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Poll: Viewers say Biden won the debate

Joe Biden made one of his most favorable impressions to date on this month’s debate stage.

According to a poll conducted by Morning Consult and POLITICO, a plurality of viewers — 23 percent — found that Biden performed the best at the Dec. 19 Democratic presidential debate, held in Los Angeles. Sen. Bernie Sanders came in second at 16 percent. This is the first time viewers chose Biden as the best performer since the first primary debate in June.

Sen. Elizabeth Warren, meanwhile, a top contender in the race for the Democratic nomination, trailed behind her colleagues, with only 9 percent saying she performed the best. Mayor Pete Buttigieg (10 percent), Sen. Amy Klobuchar (11 percent) and Andrew Yang (12 percent) all received higher percentages. Only 4 percent of respondents put billionaire Tom Steyer as the top-performing debater.

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Our 15 Most Read Stories of the Year

Throughout the tumultuous past 12 months, In These Times has been there every step of the way. Here are our most popular stories of 2019.

With the Trump administration under increasing fire, and a Democratic presidential primary heating up, In These Times has spent 2019 covering the stories that matter—and that the corporate media would rather avoid. Our most popular stories ran the gamut of the year’s manifold news developments: militant labor campaigns, the growing threat of climate change, immigrant detention, Trump’s dangerous foreign policy, and the need to tax the hell out of the rich.

As the U.S. Left continues to grow in influence ahead of a critical election year, we promise to keep publishing the same type of critical news, analysis and investigations throughout 2020. In the meantime, take a dive through these highlights from 2019. Happy New Year!


MSNBC Is the Most Influential Network Among Liberals—And It’s Ignoring Bernie Sanders

When the network’s primetime pundits do cover Sanders, they cover him more negatively than Elizabeth Warren and Joe Biden.

By Branko Marcetic


Black Women, Let Your Anger Out

Chronic stress is killing us. We can’t keep repressing our rage.

By Joshunda Sanders


Below the Surface of ICE: The Corporations Profiting From Immigrant Detention

Activists are targeting the companies that make ICE run.

By David Dayen


When It Comes to U.S. Militarism, Elizabeth Warren Is No Progressive

There’s one important issue on which Warren has not veered far from the Democratic establishment.

By Sarah Lazare


American Airlines Mechanics Are Threatening the “Bloodiest, Ugliest Battle” in Labor History

While the airline industry was expected to generate net profits of $35.5 billion in 2019, workers demand better pay, benefits and job security.

By Michael Arria


I Went to a Climate Change Denial Conference. It Made Even Less Sense Than You’d Think.

Panelists at the Heartland Institute’s gathering agree you should stop worrying about climate change. They just can’t agree on why.

By Christine MacDonald


McKinsey and Company Is an Elitist Cult. Why Is Buttigieg Defending It?

The management consultancy firm is “the single greatest legitimizer of mass layoffs.” And its alumni are loyal for life.

By Nathan Robinson


Kamala Harris’ Disturbing Brand of Criminal Justice Reform

Her version of “progressive” law enforcement leaves mass incarceration intact.

By Marie Gottschalk


We Must Stop War with Iran Before It’s Too Late

Led by John Bolton, the Trump administration is pursuing catastrophe to protect U.S. dominance.

By Noam Chomsky


How Capitalism Turned Women Into Witches

Sylvia Federici’s new book explains how violence against women was a necessary precondition for capitalism.

By Sady Doyle


Why I’m Voting No on UAW’s Deal With GM: A “Third-Tier” Worker Speaks

A UAW member speaks out against the union’s controversial deal with General Motors, saying “I think it’s an insult.”

By Mindy Isser


Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s 70% Tax Proposal Is a Great Start—But We Need to Abolish the Ultra-Rich

To combat inequality and oligarchy, we need to tax the accumulated wealth of the billionaire class, not just income.

By Mark Engler and Andrew Elrod


Bernie Sanders Calls To Seize the Means of Electricity Production

The presidential candidate’s new climate plan includes moving toward 100% public ownership of power.

By Johanna Bozuwa


Biden Says He’s the Workers’ Candidate, But He Has Worked To Cut Medicare and Social Security

The universal retirement programs are Biden’s go-to sacrificial lambs.

By Branko Marcetic


Naomi Klein on Climate Chaos: “I Don’t Think Baby Boomers Did This. I Think Capitalism Did.”

The author and activist weighs in on the presidential race, youth movements and the Right’s response to climate change.

By Will Meyer

In These Times has been selected to participate in NewsMatch—the largest grassroots fundraising campaign for nonprofit news organizations.

For a limited time, when you make a tax-deductible donation to support our reporting, it will be matched dollar-for-dollar by the NewsMatch fund, doubling your impact.


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Trump elevates Mulvaney aide weeks after he defied impeachment subpoena

Democrats subpoenaed Blair on Nov. 3 to testify about his awareness of Trump’s order to hold military aid to Ukraine, which they allege was part of an effort to coerce an ally — desperately fighting off a Russian invasion — to investigate his political rivals. Blair refused to appear for a Nov. 4 deposition under orders from the White House.

“Some of that evidence has revealed that Mr. Blair was a percipient witness to the President’s misconduct,” Rep. Adam Schiff (D-Calif.), chairman of the House Intelligence Committee, said in a closed-door meeting on Nov. 4, according to a transcript released by the panel last month. “We can only infer, therefore, that the White House’s effort to block Mr. Blair from testifying is to prevent the committees from learning additional evidence of Presidential misconduct and that Mr. BIair’s testimony would corroborate and confirm other witnesses’ accounts of such misconduct, including Mr. Mulvaney’s admission from the White House Briefing Room that the Ukraine military aid was frozen by the President in order to pressure Ukraine into initiating investigations into the Bidens and the 2016 election.”

The House impeached Trump last week for abuse of power in his posture toward Ukraine as well as efforts to thwart the Intelligence Committee’s investigation into the president’s effort to press Ukraine to investigate his political rivals. Democrats say Trump withheld $391 million in military aid from Ukraine as leverage, but top officials who handled Trump’s order have refused to testify at the president’s direction.

Senate Democrats preparing for Trump’s impeachment trial have requested a slate of witnesses previously blocked by the White House, including Blair, whose testimony they say would shed light on the decision to withhold aid. Blair was among senior administration officials included on email chains by the U.S. ambassador to the European Union, Gordon Sondland, who helped spearhead conversations with top Ukrainians about launching investigations sought by Trump.

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Rescuers Race to Pull Man from Smoking Car, Then Recognize Him as Coworker’s Son

A Florida man is safe thanks to a group of good Samaritans who pulled him out of a smoking vehicle, only later to discover that the rescuers were his mother’s coworkers.

Terrance Benjamin was trapped in his vehicle, which had flipped over and hit a tree.

As people ran to help him, Benjamin realized the strangers kept saying his mother’s name, but he struggled to understand why.

“People screaming, you need to get out of the car man, it’s smoking, get out the car,” Benjamin told WFLA. “I heard someone say my mama’s name. I was like, ‘how do you know my mama?’”

Benjamin’s mother, Tiffany Brown, is a OneBlood donor service specialist. A team of Brown’s coworkers had been traveling to a blood drive event in Tampa, Florida, in the organization’s large red bus when they witnessed the collision.

TRENDING: Nancy Pelosi Gives Slurring, Incoherent Answer to Impeachment Question

“We noticed that the car in front of us, the wheel completely flew off, went to the other side of the road, flipped over and hit a tree,” Dustin McKinley, a OneBlood employee, told WFLA.

McKinley and his colleagues raced to help the man who was pinned inside the vehicle.

“We got out of the car and pulled the gentleman out of the car,” McKinley said.

Elayne Hill, another OneBlood employee, grabbed some ice to try and keep Benjamin awake.

“I got ice and I was putting it on his face to cool him down because he kept trying to fall asleep on me,” Hill said.

As the good Samaritans worked, they realized the man they were helping was personally connected to the OneBlood non-profit organization through his mother, Brown.

RELATED: Teen Missing for Over Two Years Found by Police in Closet of Child Pornography Suspect

Brown told WFLA she believes her coworkers, who have medical training, were in the right place at the right time to save her son’s life.

Brown became emotional at the thought of strangers rushing to help her adult son.

“Not knowing who this person was that need the help and you stopped and helped them anyways, and then to find out later it was someone you worked with child. I was so overwhelmed,” Brown said.

According to WFLA, Benjamin suffered a broken arm, a collapsed lung, and a dislocated knee.

OneBlood, a non-profit blood center serving the southeast region of the United States, said the medical emergency highlighted an important reason why people should consider participating in their local blood drives.

We are committed to truth and accuracy in all of our journalism. Read our editorial standards.

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‘Pelosi Has No Right to Hold Up Senate Trial!’

‘Pelosi Has No Right to Hold Up Senate Trial!’ – Trump Unleashes on Speaker Pelosi and ‘Cryin’ Schumer’ Over Impeachment Trial Delay

Nancy Pelosi

President Trump unleashed on Speaker Pelosi and Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer Monday afternoon in a pair of tweets.

Pelosi taunted Trump earlier Monday on the impeachment trial delay saying, “What’s his excuse now?”


The President asserted that Pelosi will lose the House and Speakership because of the impeachment hoax that was only supported by House Democrats in a partisan vote.

Trump also blasted Schumer for ‘trying to take over the trial’ in the Senate.

“No way!” Trump tweeted.

“Nancy Pelosi, who has already lost the House & Speakership once, & is about to lose it again, is doing everything she can to delay the zero Republican vote Articles of Impeachment. She is trying to take over the Senate, & Cryin’ Chuck is trying to take over the trial. No way!” Trump tweeted.

“What right does Crazy Nancy have to hold up this Senate trial. None! She has a bad case and would rather not have a negative decision. This Witch Hunt must end NOW with a trial in the Senate, or let her default & lose. No more time should be wasted on this Impeachment Scam!” Trump said.

The Democrats voted on party line to impeach president Trump on two separate articles of impeachment without naming any crimes.

Speaker Pelosi refused to deliver the articles of impeachment to the Senate unless they bow to her demands.

“We cannot name managers until we see what the process is on the Senate side,” Pelosi told reporters after the party-line vote in the House. “And I would hope that that will be soon. … So far we haven’t seen anything that looks fair to us. So hopefully it will be fair. And when we see what that is, we’ll send our managers.”

Pelosi is a tyrant who believes she is in charge of the Senate.

The Constitution is absolutely clear about the Senate’s authority. Article I, Section 3 says: “The Senate shall have the sole Power to try all Impeachments,” Breitbart’s Joel Pollak wrote.

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Bernie Is the Candidate to Beat Trump. Here’s Why.

Excerpt: “Do you want to see Donald Trump defeated in 2020? Of course you do. The candidate who is best positioned to do exactly that: Bernie Sanders.”

Bernie Sanders. (photo: Antonella Crescimbeni)

By Meagan Day and Matt Karp, Jacobin

23 December 19

Do you want to see Donald Trump defeated in 2020? Of course you do. The candidate who is best positioned to do exactly that: Bernie Sanders.

n the race for the Democratic nomination, one figure towers above the field: the large, misshapen form of President Donald Trump. The trauma of Trump’s shock victory in November 2016, and the reign of greed, brutality, and arrogance that has followed — seemingly impervious to organized opposition — has given Trump a special standing among Democrats.

The polls are unanimous: a healthy majority of Democratic primary voters (between 60 and 65 percent) say that it is more important to find a candidate who can beat Trump than one who they agree with on the issues. This is not a standard view for voters opposed to an incumbent president. On the eve of his 2004 re-election campaign, for instance, fewer than half of all Democrats said the same about George W. Bush.

Across the primary campaign, Bernie Sanders and many of his supporters have argued that it is not enough to defeat Trump: we need to organize to transform the abysmal economic conditions that produced Trump, too. This is all very true.

But in the meantime, there are elections to win. America simply cannot afford another Trump victory at the polls, or another four years of rapacious right-wing government. To prevent this nightmare, we must convince anxious voters that Sanders can and will throttle Trump in a general election.

The truth is that Democrats genuinely like Bernie: he has the highest favorability rating in the primary field, and among Democratic voters who prioritize “issues” — that is, what a president might actually try to do in office — Sanders leads the pack. Yet among the Democrats most concerned with beating Trump, Sanders currently trails. A hostile party establishment and an unfriendly media appear to have convinced many voters that Sanders is “too extreme” or “too far left” to win a general election.

And as Sanders gains steam in the early primary states, you can expect Beltway consultants and talking heads to double down on this warning. Much of the work here is done by analogy, with Sanders cast as George McGovern, Jeremy Corbyn, or whichever distant historical character or faraway foreign leader seems most convenient.

Of course, we don’t need to cross oceans or generations to find counter-examples: this is the same Democratic establishment that engineered the most disastrous and humiliating election defeat in US history, just three years ago, on our own soil. But you can hardly blame the centrist pundits and party insiders for taking up this line of attack. They know that their own watered-down brand of politics doesn’t speak to voters’ needs or hopes or desires. The only thing they have left is fear. And the prospect of another Donald Trump victory may be terrifying enough to convince thousands of voters to swallow whatever sour oatmeal the party leadership serves them.

But this primary season, anxious Democrats should trust their guts. It turns out that the candidate they like best, Bernie Sanders, is also the candidate with the best chance to knock Trump out of the White House.

While every other general election matchup seems likely to descend into the bleak and muddled culture clash of 2016, a contest between Sanders and Trump would present American voters with a stark choice: the populist who wants to win you health care and cancel your debt, or the rich prick who doesn’t care if you live or you die so long as your boss gets paid.

Trump’s true electoral weakness is not his loutishness, his congenital lying, or even his personal corruption. It’s his function as a tool of the rich man’s Republican Party, and his blatant disinterest in making life better for the vast majority of Americans living paycheck to paycheck.

Over the last forty years, no politician in America has focused as frankly or relentlessly on the unnecessary economic hardship faced by ordinary people as Bernie Sanders. This bread-and-butter emphasis is part of what has made Sanders the most popular presidential candidate in the field, especially among independent voters. And in a general election — on a scale far larger than any primary contest — no one is better prepared than Sanders to use that popular economic weapon to annihilate Donald Trump

From Obama to Trump to Sanders

For Democrats still scarred by the memory of November 2016, it is easy to imagine that Donald Trump is an electoral juggernaut, endowed with awesome and occult powers. But the truth is closer to the opposite: Trump is a historically unpopular leader who won a narrow electoral college victory over an equally unpopular rival.

Beyond a core of die-hard Republicans, most Americans don’t like Trump at all. Since his first few months in office, Trump’s overall approval rating has hovered between 38 and 42 percent, making him by far the most consistently disliked president in modern US history. George H.W. Bush and Jimmy Carter, the last two incumbents to lose an election, had much better numbers than Trump over their first three years in office.

Even in the key swing states where he defeated Hillary Clinton — Wisconsin, Michigan, and Pennsylvania — Trump’s approval rating has been consistently underwater for over a year now.

Trump can be beaten, and the way to do it involves winning three key groups of voters in these Rust Belt battlegrounds: first, the Democrats and independents who backed Obama twice before turning to Trump; second, Obama voters who declined to vote in 2016; and third, the even larger group of Americans who do not typically vote at all.

There is reason to believe that on purely hard-headed electoral grounds, Sanders is the Democrat with the best chance to win back disaffected Obama supporters in the Rust Belt. Targeted polling of Obama-Trump voters shows Sanders and Joe Biden with a significant edge over Elizabeth Warren in Michigan and Wisconsin; while Biden still seems strongest in Pennsylvania, the differences are small.

But the real kicker is that in the 206 counties that went for Obama in 2008 and 2012 and then Trump in 2016, Sanders has out-fundraised all of his competitors — by a long shot. By September 2019, he pulled in 81,841 individual donations from 33,185 donors in these flipped counties. That’s roughly three times as many as Biden, Warren, or Pete Buttigieg.

This high volume of individual small-dollar donations in Obama-Trump counties (and the “sticky support” it indicates) shows that Sanders has strong grassroots support in those places — which makes sense, given that his political message is targeted to people whose lives get harder as elites grow richer. That captures the experience of many working-class people in the deindustrialized Rust Belt, abandoned by corporations in search of cheaper labor and higher profits elsewhere.

The most detailed study of these decisive swing voters comes from two Johns Hopkins political scientists who recently confirmed what other analysts have understood for a while: “economic anxiety” did, in fact, play a crucial role in the 2016 election. A close look at the American National Elections Survey data shows that Obama-Trump voters in 2016 were, on average, more worried about their “current financial situation” than either Romney-Trump or Obama-Clinton voters.

Obama-Trump voters were also far more likely than party-line Republicans (and just as likely as party-line Democrats) to believe that “rich people buy elections,” and to support higher taxes on the rich. And they were more likely than both Republicans or Democrats to oppose free-trade agreements that cost American jobs.

Trump wooed and won these Obama voters, the Johns Hopkins authors conclude, with a combination of “bandwagon bigotry” and “economic populism.” In 2020, Republicans will surely attempt to fire up the bigotry machine again. If Democrats cannot answer with a credible alternative economic agenda — one that spells real change — they are doomed to lose these voters all over again, and probably the election too.

Despite his residual popularity among Democrats stemming from the Obama years (now fading fast), Joe Biden cannot deliver this message.

He opposes strong measures to tax the ultra-rich; it is no coincidence he has more billionaire donors than any candidate in the race, Trump included. Worst of all, Biden has no credibility as an economic populist: he has devoted much of his political life to supporting free trade, including NAFTA, the Trans-Pacific Partnership, and permanent normal trade relations with China.

In a general election, Biden’s long record as a friend to banks and outsourcing businesses — not to mention his son’s lucrative service on the board of a Ukrainian gas company — will surely suffocate any Democratic attempt to battle Trump on economic grounds. Instead, a Biden-Trump contest stands every chance of offering a glassy-eyed sequel to the 2016 charade that put Trump in the White House. Of the two candidates polling competitively in the Rust Belt swing states, only Bernie Sanders can actually make the economic case Democrats need to win.

Back to the Polls for Bernie

Just as important as Obama-Trump voters are the millions of Obama voters who did not cast a ballot in 2016. Any good autopsy of the last presidential election will emphasize that turnout in key states was dismal. In Wisconsin, for example, turnout was down 3 percent from 2016, and in Ohio it was down 4 percent. In order to win, those margins need to be recovered or exceeded by Trump’s opponent in 2020.

Some commentators are quick to attribute low turnout in 2016 to restrictive voting laws, implying that nothing can be done to bring voters back to the polls. But then how to explain the fact that 1.7 million people cast incomplete ballots in these states and others, declining to vote for any presidential candidate — far more than had been the case in 2012?

In Michigan, Donald Trump won by about ten thousand votes, while seventy-five thousand people cast ballots but declined to register a presidential preference. Meanwhile, nearly 3 million eligible voters didn’t even bother to go to the polls.

The Pew Research Center found that, nationwide, non-voters’ top reason for abstaining in 2016 was that they “did not like candidates or campaign issues.” Twenty-five percent of nonvoters cited distaste for both candidates as their rationale for staying home, compared to only 13 percent in 2012 and 8 percent in 2000.

The truth is that many people in swing states — including many otherwise loyal Democratic voters — were not sufficiently excited by Hillary Clinton, who they rightly associated with business-as-usual politics. And the very real “economic anxiety” that helped turn some white Obama voters toward Trump, as Malaika Jabali’s reporting has shown, helped dissuade many black Obama voters from casting a ballot in 2016, especially in battleground cities like Milwaukee, Detroit, and Philadelphia.

The Obama voters who stayed home in 2016, one targeted survey has found, are focused overwhelmingly on bread-and-butter issues, with a larger share (64 percent) emphasizing the economy, health care, Medicare, and Social Security than registered voters as a whole (55 percent), or even the famously precarious Obama-Trump voters (58 percent).

If you think this suggests that these critical voters might be receptive to Bernie Sanders’s message of healthcare, education, and good jobs for all, you are right: Bernie’s favorability among this group (+38 percent) far surpasses Elizabeth Warren’s (+16 percent) and exceeds Joe Biden’s (+35 percent).

Rousing the Slumbering Giant

But perhaps the strongest argument for Bernie Sanders concerns a much larger group than any slice of disaffected Obama voters: the tens of millions of people, over 40 percent of the country, who typically do not vote in presidential elections.

American nonvoters, including nonvoters in the battleground states, are disproportionately young, non-white, and working-class. Bernie is distinctly popular with all of these groups, suggesting that he is by far our best shot to mobilize this vast slumbering army in a general election against Trump.

In the 2016 primaries, more people under thirty voted for Sanders than Trump and Clinton combined. Today, Sanders is the overwhelming favorite in the Democratic Party primary among young people. Trump’s approval rating among people under thirty is pathetic, but as we learned four years ago, that’s no guarantee that every young person who scorns Trump will show up to vote against him.

Democrats have a choice: either nominate a challenger who excites young people and can turn them out en masse, or hand the nomination to someone who doesn’t motivate them, greasing the wheels for a Trump victory.

Young black and Latino voters are especially enthusiastic about Bernie. Although he currently trails Joe Biden among older black primary voters, these voters are reliable Democrats and will likely come to the polls no matter the nominee. In Rust Belt and Sun Belt swing states alike, the crucial margin of victory may come down to the Democratic candidate’s ability to bring young people of color who are typically less inclined to vote to the polls. No politician in America is better suited to do that than Sanders.

And finally, an umbrella category: Sanders is the candidate of the working class, which encompasses most young and non-white people but also plenty of older white people too.

His supporters are the least likely of all the Democratic primary candidates to have a college degree. In the primary field, Sanders receives the lion’s share of individual donations from nurses, teachers, retail workers, servers, tech workers, truck drivers, and construction workers.

By contrast, Biden gets the most donations from company presidents, attorneys, real-estate developers, and investors.

People who work for a wage make up the majority of the US population, and low-wage workers make up the majority of people who don’t vote. Nearly three quarters of nonvoters in 2016 had a family income of less than $75,000.

If we want the sometimes- or never-voters in swing states to turn out on election day, that candidate needs to have broad working-class appeal. That candidate needs to be Bernie Sanders.

Sanders has been crushing Trump in head-to-head polls for years now, and his lead is especially strong among lower-propensity voters. A recent SurveyUSA poll showed that in a matchup with Trump, Bernie actually runs a few points better than Biden (and much better than Warren) among voters making less than $80,000, and with voters who describe themselves as “poor” or “working class.” And those are just people who are already registered. Of the major Democratic candidates, Sanders clearly has the best chance to awaken the sleeping giant of young and working-class nonvoters and bring them into the electorate.

The United States has some of the lowest voter turnout in the world. Given the pervasive political alienation of the working class here, no single election is going to put us on par with nations like Belgium or Sweden, where over 80 percent of the voting age population casts ballots, compared to our paltry 55 percent in the 2016 presidential election. But precisely because the proportion of nonvoters is so large in the US, an uptick in turnout among people who don’t usually vote could be a decisive factor in 2020.

Bernie Sanders can draw people who don’t normally vote out of the woodwork. Nobody else can.

Class Politics at Scale

Our enthusiasm about a possible Sanders versus Trump contest isn’t confined to the prospect that Sanders will win. How Sanders can beat Trump has enormous implications for the future of American politics.

First, we should remember a simple fact of scale, easy to forget if you follow politics as a vocation or an obsession: general elections are much, much larger than primaries.

About 31 million people voted in the 2016 Democratic primary, one of the most hotly contested nominating contests in U.S. history. Over 136 million voted in the general election. The same ratio applies to campaign spending: together, Clinton and Sanders spent about $445 million in their primary race. In the general election, Clinton and Trump spent about $1.8 billion.

Using the 2016 primary race as his platform, Sanders was able to demonstrate that “radical” left-wing ideas like Medicare For All, tuition-free public college, and a $15 minimum wage actually had an enormous base of support, far beyond any niche of self-defined progressives. This revelation has already left a deep imprint on the Democratic Party — which has absorbed much of Sanders’s program, either in fact or in rhetoric — and will probably shape American politics for years to come.

A Sanders general election campaign would present an opportunity of the same kind, but on a scale roughly four times as large.

Huge swaths of the American public, who barely pay attention to primary politics, would suddenly find themselves considering the basic elements of Bernie’s politics for the first time: his unvarnished portrait of the war between the 1 percent and the 99 percent; his vow to deliver guaranteed health care, education and jobs to all Americans at the expense of corporate profits, CEO bonuses, and shareholder returns.

This kind of basic class politics — and this kind of simple social-democratic platform —  have been absent from the Democratic Party for over half a century, and silenced in major TV and print media for at least as long. But if Sanders is the party’s nominee, these arguments will be presented to the public on a scale that we can barely comprehend.

What happens when a major party candidate speaks not simply to political junkies but to 136 million voters  — or 200 million possible voters — and the message is a new kind of “Yes We Can”: not yes we can elect an inspiring fresh-faced candidate to office, but yes we can ensure the fundamental dignity of every American, and yes we can do it by breaking the tyrannical stranglehold of the billionaire class?

Bernie vs. the Billionaire(s)

Perhaps the most promising feature of this scenario, though, is the vivid contrast made possible by a binary choice between Sanders and Trump. (Yes, other candidates may run, but the structure of our two-party state, and the current depth of American party polarization, will drive them rapidly into insignificance.)

Because Bernie’s politics emphasize class conflict, a Trump-Sanders contest promises to be not a mere clash of values and norms, of milieus and manners, but a referendum on the role of the rich and the rest in our society, with each contender representing different sides of the divide.

Sanders has already given us a preview of what this will look like. When he launched his campaign in March, he contrasted his upbringing to Trump’s, saying, “I did not have a father who gave me millions of dollars to build luxury skyscrapers, casinos, and country clubs. I did not come from a family that gave me a $200,000 allowance every year beginning at the age of three.”

He continued, “Unlike Donald Trump, who shut down the government and left 800,000 federal employees without income to pay their bills, I know what it’s like to be in a family that lives paycheck-to-paycheck.”

In a rhetorical flourish that underscored the social implications of Trump’s profiteering and juxtaposed them to his own lifelong commitment to equality, Sanders added, “I did not come from a family that taught me to build a corporate empire through housing discrimination. I protested housing discrimination, was arrested for protesting school segregation.”

With Trump, Democrats have been handed a golden opportunity to agitate against the ultra-rich, personified by the billionaire who managed to bulldoze his way to the White House. But they have repeatedly dropped the ball, electing instead to focus on Trump’s buffoonery and rule-breaking at the expense of almost everything else.

The current impeachment hearings — narrowly focused on Trump’s skullduggery in Ukraine rather than his obscene efforts to enrich himself and protect his class from the White House — exemplify the limits of this approach. The Democrats’ political emphasis fails to target Trump’s weakest point: the way his administration has functioned, like almost every Republican administration, as a machine to transfer wealth from working people to their bosses.

In the 2016 campaign, Clinton left out the bread and butter and chose to wage a war of table manners against Trump. Since then, the Democratic establishment and its media allies have continued to put temperament, character, and stability at the center of their opposition strategy. If you restrict your viewing to MSNBC, you would get the impression that the main problem with the orange menace is that he’s a uniquely obnoxious dinner guest, rather than a plutocrat in a country ruled by plutocrats.

Establishment leaders and pundits have even made a habit of needling Trump for being less wealthy than he claims, the implication being that he’s an embarrassingly bad businessman. They delight in calling him a loser, when indeed Trump’s career arc is the very picture of victory in a system designed to concentrate wealth at the top and alchemically transform it into political power.

Trump is the perfect symbol of the perversity of our failed capitalist economy, his presidency the ultimate grotesquerie produced by a grotesque political order. And nobody can be trusted to make this case as vividly as Bernie Sanders.

While Biden waxes nostalgic for abandoned norms, and Warren celebrates the sanctity of rules, Sanders talks meat and potatoes. His independence from the donor class make it possible for him to do what Clinton didn’t and Biden won’t: leverage Trump’s presidency into an indictment of the bipartisan pro-corporate establishment. Only Sanders can say: this stops now.

This strategy holds potential not only for short-term victory, but for the return of a healthy dose of class antagonism to the American political discourse. And that’s precisely what we need to build a real fight against the economic and political system that produced Trump in the first place.

Gloves Off

You wouldn’t know it from mainstream media commentary, but Sanders has been relatively tender with his primary opponents so far. That’s because the rules of primary elections are different from those of general elections: primary candidates run the risk of alienating would-be supporters with harsh criticism of their opponents in a way that general election candidates typically don’t.

In a general election, we might expect Sanders to behave a bit more like he did during his first Senate race against Republican megamillionaire Rich Tarrant.

By 2006, Vermont was clearly trending Democratic, but just six years earlier, Republican Senator Jim Jeffords had won re-election by 40 points. Sensing an opportunity, Tarrant poured millions of his own money into the race, aiming to label Sanders — still a socialist curiosity on the national stage — as an out-of-touch Burlington radical.

But Bernie too took the gloves off against “Richie Rich,” activating his base of small donors and lambasting his opponent’s effort to buy the election as a symptom of the rigged economy. In the most expensive Senate campaign in Vermont history, Sanders won by 33 points.

If Sanders brought that kind of unbridled energy to a general election against Donald Trump, it would amount to perhaps the most high-profile spectacle of class conflict in the modern history of American electoral politics.

The campaign ad practically writes itself. In 1940s New York City, two boys were born only a few years and a few miles apart.

One, the son of a real-estate tycoon, grew up in a white-pillared mansion, literally doing his paper route from the back of his father’s limousine.

The other, the son of a penniless immigrant whose family was killed in the Holocaust, grew up in a cramped Brooklyn apartment, sleeping on a trundle bed in the living room.

One, educated in the best private schools money could buy, devoted his life to the pursuit of profit and power, abusing tenants, stiffing workers, and flaunting his wealth in New York’s highest society circles.

The other spent his life working in the trenches on behalf of the vast majority — protesting segregation in Chicago, protecting poor tenants in Burlington, fighting for workers in Washington, and taking aim at the pampered elite who rule the economy from their penthouses.

This is a dynamic that we’ve never seen before in a presidential election. In fact, we’ve rarely seen anything like it in modern US history at all, so submerged has class politics been beneath the bipartisan pro-corporate consensus and its pablum about meritocracy and the marvels of capitalist free enterprise.

The self-seeking billionaire versus the lifelong crusader for the working class: it would be potent, resonant, and emblematic of the deep economic divide that people intuitively understand but don’t yet have the language for. It would be the kind of epic symbolic rivalry in which you can imagine people taking a side for the first time in their lives.

When people say that Sanders is a risk, they usually mean that his platform and his rhetoric are too far outside the Democratic political mainstream for comfort. But at this juncture in history, comfort itself is a risk. The Right has taken advantage of the public’s appetite for transformation in order to further enrich the masters of the universe. His opponents will have to take advantage of that same appetite to do the very opposite.

Sanders’s ambitious agenda represents a dramatic departure from the neoliberal Democratic consensus, and that’s exactly what we need to win. If we want to beat Trump and build a countervailing force capable of taking on the systems and institutions that produced him, we can’t afford not to nominate Bernie Sanders.

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It’s Putin’s World. We Just Live in It.

MOSCOW — Its economy, already smaller than Italy’s, may be sputtering but, two decades after a virtually unknown former KGB spy took power in the Kremlin on Dec. 31, 1999, Russia and its president, Vladimir Putin, have just had what could be their best year yet.

The United States, an implacable foe during the Cold War but now presided over by a president determined to “get along with Russia,” is convulsed and distracted by impeachment; Britain, the other main pillar of a trans-Atlantic alliance that Putin has worked for years to undermine, is also turning inward and just voted for a government that vows to exit the European Union by the end of January.

The Middle East, where American and British influence once reigned supreme, has increasingly tilted toward Moscow as it turned the tide of war in Syria; provided Turkey, a member of NATO, with advanced missile systems; and signed contracts worth billions of dollars with Saudi Arabia, America’s closest ally in the Arab world. Russia has also drawn close to Egypt, another longtime U.S. ally; become a key player in Libya’s civil war; and moved toward what looks more and more like an alliance with China.

It has been barely five years since President Barack Obama’s dismissive 2014 judgment of Russia as a “regional power” capable only of threatening its neighbors “not out of strength but out of weakness.” Its successes raise a mystifying question: How has a country like Russia, huge in size — it has 11 time zones — but puny when measured by economic and other important metrics, become such a potent force?

“When the Soviet Union collapsed, everyone was asking the same question,” recalled Nina Khrushcheva, granddaughter of Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev and a Russia expert at the New School in New York: “How is it that such a rotten system punched so far above its weight?”

The West, Khrushcheva said, has repeatedly misread a country whose ambitions are as immense as its territory — it stretches from the Pacific Ocean to the Baltic Sea — and that is often untethered from what looks like reality. Putin, she said, “is at once a technocrat and a religious zealot, an exhibitionist and a master of secrets. You expect one thing, linearly, and suddenly it’s entirely something else, smoke and mirrors.”

Under Putin, Vladislav Surkov, a longtime Kremlin adviser, wrote in Nezavisimaya Gazeta, a Moscow newspaper, earlier this year, Russia “is playing with the West’s minds.”

Also its own.

Standing Tall

As a reporter based in Moscow two decades ago when Russia’s first democratically elected president, Boris N. Yeltsin, handed power to Putin, I traveled to St. Petersburg, the new president’s hometown, to try and figure out what chance — if any — Putin had of ruling, never mind reversing, the bleak scene he had been handed.

Russia was a mess, its economy still blighted by a post-Soviet collapse worse than the Great Depression in the United States, its military so feeble that it had lost a war in tiny Chechnya, its population so disillusioned with Yeltsin’s promises of new capitalist dawn that it had elected a parliament filled with communists, cranks and crypto-fascists.

A conversation with Putin’s former high school biology teacher, however, quickly made clear that, as a popular Russian saying goes, “hope dies last.” She remembered Putin as not only a diligent student but also an exceptional basketball player because “he was very tall.”

That the diminutive new president had grown in her memory to become a giant gave me my first glimpse of what, over the 20 years since, has been a defining feature of Putin’s rule: his ability to present himself and his country as standing far taller than objective facts would seem to justify.

It is not all just legerdemain.

“Maybe he’s holding small cards, but he seems unafraid to play them,” said Michael McFaul, a former U.S. ambassador to Moscow and now a scholar at Stanford. “That’s what makes Putin so scary.”

Putin acknowledged as much in an interview with film director Oliver Stone. “The question is not about having much power,” he said. “It’s about using the power you have in the right way.”

Putin has harnessed Russian patriotism, which he described in his recent year-end news conference as “the only possible ideology in modern, democratic society,” to achieve some real results, notably curbing the disorder of the Yeltsin era, along with the freedoms.

He crushed a rebellion in Chechnya, which he visited just hours after taking office in a show of can-do bravado, modernized the armed forces and reined in — driving into exile, jailing or simply terrifying — the oligarchs who, under Yeltsin, had done so much to discredit capitalism and democracy. He has nurtured a new clique of obedient oligarchs loyal to the Kremlin.

All the same, said Gleb Pavlovsky, a political scientist who worked for more than a decade as a Kremlin adviser, Russia under Putin still reminds him of a sci-fi movie exoskeleton: “Inside is sitting a small, weak and perhaps frightened person, but from the outside it looks terrifying.”

‘The Ideology of the Future’

Russia’s economy is dwarfed by that of America’s, which is more than 10 times bigger in dollar terms; it is too small to make even a list of the top 10, and it grew by around just 1% this year. Nor does Russia pack much cultural punch beyond its borders, despite excelling in classical music, ballet and many other arts. South Korea, thanks to K-pop and its movies, has more reach.

Yet Russia has become a lodestar for autocrats and aspiring autocrats around the world, a pioneer of the media and other tools — known in Russia as “political technologies” — that these leaders now deploy, with or without Moscow’s help, to disrupt a world order once dominated by the United States. These include the propagation of fake or at least highly misleading news; the masking of simple facts with complicated conspiracy theories; and denunciations of political rivals as traitors or, in a term President Donald Trump borrowed from Stalin, “enemies of the people.”

Whatever its problems, Surkov, the Kremlin adviser, said, Russia has created “the ideology of the future” by dispensing with the “illusion of choice” offered by the West and rooting itself in the will of a single leader capable of swiftly making the choices without constraint.

China, too, has advocated autocracy as the way to get results fast, but even Xi Jinping, head of the Chinese Communist Party, can’t match the lightening speed with which Putin ordered and executed the seizure of Crimea. The decision to grab the Black Sea peninsula from Ukraine was made at a single all-night Kremlin meeting in February 2014 and then carried out just four days later with the dispatch of a few score Russian special forces officers to seize a handful of government buildings in Simferopol, the Crimean capital.

The temptations of authoritarianism a la Russe have found fertile ground in countries that long saw themselves as bastions of Western values like Hungary and Poland, and that had long histories of hostility toward Moscow. They have seduced voters elsewhere in Europe, too, and also in parts of the United States. Pavlovsky, the former Kremlin adviser, said he was stunned during a recent trip to Western Europe to have people tell him “how lucky we are in Russia to have such a brilliant and strong president.”

“There is almost a consensus that Putin is a great man, a resurrection of de Gaulle,” he said. “Putin thinks this himself. It is not just an illusion, because it works.”

Not all Russians are convinced, particularly the young in Moscow and St. Petersburg, who staged protests over the summer to declare that Putin’s time is up.

But the security forces quickly put an end to that, using often brutal force, and Putin’s approval rating nationwide, which had dipped slightly, is now back up to around 70%, according to an opinion poll published in November by the Levada Center.

This is down from the period of nationalist euphoria that followed the annexation of Crimea but is still remarkably high in a country with stagnant growth and, for many, shrinking prospects.

Heartened by the shifting winds in Russia’s direction, and his own, in an interview with The Financial Times, Putin pronounced dead the West’s governing creed since the end of World War II. The ideology of liberal democracy, he said, “has outlived its purpose.”

Russian mind games have been particularly successful in the United States, which Putin and his officials regularly accuse of paranoid Russophobia but whose fixation on Russia has only multiplied the force of its influence. Moscow’s efforts to sow division through Facebook and other social media platforms were low-budget and often primitive, but they have had a disproportionate effect on the American political process.

The result is a state of fretful and anything-goes uncertainty, a condition summed up by Peter Pomerantsev, a Soviet-born British author, in the title of his 2014 book about Putin’s Russia: “Nothing is True and Everything is Possible.”

In Russia, Khrushcheva said, “it’s not what is on the surface, it’s doublespeak, triple-think. That’s why we are so good at art.”

A New Path

When Putin first took charge after Yeltsin’s surprise resignation on the eve of the new millennium, he declared his commitment to a very different direction for Russia than the one he has since taken.

Bid farewell by Yeltsin on the steps of the Kremlin with a melancholy request that he “take care of Russia,” Putin appeared on television a few hours later to deliver his first New Year Eve’s address to the nation, vowing to “protect freedom of speech, freedom of conscience, freedom of the mass media, ownership rights, these fundamental elements of a civilized society.”

He delivered much the same message 18 months later in a historic speech, the first by a Russian leader, in the Reichstag in Berlin, sketching a vision of Russia as inextricably bound to Europe and its values.

By 2002, however, he was already growing weary of Russia being viewed as a supplicant junior partner. “Russia was never as strong as it wants to be, and never as weak as it is thought to be,” he warned.

Bitterly disillusioned with the West on security issues, in 2007 Putin delivered a speech in Munich bristling with resentment and anger at U.S. unilateralism and disregard for Russian opposition to the expansion of NATO. “They bring us to the abyss of one conflict after another,” he said, creating such insecurity that “nobody feels safe.”

But the real turning point, said Pavlovsky, who was then working in the Kremlin, came a year later with the meltdown of global financial systems.

“For Putin this was a decisive threshold,” he said. “Before this he orientated himself toward America. Yes, he disliked in the extreme what the Americans were doing around the world, but all the same he saw America as the strongest economy that runs the world economic system. Suddenly it turned out: No, they are not running anything.”

This, Pavlovsky said, “was the moment of truth,” when “all the old norms vanished.”

Since then, he said, Russia has set about creating its own norms.

“Reality is not a children’s matinee or the handing out of mandarin oranges,” he said. “In other words, things simply don’t look like you thought they do, like you wanted them to, like you expected them to.”

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

© 2019 The New York Times Company

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Democratic donors are more progressive, despite wine cave controversy

The dustup over South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg’s high-dollar wine cave fundraiser is just one round in a long-running argument about the influence of donors and fundraising on American politics.

The view on the left is that the public is crying out for progressive change and is blocked by the influence of big donors — specifically, the influence donors have on the Democratic Party, which shies away from adopting a winning populist platform because of the insidious impact of money.

The Intercept journalist Ryan Grim’s recent book We’ve Got People: From Jesse Jackson to AOC, the End of Big Money and the Rise of a Movement is an excellent narrative history that encapsulates this worldview. And certainly there are cases you can find — like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary challenge to moderate fundraising star Joe Crowley in an overwhelmingly liberal New York City district — that fit the model well.

Donors’ affection for Buttigieg is seen in this context as part of a broader trend of donors working to keep Democrats from embracing the left-wing stances the public allegedly demands. But a more systemic look at the evidence raises some doubts.

It’s true that donors as a whole appear to move politics to the right, but that’s largely by moving the Republican Party to the right. On most issues, Democratic Party donors appear to be more left wing than rank-and-file Democrats, and rank-and-file Democrats are in turn to the left of the median voter. As a result, donors’ main influence on Democrats is to move them to the left.

It does seem to be true that small donors who give online are even further left than the kind of rich liberals who show up to wine caves. But both Sens. Bernie Sanders and Elizabeth Warren officially favor replacing all fundraising with the establishment of public financing of campaigns — a measure that would likely lead to more moderate nominees from both parties.

Donors are mostly ideologues

There are transactional donors kicking around the American political system. Generally living in the DC area and working at lobbying shops or trade associations or running corporate PACs, they give money fairly indiscriminately to incumbent politicians (especially the ones on relevant committees) in exchange for access, with the implied threat that the money could vanish someday if the politician were to cross the donors’ core interests.

But most donors are not like this.

As Brian Schaffner and Ray LaRaja, political scientists at Tufts and UMass Amherst respectively, found for their book Campaign Finance and Political Polarization: When Purists Prevail, the donor class is incredibly polarized compared to the mass public. Using the Cooperative Congressional Election Survey, they first divided the population between donors and non-donors and then looked at how liberal or conservative they are on a 15-question test of political views.

They found polarization exists among non-donors, but it’s clearly much higher among donors:

Shaffner and LaRaja

Similarly, as Jeff Stein has written for Vox, even if you restrict your attention to the biggest donors, on most issues Democratic Party donors are more supportive of progressive legislation than other Democrats are.

One partial exception to this is on taxes. Democratic Party donors as a whole are still more supportive of tax increases than are rank-and-file Democrats. But the most elite Democratic donors are less supportive. In the specific context of the argument over, say, wealth taxes, it makes sense for fans of Sanders and Warren to fear that donor influence is working against them. But Sanders and Warren are also to the left of Buttigieg and former Vice President Joe Biden on climate change and immigration policy issues, where elite donors’ views are to the left of rank-and-file Democrats.

On some level, this isn’t too surprising. If you are a rich person who is interested in making campaign contributions whose purpose is to help politicians who favor low taxes and business-friendly regulations, then there’s a political party for you: the Republican Party. If you’re going to give money to Democrats — which, to be clear, most people don’t do — it’s probably because you’re an unusually ideological person who likes progressive ideas.

Small Democratic donors are even more left wing

The people slamming Buttigieg’s wine cave fundraiser aren’t saying that donors are bad. They are mostly supporters of Warren or Sanders, both of whom (but especially Sanders) have raised plenty of money — just usually in small increments online and without doing fancy fundraisers.

And it clearly seems to be the case that even if rich donors are more left wing than rank-and-file Democrats, small donors are even more left wing. It will take time to do rigorous research on this, but the fact that Sanders has raised the most small-dollar money, followed by Warren, seems to speak for itself.

It is worth emphasizing, however, how idiosyncratic these small donors are. Back in 2016, for example, Sanders shattered records by raising money from about 7 million individuals. That’s a huge number. But it’s smaller than the 13 million people who voted for him in the primary, which in turn is smaller than the 17 million people who voted for Hillary Clinton in the primary. And the 30 million voters who participated in the Democratic Party primary is overshadowed by the 66 million people who voted for Clinton in the general election. And 40 percent of eligible voters didn’t vote at all.

This is just to say that while small donors are more like “regular people” in terms of their income level, they are also idiosyncratic in their level of political participation. Big donors are moderate compared to small donors — which is why they like Buttigieg and Biden, rather than Sanders and Warren — but big donors are progressive relative to non-donors.

One way to see this is that, as Sean McElwee shows in this chart, donors to moderate Senate Democrats like Claire McCaskill, Jon Tester, and Joe Manchin are generally more progressive than the candidates are.

These aren’t Democrats who are being pulled to the right by their wealthy donors. They’re Democrats who need to find ways to run and win in conservative states. If anything, the need to court donors is preventing them from becoming even more moderate — and in McCaskill’s case, potentially costing her reelection.

Public financing could create less polarized politics

One upshot of this is that public financing of elections would probably generate somewhat more competitive, less polarized politics.

Absent donor influences, Democrats would generally be more moderate (especially on social/cultural and environmental issues) and Republicans would also be more moderate (especially on economic and environmental issues). And even heavily gerrymandered districts (or deeply blue or deeply red Senate races) would feature well-financed candidates who are able to chase the median voter and ignore donors.

This is in some ways an attractive possible vision of the future of politics. But it’s fundamentally different from the vision of getting Democrats to eschew big donors in favor of small ones. The small-donor vision really would move Democrats to the left — not by freeing them of donor influence, but by replacing the current leftward influence of donors with an even-further-leftward influence.

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Sarah Huckabee Sanders blasted for lying: “There’s no question that she spread lies at this point”

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders was widely criticized for her refusal to explain the inaccurate statements she made following the revelation that members of President Donald Trump’s 2016 presidential campaign had secretly met with a Kremlin-linked lawyer.

On the set of CNN’s “New Day,” John Berman, the show’s new co-host, blasted the press secretary for spewing falsehoods about who authored the official White House response to the controversial Trump Tower meeting that included Donald Trump, Jr.

“Maybe she’s OK with lying. There’s no question that she spread lies at this point,” Berman said on Tuesday. “Whether or not she was told the truth, I guess we don’t know. But she spread a lie, and she is the White House press secretary. And she spread a lie – and allowed it to hang out there for months.”

Also on set was former President Bill Clinton’s press secretary Joe Lockhart, who said Sanders did not “have any usefulness now.” If he were in her position, he would resign.

On Monday, reporters grilled the press secretary about a contradictory statement she made over the intent of the meeting.

“How are we supposed to know what to believe?” Josh Dawsey of The Washington Post asked Sanders. “How can we believe what you’re saying from the podium if his [Trump’s] lawyers are saying it’s entirely inaccurate?”

After the New York Times reported about the June 2016 encounter, Donald Trump, Jr., insisted the primary objective of the meeting was to discuss adoption policies between Russia and the U.S. In fact, advisers to the White House briefed on the meeting later revealed that the president’s adult son was promised damaging information about presidential rival Hillary Clinton from the Russian lawyer before agreeing to the meeting.

Sanders and the president’s legal representatives have publicly denied that the president had anything to do with the misleading statement about the meeting. But, a confidential letter written by Trump’s attorneys and obtained by the New York Times states that the misleading statement was, in fact, “dictated” by the president.

In August, Sanders said the president “certainly didn’t dictate” the statement, and Jordan Fabian of The Hill asked Sanders to explain the discrepancy on Monday.

Sanders refused to defend her own previous comment. “This is from a letter from the outside counsel, and I’d direct you to them to answer that question,” she said.

Peter Baker of the New York Times also pressed the press secretary, asking if Sanders was retracting her previous statement.

“Once again, this is a reference back to a letter from the outside counsel,” she responded. “I can’t answer, and I would direct you to them.”

Dawsey continued to press Sanders. “Literally, you said he did not dictate. The lawyers say he did. What is it?”

Sanders, again, declined to answer the question.

On Monday, Trump’s personal attorney Rudy Giuliani admitted that the White House and the president’s legal teams “got it wrong” when they initially declared that Trump wasn’t involved in the statement.

“You think Jay Sekulow lied?” Giuliani asked of another one of the president’s other attorneys. “Maybe he just got it wrong, like I got a few things wrong in the beginning of the investigation.”

Invoking God’s name, Giuliani swore to CNN’s Chris Cuomo that “a mistake” happened – but not a lie. The former mayor of New York City said the matter was “clarified in a letter, and that’s the final position,” seemingly indicating that the president did, in fact, draft the misleading statement.

But, on Sunday, Giuliani said the Trump team’s “recollection” of the statement made after the infamous Trump Tower “keeps changing.”

“This is the reason you don’t let this president testify in the special counsel’s Russia investigation,” Giuliani told ABC News. “Our recollection keeps changing.”

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Why We’re Pressing Hard for the Ukraine Documents

By Susan Smith Richardson and Jim Morris, Center for Public Integrity

This weekend, emails about Ukraine military aid released to the Center for Public Integrity triggered a new round of conversations about the timeline of the White House’s decision to halt the aid, the issue at the heart of President Donald Trump’s impeachment.

The documents from the Pentagon and the White House Office of Management and Budget were riddled with blacked-out paragraphs, hiding what the administration argues is sensitive information. But there was enough information in the emails to kick-start demands for an unredacted version of the documents to be shared with the public, including Congress, which had not seen them.

The public cannot hold elected officials accountable in a culture of information blackout. That’s why Public Integrity filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit to get the Ukraine documents. Americans should know about a moment destined for the history books.

On Sunday, Democratic Senate Minority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY) called on the administration to release unredacted versions of the emails. “Until we hear from the witnesses, until we get the documents, the American people will correctly assume that those blocking their testimony were aiding and abetting a cover-up, plain and simple,” Schumer said. He reinforced the point in a “Dear Colleague” letter Monday.

The Ukraine documents, however, are not a partisan issue. They’re a public concern.

A July 25 email about the freeze on aid sparked much of the media conversation. As we reported, “The email includes a written instruction that the Pentagon ‘please hold off on’ distribution of the funds and says that ‘given the sensitive nature of the request’ the information should be ‘closely held.’’’ The email was sent 91 minutes after the end of the now-infamous call between Trump and Ukraine President Vlodymyr Zelensky. The timing may have been coincidental given that the aid was held up by Trump earlier that month, but without access to a clean version of the emails we have zero context about what officials were thinking and doing.

Public Integrity’s research editor and FOIA attorney, Peter Newbatt Smith, made clear the stakes for the nation when we won our legal fight for the documents on Nov. 25. In her order, U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly agreed that “this is not an ordinary FOIA case,” given that impeachment proceedings were then under way in the House of Representatives. Lawmakers, she wrote, were delving into “the same subject matter as the documents requested by [Public Integrity]. As such, the requested documents are sought in order to inform the public on a matter of extreme national concern.”

Judge Kollar-Kotelly told the Pentagon to release the documents in two tranches: one on Dec. 12 and the other on Dec. 20. The first tranche was so heavily redacted – on government claims that the blacked-out material was “sensitive” and “privileged”— that we asked for relief from the court the next day. The second tranche was slightly more illuminating—it included the “91-minute” email—but still loaded with redactions.

We argued to the judge that much of the redacted text “appears on its face to be factual information, rather than deliberative material” that doesn’t have to be disclosed under FOIA. She’ll receive briefs from the parties after the first of the year; we expect a ruling in March, by which time Trump may have faced a Senate impeachment trial.

The ripple caused by the Dec. 20 emails—not only among pundits and politicians, but also among citizens who emailed us and followed us on social media—demonstrates the hunger for more knowledge about the events of last summer. At a time when local newspapers are struggling and misinformation is widespread, access to reliable information is the thread that keeps our democracy intact.

Information is currency in our democracy. And access to information is power. When the public and the press are denied information, we are poorer as a nation.

Our fight over the Ukraine documents means taking on a president. But it just as easily could be a mayor, a city council member, a county commissioner or a school board president anywhere in America.

After an interview Sunday morning with Jeff Smith, Public Integrity’s national security editor, MSNBC host Joy Reid said, “Thank God for the Freedom of Information Act.”

We agree.

Susan Smith Richardson is CEO and Jim Morris is executive editor of the Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, non-partisan investigative news organization in Washington, D.C.