Edward Snowden: If I Came Back to the U.S., I Would Likely Die in Prison for Telling the Truth

The Right Livelihood Awards celebrated their 40th anniversary Wednesday at the historic Cirkus Arena in Stockholm, Sweden, where more than a thousand people gathered to celebrate this year’s four laureates: Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg; Chinese women’s rights lawyer Guo Jianmei, Brazilian indigenous leader Davi Kopenawa and the organization he co-founded, the Yanomami Hutukara Association; and Sahrawi human rights leader Aminatou Haidar, who has challenged the Moroccan occupation of Western Sahara for decades. The Right Livelihood Award is known as the “Alternative Nobel Prize.” Over the past four decades, it’s been given to grassroots leaders and activists around the globe — among them the world-famous NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden. At Wednesday’s gala, Amy Goodman interviewed Snowden in front of the award ceremony’s live audience via video link from Moscow, where he has lived in exile since leaking a trove of secret documents revealing the U.S. government’s had built an unprecedented mass surveillance system to spy on Americans and people around the world. After sharing the documents with reporters in 2013, Snowden was charged in the U.S. for violating the Espionage Act and other laws. As he attempted to flee from Hong Kong to Latin America, Snowden was stranded in Russia after the U.S. revoked his passport, and he has lived there ever since. Edward Snowden won the Right Livelihood Award in 2014, and accepted the award from Moscow.

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Sweden Provides Free Higher Education, Universal Healthcare, Free Daycare — Why Can’t the U.S.?

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Medicare for All and tuition-free universities have been at the core of the 2020 Democratic presidential campaigns, creating a stark division between progressive candidates and their centrist counterparts. Senators Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren have proposed to make Medicare for All and public universities cost-free by taxing massive corporations and the super wealthy, and earlier this year, Sanders introduced legislation that would cancel student loan debt. His plan would be paid for with a new tax on Wall Street, he says. It would also make public universities and community colleges free — a key pillar of Sanders’s 2020 education platform. These proposals are not radical ideas in Sweden, a country that has built one of the world’s most extensive social welfare systems. In Sweden, healthcare costs are largely subsided by the state. Daycare and preschool programs are mostly free. College and university are free. Public transportation is subsidized for many users. To explain how Sweden does it, we speak with Mikael Törnwall, Swedish author and journalist focusing on economic issues at Svenska Dagbladet, a Stockholm daily newspaper. His most recent book is titled “Who Should Pay for Welfare?”

Elizabeth Warren Won’t Admit It, but the Primary System Is Racist

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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

As the United States becomes increasingly diverse, and the Democratic Party even more so, the presidential nomination process remains heavily weighted by two states that are among the whitest in the nation, Iowa and New Hampshire.

When we asked about this racial disparity at a presidential candidate forum that the “Democracy Now!” news hour co-hosted in South Carolina last week, Democratic candidate Elizabeth Warren bristled, replying, “I’m just a player in the game.” Warren and the other Democratic candidates need to answer why their party’s primary process favors these two small, rural, aging and almost entirely white states, and they need to explain how this “game” that weeds out candidates so early in the process is anything other than a glaring example of systemic racism.

The forum was held at South Carolina State University, an HBCU (historically black college or university) in Orangeburg, S.C. Here is the question and answer, in full:

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Warren, just 30 seconds left. But speaking about racial injustice, do you think the order of the primary states should change? You have Iowa and New Hampshire —

SENELIZABETH WARREN: Wait, let me make — let me just — before you finish, are you actually going to ask me to sit here and criticize Iowa and New Hampshire?

AMY GOODMAN: No, I’m asking about the order.

SENELIZABETH WARREN: No, that is what Iowa and New Hampshire are all about.

AMY GOODMAN: But let me just ask. They’re two of the whitest states in the country, and then we move to South Carolina with a very significant population of people of color, and it means the candidates spend so much of their time catering to those first two states. Overall, do you think that should change?

SENELIZABETH WARREN: Look, I’m just a player in the game on this one. And I am delighted to be in South Carolina. Thank you.

Warren’s irritated reaction to the question betrays the Democratic Party’s rigid orthodoxy on first-in-the-nation status for both the Iowa caucus and the New Hampshire primary.

In 1972, Iowa Democrats moved the caucus up to Jan. 24, to give themselves extra time to process the results from all the precincts (currently numbering 1,678). That early date made the Iowa caucuses the nation’s first indicator of each candidate’s standing, and thus attracted extraordinary media attention.

Sensing they were on to something, the Iowa Democratic and Republican parties agreed to always hold their caucuses early, and on the same day, to maximize national press coverage. New Hampshire then managed to cement its hold as the first primary state, immediately following the Iowa caucuses. This has been the status quo since the 1970s, but nothing says it has to stay that way.

MSNBC played our exchange with Warren for Democratic presidential hopeful Julian Castro, who responded,

“I actually believe that we do need to change the order of the states, because I don’t believe that we are the same country that we were in 1972. … Our country has changed a lot in those 50 years, the Democratic Party has changed a lot. Demographically it is not reflective of the United States as a whole, certainly not of the Democratic Party. And I believe that other states should have their chance. So yes, of course, we need to find other states. I don’t believe that forever we should be married to Iowa and New Hampshire going first.”

There are already four majority-minority states: California, Hawaii, New Mexico and Texas, along with the District of Columbia. Holding caucuses or primaries in these states first would likely have a dramatic effect on the outcome.

The lead-up to both Iowa and New Hampshire now are so long, with candidates, in some cases, spending more than a year making frequent, extended campaign swings through both states. Imagine if they were spending that much time in more diverse states, like South Carolina.

Elizabeth Warren, to her credit, did travel to Orangeburg to participate in this first-ever presidential candidate forum on environmental justice. The forum was co-moderated by Mustafa Santiago Ali, former Environmental Protection Agency official, now at the National Wildlife Federation. At the top of the forum, Mustafa defined environmental justice:

“Environmental justice is the disproportionate impacts that continue to happen in our communities. The things that no one else wants, they place them in communities of color, low-income communities and indigenous lands. They become the sacrifice zones, the sacrifice zones for coal-fired power plants, for certified animal feeding operations, for waste treatment facilities, for unhealthy housing.”

The concerns of the first states in the presidential nomination process disproportionately impact the agenda for the entire race. Democracy is about representation. The primary and caucus system needs to be reformed now.

Is Texas About to Execute an Innocent Man? Rodney Reed’s Family Demands Retrial Amid New Evidence

The state of Texas is facing growing calls to halt the upcoming execution of Rodney Reed, an African-American man who has spent over 20 years on death row for a rape and murder he says he did not commit. A group of 26 Texas lawmakers — including both Democrats and Republicans — have written a letter this week to Governor Greg Abbott to stop the execution planned for November 20. More than 1.4 million people have signed an online petition to save Reed’s life. Supporters include celebrities Kim Kardashian West, Rihanna and Meek Mill. Reed was sentenced to die after being convicted of the 1996 murder of a 19-year-old white woman, Stacey Stites, with whom he was having an affair. But since Reed’s trial, substantial evidence has emerged implicating Stites’s then-fiancé, a white police officer named Jimmy Fennell, who was later jailed on kidnapping and rape charges in another case. In a major development, a man who spent time in jail with Fennell signed an affidavit last month asserting that Fennell had admitted in prison that he had killed his fiancée because she was having an affair with a black man.

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“A Warning”: Anonymous Senior Official Slams Trump in New Book

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A midnight self-massacre. That was the plan hatched by some senior Trump administration officials, who considered resigning en masse last year to sound the alarm about Trump’s conduct. They ultimately rejected the idea over concerns it would further destabilize the government.

The aborted warning is one of a series of revelations in a forthcoming book titled “A Warning.” Its author is an anonymous senior official within the Trump administration who published an anonymous op-ed in The New York Times last year titled “I Am Part of the Resistance Inside the Trump Administration.”

In the book, the author describes senior officials waking up and trying to respond to Trump’s overnight Twitter announcements, writing, “It’s like showing up at the nursing home at daybreak to find your elderly uncle running pantsless across the courtyard and cursing loudly about the cafeteria food, as worried attendants tried to catch him. You’re stunned, amused, and embarrassed all at the same time. Only your uncle probably wouldn’t do it every single day, his words aren’t broadcast to the public, and he doesn’t have to lead the U.S. government once he puts his pants on.”

The author also claims Trump once asked White House lawyers to write a bill to send to Congress aimed at reducing the number of federal judges, after various judges had thwarted Trump’s policies. Trump reportedly said, “Can we just get rid of the judges? Let’s get rid of the [expletive] judges. There shouldn’t be any at all, really.” This according to the forthcoming book “A Warning.”

“A Worldwide Revolution Is Underway.”

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By Amy Goodman & Denis Moynihan

Puerto Rico. Hong Kong. Ecuador. Haiti. Lebanon. Iraq. And now, Chile. People are rising up around the world against austerity and corruption, defying police forces unleashed to suppress them. Many of these mass movements share a fierce critique of capitalism. In Santiago, Chile, more than 1 million people flooded the streets last weekend, and mass protests continue. There, the brutal Pinochet dictatorship from 1973-1990, during which thousands of progressive activists and leaders were tortured, disappeared and murdered, was followed by decades of neoliberal policies, with rampant privatization, union busting, stagnant wages and increased costs for education, health care, transportation and other services. Chile, among the richest countries in South America, is also one of the most unequal. At least 20 people have been killed during recent protests there, further angering and emboldening the crowds.

These global protests also occur at a critical inflection point in history, with as few as 10 years remaining for humanity to transition from a fossil fuel economy to one powered by renewable energy. On Wednesday, Chile’s embattled, billionaire president, Sebastian Pinera, abruptly announced that his country was cancelling plans to host two major international summits, the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation meeting in mid-November, and the United Nations climate summit, the 25th “Conference of the Parties,” or COP25, in the first two weeks of December.

Carolina Schmidt, Chile’s COP25 president-designate, said, “The citizens have expressed in a strong way their legitimate social demands that require the full attention and all efforts from the government.”

Chile’s cancellation of the COP could be a setback for global action on climate. But climate activists should take heart: This renewed spirit of rebellion around the world signifies a rejection of the status quo, and could portend accelerated, grassroots mobilization to avert irreversible, catastrophic climate change.

“Social injustice and the climate crisis have a common root cause,” the Climate Action Network said in a release not long after Chile’s COP cancellation. “Climate justice and solidarity is fundamentally about the protection of human rights and a better quality of life for all.”

The climate crisis touches everyone, first and most forcefully the world’s poor. The mass uprising in Puerto Rico that forced the resignation of Gov. Ricardo Rossello was the culmination of decades of frustration with Puerto Rico’s colonial status and the more current exploitation by Wall Street vulture funds. But the discontent was fueled by the utter devastation of the back-to-back hurricanes Irma and Maria two years ago. “The austerity policies that have been implemented have put the people of Puerto Rico in a position of vulnerability. Social inequality has increased to levels that we have never seen here,” Manuel Natal, a member of Puerto Rico’s House of Representatives, said on the “Democracy Now!” news hour days before Rossello’s resignation. “We need more democracy, not less democracy. We are on the brink of a political revolution here.” Rossello’s ouster was the first time in U.S. history that a governor was forced from office by popular protest.

Indigenous people are also leading the way, often at the front lines, confronting resource extraction with disciplined, nonviolent resistance. Hundreds of indigenous and campesino social leaders in Colombia have been murdered in recent years, simply for standing up for justice and environmental protections.

The Paris climate agreement specifically notes the importance of climate justice, and pledges to work “in the context of sustainable development and efforts to eradicate poverty.” One of the enduring conflicts that has hampered international climate negotiations has been the refusal by wealthy nations, principally the United States, to accept the simple premise that “polluters pay.” The United States is the wealthiest nation in human history because, in part, it has polluted its way to the top, using cheap, dirty power: coal-fired power plants, diesel locomotives and now, so-called clean-burning fracked gas.

The Green Climate Fund was supposed to raise billions of dollars to finance renewable projects in poorer countries. The fund’s pledging conference last week fell short of its goal, primarily because the Trump administration reneged on the U.S.’s $2 billion commitment. Australia and Russia followed suit, refusing to make contributions.

A new study by Climate Central, a news and science organization, shows that climate-induced coastal flooding will likely be far worse than previously predicted, forcing between 200-600 million people, rich and poor, to flee their homes later in the century. Climate change-fueled wildfires are now raging across California, with hundreds of thousands of people evacuated from their homes and at least 1 million people without power.

Popular uprisings are also spreading like wildfire, though, against corrupt autocratic leaders, austerity and inequality. People are also flooding the streets, globally, linking the movements against inequality with the fight for a just, sustainable world powered by renewable energy.

Keystone Pipeline Spill in North Dakota Leaked 383,000 Gallons of Oil

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Image Credit: Walsh County Emergency Management

In North Dakota, the Keystone pipeline remains idled, after the TC Energy company — formerly known as TransCanada — said a rupture this week spilled over 380-thousand gallons of crude oil in a rural wetland. The spill came as the Environmental Protection Agency moved to roll back Obama-era regulations meant to prevent toxic heavy metals from coal ash from leaching into groundwater.