Could the Virginia TV shooting have been prevented?

The shooting of two journalists in Virginia raises issues of race, mental health and guns. Could the tragedy have been prevented by stricter gun control? Spencer Kimball reports from Chicago.

Vester Lee Flanagan, by his own admission, was a disturbed individual.

“Yeah I’m all f—– up in the head,” Flanagan, 41, wrote in a 23-page document that he faxed to broadcaster ABC after shooting dead two journalists on live television in Virginia on Wednesday.

A former reporter at the local news station WDBJ in Roanoke, Flanagan had been reprimanded by his superiors for “lashing out,” using “harsh language,” and having “aggressive body language” that made “co-workers feel threatened or uncomfortable.” He was told to seek medical help or risk termination. The internal memos detailing Flanagan’s issues at work were obtained and published by “The Guardian.”

In 2013, WDBJ fired Flanagan, who had gone by Bryce Williams on television. Police had to escort him off the premises because he refused to leave.

In the document faxed to ABC, Flanagan described his state of life and mind before shooting Alison Parker, 24, Adam Ward, 27, and ultimately killing himself. A gay black man, Flanagan claimed to have been a victim of racism and harassment. He filed a lawsuit against WDBJ over his dismissal, alleging discrimination. A judge dismissed the case in July.

But Flanagan pointed to the killing of nine black people in a Charleston church by white supremacist Dylann Roof last June as the “tipping point.”

“The church shooting was the tipping point…but my anger has been building steadily…I’ve been a human powder keg for a while…just waiting to go BOOM!!!!”

A powder keg who was able to purchase a Glock 19 semi-automatic pistol, one who was inspired by the Virginia Tech and Columbine High School massacres.

“Also, I was influenced by Seung–Hui Cho. That’s my boy right there,” Flanagan wrote, referring to the Virginia Tech shooter. “He got NEARLY double the amount that Eric Harris and Dylann Klebold got…just sayin.”

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Born in the USA: Trump stokes calls for end to birthright citizenship

There are growing calls in the Republican Party to end birthright citizenship for the children of undocumented migrants. The debate strikes at the very core of American nationhood. Spencer Kimball reports from Chicago.

Born in the United States? Then you’re a citizen, regardless of your parents’ national origins or legal status. Many Americans view this principle as a cornerstone of their democracy.

Others, like Donald Trump, believe birthright citizenship is a problem. The billionaire real estate tycoon, reality television star and now Republican presidential front-runner would crack down on undocumented migrants by denying citizenship to their children born on US soil.

“They’re illegal,” Trump said in an interview with NBC’s Meet the Press. “Either you have a country or you don’t.”

He’s not alone. Most Republican presidential candidates back the idea outright or waver when asked to take a position. Only Jeb Bush, whose wife was born in Mexico, and Marco Rubio, the son of Cuban immigrants, have publicly expressed support for the principle of birthright citizenship.

“Within the 14th amendment, there’s something called the citizenship clause, and the debate is centered on exactly who fits the definition of being subject to the jurisdiction of the United States,” Jon Feere, a legal policy analyst at the Center for Immigration Studies, told DW.

“All sides of the debate agree, in the least, that children born to foreign diplomats are not to be considered US citizens at birth,” Feere said. “The question is whether or not that includes children born to illegal immigrants, children born to tourists, children born to foreign students and so on.”

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The people’s billionaire? Trump dominates Republican primary polls

Flush with money and armed with social media, Donald Trump’s racially charged populism now dominates the Republican race. Dismiss the billionaire tycoon at your own peril. Spencer Kimball reports from Chicago.

Donald Trump wants to “make America great again.”

“Our country is in serious trouble,” Trump said when announcing his campaign for president in June. “We use to have victories, but we don’t have them. When was the last time anybody saw us beating, let’s say China, in a trade deal?” he asked rhetorically. “They kill us. I beat China all the time.”

It’s not just China that’s beating the United States. According to Trump, Mexico has turned America “into a dumping ground,” sending immigrants across the border who are “rapists.” In response to his racially charged rhetoric, broadcaster NBC canceled Trump’s Miss USA pageant. Pundits and observers thought his campaign had imploded on its launch pad.

But Trump didn’t stop there. During a July interview in Iowa, he said Senator John McCain – a Vietnam veteran who was held captive and tortured – wasn’t a war hero. Sacrilege in America. Outrage ensued, but Trump’s campaign didn’t suffer as a result.

During the first Republican debate in August, Trump refused to rule out running as a third party candidate. The audience booed him. Yet according to a Reuters/Ipsos poll published on Tuesday, Trump decisively leads the Republican primary by a 20 point margin, garnering about 30 percent support. He leads in every major primary state, from New Hampshire to Iowa, from South Carolina to Florida.

“The inflammatory comments increase his popularity,” Bruce Newman, author of the forthcoming book, “The Marketing Revolution in Politics,” told DW. “His brand is all about the ability to make inflammatory comments and not care about what people think.”

“The xenophobic approach that Trump has, which is to appeal to people’s fear of the role of immigrants, is no different than what we witness in Europe,” said Newman, a professor at DePaul University. “It’s no different than the oratory of a Le Pen in France.”

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Obama’s foreign policy: ‘Put yourself in their shoes’

US President Obama has normalized diplomatic relations with Cuba and concluded a nuclear agreement with Iran. Is engaging adversaries the new normal in Washington? Spencer Kimball reports.

It was a surprisingly candid admission for a sitting American president: The US has, in fact, done wrong to other nations.

“Even with your adversaries, I do think that you have to have the capacity to put yourself occasionally in their shoes, and if you look at Iranian history, the fact is that we had some involvement with overthrowing a democratically elected regime in Iran,” President Obama told Thomas Friedman of the New York Times, hours after a historic nuclear deal was concluded with Tehran.

Obama was referencing the 1953 CIA coup that overthrew Mohammad Mosaddegh, a secular democratic leader who nationalized Iran’s oil industry, ending decades of British control. But the president’s history lesson didn’t end there.

“We have had (sic) in the past supported Saddam Hussein when we know he used chemical weapons in the war between Iran and Iraq, and so, as a consequence, they have their own security concerns, their own narrative,” the president said.

The Reagan administration re-established diplomatic relations with the Iraqi dictator in 1980s, providing intelligence that facilitated Iraq’s invasion of Iran. This part of the historical record is rarely brought up in the US domestic discourse on Iran and the Middle East.

Instead, the US tends to focus on their own grievances: The 52 Americans held hostage during the Islamic revolution, the antagonism toward Israel and the anti-Semitic rhetoric of some Iranian leaders.

But it’s not just Iran. For decades, the United States faced off with another revolutionary regime – the communist government in Cuba. This summer, things have changed. The normalization of diplomatic relations with Cuba and the nuclear accord with the Islamic Republic promise to end two long-standing international confrontations.

“A willingness to empathize – not sympathize, but to empathize, to see ourselves as other countries see us – is a sea change in US attitude,” Philip Brenner, an expert on US foreign policy and Cuba at American University, told DW.

“It’s very hard for us to do it, because we’re so large and others countries are so small,” Brenner said. “We have a capacity to affect them much more than they can affect us.”

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US officials target social media, encryption after Chattanooga shooting

Did “IS” propaganda inspire the Chattanooga shooter? There’s no evidence to back the claim, but some officials are already calling for access to encrypted messages and social media monitoring. Spencer Kimball reports.

It’s not an unusual story in America: A man in his 20s with an unstable family life, mental health issues and access to firearms goes on a shooting spree, shattering the peace of middle class life.

This time, the shooter’s name was Muhammad Youssef Abdulazeez, a Kuwaiti-born naturalized US citizen, the son of Jordanian parents of Palestinian descent. And he targeted the military.

Abdulazeez opened fire on a recruiting center and naval reserve facility in Chattanooga, Tennessee last Thursday. Four marines and a sailor died in the attack.

But the picture that’s emerged from Chattanooga over the past several days is complicated, raising questions about mental health, substance abuse, firearms, religion and modernity.

Yet elected officials have been quick to suggest that events in Chattanooga were directly inspired by “Islamic State” (also known as ISIL or ISIS) Internet propaganda, though there’s still no concrete evidence to back up that claim.

“This is a classic lone wolf terrorist attack,” Senator Dianne Feinstein told US broadcaster CBS. “Last year, 2014, ISIL put out a call for people to kill military people, police officers, government officials and do so on their own, not wait for direction.”

And according to Feinstein, part of the solution is to provide the government with greater access to digital communications.

“It is now possible for people, if they’re going to talk from Syria to the United States or anywhere else, to get on an encrypted app which cannot be decrypted by the government with a court order,” Feinstein said.

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A dream deferred? Race relations in the Obama era

Amid racial tension and violence, US President Barack Obama has addressed the oldest African-American civil rights organization in the US. For some, his increasingly frank talk about race is too little, too late.  Spencer Kimball reports.

It was the dream of the civil rights movement: a multiracial democracy where people are judged not by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, many Americans were electrified. Had the dream come true?

The country has been sobered as the president nears the end of his eight-year tenure. More than 60 percent of Americans – black and white – believe race relations are generally bad, according to a recent CBS/New York Times opinion poll.

Police killings of unarmed African-American men have touched off a wave of social unrest. Peaceful protesters have taken to the streets with the rallying cry “Black lives matter!” Tensions have boiled over into riots and confrontations with a police force that often looks more like a military.

On Tuesday, Obama addressed the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP) for the second time since taking office. He proposed reforms to the American criminal justice system, such as reducing long mandatory sentences for non-violent drug crimes, which disproportionately impact people of color.

But many African-Americans believe the president has responded slowly to calls for reform and has not gone far enough, fast enough.

“The president has primarily only addressed or dealt with racial issues when he was absolutely forced to,” Ronnie Dunn, an urban studies professor at Cleveland State University, told DW. “There was a reluctance to candidly address such issues.”

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America’s Syria dilemma: Enemy of the enemy now a friend?

(By Deutsche Welle) US efforts to recruit moderate rebels are not going well. With “Islamic State” now enemy number one, the White House has tacitly forged an alliance with its old adversary: Bashar al-Assad. Spencer Kimball reports.

America’s rebel army in Syria has instructions not to attack the regime of Bashar al-Assad.

The main enemy is the “Islamic State” (IS). Not that the pro-Western militia poses a threat to either. So far, Washington has only trained 60 fighters.

US Defense Secretary Ashton Carter acknowledged as much this week, telling Congress that the number falls far below the Pentagon’s original expectations. The secretary’s admission triggered consternation among President Barack Obama’s opponents and damage control by his supporters.

“Our means and our current level of effort are not aligned with our ends,” Senator John McCain said during a committee hearing. “That suggests we are not winning, and when you are not winning in war, you are losing.”

Why has the US trained so few rebels? There’s a strict vetting process, which according to Carter ensures that recruits are committed to fighting IS as their first priority and will obey the laws of armed conflict.

According to Syria expert David Lesch, the Obama administration has been cautious because it fears US arms could fall into the hands of Islamist radicals: “which has happened on a consistent basis, including US aligned rebel groups’ weapons depots being overrun by Islamist groups.”

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American socialist: Bernie Sanders’ long shot presidential campaign gains steam

(By Deutsche Welle) Hillary Clinton’s path to the nomination is uncontested no longer. Senator Bernie Sanders is drawing huge crowds and gaining in the polls. But can a democratic socialist win over America? Spencer Kimball reports.

It’s a dirty word in American politics. But Bernie Sanders embraces it.

“I wouldn’t deny it, not for one second, ” Sanders told the Washington Post when he was running for Vermont’s senate seat back in 2006. “I’m a democratic socialist.”

Sanders is not a conventional American politician. He’s the longest serving independent in the history of the US Congress. Though he’s long worked with Democrats, Sanders officially joined the party just this year to challenge Hillary Clinton for the presidential nomination.

Initially considered a fringe candidate, he’s defying expectations. In May, Sanders trailed Clinton by 45 percent in Iowa, a key early primary state. He’s reduced the margin to 19 percent. In New Hampshire, the Vermont senator is behind by only eight points.

Sanders drew a crowd of some 10,000 people in Madison, Wisconsin earlier this month. It was easily one of the largest rallies of the 2016 campaign to date – in either party. And he’s no one-hit wonder. On Monday, he drew more than 7,000 people in Portland, Maine.

“No one in the White House will have the power to take on Wall Street alone, corporate America alone, the billionaire classes alone,” Sanders told his supporters in Maine.

“The only way that change takes place is when we develop that strong grassroots movement, make that political revolution, stand together, and then we bring about change,” he said.

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Why Greece won’t trigger a global crisis

(By Deutsche Welle) Limited private sector exposure and massive public sector intervention means little risk of financial contagion spreading from Greece. But there is one area of uncertainty: European politics, says DW’s Spencer Kimball.

Financial contagion is normally preceded by a surprise.

Take the 2008 Wall Street meltdown as an example. The US housing market had experienced a boom. Seeking to profit from the bonanza, private financial institutions the world over purchased securities issued by the mortgage lenders Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.

Fannie and Freddie are government-sponsored enterprises. As a consequence, investors implicitly assumed that securities issued by the two mortgage lenders were backed by Uncle Sam. But their assumption was wrong, at least initially.

Fannie and Freddie’s securities did not have the same backing as US Treasury bills and when the boom went bust, financial institutions were exposed to more risk than they had anticipated. As the crisis spread through the US and global financial systems, the federal government was ultimately forced to intervene and bail out Fannie and Freddie.

“Financial institutions had wildly underestimated the riskiness of these assets, which made for really fast and furious contagion,” Carmen Reinhart, an economist who researches financial contagion at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, told DW.

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Obama’s prison: last-ditch push to close Guantanamo

(By Deutsche Welle) US President Barack Obama’s new Guantanamo envoy has 18 months to close the infamous prison. Lee Wolosky will face election-year politics and a deeply skeptical Congress. Mission impossible? Spencer Kimball reports.

He was inaugurated on a Tuesday. The following Thursday, President Barack Obama signed an executive order to close the detention facility at Guantanamo Bay. Leading Republicans and Democrats agreed that the prison had become a propaganda tool for America’s enemies and a distraction to her allies. The plan was to shut Guantanamo down within a year.

But a president sets priorities and the candidate of change had more immediate concerns. The economy was a wreck and nearly 50 million Americans had no health insurance. After Republicans took control of Congress in 2010, they refused to allocate money to close Guantanamo.

Six years and two special envoys later, the detention facility remains open. Last Tuesday, the administration appointed Lee Wolosky as the State Department’s Special Envoy for Guantanamo Closure. The position had been vacant for six months.

Wolosky, an attorney, was the director of Transnational Threats under the Clinton administration and early in the Bush administration. John Bellinger, who served on President Bush’s National Security Council, has known Wolosky for two decades.

“Lee Wolosky has experience inside Washington with counterterrorism on the White House staff and ought to be able to – if anyone can – persuade a very skeptical Republican Congress that he and the president have a plan to close Guantanamo,” Bellinger told DW.

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