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Democratic Socialism Rising in the Age of Trump

A week ago, Maine Democrat Zak Ringelstein wasn’t quite ready to consider himself a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, even if he appreciated the organization’s values and endorsement in his bid to become a U.S. senator.

Three days later, he told The Associated Press it was time to join up. He’s now the only major-party Senate candidate in the nation to be a dues-paying democratic socialist.

Ringelstein’s leap is the latest evidence of a nationwide surge in the strength and popularity of an organization that, until recently, operated on the fringes of the liberal movement’s farthest left flank. As Donald Trump’s presidency stretches into its second year, democratic socialism has become a significant force in Democratic politics. Its rise comes as Democrats debate whether moving too far left will turn off voters.

“I stand with the democratic socialists, and I have decided to become a dues-paying member,” Ringelstein told AP. “It’s time to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy.”

There are 42 people running for offices at the federal, state and local levels this year with the formal endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, the organization says. They span 20 states, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan.

The most ambitious Democrats in Washington have been reluctant to embrace the label, even as they embrace the policies defining modern-day democratic socialism: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and the abolition of the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congress’ only self-identified democratic socialist, campaigned Friday with the movement’s newest star, New York City congressional candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former bartender who defeated one of the most powerful House Democrats last month.

Her victory fed a flame that was already beginning to burn brighter. The DSA’s paid membership has hovered around 6,000 in the years before Trump’s election, said Allie Cohn, a member of the group’s national political team.

Last week, its paid membership hit 45,000 nationwide.

There is little distinction made between the terms “democratic socialism” and “socialism” in the group’s literature. While Ringelstein and other DSA-backed candidates promote a “big-tent” philosophy, the group’s constitution describes its members as socialists who “reject an economic order based on private profit” and “share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”

Members during public meetings often refer to each other “comrades,” wear clothing featuring socialist symbols like the rose and promote authors such as Karl Marx.

The common association with the failed Soviet Union has made it difficult for sympathetic liberals to explain their connection.

“I don’t like the term socialist, because people do associate that with bad things in history,” said Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson, who is endorsed by the DSA and campaigned alongside Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, but is not a dues-paying democratic socialist. “There’s definitely a lot of their policies that closely align with mine.”

Thompson, an Army veteran turned civil rights attorney, is running again after narrowly losing a special election last year to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Even in deep-red Kansas, he embraces policies like “Medicare for all” and is openly critical of capitalism.

In Hawaii, 29-year-old state Rep. Kaniela Ing isn’t shy about promoting his status as a democratic socialist in his bid for Congress. He said he was encouraged to run for higher office by the same activist who recruited Ocasio-Cortez.

“We figured just lean in hard,” Ing told the AP of the democratic socialist label. He acknowledged some baby boomers may be scared away, but said the policies democratic socialists promote — like free health care and economic equality — aren’t extreme.

Republicans, meanwhile, are encouraged by the rise of democratic socialism — for a far different reason. They have seized on what they view as a leftward lurch by Democrats they predict will alienate voters this fall and in the 2020 presidential race.

The Republican National Committee eagerly notes that Sanders’ plan to provide free government-sponsored health care for all Americans had no co-sponsors in 2013. Today, more than one-third of Senate Democrats and two-thirds of House Democrats have signed onto the proposal, which by one estimate could cost taxpayers as much as $32 trillion.

The co-sponsors include some 2020 presidential prospects, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Those senators aren’t calling themselves democratic socialists but also not disassociating themselves from the movement’s priorities.

Most support the push to abolish ICE, which enforces immigration laws and led the Trump administration’s recent push to separate immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Of the group, only Booker hasn’t called for ICE to be abolished, replaced or rebuilt. Yet Booker’s office notes that he’s among the few senators backing a plan to guarantee government-backed jobs to unemployed adults in high-unemployment communities across America.

“Embracing socialist policies like government-run health care, a guaranteed jobs program and open borders will only make Democrats more out of touch,” RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel said.

Despite Ocasio-Cortez’s recent success, most DSA-endorsed candidates have struggled.

Gayle McLaughlin finished eighth in last month’s Democratic primary to become California’s lieutenant governor, earning just 4 percent of the vote. All three endorsed candidates for Maryland’s Montgomery County Council lost last month as well. And Ryan Fenwick was blown out by 58 points in his run to become mayor of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ringelstein, a 32-year-old political neophyte, is expected to struggle in his campaign to unseat Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He is refusing to accept donations from lobbyists or corporate political action committees, which has made fundraising a grind. At the end of June, King’s campaign reported $2.4 million cash on hand while Ringelstein had just $23,000.

He has tapped into the party’s national progressive movement and the southern Maine chapter of the DSA for the kind of grassroots support that fueled Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. As he has done almost every month this year, Ringelstein attended the group’s monthly meeting at Portland’s city hall last Monday.

More than 60 people packed into the room. The group’s chairman, 25-year-old union organizer Meg Reilly, wore a T-shirt featuring three roses.

She cheered the “comrades” softball team’s recent season before moving to an agenda that touched on climate change legislation, a book share program “to further your socialist education,” and an exchange program that lets community members swap favors such as jewelry repair, pet sitting or cooking.

Near the end of the two-hour gathering, Ringelstein thanked the group for “standing shoulder to shoulder with us throughout this entire campaign.”

“We could win a U.S. Senate seat!” he said. “I want to say that over and over. We could win a U.S. Senate seat! So, let’s do this.”

 

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Democratic Socialism Rising in the Age of Trump

A week ago, Maine Democrat Zak Ringelstein wasn’t quite ready to consider himself a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, even if he appreciated the organization’s values and endorsement in his bid to become a U.S. senator.

Three days later, he told The Associated Press it was time to join up. He’s now the only major-party Senate candidate in the nation to be a dues-paying democratic socialist.

Ringelstein’s leap is the latest evidence of a nationwide surge in the strength and popularity of an organization that, until recently, operated on the fringes of the liberal movement’s farthest left flank. As Donald Trump’s presidency stretches into its second year, democratic socialism has become a significant force in Democratic politics. Its rise comes as Democrats debate whether moving too far left will turn off voters.

“I stand with the democratic socialists, and I have decided to become a dues-paying member,” Ringelstein told AP. “It’s time to do what’s right, even if it’s not easy.”

There are 42 people running for offices at the federal, state and local levels this year with the formal endorsement of the Democratic Socialists of America, the organization says. They span 20 states, including Florida, Hawaii, Kansas and Michigan.

The most ambitious Democrats in Washington have been reluctant to embrace the label, even as they embrace the policies defining modern-day democratic socialism: Medicare for all, a $15 minimum wage, free college tuition and the abolition of the federal department of Immigration and Customs Enforcement, also known as ICE.

Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Congress’ only self-identified democratic socialist, campaigned Friday with the movement’s newest star, New York City congressional candidate Alexandra Ocasio-Cortez, a 28-year-old former bartender who defeated one of the most powerful House Democrats last month.

Her victory fed a flame that was already beginning to burn brighter. The DSA’s paid membership has hovered around 6,000 in the years before Trump’s election, said Allie Cohn, a member of the group’s national political team.

Last week, its paid membership hit 45,000 nationwide.

There is little distinction made between the terms “democratic socialism” and “socialism” in the group’s literature. While Ringelstein and other DSA-backed candidates promote a “big-tent” philosophy, the group’s constitution describes its members as socialists who “reject an economic order based on private profit” and “share a vision of a humane social order based on popular control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships.”

Members during public meetings often refer to each other “comrades,” wear clothing featuring socialist symbols like the rose and promote authors such as Karl Marx.

The common association with the failed Soviet Union has made it difficult for sympathetic liberals to explain their connection.

“I don’t like the term socialist, because people do associate that with bad things in history,” said Kansas congressional candidate James Thompson, who is endorsed by the DSA and campaigned alongside Sanders and Ocasio-Cortez, but is not a dues-paying democratic socialist. “There’s definitely a lot of their policies that closely align with mine.”

Thompson, an Army veteran turned civil rights attorney, is running again after narrowly losing a special election last year to fill the seat vacated by Secretary of State Mike Pompeo. Even in deep-red Kansas, he embraces policies like “Medicare for all” and is openly critical of capitalism.

In Hawaii, 29-year-old state Rep. Kaniela Ing isn’t shy about promoting his status as a democratic socialist in his bid for Congress. He said he was encouraged to run for higher office by the same activist who recruited Ocasio-Cortez.

“We figured just lean in hard,” Ing told the AP of the democratic socialist label. He acknowledged some baby boomers may be scared away, but said the policies democratic socialists promote — like free health care and economic equality — aren’t extreme.

Republicans, meanwhile, are encouraged by the rise of democratic socialism — for a far different reason. They have seized on what they view as a leftward lurch by Democrats they predict will alienate voters this fall and in the 2020 presidential race.

The Republican National Committee eagerly notes that Sanders’ plan to provide free government-sponsored health care for all Americans had no co-sponsors in 2013. Today, more than one-third of Senate Democrats and two-thirds of House Democrats have signed onto the proposal, which by one estimate could cost taxpayers as much as $32 trillion.

The co-sponsors include some 2020 presidential prospects, such as Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren, New Jersey Sen. Cory Booker, New York Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand and California Sen. Kamala Harris.

Those senators aren’t calling themselves democratic socialists but also not disassociating themselves from the movement’s priorities.

Most support the push to abolish ICE, which enforces immigration laws and led the Trump administration’s recent push to separate immigrant families at the U.S.-Mexico border.

Of the group, only Booker hasn’t called for ICE to be abolished, replaced or rebuilt. Yet Booker’s office notes that he’s among the few senators backing a plan to guarantee government-backed jobs to unemployed adults in high-unemployment communities across America.

“Embracing socialist policies like government-run health care, a guaranteed jobs program and open borders will only make Democrats more out of touch,” RNC Chair Ronna Romney McDaniel said.

Despite Ocasio-Cortez’s recent success, most DSA-endorsed candidates have struggled.

Gayle McLaughlin finished eighth in last month’s Democratic primary to become California’s lieutenant governor, earning just 4 percent of the vote. All three endorsed candidates for Maryland’s Montgomery County Council lost last month as well. And Ryan Fenwick was blown out by 58 points in his run to become mayor of Louisville, Kentucky.

Ringelstein, a 32-year-old political neophyte, is expected to struggle in his campaign to unseat Maine Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with Democrats. He is refusing to accept donations from lobbyists or corporate political action committees, which has made fundraising a grind. At the end of June, King’s campaign reported $2.4 million cash on hand while Ringelstein had just $23,000.

He has tapped into the party’s national progressive movement and the southern Maine chapter of the DSA for the kind of grassroots support that fueled Ocasio-Cortez’s victory. As he has done almost every month this year, Ringelstein attended the group’s monthly meeting at Portland’s city hall last Monday.

More than 60 people packed into the room. The group’s chairman, 25-year-old union organizer Meg Reilly, wore a T-shirt featuring three roses.

She cheered the “comrades” softball team’s recent season before moving to an agenda that touched on climate change legislation, a book share program “to further your socialist education,” and an exchange program that lets community members swap favors such as jewelry repair, pet sitting or cooking.

Near the end of the two-hour gathering, Ringelstein thanked the group for “standing shoulder to shoulder with us throughout this entire campaign.”

“We could win a U.S. Senate seat!” he said. “I want to say that over and over. We could win a U.S. Senate seat! So, let’s do this.”

 

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Trump Claims ex-Lawyer’s Phone-taping Is ‘Perhaps Illegal’

President Donald Trump said Saturday that his personal lawyer’s taping of their private phone conversations is “totally unheard of & perhaps illegal.”

Trump was responding to the revelation that former attorney Michael Cohen, weeks before the 2016 election, secretly recorded their discussion of a potential payment for a former Playboy model’s account of having an affair with Trump. He tweeted: “The good news is that your favorite President did nothing wrong!”

The recording was part of a large collection of documents and electronic records seized by federal authorities from the longtime Trump fixer earlier this year.

Cohen had made a practice of recording telephone conversations, unbeknownst to those he was speaking with. New York state law allows for recordings of conversations with only the consent of one party; other jurisdictions require all parties to agree to a recording. It was not immediately clear where Trump and Cohen were located at the time of the call.

Cohen’s recording adds to questions about whether Trump tried to quash damaging stories before the election. Trump’s campaign had said it knew nothing about any payment to ex-centerfold Karen McDougal. It could also further entangle the president in a criminal investigation that for months has targeted Cohen.

The erstwhile Trump loyalist has hired a new attorney, Clinton White House veteran Lanny Davis, and disassociated himself from the president as both remain under investigation. Cohen has not been charged with a crime.

Current Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani said the payment was never made and the brief recording shows Trump did nothing wrong.

“The transaction that Michael is talking about on the tape never took place, but what’s important is: If it did take place, the president said it has to be done correctly and it has to be done by check” to keep a proper record of it, Giuliani said.

Davis said “any attempt at spin cannot change what is on the tape.”

“When the recording is heard, it will not hurt Mr. Cohen,” Davis said in a statement.

The recording was first reported Friday by The New York Times.

The FBI raided Cohen’s office, home and hotel room in April, searching in part for information about payments to McDougal and porn actress Stormy Daniels, who received a $130,000 payment from Cohen before the election to keep quiet about a sexual relationship she says she had with Trump. The FBI investigation is separate from special counsel Robert Mueller’s probe of election interference in 2016 and potential obstruction of justice by those in the president’s orbit.

Referring to that raid, Trump called it “inconceivable that the government would break into a lawyer’s office (early in the morning).” In past comments Trump has also referred to the court-ordered seizure as a “break-in,” though Cohen has been more sanguine, saying the FBI agents were courteous and respectful.

A self-described fixer for Trump for more than a decade, Cohen said last year he would “take a bullet” for Trump. But he told ABC News in an interview broadcast this month that he now puts “family and country first” and won’t let anyone paint him as “a villain of this story.” On Twitter, he scrubbed mentions and photos of Trump from a profile that previously identified him as “Personal attorney to President Donald J. Trump.”

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Iran Leader Backs Suggestion to Block Gulf Oil Exports if Own Sales Stopped

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday backed President Hassan Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are stopped and said negotiations with the United States would be an “obvious mistake.”

Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to looming U.S. sanctions and efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

“(Khamenei) said remarks by the president … that ‘if Iran’s oil is not exported, no regional country’s oil will be exported,’ were important remarks that reflect the policy and the approach of (Iran’s) system,” Khamenei’s official website said.

Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action.

Khamenei used a speech to foreign ministry officials on Saturday to reject any renewed talks with the United States after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

“The word and even the signature of the Americans cannot be relied upon, so negotiations with America are of no avail,” Khamenei said.

It would be an “obvious mistake” to negotiate with the United States as Washington was unreliable, Khamenei added, according to his website.

The endorsement by Khamenei, who has the last word on all major issues of state, is likely to discourage any open opposition to Rouhani’s apparent threat.

Khamenei also voiced support for continued talks with Iran’s European partners in the nuclear deal which are preparing a package of economic measures to offset the U.S. pullout from the

accord.

“Negotiations with the Europeans should not be stopped, but we should not be just waiting for the European package, but instead we should follow up on necessary activities inside the country [against U.S. sanctions],” Khamenei said.

France said earlier this month that it was unlikely European powers would be able to put together an economic package for Iran that would salvage its nuclear deal before November.

Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of new U.S. sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere in the world.

Washington initially planned to totally shut Iran out of global oil markets after Trump abandoned the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, demanding all other countries to stop buying its crude by November.

But it has since somewhat eased its stance, saying that it may grant sanction waivers to some allies that are particularly reliant on Iranian supplies.

 

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Iran Leader Backs Suggestion to Block Gulf Oil Exports if Own Sales Stopped

Iran’s Supreme Leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei on Saturday backed President Hassan Rouhani’s suggestion that Iran may block Gulf oil exports if its own exports are stopped and said negotiations with the United States would be an “obvious mistake.”

Rouhani’s apparent threat earlier this month to disrupt oil shipments from neighboring countries came in reaction to looming U.S. sanctions and efforts by Washington to force all countries to stop buying Iranian oil.

“(Khamenei) said remarks by the president … that ‘if Iran’s oil is not exported, no regional country’s oil will be exported,’ were important remarks that reflect the policy and the approach of (Iran’s) system,” Khamenei’s official website said.

Iranian officials have in the past threatened to block the Strait of Hormuz, a major oil shipping route, in retaliation for any hostile U.S. action.

Khamenei used a speech to foreign ministry officials on Saturday to reject any renewed talks with the United States after President Donald Trump’s decision to withdraw from a 2015 international deal over Iran’s nuclear program.

“The word and even the signature of the Americans cannot be relied upon, so negotiations with America are of no avail,” Khamenei said.

It would be an “obvious mistake” to negotiate with the United States as Washington was unreliable, Khamenei added, according to his website.

The endorsement by Khamenei, who has the last word on all major issues of state, is likely to discourage any open opposition to Rouhani’s apparent threat.

Khamenei also voiced support for continued talks with Iran’s European partners in the nuclear deal which are preparing a package of economic measures to offset the U.S. pullout from the

accord.

“Negotiations with the Europeans should not be stopped, but we should not be just waiting for the European package, but instead we should follow up on necessary activities inside the country [against U.S. sanctions],” Khamenei said.

France said earlier this month that it was unlikely European powers would be able to put together an economic package for Iran that would salvage its nuclear deal before November.

Iran’s oil exports could fall by as much as two-thirds by the end of the year because of new U.S. sanctions, putting oil markets under huge strain amid supply outages elsewhere in the world.

Washington initially planned to totally shut Iran out of global oil markets after Trump abandoned the deal that limited Iran’s nuclear ambitions, demanding all other countries to stop buying its crude by November.

But it has since somewhat eased its stance, saying that it may grant sanction waivers to some allies that are particularly reliant on Iranian supplies.

 

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Facebook Suspends Another Analytics Firm

Facebook says it has suspended working with Boston-based analytics firm Crimson Hexagon until it can determine how the firm collects and shares Facebook and Instagram user data.

Facebook announced the suspension Friday.

The Wall Street Journal was the first to report the suspension and said that one of Crimson Hexagon’s clients is a Russian nonprofit with ties to the Kremlin.

Facebook said that Crimson Hexagon is cooperating with the investigation and there is no evidence that Crimson Hexagon obtained Facebook or Instagram information inappropriately.

“We don’t allow developers to build surveillance tools using information from Facebook or Instagram,” Facebook said in a statement Friday. “We take these allegations seriously and have suspended these apps while we investigate.”

Chris Bingham, Crimson Hexagon’s, chief technology officer, said in a blog Friday his company “only collects publicly available social media data that anyone can access.”

He added, “Government entities that leverage the Crimson Hexagon platform do so for the same reasons as many of our other nongovernment customers: a broad-based and aggregate understanding of the public’s perception, preferences and sentiment about matters of concern to them.”

Earlier this year, it was revealed that Cambridge Analytica inappropriately obtained user data from millions of Facebook users.

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Fashion Industry Reinventing Itself by Embracing the Digital Age

For years denim jeans have been finished in foreign factories where workers use manual and automated techniques such as scraping with sandpaper or other abrasives to make the jeans appear worn and more comfortable to wear. But things are changing in the fashion world. As VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports, fashion companies are going digital to speed up the design and manufacturing process.

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Fashion Industry Reinventing Itself by Embracing the Digital Age

For years denim jeans have been finished in foreign factories where workers use manual and automated techniques such as scraping with sandpaper or other abrasives to make the jeans appear worn and more comfortable to wear. But things are changing in the fashion world. As VOA’s Mariama Diallo reports, fashion companies are going digital to speed up the design and manufacturing process.

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US Sentences 21 People in India Call Center Scam

The U.S. government has sentenced 21 people to jail terms for their involvement in a call center scam based in India that targeted U.S. victims.

The prison sentences for the convicted ranged from 4 to 20 years.

“The stiff sentences imposed this week represent the culmination of the first-ever, large scale, multijurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Friday.

Thousands defrauded

U.S. officials say the call center scam defrauded thousands of U.S. residents of hundreds of millions of dollars. Prosecutors say the Indian call centers used various telephone fraud schemes to defraud mainly vulnerable Americans, including the elderly and legal immigrants.

Justice Department officials say some of the schemes included impersonating employees of the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Officials say the callers duped victims into believing that they owed money to the U.S. government and would be arrested or deported if they did not pay immediately.

Victims were instructed to wire money or purchase stored value cards. Once a victim provided payment, the call centers turned to a network of U.S.-based “runners” who would quickly move the money by using anonymous reloadable cards.

India and US defendants

Prosecutors say Miteshkumar Patel, 42, of Illinois, was the head of a Chicago-based crew of “runners” and also coordinated directly with the Indian side of the conspiracy. He was given the longest prison term of the group — 20 years.

“This case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimization of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public,” Sessions said.

The indictment for the case also charged 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centers with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. Those defendants have not yet been arraigned.

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US Sentences 21 People in India Call Center Scam

The U.S. government has sentenced 21 people to jail terms for their involvement in a call center scam based in India that targeted U.S. victims.

The prison sentences for the convicted ranged from 4 to 20 years.

“The stiff sentences imposed this week represent the culmination of the first-ever, large scale, multijurisdiction prosecution targeting the India call center scam industry,” U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions said in a statement Friday.

Thousands defrauded

U.S. officials say the call center scam defrauded thousands of U.S. residents of hundreds of millions of dollars. Prosecutors say the Indian call centers used various telephone fraud schemes to defraud mainly vulnerable Americans, including the elderly and legal immigrants.

Justice Department officials say some of the schemes included impersonating employees of the Internal Revenue Service or the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.

Officials say the callers duped victims into believing that they owed money to the U.S. government and would be arrested or deported if they did not pay immediately.

Victims were instructed to wire money or purchase stored value cards. Once a victim provided payment, the call centers turned to a network of U.S.-based “runners” who would quickly move the money by using anonymous reloadable cards.

India and US defendants

Prosecutors say Miteshkumar Patel, 42, of Illinois, was the head of a Chicago-based crew of “runners” and also coordinated directly with the Indian side of the conspiracy. He was given the longest prison term of the group — 20 years.

“This case represents one of the most significant victories to date in our continuing efforts to combat elder fraud and the victimization of the most vulnerable members of the U.S. public,” Sessions said.

The indictment for the case also charged 32 India-based conspirators and five India-based call centers with general conspiracy, wire fraud conspiracy, and money laundering conspiracy. Those defendants have not yet been arraigned.

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