SF Giants principal owner Charles B. Johnson explains political donations

Photo of Henry Schulman

Charles B. Johnson, the billionaire Giants principal owner embroiled in a controversy over two political donations, defended himself Wednesday against charges that he is racist and criticized U.S. Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith of Mississippi for her “public hanging” comment.

“I think she was stupid,” Johnson told The Chronicle by phone from Palm Beach, Fla., in an extraordinarily rare interview. “She said stupid things, particularly in Mississippi. I think the comments she made about the hanging was offensive.”

Johnson, 85, also said the racist radio ad in Arkansas created by an organization to which he donated $1,000 was “unacceptable,” that he has made contributions to many African American office-seekers, most recently Utah congresswoman Mia Love, who lost her re-election bid, and that he is “a believer in racial harmony.”

Also, while Johnson understands why Giants fans were upset with his two oft-criticized donations, he defended his role as one of the nation’s most prolific Republican donors and said his spending has nothing to do with the team, from which he has no plans to divest.

“I’m sorry that they feel that way,” Johnson said in a relaxed tone. “I try to do the best thing that I can. Some things are good and some things are mistakes and you live the best way you can with your own philosophy.”

Pointing toward the falling African American unemployment rate, which President Trump often touts, Johnson said, “I do believe the Republican party has been better for blacks than the Democratic party has. You’ll get a lot of argument about that, particularly from the NAACP, but if you look at the results, the opportunity to rise in life is much better under Republicans than under radical Democrats.”

He emphasized that he said “radical” to differentiate them from moderate Democrats, some of whom he supports.

“On the whole,” he said, “I don’t like the idea of politics affecting anything that I do with the Giants.”

As Johnson was speaking to The Chronicle, Oakland civil-rights attorney John Burris issued a statement calling off a boycott of the Giants that he had advocated, alongside NAACP San Francisco chapter president the Rev. Amos Brown and sociologist Harry Edwards.

That decision followed news Tuesday that Johnson, whose 26 percent stake makes him the largest Giants shareholder, had written to the Hyde-Smith campaign seeking a refund of the $5,400 that he and his wife, Ann, had donated to her campaign. Hyde-Smith won her election Tuesday night.

Johnson already had sought and received a refund of the $1,000 he donated to the Black Americans for the President’s Agenda, which produced the racist radio ad in Arkansas supporting Republican Rep. French Hill in his successful re-election bid.

Burris said in his statement that after speaking with Edwards and Brown, “I have decided that Mr. Johnson’s statements condemning racism and requesting the returns of his contributions to Senator-elect Hyde-Smith are sufficient, positive steps and that the boycott is not further warranted at this time.”

Burris was cautious, however, saying, “Mr. Johnson is free to make any and all contributions that he wants, but as a principal owner of the Giants, those contributions should not go to organizations or politicians perpetuating racist views or condoning systems that further the legacies of discrimination.”

“As a longtime Giants supporter and civil-rights lawyer, I want the best for the team,” Burris said. “But I will be watching.”

Johnson explained both donations.

He said he received a “flier” from the Black Americans PAC seeking his support for African American candidates.

“You get things in the mail, and that was an interesting flier,” Johnson said. “It said nothing about advertising.”

Johnson also said he initiated his contribution to Hyde-Smith on Nov. 10, one day before a video surfaced in which she expressed her regard for a campaign supporter by saying she would be in the “front row” of a public hanging if he invited her.

The campaign did not report the donation until Nov. 20, nine days after the video emerged.

The comment drew widespread criticism for its allusion to lynchings; more such killings happened in Mississippi than in any other state, according to the NAACP.

Johnson said he made that contribution after receiving an email from a group “that vets all kinds of things” seeking money. He called it a “very responsible group.”

While agreeing that the hanging comment was offensive, Johnson said he had no issue with Hyde-Smith being photographed in a Confederate hat, which he said was common in the South.

That could be a topic for Thursday, when Johnson speaks by phone with Brown and Giants President and CEO Larry Baer, who organized the call.

Henry Schulman is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: hschulman@sfchronicle.com Twitter: @hankschulman

Democracy.Earth product launch: we’re live on the testnet!

 Dear Earth Citizen,

We’ve just completed our most successful launch ever – the Democracy Earth beta platform went live on the Ethereum Rinkeby testnet from the stage of the C20 Blockchain and Bitcoin conference in Buenos Aires 🇦🇷 where Santi Siri delivered a keynote and our beta blockchain-based global governance platform.


We thank you for your support during this critical time and invite you to join more than three hundred citizens already experimenting with censorship-resistant token-based liquid democracy. Our mainnet release is planned for December. Until then, we’ve created a simple three step process for getting free test tokens and logging on – click below and add your voice to the conversation!

Vote on the Testnet
Governance anidentity

The need for censorship-resistant political expression has never been more vital. As Santi noted from the stage of Devcon4 in Prague 🇨🇿, we are experiencing a profound change in the way we control our identities in the digital world. 

Around the world, the conversation is about governance and the killer app is democracy. From Facebook exposed as a primary source driving propaganda influencing elections, to Venezuela and a cohort of countries embracing the Chinese model of extensive censorship and control, events confirm the internet can be used to disrupt democracies just as it can destabilize dictatorships…or even establish a surveillance society.

The Democracy Earth platform offers an alternative to the risks the social behemoths and nation-states pose to privacy and even democracy itself.

Decentralized AM
We hope you’ll join us at our inaugural decentralized Ask Me Anything, today at 3p EST, hosted on stealthy.im and powered by Blockstack. You’ll need a Blockstack ID to participate – when you sign up for the Stealthy dapp, you’ll be automatically taken through the Blockstack login, an easy three step process that will take just minutes to complete. Click the button below to watch a short tutorial – and drop in to say hi!

Join the Decentralized AMA
Press and Events  🇲🇽🇨🇿🗽🌉
We were pleased to be selected to take part in the inaugural Consensus Invest 2018 Deal Room November 27th, where Santi teamed up with Eric Turner of Messari. to talk about the core governance challenge of formalizing human identities in decentralized networks You can watch the video here.

Some key DEF press mentions you won’t want to miss: 

Thank you for reading! Follow us on Medium to stay up to date on the latest product development and launch news. As always, thanks for being part of the Democracy Earth community!

Democracy Earth Foundation is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in San Francisco, California. Democracy.EarthOn twitter.
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‘Run Bernie Run!’: New Campaign by Progressive Democrats Says ‘Courage and Vision’ of Sanders Best Choice for 2020

“At this hour of our history, we need to hear from America’s strongest advocate for working people, for honest democracy, and a courageous response to the climate emergency.”


“Bernie Sanders is prepared to lead the United States,” Progressive Democrats of America declared in a statement. (Photo: Robert F Bukaty/AP)


Progressive Democrats of America (PDA) was the first national organization to encourage Vermont’s independent Sen. Bernie Sanders to launch his 2016 presidential campaign, and on Wednesday the group officially launched a “Run Bernie Run” campaign for 2020, arguing that the nation’s most popular politician has the policy agenda and grassroots enthusiasm to defeat President Donald Trump and lead the U.S. in a genuinely progressive direction.

“Bernie Sanders is prepared to lead the United States. PDA does not want a Medicare for All gradualist or a money-in-politics or voting rights gradualist.”
—Progressive Democrats of America

At this hour of our history, we need to hear from America’s strongest advocate for working people, for honest democracy, and a courageous response to the climate emergency. We need Bernie Sanders on the main stage,” declared PDA executive director Alan Minsky in a statement. “Bernie Sanders is prepared to lead the United States. PDA does not want a Medicare for All gradualist or a money-in-politics or voting rights gradualist. We do not want a candidate too timid to address the realities of institutional racism, and most certainly, we cannot support a climate change gradualist.”

“On all of these issues and more, Bernie Sanders has demonstrated that he has the courage and vision to lead,” Minsky continued. “Bernie Sanders would be a great President. Therefore, we at PDA are, once again, proclaiming Run Bernie Run!”

Of course, PDA is not alone in its assessment that Sanders remains the strongest possible candidate to take on Trump and steer the country in a more progressive direction:

With the launch of its new campaign this week, PDA began circulating a petition“strongly” urging Sanders to run for president in 2020. As of this writing, the petition already has over 6,400 signatures.

While Sanders has not yet announced whether he plans to run for president in 2020, the Vermont senator said during an appearance at Georgetown University on Tuesday that he is speaking to his close advisers and working to determine if he will be the strongest candidate to take on Trump in what is expected to be a crowded Democratic field.

“If there’s somebody else who appears who can, for whatever reason, do a better job than me, I’ll work my ass off to elect him or her,” Sanders told New York Magazine in an interview published earlier this week. But, he added, “if it turns out that I am the best candidate to beat Donald Trump, then I will probably run.”

On top of traveling to promote his new book this week and continuing to push his legislative agenda in the Senate—such as his resolution end U.S. complicity in Saudi atrocities in Yemen—Sanders on Thursday will deliver the keynote address to a “gathering” of high-profile progressives from the U.S. and around the world hosted by the Sanders Institute, a think tank launched by the Vermont senator’s wife, Jane Sanders, in 2017.

The three-day meeting—which has added even more fuel to speculation that the Vermont senator is preparing to launch his presidential campaign—will feature discussions of the major issues that form the core of Sanders’ policy agenda, from Medicare for All to a Green New Deal to criminal justice reform.

Speakers at the event will include journalist and environmentalist Naomi Klein, economist and former Greek Finance Minister Yanis Varoufakis, former National Nurses United executive director RoseAnn DeMoro, and many other prominent progressive voices.

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Progressives Outraged as House Democrats Elect ‘Big Money’ Centrist Hakeem Jeffries Over Barbara Lee for Caucus Chair

“What is there to say anymore? The Democratic Party establishment needs to be primaried into oblivion.”


Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.) speaks to members of the media after a session of House Democrats’ organizational meeting to elect leadership at the Capitol Visitor Center Auditorium November 28, 2018 in Washington, D.C. (Photo: Alex Wong/Getty Images)


In a bid to move the party’s leadership in a more bold direction, progressive groups and activists mobilized urgently in recent weeks to pressure House Democrats to elect Rep. Barbara Lee (D-Calif.) as the party’s next Caucus Chair.

But, ultimately, their campaign was not enough to overcome the party establishment’s support for the more “moderate” Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (D-N.Y.), who was elected on Wednesday by a vote of 123-113.

“Jeffries is a big money Democrat and a member in good standing of Andrew Cuomo’s New York machine. There is no way to spin his victory over Barbara Lee as a sign the party is moving in a progressive direction.”
—Zach Carter, Huffington Post

Jeffries’ victory over Lee was met with dismay by progressives, who viewed the anti-war congresswoman’s defeat at the hands of her House Democratic colleagues as yet another sign that the party badly needs a new direction.

“What is there to say anymore? The Democratic Party establishment needs to be primaried into oblivion,” Margaret McLaughlin, a member of the Metro D.C. branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), wrote on Twitter.

While Jeffries is a member of the Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC), critics and reporters argued that his overwhelming reliance on big money donors and his positions on major issues raise serious questions about his commitment to the kinds of bold policies that swept “the most progressive freshman class” in U.S. history into office in the November midterms and gave Democrats control of the House.

“Jeffries is a big money Democrat and a member in good standing of [Gov.] Andrew Cuomo’s New York machine,” noted Huffington Post reporter Zach Carter. “There is no way to spin his victory over Barbara Lee as a sign the party is moving in a progressive direction.”

As The Economist noted in a profile of the New York congressman published in September, “Jeffries is not a member of the moderate New Democrats faction, but he often sounds as if he should be.”

“Our caucus today denied Barbara Lee the honor she deserved of being Chair. But the petty politics of members of Congress will never be able to deny her her place in history. She towers above those who rejected her.”
—Rep. Ro Khanna
“He is a fan of charter schools and fiscal rectitude,” The Economist reported. “Though he supports the principle of universal healthcare coverage, he speaks of ‘the importance of market forces and getting things done in a responsible fashion.’ Quoting Ronald Reagan approvingly, he suggests this means promoting a flourishing private sector outside the ‘legitimate functions’ of government.”

Additionally, critics recalled after he won Wednesday’s election that Jeffries issued a fawning statement in support of Israel as the nation carried out Operation Protective Edge, the vicious 2014 attack on the occupied Gaza Strip that left thousands of Palestinians dead.

“When you live in a tough neighborhood Israel should not be made to apologize for its strength,” Jeffries declared. “You know why? Because the only thing that neighbors respect in a tough neighborhood is strength.”

Aida Chavez, a reporter for The Intercept, also called attention to Jeffries’ derisive 2016 comments about Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.), who he smeared as a “gun-loving socialist with zero foreign policy experience.”

With his victory over Lee, Jeffries will take the number five House Democratic leadership spot in the next Congress, replacing Rep. Joe Crowley (D-N.Y.)—who was ousted in June by democratic socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Responding to the New York Times‘ narrative that Jeffries’ win represents a victory for a “new” and younger generation of House Democrats, Waleed Shahid—communications director for Justice Democrats—argued that focusing on the age gap between Lee and Jeffries obscures their very real ideological contrasts.

“‘New generation’ can’t simply mean diversifying the ruling class. We need diverse representation and progressive politics,” Shahid concluded. “There were clear differences between Lee and Jeffries: message, policy priorities, and records of taking on the one percent and establishment in their own party.”

Responding to Lee’s loss on Twitter, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.) wrote: “Our caucus today denied Barbara Lee the honor she deserved of being Chair. But the petty politics of members of Congress will never be able to deny her her place in history. She towers above those who rejected her.”

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It’s Time for Nancy Pelosi to Embrace Medicare for All

Pelosi constantly talked about the need to lower healthcare costs and how important it was to our midterm sweeps, however the only healthcare positions she’s taken have been the need to lower prescription drug costs and protect the Affordable Care Act

Leader Pelosi, if you wish to be the Democrats’ Speaker of the House and truly represent the ideas your constituents and Party it is time you joined the vast majority of Democrats by embracing Medicare for All. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)

Leader Pelosi, if you wish to be the Democrats’ Speaker of the House and truly represent the ideas your constituents and Party it is time you joined the vast majority of Democrats by embracing Medicare for All. (Charlie Neibergall / AP)


A little over a year ago a resolution was introduced to the central committee of the San Francisco Democratic Party titled “Resolution Urging Senator Feinstein and Leader Pelosi to Support Medicare for All”. It was a pretty straightforward request: thank you for defending the Affordable Care Act, but it’s time to move forward. The resolution was passed 19 to 2 with 7 abstentions, and with Feinstein and Pelosi’s representatives mysteriously absent.

This is unsurprising considering the local party and state party delegates have overwhelmingly gone to progressives, including several Democratic Socialists who burst onto the scene after Bernie Sanders’s bid for President. We also saw a single-payer bill make its way through the state senate, which was supported unanimously by the San Francisco Board of Supervisors and the California Democratic Party. And currently HR676, the Expanded & Improved Medicare For All Act, is supported by the majority of House Democrats after years of lukewarm support.

The United States is the only major country in the world that doesn’t guarantee healthcare as a right, yet we pay far more per person and leave millions without coverage.Now Democrats are set to once again control the House and Leader Pelosi is positioned to retake the Speaker’s gavel it is time for her to recognize her party’s support for Medicare for All and join the 70% of Democratic voters who have embraced the idea.

Pelosi constantly talked about the need to lower healthcare costs and how important it was to our midterm sweeps, however the only healthcare positions she’s taken have been the need to lower prescription drug costs and protect the Affordable Care Act. While both are noble causes they do nothing to address the growing costs of healthcare in our nation. She has, on multiple occasions, noted that she has long been an advocate for single payer healthcare in the past, and even advocated for California to pass its own version of Medicare for All, although she failed to endorse the bill that died in our state legislature.

The United States is the only major country in the world that doesn’t guarantee healthcare as a right, yet we pay far more per person and leave millions without coverage. It is immoral to allow CEOs and for profit healthcare companies to benefit off illness and tragedy, and we should allow those who have suffered either the time to rest and recover rather than stress about massive healthcare costs.

Leader Pelosi, if you wish to be the Democrats’ Speaker of the House and truly represent the ideas your constituents and Party it is time you joined the vast majority of Democrats by embracing Medicare for All.

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Upholding the San Francisco Promise: The Roadmap to a Constitutionalised United Nations

By Dr. Shahr-Yar Sharei, working group coordinator (globalchallenges.org)

The views expressed in this report are those of the authors. Their statements are not necessarily endorsed by the affiliated organisations or the Global Challenges Foundation.

What mechanism could be harnessed in order to review and renew the UN charter without facing institutional gridlock? When the UN was established, the winners of the Second World War were given disproportionate power, in the form of a permanent seat and veto rights on the Security Council. This was, however, not initially intended to be a lasting situation: article 109 Par. 3 of the UN Charter established that a complete review would happen after ten years. A committee was formed as planned in 1955, but the process got stalled and never resulted in proper reform. Could article 109(3) offer a pathway to reform of the UN Charter? Consultation would be needed in order to test the interest and commitment of parties, but should legality be confirmed, triggering article 109 (3) could be a way to bypass opposition from the Permanent Five. A UN Charter Review, made possible by this process, could thus be the first step towards a fully constitutionalised UN.

Our UN founding fathers set the goal of maintaining international peace and security as the primary objective of the United Nations. The Security Council was established as the main organ entrusted with that responsibility. In the original design of the UN, it was made the exclusive broker in international law to authorise the use of sanctions, both non-military and military. Almost immediately, however, the Security Council was paralysed by the realpolitik of the Cold War era, and even after it ended, the five permanent members of the Security Council have continued to use or threaten to use the veto power granted them to protect their own self-interests.

As a result, we now see a world where peace and security are not adequately maintained by the Security Council. Indeed, it is a far more common occurrence that failures to prevent or end conflicts can be linked to the intransigence of the Security Council. What is less well-known, however, is that concerns over this unequal system are older than the UN itself. At the founding San Francisco conference, the Permanent Five made a concession to objections by weaker states: they agreed to a Charter review and revision process, incorporated as Article 109, as a possible way to correct the initial power imbalance. According to Paragraph 3 of Article 109, they further agreed to a facilitated way of holding the review conference ten years in the future. The holding of the Charter review was adopted as General Assembly resolution 992(X) in 1955 and approved by the Security Council. A committee was formed, but the endeavour never came to fruition: the committee repeatedly delayed convening the review, and ultimately stopped meeting altogether. However, it was never officially disbanded, meaning that it remains legally in existence, and that the Charter Review as per Article 109 is still on the table.

What mechanism could be harnessed in order to review and renew the UN charter without facing institutional gridlock?

We believe that we might bring about changes in the institution, and uphold the ‘San Francisco Promise’, by harnessing this mechanism inherent in the UN structure from its inception. The strength of this approach to global governance reform is that it has already begun – the General Assembly and Security Council have both voted to have a Charter Review conference. Working to reinitiate the review process therefore sidesteps many of the legal and procedural obstacles seen in other efforts for global governance reform. Furthermore, by pursuing a full Charter Review, we are opening up the possibility for deeper structural changes, rather than being limited to the kinds of smaller reforms that are typically possible without any changes to the UN Charter itself. While pursuing a large magnitude of reform does mean that more political effort will be required to convince countries to accept the review process, we do also think that the lessening of legal barriers makes up for this.

Our first step, therefore, is to strengthen the legal case for Charter Review as much as possible. While we believe that there is a clear duty to trigger Article 109, we understand that there will still be challenges to this proposal. We will therefore consider potential counters to our proposal and build a strong case for its adoption, as well as mapping out the exact legal procedure that will be necessary to do so.

Assuming that reinitiating the review process is legally valid, the next step to assess the viability of this approach would be to test potential support from key countries and regions. For this, three questions need to be addressed. The first is whether UN members would support opening up the Charter for update at a review conference, as Article 109 calls for. The second is whether they would be likely to vote in favour of a new Charter that abolishes the veto and allows for a more equal distribution of power on the global level – for instance, by establishing a UN Parliamentary Assembly? Finally, would they be likely to ratify a new UN charter, regardless of how it had voted at the review conference itself.

Once armed with this information, we will have a solid foundation from which we can build a targeted campaign to re-trigger Article 109 and hold a Charter Review Conference. The campaign, through track II diplomacy, would target a coalition of willing states to push for Charter review. The countries that the San Francisco promise was made to, as well as those countries seeking more substantive UN transformation in recent years, would be targeted and made aware of the potentials of pursuing the path offered by article 109. Further, by introducing domestic referendums and petitions in key regions and states, such as the European Citizens Initiative, or the US ballot and petition system, global citizens’ interest and awareness would be raised in calling for a more democratic and effective United Nations.

Unfortunately, although the San Francisco Promise can get us to Charter Review without any threat of the veto, whatever comes out of the review process will require the assent of all five permanent members. However, we believe that a veto is much less of a threat in the context of ratifying an entirely new UN Charter. If the negotiated Charter has widespread support from most other countries in the world (a two-thirds majority is required), there will be significant pressure on the Permanent Five to accept it as well. Furthermore, this would be a vote far removed from the diplomatic chambers of the UN, putting the decision in the hands of national legislative bodies. As a result, we believe that there will also be more pressure from the public including the national citizens of the Permanent Five to accept a more representative and effective system of global governance. The cost of exclusion of any single country from a new global order would simply be too high.

The unique nature of our proposal is that it focuses much more on the path towards UN reform, rather than what the reform itself would look like. However, based on the problems we see with global governance as it stands now, certain directions of reform are clear – in particular, we believe that the UN system must be more democratised, in direct contrast to the inequities of the current Security Council as previously discussed. This democratisation can take a number of forms. The first option would be to make changes to the structure of the UN, such as adding a parliamentary body that more directly represents individuals. Another, more comprehensive, option would be to aim for the constitutionalisation of the UN Charter – that is, transforming it into a binding document that includes an enshrined bill of rights for all citizens. Historically speaking, constitutional documents do not arise on their own, but from review conferences – the American constitution from Philadelphia, for instance, or the Maastricht Treaty for the EU. Therefore, we see UN Charter Review as the best, and possibly only, way to get a document that meaningfully enshrines and enforces human rights on a global scale.

There are many potential paths forwards to make meaningful change. Charter Review could allow for the most significant and comprehensive change all at once. While the road to Charter Review will not be an easy one, however, and despite failed attempts for substantive UN and Security Council reform in the past, we firmly believe that this endowed path is still viable, and perhaps the only option to UN transformation.

Working group members

Dr. Shahr-Yar Sharei, working group coordinator, Andreas Bummel, Huaru Kang, Dr. Roger Kotila, Hans Leander, Dr. Timothy Murithi, Francisco Plancarte, Dr. Mais Qandeel, Marjolijn Snippe, Maria Ivone Soares, Dr. Takehiko Uemura, Maria Vizdoaga, Kelci Wilford

Rebuking Trump, senators back effort to suspend U.S. support for Saudi-led war in Yemen

Corker signals possible support for measure to withdraw U.S. from war in Yemen

Sen. Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) on Nov. 28 said he may support a measure to end U.S. military support for the war in Yemen to “respond appropriately” to Saudi Arabia. 

By Karoun Demirjian 

John Hudson

November 28 at 7:46 PM (WashingtonPost.com)

The Senate on Wednesday delivered a historic rebuke of Saudi Arabia and President Trump’s handling of the fallout over journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s killing last month, as a decisive majority voted to advance a measure to end U.S. military support for the Saudi-led war in Yemen.

The 63-to-37 vote is only an initial procedural step, but it nonetheless represents an unprecedented challenge to the security relationship between the United States and Saudi Arabia. The vote was prompted by lawmakers’ growing frustration with Trump for defending Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman’s denials of culpability in Khashoggi’s death, despite the CIA’s finding that he had almost certainly ordered the killing.

Their frustration peaked shortly before Wednesday’s vote, when senators met behind closed doors to discuss Saudi Arabia, Khashoggi and Yemen with Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis — but not CIA Director Gina Haspel, who did not attend the briefing.

Her absence so incensed lawmakers that one of the president’s closest congressional allies threatened not only to vote for the Yemen resolution but also to withhold his support from “any key vote” — including a government funding bill — until Haspel was sent to Capitol Hill for a briefing.

“I am not going to blow past this,” said Sen. Lindsey O. Graham (R-S.C.). “Anything that you need me for to get out of town — I ain’t doing it until we hear from the CIA.”

In a statement, CIA spokesman Timothy Barrett said “the notion that anyone told Director Haspel not to attend today’s briefing is false.” He added that Haspel, who traveled to Turkey to listen to a recording of Khashoggi’s killing and review evidence in the case, had fully briefed congressional leaders and members of the Senate Intelligence Committee.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis sought to make a case for continuing U.S. support for Saudi Arabia’s military campaign in Yemen. (Joshua Roberts/Reuters)

But only one of the 14 Republicans who voted to move ahead with the Yemen resolution has been briefed. Trump, Pompeo and national security adviser John Bolton all have pointedly said they have not listened to the tape, and see no reason to do so.

The pressure is now squarely on Trump not just to dispatch Haspel to the Hill but also to take concerted steps to hold Mohammed accountable before the Senate makes its next move, which is likely to come next week.

“There’s ways that the administration, even rhetorically, can help change the dynamic,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said shortly before Wednesday’s vote. He added that while “Saudi Arabia is an ally, of sorts, and a semi-important country, we’ve watched innocent people be killed. . . . We also have a crown prince who is out of control.”

The White House did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Defense Secretary Jim Mattis, left, arrives on Capitol Hill on Nov. 28, 2018. (Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

The White House and Senate have been tiptoeing toward a standoff over Saudi Arabia for more than a year, as an increasing number of senators have backed efforts to halt certain arms sales or end other military support for the Saudi-led coalition battling Iranian-backed rebels in Yemen. But the willingness to formally admonish Saudi Arabia grew after Khashoggi, a contributing columnist for The Washington Post, was killed inside the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and the Trump administration took what many have seen as only modest steps to pursue accountability.

If Trump takes more aggressive action over the weekend, it could keep senators such as Corker from voting to start a debate on the Yemen resolution. But with 63 senators on board now, it is unclear whether Trump can do enough to stop the Yemen resolution from proceeding.

To date, Trump’s deputies have shown no indication of planning to change course.

Earlier Wednesday, both Pompeo and Mattis framed U.S. support for Saudi Arabia as a national security matter, even though Riyadh’s conduct in the civil war in Yemen has drawn international condemnation.

Pompeo struck an unapologetic tone, arguing that without U.S. involvement, the humanitarian crisis there and the threat posed to U.S. interests and Americans “would be a hell of a lot worse.” He also argued that the resolution could thwart negotiations to secure a cease-fire — an argument lawmakers disputed.

“All we would achieve from an American drawdown is a stronger Iran and a reinvigorated ISIS and al-Qaeda in the Arabian Peninsula,” said Pompeo, using an acronym for the Islamic State. “Try defending that outcome back home.”

In a Wednesday opinion piece in the Wall Street Journal, Pompeo characterized the reaction to Khashoggi’s slaying as “Capitol Hill caterwauling and media pile-on.” Pompeo did not mention Khashoggi in his prepared remarks to senators.

Mattis lamented the journalist’s killing while underscoring the need to continue a partnership with Saudi Arabia even as the airstrikes have killed tens of thousands of people, both civilians and rebels.

“We are seldom free to work with unblemished partners,” Mattis said. “Long-standing relationships guide but do not blind us. Saudi Arabia, due to geography and the Iranian threat, is fundamental to maintaining regional and Israeli security, and to our interest in Mideast stability.”

As pressure to reduce U.S. military ties with the Saudis has increased, Riyadh has emphasized that it has other options, including with Russia. But lawmakers have tired of such strategic arguments, arguing that Trump should prioritize the defense of American human-rights ideals — such as condemning the killing of a journalist — over the expedient of looking the other way.

“I’m all for realpolitik, but that suggests that you accept the truth,” Sen. Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.) said of Khashoggi’s death, adding that if Mohammed “wasn’t directly involved, he certainly knew of it.”

The resolution, drafted by Sens. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Mike Lee (R-Utah), seeks to invoke the War Powers Act to end U.S. military support for the ­Saudi-led coalition, which human rights groups accuse of fomenting in Yemen the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. If the push is successful, it will be the first time since the act was passed in 1973 that it has been used to end a foreign operation — putting the Senate in somewhat uncharted legislative territory.

Several Republicans guessed that senators would try to soften the resolution with amendments. But some worry that the effort could spin out of control.

“This would be a process like the budget vote-a-rama,” Corker said, referring to round-the-clock amendment votes that regularly accompany the budget process. “Except we’re firing with real bullets; these are real laws.”

Even if the Senate passes the resolution, it stands little to no chance of clearing the House, where GOP leaders already intervened once this month to block members from voting on a similar measure. Senate leaders may also pressure lawmakers to hurry through the resolution process, lest it complicate a Dec. 7 deadline to pass a bill to fund the federal government.

Some Republican senators surmised that if momentum builds around the Yemen resolution, leaders could feel compelled to include punitive measures against Saudi Arabia in the must-pass funding bill. Several senators from both parties think the funding measure could be a vehicle for bipartisan-backed proposals to end arms transfers to Saudi Arabia and impose sanctions on those implicated in the conflict in Yemen.

Karen DeYoung contributed to this report.

Senate defies White House on Saudi support in Yemen

Rand Paul
Sen. Rand Paul, a usual Trump ally, said he sees a “very good chance” of the chamber beginning debate on the resolution yanking U.S. support for the Yemen war. | Jacquelyn Martin/AP Photo


The Senate delivered a stunning rebuke to the Trump administration on Wednesday, voting overwhelmingly to advance a measure yanking U.S. support for Saudi-backed forces at war in Yemen.

The 63-37 vote, in which 14 Republicans joined every Democrat in voting to move forward on the bipartisan Saudi resolution, came hours after Secretary of State Mike Pompeo and Defense Secretary Jim Mattis failed to sway key undecided senators with an appeal to hold off lest they upset progress of nascent talks on a cease-fire in Yemen.

Pompeo and Mattis briefed all senators in a rare classified briefing ahead of the chamber’s vote on a bid to endAmerican support for the Saudis’ side in the bloody war in Yemen. The Cabinet members’ pitch fell short for Republicans and Democrats alike who want President Donald Trump’s administration to take a harder line on Saudi Arabia after the murder of dissident journalist Jamal Khashoggi, which occurred in the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul and was linked to the highest levels of the government in Riyadh.

“I found their briefing today to be lacking. I found that in substance we’re not doing those things that we should be doing to appropriately balance our relationship with Saudi Arabia between our American interests and our American values,” Senate Foreign Relations Committee Chairman Bob Corker (R-Tenn.) said in a floor speech before supporting the key procedural vote on the measure.

The Senate has to take another vote, expected next week, to formally open debate on U.S. policy toward the Saudis that seeks to take further action against them for Khashoggi’s death. But even the success of Wednesday’s initial vote was a jab at the White House — which is defending the Saudis ahead of the G-20 summit that Prince Mohammad bin Salman will attend.

The White House issued a statement warning of a possible Trump veto if the resolution were to pass, stating that it “would harm bilateral relationships in the region and negatively impact the ability of the United States to prevent the spread of violent extremist organizations.”

Sen. Rand Paul (R-Ky.), a usual Trump ally who has repeatedly pressed for a stronger response to the Saudis, predicted after Mattis and Pompeo’s briefing that there was a “very good chance” of the chamber advancing the resolution yanking U.S. support for the Yemen war.

When the Senate took a similar vote on supporting the Saudis in Yemen earlier this year, three Republicans joined Paul and lead sponsor Sen. Mike Lee (R-Utah) in opting for a debate on the issue. Paul said that this time, “there’ll be a few more, actually, that will vote” with them — “people who are going to say, ‘you know what, maybe we should get on this bill and have a discussion’.”

Wednesday’s vote gives the Trump administration some room to regroup after multiple senators raised concerns that CIA Director Gina Haspel was not sent to the Senate with Mattis and Pompeo, given that the CIA has reportedly confirmed the crown prince’s involvement.

But if the resolution on Yemen takes another step forward next week, it’s far from clear how the Senate debate would go. Corker described the hypothetical next step as “Wild West.”

“What I hope is going to happen is that the administration themselves will figure out a way to address this issue,” he added after the vote.

Mattis told senators that yanking American support for the Saudi-led forces would be “misguided on the eve of the promising initial negotiations,” according to his unclassified remarks, while Pompeo told reporters that passing the resolution would “undermine” the discussions.

However, any Senate vote to debate the resolution is likely to prove deeplysymbolic despite the slim chance of the House taking it up. And Pompeo’s avowal that no “direct reporting” exists to tie Khashoggi’s murder to Prince Salman left some senators cold.

Sen. Cory Gardner (R-Colo.) told reporters that hearing directly from Haspel would have been “helpful” and declined to say where he stands on the resolution, though he indicated that her absence was swaying some colleagues’ votes. “Saudi Arabia continues to remain an important and key ally that has a lot of answers that they have not yet given to the U.S.”

Corker warned reporters that the lack of a more direct Trump administration punishment for the crown prince’s role in Khashoggi’s death was hurting its own cause on Capitol Hill: “[T]he fact that he hasn’t come clean, the fact that we haven’t forced him to come clean, is creating a problem. And Congress … imperfectly, as we always do, is likely to respond to this.”

One of Lee and Paul’s chief Democratic allies in taking on the Saudi regime, Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), expressed confidence after the briefing but still declined to predict that the group would have the votes to advance the resolution on Wednesday.

Murphy told reporters that he would be open to talks with GOP leaders on a path forward that would allow the chamber to debate what Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has described as “the appropriate response” to Saudi Arabia.

That sort of alternative proposal “would be a good idea” to discuss, said Sen. hris Coons (D-Del.), who’s expected to support taking up the resolution after voting against a debate in March.

The prospect for another forum to tackle U.S.-Saudi relations “will shape a number of senators’ decisions,” Coons added in an interview. “If it seems that the [Sanders-Lee-Murphy] resolution is the only option to send a strong signal to our allies in the Saudi kingdom, it will likely pass.”

The final vote count on Wednesday was short of the two-thirds majority that would be needed to override a Trump veto, and included nine more Republicans in addition to the five who supported this year’s earlier procedural vote on a similar measure: Sens. Todd Young of Indiana, Lindsey Graham of South Carolina, Jeff Flake of Arizona, Rob Portman of Ohio, Pat Toomey of Pennsylvania, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Bill Cassidy of Louisiana, Lisa Murkowski of Alaska, and Corker.

Marianne LeVine contributed to this report.

The Game-Changing Promise of a Green New Deal

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, congresswoman-elect from New York, speaks to activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting in the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) on Capitol Hill, in Washington, Nov. 13, 2018. (Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times)

Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez speaks to activists with the Sunrise Movement protesting in the offices of House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi in Washington D.C., on Nov. 13, 2018.  Photo: Sarah Silbiger/The New York Times via Redux


LIKE SO MANY others, I’ve been energized by the bold moral leadership coming from newly elected members of Congress like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib, and Ayanna Pressley in the face of the spiraling climate crisis and the outrageous attacks on unarmed migrants at the border. It has me thinking about the crucial difference between leadership that acts and leadership that talks about acting.

I’ll get to the Green New Deal and why we need to hold tight to that lifeline for all we’re worth. But before that, bear with me for a visit to the grandstanding of climate politics past.

It was March 2009 and capes were still fluttering in the White House after Barack Obama’s historic hope-and-change electoral victory. Todd Stern, the newly appointed chief climate envoy, told a gathering on Capitol Hill that he and his fellow negotiators needed to embrace their inner superheroes, saving the planet from existential danger in the nick of time.

Climate change, he said, called for some of “that old comic book sensibility of uniting in the face of a common danger threatening the earth. Because that’s what we have here. It’s not a meteor or a space invader, but the damage to our planet, to our community, to our children, and their children will be just as great. There is no time to lose.”

Eight months later, at the fateful United Nations climate summit in Copenhagen, Denmark, all pretense to superheroism from the Obama Administration had been unceremoniously abandoned. Stern stalked the hallways of the convention center like the Grim Reaper, pulling his scythe through every proposal that would have resulted in a transformative agreement. The U.S. insisted on a target that would allow temperatures to rise by 2 degrees Celsius, despite passionate objections from many African and Pacific islander delegates who said the goal amounted to a “genocide” and would lead millions to die on land or in leaky boats. It shot down all attempts to make the deal legally binding, opting for unenforceable voluntary targets instead (as it would in Paris five years later).

Stern categorically rejected the argument that wealthy developed countries owe compensation to poor ones for knowingly pumping earth-warming carbon into the atmosphere, instead using much-needed funds for climate change protection as a bludgeon to force those countries to fall in line.

As I wrote at the time, the Copenhagen deal — cooked up behind closed doors with the most vulnerable countries locked out — amounted to a “grubby pact between the world’s biggest emitters: I’ll pretend that you are doing something about climate change if you pretend that I am too. Deal? Deal.”

United States top climate envoy Todd Stern speaks during a press conference in the main venue of the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen on Wednesday, Dec. 9, 2009. Stern said on Wednesday that getting an agreement that satisfies both rich and poor nations would not be easy.  (AP Photo/POLFOTO, Claus Bjoern Larsen)  **  DENMARK OUT  **

U.S. chief climate envoy Todd Stern speaks during a press conference at the UN Climate Summit in Copenhagen on Dec. 9, 2009.  Photo: Claus Bjoern Larsen/POLFOTO via AP


Almost exactly nine years later, global emissions continue to rise, alongside average temperatures, with large swathes of the planet buffeted by record-breaking storms and scorched by unprecedented fires. The scientists convened in the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change have confirmed precisely what African and low-lying island states have long-since warned: that allowing temperatures to rise by 2 degrees is a death sentence, and that only a 1.5-degree target gives us a fighting chance. Indeed, at least eight Pacific islands have already disappeared beneath the rising seas.

Not only have wealthy countries failed to provide meaningful aid to poorer nations to protect themselves from weather extremes and leapfrog to clean tech, but Europe, Australia, and the United States have all responded to the increase in mass migration — intensified if not directly caused by climate stresses — with brutal force, ranging from Italy’s de facto “let them drown” policy to Trump’s increasingly real war on an unarmed caravan from Central America. Let there be no mistake: this barbarism is the way the wealthy world plans to adapt to climate change.

The only thing resembling a cape at the White House these days are all those coats Melania drapes over her shoulders, mysteriously refusing to use the arm holes for their designed purpose. Her husband, meanwhile, is busily embracing his role as a climate supervillain, gleefully approving new fossil fuel projects, shredding the Paris agreement (it’s not legally binding after all, so why not?), and pronouncing that a Thanksgiving cold snap is proof positive that the planet isn’t warming after all.

In short, the metaphorical meteor that Stern evoked in 2009 is not just hurtling closer to our fragile planet — it’s grazing the (burning) treetops.

And yet here’s the truly strange thing: I feel more optimistic about our collective chances of averting climate breakdown than I have in years. For the first time, I see a clear and credible political pathway that could get us to safety, a place in which the worst climate outcomes are avoided and a new social compact is forged that is radically more humane than anything currently on offer.

We are not on that pathway yet — very far from it. But unlike even one month ago, the pathway is clear. It begins with the galloping momentum calling on the Democratic Party to use its majority in the House to create the Select Committee for a Green New Deal, a plan advanced by Ocasio-Cortez and now backed by more than 14 representatives.

The draft text calls for the committee, which would be fully funded and empowered to draft legislation, to spend the next year consulting with a range of experts — from scientists to local lawmakers to labor unions to business leaders — to map out a “detailed national, industrial, economic mobilization plan” capable of making the U.S. economy “carbon neutral” while promoting “economic and environmental justice and equality.” By January 2020, the plan would be released, and two months later would come draft legislation designed to turn it into a reality.

That early 2020 deadline is important — it means that the contours of the Green New Deal would be complete by the next U.S. election cycle, and any politician wanting to be taken seriously as a progressive champion would need to adopt it as the centerpiece of their platform. If that happened, and the party running on a sweeping Green New Deal retook the White House and the Senate in November 2020, then there would actually be time left on the climate clock to meet the harsh targets laid out in the recent IPCC report, which told us that we have a mere 12 years to cut fossil fuel emissions by a head-spinning 45 percent.

Pulling that off, the report’s summary states in its first sentence, is not possible with singular policies like carbon taxes. Rather, what is needed is “rapid, far-reaching and unprecedented changes in all aspects of society.” By giving the committee a mandate that connects the dots between energy, transportation, housing and construction, as well as health care, living wages, a jobs guarantee, and the urgent imperative to battle racial and gender injustice, the Green New Deal plan would be mapping precisely that kind of far-reaching change. This is not a piecemeal approach that trains a water gun on a blazing fire, but a comprehensive and holistic plan to actually put the fire out.

If the world’s largest economy looked poised to show that kind of visionary leadership, other major emitters — like the European Union, China, and India — would almost certainly find themselves under intense pressure from their own populations to follow suit.

NOW, NOTHING ABOUT the pathway I have just outlined is certain or even likely: The Democratic Party establishment under Nancy Pelosi will probably squash the Green New Deal proposal, much as the party stomped on hopes for more ambitious climate deals under Obama. Smart money would bet on the party doing little more than resuscitating the climate committee that helped produce cap-and-trade legislation in Obama’s first term, an ill-fated and convoluted market-based scheme that would have treated greenhouse gases as late-capitalist abstractions to be traded, bundled, and speculated upon like currency or subprime debt (which is why Ocasio-Cortez is insisting that lawmakers who take fossil fuel money should not be on the Green New Deal select committee).

And of course, even if pressure on lawmakers continues to mount and those calling for the select committee carry the day, there is no guarantee that the party will win back the Senate and White House in 2020.

And yet, despite all of these caveats, we now have a something that has been sorely missing: a concrete plan on the table, complete with a science-based timeline, that is not only coming from social movements on the outside of government, but which also has a sizable (and growing) bloc of committed champions inside the House of Representatives.

Decades from now, if we are exquisitely lucky enough to tell a thrilling story about how humanity came together in the nick of time to intercept the metaphorical meteor, the pivotal chapter will not be the highly produced cinematic moment when Barack Obama won the Democratic primary and told an adoring throng of supporters that this would be “the moment when the rise of the oceans began to slow and our planet began to heal.” No, it will be the far less scripted and markedly more scrappy moment when a group of fed-up young people from the Sunrise Movement occupied the offices of Pelosi after the midterm elections, calling on her to get behind the plan for a Green New Deal — with Ocasio-Cortez dropping by the sit-in to cheer them on.


Sunrise Movement activists outside Nancy Pelosi’s office in Washington D.C. on Nov. 13, 2018.  Photo: Briahna Gray/The Intercept


I realize that it may seem unreasonably optimistic to invest so much in a House committee, but it is not the committee itself that is my main source of hope. It is the vast infrastructure of scientific, technical, political, and movement expertise poised to spring into action should we take the first few steps down this path. It is a network of extraordinary groups and individuals who have held fast to their climate focus and commitments even when no media wanted to cover the crisis and no major political party wanted to do anything more than perform concern.

It’s a network that has been waiting a very long time for there to finally be a critical mass of politicians in power who understand not only the existential urgency of the climate crisis, but also the once-in-a-century opportunity it represents, as the draft resolution states, “to virtually eliminate poverty in the United States and to make prosperity, wealth and economic security available to everyone participating in the transformation.”

The ground for this moment has been prepared for decades, with models for community-owned and community-controlled renewable energy; with justice-based transitions that make sure no worker is left behind; with a deepening analysis of the intersections between systemic racism, armed conflict, and climate disruption; with improved green tech and breakthroughs in clean public transit; with the thriving fossil fuel divestment movement; with model legislation driven by the climate justice movement that shows how carbon taxes can fight racial and gender exclusion; and much more.

What has been missing is only the top-level political power to roll out the best of these models all at once, with the focus and velocity that both science and justice demand. That is the great promise of a comprehensive Green New Deal in the largest economy on earth. And as the Sunrise Movement turns up the heat on legislators who have yet to sign onto the plan, it deserves all of our support.

Of course there is no shortage of Beltway pundits ready to dismiss all of this as hopelessly naive and unrealistic, the work of political neophytes who don’t understand the art of the possible or the finer points of policy. What those pundits are failing to account for is the fact that, unlike previous attempts to introduce climate legislation, the Green New Deal has the capacity to mobilize a truly intersectional mass movement behind it — not despite its sweeping ambition, but precisely because of it.

This is the game-changer of having representatives in Congress rooted in working-class struggles for living-wage jobs and for nontoxic air and water — women like Tlaib, who helped fight a successful battle against Koch Industries’ noxious petroleum coke mountain in Detroit.

If you are part of the economy’s winning class and funded by even bigger winners, as so many politicians are, then your attempts to craft climate legislation will likely be guided by the idea that change should be as minimal and unchallenging to the status quo as possible. After all, the status quo is working just fine for you and your donors. Leaders who are rooted in communities that are being egregiously failed by the current system, on the other hand, are liberated to take a very different approach. Their climate policies can embrace deep and systemic change — including the need for massive investments in public transit, affordable housing, and health care — because that kind of change is precisely what their bases need to thrive.

As climate justice organizations have been arguing for many years now, when the people with the most to gain lead the movement, they fight to win.

Another game-changing aspect of a Green New Deal is that it is modeled after the most famous economic stimulus of all time, which makes it recession-proof. When the global economy enters another downturn, which it surely will, support for this model of climate action will not plummet as has been the case with every other major green initiative during past recessions. Instead, it will increase, since a large-scale stimulus will become the greatest hope of reviving the economy.

Having a good idea is no guarantee of success, of course. But here’s a thought: If the push for a Select Committee for a Green New Deal is defeated, then those lawmakers who want it to happen could consider working with civil society to set up some sort of parallel constituent assembly-like body to get the plan drafted anyway, in time for it to steal the show in 2020. Because this possibility is simply too important, and time is just too short, to allow it to be shut down by the usual forces of political inertia.

As the surprising events of the past few weeks have unfolded, with young activists rewriting the rules of the possible day after day, I have found myself thinking about another moment when young people found their voice in the climate change arena. It was 2011, at the annual United Nations climate summit, this time held in Durban, South Africa. A 21-year-old Canadian college student named Anjali Appadurai was selected to address the gathering on behalf (absurdly) of all the world’s young people.

She delivered a stunning and unsparing address (worth watching in full) that shamed the gathered negotiators for decades of inaction. “You have been negotiating all my life,” she said. “In that time, you’ve failed to meet pledges, you’ve missed targets, and you’ve broken promises. … The most stark betrayal of your generation’s responsibility to ours is that you call this ‘ambition.’ Where is the courage in these rooms? Now is not the time for incremental action. In the long run, these will be seen as the defining moments of an era in which narrow self-interest prevailed over science, reason, and common compassion.”

The most wrenching part of the address is that not a single major government was willing to receive her message; she was shouting into the void.

Seven years later, when other young people are locating their climate voice and their climate rage, there is finally someone to receive their message, with an actual plan to turn it into policy. And that might just change everything.

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