Forget Snoop Dogg’s Trump clown: This anti-Trump hip hop video is radical, thought-provoking and wildly popular

Forget Snoop Dogg’s Trump clown: This anti-Trump hip hop video is radical, thought-provoking and wildly popular

Salon

Kodak Black

A still from “Tunnel Vision” by Kodak Black (Credit: YouTube/Kodak Black)

The ongoing beef between President Trump and virtually all of hip hop flared up a couple of weeks ago, when Snoop Dogg’s “Lavender” video, which depicts Snoop cartoonishly “shooting” a  Trump-like clown, drew a firestorm of reaction from right-wing media, Republican politicians and eventually Trump himself. “Can you imagine what the outcry would be if Snoop Dogg, failing career and all, had aimed and fired the gun at President Obama? Jail time,” Trump tweeted. Senators Cruz and Rubio joined in to attack Snoop, alongside Fox News, Breitbart and much of the rest of conservative media.

It should be noted that Snoop’s “violent” imagery is made safe by literal clown makeup and a Wile E. Coyote-style gun that merely unfurls a flag reading “BANG” when fired. Whether it’s proper or not, there’s a safety to the imagery, even a jocularity. Nevertheless, the firestorm of reaction and defense spread from Breitbart to the New York Times and the Washington Post and onto cable news.

But while pundits and politicians debated the propriety of the video’s brief comic violence, a vastly more popular, far more radical and thought-provoking anti-Trump rap video was being watched by young fans at an unreal clip of 2 million views per day (despite all of the attention it’s received in the national media, Snoop Dogg’s video has garnered a fraction of that). South Florida rapper Kodak Black’s video for his hit song “Tunnel Vision” is a full anti-white supremacy narrative, with Klansmen hung in quasi-effigy from burning crosses and a white man in a red Trump-style hat and Confederate flag jacket engaged in hand-to-hand combat with a black man under an upside-down American flag. The flag symbolism is further complicated and intensified when the black man grabs the flag during the struggle and winds it around the neck of the white man to strangle him in the final seconds before the video’s surprise ending.

Director Michael Garcia creates a narrative that suggests a contemporized Nat Turner rebellion, with a black man engaged in farm work that appears to be in some fashion coerced. As a white man in a red Trump-style “Make America Hate Again” hat approaches, the camera reveals that the farm on which the black man works is enclosed and labeled “hunting grounds.” The white man’s denim jacket sports a Confederate flag. It’s a slave rebellion narrative melded with the human-hunting genre, à la Ernest Dickerson’s 1994 “Surviving the Game” — a film adaptation of the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” — in which an indentured man cast as prey attacks his captor and the two engage in a life-or-death struggle.

The video is dark and densely saturated with anti-Trump dread and fury — this violence isn’t silly or cartoonish. The gun in the video isn’t a clown gun; it’s an infamous Romanian Draco AK-47.

The video’s narrative through-line is intercut with performance shots filmed in a fiery, macabre pit. These are night shots lit only by burning crosses behind Kodak and his crew. A life-size figure in a Klan robe and mask dangles noose-bound from one of the crosses. The performers wear all black. One hides his face behind a black ski mask. The Jim Crow-era imagery combines with slave-era servitude and contemporary Trumpism to construct a critique of the current crisis that stretches through generations to link it to the centuries-long national history of anti-black violence and oppression.

I did mention that the video culminates with a white man in a MAGA-style cap getting choked out by a black man wielding an American flag as the weapon, right?

Did I mention that this is the biggest rap video of the year thus far? “Tunnel Vision” is the most intensely anti-Trump statement yet in hip hop, and it appears to be the most popular rap video on YouTube since last year’s smash hit “Bad and Boujee” by Migos.

With its relative tameness, then, it’s unclear why the Snoop video became the news event that it did, other than accessibility: Snoop is a legacy rapper much of the media class knows from childhood and adolescence. They’ve heard of Snoop Dogg. But young rap fans, those who power the genre at this point, don’t listen to Snoop. We might call Snoop “establishment rap” at this point — he’s the rap equivalent of classic rock. This isn’t intended to be shade. Snoop is a legend, to be sure, but he’s not influential in 2017 — not like Kodak Black.

The Snoop video is, however, yet another entry into the virulent, effectively unanimous anti-Trump position hip hop artists have taken since the reality show star emerged as the Republican Party’s standard bearer. Eminem, A Tribe Called Quest, YG, Macklemore, Rick Ross, Run the Jewels, T.I., The Game, Jadakiss, Waka Flocka Flame, and many others have all issued vicious anti-Trump lyrics and sentiments. Some of the attacks are simple, like Snoop’s, and rely on straightforward antagonism and sometimes violent imagery. But the more intense attacks, like Kodak Black’s, are more complex and counterpose unity of black, white and brown Americans against Trump’s white nationalist-friendly politics.

YG’s “FDT” (standing for “F*** Donald Trump”), along with its remix with white rappers G-Eazy and Macklemore, issues a call for unity against the white supremacy of Trumpism. On the song’s original cut, Los Angeles rapper Nipsey Hussle interpolates a classic line from 2Pac: “It wouldn’t be the USA without Mexicans / And if it’s time to team up, shit, let’s begin / Black love, brown pride in the sets again / White people feel the same as my next of kin.” A Tribe Called Quest’s “We the People” is the most comprehensively intersectional anti-Trump anthem, linking “black folks,” “Mexicans,” “poor folks,” “Muslims” and “gays” into a unified front against the president. The song’s title harks back to an essential Americanness at the heart of the rebuke.

So too does Kodak Black’s imagery, which suggests an Americanness vital to the anti-Trump defense as well. In the video’s tense ending, the MAGA hat-wearing attacker has now become mortally endangered, and the neo-Nat Turner character has grabbed the American flag, previously hanging upside down, to complete the struggle and kill his attacker. But it is at this moment, in the video’s final few seconds, that the violent struggle is abruptly interrupted by a young girl who yells, “Stop!” The two men, chests heaving, stop and look to her as an authority. It is here that the video becomes the most complex entry into hip hop’s anti-Trump chorus. The simple antagonism is gone, and the girl’s exhortation joins the enemies into a new unity. The viewer understands that the fight will not recommence; the girl’s wisdom will reign. There will have to be reconciliation.

Here, the video goes black and ends. The viewer is left without the certain satisfaction of, say, YG’s anthemic refrain, “F*** Donald Trump!” It’s now a question: “F*** Donald Trump?” The video, which views for the most part like an Antifa training video, is, in the end, much more challenging. There is a dim, distant light at the end of “Tunnel Vision.”

Watch “Tunnel Vision”:

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“I can’t play a nerd”: Ross Butler plays Reggie on “Riverdale”

“I can’t play a nerd”: Ross Butler plays Reggie on “Riverdale”

Salon

Ross Butler

Ross Butler (Credit: Michael Becker)

Ross Butler is having a breakout year — even if the 26 year-old actor can’t yet seem to get out of high school. He’s already known to a generation of teens and tweens as a veteran of  “K.C. Undercover,” “Teen Wolf” and “Teen Beach 2.” More recently, he’s taken on the role of Archie Andrews’ rich kid frenemy Reggie Mantle on “Riverdale,” and can be seen later this month on Netflix’s “13 Reasons Why,” based on the bestselling YA novel. In it, Butler plays Zach, a popular ball player with a mysterious connection to a recently deceased fellow student.

Butler, whose parents are British-Dutch and Indonesian, spoke with Salon recently about how he’s trying to change how Hollywood casts Asian-American actors, about acting with empathy — and about the enduring allure of Archie Andrews and the gang.

Congratulations on “Riverale’s” renewal.

Thank you so much. Yeah, I just got the news and I’m very thrilled.

It’s fun watching this new incarnation of Archie being interpreted for a new generation. I’m so intrigued by the durability of Archie and that world of “Riverdale.” What do you think it is about that culture and that story about this group of very ordinary American teenagers that is so appealing?

It came out in the fifties in America and it’s been a staple since then. I think it’s a reflection of how teenagers want to be, or how they want their friendships to be. Of course it’s family friendly — or at least the comics are.

After going through the history of it, I think it was a way for people to escape, to hope for something that was better and more colorful, somewhere everybody is friends and everybody can just mess with each other — especially in Reggie’s world — and have these strong relationships. I think that’s why it carried on generation after generation — which makes it fun now, when we make it this super dark thing. That’s just a reflection of our time now. We’re being a little bit edgier and people want to see it more for reality. As the culture changes, so does Archie.

Tell me a little bit about Reggie and how you came to be cast as Reggie. One thing that I’ve heard you say repeatedly is you specifically said to your agents, “Don’t send me out just for Asian roles.” And you’ve said even now, when you got out for auditions, you may be the only Asian actor in the room.

Reggie originally was a white American guy in the comic books. He didn’t have any Asian characteristics except maybe black hair.  

Other than that, he’s  the jock character, he’s always pranking everybody and he’s just confident and arrogant. Those are not necessarily characteristics you see in Asian roles. Usually Asian roles are reserved for martial artists or the tech nerds. At least that’s how it was a few years ago. At the beginning of my career I saw that, and that’s when I told my team, “I can’t go out for these roles, I’m just not built for them. I’m 6’3 and athletic.  I can’t play a nerd or a Bruce Lee type of character.”

Before I came to be cast as Reggie, there were probably a few years where I wasn’t getting a lot of auditions. Then slowly I started gaining traction on Disney, like “K.C. Undercover.” I was the only Asian guy in the room for that, and that was written I think originally for an African-American character. Then there was “Teen Beach Movie 2,”  which was non-ethnic specific. I started booking these roles that could be played by white people or African-Americans. Then “Riverdale” came along, which was the first big step, because it was a character who was traditionally American. I saw that if I booked this, this would be a step in reversing the stereotype and starting to break new ground, because there’s all sorts of controversy about Caucasian actors playing Asian characters. Now this is the reverse of that, where an Asian actor would play a Caucasian character. That’s why Reggie is important me and that’s what stands out about him. For me, this was a step in breaking a stereotype and to kind of lead the way for more Asian-American actors to play traditional white roles.

It seems like if you’re going to get typecast now at this point it’s  going to be as the athlete. That’s what you’ve been doing a lot.

Yes, like in “Teen Wolf” and “13 Reasons Why.” I’ve played lacrosse players, football players, basketball players. I think that’s just because of how I’m built. I look young and I’m also a big person. I’m working to change that because now I can show that I can break stereotypes, I want to be able to show that I can branch off from jock image.

The show’s only been on just a couple of weeks but, it’s already created so much buzz and so much conversation. What have you heard from viewers about your character Reggie and about the fact that you’re part of this change in the way that that story is being told and this movement in representation?

I’ve seen nothing but positive comments, honestly. When it first came out and when people first saw me as Reggie, there was so much support. There was some surprise that they made Reggie Asian, but people were fully accepting of this, and talking about how like I look like the character. People seem to have no issues with it.

Have you heard from Asian-American fans?

Definitely. On Twitter and on Instagram there are people saying that it’s refreshing to finally see an Asian playing a joker, an Asian playing a jock or a traditionally white character. I like that a lot of fans message me on Instagram saying how they are inspired to actually follow the arts now, which is my goal. I want to inspire Asian kids to become more artistic and creative rather than feeling that they have to be academic or whatever.

That needle moving a little bit more and more over the past few years seems to have been led in a certain degree by those Disney shows and by those Nick shows. Five years ago if I was looking for diversity on TV, I was seeing it more in the teen shows on those networks. Do you think that part of the change has been led by this younger generation of actors?

Absolutely. When I first booked the job at Disney I saw it as the perfect launching point. It’s a start, putting in entertainment that Asian and African-Americans and all these different cultures are in our population are just everyday people. They are not stereotypes of having to be the smart kid or the dumb kid or the athletic kid. I think that the teen shows, and the CW and Disney and Nickelodeon, have a huge impact, because that’s the next generation. The more that the entertainment reflects real life, that’s the next step, that’s how we are going to get more diversity in the future. We know our fans are going to grow with us. It’s super important.

Yeah, it’s cool when you’re watching a show that’s about a wizard, not about a Latina wizard

Or spies! It’s not just Asian spies, they’re just spies. 

Are you now at the point though where it’s, “Oh, God, I have to answer the questions about being an Asian actor again?” Are you ready to be, “I just want to talk about like being like a cool young actor in Hollywood?”

I don’t mind talking about being an Asian actor. We’re fighting battles on two fronts now: fighting for Asians to play Asian characters, and then for Asians to play traditionally white characters. It’s something that we need to be vocal about.

So tell me a little bit about, “13 Reasons Why.” 

“13 Reasons Why” is about this girl who decides to commit suicide and she names thirteen people as the reasons why. And she records on cassette thirteen different tapes explaining how each person was involved in her suicide.

Your part was expanded from the book, right?

Yes, as were all the parts. What I tell people to reassure them is that unlike many other adaptations of books, this one has the majority of the book in it and then builds on top of it, rather than cutting it down and trying to fit it within an hour and a half like a movie would. That’s why I think they had to go with an episodic format rather than a movie. All the characters were expanded. They gave us all more backstory and gave us higher stakes and our involvement in the whole situation. Then also they added the parents, which was a great addition, so we get to see from the parents’ perspective as well.

“Riverdale” and “13 Reasons Why” are stories about adolescence that — even though they are outside of reality — are also exploring the darker aspects of adolescence. Do you feel a responsibility to that kind of storytelling, when you know where people watching are going to come away really thinking and talking about some pretty deep, dark stuff?

Absolutely. It’s a huge responsibility and a privilege because we get to tell the story and we get to be representatives for this discussion. I will say that “Riverdale,” yes, is a little more sensationalized. It’s based on comics and it is a little bit more dramatic and a little bit more made for TV, made for teens. For “13 Reasons,” we tried hard to make it as real as we could, as close to reality as possible. No corners were cut, everything was very raw and very real. I am excited about that because it’s a reflection of reality today. And that is what is going to open our discussion, because the dialogue seems very natural and flows. What we aim to do is just get kids and their parents talking. We feel that kids and adults will enjoy it, but also both connect at a level where it will open up the discussion about depression, suicide, just what it means to be teenagers.

And shaming and bullying, and all of these things that we are all confronting or, at least trying to figure out how to confront on a daily basis.

Yes, because it’s different now. What it means now to be a teenager now is different than from what it was when I was a teenager just a few years ago. Everyone has all these different social media and different areas where we can connect, where it’s great in one way but it’s also hard in others.

On the one hand, we’re pushing all these boundaries in terms of diversity in representation in our culture. We’re having important, deep conversations through the media about these issues. Then on the other hand, hate crimes are rising and bomb threats are being called into synagogues. You turn on the news and you see some deep divisiveness and deep ugliness. Where do you think the role of art and culture is in all of that? What can someone like you as an artist, as a performer, do with your work to change that?

It’s an interesting question because, I think as an artist, what we try to do is to encourage compassion and encourage empathy. As actors, we have to take characters and we have to feel for them and ultimately become them, and share that on screen so that audience feels that. We tell these stories of, for example, this girl who commits suicide in “13 Reasons.” By showing how real and how dark it gets, we then want to teach what we could have done or how we could have acted to prevent this girl from committing suicide, how to open discussions so that we don’t repress feelings that can maybe turn into these violent acts later in life. We are preaching openness, or preaching being honest to yourself, and trying to find happiness where you can.

That’s ultimately that’s the through line in any character I play. One of the core parts about my character in “13 Reasons” is loneliness and isolation, feeling like an outcast and feeling different. I think in this world where we have all these different connections, being more open and being more compassionate is needed more than ever, because there are all these channels for meanness. We need to try to take advantage of these connections and instead of using them for meanness, try to be more compassionate and more empathetic.

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Crime and no punishment: New PBS documentary series shows there is no justice for war criminals

Crime and no punishment: New PBS documentary series shows there is no justice for war criminals

Salon

Dead Reckoning

(Credit: PBS)

Imagine soldiers tossing children in the air and spearing them with their bayonets. Prisoners being shot in the back. Lifeless bodies heaped upon each other like trash in a landfill. War is meant to be deadly and frightening. Even in its platonic ideal, it is nightmare-inducing. But rules exist that are meant to protect civilians and prevent the inhumane treatment of prisoners. The problem, which provides the basis for documentarian Jonathan Silvers’ new three-part PBS series, “Dead Reckoning: War and Justice, ” is that these crimes of war persist because punishment is too infrequently enforced.

In addition to focusing on why war crimes so often go unpunished, “Dead Reckoning,” which premieres at 8:00 p.m. Tuesday night, shines a light on the work being done to hold perpetrators accountable. Its three hours are predominantly dedicated to the worst recent crimes against humanity — Nazi death camps and Rwandan genocide, for instance. Many of the images are gruesome, the stories recounted harrowing — each heightened by interspersed desolate electric guitar riffs. But the viewer’s rage is not directed at the culprits of these crimes so much as at the enablers. Distilled, the film’s thesis is that crimes of apathy enable crimes of passion.

For viewers, there will be a temptation to react with patriotism or partisanship. (Though the series makes no mention of America’s sitting president, his endorsement of torture colors the background.) But the series also makes clear that no nation or party is exceptional. Liberal and conservative administrations alike in countries as progressive as America and Germany have tried to bury evidence of war crimes committed in Vietnam or during the Holocaust, for instance.

Rather than governments and their leaders, the heroes of “Dead Reckoning” are the individuals who have dedicated their lives to finding and prosecuting perpetrators. It’s a pursuit that is unglamorous and often futile. Policing war is a relatively new phenomenon in human history — the Geneva Convention and Hague Convention were dictated in the late 19th century — and the development of effective tactics for doing so is a work in progress.

Early in the first part of the series, Eric Stover, who is Faculty Director of the Human Rights Center, explains why the pursuit of justice after war is so difficult. “You’re working in an environment that is often dangerous, you’re trying to collect evidence that the perpetrators do not want you to collect, and you need to make sure those who are responsible for widespread war crimes are brought to justice,” he says.
Making matters more difficult, the institutions tasked with carrying out justice are usually underfunded, understaffed, or overly bureaucratic. New technologies like smartphones and internet video-sharing platforms allow for greater documentation and wider dissemination of evidence. But the series suggests that confronting the preponderance of war crimes is a choice that ultimately falls on progressive governments — yet one that they are unlikely to accept without abundant constituent pressure. “I don’t think we ever learn the lesson or honor our obligations,” Silvers said in a phone conversation.

The importance of meting out justice, of course, extends beyond the realm of punishment. Fredy Peccerelli, who is the Director and the Guatemalan Forensic Anthropology Foundation, voices one of the series’s credos in the first part of the series: “This work, it has nothing to do with the dead. It has everything to do with the living.”  

“Dead Reckoning” is heavy viewing. So it’s curious that PBS would air all three parts in one night. But those who can stomach three hours of heinous atrocities and painful negligence will be better — if not more cynical — citizens for it. Silvers makes a compelling case that ignorance poses a greater existential threat than misconduct. “If you don’t enforce these laws — if you don’t expose, prosecute and punish enemies of humanity — humanity itself, I think, is vulnerable,” he said. The series prizes being tough on crime, but suggests that, for nations, being truly tough means putting the screws to members of inviolable institutions.

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Why higher interest rates should make you happy

Why higher interest rates should make you happy

Salon

India Debit Cards Hacked

(Credit: AP Photo/Altaf Qadri)

The Federal Reserve recently lifted short-term interest rates a quarter point and signaled that more hikes are to come over the course of the year. The Conversation

The Federal Open Market Committee raised its benchmark lending rate to a range of 0.75 percent to 1 percent, as expected, and projected two more increases would be likely in 2017.

Numerous commentators have focused on who is hurt by rising rates, particularly those with lots of floating rate debt, such as a credit card balance, or anyone in need of a loan.

Not everyone, however, is negatively affected by rising rates.

There are some individuals and businesses cheering the Fed on as it pushes up rates, including savers, people traveling abroad and foreign exporters and businesses with large cash balances.

Let’s look at why each group may be celebrating the Fed’s action with a champagne toast.

Savers are happy

Interest is the economic inducement – or bribe – that compensates savers for waiting to spend their money in the future instead of squandering it today.

For eight years, the Fed has been giving us virtually no inducement to save because its target interest rate has hovered around zero ever since the 2008 financial crisis. People have been essentially punished for saving money because inflation meant at times you’d be better off stuffing cash in your mattress than in a savings account.

Rising rates means people who save money in certificates of deposits, money market funds and bank accounts will see higher returns. Many elderly people and retirees live off their Social Security checks plus interest and dividends from their savings. Retirees and people with large amounts of cash savings will now earn more money, which enables them to spend more and makes them big fans of the Fed’s current policy.

Even if you don’t have a single penny in savings but live or work in an area with a large number of retirees like southern Florida, Arizona or parts of California, the higher rates should translate into more economic activity and thus more jobs.

Travelers and importers are happy

Another group that should experience an immediate benefit includes importers and people traveling abroad because interest rate changes usually affect a country’s foreign exchange rate.

When rates rise in the U.S., the dollar tends to go up in value, which means it can buy more foreign currency. This makes traveling to other parts of the world cheaper.

In a nutshell, higher rates mean higher yields on U.S. bonds, mutual funds and certificates of deposit, making them more attractive to foreign investors. These investors need dollars to buy U.S. investments and are willing to give up their euros, yen, Swiss francs and other currencies to get ahold of them. By boosting the demand for dollars, the greenback appreciates, and suddenly that trip to Majorca is looking more affordable as fancy Spanish restaurants, flamenco shows, hotels and taxi rides become cheaper, in dollar terms.

This also makes people who export goods to the U.S. – essentially foreign companies – much happier as well at the expense of U.S. companies. Swiss chocolates, Korean phones, Chinese textiles, German beer and many other items will become cheaper for people in the U.S., meaning it should make Americans who prefer these items to their domestic counterparts happy too.

And since a boost in exports supports economic activity in countries selling these items, many foreign governments are also big fans of the Fed’s current policy.

Companies with cash are happy too

A third group that benefits are businesses with large cash reserves.

Nonfinancial companies in the Standard & Poor’s 500 index had about US$1.54 trillion in cash and cash equivalents as of Sept. 30 of last year.

Companies with large cash reserves do not let their money sit in a vault gathering dust. Instead, the money is often put into short-term investments that earn interest. When interest rates go up, they make extra earnings on their cash balances. This increase in profits, without a company doing any extra work, makes some CEOs fans of the Fed’s current policy.

In addition, there are a number of companies that bill customers up front and then make payments much later. Insurance companies are one example. People pay for their insurance policies first and then, if disaster strikes in the future, the insurance company pays out a claim. This means insurance companies hold large amounts of money for long periods of time that they’re hoping earns a good return.

So when rates rise, insurance companies become more profitable as they earn more money on every dollar of cash they have to set aside to cover an eventual claim. As a result, insurers like it when the Fed wants to tighten monetary policy and lift rates.

It takes two

Many people’s first reaction when hearing that interest rates are rising is one of panic and dread.

The result is less cash sloshing around in the system, which makes mortgages, car loans and credit lines all more expensive. In other words, borrowers take it in the teeth.

However, like most things in life, there are two sides to every story. For every individual, business and government that is borrowing money, however, someone else is lending it. Another name for lenders is savers who want to invest the money they’re setting aside for future use and make a little (or big) return in the meantime.

Savers and many other groups are cheering the rise in rates, which helps move the U.S. back to a more “normal” interest rate policy – the recent period of near-zero rates has been unprecedented – and also signals the economy is on a surer footing. That should make all of us, even borrowers, a bit happier.

Jay L. Zagorsky, Economist and Research Scientist, The Ohio State University

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Brexit engineer Nigel Farage hired to promote effort to break California in two

Brexit engineer Nigel Farage hired to promote effort to break California in two

Salon

Nigel Farage

Nigel Farage (Credit: Getty/Daniel Leal-Olivas)

Nigel Farage, the British politician known for his successful campaign to get the United Kingdom to leave the European Union, has teamed up with the backers of a campaign to split California into two separate states: a coastal state that would be dominated by liberal-dominated portion and an inland state that would be far more conservative.

This effort is one of several “CalExit” proposals that have been floated since the 2016 presidential election, in which Democrat Hillary Clinton won the national popular vote by nearly 3 million votes but still managed to lose by a lopsided margin in the Electoral College.

Farage and his finance partner Arron Banks have reportedly been recruited by Republican operatives Scott Baugh and Gerry Gunster to help raise money to fund the drive to get more than 500,000 signatures from around the state in order to put the proposal before voters on California’s 2018 ballot.

According to UK Daily Mail, the British duo raised around $1 million on a recent trip to California, primarily from technology entrepreneurs and agriculture.

Banks told the paper the campaign would use the same impulse that propelled the Brexit campaign to victory: “It would be portrayed as the Hollywood elites versus the people, breaking up the bad government. Seventy-eight per cent of people in California are unhappy with their government. It’s the world’s sixth-largest economy and it’s very badly run.”

There have been several unsuccessful efforts to subdivide California into different states. Another one, which is actually backed by the government of Russia, is trying to appeal to liberal Golden Staters to get them to secede from the United States entirely.

“This has been done before with West Virginia and Virginia and North and South Dakota, so it can work,” a Farage spokesman told the Daily Mail.

West Virginia split from Virginia during the Civil War after the larger state had seceded from the union. The breakaway counties of the state were officially recognized by the U.S. government as a state in 1863.

North and South Dakota, however, were never part of the same state. Maine was part of Massachusetts until 1820, when it was admitted to the union as part of the famous Missouri Compromise.

If California voters were to decide to split the state in two — which is widely perceived as unlikely — that might help persuade Republicans to give residents of the District of Columbia full constitutional rights as a state. At present, the nation’s capital has one member of the House of Representatives who can only vote on committee or procedural matters, but no representation in the U.S. Senate.

Full statehood for D.C. would almost certainly mean two new Democratic senators, but those could hypothetically be balanced out by two new Republicans from the conservative-leaning state carved out of inland California.

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“Cash Cab,” the best game show to take place in a taxi, is coming back to TV

“Cash Cab,” the best game show to take place in a taxi, is coming back to TV

Salon

TV CASH CAB

(Credit: AP Photo/Mary Altaffer)

“Cash Cab” is coming back — for all of us who still dream of getting paid to ride in a NYC taxicab.

In 2005 a little show called “Cash Cab” graced television screens across the U.S. For seven years, comedian and host Ben Bailey drove unsuspecting New Yorkers and tourists around New York City, asking them “general knowledge questions” for the duration of their ride, with the riders racking up the cash with every correct answer.

In 2012, the “Cash Cab” closed its doors for good, after more than 200 episodes and four daytime Emmys.

But now the cab is back.

“Cash Cab” is coming back after five years off the air. New episodes of the show will air on the Discovery Channel later this year.

Longtime fans will be happy to know that the premise of the show will remain the same. The cab will pick up unknowing passengers and question them as they take their ride. Contestants will still get kicked out after three wrong answers, and there’s still cash money up for grabs.

There’s also something new in store for viewers. Taking a cue from the new trend of celebrities doing things while riding in cars — we’re looking at you “Carpool Karaoke” — the new “Cash Cab” episodes will occasionally feature celebrity guest stars behind the wheel.

David Steinberg, the comedic brains behind “Curb Your Enthusiasm,” has signed on to direct. A host has yet to be announced, though original host Ben Bailey is apparently not returning.

“Cash Cab” faced some controversy while originally on the air, when it was revealed that half of the “unsuspecting” riders were actually picked in advance by the producers. It is currently unknown how the revamped version will pick out its contestants.

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Jeff Sessions announces sanctuary cities crackdown, opposed by a majority of Americans, to deflect from Trumpcare failure

Jeff Sessions announces sanctuary cities crackdown, opposed by a majority of Americans, to deflect from Trumpcare failure

Salon

Jeff Sessions, Sean Spicer

Attorney General Jeff Sessions, right, accompanied by White House press secretary Sean Spicer, talks to the media during the daily press briefing at the White House in Washington, Monday, March 27, 2017. (AP Photo/Andrew Harnik) (Credit: AP)

In one of the first public statements from the White House after the devastating defeat of the health care plan championed by President Donald Trump, Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Trump administration will bar cities, counties and states that don’t fully cooperate with federal immigration authorities from receiving federal law enforcement funding from the Justice Department.

Sessions made a surprise appearance at the White House press briefing Monday afternoon, speaking ahead of Press Secretary Sean Spicer in a transparent attempt to delay a grilling about Friday afternoon’s stunning embarrassment for the White House. After all, less than two hours after Spicer made clear that Trump had “left it all on the field” in his pressure campaign to get a recalcitrant conservative caucus of House Republicans to support his plan to repeal-and-replace the Affordable Care Act, Trump demanded that House Speaker Paul Ryan pull the bill ahead of a floor vote.

On Monday, before Spicer had to account for the demise of Trump’s first major legislative push, Sessions threatened to strip some “sanctuary cities” of coveted Justice Department grants for state and local law enforcement.

The crackdown comes as the Trump White House said it will make outreach to Democrats to try to win votes on Trump agenda items days after the president complained that no Democrats would back his failed health care legislation.

“Today I’m urging states and local jurisdictions to comply with these federal laws, including 8 U.S. Code § 1373,” Sessions explained, as Stephen Miller, Trump’s senior adviser and a former Sessions staffer, was notably standing to the side. That law states that no government entity can restrict sharing information with the Immigration and Naturalization Service regarding individuals’ citizenship or immigration status. Sessions asked so-called sanctuary cities to “consider carefully” the damage they are doing to national security and public safety by refusing to enforce immigration laws.

“Countless Americans would be alive today … if these policies of sanctuary cities were ended,” he said. “Failure to deport aliens who are convicted of criminal offenses puts whole communities at risk.”

The embattled Attorney General pointed to the death of Kate Steinle, a woman who was allegedly shot and killed by an undocumented immigrant on a San Francisco pier last summer and whose death was repeatedly cited by Trump on the campaign trail to argue for the end of sanctuary cities.

“We have simply got to end this policy,” Sessions said on Monday, claiming “charges and convictions against these aliens include drug trafficking, hit and run, rape, sex offenses against a child and even murder.” Sessions said such policies “make our nation less safe by putting dangerous criminals back on the streets.”

He explained that the Justice Department will require compliance with immigration laws in order for the cities to receive grants through the Office of Justice Programs. The office provides billions of dollars in grants and other funding to help criminal justice programs across the country. Most recently, its Office for Victims of Crime announced a grant of almost $8.5 million in support for victims of last year’s mass shooting at a gay nightclub in Orlando. Sessions said the office was expecting to award more than $4.1 billion in grants this fiscal year.

“We intend to use all the lawful authorities we have to make sure our state and local officials … are in sync with the federal government,” Sessions said. He added that the Department of Justice will “also take all lawful steps to claw back any funds awarded to a jurisdiction that willfully violates 1373.”

While the Obama administration had a similar policy in place, it didn’t end up enforcing that policy. Sessions said his DOJ would and identified three grant programs — the COPS grants, Byrne grants and State Criminal Alien Assistance Program money — that already require sanctuary certification.

The announcement is the latest step by the Trump administration to crack down on sanctuary cities. Just days after Trump’s inauguration, the White House issued a broad executive order that gave the administration the power to limit grants to sanctuary cities and a review of which grant sanctuary cities currently receive.

Earlier this year, Wall Street rating agency Standard & Poor’s concluded that more than 200 sanctuary jurisdictions across the country could be in jeopardy of a federal funding cut-off.

Trump’s tougher immigration stance has already hurt some sanctuary cities.

After Travis County announced its jails would be less cooperative with Immigration and Customs Enforcement, Republican Texas Governor Greg Abbott cut $1.5 million in state funding to the county. As The Daily Beast’s Betsey Woodruff reported, Abbott’s retaliatory move has forced some court’s in the city of Austin to crowdsource funding “for special courts designed to help War on Terror veterans with PTSD and parents with drug addictions.” CBS Austin reported that one veterans court in the city will run out of funding by May.

“At some point, you hit a point where the cuts are so much, it becomes so great that if you’re the sheriff, you have to have that discussion—you have to figure out what you’re going to do,” State Rep. Eddie Rodriguez, whose district includes part of Austin, told The Daily Beast.

Perhaps that is why even according to a Fox News poll released on Monday, a majority of Americans — 53 percent of respondents — oppose penalizing sanctuary cities by taking away their federal funding.

Still, more than 100 cities and counties were identified last week in ICE’s inaugural public name-and-shame list of sanctuaries.

On Monday, Sessions specifically called on Maryland to scrap any movement toward becoming a sanctuary state.

“That would be such a mistake,” he said of legislation that is currently making its way through the state legislature. “I would plead with the people of Maryland to understand this makes the state of Maryland more at risk for violence and crime, that it’s not good policy.”

Trump had said during the campaign that he would “defund” such cities by taking away their federal funding.

But legal precedent suggests that would have been difficult to do. Multiple SCOTUS cases, including Printz v. United States and NFIB v. Sebelius, have made precedent clear that cutting off federal funding to make municipalities enforce a federal mandate is unconstitutional. Furthermore, courts have ruled that cities have a right to enforce search and seizure protections against the federal government.

Shortly after Sessions’ announcement, Democratic National Committee chair Thomas Perez said in a statement, “Local law enforcement know their communities best and the Trump administration is trying to undermine their role by threatening to take away critical funds that make our communities safe and keep criminals off the streets. This administration not only is trying to bully law enforcement and make them ICE agents, but they’re trying to bully immigrant families. This is not who we are as a country.”

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Heritage Foundation alum critical of transgender rights to lead HHS Civil Rights Office

Heritage Foundation alum critical of transgender rights to lead HHS Civil Rights Office

Salon

Transgender rights activists

(Credit: AP Photo/Andrew Harnik)

ProPublica
The Trump administration has quietly appointed a Heritage Foundation staffer who has railed against civil rights protections for transgender patients as director of the federal agency charged with protecting the civil rights of all patients.

Though the administration did not issue a formal announcement, Roger Severino is now listed on the website of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services as director of the Office for Civil Rights. His prior position was as director of the DeVos Center for Religion and Civil Society at the Heritage Foundation, where he focused on “religious liberty, marriage and life issues.” (The DeVos Center is named for the in-laws of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos.)

The civil rights office is in charge of enforcing patient privacy protections and ensuring that patients’ civil rights are protected, that they are free from discrimination and that they have access to services such as interpreters.

Asked for comment, HHS forwarded a link to Severino’s title and biography. In a statement, Heritage spokeswoman Marguerite Bowling said, “Roger Severino has a distinguished record of fighting for the civil rights and freedoms of all Americans. We have no doubt that Roger in his new role at HHS will protect the civil rights of all Americans.”

Severino’s position does not require Senate confirmation.

Based on his prior writings, Severino will likely take the agency in a different direction than it had under the Obama administration. Last year, the agency issued rules banning discrimination against transgender patients, carrying out provisions of the Affordable Care Act. (A federal judge put those rules on hold on Dec. 31, siding with a Catholic hospital system, other religious health providers and five states that challenged them. The Trump administration has not sought to overturn the injunction.)

When those rules were proposed, Severino and a Heritage colleague wrote a scathing critique, saying they jeopardized the religious liberty and freedom of conscience of health care providers.

“By prohibiting differential treatment on the basis of ‘gender identity’ in health services, these regulations propose to penalize medical professionals and health care organizations that, as a matter of faith, moral conviction, or professional medical judgment, believe that maleness and femaleness are biological realities to be respected and affirmed, not altered or treated as diseases,” Severino wrote with colleague Ryan Anderson.

In a column for the conservative website Daily Signal, Severino and Anderson wrote that the HHS rule would force doctors to perform sex reassignment surgeries. “They would effectively require controversial procedures, such as ‘sex-reassignment’ surgery, that respected medical professionals argue have not been proven effective in treating serious mental health conditions.”

Despite the column’s assertions, federal rules cannot force doctors to perform procedures for which they are not trained or competent. Moreover, professional societies support coverage for gender transition treatments.

In another column for the Daily Signal, from September 2016, Severino argued that Congress should not give money to Planned Parenthood. “Instead of allowing Planned Parenthood access to new federal funding streams, Congress should be closing the spigot entirely,” he wrote. “Such a move would reflect the simple fact [that] Planned Parenthood has long since disqualified itself from taxpayer money because of its callous disregard for innocent human life.”

A coalition of progressive groups criticized Severino’s appointment.

“I could not think of a more dangerous person to head up the Office of Civil Rights at HHS,” JoDee Winterhof, senior vice president of policy and political affairs of the Human Rights Campaign, said in a statement. “Once again, Donald Trump is declaring war against our community by appointing anti-LGBTQ people at all levels of his administration.”

The Leadership Conference on Civil and Human Rights also expressed its dismay. “This appointment, made without fanfare, is part of disturbing trend by the Trump administration of naming people who disagree or outright oppose the mission or role of an agency or office to leadership positions within those entities,” the group said in a statement.

Before Heritage, Severino worked from 2008 to 2015 as a trial attorney in the Department of Justice’s civil rights division, where he handled cases involving the Fair Housing Act, the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act, and the Civil Rights Act of 1964, according to his HHS biography. Before that, he worked as legal counsel for the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty.

Severino is the latest Heritage employee to join the Trump administration. Earlier this month, ProPublica reported that Heritage staffers were among 400 employees the administration has quietly installed across the government, including at HHS. Separately, a recent piece by In These Times chronicled the far-reaching influenceHeritage has achieved in the new administration.

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With an approval rating of 36 percent, President Trump points to executive orders as wins

With an approval rating of 36 percent, President Trump points to executive orders as wins

Salon

Donald Trump

(Credit: AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

President Donald Trump’s approval rating has crumbled to 36 percent, a low point never reached by former President Barack Obama, according to Gallup daily tracking poll. In need of a win following the legislative collapse of Trumpcare, Politico reports that the Trump administration plans on rolling out executive orders on trade, energy to manufacture some needed triumphs.

In a text message to Politico, White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon said that there would be “action, action, action” from the White House this week. On ABC’s “This Week” Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt said that Trump will sign an executive order that will scrap Obama’s Clean Power Plan.

Next on the legislative agenda appears to be tax reform, but Press Secretary Sean Spicer said Monday that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is aiming for August as an appropriate time to reveal the details.

Until then, Trump’s first 100 days would have come and gone — meaning no landmark legislative victory.

American voters seems to recognize that the president has little political capital at the moment. Gallup’s recent poll shows that Trump’s approval rating is at 36 percent, while his disapproval rating is up to 57 percent. The survey was conducted largely after the failure of the American Health Care Act, showing that Trump’s losses are resonating with voters.

Trump’s approval rating is now at a low that Obama and former President Bill Clinton never stooped. However, former Presidents George W. Bush, George H.W. Bush, Jimmy Carter and Richard Nixon had worse approval ratings at one point in their administrations — although not as early as Trump.

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