotive tires and a series of steel products — that were affected by U.S. anti-dumping measures. That explains why the award was less than the sum China had sought.

The decision comes as the United States is fresh off a high-profile WTO award against the European Union over subsidies given to European plane maker Airbus, which has let Washington slap tariffs on $7.5 billion worth of EU goods including Italian cheese, Scottish whiskey and olives from Spain.

That was a record award from a WTO arbitrator in the trade body’s nearly quarter-century history. The award announced Friday ranks as the third-largest.

In the Chinese anti-dumping ruling, the WTO faulted two techniques that the United States uses to set penalties for dumping. Its so-called “zeroing methodology” — long a problem for the trade body — involves cherry-picking violators and neglecting law-abiding producers in a way that lets U.S. officials artificially inflate the penalties imposed.

The other technique involves treating multiple Chinese companies of a product as a single entity, in essence penalizing some producers that do not violate anti-dumping rules along with those that do.

While these tariffs are allowed by the WTO under international trade law, the Trump administration has in its disputes with China and other commercial partners exchanged tariffs unilaterally, without any green light from the WTO.

The U.S. and China have filed a number of complaints with the WTO against each others’ tariffs, but dispute resolution can take years.

The post China Can Sanction $3.6 Billion in U.S. Trade, WTO Says appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Elizabeth Warren Answers Critics by ‘Paying for Medicare for All’

It won’t be a burden. It will be a relief. And for the large majority of those living in the United States—a huge tax break.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren released a “Paying for Medicare for All” proposal on Friday morning, laying out her detailed approach to financing a federal health care plan that would provide comprehensive coverage to all Americans by demanding the top 1% and corporations take the brunt of the costs while promising “not one penny” more in taxes for working-class and middle-class families.

“No middle class tax increases,” Warren said of her plan in a detailed blog post as she vowed to put “$11 trillion in household expenses back in the pockets” of U.S. families. That figure, she said, is “substantially larger than the largest tax cut” in the nation’s history.

“When it comes to health care, what’s broken is obvious,” Warren explained. “A fractured system that allows private interests to profiteer off the health crises of the American people. A system that crushes our families with costs they can’t possibly bear, forcing tens of millions to go without coverage or to choose between basic necessities like food, rent, and health—or bankruptcy.”

Under pressure to explain how she would pay for Medicare for All, Warren’s anticipated release of her plan arrives in the midst of a heated debate within the Democratic primary over the way forward on U.S. healthcare. Having repeatedly said “I’m with Bernie” on Medicare for All—and being a vocal co-sponsor of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ legislation in the U.S. Senate—Warren has cut a different line in terms of how she talks about paying for it.

“A key step in winning the public debate over Medicare for All will be explaining what this plan costs—and how to pay for it,” Warren said Friday. “This task is made a hundred times harder by powerful health insurance and drug companies that make billions of dollars off the current bloated, inadequate system—and would be perfectly happy to leave things exactly the way they are.”

Today, I’m releasing my plan to pay for #MedicareForAll. Here’s the headline: My plan won’t raise taxes one penny on middle-class families. In fact, we’ll return about $11 TRILLION to the American people. That’s bigger than the biggest tax cut in our history. Here’s how:

— Elizabeth Warren (@ewarren) November 1, 2019

According to the basic layout put out by her campaign, Warren’s vision for Medicare for All—which her campaign estimate would cost under $52 trillion over ten years, notably less than the status quo for-profit system—includes:

  • Every person in America—all 331 million people—will have full health coverage, and coverage for long-term care
  • Everybody gets the doctors and the treatments they need, when they need them. No more restrictive provider networks, no more insurance companies denying coverage for prescribed treatments, and no more going broke over medical bills
  • The $11 trillion in household insurance and out-of-pocket expenses projected under our current system goes right back into the pockets of America’s working people. And we make up the difference with targeted spending cuts, new taxes on giant corporations and the richest 1% of Americans, and by cracking down on tax evasion and fraud. Not one penny in middle-class tax increases.

As summarized by CNN, Warren would pay for her plan in the following ways:

  • Employer contributions: Instead of paying premiums to insurers, companies would send an estimated $8.8 trillion over 10 years to the federal government as an “Employer Medicare Contribution.”
  • Taxes on the wealthy: Billionaires would be subject to a new tax of three cents on the dollar on net worth above $1 billion. This is in addition to the wealth tax she announced earlier this year, which would also place a 3 percentage point levy on billionaires. Also, the wealthiest 1% would be taxed on capital gains income annually, rather than at the time of sale, and the capital gains rate would be raised to match income tax rates. Combined, this would raise $3 trillion.
  • Reducing tax evasion: Warren argues that she can collect $2.3 trillion by empowering the Internal Revenue Service to crack down on tax evasion and fraud, redirecting the agency’s focus to high-income earners.
  • Levies on financial sector and large corporations: Warren would impose a financial transaction tax of .01% on the sale of stocks, bonds and derivatives. She would also make several significant changes to corporate tax law. All together, these would generate $3.8 trillion.
  • Taxing additional take-home pay: Since employees would no longer have to pay their share of health care premiums, their take-home pay would go up. This would raise $1.4 trillion.

Dying healthcare activist Ady Barkan—who has interviewed all the leading Democratic candidates save for Joe Biden, who has refused the invitation, on their healthcare ideas—praised Warren’s detailed “pay-for” plan as a “massive win for the Medicare-for-all movement” that has been led by Sanders in recent years.

In an op-ed for The Intercept posted Friday morning praising the plan, as well as Warren’s “public policy jujitsu,” Barkan writes:

Her plan doesn’t raise taxes on working families. Lately, debate moderators have been salivating at the idea of getting Warren to admit that her plan will be paid for by creating a new employer-side tax. (Bernie has already said as much — because he’s a no-bullshit, courageous guy, and everyone has been assuming that it would be necessary.) And her debate-stage admission would then be the subject of a billion dollars in Republican advertisements. This was the trap that was being set for Warren, according smart observers like Paul Krugman and Zach Carter, and it could have disastrous political consequences. (They even had me worried. Honestly.)

But then Warren did what she does best: her fucking homework. She consulted the experts, she double-checked the numbers, and she dropped a codex of wisdom right in the middle of the teacher’s desk. And the political reverberations may be felt for decades.

Just imagine what will happen when the debate moderators ask her next time how she’ll pay for her plan. She can answer honestly and with authority that Medicare for All will mean zero health care costs and no increases in taxes for all but the wealthiest Americans.

In her statement on Friday, Warren said there is “a reason former President Barack Obama has called Medicare for All a good idea. There’s a reason the American people support it. It’s because when it comes to the cost of health care, we are in the middle of a full-blown crisis.”

In the U.S., Warren continued, “we are paying twice as much as any other major nation for care—even as tens of millions lack coverage, and even as family after family sees its finances destroyed by a health issue. And the American people know that in the long-term, a simple system that covers everybody, provides the care they need when they need it, puts $11 trillion back in their pockets and uses all of the public’s leverage to keep costs as low as possible is the best option for their family budgets and for the health of their loved ones.

And if elected as president, she concluded, “I’ll fight to get it done.”

The post Elizabeth Warren Answers Critics by ‘Paying for Medicare for All’ appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Changes Primary Residence From New York to Florida

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump will follow in the well-trod path of many other septuagenarian New Yorkers who have been drawn to Florida’s year-round warmth, sunshine and low taxes.

Trump tweeted late Thursday that he will make Palm Beach, Florida, his permanent residence after leaving the White House, rather than returning to Trump Tower in New York. The move also safely ensconces Trump in the glitzy world of Palm Beach and away from the protests of solidly Democratic Manhattan.

Trump, who was born in New York and whose developer-turned-reality-star persona was honed there, said the city “will always have a special place in my heart!” But he complained that he had been “treated very badly by the political leaders of both the city and state” despite paying “millions of dollars in city, state and local taxes each year.”

“In the end it will be best for all concerned,” he tweeted.

The move marked the first concrete step by Trump to contemplate his post-presidency at a time when he is embroiled in an impeachment fight in Washington and a trying reelection campaign next year. Trump said he hopes the White House remains his home for another five years, but that Florida would be his primary residence.

The New York Times reported that Trump had filed “declaration of domicile” paperwork changing his “predominant and principal home” to his Mar-a-Lago resort.

Trump won Florida’s 29 electoral votes in 2016 by just over 110,000 voters, less than 1% of the state’s total. Aides believe his likeliest path to a second term in 2020 relies on a repeat victory in the swing state and have invested millions to shore up support.

The move brings Trump to year-round golf climes and a state with no income or inheritance taxes — likely providing substantial savings to the president and his heirs.

The move was met with derision by many New York Democrats, including the city’s mayor, Bill De Blasio, who tweeted his “deepest condolences to the good people of Florida.”

And New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo bid Trump “good riddance” in a statement. The Democrat added, “It’s not like Mr. Trump paid taxes here anyway. He’s all yours, Florida.”

Florida Democratic Party Chairman Terrie Rizzo responded with a statement detailing the organization’s drive to counter Trump in 2020. The effort has raised $5.2 million so far and hired 91 employees.

“He is not the first person to move to Florida to retire,” Rizzo said.

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Border Patrol Is Being Endowed With Frightening Powers

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Pushing further toward its goal of “extreme vetting,” the Trump administration is creating a new center in suburban Virginia that will allow immigration agents to access, for the first time, the sprawling array of information scooped up by America’s intelligence agencies, from phone calls intercepted by the National Security Agency to material gathered by the CIA’s spies overseas to tips from informants in Central America.

This classified, potentially derogatory, information will eventually be used to screen everyone seeking to enter the United States, including foreign vacationers seeking travel visas, people applying for permanent residency or immigrants requesting asylum at the Mexican border.

Legal experts worry that immigration agents could potentially use this secret data to flag entire categories of people that fit “suspect” profiles and potentially bar them from entering the U.S., or prompt them to be tracked while they’re here. It could also be nearly impossible for those denied entry to challenge faulty information if wrongly accused, they say, since most of it is classified.

In an interview, the director of the new National Vetting Center, which is being overseen by U.S. Customs and Border Protection, was vague about the types of classified information that may be shared with immigration agencies but said the vetting center’s privacy and legal experts will make sure it conforms with the law.

“Right now, we’re still trying to get off the ground and are still focused on counterterrorism information which has already been used for vetting in the past,” said Monte Hawkins, a former National Security Council staffer who now works for CBP. “But as we fold in new types of derogatory information, yes, there’s potentially places where that type of information was never available before to make decisions.”

Hawkins, who helped write President Donald Trump’s February 2018 national security memo calling for the center’s creation, said that’s when the center’s lawyers will step in to “make sure” agents with agencies like U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement and CBP “are allowed to use that information or have the proper authority to do so.”

Spokespeople for the CIA, NSA and the Office of the Director of National Intelligence all declined to comment and referred questions back to the Department of Homeland Security, CBP’s parent agency, which did not respond to a request for comment.

The creation of the vetting center, particularly under the control of CBP and DHS, has alarmed civil rights and privacy experts as well as some who work in national security. They worry that CBP and ICE will use classified information to justify the surveillance of whole populations. And they worry that the center, once fully up and running, could allow the agencies to create their own de facto immigration policies through selective enforcement.

Rachel Levinson-Waldman, senior counsel for the Brennan Center’s Liberty and National Security Program, said the mere fact that the directive to build the center came from the same memo that called for the “Muslim travel ban” is cause for concern. “I think there’s a real worry about this new center expanding and growing,” she said. “Especially since it’s been created with the same discriminatory animus that’s behind extreme vetting and the Muslim ban. It’s not hard to see where this might end up.”

Levinson-Waldman and others also questioned putting classified intelligence information under the control of an agency like CBP, which has been criticized for a host of troubling behavior, including the targeting of activists, lawyers and journalists, and DHS, which has had three secretaries in three years and is currently waiting for Trump to appoint a fourth.

“You have an acting secretary who could be gone in an hour by tweet,” said Carrie Cordero, a senior fellow with the Washington-based bipartisan think tank Center for a New American Security. “The general counsel for DHS, who ultimately has the responsibility for making sure that oversight rules are followed, was just fired. So, there’s real questions as to what kind of management decisions are being made.”

Brian Katz, a former CIA analyst and now a fellow with the foreign policy think tank Center for Strategic and International Studies, said some members of the intelligence community are wary of DHS overseeing such a program because the agency is largely run by political appointees, who can be influenced by whatever agenda is being pushed by the president. “I think that’s particularly acute in this administration given the policies that DHS leadership has either been advocating or executing,” he said.

Both DHS and CBP, as well as ICE, have been scrutinized by a number of media outlets for their increasing reliance on algorithm-driven analytics and big data mining for immigration enforcement.

In August, ProPublica wrote about a 36-year-old Salvadoran man seeking asylum who was separated from his two children and thrown in jail for six months based on faulty gang intelligence provided by a State Department-funded fusion center called the Grupo Conjunto de Inteligencia Fronteriza, or GCIF. The center, which gathers information provided by police and the military in several countries, including El Salvador, shared the intelligence with CBP agents who were vetting asylum seekers at the border. The man’s attorney only learned of the existence of the fusion center after several months of litigation. But the exact nature of the faulty evidence provided by GCIF — or where it came from — has never been revealed because the government maintains that it is classified.

The case is exceptional because a team of high-profile law firms volunteered to litigate the complicated asylum case, which forced the government to provide at least some answers.

In the future, the new vetting center also could be used by CBP to vet asylum-seekers at the border, disguising even further the source of any faulty information.

“They’ll have no idea where the information is coming from,” Levinson-Waldman said of individuals trying to appeal their cases. “And this new vetting center will be artificially invested with this patina of accuracy that it may or may not deserve.”

The drive by CBP and ICE to collect large amounts of data began under the Obama administration, but it has grown exponentially under the Trump administration, which has pushed aggressively for the continuous monitoring of immigrants. Budgets for each agency have increased by more than $2 billion since Trump took office, according to a new report by the international think tank Transnational Institute. A substantial portion of this funding is being used to carry out new extreme vetting initiatives, such as the National Vetting Center.

CBP and ICE already collect vast amounts of unclassified personal information through intelligence gathering, social media web scraping, the collection of biographic and biometric data, and by purchasing access to local government or corporate databases that include information such as license plate numbers or whether someone receives food stamps.

All of this data is analyzed by computer programs that search for “contextual information” to help analysts build a profile on whomever they are investigating. A number of recent media reports have illustrated in detail how ICE and CBP have tracked and targeted immigrants for deportation using these methods.

Chinmayi Sharma, a former software developer who worked on government contracts and is now a lawyer specializing in technology and privacy, said what Trump is doing — through a series of presidential directives — is rapidly transforming immigration enforcement from a largely human interaction to computer analytics-based enforcement. Sharma wrote about the National Vetting Center and technology’s impact on enforcement for the national security blog Lawfare.

Ultimately, she said, the vetting center could usurp much of Congress’ oversight over immigration. Based on information from the center, immigration agents and consular officials could unilaterally grant or deny entry to the United States, perhaps excluding groups of people without having to account for their reasoning. “A lot of the president’s executive orders talk about ‘risky populations’ that aren’t even necessarily country related,” Sharma said. “Is it age group, is it religion, is it someone who identifies a certain way politically?”

“Someone who was legally in the country might not be allowed back into the United States now because they’re part of that risky population,” Sharma said. “All of a sudden something that used to be based on an individual assessment is now a population-based assessment.”

In an interview, Hawkins said the ways in which agents with CBP, ICE and other agencies ultimately use the vetting center is speculative at this point, since it’s currently only working on one program with CBP. But he said the agencies have legal guidelines they have to abide by before they can deny someone admission. “We’re giving them more information that might help them meet that bar, but there’s still a legal bar that has to be met.”

Also unclear is whether the nation’s intelligence agencies will welcome CBP to their community. Congress has previously said CBP and ICE are domestic law enforcement, not spy agencies. But Trump’s memo requires even the most sensitive intelligence agencies, including the NSA and the CIA, to share classified intelligence with the CBP-run center. It also requires the center to expand vetting beyond counterterrorism into new areas such as transnational crime and counterintelligence.

Some security experts like Katz, the former CIA analyst, are skeptical that it will succeed. “Obviously, this is an ambitious project on paper,” he said. “But counterintelligence is some of the most sensitive information the U.S. government collects, and there’s going to be reluctance to share that information.”

Katz wonders whether the vetting center is being created to solve a problem or merely to fulfill political ambitions. “If this is truly an intelligence or law enforcement-driven operation, then that bodes well for the idea of actually achieving its mission,” he said. “But if it’s not, and it’s just being built to sort of cherry-pick intelligence to achieve certain political goals, then this project will be ineffective and likely doomed to fail.”

Hawkins said that the intelligence community has been supportive, but that he couldn’t discuss the scope of their participation, since much of what the center does is classified.

“We’re not getting pushback in terms of the concept, really,” Hawkins said of the intelligence community. Most of the conversations have been about funding because their resources are limited, Hawkins said.

Another concern, he said, is what vetting will look like once it expands beyond counterterrorism.

In the counterterrorism world, analysts identify terrorists and then prevent them from coming in, Hawkins said. “But in counterintelligence that’s probably not the answer. Maybe you allow them to come in and track them or whatever,” he said. “So, we have to define for folks what we mean by vetting, because it’s different from counterterrorism.”

For now, he said, the vetting center is focused on counterterrorism and assisting CBP’s National Targeting Center in vetting applicants in its Electronic System for Travel Authorization program. Travelers from countries that don’t need a visa, such as Germany and the United Kingdom, must apply to ESTA before coming to the United States. In June, CBP began asking these visitors to list all of their social media accounts for the last five years. At the moment, the requirement is optional. But for travelers from countries that require a visa, it is already mandatory.

A look at the ESTA program provides a glimpse of how the center could work in vetting migrants on the nation’s borders.

Hawkins said the center takes the information provided by ESTA applicants and sends it to intelligence agencies, which then return any derogatory information they find. “That might be an ESTA applicant’s phone number that matches a phone number in a cable that [the intelligence agency] wrote and here’s all this bad stuff around that phone number that we think might be the same person, for example,” Hawkins said. “And they give us that cable to look at. Or it might be a link to a [terrorist] watch listed record … and so they say, ‘OK, you know this person seems to be this person on the watch list, here’s the link to that.’”

The center doesn’t have its own analysts, nor does it collect its own intelligence. For the ESTA program, CBP analysts are on site to receive the information. Hawkins said the center is designed to vet large numbers of applicants on a daily basis, which requires some automation but not entirely, he said.

“What we target are entire populations, or entire programs. We’re going to be looking at every single applicant … we’re not looking at subsets. So that our customer, be it ICE, CBP or USCIS, comes to us to get that classified information in real time or near real time to support their operation.” But, he said, “there’s always people looking at it, so it isn’t based on computers deciding who is good to go.”

Still, as these categories of information and potential threats expand, so does the number of people under suspicion and surveillance. “We know that DHS has targeted domestic protests and people providing legal services at the border,” Levinson-Waldman said. “As the scope of the National Vetting Center expands, it will be interesting to see whether it has a hand in the targeting that we know DHS is doing.”

Hawkins acknowledged that as the center takes on more vetting programs, privacy and civil liberties issues will need to be reviewed, especially if the center is allowed to add counterintelligence to its vetting pipeline by next summer. But, he said, before each new program is rolled out, the center’s lawyers will examine the program’s legality and release a privacy impact statement to the public.

Patrick Toomey, a senior staff attorney with the ACLU’s National Security Project, said that because everything is assessed by the center’s own attorneys, there’s no way to truly evaluate the impact it will have on the privacy of U.S. citizens and noncitizens.

“It really raises a lot of questions, because there’s so few specifics,” Toomey said. “What type of classified information is being shared for instance? None of that is explained.”

Hawkins acknowledged another conundrum at the heart of the new center: In the future, he said, if asylum-seekers, migrants or even visitors to the U.S. want to challenge decisions based on allegedly faulty intelligence provided through the center, they’ll have to appeal to the original agency where the information came from. Trouble is, the name of the agency providing the intelligence will likely be classified.

The National Vetting Center doesn’t have a redress system in place, he said. “We want to plug into whatever exists at these agencies. But we aren’t creating our own.”

None of this is reassuring to privacy and civil rights experts or to immigration attorneys and advocates.

“Right now, it’s a black box,” Levinson-Waldman said of the new center. “It’s hard not to be skeptical. Because there are plenty of examples from the past on how this could go wrong.”

The post Border Patrol Is Being Endowed With Frightening Powers appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Joint Turkish and Russian Patrols Begin in Syrian Region

SEVIMLI, Turkey — Turkey and Russia launched joint patrols Friday in northeastern Syria, under a deal that halted a Turkish offensive against Syrian Kurdish fighters who were forced to withdraw from the border area following Ankara’s incursion.

The Turkish Defense Ministry said an initial patrol covered an area 87 kilometers (54 miles) long and 10 kilometers (6 miles) deep in the al-Darbasiyah region, assisted by drones. “The first joint patrol was completed as planned,” the statement said.

The Russian Defense Ministry said the joint patrol included nine military vehicles, including a Russian armored personnel carrier.

Turkey and Russia have agreed the patrols would cover two sections, in the west and east of Turkey’s operation zone in Syria. Turkish troops and allied Syrian opposition fighters now control the border towns of Tal Abyad, Ras al-Ayn and nearby villages. The deal on the patrols excludes the city of Qamishli, according to the ministry’s statement on Tuesday.

The first joint patrol did not fly Russian and Turkish flags on their armored vehicles Friday but once the patrol was completed, Russian flags were seen. An Associated Press journalist at the Turkey-Syria border could see the Syrian flag hoisted on a building on the Syrian side. Syrian government troops moved into Kurdish-held areas following an agreement in October.

Turkey last month invaded northeastern Syria to push out Syrian Kurdish fighters, who it considers terrorists for their links to a Kurdish insurgency inside Turkey.

But the U.S. had partnered with the Syrian Kurdish fighters, their top allies in the war against the Islamic State group. The relationship has strained ties between Washington and Ankara who are NATO allies.

After an abrupt and widely criticized decision by President Donald Trump to withdraw American troops from this part of Syria, the Kurdish forces approached the Syrian government and Russia for protection. Syrian government troops and Russian military police subsequently moved into areas along the border.

Two cease-fire agreements -brokered by the U.S. and Russia- paused Turkey’s operation to allow the Syrian Kurdish fighters withdraw 30 kilometers (about 19 miles) from the border.

Russia told Turkey at the end of the 150-hour cease-fire on Tuesday that the Syrian Kurdish fighters were out of the strip of territory, as well as out of the towns of Manbij and Tal Rifaat, west of the Euphrates River.

A Kurdish news agency and a war monitor reported clashes Friday between Kurdish fighters and Turkey-backed opposition gunmen.

The Britain-based Syrian Observatory for Human Rights said the fighting concentrated near the town of Ein Issa and near the town of Zirkan in the northeastern province of Hassakeh. The group said four people were wounded in the Zirkan area.

The Kurdish Hawar news agency reported clashes between the two sides near the northern region of Afrin, that Turkey-backed opposition fighters last year.

Also on Friday, Turkey’s Defense Ministry announced that a Turkish soldier was killed after an improvised explosive device detonated on Thursday, bringing the Turkish military’s death toll to 13 since the start Ankara’s invasion in northeastern Syria on Oct. 9. Mortars fired from Syria during the early phases of the operation killed 21 civilians in Turkey.

Though the truce has mostly held, it has been marred by accusations of violations from both sides and occasional clashes. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has threatened to resume the offensive if deemed necessary.

___

Associated Press writers Zeynep Bilginsoy in Istanbul, Vladimir Isachenkov in Moscow and Bassem Mroue in Beirut contributed to this report.

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U.S. Adds a Solid 128,000 Jobs in October, Despite GM Strike

WASHINGTON — U.S. employers added a solid 128,000 jobs in October, a figure that was held down by a now-settled strike against General Motors that caused tens of thousands of workers to be temporarily counted as unemployed.

The unemployment rate ticked up from 3.5% to 3.6%, still near a five-decade low. And for a second straight month, average hourly wages rose a decent if less-than-robust 3% from a year ago.

The government also revised up its estimate of job growth for August and September by a combined 95,000, suggesting a healthier employment market than many had thought.

All told, Friday’s October employment report from the government pointed to a still-sturdy job market that remains a vital source of strength for a U.S. economy that’s been weakened by trade wars and a global slowdown. The healthy level of hiring also makes it less likely that the Federal Reserve, which cut short-term interest rates this week for a third time this year, will do so again anytime soon.

“This was an unambiguously strong report,” said Kathy Bostjancic, chief U.S. financial economist at Oxford Economics. “I think the ongoing strength of the labor market helps explain and support the Fed’s leaning in to pause the rate cut cycle for now.”

The solid jobs data put stock investors in a buying mood. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up about 230 points by midmorning.

Friday’s jobs report suggested that further job gains may be coming. Last month, the GM strike contributed to the temporary loss of 41,600 auto factory and likely other related jobs. But the settlement seems sure to lead to a return of those jobs in the coming months.

And the labor force participation rate — a measure of how many people have jobs or are seeking work — ticked up to 63.3%, the best since August 2013. That suggests that a rising number of people think it’s still a good time to find a job.

Besides GM, a temporary drag on hiring last month was the U.S. Census. The government let go of 20,000 short-term workers who had been helping prepare for the 2020 survey.

Job growth so far this year has averaged just 167,000 a month, down from an average of 223,000 in 2018, according to Labor Department figures. Even so, hiring remains high enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising despite the tepid pace of economic growth. On Wednesday, the government estimated that the economy grew in the July-October quarter at a modest 1.9% annual rate.

The economy has been expanding for more than a decade, the longest period of growth on record. But the bump from the 2018 tax cuts are fading and an aging population and other demographic forces are holding back potential growth.

That slowdown could be worrisome for President Donald Trump, who is seeking re-election next year. The economy appears unable to achieve the lasting growth of more than 3% annually that he had promised. Within 30 minutes of the jobs report’s release, though, Trump celebrated the figures on Twitter as a “blowout,” adding that “USA ROCKS.”

Consumers, who drive about 70% of U.S. economic activity, have provided much of the fuel for growth. In September, they modestly stepped up their spending, and their incomes grew fast enough to let them save more, too. A rising saving rate is encouraging because it suggests that households have leeway to keep spending.

Last month, much of the hiring was driven by restaurants, which added 47,500 jobs. But even as consumers help boost growth, business investment has been a drag on the economy in recent months. Collectively, they have slashed their spending on industrial machinery and other equipment, mostly because the U.S.-China trade war has made them reluctant to commit to big purchases. The tariffs between the U.S. and China, the world’s two largest economies, have also reduced U.S. exports.

The jobs report hinted at a mixed picture for the start of the holiday shopping season. Retailers added 6,100 jobs last month. But the rise of e-commerce and increasing concentration of wealth in large U.S. metros have corresponded with the loss of more than 20,000 jobs at retailers over the past 12 months.

A slowdown in pay growth is another source of concern. Hourly average earnings had been rising at a 3.4% annual rate back in February, significantly above the 3% pace in October.

But reduced wage growth might be somewhat misleading. Employers are giving more opportunities to workers who usually start at lower wage levels, and that might have cut into the overall pay gains, said Julia Pollak, a labor economist at ZipRecuriter, an online job marketplace.

“Given the number of women, the number of Hispanics, the number of blacks, the number of young people entering the workforce,” she said, “it’s quite possible that the influx of all these workers are dragging that average down.”

The post U.S. Adds a Solid 128,000 Jobs in October, Despite GM Strike appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

There Is No Donald J. Trump Without William F. Buckley

In 1965, acclaimed author James Baldwin and William F. Buckley Jr., editor of the National Review and considered by some as the father of the American right, were invited to England’s Cambridge University to engage in a debate. What transpired in that exchange is excruciatingly relevant in 2019, as the U.S. continues to grapple with racism that has spread from its foundations to seemingly every corner of American life.

Linfield College professor Nicholas Buccola, whose book, “The Fire Is Upon Us,” delves into the Feb. 18, 1965, debate between Baldwin and Buckley, joins Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on the most recent episode of the “Scheer Intelligence” podcast. Buccola explains that what began as an essay evolved into a 500-plus-page tome about two highly influential U.S. public intellectuals and the legendary moment they came face to face.

“The debate itself became kind of an obsession of mine,” the scholar tells Scheer. “They’re both so central to the rise of their respective movements. And so the idea that I had was to do this kind of joint intellectual biography, set against the backdrop of the rise of the civil rights and conservative movements.”

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One of the more remarkable aspects of that historical moment is that Baldwin and Buckley could not be more different in terms of their backgrounds, as both Scheer and Buccola point out. Baldwin, a gay, black author from Harlem, experienced poverty and racism throughout much of his life, while Buckley came from extreme privilege and a meticulously conservative Catholic upbringing in New York. Buckley ultimately helped shape the Republican Party as we know it today, altering the GOP’s approach to race in ways that still affect U.S. politics.

“It’s a debate, obviously, that is of the moment,” Scheer says. “And it’s really not just about race. It’s about scapegoating. It’s about the other. It’s about the dominance of one ethno-racial group and the scapegoating of the others. That’s what the Donald Trump moment is all about.”

The Republicans’ shift toward white supremacy, led largely by Buckley, is one that Buccola believes is essential to understanding current politics.

“If we want to try to understand where we are now, with the rise of Donald Trump and this sort of resurgent white nationalist authoritarianism, we have to understand stories like this one,” he tells Scheer. “Because this is a story about, intellectually and politically, how the right came to make this deal with the devil of white supremacy. And that’s very much where we are today.

“Trump’s got a different style from Buckley, and Buckley didn’t like Trump personally,” Buccola continues. “But it’s hard to really differentiate that sort of populist politics that Buckley was promoting on questions of race from what Donald Trump has done so successfully today.”

Listen to the full discussion between Buccola and Scheer about this critical meeting between two figures who represent starkly different versions of America’s past, present and future. 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, it’s Nicholas Buccola–I think I’ve pronounced that right. And he is a professor at Linfield College in Oregon, and got his degree here at USC, his doctorate degree in political science. And I’m really thrilled, because we produce really fine scholars here, in addition to all our scandals and everything.

So, and it is a pleasure, because he’s written a very important book called The Fire Is Upon Us. Got a good review in the New York Times, you’re probably happy about that. And it traces an event that most of the people listening to this will not know about, and maybe even not know about the two people that are principally involved. William Buckley–William F. Buckley, Jr., not to be confused with William Buckley, Sr., who made his money from pirating oil. And I shouldn’t say that, not in an illegal sense, but grabbing oil and land and so forth. Lot of money, and had a big mansion, and raised his–and was married to a Southern belle of some sort, and raised their children–nine of them, I think, was there, in a mansion in upstate New York. And then had a southern, South Carolina residence. And a man torn between his Catholicism and–but he left out any of the progressive part of Catholicism. Ironically, in this period we’re talking about, in the mid-sixties, there was a Catholic pope, Pope John, who was quite enlightened on matters of peace and justice, social justice, and so forth. But he was of the old school, and he was a product of affluence. And instead of rebelling against it, or using it as Franklin Roosevelt did, to say “I have to give something back,” he used it as a justification of privilege. He went on, he wrote very important books from the conservative side. Some people feel he was the intellectual father of conservatism.

And at a critical moment, he appeared in one of those famous Oxford debates, and with probably the most important writer coming out of the Civil Rights Movement, or even preceding it–James Baldwin, the author of major, major novels and fiction and journalism, nonfiction and journalism. And they had a debate and it, you know, sort of galvanized attention to the racial crisis and how extreme the different views are–were, and still are. And interestingly enough, this all-but-forgotten incident is the subject of a 500-page book, which believe it or not, I enjoyed. I enjoyed reading it because of the texture, the introduction to the life of the last 40 years, before the active Civil Rights Movement that we know about, and then after. And so tell us how you came to be involved with this project, and you know, take it from there.

NB: All right. Thanks, Bob. It’s such a pleasure to be here with you, and back at USC. So the book, I–the book started with Baldwin. I was invited to write an essay about Baldwin back in about 2012, 2013. And in those days, I didn’t know much about Baldwin. But the editor of this volume, Sue McWilliams, who’s a political scientist at Pomona College, she said it’s–the essay won’t be due for two years, so why don’t you take a year and read James Baldwin, and then write something. And soon thereafter I discovered the debate with Buckley, and became transfixed. It was just such a dramatic moment. These two individuals with such radically different backgrounds you just described, squaring off on this international stage, and they had such radically different worldviews.

RS: You should describe Baldwin’s background, because it was, as you said in a talk here today, as if they were from two different planets, even though they were both from the same state, New York, but Baldwin grew up in Harlem. So give us the different castes here.

NB: Right. So Baldwin is born in Harlem in 1924, and he’s the oldest of nine children. He grew up in extraordinarily difficult economic circumstances. As he said later on, you know, the defining fact of his childhood was that his parents had a hard time feeding their children. And Baldwin describes in his writings, his nonfiction writings, what it was like to sort of grow up in those circumstances, and the sense of domination that he felt on a day-to-day basis, both from obvious threats–you know, police officers and others with power who were there to inhibit his freedom–but also just this sense of vast, bottomlessly cruel structures of power that dominated his life and the life of his siblings and folks like him. So Baldwin grows up in Harlem, and he ends up, his father was a lay Pentecostal preacher and a laborer. And he ends up following his father into the church, and becomes a young minister in the Harlem storefront churches. So Baldwin is somebody who’s really taken with the power of words, the power of language, to sort of communicate with other human beings. And also to sort of–he’s really kind of obsessed with the power of language to help make sense of his experience and to try to change the circumstances around him.

So Baldwin is somebody who’s self-taught; he does not go to college. He’s able to go to DeWitt Clinton High School in the Bronx and get a good education there. But Baldwin is largely this sort of independent thinker in so many ways. So, yeah, as you described, the Baldwin-Buckley debate, February 18th, 1965, the Cambridge Union–the oldest and one of the most prestigious debating societies in the world, they’re–here are these two guys, leading public intellectuals, and very different their styles and totally different in their worldviews. But they’re on this international stage to square off in this intellectual battle. And so the debate itself became kind of an obsession of mine. And then I thought about writing a shorter book about, you know, there have been a couple books about Malcolm X visiting Oxford in 1964. So I thought maybe I’ll write a short book about Baldwin going to Cambridge in ‘65. And then as I dug into the research for the project, I sort of reconstructed how they got there that night, who invited them, and all that. And then I thought, you know, they were born about a year apart from each other, Buckley born in November 1925. They’re both so central to the rise of their respective movements. And so the idea that I had was to do this kind of joint intellectual biography, set against the backdrop of the rise of the civil rights and conservative movements.

And once I had the idea, it wasn’t an easy book to write–it was a lot of research–but there’s so much material. I mean, you have–Baldwin and Buckley are both such prolific writers, both public writings and private, letters and that sort of thing, that you really get a glimpse–you know, as a writer, I could see into their minds almost every day of the week, as all these really important events are happening around them. So the book tells the story–this, you know, the intellectual story of these two individuals, but I try to situate that story in the larger intellectual and political trends. So that’s kind of how it evolved from the beginning.

RS: Yeah, but you know, I want to cut to the chase here. Because what you really uncovered is an ugly, stark truth about America. And that Baldwin was–yes, he was in the North, and he was in Harlem, and there was even–I went to City College in Harlem, and there was the history of the Harlem Renaissance. And you know, it was at least, it was an intact black community and so forth. But you know, your research on the life of Baldwin, who lived through the Great Depression, and the horrors of black life in the North. You know, we’re not talking about Alabama, Mississippi. And there’s that reality.

And then there’s this other New Yorker, of wealth, William Buckley. And no matter what outrageous positions he ends up taking in life, and the distortions of his own ideology, somehow Baldwin is seen as the firebrand, the radical; you know, one of America’s great authors–nonetheless a radical, troubling and all that sort of thing. And yet his positions are really, when you examine them, quite reasonable in almost any decent context. They’re thoughtful, they’re measured. He doesn’t play the violence card or the race card in any, you know, demagogic way. He resists ideological definitions, and you know, simplistic conclusions.

That comes through–which is one of the good things about having a 500-page book of research. No, I mean you were able to document, basically, this autodidact, this self-educated person who ends up being one of America’s great writers. On the other hand, you have a man who was born to the manor, and really doesn’t produce anything of major significance. Even though he’s considered the author of the conservative movement, he’s at odds with some of its most robust instincts. He’s associated with McCarthyism, which you know, principled conservatives ended up denouncing in no uncertain terms. He doesn’t like Eisenhower. He has really racist views. I was going to–I picked one, I don’t know, it just jumped out at me for some reason. I’m going to have you–I’m going to have you read it, and then give us the context.

But we’re talking about William Buckley, somebody that NPR–we’re being carried on NPR–chose to make a national figure. You know, his Firing Line, right, the show–full disclosure, I–well, I was on one, and we had a pretty acrimonious debate. But the fact of the matter is, this guy was made as American as apple pie, as respectable–and his views were outrageous. They were racist. And I must say, until I read your book, I wasn’t fully cognizant of that. I bought the idea–well, he was charming. You know, in my encounters with him, he was very reasonable and funny, even though what he was saying was absurd and stupid and beside the point. Nonetheless, you know, he had the manners. And you know, we’re impressed by manners. Right?

And this quote–and it’s just one of many in your book–shows the real, not just the real Buckley, but remember the segregated society. The South was, by the way, represented by the Democratic Party, largely; it was ignored by most of the big establishment institutions for its horrible violence and, you know, what it was all about. Segregation in America was accepted even in major league baseball and everything, in the armed forces. And yet here, this prophet of segregation–I mean, this passionate defender of it–is someone that, in polite circles, he was more accepted than, say, Donald Trump would be right now. He of the poor manners.

NB: [Laughs] Yeah, well–yeah, so I’ll read this, this passage you picked out, and then we can talk about a number of those things you just mentioned. So this is Buckley, writing to a friend after his book–so Buckley published Up From Liberalism in 1959. And Buckley was corresponding with a friend in South Carolina about some of the racial ideas that he had written about in the book. So here’s Buckley: “I pray every Negro will not be given the vote in South Carolina tomorrow, because such a development would cause him to lose that repose, through which slowly, but one hopes surely, some of the decent instincts of the white man to go to work fuse with his own myths and habits of mind, and hence, a man more likely to know God.” End quote. So there’s a lot there. I mean, sometimes it’s a little bit–Buckley’s language is a little bit, ah, dense–

RS: He’s talking about a dog.

NB: [Laughs] Right.

RS: He’s not talking about a human being. He’s talking about how you train a dog to be acceptable in the house.

NB: Right. And Buckley, I mean–so to, yeah, to sort of bring that into context–I mean, I think that the book really examines–Buckley’s record on race has been discussed quite a bit over the years. But I think the book probably does the most thorough going–you know, provides the most thorough going explanation of really all the things Buckley wrote about race. And as you said, I mean, Baldwin–putting them together is, part of the idea is that Baldwin provides us with such a powerful lens through which to understand somebody like Buckley and the larger trends that Buckley represents. And so Buckley, I mean, this quotation from this private letter that Buckley wrote sometime in the late fifties, is really representative of a body of work going back to his earliest days writing about race. Most infamously he wrote Why the South Must Prevail in 1957, in which he argued–he had, you know, allusions to the Constitution and to the Southern way of life and so on. But the heart of his case was always that white people are, he would say, for the time being the superior race, and so they have not only the right but the duty to dominate black people–culturally, politically, and so on, economically.

And Buckley, you know, he believed that to his core. He was deeply elitist, for a lot of reasons you described before. He believed in a natural hierarchy among human beings, that some were fit to rule and some were fit to be ruled, and that belief in hierarchy was thoroughly racialized. So Buckley was an unabashed elitist to his, you know, to his dying day. And he recognized that the conservative movement needed to find ways to use the political energy of racial resentment in order to fuel its rise to power. And so that is really, you know, I think the central theme in looking at Buckley’s story, is he figures out ways to take advantage of racism, racial resentment, in order to advance his agenda. Which really is not, really, an agenda that is at all populist. He recognized the utility of populism in order to advance elite goals. And so that’s a kind of central theme in the book.

And as you said before, I mean, one of the fascinating things is that Buckley dismisses Baldwin as this dangerous–he calls him an “eloquent menace.” And that might be a more apt description for Buckley himself. He calls Baldwin an eloquent menace who’s basically, clearly has this mastery of the English language, but Buckley argues that Baldwin’s intention is to overthrow Western civilization. To overthrow the Constitution, to overthrow the Bill of Rights. These are the sorts of things he says in the debate at Cambridge. When in fact, you know, if you actually–as you said earlier, Baldwin had this very interesting, thoughtful, critical engagement with the Western tradition. He was, I think, far more interested in thinking about the Western tradition than Buckley ever was.

So Baldwin is, you know, he recognizes that white–the doctrine of white supremacy is at the center of Western civilization in a lot of ways. But he wants to think about ways in which we can possibly, you know, think critically about the Western tradition. Find ways to come up with a new language, new standards by which to live. Rethink what we mean by freedom, justice, and responsibility. Think about ways in which those concepts throughout Western history have often excluded people of color–how can we possibly rethink them in order to be more inclusive. And so Baldwin says to Buckley and to his colleagues–colleagues like James Jackson Kilpatrick, the leading salesman of segregation–he says, I accuse you of betraying Western civilization. If you really cared about the Judeo-Christian tradition, the Constitution, the Declaration of Independence–if you cared about these things, then you’d actually take the ideas that are at the core of those traditions, and you’d apply them to all people.

And so Baldwin says, late in life, he has this really interesting conversation with the anthropologist Margaret Mead, in the seventies. And Baldwin says, you know, in some ways you might think of me as a conservative. He says, I was a revolutionary once, but in terms of the things I care about and the things I want to see honored, I have a kind of conservatism. So there’s–my original title for the book was The Radical and the Conservative. And of course, the natural way we think about that is Baldwin as radical, Buckley as conservative. But part of the idea I had was to twist at the end, and say there’s a sense in which in terms of what Baldwin is trying to preserve, he can be thought of as this–I mean, a radical kind of conservative. Whereas Buckley, time and again, is willing to disregard these things that he claims to care about most, right. He says that the core of his political creed is a belief in the inviolability of the individual. Well, if that’s true, then why are you taking these positions on all these civil rights questions, and issues abroad as well, having to do with race? If you claim to care about the Constitution, why are you so willing to disregard it when the rights in question happen to be those of African Americans? So Buckley, time and again, reveals himself to–if he is a conservative, he’s interested, as far as Baldwin is concerned, in conserving all the wrong things. He’s interested in conserving his own power and the power of people like him. That seems to be his primary agenda.

RS: Yeah, I misspoke when I said it was the Oxford debating union in the introduction, but it’s the same–

NB: That happens all the time. [Laughs]

RS: Yeah, it’s the Cambridge debating union. And they actually, the audience votes for Baldwin; they take some kind of vote at the end. They’ve had a student debate, and then they have these two. And there’s no question, I think the vote was like 550 to 140 or something–

NB: Yeah, 544 to 164. Yeah.

RS: Yeah. And there’s no question, Baldwin is heads and shoulders over Buckley, even though as I say, Baldwin was self-educated, but he was alert. And he was passionate, and he had a big brain. And I dare say Buckley, even though he had a reputation as being erudite and everything, was kind of stupid. You know, I know some people will take offense. And I’m not saying that because he’s a conservative. You know, I’ve interviewed plenty of conservatives of one kind or another. I wouldn’t say they weren’t smart. But here was a guy–and your book goes in incredible detail, valuable detail about the education of a certain kind of ruling-class person. It was homeschooling, he had tutors for everything, the proper way to hold a tennis racket, the proper way to speak a foreign language of one kind or another. And you know, they were just at his beck and call. I forget, how many servants were there in this mansion?

NB: A lot. I’ve learned to not, you know, name the number of servants, you know. But yeah, a lot of servants. There were at least two live-in tutors, and then all these part-time tutors who came in to fill out this education.

RS: Yeah, and for basically nine children who were told that, you know, you’re going to run the world, in every respect. And so really what your study is, is that it’s a study of race as a subtext of privilege and power. And that is really what is fascinating in this book. You know, the reason you keep one group down is because that’s where you keep your own privilege intact. And that’s the way you con the vast majority of white people who you claim are part of this wonderful high level. But you don’t really mean white people; you mean rich, privileged white people, right? That’s really what comes out in this thing. Because Buckley isn’t really in favor of any kind of popular mandate. He’s in favor of protecting privilege. And the question I want to put to you is, why did the so-called liberal establishment, or more enlightened establishment, indulge a guy like William Buckley?

NB: [Laughs] Yeah.

RS: When you think about it, Buckley, I think his second major book or third major book was an unmitigated defense of Joe McCarthy, as crude and ugly and stupid as they come. And he continued that, but he did it in the language that ruling-class or upper-crust people found charming, and their minions in the mass media indulged.

NB: Right, yeah.

RS: I mean, what did NPR find so appealing? I mean, was it good theater, the way NBC and others found Trump to be good theater? Was it good for their ratings? Or did they feel this was showing balance? I mean, the guy was an out-and-out racist in every respect. I mean, in foreign policy, again, I did debate him on his show. And I pointed out he supported the segregationist, racist governments of Rhodesia and South Africa, even at a point when much of the world was turning against him. He called Ian Smith of South Africa the George Washington of Rhodesia–the George Washington of Rhodesia.

So I mean, I want you to answer the question that your book kind of moves up against. Why–I understand why Baldwin was important, and I understand why the Cambridge Union would have him. You know, one of the–I’ve said this about three times already–probably one of the best writers we’ve ever had. And clearly, you know, a man of universal insight. You mentioned he loved Dickens and others, and came up from that kind of tradition. And then you have Buckley, who was–you know, I don’t want to be too extreme here. I mean, but really there was no there there, other than a celebration of privilege.

NB: Yeah. So that’s–I mean, that’s a really–

RS: I don’t want to put words in your mouth.

NB: No, no, no. No, that’s a good question.

RS: You may have a different view.

NB: No, no. And, so, yeah, just to unpack that a little bit. I think that as you’re saying, I mean, Buckley’s education really was–I mean, one of the questions to ask about this elaborate homeschooling education that he received is, what is the purpose of what they’re, what he’s been taught? And although, you know, they studied everything under the sun, they were not taught to think about multiple perspectives, right. It was very clear–

RS: They weren’t into critical thinking.

NB: They weren’t into critical thinking. And so I mean, he and his siblings described sitting around the dining room table with William F. Buckley, Sr., and kind of him, you know, having these debates about all sorts of things. But they weren’t debating religion and politics; they were all in agreement about religion and politics. They were debating everything else under the sun, you know. But Buckley–so part of what the education is, is it’s really instrumentalizing all these skills, right, to serve a particular purpose. And that purpose is to preserve their privilege. And of course, the way they would frame that is not to preserve privilege for privilege’s own sake, right, but rather William F. Buckley, Sr., is teaching them that we live in this system that has allowed us to amass all this great wealth. And that your job, my children, is to defend this system, and to defend it from those who would criticize it. And so Buckley, he takes that to heart. And in so many ways, I mean, he sees as his life’s purpose to please his father–you don’t want to get too Freudian here, but he sees this–his purpose is to go out there–

RS: Well, his father also finances the National Review, along with the John Birch Society.

NB: [Laughs] Right, right. And so Buckley, yeah, Buckley, he–from a very young age, that’s what he takes his responsibility to be. He goes off to Millbrook prep school, and he will, you know, invade faculty meetings and get in these arguments with fellow students, defending his father’s America-first foreign policy positions and the dignity of the Catholic Church and so on. So Buckley, really, he sees his role as defending this system. And he takes that with him to Yale, and he ends up delivering, when he’s about to graduate, an oration to his fellow graduates, basically called “Our”–you know, it’s about “Our responsibility as educated men.” And our responsibility as educated men, Buckley tells his fellow elite Yale students, is to preserve the framework that has made this country an oasis of freedom, is how Buckley puts it. And so Buckley, I think that this is something that he devotes his life, right–he’s writing, he’s speaking and he’s constantly out there on the lecture circuit. And so, but he’s constantly engaged in this process of defending the system against the ideas, institutions, groups that he views as threats to that system. So he’s not, he’s never good at defending his own views. His debate coach at Yale would give him a hard time–

RS: Because they’re indefensible.

NB: [Laughs] Right, right.

RS: No, really. This is what hit me reading your book. Because you make that argument in the book quite cogently. Yes, he was great at ripping apart other people, or at least in the eyes of some, not actually for the Cambridge Union; they voted for, you know, against him. But the fact is, yes, he was clever that way. The reason he couldn’t really explain and defend his own views is they would have been loathsome to his own base.

NB: Right.

RS: You know, this is the thing. Even when he ran for mayor, something you point out in your book, he got 13% of the vote or something, but he got it from what he considered–what his son, Chris Buckley, has referred to as the outer boroughs. You know, the lumpen outside, and attacking Trump, and saying Trump is not his father. But the fact of the matter is that the whole racism of the Republican Party–which was not normal to the party; after all, this was supposed to be the party of Lincoln. And it was President Eisenhower who sent federal troops in on desegregation, and it was the Southern Democrats as a bloc who were opposed to integration. The South was controlled by this important wing of the Democratic Party, and therefore the Democratic Party was really on the side of segregation, no matter how they reinvent the history.

So you had somebody like Buckley come along, and I will not deny his impact–which is, after all, a serious justification for your book, you know, [The Fire Is Upon Us]. And I do want to urge people to read it, because history matters. You know, and this gets you into the nitty gritty of the history: Where did Donald Trump come from? You know, why is the Republican Party the party now of nuttiness and meanness and divisiveness and anti-immigrant and so forth? It wasn’t that way. It was actually the party of a more enlightened capitalism, of open borders, of welcoming the stranger, and more supportive of integration than the Democratic Party, up to a critical point. Along comes an intellectual like Buckley–but he was representing people like his father and that social class. And they said, you know what? And they didn’t use these words, but they could have. They said, we need a new chapter of false consciousness. That’s what we need. And it came to be known as the Southern strategy in Richard Nixon’s administration. How do we get the South, for basically reactionary–you know, what’s the right word–ruling-class power–the plutocrats to defend the super-rich, like his father? How do we get people to vote for that? We, unfortunately, are in this republic, where people have the vote, particularly white people. How do we get these white people, who are really suffering under this system–after all, when Buckley was growing up, the same as James Baldwin, we had the Great Depression. Well, white people got hurt very badly in the Great Depression. Well, how do you go to these poor Southern whites–remember, this is the South before air conditioning, this is the South before [unclear] going down there. You know, when he was in South Carolina, where they spent their winters, I guess. You know, he’s experiencing the Old South. Well, how do we get these poor Southern whites, right–which is the majority of them–to back the plutocrats?

NB: Right.

RS: That’s the great challenge for the Republican Party, and Buckley comes along with the formula, you know. Accept racism, or endorse it, which he does in as polite a way as you can do it. How do you politely endorse–support the South in its battle to hold on to segregation? Well, you do it with the foreign enemy: McCarthy’s anti-communism, the Cold War, super patriotism, right? You do it that way, you do it with demonizing the freedom movement among blacks, the Civil Rights Movement. And Buckley is the intellectual architect of this move of the Republican Party to the right, how they capture the South and end up with a Donald Trump as president.

NB: Yeah, and I want to be careful not to give Buckley too much credit. I think one of the things he does very skillfully–

RS: You know who gives him credit? Ronald Reagan gave him credit.

NB: Yeah.

RS: Ronald Reagan said without Buckley, he wouldn’t have been president.

NB: Right. Well, yeah, then there’s–George Well has that famous line where, you know, without William F. Buckley we wouldn’t have Barry Goldwater, without Barry Goldwater we wouldn’t have Ronald Reagan, without Ronald Reagan we wouldn’t have victory in the Cold War. So Buckley does get a lot of credit. But I think that one of the things that’s important about Buckley is that he, you know–and this is going back to your original question. I mean he’s, of course, I’m not trying in the book to say that Buckley is an intellectual heavyweight in the same sense Baldwin is, right. His importance is of a different type. And his importance is, as you’re saying, as a popularizer, as an organizer of ideas. So he’s not an originator of ideas, but he does recognize early on the strategic value of racial resentment, as you were just describing. And he leans into that, and ends up really utilizing that as a central idea that he thinks will advance the conservative cause into the future. And so one of the questions, going back to something you asked earlier, is why is Buckley allowed in by the liberal establishment, right, in the context of this? He’s making these arguments in the fifties, in the sixties, really through to the end of his life, where he’s defending this idea of white supremacy–in, as you said, a kind of genteel way, but white supremacy nonetheless.

RS: And much more so than Donald Trump.

NB: Right, right. And so, but, and part of the reason why is that, I mean, I think you hit the nail on the head earlier. Buckley was a master at performing, right? He was a performer. He was somebody who knew the entertainment value of ideas, right. And so Trump is entertaining to some people in a very different way. But people–and this is something I’ve discovered in working on the book over the last few years–I talked to a lot of people on the left who loathe Buckley’s politics, but kind of love him in a way. Loved watching him, enjoyed watching him on television, they might enjoy reading his columns. There’s something about Buckley, and in a way he’s sort of part of this–a symptom of us entertaining ourselves to death, right, to use Postman’s famous phrase. I mean, he was a master at performing conservatism; he was so, you know, he sort of embodied this kind of elitism, the way he spoke, the way he–the words he used, all these things.

And so I think that part of it is that, and I think the other thing is that, you know, Buckley, he really was able to popularize. One of his biographers, Lee Edwards, calls him the Saint Paul of the American conservative movement. He was an evangelist for these ideas. He wasn’t good at, you know, defending them in great detail. But he was, you know, he had this thrice-weekly newspaper column, he had National Review, he was on the lecture circuit; every week of the year, he was out there giving lectures and debating folks. And so he was, you know, besides Barry Goldwater in the sixties, he was the face associated with American conservatism. And really through to the end of his life, played a really outsized role in shaping the conservative movement.

But he made a number of strategic–and this is also where his importance comes in. He made a number of strategic choices as this kind of editor of conservatism, as this gatekeeper of the conservative movement. And one of the most important and one of the most central ones is how are conservatives going to react on questions of civil rights and race. And he says that his goal was to make sure the conservative movement was extremely articulate on questions of race; non-racist, in sort of, in a sort of way of revealing racial animus; but not racially egalitarian. Buckley says this 10 years after the founding of National Review, he says that was his goal, is to try to keep the people who were far–you know, far, far right on race, out of the magazine, but work with them behind the scenes. So one of the things I talk about in the book is Buckley cozying up to the White Citizens’ Councils, which had different tactics from the Klan, but they were known. You know, Bayard Rustin called them the Uptown Klan for a reason, right. They had the same goals as the Klan, and they went about intimidating people and creating a climate of distrust, just like the Klan did. They just did it with economic means and other means, as opposed to, you know, white hoods and burning crosses.

And so Buckley cozies up to those folks. He recognizes that they are with him in this cause, in the sense that he sees that they can be part of the conservative coalition. And he and Goldwater–Goldwater as early as, you know, in the early 1950s Goldwater’s writing in his journal that he senses a realignment. That Southern conservatives in the Democratic Party might end up allying themselves with conservatives like him from the west and the Midwest. And so Buckley and Goldwater recognize that; they don’t necessarily have it fully worked out, but we see Buckley throughout the fifties and sixties in the areas that I’m, the time period I’m really focused on in the book, trying to figure out a way, as you said, to articulate a politics that will tap into the white backlash. He celebrates the white backlash. When George Wallace runs against Lyndon Johnson in 1964 in three democratic primaries and does quite well–he gets over 30% in all three of those primaries–Buckley, although he had some criticisms of Wallace as a politician, he writes these editorials celebrating in, you know, explicitly this idea of white backlash. White people are feeling marginalized by the rise of the Civil Rights Movement, and they should be, Buckley says.

And so Buckley, as you said, he wants to figure out a way for conservatives to tap into this populism. One of the great ironies, right, is William F. Buckley, one of the most elitist political figures in, you know, 20th century American politics, ends up as the populist candidate, you know, when he runs for mayor of New York City. And ends up really embracing this populist politics. And now, as you said earlier, in terms of the focus of the book being in this period, in the late forties to the late sixties, if we want to try to understand where we are now, with the rise of Donald Trump and this sort of resurgent white nationalist authoritarianism, we have to understand stories like this one. Because this is a story about, intellectually and politically, how the right came to make this deal with the devil of white supremacy. And that’s very much where we are today. Trump’s got a different style from Buckley, and Buckley didn’t like Trump personally. But it’s hard to really differentiate that sort of populist politics that Buckley was promoting on questions of race, from what Donald Trump has done so successfully today.

RS: Yeah, divide and conquer. And I want to end this, though, with one issue that your book–I don’t know what the right word for it is–I think struggles with. In addition to everything else, Baldwin is a gay man.

NB: Yeah.

RS: And interestingly, that’s one of the reasons, maybe, he wasn’t prominent at the Great March on Washington. Although the convener of the Great March on Washington, Bayard Rustin, was openly gay. But Baldwin was, and his second novel had a gay theme. And it’s interesting, because you discuss the publisher, his publisher of his first book–ah, help me here–

NB: Knopf, Alfred Knopf.

RS: –Knopf, rejecting the second book. And I heard you say that in the lecture today. And I thought–and you said, well, they rejected it because it was supposedly about two white guys. But you know, after all, Baldwin was living in Paris, and in the gay scene there, racism wasn’t as big a factor as might be elsewhere. And the fact of the matter is, the revolution that at that moment seemed the most forlorn–which was for a gay man to be accepted as normal–has actually had the most rapid progress of any such movement, in maybe world history, but certainly in America. You know, where, wow, in a matter of a few generations, you know, gay is normal, or at least in large parts of America. However, the black revolution has stalled, has regressed–and I’m not saying the revolution has; it’s because of white supremacy and hostility. And the irony here is that in the sixties, where–it was ‘65, this debate at Cambridge–the big issue was black-white on the surface. But for Baldwin personally, being a gay man maybe was an even more intractable issue, the one he didn’t push heavily. And it’s interesting, his nemesis here, Buckley, is also the man who denounced Gore Vidal, another gay man who, extremely well known and brilliant as a writer, but didn’t write that much about gay themes; occasionally did. He called him a fag on national television. So in addition to everything else, Buckley clearly was homophobic. And I wonder, after writing this book, The Fire Is Upon Us, I wonder whether homophobia was another one of Buckley’s failings?

NB: Yeah. So as you mentioned, this is an issue that in writing about Baldwin, I think it’s one of the challenges that scholars confront, and it’s certainly one that I confronted. Is that Baldwin, he loathed categorization; he didn’t want to be categorized, he didn’t want to be labeled. And so when that came to ideology, when it came to his sexuality–

RS: By the way, I think Bayard Rustin might have been an inspiration for that. Because before one of these McCarthy committees, when Bayard Rustin was accused of being a communist, he says: Sir, I am a homosexual, a pacifist, and a Negro. I don’t care to join any other minorities. Or condemned minorities. But the fact is–so, yes, you might not want to make it the big issue, but there was no question.

NB: Oh, there was no–yeah, and Baldwin–I mean, Baldwin–and he was not closeted. But he would often say when people would sort of try to, you know, ask him to define his sexual orientation he would say, “Love is where you find it,” is kind of the line that he liked to use. But yeah, Baldwin, there’s no question that his sexuality was–it’s a subtext in many ways for the conversation that he’s having with Buckley; it’s a subtext in many ways, I think, in my book. Buckley says later that the reason, one of the reasons that the Cambridge students were so–they celebrated Baldwin so much, was because of his homosexuality. He said he was black, he was gay, he was anti-American, so they loved him; you know, that’s why they loved him. He didn’t win the debate, Buckley argues, because of what he argued; he won the debate because the students were there to affirm his identity. And so Buckley–

RS: His ruling-class British students. [Laughter]

NB: Right, right. Well, yeah, and it was quite a conservative place at the time. And so Baldwin–so I think part of it is, in terms of the question of Baldwin’s sexuality, I think Baldwin thought–and at least my sense of this, later in his life, the period that I really cover in the book kind of wraps up in 1968, and I talk a little bit about the legacies of each of them. But of course Baldwin, later in his life, as the gay liberation movement is becoming, coming to the forefront, he is forced to come to grips with this question of how he’s going to participate, and the sort of responsibilities he had. And he was never shy about writing about these issues, in as early as the fifties. But he certainly, you know, later in life has to confront some questions about to what extent is he going to be involved. And there’s a lot of fascinating work being done by other scholars that are dealing with that aspect of Baldwin’s politics.

But yeah, Buckley, there’s many people who argue, Buckley’s defenders, that this incident on national television at the ‘68 Democratic Convention when he used that anti-gay slur against Gore Vidal, was a one-off and he just lost his temper because Vidal had called him a crypto-fascist, and it’s really not how he feels, et cetera, et cetera. Well, the truth is–and this is one of the things I talk about in the book–one of the, Buckley has this vast correspondence that is available at Yale University. And I read a lot of letters, a lot of Buckley’s mail. And early in the 1960s, he and Vidal have this exchange in the newspaper about the nature of conservatism, and Buckley defends conservatism and Vidal critiques it. And in his correspondence with, Buckley’s correspondence with a friend, he–his friend criticizes Vidal, and Buckley writes back to him, and he uses an anti-gay slur way back in the early sixties. So it was clearly not something that was–it was not a one-off for William F. Buckley, by any means. And he kind of sees–I think Baldwin’s sexuality, for Buckley, is kind of part of the nature of his threat to Western civilization, this vague idea that Buckley has when he’s using that terminology in the debate, and his writings about Baldwin, but he doesn’t really mention it explicitly until later.

RS: I am still dumbfounded reading your book. The idea that this overt–I mean, now people say, use a word or something, their careers are over. The idea that Buckley could get away with really, I mean, serious racism, and contempt for all people who were of lesser wealth, or this–I mean just, it’s really mind-boggling. The thing that–there’s two things I got from your book. One is that for many people, manners trumps everything. And Buckley was a master of manners. And with manners–and Trump is not, or he deliberately has manners that the elite finds offensive, and works with mass crowds. But Buckley was a master at basically conning the New York Times, if you like. You know, he was so civilized, but he wasn’t at all civilized. He was, you know, really quite evil. So when evil presents as civilized, it’s acceptable. The other takeaway I had from your book is that, yes, on some issues, and gay rights is certainly one of them, we’ve made a lot of progress. On the basic issue that your book addresses, The Fire Is Upon Us–race–I would say, you know, from 1963 to now, how much progress has there been? You know, that is a real, serious question. And there, Baldwin was really quite pessimistic in his forecast. He thought race, racial division, the exploitation of black people, was something white America would be very reluctant to lose.

NB: Yeah. Well, I think those are two really great points to wrap up our conversation. Because on the one hand–I think that this is something that you’ve identified a really important thing about–Buckley was able to get away with as much as he was able to get away with, in part because of this personality that he had, and this way that he could–he could, you know, present his ideas in a way that was sort of more, seemed more intellectually sophisticated than a sort of coarse racism. But I think that’s precisely–and this is one thing, another thing–Buckley was personally charming. People say who interacted with him that he could be extraordinarily charming and generous before the lights went up, and then his talents would come out.

But the thing about that is–and this is part of why I think Baldwin provides us with such a powerful lens through which to view Buckley–is that Baldwin said, you know, it’s for these reasons, Buckley’s manners, Buckley’s sophisticated arguments–it’s for these reasons that Buckley is in some ways, Baldwin says, far more dangerous than sort of somebody who displays racial animus and is kind of a racist demagogue sort of figure. Because Buckley was able to kind of craft a racism that was more socially acceptable, that was the kind of racism that he was not going to get disinvited, you know, from campuses; he was not going to, he was going to be invited to be part of the mainstream press. And so Baldwin really provides us, I think, with a really powerful way to look at somebody like Buckley and say, this person is not–they’re in the business, they’re doing the same thing that a lot of these racist folks are doing, but they’re doing it in this more clever way. That, you know, the racism is insidious. And so, in so many ways, Baldwin says it’s more sinister for that reason.

And on the second point, in terms of the lack of progress on questions of race, and the ways in which the episodes that I’m describing the book from, you know, 50 plus years ago are still so with us today. That’s one of the things that was, you know, it was really depressing about working on this project. In the sense that you look at what Baldwin is describing, and the world he’s describing, and the grip that white supremacy has on American political culture. And he is, he’s clearly describing a world that’s very, very familiar to us, right? He’s describing a world in which we have so many people in the population who are clinging to the delusion of white supremacy, because it’s the thing that gives them a sense of worth. It’s the thing that gives them a sense of status. So whether–you know, Baldwin, of course, talked a lot about the quote unquote, Negro problem. But I think one of the really powerful things about Baldwin’s way of thinking about the world is we’re trying to understand something like the Negro problem–Baldwin would always say, there’s not a Negro problem in this country, right? There’s a white problem, if anything. And the question is, he would ask white people is, why did you feel it was necessary to invent the Negro in the first place? Right? Why did this–why is this idea necessary for your sense of self-worth?

And so he says part of the story is a kind of economic story, about we need to rationalize economic exploitation. But it’s also a story about psychology. It’s a story about moral identity. It’s a story about people feeling a sense of worth. And that part of what Baldwin thinks is happening, whether we’re talking about the quote unquote Negro in his day, or we’re talking about the immigrant, or any sort of other–any othering that we do–Baldwin said, really what’s happening there is that we’re trying–most, he says most white supremacists are not evil. They’re scared, right? They’re doing evil things. But he said there are people like Buckley, people like a lot of the folks in his National Review circle, people like George Wallace, that they are–you know, Baldwin was willing to say these folks are evil. They’re weaving the web of white supremacy in order to advance an agenda that has nothing to do with the white people that they say they are supporting. But he says that a lot of the people who are caught up in that web of white supremacy, they’re caught up in that web because they’re scared. They don’t know what their identity would be without this crutch of white supremacy.

So I think Baldwin, the relevance there, right, the fact that we’re still struggling with these issues, in some ways Baldwin would not be surprised, right? Because there’s something so powerful about this kind of, this politics of racial resentment. It has proved to be extraordinarily useful. And it’s such an easy way to get people to do what you want politically. Fear is a very powerful political tool, and Baldwin recognized that. So while it is, I mean, it’s very depressing to think about the fact that we don’t seem to have made much progress since Baldwin’s time, I think that’s–it’s also, in some ways we can feel, you know, it really is a motivation, a call to action, right? Baldwin reminds us that we have a duty each and every day. Baldwin says to love another human being is to confront that human being, and to try to liberate that human being from the delusions that keep them in thrall.

And so Baldwin, I think, calls on all of us, in all of our everyday conversations with our neighbors, and also in all the political actions that we take, to really engage in those actions with that goal of trying to liberate people from the delusions that dominate their lives. And so I think that the relevance of the book, like I said, it’s disappointing, and it’s depressing to think that we haven’t made that much progress, but hopefully the book will help us think through these issues in the present time, and take the appropriate actions to bring about justice.

RS: Well, that’s it. The book is called The Fire Is Upon Us: James Baldwin, William F. Buckley Jr., and the Debate over Race in America. A debate that came to a really high point of intensity, obviously, in 1965 after the Civil Rights Act. And this book centers around a debate between two people who were principally involved. But it’s a debate, obviously, that is of the moment. And it’s really not just about race. It’s about scapegoating. It’s about the other. It’s about the dominance of one ethnoracial group and the scapegoating of the others. That’s what the Donald Trump moment is all about. And what this book does, it rips apart the genteel aura, the facade of a civilized supremacy. Which after all, when people talk about can it happen here, have to remind people, in Germany fascism came to the most civilized, advanced, genteel, law-and-order society. And you know, there are parallels in this book. The willingness to hold yourself up by demeaning others; not only the willingness, the eagerness to do that, that’s what your book is about. I want to thank you–

NB: Thank you, Bob.

RS: –Nicholas Buccola. It’s a Princeton Press book, Princeton University. It has great scholarly credentials. But despite its heft–and the heft is provided by really important and interesting detail–I highly recommend it. That’s it for this edition of Scheer Intelligence. Sebastian Grubaugh here has helped us get involved with the USC Annenberg School for Journalism and Communication. I got that wrong, it’s Communication and Journalism. I should know better, I teach here. And I want to have a shout out to Christopher Ho at KCRW, which houses our program. And Joshua Scheer, our producer of Scheer Intelligence. See you next week with another edition.

The post There Is No Donald J. Trump Without William F. Buckley appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Despite Stable Costs, More Are Uninsured as ‘Obamacare’ Sign-ups Open

WASHINGTON—More Americans are going without health insurance, and stable premiums plus greater choice next year under the Obama health law aren’t likely to reverse that.

As sign-up season starts on Friday, the Affordable Care Act has shown remarkable resiliency, but it has also fallen short of expectations. Even many Democrats want to move on.

President Donald Trump doesn’t conceal his disdain for “Obamacare” and keeps trying to dismantle the program.

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During President Barack Obama’s tenure, open enrollment involved a national campaign to get people signed up. The program’s complexity was always a problem, and many lower-income people still don’t understand they can get financial help with premiums.

That can translate to several million uninsured people unaware they qualify for help. An analysis Thursday from the consulting firm Avalere Health found that low-income residents in 96% of counties served by HealthCare.gov can find a basic “bronze” plan at no cost to them, factoring in subsidies. Bronze plans are skimpy, but experts say it beats going uninsured.

Standard “silver” plans are available at no additional cost in 25% of counties, and people eligible for generous subsidies can find more robust “gold” plans for zero premium in 23% of counties, the study found.

But the Trump administration says it’s not specifically advertising that. Early on, it slashed the Obamacare ad budget. Officials say they’re focused on providing a quality sign-up experience and keeping the HealthCare.gov website running smoothly.

Democrats who once touted the health overhaul as a generational achievement now see it as a stepping stone, not the final word.

Presidential candidates Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren would bring the 20 million people covered under the law into a new government-run system for all Americans. “It’s time for the next step,” says Warren.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, who asserts “Obamacare is working,” is proposing a major expansion of current ACA subsidies and a whole new “public option” insurance program.

For John Gold, a self-employed graphic designer from Maine, health care that’s stable, affordable and comprehensive still feels more like a goal than a reality. He’s been covered by the ACA since 2014.

“It’s a great start, but it’s not the be-all and end-all of health care,” he said.

Health care “takes up too much of my budget, and it doesn’t need to,” explained Gold, who lives near Portland. “There are appointments my doctor suggests, that I turn down because it’s going to cost me $300.”

Gold’s income fluctuates, and when he makes too much to qualify for subsidized premiums, he must pay full freight. He’s in his 50s, so his monthly cost is higher, about $700. On top of that, the plan comes with a $4,000 deductible and an $8,000 out-of-pocket limit, potentially leaving him on the hook for a lot more.

Nonetheless, Gold said he hasn’t looked at the cheaper alternative the Trump administration is touting, though it can cost up to 60% less. One reason is “short-term plans” don’t have to cover pre-existing medical conditions.

With the economy strong, it’s unusual for progress to falter on America’s uninsured rate. Yet the Census Bureau reported that 27.5 million people were uninsured in 2018, an increase of nearly 1.9 million from 2017, and the first time the rate went up in a decade.

Caroline Pearson, a health insurance expert with NORC at the University of Chicago, a nonpartisan research organization, said she doesn’t expect to see ACA coverage gains in 2020.

“Premiums are still expensive for people who have other costs,” said Pearson. “It’s a challenging proposition unless you are getting a big subsidy or really need insurance.”

Enrollment has been slowly eroding since Trump took office, from 12.2 million in 2017 to 11.4 million this year. The drop has come mainly in HealthCare.gov states, where the federal government runs sign-up season. State-run insurance markets have held their own.

But Trump administration officials say they’re doing just fine managing Obamacare. They recently announced that premiums for a hypothetical 27-year-old choosing a standard plan will decline 4% on average in 2020 in HealthCare.gov states.

Despite relatively good news on premiums, Trump’s actions still cast a shadow over the ACA’s future.

His administration is asking a federal appeals court in New Orleans to strike down the entire law as unconstitutional. The White House has released no plans to replace it.

Seema Verma, the top administration official overseeing the health law, sounded confident in a recent appearance before a House committee.

“The president has made clear that we will have a plan of action to make sure Americans will have access to health care,” Verma, head of the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said when asked about the court case. But she added, “I’m not going to get into any specifics.”

A decision in the court case could come any day. Whatever they decide, it’s likely to go to the Supreme Court.

Gold, the graphic designer from Maine, is worried. “I do not trust them to replace it with something better,” he said.

Sign-up season ends Dec. 15 in most states. Coverage starts Jan. 1.

The post Despite Stable Costs, More Are Uninsured as ‘Obamacare’ Sign-ups Open appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Carbon Capture Could Save the Planet

If the world is to avoid dangerous overheating, some climate scientists say, carbon capture and storage (CCS) is essential. But compared with other ways of tackling global heating, it is a method that is developing slowly.

Norway, though, one of the world’s biggest oil producers, has been successfully using carbon capture since 1996. Now, Norwegian scientists say, the rest of the world must learn to do so as quickly as possible, arguing that all large industrial plants could and should capture and store the carbon dioxide they produce before it reaches the atmosphere.

It is a bold claim. Many other scientists insist that CCS − relying on carbon removal and other forms of geo-engineering to bring the temperature down, instead of simply reducing greenhouse gas emissions − can never achieve what is needed, although one US team suggested three years ago that it might well be at least part of the answer.

But the Norwegian researchers, from the independent research organisation Sintef, believe they have the evidence to prove their case. As well as finding how to separate carbon dioxide from electricity production, steel and cement works, they have also developed a separate system, Bio-CCS. This extracts CO2 from the atmosphere and turns it into charcoal before burying it in farmland.

“We cannot manage without CCS. The world must therefore undergo change on a scale we have never seen before, and this is urgent”

Sintef is working with the Norwegian oil industry and some of the other oil majors, including Shell and Total, that are increasingly under pressure to curb their emissions and prevent global average temperatures rising by more than 1.5°C above the pre-industrial level, the internationally agreed limit.

The Norwegians have so far disposed of 23 million tonnes of CO2, pumping it into brine-filled pores in sandstone, called saltwater aquifers, and sealing them with natural caprock, a relatively impervious layer of rock above an oil- or gas-bearing stratum.

The researchers say there is no choice but to adopt carbon capture and storage because turning off the world’s oil supplies immediately is unrealistic: “We cannot manage without CCS. The world must therefore undergo change on a scale we have never seen before, and this is urgent.”

The method of carbon capture developed at the Sintef research facility at Trondheim uses chemicals to bind the CO2 in the flue gases before it reaches the chimney and so prevents it reaching the atmosphere. This means steel, fertiliser and cement factories could reduce emissions to zero.

The next stage of the process is more expensive; the carbon has to be separated from the binding chemicals, a process achieved by heat. Costs are reduced if waste heat is used from the industrial processes that produced the carbon in the first place.

The recovered chemicals are then re-used to capture more carbon, and the carbon captured already is piped to a disposal site. The researchers say they know it works because they tested it at six pilot plants in Norway itself, Germany, Scotland and the US, trying 90 different chemical mixtures before finding the best.

Cost-effective

They also found that the same method can be used to create hydrogen from natural gas, capturing the CO2 in the process. The hydrogen is emission-free.

Part of Sintef’s research has involved calculating the costs to global industry of capturing the carbon it produces – US$97 a tonne for coal-fired power stations. This, Sintef says, is far less than the cost to the planet of releasing the carbon into the atmosphere.

Carbon capture from steel and cement works costs less than this because they use waste heat from the plants.

The team have based their figures on the average cost for 600 coal-fired plants, each capturing one million tonnes of CO2 a year, and includes transport and storage costs. They have also tested and developed the best leak-proof pipelines for taking the gas to where it will be injected into the ground for storage.

Soil improver

The cost varies between plants, depending partly on the distance to a suitable storage place, but the scientists say CCS is getting cheaper all the time because it is getting more efficient, and they expect the price will continue to fall.

Currently much of the research is being directed to finding suitable storage sites and making sure that once the carbon is injected into the storage reservoir it stays put.

The second method, Bio-CCS, is simpler and easier. Biological waste, wood chips or manure can be heated for 20 minutes to a temperature of between 500°C and 700°C in the absence of air and turned into charcoal. Bio-carbon, as it is called, is a good soil improver, and the plan is to produce it in small plants on Norwegian farms and spread it on the land. As long as it is not burned, it stays stored in the soil.

By using their simple methods the Norwegians believe that if 4,000 of their farms used the technology, half their agricultural emissions could be eliminated.

The post Carbon Capture Could Save the Planet appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Democrats Push Impeachment Rules Package Through House

WASHINGTON — Democrats rammed a package of ground rules for their impeachment inquiry of President Donald Trump through a sharply divided House Thursday, the chamber’s first formal vote in a fight that could stretch into the 2020 election year.

The tally was 232-196, with all Republicans against the resolution and just two Democratic defectors joining them: freshman Rep. Jeff Van Drew of New Jersey and 15-term veteran Rep. Collin Peterson of Minnesota, one of his party’s most conservative members. Both represent GOP-leaning districts.

The vote laid down the rules as lawmakers transition from weeks of closed-door interviews with witnesses to public hearings and ultimately to possible votes on whether to recommend Trump’s removal from office.

The action also took on more than technical meaning, with each party aware that the impeachment effort looms as a defining issue for next year’s presidential and congressional campaigns.

The vote, which occurred on Halloween, drew a familiar Twitter retort from Trump: “The greatest Witch Hunt in American History!”

White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham accused House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the Democrats of an “unhinged obsession with this illegitimate impeachment proceeding.”

During the debate, Democrats spoke of lawmakers’ duty to defend the Constitution, while Republicans cast the process as a skewed attempt to railroad a president whom Democrats have detested since before he took office.

“What is at stake in all this is nothing less than our democracy,” said Pelosi. Underscoring her point, she addressed the House with a poster of the American flag beside her and began her remarks by reading the opening lines of the preamble to the Constitution.

House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., said Trump had done nothing impeachable and accused Democrats of trying to remove him “because they are scared they cannot defeat him at the ballot box.”

No. 3 House GOP leader Steve Scalise, R-La., accused Democrats of imposing “Soviet-style rules,” speaking in front of a bright red poster depicting the Kremlin.

Independent Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, who left the Republican Party earlier this year after saying he was open to considering whether Trump should be impeached, also backed the measure.

The investigation is focused on Trump’s efforts to push Ukraine to investigate his Democratic political opponents by withholding military aid and an Oval Office meeting craved by the country’s new president.

Democrats said the procedures — which give them the ability to curb the president’s lawyers from calling witnesses — are similar to rules used during the impeachment proceedings of Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton. Republicans complained they were skewed against Trump.

It is likely to take weeks or more before the House decides whether to vote on actually impeaching Trump. If the House does vote for impeachment, the Senate would hold a trial to decide whether to remove the president from office.

Both parties’ leaders were rounding up votes as Thursday’s roll call approached, with each side eager to come as close to unanimity as possible.

Republicans said a solid GOP “no” vote would signal to the Senate that the Democratic push is a partisan crusade against a president they have never liked.

Democrats were also hoping to demonstrate solidarity from their most liberal elements to their most moderate members. They argued that GOP cohesion against the measure would show that Republicans are blindly defending Trump, whatever facts emerge.

“It will show the other party has become the party of Trump. It’s really not the Republican Party any longer,” said Rep. Dan Kildee, D-Mich.

Republicans said they’d use the vote to target freshman Democrats and those from districts Trump carried in 2016. They said they would contrast those Democrats’ support for the rules with campaign promises to focus on issues voters want to address, not on impeaching Trump.

The House GOP’s campaign arm sent emails to reporters all but taunting some of those Democrats including freshman Rep. Chris Pappas, D-N.H. “Pappas wants to be a one-termer,” one said.

GOP leaders called the rules “Speaker Pelosi’s sham process designed to discredit the Democratic process” in their daily impeachment email to lawmakers.

Pelosi decided to have the vote following weeks of GOP claims that the inquiry was invalid because the chamber had not voted to formally commence the work.

The rules lay out how the House Intelligence Committee — now leading the investigation by deposing diplomats and other officials behind closed doors — would transition to public hearings.

That panel would issue a report and release transcripts of the closed-door interviews it has been conducting.

The Judiciary Committee would then decide whether to recommend that the House impeach Trump.

According to the rules for hearings, Republicans could only issue subpoenas for witnesses to appear if the entire panel approved them — in effect giving Democrats veto power.

Attorneys for Trump could participate in the Judiciary Committee proceedings. But in a bid for leverage, panel Chairman Jerrold Nadler, D-N.Y., would be allowed to deny “specific requests” by Trump representatives if the White House continued refusing to provide documents or witnesses sought by Democratic investigators.

The rules also direct House committees “to continue their ongoing investigations” of Trump.

Top Democrats think that language will shield their members from weeks of Republican complaints that the inquiry has been invalid because the House had not formally voted to begin that work.

Democrats have said there’s no constitutional provision or House rule requiring such a vote.

___

Associated Press writers Andrew Taylor and Lisa Mascaro contributed to this report.

The post Democrats Push Impeachment Rules Package Through House appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

White House Lawyer Rushed to Hide Transcript of Ukraine Call: Report

White House lawyer John Eisenberg reportedly rushed to hide the transcript of President Donald Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine’s leader on a highly classified server shortly after National Security Council official Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman—who testified before House impeachment investigators Wednesday—raised alarm about the conversation.

Citing anonymous officials familiar with Vindman’s account, the Washington Post reported late Wednesday that “Vindman told Eisenberg, the White House’s legal adviser on national security issues, that what the president did was wrong.”

After “scribbling notes on a yellow legal pad,” according to the Post, “Eisenberg proposed a step that other officials have said is at odds with long-standing White House protocol: moving a transcript of the call to a highly classified server and restricting access to it.”

“The White House lawyer later directed the transcript’s removal to a system known as NICE, for NSC Intelligence Collaboration Environment, which is normally reserved for code-word-level ­intelligence programs and top-secret sources and methods,” the Post reported. “Former Trump national security officials said it was unheard of to store presidential calls with foreign leaders on the NICE system but that Eisenberg had moved at least one other transcript of a Trump phone call there.”

House impeachment investigators have asked Eisenberg to testify Monday. It is not yet clear whether the White House will attempt to bar him from participating.

“In light of this astonishing story, it is imperative that Eisenberg testify before Congress about his involvement in concealing the Ukraine affair and explain the other presidential call memorandum he moved to the codeword system and why,” said CNN legal analyst Susan Hennessey.

Not Giuliani. Not his personal lawyer. The *White House* lawyer. https://t.co/z1qxfQqATg

— Ken Tremendous (@KenTremendous) October 31, 2019

The Post‘s story was viewed as further evidence that the White House engaged in a widespread cover-up to suppress possibly illegal conduct by Trump, who pressured the Ukrainian president to launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden.

As Common Dreams reported, Vindman told House impeachment investigators during his 10 hours of testimony Wednesday that the White House omitted key details from the rough transcript of Trump’s call that it released last month.

“For weeks Trump called the call record which showed he sought foreign influence in our elections a ‘perfect transcript,'” said Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.) in response to Vindman’s testimony. “It was a doctored transcript. The White House cut out some of his words, refused to restore them, and hid the transcript in a secure server.”

The post White House Lawyer Rushed to Hide Transcript of Ukraine Call: Report appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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