Kremlin Caught Stealth Editing Awkward Putin Video
Allison Quinn – March 21, 2023
The Kremlin has shifted to damage control mode after Vladimir Putin’s latest PR stunt was derailed by a public show of disgust for him.
The Russian leader made a show of his alleged visit to Ukraine’s Mariupol over the weekend, in which people identified by the Kremlin as local residents treated him as their savior, thanking him for Russia’s “help” and calling their new home a “little piece of heaven.”
In a brief part of the video that had apparently been overlooked by Putin’s team, however, a woman was heard shouting, “It’s all untrue, it’s all for show!” just as the Russian leader began reading his lines. Deputy Prime Minister Marat Khusnullin could be seen grinning uncomfortably as Putin’s security team set off to track down the lone protester.
Two days after the off-script comments were noticed in the video released by the Kremlin, that version was replaced on the official Kremlin website with a version in which the party crasher had been edited out, the independent outlet Mozhem Obyasnit noted Tuesday.
Putin’s alleged visit to the city—his first trip to Ukrainian territory since the start of his war—was the closest to the frontline he’d ever set foot. And despite the glowing testimonials from supposed local residents broadcast by Russian state television, many locals apparently saw right through the propaganda.
“Nobody fucking needs us here. Everything is done for a picture on TV, so that people in Russia will watch,” one resident wrote in a Telegram channel devoted to local news.
Others questioned why Putin didn’t visit the parts of the city decimated by his own military.
“And why take him there, he was only taken to places that were preserved and new buildings. Nobody will show him the empty pits under the foundations of destroyed houses.”
Anton Gerashchenko, a senior adviser to the Ukrainian government, seemed to suggest on Monday that Putin may have sent a body double to Mariupol.
Questions like: Why is Manhattan District Attorney Alvin Bragg’s indictment relating to Stormy Daniels likely to be the first for the former president and not one related to Jan. 6? Is House Speaker Kevin McCarthy in love with Trump or afraid of him? And, this big one: Will we see Trump do a perp walk?
Starting with the perp walk question, The New Abnormal political podcast co-host Andy Levy shares why he isn’t so hopeful with co-host Danielle Moodie on this all-Trump episode.
“I’ve seen supposedly serious people make this comment that we need to be worried about them charging Trump, because it may lead to riots in the streets. You already did that, first of all, [and] no, you don’t get a heckler’s veto if you break the law. If you break the law, you break the law,” says Andy. “That stuff cannot factor into charging someone, [but], it can factor into how you arrest them.”
“Trump was tweeting in all-caps about that they were debating whether to have him do a perp walk in handcuffs. That’s never gonna happen. We are never gonna see that, honestly, as much as I would enjoy it. We don’t really need that,” he adds, to Danielle’s dismay.
“I kind of do,” she jokes.
Then MSNBC legal analyst Katie Phang joins the show and gives Danielle insight into the “why this case?” question. According to Phang, a Trump indictment for something a while ago and not Jan. 6-related is still important.
“We need to appreciate the prosecution of the former President of the United States. Even if it’s for jaywalking. Why? Because you and I would be prosecuted for that crime.
“And so I am glad that even though this is an ‘old event,’ the payoff to Stormy Daniels to keep her quiet, to influence the outcome of the 2016 election may have been years ago, you know, damn it. I am glad. If he’s kicking his dog, he should be arrested and prosecuted. I believe this is the beginning of the fall of dominoes.”
Plus, Phang shares the indictment that she thinks will really “break the dam.”
Then, Jeff Sharlet, author of The Undertow: Scenes from a Slow Civil War, tells Andy what he learned while writing about the post-Trump world—like how right-wing grandmas have nasty things to say about Hillary Clinton—and why he doesn’t actually care about Trump like other Trump-era writers.
Idaho hospital will stop delivering babies as doctors flee state due to abortion ban
Gloria Oladipo – March 20, 2023
An Idaho hospital has planned to stop delivering babies, with the medical center’s managers citing increasing criminalization of physicians and the inability to retain pediatricians as major reasons.
Bonner General Health, the only hospital in Sandpoint, Idaho, announced on Friday that it would no longer provide labor, delivery and a host of other obstetrical services.
The more than 9,000 residents of Sandpoint are now forced to drive 46 miles for the nearest labor and delivery care, the Idaho Statesman reported.
In a statement, the hospital’s leadership said that the decision to eliminate the obstetrics unit stemmed from the “political climate” in Idaho.
“Highly respected, talented physicians are leaving. Recruiting replacements will be extraordinarily difficult,” hospital officials said in a press release.
“We have made every effort to avoid eliminating these services,” the hospital’s board president, Ford Elsaesser, added in the statement.
“We hoped to be the exception, but our challenges are impossible to overcome now.”
The hospital’s statement also said that the closure comes as the number of deliveries at Bonner continues to decline, with only 265 babies delivered in 2022 and fewer than 10 pediatric patients admitted.
The hospital also lacks enough pediatricians to manage its neonatal resuscitations and perinatal care, finding no permanent solution after reaching out to active and retired physicians to fill vacancies.
Hospital officials are hoping to keep obstetrics services available until 19 May but noted that it largely depends on staffing.
New patients are no longer being seen at the hospital, effective immediately, while current clients are being offered alternative referrals.
Since the supreme court in June eliminated the nationwide abortion rights that Roe v wade established, states with total abortion bans have passed laws that threaten possible prison time for doctors who perform abortions in violation of state law.
The supreme court decision legalized an Idaho state ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy. The state is the first to pass a copy of Texas’s controversial bill. It is also one of six that prosecutes doctors for providing the procedure, CBS News reported.
In August, the justice department filed a lawsuit against Idaho for its near-total ban on abortions, with doctors in the state writing in a court brief that physicians were often forced to choose between violating the state ban or federal healthcare law, the Associated Press reported.
The implication of the ban is driving doctors out of the state, the Bonner hospital’s press release noted.
“The Idaho legislature continues to introduce and pass bills that criminalize physicians for medical care nationally recognized as the standard of care,” the hospital’s statement added.
“Consequences for Idaho physicians providing the standard of care may include civil litigation and criminal prosecution, leading to jail time or fines.”
Dr Amelia Huntsberger, a Bonner General Health obstetrician-gynecologist, wrote in an email to the Statesman that she would be leaving the hospital and the state because of its restrictive abortion laws and because the Idaho legislature was terminating its maternal mortality review committee.
“What a sad, sad state of affairs for our community,” Huntsberger wrote, according to the Statesman.
A Sandwich Shop, a Tent City and an American Crisis
Eli Saslow – March 19, 2023
PHOENIX — He had been coming into work at the same sandwich shop every weekday morning for the past four decades, but now Joe Faillace, 69, pulled up to Old Station Subs with no idea what to expect. He parked on a street lined with three dozen tents, grabbed his Mace and unlocked the door to his restaurant. He picked up the phone and dialed his wife and business partner, Debbie Faillace, 60.
“All clear,” he said. “Everything looks good.”
“You’re sure? No issues?” she asked. “What’s going on with the neighbors?”
He looked out the window toward Madison Street, which had become the center of one of the largest homeless encampments in the country, with as many as 1,100 people sleeping outdoors. On this February morning, he could see a half-dozen men pressed around a roaring fire. A young woman was lying in the street. A man was weaving down the sidewalk in the direction of Joe’s restaurant with a saw, muttering to himself and then stopping to urinate.
“It’s the usual chaos and suffering,” he told Debbie. “But the restaurant’s still standing.”
That had seemed to them like an open question each morning for the past three years, as an epidemic of unsheltered homelessness began to overwhelm Phoenix and many other major American downtowns. Cities across the West had been transformed by a housing crisis, a mental health crisis and an opioid epidemic, all of which landed at the doorsteps of small businesses already reaching a breaking point because of the pandemic. In Phoenix, where the number of people living on the streets had more than tripled since 2016, businesses had begun hiring private security firms to guard their property and lawyers to file a lawsuit against the city for failing to manage “a great humanitarian crisis.”
The Faillaces had signed onto the lawsuit as plaintiffs along with about a dozen other nearby property owners. They also bought an extra mop to clean up the daily flow of human waste, replaced eight shattered windows with plexiglass, installed a wrought-iron fence around their property and continued opening their doors at exactly 8 each morning to greet the first customer of the day.
Debbie arrived to help with the lunch rush, and she greeted customers at the register while Joe prepared tomato sauce and weighed out turkey for chef’s salads. Their margins had always been tight, but they saved on labor costs by both going into work every day. They remodeled the kitchen to make room for a nursery when their children were born and then expanded into catering to help those children pay for college. They kept making sandwiches for a loyal group of regulars even as the city transformed around them — its population growing by about 25,000 each year, housing costs soaring at a record pace, until it seemed that there was nowhere left for people to go except onto sidewalks, into tents, into broken-down cars, and increasingly into the air-conditioned relief of Old Station Subs.
Their restaurant was located in an industrial neighborhood that had always attracted a small number of transients. Over the years, Joe and Debbie came to know many by name and listened to their stories of eviction, medical debt, mental illness and addiction, and together they agreed that it was their job to offer not only compassion but help.
They had given out water, opened their bathroom to the public and cashed unemployment and disability checks at no extra cost. They hired a sandwich maker who was homeless and had lost his teeth after years of addiction; a dishwasher who lived in the women’s shelter and first came to the restaurant for lunch with her parole officer; a cleaner who slept a few blocks away on a wooden pallet and washed up in the bathroom before her shift.
But the homeless population in Phoenix continued to grow. Soon there were hundreds of people sleeping within a few blocks of Old Station, most of them with mental illness or substance abuse issues. They slept on Joe and Debbie’s outdoor tables, defecated behind their back porch, smoked methamphetamine in their parking lot, washed clothes in their bathroom sink, pilfered bread from their delivery trucks, had sex on their patio, masturbated within view of their employees and lit fires that burned down trees and scared away customers. Finally, Joe and Debbie could think of nothing else to do but to start calling police.
Within a half-mile of their restaurant, police had been called to an average of eight incidents a day in 2022. There were at least 1,097 calls for emergency medical help, 573 fights or assaults, 236 incidents of trespassing, 185 fires, 140 thefts, 125 armed robberies, 13 sexual assaults and four homicides. The remains of a 20- to 24-week-old fetus were burned and left next to a dumpster in November. Two people were stabbed to death in their tents. Sixteen others were found dead from overdoses, suicides, hypothermia or excessive heat. The city had tried to begin more extensive cleaning of the encampment, but advocates for people without housing protested that it was inhumane and in December the American Civil Liberties Union successfully filed a federal lawsuit to keep people on the street from being “terrorized” and “displaced.”
Shina Sepulveda had been living in the encampment for a few weeks or maybe for a few months. It was hard to know for sure, she said, because she had been experiencing delusions. What she remembered was escaping from a cult in Mesa, Arizona, building the first internet search engine, losing billions of dollars to a government conspiracy, cutting wiretaps out of her brain, retaking her dynastic name of Espy Rockefeller and then moving onto a sidewalk across the street from Old Station Subs.
For as long as she had been homeless, she tried to nap during the relative safety of the day and stay up late at night to help look over her small corner of the encampment. She put on makeup and sat down at a plywood desk, where a handwritten nameplate introduced her as “Doctor, Poet, Psychologist, Partner at Law,” and where in reality she was now the 47-year-old caretaker of a half-dozen people — because, even if many of her stories were fantastical, she had earned a reputation for being generous and kind and for knowing a bit about everything.
“Hey, Espy, can you help me?” Brandon Mack said as he walked over from his nearby tent. He lifted his shirt to reveal two stab wounds from a few days earlier. He had fought with a neighbor over a coveted corner spot on the sidewalk, walked to the emergency room, gotten 18 stitches and then returned to recover on a molding mattress in a partly burned tent.
Espy took out a pair of scissors, scrubbed them with hand sanitizer and started to cut away a few of his stitches. She wiped away the pus and blood with napkins, tossing them into the street. Then she turned her attention to the next person in need of help. Cecilia wanted soap, so Espy handed her a bar she had scavenged from the nearby shelter. C.J. was drunk and needed help getting into the street to go to the bathroom. A man known as K.D. was moving his tent down the sidewalk because he’d gotten into an argument with a neighbor who insulted his pit bull. “Nobody talks down to Dots,” K.D. said. “I’m ready to go off. I’m armed and dangerous.”
“I was a police officer,” Espy told him. “If you really have to shoot, don’t aim to kill. Just fire a warning shot.”
Joe came into work the next morning and saw a bag of drugs in the road, human waste on the sidewalk, a pit bull wandering the street and blood-soaked napkins blowing toward his restaurant patio, where he and Debbie were scheduled to meet with a real estate agent about the future of Old Station. Debbie still insisted that she was ready to be done with the restaurant. Joe didn’t want to run it without her, but he also didn’t want to walk away with nothing. They had spent the past several months exploring a compromise, seeing if they could sell the business and retire together.
“Are we getting any bites?” Joe asked the agent, Mike Gaida.
“Oh, yeah. I get calls every week,” Mike said, and he explained that at least 25 potential buyers had looked over the financials and recognized a strong family business for the reasonable price of $165,000. Several bailed once Mike mentioned the encampment, but at least a dozen potential buyers secretly came to check out the property. “Most of the time, they don’t call back,” Mike said. “If I track them down, it’s like, ‘God bless those people for staying in business, because I couldn’t do it.’”
“It’s taken years off my life,” Debbie said.
“For her it’s, ‘Get me out. We’ve got to sell, sell, sell,’” Joe said. “But we refused an offer for $250,000 eight years ago, and it keeps dropping. I don’t want to give this place away.”
“I get it,” Mike said. “If you were a half-mile in another direction, you’d be sitting on a million bucks. Instead, it’s, How can you dispose of it?”
A few days later, Joe arrived for work to the sound of a gunshot coming from across the street and a bullet pinging off a nearby fence. He hurried inside and called police. “Yeah, it’s Joe again, over at Old Station,” he said, and a few minutes later two police officers were walking the perimeter of his restaurant, searching for the bullet. Soon Debbie would be waking up and getting ready for work.
“What the heck am I going to tell her to keep her from losing it?” Joe wondered, and he began to rehearse the possibilities in his head. It was only one bullet. Nobody had gotten hurt. Police had come right away. The shooter wasn’t targeting the restaurant. The gunshot was random. It could have happened anywhere.
Joe went outside to get some air. K.D. was ranting on the sidewalk, banging his hand against a fence, contorting his fingers into the shape of a gun and then firing it off at the sky.
“This could be the last straw for her,” Joe said, and then he saw Debbie driving toward the parking lot, steering around K.D. and hurrying through the gate.
“Wow. Tough morning?” she asked.
He took her inside the restaurant while he tried to come up with the right words. It was only one shot. The restaurant was still standing. They’d run Old Station together for 37 years, and maybe they could hang on for a while longer. But instead Joe told her the only thing that felt true.
“The whole thing’s a disaster,” he said. “I get it. It’s OK. I understand why you’re done.”
Donald Trump claims he will be arrested Tuesday in Manhattan probe, calls for protests
Ella Lee, Josh Meyer, David Jackson and Kevin Johnson – March 18, 2023
Former President Donald Trump said he expects to be arrested Tuesday in connection with a Manhattan district attorney investigation and called on his supporters to protest, even as uncertainty remained about whether any legal action was actually imminent.
Trump’s advisers Tuesday made clear they had no specific knowledge of the timing of any possible indictment, even as the former president made the comments on Truth Social, the social media network he founded.
An indictment of Trump would send the U.S. political world into unprecedented territory – not just the first indictment of a former president, but one who is in the midst of again running for the White House. And his calls for protest also echoed similar statements by the former president ahead of Jan. 6.
Trump attorney Joe Tacopina confirmed that Trump’s reference to the timing of any possible charge is not based on any contact from Manhattan district attorney’s office.
“No one tells us anything, which is very frustrating,” Tacopina said in an email to USA Today. “President Trump is basing his response on press reports, and the fact that this is a political prosecution and the DA leaks things to the press instead of communicating to the lawyers as they should.”
Danielle Filson, a spokesperson for Manhattan’s District Attorney’s office, declined to comment on the former president’s statement.
Testimony from former Trump lawyer Michael Cohen, who arranged for the payment and already has been convicted and served prison time, could help bring the first charges in history against a former president.
On Truth Social Saturday, Trump urged his supporters to “Protest, take our nation back!”
“The far & away leading Republican candidate & former president of the United States of America, will be arrested on Tuesday of next week,” he wrote in all caps.
A Trump spokesperson speaking on background told USA TODAY that there has been “no notification” of a possible Trump indictment other than news media reports and “leaks from the Justice Dept. and the DA’s office.”
Laurence Tribe, a professor emeritus at Harvard Law School, said Trump’s looming indictment in New York is uncharted waters.
“There really is no precedent for indicting a former president,” Tribe said. “It’s anyone’s guess exactly what would happen.”
Experts say Trump arrest unlikely
Trump says he’ll still run for president again if he’s indicted in any of the current investigations into his conduct. His first rally of the 2024 presidential race is scheduled for March 25 in Waco, Texas.
An indictment is not the same as an arrest; it’s a formal charge of a crime, while an arrest is when a person is taken into custody. An arrest of Trump is not likely, said former federal prosecutor Renato Mariotti.
“Typically defendants are not arrested in cases like this one when they’re represented by counsel,” he said.
Barbara McQuade, a former federal prosecutor and University of Michigan law professor, said a self-surrender is more likely in cases like Trump’s.
“Unless he is a risk of flight or danger to the community, self surrender seems typical in this kind of case,” she said. “He would be booked and have his fingerprints and mugshot taken, and then likely released on bond.”
Tribe said it’s likely that Manhattan district attorney Alvin Bragg will offer Trump a more anonymous way to turn himself in, though it’s unlikely the former president would accept such routes.
“I’m sure he wishes there were an escalator he could descend in order to self-surrender,” he said. “It’s his standard technique to turn everything into publicity, and they will undoubtedly raise a lot of money surrounding his self-surrender.”
Trump’s call for protests raise concerns
While Trump’s spokesperson acknowledged there has been “no notification” related to the timing of possible criminal charges, the former president’s call for protests drew the concern of law enforcement involved in preparing for such an event.
The appeal for demonstrations, said one official familiar with the arrangements, may immediately require a larger security footprint in New York and more agents assigned to shadow the movements of the former president.
The official, who is not authorized to comment publicly on the matter, also was not aware of a definitive time for any possible prosecution announcement.
“Donald’s post is eerily similar to his battle cry prior to the January 6th insurrection; including calling for protest,” Cohen told USA TODAY. “By doing so, Donald is hoping to rile his base, witness another violent clash on his behalf and profit from it by soliciting contributions.”
With Trump facing possible criminal charges, W. Ralph Basham, a former Secret Service director, said the prospect raises unprecedented questions for the Secret Service and the boundaries of the agency’s obligation to provide lifetime protection for the former president. Basham, who served during the George H.W. Bush administration, said he was unaware of any provision that would allow the agency to drop its protection obligation, even if a protectee was sentenced to a prison term. “We are in uncharted territory here,” Basham said. “I’m sure the attorneys are scrambling to find answers to those questions.”
“I’m not aware of anything… that would preclude them (Secret Service agents) from escorting a former president to a detention center in the event of a conviction and prison sentence,” Basham said, adding that the agency would then have to consider “establishing a presence” at a detention center for the duration of any sentence. “I just don’t know,” he said. “The lawyers are going to have to figure this out.”
While a future Trump indictment would be historic, perhaps even greater in significance is that the justice system is working as it should, Tribe said.
“He’s being treated the way he should be treated, like an ordinary citizen,” he said. “Having a mugshot being fingerprinted, having to stand in front of a judge and answer, ‘Do you plead guilty or not guilty?’
“The same thing happens to other ordinary citizens,” he continued.
I Moved To Alabama To Fight Trump. I Thought It’d Be Temporary — Here’s Why I Decided To Stay.
Ellen Gomory – March 18, 2023
In July of 2018, I arrived in Huntsville, Alabama, sight unseen.
My 2009 Honda Accord was packed to the brim with the contents of my Bushwick, New York, apartment, which had started to feel like a distant memory somewhere in the rolling, monotonous beauty of the Smokies. The trunk held garbage bags stuffed with clothing and liquor boxes filled with books. In the backseat was bedding, framed art and a coffee table my uncle made in the 1980s. My plan was to stay for five months ― through the end of the midterm elections ― and then return to the life I had been living in Brooklyn for the better part of a decade.
I had only been down to Alabama once before, several months prior, to volunteer at the Equal Justice Initiative’s opening of its museum dedicated to victims of lynching. It was there that I met Alabama’s Democratic House minority leader, who offered me a job working on the midterms. It was also there, in the Red Roof Inn on Zelda Road, that I picked up a mean case of bedbugs, which left itchy welts across my face and arms that took weeks to disappear.
Now I was headed to meet Alice, a volunteer on the campaign who had offered to put me up for a few nights and rent me an apartment at one of the properties she owned in downtown Huntsville. The rent was $400 per month for a large one bedroom ― less than half of what I had paid for my portion of the dilapidated two-bedroom I’d been renting in Brooklyn.
Alice and her wife lived about 20 minutes outside of Huntsville in Harvest, an unincorporated rural community. Driving around Huntsville, which I had been told would soon be the largest city in Alabama, I wondered Where’s the city part? The sight of cotton fields sent chills down my spine, and by the time I arrived at Alice’s, I was fundamentally questioning my decision to move.
I was not a professional campaign worker. In fact, this was my first job in politics. Until Donald Trump was elected president in 2016, I had been working in book publishing, teaching yoga and generally enjoying the many privileges that my whiteness allowed me. Like so many New York City liberals, that election had been a wakeup call, and I’d committed myself to doing more, to educating myself, to fighting for the rights I’d naively thought were guaranteed.
I’d read myriad think pieces about how we needed to spend more time in those parts of the country that had voted for Trump. But if Hillary Clinton couldn’t even be bothered to go to Wisconsin, did I really need to uproot my life and move to Alabama?
Growing up in New Jersey, I knew about as much about the South as I did about Timbuktu. When I applied to Tulane University, my grandmother, a die-hard New Yorker, said without a hint of sarcasm, “But you know you can’t get a decent education below the Mason-Dixon line.” The bedbugs were surprising to no one ― my decision to move was a shock.
With some trepidation, I let myself into Alice’s house using her keypad and waited for her to come home. The campaign was in full swing, so I occupied the afternoon with calls, fundraising emails and drafting the paperwork for a 501(c)3 tax-exempt organization.
When Alice arrived, we greeted each other cautiously. We’d spoken many times on the phone, mostly about campaign-related business, and her low voice, thick accent and easy demeanor immediately put me at ease. She was understandably more skeptical of me. What was a girl from New Jersey with no prior work experience in politics doing down here in Alabama?
Over dinner and bourbon, we got to know each other. I told her about my family, the guy I was dating and my desire to find more meaningful work. Alice shared her struggle to lift herself out of rural poverty and become the vice president of a major tech company, and the difficulties she’d faced in coming out. We began to develop a friendship.
As part of my Alabama education, Alice pulled out a white board to explain the state’s deepest political divide. On one side she wrote “Alabama.” On the other side she wrote “Auburn,” with a line dividing the two. Under Alabama, she wrote “Roll Tide”; under Auburn, “War Eagle.”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “Why is one team called ‘Alabama’ if both teams are in Alabama? And why is Auburn’s chant ‘War Eagle’ if their mascot is the tigers?”
Alice looked at me like I had two heads.
“What’s not to get?” She asked. “I think you’ve had too much bourbon.”
Football as religion was just one of many cultural discoveries I made over those first months in Alabama, the majority of which could be easily packaged into an early-aughts rom-com. Meat and three’s, Jason Isbell and chatting with people in line at the grocery store were all foreign concepts, and I reveled in their discovery. Well, everything except football.
Alice was my first friend, but I quickly made more, and before long Alabama began to feel like home.
The campaign was busy, but the work felt meaningful. We hoped to capitalize on Doug Jones’ historic Senate win and break the Republican supermajority in the state house ahead of the census and redistricting. Since state lawmakers are responsible for drawing up voting districts, it was crucial that we win in districts across the state where Democrats had not only lost but in many cases had not even run a candidate for many years. Given the state’s history of civil rights organizing and voter suppression, the task felt especially vital.
During the campaign, I visited New York frequently, on both personal and fundraising trips. Each time I came up, I was surprised by how little I missed the city and how eager I was to return to Alabama. The energy and schlep of the city that had energized me throughout my 20s felt draining, and the disdain with which so many Northeasterners treated my new home felt frustrating.
At a fundraising event in lower Manhattan, I told the host about my recent move. He simply responded, “I’m sorry.”
Almost no one I knew had ever visited Alabama, and most seemed to think that the state was populated by illiterate Trump supporters who didn’t wear shoes. The grace that well-meaning liberals offered the Midwest did not extend to a state whose reputation had been solidified during the civil rights movement. Most people I spoke with still associated Alabama with Gov. George Wallace’s proclamation of “segregation forever” and Bull Connor’s assault on peaceful protesters with dogs and fire hoses.
Though Alabama’s brutal, racist history is very much alive and undeniably woven into the fabric of the state, it is far from unique to Alabama. I was consistently surprised by the smugness with which Northeasterners talked about Alabama without any apparent awareness of our own region’s history of racism or, more strikingly, the state’s equally potent history of activism. In sneering at the state as a whole, people seemed not to realize that they were also sneering at activists, organizers and everyday people working to make the best with what little resources they might have.
The joke that Alabamians are shoeless and illiterate is much less funny when you consider the state’s history of racism and lack of job opportunities or public school funding.
Following a brutal midterm loss, I decided to stay in Alabama and work for the state House Democratic Caucus. When the session ended, I went to work for Terri Sewell, our sole Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, and then on Doug Jones’ second Senate race. I moved to Birmingham, fell in love and bought a house. I got engaged, started teaching yoga again and completed a master’s program in journalism at the University of Alabama. Before long, 4½ years had passed and I had built a life for myself.
To my friends and family up North, my decision to stay was even more confusing than my initial decision to leave. Then, I had been on a mission with a clear goal and end date. Now, I was just… living?
Gradually, more friends and family came down to visit and started to understand the appeal. The pace down here is slower, the food is excellent and history is everywhere. Politically and culturally, the state is still deeply conservative, but I found a group of friends (largely through political work) whose progressive ideals align with my own. We joke that the only time Alabama makes positive national news is for football, but within challenge and struggle, there is also beauty and culture. Social justice and equity work become more potent in the face of clear and vocal enemies.
As a country, we are still mired in the work of consensus building. We are still deeply and fundamentally divided. Partially, I believe the issue is one of exposure. The echo chambers of social media and online news are further isolating and entrenching people in their beliefs and, despite the commitments many of us made to understanding those with opposing viewpoints, it’s easier to hand-wring with likeminded friends.
Rep. Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-Ga.) recently made headlines for proposing a “national divorce” between red and blue states. Though pundits were quick to ridicule her, it’s a sentiment I’ve often heard in casual conversation with Northern friends on the left. “If the South is going to hold us back from meaningful climate and social progress, why not just let them secede?”
The answer, in simple terms, is that separation hurts those with the least. If creating a fairer, more equitable society is truly what we as progressives care about, then we have a responsibility not to pull away but to lean in.
We’ve seen what leaning in has done in Georgia, but it took Stacey Abrams and many other organizers and activists well over a decade to implement the internal structures that have turned Georgia purple. And still the fight continues. There is still so much important work to be done and so many people fighting to hold on to the ugliness of the past. Dismissing Alabama or the South as a whole does nothing to advance that work; it only confirms to people down here that they have been left behind.
Ellen Gomory is a New Jersey native living in Birmingham, Alabama. She is passionate about storytelling, progressive politics, the Real Housewives and her pug, Eloise.
Trump deregulated railways and banks. He blames Biden for the fallout
David Smith in Washington – March 18, 2023
When a fiery train derailment took place on the Ohio-Pennsylvania border last month, Donald Trump saw an opportunity. The former US president visited East Palestine, accused Joe Biden of ignoring the community – “Get over here!” – and distributed self-branded water before dropping in at a local McDonald’s.
Then, when the Silicon Valley Bank last week became the second biggest bank to fail in US history, Trump again lost no time in making political capital. He predicted that Biden would go down as “the Herbert Hoover of the modrrn [sic] age” and predicted a worse economic crash than the Great Depression.
Yet it was Trump himself who, as US president, rolled back regulations intended to make railways safer and banks more secure. Critics said his attacks on the Biden administration offered a preview of a disingenuous presidential election campaign to come and, not for the first time in Trump’s career, displayed a shameless double standard.
“Hypocrisy, thy name is Donald Trump and he sets new standards in a whole bunch of regrettable ways,” said Larry Sabato, director of the Center for Politics at the University of Virginia. “For his true believers, they’re going to take Trump’s word for it and, even if they don’t, it doesn’t affect their support of him.”
The collapse of Silicon Valley Bank on 10 March and of New York’s Signature Bank two days later sent shockwaves through the global banking industry and revived bitter memories of the financial crisis that plunged the US into recession about 15 years ago.
Fearing contagion in the banking sector, the government moved to protect all the banks’ deposits, even those that exceeded the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation $250,000 limit for each individual account. The cost ran into hundreds of billions of dollars.
The drama reverberated in Washington, where Trump’s criticism was followed by that of Republicans and conservative media, seeking to blame Biden-driven inflation or, improbably, to Silicon Valley Bank’s socially aware “woke” agenda. Opponents saw this as a crude attempt to deflect from the bank’s risky investments in the bond market and more systemic problems in the sector.
The 2008 financial crisis, triggered by reckless lending in the housing market, led to tough bank regulations during Barack Obama’s presidency. The 2010 Dodd-Frank Act aimed to ensure that Americans’ money was safe, in part by setting up annual “stress tests” that examine how banks would perform under future economic downturns.
But when Trump won election in 2016, the writing was on the wall. Biden, then outgoing vice-president, warned against efforts to undo banking regulations, telling an audience at Georgetown University: “We can’t go back to the days when financial companies take massive risks with the knowledge that a taxpayer bailout is around the corner when they fail.”
But in 2018, with Trump in the White House, Congress slashed some of those protections. Republicans – and some Democrats – voted to raise the minimum threshold for banks subject to the stress tests: those with less than $250bn in assets were no longer required to take part. Many big lenders, including Silicon Valley Bank, were freed from the tightest regulatory scrutiny.
Sabato commented: “The worst example is the bank situation because that is directly tied to Trump and his administration and changes made in bank regulations in 2018. Yes, some Democrats voted for it, but it was overwhelmingly supported by Republicans and by Trump who heralded it as the real solution to future bank woes.”
The minority of Democrats who supported the 2018 law have denied that it can be directly tied to this month’s bank failures, although Bernie Sanders, an independent senator from Vermont, was adamant: “Let’s be clear. The failure of Silicon Valley Bank is a direct result of an absurd 2018 bank deregulation bill signed by Donald Trump that I strongly opposed.”
You do need government to regulate finance … but that point cannot be made if you’ve got Donald Trump inventing reality
Sherrod Brown, a Democratic senator for Ohio who introduced bipartisan legislation to improve rail safety protocols, drew a parallel between the banks’ collapse to rail industry deregulation lobbying that contributed to the East Palestine train disaster. “We see aggressive lobbying like this from banks as well,” he said.
Trump repealed several Barack Obama-era US Department of Transportation rules meant to improve rail safety, including one that required high-hazard cargo trains to use electronically controlled pneumatic brake technology by 2023. This rule would not have applied to the Norfolk Southern train in East Palestine – where roughly 5,000 residents had to evacuate for days – as it was not classified as a high-hazard cargo train.
But the debate around the railway accident and bank failures points to a perennial divide between Democrats, who insist that some regulation is vital to a functioning capitalism, and Republicans, who have long claimed to believe in small government. Steve Bannon, an influential far-right podcaster and former White House chief strategist, framed the Trump agenda as “the deconstruction of the administrative state”.
Antjuan Seawright, a Democratic strategist, said: “The Republican party has gotten by for many years on this idea that less is better. However, we’re now learning in this country that, as America continues to mature, in some cases more is better, and more has to be how we get to better. Otherwise the mistakes can spin out of control and cause generations of people long-term damage.”
Biden called on Congress to allow regulators to impose tougher penalties on the executives of failed banks while Warren and other Democrats introduced legislation to undo the 2018 law and restore the Dodd-Frank regulations. It is likely to meet stiff opposition from the Republican-controlled House of Representatives and even some moderate Democrats.
Biden has also insisted that no taxpayer money will be used to resolve the current crisis, keen to avoid any perception that average Americans are “bailing out” the two banks in a way similar to the unpopular bailouts of the biggest financial firms in 2008.
But Republicans running for the 2024 presidential nomination are already contending that customers will ultimately bear the costs of the government’s actions even if taxpayer funds were not directly used. Nikki Haley, the former governor of South Carolina, said: “Joe Biden is pretending this isn’t a bailout. It is.”
Another potential 2024 contender, Senator Tim Scott, the top Republican on the Senate banking committee, also criticised what he called a “culture of government intervention”, arguing that it incentivises banks to continue risky behavior if they know federal agencies will ultimately rescue them.
Larry Jacobs, director of the Center for the Study of Politics and Governance at the University of Minnesota, said: “This is familiar ideological territory. The battle lines between liberalism and a fake conservatism appear to be playing out here. But the tragedy of the situation is that the liberals are right.
It’s not new that the Republicans will deregulate an industry and then it collapses … look at American political and economic history of the last 50 years
“You do need government to regulate finance and, when you don’t, you get mischief making and bank failures but that point cannot be made if you’ve got Donald Trump inventing reality. He’s demonstrated that facts and position taking don’t matter. It’s an extraordinary political strategy but it’s even more devastating to our whole political system and our media that this could be allowed.”
This poses a huge messaging challenge for Democrats, who after the 2008 financial crisis came up against the Tea Party, a populist movement feeding off economic and racial resentments. Long and winding explanations about the negative impacts of Trump era deregulation are a hard sell compared to the former president’s sloganeering in East Palestine.
Wendy Schiller, a political science professor at Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, said: “Once again we see that Trump is taking advantage of the Achilles’ heel of the Democratic party by telling voters that the Democrats like big government because it bails out industries and it never provides a bailout for the little guy.”
Democrats’ efforts to point out that Trump was responsible for deregulation are unlikely to cut through, Schiller added.
“Any time it takes more than 10 seconds to explain something, you’re done in politics. This is why Trump has catchy phrases, sound bytes. He understands that all voters see is that rich people made a bad investment and then more rich people are making sure that their money’s available to them within three days, coming off the heels of all the closures during Covid, lost business, lost income, people struggling, inflation.
“Democrats don’t want to call it a bailout but it is a bailout. The high visibility of this bailout smothers anything else the Democrats are doing for the average voter. It’s a perfect issue for the Republicans. It’s not new that the Republicans will deregulate an industry and then it collapses and the Democrats have to save it. Look at American political and economic history of the last 50 years: this is exactly what happens.”
U.S. grapples with forces unleashed by Iraq invasion 20 years later
Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay – March 16, 2023
WASHINGTON (Reuters) – From an empowered Iran and eroded U.S. influence to the cost of keeping U.S. troops in Iraq and Syria to combat Islamic State fighters, the United States still contends with the consequences of invading Iraq 20 years ago, current and former officials say.
Then-U.S. President George W. Bush’s 2003 decision to oust Saddam Hussein by force, the way limited U.S. troop numbers enabled ethnic strife and the eventual 2011 U.S. pullout have all greatly complicated U.S. policy in the Middle East, they said.
The end of Saddam’s minority Sunni rule and replacement with a Shi’ite majority government in Iraq freed Iran to deepen its influence across the Levant, especially in Syria, where Iranian forces and Shi’ite militias helped Bashar al-Assad crush a Sunni uprising and stay in power.
The 2011 withdrawal of the U.S. troops from Iraq left a vacuum that Islamic State (ISIS) militants filled, seizing roughly a third of Iraq and Syria and fanning fears among Gulf Arab states that they could not rely on the United States.
Having withdrawn, former U.S. President Barack Obama in 2014 sent troops back to Iraq, where about 2,500 remain, and in 2015 he deployed to Syria, where about 900 troops are on the ground. U.S. forces in both countries combat Islamic State militants, who are also active from North Africa to Afghanistan.
“Our inability, unwillingness, to put the hammer down in terms of security in the country allowed chaos to ensue, which gave rise to ISIS,” said former deputy secretary of state Richard Armitage, faulting the U.S. failure to secure Iraq.
Armitage, who served under Republican Bush when the United States invaded Iraq, said the U.S. invasion “might be as big a strategic error” as Hitler’s invasion of the Soviet Union in 1941, which helped bring about Germany’s World War Two defeat.
The costs of U.S. involvement in Iraq and Syria are massive.
According to estimates published this week by the “Costs of War” project at Brown University, the U.S. price tag to date for the wars in Iraq and Syria comes to $1.79 trillion, including Pentagon and State Department spending, veterans’ care and the interest on debt financing the conflicts. Including projected veterans’ care through 2050, this rises to $2.89 trillion.
The project puts U.S. military deaths in Iraq and Syria over the past 20 years at 4,599 and estimates total deaths, including Iraqi and Syrian civilians, military, police, opposition fighters, media and others at 550,000 to 584,000. This includes only those killed as a direct result of war but not estimated indirect deaths from disease, displacement or starvation.
U.S. credibility also suffered from Bush’s decision to invade based on bogus, exaggerated and ultimately erroneous intelligence about Iraqi weapons of mass destruction (WMD).
John Bolton, a war advocate who served under Bush, said even though Washington made mistakes – by failing to deploy enough troops and administering Iraq instead of quickly handing over to Iraqis – he believed removing Saddam justified the costs.
“It was worth it because the decision was not simply: ‘Does Saddam pose a WMD threat in 2003?'” he said. “Another question was: ‘Would he pose a WMD threat five years later?’ To which I think the answer clearly was ‘yes.'”
“The worst mistake made after the overthrow of Saddam … was withdrawing in 2011,” he added, saying he believed Obama wanted to pull out and used the inability to get guarantees of immunity for U.S. forces from Iraq’s parliament “as an excuse.”
‘ALARM BELLS RINGING … IN THE GULF’
Ryan Crocker, who served as U.S. ambassador in Iraq, said the 2003 invasion did not immediately undermine U.S. influence in the Gulf but the 2011 withdrawal helped push Arab states to start hedging their bets.
In the latest example of waning U.S. influence, Iran and Saudi Arabia agreed on Friday to re-establish relations after years of hostility in a deal brokered by China.
“We just decided we didn’t want to do this stuff anymore,” Crocker said, referring to the U.S. unwillingness to keep spending blood and treasure securing Iraq. “That began … with President Obama declaring … he was going to pull all forces out.”
“These were U.S. decisions not forced by a collapsing economy, not forced by demonstrators in the street,” he said. “Our leadership just decided we didn’t want to do it any more. And that started the alarm bells ringing … in the Gulf.”
Jim Steinberg, a deputy secretary of state under Obama, said the war raised deep questions about Washington’s willingness to act unilaterally and its steadfastness as a partner.
“The net result … has been bad for U.S. leverage, bad for U.S. influence, bad for our ability to partner with countries in the region,” he said.
A debate still rages among former officials over Obama’s decision to withdraw, tracking a timeline laid out by the Bush administration and reflecting a U.S. inability to secure immunities for U.S. troops backed by the Iraqi parliament.
Bolton’s belief that removing Saddam was worth the eventual cost is not held by many current and former officials.
Asked the first word that came to mind about the invasion and its aftermath, Armitage replied “FUBAR,” a military acronym which, politely, stands for “Fouled up beyond all recognition.”
“Disaster,” said Larry Wilkerson, former Secretary of State Colin Powell’s chief of staff.
“Unnecessary,” said Steinberg.
(This story has been refiled to fix the spelling of former U.S. President Barack Obama’s name in paragraph 5)
(Reporting By Arshad Mohammed and Jonathan Landay; Additional reporting by Idrees Ali; Editing by William Maclean)
Texas announces takeover of Houston schools, stirring anger
Juan A Lozano and Paul J. Weber – March 15, 2023
HOUSTON (AP) — Texas officials on Wednesday announced a state takeover of Houston’s nearly 200,000-student public school district, the eighth-largest in the country, acting on years of threats and angering Democrats who assailed the move as political.
The announcement, made by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott’s education commissioner, amounts to one of the largest school takeovers ever in the U.S.
It also deepens a high-stakes rift between Texas’ largest city, where Democrats wield control locally and state Republican leaders have sought increasing authority in the wake of election fumbles and pandemic restrictions.
Other big cities including Philadelphia, New Orleans and Detroit in recent decades have gone through state takeovers, which are generally viewed as last resorts for underperforming schools and are often met with community backlash. Critics argue that past outcomes show little improvement following state interventions.
The state began making moves toward a takeover of the Houston Independent School District in 2019, following allegations of misconduct by school trustees, including inappropriate influencing of vendor contracts, and chronically low academic scores at one of its roughly 50 high schools.
The district sued to block a takeover, but new education laws subsequently passed by the GOP-controlled state Legislature and a January ruling from the Texas Supreme Court cleared the way for the state to seize control.
Schools in Houston are not under mayoral control, unlike in cities such as New York or Chicago, but as expectations of a takeover mounted, the city’s Democratic leaders unified in opposition.
Most of Houston’s school board members have been replaced since 2019. District officials also say the state is ignoring academic strides made across city schools.
Race is also an issue because the overwhelming majority of students in Houston schools are Hispanic or Black. Domingo Morel, a professor of political science and public services at New York University, has studied school takeovers nationwide and said the political dynamics in Texas are similar to where states have intervened elsewhere.
The demographics in Houston, Morel said, are also similar.
“If we just focus on taking over school districts because they underperform, we would have a lot more takeovers,” Morel said. “But that’s not what happens.”
Exclusive-Ukraine accuses Russian snipers of abusing child, gang raping mother
Stefaniia Bern and Anthony Deutsch – March 14, 2023
KYIV (Reuters) – Ukraine has accused two Russian soldiers of sexually assaulting a four-year-old girl and gang raping her mother at gunpoint in front of her father, as part of widespread allegations of abuse during the more than one-year-long invasion.
According to Ukrainian prosecution files seen by Reuters, the incidents were among a spree of sex crimes Russian soldiers of the 15th Separate Motorized Rifle Brigade committed in four homes of Brovary district near the capital Kyiv in March 2022.
Russia’s Defence Ministry did not respond to a request for comment. Phone numbers listed for the brigade were out of order. Two officials at the Samara Garrison, of which the brigade is a part, said they were unable to give contacts for the unit when contacted by Reuters, with one saying they were classified.
During Moscow’s failed push to capture Kyiv after its Feb. 24 invasion, soldiers entered Brovary a few days later, looting and using sexual violence as a deliberate tactic to terrorise the population, the Ukrainian prosecutors said.
“They singled out the women beforehand, coordinated their actions and their roles,” said the prosecutors, whose 2022 documents were based on interviews with witnesses and survivors.
Most of the alleged atrocities took place on March 13, when soldiers “in a state of alcoholic intoxication, broke into the yard of the house where a young family lived,” the prosecutors alleged.
The father was beaten with a metal pot then forced to kneel while his wife was gang raped. One of the soldiers told the four-year-old girl he “will make her a woman” before she was abused, the documents said.
The family survived, though prosecutors said they are investigating additional crimes in the area including murders during the same period.
President Vladimir Putin’s government, which says it is fighting Western-backed “neo-Nazis” in Ukraine, has repeatedly denied allegations of atrocities. It has also denied that its military commanders are aware of sexual violence by soldiers.
The soldiers were both snipers, aged 32 and 28, the files said, adding that the former had died while the younger, named as Yevgeniy Chernoknizhniy, returned to Russia.
When Reuters asked for the identities of both soldiers, prosecutors provided only the name of the younger man. When Reuters called a number in online databases for him, a person saying he was Chernoknizhniy’s brother said he was deceased.
“He died. There’s no way you can get hold of him,” said the man, crying. “That’s all that I can say.”
Reuters was unable to independently confirm his assertion.
The two snipers were among six suspects accused in the Brovary assaults, which prosecutors say is one of the most extensive investigations of sexual abuse since the invasion.
After the alleged attack on the girl and her parents, the two soldiers entered the house of an elderly couple next door, where they beat them, prosecutors said, also raping a 41-year-old pregnant woman and a 17-year-old girl.
At another location where several families lived, the soldiers forced everyone into the kitchen and gang raped a 15-year-old girl and her mother, they said.
All the victims survived, prosecutors said, and were receiving psychological and medical assistance.
A pre-trial investigation is ongoing into the possible role of superior officials in the Brovary attacks, prosecutors said, in a case adding to growing allegations of systematic sexual abuse by Russian soldiers.
Ukraine’s Prosecutor General’s office says it is investigating more than 71,000 reports of war crimes received since Russia sent tens of thousands of troops over the border.
Ukrainian investigators know the probability of finding and punishing suspects is low and potential trials would be mainly in absentia, but there are also international efforts to prosecute war crimes including by the International Criminal Court.
While suspects are unlikely to be surrendered by Moscow, anyone convicted in absentia may be placed on international watchlists, which would make it difficult to travel.
Russia has also accused Ukrainian forces of war crimes, including the execution of 10 prisoners of war.
A U.N. human rights monitoring mission in Ukraine has said that most of the dozens of sexual violence accusations pointed at the Russian military.
So far, Ukrainian prosecutors have convicted 26 Russians of war crimes – some prisoners of war, some in absentia – of which one was for rape.
(Reporting by Anthony Deutsch in Amsterdam and Stefaniia Bern in Kyiv; Additional reporting by Anton Zverev and Maria Tsvetkova; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Cawthorne)