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Border Patrol’s Toxic Culture Goes Way Beyond Facebook Groups. It’s Actually for Sale on a T-Shirt.

Mother Jones Magazine -

A Border Patrol agent who allegedly hit a migrant with his agency truck is going on trial next month, and a federal judge ruled Thursday that some of the racist text messages he sent before and after hitting the man can be used in court.

On December 3, 2017, Matthew Bowen, an agent patrolling in Nogales, Arizona, allegedly ran over a Guatemalan man who had crossed the border illegally. He’s accused of driving into the man, who survived, and then lying about what happened. The incident gained national attention in May, when the Arizona Daily Star published a story about Bowen’s text messages, including one in which he called migrants “disgusting subhuman shit unworthy of being kindling for a fire.” 

In an exchange with another agent, Bowen discussed “frying” migrants from Guatemala: “Guats are best made crispy with an olive oil from their native [country].” While this was deemed inadmissible by the judge, several others that included the slur “tonk” can go in front of the jury.

“If I had to tackle the tonk I would still be doing memos and shit. I wonder how they expect us to apprehend wild ass runners who don’t want to be apprehended?” Bowen texted after the incident. “I’m looking at serious charges even though the Tonk was completely uninjured.” 

Border Patrol critics and immigrant rights groups  contend that the word is derogatory, and that it specifically refers to the sound a flashlight makes when agents hit migrants on the head.

The meaning of “tonk” has long been contested. For years, Border Patrol critics and immigrant rights groups have contended that the word is derogatory, and that it specifically refers to the sound a flashlight makes when agents hit migrants on the head. Border Patrol supporters have denied this and said it’s simply an acronym for “Territory of Origin Not Known” or “Temporarily Out of Native Country.” 

On Thursday, a CBP spokesperson wrote in an email that while “there is no clear answer on where the term originated or if it was once considered an acronym, but flatly, it is now considered a derogatory term and CBP does not condone its use.”

Earlier in the week, I spoke to Jenn Budd, a former Border Patrol agent turned migrant aid volunteer, who has been outspoken about the myriad problems within the agency. I got in touch with her to discuss the recent ProPublica exposé that uncovered a secret Border Patrol Facebook group where agents joked about migrants dying and posted sexist memes. Budd said the racism, corruption, and sexism inside the agency goes back decades. To drive home her point, she pointed me toward a small merchandise site run by two former Border Patrol agents who she said went to the training academy with her in the 1990s.

The site, BleedGreen, bills itself as a page dedicated “to the men and women of the United States Border Patrol” that sells “unique” products “for our brethren in green.” 

Among the apparel available for sale is this T-shirt:

The shirt’s description reads: “Tonk! Yeah you know the sound…no need to explain it. You either know it or you don’t!” and “If you’ve ever spent time on the line this shirt will bring back memories.”

It’s unclear if BleedGreen has sold any of these shirts; the shop has just 204 followers on Facebook. Still, according to a Facebook post on BleedGreen’s page, Etsy made BleedGreen remove the shirt from its shop on that site—a fact BleedGreen used to push for even more sales elsewhere.

I emailed BleedGreen’s website administrators for comment but did not get a response by the time of publication.

Meanwhile, Bowen, the agent who sent the racist texts, goes on trial in August. He is charged with violating the civil rights of an undocumented migrant “by using excessive force to effectuate his arrest, and then lying about it in a report.” 

Trump May Be a White Nationalist, but American Racism Is Bipartisan

TruthDig.com News -

The wealthy, white, establishment-Democrat Nancy Pelosi, speaker of the House of Representatives, had no choice but to outwardly defend the House’s four leftish first-term women of color against the nation’s white nationalist president. Donald Trump had just used his Twitter account to launch a vicious nativist assault on Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York, Rashida Tlaib of Michigan, Ayanna Pressley of Massachusetts and Ilhan Omar of Minnesota. On the same day his administration had marked for a major round-up of undocumented immigrants, Boss Tweet weighed in on “the Squad’s” recent conflict with Pelosi over border security legislation:

<blockquote>“So interesting to see ‘Progressive’ Democrat Congresswomen, who originally came from countries whose governments are a complete and total catastrophe … now loudly and viciously telling the people of the United States, the greatest and most powerful Nation on earth, how our government is to be run. Why don’t they go back and help fix the totally broken and crime infested places from which they came? Then come back and show us how it is done. These places need your help badly, you can’t leave fast enough. I’m sure that Nancy Pelosi would be very happy to quickly work out free travel arrangements!”</blockquote>

This was worse than the usual eye-rolling filth out of the president’s Twitter feed. It was the malicious rant of a frothing white nationalist.

As liberals pointed out, with the exception of Omar, all the congresswomen were born and raised in the United States; Omar has lived here since age 10. Trump’s wife, Melania, who was born and raised in Slovenia, didn’t make it to the U.S. until her 26th year.

But the congresswomen’s lands of origin and naturalization were beside the point. For Trump and his supporters, the key facts are that, unlike Melania Trump, they aren’t white and are speaking up against racist, sexist and capitalist oppression in the United States. In the white nationalist worldview, the United States is a white country and citizenship here is a racial, not a civil, matter. People of nonwhite identity and ancestry are viewed as inherently broken and inadequate, incapable of civilized self-governance. If they want to be tolerated and taken seriously in “our country,” they need to play by rich and powerful white males’ rules and know their place. Those who get uppity need to “go back where they came from.” It’s a very old racist and nativist trope.

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Never mind that North America’s original inhabitants were brown-skinned people who were almost completely wiped out by European invaders between 1500 and 1900. Or that the genocidal white (un-)settlers—those Native American writer and activist Ward Churchill understandably labeled simply as “Predator”—brought black slaves in chains from Africa—people who never chose to come here in the first place.

American leftists will recognize the notion that people who criticize social and political arrangements and oppressive policies in this country should leave the country, as in “go to Russia,” or Cuba, “if you don’t like it here.” For good measure on that score, Trump’s Senate pet and golf buddy Lindsey Graham joined many of his Republican colleagues in defending Trump’s racist tweets and then added his neo-John Bircher opinion that Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib, Pressley and Omar are “a bunch of communists.”

Pelosi was right to call Trump’s tirade “xenophobic” and, more importantly, to say something many of us have been saying since 2015: Trump’s slogan, “make America great again,” really means “make America white again.”

Of course, nobody who has followed Trump’s record over the years should have been surprised at the virulence of his outburst. His history as a vicious racist is well-documented, from his days as a discriminatory landlord through his opening campaign attacks on Mexicans as “rapists,” his embrace of the claim that Barack Obama was born outside the U.S., his vile mockery of Asians, his claim that a distinguished U.S.-born judge of Mexican ancestry could not be fair to him because of his ethnicity, his references to Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren as “Pocohantas,” his Muslim immigration ban, his reference to Haiti and some African nations as “shithole countries,” his defense of white supremacists in Charlottesville, Va., as “very fine people,” and his call for the execution of the falsely accused Central Park Five (whose exoneration he has disputed despite overwhelming evidence of their innocence). John O’Donnell, a former president of Trump Hotel and Casino, recently told The New York Times that Trump “has always been a racist,” adding that “anyone around him who denies it is lying.” White people, O’Donnell notes. “are Americans to Trump; everyone else is from somewhere else.”

At the same time, nobody who has paid attention to Trump’s Amerikaner base and his takeover of the Republican Party should be surprised that very few Republicans inside and outside of government have responded to his revolting harangue with the disgust it deserves. As Times columnist Charles Blow noted Monday: “We are watching a very dark chapter in this nation’s history unfold in real time. We are watching as a president returns naked racism to the White House. And we are watching as fellow citizens—possibly a third of them—reveal to us their open animus for [nonwhites] through their continued support of him.”

It may have been politically foolish for her to say it during her dismal and disastrous 2016 campaign, but Hillary Clinton was not wrong to call that third of the U.S. citizenry “deplorable.” Trump’s heartland base is a proto-fascistic cohort that poses grave threats to what’s left of democracy and decency in the U.S. today.

That said, what about the Democrats, the party Blow and his fellow Times and MSNBC liberals would have us support in 2020? It is worth recalling that many of the brown-skinned migrants and asylum-seekers currently penned up in Trump’s deadly concentration camps hail from Honduras, a Central American nation whose misery was deepened when the “liberal” Democratic president Barack Obama and Clinton, his secretary of state, aided and abetted a right-wing coup that removed Manuel Zelaya, the nation’s democratically elected, left-populist president, from power 10 years ago.

It is good that Pelosi and others atop her party had the elementary decency to uphold American civic nationalism in calling out the president and his party as racists. It’s good that Pelosi agreed to lead an unusual House vote condemning Trump for his racist comments. Still, the cold fact remains that Pelosi recently told the four assertive and proudly progressive first-term congresswomen of color to, essentially, keep their social media mouths shut after they had the greater decency to publicly oppose other House Democrats’ depressing, Pelosi-led vote to give Trump $450 billion for “border security,” even though the bill granting the White House the money contained no serious protections or high standards of care for detained migrants, including children in for-profit concentration camps—and despite the absence of any real way of stopping the Trump administration from diverting money marked for humanitarian aid to immigration enforcement.

The eloquent Omar found herself in Pelosi’s sights (not for the first time) after going on MSNBC, the Democrats’ cable news network, to tell some harsh truths about Pelosi’s deeply conservative party after the terrible vote:

<blockquote>“My colleagues decided that they were going to co-sign on this horrendous, cruel process that this administration has engaged in without really speaking on the kind of values that we have. … We said send [Democrats] into the majority so we can be a check and balance to the cruelty of this administration. Now that we are in the majority we are too busy appeasing this administration. …We have people in power who have forgotten the purpose and reason they were given that privilege. I am always surprised every time we are having a discussion in regard to policy how people will talk about the political reality and they don’t talk about the human reality of the policies that we are passing. We take an oath truly, to care for the American people and to make sure we are furthering policies that are in line with our values, and we often fall short. And I think with the Democratic Party we’re oftentimes so busy trying to appease everyone we end up appeasing no one.”</blockquote>

“Appeasement” was a widely used term to describe how much of the Western bourgeois establishment responded to the rise of the Nazi Third Reich in the 1930s. It is an appropriate description of how the Democratic Party—the organization that political theorist Sheldon Wolin aptly termed the “inauthentic opposition”—has responded to the pre-fascist Trump administration on numerous issues, from border security to the Pentagon budget, the surveillance state, the economic torture and demonization of Venezuela and Iran, the coddling of racist Israel and impeachment (or rather, the failure to undertake impeachment proceedings on any number of issues, including obstruction of justice, violation of the Constitution’s emoluments clause, the abrogation of international human rights laws, the destruction of environmental protections and more). It has spent most of the last two and a half years going after Trump on the dubious and absurdly complicated charge of Russian collusion, rather than  attacking his most egregious sins, including his vicious racism, nativism, sexism, classism, corruption and, last but not at all least, ecocidalism.

Now we see the Democratic Party establishment working with corporate funders and media to marginalize the candidate with the best chance of rallying the demobilized constituencies who need to be activated in order to defeat Trump in 2020. That candidate is Bernie Sanders, a sincerely and seriously antiracist (take it from author and activist Cornel West) democratic socialist who is unacceptable to the inauthentic opposition’s bankrollers, operatives, pundits and talking heads because he—alone among the party’s absurdly large candidate roster—is running in sincere, non-faked accord with the majority progressive, social-democratic public opinion.

Don’t like racial oppression? The establishment Democrats’ top contender to stop Sanders (the open aim of the party’s elite) is Joe Biden, a faltering and befuddled corporatist and imperialist who boasts of past legislative alliances with segregationist senators who “never called me [Biden] ‘boy’&nbsp;” (maybe because Biden is white?) and stood atop fascist Southern Jim Crow terror regimes.

The next Wall Street darling being promoted, in case Biden proves inadequate, is the fake-progressive Kamala Harris, a longtime prosecutor who went to the corporate Chicago Ideas conference six years ago to openly and viciously mock those who think the nation should pour less money into mass incarceration and more into education when it comes to dealing with poor people of color.

Next in line in “the Wall Street primary” is Pete Butiggieg of Indiana, a silver-tongued, Ivy League- and Oxford-vetted neoliberal mayor, a former military intelligence officer who worked for years for the corporate-globalist firm McKinsey & Co., which has been aptly described by one its former operatives as “the world’s most sinister and amoral management consulting company.” Buttigieg has spent years antagonizing South Bend’s extremely impoverished black community by advancing gentrification and backing a racist police department with an ongoing history of using excessive and deadly force against people of color. Butiggieg’s milquetoast Douglass Plan, offensively named after the great black civil rights and social justice champion, Frederick Douglass, is a tepid, technocratic scheme that promises to expand black entrepreneurship and minority business ownership while minimally reforming credit-scoring and lending practices in race-neutral ways.

The Republican Party is a horrific white nationalist, creeping fascist outfit at this point, but despite its rhetoric and appearance of diversity, the Democratic Party is heavily complicit in the nation’s deeply entrenched structural and institutional racism. Anyone who thinks that the not-so-leftmost of the two major parties offers any kind of meaningful solution to American racism is living in a dream world.

The post Trump May Be a White Nationalist, but American Racism Is Bipartisan appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

British Say Iran Seizes 2 Vessels in Strait of Hormuz

TruthDig.com News -

LONDON—Britain’s foreign secretary said Iranian authorities seized two vessels Friday in the Strait of Hormuz, actions signaling an escalation in the strategic waterway that has become a flashpoint in tensions between Tehran and the West.

Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt said one of the seized ships was British-flagged and the other sailed under Liberia’s flag. The crew members comprise a range of nationalities but are not believed to include British citizens, he said.

“These seizures are unacceptable,” Hunt said entering an emergency government meeting to discuss securing the release of the two vessels and their crews. “It is essential that freedom of navigation is maintained and that all ships can move safely and freely in the region.”

Details of what took place remained sketchy. Iran said earlier Friday that it had seized a British oil tanker in the Strait of Hormuz.

The tanker Stena Impero was taken to an Iranian port because it was not complying with “international maritime laws and regulations,” Iran’s Revolutionary Guard declared.

A statement from Stena Bulk, which owns the tanker, said it was unable to contact the ship after it was approached by unidentified vessels and a helicopter in the Strait of Hormuz.

The company said the tanker, with 23 crew members aboard, was in international waters when it was approached but subsequently appeared to be heading toward Iran.

U.K. Chamber of Shipping chief executive Bob Sanguinetti said the seizure represented an escalation in tensions in the Persian Gulf and made it clear more protection for merchant vessels was urgently needed.

He claimed the action is “in violation of international regulations which protect ships and their crews as they go about their legitimate business in international waters.”

The British government should do “whatever is necessary” to ensure the safe and swift return of the ship’s crew, Sanguinetti said.

The incident came just two days after Washington claimed that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the Strait. Iran denied that it lost an aircraft in the area.

On June 20, Iran shot down an American drone in the same waterway, and Trump came close to retaliating but called off an airstrike at the last moment.

Tensions in the region have been growing since the Trump administration withdrew a year ago from Iran’s 2015 nuclear deal with world powers. After the withdrawal, the U.S. imposed harsh sanctions, including on Tehran’s oil trade, that have sent the Iranian economy into a tailspin.

Iran’s government has desperately tried to get out of the chokehold, appealing to the other partners in the deal, particularly Europe, to pressure the U.S. to lift the bruising sanctions. Europe wants to maintain the nuclear deal, but has not been able to address Iranian demands, particularly concerning the sale of oil, without violating U.S. sanctions.

On Friday, Iran and the United States emphatically disagreed over Washington’s claim that a U.S. warship downed an Iranian drone in the Strait of Hormuz. American officials said they used electronic jamming to bring down the unmanned aircraft, while Iran said it simply didn’t happen.

Neither side provided evidence to prove its claim.

At the White House, President Donald Trump said flatly of the Iranian drone: “We shot it down.” But Pentagon and other officials have said repeatedly that the USS Boxer, a Navy ship in the Strait of Hormuz, actually jammed the drone’s signal, causing it to crash, and did not fire a missile. The officials spoke on condition of anonymity to discuss sensitive technology.

Trump’s national security adviser, John Bolton, said, “There is no question this was an Iranian drone, and the USS Boxer took it out as the president announced yesterday because it posed a threat to the ship and its crew. It’s entirely the right thing to do.”

In Tehran, the Iranian military said all its drones had returned safely to their bases and denied there was any confrontation with the USS Boxer, an amphibious assault ship.

“We have not lost any drone in the Strait of Hormuz nor anywhere else,” tweeted Deputy Foreign Minister Abbas Araghchi.

Iran’s Revolutionary Guard on its website Friday said the drone recorded three hours of video of the USS Boxer and five other vessels Thursday beginning when the ships first entered the Strait of Hormuz. There was no immediate explanation as to how the video was evidence that no Iranian drone was destroyed.

The strategically vital Strait of Hormuz is at the mouth of the Persian Gulf and serves as the passageway for one-fifth of all global crude exports.

Trump on Thursday said the USS Boxer took action after the Iranian drone closed to within 1,000 yards of the warship and ignored commands to stay away. The president accused Iran of “provocative and hostile” action and said the U.S. acted in self-defense.

The Revolutionary Guard said its forces continue to monitor all movements by foreigners — especially “the terrorist forces” of the U.S. and the British in the Strait and the Gulf.

After Trump pulled the U.S. out of the Iran nuclear deal with world powers last year and imposed economic sanctions against Tehran, the Iranians have pushed back on the military front in recent weeks, with Washington accusing Tehran of threatening American forces and interests in the region.

Iran’s foreign minister, Mohammad Javad Zarif, suggested in New York as he arrived for a meeting at the United Nations that Iran could immediately ratify an agreement to allow broader checks of its nuclear facilities by U.N. inspectors if the U.S. dropped its sanctions.

China urged Washington to consider the offer, calling it “a positive signal that Iran is willing to seek a compromise solution.”

The Pentagon said Thursday’s incident happened in international waters while the Boxer was entering the Gulf. The Boxer is among several U.S. Navy ships in the area, including the USS Abraham Lincoln, an aircraft carrier that has been operating in the North Arabian Sea for weeks in response to rising tensions.

The Iranians and Americans have had close encounters in the Strait of Hormuz in the past, and it is not unprecedented for Iran to fly a drone near a U.S. warship.

Zarif blamed Washington for the escalation and accused the Trump administration of “trying to starve our people” and “deplete our treasury” through sanctions.


Jill Lawless in London and David Rising in Berlin contributed.

The post British Say Iran Seizes 2 Vessels in Strait of Hormuz appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

How a Revolutionary Genetic Discovery Is Changing What We Know About Anorexia

Mother Jones Magazine -

“Why won’t she eat more? Why won’t he eat more?”

Cynthia Bulik, a clinical psychologist, and founding director of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill’s Center of Excellence for Eating Disorders, says this is the question she hears repeatedly from parents of children with anorexia nervosa, an eating disorder which causes an intense fear of gaining weight or becoming fat, even when underweight. “And we’re saying it’s not that simple,” she adds. “It’s not just picking up the spoon and putting food in their mouth.”

It’s estimated that 30 million Americans have an eating disorder at some point in their lives, which includes anorexia, bulimia nervosa, and binge eating disorder. On Monday, the scientific journal Nature Genetics published a study exploring the genetics specifically of anorexia, by Bulik and a team of researchers from all over the world. Twin studies conducted over the last decade, in which identical or fraternal twins are subjects, have shown that eating disorders are heritable. But twin studies can’t reveal what precise genes are involved nor what they do. In recent years, Bulik explains, there’s been a “revolution in genetic technology,” allowing researchers to compare the entire genome of people with an illness to the entire genome of people without that illness.

That’s precisely what the new study did. It compared the genetics of nearly 17,000 people with anorexia to the genetics of over 55,000 people without anorexia, from 17 countries. The study identified regions on the genome, or loci, that differed significantly in people with anorexia versus people without the illness, which provides a major biological insight into the nature of the illness and its treatment. Bulik suggests that scientists will eventually be able to use novel medications that are “directed toward the underlying biology of the illness,” findings that she describes as “both a breakthrough and a first step.”

“Professor Cynthia Bulik and her colleagues’ work is truly ground-breaking,” said Jacinta Tan, Consultant Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist at Aneurin Bevan University Health Board in Wales. “That’s because it is a game changer in shifting our understanding of eating disorders.”

“It is a game changer in shifting our understanding of eating disorders.”

The results led the researchers to conclude that anorexia, which had previously been considered to be a psychiatric disorder with physical aspects, now should be rebranded as a “metabo-psychiatric disorder” to emphasize the illness’ metabolic component.They found positive genetic correlations with obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), depression, and anxiety. 

Often people with anorexia engage in intense physical activity and exercise. Previously, this was thought to be just another manifestation of the psychological desire to burn calories and lose more weight. “We know that patients with anorexia are often hyperactive, even at really low weights. They will be pacing around their hospital room,” Bulik explains. “We have always psychologized that.” But the study revealed a positive genetic correlation with physical activity, which means that people with anorexia are more likely than people without the illness to have the genetics for increased physical activity. There might, in fact, be a genetic reason for their high physical activity.

Physicians have “often blamed patients for being so active,” Bulik says, but she hopes the research will allow health professionals to look at behaviors associated with anorexia in a “less patient-blaming way.” Her goal? “We need to get into the medical school curricula and the curricula of all the health professionals to completely change how they think about this illness.”

When it comes to any illness, health care providers want to minimize the amount of time the patient spends suffering with the symptoms. For people with anorexia, however, the stakes are often higher: the body starts using itself for fuel when food intake is restricted. As people become more and more emaciated, they can experience issues with organ systems in the body. “The amount of physical damage increases astronomically the longer you have the illness,” Bulik told me.

That’s not even the full picture of complications from this illness though: anorexia nervosa has the highest mortality rate of any non-substance abuse psychiatric disorder. A previous study found lifetime prevalence of anorexia in the US was three times higher among females (0.9 percent) than males (0.3 percent). But nonetheless, an estimated 10 million American men will have an eating disorder at some point in their lives. Although recovery is always possible, the likelihood of someone recovering from anorexia decreases the longer the illness remains untreated.

Bulik prefers the word “crystallized” to describe the process of how anorexia becomes entrenched in a patient’s approach to life. “And whenever something is crystallized,” she says, “it’s harder to change than when it’s more fluid in the early stages.” Anorexia is a “perplexing illness” for both health care professionals and patients’ family and friends, for whom eating is just natural. And while people with other psychiatric disorders like depression might come to doctors and ask for help, people with anorexia are often reluctant to seek treatment because the rigorous control of food intake makes them feel better in the short term. 

The new findings about the biological underpinnings of anorexia further bolster the point she shares with people in recovery. Bulik tells people recovering from anorexia that this is “an uphill battle against your biology, but it’s one you have to fight.” She adds, “Because the alternative, unfortunately, is death.”

Trump’s Latest Ilhan Omar Smear Shows How Unfounded Right-Wing Claims Go Mainstream

Mother Jones Magazine -

On Wednesday, President Trump gave credence to a smear against Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.) when he told reporters that there was “a lot of talk about the fact that she was married to her brother,” and that he was “sure that somebody will be looking at that.”

It was almost only a matter of time before the smear, an unfounded accusation which started in fringe corners of the internet, earned the ultimate far-right cosign of being mentioned by Trump. The rumor appears to have started three years ago, but begun catching more serious online attention in recent months as Omar came under increasing right-wing attacks. According to an analysis of tweets by Zach Verdin, a partner at the pro-democracy independent research collective Guardians.ai, messages including the words “Ilhan Omar,” “brother,” and “marriage” had significant spikes in the spring. On April 16, after an article purporting to substantiate the claim was circulated by OANN host Jack Posobiec, it was mentioned in 7,880 tweets. 

Conservative outlets with a track record of spreading misinformation published stories relaying the smear.

In the run-up to that peak, smaller spikes correlated with right-wing media sites publishing stories on the smear, illustrating how the conservative media eco-system can boost unfounded accusations and conspiracies into the mainstream.

Last summer, on August 8, 2018, Alpha News and PJ Media published a story about the smear. Days later, a right-wing troll and former Project Veritas staffer crashed a campaign event supporting Omar before her election to Congress, accosting people there over the candidate’s supposed marriage to her brother. One of the first such Twitter spikes came shortly after that incident, when, on August 13, 2018, there were 242 posts mentioning the smear. That same day, conservative outlets with a track record of spreading misinformation, including PJ Media again, published stories relaying the claim.

The next spike of over 2,250 tweets came on October 29 when a PJ Media story from August claiming to present school records substantiating the theory recirculated on Twitter. PJ Media followed up the next day by publishing a new story. And again, on October 27, Alpha News published another story pushing the smear. Another spike came on Feb. 14, after Posobiec tweeted about the claim, garnering over 2,000 retweets.

On June 23, Minnesota’s largest newspaper, the Minneapolis StarTribune, examined the accusation in a long article that detailed Omar’s marriages to two men, her dismissals of the claim one was her brother, and incidents where she or her campaign declined to provide reporters information or arrange interviews that could help verify her story. While the article’s lede sentence boasted that “New investigative documents released by a state agency have given fresh life to lingering questions about the marital history of Rep. Ilhan Omar,” those documents, related to a state inquiry into whether Omar’s campaign violated spending rules by hiring an accountant to resolve tax issues related to her marriages, offered nothing to support the claim she had married her brother. The article noted that the newspaper’s broader review of public records “could neither conclusively confirm nor rebut the allegation” that a man Omar had once been married to was her sibling. Following the article’s publication, the accusation that Omar had married her brother was mentioned 2,800 times on Twitter, partially with the help of right-wing media consultant Caleb Hull who boosted the story.

A jumping-off point for most of the Omar marriage claims appears to have been an August 13, 2016 post by Alpha News, a hyper-partisan Minnesota-based website that, according to the Star Tribune, has connections to the state’s Republican and tea-party groups. The story was pointed out to Mother Jones by Ben Decker, who runs the media and tech investigations consultancy Memetica.

Right-wing actors have spread extremely flimsy information, forming a wall of conservative media protecting the rumor from serious interrogation.

The Daily Beast reported that it had found a slightly earlier instance of the claim being pushed from an anonymous account with a history of false posts on Somali Spot, an immigrant diaspora forum. The poster, “AbdiJohnson” wrote a now-deleted thread from August 2016 titled “ILHAN OMAR MARRIAGE FRAUD EXPOSURE.” Despite lacking any evidence, Powerline, a popular right-wing blog based in Minnesota, picked up the claim and cited Somali Spot on August 12, 2016, according to an article examining the rumor published by Snopes in February.

As highly-partial, right-wing actors have spread extremely flimsy information purporting to back up the claim, they’ve formed a wall of conservative media, that, within its borders, has protected the rumor from serious interrogation. All of this came to a head this week when Rush Limbaugh, who Trump is a professed fan of, said on Monday that Omar “married her brother illegally,” according to the Daily Beast. On Wednesday a reporter from the far-right outlet OANN asked Trump about the claim at a gaggle outside of the White House. His response provided an endorsement, and completed the smear’s ascension from an anonymous post on an obscure message board into a mainstream conspiracy theory with the backing of the President of the United States.

To Decker, who formerly researched internet extremism and misinformation at Harvard’s Shorenstein Center, the Omar smear is just the latest and most successful unsubstantiated claim or hoax to travel a well-established trail from the fringe right to the mainstream.

“We know that the hyper-partisan media pipeline has a tendency to bump around claims from 4chan and Twitter,” Decker said. Hyper-partisan media was pivotal in helping spread earlier hoaxes that became mainstream, like the notion that liberal financier George Soros funded last fall’s migrant caravan, or that the recent series of bombing threats targeting top liberal figures were a false flag.

Decker says that right-wing sites don’t play by the same rules as mainstream outlets, operating with a completely different regard for what is and isn’t factual: For right-wing hyperpartisan outlets, things don’t have to exist to be reported. There only has to be the question of their existence, he says.

“It offers a lot of space to push out a lot of partisan theories. You can ask them as a question. ‘Did Ilhan Omar marry her brother?’ without the standard of having to prove that she did,” Decker said. “It purports itself as a noble truth-finding thing, but it’s actually a veil around Islamophobia and other bigotry.”

Tech Reporter’s Breaking Stories May Have Cost Him His Job

Fairness & Accuracy In Reporting -

by Olivia Riggio

Three years after tech reporter Christopher Calnan was terminated from the Austin Business Journal, he received threats from its parent company for the same reason he was hired and praised for in the first place: his ability to cover breaking news about the powerful Austin-based Dell Technologies Inc.

“They recruited me because they were having a hard time getting any real, breaking news at all,” Calnan said. “Even in the interview, they asked me if I could break anything on the company, because Dell was the big company in Austin.”

Calnan had worked for the American City Business Journals (ACBJ)—a company that runs 43 local business news outlets across the country—for 11 years, and was recruited to the Austin Business Journal (ABJ) after three years of covering technology at ACBJ’s Boston-based Mass High-Tech.

ACBJ is owned by Advance Publications, Inc., perhaps best known as the parent company of Conde Nast, which owns 18 publications, including the New Yorker, Wired and Vogue. Advance is also the majority shareholder of the social media/news aggregator site Reddit. Advance was founded by the Newhouse family, which funds the S.I. Newhouse School of Communications at Syracuse University, one of the most renowned journalism schools in the country.

Michael Dell (cc photo: Hartmann Studios/Oracle)

Calnan’s issues with Advance and Dell began in 2015, when he wrote an article for ABJ about Dell CEO Michael Dell accepting an award from the environmental group Keep America Beautiful. The article pointed out that Dell had paid $75,000 to sponsor tables at the luncheon where he was presented with the award.

Calnan said during his reporting process, he reached out to Dell for comment and received no objections to the story. But after leaving the office on vacation, Calnan returned to find the story removed from ABJ’s site. He was asked to delete the accompanying tweets.

“When I came back into the office, my publisher told me Michael Dell personally called our corporate office, and two weeks after I was called in for a surprise performance review and I was told that my job was in jeopardy,” Calnan said.

Calnan said he believes the performance review served to cover up the true reason behind his ultimate termination: corporate censorship by ABJ for fear of Dell’s wrath.

“It was all handled behind closed doors, and they tried to cover it with the annual review,” Calnan said. “I hadn’t had an annual review in over three years.”

In fact, prior to this incident, Calnan had received glowing reviews from his higher-ups and the business news community. In 2010, he was awarded ACBJ’s Eagle Award for Excellence for 2009, recognized his reporting prowess and work ethic. In a 2012 performance review, he was described as “one of the most professional reporters we know,” whose ethics were “above reproach.”

But In 2016, Calnan said, Dell denied him press access to the company’s annual conference, DellWorld, with a spokesperson even telling his editors that they would allow anyone else from ABJ.

“They wouldn’t give me press credentials to DellWorld, and my editors didn’t even object to that,” Calnan said.

Calnan’s job was terminated that same year, after he wrote an article about Dell planning to move the 2017 conference from Austin to Las Vegas, and highlighted that the move would cost the Texas city millions in annual revenue.

Upon termination, Calnan was offered an $8,500 nondisclosure agreement, which he refused. He moved back to Boston and later published articles on his website, ChristopherCalnan.com, continuing to write about Dell’s censorship tactics and his own experience with them.

Paul Sweeney, an Austin-based tech reporter of 30 years, spent months researching and reporting on Calnan’s story and Dell’s censorship tactics for the Texas Observer. Two years later, the article’s draft remains unpublished.

“The editor at the Texas Observer didn’t feel it was strong enough,” Sweeney said.

From what I recall, it was that it was too circumstantial.… I stand by the story. Everything I wrote about was documented, or I talked to people. There’s no question on the information. …  Maybe he wanted more of a smoking gun than I gave him, but the theme of the story is this is what happens to a good reporter, this is the way they do it.… The story isn’t that Michael Dell showed up in the office and walked up and pointed at him and said, “Off with his head.” … It’s very subtle. There are phone calls made, there’s a paper trail created…a period of ostracization.

However, since Sweeney’s story, Advance has taken even more steps against Calnan. This past March, Calnan received a letter from Advance’s attorney, threatening legal action on two claims that Calnan and his attorney easily refuted.

The first was an allegation that Calnan was illegally accessing one of ABJ’s Twitter accounts to post his own content. “Please be advised that any future attempt by you to improperly use an ACBJ social media account may result in ACBJ pursuing all available legal remedies against you, including the civil and criminal remedies available under the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act,” the lawyers wrote.

However, the account in question, @ABJTech, was formerly Calnan’s, @abjcanlan. After his termination, the company took over the account and changed the name. The articles that were shared on @ABJTech were posted via bit.ly, because Calnan’s usurped Twitter account and bit.ly accounts were linked.

The second claim was that Calnan was infringing on copyright by creating a website called Business Journal Network with the domain name, austinbizjournal.com, names confusingly similar to that of American City Business Journals. One article he had posted on his own website allegedly appeared on the site, but Calnan said he had never heard of it, and still said he has not visited the page. The site with the domain name austinbizjournal.com no longer exists.

When Calnan and his attorney responded to Advance refuting their claims, they did not receive a reply.

Neither Advance nor ABJ responded to FAIRs requests for comment.

Steve Gilmore, a member of Dell’s global communications team responded to FAIR via email: “Our only comment on this matter is that any suggestion of Dell involvement in ABJ’s HR matters, at any level, is simply baseless.”

However, as Sweeney said, Michael Dell need not walk into newsrooms and demand reporters be fired to have an effect on personnel matters. Calnan said he had heard his pieces sparked Dell to threaten legal action.

“One of my editors told me that the company threatened them with a lawsuit,”  Calnan said.

But why would a subsidiary of Advance, a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, fear a libel suit for stories based in fact about a public figure who would need an extremely high burden of proof to win? Calnan said he was never able to find out, but that he knows Dell is a big advertiser for many outlets.

In Austin, Dell has just about as much influence as money can buy. Michael Dell is worth $35 billion, and his philanthropy has placed his name on the Dell Children’s Medical Center, Dell Seton Medical Center, Dell Diamond baseball field, Dell Medical School at the University of Texas, Michael and Susan Dell Hall and more.

So when it comes to unfavorable press, Sweeney said, “He just has the ability, apparently, to call the top executives and put out any kind of brush fire.”

Post-Calnan coverage of Dell in the Austin Business Journal (7/19/17)

Sweeney also said tech outlets like ABJ often work as mouthpieces for powerful companies, rather than upholding the journalistic ethic of being critical of power.

“Something like these business journals are designed to be the booster press,” Sweeney said.

After Calnan left ABJ, the company certainly made efforts to boost Dell. Calnan’s successor, Mike Cronin, penned an article (7/19/17) about Dell’s clever product placement in the Spider-Man: Homecoming film.

“It was uncritical,” Sweeney said.

Sweeney told FAIR corporate headquarters are gaining more power over what content outlets publish.

“I want readers to realize that their news is being sanitized,” Calnan said. “It’s being company-approved.”

Featured image: Christopher Calnan

Tom Steyer Wants You to Want Him to Be President

Mother Jones Magazine -

Tom Steyer—hedge fund billionaire, Democratic megadonor, and newly self-proclaimed presidential candidate—is prepared for the question. He’s only 10 days into his campaign, but he knows to expect it. Often, it’s the first question; sometimes it’s a single word.


In January, Steyer said he wasn’t running, but now he is, and so are 20-plus other Democrats. There’s the one focused on climate change, which has been Steyer’s key issue for years; there are a few populists; there are plenty of older white men like Steyer. He could spend the $100 million he has banked for his presidential run on or US Senate races or efforts to prevent President Donald Trump’s reelection in 2020, but, instead, he is using his money for this.

On Wednesday night in San Francisco’s Mission District, he made his hometown debut. “Well, the reason that I’m running is because we have a broken government,” Steyer said to reporters gathered for his event at Manny’s, a restaurant-meets-political-bookstore-meets-civic-space in the Mission District. “Corporate money has bought the democracy. The only solution to that is going to be pushing power back to the people.” He answered a few questions from the attending press, and made his way to a small stage and settling into a chair.

When he was pressed once more about the reason for his candidacy by the moderator, Steyer swiveled in his chair, and he repeated his talking points on the growing threat of climate change, a need to push corporations out of politics, and a lack of willingness among current Democratic candidates to take on Trump directly. “I don’t see anyone else who sees that it’s a very simple fight,” he says of the other candidates.

Well, there is Gov. Jay Inslee, the “climate candidate” who is polling at about 1 percent. When rumors of Steyer’s intention to run began circulating it was connected to unhappiness with those numbers.

Steyer presents himself as a pragmatic fighter—an Inslee who can win.

Which still leaves the issue at hand. “Why am I doing it? Because we have got to take these people on directly,” he continued. “And I believe it’s going to take somebody from the outside who’s been doing it, who’s willing to take them on and can succeed in doing it. And that’s the question—not, ‘what do we want to do?’ but, ‘how are we going to get anything done?'”

But “how?” was not the question that kept rising to the surface in the cafe. It remained, throughout the night, in different forms and in subtle ways, the same: Why is Steyer thrusting himself into the spotlight, rather than simply continuing on as a prominent philanthropist?

Steyer’s biography makes him a bit of a hard sell. He lives in San Francisco’s Sea Cliff neighborhood, where houses are valued at more than $10 million for their views of the Golden Gate Bridge and proximity to China Beach. He studied at Exeter, then Yale, then Stanford, which propelled him to Morgan Stanley, then Goldman Sachs and, finally, a hedge fund of his very own, named Farallon Capital in homage to the islands near the San Francisco coastline that are famous for the sharks that surround them. In 2012, he sold his stake, convinced to put his money toward environmental causes after a hike with writer Bill McKibben. Forbes currently values Steyer at a net worth of $1.6 billion.

Steyer has tried to use his wealth as a talking point. “Everybody always describes me as being rich,” he said wryly. “That isn’t how I see myself. But I can tell you this—the one thing it does give me is the right to say that nobody owns me.” A voiceover in his introductory ad notes his worth in dollars, but only to point out that he’s giving half of the wealth away to “good causes.”

It’s true. I’m running for president. pic.twitter.com/u8x2lZah7Z

— Tom Steyer (@TomSteyer) July 9, 2019

The other half, it seems, is going to politics—causes that happen to bear his name: He’s already reportedly spent $50 million on Need to Impeach, a group he founded that aims to pressure Congressional Democrats to mount a serious impeachment effort. In 2018, NextGen, his cluster of groups trumpeting (mainly) environmental action, received more than $57 million of Steyer’s fortune; and he plans to allocate $100 million to his 2020 campaign bid. (On day one, he dropped a little over a million for an ad.)

That investment may pay off. He has a trove of emails he can put to use because his two groups have vacuumed up information from potential voters, volunteers, and funders. Need to Impeach, as we’ve reported, said it has contact information for 8.2 million people.

He calls this a “grassroots movement.” In the New York Times, Jamelle Bouie saw it differently: “Steyer has no constituency other than himself. He just has money.”

As such, it was hard to find an out-and-out Steyer voter at the event.

A few were campaign staffers and couldn’t talk. One woman told me she was more of a family friend. There were several undecided voters who were curious about his message, but they admitted to being drawn more to candidates like Kamala Harris and Pete Buttigieg. Both were worried about the run complicating his contributions to other Democratic causes. (In 2016, Steyer donated about $100 million in total to candidates, according to Vox.) “He needs to keep that up,” said Jack Haas, 77. “I just wonder does he have the energy and the resources to run for president and do all these other things that are essential?” Tricia Carlin asked. A man next to me, who cheered loudly throughout, I assumed to be an ardent fan, but he just wanted Steyer’s financial support for an app about climate change he was working on.

One can imagine a certain strain when others constantly want your resources but not you.

Steyer has spent years giving. Even before philanthropy, as a hedge-fund manager, that was the job. Steyer’s made a career of seeing worth in others: in their campaigns, in their ideas, in their businesses. As an organizer with more than 10 years of experience, he says, he’s even seen the worth in just people. Now, he wants you to see worth in him. Steyer knows value; he sees it in himself. Don’t you?

For more than an hour, he tried to convince those gathered in the increasingly stuffy coffeehouse. The tables were turned; he was selling, not buying. And yet, in the end, there was the question again. One woman said she appreciated Steyer’s work as a philanthropist for Democratic causes and advocating on climate change. But, still, “why do you think being the President itself would be something that you would be better at?”

“Look,” Steyer began—again. “The reason that I couldn’t stay out of this, [was] because I felt like we really are at a turning point, and this actually is the time for us to change the narrative.

“What we need now is a different narrative about who we are, and what we’re trying to create, and how we’re going to do it. And that is actually the point here. It’s not about this policy nuance or that policy nuance,” he said. “If you look at this society there’s a lot of talk about policy, and there’s a lot of talk about money. You’d think that everything in this society was about money and services. But, really, people have to have a reason to get up in the morning. And an understanding of why their lives make sense. … So when I’m asked about what I’m doing—that’s the point. How are we going to recreate the idea that we have meaning in our lives?”

Steyer wants to run and find meaning again—it’s not about the policy, it’s not about the nuance, it’s not about the money—it is, for him, quite possibly about creating a new reason to get out of bed in the morning.

The Summer Vibes on MAX’s Newest Track Will Have You Wishing This Season Never Ends

Mother Jones Magazine -

This week: “Acid Dreams” by MAX & Felly (Colour Vision Records, 2019)

Why we’re into it: MAX’s sound has always been upbeat, but “Acid Dreams” finally puts that energy into a track that’s both for the dance floor and a picnic in the park.

MAX’s music is defined by its smoothness. Maybe it’s his vocals—which occupy the range known as the mid- to low-Bruno Marses—or maybe it’s his dedication to incorporating leisurely beats that never make you feel overwhelmed. Whatever it is, MAX has never deviated from it.

The Woodstock-raised Max Schneider first pinged the radar with features on “Did You Wrong” and “Savage“—which were more heavy electronic tracks. His voice added a new dimension to these tracks; it didn’t sound like some post-production add-on. It stood on its own against more hardcore electronic sounds. Then Schneider dropped out rotation and out of mind.

And then came “Worship”—still one of his best tracks to date. Schneider had found his range and his sound. 

His predecessor to “Acid Dreams,” the Quinn XCII collaboration “Love Me Less,” was a keyboard-filled track about the fear that often comes with being honest about your past to a loved one. But MAX got lost in the song, the background often overpowering the vocals that make his serenading voice so magnetic—which was odd, seeing as how he’s held his own in the past.

“Acid Dreams” reclaims that serenading high range MAX explores so wonderfully. As soon as the song kicks off, there are these subtle moments of vocalization in which he almost hums the title of the song before launching into the first verse. “Deja vu like we done this once/It’s crazy, yeah,” he articulates, sounding carefree. And when the chorus hits, that’s where Schneider finds himself. The trumpets in the back give the song that danceable tone, and there’s an in-and-out beat that give the proceedings a summer-in-the-park vibe.

Groovy and intimate, “Acid Dreams” is MAX at his best: carefree and sexy—the kind of summer vibes we all could use a little more of.

Prostitution Rumors or Porn Star Payoffs: What Was Hope Hicks Really Talking About?

Mother Jones Magazine -

Was a 2016 phone call about paying off a porn star, or was it about a rumor that Donald Trump had been videotaped with prostitutes? That’s the surprising distinction that may determine whether Hope Hicks, President Donald Trump’s former communications director, lied to the House Judiciary Committee last month. (The infamous rumored tape, of course, has never been shown to exist.)

Hicks took part in an October 8, 2016, phone call with Trump and his former personal lawyer. Michael Cohen. The call, which occurred the day after the release of the infamous “Access Hollywood tape,” came amid a flurry of communications by Cohen that led to his $130,000 payment to pornographic actress Stephanie Clifford, known as Stormy Daniels. As part of a recently unsealed 2018 application for a warrant to search Cohen’s apartment, hotel room, office, and cell phones, an FBI agent implied that the call may have been among the communications by Cohen that “concerned the need to prevent Clifford from going public” before election day with her claim that she’d had sex with Trump in 2006.

That is a problem for Hicks, who testified before the committee on June 19 that she “wasn’t aware of a hush money payment agreement” with Daniels. Hicks also testified that she lacked “any direct knowledge” of whether Trump knew that Cohen paid off the “Camp Cuddly Pines Powertool Massacre” star. In addition, Hicks said that she was “never present” for any conversation between Trump and Cohen about Daniels.

The unsealed affidavit does not flatly assert that the Hicks was part of a discussion about paying off Daniels. But it supported that possibility. On Thursday night, Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) wrote to Hicks and her attorney, Robert Trout, asking her to clarify apparent inconsistencies in her testimony “in very short order—but not later than August 15, 2019.” Nadler said that unsealed material “raises substantial questions about the accuracy” of several of Hicks’ claims.

In a statement Friday, Trout said that Hicks’ testimony was accurate. “Reports claiming that Ms. Hicks was involved in conversations about ‘hush money’ payments on October 8, 2016, or knew that payments were being discussed, are simply wrong,” Trout said. “Ms. Hicks stands by her truthful testimony that she first became aware of this issue in early November 2016, as the result of press inquiries, and she will be responding formally to Chairman Nadler’s letter as requested.”

Hicks previously offered more detail on the October 8 call with Trump and Cohen. During her June testimony, she said the call was about rumors she’d heard about “a tape involving Mr. Trump in Moscow with, you know—can I say this?…with Russian hookers, participating in some lewd activities.” Hicks explained that she “wanted to make sure that I stayed on top of it before it developed any further, to try to contain it from spiraling out of control.” She said she had heard that the gossip site TMZ might have “access to this tape,” and she knew Cohen was friendly with TMZ founder Harvey Levin.

Pause there. On the day after the release of audio in which Trump bragged that he could get away with grabbing women “by the the pussy,” he joined his lawyer and his spokesperson in a conversation that the FBI thought might be about secretly paying off a porn star who says she had sex with Trump while Trump’s wife was pregnant. But Hicks says the call was actually about claims that the Kremlin had caught Trump on video engaging in lewd activities with prostitutes. No evidence has ever emerged of the existence of the infamous “pee tape,” or even of a tape featuring more conventional interactions between Trump and prostitutes. Trump has long denied it exists. Still, it’s striking that the possible topics of this call are porn star or pee tape. No one’s claiming that the conversation was about tax policy.

Cohen, in February testimony before the House Oversight Committee, also referenced a call with Hicks that he said took place shortly after the Access Hollywood tape was revealed. He said that the conversation related to how to respond to press inquiries about the Access Hollywood audio. (That’s not wholly consistent with either the suggestion in FBI affidavit or Hicks’ description.) Cohen also said the call occurred on October 7, not the following day. But the FBI affidavit says phone records show the October 8 call was the first that “Cohen had received or made to Hicks in at least multiple weeks.” This suggests Cohen may have been referring to the same call with Trump and Hicks that is at issue, but that he got the date wrong.

Asked if Cohen’s call with Trump and Hicks related to paying off Daniels or, as Hicks claims, to a rumored tape supposedly showing Trump with Russian prostitutes, Cohen’s lawyer, Lanny Davis, responded unequivocally: “It was about hush money payments. She is lying.”

Davis indicated he based this statement on the warrant application unsealed Thursday. He did not say if he had checked with Cohen, who is serving a three-year prison sentence after pleading guilty to bank fraud, perjury, and campaign finance violations related to the Daniels’ payment. 

Hillary Clinton Wins Fight for $12 Minimum Wage

Mother Jones Magazine -

I don’t want to be a killjoy—

Oh hell, I love being a killjoy. In this case, I’d like to point out that the House bill to raise the minimum wage to $15 is a victory for . . .  Hillary Clinton. You see, the bill raises the minimum wage to $15 only in 2025. If you figure annual inflation of about 2.5 percent, this is equivalent to $12 in 2016. That’s the number Clinton was pushing for.

Congratulations, Hillary! It turns out you were pretty successful at fighting Bernie’s effort to push the party to the left. See also: healthcare, national.

Trump’s Assault on Somali Refugees Goes Way Beyond Just Ilhan Omar

Mother Jones Magazine -

During President Donald Trump’s campaign rally in Greenville, North Carolina, on Wednesday, the crowd chanted, “Send her back! Send her back!” in response to his criticism of Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-Minn.). Trump stood back and listened for more than 10 seconds before continuing, although now he insists that he rejects the racist sentiment of the crowd. 

The president’s tweets and comments about Omar speak to more than racism in language; they also reflect the explicit racism of his administration’s overall refugee policy. “The share of admitted refugees who are Muslim has dropped from 48 percent at the end of the Obama administration to 11 percent in recent months,” wrote Mother Jones‘ Noah Lanard in 2018. And this policy has especially affected refugees from Somalia, among the poorest and most desperate countries in Africa. Millions of Somalis have fled a civil war, which ensued after the overthrow of the dictator, Siad Barre in 1991. Others have tried to escape the drought, food shortages, and violence resulting from political instability. As of January 2018, over 870,000 Somalis were registered as refugees in the Horn of Africa and Yemen, while an estimated 2.1 million were displaced within the country itself.

Following Wednesday’s rally, Mother Jones‘ Jeremy Schulman wrote:

It was an appalling moment, but not a particularly surprising one. From the beginning, Trump has made it clear that he doesn’t want people like Omar in the country. On the campaign trail in 2015, he called for a “total and complete shutdown of Muslims entering the United States.” Days before the election, he flew to Omar’s home city of Minneapolis and criticized the “large numbers of Somali refugees coming into your state.” Once in office, Trump issued a travel ban barring visas for people from Somalia.

According to data from the State Department’s Refugee Processing Center, Somali refugee arrivals under Trump have plummeted. In 2016, under President Obama, 10,786 Somali refugees arrived in the United States. Trump took office in 2017, and the number dropped to 2,770, followed by only 139 Somali refugee arrivals in 2018, and 141 thus far in 2019. 

“Despite Somalia having one of the largest refugee crises in the world and despite there being a really large number of Somali refugees who still depend on the US for resettlement,” said Noah Gottschalk of the International Rescue Committee, “we’ve seen a really sharp reduction in resettlement numbers of Somalis to the US as a direct result of this administration’s policies.”

What that means, he says, is that thousands of Somali refugees, many of whom have been displaced for years and cannot return to Somalia safely, have been “left out in the cold and cut off from from this really important last resort option of being able to find safety in the US.”

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On Thursday, Politico reported that Trump officials are trying to cut refugee admissions down to zero next year. According to Gottschalk, Somalia is one of the main countries of origin for refugees globally. During the Bush and Obama administrations significant numbers of Somali refugees were admitted, so the precipitous decline, Gottschalk notes, shows that “what the Trump administration is doing is really an anomaly.”

“There are still many people who really had pinned their last hopes for safety and security on resettlement to the US,” he continued, “who’ve just had the door slammed on them by this administration.”

The History Behind the Supreme Court Showdown Over Tribal Land Is Bloody and Violent. For Rebecca Nagle, It’s Also Personal.

Mother Jones Magazine -

“The Supreme Court case no one is talking about” began with a murder. It could end with 43 percent of Oklahoma’s land being returned to tribal governments. In a way Carpenter v. Murphy encapsulates the larger history of Native dispossession—a story of bloody violence dissolving into lawsuits and hearings. The great accomplishment of This Land, the podcast about the case hosted by charismatic Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle, is that it never loses sight of the human lives at stake in the dry legalese of today’s tribal relations. 

In 1999, Muscogee Creek citizen Patrick Murphy killed his girlfriend’s ex-husband and cut off his genitals. He was sentenced to death by the state of Oklahoma. His lawyers argued that the state didn’t have jurisdiction to prosecute the crime, because it took place on his tribe’s reservation. But does that reservation actually exist? That’s the question at the heart of Carpenter v. Murphy, which the Supreme Court punted on this past term and will rehear in the fall.

The Muscogee Creek were given 3 million acres in 1866, but the state of Oklahoma gradually ceased to recognize the tribe’s sovereignty over that land. If the Supreme Court concurs with an appeals court’s ruling that the reservation was never formally abolished, then the same might be true for the reservations of the Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole. As much as 19 million acres could be returned to the “Five Tribes” who were forced West on the Trail of Tears.

Nagle knows this history intimately. Her great-great-great-grandfather, John Ridge, signed the 1835 treaty that removed her tribe to Oklahoma, a decision for which he and his father were later assassinated, and which remains controversial within Cherokee Nation. “Their sacrifice is part of why I personally care so much about this case,” Nagle tells Mother Jones. “Part of the land that is at stake is land that [my ancestors] gave their lives for. So Cherokee Nation would never be without a land base, and never be without a sovereign government.”

Nagle recently got on the phone with me to talk about This Land, which is produced by Crooked Media with a bevy of Native collaborators. We talked about the case, the postponement, and the role of “invisibility” in the ongoing subjugation of Natives by seemingly nonviolent means. 

There’s a part in the podcast where you say, “You’re used to hearing how tribes lost land to arrows and guns. I’m going to tell you how my tribe lost land to bureaucracy and corruption. And in some ways, it’s even more infuriating.” How does that tie into this case? 

Basically, the way the law works is that for a reservation to no longer exist, Congress can just say, “We hereby declare this piece of land no longer belongs to the people that we said it belongs to.” The question [with the Muscogee Creek nation] is, did Congress ever do that? And they did do a lot of things like that. They said, “You guys can no longer have your court systems, you can no longer operate your own schools, your tribal government can only meet to discuss allotment—basically this system of dividing up your land that we’re literally forcing on you.” But they never terminated or abolished the reservation. 

Allotment was a system created to take our land away from us. It was supposed to help individual Indians accumulate personal wealth, but really, it divided up our land and made our citizens more vulnerable to white theft. There was an entire industry that arose in Oklahoma around stealing Indian lands. Indians could be appointed a white guardian, and then that white guardian had control of their land. Even orphans were appointed guardians, and people preyed on Indian orphans. Between 1877 and 1934, tribes lost two-thirds of our land, 90 million acres, to allotment. It literally redrew the map of the United States.

I think about what happened to my tribe after the Trail of Tears, which was tragic. But we also recovered from it, because we had a land base here in Oklahoma. We very immediately re-established our schools, our court systems, [and] our self-governance. It wasn’t without a huge amount of loss, but we continued to have those things. What’s hard about allotment is that it has never stopped. The small handful of families that still have restricted land, if they ever sell that land, or a relative dies and they don’t probate it correctly, that stops being Indian land. So we’re still losing jurisdiction over that land, we’re still losing sovereignty. And I think some in some ways we’ve never recovered. Since allotment, Cherokee hasn’t been taught in schools, and now we’re in a place where our language is endangered.

You’ve written that “invisibility is the modern form of racism against Natives.” Does the changing nature of land dispossession reflect that?

It has a huge impact on our rights, that whenever these issues are up in front of the Supreme Court or Congress, they’re not usually discussed outside of Indian Country. It’s really easy for lawmakers to not do the right thing, when there’s no public pressure and no public accountability. Oftentimes our cases and our treaty rights are being heard in courts. The general public doesn’t understand the very, very basics of tribal sovereignty, but it’s at every level. A lot of judges don’t know a lot about federal Indian law. Or even people in Congress. We have a lot of people who are making the decisions that directly and deeply impact our lives, who don’t really understand a lot of the basics about how the law works.

What always happens when we talk about tribal sovereignty is this specter of fear—tribes being kind of backward, being inferior. Like if we have more power in the state of Oklahoma, it would just be really detrimental to the people who live here and would tear the state in two. [But] the Five Tribes that we’re talking about actually have a lot of resources, in a state that’s pretty cash-strapped. Our tribes are actually filling in the gaps, for where the state can’t keep a hospital open, can’t provide public services. Our police are cross-deputized, and are helping patrol and promote public safety in rural areas. So to say that it would be bad for [the jurisdiction] to switch is really unfair, when you look at what’s happening on the ground.

Can you say more about what sovereignty looks like for the Five Tribes today?

We are still here. We still have our communities, we still acknowledge our reservations. We still have our language, we still have our ceremonial grounds, we’re still practicing our culture. Yet we are struggling to maintain the health of our water, and the health of our environment.

You can think of sovereignty sort of as a box. We used to not be in a box. We used to have this whole continent, but now we have this little box, a place where we can keep our citizens safe, where we can practice our culture, where we can promote our language, where we get to self-govern. And then what happens, over and over again, is either that box gets smaller, or the United States says, “You know what, we gave you that box, but now we changed our mind, and you don’t even get that box.” When we don’t have that kind of protective barrier, it’s harder for us to maintain our way of life. Sovereignty, I think, is synonymous with self-determination. That’s us being able to govern ourselves, on our own terms, on our own land.

Oklahoma public schools still do these “land rushes,” where the kids literally dress up as settlers with little wagons and stake out their claim of the land to re-enact the Oklahoma Land Rush. The violence with which Indian land was taken was how Oklahoma became a state. And that history’s still being celebrated. Look at the musical, Oklahoma!—what’s happening at that moment is that Indians are being dispossessed of our land.

Oklahoma was “Indian Territory” for a long time. We were removed from our homeland and put in Oklahoma. Then eventually, people wanted that land, too. It happens with treaty rights all the time, like with DAPL [the Dakota Access Pipeline]. The small slivers of sovereignty that they left for us, they don’t even respect that.

In a rare move, the Supreme Court recently deferred ruling on Carpenter v. Murphy and will hear it again this fall. What does that postponement mean for the case?

What makes me hopeful about the postponement is that I think it’s more time to explain and to debunk the myths that Oklahoma brought up in oral arguments–more time to educate the justices about, what does it really mean if [they] affirm the reservations? What does that mean for business regulations? The legal question that the case presents is pretty black and white: Did Congress ever disestablish this reservation? The 10th Circuit Court was very clear that Congress never did that. They wrote a very lengthy, thorough decision. So this is the decision the Supreme Court has to make: Are they going to follow the letter of the law? Or are they going to bend it to appease non-Native interests?

The final episode of This Land will be released Monday through Crooked Media.

Why Can’t the Media Admit the Democratic Party Has a Right Wing?

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The 2020 presidential candidacy race is in full (absurdly early) swing, and there is a clear and obvious internal battle currently raging for the soul of the Democratic Party. One faction is attempting to pull the party in a more populist, social-democratic direction, while another favors maintaining a neoliberal, pro-business course.

We all know the most prominent members of the first group: The likes of presidential hopeful Bernie Sanders and freshmen representatives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Ilhan Omar, Rashida Tlaib and Ayanna Pressley are constantly referred to (accurately) as representing the left of the party (e.g., New York Post7/9/19New York Times4/10/19New Yorker6/18/19), but also as a cabal of “extremist” (Atlantic4/3/19The Hill6/17/19), “far-left” revolutionaries (CNN7/7/19CNBC7/5/19)  who have “contempt” for Americans (Fox News7/11/19). Given the broad overlap of their political positions with those of the public at large (FAIR.org1/23/19), those labels, popular as they are in the media, are pretty dubious.

But if there is a left wing of the party, there must, logically, be a right. And it is equally obvious to those paying attention who represents that right wing: figures like Nancy Pelosi, Joe Biden and Amy Klobuchar come to mind.

The media do report on the split, but they never identify the latter as representing the right at all. In fact, the phrase “right-wing Democrat” has not appeared in the New York Times for over 30 years.

Last week, the Boston Herald(7/11/19) decried Ocasio-Cortez, Tlaib and Omar as far-left “bullies” who were undermining Pelosi, and “sowing division” at a time when the party “needs to project a unified—and more centrist—front to retain its majority and knock Donald Trump from office.” The piece did not, however, scrutinize Pelosi’s political positions—or even identify them at all.

This is a common occurrence in media, and has the effect of normalizing the right wing of the party as the default. Constantly reminders that Sanders, Ocasio-Cortez and co. are leftists  prime the news consumer to be on the defensive. “You are about to hear socialist propaganda,” is the subtle message delivered. But an analogous message is not transmitted if others are not identified as on the right. Understanding the power of this technique, in 2015, nearly 90,000 Britons signed a petition asking the BBC, in the interests of even-handedness, to start describing Prime Minister David Cameron as “right-wing,” just as it constantly called Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn “left-wing.”

On the US struggle, Buzzfeed News (7/10/19) reports Pelosi has been “publicly feuding” with “left-wing members of the caucus and their staff,” while the Washington Post (7/2/19) sympathetically portrayed her has being under attack from an “open rebellion” of “hard-liners” in the party, with neither suggesting she herself holds any particular political ideology. The effect is to present the battle between left and right as one between radical revolutionaries and the “mainstream,” “normal” or “default” position.

All this despite the fact that Medicare For All and free college tuition are very popular in the US, with even a majority of Republican voters supporting the former. Meanwhile, Ocasio-Cortez’s tax hike proposal for the super rich is more popular than Trump’s tax cuts, and a plurality of Americans support her supposedly radical leftist Green New Deal. When the public, not political parties, define the left/right spectrum, the landscape appears very different.

When any position is assigned to those who have controlled the party for many decades, it is often misleading. Maureen Dowd in the New York Times (7/6/19) describes Pelosi as “trying to keep the party center left” with the goal of ousting Trump from office by appealing to the American people, only for that to be “jeopardized” by the party’s supposed “lurch” to the “far left.”

As a senator from Delaware, he is a friend of large finance and tech corporations, and blocked student debt forgiveness. In this election cycle, he opposes Medicare for All and claimed that billionaires were being “demonized,” assuring them that if he were president, “nothing would change” about America. “I need you very badly,” he told a group of extremely wealthy donors. He also suggests moving the party to the right by working with the GOP.Another Democrat not only on the right of the party, but on the right side of the political spectrum more generally, is Joe Biden, a current frontrunner for the presidential nomination. Biden began his political career by opposing busing and maintained a very close friendship with arch-segregationist Strom Thurmond until his death, performing the eulogy at his funeral. Among the most hawkish of Democrats, he strongly supported the Iraq War and even boasted he was the true author of George W. Bush’s PATRIOT Act. He opposed immigration and suggested using troops against undocumented workers.

Despite this, Biden describes himself as “center-left,” as do media (e.g. Politico6/8/19Real Clear Politics6/12/19Wall Street Journal6/3/19). As the Washington Examiner (6/21/19) noted, the dilemma for the party was between picking a leftist like Sanders or steering a “center-left” course with Biden.

Successfully positioning yourself in the center is a powerful rhetorical and psychological tactic. Many people like to think of themselves as in the middle. The center is often considered (wrongly) as the default position, and therefore free of bias, as opposed to those on the extremes, which hold negative connotations.

As explored previously (FAIR.org3/23/19), every political organization Washington supports is presented as a moderate, centrist force. Indonesian military dictator General Suharto, who presided over genocides against ethnic Chinese and Timorese, was described as a moderate (Christian Science Monitor2/6/87). The New York Times (3/7/33) even described the “new moderation in the political atmosphere” in Germany as Hitler came to power, while the Philadelphia Daily Bulletin (1/30/33) praised his “indications of moderation” (cited in the Daily Beast12/20/15).

Even Donald Trump Jr., someone not noted for his high intellect and political wisdom, is in on this trick. Writing in The Hill (7/11/19), he “warns” us that if the Democrats undermine “centrist” “moderates” like Pelosi, allowing “radical left” “extremists” like Ocasio-Cortez to come to power, his father will be assured of winning the next election. This has to be the apotheosis of the “Inexplicable Republican Best Friend” trope (FAIR.org2/26/19), in which media conservatives offer supposedly good-faith advice to Democrats on how to beat them (which always entails surrendering progressive principles and embracing conservative policies).

Corporate Democrats have now begun to use the “this is why Trump won/will win” tactic on the left. The Washington Examiner (7/10/19) warns the “left-wing elites” that their single-minded charge towards is socialism will isolate and alienate them from “moderate Democrats” and the vast political center of America. Instead, they must be “pragmatic” and choose the best candidate: Joe Biden.

“Pragmatic”—meaning adapting sensibly and adopting realistic, fact-based positions—is another newspeak word media use to describe right-wing Democrats espousing pro-corporate policies, regardless of what the facts actually are. CNN(2/18/19), for example, applauds Klobuchar for being the “pragmatic” presidential candidate. Her pragmatism, according to the positive CNNportrait, was “resisting the urge to pander to the party’s progressive wing,” as shown by her strong opposition to Medicare for All, the Green New Deal and free college—all of which, we have seen, are distinctly popular with the public (Jacobin8/24/18Atlantic6/21/19) and could be huge vote-winners.

That “pragmatic” is usually used as a euphemistic codeword for moving towards the right can be seen by glancing at recent headlines:

  • Pragmatic Pelosi Points Democratic Party Toward the Center (CBS SF Bay Area5/14/19)
  • Pelosi’s Pragmatic Approach to Balancing Democrats’ Leftward Shift (Christian Science Monitor2/11/19)
  • Idealism vs. Pragmatism: How Style Divides the Democratic Candidates (NPR1/27/16)

Even explicitly anti-left organizations are not described as right-wing. On a story covering the Democratic Majority for Israel, which it notes was set up by “major donors and Washington insiders” expressly to counter left criticisms of Israel in the party, the Huffington Post(7/11/19) did not describe it as “conservative” or any similar label, but framed the debate as being between the left and the “pro-Israel” wings of the party. If wealthy donors and “Washington insiders” don’t count as the right wing of the party, no one can.

Corporate media are funded by the same sources that fund both parties and broadly share the same ideology, hence the reluctance to critique them. By refusing to position them on the political scale, or falsely identifying them as left of center, they are attempting to close the Overton window and prevent a leftward shift in US politics. But that does not mean that we as news consumers have to accept these framings.

The post Why Can’t the Media Admit the Democratic Party Has a Right Wing? appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.

LA Sheriff Really Hates It When Bad Folks Get Fired

Mother Jones Magazine -

Last year Alex Villanueva was a surprise winner against the incumbent in the race to become the new sheriff of Los Angeles County. I don’t live in LA so I’ve followed this only from afar, but as near as I can tell Villanueva’s main goal in office is to rehire deputies who have been fired for a variety of offenses, including unreasonable force, domestic violence, lying, and so forth. He started off with a couple of rehires, then announced six more, and apparently the total is now up to a couple of dozen or so.

Today, however, another bomb hit:

A top official in the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department said she left the agency after 34 years rather than carry out what she said was a “highly unethical” and “unheard of” directive from Sheriff Alex Villanueva to reinstate a fired deputy and alter his disciplinary record, court papers reviewed by The Times show.

Alicia Ault, who served as chief of the department’s professional standards and training division before her resignation last year, said she was told by the incoming sheriff’s chief of staff that it was Villanueva’s “No. 1 priority” to reinstate Caren Carl Mandoyan before Villanueva took office so it would appear to have been done by the administration of former Sheriff Jim McDonnell, according to a deposition she gave in the county’s lawsuit over the reinstatement, which was filed in court Wednesday.

….The legal filings Wednesday also include a deposition from Villanueva’s former second-in-command, Ray Leyva, who was abruptly fired in March. Leyva said under oath that he reviewed video evidence in Mandoyan’s case that showed the deputy tried to pry open a woman’s door and had indeed lied about it, as investigators initially found.

Villanueva seems to have won the election primarily by promising to toss ICE agents out of county jails, which earned him a lot of support from the Hispanic community. So far he’s kind of done that and kind of hasn’t, but in any case his top priority by far has been a so-called “truth and reconciliation” committee whose job is to reinstate fired deputies and make it clear that everyone knows the good old days are back. There will be no more harassment of deputies for picayune offenses like beating people up or filing false reports. I guess the good times are really rolling up in LA these days.

Ralph Nader: The GOP Is a Profile in Cowardice

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In 1956, then-Sen. John F. Kennedy authored a best-selling book titled Profiles in Courage, in which he told the stories of senators in American history who, on principle, bucked the tides of power. Today, some Republican writer or conservative syndicated columnist – George Will or Max Boot – should write a book called Profiles in Cowardliness. It should cover Republican leadership’s near total cowardliness in the face of Donald Trump, whom they despise on many fronts. Many in Republican leadership believe he has hijacked their Grand Old Party (GOP).

Clearly the Republicans – except for Rep. Justin Amash, who recently quit the party after accusing Trump of impeachable crimes – are intimidated by this foul-mouthed president. Republican politicians are cowed by Trump’s bellicose personal rhetoric. We have seen this cycle repeat itself countless times, with the media boosting their ratings by recklessly repeating Trump’s insults.

Republicans remember what Trump did to Jeb Bush, Ted Cruz and Marco Rubio during the 2016 Republican primary. They observe how loud-mouthed Donald spews toxic falsehoods at Democrats and gets away with it. Why, Republicans ask themselves, should they take any chances provoking this unstable Twitter Emperor and his ditto-heads on social media whom he deliberately incites? The answer: because patriotism demands action.

Donald Trump acts as if he is above the law – coming off his career as a corporate criminal, he has become a government outlaw. He has always cheated justice. Trump flouts the Constitution, refuses to faithfully execute the laws preventing corporate crimes, and obstructs justice.  Just as bad are Trump’s ethical and personal failings; he has brought disgraceful personal behavior, serious daily lies, expensive nepotism, denials of grave realities facing the country, bigotry, violent incitement, and disrepute to the White House. All of these failings are why the Founding Fathers gave impeachment authority to the House of Representatives and the authority of open trial to the Senate.

There are many more indictable and impeachable offenses, but the focus here is on why the entire GOP has completely fallen in line.  Only former Republican governor of Massachusetts William Weld has dared to officially challenge Trump in the upcoming Republican primary.  This week, former Republican congressman and governor of South Carolina Mark Sanford announced he is testing the waters for a run against President Trump, emphasizing Trump’s huge expanding deficits. It is shocking that so few opponents have emerged considering Trump lost the popular vote in 2016 and remains more consistently unfavorable in the polls than any president in modern times.

Republicans must think “crooked Donald” is invincible. So why try? Plenty of Republican politicians consider Trump to be a clear and present danger to Party and country. They include former Sens. Jeff Flake and Bob Corker; current Sen. Mitt Romney; former governor of Ohio John Kasich; former New Jersey governor and EPA head, under Reagan, Christine Todd Whitman; and former House Speaker Paul Ryan. All have spoken out about Trump’s dangerous ignorance and loutishness. All believe him to be unqualified and fear his reckless actions. On trade, immigration, climate crisis, and his open admiration of brutal dictators, they find him appalling.

Yet there are few signs of a serious challenge. In the 1990s, John Kasich was the chairman of the powerful House Budget Committee. At the time he was critical of the wasteful, unauditable Pentagon budget then (imagine now). Asked about 2020, Kasich told The Washington Post that he’s “never gotten involved in a race that [he] didn’t think [he] could win,” adding, “things are very volatile in this business and you just cannot predict what might change.” Such words hardly signal anything beyond extreme caution.

One would think, these people and others who could take on Trump (for example, the very popular former governor of New Jersey Thomas Kean) would want to stand up for traditional Republican principles and positions (think about Senator Robert Taft, Presidents Dwight Eisenhower, Theodore Roosevelt and of course, Abraham Lincoln). In sharp contrast, current Republican leaders almost never criticize Trump publically apart from a mild op-ed (Romney) or the occasional public comments (Whitman).

It gets worse. Apart from William Kristol, Trump’s arch-critic, there doesn’t seem to be any activity among Republican kingmakers to find a challenger or even consider mounting a third party accountability challenge from the political right.

There is someone, were he younger, who would take on Trump. He is former Republican Senator from Connecticut, Lowell Weicker. He was known in the Senate as a ferocious defender of the Constitution and was prominent during the Watergate hearings that exposed Richard Nixon.

Apart from elected officials, what about those cabinet secretaries and White House chief of staff, whom Trump praised to the skies, before he drove them out with a frenzy of ruthless epithets (“dumb as a rock,” etc.)? They know the insides of mad Trump’s White House, which would receive media attention.

At the least, Republicans who challenged Trump in the primaries would put Trump on the defensive and hold him more accountable.

Time is passing on the road to November 2020. There are countless Republicans who deeply believe that Trump is a disgrace to his office and a threat to the Republic, as well as to the future of the Republican Party. Who amongst them will stand up and be counted?

Is their moral courage totally AWOL?

The post Ralph Nader: The GOP Is a Profile in Cowardice appeared first on Truthdig: Expert Reporting, Current News, Provocative Columnists.


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