After being attacked as “impeachable” by Rep. Justin Amash, R-Mich., a frequent critic of the president, President Donald Trump lashed back Sunday via Twitter, calling out the “lightweight,” “loser” critic for political opportunism that “plays right into” resistant Democrats’ hands.
“Never a fan of @justinamash, a total lightweight who opposes me and some of our great Republican ideas and policies just for the sake of getting his name out there through controversy. If he actually read the biased Mueller Report, ‘composed’ by 18 Angry Dems who hated Trump,….”
“….he would see that it was nevertheless strong on NO COLLUSION and, ultimately, NO OBSTRUCTION…Anyway, how do you Obstruct when there is no crime and, in fact, the crimes were committed by the other side? Justin is a loser who sadly plays right into our opponents hands!”
Rep. Amash had tweeted Saturday about his “principal conclusions” of special counsel Robert Mueller’s report, listing at No. 2 “President Trump has engaged in impeachable conduct.”
Amash’s position on impeachment might not truly move Congress. While House Democrats might have the votes to send the impeachment proceedings to the Senate, Amash’s vote does not count there. Still, House Democrats have been hesitant on moves for impeachment because of potentially riling up President Trump’s voter base before the 2020 presidential election.
Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., on Friday defended his support of left-wing regimes and his antiwar activism in the 1980s, saying, “I did my best” to stop American foreign policy during the administration of former President Ronald Reagan.
“As a mayor, I did my best to stop American foreign policy, which for years was overthrowing governments in Latin America and installing puppet regimes,” the 2020 Democratic presidential hopeful said in an interview with The New York Times. “I did everything that I could as a mayor of a small city to stop the United States from getting involved in another war in Central America trying to overthrow a government.”
Sanders spoke to The Times after the paper a day earlier published a story providing more details on Sanders’ focus on foreign policy when he served as Burlington mayor and how that led to him forming connections with repressive left-wing governments across the globe.
The report details how Sanders journeyed for 14 hours to reach Nicaragua in 1985 and met with socialist President Daniel Ortega on the sixth anniversary of the Sandinista revolution. Amid anti-American chants (“Here, there, everywhere, the Yankee will die.”) Sanders reportedly celebrated the Sandinista takeover.
“After many years of economic and political domination, Nicaragua is determined not to be a banana republic anymore, and it’s free to make its own decisions,” he said.
Sanders told the Times Friday that he doesn’t remember hearing the chants, but added: “Of course there was anti-American sentiment there. This was a war being funded by the United States against the people of Nicaragua. People were being killed in that war.”
Asked if now viewed Ortega differently, he said he is “very concerned about the anti-democratic policies of the Ortega government.”
The Times reports that Sanders pushed a number of measures as mayor to oppose Reagan policies in Central America. He established two sister-city programs with cities in Russia and Nicaragua. He urged Reagan to “stop the CIA war against the people of Nicaragua” and embarked on trips to the Soviet Union and Cuba. On the Soviet Union, he described it Friday as “an authoritarian dictatorship” and said that he held those beliefs in the 80s as well.
“On the other hand, I was going to do everything that I could to prevent a nuclear war between the United States and the Soviet Union,” he said.
His trip to the U.S.S.R. in particular has drawn scrutiny in the past, as have his remarks apparently glossing over some of the more disturbing aspects of communist countries — such as food shortages.
“It’s funny sometimes American journalists talk about how bad a country is because people are lining up for food. That’s a good thing,” he said in one vintage video unearthed by conservative activists earlier this year. “In other countries, people don’t line up for food, rich people get the food and poor people starve to death.”
After a trip to the Soviet Union in 1988, he held a press conference, along with his wife Jane, and said he was “extremely impressed” by the USSR’s public transportation system and that the “palaces of culture,” which he told an audience were much better than anything the U.S. had mustered.
“I was also impressed by the youth programs that they have, their palaces of culture for the young people, a whole variety of programs for young people, and cultural programs which go far beyond what we do in this country,” he said.
On Friday he said that he thought many of the principles that the Soviet system was based on was good, even if the delivery was poor.
“The truth also is the Soviet system — the quality of care in the Soviet Union — was not particularly good. But the principle of providing free health care or the principle of providing affordable housing is a good principle,” he told the Times.
In another 1985 interview with a local TV station, dug up by BuzzFeed News in 2015, he said of Cuban dictator Fidel Castro that “just because Ronald Reagan dislikes these people, doesn’t mean that people in their own nations feel the same way.”
“In 1959 … everybody was totally convinced that Castro was the worst guy in the world and all of the Cuban people were going to rise up in rebellion against Fidel Castro,” Sanders said. “They forgot that he educated their kids, gave their kids healthcare, totally transformed the society.”
Sanders’ history of aligning with left-governments has been well known but has come under greater scrutiny since he announced his 2020 presidential bid and stands a real chance of winning both the Democratic nomination — and the White House.
Otto Reich, a former special envoy to Latin America who helped oversee Reagan administration policy on Nicaragua, was blunt in his assessment to the Times of Sander’s connections: “He has, by virtue of these travels and associations, joined up with some of the most repressive regimes in the world.”
Because the House Democrats are endlessly investigating, President Donald Trump is justified in ignoring subpoenas, because there just is no end in sight to something special counsel Robert Mueller already concluded, attorney Rudy Giuliani said.
“So the president is doing the right thing in resisting their subpoenas, not because he doesn’t want to cooperate, he cooperated with the special counsel,” Giuliani told “The Cats Roundtable” on 970 AM-N.Y., per The Hill.
“. . . we just don’t want to do it over again.”
Giuliani pointed out Mueller’s investigation and report were exhaustive and Congress has already relitigated a lot of it. The president’s personal attorney does not want his clients political opponents to keep investigating endlessly in an effort to try to find something the special counsel could not.
“There are six different investigations,” Giuliani told host John Catsimatidis, according to The Hill. “. . . thousands of requests for documents.
“It’s like they’re falling all over themselves.”
The White House rejected a number of subpoenas for executive privileged documents and White House counsel Pat Cipollone ripped the efforts as a “a pseudo law enforcement investigation on matters that were already the subject of the special counsel’s long-running investigation.”
Photo: Washington Post Photo By Jonathan Newton
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For more than two centuries, until the election of 2008, American presidents all looked alike. They were white and male and every one of them came to office with experience in the government, military or both. Barack Obama, the first African-American president, broke one mold. Donald Trump, who had neither military nor government experience, broke the other.
In their own ways, Obama and Trump were two of the most unlikely people ever elected to the presidency, raising the question of whether voters in America are using a new lens through which to judge the qualities and qualifications of presidential aspirants. Trump’s presidency continues that experiment, as does the competition among the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination to oppose him in 2020.
Bob Tyson is a retired database consultant who lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. He is a Trump supporter and says the president has helped change his thinking about the qualities needed for someone to hold the nation’s highest office.
“Having that celebrity personality and projecting an image in the media is more important than traditional qualifications,” he said. “It’s made me think differently about what it takes to be elected president. The traditional path of being a state governor or U.S. senator doesn’t seem to count as much. It’s being able to manage your image in the media and galvanizing your base.”
Will and Wendy Keen were in the audience at the Big Grove Brewery and Taproom in Iowa City a few weeks ago, awaiting the arrival of former vice president Joe Biden. They have been making what Will called “a diligent effort to connect with each of the candidates” campaigning in their state.
One person who has caught their eye is South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg, a candidate who, at age 37 and the leader of a relatively small city, might not have been seen in years past as having the experience needed for the presidency.
“The recent reality,” Will Keen said, “has taught us that our vision of what a president looks like, talks like, acts like, has been dramatically changed.” The elections of Obama and Trump, he said, have caused people “to be open to things you might not have expected.”
Many factors have contributed to this change, among them the diversification of the nation’s population; the effect of a nominating system that puts personal ambition and direct communication skills above credentialing by party leaders; the evolution of the role of traditional media and more recently social media; and especially the deepening disillusionment on the part of many Americans with traditional politics and politicians in Washington.
From George Washington through George W. Bush, no characteristic was more enduring in American presidents than the monopoly of white men. No women or candidates of color made much of a dent on the presidential selection process. Candidates of color ran for their parties’ nomination and lost. Women ran for the nomination and lost. Women were nominated to be vice president with no success. In 2016, Hillary Clinton claimed the Democratic nomination, the first woman to do so in a major party, and she, too, lost.
Obama, the son of a white mother and black African father, possessed few of the traditional qualifications of previous presidents, among them experience on the national stage. He had served in the U.S. Senate only since 2005 when he was elected president. His election not only broke the racial barrier but helped open the process to reflect a changing America.
“If you look at what people historically have considered to be acceptable characteristics of their presidents, in terms of social characteristics – white, male, married, Christians, neither too young nor too old – those categories have all been shattered,” said Michael Nelson, a political scientist who teaches at Rhodes College. “Not that we’ve elected a woman, but a woman has made it to the finals. The same might be true of sexual orientation.”
Erin Hamilton of Fort Riley, Kansas, said she warmed to Trump after her first choice in 2016, Ted Cruz, failed to win the nomination. “I liked that he was not typical, that he didn’t have a whole bunch of political background, that he just did this because he wanted to. . . . I would like to see more people running for the president who maybe don’t have a strong political background.”
Rob Burns, who works in the university bookstore at the University of Iowa, said he is less concerned about traditional credentials as he assesses presidential candidates this year.
“Character is the biggest thing,” he said. “I think if you look back at our best presidents, it’s always their character. It’s not their politics.”
Marc Hetherington, a political scientist at the University of North Carolina, said cultural changes in the makeup of the country have reshaped the political makeup of the parties.
“Presidential prototypes are going to be different as a result,” he wrote in an email.
That’s one reason, perhaps, why there are now 23 candidates for the Democratic nomination, including six women and six candidates of color – diversity unheard of in past elections. They range from Biden, the candidate with the longest résumé, to sitting senators to governors or ex-governors to a big group of current or former House members to a mayor of a small city, a big city or the nation’s largest city, to an entrepreneur to a spiritual activist and author.
Out of this field could emerge the oldest person ever elected as president, or the youngest. It could produce the first female president, the first woman of color as president, the first Latino president, the first Asian-American president, the first gay president, the first mayor to ascend directly to the White House.
Hetherington believes that a changing Democratic Party makes nontraditional candidates more attractive to some party activists. As consumers, he said, many of those Democrats are more likely to be attracted to niche products – fair-trade coffee as opposed to the opposite, for example – and that helps to explain why the base of the party acts as it does.
“What could be more niche than a young congressman who used to play in a punk band in Texas [Beto O’Rourke]? Well, maybe a gay mayor from a small city in the Midwest [Buttigieg],” he wrote.
Candidates today worry less about establishment credentialing because there are new ways to build a political brand.
“We’ve become a more democratic, small-D, society,” said pollster Peter Hart. “There’s no establishment. There aren’t bosses and kingmakers. We’re in a freelance society at this stage of the game. With everything that’s happening on social media . . . the barriers to entry are so much lower.”
Cues from party leaders count for less, as candidates build their own followings. Sid Milkis, a political scientist at the University of Virginia, argued that, for all their differences, Trump and Obama share something more than nontraditional résumés. “They see or saw themselves as heads of a movement. They didn’t just envision themselves as presidential candidates,” he said. “And secondly, both kept their distance – and you could say weakened – the official party organization.”
Not only have barriers to entry been lowered, but the qualifications that were once considered assets now can carry liabilities. At a time of gridlock and constant partisan warfare, legislative experience in Washington has been devalued. The baggage of thousands of votes can easily become a burden to a longtime incumbent. Biden is proof of that, as he has had to answer for or explain decisions and votes he took decades ago that have been reinterpreted through the lens of today’s politics.
Candidates today also know that the opportunity to become president must be seized, even if more seasoning would be helpful.
“Obama was an example of that,” said Joel Goldstein, a law professor at Washington University in St. Louis. “Even though you’ve got [Hillary] Clinton running [in 2008], people were saying don’t wait around.”
That was the message David Axelrod, Obama’s chief strategist, gave to the young senator as he was making his final decision to run for president.
“History is replete with potential candidates for president who waited too long rather than examples of people who ran too soon. . . .,” he wrote in a memo in late 2006. “You will never be hotter than you are right now.”
The cycles of history have produced varying paths to the presidency. In the earliest days, as America was still in its formative stages, one common characteristic was diplomatic experience, as ambassadors abroad or service as secretaries of state. John Adams, Thomas Jefferson, James Madison, James Monroe and John Quincy Adams all shared this in their résumés.
Adams and Jefferson also served as vice president, the first two of 14 men who occupied that office. Some of the 14 ascended to the presidency upon the death or resignation of a president; others were elected outright. In the 1960s and ’70s, three presidents in a row – Lyndon B. Johnson, Richard M. Nixon and Gerald R. Ford – had served as vice president.
Through much of the 20th century, governmental experience marked the résumés of presidents. Herbert Hoover had earned a reputation as a skilled executive by organizing humanitarian relief efforts in Europe after World War I and later distinguished himself as a commerce secretary with outsize influence. Franklin D. Roosevelt had served as assistant secretary of the Navy during World War I, vice presidential nominee in 1920 and a term as governor of New York on his way to the presidency.
In the decades immediately after World War II, Americans elected a succession of presidents with notable Washington experience. Harry S. Truman was a 10-year veteran of the Senate before becoming Roosevelt’s vice president. Dwight D. Eisenhower’s military career included Washington experience and the invaluable role as commander of the llied forces that liberated the European continent from the Nazis. Johnson, Nixon and John F. Kennedy served in both the House and Senate. Ford spent more than two decades in the House, including more than eight years as Republican leader.
“Then we turned a page,” said Roger Porter, a professor of government at Harvard’s Kennedy School and a former White House adviser to presidents Ford, Ronald Reagan and George H.W. Bush. From 1976 until the election of 2008, most of the successful candidates (George H.W. Bush being the exception) shared two qualities: state government experience and the claim of being a Washington outsider.
Jimmy Carter was the first of the new breed, a one-term governor of Georgia who ran for the Democratic nomination against a large field of candidates, many with deep Washington experience. But after Vietnam and Watergate, Carter caught the mood of an electorate disillusioned with the federal government and its leaders. He was untarnished by Washington but still offered executive experience at the state level.
Carter’s election “opened the floodgates” to this different model of presidents, Nelson said. After Carter came Reagan, who had been the two-term governor of California. In 1992, the country elected Bill Clinton, the young governor of Arkansas, turning out Bush, who had been Reagan’s vice president, after a single term. Clinton was succeeded by Bush’s son, George W. Bush, who in addition to his family name had twice been elected governor of Texas.
“We said we want people to have executive experience, but we’re happy to have it in state government,” Porter said. “Now we have had two presidents who had none of that.”
People often point to Abraham Lincoln as an example of someone who came to the presidency with virtually no governmental experience, just a single term in the House as a representative from Illinois. In contemporary terms, Lincoln had a background that is not dissimilar to that of Beto O’Rourke, who is running for the Democratic nomination today: service in the House and a losing campaign for Senate that nonetheless helped vault him to national prominence.
For Lincoln, it was the historic debates with Stephen A. Douglas that propelled him forward. Historian Doris Kearns Goodwin noted that those debates were later published and distributed nationally. That brought Lincoln speaking invitations beyond the borders of Illinois, including his powerful anti-slavery speech at Cooper Union in New York in early 1860 that helped win him the nomination and presidency.
“It spread his name beyond Illinois,” Goodwin said. “He became a national figure because of those debates.”
Trump isn’t the first president with celebrity appeal. Theodore Roosevelt became famous through the Spanish-American War. Eisenhower had near-universal stature as a war hero. In 1960, Kennedy lacked the reputation of some of the giants in the Senate, including Johnson, but had the qualities of glamour and family riches that helped to elevate him.
The power of television and social media have made celebrity an important, if not essential, quality for someone seeking the presidency in this era. Today a politician can create some celebrity appeal almost overnight. Buttigieg initially caught the attention of Democratic activists through a CNN town hall. O’Rourke drew a national audience last year through a viral video in which he defended pro football player Colin Kaepernick for taking a knee during the national anthem.
Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-N.Y., is the ultimate example. She wasn’t known a year ago. “Now she’s on the cover of magazines,” Goodwin said. If she were 35 years old rather than 29, it’s likely she would be talked about as a possible candidate for president.
Trump’s celebrity proved to be one of the most important assets in 2016. Though he was a well-known businessman, he could not claim the executive skills of the head of a company with tens of thousands of employees. Instead, his background as a reality TV star distinguished him from other candidates for the GOP nomination – and allowed him to use media to his advantage.
“Trump is in some ways the culmination of these trends that have been underway since the Vietnam and Watergate era,” Nelson said. “What Trump added was [being able to say], ‘I’ve never held office in Washington. I’ve never held office at all. That’s all the more reason to send me to drain the swamp.’ “
Trump supporters point to this quality as one of the reasons they were attracted to him as a candidate. When asked what he liked about Trump, Jeff Bartulla, who lives in Montgomery, Texas, and works in the oil field services industry, said: “That he wasn’t part of government. I was sick of watching [members of Congress] twiddle their thumbs and make excuses.”
The victories by Obama and Trump have rewritten the history of presidential politics. One contribution by Obama – the breakup of the white male hold on the presidency – appears likely to be a permanent change, though obviously not in every single election in the future. At a minimum, no one expects the Democratic ticket in 2020 to be composed of two white men.
Democratic voters appear torn about what they want in a nominee, attracted to newcomers but not ready to make a final judgment. Judy Stavitz of Toms River, New Jersey, who badly wants Trump defeated, said that the mold of what kind of person can be president “has been broken by the buffoon in the White House right now.” So far she has found Buttigieg appealing – but also sees merit in Biden.
That is one reason Harvard’s Porter questioned whether the most recent elections signal a genuine shift in the kind of candidate future voters will favor or whether they were the result of special circumstances.
Will the experience of the Trump presidency push voters back to a more traditional candidate? Perhaps, but voters seem far more willing to weigh many options these days. Bob Tyson, the North Carolina Republican, put it this way: “I think voters are willing to consider anybody, if they make the right impression on them.”
BURLINGTON, Vt. — It’s 1988 and newlywed Bernie Sanders is in the Soviet Union with his wife, Jane, handing out gifts to the mayor of a midsized city they’ve befriended. The mood is festive as the two bestow the items: A Beatles album, a red “Bernie for Burlington” button, “delicious Vermont candy” and a tape of tunes Sanders recorded himself with fellow artists from Vermont, among other goodies.
“I have met many fine mayors in the United States,” Sanders says, “but I want to say that one of the nicest mayors I’ve ever met is the mayor of Yaroslavl.”
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At another point, a member of Sanders’ delegation hands a Russian woman a small American flag.
“If you’re wondering what’s wrong with capitalism, it’s made in Hong Kong,” he jokes. “Sorry about that.”
The scene is part of 3½ hours of raw, never publicly seen footage of the trip Sanders took to the Soviet Union that year — his “honeymoon.” POLITICO viewed the tapes this week, along with a forgotten hourlong episode of a TV show created by Sanders that featured the same trip, at the offices of a Vermont government access channel.
Earlier this year, two minutes of the long-lost videos went viral when a staffer at Chittenden County’s Channel 17 posted a compilation of the station’s archival footage online. The clip featured a shirtless Sanders and other Americans singing “This Land Is Your Land” to their hosts after relaxing in a sauna. A few minutes later, Sanders doled out the gifts to his Russian friends with a towel wrapped around his waist.
But that’s only the beginning. The hours of footage include a scene of Sanders sitting with his delegation at a table under a portrait of Vladimir Lenin. Sanders can also be heard extolling the virtues of Soviet life and culture, even as he acknowledges some of their shortcomings. There are flashes of humor, too, such as his host warning the American guests not to cross the KGB, or else.
The video also paints a fuller picture of why Sanders ventured to the land of America’s No. 1 enemy in the midst of the Cold War, the anti-war idealism that fueled his journey, and what he found when he got there.
Over the course of 10 days, Sanders, who was then the mayor of Burlington, and his dozen-member delegation traveled to three cities: Moscow, Yaroslavl and Leningrad, now known as St. Petersburg. Their goal was to establish a “sister city” relationship with Yaroslavl, a community along the Volga River home to about 500,000 people. At the time, the Soviet Union was beginning to open itself to the world, if only slightly — and Sanders was a self-described socialist with an unusually large interest in foreign affairs for a mayor.
“It wasn’t as outlandish as it looks in the pictures,” William Pomeranz, the deputy director of the Wilson Center’s Kennan Institute, said after hearing a description of the footage. “It’s the height of Glasnost and Perestroika, where there are genuine efforts by Americans to reach out to Soviet cities and try to establish these relationships.”
At the time, Sanders was 46 and nearing the end of his eight years as Burlington mayor, which tracked precisely with Ronald Reagan’s presidency. Two years later, Sanders would be elected to Congress.
As mayor, Sanders worried about a potential nuclear war and railed against the bloated military budgets of both the United States and the Soviet Union. A year before the trip, he laid out his vision for a sister-city relationship. “By encouraging citizen-to-citizen exchanges — of young people, artists and musicians, business people, public officials, and just plain ordinary citizens,” he said in a speech, “we can break down the barriers and stereotypes which exist between the Soviet Union and the United States.”
Sanders’ opponents, though, will likely find much in the tapes to call outlandish. And in a campaign season in which Democrats are concerned about nothing more than defeating President Donald Trump, there’s plenty of material that Democratic voters might worry the Republican Party could spin into a 30-second negative ad.
Sanders is seen living it up with Russians. There are, naturally, shrines to Lenin everywhere. In one scene, Sanders and his wife, as well as other couples, boogie to live Russian music. “I brought my special dancing shoes!” Sanders exclaims.
Later, he tells a Russian man, “I’m not very happy about this, but there are not many people in the state of Vermont who speak Russian. In fact, one of the things that we want to do is to see if we can develop a Russian studies program in our high school.”
At another point, one of Sanders’ hosts jokingly warns the delegation to not upset the KGB: “Those who don’t behave move to Siberia from here.”
For now, many of the videos will remain available for viewing only in CCTV’s archives. POLITICO learned about the tapes after reporting on a TV show Sanders created while mayor called “Bernie Speaks With the Community.” The government-access channel is not planning to put the raw tapes documenting the Soviet Union trip online because they never aired, said executive director Lauren-Glenn Davitian. However, she does intend to post the lost episode of Sanders’ TV show online soon.
The tapes also reveal Sanders and his team being wooed by the Soviet Union: They eat nice-looking meals, tour a decorated subway station, take horse-and-buggy rides and watch professional dancers. A cab driver serenades members of Sanders’ delegation — it’s unclear whether Sanders was in the car — with songs for minutes on end. When they return home, the Americans said the cabbie liked them so much that he didn’t charge a fare.
“The Soviet Union always treated foreign guests very, very well,” said Pomeranz said. “They always wanted to show off the best side of their country and that invariably included a big table with a lot of food.”
At times, though, Sanders’ team saw behind the curtain: The tapes showed people who appear to be waiting in line for food as well as the Soviet Union’s shabby housing stock. Inside one Russian’s apartment, Sanders addresses the poor conditions.
“It’s important to try to translate this,” he says. “In America, in general, the housing is better than in the Soviet Union.”
There are also mundane scenes of everyday life — cars rolling around traffic circles, townspeople walking down the street, athletes playing sports on TV — rendered fascinating because of the moment in which they occurred.
According to a newspaper account at the time, members of Sanders’ mayoral team paid for the trip but also received their regular salary while abroad.
Throughout the videos, as well as in the final episode of “Bernie Speaks With the Community,” Sanders speaks at length about his dream of reducing conflict between the two nations by building relationships between ordinary citizens. While being interviewed by a Russian man on a bus, he says he would “love” for young people to participate in exchange programs between the two cities.
Sanders suggests a similar initiative for media outlets. He tells the man that a Vermont editor is coming to the Soviet Union soon and that “I have asked her to drop in [to] your newspaper.”
Sanders’ wife also talks to teachers in the Soviet Union over tea. She asks them detailed questions about their work and proposes a teacher and student exchange program.
“One thing we are very impressed with is the cultural life,” she tells them. “We strive in Burlington to enrich the cultural life as much as possible. But we have much further to go.”
Bruce Seifer, a top economic development aide to Sanders when he was mayor, said that 100 residents from Yaroslavl immigrated to Burlington after the trip and others visited.
“Over time, it had a positive impact on to the economy,” he said. “Businesses started doing exchanges between Burlington and Yaroslavl.”
Davitian, who lived in Burlington at the time, said progressives were thrilled by Sanders’ trip to the Soviet Union, while everyday residents didn’t mind. “As long as the streets were getting paved, there wasn’t opposition to him as an activist mayor,” she said.
When Sanders’ delegation returned to Burlington, CCTV captured the group on film in a hopeful mood, applauding the Soviet Union’s after-school programs, low rent costs and hospitality.
At the same time, they admit the poor choices of available food. Sanders says he was impressed by the beauty of the city and Soviet officials’ willingness “to acknowledge many of the problems that they had.”
“They’re proud of the fact that their health care system is free,” he says, but concede that the medical technology is far behind that of the United States.
Later that year, the relationship was officially established. Since then, “exchanges between the two cities have involved mayors, business people, firefighters, jazz musicians, youth orchestras, mural painters, high school students, medical students, nurses, librarians, and the Yaroslavl Torpedoes ice hockey team,” according to Burlington’s city government. A delegation traveled there as recently as 2016.
“They were just as friendly as they could possibly be,” Sanders said at a news conference at the airport after returning from the trip. “The truth of the matter is, they like Americans, and they respect Americans, and they admire Americans.”
By Dan Allen
The global music world’s “gay Olympics” are back with vengeance, as the final for the annual wacky tune-filled phenomenon known as the Eurovision Song Contest will take place in Tel Aviv, Israel, on Saturday.
Sassy camp aesthetics are commonplace at the always over-the-top Eurovision, but this year’s contest final is shaping up as one of its most overtly queer extravaganzas ever.
Openly gay, gender-playful, and Muslim teen crooner Bilal Hassani will compete for France, and leather-clad bondage-synth-punk trio Hatari aim to take the crown for Iceland — with some Eurovision experts predicting that despite the band’s decidedly anti-pop approach (or maybe because of it), they just might pull off a win.
“We haven’t identified as a queer band as such,” Hatari singer Matthías Tryggvi Haraldsson told NBC News, “but we do touch upon themes like gender fluidity, masculinity and femininity, repression and expression, and others — which many audience members identify with, not least of all in the queer scene.”
Adding to the LGBTQ-tinged excitement at Saturday’s Eurovision final will be the return of the only trans and drag champions in the contest’s history, Israel’s Dana International (1998) and Austria’s Conchita Wurst (2014).
And for the first time ever, pop diva Madonna will headline the show, making her the biggest global star to ever do so in the contest’s 64-year history.
So what is Eurovision, you may ask, and why are 180+ million viewers so crazed for its craziness every year?
Launched in 1956 with entrants from just seven Western European nations, the contest now spans the European continent and Australia, and is the longest running annual song competition in history.
During that time, Eurovision has introduced the planet to such iconic musical acts as Sweden’s ABBA (who beat no less than Olivia Newton-John in 1974), and given us a slew of classic pop songs, from 1958’s “Volare” to 2012’s “Euphoria.”
The number of Eurovision entrants varies slightly every year — Turkey, for example, has boycotted the contest since 2018 over its inclusion of LGBTQ performers. This year’s 41 entries were whittled down in semi-finals earlier this week to the 26 that will appear in Saturday’s final.
Each country can choose its entry however it sees fit, with most leaving it up to the TV-viewing public. There are two hard and fast rules, however: Each entry must be an original song, and its performance can be no longer than three minutes. Beyond that, pretty much anything can go, and usually does.
While generally oozing cheeky cheer, the competition sometimes courts controversy — and this year, that controversy has had a partially queer slant.
In protest of the Palestinian policies of host country Israel, many political activists called for a global boycott of the 2019 contest. Some even suggested that the contest will be just another example of Israeli “pinkwashing,” or pushing the perception of LGBTQ-openness to distract from the country’s other human rights shortcomings.
Indeed, Iceland’s Hatari, as avowed anarchists, were originally part of the boycott movement, but realized they might have more impact by winning over the Icelandic public and becoming this year’s Eurovision entrant for the island nation, something they achieved handily in March with their guttural ditty “Hatrið mun sigra” (“Hate Will Prevail”).
“If Iceland’s entry ignores the fact that the song contest is political by nature, it undervalues the need for critical dialogue concerning human rights,” Haraldsson said.
Madonna too rejected activists’ calls for her to not perform at the Eurovision final in Israel. “I’ll never stop playing music to suit someone’s political agenda, nor will I stop speaking out against violations of human rights wherever in the world they may be,” the singer told Reuters on Tuesday.
For 19-year-old Hassani, merely competing for France as an openly gay Muslim is a statement in itself, one that’s unfortunately been met with an onslaught of social media attacks over both his religion and his sexuality.
In Hassani’s freedom-embracing Eurovision song “Roi” (“King”), many have seen something of a defiant gay anthem.
“I love the saying ‘gay anthem,’ but at the same, it’s also a song that’s directed toward anyone who may feel marginalized or alienated in society,” Hassani told NBC Out. “It’s about not listening or caring about what people say or think about you, and just following and listening to your heart.”
To that end, Hassani’s non-traditional approach to gender and gender-bending is distinctly his own. “I love to live in a blurred line between the two genders in terms of style, but I don’t think I identify as gender-fluid,” he said. “I don’t really think about it, to be honest. Maybe I am? I’m a happy person, and I think it’s the only thing that matters.”
Currently, Duncan Laurence of the Netherlands is a favorite to win Eurovision 2019 with his sweet ballad “Arcade.”
But given the contest’s live and unpredictable nature, upsets are fairly common, and Iceland’s Hatari is considered this year’s dark horse — arguably, one of the darkest the pop contest has ever seen.
Win or lose, however, the provocateurs are just pleased to compete.
“It’s obvious that capitalism is one step closer to crumbling,” Hatari member Klemens Hannigan said after the band’s successful semi-final performance on Tuesday. “Everything is going according to plan.”
The 64th Eurovision Song Contest final will begin at 10 p.m. local time in Tel Aviv on Saturday. (That’s 3 p.m. ET and 12 p.m. PT.) While the show will be broadcast live on YouTube, geo-blocking will prevent Americans from watching it at home without a VPN. Check local event listings for a screening location near you.
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China’s foreign minister voiced opposition to the U.S.’s unilateral sanctions against Iran and pledged to support Tehran’s efforts to safeguard its interests, as the U.S. ratchets up pressure on the Islamic Republic’s economy.
Wang Yi told Iranian Foreign Minister Mohammad Javad Zarif during a meeting in Beijing on Friday that China is willing to work alongside Iran to “rule out the disruptions of certain complications” to make possible the complete implementation of the 2015 nuclear accord, according to a statement published online by the Chinese Foreign Ministry.
China is the last stop on Zarif’s Asian tour, after visits to Japan and India this week. He aims to drum up political and economic support for Iran, amid rising tensions in the Middle East and U.S. pressure to scrap the landmark nuclear deal that restricted Iran’s nuclear program in return for sanctions relief.
On Thursday, Zarif met with Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe, who urged Iran to abide by the accord, of which Zarif was a key negotiator.
On May 2, the Trump administration — which has ditched the nuclear deal — revoked waivers on Japan and several other buyers of Iranian crude, spiking tensions in the Gulf. It left Iran with a stark choice: go along with the U.S. and stop all uranium enrichment, or abandon some of its obligations under the 2015 accord, facing a rupture with European signatories.
But China, one of the world’s biggest buyers of Iranian oil, hasn’t committed to halt imports from Iran. It has advocated for the deal to remain in tact, with Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Geng Shuang saying May 7 that the government “applauds Iran’s faithful implementation.”
“China is in a dilemma over the Iran issue,” said Shi Yinhong, a professor of international relations at Renmin University in Beijing. “As its relations with the U.S. deteriorate, China has little room for mediation. China doesn’t have any concrete measures it can take to safeguard its oil security.”
Chinese crude imports climbed to a record high last month, as a drive to stock up on Iranian oil before the sanctions exemptions expired offset the effect of maintenance shutdowns by local refiners.
“China is very nervous for sure as Iran’s largest oil importer,” said Zhu Feng, dean of the Institute of International Relations at Nanjing University. But it “has limited options to respond.”
Still, it may not face a choice following the U.S. move to end the sanctions waivers. “The explosive development will directly affect China’s overseas energy procurement and transportation,” Zhu said.
The Trump administration on Friday missed another deadline to produce President Donald Trump’s tax returns. A top House Democrat said he expects to take the administration to court as early as next week over the matter.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said in a letter that he will not comply with a subpoena from House Ways and Means Committee Chairman Richard Neal for six years of Trump’s tax returns because the request “lacks a legitimate legislative purpose.”
Mnuchin’s rejection of the subpoena had been expected. Earlier Friday, Neal had said, “We will likely proceed to court as quickly as next week.”
Asked if he might seek to hold Mnuchin in contempt of Congress for his refusal to supply the tax returns, Neal said, “I don’t see that right now as an option. I think that the better option for us is to proceed with a court case.”
Democrats are seeking Trump’s tax returns under a 1924 law that directs the IRS to furnish such information when requested to the chairs of Congress’ tax-writing committees.
In a statement Friday after Mnuchin’s decision was announced, Neal said that the law “does not allow for discretion as to whether to comply with a request for tax returns and return information.”
In his statement, Neal said he would consult with committee lawyers “on how best to enforce the subpoenas moving forward.”
Besides Trump, every president since Richard Nixon has made his tax returns public.
In a tweet on May 10, Trump said that he had won the presidency in 2016 “partially based on no Tax Returns while I am under audit (which I still am), and the voters didn’t care. Now the Radical Left Democrats want to again relitigate the matter. Make it part of the 2020 Election!”
When he issued the subpoena last week, Neal said he was seeking six years of Trump’s personal and business tax returns to aid a committee investigation into whether the IRS is doing its job properly to audit a sitting president and whether the law governing such audits needs to be strengthened.
In his letter Friday saying he would not comply with the subpoena, Mnuchin said he had consulted with the Justice Department and had been advised that he was not authorized to turn over the tax returns because Neal’s request did not represent a legitimate congressional purpose.
Mnuchin said that while he will not turn over Trump’s tax returns, he has offered to work with the congressional panel “to accommodate its stated interest in understanding how the IRS audits and enforces the federal tax laws against a president” by providing the committee with information on the mandatory audit process for presidential returns.
The fight with Congress over Trump’s tax returns is one of a number of battles House Democrats are having with the administration over the release of information. The House Judiciary Committee has voted to hold Attorney General William Barr in contempt and is fighting to obtain an unredacted report prepared by special counsel Robert Mueller on Russian interference in the 2016 election.
Herman Cain said Friday that half of African-Americans have been “brainwashed” by “negative messages” about President Donald Trump from mainstream media outlets.
In an interview on Fox Business News’ “Varney & Co,” the former pizza businessman who recently dropped out of consideration for a seat on the board of the Federal Reserve, decried black viewers’ liberal news picks.
“Many of them only look at the liberal stations, which we know report 92% negative news about President Trump and his administration,” he said. “ABC, CBS, NBC, MSNBC, they all do. Therefore, 50% of the African-Americans have been brainwashed by those negative messages.”
“They have been brainwashed to believe in Trump-hate,” he added.
“What this president is doing is helping all people, including blacks and Hispanics and other groups,” he argued.
Cain predicted Trump would pull in “about 20%” of the black vote in 2020 — more than double what he netted in 2016.
“The reason that I feel that is because of the feedback that I get from people that I see every day, I see when I travel, they are secretly moving more toward the policies that this president and his administration are promoting and passing, and they are just not talking about it,” he said.
“Why? Because [of] brainwashing and intimidation,” he said.