Trump: I’m a ‘very stable genius’

Washington (CNN)President Donald Trump slammed reports questioning his mental stability in a series of tweets Saturday morning, writing he’s a “very stable genius” after the publication of an expos about his first year as President put the White House into damage-control mode.

“Now that Russian collusion, after one year of intense study, has proven to be a total hoax on the American public, the Democrats and their lapdogs, the Fake News Mainstream Media, are taking out the old Ronald Reagan playbook and screaming mental stability and intelligence … ” Trump wrote, referring to questions raised about the mental fitness of the former President, who disclosed in 1994 that he had Alzheimer’s disease.
“Actually, throughout my life, my two greatest assets have been mental stability and being, like, really smart,” the President continued. “Crooked Hillary Clinton also played these cards very hard and, as everyone knows, went down in flames. I went from VERY successful businessman, to top T.V. Star … to President of the United States (on my first try). I think that would qualify as not smart, but genius … and a very stable genius at that!”
    After his tweets Saturday morning, Trump told reporters at Camp David that Wolff is a “fraud” who doesn’t know him.
    “I went to the best colleges, or college,” he told reporters. “I had a situation where I was a very excellent student, came out and made billions and billions of dollars, became one of the top business people, went to television and for 10 years was a tremendous success, as you probably have heard, ran for President one time and won. Then I hear this guy that doesn’t know me at all, by the way, didn’t interview me, said he interviewed me for three hours in the White House. Didn’t exist, it’s in his imagination.”
    Trump continued: “I never interviewed with him in the White House at all; he was never in the Oval Office.”
    Wolff told “Today” show host Savannah Guthrie on Friday that he “absolutely spoke to the President” while working on “Fire and Fury.”
    “Whether he realized it was an interview or not, I don’t know, but it certainly was not off the record,” Wolff said. “I’ve spent about three hours with the President over the course of the campaign, and in the White House. So, my window into Donald Trump is pretty significant.”
    The remarkable spectacle of Trump defending his mental stability comes after the President and some of his top officials spent the last few days countering claims in author Michael Wolff’s new book, “Fire and Fury,” about Trump’s mental fitness to serve as President. The book, which went on sale Friday, also paints the picture of a President who neither knows nor cares about policy and doesn’t seem to perceive the vast responsibilities of his role.
    CNN has not independently confirmed all of Wolff’s assertions.
    Trump’s tweets also come after reports surfaced that a dozen lawmakers from the House and Senate received a briefing from Yale psychiatrist Dr. Bandy X. Lee on Capitol Hill in early December about Trump’s fitness to be president.
    “Lawmakers were saying they have been very concerned about this, the President’s dangerousness, the dangers that his mental instability poses on the nation,” Lee told CNN in a phone interview Thursday, “They know the concern is universal among Democrats, but it really depends on Republicans, they said. Some knew of Republicans that were concerned, maybe equally concerned, but whether they would act on those concerns was their worry.”
    The briefing was previously reported by Politico. Lee, confirming the December 5 and 6 meeting to CNN, said that the group was evenly mixed, with House and Senate lawmakers, and included at least one Republican — a senator, whom she would not name.
    Lee’s public comments are highly unusual given protocols from medical professional organizations — including the 37,000-member American Psychiatric Association — banning psychiatrists from diagnosing patients without a formal examination.
    The White House has taken issue with the claims in Wolff’s book since excerpts of it began to surface online ahead of its publication, with press secretary Sarah Sanders calling it “complete fantasy” and an attorney for Trump sending a “cease and desist” threat to the book’s author and publisher.
    Trump issued a scathing statement on his former chief strategist, Steve Bannon, saying he had “lost his mind” after the book quoted Bannon making negative remarks about Trump and son Donald Trump Jr.
    The book quoted Bannon as calling a June 2016 meeting between a Russian lawyer and the President’s eldest son, son-in-law Jared Kushner and then-campaign chairman Paul Manafort “treasonous” and “unpatriotic.”
    Bannon also reportedly told Wolff: “They’re going to crack Don Junior like an egg on national TV.”
    Trump lit into Bannon in a tweet Friday night, saying he “cried when he got fired and begged for his job.”
    “Michael Wolff is a total loser who made up stories in order to sell this really boring and untruthful book,” Trump wrote. “He used Sloppy Steve Bannon, who cried when he got fired and begged for his job. Now Sloppy Steve has been dumped like a dog by almost everyone. Too bad!”
    Wolff reiterated his belief that it is becoming a widespread view that Trump is unfit for presidency, telling BBC Radio in an interview overnight that it’s a “very clear emperor-has-no-clothes effect.”
    “The story that I have told seems to present this presidency in such a way that it says he can’t do his job,” Wolff said in the interview. “Suddenly everywhere people are going, ‘Oh my God, it’s true, he has no clothes.’ That’s the background to the perception and the understanding that will finally end … this presidency.”
    Secretary of State Rex Tillerson told CNN in an exclusive interview on Friday he’s never questioned Trump’s mental fitness, despite reports he once called Trump a “moron.”
    “I’ve never questioned his mental fitness,” Tillerson told CNN’s Elise Labott. “I have no reason to question his mental fitness.”

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    Sessions Ending Obama-Era Policy That Ushered In Legal Weed

    Attorney General Jeff Sessions is rescinding an Obama-era policy that helped states legalize recreational marijuana, throwing a wet blanket on the fledgling industry during what could have been a celebratory week.

    The Justice Department will reverse the so-called Cole and Ogden memos that set out guardrails for federal prosecution of cannabis and allowed legalized marijuana to flourish in states across the U.S., according to two senior agency officials. U.S. attorneys in states where pot is legal will now be able prosecute cases where they see fit, according to the officials, who requested anonymity discussing internal policy.

    Shares of pot companies plunged as news of the policy change surfaced, though many began to rebound after investors weighed the potential impact.

    The change comes at a high point for the weed industry. California, the biggest U.S. state and sixth-largest economy in the world, launched its legal marketplace on Jan. 1. Sales in California alone are expected to reach $3.7 billion in 2018, according to estimates from BDS Analytics. 

    Seven other states and the District of Columbia have also legalized cannabis for adult use. Twenty-one additional states have voted to allow the plant to be used for medicinal purposes. The market is expected to skyrocket from $6 billion in 2016 to $50 billion by 2026, according to Cowen & Co.

    Sessions, a Republican from Alabama, has long been opposed to marijuana, equating it with heroin. But this is the first action he’s taken that deviates significantly from the Obama administration. Many in the industry said the news is unsurprising but disappointing.

    “While dismantling the industry will prove impossible, the move by Sessions will sow more seeds of uncertainty in an industry that already has its fair share of risks and unknowns,” said Chris Walsh, vice president of Marijuana Business Daily. “Businesses could be in for a bumpy ride amid this uncertainty, and we certainly could see some types of regional crackdowns or delays in upcoming medical or recreational cannabis markets.”

    Shares Plummet

    The Bloomberg Intelligence Global Cannabis Competitive Peers Index dropped as much as 24 percent after the Associated Press first reported the Justice Department plan. Most companies in that group are small. Still, there are a few big names that could be hit by the changing policy. 

    Constellation Brands Inc., which sells Corona beer and Svedka vodka in the U.S., got involved in the cannabis industry in October when it acquired a minority investment in Canopy Growth, a Canadian marijuana company. Scotts Miracle-Gro Co. has also made its way into the Green Rush. It fell as much as 5.7 percent after the news, the biggest intraday drop since May. 

    A tightening of enforcement also would be felt in Canada, where the cannabis industry has blossomed. Ontario’s Canopy Growth fell as much as 19 percent to C$29.06 in Toronto, while Aphria Inc. plunged as much as 23 percent to C$16.59. ETFMG Alternative Harvest ETF, the first pure-play pot ETF to be listed in the U.S., dropped as much as 9.7 percent, the biggest intraday decline since May.

    Fear and Doubt

    Sessions’s policy may cause investors to think twice before putting their money into the Green Rush, according to Adrian Sedlin, founder of Canndescent, a marijuana cultivation and branded-flower company.

    “Fear, uncertainty and doubt will rip through our industry like a California wildfire because of this,” he said. “Whatever happens longterm, this will retard and limit capital flows into the industry for the foreseeable future.”

    The move is likely to sow confusion among consumers and state officials, and may spark a backlash if state-approved retailers are prosecuted. Sixty-four percent of the U.S. population now wants to make pot legal, according to a Gallup poll released in October.

    But it’s too late to stop the industry from growing, said Laura Bianchi, a partner and director of cannabis, business and corporate transactions and estate planning at Rose Law Group in Scottsdale, Arizona.

    “To undo this industry would be like closing Pandora’s box once it’s been opened,” she said. “It would be a Herculean effort that would undermine another Republican cornerstone, which is the importance of states’ rights.”

    Senators React

    Senator Cory Gardner, a Republican from Colorado, where marijuana is legal, said in a tweet that Sessions’s move contradicts what he told the senator before his confirmation.

    “I am prepared to take all steps necessary, including holding DOJ nominees, until the Attorney General lives up to the commitment he made to me,” Gardner said.

    Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, a New York Democrat, said Sessions’s actions are an affront to medical patients who need to use the plant as medicine. 

    “Parents should be able to give their sick kids the medicine they need without having to fear that they will be prosecuted,” she said in a statement. “This is about public health, and it’s about reforming our broken criminal justice system that throws too many minorities in prison for completely nonviolent offenses.”

    Still, the federal policy change may not actually hurt business much at all. Entrepreneurs starting marijuana businesses have already been working under risky circumstances. The plant has remained federally illegal, meaning most large companies — including banks — have shied away. Instead, the business has relied on state regulators, many of whom previously said they would defend the industry through any federal crackdown. 

    “We’re not overly concerned that a change in DOJ policy around cannabis will be meaningfully disruptive to legal adult use cannabis states, given the vocal support offered by these state-level AG’s,” said Vivien Azer, a Cowen & Co. analyst who covers the industry.

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      Oprah Winfrey: one of the world’s best neoliberal capitalist thinkers

      Oprah is appealing because her stories hide the role of political, economic and social structures in our lives. They make the American dream seem attainable

      In Oprah Winfrey lore, one particular story is repeated over and over. When Oprah was 17, she won the Miss Fire Prevention Contest in Nashville, Tennessee. Until that year every winner had had a mane of red hair, but Oprah would prove to be a game changer.

      The contest was the first of many successes for Oprah. She has won numerous Emmys, has been nominated for an Oscar, and appears on lists like Times 100 Most Influential People. In 2013, she was awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom. She founded the Oprah Book Club, which is often credited with reviving Americans interest in reading. Her generosity and philanthropic spirit are legendary.

      Oprah has legions of obsessive, devoted fans who write her letters and follow her into public restrooms. Oprah basks in their love: I know people really, really, really love me, love me. And she loves them right back. Its part of her higher calling. She believes that she was put on this earth to lift people up, to help them live their best life. She encourages people to love themselves, believe in themselves, and follow their dreams.

      Oprah is one of a new group of elite storytellers who present practical solutions to societys problems that can be found within the logic of existing profit-driven structures of production and consumption. They promote market-based solutions to the problems of corporate power, technology, gender divides, environmental degradation, alienation and inequality.

      Oprahs popularity stems in part from her message of empathy, support, and love in an increasingly stressful, alienating society. Three decades of companies restructuring their operations by eliminating jobs (through attrition, technology, and outsourcing) and dismantling both organized labor and the welfare state have left workers in an extremely precarious situation.

      Oprah in the early days of the show. Photograph: Everett Collection/Rex

      Today, new working-class jobs are primarily low-wage service jobs, and the perks that once went along with middle-of-the-road white-collar jobs have disappeared. Flexible, project-oriented, contingent work has become the norm, enabling companies to ratchet up their requirements for all workers except those at the very top. Meanwhile, the costs of education, housing, childcare, and health care have skyrocketed, making it yet more difficult for individuals and households to get by, never mind prosper.

      In this climate of stress and uncertainty, Oprah tells us the stories of her life to help us understand our feelings, cope with difficulty and improve our lives. She presents her personal journey and metamorphosis from poor little girl in rural Mississippi to billionaire prophet as a model for overcoming adversity and finding a sweet life.

      Oprahs biographical tale has been managed, mulled over, and mauled in the public gaze for 30 years. She used her precocious intelligence and wit to channel the pain of abuse and poverty into building an empire. She was on television by the age of 19 and had her own show within a decade.

      The 1970s feminist movement opened the door to the domestic, private sphere, and the show walked in a decade later, breaking new ground as a public space to discuss personal troubles affecting Americans, particularly women. Oprah broached topics (divorce, depression, alcoholism, child abuse, adultery, incest) that had never before been discussed with such candor and empathy on television.

      The shows evolution over the decades mirrored the evolution of Oprahs own life. In its early years the show followed a recovery model in which guests and viewers were encouraged to overcome their problems through self-esteem building and learning to love themselves.

      US President Barack Obama presents broadcast journalist Oprah Winfrey with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Photograph: Mandel Ngan/AFP/Getty Images

      But as copycat shows and criticisms of trash talk increased in the early 1990s, Oprah changed the shows format. In 1994, Oprah declared that she was done with victimization and negativity: It s time to move on from We are dysfunctional to What are we going to do about it? Oprah credited her decision to her own personal evolution: People must grow and change or they will shrivel up and their souls will shrink.

      In an appearance on Larry King Live, Oprah acknowledged that she had become concerned about the message of her show and so had decided to embark on a new mission to lift people up. Themes of spirituality and empowerment displaced themes of personal pathology. For Oprah, the transformation was total: Today I try to do well and be well with everyone I reach or encounter. I make sure to use my life for that which can be of goodwill. Yes, this has brought me great wealth. More important, it has fortified me spiritually and emotionally.

      A stream of self-help gurus have spent time on Oprahs stage over the past decade and a half, all with the same message. You have choices in life. External conditions dont determine your life. You do. It s all inside you, in your head, in your wishes and desires. Thoughts are destiny, so thinking positive thoughts will enable positive things to happen.

      When bad things happen to us, its because were drawing them toward us with unhealthy thinking and behaviors. Dont complain about what you dont have. Use what youve got. To do less than your best is a sin. Every single one of us has the power for greatness because greatness is determined by serviceto yourself and others. If we listen to that quiet whisper and fine-tune our internal, moral, emotional GPS, we too can learn the secret of success.

      Janice Peck, in her work as professor of journalism and communication studies, has studied Oprah for years. She argues that to understand the Oprah phenomenon we must return to the ideas swirling around in the Gilded Age. Peck sees strong parallels in the mind-cure movement of the Gilded Age and Oprahs evolving enterprise in the New Gilded Age, the era of neoliberalism. She argues that Oprahs enterprise reinforces the neoliberal focus on the self: Oprahs enterprise [is] an ensemble of ideological practices that help legitimize a world of growing inequality and shrinking possibilities by promoting and embodying a configuration of self compatible with that world.

      Nothing captures this ensemble of ideological practices better than O Magazine, whose aim is to help women see every experience and challenge as an opportunity to grow and discover their best self. To convince women that the real goal is becoming more of who they really are. To embrace their life. O Magazine implicitly, and sometimes explicitly, identifies a range of problems in neoliberal capitalism and suggests ways for readers to adapt themselves to mitigate or overcome these problems.

      Does your 60 hour-a-week desk job make your back hurt and leave you emotionally exhausted and stressed? Of course it does. Studies show that death by office job is real: people who sit at a desk all day are more likely to be obese, depressed, or just dead for no discernible reason. But you can dull these effects and improve your wellness with these O-approved strategies: Become more of an out-of-the-box thinker because creative people are healthier. Bring photos, posters, and kitschy figurines to decorate your workspace: Youll feel less emotionally exhausted and reduce burnout. Write down three positive things that happened during your workday every night before leaving the office to reduce stress and physical pain from work.

      In December 2013, O devoted a whole issue to anxiety and worry. The issue conquers a lifetime s worth of anxieties and apprehensions, an apt subject given rising levels of anxiety across the age spectrum.

      In the issue, bibliotherapists Ella Berthoud and Susan Elderkin present a list of books for the anxious, prescribing them instead of a trip to the pharmacy. Feeling claustrophobic because youre too poor to move out of your parents house? Read Little House on the Prairie. Feeling stressed because your current project at work is ending and you dont have another lined up? Read The Man Who Planted Trees. Worried that you wont be able to pay the rent because you just lost your job? Read The Wind-Up Bird Chronicles. Instead of feeling depressed, follow the lead hero Toru Okada, who, while jobless, embarks on a fantastic liberating journey that changes the way he thinks.

      Oprah recognizes the pervasiveness of anxiety and alienation in our society. But instead of examining the economic or political basis of these feelings, she advises us to turn our gaze inward and reconfigure ourselves to become more adaptable to the vagaries and stresses of the neoliberal moment.

      Oprah is appealing precisely because her stories hide the role of political, economic, and social structures. In doing so, they make the American Dream seem attainable. If we just fix ourselves, we can achieve our goals. For some people, the American dream is attainable, but to understand the chances for everyone, we need to look dispassionately at the factors that shape success.

      Oprah Winfrey gestures during the taping of Oprahs Surprise Spectacular in Chicago May 17, 2011. Photograph: John Gress/Reuters

      The current incarnation of the American Dream narrative holds that if you acquire enough cultural capital (skills and education) and social capital (connections, access to networks), you will be able to translate that capital into both economic capital (cash) and happiness. Cultural capital and social capital are seen as there for the taking (particularly with advances in internet technology), so the only additional necessary ingredients are pluck, passion, and persistence all attributes that allegedly come from inside us.

      The American dream is premised on the assumption that if you work hard, economic opportunity will present itself, and financial stability will follow, but the role of cultural and social capital in paving the road to wealth and fulfilment, or blocking it, may be just as important as economic capital. Some people are able to translate their skills, knowledge, and connections into economic opportunity and financial stability, and some are noteither because their skills, knowledge, and connections dont seem to work as well, or they cant acquire them in the first place because theyre too poor.

      Today, the centrality of social and cultural capital is obscured (sometimes deliberately), as demonstrated in the implicit and explicit message of Oprah and her ideological colleagues. In their stories, and many others like them, cultural and social capital are easy to acquire. They tell us to get an education. Too poor? Take an online course. Go to Khan Academy. They tell us to meet people, build up our network. Dont have any connected family members? Join LinkedIn.

      Its simple. Anyone can become anything. Theres no distinction between the quality and productivity of different peoples social and cultural capital. Were all building our skills. Were all networking.

      This is a fiction. If all or most forms of social and cultural capital were equally valuable and accessible, we should see the effects of this in increased upward mobility and wealth created anew by new people in each generation rather than passed down and expanded from one generation to the next. The data do not demonstrate this upward mobility.

      The US, in a sample of 13 wealthy countries, ranks highest in inequality and lowest in intergenerational earnings mobility. Wealth isnt earned fresh in each new generation by plucky go-getters. It is passed down, preserved, and expanded through generous tax laws and the assiduous transmission of social and cultural capital.

      The way Oprah tells us to get through it all and realize our dreams is always to adapt ourselves to the changing world, not to change the world we live in. We demand little or nothing from the system, from the collective apparatus of powerful people and institutions. We only make demands of ourselves.

      We are the perfect, depoliticized, complacent neoliberal subjects.

      And yet were not. The popularity of strategies for alleviating alienation rests on our deep, collective desire for meaning and creativity. Literary critic and political theorist Fredric Jameson would say that the Oprah stories, and others like them, are able to manage our desires only because they appeal to deep fantasies about how we want to live our lives. This, after all, is what the American dream narrative is about not necessarily a description of life lived, but a vision of how life should be lived.

      When the stories that manage our desires break their promises over and over, the stories themselves become fuel for change and open a space for new, radical stories. These new stories must feature collective demands that provide a critical perspective on the real limits to success in our society and foster a vision of life that does fulfill the desire for self-actualization.

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      Tony Blair: The whole country has been pulled into this Tory psychodrama over Europe

      The former prime minister says stopping Brexit is more important than getting a Labour government. Corbyn has genuine personal charm, he says, but his team have placed pragmatism over principle

      The last time I met Tony Blair in person, I got quite a shock. It was two years after he had left Downing Street, and the former prime minister resembled nothing so much as Francis Maude done up as a drag queen. Plucked and buffed, caked in makeup, his whole face gurned and twitched, the eyebrows and teeth performing a bizarre kind of eightsome reel. The mans discomfort in his own skin was disturbing to witness.

      The figure who greets me this week in the London office of his new Institute for Global Change is unrecognisably altered. The facial dance has vanished and he is strikingly composed; performative agitation has been replaced with centred gravitas. The cadence of his speech has changed, too; the curiously verb-less sentences are gone, along with the faux glottal stops. But then, lately, an awful lot about Blairs life has changed, too.

      In autumn last year, he announced the closure of Tony Blair Associates, his private business empire, and the winding up of complex and controversial financial structures that have earned him so many millions and so much opprobrium. Reserves of 10m, and henceforth 80% of his time, would be devoted to his not-for-profit work. Aged 64, he is returning to frontline British politics using his institute as a platform to promote progressive centrist policy ideas and combat the rise of populism. He categorically denies any plans to create a new political party, but confirmed last weekend that he has fully committed himself to a mission to reverse Brexit.

      To leave the European Union is just an extraordinary thing to do, he says quietly. Its a decision to relegate ourselves as a country. Its like being a top-six Premier League football club, and deciding to play in the Championship from now on. Can he recall any historical precedent for a nation volunteering to demote itself? Not in the modern developed world, no. And if you think its the most important decision this country has taken in living memory, then even if you think theres only a small chance of it being changed, if you think thats the right thing to do, you should be up arguing for it.

      Blair is perfectly aware that many, not least on his own side of the argument, consider him so toxic that any intervention on his part can only be counter productive. Im curious to know if he factored this in before deciding to, as he has put it, stick my head out the door and get abucket of wotsit poured all over me.

      Of course, there will be some people who refuse, literally refuse, to listen to you because its you. But my experience with people most of the time is that, if youre making a reasonable argument, theyll listen to you on that argument, even if they disagree on other things. In any event, frankly, if there was a stampede of people getting out there then Id be very happy to be at the back. But Idont notice this stampede. I think this is such a serious moment for the country that its your obligation to go out and state the argument.

      Blair believes it is still possible to prevent us leaving the EU, through a combination of grassroots pressure and parliamentary opposition. His problem, of course, is that, notwithstanding this government defeat on the EU withdrawal bill, his own party refuses to oppose Brexit.

      I understand its a very pragmatic position that the Labour partys taking. And I dont disapprove of pragmatism in politics at all. But I still think its the wrong choice. I think what the Labour party is essentially doing is saying: There are a number of Labour voters who voted leave, and if we are painted as the anti-Brexit party, were going to lose that support. Therefore, what we should do is say: Were going to do Brexit, and try to take Brexit out of the equation for our electorate, so they can vote [for us] on other issues. I completely get that. Its a piece of political strategy. Its actually what alot of people would advise you to do.

      Still the legendary political operator of our time, Blair refers to strategy with the kind of objective respect a racehorse breeder might accord to a rivals thoroughbred.

      I totally get it. But I think there are two problems with it. The first is that our language may be different, but were actually in the same position as the Tories, which is to say well get out of the single market but we want a close trading relationship with Europe. Your risk is that, at a certain point, you get exposed as having the same technical problem that the Tories have, which is: heres the Canada option, heres the Norway option, and every time you move towards Norway youll be accepting the rules of the EU, but youve lost your say in it, and every time you move towards the Canada option youre going to be doing economic damage. Thats the essential dilemma of the Tories, which I think will be exposed over time, and Labours got that problem, too.

      Blairs second problem with the strategy is that it prevents Labour from making what he calls an election-winning argument. Voters, he argues, need to be told that all their concerns about jobs, public services, opportunities for young people and, crucially, the NHS, are correct and legitimate. But Brexit is not the answer. You can make a huge point of not just the destructive impact of Brexit, but the distractive impact of Brexit, because its that distraction that means that this government has no time to deal with the health service. Its got no time to deal with the problems of poverty. Its got no time to deal with the problems of inequality. Its got time to deal with one thing only. The whole country has been pulled into this Tory psychodrama over Europe.

      I wonder if Blair might, like many passionate remainers, be underestimating the public ferocity towards politicians who tell them they voted the wrong way in the referendum.

      Now of course, youd have a huge fight. But youd be fighting from a point of principle. Think of what a galvanising movement you would have in those circumstances, because you would actually be well, for a start youd be saying whats right. Thats quite an important thing to start with. Secondly, I think the impact on the Tories would be really profound, because youd be driving a wedge right into that Tory division and the Tories are a profoundly divided party.

      Lots of Labour politicians I talk to share this view in theory, but argue that its hopeless in practice while the polls fail to indicate any significant shift in public opinion against Brexit. And I say to them, But what about leadership? Many believe the reason the country voted to leave was precisely to defy its political leaders; if they want the public to change its mind, invoking leadership is the last way to go about it. Blair rolls his eyes. Guys, come on! I mean, what the hell are you in politics for? Of course, youve got to listen to people, but youve also got to lead them. Youve got to be a bit more robust.

      Instead of telling leave voters they were wrong, I suggest, Labour could now have an opportunity to capitalise on Jeremy Corbyns own well-documented ambivalence towards Europe. Were Corbyn to say to the country: I shared many of your misgivings. But having seen the harsh reality of what Brexit really looks like, Im now convinced we shouldnt do it, would that convey both humility as well as leadership? Blair looks surprised, and pauses to consider this. Yes. I think thats a really good idea. I think that would be actually quite powerful. I agree, if Jeremy Corbyn was to say, Look, Ive always been sceptical about Europe, but Ive now looked at this Yes, that would be powerful. He pauses again. But youve got to want to do it.

      What does he mean? Youve got to want people to change their minds. I may be wrong about this, but I think there are elements of the Labour leadership who think that doing Brexit increases their possibility of winning power. Does he mean they have calculated that its a strategic price worth paying for office? Yes.

      Blair is certain this is a miscalculation. I actually believe stopping Brexit is the route to win power. But suppose they were right, I say, and supporting Brexit is indeed a strategic necessity for reaching No 10 arguably not unlike new Labours 1997 electoral pledge to abide by Tory spending levels. Would Blair agree its a sacrifice worth making to win? I dont, actually. No. I think this principles too important. I do. So given a straight choice between stopping Brexit and getting Labour elected, he would choose the former? Id like to see a Labour government in power. But I think the key national priority right now is stopping Brexit. I would put it above everything else right now for the country.

      The irony of Blair cast as the selfless politician willing to sacrifice power for principle, and Corbyn the power-hungry arch-triangulator, is not lost on either of us. Yes, there is an irony in it, yes, he agrees, smiling. Ive thought about that, too, and whether its me thats forgetting what its like to try and win power.

      Labours performance at the polls in June caught Blair, along with most New Labourites, by surprise, so I ask what he had failed to see in Corbyn. He smiles again. I think what he does have is a genuine personal charm. Ill give him that. You know, when the rightwing media were trying to build him into some sort of demented Marxist, I think his demeanour was of enormous assistance. I pay tribute to that, I genuinely do. Imean, I actually admire that. But he puts Labours success chiefly down to a Tory campaign more incompetent than any Ive ever seen … And I dont think the same rules will necessarily apply in the next election.

      Blairs faith in the politics of the centre ground remains as ideologically implacable as Corbyns faith in socialism. But when the demographic centre of property-owning, middle-income middle classes is collapsing, is the political centre even relevant?

      Were in an era when people want change. I still believe you can mobilise people to vote for a vision of the future rather than two competing visions of the past, one that is this nostalgic nationalism, which is what the Brexit thing amounts to in the end, and the other, these old-style, leftist policies of the 60s. If this is the choice, OK, then people are going to choose between those things. But I still think weve got a huge number of people who dont really want either of those.

      Whether Blair can still connect with the centre is unclear to me. His repeated protestations in recent years that he is never going to be part of the super-rich are weirdly tin-eared from a man who counts his wealth in multiples of tens of millions. He is also conspicuously uncritical of Donald Trumps presidency. Trump represents precisely the kind of populism Blairs institute is dedicated to fighting and yet, he says, were he still in office, he would have invited Trump to Britain, and would not have withdrawn the invitation following the infamous Britain First retweets. He told Alastair Campbell, in a GQ interview this year: The left media finds it very hard to be objective on Trump, and complained that Democrats just go mental when he even tries to suggest Trumps administration could do anything good. Why does Blair find it all but impossible to criticise a US president? Look, this will not appeal to much of your readership, but I really think its really important that America is strong in the world clear, consistent and predictable with its allies. I always want to protect the relationship, because its important.

      But if nothing matters more to Blair than Brexit, presumably its even more important than our relationship with the US. What I dont understand, I say, is why he doesnt desist from making comments about Corbyn and Trump that will only alienate the very people in Britain he is trying to win over. Telling them theyre wrong about Corbyn, and wrong about Trump, feels like more of his old compulsion to chastise the left.

      Im not telling people theyre wrong about Trump. Im just saying its not a debate I want to get into at this point in time. And theres no point in me saying: Ive now decided Jeremy Corbyns leadership is fantastic and I think hes the answer to Britains problems because you wouldnt believe me.

      I cant decide which surprises me more Blairs resolve to privilege speaking his mind over strategising, or the impression he conveys of a man restored to peace with himself. The two are almost certainly not unrelated. But I think I detect something else in his air of calm authority. Iraq had always seemed to be almost entirely about him first as a vehicle for his ego, then as a battleground of his reputation. What makes his campaign against Brexit feel very different, and compelling, is a sense that it has little to do with him, and everything to do with the issue itself.

      But is it winnable?

      I cant predict it. Ive given up predicting politics. I used to be really good at it, and then I was not so good at it, and now I think its probably inherently unpredictable. So where do you camp in those circumstances? You camp on the ground you believe in.

      Read more:

      Here are the people who read the most fake news, according to a first-of-its-kind study

      Ya, we know what this guy reads.
      Image: Corbis via Getty Images

      A new study confirms your worst fears about fake news in the U.S. — it’s widespread, skews pro-Trump, and is mostly consumed by your conservative uncle.

      Oh, and fact checking hasn’t worked at all.

      A group of academic researchers have published what they are calling the first scientific, data-based study of Americans’ exposure to fake news in the month surrounding the 2016 U.S. election. 

      Combining survey responses and browsing histories of a representative sample of 2,525 Americans, the researchers found that one in four news consumers visited a fake news between Oct. 7 and Nov. 14, 2017. 

      The report also studied the content itself. Fake news skewed almost entirely pro-Trump, and was consumed most voraciously by the most politically conservative Americans, according to the researchers.

      The researchers noted that fake news did have an impact, with a sizable portion of conservative Americans over 60 consuming around one fake news story per day during the time period studied.

      “These results contribute to the ongoing debate about the problem of ‘filter bubbles’ by showing that the ‘echo chamber’ is deep (33.16 articles from fake news websites on average) but narrow (the group consuming so much fake news represents only 10% of the public),” wrote the study’s authors.

      Even worse, the survey showed that attempts to counter fake news aren’t working. Fact-checking websites like Snopes or PolitiFact are failing to reach fake news readers. The study’s authors found that literally none of people who read a fake news article read the corresponding de-bunk from a fact checking site.

      Entitled “Selective Exposure to Misinformation: Evidence from the consumption of fake news during the 2016 U.S. presidential campaign,” political scientists Brendan Nyhan of Dartmouth College, Andrew Guess of Princeton University, and Jason Reifler of the University of Exeter published the study on Dec. 20, 2016. 

      They define “fake news” as “factually dubious for-profit articles” and used a previously published study that classified fake news websites and articles to inform their own categorization. Meanwhile, President Donald Trump regularly uses the term “fake news” to describe unfavorable coverage of his administration from legitimate news outlets.

      Though the study’s data was gathered from October 7 – November 14 in 2016, the study comes at a time when fake news continues to dominate conversation at the highest levels of the media. 

      The New York Times’ new publisher A. G. Sulzberger wrote in a letter to readers Monday that “misinformation is rising and trust in the media is declining as technology platforms elevate clickbait, rumor and propaganda over real journalism, and politicians jockey for advantage by inflaming suspicion of the press. Growing polarization is jeopardizing even the foundational assumption of common truths, the stuff that binds a society together.” 

      Social media companies, most notably Facebook, continue to face scrutiny and censure for their role in spreading misinformation.

      The study aims to answer questions about specifically who consumes fake news, the political bent of the news, and the extent of its dissemination. But it also examines the role of social media and whether fact checking reaches its intended readers. 

      Facebook plays the largest role in leading readers to and disseminating fake news, and fact checking articles almost always fail to reach consumers of fake news. It does not tackle how fake news affected political perceptions or behavior, like voting.

      Overall, the key findings of the study were:

      • 27.4 percent of Americans over the age of 18 – which translates to more than 65 million people – visited a pro-Trump or pro-Clinton fake news website during the time surveyed.

      • Fake news comprised 2.6 percent of all hard news consumed during that period.

      • Fake news skews conservative: of the average 5.4 fake news articles readers consumed, 5 were pro-Trump. 

      • There are more conservative fake news viewers than liberal ones: 65.9 percent of the 10 percent most conservative voters visited at least one pro-Trump fake news site.

      • 40 percent of Trump supporters and 15 percent of Clinton supporters visited at least one fake news article.

      • Americans 60 years and older read the most fake news.

      • People were more likely to visit Facebook immediately prior to reading a fake news article than any other social media site, including Twitter, and even Google and GMail.

      • Only half of the people who had visited a fake news website had also visited a fact-checking site. 

      • None of the fake news readers saw a fact check article specifically debunking a piece of fake news they had consumed.


      Despite this bleak picture of the reach of fake news, especially amongst older and conservative Americans, the study characterizes fake news as more of a supplement to an already polarized media diet.

      “In general, fake news consumption seems to be a complement to, rather than a substitute for, hard news,” the authors write. “Visits to fake news websites are highest among people who consume the most hard news and do not measurably decrease among the most politically knowledgeable individuals.”

      The authors also note the study’s limits: it only examined website visits, which exclude consumption on mobile devices and social media. Considering that as of July 2017, 85 percent of adults consume news on their smart phones “at least some of the time,” according to Pew, that’s a pretty huge exclusion. 

      It would be desirable to observe fake news consumption on mobile devices and social media platforms directly and to evaluate the effects of exposure to misinformation on people’s factual beliefs and attitudes toward candidates and parties. Future research should evaluate selective exposure to other forms of hyper-politicized media including hyperpartisan Twitter feeds and Facebook groups, internet forums such as Reddit, more established but often factually questionable websites like Breitbart, and more traditional media like talk radio and cable news

      Ya, that would probably be helpful to understanding the scope of the fake news problem in America. But if studies like this one serve as a sort of meta-fact check for the media and news consumers as a whole, according to this study, that information is unlikely to reach the readers who should know about it most. So it’s definitely a good idea to familiarize yourself with how to spot and fight fake news ASAP.

      Read more:

      Should the Upper Middle Class Take the Biggest Tax Hit?

      Humans learn the concept of fairness at a very young age. After all, it doesn’t take long for a child to start whining about a sibling who gets an extra serving of ice cream. As the Republican-controlled Congress tries to push through tax reform this year, one group of Americans may similarly question why it’s coming up a scoop short.

      The upper middle class gets relatively few benefits and a disproportionate number of tax hikes under the $1.4-trillion Tax Cuts and Jobs Act approved by the U.S. House of Representatives last week. Families earning between $150,000 and $308,000—the 80th to 95th percentile—would still get a tax cut on average. But by 2027, more than a third of those affluent Americans can expect a tax increase, according to the Tax Policy Center.

      If the House bill becomes law, overall benefits for the upper middle class will start out small, and later vanish almost entirely.

      Is this fair? Some argue it’s only right for the upper middle class to carry a heavier burden. This is because the top fifth of the U.S. by income has done pretty well over the past three decades while the wages and wealth of typical workers have stagnated. People in the 81st to 99th percentiles by income have boosted their inflation-adjusted pre-tax cash flow by 65 percent between 1979 and 2013, according to the Congressional Budget Office. That’s more than twice as much as the income rise seen by the middle 60 percent. (The top 1 percent, meanwhile, saw their income rise by 186 percent over the same period, but that’s another story.)

      “Many upper-middle-class families will tell you they do not feel wealthy,” said Brian Riedl, a senior fellow at the Manhattan Institute, a right-leaning think tank. “Their standard of living [is] closer to the middle class than to the top 1 percent.” The income numbers don’t tell the whole story, he explained. The upper middle class is weighed down by high costs: Affluent workers live in expensive areas, pay a lot for real estate and daycare, and are taxed far more than Americans further down the ladder.

      Richard Reeves, a senior fellow at the left-leaning Brookings Institution, isn’t buying that argument. He’s the author of “Dream Hoarders: How the American Upper Middle Class Is Leaving Everyone Else in the Dust, Why That Is a Problem, and What to Do About It.”

      “There’s a culture of entitlement at the top of U.S. society,” Reeves said. While others focus on rising wealth of the top 1 percent, Reeves argues that the gap is widening between the top 20 percent and everyone else. The upper middle class is guilty of “hoarding” its privileges, using its power to skew the job market, educational institutions, real estate markets, and tax policy for its own benefit, he contends.

      “The American upper middle class know how to take care of themselves,” Reeves said during a presentation at the City University of New York last week. “They know how to organize. They’re numerous enough to be a serious voting bloc, and they run everything.”

      So by his measure, the tax legislation’s disproportionate hit to the upper middle class is indeed fair.

      A family earning $240,000 a year is bringing in four times the U.S. median household income of $59,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All that money, along with the upper middle class’s political power, buys some huge advantages, Reeves said. For example, affluent parents compete for access to the best schools, bidding up home values in the best school districts. Then, they use zoning rules to prevent new construction, keep property values high, and prevent lower-income Americans from moving in. In the process, children of this demographic end up at the most prestigious universities, nab the best internships and jobs, and ultimately join their parents at the top of U.S. society. 

      The very existence of the House tax bill rebuts Reeves’s argument that the upper middle class is in a position to manipulate Washington. (The Senate is considering its own tax legislation, which differs from the House bill in several ways.) Compared with middle class Americans, the upper middle class is less likely to see marginal tax rates fall under the House legislation. The bill also limits or scraps entirely some of the group’s favorite tax breaks, especially deductions for state-and-local taxes, and medical expenses, and tax breaks for education.

      If you’re part of the upper middle class and concede you should be paying more, don’t count on wealthier groups making the same sacrifice—at least under the House bill. 

      While a repeal of the alternative-minimum tax helps some people with incomes below $300,000, it’s more likely to benefit those on the higher wealth rungs. The very rich, including President Donald Trump, who has been pressing for a legislative victory before the end of his first year in office, would benefit from a repeal of the estate tax, lower corporate tax rates and a lower “pass-through” rate on business income. The House bill explicitly tries to limit the pass-through benefit for doctors, lawyers, accountants, and other high-earning professionals—traditional denizens of the upper middle class. 

      This all may seem terribly unfair to members of the upper middle class, but there are some provisions they can take solace in. The bill leaves untouched some sweet tax breaks that predominately benefit people with lower six-figure salaries, such as 529 college savings plans and 401(k)s and other retirement perks. The CBO calculates that two-thirds of the government’s costs for retirement tax breaks go to the top 20 percent.

      But beyond these few exceptions, much of the upper middle class will still take it on the chin.

      And maybe they should. Higher taxes on the upper middle class make sense to some liberal tax experts—but only if the proceeds are used the right way, they said, for things like better health care, more affordable college, and rebuilding infrastructure. Under the House bill, though, any new tax revenue is used to offset tax cuts—much of which will benefit the super wealthy and corporations, especially over time.

      “There would be a lot of people in the country who would be willing to chip in for those goals,” said Carl Davis, research director of the left-leaning Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy. In the House plan, however, the upper middle class is “going to pay more for a bill that’s going to grow the national debt, and provide the lion’s share of the benefits to corporations and their shareholders.”

      Riedl, who has advised Republican candidates, argues the upper middle class should get a more generous tax cut under GOP tax reform. “It’s hard to argue the upper middle class is not currently paying its fair share,” he said. Reeves said the U.S. should ultimately tax the upper middle class more—but “the top 5 percent more still.”

      Looking at Republican tax plans, Reeves said, “it’s like they only read half my book.”

        Read more:

        The GOP Tax Plan Is Entering Its Make-or-Break Week

        The $1.4 trillion item on President Donald Trump’s wish list — a package of tax cuts for businesses and individuals that he has said he wants to sign before year’s end — is headed into the legislative equivalent of a Black Friday scrum next week.

        Senate Republican leaders plan a make-or-break floor vote on their bill as soon as Thursday — a dramatic moment that will come only after a marathon debate that could go all night. Democrats are expected to try to delay or derail the measure, and the GOP must hold together at least 50 votes from its thin, 52-vote majority in order to prevail.

        Their chances improved this week when Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski of Alaska said she’ll support repealing the “individual mandate” imposed by Obamacare — a provision that Senate tax writers are counting on to help finance the tax cuts. Murkowski had earlier signaled some reservations about the provision; and her support was widely viewed as a positive sign for the tax bill’s chances.

        Trump is scheduled to address Senate Republicans at their weekly luncheon Tuesday afternoon on taxes and the legislative agenda for the rest of the year, according to a statement from Senator John Barrasso, chairman of the Senate Republican Policy Committee. 

        The White House previously announced that the president would talk with Republican and Democratic congressional leaders at the White House the same day about an agreement on spending to keep the government open after funding expires on Dec. 8. David Popp, a spokesman for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, and Drew Hammill, a spokesman for House Democratic leader Nancy Pelosi, both said that meeting is still on the schedule.

        If the tax bill clears the Senate — a step that’s by no means guaranteed — lawmakers in both chambers would have to hammer out a compromise between their differing bills, a process that presents potential pitfalls of its own. For now, though, much of the Senate’s attention will focus on its legislation’s price tag.

        Three GOP senators — Bob Corker of Tennessee, Jeff Flake of Arizona and James Lankford of Oklahoma — have cited concerns about how the measure would affect federal deficits. Independent studies of the legislation have found that — contrary to its backers’ arguments — its tax cuts won’t stimulate enough growth to pay for themselves. Both the Senate bill, and one that cleared the House earlier this month, would reduce federal revenue over a decade by roughly $1.4 trillion, according to the Joint Committee on Taxation.

        On Wednesday, a report from the Penn Wharton Budget Model at the University of Pennsylvania said the bill would reduce federal revenue in each year from 2028 to 2033. That finding would mean it doesn’t comply with a key budget rule that Senate Republican leaders want to use to pass their bill with a simple majority over Democrats’ objections.

        Budget Rule

        In essence, that rule holds that any bill approved via that fast-track process can’t add to the deficit outside a 10-year budget window. The JCT has already found that the Senate bill would generate a surplus in its 10th year because it has set several tax breaks for businesses and individuals to expire.

        But JCT hasn’t yet weighed in publicly on the revenue effects in subsequent years. Senate GOP leaders have expressed confidence that their proposal will satisfy the rule ultimately.

        Another potential stumbling block stems from the fact that Congress is trying to act on complex tax legislation under a tight, self-imposed timeline in order to deliver on promises from Trump, House Speaker Paul Ryan and McConnell.

        For example, Republican Senator Ron Johnson of Wisconsin has said he can’t support the current Senate bill because it would give corporations a tax advantage — a large rate cut to 20 percent from 35 percent — that other, closely held businesses wouldn’t get.

        ‘Change the Most’

        His concern centers on the Senate’s plan for large partnerships, limited liability companies, sole proprietorships and other so-called “pass-through” businesses. Under current law, these businesses simply pass their earnings to their owners, who pay income taxes at their individual rates — currently, as high as 39.6 percent, depending on how much they earn.

        Read more: A QuickTake guide to the tax-cut debate

        The Senate bill would provide pass-through owners with a 17.4 percent deduction for income — but in combination with other provisions, that would result in an effective top tax rate for business income that’s more than 10 percentage points higher than the proposed corporate tax rate.

        The House bill would use an entirely different approach, setting a top tax rate of 25 percent for pass-through business income, but then limiting how much of a business’s earnings could qualify for that rate.

        Reconciling those differences — and addressing Johnson’s concern — may be a complicated process. “That’s part of the equation that could change the most over the next few weeks,” Isaac Boltansky, senior vice president and policy analyst at Compass Point Research and Trading LLC, told Bloomberg Tax. “No one is planning around it yet. There is uncertainty across the board.”

        Meanwhile, the Obamacare issue looms in the background — threatening at least one GOP senator’s vote. Susan Collins of Maine said earlier this week that tax bill “needs work,” and “I think there will be changes.”

        The 2010 Affordable Care Act — popularly known as Obamacare — contained a provision requiring individuals to buy health insurance or pay a federal penalty. Removing that penalty in 2019, as the Senate tax bill proposes to do, would generate an estimated $318 billion in savings by 2027, according to the Congressional Budget Office. The savings would stem from about 13 million Americans dropping their coverage, eliminating the need for federal subsidies to help them afford it.

        Because many of the newly uninsured would be younger, healthier people, insurance premiums would rise 10 percent in most years, the nonpartisan fiscal scorekeeper found.

          Read more:

          Bowe Bergdahl gets dishonorable discharge, avoids prison time

          Fort Bragg, North Carolina (CNN)Bowe Bergdahl received a dishonorable discharge from the US Army, but will avoid prison time for desertion and misbehavior before the enemy after abandoning his outpost in Afghanistan in 2009, a military judge ruled Friday.

          The judge ordered that Bergdahl’s rank be reduced from sergeant to private. Additionally, Bergdahl will be required to pay a $1,000 fine from his salary for the next 10 months.
          “Sgt. Bergdahl has looked forward to today for a long time,” Eugene Fidell, Bergdahl’s civilian attorney, said at a news conference after the proceedings.
            “As everyone knows, he was a captive of the Taliban for nearly five years, and three more years have elapsed while the legal process unfolded. He has lost nearly a decade of his life.”
            The sentence is effective immediately, except for the dishonorable discharge, which Bergdahl is appealing, according to Fidell.
            Bergdahl appeared visibly shaken as the sentence was announced, according to CNN affiliate WRAL. Two of his attorneys stood by his side with their hands on his back while the judge, Army Col. Jeffery R. Nance, read the sentence.
            The soldier, whom the Taliban held for five years after he deserted his Afghanistan outpost, pleaded guilty last month to the charges.
            Bergdahl was released in May 2014 in a controversial exchange for five Guantanamo Bay detainees.
            He originally faced the possibility of life in prison, but the prosecution asked the judge for a 14-year sentence. Bergdahl’s attorneys asked Nance for a punishment of dishonorable discharge.
            Bergdahl had chosen to be tried by a military judge instead of a jury.
            Gen. Robert Abrams, the commanding general of Forces Command and the convening authority in Bergdahl’s case, will review the sentence, according to Paul Boyce, an Army spokesman. Abrams could potentially reduce Bergdahl’s sentence.

            Defense: Bergdahl ‘should not have been in the Army’

            Bergdahl’s attorneys asked the judge for leniency during sentencing hearings, arguing he had a previously undiagnosed mental illness when he left his post.
            “Hypothetically, he probably should not have been in the Army,” said Capt. Nina Banks, one of his military defense attorneys, in her closing argument.
            Bergdahl suffered from numerous mental illnesses, including schizotypal personality disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, according to Dr. Charles Morgan, a forensic psychiatrist and professor at the University of New Haven and Yale University. He testified for the defense Wednesday.
            Morgan said Bergdahl was raised in a tense and sometimes scary household that contributed to social anxiety and cognitive defects that he was suffering from before he enlisted in the Army.
            The defense also argued the information Bergdahl was able to provide upon his return — and his willingness to share that information and cooperate with investigators — warranted a more lenient sentence.

            Prosecution: Bergdahl put soldiers in danger

            But government prosecutors said Bergdahl was aware of the risks when he deserted, and that doing so put his fellow soldiers in danger.
            Soldiers who searched for Bergdahl after he deserted were called to testify and shared stories of the grueling conditions they endured while looking for him.
            One witness, Capt. John Billings, was Bergdahl’s platoon leader in Afghanistan. Billings said the platoon searched for the then-private first class for 19 days, going without food or water.
            Retired Navy SEAL Chief Petty Officer James Hatch testified that he and his dog came under fire while looking for Bergdahl. He was shot in the leg, and his K-9 partner, Remco, was shot in the face and killed.
            “I thought I was dead,” said Hatch, who now walks with a heavy limp after 18 surgeries. He said he was concerned because there was little time to plan the search for Bergdahl, and other soldiers knew he had willfully walked away.

              Report: Bergdahl diagnosed with personality disorder

            When asked why he would go searching for Bergdahl, Hatch said, “He is an American.”
            “He had a mom,” he added.
            Bergdahl tearfully apologized this week to the service members who searched for him.
            “My words can’t take away what people have been through,” he said. “I am admitting I made a horrible mistake.”

            Lawyer: Trump’s remarks ‘preposterous’

            Following the sentencing, President Donald Trump tweeted that the decision was a “complete and total disgrace to our Country and to our Military.”
            Bergdahl became a political talking point in 2014 after President Barack Obama’s administration traded five detainees at Guantanamo Bay in exchange for his release.
            In February, Bergdahl’s defense team argued he was unable to have a fair trial after Donald Trump became president because of comments Trump made on the 2016 campaign trail.
            During the campaign, Trump called Bergdahl a “dirty, rotten traitor” and said he “should be shot” for deserting his post. “In the good old days, he would have been executed,” Trump said.
            Fidell had denounced Trump’s critical campaign comments, saying “every American should be offended by his assault on the fair administration of justice and his disdain for basic constitutional rights.”
            Bergdahl’s attorneys argued that Trump’s comments, as well as critical words from Sen. John McCain, violated his right to due process. But Nance ultimately ruled against dismissing the charges, saying that while Trump’s comments were “troubling,” they did not constitute a due process violation.
            “Trump — when he was a candidate, of course — made really extraordinary and reprehensible comments targeted directly at our client,” Fidell said Friday. “It’s one of the most preposterous state of affairs that I can think of in American legal history.”

            Investigator said jail time would be ‘inappropriate’

            Since his return home to the United States, the 31-year-old from Idaho has been the subject of scrutiny while the US military investigated his decision to leave his post.
            Bergdahl has said he abandoned his post because he wanted to travel to a larger base to report “a critical problem in my chain of command,” though he did not specify what the problem was.
            He was charged with desertion and misbehavior before the enemy in March 2015.
            Kenneth Dahl, the Army general who led the investigation into Bergdahl’s actions and interviewed the soldier for a day and a half, previously testified in a preliminary hearing that jail time would be “inappropriate.”
            During his time in captivity, Bergdahl said he was tortured, beaten and spent months chained to a bed or locked in a cage while his health deteriorated. For five years, he said, he was completely isolated, had no concept of time and was told he would be killed and never see his family again.

            Read more:

            We should all be working a four-day week. Heres why | Owen Jones

            Ending life-sapping excessive hours was a pioneering demand for the labour movement. For the sake of our health and the economy we need to revisit it

            Imagine there was a single policy that would slash unemployment and underemployment, tackle health conditions ranging from mental distress to high blood pressure, increase productivity, help the environment, improve family lives, encourage men to do more household tasks, and make people happier. It sounds fantastical, but it exists, and its overdue: the introductionof a four-day week.

            The liberation of workers from excessive work was one of the pioneering demands of the labour movement. From the ashes of the civil war, American trade unionism rallied behind an eight-hour day, a movement which ran with express speed from the Atlantic to the Pacific, from New England to California, as Karl Marx put it. In 1890 hundreds of thousands thronged into Hyde Park in a historic protest for the same demand. It is a cause that urgently needs reclaiming.

            Many Britons work too much. Its notjust the 37.5 hours a week clocked up on average by full-time workers; itsthe unpaid overtime too. According to the TUC, workers put in 2.1bn unpaid hours last year thats an astonishing 33.6bn of free labour.

            That overwork causes significant damage. Last year, 12.5m work days were lost because of work-related stress, depression or anxiety. The biggest single cause by a long way in some 44% of cases was workload. Stress can heighten the risk of all manner of health problems, from high blood pressure to strokes. Research even suggests that working long hours increases the risk of excessive drinking. And then theres the economic cost: over 5bn a year, according to the Health and Safety Executive. Nowonder the public health expert John Ashton is among those suggesting a four-day week could improve the nations health.

            So the renewed call for a four-day week from Autonomy Institute is very welcome. We want to shift peoples perspectives, to better work and less work, says the thinktanks Will Stronge. Indeed, a deeply unhealthy distribution of work scars our society. While some are working too much, with damaging consequences for their health and family lives, there are 3.3 million or so underemployed workers who want more hours. A four-day week would force a redistribution of these hours, to the benefit of everyone. This will be even more important if automation in sectors such as manufacturing, administration and retail creates more poorly paid work and more underemployment.

            A four-day working week could alsohelp tackle climate change: as the New Economics Foundation thinktank notes, countries with shorter working weeks are more likely to have a smaller carbon footprint. This is no economy-wrecking suggestion either. German and Dutch employees work less than we do but their economies are stronger than ours. It could boost productivity: the evidence suggests if you work fewerhours, you are more productive, hour for hour and less stress means less time off work. Indeed, a recent experiment with a six-hour working dayat a Swedish nursing home produced promising results: higher productivity and fewer sick days. If those productivity gains are passed on to staff, working fewer hours doesntnecessarily entail a pay cut.

            Then theres the argument for gender equality. Despite the strides made by the womens movement, women still do 60% more unpaid household work on average than men. An extra day off workis not going to inevitably lead to men pulling their weight more at home. But, as Autonomy suggests, a four-day week could be unveiled as part of a driveto promote equal relationships between men and women. A national campaign could encourage men to use their new free time to equally balance household labour, which remains defined by sexist attitudes.

            It is heartening to see the resurrectionof one of the great early causes of the labour movement. Germanys biggest union, IG Metall, is calling for a 28-hour week for shift workers and those with caring responsibilities.

            That said, on its own the demand is not enough. Now that socialism is re-emerging as a political force that can no longer be ignored or ridiculed, the struggle for more time for leisure, family and relaxation should be linked to broader fights. Increased public ownership of the economy should be structured to create more worker self-management and control. If technology means a further reduction in secure work, a universal basic income a basic stipend paid to all citizens as a right may become ever more salient.

            Sure, work can be a fulfilling activity for some. It strikes me, though, that few would disagree with the notion that we should spend more time with our families, watching our children grow, exercising, reading books, or just relaxing. So much of our lives is surrendered to subordinating ourselves to the needs and whims of others, turning human beings into cash cows rather than independent, well-roundedindividuals.

            Our social model means economic growth all too often involves concentrating wealth produced by the many into the bank accounts of the few, without improving the lives of the majority. Growth should deliver not justshared prosperity and improved public services but a better balance between work, family and leisure.

            Labour politicians now position themselves as the harbingers of a new society, not mere tinkerers with the existing order. That must surely mean building a new economy that lightens the freedom-sapping burden of work. Labour may win the opportunity to build a socialist Britain. If it does, it must be ambitious enough to liberate citizens from the excesses of work.

            Read more:

            5 takeaways from the Democrats’ big night

            Washington (CNN)After a year of doubts, recriminations and special election misfires, Democrats finally got the big victories Tuesday they’d so desperately craved in the year since Donald Trump won the presidency.

            Republicans will wake up Wednesday in a nightmare: All of a sudden, full control of Congress might be in serious jeopardy. Trump’s low approval ratings look toxic. And it could be much harder to convince incumbents to run — and to recruit candidates into open-seat races — in such a difficult environment.  
            Here are five takeaways from Democrats’ big day:

              1. The blue wave

              Democrats won races large and small Tuesday, starting with the New Jersey and Virginia governor’s races. 
              The party won hotly contested mayoral races in Charlotte, North Carolina, and St. Petersburg, Florida. In Maine, voters approved a ballot measure to expand Medicaid under the Affordable Care Act.  
              In Virginia, Northam didn’t just beat Republican Ed Gillespie in the northern Virginia suburbs — he crushed him. Consider Loudoun County near Washington: Democrats won it by 5 points in the 2013 governor’s race, and 20 points on Tuesday.  
              Democrats were also within striking distance of flipping the 17 seats they needed to take the Virginia House of Delegates — giving the party much more influence on redistricting in 2020.  
              It all gives Democrats a huge psychological boost that could help their fundraising and candidate recruitment. It could also accelerate the pace of Republican retirements, as Republican Bob McDonnell’s win in the 2009 Virginia governor’s race did for Democrats. Already on Tuesday, New Jersey Republican Rep. Frank LoBiondo announced his retirement — creating another toss-up seat. There could soon be more. 

              2. Trumpism without Trump didn’t work

              Gillespie and Trump didn’t campaign together. But Gillespie tried just about every trick in Trump’s bag.  
              His television ads portrayed Northam as enabling the MS-13 gang by being soft on immigration enforcement. He picked up on Trump’s culture wars, hitting NFL players for kneeling during the National Anthem and promising to keep Virginia’s Confederate monuments up.  
              It was all an effort to convince Trump voters to turn out for a former lobbyist and George W. Bush aide.  
              It failed.  
              Gillespie did well in rural Virginia. But the Democratic base that slumbered through 2016 turned out in full force and the suburbs shifted dramatically in Northam’s favor. 
              “Virginia sent a strong message that Trump-style division — pitting people against people — that is not the Virginia way. That is not the American way,” Virginia Sen. Tim Kaine said at Northam’s victory party. 
              Trump tried to lay the blame solely at Gillespie’s feet, tweeting, “Ed Gillespie worked hard but did not embrace me or what I stand for. Don’t forget, Republicans won 4 out of 4 House seats, and with the economy doing record numbers, we will continue to win, even bigger than before!”  
              Now, Republicans have to confront the possibility that they’ll face the same problem Democrats faced during the presidency of Barack Obama: His popularity doesn’t transfer to them.  
              Trump campaigned in Alabama for Sen. Luther Strange — who promptly lost a Republican primary to former judge Roy Moore. He recorded a robocall and tweeted for Gillespie, who was walloped in what both sides expected to be a close race. Trump voters turn out for Trump — but so far, no one else.  

              3. Republicans lost the culture war

              Beyond the governor’s race, Democrats won a decisive victory on the social and cultural issues that have dominated Virginia politics.  
              Democrat Danica Roem became the only openly transgender state lawmaker in America. She beat Bob Marshall, who had advocated for a bill restricting which bathrooms transgender people could use.  
              One of the biggest forces in the Virginia races was Planned Parenthood, which helped Democrats defeat a Republican lieutenant governor nominee, Jill Vogel, who as a state senator had pushed a bill requiring women seeking abortions to undergo vaginal ultrasounds.  
              And in the Virginia attorney general’s race, incumbent Democrat Mark Herring cruised despite Republican John Adams’ attacks on Herring’s decision not to defend the state’s same-sex marriage ban in court.  
              To be sure, Northam was hobbled by Gillespie’s MS-13 ad. He appeared to flip-flop at the last minute and said he opposed sanctuary cities — a decision that appeared to be out of desperation. In other states with less Democratic voters, his stumbles could have led to a loss.  
              But up and down the ticket, the GOP focus on social issues proved costly Tuesday in Virginia.  

                Northam: I hope to win your confidence

              4. Obama and Biden help Democrats

              The Democratic Party lost about 1,000 state legislative seats during Obama’s presidency across the country — eight years in which Democratic strategists howled about the White House’s inattention to the party’s crumbling infrastructure and its down-ballot disasters. 
              Now out of office, Obama and Biden both focused on 2017 races. And it turned out the two made pretty effective Democratic surrogates.  
              Biden-endorsed candidates were on course for a clean sweep. And Obama’s rallies in New Jersey and Virginia, which drew thousands to hear his lectures that the party’s base had gotten “complacent” in non-presidential elections, appear to have energized the minority voters that Northam’s campaign had worried might stay at home. While the northern Virginia results will get the most national attention, Northam ran up his lead throughout Virginia’s entire urban crescent — stretching from the Washington suburbs through Norfolk.  
              Both Obama and Biden are showing an appetite to play surrogate roles in 2018. Biden has already waded into December’s Alabama Senate special election, and has done nothing to tamp down speculation that he might run for president in 2020. They’ll be the most sought-after Democratic surrogates over the next year.  

              5. McAuliffe 2020 starts now

              The happiest person in Virginia might be Gov. Terry McAuliffe.  
              The long-time friend of the Clintons, fundraiser extraordinaire and former Democratic National Committee chairman wasn’t taken particularly seriously as a candidate himself — a principal, rather than a supporting player — when he ran for governor in 2013.  
              Now, McAuliffe seems impossible to ignore.  
              Swaggering onto stage at Northam’s victory party to Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack,” McAuliffe cast the election results as Virginia’s rejection of discrimination. He touted his own administration’s efforts to protect LGBT workers, in a message that sounded 2020-ready.  
              A few weeks from leaving office, McAuliffe has made clear that he hasn’t run out of political ambition. He leaves Virginia as a popular Democrat with a strong economic record and a revitalized Democratic bench set to take office. 

                Perez: Dems’ unity is Trump’s worst nightmare

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