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Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Admits America Has No ‘Left Party’

At a Martin Luther King, Jr. Day event at Riverside Church in Harlem, New York Monday, Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez urged her audience to recognize the Democratic Party is closer to “a center-conservative party” than a progressive one—something that must change if the civil rights icon’s legacy is truly to be honored.

Speaking to author Ta-Nehisi Coates at the annual MLK Now event, Ocasio-Cortez took issue with Coates calling the Democrats the United States’ “left party.”

“We don’t have a ‘left party’ in the United States,” the first-term New York Democrat, who is a democratic socialist, said, to applause. “We can’t even get a floor vote on Medicare for All. Not even a floor vote that gets voted down, we can’t even get a vote on it. So this is not a left party.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s remarks came just two weeks after she said in an interview with New York magazine that “In any other country, Joe Biden and I would not be in the same party.”

The congresswoman was referring to many democratic countries where voters can support any one of a multitude of major parties, choosing whichever aligns with their values instead of picking between only a conservative party and one that is more liberal on social issues but still largely pro-business and backed by corporate interests.

At Riverside Church on Monday, Ocasio-Cortez added, “There are left members inside the Democratic Party that are working to try to make that shift happen”—including other progressive first-term Reps. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) and Rashida Tlaib (D-Mich.) and veterans of Congress like Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who the three progressives have endorsed in the 2020 Democratic presidential primary.

Coates also asked Ocasio-Cortez about an issue she has fought against since launching her long-shot congressional campaign in 2017—massive economic inequality and the current political system’s support of corporations and a tiny minority of Americans who hold more wealth than 90% of the country.

Coates offered a hypothetical scenario in which he was a billionaire who had amassed his wealth creating and selling “widgets.”

“I made billions of dollars selling those widgets, making those widgets, therefore those billions of dollars are mine,” Coates said. “Why am I the enemy?”

“Well, you didn’t make those widgets did you? Because you employed thousands of people and paid them less than a living wage to make those widgets for you,” replied Ocasio-Cortez, again drawing loud applause.

“You made that money off the backs of undocumented people,” she continued, “You made that money off the backs of black and brown people being paid under  a living wage. You made that money off the backs of single mothers. And all these people who are literally dying because they can’t afford to live. And so no one ever makes a billion dollars. You take a billion dollars.”

Ocasio-Cortez added that with its adherence to centrism over progressivism, the Democratic Party is run by “true believers” in the notion that “we can capitalism our way out of poverty” by rejecting bold, far-reaching initiatives like Medicare for All and the Green New Deal in favor of incremental changes to the healthcare and economic systems.

“And that’s an area where I agree with Dr. King, that that assessment is flawed,” Ocasio-Cortez said, tying the discussion back to the man being honored by the MLK Now event.

“We can’t sit around and use the high school history version of Dr. King,” Ocasio-Cortez said. “King’s life did not end because he said ‘I have a dream.’ It ended because he was dangerous to the core injustices of this nation…If we want to honor him, we have to be dangerous too.”

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Trump Lauds U.S. Economy in Davos, Says Little on Climate Woes

DAVOS, Switzerland — President Donald Trump said Tuesday that he’s led a “spectacular” turnaround of the U.S. economy and urged the world to invest in America, but had less to say about climate change issues that are a focus of this year’s gathering of top business and political leaders in the Swiss Alps.

Trump kept to his speech script and did not mention the historic impeachment trial that was set to reconvene in the U.S. Senate in Washington later Tuesday. But he couldn’t resist commenting when asked about the trial by the hordes of reporters covering the forum in Davos.

“It’s disgraceful,” Trump said of the proceedings.

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Trump’s two-day visit is a test of his ability to balance his anger over being impeached with a desire to project leadership on the world stage. His speech amounted to an election-year pitch to all those he referred to as “hardworking, ordinary citizens” of the U.S. who “felt neglected, betrayed, forgotten.”

Trump reminded the audience that when he spoke here in 2018 “I told you that we had launched the great American comeback.”

“Today I’m proud to declare the United States is in the midst of an economic boom, the likes of which the world has never seen before,” the president said.

American economist Kenneth Rogoff took issue with Trump’s comments, saying some of Trump’s claims about the strength of the U.S. economy are true. But Rogoff noted that the economy wasn’t doing badly when Trump took office. “It’s been a good 10 years and his three years probably better than expected,” Rogoff said, adding that he thought Trump was careful to keep his comments about climate change to a minimum to avoid getting booed.

Climate issues are a main theme at the forum and the phrase “Act on Climate” was written in the snow at the landing zone where Trump’s Marine One helicopter set down in Davos.

Trump’s lone reference to climate issues in his speech was when he announced the U.S. would join a World Economic Forum initiative to plant 1 trillion trees worldwide. Afterward, in an apparent reference to those who warn about climate change, Trump said the world must “reject the perennial prophets of doom and their predictions of the apocalypse.”

Earth just finished its hottest decade on record with the five last years as the five hottest years on record, according to U.S. and other science agencies. Scientists repeatedly point to more extreme weather as a problem worsened by human-caused climate change. There have been 44 weather and climate disasters in the United States that caused at least $1 billion in damage since 2017, killing 3,569 people, according to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.

Late last year, the Trump administration began pulling the U.S. out of the landmark 2015 Paris climate agreement under which nearly 200 nations set goals to curb emissions of heat-trapping gasses that lead to climate change. Trump has called the Paris accord an unfair economic burden to the U.S. economy.

“In America, we understand what the pessimists refuse to see: that a growing and vibrant market economy focused on the future lifts the human spirit and excites creativity strong enough to overcome any challenge,” Trump said.

Climate activist Greta Thunberg, who has been criticized by Trump, said world and business leaders aren’t taking the threat of global warming seriously.

“Planting trees is good of course but it’s nowhere near enough,” Thunberg said.

Trump’s participation at the forum provided another conspicuous split-screen moment in his presidency. Before entering the hall to deliver his speech, Trump called the trial “disgraceful” and part of “the witch hunt that’s been going on for years.”

Asked whether Trump would tune in to the impeachment trial, White House press secretary Stephanie Grisham said in an email that Trump has a “full day” in Davos “but will be briefed by staff periodically.”

Trump spent nearly all of his approximately 30-minute speech describing U.S. economic gains under his leadership.

“America is thriving. America is flourishing and yes, America is winning again like never before,” Trump said before talking about a newly signed trade deal with China and a pending U.S. trade agreement with Mexico and Canada. He also spoke of record low unemployment, stock market gains and millions of people removed from the welfare rolls.

Nobel prize-winning economist Joseph Stiglitz criticized Trump for failing to address the climate emergency beyond a commitment that the U.S. will join the trillion trees initiative.

“He managed to say absolutely zero on climate change,” Stiglitz said. “Meanwhile we’re going to roast.”

Trump’s appearance at the forum ends Wednesday when he travels back to a Washington that’s consumed by the impeachment trial.

The Democratic-controlled House impeached the Republican president last month for abuse of power and obstruction of Congress after it was revealed that he had pressed Ukraine’s president to announce investigations into former Vice President Joe Biden, a Democrat and a Trump political rival. Trump withheld foreign aid that Congress had approved for the Eastern European nation and dangled the prospect of an Oval Office meeting as leverage.

Trump denies any wrongdoing and argues that Democrats want to remove him from office because they know they can’t deny him reelection in November. Trump would be forced to leave office if convicted, but the Republican-controlled Senate is expected to acquit him.

Trump met Tuesday with the forum’s founder and the new European Commission president, Ursula von der Leyen, the first woman to hold the position. Trump zeroed in on her reputation as a tough negotiator, saying that was “bad news for us.”

Trump said he wants to make a trade agreement between the U.S. and European Union and has threatened to apply tariffs to their auto imports if that doesn’t happen.

“I f we’re unable to make a deal, we will have to do something, because we’ve been treated very badly as a country for many, many years on trade,” he said.

“They know they have to do something and if they’re fair we’re not going to have a problem,” he said.

During a meeting with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan, Trump suggested he would not travel to Pakistan when he makes his first visit to India this year.

“We’re visiting right now so we won’t really have to” go to Pakistan, Trump said.

___

Associated Press writers Jamey Keaten and Pan Pylas in Davos and Deb Riechmann in Washington contributed to this report.

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Feds to Let States Tap Opioid Funds for Meth, Cocaine Surge

WASHINGTON — Alarmed by a deadly new twist in the nation’s drug addiction crisis, the government will allow states to use federal money earmarked for the opioid epidemic to help growing numbers of people struggling with meth and cocaine.

The little-noticed change is buried in a massive spending bill passed by Congress late last year. Pressed by constituents and state officials, lawmakers of both parties and the Trump administration agreed to broaden the scope of a $1.5 billion grant program previously restricted to the opioid crisis. Starting this year states can also use those federal dollars to counter addiction to “stimulants,” a term the government uses for methamphetamine and cocaine.

“Meth and cocaine are making a comeback and they are more potent than they were during the last wave,” said Mark Stringer, director of Missouri’s Department of Mental Health. He oversees the state’s efforts to prevent addiction, get drug-dependent people into treatment, and support them in recovery. “Where meth is much more prevalent than opioids, this will be a game-changer.”

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About 68,000 people died of drug overdoses in the U.S. in 2018, with opioids involved in about two-thirds of the cases. Opioids are a drug class that includes fentanyl, heroin, certain prescription painkillers, and various chemical combinations concocted for street sales. But the national numbers also hide dramatic differences in the deadliest drugs across the land.

In most states west of the Mississippi meth is the biggest killer, according to government data for 2017. Meanwhile, the highly lethal opioid fentanyl maintains its grip on the East and Midwest. Cocaine ranks third overall nationally in drug-involved deaths.

Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, D-N.H., whose state has been hard-hit by the opioid epidemic, said she was hearing from all quarters last year that the drug-addiction scourge is gradually changing.

“They were seeing much more impact from meth and from cocaine, substances they couldn’t address because of specific language in the law,” said Shaheen, referring to previous restrictions in the federal grant program aimed at opioids.

As a member of the Senate Appropriations Committee, which writes spending bills, Shaheen said she worked with Republican and Democratic leaders to add “stimulants” — not only opioids — to the language of the 2020 spending bill.

White House drug czar James W. Carroll said the Trump administration was also hearing calls for more flexibility from state officials, and supported the change.

“I know the term ‘opioid crisis’ is used a lot, and it’s not my preferred way of describing what we’re up against,” said Carroll. “I say what we really have is an addiction crisis.”

Other senators pushing to broaden the grant program included Republicans Rob Portman of Ohio and Shelley Moore Capito of West Virginia, also a member of the Appropriations Committee. Their states have been ravaged by opioids.

Federal lawmakers don’t want to be caught flat-footed if another drug crisis breaks out in an election year. The nation has been starting to see progress on opioids, with deaths declining slightly.

Last week the House Energy and Commerce Committee sent letters to federal agencies requesting detailed information on evolving patterns of cocaine and meth use.

“We are concerned that while the nation, rightly so, is devoting so much of its attention and resources to the opioid epidemic, another epidemic — this one involving cocaine and methamphetamine — is on the rise,” wrote committee leaders Chairman Frank Pallone, D-N.J. and ranking Republican Greg Walden of Oregon.

Meth, which was once cooked in makeshift labs in the U.S., is now produced by Mexican cartels and smuggled across the border. The price of the drug has dropped even as its purity has risen.

The increased prevalence of cocaine is being driven by greater supply, as cultivation of the coca plant has become more widespread in Colombia. Cocaine can also be laced with fentanyl, contributing to overdose deaths. As with meth, government data show the price of cocaine has dropped while its purity has risen.

Treating people addicted to meth or cocaine is different from treating opioid dependence. There are FDA-approved medications for opioid addiction, but not for cocaine and meth.

Instead, treatment relies on counseling and support to try to help people overcome their drug habit. It’s a labor-intensive effort that carries a significant risk of failure. Access to more federal dollars will help pay for treatment, particularly in states that have held out on accepting Medicaid expansion under the Affordable Care Act. Expanded Medicaid for low-income adults is a mainstay of treatment in states that embraced it.

States “are going to go ahead and apply for these grants, knowing they’ll have the flexibility to treat whatever the addiction is for people walking into their clinics,” said Reyna Taylor of the advocacy group National Council for Behavioral Health.

The federal Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration is preparing to notify states of the newly available grant flexibility.

Ultimately, state officials want Congress to consider folding the opioid money into a larger block grant program administered by the same agency, creating a big pool of federal money to treat addiction, with fewer restrictions on its use.

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Democrats Decry McConnell’s Impeachment Rules as ‘Cover-Up’

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump’s impeachment trial quickly burst into a partisan fight Tuesday as proceedings began unfolding at the Capitol. Democrats objected strongly to rules proposed by the Republican leader for compressed arguments and a speedy trial.

Even before Chief Justice John Roberts gaveled in the session, Democrats warned that the rules package from Trump’s ally, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, could force midnight sessions that would keep most Americans in the dark and create a sham proceeding.

“This is not a process for a fair trial, this is the process for a rigged trial” Rep. Adam Schiff, D-Ca., the chairman of the House Intelligence Committee leading the prosecution, told reporters. He called it a “cover-up.”

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The first test was coming at midday as the senators begin to debate and vote on McConnell’s proposed rules.

Republican senators are falling in line behind his plan.

“Sure it will be a fair trial when you’ve got 24 hours of arguments on both sides,” Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa told state reporters on a conference call.

Trump himself, in Davos, Switzerland, for an economic conference, denounced the proceedings as “a total hoax,” as he does daily, and said, “I’m sure it’s going to work out fine.”

The Democrats say the prospect of middle-of-the-night proceedings, without allowing new witnesses or even the voluminous House records of the trial will leave the public without crucial information about Trump’s political pressure campaign on Ukraine and the White House’s obstruction of the House impeachment probe.

“The McConnell rules seem to be designed by President Trump for President Trump,” said the Senate Democratic leader, Chuck Schumer.

“It almost seems the resolution was written in the White House, not the Senate.”

The impeachment trial is unfolding in an election year with senators deciding whether Trump’s actions warrant removal at the same time that voters are forming their own verdict.

If the senators agree to McConnell’s proposal for speedy trial and acquittal, Schiff said, “It will not prove the president innocent, it will only prove the Senate guilty of working with the president to obstruct the truth from coming out.”’

Rep. Jerry Nadler, the Judiciary Committee Chairman also leading the House team, said: “There’s no trial in this country where you wouldn’t admit relative witnesses.”

Trump’s presidency is on the line, and the nation is deeply divided just weeks before the first Democratic primary presidential contests.

Four senators who are also presidential candidates will be off the campaign trail, seated among the other senators as jurors.

McConnell had promised to set rules similar to the last impeachment trial, of President Bill Clinton in 1999, but his resolution diverged in key ways. On the night before the trial, he offered a compressed calendar as Trump’s lawyers argued for swift rejection of the “flimsy” charges in a trial that never should have happened.

“All of this is a dangerous perversion of the Constitution that the Senate should swiftly and roundly condemn,” the president’s lawyers wrote in their first full filing Monday. “The articles should be rejected and the president should immediately be acquitted.”

Democrats — as the House prosecutors practiced opening arguments well into the night on the Senate floor — vowed to object to a speedy trial as they pressed for fresh witnesses and documents.

“It’s clear Sen. McConnell is hell-bent on making it much more difficult to get witnesses and documents and intent on rushing the trial through,” Schumer said.

The first several days of the trial are expected to be tangled in procedural motions playing out on the Senate floor and behind closed doors. Senators must refrain from speaking during the trial proceedings.

Like Trump and the Senate presidential candidates, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi will also be away for the proceedings, leading a bipartisan congressional delegation to Poland and Israel to commemorate the 75 years since the liberation of Auschwitz at the end of World War II.

She issued a statement Tuesday denouncing McConnell’s proposed ground rules as a “sham” because of the compressed schedule and lack of guarantee that witnesses will be called or that evidence gathered by the House would be admitted in the Senate trial.

“The Senate GOP Leader has chosen a cover-up for the President, rather than honor his oath to the Constitution,” Pelosi said.

Also Tuesday, the House Democratic managers overseeing the impeachment case asked White House Counsel Pat Cipollone, the president’s lead lawyer at the trial, to disclose any “first-hand knowledge” he has of the charges against Trump. They said evidence gathered so far indicates that Cipollone is a “material witness” to the allegations at hand.

House Democrats impeached the Republican president last month on two charges: abuse of power by withholding U.S. military aid to Ukraine as he pressed the country to investigate Democratic rival Joe Biden, and obstruction of Congress by refusing to cooperate with their investigation.

The Constitution gives the House the sole power to impeach a president and the Senate the final verdict by convening as the impeachment court for a trial.

The president late Monday named eight House Republicans, some of his fiercest defenders, to a special team tasked with rallying support beyond the Senate chamber in the court of public opinion.

Four TV monitors were set up inside the Senate chamber to show testimony, exhibits and potentially tweets or other social media, according to a person familiar with the matter but unauthorized to discuss it on the record.

The White House document released Monday says the two charges against the president don’t amount to impeachable offenses. It asserts that the impeachment inquiry, centered on Trump’s request that Ukraine’s president open an investigation into Democratic rival Biden, was never about finding the truth.

No president has ever been removed from office. With its 53-47 Republican majority, the Senate is not expected to mount the two-thirds voted needed for conviction. Even if it did, the White House team argues it would be an “‘unconstitutional conviction” because the articles of impeachment were too broad.

___

Associated Press writers Laurie Kellman in Washington and David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa, contributed to this report.

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Hillary Clinton Won’t Commit to Endorsing Sanders

WASHINGTON — Hillary Clinton says “nobody likes” her former presidential rival Bernie Sanders, even as the Vermont senator remains entrenched among the front-runners in the Democratic race, with the Iowa caucus beginning in less than two weeks.

In an interview with “The Hollywood Reporter” published Tuesday, Clinton was asked about a comment she makes in an upcoming documentary where she says Sanders was “in Congress for years” but, “Nobody likes him, nobody wants to work with him, he got nothing done.”

Clinton replied that the criticism still holds and refused to say she’d endorse him this cycle if he wins the party’s nomination, adding: “It’s not only him, it’s the culture around him. It’s his leadership team. It’s his prominent supporters.”

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Sanders’ campaign said Tuesday it didn’t have a comment about Clinton’s remarks.

Her comments may ultimately energize Sanders loyalists who believed the Democratic establishment rigged the 2016 primary in her favor. That could be especially helpful with this cycle’s Iowa caucuses looming on Feb. 3. Many polls show Sanders among the leaders with former Vice President Joe Biden, Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren and Pete Buttigieg, the former mayor of South Bend, Ind.

But Clinton also blamed Sanders’ supporters for fostering a culture of sexism in politics — a charge that is especially sensitive now, given that Sanders’ top progressive rival in the 2020 race, Warren, has accused him of suggesting a woman couldn’t win the White House during a private meeting between the two in 2018.

Sanders has denied that, but Warren refused to shake his outstretched hand after a debate last week in Iowa and both candidates accused the other of calling them “a liar.” Warren has steadfastly denied to comment further, but the 78-year-old Sanders said Sunday that while sexism was a problem for candidates, so were other factors, like advanced age — touching off another online firestorm.

In the interview, Clinton attacked a cadre of online Sanders supporters known generally as the “Bernie Bros,” many of whom were sharply critical of Clinton’s 2016 campaign for their “relentless attacks on lots of his competitors, particularly the women. And I really hope people are paying attention to that because it should be worrisome that he has permitted this culture.”

Clinton further suggested that Sanders was “very much supporting it” and said, “I don’t think we want to go down that road again where you campaign by insult and attack and maybe you try to get some distance from it, but you either don’t know what your campaign and supporters are doing or you’re just giving them a wink.”

“I think that that’s a pattern that people should take into account when they make their decisions,” Clinton said.

His feud with Warren has overshadowed a series of clashes between Sanders and another 2020 rival, Biden, for an op-ed penned by one of the senator’s supporters suggesting that the former vice president was corrupt.

“It is absolutely not my view that Joe is corrupt in any way. And I’m sorry that that op-ed appeared,” Sanders told CBS.

The op-ed, published in “The Guardian” newspaper by Fordham University law professor Zephyr Teachout, claims Biden “has perfected the art of taking big contributions, then representing his corporate donors at the cost of middle- and working-class Americans.”

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Illinois Governor Moves to Reinstate Thousands of Suspended Driver’s Licenses

This article originally appeared on ProPublica.

Some 55,000 motorists will regain their right to drive this year after Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker signed legislation Friday that ends the practice of suspending licenses over unpaid parking tickets.

The law, known as the License to Work Act, goes into effect in July.

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“Tens of thousands of Illinoisans lose their licenses each year for reasons that have nothing to do with their ability to drive,” Pritzker said at a news conference on Chicago’s West Side, an area of the city that’s been heavily hit by ticket debt and license suspensions. “If you’re living below or near the poverty line and you’re looking at a choice between your unpaid parking tickets or your kids’ medicine or your family’s next meal, well, that’s no choice at all.”

The new law ends license suspensions for a number of non-moving violations, including the largest category: unpaid parking, standing and vehicle compliance tickets. Previously, 10 unpaid tickets from those categories could trigger a suspension.

Friday’s bill signing caps the end of a three-year effort by a coalition of advocates who have argued that limiting impoverished residents’ ability to drive makes it difficult for many of them to get to work, much less pay off their ticket debt.

The issue gained traction after a February 2018 investigation by ProPublica Illinois found Chicago’s ticketing and debt collection practices disproportionately hurt black motorists, sending thousands of them into bankruptcy. Filing for bankruptcy was more affordable, ProPublica Illinois found, than signing up for onerous ticket payment plans. Bankruptcy also allows motorists to get their licenses reinstated and regain possession of impounded vehicles.

In a subsequent analysis, ProPublica Illinois found that license suspensions tied to ticket debt disproportionately affected motorists in largely black sections of Chicago and its suburbs. Later, ProPublica Illinois collaborated with WBEZ Chicago and found a variety of problems, including geographic disparities and duplicative ticketing, tied to violation for vehicles that lacked a city sticker.

A cash-strapped city employs punitive measures to collect from cash-strapped black residents — and lawyers benefit.

State Sen. Omar Aquino, a Chicago Democrat, said the reporting “shed the light on how, unfortunately, there were some practices in our own state that we should’ve been embarrassed about.” Advocates leading the demand for reform at the state level include the Chicago Jobs Council, Woodstock Institute, American Civil Liberties Union of Illinois, Heartland Alliance and Americans for Prosperity-Illinois.

Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot, who campaigned on ending the city’s regressive system of fines and fees, has already ushered in a number of reforms, including debt relief, reducing some penalties, changing payment plans and ending the practice of seeking license suspensions over unpaid parking tickets. City Clerk Anna Valencia, one of the first public officials to publicly call for reforms, said Friday she plans to continue to push for more changes.

The change to state law couldn’t come soon enough, said Stephen Carpenter, a 38-year-old from Chicago who had been considering filing for bankruptcy for months. Carpenter’s license was suspended about two years ago over unpaid parking tickets. On Friday, he said he’d accrued about $19,000 in ticket debt, mostly for expired plates citations, in the southwest suburb of Palos Hills. He relies on rides from his wife or rideshare services, which he estimates costs him upward of $300 a month.

He called the legislation a “light at the end of the tunnel” and said he now won’t file for bankruptcy. “If I would have [done] that, that would prevent me from getting a house in two years the way we were planning to do,” said Carpenter, who fears ruining his credit. “I’m going to toughen it out until [the law goes into effect].”

The law does not address license suspensions for debt tied to red-light or speed camera tickets; five unpaid camera tickets can trigger a license suspension. Advocates said Friday they are considering proposing legislation to also end those suspensions. A June 2018 Woodstock Institute report found that motorists from low-income and minority communities receive a disproportionate share of red-light camera tickets.

Asked whether he would consider legislation to end license suspensions for camera ticket debt, Pritzker said the issue was “absolutely worthy of consideration. We have to look at the information and make sure we’re doing it in the right way.”

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The Gun Rights Showdown Brewing in Virginia

Militia groups, pro-gun hardliners and far-right fringe factions, including white supremacists and conspiracy theorists, converged on Virginia’s capital Monday as the state’s new Democratic majority considers legislation that would enact sweeping gun control measures. The chatter on extremist sites have been touting how [Jan. 20] could be “the first shot of the next civil war,” or, as these groups call it, “the boogaloo.” Truthdig photojournalist Michael Nigro is on the scene in Richmond, documenting the protests with live videos and photography that will comprise a photo essay. Below is a clip from Monday’s protests: The Associated Press reports:

Thousands of gun-rights activists — some making deliberate displays of their military-style rifles — crowded the streets surrounding Virginia’s Capitol building Monday to protest plans by the state’s Democratic leadership to pass gun-control legislation.

Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency days ahead of the rally, banning all weapons, including guns, from the event on Capitol Square. The expected participation of fringe militia groups and white supremacists raised fears the state could again see the type of violence that exploded at a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017.

Virginia’s current gun laws:

* Do not require a permit to purchase rifles, shotguns or handguns. * Do not require firearm registration. * Do not require licensing. * Do not require a permit to carry a rifle or shotgun. * Do not “regulate the transfer or possession of .50-caliber rifles or large-capacity ammunition magazines.” * Do not require a background check before transferring a firearm between unlicensed people. * Do not impose a waiting period before the sale of a firearm. * Do not require owners to report lost or stolen guns. There are several restrictions in place. For example, concealed carry is allowed, but requires a court-issued permit. Dealers must contact state police—which conducts a background check—before a sale. State police are also required to be at gun shows to conduct background checks “at the request of the parties to the transaction.” Proposed changes in Virginia seek to: * Ban assault weapons, silencers, high-capacity magazines and other “dangerous weapons.” * Require background checks on all firearm transactions. * Reinstate the law—repealed in 2012—allowing no more than one handgun purchase a month. * Allow municipalities to enact “ordinances that are stricter than state law.” Among the examples cited: rules banning guns in libraries or municipal buildings. * Require lost or stolen guns to be reported to authorities within one day. * Allow law enforcement to “temporarily separate a person from firearms if the person exhibits dangerous behavior that presents an immediate threat to self or others.” * Prohibit the subjects of protective orders from possessing guns. * Toughen punishment for allowing access of a loaded, “unsecured” firearm to someone 18 or younger.

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Trump’s Impeachment Defense, Prosecutors Dig In

WASHINGTON — Advocates for and against President Donald Trump gave no ground Sunday on his Senate impeachment trial, digging in on whether a crime is required for his conviction and removal and whether witnesses will be called.

But even as Trump’s defense team and the House prosecutors pressed their case on the television talk shows, mystery still surrounded the ground rules for the impeachment trial, only the third in American history, when it resumes Tuesday. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., was shedding no light on what will be the same as — and different from — the precedent of President Bill Clinton’s impeachment trial in 1999.

All sides agitated to get on with it, none more than the four Democratic senators running for president and facing the prospect of being marooned in the Senate heading into Iowa’s kickoff caucus on Feb. 3.

“The president deserves a fair trial. The American people deserve a fair trial. So let’s have that fair trial,” said Democratic Rep. Jason Crow of Colorado, one of the seven impeachment prosecutors who will make the case for Trump’s removal.

But what’s fair is as intractable a showdown as the basic question of whether Trump’s pressure on Ukraine to help him politically merits a Senate conviction and removal from office. The stakes are enormous, with historic influence on the fate of Trump’s presidency, the 2020 presidential and congressional elections and the future of any presidential impeachments.

Whatever happens in the Senate, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., has said, Trump will “be impeached forever.”

Members of Trump’s team said that if they win a vindication for Trump, it means “an acquittal forever as well,” Trump attorney Robert Ray said Sunday. “That is the task ahead.”

The House on Dec. 18 voted mostly along party lines to impeach, or indict, Trump on charges of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress. He is the third president to be impeached in U.S. history.

Trump denies both charges as the products of a “witch hunt” and a “hoax,” and has cast himself as a victim of Democrats who want to overturn his 2016 election.

For all of the suspense over the trial’s structure and nature, some clues on what’s to come sharpened on Sunday.

The president’s lawyers bore down on the suggestion that House impeachment is invalid unless the accused violated U.S. law.

“Criminal-like conduct is required,” said Alan Dershowitz, author of a book about the case against impeaching Trump.

The argument refers to an 1868 speech by Benjamin Curtis, who after serving as a Supreme Court justice acted as the chief lawyer for President Andrew Johnson at his Senate impeachment trial.

In his speech before the Senate, Curtis argued that “high crimes and misdemeanors” must correspond to an actual law on the books at the time the offense was committed.

“There can be no crime, there can be no misdemeanor, without a law, written or unwritten, express or implied,” Curtis told the Senate. “There must be some law; otherwise there is no crime. My interpretation of it is that the language ‘high crimes and misdemeanors’ means ‘offenses against the laws of the United States.’”

Johnson was ultimately acquitted by the Senate.

Republicans have long signaled the strategy, which has, in turn, been disputed by other scholars.

“Rubbish,” said Frank Bowman, a University of Missouri law professor and author of his own book about the history of impeachment for the Trump era.

“It’s comically bad. Dershowitz either knows better or should,” said Bowman, who said he had Dershowitz as a law professor at Harvard. “It’s a common argument, and it’s always wrong.”

He said Johnson was acquitted for multiple reasons but not because Curtis was right in his characterization of high crimes and misdemeanors. The proposition was “amply rebutted” by the House managers in the Johnson case, Bowman said.

Dershowitz on Sunday pushed another, more personal and perhaps difficult narrative. He described himself as something other than a full member of the defense team, merely a speaker about the Constitution. He refused to endorse the strategy pursued by other members of that team or defend Trump’s conduct. He noted he didn’t sign the White House’s brief for the trial.

He acknowledged that his argument really is against having new testimony introduced.

“There’s no need for witnesses,” he said.

Democrats strongly disagree, and a few Republicans said they want to know more before deciding. New information from Lev Parnas, an indicted associate of Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, is being incorporated in the House case. At the same time, Senate Democrats want to call John Bolton, the former national security adviser, among other potential eyewitnesses, after the White House blocked officials from appearing in the House.

With Republicans controlling the Senate 53-47, they can set the trial rules — or any four Republicans could join with Democrats to change course.

McConnell has said he has 51 votes to start the trial before making a decision on calling witnesses. But he hasn’t released the ground rules publicly, giving him and the White House more control over their Sunday remarks. McConnell has said he’s working closely with the president’s team.

“It’s telling that none of us have seen this resolution, except, I suppose, the White House lawyers,” said the lead impeachment prosecutor, House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif.

Crow spoke on CNN’s “State of the Union” and Dershowitz was on CNN and ABC’s “This Week.” Ray was on Fox News Channel’s “Sunday Morning Futures.” Schiff appeared on ABC’.

___

Associated Press writer Eric Tucker contributed to this report.

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Illegal Crossings Plunge as U.S. Extends Policy Across Border

YUMA, Ariz. — Adolfo Cardenas smiles faintly at the memory of traveling with his 14-year-old son from Honduras to the U.S.-Mexico border in only nine days, riding buses and paying a smuggler $6,000 to ensure passage through highway checkpoints.

Father and son walked about 10 minutes in Arizona’s stifling June heat before surrendering to border agents. Instead of being released with paperwork to appear in immigration court in Dallas, where Cardenas hopes to live with a cousin, they were bused more than an hour to wait in the Mexican border city of Mexicali.

“It was a surprise. I never imagined this would happen,” Cardenas, 39, said while waiting at a Mexicali migrant shelter for his fifth court appearance in San Diego, on Jan. 24.

Illegal crossings plummeted across the border after the Trump administration made more asylum-seekers wait in Mexico for hearings in U.S. court. The drop has been most striking on the western Arizona border, a pancake-flat desert with a vast canal system from the Colorado River that turns bone-dry soil into fields of melons and wheat and orchards of dates and lemons.

Arrests in the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector nearly hit 14,000 in May, when the policy to make asylum-seekers wait in Mexico took effect there. By October, they fell 94%, to less than 800, and have stayed there since, making Yuma the second-slowest of the agency’s nine sectors on the Mexican border, just ahead of the perennially quiet Big Bend sector in Texas.

Illegal crossings in western Arizona have swung sharply before, and there are several reasons for the recent drop. But Anthony Porvaznik, chief of the Border Patrol’s Yuma sector, said the so-called Migration Protection Protocols have been a huge deterrent, based on agents’ interviews with people arrested.

“Their whole goal was to be released into the United States, and once that was taken off the shelf for them, and they couldn’t be released into the United States anymore, then that really diminished the amount of traffic that came through here,” Porvaznik said.

In the neighboring Tucson sector, arrests rose each month from August to December, bucking a border-wide trend and making it the second-busiest corridor after Texas’ Rio Grande Valley. Porvaznik attributes Tucson’s spike to the absence of the policy there until three months ago.

In late November, the administration began busing asylum-seekers five hours from Tucson to El Paso, Texas, for court and delivering them to Mexican authorities there to wait. This month, officials scrapped the buses by returning migrants to Mexico near Tucson and requiring them to travel on their own to El Paso.

More than 55,000 asylum-seekers were returned to Mexico to wait for hearings through November, 10 months after the policy was introduced in San Diego.

The immigrants were from more than three dozen countries, and nearly 2 out of 3 were Guatemalan or Honduran, according to Syracuse University’s Transactional Records Access Clearinghouse. Mexicans are exempt.

Critics say the policy is unfair and exposes asylum-seekers to extreme violence in Mexican border cities, where attorneys are difficult to find.

The American Civil Liberties Union and other groups asked to put the policy on hold during a legal challenge. The U.S. 9th Circuit Court of Appeals heard arguments Oct. 1 and has not indicated when it will decide.

On Tuesday, critics scored a partial victory in a separate lawsuit when a federal judge in San Diego said asylum-seekers who are being returned to Mexico from California must have access to hired attorneys before and during key interviews to determine if they can stay in the U.S. while their cases proceed.

Immigration judges hear cases in San Diego and El Paso, while other asylum-seekers report to tent camps in the Texas cities of Laredo and Brownsville, where they are connected to judges by video.

In Yuma, asylum-seekers are held in short-term cells until space opens up to be returned to Mexicali through a neighboring California sector. Those interviewed by The Associated Press waited up to a week in Yuma, though Border Patrol policy says people generally shouldn’t be held more than 72 hours.

Volunteers visit Mexicali shelters to offer bus tickets or a two-hour ride to Tijuana, along with hotel rooms for the night before court appearances in San Diego.

Cardenas, who worked construction in the Honduran capital of Tegucigalpa, said he feels unsafe in Mexico and that it was impossible to escape gangs in Honduras. “They are in every corner,” he said.

Enma Florian of Guatemala, who crossed the border illegally with her 16- and 13-year-old sons near Yuma in August, doesn’t know if she would stay in Mexico or return to Guatemala if denied asylum in the U.S. The grant rate for Guatemalan asylum-seekers was 14% for the 12-month period that ended Sept. 30, compared with 18% for Salvadorans, 13% for Hondurans and 11% for Mexicans.

“The dream was to reach the United States,” she said, holding out hope that she will settle with relatives in Maryland.

While illegal crossings have nosedived in Yuma, asylum-seekers still sign up on a waiting list to enter the U.S. at an official crossing in San Luis, Arizona. U.S. Customs and Border Protection calls the Mexican shelter that manages the list to say how many asylum claims it will process each day. The shelter estimates the wait at three to four months.

Angel Rodriguez, one of 143 Cubans on the shelter’s waiting list of 1,484 people, has had bright moments in Mexico, including a beautiful Christmas meal. But the 51-year-old rarely goes outside and he dreads the possibility of being forced to wait for hearings in Mexico after his number is called to make an initial asylum claim in the U.S.

“That’s sending me to hell again,” said Rodriguez, who hopes to settle with friends in Dallas or Miami. “If I’m going to seek asylum, I’m going to look to a country that is the safest and respects human rights. That country is the United States of America.”

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National Archives ‘Wrong’ to Blur Images of Anti-Trump Signs

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — The National Archives said Saturday it made a mistake when it blurred images of anti-Trump signs used in an exhibit on women’s suffrage.

The independent agency is charged with preserving government and historical records and said it has always been committed to preserving its holdings “without alteration.”

But the archives said in a statement Saturday “we made a mistake.” The archives’ statement came one day after The Washington Post published an online report about the altered images.

The archives said the photo in question is not one of its archival records, but rather was licensed for use as a promotional graphic in the exhibit.

“Nonetheless, we were wrong to alter the image,” the agency said.

The current display has been removed and will be replaced as soon as possible with one that uses the original, unaltered image, the archives said.

The exhibit about the 19th Amendment, which gave women the right to vote, blurred some anti-Trump messages on protest signs in a photo of the 2017 Women’s March in Washington.

Signs that referred to women’s private parts, which also were widespread during the march, which was held shortly after Trump took office, also were altered.

The archives said it will immediately begin a “thorough review” of its policies and procedures for exhibits “so that this does not happen again.”

The American Civil Liberties Union called on the archives to issue a more detailed explanation.

“Apologizing is not enough,” Louise Melling, the organization’s deputy legal director, said in a statement. “The National Archives must explain to the public why it took the Orwellian step of trying to rewrite history and erasing women’s bodies from it, as well as who ordered it.”

Archives spokeswoman Miriam Kleiman told the Post for its report that the nonpartisan, nonpolitical federal agency blurred the anti-Trump references “so as not to engage in current political controversy.”

References to female anatomy in the signs were obscured in deference to student groups and young people who visit the archives, Kleiman told the newspaper.

Kleiman did not respond to an emailed request for comment Saturday from The Associated Press. The public affairs office at the archives emailed the statement.

The archives issued the apology as thousands again gathered in Washington and in cities across the country Saturday for Women’s March rallies focused on issues such as climate change, pay equity and reproductive rights.

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Doctors Sound the Alarm on Climate Emergency

LONDON — The doctors are worried about the climate emergency. In recent days the UK’s Royal College of Physicians (RCP) has announced it’s halting investments in climate-changing fossil fuel and mining companies.

The RCP, the British doctors’ professional body dedicated to improving the practice of medicine, which has funds in global stock markets amounting to nearly £50 million (US$65m), says it will start divesting immediately from the worst-polluting oil and gas companies, which are mainly in the US.

As part of a phased disinvestment policy the RCP – the oldest medical college in England, with more than 35,000 members – says that within the next three years all investments in fossil fuel companies not aligned with the goals of the 2015 Paris Agreement on climate change
will be withdrawn.

“The fossil fuel industry is driving the climate crisis and is responsible for a public health emergency”, says Dr Will Stableforth of the RCP.

“As physicians we have a duty to speak out against this industry and hold it accountable for the damage it is doing to human health.”

Gathering impetus

The RCP’s action forms part of a fast-growing worldwide movement involved in withdrawing investment funds from the fossil fuel industry. A growing number of health organisations – both in the UK and elsewhere – has already announced similar divestment moves.

According to the campaign group +350, investment and pension funds managing more than $11 trillion round the globe have committed to divesting from fossil fuel companies.

BlackRock, the world’s largest fund investment management company with nearly $7tn assets under its control, has announced it will withdraw funds from firms sourcing 25% or more of revenues on thermal coal, the most polluting fossil fuel.

Larry Fink, BlackRock’s head, says investors are becoming increasingly aware of climate change in assessing various companies’ long-term prospects.

“Awareness is rapidly changing and I believe we are on the edge of a fundamental reshaping of finance”, Fink told fund managers and chief executives this week.

“In the near future – and sooner than most anticipate – there will be a significant reallocation of capital.”

The banking and insurance sectors are also being forced to confront the dangers posed by climate change. The Bank of England recently became the world’s first central bank to introduce a climate change “stress test”,  requiring the UK’s banks and insurance companies to evaluate their exposure to the risks of a warming world.

Despite the moves on divestment and tighter finance controls on climate change-related investments, investors – along with the fossil fuel companies themselves – continue to pump millions into various projects around the world.

BlackRock and other major fund management groups talk of their commitment to sustainability and helping in the fight against climate change, but remain leading fossil fuel investors.

Greenwash continues

Although investments in the coal industry have declined, multi-million dollar investments in new projects are still being made, particularly in Asia.

Carbon Tracker, an independent financial think tank, estimates that between January 2018 and September last year oil and gas companies approved $50bn worth of new projects.

“Gas and mining companies have been furiously trying to “greenwash” their images and promote false solutions to the climate crisis”, says Dr Deidre Duff of the UK-based Medact health charity.

“But in reality, these companies are devastating human and planetary health and exacerbating health inequalities around the world.”

 

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Sanders Team Slams Biden for Claiming Social Security Video Was ‘Doctored’

Highlighting a major contrast between the current top two candidates in the Democratic primary field in terms of how they have addressed the issue over their long legislative careers, the Bernie Sanders campaign hit back against a claim made by Joe Biden earlier in the day in which the former vice president said there was “doctored video” being circulated by the Sanders campaign that showed him agreeing with former Republican Speaker of the House Paul Ryan about the need to cut Social Security.

“It’s simply a lie, that video is a lie,” Biden said at a campaign event in Iowa when asked about his position on Social Security by an attendee.

Biden said the video was attributable to “Bernie’s people,” and that he was looking for the Sanders campaign “to come forward and disown it but they haven’t done it yet.”

According to Reuters:

After Biden’s comments, his campaign said the candidate was referring to recent claims by Sanders that Biden has proposed cutting Social Security in the past. The Sanders campaign has pointed to a speech Biden gave to the Brookings Institution think tank in 2018, when Biden said of Ryan’s plan to reform the tax code: “Paul Ryan was correct when he did the tax code. What’s the first thing he decided we had to after? Social Security and Medicare.”

For its part, the Sanders campaign appeared to relish the opportunity to have the issue discussed in detail. National press secretary Briahna Joy Gray tweeted a video capturing Biden’s comments at the Iowa event and said she hoped “the media covers this as a substantive policy disagreement.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Hope the media covers this as a substantive policy disagreement. <br><br>And I hope they play the video. <a href=”https://t.co/L1EI6XRgQr”>https://t.co/L1EI6XRgQr</a></p>&mdash; Briahna Joy Gray (@briebriejoy) <a href=”https://twitter.com/briebriejoy/status/1218638746641453056?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 18, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

David Sirota, a speechwriter and frequent message amplifier for the Sanders campaign, sent an email out Saturday evening that stated: “Biden claimed that one video of him pushing Social Security ‘adjustments’ was doctored—but Biden’s absurd assertion has been widely debunked and discredited by reporters and Social Security advocates.”

Journalists who have looked at the issue closely, including The Intercept‘s Washington bureau chief Ryan Grim, agreed it is not accurate to describe the video Biden is referencing as “doctored.”

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I hope <a href=”https://twitter.com/PolitiFact?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@PolitiFact</a> at least check this claim from Biden. <br><br>There was no doctored video. That’s a fabrication. Interesting to see if Politifact let’s this stand: <a href=”https://t.co/LSrqyPlzzD”>https://t.co/LSrqyPlzzD</a></p>&mdash; Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1218665981041610752?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 18, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Grim reported in a piece published Monday that Biden has “advocated cutting social security for 40 years.”

And despite the Biden campaign’s now repeated assertion that the comments about agreeing with Paul Ryan were taken out of context, Grim’s reporting argues that “Biden’s record on Social Security is far worse than one offhand remark.” According to Grim:

Biden’s fixation on cutting Social Security dates back to the Reagan era. One of Ronald Reagan’s first major moves as president was to implement a mammoth tax cut, tilted toward the wealthy, and to increase defense spending. Biden, a Delaware senator at the time, supported both moves. The heightened spending and reduced revenue focused public attention on the debt and deficit, giving fuel to a push for a balanced budget amendment to the Constitution.

In the midst of that debate, Biden teamed up with Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley to call for a freeze on federal spending, and insisted on including Social Security in that freeze, even as the Reagan administration fought to protect the program from cuts. It was part of the Democratic approach at the time not just to match Republicans, but to get to their right at times as well, as Biden also did on criminal justice policy.

That push by Biden to join forces with Republicans to cut spending on social programs like Medicaid and Social Security in the mid-nineties included numerous speeches and statements Biden made in the Senate, many of them also captured on video and available to watch. Sirota, in particular, has been prolific in sharing them online:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>I want you to watch this clip of Biden touting his repeated efforts to cut Social Security, and then I want you to remember that Biden told reporters “I’m not sorry for anything that I have ever done.”<a href=”https://t.co/TKtv3XxoZB”>https://t.co/TKtv3XxoZB</a><a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BidenSocialSecurityCuts?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BidenSocialSecurityCuts</a> <a href=”https://t.co/MIAx4nO9Qa”>pic.twitter.com/MIAx4nO9Qa</a> <a href=”https://t.co/vKIlVqYQZk”>https://t.co/vKIlVqYQZk</a></p>&mdash; David Sirota (@davidsirota) <a href=”https://twitter.com/davidsirota/status/1218685773970427904?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>This video now has almost 450,000 views. Keep retweeting it. Don&#39;t let <a href=”https://twitter.com/JoeBiden?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@JoeBiden</a> get away with misleading Iowa voters about his repeated efforts to undermine Democrats and help the GOP try to slash Social Security. Retweet it and spread the word.<a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/BidenSocialSecurityCuts?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#BidenSocialSecurityCuts</a> <a href=”https://t.co/LVo8PXK36a”>https://t.co/LVo8PXK36a</a></p>&mdash; David Sirota (@davidsirota) <a href=”https://twitter.com/davidsirota/status/1218694301028245504?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

In a statement Saturday evening, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir also pushed back against the accusation that it has misrepresented in any way some of the positions Biden has taken or remarks he’s made about Social Security.

“Joe Biden should be honest with voters and stop trying to doctor his own public record of consistently and repeatedly trying to cut Social Security,” Shakir said.

“The facts are very clear: Biden not only pushed to cut Social Security—he is on tape proudly bragging about it on multiple occasions,” he continued. “The vice president must stop dodging questions about his record, and start explaining why he has so aggressively pushed to slash one of the most significant and successful social programs in American history, which millions of Americans rely on for survival.”

In a column this week, Alex Lawson, executive director of Social Security Works, said it is no longer possible for Biden to outrun his record on attacking Social Security—a history that Republicans will surely weaponize against him in the general election.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Politicians only use euphemisms like “adjustments” when they really mean “cut.”<br><br>There’s no reason to use euphemisms to talk about protecting and expanding Social Security, because that’s incredibly popular: <a href=”https://t.co/kEFnbs8QJe”>https://t.co/kEFnbs8QJe</a> <a href=”https://t.co/ONoC5qGtqD”>https://t.co/ONoC5qGtqD</a></p>&mdash; SocialSecurityWorks (@SSWorks) <a href=”https://twitter.com/SSWorks/status/1218693756590927874?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 19, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Biden in 2018 on Social Security after his ideal tax plan is implemented: “it still needs adjustments, but it can stay.”<br><br>He does not mean adjusted upward, that would make no sense. He is saying, in 2018, it still needs cuts. If you’re a fact checked and don’t see that… <a href=”https://t.co/6MO9qtET64″>pic.twitter.com/6MO9qtET64</a></p>&mdash; Ryan Grim (@ryangrim) <a href=”https://twitter.com/ryangrim/status/1218681195938111489?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 18, 2020</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Biden’s record, argued Lawson—who endorsed Sanders officially in December—would be a “a major vulnerability should he become the Democratic nominee. In the 2016 election, Donald Trump continually promised to protect Social Security and Medicare. That was a lie. But lying has never bothered Trump, and he’ll be happy to use the same playbook in 2020.”

 

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Harry, Meghan to Give Up Public Funds, ‘Highness’ Titles Under Deal

LONDON — Goodbye, your royal highnesses. Hello, life as — almost — ordinary civilians.

Prince Harry and his wife, Meghan, are quitting as working royals and will no longer use the titles “royal highness” or receive public funds for their work under a deal announced Saturday by Buckingham Palace.

Releasing details of the dramatic split, triggered by the couple’s unhappiness with life under media scrutiny in the royal fishbowl, the palace said Harry and Meghan will cease to be working members of the royal family when the new arrangements take effect within months, in the “spring of 2020.”

The couple will no longer use the prestigious titles His Royal Highness and Her Royal Highness, but they are not being stripped of them.

They will be known as Harry, Duke of Sussex and Meghan, Duchess of Sussex. Harry will remain a prince and sixth in line to the British throne.

The agreement also calls for Meghan and Harry to repay 2.4 million pounds ($3.1 million) in taxpayers’ money that was spent renovating a house for them near Windsor Castle, Frogmore Cottage. The use of public funds to ready their home had raised ire in the British press.

The announcement came after days of talks among royal courtiers sparked by Meghan and Harry’s announcement last week that they wanted to step down as senior royals and live part-time somewhere in Canada.

The couple’s departure is a wrench for the royal family, but Queen Elizabeth II had warm words for them in a statement Saturday.

The 93-year-old queen said she was pleased that “together we have found a constructive and supportive way forward for my grandson and his family. Harry, Meghan and Archie will always be much loved members of my family.”

“I recognize the challenges they have experienced as a result of intense scrutiny over the last two years and support their wish for a more independent life,” Elizabeth said.

“It is my whole family’s hope that today’s agreement allows them to start building a happy and peaceful new life,” she added.

Despite the queen’s kind words, the new arrangement will represent an almost complete break from life as working royals, especially for Harry. As a devoted Army veteran and servant to the crown, the prince carried out dozens of royal engagements.

It is not yet clear whether Harry and Meghan will continue to receive financial support from Harry’s father, Prince Charles, who used revenue from the Duchy of Cornwall to help fund his activities and those of his wife and sons.

The duchy, chartered in 1337, produced more than 20 million pounds ($26 million) in revenue last year. It is widely regarded as private money, not public funds, so Charles may opt to keep details of its disbursal private.

While he and Meghan will no longer represent the queen, the palace said they would “continue to uphold the values of Her Majesty” while carrying out their private charitable work.

The withdrawal of Harry from royal engagements will increase the demands on his brother, Prince William, and William’s wife, Kate, the Duchess of Cambridge.

Buckingham Palace did not disclose who will pay for the couple’s security going forward. It currently is taxpayer-funded and carried out primarily by a special unit of the Metropolitan Police, also known as Scotland Yard.

“There are well established independent processes to determine the need for publicly funded security,” it said.

Harry and Meghan have grown increasingly uncomfortable with constant media scrutiny since the birth in May of their son, Archie. They married in 2018 in a ceremony that drew a worldwide TV audience.

Meghan joined the royal family after a successful acting career and spoke enthusiastically about the chance to travel throughout Britain and learn about her new home, but disillusionment set in fairly quickly.

She launched legal action against a newspaper in October for publishing a letter she wrote to her father. Harry has complained bitterly of racist undertones some media coverage of his wife, who is biracial.

There has also been a breach in the longtime close relationship between Harry and William, a future king, over issues that have not been made public.

The couple’s desire to separate from the rest of the family had been the subject of media speculation for months. But they angered senior royals by revealing their plans on Instagram and a new website without advance clearance from the queen or palace officials.

Elizabeth summoned Harry, William and Charles to an unusual crisis meeting at her rural retreat in eastern England in an effort to find common ground.

The result was Saturday’s agreement, which is different from Harry and Meghan’s initial proposal that they planned to combine a new, financially independent life with a reduced set of royal duties.

It is not known where in Canada the couple plan to locate. They are thought to be considering Vancouver Island, where they spent a long Christmas break, or Toronto, where Meghan filmed the TV series “Suits” for many years.

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Gun-Rights Activists Gear Up for Show of Force in Virginia

RICHMOND, Va. — Police are scouring the internet for clues about plans for mayhem, workers are putting up chain-link holding pens around Virginia’s picturesque Capitol Square, and one lawmaker even plans to hide in a safe house in advance of what’s expected to be an unprecedented show of force by gun-rights activists.

What is provoking their anger in this once reliably conservative state is the new Democratic majority leadership and its plans to enact a slew of gun restrictions. This clash of old and new has made Virginia — determined to prevent a replay of the Charlottesville violence in 2017 — ground zero in the nation’s raging debate over gun control.

The Virginia Citizens Defense League’s yearly rally at the Capitol typically draws just a few hundred gun enthusiasts. This year, however, thousands of gun activists are expected to turn out. Second Amendment groups have identified the state as a rallying point for the fight against what they see as a national erosion of gun rights.

“We’re not going to be quiet anymore. We’re going to fight them in the courts and on the ground. The illegal laws they’re proposing are just straight up unconstitutional,” said Timothy Forster, of Chesterfield, Virginia, an NRA member who had one handgun strapped to his shoulder and another tucked into his waistband as he stood outside a legislative office building earlier this week.

VCDL president Philip Van Cleave said he’s heard from groups around the country that plan to send members to Virginia, including the Nevada-based, far-right Oath Keepers, which has promised to organize and train armed posses and militia.

Extremist groups have blanketed social media and online forums with ominous messages and hinted at potential violence. The FBI said it arrested three men linked to a violent white supremacist group Thursday who were planning to attend the rally in Richmond, according to a law enforcement official who spoke to The Associated Press on condition of anonymity to discuss an active investigation.

Democrats have permanently banned guns inside the Capitol, and Gov. Ralph Northam declared a temporary state of emergency Wednesday that bans all weapons, including guns, from Capitol Square, during the rally to prevent “armed militia groups storming our Capitol.” Gun-rights groups asked the Virginia Supreme Court to rule Northam’s declaration unconstitutional, but the court on Friday upheld the ban.

Northam said there were credible threats of violence — like weaponized drones being deployed over Capitol Square. On Friday, the FAA issued a temporary flight restriction, including for drones, over Capitol airspace during the rally.

The governor said some of the rhetoric used by groups planning to attend Monday’s rally is reminiscent of that used ahead of the white nationalist rally in Charlottesville in August 2017. One woman was killed and more than 30 other people were hurt when a white supremacist drove his car into a crowd of counter-protesters there.

The Virginia State Police, the Virginia Capitol Police and the Richmond Police are all coordinating the event and have plans for a huge police presence at Monday’s rally that will include both uniformed and plainclothes officers. Police plan to limit access to Capitol Square to only one entrance and have warned rally-goers that they may have to wait hours to get past security screening.

Nonessential state staff were being told to stay away. Del. Lee Carter, a Democratic Socialist, said he’s planning to spend Monday at an undisclosed location because of threats he has received.

“I ain’t interested in martyrdom,” Carter tweeted.

Northam lamented that such precautions were necessary for what’s been a peaceful yearly event, but said pro-gun activists have “unleashed something larger, something they may not be able to control.”

The pushback against proposed new gun restrictions began immediately after Democrats won majorities in both the state Senate and House of Delegates in November. Much of the opposition has focused on a proposed assault weapons ban, which would affect thousands of owners of the popular AR-15-style rifles. One version of the bill, which Democrats later disavowed, would have required current owners of the rifles to turn them in or face felony charges.

That bill was the spark that created the massive pushback, according to Sen. Creigh Deeds, one of the few moderate Democrats left in Virginia who represents rural areas.

“That allowed people who like to inflame passions to say, ‘Look, they’re really coming after your guns, they’re coming after you,’” Deeds said.

Thousands of gun owners from around the state packed municipal meetings to urge local officials to declare their communities “Second Amendment Sanctuaries” opposed to “unconstitutional” gun restrictions like universal background checks. More than 125 cities, towns and counties have approved sanctuary resolutions in Virginia.

Gun-control advocates, meanwhile, have also been flocking to Richmond to show their support for the proposed legislation. More than 200 volunteers with Moms Demand Action held a rally on Jan. 6. Gun control became a leading issue in the 2019 Virginia legislative elections after a city employee in Virginia Beach opened fire on his co-workers in May, killing 12 and injuring four others.

Janet Woody, a retired librarian from Richmond and a Moms volunteer, said she believes the proposed package of legislation can help reduce gun violence.

“I just feel so angry and helpless because of all these massacres,” she said. “You can call your legislator or write, but there comes a point where you just have to get out in the street.”

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Riots in Lebanon’s Capital Leave More Than 150 Injured

BEIRUT — Police fired volleys of tear gas and rubber bullets in Lebanon’s capital Saturday to disperse thousands of protesters amid some of the worst rioting since demonstrations against the country’s ruling elite erupted three months ago. More than 150 people were injured.

Thick white smoke covered the downtown Beirut area near Parliament as police and protesters engaged in confrontations that saw groups of young men hurl stones and firecrackers at police who responded with water cannons and tear gas. Some protesters were seen vomiting on the street from inhaling the gas.

The violence began after some protesters started throwing stones at police deployed near the parliament building, while others removed street signs, metal barriers and branches of trees, tossing them at security forces.

The clashes took place with the backdrop of a rapidly worsening financial crisis and an ongoing impasse over the formation of a new government after the Cabinet headed by Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned in late October.

Lebanon has witnessed three months of protests against the political elite who have ruled the country since the end of the 1975-90 civil war. The protesters blame politicians for widespread corruption and mismanagement in a country that has accumulated one of the largest debt ratios in the world.

The protesters had called for a demonstration Saturday afternoon with the theme “we will not pay the price” in reference to debt that stands at about $87 billion, or more than 150% of GDP.

As rioting took place in central Beirut, thousands of other protesters arrived later from three different parts of the city to join the demonstration. They were later dispersed and chased by police into nearby Martyrs Square that has been a center for protests.

Lebanon’s Internal Security Forces called on all peaceful protesters to “immediately leave the area of riots for their own safety.” It added that some policemen who were taken for treatment at hospitals were attacked by protesters inside the medical centers.

As clashes continued, some two dozen men believed to be parliament guards attacked the protesters’ tents in Martyrs Square, setting them on fire. A gas cylinder inside one of the tents blew up. The fire spread quickly and charred a nearby shop.

The bells of nearby St. George Cathedral began to toll in an apparent call for calm, while loudspeakers at the adjacent blue-domed Muhammad Al-Amin mosque called for night prayers.

Later in the evening, hundreds of protesters chanting “Revolution” chased a contingent of riot police near the entrance of the mosque, forcing them to withdraw. Inside the mosque, several men were treated for gas inhalation and some families were said to be hiding inside.

“We call on the security forces to be merciful with women and children inside the mosque,” a statement blared through the mosque’s loudspeakers.

President Michel Aoun called on security forces to protect peaceful protesters and work on restoring clam in downtown Beirut and to protect public and private property. He asked the ministers of defense and interior and heads of security agencies to act.

“The confrontations, fires and acts of sabotage in central Beirut are crazy, suspicious and rejected. They threaten civil peace and warn of grave consequences,” tweeted Hariri, the caretaker prime minister, who lives nearb y. He called those behind the riots “outlaws” and called on police and armed forces to protect Beirut.

The Lebanese Red Cross said it took 65 people to hospitals and treated 100 others on the spot, calling on people to donate blood. As the clashes continued, more ambulances were seen rushing to the area and evacuating the injured.

Late on Saturday most of the protesters were forced out of the area by police firing tear gas and sometimes rubber bullets. Still, security remained tight as more reinforcements arrived.

Panic and anger have gripped the public as their local currency, pegged to the dollar for more than two decades, plummeted. The Lebanese pound lost more than 60% of its value in recent weeks on the black market. The economy has seen no growth and foreign inflows dried up in the already heavily indebted country that relies on imports for most of its basic goods.

Meanwhile, banks have imposed informal capital controls, limiting withdrawal of dollars and foreign transfers.

Earlier this week, protesters carried out acts of vandalism in a main commercial area in Beirut targeting mostly private banks.

Prime Minister-designate Hassan Diab had been expected to announce an 18-member Cabinet on Friday, but last-minute disputes among political factions scuttled his latest attempt.

___

Associated Press writers Sarah El Deeb, Hussein Malla, Hassan Ammar and Bilal Hussein contributed to this report.

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Thousands Gather for Women’s March Rallies Across the U.S.

WASHINGTON — Thousands gathered in cities across the country Saturday as part of the nationwide Women’s March rallies focused on issues such as climate change, pay equity, reproductive rights and immigration.

Hundred showed up in New York City and thousands in Washington, D.C., for the rallies, which aim to harness the political power of women, although crowds were noticeably smaller than in previous years. Marches were scheduled Saturday in more than 180 cities.

The first marches in 2017 drew hundreds of thousands of people to rallies in cities across the country on the day after President Donald Trump was inaugurated. That year’s D.C. march drew close to 1 million people.

In Manhattan on Saturday, hundreds of people who gathered at separate events in Foley Square and Columbus Circle planned to converge at Times Square as part of a “Rise and Roar” rally.

“Today, we will be the change that is needed in this world! Today, we rise into our power!” activist Donna Hill told a cheering crowd in Foley Square.

In Denver, organizers opted to skip the rally after the march and instead invited participants to meet with local organizations to learn more about issues such as reproductive rights, climate change, gun safety and voting.

Several thousand came out for the protest in Washington, far fewer than last year when about 100,000 people held a rally east of the White House. But as in previous years, many of the protesters made the trip to the nation’s capital from cities across the country to express their opposition to Trump and his policies. From their gathering spot on Freedom Plaza, they had a clear view down Pennsylvania Avenue to the U.S. Capitol, where the impeachment trial gets underway in the Senate next week.

In Washington, three key issues seemed to galvanize most of the protesters: climate change, immigration and reproductive rights.

“I teach a lot of immigrant students, and in political times like this I want to make sure I’m using my voice to speak up for them,” said Rochelle McGurn, 30, an elementary school teacher from Burlington, Vermont who was in D.C. to march. “They need to feel like they belong, because they do.”

Peta Madry of New London, Connecticut, was celebrating her 70th birthday in D.C. by attending her fourth Women’s March with her sister, Cynthia Barnard, of San Rafael, California. Both women were wearing handknitted pink hats that date from the first march. With pained expressions, they spoke about Trump’s determination to reverse the policies of his predecessor Barack Obama and his treatment of women.

“Look what he’s doing to Greta Thunberg,” Madry said, referring to the teenage climate activist. “He’s the biggest bully in the world.”

Melissa McCullough of Georgetown, Indiana, said when she recently turned 50 she promised herself that she would get more involved politically. “I’m here to protest Trump, as a woman,” she said.

Her daughter, 19-year-old University of Cincinnati student Elizabeth McCullough, chimed in to say that most women’s issues are human issues, and they talked about the need to protect immigrants.

“You have to push to protect everyone or no one’s safe,” Melissa McCullough said.

The protesters planned to march around the White House, but Trump wasn’t there. He is spending the holiday weekend at his resort in Florida.

Organizers of the Washington march faced criticism from some local African American activists for failing to focus on local issues and damaging the ability of local activists to organize.

“Local D.C. is a domestic colony and the actions of national organizers have to recognize that,” Black Lives Matter D.C. wrote in a letter this week to Women’s March organizers. “Here in D.C., these unstrategic mass mobilizations distract from local organizing, often overlook the black people who actually live here and even result in tougher laws against demonstration being passed locally.”

___

Associated Press reporter Michael Hill in New York City contributed to this report.

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White House Seeks to End Michelle Obama Guidelines on School Nutrition

WASHINGTON—The Trump administration on Friday proposed rolling back nutrition guidelines for school meals that had been promoted by Michelle Obama as part of her campaign to combat child obesity.

The impact, child nutrition advocates said, will be less fruit and vegetables and more foods like pizza and fries in the school meals program, which serves 30 million children, most from low-income families.

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, who announced the rule changes on Obama’s birthday, said they were needed to give schools more flexibility and reduce waste while still providing nutritious and appetizing meals.

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Under the proposal, schools would be allowed to cut the amount of certain types of vegetables served at lunch, and legumes offered as a meat alternative also could be counted as part of the vegetable requirement. Potatoes could be served as a vegetable.

The proposal also would allow schools to reduce the amount of fruit at on-the-go breakfast served outside the cafeteria.

Gay Anderson, president of the School Nutrition Association, said that while the nutrition standards had been a success overall, some requirements led to reduced participation in the program, higher costs and waste.

“USDA’s school meal flexibilities are helping us manage these challenges and prepare nutritious meals that appeal to diverse student tastes,” Anderson said in a statement.

Advocates of the school meals program assailed the changes.

“The Trump administration’s assault on children’s health continues today under the guise of ‘simplifying’ school meals,” Colin Schwartz, the Center for Science in the Public Interest’s deputy director for legislative affairs, said in a statement.

The proposal would give schools greater flexibility in offering entrees for a la carte purchases, which Schwartz said would “create a huge loophole in school nutrition guidelines, paving the way for children to choose pizza, burgers, French fries, and other foods high in calories, saturated fat or sodium in place of balanced school meals every day.”

Geraldine Henchy, director of nutrition policy at the Food Research & Action Center, said the bottom line should be nutrition, but the revisions to the a la carte rule would result in students getting “a lot more fats, a lot more sodium, a lot more calories.”

Specifically, the proposal would reduce the amount of red and orange vegetables that would have to be offered every day at lunch.

For breakfasts taken to go, fruit servings could be reduced from a cup to half a cup.

Rep. Bobby Scott, a Virginia Democrat and chairman of the House Committee on Education and Labor, said the proposal “threatens the progress we’ve made toward improving nutrition in schools.”

“For many children, the food they eat at school is their only access to healthy, nutritious meals,” he said.

As first lady, Obama championed healthier school meals as part of her “Let’s Move” campaign.

The 2010 Health, Hunger-Free Kids Act set nutrition standards for school meals, requiring schools to offer fruits and vegetables and more whole-grain foods and to limit calories, fat and sodium.

The proposed rule is the second move by the Trump administration to scale back the school lunch program’s nutrition standards. Under a 2018 rule, the administration reduced the whole grains that had to be served and allowed low-fat chocolate milk. Before the rule change, only fat-free flavored milk was permitted.

Perdue announced the proposed changes in San Antonio, Texas.

“Schools and school districts continue to tell us that there is still too much food waste and that more common-sense flexibility is needed to provide students nutritious and appetizing meals,” he said.

The agency also proposed changes to the summer meals program, which serves 2.6 million children.

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Trump Defense Team Includes Alan Dershowitz, Ken Starr

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump has assembled a made-for-TV legal team for his Senate trial that includes household names like Ken Starr, the prosecutor whose investigation two decades ago resulted in the impeachment of Bill Clinton. Former Harvard law professor Alan Dershowitz will deliver constitutional arguments meant to shield Trump from allegations that he abused his power.

The additions on Friday bring experience in the politics of impeachment as well as constitutional law to the team, which faced a busy weekend of deadlines for legal briefs and other documents before opening arguments begin on Tuesday.

The two new Trump attorneys are already nationally known both for their involvement in some of the more consequential legal dramas of recent American history and for their regular appearances on Fox News, the president’s preferred television network.

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Dershowitz is a constitutional expert whose expansive views of presidential powers echo those of Trump. Starr is a veteran of partisan battles in Washington, having led the investigation into Clinton’s affair with a White House intern that brought the president’s impeachment by the House. Clinton was acquitted at his Senate trial, the same outcome Trump is expecting from the Republican-led chamber.

Still, the lead roles for Trump’s defense will be played by White House Counsel Pat Cipollone and Trump personal lawyer Jay Sekulow, who also represented Trump during special counsel Robert Mueller’s Russia investigation.

There are some signs of tension involving the president’s outside legal team and lawyers within the White House.

The White House would not confirm the fuller roster of the president’s lawyers Friday, and some officials there bristled that the announcement was not coordinated with them. Hours after Dershowitz announced his involvement with the team in a series of tweets on Friday, he played down his role by saying that he would be present for only an hour or so to make constitutional arguments.

“I’m not a full-fledged member of the defense team,” he told “The Dan Abrams Show” on SiriusXM. He has long been a critic of “the overuse of impeachment,” he said, and would have made the same case for a President Hillary Clinton.

A legal brief laying out the contours of the Trump defense, due at noon on Monday, was still being drafted, with White House attorneys and the outside legal team grappling over how political the document should be. Those inside the administration have echoed warnings from Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell that the pleadings must be sensitive to the Senate’s more staid traditions and leave the sharper rhetoric to Twitter and cable news.

White House lawyers were successful in keeping Trump from adding House Republicans to the team, but they also advised him against tapping Dershowitz, according to two people who spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss internal discussions. They’re concerned because of the professor’s association with Jeffrey Epstein, the millionaire who killed himself in jail last summer while awaiting trial on sex trafficking charges.

A Fox News host said on the air that Starr would be parting ways with the network as a result of his role on the legal team.

Other members of Trump’s legal defense include Pam Bondi, the former Florida attorney general; Jane Raskin, who was part of the president’s legal team during Mueller’s investigation, and Robert Ray, who was part of the Whitewater investigation of the Clintons.

Trump was impeached by the House last month on charges of abuse of power and obstructing Congress, stemming from his pressure on Ukraine to investigate Democratic rivals as he was withholding security aid, and his efforts to block the ensuing congressional probe.

Senators were sworn in as jurors on Thursday by Chief Justice John Roberts.

The president insists he did nothing wrong, and he complains about his treatment daily, sometimes distracting from unrelated events. On Friday, as Trump welcomed the championship LSU football team to the Oval Office for photos, he said the space had seen “a lot of presidents, some good, some not so good. But you got a good one now, even though they’re trying to impeach the son of a bitch. Can you believe that?”

While the president speaks dismissively of the case, new revelations are mounting about his actions toward Ukraine.

The Government Accountability Office said Thursday that the White House violated federal law in withholding the security assistance to Ukraine, which shares a border with hostile Russia.

At the same time, an indicted associate of Trump’s personal lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Lev Parnas, has turned over to prosecutors new documents linking the president to the shadow foreign policy being run by Giuliani. The voluble Giuliani is not expected to play a formal role on the impeachment defense legal team, according to one official.

The GAO report and Parnas documents have applied fresh pressure to senators to call more witnesses for the trial, a main source of contention that is still to be resolved. The White House has instructed officials not to comply with subpoenas from Congress requesting witnesses or other information.

Views on it all are decidedly mixed in the Senate, reflective of the nation at the start of this election year.

“I’ll be honest, a lot of us do see it as a political exercise,” Republican Joni Ernst of Iowa told reporters on a conference call. “The whole process has really been odd or unusual or bizarre in some mannerisms. …”

Others spoke of the seriousness of the moment.

“Totally somber,” tweeted Democrat Chris Murphy of Connecticut. He sits next to Sen. Elizabeth Warren, one of four senators running for the Democratic nomination to challenge Trump in the fall, and said they agreed their “overwhelming emotion was sadness.”

All said they will be listening closely to all arguments.

As she filed for re-election Friday in West Virginia, GOP Sen. Shelley Moore Capito told reporters, “I think it’s been a very politicized process to this point and the president hasn’t had a chance to present his side.”

Starr, besides his 1990s role as independent counsel, is a former U.S. solicitor general and federal circuit court judge.

More recently, he was removed as president of Baylor University and then resigned as chancellor of the school in the wake of a review critical of the university’s handling of sexual assault allegations against football players. Starr said his resignation was the result of the university’s board of regents seeking to place the school under new leadership following the scandal, not because he was accused of hiding or failing to act on information.

Dershowitz’s reputation has been damaged in recent years by his association with Epstein. One of Epstein’s alleged victims, Virginia Roberts Giuffre, has accused Dershowitz of participating in her abuse. Dershowitz has denied it and has been battling in court for years with Giuffre and her lawyers. He recently wrote a book rejecting her allegations, called “Guilt by Accusation.”

Giuffre and Dershowtiz are also suing each other for defamation, each saying the other is lying.

_____

Associated Press writers David Caruso in New York, David Pitt in Iowa, Anthony Izaguirre in West Virginia, Sean Murphy in Oklahoma and Lisa Mascaro in Washington contributed to this report.

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Trump Vastly Overestimates America’s Readiness for War

ProPublica is a nonprofit newsroom that investigates abuses of power. Sign up to receive our biggest stories as soon as they’re published.

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

Between the killing of Iran’s most important general and Iran’s missiles hurtling toward American troops in Iraq, President Donald Trump took time to discuss America’s military prowess.

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“The United States just spent Two Trillion Dollars on Military Equipment,” he tweeted on Jan. 5. “If Iran attacks an American Base, or any American, we will be sending some of that brand new beautiful equipment their way.”

Besides being wrong (the military has not spent that much), he repeated a mistake that military leaders have made for years: emphasizing weapons over the fitness of the men and women charged with firing them.

Over the past 18 months, ProPublica has dug into military accidents in recent years that, all told, call into question just how prepared the American military is to fight America’s battles.

If forced to fight in the Persian Gulf or the Korean Peninsula, the Navy and Marine Corps are likely to play crucial roles in holding strategic command of the sea and defending against ballistic missiles.

Those branches, though, do not need billions of dollars of new weapons, our examination revealed. They need to focus on the basics: its service members, their training and their equipment.

The Government Accountability Office, Congress’ watchdog, has been sounding the alarm for years, to little effect. In 2016, the GAO found that years of warfare in Iraq and Afghanistan had taken their toll: “The military services have reported persistently low readiness levels.”

In 2018, the agency focused on the Navy and Marine Corps. All seven types of aircraft it tracked, from cargo planes to fighters like the F/A-18D, had repeatedly missed goals for being prepared for missions. “Aviation readiness will take many years to recover,” the GAO said.

In a report last month, the GAO found that only about 25% of Navy shipyard repairs were completed on time. “The Navy continues to face persistent and substantial maintenance delays that affect the majority of its maintenance efforts and hinder its attempts to restore readiness,” it said.

The services’ problems with readiness burst into public view in the summer of 2017, when two American destroyers collided with two commercial ships in separate incidents that left 17 sailors dead and scores injured. They were the Navy’s worst accidents at sea since the 1970s.

Both the USS Fitzgerald and the USS John S. McCain were deployed to the 7th Fleet, based in Yokosuka, Japan. What both ships needed, ProPublica found, was more time to train and more sailors.

Neither ship was fully qualified for its battle missions; neither ship had a full crew; both ships had patched together navigation systems that failed to work at times.

Sailors on both ships described being shortchanged in training and exhausted by the pace of operations. One-hundred-hour work weeks were not uncommon.

On the Fitzgerald, for instance, a sailor had to manually press a button more than 1,000 times to refresh a radar screen tracking nearby traffic. On the evening of the collision on June 17, the Fitzgerald was under the control of a relatively inexperienced officer who ordered the destroyer to turn directly into the path of a cargo carrier.

On the McCain, the Navy had installed a touch-screen navigation system as a cheaper alternative to traditional steering wheels and throttles. The design of the new system was so confusing that the sailors using it accidentally guided the McCain into an oil tanker in the Singapore Strait on Aug. 21.

Dakota Bordeaux, the young sailor steering the ship, said of the new navigation system, “There was actually a lot of functions on there that I had no clue what on earth they did.”

It was not that the Navy was unaware of the problems. Top commanders had simply ignored urgent messages for help. Military leaders wanted missions completed. They cared less about whether the men and women on duty were forced to cut corners to do them.

In January 2013, Vice Adm. Thomas Copeman issued a warning at the Surface Navy Association Symposium, one of the premier gatherings of Navy officers in charge of warships. Readiness, he said, was headed toward a “downward spiral.”

“It’s getting harder and harder I think for us to look the troops in the eye,” Copeman told the audience.

“If you’re an admiral in the Navy,” he later told ProPublica, “you may have to make that decision to send people into combat, and you better not have blood on your hands the rest of your life because you didn’t do everything you could in peacetime to make them ready.”

The Navy’s surface forces needed $3.5 billion, he said, just to fix what was wrong with training alone. Copeman raised the specter of a “hollow” Navy without those additional funds.

Three years later Janine Davidson, the undersecretary of the Navy, sounded the alarm again. The Navy remained short of adequately trained sailors and reliable ships.

“It’s sleepwalking into a level of risk you don’t realize you have,” she said to ProPublica.

The 7th Fleet, the largest of the Navy’s forward-deployed fleets, was perhaps most vulnerable. In 2017, top officers laid out the armada’s dire conditions for its senior commander, Vice Adm. Joseph Aucoin.

Training was down. Certifications, which crews received after proving they were prepared to handle crucial war-fighting duties, had dropped from 93% completed in 2014 to 62% in 2016. That year, only two of the fleet’s 11 destroyers and cruisers received all recommended maintenance. One ship got only a quarter of its scheduled upkeep.

Aucoin sent the assessment to the top brass. But the portrait of crisis got him nothing.

Low-level officers on the decks of ships and high-ranking leaders up the chain of command said they made similar warnings and were shut down. Scores of sailors reached out to us and testified to some combination of fear, lack of training and an absence of confidence in the Navy’s leadership.

“If the Navy paid more attention to the job satisfaction and intrinsic motivation of sailors, then a lot of these other systemic issues will fix themselves,” one sailor wrote.

We examined other Navy episodes directly relevant to today’s situation with Iran. In 2016, the crew of two American gunboats was seized in the Persian Gulf by Iran’s Islamic Revolutionary Guard Corps, the military force dominated by Qassim Suleimani, the major general killed by a drone strike outside the Baghdad Airport this month.

The sailors on the gunboats undertook a last-minute mission without proper training or equipment and were captured after straying into the waters surrounding an Iranian naval base on Farsi Island. An international incident was avoided only through military pressure and last-minute diplomatic maneuvers.

We also examined the state of the Navy’s minesweepers. The Persian Gulf is one of the few places in the world where such ships may prove indispensable. Nearly a quarter of the world’s oil supplies pass through the Strait of Hormuz at the gulf’s entrance. The Iranians have threatened to use mines to block it in case of conflict.

The Navy has fewer than a dozen minesweepers, many in disrepair. One sailor told us the sonar meant to detect mines was so imprecise that in training exercises it flagged dishwashers, crab traps and cars on the ocean floor as potential explosives.

“We are essentially the ships that the Navy forgot,” another sailor said of his own minesweeper, which had not left port in 20 months.

The Department of the Navy oversees the Marine Corps. And a Marine Corps aviation accident in December 2018 raised its own questions about readiness. A midair collision between a F/A-18D Hornet and a KC-130J Hercules fuel tanker over the Pacific left six Marines dead.

The same patterns showed up again: Local commanders had warned higher-ups of a lack of training, nonfunctioning aircraft and faulty equipment.

Squadron 242, whose fighter jets were involved in the accident, was designed to leap quickly into an attack against North Korea in case of conflict. The commander’s own reports showed the squadron was consistently not capable of completing seven of its 10 “mission essential tasks,” such as armed reconnaissance and traveling into enemy airspace to bomb known targets.

In commentary written in response to the findings of a safety board investigation after the incident, the commander for the tanker squadron, which lost five Marines in the crash, was unsparing.

“In an [area of operations] where the mantra of ‘Fight Tonight’ is repeated everywhere,” Lt. Col. Mitchell Maury said, referring to the Pacific, “we are not manned, trained, and equipped to execute to the appropriate level of effectiveness.”

In isolation, each of the events seemed an unfortunate accident — regrettable, to be sure, but not a cause for widespread alarm.

But our reporting showed a broad and alarming pattern. The Navy and the Marine Corps had routinely ignored their sailors and Marines, their equipment and their training. The result: men dying during peacetime.

Are the two branches ready to fight a war against Iran tonight? It’s a question that nobody hopes to ever answer. But it’s a question that goes beyond expensive new weapons.

The post Trump Vastly Overestimates America’s Readiness for War appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bernie Sanders Leads in New Post-Debate National Poll

Amid a series of endorsements from key groups and allies in crucial primary states this week—and despite the “brouhaha” with Sen. Elizabeth Warren—a new national poll shows Sen. Bernie Sanders now in the lead over former Vice President Joe Biden and the rest of the Democratic primary field.

According to the Reuters/Ipsos poll released late Thursday, Sanders received support from 20% of registered Democratic primary voters surveyed. That figure was enough to edge out Biden who received 19% and the 12% of voters who say they back Warren. Rounding out the top five finishers in the nationwide poll—conducted this week between Jan. 15-16—were former New York City Mayor Mike Bloomberg (9%) and former South Bend, Indiana Mayor Pete Buttigieg (6%).

While the poll has a 5-point margin of error that puts Biden and Sanders in a statistical tie, the results show Sanders gaining steam and Biden remaining flat compared to a similar poll taken last week. In addition, Reuters noted in its reporting, “The poll shows that standing does not appear to have been hurt by his recent confrontation with Warren” that captured political headlines throughout the week.

“Warren, who is aligned with Sanders on a variety of issues, has accused him of telling her in 2018 that a woman could not be elected president,” noted Reuters. “Sanders disputes that claim, and the two sniped at each other after this week’s presidential debate about how they were framing the conversation in public.”

The new national poll showed Sanders’ and Warren’s support remains unchanged among women voters compared to polling prior to the dust-up, with approximately 15% supporting Sanders and 11% supporting Warren.

It’s just one poll, but it looks like Bernie is unhurt and Warren unhelped by the brouhaha.

And, speaking of Bernie Bros: “So far, Sanders’ and Warren’s support remains unchanged among women, with about 15% supporting Sanders and 11% supporting Warren.” https://t.co/ZGX5exm7qn

— Doug Henwood (@DougHenwood) January 17, 2020

Meanwhile, a new Emerson poll out of New Hampshire released Friday showed Sanders maintaining a discernible lead in the nation’s first primary state.

With the support of 23% of state primary voters, Sanders was followed by Buttigieg in second place at 18%, while Biden and Warren were tied in third with 14% each. Sen. Amy Klobuchar rounded out the top five with 10%.

#NEW New Hampshire Post-debate @7News / @EmersonPolling:

Sanders 23
Buttigieg 18
Biden 14
Warren 14
Klobuchar 10
Yang 6
Gabbard 5 pic.twitter.com/HTtM6NUKfI

— Political Polls (@PpollingNumbers) January 17, 2020

Sanders has been experiencing a surge in both national and state-level polling for weeks, a show of momentum that coincides with a raft of new endorsements by national groups and allies in key primary states that include Iowa, New Hampshire, Nevada, California, and Wisconsin.

On Thursday, the Clark County Black Caucus in Nevada officially endorsed Sanders. The CCBC represents members in the state’s largest county and cited Sanders’ commitment to social, economic, and racial justice as the key reason for offering their support.

“Bernie Sanders has been a lifelong advocate for civil rights and economic justice. His presidential campaign goes the furthest in addressing issues that impact the African American community nationally and here in Nevada,” caucus chairwoman Yvette Williams said in a statement. “As representatives of this community, CCBC looks forward to working with Sen. Bernie Sanders to ensure our political system works for everyone.”

The CCBC’s endorsement came just two days after the largest teachers union in Nevada also announced their official backing of Sanders on Tuesday, and an endorsement Wednesday by the national group Make the Road Action, which advocates for immigrant rights and social progress.

On Thursday, Rep. Mark Pocan, a Democrat from the key mid-western state of Wisconsin who also co-chairs the Congressional Progressive Caucus, issued his endorsement of Sanders.

I am proud to endorse @BernieSanders for President of the United States.

After three years of Trump, Wisconsinites want someone who they can trust with values they share.

Bernie never stopped fighting for working families & I am joining him in the fight to defeat Donald Trump. pic.twitter.com/0UphQV3mrv

— Mark Pocan (@MarkPocan) January 16, 2020

“Sanders’ authenticity, honesty, and movement for equality is the antidote our nation needs now,” Pocan said. “I am proud to endorse a candidate that shares my progressive values and has long been an advocate for the issues Wisconsinites care most about. From health care to a living wage, it’s time we work for working people, and with Bernie Sanders as president—we can do just that.”

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