Trumps Russia bounties scandal highlights potential dangers of a blind spot on Putin

17 0 01 Jul 2020

American intelligence officials have suspected since January that Russian’s military intelligence unit, known as the GRU, secretly provided bounties to Taliban-linked criminals and militants in Afghanistan to target U.S. and coalition forces. The investigation into this covert operation is now focused on an April 2019 bombing that resulted in the deaths of three Marines and may have been related to the bounties.

The White House’s immediate response was to downplay the intelligence and, more bizarrely, deny that President Donald Trump had been briefed on it. Trump also quickly tweeted that he had not been warned of the suspected Russian effort. If it turns out that Russians did orchestrate the bombing and potentially other attacks, it represents a significant escalation of what many experts believe to be Moscow’s “hybrid war” against the United States and the West.

It also further raises nagging questions that have bedeviled administration critics for the past three years: Does Trump have a dangerous blind spot when it comes to any issue that involves U.S.-Russia relations? Leaders have a “blind spot” when they fail to recognize the impact of personal biases on their own judgment and decision-making. If this is not the case, are his administration’s efforts to formulate a coherent policy with respect to Moscow fatally flawed?

Despite limp White House protestations, intelligence reports about a potential Russian bounty program were widely known and distributed.

Despite limp White House protestations, intelligence reports about a potential Russian bounty program were widely known and distributed. They were included in Trump’s President’s Daily Brief, or PDB, in February, and John Bolton, then the national security adviser, is reported to have told colleagues that he briefed the president on the issue as early as March 2019. (The National Security Council and the CIA also discussed the issue this year.)

The PDB is a daily written summary of high-level, all-source intelligence on national security affairs that is produced for the president, key Cabinet members and advisers. Historically, most presidents have read the PDB each morning, though Trump has frequently chosen not to do so.

So if the information was known, why did Trump — and his aides — feel as though it was not important enough to explore? The White House has tried to argue that the intelligence was unverified and thus not important. But it is standard procedure to present serious issues to the commander-in-chief, whether or not there is consensus. Otherwise, the president will not have the full picture as major threats develop. Indeed, intelligence is inherently about dealing with levels of uncertainty.

Russia is clearly a focal point, and it is in opposition to U.S. national security policy on a host of issues: Ukraine, Eastern Europe, Syria, Libya, the imposition of additional sanctions on Iran, cyberthreats, etc. Furthermore, throughout the early months of this year, Trump was still planning to invite Russian President Vladimir Putin to attend the G-7 summit. Trump had openly suggested that Russia be allowed to rejoin this group of world leaders. Also, and importantly, the U.S. was finalizing an agreement with the Taliban that called for a reduction in hostilities, the withdrawal of U.S. forces and negotiations between the Taliban and the Kabul government.

Any of these reasons should have been enough for Trump to pay attention.

On the other hand, Trump’s potential blind spot with respect to Russia and Putin is not a recent phenomenon, and there have been numerous examples of his efforts to forge closer ties with Moscow — at nearly any cost. Trump widely praised Putin before his election, and during the 2016 campaign he repeatedly argued for warmer relations with the Kremlin. In a stunning meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov and the former Russian ambassador to the U.S., Sergey Kislyak, in the Oval Office in May 2017, Trump reportedly revealed highly classified information that exposed an intelligence source on the Islamic state terrorist group.

Throughout his presidency, Trump has continued to reject the findings of the entire U.S. intelligence community that Moscow interfered in the 2016 election in his favor. At the Helsinki Summit in summer 2018, he publicly sided with the Russian president against the FBI and American intelligence services. (He would, however, attempt to walk this back a few days later.)

Robert Mueller’s report confirmed the intelligence community’s findings and “identified numerous links between the Russian government and the Trump campaign.” At roughly the same time, it was alleged that the national security and intelligence communities were unwilling to broach sensitive operations about Russia with Trump for fear that he would nix the efforts or publicly release details.

Over the past three years, the president has also pursued or suggested policies that Putin would clearly favor. He has publicly, as well as privately, threatened to withdraw the United States from NATO. Defense Secretary James Mattis resigned in part over the precipitous withdrawal of U.S. forces from Syria, which clearly benefited Russian policy, and warned Trump in his letter of resignation about the threat Russia posed to the international order. The president’s recent decision to dramatically reduce U.S. forces stationed in Germany was certainly welcomed by the Kremlin, but it has now been questioned by senior members of his own party.

While the president’s supporters argue that Trump has been harder on Russia than his predecessors, his record suggests this is not the case. Trump did approve the sale of lethal weapons to Ukraine that the Obama administration did not, but he subsequently suspended military aid to Ukraine meant to confront Russian last summer. He signed the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act in August 2017 despite having called it seriously flawed, but he subsequently bypassed a congressionally mandated deadline to implement it.

Trump’s questionable ability to effectively formulate national security policy with Russia has reached a tipping point. With plenty of distractions, this issue has still managed an exceptionally rare feat: uniting Democrats and Republicans in a call for answers.

This also occurs as a report surfaced that during numerous classified phone calls, Trump was unprepared and frequently outplayed by Putin. In the words of one official, “he gave away the store,” and his actions raised major concerns among his senior national security team. Presidents or their administrations have had real or contrived blind spots in past, but this involves not only major issues of American national security policy, but also the lives of American service members.

Ever since Watergate, questions about presidential actions have been measured by the words of Republican Sen. Howard Baker: “What did the president know, and when did he know it?” That would certainly appear to be the case now. But even if Trump was really unaware, why did other members of his Cabinet not raise the alarm? Consequently, an additional question may also be appropriate: “If he did not know it … why not?”

Seattle police move in to clear Capitol Hill Occupied Protest zone

22 0 01 Jul 2020

Seattle Mayor Jenny Durkan issued an executive order on Wednesday ordering demonstrators to clear the Capitol Hill Occupied Protest Zone (CHOP), just two days after one person was killed and a 14-year-old boy was injured in a shooting.

Seattle police officers on bikes and on foot began dispersing the crowd at about 5 a.m. PT, per the mayor’s order.

“Anyone who remains in the area, or returns to the area, is subject to arrest,” the department said on Twitter.

And by daylight, virtually the entire area was cleared. Officers were even going into bathrooms of Cal Anderson Park, looking for any stragglers.

“Officers continue to give dispersal orders and are checking Cal Anderson restrooms,” according to a police statement issued at 6:27 a.m. PT. “Police will be clearing north end of the park soon. Thank you to the individuals affiliated with the CHOP who have assisted officers in encouraging people to safely leave the area.”

Mayor Durkan defined the area as Broadway on the west, 13th Avenue East on the on the east, East Denny Way on the north and East Pike Street on the south.

Durkan ordered the area to be clear for at least 48 hours.

And as Seattle police secured the area, paramedics rushed to the east side of Cal Anderson Park shortly after 6:30 a.m. to help a woman going into labor.

Protest organizer Andre Taylor said he was saddened by violence inside the protest zone, which prompted city and police action.

“It didn’t end how it started and that’s the tragedy of the situation,” Taylor told Seattle NBC affiliate KING. “The first time that there was violence, there there should have been an awakening.”

CHOP was formed in early June by demonstrators protesting police brutality and the killing of George Floyd.

Protesters established the zone after the Seattle Police Department vacated the East Precinct. The site, which was also known as CHAZ, changed the boarded-up police building’s sign to read “Seattle People Department.”

Durkan said in her order that the decision is meant to “restore public safety” to the area, which she said has faced a large uptick in violence since the zone was established.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates.

David K. Li contributed.

The $600 federal unemployment benefit ends this month. GOP senators say enough already.

18 0 01 Jul 2020

WASHINGTON — Federal coronavirus unemployment insurance is scheduled to expire at the end of this month as the coronavirus pandemic makes a resurgence in parts of the U.S. and some 25 million out-of-work Americans are collecting benefits.

The Democratic-led House has passed legislation to extend the $600-per-week boost through January, but the Senate Republican majority is vowing not to continue that provision.

The top Senate Republican said Tuesday the unemployment benefit passed in the March CARES Act won’t be in the next phase of coronavirus relief, which he expects to pass by the end of July. He argued it has encouraged many Americans to remain jobless.

“Unemployment is extremely important. And we need to make sure, for those who are not able to recover their jobs, unemployment is adequate,” Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., told reporters. “That is a different issue from whether we ought to pay people a bonus not to go back to work. And so I think that was a mistake.”

“And we’re hearing it all over the country, that it’s made it harder actually to get people back to work,” he added. “But to have the basic protections of unemployment insurance is extremely important and should be continued.”

McConnell didn’t elaborate on what Republicans have in mind.

In interviews by NBC News with nearly a dozen GOP senators on Tuesday, one consistent theme emerged: They are certain they don’t want to extend the $600 per week in emergency jobless compensation because they widely agree that it is motivating people to stay out of work. But they have little clarity on what ought to replace it.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, a senior member of the Finance Committee, said many in the caucus see the jobless benefits as “a disincentive to work — to come back to work.”

“It certainly does not have the backing that it had before because of many small businesses that have come forward and said that people just don’t want to come back — that they were making more than they did when they worked,” he said.

He said that with the U.S. “in reverse gear again in regards to the virus,” and the economic re-opening either paused or rolled back in many states, the politics could shift in the next month.

A June 4 report by the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office found that if the jobless provisions in the CARES Act are extended through January, “Roughly five of every six recipients would receive benefits that exceeded the weekly amounts they could expect to earn from work during those six months.”

The report also found that extending the benefits would boost the national economic output in the second half of 2020 and lead to more spending on food, housing and other items than would occur if the benefits expired.

Sen. Rick Scott, R-Fla., said his bottom line is: “Don’t pay people more than they’re” paid for working, “because we’re never going to get our small businesses open.”

Senate Democrats are pleading with their GOP colleagues to extend the unemployment benefit, arguing that it has been a crucial lifeline to millions of out-of-work Americans.

“The $600 boost to benefits has been vital in maintaining consumer demand. Workers who are unemployed are still able to pay the rent and buy groceries, which is propping up the economy,” said Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., the ranking member of the Finance Committee. “Even if millions of Americans go back to work, if millions of Americans who remain unemployed are suddenly unable to pay their bills, the economy will get worse, not better.”

Sen. Ron Johnson, R-Wis., said he has proposed a federal plus-up in jobless insurance to two-thirds of a worker’s average weekly wages, which he said “doesn’t provide a disincentive to return to work.”

Some Republicans have proposed to let the enhanced federal jobless benefit in the CARES Act expire fully after July 31 and assist states with their unemployment systems.

“The added $600 was good, but it actually enhanced the savings rate in America to what’s probably the best in the last 50 years or so,” said Sen. Mike Rounds, R-S.D.

Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., the chair of the Senate Republican Policy Committee, said it’s “too early to tell what will happen, but there’ll certainly be unemployment benefits.”

Senate Appropriations Committee Chair Richard Shelby, R-Ala., said, “We should help people when they’re down and out. And we have. But we have to be careful. Somebody’s going to have to pay this debt some day.”

Hong Kong police make first arrests under new security law as thousands protest

17 0 01 Jul 2020

HONG KONG — Police in Hong Kong have made the first arrests under a new national security law imposed by mainland China, amid dramatic scenes as thousands of pro-democracy protesters took to the streets on the 23rd anniversary of the territory’s handover from the U.K. to China.

At least seven people were arrested under the new law, police said, which came into force late Tuesday evening. The move is seen as the most significant change since Hong Kong left British rule in 1997 and by critics as a direct threat to the “one country, two systems” policy that gave Hong Kong increased democratic freedoms.

Hong Kong police said they had arrested more than 180 people in total for taking part in “illegal assemblies” and other violations on Wednesday, with police using pepper-ball guns and a water cannon to disperse demonstrators. Police also said one officer had been injured by protesters and that others had set fire to a barricade and obstructed traffic.

The anniversary of Hong Kong’s handover to China has become an annual occasion for protesters to rally against what they see as Beijing’s increasing encroachment on the city’s freedoms.

Formal authorization for the protest was refused for the first time this year over coronavirus concerns. But this did not deter a largely peaceful crowd of demonstrators.

China announced in May that it would side-step Hong Kong’s own legislature and pass the security law direct from Beijing, triggering widespread condemnation.

The legislation outlaws crimes of secession, subversion, terrorism and collusion with foreign forces, with up to life in prison.

Police detain a protester after bering sprayed with pepper spray during a protest in Hong Kong on Wednesday.Vincent Yu / AP

Thousands of protesters chanted “resist till the end” and “Hong Kong independence,” in scenes resembling the pro-democracy protests that swept through the city last year.

Wary looking police showcased a new warning technique. Waving a purple flag with writing on that warned protesters that if they continued to chant anti-China slogans, they would face arrest under the new security law.

“You are displaying flags or banners/chanting slogans/or conducting yourselves with an intent such as secession or subversion, which may constitute offences under the … national security law,” the message read.

Critics fear the legislation will crush wide-ranging freedoms in Hong Kong denied to people in mainland China that are seen as key to its success as a global financial hub.

But authorities in Beijing and Hong Kong have been at pains to stress that the legislation is aimed at a few “troublemakers” and will not affect rights and freedoms.

Speaking at a flag-raising ceremony to mark the handover anniversary, the city’s leader, Carrie Lam, said the law was the most important development since the city’s return to Chinese rule.

“It is also an inevitable and prompt decision to restore stability,” Lam said at the harbor-front venue where 23 years ago the last colonial governor, Chris Patten — a staunch critic of the new security law — tearfully handed back Hong Kong to Chinese rule.

In Beijing, Zhang Xiaoming, executive deputy director of Beijing’s Hong Kong and Macau Affairs Office, told reporters on Wednesday that suspects arrested by a new Beijing-run security office in Hong Kong could be tried on the mainland. Adding that Beijing was “full of confidence in the future of Hong Kong.”

“The law is a birthday gift to (Hong Kong) and will show its precious value in the future,” Zhang said, noting that the law would not be applied retroactively.

He also dismissed foreign meddling in China’s internal affairs after the security law sparked widespread global condemnation on Tuesday from countries including Germany, Japan, Britain and the United States.

“Gone are the days when Chinese people looked at other people’s faces and depend on other people’s pleasures,” said Zhang.

The United States has heavily criticized the law and said it will withdraw some of Hong Kong’s preferential trade treatment, stating that the territory can no longer be regarded as sufficiently autonomous from the mainland. It will also limit visas to some Chinese officials, place restrictions on a handful of Chinese media outlets in the U.S. and bar defense exports to Hong Kong.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, called the law “draconian” on Wednesday and said it would end freedoms in Hong Kong. China retaliated imposing similar visa limits on U.S. officials and restrictions on some U.S. media outlets and said it would not be intimidated.

Dawn Liu contributed.

Black Americans wealth gap ties together the George Floyd protests and coronavirus

19 0 01 Jul 2020

George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis, which ignited protests across the country, did not happen in a vacuum. Floyd belonged to a group that has endured not only physical threats, but also systematic economic deprivation for more than 400 years — ever since enslaved Africans were first brought to the New World.

It was not just the knee of then-police officer Derek Chauvin cruelly pressing down on Floyd’s neck. It was the cumulative pressure of centuries of economic hardship — from slavery, through Jim Crow and right up to the coronavirus pandemic.

Floyd was exposed to fatal harm for a number of reasons, including the discriminatory policies that have long blocked Black Americans from building wealth.

A powerful sense of economic despair and exclusion from the American dream are helping to propel these continuing, huge protests. Police reforms are a critical step. But until the United States confronts the deep, structural reason that African Americans have been left vulnerable to a wide array of assaults — there can be no justice and no peace. That structural problem is the racial wealth gap.

Floyd was exposed to fatal harm for a number of reasons, including the discriminatory policies that have long blocked Black Americans from building wealth and passing it down to the next generation. Researchers are now studying this phenomenon, known as “stratification economics,” an emerging field that looks at how hierarchies and economic inequalities develop among various groups and classes. These researchers examine how security and fairness for Black people depends on access to wealth — an idea that has been taboo in policy circles until recently.

Black Americans have been subjected to serious and pervasive economic headwinds, including a persistent racial wealth gap and a labor landscape in which they suffer joblessness at twice the rate of whites. (The recent positive job numbers for May as the economy struggles to reopen were actually negative for Black Americans.) But the linchpin of this economic disparity is an inability to accumulate assets, according to Darrick Hamilton, executive director of the Kirwan Institute for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Ohio State University, and other stratification economists.

In order to succeed in a capitalist society, these economists argue, you need capital. Otherwise, you’re in for a rough ride — no matter how smart and hard-working you are. Your character or your potential won’t make the difference.

Hamilton learned this from personal experience. Though he came from a family of modest means in New York’s Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood, he was able to attend an elite private school and earn a spot at Oberlin College. That’s where he first noticed something very different about the experiences of Black and white students. While the white kids were getting checks in the mail from mom or granddad for tuition or extracurricular activities, Black students struggled financially even if they worked and saved assiduously.

At every step on the journey of American life, having wealth transferred from family members with assets makes a tremendous difference.

Compared to white students, Black students were more likely to have extended family members who needed money and asked them to help. When Black students got a summer job, for example, they might end up sending checks to help a nephew or a cousin. Economists refer to this as “leakage.”

At every step on the journey of American life, having wealth transferred from family members with assets makes a tremendous difference — whether it’s buying your first car or your first home, starting a business, paying school tuition or building a nest egg. While it’s great to have a good job and a steady paycheck, that’s not what really secures your position in the middle class — wealth is what seals the deal.

It’s the engine that drives upward mobility. A paycheck is a one-time thing and a job can be lost, but wealth is the stuff that grows over time. It offers returns and security that last. As the adage goes, wealth begets wealth.

If you’re Black, however, the magic of compound interest is an elusive prospect. The typical Black household, Hamilton notes, has only 10 cents for every dollar of wealth in a typical white household.

Many Americans grew up watching “The Cosby Show” and its upbeat portrayal of a successful, Black middle-class family. But Hamilton says that such families are a still a rarity. Most Black families do not have enough to sustain them during an emergency and still largely exist at the subsistence level. The United States, he notes, has more parity on education and income than wealth.

Since the 2008 economic collapse, Hamilton’s research with economist Christopher Famighetti shows Black college graduates have faced bigger barriers in the housing market compared to whites. This flies in the face of the truism that a college degree translates into economic security. Their research reveals that Black households headed by a college graduate tend to have less wealth than white households headed by a high-school dropout.

Americans have not wanted to hear this story, partly because it goes against the cherished national narrative that education and hard work are the tickets to success in America. Many people continue to cite bad individual decisions or ill-founded notions of personal or group deficits as the reasons for widespread racial inequality, rather than discrimination that’s baked into America’s economic pie.

But as Duke University economist William Darity explains, “wealth is both a safety net and a trampoline.” It helps you weather the hard times, and it gives you the freedom to take risks. The 2008 economic collapse disproportionately hit the wealth of Black Americans, Darity’s research shows, and by 2013, Black median family wealth had sunk to $13,487, from $24,318 in 2007. Many never recovered.

Now comes the coronavirus. Which, Darity finds, is on track to widen the wealth gap even more.

This should be intolerable in America, which is why Black Lives Matter protesters are increasingly demanding an end to both police brutality and economic injustice. But how to fix a problem like wealth disparity that is centuries in the making? Some argue for reparations in the form of direct payments. Others point to policies that would help level the playing field at birth, like the idea of “baby bonds,” (a centerpiece of Sen. Cory Booker’s recent presidential run) in which the federal government would create a trust account for every newborn to be used at adulthood for asset-building activities.

Tackling such a long-term and insidious problem will likely take more than one solution or intervention. It could include major fixes such as making college and health care more affordable, expanding Social Security and tackling racist economic practices in all their devilish forms — from unfair housing policies to credit score discrimination.

Fundamentally, Americans have to face a hard truth that alters the story of who we are. We have not been a society in which everyone has an equal opportunity for life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. But we still have a chance to be.

We may not be able to change the beginning of the story — but we can change how it goes from here.

Facial recognition has a new foe: The worlds biggest group of computing professionals

19 0 01 Jul 2020

The world’s largest association of computing professionals is calling for an “immediate suspension” of the private and governmental use of facial recognition technologies for “technical and ethical reasons.”

The Association for Computing Machinery, which says it has almost 100,000 student and professional members, said in a statement Tuesday that the surveillance technology was often biased and couldn’t reliably used in a way that wouldn’t adversely affect vulnerable populations.

“The technology too often produces results demonstrating clear bias based on ethnic, racial, gender, and other human characteristics recognizable by computer systems,” the group’s U.S. Technology Policy Committee said in a statement. “Such bias and its effects are scientifically and socially unacceptable.”

The association acknowledged that facial recognition technology can be “benign or beneficial,” but it said its use has “often compromised fundamental human and legal rights of individuals to privacy, employment, justice and personal liberty.”

It called on policymakers to support the suspension until legal standards for accuracy, fairness and accountability have been developed.

Protests across the United States against police violence and racial profiling have galvanized researchers and civil liberties groups, who have been calling for more public scrutiny and strict controls of surveillance technologies, including facial recognition, which critics say aggravates human biases and infringes on people’s constitutional freedoms.

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At the end of 2019, researchers for the National Institute of Standards and Technology, an agency of the Commerce Department, found that facial recognition algorithms falsely identified African American and Asian faces 10 to 100 times more often than Caucasian faces — a flaw that was illustrated by the wrongful arrest of Robert Williams, a Michigan man, this year.

The Association for Computing Machinery follows a string of organizations and companies to issue warnings or bans on the technology.

IBM, Amazon and Microsoft announced sweeping restrictions on their sales of facial recognition tools this month and called for them to be federally regulated.

Trump campaign shifts Michael Glassner, top staffer and chief rally organizer, to new role

19 0 01 Jul 2020

President Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is making some changes to its top leadership by shifting Michael Glassner from his current role as chief operating officer into a new role managing its legal fights against news organizations.

Jeff DeWit, an Arizona businessman who has been an avid Trump supporter since the 2016 campaign cycle, will take over Glassner’s duties — of which organizing rallies is arguably the most important.

Communications director Tim Murtaugh claimed that the move had nothing to do with the disappointing turnout at a rally in Tulsa, Oklahoma, this month, which left Trump “furious.”

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“This is not a reaction to Tulsa,” Murtaugh told NBC News in a statement. “Michael Glassner is moving into the long-term role of navigating the many legal courses we face, including suits against major media outlets, some of which will likely extend beyond the end of the campaign.”

“He is one of the founding members of Team Trump and his dedication to the success of the President is unmatched,” Murtaugh said.

Jared Kushner, the president’s son-in-law, is considered the de facto campaign manager, as he is the main conduit between the White House and the campaign’s headquarters in Rosslyn, Virginia.

Glassner, who has been in charge of rallies for more than three years, is being transferred less than two weeks after the Oklahoma debacle — with only about four months to go until the general election.

However, the Trump campaign has ramped up its legal action against news outlets in recent months, and the move seems to be an indication that the effort may intensify in the coming months.

The news was first reported by Axios.

Carl Reiner was a comedic Renaissance man. Heres where to stream his essential works.

22 0 01 Jul 2020

Carl Reiner, the American comedy master who died Monday at 98, was one of the most staggeringly versatile personalities in show business. In a rich career that spanned the Eisenhower era to the age of Twitter, Reiner rose from variety show “second banana” to Hollywood giant, earning laurels as a stand-up comic, actor, director, screenwriter, author and producer.

Here’s a look — in chronological order — at some of Reiner’s most essential cultural contributions, and where you can watch them.

“Your Show of Shows” (1950-1954)

The legendary comics Sid Caesar and Imogene Coca starred in this 90-minute variety showcase, an ancestor to edgier series such as “Rowan & Martin’s Laugh-In” and “Saturday Night Live.” But it was also a launching pad for Reiner, one of the featured performers and writers, alongside lifelong friend Mel Brooks and playwright Neil Simon. (The backstage antics on “Your Show of Shows” inspired the film “My Favorite Year,” produced by Brooks, and the play “Laughter on the 23rd Floor,” written by Simon.)

Where to watch: YouTube has select clips and Amazon sells episode compilations on DVD.

“2000 Year Old Man”

Reiner and Brooks became one of the leading comedic duos of the 20th century with this mostly improvised routine immortalized on five record albums. The premise was simple — Brooks played the titular character, a kvetchy fellow who has seen it all (“I have over 1,500 children and not one of them ever comes to visit!”); Reiner played an expertly deadpan interviewer — but the schtick was endless. The last album, “The 2000 Year Old Man in the Year 2000” (1997), won a Grammy.

Where to watch (and listen): YouTube has clips of Reiner and Brooks performing the act on television, as well as a half-hour animated television special released in 1975. Amazon sells the classic albums on CD.

“The Dick Van Dyke Show” (1961-1966)

Reiner created and co-wrote this Emmy-winning, era-defining sitcom that followed the life and times of TV comedy scribe Rob Petrie (Van Dyke) and his wife Laura (Mary Tyler Moore), with Reiner making occasional on-screen appearances as Alan Brady, the vain and impetuous star of Rob’s fictional show. (Reiner returned to the character on a 1995 episode of “Mad About You,” a guest appearance that earned him an Emmy Award.)

Where to watch: Hulu and Amazon Prime Video, plus DVD and Blu-ray editions for sale on Amazon.

“Oh, God!” (1977)

Reiner made his directorial debut with “Enter Laughing” (1967), an adaptation of his own novel and stage play. But he achieved greater commercial and critical attention for his fourth outing as a director. “Oh, God!” stars country crooner John Denver as a supermarket employee who is selected by God (George Burns, a comedy legend in his own right) to spread the gospel in our modern, media-saturated world. In the year of “Star Wars” and “Close Encounters,” Reiner’s gentle satire was a sleeper hit.

Where to watch: It’s available for rent via iTunes, Google Play, Vudu and a few other video-on-demand services.

“The Jerk” (1979)

The button-pushing humor in this Reiner-directed film — a 95-minute romp about the misadventures of the white adopted son of Black sharecroppers — is no doubt problematic by today’s standards. But the movie, a surprise box-office success that catapulted Steve Martin to Hollywood stardom, has nonetheless found new audiences over the last four decades. Reiner and Martin teamed up on three other movies: “Dead Men Don’t Wear Plaid,” “The Man with Two Brains” and the cult favorite “All of Me.”

Where to watch: Starz; also available for rent via iTunes, Google Play and a few other video-on-demand platforms. (“The Jerk” was distributed by Universal Pictures, a unit of NBC News’ parent company, NBCUniversal.)

“Ocean’s” film series (2001-2007)

If you’re of a certain age, Reiner may be most familiar as the cranky but sharp-tongued con artist Saul Bloom in Steven Soderbergh’s “Ocean’s Eleven” and its two follow-ups. George Clooney, Brad Pitt and Matt Damon took center stage as the series progressed, but Reiner remained a memorable, soulful presence as an aging crook trying to keep up with his younger compatriots. The first and third installments give Reiner a chance to show off his wry comic chops and fondness for accents.

Where to watch: All three movies are available for rent on the usual VOD platforms, but they’re also on basic cable virtually every day.

Why Mississippi voted to change its flag after decades of debate

22 0 01 Jul 2020

CORINTH, Miss. — State Rep. Robert Johnson, 61, who grew up in Natchez, Mississippi, remembers seeing Ku Klux Klan members flying Confederate flags while riding horses in the town’s Christmas parades until his early teenage years.

“It is a symbol of terror in the Black community,” he told NBC News. “It is a symbol of oppression in the Black community and it is a symbol of slavery. Everything that has been devastating to African Americans and to especially African Americans in the South, everything that has been a complete and utter disaster for us, that flag represents.”

So after Johnson witnessed Sunday’s historic vote in the Mississippi House of Representatives to remove the Confederate battle emblem from the state flag, he had one response: “It’s about damn time.”

The bill passed 37 to 14 in the state Senate and 91-23 in the House in favor of changing the flag. Gov. Tate Reeves signed the bill Tuesday evening, and now a commission will be assembled to design a new version.

The debate around Mississippi’s state flag is not new, but with the governor’s signature it finally reached a conclusion after many failed attempts to change it. The difference this year, according to Johnson, was the bipartisan leadership by first-term legislators.

“We’ve never had anything start in the Legislature that way, and then it just became a perfect storm,” Johnson said, referring to the protests across the country for police reform and against racism, spurred by George Floyd’s killing while in the custody of Minneapolis police. The demonstrations added to pressure from state business leaders and large religious groups, as well as national sports organizations including the NCAA and the Southeastern Conference to change the state flag.

“It’s surreal … but at the same time, it’s kind of like ‘why did it have to take this long?” said Taylor Turnage, 23, president of the Mississippi Youth and College NAACP and the co-organizer for Black Lives Matter Mississippi. “I’m very, very grateful that we’ve gotten to the point where we are now because this fight has been going on for a long time, but it shouldn’t have had to take that long.”

When the issue was put to Mississippians in a statewide referendum in 2001, voters by an almost 2-to-1 margin chose to keep the 1894 state flag. Even this year, some legislators pushed for sending the issue back to voters rather than take it up themselves.

Johnson said that when he started fighting to change the flag, he was full of hope, thinking that people would recognize the pain it has caused. But eventually that hope faded to numbness.

“It just makes it hard to get anything done in this state, it makes it hard to sit down and have a conversation,” he said. “And so that removal of that flag will be like somebody taking the bars off of our doors. It would be like taking the wall that’s between us, it would be torn down, and we’ll begin to be able to work together.”

Hope for change revived in 2015, after a mass shooting at the Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church in Charleston, South Carolina, claimed the lives of nine African Americans. At the time, both of Mississippi’s U.S. senators, Roger Wicker and Thad Cochran, voiced support for changing the flag.

The Republican speaker of the Mississippi House, Philip Gunn, also supported its removal then and played a key part in the legislation passed this week.

Also in 2015, several universities across the state voted to stop flying the state flag. The following year, more than a dozen bills were brought to the state Legislature in support of changing it. Yet none made it out of committees to a vote.

In February 2016, Judge Carlos Moore, 43, an African American civil rights attorney and judge in Clarksdale, filed a lawsuit against the state, saying the flag violated the equal protection clause of the 14th Amendment. This lawsuit continued until November 2017, with Moore filing appeals with both the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court. Moore said the suit was dismissed because he lacked the standing to file it.

In a tearful reflection after the state Senate vote, Moore said that he was glad his 9-year-old daughter does not have to come of age in a Mississippi under the symbol that the state flag represents.

The legal battles relating to the flag have further damaged Mississippi’s national reputation. The state already ranks near the bottom nationally on issues such as the economy, health care and education.

State Rep. Trey Lamar, 39, chair of the ways and means committee, pointed to the economic benefits of removing the symbol.

“I believe that changing, retiring our current flag, changing to a more unifying flag and banner on this stage, will show the world that Mississippi is a great place to do business,” he said. “It’s certainly going to be my goal to use this to help recruit businesses and jobs to our state.”

A recent poll by the Mississippi Economic Council said that 55 percent of Mississippians were in favor of changing the flag.

Mississippi was the last state in the country to fly a flag with a Confederate symbol. Campaigns for a new flag have circulated for several years, including one for The Hospitality Flag (previously called the Stennis Flag), designed in 2014 by Mississippi artist Laurin Stennis. The 1861 Magnolia Flag and The Bonnie Blue Flag could also be options, according to The Clarion-Ledger. The legislation states that the new flag must include the phrase, “In God We Trust,” and that the new design, “shall honor the past while embracing the promise of the future.

After a new design is proposed, Mississippians will vote on options in the November election.

“I was elected and all the people here were elected to do a job,” Johnson said. “And it’s our job to do exactly what they did in 1894. It wasn’t the people who gave us this terrible flag, it was the Legislature. It’s our job to take it away.”

Women who sued Harvey Weinstein for sexual misconduct settle for nearly $19 million

23 0 01 Jul 2020

Nine women who sued convicted rapist Harvey Weinstein reached a nearly $19 million settlement on Tuesday in the lawsuit that alleged the disgraced movie mogul was a serial sexual harasser and abuser, their lawyers and officials said.

The settlement, which will create a victims’ fund for women who say they were abused by Weinstein, still needs approval in federal district court in New York City, according to a statement from law firm FeganScott LLP and Hagens Berman Sobol Shapiro LLP.

The suit, filed in November 2017, also accuses former officers and directors of The Weinstein Company of failing to prevent his misconduct.

New York Attorney General Letitia James said an agreement would resolve a suit filed by her office two years ago that alleged Weinstein, his younger brother Robert and their company maintained a hostile work environment.

“We fought a long and grueling battle in the courtroom,” Caitlin Dulany, one of nine plaintiffs in the suit, said in a statement provided by James’ office. “Harvey avoided accountability for decades, and it was a powerful moment for us to band together and demand justice.”

Lawyers for six other women who have also accused Weinstein of sexual misconduct called the settlement a “complete sellout,” saying in a statement that it doesn’t hold Weinstein or people who knew of his alleged misconduct accountable.

“We are completely astounded that the Attorney General is taking a victory lap for this unfair and inequitable proposal, and on behalf of our clients, we will be vigorously objecting in court,” said the lawyers for those women, Douglas H. Wigdor and Kevin Mintzer.

The terms of the settlement allow victims to submit confidential claims describing their experiences and the impact of the misconduct. Payments for damages may range from $7,500 to $750,000.

An attorney for Weinstein, who still faces sex crimes charges from three separate incidents that allegedly occurred in Los Angeles, said he was focused on defending himself on outstanding legal matters.

“With closure in sight on one front, Mr. Weinstein remains intently focused in defending himself on all remaining legal matters, including the appeal of his criminal conviction, civil lawsuits, and the charges filed against him in L.A.,” attorney Imran Ansari said in a statement Tuesday night. “He continues to pursue all legal recourse available to him and remains steadfast in the defense of those matters.”

The announcement came roughly three months after Weinstein was sentenced to 23 years in prison for the rape of Jessica Mann, a former aspiring actress, and one count of engaging in a criminal sexual act against Mimi Haley, a former “Project Runway” production assistant.

Weinstein is serving his sentence at a maximum-security prison in upstate New York.