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Baseball Sport

Players’ Union Pushes Back on M.L.B.’s Portrayal of Astros Investigation


PORT ST. LUCIE, Fla. — The head of the M.L.B. players’ union said on Wednesday that the league had initially indicated that it did not intend to punish any Houston Astros players as a result of its investigation into their sign-stealing scheme, contradicting a claim by Commissioner Rob Manfred.

As players have reported to spring training this week, many have criticized the lack of punishment for members of the 2017 Astros team, which was found to have illegally stolen signs electronically on its way to a World Series title.

At a news conference in Arizona on Tuesday, Manfred tried to place some of the blame with the M.L.B. Players Association, saying that the league had originally requested to provide immunity to only a small group of Astros hitters in exchange for their cooperation with the investigation, but that the union had asked for immunity for all involved players.

“The union indicated to us that that would be a problem,” Manfred said. “We went back and suggested to them we would give them an initial list of people — players — that we would grant immunity to, preserving our ability to discipline other players. And the union came back and said that players would cooperate only if there was blanket immunity.”

But late Tuesday, the union pushed back against that characterization in a statement from Tony Clark, its executive director. “Any suggestion that the association failed to cooperate with the commissioner’s investigation, obstructed the investigation, or otherwise took positions which led to a stalemate in the investigation is completely untrue,” the statement said.

M.L.B., the union’s statement said, had “said from the outset that it was not its intention to discipline players.”

Clark elaborated on that statement Wednesday morning at the Mets’ spring training facility. He said that M.L.B. had told the union on Nov. 13, the day after the Astros’ cheating scheme was revealed in a report in The Athletic, that the league would want to interview players as part of the investigation but that it had no intention of disciplining players.

Clark said that he had confirmed this again before the interviews with Astros players began.

“The conversations started with their lack of interest in disciplining players and our legal obligation to accept that,” Clark said. “Our role and our right and our responsibility in the conversation is protecting those rights of every player.”

“Our role is not to discipline players,” he said, adding later: “Any conversation about player discipline has to be very specific in respect to what is a violation and what isn’t.”

Clark said that he was not surprised that players around the major leagues were upset over the scandal. In his statement Tuesday night, he said that the union had discussed proposals with M.L.B. that could potentially allow for player discipline over issues like sign stealing.

But Clark added on Wednesday that players should remember the union defended the rights of every player, and that he was not going to apologize for doing so.

He also expressed hope that the players could use their anger to fuel conversations about the future of the sport. He met with Mets players for close to two hours on Wednesday, and he plans to have similar meetings with other teams throughout spring training.

“The focus now moving forward is: OK, so what does that look like?” Clark said. “I think everybody and every player that we talk to has no interest in what we’ve seen manifest itself here manifesting again.”

One solution, Clark said, might be to censor what in-game video teams are able to access by providing only certain views or angles, which would prevent teams from seeing opposing catchers’ signs.

Mets outfielder Michael Conforto, who is the team’s union representative, said it was important to take a measured approach to changes. Some players, he noted, like to go into the video room during games to look at their timing and swing, while other players, such as Conforto, avoid doing so.

“There’s a lot of talk about trying to find a common ground.” he said. “I think the attitude was to not overdo it and completely shut everything down.”

Conforto said the team was unified by the end of the meeting with Clark, and that they were focusing on protecting the game for future generations.

“The bottom line is: No matter what we do, we want an even playing field no matter what,” Conforto said. “The attitudes in here and around baseball, it’s clear that we didn’t feel like there was an even playing field.”



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Video

Trump State of the Union guests never benefitted from policies he used them to boast about



Two people Donald Trump invited to his State of the Union address have little to do with the policies that he brought them there to amplify.

A Philadelphia fourth grader was surprised with a scholarship after the president highlighted his administration’s attempts to rescue students “trapped in failing government schools” with $5bn (£3.8bn) in federal tax credits for contributions to scholarship programmes. But Janiyah Davis already attends a sought-after tuition-free charter school and previously attended a $5,200-a-year private school.

The president invited a formerly homeless veteran to tout the success of a programme that provides tax breaks to companies hiring in poor neighbourhoods. But Tony Rankins doesn’t work at a site taking advantage of the breaks and never has done so, according to the Associated Press.


Critics have criticised the president for relying on his two guests to manipulate support for significant tax breaks for wealthy people that would support his signature proposals.

At his State of the Union address, the president said: “After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house and his family. He was homeless. But then Tony found a construction company that invests in Opportunity Zones … He is now a top tradesman, drug-free, reunited with his family.”

 

A few days later, the president spoke at the Opportunity Now summit in North Carolina to sing the programme’s success, even inviting Mr Rankins to that event as well.

Mr Trump said: “One of the Americans benefitting from this gusher of new investment is a man who became very famous the other night because I introduced him during the State of the Union: Army veteran Tony Rankins of Cincinnati, Ohio. … After struggling with drug addiction, Tony lost his job, his house, his family. And he was homeless. He lost everything. But then Tony found a construction company that does work in Opportunity Zones. And the company saw Tony’s great skill and talent.”

Mr Rankins thanked the president for signing the legislation, saying that “without it, I wouldn’t be standing here before you right now”.

The president said that the construction business where Mr Rankins is employed “is working to help 200 people rise out of homelessness every year by investing in the Opportunity Zones”.

Mr Rankins started a job four months before the US Treasury Department listed eligible neighbourhoods. He’s currently working at a site that is eligible for Opportunity Zone credits but has not used them, the Associated Press reports.

Travis Steffans, the CEO of the company that Mr Rankins works for, said the tax break that has routinely helped him employ people like Mr Rankins was passed in 1996 under then-president Bill Clinton.

The Opportunity Zone program, part of the president’s 2017 tax package, offers developers significant tax savings if they work in 8,000 designated poor neighbourhoods. But critics warn that the programme stands only to benefit wealthy developers while fuelling gentrification and pushing out the black families that the president said would benefit most from the programme.

Mr Trump’s “school choice” proposal provides up to $5 billion in federal tax credits to effectively use taxpayer money to support private school education, without adjusting a budget for public schools, largely attended by more students from lower-income families than private schools that require significant tuition fees. 

Janiyah’s mother Stephanie Davis told The Philadelphia Inquirer that she doesn’t view her daughter’s current school  “as a school you want to get out of at all. I view it as a great opportunity”.



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Business Media & Advertising

TV Ratings Declined for Trump’s State of the Union Speech


“It’s a pretty dramatic and grave moment, and as far as the political impact, I think you’d have to say that Donald Trump is better off now than he was when this impeachment process began,” the anchor Chris Wallace said on Fox News afterward.

On MSNBC, post-acquittal, the mood was melancholic.

“The stain will always be on this presidency,” said Eugene Robinson, a political analyst and Washington Post columnist. Claire McCaskill, the former Democratic Missouri senator, commended politically vulnerable Democrats who voted guilty for their “courageous stand,” adding, “I’m very proud of them all.”

The final vote was preceded by another dose of TV drama, when Senator Mitt Romney, Republican of Utah, revealed that he would vote to convict Mr. Trump on both counts.

Mr. Romney, it emerged, had taped a sit-down with Mr. Wallace on Fox News earlier on Wednesday morning and granted advance interviews about his decision to The Atlantic and The New York Times, among a handful of news outlets. It was a deft public-relations move by Mr. Romney, the former Republican presidential nominee, that apparently caught the White House off guard.

The static, lo-fi images of the Senate floor vote were in stark contrast to the high production values of Mr. Trump’s State of the Union, where cameras swooped above the audience and zoomed in on the facial reactions of politicians.

That was because the Republican Senate leadership restricted television coverage of their proceedings to in-house, government-controlled cameras, rather than allowing independent news outlets like C-SPAN to cover the trial.

As for the State of the Union, Nielsen said that social media engagement with the speech peaked just after its conclusion, at 10:31 p.m., when House Speaker Nancy Pelosi tore up her copy of the president’s speech in full view of the cameras — her own contribution to the evening’s series of meme-worthy moments.

John Koblin contributed reporting.



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Business

Trump Promotes Low Unemployment and Rising Wages in State of the Union


Job growth has slowed sharply — from 2.6 percent at the start of 2019 to 1.3 percent at the end of the year — in so-called middle-wage sectors that include mining, construction and transportation, according to calculations by Nick Bunker, an economist at the Indeed Hiring Lab. That blue-collar slowdown is driving the deceleration of job growth across the United States economy.

Mr. Trump’s policies have also not revived employment in coal mining, as he promised; the sector lost 1,000 jobs nationwide in 2019, according to the Labor Department. Primary metals manufacturing, which includes the steel and aluminum industries that Mr. Trump claimed to have restored with tariffs, shed about 12,000 jobs in 2019.

Employment growth in manufacturing, which Mr. Trump promoted in his speech last year, slowed to fewer than 50,000 jobs in 2019 — the worst rate of his presidency and the second worst of the long recovery from recession.

Mr. Trump nodded implicitly to that slowdown in his speech on Tuesday night. Last year, he claimed, incorrectly, that the United States had created 600,000 factory jobs during his tenure. On Tuesday, he revised that number down to “half a million,” which is the correct figure.

Many economists blame the economy’s deceleration on the trade wars Mr. Trump has waged with China and other countries that send steel, aluminum, washing machines and solar panels to the United States.

Economic growth slowed to 2.3 percent last year, according to data released last month by the Commerce Department. That is a percentage point less than what Mr. Trump’s advisers predicted for the year. Across Mr. Trump’s three years in office, growth has never reached the 3 percent rate that administration forecasters have projected. It has fallen well short of Mr. Trump’s campaign promises of 4, 5 or even 6 percent annual rates.

Independent economists expect only modest growth this year from the initial trade deal that Mr. Trump reached with China and the revamped North American trade pact that he signed last week.



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Video

State of the Union: Trump interrupted by chanting as Pelosi rips up address on live TV



Senate hears impeachment trial’s closing arguments

 

The Senate meanwhile heard closing arguments from House impeachment managers and the president’s legal team yesterday, with Adam Schiff calling the defendant “a man without character or ethical compass” and imploring opposition senators to vote according to their consciences: “You are decent. He is not who you are.”

 

Monday’s session saw the House prosecutors directing their remarks more towards history than any last ditch bid to sway the outcome, taking their one final chance to influence public opinion and set the record ahead of Trump’s expected acquittal in the Republican-led Senate on Wednesday.

The House Democrats drew on the Founding Fathers and common sense to urge senators – and Americans – to see that the president’s actions are not isolated but a pattern of behavior that, left unchecked, will allow him to “cheat”‘ in the 2020 election.

Schiff called on those few Republican senators who have acknowledged Trump’s wrongdoing in the Ukraine matter to prevent a “runaway presidency” and stand up to say “enough.”

“For a man like Donald J Trump, they gave you a remedy and meant for you to use it. They gave you an oath, and they meant for you to observe it,” he said. “We have proven Donald Trump guilty. Now do impartial justice and convict him.”

The president’s defence countered the Democrats have been out to impeach Trump since the start of his presidency, nothing short of an effort to undo the 2016 election and to try to shape the next one. “Leave it to the voters to choose,” said White House counsel Pat Cipollone, again calling for an end to the partisan “era of impeachment.”

 

All that’s left, as the Senate prepares to acquit Trump on charges that he abused power and obstructed Congress, is for Americans to decide now and in the November election, as the third presidential impeachment trial in the nation’s history comes to a close.

Most senators acknowledge the House Democratic managers have essentially proven their case. Trump was impeached in December on two charges: that he abused his power like no other president in history when he pushed Ukraine to investigate rival Democrats, and he then obstructed Congress by instructing aides to defy House subpoenas.

But key Republicans have decided the president’s actions toward Ukraine do not rise to the level of impeachable offence that warrants the dramatic political upheaval of conviction and removal from office. His acquittal in Wednesday’s vote is all but assured.

Republican senators Lamar Alexander of Tennessee, Marco Rubio of Florida and Rob Portman of Ohio are among those who acknowledged the inappropriateness of Trump’s actions, but said they would not vote to hear more testimony or to convict.

 

“What message does that send? ” asked Democrat Hakeem Jeffries. He warned senators that for Trump, the “past is prologue.” He urged the Senate to realise its failure to convict will “allow the president’s misconduct to stand.”

The House Democrats unveiled a striking case centered on Trump’s personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, running an alternative foreign policy that drew alarm at the highest levels. As part of the “scheme,” Trump held up $391m (£302m) in US aid from Ukraine, a fragile ally battling Russia, for his personal political gain, they argued. The money was eventually released after Congress intervened.

As Chief Justice John Roberts presided, the House managers opened with a plea from Jason Crow, a freshman Colorado Democrat and former Army Ranger: “We cannot and should not leave our common sense at the door.”

 

One by one, the Democrats drew on their life experiences to remind senators, and Americans, of the simple difference between right and wrong in the case against Trump. Val Demings, a former police chief, argued that the president is not behaving like someone who is innocent. She warned that if senators do not convict, Trump will try to “cheat” again ahead of 2020.

“You will send a terrible message to the nation that one can get away with abuse of power, cheating and spreading of false narratives,” she told them.

Before Trump’s celebrity defence mounted its closing argument, the president himself already registered his views on Twitter, where he decried the whole thing – as he often does – as a “hoax.”

Ken Starr, the former prosecutor whose investigation led to Bill Clinton’s impeachment, complained about the inadequacy of the House prosecutors’ “fast track” case.

 

Trump attorney Jay Sekulow showed political clips of Democrats calling for impeachment – with many lawmakers of colour, including Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a top Republican foil – to argue this was the “first totally partisan presidential impeachment in our nation’s history, and it should be our last.”

One key Trump lawyer, Alan Dershowitz, who was forced to walk back a sweeping defense of presidential power in last week’s arguments, did not appear.

Trump had wanted his acquittal secured before he arrived at the Capitol for his State of the Union address on Tuesday evening, but that will not happen. Senators carrying the power of their votes to the history books wanted additional time to make their own arguments, in public speeches from the floor of the Senate. Those began on Monday afternoon and were expected to continue until Wednesday’s vote.

 

The trial unfolded over nearly two weeks and reached a decisive moment last Friday when senators voted against calling witnesses and documents. Key Republicans said they had heard enough. It becomes the first impeachment trial in the nation’s more than 200-year history without any witnesses.

Even new revelations from John Bolton, the former White House national security adviser, whose forthcoming book discloses his firsthand account of Trump ordering the investigations, did not impress upon senators the need for more testimony.

Bolton said he would appear if he received a subpoena, but GOP senators said the House should have issued the summons and the Senate did not want to prolong the proceedings.

Prosecutors relied on a 28,000-page report compiled over three months of proceedings in the Democratic-controlled House, including public and private testimony from 17 witnesses, among them current and former ambassadors and national security officials with close proximity to the Ukraine dealings.

The case stems from Trump’s 25 July call with Ukraine that he maintains was “perfect.” A government whistleblower alarmed by the call filed a complaint that sparked the inquiry.

 

Here’s John T Bennett’s report on yesterday’s proceedings.

 



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Lifestyle Style

State of the Union: Why Democratic women are wearing white



Many Democratic women are wearing white at the 2020 State of the Union as Donald Trump gives his address to the nation. 

The colour is in tribute to women’s suffrage, a century after they won the right to vote in the US. Speaker of the house Nancy Pelosi is among those wearing white.

The Nineteenth Amendment – which says all US citizens have the right to vote regardless of their sex – became part of the constitution in August 1920.


Several Democrats did this at last year’s address in a silent but powerful protest against gender inequality. 

As well as wearing ‘suffrage white’, some in attendance have green Equal Rights Amendment pins on ahead of an expected House vote on the issue this month.

Others are sporting red-white-and-blue-striped lapel pins to highlight climate change.

Several notable Democrats are boycotting this year’s State of the Union, many of whom wore white last year. 

Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez announced she would not be attending the ceremony because of President Trump’s “lawless conduct and subversion of the Constitution.”

“None of this is normal, and I will not legitimize it,” Ms Ocasio-Cortez posted on her Twitter account.

 In addition to her Ayanna Pressley, Al Green, Earl Blumenauer, Steve Cohen and Joe Wilson have all said they are not attending.

Additional reporting by agencies



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Asia Pacific World

Coronavirus, State of the Union, Iowa: Your Wednesday Briefing


(Want to get this briefing by email? Here’s the sign-up.)

Good morning.

We’re covering regional fallout from the coronavirus, the lead-up to the State of the Union address and confusion and chaos in the Iowa caucuses.

A 39-year-old man in Hong Kong became the second person to die from the new coronavirus outside mainland China. He had traveled last month to Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak, and had an underlying health condition: diabetes. Here are the latest updates.

The virus has spread to some two dozen countries and territories and sickened more than 20,000 in Asia. At least 427 people have died, including a man in the Philippines over the weekend.

Other developments: Hong Kong has closed many, though not all, crossings with the mainland. Macau, the gambling hub that’s also a semiautonomous region of China, said it would shut its casinos for two weeks, and Japan quarantined a passenger ship with 3,700 people aboard. Hyundai said that it was suspending operations at factories because of supply-chain disruption. Travelers have been struggling to get refunds on canceled flights.

Political dangers: China’s state-run news media reported that President Xi Jinping on Monday called the outbreak “a major test of China’s system and capacity for governance.” China is turning to familiar authoritarian techniques to contain the outbreak, including asking neighbors to inform on one another. And it is making herculean efforts to keep the country fed amid food hoarding.

Analysis: Our New New World columnist, Li Yuan, writes that the crisis has eroded trust in the government, perhaps permanently.

President Trump will deliver the annual State of the Union address around 9 p.m. Eastern. Check our site for live video and coverage.

Many inside and outside the House chamber will be watching to see how or if he directly addresses his impeachment trial, which he has called a “hoax.”

What’s sure is that Mr. Trump plans to hit on the theme of a “great American comeback,” with the economy as one of his selling points. Here’s what to expect.

The details: There will be time-honored ritual and a wide range of invited guests, and Democrats will deliver two responses, one in Spanish.

Related: The Senate is set to acquit him on Wednesday of abuse of power and obstruction of Congress, and senators have been explaining their positions before the vote.


The U.S. Democratic presidential nominating process got off to a bewildering start.

Party officials announced that the results from the Iowa caucuses — the first statewide contest for the nomination — would be delayed, saying there were “inconsistencies” that they were sorting out. When only partial results were finally released, they showed Pete Buttigieg and Senator Bernie Sanders vying for first.

Here are the latest updates.

How we got here: A spokeswoman for the Iowa Democratic Party initially denied that a new app for tabulating results was the problem, but the organization later said that, indeed, there was a “coding issue.” People briefed on the app told The Times that it hadn’t been properly tested.

We’ve pieced together the events that led up to what one former state party official called “a systemwide disaster.”

Mohandas Gandhi is a symbol of nonviolent resistance the world over, but his vision of a secular Indian state is anathema to many Hindu nationalists. Some of the most extreme nationalists have taken up the cause of his killer.

Across the country that Gandhi helped to found, dozens of statues, like the one above, have been erected of Nathuram Vinayak Godse, who fatally shot Gandhi in 1948 — a signal that Godse’s admirers are moving from the fringe to the mainstream in the right-wing era of Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

Zuma warrant: A judge issued an arrest warrant for Jacob Zuma, the former president of South Africa, for failing to appear in court in a corruption case that he has sought to avoid for months.

Infighting in Lebanon: Antigovernment protesters in recent months have drawn in people from all religious sects. But Hezbollah, the Islamist militia and political party that is invested in the status quo, has worked to smother demonstrations by Shiites.

Snapshot: Above, Simon Kelly, center, a farmer who has buried some 9,000 sheep killed in fires on Kangaroo Island in Australia, where the livelihoods of its 4,500 residents and the future of rare species are in doubt.

Indian traffic trick: In a test to cut back on honking in traffic, the Mumbai police installed decibel meters at red lights. When the noise exceeded a certain level, the light stayed red longer — and Indians in every corner of the country are laughing about it.

What we’re listening to: This episode of “Literary Friction,” a monthly podcast about books, by Carrie Plitt, a literary agent, and Octavia Bright, a writer and academic. “I’m just catching up with its 2019-in-review episode,” says Chris Stanford, on the Briefings team. “And based on their recommendations, I’ve already added to my nightstand’s ever-growing pile.”

Cook: This recipe for a chocolate caramel tart comes from the dawn of the salty-dessert trend, and it’s a perfect example of why the pairing works.

Watch: We ranked the movie trailers that aired during the Super Bowl, which included ones for James Bond, “Mulan” and “Sonic the Hedgehog.”

Read: In “Unfinished Business: Notes of a Chronic Re-Reader,” the revered memoirist Vivian Gornick makes an urgent argument for the value of returning to a book you’ve already read.

Smarter Living: A former F.B.I. negotiator offers some interesting tips for travel.

Australia’s bushfires have brought pain and destruction to land, wildlife and property, but they have also highlighted the camaraderie and support that Australians call “mateship.” Damien Cave, our Australia bureau chief, experienced it firsthand recently while reporting on volunteer firefighters. This is his account.

We had just finished interviewing a group of firefighters trying to contain a sprawling blaze, and after bouncing down rocky roads for a few miles, we hit pavement.

That’s when I heard the familiar thump, thump, thump. I turned to Matthew Abbott, the photographer who was driving. “I think we’ve got a flat,” I said.

The back left tire on his Toyota pickup was hissing like a snake. And the jack he had? Built for a smaller car.

While we searched for rocks to prop it up, an S.U.V. pulled over. “Need any help?” the older gentleman behind the wheel asked.

Then a truck driver pulling a load of timber stopped, and a man with tattoos on his arms and legs hopped out.

Within minutes, he’d found a better place for the jack, lying on the ground to push it into place.

Three or four other cars drove down the small country road while we were stuck. Every driver stopped to offer assistance.

Every. Single. One.

Such kindness is no panacea for climate change or mega-blazes, but it does show that Australia has depths of something it will need to recover from this horrific fire season: thoughtfulness and empathy.


That’s it for this briefing. See you next time.

— Penn


Thank you
To Mark Josephson and Eleanor Stanford for the break from the news. You can reach the team at [email protected].

P.S.
• We’re listening to “The Daily.” Our latest episode is about the Iowa caucuses.
• Here’s our Mini Crossword, and a clue: Ethnic group making up more than 90 percent of China (three letters). You can find all our puzzles here.
• Mihir Zaveri, a reporter on The Times’s Express Desk, has been voted president of the South Asian Journalists Association.



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Politics

Labour leadership: Rebecca Long-Bailey endorsed by Unite union in major campaign boost



Rebecca Long-Bailey’s bid to be the next Labour leader has received a much-needed boost with the backing of the powerful Unite trade union.

The endorsement of the party’s biggest donor puts the so-called “continuity Corbyn” candidate within a whisker of formally joining Keir Starmer and Lisa Nandy on the final ballot paper.

Announcing the decision – after an all-day hustings with all the leadership campaign teams – Len McCluskey, Unite’s general secretary, praised Ms Long-Bailey’s “brains and brilliance”.


And he rejected suggestions that she bore some of the responsibility for Labour’s general election disaster, having helped write its rejected manifesto – blaming the defeat on Brexit.

In a clean sweep for left-wing candidates, Unite, as expected, threw its weight behind shadow justice secretary Richard Burgon in the deputy’s race.

Ms Long-Bailey, the shadow business secretary, said she was “honoured”, praising the union’s “future candidates programme” and saying: “It was Unite, my trade union, that supported me to achieve my potential.”

She already has the backing of the Bakers, Foods & Allied Workers Union, so simply needs support from one of Labour’s many affiliates to formally enter the contest.

Sir Keir, the shadow Brexit secretary, is the favourite to win the leadership race when the result is declared on 4 April.

However, Ms Long-Bailey – despite a difficult start to her campaign – remains a strong contender with the backing of the left-wing group Momentum as well as Unite.

Mr McCluskey said: “Becky has the brains and the brilliance to beat Boris Johnson. She is standing for unity, socialism and the determination to make Johnson’s term in office short-lived.

“Unite is also confident that Richard will make a superb deputy to Becky, displaying the qualities that have long been absent from that post – pride in our values, a passion for our party to succeed and, above all, loyalty to their leader.”

The reference to “absent qualities” was a clear reference to Tom Watson, the former deputy blamed by Corbyn’s team for undermining his leadership.

Emily Thornberry, the shadow foreign secretary, is struggling to enter the contest’s final stage, requiring the support of 33 local parties in the absence of union support.

Earlier, Labour announced it had cancelled its leadership hustings in Leeds on Saturday after Sir Keir pulled out because his mother-in-law is critically ill in hospital after a serious accident.

Ms Long-Bailey is seeking to shed her image as the outgoing leader’s natural successor, pledging to build a shadow cabinet from all wings of the party and talk up working-class aspiration.

However, she also vowed to bring in open selections – forcing all sitting MPs to fight to keep their seats – a traditional left-wing cause.



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Europe World

Union Leader Emerges as the Public Face of French Strike


PARIS — The reckoning for France’s longest-ever transport strike is not yet in, even as the action itself is losing steam. On Monday, the national rail company said traffic was “near normal” on much of its network, although the strike is not officially over.

But when the winners and losers are tallied, one man previously consigned to the political dead will have to be counted among the living: Philippe Martinez, the combative head of the country’s most militant union.

Behind his giant mustache, Mr. Martinez, an ex-communist who heads France’s oldest union, the C.G.T., or General Confederation of Workers, has become the public face of the strike, which he has used to revive a moribund union movement that was shedding members.

He has risen as the counterpoint to President Emmanuel Macron and to his business-friendly vision for France. He is omnipresent on television and radio. His giant image plasters the walls of the city’s news kiosks. He is visible at the head of weeks of marches through Paris. He pops up at early-morning pep rallies to keep the strikers mobilized.

Mr. Martinez has been the Mr. No of the strike aimed at stopping Mr. Macron’s ambition to overhaul France’s pension system. It has been no to Mr. Macron’s pension plan, no to the concessions offered by the government, no to the conciliatory gestures of more moderate unionists.

He has said throughout that he wants nothing less than the government’s total surrender. He is not going to get it. But the strike has already given new energy to a union movement that was hurt last year by the Yellow Vest protests, which rocked Mr. Macron’s presidency even as they bypassed organized labor.

The strike has also, by Mr. Martinez’s reckoning, forced some major concessions from the government as it gets ready to formally unveil its pension reform at a cabinet meeting on Friday.

Mr. Martinez argues that the French government’s numerous capitulations would never have happened if he hadn’t kept tens of thousands of his people in the streets, week after week. The strike is now well into its second month — the longest in the country’s recent history.

Over the course of it, the government has pushed back by 12 years the starting age for its planned pension changes — only those born after 1975 need be concerned — and carved out at least nine exceptions to its so-called “universal” plan. It has restored, for now, Europe’s lowest retirement age. Mr. Martinez claims the credit.

“It’s thanks to the mobilizations that we’ve gotten all of them,” Mr. Martinez declared in an interview in his office at the C.G.T., a sprawling glass-and-concrete Brutalist complex at the edge of the highway that circles Paris.

Mr. Martinez, pushing the strike ever forward, has become one of Mr. Macron’s biggest headaches. He and his union have successfully played off Mr. Macron’s past as a banker to heighten fears — erroneous — that the president is planning to remake the current French pay-as-you go pension system into market-based, American-style, 401(k)-like accounts.

On Friday night, Mr. Macron was booed by pension reform protesters as he left a Paris theater with his wife, and he had to be whisked away. His favorite restaurant, La Rotonde, on the Left Bank, was partially burned the same night by arsonists. Echoes of the Yellow Vest violence that rocked France are resurfacing.

Mr. Martinez has not pushed these new acts of wildcat defiance. But he makes no apologies for putting his people in the streets. Nearly swallowed up by his duffel coat, his brows furrowed, he buzzes around the demonstrators, stopping to chat with whoever comes up to him at the marches that have paralyzed Paris.

A world away in the Élysée Palace, Mr. Macron has preserved a kind of Olympian calm, rarely deigning to comment on the strike or the changes he is determined to push through.

“There have always been strikes on these subjects,” Mr. Macron told a group of onlookers last week in the southern city of Pau.

Instead of pension rights tailored to professions and crafts, carved out over decades, “We’ve got to construct a world where rights are attached to the person,” the president said.

The conflict “has called into being this kind of face-off between a very personal exercise of power, and a social movement carried forward above all by the C.G.T.,” said Stéphane Sirot, a well-known historian of French labor.

“Labor-capital relations in France are very much based on conflict,” said Mr. Sirot. “And historically it’s been the C.G.T. that has incarnated this conflict.”

Mr. Martinez has become a minor celebrity on television, but nobody makes a fuss over him at the marches. Some call out, “We’re with you, Philippe!”

To a group of demonstrators who approached him on a chill recent Saturday at the start of a march in eastern Paris, he said simply: “Look, we put a project on the table, just raise people’s salaries. That’s the best way.”

Already the government has been forced to promise raises to low-paid teachers, another striking group, that will add up to $1,000 gross a month. Others are unlikely to be so lucky.

The strike is winding down. Much of the Paris Métro is up and running again. But this son of a Spanish immigrant mother, who became an ex-supply chain specialist at Renault — he still has an office there — is claiming a sort of victory.

His father fought in the International Brigades in the Spanish Civil War, against Franco. He won’t discuss whether his break with the Communists had an ideological component.

“At the C.G.T., we like to speak in concrete realities,” he said. “Why has life expectancy increased? It’s because we work less. We say, you have to heal work.”

Analysts don’t disagree with Mr. Martinez’s assessment of the current face-off. “He’s certainly put wind in his sails, especially compared to the period of the Yellow Vests,” said a historian of the C.G.T., Michel Dreyfus.

“They’ve scored some wins, sure,” said Mr. Sirot, the labor historian. “There have been concessions, and the concessions wouldn’t have been made if there had not been this strike.”

Still, he said, Mr. Martinez’s uncompromising stand would make it difficult for him to exit the strike looking like a winner.

But the union leader says he is not concerned about winners and losers. He thinks he has made his point.

“Really, what we are in is a debate about two conceptions of society,” he said in the interview. “This is not about egos. This is about a government that wants to radically transform the history of France.”

Mr. Macron “has a vision that’s very Anglo-Saxon,” he said. “His model is British, or American, a really different vision, very individualist. You must make do on your own.”

The C.G.T.’s vision, he said — invoking the word “solidarity,” which was among its founding credos — is “whatever happens, the community will be there to help get you out of it.”

In the Macron model, “you only get back what you’ve put in,” Mr. Martinez said. “But if you don’t put anything in, what are you supposed to do, sleep outside?”

“There are a lot of these young junior government ministers running around, giving us lessons in morality,” he said, frowning.



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Europe World

A Common Charger for All Phones? The European Union Is on the Case


LONDON — The European Union wants to make it easier to charge your cellphone and other devices.

This week, members of the European Parliament held a hearing on a measure to require smartphone makers to produce a common charger for all mobile and portable devices sold in the region, including tablets, e-readers and digital cameras.

The goal: no more frustration at borrowing a friend’s charger only to find it has a Lightning connector when you need a USB-C.

The proposal has been promoted not only as a matter of convenience, but also as a way to reduce electronic waste. Chargers have been estimated to produce more than 51,000 metric tons of waste annually in the European Union.

“We are drowning in an ocean of electronic waste,” said Roza Thun, a member of the European Parliament from Poland. “Demand grows and with it waste and exploitation of natural resources.”

Officials also say that a common kind of charger would reduce consumers’ cost because devices could be sold without a dedicated charger.

This is not the first time the European Union has tackled this topic. This week’s effort was the third attempt to untangle charging devices in more than a decade.

In 2009, when there were more than 30 different chargers on the market, the European Commission, the bloc’s executive arm, reached a voluntary agreement with industry giants like Apple, Samsung and Nokia, among others, to introduce a smartphone charger that fit all models.

But the agreement expired in 2014, and the device makers went their separate ways.

Lawmakers then introduced a similar effort to re-establish a voluntary standard for a single charging port for all smartphones. But that initiative was never adopted, in part because it failed to guarantee interoperability between devices such as speakers and keyboards with smartphones.

There are now three major types of charging plugs, according to the European Consumer Organization, which backs the effort to standardize chargers: USB 2.0 Micro B, USB-C and Apple’s Lightning.

Apple previously objected to the European Union’s proposal. A year ago, the company argued that a single standard would “freeze innovation rather than encourage it.” A new charger standard would make current chargers obsolete, it added, which is “bad for the environment and unnecessarily disruptive for customers.”

At the hearing on Monday, members of the European Parliament lamented the failure to legislate a universal charger, raising environmental concerns and blaming industry for thwarting measures.

Others pointed to the potential cost benefits of a common charger standard.

“This would allow consumers to get a better deal and to cut waste at the same time,” said Dita Charanzova of the Czech Republic.

The European Commission is scheduled to publish a study in the coming weeks to deliberate the next legislative steps.

But device makers may eventually decide the issue before the legislators do. Each year, an increasing number of phones arrive on the market with another option: wireless charging.



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