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Glenn Greenwald Targeted by Brazil’s Far-Right Government

The Brazilian government is targeting one of its biggest critics, journalist Glenn Greenwald, in a move that has been decried by observers as an intimidation tactic designed to stifle opposition to right-wing President Jair Bolsonaro.

The government’s finance ministry’s money laundering unit was asked by federal police to investigate Greenwald’s finances, O Antagonista reported Tuesday. The right-wing Brazilian news site said that the investigation would focus on whether Greenwald paid for access to leaked records he used in reporting on the Bolsonaro government’s “Operation Car Wash” sting.

“If there is an investigation for doing journalism it is illegal and it is an attempt at intimidation,” University of Sao Paulo law professor Pierpaolo Bottini told The Guardian.

This is a blatant attempt by Brazilian officials to intimidate—or worse—@ggreenwald for his reportinghttps://t.co/FwgDjSTEQm

— jordan (@JordanUhl) July 4, 2019

Attacks on Greenwald and his family, including husband David Miranda, a member of Brazil’s Congress, were criticized by U.N. and Organization of American States (OAS) Edison Lanza and David Kaye. In a joint press release, Lanza and Kaye called on Brazil “to conduct an exhaustive, effective, and impartial investigation on the threats against the journalist and his family.”

“The Special Rapporteurs remind the Brazilian State that it has an obligation to prevent, protect, investigate, and punish violence against journalists, particularly those who have been subjected to harassment and threats or other acts of violence,” the rapporteurs’ statement said.

Greenwald, co-founder of independent news organization The Intercept, published in the online magazine’s Brazilian edition a number of investigations that use leaked documents to prove that the prosecution of former President Lula da Silva for corruption was steered by now Justice Minister Sergio Moro. The reporting has impacted Brazil’s politics and thrown the Bolsonaro presidency into crisis.

Given the impact of the reporting, said José Guimarães, a congressman who is a member of da Silva’s Workers’ Party, the investigation appears to be “a brutal violation of press freedom.”

That point was echoed by Trevor Timm of the Freedom of the Press Foundation. In a statement, Timm said that an investigation into Greenwald would be “not only an outrageous attack on press freedom, but a gross abuse of power.”

“Criminally investigating journalist Glenn Greenwald for reporting on corruption within the Bolsonaro government is a shocking violation of his rights as a reporter,” Timm said. “Worse, the same person who is the primary subject of The Intercept’s reporting—Minister of Justice Sergio Moro—would also have ultimate authority over any Federal Police investigation.”

The fallout from Greenwald’s reporting is having a major affect on Brazilian politics. On Tuesday, Moro appeared in front of the Brazilian Congress to answer questions on “Operation Car Wash” in a hearing that devolved at one point into near-violence.

After Congressman Braga laid out with unflinching clarity the corruption of Minister Moro as exposed by our reporting – see the above videos – the Congress members from Bolsonaro’s party reacted with the sobriety, dignity & eloquence for which they are internationally renowned: pic.twitter.com/k6OmZohnGN

— Glenn Greenwald (@ggreenwald) July 4, 2019

Greenwald, who spoke to the lower house of Brazil’s Congress about his reporting in June, was invited this week to testify in front of the Brazilian Senate. A date for that testimony has yet to be set.

The post Glenn Greenwald Targeted by Brazil’s Far-Right Government appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

10 Questions for Robert Mueller

After weeks of dithering, the House Judiciary and Intelligence committees have subpoenaed Robert Mueller to testify July 17 about his investigation into Russia’s election interference and possible obstruction of justice by President Donald Trump. Mueller has reluctantly agreed to honor the subpoenas. He will testify publicly in front of both committees, back-to-back, before continuing in closed sessions.

Here are 10 questions I would ask if given the opportunity. They are grouped by category, together with the rationales behind them and what I anticipate would be Mueller’s answers, evasions and flat-out refusals to comment:

On Mueller’s Agreement to Testify

  1. Why did it take a subpoena to persuade you to testify?

It’s no secret that Mueller doesn’t want to answer any questions from Congress—or anyone else, for that matter—either in public or behind closed doors. He told us as much in the prepared statement he read on live TV on May 29.

It’s understandable. Mueller believes his work is done, and that he should be permitted to ride off into the sunset and return to private law practice, hailed as a hero. As he said on May 29, “My report is my testimony.”

Too bad.

Mueller is a former FBI director. It’s time for him to face the music (and the cameras).

An estimated $35 million was spent to fund Mueller’s work; now it’s time for ordinary Americans to hear from him under oath. His report is 448 pages long, packed with dense legalese, and few people—besides political nerds and constitutional-law wonks like me—have taken the time to plow through it.

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The special counsel has a moral obligation not only to explain what he found, but to clear up ambiguities in his report, of which there are many. A subpoena should not have been necessary to secure Mueller’s appearance before Congress. He should have come forward voluntarily, as independent counsel Ken Starr—not exactly an ethical exemplar—did during the House Judiciary Committee’s impeachment hearings on Bill Clinton. Yes, I know, we aren’t at the impeachment stage yet, but read on.

  1. Has anyone, within or outside the Trump administration, pressured you not to testify?

The president has ordered his aides, current and former, not to honor congressional subpoenas under the bizarre legal claim that they are “absolutely immune” from being compelled to testify. We deserve to know if the administration has similarly tried to bully the former special prosecutor.

If anyone has attempted to muzzle Mueller, Attorney General William Barr would be the prime suspect. On March 24, Barr penned a letter to Senate and House leaders purporting to summarize the Mueller report’s key findings. Among other things, Barr “cleared” Trump in the letter of any acts of obstruction.

On March 27, Mueller wrote to Barr, complaining that the attorney general’s summary did not “fully capture the context, nature, and substance” of his report, resulting in “public confusion about critical aspects of the results of our investigation.” And what else is there, ultimately, but context, nature and substance? In effect, he accused Barr of lying. Yet Mueller made an abrupt about-face in his May 29 press conference, declaring that he doesn’t question the attorney general’s “good faith.”

We shouldn’t do the same.

Barr has turned the Department of Justice into something more akin to Trump’s personal defense firm. Even if Mueller refuses to answer the question, he should be put on the spot, if only to underscore Barr’s obfuscation and malfeasance.

  1. Do you agree that the redacted portions of your report should be released to Congress and the public?

Barr released a substantially redacted version of Mueller’s report on April 18.

Last month, after weeks of negotiations, the Justice Department agreed to turn over to Congress some of the underlying evidence discovered by Mueller’s investigators. No agreement, however, has been reached to turn over a completely unredacted version of the probe’s findings.

It is estimated that between 6% and 12% of the report has been blacked out. The redacted sections include, among other matters, important material about the probe into WikiLeaks’ alleged involvement in Russian election interference.

I wouldn’t expect Mueller to answer this question, and if any member of Congress has the fortitude to ask it, I think Mueller will dodge it. Still, the question should be posed. We have a right to know what’s been concealed from the public, like this troubling section from page 30:

On Russian Interference

  1. What is the difference between “collusion” and “conspiracy”?

On page 2 of his report, Mueller makes it clear that his investigation was about “conspiracy,” not “collusion”:

<blockquote>In evaluating whether evidence about collective action of multiple individuals constituted a crime, we applied the framework of conspiracy law, not the concept of “collusion.” In so doing, the Office recognized that the word “collud[e]” was used in communications with the acting attorney general to confirm certain aspects of the investigation’s scope, and that the term has frequently been invoked in public reporting about the investigation. But collusion is not a specific offense or theory of liability found in the United States Code, nor is it a term of art in federal criminal law. For those reasons, the Office’s focus in analyzing questions of joint criminal liability was on conspiracy as defined in federal law.</blockquote>

Apart from anti-trust violations, “collusion” isn’t an element of any federal crime. I don’t know how, or when, the term crept into the national discourse and spread thereafter like a disinformation meme.

A writer from the website Lawfare posted an article in June 2018 that traced the use of “collusion” to a July 2016 article published by the Washington Examiner. The term was picked up later the same day by ABC, and in short order was repeated by other media outlets, mainstream politicians and such late-night comics as Trevor Noah.

I think that Mueller, being something of a pedant himself, would offer a brief tutorial on the subject. In any case, he should be asked to weigh in, to help rebut Trump’s claim of “No collusion.”

In the colloquial sense, Mueller discovered a trove of collusion in the form of mutually supportive contacts between the Trump campaign and Russian interests. The report notes, in this respect, that “the investigation established multiple links between Trump Campaign officials and individuals tied to the Russian government.”

As for conspiracy, on the other hand, Mueller concluded that the evidence was “insufficient” to establish a crime beyond a reasonable doubt. It’s not that he determined there was no evidence of conspiracy at all. To the contrary, as the report advises: “A statement that the investigation did not establish particular facts does not mean there was no evidence of those facts.”

As long as we’re talking and writing about Mueller, we owe it to ourselves and our audience to get it right.

  1. Did you find any evidence that Russian interference affected the outcome of the presidential race?

It’s very unlikely the Democrats on either House panel will ask this, but the Republicans—Trump quislings all—just might. I urge them to do so, even though Mueller will probably refuse to speculate. In fact, that’s exactly why the question should be asked.

The impact of Russian interference is and will remain speculative, defying objective quantification. Although a recently released statistical analysis conducted by researchers at the University of Tennessee found that Trump received a bump in the polls that correlated to every acceleration in the Twitter activity of Russian trolls, correlation isn’t proof.

There were many reasons Hillary Clinton lost the Electoral College and the presidency to the most unpopular candidate in the modern history of polling. Russian meddling was one of them. Far more important was the fact that Clinton was a terrible candidate, whom many Americans, desperate for change, associated with decades-old policies that had hollowed out the working and middle classes.

Proding Mueller could help drive these valuable points home.

  1. If it’s wrong for other nations to meddle in our elections, isn’t it equally wrong for the U.S. to intervene in the elections of other nations?

I don’t expect members of either party to have the guts to ask this, as both Democrats and Republicans share a long and ignominious history of engineering invasions, coups and disinformation campaigns aplenty abroad. Neither do I think Mueller would share his thoughts. Still, it’s a vital inquiry that should be pursued.

On Obstruction

  1. Your report cites several instances of possible obstruction that are supported by “substantial evidence.” What do you mean by that term?

Mueller’s report famously declares that the special counsel was unable to “exonerate” Trump of obstruction of justice. The report also states that “substantial evidence” was found to support numerous claims of obstruction, including the president’s directive in June 2017 to then-White House counsel Donald McGahn to fire Mueller, and his subsequent demand that McGahn deny that he had ever ordered that Mueller be fired.

Nowhere, however, does the report define “substantial evidence.” The Supreme Court has defined the term as “such relevant evidence as a reasonable mind might accept as adequate to support a conclusion.”

There’s a good probability that Mueller would give another short tutorial, explaining how he used the term. Whatever his response, my next question would be:

  1. But for the Department of Justice’s position that a sitting president cannot be prosecuted, would you have recommended the indictment of Trump?

Memoranda drafted by the Office of Legal Counsel in 1973 and 2000 establish DOJ policy that a sitting president cannot be indicted. Mueller said on May 29 that he followed that policy.

More than 1,000 former federal prosecutors affiliated with both major parties have signed a statement declaring that, based on the facts disclosed in the Mueller report, they would have charged Trump with obstruction of justice if he were not the president.

Mueller may refuse to say whether he agrees with them. But declining to answer will nicely underscore the significance of the next, and final, category of inquiry:

On Impeachment

  1. Is your report a road map for impeachment?

This is, of course, the elephant in the room. Mueller refers to impeachment in his report 10 times, but only tangentially and mostly in footnotes, without making any assessment of the merits of the case for impeachment.

I would expect him to demur again, which should lead any competent cross-examiner to ask one last question:

  1. If no one is above the law, whose job is it to hold the president accountable?

By this stage, I’d expect the increasingly cranky ex-Marine to stare icily ahead and, in effect, reply, “It’s your job.”

After the close of the hearing, I’d have one additional question—for House Democrats, rather than for Mueller:

“Are you ready and able to do your job?”

Sadly, unless the Democrats suddenly grow a collective spine, I think we know the answer.

The post 10 Questions for Robert Mueller appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

The Homegrown Crisis California Refuses to Own

Anyone who has spent even a short period of time in California’s cities will immediately notice the homelessness crisis that has grown to stunning proportions in recent years. The “explanation” that’s often thrown around is that people who become homeless travel to the Golden State, where, presumably, the mild weather blunts some of the difficulties of living without a roof over one’s head. But this, like most justifications for inhumane problems, is just that: a justification to make Californians feel slightly less terrible every time they come across a person in need on the streets of some of the wealthiest, most progressive cities in the world.

As Tommy Newman, a lawyer and a senior director at the nonprofit United Way, points out in the latest installment of the “Scheer Intelligence” podcast, a quarter of the nation’s homeless live in California, earning it the shameful moniker of “Homeless Capital of America.”

That’s not the only staggering number related to the issue. “About 70% of the people who are living outside [in Los Angeles County] last lived indoors in L.A. County, and of that subset, 50% lived here for more than a decade indoors,” Newman tells Truthdig Editor in Chief Robert Scheer on the podcast. The numbers, which clearly debunk the common rationalization about homelessness, should lead us all to the crucial conclusion Newman has drawn from the statistics.

“This is a homegrown challenge,” he says. “Some people will come here, but if your whole life falls apart and you’re in Iowa, you’re not going to say, ‘All right, well, I’ve lost everything, and now I’m going to California’—you’re stuck.”

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Jerry Brown, the state’s four-term governor, considered the crisis so dire that, as Newman points out, he thought that climate change would be solved sooner than homelessness. Newman, however, isn’t willing to give up on the pressing issue, and thanks to his work and that of his colleagues, big changes in both policy and popular opinion have already begun to materialize. Two Los Angeles ballot measures—Proposition HHH and Measure H—aimed at creating affordable housing for thousands—passed in the miraculous span of four months. The efforts to pass these measures were documented in the 2018 film “The Advocates,” in which Newman appears, and which is available for viewing on streaming services. While the progress springing from these policies will take time, Newman warns, it will take place.

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One of the main difficulties faced by United Way and others who advocate for helping homeless people is how Californians feel about housing, especially one specific group that is stuck on a suburban Nimbyism and rejects zoning for more affordable multifamily housing.

“It’s white people who are primarily the challenge on this housing question,” Newman tells Scheer. “White people support more multifamily housing, more apartments—whether they’re affordable or not, more apartments—to the tune of about 40%. And people who are not white support apartments to the tune of about 60%. So it is white people who own homes who are the cause of the homelessness crisis, and will need to be a part of the solution in some way, unless we can build a larger coalition around them and create that pressure.”

Scheer, who has lived in California most of his adult life, sees the question of how we approach homelessness amid blatant affluence as one that gets to the core of our humanity.

“The fact of the matter is, we’re kind of in this Dickens world of London,” Scheer says. “We have extreme wealth in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and points in between. And yet we have the most abject misery.

“I do want to encourage people to realize that we are actually talking about a notion of what is civilization,” he adds. “I think that you can’t be a city of the future, which is what L.A. advertises as, [unless you are] welcoming to people who all look different ways, come from different backgrounds, have different skill sets, different employment opportunities.”

Listen to the full discussion between Scheer and Newman about the political, social and economic factors contributing to the Golden State’s most shameful failures to date. You can also read a transcript of the interview below the media player and find past episodes of “Scheer Intelligence” here.

—Introduction by Natasha Hakimi Zapata

Robert Scheer: Hi, this is Robert Scheer with another edition of Scheer Intelligence, kind of the poor man’s CIA, and where the intelligence comes from our guests. In this case, Tommy Newman. And I only know Tommy because there’s a movie that the United Way, which he’s connected with–he’s now Senior Director of the United Way of Greater Los Angeles. But there’s a movie called The Advocates, and it’s about really dedicated human beings, young people, who work to try to figure out: Who are these homeless people that are humps of humanity around us here in Los Angeles? And really, in every other major city, some minor cities? Are they alive or dead? What’s the explanation, why don’t we care? You think of the Good Samaritan in Luke, and Jesus saying if you want to get to heaven, care about that person that’s at the side of the road, and that’s been robbed or beaten or abandoned. And yet we don’t. And when I saw that movie, The Advocates, I just felt–guilt is not the right word. I just felt, what is wrong with me? Me–and forget about the society, forget about everything else. How do I coexist with this extreme state of deprivation of human beings? Yes, it happens elsewhere; it happens with immigrants at the border now, it happens with refugees. But right here, in the center of one of the most prosperous cities in the world–and certainly San Francisco is another incredibly prosperous city, and yet if you’re in downtown San Francisco, you go to the Salesforce building, and right around it is a whole encampment at night. So let me ask you about that. You’re a product of this California culture; you work for the United Way; you’re an attorney, educated in California at a good Catholic institution, University of San Francisco; you went to Loyola High School. And so your religion, your humanity, would tell you this is unacceptable. So how come we’ve accepted it in this deep blue, progressive, democratic-controlled state of California?

Tommy Newman: Well, I appreciate you having me, and I appreciate starting here, starting at the very basic component of this, which is humanity and human beings, because that’s where we should start. We’ve accepted it so far because the benefits that enough people receive from the housing policies we have, the economic policies we have, outweighed the shame that we felt by knowing that Skid Row existed–but we didn’t have to drive there, and if we didn’t see it, it was out of sight and it was out of mind. But we hit a tipping point on the consequences of those terrible housing policies, on the consequences of those economic policies. And in L.A., across the state of California, all of a sudden homelessness is everywhere. We have 6,000 people living in the San Fernando Valley in cars and RVs on what were once bucolic, ranch-home streets. And so all of a sudden, we hit this tipping point, and everybody looked around and said, what the hell’s going on and how did this happen? It happened—

RS: We’re the homeless capital of America.

TN: We are, yeah, the state of California.

RS: Give me those statistics.

TN: Twenty-five percent of the people experiencing homelessness in the United States are in the state of California.

RS: Now, part of that is explained by the state’s defenders as, if you’re going to be homeless, you don’t want to be where there’s snow or extreme heat. You know, leave New York City and go to Los Angeles; it’s easier to live on the street or near the beach. But that only takes you so far.

TN: Which isn’t very far. About 70 percent of the people who are living outside last lived indoors in L.A. County, and of that subset, 50 percent lived here for more than a decade indoors. So this is a home-grown challenge. Some people will come here, but if your whole life falls apart and you’re in Iowa, you’re not going to say, “All right, well, I’ve lost everything and now I’m going to California”–you’re stuck.

RS: So that’s really a rationalization–for a failure–

TN: Yes. There are a lot of rationalizations.

RS: OK. So let’s cut to the chase here. The fact of the matter is, we’re kind of in this Dickens world of London once. I mean, we have extreme wealth in San Francisco and Los Angeles, and points in between. And yet we have the most abject misery. Hunks of–that’s the only way I can describe it, because unless you’re one of those social worker types, and the advocates, and willing to go into the tent, most of the time you’re skirting around these people. And you don’t even worry about–I just, I just happened to, getting here today, I went by the federal courthouse, the brand-new federal courthouse. I think it cost a half-billion dollars to build, right in downtown L.A. on First Street. And I looked over on the right, and there was a human being, a leg stuck out and an arm stuck out–is he alive, dead? Some of his belongings and some garbage around him–right in front of the federal courthouse, in L.A. And that’s the norm. Skid Row, as you referred to it, now goes for miles! Miles. When they broke up Occupy Wall Street in downtown L.A., the complaint was well, we have these unsightly people committing crimes–that was why, because it was right within the purview of City Hall and a county, state building. But we have miles! So you deal with the business community; you deal with the elite. What is the response?

TN: And not just the business community. I mean, I think United Way sits in an interesting place. United Way is approaching its hundredth anniversary in L.A., and for the first–hmm, 80 years, people gave United Way money because the internet didn’t exist, and they didn’t know how to give charitably. And so they gave it to United Way, and they trusted United Way to give that money out to community organizations that needed it. And that was across the spectrum, from the SPCA to an education group to a homelessness group. And about 10 years ago, this United Way in L.A.–somewhat distinct from the other United Ways–said, OK, we’re going to move on from that and we’re going to focus on three core issues, this being one of them. So started working on this issue 10 years ago. And interestingly, at that point in time there were 80–

RS: Just out of curiosity, what are the other two core?

TN: Education and economic stability.

RS: And so they’re all connected, in a way.

TN: They’re connected, that’s right. Looking upstream on the issue. Because if you’re only focusing on the people you see lying on the sidewalk, you’re missing the point. There’s a whole lot of things that happen before that person ended up lying on the sidewalk. So the point is, we started 10 years ago, and there were about 80 homeless service providers, social service organizations, nonprofit organizations, in L.A. County who were doing this work, each with their own database, their own set of criteria, their own list–there was no coordination across those in any way. So 10 years ago, we decided to focus on this issue and build a common set of tools, narrative, database, so that everybody could talk to each other. And what we very quickly learned in that early exercise, as United Way was bringing folks together, was that we were not helping the people that needed the help the most. And in fact, we did a comparison exercise; we built a database, a list based on, you know, clear questions: How did you end up experiencing homelessness? What’s your history of trauma? And then we compared the people who were on that list, on Skid Row, against the people who were showing up at a new building, a new affordable housing building that was opening up. And what we saw was that the people who needed to be in that apartment the most were not the ones who were showing up to fill out the rental paperwork, and offer their Social Security card, and provide their rent history. Two different worlds. And so that was United Way’s start as we got into this, and that was about 10 years ago. We built a foundation that we could then invest dollars in, and this gets to, I think, a question that you’ve been sort of hinting at, which is until 2016, there was no local revenue source in the city or county of Los Angeles dedicated to homelessness. When times were good, we’d sprinkle a little bit of the general fund on the issue, and when times were not good, we didn’t. There was no consistent, guaranteed money to build up a system–of the capacity that it needs to be in a county of 10 million people–to address what is going to happen when people’s lives fall apart, when they stop making money, when they have a sickness or a disability, when the healthcare system drives them into bankruptcy–which is happening quite a bit, and continues to happen.

RS: Well, according to the Federal Reserve, one of their recent studies, some 40 percent of the population is only 300 bucks or 400 bucks away from such disaster.

TN: Exactly right.

RS: And so I love your perspective, because frankly, I think the United Way deserves credit for being sort of this focal point of concern. I respect that. However, for all of the prestige of United Way, and for all of their great ties with the business community–you have a partnership with–and you’ve been successful in passing legislation. I mean, my hat’s off to you–Proposition H and double H, or whatever, you got the county, you got the city–

TN: Within four months, two ballot measures. For the first time ever in the history of the county of Los Angeles.

RS: Yeah, you–yes, and a majority of the people said yes, we want to spend, in one case over a billion dollars on this, and–

TN: To build housing.

RS: Yeah, to build housing, to support–so here is not a case where the population, at least in general, doesn’t want to do something. They know we have a problem. You can’t live in California and not know, whether you’re rural or urban, that you’ve got a great problem. And it used to be for a long time we said, oh, well, the problem is we’re not taking care of mentally deranged people, or something, and there were a lot of–well, now we see, no. These people may get deranged by being on the street and living in tents, but the fact is we’re talking about ordinary people. We’re talking about people we know, or could know, or it could be us. That’s the big shift.

TN: That’s the truth.

RS: And on the other hand–on the other hand, even though the voters actually voted to spend money and do something, they don’t want these people in their neighborhood. And one program–we’re doing this for KCRW, and there was a very good KCRW program on homelessness that you participated in. And all of the members of the City Council said, well, we’re going to build housing. I forget the figure, it was 222 people were going to be taken in by a certain–

TN: Two hundred and twenty-two units of supportive housing, the type of housing we need for the folks who are in the worst shape, by July 2020, which is the first set of goals towards a 10,000-unit goal.

RS: OK. So that’s not a heck of a lot of housing for an individual councilman to be able to get going in their district.

TN: Yeah, it seems reasonable.

RS: And the fact is, yes, in the districts that are already heavily impacted, they got the housing; they’re going to have it for that very modest quota. But in the districts where they want it to be someone else’s problem, they didn’t come up with even that miserable amount.

TN: Well, I still have a year left to go, so I’m not ready to give up.

RS: And if I could throw in a more pessimistic point, we’ve had what some people refer to as the May Massacre in the legislature here. And let’s just cut to the chase, because this is the season to blame Trump and right-wing conservatives for everything. The fact of the matter is, for a liberal democrat, California is the golden state in every sense. And the–I mean, liberal democrats in California control all the legislative branch, the governor, most of the representatives in the federal government, and so forth. They have a two-thirds majority, quite often, in the legislature–

TN: Yeah, we just took over Orange County.

RS: Yes, took over Orange County. And the last governor, the current governor, they all talk about homelessness being our biggest problem. And they’re not doing diddly about it, and in fact in May, despite the results of that election and so forth, every single bill of substance was defeated. So even though the voters said let’s spend money on this problem, the politicians don’t go for it. And the main reason they don’t go for it is they want a dumping ground. They don’t want to spread around the problem; they don’t want people in their district. And I think probably one of the most powerful legislators, who’s head of the appropriations committee, has been pointed out–he was a mayor of a small, affluent district where they didn’t build one unit of housing.

TN: Mm-hmm.

RS: Is it–so what is the key to the problem, is that we in this very enlightened state–for instance, Kamala Harris, who’s running for president now, it’s been pointed out when she was district attorney she was quite punitive towards homeless people. So where is the–where, what happened to liberalism in this state?

TN: This is the–this is where we started, when I pointed out the conflict between preserving the sort of bucolic way of life that we perceive California to be, everybody with their single-family home. Seventy-five percent of the land in the city of Los Angeles is zoned for a single-family home. That’s unsustainable. That’s not going to work. That’s not going to support a growth-based economy, which is ostensibly what we’re all working towards. So this is the conflict between the people who hold the power–single-family homeowners, by and large; that’s who drives the decisions of elected officials, because those are the people who show up in a primary election–and preserving that way of life, up against the consequences. Which is that two-thirds–three-quarters, really, in the most recent homeless count, got to update my numbers–of the people experiencing homelessness just need a place they can’t afford. One-quarter are the folks who have a severe mental illness, have some sort of substance abuse issue. And so when we look at homelessness and we talk about this challenge, we need to break it into those two pieces to start, because there are different solutions for each. There’s the supportive housing; that’s the thing that we’re trying to build, that’s what the 222 goal–and I’m going to get there. Have me back in a year, and I think I’ll have gotten there by then. But then there’s the other three-quarters that need a place they can afford, and that butts up against the fact that Anthony Portantino is listening to the single-family homeowners in La Cañada, and they would prefer not to have any apartment buildings down the street.

RS: He’s the person I mentioned who’s head of the state appropriations committee. But he’s a democrat, right? And probably something of a liberal democrat. I’m just–again, you’re a guy who works with this all the time. You’re trying to get people’s attention–what–basically, what do you–how do people respond? That it’s hopeless, we–I don’t care, or it’s somebody else’s problem? Or on the cutting-edge issues we can’t have rent control? That was one big thing. I mean, the rents have just skyrocketed. I saw a statistic that some very large number of people in California pay almost their whole income for rent.

TN: In L.A. County, 600,000 people spend 90 percent of their income on housing.

RS: So let’s think about that statistic. You know, 600,000 people in L.A. County spend 90 percent–so almost all of their working hours are spent trying to pay the rent.

TN: Yeah, and whatever’s left after that–

RS: So what’s left over for food, child care, clothing–unbelievable.

TN: That’s right.

RS: And yet we used to have rent control. When I went to graduate school in California, in Berkeley, in the Bay Area they had rent control. They had it here in Santa Monica and L.A. and so forth. It got wiped out.

TN: We still have rent control, but only about 10 of the cities in the state of California have some sort of–

RS: But also there was the Ellis Act and other things which basically gutted it, right?

TN: Yeah. I mean, so many important points. I just want to finish the thought on what’s wrong with us, and aren’t we all liberals. Ah–break it down into this, more granularly: It’s white people who are primarily the challenge on this housing question. White people support more multi-family housing, more apartments–whether they’re affordable or not, more apartments–to the tune of about 40 percent. And people who are not white support apartments to the tune of about 60 percent. So it is white people who own homes who are the cause of the homelessness crisis, and will need to be a part of the solution in some way, unless we can build a larger coalition around them and create that pressure. I’m not ready to give up on Sacramento. Jerry Brown didn’t think we could do anything about homelessness. He thought we could end climate change, which seems like one hell of a challenge. But when it comes to building housing and getting people off the streets indoors, which I think is much more in our control than the amount of carbon in the atmosphere over the last hundred years of industrialization, he threw his hands up. Gavin doesn’t feel that way. We also see the state legislature engaging–yeah, they had a bunch of failures. They didn’t do anything for decades before that. The era of local control, in deferring entirely to cities for housing policy, is officially over. And so the question is where do we go from there. I see the gears turning. We got our, we dug ourselves into one hell of a hole over the last eight decades, and we will not dig ourselves out overnight. But we cannot blanket-brush a failure in this moment because we didn’t do anything before, when in fact we are starting to do different things.

RS: [omission for station break] I’m talking to Tommy Newman, a young attorney who instead of making a lot of money developing false investments on Wall Street–

TN: Because I couldn’t sit still long enough to do that.

RS: –yeah, is actually trying to do God’s work here. And you are a product of Catholic education, so I can use that phrase. And helping people. And I want to cut to the chase. The reason I’m down on a kind of liberal approach to this–and I say it’s a cop-out; it’s precisely the figures you gave. We are in the deepest blue state in the country, if by blue we mean–and progressive democrats; we’re not old Southern racist democrats or what have you. These are people who pride themselves on being liberal and progressive.

TN: Those are the people that came to California, though, by the way. The old Southern racist democrats. They did come west, the Oakies.

RS: Yeah, OK. But we’re talking about who’s run this state for most of the last 40 years. And they talk a good game. And yet–and you put your finger on it–they fall back on, well, it’s a life choice. Or, well, it’s just one of those things that doesn’t get better. And really what we’re talking about is, what, a life choice of extreme degradation. So you see–we can get it when we see children on Skid Row, right? Or when we see women who are vulnerable on Skid Row. And then we support the downtown women’s shelter; I remember when I worked at the L.A. Times, we would bus dinners, and do that at least Thanksgiving time, and so forth. But the idea that we have come to accept as normal this degradation of the basic human activity, of shelter, family, cooking, living, safety–all of which are absent. And it’s horrible, you know, living in this cardboard condo or whatever, you know, and so forth. And then you are–what are you saying to yourself? I don’t care if that person is alive or dead, or whether they need health, or–and you walk on your way. Now, if you stop, yes, there are some good folks. I said again, the movie that I think United Way helped support–

TN: We did.

RS: The Advocates, and their work. Yes, they’re doing it, but they’re far and few between. And so I’m taking it back now–the reason I’m doing this podcast, we have California now held as a beacon for progressive politics. Right? We went against the national thing; we didn’t find the free market, and you know, and the libertarian, and blah blah blah–no. We went with progressive, self-consciously liberal democrats run the state, and have–even though there have been some moderate republicans in between, and a few that weren’t quite so moderate–but the fact of the matter is, liberal democrats have had this as a laboratory. And then you come–

TN: Mm-hmm. Except for Ronald Reagan and Pete Wilson. Who do have some of the responsibility for this.

RS: Yes, but–but don’t forget Pete Wilson started out as a liberal republican in San Diego. And Ronald Reagan, his ally in ending, really, the safety net, was in liberal groups. Or, but even let’s take the whole question of so-called welfare reform. That came from Bill Clinton. That was the Clinton administration. And you know, the attack on people who needed assistance came. So I do want to get, in this podcast, we’re going to run out of time, to the heart of not the indifference of cynical, racist, mean-spirited people. I want to know why ordinary people–and I put myself in that category–how I manage to work here at the University of Southern California, and if I go out and get a sandwich, I see people on the street and I don’t stop–very rarely will I stop to actually question whether that person is alive or dead. You know, it’s a mindset. It’s a mindset of indifference. And given the affluence–

TN: It’s a coping mechanism of indifference.

RS: Well, tell me about it. Because you live with it, and you address people, you talk to–

TN: And I live here too. And I drive around on the streets. And, ah, and it’s exhausting to see the level of poverty that we have, and the tens of thousands of people who are at the rock bottom of their lives. But it’s a coping mechanism. I would say that the switch has flipped to some extent. In all of the polling that we do and have done for years, ah, crime, traffic; traffic, crime–those were the number one priorities for voters in L.A. County, and now it is housing and homelessness. We just did a media study of the stories in L.A. versus the stories in the Bay Area, and the stories in L.A. connect the dots between the cost and availability of housing, and the homelessness crisis. And so there’s this light bulb that’s–it has not switched all the way on. It’s on a dimmer, and it’s just started to light up. I use my mother as the barometer for these things, born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, lives here in L.A. in a lovely single-family home. And we were having dinner recently, and she said, “So I hear you on this whole housing crisis thing. But I’m not sure I buy it. Tell me more.” And for decades, everybody said, our homelessness crisis is a mental illness crisis, and it’s a drug addiction crisis. And housing was not even a component of the conversation. The liberal policies go as far as housing policy, and then they stop. Because that’s where the rubber hits the road. On the dream, the California dream, property rights and value, those are the questions that are–Prop 13. Like, this goes all the way back to, like, the single-family home as the castle. You don’t, apparently, live in a single-family home, so this doesn’t apply to you quite as much. But that’s where the rubber hits the road. Those are the people that make the policy, those are the people that are trying to protect their economic interests, those are the people who don’t want to see the apartment building down at the end of the street. So how we can connect the dots between the suffering we see, and the solutions being creating more housing that people can afford, is what will determine whether or not we succeed or fail.

RS: Well, let me ask you finally, on a more depressing note–

TN: [Laughs]

RS: No, because it really goes to the question of what is society. We have multinational corporations that can make a lot of money in their international operations; they don’t have to be so accountable. But they happen to like to have a nation-state that has an army that can protect them and push for tariffs or no tariffs, depending on what the whim is–

TN: Yeah. Somewhat stable.

RS: Yeah. And so forth, so they don’t want to live on some island with their billion, it would be boring. So they want to live in the Bay Area–in fact, California is the best place to live if you’re one of these folks. And want to live here in L.A., where we now claim a Silicon Beach and everything else. And then what do you do with the population? Which you may not even need as a workforce. You know, because after all, you’ve got Chinese people assembling your iPhones, and–

TN: We have a service-based economy. We still need these folks–

RS: Yeah, but we can pay them–

TN: –and we’re paying them not very much.

RS: Yeah, and then we pride ourselves on having improved, maybe living, getting closer to a living wage. But I’m just saying, again, getting back to the Dickens [laughs] view of England at a certain time. Aside from being able to look the other way of this human suffering, what does it say about who we are? I mean, you live with it every day, you know. What is it–I mean, right now, you look at San Francisco, and even people who, you know, are schoolteachers and have regular jobs, can’t afford to live in San Francisco, or are being pushed out of Oakland. And yet you need them for service, you need them for other things. It’s–you know, and you–the reason I’m talking–after all, United Way is something that came out of alliance with the business community, right? You’re establishment, you’re part of that–

TN: Some days. [Laughs]

RS: Some days. Well, what do people say to you when you go to them? What do the people who are working in the big banking buildings, and real estate and so forth–I mean, for instance, we have this issue of gentrification. Maybe that’s a good way to kind of close, on this. But you know, the same L.A. downtown, or San Francisco downtown, that has this horrible homeless problem–horrible in its impact on the people, not just, not as a visual sight, but people who live there. On the other hand, it also hurts, ultimately, the quality of the society that the wealthier people are living in.

TN: Yeah, it lowers the commercial property values downtown. To have thousands of people living outside on the streets.

RS: So is that your basic appeal to the business community?

TN: I have different appeals for different communities and different interests. The business community has supported both of these taxes, which is–

RS: Well, let me just stop you for a second. Are you going to burn out? I mean, I meet guys like you–no, really–and I think, you know, how great we have some people who are doing this. Because I’m sure there are, maybe even your mother, but certainly people in your family, are saying: You went to law school for this? You know–[Laughter]. And, ah–I mean, I have a son who teaches in Oakland, you know; some days I say that to him. You know, ah, you can’t afford to live in there, but–you know, and you’re working so effectively and so hard. And it’s a real question of the burnout.

TN: I’d burn out if I were a corporate attorney writing memos and briefs. I wake up every day with a sense of energy and focus for this.

RS: How old are you now?

TN: I’m 35.

RS: Ah, that’s pretty good.

TN: And, ah–I know, and I have two kids, I have a three-year-old and a three-month-old. Those guys might burn me out first. Ah, no, I think that some folks are just motivated. I don’t go to church very often, so I appreciate the nod to Catholicism, but I’m not going to pretend to be actively practicing.

RS: Well, it came up in The Advocates, which impressed me. A couple of the people referred to their own church background. Which was, after all–come on, let’s give the Catholic Church a plug. Everybody–you know, and there are legitimate reasons to attack the Catholic Church–

TN: [Laughs] That’s a different show!

RS: But, no, but if there’s one organization that seems to care about poor people, you know, and finds dignity in the life of poor people and the struggle of them, it certainly has, at least with this current pope.

TN: Mm-hmm, that’s the truth.

RS: And so you know, OK, let’s be grateful for that. But really, I noticed in your LinkedIn page and so forth, you know, people say what kind of jobs, or–people are always looking for jobs. And here I’m teaching at USC, and we teach lots of things, right–do some app and you’ll make money, and do this and go work for that one. What’s the job pitch? Why should they go work with United Way, or with increasing the living wage, or working with one of the unions that are doing–or work with the ACLU. Let’s give the ACLU a plug; they’re there defending the rights of people. And yes, homeless people on Skid Row have rights, and no one should just be able to grab their material or their possessions; absolutely true. So what’s the job pitch?

TN: What we see in L.A., what we see in California, is not how it has to be. Go to another major city, somewhere else on this earth, and you will not see tens and tens of thousands of people living in tents. You’ll see the occasional person who’s at the, you know, lowest point of their life. But you’re not going to see tens and tens of thousands.

RS: In fact you have said, in New Orleans and in I think Portland, you’ve mentioned a few places where actually they’ve had some dramatic improvement in this situation.

TN: Yeah. And so what I know to be true is that this is a challenge that has been created by human beings, and thus can be solved by human beings. I’m not out here trying to end earthquakes. I’m trying to change our housing policy and secure more resources so that we can bring more people indoors.

RS: All right. So give me the crash course in the few minutes that remains. What’s the primer? What can we do right now? What should we do?

TN: It’s at every level of government, and it’s even just you talking to your neighbor, right? The analogy that I shared of my mom starting to accept that maybe we need to change the way we build housing. The fact that in 86 of the 88 cities in the city of–in the county of Los Angeles, you can’t build an apartment building on a main street, because they’re zoned for commercial only, is absurd. There’s a level of awareness and understanding that needs to happen, and the policy changes and the money will naturally follow. And so that’s a core responsibility and job that I have, is to help make the case that if we make different choices–and the choices don’t have to completely destabilize our lives, but they will result in some changes–then we will get different results, and we will be able to bring thousands of people indoors. And all you have to do is look at other cities on this earth–or specific populations that we decided to prioritize. Veteran homelessness is down 50 percent in the last seven years, because we decided to, at every level of government, invest on bringing veterans in. We can bring people indoors. Homelessness is not unsolvable. And so that’s the pitch. The pitch is come work on an incredibly challenging and dynamic issue with so many variables that every day your head is spinning trying to keep these puzzle pieces together, but know that we actually can do this. And if we can pull this off, if we can bring thousands of people indoors, it’s a harbinger of great things to come after that. Of building a more inclusive society and building a country that I think we’d all like to see: one that actually lifts everybody up.

RS: Right. And let’s be fair to the public. They did, thanks to people–you put out the word for Proposition H, and what was it, HH–

TN: Yeah, HHH and H, all the H’s.

RS: Yeah, and we had this big battle over increasing the minimum wage, which has been approved on both the county level and the city level in Los Angeles. So the public–and you know, fairly consistently in California they have supported bonds for education, when approached in the right way. But the public response–and maybe it’s a cop-out. But very often what you hear is, hey, we voted for it. You know, in this case Proposition H. I remember when that thing was out, I thought it was going to fail. I was blown away that it passed.

TN: It was a March ballot, with 15 percent turnout. Only the old, conservative white people voted, and yet we got ‘em.

RS: Yeah. To spend over a billion dollars on building housing for homeless people. Yet, you’re not building the housing.

TN: Well, this is where our–

RS: The money gets wrapped up–

TN: The housing is being built. There are 7,000 units, 1800 of which are under construction. This is where our thirst for instant gratification is a problem. Right? Having not done anything about this for decades, having asked the LAPD to just chase people from block to block, lo and behold, it didn’t work. Right? And so now we’ve decided, in the last 36 months, to finally invest in this issue. And so it will take us time to dig out of that hole. We’re already seeing those benefits of the work that we’re doing; you heard me talk about all the people who are finally in the system for the first time; we know their name and we know what they need, and we didn’t know that before because we weren’t talking to them. We also see that if we had not passed these ballot measures, the homelessness increase in the most recent count would have been 28 percent instead of 12 percent. And so I know Steve Lopez doesn’t really care about this argument, and I’m not making an excuse; I think it’s evidence of the fact that we know what works, and that it’s starting to have some bite, it’s starting to have some traction. And so the question is, how do we keep doing it and do more.

RS: You’re talking about the L.A. Times columnist?

TN: Yeah, Steve’s fired up these days. But I think he’s missing the point. I think he’s oversimplifying it by having it all be about Eric Garcetti entirely. His column on SB50, the one about building more housing and changing the way, having Sacramento take away local control, was–he said let’s, let’s go slow on this; let’s take our time. I don’t know if that’s because he was catering to the single-family homeowners who still get the Times delivered–I do get the Times delivered to my house every day. I think I’m the only person under the age of 40 who gets it. But the point is, we’re missing the point on what we really need to do to impact this issue. And it’s going to take time, because we weren’t doing it for a long time.

RS: So let me end on a point that you’ve made a number of times here about high-density housing and its access to transportation. And I have to admit that I’m driven by a fantasy of urban life that goes back to my first 22 years in the Bronx. You know, and going to, using the transportation system, even as a five-, six-year-old, I could go on my own. And I notice in the Bay Area, for example, maybe they need to do more of it, but there does seem to be some multiple housing units being built around BART stations. I don’t know if–

TN: Took an act of state law to make them build those.

RS: Yes. And it seems to work, though. Because, and particularly if you can keep the cost of the fare down, or have breaks for poorer people on fare. I mean, it’s just something so liberating, particularly in an urban environment, about not needing a car to maintain and have insurance for, and get to a job. And get to something else. Like hopefully right now–let’s be positive about Los Angeles–finally there’s an investment in public transportation.

TN: Massive.

RS: Yes. And so someone can, hopefully in the next few years, be in East L.A. but they want to see the Pacific Ocean–they can see it, you know. And fortunately, the California Constitution still preserves access to the ocean. And so then, this idea that you have–and I’ve seen on other occasions where you’ve brought it up, I think it’s really kind of basic–that we have to get rid of that suburban vision of the single-family home, and that multiple residency in higher density. And it’s absurd, even in downtown L.A. they were still building sort of these lower, faux, what are they, Italianite–

TN: [Laughs] Yeah, Geoffrey Palmer?

RS: –yeah, kind of places where, as, you know, you want. I mean, housing projects got a bad rep, you know. But there is something terrific about being, you know, able to accommodate larger numbers of people that are lower rent, right? And everybody forgets the heyday of New York City and Chicago and other cities, when you had these massive immigrant populations and everything, was affordable housing.

TN: Mm-hmm. And it wasn’t subsidized, it was naturally occurring. You know, the only thing I would say is, ah, we don’t need to turn L.A. into Manhattan here. We can just build a whole lot of three, four, five-story apartments on these big commercial quarters. You drive down Pico from downtown to the westside, and the number of one-story sort of odd commercial buildings that exist is absurd. And so I’m–and this is how I pitch it to my mom–I’m not talking about bulldozing large swaths of neighborhoods. There is a way to do this. In one of those most recent bills, they talked about allowing fourplexes where single-family homes are, and then that could add nine million units in L.A. County. That’s a lot of units. I grew up in a duplex over, you know, in the Fairfax district. It was lovely, it was charming, and that was twice the density, there were two families on the lot. So there is ways for us to do this. This is not rocket science, and we also don’t need to bulldoze all of the City of Los Angeles and build big towers.

RS: And are we finally getting a coalition that can make this happen? That’s what I’m–I noticed that, for instance, on the living wage, you have for once–I mean, you have more progressive unions now, that seem to want to represent the other. And you have some business interests. I mean, clearly, anybody who–maybe L.A. won’t be Manhattan, but we certainly are getting a big downtown. We have a lot of people coming downtown. Well, it’s got to be made safe and clean and functional. And that means taking care of the people who live there or are going to be there. Are you finding suddenly some change in business interests?

TN: I’m seeing it on the horizon. It’s not there yet. My light bulb on a dimmer–which we’ve just turned it on, and we’re still low, but we’re starting to build, the light’s getting a little brighter–we’re in the early stages of the light getting a little brighter. But it’s coming.

RS: OK, that’s a good point on which to end. And I want to thank Tommy Newman for–and go see this movie The Advocates.

TN: Streaming online. You can find it on your local streaming service.

RS: Great. And it’s really impressive, because we’re not talking about some phony idealists here, who you know, OK, say good things–these are people out there doing the nitty gritty work, and trying to make it happen. And so my hat’s off to you. And I do want to encourage people to realize that we are actually talking about a notion of what is civilization. Is it a gated community or a–San Francisco, in fact, if it goes the way it’s going now, will be a gated city. I mean, you know, if they had it to do over again, they probably wouldn’t even have BART come in anymore, except they need people to clean the buildings and so forth. Marin County up there in northern California kept BART out precisely because they wanted it to be a white-flight zone of privilege and so forth. I think that you can’t be a city of the future, which is what L.A. advertises as; you have to be welcoming to people who all look different ways, come from different backgrounds, have different skill sets, different employment opportunities. And the real challenge is really what you’re talking about–and you’re right to put it on the level of global warming and other big issues–is where is civilization headed? And you can’t call yourself a civilized community when you have–what are the statistics, how many people are homeless?

TN: Fifty-eight thousand.

RS: You know. And what are you going to do? And it’s increasing. They’re very proud that it only went up 12 percent, right?

TN: That’s true.

RS: That’s what our mayor here in Los Angeles, who was thinking of running for president, what was he going to brag? Oh no, homelessness only went up by 28 percent? OK. That’s a sad, but true point on which to end this. I want to thank Kat Yore and Mario Diaz, our engineers at KCRW. Joshua Scheer is the producer of Scheer Intelligence. And here at USC, Sebastian Grubaugh is our ever-talented engineer. And I want to thank USC and the Annenberg School for making the facilities available. See you next week with another edition of Scheer Intelligence.

The post The Homegrown Crisis California Refuses to Own appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

Trump Extols U.S. Military Strength at Fourth of July Event

WASHINGTON—President Donald Trump celebrated “the greatest political journey in human history” Thursday in a Fourth of July commemoration before a soggy, cheering crowd of spectators, many of them invited, on the grounds of the Lincoln Memorial. Supporters welcomed his tribute to the U.S. military while protesters assailed him for putting himself center stage on a holiday devoted to unity.

Trump called on Americans to “stay true to our cause” in a program that adhered to patriotic themes and hailed an eclectic mix of history’s heroes, from the armed forces, space, civil rights and other endeavors of American life.

He largely stuck to his script, avoiding diversions into his agenda or re-election campaign. But in one exception, he vowed, “Very soon, we will plant the American flag on Mars,” actually a distant goal not likely to be achieved until late in the 2020s if even then.

A late afternoon downpour drenched the capital’s Independence Day crowds and presaged an evening of possible on-and-off storms. But Trump’s speech unfolded in occasional rain, and the warplanes and presidential aircraft he had summoned conducted their flyovers as planned, capped by the Navy Blue Angels aerobatics team.

By adding his own, one-hour “Salute to America” production to capital festivities that typically draw hundreds of thousands anyway, Trump became the first president in nearly seven decades to address a crowd at the National Mall on Independence Day.

Protesters objecting to what they saw as his co-opting of the holiday inflated a roly-poly balloon depicting Trump as an angry, diaper-clad baby.

Trump set aside a historic piece of real estate — a stretch of the Mall from the Lincoln Monument to the midpoint of the reflecting pool — for a mix of invited military members, Republican and Trump campaign donors and other bigwigs. It’s where Martin Luther King Jr. gave his “I have a dream” speech, Barack Obama and Trump held inaugural concerts and protesters swarmed into the water when supporters of Richard Nixon put on a July 4, 1970, celebration, with the president sending taped remarks from California.

Aides to the crowd-obsessed Trump fretted about the prospect of empty seats at his event, said a person familiar with the planning who was not authorized to be identified. Aides scrambled in recent days to distribute tickets and mobilize the Trump and GOP social media accounts to encourage participation for an event hastily arranged and surrounded with confusion.

Many who filed into the sprawling VIP section said they got their free tickets from members of Congress or from friends or neighbors who couldn’t use theirs. Outside that zone, a diverse mix of visitors, locals, veterans, tour groups, immigrant families and more milled about, some drawn by Trump, some by curiosity, some by the holiday’s regular activities along the Mall.

Protesters earlier made their voices heard in sweltering heat by the Washington Monument, along the traditional parade route and elsewhere, while the VIP section at the reflecting pool served as something of a buffer for Trump’s event.

In the shadow of the Washington Monument hours before Trump’s speech, the anti-war organization Codepink erected a 20-foot tall “Trump baby” balloon to protest what activists saw as his intrusion in Independence Day and a focus on military might that they associate with martial regimes.

“We think that he is making this about himself and it’s really a campaign rally,” said Medea Benjamin, the organization’s co-director. “We think that he’s a big baby. … He’s erratic, he’s prone to tantrums, he doesn’t understand the consequences of his actions. And so this is a great symbol of how we feel about our president.”

The balloon remained tied down at the Mall because park officials restricted the group’s permission to move it or fill it with helium, Benjamin said.

Protesters also handed out small Trump-baby balloons on sticks. Molly King of La Porte, Indiana, a 13-year-old Trump supporter in sunglasses and a “Make America Great Again” hat, happily came away with one.

“They’re making a big stink about it but it’s actually pretty cute,” she said. “I mean, why not love your president as you’d love a baby?”

A small crowd gathered to take pictures with the big balloon, which drew Trump supporters and detractors.

“Even though everybody has different opinions,” said Kevin Malton, a Trump supporter from Middlesboro, Kentucky, “everybody’s getting along.”

But Daniela Guray, a 19-year-old from Chicago who held a “Dump Trump” sign, said she was subjected to a racial epithet while walking along the Constitution Avenue parade route and told to go home.

She said she did not come to the Mall to protest but ended up doing so. “I started seeing all the tanks with all the protests and that’s when I said, ‘Wait, this is not an actual Fourth of July,'” she said. “Trump is making it his day rather than the Fourth of July.”

Trump had sounded a defensive note Wednesday, tweeting that the cost “will be very little compared to what it is worth.”

“We own the planes, we have the pilots, the airport is right next door (Andrews), all we need is the fuel,” he said, referring to Maryland’s Joint Base Andrews, home for some of the planes expected for the holiday flyover. “We own the tanks and all. Fireworks are donated by two of the greats.”

Trump glossed over the expense of shipping tanks and fighting vehicles to Washington by rail and guarding them for several days, and other costs.

Not since 1951, when President Harry Truman spoke before a large gathering on the Washington Monument grounds to mark the 175th anniversary of the signing of the Declaration of Independence, has a commander in chief made an Independence Day speech to a sizable crowd on the Mall.

Pete Buttigieg, one of the Democrats running for president, said: “this business of diverting money and military assets to use them as a kind of prop, to prop up a presidential ego, is not reflecting well on our country.” Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana, is a Navy Reserve veteran who served in Afghanistan in 2014.

Two groups, the National Parks Conservation Foundation and Democracy Forward, want the Interior Department’s internal watchdog to investigate what they say may be a “potentially unlawful decision to divert” national parks money to Trump’s “spectacle.”

Trump and the event’s organizers could be on the hook to reimburse the government millions of dollars if he goes into campaign mode, in violation of federal appropriations law and the Hatch Act, which bars politicking on government time, said Walter Shaub, who left the Office of Government Ethics in 2017 after clashing with the White House over ethics and disclosure issues.

Washington has held an Independence Day celebration for decades, featuring a parade along Constitution Avenue, a concert on the Capitol lawn with music by the National Symphony Orchestra and fireworks beginning at dusk near the Washington Monument.

Trump altered the lineup by adding his speech, moving the fireworks closer to the Lincoln Memorial and summoning the tanks and warplanes.

___

Associated Press writers Kali Robinson, Zeke Miller, Kevin Freking, Matthew Daly and Ellen Knickmeyer contributed to this report.

The post Trump Extols U.S. Military Strength at Fourth of July Event appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

San Francisco to Paint Over Debated George Washington Mural

SAN FRANCISCO—San Francisco will spend up to $600,000 to paint over historical artwork at a public school depicting the life of George Washington, a mural once seen as educational and innovative but now criticized as racist and degrading for its depiction of black and Native American people.

The “Life of Washington” was painted by Victor Arnautoff, one of the foremost muralists in the San Francisco area during the Depression. The San Francisco School Board’s decision to paint over the 83-year-old mural is prompting some to worry that other artwork from the so-called New Deal era could face a similar fate because of changing sensitivities.

In addition to depicting Washington as a soldier, surveyor, statesman and signer of the Declaration of Independence, the 13-panel, 1,600-square foot mural at George Washington High School contains images of white pioneers standing over the body of a Native American and slaves working at Washington’s Mount Vernon estate in Virginia.

The board’s decision last week comes at a time when the legacies of Washington and other historical figures who owned slaves are being re-examined. Some cities have changed the names of streets and buildings named after slave owners.

Richard Walker, a professor emeritus of geography at the University of California, Berkeley and director of the history project, Living New Deal, said the Washington mural is meant to show the “uncomfortable facts” about America’s first president. For that, it was among many New Deal works of art considered radical when created.

“We on the left ought to welcome the honest portrayal,” Walker said, adding that destroying a piece of art “is the worst way we can deal with historic malfeasance, historic evils.”

Mark Sanchez, vice president of the school board and a third-grade teacher, said students who must walk past the mural during the school day don’t have a choice about seeing the harmful images. “Painting it over represents not only a symbolic fresh start, but a real fresh start,” he said.

Lope Yap, Jr., vice president of the Washington High School Alumni Association and a 1970 graduates, disagreed, saying when he was a student and saw the mural he was “awed by the subtle ways Arnautoff was able to critique American history.” He said the depictions are “treasures, priceless art” and painting it over is tantamount to pretending the history depicted never happened.

“I’m not into censorship,” Yap said. “I would want to deal with history so we can prevent this from ever happening again.”

The mural is a fresco, which means it’s painted on the wall and can’t easily be removed. Painting it over won’t happen immediately. Should a lawsuit or other delay arise, it will be covered up until the issues are resolved. The board plans to digitally archive the mural.

Most of the $600,000 earmarked for the project will go toward a required environmental review and to cover expected legal challenges.

George Washington High School has about 2,000 students. Nearly all are people of color and many come from low-income families. As early as the 1960s, some students argued the mural’s imagery is offensive and racist. Renewed opposition emerged in recent years amid protests in the South and elsewhere over statues honoring Confederate heroes.

Arnautoff, a Russian-born communist and social critic, was hired with Federal Art Project funds as part of President Franklin D. Roosevelt’s New Deal, a series of government programs meant to help lift the country out of the Great Depression of the 1930s.

He was one of a group of artists to paint murals at San Francisco’s Coit Tower that prompted anti-communists to delay the tower’s opening. Arnautoff’s piece, called “City Life,” shows urban workers crowding around a newsstand of socialist newspapers and magazines. The piece faced criticism for failing to include the conservative-leaning San Francisco Chronicle.

“Victor Arnautoff was far ahead of his time, and we have yet to catch up with him in terms of making school curriculum more inclusive and historically accurate,” said Harvey Smith, president of the National New Deal Preservation Association.

Walker and other supporters of the mural worry that painting over it may signal that it’s acceptable to destroy the thousands of other New Deal murals across the country. Activists have been successful in getting a series of New Deal murals at the University of New Mexico covered up. Other New Deal murals in New York and Iowa have been vandalized, as well as painted over and subsequently restored.

“The mural is an immense public treasure during one of the few periods of American history where you had the federal government supporting public art, public spaces, public goods,” Walker said. “It’s been the right that has always attacked the New Deal with its social programs.”

Walker suggested rather than destroying the Washington mural, school officials should simply cover it and require freshmen to take a course on slavery and California’s role in subjugating Native Americans.

To Sanchez, that’s not enough.

“I understand the importance of art, and it should be the last thing we do, to attempt to cover any kind of art up,” he said. “The starting point has to be from those who feel they are harmed and how that is unacceptable, especially given the history of this country. When we don’t listen, we don’t learn.”

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6.4 Earthquake in Desert Rattles Big Swath of Southern California

LOS ANGELES—A strong earthquake rattled a large swath of Southern California and parts of Nevada on Thursday morning, making hanging lamps sway and photo frames on walls shake. There were no immediate reports of damage or injuries but a swarm of aftershocks were reported.

The 6.4 magnitude quake struck at 10:33 a.m. in the Mojave Desert, about 150 miles (240 kilometers) northeast of Los Angeles, near the town of Ridgecrest, California. It is the strongest quake to hit the region in 20 years.

The United States Geological Survey initially said it measured at a 6.6 magnitude.

“It almost gave me a heart attack,” said Cora Burke, a waitress at Midway Cafe in Ridgecrest, a town of 28,000 people. “It’s just a rolling feeling inside the building, inside the cafe and all of a sudden everything started falling off the shelf, glasses, the refrigerator and everything in the small refrigerator fell over.”

Video posted online of a liquor store in Ridgecrest showed the aisles filled with broken wine and liquor bottles, knocked down boxes and other groceries strewn on the floor. There was at least one house on fire in Ridgecrest.

Veteran seismologist Lucy Jones said the earthquake Thursday was the strongest to hit Southern California in 20 years.

The previous large quake was a 7.1 on that struck in the area on October 16, 1999, she said.

Jones told reporters at the California Institute of Technology in Pasadena, California, that the 6.4 quake centered in the Mojave Desert near the town of Ridgecrest was preceded by a magnitude 4.3 temblor about a half hour earlier.

She says it was vigorous aftershock sequence occurring and that she wouldn’t be surprise if a magnitude 5 quake occurred during the aftershocks.

“We should be expecting lots of aftershocks,” she said.

People from Las Vegas to the Pacific Coast reported feeling a rolling motion and took to social media to report it.

Local emergency agencies also took to social media to ask people to only call 911 for emergencies.

“We are very much aware of the significant earthquake that just occurred in Southern California. Please DO NOT call 9-1-1 unless there are injuries or other dangerous conditions. Don’t call for questions please,” the LAPD said in a statement published on Twitter.

Ashleigh Chandler, a helicopter rescue EMT at Fort Irwin, California, said the quake happened as she was getting ready for a July 4th party.

“I was just in the living room getting everything ready, we start to feel the shaking, so then I look up and then the wine bottles start rattling and I thought, ‘They’re going to fall.’

“My stepson was in the house and my dog, so we just got everyone outside and then it ended. It was like 15, 20 seconds, maybe. It was pretty good shaking, so I’m out of breath.”

“Everyone’s OK.”

___

Rodriguez reported from San Francisco. Associated Press writer Rachel Lerman in San Francisco and AP Radio reporter Shelly Adler in Washington, D.C., contributed.

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This July 4th, Celebrate Writers Against War

Instead of watching military tanks roll through the streets of Washington, D.C., in Donald Trump’s fascistic tantrum of a July 4th celebration, consider spending Independence Day reflecting on those writers, activists, even soldiers, who, decades ago and today, have bravely spoken out against the horrors of forever war.

The following pieces from Ron Kovic, Kevin Tillman, Chris Hedges and Maj. Danny Sjursen are a corrective not only to Trump’s current military fixation but to America’s history of endless cheerleading for war.

The Forgotten Wounded of Iraq by Ron Kovic

After Pat’s Birthday by Kevin Tillman

The Last Days of Tomas Young by Chris Hedges

Uncle Sam Sent Me to Rehab for PTSD by Maj. Danny Sjursen

The first three are Truthdig classics that remain scarily relevant. The last, from earlier this year, is a raw portrayal of the personal costs of war, how the events of the battlefield leave mental and emotional scars that remain for years to come.

In a last-minute twist, forecasts suggest that a thunderstorm might literally rain on Trump’s parade. Perhaps the weather is skeptical too.

 

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Michigan Rep. Justin Amash Quitting Republican Party

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich.—Rep. Justin Amash of Michigan, the only Republican in Congress to call for impeachment proceedings against President Donald Trump, said Thursday he is leaving the GOP because he has become disenchanted with partisan politics and “frightened by what I see from it.”

In an opinion article published in the Washington Post, on July 4, Amash said partisan politics is damaging American democracy.

“I am declaring my independence and leaving the Republican Party,” Amash said. “I’m asking you to join me in rejecting the partisan loyalties and rhetoric that divide and dehumanize us.”

Amash had been the only Republican in Congress to say Trump engaged in impeachable conduct, drawing the ire of many fellow Republicans and Trump. In a series of tweets on May 18, Amash said that he had read special counsel Robert Mueller’s report on Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

“Mueller’s report reveals that President Trump engaged in specific actions and a pattern of behavior that meet the threshold for impeachment,” Amash said at the time.

He was roundly criticized by fellow Republicans and withdrew from the Freedom Caucus of conservatives in Congress after the group disavowed his views.

At a town hall in Michigan after he announced his support for impeachment proceedings, Amash cited a section of the Mueller report that suggested Trump had told former White House counsel Don McGahn to create a “false record” denying he had asked for Mueller’s removal as special counsel.

“Things like that to me reflect incredible dishonesty and really harm the office of the presidency. I don’t think that you can just let that stuff go,” Amash told his constituents. “I think you have to have proceedings to deter this kind of conduct even if ultimately the person is not convicted.”

Under the Constitution, the House has the power to begin impeachment proceedings and the Senate would decide whether to convict.

Trump responded immediately to Amash’s announcement that he is quitting the GOP, tweeting Thursday: “Great news for the Republican Party as one of the dumbest & most disloyal men in Congress is ‘quitting” the Party.” Trump called Amash a “total loser.”

Amash, whose voting record in Congress is considered libertarian-leaning, has represented Michigan’s 3rd Congressional district in the western part of the state since 2011.

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Trump Is Forcing Iran to Follow North Korea’s Dangerous Example

“Axis of Evil” first appeared in former President George W. Bush’s State of the Union address in January 2002, describing Iraq, Iran and North Korea months after the Sept. 11 attacks. Fourteen months after the speech, the United States invaded Iraq. The U.S. remains at war there 16 years later.

Now, President Donald Trump is threatening Iran with “obliteration” while he visits and showers praise on North Korea’s leader, Kim Jong Un. Why the different treatment of these two remaining countries in the “Axis of Evil”? It’s simple: North Korea has an estimated 20 to 60 nuclear warheads and the missiles to deliver them, and Iran lacks nuclear weapons. The lesson is painfully clear: To avoid a devastating war with the United States, develop nuclear weapons as a deterrent.

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Despite what many Trump critics are saying, including many of the Democratic presidential contenders, Trump’s brief meeting last week with the North Korean dictator was a good thing. Diplomacy is better than war. A war with North Korea would be catastrophic. Joe Cirincione, president of the Ploughshares Fund, which works globally to reduce the dangers posed by nuclear weapons, told CNN in 2017: “You strike North Korea, they are going to strike back, and they have a devastating conventional arsenal built up on the border that could lay waste to Seoul. … Estimates are that hundreds of thousands of South Koreans would die in the first few hours of combat — from artillery, from rockets, from short-range missiles — and if this war would escalate to the nuclear level, then you are looking at tens of millions of casualties.”

Those are just the predicted deaths in South Korea. Add potential nuclear strikes on Japan, Hawaii and possibly the U.S. mainland, and the casualty figures become unimaginable. 

We should be grateful that Trump is pursuing negotiations with North Korea. We should congratulate him on becoming the first sitting U.S. president to set foot in North Korea last week.

One opponent of such dialogue is Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton. While Trump was in the Koreas last week, Bolton was dispatched far away, to Mongolia. After The New York Times reported that Trump was considering accepting a North Korean nuclear freeze, as opposed to complete denuclearization, Bolton tweeted, “Neither the NSC staff nor I have discussed or heard of any desire to ‘settle for a nuclear freeze by NK.'”

Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo are also widely believed to favor a military conflict with Iran. Iran shot down an unmanned U.S. spy drone recently, alleging it had entered Iranian airspace. Trump ordered a military strike in retaliation, then called it off at the last minute.

Trump should be condemned for launching the attack, but applauded for aborting it. War with Iran would be incredibly destructive on all sides, and would likely spread throughout the Middle East. If it were to happen, the Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists warns, Trump could very likely order the use of so-called tactical nuclear weapons against Iran.

In the midst of this geopolitical tinderbox, the Trump administration is attempting to deliver nuclear technology to Saudi Arabia, a key antagonist of Iran. Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman has not ruled out using the nuclear power plants he hopes to buy to develop nuclear weapons.

Bipartisan congressional opposition to the Saudi nuclear deal is growing, not only due to the danger of nuclear weapons proliferation, but also because of Saudi Arabia’s relentless bombing of Yemen, causing the greatest humanitarian crisis in the world today, and its brutal murder of Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi. California Democratic Congressmember Brad Sherman told Arms Control Today, “If there’s a government that you can’t trust with a bone saw, you shouldn’t trust it with nuclear weapons.” 

Another concern in Congress is the potential conflict of interest of Trump adviser and son-in-law Jared Kushner. Kushner’s family business received a massive bailout last year from a hedge fund called Brookfield Asset Management. BAM also owns Westinghouse Electric, which would profit from nuclear plant sales to Saudi Arabia. Kushner’s strong personal relationship with the Saudi crown prince is well-known.

With the United States openly gearing up for war with Iran, while actively seeking to empower Saudi Arabia with the technology it needs to develop its own nuclear weapons, is it any wonder that Iran has just announced it will begin amassing and enriching uranium again? Iran had been adhering to the terms of its multilateral nuclear deal, even after Trump pulled the United States out of the agreement. 

President Trump is forcing Iran to follow the route taken by North Korea: Build a deterrent nuclear arsenal or be destroyed. We need a grassroots, global response to stop this new nuclear arms race before it goes any further.

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The Climate Issue Hiding in All Our Homes

The household tissue you use to blow your nose could be adding to the problems of climate change.

A substantial portion of the tissue products we buy – toilet paper, paper towels and facial tissues – comes from boreal forests, the dense ring of trees which encircles much of the globe just below the Arctic Circle.

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These forests – and the soils they stand in – contain vast amounts of carbon; when trees are felled and the land they are growing in is disturbed, carbon is released into the atmosphere, adding to the already dangerously high levels of climate-changing greenhouse gases.

A new report looking at tissue use in the US says Americans are voracious consumers of tissue products; they make up only 4% of the world’s population yet account for more than 20% of global tissue consumption.

The report, by the US-based environmental organisation, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), says much of the tissue in the US originates from trees in Canada’s boreal forests.

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”

“This vast landscape of coniferous, birch and aspen trees contains some of the last of the world’s remaining intact forests, and is home to over 600 indigenous communities, as well as boreal caribou, pine marten and billions of songbirds”, says the NRDC.

It says that when boreal forests are degraded, their ability to absorb man-made greehouse gas emissions declines.

“In addition, the carbon that had been safely stored in the forests’ soil and vegetation is released into the atmosphere, dramatically undermining international efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Temperature increases in the world’s northern regions are already having an adverse impact on boreal forests.
Scientists say earthworms which have recently been found burrowing into the boreal undergrowth are another problem threatening the forests’ survival.

The report says logging on an industrial scale destroys more than a million acres of boreal forest each year. It says what amounts to a “tree to toilet” pipeline has been established, with trees chopped down and converted into tissue pulp, then rolled into perforated sheets or stuffed into boxes and flushed or thrown away.

Solutions available

“The consequences for indigenous peoples, treasured wildlife and the global climate are devastating”, says the NRDC. It insists there are solutions to the problem; sustainably sourced, alternative fibres such as wheat straw and bamboo are available which would greatly reduce the amount of trees being felled.

The report says some US manufacturers have made efforts to use more sustainable materials in their products, but the biggest in the sector – Procter & GambleKimberly-Clark and Georgia-Pacific − still rely on virgin pulp from boreal forests for almost all their tissue brands.

“The companies with the largest market shares have the power to make a significant difference for the future of our world’s forests”, says the NRDC.

“Instead, they largely adhere to decades-old tissue formulae that have taken a devastating toll on forests.”

The report calls on consumers to change their buying habits and purchase only brands derived from sustainable products.“Forests are too vital to flush away”, says the NRDC.

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There Are Still a Few Things to Love About America

As the Fourth of July rolls around, I think plenty of us are eager for barbecues, corn on the cob, watermelon, and fireworks, but our feelings about our country are somewhat more complicated.

How do you love and celebrate a country that’s so obviously flawed? A country that’s currently committing atrocities against innocent children?

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Is criticizing America unpatriotic? Some would say it is. I say no.

For me, loving this country means making it better. It means taking a good hard look at our mistakes, learning from the ones in the past, and correcting the ones in the present.

That’s something we don’t do enough. When I teach sociology at the college level, again and again my students say things like, “This isn’t the country I thought I lived in.” Sadly, though, we are that country.

When you examine the full extent of the poverty, inequality, racism, sexism, homophobia, and so on in this country, it can feel crushing. We still have a lot of work to do. But there’s a quote from Bill Clinton — himself a deeply imperfect president — that says it all: “There is nothing wrong with America that cannot be cured with what is right in America.”

When I teach, I balance all of the bad news with the good news. For one thing, much of our history is a story of strong movements pushing us in the right direction.

Fifty years ago, LGBTQ people marked the start of their civil rights movement with a riot when the police cracked down on them for simply being themselves and going to a bar. Today, many of us no longer need to hide in a bar to be ourselves. For one thing, we can legally marry if we so choose, unthinkable back then.

Today, that bar, the Stonewall Inn, is a National Monument. We still have work to do, but we’re on our way.

Fifty years ago, the Cuyahoga River was on fire due to the pollution in the water. Today, the fish in that river are safe to eat. The Cuyahoga River fire was a catalyst to Americans to clean up our environment. We aren’t perfect today, and we need to get much, much more serious about climate change, but movements have shown that big change is possible.

Sometimes we take big steps backwards after we take a few forward. After the advances of the Civil Rights movement in the 1950s and 1960s, progress stalled and some of the gains were eroded. The last major civil rights bill, the Fair Housing Act, was passed in 1968.

After the 2008 election, Barack Obama became the first black president. In 2017, white nationalists held a major rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, where Donald Trump spoke of “very fine people on both sides.” Our country clearly needs a lot more work to become the “more perfect union” it strives to be in its founding documents.

If you look at the progress of our past, from the writing and ratifying of the Constitution, to the emancipation of enslaved people, to women claiming the right to vote, and the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s, the American people worked hard to make it happen — often with other Americans working against them, sometimes violently.

It was never easy. It’s still not easy. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be done.

This Fourth of July, don’t celebrate a nation that’s perfect already. Celebrate a nation where movements have spent more than two centuries struggling and fighting and striving to create an ever more perfect union, and commit yourself to continuing to do so.

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Let Us Reject the Ugly Nationalism of Independence Day

The United States’ Independence Day celebrations are marked each year by gaudy displays of red, white and blue, violent-sounding fireworks and inaccurate claims of America being the world’s greatest country.

It is as though we as a nation are trying so hard to prove our greatness to ourselves and to the world that we manufacture an alternate reality. In our flag-waving imagination, we are a nation of prosperous innovators and potential billionaires. The meritocracy is alive and well, no one dies of preventable illnesses, all those who end up in prison deserve their fate, immigrants who simply follow the laws are welcome and our military is the mightiest on the planet. We outperform other nations on trade, war and democratic values. Sure, we have flaws, but we work hard to address them. If we are liberal, our problems are the fault of conservatives, and if we are conservative, the liberals are to blame.

In the meantime, we stand up, hands on hearts, each time “The Star-Spangled Banner” is played or the Pledge of Allegiance recited, no matter what the occasion—a football game, a concert, a city council meeting or anytime on the Fourth of July—and move through the motions of a charade we would be hard-pressed to explain. What exactly are we celebrating? Concentration camps filled with defenseless refugee children, women and men? Why are we claiming that this is the “land of the free and the home of the brave” when freedom is reserved for the privileged and courage is lacking in the halls of power?

President Donald Trump’s slogan, “Make America Great Again,” assumes that America was once a great nation. But while it has always been great for a privileged few, there are far too many failings over the course of our nation’s history to deserve the label of greatness. To many Americans, patriotic pride is so ingrained that even those who identify as liberal feel deeply and personally insulted by such realistic pronouncements. “If you don’t like it, go back to where you came from” is the standard response to those among us who refuse to stand during the national anthem. Worse, these days, liberals and conservatives alike engage in moblike chants of “USA, USA” as an assertion of national pride. But drowning out others’ voices with a meaningless slogan is an act of bullying, not pride.

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The brazen display of military might that Trump has demanded for this week’s Independence Day parade in Washington, D.C., is a perfect emblem of the corrosive nature of nationalism. It is no surprise that millions of dollars of fees from national parks were diverted to satisfy his whims. Ugly displays of patriotism are needed at all costs, because commanding blind allegiance from a pliant population is apparently far more important than preserving our national parks.

America is not unique in cultivating rabid nationalism under the guise of patriotism. Plenty of nations engage in syrupy displays of national pride because it is so effective in keeping a population docile and unquestioning. The American tradition of playing the national anthem at sporting events first became popular during World War I and was revived during World War II. Wartime is a critical period for the state to command unwavering loyalty from its citizens. If patriotism means loving your country exactly the way it is, no matter how bloody its actions in a theater of war, then there is no reason to protest or dissent. Protesters and dissenters in such a world are akin to traitors. The embracing of national pride becomes a litmus test of citizenship.

Ironically, immigrants—especially those with papers—are often guilty of engaging in ardent displays of patriotism. We understand that our fealty to the state is always in question, so we work harder than most to prove ourselves worthy of naturalization. Fox News’ Tucker Carlson said last year, in reference to Central American migrant caravans, “When you arrive in a country to contribute to it and to assimilate into its culture, you don’t wave the flag of a foreign nation. That’s what you do in triumph when you invade a country.” This sentiment is widely accepted around the U.S. Entry to this nation means giving up one’s culture, suppressing it or expressing it apologetically. You cannot wave the flags of your home country and your adopted one, for nationalism has no room for nuance. You have to pick one or the other in the starkly black-and-white terms set by flags and anthems.

In 2008, then-Sen. Barack Obama’s presidential candidacy was in question because of his reticence to wear a flag pin on his lapel. Obama’s initial and nuanced answer to why he didn’t wear the pin was, “I’m going to try to tell the American people what I believe … and hopefully, that will be a testimony to my patriotism.” But that didn’t fly, especially given the junior senator’s race and foreign-sounding name. He eventually took to wearing the flag pin at all times to prove his loyalty. But that was not enough for his racist, right-wing detractors, including a certain New York City real estate developer who consistently questioned Obama’s birthright citizenship.

Trump and Trumpism are the predictable outcome of obedient national pride. Just look at the president’s supporters and their red, white and blue attire, worn every day of the week, not just on the Fourth of July. Trump’s backers make quite clear the equivalence between the flag and their president. Trump’s presidency has centered on litmus tests of citizenship—symbolized most effectively by his administration’s bitter fight to ask the citizenship status of all American residents on the 2020 Census. In Trump’s America, chants of “USA, USA” are interchangeable with “Trump, Trump.” Those who refuse to stand for the national anthem are traitors deserving of prosecution. The right to free speech is reserved for hate speech. Critical reporting is simply “fake news.”

This Fourth of July, will we choose the same ugly patriotism that drives Trumpism, or will we sit out the anthems and work instead to realize this nation’s unfulfilled ideals?

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Putting the Warriors on Terror on Trial

It is natural for mankind to set a higher value on courage then timidity, on activity than prudence, on strength than counsel.” —Montesquieu, “The Spirit of the Laws”

They are undoubtedly America’s favorite, most lauded shock troops. More, even, than the Marines or the Army’s Green Berets and Rangers, Navy SEALs have captured America’s (and, certainly, Hollywood’s) attention. Despite their small ranks, they are nothing less than the face of the post-9/11 U.S. “war on terror.” It was the SEALs, after all, who killed Osama bin Laden, prompting spontaneous, nationwide chants of “USA! USA!” Sure, the Army and Marines do most of the fighting and dying, but there is something romantic in the collective American mind about those SEALs.

Yet currently, in the wake of a couple of major scandals and seemingly credible allegations of serious war crimes, it’s as though the entire organization is on trial. Maybe that’s for the best.

What unfolded in the increasingly absurd and always disturbing trial of Special Operations Chief Edward Gallagher was nothing less than a war for the soul of the whole special operations community. Still, the minutiae and singularity of the individual case masked the larger questions and conclusions worth drawing from the entire spectacle: Why is the U.S. fighting abroad? Who, exactly, is doing that fighting? What happens when aggressive, highly trained commandos are repeatedly shipped abroad and given immense leeway and power over foreign lives and deaths?

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These, to name only a few, are key queries to consider regarding the Gallagher case and a separate scandal in which another SEAL recently pleaded guilty to a 2017 hazing attack in Mali that resulted in the strangulation death of an Army Green Beret. In the second case, why were these special operators in remote West Africa in the first place? The answer is relevant to the tragic incident itself.

As for Gallagher, he was accused and acquitted of shooting an elderly civilian and a young girl without cause, and of killing a teenage Islamic State prisoner with his knife, then convicted of posing with the captive’s body as a trophy before texting out boastful photos. His war crimes trial increased in absurdity as Gallagher’s SEAL team divided into two camps (for and against the chief) and testified against each other. This marked a rare breach of a kind of special operations team code of silence, one that bears remarkable similarity to the domestic police “blue wall” of silence. That Gallagher was ultimately turned in by fellow SEALs, who proceeded to publicly testify against him, is telling, and uncommon, lending, I felt, weight to the prosecution’s case.

Look, I was a military man—though not a part of special operations tribe—and worked closely with both Green Berets and SEALs, particularly while undertaking village stability operations (forming government-friendly village militias, essentially) in Kandahar, Afghanistan. As such, I was perhaps less surprised when the testimony of the SEALs and some Marines in the Gallagher trial not only seemed to implicate the chief in war crimes but inadvertently exposed a prevailing culture of poor discipline and indecency among the team—particularly a widespread proclivity to take “cool guy” photos with enemy or civilian corpses. The practice is gruesome, disturbing and highly common—and, though I never partook in that particular morbidity, I’m certain most Iraq and Afghan war combat vets would agree with me regarding its banality.

Had he been convicted, Gallagher would certainly have represented an extreme case, but the fact that so many military comrades and armchair warriors at home backed him demonstrates that the problem runs deep. It raises certain questions, along with some disconcerting answers. For example, Gallagher was on his eighth—count them, eighth—deployment in a 19-year career. Special operators such as he and his team make up just 2% of the U.S. military, but since the troop reductions in Iraq and Afghanistan were enacted in 2011 and 2014, respectively, they increasingly the bear most of the burden for fighting an absurdly unwinnable fight that now stretches from West Africa to Central Asia.

Too many deployments, too much extended action and, critically, too much power have been entrusted to these men. There are bound to be excesses, the sort of wartime criminality that does the “terrorist” recruiting sergeant’s job for him. Just as too many of Gallagher’s—and other special operators’—leaders turned a blind eye to the inevitable murmurs about wrongdoing, too many folks at home have simply patted U.S. commandos on the back and then ignored what was done in America’s name. In such an atmosphere of citizen apathy and unwarranted military adulation, all during nearly two decades of ill-defined, indecisive wars, it’s amazing that there aren’t more (publicized) incidents of individual cruelty (leaving aside, for a moment, the inherent savagery of waging air and ground combat in unnecessary wars of choice).

Regardless of the verdict in the case, it’s a safe prediction that a shocking portion of the American populace felt a peculiar sympathy with Gallagher and the other accused special operators. That’s because, as Montesquieu astutely noted in the 18th century, mankind relishes warriors more than it should, more than almost any other profession. This military man, at least, thinks it a pity. Nonetheless, I’m in a tiny minority by taking such a position. And perhaps it should come as little surprise to me. After all, when Lt. William Calley ordered and enthusiastically took part in the massacre of hundreds of Vietnamese civilians in the village of My Lai, a staggering 77% of Americans polled thought he’d been railroaded by the military justice system.

President Trump is unlikely to know many details about the My Lai massacre or the ins and outs of the charges against Gallagher. But make no mistake: Trump and his hawkish cheerleaders have the pulse of the American people on these issues, on the dark side of patriotism. That’s why the president was reportedly considering a pre-conviction pardon for Gallagher. Trump knew he wouldn’t lose any political points defending a military man, even a potential monster. Trump is hardly sophisticated, but he’s got the street con’s intuition that Americans’ sense of exceptionalism and reflexive adulation of the military lacks complexity or nuance. Even an accused war criminal can be sympathetic, so long as he’s American—one of ours.

It is all a consequence of waging forever war; of what happens to the soul of an (ostensible) republic when a select minority—a Praetorian Guard of sorts—is trusted with the management of violence the world over while the populace proverbially sleeps.

This is far from a defense or apology for Gallagher. I’m fairly certain we’d loathe one another. Still, it must be said—the uncomfortable takeaway from all this barbarity: Boys will be boys (although they mostly are men in the special operations community), and they are capable of much evil when unrestrained and perpetually deployed into worldwide combat. Aggressive, highly trained and hypermasculine warriors like the SEALs ought to remain metaphorically sealed behind glass labeled “break only in case of emergency,” not utilized, as they have been, as the go-to tool for waging normalized and increasingly mundane global imperial war.

My gut tells me that Gallagher and a sizable portion of other special operators have run off the rails through repeatedly fighting in foreign locales. The SEAL community won’t like me weighing in, but more oversight and control over them seems necessary. What’s more vital is that American policymakers follow a basic adage: Don’t “break the glass” and unleash these highly trained killers unless there’s a damn good reason and a clear end state. Because once they’re unbridled, America owns all that unfolds, and it’s often ugly. It’s certainly far darker than the sanitized military Independence Day parade that Donald Trump has planned.

Only here, too, Trump is betting on a messy truth: that most Americans relish the patriotic spectacle over the dark reality of war and its consequences. And he’s right, once again.

Copyright 2019 Danny Sjursen

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Family of Deadly Vegas Shooting Victim Suing Gun Makers

LAS VEGAS (AP) — The parents of a young woman killed in the 2017 Las Vegas massacre said Wednesday his family is blaming gun manufacturers for their daughter’s death.

“Someone murdered our daughter,” said James Parsons, whose 31-year-old daughter Carrie Parsons was one of 58 people killed when a gunman rained down gunfire from a high-rise hotel. “Someone should be held accountable for that.”

A wrongful death lawsuit filed Tuesday targets Colt and seven other gun manufacturers, along with gun shops in Nevada and Utah, arguing their weapons are designed to be easily modified to fire like automatic weapons.

“It was a horrifying, agonizing experience and we don’t want this to happen to other families,” Parsons told The Associated Press of the deadliest mass shooting in modern U.S. history.

The lawsuit is the latest case to challenge a federal law shielding gun manufacturers from liability. It charges that gun makers marketed the ability of the AR-15-style weapons to be easily modified to mimic machine guns and fire continuously, violating both a state and federal ban on automatic weapons.

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Parsons and his wife Ann-Marie argue in the lawsuit that the firearms are “thinly disguised” machine guns that the manufacturers knew could be easily modified, even without the use of a “bump stock,” an attachment used by the Las Vegas gunman that allowed him to fire in rapid succession.

The Trump administration banned bump stocks this year, making it illegal to possess them under the same federal laws that prohibit machine guns.

“We understand this is an uphill battle,” Ann-Marie Parsons told the AP on Wednesday from their home in suburban Seattle. “But somebody has got to do something because the carnage continues.”

“Losing our daughter is the worst thing that ever happened to us. It is hurtful to us every time we see these things happen,” she said.

The lawsuit charges the manufacturers showed a “reckless lack of regard for public safety” by advertising the firearms “as military weapons and signaling the weapon’s ability to be simply modified.” It alleges there are dozens of videos online showing people how to install bump stocks.

“It was only a question of when – not if – a gunman would take advantage of the ease of modifying AR-15s to fire automatically in order to substantially increase the body count,” the lawsuit states.

Courts have typically rejected lawsuits against gun manufacturers and dealers in other high-profile shooting attacks, citing a 2005 federal law that shields gun makers from liability in most cases when their products are used in crimes.

Neither Colt nor any of the other manufacturers immediately responded to requests for comment from The Associated Press.

The attorney for the Parsons family, Joshua Koskoff, is representing relatives of victims of the Newtown school massacre in a similar lawsuit. The Connecticut Supreme Court in March ruled that gun-maker Remington could be sued for the way it marketed an AR-15-style rifle used to kill 20 first graders and six educators at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. Remington plans to appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

The Las Vegas shooter opened fire on the crowd of 22,000 from his suite in a tower of the Mandalay Bay casino-resort. Police and the FBI say the gunman acted alone and killed himself before officers reached his hotel room.

The FBI’s Behavioral Analysis unit later found the shooter sought notoriety in the attack on the open-air concert but cited no “single or clear motivating factor.”

The lawsuit is among more than a dozen filed since the Oct. 1, 2017, shooting, though it’s the first to target a gun maker.

Victims have sued MGM Resorts International, which operated the concert venue and owns the Mandalay Bay hotel, along with the concert promoter and others.

MGM Resorts then sued hundreds of victims in a bid to avoid liability. The company has been in settlement talks with the victims and their families.
___

Associated Press Reno correspondent Scott Sonner contributed to this report from Reno. Balsamo reported from New York.

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Trump Facebook Ads Use Models to Portray Actual Supporters

NEW YORK — A series of Facebook video ads for President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign shows what appears to be a young woman strolling on a beach in Florida, a Hispanic man on a city street in Texas and a bearded hipster in a coffee shop in Washington, D.C., all making glowing, voice-over endorsements of the president.

“I could not ask for a better president,” intones the voice during slow-motion footage of the smiling blonde called “Tracey from Florida.” A man labeled on another video as “AJ from Texas” stares into the camera as a voice says, “Although I am a lifelong Democrat, I sincerely believe that a nation must secure its borders.”

There’s just one problem: The people in the videos that ran in the past few months are all actually models in stock video footage produced far from the U.S. in France, Brazil and Turkey, and available to anyone online for a fee.

Though the 20-second videos include tiny disclaimers that say “actual testimonial, actor portrayal,” they raise the question why a campaign that can fill arenas with supporters would have to buy stock footage of models. It’s a practice that, under different circumstances, Trump himself would likely blast as “fake news.”

Trump campaign officials declined repeated requests for comment on Tuesday. Political experts say that, while it’s not unusual for stock footage to find its way into ads, a presidential campaign should have been more careful.

“As a producer, you want to control — you want people to look a certain way and you want them to sound a certain way,” said Jay Newell, a former cable TV executive who teaches advertising at Iowa State University. “The fact that the footage is from outside the U.S. makes it that much more embarrassing.”

There are plenty examples of such gaffes. In the last presidential primaries, Republican Sen. Marco Rubio ran an ad titled “Morning in America” with shots from Canada. A super PAC supporting former Florida Gov. Jeb Bush put ads on TV with video reportedly from the English countryside and workers from Southeast Asia.

Trump himself has used video from abroad before. His 2016 TV ad vowing to build a wall to keep out immigrants from Mexico showed people streaming across the border — but the shots of refugees were taken in Morocco.

The existence of the stock footage in this series of Trump ads, reported last week by Judd Legum for his website Popular Information , underscores an increasingly aggressive, targeted approach by the Trump campaign to reach out to voters on Facebook.

The Trump Make America Great Again Committee, which was behind the testimonial videos, is by far the biggest spender on political Facebook advertising, shelling out more than $2.7 million on 27,735 ads in the last 90 days alone, according to the social network’s running database of campaign ad spending. That’s in addition to the more than $1 million spent on more than 14,500 ads in the same period by Donald J. Trump for President Inc.

Trump’s campaign gets to such totals by running the same ads numerous times, all at slightly different audiences.

“Thomas from Washington,” featuring the bearded young man behind a coffee shop counter, appeared aimed at evangelicals, with the voice-over quote saying the president and his family are “in our prayers for strength and wisdom from God almighty.” ″AJ from Texas” seemed focused on Hispanic men. And “Tracey in Florida” was aimed specifically at a demographic in which Trump is historically weak — young women.

All are models for Turkish, Brazilian and French companies, respectively, that supply hundreds of photos and video to the popular site iStock run by Getty Images, which caters to publications, filmmakers and advertisers looking for professional, inexpensive imagery.

According to the site, licenses for the video clips used in the Trump ads can be had for as little as $170.

The blonde on the beach appears to be particularly prolific. Her photos and videos from the French company Tuto Photos in Roubaix, France, show her twirling in a wedding gown, walking spaniels in a meadow, getting her teeth checked at the dentist and working in a warehouse.

And the star of iStock’s “Bearded and tattooed hipster coffee shop owner posing” — also known as Trump’s “Thomas from Washington” — is a fixture on the videos and photos contributed by the company GM Stock out of Izmir, Turkey. His unmistakable beard and tats can be seen on the image site strolling with a woman on the beach, sitting by a campfire and pumping iron in the gym.

So what do these models think of being held up as model Trump supporters?

That’s not clear because none of the companies they’ve posed for would give a detailed comment to The Associated Press. A spokeswoman for Getty Images would not identify the models, citing privacy concerns.

Fred Davis, a campaign consultant who’s produced ads for George W. Bush and other Republican presidential candidates, said the Trump campaign’s use of such footage is not surprising, given the volume of political ads on the internet these days.

“Whoever did this is probably 22 years old, and they’re going through pictures and thought, ‘This is a great picture,’” Davis said.

“This is a great shot of Thomas from Washington. It’s a shame it’s not Thomas from Washington.”

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Facebook Has Ignored Its Secret Hate Groups for Years

Facebook says its standards apply just as much in private groups as public posts, prohibiting most slurs and threats based on national origin, sex, race and immigration status.

But dozens of hateful posts in a secret Facebook group for current and former Border Patrol agents raise questions about how well if at all the company is policing disturbing postings and comments made outside of public view.

Many of the posts ProPublica obtained from the 9,500-member “I’m 10-15” group (10-15 is Border Patrol code for “alien in custody”) include violent or dehumanizing speech that appears to violate Facebook’s standards. For example, a thread of comments before a visit to a troubled Border Patrol facility in Texas by Democratic Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, of New York, and Veronica Escobar, of Texas, included “fuck the hoes” and “No mames [fist].” Another post encouraged Border Patrol agents to respond to the Latina lawmakers visit by hurling a “burrito at these bitches.” And yet another mocked a video of a migrant man trying to carry a child through a rushing river in a plastic bag. A commenter joked, “At least it’s already in a trash bag” — all probable violations of the rules.

Facebook, citing an open federal investigation into the group’s activities, declined to answer questions about whether any posts in the 10-15 group violated its terms of service or had been removed, or whether the company had begun scrutinizing the group’s postings since ProPublica’s story was published. It also refused to say whether it had previously flagged posts by group members or had received complaints.

Facebook’s only response, emailed by a spokeswoman who refused to let ProPublica use her name, was: “We want everyone using Facebook to feel safe. Our Community Standards apply across Facebook, including in secret Groups. We’re cooperating with federal authorities in their investigation.”

Since April, the company has been calling community groups “the center of Facebook.” It has put new emphasis on group activity in the newsfeed and has encouraged companies, communities and news organizations to shift resources into private messaging. These forums can give members a protected space to discuss painful topics like domestic violence, or to share a passion for cookbooks. Groups can be either private, which means they can be found in search results, or secret, which means they are hidden unless you have an invitation.

This is part of an intentional “pivot toward privacy.” In a March blog post, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg wrote, “Privacy gives people the freedom to be themselves and connect more naturally, which is why we build social networks.”

But this pivot also fosters hidden forums where people can share offensive, potentially inflammatory viewpoints. “Secret” groups such as 10-15 are completely hidden from non-members. Would-be participants need an invitation to even find the landing page, and administrators of the groups have full jurisdiction to remove a person’s access at any time.

When such groups operate out of sight, like 10-15, the public has a more limited view into how people are using, or misusing, the platform. In a secret group, only members can flag or report content that might be in violation of Facebook’s policies. The administrators of the group can set stricter policies for members’ internal conversations. They cannot, however, relax broader Facebook standards. They also can’t support terrorist organizations, hate groups, murderers, criminals, sell drugs or attack individuals.

Civil rights groups say they have been noticing and raising the issue of hateful posts in hidden forums for years — with limited response from Facebook.

Henry Fernandez, senior fellow at the Center for American Progress, a liberal think tank, and a member of Change the Terms, a coalition of civil rights groups pushing for better content moderation on Facebook, said the platform keeps creating features without “without vetting them for their implications for the use by hate groups or, in this case, Border Patrol agents acting in hateful ways.”

Posts in hidden groups have incited incidents of violence in the real world, most famously against Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar and at the 2017 white supremacist march in Charlottesville, Virginia. The military launched an investigation of a secret Facebook group in 2017 after Marines shared naked pictures of female service members. Facebook has acknowledged the problem and has made some efforts to address it with new initiatives, such as a proposed independent review board and consultations with a group of 90 organizations, most focusing on civil rights.

ProPublica’s Border Patrol story came out the day after Facebook released an audit of civil rights issues on the platform. Recommendations included strengthening hate speech policies around national origin, enforcing a stricter ban on the promotion of white supremacy and removing an exemption that had allowed humorous posts that contained offensive content.

Facebook did not say whether it will make all of the recommended changes. But in a blog post, COO Sheryl Sandberg wrote, “We will continue listening to feedback from the civil rights community and address the important issues they’ve raised so Facebook can better protect and promote the civil rights of everyone who uses our services.”

Jessica Gonzalez, vice president of strategy and senior counsel at FreePress and co-founder of Change the Terms, said that even after the back and forth with auditors, she was not surprised that the hateful posts in 10-15 were not flagged.

“What Facebook released on Sunday is an improvement,” she said, “but I think Facebook has engaged in this all along in an appeasement strategy. They’ll do what they need to do to get the bad publicity off [their] backs.”

The civil rights audit also called for better transparency about civil rights issues on Facebook’s advertising portal, which became a priority for the company after multiple ProPublica investigations and lawsuits by civil rights groups.

Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of global business at Tufts’ Fletcher School of Business, said the new emphasis on privacy is part of Facebook’s attempt to keep users on the platform, while reassuring investors.

“So to the extent that Facebook provides shelter to groups of all kinds — whether they are people who are sharing hateful messages or messages for the good of the world — it benefits their business model.”

Since we published our story, more people have gotten in touch to tell us about other secret groups that may warrant closer scrutiny.

We know there are members of groups who don’t agree with everything that is said in these forums. We need your guidance to do more reporting. We’d like to hear about what’s happening in your communities particularly from those of you who are concerned public servants. Fill out our questionnaire, or send an email to borderpatrol@propublica.org.

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Is The New York Times in the Tank for Pete Buttigieg?

On June 25, the day before the first Democratic presidential debates, Pete Buttigieg’s average in polls of the race stood at 7.0 percent. Today, after the attention and considerable positive media reaction that he got after the debates, he’s surged—to 5.2 percent.

Despite the fact that more people seeing him seems to have resulted in less people liking him, the media narrative about Buttigieg is that his is a campaign on the move—based almost entirely on his fundraising success. CNBC’s headline (7/1/19) was:

Pete Buttigieg Raises $24.8 Million in the Second Quarter as His White House Bid Gains Momentum

Bloomberg News (7/1/19) had:

Buttigieg Raises $24.8 Million in Quarter, Continuing 2020 Surge

The Guardian (7/1/19) didn’t put too fine a point on it:

Buttigieg Raises $24.8m, Eclipsing Sanders as Candidate Cull Looms

The thread running through these takes is that money, not public support, is what defines a candidate’s “momentum” or “surge,” and determines who is in “eclipse.” Voters are great, seems to be the thinking—but what really counts are donors.

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Of course, from a voter’s point of view, what really matters is not how much financial support a candidate is getting, but who they’re getting it from—because those supporters may not have the same interests as the voter. In the case of Buttigieg, the two main sources of funds seem to be the tech industry—in part because of personal ties between the tech world and Buttigieg, who was one of the first 300 users of Facebook (American Prospect, 6/25/19)—and the financial industry, that traditional source of funds for corporate-oriented Democrats.

A New York Times headline (6/16/19) told the story: “Wall Street Donors Are Swooning for Mayor Pete. (They Like Biden and Harris, Too.)” “A Harvard graduate and veteran of the McKinsey consultancy, Mr. Buttigieg is fluent in the language of elite New York circles,” the story noted.

But being Wall Street’s favorite is not a good look, the financial industry being deeply unpopular with voters, particularly Democratic ones (Morning Consult, 12/7/18). So Buttigieg is being rebranded as a fundraiser who brings everyone together, rich and not so rich alike. And the Times(7/1/19) is happy to help out with that—with its gushing headline:

Big Donors, Small Donors: Pete Buttigieg Has Courted Them All — Successfully.

The piece, by Reid J. Epstein and Thomas Kaplan, reports:

During the second quarter, Mr. Buttigieg attended about 50 high-dollar fundraising events, for which ticket prices typically run $2,800, the maximum individual contribution allowed by federal law in the primary. But he also held 20 “grass-roots” fundraising events, for which ticket prices start as low as $15.

The piece claims that Buttigieg is relying on both of these revenue streams, the “big” and “small” donors of the headline, in contrast to the other leading candidates:

Mr. Buttigieg’s rivals have mostly favored one fundraising approach or the other. Mr. Biden has concentrated his efforts on the broad network of Obama donors in major cities, but the 76-year-old former vice president hasn’t energized the small-dollar grassroots world. Mr. Sanders and Ms. Warren have sworn off closed-door big-donor events as a political strategy aimed at creating a wider universe of small donors.

But has Buttigieg, unlike Biden, really “energized the small-donor grassroots world”? The article notes, “The average contribution over the course of his campaign has been $47.42, according to his team.” That’s not all that different from the $55 average contribution that Biden says he’s been taking in (Washington Post, 6/18/19). In fact, Buttigieg a couple weeks ago was saying that $55 was the average contribution he was getting, too (Washington Post, 7/1/19).

This is a lot bigger than the average contributions reported by the other leading Democrats: $30 for Kamala Harris (Politico, 6/29/19), $28 for Elizabeth Warren (New York Times, 4/10/19), $18 for Bernie Sanders (Washington Examiner, 7/2/19). But if you look at the fundraising that Buttigieg has been doing lately, it looks like he’s jumped up to a new league: The Times reports that he “collected $24.8 million from more than 294,000 donors for the three-month period that ended Sunday.” The paper doesn’t do the math, but that’s $84.35 a donor—a big chunk of change for someone who supposedly “has married traditional high-dollar fund-raising with online small donations,” as the Times claims in the very same sentence.

Even that figure probably overstates how much support Buttigieg actually gets from small donors. As the Times (5/30/19) has noted, the fact that the Democratic National Committee has made number of donors a criterion for appearing in debates has led candidates to spend a great deal of money, often via social media ads, to attract small donors, who often contribute much less than they cost to find them—in effect laundering the money gotten from a handful of big money supporters to create the appearance of a broader base of support.

The big donor/small donor piece mentions that through the spring, “the Buttigieg campaign’s combined spending on digital advertising on Facebook and Google ($1.3 million) exceeded that of any other Democratic candidate except Mr. Biden and Ms. Warren.” But it doesn’t refer back to the earlier reporting that suggests that this spending in search of small online donors might not actually be netting any money.

Another Times story that seems to have gone down the memory hole is the piece about Wall Street “swooning” for Buttigieg. The July 1 piece mentions “tech executives in Silicon Valley,” “military veterans” and “educated liberals on the coasts” as sources he’s tapped for funds—but no whisper of his finance industry fans. I guess even when you’re trying to pitch your candidate as the unifier of all classes, it’s best not to mention them all.

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Robert Reich: Moderates and Centrists Are No Safe Bet

Imagine an opposition political party in a land being taken over by an oligarchy, headed by a would-be tyrant.

The tyrant and the oligarchy behind him have convinced many voters that the reason they feel powerless and economically insecure isn’t because the oligarchy has taken most of the economic gains and overwhelmed the government with their money. It’s because the country has been taken over by undocumented immigrants, Latinos, African-Americans, and a “deep state” of coastal liberals, intelligence agencies, and mainstream media.

This is rubbish, of course, but the tyrant is masterful at telling big lies, and he is backed by the oligarchy’s big money.

Imagine further that the opposition party will soon face another election in which it could possibly depose the tyrant and overcome the oligarchy. But at the rate they are consolidating power – over the courts, politics, and the media – this could be the opposition’s last chance.

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What would it do?

Would it allow virtually anyone to seek to be the party’s candidate for president (and gain valuable brand recognition along the way) – including spiritual gurus, one-issue entrepreneurs, and minor elected officials who have never even run for state office?

I doubt it. The party would establish criteria to filter out those who had no real chance.

Would it let almost every one of them go on television to debate one other – thereby placing a premium on one-line zingers, fast talk, and rapid-fire putdowns? Would it assign them randomly to one of two nights, so several candidates with the most support wouldn’t even get to debate one other?

Of course not. Instead, it would take the half-dozen who had the best chance, and structure the debates so they could demonstrate their understanding of the issues and the forcefulness of their ideas in lengthy back-and-forth exchanges.

Would it encourage them to split the party over policy issues that almost no one understands, such as the meaning of “Medicare for all” – thereby causing some voters to become alarmed about a government takeover of the healthcare system, and others to worry the government won’t go far enough?

No. It would encourage the candidates to emphasize the larger goal – in this case, to provide health insurance to everyone, and have them explain that a so-called “public option” to buy into Medicare would eventually displace for-profit private insurers anyway, because it would be so much cheaper.

Would it let any of this deflect attention from the tyrant keeping children in cages at the border, coddling foreign dictators and inviting them to help him in the next election, shattering alliances with other democracies, using his office to make money for himself and his family,  lying non-stop, subsidizing fossil fuels and downplaying climate change, claiming the media is guilty of treason, and undermining other democratic institutions and norms?

Of course not. Although it would want its candidates to float some ambitious and sensible proposals that would get people hopeful about the future, it would also want them to keep attention on what the tyrant was doing and the dangers he posed.

Finally, given the extraordinarily high stakes in the upcoming election, would it decide on its candidate in much the same way it has done in the recent past – solely on the basis of who can attract the most primary voters and caucus attenders?

No. It would have its eye on the general election. It would be thinking strategically about how to attract voters in places the tyrant won in the last election but could swing back. In America, that would be Florida, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Wisconsin, Arizona, and North Carolina.

This doesn’t mean it would support a “moderate” or “centrist” candidate. These terms mean little in land succumbing to tyranny and oligarchy.

It would do best with a candidate able to create a multiracial coalition to fight the tyrant and his oligarchy – a coalition combining poor, working class and middle class whites, blacks, and Latinos.

It needs a candidate who can explain how the tyrant uses racism and xenophobia to divide and conquer, turning the majority against each other. A candidate who helps people understand that a necessary part of fighting tyranny is fighting racism, and a requisite for fighting inequality is reversing climate change. A candidate who can unite the country around an agenda of robust democracy and shared prosperity.

This may sound fanciful, but the challenge is real, and America’s Democratic Party must meet it over the next seventeen months.

What may be fanciful is that today’s Democratic Party has the power to select its candidate in the ways I’ve suggested.

Yet the stakes in the 2020 election are larger than any election in living memory. The Democrats’ selection of a candidate therefore is no ordinary thing. In a very real sense, the fates of America and the world depend on it. The question is whether the Democratic Party is up to the task.

The post Robert Reich: Moderates and Centrists Are No Safe Bet appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

44 Migrants Die in Airstrike on Libyan Detention Center

BENGHAZI, Libya—An airstrike hit a detention center for migrants near the Libyan capital of Tripoli early Wednesday, killing at least 44 people and wounding dozens of others in an attack that the U.N. human rights chief said could amount to a war crime.

The Tripoli-based government blamed the attack on forces associated with Gen. Khalifa Hifter, whose Libyan National Army has been waging an offensive against rival militias in the capital of the war-torn North African country since April.

It refocused attention and raised questions about the European Union’s policy of cooperating with the militias that hold migrants in crowded and squalid detention centers to prevent them from crossing the Mediterranean to seek better lives in Europe. Most of them were apprehended by the Libyan coast guard, which is funded and trained by the EU to stem the flow of migrants.

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At the United Nations, the Security Council scheduled an emergency session for later Wednesday on the airstrike in Tripoli’s Tajoura neighborhood, and Secretary-General Antonio Guterres called for an independent investigation.

Hifter’s forces said they were targeting a nearby military site, not the detention center. There also were suspicions of involvement by foreign countries allied with his forces. Countries assisting Hifter include Egypt, the United Arab Emirates and Russia.

Two migrants interviewed by The Associated Press said the airstrike hit a compound that houses a weapons warehouse and an adjacent detention center holding about 150 migrants, mostly Sudanese and Moroccans. The two spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

Online video purported to be from inside the detention center showed blood and human remains mixed with rubble and the belongings of the victims.

The U.N. gave an initial figure of 44 dead and more than 130 wounded. But the two migrants told the AP that three or four escaped harm and about 20 were wounded. They said the rest were killed, indicating the final death toll could be much higher.

Prince Alfani, the Libya medical coordinator for Doctors Without Borders, visited the detention center hours before the airstrike and said it had held 126 migrants. Survivors fear for their lives, he said, calling for their immediate evacuation.

Charlie Yaxley, a spokesman for the U.N. refugee agency, said the detention center’s proximity to the weapons depot “made it a target for the airstrikes.”

“Coordinates of this detention center were well-known to both sides of the conflict,” Yaxley said. “It was known that there were 600 people living inside. So there can be no excuse for this center having been hit.”

He said the agency had warned less than two months ago that anyone in the complex could be caught in the fighting and an earlier airstrike nearby had wounded two migrants. The UNHCR is sending medical teams to the site, he added.

U.N. human rights chief Michelle Bachelet said the attack “may, depending on the precise circumstances, amount to a war crime.”

The attack “killed by surprise innocent people whose dire conditions forced them to be in that shelter,” said U.N. envoy for Libya Ghassan Salame.

Magdalena Mughrabi, deputy Middle East and North Africa director for Amnesty International, said the attack “must be investigated as a war crime” by the International Criminal Court. The deaths are the “consequences of Libya and Europe’s callous migration policies,” she said

The group said its research indicated a weapons storage warehouse was in the same compound as the detention center and some of the migrants were forced to work at the military site.

The Tripoli-based Government of National Accord, which is backed by the U.N., called for an investigation by the world body.

Libya became a major crossing point for migrants to Europe after the overthrow and death of longtime dictator Moammar Gadhafi in 2011, when the North African nation was thrown into chaos, armed militias proliferated and central authority collapsed.

At least 6,000 migrants from Eritrea, Ethiopia, Somalia, Sudan and other nations are locked in dozens of detention facilities in Libya run by militias accused of torture and other abuses. There is limited food and other supplies for the migrants, who often end up there after arduous journeys at the mercy of abusive traffickers who hold them for ransom from their families.

The U.N. refugee agency has said that more than 3,000 migrants are in danger because they are held in detention centers near the front lines.

“This incident underscores the urgency to provide all refugees and migrants with safe shelter until their asylum claims can be processed or they can be safely repatriated,” U.N. spokesman Stephane Dujarric said.

Gen. Khaled el-Mahjoub, a spokesman for Hifter’s LNA forces, denied targeting the detention center, saying it was the militia camp in the Tajoura neighborhood that was the target. He did not deny, however, that the migrant detention center was hit.

“We didn’t give orders to target the shelter,” he said.

The EU urged Libyan authorities to better protect migrants, with its top diplomat and two top policy commissioners deploring the “shocking and tragic attack” and saying it highlights “the dire and vulnerable situation of migrants caught up in the spiral of violence in the country.”

Although the attack could increase greater Western pressure on Hifter, Claudia Gazzini, a Libya expert at the International Crisis Group, said it was highly unlikely to change the course the fighting in and around Tripoli.

“For both Hifter-led forces and those loyal to the Tripoli-based government, this is an existential war that sees little room for compromise,” she said.

She did not expect any actions other than a “verbal condemnation” of Hifter’s forces if it is proven they were behind the airstrike.

Hifter, who receives support from Egypt, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, says he is determined to restore stability to the North African country. His rivals, mainly Islamists, are supported by Turkey and Qatar.

His forces control much of Libya’s east and south but suffered a significant blow last week when militias allied with the Tripoli government reclaimed Gharyan, a town about 100 kilometers (62 miles) from the capital and a key LNA supply route.

On Monday, the LNA said it had begun an air campaign on rival forces in Tripoli.

Fathi Bashagha, interior minister of the Tripoli-based government, alleged that Hifter’s foreign allies were behind the airstrike and told the AP that they “went mad” after his forces lost Gharyan. He did not identify any countries or provide any supporting evidence. He also denied weapons were stored at the detention facility complex.

Security analyst Oded Berkowitz said the LNA has “a handful of obsolete aircraft” in poor condition. He said it has received spare parts and decommissioned aircraft from Egypt and possibly Russia.

“Egypt and the UAE have been conducting air operations on behalf of the LNA, but there are no indications that the UAE transferred aircraft to the LNA,” he said.

The fighting for Tripoli has threatened to plunge Libya into another bout of violence on the scale of the conflict that ousted Gadhafi.

Hifter’s campaign against Islamic militants across Libya since 2014 won him growing support from world leaders concerned that Libya has become a haven for armed groups and a major conduit for migrants. But critics view him as an aspiring autocrat and fear a return to one-man rule.

Prominent Libyan writer Mahmoud Shammam described the situation as “disastrous” and said Libya was headed for more “chaotic and hideous escalation” unless the international community takes strong action to stop the fighting.

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Magdy reported from Cairo. Associated Press writers Maggie Michael in Cairo, Edith M. Lederer at the United Nations and Lori Hinnant in Paris contributed.

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