A coup in real time?

Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump’s “open admission of collusion with Russia”

Yale historian says Trump has now admitted guilt; former intelligence officer says Flynn was a Russian agent

A coup in real time? Historian Timothy Snyder says the Comey firing is Trump's "open admission of collusion with Russia"
James Comey, Donald J. Trump(Credit: Getty Images/Drew Angerer/Mark Wilson)

Has the other shoe finally dropped? Is this the beginning of Donald Trump’s attempted coup?

Trump is a plutocratic authoritarian. As I have previously argued, it is fair to call him a fascist. He has repeatedly demonstrated this fact through his words and deeds both during the 2016 presidential election and now while serving as president.

Like the leader of a banana republic or a Mafia boss, Trump has surrounded himself with a small group of advisers and confidantes comprised mainly of his family members. He has contempt for journalists and the concept of a free press. He leads a cult of personality, marketing himself as an autocratic who will protect and defend his “forgotten Americans” against all threats foreign and domestic. Trump has no respect for the standing norms of American democracy. He and his supporters evidently believe that the rule of law does not apply to him.

Authoritarians are paranoid by definition. To that end, they ruthlessly consolidate power and eliminate any threats to their power. In keeping with this script, Trump fired FBI Director James Comey on Tuesday, in a hastily written letter of dismissal delivered to FBI headquarters by Keith Schiller, the leader of the president’s personal Praetorian Guard. Comey’s firing was also endorsed by Attorney General Jeff Sessions, a man who has no credibility after having been caught repeatedly lying about his own contacts with representatives of the Russian government.

Comey’s dismissal comes one day after Trump appeared to threaten former acting Attorney General Sally Yates before she gave testimony to the Senate about Vladimir Putin’s efforts to subvert American democracy and the dangers posed by likely Russian operative and former national security adviser Michael Flynn. Trump’s dismissal of Comey came on the same day it was announced that a federal grand jury is investigating Flynn and his associates regarding their financial connections to Russian interests.

Trump’s claim that Comey acted inappropriately in his handling of Hillary Clinton’s email “scandal” is an obvious smoke screen. In fact, Trump repeatedly praised Comey’s controversial decision to release on one of the last days of the 2016 presidential campaign a damning statement about Clinton’s emails, which clearly helped Trump defeat Clinton and win the White House.

The president’s decision to fire Comey is an enormous abuse of presidential authority. To all appearances, Trump is removing a threat posed by the person who is leading the investigation of his administration’s (and his campaign’s) possibly treasonous connections with Russia. Trump will now be able to appoint a political loyalist as Comey’s successor.

For a widely read interview posted last week on Salon, I spoke with historian Timothy Snyder about what Trump’s election means for America. (He is the author of the new book “On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century.”) During that conversation, Snyder warned that the American people have less than a year to resist the creeping tide of authoritarianism embodied by Donald Trump’s regime.

Snyder also predicted: Donald Trump will stage his own version of Adolf Hitler’s Reichstag fire — a manufactured crisis or some other type of political or social upheaval — to enact a state of emergency or otherwise consolidate his power by subverting America’s political institutions.

Is Trump’s firing of Comey the next step in this direction? I corresponded with Snyder by email on Wednesday to learn his thoughts about this new development.

His “very first thought” on hearing the Comey news, Snyder wrote, “was that this was a far more open admission of collusion with Russia than even a confession would be.”

Snyder also saw the Comey dismissal as a step toward Trump expanding his power, in keeping with a pattern influenced by Putin’s Russia:

I wrote the first article about Trump and Russia 13 months ago, using Russian sources. The evidence has been overwhelming for a long time. I think it is only our basic desire to cling to some familiar reality that prevented us from seeing all this in 2016. The man shared his political advisers with the Kremlin and Ukrainian oligarchs. Trump owed his success as a developer to mysterious inflows of Russian cash. He won on the Internet thanks in part to Russian trolls, bots, and fake news. Some of that information war ran through Cambridge Analytica, where Steve Bannon was on the board.

Trump’s first foreign policy speech was written by someone on the payroll of a Russian fossil fuels company. Carter Page was also working for the Russians. And that’s not even considering what has come to light about Michael Flynn. Trump’s son-in-law Jared Kushner failed to mention his own Russian contacts to get security clearance. Sessions also lied by omission, perjuring himself to become attorney general, about his Russian contacts. And on and on.

Trump’s whole campaign was an imitation of Putin’s political style, punctuated by pathetic appeals to Putin for friendship. This is what is known through English-language open sources. When you include that Russia has been carrying out operations to derail democracy and support favored candidates elsewhere, the pattern takes shape.

Snyder also said that Trump’s recent moves are consistent with the predictions made in his book “On Tyranny”:

First, the continued attack on truth, twisting it and undermining it. Using Comey as a source for his argument that he is innocent and then firing Comey. Praising and blaming Comey for how he handled the Clinton case. Undermining an investigation that is after a simple and important truth.

My Russian friends refer to agencies like the FBI as siloviki. The agencies that use force. For Trump to build an authoritarian state in the USA, the FBI must cease to be a police agency that investigates according to law, and become a top-down instrument of force: siloviki. That I think is what Trump would regard as normal.

Or to use the example of Communist takeovers: Communists always first went for what they called the power ministries.

Is firing James Comey Trump’s Reichstag fire moment? Look, we have here a president with no interest in democracy and no popular policies to get him through 2018 or 2020, who admired foreign dictators and their approach to terrorism — which means their exploitation of terrorism to create an authoritarian state. That’s the template Hitler left from his use of the Reichstag fire. But for that to work here, agencies like the FBI would have to go along.

I asked Snyder how the American people should respond. “Realize that the presumption now must be that this man is covering up a meaningful relationship with a foreign power that helped get him elected,” he wrote. “Read the press. Pay for it. Support investigative journalists. Demand an independent investigation. Urge multiple institutions to investigate. Continue resisting in all other areas.”

Former U.S. counterintelligence operative Naveed Jamali, author of the new book “How to Catch a Russian Spy,” has also been trying to warn the American people about the threat to democracy posed by Russia’s interference in the 2016 presidential election. In a phone conversation, Jamali connected Comey’s dismissal to the unanswered questions surrounding the Michael Flynn case, saying the following:

Flynn was, in my opinion, targeted and recruited by the Russians and was in fact a directed agent. But that targeted recruitment happened well before he met Donald Trump. Sally Yates informed the White House of those concerns. Once you are informed of those security concerns, your duty is to remove those personnel who are under suspicion. Trump’s decision to not do that raises serious concerns about his judgment, and frankly a lot of people will question if that event rises to a level where he should not remain president.

Jamali added this:

Keeping someone as a national security adviser — one of the highest-level Cabinet positions — when the Department of Justice and FBI present you with concerns that this man is a security risk, and to keep this person in place because of partisan reasons, questions Trump’s credibility and ability to stay neutral. It is very simply one of the greatest impacts of the 2016 election.

What is not being discussed is that this is a breathtaking counterintelligence failure on our part. The Russians succeeded. That this is not being discussed is disturbing. I want Americans to understand that the Russians, Chinese, North Koreans or Iranians may use a similar tactic. We as a country have to take a stance like after 9/11, where we investigate and take a different posture more suitable for these new threats from abroad.

In total, Trump’s firing of Comey, his hostility to an independent judiciary, his authoritarian behavior and his evident attempts to control or contain the investigation into his connections to Russia add up to a constitutional crisis. Unfortunately, Trump is being aided and abetted in his irresponsible, and perhaps even criminal behavior, by a Republican Party that, to this point, values power and partisan politics over loyalty to country and true patriotism. Trump’s supporters among the American people are deeply devoted to their leader, even if that means siding with Putin’s Russia and spitting in the face of American democracy. They are authoritarian lemmings.

While the supposedly “liberal” news media wrestles with its confusion about telling the ugly truth about Trump and the fascist movement he represents, the conservative media serves as Trump’s personal echo chamber, much as Pravda and other state-sponsored publications served the Communist Party during the Soviet era.

Unfortunately, this state of emergency is the new normal in America. In the future, people who are now living will tell their children and grandchildren how they watched American democracy being surrendered to plutocratic authoritarianism and fascism in real time. These same children and grandchildren will ask, “Why didn’t you do anything to stop it?” What will we tell them?

History is watching. The American people now have to choose if they will be bystanders or agents in their own destiny. I am deeply saddened that so many Americans seem ready and willing to choose the first option.

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs

The Democrats’ hypocrisy fest:

Clinton loyalists are still trying to tar Sanders as a sexist troglodyte. Read the polls — It’s not working 

The Democrats' hypocrisy fest: Disingenuous attacks on Bernie Sanders persist — and his popularity climbs
Bernie Sanders (Credit: Reuters/Max Whittaker)
If there is one thing that Hillary Clinton’s loyalists can never resist, it is a chance to sully the name of Sen. Bernie Sanders, who continues to be a thorn in the Democratic establishment’s side. Last week it was no different, when Democratic partisans seized on an opportunity to vilify and paint the Vermont senator as a cultural reactionary who is willing to sacrifice women’s reproductive rights if it means advancing his populist economic agenda.

This opportunity came when Sanders, on his “Come Together and Fight Back” tour with newly elected Democratic National Committee chair Tom Perez, made a planned stop in Omaha, Nebraska, to stump for mayoral candidate Heath Mello, a former state senator running against Republican incumbent Jean Stothert. The episode began about a week earlier, when the liberal activist website Daily Kos, along with other notable Democrats, endorsed Mello against his Republican opponent, seemingly unaware of the fact that he is not exactly progressive when it comes to abortion (though he isn’t exactly a fervent anti-abortion right-winger either). Then, on Wednesday, an article from The Wall Street Journal reported that Mello had supported a bill as state senator that required “women to look at an ultrasound image of their fetus before receiving an abortion.”

This predictably created a maelstrom, even though the Journal article turned out to be shoddily reported. While Mello did indeed co-sponsor the 2009 bill cited, it only required the physician performing the abortion to inform patients that an ultrasound was available; it did not require a woman to receive or look at an ultrasound. Nevertheless, over the years Mello has supported other legislative measures — including a 20-week abortion ban — that are no doubt troubling for any progressive. Shortly after the Journal’s report, the president of NARAL Pro-Choice America, Ilyse Hogue, released a statement slamming Sanders and Perez for supporting Mello:

The actions today by the DNC to embrace and support a candidate for office who will strip women — one of the most critical constituencies for the party — of our basic rights and freedom is not only disappointing, it is politically stupid. Today’s action make this so-called “fight back tour” look more like a throw back tour for women and our rights.

After Hogue’s statement, Clintonites quickly took to social media to pile on, using Sanders’ endorsement of Mello as further evidence that the Vermont senator — and by default the progressive left — does not consider women’s reproductive rights and other “social issues” to be nearly as important as economic ones. The implication is that Sanders believes women’s rights are worth sacrificing if it means combating economic inequality or corporate power. (No progressives have ever made this argument, of course.)

In response to the criticism, Mello told The Huffington Post that while he is personally opposed to abortion, as mayor he “would never do anything to restrict access to reproductive health care.” A certain degree of skepticism is warranted, considering Mello’s history of flip-flopping on this issue, but the mayoral candidate is clearly not the anti-abortion extremist depicted by Hogue and others.

Last year Hogue — along with most liberal Democrats — had a far more more forgiving attitude toward Hillary Clinton’s running mate, Sen. Tim Kaine of Virginia, who, like Mello, is personally pro-life. “I am okay with people having a different moral system than I do as long as they don’t legislate that on me or anyone else,” said Hogue in a statement last July, adding, “7 in 10 Americans support legal access to abortion and some of them are like Senator Kaine, who feel personally opposed but still believe that it’s not for a politician to determine for anyone else. . . . I believe [Clinton] chose Tim Kaine because she trusts the guy, and I trust her.”

Of course, Kaine wasn’t just personally pro-life; like Mello, he also had a history of supporting anti-abortion measures as governor of Virginia. As ThinkProgress reported in July (around the same time as Hogue’s statement), while in office in Richmond Kaine had “pushed for adoption over abortion, promoted abstinence-only education, passed a law that required parental notification for minors wanting an abortion, and banned late-term abortion.” ThinkProgress noted, “He even signed a bill to use state dollars to create ‘Choose Life’ license plates, which funded state ‘Crisis Pregnancy Centers’ — facilities whose sole purpose is to dissuade pregnant women from getting an abortion.”

So this entire Heath Mello incident appears to be a thinly veiled sectarian attack against Sanders, driven by bitterness and resentment. For the most outraged Democrats, the problem hasn’t so much been that the Democratic National Committee is supporting a candidate who is moderately pro-life — after all, their 2016 vice presidential candidate was moderately pro-life — but that Bernie Sanders (who still won’t call himself a Democrat, much to their chagrin) has supported a candidate who is moderately pro-life.

Needless to say, capitulating on LGBT rights or women’s reproductive rights is not an option for progressives — and never has been. If a candidate like Mello were indeed planning to “strip women of basic rights and freedoms,” then Sanders would be well-advised to retract his endorsement and vehemently reject Mello’s candidacy. But that’s simply not the case.

This kind of hypocrisy and bad faith is consistent with the Clinton loyalist strategy over the past year or so — to discredit and vilify Bernie Sanders and the entire progressive movement that has formed around his candidacy. A year ago during the Democratic primaries Clinton supporters were singing the same tune, portraying the democratic socialist as a cultural and political dinosaur and insisting that the candidate’s supporters were a bunch of sexist white guys (that is, “BernieBros”). The Clinton camp even depicted Sanders — who has a D- rating from the National Rifle Association — as a gun nut or a “very reliable supporter of the NRA,” as Clinton once put it. In fact, Clinton advocated the same exact position on gun policy as Sanders did during her 2008 presidential campaign.

In addition, the Clinton campaign has consistently promoted a false dichotomy between economic issues and social ones, in an effort to make it appear that Sanders, one of the most passionate critics of economic inequality and corporate malfeasance, only cares about the first type — a blatant falsehood that is refuted by his 40-year record in politics. Sanders has long been one of the most socially progressive politicians in Washington and advocated for LGBT rights long before it became the politically expedient thing to do. To cite just one example, he strongly opposed the now-infamous 1996 Defense of Marriage Act, which was signed into law by Bill Clinton and supported by Hillary Clinton.

The Clinton camp has basically sought to use Sanders’ passion about economic inequality and political corruption against him, as if someone who is this intense about economic issues must be a “class reductionist” who cares little about social and cultural issues. (It is only mainstream liberals, of course, who treat economic and cultural matters as if they could somehow be separated.) “If we broke up the big banks tomorrow . . . would that end racism? Would that end sexism?” Clinton absurdly asked at one point.

Unfortunately for the Democratic establishment, these disingenuous attacks have failed. According to various polls — including a new Harvard survey released last week — Sanders is currently the most popular politician in America. It is not surprising — or perhaps it is deeply surprisingly for some Democrats — that African-Americans, Hispanics, women and millennials view Sanders the most favorably, while white men view him the least favorably.

After just a week on the road, the Perez-Sanders “unity tour” has gotten off to a rocky start. This latest incident reveals the depth of lingering resentment and friction within the Democratic Party. It is clear that many Democrats want Sanders to fall in line and use his influence to serve the party and, as long as he remains an independent gadfly fighting for principles over party, they will keep trying to discredit him. Of course, one of the primary reasons for Sanders’ popularity is that he clearly places principles before party — so we can expect his popularity to keep on growing, even as the smears become more and more desperate.

Conor Lynch is a writer and journalist living in New York City. His work has appeared on Salon, AlterNet, Counterpunch and openDemocracy. Follow him on Twitter: @dilgentbureauct.

Let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

trump-cia-speechedited

None dare call it treason:

Has Trump’s entire team been compromised by Putin? If so, everyone who continues to support him is complicit 

On Monday evening, national security adviser Michael Flynn was forced to resign after supposedly losing the “trust” of President Donald Trump by failing to adequately and fully explain his phone conversations with Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election.

As The New York Times explained on Wednesday, FBI agents apparently concluded that Flynn had not been “entirely forthcoming” in describing a phone call he had with Sergey Kislyak, the Russian ambassador to the United States. That set in motion “a chain of events that cost Mr. Flynn his job and thrust Mr. Trump’s fledgling administration into a fresh crisis.”

As the Times report elaborated, Trump “took his time” deciding what to do about Flynn’s dishonesty and was none too eager to fire him.

But other aides [such as other than press secretary Sean Spicer] privately said that Mr. Trump, while annoyed at Mr. Flynn, might not have pushed him out had the situation not attracted such attention from the news media. Instead, according to three people close to Mr. Trump, the president made the decision to cast aside Mr. Flynn in a flash, the catalyst being a news alert of a coming article about the matter.

“Yeah, it’s time,” Mr. Trump told one of his advisers.

Flynn is not alone. Other Trump operatives are also under investigation by the FBI for potentially illegal contact with senior Russian intelligence operatives.

This information is not new. The New York Times and other American news media outlets were aware of reports about Russian tampering in the 2016 election as well as an ongoing federal investigation of Trump, his advisers and other representatives. Instead of sharing this information with the American people during the election campaign, the Times and other publications chose to exercise “restraint” and “caution.” Decades of bullying by the right-wing media and movement conservatives would pay great dividends.

Afraid of showing any so-called liberal bias, the corporate news media demonstrated little restraint in its obsessive reporting about the nonstory that was Hillary Clinton’s emails. This, in conjunction with other factors, almost certainly cost her the election.

In all, the Republican Party and its voters have abandoned their Cold War bona fides and their (somewhat exaggerated) reputation as die-hard enemies of Russia and the former Soviet Union. To borrow from the language of spy craft, it would seem that they have been “flipped” by Russian President Vladimir Putin.

Despite mounting evidence suggesting that Trump’s administration has been compromised by Russia, his public continues to back him. The Republican Party and its leadership have largely chosen to support Trump in a type of political suicide mission because they see him as an opportunity to force their agenda on the American people and reverse or undo by the social progress made by the New Deal, the civil rights movement, feminism, the LGBT movement and other forces of progressive change.

In the midst of these not so new “revelations” about Michael Flynn and other members of Trump’s inner circle, the news media is now fixated on the Nixonian question: “What did the president know and when did he know it?” This question ought to not be treated like a mystery. The answer should be readily apparent because it is a direct reflection of Trump’s political and personal values.

Trump has repeatedly shown that he is a fascist authoritarian who admires political strongmen and autocrats such as Putin. In keeping with that leadership style, Trump has surrounded himself with family members and other advisers so as to insulate himself from criticism — and also to neuter any political rivals. In violation of the emoluments clause of the Constitution, Trump is also using the office of the presidency to personally enrich himself, his family members and other members of his inner circle, such as Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. Donald Trump also has a longtime pattern of open admiration for gangsters and organized crime.

In sum, Trump’s presidency has many of the traits of a criminal enterprise and a financial shakedown operation, masquerading as a democratically elected government.

Flynn resigned because he got caught, not because of what he did. White House press secretary Sean Spicer confirmed this with his statement during Tuesday’s press briefing that Flynn did “nothing wrong or inappropriate.” In response to this most recent scandal, Trump and his surrogates are now trying to focus on “the leaks,” rather than the potential crimes that may have been committed. Like most political strongmen, Trump values secrecy and loyalty above all else. Those things must be maintained at all costs, even if that means that a given member of the ruling cabal might occasionally have to fall on his or her own sword.

Based on the increasing evidence of communication between his inner circle and Russian operatives, it appears plausible that Trump either actively knew about Flynn’s actions (and perhaps even directed them) or chose to look away while actively benefiting from them. Either choice should disqualify him from the presidency.

In an earlier essay for Salon, I argued that for a variety of reasons that Trump can be considered a traitor to the United States. By that standard, his voters and other supporters who do not denounce him are also traitors, and any Republican officials who continue to back Trump are traitors as well. Recent revelations about Flynn and the still unknown extent of contact between other Trump advisers and Russian agents serve to only reinforce the truth of my earlier claim.

Republicans and other conservatives behave as though they have a monopoly on patriotism and exclusive claims to being “real Americans.” Now is the time for them to test that commitment. Do Republicans and other conservatives love power more than their country? I fear I know the answer. I ask the question in the hope that I am wrong.

None dare call it treason: As the Flynn scandal widens, let’s consider the evidence that Trump is a traitor

Chauncey DeVega

Chauncey DeVega is a politics staff writer for Salon. His essays can also be found at Chaunceydevega.com. He also hosts a weekly podcast, The Chauncey DeVega Show. Chauncey can be followed on Twitter and Facebook.

“Bowling Green massacre”: Kellyanne Conway, Rand Paul fabricate attack to defend Muslim ban

Conway complained to MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that the media covered up a terror attack that never happened

"Bowling Green massacre": Kellyanne Conway, Rand Paul fabricate attack to defend Muslim ban
(Credit: MSNBC)
This story has been corrected since it was originally published.

Kellanne Conway appears to be dabbling with “alternative facts” again.

In an interview with MSNBC’s Chris Matthews that aired on Thursday night, Donald Trump’s former campaign manager and now an adviser in his administration, referenced the “Bowling Green massacre” when justifying the president’s controversial executive order banning travel from seven Muslim-majority countries and suspending the United States’ Syrian refugee resettlement program.

“I bet it’s brand new information to people that President Obama had a 6-month ban on the Iraqi refugee program after two Iraqis came here to this country, were radicalized and they were the masterminds behind the Bowling Green massacre. It didn’t get covered.”

While Matthews did not press Conway on her Bowling Green massacre claim in the interview, so much of her statement is untrue that essentially the only accurate part is that there were no media reports fitting her description.

First of all, Obama didn’t stop the Iraqi refugee program.

The Obama administration imposed additional background checks on Iraqi refugees in 2011 but did not stop or ban Iraqi refugees from resettling in the U.S.

As for Conway’s complaints that the “Bowling Green massacre” didn’t get covered, it didn’t get covered because it didn’t happen.

Conway may have been referring to two Iraqi men living in Bowling Green, Kentucky who were indicted in 2011 for using improvised explosive devices against U.S. soldiers in Iraq and also for attempting to send weapons and money to Al-Qaeda in Iraq for the purpose of killing U.S. soldiers. Both are serving life sentences. Neither the money nor the weapons ever reached foreign shores, the Associated Press reported, because they were intercepted by an FBI investigation into the two men’s activities. As Vox notes:

During the investigation, the FBI found something worrying: fingerprints from Alwan on a roadside bomb in Iraq. This suggested there was a very specific flaw in America’s refugee screening process: Databases of fingerprints from Iraqi militants were not well-integrated into the broader State Department–run refugee admissions process. As a result, the Obama administration initiated a new review of all roughly 57,000 Iraqi refugees who had been recently admitted into the United States.

Neither man was linked to attacks or planned attacks within the United States.

Those incidents received a fair amount of media coverage, but public interest was limited since there was never even a plot to massacre people in Kentucky. The local newspaper – the Bowling Green Daily News – noted that the case received extensive coverage.

We couldn’t cover the Bowling Green Massacre because it didn’t happen, but this newspaper has written close to 100 stories about that case.

But despite the best reporting efforts of his local paper, even one of Kentucky’s Republican senators echoed Conway’s wholly inaccurate account.In a separate interview with MSNBC, Paul referred to “the attempted bombing in Bowling Green, where I live.”

Contrary to what both the senator and Conway appear to be pushing by spreading the myth of a terror attack in Bowling Green, attempted or a massacre, analysis by the Cato Institute of terrorist attacks on US soil between 1975 and 2015 found that foreign nationals from the seven countries targeted by Trump’s travel ban – Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Sudan, Libya and Somalia – have killed no Americans.

Conway’s conspicuous “massacre” comment comes less than two weeks after she defended false assertions about the size of Trump’s inauguration crowd as “alternative facts.”

“You’re saying it’s a falsehood. And they’re giving — Sean Spicer, our press secretary — gave alternative facts,” Conway told NBC’s Chuck Todd while discussing Spicer’s claim that the Jan. 20 crowd was “the largest audience to ever witness an inauguration.”

Sophia Tesfaye is Salon’s Deputy Politics Editor and biggest Golden State Warriors fan in Brooklyn. You can find her on Twitter at @SophiaTesfaye.

The explosion of Native American hip-hop

Fighting the power and speaking for the earth: 

From the reservations to the big cities, a new generation of Native American hip-hop performers emerges

Fighting the power and speaking for the earth: The explosion of Native American hip-hop
Still from Supaman’s video “Why” (Credit: Supaman)

“I see 20/20 … they pimp us for money. Revising our story, they’re televising … Hey Diane Sawyer, I am a warrior, give me your camera and send me your lawyer,” raps Frank Waln, a young Sicangu Lakota hip-hop artist from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota. His 2011 track “Oil 4 Blood” continues on a political bent, referring to war-mongering politicians who seek mineral wealth but “want the earth dead.”

Waln’s politically charged subject matter is fairly representative of a whole new generation of Native hip-hop performers. But Waln is not just your typical “angry young man” from a reservation. A recipient of the Gates Millennium Scholarship, he attended Columbia College in Chicago, originally intending to become a doctor. He wasn’t always as focused in his life.

“When I was a kid, music was a sanctuary for me. I was very insecure,” says Waln, who started playing piano at age 7.”Part of that was growing up in a rodeo cowboy family, and we had to just ‘cowboy up.’ We were Native Americans in survival mode with a history of genocide.”

His first solo album, called “Tokiya,” will drop later this year. In the meantime, Waln is releasing a new track entitled “7″ this week, on Indigenous People’s Day. (That’s the holiday celebrated by many Natives and supporters of Native rights instead of Columbus Day.) “7” is a reference to the Seventh Generation philosophy originating in the Iroquois Confederacy that all Native people strive to live by. “The theme of violence towards Native people is in the new album, like pipelines being built on our land,” Waln says.

A particular focus of many native hip-hop artists’ music today is environmental damage. “Back when I wrote ‘Oil 4 Blood’ in 2011, it was born of frustration,” Waln says. “The government was trying to build the Keystone pipeline on our Rosebud Reservation.” He’s excited about the recent wave of activism around the pipeline issue: “It’s really dope what’s going on in North Dakota – those kids on the rez ran to DC!”

Native hip-hop, especially when it comes from the reservations, has a unique flavor, blending hip-hop with Native culture. Sound and style differs between regions. There are seven reservations in South Dakota, and the sound is different from each. “We are all pioneers,” says Waln. “For the longest time, we never got looks from mainstream media, so even this article is an example of Native messaging getting a closer look.”

Supaman, born Christian Parrish Takes the Gun, is an Apsáalooke Native American from the Crow Nation Reservation near Billings, Montana. In 2014, he was Artist of the Week on MTV, and he’s unique. He rhymes about some of the same issues better-known African-American rappers do, but there is an added element of reservation life. His parents were alcoholics, and he was a foster child until he went to live with his grandfather. Reservation life provided too much idle time and too much poverty, and no good came of it. He was involved with crime and drugs. Takes the Gun says hip-hop – in its more negative aspects – influenced him to play the part of a gangster.

But in his early 20s, Takes the Gun realized this was not the way he wanted to live – and concluded that his music sent the wrong message to his fellow Native young people. So he changed course. After a record deal with a Seattle label saw him leaving his wife and child behind and living a rapper’s lifestyle, Supaman found religion and returned home to Montana, embracing his ancestral traditions and cultural mores. Today, he’s an educator and performer, and one of the best-known Native hip-hop acts.

“’Rapper’s Delight’ was one of the first songs I heard,” he recalls. “I liked the drums, the percussion; I like all kinds of drums. If I’m producing, I have to have the right kind of drums.” Supaman performs in full tribal regalia, a personal approach that other artists don’t typically use. He says he knew this gambit would get audiences talking, and makes clear he is using his tribal dress not as a costume, but toward education.

“We would be invited into schools to educate kids, sharing music, culture and hip-hop,” he says, “and we realized wearing regalia was a great tool to reach the person who was watching and show [we’re] proud of who we are. It also told other Natives they should be proud, too.” The dance Supaman does when he performs is also unusual, contemporary form of powwow culture dance called men’s fancy dancing that originated in Oklahoma. “It’s good to have all these elements to speak to audiences,” he says, adding elements both Native and non-Native audiences probably haven’t seen before.

Reached on the plane on his way to perform and speak at Harry Belafonte’s Many Rivers to Cross festival in Atlanta, Supaman says he makes music to address issues of social injustice. He’ll be singing with artists like Dave Matthews and T.I., and speaking about core social-justice issues, he said. “Most of the artists are about that theme, and positivity. I’ll be talking about the Dakota Access Pipeline and Sacred Stone Camp, which I had the opportunity to visit for a few days recently. The unity of people coming together; people from all over the world, standing up for simple things — clean water. The little guys, the regular people fighting against oil companies. That was inspiring.”

Tall Paul, an Ojibway M.C., hails from Minneapolis. He says his life’s purpose is to spread messages of peace. He grew up listening to hip-hop from all regions, initially making music for fun. In 2009 he dedicated himself fully to the art form. He says that his goal is to make people shed tears of joy and pain, and to share a common experience.

Molly McGlennen, an Ojibway poet, is an associate professor of English and Native American Studies at Vassar College. She says there is a direct link between the Native oral storytelling tradition and the storytelling of hip-hop as a form of expression — and ultimately a form of resistance. “I’m interested in Tall Paul, because he’s using the Ojibway language and English to convey the experience of Ojibway people in Minneapolis,” she says. “The issues that he speaks to resonate with Ojibway people, but at the same time, he’s also speaking to broader indigenous issues of class and race and struggle,” she says. “Because he’s speaking to so many layers of society, indigenous and non-indigenous, he’s an example of the forms of indigenous storytelling. He’s a powerful voice in the contemporary scene right now. He’s fabulous.”

Throughout Frank Waln’s new album, he talks about politics and politicians. “I don’t believe in U.S. politics,” he says. It’s all driven by money and capitalism. Honestly, as a Native person, I can see how there are people who don’t want to participate in the system. It’s parasitic, built on exploitation of human beings, stolen land and labor.” Waln recently scored a short message film called “Miranda and Shonta,” about harmony with animals in nature; the backdrop is the Sacred Stone camp at the Dakota Access Pipeline.

Supaman’s forthcoming album “Illuminatives” speaks to many political concerns that go beyond Native issues, including the pipeline and immigration. He sees a need for “bringing the south-of-the-border Native people up here, and connecting more with other indigenous people.”

Supaman is a voice strongly in favor of unity of all peoples, as are most Native hip-hop and rap artists. “I think that it has always been the case with artists that I know,” he says. “They have used their platform to bring awareness of issues important to Native people. I just finished a tour of a bunch of junior high schools in Colorado; they have no idea bout Native Americans. I’m about bringing light to the darkness and times that we live in. I want to let people know that there is always light and hope at the end of the tunnel.”

Waln is excited that music and political action hand in hand seem to be enabling positive social change in his lifetime. “I am so happy to see it,” he says. “Native young people fostering change and being the source of worldwide movements. I never thought I would see that.”

Alli Joseph is a writer/producer and family historian; a Native New Yorker, she is a member of the Shinnecock Indian Nation.

Lawyer Says He Has Fool-Proof Method for Dealing With DUI Checkpoints

CIVIL LIBERTIES
Warren Redlich says keep your windows up and remain silent when stopped.

A Florida criminal defense attorney has gone to war against DUI checkpoints, saying the compulsory traffic stops by police violate state laws and civil rights.

Attorney Warren Redlich, a former Libertarian candidate for New York governor, says drivers are not required to roll down their windows at checkpoints to talk to police. Redlich says drivers open themselves up to problems when the police have direct access to them.

Redlich posted a YouTube video on New Year’s Day, which has received nearly 2.4 million views. It has spawned several copycat videos by supporters who have filmed police officers after they were stopped at checkpoints in various states.

In the video, Redlich identifies a DUI checkpoint run by the Florida Highway Patrol and Levy County Sheriff’s department and drives to it. Attached to the door is a flyer that Redlich says spells out his rights: I WILL REMAIN SILENT/I WANT MY LAWYER/NO SEARCHES, it begins. The flyer also contains his valid registration and insurance information along with a clear pocket for his driver’s license.

Redlich says it is important not to open the window, because then the police can say they smell alcohol or drugs. He also says it’s important to remain silent, because otherwise the police can claim your speech is slurred. Even if you’re innocent, Redlich says, it makes it more difficult for an attorney to mount a defense at a trial.

“I’ve seen innocent people who plead guilty because they couldn’t fight or afford an attorney,” Redlich told a Florida ABC News affiliate.

The YouTube video shows three drivers who approach police checkpoints. When the first driver approaches the checkpoint with the doors locked and the windows rolled up, the police examine his flyer quizzically before letting him go. The second and third drivers are also allowed to proceed.

Redlich cautions that the Fair DUI flyer and the procedures used by the drivers are specific to Florida laws. He has published custom flyers and information for other 10 other states on his site Fair DUI. Redlich also published a book by the same in 2013.

“This is not about helping drunks,” says Redlich. “This is about helping innocent people. If some drunk person along the way gets help because of this, I’m perfectly okay with that. I’m a criminal defense attorney.”

Redlich says following his directions, being patient and remaining silent are important, so the flyers probably wouldn’t help impaired drivers.

See Redlich’s video:

Cliff Weathers is a senior editor at AlterNet, covering environmental and consumer issues. He is a former deputy editor at Consumer Reports. His work has also appeared in Salon, Car and Driver, Playboy, Raw Story and Detroit Monthly among other publications. Follow him on Twitter @cliffweathers and on his Facebook page.

 

http://www.alternet.org/civil-liberties/method-dealing-dui-checkpoints?akid=12795.265072.hilghC&rd=1&src=newsletter1031899&t=15

Turns out “Friends” treated fat people as punch lines and kind of had a homophobia problem

“Chandler’s treatment of his gay father is appalling”: Everything critics realized while watching “Friends” in 2015

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"Chandler's treatment of his gay father is appalling": Everything critics realized while watching "Friends" in 2015

“Friends” hit Netflix for the first time in 2015, and while it’s certainly not the first time people have had the opportunity to rewatch the show since it went off the air in 2004, it has provided a handy excuse for people to ruminate belatedly on the show’s impact — and for crazy super-fans to binge-watch all 10 seasons, obviously — and perhaps learn something new about the gang in the process. And they did! Some revelations were goofy, some light, and others pretty damning. Here’s what the Internet dug up about our favorite sitcom when viewed in the cold harsh light of 2015:

Chandler is the worst, and he’s also pretty homophobic.

As Ruth Graham wrote in Slate: “Chandler’s treatment of his gay father, a Vegas drag queen played by Kathleen Turner, is especially appalling, and it’s not clear the show knows it. It’s one thing for Chandler to recall being embarrassed as a kid, but he is actively resentful and mocking of his loving, involved father right up until his own wedding (to which his father is initially not invited!)… his continuing discomfort now reads as jarringly out of place for a supposedly hip New York thirtysomething — let alone a supposedly good person, period…. When it comes to women, Chandler turns out to be just as retrograde as Joey, but his lust comes with an undercurrent of the kind of bitter desperation that I now recognize as not only gross, but potentially menacing.”

Although, this, of course, is not the first time the show’s homophobia has been addressed:

Refinery29, meanwhile, delved into the issues with the show’s use of “Fat Monica” as a punchline.

“In the show’s storyline, Monica loses weight in college after overhearing Chandler make fun of her size. Shamed into thinness, Fat Monica becomes just Monica — desirable and (finally) human. Monica is many things: funny, uptight, loving, competitive. Fat Monica is just fat… and always hungry. I was grateful for Fat Monica as a kid. She was proof I could overcome my disgusting plumpness and be seen as lovable, too. True, I would always bear the shame of my inflated past, just like Monica did, but I was willing to live with that if it meant I’d be a person instead of a punchline.”



The Globe and Mail’s John Doyle, meanwhile, asked if nostalgia for “Friends” is all about white privilege.

“The issues of race and ‘white privilege’ make some Americans deeply uncomfortable. Maybe, at a time when mainstream U.S. TV is finally airing shows with ensemble casts that look like the ensemble that is America, and after the shooting of Trayvon Martin, and after the shooting and rioting in Ferguson, Mo., and all the attendant questions raised, there’s an instinctive need on the part of some to return to the bubble of white-bread America that is epitomized by ‘Friends.’”

Yet while some griped about the show’s retrograde identity politics, others were able to find a feminist message.

Refinery29 picked out 21 of “Friends’” most surprising feminist moments. Meanwhile, Bustle listed the nine most feminist things about “Friends,” such as:

“When Rachel got pregnant, she turned down marriage proposals from both Joey and Ross. Being married and having a family don’t necessarily have to be connected, and Rachel was the hottest single mom on network television, and everyone respected (and applauded) her decision.”

In an interesting morsel of critical theory, Maggie Wheeler — aka Janice —  suggests her character is a stand-in for the viewer. As she tells EW:

“This crazy girl who is not particularly self-aware who still gets to be at the party. This interloper, this outsider managed to find her way into this little community of friends, and I think that was a vehicle for a lot of viewers who were sitting around in front of their televisions going, ‘Well, how do I hang out with those people?’”

There were also some novel discoveries on a more micro level — like the fact that the Friends intro without music is super creepy:

Perhaps the biggest revelation of all: Some geniuses at Bustle discovered the answer to the age-old question — How was the gang always able to get a seat at Central Perk?

While, as part of their comprehensive friends countdown — which is full of gems —Vulture reminded us that “Friends” actually invented the term “friend zone.” 

There was much discussion about why the Netflix episodes were shorter than the DVD episodes.

Turns out that, back in 2012, co-executive producer and director Kevin S. Brightexplained that the DVDs had a few minutes of extra footage: “The deleted footage was, frankly, added specifically for one home video release,” he said. “If fans are particularly interested in additional footage, those versions are still available. But for this, we wanted something that we, the creators, felt represented the show as we always wanted it to be remembered, which is the original NBC broadcast versions, which have never before been released as that, combined with fantastic new picture and sound, a new documentary and other new features.”

Still, just remember, no matter how these revelations may make you see “Friends” in a new light, it’s still okay to love the show (albeit with a grain of salt”).

As Vulture’s Margaret Lyons wrote in her “Stay Tuned” TV advice column, in response to a reader expressing discomfort with the show’s homophobia: “You can still love ‘Friends,’ but why would you want to love it like you did before? Love it the way you see it now, with the things you know now and the values you have now. I love ‘Friends,’ but I do not love its body or queer politics. Those things can be true at the same time.”