China’s Arrest of Activists Investigating Ivanka Trump-linked Factory Unprecedented

from June 10, 2017 at 08:12PM

Photo Credit: Frame China /

China is refusing to release three activists who were arrested while they were investigating labor conditions at a factory manufacturing Ivanka Trump brand shoes. The three men were working with the New York-based nonprofit China Labor Watch. The arrests came just weeks after Ivanka Trump secured three new exclusive trademarks in China. China accuses the investigators of interfering with the operation of the factory. China Labor Watch denies the allegations and says this is the first time in nearly two decades of its existence that any of its investigators have been detained. Amnesty International has joined in demanding the release of the trio. To talk more about what this means, we are joined in Washington, D.C., by Kevin Slaten, who was program coordinator for China Labor Watch until last year.

TranscriptThis is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: We begin today’s show in China, which is refusing to release three activists who were arrested while they were investigating labor conditions at a factory manufacturing Ivanka Trump brand shoes. The three men were working with the New York-based nonprofit China Labor Watch. The group was reportedly planning to release a report next month revealing factory workers at the supplier, Huajian International, were forced to work excessive overtime, verbally abused and paid wages below China’s legal minimum.

China accuses the three investigators with using illegal surveillance equipment and interfering with the operation of the factory. China Labor Watch denies the allegations and says this is the first time in nearly two decades of its existence that any of its investigators have been detained and faced criminal charges. Amnesty International has joined in demanding the release of the trio. On Monday, China rejected a State Department request to free the men, its statement that also marked the first time the government has confirmed their detention. This is China’s Foreign Office spokesperson.

HUA CHUNYING: [translated] The people you mentioned were summoned and investigated on suspicion of interfering with the company’s normal operations and production activities. Public security officials also found they were in illegal possession of and under suspicion of using wiretapping or other professional surveillance equipment. Those people were detained in accordance with the law, and the case remains under investigation.

AMY GOODMAN: The Ivanka Trump company has declined to comment on the case. The arrests came just weeks after Ivanka Trump secured three new exclusive trademarks in China—the very same day she and her father, President Trump, had dinner with Chinese President Xi Jinping at Trump’s private resort in Florida. Ivanka has also recently filed numerous additional Chinese trademark applications. According to The Wall Street Journal, 14 applications were filed by her business on March 28th, a day before she was named White House adviser. Her company has said the applications were filed to prevent others from profiting from her name rather than as an attempt to boost sales in China. Ivanka Trump no longer manages her $50 million company, but she retains an ownership stake, so she can still benefit from the company’s profits. It was not Ivanka Trump herself that filed for the trademarks in China, but it was the company.

To talk more about what this means, we’re joined in Washington, D.C., by Kevin Slaten, who was program coordinator for China Labor Watch until last year. He knew the three investigators currently detained in China, and has researched Chinese labor conditions for over seven years, continuing to monitor closely human rights and foreign policy developments in China.

Kevin, welcome to Democracy Now! Where are these three investigators? These three human rights activists investigating labor conditions at the Ivanka Trump brand factory, where are they being held?

KEVIN SLATEN: Hi, Amy. Currently, the three, according to information we have from one of the investigators’ lawyers, who spoke to the media a couple days ago, as well as according to other news media, they’re being held in Ganzhou, which is in Jiangxi province, which is in southern part of China. And that’s where the investigation, one of the factories that they were investigating, is located.

AMY GOODMAN: And under what conditions are they being held?

KEVIN SLATEN: I mean, a lot of that information isn’t really known. We know, from what the lawyers said, that they were being held in—that one of the people was being held in a group cell of 20 people, that he had to sleep just a couple feet away from a urinal—they said a bucket that people would use as a urinal, and he had to sleep like that. And it was very—said it was very uncomfortable. I mean, one of the overarching problems here is that a lot of access is being denied, and China doesn’t really have a—it has a terrible record of guaranteeing prisoners’ rights and of torture, especially for people who could be political prisoners, like these three.

AMY GOODMAN: So, can you explain, Kevin Slaten, where this factory is, what it does, how you know, then how these researchers knew, that it was making Ivanka Trump brand shoes?

KEVIN SLATEN: Well, just to be clear, I left China Labor Watch early last year, in February 2016, so I wasn’t part of the investigation. However, I know, from what I’ve read and some communication recently with China Labor Watch, that they sent people undercover. These three investigators, I don’t know if all of them were undercover, but at least one of them was undercover. They were doing worker interviews outside of the factory and gathering other information around two factories that they, through worker interviews and—I haven’t seen video or pictures, but typically you would get video and pictures to prove it. The report hasn’t come out yet, so I don’t—I don’t know from the report if they got that information. But typically that’s how you would show that the products that you were—that you were—like Ivanka Trump’s products and other brands were actually being produced there. However, Marc Fisher, the company Marc Fisher, which is the intermediary for Ivanka Trump’s production, did not deny that their products are being made there. Ivanka Trump’s company didn’t deny they’re being made there. So, I think that’s not really a question of whether or not they’re being made in those factories.

AMY GOODMAN: The Chinese government said, in the SOT that we—in the quote that we just played, that these men are being held under suspicion of using wiretapping or professional surveillance equipment.

KEVIN SLATEN: Mm-hmm, yeah, this is the—what’s been said by the Foreign Ministry. It’s also what the actual—the official charges, at least for one person. Only one person, we know about their actual charge. It’s extremely unusual that in the context of labor investigations in China—as somebody who’s been involved in this for many years and also knows many people who had actually done these investigations in China, it’s extremely unusual to actually bring this charge against somebody. In fact, it’s unprecedented.

These sorts of investigations are not unusual in China, the undercover—whether it’s undercover investigations or just asking workers into the labor conditions connected to global supply chains. As China Labor Watch has said to media, and I think you mentioned this, for almost two decades, they’ve done hundreds of these investigations. And this sort of national-level reaction by the government is unprecedented. And it suggests something beyond just the investigations that they say they’ve arrested these individuals for. And it’s—there’s something unusual about this. You know, we can surmise that it might have something to do with Ivanka Trump’s products, but we don’t have direct evidence of that currently.

AMY GOODMAN: And so, what does the State Department—interestingly, the State Department, under President Trump—what is it doing to have these men released?

KEVIN SLATEN: Well, I only know, I think, what you may know from what the State Department has said, that it made a statement calling for the release and calling for the guarantee of their legal rights, or the protection of their legal rights. And that was quickly dismissed by China’s government. Other than that, behind the scenes, I’m unclear about what they may be doing.

I do think that the statement might have had an effect, because the lawyer who was denied access repeatedly to Hua Haifeng, one of the investigators, was given access shortly after it was reported, and was given a good amount of time to talk to him. So, it does matter when the U.S. government says something. And even more, it matters when the buyers of these companies say something.

In the past, it’s not unusual for local governments—now, I talked about all these investigations that have occurred in the past. It’s not unusual for local governments to have some—to retaliate in some way towards investigators, but that retaliation is usually a slap on the wrist, kicking them out of the city, you know, firing—making sure they’re out of the factories so they’re not revealing more information. But some of the reaction that’s been taken—denying access to lawyers, denying access to family, not notifying family, blocking them from leaving the country days before they were even arrested, apparently—this is—this shows that this is a national-level, coordinated political case.

And the State Department comments, the U.S. government commenting on this, and the companies that may be at the center of this, particularly Ivanka Trump’s company and Ivanka Trump herself, commenting on this, in a way to call for the protection of the rights of these investigators, is extremely important and could really have a dramatic effect on their treatment.

AMY GOODMAN: I’d like to go back to Ivanka Trump speaking in April. She was interviewed about potential conflicts of interest by Gayle King on CBS’s This Morning.

GAYLE KING: When we talk about the Ivanka Trump brand, you are no longer running the day-to-day.

IVANKA TRUMP: No, I’m no longer—

GAYLE KING: What have you done with your business?

IVANKA TRUMP: I have no involvement with any of it. And I felt like proximity to my father and to the White House and with my husband taking such an influential role in the administration, I didn’t want to also be running a business. So, I put it into trust. I have independent trustees. I have no involvement in its management, in its oversight, in its strategic decision-making.

GAYLE KING: But the trustees are family members, right? Your brother-in-law and your sister-in-law?


GAYLE KING: So, from a—

IVANKA TRUMP: But they’re completely independent, and I’m transparent about that.

GAYLE KING: Can you see, from the public point of view—yes, you put it in trust, but it’s family members—they’re thinking, “Well, is she really not involved?” Do you really not get on the phone and say, “What’s going on?” Do you have no involvement whatsoever?

IVANKA TRUMP: I take—I take a legal document very seriously, and I wouldn’t go through the pains of setting this up, if I intended to violate it.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that is Ivanka Trump. Your response, Kevin Slaten, talking about her company that’s now run by her brother-in-law and sister-in-law?

KEVIN SLATEN: Right. I think that it’s extremely—well, at the time, she wasn’t responding to this. It would be extremely disingenuous if she uses that as protection, personal protection here, to disassociate herself with the human rights—the serious human rights violation and labor rights violations going on in her supply chain. Whether or not she’s directly involved with the management, she is benefiting from the profits of this company. This company is using her name. And she’ll benefit even more after she leaves office, whenever that happens.

Let’s talk about the facts that we do know. Huajian, this company that is at the center of this, the factory that’s at the center of this in China, according to reports, produces something like 100,000 to 200,000 Ivanka Trump shoes per year. It’s the third largest—a third of Ivanka Trump’s orders come from this company every year. They’ve been working with them, reportedly, for 10 years, which means, based on my experience in this field, that makes them a strategic supplier. They are not a new supplier. This isn’t a one-off. This is a long-term partner, which means that they’re at the center of their business and supply chain in China. And according to reports, they were producing up to this year, including in May, when these investigations—at least the preliminary investigation ended.

So, there is a direct association with Ivanka Trump’s company, and therefore Ivanka Trump, especially because she’s still profiting off of these, with the three investigators and their arrests and the labor violations that they were investigating, the widespread labor violations, that we now are starting to get information about. So, I think that if she did respond in that, whatever legal protection—or legal separation she has from the management of her company, if she were to use that response, it would be extremely disingenuous and unethical.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask about—well, according to The Wall Street Journal, 14 applications were filed by her business on March 28th, the day before she was named White House adviser. Ivanka Trump’s company has said the applications were filed to prevent others from profiting from her name, rather than as an attempt to boost sales in China. And The Wall Street Journal points out Ivanka no longer manages the $50 million company but retains an ownership stake, so she can benefit from the company’s profits. You have—

KEVIN SLATEN: Well, talk about disingenuous.

AMY GOODMAN: So you have both those trademarks. And then talk about the dinner, where her daughter sang in Chinese to the first Chinese family. She had dinner with the Chinese president and her father, President Trump, at Mar-a-Lago. And talk about what happened that day with the exclusive trademarks she was awarded.

KEVIN SLATEN: Well, I mean, I don’t know a tremendous amount of detail about the profits. I know about the timing of it. I know that before she became White House staff, as you just reported, she had applied for multiple—her company had applied for multiple trademarks. And this is the same thing that—it was the case with Donald Trump himself. Dozens, I think it was something like 30, trademarks were approved shortly after he became president, in China—the trademarks were approved in China. And I think it just highlights this tremendous number of conflicts of interest that Trump has more generally, but specifically as it involves China and Chinese companies and Chinese state-owned companies, or banks, I should say. There’s news that Trump’s organization has a lot of debt with Chinese banks. Trump—we mentioned the trademarks.

Trump himself has products—or his company has products that are mostly produced in China. So there’s lots of different intersections between China, Chinese companies, and really, even if they’re private companies, they’re—it can be influenced by the government, as we can see in this case. So I think there’s a lot of leverage that they could use on the Trumps or even curry favor through this sort of act. It may not be direct, but, you know, this is a—it could be an indirect signal that, “Look, we’re protecting your interests, Ivanka Trump and the Trump family, in China,” and it could be an unspoken favor. So, I think that there’s a tremendous number of conflicts of interest involved here.

AMY GOODMAN: So, you say this is highly unusual. Amnesty has joined in the call for these men to be released. What do you think President Trump can do, as we wrap up, Kevin?

KEVIN SLATEN: If President Trump were—forgetting for a second the conflict of interest, just as president of the United States, at least for now, until he completely degrades the office of the presidency, he still has influence, and he still has the ability, when he speaks about specific people, to bring their—to raise the status of their case. And if he were to name these three, and if he were to talk specifically about this case and call for their release, I do believe that, at the very least, it will protect them within prison, as we’ve seen in many, many cases over the years of political prisoners in China. It could get them protection from torture. But it could even secure their release or a quicker release and a faster legal process. So, I do think that prioritizing this and mentioning them would benefit the three investigators. And if we add on top of that the personal connections, I think that there’s a personal responsibility on the part of the Trump family to do something about this.

AMY GOODMAN: Kevin Slaten, former program coordinator for China Labor Watch, knows the three investigators currently being detained in China. Thanks so much for being with us.

KEVIN SLATEN: Thank you, Amy.

AMY GOODMAN: We’ll continue to follow this story. When we come back, we’ll go to Iran to learn what has happened in the attack in Tehran. Stay with us.


Amy Goodman is the host of Democracy Now!, a daily international TV/radio news hour airing on more than 1,200 stations in North America. She is the co-author of The Silenced Majority, a New York Times best-seller.

Read more at: Alternet

We mourn Manchester, but not Kabul: How biased coverage of terrorist attacks drives us apart

from June 3, 2017 at 12:05AM

Kabul Bombing

Crater created by massive explosion in Kabul, Afghanistan. (Credit: AP/Rahmat Gul)

On May 22, a suicide bombing was carried out in Manchester, England, killing 23 adults and children and injuring 116. On May 29, twin bombings in Baghdad, Iraq, targeted families at an ice cream shop and seniors in line to collect their pensions. Those attacks left 22 dead and almost 100 injured. On May 31, a suicide bomb ripped through the diplomatic quarter in Kabul, Afghanistan killing at least 90 and wounding approximately 400.

Each of these stories was covered in the Western mainstream media. But the way they were covered was radically different.

In the Manchester story, there was a deeply human face to the coverage. Audiences became familiar with individual girls who lost their lives and they connected with the mothers who were searching for information about their loved ones.

Meanwhile, despite the fact that the Baghdad ice cream shop bombing also targeted children, the coverage of that story did not include any of the personal-interest features seen in the story of what happened in Manchester.

Much the same was true in the coverage of the Kabul bombing. A New York Times piece did mention the difficulties loved ones were having in tracking down information on those who were caught in the blast. But that piece also included strangely cold language: “In different corners of the city, workers and relatives dug graves for the ones who, with life having become a game of chance, just were not lucky.”

Imagine a reporter referring to those being buried in Manchester with the same sort of detached language.

In a recent piece for The Conversation, Philip Seib argues that the news of the Manchester attack represents a journalistic void. For Seib the problem is that media coverage heightens the public’s sense of vulnerability but fails to offer a holistic assessment of terrorism.

I don’t disagree with Seib, but I think that he misses another crucial problem: Coverage of terrorist attacks is massively biased. When the targets are neither white nor Western, and are Islamic, the sense of personal tragedy is almost entirely absent.

Consider this. Apart from Malala Yousafzai, few Westerners can you even name three Muslims who have been victims of a terrorist attack. If you stop to think about it, can you even picture three victims’ faces? Do you know their personal stories?

This lack of a human face tied to these lost lives represents a major failure on the part of Western journalists.

Even if we bracket out the loss of life due to U.S. air and drone attacks — a move I don’t suggest as a good one — the reality is that the majority of victims in today’s terrorist-connected conflicts are Muslim.

A 2011 report by the U.S. government’s National Counter-Terrorism Center (NCTC) found that “Muslims suffered between 82 and 97% of terrorism-related fatalities over the past five years.” Similarly, according to Erin Miller of the Global Terrorism Database (GTD) at the University of Maryland, “between 2004 and 2013 about half of all terrorist attacks, and 60% of fatalities due to terrorist attacks, took place in Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan — all of which have a mostly Muslim population.”

If the raw numbers are reported and the incidents of the attacks are covered in the news, then the lack of awareness that most terror victims come from the Muslim community must be directly tied to the fact that we don’t associate a grievable life with those deaths.

Just as the media can play a role in informing the public of the broader context for terrorism, it has a role to play in shaping the public narrative of which lives matter and which don’t. Even worse, this biased coverage makes it impossible to see the victims of terrorist attacks as part of the same community.

Which leads me to Donald Trump. Recall that shortly after the inauguration the Trump team suggested that the media ignored covering terrorism.

Speaking to troops at MacDill Air Force Base in Florida, the headquarters of the U.S. Central Command back on Feb. 6, Trump cited a series of recent terrorist attacks and then added, “It’s gotten to a point where it’s not even reported, and in many cases the very, very dishonest press doesn’t even want to report it.”

Only days earlier Trump counselor Kellyanne Conway made the false claim that Bowling Green, Kentucky, was the scene of a massacre carried out by Iraqis that had been ignored by the media. She had cited the fabricated attack as grounds for the immigration ban that targeted predominately Muslim nations.

Between Conway making up attacks that never happened and Trump insinuating that the media was covering up the prevalence of attacks, the media reaction was to correct the record. In response to the list of attacks offered by the Trump team as proof of media collusion with terrorists, most articles covering the story focused on the fact that Trump was wrong about the lack of coverage.

Kattie Mettler and Derek Hawkins pointed out, though, that the real story behind Trump’s list wasn’t the fact that the 78 stories had actually been covered; it was the fact that the list was almost entirely made up of Western victims. They point out that some of the countries hardest hit by terrorist attacks were omitted entirely.

For instance, in 2015, nearly three quarters of all deaths from terrorist attacks occurred in five countries — Afghanistan, Iraq, Nigeria, Pakistan and Syria, according to the State Department.

Mettler and Hawkins cite a Washington Post analysis of all terrorist attacks from the beginning of 2015 through the summer of 2016 that shows that the Middle East, Africa and Asia have seen “nearly 50 times more deaths from terrorism than Europe and the Americas.” That study revealed that 658 people were killed in 46 attacks in Europe and the Americas, while 28,031 people died in 2,063 attacks in the rest of the world.

I don’t have enough space here to do justice to the multiple non-Western examples of lives lost due to terrorism, but I do want to suggest that Afghan victims suffer a specific dehumanization tied to the U.S. public’s tendency to tie that nation to the events of 9/11.

If there is a need for a new hashtag — #AfghanLivesMatter — it is precisely because there is yet another category of humanity that demands to be recognized and valued. While the story of the treatment of the Afghan community by the West is long and complicated, it would be fair to say that current media coverage is deeply connected to the way that the U.S. justified starting a war there after 9/11.

It is not surprising that the media painted a portrait of Afghanistan post-9/11 that justified the U.S. invasion and depicted the United States as a savior rather than an invader of the country. Nevertheless, these types of media practices meant that Western audiences learned very little about the actual impact of the U.S. war on the Afghan people. Even though George W. Bush had described the invasion as an effort to save Afghans from the Taliban, most reporting refused to consider the human side of the story.

In her account of working in Afghanistan after 9/11, former NPR reporter Sarah Chayes wrote that the greatest challenge she faced during the conflict was not local hostility to Western journalists but rather the difficulty reporting back to a “traumatized nation.” She mentions countless examples of reporters whose pieces were censored and rejected by their U.S. editors.

She writes that a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist told her he had been blocked from doing any reporting: “We were just supposed to dig up stuff to substantiate their foregone conclusions.” She further mentions a CNN reporter who had received explicit instructions not to film civilian causalities.

When she herself did a story on civilian causalities for NPR, she received “vituperative reactions” from listeners: “One said he was so angry that he almost had to pull his car off the road to vomit.” Another wrote that she was tired of listening to the “whimpers of afghany [sic] children, the pleas of parents who have lost loved ones.”

Rather than tolerate such “propaganda,” the listener defiantly claimed she would “listen to a Mozart CD for the rest of the morning.”

Clearly even lefty, liberal, snowflake NPR listeners could not tolerate the idea that Afghans were actual human beings who might suffer as a consequence of the military strikes.

Even less tolerable was the idea that Afghan civilian losses could compare to those who had suffered on U.S. soil on 9/11. Rather, the Afghan people were seen as irremediably different and justifiably disposable. They were not quite human, or at least not human in the same way as those from the West.

This attitude helps explain why reports of strikes on Afghan weddings didn’t lead to a massive emotional outpour in the West.

Even worse, when a U.S. Army sergeant went on a killing spree in Panjwai, Afghanistan, in 2012, leaving 16 civilians dead, nine of them children, the bodies were counted but the stories of the lives lost were ignored. The man gathered 11 bodies, including those of four girls younger than six, and set fire to them, but those deaths weren’t felt in the same way as those of the girls who died in Manchester.

There is a global calculus to the lives we mourn. Some lives are valued and some are disposable. Those that are mourned are those that remind us of our own vulnerability. Those that are ignored are those that feel too different to be like us.

While in theory most of us would argue that all lives matter, in practice it is important to note that affective bias is inevitable. We care more when we lose a loved one than when we hear about a stranger’s death. The emotional gap that makes some lives matter and others less valuable is almost impossible to completely bridge. Scholars of ethics will often explain that proximity — the sense of closeness to another — will determine our empathy for another life. It isn’t possible to care about everyone equally.

But it is possible to examine which lines of connection we value and why. It is also possible to determine the outcomes of these differing values. The lives we mourn are part of the imagined communities we inhabit and they form the affective bonds that help us struggle for change.

How is it that a mother in the United States feels more sadness and distress over a young girl dying at a concert in England than one burnt to death in Afghanistan? Why are those girls not connected in our minds?

These different reactions stem, in part, from the way that the media depicts these deaths. Next time you see an article on a terrorist attack, watch for the way that the victims’ stories are told.

Are the images shown grotesque and dehumanized? Do we see photos of the person before the atrocity or only after? Are the stories only about the attack or do they cover any information on the lives cut short? Is the victim treated as “unlucky?” Or as a tragic loss? Do we see photos of those mourning the death?

If we want to stop the constant inflow of stories about terrorist attacks, we need to start linking the victims of these attacks. Until we can see a common connection to those victimized by terrorism, we aren’t going to find a common solution to it.

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Paramilitary security tracked and targeted #noDAPL activists as “jihadists,” docs show

from June 2, 2017 at 08:04PM

Protesters face off with police during a protest in Mandan against plans to pass the Dakota Access pipeline near the Standing Rock Indian Reservation, North Dakota

(Credit: Reuters/Stephanie Keith)

As people nationwide rallied last year to support the Standing Rock Sioux’s attempts to block the Dakota Access Pipeline, a private security firm with experience fighting in Iraq and Afghanistan launched an intrusive military-style surveillance and counterintelligence campaign against the activists and their allies, according to internal company documents.

Its surveillance targets included everyone from Native American demonstrators to the actress Shailene Woodley, along with organizations including Black Lives Matter,, Veterans for Peace, the Catholic Worker Movement, and Food and Water Watch. The records label the protestors “jihadists” and seek to justify escalating action against them.

The activities of the company spanned, but were not limited to, the four states through which the pipeline passes: South Dakota, North Dakota, Iowa, and Illinois. The documents also show that its surveillance efforts continued after the breakup of the Standing Rock camps this winter, including at ongoing pipeline protests in southeastern Pennsylvania, Iowa, and South Dakota.

The internal documents from the firm, called TigerSwan, take the form of situation reports, or “sitreps,” prepared between September and April for its employer, Texas-based pipeline developer Energy Transfer Partners. The records detail a range of tactics that experts from the American Civil Liberties Union, National Lawyers Guild, and Electronic Frontier Foundation say would likely be illegal if conducted by law enforcement.

A private security company probably doesn’t face the same prohibitions, legal scholars say, but the close collaboration between TigerSwan and local, state, and federal authorities detailed in the firm’s internal reports raised red flags with them. Several legal experts described the contractor’s tactics as highly disturbing and perhaps unprecedented.

“It’s like a big brother society, with a private corporation — with even less restraints than the government — totally interfering with our right to privacy, free speech, assembly, and religious freedom,” said prominent civil rights attorney Jeff Haas, who works with the National Lawyers Guild and represents several of the nearly 800 people arrested while opposing the pipeline.

If the government can’t do it, he added, “Why should a private corporation working for another private corporation be able to?”

TigerSwan did not respond to requests for comment. Energy Transfer Partners said it would not answer questions related to its security procedures, but acknowledged that it had shared some information with law enforcement.

Dakota Access is expected to begin shipping oil today.

The tactics used against the self-described “water protectors” were first reported last weekend by The Intercept, which based its coverage on documents provided by a contractor who worked with TigerSwan, according to the news outlet. Grist independently obtained more than a dozen similar documents prior to The Intercept’s report.

According to the situation reports provided to Grist, TigerSwan also conducted surveillance of a church in Chicago, a 17-year-old girl in Iowa, and an AmeriCorps volunteer in Akron, among others. Reports of the actress Woodley’s arrest and the number of social media views she racked up were included in the reports.

The company specifically focused some of its most intense efforts on people of color — including Native American groups (like the Red Warrior Society and the American Indian Movement), members of Black Lives Matter, Palestinian activists, and those it labeled as “Islamists.”

Several of TigerSwan’s targets expressed surprise and outrage when informed of the surveillance against them, but also vowed to defy efforts at intimidation. “This is crazy!” said 21-year-old Alex Cohen, an Iowa activist named in the reports, which detail tracking him and his group’s movements and activities. At least some of TigerSwan’s knowledge could only have been gained through direct infiltration, he said.

A 17-year-old member of Cohen’s group was also included among the tracking reports. She was flattered when told the company considered her a threat. “I think it feels amazing that they are intimidated enough — not only by myself but by my friends — to write this!”

In addition to intrusive surveillance, the leaked documents reveal that the security firm attempted to create divisions between activists, manipulate and discredit pipeline opponents, and collect evidence that law enforcement could use to prosecute Standing Rock activists.

The ACLU’s human rights program director, Jamil Dakwar, said the records obtained by the news outlets suggest the company was painting an exaggerated picture to persuade both Energy Transfer Partners and law enforcement to take a more aggressive stance against those opposing the pipeline.

Said Dakwar: “They are operating with no transparency, no accountability.”

Self-defense or “hand-to-hand combat”

Last September, security guards employed by a company called Silverton deployed dogs against demonstrators near Standing Rock, resulting in several injuries, negative media attention (Democracy Now! caught them on camera), and an investigation — the dog handlers “were not registered as security officers” in the state of North Dakota,” according to local officials.

Energy Transfer Partners appears to have responded by putting TigerSwan in charge of Dakota Access security, consolidating several contractors under its umbrella — including Silverton, which kept operating even after the dog incident, according to the leaked documents.

Based in North Carolina, TigerSwan has offices throughout the world, tens of millions of dollars worth of contracts with the federal government for security services abroad, and an Army Special Forces veteran as its chairman. (Read moreabout the company below.)

Many of the Standing Rock supporters named in the TigerSwan situation reports told Grist they had no idea that they had been the subject of surveillance by the company — and some disputed much of what the firm reported about them.

“This company is demented,” said Clayton Thomas-Müller, a member of the Canadian Mathias Colomb Cree Nation, and a campaigner with — a nonprofit organization frequently cited in the reports. TigerSwan reported on Thomas-Müller’s trip to the camps, though his purpose was simply to bring donated clothes from Winnipeg to the protestors at Standing Rock, he said.

In September, the leaked documents show, TigerSwan set up an “information operations campaign” targeting the Standing Rock activists — which, according to the nonprofit RAND Corporation, is defined in military and security circles as including “the collection of tactical information about an adversary as well as the dissemination of propaganda in pursuit of a competitive advantage over an opponent.”

TigerSwan’s October 3 report describes trying to delegitimize the protests by exploiting “ongoing native versus non-native rifts, and tribal rifts between peaceful and violent elements.” Several situation reports also refer to “source reporting” and “informant collection,” suggesting the use of infiltrators to gather information from within the Standing Rock camps and protest groups.

The documents often portray protesters in what their targets say are exaggerated terms, apparently to inflate the potential danger they posed. For example, the November 9 report ominously warns: “An element of the Black Panther Party from Chicago is active within the camps in ND. A member of that delegation led 30-40 activists in hand-to-hand combat training in Camp 2.”

“That’s definitely talking about me,” Kelly Hayes said when read the report over the phone. “But that’s definitely a misrepresentation.”

Hayes is a member of the Menominee Tribe; she’s not a Black Panther, she told me, identifying herself as part of a collective of indigenous and black organizers from Chicago “aimed at the defense of communities of color.” She taught what she describes as several “small pockets of women and fem folks” very basic self-defense classes, adding that she has never engaged in violent action.

The classes she taught were not advertised in the camp or on social media. “It was a word-of-mouth thing,” she said, and thus could only have been reported from someone on the ground in the camps.

“That really does say something about how infiltrated everything must have been,” she said. “It really just shows you that every step people took out there, they were under constant scrutiny and surveillance.”

Hayes made several trips to Standing Rock, the first during the early stages of the movement in spring 2016, when there were no more than a few dozen people at the camps — which later grew to house thousands. She ran the first direct action and blockade training sessions at Standing Rock, and came back subsequently to run more.

“We are educators, and we are protesters, and we are community members — and we’re doing movement work,” she said. “It sounds to me like these for-profit individuals were trying to make things sound more exciting and important to impress their employers.”

TigerSwan’s activities also reached well beyond the protest camps. A significant portion of the November 11 situation report, for instance, is devoted to monitoring organizations and people of interest to the firm in the greater Chicago area, including the surveillance of a “local anti-DAPL church” and people who protested in the wake of Donald Trump victory in last year’s presidential election.

The company also reported on anti-pipeline sentiments at a second church in Illinois’ capital, Springfield, and, according to an earlier situation report, was probing links between Black Lives Matter Chicago and groups at local universities that it discovered via social media.

“I’m not entirely surprised that they would hone in on the black and brown organizing,” Hayes said. “They’re spending a lot of money, right, to infiltrate and figure out who we are and how we connect? That fear comes from a recognition of our power.”

Is any of this even legal?

U.S. laws regarding surveillance and other counterintelligence tactics don’t appear to specifically govern TigerSwan, an overseas military contractor operating as a private security force on American soil.

Several legal experts said the example it presents might be unprecedented. What happens when “private police” share information and act in concert with — or potentially at the behest of — public law enforcement agencies, but are not covered by the same laws?

That’s the sort of question that Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government asked police chiefs from across the country to consider at a 2014 symposium. The chiefs concluded that it would be a bad idea to hire an elite special-forces unit recently demobilized from Afghanistan to provide hostage-rescue services to a city police department.

“Military units are more oriented toward the use of decisive force against enemies, and less toward apprehending violators and achieving peaceful solutions,” the police chiefs reasoned. The private companies, they said, had profit motivation that could create “perverse incentives.”

Legal experts told Grist that the same sort of concerns apply to TigerSwan’s involvement at Standing Rock — especially as detailed in the leaked “situation report” documents.

TigerSwan’s October 10 report, for example, says that its “social media cell has harnessed a URL coding technique to discover hidden profiles and groups associated with the protesters allowing the firm to access private social media information. … Self-incriminating information can be gathered on protesters to be used at a later date.” TigerSwan gained access to a private Facebook page created by Cohen’s group, Mississippi Stand, which provided information on rides to get members to protests.

“If they were getting unauthorized access to Facebook profiles — not the public stuff, but things that they shouldn’t have — then that could potentially be a violation of the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act, the federal anti-hacking law,” said David Greene, senior staff attorney and civil liberties director at the San Francisco-based Electronic Frontier Foundation.

Greene said that if TigerSwan simply exploited a Facebook vulnerability, it wouldn’t be a violation. The company would have had to break a security measure that the social network had in place for it to be a legal matter — and it’s unclear if that happened, based on the limited details provided in the records.

Stephanie Lacambra, a criminal defense attorney at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, said the activities are potentially serious enough, however, that a subpoena should be sought to find out exactly what TigerSwan did.

Green added that “people who were spied on might have private causes of action. A typical cause of action might be for intrusion — the idea that their privacy was violated in a way that was sort of highly offensive.”

Jeff Haas with the National Lawyers Guild said he’s particularly concerned about the relationship between TigerSwan and law enforcement agencies. The documents provided to Grist detail multiple occasions that the firm met with or shared information with police and sheriff’s departments.

The Morton County Sheriff’s Department — where Standing Rock is located — told Grist that it communicated with TigerSwan “in order to monitor and respond to illegal protest activity.” But it asserted that the sheriff’s department was responsible for maintaining safety on public land, while TigerSwan ran security on DAPL property.

“For a while, the courts have ruled that you’re not entitled to infiltrate or spy on people unless you have probable cause to believe they’ve committed a crime,” Haas said. “The government couldn’t meet that standard probably here.”

But the information provided by TigerSwan could have helped police forces overcome that prohibition. Elizabeth Joh, a private security legal scholar at the University of California, Davis, referred to such techniques as a “potential end run on the basic constitutional restraints we place upon police.”

Haas agreed. “It’s like we have a second level of government interference of surveillance that’s shared with official government forces, but how do you control that? I’m not sure the law is totally clear, but this could be a way to basically get around the Constitution. And until these documents got leaked, it was certainly a way to get around the public knowing about it.”

“We have sources in the camp”

Joye Braun, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe and an organizer with the Indigenous Environmental Network, hatched the idea that would become the Dakota Access resistance camps around Easter 2016. She felt frustrated that Energy Transfer Partners was ignoring tribal sovereignty, threatening sacred land, and cutting directly under Lake Oahe — the primary drinking water source for the Standing Rock Sioux tribe and millions more people downstream.

On April 1, she and others raised the first yurts on the edge of the Standing Rock Sioux reservation and along the shore of the Missouri River. Apart from a few trips home “to do laundry,” Braun said, she never left the camps until hospitalized for pneumonia nearly one year later, in late February 2017. She was one of the last people to go.

“Very early on,” Braun recalled, “I can remember sitting around the fire talking hypothetically: ‘What if they start using the things they did to the Iraq or Afghanistan people on us?’ We all laughed and said, ‘We are all Lakota and Dakota! We’ll survive!’”

As it happens, that talk around the fire turned prophetic.

After the Standing Rock encampments shut down at the end of February, Braun helped found the Cheyenne River camp in Eagle Butte, South Dakota, about a block away from her home. It’s a place to continue the resistance to Dakota Access (which still faces legal challenges) and prepare opposition to the Keystone XL pipeline, authorized by President Trump shortly after his inauguration.

TigerSwan followed.

The April 9 situation report to Energy Transfer Partners states: “The Cheyenne River camp is much more organized than previous camps” and notes that its founders likely came from the ranks of the original Dakota Access protesters.

It continues: “We have sources in the camp working to confirm this information.”

What is TigerSwan?

A private military, government, and corporate security contractor based in Apex, N.C., TigerSwan was founded in 2007. Over the past five years, the company has worked on nearly 40 U.S. government contracts, totaling $10 million.

In 2013, CNBC profiled the company as it began to take on corporate clients concerned by cybersecurity threats. By 2011, half of TigerSwan’s business was for corporations.

Retired Lt. Col. Jim Reese co-founded TigerSwan and serves as its chairman. He’s a veteran of the Army’s elite Delta Force, which is best known for killing Osama Bin Laden in 2011. During the Iraq War, he led a task force targeting al Qaeda members, and he was a sought-after advisor throughout the war in Afghanistan. Reese’s name is now being pitched for FBI director.

A $1 billion State Department contract from 2005 names Reese as “key personnel” working for Blackwater, the controversial contractor now known as Academi. McClatchy reports that in 2007, as Blackwater was under investigation for the deaths of 11 Iraqi civilians, it canceled a deal to buy farmland for a training ground near California’s Fort Bragg. TigerSwan instead bought the property with financing from Blackwater.

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Woman Admits She Led 30 Members of a North Carolina Church In Beating a Gay Man to ‘Expel His Demons’

from June 3, 2017 at 03:39AM

Photo Credit: Hayes

North Carolina woman admitted in court in Friday that she led approximately 30 parishioners from her church to attack and beat a gay member of the church in an effort to “expel his demons,” Pink News is reporting.

Sarah Anderson is one of five members of the Word of Faith church in North Carolina who has been charged with assault on Matthew Fenner in 2013.

Speaking in court, Anderson said she believed Fenner was “unclean and sinful,” after the minister of the church, Brooke Covington, launched into a reported 2-hour long verbal assault on the man. The minister told Fenner that “God said there is something wrong in your life.”

In a testimony, Fenner said that Covington, who faces charges of kidnapping and assault, pointed out his sexual orientation during the attack which was intended to “expel his homosexual demons.” Fenner states that the church members blocked him from leaving the church, instead holding him against his will as he was berated, slapped and choked by fellow parishioners.

“You can’t imagine the emotional toll this has taken on my life,” the 23-year-old Fenner explained, adding that he feared for his life during the attack.

According to reports, members of the non-denominational church have previously been a accused of being abusive to members.


Tom Boggioni is a writer in San Diego, Calif.

Read more at: Alternet

Two Anti-Gay Attacks Occur in New York City Just Days Apart

from June 3, 2017 at 03:39AM

Photo Credit: Courtesy of Gay Pride protest.

Two incidents of anti-gay violence reportedly took place in New York City last week. 

In the first attack, a lesbian couple was verbally assaulted while riding the New York City Q train to Brooklyn on May 20. The incident occurred around 7:30pm, according to reporting from AutoStraddle, when Antoine Thomas, 27, boarded the Q train and lobbed anti-gay epithets at the couple, calling them “faggot” and “dyke.” The incident escalated when one of the women asked the man to calm down. This prompted Thomas to attack one of the women and beat her unconscious.

The victim, who is 24, was taken to the Brooklyn Methodist Hospital and “treated for a concussion, broken eye socket and several cuts requiring stitches.” Following the incident, Thomas was released without bail from the Brooklyn Criminal Court on May 21.

The second incident occurred just a few days following the train attack. As the New York Daily News reported, a 27-year-old man hurled anti-gay slurs at another man in the Bronx before hitting him on the head with his cane around 2:30am on May 25. The man reportedly confessed the attack to law enforcement, but believed he had done nothing wrong. The man was charged with assault and the NYPD Hate Crimes Task Force is investigating the incident.

The two incidents reflect continued violence against members of the LGBTQ community. The deadliest attack against LGBTQ people occurred last June, when a gunman opened fire at a gay nightclub in Orlando, killing 49 people. According to data from FiveThirtyEight and the FBI Hate Crime Statistics, about a fifth of reported single-bias incidents were motivated against sexual orientation or gender identity. Research from the New York Timesalso suggests that members of the LGBTQ community are more likely to be the targets of hate crimes than any other minority group in the U.S.

H/T Autostraddle

Celisa Calacal is an intern for AlterNet. She is a senior journalism major and legal studies minor at Ithaca College in Ithaca, New York. Previously she worked at ThinkProgress and served as an editor for Ithaca College’s student newspaper. Follow her at @celisa_mia.

Read more at: Alternet

Adam West (1928-2017), The Legendary Actor Who Played Batman in the 1960s ‘Batman’ TV Series

from June 10, 2017 at 11:47AM

Adam West

Adam West, the wonderful actor who famously played Batman from 1966-1968 in the campy television series Batman and loaned his iconic persona to such shows as The Simpsons, Family Guy and even Batman: The Animated Series, sadly passed away on June 9, 2017. He was 88 years old.

Hundreds of friends and fans have expressed their affection and condolences on social media.

RIP Batman. You will be dearly missed. We’ll be here remembering you – same bat time, same bat channel.

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The post Adam West (1928-2017), The Legendary Actor Who Played Batman in the 1960s ‘Batman’ TV Series appeared first on Laughing Squid.

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Trump Pulled Out of Paris Agreement Partially Because French President Macron Beat Him at Hand Wrestling

from June 2, 2017 at 07:38PM

The president is a sore loser, and the world is going to pay for it.

Donald Trump’s delicate ego plays a role in every decision he makes, including those in which the fate of the world hangs in the balance. The latest case in point is the Paris Agreement, which the president announced Thursday the U.S. will be exiting. According to the Washington Post, the reasons Trump decided to pull out of the climate accord were many, though actual climate science was missing from the list. Interestingly, among the laundry list of concerns was the fact that Macron beat the president at hand wrestling the week before—and bragged about it:

Macron was quoted in a French journal talking about his white-knuckled handshake with Trump at their first meeting in Brussels, where the newly elected French president gripped Trump’s hand tightly and would not let go for six long seconds in a show of alpha-male fortitude.

“My handshake was not innocent,” Macron said. He likened Trump to a pair of authoritarian strongmen — Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan — and said that he was purposefully forceful because he believed his encounter with Trump was "a moment of truth."

Hearing smack-talk from the Frenchman 31 years his junior irritated and bewildered Trump, aides said.

A few days later, Trump got his revenge. He proclaimed from the Rose Garden, “I was elected to represent the citizens of Pittsburgh, not Paris.”

Let this be your weekly reminder that 63 million people in this country voted for a racist bully who rules with an iron fist so tiny he’s willing to destroy the world to compensate for it.

Macron continued to troll Trump in the hours after the climate accord decision, by reconfiguring Trump’s election slogan into the more globally useful "Make Our Planet Great Again" in a speech.


…and on Twitter.



Read more at: Alternet

Egypt is blocking access to news sites on an ‘unprecedented level’

from June 8, 2017 at 03:06AM

The alert came in the form of a simple, late-night tweet by a prominent human rights activist.

“Looks like we’ve just been blocked in Egypt @MadaMasr,” wrote Egyptian activist Hossam Bahgat, a Mada Masr contributor, on May 24.

The tweet was one of the first signs of a brazen new assault on press freedoms in Egypt. It would soon become apparent that authorities had blocked access to at least 21 news websites earlier that day, including Al Jazeera, The Huffington Post Arabic and Egypt’s most credible independent news source, Mada Masr.

That same evening the official state news agency, MENA, said that the government had ordered internet service providers to block the sites because they supported terrorism or spread “false news.”

A complete official list of censored websites was not provided, though it was clear which sites were inaccessible. By May 28, the number of blocked news sites appeared to have increased to as many as 24.

Observers say the move is part of a wider intensification in Egypt’s crackdown on media and dissenting voices as its president, Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, looks to consolidate power ahead of next year’s presidential elections.

In recent weeks, there has also been a wave of arrests targeting opposition politicians and activists. Prominent human rights lawyer Khalid Ali, a potential presidential candidate, was also arrested and is now being tried for “committing public indecency.” Ali had previously prevailed against the Sisi regime in a separate court case, stopping the government from transferring control of two Red Sea islands to its ally Saudi Arabia.

Amnesty International called the charges against Ali “absurd.”

On May 29, Sisi also ratified a controversial NGO law, which rights groups say will criminalize their work and make it difficult for them to operate. Prior to this, Sisi expanded his control of the courts after he ratified a new law allowing him to make top judicial appointments at the end of April. This move is widely seen as an attempt to stop the promotion of two judges who have rebelled against the regime in court. 

The Committee to Protect Journalists condemned the government’s website blocks and called on the government to “immediately” restore access. While media censorship in Egypt has been high for several years now, CPJ says online censorship has been rare.

There was speculation that some internet service providers partially lifted the block days later, as some readers said they were able to access some of the banned sites. In a statement on May 29, Mada Masr confirmed that they were still blocked, but not entirely. It said of their site: “accessibility varies for users on the same service providers and is still completely blocked on others.”

“So far, no official reason has been given to us,” said Lina Attalah, editor-in-chief of Mada Masr, which is known for its investigative journalism and critical coverage of the government.

Attalah said the service freeze has been “paralyzing,” but Mada Masr is still publishing stories on social media for those who can’t access their website. She praised her colleagues for being “a brave team of reporters who defend meaningful journalism and who won’t settle for less.”

Michele Dunne, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said the news block “is an unprecedented level of attack on internet freedom and an attempt to close off the few remaining outlets through which Egyptians could get a point of view other than that of the government.”

“It’s a sign of weakness rather than strength,” Dunne added. In her view, it’s evidence that Sisi is feeling insecure. The president’s popularity has been flagging amid high inflation and unemployment. Four recent deadly ISIS attacks on Egypt’s Coptic Christian minority didn’t help public trust. 

Press freedom has been battered under Sisi, who has presided over one of the most repressive regimes in Egyptian history. In Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 ranking of media freedom, Egypt is placed 161 out of 180 countries, slipping two places from 2016.

It now looks increasingly like the Egyptian government has used the crisis with Qatar to extend censorship in Egypt.

The Egyptian ban on news sites coincided with similar bans by its ally Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Bahrain on Qatari-backed websites like Al Jazeera. (Egypt has long accused Qatar of affiliation with the now-outlawed Muslim Brotherhood).

This turned out to be a precursor to Monday’s major diplomatic rejection of Qatar, when all these same states announced they would also be cutting relations with Doha, accusing it of supporting terrorism.

The news block also came just days after Sisi returned from Saudi Arabia, where he stood proudly alongside President Donald Trump and King Salman of Saudi Arabia, touching that now infamous orb.

Some of the local blocked websites have vowed to take legal action against the government.

But Egyptian journalists are feeling more at risk than ever. At the end of 2016, there were least 25 Egyptian journalists in prison as a direct result of their work, according to the CPJ, which ranked Egypt as the third-biggest jailer of journalists last year.

“There is no predicting … how far the state can go to counter a line of critique,” said Aya Nader, an Egyptian freelance journalist. “I am worried I will get arrested for doing my job, or [get] banned from traveling. They have tabs on journalists, and you never know when they will strike.”

Read more at: Latest from The World and the GlobalPost

Many Iranians are shocked by the ISIS attacks in Tehran

from June 7, 2017 at 08:41AM

I woke up this morning to a stream of breaking news alerts.

“ISIS has claimed responsibility for the twin assaults in Tehran,” said one from The New York Times.

ISIS? Tehran? Two assaults? Surely, there’s been a mistake, I thought. It took me a couple of minutes to completely take in what has happened.

I was born in Iran, and I grew up there. A terrorist attack like this has never taken place there. At least not in the past three decades — not in my lifetime.

I scrambled to check in with my family and friends. In the time it took for them to answer, so many awful thoughts crossed my mind. What if they were caught up in one of the attacks? What if one of them has a gun pointed to their head right then? (Initially, there were rumors of a hostage situation).

Thankfully, they were fine. Shaken, but safe.

The attacks took the lives of 12 people. At least 42 others were wounded.

The news wasn’t shocking just to me. Online, other Iranians began wondering how something like this could happen in the Islamic Republic? They also posted images of the Iranian flag and Tehran’s iconic landmarks, such as the Azadi Square.

Others wondered whether President Donald Trump was going to comment on the attack. He did end up issuing a statement offering his prayers to the victims. Others wanted to know why Facebook’s Safety Check wasn’t activated. Facebook is blocked in Iran but many are able to get around it.

A friend of mine, Ali May, who was born in Iran and now lives in London, told me this has been an emotional week for him. First, the attack in London and now in Tehran — two cities he calls home. But instead of feeling defeated, he decided to donate blood.

“The terrorists took life, and I tried to give life,” May told me from a busy street in London. “It is a political statement. This is me standing up against them and showing them the middle finger.”

Another Iranian who calls London home echoed my friend’s sentiments.

I know that many of my friends and family in Iran will be looking over their shoulders after today’s attack. Life will not be the same.

But that in no way means the attackers have won. 

Read more at: Latest from The World and the GlobalPost

Britain’s snap election backfires on Prime Minister Theresa May

from June 9, 2017 at 06:17AM

British Prime Minister Theresa May will be forced to seek the support of a regional party in order to continue governing, after the general election she called backfired dramatically. 

May’s Conservative party is still the largest party in Parliament, but no longer has enough seats to govern alone, after key seats fell to the Labour Party. Although some results are still being counted, the final Conservative tally is expected to be 319, down from 331 in the last election in 2015. Labour won 261 seats. 

May is now expected to form a minority government with the support of the Democratic Unionist Party (DUP), a Northern Irish party with 10 members of Parliament, which is dedicated to keeping Northern Ireland as part of the United Kingdom. 

May had called the election in order to consolidate her mandate to negotiate Britain’s exit from the Europe Union. But, instead, support for her party declined dramatically, leaving her government far more precarious than before. Speaking after the outcome became clear, May acknowledged that the result was a disappointment.

“I wanted to achieve a larger majority, and that was not the result we achieved,” she said. “As I reflect on the results, I will reflect on what we need to do in the future to take the party forward.” 

The campaign began with a clear lead for May and the Conservatives, reinforcing a perception that Labour’s Jeremy Corbyn was too left-wing to attract widespread support. On election night, Corbyn led one of the largest swings to Labour since World War II. His campaign featured a promise to end university tuition fees, increase taxation of higher earners and increase investment in health services. It also promised to guarantee the rights of European citizens currently living in Britain, regardless of the outcome of the Brexit negotiations.  

Today, Corbyn said that he had “changed the face of British politics” and that politics “isn’t going back into the box where it was before.”

Read more at: Latest from The World and the GlobalPost