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4 Homeless Men Beaten to Death With Pipe in New York City

NEW YORK — A homeless man wielding a long metal pipe rampaged through New York City early Saturday attacking other homeless people who were sleeping, killing four and leaving a fifth with serious injuries, police said.

A 24-year-old suspect was in custody but has yet to be charged. Police recovered the weapon that was still in the suspect’s hands when he was arrested, officials said.

“The motive appears to be, right now, just random attacks,” Chief of Manhattan South Detectives Michael Baldassano said at a Saturday news conference, adding there was no evidence yet that the victims were “targeted by race, age, anything of that nature.”

The victims were attacked as they slept in doorways and sidewalks in Manhattan’s Chinatown section, which is packed during daylight hours but empties out at night.

Police responded to a 911 call just before 2 a.m. as one assault was in progress. They found one man dead in the street and a second with critical head injuries.

A search of the neighborhood turned up two additional bodies.

The New York Post published photos of two of the victims under white sheets, one slumped in a blood-spattered doorway, the other on the sidewalk. The identities of the victims have not been released.

Two of the men were killed on The Bowery, which cuts through the heart of Chinatown and has for decades been known as New York’s skid row. Two more died on East Broadway, the neighborhood’s main street.

The lone known survivor of the attacks was hospitalized in critical condition. Police planned to question him as soon as possible, Baldassano said.

Another homeless man who had slept in the area, Stephen Miller, said he knew one of the victims as kind and quiet.

“No one knew him by name, but we saw him every day,” Miller said. “At this point, I’m just sad. This guy never did anything. Just had a life to live. It sucks that he’s out here in the rain and everything but it doesn’t mean he doesn’t have a life to live.”

New York City’s homeless population has grown to record levels over the past decade, and the homeless remain among the city’s most vulnerable residents. Over the last five years, an average of seven have been slain each year.

Mayor Bill de Blasio launched new homeless outreach efforts early in his tenure in an attempt to move more people off the street and into shelters, but the program has faced challenges. City efforts to build more homeless shelters have dragged due to neighborhood opposition.

De Blasio tweeted Saturday that he’s “stunned and horrified by this senseless act of violence against the most vulnerable members of our community.”

The attacks happened in one of the few downtown Manhattan areas that has retained its character as a center for new immigrants, through gentrification has started to creep in lately.

During the day, it bustles with small shops, restaurants and markets doing business in Chinese, as a mix of residents and tourists pack the sidewalks. At night it can be desolate in some sections.

The post 4 Homeless Men Beaten to Death With Pipe in New York City appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Warren Dismisses Top Staffer for Inappropriate Behavior

WASHINGTON — Elizabeth Warren’s presidential campaign has dismissed its national organizing director following “multiple complaints” of inappropriate behavior.

Spokeswoman Kristen Orthman says the campaign received complaints about Rich McDaniel over the past two weeks and retained outside counsel to conduct an investigation. McDaniel was fired after the campaign determined that his reported conduct was “inconsistent” with its values.

Word of the dismissal was first reported by Politico.

In a statement to Politico, McDaniel said he “would never intentionally engage in any behavior inconsistent with the campaign or my own values” and he wished his former colleagues well.

McDaniel worked on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 presidential bid and Doug Jones’ successful Senate run in Alabama in 2017.

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Campaign: Sanders Had Heart Attack, Released From Hospital

LAS VEGAS — Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders had a heart attack, his campaign confirmed Friday as the Vermont senator was released from a Nevada hospital.

The 78-year-old was at a campaign event Tuesday when he experienced chest discomfort and was taken to a hospital where he was diagnosed with a heart attack. The senator was transferred to Desert Springs Hospital Medical Center where doctors inserted two stents to open up a blocked artery in his heart, according to a statement from the Las Vegas doctors.

The doctors, Arturo Marchand, Jr. and Arjun Gururaj, said the rest of his arteries were normal.

A blocked artery can cause a heart attack, which just means that an area of the heart is suffering and in danger of damage because it’s not getting enough blood or oxygen. An artery-opening procedure like the one Sanders had, and placing stents, which are tiny scaffolds to keep the artery open, restores blood flow and helps prevent future problems.

The statements from Sanders and his doctors do not indicate whether his heart suffered any permanent damage, or the extent of any. The sooner blood flow is restored, the better the chance of survival without damage, which is why heart experts urge anyone thinking they might be having a heart attack to call 911.

The doctors said the rest of his stay before being discharged Friday was “uneventful with good expected progress.”

The campaign also released a statement from Sanders where he thanked the doctors, nurses and hospital staff.

“After two and a half days in the hospital, I feel great, and after taking a short time off, I look forward to getting back to work,” he said.

He was expected to return to Vermont.

This marks the second time in two months that health problems forced Sanders to cancel campaign events. In September, he backed out of some appearances in South Carolina because he lost his voice. His campaign said at the time that Sanders felt fine.

As the oldest candidate in the Democratic 2020 field, Sanders has sometimes jokingly referenced his age on the campaign trail. He is one of three septuagenarians who are leading the crowded race and have sparked questions within the party about whether Democrats need to coalesce around a younger leader.

President Donald Trump is 73.

___

AP Chief Medical Writer Marilynn Marchione in Milwaukee contributed to this report.

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The Las Vegas Shooter, Two Years Later

Paddock. Palast. We sat next to each other at Fernangeles Elementary School, and later at Poly High in Sun Valley, Calif.

Steve was a chess prodigy and a math whiz.

He finally got to use his extraordinary gift to do complex ballistics calculations that allowed him to murder 58 people in Las Vegas in just minutes from a distant hotel window. That was two years ago this week.

Steve should have gone to MIT, to Stanford. He didn’t. For that, he needed Advanced Placement calculus.

If you went to “Bevvie”—Beverly Hills High—you could take AP calculus. Or AP French. We didn’t have AP calculus. We didn’t have AP French. We weren’t Placed, and we didn’t Advance.

According to a state investigation led by Tom Hayden, our high school was situated on top of a toxic dump site. No surprise there.

In Sun Valley, Steve and I were required to take classes called “electrical shop” and “metal shop” so we would be trained to man the drill presses at the local General Motors plant. Or do tool-and-dye cutting to make refrigerator handles at GM, where they assembled Frigidaire refrigerators and Chevys.

And we were required to take drafting. Drafting, as in “blueprint drawing.” We sat at those drafting tables with our triangular rulers and No. 2 pencils so we could get jobs at Lockheed Martin Corp. as draftsmen and draw blueprints for fighter jets.

But we weren’t going to fly the fighter jets. Somewhere at Phillips Academy Andover, a dumbbell named Bush with an oil well for a daddy was going to go to Yale and then fly our fighter jets over Texas. We weren’t going to go to Yale. We were going to go to Vietnam. Then, when we came back, if we still had two hands, we were supposed to go to GM or Lockheed.

And any pretty girl at our high school could always make decent money in Sun Valley, then the porn film capital of America.

Those were the choices we were given. As long as they lasted: After NAFTA, GM shut down and shifted to Mexico.

Our school, and our incomes, didn’t qualify Steve for anything other than San Fernando Valley College. Any dumbbell could get in. And it was nearly free. That’s where Steve was expected to go, and he went, with his big math-whiz brain. And then Steve, with his “Valley” degree, went to Lockheed, like he was supposed to. Then Lockheed shut down plants in 1988. Steve left, took the buyout.

Here’s a little info about the pleasantly named place where Palast and Paddock were bred. Sun Valley is not really a city. It is the anus of Los Angeles. Literally. It’s where the sewage plant is. And the garbage dump. It’s in a trench below the Hollywood Hills, where the smog settles into a kind of puke-yellow soup. Here’s where L.A. dumps both its urine and the human refuse it only remembers when it needs cheap labor when the gusanos don’t supply enough from Mexico. And cheap soldiers for your wars.

The home of “Okies” and Chicanos.

I returned there a couple years ago to see my family’s old home in the weeds. I then walked down San Fernando Road, near Steve’s old home, along the now-abandoned railroad tracks. Today, along those tracks that once led to the GM plant, you see a bunch of busted-up camper-trailers that the union men bought for vacations. Now they live in them.

Photo courtesy of Greg Palast

Land of opportunity? Well, tell me: Who gets those opportunities?

Some of you can and some of you can’t imagine a life in which you just weren’t give a fair chance. In which the smarter you are, the more painful it gets, because you have your face pressed against the window, watching them. They got the connections to Stanford. They got the gold mine. We got the shaft.

But Steve’s brain was too big to end up on the tracks. He lived in empty apartments in crappy buildings he bought, then in a barren tract house outside Reno. I laugh when they say he was “rich.” He wanted to be them, to have their stuff. He got close.

It’s reported that Steve was a “professional gambler.” That’s another laugh. He was addicted to numbing his big brain by sitting 14 hours a day in the dark in front of video poker machines. He was a loser. Have you ever met a gambler who said he was a Professional Loser?

It’s fair to ask me: Why didn’t I end up in a hotel room with a bump-stock AR-15 and 5,000 rounds of high velocity bullets? The truth is, it’s a very fine line and lots of crazy luck that divided my path from Steve’s. I credit my survival to my job, my career—really, my obsession. As a journalist, I have vowed to hunt them down, the daddy-pampered pricks who did this to us, the grinning billionaire jackals who make a profit off the slow decomposition of the lives I grew up with.

Dear reader, please do not think for one minute that I am justifying Steve’s murder spree. He slaughtered coldly, with intense cruelty, destroying lives and hundreds of families forever. If you think I’m making up some excuse for him, then I give up.

But understand this: Just like veterans of the Vietnam War who suffer from post-traumatic stress disorder even after five decades, so too, losers of the class war can be driven mad by a PTSD that lingers, that gnaws away their whole lives.

Langston Hughes tried to explain it. After the Harlem riots, he wanted to tell you why people would burn down their own neighborhood:

<blockquote>What happens to a dream deferred?

Does it … fester like a sore? …

Maybe it just sags

like a heavy load.

Or does it explode?</blockquote>

Steve, you created more horrors than your cornered life could ever justify.

But I just have to tell you, Steve: I get it.

 

Below is a clip from Palast’s documentary “The Best Democracy Money Can Buy,” in which actor-activist Shailene Woodley and Palast visit the L.A. neighborhood he once called home:

 

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Reclaiming Difference

“Disability and Art History”

A book edited by Ann Millett-Gallant and Elizabeth Howie

Art history is slow to change. Other humanities and social science disciplines, since the academic and political upheavals of the 1960s, have broadly incorporated issues of race, class and gender into their curricula and scholarship. So too has art history, but maverick art historians and those working in related fields like visual culture, ethnic and gender studies have often found resistance from traditional art historians.

My personal experience leads me to that conclusion. I have taught and written about political art, African American art, Chicano/a art, feminist art and related themes for decades. When I began researching and teaching political themes in visual art, I encountered resistance, indifference, and even hostility from many traditional art historians who didn’t want the “purity” of fine art muddied up with the muck and grime of political conflict.

I was dealing with artists like Francisco Goya, Honoré Daumier, Käthe Kollwitz, the Mexican muralists, America street artists, political cartoonists and many others. Most important, I addressed their concerns with war, class conflict, poverty, racism and related social issues. All of these works negated conventional aesthetic appeal. My most amusing episode, in retrospect, occurred when a graduate student related to me that her very distinguished art history professor told her that I was “destroying art history.” Despite his dire prediction, art history has nonetheless survived (and so have I).

But few academic fields have addressed the issues of people with disabilities, and I have likewise neglected this area. It is therefore extremely fortunate that an academic anthology, “Disability and Art History,” edited by scholars Ann Millett-Gallant and Elizabeth Howie, is now available. It reveals the need to include disability in both the study and practice of art. Its visual examples and scholarly analyses have added a powerful—and long overdue—dimension to the field. It is a welcome addition to the growing body of work in both art history and disability studies.

The volume contains 10 separate essays, but like most anthologies, it suffers from disparate levels of quality and readability. Many of the contributions are highly academic in nature and would scarcely attract even most educated readers. This is a subjective judgment and not intended as pejorative; it is simply an acknowledgment of the remoteness of much of contemporary scholarly writing. Several of the essays here are heavily footnoted efforts that cite and often dispute other scholars as they make their arguments. The hard reality, of course, is that only a few other academics bother to read these works, and I suspect that many merely skim them. Such is the contemporary nature of academic publishing.

Click here to read long excerpts from “Disability and Art History” at Google Books.

Still, there are various pieces here that I think are remarkable contributions to the art historical canon. One, “Difference and Disability in the Photography of Margaret Bourke-White,” by Keri Watson, adds to the already stellar reputation of one of America’s finest socially conscious documentary photographers. This chapter focuses on Bourke-White’s deeply sympathetic photographs of the residents of Letchworth Village, an early 20th century “New York state institution for the segregation of the epileptic and feeble-minded.” Professor Watson also explores Bourke-White’s images in her 1937 landmark photo-book, “You Have Seen Their Faces.

Bourke-White was ostensibly hired to showcase the state’s generosity in treating the residents of this facility. But a closer look at her images reveals that she subverted this objective. Her photos show the intellectually disabled girls wearing ill-fitting, makeshift dresses. The boys and men are depicted digging ditches, loading thousands of tons of coal, and doing other hard labor, with only room and board for compensation. Above all, Bourke-White reveals the depressing pattern of oppression and injustice that people with cognitive and physical disabilities suffered in that setting. This work is a powerful addition to her body of overall photographic work.

As the author notes, “You Have Seen Their Faces” has received significant scholarly attention. I have personally included many of its images in my teaching and publications for decades. But the book also includes images of poor people with disabilities, images that reflect her deep commitment to social justice art, augmenting her Letchworth Village imagery. That dimension is generally neglected in art historical scholarship. I have shown some of these photographs in my UCLA classes, but I regret not discussing this feature of Bourke-White’s vision. That will change starting in January 2020.

Art history is not entirely devoid of disability issues. Anne Marno’s chapter on Otto Dix’s 1920 painting, “The Cripples,” highlights his work on the tragic situation of severely injured German World War I veterans. It is useful in reminding readers of the unspeakable horrors they faced during the Weimar period. Dix is an established figure in the canon, and is regularly discussed with such stalwart German artists as George Grosz, Käthe Kollwitz, Max Beckmann and many others. Marno links Dix’s work to the contemporary era by analyzing it in conjunction with Israeli filmmaker Yael Bartana’s 2010 film, “Degenerate Art Lives.” It is valuable to resurrect Dix’s disability themes to provide a valuable historical context for disabled artists working in the present.

That focus is one of the most valuable aspects of “Disability and Art History.” Several contemporary artists represented in this volume are exemplary representatives of disabled artists who should be serious figures in current art historical discourse. One of the most intriguing and imaginative is Taiwanese artist, disability activist and scholar Chun-Shan (Sandie) Yi. Educated in the United States, Yi was born into a family with variable numbers of fingers and toes—a reality for generations. She herself has two fingers on each hand and two toes on each foot.

She has turned what would seem to be a profound disability into an extraordinarily creative artistic outlet. Her efforts are wearable art pieces specifically molded to fit her hands and feet. She photographs herself wearing these pieces, and in the process confronts “ordinary” people with their views of her as a “freak of nature.”

The issues and implications go deeper. As a visual artist, Sandie Yi recalls that people were shocked and disgusted by the sight of her hands and feet. Deliberately, she accentuates her appendages so that viewers must confront, often uncomfortably, normal standards of female attractiveness, beauty and sexuality. She uses her art to take agency over her own body and to force a reconsideration of women’s power in patriarchal societies, in both Taiwan and the U.S.

Some of Yi’s most striking artistic efforts involve the objects she inserts between her two toes on both feet. She acknowledges that her works reference the historic Chinese practice of foot binding, and the intense, painful pressure that generations of Chinese women had to endure by balancing on their toes. Yi acknowledges and critiques the deep sexism of her ethnic ancestry, while simultaneously advancing disability rights through her visual arts productivity.

Another thoroughly compelling artist represented in this volume is Nomy Lamm. She describes herself provocatively as a “bad ass, fat ass, Jew dyke amputee … feminist dancer, performance artist, writer.” Her artworks reclaim “’fat” and “amputee” from the margins of American respectability and force her audiences to reevaluate American standards—and their own—of physical attractiveness and acceptability. Although her body is dramatically different from that of Sandie Yi, she performs the identical confrontational function with her artwork.

Shayda Kafai’s chapter on Lamm focuses on her 2008 multidisciplinary performance, “Wall of Fire,” which encompasses performance art, visual art, singing, fashion and, above all, artistic activism. Kafai’s description of Lamm’s event is outstanding. Her details provide readers with the best possible understanding short of actually seeing the performance itself. “Wall of Fire” is only 7 minutes and 13 seconds long and readily available online; it is a perfect complement to this chapter.

At the outset, Lamm begins singing, boldly accentuating her fat body, reclaiming that pejorative word as a political statement. Her sheer, red, form-fitting negligee over her breasts pushed down over her shoulders clearly communicates her lust. Females and males alike cannot help but gaze at her body; that is of course her objective, offering herself as an alluring sexual being.

In the most dramatic moment of the performance, Lamm pulls off her prosthetic left leg, and seductively raises her negligee to the top of her thigh. She then holds her leg in front of her body, and begins slapping it rhythmically and erotically. Like “fat,” she negates the pejorative language of “crip” and “cripple” in the same way that LBGTQ people have reappropriated the term “queer.”

Lamm has upended conventional notions of sexuality in her art. She boldly proclaims that the desexualization ascribed to disabled and overweight people must end. She uses her own fat and amputated body to show that she, and others like her, can honor and enjoy their own sexuality. That political message should resonate in both the disabled community and in the general population.

“Disability and Art History” offers other examples of disabled artists who contribute to both art historical conversations and to the growing body of disabled art: dwarfism, PTSD, breast cancer, traumatic brain injuries—those conditions and many more have been and will continue to be represented in the visual culture of our times. This book is a useful augmentation to the slowly changing discipline of art history. African American, Latino/a, feminist, LGBTQ, political activist, and other scholars and artists historically marginalized and excluded from the academy have blazed the path. Nothing can stop that trajectory.

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Sara Nelson Is the Face of America’s Resurgent Labor Movement

During the chaos that transpired from Dec. 22, 2018, to Jan. 25, 2019, in the most recent government shutdown, two speeches by a woman named Sara Nelson, our Truthdigger of the Month, spread like wildfire across the internet.

On Jan. 20, as she accepted the 2019 MLK Drum Major for Justice Award from the AFL-CIO, Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants-Communications Workers of America (AFA-CWA), called for a general strike and questioned why the labor movement was missing in action during this crucial time for 800,000 federal workers.

“Almost a million workers are locked out or being forced to work without pay. Others are going to work when our workspace is increasingly unsafe,” Nelson said. “What is the Labor Movement waiting for?”

“Federal sector unions have their hands full caring for the 800,000 federal workers who are at the tip of the spear,” she went on. “Some would say the answer is for them to walk off the job. I say, what are you willing to do? Their destiny is tied up with our destiny—and they don’t even have time to ask us for help. Don’t wait for an invitation. … Go back with the fierce urgency of now to talk with your local and international unions about all workers joining together—to end this shutdown with a general strike.

“We can do this. Together. Si se puede. Every gender, race, culture, and creed. The American labor movement. We have the power. And to all Americans—We’ve got your back!”

Days later, speaking to another crowd in front of the Reagan National Airport in Arlington, Va., Nelson passionately highlighted the security dangers flight attendants—and anyone on a plane—during this period were facing while federal workers, including air traffic controllers, worked without pay.

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet” data-lang=”en”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>Lives are at risk because of the gov’t shutdown, and these airline workers want Trump to take that seriously <a href=”https://t.co/5IwW4zocWr”>pic.twitter.com/5IwW4zocWr</a></p>&mdash; NowThis (@nowthisnews) <a href=”https://twitter.com/nowthisnews/status/1088561581976215552?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>January 24, 2019</a></blockquote>

<script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

“Many of these people are our veterans,” she said in her Jan. 24 speech. “Many of these people are fighting for our country right now, and we are not paying them.” When several air traffic controllers chose to abstain from unpaid work the next day, forcing flights to stay grounded in several busy airports, suddenly the Trump administration had an added incentive to reopen government as fast as humanly possible, proving the power workers have always held.

Democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders reportedly credited Nelson with helping shut down the shutdown, telling her, “Between you and me, that’s what ended the shutdown. … When planes looked like they weren’t taking off.” But he wasn’t the only one who saw the role the rising labor movement star had played in those crucial days.

Nelson started organizing and intimidating corporate bosses not unlike President Trump long before she made national headlines during the longest government shutdown in U.S. history. A United Airlines flight attendant since 1996, Nelson became the head of the AFA-CWA in 2014 after holding several positions at the union, including vice president. Her activism began almost as soon as she started working at United, and has continued throughout her tenure there as she’s helped negotiate better terms for pensions, among other labor improvements, not just for her fellow United flight attendants, but for the 50,000 members of the AFA-CWA who work at 20 airlines.

Now, Nelson has been tapped for the head job of the American labor movement, president of the American Federation of Labor and Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO), despite the fact the current president, Richard Trumka, still has a couple of years left in his term. The flight attendant turned union president and fervent activist is a far cry from the American labor leaders we’ve seen in the past few decades, and that’s precisely why so many people, including her, want her to lead labor in the upcoming years. Already, she’s been called “the most powerful labor leader in the country.

Not only does Nelson have the passion and presence sorely lacking in other labor leaders—who, for instance, can remember a single speech by Trumka?—she’s willing to fight at the frontlines—not just for workers in her unions, but for all American workers—on a number of crucial issues.

The AFA-CWA president has testified before Congress about the sexual harassment still rampant in her industry, and has also thrown her support behind activism across the nation, including teachers’ strikes in California, Wyoming and West Virginia, General Motors workers protesting stagnant wages, and, most recently, the global climate strike inspired by Swedish youth activist Greta Thunberg.

Nelson is also an outspoken proponent of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s Green New Deal, stating her support stems from the proposal’s focus on the need to address both the very real climate crisis before us, along with better labor conditions and the creation of jobs.

When 2020 Democratic front-runners Biden and Sanders debated the Vermont senator’s Medicare for All bill, with Biden saying Sanders’ policy would fly in the face of union accomplishments, Nelson was clear where she stood:

<blockquote class=”twitter-tweet”><p lang=”en” dir=”ltr”>A note to anyone who wants to use union members as a wedge to oppose <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/MedicareForAll?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#MedicareForAll</a>: <a href=”https://twitter.com/UAW?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>@UAW</a> has one of the best plans in the country, but management can still use it to hold workers hostage. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/M4A?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#M4A</a> puts power back in our hands. <a href=”https://twitter.com/hashtag/1u?src=hash&amp;ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>#1u</a> <a href=”https://t.co/Wsro6dOmlf”>https://t.co/Wsro6dOmlf</a></p>&mdash; Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) <a href=”https://twitter.com/FlyingWithSara/status/1174073121990725632?ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw”>September 17, 2019</a></blockquote> <script async src=”https://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js” charset=”utf-8″></script>

Nelson faces an uphill battle toward the leadership position she seems to have been born to take on. Since its formation after a merger in 1955, the AFL-CIO, which boasts 12.5 million members and is made up of 55 unions, has never had a woman in the top office. The labor leader is also facing stiff competition from the AFL-CIO’s secretary treasurer, Liz Shuler, who’s also likely to run.

But adversity is something Nelson is familiar with. As a woman, she has been consistently underestimated and discriminated against, even harassed, by men in any number of work situations. As she fights for women’s rights and workers’ rights, the Oregon native will not be cowed, no matter the challenge. Her rising profile is evidence of this, if nothing else.

The AFA-CWA president’s main inspiration for possibly running came after Trump was elected after running a campaign that fed off blue-collar workers’ discontent.

“Trump took up so much of the airwaves because he was off-script,” Nelson said. Unions, stuck in a defensive crouch, barely participated in the conversation. “If we had someone who could bring a different vision of what a union leader is,” she said, “it could have been a moment that was really powerful.”

Nelson, by all accounts, embodies that “different vision,” and with signs that the American labor movement is on the rise, there is no one better to take the lead than this strong, passionate woman who is a great speaker, has earned her progressive chops as a worker, activist and union leader, and understands the vital truth about the U.S. economy: Workers have all the power, as long as they have each other’s backs.

Since we just celebrated Labor Day in September, we have decided to make Sara Nelson our Truthdigger of the Month—for all she has done and will do for American workers.

The post Sara Nelson Is the Face of America’s Resurgent Labor Movement appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

House Investigators Seek Documents From Pence

WASHINGTON — The Latest on President Donald Trump and the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry (all times local):

3:45 p.m.

House investigators want Vice President Mike Pence to give them documents that could shed light on whether he helped President Donald Trump pressure Ukraine to investigate Joe Biden.

Related Articles by by by

In a letter to Pence on Friday, the Democratic chairmen of three House committees cite reports that a Pence aide may have listened to the July phone call in which Trump pushed Ukraine’s president to investigate unfounded charges that Biden was involved in corrupt activities there.

They say they also want to learn more about Pence’s Sept. 1 meeting with President Volodymyr Zelenskiy.

The letter says there are “questions about any role you may have played in conveying or reinforcing the President’s stark message to the Ukrainian President.”

Former Vice President Joe Biden is seeking the Democratic presidential nomination.

___

11:35 a.m.

President Donald Trump is insisting that his call for China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden will have no bearing on upcoming high-stakes trade talks with the nation.

Trump is telling reporters at the White House Friday that, “one thing has absolutely nothing to do with the other.”

Negotiations between the U.S. and China are set to resume next week as a protracted trade war continues.

Trump on Thursday publicly encouraged China to investigate Biden and his son, Hunter, snubbing his nose at an impeachment inquiry into whether a similar, private appeal to Ukraine violated his oath of office.

Trump says he believes China wants to make a deal.

___

11:20 a.m.

President Donald Trump is denying there was quid pro quo as he sought for the Ukrainian government to investigate Joe Biden, and says he didn’t do it for political purposes.

Trump says: “We are looking at corruption, we’re not looking at politics.”

He adds: “I believe there was tremendous corruption with Biden.”

Trump has asked Ukraine and China to launch probes into the former vice president and 2020 Democratic hopeful, alleging without evidence that there was misconduct by Biden and his son, Hunter.

He claims his call for the investigations wasn’t political, because “I never thought Biden was going to win” the primary.

Trump says of rooting out corruption: “I actually feel I have an obligation to do that.”

___

11:10 a.m.

President Donald Trump is acknowledging that Democrats in the House have the votes to begin a formal impeachment inquiry into his conduct.

Trump is telling reporters at the White House that while, “Republicans have been very unified,” the “Democrats, unfortunately, they have the votes.”

But he’s insisting the move will backfire on the party, saying: “I really believe that they’re going to pay a tremendous price at the polls.”

Trump said Friday the White House would be sending a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi to formally object to the inquiry. It’s expected to say officials won’t cooperate with the probe because it was initiated without a vote of the House.

Pelosi last week announced that the House was beginning the formal inquiry but didn’t seek the consent of the full chamber.

___

11:05 a.m.

White House economic adviser Larry Kudlow says he “seriously” doubts China’s response to President Donald Trump’s call for the rival nation to investigate a Democratic political rival will play a role in upcoming high-stakes trade negotiations between the nations.

Kudlow tells reporters at the White House, “I seriously doubt that that is going to be part of the talks.”

Trump on Thursday called on China to investigate former Vice President Joe Biden and his son. Talks between the countries are set to resume next week.

Kudlow also says he’s unaware of the contents of a June phone call between Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping in which CNN reports Trump brought up the political prospects of both Biden and Sen. Elizabeth Warren.

Kudlow is calling the call and questions about the president’s conduct “way out of my lane.”

___

12:30 a.m.

The White House is preparing to formally object to the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry as soon as Friday, saying it won’t cooperate with the probe because it was initiated without a vote of the House.

The White House Counsel’s Office was preparing to send a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi objecting to the form of the impeachment investigation, a person familiar with the matter said late Thursday, speaking on condition of anonymity to discuss the letter before its dissemination.

Pelosi last week announced that the House was beginning the formal inquiry but didn’t seek the consent of the full chamber, as was done for impeachment investigations into former Presidents Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton.

Rudy Giuliani, the president’s personal attorney, confirmed that the letter was forthcoming.

The post House Investigators Seek Documents From Pence appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Why Do Black Americans Always Have to Forgive?

What follows is a conversation between Lisa Snowden-McCray and The Real News Network. Read a transcript of their conversation below or watch the video at the bottom of the post.

SPEAKER: Five to 99! it should have been 25 to 99!

SPEAKER 2: If it was a white woman that got killed by a black person, they would have got life!

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Welcome to The Real News. I’m your host, Lisa Snowden-McRay. Former Dallas police officer. Amber Guyger has been sentenced to 10 years for the 2018 death of Texas man, Botham Jean. Guyger’s sentencing was yesterday, but what people are still talking about is the show of emotion that happened in the courtroom. Shortly after Guyger was sentenced Botham’s brother, Brant Jean, told the court that he forgave Guyger for his brother’s death and gave her a hug.

BRANT JEAN: If you truly are sorry, I know I can speak for myself; I forgive you.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Judge Tammy Camp, who presided over the case also hugged Guyger and gave Guyger her personal bible telling her quote, “You need a tiny mustard seed of faith. You start with this.” Jean’s mother was a little more critical in her statements after the sentencing.

ALLISON JEAN: Yesterday, we saw the conviction of Amber Guyger and today we heard the sentence of 10 years in prison. That 10 years in prison is 10 years for her reflection and for her to change her life, but there is much more to be done by the city of Dallas. The corruption that we saw during this process must stop. It must stop for you because after now, I leave Dallas, but you live in Dallas and it must stop for everyone.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: It begs a few questions. Would Guyger have been treated this way if she was black? Are black people compelled to forgive those who hurt them? Today I’m talking with Real News host Jacqueline Luqman about why this story is so compelling.

Hi, Jackie.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi Lisa. Thank you so much for having me.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Oh, my pleasure. We were talking a little bit before the camera started rolling about how you heard about what happened in the courtroom, ironically, a little bit after you came home from church because a lot of the conversation was around how it was so great that the victim’s family was being so forgiving and how that’s a Christian thing to do. What was your take on that?

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, my take is that people, especially Christians and particularly black Christians, have a very skewed interpretation of the doctrine of forgiveness as it’s preached and taught in, especially, American Christian churches. We are taught that we’re supposed to, especially black people, are taught that we’re never supposed to be angry at what is done to us and it doesn’t matter if it’s someone who steals from us or if it’s an example of extra judicial killing of an unarmed black person by law enforcement. We’re just never supposed to be angry. We’re always supposed to be meek and humble and we’re supposed to automatically, immediately forgive whatever anyone does to us.

That is a doctrine that is not biblical. It’s a misinterpretation of what forgiveness is in the biblical sense. It’s also not a form of forgiveness that’s practiced by many white Christians. There are a lot of different angles in that where we can look at how white supremacist ideology has misinterpreted and warped scriptures to control at, first, formally enslaved people and enslaved people and how those scriptures came out of an ideology of supporting empire in the first place when they were written.

Because we’re talking about the difference between the epistles and the gospel of Jesus Christ, which directly confronts and challenges unjust authority. What’s taught around forgiveness in the bible is usually centered around the epistles or the letters that came after the gospel that focus a lot on obeying all kinds of authority and that’s what we’re taught.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I mean, it makes me think about even with… Everything these days goes back to Donald Trump, unfortunately. But when you look at his polling numbers, the people who are most consistently with him are white evangelical Christians. It also makes me think about when there were slaves, slaves were compelled a lot of times to go to church with their masters and stand in the back. It’s always been this warping of religion to kind of meld with the United States’ long history of anti-blackness.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Absolutely. I mean we don’t have enough time to go into all of the connections, but I love that you brought up that point that this was a tool; the misinterpretation of these scriptures to control oppressed and enslaved people was a tool that the empire, that the slave holding class used to control people. But when those enslaved and oppressed people actually were given the opportunity to read the scriptures themselves, they found in those very same scriptures a very different representation of the Christian God. This deity was someone who they found in the scriptures was on the side of the oppressed. He fought for justice and he compelled people who believe, who were believers to fight for justice on behalf of the oppressed, but this is one of the reasons why reading was prohibited among enslaved populations so that message of liberation could not be imparted to those people.

It got through anyway because this very same faith is what people like Nat Turner and John Brown and Denmark Vesey and Harriet Tubman, and Sojourner Truth and Marcus Garvey and others used to fight for liberation for oppressed people. We don’t have a historical, the historical narrative of the scriptures themselves and of the Christian faith in regard to black liberation. That’s one of the reasons why we think that what happened in that courtroom was what forgiveness is supposed to look like for black people who call themselves Christians.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: What do we do? I know that when Guyger was even found guilty, in my circles, people were shocked. People were shocked that she was even found guilty. There’s not too many instances in the United States of a person who was a police officer being held accountable for taking a black life. We get to there. We got to the sentencing, which we can even argue about whether that was enough time or not, but where do we go from here? Where do black people go from here if we are not compelled to forgive, what are the alternatives for us?

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, first, I think you also raise a good point about the sentencing, and the fact that she was found guilty, which is unusual, but even among the black radical circles and the activists, we were looking at the situation from the guilty verdict and saying, okay, she’s been found guilty, but let’s not celebrate because we know that there’s going to be some shenanigans with the sentencing because we’ve seen this before. Then that’s what happened. The sentence could have been up to 99 years for murder and she was granted a sentence of 10 years with the possibility of parole in five if she behaves herself in prison.

I mean, people who sell crack have gotten sentenced to prison for more time. We understand that there is an inequity, a serious racial inequity that exists in the justice system, so-called justice system. We have to keep pointing that out as both as Botham Jean’s mother so eloquently did, that people in Dallas still have to live with that corruption and that injustice in Dallas. We have to keep fighting on those fronts and challenging the authority that allows these things to happen. That includes challenging the judge who was a black woman and calling into account the behavior of the bailiff, another black woman, and recognize-

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: She was the one who was stroking her hair.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Yes. And making her presentable and comfortable before the sentencing. We have to recognize that even black people in positions of authority will sometimes uphold the very system of white supremacy and oppression that we endure as we go through these challenges. As far as forgiveness is concerned, forgiveness is, just from a biblical spiritual perspective, it’s personal thing for everyone depending on their own personal proclivities, but if we’re just talking about, in the Christian faith, forgiveness is a process that includes inputs and measurable behaviors from the perpetrator of the person who requires forgiveness. This is a part of the forgiveness narrative that even Christians don’t understand is a requirement for the process.

It is not just a quick “you’ve done me wrong, and for me to be a good Christian or for me to be a good person of spiritual belief, I have to immediately forgive you, and you’re released from responsibility for making anything right of what you’ve done.” That’s not what the doctrine of forgiveness is in the Christian faith tradition. It involves quite a bit more than that. It involves true contrition, and it involves a changing of the perpetrator’s behavior away from those actions that warrant forgiveness. Then, then when those things are genuinely done, then we can talk about forgiveness. Usually, even then, it doesn’t require hugging people who murdered your loved one in a courtroom.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: Well, Jacqueline, thank you so much for sharing your thoughts today.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Thanks so much for having me.

LISA SNOWDEN-MCCRAY: I am Lisa Snowden-McCray and you’ve been watching The Real News Network.

The post Why Do Black Americans Always Have to Forgive? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ralph Nader: Why Isn’t the 99% Revolting?

  1. There has never been more access to food—domestic and imported—yet hunger is an ongoing problem everywhere. In the U.S. alone, 16.5 million children go to bed hungry and 20% of community college students are experiencing “food insecurity.”
  2. Never have there been more communications technologies, yet it is harder to get through to people personally than fifty years ago.
  3. Never have people been able to use their right to free speech so unencumbered, yet a torrent of lies are now spread so freely and are often unchallenged.
  4. Never have there been higher corporate profits, yet staggering amounts of poverty and near poverty remain along with stagnant wages.
  5. Never have there been more medicines to alleviate pain, yet far too many of these pain killers have caused massive fatalities and addictions.
  6. Never has there been more liquid corporate capital piled up, yet corporate investment is proportionately lower than before. Instead, CEO’s have burned over 7 trillion dollars in unproductive stock buybacks in the past decade.
  7. Never have there been more exercise outlets, exercise machines and apps, yet obesity is still rampant.
  8. Never have there been more tax breaks for big businesses, yet big businesses use so little of the windfalls for productive investments, good jobs and shoring up pensions.
  9. Never has there been more free access to information, yet so little retained knowledge.
  10. Never have there been more impressive muckraking film documentaries and books that expose corporate and government crimes, yet this media attention produces less impact and reform.
  11. Never have there been more ongoing impeachable offenses and statutory violations by a president, yet the opposing Party in Congress have been reluctant to move on the many articles of impeachment. Remember how fast the unified House of Republicans moved to impeach Bill Clinton in 1998 for perjury and obstruction of justice?
  12. Never have there been more trainers, sports physicians, protective equipment and guards for professional athletes, yet there are far more injuries and days lost by players than was the case sixty years ago. Now there are helmets, gloves, pads, cushioned walls, better shoes etc. Why?
  13. Never has there been more to read, yet there are so few readers reading. Historically, we have gone from illiteracy to literacy to aliteracy!
  14. Never before has technology made it so easy for heads of government to meet, yet fewer international treaties are made. (Eg. Cyber, water, environment, consumer, labor etc.)
  15. Never has there been such an outrageous corporate crime wave, yet law enforcement budgets have decreased! The more big CEO’s are paid, the worse is their management. (Eg. The big banks twelve years ago, General Electric for years.)
  16. Never before have there been so many wrongful injuries, yet the court budgets are becoming tighter and the law of torts is being restricted. Without the defense of and use of our civil justice system, wrongful injury cases cannot go to court with a trial by jury.
  17. Never before has there been more corporate fraud, yet agencies tasked with bringing this fraud to justice have smaller budgets and more limitations. The budget of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is a third of one day’s worth of health care billing fraud, which is estimated this year to be $350 billion, according to Harvard’s national expert on the subject, Professor Malcolm Sparrow. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) has been straitjacketed by the evil corporate crime abettor Mick Mulvaney, the acting White House Chief of Staff for corrupt Donald.
  18. Never has the drug industry accumulated more profits and government subsidies, yet so many patients cannot begin to afford lifesaving medicines.
  19. Never have the under-taxed super-rich been so rich, yet on average give a smaller proportion of their money to “good works.” Actually, middle and lower income people give more proportionally than do the ultra-wealthy.

I could go on and on. Pick up the pace, readers. Senator Elizabeth Warren has correctly called for “big structural changes.”

The post Ralph Nader: Why Isn’t the 99% Revolting? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Refugee Crisis Unlike You’ve Ever Seen It Before

As conflicts spread and climate change worsens, the refugee crisis worldwide is breaking astounding records. There currently are 70.8 million forcibly displaced people around the globe, according to the United Nations refugee agency. Each of these individuals has a tale to tell about overcoming immense obstacles and dangers as he or she sought safety and stability away from homes they were forced to leave. One such story is told in the documentary “Midnight Traveler,” filmed by Afghan director Hassan Fazili and his family on three cellphones over the course of three years. The film documents their displacement from Afghanistan after receiving threats from the Taliban because of a film Fazili made about the terrorist organization, and their journey toward Europe in search of refuge.

Emelie Mahdavian and Su Kim, producers of “Midnight Traveler,” spoke with Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer about the award-winning film in the latest installment of “Scheer Intelligence.” Mahdavian, the film’s editor, writer and producer, was in touch with the Fazili family before they began filming “Midnight Traveler.” She says they all had hoped the family’s journey and story would be a much shorter, less difficult tale to tell. Mahdavian also recounts the worries she experienced about the Fazilis throughout the filming and production of this important work of art.

“I never knew what they were going to encounter,” Mahdavian says. “And I never knew what kind of needs they would have, and whether I would be able to help them or not. And I was very concerned to make sure that it was clear to them that I wanted them not to put themselves in risk for the sake of the film. Unfortunately, the migrant route is a risky thing to be on, and there was not a lot that they often could do to protect themselves or keep themselves out of risky situations. So the film ends up documenting those.”

<iframe width=”640″ height=”360″ src=”https://www.youtube.com/embed/BTT-duEoRdc” frameborder=”0″ allow=”accelerometer; autoplay; encrypted-media; gyroscope; picture-in-picture” allowfullscreen></iframe>

To Kim, who dealt with the technical aspects of converting footage shot on cellphones into a film that could be screened in cinemas, the heart of the documentary is the unique perspective it lends to viewers about the crisis they’ve likely only read about in newspapers.

“The story of the refugee crisis, the migration crisis, is really a story that’s from the gaze of outsiders, and from the point of view of journalism, often,” Kim tells Scheer during his podcast. “And I think it’s really hard to relate as a sort of a person living in a very comfortable [life] to imagine what happens when you take this journey. What was special for me with this material in this film was that I could imagine myself in his and his family’s situation, and then the worst thing that could happen happens, and then how would I react? I think that that gaze on that story hasn’t been a part of the conversation.”

“This is the story of our time, because the refugees, wherever they’re coming from, there’s a tendency to try to sort of treat them as a problem for other people, intrusive to other societies,” Scheer notes. “And we forget all of these people have their own harrowing story, to one degree or another. They’ve been uprooted.”

Related Articles by Informed Comment by Climate News Network by TomDispatch

Throughout the conversation, the Truthdig editor in chief returns to a powerful quote by Fazili, which Scheer interprets as a commentary on the political machinations—including those by the U.S. during its nearly two decades-long war with Afghanistan—that led him and his family to such perilous circumstances. “My family, like leaves ripped away from a tree in a storm, was taken from our land and thrown in every direction by outside forces,” Fazili says. “As a father, I am tired from the strain of protecting my family from threats we encountered on this route. But as a filmmaker, these wanderings and troubles are appealing to me, so we all became the subject of this film.”

Listen to the full conversation between Mahdavian, Kim and Scheer as they discuss the technical, political and emotional aspects of “Midnight Traveler.” You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of
“Scheer Intelligence,” where the intelligence comes from my guests. In this case, it’s Emelie Mahdavian and Su Kim, the producers of a very important new film called Midnight Traveler, [directed] by Hassan Fazili, a person whose, journalist whose life was—and filmmaker, artist whose life was threatened in Afghanistan, his home country. He took his wife and two daughters—his wife was also a filmmaker; two daughters, one of whom had already been involved in theater a bit. And they went on this horrendous, harrowing journey of a refugee. And they produced this film using basically—you’ll correct me if I’m wrong—phones, handheld cameras, so they were not noticed by people very much. People are familiar with them now. And they made—he made a documentary on the go; he saved it on little discs, and when he got to safe places he could send it on; then he erased the discs, put it back in his phone. Why don’t you take us through that process, how this film got to be made. It was a big hit at Sundance this year, and it opened last night in New York. It will be opening in other theaters; in Los Angeles, where I’m doing this recording, it will be opening October 4th at the NuArt. It’s a must-see film. So just take us through the beginning. How did this film get to be made?

Emelie Mahdavian: So this is Emelie Mahdavian. I’m the producer, the writer, and the editor of the film. And I’ve been on the film from the beginning. I wrote my PhD dissertation on filmmaking during the Tajik Civil War and afterwards, so I’ve written a fair amount about and studied filmmaking during conflict, and migration as a consequence of conflict. And I met the family through connections in Tajikistan. They’re, as you said, they’re from Afghanistan, but they fled initially to Tajikistan, and that’s where the film begins. So I met them through connections there. And I was trying to help them avoid what actually transpires in the film, which is that they end up on the migrant route to Europe. And when it became clear that the family was going to be forced to become migrants, I agreed to collaborate with them and document what was happening to their family. And as you said, it was really only possible for them to shoot on their mobile phones.

So the whole film was shot by the family collaboratively. So it’s not just Hassan, but it’s also his wife Fatima, who’s also a filmmaker. Their older daughter Nargis, who’s eight at the start of the film, actually shoots quite a bit as well. And then the youngest daughter, who was three at the start of the film, doesn’t shoot too much, but a little. And so it’s, you know, it’s a collaboratively told story of the experience of migration across Eastern Europe from Central Asia, you know, towards asylum in Europe.

RS: And this is the story of our time, because the refugees, wherever they’re coming from, there’s a tendency to try to sort of treat them as a problem for other people, intrusive to other societies. And we forget all of these people have their own harrowing story to one degree or another. They’ve been uprooted. The description provided by director Hassan Fazili, he said, “My family, like leaves ripped away from a tree in a storm, was taken from our land and thrown in every direction by outside forces. As a father, I am tired from the strain of protecting my family from threats we encountered on this route. But as a filmmaker, these wanderings and troubles are appealing to me, so we all became the subject of this film.”

And then, so what we have here is the artist uprooted. And the one positive story is that modern technology—even though he was separated from film studios and high technology and expensive production—on his own, with his family, on the run, they were able to make an award-winning film that can reach millions of people now, that’s in the theaters. That is a positive story in an otherwise harrowing tale, right?

EM: Yeah, and I mean, the logistics of shooting on mobile phones are actually pretty complicated. So it took a lot of work for us to make it possible for them to, for instance, secure the footage and send it to me in the United States. And Su can talk about what goes into taking footage that was shot on mobile phones and making it into something that can open in a theater, and in New York City last night. It’s actually a pretty complicated and expensive process to take that technology, which is very on the one hand democratizing, but then bring it up to a standard that makes it broadcastable and distributable.

RS: Well let me just say, we’re doing this on my end, the taping, from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. And I think that’s a good caution that you just entered. We have the illusion somehow that media has become free and totally accessible. And as you point out, in order to become a credible product that you will find for a viewing audience, of any kind of length and seriousness, it often requires a great deal of technology and funding, even today.

Su Kim: This is Su Kim. So the actual production was on the cell phones. And you know, clearly it doesn’t cost anything except for actually shooting it on your phone and having the memory cards to store your footage. But in practical terms of actually creating a product that can be broadcast and also be, like, screened in movie theaters, they have to meet certain technical standards. And with the cell phone footage, many times there were a lot of different kind of frame rates. The film was supposedly being shot in 2997 frame rate, but in actuality, the frame rates varied. So it might be 2996, 2998; maybe sometimes 299, you know, whatever it may be. And so we ended up with over 50 different frame rates in the cut film.

So all of those frame rates had to be brought to the conventional frame rate of 2997 in order for us to work on the film. So that is an expensive process. And also there was a lot of technical work to be done on the film; everyone records footage on their phone, it’s–the sound is very, it’s variable. And so in order to create this immersive experience, we really had to create a soundscape for the film. And that was completely built by our composer, Gretchen Jude, and by our sound designer, Daniel Timmons.

RS: So let’s—we’ve done the technology a bit. And it’s, you know, without the kind of guidance—and of course, the director here was a professional, and his wife, and they had done work. So let’s get to the substance here. And as I say, it’s a generic story for our time, people uprooted, whether they’re in Syria, whether they’re in Afghanistan, what have you. The refugee is now the norm. And we tend to dehumanize the people called refugees, because they can also be inconvenient to stability of more established or settled societies.

So can you—what really drew, what attracted you to this story? And why do you think it’s a story that people should go see in the theaters? What is the–you know, in your mind, the significance? Because you both volunteered for this project. You heard about it, you supported it; he gives, the director gives you great credit for making it a reality. So why—what is the big message of Midnight Traveler?

SK: I mean, I wouldn’t use the word volunteered. You know, we embarked on this as a professional endeavor. Emelie and I spent a lot of time—

RS: I meant you believed in it, I meant you believed in the project.

SK: OK. I’m sorry. So what happened is, you know, as—for me there’s this, you know, the story of the refugee crisis, the migration crisis, is really a story that’s from the gaze of outsiders, and from the point of view of journalism, often. And I think it’s really hard to relate as a sort of a person living in a very comfortable—for me, it’s a comfortable life in New York City–to imagine what happens, you know, when you take this journey. What was special for me with this material in this film was that I could imagine myself in his and his family’s situation, and then the worst thing that could happen happens, and then how would I react? And really, that story plays out in front of the cameras, and also—and that’s what’s so powerful about the story.

And often, it’s kind of a story about waiting. Because not every day is like something, like—dramatic things don’t happen every day. It’s like these dramatic moments are, you know, just–they happen. And then most of the time, you know, you’re just living as a family and doing things, and looking after your children and watching them play, and really caring for them, and making sure that everything is OK. So I think that that gaze on that story hasn’t been a part of the conversation.

RS: Well, I think that’s an important sentence, that “really caring for them.” Because when we objectify people, and we do objectify refugees as a sort of category, we forget these are human beings with all the aspirations, concerns, emotions that the rest of us have. And they’re not just huddled masses in a camp. They are individuals of strong commitment, feeling, love, and so forth. And I think that’s the power of your film; you see, you get inside a family as it’s in, it’s being held by a thread in this life that we all share. But that, it’s not a very secure thread, because they are in the most vulnerable situation, being without country, without government, without support, without legitimacy. I mean, that’s sort of this condition that tens of millions of people seem to find themselves in now—maybe more than at any time except, you know, in huge World War II or something.

EM: Yeah, I think—this is Emelie—I think that we all forget that nobody sets out to be a refugee. That, you know, we can, any of us can imagine something terrible happening and having to deal with it. And, you know, when I came on board the project, they were—they had fled Afghanistan because of death threats against Hassan, the father, and the family, by the Taliban. But they were living in Tajikistan for about 14 months; it’s a Persian-speaking country, so they were relatively able to assimilate and have a life there.

And so when I met them in Tajikistan, they weren’t migrants, they weren’t refugees; I mean, they technically had already fled their country, but they had fled to a place that was culturally similar enough that their life was still kind of normal. And when we started this project, none of us knew what was going to happen to them; they didn’t know, we didn’t know; we all hoped it would be a short trip, [Laughs] and not the subject of a film like this.

And so I think part of what we were documenting was the process of coming to the realization that you are now seen by outsiders as among those sort of numbers of many. And you’re caught up in a bureaucratic system that, you know, just sees you as another case in a stack of cases. And that’s a very difficult realization to come to, I think, for any person. And it ends up placing your life in limbo for many, many years. And like I said, they have two daughters; their daughters’ lives were also in limbo for many years, and still are, in a sense. You know, without access to good schooling, without access to schooling in a language they could speak.

So I think that what is also powerful about the project is that it begins with them before they’re among those refugees. And it’s their—it’s, you know, told from their perspective, like Su said. So it’s not an outsider coming and finding people the moment they’re drowning on a beach, it’s a family documenting their life starting from, you know, the day before they actually find themselves in this difficult situation of being migrants.

RS: And it’s interesting, the role of journalist, observer, and then participant. As Hassan Fazili points out, he suddenly becomes a character in a film that he’s making, whereas previously he was making films about other people. And his family, this is—they are the cast, and so it’s not manipulating professionals or strangers. And that’s a duality here that doesn’t often occur. It does—it happened to, you know, a lot of political refugees, say from Germany in World War II, who were themselves artists and so forth; there’s quite a bit of literature about that. But we haven’t addressed the current refugee crisis in that way; you’re uprooting a whole range of people who were used to a different life.

And I just want to mention the current political atmosphere–at least, you know, with President Trump and others–there’s a, you know, a concerted effort to dehumanize the refugee. Or to say, oh, they’re just coming over for economic reasons, as if that’s unimportant anyway, which it isn’t. But you know, there’s a sort of thing of they’re the inconvenience, why are they there, let’s get a bigger wall against them. And it’s not just, obviously, here; it’s in Germany, it’s everywhere in the world now. And they are treated as an other–an other that you shouldn’t, or needn’t care that much about. I think that’s the power of your film appearing at this time.

EM: I hope so.

RS: Yeah, so you don’t think I’ve mischaracterized it? I don’t want to graft my own meaning on it. But it seems to me that’s the—

EM: No, I think we see it as–because it’s a personal story, because it’s the story of a family and it’s longitudinal, it follows them, you know—well, not follows them; they tell their story themselves over the course of over two years of their lives. You have an opportunity to be with a family, be in this experience. And I think that can help to get past the very polarizing rhetoric that we have right now and allow audiences to ponder what it would be like to be in the shoes of this one family, who obviously represent, you know, just a drop among an ocean of migrants right now. But I think that they’re a very compelling family. I think that they have—their daughters are absolutely charming; his wife is feisty and smart. And so they’re a family that, you know, we can all imagine ourselves hanging out with, and we can recognize elements of ourselves in them and put ourselves in their shoes.

RS: And the film is Midnight Traveler. It opened in New York–well, when this broadcasts, probably a week before. But—what is today’s date? I’m sorry, last night it opened—the 18th, right, September 18th. And then it will be opening in theaters; it’s going to open in L.A., by the time we have this up, it’ll probably be already up in L.A. at the NuArt theater. But it’ll be opening in theaters around the country, I gather.

EM: Yes.

RS: Yeah. And so let me just raise this question about, again, responsibility. And I don’t want to, you know, neither of you are from Afghanistan, but you’re sophisticated, knowledgeable people. But I want to get to this word, responsibility, because most of the refugees in the world are not refugees from bad weather conditions, or a bad economy in their own country. That does happen, we know, particularly with climate change that’s causing a lot of upheaval in terms of droughts and so forth. But actually, most of the refugees in the world now are there because the more settled countries, the more powerful countries, made decisions to intervene in their history. And certainly Afghanistan is an example of that. He had, your director Hassan Fazili had a death threat from the Taliban. But the Taliban composed elements that were once on the side of the United States, when the Russians invaded Afghanistan, and we went through a whole war there.

And then they became later our enemy, the so-called freedom fighters, when Ronald Reagan was president. So this word—you know, the refugees did not create the conditions of their becoming refugees. And I think in Afghanistan, which is really the—yes, you picked the movie up once he’s left, but that he’s a refugee from Afghanistan, is a country that you know, the old Soviet Union and the United States had a lot to do with destabilizing, and causing people to become refugees. And in the movie you talk about a sense of loss. There was an Afghanistan that, you know, we think some of these countries—oh, they’re so miserable, people want to get out—no, there was a life in Afghanistan that people found supportive until the upheaval came.

EM: Yeah, and people don’t necessarily realize that in Kabul, women were wearing miniskirts in 1992, you know, and then the Taliban took over. So it’s certainly not that distant of a memory for people who are from there, you know, to imagine a very different condition of living. I think that one of the interesting things in our film is that Hassan found out about the death threat from the Taliban because a very, very old friend of his warned him. And that old friend, oddly enough, had begun working with the Taliban. And so that’s how he saw the name on the list.

So one of the things that we hope people see there is that, oddly enough, it was his willingness to maintain a friendship in spite of ideological differences. Obviously, he didn’t approve of this friend working with the Taliban, but it was an old friend, and he, you know, he would tell him honestly, you’re wrong, don’t do this. But he kept just enough connection with him that when the day came that he was on a Taliban hit list, he got notified. So there’s something, I think, interesting about a character who, you know, is on the one hand doing this kind of work of trying to push for an open society and women’s rights, but then on the other hand is able to maintain a friendship with somebody who has clearly adopted very different ideological positions. And in the end that—that, how do you say, openness on his part is what saves his life.

RS: Well, but again, you know, the Taliban was not just suddenly appeared. And that is not the focus of your movie, how did this all happen. But again, throughout the world when we see people becoming refugees, it’s often because some other people decided to bomb their country or invade their country or destabilize it for some, one reason or another. And—or finance, as in the case of the Taliban; some of that money came from, or the [Mujahideen] movement, came from Saudi Arabia and elsewhere. In fact, some of the military hardware came from the United States, it was drawn into the Cold War. So when he talks about leaves—and I read this to you before, and you said well, it’s more metaphoric, but I think it’s important—he said, “My family, like leaves ripped away from a tree in a storm, was taken from our land and thrown in every direction by outside forces.”

Well, that can be said about refugees from Mexico right now. I mean, you had a drug war, you had a destabilizing; we were involved with the Mexican government, we decided that the society needed to, in some sense, be turned upside down. And so when a Mexican family, or a Persian family from Iran, after all the upheaval and the overthrow of Mossadegh and everything–I’m not going to go through that whole history. But if you look at country after country, people become refugees in part because of actions taken by the very societies that then want to refuse them entrance as refugees. So there’s a real disconnect there about how people get to be refugees, and the responsibility of these other societies that have actually inflicted damage on those countries, taking them in as refugees.

EM: Yeah.

RS: I mean, I think that’s sort of lost in the whole debate. And your film is a reminder of it. That, you know, if not for all this intervention, someone like Hassan Fazili could have been happy to be a film director in Afghanistan. He didn’t ask to become a refugee. This is not someone seeking better economic opportunity in the West or something, right.

EM: That’s right. And I think it’s worth saying that the journey itself takes a very large toll on people who undertake it. It’s–I think that the trauma of the migrant journey is often as great or greater than the trauma of the thing that caused a person to leave. It’s a huge financial toll on people who undertake it. So no one–no one would do it lightly. No one would spend that much time and put their family in that kind of risk for, you know, without a good reason. And in this case, you know, they had a pretty middle-class life in Kabul before they fled, and they don’t have a middle-class life right now.

You know, they’re still, many years later, living in a kind of limbo, waiting to find out what their long-term life is going to look like. So it’s–the journey is extremely hard. And you know, one thing that we could look at is the way in which the migration, the asylum system and the refugee system function, you know, differently. This is a family that did the thing that is logical, which is they fled to the closest country next door, where they spoke the language.

And they put in about 50 applications to receive protection from Tajikistan, you know, without having to put their daughters at risk, put their daughters in the hands of smugglers who could be very unscrupulous. And they were—they were turned down. It just so happens that the way that the system is designed doesn’t allow for an Afghan person who flees to the closest country next door where they feel safe, which in this case was Tajikistan, to receive any kind of long-term protection. So they were not just forced onto the route by the Taliban, they were also forced onto the route by a system that isn’t functioning very well to protect people who try to use a different route. A simpler route that ought to be also, you know, a safer route for someone like their two little girls, who were often in quite a lot of danger when they went on the Balkan route, you know, across Eastern Europe.

RS: Yeah. And why don’t you sketch that out to where we are now with this family? Because it, you know, it’s an exhilarating film and journey in terms of survival, but it hasn’t come to the Hollywood happy ending yet.

EM: No.

SK: I do want to add one last thing about that last question, is that I don’t think–what I really want is that the film can have the conversations about these political issues. I feel like the film really stands on its own as a piece of work that tells the story, and it’s sort of not our jobs as filmmakers to impart that meaning; it’s just really to be able to provide a way to have that discourse in society.

RS: Right. But what your film does say, unquestionably, is that these people have needs, are complex, are full human beings, and that we should care about what happens to them. They’re not an objectified category of the other.

SK: Exactly. And I think that that is what we planned on doing. And that’s what I’m very happy that we were able to achieve. And in a way, like, it’s—I think it’s, we really want everyone else to have that discussion. Because we’ve given them a platform to view the film and have that kind of discourse.

RS: Right. And it’s part of the complexity which I think is critical, because if you don’t have a view of other people as complex as yourself, or your own view, and as a human in all of its variations. You just mentioned, here is a family, a man, a devoted—an Afghan man devoted to his two daughters, right, in a society that some of us think of—oh, they don’t value women, or they don’t care, or women are expendable, or so forth. And you’ve actually presented a very different view. Is that not sort of the sleeper here?

EM: [Laughs] I think that his wife and his daughters, as characters in the film, are certainly some of the most compelling characters. You know, not least of all because they’re on camera quite a lot. But also, because like you say, some people have that view that Afghan women are quite demure, and that daughters are not, you know, free to do things like dance and go to school. Which, you know, in many cases is true.

In fact, Fatima, his wife, was not allowed to go to school, and she was illiterate until she was, you know, in her late teen years. And then she ended up completing school herself after they were married, even while she was a young mother. So it’s true that there is quite a lot of oppression of women, there’s serious problems with women’s rights and laws around women’s rights, even things like freedom to choose who you marry, or you know, to go against your father’s wishes.

There’s certainly issues in the legal system in Afghanistan, and also cultural issues. But that doesn’t mean that, like in many cultures, you don’t have people who think differently. And it doesn’t mean that you don’t have parents who love their children, whether they’re daughters or whether they’re sons. And so here we have, you know, young girls who like to dance around their bedroom, and a wife who, you know, is feisty and fights back at her husband. And I don’t think that’s as uncommon in Afghanistan as we think it is. But it’s just part of the private space of any family that normally we don’t see in a film made by outsiders.

RS: And we should point out this film, Midnight Traveler, was not shot on a Hollywood set, or under great controls. This is a family trying to survive, and yet they’re filming their journey, because they think it has larger significance, or—well, tell us why they filmed it.

EM: I think that’s right, I think that they thought it had larger significance. I think that also they had nothing to do. You know, when you take people who are used to working, and then you drop them in a camp and you tell them they can’t work, and they need to just live here for a year in a small, cramped room with a bunch of other families right on top of them, they can go stir crazy. And so having a project that they could involve their daughters in, and something that they felt was meaningful—it gave them some meaning in their life at a time when, you know, all of the circumstances were colluding to take meaning away from them.

RS: So without spoiling the, you know, people going to the film and finding out the end of the storyline on their own after they witness what is essentially a work of art, basically, in the best sense, why don’t you just sketch out what happens as they then move on to their second country, and how–and take us to the end of the story. We have just some time to do that.

EM: Well, like I said, they traveled the Balkan smuggling route. So for people who are familiar with the various routes that people take from Central Asia to Europe, you know, it’s common to get to Turkey, and then some people take boats to Greece or to Italy. The Balkan route is a land route that goes through Bulgaria and Serbia, and then some people go through Croatia or Romania, or there’s a few different ways that people travel. And the danger in the Balkan route is that there’s quite a lot of borders to cross, with quite a lot of unfriendly policing of those borders. And it’s a notoriously dangerous route. Of course, we’ve all seen images of people drowning in overcrowded boats crossing the Mediterranean, so the boats are also a very dangerous route.

So there wasn’t a great option either way, you know; neither choice was good. So they are making their way along that route, but it’s not by any means an easy journey. It’s not an uninterrupted journey. You know, they end up in positions where they’re arrested, where their lives are threatened, or they’re attacked, you know. So there’s quite a lot of harrowing things that no one would want to happen to their family that do happen to this family. And like I said, it follows them over several years, as they’re attempting to get somewhere and have asylum and have a final, you know, settling of their life somewhere that they can live long term. And they still don’t have that; they still don’t have any answer about where they’re going to be living long term.

RS: So where are they now? When this film opened in New York, did you get word to them, and where did the word go?

EM: They’re in Germany now. And they’re, they have a pending case. So they’re waiting.

RS: But they’re not allowed to leave the particular state in Germany that they’re in, or travel; at least I saw that somewhere.

EM: They, when they first arrived, they had very limited travel; it’s been sort of slowly opening up as their case moves through the system. They were able to come to the Berlinale. So after the Sundance premiere, the film went to Berlin for the Berlinale, and the whole family was able to come to the Berlinale and participate in Q&As and see the film. And now they’re working on, you know, getting the ability to do more travel within Europe. There’s not any likelihood, I don’t think, that they would be in a position to come to the United States anytime soon, so—

RS: Why is that?

EM: Well, this is true of any asylum seeker anywhere–generally, while your case is pending, you have to stay in the country where you’re applying for asylum. Germany is part of the Schengen zone of Europe, so there’s maybe a little more freedom within Europe. But you know, even in America, if you are applying for asylum, it’ll be very difficult for you to get permission to, say, leave and go to Japan. And so they don’t have passports; you know, they don’t have legal status in Germany. It would be very difficult for them on their Afghan passports right now, you know, as asylum seekers, to be given a visa to enter the U.S.

RS: But again, and I don’t want to over-politicize this, but the fact is we are still—U.S. government, military—we’re still in Afghanistan because we want, ostensibly, to expand freedom; it’s also to prevent attacks coming from Afghanistan. But here you have a director, Hassan Fazili, who has standing as an artist, right. And he makes a really important, complex movie about the result of all of the things that have happened in Afghanistan, and deepens our understanding. And you mean you can’t even get him invited to a screening? He’s a non-person because his passport is from Afghanistan?

EM: Well, yeah. I mean, I don’t know if you’ve ever tried to get a visa [Laughs] to come to the United States on an Afghan passport. It’s not easy. And then if you add to that the person is known to be looking for asylum in another country, it makes it very difficult to get permission from the United States government. Because of course, their view is that the person is not likely to return. Or, you know, they’re not likely to leave the country. But I think in any case, it’s, yes, it’s complicated.

RS: But don’t we have exemption, don’t we have a consideration for political refugees and human rights?

SK: I think–this is not a question that I think Emelie and I can really answer properly. So I think we’d like to move on.

RS: OK. So let me just say, as a little editorializing, it is one of the contradictions in our immigration policy. Because, you know, we have periodically admitted people we say are political refugees, and we make it easier. And that seems to have been tightened substantially. And so I—

EM: Yeah. But it’s, you know, it’s not—it’s also an issue of being able to leave the country that they’re in, like I said, so they would be forfeiting their case in Germany. So it wouldn’t be you know, it wouldn’t be something that they or their immigration attorneys would want them to do.

RS: OK. So let me ask you one last, but big question; take your time to answer it, because you’re both producers. So if you were producing this podcast, this radio program, what do you think we should cover about this film before we sign off here? The film is Midnight Traveler. I’m asking that question in the spirit of trying to get people to go watch it. Because any work of art, you know, you can discuss it, but actually the proof is in the pudding. And you know, people should go see this, because it raises a whole range of really important questions about human existence. Not just political, obviously not just political questions, but who are we, and what are our needs, and how do we relate to our family and our times. So you know, what do you think is—I mean, make the case for why this film you produced is so important.

EM: Well, so I like I said, I’m also the editor. So I spent, you know, quite a long time sitting with this footage and sitting with what the story was going to be. And I really think that the strength of the film is in its ability to allow us to just be with this family, through moments of joy and humor, as well as through moments that are quite harrowing. To be in a story that at its heart is really kind of a family drama more than it is a story about, you know, the refugee crisis, as people like to call it. And surrounding this family, there are broader issues. But so many films, and so much media, invites us to look at them first as refugees.

And then second, maybe if we think about it, to ponder what it’s like to be in their shoes, or what their life is like, or why they are where they are. And you know, this is a film that sets the refugee question, in a sense, just on the periphery. You know, we understand what kind of story it is, but really at its heart, this is the story of a family. And it’s by that shift in perspective, like Su said at the beginning, that I think the film has real strength.

RS: Yeah, and the two points really are not inconsistent. I mean, they are part of a category called refugees. But the film is a reminder that we’re talking basically about human existence, the struggle for meaning in life, survival, family, right. And that these are universal themes. And being a refugee happens to heighten them in certain ways and put them at risk in certain ways. But what you’re really saying is that this is a compelling story about a family caught up in history, but it’s about this family, and how they go about the business of taking care of each other and surviving under a terrible situation.

EM: That’s correct.

RS: Good. I’m glad we got that. Anything else we should add before we wrap this up?

SK: I just want to make a couple of corrections. So the film is actually–it was directed by Hassan Fazili, but it’s a film by Hassan Fazili and Emelie Mahdavian. It’s a very minor—but it’s a, you know, how the film is presented. Also, Emily’s credit is producer, writer, and editor.

RS: OK. And so I didn’t mean to take away that credit. So why don’t we just end, then, by telling me more—I am intrigued by how this film got to be made. And I think it’s a great story in itself. So can you just give me a little bit more about your role in that, Emelie?

EM: Yeah, sure. I mean, the thing that people keep saying to us, once they hear about how the film was made, is that there’s always a film about how the film was made in a film like this. Because obviously, the logistics were pretty complicated. And then the logistics of the creative work were very complicated. So you know, like I said, I was on from the beginning. So I, in the beginning, was working with them on pretty basic things like arranging contacts to get the footage safe, to get it shipped to me in the United States. So in each country, I would find somebody who could meet them, and copy the footage from them, and get it to me. And then, on the U.S. side, I was working simultaneously on, you know, the fundraising and the grant writing, and all of that, and then also on the editing. So I was poring through what was quite a lot of footage, several hundred hours, and trying to begin assembling it into a story that could, you know, that could work for audiences, you know, at a global scale, so audiences from many cultures. And that meant, you know, collaborating from a distance in many cases. And it meant that often, I was simultaneously here in the U.S. working on editing and working on fundraising or producing work. And then also, you know, talking to them while they were on this journey, and coordinating with them, and trying to make creative decisions together from a distance.

I did spend a month with them in Serbia working together in person, but when they were on the move, it was very difficult to ever meet up with them. So it was a very mobile-phone intensive production, not just in the sense that it was shot on mobile phones, but also in the sense that we were constantly in contact through various apps on the mobile phone. And as many people know, refugees use those phones also as mapping systems, as you know, means of sort of lifelines to the outside world. So the phone itself ended up being a massive part of the production, even behind the scenes.

RS: And how long was that, your involvement with it? How long a time?

EM: Well, we started the film in April of 2016. So until now; I’m still working. [Laughs]

RS: OK, well, I just do want to stress one thing. All during that time–you make it sound a little more mechanical than it is–you really had to be worried whether these people are going to survive. I mean, they were in—

EM: Absolutely.

RS: And you were documenting their risk.

EM: Yeah, and I mean, I was really very worried from where I was sitting in the United States. Because it felt like there was not much I could probably do, you know; I never knew what they were going to encounter. And I never knew what kind of needs they would have, and whether I would be able to help them or not. And I was very concerned to make sure that it was clear to them that I wanted them not to put themselves in risk for the sake of the film. Unfortunately, the migrant route is a risky thing to be on, and there was not a lot that they often could do to protect themselves or keep themselves out of risky situations. So the film ends up documenting those. And it was, it was very difficult to be at a distance. Sometimes there was something I could do to try to help. Sometimes they would ask me questions that I wasn’t comfortable answering, because I didn’t know what the safer choice was, and I didn’t want to be responsible for a bad decision. And that certainly weighed on me.

RS: And I just want to indulge myself by trying to patch over this tension between the personal and the political. This migrant route, in their case, is not one that they did as a matter of choice. It was forced upon them by a death threat that was very serious. And so the key takeaway for me about the whole refugee crisis is that this is not a choice issue for most people called refugees. This is necessity, survival. And your movie is really—Midnight Traveler, opening around the country—it’s really about, you know, as I say, I keep getting back to that quote: “My family, like leaves ripped away from a tree in a storm, was taken from our land and thrown in every direction.” It does compel a sympathy for people called refugees. They didn’t make the decision to tear themselves off the tree; events, politics, world reality, tore them off that tree. And your movie is really about the human beings that then try to survive under incredibly risky, dangerous circumstance. So is that a fair summary?

EM: Yeah. I mean, there’s—this might be kind of a technical point, but I think it’s a useful one for the conversation. Which is that a person is not actually a refugee until they’re given refugee status by the United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees, which vets people. So there are people, there are migrants who are people who are seeking asylum or refugee status, who are moving for various reasons from country to country. There are refugees, which are people who have been vetted and who are seeking a new place to live. And there are asylum seekers, which are people who are already on the soil of a new country, asking for protection from being forced to return to something that they say is an unsafe situation. So in the course of our film, our family begins as would-be refugees in Tajikistan, and they’re denied access to the refugee system, which forces them to become migrants. And currently, they’re asylum-seekers. So they have been attempting to use all sorts of means of accessing safety. And in the course of that, they’re actually accessing different legal and bureaucratic systems. And there’s technically different words for each of those.

RS: OK, got it. But they are full human beings, and we should be concerned about them. That’s it for this edition of “Scheer Intelligence.” We’ve been broadcasting this from the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism, where Victor Figueroa is the engineer here. Our producer for “Scheer Intelligence” is Joshua Scheer, and we’ll see you next week with another edition.

The post The Refugee Crisis Unlike You’ve Ever Seen It Before appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Ukraine Reviews Cases on Owner of Firm That Hired Biden Son

ZHYTOMYR, Ukraine — Ukraine’s Prosecutor General said on Friday that his office is reviewing several cases related to the owner of a gas company where former Vice President Joe Biden’s son sat on the board, as part of a review of all the criminal cases closed by his predecessors.

U.S. President Donald Trump had pressed for such a review in a phone call with Ukraine’s new leader, a “favor” that now has led the U.S. Congress to begin an impeachment inquiry. Ruslan Ryaboshapka’s statement shows that Kyiv is under an increasing pressure to react to Trump’s overtures, analysts say.

Ryaboshapka told reporters in Kyiv that prosecutors are “auditing” all the cases that were closed or dismissed by former prosecutors, including several related to Mykola Zlochevsky, owner of the gas company Burisma that hired Hunter Biden in 2014, at the same time his father was leading the Obama administration’s diplomatic dealings with Kyiv.

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Though the timing raised concerns among anti-corruption advocates, there has been no evidence of wrongdoing by either the former vice president or his son.

“We are now reviewing all the cases that were closed or split into several parts or were investigated before, in order to be able to rule to reverse those cases where illegal procedural steps were taken,” Ryaboshapka said.

Asked if the prosecutors had evidence of any wrongdoing on Hunter Biden’s part, Ryaboshapka said: “I have no such information.”

On a trip in the city of Zhytomyr, President Volodymyr Zelenskiy, when asked by The Associated Press about Trump’s comment that the U.S. has an “absolute right” to ask foreign leaders to investigate corruption cases, Zelenskiy said that Ukraine is “open” and that all the cases under investigation are “transparent.”

Ryaboshapka and Zelenskiy’s remarks came a day after House investigators released a cache of text messages provided by Kurt Volker, the former special U.S. envoy to Ukraine who stepped down amid the Democrats’ impeachment inquiry.

Volker in the messages encouraged Zelenskiy’s aide to conduct an investigation linked to Biden’s family in return for a high-profile visit to Washington with President Donald Trump.

The Prosecutor General’s Office in a statement issued after Ryaboshapka’s briefing said that among the cases they are reviewing, there are 15 where Burisma’s owner Zlochevsky is mentioned. None of the Zlochevsky-related cases has been revived yet, they said.

They did not specify how many, if any, were related to Hunter Biden’s work at Burisma.

Ryaboshapka was mentioned in the July 25 call between Trump and Ukrainian President Zelenskiy, who assured Trump that Ryaboshapka was “his man” and that he would resume investigations into Burisma.

The prosecutor general insisted on Friday that he did not feel any pressure over the Burisma case.

“Not a single foreign or Ukrainian official or politician has called me or tried to influence my decisions regarding specific criminal cases,” he said.

A whistleblower last month revealed that Trump in a phone call asked Zelenskiy to resume the probe into Joe Biden and his son. The July 25 call has since triggered an impeachment inquiry against Trump.

Analysts in Kyiv saw Ryaboshapka and Zelenskiy’s remarks as a sign that the Ukrainian government is trying to stay in Trump’s good graces, but not necessarily to dig up the dirt on his Democratic rival.

“Ryaboshapka’s statements mean that the (criminal) cases are allegedly being investigated and Kyiv is open for cooperation with U.S. counterparts but we shouldn’t expect any tangible results of the probe until after the election in the U.S.,” said Volodymyr Fesenko of the Penta Center think tank in Kyiv.

“Zelenskiy doesn’t want to be involved in the U.S. political battles but he’s already in the game and has to be flexible.”

___

Vasilyeva reported from Moscow.

The post Ukraine Reviews Cases on Owner of Firm That Hired Biden Son appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Diahann Carroll, Oscar-Nominated, Pioneering Actress, Dies

NEW YORK — Diahann Carroll, the Oscar-nominated actress and singer who won critical acclaim as the first black woman to star in a non-servant role in a TV series as “Julia,” has died. She was 84.

Carroll’s daughter, Susan Kay, told The Associated Press her mother died Friday in Los Angeles of cancer.

During her long career, Carroll earned a Tony Award for the musical “No Strings” and an Academy Award nomination for best actress for “Claudine.”

But she was perhaps best known for her pioneering work on “Julia.” Carroll played Julia Baker, a nurse whose husband had been killed in Vietnam, in the groundbreaking situation comedy that aired from 1968 to 1971.

“Diahann Carroll walked this earth for 84 years and broke ground with every footstep. An icon. One of the all-time greats,” director Ava DuVernay wrote on Twitter. “She blazed trails through dense forests and elegantly left diamonds along the path for the rest of us to follow. Extraordinary life. Thank you, Ms. Carroll.”

Although she was not the first black woman to star in her own TV show (Ethel Waters played a maid in the 1950s series “Beulah”), she was the first to star as someone other than a servant.

NBC executives were wary about putting “Julia” on the network during the racial unrest of the 1960s, but it was an immediate hit.

It had its critics, though, including some who said Carroll’s character, who is the mother of a young son, was not a realistic portrayal of a black American woman in the 1960s.

“They said it was a fantasy,” Carroll recalled in 1998. “All of this was untrue. Much about the character of Julia I took from my own life, my family.”

Not shy when it came to confronting racial barriers, Carroll won her Tony portraying a high-fashion American model in Paris who has a love affair with a white American author in the 1959 Richard Rodgers musical “No Strings.” Critic Walter Kerr described her as “a girl with a sweet smile, brilliant dark eyes and a profile regal enough to belong on a coin.”

She appeared often in plays previously considered exclusive territory for white actresses: “Same Time, Next Year,” ”Agnes of God” and “Sunset Boulevard” (as faded star Norma Desmond, the role played by Gloria Swanson in the 1950 film.)

“I like to think that I opened doors for other women, although that wasn’t my original intention,” she said in 2002.

Her film career was sporadic. She began with a secondary role in “Carmen Jones” in 1954 and five years later appeared in “Porgy and Bess,” although her singing voice was dubbed because it wasn’t considered strong enough for the Gershwin opera. Her other films included “Goodbye Again,” ”Hurry Sundown,” ”Paris Blues,” and “The Split.”

The 1974 film “Claudine” provided her most memorable role. She played a hard-bitten single mother of six who finds romance in Harlem with a garbage man played by James Earl Jones.

In the 1980s, she joined in the long-running prime-time soap opera “Dynasty” as Dominique Deveraux, the glamorous half-sister of Blake Carrington; her physical battles with Alexis Carrington, played by Joan Collins, were among fan highlights. More recently, she had a number of guest shots and small roles in TV series, including playing the mother of Isaiah Washington’s character, Dr. Preston Burke, on “Grey’s Anatomy” and a stretch on the TV show “White Collar” as the widow June.

She also returned to her roots in nightclubs. In 2006, she made her first club appearance in New York in four decades, singing at Feinstein’s at the Regency. Reviewing a return engagement in 2007, a New York Times critic wrote that she sang “Both Sides Now” with “the reflective tone of a woman who has survived many severe storms and remembers every lightning flash and thunderclap.”

Carol Diann Johnson was born in New York City and attended the High School for the Performing Arts. Her father was a subway conductor and her mother a homemaker.

She began her career as a model, but a prize from “Arthur Godfrey’s Talent Scouts” TV show led to nightclub engagements.

In her 1998 memoir “Diahann,” Carroll traced her turbulent romantic life, which included liaisons with Harry Belafonte, Duke Ellington, Miles Davis, Sammy Davis Jr., Sidney Poitier and David Frost. She even became engaged to Frost, but the engagement was canceled.

An early marriage to nightclub owner Monte Kay resulted in Carroll’s only child, Suzanne, as well as a divorce. She also divorced her second husband, retail executive Freddie Glusman, later marrying magazine editor Robert DeLeon, who died.

Her most celebrated marriage was in 1987, to singer Vic Damone, and the two appeared together in nightclubs. But they separated in 1991 and divorced several years later.

After she was treated for breast cancer in 1998, she spoke out for more money for research and for free screening for women who couldn’t afford mammograms.

“We all look forward to the day that mastectomies, chemotherapy and radiation are considered barbaric,” Carroll told a gathering in 2000.

Besides her daughter, she is survived by grandchildren August and Sydney.

___

Bob Thomas, a long-time and now deceased staffer of the Associated Press, was the principal writer of this obituary.

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The Depressing Reason the IRS Prefers to Audit the Poor

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

The IRS audits the working poor at about the same rate as the wealthiest 1%. Now, in response to questions from a U.S. senator, the IRS has acknowledged that’s true but professes it can’t change anything unless it is given more money.

ProPublica reported the disproportionate audit focus on lower-income families in April. Lawmakers confronted IRS Commissioner Charles Rettig about the emphasis, citing our stories, and Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., asked Rettig for a plan to fix the imbalance. Rettig readily agreed.

Last month, Rettig replied with a report, but it said the IRS has no plan and won’t have one until Congress agrees to restore the funding it slashed from the agency over the past nine years — something lawmakers have shown little inclination to do.

On the one hand, the IRS said, auditing poor taxpayers is a lot easier: The agency uses relatively low-level employees to audit returns for low-income taxpayers who claim the earned income tax credit. The audits — of which there were about 380,000 last year, accounting for 39% of the total the IRS conducted — are done by mail and don’t take too much staff time, either. They are “the most efficient use of available IRS examination resources,” Rettig’s report says.

On the other hand, auditing the rich is hard. It takes senior auditors hours upon hours to complete an exam. What’s more, the letter says, “the rate of attrition is significantly higher among these more experienced examiners.” As a result, the budget cuts have hit this part of the IRS particularly hard.

For now, the IRS says, while it agrees auditing more wealthy taxpayers would be a good idea, without adequate funding there’s nothing it can do. “Congress must fund and the IRS must hire and train appropriate numbers of [auditors] to have appropriately balanced coverage across all income levels,” the report said.

Since 2011, Republicans in Congress have driven cuts to the IRS enforcement budget; it’s more than a quarter lower than its 2010 level, adjusting for inflation.

Recently, bipartisan support has emerged in both the House and Senate for increasing enforcement spending, but the proposals on the table are relatively modest and would not restore the budget to pre-cut levels. However, even a proposed small increase might not come to pass, because it’s unclear whether Congress will actually pass any appropriations bills this year.

In response to Rettig’s letter, Wyden agreed in a statement that the IRS needs more money, “but that does not eliminate the need for the agency to begin reversing the alarming trend of plummeting audit rates of the wealthy within its current budget.”

The post The Depressing Reason the IRS Prefers to Audit the Poor appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Thousands Protest Hong Kong Mask Ban

HONG KONG — Violence erupted across Hong Kong as defiant masked protesters rampaged and police fired tear gas Friday, hours after the city’s embattled leader invoked rarely used emergency powers to ban masks at rallies in a hardening of her stance after four months of anti-government demonstrations.

Challenging the ban, set to take effect Saturday, thousands of protesters crammed streets in the central business district and other areas, shouting “Hong Kong people, resist.” Pockets of angry protesters later attacked Chinese bank outlets, vandalized subway stations and set street fires, prompting police to respond with tear gas in many areas.

Hong Kong Chief Executive Carrie Lam told a news conference that the mask ban, imposed under a colonial-era Emergency Ordinance that was last used over half a century ago, would be “an effective deterrent to radical behavior.”

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The ban applies to all public gatherings, both unauthorized and those approved by police.

Lam stressed it doesn’t mean the semi-autonomous Chinese territory is in a state of emergency. She said she would seek the legislature’s backing later for the rule.

“We must save Hong Kong, the present Hong Kong and the future Hong Kong,” she said. “We must stop the violence… we can’t just leave the situation to get worse and worse.”

Two activists immediately filed legal challenges on grounds the mask ban will instill fear and curtail freedom of speech and assembly. The High Court was hearing a bid late Friday to halt the ban.

The ban makes the wearing of any face coverings, including face paint, at public gatherings punishable by one year in jail. A six-month jail term could be imposed on people who refuse a police officer’s order to remove a face covering for identification.

Masks will be permitted for “legitimate need,” when wearers can prove they need them for work, health or religious reasons.

“Will they arrest 100,000 people on the street? The government is trying to intimidate us but at this moment, I don’t think the people will be scared,” said a protester who gave his surname as Lui.

Lam wouldn’t rule out a further toughening of measures if violence continues. She said she would not resign because it wouldn’t help since Hong Kong is in “a very critical state of public danger.”

Thousands of masked protesters marched before Lam spoke. The rallies spread to many areas at night as protesters vowed they wouldn’t be cowed. Some blocked traffic with road barriers, smashed up shops, vandalized subway stations and set fires including burning a Chinese flag in familiar scenes of chaos. Some malls and all subway stations were shut.

“The Hong Kong police are also wearing their masks when they’re doing their job. And they don’t show their pass and their number,” said protester Ernest Ho. “So I will still keep my mask on everywhere.”

Face masks have become a hallmark of protesters in Hong Kong, even at peaceful marches, amid fears of retribution at work or of being denied access to schooling, public housing and other government-funded services. Some young protesters also wear full gas masks and goggles to protect against tear gas.

Many also are concerned their identities could be shared with the massive state-security apparatus that helps keep the Communist Party in power in mainland China, where high-tech surveillance including facial recognition technology is ubiquitous.

Analysts said the use of the Emergency Ordinance set a dangerous precedent. The law, a relic of British rule enacted in 1922 to quell a seamen’s strike and last used to crush riots in 1967, gives broad powers to the city’s chief executive to implement regulations in an emergency.

“It is a dangerous first step. If the anti-mask legislation proves to be ineffective, it could lead the way to more draconian measures such as a curfew and other infringement of civil liberties,” said Willy Lam, adjunct professor at the Chinese University.

Carrie Lam bristled at a suggestion that the ban nudges Hong Kong closer to authoritarian rule. She insisted she was not acting under orders from Beijing, which she visited this week when Communist Party leaders celebrated 70 years in power on Tuesday.

The ban followed widespread violence in the city on Tuesday that marred China’s National Day and included a police officer shooting a protester, the first victim of gunfire since the protests started in June over a now-shelved extradition bill. The wounded teenager was charged with attacking police and rioting.

The movement has snowballed into an anti-China campaign amid anger over what many view as Beijing’s interference in Hong Kong’s autonomy. More than 2,100 people have been detained so far, including 204 charged with rioting, which carries a penalty of up to a decade in prison.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said Lam’s government should avoid aggravating tensions and that “political dialogue is the only way” to resolve the conflict. Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad, the world’s oldest leader, said Lam should resign and predicted Beijing will send in its military to end the crisis.

The government last month withdrew the extradition bill, which would have allowed suspects to be sent to mainland China for trial, but protesters have widened their demands to include direct elections of the city’s leaders, an independent inquiry into alleged police brutality, the unconditional release of protesters and not characterizing the protests as riots.

“Five demands, not one less!” many protesters shouted during Friday’s rallies as they held up five fingers.

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Supreme Court to Hear Abortion Regulation Case

WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court agreed Friday to plunge into the abortion debate in the midst of the 2020 presidential campaign, taking on a Louisiana case that could reveal how willing the more conservative court is to chip away at abortion rights.

The justices will examine a Louisiana law requiring doctors who perform abortions to have admitting privileges at a nearby hospital. The law is virtually identical to one in Texas that the Supreme Court struck down in 2016, when Justice Anthony Kennedy was on the bench and before the addition of President Donald Trump’s two high court picks, Justices Neil Gorsuch and Brett Kavanaugh, who have shifted the court to the right.

The court’s new term begins Monday, but arguments in the Louisiana case won’t take place until the winter. A decision is likely to come by the end of June, four months before the presidential election.

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The Supreme Court temporarily blocked the Louisiana law from taking effect in February, when Chief Justice John Roberts joined the court’s four liberal justices to put it on hold. Kavanaugh and Gorsuch were among the four conservatives who would have allowed the law to take effect.

Those preliminary votes do not bind the justices when they undertake a thorough review of an issue, but they often signal how a case will come out.

Roberts’ vote to block the Louisiana law was a rare vote against an abortion restriction in his more than 13 years as chief justice. That may reflect his new role since Kennedy’s retirement as the court’s swing justice, his concern about the court being perceived as a partisan institution and respect for a prior decision of the court, even one he disagreed with.

In the Texas case, he voted in dissent to uphold the admitting privileges requirement.

The Louisiana case and a separate appeal over an Indiana ultrasound requirement for women seeking an abortion, on which the court took no action Friday, were the most significant of hundreds of pending appeals the justices considered when they met in private on Tuesday.

Both cases involve the standard first laid out by the court in 1992 that while states can regulate abortion, they can’t do things that place an “undue burden” on a woman’s right to an abortion. The regulations are distinct from other state laws making their way through court challenges that would ban abortions early in a pregnancy.

Louisiana abortion providers and a district judge who initially heard the case said one or maybe two of the state’s three abortion clinics would have to close under the new law. There would be at most two doctors who could meet its requirements, they said.

But the appeals court in New Orleans rejected those claims, doubting that any clinics would have to close and saying the doctors had not tried hard enough to establish relationships with local hospitals.

In January, the full appeals court voted 9-6 not to get involved in the case, setting up the Supreme Court appeal.

The Hope Medical Group clinic in Shreveport, Louisiana, and two doctors whose identities are not revealed said in their appeal that the justices should strike down the law without even holding arguments because the decision so clearly conflicts with the Texas ruling from 2016.

The court did not follow that path Friday.

There also was no action on a third abortion-related appeal that involves a challenge to a Chicago ordinance that stops protesters from getting within 8 feet (2.4 meters) of people entering abortion clinics and other health care facilities without their consent.

Anti-abortion activists had challenged the Chicago law as a violation of their free speech rights. The federal appeals court in Chicago upheld the law, though grudgingly.

The Supreme Court upheld a similar Colorado law in 2000, but in 2014 struck down a Massachusetts provision that set a fixed 35-foot (10.7-meter) buffer zone outside abortion clinics.

Also Friday, the court agreed to hear an appeal by energy companies and the Trump administration asking the court to overturn an appeals court ruling and reinstate a permit to allow construction of a natural gas pipeline through two national forests, including parts of the Appalachian Trail.

The 605-mile (970-kilometer) pipeline would begin in West Virginia and travel through parts of Virginia and North Carolina. The proposed route, which the administration had approved, would include the George Washington and Monongahela National Forests, as well as a right-of-way across the Appalachian Trail.

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U.S. Hiring Slows, but Unemployment Rate Hits Fresh 50-Year Low

WASHINGTON — The U.S. economy added a modest 136,000 jobs in September, a gain that managed to lower the unemployment rate to a new five-decade low of 3.5% but also suggested rising caution among employers.

The additional hiring and the drop in the jobless rate will likely ease worries that an economy weakened by the U.S.-China trade war and slower global growth could be edging toward a potential recession. The government on Friday also revised up its estimate of job growth in July and August by a combined 45,000.

Still, a drop-off in the pace of hiring compared with last year points to rising uncertainty among employers about the job market and the economy in the face of President Donald Trump’s numerous trade conflicts. Pay growth has also weakened, reflecting the hesitance of employers to step up wages.

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“The September jobs report sent some conflicting signals, but the big picture remains one of a labor market — and an economy — whose growth is downshifting but not collapsing,” said Michael Feroli, an economist at JPMorgan Chase.

The comparatively sluggish hiring data makes it likely that the Federal Reserve later this month will cut rates for the third time this year to try to help sustain the expansion. At the same time, the drop in the unemployment rate from 3.7% may embolden some Fed officials who have resisted rate cuts.

Investors appeared pleased that the jobs report at least suggested that the economy remains resilient for now. The Dow Jones Industrial Average was up more than 200 points in mid-day trading.

Excluding government hiring, job gains over the past three months have slowed to an average of 119,000 a month, the weakest showing in seven years.

And despite ultra-low unemployment, average wages dipped in September, the Labor Department said. Hourly pay rose just 2.9% from a year earlier, below the 3.4% year-over-year gain at the start of the year.

Julia Pollak, a labor economist at jobs marketplace ZipRecruiter, said the pay that employers are advertising has declined this year after rising sharply in 2018. And she noted that the number of part-time workers who would prefer full-time work has risen over the past two months.

Those trends “show that employers are increasingly risk-averse as global uncertainty and recession fears rise,” Pollak said.

Tom Lix, the CEO and founder of Cleveland Whiskey, which distills bourbon and rye whiskies, said the trade war has shut down markets that his company was developing in Europe and China. This has forced him to postpone hiring and a planned expansion.

“We were going to build a new building, and add a restaurant and bar, which would have expanded our employment significantly,” Lix said.

He had also expected to add three distillers to his staff of 15. But that was before Europe and China imposed retaliatory tariffs on U.S. bourbon — after Trump had raised import taxes on their goods. Europe had accounted for about 15% of Lix’s sales before the tariffs took effect.

“All of our European connections and all of our Chinese connections — we’re not doing business with them right now,” he said.

On Sept. 1, Trump hit $112 billion of Chinese goods with 15% tariffs. He has threatened on Dec. 15 to tax the rest of China’s exports to the United States, which would raise prices for U.S. consumers.

The weakest sector of the U.S. economy — manufacturing, which is likely already in recession — cut 2,000 jobs in September. At the same time, retailers shed 11,400 jobs, and employment in mining and logging was unchanged.

The big gains last month were in health care, which added 41,400 jobs, and professional and business services, which include such higher-paying areas as engineering and accounting but also lower-paying temp work. That sector added 34,000 positions.

Friday’s jobs data underscored the benefits of a hot job market for lower-paid Americans and traditionally disadvantaged workers. The unemployment rate for workers without high school diplomas fell to 4.8%, the lowest level on records dating to 1992. The rate for Latinos fell to 3.9%, also a record low.

Amy Glaser, senior vice president at Adecco USA, a staffing firm, says companies are still willing to raise pay for blue collar workers. Some are also paying retention and signing bonuses and in some cases double pay for overtime.

“We’re still seeing strong demand, we’re still seeing more job opportunities out there than candidates,” Glaser said.

The employment figures carry more weight than usual because worries about the health of the economy are mounting. A measure of factory activity fell in September to its lowest level in more than a decade, while a similar gauge of the economy’s vast services sector slowed sharply in September, falling to its lowest point in three years.

The job market is the economy’s main bulwark. As long as hiring is solid enough to keep the unemployment rate from rising, most Americans will likely remain confident enough to spend, offsetting other drags and propelling the economy forward.

But a slump in hiring or a rise in the unemployment rate in coming months could discourage consumers from spending as freely as they otherwise might during the holiday shopping season.

Consumers are still mostly optimistic, and their spending has kept the economy afloat this year. But they may be growing more cautious. Consumer confidence dropped sharply in September, according to the Conference Board, a business research group. And their spending in August slowed.

There are some bright spots. Home sales, for example, have rebounded as mortgage rates have fallen, helped in part by the Fed’s two interest rate cuts this year. And Americans are also buying cars at a still-healthy pace. Consumers would typically be reluctant to make such major purchases if they were fearful of a downturn.

The post U.S. Hiring Slows, but Unemployment Rate Hits Fresh 50-Year Low appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Elizabeth Warren Introduces Plan to Strengthen Organized Labor

Denouncing the Trump administration and pro-corporate lawmakers for their repeated attacks on workers, Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Thursday promised to return power to American workers with her labor rights plan.

In a statement, the 2020 Democratic presidential candidate  explained that her proposal is centered around acheiving five broad goals:

  • Extending labor rights to all workers
  • Strengthening organizing, collective bargaining, and the right to strike
  • Raising wages and protecting pensions
  • Increasing worker choice and control
  • Expanding worker protections, combating discrimination, and improving enforcement

Warren said, if elected, her administration would fight for bold legislation in Congress and also enact pro-labor reforms through executive orders. Specifically, her plan wouldend exceptions to the nation’s labor laws which leave out many marginalized workers; raise wages so full-time workers will no longer be left unable to afford even modest housing, as is the case for minimum wage earners in every state in the U.S.; and reverse the shift of power from unions to wealthy corporations.

“We cannot have a truly democratic society with so little power in the hands of working people,” wrote Warren. “We cannot have sustained and inclusive economic growth without a stronger labor movement. That’s why returning power to working people will be the overarching goal of my presidency.”

Warren explained that the growth of corporate lobbying is handing more and more power to corporations and taking it away from unions, which represent only 10 percent of American workers today compared with 35 percent in the 1950s. Too many workers have been left out of the country’s economic growth, the senator said.

“Outdated exceptions—some originally motivated by outright racism or sexism—and changes in modern working arrangements have denied millions of workers these basic protections,” Warren wrote.

The senator would expand the country’s labor laws, including the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA), the Fair Labor Standards Act (FLSA), and the Occupational Safety and Health Act (OSHA), which leave domestic and farm workers out of their protections.

Exclusions in the laws “date back to objections from Southern segregationist politicians in the 1930s, who did not want these workers (in many cases, disproportionately women and people of color both then and still today) to have basic worker protections,” wrote Warren. “These exclusions hurt millions of workers and have no justification.”

Warren would also end the widespread practice by companies of misclassifying workers as “independent contractors,” stripping them of rights that fully-recognized employees have. The practice has left millions of workers with fluctuating income, erratic schedules, and an inability to take collective action to fight for labor rights.

The senator backed a proposal in California in August to end worker misclassification, and vowed to fight it nationwide.

“This is a crucial moment in the fight for workers in this country,” Warren wrote in an op-ed for the Sacramento Bee in support of A.B. 5 over the summer. “It’s a time for us to show whose side we’re on…I’m fighting for an America where everybody—even the biggest, richest, and most well-connected companies—plays by the rules.”

Warren also aims to strengthen workers’ ability to unionize. She would narrow the definition of “supervisor” used by the NLRA, the law that allows collective bargaining but leaves many people with supervisory duties out; reinstate the Obama era law allowing graduate students who teach classes to unionize; and give public sector workers the right to collectively bargain in every state.

Some observers on social media praised the senator for including a proposal to allow sectoral bargaining, in which employees from multiple countries across an industry can negotiate better wages and benefits for all of them.

By moving to sectoral bargaining, banning “right to work” laws, facilitating organizing & right to strike, expanding law coverage, and more, the Warren proposal would be the biggest change in U.S. labor law since the National Labor Relations Act of 1935.https://t.co/o8x4ec2UXW

— Arindrajit Dube (@arindube) October 3, 2019

I feel like a few years ago sectoral bargaining was a niche topic; now Warren, Sanders, Beto, and Buttigieg are all on board. Pretty amazing testament to the work @kateandrias, @BrishenRogers, @DavidMadland, and many others have put in https://t.co/MHpW2k9TJT

— dylan matthews (@dylanmatt) October 3, 2019

“Each individual firm may have a strong incentive to resist collective bargaining if it believes it will raise costs and put the firm in a worse position relative to its competitors,” Warren wrote. “But if every firm is bound by the same bargaining outcome, their relative standing remains. That creates conditions for a more successful bargaining process.”

Also included in Warren’s plan to strengthen unions are measures to prohibit states from passing “right to work” laws as 28 states have done in recent years, keeping unions from collecting dues from all workers who benefit from their contracts; restrict employers from interfering in union elections and other anti-union activity, and strengthen unions’ right to strike by by appointing National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) members who recognize that strikes are legal under the NLRA.

“When state or local officeholders use their power and influence to intimidate workers or to dissuade them from unionizing, a Warren administration will respond,” Warren wrote. “We will make sure that affected workers know the federal government will protect their rights, and we will take every step possible to prevent federal resources from being used by state or local government to intimidate or coerce workers who are exercising their rights under federal law.”

Under a Warren administration, the senator wrote, all federal employees would immediately be paid a minimum wage of $15 per hour, while Warren would fight to pass the Raise the Wage Act, guaranteeing a $15 minimum wage to all workers.

Combating discrimination and harassment is also part of her proposal, including plans to require fair scheduling practices and ban retaliation for workers who request time off for childcare or health needs; push for the passage of the Transformation to Competitive Employment Act support a transition to integrated employment for people with disabilities; and protect workers from discrimination during the hiring process for their salary histories, criminal records, gender, or race.

The extensive plan was praised by SEIU President Mary Kay Henry.

The proposal “would overhaul America’s broken labor laws and empower workers to organize millions at a time, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to join a union no matter where they work,” Henry said.

Sara Nelson, president of the Association of Flight Attendants also applauded Warren on social media:

The details matter and this plan is really good. @ewarren not only addresses all of the policy issues that keep workers from gaining the right to negotiate, but it puts real power back in the hands of workers to raise wages with the full right to strike in every sector. 1/2 https://t.co/RVO3pgbYDN

— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) October 3, 2019

The @ewarren plan blocks all of the ways corporations seek to deny rights. It addresses the government interference in our right to strike under the RLA. This isn’t just wonky policy, it’s a product of listening closely to workers and making it possible to own our power. 2/2

— Sara Nelson (@FlyingWithSara) October 3, 2019

“Together, these changes will shift power back towards working people, boost America’s labor movement,” wrote the senator, “and help create an economy that works for everyone.”

The post Elizabeth Warren Introduces Plan to Strengthen Organized Labor appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Jig Is Up for Trump

The Ukraine scandal is about Russia’s, Vladimir Putin’s and Donald Trump’s efforts to smear Joe Biden and eliminate him as a presidential candidate in 2020. Such foreign interference in the American election may help Trump and would damage the American political process, just as it did in 2016.

That’s when, according to the report by special counsel Robert Mueller III, Russians stole emails from the Democratic National Committee and the  chairman of Hilary Clinton’s presidential campaign,  John Podesta.  They then fed the emails to Julian Assange, who put them out on Wikileaks, the report said. The action, amounting to an international dirty trick,  was a severe blow to Hilary Clinton’s campaign, one of several that cost her the presidential election.

First, let’s review the case against Trump, Putin and Russia. Putin and Russia, having blasted Hilary Clinton in 2016 and helped get Trump elected, would like to—in my opinion—get him elected next year.  The 2016 interference was documented by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

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Yesterday, Putin said he had seen no evidence that Trump tried to pressure the Ukraine president into investigating former Vice President Joe Biden and his son Hunter.

“… I don’t see anything compromising at all. President Trump asked his colleague to investigate possible corrupt deals by former administration employees,” Putin told a conference in Moscow. “Any head of state would be obliged to do this.”

It would suit Putin if the United States were to give no aid to the Ukraine so he can continue his conquest of that nation. Trump’s threat to withhold aid, vitally needed for Ukraine’s defense, unless Ukraine investigated the Bidens played into that scheme.

Biden himself rendered aid to Trump’s effort by allowing his son, Hunter, to hook up with a Ukrainian energy company and serve as a board member. Trump is portraying this connection as the stuff of scandal. But despite Trump and his supporters’ attacks on Biden and Biden’s son, the former vice president remains strong in the polls. The accuracy of such polling this early is uncertain, but it does reveal trends, especially when the surveys are in agreement. And these trends should worry Trump.

RealClearPolitics’ average of national polling late in September shows Biden leading Trump 50.5% to 42.8%. The president also trails Sens. Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders and Kamala Harris, but not by as much as when he is pitted in the polls against Biden.

The anti-feminist Trump probably feels he could make short work of Warren and Harris, either on the campaign trail or on a debate platform. He’s said that Sanders missed his chance to best him in the last election. But Biden, if he survives the Trump assault, is a different matter. As it stands today, Biden is the prime threat to Trump’s re-election.

The Biden team believes the former vice president’s strength is in the Midwestern industrial states that gave Trump the presidency. Biden is also running strong in South Carolina, where he has been a favorite of African American voters. Also, Biden was born in Pennsylvania, which Trump won in 2016.

Such numbers help explain why Trump was so persistent in asking the president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelenskiy, for help in gathering dirt on the Bidens. He was asking the chief of a foreign government to assist him so that he can remain in office.

But standing in Trump’s way is a troublesome document—the Constitution, which the president has tried to ignore in his treatment of refugees and other immigrants and of the voting rights of people of color. The writers of the Constitution gave Congress the power to oust a president through articles of impeachment passed by the House of Representatives and after a trial in the Senate.

In a Sept. 29 New York Times article, Peter Baker reviewed how the framers of the Constitution were concerned about foreign interference in the affairs of the new country. “The fear of foreign powers … animated the discussion over impeachment,” Baker wrote. “While the framers of the Constitution might never have imagined an impeachment battle waged 280 characters at a time, they did essentially foresee a showdown over foreign influence on an American president.”

As Bill Blum wrote on Truthdig, “This is an abuse of power in black and white, aimed at using a foreign government to bring down a political rival. Arguably, it may also establish the elements of two federal felonies: extortion and bribery.”

Whether Trump committed those felonies will be determined by the House and Senate. But the transcriptions of his telephone conversation with Zelenskiy leaves no doubt that Trump was trying to force the Ukrainians to help him bring down his rival.

Trump’s increasingly wild assaults on Biden and other foes could keep him in office. That would permit him to continue to use the power of the presidency to add profits to his hotels, golf clubs and other holdings, as well as to benefit the businesses of his children.

“It is, quite simply, beyond the pale to use the awesome power of the U.S. presidency for this kind of personal end,” writes David Kris in the blog Lawfare. Kris is a assistant attorney general for national security.

Impeachment has been a long time coming. The Mueller report, derided when issued, actually cleared the way for the House to proceed. It nailed an essential ingredient for impeachment: cooperation with a foreign government against the interests of the United States. Slow and plodding as its boss, Mueller’s office laid it all out for those with the patience and interest to read the report. With that groundwork and now the Ukrainian disclosures, Trump’s hold on the presidency may be tenuous.

But what if he survives impeachment, wins the Republican nomination and runs for a second term? And what if Biden, battered and weakened by Trump, loses his party’s nomination to Warren—now Biden’s leading challenger to Biden—and she beats Trump? That would be a fitting punishment for Trump—a dirty trick gone bad.

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Facebook Can Be Forced to Remove Content Worldwide, EU Court Rules

BRUSSELS—The European Union’s highest court ruled Thursday that individual member countries can force Facebook to remove what they regard as unlawful material from the social network all over the world _ a decision experts say could hinder free speech online and put a heavy burden on tech companies.

The European Court of Justice ruling, which cannot be appealed, is seen as a defeat for Facebook and other online platforms and widens the divide over how heavily Europe and the U.S. seek to regulate technology giants.

It would increase the onus on them to monitor what appears online.

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“It really unleashes a whole new gamut of risk and worries for Facebook in the EU,” said Wedbush Securities managing director Daniel Ives.

Ruling in the case of an Austrian politician who objected to what she regarded as a libelous news story, the European court said Internet companies can be forced to take action worldwide to remove objectionable material when ordered to do so by a court in an EU country.

Facebook already removes or otherwise restricts photos and other posts in any given country if the material violates that nation’s laws, such as anti-government comments in countries where that is illegal. But the new ruling means Facebook would have to make such material inaccessible globally.

Facebook charged that the decision “undermines the longstanding principle that one country does not have the right to impose its laws on speech on another country.”

While lawmakers in the U.S. are considering tighter regulation of Facebook and other tech giants, politicians in Europe have gone much further on a variety of fronts, including passing stricter data privacy laws in 2018.

“This shows a sharpening divide between the way the EU is handling privacy and data content versus the U.S.,” Wedbush’s Ives said. “It poses broader risks for the likes of Google and other big tech companies as the ‘Brussels versus tech’ battle continues to take hold.”

Eva Glawischnig-Piesczek, former chairwoman of Austria’s Green Party, had sued Facebook in her home country to remove a news story that she considered libelous and insulting and could be viewed globally. An Austrian court ruled in her favor. The country’s top court then asked the EU to weigh in.

The same EU court ruled last month that the European Union’s “right to be forgotten” rules _ which allow people to ask search engines like Google to remove outdated or embossing links about themselves, even if they are true _ do not apply outside the 28-nation bloc.

Thursday’s ruling is likely to encourage internet platforms to step up their efforts to monitor user content.

Activists at the European Digital Rights organization said that instead of hiring more “content moderators,” companies like Facebook might have to rely on automatic filters. And those, they warned, might be unable to distinguish between legal and illegal content.

The Computer & Communications Industry Association, a lobbying group that includes Amazon, Facebook and Google, said the ruling could infringe on the right to free speech.

“The ruling essentially allows one country or region to decide what Internet users around the world can say and what information they can access,” said CCIA Europe senior manager Victoria de Posson.

“What might be considered defamatory comments about someone in one country will likely be considered constitutional free speech in another. Few hosting platforms, especially startups, will have the resources to implement elaborate monitoring systems.”

David Carroll, a professor at Parsons School of Design in New York and a longtime critic of Facebook’s handling of data, said the social network could apply a content “fingerprint” for banned material in the same way it has automated the detection of pornography, child exploitation, terror groups and other things that violate its policies.

“It has plenty of money to spend on infrastructure to comply with international laws,” he said.

___

AP Technology Writer Mae Anderson in Atlanta contributed to this story.

The post Facebook Can Be Forced to Remove Content Worldwide, EU Court Rules appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Barr Seeks Police Access to Encrypted Facebook Messaging

NEW YORK—U.S. Attorney General William Barr wants Facebook to give law enforcement a way to read encrypted messages sent by users, re-igniting tensions between tech companies and law enforcement.

Facebook’s WhatsApp already has end-to-end encryption, meaning that even Facebook cannot read the text of messages. Facebook plans to extend that protection to Messenger and Instagram Direct.

While law enforcement wants a way to read messages analogous to wiretaps for phone calls, security experts say giving police such access makes messaging insecure for everyone.

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Barr will make the request to Facebook in a letter with counterparts from the U.K. and Australia as well as U.S. Homeland Security Secretary Kevin McAleenan. A copy of the latter, dated this Friday, was obtained by The Associated Press.

BuzzFeed News reported on the letter earlier.

The post Barr Seeks Police Access to Encrypted Facebook Messaging appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

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