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Updated: 9 hours 36 min ago

Poll: Majority Worry About 2020 Foreign Meddling

14 hours 20 min ago

RALEIGH, N.C. — A majority of Americans are concerned that a foreign government might interfere in some way in the 2020 presidential election, whether by tampering with election results, stealing information or by influencing candidates or voter opinion, a new poll shows.

The poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research finds Democrats far more likely to express the highest level of concern, but Democrats and Republicans alike have at least some concerns about interference.

Overall, half of Americans say they’re extremely or very concerned about foreign interference in the form of altered election results or voting systems, even though hackers bent on causing widespread havoc at polling places face challenges in doing so. An additional quarter is somewhat concerned.

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Similarly, about half are very concerned by the prospect of foreign governments influencing political candidates or affecting voters’ perceptions of the candidates, along with hacking candidate computer systems to steal information.

In total, the poll, conducted Thursday through Monday, shows 63% of Americans have major concerns about at least one of those types of foreign election interference, including 80% of Democrats and 46% of Republicans.

The results make clear that despite the efforts of U.S. officials to ward off election interference and to urge public awareness and calm, Americans remain anxious that some of the same tactics Russia used to meddle in the 2016 presidential election could surface again in the next race.

Those include the spread of disinformation online to sow divisions among American voters, and the hacking by military intelligence officers of Democratic emails that were then published by WikiLeaks in the run-up to the election. The efforts were aimed at helping Republican Donald Trump over Democratic rival Hillary Clinton, according to special counsel Robert Mueller’s report.

“I think that it’s been pretty well-documented that people have been influenced in the past by social media,” said Luci Dvorak, 32, an Illinois teacher. She said she found it concerning that Trump has been “very casual” about getting foreign help and even seemed to invite it.

Trump said in a television interview last week that he would be open to receiving a foreign government’s help in the next election. He slightly walked back those comments in a follow-up interview, saying that though he would want to look at foreign dirt on an opponent to assess if it was correct, he would “of course” also report it to the FBI or the attorney general.

U.S. officials are on high alert to protect against interference like what occurred in 2016. FBI Director Chris Wray has said the bureau regards last November’s midterm elections as a “dress rehearsal for the big show in 2020.”

He has said efforts to undermine democracy and influence public opinion through social media, propaganda and false personas have continued unabated and are “not just an election-cycle threat.”

“We saw that, therefore, continue full speed in 2018, in the midterms,” Wray said in April at a Council on Foreign Relations event. “What we did not see in 2018 was any material impact or interference with election infrastructure or, you know, campaign infrastructure.”

The decentralized nature of the country’s elections, which are run on a local level and rely on different and varied voting systems, would make it hard for hackers to cause widespread problems.

But concerns remain: Russian hackers gained access to voter databases in two Florida counties ahead of the 2016 election. Federal authorities also plan to examine North Carolina polling equipment that used software by a company targeted by Russian military hackers to determine if intentional tampering occurred aimed at disrupting voting.

The poll was conducted roughly two months after the release of Mueller’s report on his investigation into potential coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia.

That report did not establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump associates and the Kremlin to sway the outcome of the election. It did not reach a conclusion on whether the president had criminally obstructed justice, citing a Justice Department legal opinion that says sitting presidents cannot be indicted.

Trump has repeatedly said the report found “no collusion” and claimed vindication in Attorney General William Barr’s announcement that he found Mueller’s evidence insufficient to establish an obstruction charge.

The poll shows about half of Americans think the Mueller report did not completely clear Trump of obstruction, while many also think it didn’t clear him of coordinating with Russia.

Overall, 48% said they think the report didn’t clear Trump of obstruction, while just 20% think it did. Another 30% say they don’t know enough to say.

Many Americans — 44% — also think the report did not clear Trump of coordination with Russia, while 24% think it did and 31% aren’t sure.

“It’s the twisting of the opposition party that’s given him all this static, where he’s not able to move or do what he’d like to do,” said 88-year-old Dennis Halaszynski, who is retired and lives in McKeesport, Pennsylvania.

“They said at the beginning that he’s going to go to jail, and they’re doing their best to put him in jail,” he added. “He’s just not having the time, the proper time, to do what he’d like to do.”

___

The AP-NORC poll of 1,116 adults was conducted June 13-17 using a sample drawn from NORC’s probability-based AmeriSpeak Panel, which is designed to be representative of the U.S. population. The margin of sampling error for all respondents is plus or minus 4.0 percentage points. Respondents were first selected randomly using address-based sampling methods, and later interviewed online or by phone.

EPA Defies Climate Warnings, Gives Coal Plants a Reprieve

17 hours 8 min ago

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration on Wednesday completed one of its biggest rollbacks of environmental rules, replacing a landmark Obama-era effort that sought to wean the nation’s electrical grid off coal-fired power plants and their climate-damaging pollution.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Andrew Wheeler, a former coal industry lobbyist, signed a replacement rule that gives states leeway in deciding whether to require efficiency upgrades at existing coal plants.

Wheeler said coal-fired power plants remained essential to the power grid, something that opponents deny. “Americans want reliable energy that they can afford,” he said at a news conference. There’s no denying “the fact that fossil fuels will continue to be an important part of the mix,” he said.

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Rep. David McKinley, R-W.Va. was one of several coal country lawmakers on hand for the signing. He argued that power from the sun and wind was not yet reliable enough to depend on. “We’re not ready for renewable energy … so we need coal.”

President Donald Trump campaigned partly on a pledge to bring back the coal industry, which has been hit hard by competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable energy.

The rule will go into effect shortly after publication in the Federal Register. Environmental groups pledge court challenges.

“The Trump administration’s outrageous Dirty Power Scam is a stunning giveaway to big polluters, giving dirty special interests the greenlight to choke our skies, poison our waters and worsen the climate crisis,” House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement.

Joseph Goffman, an EPA official under President Barack Obama, said he feared that the Trump administration was trying to set a legal precedent that the Clean Air Act gives the federal government “next to no authority to do anything” about climate-changing emissions from the country’s power grid.

The Obama rule, adopted in 2015, sought to reshape the country’s power system by encouraging utilities to rely less on dirtier-burning coal-fired power plants and more on electricity from natural gas, solar, wind and other lower or no-carbon sources.

Burning of fossil fuels for electricity, transportation and heat is the main human source of heat-trapping carbon emissions.

Supporters of the revised rule say the Obama-era plan overstepped the EPA’s authority.

“This action is recalibrating EPA so it aligns with being the agency to protect public health and the environment in a way that respects the limits of the law,” said Mandy Gunasekara, a former senior official at the EPA who helped write the replacement rule. She now runs a nonprofit, Energy45, that supports President Donald Trump’s energy initiatives.

“The Clean Power Plan was designed largely to put coal out of business,” Gunasekara said. Trump’s overhaul is meant to let states “figure out what is best for their mission in terms of meeting modern environmental standards” and providing affordable energy, she said.

Democrats and environmentalists say the Trump administration has ignored scientific warnings about climate change as it sought to protect the sagging U.S. coal industry.

“The growing climate crisis is the existential threat of our time and President Trump’s shameful response was to put lobbyists and polluters in charge of protecting your health and safety,” Pelosi said.

With coal miners at his side , Trump signed an order in March 2017 directing the EPA to scrap the Obama rule. It was one of the first acts of his presidency.

His pledge to roll back regulation for the coal industry helped cement support from owners and workers in the coal industry, and others. Despite his promise, market forces have frustrated Trump’s efforts . Competition from cheaper natural gas and renewable fuel has continued a years-long trend driving U.S. coal plant closings to near-record levels last year, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.

By encouraging utilities to consider spending money to upgrade aging coal plants, environmental groups argue, the Trump rule could prompt the companies to run existing coal plants harder and longer rather than retiring them.

“It’s a rule to increase emissions because it’s a rule to extend the life of coal plants,” said Conrad Schneider, advocacy director of the Clean Air Task Force. “You invest in updating an old coal plant, it makes it more economic” to run it more to pay off that investment.

An Associated Press analysis Tuesday of federal air data showed U.S. progress on cleaning the air may be stagnating after decades of improvement. There were 15% more days with unhealthy air in America both last year and the year before than there were on average from 2013 through 2016, the four years when America had its fewest number of those days since at least 1980.

Trump has repeatedly claimed just the opposite, saying earlier this month in Ireland: “We have the cleanest air in the world, in the United States, and it’s gotten better since I’m president.”

Along with an initiative requiring tougher mileage standards for cars and light trucks, the Clean Power Plan was one of Obama’s two legacy efforts to slow climate change. The Trump administration also is proposing to roll back the Obama-era mileage standards, with a final rule expected shortly. Environmental groups promise court challenges to both rollbacks.

Trump has rejected scientific warnings on climate change, including a report this year from scientists at more than a dozen federal agencies noting that global warming from fossil fuels “presents growing challenges to human health and quality of life.”

The EPA’s own regulatory analysis last year estimated that Trump’s replacement ACE rule would kill an extra 300 to 1,500 people each year by 2030, owing to additional air pollution from the power grid.

Fed Leaves Its Key Rate Unchanged but Hints of Future Cuts

18 hours 51 min ago

WASHINGTON — The Federal Reserve left its key interest rate unchanged Wednesday but signaled that it’s prepared to start cutting rates if needed to protect the U.S. economy from trade conflicts and other threats.

The Fed kept its benchmark rate — which influences many consumer and business loans — in a range of 2.25% to 2.5%, where it’s been since December.

It issued a statement saying that because “uncertainties” have increased, it would “act as appropriate to sustain the expansion.” That language echoed a remark that Chairman Jerome Powell made two weeks ago that analysts interpreted as a signal that rate cuts were on the way.

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In its statement Wednesday, the Fed removed a reference to being “patient” about adjusting rates. That suggested that the central bank is now inclined to begin cutting rates for the first time in more than a decade. It remains unclear when that might happen.

The Fed’s decision was approved on a 9-1 vote, with James Bullard, president of the Fed’s St. Louis regional bank, dissenting because he thought the central bank should begin cutting rates now. It marked the first dissent from a Fed decision since Powell became chairman in February last year.

The policymakers are considering cutting rates in part because President Donald Trump’s trade conflicts, especially with China, have become a threat to the economy. The economic expansion that has followed the Great Recession next month will become the longest on record.

A survey of the 17 Fed officials showed that nearly half now expect at least one rate cut this year, with seven projecting two. When they met in March, no officials had forecast a rate cut.

Many Fed watchers have said they think the policymakers want to first see whether a meeting that Trump and President Xi Jinping are to hold late next week produces any breakthrough in the U.S.-China trade war.

But economists say when — or even whether — the Fed eases credit will depend on a host of factors that are hard to predict. Will Trump’s trade wars be resolved before they inflict real damage on the economy? Will the job market remain resilient even as growth slows? Will inflation finally edge close to the Fed’s target level?

Many analysts think the central bank will wait until September at the earliest to announce its first drop in its benchmark short-term rate since 2008 and might not cut again in 2019. A few Fed watchers foresee no rate cut at all this year, especially if the United States and China reach some tentative resolution to the trade war.

Complicating the timing of possible rate cuts is an escalation of attacks on the Fed by Trump as he gears up for his 2020 re-election campaign. Trump’s public criticism, a highly unusual action for a president, has raised concern that he is undermining the Fed’s independence as a central bank. The president has asserted that under Powell’s leadership, the Fed hurt the economy by tightening credit too much last year and by failing to lower rates since then.

This week, Trump was asked about a news report that the White House in February had explored whether the president had the authority to demote Powell as chairman while leaving him on the Fed’s board.

“Let’s see what he does,” Trump said of Powell. “They’re going to be making an announcement very soon. So we’ll see what happens.”

The president has previously explored firing Powell. But under the law, a Fed board member, like Powell, can be fired only for cause.

The Fed is meeting at a time when the U.S.-China trade war, with its tariffs and counter-tariffs on each other’s products, has magnified concern and uncertainty for businesses and investors about whether and how much the economy will suffer.

The U.S. manufacturing sector, in particular, is weakening. This week, the Federal Reserve Bank of New York reported that an index it compiles of manufacturing in New York state plunged this month into negative territory — to its lowest point since 2016. The index reflects manufacturing conditions in the state.

In some encouraging news, Trump tweeted Tuesday that he had spoken by phone with Xi and that the two leaders plan “an extended meeting” at a Group of 20 nations summit in Japan late next week. Trump also said that before his meeting with Xi, negotiators for the two sides will resume talks.

Also Tuesday, Mario Draghi, head of the European Central Bank, said the ECB was ready to provide further stimulus, including rate cuts, if the eurozone economy doesn’t strengthen soon.

Draghi’s comments sent the value of the euro tumbling against the dollar, prompting an angry tweet from Trump accusing the ECB leader of acting to weaken the euro to gain a competitive trade advantage against the United States.

How the Charter School Movement Co-Opted Teach for America

20 hours 27 min ago

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

When the Walton Family Foundation announced in 2013 that it was donating $20 million to Teach For America to recruit and train nearly 4,000 teachers for low-income schools, its press release did not reveal the unusual terms for the grant.

Documents obtained by ProPublica show that the foundation, a staunch supporter of school choice and Teach For America’s largest private funder, was paying $4,000 for every teacher placed in a traditional public school — and $6,000 for every one placed in a charter school. The two-year grant was directed at nine cities where charter schools were sprouting up, including New Orleans; Memphis, Tennessee; and Los Angeles.

The gift’s purpose was far removed from Teach For America’s original mission of alleviating teacher shortages in traditional public schools. It was intended to “generate a longer-term leadership pipeline that advances the education movement, providing a source of talent for policy, advocacy and politics, as well as quality schools and new entrepreneurial ventures,” according to internal grant documents.

The incentives corresponded to a shift in Teach For America’s direction. Although only 7% of students go to charter schools, Teach For America sent almost 40% of its 6,736 teachers to them in 2018 — up from 34% in 2015 and 13% in 2008. In some large cities, charter schools employ the majority of TFA teachers: 54% in Houston, 58% in San Antonio and at least 70% in Los Angeles.

Established nearly 30 years ago to tap idealistic graduates of elite universities to teach at traditional public schools in high-poverty areas, Teach For America has evolved into an informal but vital ally of the charter school movement. Not only does it place a disproportionate number of its teachers in charter schools, but the organization and its affiliated groups also have become reliant on the support of the Walton Foundation and other school choice advocates, including a daughter of billionaire Michael Bloomberg, the former New York City mayor. As board members of Teach For America’s offshoot leadership organization, which gives to the political campaigns of former TFA teachers, Emma Bloomberg and a Walton family member have supplemented the organization’s contributions to charter school proponents with their own donations.

“There’s no question that Teach For America as it evolved became joined at the hip to a large degree with the national education reform movement. I suspect that some of this was coordinated in part with funders who are active in the Teach For America funding and the charter and reform activities,” said Jeffrey Henig, a professor at the Teachers College, Columbia University, and author of a book about education research and charter school policy. “These billionaire school reformers and the foundations with which they are allied really have become much more sophisticated in the way they strategically use their funding.”

Teach For America cautioned its public school teachers against participating in recent teacher strikes in Oakland, California, and Los Angeles. Ava Marinelli, one of just 35 Teach For America teachers in the Los Angeles traditional public schools, joined the picket line anyway.

“With the level of divisiveness between charter and public schools, Teach For America has aligned with the charter school agenda,” she said in a recent interview. “This shows with their donors and who their partners are.” Teach For America said that it took no stance on whether its teachers should strike, but that the terms of their AmeriCorps funding prohibited involvement with organized labor.

Teach For America CEO Elisa Villanueva Beard said that donors don’t sway its approach. “We don’t have any one funder that is more than 5% of our overall budget,” Beard said. “We are very focused on what are our objectives, what is our mission, what are our values and what are the needs of the community.” She said that current grants to Teach For America from the Walton Foundation and other organizations don’t favor charter schools over traditional public schools.

She said that the organization does not have a national placement strategy and that where corps members teach is determined by the needs of regional partners. “Every last strategy question is answered locally,” Beard said. “Our interest is just to make sure that we are working to ensure that we meet our partners’ needs, are serving the students who need us most and are able to advance the needle for opportunity for them.”

Both push and pull factors have fostered Teach For America’s shift in direction. Since 2016, school districts in San Francisco; Jacksonville, Florida; and Houston have decided to end their contracts with Teach For America, citing, among other reasons, its teachers’ relatively low retention rate. At the same time, Teach For America and the charter school movement share a similar goal: promoting innovation by streamlining bureaucracy. Teach For America’s alumni have started some of the nation’s largest charter networks, including KIPP, Rocketship Education, IDEA and YES Prep.

Whichever type of school they serve in, Teach For America’s teachers devote their intelligence and energy to helping low-income and minority students and closing the nation’s unrelenting achievement gap. But its metamorphosis reflects a broader trend: As nonunion charter schools have gained acceptance in the past 20 years, political support for traditional public schools and teacher unions has eroded.

While both the Obama and Trump administrations have backed charter schools, the appointment of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, who once called the traditional public education system a “dead end,” fractured the political consensus. The issue divides candidates for the Democratic presidential nomination. Bernie Sanders has called for a moratorium on federal funding of charters until a national review of their growth is conducted. Sanders, Joe Biden and Elizabeth Warren have criticized for-profit charter schools, with Sanders advocating an outright ban.

Other candidates, such as Cory Booker and Beto O’Rourke, are sympathetic to charters. As Newark’s mayor, Booker raised millions in private funds for education reforms, including the expansion of charter schools. O’Rourke, whose wife started a charter school, has called them a “good idea” for encouraging competition and innovation.

As a Princeton University senior in 1989, Wendy Kopp had a radical idea to curb the teacher shortages plaguing America’s least resourced public school classrooms: Send them the country’s brightest college graduates.

“We take all of these promising future leaders and have their first two years be teaching in low-income communities, instead of working in banks,” Kopp said. “I thought that would change everything. It would change the consciousness of the country.”

Within a year, Kopp’s idea became Teach For America, which recruits new graduates from top colleges, trains them for five weeks, places them in schools nationwide and mentors them during a two-year classroom commitment.

Fueled by Kopp’s prolific fundraising, the nonprofit grew quickly. In 2000, it raised $25 million from private donors, government grants and foundations, which supported about 1,600 new corps members a year. By 2016, its contributions and grants rose to $245 million with an endowment of about $208 million, enough for 3,500 new members a year. Today, Teach For America ranks among the 100 largest nonprofits in the country.

The charter school movement, which arose soon after Teach For America’s founding, was booming as well. Publicly funded but privately managed, and regarded by some proponents as a way to fix a failing education system weighed down by unions and bureaucracy, charter schools nearly tripled in enrollment from 2006 to 2016.

While Teach For America has received more than $40 million annually in government grants, according to the recent tax filings, some of its largest private donors also bankroll charter schools. Over the years, these backers — including Greg Penner, Walmart’s board chairman and a Walton family member by marriage; Arthur Rock, a retired Silicon Valley entrepreneur; and Eli Broad, a Los Angeles philanthropist — have cycled through Teach For America’s board. Together, the three tycoons and their family foundations have doled out at least $200 million to Teach For America.

“There are only so many donors and Teach For America is probably going after all of them, certainly whether they have a charter agenda or not, but many of them are very supportive of charters,” Kopp said.

Rock said in an email that he devotes almost all of his time and philanthropy to supporting K-12 education. “I support those organizations which have a proven record of helping children,” he said. Penner declined to comment, and Broad did not respond to questions related to his support of the organization.

Teach For America has long maintained that it does not prefer charter schools. “We believe in public education,” the organization states on a webpage devoted to combating criticism. “We’re not concerned about whether kids (or teachers) go to traditional district schools or public charter schools or innovative magnet schools, and TFA takes no institutional position on school governance.”

Marc Sternberg, a former corps member, now runs K-12 education for the Walton Family Foundation, which has given more than $100 million to Teach For America over the years. He said the foundation has a “bedrock partnership” with Teach For America. To Sternberg, the missions of the two organizations are intertwined: expanding educational opportunity, and options, for children.

“I was placed in a school that was pretty dysfunctional,” said Sternberg, reflecting on his Teach For America experience at a traditional public school in the South Bronx in the late 1990s. “It lacked a leadership thesis that is necessary for organizational success. The entrepreneur walks into that environment, and sees all the great things, and develops an understanding of the problem statement and then wants to do something about it.”

While Sternberg said that the Walton foundation is “agnostic” about the types of schools it funds, the foundation has been one of the most generous supporters of charter schools, having spent more than $385 million to help launch and sustain about a quarter of the nation’s charter schools since 1997. In 2016, the foundation announced that it would spend an additional $1 billion to support charter schools, expand school choice and develop “pipelines of talent.”

The foundation’s 2013-15 grant paid more for placing TFA teachers in charter schools, Sternberg said in an email, because “we wanted to ensure that the growing number of charter schools had access to high-quality educators given increased demand from communities.” Its current grants to TFA provide equal funding for teachers at charter and traditional public schools, he said.

Today, in most of the cities targeted by the 2013 grant, TFA partners with more charter schools than traditional public schools, according to AmeriCorps data. In Indianapolis and greater Los Angeles, about two-thirds of TFA’s partner schools are charters. In New Orleans, where nearly all of the schools are charters, all of TFA’s corps members are assigned to charter schools. In the past five years, the proportion of TFA teachers placed in charter schools has increased even as the raw numbers have gone down, reflecting an overall decrease in corps members.

Another major donor to both Teach For America and charter schools is the Doris & Donald Fisher Fund, created by the founders of The Gap. In 2009, the fund gave $10 million over five years “to continue Teach For America’s role as a pipeline of teachers and leaders in the charter school movement,” according to an internal agreement.

In 1994, two Teach For America alumni founded the Knowledge is Power Program, now one of the nation’s largest charter school networks. As chief executive of the KIPP Foundation, Kopp’s husband, Richard Barth, has overseen the network’s expansion.

“Leadership is critical, and so we have been very involved with Teach For America, which is an organization that has really given birth to KIPP and to many of the top charter school organizations around the country,” the Fishers’ son, John, said in a filmed 2012 interview. “The human pipeline — the pipeline of top talent — has really been accelerated through the success of Teach For America.”

As of 2012, a third of KIPP’s teachers were Teach For America corps members and alumni. KIPP did not provide more recent figures. “You look at the percentage of the principals and teachers at KIPP and it’s clear that it’s a pipeline,” Kopp said.

As school superintendents and state education directors, TFA alumni have pushed to expand charters. In 2011, former corps member John White became superintendent of the state-run Recovery School District, which oversaw most of New Orleans’ schools. He’s now the state superintendentof education. Over the same period, charter schools in the city and across the state have proliferated. The last traditional public schools in New Orleans are set to close or begin a transition to charter control by the end of the year, and by 2022, all of the city’s schools will be charters.

Cami Anderson, a Teach For America alum and former employee, was a key adviser to Cory Booker in his unsuccessful 2002 campaign for mayor of Newark, New Jersey. In 2011, when Booker was mayor, she became Newark’s superintendent of schools. She reorganized the district, which led to mass layoffs of public school teachers and an increase in charter enrollment.

Under Teach For America alum Kevin Huffman, who served as Tennessee commissioner of education from 2011 to 2015, the number of charter schools there doubled. The state’s current commissioner, Penny Schwinn, was also a TFA corps member. In Washington, D.C., two charter-friendly Teach For America alumni have led the district over the past decade: Michelle Rhee and Kaya Henderson.

Eric Guckian, a former Teach For America corps member, headed the organization’s North Carolina chapter, and he later pushed for more charter schools as a senior adviser for education to the state’s governor. He said propelling TFA alumni into positions of power was always the plan.

“The promise of Teach For America, when I was pitching it to potential donors, was that all these kids are going to turn into leaders and that has manifested itself,” Guckian said.

Not all of Teach For America’s alumni leaders favor charter school expansion. After teaching for more than two decades in traditional public schools in Compton and Los Angeles, Alex Caputo-Pearl was elected to lead the local union, United Teachers Los Angeles.

“There are a lot of very good people who are attracted to the program and do good work,” said Pearl, who joined Teach For America in 1990. “I was in a classroom because nobody would be there if I wasn’t there.”

But, he said, Teach For America’s agenda has shifted. In Los Angeles, where about a quarter of students are enrolled in charter schools, Teach For America has become the “main contributor to the characterization and privatization of public schools, rather than helping to address the teacher shortage in public district schools,” he said.

At ICEF Inglewood Middle Charter Academy, in a low-income and predominantly black and Hispanic neighborhood in Los Angeles, five of the school’s eleven teachers are TFA members, including English teacher Joy McCreary. One morning in May, she peppered her seventh graders with questions about a passage they had read on the photographer Eadweard Muybridge.

“And what was Muybridge trying to find out by photographing a horse running?” she asked a student in the second row of her classroom, which was decorated with white lights strung against curtained windows, student projects and motivational messages promoting humility and determination.

“If a horse could fly,” the student responded. McCreary nodded.

McCreary grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs; both of her parents were teachers. In June 2018, she graduated from the University of California, Los Angeles, with degrees in international development, political science and German studies, and joined Teach For America. Her five weeks of training included coursework and teaching at a summer school program. Unlike teachers at traditional public schools, who typically gain certification by completing a qualified prep program and passing a standardized test, charter school teachers and TFA corps members may not need traditional certification. Over the years, TFA has successfully lobbied state and federal legislators for a classroom fast track for its members.

“Teaching is very sink or swim,” McCreary said. “The best way to learn how to teach is just to teach.”

When McCreary joined Teach For America, she didn’t care what kind of school she ended up in. Now she’s glad it’s a charter school.

“Charter schools place a much higher focus on teacher development,” McCreary said. At traditional district schools in Los Angeles, she added, “You get these old, battle-ax teachers that have been there forever and are doing the same things every year and are not necessarily trying out new things or being challenged to try new things.”

Natalie Kieffer, the principal, also participated in Teach For America. After three years of teaching at a traditional public school in Los Angeles, Kieffer was laid off during the financial crisis and moved to a charter school. Within a decade, she rose from teacher to principal.

“There were opportunities for growth that I wouldn’t have been offered in [the Los Angeles Unified School District],” Kieffer said. “Being laid off was a blessing in disguise.”

The Inglewood school district recently revoked the academy’s charter due to low academic performance, forcing it to close at the end of the year. Kieffer, who did not respond to emailed questions about the closure, will become an assistant principal at a charter high school next year. McCreary will move to another Los Angeles charter chain, the Alliance College-Ready network.

Another Teach For America corps member in Los Angeles, Faisal Hirji, is equally loyal to his school — a traditional public high school. The veteran teachers whom McCreary perceives as battle-axes, Hirji praises for their hard-earned wisdom. Hirji, who teaches special education, said TFA’s five-week training, plus a handful of online modules that it provided on how to teach children with special needs, weren’t nearly enough.

“Our kids are being dramatically underserved compared to what an experienced teacher could do,” he said. (Teach For America said that students of its teachers were at least as likely to pass state assessments as their peers.)

Like Hirji, all of Teach For America’s corps members in Los Angeles public schools were assigned to special education classrooms. “We were thrown into the fire,” he said. Teach For America said that aside from the summer institute, it provides “coaching, collaboration with veteran teachers, and local professional development opportunities” throughout a corps member’s commitment, but Hirji said its support was not enough. Realizing that Hirji needed a mentor, the principal at his East Los Angeles school had him work alongside a veteran special education teacher for his first semester.

“I didn’t learn anything from Teach For America,” he said. “I learned it all from my school.”

Typically, public school districts or charter schools pay Teach For America an annual finder’s fee of $3,000 to $6,000 per teacher. From 2013 through 2017, Teach For America reaped more than $110 million in recruitment and placement fees, according to tax filings. The districts or charters also pay the teachers’ salaries and benefits.

Often, they’re ponying up for short-timers. According to Teach For America, about 30% of its corps members leave teaching at the end of their two-year terms, and research has shown that only one-fourth stay in the classroom for more than five years, compared with about half of all new teachers.

In 2016, the San Francisco Unified School District cut ties with Teach For America, citing concerns about retention rates. The following year, Duval County, Florida, which includes Jacksonville, ended its contract, which allowed for up to $600,000 a year to Teach For America for the annual recruitment of at least 100 teaching candidates. About a third of TFA corps members stayed beyond two years in the district and only a tenth stayed for five years, a study from Teachers College, Columbia University found. In comparison, 60% of new teachers who weren’t affiliated with Teach For America stayed more than two years, and 40% more than five years. Teach For America said that its retention rate in Duval County has since improved, and that almost 80% of those who started teaching in 2017 plan to stay for a third year.

“One of the biggest questions was the return on investment,” said school board chair Lori Hershey. “We could certainly recruit teachers at less expense and keep them longer than two years.”

In 2018, Houston’s district renewed its contract with Teach For America despite plans to lay off hundreds of teachers. Then, this May, its board discontinued the contract for the coming school year. Mika Rao, a managing director for regional communications and public affairs at Teach For America, called the decision “a great loss for [Houston’s] kids.”

School board trustee Elizabeth Santos, who has taught in Houston’s traditional public schools for over a decade, voted to end the contract, calling TFA “problematic.” It “deprofessionalizes teaching, increases turnover and undermines union organization,” she said at the board meeting.

Trustee Holly Maria Flynn Vilaseca, a former corps member who briefly worked as a program director for Teach For America, supported renewal. “We tend to have a teacher shortage every year and this just allows principals to be able to have the opportunity to hire with this route,” she said at a board meeting.

About a third of Teach For America corps members in Texas are still teaching there after five years, compared with over three-quarters of non-TFA teachers, according to a recent study by the American Institutes for Research. Rao said TFA’s retention rate in Texas school districts has improved 20% since 2010.

Many of those who stay in education after their two-year stint in a traditional public school eventually shift to charter schools. While a quarter of corps members were placed in charter schools, about 40% of alumni who stayed in education later worked in them, according to a review of survey data from Teach For America alumni in Texas. TFA said this disparity is misleading because their data shows that alums who continue as teachers, instead of going into administration, switch from traditional public schools to charters at a lower rate than the other way around. About two-fifths of its alums in Texas are currently employed in administration or leadership, mostly in charter schools, according to the survey.

Tiffany Cuellar Needham, the executive director of Teach For America in Houston, said many alumni shuttle between both types of schools. “We see our alums make very intentional decisions about, for example, starting in a traditional public school district and maybe going to a charter school to get a certain sort of professional development that they think they need and then going back to a traditional district,” she said.

Beard, TFA’s chief executive, said the rejections by major school districts don’t indicate a national trend. “Every community has different dynamics and politics and budgets, and there’s lots of nuance and complicated factors going in,” she said.

This year, TFA’s turnover prompted Cristina Garcia, a Democratic state assemblywoman in California and former math teacher, to propose requiring teachers from Teach For America and other trainee programs to stay in the classroom for at least five years. Because Teach For America only demands a two-year commitment, it would have to change its model to operate in the state.

Supported by the California NAACP and the California Federation of Teachers, and opposed by the charter school lobby, the bill would also ban the finders’ fees that Teach For America charges schools. “Allowing Teach For America to come in, learn on the job, to experiment and create reform advocates is not creating people that are going to stay in the classroom,” Garcia said. “Is it really about creating a void because we have a teacher shortage, or is it about creating education reform advocates?”

Republican state Assemblyman Kevin Kiley cast the only vote against the bill in the education committee. “It’s probably the most disgraceful piece of legislation I’ve seen,” he said. It passed the appropriations committee in May, but it has been delayed until next January.

Kiley himself contributed to Teach For America’s low retention rates. After graduating from Harvard in 2007, he joined Teach For America and taught at a traditional public school in Los Angeles, where he started a debate team. After his two-year stint, he attended Yale Law School and worked as a deputy California attorney general.

“Many [corps members] stay in the classroom, but others move on, and that’s by design,” he said.

When Kiley ran for State Assembly in 2016, Leadership for Educational Equity, a “dark money” group that does not disclose its donors in its tax filings, advised him on strategy in regular phone calls. “I was a first-time candidate, and I was seeking wisdom wherever I could find it,” he said.

LEE contributed $8,360 to his winning campaign, according to campaign finance filings. In addition, after he filled out an internal questionnaire that asked the charter school supporter about his views on education reform and other issues, his campaign received more than $33,000 from three LEE directors — Silicon Valley entrepreneur Arthur Rock, Emma Bloomberg and Steuart Walton — and some of their family members.

LEE “put me in touch with two or three donors, which is a small percentage of overall funding,” Kiley said. “You draw from all sources when you’re running.”

Kopp established LEE in 2006 to help Teach For America alumni gain power, including by giving to their political campaigns. Although the two organizations operate independently, they share office space, and Teach For America donates millions of dollars to LEE each year through an intermediary foundation. Only Teach For America alumni can be LEE “members,” entitling them to free training on leadership development, civic engagement and other topics.

LEE, which received $29 million in contributions and grants in 2017, helped more than 150 alumni run in local and state races in 2018, according to an internal presentation obtained by ProPublica. (Leadership for Educational Equity said the presentation’s figures were incomplete and unreliable.) Half of LEE members that ran for office were women, and almost half were people of color.

The group gives to TFA alums regardless of their views on education. But if candidates indicate on the internal questionnaire that they support school choice or charters, directors Walton, Bloomberg and Rock often add their own individual donations, according to three former employees.

“The survey that the team uses is to really help the candidates to articulate” their positions and values, said Jason Llorenz, vice president of communication for LEE. “Certainly where we can help to connect to other people that can support them, whether that be about choice or about gun control or any number of other things, we certainly do.” Leadership for Educational Equity said it has contributed to several candidates who were supported by teacher unions.

Carl Zaragoza, LEE vice president of elected leadership, also said his team teaches candidates to network. “With money, the value added that we offer our folks is to how they will build relationships with folks that do have money who are aligned with their values,” he said. “That is part of the individual coaching we provide.”

Bloomberg, who is also on the KIPP board, said that Leadership for Educational Equity “supports a diverse set of leaders in communities across the country who believe deeply in the importance of high quality public education.” In the past, at her request, LEE has recommended candidates for whom her contributions could make the biggest difference, according to her communications adviser. It’s a coincidence that some of the candidates she funds favor education reform, because that’s not one of her criteria, the adviser said. Walton declined to comment on his donations or work with LEE, and Rock didn’t address questions about them.

Beard, TFA’s chief executive, is also on the LEE board. When asked about its work, she said it’s “a totally separate entity,” which Teach For America’s alumni choose to participate in. “We believe leadership development is core to what we do. We believe that we should be supporting our alumni in pursuing all of their interests and helping them ensure that they are accelerating their own leadership.”

Vilaseca, the Houston school board trustee who voted to renew Teach For America’s contract, was a founding teacher at a KIPP charter school. Walton family members and Rock gave a total of $20,000 to her 2017 campaign, in addition to $6,000 from LEE. Vilaseca did not respond to emailed questions.

Also in 2017, two Teach For America alumni ran against each other for the Los Angeles school board. Nick Melvoin, a charter school advocate, challenged board president Steve Zimmer, who taught at a traditional public school and was backed by the union. LEE contributed $2,200 to Melvoin, and $1,100 to Zimmer. (LEE said it gave another $1,100 to Zimmer, but his campaign treasurer said it was never received.) Rock and the Bloomberg family added $5,400 for Melvoin, but nothing for his opponent. Melvoin won and has become the most vocal charter supporter on the board.

“My north star is anything that will help improve outcomes for kids is good, and charter schools are doing that,” Melvoin said. This year, he was the only school board member to oppose a citywide moratorium on charters.

When Ava Marinelli heard last fall that her fellow teachers at Los Angeles Unified School District were planning a strike, she wanted in.

“I know where my values lie, and they lie with the union,” said the second-year Teach For America corps member, who graduated in 2017 from Boston University. “I’m not crossing a picket line.”

But her decision carried a financial risk. Through Teach For America, she and other corps members received scholarships from AmeriCorps, a federal program that prohibits assisting or promoting union organizing. The money helped pay for Marinelli’s coursework toward a master’s degree in education, a key teaching credential.

Teach For America cautioned Marinelli and other corps members not to strike, or else they would lose their Americorps funding. As a strike loomed, they asked Lida Jennings, executive director of Teach For America in Los Angeles, if they could give up their AmeriCorps money. Jennings agreed, but she told them that to retain even partial funding, they would have to cite extenuating circumstances for striking, such as harassment, pressure or bullying from other teachers, according to three corps members who spoke with her.

Jennings confirmed this position in an email to ProPublica. The teachers “had a difficult process to navigate due to the federal regulations they have to follow,” she wrote. “Those choosing to exit would have to demonstrate and detail extenuating circumstances, such as challenges at their placement school or other impact.”

Marinelli followed this advice. She told Jennings in an email that she faced “intimidation” at her school — a falsehood that still haunts her. “I lied to exercise my civil rights,” she said. “I was encouraging my colleagues to go on strike. No one intimidated me to do this.” Teach For America agreed to replace the striking teachers’ lost scholarship money with private funds. It has since arranged that, in the future, all teachers who choose to join a picket line will be suspended from AmeriCorps during the strike and then reinstated at the end, with no impact on their scholarships.

Alongside her students, their parents and her fellow teachers, and wearing a bright red scarf wrapped around her neck, Marinelli picketed outside of her school as well as the district’s headquarters, frequently leading chants with a megaphone, for all six school days until the strike was settled. The union extracted key concessions, including a board vote on whether to support a statewide cap on the number of charter schools.

“It felt so hypocritical to join Teach For America for the social justice lens and then not go on strike, compromising the values that brought me to Teach For America,” Marinelli said. “Even though they claim to be an apolitical organization, I really felt there was an agenda.”

The Earth May Have Already Passed a Critical Tipping Point

Wed, 2019-06-19 23:32

Areas of the Canadian Arctic permafrost are thawing rapidly, 70 years ahead of when scientists previously believed, as the climate crisis continues to push the planet towards dangerous tipping points.

Reuters reported on the change Tuesday citing the June 10 research of University of Alaska Fairbanks scientists like geophysics professor Vladimir E. Romanovsky. In an interview, Romanovsky told the news agency that the change in the Arctic permafrost was “amazing” to witness and “an indication that the climate is now warmer than at any time in the last 5,000 or more years.”

Melting permafrost could release potentially catastrophic levels of methane and other gases trapped for millennia into the atmosphere, adding to a feedback loop that could accelerate the climate crisis and lead to more warming. As Common Dreams reported in April, the permafrost is already emitting more gasses than previously thought; the new research indicates that this is part of a larger issue.

The scientists found the change as they visited the Arctic region. According to Reuters:

Diving through a lucky break in the clouds, Romanovsky and his colleagues said they were confronted with a landscape that was unrecognizable from the pristine Arctic terrain they had encountered during initial visits a decade or so earlier.

The vista had dissolved into an undulating sea of hummocks—waist-high depressions and ponds known as thermokarst. Vegetation, once sparse, had begun to flourish in the shelter provided from the constant wind.

Jennifer Morgan, executive director of Greenpeace International, characterized the rapidly thawing permafrost as “one of the tipping points for climate breakdown” that is “happening before our very eyes,” and another “clear signal that we must decarbonize our economies” without further delay.

One of Romanovsky’s co-authors described the melting permafrost as the “canary in the coal mine.”

“It’s very likely that this phenomenon is affecting a much more extensive region and that’s what we’re going to look at next,” said researcher Louise Farquharson.

The One Issue That Could Determine Trump’s Re-Election Bid

Wed, 2019-06-19 22:59

If he times it right, Donald Trump might set back the Democratic Party for a generation or more; if he misses, he’ll go down in history along with Herbert Hoover as the guy who brought the nation an economic disaster.

Back in 2007 and early 2008, many of us were convinced that an economic crash was coming, and that George W. Bush and his Treasury secretary, Henry Paulson, and Fed chairman, Alan Greenspan, knew it.

And we also thought that they were doing everything they could to hold it off so it would happen after the 2008 election, so if a Democrat was elected they could say the crash was because people were “worried about the incoming Democrats,” and if McCain won it would be his problem, not Bush’s.

It appears that Trump may be doing the same thing, only, as with so many of his High Crimes (a phrase that includes “serious misuse or abuse of office”), he’s being much more public about it. On June 15, he tweeted, “if anyone but me takes over… there will be a Market Crash the likes of which has not been seen before!”

The question now is whether he’ll have the same bad luck Bush did in not being able to forestall it by a year or so.

Bush knew the business cycle that had cranked up during the late 90s was coming to an end, and he, Greenspan, and Paulson did everything they could to hold it off.

Between 2001 and 2003, he pushed through Congress and signed fully three major tax cuts for wealthy people and businesses, including massive cuts to dividend and capital gains income. This poured hundreds of billions in borrowed money into the economy, wiping out the $236 billion budget surplus Bill Clinton had left him and throwing us into a $458 billion annual deficit in 2008.

To further goose the economy, Bush and Cheney illegally got us into two wars, raising defense spending from the $290 billion ceiling it had hit during the 1990s to over $595 billion in 2008, pouring literally trillions into the defense industry.

In particular, the old Ayn Rand cult member and acolyte Alan Greenspan got into the act by lowering the Fed funds rate—the basis of U.S. interest rates—from 6.5 percent at the end of 2000 to below 2 percent in 2002. Greenspan kept the interest rates below 2 percent right up until just after the election of 2004, when he let them float up slightly. Bush rewarded his good efforts by reappointing him as Fed chair in 2005, which many speculate was why he’d jacked up the economy so hard leading up to the election of 2004, giving Bush a credit-fueled “feel good economy.”

And it was insanely credit-fueled. Between 2000 and 2006, housing prices in the United States doubled because the low interest rates, combined with repeated Republican deregulation of the banking and security sectors, allowed millions of unqualified new home buyers into the marketplace, driving demand toward the sky.

Trump, Steven Mnuchin, and Jerome Powell have virtually cloned the process, from tax cuts to defense spending to low interest rates, and the inevitable result is increasingly obvious to financial publication opinion writers. Op-eds in staid publications like the Financial Times and the Economist are, with growing frequency, somewhere between, “The sky is about to fall!” and, “There’s a meteor coming the size that wiped out the dinosaurs!”

And with good reason.

The entire “supply side” scam that if the rich people get richer it’ll help us all is totally discredited, but, in deference to their billionaire donors, the GOP still clings to it. Their policies, true to their proclamations, have raised the wealth of the top 1 percent by a total of $21 trillion just in the years since Reagan’s last months in office, leaving them sitting on over $30 trillion in assets and cash.

In fact, though, demand is what drives economies. And, while rich people might buy a few yachts and fancy mansions, it’s the purchasing power of the bottom 99 percent that is known by economists as “aggregate demand” and actually moves marketplaces.

Reaganomics—the neoliberal economic system we’ve been living under continuously since 1981—has wiped out the purchasing power of the bottom 99 percent. In the same time that the rich have gotten $21 trillion richer, the bottom 50 percent of Americans have lost—vanished, gone forever, lost—over $900 billion.

Cheap credit is the only thing that’s keeping most Americans buying anything beyond groceries and medicine, and both of those are exploding in price because of climate change, monopoly, and fraud. It’s not a question of if, but when the working people of America will stop going deeper and deeper in debt simply to maintain their current lifestyles.

And as more and more Americans downsize their housing or even become homeless (we’re the only developed country in the world to have homeless teachers, nurses, and fast-food workers), their ability to keep the American economy afloat will collapse even with 1.5 percent interest rates. Right now, half of us would get wiped out by a medical or car expense of just a few hundred dollars, having to turn to friends, family, a new credit card, or GoFundMe to stay afloat.

Back in 2007, I started refusing to read advertisements on my radio/TV show for banks and subprime lenders. It infuriated our advertising sales team, but I was openly warning people on the air that an economic winter was coming, and couldn’t in good conscience then tell them to take on more debt.

We’re there again. In some very real ways, in fact, we never got out of it.

Over the past five years, if there had not been a multitrillion-dollar increase in government, corporate, and individual borrowing, the U.S. economy would have contracted, rather than grown.

All of our national economy’s growth has been on borrowed money for all of Trump’s presidency: there’s quite literally no “there” there.

This is not how a healthy economy is supposed to work; instead, Trump is maintaining and inflating an economic Potemkin village, a pretend economy made out of cardboard, chicken wire and bubble gum that will collapse in the face of the first stiff economic wind.

If Trump and his collaborators can hold back the winds until November of next year, the GOP has a chance in the elections.

And, as a bonus for Trump, if Democrats sweep the 2020 elections and Powell and Mnuchin pull out the economy’s temporary props right afterward, crashing the economy, Republicans will blame Democrats for the ensuing economic disaster for the next generation or two.

On the other hand, if Trump can’t pull it off, get ready for some epic tiny-finger pointing.

And a crash before the election could offer our nation an opportunity, should Democrats nominate an actual progressive who will take us off the neoliberal Reaganomics we’ve suffered under since 1981.

A 2021 return to New Deal Keynesian economics, which rescued America after the Republican Great Depression and built the strongest middle class in history between 1933 and 1980, could return working-class Americans to opportunity, life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

In either case, winter is coming, and we all need to be prepared, both politically and economically.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Native American Named U.S. Poet Laureate for First Time

Wed, 2019-06-19 22:57

NEW YORK — Joy Harjo, the first Native American to be named U.S. poet laureate, has been ready for a long time.

“I’ve been an unofficial poetry ambassador — on the road for poetry for years,” the 68-year-old Harjo wrote in a recent email to The Associated Press. “I’ve often been the only poet or Native poet-person that many have seen/met/heard. I’ve introduced many poetry audiences to Native poetry and audiences not expecting poetry to be poetry.”

Her appointment was announced Wednesday by Librarian of Congress Carla Hayden, who said in a statement that Harjo helped tell an “American story” of traditions both lost and maintained, of “reckoning and myth-making.” Harjo’s term is for one year and she succeeds Tracy K. Smith, who served two terms. The position is officially called “Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry,” with a $35,000 stipend. Harjo will have few specific responsibilities, but other laureates have launched initiatives, most recently Smith’s tour of rural communities around the country.

“I don’t have a defined project right now, but I want to bring the contribution of poetry of the tribal nations to the forefront and include it in the discussion of poetry,” says Harjo, an enrolled member of the Muscogee Creek Nation and a native of Tulsa, Oklahoma. “This country is in need of deep healing. We’re in a transformational moment in national history and earth history, so whichever way we move is going to absolutely define us.”

She is known for such collections as “The Woman Who Fell From the Sky” and “In Mad Love and War” and for a forceful, intimate style that draws upon the natural and spiritual world. Her previous honors include the PEN Open Book Award and the Wallace Stevens Award for lifetime achievement. Earlier this year, she was awarded the Jackson Prize, given by Poets & Writers, for a poet of merit who deserves more attention.

Harjo is currently editing an anthology of Native poets, and a new book of her own poems, “An American Sunrise,” comes out in August (her publisher, W.W. Norton, moved it up from its planned September release). She also has a background in painting and dance, and is an impassioned saxophone player who has recorded several albums. In a 2017 blog post that is also part of her poem “Rabbit Invents the Saxophone,” she called the instrument “so human,” writing that “Its tendency is to be rowdy, edgy, talk too loud, bump into people, say the wrong words at the wrong time.

“But then, you take a breath, all the way from the center of the earth and blow. All that heartache is forgiven.”

The poet laureate is not a political position. Harjo makes clear her disdain for many office seekers, however, in her poem “For Those Who Would Govern.” She also has expressed her views on President Trump. In 2016, she linked to a Newsweek article about then-candidate Trump’s overseas business connections and tweeted, “Donald Trump’s foreign ties may conflict with U.S. national security interests.” Last summer, she linked to a New York magazine article about Trump and Russia, and tweeted: “What If Trump Has Been a Russian Asset Since 1987?”

The head of the Library of Congress’ poetry and literature center, Robert Casper, told the AP that laureates are encouraged to focus on “poems and the way they work,” including politically. During her interview, Harjo declined to talk about Trump directly, and said instead that “everything is political.”

“I began writing poetry because I didn’t hear Native women’s voices in the discussions of policy, of how we were going to move forward in a way that is respectful and honors those basic human laws that are common to all people, like treating all life respectfully, honoring your ancestors, this earth,” she said.

She cites her poem “Rabbit is Up To Tricks” as an expression of political thought, but in a timeless way. Her poem tells of a trickster Rabbit who has become lonely, and so forms a man out of clay and teaches him to steal. The clay man learns too well, stealing animals, food and another man’s wife. He will move on to gold and land and control of the world.

And Rabbit had no place to play.

Rabbit’s trick had backfired.

Rabbit tried to call the clay man back,

but when the clay man wouldn’t listen

Rabbit realized he’d made a clay man with no ears.

Robert Reich: The GOP Is the Most Corrupt Party in Living Memory

Wed, 2019-06-19 22:26

Trump has been ramping up his “Deep State” rhetoric again. He’s back to blaming a cabal of bureaucrats, FBI and CIA agents, Democrats, and “enemies of the people” in the mainstream media, for conspiring to remove him from office in order to allow the denizens of foreign shi*tholes to overrun America.

But with each passing day it’s becoming clearer that the real threat to America isn’t Trump’s Deep State. It’s Trump’s Corrupt State.

Not since Warren G. Harding’s sordid administration have as many grifters, crooks and cronies occupied high positions in Washington.

Trump has installed a Star Wars Cantina of former lobbyists and con artists, including several whose exploits have already forced them to resign, such as Scott Pruitt, Ryan Zinke, Tom Price, and Michael Flynn. Many others remain.

When he was in Congress, the current White House acting Chief of Staff Mick Mulvaney pocketed tens of thousands of dollars in campaign contributions from payday lenders, then proposed loosening regulations on them. Trump appointed Mulvaney acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, of all things.

When he was Trump’s special adviser on regulatory reform, Wall Street billionaire Carl Icahn sought to gut EPA’s rule on ethanol credits which was harming his oil refinery investments.

Last week it was reported that a real estate company partly owned by Trump son-in-law and foreign policy advisor, Jared Kushner, has raked in $90 million from foreign investors since Kushner entered the White House, through a secret tax haven run by Goldman Sachs in the Cayman Islands. Kushner’s stake is some $50 million.

All this takes conflict-of-interest to a new level of shamelessness.

What are Republicans doing about it? Participating in it.

Secretary of Transportation Elaine Chao, who also happens to be the wife of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, has approved $78 million in grants for her husband’s home state of Kentucky, including a highway-improvement project that had been twice rejected in the past. Chao has even appointed a special liaison to coordinate grants with McConnell’s office.

Oh, did I say, McConnell is up for reelection next year?

News that a Cabinet secretary is streamlining federal funding for her husband’s pet projects would be a giant scandal under normal circumstances. But in the age of Trump, ethics are out the window.

Congressman Greg Pence, who just happens to be the brother of Vice President Mike Pence, has spent more than $7,600 of his campaign funds on lodging at the Trump International Hotel in Washington since he was elected in November, although federal election law forbids politicians from using campaigns dollars to cover housing costs.

The Corrupt State starts with Trump himself, giving new meaning to the old adage about a fish rotting from the head down.

When foreign governments aren’t currying favor with Trump by staying at his Washington hotel, they’re using state-owned companies to finance projects that will line Trump’s pocket, like China’s $500 million entertainment complex in Indonesia that includes a Trump-branded hotel.

Trump claims the Deep State allows foreigners to take advantage of America. The reality is Trump’s Corrupt State allows Vladimir Putin and his goon squad to continue undermining American democracy.

“I’d take it” if Russia again offered campaign help, Trump crowed last week, adding that he wouldn’t necessarily tell the FBI about it. Just days before, Trump acknowledged “Russia helping me get elected” the first time.

Despite evidence that Russia is back hacking and trolling its way toward the 2020 election, Republican defenders of Trump’s Corrupt State won’t lift a finger.

Mitch McConnell refuses to consider any legislation on election security. He and Senate Republicans even killed a bill requiring campaigns to report offers of foreign assistance to the FBI and federal authorities.

The charitable interpretation is McConnell and his ilk don’t want to offend Trump by doing anything that might appear to question the legitimacy of his 2016 win.

The less charitable view is Republicans oppose more secure elections because they’d be less likely to win them.

Trump and his Republican enablers are playing magicians who distract us by shouting “look here!” at the paranoid fantasy of a Deep State, while creating a Corrupt State under our noses.

But it’s not a party trick. It’s the dirtiest trick of our time, enabled by the most corrupt party in living memory.

U.N. Expert Urges Probe of Bin Salman Over Khashoggi Killing

Wed, 2019-06-19 22:11

GENEVA — An independent U.N. report into the killing of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi said Wednesday there is “credible evidence” to warrant further investigation into the possible role of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, and suggested sanctions on his personal assets.

The scathing probe is likely to further harden opinion against the crown prince in Washington and other Western capitals, where critics say an operation of this magnitude would have required the powerful prince’s knowledge and involvement.

The 33-year-old Saudi prince, who continues to have the support of his father, King Salman, denies any involvement in the killing, and the kingdom has blamed rogue Saudi agents for carrying out the operation. U.S. President Donald Trump has defended U.S.-Saudi ties in the face of international outcry after the Oct. 2 slaying.

The 101-page report released by Agnes Callamard stated that the kingdom of Saudi Arabia is responsible for Khashoggi’s killing.

Khashoggi, a critic of the crown prince who wrote columns in The Washington Post, was killed, and believed to have been dismembered, inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul by Saudi agents. His remains have never been found. Before his death, he had been living in self-imposed exile following a crackdown on activists and anyone voicing dissent inside the kingdom.

Callamard said her investigation had “determined that there is credible evidence, warranting further investigation of high-level Saudi officials’ individual liability, including the Crown Prince’s.”

There was also “credible evidence pointing to the crime scenes (in Turkey) having been thoroughly, even forensically, cleaned.” The report said this indicates that the “Saudi investigation was not conducted in good faith, and that it may amount to obstructing justice.”

It added there was “no reason why sanctions should not be applied against the Crown Prince and his personal assets” — noting that sanctions regimes have been put in place in the past even before guilt was determined.

The report also offers a chilling minute-by-minute account of the events surrounding the killing based on audio shared by Turkish authorities, and cites sounds of a buzzing saw that could have been used to dismember Khashoggi’s body.

It noted the “extreme sensitivity” of considering the criminal responsibility of the crown prince and his former adviser Saud al-Qahtani. Neither men has been charged in the slaying.

“No conclusion is made as to guilt,” Callamard wrote of the two men. “The only conclusion made is that there is credible evidence meriting further investigation, by a proper authority, as to whether the threshold of criminal responsibility has been met.”

Still, she played down the focus on a single person, writing: “The search for justice and accountability is not singularly dependent on finding a ‘smoking gun’ or the person holding it.”

She wrote that her focus was mainly on identifying those who may have failed in or abused their positions of authority.

The report also identified by name 15 suspects, of which 11 are on trial in Saudi Arabia. Five of those on trial may face execution under Saudi law.

The kingdom had not disclosed the the names of those on trial and has kept trial proceedings largely secret.

The U.N. probe said the current trial of the 11 suspects in Saudi Arabia should be suspended because it fails to meet procedural and substantive standards. Callamard noted the trial is being held behind closed doors, and at least one of those identified as responsible for the planning and organizing of the execution of Khashoggi has not been charged.

While some diplomats have been allowed to attend some of the hearings, they were barred from disclosing their observations, she noted.

She added that she had received information about a “financial package” offered to Khashoggi’s children, “but it is questionable whether such package amounts to compensation under international human rights law.”

Callamard noted limitations on her inquiry, which began in January. She received no response to her request to travel to Saudi Arabia. She wrote that she had received only a total of 45 minutes of tapes recorded within the consulate around the time of the killing, while Turkish intelligence had referenced some 7 hours of recordings.

Based on “credible information”, Callamard concluded there was insufficient evidence to suggest that either Turkey or the United States knew, or ought to have known, of a real and imminent or foreseeable threat to Khashoggi’s life. There had been some speculation as the whether the CIA had known of a threat against Khashoggi and had failed to alert him, as is required by law.

The U.S. State Department has publicly designated 16 people for their roles in the killing of Khashoggi. Many U.S. lawmakers have criticized President Donald Trump for not condemning Saudi Arabia for the journalist’s killing.

___

Batrawy reported from Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

A Deadly Epidemic Is Hitting Trump Supporters the Hardest

Wed, 2019-06-19 20:51

We hear a lot about suicide when celebrities like Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade die by their own hand. Otherwise, it seldom makes the headlines. That’s odd given the magnitude of the problem.

In 2017, 47,173 Americans killed themselves. In that single year, in other words, the suicide count was nearly seven times greater than the number of American soldiers killed in the Afghanistan and Iraq wars between 2001 and 2018.

A suicide occurs in the United States roughly once every 12 minutes. What’s more, after decades of decline, the rate of self-inflicted deaths per 100,000 people annually — the suicide rate — has been increasing sharply since the late 1990s. Suicides now claim two-and-a-half times as many lives in this country as do homicides, even though the murder rate gets so much more attention.

In other words, we’re talking about a national epidemic of self-inflicted deaths.

Worrisome Numbers

Anyone who has lost a close relative or friend to suicide or has worked on a suicide hotline (as I have) knows that statistics transform the individual, the personal, and indeed the mysterious aspects of that violent act — Why this person?  Why now? Why in this manner? — into depersonalized abstractions. Still, to grasp how serious the suicide epidemic has become, numbers are a necessity.

According to a 2018 Centers for Disease Control study, between 1999 and 2016, the suicide rate increased in every state in the union except Nevada, which already had a remarkably high rate.  In 30 states, it jumped by 25% or more; in 17, by at least a third.  Nationally, it increased 33%. In some states the upsurge was far higher: North Dakota (57.6%), New Hampshire (48.3%), Kansas (45%), Idaho (43%).

Alas, the news only gets grimmer.

Since 2008, suicide has ranked 10th among the causes of death in this country. For Americans between the ages of 10 and 34, however, it comes in second; for those between 35 and 45, fourth. The United States also has the ninth-highest rate in the 38-country Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development. Globally, it ranks 27th.

More importantly, the trend in the United States doesn’t align with what’s happening elsewhere in the developed world. The World Health Organization, for instance, reports that Great Britain, Canada, and China all have notably lower suicide rates than the U.S., as do all but six countries in the European Union. (Japan’s is only slightly lower.)

World Bank statistics show that, worldwide, the suicide rate fell from 12.8 per 100,000 in 2000 to 10.6 in 2016.  It’s been falling in ChinaJapan (where it has declined steadily for nearly a decade and is at its lowest point in 37 years), most of Europe, and even countries like South Korea and Russia that have a significantly higher suicide rate than the United States. In Russia, for instance, it has dropped by nearly 26% from a high point of 42 per 100,000 in 1994 to 31 in 2019.

We know a fair amount about the patterns of suicide in the United States.  In 2017, the rate was highest for men between the ages of 45 and 64 (30 per 100,000) and those 75 and older (39.7 per 100,000).

The rates in rural counties are almost double those in the most urbanized ones, which is why states like Idaho, Kansas, New Hampshire, and North Dakota sit atop the suicide list. Furthermore, a far higher percentage of people in rural states own guns than in cities and suburbs, leading to a higher rate of suicide involving firearms, the means used in half of all such acts in this country.

There are gender-based differences as well. From 1999 to 2017, the rate for men was substantially higher than for women — almost four-and-a-half times higher in the first of those years, slightly more than three-and-a-half times in the last.

Education is also a factor.  The suicide rate is lowest among individuals with college degrees. Those who, at best, completed high school are, by comparison, twice as likely to kill themselves.  Suicide rates also tend to be lower among people in higher-income brackets.

The Economics of Stress

This surge in the suicide rate has taken place in years during which the working class has experienced greater economic hardship and psychological stress.  Increased competition from abroad and outsourcing, the results of globalization, have contributed to job loss, particularly in economic sectors like manufacturing, steel, and mining that had long been mainstays of employment for such workers. The jobs still available often paid less and provided fewer benefits.

Technological change, including computerization, robotics, and the coming of artificial intelligence, has similarly begun to displace labor in significant ways, leaving Americans without college degrees, especially those 50 and older, in far more difficult straits when it comes to finding new jobs that pay well. The lack of anything resembling an industrial policy of a sort that exists in Europe has made these dislocations even more painful for American workers, while a sharp decline in private-sector union membership — down from nearly 17% in 1983 to 6.4% today — has reduced their ability to press for higher wages through collective bargaining.

Furthermore, the inflation-adjusted median wage has barely budged over the last four decades (even as CEO salaries have soared).  And a decline in worker productivity doesn’t explain it: between 1973 and 2017 productivity increased by 77%, while a worker’s average hourly wage only rose by 12.4%. Wage stagnation has made it harder for working-class Americans to get by, let alone have a lifestyle comparable to that of their parents or grandparents.

The gap in earnings between those at the top and bottom of American society has also increased — a lot. Since 1979, the wages of Americans in the 10th percentile increased by a pitiful 1.2%. Those in the 50th percentile did a bit better, making a gain of 6%.  By contrast, those in the 90th percentile increased by 34.3% and those near the peak of the wage pyramid — the top 1% and especially the rarefied 0.1% — made far more substantial gains.

And mind you, we’re just talking about wages, not other forms of income like large stock dividends, expensive homes, or eyepopping inheritances.  The share of net national wealth held by the richest 0.1% increased from 10% in the 1980s to 20% in 2016.  By contrast, the share of the bottom 90% shrank in those same decades from about 35% to 20%. As for the top 1%, by 2016 its share had increased to almost 39%.

The precise relationship between economic inequality and suicide rates remains unclear, and suicide certainly can’t simply be reduced to wealth disparities or financial stress. Still, strikingly, in contrast to the United States, suicide rates are noticeably lower and have been declining in Western European countries where income inequalities are far less pronounced, publicly funded healthcare is regarded as a right (not demonized as a pathway to serfdom), social safety nets far more extensive, and apprenticeships and worker retraining programs more widespread.

Evidence from the United StatesBrazilJapan, and Sweden does indicate that, as income inequality increases, so does the suicide rate. If so, the good news is that progressive economic policies — should Democrats ever retake the White House and the Senate — could make a positive difference. A study based on state-by-state variations in the U.S. found that simply boosting the minimum wage and Earned Income Tax Credit by 10% appreciably reduces the suicide rate among people without college degrees.

The Race Enigma

One aspect of the suicide epidemic is puzzling.  Though whites have fared far better economically (and in many other ways) than African Americans, their suicide rate is significantly higher. It increased from 11.3 per 100,000 in 2000 to 15.85 per 100,000 in 2017; for African Americans in those years the rates were 5.52 per 100,000 and 6.61 per 100,000. Black men are 10 times more likely to be homicide victims than white men, but the latter are two-and-half times more likely to kill themselves.

The higher suicide rate among whites as well as among people with only a high school diploma highlights suicide’s disproportionate effect on working-class whites. This segment of the population also accounts for a disproportionate share of what economists Anne Case and Angus Deaton have labeled “deaths of despair” — those caused by suicides plus opioid overdoses and liver diseases linked to alcohol abuse. Though it’s hard to offer a complete explanation for this, economic hardship and its ripple effects do appear to matter.

According to a study by the St. Louis Federal Reserve, the white working class accounted for 45% of all income earned in the United States in 1990, but only 27% in 2016.  In those same years, its share of national wealth plummeted, from 45% to 22%.  And as inflation-adjusted wages have decreased for men without college degrees, many white workers seem to have lost hope of success of any sort.  Paradoxically, the sense of failure and the accompanying stress may be greater for white workers precisely because they traditionally were much better off economically than their African American and Hispanic counterparts.

In addition, the fraying of communities knit together by employment in once-robust factories and mines has increased social isolation among them, and the evidence that it — along with opioid addiction and alcohol abuse — increases the risk of suicide is strong. On top of that, a significantly higher proportion of whites than blacks and Hispanics own firearms, and suicide rates are markedly higher in states where gun ownership is more widespread.

Trump’s Faux Populism

The large increase in suicide within the white working class began a couple of decades before Donald Trump’s election. Still, it’s reasonable to ask what he’s tried to do about it, particularly since votes from these Americans helped propel him to the White House. In 2016, he received 64% of the votes of whites without college degrees; Hillary Clinton, only 28%.  Nationwide, he beat Clinton in counties where deaths of despair rose significantly between 2000 and 2015.

White workers will remain crucial to Trump’s chances of winning in 2020.  Yet while he has spoken about, and initiated steps aimed at reducing, the high suicide rate among veterans, his speeches and tweets have never highlighted the national suicide epidemic or its inordinate impact on white workers. More importantly, to the extent that economic despair contributes to their high suicide rate, his policies will only make matters worse.

The real benefits from the December 2017 Tax Cuts and Jobs Act championed by the president and congressional Republicans flowed to those on the top steps of the economic ladder.  By 2027, when the Act’s provisions will run out, the wealthiest Americans are expected to have captured 81.8% of the gains.  And that’s not counting the windfall they received from recent changes in taxes on inheritances. Trump and the GOP doubled the annual amount exempt from estate taxes — wealth bequeathed to heirs — through 2025 from $5.6 million per individual to $11.2 million (or $22.4 million per couple). And who benefits most from this act of generosity?  Not workers, that’s for sure, but every household with an estate worth $22 million or more will.

As for job retraining provided by the Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act, the president proposed cutting that program by 40% in his 2019 budget, later settling for keeping it at 2017 levels. Future cuts seem in the cards as long as Trump is in the White House. The Congressional Budget Office projects that his tax cuts alone will produce even bigger budget deficits in the years to come. (The shortfall last year was $779 billion and it is expected to reach $1 trillion by 2020.) Inevitably, the president and congressional Republicans will then demand additional reductions in spending for social programs.

This is all the more likely because Trump and those Republicans also slashed corporate taxes from 35% to 21% — an estimated $1.4 trillion in savings for corporations over the next decade. And unlike the income tax cut, the corporate tax has no end date. The president assured his base that the big bucks those companies had stashed abroad would start flowing home and produce a wave of job creation — all without adding to the deficit. As it happens, however, most of that repatriated cash has been used for corporate stock buy-backs, which totaled more than $800 billion last year. That, in turn, boosted share prices, but didn’t exactly rain money down on workers. No surprise, of course, since the wealthiest 10% of Americans own at least 84% of all stocks and the bottom 60% have less than 2% of them.

And the president’s corporate tax cut hasn’t produced the tsunami of job-generating investments he predicted either. Indeed, in its aftermath, more than 80% of American companies stated that their plans for investment and hiring hadn’t changed. As a result, the monthly increase in jobs has proven unremarkable compared to President Obama’s second term, when the economic recovery that Trump largely inherited began. Yes, the economy did grow 2.3% in 2017 and 2.9% in 2018 (though not 3.1% as the president claimed). There wasn’t, however, any “unprecedented economic boom — a boom that has rarely been seen before” as he insisted in this year’s State of the Union Address.

Anyway, what matters for workers struggling to get by is growth in real wages, and there’s nothing to celebrate on that front: between 2017 and mid-2018 they actually declined by 1.63% for white workers and 2.5% for African Americans, while they rose for Hispanics by a measly 0.37%.  And though Trump insists that his beloved tariff hikes are going to help workers, they will actually raise the prices of goods, hurting the working class and other low-income Americans the most.

Then there are the obstacles those susceptible to suicide face in receiving insurance-provided mental-health care. If you’re a white worker without medical coverage or have a policy with a deductible and co-payments that are high and your income, while low, is too high to qualify for Medicaid, Trump and the GOP haven’t done anything for you. Never mind the president’s tweet proclaiming that “the Republican Party Will Become ‘The Party of Healthcare!’”

Let me amend that: actually, they have done something. It’s just not what you’d call helpful. The percentage of uninsured adults, which fell from 18% in 2013 to 10.9% at the end of 2016, thanks in no small measure to Obamacare, had risen to 13.7% by the end of last year.

The bottom line? On a problem that literally has life-and-death significance for a pivotal portion of his base, Trump has been AWOL. In fact, to the extent that economic strain contributes to the alarming suicide rate among white workers, his policies are only likely to exacerbate what is already a national crisis of epidemic proportions.

Deal or No Deal, Asylum Seekers Wait It Out at the Southern Border

Mon, 2019-06-10 07:07

TIJUANA, Mexico (AP)—At the small migrant Juventud 2000 shelter near the border, a Honduran expressed disappointment Sunday over the agreement between Mexico and the United States to more aggressively curtail migration from Central America.

But Edwin Sabillon Orellana of Honduras said he and his family will stick with their effort to seek asylum in the U.S.

Sabillon said some migrants might decide that waiting in Mexico for the lengthy processing of asylum requests isn’t worth it, but he said he cannot take his family back to their home near San Pedro Sula, a crime-ridden metropolis that is Honduras’ second biggest city.

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“In my dreams I never had it in my mind to one day come to the United States,” the 30-year old assembly plant worker said, sitting near a large pot of half-made salsa ranchera awaiting a delivery of cooking gas to the shelter’s kitchen. “I had my job, my wife had her job. My daughter was in a bilingual school — my daughter speaks English. I didn’t have a reason to come here.”

That all changed in April when one of the street gangs plaguing Honduras and other Central American countries gave him a deadline of five days to begin paying a monthly extortion fee of about $120, Sabillon said. He said the gangsters thought he could pay because his daughter went to a good school, but she was on scholarship. The family earned enough only to keep food on the table and pay the utilities, he said.

Two days before the deadline, Sabillon slipped away in the middle of the night with his wife and 8-year-old daughter and left Honduras. It took them about two weeks to reach Tijuana, across the border from San Diego. They quickly crossed into the U.S. illegally near Tijuana’s beach and asked for asylum. After five days in detention they were sent back to Tijuana at night with an appointment to return later this month.

The mechanism that allows the U.S. to send migrants seeking asylum back to Mexico to await resolution of their cases has been running in Tijuana since January. One part of Friday’s agreement between Mexico and the U.S. to head off the threat of U.S. tariffs on all imports from Mexico was an expansion of that program along the entire border.

As of last week, about 10,000 asylum seekers had been returned to Mexico, according to Mexican officials. So far the program has been operating only in California and in El Paso, Texas. It is currently being challenged in U.S. courts.

Mexico has offered opportunities for Central American migrants like Sabillon to legalize their status so they can work while waiting or if they decide to stay in Mexico. But he is not interested.

Most Mexicans are good people, he said, but some curse migrants in the street. On Saturday, he took his family to hear Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador speak at a rally in downtown Tijuana. He wasn’t able to hear the president’s words about respecting migrants’ human rights because the crowd around him got worked up after a woman shouted, “Mexicans first and those from the caravan can go to …,” he said, not repeating the profanity.

“That hurts us a lot,” he said.

Sabillon is at least in the fortunate position of having his U.S. court date just a couple weeks away.

Nearby, at one of the city’s principal crossings to the U.S., dozens of migrants — mostly Haitians — waited in line for a number that would determine when they could cross to the U.S. to request asylum. On Sunday, U.S. border officers announced only two numbers and people who got their numbers in the past week were some 700 places away from the numbers being called, suggesting a wait of many months ahead.

Back at the Juventud 2000 shelter, Luis Torres and other parents killed time watching over the dozens of kids playing in the cramped space between tightly packed tents. The shelter, just one of many in Tijuana, is housing about 150 people, all families. Kids jumped rope and chased each other between tents.

Torres, 40, said that he and his 12-year-old son entered Texas from Reynosa, Mexico, last month. U.S. authorities then flew them to San Diego where they were detained for two weeks, he said.

Torres was confused about the status of his case, because he wasn’t sure whether he had requested asylum by signing documents that agents put in front of him without explaining. In any case he was given a date to return to the U.S. in September.

Torres, a carpenter, left because his neighborhood in Honduras’ capital, Tegucigalpa, is dangerous and work is hard to come by. He sent his other four children to live with their grandmother outside the city. Torres said that he and his son did not encounter problems in Mexico during the 26 days they took to reach the U.S. border.

Torres had heard talk of the U.S.-Mexico agreement, which includes Mexico sending thousands of National Guard troops to target illegal immigration at its southern border. He said it would be better if each country stuck to its own policies rather than the U.S. pressuring Mexico to do more.

“We didn’t come so that they can play politics with us,” he said.

Case Open: Democrats Begin Public Airing of Mueller Report

Mon, 2019-06-10 02:47

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump says it’s “case closed.” But Democrats are just getting started with Robert Mueller.

House Democrats have scheduled a series of hearings this coming week on the special counsel’s report as they intensify their focus on the Russia probe and pick up the pace on an investigative “path” — in the words of Speaker Nancy Pelosi — that some of them hope leads to impeachment of the president. In doing so, they are trying to draw the public’s attention on the allegations that Trump sought to obstruct a federal investigation and they want to highlight his campaign’s contacts with Russia in the 2016 election.And they will lay the groundwork for an appearance from Mueller himself, despite his stated desire to avoid the spotlight.

The hearings will focus on the two main topics of Mueller’s report, obstruction of justice and Russian election interference.

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The House Judiciary Committee plans to cover the first topic at a Monday hearing on “presidential obstruction and other crimes.” The House Intelligence Committee on Wednesday intends to review the counterintelligence implications of the Russian meddling. Mueller said there was not enough evidence to establish a conspiracy between the Trump campaign and Russia, but he said he could not exonerate Trump on obstruction.

On Tuesday, the House has scheduled a vote to authorize contempt cases against Attorney General William Barr and former White House counsel Donald McGahn for failing to comply with subpoenas from the Democratic-controlled House.

Barr defied a subpoena to provide an unredacted version of Mueller’s report, along with underlying evidence. McGahn, who is frequently referenced in the report, has defied subpoenas to provide documents and testify before the House Judiciary Committee.

Language in the resolution would make it easier for committee chairmen to take the Trump administration to court. Those chairmen could take legal action to enforce subpoenas in the future without a vote of the full House, so long as the chairmen have approval from a five-person, bipartisan group where Democrats have the majority.

With Trump pledging that “we’re fighting all the subpoenas,” Democratic leaders want to avoid repeated floor votes on contempt resolutions that detract from their legislative agenda.

The procession of hearings and votes in the week ahead is partly designed to mollify anxious Democrats who have pushed Pelosi, D-Calif., to begin impeachment proceedings immediately . Pelosi has so far rejected that option , preferring a slower, more methodical approach to investigating the president, including the court fights and hearings.

During a meeting with the House Judiciary Committee chairman, New York Rep. Jerrold Nadler, and other committee heads last week, Pelosi made the case that she would rather see Trump voted out of office and “in prison” than merely impeached, according to a report in Politico. A person familiar with the exchange confirmed the account to The Associated Press.

The latest approach appears to have temporarily satisfied the restless House Democrats.

Maryland Rep. Jamie Raskin, who pleaded with Pelosi last month to start an inquiry, said the votes and hearings are going to be enough, for now, as they wait to see what happens in court.

“I am very satisfied that things are moving in the right direction,” Raskin said. “And I think the American people are getting increasingly educated and engaged about the lawlessness of the president.”

Rep. David Cicilline, a Judiciary Committee member who favors an impeachment inquiry, took pains to avoid separating himself from top Democrats such as Pelosi.

“We should never proceed with impeachment for political reasons. We should never refuse to proceed with impeachment for political reasons,” Cicilline, D-R.I., said on “Fox News Sunday.”

Educating the American public on what is in the Mueller report is a priority for Democrats, who believe Trump and his allies have created the public impression that the report said there was no obstruction of justice. Trump has made that assertion repeatedly, echoing Barr’s judgment that there was not enough evidence in the report to support a criminal obstruction charge. Mueller said in the report that he could not exonerate Trump on that point.

The special counsel did not find evidence to establish a criminal conspiracy between Trump’s campaign and Russia. But the report details multiple contacts between the two.

California Rep. Adam Schiff, chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said the goal of the Wednesday hearing will be to explain to the American people “the serious counterintelligence concerns raised by the Mueller report, examine the depth and breadth of the unethical and unpatriotic conduct it describes, and produce prescriptive remedies to ensure that this never happens again.”

Republicans are poised to defend the president at the hearings and challenge Democrats on the decision not to open impeachment hearings.

Georgia Rep. Doug Collins, the top Republican on the House Judiciary Committee, sent Nadler a letter Friday calling the upcoming hearing a “mock impeachment hearing” and warning Democrats to be civil when speaking of the president.

Collins said in the letter that outside of impeachment proceedings, “it is out of order for a member of Congress, in debate, to engage in personalities with the president or express an opinion, even a third party opinion, accusing the president of a crime. The rules are clear on this point.”

Hoover Is Assassinating MLK’s Character From the Grave

Mon, 2019-06-10 01:36

For seven and half years from 1960 to April 4, 1968, I was privileged to serve Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. as a political adviser and subsequently as his personal lawyer and draft speech writer. With assistance from Jonathan D. Greenberg, co-founder with me of the University of San Francisco’s Institute for Nonviolence and Social Justice, the following is my response to the current publicized statements by author David Garrow about Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Summary

J. Edgar Hoover is laughing in his grave today. After wielding the power of the FBI in a systematic effort to destroy Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Hoover died knowing that every reputable newspaper and magazine reporter and editor in America had refused to publish the manufactured garbage he and his agents peddled in files, memos and audiotapes that were collected in a ruthless domestic surveillance program that is one of the most shameful episodes of 20th century American history. The journalists refused to publish stories based on the so-called evidence surreptitiously provided to them by FBI agents because they understood full well that the files and tapes circulated by Hoover’s FBI failed to meet the most basic, minimal standards of evidence; that any such “evidence” had been fatally tainted by bias, racism, and “dirty tricks” that were akin to those utilized by the secret police of an authoritarian state; and that Hoover was attempting use them for political purposes.

The journalists and editors who refused to publish hit jobs on Dr. King based on the FBI “information” were entirely correct in their analysis. The 1979 Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations determined that the FBI’s campaign against Dr. King “grossly abused and exceeded its legal authority and failed to consider the possibility that actions threatening bodily harm to Dr. King might be encouraged by the program,” that the FBI investigation violated the constitutional rights of Dr. King and colleagues associated with the Southern Christian Leadership Conference, and was “very probably felonious.”

Today, a British magazine called Standpoint published an article by David Garrow in which he gathers all of the dirt he could find from FBI files newly released by order of President Trump and presents them without even the most minimally necessary historical context, evidentiary scrutiny, or critical assessment of the biased nature of the sources. Nothing is new in this article except one incendiary claim: that Dr. King witnessed an alleged rape, and that that Dr. King allegedly “looked on, laughed and offered advice.” This claim is based entirely on a handwritten note scribbled in the margins of a document, in an obvious effort to embellish the salacious nature of what had been typed. Garrow had offered the article to a number of reputable media platforms in the United States, each of which turned him down. They refused to publish Garrow’s article for exactly the same reason that all reputable journalists in the United States refused to take the bait offered to them by Hoover and his agents during the 1960s: because the so-called evidence assembled to put forth claims fails to meet even minimal journalistic standards.

I read Garrow’s article with great sadness. Over the course of many decades, Garrow wrote and published books and articles notable for their high standard of quality and critical inquiry, qualities of professionalism that have been entirely abandoned in the Standpoint article. I do not understand why Garrow has forsaken the reputation for scholarly integrity and moral character to vindicate Hoover’s campaign of manufactured lies and character assassination against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I believe it is a personal tragedy for him. I can only hope and pray that Garrow’s article does not achieve its declared goals, which would be an untold tragedy for all of us.

I worked with Dr. King day in and day out throughout the civil rights struggle beginning in 1960. Martin King was my friend, and I loved him as a brother. I write the following response because he is not alive to respond or defend himself. Martin King was the person with the greatest moral integrity and human decency I have ever met. His legacy in the nonviolent struggle for social justice and peace is more important now than ever before. It is the moral obligation of all of us to sustain and further the work Dr. King began, and to refuse to allow his legacy to be tarnished by lies and falsehoods that were manufactured by a racist FBI campaign that sought only to destroy him and the black freedom movement in which he was a such an inspiring leader.

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Introduction

On March 25, 1968, shortly before his death, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. spoke to the Rabbinical Assembly Convention. Abraham Joshua Heschel introduced him. “Where in America do we hear the voice like the voice of the prophets of Israel?” he asked. “Martin Luther King is a voice, a vision and a way… The whole future of America will depend upon the impact and influence of Dr. King.” A half-century later, in a world infused with racism, ethnic nationalism and hate, Heschel’s words are especially prescient and haunting.

Today, after a half-century of acclaimed scholarship, the historian David Garrow has published disturbing claims concerning alleged sexual misconduct, lewd behavior, and bawdy language on the part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. more than 55 years ago. Nearly all of this is a rehash of allegations and rumors that have circulated for more than five decades.

WHAT IS THE BASIS FOR GARROW’S NEW ALLEGATIONS, AND WHY NOW?

In 2017 and 2018, President Donald Trump ordered the public release of thousands of previously sealed FBI files identified as related to the assassination of John F. Kennedy; for reasons that I do not understand, these include files summarizing audiotapes of FBI clandestine surveillance of hotel rooms rented by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and late-night parties and alleged sexual activities that took place there — files that have nothing whatsoever to do with the Kennedy assassination.

Among these newly released files, Garrow found a memorandum, seemingly prepared under the direction former FBI official William C. Sullivan dated Jan. 8, 1964, purporting to represent a summary of audiotapes taken by clandestine surveillance of a suite of rooms booked under Dr. King’s name at the Willard Hotel on the previous three nights (Jan. 5, 6 and 7). According to Garrow, a handwritten note written in the margins of the typed Sullivan memorandum presents an incendiary allegation that has never been made public before: that a Baptist minister named Logan Kearse raped a woman (allegedly a parishioner in Baltimore’s Cornerstone Baptist Church of which Logan was pastor) in one of the wiretapped hotel rooms, that Dr. King allegedly “looked on, laughed and offered advice.”

The allegation that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was present during a rape, and that allegedly he “laughed and offered advice” to the rapist while the crime was taking place, is by far the most disturbing claim Garrow makes in his new article. Everything turns on the credibility of the evidence Garrow offers to substantiate his claim. In turn, this evidence is limited to one phrase scribbled in pen or pencil in the margins of a typed summary file. Apparently, these scribbled words were drafted by William C. Sullivan, the architect of the FBI’s self-proclaimed “war” on Dr. King, or an agency subordinate reporting to him. The underlying document is full of such marginalia, much of which is almost indecipherable.

A GREAT DEAL IS AT STAKE HERE, FOR ALL OF US

On the one hand, if Garrow’s disturbing allegation is proven to be accurate, I would urge everyone to condemn Dr. King for reprehensible conduct that can never be justified or tolerated in our society. Silence or levity during the commission of rape, and failure to intervene to protect the victim, are morally unacceptable. Encouragement of a rape, egging on a rapist, is a moral crime; depending on the facts and the reliability of the evidence, it can form the basis of a criminal prosecution for “aiding and abetting” the sexual assault (although the FBI apparently did not believe that such credible evidence existed in this case; if they did, they presumably would have given it to the Washington, D.C. District Attorney, especially as Hoover wanted nothing more than for King’s public stature and leadership of the civil rights movement to be destroyed).

On the other hand, if this allegation is false (i.e. if the notes and summary drafted by FBI officers from audiotapes transcribed by lower-level agents include elements that are inaccurate, mistaken, inadvertently or deliberately misinterpreted, or purposely manufactured), Garrow would be responsible for perpetrating a terrible injustice upon the memory of Dr. King, upon Dr. King’s children and close friends, and upon Dr. King’s legacy in America today and going forward.

This issue here is not whether or not the alleged conduct can be justified if indeed it took place. It cannot. Rather, the issue is whether a necessary threshold measure of evidentiary reliability has been met in this case. The answer to this question is very clear: it has not. I have written this essay to explain why Garrow failed to meet the test of journalistic responsibility, and why it would be intellectually improper and morally unjust to conclude that the uncorroborated allegations he has published are true.

This essay seeks to provide the objective historical context for evaluating, discounting and rejecting the “evidence” upon which Garrow’s allegations rely. Still, I must confess that I see the publication of Garrow’s article as an unfortunate and tragic moment in the debate about Dr. King’s legacy in America. I am deeply saddened by it, and I wish that I did not have to write this response. The allegations that have been made have already tarnished Dr. King’s legacy, at least to some extent. He is not alive to feel wounded by this, nor can he defend himself. I feel wounded, at a personal level, because Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was my friend. I am an only child, and Martin was my brother. I’ve lived for nearly nine decades, and I have never known a person of greater moral integrity, human decency and ethical behavior. I would have given my life for him, I loved him so much.

1. Following the publication trail

Garrow chose to publish his allegations in an essay (“The Troubling Legacy of Martin Luther King”) published on Thursday, May 30, in an obscure British publication called Standpoint Magazine. From the internet I learned that Standpoint is the magazine of a small libertarian-oriented thinktank called The Social Affairs Unit. The organization’s website, citing The Times of London, states that “The Social Affairs Unit is famous for driving its coach and horses through the liberal consensus scattering intellectual picket lines as it goes…”

Garrow has published previously in mainstream U.S. publications such as The AtlanticThe Washington Post, and The Guardian U.S. Given the extraordinary nature of his claims, the newsworthiness of his conclusions, the stature of Dr. King in the United States and the relevance of Dr. King’s legacy to a U.S. readership, why didn’t Garrow submit his article for publication to these more prominent U.S.-based media platforms, with incomparably larger distribution and credibility among American readers?

The answer, according to Michael Mosbacher, editor of Standpoint and Director of The Social Affairs Unit, is that he did.

Mosbacher’s editorial introduction to the current Standpoint issue states that Garrow offered his article to each of those publications, and to other mainstream conservative as well as liberal publications, but he was turned down in each case. Why? Mosbacher implies that none of them had the courage to defy the liberal mob. Perhaps. But there is a far more likely explanation. I believe that the editors responsible for these serious publications rejected Garrow’s essay for exactly the same reason why the editors of the same magazines and newspapers and affiliated journalists with professional standards of excellence – reputable editors and journalists such as Ben Bradlee of Newsweek and The Washington Post, David Kraslow of the Miami Herald, and Ralph McGill of the Atlanta Constitution — refused to publish stories based on allegations or tape recordings with similar content provided to them secretly by the FBI during Dr. King’s lifetime, without confirming evidence of any kind, pursuant to a massive FBI disinformation campaign designed to destroy Dr. King’s reputation.

These editors and journalists understood the obligation of any responsible journalist to reject any such allegations without confidence that the underlying evidence is accurate, without confirmation from eyewitnesses or others who can verify its veracity and authenticity, and without certainty that the interpretation of ambiguous data is correct.

They understood that it is extraordinarily dangerous to believe everything you read in FBI files, or to take their contents at face value.

Their concern as journalists is the same concern you should have as readers.

You should be especially concerned about the veracity of information generated in the toxic anti-democratic culture maintained under the authoritarian leadership of FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover from the bureau’s founding in 1935 until his death in 1972.

You should be highly critical of files generated in campaigns designed by Hoover and his deputies to produce and disseminate lies and disinformation for the purpose of discrediting political dissidents.

Rigorously question the content of files generated under Hoover’s direction using surveillance in violation of Constitutional rights of U.S. citizens, especially if the transcripts to which those files refer were transcribed by nonprofessionals from garbled and often inaudible audiotapes.

Reject summary “conclusions” and handwritten comments produced by Hoover’s direct subordinates who understood full well the measure of success and failure of the operation: potential career-boosting rewards that would follow the “discovery” of “dirt” — rewards presumably to be bestowed in proportion to the degree of morally damaging kompromatmight offer — and the anxious expectation of dissatisfaction or reprimand for coming up empty-handed.

David Garrow, who spent decades perusing these files, should know. Nearly 40 years ago, in his book The FBI and Martin Luther King, Jr., he warned us to be very, very careful. Framing his 1981 book with an epigram from Goethe (“The most important things are not always to be found in the files”), Garrow applied this cautionary observation to the specific case of the FBI’s King files: “A healthy skepticism toward what one does find in the files is essential to any intelligent use of the Bureau’s own records.” He referred to the incisive analysis of distinguished civil liberties lawyer Frank J. Donner in his 1980 book The Age of Surveillance documenting the FBI’s egregious history of domestic spying and dirty tricks. “One must appreciate the warning, well-articulated by Frank J. Donner, that ‘the clandestine character of [the] intelligence process tends…to legitimate it. Information derived from clandestine sources is assumed to be intrinsically valuable… In the same way, the fact that the information is obtained secretly invites the inference that it is accurate.” Referring to “countless obvious errors,” and providing examples of dangerous falsehoods, Garrow wrote, “[s]imply because the Bureau holds certain data tightly does not mean that that information is accurate, and one must constantly guard against accepting as fact every statement contained in a once highly classified document.”

As readers of the FBI’s “secret files” I ask you to follow the advice Garrow provided in 1981. I wish he had followed the same advice in 2019.

2. The shameful history of Hoover’s FBI

FBI Director J. Edgar Hoover harbored the virulent racism of a KKK Grand Dragon, and wielded the immense power at his disposal like a mob boss. An American Savonarola, obsessed by perceived sexual deviancy and communist sympathies, trafficking in illegal surveillance and blackmail, Hoover abused his office to inflict immeasurable damage on our democracy and the lives of countless American citizens who sought to exercise their First Amendment rights.

Among the many despicable crimes perpetrated under Hoover’s leadership, the FBI engaged in rampant criminal behavior to malign and persecute American citizens who mobilized nonviolent protest to challenge the structure of legally sanctioned segregation. While Hoover denigrated African Americans generally, especially as they began to organize a nonviolent revolution against Jim Crow, he despised one man above all others: Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Hoover’s FBI began monitoring Dr. King in December 1955 when he assumed leadership of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. The FBI’s covert operations against Dr. King escalated following Dr. King’s increasing public criticism of the agency. (For example, in April 1964, Dr. King called Hoover’s bureau “completely ineffectual in resolving the continued mayhem and brutality inflicted upon the Negro in the deep South.”) The 1979 Report of the House Select Committee on Assassinations concluded that the FBI campaign against Dr. King, which continued up until his assassination on April 4, 1968, was conducted outside the legal authority of the bureau and very probably felonious — a series of grave crimes for which there has never been legal accountability.

As reported by Garrow in his 1981 book, Hoover apparently didn’t even need to mention Dr. King’s name to indicate the target of his ire. To Hoover, Dr. King was simply “the burrhead,” and Hoover made it clear to deputies and associates that “the burrhead” needed to be “destroyed.” In this racist environment, Hoover’s subordinates understood that to suggest support for King and the civil rights movement he led would end any chance for professional advancement; rather, it would be a quick way to terminate an otherwise promising FBI career.

This is the context that cannot be forgotten or elided. Don’t believe everything you read in Hoover’s unpublished files maligning Dr. King. Use your critical intelligence to discount exaggerated accusations and reject claims that flow from felonious means.

In 1967, the FBI launched its secret “COINTELPRO” program “to expose, disrupt, misdirect, discredit, or otherwise neutralize the activities of black nationalist, hate-type organizations and groupings.” The Church Committee found that the goal of the FBI’s program was “preventing or disrupting the exercise of First Amendment Rights.”

The House Committee report found that “[t]he FBI campaign to discredit and destroy Dr. King was marked by extreme personal vindictiveness.” Moreover, “[t]he depth of Director Hoover’s bitterness toward Dr. King, a bitterness which he had effectively communicated to his subordinates in the FBI, was apparent from the FBI’s attempt to sully Dr. King’s reputation long after his death.” All of this led to enormous personal suffering on the part of Dr. King and his closest associates, great harm to the SCLC as an organization and to the civil rights movement, which emerged victorious despite the FBI’s campaign of disinformation and persecution.

In sum, there is perhaps no set of files in the FBI’s secret stash that present greater danger, that suggest the likelihood of falsehood and manipulation, and that require the highest level of skepticism and critical scrutiny than the clandestine files Hoover kept on Dr. King, as documented in voluminous detail by the 1975 Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities (generally known as the ‘Church Committee”).

Senator Walter Mondale of Minnesota was a member of the Senate 1975 Report of the Senate Select Committee on Intelligence Activities (generally known as the Church Committee). Following a session of hearings documenting the FBI’s criminal activities related to the surveillance of Dr. King, and the dissemination of lies with the intent to destroy his reputation, Senator Mondale emphasized the tragic reality that the FBI “took justice into its own hands by seeking to punish those with unpopular ideas.”

All of this I have learned the hard way, from direct personal experience. I was secretly wiretapped, without my permission, in violation of my privacy and my family’s privacy, for many years because of my close relationship with Dr. King, and our dear colleague and friend Stanley Levison. Decades later, when I read my own FBI files obtained pursuant to the Freedom of Information Act, I was struck by the mistakes and misinterpretations contained in the documents related to my work with Dr. King, and by the absurdity of my constant surveillance.

I hope that you never have to go through the same experience.

3. William C. Sullivan and the FBI “war” on Dr. King

There is an additional reason to doubt the veracity of the specific memo upon which Garrow relies. The author of this memo (and, apparently, the notes scribbled in the margin) was the only senior FBI official who persecuted Dr. King with an obsessive vehemence that echoed Hoover’s own obsession, who hated Dr. King with an arguably even stronger hatred, and who privately and publicly defended the use of dirty tricks in an effort to bring him down: William C. Sullivan, FBI deputy for domestic intelligence and surveillance.

Just days after Dr. King delivered his iconic “I Have a Dream” speech by the Lincoln Memorial during the August 1963 March for Jobs and Freedom, Sullivan sent Hoover a confidential plan of action. Echoing Hoover’s own views, Sullivan described Dr. King as “the most dangerous and effective Negro leader in the country.” Dr. King’s influence must be neutralized, Sullivan argued, because “we are right now in this nation engaged in a form of social revolution.” He argued for FBI intervention “to take him off his pedestal and to reduce him completely in influence so that he will no longer be a security problem and no longer will be deceiving and misleading the Negro people.” Sullivan offered Hoover a plan for the FBI to discredit Dr. King and “develop” a replacement leader for Negro Americans to follow who would be beholden to Hoover and the FBI. Sullivan’s memo advised Hoover that the threat posed by Dr. King is so severe, and his revered stature among black Americans so secure, that the FBI should not refrain from extrajudicial actions to bring him down, as “it may be unrealistic to limit [our actions against King] to legalistic proofs that would stand up in court or before Congressional Committees.”

Years later, in his own testimony before the Church Committee, Sullivan explained how the FBI sought to “neutralize” Dr. King as a civil rights leader by waging a “war” against him, a war with Sullivan himself as Hoover’s top general. “No holds were barred. We have used [similar] techniques against Soviet agents. [The same methods were] brought against any organization against which we were targeted. We did not differentiate. This is a rough, tough business.”

Hoover’s relentless disinformation campaign against Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. used morally despicable and often illegal means to smear Dr. King’s reputation and assassinate his character. For years, FBI agents under Hoover’s direction manufactured disinformation, peddled lies, and disseminated garbage to media outlets, newspaper editors and thought leaders. They falsely claimed that Dr. King and his senior advisors and colleagues were communists under the direction or influence of the Soviet Union or the American Communist Party. They falsely claimed that Dr. King was guilty of financial misconduct. Hoover was always especially interested in sex. Dr. King’s adulterous relationships were a gold mine to be exploited for purposes of extortion, threats and pressure. The fact of his unfaithfulness was Hoover’s bonanza; alleged perversity was his stock in trade; unidentified sounds recorded by clandestine audiotape surveillance were the soundtrack for false or exaggerated accusations of all kinds.

Patriotism is a rough and tough business, as Sullivan testified to Congress. This was “war,” a domestic version of Cold War covert operations used to neutralize Soviet agents.

In 1964, the FBI sent an anonymous package containing the now-infamous tape recording presumably containing a compilation of the most prurient dirt that they had collected from hotel room surveillance, along with a note by an anonymous author identifying himself as a “Negro” threatening to make the tape public. The tape was obviously doctored, spliced, and manipulated, however crudely. “King, look into your heart,” the letter implored. The American people soon would “know you for what you are — an evil, abnormal beast…” The letter offered Dr. King only one alternative to avoid the resulting humiliation: to commit suicide. “There is only one way out for you. You better take it before your filthy, abnormal self is bared to the nation.” As confirmed in a detailed discussion set out in Garrow’s Standpoint article, the doctored tape was the brainchild of William C. Sullivan, who came up with the plan to threaten Dr. King with extortion, and provoke Dr. King’s suicide. Sullivan apparently authored the accompanying letter himself.

Conclusion

I read Garrow’s essay with great sadness. I see it as the tragic self-delusion of a person who had previously dedicated himself to a life of high-quality historical scholarship. What motivated him to abandon the caution he once demanded of any historian dealing with such tainted files? I cannot know. All I can do is tell the truth as I know it, because Dr. King is not with us to defend himself, nor is anyone alive who was an eyewitness to the alleged events and can testify to the accuracy of Sullivan’s handwritten note, or lack thereof. All I can do is beg readers to adopt the “healthy skepticism” in evaluating the content of Hoover’s secret files that Garrow demanded nearly 40 years ago.

I am 88 years old. While I still walk on this earth, I am unwilling to allow a tragic injustice to besmirch the legacy of my brother Martin. His legacy of nonviolence and love has greater salience, meaning and urgency today than ever before. The health and future of our democracy depend on it.

Garrow concludes the preface to his 1981 book with reflections on the nature of evil. As a younger man he viewed evil though the lens of Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. But his study of FBI malfeasance in the persecution of Dr. King brought him closer to Hannah Arendt’s understanding of the “banality” of evil. “The danger we all face is not the consequence of man unbound from the restraints of society. It is the surrender of independent and critical judgment by people who work in large organizations.” Garrow was referring to men like Sullivan, the author of the memo whose veracity he now asks you to assume. I agree with this judgment.

One need not work for a large bureaucracy to lose one’s moral compass in the quest for career advancement. Disinformation is poisonous precisely because it is so effective, especially when those accused of moral violations are not alive to defend themselves.

Each of us are at risk of succumbing to the banal temptations of self-promotion, the resulting surrender of critical judgment, and the self-deceptions that follow. Evil is banal when it is perpetrated by mundane, petty and all-too-human motivations. Banality is evil when it unjustly destroys the lives and reputations of good people, perhaps especially when the victims are the most morally courageous dissidents our nation has produced.

Edgar Hoover’s campaign of vilification and character assassination against Dr. King failed because countless honorable journalists and courageous editors refused to publish the garbage Hoover relentlessly peddled between 1963 and 1968. It would be a moral travesty to give Hoover’s racist, malevolent disinformation campaign a posthumous victory in 2019.

Massive Extradition Protest Fills Hong Kong Streets

Mon, 2019-06-10 00:24

HONG KONG—Hundreds of thousands of protesters marched through Hong Kong on Sunday to voice their opposition to government-sponsored legislation that would allow people to be extradited to mainland China to face charges.

The massive demonstration took place three days before the semi-autonomous Chinese territory’s government plans to bring the highly contentious bill to the full legislature, bypassing the committee process, in a bid to win approval by the end of the month.

Police estimated the crowd at 240,000, but organizers said more than 1 million took part.

The protest was one of the largest in recent Hong Kong history. It appeared to be even bigger than a massive pro-democracy demonstration in 2003 against a proposed national security law, according to Associated Press journalists who covered both events.

Late Sunday night, a group of demonstrators broke through barriers at government headquarters, where the march had ended. The crowd briefly pushed its way into the lobby, but police used batons and pepper spray, and the protesters were moved outside.

People of all ages took part in the march, some pushing strollers and others carrying canes, chanting slogans in the native Cantonese dialect in favor of greater transparency in government.

Kiwi Wong, 27, was among the throng, a member of the younger generation who’ve grown up enjoying relative prosperity but also growing insecurity about what many see as an erosion of the rights Hong Kong residents have enjoyed.

“If I didn’t come out now, I don’t know when I would have the chance to express my opinion again,” Wong said. “Because now we’ve got to this stage, if you don’t come out to try to do what you can, then it will end up too late, you won’t be able to say or do anything about it.”

Alex Ng, a 67-year-old retiree, said he joined the protest because “I think that there was never any public consultation about this law, and there are a lot of uncertainties.”

Hong Kong’s leader, Carrie Lam, has pushed forward with the legislation despite widespread criticism from human rights and business groups. The amendments have been criticized as eroding Hong Kong’s judicial independence by making it easier to send criminal suspects to mainland China, where they could face vague national security charges and unfair trials.

“What can we do to get Carrie Lam to listen to us, how many people have to come out to make her reconsider listening to the public?” said Miu Wong, a 24-year-old office worker who was among the protesters.

Tommy Lam, a 29-year-old who is working on his master’s degree, said: “All these people coming out and marching sends a definite message. If the government doesn’t listen, there will be tension.”

The Hong Kong government said in a statement late Sunday that it respected the right of its opponents to protest.

“We acknowledge and respect that people have different views on a wide range of issues,” the statement said. “The procession today is an example of Hong Kong people exercising their freedom of expression within their rights as enshrined in the Basic Law and the Hong Kong Bill of Rights Ordinance.”

Hong Kong was guaranteed the right to retain its own social, legal and political systems for 50 years following its handover from British to Chinese rule in 1997, the so-called “one country, two systems” framework. However, China’s ruling Communist Party has been seen as increasingly reneging on that agreement by forcing through unpopular legal changes.

Hong Kong currently limits extraditions to jurisdictions with which it has existing extradition agreements or to others on an individual basis under a law passed before 1997.

China was excluded because of concerns over its poor record on legal independence and human rights. In recent years, mainland authorities have gone after opponents by accusing them of dubious crimes such as tax evasion, crystallizing worries among critics and others.

Lam’s government argued that the revisions were needed to close legal loopholes, while opponents say that is merely an excuse to pursue China’s agenda of reducing Hong Kong’s legal independence.

Hong Kong’s Legislative Council plans to vote on the bill on Wednesday.

“The people of Hong Kong want to protect our freedom, our freedom of speech, our rule of law, our judicial system, and also our economic foundation, which is welcome to international investors,” activist Lee Cheuk-yan, a former Hong Kong legislator, said Sunday. “If international investors lose confidence in Hong Kong because of this evil bill, then Hong Kong, economically, would also be destroyed.”

___

Associated Press videojournalist Raf Wober contributed to this report.

Critics Blast Trump Backing of Israel’s Plan to Commit ‘War Crime’

Sun, 2019-06-09 22:08

A top Trump administration official signaled Saturday that the U.S. would welcome Israel’s reported plan to break international law by annexing parts of the West Bank, angering advocates for Palestinian rights.

U.S. Ambassador to Israel David Friedman told the New York Times that Israel is “entitled to retain some portion” of the Palestinian territory where Israel has built settlements over the past two decades.

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Saeb Erakat, the Palestinians’ chief negotiator, wrote that the Trump administration’s blessing of Israeli’s plan to commit a “war crime” represents “the road to an endless conflict.”

That is not the path to peace , that is the the road to an endless conflict . https://t.co/It1DAtbl1R

— Dr. Saeb Erakat الدكتور صائب عريقات (@ErakatSaeb) June 8, 2019

Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu said in April that he planned to begin annexation, drawing condemnation from U.S. progressive leaders including Reps. Pramila Jayapal (D-Wash.) and Mark Pocan (D-Wisc.), who accused Netanyahu of “undermining” peace efforts.

Late Friday, ahead of Friedman’s statement, lawmakers including Sens. Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.) and Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) were among the lawmakers who introduced a resolution opposing any Israeli plan to annex parts of the West Bank and demanding a two-state solution that recognizes Palestinians’ right to self-determination.

“Unilateral annexation of portions of the West Bank would jeopardize prospects for a two-state solution, harm Israel’s relationship with its Arab neighbors, threaten Israel’s Jewish and democratic identity, and undermine Israel’s security,” reads the resolution.

“The United States needs to be an honest broker in the Middle East. We need to defend Israel’s right to live in peace and security, while at the same time, end the occupation and protect Palestinians’ right to security and self-determination,” said Sanders. “I am proud to cosponsor this resolution to make clear that a two-state solution based on international law remains the best path to achieving a just and lasting peace, and is firmly in the interest of the United States.”

The resolution won support from the progressive-leaning American Jewish advocacy group J Street, which praised the senators along with the lead sponsor of the resolution, Sen. Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.), for standing up to the Trump administration.

“A two-state solution remains the only viable way to secure Israel’s future as a democratic homeland for the Jewish people and to satisfy the legitimate aspirations of the Palestinian people,” said Dylan Williams, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs at J Street. “It’s absolutely vital that congressional leaders like Sen. Merkley are speaking out in defense of the two-state outcome—and making clear that any unilateral annexation of West Bank territory by the Israeli government would be disastrous for the long-term interests of Israelis, Palestinians, and the United States.”

“This resolution could not be more timely, given that the first stage of the Trump administration’s long-anticipated initiative related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict—an economic workshop in Bahrain—is now set to take place at the end of June,” J Street added on Twitter.

This resolution could not be more timely, given that the first stage of the Trump administration’s long-anticipated initiative related to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict – an economic workshop in Bahrain – is now set to take place at the end of June. https://t.co/71dPlUvWOy

— J Street (@jstreetdotorg) June 7, 2019

In his interview, Friedman criticized Palestinian officials for urging business leaders not to attend the meeting in Bahrain. The administration is expected to offer incentives for business leaders at the meeting, suggesting they should support Trump’s peace plan—which is not expected to include a Palestinian state.

“It’s unfair the way the Palestinians have described this as a bribe or as an attempt to buy off their national aspirations,” Friedman told the Times.

Erakat tweeted that Friedman’s interview only furthered “the validity of our request” that business leaders decline to attend the meeting.

“Their vision is based on Israel’s right to annexation of the occupied territories, a war crime in accordance with international law,” Erakat said.

Facebook Is Still Letting Kids Get Duped

Sun, 2019-06-09 20:50

Facebook continues to put users at risk of being duped into spending money on games.

In January, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting showed how the company knowingly made millions of dollars between 2010 and 2014 from parents who didn’t realize their kids were being charged to play games such as Angry Birds, Ninja Saga and Barn Buddy.

Those details surfaced in January after a California court unsealed more than 150 pages of Facebook records. But the records did not answer a big question: Has Facebook changed its policy, or are users still bamboozled into spending money while playing its games?

Now, a Reveal review has found that despite widespread criticism from U.S. senators, advocacy groups and its own users, Facebook has not changed a key policy that got it into trouble.

The company still allows game developers to run incredibly high chargeback rates – a little-known industry term that describes when people are forced to ask their credit card company for help getting refunds.

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High chargeback rates are a warning sign that a business might be defrauding its customers because so many people are seeking help to get refunds, according to the U.S. government. A chargeback rate of 1 percent is considered high, and anything over 2 percent is a “red flag” of deceptive behavior, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

Facebook’s payment policies show the company still permits game developers to run chargeback rates of 5 percent before it will penalize them. That is more than double what the government says should be ringing alarm bells for potential business fraud.

Facebook acknowledged that this 5 percent chargeback rate is the only guidance it gives developers about acceptable limits, but said that overall, it maintains a low rate and handles problematic game developers on a case-by-case basis.

“Chargebacks create a bad experience for people on Facebook and for us. We keep records of these transactions, and Facebook’s overall chargeback rate for in-app payment transactions is well below the 1% guidelines set by payment card networks,” Facebook said in a statement. “As our Payments Terms state, we follow up with and may enforce against individual game developers if their chargeback rates get too high.”

When a game does surpass a 5 percent chargeback rate, Facebook does not necessarily take any action against the developer. It penalizes them only by withholding money under certain circumstances, according to its payment terms.

“Once again, Facebook can’t be trusted to do the right thing. Facebook is aware of the damage this is doing to children and families,” said Jim Steyer, founder of the child advocacy group Common Sense Media. “They need to be held accountable.”

In February, a consortium of nonprofits led by Common Sense Media filed a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission against Facebook based on details revealed in the unsealed court records. When told about Facebook’s 5 percent chargeback policy, Steyer called for immediate action from lawmakers and regulators.

Facebook has a long history with high chargeback rates. It was high chargeback rates that alerted Facebook employees in 2011 that its users were being unwittingly duped into spending hundreds or even thousands of dollars on its games.

Eight years ago, Facebook employees launched an internal analysis that revealed underage users and their parents did not always realize they were spending money on in-game purchases for extra lives, virtual coins, magical swords and other virtual goods, internal documents show.

Some games did not make it clear to children that they were spending real money. And parents didn’t always know that Facebook had stored their credit card information and would let their children use it without entering a password or some other form of payment authorization.

Having learned that the company was profiting off the mistakes of children and their parents, Facebook’s employees designed a solution that would have helped stop the problem. But that solution came with one crucial drawback: It likely would hurt Facebook’s revenues, the unsealed documents show.

The company did not implement the solution, which other tech firms such as Apple already were using, according to the court documents. And Facebook continued to deny refunds to children and their parents, who kept being surprised to find hundreds or even thousands of dollars in charges on their credit card statements.

One 15-year-old girl accrued $6,500 in charges in just a few weeks. A boy in Arizona spent nearly $1,000 over the course of a weekend without realizing it. And one young mother described waking up from a short “pregnant nap” on the sofa to discover her toddler had spent nearly $250. Facebook denied them refunds.

Upset parents turned to their credit card companies, which clawed back money from Facebook. This pushed up chargeback rates for Facebook’s games.

Now Facebook is making a renewed effort to expand its gaming business. In December, it celebrated the second anniversary of its updated gaming platform, which the company calls Instant Games. The games are now highly integrated into Facebook’s many products, such as Messenger. And it’s paying off for Facebook and the third-party game developers. The number of people playing games on the new platform tripled in 2018, according to the company, and revenues for developers are up.

When players make in-game purchases, Facebook collects the money from users, often keeping 30 percent for itself, and then passing on the remaining 70 percent to the developer.

In January, Sens. Edward Markey, D-Mass., and Richard Blumenthal, D-Conn., wrote a letter to Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg citing Reveal’s investigation and asked what changes the company had implemented to prevent children and their parents from being duped out of money while playing games. Facebook responded that it “streamlined” the refund process for children and their parents who believe they were cheated.

But despite the torrent of complaints this year, the company did not change its 7-year-old policy of allowing game developers to run sky-high chargeback rates.

Karisse Hendrick, a chargeback consultant for Fortune 500 companies, said it can be harder for online retailers to keep chargeback rates lower because fraudsters might order something with a stolen credit card or falsely claim that they never ordered something or that it didn’t arrive after receiving it.

But Hendrick was unfamiliar with any company that allowed chargeback rates of 5 percent as a matter of policy. When told about Facebook’s payment terms, she provided a one-word response: “Wow.”

Hendrick said Zuckerberg has the experience to know how chargebacks work.

“I worked with Mark Zuckerberg when they first started about 12 years ago because they had high chargebacks,” she said.

She said Facebook’s current 5 percent chargeback policy makes users vulnerable to being defrauded by unscrupulous game developers and the social media giant was not following best practices.

“It’s amazing they’re comfortable with 5 percent and that they’re putting it in writing,” Hendrick said. “I think that type of attitude is a symptom of a bigger problem at Facebook. It’s putting revenues over the care and trust of customers.”

 

This story was edited by Andrew Donohue and copy edited by Nikki Frick.

Nathan Halverson can be reached at nhalverson@revealnews.org. Follow him on Twitter: @eWords.

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at revealnews.org and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at revealnews.org/podcast.

What Palestinians Really Think of Jared Kushner’s Plan

Sun, 2019-06-09 17:24

The Wall Street Journal recently trolled the Palestinians with a breathless headline that “some” Palestinians are giving up on having their own state.

Anyone who has been following the Palestine issue knows that for some time a plurality of Palestinians has swung behind a one-state solution and now want Israeli citizenship.

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This result does not come from the dimming of nationalist aspirations but from the weary realism of a colonized people facing the best-armed army in the Middle East, which is backed by the world’s sole superpower.

Being stateless was defined by Hannah Arendt as forfeiting the right to have rights. Faced with the possibility of achieving the rights of citizenship in any state and remaining stateless, the Palestinians prefer the former, as anyone would.

But that is not the same as accepting the stateless Bantustans proffered by Kushner.

Here is some Palestinian polling on these issues.

Here is what Palestinians actually think about the Trump/Kushner plan:
An overwhelming majority (83%) believes that the Trump Administration is not serious about launching a new peace plan and 12% believe it is serious.
A large majority of 79% believes that if the US does indeed offer a peace plan, it will not call for the establishment of a Palestinian state next to the state of Israel; 15% believe it will.

A similar percentage (81%) believes that the plan will not call for a Palestinian capital in East Jerusalem; 14% believe it will.

78% believe the Trump plan will not call for the borders of the Palestinian state to be based on the lines of June 1967 with minor mutual land swaps; 17% believe it will.

An overwhelming majority of 84% believes the plan will not call for a just solution to the refugee problem; 10% believe it will.

Similarly, 84% believe the plan will not call for the ending of the Israeli occupation and the withdrawal of the Israeli army from the areas occupied in 1967; 11% believe it will.

79% believe that the Palestinian leadership should reject the US plan, if offered, and 14% believe it should accept it.

But if the Trump plan does indeed include all such items, such as a Palestinian state with East Jerusalem as its capital, with borders based on the 1967 lines, a just solution to the refugees’ problem, and an Israeli army withdrawal from the territories occupied in 1967, a majority of 52% calls for rejecting it and 43% call for accepting it. Call for accepting the plan is higher in the Gaza Strip, standing at 55% while the call for rejecting it is higher in the West Bank, standing at 59%.

A majority of 64% is opposed and 23% is not opposed to a resumption of dialogue between the Palestinian leadership and the Trump Administration. Official contacts between the PA and the US government were suspended by the PA after the US recognized Jerusalem as the capital of Israel. ”

That citizenship and basic civil rights are more important than nationhood per se for a lot of people is demonstrated by this opinion poll of Palestinian-Israelis, which shows high levels of satisfaction.

So no, WSJ, these poll findings do not support the Kushner plan, which again tries to substitute mere money for the rights of citizenship. They support a just and lasting settlement of the issue of Palestinian statelessness.

 

American History for Truthdiggers: Carter’s Cage of Crisis

Sun, 2019-06-09 03:00

Editor’s note: The past is prologue. The stories we tell about ourselves and our forebears inform the sort of country we think we are and help determine public policy. As our current president promises to “make America great again,” this moment is an appropriate time to reconsider our past, look back at various eras of United States history and re-evaluate America’s origins. When, exactly, were we “great”?

Below is the 32nd installment of the “American History for Truthdiggers” series, a pull-no-punches appraisal of our shared, if flawed, past. The author of the series, Danny Sjursen, who retired recently as a major in the U.S. Army, served military tours in Iraq and Afghanistan and taught the nation’s checkered, often inspiring past when he was an assistant professor of history at West Point. His war experiences, his scholarship, his skill as a writer and his patriotism illuminate these Truthdig posts.

Part 32 of “American History for Truthdiggers.”

See: Part 1; Part 2; Part 3; Part 4; Part 5; Part 6; Part 7; Part 8; Part 9; Part 10; Part 11; Part 12; Part 13; Part 14; Part 15; Part 16; Part 17; Part 18; Part 19; Part 20; Part 21; Part 22; Part 23; Part 24; Part 25; Part 26; Part 27; Part 28; Part 29; Part 30; Part 31.

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There would never have been a Democratic president in 1977, certainly not a President Jimmy Carter, were it not for Watergate, Richard Nixon’s disgrace and the public backlash against Tricky Dick’s Republican Party. Indeed, after the fall of Lyndon B. Johnson, a new era of Republican ascendancy had begun, with the GOP holding the presidency for 20 of the 24 years following Nixon’s 1968 election. Often remembered as one of America’s most feckless and uninspiring presidents, Carter in reality was neither as successful as his supporters had hoped nor as ineffective as his opponents later claimed. He was, ultimately, a transitional figure and a product of the 1970s, which were increasingly politically conservative although heavily colored by cultural liberalism, especially among the young. Though later portrayed by the right as a hopelessly left-wing liberal, Carter was actually quiet pragmatic and became the first of the three Democratic presidents who served between 1977 and 2017 to tack toward the right. In that sense, one could argue that Carter reflected and affected the prevailing conservative winds and started the country down the road toward the “Reagan Revolution” and a long-term rightward trend in American politics.

A Georgia peanut farmer, Naval Academy graduate and evangelical Christian, Carter was a complicated, multifaceted figure and supposedly a figurehead of the “new”—post-civil rights—South. He was an intelligent, inherently decent man, but given the inflation and unemployment of the era—much of which was beyond his control—he seemed doomed to be a one-term president. He could not stem the tide of economic stagnation as the U.S. emerged from its anomalous postwar affluence. Indeed, in retrospect, the American economic expansion that followed the Second World War could not have continued without interruption. However, telling the truth about this inevitable phenomenon was not popular among a populace that had grown spoiled and expected unlimited perpetual growth. Carter tried to rein in that impossible expectation and for his trouble was voted out of office.

If not quite a tragic figure, Carter was, to some extent, treated unfairly by the voters, punished for crises and downturns not wholly of his doing. Then again, few remember that it was Carter who first shifted toward economic austerity and increased military spending and deployments in the Middle East. It is odd that the legacy of a man who seemed so committed to peace should be the onset of what would become a 40-year, ongoing crusade for American dominance of the Greater Middle East. It is more ironic, still, that a president later remembered as too liberal should be the first in many decades to call for a balanced budget and initiate monetary policies that emphasized austerity in more traditionally conservative ways. Though their personalities could not have been more different, Carter and his successor as president, Ronald Reagan, pursued policies not totally dissimilar to one another. Indeed, one could argue that Carter was the first in a line of three centrist Democratic presidents who would abandon the social program spending boom that had defined liberalism ever since Franklin Roosevelt’s 1933 inauguration. It could be said, then, that Carter was the first conservative president of a Republican-dominated era.

The Carter Anomaly: the Election of 1976

Carter was a long-shot candidate in the 1976 presidential election, a virtual unknown, but he was the beneficiary of a tragedy that had occurred half a dozen years earlier. The politician whom many Democrats wanted as head of the party ticket in 1976 had announced in September 1974 that he would not run. Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, a figure of the traditionally liberal consensus, had seemed destined to one day carry the torch of his assassinated brothers, John and Robert. However, his presidential prospects were crippled because the national public never fully forgave him for the so-called Chappaquiddick incident.

Late one night in July of 1969, the senator drove a car off a bridge in Chappaquiddick, Mass., then swam away. He did not report the accident to authorities until hours later. Left behind in the automobile was Mary Jo Kopechne, a former worker in Robert Kennedy’s campaign, who drowned there.

With Ted Kennedy not in the race, Carter gained the Democratic nomination with almost 40 percent of the popular vote in the primaries, defeating Jerry Brown, George Wallace, Mo Udall, Henry M. Jackson, Frank Church and others.

The former Georgia governor bested his Democratic rivals (including some other state-level politicians) and, eventually, Republican President Gerald Ford largely because voters saw him as being outside the Washington establishment, with which, after Watergate, Americans were increasingly disgusted. From his election on, arguably up to the present day, presidential candidates would run with and win with just such an “outsider” image.

The Republican Nixon had only recently, in 1972, trounced the Democrat George McGovern in one of the great landslides in American electoral history. It seemed unlikely then, at least until the Watergate scandal, that a Democrat would win in 1976. But times had changed. Americans, by and large, no longer trusted the federal government or establishment figures. The level of citizens who expressed faith in that government had dropped from 75 percent in 1964 to 25 percent in the late 1970s. What Americans wanted, in 1976, was someone new and fresh—essentially the anti-Nixon. They thought they had found that in the farmer from the tiny rural town of Plains, Ga.

Gerald Ford had become vice president when Nixon’s vice president, Spiro Agnew, resigned in disgrace in 1973 and then became president when Nixon resigned in disgrace in 1974. He had never won a nationwide election, and his campaign against Carter was shaky from the start. Though he confidently exclaimed that the “long national nightmare [of Watergate] was over,” most of the populace wasn’t so sure. And when Ford’s first act as president was to pre-emptively pardon Nixon he may have sealed his own political fate. As the editors of The New York Times wrote, “The pardon may be the final blow to [the people’s] faith in America.” Carter, the Cinderella-story candidate, rode that loss of faith in Washington, and particularly in the Republican Party, straight into the White House.

The 1976 election was a major coup for the Democrats, who picked up dozens of seats in the House and Senate, introducing a large freshman class dubbed the “Watergate babies.” The status quo, ostensibly, was the enemy of Carter and the young Democratic lawmakers. In style, if not always in substance, Carter would project an agreeable, more accessible figure. Seeking to distance himself from the “imperial presidency” of Richard Nixon, Carter even exited his limousine and walked among the people to the White House following his inauguration. In explaining the phenomenon of his out-of-nowhere victory, the new president said, “Our people were sick at heart, wanted leadership that could heal us, and give us once again a government of which we could feel proud.” At first, it seemed, Carter was just the man for this disillusioned moment. In addition to his man-of-the-people inaugural walk, Carter would seek to present a less regal presidency, ditching the Prussian-style uniforms Nixon insisted that his White House guards wear and even ending the tradition of playing “Hail to the Chief” upon his arrival at official events.

Carter’s morals, and devoted Christianity, also appealed to a nation becoming ever more religious. He was an evangelical churchgoer and a Sunday school teacher. Yet he was less forceful in his Christianity than a later host of Republicans who hailed from the growing “religious right.” As the journalist Robert Scheer noted after conducting a Playboy magazine interview with the then-candidate, Carter was “a guy who believes in his personal God and will let the rest of us believe whatever the hell we want.” Carter’s tolerance and lack of ideological dogmatism reflected his leadership style as well. He actually boasted he lacked ideology or fixed political positions, in contrast with the public proclamations of Nixon and Johnson. At election time in 1976, at least, Carter seemed just what the people desired: an honest, politically flexible outsider. Nevertheless, he had his weaknesses. Carter was seen from the outset of his term as bland and wonkish—certainly not inspiring.

For all the strengths that he did possess, and the short-term weakness of the disgraced GOP, Carter barely squeaked by to victory—probably a reflection of Americans’ rightward shift. He received just 50.1 percent of the popular vote in an election for which just 54.8 percent of voters—the lowest percentage since 1948—turned out. Thus, the new president hardly possessed a strong mandate to govern. Indeed, neither of the major-party candidates in the ’76 election seemed to excite voters. Both were weak public speakers. In fact, the liberal Democrat Eugene McCarthy, who ran for president as an independent in 1976, labeled Carter an “oratorical mortician” who “inters his words and ideas behind piles of syntactical mush.” Nonetheless, the “Man from Plains” entered office in January 1977 intent on broad systemic reform and with a goal to reinvest Americans’ trust in the presidency. As such, throughout his campaign, Carter had repeatedly proclaimed, “I’m Jimmy Carter and I’m running for President. I will never lie to you.” That, of course, remained to be seen.

The Great Malaise: Carter’s Domestic Policy

Carter was far less progressive in domestic affairs than either LBJ or John Kennedy, and certainly FDR. During his lone term, the president consistently waffled between traditionally liberal policies, and—partly as a response to shifting popular will as well as his own fiscal conservatism—by the time he left office had edged the nation to the right.

President Carter inherited an economy in near free fall. Overspending and borrowing for the Vietnam War, domestic oil shocks caused by Mideast nations’ embargoes (in response to U.S. support for Israel) and the expanding economic competition of other, growing nations combined to cause the nightmare of “stagflation”—the once-thought-impossible combination of high inflation and rising unemployment. Carter never managed to overcome this economic downturn, and that failure ultimately doomed his hopes for re-election.

The new president tried everything and even changed course on the economy. After calling for more typical liberal stimulus spending, he shifted after 1978 to more anti-inflationary policies such as spending cuts and balanced budgets. Neither effectively solved the deep-seated problems, at least while Carter was in office. Toward the end of his term, a desperate Carter would appoint Paul Volcker to head the Federal Reserve Board, and Volcker took drastic anti-inflationary actions, choking spending, aggravating unemployment and causing a recession. Eventually, however, the measures worked and inflation was drastically reduced, but it wasn’t until the assumption of the presidency by Ronald Reagan that Volcker’s harsh measures bore fruit, and the Republicans were quick to take credit. Timing was never on Carter’s side.

To the approval of liberals, Carter granted a limited pardon to Vietnam draft evaders. He also fought hard for environmental protection and saw the necessity to craft an energy policy that would make the U.S. less dependent on fossil fuels. He even had solar panels placed on the White House roof (which Reagan promptly removed). His national energy policy, largely crafted in secret, was eviscerated by corporate lobbyists and had little tangible effects. On energy, Carter was ahead of his time, but he misread the pulse of American life. He appeared on national television to speak truths that the gas-guzzling consumerist American people simply didn’t want to hear. “Tonight I want to have an unpleasant talk with you about a problem unprecedented in our history. With the exception of war, this is the greatest challenge our country will face during our lifetimes,” he said, adding, “The energy crisis has not yet overwhelmed us, but will if we do not act quickly.” However right and prescient Carter proved to be, the public didn’t take kindly to his call for cutbacks in energy consumption and resented his paternalist tone.

Carter took right-leaning positions on a host of other issues. A fiscal hawk by nature, he eschewed liberal spending and promised a balanced budget, something neither Republican Nixon nor Republican Ford had called for. He also proclaimed the limits of government to do great things and improve life. In one decidedly illiberal speech he asserted, “We have learned that more is not necessarily better, that even our great Nation has its recognized limits, and that we cannot answer all problems nor solve all problems. We cannot afford to do everything.” This caution was a far cry from the liberal utopianism of LBJ’s faith in his Great Society to transform American life and end its social and economic ills. Though Carter did initially call for stimulus spending and universal health insurance, he was never able to square these standard liberal policies with his own penchant for balanced budgets and the international economic crisis he weathered throughout his term. As his adviser Stuart Eizenstat later recalled, “One always knew that [Carter] wanted to spend as little money as possible, and yet at the same time he wanted welfare reform, he wanted national health insurance.” This proved to be an impossibility, especially in a time when a majority of citizens had no stomach for increased taxes and higher federal spending. Carter could never find a stable middle ground.

Furthermore, with increased foreign competition eviscerating the Rust Belt, and decreasing power among unions, even the overall rising standard of living under Carter was offset by ballooning inflation and increased unemployment. Furthermore, as unions lost clout and high-paying manufacturing jobs left the country, a new income gap rose between the rich and the rest. As working-class wages decreased by 13 percent in the 1970s and ’80s, the compensation of CEOs rose by nearly 400 percent. A new Gilded Age kicked off during the Carter years and has only worsened since. Labor union weakness and America’s gradual shift to a service economy meant stagnant wages, fewer benefits and fewer hours of pay for workers. For this, Carter had no effective answer.

Carter also began the trend of economic deregulation that would define the 1980s and ’90s. “It is a major goal of my administration,” he said, “to free the American people from the burden of over-regulation.” This process placed the American economy on the road to the unregulated hyper-capitalism that would eventually produce the 2008 economic crash. When the imminent failure of Chrysler, one of America’s top employers, added to the economy’s woes, many on both the left and the right were reluctant to back intervention despite the potential dire consequences of not doing so. One could hardly imagine FDR or LBJ shrinking from bold action to save Chrysler’s 250,000 employees. U.S. Rep. Ron Paul of Texas voiced a common sentiment among conservatives when he asserted that “[i]n a nation that is sinking in a sea of debt, it is irresponsible for this Congress to be considering a measure that will add millions to that debt.” On the left, unexpectedly, consumer advocate Ralph Nader agreed: “Mismanagement at the company has been incredible, why should a subsidy solve Chrysler’s problems? Let them go bankrupt.” Eventually, the feds provided $1.5 billion in relief for Chrysler, but only at the expense of a weakened union, which was forced to accept a wage freeze and, eventually, wage cuts.

Again, Carter took to the airwaves to chastise profligate Americans, stating, “In a nation that was proud of hard work, strong families, close-knit communities and our faith in God, too many tend to worship self-indulgence and consumption. Human identity is no longer defined by what one does, but by what one owns.” America’s biggest problem—more detrimental than inflation or energy issues—was a “crisis of confidence,” he declared, and once again Americans resented his brutal honesty and his calls for personal cutbacks in spending. And, though he never used the term, pundits dubbed it the “malaise” speech. It won him few popularity points in the long term.

Other limits to Carter’s purported liberalism manifested in his momentous deregulation of the airlines. Indeed, his very rhetoric circumscribed his view of what government could accomplish. To the horror of his liberal base, Carter proclaimed in his second State of the Union address, “Government cannot solve our problems. … It cannot eliminate poverty, or provide a bountiful economy, or reduce inflation, or save our cities.” Such pessimism was a far cry from the boundless faith in government that infused the presidencies of Franklin Roosevelt and his immediate successors in the Democratic Party. Indeed, according to the historian and former JFK adviser Arthur Schlesinger, if Roosevelt had believed these things “we would still be in the Great Depression.” But here again, Carter reflected the new national mood, one mistrustful of government. He promised much less than Americans expected and made perhaps the fatal error of asking Americans to economically sacrifice, the kind of plea that rarely has proved to be a political winner.

Carter’s personal attributes further held him back and doomed grand endeavors such as his energy plan. He refused to work closely with House Speaker Tip O’Neill, a fellow Democrat, and never developed close relationships with Congress. Instead, Carter relied on his small campaign staff from Georgia, refused to delegate, micromanaged, and occasionally displayed the arrogance so often inherent in loners and workaholics. He also alienated many on the left, especially the Congressional Black Caucus, with his fiscal conservatism and inherent distrust of unions (possibly a reflection of his upbringing in the notoriously labor-unfriendly South).

Beyond the domestic political problems caused by economic woes and Americans’ negative reactions to his chastising speeches, Carter was plagued by uncontrollable international events and criticism of his foreign policy. He would turn out to be the victim of tumultuous times in the international arena.

Schizophrenic Inconsistency: Carter and the World

Jimmy Carter is often remembered as particularly weak on foreign policy—soft on the Soviets and paralyzed by an inability to force revolutionary Iran to release hostages taken from the American Embassy in Tehran. Much of this criticism is wildly unfair. In point of fact, Carter had few options in ending the hostage crisis and was much more bellicose toward the Soviet Union (and supportive of increased military sending) than is now remembered. Carter may have failed in his foreign policies, leaving office with the Cold War frostier than ever and the world an arguably more dangerous place than he had found it, but this was certainly not because he was too soft or anti-military.

Carter was elected, purportedly, on a promise to re-inject morals and a concern for human rights into America’s tarnished, post-Vietnam foreign policy. He announced in 1978 that “[h]uman rights is the soul of our foreign policy, because human rights is the very soul of our sense of nationhood.” In some ways, especially early in his term, he attempted to decrease worldwide tensions and practice a rights-based foreign policy. At root, Carter was a Wilsonian internationalist idealist, at least in theory. He initially promised to cut aid to nations with poor human rights records, though he continued to back the brutal, but anti-communist, Shah of Iran. He also canceled the neutron bomb program and announced in his inaugural address, “We will move this year a step toward our ultimate goal—the elimination of all nuclear weapons from this earth.” To that end he negotiated the SALT II treaty with the Soviets to place limits on the total number of missiles and deliver systems for nuclear weapons that each power could possess.

In two other diplomatic coups, Carter officially recognized the People’s Republic of China, although this move upset conservative backers of the previously recognized Taiwan regime. Then, after many days of forced and closed negotiations, he negotiated the Camp David Accords, which brought peace between Israel and its archenemy, Egypt. Israel even agreed, under pressure, to return the conquered Sinai Peninsula to Egypt. Finally, Carter also signed an agreement to eventually return the Panama Canal to Panamanian control. This too raised the ire of conservative opponents—notably Ronald Reagan, who was particularly hawkish about the canal.

In the end, Carter failed to reduce tensions with the Soviets, and detente would die on his watch. Part of this was due to Soviet moves: placing new intermediate-range missiles in Eastern Europe and backing and using Cuban proxies in Angola and Ethiopia. Furthermore, new groups of American Cold War hawks—such as the alarmist Committee on the Present Danger—criticized Carter’s “cult of appeasement” and sought to increase bellicosity toward the Soviet Union. As for the SALT II treaty, it died in the Senate in the face of newly hawkish opposition from nearly all Republicans and a significant number of Cold Warrior Democrats.

Matters truly worsened when the Soviets invaded Afghanistan under what was in a sense a policy of defensiveness and insecurity rather than of inherent aggression—the Kremlin acted mainly to prop up a friendly communist regime. The United States had contributed to Soviet woes before the invasion by using the CIA to back Islamist rebels seeking to overturn the Afghan government, arming jihadists who would later coalesce into al-Qaida and the Taliban movements. In response to the Soviet invasion, the CIA only increased support, sending arms and cash to various rebel Islamist groups in an attempt to turn the Afghanistan War into the Soviets’ “Vietnam.” Carter and his advisers overreacted and came to (incorrectly) believe the Soviets had the intent and capacity to move through Afghanistan to conquer the Persian Gulf. Fearing a threat to American control of Mideast oil, Carter took serious steps to counter the Soviets. He embargoed grain shipments to Russia, reinstituted selective service and led an international boycott of the 1980 Olympic Games in Moscow.

Carter also took to using alarmist rhetoric, referring to the Soviet invasion and purported threat to the Persian Gulf as the “most serious threat to peace since the Second World War.” He proclaimed what came to be known as the Carter Doctrine, announcing that the U.S. would use military force to oppose any threat to Mideast oil in the Persian Gulf. In his 1980 State of the Union address, Carter said that “[the Middle East] contains more than two-thirds of the world’s exportable oil. … Let our position be absolutely clear: An attempt by any outside force to gain control of the Persian Gulf region will be regarded as an assault on the vital interests of the United States of America, and such an assault will be repelled by any means necessary, including military force.” Soon, Carter would even call for the creation of a new U.S. military command for the Mideast, later known as USCENTCOM. Thus, it was Carter’s overreaction that set the stage for a perpetual U.S. military presence—and several wars—in the Greater Middle East.

However, it was events in Iran that most embarrassed the Carter administration. For this there was an important backstory. The U.S. had long meddled in Iranian affairs, using the CIA to overthrow a democratically elected government that threatened to nationalize Iranian oil. In the place of Prime Minister Mohammad Mossadegh, the U.S. backed the brutal dictatorial regime of the shah. Few Americans knew or thought much about American actions in Iran, but Iranians never forgave Washington for these transgressions. Thus, when a 1979 revolution overturned the shah’s regime, and Washington refused to turn over the shah (being treated in the U.S. for cancer) to the new Islamist revolutionary government, a crowd stormed the U.S. Embassy in Tehran and took the staff hostage. Carter had few options to force the hostages’ release, and negotiations failed for over a year. Eventually, Carter allowed himself to be talked into a harebrained military rescue mission that ended in disaster and with several American deaths. In a final insult to Carter, the Iranian government waited until Reagan’s 1981 inauguration to release the hostages, a delay that contributed to Carter’s electoral defeat and fed the later (not wholly accurate) perception among Americans and others that a tougher and more bellicose Reagan was responsible for ending the Iran hostage crisis.

Carter’s foreign policy never lived up to his human rights-oriented rhetoric. It was Carter, not Reagan, who first increased U.S. military spending, began the shadow war with the Soviets in Afghanistan and buried the policy of detente. Carter may not have intended an increase in Cold War tensions, but he did allow himself to be pushed in a more combative and pugnacious direction by newly resurgent hawks in his administration and, especially, on Capitol Hill. Far from the dove he was pejoratively labeled as—then and now—Carter actually escalated America’s military buildup and helped usher in the last, but quite combative, final phase of the Cold War.

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Some justifiable conclusions about Carter: that his failings as president were largely the results of personal style and a troubled era of global strife and economic downturn, much of it inherited. And that, despite later assertions from Reagan Republicans, his shortcomings stemmed not from his being too liberal but often more from his halfhearted attempts to shift rightward. One can, in fact, sense the end of liberal, optimistic, big-government politics in the Carter administration, as much as, or more than, in the Nixon administration. After Carter, conservative positions on economics and cultural matters became ascendant and mainstream. In many ways they remain so, despite the new, contemporary grassroots resurgence of the progressive left.

The record must be corrected to reflect that Carter, not Reagan, began the national shift toward smaller government, austerity, the end of detente and increased tensions with both the Soviet Union and Iran. We live in the political space created during the Carter administration, and have for some 50 years. Most of all, Carter’s stillborn presidency demonstrated that being inherently decent is not enough to weather hard times or win popular support, that Americans don’t take kindly to hard truths or demands for cutbacks in energy consumption and that this country remains, at root, a center-right nation—more conservative than the rest of the industrialized Western World.

In times since, Republicans have trotted out the specter of a feckless Carter to scare voters rightward, and it works! Carter’s legend of incompetence, more than his actual complex presidency, has stuck, demonstrating once again that memory is often more powerful than reality. In this way, Carter was a tragic figure in American history. He taught Republicans how to win and showed Democrats how to lose. They’re both doing so still.

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To learn more about this topic, consider the following scholarly works:
• Gary Gerstle, “American Crucible: Race and Nation in the 20th Century” (2001).
• Kevin M. Kruse and Julian E. Zelizer, “Fault Lines: A History of the United States Since 1974” (2019).
• Jill Lepore, “These Truths: A History of the United States” (2018).
• James T. Patterson, “Restless Giant: The United States From Watergate to Bush v. Gore” (2005).
• Bruce Schulman, “The Seventies” (2001).
• Howard Zinn, “The Twentieth Century” (1980).

<em>Danny Sjursen, a regular contributor to Truthdig, is a retired U.S. Army officer and former history instructor at West Point. He served tours with reconnaissance units in Iraq and Afghanistan. He has written a memoir and critical analysis of the Iraq War, “<a href=”https://www.amazon.com/dp/1611687810/ref=nosim/?tag=tomdispatch-20 “>Ghost Riders of Baghdad</a>: Soldiers, Civilians, and the Myth of the Surge.” He lives in Lawrence, Kan. Follow him on Twitter at <a href=”https://twitter.com/SkepticalVet”>@SkepticalVet</a> and check out his podcast, “<a href=”https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/fortress-on-a-hill-podcast/id1330015680?mt=2″>Fortress on a Hill</a>,” co-hosted with fellow vet Chris “Henri” Henrikson.</em>

Ginsburg Warns of More 5-4 Supreme Court Decisions Ahead

Sun, 2019-06-09 01:02

WASHINGTON—Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg suggested Friday that there will be sharp divisions among her colleagues as they finish their term, with decisions in high-profile cases about the census and the drawing of electoral maps expected before the end of the month.

The justice was speaking at a conference for judges in New York. According to prepared remarks made available by the Supreme Court, the justice noted that of the 43 cases the justices have announced decisions in since hearing arguments beginning in October, just over a quarter were decided by a 5-4 or 5-3 vote. Those are rulings that tend to split the court’s five more conservative justices from its four liberal members including Ginsburg.

“Given the number of most watched cases still unannounced, I cannot predict that the relatively low sharp divisions ratio will hold,” said Ginsburg, who knows the votes in the some two dozen cases remaining at this point, though the public does not. The court’s term runs from October through June.

In her remarks, Ginsburg drew a parallel between two cases involving the Trump administration: this year’s case involving the census and a case last year in which the court’s conservatives upheld President Donald Trump’s ban on travel from several mostly Muslim countries over the dissent of their liberal colleagues.

In the census case, which was argued in April, the court is being asked to uphold a decision by Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross to ask every U.S. resident about citizenship in the 2020 census. Opponents of that plan say the question would discourage millions of Hispanics and immigrants from responding and being counted.

“Speculators about the outcome note that last year, in Trump v. Hawaii, the court upheld the so-called ‘travel ban,’ in an opinion granting great deference to the Executive. Respondents in the census case have argued that a ruling in Secretary Ross’s favor would stretch deference beyond the breaking point,” Ginsburg said.

Ginsburg also spoke briefly about cases in which the court is being asked to determine when electoral maps are too partisan. The court has two cases before it on that issue, one from Maryland and another from North Carolina.

“However one comes out on the legal issues, partisan gerrymandering unsettles the fundamental premise that people elect their representatives, not vice versa,” she said.

Ginsburg also noted one big difference between last year and this year, the absence of Justice Anthony Kennedy, who retired after the end of last term. Kennedy, who often held the pivotal vote when the court divided 5-4, was replaced by Justice Brett Kavanaugh, whose appointment is expected to result in the court becoming more conservative.

“It was, I would say, the event of greatest consequence for the current term, and perhaps for many terms ahead,” Ginsburg said of Kennedy’s retirement.

Ginsburg, who became the court’s second female justice when she joined the court in 1993, also used the speech to note a number of statistics. She said that about one in five attorneys who argue before the court is female. And she credited Kavanaugh with making history “by bringing on board an all-female law clerk crew.”

“Thanks to his selections, the court has this term for the first time ever, more women than men serving as law clerks,” she said.

Monday is the next day for opinions to be announced by the court.

___

Follow Jessica Gresko on Twitter at http://twitter.com/jessicagresko

Trump’s Threatened Tariffs on Hold After Deal With Mexico

Sat, 2019-06-08 23:14

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump has put on hold his plan to begin imposing tariffs on Mexico on Monday, saying the U.S. ally will take “strong measures” to reduce the flow of Central American migrants into the United States.

But the deal he announced Friday night, after returning from a trip to Europe, falls short of some of the dramatic overhauls pushed for by his administration.

A joint declaration released by the State Department said the U.S. “will immediately expand” a program that returns asylum-seekers, while their claims are under review, to Mexico after they have crossed the U.S.-Mexico border. Mexico will “offer jobs, healthcare and education” to those people, according to the agreement.

Mexico has agreed, it said, to “unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration,” including the deployment of the Mexican National Guard throughout the country, especially on its southern border with Guatemala.

Trump put the number of troops at 6,000, and said in a tweet Saturday, “Mexico will try very hard, and if they do that, this will be a very successful agreement for both the United States and Mexico!”

Mexico’s president, Andrés Manuel López Obrador, said on Twitter that “Thanks to the support of all Mexicans, the imposition of tariffs on Mexican products exported to the USA has been avoided.” He called for a gathering Saturday to celebrate in Tijuana.

Yet House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Trump’s “threats and temper tantrums are no way to negotiate foreign policy,” especially with “our close friend.”

The State Department said Mexico is taking “decisive action to dismantle human smuggling and trafficking organizations as well as their illicit financial and transportation networks.”

The agreement removes, for now, the threat of trade penalties that had elicited dire warnings from members of Trump’s own party about the potential economic damage, higher consumer prices and an imperiled update to a North American trade deal.

Mexico’s foreign secretary, Marcelo Ebrard, said he thought the deal struck “a fair balance” because the U.S. “had more drastic proposals and measures at the start.”

But Leticia Calderón Cheluis, a migration expert at the Mora Institute in Mexico City, said the agreement is essentially a series of compromises solely by Mexico, which she said committed to “a double clamp at both borders.”

Trump used social media to say he was “pleased to inform you” about the deal with Mexico and said the threatened tariffs “are hereby indefinitely suspended.” He cited Mexico’s commitment to “strong measures” intended “to greatly reduce, or eliminate” illegal immigration from Mexico.

It was a sharp reversal, given that earlier Friday, his spokeswoman Sarah Sanders had told reporters: “Our position has not changed. The tariffs are going forward as of Monday.”

The U.S. had announced in December that it would make some asylum-seekers wait in Mexico while their cases were being processed. But this move has been plagued with glitches, including incorrect court dates, travel problems and issues with lawyers reaching their clients.

Immigration activists in the U.S. have challenged the program in court, arguing it violates migrants’ legal rights. An appeals court recently overturned a judge who had blocked the program. And Pelosi expressed disappointment about what she said was an expanded policy that “violates the rights of asylum-seekers under U.S. law and fails to address the root causes of Central American migration.”

Officials from the Department of Homeland Security were working to spread the program along the border before the latest blowup. About 10,000 people have been returned to Mexico to wait for the processing of their immigration cases since the program began Jan. 29.

Any sizable increase may be difficult to achieve. At just the San Ysidro crossing in California, Mexico had been prepared to accept up to 120 asylum-seekers per week. But for the first six weeks, only 40 people per week were returned.

More than 100,000 migrants are currently crossing the U.S. border each month, but not everyone claims asylum and migrants can wait an entire year before making a claim.

Trump had threatened a 5% tariff on all Mexican goods entering the U.S. “until such time as illegal migrants coming through Mexico, and into our Country, STOP.”

U.S. officials had laid out steps Mexico could take to prevent the tariffs, but many people had doubts that even those steps would be enough to satisfy Trump on illegal immigration, a signature issue of his presidency and one that he sees as crucial to his 2020 re-election campaign.

The 5% tax on all Mexican goods would have risen every month, up to 25% under Trump’s plan, and had enormous economic implications for both countries.

Americans bought $378 billion worth of Mexican imports last year, led by cars and auto parts. Many members of Trump’s Republican Party and business allies had urged him to reconsider — or at least postpone the threatened tariffs as talks continued.

From the moment Trump announced his threat, observers wondered whether he would follow through. They noted his habit of creating problems and then claiming credit when he rushed in to solve them.

In late March, Trump threatened to shut the entire U.S.-Mexico border if Mexico didn’t immediately halt illegal immigration. Just a few days later, he backed off that threat, saying he was pleased with steps Mexico had taken. It was unclear, however, what — if anything — Mexico had changed.

Talks in Washington had focused partly on changes that would make it harder for migrants who pass through Mexico from other countries to claim asylum in the U.S., according to those monitoring the situation. Mexico has opposed such a change but appeared open to considering a potential compromise that could include exceptions or waivers for different types of cases. The joint declaration, however, makes no mention of the issue

Trump has embraced tariffs as a political tool he can use to force countries to comply with his demands. Beyond Trump and several White House advisers, though, few in his administration had believed the tariffs were a good idea, according to officials familiar with internal deliberations. Those people had worried about the negative economic consequences for Americans and argued that tariffs, which probably would have drawn retaliatory taxes on U.S. exports, would also hurt the administration politically.

Republicans in Congress warned the White House that they were ready to stand up to the president to try to block his tariffs, which they worried would raise costs to U.S. consumers, harm the economy and imperil a major pending U.S.-Mexico-Canada trade deal.

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Associated Press writers Zeke Miller, Colleen Long, Paul Wiseman, Lisa Mascaro, Darlene Superville and Padmananda Rama in Washington and Jonathan Lemire in Shannon, Ireland contributed to this report.