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Travel Chaos, Jobs Lost as U.K. Firm Thomas Cook Collapses

TruthDig.com News -

LONDON — Hundreds of thousands of travelers were stranded across the world Monday after British tour company Thomas Cook collapsed, immediately halting almost all its flights and hotel services and laying off all its employees.

Britain’s Civil Aviation Authority confirmed Thomas Cook, a 178-year-old company that helped create the package tour industry, had ceased trading. It said the firm’s four airlines will be grounded, and its 21,000 employees in 16 countries — including 9,000 in the U.K. — will lose their jobs.

The collapse of the firm will have sweeping effects across the entire European and North African tourism industry and elsewhere, as hotels worried about being paid and confirmed bookings for high-season winter resorts were suddenly in doubt.

Overall, about 600,000 people were traveling with the company as of Sunday, though it was unclear how many of them would be left stranded, as some travel subsidiaries were in talks with local authorities to continue operating.

The British government said it was taking charge of getting the firm’s 150,000 U.K.-based customers back home from vacation spots across the globe, the largest repatriation effort in the country’s peacetime history. The process began Monday and officials warned of delays.

A stream of reports Monday morning gave some sense of the extent of the travel chaos: some 50,000 Thomas Cook travelers were stranded in Greece; up to 30,000 stuck in Spain’s Canary Islands; 21,000 in Turkey and 15,000 in Cyprus alone.

An estimated 1 million future Thomas Cook travelers also found their bookings for upcoming holidays canceled. Many are likely to receive refunds under travel insurance plans.

The company, which began in 1841 with a one-day train excursion in England and now has business in 16 countries, has been struggling financially for years due to competition from budget airlines and the ease of booking low-cost accommodations through the internet.

Thomas Cook also still owned almost 600 travel shops on major streets in Britain as well as 200 hotels, adding real estate costs to its crushing debt burden.

“The growing popularity of the pick-and-mix type of travel that allows consumers to book their holiday packages separately, as well as new kids on the block like Airbnb, has seen the travel industry change beyond all recognition in the past decade, as consumers book travel, accommodation, and car hire independently,” said Michael Hewson, chief market analyst at CMC Markets.

Things got worse this year, with the company blaming a slowdown in bookings on the uncertainty over Brexit, Britain’s impending departure from the European Union. A drop in the pound made it more expensive for British vacationers to travel abroad.

Terror attacks in recent years in some markets like Egypt and Tunis also hurt its business, as did heat waves in Northern Europe.

The company had said Friday it was seeking 200 million pounds ($250 million) to avoid going bust and held talks over the weekend with shareholders and creditors in an attempt to stave off collapse.

CEO Peter Fankhauser said in a statement read outside the company’s offices before dawn Monday that he deeply regrets the shutdown.

“Despite huge efforts over a number of months and further intense negotiations in recent days, we have not been able to secure a deal to save our business,” he said. “I know that this outcome will be devastating to many people and will cause a lot of anxiety, stress and disruption.”

Britain’s aviation authority said it had arranged an aircraft fleet for the complex repatriation effort, which is expected to last two weeks. British Transport Secretary Grant Shapps said dozens of charter planes, from as far as Malaysia, had been hired to fly customers home free of charge. He said hundreds of people were staffing call centers and airport operations centers.

Julie Robsson, a 58-year-old retiree from Yorkshire, was among those waiting Monday on the Spanish island of Mallorca for a replacement flight to Manchester, England.

She said while was satisfied with the information she received from British authorities, the Thomas Cook representative had not appeared at her group’s hotel since the first rumors of financial difficulties emerged last week.

“I’m quite sad because it’s an old company. The prices were all reasonable. The planes were clean,” Robsson said.

Unions representing Thomas Cook workers reacted with anger.

“The staff have been stabbed in the back without a second’s thought,” said Brian Strutton, head of the British Airline Pilots’ Association.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, traveling to New York for the United Nations General Assembly, said the government was right not to bail out the company, arguing that travel firms should do more to ensure they don’t collapse. He said bailing out Thomas Cook would have established “a moral hazard” because other firms might later expect the same treatment.

“We need to look at ways in which tour operators one way or another can protect themselves from such bankruptcies in the future,” Johnson said.

Most of Thomas Cook’s British customers are protected by the government-run travel insurance program, which makes sure vacationers can get home if a British-based tour operator fails while they are abroad.

An earlier repatriation exercise following the 2017 collapse of Monarch Airlines cost the British government about 60 million pounds ($75 million).

Thomas Cook’s collapse is a huge blow to many companies in vacation resorts that have long relied on it for business.

Spain’s Canary Islands, for example, are a favored year-round destination for Northern Europeans that is likely to take a hit to its high-season winter bookings. The association of hotels said it fears the economic impact and the Spanish government was holding meetings with regional authorities to assess the likely damage to local economies.

In Tunisia, the TAP news agency said the tourism minister intervened after reports emerged that some Thomas Cook tourists in Hammamet were locked into one hotel and “being held hostage” as the hotel demanded they pay extra, for fear that Thomas Cook would not pay its debts.

The government said Thomas Cook clients would not be prevented from leaving the country.

___

Jill Lawless in New York, Pan Pylas in London, Aritz Parra in Madrid and John Leicester in Paris contributed to this report.

The post Travel Chaos, Jobs Lost as U.K. Firm Thomas Cook Collapses appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

There’s No Chance Corporate Elites Will Fix Inequality

TruthDig.com News -

Ralph Waldo Emerson once wrote of being leery of a fast-talking huckster who visited his home: “The louder he talked of his honor, the faster we counted our spoons,” Emerson exclaimed.

Likewise, today’s workaday families should do a mass inventory of their silverware, for the fast-talking CEOs of 181 union-busting, tax-cheating, environment-contaminating, consumer-gouging corporations are asking us to believe that they stand with us in the fight against … well, against them.

From Wall Street banksters to Big Oil polluters, these profiteers are suddenly trumpeting their future intentions to serve not just their own greed, but every “stakeholder” (which is what they call employees, customers, suppliers, et al).

But vague proclamations are cheap, and it’s worth noting that these new champions of the common good propose no specifics — no actual sacrifices by them or benefits for us.

A few media observers have mildly objected, saying it’s “an open question” whether any of the corporate proclaimers will change how they do business. But it’s not an open question at all.  They won’t.

They won’t support full collective bargaining power for workers, won’t join the public’s push to get Medicare for All, won’t stop using monopoly power to squeeze out small competitors and gouge consumers, won’t support measures to stop climate change, and won’t back reforms to get their corrupt corporate money out of our politics.

All told, they won’t embrace any of the big structural changes necessary to reverse the raw economic and political inequality that has enthroned their plutocratic rule.

In fact, their empty proclamation is what West Texas cowboys might call “bovine excrement,” meant to fend off the actual changes that real reformers are advancing. Corporate elites won’t fix inequality for us — they’re the ones doing it to us.

The post There’s No Chance Corporate Elites Will Fix Inequality appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

We’re in Court to Protect Family Planning Care for Millions of Low-Income Patients.

ACLU News -

The Trump Administration is dismantling the Title X family planning program and compromising crucial health care for millions of people.

Title X is a federally funded family planning program that guarantees low-income people can receive critical health care services for free or at a reduced cost. For decades it’s been one of the most effective federal health care programs, providing a wide range of vital reproductive and other services for millions of people across the country who wouldn’t otherwise be able to afford them.

However, the Trump administration wants to undermine that success as part of an overall agenda that attacks people’s access to reproductive health care. Today, we are in the 9th Circuit arguing that the program should be protected from their efforts to destroy it.

Services that are provided under Title X include contraceptive care and information, sexually transmitted infection testing and prevention, cancer screening, and pregnancy testing and counseling.  In 2018, Title X family planning care was provided to nearly four million patients.  Two-thirds of them had incomes at or below the federal poverty level, and more than half were people of color.  For many, the providers they see through Title X are their only ongoing source of health care and health education. 

The Title X program dates back to 1970 when, at President Nixon’s urging, a bipartisan Congress enacted it to improve access to family planning and to make birth control like “the pill” and IUDs available to all regardless of their income. For nearly five decades since then, the program has been a resounding success.

 Under Title X’s previous rules, any patient who tested positive for pregnancy was provided counseling about their options, along with referrals to other providers—including abortion providers—upon request. 

But the Trump administration’s new Title X rule allows providers to refuse to provide counseling that includes all pregnancy options for any reason, including if those options violate their religious beliefs. It also requires providers to refer all pregnant patients for prenatal care, even if the patient has decided to have an abortion, and blocks them from referring patients to abortion providers.

Through this rule change, the Trump administration is attempting to kick high quality providers out of the program and remake it into one composed of anti-abortion crisis pregnancy centers that do not want to provide the most effective forms of birth control and which do not discuss—let alone refer for—abortion. This will have a catastrophic effect on low-income people who rely on Title X. Many people will lose access to high-quality family planning services along with their primary source of health care. In March, the ACLU filed a lawsuit to block the new rule on behalf of the National Family Planning & Reproductive Health Association (NFPRHA), which is a membership organization representing family planning providers across the country, including Cedar River Clinics, who we also represent in the case. 

We asked the district court to enter a preliminary injunction that would prevent the Trump administration’s new rule from going into effect.  We argued that the new rule violates the law and that if enforced, it would cause serious irreparable harm.  And we won. 

But the government appealed, asking the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit to lift the injunction so that it could enforce the new rule while the case moves forward in the lower court.  The Ninth Circuit ruled in the government’s favor.  This means that the Trump administration has already started dismantling the Title X network by requiring compliance with the new rule, which has forced many long-time providers to leave the program.

Today we’re asking the Ninth Circuit to reinstate the injunction to prevent the Trump administration from further carrying out its anti-health agenda and robbing people of critical family planning care. 

Remaking the Title X program is just one piece of the Trump administration’s larger campaign to curb access to abortion and contraception at the federal level. Last year, for example, they tried to deny abortion care to immigrant minors in their custody until we stepped in, and they’re also trying to undo the Affordable Care Act’s requirement that employers and universities include insurance coverage for contraception in their health plans.These attacks, coupled with President Trump’s recent appointments to the Supreme Court, have emboldened hostile politicians to ratchet up their attacks on reproductive health care, including by taking direct aim at Roe v. Wade by passing draconian bans on abortion at the state level.

This is a concerted effort to take away people’s rights and block them from accessing reproductive health care. Taking family planning health care away from millions of people is downright cruel, and we won’t let them get away with it. We’re fighting back, and we hope you’ll join us.

Ending the Afghan War Won’t End the Killing

TruthDig.com News -

I’ve never been to Afghanistan, but I am the mother of two young children. So when I imagine what life must be like there after 18 years of war, my mind conjures up the children most vividly — the ones who have been affected by the conflict — and their parents. I think of the 12-year-old boy who was carrying water to a military checkpoint in a remote part of that country, earning pennies to help sustain his family, whose legs were blown off by a landmine. Or the group of children at a wedding party, playing behind the house where the ceremony was taking place. One of them picked up an unexploded shell, fired from a helicopter, that hadn’t detonated in battle. It blew up, killing two children, Basit and Haroon, and wounding 12 others. What must it be like to care for a five year old — the age of my oldest child — who is maimed and who needs to learn how to walk, play, and live again with ill-fitting prosthetics?

A major legacy of the U.S. war on terror in Afghanistan, which began in October 2001 and shows little sign of actually ending anytime soon, will be the “explosive remnants of war” — a term for all the landmines and unexploded bombs and other weaponry that have been left behind in the earth. This debris of America’s endless war, still piling up, is devastating in many ways. It makes it so much harder for an agricultural population to sustain itself on the land. It wreaks havoc on Afghans’ emotional wellbeing and sense of security. And it poses special hazards for children, who are regularly injured and killed by the left-behind explosives of an already devastating war as they play, herd livestock, or collect water and firewood.

Given the expected drawdown of American troops in Afghanistan — despite the recent breakdown in peace negotiations with the Taliban, President Trump continues to indicate that he may pursue such a path — and the possibility of an official end to the U.S. war there, this topic is both pressing and relevant to public debate in America. Offering aid and reparations for the horrific ongoing costs of explosive military waste should be a priority on Washington’s future agenda.

“The Human and Financial Costs of the Explosive Remnants of War in Afghanistan,” a new report issued today by the Costs of War project, which I co-direct, at Brown University’s Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs, offers a sense of the scale of the damage in Afghanistan. According to the report’s authors, Suzanne Fiederlein and SaraJane Rzegocki of James Madison University, at least 5,442 people have been killed and 14,693 people have been injured by devices embedded in or left on the ground since the start of the US-led war in 2001.

Of those victims, the great majority are boys and men. A casualty analysis by the Danish Demining Group in 2017 suggested that boys are particularly vulnerable because of their day-to-day activities and chores, but women and girls, too, are increasingly becoming casualties of unexploded ordnance, particularly when traveling. In 2017, the United Nations Mission in Afghanistan expressed concern about a “65% jump in the number of children killed or wounded by explosive remnants as fighting has spread to heavily populated civilian areas.”

The U.S. has provided significant financial support for humanitarian mine-clearing programs in Afghanistan. In recent years, however, that funding has been dropping. According to the United Nations Mine Action Service, Afghanistan has made some genuine progress toward its goal of freeing itself of landmines and other unexploded debris by 2023. Yet international financial support for such activities has dropped to 41% of what it was in 2011. Even if the Afghan War truly ended tomorrow, a sustained commitment of financial aid over many years would be necessary to clear that country of all the ordnance sewn into its soil as a result of the last 18 years of America’s war.

A Legacy of War

The new Costs of War report reveals that the leading weapons causing such damage have changed over time. Even before 2001, when the U.S.-led coalition invaded Afghanistan, that country stood near the top of the list of those afflicted by abandoned landmines. The devices remained from the 1980s conflict between the Soviet Union and extremist Islamist rebels, the mujahedeen, backed by Washington and funded and supported by the CIA.

In the wake of the Soviet withdrawal from Afghanistan in 1989, international and Afghan clearance groups worked hard to clean up those minefields. Their efforts were, however, often thwarted by brutal new conflicts, including an Afghan civil war from 1992 to 1996 and the period from 1996 to 2001 in which the Taliban largely controlled the country. Still, over the past few decades, such groups managed to remove two million pieces of unexploded ordnance.

As the latest data indicates, landmines from the Soviet conflict have still been causing 7% of remnant-related casualties since 2010. Most of those hurt by explosive ordnance, however, are victims of the ongoing, complex armed conflict that emerged from the U.S.-led invasion — that is, a range of weapons used and left behind by American forces, Taliban fighters, and Islamic State-affiliated groups. These include grenades, projectile weapons, mortars, cluster munitions, and large bombs that failed to explode as intended, but are still live and prone to going off if touched or moved at a later date. Taliban and ISIS militants are also increasingly relying on improvised explosive devices (IEDs) set off by someone stepping on them or otherwise unwittingly activating them. If not triggered at the time of battle, they can kill or injure civilians long after, even in areas in which there is no longer active fighting.

Since 2015, casualties from explosive remnants of war and abandoned IEDs have been rising rapidly. One reason is an increase in fighting between the U.S.-backed Afghan National Security Forces and both the Taliban and ISIS, as well as intensifying conflict between these extremist groups themselves. According to report author Suzanne Fiederlein, improvised explosive devices are growing more common in Afghanistan and other conflicts across the Middle East, partly thanks to the Internet, which has spread knowledge of how to build them. Such information, she writes, is “commonly available now, not just on dark-web sites. Such knowledge is also linked to the manufacture of more sophisticated and complex devices, such as anti-handling devices (booby traps).”

In addition, since 2017, the U.S. has dramatically increased its airstrikes against the Taliban and other militant groups in Afghanistan, while the Taliban itself, as it gains ever more territory, has expanded its attacks on government targets as well as on Afghan and international security forces. In the past year, as U.S. and Taliban officials have engaged in peace talks, both sides have only ramped up their aggression further, assumedly in order to strengthen their hands in the negotiatons.

Finally, in recent years, as the American-led coalition has closed down bases in advance of a prospective U.S. military withdrawal, more and more Afghans have died or been injured by military waste exploding in abandoned areas once used by international security forces as firing ranges. From 2009 to 2015, the United Nations recorded 138 casualties from explosions in or around such former training facilities. Seventy-five percent of those victims were children.

Living with Explosive Military Waste

It’s important to grasp just how long explosive remnants of war can remain active in a landscape after a conflict ends. If uncleared, they pose a danger to people living nearby or passing through for generations. In Belgium, for instance, more than a century later, significant numbers of explosive shells are still being removed from former World War I battlefields. Many countries struggle with this problem, including Bosnia-Herzegovina, Colombia, Korea, Laos, and Vietnam, but Afghanistan has been one of the hardest hit.

As of 2018, roughly 1,780 square kilometers of that country are considered contaminated by military waste. As the Costs of War report points out, this is “roughly ten times the area of Washington, D.C., but spread across a country almost as large as Texas.” Danger zones include farms and grazing land, roads that people regularly use to get to markets, schools, and hospitals, and lands surrounding militant strongholds, allied military bases, and those former firing ranges.

From the research I’ve done, it’s clear why people continue to use such contaminated lands. At the most basic level, it’s a story of inequality. Many Afghans undoubtedly know which areas pose a threat. In addition, risk education programs have made progress in getting teachers, midwives, and police officers to spread awareness of how to recognize and avoid such dangers. However, poverty often forces Afghans to make terrible and terrifying decisions about the risk of injury and death.

Dilemmas of this sort are commonly faced in places marked by such legacies of conflict. Anthropologist David Henig, for instance, describes how rural villagers in the Bosnia-Herzegovina highlands still knowingly enter contaminated forest areas to gather firewood. For them, living with the danger of landmines left over from the Bosnian War of the 1990s is a matter of economic survival. Many Afghans face a similar plight. I can only suppose that the boy who stepped on a landmine while carrying water for soldiers would not have been earning money in that fashion if his family had any other way to scrape together an existence.

While people learn to live with the presence of explosive waste in their landscapes, doing so exacts a grim toll. Imagine the fear and emotional distress you might feel at merely passing through places where a misstep could kill you, no less your children. Henig recounts how one Bosnian woman, returning from a mined part of the forest where she had filled her wagon with wood, broke down and cried, yelling feverishly, “Why, why do we have to do this?”

In Afghanistan, the Costs of War report points to the “deep psychological impact” of such long-lasting contamination: “For Afghans, the fear of being harmed by these weapons is magnified by knowing or seeing someone injured or killed.” People are terrorized and traumatized by the threat of explosions, and this continuous sense of foreboding must create an undertone of anxious melancholy that runs through every minute of the day.

Then there are the thousands of Afghans who live not only with the fear of such explosions, but also with the need to rebuild their lives after being maimed by one. The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) physical rehabilitation program in Afghanistan manufactures over 19,000 artificial legs, arms, and other orthopedic devices each year. Groups like the ICRC and Handicap International post photos of children on their websites as they are being fitted with and trained to use prosthetic legs. In one, a boy of no more than five looks bleakly at the camera, his hands resting on two parallel bars at his sides, the stumps of his legs settled uncomfortably in new plastic devices. In another, Nilofar, a young woman in a wheelchair, prepares to shoot a basketball; hers is a remarkable story of recovery, of moving from complete paralysis, after a back injury due to an explosion, to partial mobility. Today she works for the ICRC’s Kabul Orthopedic Center as a data entry operator, a job that has given her an income, a sense of purpose, and renewed hope.

The United Nations Mine Action Service has called for more long-term support for survivors of such wounds. They need such care to learn to walk on and use prosthetic limbs, as well as to deal with the depression and other psychological effects that accompany such injuries. According to the ICRC, they also require “a role in society and to recover dignity and self-respect.” All of the more than 800 staff at the seven ICRC orthopedic centers across Afghanistan are former patients. But there are thousands of others and no one can doubt that, in a war seemingly without end, there will be thousands more.

Imperial Debris and U.S. Responsibility

Scholars have called landmines and other explosive remnants of war “imperial debris” — the detritus, in particular, of imperial America and its expansive global military footprint, including its forever wars around this planet. Even if U.S. troops are finally withdrawn, as Afghans encounter such debris from the war on terror and find their lives eternally shaped by it, the association with the American project in their country will remain alive for years into the future, as such weaponry keeps right on killing. In the process, it will undoubtedly seed hatred of the United States for generations to come.

Sadly, American funding for the humanitarian mine-clearing program in Afghanistan has been in decline since 2012. Afghanistan today has some of the best-trained demining technicians on the planet, but the scale of the problem is massive and the money available for it far too modest. The very goal of achieving mine-free status by 2023, a project once expected to cost $647.5 million, is likely unattainable, even if the fighting ends, because funding targets have fallen so far short of being fulfilled.

The U.S. has been the single largest donor to that program, making $452 million in contributions since 2002. Since 2012, however, it’s been another story, as Washington has dispatched much of its funding and resources for such programs to Iraq and Syria instead. In fiscal year 2018, the Mine Action Programme of Afghanistan raised just $51 million of its $99 million funding goal and only an estimated $20 million of that came from Washington, less than half what it gave between 2010 and 2012.

Americans have an obligation to clear explosive hazards in that country, a large portion of which are of U.S. origin. Given the taxpayer dollars Washington has already spent on or committed to the war on terror through fiscal year 2019 — $5.9 trillion, according to the estimate of the Costs of War project — what it’s donated to deal with imperial debris in Afghanistan is scarcely more than a drop in the bucket. A multiyear funding commitment to clear the explosive remnants of the war on terror there would be one small way to carry out a tiny portion of America’s responsibility to the Afghan people after so many years of destruction.

Someday, Afghanistan stands every chance of becoming America’s forgotten war. The conflict will be anything but forgotten in that country, however, and therein lies one of the saddest stories of all.

The post Ending the Afghan War Won’t End the Killing appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Corey Lewandowski Wants to Run for Senate. He’s Spent the Last 3 Years in Trump’s Swamp.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Halfway through the fourth hour of Corey Lewandowski’s testimony before the House Judiciary Committee last week, Rep. Madeleine Dean (D-Pa.) asked the former Trump campaign manager about his work since the 2016 election. By and large, that work appears to have entailed selling his perceived access to President Donald Trump.

“It was very important that you maintain a good relationship with the president.”

“It was very important that you maintain a good relationship with the president because, after you left the Trump campaign in December 2016, you co-founded Avenue Strategies,” Dean said, referring to a lobbying shop Lewandowski worked for until May 2017. “Isn’t that right?”

“Yes, it is,” responded Lewandowski, who has said he may run for the GOP nomination to take on New Hampshire Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D) in 2020.

Earlier in the hearing, Lewandowski confirmed special counsel Robert Mueller’s finding that in 2018, Trump had requested that Lewandowski, a private citizen, pressure then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions to hobble Mueller’s Russia investigation. Though Lewandowski said he never delivered Trump’s message, Mueller said that the incident met the criteria for obstruction of justice.

Dean was the first lawmaker at the hearing to note that Lewandowski’s day job made it hard for him to rebuff Trump’s request. “You had access to him that others didn’t,” she said. “It was important to you, wasn’t it?”

Lewandowski replied, unconvincingly, that access was not important to him. But the exchange highlighted a connection between Trump’s efforts to impede Mueller’s investigation and the sale of influence by Trump insiders in Washington. In exchange for access, Trump wants favors.

Lewandowski denies that he has acted as a lobbyist. He has even denied cashing in on his connection to Trump. He has refused to detail his work for corporate and foreign clients, and he says he won’t reveal his “private business” if he runs for office.

But Dean’s questions, along with Lewandowski’s potential Senate bid, are prompting new scrutiny of what critics call his shadow lobbying career. Trump has indicated support for a Lewandowski run and exchanged encouraging tweets with him during the hearing. For their part, New Hampshire Democrats have started attacking Lewandowski as a swamp creature. 

“Corey Lewandowski has spent every minute since the 2016 election selling White House access to the highest bidders and most nefarious clients imaginable, from predatory lenders to big oil and even foreign interests,” said Josh Marcus-Blank, a spokesman for New Hampshire Democrats.

Media reports have already revealed that the former Trump aide has distinguished himself for the brazenness with which he has reportedly touted his ability to access and influence Trump. Without registering as a lobbyist, he has associated himself with lobbying firms and created the impression that by hiring them, clients will benefit from his ties to Trump. He won’t say how much he earned this way, but he is not working pro bono. Along the way, he has advised firms ranging from T-Mobile—which was seeking help winning approval for its proposed merger with Sprint—to Elio Motors, which sells a three-wheeled “autocycle.” He’s met with foreign leaders from the Balkans, Poland, and elsewhere. And he’s done all this while dismissing reports that he is selling influence as fake news.

Lewandowski formed Avenue Strategies during the presidential transition period. In December 2016, he traveled to Mexico City. Media reports credited him with setting up a private meeting with Trump for Mexican billionaire Carlos Slim. Lewandowski claimed the firm was not auditioning to represent Slim, but Lewandowski’s partner at Avenue, Barry Bennett, has said the company was indeed interested in signing Slim as a client.

In early 2017, another company founded by Lewandowski and Bennett told foreign leaders in written pitches that it could arrange meetings with Trump, Vice President Mike Pence, and other “key members” of the administration. Lewandowksi, while seeking business, reportedly told Azerbaijan’s ambassador that he could arrange for that country’s notoriously corrupt and autocratic president to meet with Trump.

The New York Times reported in 2017 that Lewandowski told potential clients that he could help corporate clients avoid being attacked by Trump on Twitter. At Tuesdays hearing, Lewandowski denied a 2017 Buzzfeed report that he had told Facebook and the Blackstone Group that he had access to Trump’s Twitter account. (During the same hearing, Lewandowski also admitted to lying to the media.)

Lewandowski says he won’t reveal his “private business” if he runs for office.

After leaving Avenue amid bad press and an acrimonious split with his partners, Lewandowski agreed to represent a payday lender called Community Choice Financial. While working for that firm, he made a July 2017 appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press, during which he urged Trump to fire the head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, Richard Cordray, who supported new regulations on payday lenders. On the show, Lewandowski falsely claimed that this unprompted suggestion did not reflect “any business interests.” He did not deny these facts at the hearing, but he did dispute a GQ report that, as part of his effort to convince the company to hire him, he had had promised he could get Cordray fired. Under pressure to quit, Cordray left the agency in late 2017 to run unsuccessfully for governor of Ohio. After his departure, the agency quickly rolled backed restrictions on payday lenders.

Lewandowski reportedly began working in mid-2017 with Turnberry Solutions, a firm run by former Trump aides and named after a Trump-owned golf resort in Scotland. (Last week, the House Oversight Committee revealed that the Air Force has spent $184,000 at the resort during Trump’s presidency.) In 2017 and 2018, Lewandowski consistently denied any financial connection to the firm, despite living in a townhouse where the company is headquartered; reportedly joining the firm’s lobbyists on business calls; and traveling with registered lobbyists for the firm to locations including Poland and Serbia, where they met with lawmakers. Lewandowski reportedly helped another firm, BGR, sign a group of Polish defense contractor as clients.

In May 2018, T-Mobile hired Turnberry and announced that Lewandowski was advising them on the Sprint merger push. The Wall Street Journal reported that Lewandowski was receiving a cut of fees T-Mobile paid the firm. Jason Osborne, a Turnberry partner, claimed at the time that Lewandowski was an unpaid “strategic adviser.” Lewandowski did not respond to a request for comment.

In the summer of 2018, two Turnberry lobbyists agreed to represent a political party from Rebublika Srpska, a Serbian enclave in Bosnia. When the party’s prime minister visited the United States, she met with Lewandowski in Trump’s Washington hotel and later issued a press release showing them together. Osborne, who calls Lewandowski a “close friend,” told Mother Jones that meeting was unplanned.

In February, Lewandowski officially joined Turnberry as an adviser. That gave him a formal tie to clients, including the Houston-based American Ethane Company. American Ethane wanted members of Congress to help pressure a Chinese textile giant, the Nanshan Group, to fulfill a deal it appeared to agree to in 2017 to buy $26 billion worth of ethane from the company over 20 years. American Ethane is owned by two Russian billionaires. One of them, Konstantin Nikolaev, was revealed by the Washington Post last year to have funded efforts by Maria Butina, a founder of a Russian pro-gun group, to cultivate ties to prominent Republicans and National Rifle Association officials. Butina pleaded guilty last year to acting as unregistered agent for Russia. Osborne told Mother Jones that Turnberry’s work had nothing to do with Butina or Russia.

Lewandowski’s work for such companies does not appear have have hurt his standing at the White House. “The president respects loyalty, and Corey has been extremely loyal to him through thick and thin,” Chris Ruddy, a Trump friend and adviser, told the New York Times in 2017. “As long as that continues to be the case, the president is going to be supportive of Corey.”

In Next Year’s Biggest Senate Primary, It’s AOC Vs. the Kennedys

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last December, during one of her busy trips down to Washington to prepare for her congressional swearing-in, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez grabbed lunch with Sen. Ed Markey (D-Mass.). The 29-year-old congresswoman-elect wanted to discuss potential opportunities to collaborate with the 72-year-old political veteran who, in 2009, had authored an ambitious climate bill that passed the House and failed in the Senate—something he and others blamed on the lack of a strong grassroots effort to bolster it.

Ocasio-Cortez could solve that problem. She had been ushered into office on a wave of progressive activism that put the climate emergency at the top of its to-do list, and had been working closely with the Sunrise Movement, the youth-led group of climate activists who a month earlier had captured national attention when Ocasio-Cortez joined them at a sit-in at Nancy Pelosi’s office. The group had identified Markey as a likely champion, given his disappoint over how his House-led climate efforts failed a decade ago.

Two months later, Markey, still sporting the same neo-Beatle haircut he entered Congress with 42 years ago, stood alongside AOC and a handful of Sunrise Movement youth to introduce the Green New Deal resolution, which Markey heralded as a “generational commitment to end climate change.”

Markey will soon need to rely on the connections he’s developed among the insurgent, younger Democrats if he wants to maintain his spot in Congress. On Saturday, Massachusetts Rep. Joseph P. Kennedy III made official what many have long speculated: The four-term Massachusetts congressman will mount a challenge against Markey in next fall’s primary. When news of Kennedy’s plans broke, the Boston Globe declared it “the starting gun of a generational showdown” between two candidates “separated more by age than ideology.” In his own announcement on Facebook, Kennedy declared he was in it for “the fight of my generation.”

But ever since rumors of 38-year-old Kennedy’s likely challenge began to swirl over the summer, the Millennial Left’s heroes have rushed support to Markey. The Sunrise Movement endorsed Markey in August. Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), a leading House progressive, followed suit in September. And, of course, Markey’s cosponsor on the Green New Deal has had his back and worked to quash Kennedy’s main narrative. “Sen. Markey is the generational change we need,” Ocasio-Cortez told reporters last week. “Generational change doesn’t mean ‘elect whoever is younger.’”

The progressive insurgency’s rush to boost Markey clarifies precisely the sort of change these activists are fighting for. “The progressive left cares about policy and ideology more than other things like age, or even issues of identity,” Waleed Shahid, the communications director for Justice Democrats, the left-wing political organization that recruited and backed Ocasio-Cortez, tells me.

In this race, it’s hard to measure “establishment” without a scorecard. Markey has been an elected member of the Massachusetts congressional delegation since the Bicentennial. Kennedy, a grandson of Robert F, has a last name that’s practically synonymous with “establishment.” A member of his not-so-extended family has served in Congress or the White House for all but two of the last 72 years.

“The progressive left cares about policy and ideology more than other things like age, or even issues of identity.”

At the same time, both have hewed to the bleeding edge of progressive politics. In addition to his longstanding role as a leader when it comes to pushing climate change legislation, Markey was at the forefront on issues such as net neutrality and denuclearization during his 13 terms in the House. And Kennedy has spent his scant time in Congress staking out a progressive record. Earlier this month, Kennedy, who backed the Green New Deal in December, wrote about the need to “end the filibuster, eliminate the electoral college and put in term limits for Supreme Court justices” on his Facebook page. Both have cosponsored their chambers’ respective Medicare for All bills and endorsed fellow Bay Stater Elizabeth Warren’s run for president.

But that’s not the right yardstick, Stephen O’Hanlon, a spokesperson for the Sunrise Movement, tells me. “Joe Kennedy got on board with the Green New Deal, but Ed Markey was there on day one.” O’Hanlon also pointed to reporting from Real Sludge that showed Kennedy had $1.75 million invested in fossil fuel interests via inherited family trusts, assets that have been a source of scorn among progressives who have demanded that campaigns and politicians divest their fossil fuel interests.

Since the 2018 midterms, progressive insurgents have had a reputation for being anti-establishment and uncompromising, a reputation they earned by unseating long-serving Democratic members of Congress. The youthfulness of those at the forefront of the leftward push—the under-30 Ocasio-Cortez and the Sunrise Movement’s teenage activists, for example—have often been held up as the movement’s key trait. Identity, too, has played a role. Squad member Rep. Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), a black woman who had served on Boston’s city council, unseated Mike Capuano, a similarly staunch liberal lawmaker, last fall.

But that’s just one piece of it, Shahid tells me, explaining it in terms of a Maslow’s hierarchy of needs for the progressive set. There are the Overton window-movers like the squad, who represent the purest form of the left’s political and policy vision. But there’s also people like Markey, “Democrats who have powerful roles in the party but see the winds changing” and choose to lead on progressive issues. Markey, Shahid explains, can “shift the center of gravity in Washington,” channeling the energy of the activist left to ensure their demands are represented at the negotiating table.

Part of that can be traced back to Markey’s own unlikely entrance into politics. Like AOC, he won his first House seat at 29. Unlike AOC, he didn’t unseat an incumbent—but he did succeed a Harvard-educated lawyer who had been President John F. Kennedy’s college roommate after a hard-fought primary battle. “Ed Markey is a young politician who came from nowhere in the polls to win one of the most confusing and hard-fought Democratic primary battles for a Congressional seat in Massachusetts history,” a 1976 Harvard Crimson profile of Markey said. “He showed that, in Massachusetts at least, you don’t have to enter a campaign with a large electoral base or ties to a powerful political machine…to win.” In 1982, he championed the “Nuclear Freeze” resolution, a bold plan to end the stockpiling of nuclear weapons that, much like the Green New Deal, was similarly decried as delusionally earnest in its day.

It’s hard to say whether that aspect of Markey’s brand or his support from national progressive figures will have any sway among Massachusetts voters. A poll conducted earlier this month put Kennedy 14 point ahead of Markey in a potential primary matchup. And while the Commonwealth is best known these days as the political birthplace of Sen. Elizabeth Warren, its statewide voting base is not quite the activist left. Voters have chosen a fair number of moderate Democrats to represent them in Congress, including House Ways and Means Chair Richard Neal, whose reluctance to sign onto progressive priorities has drawn a Justice Democrats-backed primary challenger. Five of its past six governors—including current Gov. Charlie Baker—have been Republicans.

Would progressives feel differently if, say, someone like Pressley chose to run? “Of course,” says Sean McElwee, the founder of the influential leftist think tank Data for Progress. “If Markey is going be replaced in the Senate, it should be by a progressive woman of color. But right now, Joe Kennedy is trying to take one of my only seven senators who gives a shit.”

Will the Ukraine Scandal Be Trump’s Undoing?

TruthDig.com News -

This piece originally appeared on Informed Comment

The Wall Street Journal reported Friday that in the course of his conversation in July with Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky, Trump pressed him on eight separate occasions to investigate Democratic presidential contender Joe Biden.

Biden when vice president is known to have pressured the Ukrainian government to fire a prosecutor whom the International Monetary Fund and the Obama administration felt to be ineffective in dealing with corruption. The prosecutor had once upon a time investigated a company on the board of which Biden’s son Hunter served. But by the time Biden exerted his pressure, that investigation was dormant and there were never any Ukrainian findings of corruption on the part of Hunter Biden.

This is a non-story, but Trump has a history of trumping up non-stories and using them to smear his opponents, as he and his surrogates did to Hillary Clinton in 2016.

Trump’s pressure on Zelensky to investigate Biden constitutes asking a foreign country to intervene in a US election.

As the Law and Crime blog points out “It should be noted that the initial reporting on the whistleblower complaint said that concerns were raised about a ‘promise’ Trump made to a foreign leader.”

We do not know what Trump might have promised Zelensky, but if he did suggest an inducement to the Ukrainian government to cooperate with Rudy Giuliani in investigating Biden, then Trump was offering a bribe.

We know that Trump has leverage over Zelensky, since Ukraine is facing Russian occupation of Crimea and an ongoing intervention in eastern Ukraine, and Trump can either help Kyiv or leave it to the tender mercies of Vladimir Putin.

In August Congress appropriated $250 million for Ukraine, but Trump stopped it from going to Zelensky. He recently reinstated it. All this is very mysterious. I had originally thought that Trump stiffing Ukraine was just one more of his weird attempts to appease Putin. But you have to wonder whether Trump’s denial of aid was further pressure on Kyiv.

So bribery is an impeachable offense.

The US Constitution, Art. 2, Section 4, says,

    “The President, Vice President and all civil Officers of the United States, shall be removed from Office on Impeachment for, and Conviction of, Treason, Bribery, or other High crimes and Misdemeanors.

Philip Bobbitt, of the Columbia University Law School, pointed out a couple years ago at Just Security that bribery is actually two possible offenses here. One is to accept a bribe. The other is to offer a bribe.

Bobbitt argues that Trump appears to have offered Comey the possibility of keeping his job as FBI director if he would quash any investigation into Trump, and that this offer should be construed as a bribe.

It is probably far more consequential if Trump offered Zelensky a bribe, since his motive was to entangle a foreign country in interfering in the 2020 presidential election.

I think it could also be argued that Trump was soliciting from Zelensky a thing of value, i.e. oppo research of the sort political campaigns routinely pay investigative firms for.

The US civil code says,

    • ” 52 U.S. Code § 30121. Contributions and donations by foreign nationals

U.S. Code
Notes

prev | next
(a) ProhibitionIt shall be unlawful for—
(1) a foreign national, directly or indirectly, to make—
(A) a contribution or donation of money or other thing of value, or to make an express or implied promise to make a contribution or donation, in connection with a Federal, State, or local election.
(B) a contribution or donation to a committee of a political party; or
(C) an expenditure, independent expenditure, or disbursement for an electioneering communication (within the meaning of section 30104(f)(3) of this title); or
(2) a person to solicit, accept, or receive a contribution or donation described in subparagraph (A) or (B) of paragraph (1) from a foreign national.”

So Trump may have broken two laws if the reporting on this incident is correct so far. One was to offer Zelensky a bribe, which is explicit constitutional grounds for impeachment.

The other was to solicit a campaign contribution of sorts from a foreign national. Surely that would fall under “high crimes and misdemeanors.”

We do not have enough facts to make this determination yet, and the executive is blocking Congressional access to the whistleblower complaint, so nobody who doesn’t work for Trump has the facts. But clearly people in the Trump administration are upset enough by all this to leak to the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times, and the Washington Post.

On the face of it, articles of impeachment could certainly be drawn up on this basis if the charges were proved.

My guess? They won’t be. Nancy Pelosi doesn’t want it because she doesn’t want Democrats to lose the Blue Dogs elected from conservative districts that barely voted Democratic but perhaps have a sneaking admiration for Trump. Mitch McConnell doesn’t want it because it could sink the Republican Party and put at risk the interests of the party’s main backers, the billionaire class.

 

The post Will the Ukraine Scandal Be Trump’s Undoing? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Amazon vs. the Socialists in Seattle

Counterpunch Articles -

Photograph Source: Backbone Campaign – CC BY 2.0

In what may turn out to be a preview of the U.S. presidential election, with the ruling class hellbent on stopping Bernie Sanders at all costs, big business in Seattle is carrying out an unprecedented assault of corporate PAC money against socialist and progressive candidates in this year’s elections.

The corporate elite are deeply concerned about the rise of socialist politics, whether my election and reelection as a socialist City Councilmember in Seattle, Bernie’s self-described democratic socialist presidential campaign, or AOC’s election to U.S. Congress. Our victories in Seattle, including our historic $15 minimum wage law and landmark renters rights wins, and the growing national fight for Medicare for All and a Green New Deal, are all completely unacceptable to the ruling class.

In Seattle, already $450,000 has been spent by Amazon, with nearly $2 million in corporate cash overall, and it seems clear they’re just rolling up their sleeves and getting started. The $1.5 million dollars in Corporate PAC money amassed during this year’s primary alone has already blown all prior city records out of the water.

Amazon’s Jeff Bezos and big business are infuriated by our movement’s victories and are fearful of what it would mean if socialist and DSA candidate, Shaun Scott, and left candidate Tammy Morales join us in City Hall. Now they’re determined to block our struggle for rent control and prevent a Seattle Green New Deal. Last but not least, they have a powerful aversion to any form of taxes on big business, as was on display with the Amazon Tax struggle last year.

A Corporate Tax Haven

As he has himself publicly acknowledged, Bezos largely based his decision to launch Amazon in Seattle on his desire to dodge taxes. Washington State has long been a corporate tax haven, having the most regressive tax system in the entire nation. More than anywhere else in the U.S., the tax burden falls most heavily on working and middle-class people, while big business pays next to nothing. This is no small part of why Seattle has become one of the most deeply unequal cities in the nation.

The region’s corporate elite means to keep it that way. Bezos made national headlines last year when he bullied Seattle to stop the Amazon Tax on the largest 3% of businesses in the city, aided by corporate-bankrolled Mayor Jenny Durkan and the Democratic establishment. Over a modestly-sized tax, Amazon executives acted like mafia dons: threatening to move 7,000 jobs unless the City Council backed down. After the Council passed it unanimously anyway, under the pressure of our movement, Amazon’s lobbyists went to work in the backrooms. Less than one month later, our corporate tax to fund housing and services was repealed, with only myself and one other councilmember voting in opposition.

It bears noting that in spite of the majority of the Council caving on the tax, Amazon moved those 7,000 jobs anyway. Which just goes to show, once again, that bowing down to bullies doesn’t work.

Of course, it’s not only about Amazon. Boeing executives have a long record of extorting billions in handouts from Washington State. And a central feature of neoliberalism has always been its fierce opposition to progressive taxation and workers’ rights. Trump’s tax cuts were only the latest development in the long arc of brutal austerity and deepening inequality – a process that has continued over decades, whether Republicans or Democrats occupied the White House. Fundamentally, this is driven by the bankruptcy of capitalism and its long-term stagnation beginning with the 1970s. Since the end of the post-war boom, profits have increasingly been derived from a relentless squeezing of social services, unions, health care, and the working class as a whole.

Left Unity Needed

The best defense is a good offense. Our movements are going all out to fight for rent control and for a Green New Deal in Seattle, and have energized thousands of working people in our city. Over 12,000 Seattleites have signed on to a petition for citywide rent control, free of corporate loopholes, in just a few months time.

We are building the most powerful grassroots re-election campaign Seattle has ever seen. In addition to our army of volunteers going door to door across the district, we’re on track to raise more in donations than ever raised before by any Seattle City Council campaign, without taking a dime in corporate cash. If the corporate PACs are going to break records, working people need to as well.

And crucially, we will need to build left unity across the city if we’re to stop big business’s attempts to buy the elections.

Amazon and the Chamber of Commerce were successful in getting their purchased candidates through in all seven City Council races this year. This includes my opponent, Egan Orion, who was the #1 recipient of corporate PAC money out of the record 55 candidates who ran in the primary.

To the Chamber’s dismay, fellow socialist candidate Shaun Scott is also campaigning for a Green New Deal and to tax big business to build public housing, in the district just north of mine. Meanwhile, in the district to the south, progressive candidate Tammy Morales is campaigning for rent control and a Green New Deal. Both are running as Democrats, while I am an independent socialist and calling for a new mass party for working people, but the bold left platforms we are campaigning on has struck a chord with people across the city.

We’re jointly organizing Green New Deal meetings with other progressive candidates and our movement in different neighborhoods in the city, starting with Tammy Morales’ event in south Seattle earlier this week. On Oct 1, Morales and others will speak at our “System Change Not Climate Change” Green New Deal meeting in District 3. We’re also discussing with other campaigns about a joint event to stand against the corporate PAC money flooding into Seattle’s elections.

If we can win all three campaigns, not only can we block Amazon’s and the Chamber’s efforts to buy the elections, we can push the City Council further to the left and pave the way for future victories for working-class movements.

But first we have to unmask the fake progressivism of the Chamber candidates, who are all now pretending to represent ordinary people, despite being thoroughly beholden to Amazon, the real estate lobby, and wealthy Republicans. They each say that the massive corporate PAC funding doesn’t mean anything, that it is out of their control. In some of the most brazen dishonesty, some are even lamenting the existence of the corporate PACs. In fact, in order to even be eligible for the Chamber’s PAC funding, the candidates had to apply for it, fill out lengthy questionnaires, and participate in closed-door interviews.

My opponent has taken the dishonesty a step further, putting up posters around the district saying “No corporate PAC money,” pretending he had no hand in the matter. This was after he not only applied for Chamber funding but publicly thanked the Chamber for their support (while addressing a business audience).

Morales’ and Scott’s Chamber-backed opponents, Mark Soloman and Alex Pederson, have been thoroughly disingenuous on as well. In a recent candidate forum, when put on the spot about taxing big business to fund the social services they were claiming to support, Soloman and Pederson both fell back on Republican talking points about “getting our fiscal house in order first.”

What’s at Stake

Just as big business has a great deal at stake this year in Seattle, so do working people. If we are able to win our struggles for rent control and a Green New Deal, once again that momentum would have the power to spread to other cities.

All of our struggles are connected. Seattle’s historic $15 minimum wage victory was instrumental to it spreading around the country, AOC’s election spurred on the Green New Deal. Sanders’ 2016 campaign decisively changed U.S. politics. Socialist ideas have always been met with powerful opposition from the ruling class, because of their power to inspire working class people into struggle.

If we are going to step up to the challenges facing humanity, to fix our broken health care system, to end the crisis of affordable housing and homlesessness, and to avoid climate catastrophe, we urgently need to fightback. We need to stand up to Amazon and corporate America before they take working people and the planet over the cliff in order to protect their massive profits.

 

The post Amazon vs. the Socialists in Seattle appeared first on CounterPunch.org.

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