BBC: Obama tips his hand

Analysis box by Anthony Zurcher, North America reporter

Obama has studiously avoided weighing in on the large field of Democratic candidates vying for the party’s 2020 presidential nomination. Behind closed doors on Friday, however, he tipped his hand a bit.

Sanders is preaching political revolution. Warren is urging “big systemic change”. The former president clearly had those two frontrunners in mind when he suggested such aggressive talk risks alienating the kind of middle-of-the-road voters necessary to defeat Donald Trump next year.

This shouldn’t come as too much of a surprise. Obama, despite being labelled a radical socialist by his conservative critics, governed as a pragmatic moderate. That created a fair amount of consternation of among progressives in his party, who thought he was one of their own when elected. Some view his presidency as a missed opportunity to enact fundamental structural reforms in the wake of the 2008 economic crisis.

This time around, they’re throwing their support behind Warren and Sanders and won’t appreciate being indirectly lectured by the former president.

The moderate-progressive division within the Democratic Party is very real, and it has the potential for combustion. Obama may not be picking a favourite candidate, but it looks like he’s picking sides.


Others not involved in the race for the nomination were more blunt.

In a tweet, Peter Daou, a former aide to Hillary Clinton, wrote: “Saying ‘Americans are moderate than these wild leftists’ is basically conceding that the far-right propaganda machine has prevailed.”

Presentational white spaceIn a later tweet, Mr Daou included the hashtag #TooFarLeft, which was widely used by other social media users who disagreed with Mr Obama.

The Democratic race is still in flux as the first of the state-by-state votes that will decide which of the contenders challenges Mr Trump for the White House looms in Iowa in February.

Pete Buttigieg, mayor of South Bend, Indiana, topped the latest poll of likely Democratic voters in Iowa.

Some Democrats are concerned that Mr Biden, a moderate who was vice-president to Mr Obama, will struggle to beat Mr Trump, prompting a flurry of latecomers to join the race.

Former US President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation SummitBarack Obama said most “ordinary Americans” didn’t want to completely tear down the system

In recent days Deval Patrick, the two-time former governor of Massachusetts, entered the field amid speculation that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may follow suit.

But Democratic hopes of electoral success in 2020 were boosted on Saturday after Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards secured a second term as Louisiana governor.

Conservative Barack Obama issues warning to ‘revolutionary’ Democrats

Former US President Barack Obama speaks to guests at the Obama Foundation SummitBarack Obama said most “ordinary Americans” didn’t want to completely tear down the system

Former US President Barack Obama has issued a warning to Democratic presidential candidates, cautioning them against policies that are not “rooted in reality”.

Mr Obama said Democrats risked alienating voters if they lurched too far to the left politically.

The former president, speaking at a fundraising event, said most voters didn’t want to “tear down the system”.

Mr Obama is yet to publicly back a Democratic candidate.

The field is crowded, with 18 Democrats vying for the nomination to take on Republican President Donald Trump in the 2020 election.

The frontrunners are former Vice-President Joe Biden, senators Elizabeth Warren and Bernie Sanders, and Pete Buttigieg, the mayor of South Bend, Indiana.

At the event held in Washington on Friday, Mr Obama did not mention any candidate by name nor criticise any specific policy proposal.

Instead, he used the appearance to urge Democrats to “pay some attention” to voters on issues such as health care and immigration.

These voters, Mr Obama said, did not necessarily have the same views as what he called “certain left-leaning Twitter feeds” or “the activist wing of our party”.

The comments, which come less than four months before the Democratic primaries, represent one of Mr Obama’s most pointed interventions in the race so far.

They may be seen as a critique of senators Sanders and Warren – widely seen as two of the most left-wing candidates in the field.

Both candidates have called for far-reaching political and economic change, including policies that would end private health insurance and decriminalise illegal border crossings.

But Mr Obama, who occupied the White House from 2009 to 2017, said the country was “less revolutionary than it is interested in improvement”.

“Even as we push the envelope and we are bold in our vision, we also have to be rooted in reality,” Mr Obama said at the meeting, reportedly attended by wealthy liberal donors.

Barack Obama and Joe Biden wave to their supporters after Obama gave his victory speech during an election night gathering in Grant Park on November 4, 2008Barack Obama, pictured here with Joe Biden after giving his election victory speech in 2008, is viewed as a moderate Democrat

The Democratic race is still largely up in the air even as the first of the state-by-state votes that will decide which of the contenders challenges Mr Trump for the White House looms in Iowa in February.

Some Democrats are concerned that Mr Biden, a moderate, will struggle to beat Mr Trump, prompting a flurry of latecomers to join the race.

In recent days Deval Patrick, the two-time former governor of Massachusetts, entered the field amid speculation that former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg may follow suit.

Meanwhile, political gossip about whether Hillary Clinton might enter the fray continues to set tongues wagging in Washington DC.

In an interview with the BBC, Mrs Clinton said she was “under enormous pressure” to challenge Mr Trump, who beat her in the 2016 presidential election.

BBC: Why so many US ‘mass shooting’ arrests suddenly?

A makeshift memorial at the scene of Dayton, Ohio's mass shooting in AugustA makeshift memorial after the shooting in Dayton, Ohio

In the last three weeks US authorities have arrested at least 28 people accused of threatening acts of mass violence. What’s behind this surge and could they all be convicted?

The threats ranged from posts on social media and video gaming sites to verbal comments to colleagues and friends. In at least two cases, suspects sent text messages to ex-partners. Hoards of weapons were also found in some cases.

The FBI won’t say what is behind the steep bump in apprehensions, some carried out by that agency, others by local police. It’s not clear if it marks a growth in threats or simply a rise in awareness and tip-offs.

But former FBI boss Andrew McCabe said on Friday there was undoubtedly a “renewed awareness” focused on the sort of threats that a few months ago might have been ignored by investigators mindful of the right to free speech as enshrined in the US Constitution.

The first amendment offers broad protection of free speech, even if that speech is racist or of a violent nature. Prosecutions in the US are further complicated by the second amendment which safeguards the right to bear arms.

So what can be done to stop a shooter before they strike?

When a threat becomes a crime

More than two dozen people are reported to have been arrested for making threats to carry out mass violence since the 3 August shooting in El Paso.

Many of the alleged plots foiled by US law enforcement included plans to target specific minority groups. But without any federal penalties in place for acts of domestic terrorism – like those that exist for international terrorism – the charges varied – false threats, terrorist threats, illegal possession of weapons and disorderly conduct.

It’s unclear how these various cases will fare at trial. For charges asserting threats of violence, the threats must be highly specific, accompanied by evidence of imminent danger.

FBI investigators arrive at the home of suspected nightclub shooter Ian David Long on November 8 2018, in Thousand Oaks, CalifornianFBI investigators approach the home of a suspected mass shooter

“The whole test is whether something is a clear or present danger,” says Martin Stolar, a civil rights lawyer based in New York. You must be expressing a clear intention to commit a crime, he continued, and close to committing it.

A case in Vermont shows how tricky it can be to prosecute. Jack Sawyer, 18, was arrested in 2018 after he threatened to cause mass casualties at his former high school. A friend had informed police, who searched his car and found a 31-page diary entitled Journal of an Active Shooter.

The state’s attorney charged Mr Sawyer with four felonies – two counts of attempted aggravated murder, and one count each of attempted first-degree murder and aggravated assault with a deadly weapon, among the most serious charges in Vermont.

A memorial for victims of the Dayton, Ohio shootingA memorial for victims of the Dayton, Ohio shooting

But within months, all four felony charges were dropped. Mr Sawyer walked free in April 2018 and has now been adjudicated as a youthful offender for carrying a dangerous weapon. He will remain under state supervision until he turns 22.

The court found that he had stated his intentions to commit harm but no action followed, says Vermont-based lawyer David Sleigh. “Simply contemplating a crime is not a crime in Vermont.”

All states have laws that bar violent threats. Threats made by US mail or interstate commerce, for example, are considered criminal. But those threats generally must include the incitement or solicitation of specific violent acts to be considered criminal.

“You don’t criticise someone for speaking, you criticise people for picking up a gun,” says Mr Stolar. “When speech crosses the line.”

A candlelight vigil for the victims of the El Paso and Dayton shootings was held at the 6th Presbyterian Church in the Squirrel Hill neighbourhood of Pittsburgh, blocks from the Tree of Life SynagogueA candlelight vigil for the victims of the El Paso and Dayton shootings in Pittsburgh

Without a designated target, an immediate timeline, or clear preparations to commit assault, violent words may be protected speech.

There must be “action and imminent danger,” Mr Sleigh says. “As opposed to trying to criminalise evil or unpalatable thinking.”

What happens in other countries?

In terms of free speech protections, the US is singular.

“In some countries, they’ve criminalised certain types of hate speech that are protected here,” says Mary McCord, a former senior national security prosecutor, now legal director at Georgetown University’s Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection.

“They have a tool available in those countries to prevent some of the type of speech that can be used to recruit new adherents to an ideology.”

What about other countries?

In the UK, for example, an expression of hatred related to a victim’s race, religion, disability, sexual orientation or gender identity is illegal.

In Canada, too, there are more restrictions on free speech than in the US. The federal criminal code includes multiple provisions barring hate speech, including those that impose criminal sanctions against anyone who willfully incites hatred in public against an identifiable group, including those distinguished by race, sexual orientation, or mental or physical disability.

Such sensitivities “present barriers,” Ms McCord says, “to effectively combat the spread of violent ideologies.”

But in the US, she continues, “we respect the first amendment.”

Is an arsenal legal?

The implications of the first amendment are complicated by the second, which enshrines the right to gun ownership.

In many of the recent arrests, suspects were found in possession of firearms and other weapons. But even where suspects were found with a hoard of firearms – like 18-year-old Justin Olsen, who was found with more than a dozen rifles and 10,000 rounds of ammunition – the cache of weapons uncovered were legally acquired, and do not provide grounds to prosecute.

Police seized weapons including an assault rifle from a man in California, accused of plotting a mass shootingPolice seized weapons including an assault rifle from a man in California, accused of plotting a mass shooting

“If a person’s not prohibited for having a weapon, he could have a bunch of weapons, he could not be breaking any laws at all,” says Ms McCord.

She has drafted a proposal to criminalise the stockpiling of weapons for use in a domestic attack.

“That would enable the government to prove his intent,” says Ms McCord, giving law enforcement an additional tool to thwart potential offenders before they act. Without standing law specifically addressing domestic terrorism, “law enforcement has to find something to charge [suspects] with because there’s nothing that directly applies. They’re cobbling things together to charge.”

Ms McCord is among a growing number of those within the intelligence community calling for domestic terrorism to be classified as a federal crime, giving law enforcement expanded preventative powers – similar to those that apply to international terrorist groups.

But some civil rights advocates and attorneys balk at giving the US government any more power. They argue that existing laws, when enforced, are sufficient.

“I think the rush to try to expand police authority into regulating rights of free speech or rights to gun ownership should be taken very, very carefully,” Mr Sleigh says.

Does the combination of the first and second amendment create a volatility that does not exist elsewhere, he asks.

“I suspect it does. But it’s been part of our national project to embrace that liberty and freedom, knowing that it comes with risk.”

BBC: America’s gun culture in charts (must read)

Two mass shootings within 24 hours, leaving 31 people dead, has once again brought the spotlight on gun ownership in the United States.

An attack on a Walmart store in El Paso, Texas on Saturday left 20 dead, while nine died in a shooting in Dayton, Ohio on Sunday.

But where does America stand on the right to bear arms and gun control?

What do young people think about gun control?

Chart showing how fewer 18 to 29 year old Americans favour gun control now than did in 2000

When looking at the period before the Parkland school shooting in 2018, it is interesting to track how young people have felt about gun control.

Support for gun control over the protection of gun rights in America is highest among 18 to 29-year-olds, according to a study by the Pew Research Centre, with a spike after the Orlando nightclub shooting in 2016. The overall trend though suggests a slight decrease in support for gun control over gun rights since 2000.

Pew found that one third of over-50s said they owned a gun. The rate of gun ownership was lower for younger adults – about 28%. White men are especially likely to own a gun.

How does the US compare with other countries?

About 40% of Americans say they own a gun or live in a household with one, according to a 2017 survey, and the rate of murder or manslaughter by firearm is the highest in the developed world. There were almost 11,000 deaths as a result of murder or manslaughter involving a firearm in 2017.

Chart comparing gun-related deaths as % of total homicides - 73% in US, 38% in Canada, 13% in Australia, and 3% in England and Wales

Homicides are taken here to include murder and manslaughter. The FBI separates statistics for what it calls justifiable homicide, which includes the killing of a criminal by a police officer or private citizen in certain circumstances, which are not included.

In about 13% of cases, the FBI does not have data on the weapon used. By removing these cases from the overall total of gun deaths in the US, the proportion of gun-related killings rises to 73% of homicides.

Who owns the world’s guns?

While it is difficult to know exactly how many guns civilians own around the world, by every estimate the US with more than 390 million is far out in front.

Chart showing civilian gun owneship around the world

Switzerland and Finland are two of the European countries with the most guns per person – they both have compulsory military service for all men over the age of 18. The Finnish interior ministry says about 60% of gun permits are granted for hunting – a popular pastime in Finland. Cyprus and Yemen also have military service.

How do US gun deaths break down?

There have been more than 110 mass shootings in the US since 1982, according to investigative magazine Mother Jones.

Up until 2012, a mass shooting was defined as when an attacker had killed four or more victims in an indiscriminate rampage – and since 2013 the figures include attacks with three or more victims. The shootings do not include killings related to other crimes such as armed robbery or gang violence.

The overall number of people killed in mass shootings each year represents only a tiny percentage of the total number.

Tree map showing total number of gun deaths and how many were suicides and homicides

Figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show there were a total of more than 38,600 deaths from guns in 2016 – of which more than 22,900 were suicides. Suicide by firearm accounts for almost half of all suicides in the US, according to the CDC.

A 2016 study published in the American Journal of Public Health found there was a strong relationship between higher levels of gun ownership in a state and higher firearm suicide rates for both men and women.

Attacks in US become deadlier

The Las Vegas attack in 2017 was the worst in recent US history – and eight of the shootings with the highest number of casualties happened within the past 10 years.

Chart showing worst mass shootings in US since 1991
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What types of guns kill Americans?

Military-style assault-style weapons have been blamed for some of the major mass shootings such as the attack in an Orlando nightclub and at the Sandy Hook School in Connecticut.

Dozens of rifles were recovered from the scene of the Las Vegas shooting, police reported.

Chart showing types of guns used in US murders
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A few US states have banned assault-style weapons, which were totally restricted for a decade until 2004.

However most murders caused by guns involve handguns, according to FBI data.

How much do guns cost to buy?

For those from countries where guns are not widely owned, it can be a surprise to discover that they are relatively cheap to purchase in the US.

Among the arsenal of weapons recovered from the hotel room of Las Vegas shooter Stephen Paddock were handguns, which can cost from as little $200 (£151) – comparable to a Chromebook laptop.

Graphic showing price of an assault rifle $1500 and handgun $200

Assault-style rifles, also recovered from Paddock’s room, can cost from around $1,500 (£1,132).

In addition to the 23 weapons at the hotel, a further 19 were recovered from Paddock’s home. It is estimated that he may have spent more than $70,000 (£52,800) on firearms and accessories such as tripods, scopes, ammunition and cartridges.

Who supports gun control?

US public opinion on the banning of handguns has changed dramatically over the last 60 years. Support has shifted over time and now a significant majority opposes a ban on handguns, according to polling by Gallup.

But a majority of Americans say they are dissatisfied with US gun laws and policies, and most of those who are unhappy want stricter legislation.

Chart showing Americans unhappy with US gun laws want stricter rules

Some states have taken steps to ban or strictly regulate ownership of assault weapons. Laws vary by state but California, for example, has banned around 75 types and models of assault weapon.

States with assault weapons restrictions
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Some controls are widely supported by people across the political divide – such as restricting the sale of guns to people who are mentally ill, or on “watch” lists.

72% of Republicans, or adults who lean Republican, believe that 'concealed carry' should be allowed in more places while only 26% of Democrats do.
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But Republicans and Democrats are much more divided over other policy proposals, such as whether to allow ordinary citizens increased rights to carry concealed weapons – according to a survey from Pew Research Center.

Who opposes gun control?

The National Rifle Association (NRA) campaigns against all forms of gun control in the US and argues that more guns make the country safer.

It is among the most powerful special interest lobby groups in the US, with a substantial budget to influence members of Congress on gun policy.

Chart showing lobbying by NRA

In total, about one in five US gun owners say they are members of the NRA – and it has especially widespread support from Republican-leaning gun owners, according to Pew Research.

In terms of lobbying to influence gun policy, the NRA’s spending jumped from about $3m per year to more than $5m in 2017.

The chart shows only the recorded contributions to lawmakers published by the Senate Office of Public Records.

The NRA spends millions more elsewhere, such as on supporting the election campaigns of political candidates who oppose gun controls.

BBC: San Diego State University suspends fraternities after student dies

Dylan Hernandez smiling at the cameraThe death of Dylan Hernandez was confirmed on Monday evening

San Diego State University has suspended 14 fraternities following the death of a 19-year-old student who had allegedly attended a fraternity event.

Dylan Hernandez was taken to hospital on Thursday morning, the day after the event, and died over the weekend.

Six Interfraternity Council (IFC) groups were already suspended and four under investigation prior to the latest incident, the university said.

San Diego State University police have opened an investigation into the death.

A fundraiser organised in memory of Dylan Hernandez has already raised more than $25,000 (£19,490).

The page says Dylan was “an outgoing, light-hearted and goofy person who had so much love to give to everyone he met. He never failed to make everyone in the room smile and his laugh was infectious”.

The San Diego medical examiner said Mr Hernandez was found without pulse and not breathing by his roommate in their dorm room on Thursday morning.

It listed the date of death as Friday, but the university said he had died with his family by his side on Sunday.

Six of the university’s fraternities were already under suspension, which occurs when there is a “perceived concern for the health and safety of a member”, according to the university.

A statement from the university said the investigation by university police had “uncovered information which alleges that a fraternity was involved in possible misconduct”.

Fraternities in the US have come under much scrutiny in recent years, most recently in the case of Timothy Piazza, a 19-year-old student who died after a fraternity event at Penn State University in 2017.

He suffered internal injuries after falling down stairs during a fraternity initiation.

During the process of trying to join a fraternity, students are often put into activities or situations designed to cause embarrassment, ridicule or risk of harm, which is called hazing.

Hazing rituals are often harmless, but in some cases can turn into extreme bullying, physical violence and sexual abuse.

At least one hazing death has been reported every year in the US since 1959.

Since 2000, there have been at least 70 student deaths attributed to hazing.

Hazing and initiation ceremonies are widely banned, but continue to be prevalent in universities across the US.

The Tim Piazza case: People “have to see the damage” of hazing

What is a fraternity?

A fraternity is a social organisation at a college or university, founded on a set of principles that members must abide by and mostly designated by a grouping of Greek letters.

A fraternity usually means male members, and a sorority female, although many women’s and mixed organisations also use the term fraternity.

Undergraduates “rush” the fraternity they want to join by going to fraternity events and getting to know members. If the fraternity approves, they will give them a “bid” – an invite to the next stage.

Potential members then go through a “pledging” process to prove their value, through challenges based around loyalty and trust – a process that can also include hazing.

If the individual completes the pledge process, they become active members of the fraternity for life.

Uber CEO calls Jamal Khashoggi murder ‘serious mistake'(?!)

Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi is speaks onstage at a summitDara Khosrowshahi later backtracked and said the comments were wrong

The chief executive of ride-hailing app Uber has called the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi “a mistake”, comparing it to his firm’s failings with self-driving cars.

Pressed on Saudi links with Uber in a TV interview, Dara Khosrowshahi said: “People make mistakes, it doesn’t mean they can never be forgiven.”

He later said the comments were wrong.

Khashoggi – a US resident and prominent Saudi critic – was killed in the kingdom’s Istanbul consulate last year.

Saudi Arabia is Uber’s fifth-largest shareholder and the head of its sovereign wealth fund is also on the company’s board of directors.

Mr Khosrowshahi made the remarks during a discussion about Saudi Arabia’s involvement in Khashoggi’s murder as part of the series Axios on HBO. When pressed on whether a representative from Saudi Arabia should remain on Uber’s board, he said: “I think that government said that they made a mistake.”

He went on: “It’s a serious mistake, we’ve made mistakes too, right, with self-driving and we stopped driving and we’re recovering from that mistake.”

He was referring to Uber’s self-driving cars, one of which struck and killed a woman in 2018 when it “failed” to identify her as a pedestrian.

Following the interview, Mr Khosrowshahi sent an email to Axios backtracking on his comments. “I said something in the moment that I do not believe,” he wrote. “When it comes to Jamal Khashoggi, his murder was reprehensible and should not be forgotten or excused.”

Mr Khosrowshahi was appointed CEO in 2017, after former chief executive Travis Kalanick resigned amid pressure from shareholders.

Mr Kalanick, Uber’s billionaire co-founder, resigned after a spate of controversies at the firm. Issues included complaints from employees about a sexist and macho company culture and that accusations of sexual harassment were not taken seriously. He remains a member of the board of directors.

What happened to Jamal Khashoggi?

On 2 October 2018, Khashoggi entered the Saudi Arabia consulate in Istanbul, where he was murdered. Conflicting narratives emerged after his death over how he died and who was responsible.

Saudi officials claimed he was murdered in a “rogue operation” carried about by a team of agents, while others – including Turkish officials and the CIA – said the agents acted on orders from the highest levels of the Saudi government, including Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman.

A UN expert earlier this year concluded that Khashoggi’s death was “an extrajudicial execution” and that there was credible evidence” that the crown prince and other high-level officials were individually liable.

BBC: Neil Young says US citizenship ‘delayed over marijuana’

Neil YoungCanadian rocker Neil Young hopes to become a dual citizen

Canadian-born rock star Neil Young has said his application for US citizenship has been delayed partly because he smokes marijuana.

Young says he passed the citizenship test but was told he had to take another to prove “moral character”.

In April, the US government clarified that using marijuana and other drugs was a “bar to establishing good moral character for naturalisation”.

Young, who turns 74 this week, has lived in the US since the mid-1960s.

In a post on his website, Young described passing the citizenship test after “a conversation where I was asked many questions” that he “answered truthfully”.

“I want to be a dual citizen and vote,” he said. “Recently however, I have been told I must do another test, due to my use of marijuana.”

On 19 April, the US Department of Homeland Security issued a policy alert clarifying that “violation of federal controlled substance law, including for marijuana, remains a conditional bar to establishing good moral character for naturalisation even where that conduct would not be an offence under state law”.

California, where Young lives, legalised cannabis for recreational use in 2018.

“I sincerely hope I have exhibited good moral character and will be able to vote my conscience on Donald J Trump and his fellow American candidates,” he said in his post.

President Donald Trump has used Young’s 1989 hit Rockin’ in the Free World at campaign events, though Young has been critical of the president.

In 2014, Mr Trump called Young one of his favourite musicians.

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But Young has said on his website that the president does not have his permission to play the song.

Neil Young at a concert in 1982Image copyrightGETTY IMAGES
Image captionYoung, seen here in 1982, has lived in the US most of his life

“Legally, he has the right to, however it goes against my wishes,” Young wrote last year, adding that he had asked Mr Trump to stop using his music after it was used in his candidacy announcement.

“However, he chose not to listen to my request, just as he chooses not to listen to the many American voices who ask him to stop his constant lies.”

Other artists have also spoken out against Mr Trump’s use of their music through license loopholes, including Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler, Rihanna, and Axl Rose of Guns N’ Roses.