The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act is now law. Here we compare some of the major provisions of the new law with previous tax code.

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Jackson Lears / London Review of Books.

American politics have rarely presented a more disheartening spectacle. The repellent and dangerous antics of Donald Trump are troubling enough, but so is the Democratic Party leadership’s failure to take in the significance of the 2016 election campaign. Bernie Sanders’s challenge to Hillary Clinton, combined with Trump’s triumph, revealed the breadth of popular anger at politics as usual – the blend of neoliberal domestic policy and interventionist foreign policy that constitutes consensus in Washington. Neoliberals celebrate market utility as the sole criterion of worth; interventionists exalt military adventure abroad as a means of fighting evil in order to secure global progress. Both agendas have proved calamitous for most Americans. Many registered their disaffection in 2016. Sanders is a social democrat and Trump a demagogic mountebank, but their campaigns underscored a widespread repudiation of the Washington consensus. For about a week after the election, pundits discussed the possibility of a more capacious Democratic strategy. It appeared that the party might learn something from Clinton’s defeat. Then everything changed.

A story that had circulated during the campaign without much effect resurfaced: it involved the charge that Russian operatives had hacked into the servers of the Democratic National Committee, revealing embarrassing emails that damaged Clinton’s chances. With stunning speed, a new centrist-liberal orthodoxy came into being, enveloping the major media and the bipartisan Washington establishment. This secular religion has attracted hordes of converts in the first year of the Trump presidency. In its capacity to exclude dissent, it is like no other formation of mass opinion in my adult life, though it recalls a few dim childhood memories of anti-communist hysteria during the early 1950s.

The centrepiece of the faith, based on the hacking charge, is the belief that Vladimir Putin orchestrated an attack on American democracy by ordering his minions to interfere in the election on behalf of Trump. The story became gospel with breathtaking suddenness and completeness. Doubters are perceived as heretics and as apologists for Trump and Putin, the evil twins and co-conspirators behind this attack on American democracy. Responsibility for the absence of debate lies in large part with the major media outlets. Their uncritical embrace and endless repetition of the Russian hack story have made it seem a fait accompli in the public mind. It is hard to estimate popular belief in this new orthodoxy, but it does not seem to be merely a creed of Washington insiders. If you question the received narrative in casual conversations, you run the risk of provoking blank stares or overt hostility – even from old friends. This has all been baffling and troubling to me; there have been moments when pop-culture fantasies (body snatchers, Kool-Aid) have come to mind.

Like any orthodoxy worth its salt, the religion of the Russian hack depends not on evidence but on ex cathedra pronouncements on the part of authoritative institutions and their overlords. Its scriptural foundation is a confused and largely fact-free ‘assessment’ produced last January by a small number of ‘hand-picked’ analysts – as James Clapper, the director of National Intelligence, described them – from the CIA, the FBI and the NSA. The claims of the last were made with only ‘moderate’ confidence. The label Intelligence Community Assessment creates a misleading impression of unanimity, given that only three of the 16 US intelligence agencies contributed to the report. And indeed the assessment itself contained this crucial admission: ‘Judgments are not intended to imply that we have proof that shows something to be a fact. Assessments are based on collected information, which is often incomplete or fragmentary, as well as logic, argumentation and precedents.’ Yet the assessment has passed into the media imagination as if it were unassailable fact, allowing journalists to assume what has yet to be proved. In doing so they serve as mouthpieces for the intelligence agencies, or at least for those ‘hand-picked’ analysts.

It is not the first time the intelligence agencies have played this role. When I hear the Intelligence Community Assessment cited as a reliable source, I always recall the part played by the New York Times in legitimating CIA reports of the threat posed by Saddam Hussein’s putative weapons of mass destruction, not to mention the long history of disinformation (a.k.a. ‘fake news’) as a tactic for advancing one administration or another’s political agenda. Once again, the established press is legitimating pronouncements made by the Church Fathers of the national security state. Clapper is among the most vigorous of these. He perjured himself before Congress in 2013, when he denied that the NSA had ‘wittingly’ spied on Americans – a lie for which he has never been held to account. In May 2017, he told NBC’s Chuck Todd that the Russians were highly likely to have colluded with Trump’s campaign because they are ‘almost genetically driven to co-opt, penetrate, gain favour, whatever, which is a typical Russian technique’. The current orthodoxy exempts the Church Fathers from standards imposed on ordinary people, and condemns Russians – above all Putin – as uniquely, ‘almost genetically’ diabolical.

It’s hard for me to understand how the Democratic Party, which once felt scepticism towards the intelligence agencies, can now embrace the CIA and the FBI as sources of incontrovertible truth. One possible explanation is that Trump’s election has created a permanent emergency in the liberal imagination, based on the belief that the threat he poses is unique and unprecedented. It’s true that Trump’s menace is viscerally real. But the menace posed by George W. Bush and Dick Cheney was equally real. The damage done by Bush and Cheney – who ravaged the Middle East, legitimated torture and expanded unconstitutional executive power – was truly unprecedented, and probably permanent. Trump does pose an unprecedented threat to undocumented immigrants and Muslim travellers, whose protection is urgent and necessary. But on most issues he is a standard issue Republican. He is perfectly at home with Paul Ryan’s austerity agenda, which involves enormous transfers of wealth to the most privileged Americans. He is as committed as any other Republican to repealing Obama’s Affordable Care Act. During the campaign he posed as an apostate on free trade and an opponent of overseas military intervention, but now that he is in office his free trade views are shifting unpredictably and his foreign policy team is composed of generals with impeccable interventionist credentials.

Trump is committed to continuing his predecessors’ lavish funding of the already bloated Defence Department, and his Fortress America is a blustering, undisciplined version of Madeleine Albright’s ‘indispensable nation’. Both Trump and Albright assume that the United States should be able to do as it pleases in the international arena: Trump because it’s the greatest country in the world, Albright because it’s an exceptional force for global good. Nor is there anything unprecedented about Trump’s desire for détente with Russia, which until at least 2012 was the official position of the Democratic Party. What is unprecedented about Trump is his offensive style: contemptuous, bullying, inarticulate, and yet perfectly pitched to appeal to the anger and anxiety of his target audience. His excess has licensed overt racism and proud misogyny among some of his supporters. This is cause for denunciation, but I am less persuaded that it justifies the anti-Russian mania.

Besides Trump’s supposed uniqueness, there are two other assumptions behind the furore in Washington: the first is that the Russian hack unquestionably occurred, and the second is that the Russians are our implacable enemies. The second provides the emotional charge for the first. Both seem to me problematic. With respect to the first, the hacking charges are unproved and may well remain so. Edward Snowden and others familiar with the NSA say that if long-distance hacking had taken place the agency would have monitored it and could detail its existence without compromising their secret sources and methods. In September, Snowden told Der Spiegel that the NSA ‘probably knows quite well who the invaders were’. And yet ‘it has not presented any evidence, although I suspect it exists. The question is: why not? … I suspect it discovered other attackers in the systems, maybe there were six or seven groups at work.’ The NSA’s capacity to follow hacking to its source is a matter of public record. When the agency investigated pervasive and successful Chinese hacking into US military and defence industry installations, it was able to trace the hacks to the building where they originated, a People’s Liberation Army facility in Shanghai. That information was published in the New York Times but, this time, the NSA’s failure to provide evidence has gone curiously unremarked. When The Intercept published a story about the NSA’s alleged discovery that Russian military intelligence had attempted to hack into US state and local election systems, the agency’s undocumented assertions about the Russian origins of the hack were allowed to stand as unchallenged fact and quickly became treated as such in the mainstream media.

Meanwhile, there has been a blizzard of ancillary accusations, including much broader and vaguer charges of collusion between the Trump campaign and the Kremlin. It remains possible that Robert Mueller, a former FBI director who has been appointed to investigate these allegations, may turn up some compelling evidence of contacts between Trump’s people and various Russians. It would be surprising if an experienced prosecutor empowered to cast a dragnet came up empty-handed, and the arrests have already begun. But what is striking about them is that the charges have nothing to do with Russian interference in the election. There has been much talk about the possibility that the accused may provide damaging evidence against Trump in exchange for lighter sentences, but this is merely speculation. Paul Manafort, at one point Trump’s campaign manager, has pleaded not guilty to charges of failing to register his public relations firm as a foreign agent for the Ukrainian government and concealing his millions of dollars in fees. But all this occurred before the 2016 campaign. George Papadopolous, a foreign policy adviser, has pleaded guilty to the charge of lying to the FBI about his bungling efforts to arrange a meeting between Trump’s people and the Russian government – an opportunity the Trump campaign declined. Mueller’s most recent arrestee, Michael Flynn, the unhinged Islamophobe who was briefly Trump’s national security adviser, has pleaded guilty to charges of lying to the FBI about meeting the Russian ambassador in December – weeks after the election. This is the sort of backchannel diplomacy that routinely occurs during the interim between one administration and the next. It is not a sign of collusion.

So far, after months of ‘bombshells’ that turn out to be duds, there is still no actual evidence for the claim that the Kremlin ordered interference in the American election. Meanwhile serious doubts have surfaced about the technical basis for the hacking claims. Independent observers have argued it is more likely that the emails were leaked from inside, not hacked from outside. On this front, the most persuasive case was made by a group called Veteran Intelligence Professionals for Sanity, former employees of the US intelligence agencies who distinguished themselves in 2003 by debunking Colin Powell’s claim that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, hours after Powell had presented his pseudo-evidence at the UN. (There are members of VIPS who dissent from the VIPS report’s conclusions, but their arguments are in turn contested by the authors of the report.) The VIPS findings received no attention in major media outlets, except Fox News – which from the centre-left perspective is worse than no attention at all. Mainstream media have dismissed the VIPS report as a conspiracy theory (apparently the Russian hacking story does not count as one). The crucial issue here and elsewhere is the exclusion from public discussion of any critical perspectives on the orthodox narrative, even the perspectives of people with professional credentials and a solid track record.

Both the DNC hacking story and the one involving the emails of John Podesta, a Clinton campaign operative, involve a shadowy bunch of putatively Russian hackers called Fancy Bear – also known among the technically inclined as APT28. The name Fancy Bear was introduced by Dimitri Alperovitch, the chief technology officer of the cybersecurity firm Crowdstrike. Alperovitch is also a fellow at the Atlantic Council, an anti-Russian Washington think tank hired by the DNC to investigate the theft of their emails. In its report Crowdstrike puts forward close to zero evidence for its claim that those responsible were Russian, let alone for its assertion that they were affiliated with Russian military intelligence. And yet, from this point on, the assumption that this was a Russian cyber operation was unquestioned. When the FBI arrived on the scene, the Bureau either did not request or was refused access to the DNC servers; instead it depended entirely on the Crowdstrike analysis. Crowdstrike, meanwhile, was being forced to retract another claim, that the Russians had successfully hacked the guidance systems of the Ukrainian artillery. The Ukrainian military and the British International Institute for Strategic Studies both contradicted this claim, and Crowdstrike backed down. But its DNC analysis was allowed to stand and even become the basis for the January Intelligence Community Assessment.

The chatter surrounding the hack would never have acquired such urgency were it not for the accompanying assumption: Russia is a uniquely dangerous adversary, with which we should avoid all contact. Without that belief, Attorney General Jeff Sessions’s meetings with Russians in September 2016 would become routine discussions between a senator and foreign officials. Flynn’s post-election conversations with the Russian ambassador would appear unremarkable. Trump’s cronies’ attempts to do business in Russia would become merely sleazy. Donald Trump Jr’s meeting at Trump Tower with the Russian lawyer Natalia Veselnitskaya would be transformed from a melodrama of shady intrigue to a comedy of errors – with the candidate’s son expecting to receive information to use against Clinton but discovering Veselnitskaya only wanted to talk about repealing sanctions and restarting the flow of Russian orphans to the United States. And Putin himself would become just another autocrat, with whom democracies could engage without endorsing.

Sceptical voices, such as those of the VIPS, have been drowned out by a din of disinformation. Flagrantly false stories, like the Washington Post report that the Russians had hacked into the Vermont electrical grid, are published, then retracted 24 hours later. Sometimes – like the stories about Russian interference in the French and German elections – they are not retracted even after they have been discredited. These stories have been thoroughly debunked by French and German intelligence services but continue to hover, poisoning the atmosphere, confusing debate. The claim that the Russians hacked local and state voting systems in the US was refuted by California and Wisconsin election officials, but their comments generated a mere whisper compared with the uproar created by the original story. The rush to publish without sufficient attention to accuracy has become the new normal in journalism. Retraction or correction is almost beside the point: the false accusation has done its work.

*

The consequence is a spreading confusion that envelops everything. Epistemological nihilism looms, but some people and institutions have more power than others to define what constitutes an agreed-on reality. To say this is to risk dismissal as the ultimate wing-nut in the lexicon of contemporary Washington: the conspiracy theorist. Still, the fact remains: sometimes powerful people arrange to promote ideas that benefit their common interests. Whether we call this hegemony, conspiracy or merely special privilege hardly matters. What does matter is the power to create what Gramsci called the ‘common sense’ of an entire society. Even if much of that society is indifferent to or suspicious of the official common sense, it still becomes embedded among the tacit assumptions that set the boundaries of ‘responsible opinion’. So the Democratic establishment (along with a few Republicans) and the major media outlets have made ‘Russian meddling’ the common sense of the current moment. What kind of cultural work does this common sense do? What are the consequences of the spectacle the media call (with characteristic originality) ‘Russiagate’?

The most immediate consequence is that, by finding foreign demons who can be blamed for Trump’s ascendancy, the Democratic leadership have shifted the blame for their defeat away from their own policies without questioning any of their core assumptions. Amid the general recoil from Trump, they can even style themselves dissenters – ‘#the resistance’ was the label Clintonites appropriated within a few days of the election. Mainstream Democrats have begun to use the word ‘progressive’ to apply to a platform that amounts to little more than preserving Obamacare, gesturing towards greater income equality and protecting minorities. This agenda is timid. It has nothing to say about challenging the influence of concentrated capital on policy, reducing the inflated defence budget or withdrawing from overextended foreign commitments; yet without those initiatives, even the mildest egalitarian policies face insuperable obstacles. More genuine insurgencies are in the making, which confront corporate power and connect domestic with foreign policy, but they face an uphill battle against the entrenched money and power of the Democratic leadership – the likes of Chuck Schumer, Nancy Pelosi, the Clintons and the DNC. Russiagate offers Democratic elites a way to promote party unity against Trump-Putin, while the DNC purges Sanders’s supporters.

For the DNC, the great value of the Russian hack story is that it focuses attention away from what was actually in their emails. The documents revealed a deeply corrupt organisation, whose pose of impartiality was a sham. Even the reliably pro-Clinton Washington Post has admitted that ‘many of the most damaging emails suggest the committee was actively trying to undermine Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign.’ Further evidence of collusion between the Clinton machine and the DNC surfaced recently in a memoir by Donna Brazile, who became interim chair of the DNC after Debbie Wasserman Schultz resigned in the wake of the email revelations. Brazile describes discovering an agreement dated 26 August 2015, which specified (she writes)

that in exchange for raising money and investing in the DNC, Hillary would control the party’s finances, strategy, and all the money raised. Her campaign had the right of refusal of who would be the party communications director, and it would make final decisions on all the other staff. The DNC also was required to consult with the campaign about all other staffing, budgeting, data, analytics and mailings.

Before the primaries had even begun, the supposedly neutral DNC – which had been close to insolvency – had been bought by the Clinton campaign.

Another recent revelation of DNC tactics concerns the origins of the inquiry into Trump’s supposed links to Putin. The story began in April 2016, when the DNC hired a Washington research firm called Fusion GPS to unearth any connections between Trump and Russia. The assignment involved the payment of ‘cash for trash’, as the Clinton campaign liked to say. Fusion GPS eventually produced the trash, a lurid account written by the former British MI6 intelligence agent Christopher Steele, based on hearsay purchased from anonymous Russian sources. Amid prostitutes and golden showers, a story emerged: the Russian government had been blackmailing and bribing Donald Trump for years, on the assumption that he would become president some day and serve the Kremlin’s interests. In this fantastic tale, Putin becomes a preternaturally prescient schemer. Like other accusations of collusion, this one has become vaguer over time, adding to the murky atmosphere without ever providing any evidence. The Clinton campaign tried to persuade established media outlets to publicise the Steele dossier, but with uncharacteristic circumspection, they declined to promote what was plainly political trash rather than reliable reporting. Yet the FBI apparently took the Steele dossier seriously enough to include a summary of it in a secret appendix to the Intelligence Community Assessment. Two weeks before the inauguration, James Comey, the director of the FBI, described the dossier to Trump. After Comey’s briefing was leaked to the press, the website Buzzfeed published the dossier in full, producing hilarity and hysteria in the Washington establishment.

The Steele dossier inhabits a shadowy realm where ideology and intelligence, disinformation and revelation overlap. It is the antechamber to the wider system of epistemological nihilism created by various rival factions in the intelligence community: the ‘tree of smoke’ that, for the novelist Denis Johnson, symbolised CIA operations in Vietnam. I inhaled that smoke myself in 1969-70, when I was a cryptographer with a Top Secret clearance on a US navy ship that carried missiles armed with nuclear warheads – the existence of which the navy denied. I was stripped of my clearance and later honourably discharged when I refused to join the Sealed Authenticator System, which would have authorised the launch of those allegedly non-existent nuclear weapons. The tree of smoke has only grown more complex and elusive since then. Yet the Democratic Party has now embarked on a full-scale rehabilitation of the intelligence community – or at least the part of it that supports the notion of Russian hacking. (We can be sure there is disagreement behind the scenes.) And it is not only the Democratic establishment that is embracing the deep state. Some of the party’s base, believing Trump and Putin to be joined at the hip, has taken to ranting about ‘treason’ like a reconstituted John Birch Society.

I thought of these ironies when I visited the Tate Modern exhibition Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power, which featured the work of black American artists from the 1960s and 1970s, when intelligence agencies (and agents provocateurs) were spearheading a government crackdown on black militants, draft resisters, deserters and antiwar activists. Amid the paintings, collages and assemblages there was a single Confederate flag, accompanied by grim reminders of the Jim Crow past – a Klansman in full regalia, a black body dangling from a tree. There were also at least half a dozen US flags, juxtaposed in whole or in part with images of contemporary racial oppression that could have occurred anywhere in America: dead black men carted off on stretchers by skeletons in police uniform; a black prisoner tied to a chair, awaiting torture. The point was to contrast the pretensions of ‘the land of the free’ with the practices of the national security state and local police forces. The black artists of that era knew their enemy: black people were not being killed and imprisoned by some nebulous foreign adversary, but by the FBI, the CIA and the police.

The Democratic Party has now developed a new outlook on the world, a more ambitious partnership between liberal humanitarian interventionists and neoconservative militarists than existed under the cautious Obama. This may be the most disastrous consequence for the Democratic Party of the new anti-Russian orthodoxy: the loss of the opportunity to formulate a more humane and coherent foreign policy. The obsession with Putin has erased any possibility of complexity from the Democratic world picture, creating a void quickly filled by the monochrome fantasies of Hillary Clinton and her exceptionalist allies. For people like Max Boot and Robert Kagan, war is a desirable state of affairs, especially when viewed from the comfort of their keyboards, and the rest of the world – apart from a few bad guys – is filled with populations who want to build societies just like ours: pluralistic, democratic and open for business. This view is difficult to challenge when it cloaks itself in humanitarian sentiment. There is horrific suffering in the world; the US has abundant resources to help relieve it; the moral imperative is clear. There are endless forms of international engagement that do not involve military intervention. But it is the path taken by US policy often enough that one may suspect humanitarian rhetoric is nothing more than window-dressing for a more mundane geopolitics – one that defines the national interest as global and virtually limitless.

Having come of age during the Vietnam War, a calamitous consequence of that inflated definition of national interest, I have always been attracted to the realist critique of globalism. Realism is a label forever besmirched by association with Henry Kissinger, who used it as a rationale for intervening covertly and overtly in other nations’ affairs. Yet there is a more humane realist tradition, the tradition of George Kennan and William Fulbright, which emphasises the limits of military might, counselling that great power requires great restraint. This tradition challenges the doctrine of regime change under the guise of democracy promotion, which – despite its abysmal failures in Iraq and Libya – retains a baffling legitimacy in official Washington. Russiagate has extended its shelf life.

*

We can gauge the corrosive impact of the Democrats’ fixation on Russia by asking what they aren’t talking about when they talk about Russian hacking. For a start, they aren’t talking about interference of other sorts in the election, such as the Republican Party’s many means of disenfranchising minority voters. Nor are they talking about the trillion dollar defence budget that pre-empts the possibility of single-payer healthcare and other urgently needed social programmes; nor about the modernisation of the American nuclear arsenal which Obama began and Trump plans to accelerate, and which raises the risk of the ultimate environmental calamity, nuclear war – a threat made more serious than it has been in decades by America’s combative stance towards Russia. The prospect of impeaching Trump and removing him from office by convicting him of collusion with Russia has created an atmosphere of almost giddy anticipation among leading Democrats, allowing them to forget that the rest of the Republican Party is composed of many politicians far more skilful in Washington’s ways than their president will ever be.

It is not the Democratic Party that is leading the search for alternatives to the wreckage created by Republican policies: a tax plan that will soak the poor and middle class to benefit the rich; a heedless pursuit of fossil fuels that is already resulting in the contamination of the water supply of the Dakota people; and continued support for police policies of militarisation and mass incarceration. It is local populations that are threatened by oil spills and police beatings, and that is where humane populism survives. A multitude of insurgent groups have begun to use the outrage against Trump as a lever to move the party in egalitarian directions: Justice Democrats, Black Lives Matter, Democratic Socialists of America, as well as a host of local and regional organisations. They recognise that there are far more urgent – and genuine – reasons to oppose Trump than vague allegations of collusion with Russia. They are posing an overdue challenge to the long con of neoliberalism, and the technocratic arrogance that led to Clinton’s defeat in Rust Belt states. Recognising that the current leadership will not bring about significant change, they are seeking funding from outside the DNC. This is the real resistance, as opposed to ‘#theresistance’.

On certain important issues – such as broadening support for single-payer healthcare, promoting a higher minimum wage or protecting undocumented immigrants from the most flagrant forms of exploitation – these insurgents are winning wide support. Candidates like Paula Jean Swearengin, a coal miner’s daughter from West Virginia who is running in the Democratic primary for nomination to the US Senate, are challenging establishment Democrats who stand cheek by jowl with Republicans in their service to concentrated capital. Swearengin’s opponent is Joe Manchin, whom the Los Angeles Times has compared to Doug Jones, another ‘very conservative’ Democrat who recently won election to the US Senate in Alabama, narrowly defeating a Republican disgraced by accusations of sexual misconduct with 14-year-old girls. I can feel relieved at that result without joining in the collective Democratic ecstasy, which reveals the party’s persistent commitment to politics as usual. Democrat leaders have persuaded themselves (and much of their base) that all the republic needs is a restoration of the status quo ante Trump. They remain oblivious to popular impatience with familiar formulas. Jess King – a Mennonite woman, Bard College MBA and founder of a local non-profit who is running for Congress as a Justice Democrat in Lancaster, Pennsylvania – put it this way: ‘We see a changing political landscape right now that isn’t measured by traditional left to right politics anymore, but bottom to top. In Pennsylvania and many other places around the country we see a grassroots economic populism on the rise, pushing against the political establishment and status quo that have failed so many in our country.’

Democratic insurgents are also developing a populist critique of the imperial hubris that has sponsored multiple failed crusades, extorted disproportionate sacrifice from the working class and provoked support for Trump, who presented himself (however misleadingly) as an opponent of open-ended interventionism. On foreign policy, the insurgents face an even more entrenched opposition than on domestic policy: a bipartisan consensus aflame with outrage at the threat to democracy supposedly posed by Russian hacking. Still, they may have found a tactical way forward, by focusing on the unequal burden borne by the poor and working class in the promotion and maintenance of American empire.

This approach animates Autopsy: The Democratic Party in Crisis, a 33-page document whose authors include Norman Solomon, founder of the web-based insurgent lobby RootsAction.org. ‘The Democratic Party’s claims of fighting for “working families” have been undermined by its refusal to directly challenge corporate power, enabling Trump to masquerade as a champion of the people,’ Autopsy announces. But what sets this apart from most progressive critiques is the cogent connection it makes between domestic class politics and foreign policy. For those in the Rust Belt, military service has often seemed the only escape from the shambles created by neoliberal policies; yet the price of escape has been high. As Autopsy notes, ‘the wisdom of continual war’ – what Clinton calls ‘global leadership’ –

was far clearer to the party’s standard bearer [in 2016] than it was to people in the US communities bearing the brunt of combat deaths, injuries and psychological traumas. After a decade and a half of non-stop warfare, research data from voting patterns suggest that the Clinton campaign’s hawkish stance was a political detriment in working-class communities hard-hit by American casualties from deployments in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Francis Shen of the University of Minnesota and Douglas Kriner of Boston University analysed election results in three key states – Pennsylvania, Wisconsin and Michigan – and found that ‘even controlling in a statistical model for many other alternative explanations, we find that there is a significant and meaningful relationship between a community’s rate of military sacrifice and its support for Trump.’ Clinton’s record of uncritical commitment to military intervention allowed Trump to have it both ways, playing to jingoist resentment while posing as an opponent of protracted and pointless war. Kriner and Shen conclude that Democrats may want to ‘re-examine their foreign policy posture if they hope to erase Trump’s electoral gains among constituencies exhausted and alienated by 15 years of war’. If the insurgent movements within the Democratic Party begin to formulate an intelligent foreign policy critique, a re-examination may finally occur. And the world may come into sharper focus as a place where American power, like American virtue, is limited. For this Democrat, that is an outcome devoutly to be wished. It’s a long shot, but there is something happening out there.

Jeremy Corbyn / Socialist Project.

British Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn speaking in Geneva in honor of International Human Rights Day cited the need to: “Build a new social and economic system with human rights and justice at its core. Deliver climate justice and a better way to live together on this planet. Recognise the humanity of refugees and offer them a place of safety. Work for peace, security and understanding. The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less.”

Thank you Paul for that introduction. And let me give a special thanks to the United Nations Research Institute for Social Development. Your work gives an important platform to marginalised voices for social justice to challenge policy makers and campaign for change.

Jeremy Corbyn
I welcome pressure both on my party, the British Labour Party, and on my leadership to put social justice front and centre stage in everything we do. So thank you for inviting me to speak here in this historic setting at the Palais des Nations in Geneva a city that has been a place of refuge and philosophy since the time of Rousseau. The headquarters before the Second World War of the ill-fated League of Nations, which now houses the United Nations.

It’s a particular privilege to be speaking here because the constitution of our party includes a commitment to support the United Nations. A promise “to secure peace, freedom, democracy, economic security and environmental protection for all.”

I’d also like to thank my fellow panelists, Arancha Gonzalez and Nikhil Seth, and Labour’s Shadow Attorney General, Shami Chakrabarti, who has accompanied me here. She has been a remarkable campaigner and a great asset to the international movement for human rights.

And lastly let me thank you all for being here today.

Internationalism

I would like to use this opportunity in the run-up to International Human Rights Day to focus on the greatest threats to our common humanity. And why states need to throw their weight behind genuine international co-operation and human rights both individual and collective, social and economic, as well as legal and constitutional at home and abroad if we are to meet and overcome those threats.

My own country is at a crossroads. The decision by the British people to leave the European Union in last year’s referendum means we have to rethink our role in the world.

Some want to use Brexit to turn Britain in on itself, rejecting the outside world, viewing everyone as a feared competitor.

Others want to use Brexit to put rocket boosters under our current economic system’s insecurities and inequalities, turning Britain into a deregulated corporate tax haven, with low wages, limited rights, and cut-price public services in a destructive race to the bottom.

My party stands for a completely different future when we leave the EU, drawing on the best internationalist traditions of the labour movement and our country.

We want to see close and cooperative relationships with our European neighbours, outside the EU, based on solidarity as well as mutual benefit and fair trade, along with a wider proactive internationalism across the globe.

We are proud that Britain was an original signatory to the European Convention of Human Rights and our 1998 Human Rights Act enshrined it in our law. So Labour will continue to work with other European states and progressive parties and movements, through the Council of Europe to ensure our country and others uphold our international obligations.

Just as the work of the UN Human Rights Council helps to ensure countries like ours live up to our commitments, such as on disability rights, where this year’s report found us to be failing. International co-operation, solidarity, collective action are the values we are determined to project in our foreign policy.

Those values will inform everything the next Labour government does on the world stage, using diplomacy to expand a progressive, rules-based international system, which provides justice and security for all.

They must be genuinely universal and apply to the strong as much as the weak if they are to command global support and confidence. They cannot be used to discipline the weak, while the strong do as they please, or they will be discredited as a tool of power, not justice.

That’s why we must ensure that the powerful uphold and respect international rules and international law. If we don’t, the ideals of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights of 1948 will remain an aspiration, rather than a reality and international rules will be seen as a pick and mix menu for the global powers that call the international shots.

Threats to Our CommonHumanity

Most urgently we must work with other countries to advance the cause of human rights, to confront the four greatest and interconnected threats facing our common humanity.

First, the growing concentration of unaccountable wealth and power in the hands of a tiny corporate elite, a system many call neoliberalism, which has sharply increased inequality, marginalisation, insecurity and anger across the world.

Second, climate change, which is creating instability, fuelling conflict across the world and threatening all our futures.

Third, the unprecedented numbers of people fleeing conflict, persecution, human rights abuses, social breakdown and climate disasters.

And finally, the use of unilateral military action and intervention, rather than diplomacy and negotiation, to resolve disputes and change governments.

The dominant global economic system is broken. It is producing a world where a wealthy few control 90 per cent of global resources.

Of growing insecurity and grotesque levels of inequality within and between nations, where more than $100-billion a year are estimated to be lost to developing countries from corporate tax avoidance.

Where $1-trillion a year are sucked out of the Global South through illicit financial flows. This is a global scandal.

The most powerful international corporations must not be allowed to continue to dictate how and for whom our world is run.

Thirty years after structural adjustment programmes first ravaged so much of the world, and a decade after the financial crash of 2008, the neoliberal orthodoxy that delivered them is breaking down.

This moment, a crisis of confidence in a bankrupt economic system and social order, presents us with a once in a generation opportunity to build a new economic and social consensus which puts the interests of the majority first.

But the crumbling of the global elite’s system and their prerogative to call the shots unchallenged has led some politicians to stoke fear and division. And deride international co-operation as national capitulation.

President Trump’s disgraceful Muslim ban and his anti-Mexican rhetoric have fuelled racist incitement and misogyny and shift the focus away from what his Wall Street-dominated administration is actually doing.

In Britain, where wages have actually fallen for most people over the last decade as the corporations and the richest have been handed billions in tax cuts, our Prime Minister has followed a less extreme approach but one that also aims to divert attention from her Government’s failures and real agenda.

She threatens to scrap the Human Rights Act, which guarantees all of our people’s civil and political rights and has actually benefited everyone in our country. And she has insisted “if you believe you’re a citizen of the world, you’re a citizen of nowhere.”

There is an alternative to this damaging and bankrupt order. The world’s largest corporations and banks cannot be left to write the rules and rig the system for themselves.

The world’s economy can and must deliver for the common good and the majority of its people. But that is going to demand real and fundamental structural change on an international level.

The UN has a pivotal role to play, in advancing a new consensus and common ground based on solidarity, respect for human rights and international regulation and co-operation.

TransnationalCorporations

That includes as a platform for democratic leaders to speak truth about unaccountable power.

One such moment took place on 4 December 1972, when President Salvador Allende of Chile, elected despite huge opposition and U.S. interference, took the rostrum of the UN General Assembly in New York.

He called for global action against the threat from transnational corporations, that do not answer to any state, any parliament or any organisation representing the common interest.

Nine months later, Allende was killed in General Augusto Pinochet’s coup, which ushered in a brutal 17-year dictatorship and turned Chile into a laboratory of free market fundamentalism.

But 44 years on, all over the world people are standing up and saying enough to the unchained power of multinational companies to dodge taxes, grab land and resources on the cheap and rip the heart out of workforces and communities.

That’s why I make the commitment to you today that the next Labour government in Britain will actively support the efforts of the UN Human Rights Council to create a legally binding treaty to regulate transnational corporations under international human rights law.

Genuine corporate accountability must apply to all of the activities of their subsidiaries and suppliers. Impunity for corporations that violate human rights or wreck our environment, as in the mineral-driven conflicts in the Democratic Republic of Congo, must be brought to an end.

For too long, development has been driven by the unfounded dogma that unfettered markets and unaccountable multinational companies are the key to solving global problems.

So under the next Labour Government the Department for International Development will have the twin mission of not only eradicating poverty but also reducing inequality across the world.

To achieve this goal we must act against the global scandal of tax dodging and trade mis-invoicing – robbing developing countries and draining resources from our own public services.

In Africa alone an estimated $35-billion is lost each year to tax dodging, and $50-billion to illicit financial flows, vastly exceeding the $30-billion that enters the continent as aid.

As the Paradise and Panama Papers have shown the super-rich and the powerful can’t be trusted to regulate themselves.

Multinational companies must be required to undertake country-by-country reporting, while countries in the Global South need support now to keep hold of the billions being stolen from their people.

So the next Labour government will seek to work with tax authorities in developing countries, as Zambia has with NORAD – the Norwegian aid agency – to help them stop the looting.

Tomorrow is International Anti-Corruption Day. Corruption isn’t something that happens ‘over there’. Our government has played a central role in enabling the corruption that undermines democracy and violates human rights. It is a global issue that requires a global response.

When people are kept in poverty, while politicians funnel public funds into tax havens, that is corruption, and a Labour government will act decisively on tax havens: introducing strict standards of transparency for crown dependencies and overseas territories including a public register of owners, directors, major shareholders and beneficial owners … for all companies and trusts.

ClimateChange

Climate change is the second great threat to our common humanity. Our planet is in jeopardy. Global warming is undeniable; the number of natural disasters has quadrupled since 1970.

Hurricanes like the ones that recently hit the Caribbean are bigger because they are absorbing moisture from warmer seas.

It is climate change that is warming the seas, mainly caused by emissions from the world’s richer countries.

And yet the least polluting countries, more often than not the developing nations, are at the sharp end of the havoc climate change unleashes – with environmental damage fuelling food insecurity and social dislocation.

We must stand with them in solidarity. Two months ago, I promised the Prime Minister of Antigua and Barbuda, Gaston Browne, that I would use this platform to make this message clear.

The international community must mobilise resources and the world’s biggest polluters shoulder the biggest burden.

So I ask governments in the most polluting countries, including in the UK:

First, to expand their capacity to respond to disasters around the world. Our armed forces, some of the best trained and most highly skilled in the world, should be allowed to use their experience to respond to humanitarian emergencies. Italy is among those leading the way with its navy becoming a more versatile and multi-role force.

Second, to factor the costs of environmental degradation into financial forecasting as Labour has pledged to do with Britain’s Office of Budget Responsibility.

Third, to stand very firmly behind the historic Paris Climate Accords.

And finally, take serious and urgent steps on debt relief and cancellation.

We need to act as an international community against the injustice of countries trying to recover from climate crises they did not create while struggling to repay international debts.

It’s worth remembering the words of Thomas Sankara, President of Burkina Faso, delivered to the Organisation of African Unity in 1987 a few months before he too was assassinated in a coup.

“The debt cannot be repaid,” he said, “first because if we don’t repay lenders will not die. But if we repay… we are going to die.”

Refugees

The growing climate crisis exacerbates the already unparalleled numbers of people escaping conflict and desperation. There are now more refugees and displaced people around the world than at any time since the Second World War.

Refugees are people like us. But unlike us they have been forced by violence, persecution and climate chaos to flee their homes.

One of the biggest moral tests of our time is how we live up to the spirit and letter of the 1951 Refugee Convention. Its core principle was simple: to protect refugees.

Yet ten countries, which account for just 2.5 per cent of the global economy, are hosting more than half the world’s refugees. It is time for the world’s richer countries to step up and show our common humanity.

Failure means millions of Syrians internally displaced within their destroyed homeland or refugees outside it. Rohingya refugees returned to Myanmar without guarantees of citizenship or protection from state violence and refugees held in indefinite detention in camps unfit for human habitation as in Papua New Guinea or Nauru. And African refugees sold into slavery in war-ravaged Libya.

This reality should offend our sense of humanity and human solidarity. European countries can, and must, do more as the death rate of migrants and refugees crossing the Mediterranean continues to rise. And we need to take more effective action against human traffickers.

But let us be clear: the long-term answer is genuine international co-operation based on human rights, which confronts the root causes of conflict, persecution and inequality.

War andConflict

I’ve spent most of my life, with many others, making the case for diplomacy and dialogue … over war and conflict, often in the face of hostility. But I remain convinced that is the only way to deliver genuine and lasting security for all.

And even after the disastrous invasions and occupations of recent years there is again renewed pressure to opt for military force, America First or Empire 2.0 as the path to global security.

I know the people of Britain are neither insensitive to the sufferings of others nor blind to the impact and blowback from our country’s reckless foreign wars.

Regime change wars, invasions, interventions and occupations in Iraq, Afghanistan and Libya and Somalia have failed on their own terms, devastated the countries and regions and made Britain and the world a more dangerous place.

And while the UK government champions some human rights issues on others it is silent, if not complicit, in their violation.

Too many have turned a willfully blind eye to the flagrant and large-scale human rights abuses now taking place in Yemen, fuelled by arms sales to Saudi Arabia worth billions of pounds.

The see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil approach undermines our credibility and ability to act over other human rights abuses.

Total British government aid to Yemen last year was under £150-million – less than the profits made by British arms companies selling weapons to Saudi Arabia. What does that say about our country’s priorities, or our government’s role in the humanitarian disaster now gripping Yemen?

Our credibility to speak out against the ethnic cleansing of Rohingya Muslims is severely undermined when the British Government has been providing support to Myanmar’s military.

And our Governments pay lip service to a comprehensive settlement and two state solution to the Israel- Palestine conflict but do nothing to use the leverage they have to end the oppression and dispossession of the Palestinian people.

70 years after the UN General Assembly voted to create a Palestinian state alongside what would become Israel, and half a century since Israel occupied the whole of historic Palestine, they should take a lead from Israeli peace campaigners such as Gush Shalom and Peace Now and demand an end to the multiple human rights abuses Palestinians face on a daily basis. The continued occupation and illegal settlements are violations of international law and are a barrier to peace.

The U.S. president’s announcement that his administration will recognise Jerusalem as Israel’s capital, including occupied Palestinian territory, is a threat to peace that has rightly been met with overwhelming international condemnation.

The decision is not only reckless and provocative – it risks setting back any prospect of a political settlement of the Israel-Palestine conflict.

President Trump’s speech at the UN General Assembly in September signalled a wider threat to peace. His attack on multilateralism, human rights and international law should deeply trouble us all.

And this is no time to reject the Iran Nuclear Deal, a significant achievement agreed between Iran and a group of world power to reduce tensions.

That threatens not just the Middle East but also the Korean Peninsula. What incentives are there for Pyongyang to believe disarmament will bring benefits when the U.S. dumps its nuclear agreement with Tehran?

Trump and Kim Jong Un threaten a terrifying nuclear confrontation with their absurd and bellicose insults.

In common with almost the whole of humanity, I say to the two leaders: this is not a game, step back from the brink now.

It is a commonplace that war and violence do not solve the world’s problems. Violence breeds violence. In 2016 nearly three quarters of all deaths from terrorism were in five states; Iraq, Afghanistan, Syria, Nigeria and Somalia.

So let us stand up for the victims of war and terrorism and make international justice a reality. And demand that the biggest arms exporters ensure all arms exports are consistent, not legally, but with their moral obligations too.

That means no more arms export licences when there is a clear risk that they will be used to commit human rights abuses or crimes against humanity.

The UK is one of the world’s largest arms exporters so we must live up to our international obligations while we explore ways to convert arms production into other socially useful, high-skill, high-tech industry.

Which is why I welcome the recent bipartisan U.S. House of Representatives resolution which does two unprecedented things.

First, it acknowledges the U.S. role in the destruction of Yemen, including the mid-air refuelling of the Saudi-led coalition planes essential to their bombing campaign and helping in selecting targets.

Second, it makes plain that Congress has not authorised this military involvement.

Yemen is a desperate humanitarian catastrophe with the worst cholera outbreak in history.

The weight of international community opinion needs to be brought to bear on those supporting Saudi Arabia’s war in Yemen, including Theresa May’s Government, to meet our legal and moral obligations on arms sales and to negotiate an urgent ceasefire and settlement of this devastating conflict.

If we’re serious about supporting peace we must strengthen international co-operation and peacekeeping. Britain has an important role to play after failing to contribute significant troop numbers in recent years.

We are determined to seize the opportunity to be a force for good in peacekeeping, diplomacy and support for human rights.

Labour is committed to invest in our diplomatic capabilities and consular services and we will reintroduce human rights advisers in our embassies around the world.

Human rights and justice will be at the heart of our foreign policy along with a commitment to support the United Nations.

The UN provides a unique platform for international co-operation and action. And to be effective, we need member states to get behind the reform agenda set out by Secretary General Guterres.

The world demands the UN Security Council responds, becomes more representative and plays the role it was set up to on peace and security.

We can live in a more peaceful world. The desire to help create a better life for all burns within us.

Governments, civil society, social movements and international organisations can all help realise that goal.

We need to redouble our efforts to create a global rules based system that applies to all and works for the many, not the few.

No more bomb first and think and talk later.

No more double standards in foreign policy.

No more scapegoating of global institutions for the sake of scoring political points at home.

Instead: solidarity, calm leadership and co-operation. Together we can:

  • Build a new social and economic system with human rights and justice at its core.
  • Deliver climate justice and a better way to live together on this planet.
  • Recognise the humanity of refugees and offer them a place of safety.
  • Work for peace, security and understanding.

The survival of our common humanity requires nothing less. We need to recognise and pay tribute to human rights defenders the world over, putting their lives on the line for others – our voice must be their voice.

Thank you. •

President Trump monopolizes our list of the year’s worst falsehoods and bogus claims.

The post The Whoppers of 2017 appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Q: Were illegal voters bused in to Alabama to swing the election to Doug Jones? Were thousands of fraudulent votes recorded for him? A: Those claims were made by self-described […]

The post More Claims of Alabama Voter Fraud appeared first on FactCheck.org.

Q: Is Rep. Nancy Pelosi planning to step down amid sexual harassment allegations? A: No. There have been no such claims made publicly against Pelosi. FULL ANSWER Allegations of sexual […]

The post Phony Pelosi Harassment Story appeared first on FactCheck.org.

By Marti Caussa / Socialist Project.

The December 21 election (21-D) reconfirmed the absolute majority of pro-independence members in the Catalan Parlement. It marked the political defeat of article 155, although that article and its consequences are still in force. On the other hand, the “unionist” bloc, favouring the “union” under the Spanish state and defending the latter’s implementation of article 155, emerged stronger and more aggressive. Ciudadanos (C’s) obtained the largest number of votes and deputies, and furthered its hegemony within this bloc.

Breakdown of the number of seats (escaños) in the Parlement won by the respective parties under Catalonia’s proportional representation electoral system.

The pro-independence majority bloc, winning the most votes and seats, legitimates the struggle for the Catalan Republic and the result of the October 1 referendum. However, the lack of strategic clarity continues. The October 27 unilateral declaration of independence revealed that the strategy of the pro-independence majority was inapplicable. But no steps were taken in practice to re-examine its orientation. And some of the proposals advanced indicate a disquieting direction.

The independentist majority in the previous Parlament (JuntsxCat, led by Carles Puidgemont; ERC, led by Oriol Junqueras; and the Popular Unity Candidacy, or CUP) was re-elected, but with a loss of two seats (70 vs. 72). Its percentage total remained virtually the same (47.49% vs. 47.74% in 2015) albeit with a much higher participation by voters (close to 82% of the eligible electorate). And the number of votes on December 21 was a slight increase from the number registered in the October 1 referendum and in the previous “plebiscitary” election [called by then President Artur Mas] on September 27, 2014 (respectively 2,063,361 vs. 2,044,038 and 1,897,274), but in a context in which a further 245,000 valid votes were cast.

ShiftingForces

The relation of forces within the independentist bloc was appreciably altered, but not fundamentally. Puigdemont managed to retain his leadership thanks to a greater autonomy vis-à-vis the PDeCat (Catalan European Democratic Party). The ERC (Catalan Republican Left) almost equalled the results of JuntsxCat, but did not manage to exceed them, as most of the opinion polls had predicted, which would have meant that the moderate left would have won a majority within the bloc and with Oriol Junqueras as the new President.

But the major change was the setback to the anticapitalist pro-independence party, the CUP, which lost more than 140,000 votes and 6 of its previous 10 deputies. This means it will play a much less decisive role in the new Parlement than it did previously, when it was able to influence the policy of the independentist bloc and the election of its President.

Catalunya en Comú-Podem [a coalition of five formations: Catalunya en Comú, Podem, Barcelona en Comú, Iniciativa per Catalunya Verds and Esquerra Unida i Alternativa], which is to continue characterizing itself as a left-wing sovereigntist force [defending Catalonia’s right to self-determination but not independence] notwithstanding its electoral campaign, lost close to 43,000 votes and 3 deputies. It obtained 323,695 votes and 8 deputies, less than its predecessor coalition Catalunya Sí Que es Pot did in 2015 (366,494 votes and 11 deputies) and ICV/EUiA [Initiativa per Catalunya Verds – Esquerra Unida i Alternativa] did in 2012 (359,705 votes and 13 deputies).

The unionist and pro-article 155 parties were unable to prevent the victory of the independentist movement. However, they did come very close to their previous results in votes (174,000 less) and percentage (4% less) but with a greater difference in seats (13). This means that Catalonia is divided into two major blocs: an independentist one, with an influence shared between the neoliberal centre and the moderate left; and a “unionist” one, defender of the anti-democratic article 155 and hegemonized by the neoliberal right. The left that fights for a clean break is a tiny minority within the pro-independence bloc and the weakened Catalunya en Comú-Podem cannot be included in either of the two blocs.

C’s is the largely hegemonic force in the unionist bloc and a supporter of article 155: it increased its votes by 367,000 and won 12 more deputies than it had in 2015. Its results were particularly strong in Barcelonés [the administrative region in which Barcelona is the centre], Vallés [the region with Caldas de Montbui as the historic capital], and Tarragonés [the province of Terragon]. C’s now dominate in what was previously the red belt of the PSC [Partit dels Socialistes de Catalunya, the Catalan counterpart of Spain’s social-democratic PSOE] and the ICV.

A very large share of C’s increased vote comes from the collapse of the PP [Partido Popular, the party of Spanish prime minister Mariano Rajoy], which lost 164,000 votes and 8 deputies. But probably most important is the fact that C’s managed to mobilize many who traditionally abstained from voting.

The defeat of the PP, the party that obtained the least votes and the least seats, is certainly good news and Rajoy will probably pay the price, given that he was unable to defeat the independentist bloc and destroyed his party in Catalonia. Moreover, he reinforced the party that is contesting his hegemony throughout the Spanish state.

Miquel Iceta [first secretary of the Catalan Socialist party] placed in third position on the PSC list Ramón Espadaler [former secretary of the Unió Democràtica de Catalunya, a Christian party, and now with the Convergència i Unió-CiU, a centrist party] together with some people from the Societat Civil Catalana or the Tercera Via [Third Way]. He tried to present himself as the supporter of an acceptable article 155. Thus he said he would ask for amnesty for the political prisoners. But he drew back when the unionist bloc turned on him. The results of all these maneuvers were modest; he increased his score by 80,000 votes and one deputy.

Pro-IndependenceGovernment

In short, the December 21 results should allow the selection of a pro-independence government, with Puigdemont, who headed the independentist list with the most votes, as President. The ERC has already explained that this was their proposal. But it remains to be seen how the difficulties resulting from Puigdemont’s exile and the charges issued by the Supreme Court can be overcome. The court continues to expand the list of the people being prosecuted for rebellion, with the addition now of Artur Mas, Marta Pascal, Marta Rovira, Anna Gabriel and Neus Lloveras.

In fact, the most urgent task after the elections continues to be the effective withdrawal of article 155 and of all its consequences, in particular the freeing of the political prisoners, the return of the exiles and the staying of the trials. The yellow ties campaign must be boosted anew.

Secondly, we must specify how to advance toward the conquest of the independent Catalan Republic. The December 21 elections have once again highlighted the principal problem: how to go far beyond the two million votes, how to increase the social support for the republic, particularly among the towns and cities of the regions of Barcelona, the two Vallés, Tarragon, etc. The election campaign did not help to respond to this question and instead sowed some major doubts about the validity of the unilateral actions, as I explained in a previous article.

The discussion of what has failed and what must be rectified in the strategy of the majority separatist current is still pending. But it is more needed than ever if we are to avoid getting ahead of ourselves through improvisation or unjustified retreats. •

Translated from the Spanish edition of Viento Sur by Richard Fidler.

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Imaging What A New Diddy Kong Racing Might Look Like

Diddy Kong Racing for the N64 was never able to escape that long shadow cast by Mario Kart. While the game got a remake for the DS, it never got a true successor. And if we’re being honest, it probably never will. Fortunately there’s a fan video to help fill the void left by its eternal absence.

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Foreign governments are granting Trump projects big favors to get what they want from...

President Donald Trump purportedly stepped away from his business interests for the duration of his term as president, but Vanity Fair‘s Tina Nguyen says that foreign governments are granting favors and greasing the wheels for Trump-branded projects around the world.

Anita Kumar at McClatchy reported that the Indonesian government has chosen to build a new road to shorten the drive between the island chain’s main airport and the new Trump golf resort.

In Panama, the national government directly intervened in a lagging sewer project connected to the new Trump Ocean Club International Hotel and Tower in Panama City. The original contractor tasked with constructing the system went bankrupt, prompting the government to use its own money to construct sewage and water pipes connecting to the resort hotel.

“And in other countries,” Kumar wrote, “governments have donated public land, approved permits and eased environmental regulations for Trump-branded developments, creating a slew of potential conflicts as foreign leaders make investments that can be seen as gifts or attempts to gain access to the American president through his sprawling business empire.”

As Nguyen noted, all of this appears to place Trump squarely in violation of the Emoluments Clause, which prohibits federal officials from accepting gifts or anything that might be constituted as a bribe from foreign governments.

However, she said, “Just weeks after Trump won the election, the Argentinian government suddenly granted a permit for a long-delayed Trump Tower development in Buenos Aires. In September, Trump’s Middle Eastern business partners granted a company partially owned by the Chinese government a contract to build a road to Trump World Golf Club in Dubai, seemingly going against his pledge to not engage in foreign business transactions during his presidency. And, of course, there is the ongoing constitutional crisis that is the Trump International Hotel Washington D.C., which critics claim violates the Emoluments Clause on a regular basis.”

Two lawsuits have been brought against the Trump administration alleging these violations, one of which was dismissed by a judge just before Christmas.

Kumar spoke with Noah Bookbinder of the Committee for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW), who said, “If you have a foreign government providing a benefit to the Trump company that is going to violate emoluments clause of the Constitution.”

The president is reportedly receiving boons to his projects — which he claims he handed over to the management of his sons, Donald Trump, Jr. and Eric Trump — from the governments of Uruguay, India and the Philippines.

Read the full McClatchy report here.

Mormon leader Thomas Monson dies aged 90

Thomas S Monson, who served in top leadership councils for the Mormon church for 50 years and became its president in 2008, has died. He was 90.

Monson was a church bishop at 22 and in 1963 the Salt Lake City native became the youngest church apostle ever, at 36. He was a counselor for three church presidents before assuming leadership of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

Monson died at his home in Salt Lake City on Tuesday, according to church spokesman Eric Hawkins. The next president was not immediately named, but the job is expected to go to next longest-tenured member of the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Russell M Nelson, 93, per church protocol.

Monson’s presidency was marked by his noticeably low profile during a time of intense publicity, including the 2008 and 2012 presidential campaigns of Mormon Mitt Romney. His most public acts were appearances at church conferences and devotionals as well as dedications of church temples.

He will be remembered for continuing the religion’s push to be more transparent about its past; his emphasis on humanitarian work; and lowering the minimum age for missionaries.

He will also be remembered for leading the faith’s involvement in the passage of a gay marriage ban in California in 2008. At his urging, Mormons were vigorous campaign donors and volunteers. That prompted a backlash against the church that included vandalism of church buildings, protest marches and demonstrations outside church temples nationwide.

In subsequent years, the church began utilizing a softer tone on the issue. In 2015, the church backed an anti-discrimination law in Utah that gave unprecedented protections for gay and transgender people while also protecting religious freedoms.

But the religion came under fire again in the fall of 2015 when it banned baptisms for children living with gay parents and instituted a requirement that those children disavow homosexual relationships before being allowed to serve a mission. The changes were designed to avoid putting children in a tug-of-war between their parents and church teachings, leaders said.

Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the dedication of the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009.
Thomas Monson attends a corner stone laying ceremony at the Draper Utah Temple in Draper, Utah, in 2009. Photograph: George Frey/Reuters

The revisions triggered anger, confusion and sadness for a growing faction of LGBTQ-supportive Mormons who were buoyed in recent years by church leaders’ calls for more love and understanding for LGBTQ members.

Monson also continued the church’s push to be more open about some of the most sensitive aspect of the faith’s history and doctrine. A renovated church history museum reopened in 2015 with an exhibit acknowledging the religion’s early polygamous practices, a year after the church published an essay that for the first time chronicled founder Joseph Smith’s plural wives.

Other church essays issued during Monson’s tenure addressed other sensitive topics: sacred undergarments worn by devout members; a past ban on black men in the lay clergy; and the misconception that Mormons are taught they will get their own planet in the afterlife.

The growth and globalization of the religion continued under Monson, with membership swelling to nearly 15.9 million, with more than half outside the US. There were 71,000 church missionaries serving around the world at the end of 2016.

Mormons considered Monson a warm, caring, endearing and approachable leader, said Patrick Mason, associate professor of religion at Claremont Graduate University in California.

He put an emphasis on the humanitarian ethic of Mormons, evidenced by his expansion of the church’s disaster relief programs around the world, said Armand Mauss, a retired professor of sociology and religious studies at Washington State University.

Monson often credited his mother, Gladys Condie Monson, for fostering his compassion. He said that during his childhood in the Depression of the 1930s their house in Salt Lake City was known to hobos riding the railroads as a place to get a meal and a kind word.

“President Monson always seemed more interested in what we do with our religion rather than in what we believe,” Mauss said.

A second world war veteran, Monson served in the navy and spent a year overseas before returning to get a business degree at the University of Utah and a master’s degree in business administration from the church-owned Brigham Young University.

Before being tabbed to join the church’s governing Quorum of the Twelve Apostles, Monson worked for the church’s secular businesses, primarily in advertising, printing and publishing including the Deseret Morning News.

He married Frances Beverly Johnson in 1948. The couple had three children, eight grandchildren and 11 great-grandchildren. Frances died in 2013 at the age of 85.

Monson was an avid fisherman who also raised homing pigeons, specifically, roller pigeons who twirled as they flew. He was known for his love of show tunes, Boy Scouts and the Utah Jazz.

The man expected to take Monson’s seat, the 93-year-old Nelson, has been a church apostle since April 1970. Nelson will choose two new counselors from the Quorum of the Twelve who will join him to form a three-person “presidency” that is the top of the religion’s governing hierarchy. Monson’s two counselors were Henry Eyring and Dieter Uchtdorf. They will go back to being regular members of the Quorum unless they are chosen again.

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How Donald Trump’s war on intelligence is destroying American national security

President Donald Trump’s insecurity over losing the popular vote and the salacious allegations in the Steele Dossier have prompted him to lash out at the intelligence community’s claims that Russia influenced the 2016 election. Now that war against the intelligence community is impacting American national security.

A Wednesday Washington Postreport revealed that the National Security Agency is hemorrhaging staff at an alarming rate. Some of these “highly skilled” staffers have become “disillusioned” with intelligence but the leadership and a reorganization effort under the new administration has sent many to update their resumes.

The work these experts do included monitoring a broad array of subjects including the Islamic State, Russian and North Korean hackers, and analyzing the intentions of foreign governments, and they were responsible for protecting the classified networks that carry such sensitive information. Yet, these staffers saying that they want a higher-paying job in the private sector or more flexible hours.

Since 2015, hundreds of hackers, engineers and data scientists have bailed on the NSA, former officials said. Now it’s reaching a level that national security can be impacted. Of the 17 spy agencies, the NSA is the largest and they’re responsible for collecting the information that goes into the presidential daily briefing that Trump doesn’t understand. Over the first year in office, aides have even been forced to tailor the briefing so it doesn’t include anything about Russian interference in the election so as to not anger Trump.

“Some synonym of the word ‘epidemic’ is the best way to describe it,” said former NSA senior researcher Ellison Anne Williams. She left her job at the NSA in 2016 to start her own data-security firm and took 10 NSA staff with her. “The agency is losing an amazing amount of its strongest technical talent, and to lose your best and brightest staff is a huge hit.”

The agency won’t disclose the number of vacancies over the last year, but it said there is 5.6 percent decrease in staff who specialize in science, technology and math. The NSA isn’t the only place the Trump administration has implemented the right-wing war on science. In Scott Pruitt’s Environmental Protection Agency, scientists became the enemy. Even Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg was told never to say the words “climate change.” Losing the experts means new staff are filling the positions without the experience central to the NSA’s mission collecting huge swaths of data and analyzing it.

Former staff have complained that they felt their mission was marginalized by a restructuring of the agency. Others allege the reorganization was “an enormous distraction.” Some even call the pay structure and promotion program part of the problem. According to former staff, it prioritizes seniority over experience or expertise.

Another former employee alleged that the problems began with former contractor Edward Snowden and the arrest of former contractor Harold T. Martin III in 2016. Accessing data and information became more difficult for those trying to do their jobs. The witch hunt searching for leakers made things worse. An environment with collaboration has turned toward suspicion, a former staffer said.

“It comes down to death by a thousand cuts,” said a former employee, adding that people “tend to quit in packs. One person hits their breaking point, and once they leave, the dominoes start falling.”

NSA spokesman Tommy Groves didn’t discount the reports.

“If the price of security becomes that we drive away the very men and women that generate value in the first place, we now have a self-induced mission kill,” National Security Agency Director Administrator Michael Rogers said in a conference speech.

Trump’s attacks on the 17 intelligence agencies that confirmed the Russian interference couldn’t have made morale any better. After meeting Russian President Vladimir Putin, Trump swore that Russia didn’t do it.

“He said he didn’t meddle, he said he didn’t meddle. I asked him again. You can only ask so many times,” Trump told reporters in November. “Every time he sees me he says I didn’t do that, and I really believe that when he tells me that, he means it.”

Trump has also waged a war with the FBI, calling it “tainted” and alleging it is part of the “deep state” shadow government.

“It is also a possible obstruction of justice, witness intimidation, and it’s obstructing justice by saying to agents, ‘you better not dig too deep, you better not find anything because I will attack you,'” former Watergate prosecutor Jill Wine-Banks said to MSNBC.

The only way to maintain staff is to tape into the sense of duty “for God and country,” said former threat operations center chief Daniel Ennis. He thinks the agency will recover, because it always has.