Crazy

FILE PHOTO: A high-quality diamond is seen in a jewellery shop in Milan
FILE PHOTO: A high-quality diamond is seen in a jewellery shop in Milan, October 18, 2016. REUTERS/Stefano Rellandini

June 17, 2019

By Emilio Parodi and Maria Pia Quaglia

MILAN (Reuters) – (Please note strong language in paragraph 38.)

A long-running criminal probe into diamond sales by Italian banks has uncovered what prosecutors say is further evidence of corruption by officials at UniCredit, Italy’s largest lender, and smaller rival Banco BPM.

The allegations, some previously unreported, are laid out in documents used by prosecutors when they sought a magistrate’s order seizing assets from the banks and two diamond brokers. Reuters viewed the documents, which also included excerpts of wire taps and witness statements.

The allegations relate to suspected crimes and do not necessarily mean that prosecutors will charge the companies and their employees when their investigation, which has been running since 2016, is concluded.

The number of bank officials under suspicion, and the allegations they may face if they are charged, however, are widening.

In a new development, officials from UniCredit and Banco BPM are also suspected of corruption because broker Intermarket Diamond Business (IDB) invested some of its profits from the diamond sales in the banks’ shares, according to evidence gathered by prosecutors.

In addition to UniCredit and Banco BPM, Intesa Sanpaolo and Banca Monte dei Paschi di Siene are also under investigation.

In February, magistrates guiding the probe ordered the seizure of more than 700 million euros in assets from the two brokers and five banks.

UniCredit said in a statement to Reuters it was cooperating closely with authorities and its policy was not to comment on an ongoing investigation. It would “continue to offer appropriate customer care services to its affected clients”.

Lawyers for Banco BPM, Banca Aletti, Intesa Sanpaolo and IDB did not respond to requests for comment. Monte dei Paschi’s lawyers declined to comment.

In a long-running scandal in a sector already tarnished by controversy, Italy’s biggest banks are suspected of colluding with diamond brokers to scam their own customers — allegedly selling them diamonds at vastly inflated prices while marketing them as sound financial investments.

All of the banks, along with a Banco BPM subsidiary, Banca Aletti, are suspected of fraud and money-laundering for using the proceeds to boost profits, according to allegations laid out in the documents used for the seizure order.

Prosecutors also allege that UniCredit and Banco BPM worked out a deal with IDB where, in return for the banks selling IDB’s diamonds, the broker would channel money into their stock, boosting their share capital at a time when it was under pressure from a rising tide of bad debts.

Under Italian law it is deemed to be corruption when one party abuses its commercial position to induce the counterparty to provide it with favors — in this case, the alleged purchase of shares. The IDB officials involved are also under investigation.

According to a criminal lawyer when asked by Reuters, under Italian law, if the banks are charged and convicted, they could be fined millions of euros, risk forfeiting the total of 161 million euros seized from them in February and could even be temporarily suspended from operating by court order.

They could also be ordered to pay compensation to victims, with sums to be decided by a civil court.

More than 100,000 people are estimated to have bought diamonds at Italian banks over the last 20 years, judicial sources say.

A GUN TO THE HEAD

Banks have been selling diamonds on behalf of brokers in Italy since the 1980s but they ramped up the business after the global financial crisis, according to prosecutors, when a deep recession left them saddled with soured loans and looking for alternative revenue sources.

Banco BPM, Italy’s third-largest bank, was known as Banco Popolare in 2016 when it was looking to raise capital to fund its merger with Banca Popolare di Milano.

In a telephone conversation in early June 2016, a transcript of which was seen by Reuters, the former CEO of IDB complained that Banco Popolare was insisting he invest in the bank’s shares.

“Given we decided more or less voluntarily to subscribe in a very substantial way to Banco Popolare’s capital increase, they arrived with a 9-milimetre and they pointed it at my forehead and told me, ‘sign here’,” Claudio Giacobazzi said in a call to his financial adviser in 2016.

Giacobazzi died last year. IDB went bankrupt in January and is in liquidation.

IDB invested more than 7 million euros in shares and share options in UniCredit in 2012, and a total of more than 950,000 euros in Banco Popolare shares in 2014 and 2016, according to the February order authorizing the seizure of the banks’ assets. Reuters reviewed a copy of the order.

Banco BPM profited the most from diamond sales, netting around 85 million euros, including the Banca Aletti business, between 2012 and 2016 — more than all the income earned by the other three banks combined, according to the order. Banco BPM also charged the biggest commissions, up to 24.5%, they show.

Milan prosecutors believe the banks teamed up with brokers to sell the stones in blister packs to bank customers, often at more than double their market value, making tens of millions of euros each in commissions. Their partners IDB and another broker Diamond Private Investment (DPI), made hundreds of millions each.

A lawyer for DPI declined to comment on what he called an ongoing preliminary investigation.

Prosecutors believe staff from UniCredit, Banco BPM and Monte dei Paschi accepted gifts including hotel stays and antiquities from brokers as sales incentives.

Italian state television channel Rai3 first reported the alleged mis-selling in late 2016.

Currently, 68 banking and brokerage officials are under investigation, as well as the banks themselves, but more individuals are expected to be investigated before the probe concludes within a few months, two sources familiar with the matter said.

Prosecutors have received lawsuits from more than 450 alleged victims, one of the sources said.

Italy’s antitrust authority fined the banks and brokers a total of 15 million euros in 2017 for selling the stones at inflated prices.

Since then, the banks have begun to compensate customers. All except Banco BPM have offered to buy back diamonds at the purchase price. Banco BPM said last month it would compensate clients for their losses but leave them with the stones. In April, it said it had received 18,400 claims for compensation.

CRAZY STUFF

Investigators allege the banks and the diamond brokers made the diamonds look like a safe investment.

Customers who queried the price they were paying were referred to inflated diamond prices listed in Italy’s main financial daily, Il Sole 24 Ore. The listings, which were assumed by clients to be official market quotes, were in fact ads placed by the brokers, prosecutors say.

A spokeswoman for the newspaper declined to comment.

One Banca Aletti brochure distributed to its clients describes diamonds as a “good refuge” over the medium and long term, forecasting returns of 50-80 percent above inflation.

In one phone tap in May 2017, a planning and marketing executive for parent bank Banco BPM, Pietro Gaspardo, discusses the brochure with BPM director general Maurizio Faroni.

    “The things written inside are amazing. Amazing! Amazing!” Gaspardo tells Faroni. “Expected returns … crazy stuff. There are things written there that are really madness.

“I’m not thinking of myself now but for the bank. That stuff there will screw us up the arse totally. To make an investment and not sell it as a jewel, with expected return — shit!”

Gaspardo’s lawyer, Maurizio Miculan, said his client’s comments show his innocence because he was clearly surprised at what he found in the brochure.

Faroni’s lawyer declined to comment.

When customers wanted to cash in the diamonds, they would resell the stones back via the banks to the brokers. The lenders made commissions of 12-24.5% on selling the diamonds and the brokers made commissions of 7-16% on buying them back, according to the judicial order that authorized the February asset seizures.

One of those clients was Gabriele Moggi who spent around 33,000 euros — most of an early-retirement payoff from the Italian Air Force — on diamonds in 2016 on the advice of his bank, a unit of Banco Popolare. He had them independently valued six months later for around 8,000 euros.

Moggi told Reuters he eventually settled with the bank in January this year for compensation of 15,000 euros, leaving him with the stones and a net 10,000 euros loss.

“I was asking for 20,000,” said Moggi who was fed up and wanted out. “In the end I accepted 15,000 euros because there was no other way to get out of it.”

A spokeswoman for Banco BPM said the bank couldn’t comment on individual cases.

(Editing by Mark Bendeich and Carmel Crimmins)

Source: OANN

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LONDON (AP) — Katie Jones sure seemed plugged into Washington’s political scene. The 30-something redhead boasted a job at a top think tank and a who’s-who network of pundits and experts, from the centrist Brookings Institution to the right-wing Heritage Foundation. She was connected to a deputy assistant secretary of state, a senior aide to a senator and the economist Paul Winfree, who is being considered for a seat on the Federal Reserve.

But Katie Jones doesn’t exist, The Associated Press has determined. Instead, the persona was part of a vast army of phantom profiles lurking on the professional networking site LinkedIn. And several experts contacted by the AP said Jones’ profile picture appeared to have been created by a computer program.

“I’m convinced that it’s a fake face,” said Mario Klingemann, a German artist who has been experimenting for years with artificially generated portraits and says he has reviewed tens of thousands of such images. “It has all the hallmarks.”

Experts who reviewed the Jones profile’s LinkedIn activity say it’s typical of espionage efforts on the professional networking site, whose role as a global Rolodex has made it a powerful magnet for spies.

“It smells a lot like some sort of state-run operation,” said Jonas Parello-Plesner, who serves as program director at the Denmark-based think tank Alliance of Democracies Foundation and was the target several years ago of an espionage operation that began over LinkedIn .

William Evanina, director of the U.S. National Counterintelligence and Security Center, said foreign spies routinely use fake social media profiles to home in on American targets — and accused China in particular of waging “mass scale” spying on LinkedIn.

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Photo Credit: AP

Source: The Washington Pundit

SANTA ANA, Calif. — As Election Day approached in 2016, Eddie Lopez was undecided about how he would vote. He loved Hillary Clinton and was excited about the chance to vote for America’s first female president.

But Lopez had been drawn to the Republican Party since the days of Ronald Reagan, his favorite president. He’d grown weary of the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama, who failed to deliver on his promise to reform the broken immigration system.

But when Election Day arrived, Lopez couldn’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump. “He just offends us too deep,” Lopez told me in January 2018, about how he and many of his fellow Latinos felt toward Trump.

Lopez, who emigrated from Mexico to the United States 30 years ago, is a builder and contractor who owns and manages several businesses in and around Orange County, Calif.

He was exasperated by Trump’s pledge to build a wall on America’s southern border. But what offended him most was Trump’s denigration of immigrants, particularly his campaign-launching claim that most Mexicans crossing illegally into America were “rapists” and drug dealers.

“I thought, ‘My son is 13 years old. I have to do a lot of explaining to him,’” Lopez said. “We are not all rapists and drug dealers. I have to explain to my young son not to be ashamed of who we are.”

Lopez and his son cried during that conversation and again on election night. “It was an emotional night,” he recalled. Still, Lopez held out hope that Trump would take a page from Reagan by enacting an immigration amnesty. “It’s too soon to hate him,” Lopez said he counseled his fellow Latinos as Trump took office.

Lopez highlights the dilemma facing Republicans in Orange County and other parts of America’s rapidly diversifying suburbs. Should the party double down on Trumpism at the risk of alienating minority voters, or should it try to distance itself from Trump while emphasizing conservative values and policies that many of those voters support?

To appreciate the political changes in Orange County over the last two election cycles, one must understand the demographic shift of the past two generations.

To do so, I drove to Little Saigon in Westminster and adjacent Garden Grove, where nearly half of residents are Asian American. Strolling through the Asian Garden Mall one weekday evening, I was the only non-Asian face I saw, aside from a black security officer.

Then I drove a few miles east to Santa Ana, the county seat, where more than 90% of residents are nonwhite and the street signs are written in both English and Spanish. To walk down Calle Cuatro, or Fourth Street, is to be transported to another part of the world. The street is lined with Latino jewelers, tax preparers, stands selling churritos, and more than a dozen bridal and quinceañera shops.

Few of the people with whom I tried to strike up conversations spoke English. A storefront display featured a box set of “Inglés sin Barreras,” or “English without Barriers,” videos to help Spanish-speakers learn English. I asked the store owner if the videos were selling well. He said they were not, which wasn’t surprising. Learning English is not necessary in a place where the law requires that city council meetings be simultaneously translated into Spanish. Even the police officer who was writing me a parking ticket as I returned to my car initially addressed me in Spanish.

Later, driving down coastal Interstate 5 from Irvine to San Clemente, I counted at least 16 AM stations on my car radio dial that featured non-English programming.

Today’s Orange County is not the Orange County of Richard Nixon, a bastion of the John Birch Society. It is not the lily-white Orange County that twice gave Reagan 70% of its votes for president. And it’s not the bleach-blond Orange County of television shows such as “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” “The O.C.,” and “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.”

Its population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, from 1.4 million people to nearly 3.2 million people, making it more populous than 21 states. In 1970, whites made up 86% of the county’s population; now they make up just 40%, meaning that over 90% of population growth in the last half-century has been nonwhite. That trend will continue. Nonwhites make up three in four Orange County public school students.

Orange County is also younger and more highly educated than it once was. Much of its middle class has been driven away by California’s high cost of living.

There are still plenty of conservative corners of this 34-city county, in moneyed places such as Newport Beach and San Clemente, or in Yorba Linda, Nixon’s birthplace, where American flags are abundant and nary a “Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign can be found.

Republicans continue to win at the local level. In March, the older, whiter voters who turn out in special elections propelled Irvine Mayor Don Wagner to victory for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “The Orange County comeback starts now,” Fred Whitaker, the Republican Party’s county chairman, optimistically declared afterward.

But the trend is clear. As Orange County has become more diverse, Republican dominance has evaporated, and Trump has accelerated the trend.

In 2016, he became the first Republican presidential nominee in 80 years to lose Orange County. Last November, Democrats swept all seven U.S. House seats in Orange County, including four that had been held by Republicans. California Gov. Gavin Newsom became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 40 years to win the county.

Orange County Democrats used to kid that they could hold local club meetings in a telephone booth. These days, new clubs are popping up everywhere. The mood was self-congratulatory one evening at an Aliso Niguel Democratic Club meeting, which was held not in a phone booth but inside something nearly as obsolete, a Presbyterian church.

After the offering plates had been deployed to collect club dues and some business conducted, I spoke with Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party. “I’m sitting in churches with hundreds of people in them every night,” she said, explaining that Democratic voter registration in the county grew 40% since 2016, bringing them nearly on par with Republican voter registration numbers.

In a recent op-ed for the Orange County Register, Briceño wrote the Democrats’ 2018 success was “just the beginning.” She told me she was confident Democrats could protect the party’s seven congressional seats and that their new focus was on winning down-ballot elections in 2020. “I’m in heaven to see tons of people steering together in the same direction,” she said.

Yet some Democratic voters I spoke with worry their leaders are steering the party in a direction that will cost them seats in 2020. “I’m very concerned that ill-informed people will be easily influenced by articulate people like AOC and Bernie,” said Bob Bruce, a retired engineer I met at a Laguna Beach Starbucks. “For me, there’s progressive, and there’s socialist. I’m not a socialist.”

Bruce is particularly concerned about freshman Rep. Katie Porter, an Elizabeth Warren acolyte for whom he has volunteered. He worries she may be too liberal for her district, California’s 45th, which before Porter had never been represented by a Democrat.

Orange County Republicans mostly blame their recent troubles on an unprecedented infusion of money into the 2018 races and the Democrats’ use of ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting allows activists to collect sealed absentee or mail-in ballots on behalf of voters who failed to send them in time. Most states where ballot harvesting is legal allow only family members or caregivers to harvest ballots. But California changed its rules ahead of the 2018 election to allow anyone to collect and submit the ballots. Huge numbers of last-minute ballot submissions delayed election results in several Orange County congressional races. All of them showed the Republican candidate ahead on election night, but every Democrat went on to win once the ballots were counted.

Mission Viejo’s Republican Mayor Greg Raths doesn’t believe ballot harvesting was much of a factor. “It’s bullshit,” he told me one evening at a Young Republicans mixer at a Del Frisco’s restaurant in Irvine. “We lost. Suck it up. I don’t like harvesting, but suck it up.”

“We got a problem here in Orange County,” Raths, who has since declared his candidacy for Porter’s seat, said. “Instead of bitching and crying [about ballot harvesting], go do it yourself. It’s legal.”

Some California Republicans believe the party hasn’t done enough to reach out to immigrants and minorities. “The local party has dropped the ball with immigrant communities,” Tom Tait, a former two-term Republican mayor of Anaheim, told a reporter after the 2018 elections.

Others pin the blame on Trump specifically. Young Kim, a South Korean immigrant and the first Korean American Republican woman to become a state legislator in California, said she would have won her race for California’s 39th Congressional District if Trump had not engaged in “so much anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

The waves of Asian immigrants who settled in California in the 1970s and ’80s identified strongly with the Republican Party, in part because of the party’s firm stance against communism. George H.W. Bush won an estimated 55% of Asian American voters in the 1992 presidential election. But while some Asian Americans have been turned off by the Democratic Party’s support for socialistic policies that remind them of those of regimes they fled, for the most part they have slowly moved toward the Democratic Party. Depending on the survey, Trump won between 18% and 27% of Asian American votes in 2016.

“What we are seeing today is a generational divide,” said Linda Trinh Vo, who teaches Asian American studies at the University of California, Irvine. “The younger generation is more supportive of the Democratic Party.” There are more than 200,000 Vietnamese Americans in Orange County, and many have been angered by the Trump administration’s order to deport 7,000 Vietnamese refugees who committed crimes after arriving in the U.S.

In a possible sign that some California Republicans want to chart a path away from Trump, delegates to the state convention in February elected Jessica Patterson to lead their party. The 38-year-old Latina was chosen over Travis Allen, a loud defender of Trump.

Not everyone was pleased. Raths said he received blowback when he posted a congratulatory message to Patterson on his Facebook page. “Man, I got blasted,” he said. “‘She’s part of the establishment! She’s not the right person!’ A lot of the grassroots were Travis Allen fans.”

The problem for Orange County Republicans is that Trump’s hardline immigration stance and combative rhetoric don’t just hurt him with immigrants and ethnic minorities. They also alienate white voters who care about them.

Bruce, the retired engineer, for instance, is a former Republican who voted for both Reagan and H.W. Bush for president. But he said his political views transformed after he moved to Orange County and began to appreciate the diversity he didn’t encounter growing up in segregated Chicago. “On my block, there’s an Indian family, an Asian, a guy from the South, a couple of Jewish families. If you’d said 25 years ago that I was going to live here, I’d say you were crazy. And I love it. I love it. It’s changed my own views, my politics. I’ve changed my outlook.”

I heard similar things from other Orange County residents. At a Laguna Niguel coffee shop, Lacey, a 35-year-old nurse, told me it was Orange County’s mix of cultures that brought her back after living in Colorado for several years. Lacey voted for Trump in 2016 mainly because she couldn’t stand the thought of Clinton becoming America’s first female president. But she thinks that by framing immigration as a moral issue instead of an economic one, Trump has revealed himself to be “a racist bigot.”

Lacey said she will not be supporting Trump again in 2020.

Republicans understand they must reach out to these voters. But they don’t seem to know how.

On a spring morning in Fullerton, a group of 50 or so mostly retired, white, Republican women filled the back of a buffet restaurant to listen to two millennial, Latina guest speakers point the way. “I’ve been waiting all month for this,” a woman said as she hustled past me looking for a chair in the packed room.

First up was Jazmina Saavedra. A handout with her biography touted her work history as a purveyor of anti-aging products, a solar energy entrepreneur, and a 2018 U.S. Senate candidate. “Every time I get invited to a Republican club, I just see white people,” Saavedra began. “I’m sorry.”

That comment was met with silence in the room, but Saavedra recovered with lines such as, “I never call this country my second country. This is my first country”; “Hispanics are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet”; and “The wall is a message of love to the American people.”

At this last line, I turned to an 85-year-old woman sitting next to me named Claudia and asked for her thoughts on why the county had turned blue. “The Latinos,” she said.

“Can they be won over?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Is it worth trying?”

“I hope it is. I guess we’ll see.”

Next up was Elsa Adeguer of Latinos 4 Trump — not to be confused with Latinos for Trump — who delivered a testimonial about fleeing violence in Latin America to come to the U.S. She explained that she was drawn to Trump because, like her, he’d once supported abortion but is now against it.

Both women elicited the most applause when they assured their audience they had done things “the right way” by entering the U.S. legally.

A few days later, I drove to the City National Grove of Anaheim, where the Orange County Republicans had set up a registration tent outside an arena hosting a series of naturalization ceremonies, trying to attract more who had done things the right way.

“Come with patriotism and enthusiasm as we welcome and register our new members at our Republican Booth,” an online invitation said.

But the welcoming was done from afar, as the half-dozen or so Republican volunteers had been penned off in a “free speech zone” on the opposite side of the arena from where the new citizens were in line. One of the activists said she’s often there all day and is lucky to register 10 people. During my hour there, just one person registered.

With the dearth of registrants, the activists were more than happy to chat with me, so long as I promised not to print their names. I asked them what Orange County Republicans need to do to win over immigrants.

“We need to convince people we don’t have horns on our head,” one woman said.

“We need to emphasize faith,” said a second. “And no open borders.”

“I would not take 2018 as gospel that everything has changed,” the first added.

I asked them whether Trump makes their job harder.

“No! In fact, he emboldens me!” the second woman said.

“We all love Trump. We’re glad he tweets. But some in the Republican Party think we should be more like Democrats,” said the first. She mentioned Patterson, the new California GOP chairwoman, whose name elicited sighs and head shakes from several of the volunteers.

“We don’t want to be politically correct,” said the second. “We have to get people to look at policy instead of personality, facts instead of feelings.”

But personality and feelings matter. It was Trump’s no-holds-barred personality that attracted many Americans who felt forgotten by politically correct, establishment politicians. But that same personality drove away the likes of Lopez, Bruce, and eventually Lacey, the types of voters Republicans will need to win consistently again in Orange County and places like it.

When I visited Lopez again in March, I asked him to assess Trump’s performance thus far. He gave Trump a 5 out of 10, mainly for presiding over a strong economy and enacting tax and healthcare reforms that have benefited Lopez’s businesses and employees.

He reiterated that he supports more of Trump’s agenda than he opposes and that he hopes Trump will set aside his obsession with building a border wall and grant illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. “He’s the only guy who can do it at this point,” he said. “And he’s crazy enough that it just might happen.”

If it does, Lopez thinks Republicans will begin to win majorities of Latinos, whose religiosity, social conservatism, and support for free enterprise are a natural fit for the party. Short of that unlikely scenario, Lopez said he will be voting for the Democratic nominee next November.

I asked him whether he still counsels his fellow Latinos that it’s too soon to hate Trump.

“Yes, the only thing that gives us reason to hate him is what he said about my race,” he answered. Then Lopez paused and added, “To really hate him, that would make me part of the extremism that he created.”

Daniel Allott is the author of Into Trump’s America and formerly the deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner.

SANTA ANA, Calif. — As Election Day approached in 2016, Eddie Lopez was undecided about how he would vote. He loved Hillary Clinton and was excited about the chance to vote for America’s first female president.

But Lopez had been drawn to the Republican Party since the days of Ronald Reagan, his favorite president. He’d grown weary of the Democratic Party under President Barack Obama, who failed to deliver on his promise to reform the broken immigration system.

But when Election Day arrived, Lopez couldn’t bring himself to vote for Donald Trump. “He just offends us too deep,” Lopez told me in January 2018, about how he and many of his fellow Latinos felt toward Trump.

Lopez, who emigrated from Mexico to the United States 30 years ago, is a builder and contractor who owns and manages several businesses in and around Orange County, Calif.

He was exasperated by Trump’s pledge to build a wall on America’s southern border. But what offended him most was Trump’s denigration of immigrants, particularly his campaign-launching claim that most Mexicans crossing illegally into America were “rapists” and drug dealers.

“I thought, ‘My son is 13 years old. I have to do a lot of explaining to him,’” Lopez said. “We are not all rapists and drug dealers. I have to explain to my young son not to be ashamed of who we are.”

Lopez and his son cried during that conversation and again on election night. “It was an emotional night,” he recalled. Still, Lopez held out hope that Trump would take a page from Reagan by enacting an immigration amnesty. “It’s too soon to hate him,” Lopez said he counseled his fellow Latinos as Trump took office.

Lopez highlights the dilemma facing Republicans in Orange County and other parts of America’s rapidly diversifying suburbs. Should the party double down on Trumpism at the risk of alienating minority voters, or should it try to distance itself from Trump while emphasizing conservative values and policies that many of those voters support?

To appreciate the political changes in Orange County over the last two election cycles, one must understand the demographic shift of the past two generations.

To do so, I drove to Little Saigon in Westminster and adjacent Garden Grove, where nearly half of residents are Asian American. Strolling through the Asian Garden Mall one weekday evening, I was the only non-Asian face I saw, aside from a black security officer.

Then I drove a few miles east to Santa Ana, the county seat, where more than 90% of residents are nonwhite and the street signs are written in both English and Spanish. To walk down Calle Cuatro, or Fourth Street, is to be transported to another part of the world. The street is lined with Latino jewelers, tax preparers, stands selling churritos, and more than a dozen bridal and quinceañera shops.

Few of the people with whom I tried to strike up conversations spoke English. A storefront display featured a box set of “Inglés sin Barreras,” or “English without Barriers,” videos to help Spanish-speakers learn English. I asked the store owner if the videos were selling well. He said they were not, which wasn’t surprising. Learning English is not necessary in a place where the law requires that city council meetings be simultaneously translated into Spanish. Even the police officer who was writing me a parking ticket as I returned to my car initially addressed me in Spanish.

Later, driving down coastal Interstate 5 from Irvine to San Clemente, I counted at least 16 AM stations on my car radio dial that featured non-English programming.

Today’s Orange County is not the Orange County of Richard Nixon, a bastion of the John Birch Society. It is not the lily-white Orange County that twice gave Reagan 70% of its votes for president. And it’s not the bleach-blond Orange County of television shows such as “The Real Housewives of Orange County,” “The O.C.,” and “Laguna Beach: The Real Orange County.”

Its population has more than doubled in the last 50 years, from 1.4 million people to nearly 3.2 million people, making it more populous than 21 states. In 1970, whites made up 86% of the county’s population; now they make up just 40%, meaning that over 90% of population growth in the last half-century has been nonwhite. That trend will continue. Nonwhites make up three in four Orange County public school students.

Orange County is also younger and more highly educated than it once was. Much of its middle class has been driven away by California’s high cost of living.

There are still plenty of conservative corners of this 34-city county, in moneyed places such as Newport Beach and San Clemente, or in Yorba Linda, Nixon’s birthplace, where American flags are abundant and nary a “Hate Has No Home Here” yard sign can be found.

Republicans continue to win at the local level. In March, the older, whiter voters who turn out in special elections propelled Irvine Mayor Don Wagner to victory for a seat on the Orange County Board of Supervisors. “The Orange County comeback starts now,” Fred Whitaker, the Republican Party’s county chairman, optimistically declared afterward.

But the trend is clear. As Orange County has become more diverse, Republican dominance has evaporated, and Trump has accelerated the trend.

In 2016, he became the first Republican presidential nominee in 80 years to lose Orange County. Last November, Democrats swept all seven U.S. House seats in Orange County, including four that had been held by Republicans. California Gov. Gavin Newsom became the first Democratic gubernatorial candidate in 40 years to win the county.

Orange County Democrats used to kid that they could hold local club meetings in a telephone booth. These days, new clubs are popping up everywhere. The mood was self-congratulatory one evening at an Aliso Niguel Democratic Club meeting, which was held not in a phone booth but inside something nearly as obsolete, a Presbyterian church.

After the offering plates had been deployed to collect club dues and some business conducted, I spoke with Ada Briceño, chairwoman of the Orange County Democratic Party. “I’m sitting in churches with hundreds of people in them every night,” she said, explaining that Democratic voter registration in the county grew 40% since 2016, bringing them nearly on par with Republican voter registration numbers.

In a recent op-ed for the Orange County Register, Briceño wrote the Democrats’ 2018 success was “just the beginning.” She told me she was confident Democrats could protect the party’s seven congressional seats and that their new focus was on winning down-ballot elections in 2020. “I’m in heaven to see tons of people steering together in the same direction,” she said.

Yet some Democratic voters I spoke with worry their leaders are steering the party in a direction that will cost them seats in 2020. “I’m very concerned that ill-informed people will be easily influenced by articulate people like AOC and Bernie,” said Bob Bruce, a retired engineer I met at a Laguna Beach Starbucks. “For me, there’s progressive, and there’s socialist. I’m not a socialist.”

Bruce is particularly concerned about freshman Rep. Katie Porter, an Elizabeth Warren acolyte for whom he has volunteered. He worries she may be too liberal for her district, California’s 45th, which before Porter had never been represented by a Democrat.

Orange County Republicans mostly blame their recent troubles on an unprecedented infusion of money into the 2018 races and the Democrats’ use of ballot harvesting. Ballot harvesting allows activists to collect sealed absentee or mail-in ballots on behalf of voters who failed to send them in time. Most states where ballot harvesting is legal allow only family members or caregivers to harvest ballots. But California changed its rules ahead of the 2018 election to allow anyone to collect and submit the ballots. Huge numbers of last-minute ballot submissions delayed election results in several Orange County congressional races. All of them showed the Republican candidate ahead on election night, but every Democrat went on to win once the ballots were counted.

Mission Viejo’s Republican Mayor Greg Raths doesn’t believe ballot harvesting was much of a factor. “It’s bullshit,” he told me one evening at a Young Republicans mixer at a Del Frisco’s restaurant in Irvine. “We lost. Suck it up. I don’t like harvesting, but suck it up.”

“We got a problem here in Orange County,” Raths, who has since declared his candidacy for Porter’s seat, said. “Instead of bitching and crying [about ballot harvesting], go do it yourself. It’s legal.”

Some California Republicans believe the party hasn’t done enough to reach out to immigrants and minorities. “The local party has dropped the ball with immigrant communities,” Tom Tait, a former two-term Republican mayor of Anaheim, told a reporter after the 2018 elections.

Others pin the blame on Trump specifically. Young Kim, a South Korean immigrant and the first Korean American Republican woman to become a state legislator in California, said she would have won her race for California’s 39th Congressional District if Trump had not engaged in “so much anti-immigrant rhetoric.”

The waves of Asian immigrants who settled in California in the 1970s and ’80s identified strongly with the Republican Party, in part because of the party’s firm stance against communism. George H.W. Bush won an estimated 55% of Asian American voters in the 1992 presidential election. But while some Asian Americans have been turned off by the Democratic Party’s support for socialistic policies that remind them of those of regimes they fled, for the most part they have slowly moved toward the Democratic Party. Depending on the survey, Trump won between 18% and 27% of Asian American votes in 2016.

“What we are seeing today is a generational divide,” said Linda Trinh Vo, who teaches Asian American studies at the University of California, Irvine. “The younger generation is more supportive of the Democratic Party.” There are more than 200,000 Vietnamese Americans in Orange County, and many have been angered by the Trump administration’s order to deport 7,000 Vietnamese refugees who committed crimes after arriving in the U.S.

In a possible sign that some California Republicans want to chart a path away from Trump, delegates to the state convention in February elected Jessica Patterson to lead their party. The 38-year-old Latina was chosen over Travis Allen, a loud defender of Trump.

Not everyone was pleased. Raths said he received blowback when he posted a congratulatory message to Patterson on his Facebook page. “Man, I got blasted,” he said. “‘She’s part of the establishment! She’s not the right person!’ A lot of the grassroots were Travis Allen fans.”

The problem for Orange County Republicans is that Trump’s hardline immigration stance and combative rhetoric don’t just hurt him with immigrants and ethnic minorities. They also alienate white voters who care about them.

Bruce, the retired engineer, for instance, is a former Republican who voted for both Reagan and H.W. Bush for president. But he said his political views transformed after he moved to Orange County and began to appreciate the diversity he didn’t encounter growing up in segregated Chicago. “On my block, there’s an Indian family, an Asian, a guy from the South, a couple of Jewish families. If you’d said 25 years ago that I was going to live here, I’d say you were crazy. And I love it. I love it. It’s changed my own views, my politics. I’ve changed my outlook.”

I heard similar things from other Orange County residents. At a Laguna Niguel coffee shop, Lacey, a 35-year-old nurse, told me it was Orange County’s mix of cultures that brought her back after living in Colorado for several years. Lacey voted for Trump in 2016 mainly because she couldn’t stand the thought of Clinton becoming America’s first female president. But she thinks that by framing immigration as a moral issue instead of an economic one, Trump has revealed himself to be “a racist bigot.”

Lacey said she will not be supporting Trump again in 2020.

Republicans understand they must reach out to these voters. But they don’t seem to know how.

On a spring morning in Fullerton, a group of 50 or so mostly retired, white, Republican women filled the back of a buffet restaurant to listen to two millennial, Latina guest speakers point the way. “I’ve been waiting all month for this,” a woman said as she hustled past me looking for a chair in the packed room.

First up was Jazmina Saavedra. A handout with her biography touted her work history as a purveyor of anti-aging products, a solar energy entrepreneur, and a 2018 U.S. Senate candidate. “Every time I get invited to a Republican club, I just see white people,” Saavedra began. “I’m sorry.”

That comment was met with silence in the room, but Saavedra recovered with lines such as, “I never call this country my second country. This is my first country”; “Hispanics are Republicans, they just don’t know it yet”; and “The wall is a message of love to the American people.”

At this last line, I turned to an 85-year-old woman sitting next to me named Claudia and asked for her thoughts on why the county had turned blue. “The Latinos,” she said.

“Can they be won over?” I asked.

“I don’t know.”

“Is it worth trying?”

“I hope it is. I guess we’ll see.”

Next up was Elsa Adeguer of Latinos 4 Trump — not to be confused with Latinos for Trump — who delivered a testimonial about fleeing violence in Latin America to come to the U.S. She explained that she was drawn to Trump because, like her, he’d once supported abortion but is now against it.

Both women elicited the most applause when they assured their audience they had done things “the right way” by entering the U.S. legally.

A few days later, I drove to the City National Grove of Anaheim, where the Orange County Republicans had set up a registration tent outside an arena hosting a series of naturalization ceremonies, trying to attract more who had done things the right way.

“Come with patriotism and enthusiasm as we welcome and register our new members at our Republican Booth,” an online invitation said.

But the welcoming was done from afar, as the half-dozen or so Republican volunteers had been penned off in a “free speech zone” on the opposite side of the arena from where the new citizens were in line. One of the activists said she’s often there all day and is lucky to register 10 people. During my hour there, just one person registered.

With the dearth of registrants, the activists were more than happy to chat with me, so long as I promised not to print their names. I asked them what Orange County Republicans need to do to win over immigrants.

“We need to convince people we don’t have horns on our head,” one woman said.

“We need to emphasize faith,” said a second. “And no open borders.”

“I would not take 2018 as gospel that everything has changed,” the first added.

I asked them whether Trump makes their job harder.

“No! In fact, he emboldens me!” the second woman said.

“We all love Trump. We’re glad he tweets. But some in the Republican Party think we should be more like Democrats,” said the first. She mentioned Patterson, the new California GOP chairwoman, whose name elicited sighs and head shakes from several of the volunteers.

“We don’t want to be politically correct,” said the second. “We have to get people to look at policy instead of personality, facts instead of feelings.”

But personality and feelings matter. It was Trump’s no-holds-barred personality that attracted many Americans who felt forgotten by politically correct, establishment politicians. But that same personality drove away the likes of Lopez, Bruce, and eventually Lacey, the types of voters Republicans will need to win consistently again in Orange County and places like it.

When I visited Lopez again in March, I asked him to assess Trump’s performance thus far. He gave Trump a 5 out of 10, mainly for presiding over a strong economy and enacting tax and healthcare reforms that have benefited Lopez’s businesses and employees.

He reiterated that he supports more of Trump’s agenda than he opposes and that he hopes Trump will set aside his obsession with building a border wall and grant illegal immigrants a pathway to citizenship. “He’s the only guy who can do it at this point,” he said. “And he’s crazy enough that it just might happen.”

If it does, Lopez thinks Republicans will begin to win majorities of Latinos, whose religiosity, social conservatism, and support for free enterprise are a natural fit for the party. Short of that unlikely scenario, Lopez said he will be voting for the Democratic nominee next November.

I asked him whether he still counsels his fellow Latinos that it’s too soon to hate Trump.

“Yes, the only thing that gives us reason to hate him is what he said about my race,” he answered. Then Lopez paused and added, “To really hate him, that would make me part of the extremism that he created.”

Daniel Allott is the author of Into Trump’s America and formerly the deputy commentary editor for the Washington Examiner.

Presidential candidate Rep. Seth Moulton, D-Mass., and Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., recently delivered confessions that are rare for members of Congress: They once struggled with and were treated for mental health conditions, he for post-traumatic stress disorder and she for depression.

Discussing such problems out loud is a gamble in politics, and over the years few others in Congress have been forthcoming, but the chances are high that a number of politicians have faced mental health problems. An estimated 47 million people in the U.S. in any given year struggle with conditions such as anxiety or depression. Of those, 11 million have more serious conditions such as bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

Among the members of Congress who have shared their diagnoses are Rep. Ruben Gallego, D-Ariz., who started speaking openly about his PTSD after he was elected in 2014, and former Rep. Lynn Rivers, D-Mich., who shared in 1994 that she was successfully being medicated for bipolar disorder.

“There certainly are more than three or four national legislators who have problems, and I’m sure that there are many who suffer silently because they worry about political backlash,” said Darrell West, vice president and director of governance studies at the Brookings Institution.

Mental health-related epithets are sometimes still used by politicians against their enemies. President Trump has called his critics “crazy,” “psycho,” and “nut job,” and Democrats have dismissed the president as mentally unfit for office. For example, House Budget Committee Chairman John Yarmuth, D-Ky., is planning an event in July in which psychiatrists and experts in other disciplines will testify about how they believe Trump’s mental state makes him dangerous to the country.

“I’m very much shocked when a lot of my fellow Democrats level that kind of attack against the president because I think that plays unwittingly toward the whole stigma around mental illness,” said Patrick Kennedy, a former congressman from Rhode Island. “No one wants to really be compared to the president.”

The cautionary tale about mental illness that haunts politicians is that of Thomas Eagleton, who was dropped from George McGovern’s presidential ticket in 1972 after only 18 days because it was revealed he had received electroshock therapy for depression.

Politicians who don’t seek treatment for mental illness have struggled to keep up with the demands of their careers. Last year, Democrat Jason Kander had to drop out of the Kansas City mayoral race to focus on treatment for PTSD. Former Rep. Jesse Jackson Jr., D-Ill., resigned from Congress in 2012, saying he needed to focus on treatment for bipolar disorder, in addition to the federal investigation into his misuse of campaign money, for which he later pleaded guilty. The late Rep. Karen McCarthy, D-Mo., sought treatment in 2003 after she fell down in a House office building while drunk, and her family revealed after she died that she had bipolar disorder that had gone undiagnosed.

“It’s a very stressful job even under typical circumstances,” West said. “If you put mental health issues on top of all the other job pressures, that is very challenging.”

Kennedy, son of the late Sen. Ted Kennedy of Massachusetts, knows how difficult it is to be in office with an untreated mental health condition. His constituents had long known about his struggles, but the Washington crowd learned about them in 2006 when, in a prescription drug-fueled haze, he crashed his car at 2:45 a.m. into a barricade by the Capitol.

“I never chose to be out,” Kennedy said, reflecting on the diagnosis of addiction and bipolar disorder. “I thought I kept my illness under wraps, and that’s the big problem with stigma today is that we shave the truth here and there, and next thing I knew I was getting another DWI. … Secrets make you really sick.”

After that, however, something unexpected happened: People were cornering him regularly on the campaign trail, whispering that they were on the antidepressant Prozac and swearing him to secrecy. Kennedy believes this was probably because he not only had a mental illness, but he had long been working in Congress to pass legislation that would help others who were affected.

Though he was easily reelected after the accident, Kennedy had to resign a few years later after his father’s death.

“It just became untenable for me,” he said. “I was fortunate to have enough insight to know that I wasn’t going to be able to continue on.” He was able to get sober, receive treatment, and continue advocating in the field.

Psychiatrists interviewed for this article agreed that most people with mental health conditions who get treatment can do well, but noted that many people don’t seek help because they’re worried about how they’ll be perceived. As a result, their condition can get worse.

For politicians, there’s always the risk that seeing a therapist or taking an antidepressant will become a liability if it gets out. Smith faces an election in 2020 for her seat, which she filled after Al Franken vacated it amid sexual misconduct allegations.

“People use anything they can find against their opponent,” said Arash Javanbakht, assistant professor of psychiatry at Wayne State University School of Medicine. Most insults, he said, are “rooted in ignorance or misinformation.”

He added, however, that he believes substance abuse or having a personality disorder would be most worrisome for a leader because they impair judgment.

Charles Nemeroff, acting chairman of the psychiatry department for Dell Medical School at the University of Texas at Austin, said he thinks public attitudes would still pose a significant obstacle to anyone with a history of mental illness seeking the presidency.

“I don’t think it would do any presidential candidates a lot of good to say, ‘I suffered from depression, and I have thought about suicide,'” he said. He warned that deciding whether a candidate qualified for higher office because of a certain diagnosis, as some experts and policymakers have proposed, was a slippery slope.

“We all agree if you were hearing voices or seeing things that weren’t there, that would be a problem, or if you were in bed all day, every day, because you were depressed and you only thought about suicide,” he said. “But between those two extremes there is a lot of ground there. That’s why it’s so complicated.”

Kennedy said ultimately mental health still doesn’t get the funding and attention it should, which builds into public perceptions.

“There is still a feeling that these illnesses are not well managed, and that makes it difficult for people to admit they have one of these illnesses,” Kennedy said. “The impression people will have is that someone is still really sick.”

Asked whether he could see someone with bipolar disorder openly running for president, Kennedy replied: “I can’t, I’m sorry to say. … I think it may take a little time.”

The state of California has made no secret that it wants to let as many people out of prison as possible.

From the early release of inmates through AB 109, to filling parole boards with felon friendly commissioners, to decriminalizing a litany of felonies and drug offenses with Props 47 and 57, Sacramento lawmakers are bending over backwards to dramatically reduce the state’s inmate population.

Despite all of these efforts, the number of inmates hasn’t dropped dramatically enough to satisfy the state’s ruling Democrats, so they’re kicking tires on a new approach — rigging the jury system so no one gets convicted in the first place.

This most recent push is Senate Bill 310, authored by state Sen. Nancy Skinner, D-Berkeley, and would allow Californians who have prior felony convictions to serve on juries.

In a press release promoting the proposal, Skinner wrote, “SB310 will help ensure that California juries represent a fair cross-section of our communities…People with felony records have the right to vote in California. There is no legitimate reason why they should be barred from serving on a jury.”

Currently, felons are prevented from serving on juries because of their obvious and inherent bias against prosecutors and law enforcement.

If you honestly believe that jurors in California who’ve served time won’t be more lenient towards accused criminals, I’ve got a bullet train to sell you.

People who have a family member in law enforcement are excused from jury duty all the time because of the possibility of bias, even unconscious bias.

How can someone who’s served time be considered free of bias?

That’s like having crazy cat ladies vote on how many cats a person should own.

It should be noted that SB310 makes no distinction between violent and non-violent offenders, and even allows convicted felons who are still on probation or parole to serve.

Imagine serving your time, getting out of the clink, then getting sentenced to six months of jury duty on an insurance fraud case.  Haven’t you paid your debt to society already?

Since this is California, and the idea is cartoonishly preposterous, of course it sailed through the Senate Public Safety Committee on a 5-1 vote.

In testimony to the Committee, Brendon Woods, Alameda County’s Public Defender, noted that defendants of color are often faced with juries in California in which “no one who sits in judgment looks like [them].”

In California it’s already illegal to exclude potential jurors because of their race, national origin or gender, among other categories.  A “jury of your peers” doesn’t mean having a foreman with the same ankle monitoring device as the defendant.

Since the Senate Public Safety Committee vote, SB310 has since been approved by the full state Senate. It was approved on a 27-10 vote.

Look, I’m willing to compromise on this.  If an ex-con wants to judge a wet T-shirt contest I say go for it.  But felonies are serious business, and the public deserves honest trials with juries who will evaluate the evidence with as few biases as possible, and vote accordingly.

More importantly, that’s what victims deserve as well.

Plus, I’m just not willing to risk having a juror whose vote on guilt or innocence might be swayed by a carton of Marlboro Reds.

Could you imagine turning the news on one night and hearing the phrase:  “Mr. Cosby, have you and your fellow jurors reached a verdict?”

Make no mistake, SB310 is not about expanding civil rights for persecuted minorities or reintegrating felons into society — it’s about stacking the deck against prosecutors by making it impossible to win criminal convictions.

John Phillips can be heard weekdays at 6 a.m. to 10 a.m. on “The Morning Drive with John Phillips and Jillian Barberie” on KABC/AM 790.

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In more bizarre censorship of investigative journalism and free speech, Project Veritas is being punished by Twitter for investigating another social media giant, Pinterest. Project Veritas reported information leaked to them by a Pinterest employee whistleblower, showing how the company classified pro-life website, Live Action, as pornography. Evidence from internal documents also revealed that Bible verses were censored.

James O’Keefe, of Project Veritas, released the first part of their story on Monday at which time Pinterest removed Live Action from it’s porn list but then added it back to the banned list.

When O’Keefe tweeted internal communications from Pinterest showing that they labeled Ben Shapiro as a “white supremacist,” Twitter cut them off, allegedly for publishing other people’s private information.

Twitter does have a policy on doxxing others, which reads:

You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.

We’ve reached out to Twitter to understand whether this policy applies to journalists doing stories on companies. We will update if and when we receive a response.

Eric Cochran, the engineer who decided to give up the goods on the Pinterest censorship has since been fired. In his first public appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox. When asked by Carlson why he did it, Cochran replied:

“I did this because I saw wrongdoing….and the normalization of censorship within Big Tech companies right now is downright un-American. And I saw this as the fight for abortion. I saw a Big Tech company saying … behind closed doors that they believe that Live Action shouldn’t have a platform to speak, and the big thing is: I want them to have to … say this publicly instead of behind closed doors.”

He went on implore other conservatives to do the same. In what he believes is a “watershed moment”, he said:

“This is about abortion. You are seeing now with YouTube doing Pinterest’s bidding by removing the Project Veritas video. You are seeing that they are going to do whatever it takes. They are 100% in to protect the abortion lobby. And pro-lifers who exist within Big Tech companies — there’s a lot of us. They need to come to Project Veritas and they need to expose what’s going on. They need to make these tech companies like I have explicitly say that ‘we are on the side of the abortion lobby.”

Source: The Washington Pundit

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In more bizarre censorship of investigative journalism and free speech, Project Veritas is being punished by Twitter for investigating another social media giant, Pinterest. Project Veritas reported information leaked to them by a Pinterest employee whistleblower, showing how the company classified pro-life website, Live Action, as pornography. Evidence from internal documents also revealed that Bible verses were censored.

James O’Keefe, of Project Veritas, released the first part of their story on Monday at which time Pinterest removed Live Action from it’s porn list but then added it back to the banned list.

When O’Keefe tweeted internal communications from Pinterest showing that they labeled Ben Shapiro as a “white supremacist,” Twitter cut them off, allegedly for publishing other people’s private information.

Twitter does have a policy on doxxing others, which reads:

You may not publish or post other people’s private information without their express authorization and permission. We also prohibit threatening to expose private information or incentivizing others to do so.

We’ve reached out to Twitter to understand whether this policy applies to journalists doing stories on companies. We will update if and when we receive a response.

Eric Cochran, the engineer who decided to give up the goods on the Pinterest censorship has since been fired. In his first public appearance on Tucker Carlson’s show on Fox. When asked by Carlson why he did it, Cochran replied:

“I did this because I saw wrongdoing….and the normalization of censorship within Big Tech companies right now is downright un-American. And I saw this as the fight for abortion. I saw a Big Tech company saying … behind closed doors that they believe that Live Action shouldn’t have a platform to speak, and the big thing is: I want them to have to … say this publicly instead of behind closed doors.”

He went on implore other conservatives to do the same. In what he believes is a “watershed moment”, he said:

“This is about abortion. You are seeing now with YouTube doing Pinterest’s bidding by removing the Project Veritas video. You are seeing that they are going to do whatever it takes. They are 100% in to protect the abortion lobby. And pro-lifers who exist within Big Tech companies — there’s a lot of us. They need to come to Project Veritas and they need to expose what’s going on. They need to make these tech companies like I have explicitly say that ‘we are on the side of the abortion lobby.”

Source: The Washington Pundit

FILE PHOTO: Madonna performs during her Rebel Heart Tour concert at Studio City in Macau
FILE PHOTO: Madonna performs during her Rebel Heart Tour concert at Studio City in Macau, China February 20, 2016. REUTERS/Bobby Yip/File Photo

June 13, 2019

By Marie-Louise Gumuchian

LONDON (Reuters) – Gun control, poverty and the marginalized, Madonna’s new album “Madame X” sees the Queen of Pop wanting to “fight back” in what she sees as a frightening modern world.

In an interview with Reuters, Madonna also said she was horrified by moves to restrict LGTBQ and women’s rights, namely in her native United States.

“If you’re talking about the far right and the rights that are being taken away from, say the LGBTQ community or women’s rights … obviously I am traumatized and horrified,” Madonna said.

A longtime campaigner for the LGTBQ community and known for her charity work in Malawi, Madonna, 60, said she would keep fighting for those causes.

“There’s still an enormous amount of poverty in Malawi and the rate of HIV has gone down considerably but it’s not disappeared,” she said. “(There are) all the problems that are recurring in America because of new legislation so I am going to have to keep fighting for the same things.”

On her 14th studio album, Madonna addresses U.S. gun control laws and uses a snippet of a speech by school shooting survivor Emma Gonzalez in the rousing single “I Rise”, a song she says aims to give a voice to marginalized people.

“Dark Ballet”, a piano ballad infused with electronic pop, was inspired by Joan of Arc and references a world “up in flames”, while in “Killers Who Are Partying” she sings about the poor, exploited children as well as a woman raped.

“It’s pretty frightening, yes, it’s pretty scary … There is stuff going on everywhere in the world,” she said when asked how she felt about the state of the world.

“When you think about the amount of people who have died, been killed, have been wounded, whose lives have been changed irrevocably because of the lack of gun control in America, it’s such a huge, huge problem.

“I care deeply about it so I couldn’t not write about it,” she said.

She also said she took issue with some U.S. states restricting abortion rights.

“These are crazy times because we fought really hard for a lot of these freedoms and now it seems like they are all systematically being taken away …It doesn’t make me feel hopeless. It just makes me want to fight back.”

CHAMELEON

Influenced by living in Lisbon, where Madonna joined local musicians in so-called living room sessions, the Latin-infused “Madame X” also takes listeners to street parties and the club with a spate of catchy tracks.

Madonna also sings in Spanish and Portuguese on the 15-track album, released on Friday.

She described “Madame X” as a “chameleon”.

“Every song is a reflection of Madame X. Sometimes she’s a freedom fighter, sometimes she’s a cha cha instructor, sometimes she’s longing for love, sometimes she’s feeling nostalgic,” Madonna said.

“Sometimes she’s thinking about all the people in the world who are suffering, who don’t have a voice and who need a voice and feels a sense of responsibility for those people.”

Madonna, who shot to fame in the early 1980s with hits likes “Holiday” and “Like a Virgin”, has sold more than 300 million records worldwide, making her the best-selling female recording artist, according to Guinness World Records.

Known for pushing boundaries and sometimes provocative imagery, her work has influenced scores of artists.

Asked how she felt about her career, she said: “I’m incredibly grateful …to have been able to be successful for so long and to be able to be in a position that I am, to continue to create, to have the freedom to speak my mind and to feel inspired and creative.”

“I’ll keep speaking my mind, hopefully in an as artistic a way as possible because I do like to be political but I like to do it in a poetic way.”

Her new Madame X alter ego is a reflection of the singer, who is known for repeatedly reinventing herself.

Madonna describes herself as “a curious person, constantly searching for answers, for wisdom, for knowledge to understand what life is all about.”

“All of my work is informed by the things that I learn, so that’s what provokes the reinvention.”

Asked about the #MeToo movement that has shaken Hollywood by uncovering sexual misconduct and its relevance for the music sector, Madonna said: “Of course it’s long overdue, women are treated very differently than men are in the music business.

“But I don’t know exactly how that’s going to happen. I can’t speak up any more than I already am.”

(Reporting by Marie-Louise Gumuchian; editing by Jason Neely)

Source: OANN

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HBO is pushing sexual boundaries with its upcoming show, “Euphoria,” to such an extent that one media watchdog group is calling for the network’s parent company AT&T to pull the plug before it makes it into families’ living rooms.

Created by Sam Levinson, son of Hollywood uber-director Barry Levinson, the drama series follows a group of high school students “as they navigate love and friendships in a world of drugs, sex, trauma, and social media,” per the show’s official logline. But the series has come under harsh criticism by some, who find its content far too graphic and explicit for the teen audience it seeks to attract.

In one episode, per the Hollywood Reporter, “close to 30 penises flash onscreen” and in the premiere one character “commits statutory rape with a 17-year-old trans girl” and the show’s lead, Zendaya, 22, overdoses on drugs.

In fact, the content is so disturbing that actor Brian “Astro” Bradley, 22, who shot scenes in the pilot episode, reportedly opted to quit the series.

Parents Television Council President Tim Winter warned in a press release that “HBO, with its new high school centered show ‘Euphoria,’ appears to be overtly, intentionally, marketing extremely graphic adult content – sex, violence, profanity and drug use – to teens and preteens.”

Winter explained to Fox News that even though HBO has said this show was intended for adults, that concept “was entirely refuted by the showrunner because [Levinson] said that ‘parents will freak over this show.’ That is a demonstration of who he is targeting with this show. HBO is now internationally marketing this content to children.”

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Source: The Washington Pundit


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