Secretary of State Mike Pompeo stood firm Sunday in his rhetoric about Iran, saying it is “unmistakable” that Tehran is responsible for what appeared to be attacks last week on oil tankers in the Persian Gulf.
“It’s unmistakable what happened here,” Pompeo told Chris Wallace, host of “Fox News Sunday.” “These were attacks by the Islamic Republic of Iran on commercial shipping on the freedom of navigation with the clear intent to deny transit through the Strait,“ referring to the Strait of Hormuz.
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The U.S. reaction to the incident has sparked concerns that the President Donald Trump and his administration are firmly on the path toward a war with Iran.
Pompeo on Thursday blamed Tehran for the attacks of two oil tankers. He said his accusation was based “on intelligence, the weapons used, the level of expertise needed to execute the operation, recent similar Iranian attacks on shipping and the fact that no proxy group operating in the area has the resources and proficiency to act with such a high degree of sophistication.”
On Sunday, Pompeo added that U.S. intelligence “has lots of data, lots of evidence,” that back up his claim.
“The world will come to see much of it, but the American people should rest assured we have high confidence with respect to who conducted these attacks, as well as half a dozen other attacks throughout the world over the past 40 days,” he said.
The two ships attacked where the Kokuka Courageous (which is Japanese owned) and the Front Altair (which is Norwegian owned). Both ships were seen on fire, but neither ship sank and no one was killed.
On Sunday, Saudi Arabia’s Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman accused Iran of being behind the attacks on the vessels. However, Japanese crew members have said the vessels were hit by “flying objects,” not Iranian mines, as the U.S. and Saudi Arabia have said, and Japan has sought additional evidence on the incidents.
Pompeo said guaranteeing the ability to navigate freely through the strait where the oil tankers were hit is “an international challenge, important to the entire globe” and he is” confident that we will have partners that understand this threat.”
“Japan, South Korea, Indonesia, these countries are very dependent on freedom of navigation throughout these straits and I’m confident that when they see the risk some of the risk of their own economies and their own people and outrageous behavior of the Islamic Republic of Iran, they will join us in the spirit,” he said.
Pompeo did not discuss specifics of what kinds of actions the U.S. is considering taking toward Iran, but emphasized that “Iran will not get a nuclear weapon,” and said that he and President Donald Trump “don’t want a war.” (Trump withdrew from the Iran nuclear agreement last year.)
“We’ve done what we can to deter this,” Pompeo said. “The Iranians should understand very clearly that we will continue to take actions that deter Iran from engaging in this kind of behavior.”
Pompeo later said Sunday on CBS’ Face the Nation that the United States was “prepared to do our part” to keep the Strait of Hormuz open, noting that China gets 80 percent of its oil through the maritime choke point.
“We always defend freedom of navigation,” he said.
Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) who sits on the Senate Armed Forces Committee was more blunt on CBS’ “Face the Nation.“ He said: “Unprovoked attacks on commercial shipping warrant a retaliatory military strike against the islamic republic of Iran.”
House Intelligence Chair Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), also on “Face the Nation,” expressed skepticism about Pompeo and Trump’s apparent aversion to going to war.
Schiff said the administration’s constant antagonizing of Iran, through sanctions and bellicose rhetoric, has only poked the bear, dangerously escalating tensions. He added removal from the Iran nuclear deal has not made the United States any safer and that the recent attack on the ships was proof.
“The whole idea that somehow through this pressure campaign we were going to force Iran to capitulate … was dangerously naive,” Schiff said. “This was eminently foreseeable.”
Stating concerns about the nation being pushed “into what perhaps will be another war,” Democratic presidential candidate Beto O’Rourke also was critical of the U.S. approach in the Middle East.
“This president has made a mess of our foreign policy and has significantly diminished the national security of this country,” he said on CNN’s “State of the Union.”
Two tankers were struck by explosions on Thursday, the second attack in a month in the strategic shipping lane amid a tense United States-Iran standoff, prompting fears of a regional conflagration and sending oil prices soaring.
“We do not want a war in the region… But we won’t hesitate to deal with any threat to our people, our sovereignty, our territorial integrity and our vital interests,” MBS told pan-Arab daily Asharq al-Awsat in an interview published on Sunday.
“The Iranian regime did not respect the presence of the Japanese prime minister as a guest in Tehran and responded to his (diplomatic) efforts by attacking two tankers, one of which was Japanese,” MBS added in his first public comment since the attacks.
Prince Mohammed also accused Iran “and its proxies” of the May 12 attacks on four tankers anchored in the Gulf of Oman off the United Arab Emirates‘ port of Fujairah.
Thursday’s attack on the two tankers – Japanese-owned Kokuka Courageous that was carrying highly flammable methanol when it was rocked by explosions and the Norwegian-operated Front Altair – came around the time Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was meeting Iranian leaders in Tehran.
US President Donald Trump has said the twin attacks had Iran “written all over it”, rejecting Tehran’s vehement denial.
Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif tweeted that the US had “immediately jumped to make allegations against Iran without a shred of factual or circumstantial evidence”.
Search for evidence
The US military on Friday released grainy footage it said showed an Iranian patrol boat removing an “unexploded limpet mine” from one of the tankers.
Speaking from Muscat, Al Jazeera’s Mohamed Vall said that more investigations were being carried out about the attacks.
“The Americans have sent a team to board one of the two tankers that have been hit to collect more evidence.
“Also, the foreign minister of the UAE has said his country has submitted more evidence to the Security Council … [which they say shows the incident] was state-sponsored. There wasn’t a mention of Iran, but Saudi Arabia and the UAE have from day one supported the American version of events,” Vall said.
Both sides have also continued to beat the drums of war.
“The Americans say they are capable of waging a war and forcing Iran to stop sabotaging the waterways of the Gulf and disrupting oil supplies to the world.
“Iranians, on the other hand, are saying they have done nothing wrong, but if forced to war, they are ready to defend themselves,” said Vall.
UAE’s Foreign Minister Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nahyan on Saturday called on world powers “to secure international navigation and access to energy”, a plea echoed by regional ally Saudi Arabia after the incident sent crude oil prices soaring.
Iran has repeatedly warned in the past that it could block the strategic Hormuz Strait in a relatively low-tech, high-impact countermeasure to any attack by the US.
Doing so would disrupt oil tankers travelling out of the Gulf region to the Indian Ocean and global export routes.
The UAE’s Sheikh Abdullah, whose country is bitterly opposed to Iranian influence in the region, called for a de-escalation of tensions.
“We remain hopeful in attaining a broader framework for cooperation with Iran,” he said at a summit in Bulgaria.
Meanwhile, Saudi Arabia’s Energy Minister Khalid al-Falih called for a “swift and decisive” response to threats against energy supplies after Thursday’s “terrorist acts”.
Vessels head to port
The Japanese tanker’s Tokyo-based operator Kokuka confirmed on Saturday the stricken vessel was heading to port in the UAE.
“We still don’t know if the tanker goes to Khor Fakkan or Fujairah as they are very close,” said a spokesperson, referring to the two Emirati ports on the Gulf of Oman.
Maritime experts would then seek to transfer the highly flammable cargo to shore, according to an unnamed official quoted by Japanese state media.
The other ship, the Front Altair, has left Iran’s territorial waters, multiple sources said on Saturday.
The ship is “heading toward the Fujairah-Khor Fakkan area” in the UAE, the head of ports for Iran’s southern province of Hormozgan told the semi-official news agency ISNA.
The tanker “has left Iran’s territorial waters”, he said, adding that it was being towed and sprayed with water to cool the hull.
A spokesperson for Frontline Management, the Norwegian company which owns the ship, said “all 23 crew members of the tanker departed Iran” and flew to Dubai on Saturday.
“All crew members are well and have been well looked after while in Iran,” she said.
STONY POINT, N.Y. — “When we were taught about the civil rights movement as kids, it was told to us as if a few big marches just happened and then the laws changed,” Emily LaShelle told me last weekend as she smoked a cigarette. Behind her, a group of her peers played Frisbee in a field while the sun set behind them. “But there was so much more work and effort by activists behind the scenes,” she said. “And that’s the kind of work we’re teaching people to be involved in for this movement.”
LaShelle is 21, with short-cropped blond hair and a nose piercing. Her movement is the Sunrise Movement, an organization of mostly twenty-something climate activists who are best known for seemingly instantly and improbably injecting the idea of a “Green New Deal” into the national conversation. This past week, more than 70 Sunrise activists, including LaShelle, traveled to a rural, multifaith retreat center along the Hudson River, about 50 miles north of New York City, to take part in a weeklong boot camp that’s intended to transform them into the next generation of climate activists—who, in turn, are supposed to transform American politics.
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Sunrise has already moved shockingly swiftly on that front. Last November, Sunrise activists joined newly elected Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in a splashy protest at House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s office that catapulted the group to national relevance. The resulting publicity added thousands of people to the group’s ranks of supporters and active volunteers. Less than a year later, Sunrise’s proposal for a Green New Deal has gone from being widely mocked as an overly ambitious socialist fantasy (or the “Green Dream,” in Pelosi’s words) to being endorsed by 16 of the Democrats running for president—most recently by none other than Joe Biden. Four years after it was founded by several activists in the fossil-fuel divestment movement on college campuses and a climate policy researcher supported by the Sierra Club, Sunrise has become an influential force not just in climate activism but in Democratic politics. And its oldest staff member is only 33.
The most pressing question Sunrise now faces—and one that occupied this past week’s boot camp—is not unlike the one that faced Robert Redford at the end of The Candidate: What do we do now? How do a bunch of twenty-somethings, somewhatblindsided by their own success, come up with a next act?
The Sunrise Movement is part of a crop of progressive groups that have sprung up outside the mainstream Democratic Party and have helped to dramatically reshape the left’s agenda, often with minimal infrastructure. At its founding, Sunrise saw itself as solely focused on changing public opinion as an indirect means of pressuring the party’s establishment. But after the election of President Donald Trump, the group and its leaders underwent a change in philosophy: They needed to convert their idealism into power by engaging in hard politics.
In less than five years, Sunrise has grown from a small and quixotic project to a full-fledged advocacy organization that draws thousands of volunteers across the country and tens of thousands of participants to its events, including a large protest that’s being planned around the Democratic presidential debate in Detroit later this summer. Among the activists at the Sunrise boot camp, there was a palpable sense of enthusiasm but also anger and even desperation at what it calls the “climate crisis.” There was a pervasive feeling that previous generations of adults had ignored the apocalyptic threat of climate change and left it to be solved by millennials and Gen Zers. At times, Sunrise’s leaders seem like they’re winging it, or even engaging in a right-wing parody of performative wokeness. Yet it’s also undeniable that whatever this earnest and improvisational organization is doing, it’s working. The national discussion around climate change has moved more in the past eight months than it did during the previous eight years.
Last year, Sunrise held a similar boot camp for its activists, 75 like-minded young adults who were volunteering their summers to help a fledgling movement. No members of the news media showed up. “We were sending press releases out, but no one was responding,” Stephen O’Hanlon, Sunrise’s communications director and one of its eight original co-founders, told me last weekend. O’Hanlon is 23.
This year’s camp was for 60 full-time organizers who will receive food, housing and a stipend for up to six months, during which they’ll be placed in “movement houses” around the country. Politico Magazine showed up, and so did a reporter for Vogue. A New York Times video team was expected, too. “It’s fucking insane,” Victoria Fernandez, who’s 26 and another of the movement’s co-founders, said to me about the media coverage—and the organization’s rising status.
“Initially we thought,” Sunrise co-founder Sara Blazevic, who is 26, told me of the group’s founding, “if we can build the public support and the public pressure, our political system will follow. We’d be a movement that was pretty solely focused on the outside game strategy: building public pressure, elevating the urgency of the crisis in the eyes of the American people and demonstrating it to political leaders and forcing them to reckon with it,” she said.
That was the summer of 2016.
“And then when Trump got elected, and we realized there was just no credible path to passing any type of federal legislation on climate in four years, we realized that we also had to contend with how to win political power pretty seriously.”
Over the next year, Sunrise participated mostly in demonstrations organized by others, like a People’s Climate March in D.C. and a protest at the United Nations climate talks in Germany. As the group’s plan for how to focus its efforts on hard politics began to take shape, Sunrise began to acquire, either from donations or by paying rent, a series of houses across the country. In the summer of 2018, Sunrise placed activists in these movement houses, as it calls them, to work on campaigns in states like Michigan, Pennsylvania, New York and Florida. They focused on picking candidates in Democratic primaries who would stand for bold progressive policies—candidates like Ocasio-Cortez, who received Sunrise’s endorsement and support.
After picking a candidate, the activists would, says Aracely Jiménez, a 22-year-old Sunrise staffer who started as a volunteer canvasser in New York last summer, knock on doors for them, often in working-class communities, telling people why “just any Democrat having a D next to their name doesn’t necessarily mean that they’re going to be fighting for immigrant rights or housing justice or climate justice.”
That fall, the election of Ocasio-Cortez, and the protest she joined at Pelosi’s office, was a “turning point” for the organization, said Claire Tacherra-Morrison, a 24-year-old University of California, Berkeley graduate who participated in the protest and is now a Sunrise staffer.
“We were saying all the same shit on November 12 as we were on November 13,” Blazevic said, “but having Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez saying it with us really did change everything.”
She added, “Part of what made our protest so powerful was because we had this story: We just hustled and worked our asses off for six months to help win back the House for Dems, and they owe us better than this. They owe us a plan, and they don’t have one.”
A year ago, Sunrise had an organized presence in only about a dozen cities. By December, that grew to around 80, and now has reached more than 250. Each city is organized from a “hub,” usually led by regular, part-time volunteers; each hub is autonomous, choosing where and what to protest and whom to endorse in local elections, and volunteers write op-eds and letters to the editor for their local newspapers on behalf of the broader movement. “We don’t have a super hierarchical structure where a CEO or CFO has to sign off on every plan,” Blazevic said to a group of the activists at this past week’s boot camp.
Last year, Sunrise operated on a budget of about $850,000, its leaders say, while this year they have a budget goal of about $4.5 million. They received several large foundation grants, but they also said “a huge portion of funding comes from individual grassroots donations.”
The boot camp itself sometimes seemed like a cross between a summer camp for hippies and a high school pep rally. There were a lot of songs sung in circles, the facilitators shared many favorable videos and articles about Sunrise published over the past year, and people snapped incessantly to show support whenever anyone said anything remotely vulnerable or profound. Other times, it could feel like first-year orientation at a liberal college. Participants were asked to share their preferred gender pronouns along with their names during introductions. A Sunrise leader opened the very first session by thanking the spirits of the Native Americans whose land they were on.
But when they got down to work, the boot camp felt more like a corporate retreat designed to foster team-building and to inculcate new recruits on the values of the organization. The activists were trained on the history of Sunrise and its theory of change. On how to be “compelling storytellers.” On how to canvass, how to plan protests and how to strategically question presidential candidates on the trail. Others were trained to be trainers, so that Sunrise can expand exponentially.
Benjamin Finegan, a 22-year-old activist who took the last year off from Cornell to move into Sunrise’s Philadelphia movement house, says while the group is young and likes to emphasize its youth, it isn’t trying to reinvent progressive activism—just the politics of climate change. “We take a lot of guidance from slightly older to much older people in other movements,” he said. Sunrise uses a “public narrative model” developed by famed community organizer-turned-Harvard professor Marshall Ganz. Movement houses were used by the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in the 1960s. Another Sunrise activist Nikola Yager says the group has a roster of “coaches” from various other movements like Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Streetwho volunteer as mentors for Sunrise’s organizers.
“This is unlike any other fellowship program,” Tacherra-Morrison said to the Sunrise activists at the opening of the boot camp.
The 60 activists, who are embarking on three- to six-month fellowships with the potential to stay for longer, make up the bulk of the full-time workforce of the Sunrise Movement. There are about 25 actual staff, like Tacherra-Morrison, but the distinction says less about the kinds of roles they play in the organization and more about their compensation. Staff are salaried, while fellows receive stipends.
More than 200 people applied to the program. Many of the fellows are recent college graduates or are taking a gap year to work with Sunrise. Others left jobs as congressional staffers or at other environmental organizations, like the Sierra Club. LaShelle joined last summer after her freshman year at Wellesley and has taken time off from school to continue working with Sunrise ever since. She lives in a movement house in Philadelphia with Aru Shiney-Ajay, another 21-year-old who’s taken time off college (in her case, Swarthmore), and several other Sunrise activists.
Half of the boot camp’s sessions were held in a makeshift classroom, and half were, naturally, outdoors. There were PowerPoint presentations, but they were distinctly millennial, with gifs and memes that underscored whatever point is being made. To illustrate futility, one slide featured a child trying and failing to eat a cookie while wearing armband floaties.
A key messaging guideline was “make it hopeful.” As another PowerPoint slide stated, “a winning story needs both a national crisis of historic proportions and a vision that tells us how to beat it.”
The Green New Deal is Sunrise’s policy vision, now taken up by its allies in Congress. It ties together the group’s twin goals of achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2030 and a federal jobs program, one that would employ millions to expand renewable energy generation and improve infrastructure.
“The right-wing media is doing a lot to tell the story of the Green New Deal from a certain perspective that is mostly around sacrifice: That Americans will have to sacrifice their cars, airplanes and hamburgers,” Fernandez, the Sunrise co-founder, said. “Fox News watchers are hearing a lot more about the Green New Deal than the average voter, and they’re not hearing about it in relation to climate change.”
At one point, the activists were asked to turn to the person sitting next to them and role-play as if they were a Fox News host interrogating a Sunrise activist. One man turned to the woman next to him and asked her whether she really wants to “drag this country into socialism?” She laughed and said, not entirely seriously, “Yes, that actually sounds great!”
Later that day, Shiney-Ajay opened a discussion of the Green New Deal by passing out a printed one-page summary of the resolution put forward a few months ago in Congress by Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Ed Markey of Massachusetts. Shiney-Ajay asked the room if there were any questions.
Where does the Green New Deal stand on the use of nuclear energy? one fellow asked.
“We don’t want there to be any new nuclear energy plants,” Shiney-Ajay began tentatively, before revising her answer to say, “Actually, I’m not sure if nuclear is considered carbon neutral.” She then asked the room whether they knew the answer.
How about carbon capture? another fellow asked.
“The resolution was created on a very short timeline,” Shiney-Ajay said.
These are the sorts of specifics—not legislative arcana but principles for how best to confront climate change—the movement has struggled to come to a consensus on.
“Sunrise’s role is not to be super caught up in the details,” Shiney-Ajay told the room. “We’re 18-, 19-, 20-, 21-year-olds who don’t really know policy.” It’s their job, she said, to lay out a vision while others write proposals that meet that vision.
When I asked Fernandez about this, she responded: “Everyday Americans, they want to know the impact of the policy. Most people don’t want to debate the actual policy or the years or the timelines or things like that. They want to know what the impact is, and that’s how they’ll make their decisions.”
Sunrise wants to play a major role in the 2020 presidential election. It wants a Democrat who can not only beat Donald Trump, but also has signed on to the group’s vision of remaking the economy on a New Deal-era scale to fight climate change. To get there, it is pushing every candidate who isn’t already on board to become so.
As part of that effort, Sunrise is planning to host debate watch parties across the country, and it’s going to open movement houses in Iowa and New Hampshire. It plans for activists to accost candidates on the trail to ask them about their commitment to fighting climate change. “The way that we got Kamala Harris and Beto O’Rourke and Cory Booker and so many other candidates to commit to the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and feel the heat around the Green New Deal is relentlessly confronting them at all of their campaign events across the country,” O’Hanlon said. By bird-dogging public figures in this way, Sunrise intends, as the boot camp worksheets instructed the activists in training, “to elicit a public response from a powerful person through strategic questions or actions.”
Earlier this year, the group announced grand plans for a summit and protest in Detroit, timed to coincide with the second round of primary debates at the end of July. Sunrise has sent three demands to each candidate: To commit to prioritizing the Green New Deal, to reject money from fossil fuel executives and lobbyists, and to call upon the Democratic National Committee to host a primary debate dedicated to climate change—something that, so far, the DNC is assiduously refusing to do.
According to Sunrise’s latest count, 16 of the 2020 Democratic presidential candidates have endorsed the Green New Deal, 18 have signed the No Fossil Fuel Money Pledge and 16 have called on the DNC to host a climate debate. Sunrise did not respond to a request from Politico Magazine to list which candidates have met which demands.
Detroit represents the perfect intersection of Sunrise’s twin theory of change, said Nicholas Jansen, Sunrise’s Michigan state director, who is 24. “Electorally and narratively,” he said, it has huge potential: the decline of industry and need for economic revitalization, Trump’s narrow margin of victory there in 2016, its racial diversity, its history of environmental disasters like the water crisis in nearby Flint.
The next iteration of the Sunrise fellowship is scheduled to begin six months from now, in January 2020 rather than June. The group hopes to recruit hundreds of new full-time organizers to work on primary campaigns across the country and then the presidential election in November.
“For our entire lives, we’ve seen politicians and the political establishment totally fail our generation,” O’Hanlon said. “I wish that the adults in the room were solving this crisis, but the reality is they aren’t. So now it’s on our generation to do it.”
A young man from Saudi Arabia‘s minority Shia Muslim community who was arrested at the age of 13 will not be executed and could be released by 2022, a Saudi official told Reuters news agency after reports of his pending execution.
Murtaja Qureiris, who was detained in September 2014, received an initial 12-year prison sentence with time served since his arrest and four years suspended for his young age, according to the official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
The sentence is subject to appeal.
“He will not be executed,” the official added.
The Saudi official said Qureiris had manufactured and used Molotov cocktails in a series of attacks against police and a pharmacy in which he also used firearms, after being recruited by a “terrorist” cell.
The official said another attack in which Qureiris participated had targeted a German diplomatic vehicle in Qatif region in January 2014. Nobody was hurt in that incident but the car caught fire.
Human rights violations
Rights groups including Amnesty International reported this month that the Saudi public prosecutor had sought the death penalty for Qureiris for the offences, some of which they said date back to when he was 10 years old.
The reports prompted a global outcry in support of the teenager.
Riyadh has come under mounting international scrutiny over its human rights record since the murder of journalist Jamal Khashoggi last October and the detention of women’s rights activists who are still on trial.
Austria‘s government said on Wednesday it planned to shut a Saudi-funded centre for religious dialogue in Vienna after parliament urged it to try to prevent Qureiris’ possible execution.
In April, the Sunni-ruled kingdom beheaded 37 men for “terrorism” crimes. The United Nations human rights chief said most of them were Shia who may not have had fair trials and at least three were minors when sentenced.
Amnesty said in a statement on its website earlier this month that Qureiris was held in solitary confinement upon detention and subjected to beatings and intimidation during his interrogation. The Saudi authorities deny the torture allegations and say they do not have political prisoners.
The Shia-majority Eastern Province, where Qureiris is from, became a focal point of unrest in early 2011 with demonstrations calling for an end to discrimination and for reforms in the conservative monarchy.
Saudi Arabia denies any discrimination against Shia and has said some protests and attacks by Shia demonstrators were instigated by Riyadh’s regional rival Iran, though local activists say this is not true.
Fears of confrontation in the region have risen after attacks on two oil tankers on Thursday in the Gulf of Oman, which the United States blamed on Iran.
Tehran has denied any role in the attacks south of the Strait of Hormuz, a major transit route for oil.
Americans say we want a nonpartisan leader. But in times like this, we love to fight even more.
The best response to Howard Schultz’s suspension of his moribund presidential campaign came well before it even began. Back in 1933, when told that former President Calvin “Silent Cal” Coolidge had died, Dorothy Parker replied, “How could they tell?”
Yet while a bad back may have relegated the coffee czar to the sidelines, the cause for which Schultz was prepared to fight is very much with us: Centrism, the Middle Ground, the Third Way, the Common Good. After all, former Vice President Joe Biden told a group at a fund-raiser Monday night that if he is elected president, bipartisanship will return to the capital.
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“These folks know better,” Biden said of Congressional Republicans. “They know this isn’t what they’re supposed to be doing.” His campaign points to a Gallup poll last November showing that 54 percent of Democrats want their party to be more moderate, while only 41 percent want it to be more liberal. For those looking beyond two parties, groups like “No Labels” note that Americans seem to yearn for an alternative. Gallup reported last October that 57 percent of Americans would welcome a third party. That’s roughly the same level of support as it was almost two decades ago, at the start of the century.
The dream Schultz thought he could hitch his ambitions to—the idea that Americans want an “independent” alternative to partisan nonsense, either from a new, third party or an apolitical outsider—seems every once in a while like it could become solid. The attraction of successful, commanding figure from outside the tawdry business of politics has been with us at least since Henry Ford was touted as a potential chief executive in 1916. Schultz even seemed like the kind of guy who could project a similar appeal, a proud billionaire capitalist whose stores are regarded as places of inclusion and tolerance. But as his colossally inept candidacy demonstrated, America’s interest in a nonpartisan leader is paper-thin—and the more divided we are, the less likely we are to seek out the proverbial dead armadillo in the middle of the road. Historically, Schultz-like figures do best when the parties are much closer than they are right now.
Consider the most successful third-party run for the presidency in living memory: Ross Perot’s capture of 19 percent of the popular vote in 1992. Was this a time when bitter polarization was dividing the nation? On the contrary, it came after a nearly 20-year period that in retrospect seems like a centrist’s dream. When Gerald Ford entered the White House in 1974, he said: “I do not want a honeymoon with you. I want a good marriage.” In the close presidential election that followed, voters crossed ideological lines with abandon. Twenty-six percent of liberals voted for Ford; 30 percent of conservatives voted for Jimmy Carter. While Carter’s successor was known as an ardent conservative, President Ronald Reagan and a Democratic House worked together on a historic Social Security reform and tax reform. The first President Bush, after his death last year, was hailed as a symbol of accommodation.
Perot’s appeal, then, was not driven by rejection of a poisonous political atmosphere. Rather, it was the very fact that the nation was not so divided that made an alternative plausible (even when the alternative was a candidate whose seat-back and tray table was not in the full upright and locked position). The central theme of Perot’s campaign was to end the budget deficit; Bill Clinton and the Republican Congress worked together to achieve that goal by the end of his second term.
Now consider what an appeal to “centrism” confronts today. First, while a majority of Democrats say they want moderation, the party has become decidedly more liberal. Half of Democrats call themselves “liberal,” twice the percentage that did so during Bill Clinton’s presidency. Indeed, the whole premise of Bill Clinton’s campaign—the “third way” led by “a different kind of Democrat”—was nowhere in sight by the time his wife accepted the nomination 24 years later. We are now at a time when a gathering of progressive Democrats boo a sitting governor for declaring that “socialism is not the answer.” The idea of a “big tent” on divisive issues like abortion—which the Democrats once embraced as “legal, safe, and rare” no longer applies.
Moreover, in their frustration with the loss of political power in the age of Trump, some on the left have offered radical notions, such as the expansion of the Supreme Court or constitutionally dubious notions about limiting the power of the Senate. Once upon a not-very-long-ago time, Democrats just went out and won seats in Indiana, Nebraska, Missouri and the Dakotas.
Even so, the shift to the left by Democrats pales in comparison to the lunge to the right taken by Republicans in recent decades. Nearly three in four Republicans call themselves conservatives, but that number conceals more than it reveals. It is the nature of that conservatism that demonstrates the distance it has traveled from a centrist or bipartisan impulse.
A novelist with a conspiratorial bent might concoct a plot where powerful Republicans and conservatives gather on the night of a Democratic president’s inauguration to pledge unyielding opposition to any measure of cooperation with the new leader. But that’s not a plot line in a political thriller; it’s history. On the night of Barack Obama’s inaugural, some 15 Republican House and Senate members, along with former House Speaker Newt Gingrich and GOP operative Frank Luntz, met to agree on a strategy.
“If you act like you’re the minority, you’re going to stay in the minority,” future House Minority leader Kevin McCarthy was quoted as saying in Robert Draper’s book, Do Not Ask What Good We Do: Inside the U.S. House of Representatives. “We’ve gotta challenge them on every single bill and challenge them on every single campaign.”
They delivered on that commitment through the eight years of Obama’s presidency. The health care plan the president offered drew heavily from concepts developed by the conservative Heritage Foundation, and from Republican Gov. Mitt Romney’s plan for Massachusetts. That didn’t matter, any more than the Supreme Court nomination of a clear moderate like Merrick Garland persuaded a Republican Senate majority to even hold the pretense of hearings, or to bother rejecting him with a vote.
And all of this preceded the election of President Donald Trump, who—depending on what he has had for breakfast that morning—proclaims his political opponents traitors who hate America and want to see the country flooded with criminals to bolster their power.
In this context, “centrism” is less a coherent political argument than it is a wistful hope, more aspirational than concrete. Americans say they want something and someone to cut through the political morass in the same way that Americans say they want more in-depth news and documentaries on TV, and more green, leafy vegetables on their plates. It is an admirable sentiment to hope for that kinder-gentler nation of which the first President Bush spoke. As Francis Bacon reminded us a few centuries back, “Hope makes a good breakfast, but a bad supper.” If you’re hoping for nonpartisan centrism as a potent political force, you’re likely to find yourself very hungry by sundown.
Hong Kong, China – Thousands of Hong Kong residents are gathering on Sunday afternoon despite the city government’s decision to suspend a controversial amendment to a law which, critics say, would see an erosion of the city’s much-vaunted autonomy.
The planned march comes just a day after Hong Kong’s Chief Executive Carrie Lam made a stunning reversal by shelving the extradition bill indefinitely, only days after vowing to push ahead with it.
But the protesters want the controversial bill be scrapped permanently and the city leader step down for pushing ahead with the law that has attracted one of the biggest protests in decades.
Former legislative councillor and activist Lee Cheuk Yan told journalists that the now-dormant law “can be revived by Carrie Lam at any time”, adding that it was important to continue opposing the government on the issue, particularly after the violence and arrests of Wednesday.
“We want the government to condemn this police violence. We don’t want Hong Kong to be ruled by fear.”
Protest organiser Bonnie Leung said that even though Beijing could never admit to backing down in the face of the massive demonstrations, it can sense that Lam’s government would cease to be an effective administration.
“Today, when a lot of Hong Kong people come out, Beijing can (again) read this message.”
Crowds are gathering at the city’s Victoria Park, the site of its annual Tiananmen Massacre vigil, and the jumping-off point for a similar protest a week ago, which organisers say attracted over a million people. Police put that count at 240,000.
Almost two hours before the march was scheduled to begin, hundreds of protestors, many wearing black, began to congregate on the park’s concrete soccer pitches.
An events and marketing professional, who identified with his first name Keith, told Al Jazeera that he was not satisfied with Lam’s decision to postpone the bill, and that he expected an even greater turnout than the march of a week ago.
The 32-year-old said he didn’t expect the violence that marred Wednesday’s protests to affect the numbers of marchers. “It may deter some people, but not many. This is too important.”
Like many marchers who had convened early, he carried a small bunch of white flowers, which he said was a tribute to a protestor who fell to his death outside a luxury mall in the business district of Admiralty on Saturday, shortly after Lam’s announcement.
A demonstrator holds a bunch of flowers in tribute to a man who died protesting the bill Saturday [Euan McKirdy/Al Jazeera]
If enacted, the Fugitive Offenders and Mutual Legal Assistance in Criminal Matters Legislation (Amendment) Bill, critics argue, would cede vital freedoms enjoyed by Hong Kongers, undermining the independence of Hong Kong’s legal system and putting Hong Kong citizens and foreign nationals at risk.
Hong Kong protests shaping history
It would allow the government to send anyone accused of a serious crime across the border to mainland China, where the justice system is widely perceived as opaque and politically motivated. It reportedly has conviction rates nearing 100 percent.
The contentious bill was scheduled for debate on Wednesday, but it was canceled after the protesters surrounded the Legislative Council complex, with legislators unable to enter the chambers.
Those demonstrations turned ugly, with police in riot gear taking on protestors with tear gas, pepper spray, water cannon and batons. Several people were injured in the clashes, with some protestors reportedly arrested by police in hospital after the demonstrations were quashed.
While the territory is part of China, following its return from British rule in 1997, it enjoys a high degree of autonomy from Beijing, thanks to the ‘one country, two systems’ formula signed by the outgoing British administration and the new Chinese government.
Article 4 of the Basic Law, the de-facto constitution that forms the basis of Hong Kong’s autonomy, promises to “safeguard the rights and freedoms of the residents of the Hong Kong Special Administrative Region and of other persons in the Region in accordance with law”.
Part of this autonomy comes in the form of its independent judiciary, which, critics of the proposed changes argue, would be eroded if Beijing had the right to request those accused of crimes in the mainland were turned over.
Beijing insists it was not instrumental in the former British territory’s decision to change the law, but earlier in the week indicated that it is supportive of the amendment.