How the Sunrise Movement changed the Democratic conversation

Ruairí Arrieta-Kenna writes:

“When we were taught about the civil rights movement as kids, it was told to us as if a few big marches just happened and then the laws changed,” Emily LaShelle told me last weekend as she smoked a cigarette. Behind her, a group of her peers played Frisbee in a field while the sun set behind them. “But there was so much more work and effort by activists behind the scenes,” she said. “And that’s the kind of work we’re teaching people to be involved in for this movement.”

LaShelle is 21, with short-cropped blond hair and a nose piercing. Her movement is the Sunrise Movement, an organization of mostly twenty-something climate activists who are best known for seemingly instantly and improbably injecting the idea of a “Green New Deal” into the national conversation. This past week, more than 70 Sunrise activists, including LaShelle, traveled to a rural, multifaith retreat center along the Hudson River, about 50 miles north of New York City, to take part in a weeklong boot camp that’s intended to transform them into the next generation of climate activists—who, in turn, are supposed to transform American politics.

Sunrise has already moved shockingly swiftly on that front. Last November, Sunrise activists joined newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a splashy protest at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office that catapulted the group to national relevance. The resulting publicity added thousands of people to the group’s ranks of supporters and active volunteers. Less than a year later, Sunrise’s proposal for a Green New Deal has gone from being widely mocked as an overly ambitious socialist fantasy (or the “Green Dream,” in Pelosi’s words) to being endorsed by 16 of the Democrats running for president—most recently by none other than Joe Biden. Four years after it was founded by several activists in the fossil-fuel divestment movement on college campuses and a climate policy researcher supported by the Sierra Club, Sunrise has become an influential force not just in climate activism but in Democratic politics. And its oldest staff member is only 33. [Continue reading…]

Joe Biden and the ‘electability’ delusion — and why the media keep making the same mistake

Margaret Sullivan writes:

As Iowa journalist Robert Leonard talks to voters around his state, he finds himself baffled at the national portrayal of Joe Biden’s dominance in the presidential campaign.

The local Democrats he encounters respect the former vice president, he told me, but many of them also feel his time has passed.

They’re far more excited about other candidates, five in particular: Sen. Elizabeth Warren (Mass.); Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Ind.; Sen. Kamala D. Harris (Calif.); former Texas congressman Beto O’Rourke and Sen. Cory Booker (N.J.).

So he shakes his head at the extensive coverage and commentary that depicts Biden as almost a shoo-in for a nomination that’s more than a year away.

One example: CNN’s morning briefing newsletter recently called Biden “the most formidable threat” to President Trump’s reelection chances.

CNN is far from alone. It’s common across the national media to see Biden pegged as the safest candidate for Democrats to put up to unseat Trump. He’s got that secret sauce: electability.

“Sure, Democrats think he’s electable, but they believe a half-dozen other candidates are, too,” Leonard, the news director of two Iowa radio stations, told me. “No one I have spoken with sees Biden as more formidable than other top candidates.”

But this thinking — much of it driven by early polling — creates a self-perpetuating effect: Biden is the front-runner, so he gets more media coverage. [Continue reading…]

Sucker: Netanyahu’s ‘Trump Heights’ publicity stunt fools no one — except for Trump

BBC News reports:

Israeli PM Benjamin Netanyahu has unveiled a new settlement in the occupied Golan Heights, named after US President Donald Trump.

At a naming ceremony on Sunday, Mr Netanyahu said Trump Heights honoured Mr Trump for his decision to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the territory.

Building work has yet to begin but a sign bearing Mr Trump’s name and US and Israeli flags was unveiled.

Critics called the move a publicity stunt with no legal authority.

Israel seized the Golan from Syria in the 1967 Middle East war. In March, the US became the first country to recognise Israeli sovereignty over the area since Israel effectively annexed it in 1981.

On Sunday, Israel’s cabinet approved Mr Netanyahu’s resolution for an “initiative to establish” a new Golan Heights community.

But the resolution falls short of declaring the establishment of a settlement, and no money has yet been earmarked for construction.

Political opponents of the scheme have also noted that, legally, no new localities can be established before Israel’s elections in September.

“Anyone who reads the fine print in this ‘historic’ decision will understand that this is nothing more than a nonbinding, fake policy,” former cabinet secretary Zvi Hauser told the Times of Israel. [Continue reading…]

‘Trump Heights’: Population ‘four, seven, or ten people — no one knows’

 

What made Sarah Huckabee Sanders so good at being so despicable

Lili Loofbourow writes:

Sanders didn’t just defend the president from the effects of his own statements; she offered herself as a kind of prosaic presence whose function it was to act like anything Trump did, no matter how shocking, was no big deal. She exemplified the stolid approval Trump wanted for everything from family separations to tax cuts for the rich. As her tenure ends, we can now see how much her reliance on reassuring phrases like “make a determination”—and unblinkingly calling lies differences of opinion and hush payments not worth discussing—provided a kind of muted laugh track to the terrible show being forced upon America. Rather than laugh at unfunny jokes, she loyally normalized despicable conduct.

Her value—and Scaramucci never understood this—was her ability to do this in a distinctly un-Trumpish way. Rather than be sensational or offensive or inflammatory, Sanders was staid and dull. In an era characterized by “White House in chaos” headlines, her repressive calm served an essential function. “Sanders possesses a unique talent that, heretofore, has not quite been considered a talent: She can deaden a room,” Jason Schwartz wrote at Politico. As a public servant, Sanders was abysmal. As a public speaker, she was subpar. But as the first line of Trump’s defense, she was absolutely indispensable. [Continue reading…]

Kenneth Clarke: ‘If there’s no other way you’ve got to bring the government down’

The Observer reports:

Since he entered parliament in 1970, Kenneth Clarke has served under eight Conservative leaders, from Edward Heath to Theresa May. He has also stood three times, in 1997, 2001 and 2005, to be Tory leader himself during difficult periods for his party. But throughout it all he has never known a political crisis remotely like the present.

Now aged 78, he still describes himself as “a natural optimist”. But a combination of Brexit and the Tory leadership contest are testing his positive thinking to its limits.

“As someone who has seen a few leadership elections in my time, this one’s quite different,” Clarke said in an interview with the Observer last week, within hours of the announcement that Boris Johnson had stormed into the lead in the first round. “This is a tragic farce of a crisis in which anger and protest are wide sentiments across the public scene. The Conservative party is in turmoil internally and deeply unpopular with the general public.”

As a lifelong europhile its hurts Clarke, who as father of the House of Commons is its most senior MP, to think that he will be retiring at the next election with what he calls this “extreme crisis” caused by Brexit overshadowing everything. He describes leaving the EU as a “crazy decision” – one which will leave in ruins much of what he has tried to do over the past five decades. [Continue reading…]

Tehran has held firm in its tussles with Trump

Martin Chulov writes:

For much of this year, two beliefs have held firm in the halls of power in Iran: US attempts to strangle its economy cannot be tolerated and Donald Trump has no intention of going to war.

Far from wilting under the barrel of a global superpower’s guns, Iran’s leaders have signalled an intent to defend their interests, by damaging those of their foes. Iran’s anger at the US, and its alleged role in the attacks on six tankers in Gulf waters over the past five weeks did not emerge from a vacuum. US-imposed sanctions have taken a huge toll on its economy, and diminished its ability to service long-lasting commitments across the region – in Syria and Lebanon, in particular.

Tehran’s access to oil markets has been crippled by a sanctions regime that has proven more targeted and comprehensive than ever before. At the same time, enemies across the Gulf are selling oil to its former customers. To leave either unaddressed would be to signal weakness, say regional officials familiar with Iranian leadership.

What to do about it has been the subject of intense debate in Tehran and discussion with proxies, including Hezbollah in Lebanon – long the apex of Iran’s foreign policy projection. As has how to square away Trump’s oscillating public stances; hours after tweeting on Friday that neither side was ready for a deal, the US leader said: “We want to get them back to the table”.

The shifting views are likely to further support a view in Iran that Trump is far from the shrewd negotiator he seems – to himself – to be. More carpet-seller than Kissinger, he seems unaware of Iran’s leverage, in regard to its dormant nuclear programme, ignorant of its culture and unsure on his feet as tensions between both sides escalate. [Continue reading…]

Peter Baker writes:

To President Trump, the question of culpability in the explosions that crippled two oil tankers in the Gulf of Oman is no question at all. “It’s probably got essentially Iran written all over it,” he declared on Friday.

The question is whether the writing is clear to everyone else. For any president, accusing another country of an act of war presents an enormous challenge to overcome skepticism at home and abroad. But for a president known for falsehoods and crisis-churning bombast, the test of credibility appears far more daunting.

For two and a half years in office, Mr. Trump has spun out so many misleading or untrue statements about himself, his enemies, his policies, his politics, his family, his personal story, his finances and his interactions with staff that even his own former communications director once said “he’s a liar” and many Americans long ago concluded that he cannot be trusted.

Fact-checking Mr. Trump is a full-time occupation in Washington, and in no other circumstance is faith in a president’s word as vital as in matters of war and peace. The public grew cynical about presidents and intelligence after George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq based on false accusations of weapons of mass destruction, and the doubt spilled over to Barack Obama when he accused Syria of gassing its own people. As Mr. Trump confronts Iran, he carries the burden of their history and his own. [Continue reading…]

U.S. escalates online attacks on Russia’s power grid

The New York Times reports:

The United States is stepping up digital incursions into Russia’s electric power grid in a warning to President Vladimir V. Putin and a demonstration of how the Trump administration is using new authorities to deploy cybertools more aggressively, current and former government officials said.

In interviews over the past three months, the officials described the previously unreported deployment of American computer code inside Russia’s grid and other targets as a classified companion to more publicly discussed action directed at Moscow’s disinformation and hacking units around the 2018 midterm elections.

Advocates of the more aggressive strategy said it was long overdue, after years of public warnings from the Department of Homeland Security and the F.B.I. that Russia has inserted malware that could sabotage American power plants, oil and gas pipelines, or water supplies in any future conflict with the United States.

But it also carries significant risk of escalating the daily digital Cold War between Washington and Moscow. [Continue reading…]

Trump’s relentless war against science

The Hill reports:

President Trump is directing all agencies to cut their advisory boards by “at least” one third.

The executive order issued Friday evening directs all federal agencies to “evaluate the need” for each of their current advisory committees.

The order gives agencies until Sept. 30 to terminate, at a minimum, one-third of their committees.

Committees that qualify for the chopping block include those that have completed their objective, had their work taken up by other panels or where the subject matter has “become obsolete.”

Another defining factor listed includes whether the agency itself has determined that the cost of operating the agency is “excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government.”

Critics say the order is another administration attack on experts who provide scientific advice.

“For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees,” Gretchen Goldman, the research director with the Center for Science and Democracy at the Union for Concerned Scientists, said in a statement. “Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It’s no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular.” [Continue reading…]

The Guardian reports:

A member of the Trump administration’s National Security Council has sought help from advisers of a conservative thinktank to challenge the reality of a human-induced climate crisis, a trove of his emails show.

William Happer, a physicist appointed by the White House to counter the federal government’s own climate science, reached out to the Heartland Institute, one of the most prominent groups to dispute that burning fossil fuels is causing dangerous global heating, in March.

In the messages, part of a group of emails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act, Happer and the Heartland adviser Hal Doiron discuss Happer’s scientific arguments in a paper attempting to knock down the concept of climate emergency, as well as ideas to make the work “more useful to a wider readership”. Happer writes he had already discussed the work with another Heartland adviser, Thomas Wysmuller. [Continue reading…]

How Hong Kong’s leader made the biggest political retreat by China under Xi

The New York Times reports:

Carrie Lam, the chief executive of Hong Kong, has a very loyal majority in the territory’s legislature. She has the complete backing of the Chinese government. She has a huge bureaucracy ready to push her agenda.

Yet on Saturday, she was forced to suspend indefinitely her monthslong effort to win passage of a bill that would have allowed her government to extradite criminal suspects to mainland China, Taiwan and elsewhere. Mrs. Lam’s decision represented the biggest single retreat on a political issue by China since Xi Jinping became the country’s top leader in 2012.

Huge crowds of demonstrators had taken to Hong Kong’s streets in increasingly violent protests. Local business leaders had turned against Mrs. Lam. And even Beijing officials were starting to question her judgment in picking a fight on an issue that they regard as a distraction from their real priority: the passage of stringent national security legislation in Hong Kong.

The risk for the Hong Kong government is that the public, particularly the young, may develop the impression that the only way to stop unwanted policy initiatives is through violent protests. With each successive major issue since Britain returned Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, the level of violence at protests has risen before the government has relented and changed course. [https://www.nytimes.com/2019/06/15/world/asia/china-hong-kong-politics.html]

Michael H Fuchs writes:

As calls grow for a tougher US policy towards China, we must remember what we are talking about when we discuss China policy. In a public conversation defined by 240-character statements, we (myself included) too often shorthand the discussion by referring to “China” – but that is misleading. The CCP is the regime that rules China, but as a dictatorship it does not necessarily represent the 1.4 billion Chinese people.

The people of Hong Kong still have a certain ability to express their opinions, at least for now. But beyond the baseline repression in a system that does not have simple rights like the freedom of speech and assembly, the CCP in mainland China is becoming even more oppressive: today there are more than a million Uighurs imprisoned in an attempt to extinguish their ethnic identities; the CCP is setting up a surveillance state that pulls a page from George Orwell’s 1984 dystopia; and daily restrictions on civil society and citizens are becoming harsher and more widespread.

We often paint China’s government as a monolith run by the dictator Xi Jinping, but the reality is far more complex. Xi contends with forces inside the government and the sentiments of the people, even if those aren’t expressed through democratic means. The CCP’s top goal is to maintain power, and it lives in a constant state of fear about its legitimacy – and rightly so. [Continue reading…]