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Did black lives matter at D.C.’s March for Science?

Reverend Lennox Yearwood, a prominent environmental justice activist and president of Hip Hop Caucus, says he was “assaulted, roughed up, and detained” by a Hispanic D.C. police officer while attempting to cross the street near the National Mall on Saturday. In a Huffington Post column recounting the incident, Yearwood said he was slammed against a food truck and accused of being “on drugs,” before being briefly detained and then released without arrest.

The police officer then told everyone to get out of the crosswalk. By then I was about half way across the street. I paused in the middle of the street and then decided it was easier to proceed to the other side of the street, in effect getting out of the crosswalk.

The officer then ran up to me, grabbed me forcefully by my jacket and swung me around, slamming me up against a food truck. I yelled, “What are you doing? Stop grabbing me”. He told me to stop resisting, to which I responded that I wasn’t. I dropped my umbrella, and put my hands up. I told him I was there for the Science March. He said he had to detain me because I “could be on drugs”. YES, he really said that.

Reached by phone Sunday night, Yearwood said he was physically fine, but mostly hurt by the inaction from the hundreds of fellow Science Marchers who saw what happened. “The crowd didn’t really do anything,” he said. “I saw how quickly they were to accept there was a person of color being detained.” (The Metropolitan Police Department did not immediately return my request for comment.)

Yearwood said the apathy was ironic given the march’s focus on diversity and the infighting among march organizers about how explicit that focus should have been. STEM fields have long struggled with diversity, and Yearwood sees his brief detention as representative of that problem. “Until I unzipped my rain coat and the officer saw my [clergy] collar and March for Science VIP badge, he probably felt that I wasn’t a part of this march,” Yearwood said. “And that was very hurtful. For some reason, I didn’t fit in to him.”

Yearwood is concern that such incidents will discourage people of color from attending large marches for science and the environment. “It is not hyperbole to say, if this can happen to me, than imagine what it feels like for a young person of color who might be coming to a march like this for the first time,” Yearwood wrote.

July 17, 2018

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Millions of public school kids were exposed to potentially unsafe levels of lead in drinking water.

That’s the takeaway from a 106-page report released Tuesday by the Government Accountability Office, which surveyed school districts across the country in 2017 and found that 41 percent of districts had not tested for lead at all in the last 12 months. Of the 43 percent of districts that did test for lead, 37 percent found “elevated levels” of the neurotoxin.

The children exposed to lead last year are apparently no longer at risk. “All school districts that found elevated lead in drinking water reported taking steps to reduce or eliminate exposure to lead, including replacing water fountains, installing filters or new fixtures, or providing bottled water,” the GAO said. But school districts serving 12 million children aren’t testing for lead at all. If 37 percent of those districts had lead contamination, that would mean 4.4 million children at risk of lead exposure.

gao.gov

As I wrote in February, lead exposure is a solvable problem. But damages can be permanent for kids who have already consumed contaminated water, depending on the level of exposure. Philip Landrigan, a renowned lead expert and the dean for global health at the Icahn School of Medicine, told me that lead exposure unquestionably harms developing brains. “Even the very lowest levels of exposure, we know that lead erodes a child’s IQ, shortens attention span, and disrupts their behavior,” he said. “We know when we do follow-up studies that children exposed when they were kids are more likely to be dyslexic, have behavioral problems, and get in trouble with the law. There’s no question about that.”

No federal law requires testing of drinking water for lead in schools that receive water from public water systems,” the GAO found. The agency also found that the EPA was partially responsible for the lack of testing. Landrigan said the only reason the lead contamination crisis hasn’t been solved is a lack of political will to do so. Perhaps this report will help change that.

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Is Andrew Cuomo insecure about his small donations?

The New York governor has seen no shortage of major contributions to his primary campaign against Cynthia Nixon. Campaign finance reports released on Monday night have the two-term governor leading with $31.1 million in his war chest compared to Nixon’s $660,000. Despite this lead, it has become a sore point for Cuomo that Nixon’s campaign vastly outpaces him on donations of under $250.  

In what may be an attempt to compete with Nixon’s more grassroots campaign, the New York City roommate of Cuomo’s creative director Julia Yang appears to have donated 69 times to Cuomo’s campaign in increments of $1, $3, and $5 donations in the final days leading up to campaign finance reporting deadline, according to New York Times reporter Shane GoldmacherPolitico reports that governor has also been offering raffle tickets for a Billy Joel concert in exchange for campaign donations of $5.

Even still, donations of $250 or less make up just over 1 percent of Cuomo’s total contributions, but 47 percent of Nixon’s. She received more small donations in the first 24 hours after launching her campaign than Cuomo had in years.

Campaign finance reports also indicate that Cuomo has received more than $120,000 from internet entrepreneurs Cameron and Tyler Winklevoss (also known as the Winklevoss twins), and has spent $1.7 million on TV ads this campaign season. A recent Intercept investigation revealed that since 2011 Cuomo has received campaign donations from landlords who collect millions of dollars in rent from Immigration and Customs enforcement (ICE). 

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Rap music is still a wedge issue in American politics, somehow.

Earlier this month, The New York Post reported that Antonio Delgado, the Democratic nominee for New York’s 19th Congressional District, released a hip-hop album under the stage name “AD the Voice” in 2006. The album, Painfully Free, critiques capitalism, boasts about his sexual exploits, refers to dead presidents as white supremacists, and repeatedly uses the n-word—par for the course for rap music today.

But Representative John Faso, the district’s Republican nominee, saw an opening to question his opponent’s character. “Mr. Delgado’s lyrics are offensive,” he told The New York Times for an article published today. “It’s his responsibility to answer for the controversial views he expressed in his lyrics and whether he continues to hold these views today.” Delgado, in defending his music to the Times, cited Lauryn Hill and Kendrick Lamar as inspirations. “Issues like income inequality, issues like gender equality, issues like the pollution of our environment and climate change—these are all issues that I talked about back then as an artist that I’m now talking about” as a candidate, he said.

Gerald Benjamin, a friend of Faso and director of the Benjamin Center at State University of New York at New Paltz, went as far as to ask, “Is a guy who makes a rap album the kind of guy who lives here in rural New York and reflects our lifestyle and values?” The 19th district, which includes the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley, is 83 percent white—one of the whitest congressional districts in the country, the Times notes. “People like us, people in rural New York, we are not people who respond to this part of American culture,” he said.

Benjamin also claimed that rap isn’t “real music.” In April, Kendrick Lamar became the first rapper to win the Pulitzer prize for music—something not even a rock or country musician has ever accomplished.

Trump blames bad grammar for his calamitous press conference with Vladimir Putin.

Twenty-four hours ago, Trump publicly accepted Putin’s denial that Russian actors attempted to influence the 2016 election in favor of Trump. On Tuesday, after sustained criticism from just about everyone, including congressional Republicans, he attempted to walk it back, though in the most confusing way possible.

Trump claimed that he misspoke, saying that he meant to indicate that he had no reason to believe that Russia did not meddle in the 2016 election. However, in an attempt to avoid a “double negative,” he said he mistakenly made it appear that he was siding with Putin. Watch the video for the whole convoluted explanation:

Trump also stressed that he accepted the U.S. intelligence community’s assessment that Russia did, in fact, meddle in the 2016 election, asserting that he has “full faith in our intelligence agencies.” But he added, “I accept our intelligence community’s conclusion that Russia’s meddling in the 2016 election took place. Could be other people also. A lot of people out there.”

However, it’s abundantly clear that Trump did not misspeak in Helsinki. He endorsed Putin’s story in Monday’s press conference, and the “would”/“wouldn’t” explanation does not exonerate him.

The point of these remarks was to stem the bleeding among Republicans. Even still, he wasn’t able to fully endorse the findings of American intelligence agencies. It was a muddled, half-hearted attempt to stop a damaging news cycle; the question is if it will be enough for Republicans to move on.

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Obama: “rabid nationalism” and racist ideology lead to civil war.

In delivering the Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture today in Johannesburg, South Africa, former President Barack Obama warned about the rise of right-wing nationalism around the world. “Strongman politics are ascendant, suddenly,” he said. “Those in power seek to undermine every institution or norm that gives democracy meaning.”

“Look at history. Looks at the facts,” he said. “The fact that countries which rely on rabid nationalism and xenophobia and doctrines of tribal, racial, or religious superiority as their main organizing principle—the thing that holds people together—eventually those countries find themselves consumed by civil war or external war. Check the history books.”

Obama also criticized “unbridled, unregulated capitalism,” adding that we must “recognize all the ways that the international order has fallen short of its promise.” And he closed his speech with a reminder of the anti-apartheid leader’s legacy: “Madiba reminds us that people must learn to hate. And if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love.”

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Donald Trump thanks his lone defender, Rand Paul.

After his bizarre press conference with Vladimir Putin on Monday, Trump has been abandoned—at least for now—by nearly all of his typical allies. While the harshest reviews came from Republicans who have squabbled with him in the past, like Arizona senators John McCain and Jeff Flake, Trump was also criticized by House Speaker Paul Ryan, Newt Gingrich, and Director of National Intelligence Dan Coats. Even Fox News—with the exceptions of stalwarts Tucker Carlson and Sean Hannity—turned on the president, while his own advisers spun the situation by claiming Trump was “delusional.”

Trump’s only notable defender on Capitol Hill has been Senator Rand Paul. Appearing on CNN yesterday, Paul dismissed the conventional wisdom that Trump had kowtowed to Putin, sold out U.S. interests, and dismissed U.S. intelligence. “Any country that can spy does, and any country that can meddle in foreign elections does,” he told Wolf Blitzer. “All countries are doing this, but we’ve elevated this to a higher degree, and we’ve made this all about the sour grapes of Hillary Clinton losing the election, and it’s all about partisan politics now. This is truly the Trump derangement syndrome that motivates all of this.”

On Tuesday morning, Trump embraced Paul, quoting his endorsement of the president’s “witch hunt” claim in a tweet.

This tells us two things. The first is that Paul is once again inching closer to the president, with whom he’s had a mercurial relationship. Paul had been labeled the new “Trump whisperer” in the fall, though the two quickly drifted apart again. Most recently, Paul had threatened to oppose the nomination of Trump’s Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. As with his (likely overblown) concerns about Kavanaugh, Paul is most likely using this situation to add to his libertarian credentials.

The second is that, despite near universal condemnation, Trump is not backing down. Trump has publicly praised Carlson, Hannity, and Paul, his only defenders. And, despite all of the concern tweeted out by congressional Republicans, he won’t face any consequences, aside from a sternly worded resolution that may pass the Senate.

July 16, 2018

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Is anyone not investigating Uber?

On Monday, The Wall Street Journal reported that the ride-hailing giant has been under investigation by the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission since August 2017, after complaints were made about gender discrimination. According to the WSJ, The EEOC seeks information relating to pay disparity, hiring practices and other matters related to gender. 

Sadly, this comes as no surprise from a company riddled with a plethora of scandals including racial discrimination and sexual harassment, bribery, price fixing, and underpaying its drivers. Just last year, a Bloomberg report revealed the company faced five separate Justice Department investigations; former employee Susan Fowler published a meticulously detailed, and now viral, personal essay: “Reflecting on One Very, Very Strange Year at Uber,” which chronicled what the New York Times says is a “brozilla culture of kegs, sexual coarseness and snaky competition”; and Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick resigned after his flippant responses to harassment.  

These scandals at the company, The Information claims, might have sent the company’s value down by as much as $10 billion. 

But, with a new Chief Executive, Dara Khosrowshahi, things were starting to look up. Uber hired former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to investigate Uber’s workplace practices and in a 13-page document he recommended the company’s total transformation, accountability and a new tone from the top down. While, in May, Uber launched its “Moving Forward” apology campaign that ran on billboards, emails, online posts and TV advertisements (unfortunately 71 percent of respondents to one survey hadn’t seen the company’s ads). 

Unfortunately, while the company publicly claims to have made “a lot of changes” to workplace culture and discrimination, figures show that women in leadership roles at the company have fallen from 22 percent to 21 percent this year: hardly the optics a company might want when trying to recover from gender-related scandals.

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A gun rights advocate was just arrested and charged with acting as a Russian agent.

On Monday afternoon, hours after President Trump sided with Russian President Vladimir Putin over U.S. intelligence agencies at a Helisnki press conference, the Department of Justice announced that Maria Butina, a 29-year-old Russian woman had been arrested and charged with “conspiracy to act as an agent of the Russian Federation.” Her arrest comes days after special counsel Robert Mueller indicted 12 Russian intelligence officers, though it is not yet clear whether the special counsel’s office played a role. 

Butina worked closely with Russian banker Alexander Torshin—the two co-founded the Russian gun rights organization Right to Bear Arms. According to the indictment released on Monday, Butina also had close ties with Russian officials and she used ties with gun groups in the United States—most notably the National Rifle Association—to advance Russian interests. Between 2015-2017, Butina developed deep ties to the NRA, who not only welcomed her, but appear to have facilitated contact with Republican officials. 

The arrest of Butina also changes the timeline of Russian involvement in the 2016 election. While the Kremlin has been deepening ties with the NRA (in an attempt to influence the GOP)  for decades, Butina’s alleged work as a Russian agent began months before Donald Trump entered the presidential race, while she contacted Republican officials, including Sheriff David Clarke, as far back as 2013. Although Russia clearly favored Trump—something Putin admitted in Monday’s press conference—it now seems they began fishing for contact with Republicans years ago. 

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Kushner’s tenants claim exposure to lead, falling rodents, and a “cloud of toxic smoke and dust.”

A $10 million lawsuit filed Monday by a group of tenants in New York alleges that under the watch of Jared Kushner, President Donald Trump’s son-in-law, Kushner Companies led a harassment campaign to convert rent-stabilized units into luxury condos in Brooklyn’s Williamsburg neighborhood.

Following Kushner’s $275 million purchase of the waterfront building in 2015, tenants reported rent hikes of over $500 a month or more, periodic flooding, hot water shut-offs, broken windows, falling rodents, exposure to lead, and other illegal conditions. Last February, one tenant posted a YouTube video of a mouse infestation that had spread to a baby’s crib.

As a result, according to an Associated Press investigation, over 75 percent of the building—more than 250 rent-stabilized units—was vacated or sold over the past three years. The sales have averaged $1.2 million per apartment. “You have to be ignorant or dumb to think this wasn’t deliberate,” Barth Bazyluk, a tenant who vacated his apartment with his wife and baby daughter last December, told the AP.

It is not uncommon for New York City landlords, in seeking to convert rent-stabilized units into luxury apartments, to refuse to make repairs and otherwise expose tenants to other unlivable conditions. But Aaron Carr, the director of a tenant-rights non-profit whose investigation sparked the lawsuit, said, “We’ve looked into hundreds of rent-stabilized buildings and this is one of the worst we’ve ever seen.”

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Trump’s fear-mongering about MS-13 is working.

Some members of the gang have been found guilty of disturbing crimes. But the administration has repeatedly exaggerated MS-13’s reach and influence over the past 18 months, drawing false and racialized connections between its crimes and undocumented immigration.

A new poll shows that the administration’s misleading rhetoric is sinking in. The Huffington Post/YouGov survey found that 85 percent of Trump voters and one-third of Clinton voters think the gang is a “very serious” or “somewhat serious” threat to U.S. national security. “A fair share of Trump voters say they are worried about being personally affected by MS-13,” the report found. “About half indicated they are worried a great deal or somewhat that they or a family member will fall victim to MS-13 violence.”

Trump has frequently cast the gang, which originated among Salvadorans in Los Angeles in the 1980s, as a violent threat to American communities writ large. ProPublica immigration reporter Hannah Dreier pointed out that MS-13’s activities are far more limited than the administration’s language suggests. Moreover, the gang largely targets the same people that Trump does with his immigration policies: young Hispanic immigrants, some of whom are undocumented. He has also overstated MS-13’s reach by claiming that ICE has helped liberate entire towns from the gang’s control. (The agency has not done so.)

The poll’s results suggest that fighting MS-13 could continue to be a rallying cry for Trump’s base in the upcoming midterm elections. Whether it will succeed with the electorate as a whole is unclear. Republican candidate Ed Gillespie rolled out a series of attack ads in last year’s Virginia gubernatorial race that accused his Democratic opponent, Ralph Northam, of being soft on MS-13. Polls tightened after the ads went up and Gillespie’s ratings on “law-and-order issues” rose, but Northam ultimately triumphed on Election Day.