My generation trashed the planet. I salute the children striking back

George Monbiot writes:

The disasters I feared my grandchildren would see in their old age are happening already: insect populations collapsing, mass extinction, wildfires, droughts, heatwaves, floods. This is the world we have bequeathed to you. Yours is among the first of the unborn generations we failed to consider as our consumption rocketed.

But those of us who have long been engaged in this struggle will not abandon you. You have issued a challenge to which we must rise, and we will stand in solidarity with you. Though we are old and you are young, we will be led by you. We owe you that, at least.

By combining your determination and our experience, we can build a movement big enough to overthrow the life-denying system that has brought us to the brink of disaster – and beyond. Together we must demand a different way, a life-giving system that defends the natural world on which we all depend. A system that honours you, our children, and values equally the lives of those who are not born. Together, we will build a movement that must – and will – become irresistible. [Continue reading…]

Britain needs more time on Brexit, but we shouldn’t entrust it to Theresa May

Gary Younge writes:

[W]hen Theresa May asks for more time to negotiate with the European Union over Brexit, we would be wise to be sceptical. Not because Britain doesn’t need more time. It does. Hopelessly out of its depth, the country is neither ready to make a deal nor to crash out without one. As more than 40 former ambassadors argued in a joint statement this week: “We should not leave the EU when we have no clarity about our final destination. Instead we must use the mechanisms at our disposal, above all we must seek to extend the article 50 negotiating period.”

We should be sceptical because, while the country may need more time, we should not entrust it to May. We have seen how the prime minister squanders it: insisting on things that cannot happen, rejecting things that must happen, habitually failing to read whatever room she’s in while sending ministers to negotiate who haven’t read whatever documents were necessary. She has played a poor hand badly. Indeed, we are in this position in no small part precisely because she has been so cavalier with time. She has asked for two weeks so she can continue the almighty unicorn hunt in Brussels for a form of words over the backstop that will unite her party around a deal it doesn’t want, regardless of where that futile effort leaves the rest of us.

It is impossible to know if she honestly believes this is possible. May has a habit of sticking to the script religiously, repeating her lines mechanically, only to commit apostasy, insist on the opposite, claim “nothing has changed” and defy anyone to point it out. In that sense truth, to her, is time-sensitive. She sincerely believes whatever she is saying at any given moment, even when it directly contradicts what she said the moment before. [Continue reading…]

Democratic party elites silence Ilhan Omar at their peril

Trita Parsi and Stephen Wertheim write:

This week Democrats plunged into two controversies that portend danger for the party as the 2020 election season begins. Both centered on freshman representative Ilhan Omar of Minnesota, who, not coincidentally, came to America as a Somali refugee and is now one of the two first Muslim women in Congress. Absent an open debate about the party’s values on foreign policy, Democrats are hurtling toward an election more divisive than the one in 2016.

First, on Monday, Omar criticized the influence of pro-Israel lobbyists on Capitol Hill, tweeting that Congress’s stance was “all about the Benjamins”. She was swiftly rebuked by the party leadership in tandem with Republicans, prompting her to apologize. Then, less than 48 hours later, Omar grilled America’s new envoy to Venezuela, Elliott Abrams, over his well-documented material support for multiple Central American governments that committed mass killings and genocide in the 1980s. She also questioned his credibility, noting that Abrams had pleaded guilty to withholding information from Congress as part of his participation in the Iran-Contra scandal.

How did Democratic elites respond? Several pounced again – to defend the Trump administration’s backer of death squads against Omar’s pointed questioning. Kelly Magsamen, a senior official at the Center for American Progress, defended Abrams on Twitter as a “fierce advocate for human rights and democracy”. Likewise, Nicholas Burns, a 27-year diplomat who most recently advised former secretary of state John Kerry, praised Abrams as a “devoted public servant”. “It’s time to build bridges in America,” Burns wrote, “and not tear people down.”

If Democratic leaders were incredulous at Omar’s statements, rank-and-file Democrats were just as incredulous at their party leaders. Why, many asked, is it routine to criticize the influence of NRA money but almost forbidden to question the influence of Aipac money? On top of that, how could Trump’s neocon criminal be lauded as some sort of ally while Omar was treated as a pariah? A Twitter torrent caused Magsamen to delete her tweet and apologize.

Personalities aside, however, the episode is charged with significance for the Democratic party as a whole. Omar is not going away. She represents the party’s younger generation, a more diverse and progressive cohort that came of age in the war on terror. In the election of 2016, such voters balked at Hillary Clinton’s hawkish record and her courting of Never Trump neoconservatives. Now the divide is only wider and more entrenched. Democrats need to have a real conversation, immediately, about the party’s values and goals in foreign policy. Squelch it now and watch it resurge in 2020, with Trump the beneficiary. [Continue reading…]

The Green New Deal battle ahead

Naomi Klein writes:

“I really don’t like their policies of taking away your car, taking away your airplane flights, of ‘let’s hop a train to California,’ or ‘you’re not allowed to own cows anymore!’”

So bellowed President Donald Trump in El Paso, Texas, his first campaign-style salvo against Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s Green New Deal resolution. There will surely be many more.

It’s worth marking the moment. Because those could be the famous last words of a one-term president, having wildly underestimated the public appetite for transformative action on the triple crises of our time: imminent ecological unraveling, gaping economic inequality (including the racial and gender wealth divide), and surging white supremacy.

Or they could be the epitaph for a habitable climate, with Trump’s lies and scare tactics succeeding in trampling this desperately needed framework. That could either help win him re-election, or land us with a timid Democrat in the White House with neither the courage nor the democratic mandate for this kind of deep change. Either scenario means blowing the handful of years left to roll out the transformations required to keep temperatures below catastrophic levels.

Back in October, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change published a landmark report informing us that global emissions need to be slashed in half in less than 12 years, a target that simply cannot be met without the world’s largest economy playing a game-changing leadership role. If there is a new administration ready to leap into that role in January 2021, meeting those targets would still be extraordinarily difficult, but it would be technically possible — especially if large cities and states like California and New York escalate their ambitions right now. Losing another four years to a Republican or a corporate Democrat, and starting in 2026 is, quite simply, a joke.

So either Trump is right and the Green New Deal is a losing political issue, one he can smear out of existence. Or he is wrong and a candidate who makes the Green New Deal the centerpiece of their platform will take the Democratic primary and then kick Trump’s ass in the general, with a clear democratic mandate to introduce wartime-levels of investment to battle our triple crises from day one. That would very likely inspire the rest of the world to finally follow suit on bold climate policy, giving us all a fighting chance. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s face-saving way out of a self-created political crisis raises fears over rule of law

The New York Times reports:

The White House’s announcement Thursday that President Trump would claim emergency powers to build his border wall without congressional approval was a way out of the political crisis he created over shutting down the government. But while the move means the country will avoid another protracted shutdown, legal specialists warned that the long-term costs to American democracy could be steep.

As a matter of political reality, such a declaration permits Mr. Trump to keep the government open without losing face with his core supporters by surrendering to congressional Democrats on his signature issue. As a matter of legal reality, the proposal is likely to be bogged down in a court challenge, leaving any actual construction work based on emergency powers spending an uncertain and, at best, distant prospect.

But no matter what else happens, Mr. Trump’s willingness to invoke emergency powers to circumvent Congress is likely to go down as an extraordinary violation of constitutional norms — setting a precedent that future presidents of both parties may emulate to unilaterally achieve their own policy goals. [Continue reading…]

Linda Qiu notes:

Illegal border crossings have been declining for decades. While families are overwhelming an immigration system devised to handle single men, a border wall would not prevent them from seeking asylum, which is legal. Research does not show that immigrants commit more crimes than native-born Americans. And a wall would do little to prevent drugs and human trafficking at the border, as official ports of entry are the main route into the United States for both.

Cumulatively, Mr. Trump’s unsupported or misleading statements undercut his rationale for declaring an emergency, a step that is widely viewed as testing both constitutional and political norms and is sure to draw legal challenges. [Continue reading…]

The American aversion for psychological complexity

Dahlia Lithwick writes:

The launch of the 2020 presidential contest has triggered yet another round of uniquely American anxiety around the stability of character.

We’re only a few weeks into the nascent primary campaign, and already the public discourse is mired in a debate that seems to be consumed with which of the Democratic candidates is in fact tricking us.

Amy Klobuchar appears to be a sweet Minnesota girl, but is she secretly a crazed, potentially abusive harpy? Elizabeth Warren holds herself out to be a wonky economic populist … so then why did she dabble in all that bonkers Native American ancestry stuff? Kamala Harris says she’s a genuine liberal, but she was also a brutally tough prosecutor. Cory Booker is trying too hard to be an Obama reboot. Beto O’Rourke seems like he could be the real thing, except that he also seems like he was hatched in an underground lab to simply seem like the real thing. Kirsten Gillibrand says she’s a feminist but she was for gun rights before she was against them, and Julián Castro is Hispanic but he also might be too Hispanic, but then is Kamala Harris really black enough and don’t get me started on Sherrod Brown and whether he’s a folksy blue-collar guy or just a rumpled blue-collar guy.

It is deeply strange, this American fixation with political “authenticity.” We would rather have a flat, one-dimensional stick figure run for office than sit with the possibility that human beings are multifaceted and evolving and—by necessity and design—apt to show different faces to different people over the course of a political lifetime. This transcends the much-ballyhooed American proclivity to prefer presidents whom they can have a beer with. It’s not so much that we want a president who is like us; it’s that we abhor the notion that our politicians may appear to be one thing sometimes but are something totally different at other times. [Continue reading…]

A border agent detained two Americans for speaking Spanish in Montana. Now they have sued

The New York Times reports:

The American Civil Liberties Union filed a lawsuit on Thursday against United States Customs and Border Protection on behalf of two American women who were stopped last spring in a small Montana city by a border agent who said he was asking for their identification because he heard them speaking Spanish.

The border agent, identified in the lawsuit as Paul A. O’Neal, stopped the women, Ana Suda and Martha Hernandez, inside a convenience store in Havre, Mont., late on May 16, 2018.

The lawsuit alleges that he commented on Ms. Hernandez’s accent, calling it “very strong,” and then asked where they were born. Ms. Hernandez was born in California and Ms. Suda in Texas, the A.C.L.U. said.

When the women expressed shock at the agent’s question, he told them he was “dead serious” and asked to see their identification, the lawsuit alleges.

After they showed the agent their valid Montana driver’s licenses, he briefly detained them in the store’s parking lot, the suit contends. The women then began to film the encounter on their phones, and asked the agent on video why they were being stopped.

“Ma’am the reason I asked you for your ID is I came in here and I saw you guys are speaking Spanish, which is very unheard of up here,” the agent said, looking into the camera. [Continue reading…]

McCabe’s disturbing account of working for Sessions and Trump

Greg Miller writes:

He didn’t read intelligence reports and mixed up classified material with what he had seen in newspaper clips. He seemed confused about the structure and purpose of organizations and became overwhelmed when meetings covered multiple subjects. He blamed immigrants for nearly every societal problem and uttered racist sentiments with shocking callousness.

This isn’t how President Trump is depicted in a new book by former deputy FBI director Andrew McCabe. Instead, it’s McCabe’s account of what it was like to work for then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The FBI was better off when “you all only hired Irishmen,” Sessions said in one diatribe about the bureau’s workforce. “They were drunks but they could be trusted. Not like all those new people with nose rings and tattoos — who knows what they’re doing?”

It’s a startling portrait that suggests that the Trump administration’s reputation for baseness and dysfunction has, if anything, been understated and too narrowly attributed to the president. [Continue reading…]

From Tahrir to Trump: How dignity was reduced to pride

Ece Temelkuran writes:

Thousands of people in Tahrir Square chanted the slogan: “Bread! Dignity! Freedom!” It was 2011, and the height of the Arab spring. Standing on my own in the crowd, I recalled a middle-aged worker I’d met in Buenos Aires a decade earlier telling me why he and his colleagues had taken over a factory during Argentina’s economic collapse. He rattled off reasons such as hunger, poverty and inequality. But then his voice changed: “And the boss … ” he said. “Well, he never said good morning to us and, you know, that destroys your dignity.”

Dignity is a slippery word, almost too elusive a concept to be put in a social contract or win inclusion as a demand from a new political movement. Yet it is the word that best reflects how surviving economic hardship isn’t the only thing that angers poor people. Being messed around, mocked and deprived of the last traces of humanity makes the physical consequences of everyday poverty harder to bear. It was a single mother of four living in one of the poorest neighbourhoods in Istanbul, on a hill overlooking the Bosphorus, who taught me this. She wasn’t furious when she told me her children went to bed hungry some nights, but she was when she recalled her boss sarcastically saying “but then you do have a sea view”. She quit her job after that, saying: “Oh yes, we dip bread in the sea for our dinner!” Her proud face taught me that defending one’s dignity sometimes tastes sweeter than the bread – yes, even when you’re hungry.

Tahrir Square in Cairo, Gezi Park in Istanbul and Puerta del Sol in Madrid: not so long ago these and other places were sites of protest and hope for radical democratic movements that wanted to remake politics and restore people’s dignity. They were either violently suppressed or absorbed into conventional global politics.

Now, once again, millions around the world are protesting. But the mood and the message have changed. This time they are demanding respect for their “truths” and their divisive political choices. The battle for dignity has been replaced by an aggressive assertion of pride – in the nation, or in a particular version of “the people”.

Between the words “dignity” and “pride” there is a world of difference, and that difference is at the heart of the global political and moral mess confronting us now. The need for dignity is inherent to being human, and connected to our love of humankind. Pride, on the other hand, is a facade, it’s about a craving for exclusionary recognition and an answer to the question of who is superior to whom. It is divisive. But when crowds are desperate enough, it is easy for political actors to reduce the need for human dignity to a vindictive clamour for pride. And this is what rightwing populism does. [Continue reading…]

Every day a new low in the Trump White House

Andrew McCabe writes:

On Wednesday, May 10, 2017, my first full day on the job as acting director of the FBI, I sat down with senior staff involved in the Russia case—the investigation into alleged ties between the Trump campaign and the Russian government. As the meeting began, my secretary relayed a message that the White House was calling. The president himself was on the line. I had spoken with him the night before, in the Oval Office, when he told me he had fired James Comey.

A call like this was highly unusual. Presidents do not, typically, call FBI directors. There should be no direct contact between the president and the director, except for national-security purposes. The reason is simple. Investigations and prosecutions need to be pursued without a hint of suspicion that someone who wields power has put a thumb on the scale.

The Russia team was in my office. I took the call on an unclassified line. That was another strange thing—the president was calling on a phone that was not secure. The voice on the other end said, It’s Don Trump calling. I said, Hello, Mr. President, how are you? Apart from my surprise that he was calling at all, I was surprised that he referred to himself as “Don.”

The president said, I’m good. You know—boy, it’s incredible, it’s such a great thing, people are really happy about the fact that the director’s gone, and it’s just remarkable what people are saying. Have you seen that? Are you seeing that, too?

He went on: I received hundreds of messages from FBI people—how happy they are that I fired him. There are people saying things on the media, have you seen that? What’s it like there in the building?

This is what it was like: You could go to any floor and you would see small groups gathering in hallways, some people even crying. The overwhelming majority liked and admired Director Comey—his personal style, the integrity of his conduct. Now we were laboring under the same dank, gray shadow that had been creeping over Washington during the few months Donald Trump had been in office. [Continue reading…]