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Donald Trump Just Found Another Infuriating Way to Undermine Science

Mother Jones Magazine -

He has done it again. President Donald Trump just found a new way to undermine science—and benefit industry—from the federal level.  On Friday evening, when it was unlikely to receive much coverage, the president issued an executive order directing federal agencies to “evaluate the need” for and severely limit the number of expert panels that advise them. 

According to the executive order, Trump wants agencies to gut at least one-third of their advisory committees within a few months:

Each agency shall, by September 30, 2019, terminate at least one-third of its current committees established under section 9(a)(2) of FACA, including committees for which the:

(i)    stated objectives of the committee have been accomplished;

(ii)   subject matter or work of the committee has become obsolete;

(iii)  primary functions have been assumed by another entity; or

(iv)   agency determines that the cost of operation is excessive in relation to the benefits to the Federal Government.

Agencies have turned to experts for guidance on “everything from air and water pollution to drug safety and foodborne illnesses,” according to the Union of Concerned Scientists. There are about 1,000 advisory committees governmentwide, according to the U.S. General Services Administration.

The Environmental Protection Agency will be further crippled by the executive order. An EPA spokesperson told The Hill that the agency will “will review its [Federal Advisory Committee Act] obligations in line with the President’s executive order.” Similarly, a spokesperson from the Interior Department, which has more than 100 federal advisory committees, told the publication that it “looks forward to another opportunity to review” their committees, in order to “improve the utility of these advisory committees.”

This move culminates a concerted effort by the Trump administration to remove science from the government that began almost immediately after he was sworn in. “For the past two years they have been shrinking and restricting the role of federal science advisory committees,” Gretchen Goldman, the research director with the Center for Science and Democracy at UCS, said in a statement. “Now they’re removing the possibility of even making decisions based on robust science advice. It’s no longer death by a thousand cuts. It’s taking a knife to the jugular.”

Mike Pompeo Has a Hard Time Kicking Old Habits

Mint Press News -

“I was the CIA director. We lied, We Cheated, We Stole”.  – Mike Pompeo

It appears that Mike Pompeo has a hard time kicking his old habits.  He appears to be as smug about lying as a CIA operative as he is as Secretary of State.  Categorically blaming the Iranians for the recent oil attack tankers has left allies scratching their heads; and perhaps leaving foes thinking: “Thank God my enemy is so stupid”!   

On June 13, 2019, as Ayatollah Khamenei was holding talks in Tehran with Japanese prime minister, Shinzo Abe, two oil tankers carrying oil to Japan were attacked.  As investigations into the incident were just beginning, Pompeo had already concluded his assessment and had it ready for the press. Much to the audible surprise of the world, and without any proof or supporting documents, he laid the blame firmly at Iran’s feet citing “intelligence”.  

To his relief, in no time at all, US officials claimed that they had managed to get their hands on videos and pictures.  They presented a grainy video alleging to show an Iranian navy boat removing mines from the damaged Japanese ship.  It is easy to understand why the grainy video’s existence was necessary.

Precisely a month prior, on May 13th,  four oil tankers were damaged in the region.   The United States blamed Iran without any evidence.  Saudi Arabia followed suit. The rest of the world was skeptical and doubts floated about the about the accuracy of US claims.  This time around, Pompeo was saved by the video – although not for long! The Japanese vessel owner disputed the presence of mines damaging his vessel (as suggested in the blurry video).

Even allies were skeptical.  To enforce its position and allegations against Iran,  the Trump administration made its argument based on misinterpreting what Iran had said about the oil embargo.   Following Trump’s announcement on April 22nd that America would not renew US waivers for countries which imported oil from Iran, in essence, imposing an oil embargo, on April 25the Iranian government retorted by condemning America’s illegal demands and stated that no other country could take its share of the oil market.

The Trump team would like us to believe that what Iran meant was the sabotage of the oil tankers.   This is far from true. Iran was referring to its legal right under the 1982 United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) which legally allows it to impede the passage of oil shipments through its territorial waters – the Strait of Hormuz.

While UNCLOS stipulates that vessels can exercise the right of innocent passage, and coastal states should not impede their passage, under the UNCLOS framework, a coastal state [Iran] can block ships from entering its territorial waters if the passage of the ships harms “peace, good order or security” of said state, as the passage of such ships would no longer be deemed “innocent”.   

Given Iran’s recourse to international law, American diplomacy at its all time low, and the rally behind Iran – if only verbally – it makes absolutely no sense for Iran to blow up oil tankers and turn the world opinion in favor of  Trump and his the warmongering advisors – Pompeo and Bolton.

But tankers were blown up.   What other motivation were there?  

Perhaps NOPEC – No to Oil Producing and Exporting Cartels Act.   In February, House passed a Bill that would cripple OPEC.   The Bill would prohibit OPEC from coordinating production and influencing prices.  While the Bill was said to provide a useful leverage for the White House, Persian Gulf Arab states sent their warnings to Wall Street.  

On April 5th, Saudi Arabia even threatened to drop Dollar for oil trades in order to discourage US from passing the NOPEC Bill.  The Saudi threat came on the heels of UAE cautions the prior month that if such bill passed, it would in effect, break up OPEC.  

Perhaps this was the reason behind Saudi Arabia’s lack of cooperation.   After Trump announced his Iran oil embargo, a senior US administration assured the world at large that Trump was confident Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates would fill any gap left in the oil market.  He was mistaken. On April 29th, the Saudi Energy Minister, Khaled el-Falih made it clear that Saudi Arabia would not “rush to boost oil supply to make up for a loss of Iranian crude”.  

After the May 13th incident, apparently America’s accusations did not carry any weight around the world, but they did have an impact on the jittery Saudis.   On June 3rd, Bloomberg reported that over the last month, the Saudis  raised their oil production to replace lost Iranian oil.    The oil market was satisfied and America could continue to put pressure on friend and foe to stop buying Iranian oil – there would be no shortages.

What then explains the second tanker incidents of June 13th?

Perhaps the motive is two-fold.  Firstly, the United States would reinforce its unfounded allegations that Iran is a ‘bad actor’ and discourage and dissuade the international community from cooperation with Iran.  And secondly, the hike in the price of oil as a result of the tanker attacks no doubt sent a sigh of relief to shale oil producers in the United States. A drop in oil prices would greatly harm or bankrupt US shale-focused, debt-dependent producers.

Not on Trump’s watch.  

Although many states in the US and some countries in the world have banned shale oil production due to its adverse effects on the environment, specifically water, the United States’ goal is to be the biggest producer and supplier of oil depending on its shale oil production.  Currently, according to the latest US Energy Information Administration (EIA), the United States is a net importer of oil.   With low oil prices, a halt or slowing of shale, the trend would continue to be an importer.

Having Saudi Arabia cower to US demands, demonizing Iran, intimidating allies and non-allies with fear of conflict in the region in order to press further demands on Iran, increase in the price of oil, and the weapons that would be purchased by US allies in the nervous neighborhood, seems like a win-win situation for America.  For now.

Feature Photo | Secretary of State Mike Pompeo meets with coalition forces at Bagram Air Base, Afghanistan, July 9, 2018. Andrew Harnik | AP

Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich is an independent researcher and writer with a focus on U.S. foreign policy.

The post Mike Pompeo Has a Hard Time Kicking Old Habits appeared first on MintPress News.

Meghan McCain Asked Twitter for Father’s Day Dad Stories. Thousands of People Replied.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Meghan McCain, the daughter of Arizona Senator John McCain who died of brain cancer in August 2018, on Wednesday asked her Twitter followers in the “#DeadDadsClub” to share stories of their dead fathers on her timeline ahead of Father’s Day.

“Anyone else out there who is dreading Father’s Day this Sunday – I feel you, and have been trying to come up with something positive to do Sunday,” she wrote. “Maybe we will all feel less alone?” What the co-host of The View may not have expected, perhaps, is the outpouring of support and personal stories thousands of her followers shared in response to her tweet.

Anyone else out there who is dreading Father’s Day this Sunday – I feel you, and have been trying to come up with something positive to do Sunday. So, I want you to feel free to share #deaddadsclub stories on my timeline and I will share it. Maybe we will all feel less alone?

— Meghan McCain (@MeghanMcCain) June 12, 2019

McCain’s ask came a few days before President Donald Trump’s critics decided to dub Friday, June 14, #JohnMcCainDay, in an apparent effort to troll the president on his birthday. Started by Andy Lassner, the executive producer of The Ellen DeGeneres Show, the hashtag went viral.

Honoring an American hero today.

Let’s celebrate @realDonaldTrump’s birthday today by having #JohnMcCainDay trend.

I’m sure this would mean a lot to patriot like Donald Trump. #JohnMcCainDay

— andy lassner (@andylassner) June 14, 2019

(It’s no secret that Trump wasn’t a fan of the senator when he was alive, a feud which continued past McCain’s death. In May, the president’s staff reportedly asked the Navy for the USS John S. McCain to be out of sight ahead of the president’s visit to Japan.)

The Census Bureau announced Saturday that more than 60 percent of the 121 million men in the United States are fathers, the Associated Press reports. In honor of fatherless children, and belatedly, #JohnMcCainDay, here are some of the moving and remarkable stories shared on Meghan McCain’s timeline:

My dad died unexpectedly 10 months before my wedding. 14 years later and I still can’t watch a father/daughter dance. I always leave the room and cry. Thinking of you this Sunday …. #deaddadsclub

— NurseNora78 (@DeglowNora) June 12, 2019

My father died the day before my wedding of emphysema after a long battle. I knew he would never walk me down the aisle as I sat by his bedside and addressed my wedding invitations. My wedding and my father’s death will always be intermingled. My marriage didn’t last either.

— Shannon Green (@Shannon99138495) June 12, 2019

My Dad 86, died from cancer 6.25.18. I was former Navy. Retired from 2nd career 10 days before he passed. He was the best Dad to his only child, me. I was blessed to have a Dad who loved me unconditionally. He loved his grandchildren, great grandkids and son in law. #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/Bgqaaj6sTY

— All Are Created Equal (@DesignerNails) June 12, 2019

My dad passed 5 years ago on June 18th a few days after Father’s Day. I spend the day as normal as I can but give myself one hour doing something my father enjoyed. This year, by complete coincidence, I am playing basketball – the sport he taught me as a young girl #deaddadsclub

— Maggie Mae Ramold (@mmramold) June 12, 2019

My dad, an Air Force fighter pilot, died in a plane crash 31 years ago. I was young so I barely knew him but have a few amazing memories. Even though I’ve been a member of #deaddadsclub for awhile, it’s still painful. My heart goes out to you, the McCain family, & all in the club pic.twitter.com/PoGiqkW7tr

— Brittany Conklin (@BE_Conklin) June 13, 2019

I lost my dad to glioblastoma when I was 13 years old, on October 19th, 2004. I miss his voice and the feel of his scruffy cheeks on mine when he would give me a hug. He gave so much to his kids. Hardest part is knowing that my daughters never met him. #deaddadsclub

— Alex Kolster (@alexkolster) June 13, 2019

My dad died on 8/15/18 after a 3 1/2 year battle with cancer. I treasure my memories of him. He did not want us to mourn, but remember him in simple ways. He was a proud US Marine. My heart is broken. pic.twitter.com/0TMMaimGRm

— Penny Davis (@pennyedavis) June 12, 2019

It’s been 16 years since my dad passed. I struggle to recall the detail of my fondest memories. I don’t have a good answer re Father’s Day. I still break down on occasion. But I try to be like him for my kids and now my two grandkids and it makes me feel like I’m honoring him.

— Brett L. Tolman (@tolmanbrett) June 12, 2019

This is my father, Jack Bernard Gaines. Losing both parents to cancer by the time I was 26, I empathize and admire your courage in sharing. They both taught me to find my “Safety in Self” and “… finish what’s begun; before our days are done. We must be true.” #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/JMeGIylnrR

— Jeffrey Gaines (@jeffreygmusic) June 13, 2019

My dad passed away last September, a few weeks before his 92nd birthday. I was able to spend some time with him in the days before he passed, and I will always treasure that.

Try not to dread Father’s Day though. Bask in the memories of your shared experiences. #deaddadsclub

— Cam Edwards (@CamEdwards) June 12, 2019

This handsome gentleman is my dad, Gary Lukatch. He very unexpectedly died on April 1, 2019 while on holiday in Beruit, Lebanon. He was 75 years old, and Lebanon was the 75th country he had visited. I am still in shock and miss him every minute. pic.twitter.com/3Gv1LCuYk6

— DemoTeachers (@DemoTeachers) June 15, 2019

He would always call me peanut. Even in my 30s. #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/dkhWjmUc6u

— Carolyn Schamberger, APR (@cschamz) June 12, 2019

This is a photo of me and my father at my Bar Mitzvah. He passed away suddenly last March in 2018. He was only 67. I was only 24. Not a minute goes by where I’m not missing nor thinking of him pic.twitter.com/PhlQ1tvYae

— (((Oren Glickman))) (@GlickmanOren) June 13, 2019

I lost my Dad on March 14th this year. He was 90 years old. He loved the @Raptors and it breaks my heart knowing he isn’t here to watch them play in the finals. He had the best sense of humour even making us laugh a few days before he died. I miss him so much. #deaddadsclub pic.twitter.com/ckGVXgQaFH

— Theresa (@T_4an) June 13, 2019

Join Me On a Dive Down the Rabbit Hole of Health Care Admin Costs

Mother Jones Magazine -

I went down a rabbit hole last night, so today I’m going to torture you by telling you all about it. It started on Twitter, where I learned that various versions of the chart below are extremely widespread:

Two things immediately struck me. First, the number of administrators suddenly skyrocketed between 1993-96. I can’t think of any good reason for this. Second, it shows the number of physicians growing by only 150 percent, and I know that’s not right. In reality the number has more than tripled. So that got me curious: where did this chart come from?

The number of physicians is pretty easy to get. Right now there are a little more than 1 million physicians and surgeons in the US. It’s also pretty easy to get numbers for the entire health care sector: about 16 million. The hard part is figuring out how many administrators there are. Of the sources cited in the chart, neither the BLS nor the NCHS is going to help with this, so I went searching for Himmelstein and Woolhandler. They are prolific writers, but the closest I found to this chart was this one that goes up to 1987:

This matches the orginal chart through 1987, though it’s worth noting that H&W are forced to make a lot of assumptions to get here.¹ The reason is simple: there is no remotely reliable measure of the number of health care administrators in America. In fact, I can’t figure out where H&W got theirs. It’s allegedly sourced to the 1989 Statistical Abstract of the United States, but I sure can’t find it there and I have no reason to think the federal government has ever tracked this. But let’s plow ahead anyway.

In 2003, H&W estimated that health care administration costs (not personnel) had increased from $450 in 1987 to $1059 by 1999—and this is a very broad number since they include things like the time doctors spend on admin chores. Adjusted for inflation and population growth, that’s an increase of about 80 percent. But the chart that kicked off this post shows an increase of around 4x during that period. The H&W number is far more believable. I suspect that the 4x increase is an artifact of some kind, perhaps due to a reclassification of job functions. Or maybe it was just a mistake. In any case, it’s been carried over in every chart since.

This takes us to 1999. But what about now? Here’s a page from the Bureau of Labor Statistics for 2018:

Everyone here is a practitioner or a medical assistant, not an administrator. It adds up to 13 million. With a total of 16 million people in health care, that leaves 3 million unaccounted for. Those are the administrators, receptionists, billing clerks, etc. Insurance adjusters and other outsiders add about 2 million to the total, all of them administration, which gets us to roughly 5 million administrators out of 18 million total, or 28 percent. H&W estimated that administration and clerical workers made up 27 percent of the health care labor force in 1999, increasing at a rate that would get us to 30 percent by today. So the right number is probably between 28-30 percent. Let’s call it 29 percent.

Put that all together and it suggests that the number of administrators has increased about 30-40 percent since 1999.

So what should our chart really look like? I have three different suggestions. The first just puts together the data points that I’ve outlined so far:

The second comes from the federal government, and it’s their estimate of government admin costs plus private insurance admin costs. This does not include hospital billing clerks, IT departments, and so forth, but it still ought to provide us with a benchmark of sorts for the growth rate of administration:

Finally, here’s a chart based directly on figures from Himmelstein and Woolhandler (Table 2 here):

This is nowhere near the 3000 percent growth on the original chart, but it’s still pretty high. It’s probably safe to say that health care administration has grown somewhere on the order of 1000 percent over the past 50 years. But why?

This is what brings us to the final, most correct chart. Here’s the thing: fifty years ago we didn’t have MRI techs or transplant hospitals or routine ultrasounds or proton beams for cancer patients. Four years ago I spent a couple of weeks at City of Hope to treat my cancer; the treatment I got—not to mention the entire campus in its current form—didn’t even exist in 1970.

In other words, the main reason that administration has gotten bigger is because medical care has gotten bigger. Since 1970, adjusted for inflation, health care spending has gone up about 600 percent and the number of health care workers has gone up about 500 percent. It’s only natural that the number of administrators would go up at least that much as well.

So the real question is: how much has administration gone up above and beyond the overall growth in health care? Here’s the answer based on two of the estimates above:

Once you take into account the growth in health care generally, the share devoted to administration has gone up by 50-100 percent. That’s a lot! But it’s also not that surprising. In 1970, the health care industry spent approximately $0 on IT management. Today they spend a bundle, and all of that is admin overhead. Purchasing has exploded too, since there are far more things to purchase these days. Regulations have grown along with technology, so compliance offices have grown. Doctors and hospitals have always spent hours on the phone arguing with insurance companies, but that’s probably grown too.

I don’t mean for any of this to excuse the growth rate of administration, which might be higher than it should be. And there’s certainly no question that our absolute level of administrative overhead is insanely high. H&W estimate, for example, that the share of workers dedicated to administration is about a third higher in the US than in Canada. Needless to say, this is largely because Canada doesn’t waste boatloads of money on private insurance and all the overhead that implies.

Bottom line: the health care system has grown tremendously over the past 50 years, but that’s mostly not because we have a lot more doctors. It’s because we have MRI techs and ultrasound specialists and more kinds of nurses and more kinds of pills and enormous proton beams to cure cancer. (Those proton beams are massively expensive and require large staffs, but that doesn’t mean you need any more oncologists per patient.) To manage all this new stuff, we need bigger admin and support staffs. As a result, admin and support have grown about 50-100 percent on a relative basis. That’s the real number.

¹Note that their estimate include a huge jump between 1984-87. However, this makes some sense since the Reagan administration changed the Medicare payment system in 1983 in a way that might plausibly have led to a big increase in administration costs.

Hong Kong Leader Delays Extradition Bill Amid Mass Protests

TruthDig.com News -

HONG KONG—Embattled Hong Kong leader Carrie Lam sought to quell public anger Saturday by shelving an unpopular extradition bill that has highlighted apprehension about relations with mainland China, but opponents of the measure said it was not enough.

Activists said they were still planning a mass protest for Sunday, a week after hundreds of thousands marched to demand Lam drop the legislation, which many fear would undermine freedoms enjoyed by this former British colony but not elsewhere in China.

The battle over the proposal to amend the Fugitive Offenders Ordinance to allow some suspects to face trial in mainland Chinese courts has evolved into Hong Kong’s most severe political test since the Communist Party-ruled mainland took control in 1997 with a promise not to interfere with the city’s civil liberties and courts.

Critics said Lam should withdraw the plan for good, resign and apologize for police use of potentially lethal force during clashes with protesters on Wednesday.

“Democrats in Hong Kong simply cannot accept this suspension decision,” said lawmaker Claudia Mo. “Because the suspension is temporary. The pain is still there.”

The decision was “too little, too late,” she said.

“Hong Kong people have been lied to so many times,” said Bonny Leung, a leader of the Civil Human Rights Front, one of the groups that has helped organize the demonstrations.

Lam has said the legislation is needed if Hong Kong to uphold justice, meet its international obligations and not become a magnet for fugitives. The proposed bill would expand the scope of criminal suspect transfers to include Taiwan, Macau and mainland China.

China has been excluded from Hong Kong’s extradition agreements because of concerns over its judicial independence and human rights record.

Speaking to reporters after announcing her decision Saturday, Lam sidestepped questions over whether she should quit. She insisted she was not withdrawing the proposed amendment and defended the police.

But she said she was suspending the bill indefinitely. It was time, she said, “for responsible government to restore as quickly as possible this calmness in society.”

“I want to stress that the government is adopting an open mind,” she said. “We have no intention to set a deadline for this work.”

She emphasized that a chief concern was to avoid further injuries both for the public and for police. About 80 people were hurt in the clashes earlier in the week, more than 20 of them police.

“It’s possible there might be even worse confrontations that might be replaced by very serious injuries to my police colleagues and the public,” she said. “I don’t want any of those injuries to happen.”

Lam apologized for what she said were failures in her government’s work to win public support for the bill, which is opposed by a wide range of sectors in Hong Kong, including many teachers, students, lawyers and trade unions.

But she insisted the bill was still needed.

“Give us another chance,” she said.

Beijing-appointed Lam said she had the central government’s backing for her decision to yield to the protests. A Foreign Ministry spokesman, Geng Shuang, said in a statement Saturday that the Chinese government “expresses support, respect and understanding” for Lam’s decision.

Many analysts believe that given deep public frustration over expanding control from Beijing under President Xi Jinping, China’s strongest leader in decades, Lam might eventually have to abandon the plan altogether.

“If there’s more mass action this week that doesn’t degenerate into smashing, they will have to,” said Ken Courtis, an investment banker who has worked in Hong Kong off and on for many years.

The anger seen in the streets has been directed squarely at Lam and the Hong Kong government, not Beijing, he notes.

“Young people continue to be very dissatisfied,” said Courtis, chairman of Starfort Investment Holdings. “The economy’s not growing like people thought it would grow.”

Lam acknowledged that the government needed to tackle other issues, especially a dire lack of affordable housing. She also cited the economy as a concern.

The extradition bill has drawn criticism from U.S. and British lawmakers and human rights groups, prompting Beijing to lash back with warnings against “interference” in its internal affairs.

But analysts say China also has to weigh the risk of seeing Hong Kong, a vital port and financial center of 7 million people, possibly losing its special economic status.

Under the 1992 U.S.-Hong Kong Policy Act, Beijing needs to abide by its “one country, two systems” promises to respect the territory’s legal autonomy for 50 years as promised under the agreement signed with Britain for the 1997 handover.

Already, many here believe the territory’s legal autonomy has been significantly diminished despite Beijing’s insistence that it is still honoring those promises.

Prosecutions of activists, detentions without trial of five Hong Kong book publishers and the illegal seizure in Hong Kong by mainland agents of at least one mainland businessman are among the moves in recent years that have undermined that

In may well be in China’s interest to help Hong Kong’s role as a financial center to grow in importance given the current extreme trade tensions with the U.S.

Much hinges on whether protests persist or again turn violent, Courtis said.

“That is a limit, a brake of common sense of how far Beijing would push these things,” he said. “The last thing Beijing wants, with all this trouble with Washington, is that Hong Kong boils over.”

The post Hong Kong Leader Delays Extradition Bill Amid Mass Protests appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Remember When Trump Waved a Paper at Reporters and Said It Was a Secret Deal with Mexico? Here It Is.

Mother Jones Magazine -

Earlier this month, after his trip to Europe, President Donald Trump announced he had cut an immigration deal, including secret provisions, with Mexico that would stop, for now, his proposed and widely-criticized tariffs.

I am pleased to inform you that The United States of America has reached a signed agreement with Mexico. The Tariffs scheduled to be implemented by the U.S. on Monday, against Mexico, are hereby indefinitely suspended. Mexico, in turn, has agreed to take strong measures to….

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 8, 2019

The president did not disclose those details, but did flash what he said was the agreement at reporters, and promised to reveal its contents in the future. On Friday, the Mexican government released the text. It turns out, the “deal” Trump heralded was a whole lot of nothing. In fact, it is more of an arrangement to continue discussions.

“The United States and Mexico,” the agreement reads, “will immediately begin discussions to establish definitive terms for a binding bilateral agreement to further address burden-sharing and the assignment of responsibility for processing refugee claims of migrants.”

Politico described the back and forth as a classic example of how Trump creates a crisis, exacerbates the crisis, “[a]nd finally, cut a vague, imperfect or constitutionally questionable deal at the last minute, claiming victory and savaging the critics.” 

The document, shared on Twitter via Bloomberg’s Mexico bureau chief Carlos Manuel Rodríguez, indicates that a future agreement between Mexico and the United States would be part of a “regional approach to burden-sharing” in processing migrant claims. Mexico also commits to “immediately begin examining” its laws and regulations to identify “any changes that may be necessary” to accommodate a future agreement.

As Rachel Withers at Vox explains:

“The release of the letter doesn’t reveal any new commitments from Mexico, and more or less lines up with the joint statement released on June 7. In the declaration, Mexico agreed to take ‘unprecedented steps to increase enforcement to curb irregular migration,’ including deploying its National Guard throughout the country and giving priority to its southern border. It also declared that ‘those crossing the US Southern Border to seek asylum will be rapidly returned to Mexico where they may await the adjudication of their asylum claims.’

The agreement doesn’t mention anything about not imposing the tariff on Mexican goods that Trump was threatening, and is, at most, an agreement to have discussions about a potential future deal.”

Read it here:

Well, Mexico just released the full page that @realDonaldTrump carried when he said there was a secret agreement pic.twitter.com/A5ocd4WV6p

— Carlos Manuel Rodríguez (@carlos_rgz) June 14, 2019

America Is Targeting the Russian Electric Grid — But Don’t Tell the President

Mother Jones Magazine -

The New York Times reports that we have been aggressively installing malware in Russia’s electric grid:

Since at least 2012, current and former officials say, the United States has put reconnaissance probes into the control systems of the Russian electric grid. But now the American strategy has shifted more toward offense, officials say, with the placement of potentially crippling malware inside the Russian system at a depth and with an aggressiveness that had never been tried before. It is intended partly as a warning, and partly to be poised to conduct cyberstrikes if a major conflict broke out between Washington and Moscow.

….Officials at the National Security Council also declined to comment but said they had no national security concerns about the details of The New York Times’s reporting about the targeting of the Russian grid, perhaps an indication that some of the intrusions were intended to be noticed by the Russians.

This was obviously an “official leak.” But why? To make sure that Russia knows how vulnerable they are? Or to send Russia into a tizzy looking for malware? Hard to say. But here’s the best part of the story:

Pentagon and intelligence officials described broad hesitation to go into detail with Mr. Trump about operations against Russia for concern over his reaction — and the possibility that he might countermand it or discuss it with foreign officials, as he did in 2017 when he mentioned a sensitive operation in Syria to the Russian foreign minister.

I appreciate the sentiment here, but it makes so sense. If the intelligence community is willing to talk to the Times, they obviously aren’t concerned about Trump’s blabbing. Nor are they concerned about the fact that he might cancel the operation.

My amateur guess is a little different: this is really a way of making sure the American public knows about the cyberwar program. Trump could still stop it, but he now knows that his cancellation would be leaked and he’d look like a Putin stooge—not something he can afford more of right now. This is not a subtle form of bureaucratic battle, it’s hardball of the most explicit kind. The intelligence community—including Trump’s own NSC—pretty obviously wants to make sure there’s no chance of Trump not getting the message.

HuffPost Just Published a Bombshell Story About the EPA

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by HuffPost and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

A top Environmental Protection Agency official gave a presentation last year at a gathering of some of the most zealous deniers of climate science, highlighting the influence a small, fringe movement hawking crank theories now wields in Washington.  

Emails HuffPost reviewed reveal Bill Wehrum, the EPA’s assistant administrator for air and radiation, gave a presentation in early February 2018 at an event organized by the Cooler Heads Coalition, an umbrella group of tax-exempt charities and right-wing nonprofits that includes some of the most ardent proponents of climate change denial.

Three other EPA officials―associate administrator Tate Bennett, senior counsel David Harlow and then-spokeswoman Liz Bowman―attended the confab with Wehrum, the emails show.

In an email dated Feb. 6, 2018, Myron Ebell, who has led the Cooler Heads Coalition for more than two decades, offered gratitude for the EPA officials’ attendance at the previous day’s event, and invited the group to the next meeting a month later.   

“Thanks Bill, David, Liz, and Tate, for coming to Cooler Heads and for your presentation and taking questions, Bill. It was most useful,” Ebell, who led the Trump administration’s EPA transition team, wrote. “We look forward to seeing any or all of you at future meetings.”

The EPA declined to comment on the nature of Wehrum’s presentation and whether any officials attended other events with the Cooler Heads Coalition.

“EPA takes time to meet with stakeholders on a variety of regulatory issues, this is no different,” said EPA spokesman Michael Abboud.

Ebell did not respond to calls and text messages requesting comment.

The revelation is not surprising from an administration that’s attempting to eliminate or delay, by The New York Times’ estimate, at least 83 environmental regulations, particularly rules to curb climate pollution. The EPA is expected to announce a proposal next week to replace Obama-era power plants rules with a regulation that would, by the agency’s own estimates, allow for enough pollution to cause up to additional 1,400 premature deaths per year by 2030. 

“The fact that Bill went to talk to a group like this is the cherry on top of a toxic sundae,” Joseph Goffman, a former senior counsel and associate administrator for climate who served in the Obama-era EPA, said by phone. “It’s the toxicity of the sundae that’s really going to have the damaging impact on people’s lives.”

But the emails show the degree to which top officials at the nation’s leading public health agency have cultivated chummy ties with “fringe conspiracy theorists,” the Sierra Club, which released the records obtained through a Freedom of Information Act request, said in a statement, calling the relationship “despicable.” 

“It removes any illusion that the EPA is acting in good faith to ensure the public trust.”

“It removes any illusion that the EPA is acting in good faith to ensure the public trust,” said Robert Brulle, an environmental sociologist at Drexel University. 

The Cooler Heads Coalition formed in the late 1990s as mounting evidence of global warming began to fracture the industrial alliance that mobilized a decade earlier to downplay the threat of unfettered greenhouse gas emissions. A year before its merger with oil giant Mobil, Exxon gave $95,000 to the Competitive Enterprise Institute, the right-wing think tank where Ebell works, in a grant titled “Global Climate Change Program and other support,” according to documents published by the Climate Investigations Center.

Yet as the oil industry started distancing itself from widely debunked scientific contrarians, far-right philanthropists and dark-money groups stepped in to fund the Cooler Heads Coalition’s members. The financiers include the Donors Trust, Donors Capital Fund, and the foundations of the oil industrialist Scaife family, the manufacturing scion Bradley family and the Mercers, the Long Island hedge funders who backed President Donald Trump’s 2016 campaign.

That marked a shift from climate denial as a practical means of protecting carbon-polluting industries toward a new ideological fervor, enshrining opposition to climate science as a key part of anti-government dogma, said Riley Dunlap, a researcher and professor emeritus at Oklahoma State University who tracks climate denial groups.

“The Cooler Heads Coalition grew out of the frustration that industry was no longer opposing climate change as much as they thought,” Dunlap said. It’s “really a radical group of climate change deniers.”

The realities of climate change were clear to scientists even before rising seas started to inundate coastal cities like Miami on sunny days and extreme hurricanes and wildfires devastated Puerto Rico, California and Texas in recent years. At least 97% of peer-reviewed research concludes that emissions from burning fossil fuels, industrial farming and deforestation blanket the planet in gases that trap the sun’s heat in the atmosphere. A 2015 paper, meanwhile, found significant flaws in the methodologies, assumptions and analyses used by the 3% of scientists who concluded otherwise.  

At 70%, the vast majority of Americans understand climate change is happening, and 57% recognize humans are the primary driver, according to polling data from the Yale Program on Climate Change Communication. In October, the United Nations released a dire report warning that, unless world governments slash emissions by nearly half over the next decade, the planet is projected to warm beyond 1.5 degrees Celsius, or 2.3 degrees Fahrenheit, causing about $54 trillion in damages and killing millions. A month later, the National Climate Assessment, a congressionally mandated report by scientists at 13 federal agencies, confirmed the findings.

That’s done little to sway Wehrum.

In January, he said he was still on the fence about climate change, telling E&E News, “I’m trying to figure that out.”  

“I’ve had a series of briefings with climate change experts to help me better understand this,” Wehrum told Reuters that same month. “Everybody is still exploring the science of climate change.”

A former corporate lawyer who lobbied on behalf of clients to weaken air pollution rules, Wehrum has ramped up those efforts since joining the EPA, becoming a chief architect of the Trump administration’s deregulatory agenda. He remains in close touch with his former law firm, according to The Washington Post.

“It’s not surprising that Wherum would have been featured at a Cooler Heads Coalition event,” Kert Davies, director of Climate Investigations Center, said by email. “He fits right in with the roster of climate deniers and other charlatans that Cooler Heads has hosted at events over the past two decades.”

The White House Sent the Weirdest Flag Day Tweet—and the Internet Can’t Stop Laughing

Mother Jones Magazine -

June 14 was Flag Day, a minor holiday that was established by Woodrow Wilson in 1916 to celebrate the day in 1777 that the Continental Congress made the stars and stripes the official American flag. In honor of the event, the White House Twitter account posted this celebratory tweet:

pic.twitter.com/c40BQpZFtW

— The White House (@WhiteHouse) June 14, 2019

The photo, highlighting the moment President Donald Trump hugged the American flag at the Conservative Political Action Conference in March, triggered a cascade of outrage and hilarity from politicians, commentators, and professional comedians on Comedy Central’s The Daily Show and TBS’ Full Frontal, some describing the tweet as “weird” and “not what Betsy Ross intended.” 

Remember when @WhiteHouse wasn't a parody account? https://t.co/qhDQEtiIzi

— Rep. Mark Pocan (@repmarkpocan) June 14, 2019

We, too, celebrated #FlagDay with a ceremonial flag hugging here at the Trump Presidential Twitter Library in D.C.! #DailyShowLibrary pic.twitter.com/VozSak8tGy

— The Daily Show (@TheDailyShow) June 14, 2019

This is not what Betsy Ross intended #FlagDay2019 https://t.co/Vlk32WUke1

— Full Frontal (@FullFrontalSamB) June 14, 2019

In which the official @WhiteHouse Twitter account celebrates #FlagDay by tweeting a picture of Trump giving a flag a #MeToo moment. https://t.co/jTk3mfxrOD

— Miranda Yaver (@mirandayaver) June 14, 2019

Michael Cohen just wrote that flag a check for $130K.

— Chris Jackson (@ChrisCJackson) March 4, 2019

The almost universally critical responses apparently didn’t deter the president from invoking Flag Day again on Saturday, when he tweeted support for a proposed bill from Sen. Steve Daines’ (R-Mont.)—who introduced similar legislation in in 2017 and 2018—  that would prevent the “physical desecration” of the American flag. This is a cherished issue for Trump, who has called for punishment for burning the American symbol. Shortly after the 2016 election, he tweeted, “Nobody should be allowed to burn the American flag – if they do, there must be consequences – perhaps loss of citizenship or year in jail!” 

All in for Senator Steve Daines as he proposes an Amendment for a strong BAN on burning our American Flag. A no brainer!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 15, 2019

 

Trump didn’t respond, much less acknowledge, to the avalanche of criticism for having his aggressive embrace of the flag as the official White House acknowledgment of the holiday. But the criticism just kept coming:

This is real real weird.

— Chris Howie (@MrChrisHowie) June 14, 2019

This isn't some idiotic campaign or RNC account. It's the official White House account. How far toward the Third World we've sunk. https://t.co/8ynyxvxlw5

— Bill Kristol (@BillKristol) June 14, 2019

I prefer American Presidents who don't hug adversarial foreign powers and accept campaign assistance from foreign countries.#FlagDay https://t.co/7korDM6Em6

— Ted Lieu (@tedlieu) June 14, 2019

There's some sort of orange shit stain on the flag.

— Brandon Bird (@Brandon_Bird) June 14, 2019

Yes. The official White House post for Flag Day is the Imbecile-in-Chief humping it at CPAC. This really is like living in a Third World dictatorship…except less competent. https://t.co/f9LjLPyfi2

— Fred Wellman (@FPWellman) June 14, 2019

From the official US Flag Code:

"The flag should never be fastened, displayed, used, or stored in such a manner as to permit it to be easily torn, soiled, or damaged in any way….The flag should never be used for advertising purposes in any manner whatsoever. " https://t.co/t4XsNBjIfR

— Jay Bookman (@jaysbookman) June 14, 2019

There’s So Much Plastic in the Environment That Bees Are Making Nests Out of It

Mother Jones Magazine -

This story was originally published by Atlas Obscura and appears here as part of the Climate Desk collaboration.

Last summer, scientists in South America were studying the impact agricultural practices have on the surrounding ecosystems, and specifically how natural areas and fields are pollinated as a result of their proximity to one another. In the midst of this analysis in San Juan, Argentina, the team of researchers made a totally unexpected discovery: a bee’s nest made completely from plastic.

San Juan is a region with a desert climate abutting the Andes that is nonetheless known for wine production, among other crops. Most growing operations there are family run, which provides a lot of data for those studying the relationships between human activity and nature. In this case, that means human-made materials finding their way into an unexpected place.

“The nest was found in a chicory field for seed production in San Juan, Argentina,” says Mariana Laura Allasino of the National Agricultural Technology Institute, who coauthored a report on the find in the journal Apidologie. The nest belonged to a bee from the family Megachilidae, which are solitary bees that often build nest cells from material they collect, such as soil, bits of leaves, and even animal fur. In this case, the nest cells were made of “light blue plastic, of shopping bag consistency,” and “white plastic, thicker than the previous one,” Allasino says.

“Due to our activities, human beings are contributing to the ecosystem’s degradation and biodiversity loss,” says Allasino, via email. “The most fascinating thing about this finding is that it suggests the adaptive flexibility that certain bee species would have in the face of changes in environmental conditions.” It’s almost a positive message. While we can’t tell yet if the plastic was harming the bee or its ability to reproduce, she says, it is a demonstration of just how adaptable nature can be.

Birds and other animals have long been known to incorporate pieces of plastic and other artificial materials into their nests, but it is quite rare to see among insects. In fact, the only other recorded case was when Canadian researchers discovered natural bee nests partially constructed with plastic (alongside natural materials) in 2013. The nest found by Allasino and her team is the first ever documented made entirely of plastic. “The replacement of natural materials by plastic could be due to a limitation in the availability of vegetation in the fields or an overabundance of waste, which could be directly related to the management of agricultural activity,” she says. “Plastic waste is something usual we can find in an agricultural field that comes from neighbors who throw waste in the fields or from the inputs of agricultural practices.”

The researchers in Argentina plan to analyze DNA from the dead larvae found in the plastic nest to confirm the exact species. (It’s not known whether the nest material had anything to do with the fate of the larvae.) “We will continue to set trap-nests for solitary bees to know the species that are present in the fields,” Allasino says, “and to increase the probability of finding another nest with the same characteristics as the one we already found.”

A Nasty Swine Flu in China Means Big Trouble for US Farmers

Mother Jones Magazine -

A relentlessly rainy spring and President Donald Trump’s trade war with China aren’t the only forces haunting the Midwest’s corn and soybean farmers. A deadly, highly contagious disease called African swine fever—thankfully, harmless to humans—is sweeping through China’s hog farms, literally killing demand for feed.  

African swine fever has already wiped out at least 20 percent of the nation’s hog herd this year, according to the Dutch agricultural lender Rabobank. That amounts to about 90 million pigs—more than the entire US hog population, the globe’s second-largest behind China. That’s bad news for American farmers, because China imports large quantities of our soybeans. China houses nearly 60 percent of the entire globe’s pig herd—and fattening nearly half a billion pigs for slaughter every year requires it to import two-thirds of all globally traded soybeans.

African swine fever has already wiped out at least 20 percent of the nation’s hog herd this year.

The problem will likely linger. “We hold the view that it will take over five years for China’s pork production to recover fully from ASF,” Rabobank notes. That’s because there’s no cure or vaccine for it—the only way to stop ASF is to kill all exposed pigs and impose draconian sanitation measures. The virus moves easily among pigs, and can travel great distances in contaminated feed and equipment, workers’ clothing and shoes, feral swine, and ticks. It has already spread to Mongolia, Cambodia, North Korea, South Korea, and Vietnam; and west to parts of Europe.

The United States has so far managed to avoid this plague, but the United States Department of Agriculture is on high alert. In recent months, it has rolled out a surveillance system and is “actively preparing to respond if ASF were ever detected in the US,” the agency reported in May. In April, a US pork trade group canceled its annual World Pork Expo in Des Moines, Iowa, citing an “abundance of caution” and fear that attendees from “ASF-positive regions” might carry the disease to the United States. 

But China’s struggle with the infection is already roiling the US farm belt. Fewer pigs to fatten in China translates to less need for feed. The US agricultural lender CoBank estimates that the swine-fever crisis means China will import about 15 percent less soybeans over the next year than it would have with the swine fever crisis. Soybean demand would be lower still, if Chinese authorities weren’t responding to the pig shortage by ramping up production of other soy-eating meat sources, mainly chicken, CoBank notes.

ASF represents yet another setback for US soybean farmers, but it’s a potential boon to the our meat industry. China will have to import more meat, including chicken, to make up for the domestic pork shortfall.

US-based meat giant Tyson Foods—a massive producer of pork, chicken, and beef—is licking its chops: China’s ASF woes offers “significant upside to our pork business, while also lifting the chicken and beef businesses as substitutes,” CEO Noel White wrote in a May 2014 note. The industry is already cashing in. Even though China maintains a 62 percent tariff on US pork as part the trade war, it bought 143 thousand metric tons of it in the first three months of 2019—almost five times as much as it imported in the entire year of 2018. The stock prices of Tyson and chicken giants Pilgrim’s Pride and Sanderson Farms have all surged upwards of 40 percent in 2019, driven in part by speculation that US meat producers will benefit from the spread of ASF. 

If the US meat industry does get a major export boost from ASF in Asia and Europe, that will ultimately be good news for the Midwest’s farmers, who will be well-positioned to supply the feed. But the impact on soybean and corn prices will likely be muted, CoBank says. The ASF crisis appears to be accelerating a trend among Chinese consumers to eat less pork and more chicken—and chicken is more feed-efficient, meaning it requires less soybeans and corn per pound than pork.

Of course, if ASF does manage to jump the ocean and take root on US hog farms, corn and soybean prices would tumble anew. So in addition to the climate chaos that’s soaking their fields at planting time and the political chaos that’s pinching their foreign markets, the Midwest’s farmers are feeling the squeeze from a virulent animal disease spreading on the other side of the world. 

The Trump Administration Is Trying to Use the Scott Warren Case to Scare Activists. It’s Not Working.

Mother Jones Magazine -

The highly publicized federal case against humanitarian aid worker Scott Warren, who was accused of helping migrants at the US-Mexico border, ended in a mistrial on Tuesday. Warren, a volunteer with the humanitarian aid group No More Deaths, was charged with one count of conspiracy to transport and two counts of harboring undocumented immigrants following a 2018 arrest. He was facing up to 20 years in prison.

Since 2004, volunteers with No More Deaths have left food, water, and other supplies for people crossing over the harsh desert of the US-Mexico borderlands. In January 2018, two Central American migrants—Jose Sacaria-Goday and Kristian Perez-Villanueva—showed up at No More Death’s aid camp, The Barn, in Ajo, Arizona. According to The Intercept, Warren found the men shortly after and gave them food, water, clean clothes, and shelter. Border Patrol agents spotted the group outside of The Barn several days later, and say they saw Warren pointing north while speaking to the men. They accused him of instructing the migrants on how to bypass a nearby Border Patrol checkpoint.

Last month, Amnesty International released a statement urging the US government to drop all charges in the case. “The US government is legally required to prevent the arbitrary deaths of migrants and asylum seekers in border areas,” said Erika Guevara-Rosas, Americas director at Amnesty International. The group also created a campaign online where people can email US attorney Michael Bailey urging him to drop the charges. Nearly 19,000 emails have been sent so far. 

The jury was tasked with deciding whether Warren’s intent was to aid Goday and Villanueva further into the US by shielding them from law enforcement or if it was to simply provide humanitarian help. After three days of deliberations, it failed to reach a unanimous decision—eight jurors sided with Warren, while four thought he was guilty. While the hung jury is a win for Warren, the victory may be temporary. A status hearing is set for July 2 to determine whether or not the government will seek a new trial.

In an op-ed published in the Washington Post last month, Warren warned that his case “may set a dangerous precedent, as the government expands its definitions of ‘transportation’ and ‘harboring.'” He said these have “always been applied selectively: with aggressive prosecutions of ‘criminal’ networks, but worries that “now, the law may be applied to not only humanitarian aid workers but also to the millions of mixed-status families in the United States.” According to Warren’s attorney, Greg Kuykendall, the only thing Warren is guilty of is providing the men with “basic human kindness.” 

According to Warren’s attorney, Greg Kuykendall, the only thing Warren is guilty of is providing the men with “basic human kindness.”

“This is a microcosm of this much bigger issue that’s at play right now,” says Jason De León, a professor of Anthropology and Chicana/o Studies at UCLA. De León also runs the Undocumented Migration Project, a nonprofit that researches undocumented migration between Latin America and the US. I talked to him about the significance of Warren’s case and the impact it could have on future humanitarian aid efforts at the border.

Mother Jones: Why do you think Warren’s case specifically has become so high profile?

De León: The severity of the charges was one of the things that really made this case more public. The prosecution is being incredibly aggressive—much more so than we have seen in previous cases. You had folks doing a lot of the same things that Scott Warren and [No More Deaths] were doing getting arrested for littering. Whereas now, rather than just go for this lower charge, they advanced it up to be issues of human trafficking. You hadn’t really seen that before.

Both sides are pushing for this case to be more public for different reasons. There was an interest in making an example out of Scott Warren. And at the same time, you’ve got all of these pissed off people who support migrant rights. Who don’t think humanitarian aid is a crime. Who also recognize that this is an important battlefield right now. And so this has to be high-profile so that people can understand that this is what the federal government is doing.

MJ: NPR recently reported that there’s been an increase in charges like Scott Warren’s where people are being federally charged with bringing in and harboring migrants, especially after former Attorney General Jeff Sessions ordered prosecutors to prioritize these cases in 2017. Can you talk more about the spike in these arrests under the Trump administration?

DL: Even before Trump, the antagonism between the Border Patrol and humanitarian groups like Tucson Samaritans and No More Deaths has really been ramping up with agents being very aggressive in terms of their harassment of humanitarian workers. Under Trump, you’ve seen folks who were already doing these aggressive things towards humanitarian groups now feeling emboldened. In a lot of ways, the anti-immigrant and racist sentiments we have seen amplified under the Trump administration are exactly the same things we’re seeing with the border patrol, except now there’s nobody keeping them in check. Now we’re seeing a much more concerted effort by the federal government to put an end to humanitarian work that’s been going on for close to two decades. It’s open season now on these humanitarian groups.

MJ: What messaging do you think this case sends to other humanitarian aid groups and just everyday people? What cultural and symbolic impacts do you see this case having?

DL: The federal government is trying to make people afraid to help folks. These are scare tactics. But I don’t think it’s working. If anything else, the Trump administration is emboldening activists and people who are fed up of dealing with this to be more public and be more vocal. There are a lot of Scott Warrens in the world—people who are willing to go to jail for their beliefs in human rights.

MJ: What legal precedent would be set if the federal government convicts Scott Warren?

DL: If they can make the charges stick, that would just embolden them to just keep doing it. But they’ve been trying to do that with migrants for a long time, charging them with felony reentry to slow them down and stop them from coming. We’ve seen that throwing the book at them hasn’t worked. Killing migrants in the desert has not stopped this flow of people.  Even if a legal precedent is set to start really coming after these humanitarian groups, I’m not totally convinced it’s going to work. We saw this with the sanctuary movement in the 1980s when they were charging pastors with harboring migrants because they knew these people were going to die if they were sent back to their home countries. No matter what the federal government throws at folks, they know that human life and caring for another individual is more important than any change in a federal law that they know is morally wrong.

We don’t live in a moment where being cautious about this issue is going to be helpful.

MJ: How has the US government’s Prevention Through Deterrence policy historically been applied to humanitarian aid groups?

DL: Migrants have been dying in the Arizona desert in high numbers since the mid-90s. As soon as locals started noticing this spike in death counts, they immediately started mobilizing trying to do whatever they could to help alleviate some of the sufferings. That involved leaving water for migrants, giving first aid. Of course, Border Patrol doesn’t like that because it undermines the primary goal of Prevention Through Deterrence, which is to slow migrants—whether that be through death or through physical suffering. Someone giving water and bandages to folks lies against the core mission of Prevention Through Deterrence.

I think Border Patrol has always thought of humanitarians as this sort of thorn in their side. Except now, they just feel like legally they’ve got a firmer footing to stand on because they’ve got the support of the White House to really come at these folks. You could not have done this under the Obama administration. Even though Obama was doing horrible things to migrants—deporting people and detaining them and doing all kinds of stuff—they were still, at least superficially, pretending to care about migrant human rights. Whereas now, you can put babies in cages, you can have kids die in custody, and nobody is blinking. 

MJ: Is there anything that you feel has gotten lost in the coverage of Scott Warren’s case?

DL: A lot of people don’t understand that Prevention Through Deterrence is a border enforcement strategy purposefully designed to force migrants out into places like the Sonoran Desert where there’s a high likelihood of death. We’ve known that for a long time. It’s been publicly stated. We knowingly put people in harm’s way through this policy. We have killed thousands of people with the Arizona desert and the south Texas backwood, and yet no one seems to think that that is a crime. No one seems to think that that is something we should be prosecuting. 

People have to understand that Scott Warren and others like him are reacting to a federal [policy] that has knowingly put people in harm’s way. At some point, there’s going to have to be a legal reckoning for the American government. The law, hopefully, will cut both ways and the people who have designed these policies and who continue to keep them in practice will eventually be held legally accountable for this loss of life.

Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions

TruthDig.com News -

EL PASO, Texas—The Trump administration is facing growing complaints from migrants about severe overcrowding, meager food and other hardships at border holding centers, with some people at an encampment in El Paso being forced to sleep on the bare ground during dust storms.

The Border Network for Human Rights issued a report Friday based on dozens of testimonials of immigrants over the past month and a half, providing a snapshot of cramped conditions and prolonged stays in detention amid a record surge of migrant families coming into the U.S. from Central America.

The report comes a day after an advocate described finding a teenage mother cradling a premature baby inside a Border Patrol processing center in Texas. The advocate said the baby should have been in a hospital, not a facility where adults are kept in large fenced-in sections that critics describe as cages.

“The state of human rights in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is grave and is only getting worse,” the immigrant rights group said in its report. “People are dying because of what is happening.”

Related Articles by

Five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by the Border Patrol, including a flu-stricken teenager who was found dead in a facility migrants refer to as the “icebox” because of the temperatures inside.

Customs and Border Protection responded to the complaints by saying: “Allegations are not facts. If there is an issue it is best to contact CBP directly. In many cases the matter can be resolved immediately.”

The agency also cited its response to a critical inspector general’s report last month, in which it said the government is devoted to treating migrants in its custody “with the utmost dignity and respect.”

The Trump administration has blamed the worsening crisis on inaction by Congress.

Many of the complaints center on El Paso, where the inspector general found severe overcrowding inside a processing center. A cell designed for a dozen people was crammed with 76, and migrants had to stand on the toilets.

With indoor facilities overcrowded, the Border Patrol has kept some immigrants outside and in tents near a bridge in El Paso with nothing but a Mylar foil blanket. Others have been kept in an empty parking lot, where migrants huddled underneath tarps and foil blankets repurposed as shade covers against the sweltering heat.

A professor who visited two weeks ago said it resembled a “human dog pound.” The Border Patrol responded by adding additional shade structures, but migrants are still kept outside in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

Migrants in El Paso and elsewhere also complained of inadequate food such as a single burrito and a cup of water per day. Women said they were denied feminine hygiene products.

Another complaint is that migrants are kept in detention beyond the 72-hour limit set by Customs and Border Protection. Some reported being held for 30 days or more, and one told The Associated Press she had been in detention for around 45 days.

The teenage mother with the premature baby, for example, spent nine days in Border Patrol custody after crossing the Rio Grande with her newborn, according to a legal advocate who visited the girl in a McAllen, Texas, processing center.

An exodus of people fleeing poverty, drought and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has led to a record number of migrant families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. Agents made 132,887 apprehensions in May, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together. Those apprehended also included 11,507 children traveling alone.

President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion border request for things such as an expansion of detention, medical care, food and shelter has languished on Capitol Hill since he sent it over six weeks ago, with House Democrats at odds with the White House. Congress is set to go on a break in two weeks.

Lawmakers are becoming increasingly agitated.

“In the first five months of this year, the number of apprehensions at the border has already exceeded the population of Atlanta, Georgia,” said Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.

___

Associated Press Writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

The post Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions

TruthDig.com News -

EL PASO, Texas—The Trump administration is facing growing complaints from migrants about severe overcrowding, meager food and other hardships at border holding centers, with some people at an encampment in El Paso being forced to sleep on the bare ground during dust storms.

The Border Network for Human Rights issued a report Friday based on dozens of testimonials of immigrants over the past month and a half, providing a snapshot of cramped conditions and prolonged stays in detention amid a record surge of migrant families coming into the U.S. from Central America.

The report comes a day after an advocate described finding a teenage mother cradling a premature baby inside a Border Patrol processing center in Texas. The advocate said the baby should have been in a hospital, not a facility where adults are kept in large fenced-in sections that critics describe as cages.

“The state of human rights in the U.S.-Mexico borderlands is grave and is only getting worse,” the immigrant rights group said in its report. “People are dying because of what is happening.”

Related Articles by

Five immigrant children have died since late last year after being detained by the Border Patrol, including a flu-stricken teenager who was found dead in a facility migrants refer to as the “icebox” because of the temperatures inside.

Customs and Border Protection responded to the complaints by saying: “Allegations are not facts. If there is an issue it is best to contact CBP directly. In many cases the matter can be resolved immediately.”

The agency also cited its response to a critical inspector general’s report last month, in which it said the government is devoted to treating migrants in its custody “with the utmost dignity and respect.”

The Trump administration has blamed the worsening crisis on inaction by Congress.

Many of the complaints center on El Paso, where the inspector general found severe overcrowding inside a processing center. A cell designed for a dozen people was crammed with 76, and migrants had to stand on the toilets.

With indoor facilities overcrowded, the Border Patrol has kept some immigrants outside and in tents near a bridge in El Paso with nothing but a Mylar foil blanket. Others have been kept in an empty parking lot, where migrants huddled underneath tarps and foil blankets repurposed as shade covers against the sweltering heat.

A professor who visited two weeks ago said it resembled a “human dog pound.” The Border Patrol responded by adding additional shade structures, but migrants are still kept outside in temperatures approaching 100 degrees.

Migrants in El Paso and elsewhere also complained of inadequate food such as a single burrito and a cup of water per day. Women said they were denied feminine hygiene products.

Another complaint is that migrants are kept in detention beyond the 72-hour limit set by Customs and Border Protection. Some reported being held for 30 days or more, and one told The Associated Press she had been in detention for around 45 days.

The teenage mother with the premature baby, for example, spent nine days in Border Patrol custody after crossing the Rio Grande with her newborn, according to a legal advocate who visited the girl in a McAllen, Texas, processing center.

An exodus of people fleeing poverty, drought and violence in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador has led to a record number of migrant families being apprehended at the U.S.-Mexico border in recent months. Agents made 132,887 apprehensions in May, including a record 84,542 adults and children traveling together. Those apprehended also included 11,507 children traveling alone.

President Donald Trump’s $4.5 billion border request for things such as an expansion of detention, medical care, food and shelter has languished on Capitol Hill since he sent it over six weeks ago, with House Democrats at odds with the White House. Congress is set to go on a break in two weeks.

Lawmakers are becoming increasingly agitated.

“In the first five months of this year, the number of apprehensions at the border has already exceeded the population of Atlanta, Georgia,” said Republican Rep. Kay Granger of Texas.

___

Associated Press Writer Astrid Galvan in Phoenix and Andrew Taylor in Washington contributed to this report.

The post Complaints Intensify Over Migrant Detention Conditions appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

I Got Yer Exploding Bullets Right Here

Mother Jones Magazine -

Here is Kevin Williamson over at National Review:

I Was Promised Exploding Bullets!

You know, Charlie, I have been looking all over for some of those “exploding bullets” I keep reading about, but I am unable to find any for sale. The reason for that is that — cool as “exploding bullets” sounds! — they do not really quite exist.

(This would not come as news to people who understand how bullets work, but never mind that.)

The “exploding bullets” thing is an eternal myth, spread by, among other sources, shoddy public-radio journalism (shout out to KERA in Dallas!). Firearms are, for some strange reason, a subject to which America’s editors are all too content — proud, even — to assign reporters who are utterly ignorant.

The Washington Post published Adam Weinstein’s hilarious defense of this ignorance under the headline “The NRA and its allies use jargon to bully gun-control supporters.”

This is a very peculiar post. First off, it links to an earlier post about a report on KERA that “contained a preposterous invention: Chicago’s criminals, the report said, covet something called ‘R.I.P.’ bullets, which are, in the report’s words, ‘designed to explode inside the body.’ ” But this is not at all preposterous. For starters, teenage gangbangers probably believe lots of stuff. So what? And in this case, the R.I.P bullet does indeed exist and it took me only 10 seconds to find it: it’s the “Radically Invasive Projectile” from G2 Research, a bullet with eight copper petals that separate upon impact. Or, in vernacular, it explodes into nine separate pieces when it hits you.

Then Williamson goes after Adam Weinstein for his “hilarious defense of this ignorance.” But Weinstein’s piece, which ran over a year ago, says nothing about exploding bullets. It’s about the way gun folks try to pretend you can’t have an opinion about gun control if you don’t know what AR stands for¹ or get confused about the difference between a magazine and a clip.² Or the difference between automatic and semi-automatic.³

I dunno. It’s a slow day over at National Review, I guess.

¹You don’t really need to know this, but the answer is Armalite, the name of the original manufacturer of the AR-15.

²You don’t really need to know this either, but the answer for most of the guns you see on TV is “magazine.”

³This you actually should know:

  • Automatic: you pull the trigger and a hail of bullets flies out of the muzzle as long as you keep pressure on the trigger. This is what you see in war movies or on TV shows about drug lords. It’s illegal for a civilian to own an automatic rifle manufactured after 1986. Ownership of pre-1986 automatic rifles is legal but very rare. They’re quite expensive and require an extensive application process to register with the ATF.
  • Machine gun: another name for an automatic rifle.
  • Submachine gun: This is the gun you associate with Al Capone. It’s an automatic that’s nearly the size of a machine gun but uses smaller handgun rounds.
  • Semi-automatic: you pull the trigger and a single bullet is fired. Pull it again, and another bullet is fired. You have to pull the trigger for every round you fire.
  • Manual load: a gun that requires you to manually load a new round after every shot. Virtually all rifles prior to the 20th century required manual loading: flintlocks (think Revolutionary War), lever action rifles (think old-time Westerns), pump-action rifles (think skeet shooting), bolt-action rifles (think deer hunting), and so forth.

In real life, nearly all rifles you’re likely to see are semi-automatics or manual loads, and all handguns are either semi-automatics or revolvers.

Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups

TruthDig.com News -

This article was originally posted on Reveal News.

Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.

These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”

The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.

U.S. law enforcement agencies, many of which have deeply troubled histories of discrimination, have long been accused of connections between officers and extremist groups. At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marchers flew a “Blue Lives Matter” flag alongside anti-Semitic and white supremacist messages. In Portland, Oregon, police officers were found to have been texting with a far-right group that regularly hosts white supremacists and white nationalists at its rallies. A classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept, warned that white supremacists and other far-right groups had infiltrated American law enforcement.

It can be difficult to determine how deep or widespread these connections run. Researchers recently found numerous examples of police officers posting violent and racist content on their public Facebook pages. Reveal’s investigation shows for the first time that officers in agencies across the country have actively joined private hate groups, participating in the spread of extremism on Facebook.

Most of the hateful Facebook groups these cops frequent are closed, meaning only members are allowed to see content posted by other members. Reveal joined dozens of these groups and verified the identities of almost 400 current and retired law enforcement officials who are members.

One guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana, Geoffery Crosby, was a member of 56 extremist groups, including 45 Confederate groups and one called “BAN THE NAACP.”

A detective at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, James “J.T.” Thomas, was a member of the closed Facebook group “The White Privilege Club.”

The group contains hundreds of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic posts; links to interviews with white supremacists such as Richard Spencer; and invites to events such as the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Users regularly post memes featuring Pepe the Frog, the alt-right mascot, with captions such as, “white people, do something.” And there are explicitly racist jokes, such as one with a photo of fried chicken and grape soda with the caption, “Mom packed me a niggable for school.”

Thomas once posted the logo for the Black College Football Hall of Fame inside the group with a simple caption: “Seriously. Why?” Soon after, he posted a meme about an elderly African American woman confusedly responding to a reporter’s question by naming a fried chicken restaurant.

After being presented with Thomas’ postings on Facebook, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office fired him in February for violating a number of employee conduct policies.

“These policies state that ‘an employee’s actions must never bring the HCSO into disrepute, nor should conduct be detrimental to the HCSO’s efficient operation. … Personnel who, through their use of social media, cause undue embarrassment or damage the reputation of, or erode the public’s confidence in, the HCSO shall be deemed to have violated this policy and shall be subject to counseling and/or discipline,” the department said in an email.

In a hearing to appeal his firing, Thomas said he didn’t realize he was a member of the closed group and defended his behavior. “If you remove the black female out of the picture, what’s racist about it?” he said. The Harris County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission upheld his firing.

Lonnie Allen Brown of the Kingsville Police Department in Texas, a member of three Islamophobic groups, posted a photo of a young black man with a pistol to his head with the header, “If Black lives really mattered …. They’d stop shooting each other!” He also posted an image that read: “Islam. A cult of oppression, rape, pedophilia and murder cannot be reasoned with!” Neither he nor his department returned calls for comment.

Peter Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups for more than 20 years, said biased views like those expressed in these Facebook groups inevitably influence an individual’s decision-making process.

“The perceptions we have about the world at large drive the decisions we make,” Simi said. “To think that people could completely separate these extremist right-wing views from their actions just isn’t consistent with what we know about the decision-making process.”

While Facebook vows that it prioritizes meaningful content, its algorithms also appear to play a role in strengthening biases. The more extreme groups we joined, the more Facebook suggested new – and often even more troubling – groups to join or pages to like. It was easy to see how users, including police officers, could be increasingly radicalized by what they saw on their news feed.

What’s harder to see is how these views affected their policing offline.

Disciplinary records and investigations into police misconduct are kept secret in a majority of states, meaning most American cops enjoy a blanket of protection that can cover up biases. But in some cases, we found public documents that showed the officers we identified via Facebook also had been involved in real-life instances of alleged racism or other misconduct.

Will Weisenberger, a sheriff’s deputy in Madison County, Mississippi, was a member of a closed Facebook group called “White Lives Matter.” He’s also been caught up in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the department for allegedly engaging in decades of systemic racism and discriminatory policing.

Racism was so systematic at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, the ACLU asserts, that the department’s blank arrest forms came with two words already filled in: “Black” and “Male.”

Lawyers for the ACLU deposed Weisenberger and asked him about an incident in which a fellow deputy alleged that Weisenberger had punched an African American man in the face while the man’s hands were cuffed. Then they asked him if he ever uses any racial slurs while on duty.

“I may have used the N-word,” Weisenberger said, according to the deposition.

“It’s not something I’m proud of or do every day,” he continued.

Neither the Sheriff’s Department nor Weisenberger responded to calls for comment. The Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t release Weisenberger’s disciplinary record or a copy of the complaint made by his colleague. Police disciplinary records in Mississippi are confidential.

In Chicago, Lt. Richard Moravec was a member of a closed Facebook group called “Any islamist insults infidels, I will put him under my feet,” which disappeared from Facebook before we could join it or search it for posts by officers.

While we don’t know if he ever interacted with the Islamophobic group, Moravec has posted content that appears to be openly anti-transgender and anti-Islam on his personal Facebook page.

One meme Moravec posted featured a photo of a young girl with the caption, “Please! Don’t confuse me. I’m a girl. Don’t teach me to question if I’m a boy, transexual, transgendered, intersexed or two spirited.”

And Chicago’s open records on police conduct revealed that he also has been the subject of 70 allegations, including accusations of illegal use of force, verbal abuse and criminal misconduct, according to the Citizens Police Data Project. That’s more than 99 percent of Chicago police officers. One of the allegations resulted in a five-day suspension.

To find cops with connections to extremist groups, we built lists of two different types of Facebook users: members of extremist groups and members of police groups.

We wrote software to download these lists directly from Facebook, something the platform allowed at the time. In mid-2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and after we already had downloaded our data, Facebook shut down the ability to download membership lists from groups. Then we ran those two datasets against each other to find users who were members of at least one law enforcement group and one far-right group.

We got 14,000 hits.

We did not assume that everyone in a police Facebook group was an actual officer, because many could be relatives of police officers or just really into law enforcement. So, we spent months poring over individual Facebook pages, looking for clues, such as photos of the officer in uniform, or posts about police events, or notes mourning lost cops. Then we corroborated what we found on Facebook with additional research, often calling the departments to confirm the individual either still or had once worked there.

Ultimately, we confirmed that almost 400 users were indeed either currently employed as police officers, sheriffs or prison guards or had once worked in law enforcement.

We then asked to join the closed extremist groups. Many groups ask users questions in order to join, and these often offer insight into the nature of the group. The group “Stop Radical Islam in America,” for example, asks, “Why do you personally think Islam should be banned in America?” At least 12 current and former police officers were members of that group.

The group “Confederate Brothers & Sisters,” which counts at least 25 current and former cops as members, explicitly asks, “This group is sometimes racist does this bother you?” Inside that group, we found several cops and ex-cops posting racist comments.

We used our real names and photos and answered the questions honestly to join these groups. We used general language, often saying we were “interested in learning more.” As a result, many of the most extreme groups rejected our application to join, ignored us or blocked us from viewing the group.

But dozens let us in.

We didn’t seek to find every single hate group or police group on Facebook, and we couldn’t confirm the professions of hundreds of the users in our database.

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Several officers claimed that they didn’t even know they were members of the closed groups we identified them in. And that’s probably the case for at least some of these officers, due to Facebook’s policies for joining groups.

Until late 2018, Facebook allowed users to invite friends to join groups they thought would interest them. The invitees would receive a notification telling them they were a member of a new group, and depending on each user’s algorithm, the user’s news feed might include content and postings from the group. But it’s certainly possible that cops could have been added to groups without realizing it, especially if they’re not active on Facebook.

Facebook has since changed its policies. Users now get a request to join a group that they have to confirm.

But that doesn’t apply to dozens of current and retired officers who have commented on and liked posts in closed extremist groups or who proactively joined groups themselves, without being invited by somebody else.

We examined a tiny sample of what exists on Facebook — what Megan Squire, a computer science professor from Elon University in North Carolina, called “a tiny, postage-stamp-sized window into Facebook’s skyscraper of data.”

Squire, who has studied hate groups on Facebook for years and maintains her own database, said the social media platform, and especially closed groups, are used by hate groups such as white supremacists to plan events and build camaraderie.

“Charlottesville was planned on Facebook,” Squire said. “Extremists are definitely using Facebook groups to plan physical, real-world events or just to make their lives a little smaller, to find friends.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company doesn’t tolerate hate speech on the platform and works extremely hard to identify and shut down hate groups. In the last year, as part of a push to reform the company, Facebook has said it won’t tolerate white nationalist or white supremacist content, and it has moved to shut down the accounts of some of the most popular hate-speech provocateurs.

But while groups with overt neo-Nazi, white supremacist or Ku Klux Klan names get shut down relatively quickly by Facebook, hate groups have wised up in response.

As has happened elsewhere on the internet, extremist groups on Facebook often use in-jokes and subtle references in their names to avoid takedown policies. Moderators of closed groups control who can join, and on Facebook, cops can hide who they really are — using false names and listing pretend jobs.

Inside the closed Facebook groups to which we gained access, transparently racist, misogynistic and homophobic content is on full display. We catalogued more than 120 active and retired officers posting in these groups or commenting in support of others.

In one 48-hour period, civilian members of one closed group posted a steady stream of hateful content:

  • One user posted a link to a piece about how the skins of African slaves were once turned into jackets. It garnered 34 comments and 103 emoticon responses in 24 hours. Almost all of the people reacting to the post gave it the “haha” response. “10/10 would wear, ” a commenter said.
  • Another post mocked the removal of a citizenship question from the 2020 census, playing off the common white supremacist conspiracy theory that an international group of Jews is masterminding the immigration of Latinos into the United States. “When are we going to show everyone what the Jewish cabal is doing?” commented one member.
  • A video showing an African American man being arrested by an African American police officer resulted in an immediate comment: “Just reading that made me crave some fried chicken and watermelon.”

At least six law enforcement officers were members of the group, which was called “Anti-SJW Pinochet’s Helicopter Pilot Academy.” The name showcases the wordplay central to the white supremacists’ rebranding as the “alt-right.” It refers to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had his political opponents thrown out of helicopters into the Pacific Ocean. “SJW” stands for “social justice warrior,” a term used to mock individuals who support equal rights for people of color, women and the LGBTQ community.

While the terminology is new and sometimes cryptic, the core messages of the alt-right echo longstanding neo-Nazi and white supremacist premises. Perry Tolliver, a retired corrections officer from Baltimore, and Michael Pinegar, a former Arizona Department of Corrections officer — who were both members of the Pinochet group until it disappeared from Facebook earlier this month — seemed well-versed in the alt-right’s terminology. In separate posts in the group, both Tolliver and Pinegar referred to African Americans as “dindus” — a racist slur common on Facebook and elsewhere.

In a similar vein, Detective Steve Fumuso from Westchester County in New York frequently inserted comments into posts in the Pinochet group that denigrated African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.

Fumuso posted a meme with a white man making the “OK” symbol — a favored gesture of the alt-right — and the words “fuckin mint” under a racist joke about Mexicans in December 2017. Earlier, he had commented, “Ha ha ha haaaa. Fuck em,” under a “Tucker Carlson Tonight” clip about Mexicans being worried about crime committed by Central American migrants.

Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gleason said the department’s Special Investigations Unit would launch an investigation.

In an interview months later, Fumuso said he had retired shortly after the internal affairs investigation. He said the two things had nothing to do with each other.

“I like memes, they make me laugh. I didn’t join to express any racist views,” he said. “I don’t care what you think. That’s my opinion. You know what’s a racist comment? ‘Brits are all full of shit.’ ”

(The reporter conducting the interview, Will Carless, has a British accent.)

Several officers contacted for this story countered that they have a First Amendment right to opine on social media, even if those opinions are unpopular or offensive to some people.

However, while civilians enjoy First Amendment protection from government censorship or harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public agencies such as police departments may penalize their employees for speech and behavior in certain cases.

Valerie Van Brocklin, a former federal prosecutor who trains police departments and other public employees on social media use, said police officers across the country have been fired or suspended for making off-color jokes or leaving problematic comments under newspaper articles.

“I ask them, ‘Would you, as a cop, in your uniform, put that on a sandwich board and walk up and down the streets of your town? ’ ” Van Brocklin said. “And they’ll say, ‘No, because I could be fired for that.’ Well, instead of putting it on a sandwich board, you put it up for the whole world to see, so why would you think it’s protected?”

No single code of conduct or ethics policy governs the thousands of jurisdictions in the U.S. that employ police officers. Different law enforcement agencies have widely differing standards for the behavior they accept from their personnel, and this was reflected in the responses we received from departments.

In Watkins Glen, New York, Sgt. in Charge Steven Decker refused to talk about the fact that one of his officers, Robert Brill, was a member of two groups connected to the Proud Boys, a violent alt-right gang, and the group “Kekistani Freestate,” named for Kek, a sort of deity employed by the alt-right for memes and other jokes.

“We don’t discuss personnel matters,” Decker said, before hanging up. Brill didn’t respond to calls for comment.

The Abbeville Police Department in Georgia hasn’t responded to multiple phone calls and emails about one of its officers, Joel Quinn, frequently featuring conspiracy theories and anti-Islam posts on his personal Facebook wall. He also has posted inside a Confederate group.

Reached via Facebook Messenger, Quinn defended his posts. “Its also my responsibility to detect possible threats to my community all the way up to and including my country,” he wrote. “Think about this, majority of crimes are committed by minorities (black, hispanic, etc) per FBI statistics yet I don’t ‘prey’ on any particular one.” (According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, 68.9 percent of arrestees in 2017 were white.)

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections hasn’t commented on corrections officer Sheldon Best, a member of “Crusades Against Degeneracy,” a group that trades in racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic content. In 2017, Best commented on an NPR story reporting that babies of color are now the majority in the United States. Below it, he wrote: “Maybe, but minority on minority homocide (sic) will make sure adults of color remain a minority.”

Best said in an interview that he was apologetic about this and other posts in the group. “Some people” could view his membership in the group as problematic, he acknowledged. However, he said that while some members of the group hold discriminatory views, he does not.

We provided the New York Police Department with posts from Officer Randy Paulsaint, a member of 13 groups committed to the anti-feminist Men Going Their Own Way movement.

The groups contain memes depicting women as evil, greedy and jealous. In one, someone posted a meme about a woman asking for a Christmas present. In the comments, Paulsaint inserted a gif of a man kicking a woman in the head.

The NYPD said its investigation was closed as unsubstantiated. “The investigation was unable to clearly prove or disprove that the subject officer made the offending posts,” the department said.

Peter Simi, the sociologist, said white supremacists and other extremists have been working hard to integrate their hateful views into society in as many ways as possible.

“Leaders have long been advocating for infiltration of society — graduate from high school, go to college, join the military, become a police officer, become a school teacher — get inside the system,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult to get a handle on the scope of this, because the purpose for those who are infiltrating these systems is to be careful not to tip their hands. So we’re always dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”

Researchers Daneel Knoetze and Michael Dailey contributed to this story. 

The post Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups

TruthDig.com News -

This article was originally posted on Reveal News.

Hundreds of active-duty and retired law enforcement officers from across the United States are members of Confederate, anti-Islam, misogynistic or anti-government militia groups on Facebook, a Reveal investigation has found.

These cops have worked at every level of American law enforcement, from tiny, rural sheriff’s departments to the largest agencies in the country, such as the Los Angeles and New York police departments. They work in jails and schools and airports, on boats and trains and in patrol cars. And, Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting discovered, they also read and contribute to groups such as “White Lives Matter” and “DEATH TO ISLAM UNDERCOVER.”

The groups cover a range of extremist ideologies. Some present themselves publicly as being dedicated to benign historical discussion of the Confederacy, but are replete with racism inside. Some trade in anti-Semitic and anti-immigrant memes. Some are openly Islamophobic. And almost 150 of the officers we found are involved with violent anti-government groups such as the Oath Keepers and Three Percenters.

More than 50 departments launched internal investigations after being presented with our findings, in some cases saying they would examine officers’ past conduct to see if their online activity mirrored their policing in real life. And some departments have taken action, with at least one officer being fired for violating department policies.

U.S. law enforcement agencies, many of which have deeply troubled histories of discrimination, have long been accused of connections between officers and extremist groups. At the Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, marchers flew a “Blue Lives Matter” flag alongside anti-Semitic and white supremacist messages. In Portland, Oregon, police officers were found to have been texting with a far-right group that regularly hosts white supremacists and white nationalists at its rallies. A classified FBI Counterterrorism Policy Guide from April 2015, obtained by The Intercept, warned that white supremacists and other far-right groups had infiltrated American law enforcement.

It can be difficult to determine how deep or widespread these connections run. Researchers recently found numerous examples of police officers posting violent and racist content on their public Facebook pages. Reveal’s investigation shows for the first time that officers in agencies across the country have actively joined private hate groups, participating in the spread of extremism on Facebook.

Most of the hateful Facebook groups these cops frequent are closed, meaning only members are allowed to see content posted by other members. Reveal joined dozens of these groups and verified the identities of almost 400 current and retired law enforcement officials who are members.

One guard at the Angola prison in Louisiana, Geoffery Crosby, was a member of 56 extremist groups, including 45 Confederate groups and one called “BAN THE NAACP.”

A detective at the Harris County Sheriff’s Office in Houston, James “J.T.” Thomas, was a member of the closed Facebook group “The White Privilege Club.”

The group contains hundreds of hateful, racist and anti-Semitic posts; links to interviews with white supremacists such as Richard Spencer; and invites to events such as the deadly Unite the Right rally in Charlottesville. Users regularly post memes featuring Pepe the Frog, the alt-right mascot, with captions such as, “white people, do something.” And there are explicitly racist jokes, such as one with a photo of fried chicken and grape soda with the caption, “Mom packed me a niggable for school.”

Thomas once posted the logo for the Black College Football Hall of Fame inside the group with a simple caption: “Seriously. Why?” Soon after, he posted a meme about an elderly African American woman confusedly responding to a reporter’s question by naming a fried chicken restaurant.

After being presented with Thomas’ postings on Facebook, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office fired him in February for violating a number of employee conduct policies.

“These policies state that ‘an employee’s actions must never bring the HCSO into disrepute, nor should conduct be detrimental to the HCSO’s efficient operation. … Personnel who, through their use of social media, cause undue embarrassment or damage the reputation of, or erode the public’s confidence in, the HCSO shall be deemed to have violated this policy and shall be subject to counseling and/or discipline,” the department said in an email.

In a hearing to appeal his firing, Thomas said he didn’t realize he was a member of the closed group and defended his behavior. “If you remove the black female out of the picture, what’s racist about it?” he said. The Harris County Sheriff’s Civil Service Commission upheld his firing.

Lonnie Allen Brown of the Kingsville Police Department in Texas, a member of three Islamophobic groups, posted a photo of a young black man with a pistol to his head with the header, “If Black lives really mattered …. They’d stop shooting each other!” He also posted an image that read: “Islam. A cult of oppression, rape, pedophilia and murder cannot be reasoned with!” Neither he nor his department returned calls for comment.

Peter Simi, an associate professor of sociology at Chapman University who has studied extremist groups for more than 20 years, said biased views like those expressed in these Facebook groups inevitably influence an individual’s decision-making process.

“The perceptions we have about the world at large drive the decisions we make,” Simi said. “To think that people could completely separate these extremist right-wing views from their actions just isn’t consistent with what we know about the decision-making process.”

While Facebook vows that it prioritizes meaningful content, its algorithms also appear to play a role in strengthening biases. The more extreme groups we joined, the more Facebook suggested new – and often even more troubling – groups to join or pages to like. It was easy to see how users, including police officers, could be increasingly radicalized by what they saw on their news feed.

What’s harder to see is how these views affected their policing offline.

Disciplinary records and investigations into police misconduct are kept secret in a majority of states, meaning most American cops enjoy a blanket of protection that can cover up biases. But in some cases, we found public documents that showed the officers we identified via Facebook also had been involved in real-life instances of alleged racism or other misconduct.

Will Weisenberger, a sheriff’s deputy in Madison County, Mississippi, was a member of a closed Facebook group called “White Lives Matter.” He’s also been caught up in a lawsuit filed by the American Civil Liberties Union against the department for allegedly engaging in decades of systemic racism and discriminatory policing.

Racism was so systematic at the Madison County Sheriff’s Department, the ACLU asserts, that the department’s blank arrest forms came with two words already filled in: “Black” and “Male.”

Lawyers for the ACLU deposed Weisenberger and asked him about an incident in which a fellow deputy alleged that Weisenberger had punched an African American man in the face while the man’s hands were cuffed. Then they asked him if he ever uses any racial slurs while on duty.

“I may have used the N-word,” Weisenberger said, according to the deposition.

“It’s not something I’m proud of or do every day,” he continued.

Neither the Sheriff’s Department nor Weisenberger responded to calls for comment. The Sheriff’s Department wouldn’t release Weisenberger’s disciplinary record or a copy of the complaint made by his colleague. Police disciplinary records in Mississippi are confidential.

In Chicago, Lt. Richard Moravec was a member of a closed Facebook group called “Any islamist insults infidels, I will put him under my feet,” which disappeared from Facebook before we could join it or search it for posts by officers.

While we don’t know if he ever interacted with the Islamophobic group, Moravec has posted content that appears to be openly anti-transgender and anti-Islam on his personal Facebook page.

One meme Moravec posted featured a photo of a young girl with the caption, “Please! Don’t confuse me. I’m a girl. Don’t teach me to question if I’m a boy, transexual, transgendered, intersexed or two spirited.”

And Chicago’s open records on police conduct revealed that he also has been the subject of 70 allegations, including accusations of illegal use of force, verbal abuse and criminal misconduct, according to the Citizens Police Data Project. That’s more than 99 percent of Chicago police officers. One of the allegations resulted in a five-day suspension.

To find cops with connections to extremist groups, we built lists of two different types of Facebook users: members of extremist groups and members of police groups.

We wrote software to download these lists directly from Facebook, something the platform allowed at the time. In mid-2018, in the wake of the Cambridge Analytica scandal and after we already had downloaded our data, Facebook shut down the ability to download membership lists from groups. Then we ran those two datasets against each other to find users who were members of at least one law enforcement group and one far-right group.

We got 14,000 hits.

We did not assume that everyone in a police Facebook group was an actual officer, because many could be relatives of police officers or just really into law enforcement. So, we spent months poring over individual Facebook pages, looking for clues, such as photos of the officer in uniform, or posts about police events, or notes mourning lost cops. Then we corroborated what we found on Facebook with additional research, often calling the departments to confirm the individual either still or had once worked there.

Ultimately, we confirmed that almost 400 users were indeed either currently employed as police officers, sheriffs or prison guards or had once worked in law enforcement.

We then asked to join the closed extremist groups. Many groups ask users questions in order to join, and these often offer insight into the nature of the group. The group “Stop Radical Islam in America,” for example, asks, “Why do you personally think Islam should be banned in America?” At least 12 current and former police officers were members of that group.

The group “Confederate Brothers & Sisters,” which counts at least 25 current and former cops as members, explicitly asks, “This group is sometimes racist does this bother you?” Inside that group, we found several cops and ex-cops posting racist comments.

We used our real names and photos and answered the questions honestly to join these groups. We used general language, often saying we were “interested in learning more.” As a result, many of the most extreme groups rejected our application to join, ignored us or blocked us from viewing the group.

But dozens let us in.

We didn’t seek to find every single hate group or police group on Facebook, and we couldn’t confirm the professions of hundreds of the users in our database.

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Several officers claimed that they didn’t even know they were members of the closed groups we identified them in. And that’s probably the case for at least some of these officers, due to Facebook’s policies for joining groups.

Until late 2018, Facebook allowed users to invite friends to join groups they thought would interest them. The invitees would receive a notification telling them they were a member of a new group, and depending on each user’s algorithm, the user’s news feed might include content and postings from the group. But it’s certainly possible that cops could have been added to groups without realizing it, especially if they’re not active on Facebook.

Facebook has since changed its policies. Users now get a request to join a group that they have to confirm.

But that doesn’t apply to dozens of current and retired officers who have commented on and liked posts in closed extremist groups or who proactively joined groups themselves, without being invited by somebody else.

We examined a tiny sample of what exists on Facebook — what Megan Squire, a computer science professor from Elon University in North Carolina, called “a tiny, postage-stamp-sized window into Facebook’s skyscraper of data.”

Squire, who has studied hate groups on Facebook for years and maintains her own database, said the social media platform, and especially closed groups, are used by hate groups such as white supremacists to plan events and build camaraderie.

“Charlottesville was planned on Facebook,” Squire said. “Extremists are definitely using Facebook groups to plan physical, real-world events or just to make their lives a little smaller, to find friends.”

A spokeswoman for Facebook said the company doesn’t tolerate hate speech on the platform and works extremely hard to identify and shut down hate groups. In the last year, as part of a push to reform the company, Facebook has said it won’t tolerate white nationalist or white supremacist content, and it has moved to shut down the accounts of some of the most popular hate-speech provocateurs.

But while groups with overt neo-Nazi, white supremacist or Ku Klux Klan names get shut down relatively quickly by Facebook, hate groups have wised up in response.

As has happened elsewhere on the internet, extremist groups on Facebook often use in-jokes and subtle references in their names to avoid takedown policies. Moderators of closed groups control who can join, and on Facebook, cops can hide who they really are — using false names and listing pretend jobs.

Inside the closed Facebook groups to which we gained access, transparently racist, misogynistic and homophobic content is on full display. We catalogued more than 120 active and retired officers posting in these groups or commenting in support of others.

In one 48-hour period, civilian members of one closed group posted a steady stream of hateful content:

  • One user posted a link to a piece about how the skins of African slaves were once turned into jackets. It garnered 34 comments and 103 emoticon responses in 24 hours. Almost all of the people reacting to the post gave it the “haha” response. “10/10 would wear, ” a commenter said.
  • Another post mocked the removal of a citizenship question from the 2020 census, playing off the common white supremacist conspiracy theory that an international group of Jews is masterminding the immigration of Latinos into the United States. “When are we going to show everyone what the Jewish cabal is doing?” commented one member.
  • A video showing an African American man being arrested by an African American police officer resulted in an immediate comment: “Just reading that made me crave some fried chicken and watermelon.”

At least six law enforcement officers were members of the group, which was called “Anti-SJW Pinochet’s Helicopter Pilot Academy.” The name showcases the wordplay central to the white supremacists’ rebranding as the “alt-right.” It refers to the Chilean dictator Augusto Pinochet, who had his political opponents thrown out of helicopters into the Pacific Ocean. “SJW” stands for “social justice warrior,” a term used to mock individuals who support equal rights for people of color, women and the LGBTQ community.

While the terminology is new and sometimes cryptic, the core messages of the alt-right echo longstanding neo-Nazi and white supremacist premises. Perry Tolliver, a retired corrections officer from Baltimore, and Michael Pinegar, a former Arizona Department of Corrections officer — who were both members of the Pinochet group until it disappeared from Facebook earlier this month — seemed well-versed in the alt-right’s terminology. In separate posts in the group, both Tolliver and Pinegar referred to African Americans as “dindus” — a racist slur common on Facebook and elsewhere.

In a similar vein, Detective Steve Fumuso from Westchester County in New York frequently inserted comments into posts in the Pinochet group that denigrated African Americans, Latinos and the LGBTQ community.

Fumuso posted a meme with a white man making the “OK” symbol — a favored gesture of the alt-right — and the words “fuckin mint” under a racist joke about Mexicans in December 2017. Earlier, he had commented, “Ha ha ha haaaa. Fuck em,” under a “Tucker Carlson Tonight” clip about Mexicans being worried about crime committed by Central American migrants.

Westchester County Public Safety Commissioner Thomas Gleason said the department’s Special Investigations Unit would launch an investigation.

In an interview months later, Fumuso said he had retired shortly after the internal affairs investigation. He said the two things had nothing to do with each other.

“I like memes, they make me laugh. I didn’t join to express any racist views,” he said. “I don’t care what you think. That’s my opinion. You know what’s a racist comment? ‘Brits are all full of shit.’ ”

(The reporter conducting the interview, Will Carless, has a British accent.)

Several officers contacted for this story countered that they have a First Amendment right to opine on social media, even if those opinions are unpopular or offensive to some people.

However, while civilians enjoy First Amendment protection from government censorship or harassment, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that public agencies such as police departments may penalize their employees for speech and behavior in certain cases.

Valerie Van Brocklin, a former federal prosecutor who trains police departments and other public employees on social media use, said police officers across the country have been fired or suspended for making off-color jokes or leaving problematic comments under newspaper articles.

“I ask them, ‘Would you, as a cop, in your uniform, put that on a sandwich board and walk up and down the streets of your town? ’ ” Van Brocklin said. “And they’ll say, ‘No, because I could be fired for that.’ Well, instead of putting it on a sandwich board, you put it up for the whole world to see, so why would you think it’s protected?”

No single code of conduct or ethics policy governs the thousands of jurisdictions in the U.S. that employ police officers. Different law enforcement agencies have widely differing standards for the behavior they accept from their personnel, and this was reflected in the responses we received from departments.

In Watkins Glen, New York, Sgt. in Charge Steven Decker refused to talk about the fact that one of his officers, Robert Brill, was a member of two groups connected to the Proud Boys, a violent alt-right gang, and the group “Kekistani Freestate,” named for Kek, a sort of deity employed by the alt-right for memes and other jokes.

“We don’t discuss personnel matters,” Decker said, before hanging up. Brill didn’t respond to calls for comment.

The Abbeville Police Department in Georgia hasn’t responded to multiple phone calls and emails about one of its officers, Joel Quinn, frequently featuring conspiracy theories and anti-Islam posts on his personal Facebook wall. He also has posted inside a Confederate group.

Reached via Facebook Messenger, Quinn defended his posts. “Its also my responsibility to detect possible threats to my community all the way up to and including my country,” he wrote. “Think about this, majority of crimes are committed by minorities (black, hispanic, etc) per FBI statistics yet I don’t ‘prey’ on any particular one.” (According to the latest FBI Uniform Crime Reporting statistics, 68.9 percent of arrestees in 2017 were white.)

The Wisconsin Department of Corrections hasn’t commented on corrections officer Sheldon Best, a member of “Crusades Against Degeneracy,” a group that trades in racist, anti-Semitic, anti-immigrant and homophobic content. In 2017, Best commented on an NPR story reporting that babies of color are now the majority in the United States. Below it, he wrote: “Maybe, but minority on minority homocide (sic) will make sure adults of color remain a minority.”

Best said in an interview that he was apologetic about this and other posts in the group. “Some people” could view his membership in the group as problematic, he acknowledged. However, he said that while some members of the group hold discriminatory views, he does not.

We provided the New York Police Department with posts from Officer Randy Paulsaint, a member of 13 groups committed to the anti-feminist Men Going Their Own Way movement.

The groups contain memes depicting women as evil, greedy and jealous. In one, someone posted a meme about a woman asking for a Christmas present. In the comments, Paulsaint inserted a gif of a man kicking a woman in the head.

The NYPD said its investigation was closed as unsubstantiated. “The investigation was unable to clearly prove or disprove that the subject officer made the offending posts,” the department said.

Peter Simi, the sociologist, said white supremacists and other extremists have been working hard to integrate their hateful views into society in as many ways as possible.

“Leaders have long been advocating for infiltration of society — graduate from high school, go to college, join the military, become a police officer, become a school teacher — get inside the system,” he said. “That’s why it’s so difficult to get a handle on the scope of this, because the purpose for those who are infiltrating these systems is to be careful not to tip their hands. So we’re always dealing with the tip of the iceberg.”

Researchers Daneel Knoetze and Michael Dailey contributed to this story. 

The post Bigoted Cops Show True Colors in Online Hate Groups appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Hey, Taylor Swift, LGBTQ People Don’t Need an Ally. We Need an Accomplice.

Mother Jones Magazine -

This week: “You Need To Calm Down” by Taylor Swift (Republic Records, 2019)

Why we’re into it: This is a great pop song, even if we can’t excuse the weak allyship.

From the moment the first beat hits, it’s clear this is a Taylor Swift song. In what’s become a signature of hers, the song comes in hot, wasting no time sinking its Swifty pop hooks into your ears. She arrives within the first few seconds on a bouncy synth beat, flipping iambs into trochees (“Patrón” is rendered “PUH-trone”). It’s catchy and fun, an earworm of a pop song, and it revives a bit of hope that her next album Lover won’t be the mess that “ME!” was. It is also, yet again, her take on trying to “own” the haters. In this case? Homophobes.

Under all the rainbows and catchy hooks, “You Need to Calm Down” is allyship misunderstood.

Earlier this month Swift posted a much-circulated letter addressed to her Republican senator, Lamar Alexander of Tennessee. In it she asked Hunt to support the House Equality Act, a sweeping bill that would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in our workplaces, our schools, and in other public accommodations. It was a bold and unexpected move from the apolitical pop star. But that old, apolitical Taylor is dead. From old Taylor’s ashes has risen a new outspoken pop star who hopes she’ll release a more blatant political pop song.

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HAPPY PRIDE MONTH!!! While we have so much to celebrate, we also have a great distance to go before everyone in this country is truly treated equally. In excellent recent news, the House has passed the Equality Act, which would protect LGBTQ people from discrimination in their places of work, homes, schools, and other public accommodations. The next step is that the bill will go before the Senate. I’ve decided to kick off Pride Month by writing a letter to one of my senators to explain how strongly I feel that the Equality Act should be passed. I urge you to write to your senators too. I’ll be looking for your letters by searching the hashtag #lettertomysenator. While there’s no information yet as to when the Equality Act will go before the Senate for a vote, we do know this: Politicians need votes to stay in office. Votes come from the people. Pressure from massive amounts of people is a major way to push politicians towards positive change. That’s why I’ve created a petition at change.org to urge the Senate to support the Equality Act. Our country’s lack of protection for its own citizens ensures that LGBTQ people must live in fear that their lives could be turned upside down by an employer or landlord who is homophobic or transphobic. The fact that, legally, some people are completely at the mercy of the hatred and bigotry of others is disgusting and unacceptable. Let’s show our pride by demanding that, on a national level, our laws truly treat all of our citizens equally. Click the link in my bio to sign the petition for Senate support of the Equality Act.

A post shared by Taylor Swift (@taylorswift) on May 31, 2019 at 9:05pm PDT

Swift has a lot of experience in dealing with haters and that experience shines when she’s singing about that. “Say it in the street, that’s a knock-out. But you say it in a tweet, that’s a cop-out.” It’s when she tries to include this idea that homophobes need to “calm down” that she falters and stumbles into the tropes that many queer people struggle with in their allies.

“You need to calm down, you’re being too loud,” she directs the homophobes and haters. “You need to just stop, you need to just stop, like can you just not step on his gown? You need to calm down.”

This “can you just stop?” attitude is where many allies fall short, not just Swift. LGBTQ people are still facing hatred, barriers, and violence, at astonishing levels. Governments around the world and here in the US are attacking us. We’re still fighting every day for our humanity to be recognized. The idea that we can just ask oppressors to stop stems from the same assumption that homophobia is nothing more than a character flaw; it’s right around the corner from the idea that “all sides” deserve respect. 

It’s time for allies to evolve. LGBTQ people need accomplices now. An accomplice is someone who is putting as much on the line, maybe even more, than the other. An accomplice ends up in jail with you. An ally is someone you hope will answer your one phone call.

While “You Need to Calm Down” features a shoutout to the LGBTQ organization GLAAD and an allusion to those infamous homophobic protest signs, its message of allyship is half baked and loaded with the sentiment that queer people need to accept any handout of humanity allies provide. 

“I ain’t tryna mess with your self-expression,” she sings. But homophobia isn’t “self-expression”; it’s violence.

Taylor is at her best when she’s her exaggerated self. That’s what’s always made her so fun. Within all the nonsense, there was a sliver of self-awareness. But “You Need To Calm Down” has no semblance of that. Instead it comes off like another #Pride campaign tailored to make money off of queer people.

Taylor’s not ill-intentioned at all; in fact, it’s quite the opposite. Allies aren’t bad people, no, no, no. It’s just that right now LGBTQ people don’t need allies. We need accomplices.

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