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By Janell Ross

It’s an early contender for the most repeated political factoid of 2019: The 116th Congress is the most diverse in U.S. history. But the physical presence of people of color in Congress, which is one form of representation, does not automatically equal robust political advocacy. That could wind up disappointing some of the voters who sent these new members to Washington.

The kind of progressive, some might even say radical, changes that have been promised by some of this year’s new representatives — universal health care, the repeal of a tax system that largely benefits the wealthy, and the demolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — are far from guaranteed. So, beyond the remarkable images of young women of color joining a chamber that remains largely white and male, and the affirmational stories of American possibility, hard questions remain about whether a more diverse Congress will deliver something new.

“Sure, it is something that the country should applaud itself for,” said Leonard Moore, a professor of American history at the University of Texas at Austin, who wrote a book about Carl Stokes of Cleveland, who in 1967 became the first black man elected mayor of a major U.S. city.

“But, we are around the 50-year mark of black political representation,” Moore continued. “So I would have to ask: Should we still simply be celebrating the number of black people and Latinos who get into Congress? The issue, or the No. 1 issue, to me, is: Are our issues being addressed?”

Rep. Jahana Hayes, D-Conn., is determined to try. She grew up in a violent housing project, had a baby as a teenager, dropped out of high school and experienced homelessness. In 2018, Hayes owed more than $100,000 in student loans, the borrowing that helped her become an educator once named National Teacher of the Year.

Hayes spent the election season telling voters that her own experiences informed her politics, including her support of expanding gun control and universal health insurance for all Americans.

Hayes was one of the many black Democrats seeking office who identified as a progressive. A November analysis from the nonprofit Progressive Change Institute found that 42.9 percent of the incoming freshmen in Congress also supported Medicare for all and 60.3 percent supported boosting the minimum wage. A whopping 77.8 percent expressed support for ending tax cuts for the wealthy or building a tax code that aims to more deeply benefit working families.

Hayes defeated her Republican opponent by more than 10 points last fall in an overwhelmingly white district, and this month she became the first black female Democrat to represent Connecticut in Congress. She’s one of more than 50 black members of Congress, an all-time high, and one of nine black freshmen joining the House this year. While the overwhelming majority of the black members were sent to Congress by districts where black voters make up the majority, eight of the nine new members, like Hayes, come from majority-white districts.

“There’s a strong appetite right now for change,” Hayes told The Guardian just before the election.

The question of what black politicians feel they owe those they represent isn’t unique to them, but it’s long been a harder one for black politicians to answer. In March 1972, members of the fledgling Congressional Black Caucus and activists tried to answer it at a gathering in Gary, Indiana, which is sometimes called the National Black Political Convention.

African-Americans were experiencing unprecedented electoral success, winning mayor’s races and taking more than a dozen seats in Congress. But concern was growing over President Richard Nixon’s “southern strategy,” which aimed at appealing to white voters who opposed civil rights reforms and other social change.

At the Indiana convention, the black leaders drafted a 40-page document that identified policies black voters could use to evaluate politicians, including several related to black economic empowerment, Moore said.

The intervening years have included a number of legislative victories and failures, as measured by that document. But, nearly 50 years later, the racial wealth gap has expanded to yawning proportions, of which most white Americans remain unaware. Racial disparities in income, health, education and almost every other measure of social well-being remain.

“Today we find ourselves in a situation where some of these black elected officials have been in office two, three decades,” Moore said. “I am hoping the new people who have been elected — they have a lot of energy, a lot of fire now — will go to Congress and stay true.”

The energy of this Congress may recall, for some, the election night of 2008. Barack Obama, the first black man elected president, won with about 43 percent of white voters and majorities of everyone else. He had run on what his campaign aides boiled down to three words: “hope and change.”

As a candidate, Obama demonstrated both the ability to speak about race, injustice and inequality and the skill to evade it. Obama and his team learned early that the overwhelmingly white White House press corps and conservative critics seemed to expect Obama to serve as the nation’s racial counselor while also remaining ready to harp on any mention of race.

As president, Obama often chose race-neutral language while pressing for health care, criminal justice and immigration reform. He faced criticism both from those who said he was doing more for black Americans than for anyone else and those who said he was not doing enough.

“I think [black voter] expectations for Obama were somewhat tempered,” Moore said, “until he came out in favor of the gay marriage issue.”

In supporting gay marriage, Obama had taken on a then-controversial topic, and he’d used some of his political capital to do so, Moore said. The decision made some black Americans wonder why the president was not willing to take similar action on other issues.

“I think the black base was like, ‘Well now, hold on a minute. This is a polarizing issue too. Hold on, brother,’” Moore said. “So while I think a lot of respect and admiration remains, there [are] a lot of people who felt that he did not do all that he could to advance black interests, a black agenda, a radical set of reforms.”

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Trump abruptly reverses Treasury’s North Korea-related sanctions on Chinese shippers



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By Jonathan Allen

WASHINGTON — President Donald Trump suggested Friday that he would lift sanctions his Treasury Department had just announced it would impose on two Chinese shipping companies for allegedly violating existing prohibitions on providing goods and transportation services to North Korea.

“It was announced today by the U.S. Treasury that additional large scale Sanctions would be added to those already existing Sanctions on North Korea,” Trump wrote on Twitter. “I have today ordered the withdrawal of those additional Sanctions!”

The sanctions — which the White House did not immediately confirm that the president’s tweet was in reference to — were actually announced Thursday by the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control, which is an agency under the Treasury Department.

White House press secretary Sarah Sanders explained the president’s decision as a courtesy to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, with whom Trump broke off denuclearization talks in Hanoi last month.

“President Trump likes Chairman Kim and he doesn’t think these sanctions will be necessary,” Sanders said.

Victor Cha, a former National Security Council official and an MSNBC contributor, said that Trump’s decision had undercut law enforcement and sent a message to Kim that he won’t ramp up sanctions. While it’s good that Trump wants to continue diplomatic discussions with Kim, Cha said, the tweet had also sent the wrong signal to other countries about U.S. policy.

For years, the U.S. has used the threat and imposition of sanctions to deter individuals, companies and foreign governments from doing business with the North Korean regime to squeeze that nation’s economy and pressure Pyongyang to give up its nuclear program.

At a time when Trump is eager to strike a trade deal with China, the relief from sanctions that Treasury officials imposed may also go over well in Beijing.

In announcing the sanctions Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said the U.S. government wanted to make clear to shipping companies that they could not do business with North Korea.

“The United States and our like-minded partners remain committed to achieving the final, fully verified denuclearization of North Korea and believe that the full implementation of North Korea-related UN Security Council resolutions is crucial to a successful outcome,” Mnuchin said. “Treasury will continue to enforce our sanctions, and we are making it explicitly clear that shipping companies employing deceptive tactics to mask illicit trade with North Korea expose themselves to great risk.”

However, senior Trump administration officials also said Thursday that “the door is wide open” to more talks with North Korea, telling reporters that President Trump remains “personally engaged” and also wants contacts to occur on the working level, although they wouldn’t disclose whether any such contacts have occurred since the summit between the president and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

Josh Lederman contributed.

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Gun rights groups try last-ditch move to stop Trump ban on rapid-fire bump stocks



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By Pete Williams

WASHINGTON — Owners of bump stocks — attachments that allow rifles to be fired rapidly — are hoping a federal appeals court will relieve them of the legal duty to destroy the devices by Monday.

The Trump administration ordered a ban on bump stocks after they figured prominently in the 2017 Las Vegas mass shooting that killed 58 people and wounded 500 others. A police investigation revealed that Stephen Paddock, who carried out the massacre, had 22 semi-automatic rifles with him in his hotel room overlooking an outdoor concert that he attacked, and 14 of the weapons were equipped with bump stocks.

Under a federal rule that took effect in December, owners must destroy their bump stocks, which are usually made of plastic, by Monday or risk prosecution for a felony. The rule suggests smashing them with a hammer, cutting them apart with a saw, or turning them over to a local ATF office. It applies to individual owners, dealers, wholesalers and manufacturers.

Federal authorities estimate that half a million of them have been sold in the U.S.

The devices are attached to a rifle in place of the normal stock, the end piece that sit next to a user’s shoulder. Once in place, the bump stock absorbs the weapon’s recoil and alters the relationship between the trigger finger and the weapon.

Without a bump stock, the rifle remains stationary, and the trigger finger must be moved to fire each round. With a bump stock, after the trigger is pulled once, the recoil begins moving the trigger against the finger, which remains stationary, resulting in rapid firing like a fully automatic rifle.

For that reason, the Trump administration concluded that bump stocks violate a federal law that bans machineguns, defined as weapons that automatically fire more than one shot “with a single function of the trigger.”

Gun rights groups sued, arguing that bump stocks are intended to be used with AR-15 style rifles which are mechanically incapable of firing more than once with a single function of the trigger, because it must be released and moved again to allow the weapon to fire. They say the words of the statute — single function of the trigger — refer to the movement of the trigger itself, not whether the trigger is pulled by a finger or actuated by a bump stock.

“The government is just wrong to focus to focus on the behavior of the person rather than the function of the trigger,” said Erik Jaffee, representing the gun owners. “Function of the trigger means the trigger, not the shooter.”

The Justice Department told the U.S. Court of Appeals in Washington, D.C., on Friday that the courts have interpreted the phrase “single function of the trigger” to mean “single pull of the trigger.” A bump stock, government lawyers argued, allows a rifle to fire automatically once the trigger is pulled once, and that qualifies it as a machinegun.

An ATF spokeswoman said some owners have already turned in their bump stocks. But gun owner groups said others were waiting to see whether the appeals court agrees to put the rule on hold.

The court did not indicate when it might rule.

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‘I will TELEPATHICALLY stop you!’ Uri Geller sends Theresa May BIZARRE Brexit warning



PARANORMAL spoon bender Uri Geller has written a bizarre open letter to Theresa May, telling the Prime Minister he “loves” her but “will stop you telepathically” from carrying out Brexit.

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