Category Archives: Politics

The Truth About Israel, Boycotts, and BDS

Incoming members of Congress Ilhan Omar and Rashida Tlaib have both come out in favor of the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement — the first House members to ever do so.

Critics, however, suggest that BDS is anti-Semitic and undermines a two-state solution in the Middle East. Others say that supporters of BDS aren’t consistent in their criticism of human rights and unfairly focus on the actions of Israel.

In his latest video essay, The Intercept’s Mehdi Hasan examines — and debunks — some of the myths and controversies surrounding the BDS movement.

The post The Truth About Israel, Boycotts, and BDS appeared first on The Intercept.

Elizabeth Warren Has a Track Record of Taking on the Rich and Powerful. Don’t Write Her Off for 2020.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren gives her victory speech at a Democratic election watch party in Boston, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

Sen. Elizabeth Warren gives her victory speech at an election watch party in Boston, Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Michael Dwyer/AP

Is Elizabeth Warren finished? Is her putative presidential campaign over before it has even begun?

So say a growing number of political pundits and reporters. Her home state newspaper, the Boston Globe, which urged the Massachusetts senator to run against Hillary Clinton in 2016, now claims that she is a “divisive figure” and suggests that “there’s reason to be skeptical of her prospective candidacy in 2020.” The New York Times argued on its front page that “the lingering cloud over her likely presidential campaign has only darkened” as a result of her now-infamous DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry. Times reporter Astead Herndon quoted members of the senator’s inner circle saying they were “shocked” and “rattled” by her decision to take the test. Other critics have pointed to recent polls, both at the national and state levels, which suggest that support for a Warren presidential bid is waning.

My response? Ignore them. Only a few months ago, these same pundits and reporters were singing from a different hymn sheet. In May, a poll found that Warren was leading the field of potential Democratic presidential candidates in New Hampshire with 26 percent. In July, New York magazine put her on its cover with the headline “Frontrunner?” As recently as October, CNN’s Chris Cillizza and Harry Enten explained “why Elizabeth Warren is #1 in our new 2020 rankings.”

Pundits are fickle. Memories are short. Polls go up and down.

Warren, however, remains a formidable and ambitious politician; a proud progressive with a long track record of taking on the rich and powerful — and winning. Remember the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau? Her role in blocking Larry Summers from the Federal Reserve chairpersonship? Her recent bills to tackle corruption in Washington and put workers on the boards of big corporations? Yes, she is “divisive” — and for good reason!

Don’t get me wrong: She has taken a real hit in recent weeks, both from the racist right — “Pocahontas!” — and the social justice left — “Racial science!” Clinton once said that Warren “gets under [Donald Trump’s] thin skin like nobody else” — which makes the senator’s decision to dance to the president’s racist tune by taking a DNA test to prove her Native American ancestry, and then releasing a video to publicize the results, so bizarre:

Did she screw up? Yes. Should she issue a public apology and draw a line under it, once and for all? Most definitely. Is it fatal to her 2020 chances? Don’t. Be. Silly.

As a whole host of right-wing Republicans and bank bosses have discovered over the years, dismissing Elizabeth Warren is a fool’s game. You think the former professor and progressive icon is done? That she can’t win in 2020?

Ask her former GOP opponent, Scott Brown, who Warren replaced in the Senate in 2012 — and who, for a time, seemed unbeatable — if he agrees. The then-Harvard academic, who had never held elected office, ended up beating Brown by 8 percentage points after mounting an insurgent left-populist campaign against him. Remember her passionate, off-the-cuff speech on redistribution at a supporter’s home in Andover, Massachusetts, which went viral in September 2011? “I hear all this, you know, ‘Well, this is class warfare, this is whatever,’” she told her living room audience. “No! There is nobody in this country who got rich on his own. Nobody.”

She continued: “You built a factory out there — good for you! But I want to be clear. You moved your goods to market on the roads the rest of us paid for. You hired workers the rest of us paid to educate.”

Listen to her comments in full, as more than a million people have on YouTube:

Ask Mitch McConnell if he agrees that Warren is finished. In February 2017, the Democratic senator was in the midst of giving a speech criticizing then-attorney general nominee Jeff Sessions, and reading from a letter by Coretta Scott King, when she was interrupted and then shut down by the Senate majority leader. “She was warned,” he later explained. “She was given an explanation. Nevertheless, she persisted.” It was a PR disaster for the Republicans, as those last three words became a feminist rallying cry for the anti-Trump resistance, while #LetLizSpeak trended on Twitter.

Watch McConnell trying to silence Warren on the floor of the Senate, as 2.7 million people have on YouTube:

Ask the hosts of CNBC’s “Squawk Box” if they agree that the senior senator from Massachusetts is done. The three of them tried to take down Warren in a live TV interview in July 2013. They failed. Host Brian Sullivan argued that new regulations couldn’t prevent banks from taking risky bets and going bust. “No, that is just wrong!” Warren responded, schooling him on post-New Deal history, as she pointed out that none of the big banks failed in the 50 years after Glass-Steagall was passed.

Hear her explanation in full, and watch her humiliate the CNBC trio, as 2.5 million people on YouTube have:

Ask former Wells Fargo chief executive John Stumpf if he agrees that Warren is down and out. “What have you actually done to hold yourself accountable?” she asked the stuttering bank boss, as he testified in front of the Senate Banking Committee in September 2016. “Have you resigned as CEO or chairman of Wells Fargo? … Have you returned one nickel of the millions of dollars that you were paid while this scam was going on? … I will take that as a ‘no’ then.”

It was a bravura performance. She “tore him a new Stumpf-hole,” joked late-night host Stephen Colbert. Watch her smackdown of Stumpf, as 1.7 million people have on YouTube:

Are we supposed to believe that these viral videos of Warren in action, bashing bankers and ridiculing Republicans, are all irrelevant now because of a single, misguided, five-and-a-half minute video about her ancestry? Or that her longstanding campaigns for fairer taxation and better regulation, or her ferocious attacks on racial and income inequality, should take a back seat to this row over her Native American heritage? Seriously?

Did I mention that there is a white nationalist sitting in the White House, with an unmatched record of presidential corruption and criminality? Can we focus? Please?

This is one of the few Democratic senators who needs no encouragement to take the fight to Republican politicians, or greedy bankers, or right-wing pundits. This is a white liberal who isn’t afraid to call the criminal justice system “racist” from “front to back,” or demand action against “the lingering effects of housing discrimination,” or highlight “the staggering gap of wealth between white communities and communities of color.”

To be clear: I am not endorsing Elizabeth Warren for president or saying that she is the perfect person to battle Donald Trump in 2020. The DNA test was a worrying misjudgment; a self-inflicted wound. She still lacks people of color in her inner circle. Her recent foreign policy address, while a step in the right direction, was nowhere near as radical as Bernie Sanders’s speech on U.S. foreign policy in 2017. And, unlike the socialist senator from Vermont, Warren is a proud capitalist who continues to believe “in markets right down to my toes.”

But it would be a mistake to write her off when the Iowa caucuses are still 14 months out and the presidential election itself is almost two years away. And while I understand why the right wants to engage in racist attacks about her ancestry, and misogynistic attacks about her being “schoolmarmy” or “screechy,” it is sheer madness for progressives to join in the trashing of a senator who — with the exception of Sanders — has done more than any other politician to shift the Democratic Party to the left in recent years. Why would anyone interested in justice or equality want to undermine or diminish her voice? Do they really need to go back and watch all those videos again?

In fact, I suspect most progressives will be energized by her campaign once she formally declares and begins addressing rallies in Iowa and New Hampshire. Flush with cash, Warren will be one of the more impressive and idealistic Democratic candidates come 2020 — with a better stump speech than Joe Biden, a more progressive platform than Beto O’Rourke, and a stronger critique of Wall Street than Kamala Harris and Cory Booker combined.

My advice to her Republican opponents, Democratic rivals, and media critics: Write off Elizabeth Warren at your peril.

The post Elizabeth Warren Has a Track Record of Taking on the Rich and Powerful. Don’t Write Her Off for 2020. appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump’s Travel Ban Faces a New Day in Court

Opponents of Donald Trump’s travel ban have a chance to chip away at it this week by challenging the way it’s been implemented. If they’re successful, Trump will have only his own administration to blame.

The argument that a group of plaintiffs is making is straightforward: Because the travel ban was upheld, individuals impacted by it can only enter the United States through a waiver system that was said to be a safeguard against arbitrarily keeping people out of the country. Yet the administration has done next to nothing to set the waiver system up, which suggests that a total ban of Muslim travelers from the targeted countries was indeed the original intent.

The U.S. Supreme Court upheld the ban, known as Presidential Proclamation 9645, in June. The proclamation allows for waivers for foreign nationals who establish that the government’s denial of a visa would cause them undue hardship, and that their entry would not threaten the national security or public safety of the United States, and would be in the national interest. The proclamation called on the secretaries of State and Homeland Security to “adopt guidance addressing circumstances in which waivers may be appropriate.” The proclamation also lists a number of such circumstances. For example, a waiver would be appropriate for an individual who is a student in the United States, has significant business obligations in the country, or is coming to visit or reside with a close family member.

The government has not only failed to provide any meaningful guidance on the waiver, according to an ongoing lawsuit against the Trump administration, but it is also not providing any meaningful consideration of an applicant’s eligibility for a waiver. Within days of the proclamation going into effect, scores of visa applications were denied. Many applicants whose applications were denied at their interviews were told that their eligibility for a waiver would not be considered. At least one consulate explicitly told applicants not to submit any documents in support of a waiver application. “Applicants are thus at a loss for what to do,” the lawsuit reads.

For these reasons, the plaintiffs argue, the government has violated the Administrative Procedure Act, which prohibits federal action that is “arbitrary, capricious, an abuse of discretion, or otherwise not in accordance with law.”

The process, or lack of it, makes it impossible for individuals who should seemingly be exempt from the ban to get permission to travel to the United States. The plaintiffs are asking the court to order the Trump administration to retract all the visa denials it issued under the ban and give those individuals the chance to apply for a waiver. The court should also order the State and Homeland Security departments to issue clear guidelines on the waiver process, including by letting applicants know what type of documents they should submit to apply for a waiver. Those applications should be weighed on a case-by-case basis, as the language of the proclamation requires, the plaintiffs charge.

The U.S. District Court for the Northern District of California will on Thursday hear arguments in the case, known as Emami v. Nielsen. It was brought by Muslim Advocates, Lotfi Legal, the Immigrant Advocacy and Litigation Center, and Public Counsel against the Homeland Security and State departments. The class-action lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of 36 plaintiffs of Iranian, Libyan, Somali, Syrian, and Yemeni backgrounds, covers nationals of the five countries included in all three iterations of the travel ban.

The crux of the arguments raised in round two of the travel ban fight are procedural, but the plaintiffs also argue that the lack of a waiver process violates the Due Process Clause of the Fifth Amendment. The blanket denials of visas to applicants from the targeted countries, combined with Trump’s statements regarding his intent for instituting a travel ban “makes clear that Defendants are targeting individuals for discriminatory treatment based on their country of origin or nationality, without any lawful justification,” the complaint reads. (In Hawaii v. Trump, the Supreme Court upheld the travel ban without deciding on the merits of the constitutional claims raised.)

“It goes to the heart of the question of whether this ban is actually intended to advance national security or whether it’s intended to shut Muslims out of the United States.”

“This is a case fundamentally about a government putting forth two completely contradictory statements,” said Sirine Shebaya, an attorney at Muslim Advocates who will be arguing the case in federal court. Trump, in his proclamation, made a somewhat binding statement that each individual applicant will be assessed against certain criteria for a waiver, but at the same time, the government has prevented individuals from having a way to make that demonstration, Shebaya explained. “I think it goes to the heart of the question of whether this ban is actually intended to advance national security or whether it’s intended to shut Muslims out of the United States.”

Between December 8, 2017, and April 30, 2018, the government issued waivers to the ban in only 2 percent of all cases, according to State Department data. The numbers went up in the months after the ban was upheld, but it’s still unclear how many people remain stuck in processing. If it’s any indication, though, Muslim Advocates clients remain in bureaucratic limbo. And even in cases where the waiver was approved, Shebaya said, there’s no way to know whether the visa was ultimately issued.

The government, in its motion to dismiss, largely defended itself against the claims in the lawsuit by referring to the doctrine of consular nonreviewability, which means that a discretionary decision made by a consular officer cannot be appealed. The defendants also argue that the proclamation does not create individually enforceable rights that can be litigated in court. They point to Hawaii v. Trump, in which the majority of the Supreme Court cited the case-by-case waiver provision in its decision to uphold the ban. The plaintiffs counter that merely announcing the intent to create a waiver process is not the same thing as actually creating one.

In his dissenting opinion, Justice Stephen Breyer wrote that there is evidence that the government is not applying the terms of the proclamation as written, supporting the inference that the proclamation is a “Muslim ban” and not a “security-based ban.” In her dissent, Justice Sonia Sotomayor went even further. “Ultimately, what began as a policy explicitly ‘calling for a total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States’ has since morphed into a ‘Proclamation’ putatively based on national-security concerns,” she wrote, referring to Trump’s December 2015 statement that many point to as the genesis of the travel ban. “But this new window dressing cannot conceal an unassailable fact: the words of the President and his advisers create the strong perception that the Proclamation is contaminated by impermissible discriminatory animus against Islam and its followers.”

The plaintiffs in the Muslim Advocates lawsuit fit into a number of the 10 circumstances Trump laid out in his proclamation under which a waiver might be appropriate. The scenarios described in the lawsuit demonstrate the arbitrary manner in which the government is dealing with what is supposed to be individualized consideration for a waiver grant.

Najib Adi, for example, is a Virginia-based dentist who has been unable to visit his native Syria since the start of the 2011 uprising. His dad died in 2014, and Adi was unable to attend the funeral. Now, he’s trying to bring his 70-year-old mother to live with him. She had an interview for an immigrant visa at the U.S. Consulate in Amman, Jordan, in December 2017, where she was told she’d be considered for a waiver. She is still waiting for an answer. Ismail Alghazali is a U.S. citizen of Yemeni origin who is currently stuck in Djibouti with his wife and infant child. At his wife’s January 2018 interview for a visa to the United States, her application was automatically denied and she was told she wouldn’t be considered for a waiver. She was never told that she could demonstrate her eligibility for a waiver under the proclamation.

“What it means for a lot of these families is there’s a great deal of confusion and ambiguity,” said Debbie Almontaser, a New-York based Yemeni-American activist. “They’ll come to the Yemeni American Merchants Association and say, ‘My family member needs a waiver, can you help us complete the waiver?’ And for us to stand there in front of them and say, ‘We’ll be happy to help you, but there’s no form or application,’ … they’ll look at us like we don’t know what we’re talking about.”

The Yemeni American Merchants Association, which Almontaser co-founded in the wake of the travel ban, has teamed up with a lawyer who’s trying to help Yemeni families in New York bring their loved ones to the United States. Different people they’ve worked with have had radically different experiences, depending on the consulate at which they’re applying for a visa, Almontaser said. In some cases, the consular officers have asked applicants for proof that they meet the waiver criteria, and in other cases, they’ve said they’ll review existing visa application information. “The confusion is causing people a lot of anxiety, and it’s also giving people a lot of false hope of what the government wants,” she added.

Chris Richardson, a former consular officer who submitted an affidavit in support of the Muslim Advocates litigation, said the government was hiding behind the doctrine of consular nonreviewability. Diplomats like himself, he said, were not actually empowered to exercise discretion in issuing waivers.

“I think that the Muslim ban itself became the template for all the other things that came after it.”

“If there was an actual waiver process, then consular officers themselves would’ve had total discretion in terms of issuing the visa to anyone they wanted,” said Richardson, who resigned from his diplomatic outpost in Madrid in March of this year. He said in his affidavit that it was his understanding that no one was to be eligible to apply for a visa waiver, and that consular officers were not allowed to exercise discretion to grant a waiver. Instead, they’d have to ask officials in Washington, who’d be empowered to make a final determination.

“You wouldn’t put up nondiscretionary hurdles in there unless you were trying to discourage people from giving waivers,” Richardson told The Intercept.

“I think that the Muslim ban itself became the template for all the other things that came after it,” Richardson said. Trump “realized with the Muslim ban that if you do something outrageous at first, and then you get the government to modify it to make it seem less bad, people will forget. People won’t care anymore. People will let it go.”

The post Donald Trump’s Travel Ban Faces a New Day in Court appeared first on The Intercept.

Google CEO Hammered by Members of Congress on China Censorship Plan

Google CEO Sundar Pichai came under fire from lawmakers on Tuesday over the company’s secretive plan to launch a censored search engine in China.

During a hearing held by the House Judiciary Committee, Pichai faced sustained questions over the China plan, known as Dragonfly, which would blacklist broad categories of information about democracy, human rights, and peaceful protest.

The hearing began with an opening statement from Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., who said launching a censored search engine in China would “strengthen China’s system of surveillance and repression.” McCarthy questioned whether it was the role of American companies to be “instruments of freedom or instruments of control.”

Pichai read prepared remarks, stating “even as we expand into new markets, we never forget our American roots.” He added: “I lead this company without political bias and work to ensure that our products continue to operate that way. To do otherwise would go against our core principles and our business interests.”

The lawmakers questioned Pichai on a broad variety of subjects. Several Republicans on the committee complained that Google displayed too many negative stories about them in its search results, and claimed that there was “bias against conservatives” on the platform. They also asked about recent revelations of data leaks affecting millions of Google users, Android location tracking, and Google’s work to combat white supremacist content on YouTube.

It was not until Pichai began to face questions on China that he began to look at times uncomfortable.

Rep. David Cicilline, D-R.I., told Pichai that the Dragonfly plan seemed to be “completely inconsistent” with Google’s recently launched artificial intelligence principles, which state that the company will not “design or deploy” technologies whose purpose “contravenes widely accepted principles of international law and human rights.”

“It’s hard to imagine you could operate in the Chinese market under the current government framework and maintain a commitment to universal values, such as freedom of expression and personal privacy,” Cicilline said.

McCarthy questioned whether it was the role of American companies to be “instruments of freedom or instruments of control.”

Pichai repeatedly insisted that Dragonfly was an “internal effort” and the Google currently had “no plans to launch a search service in China.” Asked to confirm that the company would not launch “a tool for surveillance and censorship in China,” Pichai declined to answer, instead saying that he was committed to “providing users with information, and so we always — we think it’s ideal to explore possibilities. … We’ll be very thoughtful, and we will engage widely as we make progress.”

Pichai’s claim that the company does not have a plan to launch the search engine in China contradicted a leaked transcript from a private meeting inside the company. In the transcript, the company’s search chief Ben Gomes discussed an aim to roll out the service between January and April 2019. For Pichai’s statement to Congress to be truthful, there is only one possibility: that the company has put the brakes on Dragonfly since The Intercept first exposed the project in August.

During a separate exchange, Rep. Keith Rothfus, R-Pa., probed Pichai further on China. Rothfus asked Pichai how many months the company had been working to develop the censored search engine and how many employees had worked on it. Pichai seemed caught off guard and stumbled with his response. “We have had the project underway for a while,” he said, admitting that “at one point, we had over 100 people on it.” (According to sources who worked on Dragonfly, there have been closer to 300 people developing the plan.)

Rep. Tom Marino, R-Pa., quizzed Pichai on what user information the company would share with Chinese authorities. Pichai did not directly answer, stating, “We would look at what the conditions are to operate … [and we would] explore a wide range of possibilities.” Pichai said that he would be “transparent” with lawmakers on the company’s China plan going forward. He did not acknowledge that Dragonfly would still be secret — and he would not have been discussing it in Congress — had it not been for the whistleblowers inside the company who decided to leak information about the project.

At one point during the hearing, the proceedings were interrupted by a protester who entered the room carrying a placard that showed the Google logo altered to look like a China flag. The man was swiftly removed by Capitol Police. A handful of Tibetan and Uighur activists gathered in the hall outside the hearing, where they held a banner that stated “stop Google censorship.”

“We are protesting Google CEO Sundar Pichai to express our grave concern over Google’s plan to launch Project Dragonfly, a censored search app in China which will help Chinese government’s brutal human right abuses,” said Dorjee Tseten, executive director of Students for a Free Tibet. “We strongly urge Google to immediately drop Project Dragonfly. With this project, Google is serving to legitimize the repressive regime of the Chinese government and authorities to engage in censorship and surveillance.”

Earlier on Tuesday, more than 60 leading human rights groups sent a letter to Pichai calling on him to cancel the Dragonfly project. If the plan proceeds, the groups wrote, “there is a real risk that Google would directly assist the Chinese government in arresting or imprisoning people simply for expressing their views online, making the company complicit in human rights violations.”

The post Google CEO Hammered by Members of Congress on China Censorship Plan appeared first on The Intercept.

Something New Is Happening in the House: Progressives Are Winning Internal Fights

For years in the House of Representatives, a simple majority was all that was needed to pass legislation — unless that bill included a tax increase. In that case, it required a three-fifths majority, thanks to a rule implemented by former Speaker Newt Gingrich after the 1994 Republican wave.

After Democrats swept the midterms this November, party leaders suggested that they would reform the rule. Under Democratic rule, a supermajority would only be needed for tax increases that affected the bottom 80 percent of earners.

But fiscal policy has become a flashpoint in the ongoing struggle between the party’s center and its progressive wing, and the left pushed back. The new policy was an improvement, the Congressional Progressive Caucus argued, but would still handcuff the party’s agenda in a number of ways, blocking some tax policies aimed at the rich that may incidentally implicate a handful of regular people and making passage of core progressive priorities like “Medicare for All” difficult

On Tuesday, the Progressive Caucus announced on Twitter that the new rule had been defeated.

Democratic leaders had put the supermajority requirement into a rules package that will be voted on January 3, the first day of the new Congress.

The initial proposal faced immediate criticism from progressives, who argued that policies like tuition-free higher education or “Medicare for All” could not be accomplished without some shared tax burden beyond the top 20 percent. It would have made repealing the Trump tax cuts, and using the proceeds for progressive priorities, rather tricky.

It also would have made taxes on Wall Street tough to get through. The carried interest loophole, for instance, benefits hedge fund managers, allowing them to pay far lower taxes than regular workers. But closing the loophole could have some small effect on pensions that invest with hedge funds and therefore, people who receive income from pensions.

While items on the progressive wish list are likely unable to pass under Republican control of the Senate and the White House, progressive Democrats want to pass them through the House to signal the party’s priorities to the nation and build support for when Democrats retain full control of government.

The rule could have always been waived by the House Rules Committee. But the optics of putting in a supermajority tax requirement for anything, which Rep. Gerald Connolly, D-Va., described as “kind of a Republican argument,” would have put unnecessary shackles on a Congress that already has high legislative hurdles and numerous veto points.

“The removal of this harmful provision will help progressives pass #CollegeForAll, #MedicareForAll, & other bold proposals that will deliver meaningful relief for working families,” said the Progressive Caucus in a statement on Twitter. “We appreciate the willingness of @RepMcGovern & the House Democratic Leadership to work with the Progressive Caucus on this critical issue.”

Rep. Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is the presumptive incoming chair of the House Rules Committee, which has jurisdiction over setting the rules for the House in the next Congress.

Still outstanding is another rules provision regarding requiring “pay-as-you-go” offsets. That concept, which Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi has been promoting for some time, would mandate that all new spending is offset with budget cuts or tax increases. Progressives have similarly grumbled at that, again arguing that it would handcuff a bold agenda. Especially given the complete lack of interest from Republicans in deficit reduction policies, it would create a one-way ratchet, constraining the activist impulses of liberal policymakers while giving conservatives free rein to blow giant holes in the tax code.

Indeed, Republicans waived the rule in order to pass the Trump tax plan because it contained massive tax increases to offset some of the tax cuts.

Because Pelosi is still working to nail down the 218 votes needed for her to become speaker, the Progressive Caucus has leeway to make certain demands in a short window before the next Congress. It has already used that to secure a commitment to proportional representation on key committees that set domestic policy, and to win a spot for Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., as one of three members of the leadership panel that divvies up those committee seats.

Other factions have used this leverage as well. The Problem Solvers Caucus, a bipartisan group of centrists backed by a coterie of billionaires and Mark Penn, got Pelosi to sign off on a series of rule changes that fast-track bipartisan bills and amendments to the House floor.

The post Something New Is Happening in the House: Progressives Are Winning Internal Fights appeared first on The Intercept.

A GOP Governor Has a Chance to Fix a Blue State’s Draconian Approach to Paroling Juvenile Offenders

In 1993, a 40-year-old man in Maryland who was serving a life sentence for a 1975 murder left prison on the state’s prerelease program. Correctional officers had described Rodney Stokes as a model prisoner who had demonstrated no inclination to reoffend. Stokes had been in the work-release program since 1988 and had worked for the Baltimore Department of Public Works as a laborer since 1989. But one day after leaving, he killed his former girlfriend and then himself.

The murder-suicide came on the heels of three other incidents in Maryland involving the prerelease of prisoners. The Willie Horton ad that derailed Democratic presidential candidate Michael Dukakis’s 1988 presidential campaign was also still fresh in the public’s mind. Horton was a convicted felon serving a life sentence in Massachusetts; while on a weekend furlough, he committed assault, armed robbery, and rape. He was captured and sentenced in Maryland, where he remains to this day.

In reaction to the Stokes incident, Maryland’s Democratic governor at the time, Parris Glendening, removed all lifers from the prerelease program and announced, in 1995, that he would approve no recommendations to parole lifers going forward. “A life sentence means life,” he declared. Maryland, along with California and Oklahoma, is one of just three states in which the governor’s signature is required in order to parole prisoners with life sentences; in the 25 years leading up to Glendening’s decision, three Maryland governors had paroled 181 prisoners with life sentences. The state courts upheld Glendening’s pronouncement in 1999, and it remains effectively in place today — even with respect to juvenile offenders, who in recent years have seen their life sentences revisited around the country.

There are an estimated 2,100 people in prison nationwide who were sentenced to life for crimes they committed when they were 17 or younger. But recently, some states have eliminated life without parole sentences for juveniles altogether. Others have devised alternative sentencing schemes to give juvenile offenders a “meaningful opportunity” for release. The changes were prompted by a bevy of scientific evidence about adolescent brain development and powerful U.S. Supreme Court decisions that have been issued in the past eight years.

Maryland, however, appears to be stuck in the tough-on-crime fervor of the 1990s. Not one juvenile lifer in Maryland has been paroled outright — released on a formal recommendation to the governor based on the prisoner’s good behavior and signs of rehabilitation — since 1995. There are currently more than 200 parole-eligible juveniles toiling away in the state’s prisons. That’s in large part, criminal justice reformers say, because of the governor’s role in the process, which they describe as highly politicized — and which leads to people being locked up forever.

Republican Gov. Larry Hogan was re-elected to a second term last month. He now has an opening to parole more individuals with life sentences, and then ultimately remove himself from the parole approval process altogether.

“Republicans are presumed to be about law and order, and it can be easier for law-and-order politicians to move on criminal justice reform or grant clemency,” said Jane Murphy, a University of Baltimore law professor. “There’s a lot of pressure on him, but it’s also politically easier for him to [grant parole]. We’re sort of hopeful now, because this is his second term and he’s term-limited. … If this is the end of the road for Hogan, he might be more courageous.”

Hogan’s approach to juvenile lifers is rooted in the Maryland Court of Appeals’s 1999 decision upholding Glendening’s decree. The court found that the rights of lifers were not violated by the governor’s blanket refusal to approve any recommendation from the Maryland Parole Commission.

From then on, Maryland’s governors would reject recommendations — typically without explanation — to parole lifers who had demonstrated good behavior. Sometimes recommendations to parole lifers would be left in limbo, sitting on the governor’s desk for years.

In 2011, advocates confronted the Maryland legislature with evidence that parole and commutation requests were pending indefinitely, and the General Assembly responded by modifying the statute, requiring the governor to act on a parole recommendation within six months. The governor at the time, Democrat Martin O’Malley, responded by swiftly rejecting all pending recommendations.

Criminal justice reformers have continued to press the legislature to take the governor out of the process, and to leave parole decisions up to the Parole Commission. Those efforts, however, have been routinely stymied by legislators that are fearful of being blamed for another Rodney Stokes or Willie Horton. “It’s hard for someone to say, ‘I’m going to undo this policy,’” said Sonia Kumar, a juvenile justice-focused attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland. “They’ll say, “Well, one bad headline and my political career is in the toilet.’”

In 2017, the Maryland House of Delegates approved a bill that would have removed the governor from the decision-making process, leaving it up to the Parole Commission to make a final determination. “It is the Parole Commission that sits in front of these individuals who are serving life sentences, and can aptly gauge the person’s rehabilitation, remorse, and disposition, while conducting a thorough review of the relevant records and documents,” reads testimony in support of the bill from the University of Baltimore law school’s Juvenile Justice Project and the University of Maryland law school’s Gender Violence Clinic.

But Hogan fought the bill in the Senate and wrote on Facebook that he “strongly disagree[s] with giving this important responsibility to a nameless board with no accountability to voters and people of this state.” He described it as a partisan attempt to “radically change our state government” and deny Marylanders the “needed and appropriate oversight” they deserve. The bill ended up floundering in the Senate, due to some proposed amendments that advocates deemed unacceptable.

“I think the pushback came because [Hogan] views it as just a challenge to his authority,” said Walter Lomax, the executive director of the Maryland Restorative Justice Initiative. Lomax was released from prison in 2006, after serving 40 years for a murder he did not commit. “We try not to be adversarial when pushing for this legislation,” Lomax added. “We’ve just tried to present the hard facts as to why this policy should be changed.”

ANNAPOLIS, MD - FEBRUARY 1:  Maryland Senator Delores Kelley shows a page of people still serving life terms ,during a press conference organized in part by the ACLU of Maryland and Legislators in Annapolis proposing to take the governor -- and politics -- out of the parole process for people serving life in prison. Many who were juvenile offenders when they committed their crimes.(Photo by Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images)

At a press conference on Feb. 1, 2018, organized in part by the American Civil Liberties Union of Maryland and legislators, Maryland Sen. Delores Kelley holds a page showing people still serving life terms, many of whom were juvenile offenders when they committed their crimes.

Photo: Jonathan Newton/The Washington Post via Getty Images

These political battles are especially urgent, criminal justice reform advocates say, because the process for parole and commutation is shrouded in secrecy.

Murphy, who directs the Juvenile Justice Project at the University of Baltimore law school, put it this way: “Our sources of information are occasional leaks from the Parole Commission, or if the ACLU can glean facts through a lawsuit discovery. We don’t know how many people have been commuted, and the only reason we have any information at all is because we push and [file requests under the Freedom of Information Act] and call and write letters and ask for favors, but the vast majority of people in the parole system are unrepresented and there’s no accountability at all.”

There’s “a recognition that secrecy does not tend to breed fair outcomes,” said Kumar of the ACLU. Unlike many other states, Maryland does not recognize a right to counsel in parole hearings, and there are no records of what happens during the proceedings. When the ACLU of Maryland filed a public records request in order to learn how many people had been recommended for clemency, the Parole Commission refused to even disclose that number, saying the information was protected by executive privilege.

The consequence of all this, advocates say, is a loss of hope for people who have spent decades in prison working to rehabilitate themselves, while being told that good behavior could one day lead to parole.

When Hogan ran for governor in 2014, he gave the impression that he would govern differently on this issue, promising to parole lifers who were recommended for release more quickly. And his record on approving parole requests has been slightly better than that of his Democratic predecessor, O’Malley, but that bar is so low that advocates see the situation as still fundamentally broken.

“In office, he’s dealt with it like [Republican Gov. Robert] Ehrlich dealt with it,” said Lomax, “where he’d commute a few sentences and then let people be paroled out that way.”

As of February, according to a letter sent to the state Senate by Hogan’s chief counsel and reviewed by The Intercept, the governor approved two out of nine parole requests during his first three years and granted seven commutations. By contrast, O’Malley, in his eight years in office, granted three commutations and authorized just two medical paroles, a form of release granted to prisoners who are terminally ill and need to move into hospice.

Amelia Chasse, a Hogan spokesperson, told The Intercept that the governor received one recommendation to parole a juvenile lifer, which he denied, but he commuted the sentence of another juvenile lifer, and has granted medical parole to three juvenile lifers. Chasse did not answer questions about whether the bases for the governor’s decisions are available for public review or available to the prisoners themselves.

The nationwide push to eliminate life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders came to a head in 2010, when the U.S. Supreme Court, in Graham v. Florida, struck down such sentences for non-homicide offenses. “The juvenile should not be deprived of the opportunity to achieve maturity of judgment and self-recognition of human worth and potential,” Justice Anthony Kennedy wrote in the majority opinion.

Two years later, in Miller v. Alabama, the Supreme Court held that life sentences without parole for juvenile offenders, even in cases of homicide, violated the Eighth Amendment, which prohibits cruel and unusual punishment. “Mandatory life without parole for a juvenile precludes consideration of his chronological age and its hallmark features — among them, immaturity, impetuosity, and failure to appreciate risks and consequences,” wrote Justice Elena Kagan in the majority opinion. In Miller, the court held that juvenile offenders, unless they were “irreparably corrupt,” were entitled to a “meaningful opportunity” for release from prison. Four years later, in Montgomery v. Louisiana, the Supreme Court held that Miller should be applied to juvenile offenders retroactively — giving juveniles who’d previously been sentenced to life without parole for killing someone a chance to reopen their cases.

In Maryland, attorneys and advocates argue that while juvenile offenders are technically eligible for parole, in reality they’re systematically denied it, given the politicized nature of the governor’s approval process.

“Graham was decided in 2010, and we have people who are still not getting anything close to a meaningful opportunity for release eight years later,” said Kumar of the ACLU of Maryland.

In February, Hogan issued an executive order that stipulated he would consider “the same factors and information assessed by the Maryland Parole Commission” when deciding whether to parole juvenile lifers, as well as “other lawful factors deemed relevant by the Governor.” Hogan said this was codifying what he already did but stressed that the order would not apply retroactively. In other words, he was not opening a chance to review past decisions.

Advocates blasted Hogan’s executive order as a political stunt. “He issued something he can change at any time, and there’s nothing enforceable about the order,” said Kumar. “As a practical matter, the order doesn’t alter the system in any way that shifts it from one of clemency to parole, which is the fundamental failing.”

The state’s highest court, however, disagrees. This past summer, in a 4-3 ruling, Maryland’s Court of Appeals held that state law provides a meaningful opportunity for release for juvenile defenders. The court cited Hogan’s executive order, finding that it “attempts to bridge the gap between unfettered discretion that the legislature has given to the governor with respect to parole of inmates serving life sentences and the requirements of the Eighth Amendment as to juvenile offenders.”

In a dissent, Chief Judge Mary Ellen Barbera said the majority opinion does not apply the U.S. Supreme Court’s rulings to Maryland’s situation in a “realistic manner.” She was unconvinced that Hogan’s executive order “cures the constitutional infirmity of Maryland’s current parole system,” she wrote.

While the August decision was a blow for criminal justice reformers, Kumar described it as a “mixed bag,” since it also brought about some positive new pressure. It was the first time the state’s highest court spoke to any of the questions that had grown out of the U.S. Supreme Court’s cases on youth serving life sentences.

In contrast, other states have taken real steps to respond to the decisions of the Supreme Court, including Pennsylvania, which has more juvenile lifers than any other state in the country. In 2017, in the case of Commonwealth v. Batts, the Pennsylvania Supreme Court set forth a series of protections to effectuate the constitutional decrees of Montgomery and Miller. As a result of these protections, explained Riya Saha Shah, an attorney at the Pennsylvania-based Juvenile Law Center, fewer people have received life without parole at resentencing hearings, and Pennsylvania has also been paroling out people who have served long prison sentences on good behavior. “Overall, the parole process offers a more meaningful opportunity for release than a state like Maryland, which effectively denies it,” she said.

The pressure on Hogan to take criminal justice reform more seriously is coming from a number of directions. A group of about 50 attorneys came together in 2017 to fight for protections for juvenile offenders. The Maryland Juvenile Lifer Parole Representation Project offers pro bono legal services to juvenile offenders languishing in jail. “Our goal is not only to provide individual representation, but to unleash these large firm lawyers on this system,” explained Murphy.

The state is also currently defending itself against a 2016 federal lawsuit, brought by the ACLU, that challenges the constitutionality of Maryland’s parole scheme for juveniles. The case remains pending.

There is also an economic argument for enacting reform. During the gubernatorial campaign, Hogan’s Democratic opponent, Ben Jealous, spent significant time talking about the amount of money wasted on mass incarceration that could be better spent elsewhere. In a 2015 report, the ACLU of Maryland found that the detention of more than 2,000 with life sentences costs the state more than $70 million per year. By contrast, a recent report from the Justice Policy Institute estimated that it would cost about $6,000 per year to support the successful re-entry of prisoners into society. (The report focused on about 200 former Maryland prisoners who were freed on probation under a landmark 2012 decision and who provided with substantial philanthropic support upon release. Less than 3 percent of them have reoffended, the Justice Policy Institute found, compared to a recidivism rate of 40 percent for the general prison population. Chasse, Hogan’s spokesperson, did not return request for comment on the findings.)

While Maryland has taken some recent steps to tackle its prison system — notably, the Justice Reinvestment Act of 2016, which took effect last fall — the bulk of the new reforms have focused on low-level, nonviolent offenders.

“We’re not really going to take on mass incarceration,” said Kumar, “until we help people who made horrible mistakes with tragic outcomes and have turned their lives around.”

The post A GOP Governor Has a Chance to Fix a Blue State’s Draconian Approach to Paroling Juvenile Offenders appeared first on The Intercept.

The Remarkable Tale of the Corporate Lobbyist Sworn In as a Temporary U.S. Senator

Late last month, two former policymakers and lobbyists teamed up for an op-ed in the Washington Post. It was, as the genre goes, fairly mundane: a description of a problem or a threat, and a prescription that just happens to benefit a particular corporate sector that the lobbyists just might have an interest in benefiting.

In a piece titled “Why America needs low-yield nuclear warheads now,” Michael Morell and Jon Kyl argued that Russian and Chinese nuclear modernization programs demanded a response. “Russia is intent on exploiting what it perceives as a U.S. nuclear capability gap,” they write. “We must change that calculation” by adding submarine and sea-launched missiles with nuclear warheads. This would increase deterrence and prevent nuclear war, they claim; otherwise Russia will strike first.

The only difference here is that while Morell is a lobbyist — technically speaking a “senior counsel” at advisory firm Beacon Global Strategies — Kyl no longer is. As of this writing, Jon Kyl is a sitting U.S. senator.

Kyl, who served in the House and the Senate for decades but retired in 2012, was chosen to replace the late John McCain on an interim basis, as a placeholder before a special election for the seat in 2020. But Kyl, who was sworn in September 5, never committed to filling out the vacancy for the next two years; from the beginning, he only committed to serve through the lame-duck session, and he is widely expected to leave after that. That means that the final senator for the next Congress has yet to be determined.

Few have paid much attention to Kyl, who is wrapping up one of the strangest and — to his critics — one of the most corrupt tenures in the modern history of the Senate. Kyl was a registered lobbyist at a powerhouse D.C. law firm, who lived and worked in Washington for five and a half years before taking a four-month gig as a senator. His only floor speeches have involved matters at least glancingly tied to his lobbying. His entire term of office seems like a calculated attempt to refresh his contacts and gain clout from the inside, only to spin back out to influence the institution. He’s supposed to represent Arizona, but increasingly it appears that he only represents K Street.

“Kyl’s power had diminished significantly over time,” said Jeff Hauser, director of the Revolving Door Project at the Center for Economic and Policy Research. “By getting this dip into the Senate, he gets an increased profile, an increased rolodex. It burnishes his stature but does nothing for the republic.”

Arizona Senators Jon Kyl, left, and John McCain, hold a news conference on their 10 point border security action plan on Monday, April 19, 2010, in the Capitol. (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Arizona Senators Jon Kyl, left, and John McCain, hold a news conference on their 10 point border security action plan on April 19, 2010.

Photo: CQ Roll Call via AP Images

Jon Kyl served 26 years on Capitol Hill, first with four terms in the House of Representatives and then with three terms in the Senate. He rose to Senate minority whip, the No. 2 position in the Republican leadership, in 2007.

Upon retirement in 2012, it only took Kyl three months to make his way through the revolving door. He actually began his career as a lobbyist, so this was a return trip. In March 2013, Kyl joined the lobbying group at Covington & Burling, the largest law firm in D.C., after a K Street bidding war for his services. Known more for white-collar defense, Covington had been building its lobbying practice as Kyl entered, hiring the former lead lobbyist for PepsiCo the year before. The job was based in Covington’s Washington headquarters. Kyl said of Covington’s formidable range of business clients, “I’ve had enough experience in the Senate and House to know how to help them out.”

Kyl didn’t formally register as a lobbyist until 2015 (Senate ethics rules prevent former senators from lobbying congressional offices for two years after leaving office). But he still advised and counseled corporate clients, and used his contacts to guide lobbying teams on targeting Congress and the executive branch. This practice is known as “shadow lobbying.”

Top clients of Kyl’s included chipmaker Qualcomm, drug companies Celgene and Merck, the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, tax preparer H&R Block, retailer Walmart, beer distributor Anheuser-Busch InBev, metal manufacturer JW Aluminum, and defense contractors like Raytheon and Northrop Grumman. He potentially advised far more companies informally, without personally lobbying Congress. This summer, he was brought in to help Facebook audit its platform for potential bias against conservatives.

Receipts from Kyl’s registered lobbying activities from 2015 to 2018 totaled $14.285 million, according to lobbying disclosures.

In recent years, Kyl had worked on guiding executive branch nominees through the Senate confirmation process, a position known in Washington as a “sherpa,” after the guides who help climbers tackle Mount Everest. The position is often unpaid but is lobbying in every practical sense.

Kyl served as a sherpa for Jeff Sessions’s nomination as attorney general, sitting behind him at confirmation hearings. He was paid $215,000 for lobbying work by the Judicial Crisis Network in 2017, during the time of Neil Gorsuch’s nomination to the Supreme Court; while not the lead sherpa (that was former Sen. Kelly Ayotte), he presumably engaged in some guidance.

Kyl was poised to become lead sherpa for Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh, taking him to meetings with senators and helping prepare his testimony. But then McCain died, and Kyl was tapped to fill the seat, giving him a potentially decisive vote on the Kavanaugh nomination he was working for just days earlier. “They put someone in who was active on the single most contentious issue that was about to be discussed in the Senate,” Hauser said.

At the time, the open seat was seen as a safety valve against GOP failures in Arizona. If Doug Ducey lost the governorship, he could appoint himself to the Senate seat before the end of his gubernatorial term. If Martha McSally, who previously worked for Kyl, lost the other Senate race in Arizona to Kyrsten Sinema, Ducey could appoint her. That latter scenario did happen, and there’s been significant pressure on Ducey to make good on the implied deal and seat McSally, giving her two years of incumbency for a 2020 campaign. But some Republicans in Arizona have questioned whether McSally blew a winnable race this year, making her a weak option for the next election.

But to pull this off, Republicans needed a placeholder, someone content with serving just a few months and then giving way. That fit perfectly with Kyl’s circumstances.

Despite pleading in the media that Kyl “didn’t want to do this,” others described the temporary Senate appointment as a sharp business decision. By 2018, only 60 of the 100 senators Kyl served with were still in the chamber; another five will leave at the end of the year. A short-term gig in the Senate would re-familiarize Kyl with new colleagues and show potential clients in the corporate world his established clout.

And from the beginning, it was a short-term gig. Kyl not only vowed not to run for the seat in a special election in 2020, but he also would not commit to serving beyond the lame-duck session. There have been short-term, lame-duck appointments to the Senate before — Roland Burris of Illinois, Ted Kaufman of Delaware, Paul Kirk and Mo Cowan of Massachusetts, Carte Goodwin of West Virginia — but there’s no modern precedent for an appointed senator not waiting until the next scheduled election before leaving. The last appointed U.S. senator to resign before the end of their term was Louisiana’s Elaine Edwards (wife of former Gov. Edwin Edwards) in 1972, and she only did that a few weeks early to give her successor seniority. This resignation from Kyl would be two years before the next election.

That only stoked speculation that Kyl was in the Senate mostly to benefit his lobbying career, which he could easily return to afterward, despite the ethics rules making him wait two years after leaving before lobbying colleagues. Even then, Kyl would be permitted to make social contact with members of Congress and raise money for them, along with serving in a background role advising other lobbying teams. As a former member, Kyl would maintain access to the Senate floor, parking and dining facilities in Congress, and the Senate gym, all of which are great places to run into ex-colleagues. And he could contact government officials outside of Congress, like in the executive branch.

“Kyl cannot register as lobbyist but may no longer need to,” Hauser said. “He can provide intelligence and advice on general matters. The high-end lobbyist lifestyle is such that it’s easy to choose not to be a lobbyist. It’s not a cost, it’s a benefit.”

A high-profile individual agrees with Hauser — Jon Kyl. When he signed with Covington & Burling in 2013, he told the Washington Post that he could accomplish “a huge amount of work” there without registered lobbying. “[Clients] need advice and counsel from someone who knows how government works in Washington,” Kyl said. “That’s the kind of advice I can give without getting into lobbying. I can provide my insights into the people and process on Capitol Hill for them to take advantage of in the lobbying they do.”

WASHINGTON, DC - SEPTEMBER 27: Sen. Jon Kyl (R-AZ) arrives at a closed-door GOP caucus meeting following the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill, September 27, 2018 in Washington, DC. The committee is tentatively scheduled to hold a markup and a committee vote on his nomination on Friday morning. (Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images)

Sen. Jon Kyl arrives at a closed-door GOP caucus meeting following the Senate Judiciary Committee hearing with Dr. Christine Blasey Ford and Supreme Court nominee Judge Brett Kavanaugh on Sept. 27, 2018 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Everything about Kyl’s second go-round in the Senate is rather strange. Kyl had lived in Arizona when he represented the state in Congress, but by September 2018, he had a primary job in Washington for five and a half years. Article I, Section 3 of the Constitution stipulates, “No Person shall be a Senator who shall not … be an Inhabitant of that State for which he shall be chosen.” But this was never cited as disqualifying for his appointment.

There is no record of Kyl returning to Arizona during his current Senate tenure except for a trip at the end of October, when the Senate was out of session, which included a check-in on forestry projects in Flagstaff and a campaign swing for Martha McSally. There’s also no record of Kyl maintaining a residence in the state. Kyl’s office did not return a detailed request for comment.

During that McSally campaign event, Kyl talked to the Arizona Republic, mainly about whether he’d leave the Senate at the end of 2018. “It’s certainly an incredible honor to go back to work for the people of Arizona … but I have family needs as well, and so we’ll decide what to do at that point,” Kyl said.

“Family needs” is a euphemism for the desire to hoover up more money as a lobbyist, for which the rent-a-senator stint will provide a chance to raise his rates.

Kyl is using McCain’s Senate office and his legislative offices in Arizona. Kyl’s staff appears to have borrowed from McCain; his press secretary Rachael Dean Wilson was a McCain aide. He was given McCain’s old committee assignments on Indian Affairs, Homeland Security, and Armed Services. These don’t connect to what Kyl had previously held at all; he was on the Judiciary and Finance committees.

It does, however, connect to Kyl’s lobbying clients. The Armed Services Committee in particular is a plum assignment for a once and (potentially) future Northrop Grumman and Raytheon lobbyist (or non-lobbyist, as the registration case may be).

Since returning to the Senate, Kyl has amassed a voting record that’s 100 percent in alignment with President Donald Trump. Many of his former clients have business before the Senate. Freeport McMoran, a mining concern, wanted copper on a draft list of critical minerals; Kyl had lobbied for them. Qualcomm wanted its hardware to be used in vehicle-to-vehicle communication; Kyl had lobbied on that.

Kyl has so far made exactly two speeches on the Senate floor. One announced his support of Kavanaugh, for whom Kyl served as sherpa before he became a senator, during the early part of the confirmation process.

The other speech was a half-hour disquisition on the National Defense Strategy Commission, a graybeard panel appointed by Congress to study military readiness and future needs. Kyl served on the commission prior to his Senate tenure, and his speech on the commission’s report was basically a 30-minute infomercial for its fear-mongering about a “degraded” military and the emergency need to boost spending.

This conveniently dovetails with defense contractor desires for increased spending on weaponry and personnel. “We might lose a war with China or Russia,” Kyl intoned preposterously, and “the only way to avoid this is to adequately fund the strategy that the Secretary of Defense has set out.” The U.S. spends more on its military than the next eight countries in the world combined. A recent exposé in The Nation found that “$21 trillion of Pentagon financial transactions between 1998 and 2015 could not be traced, documented, or explained.”

Kyl wasn’t done lobbying while serving as a lobbyist-turned-senator, as his op-ed with Morell, who also sat on the commission, indicates. The concept of low-yield nuclear weapons to deter Russia, promoted in the op-ed, is a core part of the Pentagon’s defense strategy. This is being actively debated on Capitol Hill, just at the time Kyl has come to perch in the Senate. Of course, building new nukes would transfer billions of taxpayer dollars to defense contractors, like Kyl’s former clients. But as Kyl and Morell say in their op-ed, mimicking Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, “America can afford survival.”

“The speech underscores why a full financial disclosure is needed before serving in the Senate,” said Hauser. But Kyl has not provided one. He’s exploiting a loophole in the Senate disclosure process. All senators running for office must disclose their finances during the cycle in which they run. But temporary appointments are not required to do so. “Arizonans and the American people have a right to know the incentives he has to make such a speech,” Hauser noted. “Are they principled opinions or part of a past and likely future financial relationship?”

If, as expected, Kyl leaves office in December, he will have never fully disclosed his financial relationships beyond clients for whom he has directly lobbied. While those are troubling enough, it’s impossible to know how wide the tentacles extend.

“It’s quite possible that Kyl came into the Senate planning to spend a shockingly little amount of time there, only to go back into private practice,” Hauser said. “People may have known he was a senator-in-waiting while at Covington. This is unique in American history.”

The post The Remarkable Tale of the Corporate Lobbyist Sworn In as a Temporary U.S. Senator appeared first on The Intercept.

Falling for “Les Fake News,” Trump Spreads Lie French Protesters Chant His Name

Donald Trump is so vain he really thinks the protests in Paris are about him. As about 8,000 anti-government protesters wearing yellow safety vests dodged tear gas in the French capital on Saturday, the president of the United States fell for a social-media hoax, claiming that the demonstrators were chanting his name.

Writing on Twitter, the president claimed, falsely, that the protests had been inspired by his opposition to the Paris climate accord and the phrase “We want Trump” rang out on the streets.

In fact, the president was misled by a viral hoax, in which video of British white supremacists chanting his name last year was posted on Twitter this week with a false caption, incorrectly describing the scene as one unfolding in France.

As reporters like Samuel Laurent of Le Monde and Ryan Broderick of Buzzfeed News have explained, there is a Trumpian aspect to the unrest in France though, since “les fake news” has helped fuel the wave of protests over the past month. That’s because the yellow-vest movement has galvanized support for protests via social networks, particularly Facebook, with a potent mix of genuine stories of suffering caused by real failings of the French government and a raft of conspiracy theories and hoaxes, including the viral rumor that a non-binding United Nations pact on migration would soon put France under UN administration, so that millions of migrants could be resettled to replace the native-born population.

While the yellow-vest protests were initially triggered by complaints that an eco-tax on fuel placed an unfair burden on the working poor for tackling climate change, the demonstrations have continued since that tax increase was paused because they are driven by broader concerns about income inequality, austerity and underfunded public services.

As reporters on the ground in Paris noted on Saturday, beyond widespread calls for President Emmanuel Macron’s resignation, just 18 months after his election, protesters voiced a range of demands from one end of the political spectrum to the other. Some protesters voiced support for a borderless European Union, while others demanded Frexit, or a French exit from the bloc.

PARIS, FRANCE - DECEMBER 08: A demonstrator gestures in front of placards, one of which says 'Frexit car dictature!' during the demonstration of the yellow vests at the Arc de Triomphe on December 08, 2018 in Paris France. 'Yellow Vests' ("Gilet Jaunes" or "Vestes Jaunes") is a protest movement without political affiliation that protests against taxes and rising fuel prices. The "Yellow Vest" protests have wrecked parts of Paris and other French cities for nearly a month, as the movement - inspired by opposition to a new fuel tax - has absorbed a wide range of anti-government sentiment. (Photo by Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images)

Some protesters in Paris on Saturday demanded a French exit from the European Union.

Photo: Jeff J Mitchell/Getty Images

Amid skirmishes between the riot police and violent protesters known as “casseurs,” or “breakers,” which led to more than 700 arrests, there were also calls for non-violence, demands for taxes to be halved and social spending to be doubled, anti-vaccine activists, snatched selfies and eloquently simple slogans scrawled on vests, like one woman who just wrote, “I’m under pressure.”

There were also widespread displays of solidarity from protesters with a group of high-school students who were arrested this week in Mantes-la-Jolie, west of Paris, and forced by the police to kneel in the mud with their hands on their heads.

Trump’s false claim that the protesters were inspired by his hatred of the Paris climate agreement was also undermined by the presence of many yellow vests at a climate march in another part of the French capital, where more than 20,000 people demanded action.

At the climate march, Stéphane Mandard of Le Monde noted that one of the yellow vests was emblazoned with a slogan that seemed to offer one answer to the two struggles: “Make the rich pay for the environmental transition.”

Jean-Luc Mélenchon, the leader of the radical-left France Unbowed party, attended a climate rally in Bordeaux with members of the yellow vest movement.

Loïc Prud’homme, one of the party’s representatives in parliament, told Le Monde that the two problems had to be tackled together. “We can not have climate justice without social justice,” he said.

The post Falling for “Les Fake News,” Trump Spreads Lie French Protesters Chant His Name appeared first on The Intercept.

How George H.W. Bush Rode a Fake National Security Scandal to the Top of the CIA

George Bush looks over his material prior to delivering testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his qualification for the job of CIA director, in Washington, D.C., Dec. 15, 1975.  (AP Photo)

George H.W. Bush looks over his briefing materials prior to delivering testimony before the Senate Armed Services Committee on his qualifications for the job of CIA director, in Washington, D.C., on Dec. 15, 1975.

Photo: AP

On December 15, 1975, a Senate committee opened hearings on whether George H.W. Bush should be confirmed as director of the Central Intelligence Agency.

It wasn’t going to be a slam dunk.

The Democrats had a huge majority in the Senate, and many were still angry over Bush’s role as a partisan apologist for former President Richard Nixon, who had resigned the year before as a result of the Watergate scandal. What’s more, in the wake of disclosures in the press of pervasive domestic spying by the CIA, the Senate had launched its first aggressive investigation into alleged abuses by the U.S. intelligence community.

Beginning in January 1975, the Church Committee, named for its chair, Idaho Democratic Sen. Frank Church, unearthed one scandal after another at the CIA, the FBI, and the National Security Agency. Long-hidden covert programs, including a series of plots to kill foreign leaders like Cuba’s Fidel Castro and the Congo’s Patrice Lumumba, had been exposed, rocking the CIA. By late 1975, the agency’s public standing was at a low ebb, and the CIA and White House officials in the administration of President Gerald Ford were increasingly worried about the political impact of the disclosures.

For Bush, the CIA job was a major opportunity at a time when his political career was in flux. Until then, his greatest accomplishment in the Republican Party had been to win a House seat in Texas that had always been held by a Democrat. But he had lost a subsequent Senate bid in 1970 and had been bouncing around Republican establishment circles ever since. He had the ignominy to serve as chair of the Republican National Committee during Watergate, forcing him to make repeated public excuses for Nixon.

Bush had also served as United Nations ambassador under Nixon and as head of the U.S. Liaison Office in China under Ford, and now the Washington rumor mill was reporting that Bush, the loyal soldier, was under consideration for a major political prize — to be Ford’s vice presidential running mate in 1976. If he didn’t get the vice president’s slot in 1976, it seemed likely that he might run for the presidency on his own later.

But first he had to get confirmed to the CIA post.

For the Ford White House and the CIA, Bush’s confirmation hearings set the stage for an all-out battle with congressional leaders. At a critical moment, the Ford administration, its allies in Congress, and the intelligence community collaborated to gin up outrage over a fake national security scandal that ultimately helped pull Bush across the finish line. That polarizing strategy has provided a winning model for Republican efforts to discredit and distract ever since, all the way down to Donald Trump, Devin Nunes, and the attempted sliming of the FBI and special counsel Robert Mueller’s Trump-Russia investigation.

The story of how Bush became CIA director is brilliantly told in “A Season of Inquiry Revisited” by Loch K. Johnson, a renowned historian of intelligence at the University of Georgia and former Church Committee staffer.

To get confirmed, Bush had to run a gauntlet through the Senate, where Democrats held 60 seats thanks to a post-Watergate Democratic landslide in the 1974 midterms. If he got the nod, he would be the first partisan political figure ever to run the CIA. Until then, the agency had been led by gray-flannel establishment figures from Wall Street, former senior military officers, or longtime agency professionals.

Standing directly in Bush’s way was Church, who had emerged as the spokesperson and public face of congressional efforts to probe and reform the intelligence community. Church immediately opposed Bush’s nomination, which he saw as an effort by Ford to install a partisan hack at the CIA who would do the bidding of the White House just as Congress was seeking to curb the agency’s abuses. Church viewed the Bush nomination as a direct White House attack on his committee’s investigation.

“We need a CIA that can resist all the partisan pressures which can be brought to bear by various groups inside and outside the government — especially pressures from the White House itself,” Church said in a speech on the Senate floor. “This is why the appointment of Ambassador George Bush is so ill-advised. It is one thing to choose an individual who may have had political experience, and quite another to choose someone whose principal political role has been that of chairman of the Republican National Committee. There is no need to eliminate from consideration an individual simply because he or she may have held public office. But the line must be drawn somewhere, and a man of Mr. Bush’s prolonged involvement in partisan activities at the highest party level surely passes over that line.”

At his confirmation hearing, Bush did little to allay Church’s concerns. Instead, he warned that “we must not see the CIA dismantled,” an obvious attack on the Senate’s investigative efforts.

As the holidays approached, Bush’s confirmation hung in limbo. Then, on December 23, 1975 — eight days after his confirmation hearing — Richard Welch, the CIA’s station chief in Greece, was returning home from a Christmas party at the U.S. ambassador’s residence in Athens when he was assassinated.

Welch had been a relatively easy target for a local militant group known as 17 November. He had been living in the same house used by several previous CIA station chiefs and had been publicly identified in publications in Greece. The group later claimed that its members had been watching him for months.

But the CIA and the Ford White House quickly saw Welch’s murder as a political windfall. At a time when the CIA was under assault from Congress and Bush’s nomination was in peril in the Senate, there was now a dead CIA hero to mourn.

Ford, waiving restrictions, announced that Welch could be buried at Arlington National Cemetery. The plane carrying his body back home in early January “circled Andrews Air Force Base for three quarters of an hour in order to land live during the Today Show,” according to Johnson’s book.

The CIA and the White House began to exploit Welch’s death to discredit Church and his committee’s work. William Colby, the outgoing CIA director, lashed out at Congress, blaming Welch’s killing on the “sensational and hysterical way the CIA investigations had been handled and trumpeted around the world,” Johnson writes.

There was not a shred of evidence that anything the Church Committee had done had led to Welch’s murder. But the truth didn’t matter to the CIA and the Ford White House, and the campaign to discredit Church and his committee’s investigation worked. After Welch’s murder, public support for the Church Committee waned.

The changed climate proved helpful to Bush. On January 27, 1976, South Carolina Sen. Strom Thurmond argued for his confirmation by claiming that the public was more concerned by disclosures that “are tearing down the CIA” than by the “selection of this highly competent man to repair the damage of this over-exposure,” according to Johnson’s book. Later that day, Bush was confirmed by a vote of 64-27.

Bush only lasted a year as CIA director. Ford — who ended up choosing Bob Dole as his running mate — was defeated by Jimmy Carter in the 1976 election. Bush tried to convince Carter to keep him on as CIA director, but Carter’s vice president was Walter Mondale, who had been a leading member of the Church Committee and had already won a commitment from Carter to try to implement many of the committee’s recommendations for reforming the intelligence community.

So Bush ran for president instead. He lost in the primaries to Ronald Reagan, then rode Reagan’s coattails as his running mate in the 1980 election.

Bush’s political career owes much to the misuse of Welch’s murder. Above all, it helped start a Republican tradition of generating fake national security scandals to discredit Democrats and win political battles. In the wake of Bush’s death, many in the mainstream press and political elite have pinned him to a bygone era of civility, when partisanship was held in check out of concern for some greater good. But playing dirty didn’t start yesterday. There is a straight line from Welch to pre-war intelligence on Iraq’s weapons of mass destruction, Benghazi, and Nunes’s farcical midnight search for evidence that Trump was wiretapped.

The post How George H.W. Bush Rode a Fake National Security Scandal to the Top of the CIA appeared first on The Intercept.

Trump’s Pick for Attorney General Pushed for Military Strikes on Drug Traffickers, Questioned Asylum Law

President Donald Trump’s pick to serve as his next attorney general, William Barr, pushed repeatedly to expand the role of the military to strike drug traffickers during his last stint at the Justice Department, while serving in President George H.W. Bush’s administration.

“Oh, yes, using the military in drugs was always under discussion. I personally was of the view it was a national security problem. I personally likened it to terrorism,” Barr recalled during an oral history interview conducted in 2001 with the University of Virginia’s Miller Center.

During the interview, Barr called the failure to ramp up the drug war the “biggest frustration” he faced. He credited the Bush administration for “putting in place the building blocks for intelligence building and international cooperation” to counter the flow of drugs from Latin America. “But,” he said, “we never tightened the noose.”

Barr said he faced structural hurdles to make his vision a reality. “The Army wanted to militarize the drug war,” said Barr, but the Pentagon’s attitude shifted after Desert Storm. Barr wanted to deploy Blackhawk helicopters and more advanced equipment to destroy cocaine production and trafficking in Peru, for instance.

But the idea faced resistance from the State Department, Barr said. His few allies in the administration included then-Director of Central Intelligence Bob Gates, who Barr called “supportive.”

The little-noticed interview provides a wide-ranging perspective of Barr’s views on terrorism, immigration, drugs, and law enforcement. Barr was appointed to serve in the Office of Legal Counsel in 1989, followed by a post as deputy attorney general from 1991 to 1993. His tenure in government was marked by frequent public demands for a tough-on-crime approach to criminal justice.

Michael Collins, director of national affairs with the Drug Policy Alliance, condemned the militarization comments.

“Barr’s beliefs are incredibly dangerous,” Collins wrote in a comment to The Intercept. “Rather than recycling policy ideas from the early 1990s that have been thoroughly discredited, Barr should use his return to the limelight to apologize for his role in promoting the system of mass incarceration that has decimated communities of color in this country.”

Barr has made no effort to conceal his views of aggressive law enforcement. In 1992, Barr signed off on a book titled “The Case for More Incarceration,” writing that the nation must “identify, target, and incapacitate those hardened criminals who commit staggering numbers of violent crimes whenever they are on the streets.”

In the interview, Barr also recalled his experience mobilizing federal military resources to respond to the Los Angeles riots in 1992 and the riots in St. Croix following a hurricane in 1989. In both cases, Barr fondly recalled “quickly looking at the legal books” to establish procedures for deploying the military in a domestic context.

In several instances, the interview shows a startling intersection with the interests of the Trump administration. “One of the biggest problems we have with immigration — or had, I think it’s still a problem — is the abuse of the asylum laws,” Barr claimed during the oral history.

Many of Barr’s more recent interviews are even more in line with the Trump agenda. He has sharply criticized Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation of Russian influence and has called for a new criminal investigation into Hillary Clinton’s involvement in a uranium deal as secretary of state.

There is one portion of the Barr’s interview with the Miller Center, however, that may be the most compelling to Trump and his team. In his remarks, Barr explained that he strongly supported Bush’s controversial decision to pardon figures involved in the Iran-Contra scandal.

The post Trump’s Pick for Attorney General Pushed for Military Strikes on Drug Traffickers, Questioned Asylum Law appeared first on The Intercept.

Republicans Are Clinging to Power in Wisconsin. Expect to See More GOP Power Grabs.

Addressing members of the media for the first time after failing to win re-election in the 2018 race, Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses members of the media from his office in Madison, Wis., Thursday, Nov. 15, 2018. (John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP)

Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker addresses members of the media from his office on Nov. 15, 2018, after failing to win re-election in the 2018 race.

Photo: John Hart/Wisconsin State Journal via AP

On Tuesday, as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker prepared to light the state capitol Christmas tree, protesters gathered in the Capitol rotunda to boo him. The protesters’ jeers were merited. After being soundly defeated in his bid for re-election, Walker and his allies in the state legislature have launched an all-out assault on democracy — a transparent power grab before Democrats take office.

In November, Wisconsin voters elected Democrats to all six statewide positions that were up for grabs, including electing Democrat Tony Evers to replace Walker in the governor’s mansion. In response, Republican state lawmakers abruptly called a rare “lame-duck” session last Friday afternoon and introduced a sweeping raft of legislation aimed at neutering Evers’s powers as governor, as well as those of other Democrats elected to lead the state’s executive branch. On Monday night, as Republicans rushed the bills through the Joint Committee on Finance, more than 1,000 protesters gathered outside the state capitol and the hearing room to protest the power grab.

If the U.S. political commentariat saw this happening in another country, they would call it what it is: a coup.

And Wisconsin isn’t the only state where Republicans have been ramping up efforts to negate the will of voters — it’s becoming part of the GOP’s regular playbook. In Michigan, a lame-duck push by the GOP is also seeking to neuter incoming Democratic elected officials. The same thing happened in North Carolina in 2016, when Republicans in the state legislature executed the same lame-duck power grab after voters elected Democrat Roy Cooper as governor. Taken together, the actions of Republicans in these states add up to an unprecedented seizure of power. They are holding entire state governments hostage in order to further oppress people who are struggling to meet their basic needs, while continuing to enrich the Republican donor class. If the U.S. political commentariat saw this happening in another country, they would call it what it is: a coup.

These state-level coups are just a prelude: These sorts of power grabs are sure to affect national races in 2020 — playing a role in the presidential election. Lame-duck moves by Republicans to restrict voting rights, allow dark money in elections, and protect the ill-gotten gains of their long gerrymandering efforts could give a boost to President Donald Trump’s re-election efforts in key swing states.

None of these power grabs have been as expansive as what’s happening in Wisconsin. During an all-night session on Tuesday in Madison, Republicans continued their vote-o-rama on amendments intended to curtail the powers of incoming Democratic leaders.

They did a lot of damage: protecting a work requirement for state health care; limiting the governor’s ability to renegotiate disastrous deals for public subsidies to private companies; shifting some of incoming Democratic Attorney General Josh Kaul’s core responsibilities to the legislature; and, in perhaps the most wicked vote of the night, moving to limit early voting in Wisconsin from six weeks to two weeks — a proposal that a federal judge struck down just two years ago, saying it “intentionally discriminates on the basis of race.” Republicans also voted to approve more than 80 last-minute appointments made by Walker, despite the fact that many of the candidates had no public hearing.

Wisconsin’s GOP has been able to maintain its vice-like grip on state government despite rising unpopularity with one neat trick: gerrymandering.

Wisconsin’s GOP has been able to maintain its vice-like grip on state government despite rising unpopularity with one neat trick: gerrymandering. In 2011, the GOP-controlled state legislature redrew Wisconsin’s maps in one of the most blatant examples of partisan gerrymandering in the past decade. Wisconsin is a purple battleground state, yet Democrats have not been able to hold more than 39 of the assembly’s 99 seats since Republicans redrew the maps in 2011. Democrats won 205,000 more votes than Republicans statewide this year. But thanks to gerrymandering and urban clustering of Democratic voters, Democrats were only able to flip one state assembly seat. Republicans kept control of 63 of 99 seats in the chamber, and actually gained a seat in the state senate, increasing their majority to 19-14.

Republicans aren’t even bothering to hide their central project anymore. The day after the vote, Wisconsin State Assembly Speaker Robin Vos speculated that perhaps votes from Democratic areas simply shouldn’t count. “I do not like the fact that Madison and Milwaukee chose Evers and they’re the reason that he won,” Vos told the Journal Times. “But in the process that we have, Madison and Milwaukee get the chance to vote.”

“In the process that we have” is doing a lot of work in that sentence. The subtext of Vos’s message is that it’s regrettable that “in the process that we have,” every voter — including, say, in Milwaukee County, where more than two thirds of the state’s black population lives — get an equal say in the outcome of an election.

GOP leaders in Wisconsin have grown more and more brazen in their suggestion that they don’t have to respect the will of the state’s voters. In a statement, Senate Majority Leader Scott Fitzgerald said, “Law written by a legislature and passed by a governor” — in other words, the Republican agenda — “should not be erased based on the political maneuvering of an incoming administration.” To which you might say, yes, that is how representative democracies are supposed to function. If you win an election fairly, you are rewarded by working to bring your party’s agenda to fruition. To do so is not some underhanded “political maneuvering.” If one party weren’t able to enact its own agenda after taking power, what would be the point in holding elections at all?

Across the country — in Wisconsin, Michigan, and North Carolina — Republicans’ message is consistent: If elections don’t go the way they want, then they have no intention of respecting the results. In their minds, voters who don’t support Republican candidates are illegitimate, for the simple fact that they don’t support Republicans. This circular thinking isn’t an aberration within the GOP — it’s the foundation for all of their machinations.

And more naked power grabs like this are sure to come in the next two years, as Republicans continue to feel their popular support slip out from under them. Trump currently holds a 40 percent approval rating, while the Republican-controlled Congress has a dismal 19.9 percent approval rating. Rather than deciding to change their own policies to help win over more voters — say, by not imprisoning migrant children in Hoovervilles in the Texas desert — Republicans see their only option as ripping up the social contract to cling to whatever power they can.

More naked power grabs like this are sure to come in the next two years, as Republicans continue to feel their popular support slip out from under them.

We are living in an era of disastrous minority rule. During my lifetime, a Republican presidential candidate has only won the popular vote once, yet a Republican has occupied the White House for 10 of the past 25 years. Republicans’ anti-democracy playbook predates Walker. It predates Trump, and it even predates former President George W. Bush. The modern conservative movement – including Republicans and, in the past, Southern Democrats — was forged in its fight against the Civil Rights movement, which enshrined the right to vote for Americans, irrespective of their race. White conservatives then opposed the Voting Rights Act of 1965 for the same reason white conservatives oppose free and fair elections today: at their core, they earnestly believe the only people who have an unalienable right to vote are people who look and vote like them.

Wisconsin’s political legacy, like that of the United States as a whole, has been fractured since its inception. The same state that produced “Fighting” Bob LaFollette, William Proxmire, Russ Feingold, and Tammy Baldwin also produced Joseph McCarthy, Paul Ryan, and Scott Walker. Those who want to see a return to Wisconsin’s progressive roots must remember that justice has never been guaranteed, and in fact, those in power often thrive on its precarity. What the people decide to do in response to rampant abuses of power will determine their fate.

Look at what’s happening in Wisconsin, and it becomes abundantly clear that Republican leaders don’t really believe in the separation of powers, or in a peaceful transfer of power, or in anything else one might consider bedrock principles of a functioning democracy. It’s well past time for Democrats, the political press, and anyone interested in preserving small-d democracy to take Republicans at their word and recognize that they have no interest in a system of government made legitimate by the consent of the governed.

The post Republicans Are Clinging to Power in Wisconsin. Expect to See More GOP Power Grabs. appeared first on The Intercept.

Let’s Talk About George H.W. Bush’s Role in the Iran-Contra Scandal

US Vice President George H. W. Bush talking with Tower Commission members who are investigating Iran-Contra affair at the White House.  (Photo by Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images)

Then-U.S. Vice President George H. W. Bush talks with Tower Commission members investigating Iran-Contra affair at the White House.

Photo: Dirck Halstead/The LIFE Images Collection/Getty Images

The effusive praise being heaped on former President George H.W. Bush — “a calm and vital statesman” who exuded “decency, moderation, compromise” — risks burying his skeletons with him. One of the most notable skeletons that has gotten scant attention in recent days is his role in the Iran-Contra scandal.

As CIA director in the mid-1970s and as Ronald Reagan’s vice president, Bush helped forge a world of strongmen, wars, cartels, and refugees that continues today. In particular, he was deeply involved in the events that became known as the Iran-Contra scandal, a series of illegal operations that began with a secret effort to arm Contra fighters in Nicaragua in the hopes of toppling the leftist Sandinista government; this effort became connected to drug trafficking, trading weapons for hostages with Iran, and banking scandals.

In 1987, Arthur Liman, chief counsel for the Senate Select Committee on Secret Military Assistance to Iran and the Nicaraguan Opposition, described it as a “secret government-within-a-government … with its own army, air force, diplomatic agents, intelligence operatives and appropriations capacity.” Independent counsel Lawrence Walsh, tasked with investigating Iran-Contra, concluded that the White House cover-up “possibly forestalled timely impeachment proceedings against President Reagan and other officials.” Bush was a central figure in this.

Bush’s spy history is murky. According to Russ Baker, author of “Family of Secrets,” a history of the Bush family, in the late 1950s, Bush allegedly allowed the CIA to use an offshore oil rig he owned near Cuba as a staging ground for anti-Castro Cubans to raid their homeland. In 1967, Bush visited Vietnam as a freshman member of Congress, and Baker claims that Bush was accompanied by his business partner, a CIA agent, to investigate the Phoenix Program, the CIA torture and assassination operation that killed more than 20,000 Vietnamese by 1971.

These pieces come together when Bush served as CIA director from January 1976 to January 1977. During his tenure, he met his future national security adviser, Donald Gregg, who was involved in operations linked to the Phoenix Program as a former CIA station chief in Saigon. There, Gregg fought alongside Cuban exile and CIA agent Felix Rodriguez, who helped track down and kill Cuban revolutionary Che Guevara.

Bush was at the CIA during the height of Operation Condor, an international “kidnap-torture-murder apparatus” run by six Latin American dictatorships and coordinated by Washington. In an Operation Condor plot carried out in October 1976, Chilean secret police assassinated former Chilean diplomat Orlando Letelier and American Ronni Moffitt with a car bomb in Washington, D.C. Bush misled an FBI investigation about Chile’s responsibility. Also as spy chief, Bush met his Panamanian counterpart, Manuel Noriega, already suspected at the time of drug trafficking. (As president, Bush ordered the invasion of Panama in 1989 to remove Noriega from power, who was the country’s ruler by that point.)

As vice president, Bush became an architect of the “secret government” that came into being for the Iran-Contra operations. Official investigations of Iran-Contra are limited to the period after October 1984 when Congress banned military and intelligence services from providing direct or indirect support to the Contras. But Gary Webb’s expose on CIA and Contra links to cocaine smuggling, “The Dark Alliance,” dates to 1981 the covert U.S. support for the Contras. Cobbled together from remnants of Nicaragua’s defeated National Guard, the Contras were notorious for torture, assassination, and other atrocities. The Phoenix-Condor link reached Central America, as the CIA recruited veterans of Argentina’s Dirty War to train the Contras, who ignited a decadelong war that killed an estimated 50,000 Nicaraguans.

Rolling Stone dates Bush’s involvement in the Contra war to 1982, when he reportedly conspired with CIA chief William Casey in an operation they code-named “Black Eagle.” Working under Bush, Donald Gregg managed finances and operations for the Contras, according to Rolling Stone. Rodriguez handled arms flights to Central America and negotiated with military commanders there. Historian Douglas Valentine has claimed that in 1981, Bush authorized these veterans of the Phoenix Program to initiate a “Pink Planterror war against Central American insurgents.

Black Eagle masked its operation by relying on the Israeli Mossad to acquire and ship weapons to Central America, employing Panamanian airfields and companies as fronts, according to the Rolling Stone story. But the planes, once emptied of their arms cargo in Central America, were repurposed by Noriega and the Medellín cartel to ship drugs back to the United States. The CIA allegedly stuck a deal with the Medellín cartel’s primary contact, Barry Seal. In return for Seal hauling weapons to the Contras, the CIA protected him as his operations smuggled an estimated $3 billion to $5 billion in drugs into the United States.

The White House also leaned on Gulf State monarchies to cough up more than $40 million for the Contras, violating the 1984 congressional ban known as the Boland Amendment. In 1985, Lt. Col. Oliver North coordinated with Israel to ship more than 2,000 anti-tank missiles to Iran through Israel in exchange for Iran’s assistance in freeing American hostages held in the region — and the profits were used to fund the Contras.

The maneuver, which violated the Arms Export Control Act, was extraordinarily cynical. Iran was mired in a brutal war with Iraq, which was backed by Bush and other senior Reagan administration officials beginning in 1982. Through the BNL bank that would later collapse in scandal, Iraq received more than $4 billion of U.S. Department of Agriculture credits. Most of that money reportedly went to buy weaponry even as Iraq waged chemical warfare against Iran and its own Kurdish citizens.

Both the Contra weapons shipments and the arms-for-hostages deals were exposed in 1986.

Much is still not known about Iran-Contra because of document shredding, deceit, and cover-ups by Reagan-era officials. Congress handcuffed its inquiry by failing to subpoena Oval Office recordings and calling knowledgeable witnesses. Robert Parry, an Associated Press reporter who uncovered the arms-for-drugs trade years before Webb, criticized the media for failing to dig into the story and succumbing to White House pressure and perception management.

On Christmas Eve 1992, then-President Bush decapitated the investigation by Walsh. Bush pardoned six figures, including Secretary of Defense Caspar Weinberger, whose trial was about to begin, with Bush likely called to testify. Walsh was livid. Saying “the Iran-Contra cover-up … has now been completed,” he called Bush a “president who has such a contempt for honesty [and] arrogant disregard for the rule of law.” Bush’s pardons are newly relevant because Bush consulted his attorney general at the time, William Barr, who reportedly did not oppose the pardons. Barr has just been named by President Donald Trump as his nominee for attorney general, where he may once again confront the issue of presidential pardons of senior government officials caught in an illegal conspiracy.

Bush’s role in the Iran-Contra scandal shows that his legacy is far darker than what is being reported amid his death and funeral. The truth is that he coddled dictators and death squads, undermined democratic institutions, and trashed the Constitution. He created the conditions that helped give rise to Donald Trump.

The post Let’s Talk About George H.W. Bush’s Role in the Iran-Contra Scandal appeared first on The Intercept.

Buried in Wisconsin Republicans’ Lame-Duck Legislation: Drug Testing Requirements for Food Stamp Applicants

On Wednesday morning, after a closed-door meeting that lasted much of the night, both houses of Wisconsin’s Republican-controlled state legislature passed a comprehensive set of measures limiting the incoming Democratic administration’s power. The consequences of the many provisions are still coming into focus. Buried under controversial moves to curtail early voting and strip authority from Gov.-elect Tony Evers is a sweeping codification of welfare restrictions that Republicans across the country have long sought.

The new legislation enshrines in state law outgoing Gov. Scott Walker’s controversial policy of forcing many food stamp applicants to submit to drug testing. It also limits the incoming administration’s ability to walk back the state’s strict new work requirements for aid recipients. After Walker’s approval, Wisconsin will be the only state that requires drug testing for non-felon food stamp applicants.

The bill appears to defy federal policy regarding the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, as the food stamps program is now known. The U.S. Department of Agriculture does not allow states to impose certain eligibility limits, like drug testing, on SNAP applicants without explicit permission. Walker sued the Obama administration for permission to implement drug screenings back in 2015, but a judge threw out the lawsuit on procedural grounds. Walker then sought permission from the incoming Trump administration in 2016, but his letter went unanswered. (Leaked emails in April of this year showed that the USDA was considering allowing states to implement drug testing, but such a policy has not yet been announced.)

Lacking federal permission, the Walker administration announced a workaround last December: an administrative rule requiring drug screenings only for participants in the state’s Employment and Training Program. (The specific process involves a preliminary screening followed by testing in some cases.)

Effectively, however, this move instituted drug screening for all unemployed food stamp recipients: Wisconsinites hoping to stay on food stamps for longer than three months are required to either prove employment or enroll in the training program in order to keep their benefits. If participants fail to find work or enroll in the program, the consequences are severe. They’re banned from receiving food stamps for nearly three years. The USDA has not intervened to block this policy, but it is expected to face legal challenges.

The employment program does not have a proven track record of placing participants in jobs. According to Wisconsin Public Radio, just over a third of job seekers referred to the program wind up finding employment. (This summer, Walker vetoed a measure that would have required an evaluation of the program.) It has, however, had lots of success kicking people off food stamps. More than 100,000 people have lost their benefits after failing to meet work requirements since 2015, according to the Washington Post.

Tens of thousands of those people live in Milwaukee County, where Sherrie Tussler works as executive director of Hunger Task Force, a food bank. “We’re torturing poor people in the Dairy State, and we’re doing it with intent and doing it with malice,” she said. Tussler called Wisconsin’s system a “giant government boondoggle,” where access to aid is difficult even for applicants who closely follow the many rules. “The biggest battle is proving to the state that you did the work requirement,” she said.

Thanks to drug testing and new work requirements, the number of people losing their benefits will likely grow in the coming year. Earlier this year, Wisconsin passed a set of bills that would increase work requirements from 20 hours per week to 30. The state also moved to require parents of school-aged children to work in order to receive food stamps. (They were previously exempt.)

These two policies — drug testing and work requirements — will work in tandem to deny more people food stamp access in Wisconsin. The new work requirements, arguably the most severe in the nation, will send people to the employment and training program in droves. All those people will be required to submit to drug screenings if they want to keep their benefits. And now, neither of these policies can be undone by a future administration. They have to be repealed by law.

Since Walker began implementing work requirements in 2015, the number of food stamp recipients in Wisconsin has plummeted by nearly 20 percent from 800,000 to 650,000, according to the Washington Post. This new legislation virtually ensures that decline will continue, even as voters rebuke the state’s Republican Party.

To compound matters, Wednesday’s legislation also entrenches new work requirements for Medicaid recipients. Last month, the Trump administration granted Walker’s request for a waiver that would allow him to impose 20-hour weekly minimum work requirements on many Medicaid applicants. The new legislation gives the legislature, which will still be controlled by Republicans, oversight in this federal waiver process. That means that Evers, the incoming governor, cannot walk back the already-approved new work requirements for Medicaid.

Wisconsin functions as a test case for the Trump administration’s agenda on welfare reform. With its strict work requirements and embrace of unproven employment training programs, its recent reforms align closely with provisions that the Republican House of Representatives tried unsuccessfully to tack onto this year’s Farm Bill.

The broad appeal of Wisconsin’s approach among Republicans is largely ideological. “It stigmatizes benefit receipt,” said Elizabeth Lower-Basch, a director at the Center for Law and Social Policy. “It’s designed to reinforce the stereotype that people need help because of their poor personal choices, as opposed to an economy of low wages and unstable jobs.”

The post Buried in Wisconsin Republicans’ Lame-Duck Legislation: Drug Testing Requirements for Food Stamp Applicants appeared first on The Intercept.

Pennsylvania Republicans, Thwarted in Court, Are Trying to Deny Seating the Democratic Winner of an Election

Republicans in Pennsylvania went to court during the midterm campaign to try to get Democratic candidate Lindsey Williams kicked off the ballot over alleged residency deficiencies. A judge threw their challenge out, and Williams went on to upset her opponent, flipping a seat tucked inside Conor Lamb’s congressional district.

Now Senate Republicans, who still control the upper chamber despite losing five seats and the popular vote statewide, are trying to use the same residency argument to refuse seating the winner of the race.

Majority Leader Jake Corman, Senate President Pro Tempore Joe Scarnati, and the state GOP claim that by the time of the election, Williams was ineligible to run and therefore shouldn’t be able to take her seat in January. 

Scarnati wrote Williams, 35, a letter in late November telling the incoming senator that she’d have to pay back her December salary if it was determined that she did “not meet the constitutional requirements.” The letter offered Williams, an attorney who’s worked with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers for four years, a hearing in front of Scarnati and a bipartisan commission.

A federal judge in October threw out the initial lawsuit brought by two voters, supported by the state GOP, claiming that Williams didn’t meet residency requirements on the grounds that the filers had missed the deadline to challenge her eligibility. He wrote in that opinion that the question was an “untimely” and “barely colorable claim.” 

The race in itself was bizarre. Allegations surfaced that her opponent Jeremy Shaffer was behind campaign signs saying that Williams was a socialist, manufactured to look like her own. Shaffer says he did not create the signs, but his campaign manager is treasurer of the group that paid for them. And television ads he ran against Williams made the same claim.

If Senate Republicans declare Williams ineligible, the state would have to hold a special election to fill the seat.

“I’m not sure what’s gained by having to redo this election,” Williams’s lawyer Chuck Pascal told The Intercept. “To have a special election that will be costly to both the county and both parties, to have her run in a special where she will clearly be eligible. And deprive the people of the district of a senator for six months,” he explained. “I mean the last campaign cost almost a million dollars on each side. So, it would just seem to me to be a waste of money at this point.”

Williams is cooperating with GOP requests for documentation proving her residency, including but not limited to copies of her driver’s licenses, residential lease and purchase information, and tax documents for the past four years. They asked that Scarnati extend his original deadline for the documents to December 10.

“The constitution is not a guideline,” Corman spokesperson Jennifer Kocher said in response to criticism that a special election would be a waste of money. “If she can provide us with that information that will clear any of those questions up, then we’ll just move on,” she told The Intercept.

If Senate Republicans have more questions after they review those materials and decide to call a hearing, Pascal said he and his client would participate. “We don’t think it’s necessary,” he said.


In Pennsylvania, the governor is a Democrat, and Republicans still have an eight-seat margin in the chamber. Keeping Williams from taking office would likely do less to cement their legislative victories than it might to soften the blow from the party’s shrinking margins across the state.

People close to Democratic leadership say the party isn’t taking the GOP push seriously and that the chances they’ll succeed in keeping Williams from being sworn in in January are slim, since Williams stands a good chance of winning any special election they might force. But the effort reflects a similar pattern by Republicans in places like Wisconsin and Michigan, where lawmakers are thwarting democracy and democratic norms by making last-minute attempts to restrict the power of incoming Democrats. One measure in Wisconsin would keep the incoming Democratic Gov. Tony Evers from changing the state’s voter ID law. The Onion joked that Wisconsin Republicans planned to disband the state rather than turn power over to Democrats.

In North Carolina, meanwhile, Republicans appear to have committed widespread voter fraud in a contested congressional race, with the election board refusing to certify the results.

Pennsylvania Republicans have refused to cooperate with Democratic Gov. Tom Wolf’s attempts to staff the state redistricting commission, which is attempting to undo a Republican gerrymander that keeps the GOP in control of the state legislature despite badly losing the statewide vote.

Williams, a Duquesne law grad and former law clerk with the Pittsburgh United Steelworkers Union, was fired in late 2012 along with four other employees for trying to start a union at the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C. The organization maintains that the dismissals were part of mandatory layoffs. Williams later worked for the International Brotherhood of Teamsters in the District of Columbia. In November 2014, she took a job with the Pittsburgh Federation of Teachers and moved back to Pennsylvania around that time.

Scarnati did not respond to requests for comment by the time of publication.

The post Pennsylvania Republicans, Thwarted in Court, Are Trying to Deny Seating the Democratic Winner of an Election appeared first on The Intercept.

Antonio Delgado Backed a Green New Deal on the Campaign Trail, but Hasn’t Since the Election

Antonio Delgado, the incoming representative from New York’s 19th District, hasn’t signed onto the “Green New Deal” yet.

Yet during the height of his congressional campaign, he name-checked the program in front of voters and was tied to it in the media.

In Delgado’s comments to the crowd at the League of Conservation Voters forum in August, he cited the Green New Deal in an inspirational dash of opening rhetoric, which positioned saving the environment as part of an American aspirational story. According to Delgado, transitioning to clean energy is not only the moral choice for the future, but an economically viable one.

“It is very important to understand that we could go to the moon, but what are doing, right now, to save earth?” Delgado said. “Why aren’t we thinking bigger? Why aren’t we challenging ourselves about the next frontier, what it might look like? Why aren’t we thinking of a Green New Deal?”

Now that Democrats are thinking of a Green New Deal, however, Delgado’s name is noticeably absent. A proposal from incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez uses the Green New Deal as a springboard for rules that would radically revamp the U.S. economy in an effort to fight back against the consequences of climate change and limit the damage already done.

Long considered an idealistic but unrealistic proposal, the Green New Deal has gained traction in the Democratic caucus in the weeks since last month’s Democratic wave election. Ocasio-Cortez’s efforts to get leadership on board with the proposal have benefitted from the support of some of her fellow incoming Democrats from last month’s wave election.

A number of those new members have already signed up for Ocasio-Cortez’s legislation. Ayanna Pressley (MA-7), Ilhan Omar (MN-5), Rashida Tlaib (MI-13), Joe Neguse (CO-2),and Deb Haaland (NM-1) have all signaled their support for the program, and at least 17 House Democrats are on board. A group of them appeared last Friday morning outside the Capitol to reiterate their demands. On Monday night, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the Green New Deal and invited Ocasio-Cortez.

Delgado seems like he’d fit into that group: His core supporters tilt to the left on most issues, though the 19th, which is predominately rural and over 80 percent white, is considered a swing district. Delgado’s win over incumbent Republican John Faso was the culmination of two years of hard work by activists who made unseating the Republican a focus of their opposition to the Trump administration. Delgado’s campaign did not respond to requests for comment. He will not be sworn in until January, but that hasn’t stopped other incoming freshmen from signing on.

Delgado’s use of the Green New Deal language at the August League of Conservation Voters forum didn’t sit well with Green Party candidate Steve Greenfield, who wasn’t invited to speak to voters at the event. The forum was packed, a turnout that underscored the importance of environmental issues to voters in the 19th.

In a contemporaneous press release, Greenfield said that Delgado’s “opening statement was nearly word for word what Greenfield had been handing out on a leaflet on the sidewalk just before the event.” Greenfield told The Intercept on Sunday that Delgado hadn’t mentioned the Green New Deal again during the race. “It was a one-time mention,” said Greenfield, “in front of a specific audience.”

Now that he’s been elected to Congress, Delgado has the opportunity to deliver on the promise of the Green New Deal — but he has yet to take advantage of that opportunity. In an interview with the Cooperstown Crier on November 15, the incoming member of Congress hedged his language on the issue.

“We have so much investment in fossil fuels right now and the way we speak about infrastructure build-out facilitates the distribution of fossil fuels,” said Delgado, “and we have to be more focused and intentional about moving towards a green-energy economy.”

That couched language and Delgado’s refusal thus far to endorse the program hasn’t stopped his name being tied to the legislation, however. In a number of news reports on the Green New Deal since the election, Delgado was referred to as a “Green New Deal candidate.” He got that treatment in a November 8 Reuters piece; a week later, he was mentioned as a member of the “Green New Deal Wing” of the Democratic Party in Consumer Affairs; and he has been linked to the program in publications like the Huffington Post, Daily Kos, and Common Dreams.

Delgado’s website also contains language that hints at an openness to Green New Deal legislation in all but name.

“I do not believe that job creation and environmental conservation need to be in conflict,” Delgado tells voters in the Issues section. “Clean energy is one of the fastest growing sectors of our economy, and I will do everything I can to encourage the growth of clean energy jobs in our region by fighting to shift tax credits and subsidies away from the fossil fuel industry to the renewable energy space.”

This misconception on Delgado’s positions isn’t unique to the Green New Deal. In June, the NPR radio program This American Life spent an hour profiling the race, focusing on one of Delgado’s primary opponents, the left-leaning Jeff Beals. Reporter Ben Calhoun found that voters in the district were unclear on Delgado’s views on “Medicare for All” — Delgado does not support it — and they believed that the then-candidate was for the legislation despite Delgado’s rejection of the popular progressive program in a primary debate.

In a statement on November 28, the incoming representative told his constituents that their interests would be his priority in Congress. “As an elected representative, I will always put the priorities of my district at the heart of every decision I make and will be accountable to every constituent,” said Delgado.

He did not mention a Green New Deal.

The post Antonio Delgado Backed a Green New Deal on the Campaign Trail, but Hasn’t Since the Election appeared first on The Intercept.

Student Loan Giant Navient Responds to Allegations of Abuse With a Bizarre Subpoena of a Former Federal Official

Student loan giant Navient has subpoenaed a former Consumer Financial Protection Bureau official as part of what appears to be a new effort to intimidate critics as the company battles allegations of improper loan servicing practices.

The company is in the midst of fighting a lawsuit brought by the CFPB over allegedly steering borrowers into $4 billion in avoidable interest charges. In October, as part of the discovery process, Navient subpoenaed Seth Frotman, the former student loan ombudsman for the CFPB, to sit for a deposition. The subpoena only became public on Tuesday afternoon, when Frotman’s lawyers attempted to dismiss it.

Frotman is not a party to the case. A persistent critic of the student loan industry who recently started a non-profit called the Student Borrower Protection Center, he is the only current or former CFPB official that Navient is known to have attempted to depose. And Navient wants to question him on a broad range of topics: not just about communications with enforcement officials related to the investigation, but with third parties like the Department of Education, members of Congress or their staffs, state attorneys general, consumer advocacy groups, or even members of the media.

Navient also wants to know “the circumstances of [Frotman’s] resignation” from the CFPB, which occurred a year and a half after the lawsuit was filed.

It’s extremely unusual for a company to respond to a federal lawsuit from a regulatory agency by seeking to depose officials from that agency. One obvious conclusion is that Navient is engaging in a high-level form of legal harassment to silence a perceived enemy, and send a message to others. “It’s hard to see this as anything but retaliation on the part of Navient,” said Deepak Gupta, Frotman’s attorney in the matter.

In a motion filed on Tuesday, Gupta sought to stay the deposition, scheduled for December 14, and also to quash the subpoena forcing Frotman to testify. Calling the motion an “open-ended fishing expedition,” Gupta argued that Frotman would be legally barred from testifying about any internal deliberations related to his government service. He also accused Navient of failing to demonstrate that any of the information it seeks from Frotman would be relevant to the case.

Of course, that may not be the point. As Frotman notes in a declaration filed with the motion, letting a deposition like this go forward “would be a green light to litigants nationwide that they can drag me and other former high-level officials into the very large number of court cases over student loan servicing and other consumer-finance practices.” The time and expense of multiple testimonies would be significant. Frotman concludes, “In addition to inappropriately pulling back the curtain on high-level policymaking, and chilling the frank exchange necessary to a good deliberative process, I also worry that this would discourage people from future public service.”

Frotman served as student loan ombudsman from 2015 to 2018. It was a policy job, where he recommended strategies to help protect borrowers from student loan industry abuses. Frotman asserted in his written declaration that he had nothing to do with initiating the investigation against Navient, or drawing up the lawsuit; his only role in the case involved internal discussions with litigators as a subject-matter expert.

CFPB sued Navient on January 18, 2017, for “systematically and illegally failing borrowers at every stage of repayment.” According to the complaint, Navient failed to correctly allocate borrower payments across multiple loans, sometimes ringing up late fees and defaults even when the borrower made the payment. In particular, the company steered borrowers into forbearance plans (a temporary break from payments) that increased interest due, rather than other repayment options.

Last month, Senator Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., released an audit from the Department of Education, finding 220 instances where Navient call center personnel failed to offer options to borrowers struggling to pay their loans other than forbearance, seemingly confirming some of CFPB’s allegations.

The CFPB complaint also alleged that Navient gave student borrowers incorrect information for how to maintain eligibility for income-based repayment plans, which only take a sliver of a borrower’s income every month. It erroneously misreported loan defaults to credit reporting agencies of severely disabled borrowers—including veterans—who had the right to seek loan forgiveness after contracting their disability. Navient’s subsidiary, Pioneer Credit Recovery, also made misrepresentations to borrowers about credit reporting and collection fees. Navient failed to correct these and other errors in the face of borrower complaints.

The lawsuit was filed two days before President Trump’s inauguration. There are indications that Navient resisted a settlement after Trump’s election, expecting to get a better deal with a deregulator-in-chief. Frotman did speak at the CFPB press conference announcing the charges. Those were his only public statements on the matter.

Navient was mostly correct in its assumption that Trump would usher in a lighter regulatory hand. Once CFPB director Richard Cordray left office for an unsuccessful run for Ohio governor, White House budget director Mick Mulvaney replaced him. After that, CFPB’s public enforcement actions dropped by 75 percent. Mulvaney folded the student loan division into the consumer information unit, a downgrade of its power. The Navient case was kept alive, but several state attorneys general have brought their own litigation, anticipating that CFPB would eventually drop the charges.

Frotman resigned the CFPB on September 1. In a scathing resignation letter, he accused Mulvaney and the new leadership of abandoning borrowers, instead altering the agency’s mission to “serve the wishes of the most powerful financial companies in America,” as he put it.

Navient hadn’t listed Frotman as a witness in the case until after his resignation. The company subpoenaed him a month later, which forced Frotman to hire legal counsel. In his own declaration, Frotman attorney Deepak Gupta says he tried four times to contact Navient about the scope of the deposition and the information being sought. Navient finally replied dismissively, with counsel Daniel Kearny stating: “We do not have an obligation to clarify for you exactly what questions we intend to ask in the deposition.”

Two weeks later, on a conference call with Gupta, Navient’s lawyers reiterated that they had no obligation to lay out the scope of the deposition, and provided topics to Frotman in the subpoena “only as a courtesy.” The lawyers added that they could go even beyond that topic list. Navient’s attorneys told him they had no “current” plans to depose any other CFPB officials, but that they reserved the right to do so later.

After that, Gupta filed the motion to quash the subpoena. Judge Robert Mariani could either agree and throw out the attempted deposition, limit the questioning to certain topics, or allow it to go forward.

Navient did not respond to a request for comment.

The post Student Loan Giant Navient Responds to Allegations of Abuse With a Bizarre Subpoena of a Former Federal Official appeared first on The Intercept.

With a Green New Deal, Here’s What the World Could Look Like for the Next Generation

It’s the spring of 2043, and Gina is graduating college with the rest of her class. She had a relatively stable childhood. Her parents availed themselves of some of the year of paid family leave they were entitled to, and after that she was dropped off at a free child care program.

Pre-K and K-12 were also free, of course, but so was her time at college, which she began after a year of public service, during which she spent six months restoring wetlands and another six volunteering at a day care much like the one she had gone to.

Now that she’s graduated, it’s time to think about what to do with her life. Without student debt, the options are broad. She also won’t have to worry about health insurance costs, since everyone is now eligible for Medicare. Like most people, she isn’t extraordinarily wealthy, so she can live in public, rent-controlled housing — not in the underfunded, neglected units we’re accustomed to seeing in the United States, but in one of any number of buildings that the country’s top architects have competed for the privilege to design, featuring lush green spaces, child care centers, and even bars and restaurants. Utilities won’t be an issue, either. Broadband and clean water are both free and publicly provisioned, and the solar array that is spread atop the roofs of her housing complex generates all the power it needs and more.

For work, she trained to become a high-level engineer at a solar panel manufacturer, though some of her friends are going into nursing and teaching. All are well-paid, unionized positions, and are considered an essential part of the transition away from fossil fuels, updates about which are broadcast over the nightly news. In any case, she won’t have to spend long looking for a job. At any number of American Job Centers around the country, she can walk in and work with a counselor to find a well-paid position on projects that help make her city better able to deal with rising tides and more severe storms, or oral history projects, or switch careers altogether and receive training toward a union job in the booming clean energy sector.

The AJCs are a small part of the Green New Deal Act of 2021, a compromise plan that was only strengthened in the years that followed. For a brief moment, it looked as if the Supreme Court might strike down large elements of it, but as a plan to expand the size of the court gained popularity with the public, the justices backed down.

Gina might also open her own business. Without having to worry about the cost of day care or health insurance, she can invest everything into making her dream a reality. And the cost of labor for business owners, who no longer have to pick up the health care tab, is reasonable enough that she can afford to pay good wages for the staff that she needs to meet demand.

Whichever she chooses, she’ll work no more than 40 hours a week, and likely far less, leaving ample time to travel via high speed, zero-carbon rail to visit friends elsewhere and go hiking or to the beach; enjoy long, leisurely meals of locally sourced food and drink; and attend concerts in the park, featuring musicians whose careers have been supported by generous public arts grants. As she gets older, paying for health care won’t be a concern, with everything from routine doctor’s visits and screenings, to prescription drugs, to home health aides covered under the public system, as social security continues to furnish her rent, expenses, and entertainment through the end of her life.

That’s the world a “Green New Deal” could build, and what a number of representatives and activists are pushing Congress to help set into motion. Led by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., 17 representatives and counting have signed on to a measure that would create a select House committee tasked with crafting, over the course of a year, a comprehensive plan to move the U.S. away from fossil fuels by 2030 and accomplish seven goals related to decarbonizing the economy.

On Friday, Ocasio-Cortez and her collaborators gathered outside the Capitol to talk about the increasingly popular program. “The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs,” said Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass. “It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future. It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters, and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”

On Monday evening, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., hosted a town hall on the issue with Ocasio-Cortez inside the Capitol.

All of this raises a question: What, exactly, would a Green New Deal entail?

Like its 1930s counterpart, the “Green New Deal” isn’t a specific set of programs so much as an umbrella under which various policies might fit, ranging from technocratic to transformative. The sheer scale of change needed to deal effectively with climate change is massive, as the scientific consensus is making increasingly clear, requiring an economy-wide mobilization of the sort that the United States hasn’t really undertaken since World War II. While the Green New Deal imaginary evokes images of strapping young men pulling up their sleeves to hoist up wind turbines (in the mold of realist Civilian Conservation Corps ads), its actual scope is far broader than the narrow set of activities typically housed under the green jobs umbrella, or even in the original New Deal.

“People talk often about the infrastructure investment that has to happen, and new technology,” Saikat Chakrabarti, Ocasio-Cortez’s chief of staff, told me. “But there’s also an industrial plan that needs to happen to build entirely new industries. It’s sort of like the moonshot. When JFK said America was going to go to the moon, none of the things we needed to get to the moon at that point existed. But we tried and we did it.” The Green New Deal, he added, “touches everything — it’s basically a massive system upgrade for the economy.”

In a broad sense, that’s what policymakers in other countries refer to as industrial policy, whereby the government plays a decisive role in shaping the direction of the economy to accomplish specific aims. That doesn’t mean that the state controls every industry, as in the Soviet system; instead, it would be closer to the kind of economic planning that the U.S. practiced during the economic mobilization around World War II, and that is practiced internally today by many of the world’s biggest corporations. Should Ocasio-Cortez’s resolution pass muster, the select committee will convene policymakers, academics, and representatives from the private sector and civil society to hash out next steps. How widely or narrowly that groups defines a Green New Deal — and whether it’ll ever be given space to meet on Capitol Hill — remains to be seen, as supportive lawmakers huddle in Washington this week to try and gain support for writing it into the rulebook for the next Congress. Ultimately, it will be that committee that fleshes out what a Green New Deal looks like. But the proposal itself, American history, and existing research give us a sense for what all it might look like in practice.

The plan itself — or rather, the plan to make the plan — lays out seven goals, starting with generating 100 percent of power in the U.S. from renewable sources and updating the country’s power grid.

As the first two points of the resolution suggest, one of the main goals of any Green New Deal that spurs a complete switch to renewables will be dialing up the amount of total energy demand represented by electricity, by switching combustion-based activities like heating systems, air conditioners, and automobiles over to electric power. The Energy Transitions Commission estimates that 60 percent of energy will need to be distributed via electricity by mid-century, up from just 20 percent today. Making that possible means developing new technology, and also overhauling today’s grid, making it easier for homes and businesses that generate their own power to feed it back into the system. A modern grid — or “smart” grid, per Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal — would also make way for microgrids, which are self-contained renewable energy generation systems that allow small neighborhoods and hospitals, for instance, to continue making their own power even if there are disruptions (say, hurricane-force winds or a wildfire) upstream. Assuming it won’t be entirely sustainable to import all of that capacity, scaling up renewables will also likely mean expanding the country’s renewables manufacturing sector to produce more solar and wind infrastructure, components for which are today sourced largely from abroad.

In this July 20 photo, solar panels installed by Tesla, power a community of 12 homes in the mountain town of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico. The homes still do not have power from the national grid, more than 10 months after Hurricane Maria and now is operating exclusively on solar energy. (AP Photo/ Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo)

Solar panels, installed by Tesla, power a community of 12 homes in the mountain town of Las Piedras, Puerto Rico, on July 20, 2018.

Photo: Dennis M. Rivera Pichardo/AP

“We build things here in Detroit, and across Michigan, and we’ve got a lot of people here with manufacturing skills who are being left behind by the corporate greed,” incoming Rep. Rashida Tlaib, D- Mich., among the first supporters of the resolution and who campaigned on a Green New Deal, said via email. “Just this week we heard about how GM, a company that has received billions and billions from taxpayers, is planning to cut thousands of jobs here.  So it’s really exciting to be talking about rapidly building up our green, renewable energy infrastructure, because these are jobs that can and should go to our workers here in Michigan.

“We were the Arsenal of Democracy and helped save the planet from real darkness decades ago, and there’s no reason why we couldn’t be one of the regions to build America’s green energy infrastructure and help save the planet again in the process.”

Bringing more clean energy online could entail expanding the types of programs that already exist at the state level, too, though they seldom come with much teeth. Renewable portfolio standards require utilities to source a certain amount of their power from wind and solar. New York state, for instance, set a renewable portfolio standard of 29 percent by 2015. The deadline came and went quietly, without much talk of how it would pick up the slack to reach its next goal of 50 percent renewables by 2030.

Those targets would have to be much stricter to get off fossil fuels by 2035. “You say, you hit the target and you reduce emissions 10 percent every year or you go to jail,” says Robert Pollin, an economist at the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Political Economy Research Institute. “That would get their attention.”

That may sound aggressive by today’s standards, but has been par for the course at other points in American history when the country has faced existential threats. During World War II, for instance, the government was largely responsible for administering prices, wages, and sourcing in sectors deemed vital to the Allies. Corporate productivity and profits boomed with demand for tankers and munitions, but companies that refused to go along with mandates sent down from the War Production Board and associated economic planning bodies faced a federal takeover. Among the most iconic images of these changed power relationships was a widely circulated image of Sewell Avery, the president of Montgomery Ward. During World War II, Montgomery Ward, a mail-order corporation, produced everything from uniforms to bullets for soldiers abroad. In 1944, the National War Labor Board ordered Avery, a Nazi sympathizer, to let his employees unionize to ward off a strike, and the ensuing disruption in war production. When he refused, President Franklin D. Roosevelt ordered the National Guard to haul him off, chair and all, and seize the company’s main plant in Chicago. The government took over operations at the company’s factories in several other cities by the year’s end. And by the end of the war, around a quarter of all domestic manufacturing had been nationalized for the sake of the war effort.

Notably, Green New Deal proponents aren’t pushing for such drastic action. Yet given the collision course between the fossil fuel industry’s business model and a livable future, simply building up more renewable power will almost certainly need to be paired with constraints on the fossil fuel industry. Waleed Shahid, communications director for Justice Democrats, which is backing the Green New Deal proposal, told me, “Given the fossil fuel industry’s role in creating an untenable situation for billions of people around the world, the government should step up and promote winners and create losers, which has happened before in the United States.” Among the provisions of the committee resolution, fittingly, is that politicians who accept donations from coal, oil, and gas companies can’t be appointed to it.

At a press conference announcing additional support for the resolution, Ocasio-Cortez spelled out the conflict of interest: “This is about the fact that if we continue to allow power to concentrate with corporations to dictate the quality of our air, to … tell us that we can keep burning fossil fuels — to dupe us — people will die,” she said, “and people are dying.”

Evan Weber, of the Sunrise Movement, put it in similar terms. “Dealing with climate change in the way that we need to is not just about passing a suite of policies that will transform our society to both end the causes of climate change and prepare society for the climate change that is already baked in,” he said. “It’s also changing our conception of what government is and who its for.”

Especially under the Trump administration, plenty of government policy has been written for the benefit of the fossil fuel industry. According to a 2018 analysis by Oil Change International, the U.S. government annually spends about $20 billion on direct and indirect subsidies to the fossil fuel industry; the richest “G7” nations overall spend about $100 billion. This in itself is a kind of industrial policy already in place, and a Green New Deal might at the very least remove those subsidies and redirect them toward the clean energy sector, where wind and solar already enjoy a much smaller degree of subsidization through the production and investment tax credits, respectively.

While winding down fossil fuel production and scaling up renewables will of course be a considerable part of any Green New Deal, so too will investing in the research, development, and manufacturing capacities to get especially difficult-to-decarbonize sectors, like airlines and steel, off fossil fuels over the next several decades, as Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal notes. The latter requires a still largely experimental process called electrolysis, which targeted investments could subsidize research into. In Sanders’s town hall Monday night, Ocasio-Cortez appeared to reference economist Mariana Mazzucato’s work, which lays out the existing progress and potential of using public investment to finance early-stage research that venture capital funds are too risk-averse to support. (Ocasio-Cortez and other members of her team have met with Mazzacuto.)

“For far too long,” she said, “we gave money to Tesla — to a lot of people — and we got no return on the investment that the public made in new technologies. It’s the public that financed innovative new technologies.”

Such a policy umbrella, though, could be just as much about decarbonization as about building out sectors of the economy which simply aren’t carbon-intensive, but are essential to a healthy economy, such as teaching and nursing. A federal job guarantee, which is cited in the draft resolution and a hot topic among 2020 presidential hopefuls, might put people to work remediating wetlands and tending community gardens while providing an alternative to low-paid work bound up in hugely carbon-intensive supply chains. Walmart, for instance, is the biggest employer in 22 states, paying an entry-level wage of $11 per hour. McDonald’s, another major employer, is estimated to have at some point employed 1 in 8 American workers and has consistently resisted calls to institute a $15 minimum wage. A federal jobs guarantee that paying that much, as outlined by several proposals, would effectively create a national wage floor, compelling retail and fast food chains to either raise their wages or risk having their employees enticed into better-paid jobs that improve their communities and make them more resilient against climate impacts.

For extractive industry workers, whose wages are traditionally high thanks to decades of labor militancy, $15 an hour may not be too big of a draw, meaning other programs could be needed to finance what’s widely referred to as a just transition, making sure that workers in sectors that need to be phased out — like coal, oil, and gas — are well taken care of and that communities which have historically revolved around those industries can diversify their economies. Spain’s social democratic government recently sponsored a small-scale version of this, investing the relatively tiny sum of $282 million, with the support of trade unions, to help coal workers transition into other work while shuttering the last of the country’s coal mines.

With the right investment, new jobs won’t be hard to come by. Research from the International Labour Organization finds that while a concerted transition to renewable energy could cost as many as 6 million jobs around the world in carbon-intensive sectors, it could create 24 million jobs, or a net gain of 18 million, and far more than the profound job loss that would stem from unchecked climate change.

It’s not hard to imagine cries from Republicans and Democrats alike about how much such a program might cost, and of the dangers of blowing up the deficit. Worth noting is the cost that 13 federal agencies have said are likely if we do nothing, according to the National Climate Assessment quietly released on Black Friday. By 2100, heat-related deaths could cost the U.S. $141 billion. Sea-level rise could rack up a $118 billion bill, and infrastructure damages could cost up to $32 billion. Along the same timeline, the report’s authors found, the financial damages of climate change to the U.S. could double those caused by the Great Recession.

By comparison, the 1 to 2 percent of gross domestic product that Pollin has said a Green New Deal would cost seems pretty cheap, never mind the fact that putting millions of people to work would bolster tax revenues and consumer spending. Pollin calls it “equitable green growth,” coupled with “degrowth down to zero of the fossil fuel industry.” Incumbent fuel sources, and coal in particular, aren’t exactly saving anyone money. A recent analysis from the group Carbon Tracker has found that 42 percent of coal capacity worldwide is already unprofitable, and that figure could spiked to 72 percent by 2030.

“The question is, ‘What policy do you use to build up the public investment and incentivize private investment?’” Pollin said. “You can’t just have these private sector incentive programs. That’s just not going to get it.”

As several proponents have pointed out, though, so-called pay-for questions are rarely asked of public spending programs designed to further national interests, be that getting out of a recession or fighting a war. “If we were threatened by an invader, we would mobilize all the resources we have at our disposal to deal with that security threat,” says U.K.-based economist Ann Pettifor. “As in those circumstances, you cannot rely entirely on the private sector.”

Pettifor was among the first people to start thinking seriously about a Green New Deal just after the financial crisis. Then working at the New Economics Foundation, a progressive think tank, she helped convene a series of meetings in her living room that would eventually coalesce into the Green New Deal group. The group produced several reports on the subject. But with European sovereign debt crisis about to plunge the continent’s lawmakers into full-blown austerity hysteria, any public discussion of a big, expansionary spending package faded. Jeremy Corbyn’s election to Labour Party leadership helped change that. And this past March, Chakrabarti, working on Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign at the time, showed up on her doorstep wanting to hear more.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, the winner of the Democratic primary in New York's 14th Congressional District, speaks on a phone as Saikat Chakrabarti, her senior campaign adviser stands by, Wednesday, June 27, 2018, in New York. The 28-year-old political newcomer upset U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley, says she brings an "urgency" to the fight for working families.  (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, left, speaks on a phone as Saikat Chakrabarti, her senior campaign adviser, stands by on June 27, 2018, in New York.

Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP

For Pettifor, as for many Green New Deal advocates on this side of the pond, the funding question is less about how to reconcile line items than about reconfiguring what goals the economy is working toward — that is, to make it do something other than simply grow GDP by some fixed percentage each year.

Economists’ and policymakers’ fixation on unlimited economic growth as the metric for measuring economic prosperity is a really recent invention, developed in large part by the exponential returns that were being brought in by a ballooning financial sector–and not to that point factored into economic accounts. “If I work hard every day and night I have a weekly wage. If i gamble and win a load of money, I get rich quick,” she explains. “And the finance sector has moved its focus into making money in that way and not in investing in productive activity.” That shift toward measuring growth above all else started to displace an earlier focus on full employment in the 1960s, making multiplying profits and consumption the goal rather than ensuring people’s basic needs were met. As a result, carbon emissions spiked.

It’s why Pettifor largely rejects the premise of debates among environmentalists about growth and degrowth. For the green movement to talk about growth at all, she says, “is to adapt that OECD framing of what the economy should be about” and “to adopt the framing of a neoliberal idea of the economy. I would prefer to us to talk about full employment.”

That’s not to suggest there aren’t nuts and bolts funding issues that can be easily worked out. In contrast to state governments, which rely in large part on tax revenues, the federal government has plenty of tools at its disposal for financing a Green New Deal — tools it deployed to great effect during the financial crisis. It could also set up a National Investment Bank to furnish lines of credit for green investment. A polluter fee or carbon tax could provide some revenue, as well, but perhaps more importantly would punish bad behavior in the energy sector. Loan guarantees of the sort used in the stimulus package could help to build out clean energy as they did then, before getting scrapped when Republicans took control of the House in 2010. (While Solyndra, the most infamous of those loan recipients, failed, the program overall made a return on investment greater than those enjoyed by most venture capital funds.)

In a piece co-authored by Greg Carlock, author of a Green New Deal prospectus for the upstart think tank Data for Progress; and Andres Bernal, an adviser to Ocasio-Cortez; and Stephanie Kelton, former chief economist on the Senate Budget Committee, the writers explain, “When Congress authorizes spending, it sets off a sequence of actions. Federal agencies … enter into contracts and begin spending. As the checks go out, the government’s bank — the Federal Reserve — clears the payments by crediting the seller’s bank account with digital dollars. In other words, Congress can pass any budget it chooses, and our government already pays for everything by creating new money.”

A Green New Deal, moreover, “will actually help the economy by stimulating productivity, job growth and consumer spending, as government spending has often done,” Kelton, Bernal, and Carlock add. “In fact, a Green New Deal can create good-paying jobs while redressing economic and environmental inequities.”

Green New Deal advocates also have no illusions about just how flawed the original New Deal was in terms of inequities, given that it largely left Jim Crow in place. “It threw black and brown people under the bus,” Chakrabarti said, noting that Roosevelt gave up on enshrining civil rights into its programs in order to win the support of white supremacist southern Democrats. Among the most infamous examples of this dynamic was the Federal Housing Administration, which guaranteed mortgages and subsidized large housing developments for whites on the condition that African-Americans couldn’t live there. African-Americans who applied for assistance to buy homes in predominantly white neighborhoods were refused. It’s from these same policies that the term redlining first emerged, a reference to New Deal-era planning maps which used literal red lines to designate areas where the federally backed Home Owners’ Loan Corporation would and would not insure mortgages.

“Right off the bat,” Chakrabarti says of the Green New Deal plan, “we’ve put trying to fix the injustices that have been perpetrated on black and brown communities front and center. Unless you have targeted investments in communities that have had their wealth stripped from them for generations, it’s going to be very difficult for communities that have faced redlining to enjoy economic prosperity.”

The detritus of FHA-style discrimination serves to make a transition harder, and will need to be overcome to make any new New Deal a success. Dense, transit-connected cities are on the whole more sustainable than the car-centric suburban sprawl encouraged by a mix of mid-century development schemes, segregationist policies and white flight. Yet the home solar market is oriented largely around rooftop installations, which creates obvious barriers to entry for renters in multi-unit buildings, where landlords have little incentive to upgrade. The New York City Housing Authority, accounting for about a fifth of the country’s public housing, could be a model for retrofitting public and affordable housing in cities around the country, but is currently sitting in about $17 billion of debt and remains in dire need of basic updates and repairs.

In this Feb. 14, 2017 photo, a rooftop is covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York. The Manhattan skyline is at top. Even if President Donald Trump withdraws U.S. support for the Paris climate change accord, domestic efforts to battle global warming will continue. Dozens of states and many cities have policies intended to reduce emissions of greenhouses gases and deal with the effects of rising temperatures. Even in red states, many consider flood prevention and renewable energy are considered smart business. (AP Photo/Mark Lennihan)

A rooftop covered with solar panels at the Brooklyn Navy Yard in New York on Feb. 14, 2017.

Photo: Mark Lennihan/AP

As sociologist Daniel Aldana Cohen points out, density alone doesn’t make a city low-carbon. While they pride themselves as green for buying organic and taking the train, luxury high-rise inhabitants — with their taste for carbon-intensive imports, summer homes, and first-class business trips — have the largest footprints in their cities, which account for around three-quarters of carbon emissions worldwide. “When it comes to the carbon emissions of New York’s individual residents, as calculated in terms of consumption, Manhattan is the worst borough. Because it’s the richest,” he writes. “Crowded but well-to-do West Villagers’ carbon footprints are comparable to sprawling suburbanites’ all over the country.” Beyond Manhattan, Oxfam International has found that the world’s richest 10 percent produce about half of its carbon emissions. “It is only residents of Manhattan’s less-gentrified neighborhoods,” Aldana Cohen continues, “who have really low carbon footprints. They reside by the island’s northwest and southeast tips, in zip codes anchored by public housing. … Public housing, well-stocked libraries, accessible transit, gorgeous parks: these are democratic low-carbon amenities. And they’re the political achievements of working-class New York.”

Dense, affordable housing is the key to making a low-carbon city. And with the right investments, NYCHA could cut its emissions by three-quarters or more, “while using the renovation process to clean out mold, seal the cracks and crevices where pests now thrive, and increase leaf canopy. With these and other measures, NYCHA could become the world’s largest—albeit decentralized—green city,” Aldana Cohen adds. A Green New Deal could sponsor similar improvements in towns and cities around the country, rendering cities greener, more equitable, and infinitely more livable.

Beyond redressing some of the ills of the original New Deal, those pushing for its redux are also keenly focused on the people who could be on the losing end of both climate policy and the climate crisis itself. “We know that if we are really going to make it out of the years and decades ahead, we need a government that cares for people and is of, by and for the people and acts to protect the most marginalized amongst us,” Weber, of Sunrise, says. “When we have things like extreme weather events and increased migration because of climate change, we take a more humanitarian approach to responding to those than what we’re seeing from our federal government, which is saying we need to build walls and lock people in cages.”

In the coming decades, climate change is likely to bring about the largest mass migration in human history, both within and between countries. Already, the Internal Displacement Monitoring Center estimates that as many as 21.5 million people have been displaced thanks to climate-related impacts, and the civil war in Syria that has led many refugees to flee that country is owed at least partially to climate-induced drought and agricultural crisis. Largely, governments in the global north have treated these flows as a problem. But the Green New Deal could adopt a different approach.

“We’re going to need tens or hundreds of millions of jobs,” Chakrabarti said, projecting that there could even be a labor shortage. “What that’s going to result in is that, yes, we’re going to have to retrain and invest in the current American workforce. But we’re probably going to be begging for more immigration.” He referenced the influx of labor needed to build up the interstate highway system in the 1950s. “It’s not just that we had an open immigration policy. We were actively recruiting.” Chakrabarti’s father, he said, immigrated after visiting an American recruitment center in West Bengal. “They were pitching them on the American dream to try to get them to come to America and build the country together.”

As the immigration question highlights, climate change isn’t an issue that confines itself narrowly to borders. The US represents about 15 percent of global emissions, so acting alone won’t get us too far. Coal is on a steady decline here, but Asia accounts for around three-quarters of global coal consumption, which has actually risen overall in the last 2 years. And while China has backed what might be the world’s most ambitious green spending package, it’s also continuing to finance coal plants domestically and throughout the global south, encouraging other countries to pursue a path to economic development based on a fuel source that climate science is increasingly clear should be zeroed out. Ocasio-Cortez’s proposal frames this problem delicately, setting out an intention to make green “technology, industry, expertise, products and services a major export of the United States, with the aim of becoming the undisputed international leader in helping other countries transition to completely carbon neutral economies and bringing about a global Green New Deal.”

Aside from turning the US into a major exporter of clean energy — rather than, say, oil — that might involve US capital opening up a path to development for other countries that’s based on renewable energy and not coal or gas, in ways similar to the Marshall Plan shaped the course of economic rebuilding and development in post-war development. The approach wouldn’t be all that dramatic of a departure from current U.S. energy policy in the U.S.; the Trump Administration has repeatedly stated its intent to help bring coal to the rest of the world, including at last year’s UN climate talks in Bonn, Germany, and almost certainly at their event this year at COP 24. But extending the Green New Deal beyond the narrow confines of U.S. borders would also involve upending the traditionally obstructive role the U.S. has played in international climate talks, stymying ambition and binding pledges. As Naomi Klein noted last week, the U.S. taking the climate crisis seriously — adopting what could be the world’s most ambitious decarbonization plan, in its most dominant economy — would have a tremendous ripple effect throughout the rest of the world, and more narrowly in the talks themselves as countries figure out how to ratchet up their commitments to the Paris agreement in the coming years.

All of the above is only the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a brief and entirely non-exhaustive list of some other issues that might fall under a Green New Deal: farm and agricultural policy; reforming the National Flood Insurance Program and developing a coherent plan for relocating coastal communities away from flood zones; formally honoring indigenous sovereignty and tribal land rights; ensuring democratic participation in clean energy planning and ending eminent domain; a universal basic income; wildfire management; trade policy; building up infrastructure to sequester carbon; fully extending broadband wireless to rural communities; rare earths and mineral procurement; overhauling FEMA; sweeping campaign finance reform; and “Medicare for All” — to name just a few.

Needless to say, the Green New Deal faces an uphill battle on the Hill. Aside from complaints about feasibility, the pushback from other Democrats so far has been largely procedural, Weber says, citing a fear voiced by some House members that should the select committee be empowered to draft legislation, it would undermine the authority of other established committees. As he points out, the resolution outlines only that the committee be allowed to draft legislation, and wouldn’t pre-empt that legislation first going through another body before moving to a floor vote. Moreover, Weber added, “We actually do need a committee that goes beyond the very narrow focus of the existing ones. What we’re talking about is something that effects every aspect of society. A select committee that can have the purview over the issues that all of these existing committees and more is exactly the type of vehicle that Congress — if it want to take climate change seriously — should be creating.”

I contacted several incoming members of Congress that were outspoken in their campaigns about climate change but have not yet signed on to the Green New Deal resolution to ask about their positions. As of yet, no one has responded, although one — Rep.-elect Mike Levin, D-Calif. — announced his support last week.

In the coming days and weeks, House Democrats are expected to release the first version of their rules package for the next Congress, in which supporters hope that a version of the select committee on the Green New Deal will appear. “Whether we get it or we don’t get it, the biggest thing we need to have is a movement backing this stuff,” Chakrabarti said. “The movement needs to keep pushing it and making a plan to go all the way. If we don’t get the committee, it’s up to us to figure out how to do it.”

The post With a Green New Deal, Here’s What the World Could Look Like for the Next Generation appeared first on The Intercept.

Ocasio-Cortez Gunning for Powerful Committee, Setting Up Showdown With Long Island Democrat

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is making a push for a seat on the powerful House Ways and Means Committee, according to people familiar with her decision. It’s a panel whose jurisdiction over taxes and revenue puts most of the economy within its mandate.

For that reason, freshmen are almost never given spots on the panel, but the midterm elections upset the balance of power in the House. Sixty-three new representatives have joined the Democratic caucus, and some 43 Republicans either lost their seats or retired — so there is an unusually large number of vacancies to fill.

By custom, New York City effectively has at least one reserved seat on Ways and Means, and Ocasio-Cortez is looking to claim it. Its former occupant was Rep. Joe Crowley, whom Ocasio-Cortez beat in a primary election.

Any major piece of legislation — whether it’s “Medicare for All,” a “Green New Deal,” or free public college — would involve some level of revenue, putting it squarely in the domain of Ways and Means, which makes it a key spot for a legislator looking to have an impact. Ocasio-Cortez is routinely asked how she plans to pay for her aggressive economic agenda, and the first answer begins with securing a spot on the House’s key tax-writing committee.

Traditionally, the seat is sought after for its fundraising potential, as every industry in the country is concerned with federal tax policy, meaning that members of the committee are more likely to get their fundraising calls returned. That makes the decision of who to give the seat to a tricky one for incoming House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, who has the final say on committee assignments. Placing a lawmaker who refuses corporate PAC contributions on the Ways and Means Committee could be seen by some elements of the party as leaving money on the table.

But giving it to the other New York applicant presents its own problems. Ocasio-Cortez is competing with Rep. Tom Suozzi, who represents the North Shore of Long Island, a district not far from Ocasio-Cortez’s Bronx and Queens — but a world away in terms of wealth and privilege. He would no doubt make efficient fundraising use of the seat, but he also took part in a recent assault on Pelosi’s power as speaker.

The contrast between how Ocasio-Cortez and Suozzi have approached the incoming Congress has been stark. Ocasio-Cortez began by joining a sit-in at Pelosi’s office to demand an empowered select committee to focus on legislating a Green New Deal. It was a risky move, but one that ended with Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez praising one another, and the issue of climate change was elevated on the agenda. Ocasio-Cortez then threw her support behind an embattled Pelosi for speaker of the House.

Pelosi’s bid for speakership was threatened by the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus, a group of lawmakers funded by the dark-money group No Labels, which threatened to withhold voting for Pelosi unless she agreed to a suite of rule changes that would largely empower Republicans. Suozzi was one of the nine signatories on that letter. Pelosi ultimately ceded to some of their demands.

Suozzi is a vice chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus, as well as a member of the New Democrat Coalition, a bloc of Wall Street-friendly Democrats that dramatically expanded its membership with the 2018 elections.

Suozzi said that he had no interest in Ways and Means as a tool for fundraising, but argued that his training as a certified public accountant and attorney made him ideally suited for it. He also represents, he noted, a district that was hit very hard by the GOP tax bill, which tightened the state and local tax deduction. Because he represents part of Queens, he qualifies for the New York City spot.

“I’m not interested in this seat for fundraising purposes,” he told The Intercept, noting that he was first elected as mayor 25 years ago. “I don’t need a committee to raise money.” 

Asked about the political contrast between him and Ocasio-Cortez, he acknowledged some differences, but said there was also common ground. “I’m very progressive on a lot of different issues, in support of the Green New Deal, immigration, both those issues, as well as on issues related to poverty,” he said. “Am I fiscally conservative? Yes, I’m fiscally conservative.”

A spokesperson for Ocasio-Cortez decline to comment.

Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to go after a spot on the Ways and Means Committee is part of a broader strategy to grow progressive power in the coming Congress. It began with Congressional Progressive Caucus leaders Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state extracting a major concession from Pelosi, that in exchange for CPC votes, she would give the caucus proportional representation — which amounts to 40 percent — on the most powerful committees, which includes Ways and Means.

Then, after Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., narrowly lost her bid for caucus chair to Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, Pelosi named Lee the third co-chair of the Steering and Policy Committee. The steering committee decides on the remaining committee assignments, with Pelosi getting the final vote.

Outside progressive groups plan to mobilize on behalf of Ocasio-Cortez’s effort. Jennifer Epps-Addison, network president and co-executive director of the Center for Popular Democracy Action, argued that putting her on the committee would bring a valuable new perspective because she “rejects the false scarcity that pits health care against education, jobs against addressing climate change, while spending limitlessly on war and criminalization.”

“Not only does she have the lived experience of Americans struggling to make ends meet in this rigged economy, but she will make sure to bring our voices and concerns to one of the most important decision-making bodies in Congress,” Epps-Addison said. “We strongly support her over Tom Suozzi, who was willing to withhold support for Pelosi to fuel his centrist agenda.”

The post Ocasio-Cortez Gunning for Powerful Committee, Setting Up Showdown With Long Island Democrat appeared first on The Intercept.

Thousands of House GOP campaign committee emails were stolen in hack

The Republican Party's House campaign committee said it was a victim of "cyber intrusion" during the 2018 midterm campaign. Party officials told Politico that "thousands of sensitive emails" were stolen in the National Republican Congressional Committee hack. The party has reported the incident to the FBI.

Source: Associated Press

Here’s a Better Name for No Labels: Republicans

UNITED STATES - JUNE 17: Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., left, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., R-Utah, co-chairs of No Labels, arrive for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee hearing in Dirksen Building titled "Governing Through Goal Setting: Enhancing the Economic and National Security of America," June 17, 2015. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Former Sen. Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., left, and former Gov. Jon Huntsman Jr., R-Utah, co-chairs of No Labels, arrive for a Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee on June 17, 2015.

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

Since 2010, a group called No Labels has embodied a particular approach to politics and policy in Washington, D.C.; it’s one that insists the real problems are partisanship, divisiveness, and incivility, and that if only sensible centrists from both parties could be brought together under the right conditions, the halcyon days of the past will return.

Yet curiously, the sensible solutions so often proposed by No Labels and its ilk have an uncanny likelihood of benefiting one particular element of our nation’s political economy: the superrich, or more precisely, the finance industry.

A new report on Monday from the Daily Beast adds a sweeping array of details to what many long knew or suspected about this movement, which allegedly wants to remain above the fray: It’s funded by the barons of hedge funds and private equity.

Far from remaining aloof from politics, No Labels has consistently been swooping down into the fray in recent years on behalf of Republicans and conservative Democrats. The House Problem Solvers Caucus, which was produced and is funded by No Labels, made headlines recently in its quest to hold up Nancy Pelosi’s speakership bid unless she supported their “Break the Gridlock” rule changes.

But the full suite of reforms would have just ended up benefiting the GOP; after all, it’s not like the Problem Solvers Caucus pressed for these rules when Paul Ryan was up for the position. Selectively tying the hands of Democratic leadership in the wake of a Democratic rout in the midterms isn’t balanced governance, it simply helps the right.

While it was easy to see through the Problem Solvers Caucus’s (failed) ploy to undermine Pelosi, last week saw another effort to push conservative ideology under the guise of pragmatic bipartisanship. A working group consisting of experts from Opportunity America, the Brookings Institution, and the American Enterprise Institute (supposedly liberal- and conservative-leaning counterparts in the think tank world) released a policy report on solutions for the working class. It was touted as a “bipartisan plan of action” developed in the wake of Donald Trump’s election. Ostensibly representing the “liberal” side of the working group as one of three Brookings fellows is Bill Galston — one of the co-founders of No Labels and the organization’s most public Democratic face.

In a glowing write-up, conservative New York Times columnist David Brooks commended the report’s authors for establishing a “broad left/right agenda that 70 percent of Republicans and Democrats could support” and called for the “return of the chastened establishment.” So what, exactly, are the ideas that the bipartisan working group proposes?

In exchange for rather uncontroversial and moderate policies — like expanding the earned income tax credit for childless workers; making the child and dependent care tax credit refundable; and more funding for career education and training — the working group recommends adding work requirements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, and promoting marriage. They have also put forward proposals to “reform unemployment and disability insurance to promote work,” including forcing unemployment insurance beneficiaries to pick up their checks at unemployment offices and cracking down on disability insurance claimants.

Many of these policies are debunked right-wing ideas that have continuously been given the veneer of credibility from the “centrist” think tank establishment. Take, for example, adding work requirements to SNAP. The efficacy of work requirements has long been debunked: When the same conditions were added for welfare recipients in 1996, employment did not increase in the long term. That’s not to mention the fact that most low-income people receiving benefits who can work are already doing so.

Or take the report’s focus on promoting marriage through the “success sequence,” which is the idea that all young people should first get a college degree, then marry, then have children in order to ensure a successful life. Many have long criticized the success sequence because not only is it impossible to enforce, but it doesn’t even make for good policy. (Matt Bruenig of the People’s Policy Project often points out that having multiple incomes in a household is what cuts poverty, not marriage.) As academic critics told The Atlantic, the sequence has mainly been used to push conservative personal responsibility narratives, which are then used to undermine spending on social programs:

Critics of the sequence within academia, like Philip Cohen, a professor of sociology at the Maryland Population Research Center at the University of Maryland, argue that government promotion of marriage doesn’t lead to more marriages. Instead, they say, many sequence enthusiasts want to restigmatize out-of-wedlock births. By doing so, they aim to put the responsibility for poverty on the impoverished just as Krauthammer implied back in the early ‘90s, thus justifying cuts in government support while ignoring the role of late-20th-century American-style capitalism in pushing families into financial insecurity.

It’s possible that these “bipartisan” policies are simply a bad deal, the result of concessions between the working group’s liberals and conservatives. But the report specifically makes sure to point out that their proposals were the result of “more than horse trading” and that they were truly “grounded in common values.” So what, exactly, are these values?

The authors’ shared principles include the “centrality of work,” a “renewal of norms” (mainly the norm that people should work), and more “expectations” from employers to take “voluntary corporate action” to support the working class (an idea that is radical in its delusion). They also vow to “do no harm” — meaning that all their remedies for the working class are budget neutral.

This last point, the adherence to deficit-neutral spending, is certainly something that both sides of the aisle have pushed. But it’s a fearmongering tactic that ends up being used to justify a right-wing agenda of cutting social programs for the poor and working class. As economist Stephanie Kelton explained in the New York Times, the debt and deficit “serve as body armor to politicians who would deny resources to struggling communities or demand cuts to popular programs.” A “centrist” think tank class that refuses to put forward policy ideas that increase spending will only serve to bolster the conservative agenda.

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., left, and Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., right, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting with a bipartisan group of lawmakers in the Cabinet Room of the White House, Wednesday, Sept. 13, 2017, in Washington. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Rep. Josh Gottheimer, D-N.J., left, and Rep. Tom Reed, R-N.Y., right, co-chairs of the House Problem Solvers Caucus, listen as President Donald Trump speaks during a meeting at the White House on Sept. 13, 2017.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Perhaps the parts of the report that best reveal the veneer of the working group’s bipartisanship are the policies that the authors write off from the start: free college and universal basic income. The first idea, they argue, fails to target the working class and the latter, they say, “devalue[s] work.” Yet there is no similar condemnation of radical right-wing policies — like, say, the $1.5 trillion Trump tax cut for corporations, which the authors merely say is “beyond our remit.” This is despite the fact that the regressive bill is going to deepen inequality between low-income workers and the wealthy, something that should surely be within the purview of a report on the working class.

The Problem Solvers Caucus is the most noxious and obvious recent example of pragmatic bipartisanship that ends up benefiting the GOP. But think tanks like the Brookings Institution have long given credence to conservative policies — which end up being disastrous for the working class — under the guise of working across the aisle.

Elite think tanks fail to come up with genuinely useful bipartisan proposals because their definition of the partisans involved only includes other elites within their own circles. Indeed, there is overlap between the Daily Beast’s list of donors to No Labels and the donors that the Brookings Institution named on its 2018 annual report: Howard Marks, co-founder and co-chair of Oaktree Capital Management, is listed as having given between $100,000 and $249,999 to the think tank; and the foundation of Andrew Tisch, co-chair of Loews Corp, gave between $250,000 and $499,999. The Walton Family Foundation gives to Brookings, while Christy Ruth Walton is a donor to No Labels.

But if the benchmark for a bipartisan policy is that a significant chunk of both parties, along with independents, support it, No Labels and its fellow travelers would have a lot more ideas to work with if they looked at the preferences of voters rather than politicians. All of a sudden, policies they’d written off — free public college, “Medicare for All,” and even a jobs guarantee — reveal themselves as genuinely bipartisan solutions to genuinely intractable problems.

That it apparently didn’t occur to Brookings or American Enterprise Institute to prioritize the interests of people over those of the elite tells you precisely who these so-called centrist solutions are intended to benefit. If you need even more precision, here they are specifically, courtesy of the Daily Beast:

    • Josh Bekenstein, CEO of Bain Capital, who gave $250,000 in 2015.


    • John Douglas Arnold, head of Centaurus Advisors, LLC, who gave $200,000 in 2017.


    • John Catsimatidis, president, chairman, and CEO of Gristedes Foods, who gave $100,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Douglas Durst, president of the Durst Organization, who gave $10,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Carl Ferenbach, co-founder of Berkshire Partners LLC, who gave $20,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Former Rep. James Charles “Jim” Greenwood (R-PA), who gave $15,000 in 2016.


    • Kerry Healey, former lieutenant governor of Massachusetts, who have $25,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • George Hume, president and chief executive of Basic American Foods, who gave $25,000 in 2017.


    • Ted Kellner, a Milwaukee business executive, who gave $20,000 in 2017.


    • Franklin Pitch Johnson, Silicon Valley venture-capital pioneer, who gave $25,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Howard Marks, co-founder and co-chairman of Oaktree Capital Management, who gave $125,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Nelson Peltz, founding partner of Trian Fund Management, who gave $500,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Marc J. Rowan, co-founder of the private-equity firm Apollo Global Management, who gave $150,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Andrew Tisch, co-chairman of Loews Corp., who gave $62,500 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


    • Christy Ruth Walton, a Walmart heiress, who gave $25,000 in 2017.


    • Eric Zinterhofer, founding partner of Searchlight Capital Partners, who gave $50,000 in 2016 and was labeled a “reoccuring donor.”


The post Here’s a Better Name for No Labels: Republicans appeared first on The Intercept.

Barbara Lee Named to Key Leadership Position That Could Help Progressives Build Power in the House

Barbara Lee suffered a narrow loss to Hakeem Jeffries in the leadership race for Democratic Caucus chair last week, but the campaign to get her elected bore fruit regardless. Late last Friday, Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi made room for Lee on a key committee that has a primary role in building progressive power in the House.

Lee’s ascension to the leadership position is a window into how deciding to fight for power can yield benefits even if the immediate goal is lost. For progressives in the House, unaccustomed to wielding power, it could prove a galvanizing victory. Lee lost her caucus chair race by just 10 votes amid controversy.

And it could have its own follow-on effects. After a one-on-one meeting, Pelosi named Lee as a third co-chair on the Democratic Steering and Policy Committee. (Technically, Pelosi recommended Lee for the position, but the Steering and Policy Committee votes on the recommendations, and Pelosi herself is the chair, so this is in the bag.) Pelosi added a co-chair to make room for Lee; current co-chairs Reps. Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., and Eric Swalwell, D-Calif., will stay on as well. Lee, DeLauro, and Swalwell are all close Pelosi allies.

Not only does this create a spot for a woman of color in the House Democratic leadership, but it will also have lasting implications for progressives, even though the power will largely play out behind the scenes.

The Steering and Policy Committee has a few different duties, but by far the biggest is determining committee assignments for Democratic members. This has taken on new importance since the election, when the blue wave and numerous retirements created an unusually large incoming freshman class and lots of slots to fill on committees.

Last month, the Congressional Progressive Caucus engineered a power play to get representation proportional to its membership on several key “money” committees. The final stop in that quest is the Steering and Policy Committee, which ultimately lays out the chart of committee assignments for each of the 235 Democrats in the caucus. The money committees, through which nearly all vital domestic legislation flows, include the Ways and Means Committee, the Energy and Commerce Committee, the Appropriations Committee, as well as the Financial Services Committee.

Lee’s presence on the Steering and Policy Committee adds another Progressive Caucus member and could influence the final result. Pelosi, the chair of the committee, will certainly have the first and last word on committee assignments. But having Lee in the room as key decisions are being made can only assist the Progressive Caucus in its bid for influence.

In particular, one area that Lee could help involves the obscure process of waivers. Formally speaking, any member of one of the A-list committees, like the four money committees where progressives are seeking more representation, is supposed to not be able to also serve on any other committee. However, over the years, the Steering and Policy Committee has handed out waivers to 20 current members. Progressives have noted that those waivers have gone more often to centrists.

“Some of the progressives don’t even know these waivers exist,” said Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., a vice chair of the Progressive Caucus. “So they think, I don’t want to give up my role on Judiciary, I don’t want to give up my role on Foreign Affairs, and I’m not even going to seek one of these exclusive committees.” Seeing fellow progressives granted waivers could break through the hesitance for existing members to seek money committee assignments, as their hard-earned seniority wouldn’t be threatened.

A waiver would, for example, allow someone like Progressive Caucus co-chair Pramila Jayapal, who is deeply committed to immigration issues (she joined the migrant “caravan” over the weekend), to continue to serve on the Judiciary Committee while also joining the Ways and Means Committee. “We want her to be able to do both,” Khanna said. “This is part of the conversation that the Progressive Caucus had with Nancy — it’s not just that we need proportional representation, we need proportional waivers.” (Khanna’s remarks were made in a radio interview I conducted last week.)

Having a progressive icon like Lee on the key decision-making body on waivers could pressure the leadership. And while the Steering and Policy Committee is often seen as a rubber stamp for Pelosi’s wishes, Lee takes pride in being “unbought and unbossed.”

Pelosi even made reference to Lee’s similarly unbossed role model in her announcement of the appointment. “As a leading African American woman with a place at the decision table, the appointment of Congresswoman Lee is even more meaningful as we mark the birthday of her friend: the trailblazing Congresswoman Shirley Chisholm,” Pelosi wrote.

Lee could also be helpful to incoming progressive freshmen, most of whom supported her in the caucus chair race. There are indications that they are thinking strategically about what committees they want to join.

Numerous members of the freshman class have demanded in a letter that they obtain spots on what are known in the fundraising-obsessed institution as money committees. Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib, D-Mich., has made it clear to Pelosi that she wants a slot on the Appropriations Committee, which would be novel for a rookie member. Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has been said to be pursuing a seat on Energy and Commerce and more recently the Financial Services Committee, which oversees housing policy, a key preoccupation of hers.

With large incoming classes of centrist New Democrats and Blue Dogs, there’s a lot of competition among freshmen for influence. New Dems and Blue Dogs have in the past worked very hard to secure money committee spots, helped along by a leadership bias to give “frontline” members in tough re-election campaigns committee assignments with access to industry for the sake of pulling in campaign contributions. That has led to watered-down policy prescriptions, as important committees were stacked with moderates beholden to industry. Lobbyists have already begun “introducing” themselves to new members.

But Lee’s new position may ensure more fairness in handing those committee assignments out, changing the rationale that money committees exist to align young members needing money with corporate interests that have a lot of it.

The post Barbara Lee Named to Key Leadership Position That Could Help Progressives Build Power in the House appeared first on The Intercept.

Rejecting Israel Lobby’s Influence Over Congress, Rashida Tlaib Plans to Lead Delegation to Palestine

Rashida Tlaib, a Democratic representative-elect from Michigan, belongs to a cohort of incoming members of Congress who’ve vowed to upend the status quo — even on third-rail issues in Washington like the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. To that end, Tlaib is planning to lead a congressional delegation to the Israeli-occupied West Bank, she told The Intercept. Her planned trip is a swift rebuke of a decades-old tradition for newly elected members: a junket to Israel sponsored by the education arm of the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, known as AIPAC, the powerful pro-Israel lobby group.

The AIPAC trips are among the lesser-known traditions for freshman members of Congress. They’re typically scheduled during the first August recess in every legislative session and feature a weeklong tour of Israel and meetings with leading Israeli figures in business, government, and the military. Both critics and proponents of the AIPAC freshmen trip say the endeavor is incredibly influential, providing House members with a distinctly pro-Israel viewpoint on complex controversies in the region. In recent years, the Democratic tour has been led by incoming Majority Leader Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md. Incoming Minority Leader Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., traditionally leads the Republican trip.

Tlaib, who is the first Palestinian-American woman to be elected to Congress, hopes to draw on her roots in the region to offer her fellow incoming representatives an alternative introduction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. She said her group will focus on issues like Israel’s detention of Palestinian children, education, access to clean water, and poverty. She may even take them to Beit Ur al-Foqa, the village where Tlaib’s grandmother lives, in the northern West Bank.

It is unclear who will join Tlaib on the trip. She is still working out the details of when it will take place and what advocacy organizations she will partner with to fund the delegation. But Tlaib is clear about one thing: She wants her delegation to humanize Palestinians, provide an alternative perspective to the one AIPAC pushes, and highlight the inherent inequality of Israel’s system of military occupation in Palestinian territories, which Tlaib likens to what African-Americans in the United States endured in the Jim Crow era. She is not planning any meetings with the Palestinian Authority or with Israeli government officials, a mainstay of the AIPAC trips.

“They don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”

“I want us to see that segregation and how that has really harmed us being able to achieve real peace in that region,” Tlaib said in an interview. “I don’t think AIPAC provides a real, fair lens into this issue. It’s one-sided. … [They] have these lavish trips to Israel, but they don’t show the side that I know is real, which is what’s happening to my grandmother and what’s happening to my family there.”

Tlaib’s challenge to AIPAC isn’t limited to leading a separate trip to the region. In her interview with The Intercept, she for the first time came out in support of Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions, the movement known as BDS that seeks to punish Israel over its human rights abuses.

“I personally support the BDS movement,” said Tlaib. She added that economic boycotts are a way to bring attention to “issues like the racism and the international human rights violations by Israel right now.”

Yousef Munayyer, the executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Palestinian Rights, said that Tlaib’s trip is a sign that she will bring a fresh perspective to this issue when she takes office.

“She brings a certain viewpoint to this that is new and that we have not really seen before — especially with having family in the West Bank and having a strong connection there,” Munayyer said. “To have somebody like that perhaps play a leading role in helping to shed light on the situation to other members of Congress is important.”

Tlaib’s announcement of her pro-BDS position comes just weeks after Rep.-elect Ilhan Omar, D-Minn., faced a firestorm of criticism, including accusations of anti-Semitism, for coming out in favor of BDS. Omar and Tlaib are the only two members of Congress to publicly support the movement, but their outspokenness is an indication of a shifting conversation in Washington about unconditional U.S. support for Israel, despite its harsh rule over Palestinians.

Human rights activists contend that AIPAC’s trips are a major factor in tilting the scales in Washington, D.C. toward policies that reflect the interests of the Israeli government over Palestinians, helping policymakers to disregard Israel’s continued occupation of the West Bank, its settlements, and its military strikes against the Gaza Strip.

AIPAC has flexed its muscle in Congress and with the Trump administration to press for increased military aid to Israel and limit financial support to Palestinians, roll back former President Barack Obama’s nuclear deal with Iran, and pass new laws to criminalize participation in the BDS movement, which calls for an end to Israel’s occupation, equality for Palestinian citizens of Israel, and the right of return for Palestinian refugees kicked out of Israel in 1948. Under the Trump administration, key AIPAC priorities have become U.S. policy: moving the U.S. embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem and backing out of the Iran deal.

A typical House freshmen trip usually costs between $9,300 to $10,500 per participant.

Over the last decade, AIPAC’s education arm, the U.S. Israel Education Association, has spent $12.9 million on trips to Israel for 363 lawmakers and 657 congressional staff members, according to an Intercept analysis of public disclosures. A typical House freshmen trip usually costs between $9,300 to $10,500 per participant, which covers all expenses, including a business-class flight and a stay at a luxury hotel in Jerusalem. Lawmakers are invited to bring one family member.

The trips are institutionalized by congressional leadership officials in both parties. Hoyer’s press office confirmed that the Democratic leader will ask newly elected House Democrats to take part in an AIPAC trip to Israel next year and defended the program against charges of bias.

“While it has not yet been planned, Mr. Hoyer intends to once again serve as the senior member on a delegation of Members of Congress to Israel next year,” said Annaliese Davis, a spokesperson for Hoyer.

“The delegation trip to Israel is an opportunity for freshmen Members of Congress to learn more about regional threats and dynamics in the Middle East and the complexities of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict,” Davis wrote in a statement. The organizers of the AIPAC trip, she added, “work hard to show both sides of that conflict,” including meetings with Palestinian leadership, the Israeli advocacy group Peace Now, and “Israeli leaders from across the ideological spectrum.”

(L-R): Rep. Steny Hoyer (D-MD), and Rep. Kevin McCarthy (R-CA), enter the stage, for a panel discussion at the 2018 American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) Policy Conference, at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center in Washington, D.C., on Monday, March 5, 2018. (Photo by Cheriss May)(Sipa via AP Images)

From left, Rep. Steny Hoyer, D-Md., and Rep. Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., take the stage for a panel discussion at the 2018 American Israel Public Affairs Committee Policy Conference in Washington, D.C., on March 5, 2018.

Photo: Cheriss May/Sipa via AP

AIPAC’s Pro-Israel Itinerary

Lawmakers who take the AIPAC trip have little time to hear from Palestinians and make no visits to Gaza, a coastal enclave facing a brutal embargo and Israeli military encirclement that is central to the conflict, according to itineraries for past trips filed with the House Ethics Committee.

In 2017, Democratic members of the 115th Congress spent the majority of their seven-day trip meetings with Israeli leaders. They took tours of Christian and Jewish religious and cultural sites; made two visits to learn about Israeli missile defense; and had dinner with the Times of Israel editor and, separately, with Israeli startup executives. The lawmakers also attended a briefing with an Israeli lieutenant colonel about the threat posed by Hezbollah, a meeting with U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman, and a meeting with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, among other visits with Israeli officials, according to their itinerary.

The schedule included only one visit with a Palestinian leader: an hour and 15 minute meeting with Shukri Bishara, the finance minister of the Palestinian Authority. The delegation also attended a breakfast meeting that featured a former director of Peace Now, along with Oded Revivi, mayor of Efrat, an Israeli settlement in the West Bank.

The GOP freshman of the 115th Congress had a similar itinerary, meeting with dozens of Israeli leaders and having just one brief meeting with officials from the Palestinian Authority.

Since 2013, the Republican and Democratic lawmakers have come together for a segment of their separate AIPAC trips. That tradition was started by Hoyer and McCarthy after Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va., who led the GOP delegation in previous years, unexpectedly lost his party’s primary in 2012.

Hoyer, for his part, has been leading these trips in large numbers since 2003. “I get a reinvigoration of my principles and of my commitment and how critically important a relationship between Israel and the United States is,” said Hoyer at the AIPAC National Policy Conference in 2016, explaining the purpose of going to Israel. The trips, Hoyer added, are essential for “sending a message to the world that Israel’s survival and security is a critical issue for the United States of America.”

The Maryland Democrat was the highest-ranking House Democrat to co-sponsor the controversial legislation designed to criminalize participation in the BDS movement in 2017. Earlier this year, he told The Intercept that he supported the Israeli military’s assault on Palestinian protesters at the demarcation line that separates Israel from Gaza, which left over 50 demonstrators dead and over 2,000 injured.

“The AIPAC sponsored trips are organized with the express purpose of building one-sided support for Israel in Congress.”

“The AIPAC sponsored trips are organized with the express purpose of building one-sided support for Israel in Congress. There is nothing balanced about them,” Mike Merryman-Lotze, the Palestine-Israel program director for the American Friends Service Committee, wrote in an email to The Intercept. He noted that the lawmakers don’t spend any significant time in Palestinian areas, nor do they meet with Palestinians from the occupied territories or members of independent civil society.

Lawmakers’ own descriptions of the junkets highlight their one-sided nature.

After his AIPAC trip to Israel, Rep. Randy Hultgren, R-Ill., wrote an opinion column for the Chicago Sun-Times, noting that he had spent most of his time with “many of the nation’s top leaders, including Prime Minister Netanyahu, members of his cabinet, military leaders and our counterparts in the legislature.”

Hultgren faulted only Palestinians for continued violence in the region and concluded that the U.S. must continue to support Israel “to strengthen our cultural, religious and economic ties that bind us together in common purpose.”

Rep. Jim Langevin, D-R.I., discussed his support for Israel’s controversial separation wall after his trip with AIPAC in 2003. In an interview with the Jewish Telegraph Agency, he said, “It gave me a better understanding of why things like the fence are necessary — and a rational response to the terrorist threats Israel faces.”

Democratic Dissent

Rep. Betty McCollum, D-Minn., a rare congressional champion for Palestinian rights, sharply criticized the influence of AIPAC.

“There should be no illusion among newly elected Members of Congress that AIPAC sponsored travel to Israel is intended to do anything other than advance the right-wing Netanyahu-Likud agenda of settlement expansion, occupation, and eliminating the opportunity for a two-state solution,” McCollum said in a statement to The Intercept.

McCollum encouraged Democrats to travel to Israel, but to do so while engaging with Palestinians living under military occupation and to learn how Israeli and Palestinian lives interconnect and are impacted by U.S. policy decisions.

“I understand why GOP members go on AIPAC trips since they share a right-wing agenda.”

“These AIPAC lobbying trips are designed to keep nearly $4 billion in U.S. taxpayer dollars flowing to Israel’s military every year. I understand why GOP members go on AIPAC trips since they share a right-wing agenda,” said McCollum.

Another outspoken critic of the trips is former Rep. Brian Baird, D-Wash., who once described the trips as “virtually obligatory” because Democratic leadership leaned heavily on members to embrace AIPAC.

Baird traveled to the Gaza Strip independently in 2010. The lawmaker told reporters that being able to witness the living conditions and the damage wrought by Operation Cast Lead, the Israeli incursion into the area that killed over 1,000 civilians, opened his eyes to the imbalance of U.S. policy in the region.

“If all that happens is that you come to this region and you are led around by the hand to see the things that someone wants you to see, hear the stories that someone wants you to hear, you will not get the full impression of what’s actually going on,” he told CNN.

Some liberal Jewish-American activists have been trying for more than a decade to provide an alternative to the AIPAC junkets. In 2007, they formed J Street. The liberal advocacy group supports a two-state solution to the Israel-Palestine conflict and has called for peaceful reconciliation with Palestinians.

J Street has been organizing congressional trips to Israel since 2010. But even those trips, which bring lawmakers in closer contact with Palestinian activists, are similarly centered on meeting with Israeli military and political figures.

The group has tried to compete with AIPAC, but has only a fraction of the resources. Over the last decade, AIPAC has spent $12.8 million flying 1,020 lawmakers and congressional staff to Israel, a review of ethics records show. In contrast, J Street has spent a little over half a million dollars over the same period flying 63 lawmakers and staff to the region.

American Israel Education Association-Funded Travel for U.S. Congress

Number of Lawmakers Who Attended Trip Cost for Lawmakers Total Number of Attendees, Including Staff Total Trip Cost
111th Congress 65 $1,007,361 172 $1,727,127
112th Congress 100 $1,820,063 212 $2,730,500
113th Congress 88 $1,548,223 249 $3,043,369
114th Congress 69 $1,400,156 219 $2,981,239
115th Congress* 41 $872,626 168 $2,361,902
(January 3, 2009 – November 26, 2018)
363 $6,648,429 1,020 $12,844,137

*Incomplete Data. Source: LegiStorm, Office of the Clerk of the U.S. House of Representatives

“A lot of members feel pressure to go on the trip. Steny asks them to do it, so they just do it,” said one veteran Capitol Hill staffer who asked to remain anonymous. “The progressive members leave with a bad taste in their mouth. If you’re a freshman, you disengage on Israel-Palestine issues because you quickly realize after the trip it’s not worth it to butt heads with leadership.”

“If you’re a freshman, you disengage on Israel-Palestine issues because you quickly realize after the trip it’s not worth it to butt heads with leadership.”

Tlaib, by disavowing the AIPAC trip and planning her own, will be butting heads with leadership even before officially entering office. Other newly elected Democrats indicated that they are exploring the possibility of joining Tlaib’s alternative trip to the region, but were not ready to comment publicly.

The Michigan Democrat’s position is in line with that of advocates for Palestinian rights in Washington. Kareem El-Hosseiny, the government relations coordinator with American Muslims for Palestine, called on members of Congress to rethink their participation in the AIPAC junkets, which he said give cover to Israeli human rights violations.

“If these members have to go to the region, then they need to cross to other side, witness the Palestinian suffering with their own eyes, and meet with Israeli and Palestinian human rights organizations and activists on the ground,” El-Hosseiny added.

Palestinian rights advocates also say that Tlaib’s willingness to buck the party line on Israel reflects a restive Democratic base that supports tougher action against Israeli settlements and its military occupation. A recent Economist/YouGov poll found that only a quarter of American liberals think of Israel as an ally — a number down from the 36 percent of liberals who viewed Israel as an ally in 2017.

“Palestinian rights are being integrated into the broader progressive agenda. It’s becoming almost standard that if you support single-payer health care and climate justice, you’ll support Palestinian rights,” said Rebecca Vilkomerson, the executive director of Jewish Voice for Peace.

But that stance is at odds with a Democratic Party leadership that headlined, along with Vice President Mike Pence, a conference of the Israeli-American Council, a pro-Israel group funded by right-wing donors like Sheldon Adelson, over the weekend.

“The base has shifted and the leadership is going to have to shift sooner than they think,” said Vilkomerson. “The fight isn’t over yet. But that era of bipartisan unity in support of Israel really seems to be over.”

The post Rejecting Israel Lobby’s Influence Over Congress, Rashida Tlaib Plans to Lead Delegation to Palestine appeared first on The Intercept.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Leads Opposition to Coal Puppet Joe Manchin for Top Senate Energy Slot

Incoming Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is troubled by the prospect of West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin, a staunch ally of the fossil fuel industry, becoming the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.

“I have concerns, and that’s why I say that our issues are not just left and right but that they’re top and down,” Ocasio-Cortez said at a Friday press conference held outside of the Capitol. “I have concerns over the senator’s chairmanship just because I do not believe that we should be financed by the industries that we are supposed to be legislating and regulating and touching with our legislation.”

Ocasio-Cortez added that the vast majority of Americans agree that lawmakers should not be taking money from the industries they regulate, and that the fact that they continue to do so contributes to the disconnect between everyday people and Washington. “But in D.C. that’s a controversial opinion,” she said.

“I don’t believe it’s just a party issue. It’s really about an issue of independence, it’s really about an issue of objectivity in our legislation,” she continued.

Manchin has the inside track to take over the ranking member slot, currently held by Washington Sen. Maria Cantwell, but liberal and environmental groups are horrified and would like “anyone but Manchin” to get the position, Politico reported this week. The conservative Democrat also voted to confirm former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, and recorded a 2010 campaign ad in which he shot a mock copy of the Democrats’ cap-and-trade climate bill. According to, Manchin’s 2018 re-election campaign received $156,240 from the oil and gas industries. Manchin also reports earnings each year from Enersystems Inc., a coal brokerage company he helped run before entering politics, in his Senate financial disclosures.

Friday’s press conference included nearly a dozen members and members-elect, as well as Sunrise, an environmental organization led by young people, rallying in support of a “Green New Deal” proposal that would create a select House committee tasked with crafting a comprehensive plan to tackle climate change and guarantee jobs.

Over the past three weeks, 18 members have signed onto the Green New Deal proposal, according to Sunrise’s count. Rep.-elect Ayanna Pressley, D-Mass, joined her colleagues in stressing the importance of creating a select committee.

“The push for a Green New Deal is about more than just natural resources and jobs. It’s about our most precious commodity: people, families, children, our future,” Pressley said.

“It’s about moving to 100 percent renewable energy and the elimination of greenhouse gases. It’s about ensuring that our coastal communities have the resources and tools to build sustainable infrastructure that will counteract rising sea levels, beat back untenable natural disasters and mitigate the effects of extreme temperature.”

The post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Leads Opposition to Coal Puppet Joe Manchin for Top Senate Energy Slot appeared first on The Intercept.

Pro-Charter School Democrats, Embattled in the Trump Era, Score a Win With Hakeem Jeffries

Hakeem Jeffries’s victory in the race for Democratic House caucus chair on Wednesday was a loss for progressive groups that rallied against him, but it was a victory for one national group in particular: Democrats for Education Reform, or DFER — a political action committee that funds candidates supportive of charter schools and is critical of teachers unions. DFER was founded in 2005 by a number of Wall Street leaders, with the mission, as co-founder Whitney Tilson explained it, “to break the teacher unions’ stranglehold over the Democratic Party.”

While DFER really began to flex its financial muscles in 2008 — when it raised about $2 million to help elect pro-charter candidates — its earlier work focused primarily on New York. There, the group helped elect Hakeem Jeffries to the New York State Assembly in 2006. (He served in the state Legislature from 2007 to 2012.) In 2007, DFER also helped lobby New York legislators to lift the state’s charter school cap, increasing it from 150 schools to 250. In 2010, Jeffries co-sponsored legislation to raise the state’s charter cap even further, to 460 — where it stands today.

Over the years, Jeffries has become one of DFER’s top candidates. In 2012, when Jeffries announced that he would run for Congress, the group rallied behind him, elevating him to its so-called DFER Hot List. No other Democrat received more in direct DFER contributions that cycle, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Though Jeffries has long been close to DFER, he’s rejected money from other school reform advocacy groups. In 2012, he turned down funds from a new group called StudentsFirstNY which offered him a six-figure contribution in the form of an independent expenditure. “The Jeffries campaign does not believe that independent expenditures have a place in this race,” his campaign spokesperson said at the time. “We did not seek it, do not want it, and will win without it. Those involved with the proposed independent expenditure should refrain from involvement in this race and respect the candidate’s strong belief that unregulated money has no place in the political discourse.”

Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Jeffries did not respond to questions on Jeffries’s relationship with DFER, his plans for education reform advocacy as caucus chair, and his current views on independent expenditures.

Jeffries “embodies the Obama education agenda we support: greater investments in public education; strong standards to ensure our children are ready for the global economy; and diverse, high quality public school options for our parents to choose from,” DFER president Shavar Jeffries told The Intercept. (The two Jeffries are not confirmed blood relatives, but identify as cousins.)

“Alongside the election of reform-supporting governors and state and local officials around the county,” Shavar Jeffries continued, “his ascendancy into greater leadership in the House signals that the Obama reform agenda remains strong.”

While in Congress, Jeffries has stayed close to the charter movement. He’s spoken at fundraisers for Success Academy, the prominent New York City charter network, and in 2016 was the keynote speaker for a large pro-charter rally, organized to pressure Mayor Bill de Blasio to expand charters in New York City.

De Blasio has been critical of the publicly funded, privately managed schools. For a while, there were rumblings that Jeffries could mount a charter school-backed challenge to de Blasio’s 2017 re-election, something he did not immediately rule out at the time. “My inclination remains to remain in Washington. … However all options are on the table and I am going to take a hard look at where I can make a difference in the next few years,” he told Politico in 2016. (Eva Moskowitz, the CEO of Success Academy, also considered a pro-charter challenge to de Blasio for mayor, but decided to remain on her perch to influence education reform politics nationally.)

Jeffries has been called the “Barack Obama of Brooklyn,” in part for his education policy stances, as Obama was also an early DFER-backed candidate. DFER is credited with derailing Linda Darling-Hammond’s bid for education secretary in the Obama administration. Darling-Hammond is a progressive education policy expert who has positive relationships with teachers unions. As education journalist Dana Goldstein reported in 2009:

In recent months, DFER has had a number of high-profile successes, chief among them a highly coordinated media campaign to call into question the work of Obama education adviser Linda Darling-Hammond, once considered a top contender for the job of education secretary. During the same week in early December, the New York Times, Washington Post, Wall Street Journal and Boston Globe published editorials or op-eds based on DFER’s anti-Darling-Hammond talking points, which focused on the Stanford professor’s criticisms of Teach for America and other alternative-certification programs for teachers. Less than two weeks later, Obama appointed DFER’s choice to the Education Department post, Chicago schools CEO [Arne] Duncan.

DFER, and education reform generally, has traditionally been linked to affluent white collar industries like tech and — especially in New York — finance. For example, when Moskowitz, a DFER supporter, published a memoir in 2017, she urged her readers to approach income inequality “delicately in an age when hedge fund managers can work anywhere in the world with an Internet connection.” She scolded de Blasio’s “class-warfare rhetoric” as “imprudent and dangerous.” The financial sector has contributed substantially to Jeffries’s political campaigns.

Politics within both the Democratic Party and the national electorate, however, have changed since 2009, and DFER’s strategies of opposing teachers unions and raising money from the super wealthy have grown more controversial. As progressives have embraced a sharper critique of Wall Street and economic inequality, and as organized labor continues to battle escalating attacks from right-wing interest groups and a hostile judicial system, an anti-union message from Wall Street Democrats has grown considerably less popular.

It was clear, even before Trump won the presidency in 2016, that Democratic elected officials were facing greater pressure to balance their support for charters, a favored cause of many of their donors, with growing public skepticism of the schools. In 2016, candidates like Hillary Clinton and elected officials like Jeffries himself maintained their vocal support for charters but began articulating their opposition to for-profit charter schools, a small but politically powerful segment of the movement. (Kevin Chavous, a co-founder of DFER and a former board chair for the organization, now serves as president of academics, policy and schools for K12 Inc., a national for-profit charter school company.) Democrats also explicitly spelled out opposition to for-profit charters for the first time in their 2016 party platform.

Education reform Democrats suffered a significant in 2016, when a high-profile and expensive effort to lift the state’s charter school cap, led by DFER’s Massachusetts chapter, failed 62 percent to 38 percent, with cities all over the state, including Boston, voting in opposition. (The now-defunct pro-charter group Families for Excellent Schools, was later fined for illegally funneling nearly $2.5 million from out of state into the charter expansion effort.)

Then, in 2017, with Trump in office and billionaire Betsy DeVos appointed to lead the Education Department, the Democratic-leaning education reform movement was put further on the defensive, forced to explain why its vision for school choice should not be confused with that of the Trump administration, and why it should shoulder no blame for the escalating attacks on public education. It didn’t help having people like former New York Mayor Rudy Giuliani proclaiming, “President-elect Trump is going to be the best thing that ever happened for school choice and the charter school movement.”

Later that year, Gallup reported a growing partisan divide on charters, with Democratic support at 48 percent, down from 61 percent in 2012. Republican support remained steady over the five years, at 62 percent.

DFER has at times struggled to find its footing in this changing political landscape. Shavar Jeffries told the education news website Chalkbeat in 2017 that while his group has been fighting DeVos’s policies and for-profit charter schools, they also still spend much of their time fighting Democrats. “When we fight the union and old-guard Democrats, which is honestly what we spend most of our time doing, we don’t fight them because they’re Democrats; we fight them because we think they’re wrong on what’s right for kids.”  In addition to charter-friendly policies, their website lists additional advocacy focus areas, including school funding, test-based accountability, and teacher prep programs.

To maintain its credibility within the party, DFER often points to Obama, who remains very popular among liberals. “We’re very clear about the legacy in which we operate,” Shavar Jeffries told Buzzfeed earlier this year. “We operate within the legacy of Barack Obama. His agenda is our agenda, and it’s an agenda that hundreds of Democrats across the country support.”

Getting Hakeem Jeffries, a pro-charter DFER-affiliated politician, into a top Democratic leadership position is no doubt good news for the organization, which suffered several blows in the 2018 midterm elections. (It spent at least $4 million in the latest cycle.)

Earlier this month, the organization’s endorsed candidate for California state superintendent of public instruction, Marshall Tuck, lost to Tony Thurmond, who was backed by the state Democratic party and teachers unions. DFER had also endorsed Antonio Villaraigosa in an unsuccessful bid to become California’s next governor. The charter movement spent $23 million in support of Villaraigosa, the largest independent expenditure for a gubernatorial primary in California’s history, but his opponent Gavin Newsom won the Democratic primary and general election easily.

In New York, a slew of progressive Democrats won their state Senate races, dramatically upending the composition of the state assembly and unseating the caucus of moderate Democrats who backed charter schools and often voted with Republicans. The new crop of Democrats is expected to fight efforts to lift New York’s charter school cap and to push for more charter school regulations.

In Washington, D.C., DFER’s involvement in the local school board election also raised eyebrows this year. One parent blogger determined that in 2018, DFER DC political action and independent expenditure committees raised over $520,000 — four times as much in contributions as the rest of the city’s independent expenditure committees combined. One DFER DC-endorsed candidate, Jason Andrean, raised the most money out of all individuals vying for a State Board of Education seat, though he ended up losing his race to a candidate who is vocally critical of DFER candidate. In the lead-up to election, DFER itself became a campaign issue, with candidates frequently challenged on their support for or opposition to the organization.

And in Colorado, though the state’s Democratic leadership has been broadly supportive of education reform policies and Gov.-elect Jared Polis has founded charter schools himself, Democratic voters have been voicing growing distrust of DFER. Last spring, delegates at the Colorado Democratic State Assembly voted overwhelmingly for a platform amendment calling DFER to remove the word “Democrats” from its name.

DFER held its 5th annual “Camp Philos” conference, a national gathering for education reform advocates, this week. At the conference, taking place in Boulder, Colorado, leaders grappled with how to chart their political path heading into 2020.

On Wednesday morning, before votes were cast in the caucus chair race, Rep. Juan Vargas, D-Calif., introduced Jeffries, He was, Vargas told the assembled Democrats, “the next Obama.”

The post Pro-Charter School Democrats, Embattled in the Trump Era, Score a Win With Hakeem Jeffries appeared first on The Intercept.

As the Mueller Probe Heats Up, Donald Trump’s Lies Are Giving Way to the Truth

In a photo taken Wednesday, June 21, 2017, Special Counsel Robert Mueller departs after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election and possible connection to the Trump campaign, at the Capitol in Washington. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)

Special Counsel Robert Mueller, center, after a closed-door meeting with members of the Senate Judiciary Committee about Russian meddling in the election and possible connection to the Trump campaign, on June 21, 2017, in Washington, D.C.

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

Special Counsel Robert Mueller is closing in on Donald Trump, and as one shoe after another drops in the Trump-Russia investigation, the pressure sometimes prompts the president to inadvertently blurt out the truth. Or at least as close to the truth as a serial liar like Trump can get.

On Thursday, Michael Cohen, Trump’s former personal lawyer, pleaded guilty in federal court to lying to Congress about a deal to build a Trump-branded skyscraper in Moscow. Most notably, he admitted that he had misled lawmakers when he told them that discussions about the project had ended by January 2016 when, in fact, the project was still under active consideration by Trump and his business organization just as the Republican Party was about to nominate Trump as its presidential candidate in the summer of 2016.

Cohen said that he lied in order to help Trump avoid the likely political fallout from the disclosure that the candidate was still trying to cut a business deal with people close to Russian President Vladimir Putin just as he clinched the Republican nomination.

Cohen’s latest admissions, including that he talked to Trump about the proposed deal more frequently than he had previously acknowledged and discussed it with others in Trump’s family, are very significant because they shed new light on the relationship between Trump and Russia during the height of the presidential campaign.

Cohen now admits that Trump Moscow was still being considered as late as June 2016, the same month that the infamous Trump Tower meeting occurred in New York. During that meeting, Trump’s oldest son Donald Trump Jr., his son-in-law Jared Kushner, and Paul Manafort, then his campaign chair, met with Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya and others, including Rob Goldstone, a publicist for Emin Agalarov, a Russian singer and son of Aras Agalarov, a Russian billionaire with close ties to Putin. Aras Agalarov had hosted Trump’s 2013 Miss Universe contest in Moscow at a concert hall he owned; he had also been involved in discussions with Trump about building the skyscraper in Moscow. During the Trump Tower meeting, Veselnitskaya claimed to have derogatory material about Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton.

Faced with Cohen’s admissions in court on Thursday, Trump at first tried to bully his way out of the corner by saying that Cohen was a “weak person and not a very smart person.” But he quickly switched gears and effectively confirmed what Cohen had said. “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won, in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”

Trump’s comments show the coarse, cynical approach he takes toward public service. But more ominously for him, they also reveal that he had much deeper connections to Russia in the midst of the campaign than he has ever previously acknowledged. It suggests that Trump will lie about his Russian connections until he realizes he can no longer get away with it, and then will quite casually admit that he has been lying all along.

Cohen isn’t Trump’s only problem. In fact, in the weeks since the midterm elections, a series of new disclosures has suggested that the Trump-Russia investigation is intensifying. And one sure sign that the president is worried about Mueller’s probe is the increased frequency with which Trump is now publicly attacking Mueller.

Until Thursday, in fact, it seemed that Trump’s biggest post-election nightmare was Paul Manafort.

On Monday, Mueller’s team said that Manafort has been lying to them in violation of a plea agreement he had reached with the prosecutors. Mueller’s team now wants a federal judge overseeing the case to set a sentencing date for Manafort, at which prosecutors say they will detail “the nature of the defendant’s crimes and lies.” (Manafort has already been convicted of eight counts of bank and tax fraud, so presumably the “crimes and lies” to which Mueller’s team is referring are in addition to those we already know about.)

Mueller’s get-tough approach suggests that he thinks Manafort is still withholding critical information on the relationship between the Trump campaign and Russia. Meanwhile, Manafort’s previous life as a longtime consultant to the pro-Russian leader of the Ukraine, Viktor Yanukovych, and his financial ties to a Russian oligarch, Oleg Deripaska, have raised questions about whether he acted as an intermediary between Moscow and the Trump campaign.

In addition to Cohen and Manafort, the role of the incendiary Roger Stone has come under further scrutiny. There is new evidence, including in a draft court document, that Mueller is continuing to probe whether Stone served as an intermediary in 2016 between WikiLeaks and the Trump campaign. Russian intelligence operatives hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee and stole emails that were later released by WikiLeaks and proved highly damaging to Clinton. The Mueller investigation has also raised questions about whether conservative author Jerome Corsi had warned Stone ahead of time that WikiLeaks planned to release materials that would hurt Clinton’s campaign. Corsi said on Monday that he has rejected a plea agreement with Mueller.

To top it off, George Papadopoulos, the onetime Trump campaign foreign policy aide, finally reported to prison this week. He had pleaded guilty last year to lying to the FBI and agreed to cooperate with Mueller in exchange for a very light sentence of just two weeks in prison. He had lied to investigators about his contacts with Joseph Mifsud, a mysterious professor who had told Papadopoulos that the Russians had thousands of emails with derogatory information about Clinton well before their existence was publicly known.

Given all this, it’s fair to say that the thrashing the Republicans took in the midterm elections wasn’t the worst thing that has happened to Donald Trump this month.

The post As the Mueller Probe Heats Up, Donald Trump’s Lies Are Giving Way to the Truth appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump Claims Everyone Knew About Secret Russian Deal No One Knew About

Asked to comment on his former lawyer’s confession in federal court on Thursday that the Trump Organization had secretly negotiated with the Russian government during the 2016 presidential campaign, Donald Trump attempted to sell the American people an outrageous lie.

Michael Cohen’s secret negotiations with Russian officials and their proxies to arrange financing and permits for a Trump Tower in Moscow, conducted as Trump was publicly heaping lavish praise on President Vladimir Putin, had never been secret at all, the president told reporters outside the White House.

“Everybody knew about it, it was written about in newspapers, it was a well-known project,” Trump claimed, falsely, about his company’s covert effort, “during the early part of ’16 and I guess even before that,” to develop a luxury skyscraper with help from Putin’s office and a former general in Russia’s military intelligence service.

In fact, the existence of such a project, which was being negotiated in secret during the entire span of the Republican primary campaign — from at least October 2015, when Trump signed a letter of intent with a Russian developer, through January 2016, when Cohen called an aide to Putin’s spokesman, until some time after Trump secured the nomination in June — was not known or reported on at the time. The Moscow project only became public knowledge after Trump’s inauguration as president the following year. It was briefly mentioned in a 2017 New York Times report about another covert scheme also involving Cohen and Felix Sater, a convicted felon, former F.B.I. informant and longtime fixer for the Trump Organization with deep ties in Russia.

More details about the Moscow tower project — including some of the same messages between Cohen and Sater used by Special Counsel Robert Mueller to charge Cohen on Thursday with lying to Congress about the deal in a 2017 statement — were revealed in subsequent reports from The Times and Buzzfeed.

In his remarks to reporters on Thursday, Trump insisted, against all evidence, that the secret deal had been public all along, and claimed that Cohen’s initial statement to Congress in 2017, in which he downplayed the extent and duration of the talks, had been accurate. Trump called his former aide’s confession to the special counsel, in which he said that he had lied to Congress to protect the president, false.

“What he’s trying to do, because he’s a weak person, and not a very smart person,” Trump said, “it’s very simple, he’s got himself a big prison sentence and he’s trying to get himself a much lesser prison sentence by making up a story.”

Before leaving on a trip to Argentina, where he was scheduled to meet Putin, a plan abandoned after take-off, Trump avoided questions about the lie he repeated again and again during the 2016 campaign: that he had no business interests in Russia at all.

Trump also told reporters that he while he had elected not to pursue the Moscow project in the end, there would’ve been nothing wrong with him doing so while running for president. “There was a good chance that I wouldn’t have won,” he argued, “in which case I would have gotten back into the business, and why should I lose lots of opportunities?”

The post Donald Trump Claims Everyone Knew About Secret Russian Deal No One Knew About appeared first on The Intercept.

In Foreign Policy Speech, Elizabeth Warren Takes Aim at Global Corruption

In a 35-minute speech on Thursday, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., laid out a foreign policy vision, linking corruption to the global rise in authoritarianism and calling for U.S. engagement that aggressively fights climate change and corporate power.

Warren, a leading expert on bankruptcy law whose work led to the creation of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau before being elected senator in 2012, is a favorite of many progressives. In 2016, she joined the Senate Armed Services Committee and last year traveled to Afghanistan — signs to many that she was burnishing her foreign policy credentials in preparation for a presidential run.

Speaking at American University in Washington, D.C., on Thursday, Warren called for the U.S. to take a “sharp knife” to defense spending, invest in diplomacy, and aggressively fight climate change. Pointing out the connections between wealth and political power in authoritarian states like Russia and China, Warren argued that the U.S. should take aim at corruption, internationally and at home.

“From Hungary to Turkey, from the Philippines to Brazil, wealthy elites work together to grow the state’s power while the state works to grow the wealth of those who remain loyal to the leader,” said Warren. “That’s corruption, pure and simple.”

Left-wing politicians have traditionally been criticized for lacking a foreign policy vision or only articulating what they’re against — like costly wars and regime change — rather than what they’re for. Warren’s speech is the latest sign that the progressive wing of the Democratic Party is asserting itself in foreign policy ahead of the 2020 presidential race.

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., another presumed 2020 presidential candidate, gave two recent foreign policy addresses — one in 2017 at Westminster College, where Winston Churchill gave his 1946 “Iron Curtain” speech — and one at Johns Hopkins University School for Advanced International Studies in D.C. this past October.

In the latter speech, Sanders, whose critics in 2016 often pointed to his lack of a clear foreign policy agenda, lambasted the global international order for its failure “to deliver on many of its promises,” and outlined a vision of U.S. foreign policy around fighting “kleptocracy” and “oligarchy.”

“We need to understand that the struggle for democracy is bound up with the struggle against kleptocracy and corruption,” said Sanders. “That is true here in the United States, as well as abroad.”

On Thursday, Warren was less willing to criticize the post-World War II international order, claiming that the U.S.-led order was “based on democracy, human rights, and improving economic standards of living for everyone.” Indeed, her choice of venue was meant to recall John F. Kennedy’s famous foreign policy speech delivered at American University. Former President Barack Obama returned to the school in 2015, invoking Kennedy in advocating for his nuclear deal with Iran.

In Warren’s telling, that golden age ended in the 1980s with the Reagan revolution. She glossed over key events of the pre-Reagan era: the entire Vietnam war, and CIA-backed regime change in Iran, Guatemala, Brazil, and Chile, to name a few. “Beginning in the 1980s, Washington’s focus shifted from policies that benefit everyone to policies that benefit a handful of elites, both here at home and around the world,” Warren told the audience.

But Warren also took aim at decades of austerity and free trade policies, arguing that the long history of trade deals like NAFTA have increased the power and wealth of multinational corporations, while inflicting decades of harm to working-class people.

“For decades, the leaders of both parties preached the gospel that free trade was a rising tide that would lift all boats,” Warren said. “Great rhetoric except that the trade deals they negotiated mainly lifted the yachts and threw millions of working Americans overboard to drown.”

Earlier this year, Warren also introduced a far-reaching bill aimed at eliminating corruption in the U.S. Among other things, the bill aims to eliminate financial conflicts of interest for members of Congress and high-ranking government officials and creates a lifetime ban on lobbying for the president, vice president, cabinet officials, and members of Congress.

But the bill would also have far-reaching foreign policy consequences. The bill prohibits lobbyists from accepting money from foreign governments and foreign corporations. The influence of foreign governments in Washington has been in the spotlight recently, with numerous news outlets drawing attention to Saudi Arabia’s extensive lobbying network in the aftermath of Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi’s murder by officials of Saudi Arabia — a key ally with deep influence in Washington.

The post In Foreign Policy Speech, Elizabeth Warren Takes Aim at Global Corruption appeared first on The Intercept.

Joe Crowley’s Parting Shot: Ousted by Ocasio-Cortez, He Undermined Barbara Lee in House Leadership Race

The election of Rep. Hakeem Jeffries as House Democratic Caucus chair on Wednesday represented a symbolic and substantive comeback for the wing of the party that had suffered a stunning defeat last June, when Rep. Joe Crowley was beaten by primary challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Jeffries, who represents a Brooklyn district next door to Crowley’s, bested Rep. Barbara Lee of California, who had the support of the insurgent movement that had ousted Crowley.

A protege of Crowley’s, Jeffries is heavily backed by big money and corporate PACs. Less than 2 percent of his fundraising comes from small donors, who contribute less than $200, according to Federal Election Commission records.

The outgoing caucus chair, Crowley played an integral role in Jeffries’s election. It’s extremely unusual for the caucus chair to leave his position having lost in a primary (and it has always been a man). But as is tradition, Crowley chaired Wednesday’s election proceedings, as he remains a member of Congress through the lame duck session. On the night of his primary loss, Crowley played a song at his watch party — “Born to Run” — and dedicated it to the insurgent who’d beaten him, Ocasio-Cortez. On Wednesday, with Ocasio-Cortez in the room, he sang the caucus a number, but this time it was what multiple members said sounded like an Irish funeral song. The mood was somber, as the caucus mourned the departure of a man New York Rep. Brian Higgins later called “the most popular guy on campus.”

Crowley, though, wasn’t going gently into the night. In the run-up to the vote, he told a number of House Democrats that Lee had cut a check to Ocasio-Cortez, painting her as part of the insurgency that incumbents in Congress feel threatened by, according to Democrats who learned of the message Crowley was sharing.

There was a kernel of truth in the charge. Lee’s campaign did indeed cut a $1,000 check to the campaign of Ocasio-Cortez, but did so on July 10, two weeks after she beat Crowley. Since then, Reps. Steny Hoyer, Raúl Grijalva, and Maxine Waters, as well as the PAC for the Congressional Progressive Caucus, have all given money to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign committee. It’s not an unusual phenomenon — a way to welcome an incoming colleague — but Crowley’s framing of it linked Lee to the growing insurgent movement, despite her decades of experience in Congress. Reached for comment, a spokesperson for Crowley did not respond to The Intercept’s questions about his involvement in the leadership race. 

After Wednesday’s election, in which Jeffries prevailed 123-113, The Intercept asked Lee if she had heard what Crowley had told other Democrats. “Those rumors took place and that was very unfair,” Lee said. “We’re moving forward now.”

She added, however, that the insinuation that she had supported Ocasio-Cortez during her primary against Crowley was patently false, because Lee wasn’t even aware of Ocasio-Cortez’s challenge. “I didn’t even know he had a primary,” Lee said of the under-the-radar contest that resulted in Crowley’s startling loss.

While Lee has not encouraged primaries against her colleagues and has worked closely with party leadership in her time in the House, her iconoclastic image, rooted in her lone vote against authorizing the use of military force in the days after 9/11, meant that the caricature resonated, as Crowley no doubt knew it would. Indeed, it’s a charge some Democrats in Congress are ready to believe — and some outside supporters of Lee were hoping was true — as Lee is something of a hero among the incoming class of insurgents, and Ocasio-Cortez floated Lee’s name for speaker in June and later endorsed her bid for caucus chair. Rep. Ro Khanna of California, who is also closely associated with the insurgent wing of the party, was an early and vocal supporter of Lee. “She’s the single profile of courage in the House,” Khanna said Wednesday. “John Lewis is a profile in courage for his life. Barbara Lee is for her vote.”

Higgins, the New York representative who backed Jeffries, suggested that Crowley had a hand in nudging Jeffries into the race against Lee. “Hakeem is going to be around for a long time. Our good friend Joe Crowley was defeated. I think Joe probably mentored him a little bit toward this,” said Higgins.

Asked if that meant Crowley, who is closing out his 10th term in Congress, encouraged Jeffries to run against Lee, Higgins responded in general terms. “To what extent, I don’t know, but I do know that he’s a mentor and I think he helped him develop a strategy to succeed,” said Higgins. “Here’s what I know. Joe Crowley is the most popular guy on campus, with Democrats and Republicans. Joe has had a close relationship with Hakeem.”

There was speculation among members of Congress that party leaders had encouraged Jeffries to run so that some of the demand for younger leadership could be met without any of the top three bosses stepping down. Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., is an adept vote counter and Democrats argued privately that if she wanted Lee to win, she could have made it happen. But Jeffries told The Intercept that there was no interference in the race by party leaders. “None at all. They stayed right down the middle, above the fray, as we would have expected they would,” he said. Asked if he talked to Crowley at all during the race or if Crowley worked votes for him, he denied it. “No, I mean, he wasn’t a voter in this particular context,” he said. “I think I had the support of the overwhelming members of the New York delegation, but certainly we built a broad-based coalition.”

Rep. Jackie Speier of California told reporters that some members were telling both Lee and Jeffries that they had their support. Lee confirmed Speier’s claim, telling me that before the election, in which the ballots were cast in secret, a majority of the caucus had committed to supporting her, but she couldn’t be sure why they flipped. If six Democrats had voted differently, Lee would have prevailed.

At caucus elections, which are held behind closed doors, nominations for a position are “seconded” by a number of different supporters. Rep. Juan Vargas, from Lee’s California delegation, seconded Jeffries and introduced him to the caucus as “the next Obama.”

Rep. Dan Kildee of Michigan, and Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz of Florida also seconded Jeffries’s nomination.  

Lee, meanwhile, came up on stage backed by more than 30 members. Reps. Lisa Blunt Rochester, Lois Frankel, Don Beyer, and Joaquin Castro spoke on her behalf. Incoming freshmen Katie Hill and Deb Haaland, one of the first two Native American women elected to Congress, also spoke, according to members in the room.

After the election, Kildee said in an interview that he had not heard that Lee had given money to Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign, but said that it would indeed have been a problem for Lee if that message had gotten around widely.

I noted to Kildee that Lee had made the contribution after the primary was over and asked if that changed his calculation. “It would be far less a problem,” he said.

In other words, even a contribution to Ocasio-Cortez after Crowley had already conceded would still be somewhat of a problem in the minds of some House Democrats. “I know she did give her money and that it didn’t sit well with a number of members. I doubt that’s the reason she lost, though,” said one Democratic operative who is close with Jeffries and supported his bid. Many of the sources for this story asked for anonymity to avoid blowback from the caucus.

Crowley, following Jeffries’s victory, congratulated him. “I’ve been honored to work alongside Hakeem as we both fought for the working and middle-class families of New York,” he said in a statement. “As chair, I know he’ll continue that fight and serve as a champion for all Americans by protecting their health care, their voting rights, and their livelihoods. I am incredibly proud that a fellow New Yorker and my friend will help lead the Democratic Caucus. New York, and the country, are in good hands with Hakeem.”

Roughly half of Jeffries’s campaign money comes from political action committees. A significant amount flows from unions, which remain powerful in New York, but he also relies heavily on corporate PAC money, with a concentration in pharmaceuticals.

Jeffries has broken with Democrats to back Wall Street on key votes, including one high-profile measure written by Citigroup lobbyists in 2013. He is also one of the most vocal supporters of charter schools in Congress and a close ally of not just Crowley, but New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo. A prominent supporter of Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, he savaged her rival Bernie Sanders in particularly aggressive terms, dubbing him a “gun-loving socialist” who provided “aid and comfort” to Donald Trump.

After the election, Jeffries framed the election as a “contest of ideas.” I asked what ideas he and Lee disagreed on during the campaign. “Well, the question for many was how do we get the right mix of experience and generational change. And I focused a lot on the work that I’ve done in the past with Blue Dogs, New Dems, and progressives, and with Republicans, at least as it relates to the criminal justice bill, and in a divided government context, made the case that I was reasonably well-positioned to get things done, working with Republicans in the House and in the Senate and with a Republican administration in the White House.”

Jeffries was also asked by a reporter if his express reference to “generational change” wasn’t tantamount to ageism, as Lee argued. “I think everyone is going to have to make an assessment as to why they voted the way they voted,” he said.

Jeffries is highly regarded among his colleagues for his ability to effectively communicate the Democratic message on stage and television, and he was a regular TV presence during the midterm contests. Democrats tend to lack effective communicators, so the skill is prized within the caucus.

Crowley, up until his primary loss, was widely regarded as the most likely candidate to be speaker of the House once Pelosi lost or stepped aside. Now, said supporters of both Lee and Jeffries, Jeffries was in the pole position.

“I think a lot of people are very high on Hakeem and his leadership potential, and this is what he chose to go for,” said Higgins.

Joaquin Castro, D-Texas, who backed Lee and thought she had the votes, said Jeffries is now well-positioned to advance to the speakership in a coming Congress. “I think it puts him in a good position,” Castro said. “Certainly it gives him a good perch and folks like him. He’s sharp, he’s very committed, and I think he’s got a very bright future.”

Grijalva, an Arizona representative who supported Lee (and gave Ocasio-Cortez money after her primary win), said that it was more appropriate to think of generational change as a mindset rather than a number. The party’s goal, he said, should be to embrace ideas that the younger generation supports, not merely look for younger people to push forward the same old ideas.

He paraphrased Robert F. Kennedy to make his point. “Age is not a question of time, it’s one of mindset,” Grijalva said.

The post Joe Crowley’s Parting Shot: Ousted by Ocasio-Cortez, He Undermined Barbara Lee in House Leadership Race appeared first on The Intercept.

Under Attack Again, Women’s March Releases Tax Documents and Justifies Spending

Facing a barrage of criticism, the leaders of the Women’s March have provided The Intercept with reams of financial records that document the group’s spending and receipts in exacting detail. The records include invoices, receipts, and contracts totaling hundreds of thousands of dollars that account for the budget of the organization, which has been fending off assaults from its detractors since its inception.

The Women’s March, in late 2016 and early 2017, organized the largest demonstration in U.S. history, with as many as 5 million people gathering in towns and cities across the country on January 21, the day after President Donald Trump’s inauguration. The group followed up with the Women’s Convention in October 2018, which gathered 4,000 to 5,000 people in Detroit. Since then, it has organized protests against Trump’s policy of separating migrant families at the border, the nomination of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court, and other political flashpoints.

The nonprofit organization’s tax filing for 2017, which The Intercept is publishing, shows revenue of $2,533,074 and expenses of $1,665,615 for that year.

Far from enriching themselves, the records suggest that the Women’s March leaders receive compensation at the low end of major nonprofit executive pay. Co-President Tamika Mallory, for instance, was paid $70,570, with Assistant Secretary Linda Sarsour taking in $69,927. Three other staffers were paid less than $100,000 combined for their full-time work.

The bulk of the group’s expenses are listed in the tax forms as “event fees” of $413,092 and “travel” of $154,613. Tax records, however, shed little light on what precisely that money paid for, but comparing it to the receipts shows that much of the travel expenses went toward lodging for activists at events, and the event costs were largely eaten up by the cost of feeding thousands of people. The documents provided to The Intercept show that many of the line items in the group’s tax filings can be accounted for.

One invoice, from Centerplate, a catering firm, from October 2017, totals $352,000 for multiple breakfasts and lunches connected to the convention, with $200,000 having been paid by the Women’s March. Adding in related expenses for the venue, security, and other odds and ends, nearly the entire sum listed on the tax form is accounted for by the invoices and contracts provided to The Intercept.

Questions about the Women’s March’s finances follow a long line of attacks against the group’s leadership, mostly from figures on right. After it was revealed that several top Women’s March officials had appeared at events with or praised the Nation of Islam’s leader Louis Farrakhan, the purported links between the Nation of Islam and the Women’s March became a frequent feature of the attacks. Pro-Palestinian remarks by Sarsour, a Muslim New Yorker of Palestinian extraction, have also featured heavily in the attack against the group — which, along with Farrakhan’s frequent anti-Semitic statements, have led to charges that the Women’s March leaders have an anti-Jewish bias.

The Women’s March provided the documents to fend off any allegations that the funds were misspent or unaccounted for. The top-line number of $2.5 million in revenue, meanwhile, is likely far smaller than many critics may have expected. Rachel O’Leary Carmona, chief operating officer of the Women’s March, said that releasing the documents was an effort at full transparency to counteract the campaign being waged against the organization. “The power of the Women’s March is in our people. We might not have the most funding, but we have millions of passionate, strong, and diverse women who deeply believe in building an intersectional women’s movement so that we can all get free,” she said in a statement.

“Our senior leadership has been subject to extreme threats of violence. For their safety, we engage licensed security firms as needed for credible threats.”

She said that the group’s commitment to making its events accessible to those who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford the expense makes the events more costly, but in line with the organization’s politics. “There are a lot of false rumors going around that our work is well-resourced: It isn’t. We ensure every national event we host, and every protest, is accessible to all women regardless of disability or income. True accessibility and intersectionality aren’t cheap. But we make it work — our chapter leaders, our members, and our staff pull off incredible work with few resources.”

She also said that the documents show there is no relationship between the Women’s March and the Nation of Islam, which has been a repeated charge leveled at the group. “Women’s March has no financial ties or relationship with the Nation of Islam,” she said. “Our senior leadership has been subject to extreme threats of violence. For their safety, we engage licensed security firms as needed for credible threats.”

Carmona’s reference to security is in response to allegations that the Women’s March has contracted with the Nation of Islam for security services. But the group provided invoices from a reputable security consulting firm for its October 2017 convention. The involvement of the international firm does not rule out the possibility — indeed, the likelihood — that the private security firm’s operation in Detroit, where the convention was held, employs some guards who are practicing members of NOI, but it rebuts the charge that the Women’s March directly contracted with the Fruit of Islam, the Nation’s security wing. “For legal and moral reasons, we do not ask for the religious affiliations of vendors, consultants, or employees at any level,” Carmona said.

After the shooting that killed 11 people at the Tree of Life Synagogue in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the woman who started the Women’s March called in a Facebook post for the group’s current leaders to step down. The four were already facing calls to denounce anti-Semitic hate speech by Farrakhan and cut ties with the leader and the Nation of Islam.

Mallory and Carmen Perez had posted photos of themselves to social media praising his work — Mallory was lambasted for sharing photos after attending a Nation of Islam event in February 2018 and praising Farrakhan the year before as “the GOAT,” or the greatest of all time.

Adam Serwer, writing in The Atlantic, said that Mallory planned to continue working with the Nation of Islam on gun violence prevention. “From the perspective of her critics, Mallory’s refusal to denounce Farrakhan or the Nation appears as a condemnable silence in the face of bigotry. For her supporters, Mallory’s refusal to condemn the Nation shows an admirable loyalty towards people who guided her through an unfathomable loss,” he wrote. “But watching Farrakhan bask in the media attention, as yet another generation of black leadership faces public immolation on his behalf, it is impossible to see him as worthy of her loyalty.”

The flap over Farrakhan created waves even among the Women’s March leadership’s would-be allies. Actress Alyssa Milano, who has appeared at events including the Women’s March itself and protests around Brett Kavanaugh’s Senate hearings, call on its leaders to specifically denounce Farrakhan. “Any time that there is any bigotry or anti-Semitism in that respect, it needs to be called out and addressed. I’m disappointed in the leadership of the Women’s March that they haven’t done it adequately,” she said in October.

The group had previously released a statement on Facebook saying that Farrakhan’s “statements about Jewish, queer, and trans people are not aligned with the Women’s March Unity Principles.” Sarsour has since released another statement condemning anti-Semitism and questioning the focus of the debate: “A white supremacist walked in to a synagogue and killed 11 innocent people and the focus became the Minister Farrakhan and the NOI,” she wrote.

Mallory has condemned Farrakhan’s anti-Semitic and homophobic statements, but has resisted calls to condemn him personally, saying that she is following Martin Luther King Jr.’s tradition of going after the “forces of evil, not persons doing evil.”

Correction: November 29, 2018, 5:57 p.m.
This article originally stated that Tamika Mallory called Louis Farrakhan “the GOAT” in a social media posting from a Nation of Islam event in February 2018. The posting was from a separate meeting with Farrakhan in May 2017.

The post Under Attack Again, Women’s March Releases Tax Documents and Justifies Spending appeared first on The Intercept.

Billionaire Republican Donors Helped Elect Rising Centrist Democrats

Just three years ago, hedge fund manager Louis Bacon was writing a $19,600 check to a committee called “Boehner for Speaker.”

Now, the billionaire GOP donor has pivoted to influence the future of the Democratic Party. Records show Bacon is one of several deep-pocketed donors that have shifted to financing recent Democratic campaigns. Though national media attention has focused largely on newly elected democratic socialists and progressive members, the House Democratic caucus has also swelled with pro-business moderates, such as the Blue Dogs, the Problem Solvers Caucus, and the New Democrats.

The newly ascendent centrists flexed their muscle this week when a bloc of moderate lawmakers imposed a set of rules on Rep. Nancy Pelosi in her bid for speaker of the House, forcing the California Democrat to accept parliamentary changes that are designed to give the GOP greater access to floor votes and amending legislation.

The rule changes were proposed by the Problem Solvers Caucus — a nearly 2-year-old group affiliated with the organization No Labels that consists of 24 House Democrats and 24 House Republicans. Many of the members of the caucus were elected with financial support from Bacon, the billionaire hedge fund manager, along other wealthy donors with a long history of giving to Republicans.

When the House was previously under Democratic control, the Blue Dogs and New Democrats helped industry lobbyists kill health care reforms designed to lower costs and expand public insurance options. Earlier this year, the same bloc sided with House Republicans to repeal financial reforms on medium and large-sized banks.

On Monday, the Blue Dog Coalition also formally announced the addition of eight new members, bringing the total group to 24 members. The new members represent a rebound for the caucus, which has lost a lot of its members since the 2010 tea party wave. The recent electoral success is at least partially thanks to close ties to Democratic leadership — the Blue Dog caucus, notably, helped the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee identify pro-business candidates for swing districts ahead of the midterm elections.

The Blue Dog caucus is known for embracing a corporate-friendly agenda draped in rhetoric about finding common ground with conservatives. The caucus has a long history of supporting defense spending, fiscal austerity, and corporate-friendly free trade deals and regulations, while opposing civil rights legislation and expanded social services.

The three newly elected Blue Dog co-chairs, Reps. Stephanie Murphy, D-Fla.; Tom O’Halleran, D-Ariz.; and Lou Correa, D-Calif., are simultaneously members of the New Democrats. Murphy and O’Halleran are also members of the Problem Solvers Caucus and were two of the members who signed a letter demanding rule changes in exchange for their support of Pelosi. The three centrist caucus groups could boast as many as 90 members or more in January when new lawmakers elected this month are sworn in.

No Labels, Lots of Cash

The newly empowered centrist Democrats rode a wave of big money into office.

Federal Election Commission records show that much of the centrist bloc has been financed by eight Super PACs associated with group No Labels, a centrist group that created the Problem Solvers Caucus.

Despite the litany of PACs, the donors remain largely the same group of about 13 wealthy businessmen, most of whom have a history of financing Republican campaigns.

Bacon, the founder of the Moore Capital Management hedge fund, gave $1.1 million in campaign contributions exclusively to GOP committees for federal office during the 2016 cycle. This cycle, Bacon gave $1 million to three No Labels-affiliated Super PACs, with much of that money flowing to races that elected centrist Democrats. One of the groups, United for Progress, played a decisive role in helping Rep. Dan Lipinski, a centrist Illinois Democrat who is anti-abortion, beat back a progressive primary challenger.

James Murdoch, chief executive of 21st Century Fox, the parent company of Fox News, gave $500,000 to United for Progress, a No Labels Super PAC. The group transferred $730,000 to another No Labels Super PAC, Progress Tomorrow, which helped Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., fend off a primary challenge this year from former Rep. Alan Grayson, who has been highly critical of Fox News.

Lipinski and Soto, who are members of the Problem Solvers Caucus, both signed the letter to Pelosi. They are also members of the New Democrats, and Lipinski is the former policy co-chair of the Blue Dogs.

Investor Nelson Peltz, an adviser to No Labels, has donated $900,000 to No Labels Super PACs and directly to several centrist Democrats that pressed to impose new rules on Pelosi, including Reps. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey and Tom Suozzi of New York, and Murphy, the representative from Florida. Peltz is also a major donor to Donald Trump, having given to the president’s campaign and joint fundraising committee over the last two cycles.

Peltz, who made much of his fortune using junk bonds, has awarded himself very large pay packages. At one of his former companies, known as Triac, he paid himself $29 million for a company with only $1.2 billion in sales. After the election in 2016, he urged support for Trump and called for policies that give investors a special tax holiday on repatriated oversees profits.

Last year, the Washington Post revealed that the top aide to Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin traveled on Peltz’s private plane, a trip that raised ethics concerns. Peltz notably has pushed for lower tax rates for corporations.

Dan Webb, co-executive chair of the law firm Winston & Strawn, gave $100,000 to Citizens for a Strong America, one of the No Labels Super PACs. Webb’s other direct federal donations this cycle only went to two incumbent House Republicans.

The individual donors named in this article did not respond to requests for comment. Melanie Sloan, a spokesperson for No Labels, noted that she’d seen our request to at least one of the donors. In a statement, she said, “No one in the Problem Solvers Caucus takes their marching orders from a donor.”

The Problem Solvers Caucus, Sloan added, “didn’t demand plum committee assignments, goodies for their districts, a special interest provision or any of the other horse trading usually required to move a congressional vote from no to yes. They asked for reforms that are good for the whole Congress, and they started pushing for them over the summer, when they didn’t even know which party would control Congress or who would be Speaker.”

Most of the No Labels backers have not been strictly partisan in campaign giving. Howard Marks, co-founder of Oaktree Capital Management, has been a major player in Democratic fundraising circles and was a heavyweight donor to Hillary Clinton, though he also donated briefly to former Rep. Eric Cantor, R-Va. Another donor to the No Labels Super PACs, John Arnold, the former Enron energy trader, has given largely to Democrats but also to Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas.

Earlier this week, The Intercept reported that former Clinton adviser Mark Penn, who owns an investment company that owns a stake in a number of political consulting firms, has quietly shaped the anti-Pelosi strategy. Penn’s spouse Nancy Jacobson is the founder of No Labels.

The No Labels project touts itself as an effort to build commonsense solutions to vexing political issues. Yet the group did not demand that Republicans John Boehner or Paul Ryan seek Democratic votes or open legislation to Democratic amendments in order to serve as House speaker, a new bipartisan criteria the group succeeded in imposing in part on Pelosi.

Instead, in the era of unlimited campaign giving, the organization has provided a backdoor way for Republican donors to shape control of the Democrats, even when the GOP is defeated at the ballot box.

Blue Dogs Fetch Dark Money

One of the other Super PACs that worked to elect centrist members is known as the Center Forward Committee, an outgrowth of the Blue Dog Research Forum, a now-shuttered think tank affiliated with the House Democratic caucus.

The group was formed by former Rep. John Tanner, D-Tenn., and other retired centrist Democrats. Tanner now serves at the lobbying firm Prime Policy Group, which represents many corporate clients, including FedEx, Bayer, the American Hospital Association, Google, and the National Restaurant Association.

The Super PAC spent big on electing moderate, pro-business Democrats, including Florida’s Murphy, Arizona’s O’Halleran, and Rep.-elect Mikie Sherrill, D-N.J. But unlike the New Labels PACs, the Center Forward Committee has virtually no identifiable individual or corporate donors. Out of $1.2 million the Super PAC raised, $980,000 came from Center Forward, an affiliated 501(c)(4) nonprofit that is not required to disclose its donors. Another $200,000 came from the New Democrats PAC and the Blue Dog PAC, two groups nearly fully funded by a range of corporate PAC money. Center Forward did not return a request for comment.

Despite the opaque nature of the big-money group, there are some hints.

The National Restaurant Association, an avowed opponent of expanding union rights and raising the minimum wage, is funded through company donations from the likes of McDonald’s, Coca-Cola, and Jack in the Box franchise owners, though the group does not provide a public breakdown of exactly how it is funded. The National Rifle Association, notably, directly contributed $40,000 to the Blue Dog-affiliated Super PAC, according to FEC disclosures.

Other corporate donors have given through a daisy chain of semi-disclosed entities. The Center Forward 501(c)(4), for instance, received $77,000 from NCTA, a trade group that represents Comcast, Cox Communications, and other cable giants, according to the 2017 tax filing made available to The Intercept last week.

The Blue Dogs’s name comes from paintings of dogs that once adorned the walls of former Louisiana Rep. Billy Tauzin’s congressional office, who once hosted an informal gathering of fellow conservative southern Democrats. Tauzin, notably, switched to the Republican Party in 1995. He later oversaw the creation of Medicare Part D through 2003 legislation that expanded drug benefits to seniors. Tauzin passed the bill with a special provision preventing the government from negotiating with pharmaceutical companies for better prices.

Tauzin later retired from Congress and took the job as the chief lobbyist for the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, known as PhRMA, the very drug industry group whose corporate members he had showered with an unprecedented financial windfall reaped the Medicare expansion he passed. In 2010, Tauzin helped convince Democrats to leave aggressive cost-cutting measures out of the Affordable Care Act, another win for drugmakers. That year, he was paid $11.6 million by the drug lobby for his services.

PhRMA, again facing political headwinds as Democrats confront high drug prices, appears to have been laying the groundwork for the challenge. The group’s most recently filed tax return shows that PhRMA provided massive donations to a range of pro-Trump and Republican groups, along with conservative nonprofits fighting against greater government oversight of the drug industry.

But the filings also show one seven-figure donation to Democrats: PhRMA gave $1.19 million to Center Forward last year, the dark-money group that helped elect several Blue Dogs to Congress in the Trump era.

The post Billionaire Republican Donors Helped Elect Rising Centrist Democrats appeared first on The Intercept.

Charles Koch Ramps Up Investment in ALEC as the Lobbying Group Loses Corporate Funders Over Far-Right Ties

The American Legislative Exchange Council is holding a conference in Washington, D.C., this week, providing a venue for lobbyists to meet behind closed doors with newly elected state legislators.

The group, which is celebrating its 45th year, has long shaped state law, designing bills that imposed three-strikes mandatory sentencing, restricting the minimum wage, curbing municipal broadband, and other shared goals in areas of interest to corporate America and the GOP. Earlier this year, the group put on a corporate-sponsored anniversary celebration at the Trump International Hotel in Washington, which featured White House adviser Kellyanne Conway and other administration officials.

Many of the major donors to the conservative bill-writing organization, however, have decided to quit their membership, expressing fear that the group has become too associated with the toxic politics of the far right.

The latest companies to discontinue financial support for ALEC include AT&T, Dow Chemical, and Honeywell.

The latest companies to discontinue financial support for ALEC include AT&T, Dow Chemical, and Honeywell, spokespersons for the companies told The Intercept.

The news comes on the heels of an announcement two months ago that Verizon, another major donor, decided to leave ALEC.

The group has been roiled by negative stories over several years. Verizon announced it was ending its support following a hate-fueled speech by anti-Muslim activist David Horowitz at ALEC’s annual meeting in August. Horowitz, who is well known for taking extremist views on a range of topics, used the platform at ALEC to attack marriage equality and suggested that the Constitution’s three-fifths compromise was not about black people.

“We have ended our membership with ALEC and their convention speaker was a key factor in the decision,” Jim Greer, AT&T’s spokesperson, said in a statement.

Dow Chemical said in the statement that the group had not donated recently, but also noted the extremist ties. “Dow has not contributed to this organization in several years,” said Jarrod Erpelding, a spokesperson for the company, in a statement. “Respect for people is one of Dow’s core values. We do not tolerate discrimination in any form or support organizations that demonstrate discriminatory language and/or actions.”

“Honeywell has not contributed to ALEC in 2018,” said Victoria Ann Streitfeld, a spokesperson for the company.

ALEC did not respond to a request for comment.

After the Horowitz speech, a coalition of 79 organizations, including civil rights, good government, and environmental groups, called on ALEC’s corporate funders to end their financial support. The coalition sent 21 letters to corporations that had recently been identified as funding ALEC.

A representative from Diago, the U.K.-based company that produces Smirnoff and Johnnie Walker, told the good-governance watchdog Common Cause that it had “not been associated with ALEC for quite some time.”

The loss of corporate members came as Republicans faced massive setbacks in statehouse elections this year. At least 333 state legislative seats flipped to Democrats. Though ALEC bills itself as a bipartisan organization, its members are overwhelmingly Republican.

Another, more reliably right-wing funder appears to have stepped up as ALEC has faced increasing scrutiny. Tax disclosures show that the Charles Koch Foundation and Charles Koch Institute increased annual giving to the group, providing $779,068 to ALEC in 2017, a contribution level nearly $200,000 higher than the previous year. The groups tied to the billionaire donor did not respond to a request for comment.

The post Charles Koch Ramps Up Investment in ALEC as the Lobbying Group Loses Corporate Funders Over Far-Right Ties appeared first on The Intercept.

Attacking Monopoly Power Can Be Stunningly Good Politics, Survey Finds

On Monday, the Open Markets Institute released new evidence of increased corporate concentration in 32 different industries, from cellphone providers (where four firms control 98 percent of the market) to peanut butter (four firms control 92 percent). The data, which has gone uncollected by the federal government since President Ronald Reagan’s Federal Trade Commission stopped the practice in 1981, came from a private industry analyst called IBISWorld.

Open Markets intended to publicize the data to show the enormity of America’s monopoly problem. But never-before-seen polling obtained by The Intercept suggests that the public already knows about, and is gravely concerned by, the concentration of economic power in fewer and fewer hands.

According to the survey, conducted in September by Public Policy Polling, 76 percent of respondents were either somewhat or very concerned that “big corporations have too much power over your family and your community.” The figure grew when asked whether big corporations have too much power over politicians: a stunning 88 percent were at least somewhat concerned, with 71 percent very concerned.

The poll finds more concern with the power and influence of major corporations than annual Gallup polls on the subject, which over the past few years have registered between 58 and 64 percent dissatisfaction.

The Gallup polls suggest a desire for mildly more regulation of American business. But by a 65-19 figure, those surveyed in the PPP poll believed that the government “should do more to break up corporate monopolies.” And by a 55-24 count, respondents said they were more likely to support a candidate who vowed to “work to break up monopolies and reduce corporate power.” After citing recent research suggesting that increased corporate concentration can reduce wages or make it more difficult to start a business, support for anti-monopoly candidates jumps to 60-15.

Even Trump voters pronounced themselves wary of corporate power by a 61-38 split and concerned about the political power of corporations by 83-12. Fifty-four percent of Trump voters said that the government should bust monopolies, with only 28 percent opposed. Anti-monopoly sentiment was relatively consistent among men and women, whites and nonwhites, young and old, even Democrats, Republicans, and independents.

The Open Markets Institute underwrote the polling but never released it.

The poll numbers suggest broad bipartisan support for anti-monopoly politics, which has been largely untested as a front-line platform since Woodrow Wilson’s 1912 presidential campaign or perhaps Franklin D. Roosevelt’s condemning of “economic royalists” in 1936. While more academics, writers, and thinkers have been raising the issue of corporate consolidation of late, and while some powerful politicians, including 2020 presidential hopefuls Elizabeth Warren, Cory Booker, and Amy Klobuchar, have embraced the concepts, it played only a minor role in the midterms.

The Democrats’ “Better Deal” campaign document had a plank on bolstering antitrust policy and cracking down on monopolies, but it never really took center stage and pointedly left out the modern age’s most fearsome trusts: the tech platforms. Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, whose office was instrumental in putting together the “Better Deal” agenda, has a daughter who works in marketing at Facebook and reportedly told fellow Sen. Mark Warner to back off an investigation of the social media giant.

Rebecca Kelly Slaughter, a Schumer aide who drafted much of the “Better Deal” documents, was later installed by her former boss as a commissioner on the FTC, which has jurisdiction over the tech industry. On Tuesday, Kelly Slaughter commended the Open Markets Institute for compiling the information on concentration across sectors. “We should all be concerned about rising levels of concentration; understanding the scope of the problem across the economy is key to addressing it,” she wrote on Twitter.

The statistics on corporate concentration reinforce the fact that consumers, workers, and business owners cannot escape the ever-present shadow of monopolies in American life. Even when offered the illusion of choice, you don’t have it, because the same parent company often owns multiple different brands.

Two companies, Kraft and Unilever, control 87 percent of the mayonnaise market, selling numerous different brands. Three firms manufacture all washers and dryers, including market leader Whirlpool, which controls Maytag and Amana. Nestlé controls 57 percent of the cat food market; its portfolio includes Purina, Fancy Feast, Felix, and Friskies. Overall, four firms are responsible for 97 percent of all cat food sales. “They have all these little brands, from the low shelf to the high shelf,” said Austin Frerick, a former congressional candidate and a fellow with Open Markets who assembled the data.

This branding sleight of hand is presumed to fool the public into thinking that they have a wider array of choices. But the polling data suggests that virtually nobody is fooled.

If anything, concentration looks worse at the regional level, as cable and broadband companies divvy up the country to give consumers no choice, not even a figment of it, while local monopolies like hospital networks dominate individual metro areas. This increased concentration and political intervention has led to skyrocketing economic inequality, slashed entrepreneurship and innovation, and soaring political polarization.

The Open Markets data also looks at changes to industries over time, finding that virtually every industry studied has gotten more concentrated. Frerick highlighted the fact that the few industries that have opened to more competition in recent years did so in response to an actual divestment order from the FTC or the threat of one. “It shows that they do have power and we can have more competition,” said Frerick, “but not when the agencies are asleep at the switch.”

If the polling is even close to accurate, lawmakers would be rewarded for bold stances on reducing corporate power, whether through new anti-merger legislation or spurring antitrust authorities to act more aggressively to rein in the behemoths. On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce Committee did just that in an oversight hearing with FTC commissioners, urging them to do more to investigate and regulate Facebook. “Big tech is maybe no longer entitled to be as big as it is,” said Sen. Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn.

The post Attacking Monopoly Power Can Be Stunningly Good Politics, Survey Finds appeared first on The Intercept.

California Gov. Jerry Brown Was a Climate Leader, but His Vision Had a Fatal Flaw

On a mid-September afternoon, 30,000 people marched down San Francisco’s Market Street in a demonstration they called Rise for Climate, Jobs and Justice. One group walked behind a banner bearing the name of an eponymous statewide campaign: “Brown’s Last Chance.” California Gov. Jerry Brown had developed a reputation as a climate champion, but protesters felt that the urgency of the moment demanded more of him. Among other things, they called on Brown to “listen to science, not carbon polluters” by moving to keep fossil fuels in the ground. California — the world’s sixth-largest economy — has the country’s most ambitious climate policies by a mile, but it is also among the most prolific oil and gas producers in the U.S. — hence the papier-mâché likeness of Brown’s head atop an oil rig.

A few days later, 26-year-old Niria Garcia, an organizer with the campaign, showed up at the Global Climate Action Summit, or GCAS, which Brown hosted in San Francisco’s Financial District. After interrupting the governor as he took the stage, she and two other women were picked up and carried out of the auditorium by a brawny security detail, and then threatened with arrest. “What he is saying he is doing and what he is actually doing do not align,” she told me afterward, referring to Brown’s reputation — undeserved, in her view — as an environmental hero. “The moment Jerry Brown spoke up, we spoke up. The moment we started calling him into awareness about how much of a liar he is, security was already there.”

Its design flush with Sans Serif font, pastel blue signs, and exposed wood accents, Brown’s GCAS was designed to mimic U.N. climate talks, aesthetically and otherwise. Rather than a decision-making space for world governments, though, it provided a window into how businesses, along with regional and local governments, are planning to bridge the gap between America’s current path on climate and the goal enshrined in the Paris Agreement — holding up a California as a prime example. In that, GCAS was also something of a capstone to Brown’s political career, and his quest since the 2016 election to provide a foil to President Donald Trump — most forcefully when it comes to climate change. Come January, he’ll be replaced by Democratic Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom.

So which is he? A global leader in combat against climate change? Or a fraud whose fear of big oil has exacerbated the crisis?

Compared to Trump, of course, he may as well be Captain Planet. As GCAS highlighted, Brown made climate a centerpiece of his time in Sacramento and has some remarkable successes under his belt. On the day of the Market Street protest, Brown signed two bills to block offshore drilling in federal waters off California’s coast. A few days later, he signed another bill mandating that the state’s electricity sector run 60 percent on renewables by 2030 and 100 percent on zero-carbon energy by 2045. He also issued an executive order directing California’s whole economy to go carbon neutral by 2045, and greenhouse gas negative after that, removing pollutants from industrial activities. The state has had a cap-and-trade program to reduce emissions in place since 2012, and it’s fighting the White House in the courts to hold onto its ambitious low-carbon fuel standards. In July, California met its target of getting emissions below 1990 levels — four years early.

But as the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change’s latest report makes clear, California’s best may not be good enough. That document, which explains how to cap global warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius and warns about what will happen if we don’t, lays out a daunting challenge: phase out greenhouse gases from the world’s economy by midcentury at the absolute latest and make a headlong sprint toward clean energy. Doing anything less could condemn hundreds of millions of people around the world to death.

The point Garcia was trying to make at GCAS is one that California’s climate and environmental justice groups have long emphasized: Even with all the progress California has made, these kinds of measures are only half the battle to curb emissions. Any real climate action needs to phase out fossil fuel emissions at their source, which in California’s case means placing a check on its extensive network of drill sites and refineries.

“While Jerry Brown has done some good things,” said Pennie Opal Plant, a founder of Idle No More San Francisco and neighbor to the Bay Area’s string of oil refineries, “when it comes to the critical things that need to happen to ensure survivability of all of life under Mother Earth’s belly, he has failed.”

VENTURA, CA - DECEMBER 07:  Firefighters monitor a section of the Thomas Fire along the 101 freeway on December 7, 2017 north of Ventura, California. The firefighters occasionally used a flare device to burn-off brush close to the roadside. Strong Santa Ana winds are rapidly pushing multiple wildfires across the region, expanding across tens of thousands of acres and destroying hundreds of homes and structures.  (Photo by Mario Tama/Getty Images)

Firefighters monitor a section of the Thomas Fire along the 101 freeway on Dec. 7, 2017 north of Ventura, Calif.

Photo: Mario Tama/Getty Images

As its hills burn, with hundreds dead and missing, California represents the future of how climate change will play out in America. And it could also represent the future of climate policymaking, once climate denial — a nonissue in most of the world and arguably on the wane here — loosens its stranglehold on U.S. politics with change-ups in Congress and the White House.

States are often seen as testing grounds for ideas that the federal government may not be ready for. The Golden State — where the climate debate is largely between politicians pushing different types of climate policies, not questioning whether global warming is a problem worth addressing — is in many ways a hopeful testing ground. But as Democrats prepare to intensify the fight against climate change on the federal level, they ought to pay close attention to the parameters of the debate in California.

The disagreement between Brown and his critics boils down to a distinction between different types of climate policies and divergent theories about what role they should play.

Emissions reductions measures generally fall into two broad buckets: supply-side policies, which deal with the production of energy, and demand-side policies dealing with its consumption. In the climate context, those words mean something slightly different than in introductory economics textbooks. Supply refers quite literally to the supply of fossil fuels, and so-called restrictive supply-side, or RSS, policies limit emissions at their source in wells, mines, and refineries through regulatory measures such as fracking bans. RSS policies also phase out policies that encourage coal, oil, and gas development, like fossil fuel subsidies. Supply-side policies support the development of clean energy with government investments in green infrastructure projects, subsidies for renewable energy, and research and development into new technology.

Demand-side policies, meanwhile, help to make and shape markets for things like solar and wind power and electric cars, discouraging consumers from buying dirty fuels while encouraging them to buy cleaner ones. That includes anything from carbon pricing to renewable portfolio standards to government procurement policies.

In the U.S. and abroad, RSS action has — bizarrely — been something of a taboo for most everyone except climate and environmental justice groups, who have been calling for years to keep fossil fuels in the ground. In a recent paper, economists Fergus Green and Richard Denniss write that “economists and policymakers have focused overwhelmingly on comparisons among policy instruments that aim to restrict demand for greenhouse gases, particularly cap-and-trade schemes and carbon taxes, as these are seen to perform better than alternatives against economists’ favoured criteria of ‘economic efficiency’ and its close relative, ‘cost-effectiveness,” while the same actors have been “remarkably silent on instruments that aim to restrict the supply of commodities and products whose downstream consumption produces greenhouse gas emissions.” Neither policy bucket is necessarily better than the other, but Green and Denniss argue that policymakers’ reluctance to push for RSS policies is leaving critical tools for fighting climate change in the toolbox. Both Germany and China, for instance, are undertaking ambitious clean energy projects but also continue to produce large amounts of fossil fuels.

California is no exception to those global trends. The state has focused the vast majority of its climate push on demand-side action. Its success on that front has been remarkable; California is now home to 50 percent of the country’s zero-carbon vehicles and accounts for 90 percent of investment in clean transportation. The California Air Resources Board, a regulatory agency, reported recently that “renewable fuels in the heavy-duty vehicle sector are displacing diesel fossil fuel as quickly as renewable power is replacing fossil fuels on the electricity grid.”

Crowds gather for the "Rise For Climate" march on September 8, 2018 in downtown San Francisco, California. - "Rise For Climate" is a global day of action demanding real climate solutions from local leaders. (Photo by Amy Osborne / AFP)        (Photo credit should read AMY OSBORNE/AFP/Getty Images)

Crowds gather for the Rise for Climate march on Sept. 8, 2018 in downtown San Francisco, Calif.

Photo: Amy Osborne/AFP/Getty Images

The crux of activists’ complaints — and the thrust of the “Brown’s Last Chance” campaign — has been the governor’s reticence to also take supply-side action and limit the considerable oil and gas drilling in the state. Indeed, Brown has done the opposite, approving over 21,000 new permits for oil and gas drilling since he took office in 2011. Sixty-seven of those new permits are for operations in communities of color, and 77 percent are in communities with higher than average poverty rates for the state. With AB 1775 and SB 834, the bills he signed the weekend before GCAS to block potential offshore drilling in federal waters off the Golden State coast, Brown took a step toward limiting fossil fuel supply. But those measures do nothing to address now-existing drilling on land, despite the poor air quality and poisoned water impacting communities living near those refineries.

That pair of bills sailed through the legislature with a veto-proof majority, leaving no room for Brown to maneuver. But environmental activists made note of the timing of his signing announcement.

“Jerry Brown is a master communicator,” Annie Leonard, executive director of Greenpeace USA, told me a few hours after the announcement. “If you want to move from a dirty energy economy to a clean energy economy, there are two things you have to do. You have to build the new — clean stuff, which is where he’s been focusing — but you also have to stop the old stuff. And he just hasn’t had the courage to stand up to big oil.”

California is among the largest producers and consumers of fossil fuels in the country. Each barrel of oil from the state is responsible for producing between 500 and 600 kilograms of carbon dioxide, including the carbon expended to drill and transport it. Of course, if California were to cut off its oil supply, at least some of it would be replaced with oil from elsewhere. That’s the argument presented by oil and gas lobbyists in the region. “Every barrel of oil not produced in California will be replaced by a barrel produced and shipped in from a region that doesn’t have our state’s stringent environmental laws,” said Catherine Reheis-Boyd, president of the Western States Petroleum Association, or WSPA.

But supply and demand influence one another, and the substitution wouldn’t be one to one. And if it were truly that simple, oil lobbyists wouldn’t bother coming up with talking points to counter it.

A report produced by the Stockholm Environment Institute, or SEI, found that each barrel of oil left undeveloped in California would reduce global oil consumption by anywhere from 0.2 to 0.6 barrels. What’s more, the supply chain of California crude oil is more carbon intensive than that from other major oil producers like Alaska, Saudi Arabia, or Ecuador, so oil substituted from elsewhere would still likely represent a net savings in terms of greenhouse gas emissions. By extension, if the state were to cut its oil production in half — to around 100 million barrels per year — the net carbon savings could range from 8 million to 24 million tons of CO2 annually. To put that in perspective, that’s the equivalent of taking between 1.6 million and 4.7 million cars off the road every year.

The strong mandates for clean energy already in place in California help to reduce the risk that companies and households will turn to other carbon-intensive fuels like coal and could make the transition from fossil fuels to renewables far easier than it would be elsewhere. Given that the state is actively moving to phase out fossil fuel consumption through SB 100 and Brown’s executive order, California passing strong, complementary supply-side policies could make a sizable impact on both global emissions and the health of communities that sit close to drill sites and refineries.

Highrise buildings in downtown Los Angeles, California are seen on on a hazy morning on September 21, 2018. - Eighty-seven days of smog this summer has made it the longest stretch of bad air in at least 20 years, according to state monitoring data, the latest sign Southern California's efforts to battle smog after decades of dramatic improvement are faltering. (Photo by Frederic J. BROWN / AFP)        (Photo credit should read FREDERIC J. BROWN/AFP/Getty Images)

High-rise buildings in downtown Los Angeles are seen through smog on Sept. 21, 2018.

Photo: Frederic J. Brown/AFP/Getty Images

Moves to limit oil production in California could represent a major step toward decarbonization around the country. So why isn’t California using all the available tools to attack a problem it readily acknowledges is so important?

In response to an inquiry from The Intercept, the governor’s office focused on the effectiveness of demand-side policies that promote alternative energy sources. “Clearly, the world needs to curb its use of oil and the phase out is already underway in California where the state is committed to cutting consumption in half,” spokesperson Evan Westrup wrote in an email. “At the same time, oil production in California has dropped 56 percent.” It’s impressive but due largely to booming natural gas production in other states where reserves are easier and cheaper to access. “There’s a reason the White House and fossil fuel companies fight California on almost a daily basis — no jurisdiction in the Western Hemisphere is doing more on climate.” Westrup declined to answer more specific questions about the governor’s approach to climate action.

Peter Erickson, a co-author of the SEI report, said the ongoing decline of oil production presents all the more reason for Brown to pursue supply-side policies. “California is already planning such a rapid reduction in oil consumption that they could basically match that pace of declining production if they stopped issuing new permits for new oil wells,” he told me. “That would lead to something like a 10 percent decline in oil production in the state. In recent years, they’ve had 7 to 8 percent decline anyway, so it’s not out of line with what they’ve already experienced.”

Rather than an overnight shut-off — which would likely provoke some kind of violent social unrest — activists are calling for supply-side policies along the lines that SEI lays out in its report, including a ban on new permits for oil and gas drilling. Advocates are also demanding a 2,500-foot buffer zone around sites of extraction, barring drillers from setting up operations within roughly a half-mile radius of homes, schools, and businesses. Citing health impacts, the interdisciplinary California Council on Science and Technology recommended setbacks as part of a 2015 study commissioned by the state legislature. (Colorado recently rejected a half-mile setback around new oil wells in their state. The oil and gas industry funneled over $40 million into the fight against Proposition 112 and successfully defeated it in the midterm elections.)

The need for setbacks in California is dire. The Natural Resources Defense Council estimates that as many as 600,000 people live within a quarter mile of toxic oil and gas drilling in populous Los Angeles County, which produces around 12 percent of California’s oil and gas. And within Los Angeles city limits — according to research done by the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a regional environmental regulator — drillers used 21 million pounds of toxic chemicals between June 2013 and February 2017. Much of the state’s drilling activity and associated health impacts are clustered in working-class communities of color from the Inglewood Oil Field to the Central Valley, where carcinogenic chemicals sit trapped between mountain ranges to create some of the country’s worst air quality.

Demand-side policies can only directly address these local health impacts once they’ve fully succeeded; in a future in which there is zero demand for fossil fuels anywhere on Earth, none will be drilled for. California’s cap-and-trade system, for instance, allows oil and gas companies to purchase offset credits intended to reduce emissions elsewhere in the U.S. as they continue polluting in state and in many Californians’ backyards. Essentially, offset credits allow polluters to buy into projects elsewhere to balance out their own, the idea being that the additional investment makes new carbon-reducing activity possible that wouldn’t have been otherwise. Traditionally carbon offset markets have been ridden with problems, ranging from bad accounting to fraud, and California’s is no exception.

A general view shows oil pumping jacks and drilling pads at the Kern River Oil Field where the principle operator is the Chevron Corporation in Bakersfield, California on July 28, 2015. The field is the third largest in California, fifth largest in the United States and relies mainly on the steam injection method to extract the crude oil. AFP PHOTO / MARK RALSTON        (Photo credit should read MARK RALSTON/AFP/Getty Images)

A general view shows oil pumping jacks and drilling pads at the Kern River Oil Field in Bakersfield, Calif.

Photo: Mark Ralston/AFP/Getty Images

That’s a large part of why the state’s climate and environmental justice groups actively fought the bill that reauthorized the cap-and-trade system last summer. Rather than backing a measure that advocates say would have fixed several systemic issues with the existing program, SB 775, Brown backed a bill that was palatable to Republicans, moderate Democrats, and the oil and gas industry, AB 398.

“People who have been dealing with the impacts of dirty air from these heavy polluting industries should be able to see some relief from that in our state’s efforts to reduce our emissions,” Miya Yoshitani, executive director of the Asian Pacific Environmental Network, told me, pointing to the need for supply-side policies. “That’s what communities are really saying: Reduce emissions at the source. That’s both the most effective way to reduce carbon emissions overall — that’s the best approach to the global climate crisis — and it’s the best way to see the benefits of cleaner air in our neighborhoods.”

California expects the cap-and-trade system to deliver a little less than half of its planned emissions reductions by 2030. But a 2017 report from the nonpartisan Legislative Analyst’s Office found that an oversupply of banked allowances in the system — anywhere from 100 million to 300 million accumulated free credits (“allowances”) to pollute — could put those goals at risk. If 200 million allowances are carried into the new cap-and-trade system, set to take effect in 2020, “2030 annual emissions from covered entities would be over 30 percent higher than the levels likely needed to meet the state’s target,” according to the LAO report.

AB 398 was also controversial because it kneecapped local air quality districts’ ability to regulate refinery emissions. That came as an especially tough blow to environmental justice organizers like Opal Plant and Yoshitani in the Bay Area, who both spent years working to get their local regulator to back more stringent pollution rules.

“We had just gotten the staff [of the Bay Area Air Quality Management District] to agree to regional caps on refinery emissions. And just as we were about to pass that, AB 398 came through, and one of the top wish list items for WSPA was local pre-emption,” Yoshitani explained. “They could see the writing on the wall: that all we would have to do is wage campaigns at every regional air district to get them to reduce industrial pollution by enforcing caps. There was no way they wanted to see that happen, and so the bill specifically pre-empted regional agencies from being able to enforce caps that are more stringent than what the state law already requires.”

WSPA, the regional lobby for the oil and gas industry, exercises enormous power in Sacramento across the aisle. The oil and gas industry as a whole has poured $122 million into California politics. Brown himself has accepted hundreds of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from the oil and gas industry, taking $289,850 in his 2014 re-election bid. Asked about those campaign donations at a GCAS press conference, he said, “Politics runs on money, billions and billions of dollars. And all of those people are in the industry,” reiterating the line that California “has the most aggressive green energy plans in the Western Hemisphere.”

In October, Reheis-Boyd showered praise on Brown’s climate legacy in a Sacramento Bee op-ed, noting that he is “pragmatic, yet relentless, in his approach to environmental and economic issues” that leaves ample space for oil and gas to “remain a vital part of the energy mix for the foreseeable future.” She also chided Brown’s critics in the climate and environmental justice groups who, she argued, further “the false and unhelpful belief that the environment and public health have to be enemies with economic prosperity and the oil and gas industry.”

In a press statement, Reheis-Boyd lauded the cap-and-trade legislation in particular as “the best, most balanced way for California to comply with state law requiring reduction of greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.” She contrasted it to the “more expensive ‘command and control’ programs” that were also on the table, apparently referencing SB 775. “These draconian programs,” Reheis-Boyd wrote, “would have forced businesses to make drastic changes, imposing strict regulations without any flexibility in implementation.”

If the IPCC report makes anything clear, it’s precisely the need for drastic changes to the fossil fuel industry — and a rapid phase-out. That will take, among other things, a rethinking of conventional wisdom that says that if the price of renewable energy is reduced enough, those energy sources will outcompete and ultimately replace fossil fuels. To their credit, Brown and the state legislature have in many ways rejected a laissez-faire approach and understood that markets alone won’t get the job done. That’s why they’ve taken dramatic steps to use regulations that force industries to abide by strict standards for everything from fuel efficiency to power generation. Much of that has been made possible through the creation of CARB, a state-appointed body with fairly extensive authority to scale back emissions reduction in line with its overall goals.

Notably, the WSPA has not been pleased by California’s more recent moves on climate. Reheis-Boyd told The Intercept via email that the more recent ban on offshore drilling “will have a negative impact on our state’s energy supply and the Californians who work to provide it.” She also said that SB 100 and Brown’s accompanying executive order were “another symbolic step that has unintended consequences and will end up significantly costing consumers in the end.” She added, “Bans are not the answer if California truly wants a sustainable energy future.” The state’s environmental justice activists, by contrast, were enthusiastic about that suite of policies, which will transition consumption in the state off fossil fuels by 2045 and dramatically reshape its energy landscape. They pointed, as well, to the fact that although SB 100 was signed by Brown, it was introduced and pushed for by state Sen. Kevin de León.

And even the policy experts who are excited about SB 100 dispute how much teeth the accompanying executive order will have.

“The only thing that is binding about the new executive order is a requirement that the climate regulator, CARB, discuss and plan for a goal of carbon neutrality by 2045,” said Danny Cullenward, an energy economist who sits on the oversight committee for the state’s cap-and-trade program. “Critically, CARB cannot issue regulations or make program reforms to implement this goal unless those actions are separately authorized by state law, which they are not in this case.” Still, the measure sends an exciting signal, he noted, adding that there’s precedent in recent years for executive orders eventually translating into legislation. “There’s no question the state is taking bold action in several critical areas,” Cullenward cautioned, “but the idea that we’re on track for our current statewide goals and therefore ready to credibly increase ambition is misplaced.”

BONN, GERMANY - NOVEMBER 11: California Governor Jerry Brown, talks during a discussion at the America's Pledge launch event at the U.S. "We Are Still In" pavilion at the COP 23 United Nations Climate Change Conference on November 11, 2017 in Bonn, Germany. America's Pledge is a report detailing the efforts of U.S. states, cities and businesses to keep America on line in fulfilling goals towards carbon reduction set out by the Paris Climate Agreement. U.S. President Donald Trump has announced that the U.S. is withdrawing from the accord and the White House is sending its own delegation of fossil fuel supporters to the COP 23 conference next week to make the case for the continued role of coal and petroleum in world energy needs. (Photo by Lukas Schulze/Getty Images)

California Gov. Jerry Brown talks during a discussion at the America’s Pledge launch event at the U.S. “We Are Still In” pavilion at the Climate Change Conference on Nov. 11, 2017 in Bonn, Germany.

Photo: Lukas Schulze/Getty Images,

The precedents California is setting now will have influence well beyond its borders, in particular when it comes to how much of a lead the state takes from fossil fuel producers. Oil and gas companies have for the last several years been angling to have a seat at the climate policymaking table, stalking U.N. climate talks and hanging out around the fringes of events like GCAS. While carbon pricing is a bare-minimum commonsense measure, a certain version of it — namely, a revenue-neutral carbon tax — is also the preferred climate policy of some of the world’s most prolific polluters, including Exxon Mobil and ConocoPhillips. They see it as the basis for a “grand bargain,” leveraging their support for such a policy in exchange for lifting regulations. It’s why they’re quite literally sponsoring the push for a carbon tax nationwide, throwing millions behind the Climate Leadership Council’s conservative carbon tax plan that would gut regulations. In a sense, they’re following WSPA’s playbook: reading the writing on the wall, as Yoshitani put it, and backing the policy that brings them the best possible outcome.

Brown, 80, is in the last weeks of his fourth and final term as California governor. No longer looking for campaign donations and eager to carve out his legacy as a climate hero, now would be an ideal time for him to confront the issue of fossil fuel supply head-on, be it through setback rules or a ban on new fossil fuel permits meted out via executive order. He could do what Colorado wasn’t able to with Prop 112, and no amount of industry funding would be able to stop him.

It would leave a legacy that Newsom would be loath to undo upon taking office.

“He’s still in office for a couple of weeks, and hopefully he will do the right thing,” Niria Garcia said of Brown’s impending retirement and the future of the “Brown’s Last Chance” campaign. “When he leaves, we’re going to hold the next one accountable. We’re going to remind the next one the same thing we remind Governor Brown: that it’s not OK to sell our future away to oil companies.”

The post California Gov. Jerry Brown Was a Climate Leader, but His Vision Had a Fatal Flaw appeared first on The Intercept.

Democratic Opposition to the Yemen War Gains Momentum Ahead of Key Senate Vote

Opponents of the war in Yemen have picked up momentum heading into a critical Senate vote on Wednesday on whether to end U.S. support for the Saudi-led coalition. Sen. Bob Menendez of New Jersey, the highest-ranking Democrat on the Foreign Relations Committee has said that he would support the measure. Sen. Chris Coons of Delaware, also on the Foreign Relations Committee, has told colleagues that he supports the effort as well, Democratic aides told The Intercept.

Both senators voted to table the effort — which was introduced by Sens. Bernie Sanders, Mike Lee, and Chris Murphy — the last time it arrived on the Senate floor in March. Menendez is one of the more hawkish Democrats in the chamber, and his support for the resolution is a sign that the party is coalescing around opposition to the war.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began their intervention in Yemen in March 2015, launching a bombing campaign aimed at restoring Yemen’s former president, Abdu Rabbu Mansour Hadi, to power. For more than three years, the campaign has contributed to an exploding humanitarian crisis that has left millions at risk of famine.

In a procedural vote, the Senate voted 55-44 against a similar measure in March, with 10 Democrats voting against it. But five Republicans voted in favor at the time. If those GOP senators vote the same way on Wednesday, just four of the remaining eight Democratic holdouts would have to vote in favor for the measure to pass. The renewed push to end the war comes after Saudi agents murdered Washington Post contributor Jamal Khashoggi in October, triggering global outrage and making support for Saudi Arabia toxic on Capitol Hill.

Four Democratic aides told The Intercept that in the wake of Khashoggi’s killing, many of the Democrats who voted against the measure in March are likely to flip. In addition to Menendez and Coons, North Dakota Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, Nevada Sen. Catherine Cortez Masto, and others are considering a vote in support of the measure. West Virginia Democrat Joe Manchin told reporters in the Capitol on Tuesday that he was undecided and would wait until after a Trump administration briefing Wednesday morning to decide how he would vote.

It is unclear how Rhode Island Democrats Sen. Jack Reed and Sen. Sheldon Whitehouse will vote. Both voted against it in the spring but have faced continued pressure from activists in their home state to support the measure. Their offices did not return requests for comment.

Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer, who voted in favor of the resolution in March, signaled his support for the measure on Twitter last week.

The Trump administration, which has stood by Saudi Arabia in the weeks following the Khashoggi killing, is making a last-ditch lobbying effort to try and stop the resolution. Defense Secretary James Mattis and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo will brief the Senate at 11 a.m. Wednesday, according to two people familiar with the matter. According to The Guardian, the White House prevented CIA Director Gina Haspel from being present. Her absence would be noteworthy, since she traveled to Turkey, where Khashoggi was killed, to learn about his murder and would be in a position to share details with the senators in the classified briefing.

The resolution would still need to pass the House of Representatives, which is unlikely while it remains in the control of Republicans. Last week, Republican leadership defanged a similar resolution — stripping it of its “privileged” status and making it less likely to receive a vote on the floor — by sneaking language into a measure about wolves that passed 201-187.

Once Democrats take back the House in January, it is likely that a similar measure could pass. At that point, it would need to go back through the newly constituted Senate again. But with enough GOP support, or perhaps as Saudi Arabia’s reputation continues to erode, passage could again be possible with enough Democratic votes.

The legislation requires President Donald Trump to withdraw U.S. forces from “hostilities” in Yemen. The Department of Defense, for its part, has disputed whether the U.S. role — limited to providing weapons, intelligence, and logistical support — amounts to participation in “hostilities.” If the measure passed both chambers of Congress, it would set the stage for a confrontation in which Trump could decide whether to veto the legislation.

The post Democratic Opposition to the Yemen War Gains Momentum Ahead of Key Senate Vote appeared first on The Intercept.

Barbara Lee’s Race for Joe Crowley’s Old Leadership Post Is a Test of Progressive Strength in the House

A coalition of progressive organizations and activists is running an outside campaign to elect California Rep. Barbara Lee as chair of the House Democratic Caucus ahead of the Wednesday vote. The campaign represents something of a departure for progressive organizations, which tend not to participate in a highly organized way in internal House Democratic elections.

No similar progressive campaign is being run for any other position, including speaker, majority leader, majority whip, or chair of the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee, a powerful position with the ability to allocate resources in primaries and general elections around the country.

The effort also serves as a dry run for what could be a broader campaign in two years to install progressives throughout House leadership, flexing muscles that have long laid dormant.

Lee announced her interest in the position shortly after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez upset the outgoing caucus chair, New York Rep. Joe Crowley. Ocasio-Cortez floated her name as a potential candidate for speaker, but Lee is an ally of Nancy Pelosi’s and was unlikely to challenge her directly.

For months, the race to replace Crowley was between Lee and California Rep. Linda Sánchez, who beat Lee in a narrow election for the No. 5 position two years ago. But shortly after Election Day, Sánchez withdrew her bid citing “an unexpected family matter,” which turned out to be her husband’s indictment on federal criminal charges.

Lee, in a statement to The Intercept, framed her campaign as one of inclusive leadership and smashing glass ceilings. “Our party is strongest when every member — from every district, region, background, and ideology — has a seat at the table. I’m running for Democratic Caucus Chair because I want to ensure every voice is represented in leadership,” said Lee.

“My late mentor, our unbought and unbossed trailblazer Shirley Chisholm, broke many glass ceilings and made it possible for other African American women to follow in her footsteps. On the 50th anniversary of her historic election to Congress, I’m honored to carry on her legacy and open the door for more inclusive leadership and policies.”

New York Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, a young lawmaker seen as one of the party’s rising stars, jumped into the race that same day. Both Jeffries and Lee are members of the Congressional Black Caucus and the Congressional Progressive Caucus, but Jeffries is viewed as the more moderate of the two. Jeffries is regarded as a close ally of Pelosi’s as well.  

The push to elect Lee is being led by progressive activist Ady Barkan and groups including Democracy for America, Indivisible National, MoveOn, NARAL, National Organization for Women, and the People for Bernie Sanders. (The Intercept has created a fellowship in honor of Barkan, who is dying of ALS.)

Lee, a prominent progressive who’s best known for being the only member of Congress to vote against the Afghanistan War in response to the September 11 attacks, would be the first black woman to hold a leadership position in either party.

“We are optimistic that the Democratic Caucus will elect Rep. Lee as Chair on Wednesday morning. All of the energy in the Democratic Party over recent years has been from the progressive base. And there is finally an acknowledgment — even from white progressives — that Black women are the most reliable and important constituency within the Party,” Barkan, who has lost much of his ability to speak, said in an email. “It’s high time that their contributions be respected and reflected in Democratic leadership. We hope that members of Congress are hearing the enthusiasm for Lee and will make the smart vote on Wednesday.”


The election of Lee is a test of whether the new progressive energy that propelled a 40-seat pickup will penetrate the House Democratic Caucus itself.

Jeffries’s bid for the position departs from the unwritten norm that younger members wait their turn for their time in leadership roles, and if he succeeds, it could open the door in 2020 for other relatively new members of the caucus, such as Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin or Pramila Jayapal of Washington, who head the Progressive Caucus but are known to harbor higher ambitions.

With the top three leadership roles likely to remain in the hands of the same septuagenarian trio of Pelosi, Steny Hoyer, and James Clyburn, Jeffries is running from the angle of generational change. Meanwhile, Lee’s supporters argue that her time as chair of the Black Caucus, co-chair of the Progressive Caucus, and her track record stretching from when she was an activist in the 1960s make her the right choice for this political moment. The contest is expected to be tight. Many of Lee’s supporters expressed cautious optimism but so have Jeffries’s. “They both think they have the votes,” said one Democratic operative in Washington who knows both candidates but is supporting Jeffries.  

The coalition is encouraging constituents to call their representative’s office to let them know the Democratic Caucus Chair race actually matters to them, and is organizing local actions to make the point. “Progressives across the country remember, moment after moment, when she’s stood up for what’s right,” said Ben Wikler, Washington director of MoveOn, of Lee. “You know, people who have never lived in her district will say ‘Barbara Lee speaks for me,’ which is her old slogan. And they’re really excited about her candidacy.”

The post Barbara Lee’s Race for Joe Crowley’s Old Leadership Post Is a Test of Progressive Strength in the House appeared first on The Intercept.

Amazon and UPS Stay Silent as Other Corporate Donors Renounce Support for Racist Mississippi Senate Campaign

Google, Facebook, and other companies have asked to take back their contributions to Mississippi Republican senatorial candidate Cindy Hyde-Smith in the wake of growing controversy over her celebration of Confederate history, comments about a “public hanging,” and other newly surfaced incidents and information. But more than a dozen other high-profile public companies, including UPS, have yet to publicly withdraw their financial support.

Earlier this month, Hyde-Smith made headlines when she said of one of her supporters that “if he invited me to a public hanging, I’d be on the front row.” She is running against Mike Espy, who is black, and to many, the comment evoked the state’s history of lynchings of African-Americans. The next day, Hyde-Smith was recorded endorsing voter suppression on college campuses, specifically saying that “there’s a lot of liberal folks in those other schools that maybe we don’t want to vote. Maybe we want to make it a little more difficult.”

Reporters investigating Hyde-Smith’s background have since discovered that the former state senator posted a picture of herself with Confederate artifacts on Facebook, and that as a state legislator, she backed a resolution that promoted a revisionist history of the Civil War sympathetic to the side defending slavery. The Jackson Free Press also reported that Hyde-Smith attended a segregated private academy that was founded to circumvent desegregation orders. Hyde-Smith sent her daughter to a similar school, from which she graduated last year.

Following the negative media attention, political action committees affiliated with Facebook, Major League Baseball, Google, Pfizer, Leidos, Walmart, Union Pacific, Boston Scientific, Amgen, AT&T, Blue Cross Blue Shield, and Ernst & Young have requested that their donations be refunded. Several of these companies specifically evoked Hyde-Smith’s “divisive” statements or their commitment to diversity and inclusion as the reason for withdrawing financial support. Pfizer condemned “racism and bigotry in all its forms” in a statement to the Washington Examiner.

But at least a dozen other national companies and organizations that have donated to Hyde-Smith’s campaign have not publicly asked for their donations back.

According to Federal Election Commission filings, PACs for media companies like Comcast/NBCUniversal have contributed to Hyde-Smith’s campaign, as have those for corporations like Amazon, Ford, Delta Airlines, UPS, FedEx, and Best Buy. Major financial institutions like Goldman Sachs and PricewaterhouseCoopers have also given to Hyde-Smith’s re-election effort, as have law firms DLA Piper and Hogan Lovells. Even the American Kennel Club is a donor.

A spokesperson for UPS did not distance the company from its PAC’s donation. The Intercept has reached out to the other companies listed above to see if they stand by their support, and will update this story with their responses.

Other notable contributors include four members of the DeVos family, which made its billions by co-founding Amway. Daniel DeVos, CEO of DP Fox Ventures and majority owner, president, and CEO of the professional hockey team the Grand Rapids Griffins, has given $2,700, as have Amway President Doug DeVos and Suzanne DeVos, vice president of corporate affairs at Amway and sister to Doug and Daniel. Betsy DeVos, secretary of education for the Trump administration, is married to the fourth sibling, Dick DeVos.

Until Hyde-Smith’s stumbles, the special election runoff for the Senate seat opened up by Thad Cochran’s resignation last April received comparatively little media coverage and very little support from the national Democratic Party. This was also true of Mississippi’s other Senate race this year, which Democratic challenger David Baria lost to incumbent Republican Roger Wicker.

Although President Donald Trump visited Mississippi to campaign for Hyde-Smith in late October (and came back to the state to campaign for Hyde-Smith yesterday), the highest-profile politicians to stump for Espy prior to the midterms were former Massachusetts Gov. Deval Patrick and New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker. Espy’s path to victory requires Barack Obama-level turnout, but although the former president did a lot of campaigning during the midterms in states like Illinois, Georgia and Florida, he skipped Mississippi, where he won over 43 percent of voters in 2008. (Booker has returned to the state to campaign for Espy since the midterms, and newly elected Massachusetts Rep. Ayanna Pressley flew to Mississippi over the weekend to help get out the vote.)

Moreover, as The Intercept reported, the Republican Party outspent the Democrats 4 to 1 in the state, and while Republican candidates benefited from millions in independent expenditures, Democrats garnered lesser amounts. The Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee, or DSCC, spent over $26 million on independent expenditures targeting Republican candidates, but none of that money was leveraged against Hyde-Smith prior to the November 8 midterms (when Espy came in second in the first round of the special election). PowerPAC, which is dedicated to electing diverse candidates, has spent $91,000 in support of Espy since the midterms, while People for the American Way, a liberal PAC founded by television producer Norman Lear, and Progressive Turn Out PAC both made substantial contributions to Espy’s campaign on Sunday. But the DSCC has not contributed directly.

By contrast, the National Republican Congressional Committee has given over $21,000 to Hyde-Smith’s campaign since the midterms, adding to a post-midterm independent expenditure haul of nearly $470,000.

In terms of direct contributions, since November 6, Espy has brought in a little more than $56,000, of which Act Blue, a Democratic PAC, contributed nearly $19,000. Hyde-Smith has raked in nearly $110,000 during that same period.

That imbalance carries over to spending on advertising as well. Hyde-Smith and her supporters spent approximately $2.7 million on broadcast and cable ads between November 7 and 24, while Espy’s camp spent $1.2 million. Espy has run three ads for every four of Hyde-Smith’s. Hyde-Smith’s ads have attempted to paint Espy, a moderate, as aligned with a “leftist mob,” leveraging resentment over opposition to Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh against him. Espy’s ads paint Hyde-Smith as a “disaster” who has embarrassed the state with her recent comments.

The Washington Post reported that the DSCC continues to be “hesitant to elaborate” on how or how much it’s spending on Espy’s race. “It’s a Mississippi race run by Mississippians,” DSCC senior adviser Ben Ray told the Daily Beast. Moreover, the Democratic Party seems as reluctant to use the racial controversy to raise money or galvanize voters now as they were before the midterms. Democratic consultant Joe Trippi tweeted the video of Hyde-Smith’s milquetoast apology for her “hanging” comment with a request for donations to Espy’s campaign, but the Democratic National Committee has not followed suit.

The Washington Post characterized the DNC’s reticence as “strategically disciplined” — “part of an effort to minimize any perception that Washington is pulling the strings in Espy’s campaign.” That may be right, but their hands-off approach is consistent with the party’s historical attitude to Mississippi and is in line with a broader pattern of abandoning so-called red states as lost causes — a pattern which some, including, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., think should end.

Arguably, the attention Espy is now receiving would have been more helpful prior to the midterms when the Republican vote was split between Hyde-Smith and Chris McDaniel. McDaniel nabbed only 16 percent of the vote, while Hyde-Smith won 41.3 percent and Espy got 40.9 percent. Polls predicted that Espy’s best shot at victory was a runoff with tea party candidate McDaniel, who did not enjoy the Republican Party’s support and was even more right wing and controversial than Hyde-Smith (he put the Confederate flag on his lawn signs). An NBC News/Marist poll had Espy up 7 points in a race against McDaniel, while a Mason-Dixon poll put Espy up by 2.

By comparison, the most recent surveys put Espy 10 points behind Hyde-Smith, with polls closing tonight at 8 p.m. ET. Democrats hope that high African-American turnout will push Espy to victory over his controversial opponent as it did for Alabama Sen. Doug Jones in his race against accused child molester Roy Moore. At 37 percent, Mississippi has the highest proportion of black Americans of any state, but to win, Espy would need to earn the support of one out of four white voters, in addition to getting 95 percent of black voters to vote for him at turnout levels not seen since Obama’s candidacies.

The post Amazon and UPS Stay Silent as Other Corporate Donors Renounce Support for Racist Mississippi Senate Campaign appeared first on The Intercept.

EPA Plans to Roll Back Water Protections Despite Climate Change Warnings

While one branch of the U.S. government issued a report last week outlining the grave threats posed by climate change, another branch was preparing a rollback of water protections that will further exacerbate some of the climate-related problems laid out in the report.

“Water security in the United States is increasingly in jeopardy” warn the authors of the Fourth National Climate Assessment. Issued the day after Thanksgiving, the 1,656-page report was written by a team of more than 300 experts from the government and the private sector, and looks at the wide-ranging impacts of climate change already underway, including its effects on air quality, forests, coasts, transportation, and agriculture.

The report details the role that climate change, including increasing temperatures and more variable precipitation, has played in water quality crises across the country, such as outbreaks of harmful algae in Lake Erie, the reductions of the Pacific salmon population in the Northwest, and droughts in California. In many parts of the country, particularly the Southwest, groundwater has been seriously depleted, causing some rivers and streams to run dry for part of the year.

Yet the Trump administration is poised to issue a regulatory rollback that will make this already alarming situation much worse. The Environmental Protection Agency is expected to release a rule replacing water protections for many waterways across the U.S. The new rule, based on an executive order Donald Trump issued in February 2017, will likely take federal protections away from these tributary rivers, streams, and wetlands that are seasonal and rain-dependent.

Though a growing number of waterways may run only a few months a year, such streams and rivers impact 58 percent of the drinking water in the continental United States, supplying more than 117 million people, according to EPA calculations.

The deregulation of seasonal waterways could also worsen flooding. The water rule put in place in 2015 by the Obama administration, now in effect in 22 states, deters the development of streams and rivers, which absorb rainwater, runoff, and pollution during storms. But without the federal protections, these waters may be more easily filled in and paved over.

Proponents of the rollback, which include oil and gas companies, real estate developers, big agriculture, and the mining industry, have insisted for years that regulating seasonal waterways amounts to government overreach. The oft-repeated industry argument was that the 2015 rule, which sought to clarify which waters were subject to the Clean Water Act, would have applied to a mud puddle, as the Waters Advocacy Coalition, an industry group that has spent more than $1 million on lobbying, has argued.

But scientists say that even if they run only intermittently, seasonal waterways wind up affecting entire watersheds. “When they do run, that water goes downstream to lakes to larger rivers and streams that we do care about because they’re sources of drinking water,” said Daniel Allen, an assistant professor of biology at the University of Oklahoma, who is among a growing group of researchers who study seasonal streams.

“We’re just beginning to understand how they contribute to water quality downstream,” said Allen. “And now we’re taking that away before we have even figured out how to manage them more effectively.”

Meanwhile, our prospective weather forecast is hotter, drier — and scarier. We’re already seeing dramatic changes in climate compared to the last century, according to the report. “Paleoclimate analyses and climate projections suggest persistent droughts and wet periods over the continental United States that are longer, cover more area, and are more intense than what was experienced in the 20th century. An evolving future, which can only be partially anticipated, adds to this risk.”

One thing seems clear: Climate change will further threaten our water. Higher temperatures will continue to increase the need for water, both because of human consumption and greater evaporation in farming. And that need will cause more people to tap into groundwater, which is already heavily depleted in parts of the country. Eventually, the report states, “increased future demand due to warming could exceed future supply in some locations.”

Asked about the climate assessment, which predicted that climate change will have severe impacts on the economy, Trump said “I don’t believe it.”

For those who do believe the science and are interested in mitigating the coming disaster, the report also includes a detailed road map for water management that recommends planning for a wide range of possible future climate conditions. The authors recommended updating policies using the best available science. Yet we’ll soon see the EPA do just the opposite.

The post EPA Plans to Roll Back Water Protections Despite Climate Change Warnings appeared first on The Intercept.

The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, congresswoman-elect from New York, speaks to activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting in the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Nov. 13, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting in the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018.

Photo: Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux

Like so many others, I’ve been energized by the bold moral leadership coming from newly elected members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley in the face of the spiraling climate crisis and the outrageous attacks on unarmed migrants at the border. It has me thinking about the crucial difference between leadership that acts and leadership that talks about acting.

I’ll get to the Green New Deal and why we need to hold tight to that lifeline for all we’re worth. But before that, bear with me for a visit to the grandstanding of climate politics past.

It was March 2009 and capes were still fluttering in the White House after Barack Obama’s historic hope-and-change electoral victory. Todd Stern, the newly appointed chief climate envoy, told a gathering on Capitol Hill that he and his fellow negotiators needed to embrace their inner superheroes, saving the planet from existential danger in the nick of time.

Climate change, he said, called for some of “that old comic book sensibility of uniting in the face of a common danger threatening the earth. Because that’s what we have here. It’s not a meteor or a space invader, but the damage to our planet, to our community, to our children, and their children will be just as great. There is no time to lose.”

Eight months later, at the fateful United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, all pretense to superheroism from the Obama Administration had been unceremoniously abandoned. Stern stalked the hallways of the convention center like the Grim Reaper, pulling his scythe through every proposal that would have resulted in a transformative agreement. The U.S. insisted on a target that would allow temperatures to rise by 2 degrees Celsius, despite passionate objections from many African and Pacific islander delegates who said the goal amounted to a “genocide” and would lead millions to die on land or in leaky boats. It shot down all attempts to make the deal legally binding, opting for unenforceable voluntary targets instead (as it would in Paris five years later).

Stern categorically rejected the argument that wealthy developed countries owe compensation to poor ones for knowingly pumping earth-warming carbon into the atmosphere, instead using much-needed funds for climate change protection as a bludgeon to force those countries to fall in line.

As I wrote at the time, the Copenhagen deal — cooked up behind closed doors with the most vulnerable countries locked out — amounted to a “grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.”

United States top climate envoy Todd Stern speaks during a press conference in the main venue of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009. Stern said on Wednesday that getting an agreement that satisfies both rich and poor nations would not be easy.  (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Claus Bjoern Larsen)  **  DENMARK OUT  **

U.S. chief climate envoy Todd Stern speaks during a press conference at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 9, 2009.

Photo: Claus Bjoern Larsen/POLFOTO via AP

Almost exactly nine years later, global emissions continue to rise, alongside average temperatures, with large swathes of the planet buffeted by record-breaking storms and scorched by unprecedented fires. The scientists convened in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have confirmed precisely what African and low-lying island states have long-since warned: that allowing temperatures to rise by 2 degrees is a death sentence, and that only a 1.5-degree target gives us a fighting chance. Indeed, at least eight Pacific islands have already disappeared beneath the rising seas.

Not only have wealthy countries failed to provide meaningful aid to poorer nations to protect themselves from weather extremes and leapfrog to clean tech, but Europe, Australia, and the United States have all responded to the increase in mass migration — intensified if not directly caused by climate stresses — with brutal force, ranging from Italy’s de facto “let them drown” policy to Trump’s increasingly real war on an unarmed caravan from Central America. Let there be no mistake: this barbarism is the way the wealthy world plans to adapt to climate change.

The only thing resembling a cape at the White House these days are all those coats Melania drapes over her shoulders, mysteriously refusing to use the arm holes for their designed purpose. Her husband, meanwhile, is busily embracing his role as a climate supervillain, gleefully approving new fossil fuel projects, shredding the Paris agreement (it’s not legally binding after all, so why not?), and pronouncing that a Thanksgiving cold snap is proof positive that the planet isn’t warming after all.

In short, the metaphorical meteor that Stern evoked in 2009 is not just hurtling closer to our fragile planet — it’s grazing the (burning) treetops.

And yet here’s the truly strange thing: I feel more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years. For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.

We are not on that pathway yet — very far from it. But unlike even one month ago, the pathway is clear. It begins with the galloping momentum calling on the Democratic Party to use its majority in the House to create the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, a plan advanced by Ocasio-Cortez and now backed by more than 14 representatives.

The draft text calls for the committee, which would be fully funded and empowered to draft legislation, to spend the next year consulting with a range of experts — from scientists to local lawmakers to labor unions to business leaders — to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” By January 2020, the plan would be released, and two months later would come draft legislation designed to turn it into a reality.

That early 2020 deadline is important — it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere 12 years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.

Pulling that off, the report’s summary states in its first sentence, is not possible with singular policies like carbon taxes. Rather, what is needed is “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” By giving the committee a mandate that connects the dots between energy, transportation, housing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee, and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal plan would be mapping precisely that kind of far-reaching change. This is not a piecemeal approach that trains a water gun on a blazing fire, but a comprehensive and holistic plan to actually put the fire out.

If the world’s largest economy looked poised to show that kind of visionary leadership, other major emitters — like the European Union, China, and India — would almost certainly find themselves under intense pressure from their own populations to follow suit.

Now, nothing about the pathway I have just outlined is certain or even likely: The Democratic Party establishment under Nancy Pelosi will probably squash the Green New Deal proposal, much as the party stomped on hopes for more ambitious climate deals under Obama. Smart money would bet on the party doing little more than resuscitating the climate committee that helped produce cap-and-trade legislation in Obama’s first term, an ill-fated and convoluted market-based scheme that would have treated greenhouse gases as late-capitalist abstractions to be traded, bundled, and speculated upon like currency or subprime debt (which is why Ocasio-Cortez is insisting that lawmakers who take fossil fuel money should not be on the Green New Deal select committee).

And of course, even if pressure on lawmakers continues to mount and those calling for the select committee carry the day, there is no guarantee that the party will win back the Senate and White House in 2020.

And yet, despite all of these caveats, we now have a something that has been sorely missing: a concrete plan on the table, complete with a science-based timeline, that is not only coming from social movements on the outside of government, but which also has a sizable (and growing) bloc of committed champions inside the House of Representatives.

Decades from now, if we are exquisitely lucky enough to tell a thrilling story about how humanity came together in the nick of time to intercept the metaphorical meteor, the pivotal chapter will not be the highly produced cinematic moment when Barack Obama won the Democratic primary and told an adoring throng of supporters that this would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” No, it will be the far less scripted and markedly more scrappy moment when a group of fed-up young people from the Sunrise Movement occupied the offices of Pelosi after the midterm elections, calling on her to get behind the plan for a Green New Deal — with Ocasio-Cortez dropping by the sit-in to cheer them on.


Sunrise Movement activists outside Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington D.C. on Nov. 13, 2018.

Photo: Briahna Gray/The Intercept

I realize that it may seem unreasonably optimistic to invest so much in a House committee, but it is not the committee itself that is my main source of hope. It is the vast infrastructure of scientific, technical, political, and movement expertise poised to spring into action should we take the first few steps down this path. It is a network of extraordinary groups and individuals who have held fast to their climate focus and commitments even when no media wanted to cover the crisis and no major political party wanted to do anything more than perform concern.

It’s a network that has been waiting a very long time for there to finally be a critical mass of politicians in power who understand not only the existential urgency of the climate crisis, but also the once-in-a-century opportunity it represents, as the draft resolution states, “to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.”

The ground for this moment has been prepared for decades, with models for community-owned and community-controlled renewable energy; with justice-based transitions that make sure no worker is left behind; with a deepening analysis of the intersections between systemic racism, armed conflict, and climate disruption; with improved green tech and breakthroughs in clean public transit; with the thriving fossil fuel divestment movement; with model legislation driven by the climate justice movement that shows how carbon taxes can fight racial and gender exclusion; and much more.

What has been missing is only the top-level political power to roll out the best of these models all at once, with the focus and velocity that both science and justice demand. That is the great promise of a comprehensive Green New Deal in the largest economy on earth. And as the Sunrise Movement turns up the heat on legislators who have yet to sign onto the plan, it deserves all of our support.

Of course there is no shortage of Beltway pundits ready to dismiss all of this as hopelessly naive and unrealistic, the work of political neophytes who don’t understand the art of the possible or the finer points of policy. What those pundits are failing to account for is the fact that, unlike previous attempts to introduce climate legislation, the Green New Deal has the capacity to mobilize a truly intersectional mass movement behind it — not despite its sweeping ambition, but precisely because of it.

This is the game-changer of having representatives in Congress rooted in working-class struggles for living-wage jobs and for nontoxic air and water — women like Tlaib, who helped fight a successful battle against Koch Industries’ noxious petroleum coke mountain in Detroit.

If you are part of the economy’s winning class and funded by even bigger winners, as so many politicians are, then your attempts to craft climate legislation will likely be guided by the idea that change should be as minimal and unchallenging to the status quo as possible. After all, the status quo is working just fine for you and your donors. Leaders who are rooted in communities that are being egregiously failed by the current system, on the other hand, are liberated to take a very different approach. Their climate policies can embrace deep and systemic change — including the need for massive investments in public transit, affordable housing, and health care — because that kind of change is precisely what their bases need to thrive.

As climate justice organizations have been arguing for many years now, when the people with the most to gain lead the movement, they fight to win.

Another game-changing aspect of a Green New Deal is that it is modeled after the most famous economic stimulus of all time, which makes it recession-proof. When the global economy enters another downturn, which it surely will, support for this model of climate action will not plummet as has been the case with every other major green initiative during past recessions. Instead, it will increase, since a large-scale stimulus will become the greatest hope of reviving the economy.

Having a good idea is no guarantee of success, of course. But here’s a thought: If the push for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal is defeated, then those lawmakers who want it to happen could consider working with civil society to set up some sort of parallel constituent assembly-like body to get the plan drafted anyway, in time for it to steal the show in 2020. Because this possibility is simply too important, and time is just too short, to allow it to be shut down by the usual forces of political inertia.

As the surprising events of the past few weeks have unfolded, with young activists rewriting the rules of the possible day after day, I have found myself thinking about another moment when young people found their voice in the climate change arena. It was 2011, at the annual United Nations climate summit, this time held in Durban, South Africa. A 21-year-old Canadian college student named Anjali Appadurai was selected to address the gathering on behalf (absurdly) of all the world’s young people.

She delivered a stunning and unsparing address (worth watching in full) that shamed the gathered negotiators for decades of inaction. “You have been negotiating all my life,” she said. “In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises. … The most stark betrayal of your generation’s responsibility to ours is that you call this ‘ambition.’ Where is the courage in these rooms? Now is not the time for incremental action. In the long run, these will be seen as the defining moments of an era in which narrow self-interest prevailed over science, reason, and common compassion.”

The most wrenching part of the address is that not a single major government was willing to receive her message; she was shouting into the void.

Seven years later, when other young people are locating their climate voice and their climate rage, there is finally someone to receive their message, with an actual plan to turn it into policy. And that might just change everything.

The post The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal appeared first on The Intercept.

Who’s the Mystery Man Behind the Latest Pelosi Putsch? It’s Mark Penn.

A small group of billionaire-backed Democrats, part of the so-called Problem Solvers Caucus in Congress, has launched a last-ditch effort that threatens to derail Rep. Nancy Pelosi’s election as House speaker.

They’ve framed their challenge to Pelosi, a California Democrat, in terms of good government and high-minded bipartisanship. Yet the force behind their campaign is one of the most toxic and notorious partisan warriors the Democratic Party has produced in the past three decades: political and corporate consultant Mark Penn.

The Problem Solvers Caucus is made up of 12 Democrats and 12 Republicans; nine of the Democrats have publicly committed to opposing Pelosi on the House floor if she doesn’t meet their demands for House rules changes largely aimed at legislatively empowering Republicans. Combined with the holdouts from the last putsch effort, there would be enough votes to thwart Pelosi.

The Democratic chair of the Problem Solvers Caucus is Rep. Josh Gottheimer of New Jersey, who has been a protege of Penn’s since the 1990s, when he was just out of college. Gottheimer is one of the nine members making demands of Pelosi. She and the caucus will meet Tuesday afternoon to go over the group’s demands.

The caucus was born out of meetings of congresspeople organized by No Labels, which was founded in 2010 as a bipartisan group, backed by wealthy donors, ostensibly dedicated to civility and good government. Nancy Jacobson, Penn’s wife, is the No Labels CEO, and Penn is also closely involved with the group. Gottheimer was elected to Congress in 2016 and co-founded the caucus, with Rep. Tom Reed, D-N.Y., shortly thereafter.

The links between Gottheimer and Penn go back decades. Gottheimer was Penn’s assistant in the Bill Clinton White House in the 1990s. Then in 2006, when Penn was CEO of the consulting firm Burson-Marsteller, he hired Gottheimer as an executive vice president, with Gottheimer reporting directly to him. When Penn became chief strategist of Hillary Clinton’s 2008 campaign, he brought on Gottheimer as an adviser. In 2012, Penn set up shop at Microsoft, where he built a guerrilla PR operation to do battle in Washington with rival Google. There, too, he brought on Gottheimer.  

Gottheimer had the full-throated support of both Bill and Hillary Clinton when he ran for Congress in 2016, with Hillary Clinton calling him “something of a family member.”

No Labels launched what it called The Speaker Project in this past June, proposing a sweeping set of rules changes that lawmakers should demand before agreeing to elect the next speaker, which by then was presumed to be a Democrat. The next month, the Problem Solvers Caucus embraced the plan. In September, Penn went on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox News to talk up the project. “There’s a problem-solvers group that is looking to have some influence if the result is close, in terms of changing the rules and naming the speaker,” Penn said.

A lawsuit this summer by former No Labels contractors who alleged that they were bilked by the group claimed that Penn was was “calling the shots” at the organization. Penn, according to the Washington Post, has denied involvement with the operation of No Labels, and the group rejected the assertion that he was in charge. Neither No Labels nor Penn responded to The Intercept’s questions about Penn’s relationship with the group.

But aside from the claims of the contractors, there are also direct links between groups Penn owns and No Labels’s political activity. Penn is a minority owner of the consulting firm Targeted Victory, which the group contracted with for some of its 2018 campaigns. No Labels uses an affiliate, Victory Passport, for its online fundraising. Penn’s firm Harris Interactive does the group’s polling; SKDKnickerbocker, of which Penn is an owner, produces and places the group’s television ads, as it did in its campaign to support the re-election of Rep. Daniel Lipinski in Illinois, according to the lawsuit.

The New Center, a think tank launched by No Labels to house its 501c3 nonprofit operation, listed Mark Penn as a contact for inquiries about its invitation-only “ideas summit.” Penn is managing partner and president of the Stagwell Group, the holding company that owns SKDKnickerbocker. Penn regularly talks up the great work of No Labels during his appearances on Fox News. 


Mark Penn listed as a contact for a No Labels event.

Screenshot: The Intercept

The network of Super PACs linked to No Labels — which go by a variety of names, according to a Sun-Times investigation, including United for Progress, Citizens for a Strong America, United Together, and Govern or Go Home — spent millions in the 2018 midterms, mostly to help elect members of the Problem Solvers Caucus. Its most high-profile intervention came in defense of Lipinski, a conservative Democrat who faced a well-organized primary challenge from progressive Marie Newman, winning by just 2,000 votes. Pelosi backed Lipinski in the primary, and now he is part of the effort to block her speakership. The Daily Beast reported Monday that Jacobson considered Pelosi’s support of Lipinski insufficient, and the group considered making her a “bogeyman.” They ultimately settled on attacking Sen. Bernie Sanders instead.

No Labels’s Super PACs also spent heavily to beat incoming Rep. Deb Haaland, who nonetheless prevailed in New Mexico and will soon be one of the first two Native American members of Congress.

Pelosi will meet Tuesday afternoon with members of the Problem Solvers Caucus to hear out their demands. One of the initial planks of the Speaker Project was that the House speaker should be a bipartisan position, with the speaker needing five more votes than the number of their majority party. That demand has been dialed back, but the rules changes being called for are in a similar vein, with the purpose of stripping power from the majority party and requiring Republican support for legislation.

Penn is notorious in Washington as the metaphorical devil on the shoulder, whispering toxic advice into the ears of Democratic candidates. Penn and Jacobson were both early players in the Democratic Leadership Council, a faction that emerged within the party in the 1980s to push it to align with corporate money and to move in a more conservative direction. He’s perhaps most well known for urging his client, Hillary Clinton, to attack Barack Obama as un-American during the 2008 presidential primary.

In a now-famous 2007 memo to Clinton, Penn noted that there had been much coverage in the media of Obama’s “boyhood in Indonesia and his life in Hawaii … geared towards showing his background is diverse, multicultural and putting that in a new light. Save it for 2050.”

In other words, Penn argued, an appeal to diversity wouldn’t work politically for another half-century. “I cannot imagine America electing a president during a time of war who is not at his center fundamentally American in his thinking and in his values,” he wrote.

How Penn planned to isolate Obama’s alleged otherness is a window into how he views the kind of glossy, good government rhetoric now deployed by No Labels — its meaning is found less in what it says than in what it doesn’t. He advised Clinton that “we give some life to this contrast without turning negative” by elevating the values she grew up with as uniquely American. “Every speech should contain the line you were born in the middle of America to the middle class in the middle of the last century.”

That, Penn argued, would make an implicit contrast with Obama, who allegedly lacked those values — “fairness, compassion, responsibility, giving back” — due to his lack of American roots. “Let’s explicitly own ‘American’ in our programs, the speeches and the values. He doesn’t. Make this the new American Century, the American Strategic Energy fund. Let’s use our logo to make some flags we can give out. Let’s add flag symbols to the backgrounds,” he advised. “We are never going to say anything about his background — we have to show the value of ours when it comes to making decisions, understanding the needs of most Americans — the invisible Americans.”

Clinton, clumsy in her rhetoric, would occasionally make the subtext into text. In a 2008 speech in West Virginia after she beat Obama in Indiana, she said, “Senator Obama’s support among working — hard-working Americans, white Americans, is weakening again.” (Obama went on to win Indiana in the general election.)

A more effective dog-whistler, in the 2016 campaign, would boil the Penn approach down to just four words: “Make America Great Again.” Donald Trump was named by No Labels in 2016 as an official “Problem Solver.”

A Trump surrogate accepted the award, even though two months earlier, Trump had spoken at a No Labels conference and delivered a speech larded with Trumpisms. (Since his 2017 swearing in, Gottheimer, the Problem Solvers Caucus chair, has voted with Trump more than half the time, according to FiveThirtyEight.)

Jon Favreau, a longtime aide to Obama and a co-founder of Crooked Media, said that the No Labels/Problem Solvers Caucus focus on Pelosi makes little sense with Mitch McConnell in the Senate and Trump in the White House, given how little interest those two have shown in civility or bipartisanship. But an incoherent strategy was not terribly surprising coming from Penn. “You mean the guy who Laura Ingraham recently praised for sounding just like her?” Favreau said of Penn. “Sterling track record of success as a consultant. I’d rather light my money on fire than use it to hire him for literally anything.”

The post Who’s the Mystery Man Behind the Latest Pelosi Putsch? It’s Mark Penn. appeared first on The Intercept.

In South Texas, Border Residents Struggle to Cope With the Latest Military Surge

The blue and white chopper dipped low over the old white farmhouse and the muddy green river. Seventy-three-year-old Reynaldo Anzaldua, sporting a tan Vietnam vet baseball cap, squinted up at the chopper blotting out the blue sky. “Border Patrol, ver…” he said, the whir of the rotor blades drowning out his words. Anzaldua waited a bit, watching the chopper move upriver. “Verdad?” he said finally to his cousin, Fred Cavazos, who had rolled his wheelchair over to the edge of the cattle pen so he could feed his Longhorns. Cavazos nodded. “They’ve got three kinds of helicopters down here,” he said, knowingly. “That one’s Border Patrol, then you’ve got the National Guard, and the state police got their own.”

“But now, we also got the military,” Anzaldua added. “I heard they’re down at the port of entries jumping out of black helicopters with submachine guns. I haven’t seen it yet myself, but that’s what I’ve heard.” Both of them had lived along the Rio Grande their entire lives and the recent deployment of more than 5,800 active duty soldiers near their homes and along the southern border still felt surreal, even in border communities that had grown accustomed to more policing and surveillance than anywhere else in America. Photos, snapped by locals, circulated on Facebook of Customs and Border Protection agents clad in black riot gear shutting down lanes at the ports of entry with Mexico, of soldiers in Mission, Texas, not far from Cavazos’s farm, lining the Rio Grande with razor wire. A feeling of foreboding had settled in along the border.

It was November 6 — Election Day. We stood in the sun watching Cavazos push a bale of hay into the cattle pen. The Pentagon had announced the deployment, dubbed Operation Faithful Patriot, one week earlier. In a string of increasingly hysterical tweets leading up to the deployment, President Donald Trump had warned of an “invasion” by Central American families traveling north to seek asylum in caravans — or “scare-a-vans,” as CNN had dubbed them. Mexico, Trump tweeted, should stop “this large flow of people, INCLUDING MANY CRIMINALS, from entering Mexico to the US. …If unable to do so I will call up the U.S. Military and CLOSE OUR SOUTHERN BORDER!”

Cranking up the rhetoric on October 31, Trump had told reporters he’d send as many as 10,000 to 15,000 troops. Never mind that the 5,800 soldiers and 2,100 National Guardsman already deployed meant that more troops were amassed there than in Iraq and Syria combined. The next day, in televised remarks from the White House, Trump said he’d authorize lethal force against migrants traveling in the caravans. “They want to throw rocks at our military, our military fights back,” Trump said. “We’ll consider — and I told them — consider it a rifle.”

The president’s words sent a chill through border communities, where many still remember when a U.S. Marine assigned to a drug interdiction task force mistakenly shot and killed an 18-year-old boy, Esequiel Hernández, in 1997 as he was herding goats in the small Texas border town of Redford. Fatal shootings of unarmed residents by the Border Patrol is an ever-present danger. In less than a decade, agents have fatally shot at least 25 unarmed people — some of them standing across the border in Mexico. The Border Patrol often claimed the shootings were in self-defense because the victims had thrown rocks in the direction of agents.

A cross honoring  Esequiel Hernandez, Jr. sits on the place he fell dead in Redford, Texas, Saturday, July 26, 2008. Redford, a knot of adobe homes and alfalfa fields some 300 miles down river from El Paso, made headlines in 1997 when U.S. Marines on a secret anti-drug mission mistakenly gunned down a local high school student, Esequiel Hernandez, Jr., as he herded goats along the Rio Grande. Residents on both sides of the Big Bend, as the curve is known, are relieved their unspoiled desert boundary has been largely left out of plans to wall off 700 miles of the United States' southern border _ even if the unfenced frontier may draw more smugglers and migrants as the rest of the line is sealed off. (AP Photo/Guillermo Arias)

A cross honoring Esequiel Hernández, Jr., marks the place where he died in 1997 after being shot by a U.S. Marine, in Redford, Texas.

Photo: Guillermo Arias/AP

So it wasn’t much consolation when Air Force Gen. Terrence O’Shaughnessy, chief of U.S. Northern Command and in charge of the deployment, told reporters that the troops would be extensively briefed on the rules of engagement but would follow the lead of CBP, Border Patrol’s parent agency. CBP will be “the primary and principle members that will be handling specifically the migrants,” O’Shaughnessy said. “There could be incidental interaction between our military members and migrants or other personnel. … And so we are making [sure] that our soldiers, our Marines are going to be fully trained in how to do that interaction. They’re going to understand the rules for that interaction and they’ll be consistent with CBP.”

“Having the military here is a disaster,” Anzaldua said. “Or more likely a tragedy. They are trained for war. They shouldn’t be here. But it’s not their fault.” Anzaldua, himself a former Air Force sergeant, shook his head, frowning. “They’re just doing what they’re told. In my opinion, some of those politicians who sent them down here should be held accountable if they shoot someone. They should be tried for murder.”

Reynaldo Anzaldúa, 73, left, asists his cousin Fred Cabazos, 69, as they arrive to to feed the cattle in Mission, Tex. on Nov. 6, 2018.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Reynaldo Anzaldua, 73, left, assists his cousin Fred Cavazos, 69, as they arrive to to feed his cattle in Mission, Tex. on Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

They didn’t feel safer, only under occupation, he said, and people were suffering on the other side of the river, too. “They’re supposed to take in asylum-seekers and vet them to see whether they’re eligible to stay or not,” Anzaldua said. “A lot of those folks are families with children, and they’re suffering from the elements, and there’s no telling whether they’re getting food or water. It’s inhumane what they are doing.”

During the Pentagon press conference on October 29 announcing Operation Faithful Patriot, O’Shaughnessy said the deployment would consist largely of Army engineering, aviation, and medical personnel who would “harden the southern border” in advance of the migrant caravan arrivals. It would also include armed divisions of military police, he said. But the general emphasized that the military police were not authorized to engage in law enforcement at the border, which would violate the 1878 Posse Comitatus Act that bans the use of military for civilian law enforcement. “Everything we are doing is in line with and in adherence to Posse Comitatus,” O’Shaughnessy said.

I asked Mark Cancian, a retired U.S. Marine Corps colonel, and now senior adviser with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, whether migrant caravans filled with asylum-seekers should be considered a national threat. He chuckled. “It’s in the eye of beholder. The president says it is, others say it isn’t. The notion that we should defend our borders — that’s why we have a military, to safeguard the borders. On the other hand, this is mostly a law enforcement problem. The military is terrible with civilians. When they see threatening people, their inclination is to eliminate the threat.”

“Is the deployment political?” Anzaldua asked rhetorically, as he leaned against his cousin’s white van. “Sure it is. It’s all a big show.” Cavazos nodded in agreement. Up on the earthen levee, a Border Patrol agent whizzed by on an ATV, trailing a plume of dust. Then a constable in a black SUV parked on the levee, at the base of Cavazos’s driveway. Anzaldua glanced over at the officer in dark sunglasses who had gotten out of her vehicle and was now rifling through a case of water bottles in the back. “Last week I was here at the farm and in less than one hour, I counted over 20 Border Patrol units, four [Texas] Department of Public Safety units, a game warden, and four city police units,” he said. “We feel like we’re always being watched.”

Anzaldua had brought me to his cousin’s farm, he said, because he wanted to get the word out about Trump’s border wall, which will run along the levee next to their land. The farmstead sprawled more than half a mile from the levee south down to the Rio Grande, Cavazos explained. At least 30 people rented modest riverside cabins and homes from him, and their access would be cut off by the wall. A construction firm in Galveston had already signed a $145 million contract to build the new wall, and work was slated to begin as early as February. The earthen levee will be replaced with concrete and an 18-foot steel bollard fence on top.  The farm and his riverside property will be cut off from the United States. Anzaldua and Cavazos were contemplating a lawsuit against CBP. It might win them some time, Anzaldua said, but ultimately it would be tough to beat the Trump administration and eminent domain.

Anzaldua has lost this battle before. More than a decade ago, I interviewed him when he was trying to stop the construction of a similar border wall — under the George W. Bush administration — that went through his backyard in the neighboring town of Granjeno, three miles east of his cousin’s farm. But Anzaldua said he’d take up the fight again to help his cousin. “I was a U.S. Customs agent for 30 years,” said Anzaldua. “So I know how smuggling works. And a wall won’t stop it. People in America don’t understand that the problem is here — the demand for drugs, the demand for cheap labor. Until you do away with those, it’s never going to stop.”

After the wall was built in Granjeno, his relatives who lived south of it had to abandon their farms, and now it had become a haven for smugglers. “What most people don’t understand is that it’s about a mile between the border wall in Granjeno and the river,” Anzaldua explained. “Everything south of the wall we call no man’s land now because no one goes there, not even Border Patrol. They stick to patrolling the wall.”

“The same will probably happen here,” Cavazos said, surveying the small farm from his wheelchair. “No man’s land.”

But the land was still of some value to the government. As the wall went up in Granjeno, a new port of entry and bridge was built to accommodate the international factories in Mexico shipping car parts, flat-screen TVs, and other consumer items for the global market. The new port of entry was named Anzalduas International Bridge.

After I left Cavazos’s farm, I learned that soldiers had lined the Anzalduas bridge with razor wire and unspooled coils of it along the perimeter of the river underneath. Since the first influx of unaccompanied Central American children and families had started arriving at this stretch of the border in 2014, the field below Anzalduas bridge, dotted with yellow wildflowers and delicate fronded huisache trees, had become a popular point of arrival for asylum-seekers — their first acquaintance with the United States, after crossing the Rio Grande on inner tubes and small inflatable rafts. When I arrived one autumn afternoon in 2016, the scene was almost bucolic from a distance, with women and children splayed in the tall grass under the shade of the bridge. But as I drew closer, their faces told another story. As they waited for Border Patrol to arrive so they could request asylum, their faces were marked by exhaustion mixed with fear and guarded hope. Now the field was blocked off from the river with rolls of barbed concertina wire.

DONNA, TX - NOVEMBER 07:  U.S. Army vehicles sit parked at a military camp under construction at the U.S.-Mexico border on November 7, 2018 in Donna, Texas. The new forward operating base is located near the Donna-Rio Bravo International Bridge and port of entry between the United States and Mexico. U.S. President Donald Trump ordered troops to the border weeks in advance of the possible arrival of a migrant caravan, which the president has called an "invasion."  (Photo by John Moore/Getty Images)

U.S. Army vehicles sit parked at a military camp under construction in Donna, Texas, on Nov. 7, 2018.

Photo: John Moore/Getty Images

A Political Stunt

I drove to the city of Donna, 20 miles east of Cavazos’s farm, where a sprawling military encampment, Base Camp Donna, had started to take shape. A large field near the port of entry had been cordoned off with concertina wire strung along metal posts. News teams from the major networks had set up cameras outside the perimeter to capture images of the troops setting up their base camp. Further blurring the line between law enforcement and the military, two bemused soldiers on gate duty sat in a blue and white Customs and Border Protection SUV watching the camera operators set up their shots. Inside the compound, soldiers were readying the olive drab tents where they would sleep until December 15, when the deployment was supposed to end. Other soldiers unloaded concrete barriers from military trucks, which would be used to block off bridges to Mexico if and when the migrant caravans arrived.

At a Pentagon press conference on October 31, Defense Secretary James Mattis had defended the large number of active duty soldiers being sent to the border, comparing it to what the Defense Department might do after a natural disaster. A reporter asked Mattis whether the whole thing wasn’t just a political stunt, as many Democratic legislators had alleged, since the deployment had been announced a week before the midterms.

“The support that we provide to the Secretary for Homeland Security is practical support based on the request from the commissioner of Customs and Border Police (sic),” said Mattis. “We don’t do stunts in this department.”

Two weeks later, as Mattis toured Base Camp Donna, he was more philosophical. Trump had only issued one lackluster tweet about the caravan since Election Day. The DOD had also dropped the Operation Faithful Patriot moniker, reportedly at Mattis’s request, and was now simply calling it “border support.”

Lieutenant general Jeffrey Buchanan, U.S. Army north commanding general, briefs Kirstjen Nielsen, U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security and James Mattis, U.S. Secretary of Defense at Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, U.S., November 14, 2018.   Master Sgt. Jacob Caldwel/U.S. Army/Handout via REUTERS    ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. - RC1C8AF3D4F0

Lt. Gen. Jeffrey Buchanan, right, briefs Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen and Secretary of Defense James Mattis at Base Camp Donna in Donna, Texas, on Nov. 14, 2018.

Photo: Master Sgt. Jacob Caldwel/U.S. Army via Reuters

He advised the soldiers to focus on their mission to assist CBP and avoid the chaotic roil of news. Just that day, news reports had indicated that his job and that of Homeland Security Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen, who was touring the camp alongside him, were in jeopardy. “Now, there’s all sorts of stuff in the news,” he told the assembled soldiers, according to CNN. “You just concentrate on what your company commander, your battalion commander tells you. Because if you read all that stuff, you know, you’ll go nuts.”

En route to Texas, Mattis had tried to frame the deployment to reporters as commonplace. “There’s nothing new under the sun,” he told them, citing a history of military deployments leading back a century, when the U.S. Army had been sent to the border after a raid on Columbus, New Mexico, by Gen. Francisco “Pancho” Villa and his revolutionary troops in 1916. The comparison fell flat. There was no Division del Norte setting fire to American cities, just caravans of exhausted asylum-seekers, who were still hundreds of miles away.

But Mattis wasn’t wrong when he noted that the border was already militarized. The Rio Grande Valley, which stretches along 130 miles of Texas-Mexico border and includes the cities of Donna and Mission, is one of the fastest-growing metropolitan areas in Texas, with a population of more than 1.3 million. The stretch of border at the southern tip of Texas is also the shortest distance from Central America, which is why many migrants favor the crossing. In little more than a decade, the Rio Grande Valley has seen 11 deployments of National Guard and Texas State Police.

The deployments have often come during election season. For many years, sending police and National Guard to the region, which is largely Latino and Democratic, has been a reliable Republican campaign strategy. In 2014, when the first major influx of Central American asylum-seekers began arriving at the Texas border, then-Gov. Rick Perry called a press conference to announce that he would not “stand idly by while our citizens are under assault” and deployed 1,000 National Guard soldiers and hundreds of state police to the Rio Grande Valley, calling it Operation Strong Safety. Residents complained of being arbitrarily stopped and harassed by state troopers with nothing to do. The warning of an “invasion” of Central Americans coming from Perry, Fox News, and others also attracted civilian militia members to the area, pledging to guard the homeland from “illegal alien invaders.” With so many armed individuals in the brush along the Rio Grande, things grew chaotic. In the summer of 2014, a Border Patrol agent shot at an armed man near the river in Brownsville. The man, a militia member, narrowly missed being hit. In another incident, a state police officer mistakenly shot at a Border Patrol agent during a nighttime patrol.

Not long after the deployment, Perry announced his second presidential bid. He failed to garner enough votes in the Republican primary, but after being eliminated from the TV show “Dancing with the Stars,” he was appointed by Trump to run the Department of Energy.

In April, Trump sent thousands of National Guard troops to the border in reaction to another migrant caravan he’d seen reported on Fox News. The deployment, part of the president’s “zero tolerance” strategy, unfolded in tandem with a family separation policy that horrified the world with children being torn from their parents’ arms and thrown in detention. At least eight states, led by both Democratic and Republican governors, recalled their National Guard soldiers in protest, dealing a blow to Trump’s family separation policy, which he ended in June.

Four months later, the president bypassed the states, ordering the Department of Defense to send active duty troops. Mattis complied but has reportedly turned down a number of Trump’s other controversial requests, including that the soldiers build tent cities for asylum-seekers along the border and detain or use lethal force against migrants. (On November 20, White House Chief of Staff John Kelly signed a “cabinet order” authorizing lethal force to protect border agents if needed, but Mattis said it would ultimately be up to him to give the order.) Since many of those deployed are from engineering battalions, and Base Camp Donna appeared to have a lot of heavy, earth-moving machinery, I wondered whether the soldiers would be used to build the border wall through Fred Cavazos’s farm. But a Northcom spokesperson assured me that the soldiers were only building temporary barriers, not permanent ones.

Paula, 14, center, from Colombia, plays with Tania, 42, right, from Honduras in a shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 7, 2018. They have been waiting for weeks at the shelter to seek asylum in the U.S. because Customs and Border Protection, CBP, agents have told them that they are at full capacity.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Paula, 14, center, from Colombia, plays with Tania, 42, right, from Honduras in a shelter in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in Mexico on Nov. 7, 2018. They have been waiting for weeks at the shelter to seek asylum in the U.S.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Complete Disorder

Across the river at a crowded migrant shelter in Matamoros, Mexico, a Venezuelan man holding his infant, clad only in a diaper, approached me, his face a picture of anguish. “Can you help us? Can you tell us what is happening — what we should do?” he said, identifying me as someone from the United States. “My son is sick, now he’s getting a rash, and we’ve been here since last month.”

He told me his name was Jesus, and he was a 38-year-old former police officer who had fled a government-controlled death squad in Venezuela. Jesus said he’d been at the Mexican shelter, Casa del Migrante, with his two sons for more than three weeks. His wife had died in Venezuela during childbirth, he said. He had come to the border to ask the United States for asylum, but he’d been unable to speak with anyone from U.S. immigration.

Jesus said that he and the others at the shelter had been given numbers at the bridge by Mexican immigration agents who told them that U.S. immigration was at capacity, and they would have to wait. “We are supposed to be on a list and wait for our number to be called,” he said. “But we have never seen this list, and Mexican immigration tells us to wait, and wait, and wait.”

The other day, Jesus went back to the Mexican immigration office at the bridge to check on his family’s progress. An agent there told him they’d lost the list. “What I’ve seen so far is complete disorder,” Jesus said.

We sat down at a long white folding table in the tiled patio at the shelter, which had on one side, a crowded dormitory filled with women and children, many of them sleeping on the floor, and on the other side, a dormitory for the men. In the middle was a courtyard with patches of singed lawn. There, a group of children played with a soccer ball, while their parents worried.

Other men and women came and sat down at the table, curious about what I had to say. The director of the Catholic shelter, Juan Antonio Sierra, had told me that Casa del Migrante was designed to serve Mexicans deported from the U.S. and not asylum-seekers. Sierra said the shelter could comfortably house 84 people, but on many days, he now had more than 150, and he worried that the shelter would not be able house so many asylum-seekers if it continued.

I told Jesus and the others that I, too, was trying to find out what was happening at the bridges, which was why I wanted to speak with them. Jesus and the others looked disappointed. “It’s been so long now that our fear is the caravan will arrive,” a Colombian woman said.

“And the border closes,” said a woman from Honduras, in the shelter with two daughters, ages 5 and 7. She said it had taken them three months to arrive in Matamoros, and she had been waiting at the shelter for 16 days to speak with someone from U.S. immigration.

“Why did you leave Honduras?” I asked her.

“Too much crime,” she said. “Especially the gangs and the police. You can’t press charges against the gangs because the next day they build your coffin.”

I asked whether they’d heard about families being separated after they’d crossed into the United States. Most of them nodded yes.

“We face uncertainty,” the woman from Honduras conceded. “But we are in the hands of God.”

Asylum seekers gather to eat the food brought to them by volunteers near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018. Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Asylum-seekers gather to eat food brought to them by volunteers near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, in Mexico on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

A Catch-22

The day before the midterms, the two bridges linking Brownsville with Matamoros appeared to be the last ports of entry in Texas still accepting asylum requests. The only other option was in El Paso, which had more than 400 people waiting to request asylum protection. The Honduran woman at Casa del Migrante told me that she was considering making the 800-mile trek with her two young daughters.

On November 9, Trump signed a presidential proclamation banning migrants from applying for asylum outside official ports of entry, contrary to the Immigration and Nationality Act. (A federal judge temporarily blocked the asylum ban little more than a week later.) It was a Catch-22. Since May, armed CBP agents had been stationed at the halfway point on international bridges preventing asylum-seekers from stepping foot on U.S. soil, said Jennifer Harbury, a longtime immigration attorney in the Rio Grande Valley, who had for the last few months walked asylum-seekers across herself to make sure they got through.

Harbury said she had to stop in October. Now it was impossible to cross on the bridge between the city of Hidalgo, Texas, and Reynosa, Mexico, where she usually crossed with clients. Mexican immigration, she said, was forcing anyone with an asylum claim back into Reynosa, where cartel wars have raged for years and many migrants are kidnapped by organized crime.

Recently, Harbury and other attorneys and human rights advocates at the border filed a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, which alleges that Mexican and U.S. immigration officials are working in tandem to make sure that few asylum-seekers reach U.S. soil to request protection. The petition, which took several months of investigation and signed witness affidavits, also describes Mexican immigration agents taking bribes to put asylum-seekers on “lists,” to insure their place in line with a U.S. asylum officer. The petition asks the commission to force both countries to respect federal and international asylum laws, but it could take several months for the commission’s court, based in San José, Costa Rica, to rule, and, even so, the United States has rejected the commission’s authority before. Harbury said she has greater hope for Mexico’s new president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, who takes office on December 1 and has said he won’t do the U.S.’s dirty work on immigration.

“Trump doesn’t care,” Harbury said. “But I’m hoping the new president in Mexico doesn’t want this on his blotter sheet.”

Volunteers Michael Benavides, center left, Rolando Covar, wearing a cap, and Andrea Rudnik, far right, deliver food to people waiting to seek asylum in the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Michael Benavides, center left, Rolando Covar, wearing a cap, and Andrea Rudnik, far right, alongside other volunteers, deliver food to people waiting to seek asylum near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

A Sense of Fear

At the entrance of the Gateway International Bridge in Brownsville, I met up with a group of volunteers who had been delivering food, medicine, and clothing to people camped out on the bridges on the Mexican side in Matamoros. One of the volunteers, Brendon Tucker, told me he’d recently witnessed a helicopter filled with soldiers swoop down over the Rio Grande, pointing their rifles at asylum-seekers on the Mexican side of the river. And that for the last few days, CBP and the military had been practicing riot drills and shutting down lanes on the U.S. side of the bridges, creating a sense of fear along the river.

Mike Benavides, another volunteer and a special education supervisor for the Brownsville school district, said that he and his partner Sergio Cordova had started delivering food in July after they heard that asylum-seekers were stuck on the bridges, waiting in the 100-plus degree heat. “We went to see for ourselves and we couldn’t believe it,” Benavides said. “There were children, pregnant women, and babies sitting there under the hot sun with nothing, no food or water. We went to Home Depot and bought some tarps, bought cases of water, and the first night we bought pizzas for everybody — basically we went all-out.” Benavides, who wore a gray guayabera, broke into a wide, easy smile. “But we were like, ‘Man, this is going to get expensive. We can’t do this alone.’”

They were soon joined by others, including Andrea Morris Rudnik, a retired special education teacher, and Tucker, who described himself as a “redneck from the hill country” who had arrived in Brownsville in June to protest at the “tender age facility,” where babies and young children were held after being taken from their parents.

As time passed, and it became clear that the tender age facility wasn’t going to close, Benavides convinced Tucker, who is an experienced line cook, to start preparing meals for the asylum-seekers on the bridges.  Tonight, it was a delicious-looking creole chicken with rice and pans of baked brownies.

As the sun went down, we took off for Matamoros on foot, hauling wagons filled with supplies and enough creole chicken and brownies for 50 people. Another volunteer, Elias Cantu, had brought a brand-new pair of sneakers for a 9-year-old Nicaraguan boy who had arrived in Matamoros shoeless. I was struck by how open and generous border residents were to these strangers, while Trump, from hundreds of miles away, had portrayed them as a mortal threat to the United States.

Asylum seekers gather to eat the food brought to them by volunteers at the Brownsville-Matamoros International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018. 
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Asylum seekers gather to eat food brought to them by volunteers at the Gateway International Bridge on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

On the Mexican side, a group of about 20 Cubans, Central Americans, and Africans sat waiting near the base of the bridge. They’d set up a white plastic folding table and some plastic chairs. Some families were sleeping on bits of cardboard and blankets in a parking lot next door. Several waved excitedly and called out greetings in Spanish as the volunteers arrived with the food and bottled water. Many of them, especially the babies and children, were in need of clean drinking water, one Cuban mother told me.

After delivering food there, the volunteers visited with another group of migrants who were camped under blue tarps near the middle of the bridge. Two U.S. Customs and Border Protection agents stood nearby, questioning anyone who passed and checking passports, to prevent any asylum-seeker from getting through. The migrants waiting on the bridge explained that as their number grew closer on the list, they advanced further on the bridge, waiting for a U.S. immigration officer to come out and escort them into an office on the U.S. side of the bridge for an asylum interview. “Some days, we don’t see anyone,” a Cuban woman waiting at the middle of the bridge told me. “Other days, they will take five or six people. There’s no explanation as to how the system works, so we just wait.” The woman told me that she and her teenage daughter had been sleeping on the bridge for nearly two weeks.

At the base of the bridge, I met Ngomeich, a 24-year-old from Cameroon, who said he’d waited for several weeks at Casa del Migrante and then decided to come to the bridge where he might have a better chance to make his case for asylum. He claims that Mexican immigration officials had told him, however, that the Americans said the shelter for Africans was full. In fact, there is no separate shelter for asylum-seekers from African nations. “I feel heartbroken,” Ngomeich said. He told me he had been studying biomedical engineering until a violent conflict broke out between French- and English-speaking factions in Cameroon. Some of his family members were killed. The university had closed, and rebel forces were trying to conscript him to fight. “I’ve never held a gun in my life,” he said. “So I fled.” It took him months to get to the Mexican border, he said, and he’d been robbed of everything he owned in Nicaragua. “At the worst times, I always kept this idea of the United States in my mind, that there I’d be safe,” Ngomeich said. “This was not what I expected.”

“No one is being denied the opportunity to make a claim of credible fear or seek asylum,” Carlos Diaz, a CBP spokesperson, wrote in an email in response to a request for comment. As we have done for several years, when our ports of entry reach capacity, we have to manage the queues and individuals presenting without documents may need to wait in Mexico as CBP officers work to process those already within our facilities.” Mexican immigration officials said they were not authorized to speak with reporters and referred me to Mexico’s department of the interior, which did not respond to requests for comment.

Ngomeioh, from Cameroon, waits to seek asylum in the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas on Nov. 5, 2018. Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Ngomeich, from Cameroon, waits to seek asylum in the U.S. near the Gateway International Bridge in Matamoros, Tamaulipas, on Nov. 5, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Speaking with Ngomeich and others, I learned that conflict was brewing between asylum-seekers waiting at the two bridges. U.S. immigration was now occasionally receiving asylum-seekers from the Brownsville and Matamoros International Bridge, known as the B&M, even though Mexican immigration officials told everyone at the shelter that the U.S. will only accept people on the Gateway Bridge — and the asylum-seekers there now felt that they were being skipped. And then there was a strange encounter with a local man at the B&M bridge, in a black and white Punisher skull T-shirt, who said he was volunteering to protect the asylum-seekers, because before he had arrived some had been kidnapped. He said he had a list with all their names but didn’t say whom he’s keeping the list for. He said he was not affiliated with Mexican immigration or bridge officials. Matamoros, like Reynosa, is under the control of the Gulf Cartel and the kidnapping of migrants for ransom is common.

Before I crossed back into Brownsville, I said goodbye to Ngomeich, who sat with two other young men from Cameroon, who said they have also been told by Mexican immigration that the United States is not accepting Africans. “If the United States will not offer protection to us, then who will?” Ngomeich asked. “Then we have nobody.”

Fred Cabazos, 69, sits by the Rio Grande riverbank as a Border Patrol boat passes in Mission, Tex. on Nov. 6, 2018.
Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Fred Cavazos sits by the Rio Grande as a Border Patrol boat passes by in Mission, Texas, on Nov. 6, 2018.

Photo: Verónica G. Cárdenas for The Intercept

Make Way for the Wall

On November 14, the first members of the migrant caravan began arriving in Tijuana at the California border, bypassing Texas altogether. Even so, Texas still has the highest number of soldiers from the deployment — 2,800 in total. The same day, the Border Patrol held an invite-only meeting in the Rio Grande Valley at its headquarters in McAllen for landowners who will be impacted by the border wall. Reynaldo Anzaldua attended the meeting with his cousin. “They had more law enforcement there than they had actual landowners at the meeting,” he told me. “And there were two soldiers there, too.” He and other landowners had to pass through four security checkpoints, he said, and were searched for firearms, cellphones, and recording devices before they could enter the meeting. And Border Patrol barred the executive director of a butterfly conservation center slated for the border wall, as well as attorneys representing Fred Cavazos and his family and other property owners, for demanding that the meeting be made public and that the media outside be allowed to enter. When the people barred from the meeting refused to leave, the local police were called to remove them.

In the end, Anzaldua said the Border Patrol didn’t tell them much anyway, only that construction for the wall would begin soon. Just the other day, he said, they’d received the “letter of taking” from the government for the family farm. “Now we’re seeing the Army helicopters flying over our property,” he said. “You can tell when they’re coming because they’ve got a more powerful engine. You can feel it.”

This article was reported in partnership with The Investigative Fund at The Nation Institute, where Melissa del Bosque is a Lannan Reporting Fellow.

The post In South Texas, Border Residents Struggle to Cope With the Latest Military Surge appeared first on The Intercept.

Landmark California Law Bars Prosecutors From Pursuing Murder Charges Against People Who Didn’t Commit Murder

Jacque Wilson was in his car heading home from a softball game on a late August evening when his phone rang. It was his friend Kate Chatfield: She told him California Senate Bill 1437 had finally passed and was headed to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk. “And I’m driving, and I just break down crying,” Wilson told The Intercept.

The new law would dramatically redefine use of the state’s archaic felony murder rule in criminal prosecutions. It would also mean that Wilson’s younger brother Neko might finally be coming home after more than nine years behind bars awaiting trial for a grisly crime that he insists he played no part in.

Neko Wilson was one of six people charged with the robbery-murder of Gary and Sandra DeBartolo, who had an illicit marijuana grow operation inside their Fresno County home. The state alleged that Neko and the others planned to steal the dope and whatever cash was in the house. But that plot apparently went sideways. Minutes after two of the accused conspirators, Leroy Johnson and Jose Reyes, entered the DeBartolos’ home on the morning of July 22, 2009, the couple was killed, their throats slashed. After a high-speed chase, police caught up with the getaway car.

Neko was not at the DeBartolos’ house that day, and he wasn’t in the getaway car. Still, he was arrested and charged with the couple’s murder. Prosecutors announced that they would seek the death penalty for Neko under the felony murder rule.

A throwback to English common law, the felony murder rule works like this: Say two people decide to burgle a house, and in the process, one of them shoots and kills the homeowner; even if the shooting was completely spontaneous, and even if one of the burglars didn’t know the other had a gun, both could be held equally liable for the murder. Neko Wilson might not have been there when the DeBartolos died, but prosecutors alleged he was the one who hatched the plan for the robbery, which meant he was responsible for what happened even if he didn’t kill anyone.

Most states have some version of the felony murder rule on the books, and in a number of states, it can be used to seek the death penalty. In Texas, five men have been executed for murders that they did not commit (a sixth is slated for execution in December). Although a handful of states have curtailed or eliminated this brand of accomplice liability, California’s law had remained active — much to the chagrin of people like Jacque Wilson, who is also an attorney with the San Francisco Public Defender’s Office.

Jacque had spent eight years working to free his brother when he formally took over as his lead defense attorney in 2017. Last spring, as he was preparing for Neko’s case to finally go to trial, he heard about a bill pending before the California legislature that would bar prosecutors across the state from charging someone with a murder they had no direct connection to. “The first time I read it, it was as if the words were jumping off the pages,” Jacque said. He called Chatfield, who is policy director of the advocacy group Re:store Justice, which was sponsoring SB 1437. “I said, ‘Hey, whatever I have to do … I will do to try to get this bill passed.’”

It wasn’t a particularly easy lift, but after a dramatic final vote in the state Assembly, the bill did pass, and in September, it was signed by Brown. It is now poised to serve as model legislation for reform-minded lawmakers across the country.

In this photo taken Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, speaks on a bill before the Senate in Sacramento, Calif. Lawmakers approved Skinner's bill, SB1437, that limits the states "felony murder" rule that holds accomplices to the same standard as if they had personally killed someone. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

California state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, speaks on SB 1437 before the Senate in Sacramento on Aug. 31, 2018.

Photo: Rich Pedroncelli/AP

A Check on the Power of Prosecutors

State Sen. Nancy Skinner’s district is in Alameda County, just east of San Francisco. She said she had no idea that felony murder was something that existed until she started hearing about it from constituents and advocates.

She remembers meeting with the family of an incarcerated woman who was prosecuted under the rule. The woman had been on a third date with a guy “who, in hindsight, she never should’ve dated,” Skinner said. The guy was a gang member. The woman was in the car with him and several other members of the gang when there was a drive-by shooting. “She was not aware that would happen,” Skinner recalled, “and yet she was charged with felony murder.”

What Skinner learned convinced her to co-author SB 1437. Put simply, she said, felony murder is not fair because it divorces intent from action.

Moreover, like other aspects of the criminal justice system, the law in practice is both racist and sexist. The felony murder rule has disproportionately impacted blacks in the state — roughly 40 percent of those convicted under the rule are black — and even more so, young people of color. Nationally, 26 percent of juveniles serving life without parole were convicted of felony murder. (That the felony murder rule would sweep up so many juveniles isn’t entirely surprising, says Chatfield, “because most young people act in groups.”) Meanwhile, 72 percent of women serving a life sentence in California did not kill anyone. According to the California Coalition for Women Prisoners, a majority of the women sentenced under the felony murder rule were accomplices “navigating intimate partner violence, criminalized for survival acts.”

California’s new law bars prosecutors from using a person’s intent to commit one crime — for example, a robbery — as a way to hold them responsible for a murder committed during the course of that robbery, unless they can prove that the person played some direct role in the killing.

Also significant is that the law is retroactive, meaning it affects the cases of those already in prison, and applies equally to individuals who accepted plea deals — two provisions that are often a tough sell: The criminal justice system favors finality and relies on plea bargains to keep it humming along, and lawmakers are often loath to intervene.

Exactly how many people may be eligible for release under the new law isn’t entirely clear, in part because of the way records are kept. Nationally, it is estimated that a staggering 20 percent of individuals convicted of first-degree murder were sent to prison under felony murder provisions. Based on that, Re:store Justice estimates that there are roughly 800 people incarcerated in California for first-degree felony murder who may find relief under the new law. The number of individuals convicted of second-degree felony murder who would be eligible is currently unclear, as is the number of those who pleaded guilty (though it is possible that some are included in the 800-inmate estimate).

In 2016, another state lawmaker filed legislation that would have provided more clarity, by requiring district attorneys to collect data on individuals they charged with and convicted of felony murder. Despite broad support, the bill ultimately failed under pressure from the district attorneys’ lobby.

Indeed, the California District Attorneys Association, along with the California State Sheriffs’ Association and the California Police Chiefs Association, opposed SB 1437. Sean Hoffman, legislative director of the district attorneys association, told senators on the public safety committee that while “we recognize that there’s room for discussion on this concept of some level of reduced liability for individuals who are not the actual killer or major participant in one of these offenses,” the group still had problems with the bill. Chief among them: that foreclosing the possibility of charging with murder “those who are not the killer or a major participant” in the crime would not be in the interest of public safety. (Notably, research from the University of Chicago has concluded that felony murder laws do not deter crime.)

The sheriffs’ association also said the bill’s retroactivity was a problem. That was particularly true for cases that resulted in a plea deal, lobbyist Cory Salzillo told the senators, since it isn’t “always the case” that prosecutors have actually “proved up every fact” of a crime or a defendant’s alleged involvement before entering into a plea deal.

But when questioned by a member of the committee about why the felony murder rule was needed, Hoffman seemed to have a difficult time. After all, state Sen. Steven Bradford noted, a person who committed a robbery in which someone was killed could be charged with manslaughter if the facts warranted. And there was nothing in the law that would bar a prosecutor from charging a non-killer participant in connection with their role in the underlying felony. So, Bradford asked, why would a prosecutor use the rule? It would be case-specific, Hoffman responded.

“Your questioning is precisely why I am carrying this bill and trying to narrow the application” of the rule, Skinner told Bradford. “Because there is — depending on your perspective — one could say that this has evolved into a far greater amount of prosecutorial discretion than we may have intended.”

Chatfield thinks that prosecutors opposed the bill precisely because it is a direct check on their discretion. “This makes them have to prove these elements beyond a reasonable doubt, which is what they should be doing anyway,” she said — as opposed to overcharging defendants in order to force a plea deal. “You can’t just round up five people when you know four people didn’t do the killing; you know they’re not culpable. But you get to go right at them and use your discretion in that way. And we’re saying no.”

She points to several stories from across the state that Re:store Justice put together in a publication for state lawmakers. They reflect the wide breadth that prosecutors are given in deciding who to charge with murder — including in the case of a woman who was passed out in a car blocks away when a murder happened. “That’s how that prosecutor used his discretion,” she said.


Joanne Scheer, left, and her son Tony Vigeant.

Photo: Courtesy of Joanne Scheer

Who the Law Leaves Out

For all the hand-wringing about how curtailing the use of felony murder would tie prosecutors’ hands, force them to revisit old cases, and allow some defendants to go free, there is still a large group of people incarcerated in California under the rule who the new law will not immediately effect: Those serving death sentences or life without parole, even when their connection to the crime might have been tangential or tenuous.

In California, the imposition of a sentence of death or life without parole requires a “special circumstance” finding — that the defendant was a “major participant” in the crime or acted with “reckless indifference” to human life. These add-ons were created by ballot initiative back in 1978 and can only be changed by another initiative or a supermajority vote in the Legislature.

But even a jury’s finding that one or both of these special circumstances applied to a particular case doesn’t necessarily tell the whole story, says Joanne Scheer, founder of the Felony Murder Elimination Project and a co-sponsor of SB 1437. Her son Tony Vigeant is serving life without parole after a jury concluded both special circumstances applied to his role in the murder of a man named David Pettigrew in 2007.

According to the state, Vigeant and his cousin, both Marines who were stationed at Camp Pendleton, enticed a third service member, Ramon Hernandez, who had sustained a major brain injury during a tour of duty in Iraq, to shoot Pettigrew in a dispute over an alleged drug debt. Scheer disputes that narrative and says that what actually happened was a tragedy rooted in a string of poor, but pedestrian, decisions. After a day of watching football and drinking beer, Scheer says, the three Marines decided to go to Pettigrew’s to collect a laptop that Vigeant had sold him, but that Pettigrew had not yet paid for. Vigeant knew Hernandez had a gun, says Scheer, but it never occurred to him that anything would happen at the apartment, let alone a murder.

Scheer has been working with California’s corrections department to try to figure out how many inmates may be serving a life-without-parole or death sentence based on a theory of felony murder. As of the end of July, there were 5,206 people serving life without parole in the state; of those, more than 3,700 were first-time offenders and more than 3,200 were under the age of 25 at the time of the crime. Because it appears that so many individuals convicted under accomplice liability are young, first-time offenders, Scheer suggests that a large number of inmates serving life without parole might have been swept into prison under the rule.

“I’m not coming off saying that prosecutors are bad. I go to prosecutors’ offices. I got an hour and a half in a DA’s office and they answered my questions,” she said. “I said, ‘Why do you think we need felony murder?’ And they said, ‘Because without it, the killer may get away.’ I said, ‘But does felony murder assure you that you got the murderer?’”

Although SB 1437 doesn’t provide direct relief to people like Vigeant, the California Supreme Court has created an avenue for potential review. The court opined back in 1983 that the felony murder rule could be “barbaric” in application, and in more recent years, it has issued a string of decisions that would rein in indiscriminate use of the “major participant” and “reckless indifference” special circumstances that can so dramatically increase punishments. The court’s decisions have provided a framework for a defendant to have the imposition of special circumstances reviewed; if the courts agree they were improperly applied, they can be tossed out. If that happens, the case could be eligible for review under the provisions of SB 1437.

If Neko Wilson had gone to trial soon after he was arrested in 2009, he might be in the same boat as Vigeant — after all, the state signaled early on its intention to seek the death penalty. But there were flaws with the case from the get-go, says his brother and defense lawyer Jacque Wilson, including repeated failures by the state to turn over key exculpating evidence. The years that Jacque spent fighting the state meant that Neko was still in jail awaiting trial when SB 1437 finally passed out of the Assembly on August 29.

Jacque had been sweating it out, waiting to see if the bill would pass — and for a while, things in the Assembly looked dicey. Lawmakers on each side of the debate made impassioned speeches on the floor, urging colleagues to follow their lead. When the voting started, it didn’t look like the bill would get the 41 votes necessary. Chatfield was there, pacing the hallways, sending texts, and making calls in an effort to gin up final support. As it turned out, Brown, a supporter of the legislation, was making calls of his own. The vote was held open, and finally, with 42 votes, the measure passed. That’s when Chatfield called Jacque. Both of them broke down in tears.

Fresno prosecutors dropped the charges against Neko, and on October 18, he was the first person freed by the new law. Relief flooded Jacque. After Neko was arrested, their father, Mack, told Jacque that all he wanted was to be able to touch his son again. Now 83, he’s been able to do that. “From my family’s perspective,” says Jacque, “this is a miracle.”

Violent Crime as Part of the Equation

Alexandra Mallick, executive director of Re:store Justice, hopes the new law will provide the same relief for other families in California — and potentially elsewhere.

In her work with incarcerated people, she had grown tired of hearing stories about individuals doing time for murders they did not commit. “If we’re really talking about a just and fair system, someone who didn’t even commit murder spending a longer time in prison than someone who did — I don’t see how that’s fair,” she said. “It’s just something that I thought was so unjust and that it was a duty to right this wrong.”

The U.S. is an outlier when it comes to felony murder, says Lara Bazelon, director of the Criminal Juvenile Justice and Racial Justice clinics at the University of San Francisco law school. “It’s hundreds of years old, and the rest of the Western world has turned its face against it and has abolished it,” she said. “The U.S. stands alone.”

Although there are roughly 40 states that have some version of the felony murder rule, there are some that have curtailed or abolished it altogether, including Arkansas, Hawaii, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, and Ohio. Since passage of SB 1437, Mallick and Chatfield say they’ve been fielding inquiries from across the country from individuals and groups interested in passing similar legislation in their states. Chatfield has heard from lawyers in New York and Pennsylvania. Attorneys from Massachusetts have called, too; they’d like to see their provisions made retroactive. Mallick says she’s been in touch with a group in Texas interested in pushing for reform during the state’s 2021 legislative session.

Mallick says that part of what’s so meaningful about California’s reform of the felony murder rule is that it has addressed the issues of system reform and violent crime head on. “Doing stuff that deals with violence or issues around violence is not incredibly popular,” she said. “But my belief is that you can’t really move the needle with mass incarceration unless you talk about issues around violence.”

Chatfield agrees and hopes that California’s success will lead to more discussion and action. “I think it starts a conversation about what we talk about when we talk about ‘violence.’ What does it mean when we talk about murder? If somebody doesn’t do anything to facilitate that murder and doesn’t have that intent, what does it mean to call that person a murderer?” she asks. “I think it’s a very important conversation about how we’ve labeled a lot of our crimes. And if we can address something called ‘felony murder’ and educate people, we can educate people about a lot of things.”

The post Landmark California Law Bars Prosecutors From Pursuing Murder Charges Against People Who Didn’t Commit Murder appeared first on The Intercept.

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Now Demanding Repeal, Once Wanted More Obamacare Money

Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, a Republican from Mississippi, promotes herself to voters as a fervent follower of President Donald Trump — the type of conservative who will tirelessly work to repeal the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare.

“You know, Obamacare is the worst thing that happened to us,” Hyde-Smith said on Tuesday evening during her debate against Mike Espy, her challenger in a November 27 runoff election. Hyde-Smith repeated her intent to “end” the law.

In 2011, Hyde-Smith said that Mississippi should do more to ask the government for the public money made available as part of the Affordable Care Act.

Not long ago, however, Hyde-Smith sang a different tune. As a state lawmaker, she produced a report in the legislature recommending that Mississippi do more to ask the government for the public money made available as part of the Affordable Care Act.

The 2011 report noted that Mississippi “had not taken full advantage of more than $22 billion in federal project grant funds made available to states, local governments, and other entities through the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act.” The report called for the state apply for cash through the recently enacted health care reform law.

The document was released as part of the Performance Evaluation and Expenditure Review, a joint legislative task force overseen by Hyde-Smith and set up to identify grant opportunities for Mississippi.

Though the Affordable Care Act is known primarily for establishing a standard level of care for insurance coverage, subsidies for the individual market, and the expansion of Medicaid, the law also created a range of funding opportunities for community health clinics, nursing and physician training efforts, and other programs to expand access to health care.

The senator’s office did not respond immediately to a request for comment.

Hyde-Smith was elected to the Mississippi state Senate in 1999, after spending several years as a lobbyist in Washington, D.C. She initially served as a Democrat before joining a wave of other local politicians in switching to the GOP in 2010.

In March of this year, Republican Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant appointed Hyde-Smith to fill the vacancy left by Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., who resigned due to health problems. Since then, she has worked to build political support to win the seat outright in the election this year. During the general election earlier this month, she staked out strong support for Trump to compete with Chris McDaniel, a GOP candidate who cast himself as the anti-establishment pick.

None of the candidates in the November 6 election earned over 50 percent of the vote, with Hyde-Smith and Epsy advancing to the runoff. In recent days, Hyde-Smith faced controversy over a picture showing her wearing Confederate garb and for glib comments about how she would gladly attend a “public hanging.”

The post Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, Now Demanding Repeal, Once Wanted More Obamacare Money appeared first on The Intercept.

Richard Ojeda Comes Out Swinging on Abortion Rights

Former West Virginia congressional candidate and Democratic presidential hopeful Richard Ojeda, facing questions from reproductive rights advocates about his position on abortion, has fired off a 500-word statement framing the issue in terms of class and racial politics. 

“There has been some confusion about where I stand on the issue of abortion access so let me clear this up. I wholeheartedly support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. Full stop,” he said. As president, Ojeda said, he would oppose any 20-week abortion ban or other such restrictions.

Ojeda also committed to nominating only judges who were similarly invested in protecting women’s rights to make their own reproductive decisions, and vowed to oppose the Hyde Amendment, which bars federal funds from being used for abortion. Globally, he committed to reinterpreting the Helms Amendment, which, as currently implemented, bars U.S. funds from being used to support abortion services in foreign countries, even in cases of rape or when the life of the pregnant woman is in jeopardy.

The full-throated endorsement of reproductive rights comes in response to criticism of Ojeda’s past description of his politics as “pro-life.” Yet Ojeda said he is not willing to cede the term to abortion rights opponents.

“I’m also calling bullshit on the idea that opposing abortion makes you pro-life,” he said in a statement provided to The Intercept. “If you just want to keep working class women from making their own decisions, you might be pro-birth but you’re not pro-life. I have always considered myself pro-life because I want to reduce the number of abortions by making birth control accessible, by quadrupling the funding for Planned Parenthood, and by making sure that those who would start families have jobs and childcare so that they can afford to raise their kids.”

Ojeda, a state senator from West Virginia and a retired major in the U.S. Army, lost a congressional race in November in a district that President Donald Trump carried in 2016 by 49 points. After the election, he announced that he’d be running for president.

His statement framed the issue of choice forcefully in terms of class and race. “Throughout history, rich women have always had access to the care that they want or need and they always will. It’s only poor and working class women who have died in back alleys or been forced to use crude instruments like coat hangers,” he said.

That Ojeda is challenging the Helms Amendment this early in the presidential campaign is a signal of just how quickly reproductive freedom is advancing within the Democratic Party. In 2016, it wasn’t until February that both Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders made a pledge to reinterpret Helms, and that was only after pressure from advocacy groups and repeated pestering by reporters.

The Helms Amendment, named for former Sen. Jesse Helms, a prominent white nationalist, says that U.S. foreign aid cannot be used for abortion “as a method of family planning.” That language has been interpreted — wrongly, it’s easy to argue — by every White House since 1973, including the Obama administration, as a strict ban on all abortion, even in the cases of rape, incest, or a threat to the pregnant woman’s life. “A woman raped by the Taliban or Boko Haram should not be forced by the callousness of our government to bear her rapist’s child,” he said.

The Hyde Amendment, too, has been a mainstay of federal policy and was incorporated into the Affordable Care Act. Clinton vowed to oppose it and Sanders, in his most recent “Medicare for All” legislation, would overturn it.

If even the lawmaker from West Virginia is willing to make the pledge on Helms and Hyde, Ojeda’s position lays down a marker, making it difficult for other Democratic candidates to run on a more restrictive agenda.

For Ojeda, arguments about the sanctity of unborn life are hypocritical coming from wealthy Republican politicians who publicly oppose abortion in general, but are supportive of it when they accidentally impregnate their girlfriends. He singled out former Pennsylvania Rep. Tim Murphy, who resigned his seat amid such a controversy, as well as Rep. Scott DesJarlais, R-Tenn.

“They all run around saying how they’re against abortion until their mistress gets pregnant,” he said. “Right Tim Murphy? Right Congressman Desjarlais? Right Mr. President?” (Trump has called avoiding venereal disease his “personal Vietnam,” but there have been no allegations that he pressured anyone to have an abortion.)

The case of DesJarlais, a medical doctor, however, is extraordinary: He impregnated one of his patients and pressured her to have an abortion. For that ethical breach, he was reprimanded by the state medical board, but his heavily evangelical voting base has continued to return him to Congress.

Ilyse Hogue, president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, applauded the positioning by Ojeda. Bingo. Major Ojeda’s unequivocal support for abortion rights demonstrates that he not only thoroughly understands of the cruelty and danger inflicted on women by current anti-choice policy makers but that he has a fundamental respect for the dignity of all women to make their own decisions and be able to control their own lives regardless of the conditions of their lives,” she said in a statement to The Intercept. “Major Ojeda also calls out the inherent hypocrisy of the current anti-choice movement and their agenda to control women, not to support families. This perspective not only places him well within the mainstream of Americans who feel the same, but it also demonstrates the kind of commitment and leadership we hope to see in every candidate for office in 2020 from city council to president.”

Erica Sackin, a spokesperson for Planned Parenthood, said her organization was “pleased to see candidates from across the country understand and fully embrace sexual and reproductive health care.”

Here is Ojeda’s full statement:

There has been some confusion about where I stand on the issue of abortion access so let me clear this up. I wholeheartedly support a woman’s right to make her own decisions about her body. Full stop. Throughout history, rich women have always had access to the care that they want or need and they always will. It’s only poor and working class women who have died in back alleys or been forced to use crude instruments like coat hangers. These laws that are passed only control the bodies and medical decisions of poor and working-class women because those in power have not trusted working class women to make their own decisions. Especially since working class women are disproportionately black and brown. Well guess what, they might not trust women, but I do.

I will stand against non-scientifically based 20 week bans and other arbitrary barriers like forced ultrasounds. I will stand against allowing the Hyde Amendment to keep poor women from having access. I will never support a judicial nominee who would stand in the way of access for all women regardless of class or race. And as President, I will immediately reinterpret the Helms amendment to end the inhumane exclusion of rape, incest, and the life of the mother. A woman raped by the Taliban or Boko Haram should not be forced by the callousness of our government to bare her rapist’s child.

But I’m also calling bullshit on the idea that opposing abortion makes you pro-life. If you just want to keep working class women from making their own decisions, you might be pro-birth but you’re not pro-life. I have always considered myself pro-life because I want to reduce the number of abortions by making birth control accessible, by quadrupling the funding for Planned Parenthood, and by making sure that those who would start families have jobs and childcare so that they can afford to raise their kids.

It was not easy or popular to stand with working class women and with Planned Parenthood in West Virginia. But I did it any way. When an anti-working class abortion amendment was put on the ballot, I didn’t run and hide and try to keep quiet. I gave a floor speech about how I almost lost my own wife during childbirth. And how I would never, never take away a family’s ability to make their own decisions. I did it because it was right and because all of these rich men in the Republican Party are hypocrites. They all run around saying how they’re against abortion until their mistress gets pregnant. Right Tim Murphy? Right Congressman Desjarlais? Right Mr. President?

Just like with everything else, they want one thing for themselves and something else for the working-class citizen. They strip public school funding and send their kids to private school. They send the sons and daughters of the working class off to die in foreign wars but their kids don’t sign up. They want privacy and choice for them and their own families, just not for you. That’s not pro-life, that’s the same elitist attitude these so-called leaders have about everything, and I will never sit quiet when our working-class citizens are under attack.

The post Richard Ojeda Comes Out Swinging on Abortion Rights appeared first on The Intercept.

This Thanksgiving, I’m Grateful for Donald Trump, America’s Most Honest President

There’s no question that Donald Trump is the most flagrantly, compulsively, and voluminously dishonest president in American history — which is saying something, given the competition. He’s probably told 27 more lies during the time it took you to read this one sentence.

But as preposterous as it sounds, there’s a case to be made that he’s simultaneously America’s most honest president. Every now and then, in the midst of his unending eruption of prevarication, Trump will blurt out the truth about the United States in a way that no normal politician ever has.

Most recently, when asked whether he would consider sanctioning Saudi Arabia for its Mafia-like murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi, Trump was hesitant. Why? “Because they are ordering military equipment. Everybody in the world wanted that order. Russia wanted it, China wanted it, we wanted it. We got it. … Boeing, Lockheed, Raytheon … I don’t wanna lose an order like that.”

Getting the Saudis to gift as much of their oil profits as possible to the U.S., particularly when it boosts large defense contractors, has been a priority of every president since World War II. During the 1973 Arab-Israeli war, the chairs of Exxon, Mobil, Texaco, and Standard of California — that is, the four American corporations engaged with the Saudi state oil company Aramco — wrote to then-President Richard Nixon. If the U.S. was seen to be openly supporting Israel, they warned, “the whole position of the United States in the Middle East is on the way to being seriously impaired, with Japanese, European, and perhaps Russian interests largely supplanting United States presence in the area.” Then-Secretary of State Henry Kissinger obediently arranged for American arms to be shipped to Israel as inconspicuously as possible.

Indeed, the money that flows to U.S. multinationals due to our relationship with the Saudis may be a key reason that America has been able to run huge trade deficits for decades without damage to our economy.

But that’s not the kind of thing any standard-issue, high-level politician can say. Prior to Trump, Americans could only get this kind of honesty from fiction, as in the famous diatribe by the chair of a huge conglomerate in “Network”:

The Arabs have taken billions of dollars out of this country, and now they must put it back! It is ebb and flow, tidal gravity! It is ecological balance! … There is no America. There is no democracy. There is only IBM and ITT and AT&T and DuPont, Dow, Union Carbide, and Exxon!

And Trump’s Saudi comments are just a sampling of his startling truth-telling. Other examples include:

  • During a 2016 Republican presidential debate, Trump said, “Obviously the war in Iraq was a big, fat mistake. … We should have never been in Iraq. … They lied, they said there were weapons of mass destruction.” At the time, this seemed like standing up in the Vatican and declaring that the whole concept of the holy trinity is stupid. But it turned out that GOP voters weren’t bothered by Trump’s reckless accuracy.

    Furthermore, just before the 2016 election, Trump declared that America had “wasted $6 trillion on wars in the Middle East — we could have rebuilt our country twice — that have produced only more terrorism, more death, and more suffering — imagine if that money had been spent at home. … We’ve spent $6 trillion, lost thousands of lives. You could say hundreds of thousands of lives, because look at the other side also.” All of this was true (with the slight caveat that while the wars will eventually cost at least $6 trillion, we haven’t paid out all of that money yet). Trump’s reference to the huge number of foreigners our wars have killed, and implication that their deaths were a bad thing, was particularly unpresidential.

  • During the 2016 campaign, Trump referenced the strong possibility that factions of the Saudi royal family were complicit in the 9/11 attacks — in the context of the Bush administration’s decision to invade Iraq. “Who blew up the World Trade Center? It wasn’t the Iraqis. … Take a look at Saudi Arabia, open the documents,” he said on “Fox & Friends.”

    Yet more strangely for a Republican, Trump also acknowledged that George W. Bush was president in 2001 and might bear responsibility for what happened. “The CIA said there was a lot of information that something like that was going to happen,” Trump said during a CBS interview in February 2016. “Could he have done something about it? Well, his CIA said they knew about things happening.”

  • Trump has even been honest about America’s overall history. When Bill O’Reilly demanded to know what Trump thought about Vladimir Putin being a killer, Trump responded: “There are a lot of killers. You think our country’s so innocent?” On an earlier occasion when asked about Putin, Trump similarly remarked that “I think our country does plenty of killing also.”
  • Trump has also told the truth about money in politics, from the unusual position of someone with the personal experience of purchasing politicians. In a 2015 speech about Jeb Bush’s Super PAC, Trump explained, “He raises 100 million, so what does 100 million mean? A hundred million means he’s doing favors for so many people. It means lobbyists. It means special interests. It means donors. Who knows it better than me? I give to everybody. They do whatever I want.” Then, as the other Republican candidates supplicated themselves before varied billionaires, Charles and David Koch in particular, Trump repeatedly and honestly referred to them as puppets.

  • Trump even specifically called out pharmaceutical and defense corporations for ripping off U.S. taxpayers because “they have a fantastic lobby. They take care of all of the senators, the congressmen. They have great power.”
  • According to “60 Minutes” correspondent Leslie Stahl, Trump told her off-air that he attacks the press strategically: “He said, ‘You know why I do it? I do it to discredit you all and demean you all, so when you write negative stories about me, no one will believe you.’” Interestingly, Trump understands the media well enough that he correctly felt he could tell the truth to Stahl without repercussions. Stahl didn’t mention this in public for almost two years. When she did so, it wasn’t on TV, and she didn’t reference this when she interviewed Trump on “60 Minutes” again in this past October.
  • In a CNN interview just before the 2008 election, Trump said this about Nancy Pelosi: “When she first got in and was named Speaker, I met her. And I’m very impressed by her. … I like her a lot. But I was surprised that she didn’t do more in terms of Bush and going after Bush. … It just seemed like she was going to really look to impeach Bush and get him out of office, which, personally, I think would have been a wonderful thing, [impeaching him] for the [Iraq] war. … He got us into the war with lies.” This was true: It would have been a wonderful thing for the Democrats to impeach Bush, and it’s disappointing that they didn’t.
  • Trump’s 2016 nickname for Texas Sen. Ted Cruz was “Lyin’ Ted.” Cruz is indeed a huge liar.

Of course, telling the truth on all these matters has never caused Trump to behave differently from a standard U.S. president. We will still support the Saudis, no matter how gruesome their behavior in 2001 or 2018. We are still in Iraq and Afghanistan for the indeterminate future. We’ll keep on un-innocently killing people around the world. Trump is eagerly turning himself into a puppet for GOP billionaires, big pharma, and defense contractors. He’ll keep on talking about “fake news.” And Ted Cruz has been transformed, in Trump’s estimation, from “Lyin’ Ted” into “Beautiful Ted.”

But there should be a hopeful lesson here for any politicians considering whether they should risk telling the truth. Trump has broken every taboo in U.S. politics, including the bad ones. It turns out you can be honest on the most sensitive topics and the heavens won’t collapse upon you. Regular Americans actually don’t mind and will still vote for and support you. Leaders who want to tell the truth in hopes of changing the world can rationally give it a shot and see what happens. As we say grace this Thanksgiving, we should consider giving thanks for this unexpected but real forward progress.

The post This Thanksgiving, I’m Grateful for Donald Trump, America’s Most Honest President appeared first on The Intercept.

House Progressives Are Facing an Unexpected Problem in the Quest for Committee Power

After a wildly successful election for House Democrats, progressives in Congress did something relatively novel: They tried to wield power.

Last week, the heads of the Congressional Progressive Caucus won a major concession from Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi, but it’s now an open question whether they’ll have the foot soldiers to complete the mission.

The particular play the CPC is making will have a dual end result, if successful. First, it will build progressive power within the House caucus, which is currently in scarce supply. And it will throw a wrench into the gears of the money-and-politics machinery of Washington, by making it more difficult for corporate-friendly Democrats to do legislative favors for lobbyists.

Taking advantage of Pelosi’s need for votes to return as House speaker, the CPC’s honchos, Rep. Mark Pocan of Wisconsin and Pramila Jayapal of Washington state, secured a commitment that at least 40 percent of Democrats on five key committees would be members of the CPC. This would give the caucus a greater ability to impact critical legislation, which runs through those committees and helps prepare the ground for a time when a Democratic president is in place to sign those bills.

It would also deprive members of the centrist Blue Dog or New Democrat coalitions access to the seats, along with the campaign contributions that can come with them. The key panels in question are Intelligence, Energy and Commerce, Ways and Means, Financial Services, and Appropriations.

But finding enough progressives to sit on those committees has thus far proven difficult, The Intercept has learned. CPC members who already have committee assignments of their own on less powerful committees are reluctant to switch, as they would lose the seniority they’ve built up over the years. Separately, they worry about the jockeying that would be required on the new committees, which would put them in confrontations with centrist members that many would rather avoid for internal political reasons. Broadly speaking, incoming progressives are not traditionally captivated by the notion of slogging it out on the “money committees,” as they are sometimes known on Capitol Hill.

In the past, progressives have ceded these committees to New Dems and Blue Dogs, who have long understood their importance, both for setting the direction of policy and earning access to corporate donors. “Progressives come to Congress to change the world, and New Dems come to Congress to get on the Ways and Means Committee,” said Alex Lawson of Social Security Works, who has spent months on an inside-outside effort to increase progressive committee representation. (The Ways and Means Committee has jurisdiction over tax policy.)

As the jockeying for committee assignments unfolds, other fights have taken on importance, like stopping Pelosi from putting in House rules that limit spending without revenue offsets and bar increases in taxes on 80 percent of low-income earners. But committee assignments have been foregrounded as an achievable and critical goal for the future of progressive politics.

And yet, it’s a precarious situation for the CPC. Several key retirements and the blue wave adding between 38 and 40 House Democrats has led to an unprecedented number of open slots on the money committees. The unsettled race for speaker provides a unique opportunity for influence. But if progressives cannot find the warm bodies willing to fill committee slots, they’ll have put their reputation on the line in a bid for power, without being able to follow through.

Last week’s meeting between Pelosi, Pocan, and Jayapal, which led to the committee deal, was months in the making. As Democratic success in the midterms looked more likely, labor unions and progressive groups strategized over how to build power in the House. Committee assignments were an obvious target.

The CPC currently has 77 House members, with two additional members, Brad Sherman and Jimmy Panetta of California, joining since the elections. The caucus expects around 20 more to join for the next Congress, meaning that it will comprise roughly 40 percent of the entire Democratic caucus.

Yet on the committees that control most domestic policy, progressives are more scarce. Currently, CPC members hold 27 percent of the seats on the House Financial Services Committee, 28 percent on the Energy and Commerce Committee, 31 percent on Ways and Means, and 36 percent on Appropriations. On the Intelligence Committee, it’s even worse: Just one of the nine Democrats on the panel, Andre Carson of Indiana, is a CPC member.

The underrepresentation can handcuff progressive priorities. Incoming member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., has pushed strongly for a select committee on climate change, but any legislation on a “Green New Deal” will ultimately get reviewed by the Energy and Commerce Committee, and if it includes revenues, the Ways and Means Committee will have a look at it too. Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., just wrote a new bill with Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to force competition for patented prescription drug monopolies if prices are too high. But he’s not on the committees — Energy and Commerce, and Ways and Means — that would have jurisdiction over such legislation. Instead, for instance, Rep. Anna Eshoo of California, regarded as one of the most pharma-friendly Democrats in Congress, chairs the health subcommittee on Energy and Commerce that could bottle the bill up.

“Medicare for All” would need to go through those two committees as well. Legislation to fix America’s affordable housing crisis would go through the Financial Services Committee. And any new programs would have to be designated funding through the Appropriations Committees. Practically nothing with a major impact can avoid one of these four committees.

That’s what makes them magnets for corporate lobbyists, seeking to curry favor with members. Corporations spend heavily to get their way onto these committees. But this year, scores of incoming Democrats took a pledge to reject corporate PAC donations, and sitting members are getting pressured to join in that promise as well. Candidates managed to raise millions of dollars in grassroots donations, avoid corporate money, and win.

Where they will land in Congress is an open question, however. The money committees can seem intimidating to incoming members who don’t have specific technical expertise. They might even seem boring; the minutiae of tax policy or overnight repo lending does not typically animate people to get into politics. “There’s a self-selecting that has happened,” said Lawson. “This is the progressive committee, and they’ll work together. And this is the New Dem one.”

In particular, the House Judiciary Committee has become packed with progressives, who hold over three-quarters of the seats. That makes it easier for progressives to get important things done on justice-related issues, but harder to broadly affect policy in all areas. “A lot of the things we’re worried about, we can fix with better representation,” said Mike Darner, executive director of the Congressional Progressive Caucus.

Because Pelosi needs near-unanimous support to get the necessary votes for speaker, progressives were in a novel position to dictate terms. Committee assignments became the main ask, and once Pelosi agreed in principle to 40 percent representation, CPC leaders endorsed her for speaker. But getting this win and implementing it are two very different things.

Rebalancing the committees may sound simple. But it’s the equivalent of putting together a seating chart for a giant wedding, if there were all sorts of arcane and unwritten rules on who can sit next to whom.

For example, Democrats have historically sought regional diversity on the committees. Lawson relayed one example. “I was in a meeting, and someone said ‘New York City has to get a seat on Ways and Means no matter what.’ I had no idea.”

The committees the CPC has targeted are all “A” committees, which are exclusive: Members cannot be on more than one. Staying on a committee like Judiciary while getting onto another “A” committee requires a special waiver from leadership, which is such a rare occurrence that most members consider it impossible to obtain. Similarly, freshmen are generally forbidden from the Ways and Means Committee, though the number of seats available — as many as 10 — could render that inoperative this cycle.

If progressives can make it through that Jenga game and come up with a plan, they have to find members willing to switch committees. Power at the committee level relies on the seniority system; senior members get the plum subcommittee chairs and put themselves in line to take over the committee. There’s an understandable reluctance to give that up or to start from scratch deep into a career. While the conventional wisdom on the Hill holds that it’s hard to get on the A-list committees, it may be even harder to get a member to say yes to that assignment if it means giving up seniority on their current committee.

“We fully acknowledge it as a sacrifice,” Lawson said. “We say that we know it’s hard for you. We’re going to recognize you’re doing it for the movement and hold you up as a champion.”

Reluctance to switch isn’t a problem limited to one side of the aisle; Republicans have found it difficult to get a female senator to move onto the Judiciary Committee, avoiding the embarrassing spectacle of an all-male panel doing the questioning in the Brett Kavanaugh hearings. But in this case, progressives’ resistance to filling out the committee rosters has real policy implications. And there’s an odd code of silence around committees; not only does it rarely play out in public, but it’s almost considered impolite to push internally for an assignment.

You’ll be shocked to know that committee assignments also come with some politics. State delegations feel compelled to spread members across numerous committees for parochial reasons, even if that means losing progressive representation. Members with designs on future leadership roles don’t want to mess with the committee assignments of colleagues who may be willing to vote for them. On the committees themselves, the ranking Democrat plays a role in blessing new entrants, though that role can vary depending on the committee. Having a member on the committee as an internal champion, like a sponsor, is important.

Perhaps nowhere else have these dynamics played out more in recent years than the House Financial Services Committee.

After the financial crisis of 2008, Democrats had a top priority of re-regulating the financial system. However, after successive waves in 2006 and 2008, freshmen and sophomore Blue Dogs and New Democrats took over the lower rungs of the Financial Services Committee, placed there by leadership to help them hoover up campaign donations from Wall Street. The size of the committee was even expanded so that 11 freshman representatives from conservative-leaning districts, designated as “frontline” members, could be given precious spots on the committee. From that perch, they raised on average twice as much as the typical House Democrat, using the committee as an ATM.

It’s not just New Dems, though. Nearly all CPC members still take corporate PAC money, which risks a situation in which progressives are giving cover to bad — rather than helping write good — legislation.

This ecosystem frustrated progressive goals for Wall Street reform. Conservative Democrats weakened Dodd-Frank at the committee level, like when they voted for a Republican amendment to exempt auto deals of oversight from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau. Rep. Luis Gutiérrez of Illinois, at the time a senior member of the committee who is retiring this year, referred to the frontline members as “the unreliable bottom row.” (The committee room is an amphitheater, with more senior members sitting higher up.)  

This year, because of the departures of five members, and elections of many more new ones, as many as a dozen seats might need to be filled. Maxine Waters, a CPC member, will take over the gavel in January, and she has expressed a desire to go after President Donald Trump’s dealings with Deutsche Bank, as well as the continual malfeasance at Wells Fargo, as part of the committee’s oversight duties.

But New Dems currently have four more seats on Financial Services than progressive caucus members have. This year, when Congress passed a bank deregulation bill, 27 of the 33 Democrats who supported it were New Democrats. And they’re already pushing back on Waters’s agenda. “The American people … will bridle at investigations that seem overtly political,” said Rep. Jim Himes, D-Conn., to Politico. Himes is both a former Goldman Sachs banker and the chair of the New Democrat Coalition.

These tensions between progressives and moderates have played out behind the scenes as well: At a meeting attended by numerous committee oversight staff members, the strategy was set for “measured, discreet, and narrowly focused” investigations, without public disclosure of the probes before findings are in hand. A source inside the room relayed the information to The Intercept.

New Democrats are not as reticent about joining the committee, fully aware of its power. Josh Gottheimer, a New Democrat from New Jersey, has been recruiting several ideological allies to join the panel, according to numerous sources who preferred to remain anonymous, as they are not authorized to speak publicly about committee politics. Gottheimer won a congressional seat in 2016 and immediately got on the Financial Services Committee. He received nearly $1 million in donations from the securities and investment banking industries during the 2018 cycle, according to data from the Center for Responsive Politics.  

A source with knowledge of the situation told The Intercept that Gottheimer was approached by a member of the New Jersey delegation with a more progressive profile, asking if Gottheimer would sponsor the lawmaker for the committee. Gottheimer, according to the source, told the lawmaker that they weren’t wanted on the committee. Gottheimer’s office did not respond to a request for comment.

By contrast, the progressive organizing around the committee has been tepid. A coalition of unions and progressive groups called Take on Wall Street publicly listed five potential incoming freshmen that would be pro-regulatory voices on the committee: Katie Porter and Katie Hill of California, Colin Allred of Texas, Jason Crow of Colorado, and Andy Kim of New Jersey.

But the list left many progressives scratching their heads. Porter, an Elizabeth Warren protégé and foreclosure expert, would be a natural choice. But three of the others — Crow, Allred, and Hill — were endorsed by the New Democrat PAC in the election. (Hill also got a progressive cCaucus endorsement.) And Crow worked for a top law and lobbying firm in Colorado with a host of corporate clients.

More worrying, the members seemed to have no knowledge of this recruitment effort. Mitch Schwartz, a spokesperson for Crow’s campaign, was surprised to hear of Take on Wall Street’s mentioning the congressman-elect’s name. “It’s interesting when a reporter breaks news to me about my boss,” Schwartz said. He added that Crow was still making up his mind about committees.

Crow’s issue page does have a section on consumer protection. Allred worked briefly at the Department of Housing and Urban Development and once issued a press release condemning the Financial CHOICE Act, a Republican bank deregulation measure. Kim criticized his opponent, Tom McArthur, for scheduling a fundraiser with Interim CFPB Director Mick Mulvaney.

These may not seem like deep and considered vows to stand up to big banks. But other incoming members have not even gone this far. It would be a good regional fit to replace departing progressive committee members Keith Ellison, D-Minn., and Michael Capuano, D-Mass., with the progressives filling their seats, Ilhan Omar and Ayanna Pressley. But neither have expressed interest in the committee.

The Take On Wall Street coalition has gone so far as to write up a fact sheet for progressives on the importance of the committee, citing its centrality to tackling homelessness and the housing crisis, ensuring racial and economic justice, and fighting poverty. The pitch cited laws like the Truth in Lending Act, the Equal Credit Opportunity Act, and the Community Reinvestment Act, which ensures lending in low-income areas, as well as Federal Reserve policy, which aims to prevent recessions and ensure full employment in all communities. “(House Financial Services Committee) is an especially compelling assignment for House progressives, both to lay the foundation for bold policies and to exercise critical oversight,” the document reads.

Whether that pitch lands, and progressive members-elect decide to go after a Financial Services seat, could have wide-ranging consequences for banking policy, corporate governance, fair housing, student loans, retirement security, and virtually every aspect of the national economy.

The final verdict on committee assignments is likely to come together quickly. The Democrats’ steering and policy committee formally hands out assignments, although leadership plays an enormous role in who gets what; indeed, Pelosi is the chair of the committee, as is custom. Intelligence Committee seats are directly appointed by the Democratic leader, avoiding the steering and policy committee altogether.

Even if the CPC had a dream list for the committees where they want expanded representation, they cannot present it to Pelosi without firm commitments from the members. CPC staffers are talking directly to members and their chiefs of staff to secure those commitments. The pitch is that this is the perfect time to make the switch, because the seats are open and this big a wave may not come again soon.

This is all happening as the CPC tries to redefine what it means to be a member, toughening up the policy for whether members can make anti-progressive votes or simultaneously be part of the CPC and their ideological opposites, the New Dems. It’s smart for them to make a play for power — but they need to be able to back it up and persuade reluctant members to take advantage.

The coalition of groups pushing for committee assignments have stressed common cause in their meetings with members, promising to push agenda items important to the members if they just switch committees. “There’s a reason why Wall Street gets a stranglehold on these committees,” said Lawson. “We diagram everything progressives care about and how it narrows to these committees. We’re trying to change the mentality on the outside to a more sophisticated understanding.”

Those outside groups have started to pick up on the necessity of caring about internal House politics, demanding that progressives get a place at the table commensurate with their numbers. “The blue wave that sent Republicans packing because of their aggressive anti-consumer record should move all recommendations toward people who are actually champions of consumer financial protection,” said Beverly Brown Ruggia of New Jersey Citizen Action, a statewide social and economic justice group. “We will be watching this process very closely.”

The post House Progressives Are Facing an Unexpected Problem in the Quest for Committee Power appeared first on The Intercept.

Lobbyist Documents Reveal Health Care Industry Battle Plan Against “Medicare for All”

Now that the midterms are finally over, the battle against “Medicare for All” that has been quietly waged throughout the year is poised to take center stage.

Internal strategy documents obtained by The Intercept and Documented reveal the strategy that private health care interests plan to use to influence Democratic Party messaging and stymie the momentum toward achieving universal health care coverage.

At least 48 incoming freshman lawmakers campaigned on enacting “Medicare for All” or similar efforts to expand access to Medicare. And over the last year, 123 incumbent House Democrats co-sponsored “Medicare for All” legislation — double the number who supported the same bill during the previous legislative session.

The growing popularity of “Medicare for All” in the House has made progressives optimistic that the Democratic Party will embrace ideas to expand government coverage options with minimal out-of-pocket costs for patients going into the 2020 election. But industry groups have watched the development with growing concern.

Over the summer, leading pharmaceutical, insurance, and hospital lobbyists formed the Partnership for America’s Health Care Future, an ad hoc alliance of private health interests, to curb support for expanding Medicare.

The campaign, according to one planning document, is designed to “change the conversation around Medicare for All,” then “minimize the potential for this option in health care from becoming part of a national political party’s platform in 2020.”

A slide from Partnership for America’s Health Care Future presentation.

Behind the scenes, the group attempted to sway candidates during the midterms, encouraging several of them to focus on shoring up the Affordable Care Act instead of supporting single-payer health care.

The documents show that Partnership representatives spoke to the staffs of Democratic Sens. Bill Nelson of Florida and Joe Donnelly of Indiana, and received confirmation that both senators would maintain their “moderate position.” When the team met with Rep.-elect Lori Trahan, D-Mass., she said that although she does not speak about the issue, she agreed that “language around single payer should be tempered.” (None of the three politicians’ offices provided responses to inquiries from The Intercept.)

In several competitive races, the Partnership pressed candidates to use industry-crafted talking points when speaking about health care. In one internal planning document circulated with health care lobbyists, the Partnership touted its influence over Danny O’Connor, the Columbus, Ohio-area Democrat who ran for the 12th Congressional District, claiming that O’Connor used Partnership talking points “in national news interviews.” (O’Connor’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.)

Several of the candidates who agreed to embrace the Partnership’s messaging and policy ideas, including Donnelly and O’Connor, came up short on Election Day. A recount ending on November 18 confirmed that Nelson received fewer votes than Republican challenger Rick Scott. But soon after Election Day results came in, the Partnership went on the offensive, informing reporters that candidates who embraced “Medicare for All” had also lost, pointing to the defeat of progressives such as Kara Eastman in Nebraska. The group also relied on research from the business-friendly Democratic think tank Third Way to argue that victorious pro-“Medicare for All” candidates couldn’t attribute their success to having supported “Medicare for All” because few Democrats explicitly mentioned the policy in their campaign advertisements.

“’Medicare for All’ didn’t win,” said Joel Kopperud, the vice president of government affairs at the Council of Insurance Agents and Brokers, one of the industry groups backing the Partnership. “I don’t think that the Bernie Sanders $32 trillion solution that’s going to eviscerate the insurance for 156 million Americans is really something that’s going to be helpful to the party in critical states,” he added in an interview with The Intercept.

Kopperud represents insurance brokers who sell employer-based health insurance coverage. He noted that his organization has a vested interest in backing the Partnership. “Medicare for All,” as some envision the policy, would eventually eliminate the need for most health insurance plans — a death knell for companies represented by the CIAB.

Private health care lobbyists are confident that they can prevent any federal expansion of Medicare in Congress, given Republican control of the Senate and the White House. In the states, CIAB and other private health groups have easily defeated measures to develop single-payer proposals, such as the ColoradoCare ballot question in 2016.

But the political calculus could be changing. Recent election gains by Democrats in state government could create new opportunities for proponents of expanded government-backed health care initiatives. Gov.-elect Gavin Newsom of California campaigned on single payer and is expected to have one of the largest Democratic supermajorities in recent memory in the legislature, though California has a notoriously complex state constitution that would likely require an amendment before any significant government plan could be created.

The growing momentum for “Medicare for All” could raise expectations for the next time Democrats are in full control of power in Washington, industry groups worry. They are already pressuring conservative-leaning caucuses in the House of Representatives, such as the Blue Dogs and New Democrats Coalition, to push back against insurgent progressives’ demands.

A slide from Partnership for America’s Health Care Future presentation.

Reframing the Debate

For industry opponents of expanded government health insurance, there are two main challenges. One is combatting growing public support for the idea. The other is shaping elite opinion within the Beltway.

Over the last two years, several opinion surveys show rising support for expanding Medicare. In March, the Kaiser Health Tracking Poll found that 59 percent of Americans support the idea, and by August, a poll conducted by Reuters-Ipsos found an astounding 70 percent of Americans support “Medicare for All,” including a majority of self-identified Republicans.

But the Partnership is quick to zero in on research that shows support for the idea drops precipitously when respondents are told that the plan would require ending employer-based coverage, tax increases, and increased government control.

The campaign has worked with advertising agencies to draw up a series of messages to convince select audiences. Several of the messages, categorized as “positive,” are dedicated to educating the public on more minimal reforms that do not include expanding Medicare. Other messages, categorized as “persuasion” and “aggressive,” are designed to instill fear about what could happen if “Medicare for All” passes.

In the coming weeks, the Partnership plans to ramp up a campaign designed to derail support for “Medicare for All.” The group, working with leading Democratic political consultants, will place issue advertisements to target audiences, partner with Beltway think tanks to release studies to raise concerns with the plan, and work to shape the public discourse through targeted advocacy in key congressional districts.

The Partnership has tapped consulting firms with deep ties to Democratic officials. Forbes-Tate, a lobbying firm founded by former officials in President Bill Clinton’s administration and conservative Democrats in Congress, is managing part of the Partnership coalition. Blue Engine Message & Media, a firm founded by former campaign aides to President Barack Obama, has handled the Partnership’s interactions with the media.

In one planning document circulated over the summer, the Partnership suggested a series of messages to wean Americans away from supporting single payer. The talking points emphasize that the current system provides “world-class care,” and that any move away from the Affordable Care Act would be “ripping apart our current system.”

The strategy exploits familiar themes that have long been used by business groups against new government health care programs, calling for allies to say lines such as “bureaucrats in DC have no understanding of a person’s medical situation and will be making decisions about your health care instead of doctors.”

The Partnership plans to form a speakers bureau of former Democratic elected officials who can leverage the media to make the case that expanding Medicare is bad politics and policy. The memo names former Democratic Majority Leader Tom Daschle, now a health insurance lobbyist at the law firm Baker Donelson, as one such potential surrogate.

The memo points to early success in shaping media coverage, citing several “earned media” columns such as one published in August by former Rep. Jill Long Thompson, D-Ind., which argues that Democrats should only focus on small reforms to the Affordable Care Act, and warns against wasting political capital on pursuing a “government-controlled health insurance system.” Thompson, now an associate professor at Indiana University Bloomington, did not respond to a request for comment.

Adam Gaffney, president-elect of Physicians for a National Health Program, a national coalition that advocates in favor of “Medicare for All,” said he is not surprised by the messaging.

“What we’re seeing is the wages of success: With single payer on the rise, it was only a matter of time before the insurance companies, big pharma, and other big-money groups came out swinging,” said Gaffney, who also serves as an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

“The smear of ‘socialized medicine’ has been used a thousand times and has lost its bite,” he added.

A slide from Partnership for America’s Health Care Future presentation.

Influencing the 2020 Democratic Field

“We’re all focused on 2020,” Lauren Crawford Shaver, a partner at Forbes-Tate who is helping to manage the Partnership campaign, recently told the National Association of Health Underwriters in a podcast produced by the group.

Shaver, a former top staffer for the Hillary Clinton presidential campaign, explained to the group that she is working to peel support away from the “Medicare for All” bill sponsored by Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt. The Sanders bill is currently sponsored by several rumored 2020 Democratic presidential candidates, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass.; Kamala Harris, D-Calif.; and Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y.

“The No. 1 thing we need to focus on is that there are a lot of likely candidates that currently support the Senate bill,” said Shaver. “We need to make sure we educate the public, we educate both parties, and we educate all the campaigns about both the policy and political challenges.”

Shaver encouraged health care companies concerned about the growing popularity of “Medicare for All” to mobilize opposition among clients, customers, and employees. Industry groups will likely have workers or customers residing in key districts who can be tapped to influence wavering lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

The Partnership plans to “take stories of how these proposals would directly impact your clients and the constituents of the policymakers who are voting for or against these proposals,” Shaver said.

The Partnership strategy echoes the health insurance industry’s campaign to shape the 2008 presidential primary. At that time, the health insurance lobby group known as America’s Health Insurance Plans, or AHIP, tapped the consulting firm APCO to develop an effort to label any government-run insurance option as an existential threat to Democratic political goals. The initiative emerged from a plan to minimize the impact of Michael Moore’s documentary “Sicko,” which was deeply critical of the American health care system.

The campaign involved planting studies with think tanks, mobilizing pundits on television, and sponsoring YouTube videos on “the horrors of government-run systems,” among other publicity tactics. The APCO-crafted blitz leaned on right-wing voices such as Fox News pundit John Stossel, conservative think tanks like the American Enterprise Institute, and centrist Democratic groups such as the Democratic Leadership Council, a now-defunct group associated with the Third Way. The 2008 campaign adopted a two-pronged strategy: position private health insurance as the only positive solution to America’s health care woes and “disqualify government-run health care as a politically viable solution.”

Now, the same lobby groups are involved in a similar effort. AHIP, the insurance trade group behind the 2008 plan, is also a sponsor of the Partnership’s 2020 campaign, along with the Federation of American Hospitals, Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America, the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association, the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and the American Medical Association.

Not only are the same health insurance groups financing a renewed campaign against “Medicare for All,” but many of the same players who worked to undermine the public option during the ACA debate are now fighting for influence within the party. The public option was the government-run insurance plan that advocates intended to use to compete with private insurance and bring down consumer costs. In one version of the plan, the public option would pay doctors and other providers the same reimbursement rates as Medicare.

Despite a pledge by many Democratic candidates to eschew corporate PAC donations, health care lobbyists have funneled cash to many incoming lawmakers through the New Democrats PAC, the Blue Dog PAC, and other centrist committees. Unsurprisingly, the centrist New Democrats Coalition, the caucus of business-friendly centrist Democrats, has worked to depress momentum for “Medicare for All,” reprising the role centrist Democrats played in killing the public option during the Obama administration. In 2009, then-Sen. Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., a founding member of the New Democrats caucus, threatened to join the Republican filibuster against health reform unless the public option was dropped from the bill.

Immediately following the midterm elections this month, the Washington Post published a column by Third Way warning that “Medicare for All” “failed the Hippocratic Oath” because opposition to the plan helped Republican candidates, thus causing “harm” to the long-term health interests of voters.

But advocates for “Medicare for All” are feeling optimistic.

“In terms of tactics, it sounds like they will just be updating the same lines they used in the 1990s to sideline reform efforts and in the ACA fight to keep single-payer health care off the table,” said Eagan Kemp, a health care policy advocate with Public Citizen. “The Partnership for America’s Health Care Future would be more accurately titled the ‘Partnership for Profiting Off America’s Health Care.’”

Private health care interests will certainly have much more money, media attention, and political resources with which to campaign. Advocates, however, are hoping Americans see past the public relations smokescreen and support health care as a human right.

“There is no brand loyalty to insurance companies, which are rightly seen as parasitic,” Gaffney, the PNHP leader, said.

“Once single payer is widely understood as a program that covers everyone, that doesn’t impose copays and deductibles, that has more comprehensive benefits than existing plans, and that doesn’t employ restrictive insurance ‘networks,’ support will only grow,” he added.

The post Lobbyist Documents Reveal Health Care Industry Battle Plan Against “Medicare for All” appeared first on The Intercept.

Nancy Pelosi’s Fight: How She Revived Obamacare After Democrats Left it for Dead

Barack Obama’s great strength was always his ability to shape himself into a vessel for the hopes of a wide array of different people. For Nancy Pelosi, it’s been the reverse, as she manages to become a symbol of the varying fears of the opposing factions of the Democratic Party.

For the party’s left, she’s too tied to big money and the corporate PAC model of fundraising, and embraces a “paygo” politics of austerity. For the party’s right, she’s a spend-happy, San Francisco liberal whose presence at the top puts the new majority at risk.

The legend of Pelosi has it that after raising her five children, this stay-at-home-mom decided to throw herself into politics and thus was born the first woman speaker of the House in U.S. history. The impressive feat of child-rearing is accurate, but the rest leaves a lot out. And onto that blank page, foes have been all too happy to write their own stories of Pelosi.

Pelosi’s confounding image is built on her unique political foundation. It’s true that she did not enter elected public office, in 1987, until she had finished raising her five children. But she was by no means new to politics.

Democratic Rep. Phil Burton, upon seeing the San Francisco mansion she shared with her husband, investor Paul Pelosi, noted that it would make a tremendous location for political fundraisers. Pelosi, it turned out, had a gift for just that, and her fundraising prowess would eventually turn her into a power center in California politics in her own right. In 1976, more than a decade before entering Congress, she was elected as a member of the Democratic National Committee. Over the next five years, she would become chair of the northern California Democratic Party and then the statewide Democratic Party. In 1985, she lost a bid for DNC chair.

Burton, who served in Congress for 19 years, was a transformative political figure both in California and in the education of Pelosi. Labor reporter Harold Meyerson once called him “the single most important member of the House of Representatives in the ’60s and ’70s.”

Pelosi is often lauded for her uncanny ability to count votes, something that was also said repeatedly of Burton. He was a role model for Pelosi, someone who was enthusiastic about fundraising and took politics seriously, rather than a purist who stood aloof from what many on the left saw as a corrupt endeavor. “I’m a fighting liberal,” Burton would famously say. His biographer, John Jacobs, agreed: “A ruthless and unabashed progressive, Burton terrified his opponents, ran over his friends, forged improbable coalitions, and from 1964 to 1983 became one of the most influential Representatives in the House. He also acquired more raw power than almost any left-liberal politician ever had.”

Fighting meant getting your hands dirty. Burton pioneered gerrymandering in California (“My contribution to modern art,” he called it; he even drew a district so that his brother John could have a House seat, too) and began what is now a common practice of spreading PAC money around to colleagues in tough races in order to build power within the caucus. He helped shape the House floor process so that lobbyists would have more ability to tweak individual pieces of legislation, uncorking contributions from K Street and helping to create the Washington ecosystem we know today. Burton encouraged Pelosi to run in one of the new districts he had drawn, but she demurred.

First elected in 1964, he took on the power of the Southern bulls, who had used seniority and one-party rule in the South to lock down control of key committee chairpersonships. The sooner the party could crush its Dixiecrat wing, he argued, the better. Burton organized his liberal colleagues and reformed the process for selecting chairs, replacing it with a secret vote, which was the beginning of the end of Southern dominance of the House Democratic caucus.

In 1976, he fell one vote short in a bid for majority leader.

In Pelosi, Burton had a ready student. If your knowledge of Pelosi comes from Republican attack ads, you know her as a “San Francisco liberal” or even “radical,” but she was raised in Maryland by her father Thomas D’Alesandro Jr., the boss of the Baltimore political machine, who was by turns a congressman and mayor of Charm City. D’Alesandro’s operation, like most big-city machines of the ear, was linked in public to local Mafia figures, according to his FBI file.

Burton rightly saw in Pelosi that rarest of breeds, a liberal born to fight. In Burton, Pelosi found someone who knew how to make progressive change actually happen. His list of legislative achievements was long — Supplemental Security Income, a higher minimum wage, compensation for black lung, food stamps for striking workers, the abolition of the House Un-American Affairs Committee — despite or, in part, because of his legendary ruthlessness and rage.

John Burton, Phil’s brother and himself a former congressman, said that Phil never quite mentored Pelosi. “I mean, Christ, this is a woman who was brought up in Baltimore politics. He wasn’t working with some neophyte that all of a sudden he had to explain, ‘Well, here’s how it works.’ They got along because even though she was an ‘amateur’ at that time, she was still a pro,’” Burton told the author Vincent Bzdek for the book “Woman of the House.” He acknowledged, though, that Phil helped “hone her skills.”

Pelosi said that her Baltimore education made Burton easy to handle. “Actually, my family really prepared me for Phil Burton. One of the reasons I got along with Phil is because I wasn’t afraid of him. I knew a lot of people like him,” she told Bzdek.

In April 1983, at the age of 56, he died of a heart attack; his wife Sala Burton won the special election to replace him. But four years later, she lay dying herself and made a parting death bed endorsement: “Nancy.”

The nod helped, and Pelosi won the special election in 1987 to represent the Burtons’s San Francisco district. She ran on the prophetic and on-brand slogan “a voice that will be heard,” and brought with her the conviction that effective fundraising was the key to building power and that without power, she couldn’t enact her agenda. By 2002, she’d become the first progressive in a generation elected to leadership, serving as minority whip. When Democratic leader Dick Gephardt stepped down, she became minority leader, using the position to rally her caucus against the war in Iraq.

Pelosi, who’d become the first female speaker of the House after the Democrats took the House majority back in 2006, got the opportunity to go big and fulfill a centurylong liberal dream, after Obama’s 2008 election. But it almost all fell apart.

FILE - In this March 23, 2010, file photo, President Barack Obama signs the health care bill in the East Room of the White House in Washington. Since his campaign days, President Donald Trump has addressed health care in broad, aspirational strokes. He made some clear promises along the way. Those promises come under two big headings. First, what Trump would do about the Affordable Care Act, his predecessor's health care law, often called "Obamacare." Second, the kind of health care system that Trump envisions for Americans. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite, File)

On March 23, 2010, President Barack Obama signs the health care bill in the East Room of the White House in Washington, D.C.

Photo: J. Scott Applewhite/AP

The train wreck that nearly derailed the Affordable Care Act in 2009 and 2010 was visible from miles away. Michael Capuano, a congressman from eastern Massachusetts, saw it coming.

When Massachusetts Sen. Ted Kennedy died in August 2009 of brain cancer, his passing created a vacancy that was filled by Paul Kirk, a longtime Kennedy aide appointed as a placeholder while a special election was organized. (Coincidentally, it was Kirk who had beaten Pelosi in the ’85 DNC chair race.)

On December 24, 2009, Kirk cast the 60th vote to break a filibuster and pass the Senate version of the Affordable Care Act, a slightly more corporate-friendly plan than the one that had passed the House on November 7. That bill, shepherded through by Pelosi, included a public health insurance option to compete with private plans in the marketplaces that would be created by Obamacare. It was not the more robust version of the public option that the Congressional Progressive Caucus had pushed for, but the bill was broadly considered more aggressive, and the two chambers planned to hash out their differences in a conference committee.

Two weeks earlier, Democrats had held a Senate primary contest, pitting Capuano against Attorney General Martha Coakley. Former President Bill Clinton, EMILY’s List, and other party leaders got behind Coakley. The only statewide official in the race, she easily dispatched of Capuano in the December primary. “They said that women don’t have much luck in Massachusetts politics,” she declared at her party that night. “And we believed that it was quite possible that that luck was about to change.”

Assured of victory in the coming January general election, she tried that luck and departed for a two-week vacation in the Caribbean. Yet Capuano returned to Washington shaken by what he’d seen on the campaign trail. He was invited to brief a private gathering of House Democrats in the basement of the Capitol.

He leaned into a standing microphone, looked around the room at his colleagues, and, according to one of the lawmakers present, delivered a two-word speech: “You’re screwed.”

As the gathered House Democrats gradually realized they had heard the extent of his speech, the silence was punctuated only by soft, nervous laughter. Later, Capuano elaborated on the theme: Everywhere he went in Massachusetts, he said, he met people who were absolutely livid at the anemic approach to job creation in the wake of the crisis. That rage, he warned, was going to be turned against Democrats at the polls if they didn’t deliver.

Coakley, still on the beach, saw it too late. In January 2010, Scott Brown, the butt of jokes for his nude Cosmo centerfold, delivered a stunning upset, depriving Democrats of their 60-vote supermajority.

That meant that any bill that would emerge from conference committee would need at least one Republican to support it, or Democrats would have to nuke the filibuster. Neither possibility appeared likely, and the fate of bill was suddenly in doubt.

Democrats, including Pelosi ally Rep. Barney Frank of Massachusetts, began writing its obituary. Offered Frank:

I feel strongly that the Democratic majority in congress must respect the process and make no effort to bypass the electoral results. If Martha Coakley had won, I believe we could have worked out a reasonable compromise between the House and Senate health care bills. But since Scott Brown has won and the Republicans now have 41 votes in the senate, that approach is no longer appropriate. I am hopeful that some Republican senators will be willing to discuss a revised version of health care reform. Because I do not think that the country would be well served by the health care status quo. But our respect for democratic procedures must rule out any effort to pass a health care bill as if the Massachusetts election had not happened. Going forward, I hope there will be a serious effort to change the senate rule which means that 59 are not enough to pass major legislation, but those are the rules by which the health care bill was considered, and it would be wrong to change them in the middle of this process.

“If [Coakley] loses, it’s over,” said Rep. Carolyn Maloney, D-N.Y., before the votes were tallied. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., facing his own re-election, was inclined to back burner the ACA, with New York Sen. Charles Schumer, the No. 3 Democrat in the Senate, urging him to move to a jobs bill.

But even on election night, there was at least one politician who wasn’t giving up.

“We don’t say a state that already has health care should determine whether the rest of the country should,” Pelosi said. “We will get the job done. I’m very confident. I’ve always been confident.”

The reaction from White House chief of staff Rahm Emanuel had been the opposite, and he began pushing to back off the ACA and instead do piecemeal reform focused largely on expanding care for children. The White House, Obama included, began sending mixed signals about whether it wanted to go big or small, with Obama endorsing a plan that included “the core elements” of reform.

“I would advise that we try to move quickly to coalesce around those elements of the package that people agree on,” Obama said in one interview.

Pelosi, in a conference call later that month with House leadership, dubbed Emanuel an “incrementalist” and mocked the small-ball idea as “kiddie care.”

The House would be going big, she said. To do it, the lower chamber would pass the version of the ACA that had already moved through the Senate. And the Senate would use the reconciliation process, which requires just 50 votes but is only available for legislation that impacts the budget, in order to make some changes to the original bill.

“I was a mid-level staffer on the Hill during the original ACA fight. I vividly remember the feeling on Capitol Hill the week after Scott Brown won — suddenly the wheels were coming off. People were talking about scuttling a major bill and doing something piecemeal,” recalled Ezra Levin, who would later become a co-founder of Indivisible, a progressive political organization.

He said that he and his eventual co-founder Leah Greenberg, also a Hill staffer at the time, drafted an op-ed they never published, since Pelosi’s push made the issue moot. The unpublished piece argued that “abandoning the ACA would turn off millennial idealists like us from the possibilities of politics. Why work in government, policy, and politics if the result of a generational win like 2008 resulted in barely anything at all? But Pelosi saved it. She demonstrated serious leadership at a time of real uncertainty. It was, corny as it sounds, inspirational. And tens of millions of Americans got health insurance as a result of that leadership in that moment.”

The Affordable Care Act, even the House-passed version, was a flawed piece of legislation, for a host of reasons, some that can be laid at Pelosi’s feet and some that can’t. But as an act of legislative prowess, her revival of it remains a signature accomplishment. 

Just ahead of the final vote, Pelosi sat down with progressive reporters and bloggers for a last pre-passage interview. She relished her victory over Emanuel and the incrementalists. “My biggest fight was against those who want to do something incremental versus those who want to do something comprehensive. We have won that,” she said proudly.

“In our midst, there’s the small-bill crowd — here,” she said, referring to the Capitol, then added, gesturing out the window behind her, where Pennsylvania Avenue stretched to the White House, “and there.”

Effective machine politics are built on rewarding loyalty, punishing betrayal, and a long memory. The tactics translate as well to the House of Representatives as they do anywhere. “No one’s a better vote-counter than Nancy D’Alesandro Pelosi,” quipped Rep. Hakeem Jeffries, D-N.Y., on Friday.

She coupled that understanding of machine politics with the fundraising skills she honed in California, and the eye-popping sum of more than $100 million that she raised for the 2018 cycle helped propel Democrats into the majority.

But her focus on big money contained the seeds of her own political growth away from the left — or, put another way, as the left has developed a sophisticated critique of money and politics and set about building an alternative small-dollar funding infrastructure, Pelosi has stayed moored to big money, the way she knows best.

The extra dose of irony is that she has always used her legislative skill to push hard on campaign finance reforms. If she becomes speaker, HR1 will be a sweeping set of reforms that includes matching federal funds for small contributions, legislation that, if it someday becomes law, could radically reshape the political landscape.

Yet headed into 2019, she has already begun handcuffing a populist agenda and has proposed a rule — called paygo — that any new spending would need to be offset by tax hikes or spending cuts elsewhere. And she has put forward another rule that would require a three-fifths vote for any legislation that increased taxes on the bottom 80 percent of earners, a proposal that would rule out a wide swath of policies aimed at reducing inequality.

Meanwhile, she has taken to ridiculing the push to abolish Immigration and Customs Enforcement and is far from an ally in the fight for “Medicare for All,” urging Democrats instead to focus on reducing drug prices or making health care more affordable, the kind of incremental politics she rightly belittled in 2010.

Yet as she is rocked by a rebellion from her right, she has moved closer to the Congressional Progressive Caucus, which she co-founded with Sen. Bernie Sanders back in 1991. Last week, she cut a deal with the leaders of the caucus that will give progressives proportional representation on so-called money committees — prime slots that have long been reserved for moderate, business-friendly Democrats who use their position on the panel to raise money from the industries under its jurisdiction. Agreeing to such a move was a break from her general mode of operating, which warns that such unilateral disarmament in the fundraising game only plays into Republican hands.

Placing vulnerable moderates in such plum spots, to help them fill their war chests, is a move that Burton would have appreciated. Yet stacking those committees with progressives who will write tougher legislation would likely have made him smile, too. With Pelosi, as it was with Burton, it’s complicated. But this liberal isn’t going down without a fight.

Reporting for this story will be included in a forthcoming book, “We’ve Got People: Resistance and Rebellion, from Jim Crow to Donald Trump.” Sign up here to get an email when it’s published.

The post Nancy Pelosi’s Fight: How She Revived Obamacare After Democrats Left it for Dead appeared first on The Intercept.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Can’t Run for President in 2020. Trump Should Be Relieved.

New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez participates in a a town hall held in support of Kerri Evelyn Harris, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware, Friday, Aug. 31, 2018, at the University of Delaware in Newark, Del. (AP Photo/Patrick Semansky)

Then-New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez participates in a a town hall held in support of Kerri Evelyn Harris, Democratic candidate for U.S. Senate in Delaware, on Aug. 31, 2018, in Newark, Del.

Photo: Patrick Semansky/AP

The midterms are over and the race for 2020 is in full swing.

There’s one name missing from the long lists of runners and riders on the Democratic side: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

There are a number of reasons for this, perhaps the most obvious being that Ocasio-Cortez is 29 years old. That means the new member of the House from New York’s 14th Congressional District is constitutionally barred from running for the office of president until 2024. Article II, Section 1 of the U.S. Constitution says:

No person except a natural born Citizen, or a Citizen of the United States, at the time of the Adoption of this Constitution, shall be eligible to the Office of President; neither shall any person be eligible to that Office who shall not have attained to the Age of thirty five Years, and been fourteen Years a Resident within the United States.

But the U.S. Constitution, an impressive and inspiring document in many ways, is far from perfect. Think slavery. Or guns. Or the electoral college.

The age requirement for the presidency is another such oddity. There is no rhyme or reason to it. In order to be president, says the Constitution, you have to be 35; but to be a senator you only have to be 30, and to be a member of the House you can be as young as 25. The Supreme Court, meanwhile, has no age minimums or maximums.

“At the Constitutional Convention in Philadelphia, there was little public debate about the age requirements and no discussion about the age requirement for the presidency,” noted the National Constitution Center’s Scott Bomboy in 2016.

Bomboy, though, cites Founding Father George Mason defending the requirement of an age minimum of 25 for the House because, he said, “his political opinions at the age of 21 were too crude and erroneous to merit an influence on public measures.” And Bomboy quotes Constitutional Congress member Tench Coxe later defending the 35-year-old age minimum on the grounds that the president “cannot be an idiot.” In a similar vein, early Supreme Court Justice Joseph Story argued that the “character and talent” of a middle-aged person are “fully developed,” and such persons are more likely to have experienced “public service” and to have served “in the public councils.”

Fast forward to 2018: Do any of these arguments still hold water in an age of Donald Trump? Is the current president, elected in November 2016, at age 70, not an “idiot”? Did his seven decades on the planet give him any experience whatsoever with “public office” or “public councils”? Are we expected to believe his opinions now are any less “crude or erroneous” than Mason’s were at 21?

The presidential age requirement of 35 is ridiculous and arbitrary. “Ironically, 12 of the delegates at the Constitution Convention were under the age of 35, including Alexander Hamilton,” observed Bomboy, while Thomas Jefferson was “33 years of age when he drafted the Declaration of Independence in 1776.”

But back to Ocasio-Cortez. Am I wrong to suggest that, pesky constitutional obstacles aside, she might make a strong contender for the 2020 Democratic presidential nomination? Is it a completely crazy idea?

Perhaps it is. She has yet to prove herself as a legislator, let alone as a leader. She has shown astonishing potential, yes, but does not yet have a demonstrable track record of delivery or success. She may even make some glaring errors of judgement in Congress during the coming months and years.

But is it that crazy? The undeniable fact is that Ocasio-Cortez has been the rock star of the political left since she pulled off her shock defeat of 10-term incumbent Joseph Crowley in the Democratic primary in June. Her name recognition has since gone through the roof. This past week, she took the nation’s capital by storm, joining a protest on climate change inside the office of (soon-to-be-speaker?) Nancy Pelosi, rallying support for a “Green New Deal” select committee, and pledging support for primary challenges against incumbent Democrats. The New York Times referred to her “noisy Washington debut” and her “uncanny knack for grabbing the spotlight.”

She has also put the fear of God into conservative media. They have obsessed over her clothes, her housing, her policy positions, and the occasional gaffe. And the result? “Conservative obsession with attacking Ocasio-Cortez is keeping her in the news 24/7 and only making her stronger,” my colleague Murtaza Hussain observed on Twitter, only half in jest. “They’re going to make the [same] mistake as the libs did with Trump and end up making her president.”

Remember: Politicians, and the pundits who cover politicians, want to pretend there is some sort of scientific method or formula for dispassionately determining which candidates are best-placed to run for the White House every four years. But there is no science and no formula. Sometimes it’s just sheer luck: being in the right place at the right time. For example, Barack Obama might not have made it to the White House in 2008 had he not been plucked from semi-obscurity by John Kerry four years earlier to give the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention — where he then delivered a barnstormer of a speech.

On November 3, 2004, the morning after his election to the U.S. Senate, as his biographer David Remnick recalls in “The Bridge,” Obama “woke to answer questions about his prospects for running for President of the United States.” But ask yourself this: At that particular moment in time, what were the 43-year-old’s qualifications for the highest office in the land? Seven years as a member of the Illinois state Senate? A single speech?

Experience is important — but it does seem to be selectively deployed as a critique of certain candidates over others. Plenty of governors and mayors planning on throwing their hats in the 2020 ring have far more legislative or executive experience than Ocasio-Cortez, but have little or no experience with foreign policy or national security. Experience also matters much less than it once did. Whisper it quietly, but the current occupant of the White House ran for, and won, the presidency despite having zero experience with elected office, public service, or international affairs. The 45th president of the United States is a former reality TV star and property developer who struggled to tell the difference between the the Kurds and the Quds force. Even today, White House staff continue to treat Trump like the petulant man-child that he is.

So why not an Ocasio-Cortez presidential bid? In 2024 maybe, given that 2020 is (constitutionally) off the table? We know she wants the job. “Her aspiration is to be the president,” her mother, Blanca, told the New York Post.

But she’d still be so young! Conservative Sebastian Kurz was elected chancellor of Austria in 2017, at age 31. Liberal Jacinda Ardern was elected prime minister of New Zealand in 2017, at age 37. Both countries were included in a recent list of the “17 best-governed countries in the world.” The United States didn’t make the list. 

But she’s a socialist! Bernie Sanders is a socialist, and he won 23 contests and 13 million votes during the 2016 Democratic presidential primaries. On the eve of the presidential election, a private poll suggested that Sanders would have beaten Trump by a margin of 12 percentage points.

But she’ll get attacked! Have you seen how she handles her conservative critics online? She has dunked on Ben Shapiro, fact-checked John Cardillo, shamed Ron DeSantis, and mocked Sean Hannity in a series of viral tweets. She has “the best comebacks on Twitter,” as one headline put it. The advantage that Ocasio-Cortez has over her fellow under-fire Democrats is that she looks and sounds like a very normal person and comes across as both relatable and genuine. She is as comfortable discussing mac-and-cheese as she is discussing “Medicare for All.”

I have been a journalist for nearly 20 years and a political commentator for nearly 10. I have covered national politics on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. I can safely say that, with the exception perhaps of Barack Obama, I have never before seen a politician come out of nowhere to energize, enthuse, and inspire millions of people in such a phenomenally short space of time in the way that Ocasio-Cortez has over the past few months. And unlike Obama, Ocasio-Cortez has done so while challenging conventional wisdoms and going on the offensive against a lazy neoliberal consensus. She hasn’t pulled any punches.

Imagine if she could run against Trump in 2020. Just imagine the contrast: the young, working-class woman of color, eloquent and dynamic, self-made and self-confident; versus the elderly white property mogul, born with a silver shovel in his mouth, consumed by petty grievances, and unable to string together coherent sentences, let alone policies.

Above all else, imagine the media coverage. “I’m going to suck all the oxygen out of the room,” Trump told a group of political consultants back in 2013. “I know how to work the media in a way that they will never take the lights off of me.”

That’s exactly what he did against the wonkish and lackluster Hillary Clinton in 2016. And he might do it again in 2020, against a Joe Biden or an Amy Klobuchar. Ocasio-Cortez, however, has proved that she could be a match for Trump in the oxygen-sucking department.

In a recent and fascinating thread on Twitter, Clinton’s former press secretary Brian Fallon summed up the myriad challenges for Trump’s 2020 Democratic opponent while offering some unexpected advice for his party:




Guess which Democrat matches that description better than any other?

Alexandria. Ocasio. Cortez.

Damn you, Article II, Section 1 of the Constitution.

The post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Can’t Run for President in 2020. Trump Should Be Relieved. appeared first on The Intercept.

In ‘Digital India,’ Government Hands Out Free Phones To Win Votes

Forget the old American campaign slogan of a chicken in every pot, or the Indian politician's common pledge to put rice in every bowl. The New York Times reports: Here in the state of Chhattisgarh, the chief minister, Raman Singh, has promised a smartphone in every home -- and he is using the government-issued devices to reach voters as he campaigns in legislative elections that conclude on Tuesday. [...] The phones are the latest twist in digital campaigning by the B.J.P., which controls the national and state government and is deft at using tools like WhatsApp groups and Facebook posts to influence voters. The B.J.P. government in Rajasthan, which holds state elections next month, is also subsidizing phones and data plans for residents, and party leaders are considering extending the model to other states. Chhattisgarh's $71 million free-phone program -- known by the acronym SKY after its name in Hindi -- is supposed to bridge the digital divide in this state of 26 million people, which is covered by large patches of forest and counts 7,000 villages that do not even have a wireless data signal. The plan is to add hundreds of cellphone towers and give a basic smartphone to every college student and one woman in every household to connect more families to the internet and help fulfill the central government's goal of a "Digital India." But this election season, many of the 2.9 million people who have received the phones have found themselves targeted by the B.J.P.

Read more of this story at Slashdot.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib Aren’t Finished Challenging Incumbent Democrats Who Come up Short

Now that Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is transitioning from insurgent candidate to incumbent member of Congress, a major question on the minds of her soon-to-be-colleagues has been whether she will continue the practice of endorsing primary challenges to sitting members of Congress, or whether she will work to ingratiate herself with the institution she’ll be joining.

That question was given a resounding answer on Saturday evening, as she gathered on a strategy call with volunteers from the group Justice Democrats, which played a key role in the elections of Ocasio-Cortez, Rashida Tlaib, and other representatives elect.

Earlier in the week, Justice Democrats helped organize the sit-in at House Leader Nancy Pelosi’s office that Ocasio-Cortez joined.

On the Saturday video call, Ocasio-Cortez announced to supporters that she and Justice Democrats would continue challenging incumbents in blue districts where the sitting member isn’t representative enough of the district, whether ideologically or demographically. And for that, Ocasio-Cortez said, she wants help recruiting candidates. “All I’m asking you to do is throw your hat in the ring, say what the heck,” she said.

Tlaib didn’t join the call, but she released a statement that accompanied the announcement. “Powerful women coming together to reclaim our government is exactly what is needed right now,” she said. “Help uplift women like us at all levels of government. We still need more of you to run with us. So get your squad together. We are waiting for you.”

By winning a Detroit-area seat long held by former Rep. John Conyers, Tlaib fended off a divided local political establishment. She addressed protesters on Tuesday before they marched on Pelosi’s office, where Ocasio Cortez later met them. Ocasio-Cortez upset Rep. Joe Crowley, the boss of the Queens political machine.

The pledge from Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez to continue to primary incumbents injects a new element of politics into intra-caucus maneuvering. The pair are rallying support for a Green New Deal, and are likely to find an increasing number of converts eager to sign aboard in the next few weeks. Meanwhile, only a handful of incumbents refuse to take corporate PAC money, a number that is also likely to rise, given the pressure of a potential primary.

“All Americans know money in politics is a huge problem, but unfortunately the way that we fix it is by demanding that our incumbents give it up or by running fierce campaigns ourselves,” Ocasio-Cortez said.

Outgoing Rep. Michael Capuano, a strong progressive from Massachusetts, was felled in a primary this year in which his acceptance of corporate money was a major campaign issue. He was beaten by city councilor Ayanna Pressley, who had the backing of Ocasio-Cortez and Justice Democrats.

“We recruited and supported Ocasio-Cortez all the way to a historic victory and now we’re going to repeat the playbook,” said Justice Democrats Executive Director Alexandra Rojas. “There’s lots of blue districts in this country where communities want to support a new generation of diverse working-class leaders who fight tirelessly for their voters and build a movement around big solutions to our country’s biggest problems. We’re creating an alternative pathway to Congress for grassroots candidates to become leaders in the Democratic Party.”

In a span of two years, Justice Democrats ran candidates in 78 primaries, went on to compete in 26 general elections, and elected a total of seven Justice Democrats, in the process winning 3.7 million votes, according to the group’s calculations.

Though critics have pointed out that most of the organization’s candidates ended up losing their races, Ocasio-Cortez said Justice Democrats candidates, along with those backed by Our Revolution and other groups, “built so much progressive power in their districts that they really brought their districts to the cusp for 2020” regardless of the outcome. She cited the impact of J.D. Scholten’s narrow loss to white nationalist Rep. Steve King in Iowa, and Liuba Grechen Shirley’s challenge to Long Island’s Republican Rep. Pete King. Shirley was the first candidate to get federal approval to use campaign funds for child care, though she ultimately lost to King, who had the strong backing of Michael Bloomberg.

On the call, Ocasio-Cortez also talked about the harsh criticism she got from liberals for joining young environmental activists at the protest at Pelosi’s office.

“If I made people mad, they could have put me on the dog walking committee. They still might,” she joked.

Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book, “We’ve Got People: Resistance and Rebellion, from Jim Crow to Donald Trump.” Sign up here to get an email when it’s published.


The post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib Aren’t Finished Challenging Incumbent Democrats Who Come up Short appeared first on The Intercept.

Calling Out Racist Voters Is Satisfying. But It Comes at a Political Cost.

The silhouettes of attendees are seen during an election night party for 2016 Republican Presidential Nominee Donald Trump at the Hilton Midtown hotel in New York, U.S., on Tuesday, Nov. 8, 2016. Fifty-one percent of voters nationally were bothered a lot by Trump's treatment of women, while Democrat Hillary Clinton's use of private e-mail while secretary of state was troubling to 44 percent, according to preliminary exit polling as voting neared a close in some states. Photographer: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg via Getty Images

The silhouettes of attendees are seen during an election night party for 2016 Republican presidential nominee Donald Trump at the Hilton Midtown hotel in N.Y., on Nov. 8, 2016.

Photo: Andrew Harrer/Bloomberg/Getty Images

Google “is Trump racist?” and you’ll find that just within the last week, at least three major news outlets have taken on that very question.

At the Chicago Tribune, columnist Clarence Page asked, “Is President Trump a racist — or does he just act like one?” At CNN, Mallory Simon and Sara Sidner offer that “Trump says he’s not a racist,” but “[t]hat’s not how white nationalists see it.” And at New York magazine, the headline doesn’t hide the ball, declaring: “The Republican Denial of Trump’s Racism Is Absurd.”

I tend to agree. Over the past year, a consensus seems to have finally formed — at least among the broad political left — that President Donald Trump is, in fact, racist. Liberals have largely backed away from euphemisms like “racially charged” and “racialized” and just started speaking plainly. “Just Say It,” read a headline last January in the New York Times. “Trump Is a Racist.”

But the question of how politicians should characterize Trump supporters is a different matter altogether. Some Trump voters are certainly racist. But is it worth the strategic risk for politicians to call them out?

Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., found himself in hot water last week when, in a clumsy quote to the Daily Beast, he said that voters who rejected black candidates because they are black might not be racist.

Sanders’s full remarks, cut from the Daily Beast article but released later in an audio clip, included a strong condemnation of racism. When asked to comment on the “race-oriented” nature of the gubernatorial campaigns waged by Brian Kemp of Georgia and Ron DeSantis of Florida against African-American candidates Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum, respectively, Sanders corrected the reporter, saying, “Why don’t we use the right word — not use the phrase ‘race-oriented.’ Why don’t we say ‘racist,’ how’s that?” Sanders went on to describe Gillum as having had to take on some of the most “blatant and ugly racism that we have seen in many, many years.”

But when discussing whether voters themselves, rather than the candidates, might have acted out of racism, Sanders seemed to equivocate. “There are a lot of white folks out there who are not necessarily racist, who felt uncomfortable for the first time in their life about, you know, whether or not they wanted to vote for an African-American,” he said.

Of course, as many have pointed out, Sanders’s comment didn’t make much sense. Declining to vote for a candidate because of their race is, by definition, racist, and Sanders should have known better than to suggest otherwise.

But much of the criticism that followed focused on Sanders’s perceived tendency to “downplay” racism — a claim that isn’t supported by the interview transcript or his subsequent statement, in which he said, “Let me be absolutely clear: Donald Trump, Brian Kemp, and Ron DeSantis ran racist campaigns. … They used racist rhetoric to divide people and advance agendas that would harm the majority of Americans.” On NPR later that day, he explained that “there’s no question that in Georgia and in Florida, racism has reared its ugly head, and you have candidates who ran against Gillum and ran against Stacey Abrams who were racist and were doing everything they could to try to play whites against blacks.” He’s been similarly blunt before, as in an August MSNBC appearance, when he said, “I think we have to do a heck of a lot better getting through to some of those people. I am not going to deny for a second that some of those supporters are racists, sexists, homophobes, xenophobes. That’s true.” But, he said, “I don’t believe that’s a majority.”

In response, some critics still observed that “in neither statement did Sanders indict voters for backing racists candidates.” To them, it wasn’t enough for Sanders to call out racism or racist politicians. The litmus test seemed to be whether he would call voters racist. And that reopened a debate, familiar from when Hillary Clinton labeled Trump voters “deplorables,” about how politicians ought to address racist voters. Should they call out racists, or should politicians avoid that confrontation in hopes of building a broad coalition that can better attack racist policies and systems?

US Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama (L) and Republican John McCain shake hands at the end of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, New York, on October 15, 2008.         AFP PHOTO/Emmanuel Dunand (Photo credit should read EMMANUEL DUNAND/AFP/Getty Images)

U.S. Democratic presidential candidate Barack Obama and Republican John McCain shake hands at the end of the final presidential debate at Hofstra University in Hempstead, N.Y., on Oct. 15, 2008.

Photo: Emmanuel Dunand/AFP/Getty Images

A politician must be persuasive. She must be many things for many people. She must represent the masses, and appeal to thousands, if not millions.

Consequently, setting aside extreme examples like white supremacists, terrorists, or abusers, politicians often take “the customer is always right” approach when it comes to voters. They might be cajoled, but they’re rarely criticized.

Instances in which politicians publicly contradict average voters are so rare and unexpected that they become iconic, as when late Sen. John McCain clumsily corrected a supporter who claimed that then-Sen. Barack Obama was “an Arab,” and thus couldn’t be trusted; or when Texas congressional candidate Beto O’Rourke voiced support for Colin Kaepernick in response to a constituent who found the football player’s protests “disrespectful.”

It takes courage to contradict a constituent when one’s career depends on votes, and moments of political and personal integrity are rightly celebrated. But even in these instances, O’Rourke and McCain understood that voters needed to be treated, well, politically.

McCain didn’t call the woman who objected to Obama on the (mistaken) basis of his identity a racist — even though choosing to reject a candidate on racial grounds undoubtedly is. And O’Rourke didn’t argue that antipathy for the NFL Black Lives Matter protests is rooted in anti-blackness, though he’d be justified in doing so. Instead, both men responded with strategic grace. Notably, O’Rourke set the stage for productive communication by first offering that “reasonable people can disagree on this issue,” and establishing that it makes people “no less American to come down on a different conclusion on this issue.”

Whether or not you agree that reasonable minds can differ on the issue of police violence, it’s hard to argue that O’Rourke’s soft touch didn’t help his argument. His approach — which some might call “good politics” — acknowledges what Zak Cheney-Rice, writing about Sanders in New York magazine, noted when he said that “calling racist white people ‘racist’ is probably a good way to ensure they do not vote for you.” At 72 percent of the country, white Americans are still a necessary part of any political coalition, and the geographic distribution of ethnic groups combined with our electoral college system means white votes are weighted more heavily than others.

Clinton felt the consequences of labeling voters racist when her “deplorables” gaffe became one of the more notable controversies of her 2016 presidential campaign. And Gillum seemed to appreciate the danger of calling his Republican opponent racist outright, saying instead, “I’m not calling Mr. DeSantis a racist. I’m simply saying the racists believe he’s a racist.” (Even that deft sidestep might have hurt Gillum, who lost the election.)

Obama — who negotiated the third rail that is American racial politics more successfully than perhaps any other politician — declined to directly confront racists. During his famous “race speech” in 2008, he went out of his way to emphasize that although his own white grandmother exhibited prejudice, she sacrificed for him and loved him “as much as she loves anything in this world” — a framing choice that seemed to recognize that he would get further by lighting a path for those with bigoted beliefs to join the fold than by shaming them. He didn’t win by calling out racist voters, but by suggesting that they could be “more perfect.”

Like it or not, the opinions of white voters matter, and politicians have to balance the validation that marginalized communities deserve against the anxieties of white voters. As Cheney-Rice noted, it’s frustrating that white voters’ sensitivity about being called racist often becomes a more central part of the national conversation than the actual consequences of experiencing racism.

The consequences of not considering white voters in one’s political messaging strategy are more than just frustrating.

But the consequences of not considering white voters in one’s political messaging strategy are more than just frustrating. To millions of black and brown people, LGBTQ Americans, women, immigrants, and differently abled people, they are existential. In just the last two years, voting protections have been bulldozed, transgender rights stripped, and the deficit exploded on a tax giveaway to the rich — and that’s just the tip of the iceberg. If Democrats can’t win in 2020, things will only get worse.

Cheney-Rice worries that an “unwillingness to alienate racist voters inevitably leads to coddling racist voters” — an understandable and common concern. But I’d argue that there’s nothing inevitable about it. To the extent that politicians have put the interests of white voters before others, it’s been a choice, and not something intrinsic to multiracial coalition building.

Too often, politicians, including Democrats, have exploited racial bias to gain power in this majority-white but ethnically diverse country. The third-way strategy perfected by Bill Clinton relied on right-wing racism to keep nonwhites in line with the Democratic Party while he pivoted hard to the center — branding himself as a welfare-slashing, tough-on-crime candidate who was so invested in capturing the “law and order” vote that he paused his first presidential campaign to personally oversee the execution of a functionally lobotomized black man.

Unlike many Republicans and some moderate Democrats, many progressive candidates today seek to erect a big tent by offering broad-based, universal policies — not by weaponizing identity politics. Despite rejecting white majoritarianism and relying instead on cross-racial, class-based solidarity, they’re often met with understandable, if undeserved, skepticism. Words like “pandering,” “courting,” and “coddling” — as well as newer slang, like “caping for whites” — are frequently bandied about when the political motives of white voters are interrogated beyond the question of racism.

But not all politicking is pandering, and it’s incumbent on journalists to be observant about the difference: Are racist sentiments or group stereotypes being exploited, or are the interests of various groups being authentically met? If we treat genuine, if messy, efforts at communication and cynical identity politicking the same way, we run the real risk of derailing efforts to deliver maximum benefits to the most vulnerable among us. And the vulnerable simply can’t afford it.

A member of the audience wears a shirt that reads "Proud to Be A Trump Deplorable" as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at Southern Illinois Airport in Murphysboro, Ill., Saturday, Oct. 27, 2018. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

A member of the audience wears a shirt that reads “Proud to Be a Trump Deplorable” as President Donald Trump speaks at a rally at in Murphysboro, Ill., on Oct. 27, 2018.

Photo: Andrew Harnik/AP

Clinton’s defenders often point out that her “deplorables” speech was accurate: that anyone who would endorse the racism, sexism, xenophobia, and Islamophobia coming out of the Trump administration is deplorable.

Some Trump voters are undoubtedly racist. But racism is a popular and bipartisan endeavor. A much touted Reuters/Ipsos poll from 2016 showed that over 30 percent of Trump voters think blacks are less “intelligent” than whites, while 40 percent think we’re “lazy.” But the fact that 20 percent of Clinton voters agree went underreported. That number is especially troubling when you consider that without the 22 percent of Clinton voters who are black, there might not be much daylight between white voters regardless of where they fall on the political spectrum.

The prevalence of racism means that most accusations of racism are accurate — if only by broad definitions that include implicit bias, or structural systems in which most Americans are complicit. But as common as it is, few people see themselves as racist, and that fact neuters the efficacy of accusations of racism. The accused often react defensively and become even more resistant to change. “Telling people they’re racist, sexist, and xenophobic is going to get you exactly nowhere,” says Alana Conner, executive director of Stanford University’s Social Psychological Answers to Real-world Questions Center. “It’s such a threatening message. One of the things we know from social psychology is when people feel threatened, they can’t change, they can’t listen.” As I’ve argued before, shaming, though cathartic, just doesn’t work.

This gulf between what racism is and what the average American understands racism to be is at the root of this racial double bind. Whether to call out voters isn’t always a question of political temerity. It can be a matter of political strategy.

Whether to call out voters isn’t always a question of political temerity. It can be a matter of political strategy.

The difference between Sanders and some other Democratic politicians (and liberal voters) is not a reluctance to call out racism. It’s that he’s not willing to write off people who hold bigoted beliefs as beyond political reach — perhaps understanding that racism is a pathology avoided by few. It’s the difference between seeing racism as something mutable and susceptible to the influence of persuasion (e.g., politics), or something intrinsic, static, and essentially corrupting.

I’ve always thought the more problematic part of Clinton’s statement was her deployment of the word “irredeemable.” Irredeemable voters don’t just hold abhorrent views. They’re permanently, essentially toxic. By calling half of Trump voters — millions of Americans — “deplorables,” she transmuted an adjective into a noun, and morphed bad actions and beliefs into untouchable people. One’s personal antipathy for racism shouldn’t preclude understanding that a president, responsible for all who live within her nation’s borders, shouldn’t consider any constituents beyond saving.

On some level, liberals seem to agree that racism is mutable. Despite somewhat deterministic historical accounts which have become popular in recent years, they celebrate the fact that higher education is correlated with liberal political views — as is living in racially mixed urban areas. But although they acknowledge that exposure to diversity is a balm for bigotry, many still scoff at middle-American conservatism as though their politics wouldn’t likely be different if they’d been born in Boise, Idaho.

Sanders takes the more humanistic approach. He has been rebuked repeatedly for believing that some Trump voters could be flipped, and for declining to write off all of them as “irredeemable.” He has been criticized for carving out space for their rehabilitation and reintegration into the Democratic party — even while he’s clear that not all can be convinced. For over two years now he has traveled the country — visiting parts of America long abandoned by the Democratic Party — red states full of black voters and white states that used to go blue — selling America on progressive policies that have consequently become mainstream. But few who criticize him pause to reflect on the relationship between Sanders’s inclusive, nonjudgmental approach and the increasing currency of his ideas.

In his statement following the Daily Beast article, Sanders threaded this needle well. He seemed to draw on a Demos report from earlier this year, which shows that so-called persuadable voters — those that fall in the middle of the political spectrum — are most receptive to political messaging that condemns the 1 percent for exploiting racial division. By appealing to voters’ belief that they aren’t racist, that they are better than divisive rhetoric, those voters are offered an opportunity to position themselves on the side of anti-racism, and against the more powerful enemy: corporate oligarchs. “It’s not just that politicians divide us based on what we look like, but that they do it to rewrite the rules to line their pockets,” was one message that tested well, according to the Demos study. “It’s not just that they generate fear based on race, but that they do it to benefit the wealthy few at our expense,” was another. Or, as Sanders put it in his response last Thursday, “They used racist rhetoric to divide people and advance agendas that would harm the majority of Americans.”

So is the answer ignoring individual racism? Not at all. I only question the utility of calling voters racists — not policies, or politicians, or other public figures. Nor am I suggesting that politicians should stay silent on biased remarks or behaviors — no matter who voices them. But pointing out acts, beliefs, or systems as racist is different, and more effective, than focusing on individuals, who are likely to become defensive and resistant to change. It’s not that politicians should do anything to win, but they shouldn’t tether themselves to a strategy that neither lessens racism nor helps them access the political power necessary to better people’s lives.

If the Democrats want any chance of winning in 2020, they should reconsider whether they want to force their most compelling and progressive politicians into an unwinnable double bind.

The post Calling Out Racist Voters Is Satisfying. But It Comes at a Political Cost. appeared first on The Intercept.

What Republican Senators Said About Impeaching Bill Clinton vs. Donald Trump

President Donald Trump says special counsel Robert Mueller is engaged in a “total witch hunt.” Top Republican senators, including Mitch McConnell and Lindsey Graham, seem to agree with him. In recent months, they have defended Trump from accusations of obstruction of justice and other crimes; dismissed the prospect of impeachment; and demanded Mueller bring his investigation to a close.

But guess what? Those very same Republican senators were obsessed with obstruction of justice and defending the special counsel back in the late 1990s. That, of course, was when the president’s name was William Jefferson Clinton, not Donald John Trump.

In this video, I compare and contrast the way in which those Republican senators approached Clinton’s impeachment crisis with how they are now treating Trump and the Russia investigation.

The post What Republican Senators Said About Impeaching Bill Clinton vs. Donald Trump appeared first on The Intercept.

Japanese government’s cybersecurity strategy chief has never used a computer

The Japanese government’s cybersecurity strategy chief Yoshitaka Sakurada is in the middle of a heated debate due to his admission about his cyber capability.

Yoshitaka Sakurada admitting he has never used a computer in his professional life, despite the Japanese Government, assigned to the politician the responsibility for cybersecurity of the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.

Sakurada was only appointed as cyber minister in October after Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was re-elected as head of the Liberal Democratic Party.

When the independent lawmaker Masato Imai in a lower house session questioned Sakurada about its cyber capabilities, the Japanese politician confirmed that he never user a computer since he was 25 years old.

“Since I was 25 years old and independent I have instructed my staff and secretaries. I have never used a computer.”  said Yoshitaka Sakurada.

Of course, the response shocked the audience, including Imai.

“I find it unbelievable that someone who is responsible for cybersecurity measures has never used a computer.” said Imai.

“It’s a matter that should be dealt with by the government as a whole. I am confident that I am not at fault.” replied Sakurada. 

This isn’t the first time Sakurada was in the middle of a controversy, in 2016 he was admonished for saying that women forced into wartime Japanese military brothels were “prostitutes by occupation.”

At the time, South Korean Government rebuked the Japanese Government and Sakurada was obliged to retract the remarks. Into wartime, many Koreans women were forced into sexual slavery by Japan’s Imperial Army.

Pierluigi Paganini

(Security Affairs – Japanese cybersecurity strategy chief, politics)

The post Japanese government’s cybersecurity strategy chief has never used a computer appeared first on Security Affairs.

Oops: House Democrats Mistakenly Cast Votes Blocking Resolution on Ending Yemen War

In a political maneuver that was equal parts bizarre and grimly predictable, Republican leaders on Capitol Hill moved yet again on Wednesday to block a vote to wind down U.S. military support for the war in Yemen, this time by tucking a parliamentary procedure into a rule governing legislation that removes gray wolves from the endangered species list.

The measure narrowly passed with a 201-187 vote, preventing any action on the war in Yemen this legislative session.

What’s more, several of the co-sponsors of the Yemen resolution to end the war either voted to advance the wolf bill or abstained from the vote entirely, meaning that they played a part in preventing their own bill from reaching the House floor.

Adding to the confusion, two of the six House Democrats who joined Republicans in beating back the Yemen bill have told The Intercept that they cast their votes in error.

“Mr. Vela’s vote was actually mistake – we are in the process of changing it,” wrote Mickeala Carter, a spokesperson for Rep. Filemon Vela, D-Texas, who voted for the rule that prevented the Yemen vote.

Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-Calif., is a co-sponsor of the Yemen legislation, which invokes the 1973 War Powers Act to compel the Trump administration to remove U.S. forces from “hostilities” related to the Saudi Arabia-led intervention. Eshoo voted for the measure blocking her own resolution from reaching the floor, a move that puzzled human rights advocates.

“She is a cosponsor of the Resolution and made a mistake on the vote,” wrote Emma Crisci, a spokesperson for Eshoo’s office, in an email to The Intercept. “The Congresswoman is submitting a statement for the Congressional Record saying that she made a mistake in voting and meant to vote NO on the rule.”

Four other House Democrats — Reps. Gene Green and Vicente González of Texas, Collin Peterson of Minnesota, and Jim Costa of California — also voted for the rule to prevent the Yemen bill from reaching the floor, and did not respond to a request for comment.

Rep. Ken Buck, R-Colo., signed on as a co-sponsor of the legislation to wind down the war in Yemen in October. Buck was selected by GOP leadership this cycle to serve on the House Rules Committee, a powerful post that determines the fate of legislation. Curiously, Buck abstained from the House Rules Committee vote on the rule undercutting his own bill when leadership moved to combine the provision curbing the Yemen vote with the wolf legislation, and then voted in favor of the rule when it reached the floor on Wednesday. Buck also did not respond to a request for comment.

Congress never authorized U.S. support for the war in Yemen, but the American military provides backing for the bloody conflict, which has taken more than 10,000 lives and threatens more than 14 million people with imminent famine.

As the crisis worsens, human rights activists continue to urge an end to the war.

Last week, the U.S. military said it would discontinue refueling coalition warplanes bombing Yemen. But the United States continues to play a pivotal role in the war, providing U.S.-manufactured arms and logistical support to UAE and Saudi forces occupying Yemen and blockading the country’s ports.

David Segal, a co-founder of the activist group Demand Progress, said that Eshoo’s “mistaken vote was unfortunate,” but that she “should be applauded for co-sponsorship of the underlying resolution, and she will hopefully have the opportunity to vote to end our involvement in the war on Yemen through another War Powers Resolution in coming months.”

Segal, however, noted that several of the Democrats voting with the Republican majority to kill the Yemen bill this session have long supported the conflict. Green, for example, voted in 2016 to support the transfer of cluster bombs to Saudi Arabia, and has been “more complicit than the average Democrat in the decimation of Yemen,” Segal said.

Segal has long advocated on the issue. He previously served in the Rhode Island state legislature, where he pressed Textron, the defense contractor that once manufactured cluster munitions, on ending the development of the weapon.

Still, when the new class of House Democrats elected in the midterms this year takes office in January, the lead sponsors of the Yemen resolution plan to reintroduce the bill, which now has the support of much of House Democratic leadership.

The post Oops: House Democrats Mistakenly Cast Votes Blocking Resolution on Ending Yemen War appeared first on The Intercept.

Fallout From Election Day Chaos Continues in Indiana’s Porter County

Agents from the FBI walked into an office building in the town of Valparaiso, in Porter County, Indiana, last Thursday. County officials had called them for help.

Two full days after the election, ballots for local races still had not been counted. Final election results weren’t released until early the next morning. The delays have caused alarm among local politicians and angered some voters and poll workers, who are calling on the county clerk to resign. More than a week later, one county council race is still too close to call — hanging on a margin of just 15 votes.

Since last week’s elections, reports have come in that raise concerns about alleged efforts to suppress and or manipulate votes across the country, particularly in places like Georgia and Florida. Accounts from local poll workers and voters on Twitter and in the news indicated a broader national breakdown of an overwhelmed electoral system: polling places that ran out of supplies, lines much too long for the elderly or chronically ill to wait in, malfunctioning machines, and even instances where some machines changed votes from one candidate to another. (President Donald Trump and some other Republican politicians, meanwhile, have amplified unsubstantiated claims of widespread voter fraud.)

But in Porter County, the logistical problems were so bad that local officials felt they needed to call for outside help getting to the bottom of things. And as in many other places, it’s not clear whether the issues were caused by politics, mismanagement, or some messy combination of both.

“My concern was more about the lack of organization, the lack of planning, the lack of communication, quite frankly,” said Vicki Urbanik, a Democratic incumbent who was re-elected as county auditor. “Clearly they dropped the ball on this.”

This year, the county’s three-person election board voted to transfer administration of elections from the Voter Registration Office to the county clerk’s office, mirroring the way other counties in the state run elections. But Urbanik and other Democrats, as well as Republicans, say that the change caused unusual disruptions in voting this year.

“I will say that [in] most counties that I’m aware of in Indiana, the clerk’s office actually does run the elections. But this represented a real change here in Porter County, because the Voter Registration Office always ran the elections,” Urbanik explained.

County Clerk Karen Martin was one of the board’s two Republican members who voted in favor of the transition; the Democrat, J.J. Stankiewicz, opposed it. Martin was Urbanik’s Republican opponent for county auditor this year. None of the board members responded to multiple requests for comment. Reached by phone, a deputy in Martin’s office declined to comment.

Martin was on the election board for eight years, Urbanik said. “So, in some people’s minds, the switch really should not have been that big of a deal, in terms of disruption to the election process.” But, she added, “when the Voter Registration Office ran the elections, we never had the problems that we experienced like we had this year.”

Porter County Clerk and Election Board member Karen Martin. Press conference held at noon Thursday outside the voter registration department on the lower level of the Porter County Administration Center in Valparaiso.

Porter County Clerk Karen Martin at a press conference at the Porter County Administration Center on Nov. 8, 2018 in Valparaiso, Ind.

Photo: Tony V. Martin/Courtesy of Times of Northwest Indiana

At least 13 polls in Porter County did not open until between one and two hours after the slated 6 a.m. start — and one poll opened two and a half hours late.

“I do know for a fact the people left,” Urbanik said. Other poll workers independently confirmed this in interviews with The Intercept. A local Republican judge had to issue an order — requested by the county election board and Indiana’s Democratic State Central Committee, and opposed by the state GOP — to keep 12 of those locations open late so voters could make up for the time lost.

On the morning of the election, more than 18,000 absentee and early voter ballots had not yet been sorted for delivery to designated polling places, where they would be tabulated alongside in-person votes. Sheriffs reportedly delivered the missing ballots at 6 a.m., when polls were supposed to open. (Another court order was issued later that day to ensure absentee votes were counted as normal rather than provisional ballots, which are tallied the next day.)

Several voters who requested absentee ballots never received them, Drew Wenger told The Intercept. He chairs the Valparaiso Democratic Committee, which called Tuesday for state police “to investigate any potential wrongdoing connected to the 2018 Porter County election fiasco.” One 85-year-old woman who voted absentee in every election, Wenger said, didn’t receive her ballot for more than two and a half weeks after her initial request. That was only after she inquired in person with the clerk’s office about the delay.

By county law, two inspectors — one from each party — are appointed to monitor polls on each election. But this year, there weren’t enough inspectors, and when polls were supposed to open, several locations still didn’t have their team assembled.

“My husband and I had been contacting Republicans the day before by phone to try and get the gap filled that there weren’t enough Republican inspectors to run the election,” said Candace Shaw, whose husband, Democrat Frank Szczepanski, failed to unseat the local state representative, Ed Soliday, in Indiana’s 4th District. Soliday has himself called for the Indiana secretary of state’s office to investigate what happened in Porter County.

A self-described political junkie, Shaw has been deeply involved in Indiana politics for years, working polls and coordinating poll staffers on Election Day. She offered that growing up, she identified as a Republican and was vice chair of her local young Republicans committee, until she began to study political science in college and re-evaluated her political views. She said most of her family voted for Trump and remains “very, very Republican.” Despite posturing between the state parties on each side, the mishandling of the election isn’t a partisan issue, Shaw said. “I’m friends with a lot of Republicans here in Porter County, and a lot of them are really upset as well about what happened.”

On top of the absence of coordination and communication, poll workers cited myriad technical difficulties. “At 6am the ballot boxers weren’t working. Inspectors were still MIA. We couldn’t open. My stomach sank. I was trying to do something good and now I’d probably be on the local evening news,” poll worker Michelle Senderhauf wrote in a viral thread posted last week on Twitter. She also echoed Shaw’s account, saying that at her polling place, inspectors appointed by each party to monitor voting were not present.

The clerk’s office had also listed the incorrect address for one precinct, and the local newspaper reprinted the error. When voters from that precinct arrived, mistakenly, at Senderhauf’s polling place, workers didn’t have ballots for them. Senderhauf had to call the election hotline for guidance and redirect voters to the correct location.

Senderhauf told The Intercept that lack of training played a major part in the understaffing of precincts. Poll workers didn’t receive training until less than two weeks before election day. “Classes were announced last minute or would only be during the work day. I’m not surprised people refused to show up,” she wrote in an email. “Even though I watched the online training videos and read through the dense state election manual, I didn’t feel confident at all about what I was going to be doing on Election Day. … The incredibly kind and patient woman who was a clerk with me basically gave me on the job training.”

She added that “the state and county have standard procedures, though, and it sure seems that if those procedures had been followed, much of the chaos that day would have been avoided. I can’t help but think that disorganization and ineptitude caused the problems I saw in Porter County on Election Day. I certainly hope it wasn’t done out of malice.”

Other poll workers and county officials interviewed by The Intercept say the problems were not merely a matter of the clerk’s office being unprepared and overwhelmed, and placed the blame squarely on Martin.

Election board member Stankiewicz raised concerns as early as October 31, at a board meeting, that polling locations would not open on time because inspectors had not yet been assigned. “And nothing was done,” Wenger said.

At 1 a.m. the day after the election, the Northwest Indiana Times reported that poll workers were sitting on the floor of the county courthouse counting early and absentee ballots that were delivered late. That situation was avoidable, Shaw argues.

“We did not want to have 18,000 early voters disenfranchised just because of what the clerk chose to do,” Shaw said. “Those are choices that she made.”

The election fiasco has led to calls for Martin to resign. The clerk has been difficult to reach in the days following the election; she was most recently seen hiding behind a voter at an election board briefing, a local affiliate of CBS Chicago reported.

The FBI confirmed that the Porter County Board of Commissioners contacted them regarding the election, but could not comment on any investigation. “The FBI is always willing to accept information, complaints and tips from public officials and community members,” Chris Bavender, public affairs officer for the FBI’s field office in Indianapolis, wrote in an email to The Intercept. “Per DOJ policy I can neither confirm nor deny an investigation.”

Members of the Porter County Board of Commissioners did not respond to multiple requests for comment. The county is set to verify vote totals Friday.

Urbanik, Martin’s challenger, believed that the elections were clearly mismanaged. While she made clear that she did not suspect a deliberate attempt at voter suppression, as a former reporter who observed elections in the county for 25 years, she said it was not out of the question.

“When you look at the polling sites that were not adequately staffed, and that they didn’t open on time, most of them were in one particular area. Which tends to vote Democrat. Not necessarily Democrat, but it tends to be Democrat,” Urbanik told The Intercept in a phone interview.

Shaw called the chaos that ensued in Porter County and elsewhere “completely un-American.”

“It goes against everything that I’ve ever been brought up to believe. Even when I was a Republican, compared to now that I’m a Democrat,” she said. “It’s against everything that we believe about the way that our voting system is supposed to work.”

The post Fallout From Election Day Chaos Continues in Indiana’s Porter County appeared first on The Intercept.

Chuck Schumer Caved to Facebook and Donald Trump. He Shouldn’t Lead Senate Democrats.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 14:  U.S. Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) speaks to members of the media as (L-R) Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT), Senate Minority Whip Sen. Richard Durbin (D-IL), Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), and Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) look on after a leadership election November 18, 2018 at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC. Sen. Schumer has been re-elected to be the Senate Democratic leader.  (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Senate Minority Leader Sen. Chuck Schumer, D-N.Y., speaks to members of the media in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 14, 2018.

Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images

It wasn’t Donald Trump who said he opposed the nuclear deal with Iran because “we will be worse off with this agreement than without it,” while lying about the contents of that deal.

It wasn’t Mike Pence who said that “since the Palestinians in Gaza elected Hamas… to strangle them economically until they see that’s not the way to go, makes sense.”

It wasn’t John Bolton who voted for the illegal invasion of Iraq in 2002, saying Saddam Hussein was engaged in a “vigorous pursuit of biological, chemical and nuclear weapons.”

It wasn’t Mike Pompeo who said: “It’s easy to sit back in the armchair and say that torture can never be used. But when you’re in the foxhole, it’s a very different deal.”

It wasn’t Stephen Miller who responded to the terrorist attacks in Paris in 2015 by suggesting “a pause may be necessary” in the resettlement of Syrian refugees in the United States.

It wasn’t Betsy De Vos who joined a group of finance industry executives for breakfast only a few weeks after the 2008 financial crash and told them: “We are not going to be a bunch of crazy, anti-business liberals.”

Forget the hawks, blowhards and kakistocrats of the Trump administration. You know who made all these statements? It was Chuck Schumer.

Yes, the fourth-term Democratic senator from New York has a long history of making really right-wing and rancid remarks. Yet on Wednesday morning, Schumer was re-elected as minority leader by acclamation in a closed-door meeting of Senate Democrats. They didn’t even bother to vote on it.

By Wednesday evening, though, the New York Times had published a blockbuster investigation into Facebook, which reminded us how Schumer, in the words of my colleague Glenn Greenwald, “has long been the embodiment of everything sleazy, legally corrupt, corporatist and craven in Washington.”

What did the Times say about the newly re-elected Senate minority leader?

In at least one instance, the company also relied on Mr. Schumer, the New York senator and Senate Democratic leader. He has long worked to advance Silicon Valley’s interests on issues such as commercial drone regulations and patent reform. During the 2016 election cycle, he raised more money from Facebook employees than any other member of Congress, according to the Center for Responsive Politics.

Mr. Schumer also has a personal connection to Facebook: His daughter Alison joined the firm out of college and is now a marketing manager in Facebook’s New York office, according to her LinkedIn profile.

In July, as Facebook’s troubles threatened to cost the company billions of dollars in market value, Mr. Schumer confronted Mr. Warner, by then Facebook’s most insistent inquisitor in Congress.

Back off, he told Mr. Warner, according to a Facebook employee briefed on Mr. Schumer’s intervention. Mr. Warner should be looking for ways to work with Facebook, Mr. Schumer advised, not harm it. Facebook lobbyists were kept abreast of Mr. Schumer’s efforts to protect the company, according to the employee.

To be clear: the leader of the Senate Democrats tried to bully a fellow Democratic senator to “back off” from investigating a company where his daughter works and which gives him more money than any other member of Congress. Why isn’t this a bigger story? How is this not a resigning issue?

Remember: There are, as of right now, 47 elected Senate Democrats. Almost any of them — with the glaring exception of the pretend-Democrat Joe Manchin of West Virginia — would do a better job of leading the party than Schumer.

As I argued earlier this week, the next two years in U.S. politics will be a 24/7 battle for the future of American democracy; a relentless fight against fascism, racism and white nationalism. Are we really expected to believe that Schumer will be the leader of the #resistance in the Senate ? Don’t make me laugh.

In January 2017, Trump nominated the hawkish Mike Pompeo, who has ties to a far right network of Islamophobes, to serve as director of the CIA. Schumer’s response? He voted in favor of Pompeo.

In April 2017 and then again in April 2018, Trump launched air strikes against the Assad regime in Syria. Schumer’s response? He backed both sets of strikes, calling the first “the right thing to do” and the second “appropriate.”

In February 2018, Trump signed off “on the biggest budget the Pentagon has ever seen: $700 billion.” Schumer’s response? “We fully support President Trump’s Defense Department’s request,” his office announced.

In May 2018, Trump moved the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem, in defiance of the international community. Schumer’s response? “In a long overdue move, we have moved our embassy to Jerusalem,” he declared, adding: “I applaud President Trump for doing it.”

In August 2018, prior to the Supreme Court confirmation hearings, Trump nominated a bunch of new judges to fill vacancies in a number of federal district courts. Schumer’s response? As Vox reported, the Senate minority leader “reached an agreement late Tuesday with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to fast-track the confirmations of 15 Trump-nominated judicial picks.”

In October 2018, a Trump supporter sent a pipe bomb in the mail to George Soros, the billionaire donor to liberal causes. The California office of House Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy was vandalized a couple of days earlier. Schumer’s response to these incidents? He tweeted:

“Make no mistake: Despicable acts of violence and harassment are being carried out by radicals across the political spectrum—not just by one side. Regardless of who is responsible, these acts are wrong and must be condemned by Democrats and Republicans alike. Period.”

To be clear: property damage is not the moral equivalent of an assassination attempt. Trump supporters have carried out a long list of terrorist attacks — incited or inspired, on multiple occasions, by the president himself.

Schumer’s craven response? Both sides!

This isn’t resistance; this is collaboration. The Senate Minority Leader is a cautious and conservative politician who prefers to make deals, not noise. He avoids confrontation and likes to schmooze Republican friends while in the Senate gym. He is, to quote from the headline of a New York Times profile published a few months after the financial crash, a “champion of Wall Street.”

For the corrupt and lawless Trump, having his old friend Schumer — to whom he donated thousands of dollars — in charge of the Senate Democrats is a blessing. Schumer is bent on negotiating with this president, whether over immigration reform or infrastructure. That Trump can’t be trusted, or that Trump is leading a white nationalist movement from the White House, doesn’t seem to bother him. As one of the young organizers of a November 2016 protest at the Senate office of the minority leader told the Village Voice: “What’s really dangerous about Chuck Schumer and the Democratic leadership is they don’t understand the stakes of what’s happening in this country.”

“Dangerous” is the correct word. Schumer has voted in favor of Trump cabinet appointees and Trump judicial appointees. He has downplayed the threat posed by the more deranged members of the Trump base by equating it to non-violent protests from the left. And he refuses to talk impeachment.

So what happens if the president, in a desperate attempt to deflect from Robert Mueller’s final report or a future recession, decides to do something crazy? To start, say, a war with Iran? Do you think the senator from New York, who wrote a blank check for President George W. Bush in 2002, is going to stand in Trump’s way?

Schumer may have since regretted his vote in favor of the Iraq invasion, but he has never disowned the warped thinking behind it. “Today,” he wrote in “Positively American,” his 2008 book, “I still believe that when our country is under attack the chief executive deserves a degree of latitude. If God forbid, we were attacked again, I could well vote to give it to a future president, Democrat or Republican.”

Deferential. Cowardly. Feckless. Craven. Corrupt. Complicit. Pick your own combination of words to describe Chuck Schumer. The biggest problem we all face is that the Democrats in the upper chamber of Congress have already picked theirs: “Senate Minority Leader.”

The post Chuck Schumer Caved to Facebook and Donald Trump. He Shouldn’t Lead Senate Democrats. appeared first on The Intercept.

Amazon HQ2 Will Cost Taxpayers at Least $4.6 Billion, More Than Twice What the Company Claimed, New Study Shows

Amazon’s announcement this week that it will open its new headquarters in New York City and northern Virginia came with the mind-boggling revelation that the corporate giant will rake in $2.1 billion in local government subsidies. But an analysis by the nation’s leading tracker of corporate subsidies finds that the government handouts will actually amount to at least $4.6 billion.

But even that figure, which accounts for state and local perks, doesn’t take into account a gift that Amazon will also enjoy from the federal government, a testament to the old adage that in Washington, bad ideas never die.

The Amazon location in Long Island City, in the New York City borough of Queens, is situated in a federal opportunity zone, a Jack Kemp-era concept resurrected in the 2017 tax law that, in theory, is supposed to bring money into poverty-stricken areas. The northern Virginia site, in the Arlington neighborhood of Crystal City (which developers and local officials have rebranded as “National Landing”), is not directly in an opportunity zone but is virtually surrounded by other geographic areas that are.

Under the tax overhaul signed by President Donald Trump last year, investors in opportunity zones can defer payments of capital gains taxes until 2026, and if they hold them for seven years, they can exclude 15 percent of the gains from taxation. If investors carry the opportunity zone investment for 10 years, they eliminate taxes on future appreciation entirely. Investment managers have been salivating at the chance to take advantage of opportunity zones. Special funds have been built to cater to people holding unrealized capital gains — such as Amazon employees with large holdings of company stock.

Not only could Amazon benefit from the opportunity zone directly in Long Island City, but Virginia employees with unrealized capital gains will have an escape valve next door to an Amazon campus. “People who happen to be sitting around with long-term capital gains may now have vehicles for hiding them,” said Greg LeRoy of Good Jobs First, a nonprofit that scrutinizes economic development incentive deals between cities and companies, and has analyzed the Amazon deal.

Amazon did not respond to a request for comment on the opportunity zone or the Good Jobs First estimate of the subsidies it could receive.

Supporters claim opportunity zones spur renewal and revitalization in impoverished areas. It’s a decades-old bipartisan fantasy that sits uncomfortably at odds with the demonstrated results. Researchers who have studied opportunity zones find that these tax schemes rarely ever help cities, and often financially cripple them.

“At best, they divert investment from one part of the city from another, resulting in no net gain for the city as a whole,” wrote Timothy Weaver, an urban policy and politics professor at the University of Albany, last year. “At worst, they result in tax-giveaways to firms that would have been operating anyway, thereby generating a net loss to city revenues.”

Still, Republicans and Democrats are loathe to give up on what they continually tell themselves can be a win-win for everyone, if we just try really hard. And now a major beneficiary of this federal largesse happens to be one of the world’s richest companies, led by the world’s richest man.

A sea gull flies off holding fish scraps near a former dock facility, with "Long Island" painted on old transfer bridges at Gantry State Park in the Long Island City section of the Queens Borough in New York, Tuesday, Nov. 13, 2018. Amazon announced Tuesday it has selected the Queens neighborhood as one of two sites for its headquarters. (AP Photo/Bebeto Matthews)

A view toward Gantry State Park in the Long Island City section of the Queens Borough in New York on Nov. 13, 2018.

Photo: Bebeto Matthews/AP

According to Good Jobs First’s calculations, Amazon will get $4.6 billion in state and local subsidies for its new headquarters — and that’s not counting the opportunity zone benefit.

Amazon’s press release cited two New York state incentives, a $1.2 billion grant over the next decade from the Excelsior Program and a $325 million, 10-year grant from Empire State Development. But Amazon did not quantify proceeds from two other city incentives, the Industrial & Commercial Abatement Program, or ICAP, and the Relocation and Employment Assistance Program, or REAP.

ICAP gives a partial tax abatement for 25 years, and based on the expected $3.6 billion campus in Long Island City, Good Jobs First estimates that value at $386 million. REAP, a per-employee tax credit of $3,000 per year for 12 years, comes out to $897 million if Amazon meets its projection of hiring 25,000 employees.

Those estimates, combined with what Amazon already cited for the Long Island City location, brings the total to $2.808 billion. That results in a cost per job of $112,000, far more than the $48,000 per job Amazon claimed they would get in the Long Island City deal.

LeRoy, of Good Jobs First, noted that ICAP and REAP are available to most businesses relocating into New York, but a single entity’s ability to combine all their benefits distorts the purpose of attracting economic development. “I don’t think the original sponsors ever envisioned individual transactions costing 10 figures,” he said. “There’s a strong argument for capping programs on a per-deal basis.”

LeRoy added that this is not a full accounting of the benefits out of New York. Amazon will benefit from a payment in lieu of taxes, or PILOT, in which a portion of the company’s property taxes will flow directly into enhancements for the project area. Plus, there’s the federal opportunity zone.

That Long Island City is a designated opportunity zone Amazon might exploit is especially mind-boggling given that the fast-gentrifying area has had no trouble attracting new investment, has a 10 percent poverty rate (half that of New York City), and has a median income of $130,000 per year.

While the overwhelming majority of opportunity zones are defined by having high poverty rates, about 200 of the 8,700 Treasury Department-approved census tracts are like Long Island City, economically prosperous but adjacent to poverty. This includes neighborhoods in well-off cities like Los Angeles, San Jose, Seattle, and Portland. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said last month that he expects the opportunity zones to attract $100 billion in investments.

ARLINGTON, VA - NOVEMBER 13:  A tarp drapes the 1851 S. Bell Street building in the Crystal City area on November 13, 2018 In Arlington, Virginia. Amazon announced today that it has chosen Crystal City in Arlington, Virginia and Long Island City in Queens, New York as the two locations which will both serve as additional headquarters for the company.  (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)

A view of the Crystal City neighborhood of Arlington, Va., on Nov. 13, 2018.

Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Amazon’s estimate for Virginia — $573 million in cash grants — also leaves out a huge benefit for Amazon. “They’re planning a big Virginia Tech campus in Alexandria, adjacent to the site,” LeRoy said. “It’s a public university, the money is coming from taxpayers.” In a press release, Virginia Tech puts the cost of the campus at $1 billion and added that Amazon “credited the Innovation Campus in Alexandria as a key component in its decision to locate in Northern Virginia.”

Good Jobs First added that a redevelopment subsidy known as tax increment financing for on-site infrastructure and green space in the area could also benefit Amazon at the northern Virginia site. There was no cost estimate provided for this, though the Amazon press release mentions $195 million in commonwealth-funded infrastructure projects in the neighborhood, and another $28 million in funding from the city of Arlington.

The total amount of subsidies in northern Virginia, according to Good Jobs First, is at least $1.8 billion, almost as much as Amazon said it would be reaping in government subsidies overall.

Previously, Amazon has reaped $1.6 billion in state and local subsidies for its warehouses and data centers elsewhere across the country. On the same day as the New York and Virginia announcements, Amazon also announced a new “Operations Center of Excellence” in Nashville, Tennessee, a 5,000-worker facility for which the city gave Amazon $102 million in subsidies. Nashville was one of the top 20 finalists for the HQ2 auction, and parts of the city are also opportunity zones.

The cash handouts also do not take into account regulatory leniency and accelerated permitting that characterizes the Amazon projects. “There is a strain of thought that says if you give a company prompt variances, because time is money, companies would value that more than property tax abatement,” said LeRoy. In this case, the cities are offering both!”

The deals do not appear to include guard rails for what is expected to be rapid gentrification in the locations. Condo sellers in Crystal City took note of overnight price hikes of as much as $20,000 the day after the announcement. As gentrification likely pushes out residents in the opportunity zones surrounding the northern Virginia site, Amazon employees who buy real estate could not only find a place to live, but also avoid unrealized capital gains taxes.

Progressive politicians like Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., and conservative commentators have joined forces to question the deal. Community organizations held a rally in New York on Wednesday, urging a re-channeling of the taxpayer subsidies. Following Amazon’s announcement, Ron Kim, a Queens assembly member, introduced new legislation to redirect taxpayer funds designated for corporate subsidies to canceling or buying student debt. Virginia delegate Lee Carter, a democratic socialist, also criticized the deal for its exorbitant tax giveaways and the lack of transparency under which the terms were negotiated, calling it “comic book villain stuff.”

Carter will have the opportunity to weigh in on the deal. According to the contract language, the grant payments to Amazon are subject to appropriations by the Virginia General Assembly, though the governor is obligated to put the payments in the draft budget request.

The post Amazon HQ2 Will Cost Taxpayers at Least $4.6 Billion, More Than Twice What the Company Claimed, New Study Shows appeared first on The Intercept.

Why the Democrats Can (and Should) Impeach Trump

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Impeaching President Donald Trump is a pipe dream, many say. Nancy Pelosi, who’s expected to be the new House speaker, isn’t keen on going for impeachment, nor is Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer — and a lot of people aren’t either because they’ve been misinformed and misled. Contrary to common perception, the president does not need to commit a crime in order to be impeached. Allegations of collusion aside, Trump is guilty of impeachable crimes and misdemeanors, such as the violating the emoluments clause and tax fraud. Just last week, right after the midterms, he fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and replaced him — perhaps unconstitutionally — with a crony. He denied White House access to a reporter he doesn’t like and tried to undermine the vote recounts in Florida and Georgia with false and unfounded claims about election fraud. The Democrats need to start making a public case for impeachment and preparing the ground for a trial in the Senate, even if it ends up being a trial they don’t or can’t win. Former Congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman and author of the new book, “The Case For Impeaching Trump,” joins Mehdi Hasan this week to discuss the case for impeaching Donald Trump. She played a key role in the impeachment of Richard Nixon and believes that Donald Trump’s actions are “exactly the kind” that were declared impermissible in Nixon’s articles of impeachment.

Elizabeth Holtzman: I served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment process against Richard Nixon. That process was not started by a special prosecutor who had political ambitions. It was started when the American people rose up and said enough is enough.


Mehdi Hasan: Welcome to Deconstructed. I’m Mehdi Hasan.

Today on the show: impeaching Donald Trump. I know, I know, it’s too soon. There’s not enough evidence. There aren’t enough votes. It would be overreach by the new House Democratic majority. Yes, yes, I know all the liberal objections. But I’m gonna do some impeachment myth-busting today, and I’m also going to talk to the author of a new book on the case for impeaching Trump, an author who just happens to have also been a key player in the impeachment process against Richard Nixon.

EH: You would think that once the country had gone through Watergate, the president would learn the lesson but apparently not.

MH: That was former congresswoman Elizabeth Holtzman who voted on the Articles of Impeachment in the House Judiciary Committee back in 1974, and who’s the author of a new book which came out on Monday called “The Case for Impeaching Trump.”

So this week on Deconstructed, let’s talk impeachment. 

Marie Harf: The Blue Wave is looking much bluer than I think the conventional wisdom held on Tuesday night. 

Chris Matthews: It’s been three days since Tuesday’s referendum on the president and the Blue Wave keeps growing. 

Van Jones: This Blue Wave was actually bigger and bluer than it actually looked like at first.

MH: Guess what? It was a Blue Wave not a blue trickle as some pundits wrongly suggested last week. Post the midterms, the Democrats now control the House of Representatives with a healthy majority and also picked up some red state Senate seats too. Hello, Arizona. So, what do they do now with their newfound power and influence on Capitol Hill?

Host: To impeach or not to impeach. That’s Nancy Pelosi’s new dilemma.

Host: Should house Democrats file articles of impeachment or is that premature? 

Nancy Pelosi: I don’t think we should impeach a president for political reasons. 

MH: Nancy Pelosi who is expected to be the new House Speaker isn’t keen on going for impeachment nor is Senate minority leader, Chuck Schumer. But I am and I think people aren’t keen on impeaching Trump because they’ve been a little misinformed and may be misled. In fact, there are two main myths that are often put about when anyone raises the issue of impeaching this President and I want to thoroughly debunk both before we get to our very interesting and unique guest today. 

The first myth is that the president of the United States has to have broken the law in order to impeached. Nope, not true. Article 2, Section 4 of the Constitution says the president “Shall be removed from office on impeachment for and conviction of treason, bribery, or other high crimes and misdemeanors.” That famous phrase “High crimes and misdemeanors,” doesn’t refer to a criminal offense, to a felony. It refers to abuse of public office. It’s a political offense. 

The whole impeachment process is inherently political not criminal. And you don’t have to take my word for it Founding Father Alexander Hamilton in Federalist Number 65 defined impeachable offenses as, “Those offenses which proceed from the misconduct of public men or in other words from the abuse or violation of some public trust. They are of a nature which may with peculiar propriety be denominated political as they relate chiefly to injuries done immediately to the society itself. Abuse or violation of public trust, misconduct, injuries to society.”

I think that sounds pretty Trumpian to me. Listen also to Gerald Ford, the Republican vice president who took over when Republican President Richard Nixon quit in 1974 to avoid impeachment. Ford said early on in his career when he was trying to impeach Supreme Court Justice “An impeachable offense is whatever a majority of the House of Representatives considers it to be at a given moment in history.”

Got it? Whatever the majority in the House considers it to be, not what’s defined by a federal criminal statute. So, when you hear Republican apologists for this President, like Rudy Giuliani, now loudly moving the goal posts and saying – 

Rudy Giuliani: Collusion is not a crime.

MH: – The only response to that has to be, “Well, who cares if colluding with Russia isn’t a crime, the point is that it could and should be considered a high crime and misdemeanor under Article 2 Section 4 of The Constitution.” It’s impeachable.

But this leads me to the second myth that poisons every debate on impeachment and Trump these days and that really annoys me. And it’s to do with the Russia investigation and Robert Mueller. The idea that you can’t begin the process of impeaching Trump until you’ve got the final report from special counsel Robert Mueller and that report has to prove beyond a shadow of a doubt that Trump personally colluded with Russia to win the 2016 election. But that’s mad. We don’t need to wait for evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors when Trump has been committing high crimes and misdemeanors from the moment he took office on January 20th, 2017. 

Take the Emoluments Clause of the Constitution which is supposed to prevent the president from taking gifts, from getting money, from foreign governments.

CNN Commentator: There is a lot of scrutiny over the fact that Saudi lobbyists spent $270,000 at the Trump International Hotel in Washington.

MH: You want evidence of high crimes and misdemeanors? Go to Mar-a-Lago, go to the Trump International Hotel down the street from the White House. Check out those gifts. How about obstruction of justice? Remember when Trump fired the head of the FBI who was overseeing an investigation into his campaign’s ties to the Russian government and then told an NBC interviewer straight up why he did it.

Donald Trump: When I decided to just do what I said to myself I said, “You know, this Russia thing with Trump and Russia is a made-up story.”

MH: How about using the power of the federal government to settle personal scores and to put pressure on the private business of one of your critics. Isn’t that impeachable?

Chris Hayes: The president has reportedly been working hard behind closed doors to punish Jeff Bezos financially, pushing the post office to double Amazon’s shipping charges.

MH: How about tax fraud? Is that an impeachable offense?

Ari Melber: Donald Trump’s tax records reveal fraud and schemes to duck taxes on a massive long-term scale. 

MH: How about the President telling his personal lawyer in the run-up to the presidential election to pay hush money to a woman he had an affair with, which that lawyer then admitted to doing at the president’s direction in open court?

Nermeen Shaikh: Michael Cohen directly implicated Trump in committing a federal crime.

MH: Does that count as a high crimes and misdemeanors? I mean, seriously forget Russia for a moment. Even without allegations of collusion, which by the way, I happen to think are serious and very credible allegations, even without Russia and Mueller, it’s crystal clear that this president is a collection of impeachable offenses made human.

Trump walks and talks high crimes and misdemeanors on a near-daily basis. Just last week after the midterms, he fired his Attorney General replacing him perhaps unconstitutionally with a crony, denied White House access to a reporter he doesn’t like, and then tried to undermine the recounts in Florida and Georgia with false and unfounded claims about election fraud.

Now, look I get it impeachment isn’t easy. The House votes on impeachment, but the Senate does the convicting. You need a whopping two-thirds majority in the Senate to get that conviction and the Democrats don’t even have a simple majority in the Senate, let alone 67 votes. So impeaching Trump, no matter how much he deserves to be impeached – and let’s be honest, if Trump is never impeached, we should probably issue a collective apology to the family of Richard Nixon. Impeaching Trump many say is a pipe dream.

Well, that’s not the view of my guest today and she knows a thing or two about impeaching presidents.

[patriotic music]

ABC Anchor: ABC News presents complete nationwide coverage of tonight’s election ’72.

MH: Elizabeth Holtzman was elected to the House of Representatives from New York in 1972 at the age of 31 which made her at the time the youngest woman ever elected to the US Congress. It turned out to be a fateful moment to join that august body.

NBC Anchor: The country tonight is in the midst of what may be the most serious constitutional crisis in its history. The president has fired the special Watergate prosecutor Archibald Cox. Because of the President’s action, the Attorney General has resigned.

MH: As the Watergate scandal deepened, Holtzman as a member of the House Judiciary Committee found herself at the very center of the action.

Man: All those in favor, please signify by saying “Aye.” Miss Holtzman?

EH: Aye.

Man: Mr. Owens?

Owens: Aye.

Anchor: And so, it happened for the first time in 107 years, a committee of the House had recommended the impeachment and removal from office by the Senate of a president.

Anchor: President Nixon reportedly will announce his resignation tonight. 

Richard Nixon: I shall resign the presidency effective at noon tomorrow.

MH: The impeachment process worked. Nixon of course jumped before being pushed and this week, 44 years after Elizabeth Holtzman played a part in bringing down the 37th president, she has a new book out on why we should impeach number 45. In “The Case for Impeaching Trump,” Holtzman describes the current occupant of the Oval Office as “A clear and present danger to our democracy. President Trump’s actions,” she writes, “are indicative of a president who has established a different standard of justice for himself. Exactly the kind that we declared impermissible in Nixon’s articles of impeachment. He has done so at the expense of democracy and he’s done so at his own peril.”

[musical interlude]

Elizabeth Holtzman, thanks for joining me on Deconstructed. You’ve written this new book “The Case for Impeaching Trump” which came out on Monday. Give us your basic summary, your main argument as to why you believe there is a case for impeaching Trump even before Robert Mueller produces his final report on Trump and Russia. 

EH: There’s enough information in the public arena to start an inquiry into whether Donald Trump should be impeached. I don’t know that we’re ready for an impeachment vote at the moment because we need to inform the public, and mobilize the public with regard to the evidence that we have. No one’s really put out a blueprint of how impeachment could happen. And that’s what this book tries to do. 

MH: And I’m glad you’ve written and I’m glad you mentioned the public because impeachment doesn’t come falling out of the sky. You have to make the case for it like anything else in a democracy.

EH: Correct. And that’s what happened during Watergate. I served on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment process against Richard Nixon. That process was not started by a “gotcha” movement in the House of Representatives or the Senate. It was started – and it wasn’t started by a special prosecutor who had political ambitions. It was started when the American people rose up and said enough is enough. 

And what triggered that was when Richard Nixon, the president the United States, ordered that the special prosecutor investigating him over the Watergate break-in should be fired. The American people said “No, a president can’t pick his own prosecutor. The president can’t decide who is going to investigate him and how that investigation’s going to take place.”

MH: And you mention firing special prosecutors and not picking who gets to investigate you. Of course, we have a president right now who fired the FBI Chief, fired the Attorney General, wants to fire the special counsel, we know tried in the past. We hear a lot about Nixon when we talk about Trump. You of course, were actually there during the Nixon impeachment crisis on the House Judiciary Committee. How much of a parallel is there in your view between Trump’s behavior now and Nixon’s behavior then?

EH: Well, the parallels are very disturbing, even shocking. You would think that once the country had gone through Watergate, the president would learn the lesson but apparently not. I mean we have too many similarities. As you mentioned, the firing of the FBI director who is conducting an investigation into the Trump campaign and its collusion with Russia, the talk about firing Mueller, the attacks on the Mueller investigation, the firing of Sessions, and most recently the appointment of someone who is obviously unfit to be Attorney General as acting Attorney General.

It may even be unconstitutional to – yeah, may even be unconstitutional to appoint him, but Whitaker has already expressed extreme hostility to this investigation.

MH: And you voted “Yes” on the articles of impeachment on the House Judiciary Committee back in the 70s. And then you saw Nixon resign to avoid being impeached. Did you ever think at the time four decades from now we’ll be replaying a lot of this, and we won’t have learned the lessons from this period? 

EH: No, I never thought that. And by the way, there’s some other things that are similar. For example during the impeachment, one of the grounds for the impeachment of Richard Nixon was the dangling of pardons, presidential pardons to the Watergate burglars to hush them up. We’ve had constant talk about whether presidential pardons were for example, dangled here in front of various people associated with the investigation.

MH: Michael Flynn, Paul Manafort, even Michael Cohen, at one stage there was talk of pardoning all these people. You’re right there.

EH: Correct.

MH: Do you believe Donald Trump is a bigger crook or could turn out to be a bigger crook than tricky-dicky Nixon?

EH: Well, we didn’t have too much evidence about Nixon’s personal finances, although there was a substantial amount of evidence – 

MH: Well, he released his tax returns. 

EH: – Well, yeah, there was hanky-panky in those taxes. He took a $450,000 deduction for a donation of his papers that was found to be improper.


MH: At least he showed us his tax returns.

EH: He did release his tax returns, but the committee decided that that action, reprehensible though it was, was not a ground for impeachment because the committee had enormously more serious ground of impeachment that not only affected the president’s, just action and lawfulness, but first ground for impeachment was his obstruction of justice. In essence, his effort to impede the investigation into the Watergate break-in and he used the whole apparatus of the presidency to try to stop it.

But then there were the other things that he did, that was in second article of impeachment, that had to do with illegal wiretap that he ordered, the enemies list against political opponents, ordering audits, IRS audits of people who opposed the war. Then you had his acquiescence in, ratification of the breaking into Daniel Ellsberg’s psychiatrist’s office to find evidence to smear him.

And then of course, you had all the misuse of power that took place in connection with the obstruction of justice. So, those were very serious – 

MH: Indeed.

EH: – misdeeds. 

MH: Very serious and it’s so interesting, and so fascinating to hear you speak about them because obviously you speak about not just as a historian of that period, but as someone who lived through it, worked through it. You’re not just a former congresswoman who was involved in the Nixon impeachment process, but you’re also a Harvard Law grad. To be clear, you don’t believe, do you, that the high crimes and misdemeanors that the constitution says justifies impeaching and removing a present from office have to necessarily be criminal offenses, do they? They don’t have to be criminal offenses?

EH: No, not at all. In fact, as I mentioned before, when we first started the impeachment process on the House Judiciary Committee against Richard Nixon, I don’t think many people understood the grounds in the Constitution for impeachment. They are: treason, which is defined in the Constitution, bribery, which is a pretty well understood term, and other high crimes and misdemeanors. The fact of the matter is a high crime and misdemeanor is not an ordinary crime that a normal person can commit. It’s a crime that involves the misuse of the powers of office. That’s why it’s high because it’s committed by a high official.

MH: You say in your new book that, “for some impeachment is something toxic to be avoided at all costs,” but you see impeachment “as the grand and solemn tool designed to protect our democracy and to preserve the rule of law.” Why do you think it is that so many people do see it as something bad to be avoided at all costs?

EH: Well, I think that we’ve had three presidential impeachment efforts and two were toxic and wrong. The first against Andrew Johnson has been condemned by historians as completely partisan. The one against Bill Clinton – I lived through that and that was also highly partisan and really a gotcha effort. It never had any public support and the president never used the powers of his office to engage in the acts, as reprehensible as they were. 

This was not a threat to the democracy in the way that Richard Nixon’s actions were. He used the powers of his office, of the presidency for example, to tell the CIA to stop an FBI investigation. That was a high crime and misdemeanor. You and I couldn’t commit that crime. We’re not President. We could never tell the CIA to stop an FBI investigation, but a president who did that in order to stop an investigation into his campaign, his aides, and himself. That’s a high crime and misdemeanor. 

MH: I mean, as you say in the book, a lot of people still don’t want to, you know, use this tool.

EH: Right and because they saw the Clinton impeachment which they felt was an abuse of power and unwarranted. They don’t want to see impeachment again, but what they don’t remember, Watergate is very far away in history now, even though I lived through it. What they don’t remember is that actually the impeachment effort brought the country together. It didn’t divide us. Everybody said when we were starting the impeachment effort, “Oh impeachment is terrible. It’ll never work. It’ll be partisan. The country won’t support it. It’ll tear us apart.” All these terrible things. None of those things happened –

MH: But hold on, Elizabeth. Isn’t the problem that the 70s now look like a more innocent time even, dare I say? I saw Carl Bernstein, one of the Washington Post reporters who broke the Watergate story, being interviewed not so long ago and he was suggesting that if he broke Watergate today, it wouldn’t topple Richard Nixon because you’d have Fox News pushing out disinformation on his behalf. You’d have Nixon saying it’s all fake news. And now, unlike then the Republicans aren’t willing to put country over party and vote against their own president, are they?

EH: Yes, but what happened in Watergate is, I’m not sure that there was a – there definitely was not a nose count. And when we started, we didn’t actually even know that there was going to be evidence to warrant an impeachment. 

Now you have to remember one thing that is very different from 1973 and 4 to today. Richard Nixon was elected in one of the largest landslides in American history, which meant for the public to support the impeachment effort millions of Americans had to change their mind.

MH: But it was easier to change minds back then. You didn’t have this kind of state propaganda channel in the form of Fox News or social media. You had a Republican party full of semi-reasonable people that were willing to tell Nixon “You gotta go otherwise we’ll impeach you.” It’s hard to imagine a Mitch McConnell, or a Chuck Grassley, or a Lindsey Graham, the great sycophant-in-chief these days say anything similar to Donald Trump. Or Trump even listening to them, even if they did.

EH: They may not, but their colleagues might and if you had overwhelming evidence as we had during Watergate, and if you spelled out the grounds for impeachment, you would begin to get the kind of public support that allowed the House Judiciary Committee to go forward. Now, we don’t, we have no confidence in the process. We want to have the result. We want to know that we’ve got two thirds of the Senate and a majority in the House of Representatives before we start. Even before we set out the case, even before anybody does any research, even before – 

MH: But given right now, given right now, the Democrats don’t have a two-thirds majority, they don’t have any majority in the Senate.

EH:  – Correct.

MH: And given how partisan politics is and how loyal the Republicans have proved to be to this, you know, almost lawless president in many ways, what is your actual plan? If Nancy Pelosi were to ring you up tomorrow, she says “Elizabeth. I’ve read your book, what should we do next? What’s the plan for me and Chuck Schumer in the Senate?” What would you say is the plan?

EH: The real plan in the Senate, I think, they’ve tried to be somewhat bipartisan in at least, the Senate Intelligence Committee Investigation. But they haven’t been thorough. The first thing that has to be done: the work of investigating what President Trump did and how he did it has not been finished.

Go back to Watergate. The Senate Watergate hearings had public hearings with public figures. John Dean testified in public. Ehrlichman and Haldeman testified in public. The American people a chance to see them. The top people here never testified in public: Steve Bannon. Jared Kushner.

MH: They’re all on NDA’s or members of his family. 

EH: Well, the fact of the matter is the public hasn’t seen this testimony and aside from that many of these people refused to answer questions. The committee’s refused to subpoena documents. The committee’s refused to do a thorough investigation.

MH: No, there’s a lot there definitely and I agree with you. They should try and make an effort and I’m completely with you on the opening inquiry. I think the Democrats need to take a much tougher line on impeachment. A couple of things I worry about that I wanted to run past you. The first is that the partisan nature of this. The way it will be framed. You of course, yourself voted in favor of impeaching Nixon. You wrote a book making the case for impeaching George W. Bush, and you’ve now written this new book “The Case for Impeaching Trump,” and yet in 1996, you testified in front of the House Judiciary Committee that Bill Clinton shouldn’t be impeached. Do you understand why a lot of Republicans will say “typical Democrats, you just want to use impeachment to get rid of only Republican presidents that you don’t like.” They might come into office and say you know, “you’ve impeached ours, we’re going to impeach yours. We’re going to impeach President Bernie or Warren.” 

EH: Right. I mean people can always make those charges. I reject them. I’m very concerned about making sure that presidents of the United States obey the law and don’t create a kind of new monarchy where they put themselves above the law, commit crimes, or commit egregious acts that harm our democracy without accountability. 

MH: So the other concern I have is, okay, in the 70s you got the evidence. You did the process. You got the votes and Nixon left of his own accord before being impeached. He would have been impeached. You had the votes. You had the public support. My worry is this time as much as I support impeaching Donald Trump. I do recognize the fact that Donald Trump is not Richard Nixon ,and even if you were to get the votes, which is very hard to get, and impeach him and convict him in the Senate, you still have to get him to leave. What if he refuses to leave? What if he says this is a deep state coup? What if his supporters who we know are kind of cultish take to the streets? That’s a real risk, isn’t it in 2018, 2019, 2020?

EH: Well, everything is a risk, but I think you have to hope that the Democratic impulse of Americans and the commitment to democracy is going to work. I don’t, I mean in the end we thought there was a lot of concern that Richard Nixon might stir up a war with Russia. There was a high alert that was called. 

MH: And Trump could stir up a war with Iran or he could just flat-out refuse to go. This is a man who said he wouldn’t respect the result of the 2016 election if it had gone against him. This is the man who’s claiming the recounts in Florida and Georgia are somehow illegitimate. Will he accept impeachment?

EH: Yeah, we’ll figure that out if we come to that point. 


MH: I wish I had your optimism. I mean, I hope you’re right. But I do worry about it. You say in your piece for The Intercept this week that Donald Trump is “a clear and present danger to our democracy,” which is something else I completely agree with you on. We’ve discussed it on the show before but do you think the leaders of the democratic party in Congress, specifically Chuck Schumer in the Senate, Nancy Pelosi probably soon to be Speaker of the House, do they recognize how serious, how almost existential that threat is from Trump? Since last week, since the midterms, they’ve both been talking up the idea of finding common ground with him, doing deals with him on infrastructure and the rest, and playing down the need for impeachment, which seems mad to me. And I wrote about that for The Intercept on Monday, the idea that they’re not taking the threat from him seriously enough. Do you agree?

EH: Well, you know, they, look, this is not very different from what happened during Watergate. The house leadership was not in favor of impeachment. They were adamantly opposed to impeachment. Here you had a Senate Watergate Committee that had heard from John Dean, had heard from Haldeman and Ehrlichman. Had heard from a lot of people involved with the Watergate break-in. The Senate Watergate committee uncovered the tapes and nobody in the House of Representatives would allow an impeachment process to take place. They didn’t want it. And that’s when the Democrats controlled the House and the Senate, and we had a Republican president and they refused to act. 

Okay, what happened? The American people rose up after the Saturday Night Massacre and said Congress, get off your rear end and do something to hold this President accountable. And that’s when the effort started and it was bipartisan from the get-go. The Democrats picked a Republican as their general counsel, the Republicans, of course, picked a Republican as a general counsel.

MH: But in the 70s, Elizabeth, that stuff worked. Now you have Jim Comey, lifelong Republican, Robert Mueller lifelong Republican—doesn’t endear them to the Republicans at all. This is a Republican party that just doesn’t care.

EH: Well they may not care, but the American people will care. We saw the American people give a pretty resounding rebuff this in the midterm elections to Donald Trump. So I don’t think that you can just sit here and say “Well it’s different now and no, we don’t have the votes in the Senate and no — you know, that’s the exact kind of thing that went on during Watergate, except they never even tried to take the votes in the Senate before they started the process in the House because they understand – 

MH: Don’t get me wrong, Elizabeth, I’m with you. I’m with you. I’m glad you’re writing this stuff. I just, I’m slightly more pessimistic about though, I admire your optimism. So let me ask you this: prediction time, do you think he will be impeached? 

EH: I think it depends on the quality of evidence that we can find. I think that that’s really key. For example, in Watergate, we were fortunate enough to find a taping system. That came out because of the Senate’s careful, thorough, methodical bipartisan inquiry. 

MH: Okay. I’m going to re-ask the question. Do you think it’s more likely or less likely that he will be impeached, if you had to just make a bet?

EH: I’m not a betting person, but I would like to see a real process.

MH: (laughs) Well it was worth a try, I just thought I’d ask the author of the book “The Case for Impeaching Donald Trump.” Is it going to happen? Because there may be a case for it, but will it actually happen before 2020?

EH: If we sit back and do nothing, it’ll never happen. We have to just reach out and try, find the facts, find the law, educate the American people, and then trust that they will work, and speak out to preserve democracy. If the American people don’t want democracy, we’re not going to get it. No matter what we do.

MH: My worry is a lot of American people don’t want democracy these days. Just on the on the issue of “child separations,” I hate using that phrase because it was more like child theft, you wrote about what happened at the border in your book and in your article for The Intercept. You say “It’s not an impeachable offense, but it reflects on what kind of President the United States has –”

EH: No, I do think that’s an impeachable offense.

MH: – Oh, you do? Oh wow.

EH: Yes, I do think that that kind of lawlessness can amount to an impeachable offense. We saw – first of all, there’s no law that allowed President Trump to do what he did in terms of ordering the separation. This is an egregious offense in my opinion. Egregious misuse of the power of his office to deprive people of their due process rights. Because if our president could do it to those children, what children are safe?

MH: Elizabeth Holtzman, thank you so much for joining me on Deconstructed. 

EH: Thank you.  

[musical interlude]

MH: That was Elizabeth Holtzman, former member of Congress, author of the new book “The Case for Impeaching Trump.”

You can read her op-ed at making that case in detail. And maybe you share some of our optimism. I hope it’s infectious because I think she makes a key point in that interview, which is that impeachment being a political process requires public support. And rather than being negative, or pessimistic, or defeatist, rather than saying let’s wait for the evidence when a lot of the evidence is staring us in the face, the Democrats need to start making a public case for impeachment, for the merits of impeachment, for the need for impeachment. They need to start preparing the ground for a trial in the Senate. Even if it ends up being a trial they don’t or can’t win.

I happen to think Fox News makes it much harder to impeach Trump than it was to impeach Nixon, no matter the evidence. But having said that, I also happen to believe Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to democracy and to not use a constitutionally provided tool to try and stop him, to try and prevent him from undermining democracy and the Constitution is just political malpractice.

That’s our show…Deconstructed is a production of First Look Media and The Intercept and is distributed by Panoply.  Our producer is Zach Young. Dina Sayedahmed is our production assistant. The show was mixed by Bryan Pugh. Leital Molad is our executive producer. Our theme music was composed by Bart Warshaw. Betsy Reed is The Intercept’s editor in chief.

And I’m Mehdi Hasan. You can follow me on Twitter @mehdirhasan. If you haven’t already, please do subscribe to the show so you can hear it every week. Go to to subscribe from your podcast platform of choice, iPhone, Android, whatever.  If you’re subscribed already, please do leave us a rating or review – it helps people find the show. And if you want to give us feedback, email us at Thanks so much!

See you next time.

The post Why the Democrats Can (and Should) Impeach Trump appeared first on The Intercept.

The Watergate Blueprint for Impeaching Donald Trump

When Donald Trump’s presidential election victory was announced in the early morning hours of November 9, 2016, like many Americans, I rubbed my eyes in disbelief and dismay. Two questions raced through my mind:

What had become of America that a man so unfit, so small-minded, so mean-spirited could be elected? A man whose ethnic and racial bigotry had set the stage for his presidential run when he called Mexicans rapists and made racist birther attacks on President Barack Obama. Whose vulgarity and misogyny were laid bare in the Access Hollywood tape when he bragged about forcibly grabbing women by their genitals. Whose performance at pres­idential debates showed him not only flagrantly ill-informed, but manifestly unwilling to get informed.

My second question was how much harm this man would do to America as its 45th president.

I have my answer now to the latter, less than two years after the election. President Trump has damaged American democracy far more than I would have guessed. He has relentlessly attacked the administration of jus­tice, in particular the investigation into a possible conspiracy with Russia regarding the 2016 presidential election, putting himself above the rule of law; he has failed to separate his personal business from the country’s, flout­ing the Constitution’s requirements; he has violated the constitutional rights of the people in separating children from parents at the Southwest border without due process of law; and he has refused to acknowledge Russia’s central role in interfering in our 2016 elections and to publicly lead a full-scale effort to protect against further interference. To cover up these misdeeds, moreover, he has flagrantly lied and assailed the press as an enemy of the people. These are “great and dangerous offenses” that the framers of our Constitution wanted to counteract and thwart. They provided a powerful remedy. Impeachment.

Many tremble at the word, fearing how Trump’s supporters will react to an impeachment inquiry, worrying that it will only further polarize an already deeply divided nation or that there will not be enough votes in the Republican-controlled Senate to convict him even if the newly empowered Democratic majority in the House of Representatives votes to impeach. Just calling for an inquiry will be viewed as a Democratic Party attack on the head of another party, a kind of coup d’état. It’s easy to find reasons to be anxious.

I’m not afraid. As a junior congresswoman, the youngest ever elected at that time, I served on the House Judiciary Committee that voted to impeach President Richard Nixon for the high crimes and misdemeanors he commit­ted in connection with the Watergate cover-up and other matters. Thorough, fair, and above all bipartisan, the committee acted on solid evidence pre­sented in televised hearings that riveted the nation, handing us the blueprint for how impeachment can be successfully pursued today. In our 225 years of constitutional democracy, the Nixon impeachment process has proven to be the only presidential effort that worked. Though Nixon resigned — the only president ever to do so — two weeks after the committee’s impeachment vote, he did so to avoid the certainty of being impeached and removed from office. We became a better nation for having held the president accountable.

(Original Caption) 10/17/1974-Washington, DC- President Ford shakes hands with Representative Elizabeth Holtzman (D-NY), after Ford completed his testimony to the House Judiciary subcommittee on his reasons for granting a pardon to former President M. Nixon. Representative Holtzman is the subcommittee's most outspoken critic of the pardon.

President Gerald Ford shakes hands with Rep. Elizabeth Holtzman, D-N.Y., after completing his testimony to the House Judiciary subcommittee on his reasons for granting a pardon to former President Richard Nixon on Oct. 17, 1974.

Photo: Bettmann Archive/Getty Images

All of which raises two further questions: Should we be considering the impeachment of President Donald J. Trump? Will we again become a better nation by pursuing that option? To answer, we need to set aside Trump’s unremitting attacks on the environment, on our close allies, on almost every program that Obama put into effect, including the Affordable Care Act, and any disagreements we have over policy, as well as any personal animus, and ascertain simply whether he has engaged in the kind of egregious conduct that would meet the constitutional standards for impeachment and removal from office.

This means we have to focus sharply on his potentially impeachable offenses. In so doing, we will find it useful to compare them, when possible, to similar offenses by Nixon found to be impeachable by the House Judiciary Committee in 1974. Here is a list of some of Trump’s potentially impeachable offenses developed as of this writing:

A possible interference with or obstruction of the administration of justice and an abuse of power. On May 9, 2017, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey, who was investigating both his national security adviser, Michael Flynn, and Russia’s ties to the Trump campaign in connection with influencing the 2016 presidential election. Two days later, Trump admitted to NBC’s Lester Holt that Comey’s firing had to do with “the Russia thing” — in other words, Trump acknowledged that he was trying to shut down the FBI investigation into his possible conspiracy with Russia. (Flynn has since pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI.)

The Comey firing uncannily echoes Nixon’s firing of the special Watergate prosecutor for seeking highly damaging information about the president — a brazen defiance of the rule of law that triggered the start of impeachment proceedings against Nixon.

UNITED STATES - JUNE 8: Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify about President Trump's possible campaign ties to Russia before a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on June 8, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call) (CQ Roll Call via AP Images)

Former FBI Director James Comey arrives to testify about President Donald Trump before a Senate Select Intelligence Committee hearing on June 8, 2017.

Photo: Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call via AP

A second possible interference with or obstruction of the administration of justice and an abuse of power. Trump has persistently and publicly attacked those heading the Russia investigation, including special counsel Robert S. Mueller III and Deputy Attorney General Rod Rosenstein, and has repeatedly condemned Attorney General Jeff Sessions for recusing himself, suggesting that he wants to fire any and all of them in order to get control of the Russia investigation. (He actually did give an order to fire Mueller.) The president’s firing of Sessions and replacement of him with Matthew Whitaker, an avowed critic of the investigation who has not recused himself from overseeing it, is the most recent — and possibly the most dangerous — assault on the investigation.

A failure to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, as required by the Constitution. To try to deflect public concern about his possible role in con­spiring with Russia about the 2016 election and to undermine the legiti­macy of the investigation into that matter, Trump has persistently attacked the Russia investigation as a witch hunt and a hoax, even though 34 people either pleaded guilty or were indicted as a result of that investigation. The indictments included Russian agents who allegedly inter­fered with the 2016 election by manipulating social media, hacking into computers of the Democratic National Committee, targeting election machinery in various states, and using other methods.

Similar behavior by Nixon became one of the grounds of the first article of impeachment against him. As part of the Watergate cover-up, Nixon was charged with making “false or misleading public statements for the purpose of deceiving the people of the United States.” This included Nixon’s claim that White House investigations had cleared everyone of any involvement with the break-in, for example, and that his aide H. R. Haldeman, who had perjured himself before the Senate Watergate Committee, had tes­tified accurately.

A second failure to take care that the laws are faithfully executed, as required by the Constitution. Trump has failed to undertake his constitu­tionally mandated leadership role to protect our elections from further interference by the Russian government, including his continued refusal to acknowledge unequivocally Russia’s interference in 2016, despite the paramount importance of ensuring honest elections in our democracy. For example, cyber countermeasures were apparently undertaken starting in the summer of 2018, but without the president’s involvement. His continued hands-off approach has left too many Americans doubting the existence of Russian interference and failing to insist on robust government protective measures. In the absence of that protection, the Russians may renew the cyberattacks and other interference previously used against us.

An abuse of power. He has used the power of his office to remove or threaten to remove the security clearances of people who criticized him or who he believed were associated with the Russia investigation or could be possible witnesses against him. A historical equivalent is Nixon’s creation of an “Enemies List” of anti-Vietnam War activists, whom he directed to be audited by the Internal Revenue Service in retaliation for their political positions — actions that formed part of an article of impeachment.

A second abuse of power. He approved a lawless, ethnically based, and infinitely cruel policy of separating children from parents at the Southwest border, depriving both children and parents of their constitutional rights and subjecting them to horrific mental anguish that may result in long-term psy­chological damage, a policy that the courts struck down.

An assault on our democratic values. He has systematically lied to the American people about government policies and actions, crippling their abil­ity to make sound judgments about the direction of their government.

A violation of a specific constitutional prohibition. He has refused to sepa­rate himself from his business interests, which have received things of value from foreign and U.S. governments, ranging from Chinese trademarks to pay­ments for the use of his Washington hotel, suggesting that the presidency is open for business and that his personal business interests may influence his governmental decisions — all apparent violations of the emoluments clauses of the Constitution and possibly the ban on bribery as well. Though the House Judiciary Committee voted against an article of impeachment involv­ing Nixon’s receipt of emoluments from the federal government, notably in the form of improvements to his California and Florida properties, Trump’s business interests are far greater than Nixon’s, and Trump could have tried to cure the problem of foreign emoluments by getting con­gressional approval, which he has steadfastly refused to do.

An effort to undermine a core democratic institution. He has repeatedly attacked the media as the enemy of the people (a term used in the Stalinist purges against untold thousands of innocent people ultimately killed by the Soviet regime), encouraging Americans to disregard what they see and hear in the press as “fake news.” Seriously undermining the free press hampers the public’s right to know, which in itself hurts a democracy.

Nixon also attacked the press. He illegally ordered the wiretapping of journalists and placed a number of them on his Enemies List, targeting them for harassing IRS audits. Both actions formed a basis for Nixon’s impeachment.

Former President Richard Nixon exhibited these expressions during Wednesday night, May 5, 1977 telecast of interview with David Frost. During the paid for interview, Nixon insisted he had not obstructed justice and had not committed in his own opinion an impeachable offense. Photos from WNEW TV monitor. (AP Photo/Ray Stubblebine)

Former President Richard Nixon during a telecast of his interview with David Frost on May 5, 1977. Nixon insisted he had not obstructed justice and had not committed an impeachable offense.

Photo: Ray Stubblebine/AP

Donald Trump is a clear and present danger to our democracy. Whether it is his effort to impede and obstruct the investigations into Russian interference, his declining to protect our election system from Russian manipulation, his open hand to payments his businesses receive from foreign governments and domestically, or his assault on the rights of thousands of children at the border, the president’s misdeeds cast a wide net. They are ongoing, with no end in sight. And he continues to spin a web of incessant and brazen falsehoods, deceptions, and lies to disguise and conceal the misdeeds.

In 1973, the country also faced a president run amok. Richard Nixon, whose campaign minions broke into the Watergate complex, orchestrated a vast, multipronged effort to stymie investigations into the burglary. Nixon engaged in other nefarious activities and abuses of power: He violated the rights of Americans though illegal wiretaps of journalists, an illegal break-in into a psychiatrist’s office for damaging information, an order for IRS audits of political opponents — the Enemies List — to name a few.

Nixon’s cover-up was effective: It got him re-elected with one of the largest electoral margins in American history. Then, it began to unravel. Evidence harmful to him came to light, and, in a grandiose move of maximum presi­dential authority, he ordered the special prosecutor investigating him to be fired. That’s where the American people drew the line. They demanded that Congress take action, and it did. It started an inquiry, which resulted in a bipartisan vote for articles of impeachment, forcing Nixon to resign.

It was in response to obstruction that the articles of impeachment against Nixon were adopted. Their message? Presidents cannot block, tam­per with, and destroy the machinery of justice that is aimed at them. If they do, it is at their peril. They face impeachment, removal from office, even imprisonment. But if we allow presidents to block, tamper with, and destroy the machinery of justice that is aimed at them, we do so at our peril. The rule of law will go up in smoke. We will enshrine two standards of justice, one for the powerful and one for everyone else. We will find ourselves on the road to tyranny.

It is a road that we’re dangerously close to traveling today.

Nixon worked mightily to stop the institutions of justice from closing in on him and his associates. So has Trump. Not every aspect of Nixon’s impeachable offenses is replicated in Trump’s behavior. Still, there are astonishing and troublesome parallels, particularly in the Russia investigation, including Trump’s firing the FBI director (Nixon had the special Watergate prosecutor fired); Trump’s demanding that the recused attorney general resign and replacing him with an acting attorney general who is outspokenly hostile to the investigation and who has suggested ways of terminating it by such means as defunding it (Nixon tried to fire the special Watergate prosecutor, a more direct way of ending the investigation into himself); dangling pardon possibilities to those under investigation (Nixon did the same); making relentless and false attacks on the investigation and those conducting it (Nixon called for an end to the investigations and engaged in other attacks); and deceiving the public and Congress constantly and systematically (Nixon did that, too).

Watergate started with burglars who used burglars’ tools to break into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate Hotel complex in Washington, D.C. They were interfering in the 1972 presidential election. The investigation of Donald Trump started with the Russians’ using cyber tools to break into the DNC computer servers and interfere in the 2016 presidential election. We don’t know what the Watergate burglars were look­ing for. We don’t know what the Russians’ real objective was, or even the full impact of their interference. It may even have vaulted Donald Trump into the White House.

But we do know that on July 27, 2016, Trump publicly called for Russian help in winning the election — and later repeatedly applauded WikiLeaks’ release of illegally hacked Clinton campaign emails. And we know that Russia gave him help — targeting, for example, Hillary Clinton’s personal office for the first time the day after Trump’s request and targeting 76 of her staffers as well.

Was the help coordinated with the Trump campaign or just coinciden­tal? If coordinated, then Trump has committed a high crime and misde­meanor of the gravest kind — working with a foreign power in violation of our campaign finance and other laws to get elected. It is impera­tive for Congress to ascertain the facts, and not leave us to speculate or with a secretly beholden president.

Trump’s effort to block the investigation into his possible collusion with the Russians over the 2016 election on the face of it warrants an impeach­ment inquiry. It may well be that a full examination of his behavior will exonerate him, but, given the record of his tweets and his public statements, not to mention his firing of James Comey, it is more likely that his actions have been prompted by the impermissible and impeachable objec­tive of stopping the investigations before they find him out.

Trump’s misconduct does not stop with his repeated attempts to impede the Russia investigations. He has steadfastly refused to accept that Russia seriously interfered in our 2016 elections and to take a public role in developing and announcing plans to protect against further Russian attacks, failing to fulfill his central obli­gation as president to take care that the laws be faithfully executed. This failure, too, is related to his effort to impede the Russia investigation. If the American people, including his “base,” fully understood the seriousness and scope of the Russian attacks, they would demand effective measures from the president to stop them, but they also might question why Trump is calling the investigation a hoax when the Russians really attacked us, as our intelligence agencies, the Justice Department, grand juries, and private social media com­panies have found.

The president has also defied and flouted the Constitution’s ban on emoluments on a very large scale, creating the appearance, if not the reality, of influence-peddling at the highest level of our government. This is another assault on our democracy.

Finally, Trump’s heartless separation of thousands of children from parents on the Southwest border is an action that violates our Constitution’s deepest promises of due process and equal protection. The willingness to assault the Constitution by harming so many threatens all of us.

An immigrant child looks out from a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving as protesters block the street outside the U.S. Border Patrol Central Processing Center Saturday, June 23, 2018, in McAllen, Texas. Additional law enforcement officials were called in to help control the crowd and allow the bus to move. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

An immigrant child on a U.S. Border Patrol bus leaving the processing center in McAllen, Texas, as protesters block the street outside on June 23, 2018.

Photo: David J. Phillip/AP

Together, Trump’s actions are indicative of a president who has established a different standard of justice for himself — exactly the kind that we declared impermissible in Nixon’s articles of impeachment. He has done so at the expense of democracy. And he’s done so at his own peril.

There is a remedy — and I participated in it and lived through it and saw it work. The solution is what Congress, the courts, and the press used in dealing with Nixon in Watergate. It means imposing accountabil­ity and holding the president to the rule of law, as we did then.

In Watergate, there was a criminal investigation and there were congres­sional inquiries, including an impeachment process. All were thorough and fair; all won the respect of the public. And together they re-established the public’s faith in the viability of our democracy and the Constitution.

No one, not even a president, is above the law. That is the lesson of Watergate, and it must continue to be the lesson today.

Today we have the advantage of knowing what to do, of having the model for action — full-throated congressional inquiries, a bipartisan impeachment inquiry, and an investigation by Robert Mueller that proceeds without inter­ference until it is properly concluded. These are simple, realizable objectives.

The American people can force action on this agenda as they did in response to presidential misconduct in Watergate. We have the power. We are still a democracy.

This article is adapted from the book “The Case for Impeaching Trump” by Elizabeth Holtzman.

The post The Watergate Blueprint for Impeaching Donald Trump appeared first on The Intercept.

Republicans Used a Bill About Wolves to Avoid a Vote on Yemen War

Republican leaders in the House of Representatives undercut a bipartisan effort to end U.S. involvement in Yemen by sneaking a measure that would kill an anti-war resolution into a vote about wolves.

On Tuesday night, the Republican-led House Rules Committee voted to advance the “Manage Our Wolves Act,” which will remove gray wolves from the endangered species list. The Rules Committee waived all points of order against the bill and voted to advance it to the floor.

The catch: Republicans inserted language that would block a floor vote on whether to direct President Donald Trump to end U.S. involvement in the Saudi- and UAE-led intervention in Yemen. The intervention has been highly destructive, flattening homes, roads, markets, hospitals, and schools, and leading to the world’s largest humanitarian crisis.

On Wednesday evening, the House approved the rule 201-187, largely on party lines, successfully blocking a vote on the Yemen resolution.

In September, Rep. Ro Khanna, D-Calif., introduced the Yemen resolution, which would have directed the Trump administration to remove U.S. forces from “hostilities” related to the Saudi-led intervention. Because it invoked the 1973 War Powers Act, Khanna’s resolution was “privileged” under House Rules, meaning it could bypass a committee vote and, barring any interference from the powerful Rules Committee, get a vote on the floor. The Republican gambit caused Khanna’s resolution to be stripped of its “privileged” status, meaning that it did not come up for a vote on its own.

If the Yemen measure had come up for a vote, it would have been the first time a chamber of Congress, which is notorious for avoiding votes on issues of war and peace, took an up-or-down vote that could end U.S. involvement in the conflict in Yemen.

On Capitol Hill, outrage against Saudi Arabia is at an all-time high following the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi at the hands of Saudi agents last month. The measure had 81 co-sponsors, including four Republican members and several top Democrats. Two Democratic aides told The Intercept that Khanna’s measure needed about 30 Republican votes to pass, and they were optimistic about getting them.

“Republican leadership had to kill the bill in a surprise, underhanded maneuver,” Eric Eikenberry, advocacy officer at the Yemen Peace Project, told The Intercept in an email. “If they didn’t, they risked further rank-and-file Republican cosponsors and a floor vote, a prospect which leadership, always bent on ensuring impunity for the administration, could not abide.”

After a strong showing in last week’s midterm elections, Democrats can revive Khanna’s resolution after January, when the House switches to Democratic control. The top Democrat on the Rules committee, Jim McGovern, D-Mass., is a co-sponsor.

Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates began their intervention in Yemen in March 2015, aiming to retake the capital from a rebel group called the Houthis. The Trump and Obama administrations have stood by the coalition, providing weapons, intelligence, and midair refueling of coalition aircraft. The Washington Post reported on Friday that the Trump administration would cease midair refueling amid a growing outcry, but that did not satisfy many of the war’s critics on Capitol Hill.

Update: November 14, 2018, 6:07 p.m. EST
This story has been updated to include the results of the House vote on the rule removing gray wolves from the endangered species list and blocking a resolution to withdraw U.S. support for the Saudi-led bombing campaign in Yemen.

The post Republicans Used a Bill About Wolves to Avoid a Vote on Yemen War appeared first on The Intercept.

Donald Trump and the Counterrevolutionary War

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Donald Trump is waging a political counterinsurgency. This week on Intercepted: Columbia University professor Bernard Harcourt lays out the multidecade history of paramilitarized politics in the U.S., how the tactics of the war on terror have come back to American soil, and why no one talks about drone strikes anymore. Academy Award-winning director Michael Moore talks about his recent visit from the FBI in connection to the pipe bomb packages and who he thinks should run against Trump in 2020. Journalist and lawyer Josie Duffy Rice analyzes the battle over vote counts in Florida and Georgia, the Republican campaign to suppress black voters, the gutting of the Voting Rights Act, and why she isn’t protesting the firing of Jeff Sessions. Jeremy Scahill explains why Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer need to go away.

Transcript coming soon.

The post Donald Trump and the Counterrevolutionary War appeared first on The Intercept.

Pipeline Opponents Make Gains in Midterms as Federal Judge Halts Keystone XL Pipeline

A U.S. district court in Montana last week ordered a halt to all work on the Keystone XL pipeline, the fossil fuel project that inspired a revival of direct action protest tactics across the U.S.

The decision came at the end of an election week in which Democrats took control of the U.S. House of Representatives, promising in the short term to hold climate hearings and in the long term to work toward a “Green New Deal.” Meanwhile, pipeline opponents made electoral gains of their own in local races in South Dakota and Nebraska. But the unwieldy scale of the climate crisis hung heavily over the election results and the limited possibilities they opened up for legislative action. The Keystone XL ruling represented a concrete blow to the fossil fuel industry driving the crisis.

The effort to stop the pipeline has become a touchstone for the U.S. environmental movement, with the fate of the project carrying considerable symbolic and material weight. The trailblazing climate scientist James Hansen famously called the potential completion of the project and the full exploitation of the tar sands “game over for the climate.”

TransCanada’s Keystone XL pipeline would pump 830,000 barrels per day of tar sands oil from Alberta, Canada, to a transfer point in Nebraska. Increasing pipeline capacity, which decreases transportation costs, is key to assuring that the oil, which is expensive to produce, remains commercially viable. When the State Department originally studied the project in 2014, crude oil sold for nearly $100 per barrel; today it sells for around $60. The sludgy tar sands oil is a high carbon-emitting variety that has proven difficult to clean up when it spills into waterways.

The court decision declared illegal one of Donald Trump’s first executive orders, issued days after his inauguration as a signal to fossil fuel opponents and the oil industry that America was moving full speed ahead on oil and gas extraction. Trump’s order reopened and fast-tracked the permit process for KXL, which the Obama administration had denied and ended more than a year before. Barack Obama had argued that the pipeline would undermine the U.S.’s international leadership in addressing the climate crisis.

In his decision, Judge Brian Morris, who was appointed by Obama, emphasized that Trump “simply discarded prior factual findings related to climate change to support its course reversal.” He added, “An agency cannot simply disregard contrary or inconvenient factual determinations that it made in the past.”

In response, Trump told reporters, “It was a political decision made by a judge. I think it’s a disgrace.” He speculated that the case would go to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. “We’re slowly putting new judges in the 9th Circuit,” he said.

“It’s these moments that fuel and give fire to our resiliency,” said Jade Begay, a spokesperson for the Indigenous Environmental Network, one of the parties to the lawsuit. “We are buying time, but we need to remain strategic and diligent about moving this forward.”

FILE - In this March 24, 2017 file photo, President Donald Trump, flanked by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, left, and Energy Secretary Rick Perry, is seen in the Oval Office of the White House in Washington, during the announcing of the approval of a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline, clearing the way for the $8 billion project.A federal judge in Montana has blocked construction of the $8 billion Keystone XL Pipeline to allow more time to study the project's potential environmental impact. U.S. District Judge Brian Morris' order on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018,  came as Calgary-based TransCanada was preparing to build the first stages of the oil pipeline in northern Montana. Environmental groups had sued TransCanada and The U.S. Department of State in federal court in Great Falls.  (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

Donald Trump announcing of the approval of a permit to build the Keystone XL pipeline on March 24, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

Photo: Evan Vucci/AP

Never Straightforward Under Trump

Last week’s court decision requires the Trump administration to perform a new supplemental environmental impact study that takes into account oil prices that have fallen dramatically, updated information about the potential impact of oil spills, and the cumulative greenhouse gas impacts of KXL in combination with another tar sands pipeline, the Alberta Clipper. The study will also have to explain why Trump’s rapid change of course was reasonable and will have to include the results of a new survey of cultural resources potentially located throughout more than 1,000 acres of land.

According to the Indigenous Environmental Network, the survey of cultural resources could be the most time-consuming aspect of the judge’s order, especially if it is done with significant consultation with tribal nations. How many culturally significant sites might be located within the un-surveyed area is unclear. “There are sites out there that we haven’t told people about, because people like to go in and steal stuff and sell it on the black market,” said Joye Braun, a pipeline opponent and member of the Cheyenne River Sioux tribe in South Dakota. And Indigenous leaders may be hesitant to offer information for the purpose of helping a pipeline company they oppose figure out its least controversial pathway, especially considering that such information hasn’t always prevented companies from bulldozing on through anyway.

Pipeline opponents’ most immediate concern is that the administration will simply hire an archeological surveyor to do a slapdash job that overlooks key sites. “It’s never super-straightforward, especially with this administration. One of the things we’re concerned about is we’ve seen Trump’s administration fast-track these processes,” said Begay.

Also unclear is how a second lawsuit might impact the steps the administration is required to take. The Rosebud Sioux tribe in South Dakota and the Fort Belknap Indian Community in Montana filed a similar suit targeting the Trump administration’s executive order for allegedly failing to fulfill trust obligations to the tribes to appropriately address the impact on tribes’ hunting and fishing rights, as well as to assess the risk to the Rosebud Sioux Tribe’s drinking water system — the pipeline would cross two of its sources.

The ideal outcome of the judgement, said Dallas Goldtooth, another Indigenous Environmental Network spokesperson, is that “investors of KXL really see that this project is too much of a risk and start backing out.”

Another best-case scenario, said Jan Kleeb, one of the founders of the anti-KXL movement in Nebraska, “is that this buys us enough time to get a Democratic president elected.”

Pipeline Fighters Win Elections

Individuals from all sorts of progressive grassroots movements made unprecedented efforts to win elected office this year, and pipeline fighters were no exception. On all levels of government, the anti-pipeline movement sought to influence decision-making on the Keystone XL project.

“I really do think that that unlikely alliance is a clear playbook for how we can also transform electoral politics.”

One of the most high-profile wins for progressives was that of Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez from New York. In 2016, Ocasio-Cortez visited the massive anti-Dakota Access pipeline camps near the Standing Rock reservation in North Dakota, which were started by veterans of the Keystone XL fight, and called her time there “one of the formative experiences that inspired the effort to renew Congress.”

South Dakota, one of three states through which KXL passes, saw numerous anti-pipeline organizers run for local office, and some won. Julian Bear Runner, a 33-year-old who was arrested at Standing Rock, was elected president of Pine Ridge reservation’s Oglala Sioux Tribe. A state Senate seat was won by Red Dawn Foster, the sister of Red Fawn Fallis, the Dakota Access Pipeline opponent who received the most serious prison sentence among those charged during the fight, after a gun Fallis had been carrying fired when police tackled her.

In Nebraska, home to another arm of the Keystone XL pipeline resistance, Democrats gained three seats in the state legislature, which could boost an effort to pass eminent domain laws meant to complicate plans to plow through the land of property of owners who don’t want a pipeline.

But pipeline opponents lost a fight for a spot on the state’s Public Service Commission. Last year, the PSC denied TransCanada a key permit for its preferred pipeline path, instead offering a permit for an alternate route. Pipeline opponents are appealing the commission’s decision to the state Supreme Court, arguing the new route requires a new application. If an anti-pipeline PSC member had been elected, opponents would have been better positioned to push for a project denial in the event of a favorable judgement.

Kleeb, who is also chair of the Nebraska Democratic Party, interprets the PSC loss, and other progressive and Democrat election losses, as a call to better engage rural voters, something that will be essential in the 2020 presidential race. She said that politicians should look to the grassroots as an example of how to do that.

“There’s no question that under Trump, it’s much easier to see pipelines and other risky fossil fuel projects getting approved, but there’s not a single pipeline project that I’m aware of that, when proposed, is not met with fierce local resistance that is a combination of the landowners, the tribal nations, and the environmentalists,” Kleeb said. “I really do think that that unlikely alliance is a clear playbook for how we can also transform electoral politics.”

People protest against President Donald Trump's executive order fast-tracking the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines in Los Angeles, California, U.S., March 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson - RC150D4094E0

People protest against President Donald Trump’s executive order fast-tracking the Keystone XL and Dakota Access oil pipelines in Los Angeles, Calif., March 10, 2017.

Photo: Lucy Nicholson/Reuters

“It’s Up to Every Individual”

On the ground in South Dakota, a state that has long been a center of radical political movements led by Indigenous people, some of Keystone XL’s fiercest opponents are keeping an eye on the company’s movements.

Among their biggest concerns is that TransCanada will continue with pre-construction of the pipeline, which Kleeb said the lawsuit should prevent.

“We are asking people to monitor the line, especially in Montana and here in South Dakota,” said Braun. That’s easier said than done, considering that the pipeline passes through remote areas. Braun said South Dakotans have observed roads being built into pipeline storage sites and potential man camp sites being protected by armed guards. She said at least one person she’s worked with was followed by what she believed to be a pipeline security vehicle for dozens of miles.

The pipeline will skirt the corner of the Cheyenne River Sioux reservation, where Braun lives. Until the end of the summer, she helped run a small Keystone XL resistance camp that was set up almost as soon as the Standing Rock protests subsided. “We asked people to go home and get ready,” Braun said. “It’s up to every individual to decide what they want to do and how far they’re willing to go, hopefully legally.”

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Trump Points to Polls in France, Where 80 Percent Say He’s a Dangerous, Incompetent Racist

On Tuesday morning, the President of the United States encouraged Americans to study opinion polls in France, apparently unaware of a recent survey there showing that 8 of 10 French citizens consider him to be a dangerous, incompetent racist.

According to the polling, conducted last week for Le Figaro, a conservative newspaper, just 20 percent of French citizens call Donald Trump competent, while 84 percent agree that he is “racist” and 83 percent say he is “dangerous.” His overall approval rating comes in at 10 percent.

Trump accidentally called attention to his vast unpopularity in France after enduring a weekend of harsh criticism for his conduct during a visit to Paris to mark the anniversary of the end of the First World War — specifically his decision to skip a ceremony honoring Americans who were killed in the conflict because it was raining.

By the time Trump had returned to Washington, even the French military had joined in, with a mocking reference to his aversion to rain on its official Twitter account.

When he finally responded on Tuesday — the sort of delayed reaction the French call “l’esprit d’escalier,” when you come up with what seems like the perfect retort but only when it is too late to deliver it in person — Trump could think of no better comeback than to lash out at his French counterpart, Emmanuel Macron, by pointing to his low approval rating among French voters.

Macron apparently earned Trump’s ire by using his speech to dozens of world leaders on Armistice Day to warn of the dangers of a resurgent nationalism across the globe.

“The old demons are rising again, ready to complete their task of chaos and of death,” Macron said on Sunday, a year and a half after he defeated the French nationalist Marine Le Pen for the presidency.

“Patriotism is the exact opposite of nationalism. Nationalism is a betrayal of patriotism,” Macron said later in the speech, in remarks that were widely interpreted as a critique of Trump’s strident nationalism and “America First” slogan. “In saying ‘Our interests first, whatever happens to the others,’ you erase the most precious thing a nation can have, that which makes it live, that which causes it to be great and that which is most important — its moral values,” Macron said as Trump grimaced.

Having essentially subtweeted Trump to his face, Macron ensured that the American president would get the message by posting an English translation of the comments on his favorite communications platform, Twitter.

The French president’s frank words seemed to echo his offer, after Trump withdrew from the global climate accord negotiated in Paris last year, to subsidize American climate scientists trying to “Make Our Planet Great Again.”

When Trump finally responded, he claimed that Macron — by criticizing the nationalist ideology that tore Europe apart twice in the past century — “was just trying to get onto another subject,” to deflect attention from his “very low approval rating in France” of 26 percent. “By the way, there is no country more Nationalist than France, very proud people — and rightfully so!” Trump added.

The President of the United States concluded his Twitter rant by unleashing the caps lock and suggesting that he would like to see the pro-European Macron ultimately toppled by Le Pen’s nationalists.

Macron’s office refused to comment, but France’s ambassador in Washington, Gérard Araud, noted on Twitter that another insulting tweet posted by Trump, in which he claimed that the French president wanted a European army to defend the continent “against the U.S.” was completely false.

The French embassy also noted that it took part in the Veterans Day ceremony at Arlington National Cemetery on Monday — an event that Trump also skipped.

The post Trump Points to Polls in France, Where 80 Percent Say He’s a Dangerous, Incompetent Racist appeared first on The Intercept.

Nancy Pelosi Wants to Find “Common Ground” With Donald Trump. But Her Job Right Now Is to Fight Fascism.

WASHINGTON, DC - NOVEMBER 07: House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) holds a news conference following the 2018 midterm elections at the Capitol Building on November 7, 2018 in Washington, DC. Republicans kept the Senate majority but lost control of the House to the Democrats. (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., holds a news conference following the 2018 midterm elections at the U.S. Capitol Building on Nov. 7, 2018.

Photo: Zach Gibson/Getty Images

She just doesn’t get it.

“We will strive for bipartisanship, with fairness on all sides,” announced Nancy Pelosi on the night of November 6. “We must try” to find “common ground” with President Donald Trump and the Republican Party, she told a rally in Washington, D.C. as victory after victory in the midterms confirmed a new Democratic majority in the House of Representatives, adding: “ We’ll have a bipartisan marketplace of ideas that makes our democracy strong.”

My heart sank as I listened to her speak. Did she really believe this platitudinous nonsense? And if so, where has she been the past two years? In a coma?

In fact, forget the past 24 months in which an unhinged president praised Nazisbanned Muslimscaged kids, and obstructed justice. Consider only the events of the past seven days, since Pelosi made her pious pledge.

The morning after the midterms, Trump fired his attorney general, Jeff Sessions, and appointed a political crony, Matthew Whitaker, as the new “acting” attorney general — a move described by former Bush administration lawyer John Yoo as “unconstitutional.”

Trump denounced CNN journalist Jim Acosta as an “enemy” of the people and then stripped him of his White House press pass. “Out of line” and “unacceptable” was the response from White House Correspondents’ Association.

He insulted three black female reporters, dismissing questions from CNN’s Abby Phillip and “PBS NewsHour’s” Yamiche Alcindor as “stupid” and “racist,” while calling American Urban Radio Networks’ April Ryan a “loser”.

He promised to adopt a “warlike posture” if House Democrats dared to open investigations into his financial and political dealings, and vowed to use the Republican majority in the Senate to go after them in response.

He threatened to cut federal funding to California over “poor” forest management in the midst of the deadliest fires in the state’s history. (Firefighters on the ground say the fires have “nothing to do with forest management.”)

He took to Twitter to make unfounded claims of “fraud,” “electoral corruption,” and “massively infected” ballots in the election recounts in Florida and Arizona, in a brazen and partisan attempt to secure victory for Republican candidates in both states. “In a month of harrowing news,” noted Cornell University political scientist Tom Pepinsky, an expert on authoritarian politics, “this development is still almost incalculably bad for American democracy.”

All the while, Congressional Republicans stayed silent. With the exception of the retiring Jeff Flake, not a word of criticism, or dissent, from any of them.

Yet this is the far-right president and party that Pelosi wants to do deals with. This is the motley collection of racists and misogynists, of con artists and conspiracy theorists, that she plans to negotiate “bipartisan” agreements with. She wants to lead a “unifying” Congress, she told CNN’s Chris Cuomo last Thursday, and hopes that Trump will show a new “level of maturity” going forward.

Who is she kidding?

Maybe herself. In September 2017, Pelosi and Chuck Schumer, the Senate minority leader who also prefers rolling over to resisting, went to the White House to try and persuade Trump to extend protections for young undocumented immigrants. An excited Pelosi and Schumer called it a “very productive” dinner meeting with the president on the subject of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals program, or DACA. “We agreed to enshrine the protections of DACA into law quickly, and to work out a package of border security, excluding the wall, that’s acceptable to both sides,” they said, after tucking into Chinese food in the Blue Room of the White House.

Guess what happened next? The following morning, Trump threw Pelosi and Schumer under the bus. “No deal was made last night on DACA,” the president tweeted. “Massive border security would have to be agreed to in exchange for consent.”

Yet here we are, more than a year later, with Pelosi telling The Atlantic’s Edward-Isaac Dovere last week that Trump might “support bipartisan legislation, whether it’s comprehensive immigration reform, whether it’s Dreamers, whether it’s gun safety.”

Come on, Nancy! Whatever happened to “fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me”?

To quote liberal megadonor Tom Steyer, Trump and the Republicans are not in the “range of reason” on most policy issues and have “shifted the conversation to places that are so crazy that there’s really no other side to the conversation.”

Has Pelosi really not been paying attention as the GOP, led by Trump, has mounted an assault on everything from voting rights to racial equality to planet Earth itself? And if she has, why then the continuing obsession with “bipartisanship”? “Politics is not a parlor game where good manners always win out,” wrote left-wing activist and co-founder of Data for Progress, Sean McElwee, in the wake of the 2016 presidential election. “It involves questions of power and privilege, which cannot be solved merely with bipartisan brunches.”

Don’t get me wrong: I’m not denying that Pelosi was an effective speaker the first time around. Obamacare, Dodd-Frank, the Recovery Act, the Lily Ledbetter Act … all passed on her watch. Few question her ability to count votes — or the lack of a viable challenger from within the Democratic Party. But the job of speaker in the 116th Congress, which will convene in January, can’t only be about passing laws; it has to also be about holding this lawless president to account. Impeachment, therefore, must be on the table — but Pelosi has taken it off the table by naively insisting that it can only be done “in a bipartisan way.”

Let’s be clear: American democracy is in crisis. America’s minorities are, literally, under fire. If the dishonest, racist, corrupt, anti-democratic Donald Trump isn’t worthy of impeachment, then who is? Pelosi should take a pause from her ongoing media tour and listen to the recent discussion that my colleague Jeremy Scahill hosted on his podcast, Intercepted, with NYU historian Ruth Ben-Ghiat, author of “Fascist Modernities” and an expert on Benito Mussolini, and Yale University philosopher Jason Stanley, author of “How Fascism Works: The Politics of Us and Them.”

“I think right now, we are heading towards, more and more, a one-party state,” Stanley said, explaining Trump’s use of “classic fascist tactics.” Ben-Ghiat said she believed that “we are heading toward … a militarized authoritarian surveillance state,” and “we’re in the middle of a battle for the survival of democracy.”

Got that? A battle for the survival of democracy. Yet the leader of the Democrats in the House wants to talk infrastructure spending and prescription drugs. Her counterpart in the Senate is busy making noise about the size of seats on airplanes. They both seem unable to rise to the occasion; unwilling to recognize the existential danger that Trump poses to the republic.

“We have an obligation to try and find common ground” with the president, Pelosi told CNN last week. Not true. She and her party have an obligation, above all else, to defeat fascism — and you can’t defeat fascism by meeting it in the middle. The correct response to a white nationalist in the White House isn’t to offer him a vague deal on “infrastructure.” It’s to fight and, yes, to resist him at every turn; to loudly and relentlessly call out his rhetoric and behavior as abnormal and un-American.

The next two years will be a battle for the heart, soul, and future of U.S. democracy; it will be a nonstop, 24/7 struggle against incipient fascism and unabashed white nationalism. The president who wants his base to believe that constitutionally mandated recounts are illegitimate, who deploys thousands of troops to the border during an election campaign to stop an “invasion” from a migrant caravan 700 miles away, and who thinks Democrats are “evil” and “crazy” won’t go quietly into the night.

Forget bipartisanship and compromise. There is too much at stake for an out-of-touch and self-defeating kumbaya politics. The job of soon-to-be-Speaker Pelosi is not to negotiate with Trump and the far-right Republicans — only to defeat them.

The post Nancy Pelosi Wants to Find “Common Ground” With Donald Trump. But Her Job Right Now Is to Fight Fascism. appeared first on The Intercept.

One Little-Watched Race Has Huge Implications for Election Hacking and Voter Suppression in Georgia

So much attention in the midterm elections this year has focused on the gubernatorial race in Georgia between Republican Brian Kemp and Democrat Stacey Abrams that the race for secretary of state, the office Kemp is vacating, has gone largely ignored.

It’s arguably the more important race, since this is the office that will control the state’s voter registration database and any purges made to the voter roll going forward. Equally important, it’s the office that will be responsible for programming all of the state’s currently paperless voting machines that can’t be audited, though Georgia will be looking to replace these machines with an undetermined model next year. Both of these factors could make Georgia a hotbed for voter suppression tactics and vote-counting integrity in the 2020 presidential elections, experts said.

“We’ve said all along for the last two years that this is probably the most important office we would be electing in 2018 because of the broad scope of oversight and duties that the secretary of state has in Georgia,” said Sara Henderson, executive director of Common Cause Georgia, a nonprofit, nonpartisan voting advocacy group. “There’s a lot of talk within the national media that in Georgia, the counties control their own elections. But nothing could be further from the truth. That’s how we’re set up regarding our election laws, but that is not in effect how it operates here. The secretary of state absolutely 100 percent impacts how and what the counties do.”

Georgia is one of only a few states that uses a single model of voting machines statewide — in this case, paperless direct-recording electronic machines made by the now-defunct Diebold Election Systems — and also uses a centralized model for programming those machines before each election. Instead of letting county elections offices or an independent third party program them, Kemp’s office controls this task — a job it only assumed last year in a controversial move that occurred in the middle of Kemp’s heated campaign for governor.

Kemp has so far narrowly escaped a runoff in his gubernatorial race with Abrams, after barely amassing the 50 percent of votes needed for victory (he had 50.2 percent at last count, about 59,000 more votes than Abrams; a federal judge on Monday ordered election results not be certified for several more days, responding to one of several challenges seeking time to resolve questions over the number of absentee and provisional ballots being counted). But this isn’t the case for the two candidates now vying for Kemp’s former job. The tight race for secretary of state between Republican Brad Raffensperger, a state representative and businessman, and former Democratic Rep. John Barrow, who served in the House for a decade, will go into a runoff on December 4. The tally in their race as of Friday gave Raffensperger the lead with 49.2 percent of votes to Barrow’s 48.6 percent, a difference of 24,210 votes. The candidates now face challenges with getting voters to turn up for the runoff, as such races traditionally produce lower voter turnout than regular elections.

Who wins the secretary of state’s race will determine in part whether Kemp’s controversial handling of voter purges continues.

Republican Brian Kemp, right, holds a news conference with Georgia Gov. Nathan Deal, left, in the Governor's ceremonial office at the Capitol on Thursday, Nov. 8, 2018, in Atlanta, Ga. Kemp resigned Thursday as Georgia's secretary of state, a day after his campaign said he's captured enough votes to become governor despite his rival's refusal to concede. (Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Republican Brian Kemp, right, holds a news conference to resign as Georgia’s secretary of state with Gov. Nathan Deal, left, on Nov. 8, 2018, in Atlanta, Ga.

Photo: Bob Andres/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP

Kemp and his office have been accused of voter suppression through aggressive purges of the state’s voter roll. Last year, his office purged some 668,000 voters who Kemp’s staff said had died, moved, or been inactive in casting ballots for six years or more. But a recent investigation has called into question whether 340,000 voters who had been removed for allegedly moving out of state actually moved. Kemp also attempted to block the registration of 53,000 new voters this year by determining that signatures and other information on their applications weren’t an “exact match” with secondary documents on file for the voters; a lawsuit and court ruling, however, intervened to stop him.

The issue of purging inactive voters came up during the secretary of state’s race. Raffensperger said in a debate that he supports purging inactive registered voters whose only lapse is not voting in past elections, while Barrow opposes such purges.

But purging voters wasn’t the only control Kemp wielded over the midterms. As chief election official in the state, he had certain authority over election procedures and recounts, including of his own gubernatorial race. Kemp came under fire by former President Jimmy Carter and others for refusing to recuse himself from overseeing an election in which he was also a candidate for office. Carter has served as an election monitor for years in dozens of other countries. “This runs counter to the most fundamental principle of democratic elections that the electoral process be managed by an independent and impartial election authority,” Carter wrote in a letter to Kemp before the election. Kemp only resigned from his secretary of state position last Thursday, after securing the lead in his gubernatorial race.

“It’s unquestionably improper for the secretary of state to control the programming and management of the voting machines that will decide his election contest [or his replacement],” said Susan Greenhalgh, policy director at the National Election Defense Coalition, a voter integrity group. “But in Georgia, it’s much worse because there is no paper ballot, no physical evidence that provides a permanent record of voter intent that can be used to confirm the correctness of the election outcome. Voters just have to trust the secretary of state.”

“In Georgia, there is no physical evidence that provides a permanent record of voter intent.”

Georgia’s current governor, Nathan Deal, appointed attorney Robyn Crittenden as interim secretary of state until the runoff for the office in December. Crittenden, an African-American who headed the state’s Department of Human Services, told the Atlanta Journal-Constitution that she intends “to take on this role in the same way I have approached my previous work in state government with a focus on transparency and service to the people of Georgia. Georgians can rest assured that I’m going to give this job my all, and that we’re going to follow the law.”

Common Cause’s Henderson called the appointment of a neutral party as interim secretary of state a good move and said her group feels “more confident about the runoff than we did about Election Day and early voting when Kemp was overseeing that process.”

During his tenure as secretary of state, Kemp didn’t just control the programming of all machines in the state; he also vigorously fought with election integrity activists who filed a lawsuit last year seeking to rid the state of its paperless voting machines on grounds that the machines aren’t secure and can’t be audited to verify that the software hasn’t been manipulated by malicious code. Georgia has been using its paperless machines since 2002, with Kemp and Republican secretaries of states that preceded him defying numerous calls over the years to replace the machines with systems that can be audited; they resisted these calls even as other states around the country, like California, Florida and Ohio, passed laws requiring their counties to switch to machines that produce a paper trail or use voter-marked paper ballots that can be audited.

Georgia isn’t the only state where the secretary of state oversees elections; that person is also chief election official in many states. But elsewhere, these offices serve a broad oversight function that doesn’t involve direct involvement in the administration of elections. Instead, local election officials in most states choose the machines they use, which generally results in a patchwork of voting machines around the state, and program those machines either through in-house staff, the voting machine vendor, or a third-party contractor. Georgia not only uses a single model of voting machine statewide, but also programs those machines from the secretary of state’s office.

A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast a ballot during the Georgia primary runoff elections in Atlanta, Georgia, U.S., on Tuesday, July 24, 2018. As government officials warn of continuing cyberattacks intended to disrupt U.S. elections, Georgia is among 14 states heading into Election Day using touchscreen, computerized machines that don't meet federal security guidelines because they produce no paper recordso voters can't verify their choices and officials can't audit the results. Photographer: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

A voter uses an electronic voting machine to cast a ballot during the Georgia primary runoff elections in Atlanta on July 24, 2018.

Photo: Elijah Nouvelage/Bloomberg via Getty Images

This wasn’t always the case. In 2002, when the state first purchased its paperless voting machines, the programming and testing of the machines was contracted out to the Center for Election Systems at Kennesaw State University. But a story I wrote for Politico last year revealed that security problems at the center allowed a researcher to download registration records for the state’s 6.7 million voters, as well as software files for the state’s electronic poll books — used by poll workers to verify that people are registered before they can cast a ballot — and many other files. An investigation by KSU revealed that the center had a number of security lapses that had existed for years, which raised the possibility that attackers could have altered voter records or votes in previous elections without the center knowing during that time.

After the story published, Kemp’s office canceled its contract with the center. A spokesperson for Kemp said at the time that the office was considering farming out the programming of voting machines to academics at the Georgia Institute of Technology, which has a highly respected institute for information security. But Kemp ultimately decided to program the voting machines in-house, hiring Michael Barnes, director of the now-defunct Center for Election Systems, to do the work, even though the center’s poor security practices had occurred during Barnes’s management of the operation.

At least two other states, Louisiana and Maryland, also program their statewide machines centrally before each election. But of these two, only Louisiana does the programming out of the secretary of state’s office. Louisiana uses paperless voting machines statewide like Georgia, but a different model. The secretary of state’s staff loads election software onto USB sticks that are driven to each of the state’s 64 parish warehouses and loaded onto machines, according to a spokesperson. In the case of Maryland, which uses a uniform model of optical-scan systems with paper ballots statewide, the state’s Board of Elections, an agency separate from the secretary of state’s office, programs the machines and delivers the election database to counties on DVDs, or via a closed network using a VPN, before elections.

A handful of other states also use a single system statewide. Delaware uses paperless direct-recording electronic machines; Oklahoma uses a single brand of paperless direct-recording electronic machines and optical-scan machines statewide; and Colorado, Oregon, and Washington state use mail-in ballots exclusively and scan them optically. Colorado election officials program their machines themselves, however. The Intercept was unable to reach election officials in Oklahoma, Oregon, and Washington on Monday — due to Veterans Day — to determine if they program the machines centrally at the state level or individually at the county level.

Georgia lawmakers plan to look at legislation to replace the current statewide voting machines with new systems that use paper and can be audited. A Georgia commission will likely decide between optical-scan machines that use voter-marked paper ballots or ballot-marking devices that use a touchscreen machine to mark ballots that are then printed out for voters to examine before they’re inserted into an optical reader that records and tallies the votes.

Both Barrow and Raffensperger have said they support switching to machines that use paper ballots, but Barrow has said he prefers voter-marked paper ballots, while Raffensperger has said he prefers ballot-marking devices. In both cases, the paper ballot serves as an auditing record that can be used to compare against the digital tallies tabulated by the software on the optical scanner. But election integrity activists say that some ballot-marking systems are problematic if they print a barcode on the ballot. With these systems, although the voter is able to see their selections printed on the ballot, the ballot reader uses the barcode to record and tally votes. A hacker could subvert the software on the ballot-marking device to print one thing in the human-readable portion of the ballot that the voter sees, while printing something else in the barcode that the machine reads and records. If Georgia doesn’t conduct manual audits of the paper ballots, no one would know if the barcodes were manipulated, which would essentially put Georgia in the same situation it’s in today with elections that aren’t verified.

It’s not clear how long it will take Georgia to decide on new systems and get them in place, though it won’t be soon enough for the secretary of state’s runoff in December. Election integrity activists fought to get a court to decertify Georgia’s paperless systems and force counties to use paper ballots for the midterms. Although U.S. District Judge Amy Totenberg agreed with the plaintiffs that the secretary of state’s office had failed to adequately secure the systems, she felt it would create too much of a burden on election officials to switch the entire state to paper so soon before the election.

Barrow said during a debate with Raffensperger this year that if elected, he would do what Kemp has resisted and decertify the state’s current paperless machines, forcing counties to switch to paper ballots until lawmakers choose replacement machines.

Henderson says the outcome of this election will have a huge impact on how future elections in the state are run.

“We have a lot to do to undo what Brian Kemp did during his nearly eight years in office as secretary of state,” she told The Intercept. “I think the world is really waking up to what a serious situation we have in Georgia regarding voter suppression.”

The post One Little-Watched Race Has Huge Implications for Election Hacking and Voter Suppression in Georgia appeared first on The Intercept.

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Joins Environmental Activists in Protest at Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Office

Protesters with the environmental group Sunrise marched on Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi’s office on Tuesday. The group, made up of young people pushing for urgent action on climate change, planned to send a clear message to party leadership just one week after Democrats regained control of the House.

But this was no ordinary protest for the Sunrise activists, who typically stand on the opposite side of politicians. This time, they were joined by Rep.-elect Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who is just weeks away from being sworn into office.

Rep.-elect Rashida Tlaib of Michigan joined the protesters in a rally at the Spirit of Justice Park near the Capitol on Tuesday morning, but she did not continue on to Pelosi’s office. “This is the most American thing you can do,” Tlaib said of the protest. Ocasio-Cortez and Tlaib also attended an event with the Sunrise activists on Monday night.

Members of the progressive political group Justice Democrats also joined the protest, which was attended by more than 150 people. “Nancy Pelosi and the Democratic Party leadership must get serious about the climate and our economy,” said the group’s communications director, Waleed Shahid, in a statement. “Anything less is tantamount to denying the reality of climate change. The hopeful part is that we’re ushering in a new generation of leaders into the Democratic Party who understand the urgency and will help build a movement to create the political will for bold action.”

A recent United Nations report found that catastrophic effects of climate change, some of which are already upon us, could become widespread as early as 2040. To stave off the crisis, the globe’s economy would have to be put on the equivalent of a war footing, scientists involved with the study concluded.

The protesters, including Ocasio-Cortez, are calling on Pelosi to create and give teeth to a new select committee on climate change.

The proposed committee, called the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, would be similar to something Pelosi established as House speaker in 2007, but with more authority. Back then, Pelosi created the Select Committee on Energy Independence and Global Warming, and assigned her ally, then-Rep. Ed Markey, D-Mass., who has a strong environmental record, to chair it. The committee held dozens of hearings over the course of four years, until the tea party-led Congress, which took over in 2010, mothballed it. (The Republicans also got rid of the renewable plates and utensils Pelosi had introduced and replaced them with Styrofoam.)

The problem with that committee, Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise activists argue, was that it wasn’t funded well enough and didn’t have the true ability to write legislation. In 2009, Pelosi pushed through cap-and-trade legislation, meant to reduce emissions. But even that package moved largely through the Energy and Commerce Committee — not the select committee Pelosi had created. Markey, who chaired a subcommittee under Energy and Commerce, played a lead role in pushing through the bill, which became known as the Waxman-Markey bill, but it never came to a floor vote in the Senate. Some activists argued that it wasn’t robust enough to meet the threat of climate change, while defenders argued it was the best the chamber could do — and, as it turned out, it was far better than the Senate could do.


Sunrise activists outside of Pelosi’s office in Washington, D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018.

Photo: Briahna Gray/The Intercept

Since then, the global climate situation has only deteriorated, with once-in-a-century storms taking place with harrowing frequency, and drought conditions sparking war and mass migration. Dozens of people have died in still-raging fires in California that are the deadliest in the state’s modern history, and hundreds more are missing. “Resting on our laurels won’t bring back the 42 lives lost,” said Sunrise activist Varshini Prakash, referring to the deaths in California.

The proposed committee would, among other things, establish a 10-year plan to transition the U.S. economy to become carbon neutral, according to draft legislation that the activists presented to Pelosi’s office. The activists are also pushing Democratic leaders to reject campaign contributions from fossil fuel industry groups. “We need every person who is going to claim the mantle of Democratic leadership to take the no fossil fuel money pledge,” Prakash said at the sit-in outside Pelosi’s office.

Ocasio-Cortez’s decision to join the protesters and march on her own House leader sets a tone of urgency and combativeness that is rare on Capitol Hill. Walking into the Cannon House Office Building, she told The Intercept something new had to be tried. “The way things are done has not been getting results. We have to try new methods,” she said.

Pelosi may need Ocasio-Cortez’s support to win a second shot at the speakership. The California Democrat can only lose roughly 20 votes on the House floor, and already at least 10 Democrats, largely moderates and conservatives, have said they will not back her. Pelosi has expressed “100 percent” confidence that she’ll be elected speaker.

Pelosi has long been proud of her climate record, and she’s taken political risks in her attempts to tackle climate change. When she pushed for a vote on the cap-and-trade bill in 2009, for example, she did so despite warnings that it could cost her the House and was also unlikely to pass the Senate.

Drew Hammill, Pelosi’s deputy chief of staff, responded to the protest by saying that Pelosi is already on board with the proposals of the New Green Deal and the strengthening of the committee. When she addressed the protesters, Ocasio-Cortez said that the objective of the protest was to support Pelosi’s quest to tackle climate change. In an interview with The Intercept, she said that what Hammil said “is absolutely true, and so what we’re really doing is we’re trying to galvanize that into a priority.”

“There are so many different progressive issues that are important and climate change and addressing renewable energy always gets to the bottom of the barrel,” Ocasio-Cortez continued. “That can gets kicked from session to session and so what this just needs to do is create a momentum and an energy to make sure that that it becomes a priority for leadership.”

Ocasio-Cortez’s break with decorum could, paradoxically, open up space for her to ultimately support Pelosi on the House floor. After her primary victory, Ocasio-Cortez called for “new leadership” in the House and floated the possibility of Rep. Barbara Lee, D-Calif., running for the job. If Ocasio-Cortez can extract concessions by publicly demonstrating against Pelosi, the incoming representative’s supporters may be more forgiving of a final vote in Pelosi’s favor.

Lee, a close ally of Pelosi, is running for Democratic caucus chair, the leadership post being vacated by Rep. Joe Crowley, the New York Democrat whom Ocasio-Cortez defeated in a primary election.

Pelosi and Ocasio-Cortez have had an uneasy public relationship. Pelosi was quick to dismiss the implications of Ocasio-Cortez’s June upset over Crowley, who’d been in office for 14 years. “They made a choice in one district,” she said of the voters who propelled Ocasio-Cortez, a democratic socialist, to victory. “So, let’s not get yourself carried away as an expert on demographics and the rest of that. … We have an array of genders, generations, geography and … opinion, in our caucus, and we’re very proud of that.”

Ocasio-Cortez later disputed the conclusion. “It’s not just one district,” she said.

Ryan Grim is the author of the forthcoming book, “We’ve Got People: Resistance and Rebellion, From Jim Crow to Donald Trump.” Sign up here to get an email when it is published.

Update: November 13, 2018, 11:00 a.m.
This piece has been updated to include quotes from Sunrise activist Varshini Prakash, and will continue to be updated as the story develops. 

The post Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Joins Environmental Activists in Protest at Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi’s Office appeared first on The Intercept.

White Nationalist Steve King May Have Won, but Iowa Race Shows Republicans Are Losing Ground in Rural Areas

Election analysts have zeroed in on Donald Trump’s weakness in well-educated suburban districts to explain the outcome of the 2018 midterms, in which Democrats won back more than 30 House seats. But the biggest losses of the night for Republicans, in terms of raw vote share, actually happened in rural districts, long presumed to be GOP territory.

Based on data compiled by the Cook Political Report’s Dave Wasserman, the top House vote swing from Hillary Clinton’s vote share in 2016 was in West Virginia’s 3rd District, where Democrat and newly christened presidential candidate Richard Ojeda improved on Clinton’s performance by 36.5 percentage points. Among non-incumbents, the second-largest swing was Talley Sergent, another West Virginia candidate, who improved Clinton’s numbers in the 2nd District by 25.3 points. The No. 3 non-incumbent vote swing came from J.D. Scholten, the Democratic candidate for Iowa’s 4th Congressional District, who came within 3 points of Rep. Steve King, a 23.7-point swing over Clinton’s race against Trump.

Those margins are far bigger than the gap that successful Democratic candidates had to bridge: The biggest House vote swing from a Democratic challenger who actually flipped a district was 15.9 points, by Congressperson-elect Anthony Brindisi in New York’s 22nd District.

Scholten, like anyone who would run in Iowa’s 4th, got a tailwind by mere virtue of the fact that he was opposing King, a white nationalist who squandered his support from business interests and the national GOP in the race’s final days, after a series of racist statements and endorsements. But all but one of King’s eight previous opponents lost by 22 points or more. What did Scholten, a 38-year-old former minor league baseball player, do differently?

“A lot of it was just understanding and knowing the district and being relatable,” Scholten said. His persistence was palpable. Scholten toured all 39 counties in the district multiple times in a Winnebago vehicle nicknamed “Sioux City Sue.” He slept in Walmart parking lots along the way. He drew hundreds of voters to town halls in deep-red areas and wasn’t afraid to talk to anyone. “Some of it is just knowing where to go,” Scholten said. “A lot of these small towns, they don’t have a coffee shop. If you hang out at the gas station, you’ll find people coming in for their coffee and you’ll have good conversations.”

The outreach paid off. In a district tailor-made for a Republican, Scholten came out 18 points ahead of Fred Hubbell, the Democrat at the top of the ticket who lost his race for governor. There are 120,023 registered Democrats in the entire district; Scholten earned 146,698 votes.

Scholten dramatically improved on Hillary Clinton’s 2016 margins, even in areas that are normally rural strongholds. In Clay County, Clinton earned 26.3 percent of the vote; Scholten got 45.6 percent. In Emmet County, Clinton got 28.8 percent; Scholten, 46.8 percent. In Dickinson County, Clinton got 29.8 percent, Scholten, 44.8 percent. And in Woodbury County, which includes Scholten’s hometown of Sioux City, he won with 53.2 percent, easily outpacing Clinton’s 37.5 percent. It was the first time King ever lost the county, according to local election data.

King’s ultimate success largely came down to his performance in two counties in the far northwest corner of the state: Sioux and Lyon counties. In the 19,700 votes cast in those two counties alone, King picked up 9,500 votes more than Scholten. King only won the race by about 10,500 votes.

Lyon County’s turnout increased from the last midterm election, in 2014, by 16 percent; Sioux County’s increased by 8.7 percent. Scholten wondered whether the final surge of attention — triggered by a poll showing a 1-point race and renewed questions about King’s anti-Semitism in the aftermath of the Pittsburgh synagogue shooting — was a double-edged sword. Scholten raised well over $1 million in the last week, enough to run two-minute ads and increase name recognition. But it also activated King’s base in the northwest corner. “Republicans showed up there,” Scholten said. “Insiders in Iowa were like, ‘Did that last little bump hurt you?’”

Scholten was one of a handful of progressive populists who campaigned hard in rural districts that were written off by national Democrats. He had harsh words for the party’s rural outreach across the country; he considers it inattentive to the lived experience of those struggling with depopulation, lack of opportunity, and despair. “It’s getting harder and harder to live in rural America, and definitely rural Iowa,” he said. His advice to party leaders is to show up and listen to people’s concerns in order to demystify the image of Democrats that rural Americans get from Fox News without much pushback.

J.D. Scholten, a Democratic candidate for Senate in Iowa who is running against controversial eight-term Republican incumbent Steve King, speaks during an event in Sioux Center, Iowa, Oct. 12, 2018. The overlap of the Pittsburgh synagogue massacre and King's racially inflammatory remarks have threatened a re-election bid that looked assured. (KC McGinnis/The New York Times)

J.D. Scholten speaks at an event in Sioux Center, Iowa, on Oct. 12, 2018.

Photo: KC McGinnis/The New York Times via Redux

The heart of Scholten’s message was not King’s racism, but his ineffectiveness at proposing anything to lift rural America out of its struggles. Scholten ran on expanding Social Security, raising the minimum wage, increasing entrepreneurship in small towns, and transforming the farm economy.

Contrary to the argument that Trump’s trade wars helped Democrats win back the House, Scholten said his gains had little to do with the Trump administration’s tariffs, which have begun to hit agricultural products — particularly soybeans, a major crop in northwest Iowa. “Tariffs come and go. Farmers are used to the up and down,” Scholten said. “The thing really scaring farmers is market consolidation; that’s the thing that penetrated.”

Indeed, Scholten ran strongly on the idea that seed, livestock, and banking monopolies are punishing rural America. He supported a moratorium on food retail and agriculture mergers, and criticized King for doing nothing in the face of industry concentration. “I had a bunch of people come up and tell me people outside the district were messaging them and saying, ‘This guy gets it,’” Scholten said.

Scholten is now actively looking for work, after leaving his job as a paralegal to run for Congress. In an election night statement to supporters, Scholten reminded them that his political heroes, ’70s-era Iowa Rep. Berkley Bedell and former Sen. Tom Harkin, both lost their first congressional races. “Let’s just say that this isn’t the last you’ve heard of J.D. Scholten,” he wrote.

In our interview, Scholten wasn’t ready to announce a rematch. “I still have a lot of fire left in my belly,” he said. “I don’t know if me being the candidate is answer. But I plan to keep fighting.” In addition to a potential rematch with King, Scholten was mentioned by the website Iowa Starting Line as a possible candidate to take on Joni Ernst for U.S. Senate in 2020.

His strong performance, as in other parts of the country where Democrats ran well but didn’t succeed, built political infrastructure for future fights. Even a place with a rich political culture like Iowa has more apathetic pockets, and Scholten feels he really turned some of that around.

“Sioux City is not a political place. It’s not Des Moines,” he said. “Even Republican candidates don’t come here that often. But the last week, I was at the gym, and a young Latino guy comes up to me for a selfie. He said, ‘I registered because of you. I made sure my girlfriend voted, too.’ When I heard that, I knew we had done something here.”

Correction: November 13, 2018, 9:12 p.m. 
A previous version of this story said that all of King’s previous opponents lost by 22 points or more. One opponent, Christie Vilsack in 2012, lost by 8 points.

The post White Nationalist Steve King May Have Won, but Iowa Race Shows Republicans Are Losing Ground in Rural Areas appeared first on The Intercept.

Income, tax and immigration data stolen in breach

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) now has details about the data stolen in the breach of that occurred last month. According to the government agency, a significant amount of personal information including partial Social Security numbers, tax information and immigration status was compromised in the breach. No financial information was stolen.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services

US government accuses Chinese hackers of stealing jet engine IP

The Justice Department has charged ten Chinese nationals -- two of which are intelligence officers -- of hacking into and stealing intellectual property from a pair of unnamed US and French companies between January 2015 to at least May of 2015. The hackers were after a type of turbofan (portmanteau of turbine and fan), a large commercial airline engine, to either circumvent its own development costs or avoid having to buy it. According to the complaint by the Department of Justice, a Chinese aerospace manufacturer was simultaneously working on making a comparable engine. The hack afflicted unnamed aerospace companies located in Arizona, Massachusetts and Oregon.

Via: ZD Net

Source: US Department of Justice

Facebook says recent data breach wasn’t ‘related to the midterms’

Even though the number of users affected by Facebook's most recent hack was lowered to 29 million, from 50 million, it's still safe to say the attack was worse than originally thought. That's because we now know that the breach, which Facebook revealed a couple of weeks ago, exposed very detailed information of 14 million of those users, including their username, birthdate, gender, location, relationship status, religion, hometown, self-reported current city, education, work, the devices they used to access Facebook and the last 10 places they checked into (or were tagged in) on the site. The attackers, whose identities Facebook won't reveal because of an ongoing FBI investigation, were also able to view which people/Pages were followed by these 14 million users, as well as their 15 most recent searches on Facebook.

State Department email breach leaks employees’ personal data

The latest government data breach affected State Department employee emails. On September 7th, workers were notified that their personally identifiable information was obtained by an unnamed actor, according to a recent report from Politico. It apparently impacted "less than one percent" of employees and direct victims of the breach were alerted at the time. Apparently, this didn't affect classified information, so at least there's that.

Via: TechCrunch

Source: Politico

Half the US population will live in 8 states

In about 20 years, half the population will live in eight states“, and 70% of Americans will live in 15 states. “Meaning 30 percent will choose 70 senators. And the 30% will be older, whiter, more rural, more male than the 70 percent.” Of course, as the census shows the population shifting, the makeup of the House will also change dramatically.

Maybe you think that’s good, maybe you think that’s bad. It certainly leads to interesting political times.

In Which You Get a Chance to Save Democracy

Let’s start with the end: you can do something to change the broken political landscape in the United States, but you have to act quickly. Here’s a link to donate directly to outsider candidates I support who aren’t getting the funds they need. They are dedicated to working for their constituents’ healthcare, jobs, and community, but their districts are low income and have been ignored by national Democratic leadership. Any amount helps, no matter how small, but if you’re not a US citizen or permanent resident and can’t donate, at least you can help get the word out.

A few decades ago, I started became concerned about the national political landscape. Bush’s war on terror and the PATRIOT act were nightmares for freedom, and then Obama increased surveillance and drone strikes. At the same time, corporate lobbyists and PACs had grown to overrun the electoral process with their outsized influence.

The US is a rich country in funds and resources, but also in values. The Declaration of Independence puts it right up front: people have inherent rights that can’t be legislated away, and the government is there to secure those rights, drawing its power from the people. We don’t always live up to these values, but change has come upon us time and again with simple questions like, “am I not a man and a brother?

We are now at a critical point. Ignore the distracting presidency — Republicans are openly backing corporations & the wealthy by driving up the deficit and dismantling the thin safety net we have. Establishment Democrats are disorganized and out of touch with their roots, siding with financial interests instead of the poor and middle class. It’s time for a change.

Given that there isn’t a strong third party, the best bet is to renovate the Democrats from the inside. Too often, they have run weak candidates in districts that were too small or rural for them to care about, or even let the race go unopposed.

This has been a mistake. There is a huge vacuum for truly populist, outsider candidates. For 2018, the Democratic establishment appears to be cruising on anti-Trump sentiment, hoping enough voters are energized by his antics to turn against their local Republicans. Their tired playbook of dumping tons of outside money into business-friendly candidates to annoy residents with nonstop TV ads late in the campaign is another mistake.

The good news is that first-time Democratic candidates are running that support common sense policies like access to healthcare, investing in infrastructure, and education. And, they’re focused on the basics: build a ground campaign that talks to voters and recruits volunteers to get out the vote. The community they build will outlast this one election. But since they’re running in districts that have been ignored by the Democratic organization, they are lacking basic funds.

More good news: we’re not talking a lot of money. Your $10 or $100 donation makes a huge difference when $2,000/month hires a staff member. I know many of you are engineers & entrepreneurs that can give even more.

If these outsider candidates raise enough money before the primaries next year, it gets very interesting. The national Democratic party will notice the schoolteacher that just wiped the floor with their perennial, bland contender, outraising them with individual donations. Once they’re in the spotlight, these candidates will attract much more funding going into the main election and win their races.

Time is running out for 2017 to get these candidates off to a good start, so please consider giving an amount that hurts a bit, because it will be too late if we wait for the Democratic leadership to figure it out on their own.

Some random thoughts on Damian Green and those porn allegations

If you live in the UK then you might have noticed the somewhat bizarre furore over Damian Green MP and his alleged viewing of pornography on house his Parliament computer. Now, I don't know for certain if he did or didn't, but to put it in context his private email address also allegedly turned up in the Ashley Madison leak and on top of that there are sexual harassment allegations too. But

What’s with the TrueCrypt warning?

TrueCrypt, the free open source full disk encryption program favoured by many security-savvy people, including apparently Edward Snowden, is no more. Its website now redirects to its SourceForge page which starts with this message: WARNING: Using TrueCrypt is not secure as it may contain unfixed security issues This page exists only to help migrate existing data […]

Hector ‘Sabu’ Monsegur to be sentenced while Hammond sits in prison

A common cry in Anonymous circles is ‘Free Jeremy Hammond; Fuck Sabu’. Jeremy Hammond is currently serving a ten-year prison sentence for his involvement in the Stratfor hack. Sabu (real name Hector Xavier Monsegur) will be sentenced tomorrow for his role in Lulzsec and many other hacks. He is expected, on FBI request, to walk […]

FBI indicts five members of the Chinese military for hacking US companies

Eric Holder yesterday announced: “Today, we are announcing an indictment against five officers of the Chinese People’s Liberation Army for serious cybersecurity breaches against six American victim entities.” The five officers are known by the aliases UglyGorilla, Jack Sun, Lao Wen, hzy_1hx and KandyGoo. They are members of the PLA’s military unit 61398 (you may […]