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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The post Hong Kong’s Mass Movement Isn’t Controlled by the U.S. appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro Praises Pinochet in Chile

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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How the U.S. Shattered the Middle East

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Jay-Z’s Shameful Partnership With the NFL

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

JAY-Z: Would I what?

REPORTER: Would you kneel or would you stand?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KEVIN ACKWOOD: Nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

RICARDO WINCHESTER: Right.

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

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

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

EDDIE CONWAY: Including him?

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

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The Sinister Forces Behind Boris Johnson’s Brexit Coup

Natasha Hakimi Zapata reports for Truthdig from London.

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

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

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

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

What on Earth Is a No-Deal Brexit?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What Is Parliament Doing to Quash Johnson’s Mess?

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

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

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

— Laurie Penny (@PennyRed) August 28, 2019

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

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

Live updates: https://t.co/y5cguYUOfs pic.twitter.com/3RWlVJOPKo

— BBC Politics (@BBCPolitics) September 3, 2019

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

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

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

Dominic Cummings is having an evening pic.twitter.com/q2OxHE7hdR

— Thomas Colson (@tpgcolson) September 3, 2019

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

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

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

Demand it, expect it and don’t even allow them to coward! https://t.co/IXtV3XfTN9

— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) September 4, 2019

Why Is Johnson Blowing Up His Own Government?

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

I think what the US president is saying, is that Boris Johnson is exactly what he has been looking for, a compliant Prime Minister who will hand Britain’s public services and protections over to US corporations in a free trade deal. https://t.co/kcg2jkYi0o

— Jeremy Corbyn (@jeremycorbyn) August 28, 2019

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

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

___

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

___

Burke and Mendoza reported from San Francisco.

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Elizabeth Warren Details Bold Plans for Green New Deal

Declaring the climate emergency an “existential crisis” that requires bold and urgent action, Sen. Elizabeth Warren Tuesday night unveiled a proposal that calls for repealing President Donald Trump’s tax cuts for the rich and corporations to help fund a transition to 100 percent renewable energy by 2035.

Warren’s plan adopts and builds upon the clean energy blueprint introduced by Washington Gov. Jay Inslee, who dropped out of the 2020 Democratic presidential primary race last month after running a campaign that centered the climate crisis as the most dire issue facing the U.S. and the world.

“Jay didn’t merely sound the alarm or make vague promises. He provided bold, thoughtful, and detailed ideas for how to get us where we need to go,” Warren wrote in a Medium post. “One of the most important of these ideas is the urgent need to decarbonize key sectors of our economy. Today, I’m embracing that goal.”

Warren said she will “commit an additional $1 trillion over 10 years—fully paid for by reversing Trump’s tax cuts for the wealthiest individuals and giant corporations—to match Governor Inslee’s commitment, and to subsidize the economic transition to clean and renewable electricity, zero emission vehicles, and green products for commercial and residential buildings.”

The senator outlined the broad goals of her clean energy plan, which calls for $3 trillion in federal investment:

  • By 2028, 100 percent zero-carbon pollution for all new commercial and residential buildings;
  • By 2030, 100 percent zero emissions for all new light-duty passenger vehicles, medium-duty trucks, and all buses;
  • By 2035, 100 percent renewable and zero-emission energy in electricity generation, with an interim target of 100 percent carbon-neutral power by 2030.

“Nothing less than a national mobilization will be required to defeat climate change,” said Warren. “It will require every single one of us, and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and get to work—there is no time to waste.”

Warren’s clean energy plan was unveiled Tuesday as part of the Massachusetts senator’s overall climate platform, which is detailed on her website.

Warren, an original co-sponsor of the Senate Green New Deal resolution, said her platform would aim to ensure a just transition for fossil fuel industry workers, bolster protections for frontline communities, and create millions of well-paying union jobs while confronting the climate crisis.

“If we work together to make smart investments in our clean energy future, we will grow our economy, improve our health, and reduce structural inequalities embedded in our existing fossil fuel system,” Warren wrote. “The task before us is monumental, and it is urgent.”

The youth-led Sunrise Movement praised Warren’s platform, which was compiled ahead of a CNN climate crisis town hall on Wednesday that will be attended by 10 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), entrepreneur Andrew Yang, former Vice President Joe Biden, and South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

Ahead of tomorrow’s @cnn #ClimateTownHall, @ewarren has compiled all her plans so far for a #GreenNewDeal. They are as detailed as they are bold.

Thank you for your continued leadership. We hope this list keeps growing!

Happy reading https://t.co/qu7GHwu7Of

— Sunrise Movement (@sunrisemvmt) September 4, 2019

In a statement on Tuesday, Mitch Jones, climate and energy program director at Food & Water Watch, applauded Warren’s clean energy plan as a “welcome” addition to her slate of climate proposals.

But Jones criticized Warren for neglecting to mention fracking, which is largely responsible for the planet-threatening boom in U.S. natural gas production.

“While Senator Warren came out early in support of previous plans to stop fossil fuel production on public lands, this latest proposal is silent on banning fracking everywhere,” said Jones. “Our new fossil fuel exporting economy is based on fracking, without banning it or exports of fossil fuels, we are condemning our children to decades of fossil fuel use.”

“We must move immediately to ban fracking, ban the export and import of fossil fuels, ban new fossil fuel infrastructure including pipelines, as well as banning production on public lands,” Jones added. “We don’t have time to wait. Acting now is both a political and moral imperative.”

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‘We Need Help’: Rescuers in Bahamas Face a Blasted Landscape

FREEPORT, Bahamas—Rescue crews in the Bahamas fanned out across a blasted landscape of smashed and flooded homes Wednesday, trying to reach drenched and stunned victims of Hurricane Dorian and take the full measure of the disaster. The official death toll stood at seven but was certain to rise.

A day after the most powerful hurricane on record ever to hit the country finished mauling the islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama, emergency workers had yet to reach some stricken areas.

“Right now there are just a lot of unknowns,” Parliament member Iram Lewis said. “We need help.”

Dorian, meanwhile, pushed its way northward off the Florida shoreline with reduced but still-dangerous 105 mph (165 kph) winds on a projected course that could sideswipe Georgia and the Carolinas. An estimated 3 million people in the four states were warned to clear out, and highways leading inland were turned into one-way evacuation routes.

The storm parked over the Bahamas and pounded it for over a day and a half with winds up to 185 mph (295 kph) and torrential rains, swamping neighborhoods in muddy brown floodwaters and destroying or severely damaging thousands of homes.

“We are in the midst of one of the greatest national crises in our country’s history,” said Prime Minister Hubert Minnis. He said he expects the number of dead to rise.

National Security Minister Marvin Dames said rescue teams were fanning out as the winds and rain subsided, with more than 600 police officers and marines in Grand Bahama and 100 in Abaco.

“The devastation is unlike anything that we’ve ever seen before,” he said. “We’re beginning to get on the ground, get our people in the right places. We have a lot of work in the days and weeks and months ahead.”

Rescuers used jet skis, boats and even a bulldozer to reach children and adults trapped by the swirling waters, while the U.S. Coast Guard, Britain’s Royal Navy and disaster relief organizations tried to get food and medicine to survivors and take the most desperate people to safety.

Five Coast Guard helicopters ran near-hourly flights to stricken Abaco, flying people to the main hospital in the capital, Nassau.

Health Minister Duane Sands said the government was airlifting 25 doctors, nurses and other health workers to Abaco and hoped to bring in mental health workers soon.

“The situation is under control in Abaco,” he said. “In Grand Bahama, today will tell the magnitude of the problem.”

Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts.

Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said Tuesday that more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes on Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to be severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. and Red Cross officials said tens of thousands of people will need food and clean drinking water.

“It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic,” said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a hurricane relief group and flew over Abaco. “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.”

She said her representative on Abaco told her there were “a lot more dead.”

At 11 a.m. EDT Wednesday, Dorian was centered about 90 miles (140 kilometers) northeast of Daytona Beach, Florida, moving northwest at 9 mph (15 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended up to 70 miles (110 kilometers) from its center.

Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and perhaps strike South Carolina or North Carolina on Thursday and Friday with the potential for over a foot of rain in some spots. Forecasters warned that Dorian is likely to cause storm surge and flooding even if its core does not blow ashore.

“Don’t tough it out. Get out,” said U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency official Carlos Castillo.

With the threat to Florida easing and the danger shifting northward, Orlando’s airport moved to reopen, along with Walt Disney World and Universal. To the north, the Navy ordered ships at its huge base in Norfolk, Virginia, to head out to sea for safety, and warplanes at Langley Air Force Base in Hampton, Virginia, were being moved inland to Ohio.

Having seen storms swamp his home on the Georgia coast in 2016 and 2017, Joey Spalding of Tybee Island decided to empty his house and stay at a friend’s apartment nearby rather than take any chances with Dorian.

He packed a U-Haul truck with tables, chairs, a chest of drawers, tools — virtually all of his furnishings except for his mattress and a large TV — and planned to park it on higher ground. He also planned to shroud his house in plastic wrap up to shoulder height and pile sandbags in front of the doors.

“In this case, I don’t have to come into a house full of junk,” he said. “I’m learning a little as I go.”

___

Associated Press journalist Ramon Espinosa reported this story in Freeport, AP writer Danica Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and AP writer Michael Weissenstein reported from Nassau, Bahamas. AP writers Tim Aylen in Freeport, Russ Bynum in Georgia and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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Hong Kong Withdraws Extradition Bill That Sparked Protests

HONG KONG (AP) — Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam announced Wednesday the government will formally withdraw an extradition bill that sparked months of demonstrations, bowing to one of the protesters’ demands in the hope of ending the increasingly violent unrest.

But lawmakers warned that the bill’s withdrawal was not enough to end the turmoil, which has increasingly focused on alleged police brutality against protesters and democratic reforms. A youth activist also rejected the move as insincere and warned it could be a precursor to a clampdown.

The bill would have allowed Hong Kong residents to be sent to mainland China for trials. It has prompted massive protests since June that disrupted transport links and caused the airport to shut down earlier this month.

Lam said the government would not accept other demands including an independent inquiry into alleged police misconduct and the unconditional release of those detained. Instead, she named two new members to a police watchdog agency investigating the matter.

“The government will formally withdraw the bill in order to fully allay public concerns,” she said in a recorded television message.

She said the persistent violence is damaging the rule of law and that challenges to the “one country, two systems” policy had put Hong Kong in a “highly vulnerable and dangerous situation.”

“Our foremost priority now is to end violence, to safeguard the rule of law and to restore order and safety in society,” she added, vowing to “strictly enforce the law against all violent and illegal acts.”

Lam said it was clear that public frustration has gone far beyond the bill and that her government will seek a dialogue with aggrieved groups to “address the discontent in society and to look for solutions.”

She said she will also invite community leaders, professionals and academics to examine deep-seated problems in the society and advise the government on solutions.

“Let’s replace conflicts with conversations, and let’s look for solutions,” she said.

Lam made the announcement after meeting with pro-government lawmakers and members of the National People’s Congress and the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference.

Lawmaker Michael Tien, who was at the meeting, said the move would not change public sentiment if it isn’t accompanied by other concessions.

“It is too little, too late. The focus now has completely shifted. Most people do not remember what the bill is about but are more concerned about the escalating violence and alleged police heavy-handedness against protesters,” he said.

He said Lam rejected his call during the meeting for an independent inquiry which would have the power to summon witnesses, on the ground that it would overlap with the police watchdog probe.

Pro-democracy lawmaker Claudia Mo said the protesters are adamant that all their demands, including calls for direct elections, are fulfilled. She mocked Lam’s bid to seek dialogue to address public grievances.

“She has been fast asleep these three months, this is just absurd,” Mo said. “The scars and wounds are still bleeding, and she thinks she can just use some garden hose to put out the hill fire. That is not acceptable.”

Prominent pro-democracy youth activist Joshua Wong warned that apparent concessions by the government “always come with a far tighter grip on exercising civil rights.”

“They have conceded nothing in fact, and a full-scale clampdown is on the way,” he tweeted.

Pro-establishment lawmaker Starry Lee, however, urged protesters to accept the government’s olive branch so the city can move forward.

The Hong Kong stock market soared 4%, boosted by reports of the bill’s withdrawal.

Lam has come under withering criticism for pushing the extradition bill, which many in Hong Kong see as an example of the city’s eroding autonomy since the former British colony returned to Chinese control in 1997.

She was elected as Hong Kong’s chief executive by a pro-Beijing committee of Hong Kong elites, and the mainland government has spoken in support of her government and the city’s police force throughout the protests.

Clashes between police and protesters have become increasingly violent, with demonstrators throwing gasoline bombs and rods at officers in protests last weekend. Authorities in turn have employed water cannons, tear gas, rubber bullets and batons. More than 1,100 people have been detained.

The mostly young protesters say that a degree of violence is necessary to get the government’s attention after peaceful rallies were futile. In Beijing, the mainland office responsible for Hong Kong has warned that China will “not sit idly by” if the situation worsens.

The prolonged protests have hurt Hong Kong’s economy amid a slowdown in the Chinese economy and its trade war with the United States.

Hong Kong and foreign companies have also been under intense pressure to support China’s ruling Communist Party against the protesters.

The chairman of Hong Kong’s Cathay Pacific Airways resigned Wednesday, becoming the second top figure to leave the airline since the protests erupted.

Cathay said John Slosar was retiring from the airline, one of Hong Kong’s most prominent businesses. It comes less than one month after Cathay’s CEO, Rupert Hogg, resigned following pressure by Beijing over participation by some of the carrier’s employees in protests.

___

Associated Press writers Joe McDonald in Beijing and Eileen Ng in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, contributed to this report.

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Private Sale Allowed Texas Gunman to Evade Background Check

ODESSA, Texas–The gunman in a West Texas rampage that left seven dead obtained his AR-style rifle through a private sale, allowing him to evade a federal background check that blocked him from getting a gun in 2014 due to a “mental health issue,” a law enforcement official told The Associated Press.

The official spoke to The Associated Press Tuesday on condition of anonymity because the person was not authorized to discuss an ongoing investigation. The person did not say when and where the private sale took place.

Officers killed 36-year-old Seth Aaron Ator on Saturday outside a busy Odessa movie theater after a spate of violence that spanned 10 miles (16 kilometers) and lasted more than an hour, injuring around two dozen people in addition to the dead. He spread terror across the two biggest cities in the Permian Basin while firing indiscriminately from his car into passing vehicles and shopping plazas. He also hijacked a U.S. Postal Service mail truck, killing the driver.

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Ator had tried purchasing a firearm in January 2014 but was denied, the Texas Department of Public Safety said in a statement Tuesday. The agency said it was precluded by law from disclosing why, but the law enforcement official told the AP it was due to a “mental health issue.”

Private sales, which some estimates suggest account for 25 to 40 percent of all gun sales, are not subject to a federal background check in the United States. If the person selling the firearm knows the buyer cannot legally purchase or possess a firearm, they would be violating the law. But they are not required to find out if the person can possess a firearm and are not required to conduct a background check.

The so-called “gun show” loophole means that Americans can buy a gun from an individual, get one bequeathed from a relative, obtain one through an online marketplace as well as from some dealers at gun shows — all without needing to go through a federal background check.

FBI special agent Christopher Combs said Ator “was on a long spiral of going down” and had been fired from his oil services job the morning of the shooting, and that he called 911 both before and after the rampage began. Online court records show Ator was arrested in 2001 for a misdemeanor offense that would not have prevented him from legally purchasing firearms in Texas.

Combs said Monday that Ator called the agency’s tip line as well as local police dispatch on Saturday after being fired from Journey Oilfield Services, making “rambling statements about some of the atrocities that he felt that he had gone through.” Fifteen minutes after the call to the FBI, Combs said, a Texas state trooper unaware of the calls to authorities tried pulling over Ator for failing to signal a lane change.

Ator fired on the trooper and fled, setting in motion a rampage that didn’t end until the gunman was killed at 4:17 p.m., according to Odessa police spokesman Steve LeSueur. That was one hour and four minutes after DPS said the trooper pulled over Ator.

In 2018, more than 26 million background checks were conducted. Of those, fewer than 100,000 were denied with the vast majority of those rejected because the person was found to have a criminal past that made them ineligible. Far fewer just over 6,000 were because the person had been involuntarily committed.

Gun-rights advocates have pushed back against efforts to include private sales, contending it would risk unwittingly turning someone into a felon for a private transaction with a friend or relative. They also argue that criminals will still get their hands on a firearm, regardless of what laws are on the books.

“In the guise of basically regulating private sales it creates a mechanism that is so labyrinthian that basically gun owners won’t be able to comply with it,” Michael Hammond, the legislative counsel for Gun Owners of America, told The Associated Press.

Gun-control advocates argue that the lack of a background check is making it too easy for the wrong people to skirt the background check system and get a gun. For example, on one well-known internet site for firearms sales, there were classified listings in recent days for about 1,700 long guns in Texas alone.

Combs said Ator “showed up to work enraged” but did not point to any specific source of his anger. Ator’s home on the outskirts of Odessa was a corrugated metal shack along a dirt road surrounded by trailers, mobile homes and oil pump jacks. Combs described it as a “strange residence” that reflected “what his mental state was going into this.”

Ator fired at random as he drove in the area of Odessa and Midland, cities more than 300 miles (482 kilometers) west of Dallas. Police used a marked SUV to ram the mail truck outside the Cinergy Movie Theater in Odessa, disabling the vehicle. The gunman then fired at police, wounding two officers before he was killed.

The number of mass killings so far this year has already eclipsed the total for all of last year. A teenager suspected of killing five family members in Alabama brought the total to 26 mass killings in 2019, claiming the lives of 147 people, compared with 25 mass killings and 142 deaths in 2018, according to a database by The Associated Press, USA Today and Northeastern University. The database tracks homicides where four or more people are killed, not including the offender.

___

Weber reported from Austin and Balsamo reported from Washington. Associated Press journalists Meghan Hoyer and Michael Biesecker in Washington, Tim Talley in Oklahoma City and Lisa Marie Pane in Boise, Idaho, contributed to this report.

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U.N. Report Finds U.S. Likely Guilty of War Crimes in Yemen

A new report by a group of investigators commissioned by the U.N. Human Rights Council says the United States, Britain and France may be culpable for war crimes in Yemen. The three countries back a Saudi Arabia- and United Arab Emirates-led coalition fighting on the side of the government in the current Yemeni civil war, which has been ongoing for five years.

“Five years into the conflict, violations against Yemeni civilians continue unabated, with total disregard for the plight of the people and a lack of international action to hold parties to the conflict accountable,” Kamel Jendoubi, chair of the Group of Experts on Yemen, said in a press statement.

Investigators write that they “found reasonable grounds to believe that the parties to the conflict in Yemen are responsible for an array of human rights violations and violations of international humanitarian law.”

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Though much of this information has been uncovered by journalists and such advocacy groups as Human Rights Watch, and in a 2018 United Nations report, the latest U.N. report “is striking for its broad demand for accountability,” reporter Sudarsan Raghavan explains in The Washington Post.

“The United States, in particular, provides logistical support and intelligence to the coalition, in addition to selling billions of dollars in weaponry to the group,” Raghavan writes.

The 2018 report determined that the Saudi and UAE coalition was responsible for killing thousands of civilians in airstrikes and shelling, and through the use of snipers and land mines; torturing detainees; and raping and intentionally starving citizens.

Anti-government Houthi rebels also are accused of war crimes, including using child soldiers. “None have clean hands,” Charles Garraway, one of the 2018 report’s investigators and a retired British military officer, told The New York Times in 2018.

Because the U.S., France and Britain supported and armed the Saudis, the U.N. investigators consider those countries complicit.

After the release of the 2018 report, then-Defense Secretary James Mattis told reporters that the Trump administration had reviewed its support for the UAE-Saudi coalition. “We determined it was the right thing to do in defense of their own countries, but also to restore the rightful government there,” he told the Times, adding, “[o]ur conduct there is to try to keep the human cost of innocents being killed accidentally to an absolute minimum.’’

The latest U.N. report suggests that the Saudi coalition and its Western allies cannot police themselves or take responsibility for actions that kill civilians, which, as the Post points out, “is often cited by Trump administration and British officials to justify the continued military support and arms sales to the coalition.”

“The assessment of the targeting process is particularly worrying, as it implies that an attack hitting a military target is legal, notwithstanding civilian casualties, hence ignoring the principle of proportionality,” the report says.

The U.S., Britain and France are all permanent members of the U.N. Security Council.

The report’s authors submitted a list of people “who may be responsible for international crimes” to U.N. Human Rights Commissioner Michelle Bachelet, but they do not specify names or say whether those individuals are from Britain, France or the U.S. Representatives from Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Britain, France and the U.S. did not respond to the Post’s requests for comments.

Read the 2019 U.N. report here.

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Walmart to Stop Selling Certain Types of Gun Ammunition

NEW YORK—Walmart says it will discontinue the sale of handgun and short-barrel rifle ammunition and also publicly request that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms in stores even where state laws allow it.

The announcement comes just days after a mass shooting claimed seven lives in Odessa, Texas and follows two other back-to-back shootings last month, one of them at a Walmart store.

The Bentonville, Arkansas-based discounter said Tuesday it will stop handgun ammunition as well as short-barrel rifle ammunition, such as the .223 caliber and 5.56 caliber used in military style weapons, after it runs out of its current inventory.

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It will also discontinue handgun sales in Alaska. Walmart stopped selling handguns in the mid-1990s, with the exception of Alaska. The latest move marks its complete exit from that business and allows it to focus on hunting rifles and related ammunition only.

“We have a long heritage as a company of serving responsible hunters and sportsmen and women, and we’re going to continue doing so,” according to a memo by Walmart’s CEO Doug McMillon to be circulated to employees Tuesday afternoon.

The retailer is further requesting that customers refrain from openly carrying firearms at its Walmart and Sam’s Club stores unless they are law enforcement officers. However, it said that it won’t be changing its policy for customers who have permits for concealed carry. Walmart says it will be adding signage in stores to inform customers of those changes.

Last month, a gunman entered a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas, killing 22 people with an AK-style firearm that Walmart already bans the sale of and marking the deadliest shooting in the company’s history. Texas became an open carry state in 2016, allowing people to openly carry firearms in public.

Walmart’s moves will reduce its market share of ammunition from around 20% to a range of about 6% to 9%, according to Tuesday’s memo. About half of its more than 4,750 U.S. stores sell firearms.

The nation’s largest retailer has been facing increasing pressure to change its gun policies by gun control activists, employees and politicians after the El Paso shooting and a second unrelated shooting in Dayton, Ohio that killed nine people. A few days before that, two Walmart workers were killed by another worker at a store in Southaven, Mississippi.

In the aftermath of the El Paso shooting, Walmart ordered workers to remove video game signs and displays that depict violence from stores nationwide. But that fell well short of demands for the retailer to stop selling firearms entirely. Critics have also wanted Walmart to stop supporting politicians backed by the National Rifle Association.

At least one gun control activist group applauded Walmart’s moves.

“Walmart deserves enormous credit for joining the strong and growing majority of Americans who know that we have too many guns in our country and they are too easy to get,” said Igor Volsky, Executive Director and Founder of Guns Down America in a statement. “That work doesn’t end with Walmart’s decision today. As Congress comes back to consider gun violence, Walmart should make it clear that it stands with Americans who are demanding real change.”

The retailer has long found itself in an awkward spot with its customers and gun enthusiasts. Many of its stores are located in rural areas where hunters are depend on Walmart to get their equipment. Walmart is trying to walk a fine line by trying to embrace its hunting heritage while being a more responsible retailer.

With its new policy on “open carry,” McMillon noted in his memo that individuals have tried to make a statement by carrying weapons into its stores just to frighten workers and customers. But there are well-intentioned customers acting lawfully who have also inadvertently caused a store to be evacuated and local law enforcement to be called to respond.

He says Walmart will continue to treat “law-abiding customers with respect” and it will have a “non-confrontational approach.”

Walmart says it hopes to help other retailers by sharing its best practices like software that it uses for background checks. And the company, which in 2015 stopped selling assault rifles like the AR-rifles used in several mass shootings, urged more debate on the reauthorization of the assault weapons ban while also calling for the government to strengthen background checks. McMillon says Walmart will send letters to the White House and the Congressional leadership that calls for action on these “common sense” measures.

“In a complex situation lacking a simple solution, we are trying to take constructive steps to reduce the risk that events like these will happen again,” McMillon wrote in his memo. “The status quo is unacceptable.”

Over the last 15 years, Walmart had expanded beyond its hunting and fishing roots, carrying items like assault rifles in response to increasing demand. But particularly since 2015, often coinciding with major public mass shootings, the company has made moves to curb the sale of ammunition and guns.

Walmart announced in February 2018 that it would no longer sell firearms and ammunition to people younger than 21 and also removed items resembling assault-style rifles from its website. Those moves were prompted by the mass shooting at a high school in Parkland, Florida, that killed 17 people.

In 2015, Walmart stopped selling semi-automatic weapons like the AR-15 style rifle, the type used in the Dayton shooting. The retailer also doesn’t sell large-capacity magazines, handguns (except in Alaska) or bump stocks, nor the AK-style firearm that was used by the El Paso shooter.

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California City Experiments With Universal Income

STOCKTON, Calif.—Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang wants to give cash to every American each month.

Susie Garza has never heard of Yang. But since February, she’s been getting $500 a month from a nonprofit in Stockton, California, as part of an experiment that offers something unusual in presidential politics: a trial run of a campaign promise, highlighting the benefits and challenges in real time.

Garza can spend the money however she wants. She uses $150 of it to pay for her cellphone and another $100 or so to pay off her dog’s veterinarian bills. She spends the rest on her two grandsons now that she can afford to buy them birthday presents online and let them get the big bag of chips at the 7-Eleven.

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“I’ve never been able to do that. I thought it was just the coolest thing,” said Garza, who is unemployed and previously was addicted to drugs, though she said she has been sober for 18 years following a stint in prison. “I like it because I feel more independent, like I’m in charge. I really have something that’s my own.”

Garza is part of an experiment testing the impact of “universal basic income,” an old idea getting new life thanks to the 2020 presidential race, although Stockton’s project is an independent one and has no connection to any presidential race.

Yang, a tech entrepreneur, has anchored his longshot bid with a proposal to give $1,000 in cash to every American, saying the payments will shield workers from the pain of certain job losses caused by automation. The idea has helped him win unexpected support and even muscle out some better-known candidates from the debate stages. His proposal isn’t too far off from one by U.S. Sen. Kamala Harris, one of the top contenders for the Democratic nomination, who has a proposal to give up to $500 a month to working families.

Stockton, once known as the foreclosure capital of the country and for one of the nation’s largest municipal bankruptcies, is a step ahead of both candidates. In February, the city launched the Stockton Economic Empowerment Demonstration, a pilot program spearheaded by a new mayor and financed in part by the nonprofit led by Facebook co-founder Chris Hughes. The city chose 125 people who live in census tracts at or below the city’s median household income of $46,033. They get the money on a debit card on the 15th of each month.

“I think poverty is immoral, I think it is antiquated and I think it shouldn’t exist,” said Michael Tubbs, the city’s 29-year-old Democratic mayor.

Tubbs’ personal story includes a cousin who was killed, a father who is in prison and a mother who, as a teenager, raised him with the help of multiple jobs. He found his way to Stanford and public service, where he persuaded his beleaguered city to sign on to a provocative new idea: guaranteed cash.

Stockton residents, who have elected Republican mayors for 16 out of the last 22 years, were skeptical, worried about encouraging people not to work. Tubbs said he calmed their fears by noting the money came from private donations, not taxpayer dollars.

“I would tell people all that time that would be upset or would call angry, I would say, well, I’m just as angry as you are, but I’m angry about the problem. I’m not angry about possible solutions,” Tubbs said.

A team of researchers is monitoring the participants. Their chief interest is not finances but happiness. They are using what they call a “mattering scale” to measure how much people feel like they matter to society.

“Do people notice you are there? Those things are correlated to health and well-being,” said Stacia Martin-West, a researcher at the University of Tennessee who is working on the program along with Amy Castro-Baker at the University of Pennsylvania.

The money has made Jovan Bravo happier. The 31-year-old Stockton native and construction worker is married and has three children, ages 13, 8 and 4. He said he didn’t see enough of his children when he worked six days a week to pay the bills.

That changed when he started getting $500 a month. Now he only works one Saturday a month. He uses the other Saturdays to take his kids to the amusement park and ride bikes with them in the park.

“It’s made a huge difference,” he said. “Just being able to spend more time with the wife and kids, it brings us closer together.”

Stockton officials do not release the names of the program participants. They arrange interviews with journalists only for those who volunteer to discuss their experiences.

The idea of a guaranteed income dates back to at least the 18th century and has crossed ideological and cultural lines.

In the 1960s and 1970s, Republicans Donald Rumsfeld and Dick Cheney oversaw four guaranteed-income experiments scattered across the country when Rumsfeld, later a defense secretary, was director of President Richard Nixon’s Office of Economic Opportunity and Cheney, the future vice president, was his deputy.

The program had some hiccups, including a woman who spent all the money on alcohol and a man who went into debt buying expensive furniture for his government-subsidized apartment, according to a 1970 New York Times story. But the experiment concluded that the money did not stop people from working and led Nixon to propose expanding the program, which ultimately did not pass Congress.

Since then, other studies have reached similar results. A 2018 study in Alaska, where residents have gotten a share of the state’s oil revenue every year since 1982, found the money has not shrunk the state’s labor force. The same was found in a 2010 UCLA study in North Carolina, where the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians has shared casino revenue with its members since the mid-1990s.

The latest momentum comes with the help of the technology industry, which is grappling with how to prepare for the job losses likely to come with automation and artificial intelligence.

The tech connection has drawn criticism from left-leaning labor unions skeptical of the industry’s motives.

“We think the future of work should be defined by working people, not tech billionaires,” said Steve Smith, spokesman for the California Labor Federation, a group of 1,200 unions and a reliable ally for some of the state’s most liberal policies. “If there are no jobs available, you are pretty much stuck with your $1,000 a month check while the CEO of the tech company that automated you out of a job is being paid a billion dollars a year.”

Other critics note that the programs can chip away at the social safety net. Yang’s plan requires recipients to decline food stamps and some other government assistance.

There’s also the question of how to pay for it.

Stockton’s program, giving 125 people $500 per month for 18 months, will cost just over $1.1 million. Harris’ plan, which covers working families making up to $100,000 annually, would cost about $275 billion per year, according to the Tax Policy Center. To pay for it, she says she would repeal some of the 2017 GOP tax cuts and impose new taxes on corporations.

Yang’s plan, which covers every adult in the United States, would cost $2.8 trillion per year. He would impose a new tax on businesses’ goods and services while shrinking some other government assistance programs. Representatives for Yang and Harris did not respond to interview requests.

The Stockton experiment runs through July 2020. Researchers expect to release their first round of data this fall, when the presidential campaigns are preparing for the Iowa caucuses and state primaries.

Tubbs says he already sees success in making the city a focal point in the discussion about the future of capitalism and the U.S. economy. But once the experiment is over, he’s not sure what’s next. He says guaranteed income would need to be much bigger — at least statewide — to really have an impact.

Garza does not know what’s next for her, either. She relies on her husband for most things, and he recently lost his job. The extra $500 a month was so helpful, it left her wondering how she was lucky enough to get it — a question she posed to the program’s director.

“She goes, ‘Because you’re blessed,'” Garza said. “And I just left it at that.”

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Bernie Sanders Is Coming to American Journalism’s Rescue

Criticizing the media has become a sensitive issue for many on the left in the age of Trump. With an authoritarian president in office who seeks to discredit the media at every turn and regularly calls the press the “enemy of the people,” being too critical of the journalism business in 2019 can feel a bit like kicking someone when they’re down. Journalists in and beyond the U.S. not only must deal with a hostile president who attacks reporters and publications that don’t offer a steady stream of fawning coverage, but they are also grappling with the fact that their industry is in rapid decline.

At a time when journalism has never been a more essential public good, the journalism business is dying. Monthly layoffs plague the industry and newsroom employment has dropped by a quarter since 2008. More than 2,000 American newspapers have closed since 2004, and now half the counties in the country can claim only one local newspaper (while 171 counties have none at all). Meanwhile, full-time journalism jobs are increasingly difficult to come by, and for many reporters and writers today, the only certainty is the precarity of the gig economy.

With this gloomy prognosis, coupled with growing hostility toward the press, it might seem like the last thing the country needs right now is leftists railing against the media. This is apparently the attitude among many prominent beltway journalists, who have been quick to equate progressive critiques of the corporate media with Trumpian attacks on the “fake news” media. When the country’s most famous democratic socialist, Bernie Sanders, made a critical comment about coverage from The Washington Post a few weeks ago, for example, pointing out that Jeff Bezos owned the paper (which does seem to have a pretty clear agenda against the Vermont senator), he was labeled a conspiracy theorist and slammed on CNN for his “Trump-like attack” of the press.

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This beltway backlash continued last week in an article published in the Guardian’s U.S. edition, in which author Joan Greve, formerly of The Washington Post, pondered whether Sanders’ criticism of the Post was “Trumpian” in nature. Sanders’ comments, wrote Greve, “come amid an increasing willingness among the broader Democratic presidential field to harshly criticize the press—even as violence against US journalists has escalated and the president’s hostile rhetoric of ‘fake news’ continues unabated.” To some observers, Greve reported, “it now seems the anti-media accusations of the right are being mirrored on the left, albeit not at the dangerous levels of the president.”

While it is perfectly reasonable to question whether rhetoric goes too far in certain instances, the idea that leftist critiques of the corporate media bear even the slightest resemblance to right-wing attacks on the press is laughable. Indeed, to liken media criticisms from the left to Trump’s incoherent ravings against the press betrays a fundamental misunderstanding of the left’s critique, which is grounded in a structural and institutional analysis, not paranoid conspiracy theories and authoritarian politics.

The subtitle of Edward S. Herman and Noam Chomsky’s classic study of the media, “Manufacturing Consent: The Political Economy of the Mass Media,” is pretty self-explanatory. The authors lay out how the progressive critique of the media is part of a larger critique of free market capitalism and of the corporate structure of our economy. According to this analysis, the fact that around 90% of the media in America is controlled by six corporations (down from 50 companies in the early 1980s) tells us a lot more about media bias than whether a majority of journalists personally vote Democrat or Republican.

From the left-wing perspective, it is impossible to completely separate media companies from the economic forces that drive their business. Then there’s the question of ownership; of course, there’s a big difference between activist owners like Rupert Murdoch and someone like Bezos, who avoids direct editorial interference. Sanders made just this point during the Democratic debate on CNN in late July. In response to moderator Jake Tapper’s misleading question about tax increases under Sanders’ health care plan (Tapper ignored that health care savings would offset any tax increases for the vast majority), the Vermont senator accurately predicted that “the health care industry will be advertising tonight on this program.”

It is also worth noting that this could happen only in America or New Zealand, the two countries where direct-to-consumer drug advertising is legal. Market forces and the profit motive drive most media companies today, and to say this has absolutely no impact on programming or coverage is either naive or disingenuous.

Not long after making his comment about The Washington Post and Jeff Bezos, Sanders qualified his remarks: “Do I think Jeff Bezos is on the phone, telling the editor of The Washington Post what to do? Absolutely not. It doesn’t work that way.”

With an “authoritarian-type” president “trying to intimidate the media,” Sanders explained, progressives have to be careful with their critiques, and must defend the free press at all costs.

But defending a free and independent press from authoritarian demagogues and right-wing terrorists isn’t good enough today, and sadly, the free market has proven to be an even greater long-term threat to the press than the Tweeter in Chief. The market hasn’t just put countless newspapers out of business and myriad journalists out of work; it has led to a precipitous decline in the quality of journalism, as the daily struggle for survival has forced outlets to chase ratings and clicks, sacrificing quality for quantity.

Twenty years ago, Nieman Reports published a report on how network television news had changed over the previous two decades. Up until the last decades of the 20th century, there had been no profitable news business on broadcast television. “The Big Three broadcast television networks—ABC, CBS and NBC—all covered news, but none generally made money doing so,” explained the report’s authors. “Nor did they expect to turn a profit from news programming.” “I have Jack Benny to make money,” the owner of CBS, William Paley, told news reporters in the early 1960s, who were instructed not to worry about costs.

The demand for profit from news programming arose as profits from entertainment programming began to dwindle. Suddenly, news was expected to make money, and the results were entirely predictable. One way to make the news profitable was to “make the product more entertaining,” according to Neiman Reports. This would generate higher ratings and thus higher revenues. Another part of the formula was to control spending: “The networks have, among other things, closed foreign and domestic bureaus, laid off staff, eliminated some money-losing documentary units, and curbed convention and election coverage.”

In the two decades since then, the news business has continued to transform. A kind of creative destruction has forced many traditional media companies out of business while the market has cultivated clickbait journalism. It has become harder and harder for small and independent outlets to survive, while media conglomerates have grown even more massive since the 1996 Telecommunications Act deregulated the media industry a quarter-century ago.

Last month, CBS and Viacom announced that they would be reuniting in a merger (after splitting in 2005) to form ViacomCBS. Meanwhile, AT&T acquired Time Warner last year after overcoming an antitrust lawsuit from the Justice Department, making AT&T the largest media company in the world based on revenue.

None of these trends bode well for the future of journalism, and in an editorial published last week in The Guardian, Sanders further addressed the current state of media. “One reason we do not have enough real journalism in America right now is because many outlets are being gutted by the same forces of greed that are pillaging our economy,” wrote the senator, denouncing the “corporate conglomerates and hedge fund vultures” who buy struggling companies only to slash their newsrooms, along with the television pundits who earn “tens of millions of dollars to pontificate about frivolous political gossip” as thousands of journalists are laid off.

“Today, after decades of consolidation and deregulation, just a small handful of companies control almost everything you watch, read and download,” continued Sanders. “Given that reality, we should not want even more of the free press to be put under the control of a handful of corporations and ‘benevolent’ billionaires who can use their media empires to punish their critics and shield themselves from scrutiny.”

This take, it should be clear, is not tantamount to an authoritarian or “Trumpian” critique of the media directed at journalists. Rather, it’s a democratic critique aimed at corporate executives and billionaire tycoons. Part of Sanders’ plan to fix journalism is to “boost media workers’ laudable efforts to form unions and collectively bargain with their employers.”

If elected, he wrote, he would also “reinstate and strengthen media ownership rules,” limiting the number of stations that broadcasting companies can own, and direct federal agencies to “study the impact of consolidation in print, television and digital media to determine whether further antitrust action is necessary.” The senator also called out big tech companies like Google and Facebook, which have played an outsize role in disrupting the traditional revenue model for publications.

Ultimately, Sanders and other progressives understand that capitalism is a greater long-term threat to American journalism than Donald Trump. There is no simple solution to the multitude of problems facing the journalism business today, but the fact that journalism is treated as a “business” rather than a public good seems to be at the root of all its problems.

As dangerous as Trump’s rhetoric is, journalists aren’t going to be unemployed (or underemployed) because of his threatening tweets—although this is not to say Trump hasn’t pushed for policies that would damage journalism even further.

Yet some possible solutions remain. One of the many ways to address the market’s steady erosion of journalism would be to support public funding of the media. Predictably, the Trump administration has tried to eliminate all funding for public broadcasting, even though the entire annual budget is less than what it costs the military to purchase a few aircraft.

The U.S. already has a dismal record when it comes to public funding of journalism: The average per capita spending on public broadcasting in countries from Europe to Australia was $86 in 2014, compared to $3 per capita in the United States. In Norway it is a whopping $180, and the second lowest on the list, New Zealand, still spent five times more per capita than America.

If Trump had his way and was unencumbered by constitutional restraints, he wouldn’t just eliminate the public broadcasting budget. He would crush the free press and perhaps even take control of the major news companies, just as Vladimir Putin did in Russia. Not surprisingly, Trump appears to admire Putin’s handling of pesky journalists. If Bernie Sanders had his way, he would safeguard journalism from the whims of the free market and empower actual journalists over “benevolent billionaires” and corporate executives.

If anyone still cannot tell the night-and-day difference between these two critiques, it’s quite possible he or she might be one of the lucky few pundits who earn six- or seven-figure checks as their fellow journalists fall victim to the market’s invisible hand.

The post Bernie Sanders Is Coming to American Journalism’s Rescue appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The 5 Biggest Corporate Lies About Unions

Wealthy corporations and their enablers have spread 5 big lies about unions in order to stop workers from organizing and to protect their own bottom-lines. Know the truth and spread the truth.

Lie #1: Labor unions are bad for workers. Wrong. Unions are good for all workers – even those who are not unionized. In the mid-1950s, when a third of all workers in the United States were unionizedwages grew in tandem with the economy. That’s because workers across America – even those who were not unionized – had significant power to demand and get better wages, hours, benefits, and working conditions. Since then, as union membership has declined, the middle class has shrunk as well.

Lie #2: Unions hurt the economy. Wrong again. When workers are unionized they can negotiate better wages, which in turn spreads the economic gains more evenly and strengthens the middle class. This creates a virtuous cycle: Wages increase, workers have more to spend in their communities, businesses thrive, and the economy grows. Since the the 1970s,  the decline in unionization accounts for one-third of the increase in income inequality. Without unions, wealth becomes concentrated at the top and the gains don’t trickle down to workers.

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Lie #3: Labor unions are as powerful as big business. Now way. Labor union membership in 2018 accounted for 10.5 percent of the American workforce, while large corporations account for almost three-quarters of the entire American economy. And when it comes to political power, it’s big business and small labor. In the 2018 midterms, labor unions contributed less than 70 million dollars to parties and candidates, while big corporations and their political action committees contributed 1.6 billion dollars. This enormous gulf between business and labor is a huge problem. It explains why most economic gains have been going to executives and shareholders rather than workers. But this doesn’t have to be the case.

Lie #4: Most unionized workers are in industries like steel and auto manufacturing. Untrue. Although industrial unions are still vitally important to workers, the largest part of the unionized workforce is workers in the professional and service sectors – retail, restaurant, hotel, hospital, teachers–which comprise 59% of all workers represented by a union. And these workers benefit from being in a union. In 2018, unionized service workers earned a median wage of 802 dollars a week. Non-unionized service workers made on average, $261 less. That’s almost a third less.

Lie #5: Most unionized workers are white, male, and middle-aged. Some unionized workers are, of course, but most newly-unionized workers are not. They’re women, they’re young, and a growing portion are black and brown. In fact, it’s through the power of unions that people who had been historically marginalized in the American economy because of their race, ethnicity, or gender are now gaining economic ground. In 2018, women who were  in unions earned 21 percent more than non-unionized women. And African-Americans who were unionized earned nearly 20 percent more than African-Americans who were non-unionized.

Don’t believe the corporate lies. Today’s unions are growing, expanding, and boosting the wages and economic prospects of those who need them most. They’re good for workers and good for America.

The post The 5 Biggest Corporate Lies About Unions appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Party Defections Over Brexit Weaken Boris Johnson

LONDON—British Prime Minister Boris Johnson suffered key defections from his party Tuesday, losing a working majority in Parliament and weakening his position as he tried to prevent lawmakers from blocking his Brexit plans.

On a day of high drama and acerbic debate in the House of Commons, lawmakers returned from their summer recess to confront Johnson over his insistence that the U.K. leave the European Union on Oct. 31, even without a withdrawal agreement to cushion the economic blow. Many shouted, “Resign!”

As protesters on the streets outside Parliament denounced a “coup,” the lawmakers turned to a key piece of legislation that would prevent an immediate no-deal Brexit. If it passes this week, Johnson’s Downing Street office said he’ll call an early election — taking his argument directly to the people for a third general election in four years.

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“Enough is enough,” Johnson said. “The country wants this done and they want the referendum respected. We are negotiating a deal and I am confident of getting a deal.”

Johnson’s tenuous position became clear even as spoke in Parliament for the first time since it reconvened. Lawmaker Phillip Lee rose from his chair on the Conservative benches and sat down with the Liberal Democrats, a defection that meant Johnson lost his slim working majority.

That makes Johnson vulnerable should lawmakers opt to try to oust him in a vote of no confidence and will complicate passage of legislation.

Earlier Tuesday, two other prominent Conservatives signaled their intention not to seek re-election rather than bend to Johnson’s will. Former Cabinet minister Justine Greening and former Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt also signaled their intention to stand down.

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the main opposition Labour Party, lambasted the weakened Johnson, accusing him of “riding roughshod” over the constitution in order to crash Britain out of the EU without a deal.

“He isn’t winning friends in Europe. He’s losing friends at home. His is a government with no mandate, no morals and, as of today, no majority,” Corbyn said.

Johnson, who became prime minister in July, has tried to crack down on members of his Conservative Party who oppose his Brexit plans, warning they would be expelled from the party if they supported parliamentary efforts to block or delay the withdrawal.

Dominic Grieve, who was attorney general in David Cameron’s government, says the expulsion threats demonstrate Johnson’s “ruthlessness.” Greening said she feared her beloved party was “morphing into Nigel Farage’s Brexit Party.” Former Treasury chief Philip Hammond warned of the “fight of a lifetime” if officials tried to prevent him from running in the next election.

All three oppose Johnson, with Hammond saying he expected a procedural motion to take control of business. If it passed, a vote to block a no-deal would be considered Wednesday.

Changing the government would not be so simple, however. A no-confidence vote would spark a 14-day period in which Johnson could try to overturn the result. If he failed, there would be a general election.

During that key 14-day period, another lawmaker could try to win Parliament’s backing in a vote. If they succeeded, Johnson should, in theory, have to step down and let the winner form a government.

But these rules were introduced in a 2011 law and have never been tested.

As Brexit faces crucial days, international investors are showing concern. The pound sterling fell as low as $1.1960 on Tuesday, down about a cent on the day before, stabilizing around $1.1990.

That was its lowest level since a “flash crash” in October 2016, when uncertainty after the Brexit referendum was particularly high. Not counting that brief plunge — in which the currency fell to $1.1789 for about two minutes before recovering — the pound is now at its lowest level in 34 years.

A no-deal Brexit is considered dangerous because it will sever decades of seamless trade with Europe’s single market of 500 million people. Economists warn that trade would be disrupted by tariffs and customs checks between Britain and the bloc. Leaked government documents predicted disruptions to the supply of drugs and medicine, a decrease in the availability of fresh food and even potential fresh water shortages because of disruption to supplies of water treatment chemicals.

Johnson insists the potential for leaving without a deal must remain as a bargaining chip in negotiations with the EU.

Though the EU is Britain’s biggest trading partner, a no-deal Brexit would also be disruptive to Europe — a fact not lost on Brussels. Johnson’s supporters said lawmakers were weakening the government’s negotiating position with the EU.

“The one thing that has helped focus minds in the EU is that we’re leaving come what may and we’ve got a very focused task of what a good deal would look like,” Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab told ITV. “But the lingering doubt they’ve got is: Will the shenanigans in Parliament somehow lead to the cancellation or the delay of Brexit?

“That’s encouraging them, and weakening our position to actually get the deal we all want.”

The bloc is adamant it will not renegotiate the agreement struck with former Prime Minister Theresa May, which Johnson considers unacceptable.

Johnson has told French President Emmanuel Macron and German Chancellor Angela Merkel he could come up with a better alternative to the main sticking point in the stalled Brexit negotiations — the deadlock on the Irish border question.

But with the clock ticking, the EU said Tuesday it had received no proposals from the British government aimed at overcoming the impasse in Brexit talks.

European Commission spokeswoman Mina Andreeva said the EU’s executive body, which supervises Brexit negotiations on behalf of Britain’s 27 European partners, is operating on the “working assumption” that Britain will leave the bloc on Oct. 31.

___

Associated Press Writer Lorne Cook contributed.

___

Follow AP’s full coverage of Brexit and British politics at: https://www.apnews.com/Brexit

The post Party Defections Over Brexit Weaken Boris Johnson appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Joe Biden Taps Influence Industry Despite Pledge on Lobbyists

WASHINGTON — Joe Biden entered the Democratic primary promising “from day one” to reject campaign cash from lobbyists.

“I work for you — not any industry,” he tweeted.

Yet hours after his April campaign kickoff, the former vice president went to a fundraiser at the home of a lobbying executive. And in the months since, he’s done it again and again.

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It’s difficult to quantify how much Biden has raised from the multibillion-dollar influence industry, but the roughly $200,000 he accepted from employees of major lobbying firms is far more than any of his rivals has received, according to a review of campaign finance data by The Associated Press.

Though it is a small fraction of the $21.5 million he reported raising in the second quarter of 2019, the money demonstrates a comfort with an industry that is the object of scorn of Democratic activists and some of Biden’s principal rivals.

Biden’s pledge applies only to federally registered lobbyists, and most of the money tracked by the AP was from others in the influence industry. But thousands of dollars did come from federally registered lobbyists, and Biden’s campaign said it is returning such donations.

His campaign accepted roughly $6,000 in contributions from at least six federally registered lobbyists, including representatives of Google, aerospace and defense giant Lockheed Martin, and pharmaceutical companies, records show. An additional $5,750 was donated by two lobbyists who had been registered shortly before making contributions to Biden’s campaign, records show.

In at least two instances, donations came from lobbyists with criminal records who have served time in federal prison.

Former Florida Rep. Lawrence J. Smith, a federally registered lobbyist representing the city of Pembroke Pines, gave Biden $1,000 after attending a fundraiser in May. Smith left Congress in 1993 after it was revealed he bounced 161 bad checks. He was convicted months later of tax evasion and using campaign cash to settle a gambling debt.

Maryland statehouse lobbyist Gerard E. Evans gave Biden $2,600, records show. He was sentenced to 30 months in federal prison in 2000 after being found guilty of participating in an elaborate fake legislation scheme that bilked clients out of more than $400,000 in lobbying fees, according to court records.

Excluded from Biden’s pledge are lobbyists who work at the state level and those who lobby, or supervise lobbyists, but do not meet the legal threshold requiring them to register.

Spokesman Matt Hill said in a statement that Biden will “fight the influence of corporations and special interests in our political system, which is why his campaign refuses donations from corporations, their PACs, and federal lobbyists.”

Biden’s approach contrasts sharply with Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Bernie Sanders of Vermont, who have built their campaigns around a vow to reject big money in politics. Both have sworn off big-dollar fundraisers, while Biden has embraced them.

Such an embrace “doesn’t mean your positions are up for sale,” said John Wonderlich, executive director of the Sunlight Foundation, a nonpartisan group that advocates for government transparency. But it “can certainly change what issues seem the most salient and whose voice gets heard.”

Biden is not alone in accepting contributions from the influence industry. President Donald Trump vowed to “drain the swamp” but has since reaped contributions from powerful industries with business before his administration. And many of Biden’s Democratic rivals have made similar pledges that also include subtle caveats and omissions.

Still, he collected about $30,000 more from employees of top lobbying firms than California Sen. Kamala Harris and roughly $100,000 more than South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, both of whom made similar pledges but have been in the race longer than him. Every other White House hopeful received far less.

Several recent fundraisers held for Biden highlight his ties to prominent figures in the influence business, many of whom have been active in Washington for decades.

In August, Biden was feted at the home of Nelson W. Cunningham, president and co-founder of McLarty Associates and a former adviser to Bill Clinton. The global public affairs firm represents Chevron, General Electric, Walmart and Uber, but notes on its website that the list only includes “the ones we can mention.”

Several days before, Biden attended a fundraiser at the Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, home of Peter Shields, the leader of Washington-based Wiley Rein, a firm with recent lobbying clients that include AT&T, global mining company Glencore, Nucor steel, Verizon and former Ukrainian Prime Minister Yulia Tymoshenko.

His campaign kickoff fundraiser was at the Philadelphia home of David L. Cohen, a Comcast executive who oversees the telecom giant’s lobbying operation.

Biden’s campaign says the fundraiser hosts are not registered lobbyists and often have diverse work portfolios that include much more than government relations. But they are also players in the influence game.

Biden’s pledge to reject money from lobbyists is a change for him. Before he entered the 2020 race, his American Possibilities political action committee had no such prohibition.

The PAC, which Biden used to finance his political activities after leaving the White House in 2017, accepted at least $113,000 from at least a dozen current and formerly registered lobbyists, in addition to more than 30 others who work in the influence industry, records show. Among them are representatives for Boeing, Apple, the NFL, Facebook, General Motors and the National Association of Mortgage Brokers, as well as other representatives of the big pharmaceutical, tech, telecom and financial services companies, records show.

One of the top recipients of money from the PAC was a company Biden created.

His campaign says the $137,000 routed to Biden’s company, Celtic Capri, was used to pay or reimburse aides for work, such as during last year’s midterm elections when Biden kept up an aggressive campaign schedule.

Yet the move is commonly used to avoid disclosing how political money is spent. Because the money was routed to Celtic Capri, campaign finance records don’t detail the end recipient of the payments, which are listed as reimbursements or “staff support.” Around the same time, Biden collected $425,000 in salary from Celtic Capri, according to a financial disclosure.

Adav Noti, a former Federal Election Commission attorney, said the use of limited liability companies such as these is a growing problem. “The ultimate recipients of the money aren’t disclosed. Sometimes it’s for legitimate, or quasi-legitimate, reasons. And sometimes it’s for illegitimate reasons.”

The post Joe Biden Taps Influence Industry Despite Pledge on Lobbyists appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

We Are Living in the Wreckage of the War on Terror

This piece originally appeared on antiwar.com.

It has taken me years to tell these stories. The emotional and moral wounds of the Afghan War have just felt too recent, too raw. After all, I could hardly write a thing down about my Iraq War experience for nearly ten years, when, by accident, I churned out a book on the subject. Now, as the American war in Afghanistan – hopefully – winds to something approaching a close, it’s finally time to impart some tales of the madness. In this new, recurring, semi-regular series, the reader won’t find many worn out sagas of heroism, brotherhood, and love of country. Not that this author doesn’t have such stories, of course. But one can find those sorts of tales in countless books and numerous trite, platitudinal Hollywood yarns.

With that in mind, I propose to tell a number of very different sorts of stories – profiles, so to speak, in absurdity. That’s what war is, at root, an exercise in absurdity, and America’s hopeless post-9/11 wars are stranger than most. My own 18-year long quest to find some meaning in all the combat, to protect my troops from danger, push back against the madness, and dissent from within the army proved Kafkaesque in the extreme. Consider what follows just a survey of that hopeless journey…

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The man was remarkable at one specific thing: pleasing his bosses and single-minded self-promotion. Sure he lacked anything resembling empathy, saw his troops as little more than tools for personal advancement, and his overall personality disturbingly matched the clinical definition of sociopathy. Details, details…

Still, you (almost) had to admire his drive, devotion, and dedication to the cause of promotion, of rising through the military ranks. Had he managed to channel that astonishing energy, obsession even, to the pursuit of some good, the world might markedly have improved. Which is, actually, a dirty little secret about the military, especially ground combat units; that it tends to attract (and mold) a disturbing number of proud owners of such personality disorders. The army then positively reinforces such toxic behavior by promoting these sorts of individuals – who excel at mind-melding (brown-nosing, that is) with superiors – at disproportionate rates. Such is life. Only there are real consequences, real soldiers, (to say nothing of local civilians) who suffer under their commanders’ tyranny.

Back in 2011-12, the man served as my commander, a lieutenant colonel in the U.S. Army. As such, he led – and partly controlled the destinies of – some 500 odd soldiers. Then a lowly captain, I commanded about one-fifth of those men and answered directly to the colonel. I didn’t much like the guy; hardly any of his officers did. And he didn’t trust my aspirational intellectualism, proclivity to ask “why,” or, well, me in general. Still, he mostly found this author an effective middle manager. As such, I was a means to an end for him – that being self-advancement and some positive measurable statistics for his annual officer evaluation report (OER) from his own boss. Nonetheless, it was the army and you sure don’t choose your bosses.

So it was, early in my yearlong tour in the scrublands of rural Kandahar province, that the colonel treated me to one his dog-and-pony-show visits. Only this time he had some unhappy news for me. The next day he, and the baker’s dozen tag-alongs in his ubiquitous entourage, wanted to walk the few treacherous miles to the most dangerous strongpoint in the entire sub-district. It was occupied, needlessly, by one of my platoons in perpetuity and suffered under constant siege by the local Taliban, too small to contest the area and too big to fly under the radar, this – at one point the most attacked outpost in Afghanistan – base just provided an American flag-toting target. I’d communicated as much to command early on, but to no avail. Can-do US colonels with aspirations for general officer rank hardly ever give up territory to the enemy – even if that’s the strategically sound course.

Walking to the platoon strongpoint was dicey on even the best of days. The route between our main outpost and the Alamo-like strongpoint was flooded with Taliban insurgents and provided precious little cover or concealment for out patrols. On my first jaunt to the outpost, I (foolishly, it must be said) walked my unit into an ambush and was thrown over a small rock wall by the blast of a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG) with my apparent name on it. Since then, it was standard for our patrols to the strongpoint to suffer multiple ambushes during the roundtrip rotation. Sometimes our kids got wounded or killed; sometimes they were lucky. Mercifully, at least, my intelligence section – led by my friend and rebranded artillery lieutenant – did their homework and figured out that the chronically lazy local Taliban didn’t like to fight at night or wake up early, so patrols to the strongpoint that stepped off before dawn had a fighting chance of avoiding the worst of ambush alley.

I hadn’t wanted to take my colonel on a patrol to the outpost. His entourage was needlessly large and, when added to my rotational platoon, presented an unwieldy and inviting target for Taliban ambush. Still I knew better than to argue the point with my disturbingly confident and single-minded colonel. So I hedged. Yes, sir, we can take you along, with one caveat: we have to leave before dawn! I proceeded to explain why, replete with historical stats and examples, we could only (somewhat) safely avoid ambush if we did so.

That’s when things went south. The colonel insisted we leave at nine, maybe even ten, in the morning, the absolute peak window for Taliban attack. This prima donna reminded me that he couldn’t possibly leave any earlier. He had a “battle rhythm,” after all, which included working out in the gym at his large, safe, distant-from-the-roar-of-battle base each morning. How could I expect him to alter that predictable schedule over something as minor as protecting the lives and limbs of his own troopers? He had “to set an example,” he reminded me, by letting his soldiers on the base “see him in the gym” each and every morning. Back then, silly me, I was actually surprised by the colonel’s absurd refusal; so much so that I pushed back, balked, tried to rationally press my point. To no avail.

What the man said next has haunted me ever since. We would leave no earlier than nine AM, according to his preference. My emotional pleas – begging really – was not only for naught but insulted the colonel. Why? Because, as he imparted to me, for my own growth and development he thought, “Remember: lower caters to higher, Danny!” That, he reminded me, was the way of the military world, the key to success and advancement. The man even thought he was being helpful, advising me on how to achieve the success he’d achieved. My heart sank…forever, and never recovered.

The next day he was late. We didn’t step off until nearly ten AM. The ambush, a massive mix of RPG and machine gun fire, kicked off – as predicted – within sight of the main base. The rest was history, and certainly could’ve been worse. On other, less lucky, days it was. But I remember this one profound moment. When the first rocket exploded above us, both the colonel and I dove for limited cover behind a mound of rocks. I was terrified and exasperated. Just then we locked eyes and I gazed into his proverbial soul. The man was incapable of fear. He wasn’t scared, or disturbed; he didn’t care a bit about what was happening. That revelation was more terrifying than the ongoing ambush and would alter my view of the world irreparably.

Which brings us to some of the discomfiting morals – if such things exist – of this story. American soldiers fight and die at the whims of career-obsessed officers as much they do so at the behest of king and country. Sometimes its their own leaders – as much as the ostensible “enemy” – that tries to get them killed. The plentiful sociopaths running these wars at the upper and even middle-management levels are often far less concerned with long-term, meaningful “victory” in places like Afghanistan, than in crafting – on the backs of their soldiers sacrifices – the illusion of progress, just enough measurable “success” in their one year tour to warrant a stellar evaluation and, thus, the next promotion. Not all leaders are like this. I, for one, once worked for a man for whom I – and all my peers – would run through walls for, a (then) colonel that loved his hundreds of soldiers like they were his own children. But he was the exception that proved the rule.

The madness, irrationality, and absurdity of my colonel was nothing less than a microcosm of America’s entire hopeless adventure in Afghanistan. The war was never rational, winnable, or meaningful. It was from the first, and will end as, an exercise in futility. It was, and is, one grand patrol to my own unnecessary outpost, undertaken at the wrong time and place. It was a collection of sociopaths and imbeciles – both Afghan and American – tilting at windmills and ultimately dying for nothing at all. Yet the young men in the proverbial trenches never flinched, never refused. They did their absurd duty because they were acculturated to the military system, and because they were embarrassed not to.

After all, lower caters to higher

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

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

The post We Are Living in the Wreckage of the War on Terror appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

‘Catastrophic’ Damage in Bahamas in Wake of Hurricane Dorian

FREEPORT, Bahamas—Relief officials reported scenes of utter ruin in parts of the Bahamas and rushed to deal with an unfolding humanitarian crisis in the wake of Hurricane Dorian, the most powerful storm on record ever to hit the islands. At least five deaths were reported, with the full scope of the disaster still unknown.

The storm’s punishing winds and muddy brown floodwaters destroyed or severely damaged thousands of homes, crippled hospitals and trapped people in attics.

“It’s total devastation. It’s decimated. Apocalyptic. It looks like a bomb went off,” said Lia Head-Rigby, who helps run a local hurricane relief organization and flew over the Bahamas’ hard-hit Abaco Island. “It’s not rebuilding something that was there; we have to start again.”

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She said her representative on Abaco told her that “there’s a lot more dead” and that the bodies were being gathered up.

Emergency authorities, meanwhile, struggled to reach victims amid conditions too dangerous even for rescue workers, and urged people to hang on.

“We wanted to go out there, but that’s not a risk we’re capable of taking,” Tammy Mitchell of the Bahamas’ National Emergency Management Agency told ZNS Bahamas radio station. “We don’t want people thinking we’ve forgotten them. … We know what your conditions are. We know if you’re stuck in an attic.”

Practically parking over a portion of the Bahamas for a day and a half, Dorian pounded the northern islands of Abaco and Grand Bahama with winds up to 185 mph (295 kph) and torrential rain before finally moving into open waters Tuesday on a course for Florida. Its winds were down to a still-dangerous 110 mph (175 kph).

Over 2 million people along the coast in Florida, Georgia and North and South Carolina were warned to evacuate. While the threat of a direct hit on Florida had all but evaporated, Dorian was expected to pass dangerously close to Georgia and South Carolina — and perhaps strike North Carolina — on Thursday or Friday.

“Don’t tough it out. Get out,” said U.S. Federal Emergency Management Agency official Carlos Castillo.

In the Bahamas, Red Cross spokesman Matthew Cochrane said more than 13,000 houses, or about 45% of the homes in Grand Bahama and Abaco, were believed to have been severely damaged or destroyed. U.N. officials said more than 60,000 people on the hard-hit islands will need food, and the Red Cross said some 62,000 will need clean drinking water.

“What we are hearing lends credence to the fact that this has been a catastrophic storm and a catastrophic impact,” he said.

Lawson Bates, a staffer for Arkansas-based MedicCorps, flew over Abaco and said: “It looks completely flattened. There’s boats way inland that are flipped over. It’s total devastation.”

The Red Cross authorized a half-million dollars for the first wave of disaster relief, Cochrane said. And U.N. humanitarian teams stood ready to go into the stricken areas to help assess the damage and the country’s needs, U.N. spokesman Stéphane Dujarric said. The U.S. government also sent a disaster response team.

Abaco and Grand Bahama islands, with a combined population of about 70,000, are known for their marinas, golf courses and all-inclusive resorts. To the south, the Bahamas’ most populous island, New Providence, which includes the capital city, Nassau, and has over a quarter-million people, suffered little damage.

The U.S. Coast Guard airlifted at least 21 people injured on Abaco. Rescuers also used jet skis to reach some people as choppy, coffee-colored floodwaters reached roofs and the tops of palm trees.

“We will confirm what the real situation is on the ground,” Health Minister Duane Sands said. “We are hoping and praying that the loss of life is limited.”

Sands said Dorian rendered the main hospital on Grand Bahama unusable, while the hospital in Marsh Harbor in Abaco was in need of food, water, medicine and surgical supplies. He said crews were trying to airlift five to seven kidney failure patients from Abaco who had not received dialysis since Friday.

The Grand Bahama airport under 6 feet (2 meters) of water.

As of 2 p.m. EDT, Dorian was centered about 65 miles (105 kilometers) north of Freeport and 105 miles (170 kilometers) east of Fort Pierce, Florida. It was moving northwest at 5 mph (7 kph). Hurricane-force winds extended up to 60 miles (95 kilometers) from its center.

The coastline from north of West Palm Beach, Florida, through Georgia was expected to get 3 to 6 inches of rain, with 9 inches in places, while the Carolinas could get 5 to 10 inches and 15 in spots, the National Hurricane Center said.

NASA satellite imagery through Monday night showed some places in the Bahamas had gotten as much as 35 inches (89 centimeters) of rain, said private meteorologist Ryan Maue.

Parliament member Iram Lewis said he feared waters would keep rising and stranded people would lose contact with officials as their cellphone batteries died.

Dorian also left one person dead in its wake in Puerto Rico before slamming into the Bahamas on Sunday. It tied the record for the strongest Atlantic storm ever to hit land, matching the Labor Day hurricane that struck Florida Gulf Coast in 1935, before storms were given names.

Scientists say that climate change generally has been fueling more powerful and wetter storms but that linking any specific hurricane to global warming would require more detailed study.

Across the Southeast, meanwhile, interstate highways leading away from the beach in South Carolina and Georgia were turned into one-way evacuation routes. Several airports announced closings, and hundreds of flights were canceled. Walt Disney World in Orlando planned to close in the afternoon, and SeaWorld shut down.

Police in coastal Savannah, Georgia, announced an overnight curfew. North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper ordered a mandatory evacuation of the dangerously exposed barrier islands along the state’s entire coast.

Having seen storms swamp his home on the Georgia coast in 2016 and 2017, Joey Spalding of Tybee Island decided to empty his house and stay at a friend’s apartment nearby rather than take any chances with Dorian.

He packed a U-Haul truck with tables, chairs, a chest of drawers, tools — virtually all of his furnishings except for his mattress and a large TV — and planned to park it on higher ground. He also planned to shroud his house in plastic wrap up to shoulder height and pile sandbags in front of the doors.

“In this case, I don’t have to come into a house full of junk,” he said. “I’m learning a little as I go.”

In Folly Beach, South Carolina, many restaurants and shops wasted no time in boarding up, but some hurricane-hardened residents had yet to decide whether to heed the evacuation order.

“If it comes, it comes. You know, God always provides, y’all,” Sammye Wooded said.

___

Coto reported from San Juan, Puerto Rico, and Weissenstein from Nassau, Bahamas. Associated Press reporters Tim Aylen in Freeport; Russ Bynum in Georgia; and Seth Borenstein in Washington contributed to this report.

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