Category: Politics

In Newly Divided Government, Who Will Control the Political Agenda?

WASHINGTON — America will get its first taste of divided government under President Trump this week when a Democratic House tries to wrest control of the political agenda from Mr. Trump, who appears determined to keep the focus on border security, immigration and his “big, beautiful” wall.

After the midterm elections ushered in the most diverse freshman class in history, House Democrats intend to put a spotlight on the issues that worked well for them during the campaign: diminishing the influence of the wealthy and connected, expanding voting rights, lowering prescription drug costs and passing a bipartisan infrastructure bill.

Mr. Trump, on the defensive and presiding over a federal government that remains partially closed, is trying to stomp on that message. On Tuesday, as the government shutdown was in its 11th day, Mr. Trump invited congressional leaders of both parties to a briefing on border security Wednesday afternoon. White House officials did not say whether Mr. Trump would attend.

It would be the first visit by Democratic leaders to the White House since Dec. 11, when the president told Representative Nancy Pelosi and Senator Chuck Schumer he would be “proud to shut down the government for border security.”

Trump Administration Moves to Restrict Food Stamp Access the Farm Bill Protected

WASHINGTON — The Trump administration announced on Thursday that it would seek to put in place more stringent work requirements for adults who rely on food stamps, even as the president signed a sweeping farm bill in which lawmakers had rejected stricter rules.

By moving to limit the ability of states to issue waivers to people who say they cannot make ends meet under the requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the Agriculture Department found another route to create restrictions, bypassing Congress and drawing immediate criticism that the proposed rule was sure to harm Americans below the poverty line.

The administration, which along with conservatives had fought to include stricter work requirements in the farm bill, continued to argue that food stamps were never meant to be a way of life and that able-bodied adults should be able to find jobs in a healthy economy.

“Long-term reliance on government assistance has never been part of the American dream,” Sonny Perdue, the agriculture secretary, said in a statement. “Moving people to work is common-sense policy, particularly at a time when the unemployment rate is at a generational low.”

The $867 billion farm bill, a huge piece of legislation intended to provide relief for farmers and the poor, encountered a number of obstacles this year as it faced scrutiny from conservative lawmakers who pushed for an overhaul in how the food program’s participants would be evaluated.

In the end, Republican and Democratic negotiators decided to drop two proposals introduced by conservatives and publicly championed by President Trump: one that would have imposed further work requirements on adults using SNAP, and another that would have closed a loophole allowing states to waive the requirements in areas with high unemployment rates.

The proposed rule drew ire from Democrats, who accused the Trump administration of steamrollering a rare bipartisan compromise and ignoring Congress’s mandate to leave the program and its 40 million recipients untouched.

“After a very rough back and forth on that particular issue, basically we left the program alone without restricting people from being able to get it,” said Representative Raúl M. Grijalva, Democrat of Arizona, one of the negotiators on the bill’s bicameral committee. “Now you have Secretary Perdue doing essentially what was, in a bipartisan way, agreed not to do. He needs to know what the intent of Congress is and follow it.”

Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the top Democrat on the Senate Agriculture Committee, accused Mr. Perdue in a bluntly worded statement of “blatantly” ignoring the bipartisan farm bill and disregarding “over 20 years of history giving states flexibility to request waivers based on local job conditions.” READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/12/20/us/politics/food-stamps-trump-administration-snap.html

Why Mattis Had to Go

The defense secretary could no longer serve a president who no longer thinks he needs to listen to anybody. James Mattis is not an imposing man. At five-foot-nine, with a slight build, he doesn’t have the physical presence you might expect from someone whose nickname is “Mad Dog.” He doesn’t have, say, H.R. McMaster’s bull neck or booming voice. Yet Mattis loomed large over U.S. national security policy, such as it is, under this presidency—so much so that his long-expected but still-sudden resignation Thursday had Washington reporters competing to see who could dial up the most hair raising quotes warning of catastrophe ahead.

(My contribution: One former top official who speaks regularly to the White House offered only a one-word reaction over email: “Alarming.”)
When I met Mattis for the first time, at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, the retired Marine general was still fuming over his treatment by the Barack Obama administration—he was fired as Central Command chief, basically, for urging a more aggressive Iran policy—and though our conversation wasn’t on the record, it was clear he was somebody who wasn’t to be trifled with.


Now, he’s aiming his considerable capacity for outrage at a different occupant of the Oval Office, with the stakes far higher given that the president today is, well, Donald Trump.
Every journalist in Washington knew Mattis opposed Trump on the biggest foreign policy issues of the day, be it pushing back against a revanchist Russia, managing the messy conflicts in the broader Middle East, or handling a surging China. He made it known around town that he was only running the Pentagon to protect it, if not the world, from the president, and for nearly two years he was more or less able to prevent an outright crisis.
The question was always when Mattis would reach his breaking point—when the president’s isolationist instincts, impulsive decision-making and attempts to use the military as a political weapon would push him over the edge.


It wasn’t, apparently, Trump’s deployment of U.S. troops to the Mexican border in a transparent effort to swing the November midterms that did it; Mattis went along with that. It wasn’t the president’s repeated snipes at NATO, the transatlantic alliance that has underpinned American national security for seven decades; nor was it his assiduous adoption of Kremlin talking points or his periodic eruptions at U.S. allies—it was basically all of that, Mattis made clear in his extraordinary resignation letter, which contains not a scintilla of praise for his boss and outlines several major points of disagreement.


“Because you have the right to have a Secretary of Defense whose views are better aligned with yours,” Mattis wrote, “I believe it is right for me to step down from my position.”
Obviously, Mattis couldn’t abide Trump’s sudden and apparently unilateral decision to pull U.S. troops out of Syria, where they were supporting predominantly Kurdish forces in fighting against ISIS and keeping an eye on an encroaching Iran. Word soon leaked out, too, that Trump plans to yank a big chunk of U.S. forces from Afghanistan, a flailing war effort the president has long questioned as pointless.
It’s not that these moves are indefensible—one can easily imagine a President Hillary Clinton determining that the juice wasn’t worth the squeeze and ordering U.S. forces home.


But in a normal administration, a big move like that would have taken place only after endless rounds of discussions at multiple levels of governments, arguments between agencies, and consultations with allies. There would be plans for every possible contingency, and a carefully coordinated PR rollout. Trump seems to have just ordered it done at the speed of a tweet, and it’s clear his administration hasn’t worked through the dangers that accompany any withdrawal of troops from a war zone.
On Wednesday, the administration hastily announced a conference call to brief the press on the president’s Syria decision, then struggled to explain what it was and when or how it would happen. The Pentagon pointed reporters to the White House; the White House told reporters to talk to the Pentagon. It was a level of chaos I hadn’t seen in a decade of covering U.S. foreign policy.


So it isn’t surprising that Mattis left—with his advice so conspicuously spurned, he might have realized he could no longer be effective. For years, he had ignored or slow-walked Trump’s wilder ideas, such as his reported order to assassinate Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, but this time the president doesn’t appear to have consulted him at all—and reportedly rejected his desperate final attempt to change his mind over Syria. Any Cabinet secretary would have resigned.
So what now?


Each occupant of the Oval Office claims ever-vaster powers in foreign policy, and Congress has steadily ceded its oversight powers as the complexity of conflicts, and the speed and might of the U.S. military, has increased. So those looking to Capitol Hill for a public intervention may end up disappointed. After all, Republican senators have wished away their differences with Trump on foreign policy for many months, occasionally rebuking him but generally doing little to rein him in.

When Domestic Workers Rose Up in Atlanta

More than 100 years ago, black domestic workers in Georgia organized for better pay. Now they’re getting out the vote for Stacey Abrams.

All across Atlanta, hundreds of domestic workers have been knocking on doors for Stacey Abrams, the Democratic candidate for Georgia governor, hoping to turn her into first black woman in that role.

These domestic workers, mostly black women affiliated with Care in Action, the political arm of the National Domestic Workers Alliance, are using new technologies, like a smartphone app to identify the homes of voters of color.

But they’re also carrying on an 140-year-old tradition of domestic workers fighting for economic empowerment. Despite their marginalized positions and the many obstacles in their way, they insist on making their voices heard.

In July 1881, washerwomen in Atlanta, toiling outside in the hot summer as they lugged buckets of well water and scrubbed their white patrons’ laundry, finally had enough. They decided to go on strike to demand increased wages and respect for their work.

They and a few male allies mobilized supporters by going door to door in black neighborhoods, despite threats of being arrested for “disorderly conduct.” The women held meetings in churches, hundreds packing the pews. They formed the Washing Society, a cross between a labor union and a mutual aid organization, with subsidiaries in the city’s five wards.

And in the beginning of the Jim Crow era, domestic work was more than a system of labor. It also symbolized an ordering of society by race in which black people were always considered subservient.

When the strike broke out in July, the women faced a chorus of boos and laughs from employers, city officials, businessmen and reporters from the The Atlanta Constitution newspaper. The women were called “Washing Amazons.”

But the nickname soon proved to be apt. “I tell you, this strike is a big thing,” the police chief admitted after the first week when it was clear that there was no end in sight. Unlike other domestic workers, who labored in isolation in their employers’ homes, the laundresses shared work sites and were thus able to build solidarity.

In Southern cities, black domestic workers, including maids, nurses, cooks and laundresses, performed the most intimate and the most undesirable jobs for white families. They were paid substandard wages, expected to work long hours and were subjected to insults and sometimes even physical assaults.

READ MORE: https://www.nytimes.com/2018/11/05/opinion/atlanta-domestic-workers-vote-stacey-abrams.html?action=click&module=Opinion&pgtype=Homepage

California Tenants Take Rent Control Fight to the Ballot Box

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LOS ANGELES — From pulpits across Los Angeles, Pastor Kelvin Sauls has spent the past few months delivering sermons on the spiritual benefits of fasting. The food in the sermon is rent, and landlords need less of it. “My role is to bring a moral perspective to what we are dealing with around the housing crisis,” Pastor Sauls explained.

In addition to a Sunday lesson, this is an Election Day pitch. Pastor Sauls is part of the campaign for Proposition 10, a ballot initiative that would loosen state restraints on local rent control laws. The effort has stoked a battle that has already consumed close to $60 million in political spending, a sizable figure even in a state known for heavily funded campaigns.

Depending on which side is talking, Proposition 10 is either a much-needed tool to help cities solve a housing crisis or a radically misguided idea that will only make things worse. Specifically, it would repeal the Costa-Hawkins Rental Housing Act, which prevents cities from applying rent control laws to single-family homes and apartments built after 1995.

The initiative drive builds on the growing momentum of local efforts to expand tenant protections. “In the midst of the worst housing and homeless crisis that our country has ever seen, how does a bill that restricts local government’s ability to address it go untouched?” asked Damien Goodmon, director of the Yes on 10 campaign, which is primarily funded by the AIDS Healthcare Foundation in Los Angeles.

Proposition 10 has won prominent endorsements from backers including the California Democratic Party and The Los Angeles Times. But opponents have also amassed editorials and broad support, mainly from a coalition of construction unions, nonprofit housing developers and local chambers of commerce.

Among those fighting the initiative is a relatively recent class of landlords — private equity firms like Blackstone Group, which accumulated a vast residential real estate portfolio after the housing market collapse a decade ago. Landlords warn that repealing the Costa-Hawkins law would create deep uncertainty among developers, making California’s housing shortage worse by discouraging construction.

“This is a serious problem, but the solution to that problem should not land solely on the rental housing industry,” said Tom Bannon, president of the California Apartment Association, a landlords’ group.

The California fight reflects a renters’ rights movement that is bubbling up in churches and community centers across the country, a semi-coordinated stand of low-income tenants against the gentrifying American city. Last month in the Roxbury section of Boston, about 300 people gathered for an afternoon assembly on how to blunt evictions and economic displacement. The event offered free child care and had organizers speaking English, Spanish and Cantonese.

Nike Nearly Dropped Colin Kaepernick Before Embracing Him

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Nearly a month after Colin Kaepernick was revealed as the face of Nike’s groundbreaking new advertising campaign, the unveiling videohas garnered more than 80 million views on Twitter, Instagram and YouTube.

The ads have sent Kaepernick into a new realm of celebrity, quickly becoming among the most talked-about and successful campaigns in recent years. And they have allowed Nike, which has a history of provocative marketing campaigns, to capitalize on the so-called Resistance movement in a way it only recently realized it could.

They are also yet another vehicle for Kaepernick to raise his own profile as a sort of civil rights entrepreneur unlike anyone before has, certainly in sports. He has signed deals to write a book — which is set to be published next year and will be accompanied by a speaking tour — and to develop a comedy series.

But it almost didn’t happen. In the summer of 2017, a debate raged in Nike’s headquarters in Beaverton, Ore., over whether to cut loose the controversial, unemployed quarterback — and the company very nearly did, according to two individuals with knowledge of the discussions who requested anonymity because of nondisclosure agreements each has with Nike.

When the company did decide to embrace the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, it risked angering the National Football League, a Nike partner since 2012, but the company ultimately decided it was a risk worth taking, given the credibility the company would gain with the young, urban market it has long targeted.

Kaepernick ignited a national discourse in 2016 when he began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games to protest racism, social inequality and police brutality. He left the 49ers after the 2016 season and became a free agent, but executives throughout the N.F.L. considered him radioactive because of his on-field protests, which drew vocal criticism from President Trump, and no team signed him.

That left Nike’s sports marketing group flummoxed. There seemed to be little they could do with a lightning-rod professional football player who was not playing football.

Before the company severed ties with Kaepernick, though, its top communications executive persuaded his colleagues to reverse course because of the potential for negative publicity. Kaepernick would remain on Nike’s roster of sponsored athletes — though he was largely ignored for nearly a year.

Through interviews with current and former Nike employees, individuals close to Kaepernick, analysts and others involved with the ad campaign, a picture emerged of Nike’s about-face in which the company concluded that getting behind Kaepernick’s crusade, at the urging of its longtime advertising firm, made good business sense despite the risk of angering the N.F.L.

When the company did decide to embrace the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, it risked angering the National Football League, a Nike partner since 2012, but the company ultimately decided it was a risk worth taking, given the credibility the company would gain with the young, urban market it has long targeted.

Kaepernick ignited a national discourse in 2016 when he began kneeling during the playing of the national anthem before games to protest racism, social inequality and police brutality. He left the 49ers after the 2016 season and became a free agent, but executives throughout the N.F.L. considered him radioactive because of his on-field protests, which drew vocal criticism from President Trump, and no team signed him.

That left Nike’s sports marketing group flummoxed. There seemed to be little they could do with a lightning-rod professional football player who was not playing football.

Before the company severed ties with Kaepernick, though, its top communications executive persuaded his colleagues to reverse course because of the potential for negative publicity. Kaepernick would remain on Nike’s roster of sponsored athletes — though he was largely ignored for nearly a year.

Through interviews with current and former Nike employees, individuals close to Kaepernick, analysts and others involved with the ad campaign, a picture emerged of Nike’s about-face in which the company concluded that getting behind Kaepernick’s crusade, at the urging of its longtime advertising firm, made good business sense despite the risk of angering the N.F.L.
READ MORE:https://www.nytimes.com/2018/09/26/sports/nike-colin-kaepernick.html

Companies and brands often attempt to avoid taking strong public positions out of fear of alienating customers, but Nike is running straight into the political fray.

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Four days before a new NFL season gets underway, Nike is throwing its weight behind one of the most polarizing figures in football, and America: former San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick.

Kaepernick will be one of the faces of Nike’s 30th anniversary commemoration of its iconic “Just Do It” slogan. The campaign will also feature athletes such as Serena Williams, NFL wide receiver Odell Beckham Jr., and Shaquem Griffin, a rookie linebacker for the Seattle Seahawks whose left hand was amputated when he was a child.

Kaepernick tweeted out a photo from the campaign on Monday. Over a black-and-white picture of his face, a caption reads, “Believe in something. Even if it means sacrificing everything.”

In backing Kaepernick, whom the company has sponsored since 2011, Nike is making a high-stakes gamble that its customers support his protest, or at least that enough of them do. The company is also betting its brand can withstand criticism from conservative corners, including the White House.

Kaepernick has not played in the NFL since the 2016 season. That year, he began kneeling during the national anthem to raise awareness about police brutality against African-Americans and other racial injustices. Dozens of other players also began joining Kaepernick, and he has grown into a symbol of dividing lines over race in America.

In 2017, he filed a grievance against the NFL, alleging the league conspired to keep him out because of his protests. An arbiter last week denied the NFL’s request to throw out the grievance, allowing the case to proceed to a trial.

The protests have divided the league, often pitting a conservative white owner base against the NFL’s mostly African-American players.

The owners voted in May to approve rules that would have required players to stand on the sideline during the anthem or or remain in the locker room. Teams would be fined if players did not stand during the anthem, and the rules allowed individual teams to set their own policies.

Those rules are on hold while the league and the players’ association negotiate.

Nike’s public support of Kaepernick also risks drawing the anger of President Donald Trump.

Trump and his allies have repeatedly seized on the issue. At a rally in Alabama last year, Trump said team owners should “get that son of a bitch off the field” if a player knelt in protest of injustice during the anthem. Vice President Mike Pence walked out of an Indianapolis Colts game after some players knelt.

“This is a very winning, strong issue for me,” Trump told Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones last year, according to a sworn deposition Jones gave in connection with Kaepernick’s lawsuit.

Nike declined to comment on whether it expected Trump to criticize the company or how it would respond if he did.

The company also drew fire from Fox Sports Radio host Clay Travis, who called the Kaepernick campaign “pathetic,” and former Arkansas Gov. Mike Huckabee, who tweeted, “I guess @Nike will now focus on making knee pads for NFL.”

But many users voiced support for the brand’s decision and mocked people who claimed to be destroying their Nike products in protest, suggesting they should donate them to charity instead.

Williams said she was “especially proud to be a part of the Nike family today.”

Outspoken sports journalist Jemele Hill argued that people shouldn’t be surprised by Nike’s decision based on its history.

“Nike became Nike because it was built on the idea of rebellion,” she wrote. “This is the same company that dealt w/ the NBA banning Air Jordans. They made [Michael] Jordan the face of the company at a time when black men were considered to be a huge risk as pitch men. They aren’t new to this.”