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CIA-Trained Afghan Forces Behind War Atrocities, Report Finds

ISLAMABAD — Heavily armed men burst into the home in the middle of night, hustling four brothers into separate rooms, their hands bound. Afghan special forces then shot them in the head and heart. The operation, the CIA-trained Afghan unit said, targeted Islamic State militants in a remote region of eastern Nangarhar Province.

In reality, the raid took place in the province’s capital of Jalalabad, within earshot of Justice Ministry offices. In an interview with The Associated Press, the family said the dead brothers included a school teacher and an assistant to a member of Afghanistan’s parliament. The truth of their deaths was eventually revealed by local and international media and the country’s intelligence chief, Masoom Stanikzai, was forced to resign.

But that’s not enough, says Human Rights Watch in a new report released Thursday documenting what it says are mounting atrocities by U.S.-backed Afghan special forces and rising civilian deaths by both American and Afghan forces. It calls for an investigation into whether the U.S. has committed war crimes in Afghanistan.

The report says U.S.-led peace talks to end the 18-year-old war have omitted addressing the fate of the Afghan special forces that work “as part of the covert operations of the Central Intelligence Agency.” The report suggests either disbanding them or bringing them under the control of the Defense Ministry.

“These troops include Afghan strike forces who have been responsible for extrajudicial executions and enforced disappearances, indiscriminate airstrikes, attacks on medical facilities, and other violations of international humanitarian law, or the laws of war,” it says.

Speaking with The Associated Press on condition of anonymity, several Afghan, Taliban and U.S. officials, including some who are involved in trying to resuscitate peace talks, said the Taliban won’t agree to reduce attacks without a reduction in violence from the U.S. and Afghan side.

President Donald Trump ended negotiations with the Taliban over what he said was the insurgents’ unacceptable level of violence.

According to HRW and several U.N. reports, Afghan special operations units are now partly responsible for rising civilian deaths and rights abuses. They operate with seeming impunity under Afghanistan’s intelligence agency, the National Security Directorate, and hold nondescript names like Unit 01 or Khost Protection Forces.

HRW’s report, the culmination of a nearly two-year investigation, documented instances of families terrorized by night raids, summary executions and disappearances of people, some of whom are never heard from again. In preparing the report, researchers interviewed 39 Afghans directly impacted by offenses and several witnesses in nine different provinces.

The report tells of raids in Zurmat in eastern Paktia Province. Witnesses said Afghan and U.S. strike forces blew open the door of one home and shot dead four men as the family watched. In a second house, three shopkeepers and a guest, all home for a holiday, were shot and killed, said a witness. In a third incident in Zurmat, a religious teacher and two construction workers were killed.

Quoting the Afghanistan Analysts Network, an independent research organization, the report said the three brothers operated a shop in the center of the city of Ghazni.

In southern Kandahar province in March, an Afghan strike force arrived in Panjwai in the night and took away two men. One has not been heard from since. A few weeks later in a nearby village, witnesses said a 60-year-old school principal was shot and killed by the strike force after separating him from the women in his household. The body was left in the courtyard.

The incidents prompted demonstrations by local residents who complained to researchers: “Why are we always being killed by them? What’s our mistake?”

Human Rights Watch shared its findings with both the U.S. and Afghan authorities.

Kaber Aqmal, spokesman for the National Security adviser, refused to respond to the report directly but said “the Afghan government is doing its best to safeguard lives of the Afghan civilians, we are looking for all those possible ways to avoid civilian casualties.” He blamed the casualties on Taliban insurgents.

The U.S. military, without addressing specific cases, blamed the suffering of civilians on Taliban, Islamic State and al-Qaida fighters and called the Taliban violence “pointless.” The U.S. says it holds itself to a higher standard of accountability than IS or the Taliban.

“The battlefield is complex_the fighting is in crowded cities and in populated villages,” the U.S. military said in a response included in HRW’s report. “Our challenges are immense because we face enemies who do not wear uniforms, who hide among women and children, and who use lies about the death of civilians to try and check our effectiveness.”

HRW Associate Asia Director Patricia Gossman, the report’s author, said the U.S. has failed to investigate the “raid incidents” by Afghan forces and its probes into civilian airstrike deaths have been “shockingly deficient.”

The U.S. has taken a more aggressive approach to the conflict since 2017, according to the report. It quotes Secretary of State Mike Pompeo who said the CIA “must be aggressive, vicious, unforgiving, relentless.”

The Human Rights Watch report also called for an investigation into allegations that U.S. military personnel were with Afghan forces when possible war crimes were committed.

Previously, the U.S. has flatly denied any accusation of war crimes. It rebuked the International Criminal Court for even suggesting an investigation and denied one of its prosecutor’s a U.S. visa. The ICC later stated it would not investigate war crimes allegations in Afghanistan by any party to the conflict, including America.

HRW is seeking an investigation, though it did not specify what organization should carry out the probe.

___

Associated Press writer Rahim Faiez in Kabul contributed to this report.

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Top Trump Adviser Steps Down Ahead of Impeachment Testimony

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s top adviser for Russian and European affairs is leaving his job at the White House, a day before he’s scheduled to testify before the House impeachment investigators, a senior administration official said Wednesday.

Tim Morrison owes his job at the National Security Council to Trump, but his testimony Thursday in the House impeachment inquiry might be central to a push to remove the president from office.

A senior administration official said Morrison “has decided to pursue other opportunities.” The official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s job and spoke only on condition of anonymity, said Morrison has been considering leaving the administration for “some time.”

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Morrison has been in the spotlight since August when a government whistleblower said multiple U.S. officials had said Trump was “using the power of his office to solicit interference from a foreign country in the 2020 U.S. election.”

Now it’s his turn in the impeachment probe’s hot seat.

Morrison, tall and lean with an authoritative voice, will be asked to explain that “sinking feeling” he got when Trump demanded that Ukraine’s president investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and meddling in the 2016 election.

Morrison, who is in his 40s, is a political appointee in the Trump White House, brought on board by former national security adviser John Bolton to address arms control matters and later shifted into his current role as a top Russia and Europe adviser. It was there that he stepped into the thick of an in-house squabble about the activities of Rudy Giuliani, Trump’s personal attorney who had been conversing with Ukrainian leaders outside of traditional U.S. diplomatic circles.

Known as a “hawk” in national security circles, Morrison is set to be the first political appointee from the White House to testify before impeachment investigators. The probe has been denounced by the president, who has directed his staff not to testify.

Regardless of what he says, GOP lawmakers will be hard-pressed to dismiss Morrison, formerly a longtime Republican staffer at the House Armed Services Committee. He’s been bouncing around Washington in Republican positions for two decades, having worked for Rep. Mark Kennedy, R-Minn., Sen. Jon Kyl, R-Ariz., and as a GOP senior staffer on the House Armed Services Committee, including nearly four years when it was chaired by Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas.

Morrison’s name appeared more than a dozen times in earlier testimony by William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador in Ukraine, who told impeachment investigators that Trump was withholding military aid unless the new Ukrainian president, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, went public with a promise to investigate Trump’s political rival Joe Biden and his son Hunter. Taylor’s testimony contradicts Trump’s repeated denials that there was any quid pro quo.

Taylor said Morrison recounted a conversation that Gordon Sondland, America’s ambassador to the European Union, had with a top aide to Zelenskiy named Andriy Yermak. Taylor said Morrison told him security assistance would not materialize until Zelenskiy committed to investigate Burisma, a Ukrainian gas company that once employed Biden’s son. A White House meeting for Zelenskiy also was in play.

“I was alarmed by what Mr. Morrison told me about the Sondland-Yermak conversation,” Taylor testified. “This was the first time I had heard that the security assistance — not just the White House meeting — was conditioned on the investigations.”

Taylor testified that Morrison told him he had a “sinking feeling” after learning about a Sept. 7 conversation Sondland had with Trump.

“According to Mr. Morrison, President Trump told Ambassador Sondland that he was not asking for a quid pro quo,” Taylor testified. “But President Trump did insist that President Zelenskiy go to a microphone and say he is opening investigations of Biden and 2016 election interference, and that President Zelenskiy should want to do this himself. Mr. Morrison said that he told Ambassador Bolton and the NSC lawyers of this phone call between President Trump and Ambassador Sondland.”

Morrison told people after Bolton was forced out of his job that the national security adviser had tried to stop Giuliani’s diplomatic dealings with Ukraine and that Morrison agreed, according to a U.S. official, who was not authorized to discuss Morrison’s role in the impeachment inquiry and spoke only on condition of anonymity. The official said Morrison told people that with the appointment of Robert O’Brien as Bolton’s successor, his own future work at the NSC was in a “holding pattern.”

Bolton had brought Morrison into the NSC in July 2018 as senior director for weapons of mass destruction and biodefence. He’s known as an arms control expert or an arms treaty saboteur, depending on who you ask.

Morrison, who earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and a law degree from George Washington University, keeps nuclear strategist Herman Kahn’s seminal volume on thermonuclear warfare on a table in his office.

Daryl Kimball, executive director of the Arms Control Association, said Bolton and Morrison are likeminded. Kimball said both have been known for calling up GOP congressional offices warning them against saying anything about arms control that didn’t align with their views.

“Just as John Bolton reportedly did, I would be shocked if Morrison did not regard Giuliani’s activities as being out of bounds,” said Kimball, who has been on opposite sides of arms control debates with Morrison for more than a decade.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller and Matthew Lee contributed to this report.

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Bolton Summoned; First Big Vote Set on Impeachment Probe

WASHINGTON — House investigators are summoning former national security adviser John Bolton to testify in their impeachment inquiry, deepening their reach into the White House as the probe accelerates toward a potential vote to remove the president.

Democratic lawmakers want to hear next week from Bolton, the hawkish former adviser who openly sparred over the administration’s approach to Ukraine, in particular President Donald Trump’s reliance on his personal attorney Rudy Giuliani for a back-channel operation. Bolton once derided Giuliani’s work as a “drug deal” and said he wanted no part of it, according to previous testimony.

The Democrats are also calling John Eisenberg, the lawyer for the NSC who fielded an Army officer’s concerns over Trump’s phone call with the Ukraine president, and Michel Ellis, another security council official, according to a person familiar with the invitation and granted anonymity to discuss it.

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The rush of possible new witnesses comes as the House prepares to take its first official vote Thursday on the process ahead. That includes public hearings in a matter of weeks and the possibility of drafting articles of impeachment against the president.

The White House has urged officials not to testify in the impeachment proceedings, and it’s not guaranteed that those called will appear for depositions, even if they receive subpoenas as previous witnesses have.

Bolton’s former deputy, Charles Kupperman, has filed a lawsuit in federal court asking a judge to resolve the question of whether he can be forced to testify since he was a close and frequent adviser to the president. Any ruling in that case could presumably have an impact on whether Bolton will testify.

Trump and his Republican allies on Capitol Hill say the entire impeachment inquiry is illegitimate and are unpersuaded by the House resolution formally setting out next steps.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said the basic format for the impeachment probe denies Trump the “most basic rights of due process.”

Now in its second month, the investigation is focused on Trump’s July phone call with Ukraine when he asked President Volodymyr Zelenskiy to investigate Democrats and a potential 2020 political rival, Joe Biden, as the White House was withholding military aid Ukraine relies on for its defenses. Democrats contend Trump was proposing a quid-pro-quo arrangement.

On Thursday, the investigators are to hear from Tim Morrison, a former top GOP aide on Capitol Hill, who served at Trump’s National Security Council and was among those likely monitoring the president’s call with Ukraine.

Late Wednesday, it was disclosed that Morrison was resigning his White House position. He has been a central figure in other testimony about Trump’s dealing with Ukraine.

Earlier in the day, the Democratic and Republican House lawmakers heard fresh testimony about the Trump administration’s unusual back channels to Ukraine.

Two State Department Ukraine experts offered new accounts of Trump’s reliance on Giuliani rather than career diplomats to engage with the East European ally, a struggling democracy facing aggression from Russia.

Foreign Service officer Christopher Anderson testified that Bolton cautioned him that Giuliani “was a key voice with the president on Ukraine” and could complicate U.S. goals for the country.

Another Foreign Service officer, Catherine Croft, said that during her time at Trump’s National Security Council, she received “multiple” phone calls from lobbyist Robert Livingston — a former top Republican lawmaker once in line to become House speaker — telling her the U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, Marie Yovanovitch, should be fired.

“It was not clear to me at the time — or now — at whose direction or at whose expense Mr. Livingston was seeking the removal of Ambassador Yovanovitch,” she said in prepared remarks obtained by The Associated Press.

Livingston characterized Yovanovitch as an “‘Obama holdover’ and associated with George Soros,” she said, referring to the American financier who is often the subject of conservative criticism in the U.S. and Europe.

Most Democrats are expected to support the formal impeachment investigation resolution Thursday, even if they don’t back impeachment itself, saying they are in favor of opening the process with more formal procedures.

Public hearings are expected to begin in mid-November, a matter of weeks. Democrats are eager to hear from some top witnesses who have already provided compelling testimony behind closed doors, including diplomat William Taylor, a top ambassador in Ukraine, and Alexander Vindman, the Army officer who testified Tuesday that he twice reported to superiors, including Eisenberg, his concerns about Trump’s actions toward Ukraine.

Vindman is willing to testify publicly, according to a person familiar with the situation and granted anonymity Wednesday to discuss it.

At Trump’s hotel in Washington, during a fundraiser for House Republicans and lengthy dinner afterward with GOP leaders, the president indicated he was prepared for the fight ahead, said those familiar with the private gatherings Tuesday night.

“He’s a tough guy,” said Rep. Steve Scalise of Louisiana, the GOP whip.

Both career diplomats testifying Wednesday had served as top aides to the former U.S. special envoy to Ukraine, Kurt Volker, who was the first to testify in the impeachment inquiry and whose cache of text messages provided key insight into Trump’s demands on the new Ukraine president.

Croft, who testified for nearly five hours, described being told at an administration meeting that security funds for Ukraine were being put on hold “at the direction of the president,” corroborating other accounts that have been provided to investigators.

In his opening statement, Anderson traced his unease with developments that he felt threatened to set back relations between the U.S. and Ukraine.

He told investigators that senior White House officials blocked an effort by the State Department to release a November 2018 statement condemning Russia’s attack on Ukrainian military vessels.

Both witnesses were instructed by the administration to not testify but appeared in response to subpoenas from the House, according to a statement from their attorney Mark MacDougall.

The lawyer told lawmakers that neither of his clients is the whistleblower whose complaint triggered the impeachment inquiry and that he would object to any questions aimed at identifying that person.

___

Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Padmananda Rama, Matthew Daly and Alan Fram contributed to this report.

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Twitter Bans Political Ads Ahead of 2020 Election

SAN FRANCISCO — Twitter, reacting to growing concern about misinformation spread on social media, is banning all political advertising from its service. Its move sets it apart from Facebook, which continues to defend running paid political ads, even false ones, as a free speech priority.

“While internet advertising is incredibly powerful and very effective for commercial advertisers, that power brings significant risks to politics, where it can be used to influence votes to affect the lives of millions,” Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey said Wednesday in a series of tweets announcing the new policy.

Facebook has taken fire since it disclosed earlier in October that it will not fact-check ads by politicians or their campaigns, which could allow them to lie freely. CEO Mark Zuckerberg told Congress last week that politicians have the right to free speech on Facebook.

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The issue suddenly arose in September when Twitter, along with Facebook and Google, refused to remove a misleading video ad from President Donald Trump’s campaign that targeted former Vice President Joe Biden, a leading Democratic presidential candidate.

In response, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Warren, another presidential hopeful, ran her own ad on Facebook taking aim at Zuckerberg. The ad falsely claimed that Zuckerberg endorsed President Donald Trump for re-election, acknowledging the deliberate falsehood as necessary to make a point.

Critics have called on Facebook to ban all political ads. These include CNN chief Jeff Zucker, who recently called the company’s policy of allowing lies “absolutely ludicrous” and advised the social media giant to sit out the 2020 election until it can figure out something better.

During Facebook’s earnings conference call — which began less than an hour after Dorsey’s tweet — Zuckerberg stood by the company’s decision to run unchecked political ads. He emphatically stressed what he called Facebook’s deep belief “that political speech is important” and denied any financial motive, noting that political ads make up less than half of a percent of the company’s revenue.

To put that in perspective, he added, Facebook’s recent $5 billion Federal Trade Commission fine was more than 10 times that.

“This is complex stuff. Anyone who says the answer is simple hasn’t thought about the nuances and downstream challenges,” he said. “I don’t think anyone can say that we are not doing what we believe or we haven’t thought hard about these issues.”

Google had no immediate comment on Twitter’s policy change.

Misleading political ads on social media burst into the spotlight during the 2016 presidential election, when Russian agents took out thousands of ads on Facebook in an attempt to sow political division and influence the election.

Montana Gov. Steve Bullock, another Democratic 2020 contender, retweeted Dorsey’s announcement, adding the comment, “Good. Your turn, Facebook.”

Dorsey said the company is recognizing that advertising on social media offers an unfair level of targeting compared to other mediums. It is not about free expression, he asserted.

“This is about paying for reach. And paying to increase the reach of political speech has significant ramifications that today’s democratic infrastructure may not be prepared to handle,” he tweeted. “It’s worth stepping back in order to address.”

Twitter currently only allows certified campaigns and organizations to run political ads for candidates and issues. The latter tend to advocate on broader issues such as climate change, abortion rights and immigration.

The company said it will make some exceptions, such as allowing ads that encourage voter turnout. It will describe those in a detailed policy it plans to release on Nov. 15.

It will also still allow politicians to freely tweet their thoughts and opinions, which can then be shared and spread. Trump’s Twitter feed in particular is known for his often bombastic and controversial tweets that are shared widely.

Twitter said in June that political figures and world leaders who tweet abusive or threatening messages might get slapped with a warning label, but the tweets would remain on the site. Twitter has not yet used this warning label.

Federal campaigns are expected to spend the majority of advertising dollars on broadcast and cable channels during the 2020 election, according to advertising research firm Kantar, and about 20% of the total $6 billion in spending on digital ads.

Twitter’s policy will start on Nov. 22.

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Wildfires Outside L.A. Threaten Homes, Spare Reagan Library

SIMI VALLEY, Calif. — A wind-whipped outbreak of wildfires outside Los Angeles on Wednesday threatened thousands of homes and horse ranches, forced the smoky evacuation of elderly patients in wheelchairs and narrowly bypassed the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library, protected in part by a buffer zone chewed by goats.

With California tinder dry and fires burning in both the north and south, the state was at the mercy of gusty winds, on high alert for any new flames that could run wild, and weary from intentional blackouts aimed at preventing power lines from sparking more destruction.

The blaze near the Reagan library in Simi Valley was driven by strong Santa Ana winds that are the bane of Southern California in the fall and have historically fanned the most destructive fires in the region.

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The cause was not yet determined, but Southern California Edison filed a report with state regulators to say it began near its power lines. Electrical equipment has sparked some of California’s worst wildfires in recent years and prompted utilities to resort to precautionary power outages. SoCal Edison had not cut power in the area at the time this fire started.

The library, which holds the presidential archives and whose grounds include the graves of Reagan and his wife, Nancy, was well-equipped when flames surrounded it. It relies on a combination of high-tech defenses such as fireproof vaults and a low-tech measure taken every year, when hundreds of goats are brought in to feed on the brush and create a firebreak.

An army of firefighters helped protect the hilltop museum, and helicopters hit the flames, leaving some neighbors resentful as they frantically hosed down fires in the surrounding subdivisions and open ranchland.

Armed with just a garden hose and wearing a mask, Beth Rivera watered down the perimeter of her large home to prevent embers from igniting dry grass and trees. Friends helped evacuate 11 horses from the property. Soaring flames were only 30 yards (27 meters) away and blowing toward her house, with no firetrucks in sight.

Animals could be heard shrieking in a barn burning next door on Tierra Rejada Road, where large ranches with riding stables and horse rings line the road. Two horses bolted into the street from the flaming barn, trailing a cloud of smoke.

“Oh gosh, this isn’t fun,” Rivera said. “There isn’t a fire unit (here) at the moment because they’re busy working on the fire close to the library. This is why I’m very worried. Because I can’t … save my home.”

Within minutes, a fire crew arrived to help Rivera and her boyfriend protect their home.

The brush fire broke out before dawn between the cities of Simi Valley and Moorpark north of Los Angeles and exploded to more than 1,300 acres (526 hectares), Ventura County officials said. About 7,000 homes, or around 26,000 people, were ordered evacuated, authorities said.

Wind gusts up to 68 mph (109 kph) were reported in the area, forecasters said. Other spots in Southern California were buffeted by even stronger winds. The gusts knocked over a truck on a freeway in Fontana.

Another wildfire forced the evacuation of two mobile home parks and a health care facility in Jurupa Valley, 45 miles (72 kilometers) east of Los Angeles, where elderly people were taken out in wheelchairs and gurneys as smoke swirled overhead. The blaze was at least 200 acres (80 hectares) in size.

Meanwhile, nearly 1 million people who rely on Pacific Gas & Electric were without power across Northern California amid the third blackout in a week imposed by the state’s largest utility.

In wine country north of San Francisco, fire officials reported progress in their battle against a 120-square-mile (310-square-kilometer) blaze in Sonoma County, saying it was 30% contained.

The fire destroyed at least 206 structures, including 94 homes, and threatened 90,000 more, most of them homes, authorities said. More than 150,000 people were under evacuation orders.

Winds topped out at 70 mph (112 kph) north of San Francisco Bay and began to ease early Wednesday, but forecasters said the fire danger would remain high because of continuing breezes and dry air.

In Southern California, fire crews continued trying to snuff out a wildfire in the celebrity-studded hills of Los Angeles that destroyed a dozen homes on Monday. About 9,000 people, including Arnold Schwarzenegger and LeBron James, were ordered to evacuate.

No deaths have been reported from the recent fires, but toppled trees claimed three lives.

In the battle taking place in the dry hills around Simi Valley, 800 firefighters worked on the ground as helicopters precisely dropped water on the leading edge of the flames and a jet streamed red fire retardant to slow the fire’s growth.

Firefighters successfully protected the library, leaving it looking like an island in a soot-black sea. Flames came within about 30 yards (27 meters) of the property, but there was no damage, library spokeswoman Melissa Giller said.

Residents were warned of evacuations when their cellphones blared with emergency messages and police officers went door to door.

“Everything started rolling so fast,” said Elena Mishkanian, describing the time from the text to when she heard sirens.

Her family was able to gather only some basics. Her daughter, Megan, 17, took some photos and mementos of trips she had taken. Her son, Troy, 13, netted six pet fish from a tank and put them in pots.

“Fish have feelings!” he said when Megan teased him about it. “Even if they don’t make it, at least I know I tried.”

As they left the house, police tied yellow caution tape around their front door to show they had left.

___

Melley reported from Los Angeles. Associated Press writers John Antczak and Christopher Weber in Los Angeles, and Stefanie Dazio in Thousand Oaks contributed.

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Chile Scraps Asia-Pacific and Climate Summits Amid Protests

SANTIAGO, Chile — Chilean President Sebastián Piñera said Wednesday that he is canceling two major international summits so he can respond to protracted nationwide protests over economic inequality that have left more than a dozen people dead, hundreds injured and businesses and infrastructure damaged.

The decision to call off the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation and U.N. global climate gatherings, planned for November and December, respectively, dealt a major blow to Chile’s image as a regional oasis of stability and economic development.

Piñera said he was forced to cancel both events due to the chaos unleashed by 13 days of protests. Demonstrators are demanding greater economic equality and better public services in a country long seen as an economic success story. Shops have been vandalized and buildings set on fire, shutting down numerous subway stations.

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“This has been a very difficult decision that causes us great pain,” Piñera said in a televised address. “A president always has to put the needs of his countrymen first.”

Trade and climate negotiators scrambled to find new locations for their summits, aimed at resolving tariff-related conflicts between China and the U.S. and finalizing countries’ climate rules in advance of a bigger summit next year during which governments will be asked to commit to new emissions limits.

President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping had hoped to sign a modest trade agreement at the APEC summit, formerly scheduled to take place in Santiago on Nov. 16-17. Under the tentative deal, the U.S. had agreed to suspend plans to raise tariffs on $250 billion in Chinese imports, and Beijing had agreed to step up purchases of U.S. farm products.

White House spokesman Hogan Gidley said U.S. officials were “awaiting potential information regarding another location,” but it was unclear if any had been proposed. Gidley added that Trump wanted to sign the deal with China “within the same time frame,” hinting that a separate event could occur outside a summit.

The so-called Phase One trade agreement did little to address the underlying U.S. grievances against China, including its alleged practice of forcing foreign firms to hand over trade secrets; stealing technology, and unfairly subsidizing Chinese firms. China’s leaders have been reluctant to make the kind of policy reforms that would satisfy Washington, worrying such concessions would mean scaling back their aspirations to become a world leader in advanced technologies such as artificial intelligence and driverless cars.

Still, the apparent cancellation of the summit “removes a hard deadline for action toward a comprehensive agreement in the trade war,” said Jeff Moon, a former U.S. diplomat and trade official specializing in China who is now president of the China Moon Strategies consultancy. “That hard deadline and the relatively short period of time available allowed Trump and Xi to give themselves permission to do only easy things and delay indefinitely resolving tough issues.”

Now, Moon said, “there is no excuse for not pressing forward with the full U.S. agenda of concerns.”

Climate advocates said they were disappointed but expected to relocate their talks. The Santiago climate conference was meant to work out some of the remaining unresolved rules for countries on climate efforts, smoothing the way for the bigger effort in the 2020 summit: encouraging countries to up their commitments to cutting climate-changing emissions.

“The absence of rules does not stop countries from acting either alone or together” to cut emissions, said Nigel Purvis, a climate and environment negotiator in the administrations of Presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush. “It really shouldn’t slow down climate action.”

But other climate experts said it was important to get those rules worked out in advance.

“To load everything into one conference — I think they’ll work pretty hard not to do that,” said Henry Jacoby, a climate expert at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

Rachel Cleetus, policy director at the Union of Concerned Scientists, said she believed there would be “every effort made that some type of … meeting does happen.”

“These … are the venues where the global community comes together to decide how to tackle this problem together,” she said. “The climate challenge requires every country to act, but it requires us to act collectively.”

U.N. Climate Change Executive Secretary Patricia Espinosa issued a statement saying that “alternative hosting options” were being explored. And a U.N. official, speaking on condition of anonymity for lack of authorization to comment publicly, said that all U.N. venues are being considered as options. Those would include cities such as New York, Geneva, Bonn, Vienna and Nairobi.

___

Associated Press writer Ellen Knickmeyer and Paul Wiseman in Washington, and Frank Jordans in Berlin, contributed to this story.

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‘Horrifying’ Climate Study Finds We Have Less Time Than We Think

Ho Chi Minh City, along with the rest of southern Vietnam, “could all but disappear” by 2050.

Bangkok, Thailand, currently home to over eight million people, is under severe threat.

Basra, Iraq, the nation’s second-largest city, “could be mostly underwater” by mid-century.

Those are just some of the alarming conclusions of a new research paper on the dire global consequences of rising sea levels driven by the climate crisis.

According to the study, published Tuesday in the journal Nature Communications, “chronic coastal flooding or permanent inundation” due to rising seas could threaten three times more people than scientists previously believed if urgent action is not taken to establish protections and confront the underlying crisis.

The authors of the paper “developed a more accurate way of calculating land elevation based on satellite readings, a standard way of estimating the effects of sea level rise over large areas, and found that the previous numbers were far too optimistic,” the New York Times reported. “The new research shows that some 150 million people are now living on land that will be below the high-tide line by mid-century.”

Dina Ionesco of the International Organization for Migration told the Times that nations must begin preparing for massive internal relocations of citizens.

“We’ve been trying to ring the alarm bells,” Ionesco said. “We know that it’s coming.”

The Times published striking graphics that contrasted the amount of land that could be underwater by 2050 under the old projections with the “horrifying” new projections.

Bangkok, Thailand

The @nytclimate folks have horrifying visuals they’ve put together. Here’s Bangkok. The term the Times used was “erase,” which is pretty much right. https://t.co/EH67OMspcN pic.twitter.com/84DafEvuBn

— Jacob Ward (@byjacobward) October 29, 2019

Alexandria, Egypt

The effects of rising seas will be far worse than previously thought, wiping out entire cities by 2050, new data shows.

This is Alexandria, Egypt, under the old and new projections.https://t.co/f2iAOari5D @DeniseDSLu pic.twitter.com/U2PzLs6D2f

— Christopher Flavelle (@cflav) October 29, 2019

Vietnam

Image shows new predictions for sea level rise by 2050. The blue shows the land underwater at high tide. Southern Vietnam almost completely under water. https://t.co/QZ66OhP92Y pic.twitter.com/6unr6AWEG2

— Joel Tozer (@jttozer) October 29, 2019

Shanghai, China

Big wow! Rising Seas Will Erase More Cities by 2050, New Research Shows https://t.co/RlAAjCkEIN. see example of #Shanghai pic.twitter.com/U3pB6hGbdH

— Cornie Huizenga (@CornieHuizenga) October 29, 2019

“Climate change is shrinking the planet, in the scariest possible way,” Bill McKibben, founder of 350.org, tweeted in response to the new research.

Climate scientist Peter Kalmus noted that he was concerned about “being labeled ‘alarmist'” when he first started speaking out about the climate crisis.

“Now I embrace the term,” said Kalmus, linking to the Times graphics. “I’m here to sound the alarm. For good reason.”

The post ‘Horrifying’ Climate Study Finds We Have Less Time Than We Think appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Missouri Agency Tracked Menstrual Periods of Planned Parenthood Clients

ST. LOUIS—Missouri’s health department director on Tuesday said he tracked the menstrual cycles of Planned Parenthood patients as part of an effort to identify what the agency says were “failed abortions” at a St. Louis clinic.

Department of Health and Senior Services Director Randall Williams made the revelation during the second day of an administrative hearing to determine whether Missouri’s only abortion clinic will lose its license to perform the procedure.

Williams said an investigator made a spreadsheet at his request that included the dates of patients’ last periods, The Kansas City Star reported. He said the goal was to find women who needed multiple procedures to complete an abortion.

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The head of the St. Louis clinic called the move “deeply disturbing.”

“Missouri’s top health official, Randall Williams, scrutinized menstrual cycles of women in this state in order to end abortion access,” Yamelsie Rodriguez, president and CEO of Reproductive Health Services of Planned Parenthood of the St. Louis Region, said in a statement.

Missouri House Minority Leader Crystal Quade, a Democrat from Springfield, called for an investigation to see if patient privacy was compromised or if laws were broken. She also was critical of Williams’ actions.

“State law requires the health department director to be ‘of recognized character and integrity,'” Quade said in a statement. “This unsettling behavior calls into question whether Dr. Williams meets that high standard.”

The state had moved to revoke the clinic’s license in June, citing concerns about a series of “failed abortions,” and a lack of cooperation from some of the doctors involved.

While Williams said concerns about the clinic are “grave,” he said the issues are “imminently fixable.” He believes there are solutions that both the state and Planned Parenthood would agree to that would allow for licensure.

Planned Parenthood says there are no deals on the table.

Wrangling over the license began when an investigator involved in a March inspection of the clinic found that a woman had undergone an abortion that took five attempts to complete. William Koebel, director of the section of the health department responsible for abortion clinic licensing, said Monday that the clinic failed to provide a “complication report” for that incident.

That failure led the health department to launch an investigation of other instances where women were required to undergo multiple procedures before an abortion was completed, Koebel said.

As part of that investigation, the state obtained medical records of women who had abortions at the clinic. They found four women who required multiple procedures, including one where the physician apparently missed that a woman was pregnant with twins. The woman underwent two procedures five weeks apart.

Planned Parenthood officials contend the state “cherry-picked” a handful of difficult cases out of thousands of otherwise successful abortions. They have accused the state of using the licensing process as a tool to eliminate abortions in Missouri, saying the state is among several conservative-led states seeking to end abortion through tough new laws and tighter restrictions.

The Administrative Hearing Commission isn’t expected to rule on the licensing issue until February at the earliest. In the meantime, the clinic remains open.

Missouri would become the first state since 1974, the year after the Supreme Court’s Roe v. Wade decision, without a functioning abortion clinic if the license is revoked.

Missouri is among several states to pass new restrictions on abortions in the hope that the increasingly conservative U.S. Supreme Court will eventually overturn Roe v. Wade. Parson, a Republican, signed legislation in May banning abortions at or beyond eight weeks of pregnancy, with exceptions for medical emergencies but not for rape or incest. The law is on hold while a legal challenge plays out in court.

While the Missouri case unfolded, Planned Parenthood quietly built a new abortion clinic in Illinois, just across the Mississippi River from St. Louis, in part to meet demand from Missouri residents. The clinic in Fairview Heights opened Wednesday.

Missouri women have been increasingly getting abortions at the Hope Clinic for Women in Granite City, Illinois, another St. Louis suburb. Deputy Director Alison Dreith said 58% of the abortions performed at the Hope Clinic through August of this year involved Missouri women, compared with 37% involving Illinois women.

Another abortion clinic sits in Overland Park, Kansas, a Kansas City suburb. The clinic is 2 miles (3 kilometers) from the state line. Information from the state of Kansas shows about 3,300 of the 7,000 abortions performed there last year involved Missouri residents.

The post Missouri Agency Tracked Menstrual Periods of Planned Parenthood Clients appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Federal Judge Blocks Alabama’s Near-Total Abortion Ban

MONTGOMERY, Ala.—A federal judge on Tuesday blocked Alabama’s near-total abortion ban from taking effect next month, saying the law, part of a wave of new abortion restrictions by conservative states, is clearly unconstitutional.

U.S. District Judge Myron Thompson issued an expected preliminary injunction temporarily blocking Alabama from enforcing the law that would make performing an abortion a felony in almost all cases. The ruling came after abortion providers sued to block the law from taking effect Nov. 15. The injunction will remain in place until Thompson decides the full case.

“Alabama’s abortion ban contravenes clear Supreme Case Court precedent,” Thompson wrote in an accompanying opinion. “It violates the right of an individual to privacy, to make choices central to personal dignity and autonomy. It diminishes the capacity of women to act in society, and to make reproductive decisions. It defies the United States Constitution.”

Related Articles by TomDispatch by by OtherWords

Energized by new conservatives on the U.S. Supreme Court, Alabama and other conservative states have attempted to enact new restrictions on abortion in the hopes of getting Supreme Court justices to reconsider Roe v. Wade, the landmark 1973 decision that legalized abortion nationwide.

A number of states attempted to ban abortion once a fetal heartbeat is detected. The Alabama law went further by attempting to ban almost all abortions with no exceptions for cases of rape and incest.

Passed by the Republican-led legislature, the 2019 Alabama Human Life Protection Act would make performing an abortion at any stage of pregnancy a felony punishable by up to 99 years or life in prison for the abortion provider. The only exceptions would be when there is a serious health risk to the mother or the fetus has a lethal anomaly that would cause it to die shortly after birth.

None of the state bans has taken effect. Some have already been blocked, and elsewhere courts are considering requests to put them on hold while legal challenges play out.

“This is not only a victory for the people of Alabama — it’s a victory for the entire nation. We said it from the start: this ban is blatantly unconstitutional and we will fight it every step of the way,” said Staci Fox, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood Southeast. Planned Parenthood was one of the groups that sued to block the law.

Randall Marshall, executive director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Alabama said the decision was expected.

“Abortion remains legal in Alabama. The state’s repeated attempts to push abortion out of reach by enacting unconstitutional laws restricting abortions has already cost taxpayers nearly 2 ½ million dollars,” Marshall said. “This ill-advised law will cost taxpayers more money.”

Supporters of the Alabama law have also said they anticipated the action but hope to eventually convince the U.S. Supreme Court to roll back abortion rights. Alabama Republican Rep. Terri Collins, who sponsored the ban, said the ruling “is merely the first of many steps on that legal journey.”

“As we have stated before, the state’s objective is to advance our case to the U.S. Supreme Court where we intend to submit evidence that supports our argument that Roe and Casey were wrongly decided and that the Constitution does not prohibit states from protecting unborn children from abortion,” Alabama Attorney General Steve Marshall said in statement.

In a measured statement, Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey said the ban reflects Alabamians beliefs, but that she also supports the “rule of law.”

“This legislation passed with overwhelming support in the Alabama Legislature and was signed into law as a testament to Alabamians’ longstanding belief that every human life is sacred. We must continue doing all we can to protect life,” Ivey said.

The post Federal Judge Blocks Alabama’s Near-Total Abortion Ban appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

White House Official to Offer ‘Damning’ Impeachment Testimony

A White House National Security Council official who listened to President Donald Trump’s phone call with Ukraine’s leader plans to tell House impeachment investigators in a sworn deposition Tuesday that he was so alarmed by the conversation that he reported it to his superiors and the NSC’s top lawyer.

Lt. Col. Alexander Vindman, an active-duty Army officer and the NSC’s top Ukraine expert, will be the first White House official to testify as part of House Democrats’ impeachment inquiry into Trump. Vindman will also be the first official who heard Trump’s call with Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to testify before the committees leading the impeachment probe.

“I was concerned about the call,” Vindman plans to say, according to a copy of his opening statement (pdf) obtained by Politico.

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“I did not think it was proper to demand that a foreign government investigate a U.S. citizen, and I was worried about the implications for the U.S. government’s support of Ukraine,” Vindman will say, referring to Trump’s request that Ukraine launch an investigation into former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter. “This would all undermine U.S. national security.”

Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-Texas.), a member of the House Judiciary Committee, said in a statement that Vindman’s “damning testimony… reinforces the fact that the president of the United States sought to have Ukraine provide dirt” on Biden.

“His efforts were not for the people of the United States, not for the safety and security of Ukraine, but for simply and purely selfish reasons to win a presidential election,” said Jackson Lee. “The facts are damning. The facts must be followed, and the law. And the committees must do their work and the Congress must do its constitutional duty.”

In addition to corroborating the details of the whistleblower complaint prompted by Trump’s call with Zelensky, Vindman’s opening remarks also appear to contradict the sworn testimony of Gordon Sondland, U.S. Ambassador to the European Union.

Vindman plans to say he told Sondland that Trump’s effort to pressure Ukraine to launch an investigation into Biden was “inappropriate.”

Earlier this month, Sondland told House impeachment investigators that no one on NSC staff “ever expressed any concerns to me about our efforts.”

Sondland testimony directly contradicted by Vindman.

According to Vindman, after Sondland told the Ukrainians that it was important they launch Biden/Burisma investigations, Fiona Hill “entered the room and asserted to Amb. Sondland that his statements were inappropriate.” https://t.co/xw0IQJk1nw

— Natasha Bertrand (@NatashaBertrand) October 29, 2019

Rep. Joaquin Castro (D-Texas), a member of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, tweeted that the evidence suggests Sondland is guilty of a crime.

“Based on all the testimony so far,” said Castro, “I believe that Ambassador Gordon Sondland committed perjury.”

The post White House Official to Offer ‘Damning’ Impeachment Testimony appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Reveals Plans for Nationwide Crackdown and More Militarized Police

President Donald Trump on Monday said the Justice Department is preparing to launch a sweeping crackdown on crime that he named “the surge,” a term commonly associated with the George W. Bush administration’s decision to send tens of thousands of additional troops into Iraq in 2007.

“In coming weeks, Attorney General Barr will announce a new crackdown on violent crime—which I think is so important—targeting gangs and drug traffickers in high crime cities and dangerous rural areas,” Trump said during the International Association of Chiefs of Police conference in Chicago. “Let’s call it the surge.”

The president did not provide any details on the plan but said it is going to be “very dramatic.”

“And you’re going to see tremendous results very quickly,” Trump added.

As if to emphasize his view of America’s cities as war zones, Trump went on to tout his administration’s success in putting military equipment into the hands of U.S. police officers and claimed “Afghanistan is a safe place” compared to Chicago.

“To help keep you safe, I’ve made $600 million-worth of surplus military equipment available to local law enforcement,” Trump told the audience of police chiefs. “If you remember, the previous administration didn’t want to do that… They didn’t want to make you look so tough. They didn’t want to make you look like you’re a threat.”

Watch Trump’s remarks:

Trump’s visit to Chicago, the first of his presidency, was met with massive protests led by Indivisible Chicago and other progressive advocacy groups. Striking Chicago public school teachers also cleared their Monday afternoon schedule to take part in demonstrations against the president.

“We have heard that President Donald Trump might be in town,” leaders of the Chicago Teachers Union wrote in an email to members late Sunday. “If any members were inclined to show up outside his fundraiser in red, that would qualify as productive, in our view.”

Thousands of protesters gathered and marched outside the Trump International Hotel and Tower in downtown Chicago, where the president attended a big-money campaign fundraiser after the law enforcement conference:

Chants of “this is what democracy looks like,” and “vote Trump out now” as protesters walk north on Michigan Avenue. They’ve been marching all over downtown after leaving Wacker Drive across from Trump Tower. pic.twitter.com/RKjfAzzpCb

— CBS Chicago (@cbschicago) October 28, 2019

Thousands of people out here in the streets to protest this guy.

Hey, Chicago! Come out and join us!#ChicagoTrumpProtest #ChicaGoAwayTrump #NotChicagosPresident #ChiBye45 #LockHimUp pic.twitter.com/qIfenhUKut

— Indivisible IL9 – Andersonville-Edgewater (@indivisible9IL) October 28, 2019

Teachers and supporters turn out against Trump#ChiBye45 #BooTrump #ChicagoTrumpProtest pic.twitter.com/oXtAasMUC7

— Indivisible Chicago-South Side (@IndivChi_South) October 28, 2019

“We’re angry,” Marj Halperin of Indivisible Chicago told The Guardian. “He is taking pleasure in the misery of our city. He doesn’t know us. He’s coming to our city to raise money, largely from people who don’t live in this city, without ever having addressed, supported, listened to the people who really need help.”

The post Trump Reveals Plans for Nationwide Crackdown and More Militarized Police appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Revolution Isn’t Being Televised

It’s all kicking off everywhere in 2019. Haitians are revolting against a corrupt political system and their President Jovenel Moïse, who many see as a kleptocratic US puppet. In Ecuador, huge public manifestations managed to force President Lenín Moreno to backtrack on his IMF-backed neoliberal package that would have sharply cut government spending and increased transport prices (FAIR.org10/23/19).

Meanwhile, popular Chilean frustration at the conservative Piñera administration boiled over into massive protests that were immediately met with force. “We are at war,” announced President Sebastián Piñera, echoing the infamous catchphrase of former fascist dictator Augusto Pinochet. Piñera claimed that those responsible for violently resisting him were “going to pay for their deeds” as he ordered tanks through Santiago. (See FAIR.org10/23/19.)

Huge, ongoing anti-government demonstrations are also engulfing LebanonCatalonia and the United Kingdom.

PBS NewsHour (10/5/19)

Yet the actions that have by far received the most attention in corporate media are those in Hong Kong, where demonstrations erupted in response to a proposed extradition agreement with the Chinese central government that opponents felt would undermine civil liberties and Hong Kong’s semi-autonomous status. A search for “Hong Kong protests” on October 25, 2019, elicits 282 responses in the last month in the New York Times, for example, compared to 20 for “Chile protests,” 43 for Ecuador and 16 for Haiti. The unequal coverage is even more pronounced on Fox News, where there were 70 results for Hong Kong over the same period and four, two and three for ChileEcuador and Haiti, respectively.

This disparity cannot be explained due to the protests’ size or significance, the number of casualties or the response from the authorities. Eighteen people have died during the ongoing protests in Haiti, 19 (and rising) in Chile, while in Ecuador, protesters themselves captured over 50 soldiers who had been sent in as Moreno effectively declared martial law. In contrast, no one has been killed in Hong Kong, nor has the army been called in, with Beijing expressing full confidence in local authorities to handle proceedings. The Chilean government announced it had arrested over 5,400 people in only a week of protests, a figure more than double the number arrested in months of Hong Kong demonstrations (Bloomberg, 10/4/19). Furthermore, social media have been awash with images and videos of the suppression of the protests worldwide.

One way of understanding why the media is fixated on Hong Kong and less interested in the others is to look at who is protesting, and why.

Worthy and Unworthy Victims

New York Times (8/14/19)

Over 30 years ago, in their book Manufacturing Consent, Edward Herman and Noam Chomsky developed their theory of worthy vs. unworthy victims to explain why corporate media cover certain stories and why others are dropped. They compared the media coverage of a single murdered priest in an enemy state (Communist Poland) to that of over 100 religious martyrs, including some US citizens, murdered in Central American client states over a period of two decades. They found that not only did the New York TimesTimeNewsweek and CBS News dedicate more coverage to the single priest’s assassination, the tone of coverage was markedly different: In covering the killing of Father Jerzy Popieluszko, media expressed indignation, demanding justice and condemning the barbarism of Communism. The killings of religious figures in Central America by pro-US government groups, on the other hand, were reported in a matter-of-fact manner, with little rhetorical outrage.

In other words, when official enemies can be presented as evil and allies as sympathetic victims, corporate media will be very interested in a story. In contrast, they will show far less enthusiasm for a story when the “wrong” people are the villains or the victims.

On Hong Kong, the New York Times published three editorials (6/10/198/14/1910/1/19), each lauding the “democracy-minded people” fighting to limit “the repressive rule of the Chinese Communists,” condemning the Communist response as evidence of the backward, “brutal paternalism of that system,” in which China “equates greatness with power and dissent with treachery.” Hong Kong, on the other hand, thanks to the blessing of being a former British colony, had acquired “a Western political culture of democracy, human rights, free speech and independent thought.” (The Times has not elected to publish any editorials on the other protests.)

The Times also ridiculed the idea that “foreign forces” (i.e., the US government) could be influencing the protests, calling it a “shopworn canard” used by the Communist government. Yet the US National Endowment for Democracy (NED) has officially poured over $22 million into “identifying new avenues for democracy and political reform in Hong Kong” or China since 2014. The Times editorials did not mention this funding as possibly complicating their dismissal of foreign involvement in the Hong Kong protests as a “canard.”

Guardian (10/8/19)

However, media (e.g., Voice of America10/11/19Miami Herald10/9/19Reuters10/9/19) are taking seriously the accusation that the Ecuadorian protests are, in fact, masterminded abroad, by President Nicolás Maduro of Venezuela, with the Guardian (10/8/19) going so far to describe the Ecuadorians not as “democracy-minded people,” but “rioters”—a label not appearing in connection with Hong Kong, except as an accusation by Chinese officials (e.g., Time10/2/19CNN10/22/19), are almost universally condemned in coverage as part of a “repressive” (e.g., Vox8/29/19Guardian10/19/19) “dictatorship” (New York Times8/29/19).

In the cases of the less-covered protests, the “wrong” people are protesting and the “wrong” governments are doing the repressing. As the Washington Post (10/14/19) noted on Haiti,

One factor keeping Moïse in power is support from the United States. US officials have been limited in their public comments about the protests.

On Ecuador, the State Department has been more forthcoming, issuing a full endorsement of Moreno’s neoliberal austerity package:

The United States supports President Moreno and the Government of Ecuador’s efforts to institutionalize democratic practices and implement needed economic reforms…. We will continue to work in partnership with President Moreno in support of democracy, prosperity, and security.

In other words, don’t expect any angry editorials denouncing US client states like Haiti or Ecuador, or arguing that the Chilean government’s repression of its protest movement shows the moral bankruptcy of capitalism. Indeed, corporate media (e.g., Guardian10/8/19CNN10/8/19USA Today10/10/19) emphasized the violence of the Ecuadorian protestors while downplaying Hong Kong’s—the New York Times (6/30/19) even inventing the phrase “aggressive nonviolence” to describe the Hong Kong protesters’ actions, so eager was it to frame the demonstrations against China as unquestionably laudable.

Which protest movements interest corporate media has little to do with their righteousness or popularity, and much more to do with whom they are protesting against. If you’re fighting against corporate power or corruption in a US-client state, don’t expect many TV cameras to show up; that revolution is rarely televised.

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So What Happens When Trump Is Impeached?

The impeachment of Donald John Trump by the House of Representatives is all but inevitable. The House is slated to hold a formal vote on Thursday to authorize the impeachment inquiry, and in the coming weeks, it is expected to shift from closed-door investigatory sessions to public hearings designed to reveal the “high crimes and misdemeanors” committed by our 45th commander in chief.

If expectations hold, the public hearings will be followed by the introduction of formal articles of impeachment. The only unresolved questions at that point will be the number and scope of the impeachment articles, and the margins by which they will be adopted when the full chamber votes on them.

The case will then shift to the Senate for what promises to be an event of epochal political gravity. Given the Republicans’ shameful embrace of Trump as their party leader, it remains unlikely that the Senate will convict the president on any articles of impeachment, no matter how egregious they are. Nonetheless, the Constitution requires the Senate to conduct an impeachment trial, and how the Senate fulfills that responsibility could be as important to the future of American democracy as the result itself.

Unfortunately, the Constitution provides little in the way of specific procedural guidance. Article I, Section 3, which addresses the Senate’s role in impeachment, states only that:

“The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments. When sitting for that Purpose, they shall be on Oath or Affirmation. When the President of the United States is tried, the Chief Justice shall preside: And no Person shall be convicted without the Concurrence of two thirds of the Members present.

“Judgment in Cases of Impeachment shall not extend further than to removal from Office, and disqualification to hold and enjoy any Office of honor, Trust or Profit under the United States; but the Party convicted shall nevertheless be liable and subject to Indictment, Trial, Judgment and Punishment, according to Law.”

The uncertainty surrounding Trump’s impending Senate trial is compounded by the fact there have been only two presidential impeachment trials in our history—those involving Andrew Johnson in 1868 and Bill Clinton in 1998-99. Separated by 130 years, the two trials offer distinctly different models for the current Senate to emulate, modify or reject.

The House passed 11 articles of impeachment by overwhelming margins against Johnson, a Democrat reviled for his opposition to Republican-led Reconstruction and the 14th Amendment, based largely on his firing Abraham Lincoln’s last secretary of war, Edwin Stanton. His impeachment trial was conducted before the full Senate, which then consisted of 54 members. The trial lasted 11 weeks and featured live testimony from 25 prosecution and 16 defense witnesses. Among other determinations, the Senate voted 35-19 to affirm three articles, falling one vote shy of the required two-thirds majority for conviction.

Clinton, by contrast, was cited in just two articles for lying under oath and obstruction of justice about his relationship with White House intern Monica Lewinsky. For Clinton, the task of gathering evidence was farmed out to a subcommittee, which took the depositions of key witnesses, including Lewinsky. The depositions were videotaped and transcribed, and later presented to the entire Senate. Clinton, too, was acquitted, by a tally of 45-55 on the article of perjury, and 50-50 on obstruction.

Richard Nixon, the third president to face a serious House impeachment investigation, never had a Senate trial. He resigned before the full House voted on three articles of impeachment passed by that body’s judiciary committee.

So how will Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his 52 Republican colleagues approach Trump’s impeachment? On Oct. 16, McConnell announced that the GOP would “do our constitutional duty.” McConnell reportedly told his party’s caucus to prepare for a trial that could last from six to eight weeks.

McConnell, however, is a master of parliamentary evasion and obfuscation. The last thing he wants is to stage a full, public evidentiary airing of Trump’s malfeasance.

Thankfully, there are limitations to McConnell’s resourcefulness. No matter how he bobs and weaves, McConnell will be bound by the Senate’s internal rules on impeachment, which were last amended in 1986. Unless McConnell can muster 60 filibuster-proof votes to amend the rules, he’s stuck with them, and will have to work within them to shield and protect the president.

Under the rules, once the House selects its team of “managers” (whose duty will be to prosecute the case against the president) and delivers the articles of impeachment, the Senate will issue a summons to Trump, informing him of the due date for his answer to the articles. Trump will then have the choice of appearing before the Senate in person to submit his answer or doing so through retained counsel. It seems a foregone conclusion he will opt for the latter, but like a common defendant in a criminal trial, he has the right to plead guilty or not guilty to the articles.

In addition, and perhaps more significantly, Trump will have another alternative that some commentators suggest he could deploy with the backing of McConnell, lodging what is called a “demurrer” to the articles of impeachment. This would allow him to claim that the charges against him do not rise to the level of impeachable offenses, even if they are true. Should a majority of the Senate vote to grant Trump’s demurrer, the impeachment proceedings would be stopped in their tracks, ending before a single witness is examined or a solitary document introduced.

At first glance, the demurrer avenue appears to offer Trump a get-out-of-impeachment-free card. For a variety of reasons, it won’t.

The first reason has to do with Chief Justice John Roberts. Under both the Constitution and the Senate’s rules, Roberts will preside over the impeachment trial. It will be his job to rule on questions of evidence and procedure, including any demurrer.

Roberts is a life-long Republican, but as I and many other legal observers have noted, he is also an institutionalist concerned with preserving judicial independence, a subject about which he has openly feuded with Trump. If the articles of impeachment brought against Trump are well pleaded and backed up by credible allegations of misconduct—whether regarding the Ukraine scandal, financial self-dealing, or obstruction of justice—Roberts is unlikely to grant a Trump demurrer. He will insist instead that evidence be taken and heard. And while the Senate’s rules empower a majority to overturn any ruling made by Roberts, it is not at all clear that a majority would dare to challenge the chief justice, especially before the presentation of evidence.

Granting a demurrer would also trigger substantial political risks for the GOP in the 2020 elections, opening Republican candidates to charges of covering up Trump’s crimes and conniving to hide the truth from the American people. No one wants to be accused of violating the Constitution, but especially such vulnerable senators as Susan Collins of Maine, Mitt Romney of Utah, Corey Gardner of Colorado, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, Thom Tillis and Richard Burr of North Carolina, or Martha McSally of Arizona.

In all likelihood, McConnell and the GOP will grudgingly allow the evidence to be heard, albeit channeled through a sub-committee, adhering to the Clinton template. The Republicans thereafter may vote to dismiss the case against Trump. Alternatively, they may allow roll-call guilty or not guilty votes to be taken on the merits of each article of impeachment.

Whatever procedural path the GOP follows, each senator will have to follow his or her conscience. No specific standard of proof—either the beyond-a-reasonable-doubt test that applies in criminal cases or the preponderance-of-evidence test that applies in civil litigation—will govern the balloting. Each senator will vote independently and will thus be held independently accountable.

No matter the ultimate outcome, the American people will have the opportunity to assess the evidence against Trump. That in and of itself will be a victory worth celebrating.

The post So What Happens When Trump Is Impeached? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

How Things Got So Fracking Bad in Ohio

Hydraulic fracturing, savior or sin? That depends on who you ask.

The fossil fuel industry and its proponents tout fracking’s economic benefits as this oil and gas extraction technique has led the march toward the nation’s energy independence. But as our understanding of the technique grows, so too does our knowledge of its many drawbacks. Nowhere is this dynamic more apparent than in Ohio, at the vanguard of the nation’s fracking boom thanks to the Utica and Marcellus shale reserves to the east of the state, which have sparked something of a fossil fuel industry feeding frenzy over the past decade.

The amount of natural gas Ohio produces annually ballooned from 78 billion cubic feet in 2010 to nearly 1.8 trillion cubic feet in 2017—an increase of more than 2,200 percent—according to federal figures. And what kind of impact has this had? Between 2007 and 2016, employment in Ohio’s shale industries grew 62 percent. A new ethane cracker plant is reported to bring hundreds more full-time jobs to Ohio’s Belmont County. When Vice President Mike Pence trumpeted to the assembled crowd at the Oil and Gas Association’s annual meeting earlier this year in Columbus that the energy industry was “strengthening the foundation under families here in Ohio and all across this nation,” he was met with warm applause.

Ten years on though, tough questions are being asked not just of the industry’s economic impact in Ohio’s poor Appalachian heartland, but also of the damage it’s causing to the environment, the climate and human health.

“It’s impacting people locally,” Ned Ketyer, a medical adviser with the Pennsylvania-based nonprofit Environmental Health Project, told the Independent Media Institute. “It’s impacting their health. It’s impacting regional health. It’s impacting local and regional economies in a negative way. And ultimately, it’s affecting the climate system in a way that’s completely contrary to any kind of urgent climate solutions that we need to embrace right now.”

Environmental Effects

The growing literature surrounding the environmental impacts from fracking is already pretty broad. The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) own years-long study concluded that fracking operations have contaminated drinking water resources and have led to inadequately treated wastewater being dumped into surface water sources. Scientific and government research links fracking with an increased likelihood of earthquakes.

Then there’s the issue of the industry’s climate footprint at a time when a drastic reduction in greenhouse gas emissions is needed to avoid some of the worst impacts from global warming. The National Aeronautics and Space Administration found last year that emissions from the oil and gas industry were a major contributor to growing atmospheric levels of methane, an especially potent greenhouse gas. A new study out of Cornell University came to the same conclusion, linking a global spike in methane emissions to the fracking of shale gas.

In Ohio, some of the localized environmental impacts make for stark reading. A recent article in StateImpact Pennsylvania (part of an excellent series looking at the industry’s environmental footprint in Ohio and Pennsylvania) details complaints among residents living in close proximity to fracking infrastructure of things like gas leaks, drinking water contamination and discoloration, as well as fish kills.

Fish aren’t the only kind of wildlife at risk. Cornell University found a possible link between exposure to gas drilling operations and cases of illness, death and reproductive issues in cows, horses, goats, llamas, chickens, dogs and cats in fracking states like Ohio.

“We know the industry doesn’t pay for its harm and the environmental damage that it causes,” Amy Mall, a senior advocate with the Natural Resources Defense Council, told the Independent Media Institute. She added that federal regulatory “loopholes” are a large part of the problem.

For example, if oil and gas wastewater were subject to federal hazardous waste rules rather than generic standards that apply to all non-hazardous solid waste, “it would be regulated very differently at the state level,” Mall pointed out. This, at a time when nearby states transport huge quantities of wastewater to Ohio for disposal.

“By not being held accountable for their pollution, the industry is shifting a lot of the economic responsibilities to general society,” she said.

‘Ohio Wasn’t as Well Researched’

There’s increasing awareness, too, surrounding the possible human health toll from living too close to fracking infrastructure—issues like cancer, preterm births, low-birthweight babies and asthma. The Physicians for Social Responsibility’s latest compendium on fracking’s health impacts comprises more than 1,700 peer-reviewed studies.

Elise Elliott, a postdoctoral fellow at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, participated in a community-based study in Ohio looking at proximity to oil and gas wells and the impact that might have on human health and water contamination. The researchers found that the closer Ohioans live to these wells, the more likely they are to suffer general health problems like stress and fatigue. Likewise, proximity to wells was associated with higher concentrations of contaminants in the water.

Nevertheless, there’s still a dearth of hard data, say experts, when it comes to understanding exactly how the fracking boom might be impacting the health of Ohioans. Agencies charged with overseeing the industry report how residents only rarely file official health complaints (though they have submitted thousands of much broader complaints). “We were noticing in the literature that Ohio wasn’t as well researched as some other regions in the U.S.,” said Elliott, explaining why that state was chosen for the community health study.

It also helps explain why Elliott urges caution when it comes to directly linking health issues with exposure to some of the contaminants—air pollutants like benzene, hydrogen sulfide and formaldehyde—typically found around fracking sites, at least right now. “Our knowledge on this is definitely growing,” she said, “[but] we’re not quite there yet to say definitively what it does.” She urged continued research in the field, such as the potential link between fracking and childhood leukemia.

Economic Impact

On the flip side, proponents of the fracking boom argue that the economic benefit to Ohio outweighs any deleterious effects. “It’s a very, very sizeable industry,” said Gilbert Michaud, an adjunct assistant professor of economics at Ohio University who has studied the impact the fossil fuel industry has had on the state’s economy. According to his own calculations, the shale industry’s direct and indirect impact on the state in 2015—including that through employment, wages, and the multiplier effect—amounted to more than $22 billion. But how widely felt is this impact?

The nonprofit Ohio Education Policy Institute finds how fracking-generated tax revenue has helped to bridge the wealth gap between school districts, particularly in eastern Ohio. But a deeper look reveals a more complex picture. For example, broad underfunding for elementary education means the statewide wealth disparity still exists between rich and poor school districts. And in his 2018 study, Michaud warned of the “less-desirable vestiges” of fracking in the poor rural areas of Appalachian Ohio. “The shale industry may be another case of resource extraction with a failure to capture and retain local value,” he wrote.

Michaud told the Independent Media Institute how the largest employing sector of Ohio’s shale industry is pipeline construction, which typically offers a short window of employment. “Once the infrastructure is in place, then those occupations aren’t really needed,” he said, adding that these jobs typically go to out-of-state workers anyway.

On top of that, those sectors that provide more stable, long-term employment to Ohioans, like jobs at the well pad itself, generally pay the industry’s smaller wages, said Michaud. “That’s not really the secret sauce for future prosperity, right?”

Then there’s the issue of too little of the fiscal windfall trickling down into poor rural communities that constitute the industry’s heartland, he said. This leaves already underfunded local services stretched to breaking point as they grapple with fracking’s residual environmental and health problems. “A lot of these impacts aren’t being retained in these communities that desperately need positive economic development and jobs,” said Michaud. “This is your quintessential Appalachian curse—your resource extraction boom and bust cycle.”

‘Petrochemical Cluster-Frack’

Describing the shale industry in Ohio as a “petrochemical cluster-frack,” Environmental Health Project’s Ned Ketyer agrees with Michaud’s assessment. “Any job that directly threatens the health of me or my family or my patients—I’m a pediatrician—or that threatens the health of every child, even children who haven’t been born, by accelerating climate change, those jobs are not worth supporting,” he said, adding that, “essentially in the Ohio River Valley, we’re fracking for plastic, which is one thing nature doesn’t need any more of.”

The pathway toward renewables is a complicated one in Ohio, however. In 2014, for example, the state imposed a two-year freeze on its renewable and energy-efficiency standards, and currently is in second-to-last place in the country in terms of total electricity production from renewable sources, just ahead of Delaware. According to Ketyer, other reasons for an expedited switch to renewables exist in plain sight.

“It really is an eye-opening thing to take a drive through the Ohio River Valley. This is an area that should not have such high levels of air pollution—some of the worst air pollution in the country. Shouldn’t have such high levels of ozone,” said Ketyer, describing scenes of rural poverty, dilapidated roads and crumbling buildings, interspersed with oil and gas industry infrastructure. “When you go through the Ohio valley, you see an area that should be achingly beautiful.”

This article was produced by Earth | Food | Life, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Daniel Ross is a journalist whose work has appeared in Truthout, the Guardian, FairWarning, Newsweek, YES! Magazine, Salon, AlterNet, Vice and a number of other publications. He is based in Los Angeles. Follow him on Twitter: @1danross.

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In Chicago, Trump Calls the City an Embarrassment to the U.S.

CHICAGO — Visiting Chicago for the first time as president, Donald Trump disparaged the city Monday as a haven for criminals that is “embarrassing to us as a nation.” The city’s top cop sat out Trump’s speech to protest the president’s immigration policies and frequently divisive rhetoric.

“There is one person who is not here today,” Trump told a friendly audience at a conference of police chiefs. “Where is he? I want to talk to him. In fact, more than anyone else, this person should be here because maybe he could learn something, and that’s the superintendent of the Chicago Police, Eddie Johnson.”

Johnson’s decision to boycott the event angered the city’s chapter of the Fraternal Order of Police, which said in a Facebook post that “such a gesture would be an insult to both President Trump and the office of the presidency itself and would be a mark of disgrace upon the city throughout the entire nation, including Mayor Lori Lightfoot.”

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But the Democratic mayor and Illinois’ Democratic governor stood in solidarity with Johnson, who announced days before the International Association of Chiefs of Police Conference that he would not attend.

“This is the land of Lincoln and when you come to the state of Illinois you should respect all the people who live here in the state of Illinois,” said Gov. J.B. Pritzker.

Lightfoot also refused to meet with Trump, and said on Twitter that she supports Johnson.

“It’s no surprise that @realDonaldTrump brought his insulting, ignorant buffoonery to Chicago,” the mayor tweeted. “Luckily, in this city, we know the truth and we will not let anyone — no matter how high the office — denigrate who we are as a people or our status as a welcoming city.”

“Rather than belittle Chicago’s communities with hateful and dishonest rhetoric, he needs to go back to D.C. and face his fate,” Lightfoot said, apparently referring to the House impeachment inquiry against the president.

Trump has frequently criticized Chicago for its crime problems and status as a sanctuary city, one of scores of cities around the country that refuse to work with federal authorities to round up people who are living in the U.S. illegally.

At a news conference later Monday, Johnson said Trump had ignored a “double digit” reduction in violent crime in the city over the past three years.

Trump has long held up the nation’s third-largest city as the poster child of urban violence and dysfunctional Democratic politics.

At one point in the address, Trump turned his daily complaint about the impeachment inquiry into a swipe at “Empire” actor Jussie Smollett, who authorities say fabricated a claim about being attacked by Trump supporters in Chicago earlier this year.

“You have the case of this wise guy Jessie Smollett … and he said MAGA country did it,” Trump said, using the acronym for his “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan. “It’s a real big scam, just like the impeachment of your president is a scam.”

The FOP Lodge 7, which represents rank-and-file Chicago police officers, announced that it had cast a vote of no confidence in Johnson. The union’s president, Kevin Graham, was first to greet Trump on the tarmac of O’Hare International Airport, after he landed in the city.

In the speech, Trump rattled off Chicago crime statistics and claimed that Johnson puts the needs of people living in the U.S. illegally above those of law-abiding residents of Chicago. “Those are his values and frankly those values to me are a disgrace,” Trump said. “I want Eddie Johnson to change his values and to change them fast.”

During the conference, Trump signed an executive order creating a presidential commission on law enforcement to study issues like substance abuse, homelessness and mental illness. The president also announced that the Justice Department will begin a “surge” to crack down on violent crime in the United States, targeting gang members and drug traffickers in high-crime areas.

Johnson, meanwhile, is under internal investigation after he was found sleeping in a city-owned vehicle earlier this month. Lightfoot said Johnson, who called for the investigation, told her he had “a couple of drinks with dinner” before he fell asleep at a stop sign while driving home. Johnson blamed the episode on a change in his blood pressure medication.

While in Chicago, Trump headlined a campaign luncheon at his hotel in the city, raising approximately $4 million for a joint fundraising committee benefiting Trump’s reelection effort and the Republican National Committee, according to the GOP.

Thousands of demonstrators rallied outside the hotel, waving colorful signs that said “Impeach Trump Now” and “Quid Pro Quo Trump Must Go.” They also shouted chants such as “Lock him up” and “Trump must go.”

Some said they came to protest out of a fear for the country they have never felt before.

“It will take decades to put things back in place,” said Caroline Mooney, a 61-year-old marketing analyst from the Chicago suburb of Tinley Park.

“If something doesn’t happen next November, we may not recover,” said her friend Steve Schaibley, who drove 2-1/2 hours from Livingston County.

The gathering was mostly peaceful. But two people were taken into custody after apparently attacking a man waving a Trump flag. The Trump supporter was bloodied but did not appear to have been seriously injured.

___

Associated Press writers Darlene Superville in Washington and Michael Balsamo in Chicago contributed to this report.

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In California, the Rich Are Buying Their Own Firefighters

“This is serious …. but this is only the beginning. This is only a taste of the horror and the terror that will occur in [the coming] decades,” former California Gov. Jerry Brown told Politico Monday, of the fires that continue to engulf both northern and southern areas of the state. Brown recently inaugurated a new University of California, Berkeley, think tank focused on tackling climate change, in partnership with Tsinghua University in China.

So far this fire season, 180,000 people have been ordered to evacuate Sonoma County, in Northern California’s wine country. Five hundred acres burned Monday morning in Los Angeles, which closed public schools. UCLA and Santa Monica College also closed.

Two million were without power this weekend in Northern California, according to Politico, thanks to preemptive action from Pacific Gas and Election to prevent another giant wildfire like the one caused by its own wires last year. That wasn’t enough to stop the growth of the Kincade Fire, now nearly twice the size of San Francisco, according to The New York Times, which reports that the fire was only 5% contained Monday morning.

Still, the experiences of living though these fires varies widely. Gov. Brown and his family are among the luckier ones in California. “We’re off the grid. We have solar collectors and lithium-ion batteries, so we’re set,’’ he told Politico, adding, “We have a well. We collect rainwater and put it into the underground cistern.”

And, as Ethan Varian wrote in an earlier Times story: “You can now add firefighting to the list of the ways that the wealthy are different from the rest of the world.”

Varian writes about private companies, which, in addition to having contracts with federal agencies, help individual homeowners, homeowner’s associations or other neighborhood groups battle fires.

These services differ from those provided by insurance companies like Chubb or Safeco, which focus on preventative measures—installing sprinkler systems, spraying on fire blocking gels and employing other mitigation techniques.

Mt. Adams Wildfire, for example, a company near Sacramento, will actually put out fires. Its services, owner Don Holter told The New York Times, are advertised mostly by word of mouth; “It’s not who you are, it’s who you know,” he said. The cost? Up to $3,000 per day.

Security firms like Covered 6, which has a contract with Hidden Hills, Calif., whose residents include numerous celebrities, including the Kardashians, are also adding firefighting services to their offerings. During the Woolsey Fire in 2018, TMZ reported that Kim Kardashian West and Kanye West hired private firefighters to preserve their Hidden Hills home.

California firefighters, The Los Angeles Times reported in 2018, are frustrated by private companies. Ventura County Fire Capt. Brian McGrath told the paper that private crews don’t coordinate with local fire departments, often doing more harm than good.

Meanwhile, other residents are left to determine how to manage the increasing risks to their homes and livelihoods as PG&E continues to enforce blackouts and struggles to protect the same wires that triggered blazes like the Camp Fire, which destroyed 13,000 homes last year.

Unfortunately for residents, according to Politico, “PG&E said this month it would take a decade for the utility ensure that its wires are fireproof, until which [time] residents may be forced to face continued blackouts during dry, windy conditions such as those experienced this month.”

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Who Deserves to Be Called a Progressive?

It’s no secret that Democrats today like to call themselves progressive. Even Joe Biden, among the most conservative candidates in the 2020 primary, has claimed, without a trace of irony, that he owns “the most progressive record of anybody running.” Since 2016, the term has only gained currency; after all, who wants to be seen as an impediment to progress? Yet Biden’s idea of what constitutes progress bears little relation to the ideas of Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt.

A battle is being waged in the Democratic Party about what kind of progress we hope to achieve, and a simple question has determined the sides: Who will challenge entrenched wealth and power and who will not?

The most recent Democratic primary debate helped clarify the divide. Responding to a question about a proposed wealth tax on billionaires, former Texas Rep. Beto O’Rourke, who voted as a centrist during his time in the House, criticized Warren for embracing a policy he described as “pitting some part of the country against the other.” According to O’Rourke, Warren’s (and presumably Sanders’) proposed taxes are designed to punish the successful rather than lift up the rest of the country. Adopting a similar line of attack, Sen. Amy Klobuchar offered a “reality check” to her Senate colleagues, declaring that “no one on this stage wants to protect billionaires — not even the billionaire wants to protect billionaires.”

“We just have different approaches,” Klobuchar insisted. “Your idea is not the only idea.”

Refrains like these are all too familiar. Moderates frequently claim that both sides fight for the same progressive ideals, that no Democrats want to protect billionaires (or corporations), and that every candidate has the same goals, whether it is universal health care, affordable education or reducing inequality. What separates them, they argue, is their approach toward achieving these goals. Progressives are idealistic, while centrists are pragmatic; the former have it in for the rich, while the latter don’t want to lower anybody’s standard of living. Biden affirmed as much at a fundraiser in New York City in June when he told a throng of wealthy donors that “nobody has to be punished.”

“It’s all within our wheelhouse,” said the frontrunner, promising that “nothing would fundamentally change,” while telling donors that they knew in their gut what needed to be done to help the country move forward.

Biden, like other moderate Democrats, has faith in the powerful to do what’s right — if not for moral reasons, then at least for pragmatic reasons. He believes that we can solve the major problems of our time without addressing the root causes of these problems and that lifting up working people doesn’t require any kind of fundamental change in power relations or the structure of our economy. Billionaires, in other words, can continue to flourish and grow their wealth indefinitely as we also address social and economic problems like income and wealth inequality, stagnating wages, the decline of unions, and so on. CEOs do not have to take a pay cut, the reasoning goes, for workers to receive better wages.

Of course, this notion contradicts the economic reality of the past 40 years, as a recent report on the pay disparity between CEOs and workers demonstrates. According to the report from the Institute for Policy Studies, among S&P 500 firms, almost 80% paid their CEO more than 100 times their median worker pay in 2018, while some of the biggest corporations pay their chief executives more than 1,000 times as much as the average employee. Fifty years ago, by comparison, CEOs typically earned about 40 to 50 times as much as the average employee. To address this huge gap, the study’s authors recommend tax penalties on companies with extreme CEO-worker pay ratios, however this would likely be seen as too “punitive” for moderate Democrats, who don’t believe in “punishing” corporate executives or billionaires (a far cry from someone like Sanders, who has openly declared that “billionaires should not exist.”)

Apologists for the extreme concentration of wealth like to remind everyone how much good certain philanthropic billionaires have done for the world. The fabulously wealthy don’t just create jobs and fund innovation, they maintain; these benefactors also donate millions, even billions, to noble causes that help save and improve countless lives. Yet as journalist Anand Giridharadas points out in his book, “Winners Take All: The Elite Charade of Changing the World,” the logic behind this worldview is profoundly conservative, paternalistic and anti-democratic:

In an age defined by a chasm between those who have power and those who don’t, elites have spread the idea that people must be helped, but only in market-friendly ways that do not upset fundamental power equations,” writes Giridharadas. “The society should be changed in ways that do not change the underlying economic system that has allowed the winners to win and fostered many of the problems they seek to solve.”

What Giridharadas calls “MarketWorld” is a milieu that consists of “enlightened businesspeople and their collaborators in the worlds of charity, academia, media, government, and think tanks.” MarketWorld elites and ideologues, Giridharadas tells us, promote the idea that social change and progress should be pursued “principally through the free market and voluntary action, not public life and the law and the reform of the systems that people share in common; that it should be supervised by the winners of capitalism and their allies, and not be antagonistic to their needs; and that the biggest beneficiaries of the status quo should play a leading role in the status quo’s reform.”

The most important point here is that the solutions should not be antagonistic to the needs and interests of the winners, who should also be the ones leading the effort to reform the system. This deeply conservative and elitist attitude not only assumes that we can fix the system without really changing it, but that progress is ultimately made by the “winners,” and that the losers should be grateful to their brilliant and benevolent overlords. It is the kind of attitude espoused by Bill Gates’ favorite author, cognitive psychologist (and MarketWorld Thought Leader) Steven Pinker, who defends the status quo in his work “Enlightenment Now,” arguing the economic and political system we currently have is already terrifically progressive, engendering unprecedented innovation that benefits all. Critics of capitalism who call themselves “progressive” and complain about the status quo, Pinker asserts, are in fact disgruntled “progressophobes” who refuse to accept the great achievements of modernity.

Touting progress to defend the status quo is hardly a new strategy. As Albert Camus once observed, “progress” can be paradoxically used to justify conservatism. “A draft drawn on confidence in the future, it allows the master to have a clear conscience,” wrote the philosopher. “The slave and those whose present life is miserable and who can find no consolation in the heavens are assured that at least the future belongs to them. The future is the only kind of property that the masters willingly concede to the slaves.”

Moderate Democrats offer a conservative vision of progress, while “progressives” offer a more radical and democratic version. Recent reports of Pete Buttigieg’s bromance with Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg, who apparently recommended several staffers to Buttigieg’s campaign, reveals that the mayor from Indiana, who is positioning himself as the fresh-faced centrist alternative to Biden, is committed to the same elite and technocratic vision as the former vice president.

During his comeback speech on Saturday in Queens, Sanders made it clear that he has a different view, telling the massive crowd of supporters that those who benefit the most from the status quo will fiercely resist real change. “The question we’ve got to answer,” Sanders said, is “are we prepared to stand up to them and transform this country?”

As more Democratic politicians have come to call themselves progressive, the term, which implies a deep commitment to progress, has lost some of its meaning. All of the candidates in the Democratic primaries claim to fight for progress, but the real question that needs to be asked is what kind of progress they’re actually fighting for.

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Robert Reich: Trump’s Theft Is Impeachable on Its Own

Trump reversed his decision to host next June’s G-7 meeting of heads of state at Trump National Doral Miami because, he said, it would have been an impeachable offense and a violation of the Constitution’s Emoluments Clause.

No, that’s not the reason he gave. He said he reversed himself because of “Media & Democat Crazed and Irrational hostility.”

In reality, Trump has been funneling government dollars into his own pockets ever since he was elected. The Doral deal was just too much even for his Republican enablers to stomach.

Since he’s been president, Trump has spent almost a third of his time at one or another of his resorts or commercial properties – costing taxpayers a bundle but giving those resorts incomparable publicity.

One of his golf resorts, Turnberry in Scotland, has gotten business from U.S. Air Force crews overnighting while their planes were refueled. In September, Vice President Pence stayed there for two nights at a cost to American taxpayers of nearly $600,000 in ground transportation fees alone.

Foreign governments seeking to curry his favor routinely check their officials and lobbyists into the Trump International Hotel in Washington, D.C.

Mar-a-Lago, Trump’s oceanfront resort in Palm Beach, charges its foreign government visitors up to five hundred and fifty dollars a night for their rooms, according to ProPublica.

How does he get away with this?

Presidents of the United States are exempt from the federal conflict-of-interest statutes – a glaring omission that was never a problem before Trumpexploited this loophole. To make matters worse, Trump has refused to put his assets into a blind trust, so he knows exactly how much he gains from these transactions.

Theoretically, the public is protected from Trump’s moneymaking by the Constitution, which strictly limits the “emoluments” – that is, a payment of money or anything else of value – a president can receive.

Article II, Section 1 says a president receives a salary while in office but “shall not receive within that Period any other Emolument from the United States.” Trump violates this clause every time taxpayer money finds its way into his pockets.

And then there’s Article I, Section 9, which states that no federal officeholder can receive any “Emolument” from any foreign state. Trump violates this clause whenever he makes money from a foreign government.

History shows that the reason the Framers of the Constitution included these provisions wasn’t just to prevent a president from being bribed. It was also to prevent the appearance of bribes, and thereby maintain public trust in the presidency.

The appearance if not reality of bribery continues to haunt  Trump. For example, when he decided to withdraw U.S. troops from the Turkish-Syrian border – a move that has led to the slaughter of Kurds, and opened the way for a resurgence of ISIS – it was far from clear whether he had in mind the interest of the United States or his own business interests. Trump Towers in Istanbul Turkey is his largest European property.

Clearly, Trump continues to violate the Constitution’s emoluments clauses. So how to hold him accountable? Three ways.

The first is through the federal courts. A lawsuit brought by the attorneys general of Maryland and the District of Columbia accuses Trump of violating the Constitution by holding a financial interest in the Washington hotel.

Another brought be several plaintiffs allege that Trump’s businesses pose unfair competition.

A third lawsuit by 215 Democratic members of Congress seeks “the opportunity to cast a binding vote” on the issue, since the Constitution requires the president to obtain “the consent of Congress” before accepting any emolument.

But all these cases are moving through the courts at a slow pace—probably too slowly to stop Trump from lining his pockets this term of office.

The second way to hold Trump accountable is through impeachment, which has already begun in the House.

Trump’s violation of the emoluments clause should be added to the likely grounds for impeachment already being investigated – seeking the help of a foreign power in an election, and obstruction of justice.

The third and most important way to hold Trump accountable occurs November 3, 2020.

That’s when the American public can stop Trump from making money off his presidency by voting him out of office.

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White House Official Defies Impeachment Subpoena, Deepening Standoff

WASHINGTON — A former national security official defied a House subpoena Monday, escalating a standoff between Congress and the White House over who will testify in the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump.

Charles Kupperman, who was a deputy to former national security adviser John Bolton, failed to show up for a scheduled closed-door deposition after asking a federal court in Washington to rule on whether he was legally required to appear. In a statement, Kupperman said he was awaiting “judicial clarity.”

House Intelligence Chairman Adam Schiff said Kupperman’s suit has “no basis in law” and speculated that the White House didn’t want him to testify because his testimony could be incriminating. Democrats are investigating Trump’s pressure on the Ukrainian government to pursue politically motivated investigations as the administration was also withholding military aid to the country.

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“If this witness had something to say that would be helpful to the White House they would’ve wanted him to come and testify,” Schiff told reporters. “They plainly don’t.”

Schiff said the three committees leading the impeachment inquiry will move forward, with or without testimony from Kupperman and other witnesses. Democrats have indicated that they are likely to use no-show witnesses to write an article of impeachment against Trump for obstruction of justice, rather than launching potentially lengthy court battles to obtain testimony.

“We are not willing to allow the White House to engage us in a lengthy game of rope a dope in the courts, so we will move forward,” Schiff said.

Schiff said over the weekend that he wants Bolton to testify, though that has not yet been scheduled. He told ABC’s “This Week” on Sunday that Bolton, who according to other witnesses had concerns about the Ukraine policy, “has very relevant information.” But he predicted that the White House, which has vowed to obstruct the investigation, would fight a Bolton appearance.

After hearing from a series of State Department officials, the three committees leading the impeachment investigation are turning their focus to the White House. Lawmakers say they are hoping to get more answers about what aides close to Trump knew about his orders on Ukraine policy.

“They’re in the White House, so they’re much closer to where the policymaking supposedly was supposed to happen with regard to the Ukraine, and they can really shine a light on whether it was happening properly or not,” said Illinois Rep. Raja Krishnamoorthi, a Democratic member of the House intelligence panel.

Several of the State Department officials have already told lawmakers of their concerns as Trump’s personal lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, took charge of Ukrainian policy and as Trump pushed out the U.S. ambassador there.

William Taylor, the current top diplomat in Ukraine, testified last week that he was told aid to the country would be withheld until the country conducted investigations into Democrat Joe Biden and his family and into Ukraine’s involvement in the 2016 U.S. presidential election.

Democrats also want to hear from two current national security White House staffers, Alexander Vindman and Tim Morrison, who are scheduled to appear this week. It is unclear if they will do so following Kupperman’s defiance of a subpoena.

In Kupperman’s lawsuit, he asked a judge to decide whether he should accede to House demands for his testimony or to assert “immunity from congressional process” as directed by Trump. He said he “cannot satisfy the competing demands of both the legislative and executive branches,” and without the court’s help, he said, he would have to make the decision himself — one that could “inflict grave constitutional injury” on either Congress or the presidency.

“Given the issue of separation of powers in this matter, it would be reasonable and appropriate to expect that all parties would want judicial clarity,” Kupperman said in a statement.

The court had yet to rule by Monday morning, and his lawyer said in a letter that he was waiting for a judge to step in before committing to testify.

The three chairmen of the House committees overseeing the inquiry told Kupperman’s lawyers in a letter over the weekend that the suit was without merit and appeared to be coordinated with the White House. They called it “an obvious and desperate tactic by the President to delay and obstruct the lawful constitutional functions of Congress and conceal evidence about his conduct from the impeachment inquiry.”

Kupperman’s attorney, Charles Cooper, wrote in a letter it was not his client who was challenging Congress’ constitutional claims.

“It is President Trump, and every president before him for at least the last half century, who have asserted testimonial immunity to their closest confidential advisers,” Cooper wrote. “If your clients’ position on the merits of this issue is correct, it will prevail in court, and Dr. Kupperman, I assure you again, will comply with the court’s judgment.”

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Investors Return to Saudi Arabia as Lucrative Oil IPO Looms

RIYADH, Saudi Arabia — Lured by a long-looming stock offering of Saudi Arabia’s massive state-run oil company, investors and business leaders have returned to the kingdom’s capital for an investment forum that was overshadowed last year by the assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi.

Yet drawing big names to the Future Investment Initiative alone does not mean Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s dream of having Saudi Aramco offer a sliver of itself at a $2 trillion valuation will become a reality.

King Salman’s son needs to raise $100 billion required to fund his ambitious development plans for a kingdom desperate to offer jobs to its 34 million people as unemployment remains above 10%.

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Stagnant global energy prices and a Sept. 14 attack on the heart of Aramco already spooked some. One ratings company downgraded the oil giant. Meanwhile, questions persist over how the initial public offering will be handled even as Saudi Aramco offers sweeteners and promises of an estimated $75 billion dividend next year.

“Tepid oil prices, the fraught politics of the Middle East and the demonization of fossil fuel producers in response to climate change fears have all made the initial public offering a mission impossible,” wrote Roberto Sifon-Arevalo of the ratings agency Standard & Poor’s.

The Future Investment Initiative, which begins on Tuesday, will draw 6,000 people and international firms to Riyadh for a forum that’s the brainchild of the 34-year-old Prince Mohammed. Already, the forum announced Dow Chemicals, HSBC, Samsung and other global firms will be partners to the event.

It again will be held in part at Riyadh’s Ritz-Carlton Hotel, which served as a detention facility during a 2017 purge targeting businessmen, princes and others. Described at the time as an anti-corruption campaign, the arrests targeted wealthy potential challengers to the prince and cemented his grip on power amid allegations of torture denied by the kingdom. Authorities later said it saw the government recoup over $100 billion.

However, there will be big names not taking part. Among them is Jeff Bezos, the CEO of Amazon and the owner of the Post, who had been in negotiations to open data centers in the kingdom before the killing and dismemberment of Khashoggi at the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul, the Post reported Monday.

Khashoggi’s death cast a pall over last year’s forum, which saw Prince Mohammed give a fiery speech in which he described the killing as “a heinous act that is unjustifiable.” However, U.S. officials and a recent United Nations’ special rapporteur report suspect Prince Mohammed had a role in the slaying as members of the team of assassins sent to kill Khashoggi had links to the prince.

“It inconceivable that an operation of this scale could be implemented without the crown prince being aware, at a minimum, that some sort of mission of a criminal nature, directed at Mr. Khashoggi, was being launched,” the U.N. report read.

Investors appear poised to move beyond the columnist’s killing for one major reason: The long-discussed initial public offering of Saudi Aramco. The firm, formally known as the Saudi Arabian Oil Co., was founded in 1933 with America’s Standard Oil. By 1980, the kingdom owned 100% of the firm, which runs like a Western-style firm and refers to the government as its sole “shareholder” in its corporate documents.

The Aramco IPO has been pitched by Prince Mohammed since 2016 as a means to generate cash to fund development in the kingdom. Aramco’s scale remains impressive, able to pump 10 million barrels of crude oil a day, some 10% of daily global oil demand. In its first-ever half-year results, it reported income of $46.8 billion. Yet analysts say a $2 trillion valuation — Apple and Microsoft separately for instance are $1 trillion — may be a stretch.

Yet questions remain about Saudi Aramco, such as the health and the size of its oil reserves, something held as a state secret by the kingdom.

“Publicly traded oil companies faced financial disclosure regulations that required them to make information about the size and the health of their oil reserves public,” wrote Aramco expert Ellen R. Wald in her recent book “Saudi, Inc.” ”Saudi Aramco had no such requirement and released only the information it chose.”

The global business press also frantically following each step of the IPO has raised repeated questions over its constant delays. It appears like the kingdom is preparing to offer a first part of the IPO on the local Tadawul stock exchange. The firm’s ties to the kingdom also have raised questions about whether it would take the risk of listing in the West, where it could be targeted by lawsuits.

Saudi Aramco has sought to assure investors. A presentation posted to Aramco’s website this month announced the intent to offer a $75 billion dividend for investors in 2020. That’s the payment per share that a corporation distributes to its stockholders as their return on the money they have invested in its stock.

It also pledged that some 2020 through 2024, any year with a dividend under $75 billion would see “non-government shareholders” prioritized to get paid.

But beyond the stocks, worries persist that Saudi Arabia could be hit by another attack like the one Sept. 14, which the U.S. blames on Iran. Iran denies it launched the cruise missiles and drones used in the attack. Yemen’s Houthi rebels claimed responsibility, but analysts say the weapons used wouldn’t have the range to reach their targets.

Yet worries about the firm are nothing new. Even as far back as 1953, when Aramco still was held by American oil firms, then-U.S. Ambassador Raymond Hare linked the company’s success to the kingdom’s own.

“A strong Aramco meant a strong Saudi Arabia and a weakened Aramco a weakened Saudi Arabia,” he once told the kingdom’s first ruler.

The post Investors Return to Saudi Arabia as Lucrative Oil IPO Looms appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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