Following last night's State of the Union address, President Obama visits the Linamar Corporation in Ashville, N.C., to deliver remarks about strengthening the economy for the middle class Americans.
Watch live, broadcast on Feb. 13.
Following last night's State of the Union address, President Obama visits the Linamar Corporation in Ashville, N.C., to deliver remarks about strengthening the economy for the middle class Americans.
Watch live, broadcast on Feb. 13.
Of course, in the midst of the late Friday afternoon media feeding frenzy over the release of the Justice Department search warrant and inventory of what was taken by the FBI from Mar-a-Lago, Donald Trump issued a statement claiming "it was all declassified."
According to the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times, the classified treasure trove removed from Trump's Florida manse on Monday included 11 sets of documents, "some marked as 'classified/TD/SCI' documents — shorthand for 'top/secretive/sensitive compartmentalized information."
As soon as the news broke about the FBI raid, Republican partisans declared it was a political witch hunt. With no confirmed information of what the agents were looking for, they began imputing the most corrupt motives possible to these public servants. Just as in the lead up to the Jan. 6 insurrection, Trump and the right-wing media whipped the infantry up to a lather, with predictable results. On Thursday morning, a man later identified as 42-year-old Ricky W. Shiffer turned up at the Cincinnati FBI field office with a nail gun and as AR-15 style rifle. After firing off the nail gun in an attempt to breach the FBI office he drove off, and a police chase ensued followed by a six hour standoff, which ended with police shooting Shiffer dead after less lethal strategies failed.
Shifter reportedly was part of the mob at the U.S. Capitol on Jan. 6, 2021. He was locked and loaded. Even now, more than 18 months after Trump kneecapped the Biden transition and carried out a multi-pronged attack on the peaceful transition of power, his partisans are casting the former president as a victim. They are also going to great lengths to encourage America's distrust of institutions, including the Justice Department, the FBI and the IRS.
"The FBI raid on President Trump's personal residence is unprecedented and raises a number of concerns about the power of the ruling party to investigate its political opponents," wrote Bob Hugin, chairman of the New Jersey Republican State Committee. "Just this week, Democrats here in New Jersey voted to fund another 87,000 new IRS agents. Make no mistake about it: this new robust agency will harass small business owners, political adversaries, and law-abiding Americans. It is more essential than ever to elect a Republican Congress this November to put an end to one-party rule."
How did we come to this nadir, where the DOJ must go to a judge to sign a warrant so the FBI can search the residence of a former president? I flash back to that hot July night in Cleveland, at the 2016 Republican National Convention, when then-New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie delivered an ad hominem attack on Hillary Clinton, during which delegates devolved into a mob yelling, "Lock her up! Lock her up!"
I was on the floor of the convention, at the lip of the stage, as Christie threw the red meat out to the vengeful crowd. I knew in that instant that America would never be the same because the Republican Party's glue, what now held it together, was an anger and a sense of grievance that Christie channeled as he played judge, jury and executioner, with the howling mob as his Greek chorus.
He relished it. In all my years of covering political conventions, I had never heard a more incendiary speech.
Since then Christie has attempted to pirouette away from his persona as Trump's hatchet man. But he told America that night in Cleveland that Trump was "not only a strong leader but a caring, genuine and decent person."
I was on the floor of the convention as Chris Christie flung the red meat out to the vengeful crowd. I knew in that instant that America would never be the same.
"I am here tonight not only as the governor of New Jersey, but also as Donald Trump's friend for the last 14 years," he said. Christie was an early booster of Trump's candidacy and as former chairman of the Republican Governors' Association lent Trump some legitimacy to compensate for his thin political résumé.
Christie suggested that since the Department of Justice under Barack Obama had refused to prosecute Clinton, he would use his speech to allow the American people to be "a jury of her peers, both in this hall and in living rooms around our nation," in order to "hold her accountable for her performance and her character."
He took policy choices of the Obama administration, executed by Hillary Clinton as secretary of state, tossed in the supposed issue of how she handled her work emails and then hit the juicer button on his rhetorical blender.
He went on to blame Clinton for the status of every global hotspot. Just as Trump would do with his attack on the integrity of election officials, Christie, himself a former Justice Department employee, sought to undermine the DOJ's legitimacy for not prosecuting Clinton.
It was Strongman 101: Your institutions are rotten — only the junta will manifest your will!
"Since the Justice Department refuses to allow you to render a verdict, let's present the case now, on the facts, against Hillary Clinton," Christie said. "She was America's chief diplomat. Look around at the violence and danger in our world today. Every region of the world has been infected with her flawed judgment."
Rereading this speech offers some real ironies, in light of how Trump actually governed as president. Christie took Clinton to task for going easy on Vladimir Putin by "going to the Kremlin on her very first visit" and giving him "the symbolic reset button. The button should have read 'delete.' She is very good at that, because she deleted in four years what it took 40 years to build."
In the years since Christie recommended him, Trump pitted blue states against red states, dividing a nation as it faced a once-in-a-century mass death event and badly needed cohesion. And when weary voters overwhelmingly rejected him, he obstructed the orderly transition of power and plotted a multi-faceted insurrection to derail the peaceful transition of power.
And as we saw on Jan. 6, 2021, this particular strain of self-righteous Republican politics, which Christie's 2016 speech helped spawn, is capable of seizing the U.S. Capitol and building a gallows. Now, as the justice system finally attempts to hold Trump accountable, Republican members of Congress openly call for "defunding the FBI."
A jury in California has convicted a former worker at Twitter of spying for Saudi Arabia by providing the kingdom private information about Saudi dissidents. The spying effort led to the arrest, torture and jailing of Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who ran an anonymous satirical Twitter account. His sister, Areej al-Sadhan, and the lawyer for the family, Jim Walden, are calling on the Biden administration to push for his release. “The brutality of the Saudi officials have no limits,” says Areej al-Sadhan. “Twitter and other social media companies have more than a little responsibility for what’s happening, not just with respect to Abdulrahman’s case and the case of other disappeared Saudi human rights activists and outspoken dissidents, but across a much broader array of misconduct,” says Walden.
This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.
AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman.
A jury in California has convicted a former Twitter employee of spying for Saudi Arabia by providing the kingdom private information about Saudi dissidents. Prosecutors accused the man, Ahmad Abouammo, of taking hundreds of thousands of dollars from a close aide of Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman in exchange for information about 6,000 Twitter accounts. One of the accounts belonged to the Saudi aid worker Abdulrahman al-Sadhan, who ran an anonymous satirical account critical of the Saudi kingdom. Four years ago, he was abducted by the secret Saudi police, tortured and sentenced to 20 years in prison.
The jury’s decision comes just weeks after President Biden traveled to Saudi Arabia to meet with Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman. The two men greeted each other with a fist bump.
We’re joined now by Abdulrahman al-Sadhan’s sister, Areej al-Sadhan, as well as Jim Walden, who’s an attorney for the al-Sadhan family.
Areej, let’s begin with you. Talk about what happened to your brother and how this relates to this jury finding this Twitter worker guilty of providing information about Twitter users to Saudi Arabia.
AREEJ AL-SADHAN: Yeah, absolutely. First of all, thank you so much for having me.
So, when I first heard the verdict, I couldn’t help but think about the suffering that my brother have went through all these years, and the suffering of my family and the many other families who are a victim of this hacking.
So, four years ago — more than four years ago, my brother was kidnapped from his work at the Red Cross in Riyadh and disappeared for years and deprived of any communication or even access to legal counsel. During his disappearance, he was brutally tortured with electric shocks, beatings, sleep deprivation. They broke his hand and smashed his fingers, saying, “This is the hand you tweet with.” My brother ended up in the intensive care unit for days, for almost a week, fighting for his life, as a result of the torture.
And only after three years of disappearance and held without any charge, he was brought to a secret sham trial, where he got sentenced to 20 years imprisonment, followed by 20 years travel ban, for running a satirical Twitter account. That same Twitter account was part of the Saudi government list of Twitter accounts that they wanted to hack.
And as we’ve seen from this case, this verdict, it represents a step forward towards accountability. But yet, still it’s not justice, because my brother is still disappeared. We have no communication whatsoever with my brother at all. We’ve been deprived completely from any communication with my brother. He’s been held in solitary confinement for years, deprived of any contact with us at all.
AMY GOODMAN: So, what kind of recourse do you have right now? And have you been in touch with the Biden administration, not to mention the leadership at Twitter?
AREEJ AL-SADHAN: Yeah, absolutely. So, I’ve been in contact with the U.S. officials continuously about my brother’s case. The recent visit of President Biden to Saudi Arabia — unfortunately, there haven’t been any improvement to human rights. My brother continues to be disappeared. We haven’t been able to communicate with him at all. And instead from President Biden promising to improve human rights and make human rights the center of his foreign policy, instead he rewarded MBS with a fist bump, basically validating MBS on the world stage, emboldening MBS to commit more human rights abuses against our families, our loved ones and against many innocent people. It is really terrifying for us and many other victims out there of this brutal regime. And unfortunately, so far we haven’t heard any news or any update about my brother’s case. He continues to be disappeared. We have no communication whatsoever with my brother.
AMY GOODMAN: In a statement, the U.S. attorney for the Northern District of California, Stephanie Hinds, said, quote, “In this case, the government demonstrated, and the jury found, that Abouammo violated a sacred trust to keep private personal information from Twitter’s customers and sold private customer information to a foreign government. … As this case demonstrates, we will not tolerate the misuse of personal information or attempts by foreign governments to recruit secret, malign agents at American technology companies.” Do you hold out hope that this will be the case?
AREEJ AL-SADHAN: I absolutely hold hope for, definitely. And just to mention, Abouammo is only the symptom, the symptom of a much bigger problem. The targeting of activists and anyone who is at all speaking up or doing any human rights activism is very risky from — you know, the Saudi government will target anyone and will use any mean they can. As we’ve seen, they’ve used a U.S. company here, based in the U.S., to target activists in the U.S. and also in other places around the world. Part of that, they will go to lengths to kidnap people, even murder people, to silence them.
So, Abouammo is only one person, but there are many others out there who are still free and who are still targeting people. And as we’ve seen, Abouammo received orders directly from Bader al-Asaker, who is the right-hand man of MBS, asking him personally to hack these accounts and to leak their personal information. If that didn’t happen, my brother wouldn’t be in prison today, tortured and disappeared and deprived of any communication with us completely.
So, the risks are really high. And as even me, personally, for speaking up, I get targeted and harassed continuously online by Saudi agents, who are trying to silence me so I don’t speak about the human rights abuses in Saudi Arabia.
AMY GOODMAN: Jim Walden, what responsibility does Twitter have in protecting users’ information about abusive regimes? After reaching the verdict, one juror reportedly told Abouammo’s lawyers that she wanted Twitter to bear, quote, “a little more responsibility for this.”
JIM WALDEN: Well, first of all, Amy, thank you for having me on.
And I would say that Twitter and other social media companies have more than a little responsibility for what’s happening, not just with respect to Abdulrahman’s case and the case of other disappeared Saudi human rights activists and outspoken dissidents, but across a much broader array of misconduct. I mean, let’s be clear: These social media companies have set up Trojan horses here on U.S. soil. This is not Fancy Bear in a bunker outside of Moscow or a similar bunker outside of Riyadh. This is domains here in the United States that are being invaded by mal actors for lots of different purposes, whether it is to influence our elections, to commit fraud, to enhance transnational repression, as was true with respect to Abdulrahman.
And if the social media companies cannot police themselves and cannot put up structures to prevent this kind of action from happening — not even outside of their businesses, inside their businesses — then Congress needs to act with more robustness and verve to create regulations to require social media companies to have a meaningful compliance system — if you will, an internal police force — to guard against this kind of action happening again.
AMY GOODMAN: Speaking to The New York Times, a Twitter spokesperson said the company had cooperated with law enforcement during the trial of Ahmad Abouammo. Twitter security executive Seth Wilson testified at the trial that Abouammo’s breach of users’ confidential information had been inappropriate. After the verdict was delivered, Wilson tweeted, “Been a long road to get to this conviction. Appreciate the efforts of so many to see that justice was done.” But how high up was — I mean, while it was tried to — some tried to say this is a low-level Twitter employee. It looks like, looking at The New York Times, lawyers for Mr. Abouammo described him as merely a Twitter employee who had been doing his job. Other media partnership managers — other media partnership managers at Twitter also developed close relationships with influential people who used the platform and provided white-glove service, helping them become verified on Twitter, handling their complaints about impersonators and troublesome accounts. Can you talk more about their responsibility?
JIM WALDEN: I can. And the only thing that I agree with him about is that the Department of Justice deserves a lot of credit for aggressively going after this one person.
But the question still remains: Why — if he was a low-level person, what the hell is he doing with the personal data of the user? Why is a low-level Twitter employee allowed to get access to the part of the system that allows them to go beyond the handle and find the information of the actual person who’s using their account? Anonymous posting is obviously permitted. That should be something that’s behind a firewall, that is protected from Twitter’s employees, and that only people with certain clearance have access to. And Twitter clearly did not have any sort of firewall to prevent that information from getting in the wrong hands, and look what happened. It did.
And what did it result in? It resulted in an aid worker, who was running an account with satire, getting arrested, tortured systematically, deprived of legal counsel, isolated from his family, and now subject to a 20-year prison sentence. Right? This is the most un-American activity you can possibly imagine.
And for Twitter to say that it did enough by cooperating after the fact is simply nonsense. They were obligated to cooperate. And moreover, it was in their PR interest to cooperate so that they could look like they were good citizens. If they were good citizens, they would have a compliance structure where a user’s anonymous information is not generally available to Twitter employees, it is behind a protected firewall, and only high-level people with clearance for a specific purpose can access that information.
AMY GOODMAN: Areej al-Sadhan, can you talk about what you’re doing now to have your brother freed? Is it true that they broke his hand, smashed his fingers, saying, “This is the hand you tweet with. This is the hand you write with”?
AREEJ AL-SADHAN: Yes, yes, definitely. The brutality of the Saudi officials have no limits, unfortunately. Just like we’ve seen with the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi, there are thousands who are being brutally tortured. Unfortunately, my brother is one of them. He was brutally tortured, to the point that they broke his hand, saying, “This is the hand you tweet with.” And he almost lost his life as part of the torture, the brutal torture he was going through. And on top of that, they left him in solitary confinement for years, basically just to add to the — more to the torture, the psychological torture of depriving him of any communication with us or even having access to any fair legal counsel.
So, what I’ve been doing is I’ve been speaking as much as I can publicly about the abuses that is happening to us, as personally to my family, and specifically to my brother, and to many — to also the other cases that I learn about along this journey. So, the only option was left for me is just to come out and speak out about the abuses. We’ve been silent for a year, hoping that the Saudi government will be — will respond to our questions. But, unfortunately, they’ve been ignoring and ignoring us, and there was no response or no help at all from their end. So I had no option but to start speaking out publicly, which was a huge risk, of course, because I continuously receive threats to silence me.
So, the one thing that we — I can do or we can do is to keep speaking up and to ask for action from our U.S. government to take action against these human rights abuses. I’ve been trying to reach out to the Biden administration personally to highlight my brother’s case. And they are, of course, aware of my brother’s case, among many other cases, especially of U.S. families who suffered from human rights abuses. But so far, we haven’t seen action from the Biden administration. My brother is still disappeared. We need a clear demand from the Saudi government to release my brother and all the other innocent people who are detained for no reason except for exercising their right to freedom of speech.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, we want to thank you so much for being with us, and we will continue to follow your brother’s case, as well as others. Areej al-Sadhan is the sister of the humanitarian aid worker, online activist Abdulrahman al-Sadhan. And Jim Walden is the lawyer for the al-Sadhan family. We thank you both so much.
Coming up, we speak to Walden Bello, the longtime Filipino activist, former vice-presidential candidate. He was arrested in the Philippines on Monday on “cyber libel” charges. Stay with us.
National Education Association president Becky Pringle on Thursday warned that the U.S. teacher shortage has spiraled into a "five-alarm crisis," with nearly 300,000 teaching and support positions left unfilled and policymakers taking desperate—and in some cases, questionable—measures to staff classrooms.
Pringle told ABC News that teachers unions have been warning for years that chronic disinvestment in schools has placed untenable pressure on educators as they face low pay and overcrowded classrooms.
"The political situation in the United States, combined with legitimate aftereffects of Covid, has created this shortage."
"We have a crisis in the number of students who are going into the teaching profession and the number of teachers who are leaving it," Pringle told the outlet. "But, of course, as with everything else, the pandemic just made it worse."
As a survey taken by the NEA earlier this year showed, 91% of educators said pandemic-related stress and burnout is a "serious problem" in the profession, and 55% reported they plan to leave their profession earlier than originally planned.
Chronically low pay is a problem in the profession which was well-documented prior to the pandemic, and educators across the country report it is a contributing factor as teachers leave schools. The national average salary for teachers is $64,000, but in states including Mississippi, South Dakota, and Florida, many educators earn far less.
As The Week reported on Monday, teachers in Arizona are paid an average of $52,000 per year as they face one of the highest teacher-to-student ratios in the nation.
"I do think the main root cause of the teacher shortage is pay," Justin Wing of the Arizona School Personnel Administrators Association told Fox 10 Phoenix, adding that the state has a "very concerning" shortage of 2,200 teachers.
While advocates have for years called on state lawmakers to invest heavily in schools in order to recruit and retain highly qualified educators—with Arizona teachers staging a walkout in 2018 after legislators passed corporate tax cuts that would have left the state $100 million short—Republican leaders this year have turned to other methods of keeping classrooms sufficiently staffed.
On Thursday, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis unveiled the state's official website recruiting veterans to help fill in the gaps in schools. Former armed service members do not need a bachelor's degree to teach the state's children—in keeping with a trend across the country, as at least 12 states have changed or eliminated their licensing requirements for educators in the last year, according to the National Council on Teacher Quality.
According to the Florida Education Association, students in the state are approaching the school year with 8,000 teacher vacancies compared with 5,000 in 2021.
Andrew Spar, the union's president, told NBC affiliate WPTV that the shortage is directly linked to other initiatives pushed by DeSantis, including H.B. 1557, commonly called the "Don't Say Gay" law, which bars teachers from discussing gender identity and sexual orientation in classrooms up to third grade. DeSantis's spokesperson said in March that anyone opposed to the bill was "probably a groomer" or wouldn't "denounce the grooming of 4-8-year old children."
The Republican governor also signed H.B. 7, which bars teachers from instructing students about racism and "white privilege."
"When the governor goes around the state vilifying teachers and staff in our schools—and, let's face it, that's what he's doing—he's sending a message to teachers and staff that you don't matter," Spar told WPTV. "They are then leaving the profession."
Republicans in more than a dozen states have proposed laws controlling what teachers can talk about with their students, contributing to a teacher shortage that American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten called "contrived" earlier this month.
"The political situation in the United States, combined with legitimate aftereffects of Covid, has created this shortage," Weingarten told The Washington Post.
Pringle told ABC News that teachers are even more strained than they before the pandemic as they try to support families who are under new financial stress:
We encourage everyone to continue to push to make sure their school districts... use the American Rescue funds, to make sure that the schools have the resources that students need. And parents and families don't have to supply as much as they have been.
We also know there is an increase in the number of dollars that teachers are pulling out from their own pockets, taking away from their own families, to try to meet those needs and those gaps that have been exacerbated by the pandemic, from food crisis to housing crisis, healthcare crisis.
Pringle added that teachers need "professional respect" to stay in their profession.
"For them that is three things," she said. "Professional authority to make teaching and learning decisions for their students. Professional rights to have the conditions and resources to do the jobs they love. And professional pay that reflects the importance of the work they do."