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Media Trust, Polling and the Big Lie

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

Gallup (7/18/22) released the results of two poll questions last month that purported to measure the public’s confidence in the “news media.” The results showed only 11% and 16% of Americans with “a great deal” or “quite a lot” of confidence in television news and newspapers, respectively.

These results were enough to inspire columnist Marc Thiessen of the Washington Post (7/26/22) to produce another one of his disingenuous rants against the “mainstream media” (Washington Post, 1/6/22). “Why do people believe the ‘Big Lie’?” he asks. Answer: “Because Americans don’t trust the media.” He argues that because the media have lost public confidence, they are the reason that roughly one-third of Americans overall, including two-thirds of Republicans, believe the Big Lie—that the 2020 presidential election was stolen (Atlantic, 4/18/22).

Marc Thiessen (Washington Post, 7/26/22), writing on the media role in the widespread (among Republicans) belief that the 2020 election was stolen, fails to utter the words “Fox News,” where he himself is a regular contributor. 

As he writes:

Millions watched this biased coverage [of Trump’s presidency], and the animus toward Trump and his supporters, and began to tune out mainstream news coverage. So, in January 2021—the very moment our country needed to separate fact from fiction—there was no neutral arbiter of truth that a majority of Americans trusted.

Blaming the mainstream media for people believing the Big Lie is almost as preposterous as the Big Lie itself.

This does not mean that the mainstream media do not deserve careful scrutiny and criticism for their corporate bias and censorship, which FAIR has been providing since 1986. But that is not what Thiessen has described.

Trust in some ‘media’

It is true that most Americans say they distrust the “media.” A recent Pew Research study (8/31/20), published in August 2020, confirmed that Americans are highly skeptical of the news media as an industry, that views of the “media” are sharply partisan, and that Americans understand little about the process of news production.

But Pew has also examined public attitudes toward specific news sources, and in that context finds that most people trust some media news, if not all. Pew researchers Lee Rainie and Katerina Eva Matsa (Pew Research, 1/5/22) recorded a video in which they discuss these results:

We asked, “Do you trust the news media?” And a lot of people answered “no” to that question. But then, to unpack that idea…Americans are equally comfortable sort of saying, “Yes, I really like, and I really trust, some sources but not others.” And so, in a way, their trust has become disaggregated and divided.

People have lots of news sources that they trust, but they don’t think the institution of the news media and the industry of news organizations as a whole are trustworthy.

Evidence that most people do trust “lots of [specific] news sources,” if not “the media” more generally, is provided by a 2020 Pew poll that “unpacked” the public’s views of the news media (1/24/20). It asked respondents to indicate which of 30 news outlets they trusted, and which of those they distrusted.

According to the findings, clear majorities of Democrats trust CNN, NBC, ABC, CBS and PBS, and a large majority of Republicans trust Fox. Viewership, like trust, is concentrated on Fox by Republicans, while viewership among Democrats is spread among several television networks.

Chart: Pew (1/24/20)

These findings reveal that while there is no one news outlet that garners the trust of a majority of Americans, the vast majority of Americans do have at least one news source they trust.

Too much trust in ‘media’? 

Back to Thiessen’s question: Why do people believe in the Big Lie? Is it really because they don’t trust the media?

Actually, the more logical conclusion, based on Pew’s findings, is that people believe that the election was stolen because they do trust the media—that is, the specific news sources they use.

When Thiessen refers to “people” believing the Big Lie, he glosses over poll reports that show most of those “people” are Republicans (PRRI, 5/12/21), and most of the Republicans trust and pay attention to Fox, which is a doggedly determined purveyor and arguably a co-creator of the election hoax (Los Angeles Times, 1/19/21) . Former Fox political editor Chris Stirewalt accuses Fox of being the “biggest promoter of the Big Lie,” saying that “the network gave voice, repeatedly, to people putting forward the preposterous notion that the election had been stolen” (ABC, 7/30/21)

The biggest consumers of Fox—Republicans—overwhelmingly believe what the network is flacking. A Poll by PRRI showed that 66% of Republicans agree with the statement, “The 2020 election was stolen from Donald Trump,” compared with 27% of independents and 4% of Democrats.

And among Republicans who watch Fox, 86% believe the election was stolen, compared with roughly half that number (44%) among Republicans who watch more traditional news. These results suggest that Republicans who watch Fox mostly trust what they hear on that network—that Trump won the election.

Beyond media

Still, as the chart shows, even among Republicans who use mainstream news sources, close to half believe the election hoax. That could be due, in part, to the fact that PRRI includes local TV news viewers among “mainstream” viewers. And the largest owner of local TV stations is the Sinclair Broadcast Group, which is an unabashed supporter of Donald Trump (Vox, 4/3/18), and also a purveyor of the Big Lie (Media Matters, 1/28/21)

But there must be something more than simply right-wing media as the purveyors of lies. And that “something more” is obvious: Donald Trump.

He dominates the Republican Party, demanding that its current and would-be leaders profess fealty to his bogus claim of a stolen election if they want his support. Republicans in the House were so terrified of his wrath, they removed Rep. Liz Cheney from her leadership position because she refused to accept the lie that the election was stolen from Trump (NPR, 5/12/21)

538 (7/18/22): “Since the 2020 election, millions of Republican voters have accepted former President Donald Trump’s false claim that the presidential election was stolen from him.”

FiveThirtyEight (9/8/21) reported that last year, state Republican leaders demagoguing the notion of fraudulent votes passed a record number of voting restrictions, “the policy byproduct of former President Donald Trump’s unfounded claims that the 2020 election was fraudulent.”

And this year, with only half the Republican primary season over, FiveThirtyEight (7/18/22) reports “definitively that at least 120 election deniers have won their party’s nomination and will be on the ballot in the fall.”

All these developments are legitimate news stories, which are covered by mainstream news media as well as the right-wing media. Many rank-and-file Republicans who see all these party leaders and candidates espousing the myth of the stolen election are no doubt persuaded that there is some truth to the claims.

Given Trump’s role in fomenting the election hoax, widespread acceptance of the hoax among Republican leaders, and the right-wing media’s role in helping to propagate it, blaming only the mainstream media for why most Republicans believe the Big Lie is, as I noted at the beginning of this article, preposterous—in fact, almost as preposterous as the Big Lie itself.

Of course, the mainstream media are not blameless. As reported here (FAIR.org, 1/18/21), they have long engaged in  “bothsiderism,” an addiction to a false balance in reporting even on the January 6 insurrection. But that is not Thiessen’s argument. He wants us to believe that the mainstream media alone, because they have lost trust mostly among Republicans, is responsible for belief in the stolen election.

Even Thiessen himself appears not to believe his own words. What is the tell that reveals his duplicity? Never once in his two pieces for the Washington Post (7/26/22, 1/6/22), in which he makes his argument against “the media,” does he even acknowledge the lies about the 2020 presidential election spewing from Fox network and other right wing media. Nor does he acknowledge that Fox lists him as a “Fox News contributor” (6/28/18). Deliberately omitting such salient facts betray what he is really doing: acting as a shill for a corrupt network.

ACTION ALERT: Messages can be sent to the Washington Post at letters@washpost.com, or via Twitter @PostOpinions. Please remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread of this post.

The post Media Trust, Polling and the Big Lie appeared first on FAIR.

‘No Farms, No Food:’ Dutch farmers confront billionaire ‘green’ elite’s food system reset plan

The GrayZone -

Dutch farmers’ protests offer a preview of the resistance to come as transnational “green” billionaires advance a “reset” of the global food system. The elite agenda threatens to deepen an international cost of living crisis and spark unrest well beyond The Netherlands. Ingrid de Sain is a Dutch farmer who lives in the Northern Holland town of Schellinkhout, where she and her family tend to a 62 acre farm with about 100 dairy cows. Like thousands of fellow citizens in […]

The post ‘No Farms, No Food:’ Dutch farmers confront billionaire ‘green’ elite’s food system reset plan appeared first on The Grayzone.

The Writers of Reality Need to Chill: Republicans Keep Posting KKK Hoods

Mother Jones Magazine -

This week, a Republican group in Lawrence County, Alabama, is offering an apology after they published an image featuring a GOP-styled elephant that included, intentionally and by way of a clever graphical trick, a series of Ku Klux Klan hoods.

The image was posted as part of a congratulatory Facebook message to honor the group’s new chairman and thank its previous leader for his service. But as soon as the hood imagery was noticed, the group took it down and offered an apology, saying the image was pulled from the internet without seeing the details or inner meaning. “I would like to offer a deep and sincere apology for a picture that temporarily appeared on this page last night,” the new chairman, Shannon Terry, posted to Facebook. “A google search picture of a GOP elephant was used and later found to have hidden images that do not represent the views or beliefs of the Lawrence County Republican Party. The picture was then immediately replaced. As chairman I take full responsibility for the error.”

But here’s the thing: That’s our illustration. Our Editor-in-Chief explains:

Two years ago, we commissioned this art from Woody Harrington to reference how white supremacy was taking over the GOP. Not only didn't they not get it, they appropriated copyrighted art. https://t.co/lxEJoXjhap https://t.co/FxwRMo9Mqd

— Clara Jeffery (@ClaraJeffery) August 18, 2022

“It is nearly impossible to find my image in a standard Google search excluding terms like ‘racist.'” 

In 2020, Mother Jones commissioned Woody Harrington to illustrate a story that explored how the chief strategist for Mitt Romney’s 2012 presidential bid, Stuart Stevens, was reckoning with how the GOP was weaponizing bigotry during the 2020 campaign. The piece, by our Washington DC Bureau Chief, David Corn, was titled “The Republican Party Is Racist and Soulless. Just Ask This Veteran GOP Strategist.” In it, Stevens was scathing. “We created this. It didn’t just happen,” he told Corn.

“Republicans only exist to elect Republicans,” Stevens said. “They are down to one idea: How can we win?”  Playing footsie with white supremacy, Corn argues, was part of the strategy.

Thus, this image.

So we got in touch with the artist, Harrington, to see what he felt not only about the apparent copyright infringement, but its underlining implications.

“It is nearly impossible to find my image in a standard Google search excluding terms like ‘racist,'” he told us by email. “My goal was for the reader to recognize the classic Republican symbol, and reveal the sinister message of racism upon closer examination, unfortunately, some people never made it that far!”

There’s some evidence it’s happened before. A Republican candidate for Union County Sheriff in Indiana went even farther, using the image on election posters in May of this year. Dozens were printed before the mixup was caught and eventually fixed, according to a Reddit user who knew someone at the printing company.

And HuffPost politics reporter Liz Skalka tweeted that a GOP club in Arizona accidentally used it too.

Saw this same logo used at a GOP club event this summer in Arizona. A graphic designer in the room noticed and alerted them to take it off a projected screen — and they did. Club officials seemed genuinely shocked when they realized. https://t.co/eoQDqT7I4k

— Liz Skalka (@lizskalka) August 18, 2022

And while Harrington hopes it can be “a future lesson to all about fair use of intellectual material, and the karma that comes along with copyright infringement,” he notes that “there are positive takeaways from this whole debacle.”

“This can be a moment for reflection, accountability,” he said. “And should allow for more discussion on the issues the image first intended to bring to light.”

If you’re interested in reading the piece that started it all, here you go.

Trump Took Top Secret Documents to Mar-a-Lago Because It’s So Safe There

Mother Jones Magazine -

Donald Trump has offered a swirling array of excuses for why he took secret documents from the White House, stashed them around his Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida, and refused to return them to the US government—which precipitated a raid by a team of FBI agents. The most recent Trump World narrative is not that the documents weren’t secret or needed to be kept secure. Actually, his lawyers now say, Trump is very interested in securing sensitive government documents. The reasoning seems to be that a country club allowing thousands of people to wander the grounds for a fee, will keep the material—said to include information labeled with the highest level of restriction, including some documents related to our nuclear arsenal—more secure than the ultra-secure, fortified residence of the most powerful person in the world, surrounded by law enforcement and military defenses. Also known as the White House.

On Laura Ingraham’s FOX News show Thursday night, Trump’s attorney Christina Bobb, told Ingraham that safeguarding the documents was all Trump was ever interested in.

Ingraham: Was there a limited number who had access to that storage room…
Bobb: Yes.. Mar-a-Lago is secure.. just getting on to the compound is hard.. Only certain members of staff can get down there.. It’s a very limited number of people that can get down there pic.twitter.com/5seWpty8h0

— Acyn (@Acyn) August 19, 2022

After all, documents were kept in a basement storage room that not many people had access to. Plus, only one key existed for the lock on the door, Bobb said. When Ingraham pressed her to clarify that only one or two people were able to access the room, Bobb demurred, settling on “a very small number of people.”

Similarly, Rudy Giuliani, who has sometimes been Trump’s attorney and who is known for having very bad operational security, took to NewsMax and pitched a similar line.

Rudy Giuliani tells Newsmax that Trump was just trying to preserve documents by putting them in a safe place. pic.twitter.com/tDJag4loW4

— Aaron Rupar (@atrupar) August 19, 2022

“Now they want to make him responsible for having taken classified documents and preserve them,” Giuliani said. “Really, if you look at the Espionage Act, it’s not really about taking the documents, it’s about destroying them or hiding them or giving them to the enemy, it’s not about taking them and putting them in a place that’s roughly as safe as they were in in the first place.”

“[The] Espionage Act, it’s not really about taking the documents…it’s not about taking them and putting them in a place that’s roughly as safe as they were in in the first place.”

While the White House, has had notable security breaches, a key distinction with Mar-a-Lago is that the White House isn’t actually a privately owned business that functions by letting anyone who is willing to pay a fee come visit. The Palm Beach resort is currently shut for the summer, but for most of the time since Trump left office, it has welcome thousands of people into the property for weddings, conferences, charity galas, car shows, and political fundraisers. The Secret Service does maintain a security cordon, but there is no serious vetting of every guest—there simply can’t be if Mar-a-Lago is to function as a resort and country club. To join the club and have regular daily access in-season to the facility, around 500 people have paid the initiation fee (now set at $200,000) and their annual dues, but they are not required to undergo a security background check similar to the ones required to view top-secret documents.

And Mar-a-Lago has had serious security breaches. A Chinese national was convicted in 2019 for trespassing after she was found wandering onto the property armed with surveillance equipment. She told authorities that she believed she had bought tickets to the event. And her story is not that improbable, after all, that same year, a Florida massage parlor entrepreneur named Cindy Yang admitted that she had a side business selling “access” to Mar-a-Lago, offering to bring tourists from China to the club for a fee. 

As we wrote at the time: 

Yang, who goes by Cindy, and her husband, Zubin Gong, started GY US Investments LLC in 2017. The company describes itself on its website, which is mostly in Chinese, as an “international business consulting firm that provides public relations services to assist businesses in America to establish and expand their brand image in the modern Chinese marketplace.” But the firm notes that its services also address clients looking to make high-level connections in the United States. On a page displaying a photo of Mar-a-Lago, Yang’s company says its “activities for clients” have included providing them “the opportunity to interact with the president, the [American] Minister of Commerce and other political figures.” The company boasts it has “arranged taking photos with the President” and suggests it can set up a “White House and Capitol Hill Dinner.”

Since Trump became president much of the appeal of Mar-a-Lago has been that it offers anyone who visits incomparable access to the highest levels of US government and an up-close look at the most secret inner workings of the presidency. The fact that Trump might wander through a wedding, interrupt your Easter breakfast, or maybe be seen conducting high-level negotiations about trade with a foreign dignitary, are all selling points. In Sept. 2017, photographs of Trump circulated, showing him sitting just feet away from paying dinner guests, in deep conversation with Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe, as they were informed of a missile launch by North Korea. On the same visit, Mar-a-Lago guests took photos of Trump’s entourage, including the military aide who carries the secure “nuclear football” everywhere the US president goes. 

More details on what reasons FBI officials had for conducting the raid to secure the documents may emerge over the next week as a federal judge ruled on Thursday that large parts of the supporting documents behind the subpoena that allowed the raid may be released to the public. Department of Justice officials have balked at releasing all the documents as its investigation continues.  

Trump and his allies, meanwhile, have gone back and forth between demanding the FBI reveal more about their thinking before the raid and keeping suspiciously quiet. Trump attorney Bobb appeared in court on Thursday during the hearing on the release of the documents but said she was just there to watch, not participate. As much as Trump’s allies might want to put the Biden Department of Justice on the spot, given the FBI’s basic claim they raided the property because they had immediate concerns about the safety of the documents, more revelations on just how lax Mar-a-Lago’s security is, may be on the way. 

Action Alert: Tell USA Today to Tell Whole Story on Afghan Withdrawal

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

“The Fall of Afghanistan, One Year Later: Chaos and Uncertainty Have Become Way of Life,” was the front-page USA Today headline (8/15/22), suggesting that “chaos and uncertainty” is the result of last year’s US withdrawal—and not of 20 years of occupation, preceded by decades of covert intervention, and ongoing efforts by Washington to sabotage the country’s economy.

As signaled by the headline, the article framed the loss of US occupation as an unfortunate setback for the country—although in reality the US has been and remains the primary force of “chaos” and “uncertainty” in Afghanistan.

USA Today (8/15/22) tells print readers that “one year later” in Afghanistan, “chaos and uncertainty have become a way of life”—as though Afghanistan under US occupation was a bastion of order and predictability.

An inconsistent read from start to finish, the piece briefly addressed the decades of violence inflicted by the US and its continued economic sanctions, which threaten to starve the entire country, including a quote by Vali Nasr, a professor of Middle East studies at Johns Hopkins:

Since our departure, [the US] has been very good at criticizing the Taliban’s role in restricting the cultural space in Afghanistan…. But basically, we’ve been completely oblivious to the fact that our sanctions and the economic situation of Afghanistan is destroying the middle class.

Making no further effort to describe US sanctions, USA Today opted to remain “oblivious,” instead fixating on Taliban rule and the impact losing the war economy has had on the country: “After the US military exit, Afghanistan’s economy and social safety net collapsed, pushing the country further into poverty after decades of continuous conflict,” was how the article summed up the problem.

USA Today declined to detail the US sanctions which are the driving force behind Afghanistan’s economic meltdown (FAIR.org, 12/21/21; Human Rights Watch, 8/4/22). The US has frozen more than $7 billion of the country’s assets, amounting to roughly 40% of Afghanistan’s economy (CEPR, 2/4/22). US-led international restrictions on the country’s banking sector are driving a mass starvation of Afghanistan, where over 1 million children under the age of five face risk of starving to death this year, and over 90% of the country are facing food insecurity (HRW, 8/4/22).

Instead, the article mystified the concrete steps the US could take to alleviate Afghan suffering, quoting a former State Department official: “Even if we use all our tools, it’s not certain that we will be able to truly improve life for Afghans.” Giving them back their stolen money would be a good tool to start with. According to the Human Rights Watch report:

Afghanistan’s humanitarian crisis cannot be effectively addressed unless the United States and other governments ease restrictions on the country’s banking sector to facilitate legitimate economic activity and humanitarian aid.

Mark Weisbrot (CEPR, 2/4/22): “The biggest and most destructive sanction currently facing Afghanistan is the seizure of more than $7 billion of the country’s assets that are held at the US Federal Reserve.”

“Many Afghans continue to live in fear for their personal safety…. And with good reason,” the article stressed, citing the 237 extrajudicial killings counted by the UN in the past year.” (Of these, 160 were former collaborators with the US occupation; another 59 were members of ISIS.) In a lower key, the article went on to acknowledge that “security has improved to some degree in areas that had seen fighting between the Taliban and Afghan security forces”; specifically, there were more than 5,000 civilians killed in from January through June 2021, as opposed to 700 killed in the past year.

This substantial reduction in violence against civilians is surely good news, isn’t it? Not to hear USA Today tell it: “Still, for Kabul’s middle class and for minorities and women, the Taliban’s crackdown has been horrific,” the paper hastened to add—as though none of the thousands of civilians who were killed under US occupation were women, ethnic minorities or middle class.

USA Today also dedicated a section to Afghanistan’s “Heightened Refugee Crisis,” stating that “the US withdrawal from Afghanistan exacerbated the country’s instability and the displacement of its population.” In fact, UN data shows that since 2021, close to 1 million internally displaced persons have returned to their places of origin. USA Today didn’t acknowledge this, but tried to justify its claim by noting that “a growing number of Afghans are fleeing to other countries”—which is true, according to the UN: Some 180,000 Afghans have fled to other countries since 2021. The reader would have no way of knowing that this is a much smaller number than the total who have returned to their homes.

ACTION: Please tell USA Today to tell the whole story on the state of Afghanistan in the wake of the US withdrawal.

CONTACT: Messages to USA Today can be sent here or via Twitter (@USAToday). 

Remember that respectful communication is the most effective. Feel free to leave a copy of your message in the comments thread.

The post Action Alert: Tell USA Today to Tell Whole Story on Afghan Withdrawal appeared first on FAIR.

Thanks to Inflation, You’re Spending $460 More Per Month. Here’s Where the Money is Going And Why

Mother Jones Magazine -

This spring, Dr. Mehmet Oz, who’s running for US Senate as a Republican in Pennsylvania, filmed himself in the produce aisle of a Redner’s grocery store as he shopped for for “crudité” ingredients. The video, which resurfaced this week, was intended to spotlight high inflation under a Democrat-controlled federal government. Instead, it has been widely lampooned due to the multi-millionaire’s less-than-convincing performance as an everyman experiencing sticker shock at the cost of asparagus. But however out of touch parts of the video were, it did tap into a reality that has hit many Americans hard: rising prices.

It can be difficult to fully grasp just how much prices have risen—and why. And it might feel like a few cents here and there don’t add up to all that much. But they do. To the tune of an average $460 per month versus last year, according to Moody’s Analytics economic analyst Ryan Sweet. 

July’s monthly Consumer Price Index report, a monthly analysis from the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics that measures changes in average prices paid for common consumer goods, showed that inflation rose 8.5 percent between July 2021 and July 2022. That’s down slightly from last month’s 9.1 percent annual increase, which marked the fastest rate of inflation since the early 1980s. The small dip energized stock markets and corporate executives, but as Sweet points out, many of the factors causing such persistent inflation are still around.    “It’s just one month, so I don’t think it’s time to celebrate,” he says. “Inflation is still extremely high.”   We dug into the latest data to better understand just how bad inflation has gotten and what’s driving it—from war and trade policies to corporate greed and basic supply-demand imbalances—across seven key categories.   1. GAS How expensive is it?

In June, the average price of gas in the US surpassed $5 for the first time in history. That grim milestone wreaked havoc on household budgets—and not just because car owners were now stuck paying more than ever to commute. Skyrocketing gas prices affect everyone, regardless of driving habits, because they’ve led companies that produce goods to inflate their own prices to cover higher shipping and transportation costs, passing on the higher expenses to their customers.

How did it get this way?

The first factor is the rising price of crude oil. It is a key component in the production of the gas we use to power cars, and its price has been climbing during the pandemic. Early in 2020, oil prices fell dramatically as lockdowns led to meager travel and energy usage. Those prices have steadily risen as the world has opened up, with people returning to offices and travel.

But oil companies have been reluctant to produce more oil to meet demand, lest that bring down the price—and thus, their profits. They’re contributing to keeping prices artificially high in order to reward their executives and shareholders. Gas prices rise accordingly.

Between April and June of this year, for example, revenue at ExxonMobil, the largest US gas producer, hit $115.68 billion, up from $67.74 billion during the same quarter in 2021. The company also booked an “unprecedented” $17.85 billion profit. Chevron, another major gas producer, also saw a record profit of $11.62 billion.

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine is yet another culprit behind high gas prices. Although the US doesn’t import much of its oil from Russia, other countries, particularly in Europe, were quite dependent on Russia’s oil before the country launched its war on Ukraine in February. Europe and other countries have now imposed sanctions to ban the import of Russian oil, in an effort to weaken the country and stop its war. The result, then, is that the global supply of oil available to all countries has dwindled—driving up the price everywhere, including the US.  

2. GROCERIES How expensive are they?

The CPI report shows dairy is up 14.9 percent since last July and fruits and veggies have jumped 9.3 percent. If you want a croissant or some Frosted Flakes, be prepared to fork (or spoon) over some cash: cereal and bakery products are up 15 percent. 

On their own, these increases might not seem that eye-popping, but taken together, they amount to grocery bills that are 13.1 percent higher.

How did it get this way?

The Ukraine-Russia conflict plays an outsized role in the grocery hikes. Together, the countries are normally responsible for more than half of the world’s vegetable oil exports and more than a third of the global wheat supply, but exports have fallen steadily due to the war. Sanctions against Russia have also impacted the supply chain, collectively culminating in food price increases across the globe.

Additionally, Brazil produces at least four-fifth’s of the world’s orange juice and a third of its soy, sugar, and coffee—in normal weather conditions. The past few years have been anything but: Last year, the country’s southern region faced its worst drought in a century, while its north has seen an increase in disease due to too much rain. These weather conditions have consequences. Between April 2020 and December 2021, the global price for soybeans jumped more than 50 percent, while coffee beans surged more 70 percent, according to a February New York Times analysis.

If weather and war are causes of inflation, the companies themselves might be part of the problem too. The price of meat, poultry, and eggs has increased 10.9 percent since July 2021. Like other industries, meat processors have also faced supply chain and labor struggles, but there is also evidence some are raising prices far above their increased costs. Tyson, one of the world’s largest meat processors, estimated in the second quarter of 2022 that it responded to a $1.5 billion operating cost increases by raising prices roughly $2 billion. Tyson’s 12-month gross profit margin is 15.6 percent, according to market research platform Finbox, while its median gross profit margin for fiscal years 2017-2021 were 13.4 percent.

Grocery stores themselves are holding fairly steady profit margins despite the sticker shock you’re experiencing at checkout lines.

The 12-month gross profit margin average at Kroger Co., which also owns grocery chains King Soopers and Harris Teeter, is 22.4 percent, slightly below its 22.8 percent median gross profit margin between fiscal years ending February 2018 to 2022.

3. ELECTRIC How expensive is it?

The cost of electricity is up more than 15 percent compared to the same time a year ago, according the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

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How did it get this way?

That increase is due almost entirely to rising gas prices, because gas is used to power the turbines that create 38 percent of America's electricity. So your electric bill is higher for some of the same reasons that it is making it pricier to drive your car. An inflation double whammy!  

And much like their cousins in the gas industry, electricity providers are also seeing record profits. California’s Pacific Gas and Electric, the largest US electric utility, made $4.16 billion in revenue from electricity operations between January and March of 2022, an increase of nearly 25 percent compared to the same time period in 2021. Overall, the company made $475 million in profit—nearly triple what it earned a year before.

4. AIRFARE

Airline prices don't seem higher because you’ve forgotten what they cost during pandemic lockdowns—flights really are at record highs. In a year, the price of airfare has jumped more than 50 percent.

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How did it get this way?

Thanks to high oil and gas costs, the price of jet fuel has increased almost 150 percent in the last year. Airlines have passed on that extra cost to their customers.

The situation is exacerbated by the fact that travel demand has soared after more than two years of the Covid pandemic, but airplane seat capacity is still 17 percent lower compared to pre-pandemic levels. That’s in part because airlines are still scrambling to hire enough flight staff and pilots after many were laid off or took buyouts when so much travel was grounded at the height of the pandemic.

5. DINING OUT How expensive is it?

Restaurants are feeling the same panic at the checkout line that you are. Year over year, restaurant-prepared meals have risen 7.6 percent, according to the latest CPI report. Profit margins from some of the largest restaurant groups don't indicate that restaurants are cashing in on the economic circumstances to increase prices far beyond the amount that is required to keep up with inflation.

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How did it get this way?

Many restaurants are still digging themselves out of the red from months-long pandemic closures in 2020, while also combatting nationwide labor shortages and far higher prices on essentials from cooking oil and eggs to takeout containers and wine glasses.

There isn't much evidence to suggest restaurant groups are price gouging.

For example, Darden Restaurants—the group behind national chains such as Olive Garden, Longhorn Steakhouse, and others—has seen its gross profit margin decrease from just under 24 percent in the three-month period ending May 2021 to roughly 21 percent in the same period this year, according to Finbox.

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6. NEW CARS How much do they cost?

New vehicles cost 10 percent more than they did a year ago.

How did it get this way?

Scarcity of a key part that has been exacerbated by the global supply chain and trade policies initiated by Donald Trump when he was president.

Last fall, the number of new cars available in the US had dropped by 75 percent from pre-pandemic levels. That’s because automakers have been forced to make fewer cars thanks to a severe shortage of the semiconductor chips used in vehicles.

Those computer chips continue to be in short supply, and likely will be until well into 2023. During the pandemic, demand for all sorts of appliances that use these chips, from computer equipment to smartphones, soared as people were stuck at home dependent on the internet for entertainment, work, and human connection. Trade policies are also not helping the shortage: Trump imposed new tariffs on chips and computer parts imported into the US from China, making the process of acquiring these chips more expensive for automakers.

The shortage is so severe that some automakers are earning less as they’re unable to make and sell enough cars: Between April and June of this year, General Motors saw a 39 percent drop in profits compared to the same period a year ago.

7. RENTAL HOUSING

How much does it cost?

June's CPI report showed a 5.8 percent increase in primary residence rental units, the fastest year-over-year increase since 1986. July's CPI number was even higher than last month's, at 6.3 percent.

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How did it get this way?

While home prices are dropping—the median sales price of new houses fell 12 percent between April and June 2022—rent costs remain elevated for a couple of reasons: Purchasing a home is still beyond reach for many renters—especially as mortgage rates rise due to inflation. This increases demand for rentals. Additionally, some landlords are trying to make up for losses endured during the pandemic, when people exited expensive urban areas en masse to work remotely, or fell behind on rent that they never fully paid back.

That doesn't mean that apartment companies are feasting on a profits bonanza. Mid-America Apartments, one of the nation's largest rental companies, increased its rent by an average of 18 percent for new residents and 16.5 percent for renewing residents for leases effective during the second quarter of 2022 compared to their prior leases, according to a company earnings release. But the rental company's profit margins have remained fairly consistent over time: Its 12-month gross profit margin is 60.1 percent, according to Finbox, versus a median of 59.1 percent between fiscal years 2017-2021.

But no matter the cause, rent hikes have a huge impact on overall inflation. Excluding the volatile categories of food and energy, the year over year inflationary rate was 5.9 percent—with shelter accounting for 40 percent of this total increase. 

And more rent increases are expected still. "Rents haven't peaked. They're going to continue to increase in the next few months," says Sweet. "That could keep inflation elevated going forward."

“There Wouldn’t Be a Bolsonaro in Brazil if There Hadn’t Been a Trump in the United States”

Mother Jones Magazine -

On August 11, thousands of Brazilians gathered inside and outside of the University of São Paulo’s law school to follow along with the reading of two letters in defense of democracy. The documents, which had been signed by former presidents, artists, scholars, and businesspeople, were in response to President Jair Bolsonaro’s repeated attacks on the Supreme Court and the electoral system ahead of the October presidential elections. One of the letters took as its inspiration a 1977 “Letter to Brazilians” that denounced the military dictatorship that ruled the country at the time.

“In today’s Brazil, there is no more room for authoritarian setbacks,” states the 2022 manifesto, which has collected more than 1 million signatures. “Dictatorship and torture belong to the past. The solution to the immense challenges facing Brazilian society has to be tied to respect for the results of the elections.” The pro-democracy statement also referenced “how authoritarian follies put the United States’ century-old democracy at risk” and those “efforts to disrupt democracy and people’s faith in the reliability of the [electoral] process did not succeed, and nor will they here.” 

With about a month and a half until the most polarized election in Brazil’s recent history, the most recent polls show the far-right incumbent president trailing 15 points behind his biggest rival, former President Luiz Inácio Lula da Silva from the left-leaning Worker’s Party. A cornered Bolsonaro, who has been in power since 2019, saw his approval ratings tank in no small part due to his disastrous handling of the Covid-19 pandemic, which resulted in more than 680,000 deaths in the country. The unapologetically authoritarian leader is reportedly scared of being sent to prison for potential offenses that include corruption and crimes against humanity should he no longer be in office. “I have three alternatives for my future: jail, death, or victory,” Bolsonaro said last year. 

Tensions are running high in Brazil and the risk of political turmoil and violence in the next few weeks appears to be increasingly likely. Bolsonaro’s supporters have attacked pro-Lula rallies with feces and urine, and in July one of the president’s backers shot and killed a Worker’s Party local official. Frontrunner Lula has since increased his security apparatus and started wearing a bulletproof vest to public events. On top of the escalating threat of even greater political violence, some worry about a scenario in which the democratic order would be completely disrupted. “The number of times people ask me if I fear a coup d’état means that there’s something strange going on,” Brazil’s Supreme Court Justice Luís Roberto Barroso told CNN. 

As the presidential campaign officially kicks off, Mother Jones spoke with Guilherme Casarões, a political scientist and professor at Getulio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo about Bolsonaro’s radicalization, the possibility of “social chaos” ahead of the elections, and fears of a January 6-like scenario in Brazil. 

On Bolsonaro’s anti-democratic stances: If you look at Bolsonaro’s record and trajectory, he has always been very consistent and coherent in what he believes. He never lied about who he was and what he intended. Back in the 1990s when he was elected congressman, he used March 31 [the date of the military coup of 1964 that deposed President  João Goulart] to openly speak in favor of the dictatorship and defend torture. He publicly stated that the military dictatorship didn’t kill enough people and that if he became president he would shut down Congress. I don’t think Bolsonaro has changed much regarding these positions.

No one who voted for him in 2018 can say they didn’t know what he stood for. And I’m not even talking about his misogynistic views and attacks on minorities, which are also very serious. I’m thinking specifically about how he has never positioned himself as a staunch democrat. During the campaign in 2017, he made a declaration that there isn’t such a thing as a secular state and that minorities should bow to the majority. He thinks of Brazil as only those who support him. It’s an exclusionary political view and a serious symptom of an authoritarian personality. His unwillingness to make political concessions to minorities that he believes are problematic and his “no retreat, no surrender” politics are all signs of someone with few democratic convictions and little interest in making democracy work. 

“He thinks of Brazil as only those who support him.”

On discrediting institutions: Since day one of his presidency, Bolsonaro has set his supporters, who he calls The People, against formal and informal democratic institutions: the press, NGOs, and Congress. After he managed to co-opt Congress and centrist Liberals, he started setting people against the Supreme Court. By creating this opposition, he undermines democracy from within and weakens the very ability of democracy to organize itself against his authoritarian attitudes in order to be able to take over. A very serious indication of this that people don’t talk about as much anymore is the fact that Bolsonaro surrounded himself from the beginning with the military. At first, the military’s role was to protect him from a potential impeachment [there are more than 140 impeachment petitions against Bolsonaro]; they became sort of an insurance policy. But then the military began to like power and get used to bureaucratic life and ended up becoming accomplices in the “Bolsonarismo” project. There was a generalized institutional capture that helps us understand the means by which Bolsonaro is shielding himself from any opponents within the government. 

On the support of an eventual self-coup: I don’t think the military would be willing to embark on a coup that wouldn’t work. They have a sense of pragmatism, and if things look like they might go wrong they are likely to walk away. The problem is that the armed forces is not an institution that has democracy as its top priority. Democracy itself is not a historic commitment of the military. All the political ruptures we have had throughout our history were carried out by the military. It was the military who took down the emperor, carried out the Revolution of 1930, and the 1964 coup d’état—always with the justification of protecting the people from internal and external threats. When Bolsonaro says the Worker’s Party is involved with the PCC [First Capital Command, a criminal organization], he’s inciting the idea that the Worker’s Party is a threat. Or when he says the press wants to destroy the government, that too creates a sense of threat. If you take Peru in 1992 when [President Alberto] Fujimori mounted a self-coup, the perception of threat [represented by the Maoist group Shining Path] was decisive for it to happen. Sometimes these threats are constructed narratively. The military has sided with Bolsonaro in the construction of this threat. 

“The problem is that the armed forces are not an institution that has democracy as its top priority. Democracy itself is not a historic commitment of the military. “

The cost of a self-coup, or an executive takeover, is very high. There are variables outside the incumbent’s control: international support, the market’s reaction, and the risk of a civil war. It is always better to take democratic paths. There’s a difference between what we call executive takeover and de-democratization, which would be a very gradual process of reversing democracy. Bolsonaro has always sought to create conditions for an eventual democratic rupture but held on to the possibility of winning through normal means. He has understood from international experiences that sometimes it’s better not to break with democracy, but to take it from within. One thing Bolsonaro might not have foreseen is that unlike in 2018, when he had a meteoric rise, it now seems he might have reached a ceiling of 30 to 35 percent of votes, which is not enough for him to beat his opponent. He is betting on this final stretch of the elections in what is perhaps his last resort—economic populism

On election fraud claims: Bolsonaro’s interest in discrediting the Brazilian electoral process has been very clear. He had already been giving signs since the pandemic that he had no confidence in the electoral process, suggesting, for example, that the voting machines could be rigged and vaguely talking about irregularities in past elections. Although he never proved anything, he planted the seed among his supporters that the voting system is unreliable. Bolsonaro has been stating very clearly that he has no interest in accepting the outcome of the election if it’s not his own victory. There is a Trump-like element to his unwillingness to accept an unfavorable outcome on top of a fraud narrative. In the case of the United States, I think it didn’t get worse because there is still some institutional resistance. The military did not embark on Trump’s coup adventure, some Republican congressmen also did not accept it or wanted to distance themselves. Now January 6 is being investigated. You have a series of measures that show a certain democratic resistance that I don’t know we would have in Brazil, especially if civil society is unable to take a stand. Not because there are no democrats in Brazil, but because political institutions have already been dismantled or co-opted.

On the parallels to the United States: Much of the Brazilian experience is a reproduction, an emulation of what we saw in the United States. If we look at the electoral strategy and the communication techniques it all resembles things we know worked well in the United States. I think that from the beginning there wouldn’t be a Bolsonaro in Brazil if there hadn’t been a Trump in the United States. One movement propelled the other. What this moment in American history teaches Bolsonaro is that political radicalization pays off. Trump was not re-elected but Trumpism remains a very strong political movement, possibly paving the way for him to be re-elected in 2024.

On the possibility of a version of January 6: The conditions for a takeover were put in place from the first day of government, but there has been a coup escalation. We’re seeing a Bolsonaro who’s increasingly hostile towards the Supreme Court and against the electoral process and who has summoned foreign ambassadors to disseminate fake propaganda against voting machines. Bolsonaro’s interest is to effectively prevent elections from producing a result other than his victory. An element of desperation comes in. If he realizes, with 45 days to go before the election, that his chances of winning or closing the gap between him and Lula to reset the game in the second round will not happen, he will use September 7 [Brazil’s Independence Day] to force a situation of social chaos or one in which people break with the democratic pact and invade the Supreme Court or something along those lines. I don’t totally rule it out. He has already called on people to take to the streets.

We have a situation in Brazil today where Bolsonaro deregulated gun ownership so you have a very large number of armed people today who think that defending Bolsonaro is defending Brazil, a conflation that Bolsonaro encourages all the time. In addition to armed people, you have military police and armed forces that are ambiguous about all this. But even if it is not a self-coup in the classic sense—ordering the shutdown of Congress, the Supreme Court, etc.—if Bolsonaro manages to push the elections to the beginning of next year, for example, that would lead to political demobilization that would benefit him. If Bolsonaro is not elected, one thing is certain: he will do everything to prevent Lula from being able to govern.

Azadeh Shahshahani on Central America Plan, Jon Lloyd on Facebook Disinformation

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

 

In These Times (8/2/22)

This week on CounterSpin: The Biden administration says it’s making progress toward its goal to slow migration from Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador by addressing the causes of that migration. The White House “Call to Action” foregrounds private sector “investments” as key to creating economic opportunity and to rooting out corruption in the region. And companies like Microsoft and PepsiCo have stepped up to do…well, what exactly? And how does this differ from the support for transnational corporations and their extractive, profit-driven policies that has misled US involvement for decades? Azadeh Shahshahani is legal and advocacy director at Project South. She joins us to raise some questions about the US government’s claim that this time, they’re really bringing stability and security to northern Central America.

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Global Witness (8/15/22)

Also on the show: Facebook would appear to be 0 for 4 in tests of its ability to detect and reject ads containing blatant election-related misinformation—in this case, ahead of important elections in Brazil. The group Global Witness found what they’re calling a “pattern” of the social media platform allowing ads on the site that violate the most basic of standards—including, for example, telling folks the wrong date to vote. At what point does “Oops! But please believe we take all of this very seriously!” stop being a plausible excuse? We talk with Jon Lloyd, senior advisor at Global Witness.

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Plus Janine Jackson takes a quick look at how NPR misremembers the Afghan invasion.

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The post Azadeh Shahshahani on Central America Plan, Jon Lloyd on Facebook Disinformation appeared first on FAIR.

"No Tech for ICE": Data Broker LexisNexis Sued for Helping ICE Target Immigrant Communities

Democracy Now! -

A coalition of immigrant rights organizations have sued the data broker LexisNexis for collecting detailed personal information on millions of people and then selling it to governmental entities, including Immigration and Customs Enforcement. The lawsuit alleges LexisNexis has helped create “a massive surveillance state with files on almost every adult U.S. consumer,” and accuses ICE of using information collected by LexisNexis to circumvent local policies in sanctuary cities. We speak with Cinthya Rodriguez, organizer with the immigrant justice group Mijente, who explains how “one of the biggest data brokers in the world” is “getting rich off of the backs of community members,” particularly among immigrant communities of color and activists.

Palestinian NGOs Speak Out After Israeli Forces Raid Offices & Declare Them to Be "Terrorist" Groups

Democracy Now! -

Israeli forces raided and closed the offices of seven Palestinian civil society rights groups in the occupied West Bank on Thursday, six of which Israeli authorities had designated as terrorist groups last year. The raid came as the United Nations condemned Israel for killing 19 Palestinian children in recent weeks, and 100 days after Israeli forces shot dead Al Jazeera journalist Shireen Abu Akleh while covering an Israeli military raid in the Jenin refugee camp. We speak to Sahar Francis and Brad Parker, with two of the human rights groups Israel raided. Parker, senior adviser for policy and advocacy at Defense for Children International – Palestine, describes how 100 Israeli soldiers gathered outside his organization’s building before dozens broke into the offices to confiscate items and files, sealed the building and left behind notices declaring the organization unlawful. He calls the raid “part of a years-long campaign to delegitimize and essentially criminalize the work that we do to expose grave violations against Palestinians at the hands of Israeli authorities.” In Ramallah, Sahar Francis of Addameer Prisoner Support and Human Rights Association says the attack “aims to silence us.”

What Will the Future of Kenya Look Like? Nanjala Nyabola on 2022 Disputed Election, Drought & More

Democracy Now! -

Kenya is facing a political crisis following last week’s presidential election, with the apparent runner-up rejecting the results of the vote and the apparent president-elect announcing plans to form a new government. We speak with Nairobi-based writer and political analyst Nanjala Nyabola, who says the Kenyan elections yield “terrible candidates,” with the most recent election results following a decades-long tradition of election interference and miscommunication. “There’s always been a reason to doubt the results,” says Nyabola. She also discusses how the digital age has uplifted election systems like Kenya’s as examples of how to thwart democracy for the West, and the impact of the drought in the Horn of Africa, where the United States says more than 18 million people are facing severe hunger.

Headlines for August 19, 2022

Democracy Now! -

Greg Abbott Bussed Thousands of Migrants from Texas to DC. What Happened Once They Arrived?

Mother Jones Magazine -

Early Saturday morning, the room on the fourth floor of the Washington, DC, church is full. It’s not yet 7 a.m. and already about sixty migrants, mostly men and a handful of families with children, some women breastfeeding, sit around nine round tables. Their scant belongings—keepsakes of the homes they had left behind and tokens of solidarity from strangers they encountered along the way—are preserved inside transparent Ziplocs and white trash bags. After a 1,700-mile, 40-hour journey from Texas, two of the more than 150 buses transporting migrants that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has sent to Washington, DC, had arrived at Union Station at dawn. One woman approaches me to ask where she can take a shower, telling me she really needs to clean up. Another wonders if she can have a new pair of shoes because the cheap rubber sandals on her feet are falling apart. Some people need diapers and ointment for their babies; others ask around for some medicine that could relieve a headache. 

David Swanson, a 60-year-old compliance manager with the Human Rights Campaign finance department volunteers at the church every other weekend. (Mother Jones is not disclosing the location of the church or the migrants’ full names to protect their identities.) Since the church started receiving migrants in late May, over a month after they began arriving in the city, he has met people from all over the world—Venezuela, Guatemala, Honduras, Haiti, and even Afghanistan. During one of his shifts, a volunteer who happened to be a pediatrician noticed a woman who had surgical staples all over her chest. Swanson recalls that she had been shot many times, then hospitalized, but left her home country before she could get them removed. Another man had told him that he felt “a little bit like a prisoner” when he saw his final destination—Nashville, Tennessee—fly by the window as his bus raced towards the east coast without making a stop. 

This Saturday in August, Swanson is cooking breakfast for a group he had anticipated would number about 23 people. The gathering had more than doubled, and it turned out to be the biggest group the church had welcomed in a while. Dressed in an apron, Swanson started at 5 a.m. and prepared 130 eggs and eight rolls of pork sausage to be served with slices of melon, mandarin oranges, white bread, coffee, and apple juice. Still, he worries there might not be enough food for everyone. “Luckily we had a lot of leftover eggs from last week,” he tells me. Nearby, a young man thanks a volunteer, saying he hadn’t had a proper meal in several days. A mother breastfeeding a cheerful eight-month-old boy tells me she is happy to drink coffee for the first time in more than a week. Like so many people in the room, she and her husband hope to leave soon for New York.  

“We mostly stay out of the way and let them do their work,” Swanson says of the volunteers with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network, a coalition of about 20 grassroots groups from the DMV area and countless individuals who have mobilized to receive the buses at Union Station. “They work like a machine,” he says, coordinating with churches and other faith-based organizations to provide assistance and orientation to the migrants. 

A group of about 60 migrants arrived at a Washington, DC, church on a Saturday in August.

Isabela Dias

The migrants, most of whom came from Venezuela, are unaware that they have become the most recent pawns in a political game carried out by Republican governors. The first bus from Texas arrived in DC on April 13 with about 30 passengers on board. It was part of what Abbott described as a “voluntary transportation” plan but what advocates and the White House have dubbed a “publicity stunt.” The Texas governor said he was responding to the Biden administration’s move to rescind a Trump-era policy that relied on a public health order to summarily expel migrants and asylum seekers coming to the US-Mexico border. (The policy remains in place pending further litigation.) “By busing migrants to Washington, DC, the Biden Administration will be able to more immediately meet the needs of the people they are allowing to cross our border,” Abbott, who is seeking a third term in office, said in a statement at the time. “Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden Administration’s failure to secure our border.” 

“Texas should not have to bear the burden of the Biden Administration’s failure to secure our border.” 

Since April, Abbott has dispatched a total of 6,500 migrants to the Nation’s Capital, which has scrambled to try to deal with the arrivals. In early August, Texas also started sending migrants to New York, where they’re being dropped off at the Port Authority bus terminal. So far, the Texas Division of Emergency Management has spent millions of dollars in taxpayer money to charter the buses. A crowdfunding campaign organized by the governor’s office to help offset the costs had raised $167,828 as of August 17. In May, the Republican governor of Arizona Doug Ducey also began to bus migrants to DC—costing the state at least $3 million. The hostile practice has received criticism even from some Republicans who have called it a gimmick and a “cute photo-op.” The goal, Hidetaka Hirota, associate professor of history at the University of California, Berkeley, and author of Expelling the Poor: Atlantic Seaboard States and the Nineteenth-Century Origins of American Immigration Policy, writes in the Washington Post, is to “embarrass pro-immigration politicians and create the appearance of chaos to justify cruel policies.” 

Among the volunteers at the church is Diana Fula, a Colombian-born case manager for social services at Ayuda, a nonprofit organization helping low-income immigrants. She wears a bright blue t-shirt that reads “Melt ICE” in reference to US Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the agency that detains immigrants. She addresses some of the migrants by “compa,” a shorthand for compañero, or companion. Fula helps sort through the pile of donated clothes the church has collected, some of which were originally meant for Afghan refugees, and now fill racks and boxes in a large empty space on the third floor of the church building. “Families with kids first,” she says in Spanish as people start lining up in the balcony. 

After breakfast, Fula tells everyone it’s time to start the intake process. About six volunteers collect information about the migrants’ country of origin, date of birth, special circumstances (LGBTQ+, pregnancy, chronic illness), final destination, and point of contact. In a sunny corner of the room, telephone numbers for organizations in states such as Wisconsin, Florida, Massachusetts, Chicago, Georgia, and Nebraska are listed on a whiteboard. Migrants have received cell phones used by ICE to track them, Fula explains, and she might need to follow up so they don’t miss their check-in appointments and immigration court dates in the future. When a man asks her about the New York address on his papers, she urges him to confirm that he has the correct direction to a men’s shelter. “Sometimes immigration [officials] will put addresses that don’t even exist,” she notes. 

The migrants, Fula says, “are desperate to save their lives.” And the lives of their families. Five years ago, Esaviel, a slim-built 39-year-old Venezuelan wearing a t-shirt with the words “always courage,” traveled to Brazil to try to provide for his now 11-year-old daughter who had been diagnosed with Type-1 diabetes. But work proved scarce. The family then moved to Colombia, where Esaviel’s daily pay as a construction worker was worth a month’s salary in Venezuela. He invested much of his savings into buying tools, which he then sold before leaving for the United States. “I came here for my daughter,” he says showing me a piece of paper that details her medical condition. He has been carrying that paper for 21 days. “I want her to have a normal life.” 

Families with young children were among the migrants who arrived in DC on buses from Texas.

Isabela Dias

The buses to the DC have been arriving almost every day of the week, sometimes multiple times a day and often early in the morning and late at night. According to volunteer groups, only between 10 to 15 percent of migrants actually choose to stay in the DMV area. For those who are lucky, the “free ride” might get them closer to their desired destination, perhaps where family members await—whether in New York, New Jersey, Florida, or Michigan. 

Some larger organizations like the international humanitarian nonprofit SAMU First Response, which received a $1 million grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA), have been designated to provide immediate assistance at Union Station. But community groups and volunteers have had to step in to fill the gaps. By July, at the peak of arrivals, two to five buses arrived on a daily basis, and volunteers worked around the clock to send dozens of people to their next stops, says Ashley Tjhung, an organizer with the Migrant Solidarity Mutual Aid Network. (In a few months, the coalition’s expenses have soared to $300,000, to cover food, housing, transportation, and medical assistance.)

Those staying in DC have spent nights outside the station or in shelters, where bed space is limited. Some are put in hotels. But without being enrolled in the Department of Human Services system they lack a permanent address and don’t get assigned case managers to help them access basic services. “We have a network of volunteers who host migrants long-term in their homes and have been doing so for months,” Tjhung says, adding that the network also helps people make rent, get groceries, and find transportation to ICE appointments.

“We’re calling on the mayor to change her stance and live up to DC values as a sanctuary city.” 

But volunteers also know the workload is not sustainable in the long run. Advocates point to one potential model in the city of San Antonio, which established a FEMA-funded migrant resource center last month. “We recognize that these nonprofits are understandably strained and simply cannot be expected to carry this responsibility alone,” DC’s Attorney General Karl A. Racine Tweeted last week when announcing a new grant program. “The biggest issue we’re facing now is the lack of response from the DC government itself,” Tjhung says. “We’re calling on the mayor to change her stance and live up to DC values as a sanctuary city.” 

For her part, DC Mayor Muriel Bowser recently asked the federal government to deploy 150 members of the National Guard to respond to what she called a “growing humanitarian crisis.” The Pentagon denied the request. “I have got to deploy the resources that I need to handle it,” Bowser said. “And we need our National Guard. If we were a state, I would have already… deployed the National Guard. We also need a federal site. If there are going to be ongoing busloads of people who are stopping here on their way to where they’re going—which is not here—we need a site that the NGOs can use to make that… stop as humane as possible for people who are fleeing horrendous circumstances. In many cases, those people are boarding buses having been lied to about what’s going to be on the other end, and then they’re still not where they want to be. So we really need federal coordination.” 

I got to Union Station just before 10 p.m. earlier in the week, arriving around the same time as a group of about 17 migrants entered the main hall. The men, who appeared to be mostly in their late teens or early twenties, had just gotten off a bus and carried brown envelopes. They huddled together as they waited to give four SAMU volunteers their information. Some were making calls to family members and eating pizzas the volunteers had brought. “They’re being thrown back and forth,” Diego Anjos, a Brazilian pastor with the Universal Church of the Kingdom of God told me, explaining that he had decided to go to the station to see how he could help. 

Jesus, a 21-year-old from Venezuela, had been traveling for nearly six weeks since July 1. That was the first time he had left the country. Although he had finished his third year in law school, he saw no prospects in crisis-ridden Venezuela. “There, if you have money you eat, if not you don’t,” he said. In a backpack he acquired along the way, Jesus carried a pair of sneakers and socks, coins from the countries he had crossed, and a letter from his eight-year-old brother. He had carefully placed the paper inside two plastic bags, but it had been reduced to shreds, perhaps a casualty of the river crossing. His brother’s drawing of a heart and an arrow were still visible. 

A migrant shows what’s left of his brother’s letter.

Isabela Dias

“People have seen some unimaginable, heartbreaking things,” Reverend Lisa Ahuja from a DC-based church that welcomes migrants says. The church has hung a big map so that people can talk about their plans and future destinations. It has also started offering Spanish language worship services on weekends. Sometimes migrants ask her to pray for their family members or those who had died along the journey. “While they seem hopeful for the life ahead of them, they are also longing and grieving for the life they had,” Rev. Ahuja says, explaining she worries about the migrants’ mental health needs and hopes to apply for a grant so she can hire a social worker and a therapist. “This [work] takes half of my time,” she says. “It’s not my full-time job; I still have to run a church, visit the dying… But I know this is the most important thing we can be doing.” 

“While they seem hopeful for the life ahead of them, they are also longing and grieving for the life they had.”

“They’re our neighbors, Rev. Ahuja adds, “our community members now.”

On a hot, beautiful, August Thursday, Daniele sits across from me outside a Gregorys Coffee downtown. “The heat doesn’t bother me,” she tells me in Spanish, her eyebrows and manicure impeccably done, and her dark curly hair tied on top of her head with a scarf. “I’m used to it.” It’s been a little over a month since Daniele, who asked me not to use her real name because she has a pending application for asylum, arrived in one of the hundreds of buses from Texas. The 26-year-old from Venezuela appears in awe of how clean and well-kept the public spaces in the city are and how multicultural it is. She never imagined that she would end up in Washington, DC, but now, because of the Texas governor’s political stunt, she’s calling it home. 

In Venezuela, Daniele served in the military and dreamed of becoming a Navy pilot. But as the political crisis in the country worsened, she decided to abandon her military career and migrate to Ecuador. “It’s very sad to see so many of your dreams going down the drain for circumstances that are outside of your control,” she says. “I planned all my life and none of it came to fruition. Look at where I am now. I’m adrift.” The xenophobia in Ecuador, she says, made her life harder—rental listings explicitly stated they didn’t accept Venezuelans and visas that cost five times more than for other nationalities. So, on May 20 she began the journey to the United States with a group of 18 people.

Daniele walking in Downtown DC.

Isabela Dias

Crossing the Darien Gap between Panama and Colombia was the hardest stretch. She spent three days and two nights in the jungle. “When you get to the jungle there are more than 500 people searching for the same dream,” she says. “And it’s not the American dream. It’s a dream of giving your family something better. You know that something can happen to you but for your family, nothing else matters. You risk everything you have and everything you are.” 

Along the way, Daniele says she slept in the streets and got extorted, kidnapped, and detained. After walking for three days from one Mexican town to the next she arrived at Piedras Negras on the border with Texas. As she crossed the river with water up to her neck, she cried and felt safe for the first time in a while. “From the moment I stepped on US soil,” she says, “it was as if a weight was lifted off my shoulders.” After being taken to a border facility for processing, Daniele was released and spent one night at a shelter where they told her about the bus to DC, on which she estimates she traveled with about 70 other migrants. 

Daniele arrived in DC on the night of July 5 and connected with a church, where she met a woman who lives alone and welcomed her into her home. “She’s like a second mother,” she says. “We help each other a lot and keep each other company.” Some Wednesdays, Daniele volunteers at the church that first received her, helping the migrants who continue to arrive. She knows she has a long road ahead of her. She isn’t allowed to work and it may take months for her asylum application to go through. But for the time being, she has found peace. “I want to stay here,” she tells me. “I’m happy where I am.”

As I reflect on the people I had encountered—Daniele, the eight-month-old baby and his mother, the young men eating pizza at Union Station—I think about all the uncertainty that will follow them and the scores of other migrants who were now in buses bound for DC or New York. How long will it take for them to get back on their feet? Whose generosity might they have to rely on next? Then I remember Esaviel, whose daughter’s survival kept him going. “Someone who’s desperate doesn’t make it through,” he told me. “You have to have a strong mind.” 

Watch: Western Cities Are in a Bind as the Colorado River Runs Dry

Mother Jones Magazine -

This video story was created by Pattrn and is shared here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

One hundred years ago, Western states and Mexico signed a pact to divvy up water from the Colorado River, based on century-old science and historic river flows. How times have changed. Today, 40 million people across seven states rely on the Colorado as their primary water source. But with the river’s flow dwindling, key reservoirs like Lake Mead and Lake Powell running insanely low, and water restrictions getting more intense, battles are raging over who gets this live-giving liquid—and how much they get. Below, our Climate Desk partner Pattrn (an affiliate of The Weather Channel) sketches out this dire situation in about three minutes. Check it out.

 

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