Bernie Sanders to run for US president in 2020!

US Senator Bernie Sanders has announced he is running for the presidency, launching a second bid for the White House after a surprisingly strong run for the Democratic nomination in 2016.

Sanders, 77, made the announcement in a radio interview in his home state of Vermont on Tuesday.

“We began the political revolution in the 2016 campaign, and now it’s time to move that revolution forward,” the self-described Democratic socialist told Vermont Public Radio.

Sanders said he would enact many of the ideas he championed during his bid for the presidency in 2016, including universal healthcare access and the minimum hourly wage of $15, if elected to the White House this time around.

A frequent critic of current US President Donald Trump, Sanders went on to describe the Republican leader as “an embrassasment”.

“I think he is a pathological liar… I also think he is a racist, a sexist, a homophobe, a xenophobe, somebody who is gaining cheap political points by trying to pick on minorities, often undocumented immigrants.”

In an email to supporters early on Tuesday, Sanders pledged to build a vast grassroots movement to confront the special interests he said dominate government and politics.

“Our campaign is about transforming our country and creating a government based on the principles of economic, social, racial and environmental justice,” he said.

Sanders raised more than $1m within hours of launching his 2020 presidential bid.

Crowded field

Sanders had launched his 2016 candidacy against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton as a long shot, but ended up capturing 23 state-nominating contests and pushing the party to the left, generating tension between its establishment and liberal wings that has not entirely abated.

Like Trump, Sanders was an outsider when the 2016 presidential primaries began, but he came close to pulling off an upset over Clinton.

This time around, Sanders has been among the leaders in opinion polls of prospective 2020 candidates, but he faces a field more heavily populated with other liberal progressives touting many of the same ideas he brought into the party mainstream.

The list of politicians seeking the Democratic Party’s nomination already includes his fellow Senators Cory Booker, Kamala Harris, Amy Klobuchar and Elizabeth Warren.

A number of other high-profile Democrats are still considering presidential bids, including former Vice President Joe Biden and former Texas representative Beto O’Rourke.

The primaries and caucuses that determine the Democrat nominee for next year’s election will begin in February 2020 in Iowa.

Name recognition

Al Jazeera’s Shihab Rattansi, reporting from Washington, said the already crowded field was down to candidates seeking to “gain some momentum” before Sanders announced his run for office.

“Sanders enters the race now as the frontrunner,” Rattansi said.

“He has the best nationwide organisation, the best name recognition and the biggest network of donors around the country – he is the now the man to beat.”

The crowded field could make it harder for Sanders to generate the same level of fervent support as four years ago, however.

The 77-year-old is also likely to face scrutiny about his age and relevance in a party that is increasingly advancing more diverse and fresh voices, including women and minorities – groups that Sanders struggled to win over in 2016.

Some Democrats have questioned whether their champion this time around should be a septuagenarian white man.

#MeToo era scrutiny

The Vermont senator, a former member of the US House of Representatives, also faces different pressures in the #MeToo era.

In the run-up to Sanders’s 2020 announcement, persistent allegations emerged of sexual harassment of women by male staffers during his 2016 campaign. Politico and The New York Times reported several allegations of unwanted sexual advances and pay inequity.

Sanders offered an unequivocal apology over the complaints on January 10, saying: “What they [women] experienced was absolutely unacceptable and certainly not what a progressive campaign – or any campaign – should be about.”

“Every woman in this country who goes to work today or tomorrow has the right to make sure that she is working in an environment which is free of harassment, which is safe and is comfortable, and I will do my best to make that happen.”

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

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Donald Trump demands Europe take hundreds of ISIL fighters

US president says Britain, France, Germany and other allies must prosecute more than 800 ISIL prisoners in custody.

Europe must take in hundreds of ISIL fighters captured in Syria or else the United States may be forced to release them, US President Donald Trump warned.

He made the comments in a series of tweets on Saturday demanding that Britain, France, Germany and other European allies put more than 800 detained cadres from Islamic State of Iraq and the Levant (ISIL, ISIS) with their citizenship on trial.

The president issued the warning as a US-backed militia battles the last remaining ISIL combatants in a tiny sliver of territory in eastern Syria.

“The caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them,” Trump said of the war prisoners.

Donald J. Trump

@realDonaldTrump

The United States is asking Britain, France, Germany and other European allies to take back over 800 ISIS fighters that we captured in Syria and put them on trial. The Caliphate is ready to fall. The alternative is not a good one in that we will be forced to release them……..

Trump caused widespread concern among US allies in December when he suddenly announced the US would withdraw about 2,000 troops from Syria and that ISIL had already been defeated.

Critics warned the armed group remains a threat and a pullout could lead to its resurgence, with US allies in the region not equipped to handle it alone.

James Jeffrey, the US special representative on Syria, said on Sunday at a security conference in Germany the troop drawdown will not be an “abrupt or a rapid withdrawal”.

“It’s going to be an orderly, step-by-step withdrawal and at each point … we are looking at our underlying goals. Our general principle is, particularly with ground forces, not to keep them on when other people can be doing the job,” said Jeffrey.

The Syrian Democratic Forces (SDF), a US-backed Kurdish-led force, launched an offensive last week to dislodge ISIL from the village of Baghouz – the only area still under its control in eastern Syria near the Iraqi border.

Several hundred ISIL soldiers remain in a one-square kilometre area, with the expectation most will fight to the death.

As the SDF advanced under heavy US air attacks in recent days, thousands of civilians have fled the area, along with defeated fighters trying to escape unnoticed.

SDF spokesman Mustafa Bali said on Sunday the fighting for Baghouz continues and he accused ISIL of holding about 1,000 civilians hostage after retreating into tunnels underneath the village.

Territorial integrity

Turkey, which regards the SDF’s strongest component the Kurdish YPG as “terrorists”, has threatened to march deeper into northern Syria to drive the armed group back.

Hulusi Akar, Turkey’s defence minister, said his country’s internal security from Kurdish armed groups was at stake.

“We have respect for the territorial and political integrity of Syria but the main issue … is the security and safety of the Turkish border and Turkish people,” Akar said at the Munich conference.

Syrian President Bashar al-Assad warned on Sunday the United States would not protect those depending on it, in reference to the Kurdish fighters who control much of the north.

“We say to those groups who are betting on the Americans – the Americans will not protect you. The Americans will put you in their pockets so you can be tools in the barter… Nobody will protect you except your state,” said Assad.

Any foreign troops in Syria will be dealt with as occupation forces, he added, suggesting the Syrian army will return to the area after the American troop pullout.

“Every inch of Syria will be liberated, and any intruder is an enemy,” said Assad.

What to do with ISIL?

Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs in Lebanon, told Al Jazeera that Trump’s remarks on the United States’ ISIL captives were a “recurring theme”.

“The big question is where will they put these fighters,” Nader said.

“If they put them in French prisons, then it will be known that these prisons have become organising cells. The larger European public does not want these fighters to come back … because they are responsible for terrorist acts.”

Germany can take back ISIL fighters captured in Syria only if the suspects have consular access, the interior ministry said on Sunday.

“In principle, all German citizens and those suspected of having fought for so-called IS have the right to return,” said a ministry spokeswoman.

She said Iraq had shown an interest in having some ISIL cadres from Germany put on trial. “But in Syria, the German government cannot guarantee legal and consular duties for jailed German citizens due to the armed conflict there,” she said.

Some 1,050 people have travelled from Germany to the war zone in Syria and Iraq since 2013 and about one-third have already returned to the country.

Poverty widespread

Though ISIL members are believed to have gone underground as sleeper cells in Iraqi cities, their territorial rule is, for now, almost over.

READ MORE

US-backed militia vows to ‘end’ ISIL in eastern Syria

It ends a project launched from a mosque in Mosul in northern Iraq in 2014, when Abu Bakr al-Baghdadi seized advantage of regional chaos to proclaim himself ruler of an Islamic state in the area.

He set up a governing system with courts, a currency, and a flag that at its height stretched from northwest Syria almost to Baghdad, encompassing some two million people.

According to Nader, the root causes that led to the emergance of ISIL still remain.

“All the political grievances, the ethnic grievances [are still there] and poverty is widespread in this region,” he said.

ISIL: An Eye for an Eye in Iraq

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Texas landowners file lawsuit against Trump’s national emergency

The lawsuit, filed in a DC federal court, is another challenge to the construction of Trump’s long-promised border wall.Texas residents claim in the lawsuit that the government's wall plan will divide their land [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]Texas residents claim in the lawsuit that the government’s wall plan will divide their land [File: Jose Luis Gonzalez/Reuters]

Three Texas landowners and an environmental group have filed the first lawsuit challenging President Donald Trump’s national emergency declaration aimed at freeing up billions of dollars to build a wall along the US border with Mexico, consumer advocacy group Public Citizen (PC) has said.

The lawsuit, brought in federal court in the District of Columbia on Friday, claims the south Texas landowners were told by the US government that it would seek to build a border wall on their properties if money for the project was available in 2019, according to a press release from PC.

“Words have meaning,” Allison Zieve, Public Citizen’s counsel for the plaintiffs, said in the release. “The facts make clear that the premise of the president’s declaration – that the absence of a wall in the areas where construction is planned is an ’emergency’ – is legally untenable and an impermissible basis for seeking to obligate funds that Congress has refused to appropriate for a border wall.”

Three of the plaintiffs on the lawsuit are private citizens in Texas’s Starr County, which was home to roughly 65,000 people in 2017.

The fourth plaintiff is the Frontera Audobon Society, a six-hectare nonprofit that acts as a “haven for birds, butterflies and other wildlife”.

All the plaintiffs claim the wall would deny them access to their land.

Trump declared a national emergency on Friday after Congress passed a spending deal to keep the government open that did not include funding for a border wall.

A national emergency, if not blocked by the courts or Congress, would allow Trump to dip into funds politicians had approved for other purposes to build a border wall.

Further challenges

Democrats and some rights groups have announced plans to challenge the emergency declaration.

The House Judiciary Committee, headed by Democratic Representative Jerrold Nadler, wrote a letter to the White House on Friday asking the president to make available relevant White House and Justice Department officials.

They further requested legal documents related to the declaration, placing a deadline of next Friday on their delivery.

“We believe your declaration of an emergency shows a reckless disregard for the separation of powers and your own responsibilities under our constitutional system,” Nadler wrote in the letter.

The Americans Civil Liberties Union also announced on Friday they are suing Trumpover the emergency declaration, calling it “blatantly illegal”.

ACLU

@ACLU

BREAKING: We’re suing President Trump over today’s blatantly illegal declaration of a national emergency.

There is no emergency. This is an unconstitutional power grab that hurts American communities. We’ll see him in court.

The coming legal fight seems likely to hinge on two main issues: whether the president can declare a national emergency to build a border wall in the face of Congress’s refusal to give him all the money he wanted; and whether federal law allows the Defense Department to take money from some congressionally approved military construction projects to pay for wall construction.

The Pentagon has so far not said which projects might be affected.

Trump claims the US-Mexico border is porous, facilitating the trafficking of narcotics and humans. Building a wall along the border was a key part of his platform during the 2016 presidential election.

Critics say most trafficking occurs in ports of entry and not the border.

 

SOURCE: AL JAZEERA AND NEWS AGENCIES

Lawsuit challenges US gov’t over sending asylum seekers to Mexico

The Trump administration has been returning some non-Mexican asylum seekers to Mexico to wait for court decisions.

Immigrants from Central America and Mexican citizens queue to cross into the US to apply for asylum at the new border crossing of El Chaparral in Tijuan [File: Jorge Duenes/Reuters]
Immigrants from Central America and Mexican citizens queue to cross into the US to apply for asylum at the new border crossing of El Chaparral in Tijuan [File: Jorge Duenes/Reuters]

Human rights groups sued the US President Donald Trump’s administration on Thursday over its policy of sending non-Mexican migrants who cross the southern border to seek asylum in the United States back to Mexico to wait while their requests are being processed.

The policy known as the Migrant Protection Protocols, or MPP, announced in December is aimed at cutting the number of families applying for asylum in the United States, a legal process that can take months or years.

The lawsuit filed in US District Court in California by the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU) and other organisations says the policy puts asylum seekers in danger and violates protections they are entitled to under US and international law.

Serious doubts exist over whether Mexico can keep Central American asylum seekers who are fleeing poverty and crime safe, especially in border towns that are often more violent than the cities they left.

As Trump wages political war over border, activists fight back

Once back in Mexico, asylum seekers could wait months or years for their immigration cases to be heard. A backlog of more than 800,000 cases is pending in immigration courts.

Ramping up crackdown

The decision to start returning to Mexico non-Mexican asylum seekers came as Trump escalated efforts to severely limit the number of migrants and refugees entering and living in the US.

Last month, the Southern Poverty Law Center civil rights organisation and other groups filed a class-action lawsuit accusing the Trump administration of using detained migrant children as “bait” to arrest undocumented people.

In January, the Office of Inspector General at the US Department of Health and Human Services said the US government may have separated “thousands more” migrant children from their families than previously known.

The Trump administration implemented a “zero tolerance” policy to criminally prosecute and jail all undocumented border crossers, even those travelling with their children, leading to a wave of separations last year.

But the auditor said in a report that prior to the officially announced policy, the government had ramped up separations for other reasons related to a child’s safety and well-being, including separating parents with criminal records or lack of proper documents.

US ex-Air Force officer faces spy charges after defecting to Iran

Monica Witt is accused of revealing the code name and mission of a classified US government programme to Iran.

This image released on February 13, 2019, courtesy of the FBI shows a wanted poster for Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, a former US air force counterintelligence officer [Handout/FBI/AFP]
This image released on February 13, 2019, courtesy of the FBI shows a wanted poster for Monica Elfriede Witt, 39, a former US air force counterintelligence officer [Handout/FBI/AFP]

US authorities on Wednesday charged former Air Force intelligence officer Monica Witt with helping Iran launch a cyber-spying operation that targeted her former colleagues after she defected from the United States.

The US Justice Department said Witt, 39, assembled dossiers on eight US military intelligence agents she had worked with for Iranian hackers, who then used Facebook and email to try to install spyware on their computers.

US officials also imposed sanctions on an Iran firm, Net Peygard Samavat Company, that it said conducted the hacking operation, and Iranian events company, New Horizon Organization, a Revolutionary Guard group that had invited Witt to Tehran in 2012.

Witt defected to Iran in 2013 and presumably still lives there, US officials said. She is also accused of revealing the code name and mission of a classified US government programme.

“She decided to turn against the United States and shift her loyalty to Iran,” said Jay Tabb, the FBI’s executive assistant director for national security. “Her primary motivation appears to be ideological.”

Washington also charged four Iranian nationals who were allegedly involved in the cyberattacks.

Iran denounces US-led Middle East conference held in Warsaw

Witt faces two counts of delivering military information to a foreign government and one count of conspiracy.

Turning against the US

According to an indictment unsealed on Wednesday, Witt served as a counterintelligence officer in the Air Force from 1997 until 2008 and worked as a contractor for two years after that.

During that time, she was granted high-level security clearances, learned Farsi at a US military language school, and was deployed overseas for counterintelligence missions in the Middle East.

Witt appears to have turned against the US some time before February 2012, when she travelled to Iran to attend a New Horizon conference that featured anti-US propaganda.

When warned by the FBI that trip that Iranian intelligence services were trying to recruit her, Witt allegedly promised that she would not talk about her counterintelligence work if she returned to Iran.

But later that year, she helped an unnamed Iranian-American official produce an anti-American propaganda film.

“I am endeavoring to put the training I received to good use instead of evil,” she told that person in an email, Reuters reported.

‘Coming home’

In February 2013, Witt returned to Iran for another New Horizon conference and told officials there that she wanted to emigrate. She faced resistance for months.

“I just hope I have better luck with Russia at this point,” Witt wrote her Iranian-American contact in July. “I am starting to get frustrated at the level of Iranian suspicion,” she added.

She successfully defected in August 2013, after providing a resume and “conversion narrative” to her contact. “I’m signing off and heading out! Coming home,” she wrote as she was about to board her flight from Dubai to Tehran.

Iran marks 40th anniversary of Islamic revolution

Provided with housing and computer equipment by the Iranian government, Witt tracked down US counterintelligence agents she used to work with on Facebook, the indictment said, and disclosed the classified identity of at least one of those agents, according to the charges.

Iranian hackers then set up fake Facebook personas to befriend those agents and attempt to install spyware that would track their computer activity, the indictment said.

The hackers managed to gain access to a Facebook group of US government agents.

Iranian nationals Mojtaba Masoumpour, Behzad Mesri, Hossein Parvar and Mohamad Paryar were charged with computer intrusion and aggravated identity theft.

Mesri, Masampour and Parvar also face sanctions for their involvement with Net Peygard, according to the US Treasury Department.

The Air Force has adjusted its security measures to prevent similar incidents in the future, said Terry Phillips, a special agent in the Air Force’s Office of Special Investigations.

Denver teacher strike: Thousands walk out for better pay!

Denver teachers say that the non-traditional pay system in the district leads to high turnover, harming students.
Denver teacher strike: Thousands walk out for better pay
Teachers carry placards as they walk a picket line outside South High School in Denver [David Zalubowski/AP Photo]

Teachers in Denver, Colorado, walked out of their classrooms on Monday after failing to reach a deal with administrators on pay.

The educator’s strike, the first in the city in 25 years, in the latest example of educator discontent, following a wave of walkouts over the last year.

Denver’s school district said schools will remain open during the strike as more than 2,000 educators walk out, local media reported. Instead, classes will be staffed by administrators and substitute teachers.

However, the district has cancelled classes for 5,000 preschool children because it does not have the staff to take care of them.

The strike follows more than a year of negotiations over wages, the Denver Post reported.

Teachers started picketing before the start of the school day and students crossed through the picket lines on their way to class in some locations. Before noon, students were also filmed picketing alongside their teachers in support.

Monday’s strike is the first for teachers in Colorado in 25 years after failed negotiations with the school district over base pay [David Zalubowski/AP Photo]

At a press conference on Monday morning, union leaders expressed frustration at failed talks to reach a deal over the weekend.

Union president Henry Roman said teachers were committed to reaching a deal but said that both sides needed a cooling off period.

Another negotiation session is expected on Tuesday.

“They need us. They need our labour, they need our minds, they need our talents to really make it happen,” lead union negotiator Rob Gould said.

Tuhina Verma Rasche@tvrasche

As a product of the Denver Public School System, I support Denver teachers going on strike.

The main sticking points in the talks over a contract governing Denver’s incentive pay system, which started over a year ago, are lowering bonuses to put more money in teachers’ base pay and how to allow teachers to advance in pay based on education and training, as followed by most school districts.

The union pushed for lower bonuses for high-poverty and high-priority schools to free up more money for overall teacher pay and criticised the district for spending too much money on administration.

However, the district sees those particular bonuses as key to boosting the academic performance of poor and minority students.

Wave of teacher strikes

The strike is the latest action in a wave of teacher activism since last spring, when teachers went on strike in West Virginia. Similar strikes and protests have occurred in Kentucky, Oklahoma and Arizona.

Last month, teachers in Los Angeles, California walked out of their classrooms for several days.

The Los Angeles teachers ended up getting the same six percent raise offered early on by the nation’s second-largest school district. However, they also sought and won promises for smaller class sizes and adding more nurses and counsellors.

In Denver, teachers say that the non-traditional pay system in the district leads to high turnover, which they say hurts students.

LA teachers strike: Educators demand better conditions and pay

They also hope that a win on pay will help them when it comes time to negotiate other issues when their overall contract expires in two years.

The state says a walkout will cost about $400,000 a day and would eat up one or two percent of the district’s annual operating budget in about a week.

In encouraging both sides to come to an agreement, Colorado Governor Jared Polis has pointed out that this money will no longer be available to help pay teachers once it is spent on the strike.

Teachers carry placards as they walk a picket line outside South High School in Denver [David Zalubowski/AP Photo]

Although teachers in some states are barred from striking, teachers in Colorado have a right to walk off the job.

As required by state law, teachers gave notice last month that they planned to strike. But the walkout was put on hold because the school district asked the state to intervene.

The strike was on again after Polis, a Democrat, decided on Wednesday not to get involved, believing the positions of both sides were not that far apart.

However, Polis said the state could decide to intervene and suspend the strike for up to 180 days, if a walkout dragged on.

The state does not have the power to impose any deal on either side, but it can try to help the union and school district reach a deal and can require them to participate in a fact-finding process.

According to an email sent to parents, students at Denver Discovery School were told not to bring their backpacks, binders, or anything of value to school during the strike, the Denver Post reported. Students’ mobile phones would be collected at the start of the day and returned at the end of the day.

SOURCE: NEWS AGENCIES

Democrat Senator Elizabeth Warren launches 2020 presidential bid

The 69-year-old from the US state of Massachusetts has already become a main target of President Donald Trump.

Senator Warren waves at the crowd at the campaign rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts [Brian Snyder/Reuters]
Senator Warren waves at the crowd at the campaign rally in Lawrence, Massachusetts [Brian Snyder/Reuters]

Senator Elizabeth Warren has said she will run for president, adding a fierce advocate of economic populism to an already crowded field of Democrats in the United States vying for the presidency in 2020.

The Massachusetts Democrat, a leader of the party’s progressive wing, made her announcement on Saturday from an historic site in Lawrence, northwest of Boston, that launched the US organised labour movement.

Warren, a Harvard Law School professor-turned-senator, may be the most well-known figure to enter the presidential race. Since being elected to the Senate in 2012, Warren has stood on the most progressive end of the Democratic Party, advocating higher taxes on the wealthy and consumer protections.

Elizabeth Warren makes big move towards 2020 presidential run

Her platform includes a tax on the richest 75,000 Americans.

“Hardworking people are up against a small group of people that holds far too much power, not just in our economy but also in our democracy,” Warren said at the rally in Lawrence. “We are here to say enough is enough.”

She called President Donald Trump a “product of a rigged system that props up the rich and powerful and kicks dirt on everyone else”.

Native American ancestry dispute

The 69-year-old from the US state of Massachusetts has already become a main target of Trump, who has dubbed Warren “Pocahontas” for previously identifying herself as a Native American, a controversy that has plagued the run-up to her candidacy.

The storm over Warren’s ancestry claim deepened when she sought to neutralise the attacks by releasing a DNA analysis in October, which said that she had a Native American ancestor “six – 10 generations ago”.

The Cherokee Nation blasted Warren for the test, which they said was a false claim to tribal membership, leading the senator to apologise.

Speaking from Washington, Al Jazeera’s correspondent Heidi Zhou-Castro said that as popular as Warren’s wealth reform proposals may be with the liberal base, “she does have quite a liability with her claims of Native American ancestry.”

“She seems to not be able to escape the controversy surrounding these claims,” Zhou-Castro said.

“Democratic voters have said in polls that their primary concern leading up to 2020 is selecting a candidate who can defeat Trump, and they’re worried that just as Trump was able to use Hilary Clinton’s emails scandals and blow that into a big thing that was very damaging to her campaign, that he may use this claim of Elizabeth Warren’s Native American ancestry as her Achilles’ heel.”

Zhou-Castro went on to say that Warren’s major opponent at this point is former Vice President Joe Biden, who despite not yet declaring his candidacy, is leading the field in polling among would-be primary Democratic voters.