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    Joe Biden’s southern border challenge: reversing Trumpism

    The 46th US president took office promising a more welcoming immigration policy. But Republicans are calling a new wave of migrants at the southern border a ‘crisis’ and demanding action. In this episode of Full Story, Washington bureau chief David Smith describes the pressure Biden is under to respond to the issue. Plus, the Guardian’s Nina Lakhani describes what she witnessed on the border in Texas, where migrants are still being detained, and many sent straight back across the border

    How to listen to podcasts: everything you need to know

    Read Nina Lakhani’s story about her visit to the US-Mexico border in Texas here. More

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    Fauci: Republican vaccine deniers are hurting efforts to lift Covid restrictions

    Republicans who refuse the Covid-19 vaccination are actively “working against” efforts to lift the very coronavirus restrictions they insist are an infringement of their civil liberties, Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government’s leading infectious disease expert, said on Sunday.Fauci’s comments came as the government announced that half of all adults in the US had received at least one Covid-19 shot, marking another milestone in the nation’s largest-ever vaccination campaign. Almost 130 million people 18 or older have received at least one dose of a vaccine, or 50.4% of the total adult population, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported. Almost 84 million adults, or about 32.5% of the population, have been fully vaccinated.But Fauci, who was involved in a fiery exchange over the issue with the Republican congressman Jim Jordan on Thursday, told CNN’s State of the Union on Sunday he was frustrated by recent studies showing that up to 45% of Republicans would not take the vaccine.“The fact that one may not want to get vaccinated, in this case a disturbingly large proportion of Republicans, only actually works against where they want to be,” he said.“They want to be able to say these restrictions that are put on by public health recommendations are things that they’re very concerned about. But the way you get rid of those restrictions is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as efficiently as possible.“When that happens for absolutely certain you’re going to see the level of virus in the community go down and down and down to the point where you would not have to have those public health restrictions.”Fauci said the attitude displayed by the Republican vaccine deniers was “paradoxical”.“On the one hand they want to be relieved of the restrictions. On the other hand, they don’t want to get vaccinated, it just almost doesn’t make any sense,” he said. “This is a public health issue, it’s not a civil liberties issue.”Fauci clashed with Jordan, a congressman from Ohio, when the US’s top health officials testified before Congress on Thursday and Jordan asked Fauci when Americans “get their liberty and freedoms back”.“We’re not talking about liberties. We’re talking about a pandemic that has killed 560,000 Americans,” Fauci told the congressman.About one in four members of the House of Representatives had not been vaccinated by March, three months after shots were being made available. A list of those who are not vaccinated is not publicly available, but several Republican members of Congress have admitted they do not plan to get the jab.Fauci’s comments come amid a resurgence of Covid-19 across the US, with an 8% rise in new cases in the last two weeks even as the number of those vaccinated continues to grow.Fauci said the single shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the use of which was suspended in the US last week after reports of extremely rare and severe blood clots in six women, could be reinstated as early as Friday at a meeting of the CDC’s advisory committee on immunization practices (ACIP).“I doubt very seriously they’ll just cancel it,” he said in a later appearance on NBC’s Meet the Press. “I do think that there will likely be some sort of warning or restriction or risk assessment. I don’t think [the advisory committee] is going to say, ‘everything’s fine,’ I think it’ll likely say, ‘OK, we’re going to use it, but be careful under these certain circumstances’.”He said that although the incidences of blood clots were rare, “you have six cases in close to seven million people,” he said, the temporary suspension of the J&J vaccine was necessary.“There’s a twofold reason for doing it, to pause and take a look in more detail about it, and to make sure that the physicians treat people appropriately,” he said.Meanwhile, the Michigan governor, Gretchen Whitmer, acknowledged on Sunday her state was at “a very serious moment” as new infections continued to rise, but she continued to resist growing pressure to reinstate restrictions she lifted in March.Michigan has become a new Covid-19 hotspot, with hospitalizations setting a new pandemic record last week and the state recording more than 2,200 cases of the B117 coronavirus variant, more than one-tenth the total for the entire US.“In the waning months I have been sued by my legislature, I have lost in a Republican controlled Supreme Court, and I don’t have all of the exact same tools,” Whitmer told MTP host Chuck Todd, who asked if she was backing away from a firmer stance.“Despite those things, we still have some of the strongest mitigation measures in the country, masked mandates, capacity limitations, working from home. We’re moving fast to get shots in arms, a million in two weeks, a million in just the last nine days. [But] I’m working with a smaller set of tools at my disposal.“We are at a very serious moment and that’s precisely why we’re going to keep following the science, imploring people to do the right things, keep our mitigations up and keep moving vaccines as quickly as we possibly can.”Globally, coronavirus deaths passed the grim milestone of three million on Saturday. Jeremy Farrar, director of the UK’s Wellcome Trust, warned that the true number of deaths was probably much higher.“Worryingly, this pandemic is still growing at an alarming rate. Hundreds of thousands are dying every month,” he said.The US leads the world in Covid-19 deaths with 566,937 deaths and almost 32m cases, more than twice as many as any other country according to the Johns Hopkins university of medicine on Sunday. More

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    Texas bill to carry gun without permit advances to state senate

    This week, the Texas House of Representatives passed a bill dubbed “Constitutional Carry” that would allow citizens over the age of 21 to carry a gun without a license, drawing outrage from many state Democrats and gun-reform advocates.Texas law currently requires citizens to obtain a license to carry in order to carry a firearm openly or concealed. If passed into law, the new bill would remove that restriction, allowing Texans to carry guns without having to pass a background check or go through training. Texas would become the 14th state to implement such a law.The bill arrives on the heels of several recent mass shootings that have taken place around the country. On Thursday night, a gunman killed eight people including four members of the Sikh community in an Indianapolis FedEx warehouse. Earlier this month in Bryan, Texas, a man opened fire at a cabinet company where he was previously employed. One man died and five others were injured, including a state trooper.On Twitter, former congressman Beto O’Rourke expressed his support for those protesting the bill at the state capitol in Austin. He echoed their demands for common sense gun laws.“Grateful to @joecascinotx and those doing their best to stop HB 1927 and ensure that we have common sense gun laws in Texas,” O’Rourke tweeted. “Thank you for showing up and stepping up for Texas!”After a mass shooting in his native El Paso in August 2019 that left 23 people dead and another mass shooting that same month where 7 people were killed at a Cinergy movie theater complex in Odessa, O’Rourke had given an impassioned speech on gun reform and his proposal for a mandatory assault weapon buyback program.“Hell yes, we’re going to take your AR-15, your AK-47. We’re not going to allow it to be used against our fellow Americans anymore,” he said then.Protesting the bill at the state capitol, Becca DeFelice, a volunteer for Moms Demand Action Texas chapter, said: “It’s not complicated, and it’s not controversial: gun owners like me know that responsible gun ownership means going through a background check and safety training before carrying loaded handguns in public.”State Democratic representatives Rafael Anchía and Diego Bernal offered an amendment to the bill that would prevent “insurrectionists … or violent white supremacist extremist[s]” from possessing firearms, but it failed to make it in the bill because it did not gain enough votes.In addition to 84 state Republicans, seven democrats voted in favor of the Constitutional Carry bill. Representative Morgan Meyer of Dallas was the only Republican to vote against the bill. The bill will now advance to a Republican-majority Senate, where the fate of the bill will be determined. More

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    The US is pulling out of Afghanistan. But it will never leave those of us who served there

    I am one of more than 800,000 American military veterans who have served in Afghanistan since 2001. Tens of thousands more served in other capacities, from intelligence and diplomacy to aid and development. It’s fair to ask whether the end of the war affects how one views his or her own small role in the effort. If we didn’t “win”, whatever winning means in a war like this, did we matter? Were the sacrifices in vain?A cold accounting might tally the costs in blood, treasure and time against the benefits to Afghanistan’s development and security or the reduction of al-Qaida’s capabilities. A historian’s perspective, a strategist’s assessment of alternatives and time, above all else, will tell.Rather, consider a more familiar and human frame: sport. Two boxers stand in the ring. Ten athletes race for the gold medal. A thousand enter the marathon. Was it worth it only for the winner? Would you appear for the Olympics even if you knew in advance you would lose?The value of the individual veteran’s experience in Afghanistan is not dependent on the outcome of a battle, the shifts in a policy or the determinations of a historian. To quote President Theodore Roosevelt, “It’s not the critic that counts … the credit belongs to the man [sic] in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood; who strives valiantly; who errs, who comes short again and again, because there is no effort without error and shortcoming.” The game changes you, regardless of the result.Nowadays, I live in the suburbs of Washington DC. The eggbeater whirr of a helicopter is a routine accompaniment to the other sounds of our suburban neighborhood, close by a local hospital. Nearly 20 years ago, leading a platoon of 25 American mountain infantry in Afghanistan, I could have told you the distance, firepower and model of a helicopter from its signature melody in a matter of seconds.Reflecting on President Biden’s announcement about the end, for now, of American troops in Afghanistan, these hospital helicopters carry me back.There was the double-rotored Chinook that deposited our advance party in Gardez, a peaceful city at the time.A nearby mountain pass reminded us that hadn’t always been the case. Two decades earlier, a large Soviet force was pinned down and decimated by Afghan mujahideen. Their hasty fighting positions remained by the roadside. In Gardez, our platoon was the muscle to protect a reconstruction team of diplomats and development workers. There were textbooks and school supplies to liberate from former Taliban warehouses, endless councils with local elders, and mostly uneventful patrols along roads bounded by tall fields of marijuana and hashish drying in the relentless sun. On one mission we helped army veterinarians vaccinate what must have been a thousand livestock: goats, sheep and camels streaming towards our tent from all points of the compass.Even then it was clear a generation or more would pass before Afghanistan’s economic and political development would catch up with the lofty communiques of the US and our Nato allies. This was an order of magnitude more challenging than the reconstruction of Japan and Germany after the second world war.There was the dragonfly silhouette of an Apache attack helicopter, call sign “Widow maker”, as it banked against the midday sun near Khand Narai pass.Soon after arriving in Afghanistan, we had relocated closer to the jagged mountain border with Pakistan. The Apache released its missiles on my target, an enemy sniper who moments earlier fatally punctured Chris’s chest. Hours before, we had scrambled in response to another unit ambushed near the Pakistan border. Chris had driven in my Humvee. We’d never have reached the firefight without his navigation. With the sniper dead, we stumbled to safer ground, carrying Chris on a stretcher. Slippery with blood, I struggled to keep a grip. It was a lonely and cold drive home.Every week, it seemed, more and more “insurgents” – the catch-all label for Taliban, al-Qaida and other people shooting at us – were emboldened to leave their sanctuary inside Pakistan and walk across the largely unmonitored border into Afghanistan. We could plainly see what policymakers at the time wouldn’t acknowledge: the Taliban, and their allies, were gaining strength.What we hadn’t realized yet was how the game had changed. We were still measuring success by our head-to-head encounters. They knew it was a political contest. To discredit the Afghanistan government in the eyes of local villagers, our adversaries didn’t need to compete in the election or construct new roads and clinics. They only needed to show the government couldn’t keep those villagers safe. In one brazen move, they beheaded all the police at a local outpost. One act of terror silenced a hundred potential collaborators. Across a large province, half the size of Switzerland, an American force in the hundreds was insufficient for the task. It always would be.There was the Blackhawk medevac helicopter with its red cross markings, attempting a second landing on Losano Ridge.If I’d had the time, I could have counted each of the bullet holes in its fuselage from its first bold attempt to land in the midst of a 12-hour battle. In what had become a familiar drill, my fellow lieutenant’s platoon had drawn fire near the border that morning and we arrived soon after with reinforcements. As one of my men crested a hill to my flank, an ambush erupted from what sounded like every direction. Evan, age 19, was shot and killed in the opening act. Four of his buddies pulled him up a steep hillside, under withering machine gun fire and rocket-propelled grenades, to the landing zone we marked for the Blackhawk. I remember the skids lifting off the ground, evading incoming fire. The helicopter raced north with Evan. Maybe 40, maybe 60 insurgents were killed by the time we rumbled home that September night, shivering and shattered. When we said roll call, it was the one name without a response I would never forget.There were the helicopters that brought celebrities and public officials for their combat visits. They kept the engines on because the visits were short. There were resupply helicopters laden with ammo, food and mail. Even at the outer perimeter of American firepower we ate frozen king crab legs and steak. Once when the water resupply failed, we made do with diet iced tea. When our replacements began to arrive by helicopter in the spring, we even became a little nostalgic and put on the airs of grizzled old-timers.I left Afghanistan in 2004, but Afghanistan never left me. I remember the smile when we helped an elderly woman carried to our clinic on her husband’s back. I remember the solidarity of our platoon as we returned to patrol after Evan and Chris died. I remember the laughter of a bonfire skit and the stink of one sergeant’s boots. I can recall almost every moment of some battles, but hardly any of others. On some days it’s a worn photo that reminds; on others, the sounds of a helicopter.I do not regret trading early career opportunities for a uniform. I do not begrudge the policy mistakes echelons above my reality. I no longer mourn those who did not return. Instead, I celebrate how they lived with integrity and courage. I cherish our band of brothers. I try to pass on what I learned to my children, students and colleagues.Yes, it mattered. We played and it counted. For us. More

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    Empire of Pain review: the Sacklers, opioids and the sickening of America

    By 2016, opioids had torn a piece out of Appalachia and the rust belt. The deep drop in life expectancy among white Americans without four-year degrees would no longer be ignored. OxyContin, Purdue Pharma’s highly addictive painkiller, helped elect Donald Trump.In Empire of Pain, Patrick Radden Keefe methodically and meticulously chronicles this tale of woe and crisis, indifference and corruption. His Secret History of the Sackler Dynasty lays bare the price exacted by the family’s drive for wealth and social mountaineering.The Sackler name came to dot the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Smithsonian, Tate Modern and the Louvre. They rose – others paid dearly.Keefe is a veteran writer at the New Yorker. His 2019 bestseller, Say Nothing, chillingly examined the convergence of youth, zealotry and destruction in Northern Ireland. He even solved the mystery behind a disappearance.Like Say Nothing, Empire of Pain is drenched in misery, this time the byproduct of OxyContin, the go-to drug for Purdue. Since 1999, opioid-related deaths have risen more than fivefold. By the numbers, opioids have killed more than 450,000 in the US in two decades.Keefe’s book builds upon The Family that Built an Empire of Pain, a 2017 long read. Empire of Pain is filled with firsthand interviews and takeaways from confidential and original documents. It is a chilling and mesmerizing read, “substantially built on the family’s own words”. Which is what makes it so damning.The Sacklers did not cooperate. Indeed, they sought to derail publication. Keefe raises the possibility he was placed under surveillance, an attempt to intimidate him and his family. Nonetheless, the Sacklers’ indifference and smugness rise off the pages like steam from a sewer.In one 1996 email, Richard Sackler, Purdue’s chairman and president, demands the company become as feared as a “tiger with claws, teeth and balls”. Asked repeatedly at deposition years later if Purdue played any role in the opioid crisis, he steadfastly answers: “I don’t believe so.”A cousin, Kathe Sackler, actually boasts that OxyContin was a “very good medicine” and a “safe medicine”. She also claims credit for coming up with the “idea”. But she doesn’t end there.Confronted with the question, “Do you recognize that hundreds of thousands of Americans have become addicted to OxyContin?”, she can only muster: “I don’t know the answer to that.”The drumbeat surrounding the monster birthed by Purdue is as old as the century itself. Barry Meier, then of the New York Times, published Pain Killer: An Empire of Deceit and the Origin of America’s Opioid Epidemic, in 2003.Yet faced with pushback from Purdue and the Sacklers, the powers that be swept the crisis under the rug. Even the Times came down with a case a temporary case of cold feet.In 2007, under George W Bush, the US justice department only delivered a relative slap on the wrist. The Sacklers, major Republican donors, had unleashed a full-scale counter-attack starring Rudy Giuliani, Mary Jo White, formerly in charge of the southern district of New York and the Securities and Exchange Commission, and a bevy of high-priced legal talent.Strings were seemingly pulled, career prosecutors’ findings and recommendations discounted and binned. Purdue agreed to pay $600m to resolve a felony charge of misleading and defrauding physicians and consumers. Three executives entered guilty pleas and agreed to $34.5m in penalties. None of the individuals criminally charged were Sacklers.In the words of a former DoJ lawyer, this was “a political outcome that Purdue bought”. The company named its in-house law library after one of the designated-offenders and paid millions in post-employment compensation: a reward for taking a bullet for the team.Paul McNulty, then deputy attorney general, helped handcuff justice. John Brownlee, the federal prosecutor for the western district of Virginia, clashed with McNulty over the disposition of the case. Word spread that Brownlee’s job tenure was shaky. He resigned in April 2008. For the record, James Comey, McNulty’s predecessor as deputy AG, resisted Purdue’s entreaties.Among hundreds of interviews, Keefe spoke to Brownlee and Rick Mountcastle, the line prosecutor and career lawyer who handled the case. Still at DoJ, Mountcastle raises the possibility Purdue had an inside man at the Food and Drug Administration who enabled OxyContin in exchange for the prospect of future employment.Based on a 1995 email, Mountcastle began to suspect that Curtis Wright, then an FDA examiner, had turned a blind eye to the dangers posed by OxyContin. Purdue would later tap Wright to be an executive director. In 2003, Wright testified that he still believed addiction to OxyContin was “rare”.“I think there was a secret deal cut,” Mountcastle tells Keefe. “I can never prove it, so that’s just my personal opinion. But if you look at the whole circumstances, nothing else explains it.”Regardless, the FDA helped pave the way for an opioid epidemic. Dr David Kessler, FDA commissioner when OxyContin received the agency’s approval, acknowledged “certainly one of the worst medical mistakes”.Donald Trump spoke of the toll of the opioid crisis but in 2020, as election day loomed, his Department of Justice announced a “global resolution” of the government’s investigation into Purdue and the Sacklers. By then, the company was in bankruptcy and the target of a barrage of civil lawsuits.The Sacklers agreed to pay a $225m civil penalty, little more than the 2% they had taken from Purdue. But no one would be prosecuted. Asked why the government had not brought criminal charges against the Sacklers, Jeffrey Rosen, Bill Barr’s deputy attorney general, declined to say.The government, Keefe writes, was “so deferential toward the Sacklers that nobody even bothered to question them”. More

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    Existential challenges from China, climate and more demand new US industrial policy | Robert Reich

    America is about to revive an idea that was left for dead decades ago. It’s called industrial policy and it’s at the heart of Joe Biden’s plans to restructure the US economy.When industrial policy was last debated, in the 1980s, critics recoiled from government “picking winners”. But times have changed. Devastating climate change, a deadly pandemic and the rise of China as a technological powerhouse require an active government pushing the private sector to achieve public purposes.The dirty little secret is that the US already has an industrial policy, but one that’s focused on pumping up profits with industry-specific subsidies, tax loopholes and credits, bailouts and tariffs. The practical choice isn’t whether to have an industrial policy but whether it meets society’s needs or those of politically powerful industries.Consider energy. The fossil fuel industry has accumulated “billions of dollars in subsidies, loopholes and special foreign tax credits”, in Biden’s words. He intends to eliminate these and shift to non-carbon energy by strengthening the nation’s electrical grid, creating a new “clean electricity standard” that will force utilities to end carbon emissions by 2035 and providing research support and tax credits for clean energy.It’s a sensible 180-degree shift of industrial policy.A proper industrial policy requires that industries receiving public benefits act in the public interestThe old industrial policy for the automobile industry consisted largely of bailouts – of Chrysler in 1979 and General Motors and Chrysler in 2008.Biden intends to shift away from gas-powered cars entirely and invest $174bn in companies making electric vehicles. He’ll also create 500,000 new charging stations.This also makes sense. Notwithstanding the success of Tesla, which received $2.44bn in government subsidies before becoming profitable, the switch to electric vehicles still needs pump priming.Internet service providers have been subsidized by the states and the federal government and federal regulators have allowed them to consolidate into a few giants. But they’ve dragged their feet on upgrading copper networks with fiber, some 30 million Americans still lack access to high-speed broadband, and the US has among the world’s highest prices for internet service.Biden intends to invest $100bn to extend high-speed broadband coverage. He also threatens to “hold providers accountable” for their sky-high prices – suggesting either price controls or antitrust enforcement.I hope he follows through. A proper industrial policy requires that industries receiving public benefits act in the public interest.The pharmaceutical industry exemplifies the old industrial policy at its worst. Big pharma’s basic research has been subsidized through the National Institutes of Health. Medicare, Medicaid and the Affordable Care Act bankroll much of its production costs. The industry has barred Americans from buying drugs from abroad. Yet Americans pay among the highest drug prices in the world.Biden intends to invest an additional $30bn to reduce the risk of future pandemics – replenishing the national stockpile of vaccines and therapeutics, accelerating the timeline for drug development and boosting domestic production of pharmaceutical ingredients currently made overseas.That’s a good start but he must insist on a more basic and long-overdue quid pro quo from big pharma: allow government to use its bargaining power to restrain drug prices.A case in point: the US government paid in advance for hundreds of millions of doses of multiple Covid-19 vaccines. The appropriate quid pro quo here is to temporarily waive patents so manufacturers around the world can quickly ramp up. Americans can’t be safe until most of the rest of the world is inoculated.Some of Biden’s emerging industrial policy is coming in response to China. Last week’s annual intelligence report from the Office of the Director of National Intelligence warns that Beijing threatens American leadership in an array of emerging technologies.Expect more subsidies for supercomputers, advanced semiconductors, artificial intelligence and other technologies linked to national security. These are likely to be embedded in Biden’s whopping $715bn defense budget – larger even than Trump’s last defense budget.Here again, it’s old industrial policy versus new. The new should focus on cutting-edge breakthroughs and not be frittered away on pointless projects like the F35 fighter jet. And it should meet human needs rather than add to an overstuffed arsenal.Biden’s restructuring of the American economy is necessary. America’s old industrial policy was stifling innovation and gouging taxpayers and consumers. The challenges ahead demand a very different economy.But Biden’s new industrial policy must avoid capture by the industries that dominated the old. He needs to be clear about its aims and the expected response from the private sector, and to reframe the debate so it’s not whether government should “pick winners” but what kind industrial policy will help the US and much of the world win. More

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    Biden faces pressure to end practice of rewarding allies with plum foreign posts

    Joe Biden is coming under pressure from former state department career staff to match the diversity of his cabinet and senior administration positions in foreign postings – and to reform the longstanding practice in the US of rewarding political supporters with plum ambassadorial jobs.More than three months into his first term, Biden’s foreign diplomatic slate remains open, with only one top ambassador – Linda Thomas-Greenfield, to the United Nations, nominated and confirmed.Appointments, typically made soon after a new president is inaugurated, have taken longer to fill under Biden in part because of a balancing act between three competing, interconnected pools of potential appointees: diplomatic staff who endured the chaos of Trump who feel they should be rewarded; returning Obama staff; and Biden political supporters and donors.But in recent days, the White House has signaled it is ready to act after vacating the posts of all but one of Donald Trump’s political appointees – US ambassador to Moscow John Sullivan – and restocking the state department at the level of under secretary, deputy and assistant secretaries. At state, those staff typically run policy and administration in a department of 13,000 foreign service, 11,000 civil service and 45,000 local employees on a $52bn budget.With Biden’s soft power leanings illustrated by his commitment to pull troops from Afghanistan by 11 September, the burden of US foreign policy will fall on a foreign service corps that was undermined by Trump’s unpredictable approach to diplomacy.First order, says one seasoned ambassador, has been to restore the function and morale to the department; second, to reform the balance between political and career staff appointments.“It’s clear they’re going to appoint some political ambassadors but it won’t be as many and they’re going to be more interested in quality,” said Ronald E Neumann, president of the American Academy of Diplomacy, who notes that Trump appointed only two career officers out of 50 appointments at assistant secretary level or above.“The administration is trying to rebuild American diplomacy – but not from the ground up because they already have good career officers,” Neumann said. “The job is to bring them in and use them.”In so doing, the administration has to choose between officials who served during Obama and Clinton administration and existing state department staff that endured serving under the turmoil of Trump’s four years in office.“There’s a certain amount on nail-biting among career officials who stuck it out through the Trump administration who feel they need to recognized and not just bringing back career people,” Neumann added.But the administration’s willingness to follow US political custom to reward non-foreign service allies with foreign appointments has become clearer in recent days.On Monday, Politico reported that Cindy McCain, widow of the Republican senator John McCain, is undergoing vetting to be nominated for US ambassador to the UN World Food Programme, a mission based in Rome.McCain, who had been rumored to be headed to London, gave Biden an electoral boost in the critical state of Arizona with her endorsement of the Democrat over Trump – helping Biden to become the first Democratic presidential nominee to carry the state since Bill Clinton 25 years ago. Others rumored to be in line for a foreign posting include the former Chicago mayor Rahm Emanuel, who is considered too controversial for a domestic administration post.Pressure to conform to a pattern of diversity hiring followed by the administration in Washington, once subtle, is now overt. As it stands, 60% of US diplomatic posts are filled by men and 40% by women. In an 9 April letter, a group of 30 female former ambassadors and national security leaders urged Biden to prioritize gender parity.“Our vision of gender parity means that a man or a woman has an equal chance, at all times, of ascending to each ambassadorship. This should be true across all geographic regions, in posts both large and small,” the Leadership Council for Women in National Security (LCWINS) said in the letter.The letter concluded: “We hope you will pay attention to growing allies within the US government who will also focus upon the diversity America’s representatives to the world should demonstrate.”Piper Campbell, former ambassador to Mongolia and the US mission to the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), later told PBS that the timing of the letter was to influence the ongoing selection process. “That’s something that we hope can still be impacted,” she said.But pressure, too, to dismantle longstanding pay-for-play operations is also upon the administration. “Handing out ambassadorships to favored campaign donors is a sordid bipartisan tradition in Washington,” wrote Matt Ford in the New Republic in February, adding: “President Joe Biden has a chance to make a sharp break from this unseemly past.”While political appointments typically number one-third, Trump took the practice to the next level. The American Foreign Service Association found that 43.5% of Trump’s choices were political appointees, compared with 30% for Barack Obama, 31% for George W Bush, and 28% for Bill Clinton.Trump spared some of his nominees even cursory knowledge of the distant lands they would be serving their country in. Fourteen of Trump’s ambassadorships to Canada and the European Union went to people who donated at least $1m to his inaugural committee.Some were tasked with unusual diplomatic errands to run. After his appointment to Britain, Woody Johnson, owner of the New York Jets and a Republican fundraiser, was reportedly asked to campaign for the British Open to be held at Trump’s Scottish golf resort, Turnberry.Following complaints, Johnson was in August last year found by a state department watchdog to have “sometimes made inappropriate or insensitive comments” and directed to watch a video on workplace harassment.One simply never made it to their post. Mark Burkhalter, a Georgia real estate developer, had his nomination for ambassador to Norway returned after he failed to disclose his participation in circulating a racist flyer during a Georgia political contest.While the practice of rewarding supporters with ambassadorships was super-sized by Trump, the Biden administration’s desire to create daylight between it and its predecessor could help to usher in reforms of practice. Echoing Neuman, Axios recently reported that the White House is “tempering the ambassadorial expectations of his big-dollar donors”.According to Sarah Bryner, research director at Center for Responsive Politics, “Trump was a deviation from the norm with patronage appointments” and the Biden administration is likely to reduce but not eliminate the practice.“While the whole concept of patronage is problematic, the thing about ambassadorships is that they’re a pretty low-cost way to reward supporters and allies by placing them in foreign positions that are unlikely to have serious negative consequences,” Bryner told the Guardian.But, Bryner said, “there has been a lot of pressure put on Biden to restore morale in the state department and restore America’s image abroad, so that might result in him being a little bit more cautious. Does that mean we’re not going to see Rahm Emanuel, or other Democratic donors and supporters appointed? No, but there’s still a lot of pressure in this space.” More

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    Are US corporations really taking a stand for voting rights?

    Despite a wave of public statements by corporations opposing legislation that would make it harder for people to vote, election reform advocates doubt American capitalism is really coming to the rescue of American democracy.Activists are welcoming corporate involvement in the fight against bills introduced by Republicans in state legislatures across the US to erect barriers to voting that disproportionately affect people of color and other groups that often vote Democratic.Hundreds of companies and business leaders lent their names this week to a two-page ad declaring “we must ensure the right to vote for all of us”, published in the country’s biggest papers.But past corporate interventions in social justice campaigns, including statements of solidarity with Black Lives Matter protesters last summer, did not go far beyond words, activists say.The pursuit of lower taxes and lax regulations, meanwhile, has led corporations to continuously finance the Republican party’s most corrosive projects, from voter suppression to the takeover of the judiciary to the big election lie that led to the sacking of the Capitol in January, they say.“Of course we welcome corporate support against outrageous voter suppression efforts by GOP state legislatures that make it harder for voters, particularly from communities of color and other historically marginalized communities, to vote,” said Ben Jealous, president of People For the American Way.It does feel, on this one, that some of these companies are getting out ahead of a potential boycott from consumers“That reaction is no doubt driven by their fears of losing business from their customers in the midst of heated public anger over such aggressive and targeted voter suppression, and we hope they will put their money where their mouth is and take real action to stop such proposals.”Thenewspaper ad was organized by two African American business leaders – Kenneth Frazier, chief executive of Merck, and Kenneth Chenault, former head of American Express – who have said such bills are racially discriminatory, even as Republicans insist election security is their deepest concern.The corporate decision to speak out created a rare moment of discombobulation for the Senate minority leader, Mitch McConnell, who warned chief executives to “stay out of politics” before clarifying a day later, with no hint of self-consciousness: “I’m not talking about political contributions.”But the surface friction between McConnell and his erstwhile patrons belies the mildness of most corporate criticism of anti-voter laws and obscures companies’ ambivalence when it comes to taking a stand on voting rights, activists said.Large Georgia-based companies including AT&T, Delta Airlines and Coca-Cola did not voice concerns last month about legislation to restrict voting in the state until they came under public pressure. Their eventual statements were measured.“We are working together with other businesses through groups like the Business Roundtable to support efforts to enhance every person’s ability to vote,” said AT&T’s chief executive, John Stankey. “In this way, the right knowledge and expertise can be applied to make a difference on this fundamental and critical issue.”The same three companies declined to sign the ad published in the New York Times and Washington Post last week, referring media to their statements about Georgia, though similar high-profile clashes are playing out in Michigan, Arizona, Texas and elsewhere.Walmart declined to sign the ad, with its chief executive, Doug McMillon, who chairs the Business Roundtable, telling employees: “We are not in the business of partisan politics.”Walmart’s reticence was spotlighted by LaTosha Brown and Cliff Albright, co-founders of Black Voters Matter, in a statement that praised the newspaper ad as a “righteous decision to stand up to racism, disenfranchisement, and voter suppression” and criticized those who did not sign.“They – and all of these other companies – continue to issue misleading statements that create a false equivalency between securing elections and attacking voting rights,” Black Voters Matter said. “These corporations are pandering to a big lie that is being used to justify voter suppression. That’s partisan.”Michael Serazio, a professor of communications at Boston College, said corporations appeared to be taking a “proactive” approach on voting rights to protect their bottom lines.“It does feel, on this one, that some of these companies are getting out ahead of a potential boycott from consumers, before the boycott around the laws was going to kick off,” Serazio said.Corporations increasingly feel pressure from consumers and in some cases employees on social and political issues, Serazio said.“Without question, the broader trend over the last decade has been corporations responding to a perceived or real sense that consumers want them to take a stand on political issues that they wouldn’t have done before.”But corporations simultaneously shovel money into the coffers of the very politicians who engineer the policies the companies claim to detest.A report this month by Public Citizen, a government watchdog, found corporations had given more than $50m in campaign donations in recent years to legislators who advanced anti-voter laws and promoted Donald Trump’s big election lie.Josh Silver, director of, a non-partisan elections reform group, said corporations have “an extraordinarily important role” to play in the struggle over voting rights and there was “cause for hope”.“But it’s also practical for them,” Silver said. “They have to choose whether to side with an increasingly authoritarian [Republican party], or the majority of their workers and their consumers.“This is not just altruism.” More