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    Pelosi ‘very confident’ Democrats will reach deal to salvage Biden agenda

    Joe BidenPelosi ‘very confident’ Democrats will reach deal to salvage Biden agendaDemocratic infighting has threatened to upend Biden’s ambitious domestic agenda less than a year after taking office Richard Luscombe@richluscSun 24 Oct 2021 15.44 EDTLast modified on Sun 24 Oct 2021 15.45 EDTHouse speaker Nancy Pelosi expressed confidence on Sunday that a deal between Democrats to salvage Joe Biden’s ambitious social agenda was “pretty much there”, paving the way for a possible vote in Congress later this week.Her upbeat words came as the president was meeting in Delaware with the Senate majority leader Chuck Schumer and Democratic holdout Joe Manchin to put the finishing touches on what has become a scaled-back package central to Biden’s Build Back Better initiative.Manchin, of West Virginia, was one of two moderate Senate Democrats, along with Arizona’s Kyrsten Sinema, resisting the original $3.5tn cost of the social spending bill. Manchin had indicated he would be more comfortable with something closer to $1.5tn, and raised objections over Biden’s flagship clean power plan (CPP) that would have imposed emission controls on power companies.“We will have something that will meet the president’s goals, I feel very confident about that,” Pelosi said on CNN’s State of the Union.“We’re almost certain [we have a deal], it’s just the language of it. It will not offend, shall we say, the concern that Senator Manchin had about the CPP. The point is to reach your goals, and the president’s goals of reaching the emissions, the pollution and all the rest … there are other ways to reach the goal.”The Democratic infighting had threatened to upend Biden’s domestic agenda less than a year after taking office. The votes of both Manchin and Sinema, who has insisted she would oppose any effort to reverse Trump-era tax cuts for wealthy individuals and corporations, are crucial in a divided 50-50 Senate.Adding to the administration’s frustration has been the blocking by Democratic House progressives of a parallel $1tn bipartisan infrastructure bill until the Senate approves the massive social spending package touted by those on the left of the party, particularly the Vermont senator Bernie Sanders.Pelosi, who had set a 31 October deadline for the infrastructure bill to pass, did not disclose what elements of the original social safety net bill would have to be compromised or dropped to meet the lower price tag acceptable to the moderates. But she indicated that welfare components such as expanded healthcare and the child tax credit would likely survive.Possibly on the chopping block, however, were long-held Democratic goals such as paid family leave and expanding Medicare for hearing, vision and dental. Pressed on whether those elements would survive, Pelosi was non-committal, using phrases including: “That’s our hope,” and “That’s what we’re fighting for.”“Right now Senate leader Schumer, Senator Manchin and the president are having the meeting on some of the particulars that need to be finalized, and I’m optimistic that we can do that,” Pelosi said. “One basket was climate, the jobs bill, a bill for the children, for the future of healthcare, strengthening the affordable care act, expanding Medicaid and Medicare.”Pelosi also insisted that the administration had “an array” of alternative options to “probably more than pay for the plan” even if Sinema’s opposition ruled out a reversal of the Trump tax cuts.“We had the rescue package at $1.9tn, we have the infrastructure bill over a trillion dollars, [so] that’s around $3tn. And we’ll have this in at $2tn,” she said. “Nobody has done anything that remarkable. So while it isn’t everything that was put out originally, it takes us down a path where we can continue investments.”Pelosi was asked if she supported the prosecution and jailing of those who resisted congressional subpoenas to testify before the House committee investigating the 6 January insurrection. Last week the House held Trump ally and former adviser Steve Bannon in criminal contempt for ignoring a subpoena.“I do,” she said. “People said well, this hasn’t happened before, [but] we haven’t had an insurrection incited by the president of the United States and [with] one of his toadies having advanced knowledge.“It’s important for us to find the truth about what happened on 6 January and the assault on the constitution, our congress and our capital, but it’s also important in terms of the separation of power and the checks and balances of the constitution.”TopicsJoe BidenNancy PelosiUS politicsUS CongressDemocratsHouse of RepresentativesUS SenatenewsReuse this content More

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    Lethal ‘forever chemicals’ taint our food, water and even blood. The EPA is stalling | David Bond

    OpinionPollutionLethal ‘forever chemicals’ taint our food, water and even blood. The EPA is stallingDavid BondThere is no longer any population or place on earth untouched by PFAS contamination. We are living through a toxic experiment with no control group Sun 24 Oct 2021 06.31 EDTLast modified on Sun 24 Oct 2021 06.32 EDTThis week the EPA announced a new roadmap to research, restrict, and remediate PFAS – a group of industrial “forever chemicals” that have been linked to cancer and are found in our food, water, and even our blood. President Biden is requesting $10bn in the infrastructure bill to address PFAS. But this new attention still falls short of what’s required to confront an unprecedented crisis that affects the health of the entire United States and countless people across the world.EPA unveils new strategy to address US contamination of ‘forever’ chemicalsRead moreToday, toxic per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) are everywhere we’ve thought to look for them. As engineered, these synthetic chemicals glide through air and water with ease, evade all natural processes of decay, and inflict debilitating injuries even at exceedingly low levels of exposure. The petrochemical industry has its fingerprints all over the ubiquity of PFAS, yet that very ubiquity is now being used as an excuse against doing anything about it. PFAS are becoming too toxic to fail.The EPA’s hyped national PFAS testing strategy bemoans how “impossible” it is for the EPA “to expeditiously understand, let alone address, the risks these substances may pose to human health and the environment.” Overwhelmed by rampant PFAS contamination, the EPA is asking the petrochemical industry to study these chemicals one by one in the hopes of eventually building enough data to regulate them. Yes, one by one. The timeline proposed will take another century (or two) to make its way through the entire family of PFAS, which now number in the thousands.The manifold ways that PFAS makes a mockery of our regulation of toxins cannot be the end of our ability to prosecute petrochemical malfeasance. Rather, this should be the start to fixing everything that went wrong.The companies behind PFAS knew about its toxicity for decades, but that knowledge was hidden in corporate archives and subject to shamefully lax government oversight.When 3M and DuPont learned about alarming patterns of birth defects and cancers in their own workers at PFAS plants in the 1970s and 1980s, both companies smothered the evidence. In the 1970s, the navy and air force looked the other way when they found PFAS migrating off their bases and into nearby communities. By the 1990s, 3M and DuPont both realized that their PFAS operations were polluting municipal drinking water at levels they considered harmful. As revealed by investigative reporting and dramatized in the 2019 film Dark Waters, corporate executives helped destroy the evidence while giving false assurances to residents and regulators alike.Over the past century, the petrochemical industry had countless opportunities to recognize the dangers of PFAS and install safeguards. Instead, they launched even more PFAS into the world. In defiance of their own internal scientific appraisals of the deadly effects of PFAS, 3M and DuPont integrated these chemicals into a widening array of industrial ingredients, firefighting equipment, and consumer goods. Incredibly, both companies also disposed PFAS waste into watersheds providing drinking water to more than 20 million Americans and irrigation to farms in 13 states.Over the past 50 years, 3M and DuPont manufactured more than enough PFAS to contaminate the drinking water of every single American. PFAS was sold to plastics plants, carpet and shoe factories, and oil and gas drilling sites across the US, where it was routinely discarded by the ton into the environment. Some industries even endorsed the distribution of PFAS-laden waste to farmers as a soil supplement.Now worried about impending liability, the petrochemical industry and the military are busy torching stockpiles of PFOA and PFOS (the two PFAS compounds closest to being regulated) despite growing concern that burning merely redistributes these inflammable toxins, especially into the poor communities of color where waste incinerators cynically base their operations. As the US and Europe move towards regulating some PFAS chemicals, the petrochemical industry is moving PFAS operations to more permissive regimes in Brazil, China, India, and Russia.Each time the question of containing PFAS came into view, 3M, DuPont, and now Chemours launched a perfluorinated blitzkrieg. They flooded the zone. And looking back, a rather demented product defense strategy becomes apparent: total contamination. Rather than controlling PFAS toxicity, the petrochemical industry universalized it.By the time sickened industrialworkers and farmers demanded action, lawyers pried open the corporate archive, and the EPA started issuing voluntary guidelines for a handful of PFAS compounds, it was almost too late to clean up the mess. The poison was out of the bag. An EPA review released this week identified more than 120,000 sites in the US alone that are probably contaminated with PFAS.There is no longer any population or place on earth untouched by PFAS contamination. We are living through a toxic experiment with no control group. This alarming reality trips up the comparative methods typically used to study toxicity and public health. It is also becoming a rather shameless legal argument in courtrooms across the country.When PFAS was discovered in my hometown of Bennington, Vermont, the plastics factory that emitted these chemicals for decades landed on a novel defense: that PFAS are so pervasive that it’s impossible to determine who is responsible. Residential trash with trace amounts of PFAS and the world at large, the company argued, were the real perpetrators of our PFAS troubles, not the plastics factory that accepted delivery of PFAS by the truckload for more than 30 years.And now American Chemistry Council lobbyists and defense attorneys for the petrochemical industry are hard at work nominating PFAS contamination to the welcoming committee of a brave new world of total contamination. It’s a planetary future they cast as inevitable, surprisingly democratic, and without any liable author. According to their victim-blaming PR campaign, anyone who has worn a Gore-Tex rain jacket or thrown away a McDonalds wrapper is just as guilty as the companies that illegally hid the toxicity of PFAS while spewing millions of pounds of this poison into our lives.PFAS are everywhere, but this disconcerting fact should not distract us from the petrochemical operations holding the smoking gun – smoking, in no small part, because they are still emitting PFAS. The omnipresence of PFAS does not lessen the threat they pose to our health, but it does mean we need bolder ways of prosecuting these environmental crimes against humanity.Yet instead of toughening regulation of the petrochemical industry, the EPA and many state agencies are throwing their hands up at the sheer ubiquity of the problem.Regulatory agencies are proposing natural “background levels” for a synthetic chemical conjured up a mere 75 years ago – in effect giving tacit approval for the history of gross negligence that got us here. That’s not all. The agencies shift blame for this predicament to residents by listing household items containing trace amounts of PFAS alongside factories that emitted it by the ton annually, as if those are equivalent sources; agencies refrain from sampling groundwater near industries suspected of using PFAS; agencies stack science committees with industry lobbyists while putting up roadblocks for independent scientists to participate; agencies applaud a pyrrhic victory of finally deciding to regulate PFOA and PFOS some 20 years after they learned about their toxicity while the petrochemical industry happily churns out a witches’ brew of new unregulated PFAS chemicals; and agencies endorse incineration as a PFAS disposal method while acknowledging that there is no evidence that combustion destroys these flameproof chemicals. And, of course, they make grand commitments to keep studying the problem in the hopes of taking action in, oh, a decade or so.Revealed: more than 120,000 US sites feared to handle harmful PFAS ‘forever’ chemicalsRead moreThe point is clear: by way of regulatory indifference, delay, and now despair, responsibility for the toxicity of forever chemicals is shifting from the corporations who profited from them to the communities who must now live with them.All is not lost. While PFAS inspires paralysis in state agencies, people living on the frontlines of this crisis – in rural towns next to military bases, working-class neighborhoods adjacent to plastics factories, communities of color near incinerators burning PFAS – insist we do everything we can, now. They demand an immediate stop to all releases of PFAS. They demand we compel the industry and the military to start cleaning up sources of PFAS contamination. They demand we ban PFAS as a family of chemicals, not only in the US but across the world. They demand we pass the PFAS Accountability Act, legislation that insists manufacturers retain liability for all the damage PFAS inflicts after they leave the factory. And they demand we hold polluters fully accountable for the decades of damage they’ve done.These communities insist polluters pay for water filtration systems for every affected home and business, medical monitoring for the lifetime of worry that people in polluted communities now carry, and independent scientific monitoring for the generations that PFAS will haunt affected areas.The EPA and state agencies must follow their lead. We cannot retreat into a broken system of indifference and carefully planned inaction. Nor can the ubiquity of PFAS become an excuse for those that profitably manufactured this mess. Any further delay would be an epic dereliction of duty.
    David Bond is the associate director of the Center for the Advancement of Public Action (CAPA) at Bennington College. He leads the “Understanding PFOA” project and is writing a book on PFAS contamination
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    ‘Finally doing right’: Democrats’ big bill offers Sanders chance to deliver

    Bernie Sanders‘Finally doing right’: Democrats’ big bill offers Sanders chance to deliver The progressive senator is close to realizing many of his policy goals – but can he unite the party behind Biden’s plan?Lauren Gambino in Washington@laurenegambinoSun 24 Oct 2021 03.00 EDTLast modified on Sun 24 Oct 2021 03.01 EDTWhen making the case for progressive policy, the veteran leftwing senator Bernie Sanders often cites public opinion. “Poll after poll,” he’ll say, before running through a list of ambitious initiatives that the “vast majority of the American people want”, from lowering the cost of prescription drug prices to expanding Medicare, establishing paid family and medical leave and confronting the climate crisis.Versions of these programs – initiatives once considered nothing more than liberal pipe dreams – are at the heart of Joe Biden’s sprawling domestic policy bill pending before Congress. But despite the popularity of the specific proposals, the legislation has a polling problem. Poll after poll shows that most Americans have no idea what’s actually in the bill.Furious, Sanders livestreamed a panel discussion on Wednesday titled What’s in the Damn Bill?. To the thousands of viewers who joined the broadcast, Sanders said the Democrats’ multitrillion-dollar spending package was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to rebuild the American economy in fairer and more equitable way.“This is not radical stuff,” he said. “This is finally doing right by the American working class and having the courage to stand up to big-money interests.”After decades of furious speech-making from the political fringe, followed by two popular but ultimately unsuccessful bids for the presidency, the democratic socialist from Vermont is – against all the odds – the closest he’s ever been to delivering on the policy ideas that have defined his political career.Whether Sanders succeeds in his quest for a legislative legacy could determine the fate of Democrats in next year’s midterm elections – and of Biden’s presidency.“He has the most power and influence that he’s had at any point in his political career,” said Faiz Shakir, his chief political adviser. “He’s at the apex here. But as he’s acquired more power, so, too, has he acquired more responsibility.”Shakir said Sanders’ approach had changed because the environment had changed. Whereas before Sanders was pushing against the system, now he is at the center of the policy decisions, working within a Democratic party that has embraced much of his expansive platform.As chair of the powerful Senate budget committee and a member of the Democratic leadership, Sanders has been deeply involved in negotiations over the size and scope of the spending package. If and when an agreement is reached, he will play a lead role in drafting the legislation, which Democrats plan to steer through Congress over the unified opposition of Republicans.“In many ways he’s the author of this,” Shakir said. “And that’s one of the many reasons I think you see him rising to the occasion, rolling up his sleeves and making sure he is putting in all of his legislative efforts to get this across the finish line.”Initially Sanders proposed a $6tn budget blueprint, then settled for a framework that was nearly half that. Now he is working closely with Democrats in Congress and at the White House to reach a deal even smaller in scope that will satisfy the objections of the party’s centrists without sacrificing progressive priorities.Sanders knew his opening bid was unrealistic, given the dynamics of the Senate. But he hoped it would widen the parameters of the debate and ultimately what was possible. Progressives have repeatedly cited their willingness to accept a $3.5tn plan, and continue to negotiate downward, as proof of their commitment to dealing in good faith, compared with the centrists in their party, who they argue have not been forthcoming.As Democrats scramble to cobble together a deal, it’s the holdout senators Joe Manchin, of West Virginia, and Kyrsten Sinema, of Arizona, who hold effective veto power over which policies will survive and which must be dropped. Their objections have potentially imperiled plans for free community college, raising taxes on the wealthy and a climate program that would help the US meet its ambitious emissions goal.But every concession made to accommodate them moves the bill further and further from Sanders’ initial vision, leaving progressives deeply worried that Democrats will squander what they view as their best chance in decades to transform the American economy and confront the climate crisis.The California congressman Ro Khanna, who was among a group of progressives summoned to the White House for an Oval Office meeting this week, was optimistic that Democrats were close to a deal that progressives could accept, if not celebrate.“We’ve finally broken through,” he said. “And we will take the win because it establishes the principle that investments in people are needed in a democracy.”Republicans, however, view the imprimatur of a self-described socialist as a political gift.Progressives are now heavy-weights in the Democratic party | Gary GerstleRead moreUnified in their opposition to the spending bill, they have warned that the legislation is an attempt to fundamentally remake the American government in the image of a European-style social democracy while claiming the additional spending will stoke inflation and hurt economic dynamics.“This bill represents Bernie Sanders’ socialist dream,” the Republican senator John Barrasso said during a press conference, raising a 2,000-page draft of the Democrats’ spending package. “It is a nightmare for American taxpayers.”With no room for error, the stakes couldn’t be higher for Democrats. To pass, the bill will require the support of every Democrat in the Senate, a caucus that ranges the ideological spectrum from the democratic socialist Sanders to the conservative centrist Manchin.The senators have competing world views. Whereas Sanders believes the bill has the potential to be “one of the most important pieces of legislation since the New Deal”, Manchin has warned that the scale of it risks “changing our whole society to an entitlement mentality”.Sanders has publicly and privately sought to persuade Manchin and Sinema to support Biden’s agenda. It hasn’t always been diplomatic.Tensions escalated dramatically last week, when Sanders placed an op-ed in Manchin’s home state newspaper detailing how an expansion of the social safety net would help the people of West Virginia, which has one of the highest rates of poverty in the country. In a statement, Manchin fired back that “no op-ed from a self-declared independent socialist” would sway him.Behind closed doors, Manchin and Sanders continued to tangle, with the West Virginian reportedly making clear that he was comfortable passing nothing.Publicly, the senators have signaled that they are making progress. When they ran into each other outside the Capitol last week, Manchin threw his arm around Sanders and asked reporters to take a picture of them.As they returned to their cars to leave, Manchin shouted: “Never give up, Bernie.”Sanders hardly needed the encouragement.Sanders has become a ubiquitous presence on the Sunday political talkshows. He traveled to Indiana and Iowa in an effort to drum up support for the bill, intentionally visiting parts of the country that voted for Donald Trump. When he’s not selling the budget bill, he’s working to craft it, aides say.The planet is in peril. We’re building Congress’s strongest-ever climate bill | Bernie SandersRead moreSanders successfully lobbied the White House to back a plan to extend new dental, vision and hearing benefits to the tens of millions of American seniors on Medicare, a measure initially left out of the proposal. The senator’s healthcare push put him at odds with House leadership, who would prefer to permanently strengthen the Affordable Care Act, popularly known as Obamacare, or to expand Medicaid services to poor adults in mostly Republican-led states that refused to do so under the healthcare law.Biden said on Thursday that including all three benefits would be a “reach” but suggested a voucher program for dental coverage was possible. Though greatly pared back, it would nevertheless be a victory for Sanders, who has long sought to make Medicare the foundation for a national health insurance program, which he calls Medicare for all.As part of negotiations, Sanders has worked closely with the leaders of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, especially the chairwoman, Pramila Jayapal, the Washington congresswoman who has emerged as a leader in negotiations over the president’s agenda.In a showdown last month, House progressives threatened to derail a vote on a trillion-dollar infrastructure bill championed by centrists as a way to maintain leverage over the much larger spending bill.The Senate had already passed the public works bill, with the support of all 50 Democrats and 19 Republicans, so it fell to House progressives to, in their parlance, “hold the line”. Sanders offered his vocal support for the blockade, which Khanna, a deputy whip of the progressive caucus, said was “critical” to keeping progressives unified.On the day of the promised vote, Biden ventured to Capitol Hill to meet with the bitterly divided House Democrats. But instead of rallying support for an immediate vote, the president effectively agreed with progressives that the two pillars of his agenda were inextricably linked. The vote was delayed and the infrastructure bill remains stalled, bound up in the bigger battle over the spending package.The maneuver was hailed as a major tactical victory by progressive activists, who have long lamented the tendency of liberal lawmakers to cave to pressure from Democratic leaders during heated policy fights.But Biden’s position frustrated a number of centrist Democrats, particularly those from swing districts who had hoped the president would sign the infrastructure bill into law, allowing them to start campaigning on new funding for roads, bridges and expanded broadband.Progressives, meanwhile, argue that a failure to deliver on their campaign promises would also be politically perilous.Anna Bahr, who served as Sanders’ national deputy campaign secretary in 2020 and is the co-founder of the new consultancy firm Left Flank Strategies, said the debate over Biden’s agenda had helped elevate new progressive leaders. The effect has been a show of force by progressives that she believes will motivate voters and candidates next year.“There’s a family in Congress of like-minded people – there’s a voting bloc,” she said. “The possibility – the likelihood – of moving on some of the issues that Sanders had for so many years been the lonely voice on is absolutely inspiring for a lot of people, especially young people.”On Wednesday night, Sanders was joined by a panel of progressives to help lay out the proposals in the Democrats’ bill. It was a messaging mission, but the forum also provided an occasion to celebrate the ascendancy of the progressive movement in American politics.Introducing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Sanders hailed the New York congresswoman as “one of the outstanding, in my view, political leaders in this country”.Beaming on screen, Ocasio-Cortez thanked him for the introduction. “That’s very kind coming from the OG leader.”TopicsBernie SandersUS politicsJoe BidenDemocratsUS CongressUS SenateUS domestic policyfeaturesReuse this content More

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    In Trump’s Shadow: David Drucker surveys the Republican runners and riders for 2024

    BooksIn Trump’s Shadow: David Drucker surveys the Republican runners and riders for 2024 Mike Pence and Marco Rubio are among presidential alternatives examined by a writer with knowledge and accessLloyd GreenSun 24 Oct 2021 02.00 EDTLast modified on Sun 24 Oct 2021 02.01 EDTDonald Trump is a defeated one-term president who cost the Republican party both houses of Congress. Yet three-quarters of Republicans want him to again run in 2024, polling that has other aspirants keeping their heads well down.‘A xenophobic autocrat’: Adam Schiff on Trump’s threat to democracyRead moreJoe Biden is politically vulnerable, his job approval underwater, his coalition fraying. He could meet the same fate as Trump – sans residual enthusiasm.The next Republican nominee could easily be the next president. Against this backdrop, David Drucker’s Baedeker to the current crop of wannabes is a perfectly timed and well-informed contribution.As senior political correspondent for the Washington Examiner, a conservative paper, he knows of whom and what he writes. Better yet, he has access. In Trump’s Shadow is chock-full of tidbits and trivia, the stuff on which political junkies and journalists thrive.Drucker names an array of Republican presidential hopefuls, among them long-shots such as the Texas governor, Greg Abbott; the Nebraska senator Ben Sasse; and Trump’s last national security adviser, Robert O’Brien.Drucker delivers deeper dives on former vice-president Mike Pence; the Florida senator Marco Rubio and governor, Ron DeSantis; Nikki Haley, Trump’s ambassador to the United Nations; the Arkansas senator Tom Cotton; and the governor of Maryland, Larry Hogan. In doing so, he covers the Republican ideological spectrum.Drucker also reports on an interview with Trump at Mar-a-Lago, his Florida resort and retreat. Not surprisingly, Trump has kind words for Mike Pompeo, his former secretary of state; contempt for Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader; and disdain for Liz Cheney, the congresswoman from Wyoming and daughter of former vice-president Dick Cheney who turned against Trump over the Capitol riot.“She’s a psycho,” says the very stable genius.Trump has, however, had time to grow appreciative of “Lyin’ Ted” Cruz, the Texas senator whose father and wife Trump attacked viciously during the primaries in 2016.Amid such Trumpian cacophony, Drucker reminds us of just who within the GOP is laying groundwork for runs for the White House, and how realistic their hopes might be. It is a tricky and contorting dance. But though Trump can dominate coverage, he cannot completely extinguish ambitions. Drucker pulls back the curtain on other figures’ schemes, dreams – and hard political infrastructure.Take Pence. Once a congressman from Indiana, then its governor, he began preparing for the top step on the ladder the moment he was elected Trump’s VP. Pence established a separate political operation within the White House and a fundraising Pac of his own, the Great America Committee. He used it to pay expenses while stumping for Republicans around and across the country.Trump was fine with that. It meant Pence would not look to his boss to pay his travel bills. The veep had a stash of his own.Since leaving office, Pence has also launched Advancing American Freedom, a political non-profit which touts “conservative values and policy proposals”. More importantly, it is stocked with Trump loyalists. Kellyanne Conway, the mother of “alternative facts”. Larry Kudlow, chief White House economic adviser. Newt Gingrich, once speaker of the House, a colleague on the right. All are there.Drucker also sheds light on Pence’s defiance of Trump and service to the republic, in the aftermath of a defeat by Biden which Trump sought to overturn with lies about electoral fraud. As a traditional conservative, Drucker writes, Pence was skeptical of the power of the vice-president to unilaterally steal an election. Before he certified results, he sought a legal opinion, which debunked Trump’s false claim that he could.When Trump’s supporters stormed the Capitol, on 6 January, some chanted “Hang Mike Pence”. Others erected a makeshift gallows. Pence was forced to hide, but he refused to leave.Ten months on, Team Pence seems not to know what to think or say. It was “a dark day in the history of the US Capitol”, Drucker records Pence telling one crowd. But Pence later told Fox News “the media wants to distract from the Biden administration’s failed agenda by focusing on one day in January”.The political momentum is clear. Pence’s own brother, a congressman from Indiana, voted against certifying the election. This week, Greg Pence was the only no-show in the House on the vote to hold Steve Bannon in contempt for defying the 6 January committee. Two-thirds of Republicans deny that the Capitol riot was an attack on the government. The right has a new Lost Cause.Drucker also does justice to Rubio, capturing the senator’s tendency to “chase the latest shiny object”, be it immigration reform in 2013 or police reform after the murder of George Floyd. He’s “the butterfly”, according to one Republican strategist.“Marco goes to every brightly colored flower and sticks his nose right in the middle of it, [then] takes a little bit of honey and stands in front of it to see if anyone’s looking at the flower.”Rigged review: shameless – and dangerous – catnip for Trump’s baseRead moreIn 2016, Rubio won three Republican nominating contests but was battered by Trump in his home state, losing the Florida primary by nearly 20 points. Before 2024, he will face a stern Senate challenge from Val Demings, an African American ex-cop and impeachment floor manager.Demings has out-raised Rubio recently but Rubio has $3m more in the bank. This, remember, is a politician who once purportedly told a friend: “I can call up a lobbyist at four in the morning, and he’ll meet me anywhere with a bag of $40,000 in cash.”He also has a history of credit card problems. Imagine what a President Rubio might do with the national debt.If nothing else, Drucker reminds us that though Trump rules Red America, like rust, ambition never sleeps. The starter’s flag on the race for the Republican nomination has yet to fall. In Trump’s Shadow is fine preparatory reading.
    In Trump’s Shadow is published in the US by Twelve
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    The Observer view on Donald Trump’s Truth Social | Observer editorial

    OpinionDonald TrumpThe Observer view on Donald Trump’s Truth SocialObserver editorialAided by his app, the great liar could yet return as the Republicans’ next presidential nominee Sun 24 Oct 2021 01.30 EDTIn the life story of Donald Trump, to his mind an epic saga of unrivalled achievement, these are the wilderness years. After the US electoral college confirmed his 2020 defeat, an outcome he still mendaciously disputes, Trump plunged into despair. He sulked, he raged, he conspired. Yet the 6 January coup plot was an egregious step too far. He was cast into outer darkness.Trump lost the White House bully pulpit and a US president’s ability to command instant global attention. Personally wounding was the ban imposed by Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, which belatedly agreed he posed a threat to democracy. Trump was cut off from social media and his supporter base. He was all but silenced.What worse fate could there be for a narcissist who craves constant attention and approval? Exiled to his luxury Florida estate, the Elba of the Everglades, Trump has struggled since to regain his voice. Last week, he made his move. The result: the so-called Truth Social media app, launching next year.The newly formed company behind the app, Trump Media and Technology Group, plans to disseminate what it calls “anti-woke” news, debate and entertainment to Americans deprived of honest, impartial media outlets. This is total drivel, of course, coming from the mouth of the most shameless liar in modern US history.Abusing truth as only Trump can, Truth Social will more likely prove both false and antisocial. It’s his way of regaining lost ground, prior to a wished-for presidential comeback in 2024. It’s a political propaganda platform intended to magnify and exploit the hate, ignorance and prejudice on which he feeds. MPs please note: Trump is the ultimate definition of “online harms”.This self-serving bid to defeat “the tyranny of big tech” is a commercial long shot. The new app looks remarkably similar to Twitter, which has more than 200m users. Previous US attempts to grow alternative “conservative social space” have failed. Although shares in the new company initially soared, its USP is overly dependent on Trump’s continuing appeal.That appeal looks increasingly fractured. Trump is under fire from Mitch McConnell, the Senate minority leader, and other Republicans who fear his obsession with overturning the 2020 result is deflecting attention from Joe Biden’s mistakes ahead of next year’s midterm congressional elections.An early test will come on 2 November when Democrat-leaning Virginia elects a governor. Polls there currently suggest a dead heat. Trump, meanwhile, is taking legal heat, too. His family business faces a fraud investigation. He was recently questioned under oath for more than four hours in a civil lawsuit in New York.Steve Bannon, one of his best-known former aides, has been found in contempt of Congress for refusing to testify to the 6 January inquiry and faces possible criminal prosecution. Since Trump ordered all his minions to act similarly, the legal bull’s-eye pinned to his back grows ever more unmissable.Yet for all that, Trump remains first choice among Republican voters for the party’s presidential nomination. His average “favourable/unfavourable” rating is almost identical to Biden’s among the electorate as a whole. And he has shown how dangerous he can be when he reaches a wide audience, which is why Truth Social is worrying.Will Trump rise again from the depths, like the “shapeless monsters” imagined by the great 19th-century Russian novelist Ivan Turgenev? Life is akin to an unsuspecting man sitting in a small boat on a calm, limitless ocean, he wrote. “Then one of the monsters begins to emerge from the murk, rising higher and higher, becoming ever more repellently, clearly discernible… Another minute and its impact will overturn the boat.”For now, Trump’s monstrous outline is blurred, his voice muted. He awaits Turgenev’s “destined day”, when he plans, once again, to capsize the ship of state. To which we say: all hands on deck!TopicsDonald TrumpOpinionRepublicansSocial mediaUS politicseditorialsReuse this content More

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    Facebook boss ‘not willing to protect public from harm’

    The ObserverFacebookFacebook boss ‘not willing to protect public from harm’ Frances Haugen says chief executive has not shown any desire to shield users from the consequences of harmful content Dan MilmoSat 23 Oct 2021 21.02 EDTLast modified on Sun 24 Oct 2021 04.23 EDTThe Facebook whistleblower whose revelations have tipped the social media giant into crisis has launched a stinging new criticism of Mark Zuckerberg, saying he has not shown any readiness to protect the public from the harm his company is causing.Frances Haugen told the Observer that Facebook’s founder and chief executive had not displayed a desire to run the company in a way that shields the public from the consequences of harmful content.Her intervention came as pressure mounted on the near-$1tn (£730bn) business following a fresh wave of revelations based on documents leaked by Haugen, a former Facebook employee. The New York Times reported that workers had repeatedly warned that Facebook was being flooded with false claims about the 2020 presidential election result being fraudulent and believed the company should have done more to tackle it.Frances Haugen: ‘I never wanted to be a whistleblower. But lives were in danger’Read moreHaugen, who appears before MPs and peers in Westminster on Monday, said Zuckerberg, who controls the business via a majority of its voting shares, has not shown any willingness to protect the public.“Right now, Mark is unaccountable. He has all the control. He has no oversight, and he has not demonstrated that he is willing to govern the company at the level that is necessary for public safety.”She added that giving all shareholders an equal say in the running of the company would result in changes at the top. “I believe in shareholder rights and the shareholders, or shareholders minus Mark, have been asking for years for one share one vote. And the reason for that is, I am pretty sure the shareholders would choose other leadership if they had an option.”Haugen, who quit as a Facebook product manager in May, said she had leaked tens of thousand of documents to the Wall Street Journal and to Congress because she had realised that the company would not change otherwise.She said: “There are great companies that have done major cultural changes. Apple did a major cultural change; Microsoft did a major cultural change. Facebook can change too. They just have to get the will.”This weekend, a consortium of US news organisations released a fresh wave of stories based on the Haugen documents. The New York Times reported that internal research showed how, at one point after the US presidential election last year, 10% of all US views of political material on Facebook – a very high proportion for Facebook – were of posts falsely alleging that Joe Biden’s victory was fraudulent. One internal review criticised attempts to tackle Stop the Steal groups spreading claims on the platform that the election was rigged. “Enforcement was piecemeal,” said the research.The revelations have reignited concerns about Facebook’s role in the 6 January riots, in which a mob seeking to overturn the election result stormed the Capitol in Washington. The New York Times added that some of the reporting for the story was based on documents not released by Haugen.A Facebook spokesperson said: “At the heart of these stories is a premise which is false. Yes, we’re a business and we make profit, but the idea that we do so at the expense of people’s safety or wellbeing misunderstands where our commercial interests lie. The truth is we’ve invested $13bn and have over 40,000 people to do one job: keep people safe on Facebook.”Facebook’s vice-president of integrity, Guy Rosen, said the company had put in place multiple measures to protect the public during and after the election and that “responsibility for the [6 January] insurrection lies with those who broke the law during the attack and those who incited them”.It was also reported on Friday that a new Facebook whistleblower had come forward and, like Haugen, had filed a complaint to the Securities and Exchange Commission, the US financial regulator, alleging that the company declined to enforce safety rules for fear of angering Donald Trump or impacting Facebook’s growth.Haugen will testify in person on Monday to the joint committee scrutinising the draft online safety bill, which would impose a duty of care on social media companies to protect users from harmful content, and allow the communications regulator, Ofcom, to fine those who breach this. The maximum fine is 10% of global turnover, so in the case of Facebook, this could run into billions of pounds. Facebook, whose services also include Instagram and WhatsApp, has 2.8 billion daily users and generated an income last year of $86bn.As well as issuing detailed rebuttals of Haugen’s revelations, Facebook is reportedly planning a major change that would attempt to put some distance between the company and its main platform. Zuckerberg could announce a rebranding of Facebook’s corporate identity on Thursday, according to a report that said the company is keen to emphasise its future as a player in the “metaverse”, a digital world in which people interact and lead their social and professional lives virtually.Haugen said Facebook must be compelled by all regulators to be more transparent with the information at its disposal internally, as detailed in her document leaks. She said one key reform would be to set up a formal structure whereby regulators could demand reports from Facebook on any problem that they identify.“Let’s imagine there was a brand of car that was having five times as many car accidents as other cars. We wouldn’t accept that car company saying, ‘this is really hard, we are trying our best, we are sorry, we are trying to do better in the future’. We would never accept that as an answer and we are hearing that from Facebook all the time. There needs to be an avenue where we can escalate a concern and they actually have to give us a response.”TopicsFacebookThe ObserverSocial networkingMark ZuckerbergUS elections 2020US CongressUS politicsReuse this content More

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    ‘Don’t sit this one out’: Obama stumps for Virginia governor candidate Terry McAuliffe

    Barack Obama‘Don’t sit this one out’: Obama stumps for Virginia governor candidate Terry McAuliffeFormer president warns against complacency in ‘blue’ state amid race seen as indicator of Democrats’ congressional hopes Josephine Walker and Safia Abdulahi in Richmond, VirginiaSat 23 Oct 2021 19.41 EDTLast modified on Sat 23 Oct 2021 23.21 EDTBarack Obama vehemently warned Virginia voters on Saturday against any complacency that what was now a “blue” state would stay that way, as he spoke at a rally to support Terry McAuliffe in the tightening race for governor.The former president urged supporters to turn out, despite this being an off-year election, in order to keep Democrats in control of not just the state but ultimately the nation.“For the direction of Virginia and the direction of this country for generations to come,” Obama said, “don’t sit this one out – vote.”Obama and Trump wade into key battle over Virginia’s governor seat Read moreVirginia’s governor’s race is the first big chance voters get to express their approval of Joe Biden’s administration and is widely viewed as an indicator of whether the Democrats will keep control of Congress in next year’s midterm elections.The former president’s appearance in Richmond on Saturday followed several other high-profile visits to the state by Democrats this month, including Vice-President Kamala Harris and two of Georgia’s big names, the activist and former candidate for governor Stacey Abrams and the Atlanta mayor, Keisha Lance Bottoms.About 2,000 people were admitted to the campus of Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) in Richmond on Saturday afternoon to attend the rally for McAuliffe, who has previously served as Virginia governor.Mackenzie LaBar, acting president of VCU’s Young Democrats, said Obama’s presence was bound to propel voters to the polls.“This is a pretty blue area so, unfortunately, a lot of ‘blue’ people, blue voters tend to get complacent,” he said.As further encouragement, Obama recounted meeting a 106-year-old Black woman who had lived through the terror of opposition to the civil rights movement of the 1960s and survived to see the election of the first US Black president, himself, in 2008, and never once missed a chance to vote.“Born in the shadows of slavery, deep in the midst of Jim Crow,” Obama said, “She has witnessed all that. And I thought, ‘If she’s not tired, I can’t be tired.’”Almost every speaker alongside Obama at the rally emphasized that the right to vote had never been fully guaranteed in America.Andre Hayes is one of over 200,000 Virginians, many people of color, whose right to vote had been lost but was restored by McAuliffe when he was previously governor.“I’ll tell you, when I got that letter in the mail and it was stamped, sealed and approved, and had his signature on it,” Hayes paused to look at the sky. “I was a happy man.”Virginia is one of three states whose constitution permanently bars those convicted of a felony from voting.The clause was seen as racially motivated when it was added to Virginia’s constitution in 1902, shortly after Black political power propelled 85 Black politicians to office during Reconstruction.Speaking at the rally, McAuliffe touted his expansion of voting rights in Virginia and he and Obama commented on increased voter restrictions, which have hit states such as Texas and Florida in particular.Obama also noted that Senate Republicans once again blocked federal voting rights legislation last week.“Republicans are trying to rig elections because the truth is people disagree with your ideas,” Obama said. “And when that doesn’t work, you start fabricating lies and conspiracy theories about the last election, the one you didn’t win. That’s not how democracy is supposed to work.”While the purpose of Saturday’s rally was to energize Democratic voters, many children attended as well. Saturday was the first time Tamer and Brandy Mokshah’s two elementary-aged children would get to see Obama in person.“These two were born into a world where we had a Black president, right? So that was deeply emotional, really important. And then we’ve seen sort of the extreme opposite of that in the previous five years,” Tamer told the Guardian.“So we have taken them with us to vote since before they could speak. They go with us all the time. We want to make sure that we’re able to leave something behind in terms of this process and what democracy actually means.”Education policy and school curriculum have been thrust to the center of the governor’s race, with a focus on Covid-19 protocols, critical race theory, and school choice. Critical race theory is an academic discipline that examines the ways in which racism operates in US laws and society. It is not taught in US secondary schools.Obama said simply: “We should be making it easier for teachers in schools to give our kids a world class education.”Disinformation and conspiracy theories have plagued the gubernatorial election, with Democrats protesting that Republicans are touting misleading Covid-19 guidance and focusing on inflammatory campaigning.TopicsBarack ObamaVirginiaDemocratsUS politicsnewsReuse this content More

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    Facebook missed weeks of warning signs over Capitol attack, documents suggest

    FacebookFacebook missed weeks of warning signs over Capitol attack, documents suggestMaterials provided by Frances Haugen to media outlets shine light on how company apparently stumbled into 6 January Guardian staff and agenciesSat 23 Oct 2021 14.22 EDTFirst published on Sat 23 Oct 2021 12.23 EDTAs extremist supporters of Donald Trump stormed the US Capitol on 6 January, battling police and forcing lawmakers into hiding, an insurrection of a different kind was taking place inside the world’s largest social media company.Thousands of miles away, in California, Facebook engineers were racing to tweak internal controls to slow the spread of misinformation and content likely to incite further violence.Emergency actions – some of which were rolled back after the 2020 election – included banning Trump, freezing comments in groups with records of hate speech and filtering out the “Stop the Steal” rallying cry of Trump’s campaign to overturn his electoral loss, falsely citing widespread fraud. Officials have called it the most secure election in US history.Actions also included empowering Facebook content moderators to act more assertively by labeling the US a “temporary high risk location” for political violence.At the same time, frustration inside Facebook erupted over what some saw as the company’s halting and inconsistent response to rising extremism in the US.“Haven’t we had enough time to figure out how to manage discourse without enabling violence?” one employee wrote on an internal message board at the height of the 6 January turmoil.“We’ve been fueling this fire for a long time and we shouldn’t be surprised it’s now out of control.”It’s a question that still hangs over the company today, as Congress and regulators investigate Facebook’s role in the events.New internal documents have been provided to a number of media outlets in recent days by the former Facebook employee turned whistleblower Frances Haugen, following her initial disclosures and claims that the platform puts profits before public good, and her testimony to Congress.The outlets, including the New York Times, the Washington Post and NBC, published reports based on those documents, which offer a deeper look into the spread of misinformation and conspiracy theories on the platform, particularly related to the 2020 US presidential election.They show that Facebook employees repeatedly flagged concerns before and after the election, when Trump tried to falsely overturn Joe Biden’s victory. According to the New York Times, a company data scientist told co-workers a week after the election that 10% of all US views of political content were of posts that falsely claimed the vote was fraudulent. But as workers flagged these issues and urged the company to act, the company failed or struggled to address the problems, the Times reported.The internal documents also show Facebook researchers have found the platform’s recommendation tools repeatedly pushed users to extremist groups, prompting internal warnings that some managers and executives ignored, NBC News reported.In one striking internal study, a Facebook researcher created a fake profile for “Carol Smith”, a conservative female user whose interests included Fox News and Donald Trump. The experiment showed that within two days, Facebook’s algorithm was recommending “Carol” join groups dedicated to QAnon, a baseless internet conspiracy theory.The documents also provide a rare glimpse into how the company appears to have simply stumbled into the events of 6 January.It quickly became clear that even after years under the microscope for insufficiently policing its platform, the social network had missed how riot participants spent weeks vowing – by posting on Facebook itself – to stop Congress from certifying Joe Biden’s election victory.This story is based in part on disclosures Haugen made to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the US agency that handles regulation to protect investors in publicly traded companies, provided to Congress in redacted form by her legal counsel.Facebook crisis grows as new whistleblower and leaked documents emergeRead moreThe redacted versions received by Congress were obtained by a consortium of news organizations, including the Associated Press.What Facebook called “Break the Glass” emergency measures put in place on 6 January were essentially a toolkit of options designed to stem the spread of dangerous or violent content. The social network had first used the system in the run-up to the bitter 2020 election.As many as 22 of those measures were rolled back at some point after the election, according to an internal spreadsheet analyzing the company’s response.“As soon as the election was over, they turned them back off or they changed the settings back to what they were before, to prioritize growth over safety,” Haugen has said.An internal Facebook report following 6 January, previously reported by BuzzFeed, faulted the company for a “piecemeal” approach to the rapid growth of “Stop the Steal” pages.Facebook said the situation was more nuanced and that it carefully calibrates its controls to react quickly to spikes in hateful and violent content. The company said it was not responsible for the actions of the rioters – and that having stricter controls in place prior to that day wouldn’t have helped.Facebook’s decisions to phase certain safety measures in or out had taken into account signals from the Facebook platform as well as information from law enforcement, said a spokesperson, Dani Lever, saying: “When those signals changed, so did the measures.”Lever added that some of the measures had stayed in place well into February and others remained active today.Meanwhile, Facebook is facing mounting pressure after a new whistleblower on Friday accused it of knowingly hosting hate speech and illegal activity.Allegations by the new whistleblower, who spoke to the Washington Post, were reportedly contained in a complaint to the SEC.In the complaint, which echoes Haugen’s disclosures, the former employee detailed how Facebook officials frequently declined to enforce safety rules for fear of angering Donald Trump and his allies or offsetting the company’s huge growth. In one alleged incident, Tucker Bounds, a Facebook communications official, dismissed concerns about the platform’s role in 2016 election manipulation.“It will be a flash in the pan,” Bounds said, according to the affidavit, as reported by the Post. “Some legislators will get pissy. And then in a few weeks they will move on to something else. Meanwhile, we are printing money in the basement, and we are fine.” TopicsFacebookUS Capitol attackSocial networkingSocial mediaUS politicsnewsReuse this content More