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Will Congress Take Action Against Saudi Arabia, or Is It Just Rhetoric?

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SHIREEN AL-ADEIMI, aladeimi at msu.edu, @shireen818
Originally from Yemen, Al-Adeimi is an assistant professor of education at Michigan State University. Available for a limited number of interviews, she just wrote the piece “Saudi Journalist Jamal Khashoggi’s Disappearance has Accomplished What 50,000 Yemeni Deaths Could Not” for NBC News, which states: “Though long overdue, these condemnations of the Saudi government are welcome. Saudi Arabia has been a close U.S. ally for decades, but during that time it has engaged in numerous violations of human rights, including creating what is currently the world’s worst humanitarian crisis. For over three-and-a-half years, Saudi Arabia has been waging a brutal attack on its poorest neighbor, Yemen, causing the killings of as many as 50,000 people and the silent deaths of an estimated 113,000 children who have perished from malnutrition and preventable diseases like cholera. By using starvation as a weapon and causing the collapse of the Yemeni economy, health care and educational systems, Mohammed bin Salman has proven himself to be a ruthless monarch, and not the progressive reformer that many in the Western press have, until very recently, been happy to paint him as. …

“Despite warning that Saudi should expect ‘severe punishment’ if they are found responsible, Trump reiterated in a ’60 Minutes’ interview that halting weapons sales is out of the question.”In stark contrast, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took a much harder line, declaring: “There’s not enough money in the world to buy back our credibility on human rights if we do not move forward and take swift action.” And yet, Rubio’s concern for human rights was absent when, earlier this year, he joined 54 mostly Republican colleagues in killing a bill that called for an end to the U.S. role in Yemen altogether.”

HASSAN EL-TAYYAB, hassan@chipeaceaction.org, @justfp

El-Tayyab is policy and organizing director at Chicago Area Peace Action and policy and government affairs fellow at Just Foreign Policy.

He recently wrote the piece “Khashoggi Disappearance Is an Opening for Referendum on U.S.-Saudi Alliance,” which states: “With no leadership coming from the White House, the onus falls on Congress to impose swift and concrete consequences on the Saudis. Luckily, it already has a clear path for doing so in pending legislation H.Con.Res. 138, a new bipartisan war powers resolution introduced in the House to end U.S. military involvement in Saudi Arabia’s War on Yemen, introduced by Reps. Khanna, Jones, Massie, Pocan, and Smith last month. …

“If passed, H.Con.Res. 138 will direct the president to stop the fueling of Saudi warplanes and cut off targeting assistance for the war in Yemen. This would send a clear and indelible signal that the U.S. will no longer give a blank check to bad actions by the Saudis, whether it be in their brutal bombing of civilians in Yemen, or the apparent murder of a U.S.-based journalist.”

Social Security, Medicare, and Medicaid on the Ballot

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NANCY ALTMAN, LINDA BENESCH, lbenesch at socialsecurityworks.org, @ssworks
Altman is president of Social Security Works, Benesch is communications director for the group. Altman just wrote the piece “The Future of Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid Is on the Ballot This November,” which states that Mitch McConnell “just said that spending on so-called ‘entitlement programs’ must be ‘addressed.’ That is Washington insider code for ending Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.

“Right-wingers have opposed Social Security and Medicare ever since they were first created. But because these programs enjoy overwhelming support from the American people, including voters of all political affiliations, they do not normally talk about their plans for benefit cuts three weeks before an election. If this is how they are talking now, imagine how emboldened they will be if they ride out the blue wave and keep control of Congress!

“Since losing the Bush privatization fight, these Republicans have worked hard to avoid political accountability, through using fast-tracked, unaccountable supercommittees, commissions or other forms of bipartisan cover. But with Democrats now in favor of expanding, not cutting these vital programs, Republican elites may see their latest chance slipping away. And they are determined not to let that happen. Like the proverbial child who murders his parents and then pleads for leniency because he is an orphan, today’s Republicans are planning to use the cost of their tax giveaway to the wealthy as the excuse to do what they have wanted to do for so long.

“Time and time again, McConnell has shown that the only thing he truly cares about is power. And he has been rewarded for his ruthlessness. He was able to steal a Supreme Court appointment in 2016. If Congress remains in Republican control, he will do anything he has to do to ensure that he destroys Social Security, Medicare and Medicaid.”

Gaza’s Escalating Water Crisis

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SANDY TOLAN, sandytolan at gmail.com, @Sandy_Tolan
Recently back from Gaza, Tolan just wrote the piece “Gaza’s Dying of Thirst, and Its Water Crisis Will Become a Threat to Israel” for The Daily Beast.

Tolan writes: “Mohammed Nimnim carries the water for his family. On a scorching late morning last summer, the 15-year-old pushed an old wheelchair piled high with empty plastic jugs through Gaza’s Shati (Beach) refugee camp. He rattled past modest groceries, makeshift tire shops, and graffiti praising Gaza’s martyrs, down broken concrete lanes, and toward the local mosque, where sputtering taps provide the family’s only source of drinking water.

“No luck. …

“Studies point to sharp rises in water-borne ailments, as doctors here forecast an outbreak of epidemic disease due to deteriorating water quality. Already, 97 percent of the water from Gaza’s wells is unfit for human consumption — the result of seawater leaking into the aquifer from severe over-pumping. And because there’s insufficient electricity to run Gaza’s sewage plant, 110 million liters of untreated sewage flows into the Mediterranean every day. …

“Another huge factor was the ‘Nakba,’ or Palestinian catastrophe, in 1948, when Gaza’s population quadrupled in just a few weeks, putting immense new pressure on the aquifer. And then there is Israel’s bombing of wells, water towers and pipelines, and sewage plants in Gaza, which caused an estimated $34m of damage.  …

“Israeli officials refute those charges in repeated statements, laying the blame squarely on Hamas. …

“Yet all of these factors, according to doctors and human rights groups, are minor compared to Israel’s ongoing economic blockade of Gaza, which has restricted the movement of basic goods, including medical supplies. ‘Occupation and siege are the primary impediments to the successful promotion of public health in the Gaza Strip,’ declared a 2018 study in The Lancet, which cited ‘significant and deleterious effects to health care.’ …

“It may seem that Gaza’s torments are sealed off from the outside world by layers of fences, locked gates, patrolling Israeli drones and war planes, and international disdain and indifference. But sewage travels across borders.”

Tolan is author of The Lemon Tree: An Arab, A Jew, and the Heart of the Middle East and Children of the Stones. He is also a professor at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism. His website is SandyTolan.com.

Women’s March on the Pentagon

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CINDY SHEEHAN, CindySheehan at MarchOnPentagon.com, @womenmarch4paz
BONNIE CARACCIOLO, Bosmarch2018 at gmail.com, @green42020
EMMA FIALA, Emma at MarchOnPentagon.com, @bymyelf

Cindy Sheehan gained global recognition for protesting against the Iraq invasion outside of then-President George W. Bush’s Crawford ranch in 2005. She has continued her antiwar activism in the years since, regardless of the party in the White House. She is lead organizer for the Women’s March on the Pentagon taking place this weekend. Caracciolo and Fiala are fellow organizers of the march — see: MarchOnPentagon.com.

The group released a statement: “Despite the fact that our children are getting third rate public schooling; homelessness is a national crisis and disgrace; U.S. infrastructure is failing at an alarming rate; and this nation is being dissolved foot by foot by global warming and unprecedented natural disasters: the Pentagon receives almost 60 cents of every tax dollar to continue the war machine’s program of global domination for resource control and profit.

“We at WMOP reject the thinking that just because the U.S. has long been the world’s dominant hegemonic force, that it has to remain that way. Maintaining the U.S. war machine at its current levels is sucking the life our of our families, communities, nation and world.”

“Imperialism is the disease,” the group continued and such efforts at “organizing in a dedicated and militant (we won’t stop until they stop) way for a peaceful and sustainable planet is the answer!”

Black Voters Matter Blocked from Taking Georgia Seniors to Vote

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Think Progress is reporting in “Black Voters Matter Blocked from Taking Georgia Seniors to Vote” that: “Seniors in rural Georgia were dancing in the street, preparing to board Black Voters Matter‘s bus to cast their ballots on the first day of Georgia’s early voting period. But the 40 or so African American senior citizens were told to get off the bus, an act organizers described as ‘live voter suppression.’

“While the elderly people were boarding the vehicle plastered with photos of African Americans and raised black fists, the Leisure Center in Jefferson County was notified that someone had called the county commissioner and complained that the bus should not be taking voters to the polls.

“LaTosha Brown, one of the co-founders of Black Voters Matters, said there was nothing illegal about the group’s activity. The organization is non-partisan and the bus doesn’t endorse any particular candidate. She called it a clear-cut case of ‘voter intimidation.’”

LATOSHA BROWN, latoshabrown777 at gmail.com
CLIFF ALBRIGHT, cliff at strategiccliffnotes.com

Brown and Albright are co-founders of Black Voters Matter, which is based in Atlanta.

Brown said today: “This is a continuation of voter suppression and voter intimidation. … Even in the absence of law or policy they use voter Intimidation as a strategy to use their power and authority to intimidate black folks in rural areas.

“These people did nothing wrong by riding with us on our bus, but when the authorities said the seniors could not ride on our bus — which was legal — they got off and boarded the bus that was their pre-arranged transportation.

“But Jefferson County officials cancelled the group’s appointment to do early voting today anyway.”Albright added: “They made us even more energized. Can’t stop, won’t stop.”

U.S. Officials Could Be Prosecuted with Saudis for War Crimes in Yemen

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MOHAMAD BAZZI, mohamad.bazzi at nyu.edu, @BazziNYU
Available for a limited number of interviews, Bazzi is a journalism professor at New York University and a former Middle East bureau chief at Newsday. He is writing a book on the proxy wars between Saudi Arabia and Iran.

He just just wrote the piece “American Officials Could Be Prosecuted for War Crimes in Yemen” for The Nation and “Congress Is Forcing a Confrontation With Saudi Arabia” for The Atlantic.

Trump just announced that he is sending Secretary of State Mike Pompeo to Saudi Arabia.

Bazzi notes that just last month Pompeo certified to Congress that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates “were trying to minimize civilian casualties and to enable deliveries of humanitarian aid. … But the administration’s assurances contradicted virtually every other independent review of the war, including the recent report by a group of UN experts and several Human Rights Watch investigations that found the Saudi coalition culpable of war crimes.

“On September 20, The Wall Street Journal reported that Pompeo decided to certify Saudi and Emirati compliance over the objections of many State Department officials. The Journal quoted a classified memo in which most of the agency’s regional and military experts urged Pompeo to reject certification ‘due to a lack of progress on mitigating civilian casualties.’ But Pompeo was worried that a negative statement from the administration and potential disruption in U.S. military assistance could jeopardize $2 billion in upcoming weapons sales to Saudi Arabia and the UAE. …

“Few Americans realize how deeply the United States is implicated in potential war crimes in Yemen — and both the Trump and Obama administrations have been unwilling to stop the bloodshed. …

“Soon after Trump took office, he escalated U.S. military involvement in Yemen, with little public attention or debate. In March 2017, Trump reversed a decision by Obama to suspend the sale of about $400 million in laser-guided bombs and other munitions to the Saudi military. (Obama and his advisers tried to use the weapons deal as leverage to force the Saudis and their allies to take concerns about civilian deaths more seriously, to little effect.) …

“Documents obtained by Reuters under the Freedom of Information Act showed that U.S. officials were especially worried about a 2012 ruling from an international tribunal at The Hague that convicted Charles Taylor, Liberia’s former president. He was found guilty of aiding and abetting war crimes committed by rebels in neighboring Sierra Leone during its civil war in the 1990s, and sentenced to 50 years in prison. The ruling built on precedents set by the Yugoslavia war crimes tribunal, which found that the accused can be guilty of ‘aiding and abetting’ if he provided ‘practical assistance, encouragement, or moral support which had a substantial effect on the perpetration of a crime.’ The court found that prosecutors do not have to prove that a defendant had direct control over the perpetrators, or participated in a specific crime. U.S. government lawyers worried that similar legal reasoning could be used to prosecute American officials who continue to provide weapons and military assistance to the Saudi-led coalition, despite mounting evidence that it was committing war crimes.”

Autopsy on Democrats: One Year Later

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Advance excerpts published today by The Nation unveil a new assessment of the Democratic Party’s progress during the year since release of a scathing Autopsy titled “The Democratic Party in Crisis.”

Produced by the same task force of researchers, the new report — “Democratic Autopsy: One Year Later” — “evaluates how well the Democratic Party has done in charting a new course since the autumn of 2017.” The document rates developments in each of the seven categories that the original Autopsy assessed — corporate power, race, young people, voter participation, social movements, war and party democracy.

The new report says that “the upsurge of progressive activism and electoral victories during the last year has created momentum that could lead to historic breakthroughs in the midterm elections and far beyond.” But the report concludes that the party is still major steps away from becoming a political force capable of ending Republican rule and implementing vital progressive reforms.

The Nation has posted advance excerpts of the new report here.

Today, RootsAction.org emailed information about the new report to the group’s 1.2 million active supporters online in the U.S. The new report and the original Autopsy were supported by Action for a Progressive Future, which sponsors RootsAction.

The following co-authors of “Democratic Autopsy: One Year Later” are available for interviews:

JEFF COHEN, jcohen at ithaca.edu
Cohen is founder of the media watch group FAIR and co-founder of RootsAction.org.

DONNA SMITH, donna at pdamerica.org
Smith is former executive director and current national advisory board chair of Progressive Democrats of America.

The Saudi Lobby Juggernaut

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Sen. Rand Paul states: “The Saudis will keep killing civilians and journalists as long as we keep arming and assisting them. The President should immediately halt arms sales and military support to Saudi Arabia.” See video of Paul’s comments regarding the Saudi bombing of Yemen and missing Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi. The Hill reports: “Senators demand answers on Trump administration backing of Saudi coalition in Yemen.”

BEN FREEMAN, ben at ciponline.org
Freeman is the director of the Foreign Influence Transparency Initiative at the Center for International Policy. He just wrote the piece for TomDispatch: “The Saudi Lobby Juggernaut,” which states: “The growth of Saudi lobbying operations [has been] extraordinary. In 2016, according to FARA records, they reported spending just under $10 million on lobbying firms; in 2017, that number had nearly tripled to $27.3 million. And that’s just a baseline figure for a far larger operation to buy influence in Washington, since it doesn’t include considerable sums given to elite universities or think tanks like the Arab Gulf States Institute, the Middle East Institute, and the Center for Strategic and International Studies (to mention just a few of them).

“This meteoric rise in spending allowed the Saudis to dramatically increase the number of lobbyists representing their interests on both sides of the aisle. Before President Trump even took office, the Saudi government signed a deal with the McKeon Group, a lobbying firm headed by Howard ‘Buck’ McKeon, the recently retired Republican chairman of the House Armed Services Committee. His firm also represents Lockheed Martin, one of the top providers of military equipment to the Kingdom. On the Democratic side, the Saudis inked a $140,000-per-month deal with the Podesta Group, headed by Tony Podesta, whose brother John, a long-time Democratic Party operative, was the former chairman of Hillary Clinton’s presidential campaign. Tony Podesta later dissolved his firm and has allegedly been investigated by Special Counsel Robert Mueller for serving as an unregistered foreign agent. …

“Such activity reveals a clear pattern: Saudi foreign agents are working tirelessly to shape perceptions of that country, its royals, its policies, and especially its grim war in Yemen, while simultaneously working to keep U.S. weapons and military support flowing into the Kingdom.”

Trump’s “New Lies” on Medicare-for-All

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ROBERT WEISSMAN, Mike Stankiewicz, mstankiewicz@citizen.org, Angela Bradbery, abradbery@citizen.org@Public_Citizen
President of Public Citizen, Weissman just released a statement, “Fact Check: Trump is Dead Wrong on Medicare-for-All“:”Lies and deceptions from Trump are nothing new. Lies and deceptions from Trump about Medicare-for All are new, so it’s worth correcting his USA Todaycolumn [“Democrats ‘Medicare for All’ plan will demolish promises to seniors.”] attacking such a system.

“One reason his attacks on Medicare-for-All are new is that he probably has supported it in the past. But whatever, there’s no reason to think Trump particularly believed what he said then, or what he says now. On to the major lies and deceits:

“Medicare-for-All would not ‘end Medicare as we know it and take away benefits that seniors have paid for all their lives.’ The reason it’s called Medicare-for-All is because it would take the existing program and expand it to everyone. Seniors’ benefits would not be taken away — in fact, they would be improved, but everyone else would gain the benefits of Medicare, too.

“Medicare-for-All is not going to cost an ‘astonishing $32.6 trillion’ over 10 years, because it will introduce major savings not adequately accounted for in the study Trump cites. Significant savings would come from eliminating vast amounts of paperwork and bureaucracy imposed by the current dysfunctional system, and steeply dropping costs for brand-name pharmaceuticals. But even if Medicare-for-All cost as much as Trump alleges, that amount would be LESS than projections for our current system, which also leaves tens of millions of Americans without coverage.” See related Institute for Public Accuracy news release: “Even Koch-Backed Think Tank Finds Medicare for All Would Cut Health Care Spending” featuring Drs. David Himmelstein and Steffie Woolhandler, distinguished professors of health policy at the City University of New York at Hunter College and lecturers in medicine at Harvard Medical School.

See full Public Citizen statement here.

Protesting Saudi Crimes

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NBC News reports: “Friends of the missing Saudi writer Jamal Khashoggi described him as being deeply afraid of his country’s rulers and of being targeted by the powerful Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in the months before his disappearance.”

See from the British Independent: “Jamal Khashoggi joins growing list of Saudi dissidents who have mysteriously disappeared in recent years.” The New Arab report from Monday: “Lebanon lawmaker Paula Yacoubian confirms Riyadh detained PM Hariri amid journalist disappearance mystery.”

MEDEA BENJAMIN, medea at codepink.org, @medeabenjamin
    Benjamin is co-founder of the activist group CodePink, which is organizing protests on Wednesday at the Saudi Embassy in Washington, D.C. at noon and at the Saudi consulate in New York City at 5 p.m.

    CodePink said in a statement: “The last anyone has heard from prominent Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was October 2, when he walked into the Saudi Consulate in Istanbul to get some papers needed for his marriage. Turkish investigators have leaked what they believe happened: A 15-person hit team was sent from Saudi Arabia to Turkey to murder Khashoggi, who had been a critic of the Saudi government.”

    Benjamin is author of Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection. On Monday, she appeared on “Democracy Now!“: “I think it has to be put in the context that the Saudi crown prince, MBS [Mohammed bin Salman], is out of control — what he is doing in Yemen, the bombing of schoolchildren, the kidnapping of Hariri in Lebanon, the throwing in prison of women activists, of scholars, and creating an economic war with Qatar.”

The New York Times reported in August: “U.N. Says Saudi-led Airstrike Killed at Least 22 Yemeni Children.”

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