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25 Aug

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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August 25, 2016

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18-month-old girl whose mother survived 2009 L’Aquila quake is among victims as towns including Amatrice are razed

Rescuers find a 10-year-old alive under the rubble of a collapsed building in Pescara del Tronto on Wednesday, 17 hours after a 6.2 magnitude earthquake struck central Italy. Bystanders applaud and cheer as five rescuers help uncover the young girl and lift her to safety. Pescara del Tronto was one of the three towns most severely damaged by the quake

The death toll from the devastating pre-dawn earthquake that struck central Italy has risen to 247, after rescue teams using sniffer dogs, bulldozers and their bare hands worked through the night in a desperate search for survivors.

At least 368 more people were injured, the national civil protection agency said in Rome, and an unknown number remained trapped in the rubble of collapsed and damaged buildings in the cluster of ancient hilltop towns and villages, some almost entirely razed by the 6.2-magnitude quake.

The Ansa news agency reported that one of the youngest victims was an 18-month-old girl whose mother survived the 2009 quake in L’Aquila, a few miles south of the epicentre of Wednesday’s 3.36am tremor that flattened houses, buckled roads and buried residents under mounds of debris in and around Amatrice, Accumoli and Arquata and Pescara del Tronto.

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Pictures of woman removing long-sleeved top surrounded by police cause outrage as France’s top court prepares to review bans

A sign at Ponchettes beach in Nice shows the law forbidding the wearing of clothing such as the burkini

A sign at Ponchettes beach in Nice shows the law forbidding the wearing of clothing such as the burkini. Photograph: Jean Christophe Magnenet/AFP/Getty

The political row in France over mayors banning the burkini has intensified after a woman in a headscarf was photographed on a beach in Nice removing a long-sleeved top while surrounded by armed police.

The series of pictures, taken by a local French news photographer, showed a woman dressed in leggings, a long-sleeved tunic and headscarf being approached by four officers. As the police stand around her, she removes her long-sleeved top, revealing a short-sleeved top underneath. It is unclear whether or not the woman was ordered to do so. In another image, a police officer appears to write out a fine.

A spokesman for Vantage News, which released the pictures in the UK, said they were taken at about 11am (10am BST) on Tuesday. “The woman was fined, she left the beach and so did the police,” the spokesman said.

On Thursday, the council of state, France’s highest administrative court, will examine a request by the French Human Rights League to scrap the burkini bans. Lawyers argue that the short-term decrees are illegal.

The Nice mayor’s office denied that she had been forced to remove clothing, telling Agence France-Presse that the woman was showing police the swimsuit she was wearing under her tunic over a pair of leggings.

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‘No conspiracy’ to hide privately funded program in which cameras took continuous photographs since January, police spokesman claims

baltimore aerial skyline

Persistent Surveillance Systems will continue to photograph the city for a few more weeks, a Baltimore police spokesperson said. Photograph: Alamy

Baltimore police on Wednesday acknowledged for the first time that city residents had been subject to aerial surveillance, after a Bloomberg Businessweek story revealed that airborne cameras had snapped continuous photos in cooperation with the police since January.

Police spokesman TJ Smith insisted that the privately funded agreement between Persistent Surveillance Systems and city police “was not a secret surveillance program”. Before Wednesday, not even the mayor, city council, and board of estimates had been told about the program.

“There was no conspiracy not to disclose it,” Smith said.

Many officials and activists thought otherwise. The office of the public defender issued a statement saying that the “secrecy of the program has precluded any oversight of the technology’s use” and warned of “abuses that are ripe from its use”.

American Civil Liberties Union senior policy analyst Jay Stanley said it was “stunning that American police forces feel that they can use deeply radical and controversial surveillance systems” in a blogpost.

Persistent Surveillance Systems began working in Baltimore in January, as first reported by Bloomberg Businessweek. The Ohio-based company provides data gleaned from its aerial surveillance to police as they investigate crimes in the city.

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Politicians have advanced numerous reasons to ban the swimwear at the seaside. They are mistaken

A French policeman patrols at the Catalans beach in Marseille

A French policeman patrols at the Catalans beach in Marseille. ‘Women’s right to dress as they feel comfortable and fitting should be defended against those coercing them into either covering or uncovering.’ Photograph: Franck Pennant/AFP/Getty

So this is what liberation looks like: four armed officers ordering a woman to undress in public. France’s prime minister, Manuel Valls, has backed the mayors ordering “burkini bans” on their beaches by arguing, among other things, that the garment is part of the enslavement of women. The photos from Nice, in which a Muslim woman removes her tunic under duress, show that claim of upholding women’s rights to be as erroneous as the others advanced in support of the measures – variously, that covering up for religious reasons while at the seaside or while swimming is unhygienic, or a “provocation”, or contrary to French values. The images are preposterous as well as ugly, highlighting the profound mismatch between stated ideals and their consequence; and an imagined threat to the national community and the means used to subdue it, with multiple gun-toting policemen required to confront one sunbathing woman. Which French values are being defended is unclear. Not liberation; nor equality; nor fraternity – since women who wish to wear the burkini (or, it seems, the hijab and loose-fitting clothes) are confronted with a choice between dressing as they feel fit or removing themselves from a public space.

The text of the Cannes ban refers to those who wear “ostentatiously” religious dress as disrespectful of good manners and laïcité, the French concept of secularism founded on freedom of conscience, a strict separation between religion and the state, and the freedom to exercise any faith. That reflects a deepening battle over the true meaning of the philosophy and, in particular, an attempt by the right to clothe its xenophobia and Islamophobia more respectably. France is becoming increasingly politically polarised in the run-up to this November’s rightwing primaries and next year’s presidential election, the electoral calendar meshing alarmingly with the fallout from terrorist atrocities. The rise of Marine Le Pen and her party has encouraged others to buy into her rhetoric. Nicolas Sarkozy’s announcement this week that he would run again for top office came with a message clearly aimed at far-right voters. He promised to extend the ban on the hijab in schools to universities, to restrict access to benefits for women who repeatedly violate the existing burqa ban, and to scrap a law authorising immigrants to be reunited with their families. He has denounced “the tyranny of minorities”.

The Nice ban refers specifically to last month’s Bastille Day attack in the city, without mentioning that several of the 84 victims were Muslim, while the mayor of Cannes has described burkinis as referring to an allegiance to terrorist groups. Others have described them improbably as a provocation by Islamists (as if such groups were likely to urge women to bathe in form-fitting outfits on mixed-sex public beaches). It is hard to see the logical correlation. What can be said is that obsessing about the burkini is a good way to distract attention from the many social and economic reasons why young second and third generation immigrants may feel disenfranchised and harbour grievances against the republic – making some vulnerable to recruitment by extremists – and that it is likely to alienate more of them.

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25 Aug

United States Wars, News and Casualties

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NP: Canada’s special forces commander faces court martial charges for firearm accident in Iraq

Canada’s top special forces soldier has been charged after accidentally firing his rifle as he prepared to visit the frontlines in northern Iraq.

Maj.-Gen. Mike Rouleau, a special forces combat veteran and head of the Canadian Special Operations Forces Command, will face a court martial for a “negligent discharge” from his firearm last year, the Canadian military said.

Rouleau immediately reported the Dec. 21 incident to Gen. Jon Vance, chief of the defence staff,  and was put under a lengthy investigation.

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ABC: Finland Arrests Iraqi Suspected of Killings in 2014 in Iraq

Police in Finland have arrested a 24-year-old Iraqi man on suspicion of murder and war crimes related to the massacre of hundreds of Iraqi soldiers by the Islamic State group in 2014.

The Finnish National Bureau of Investigation says the suspected crimes were committed at Camp Speicher, a former U.S. base just outside Tikrit in northern Iraq. The agency said Wednesday that the suspect, who was not identified, arrived in Finland in the fall of 2015. It gave no further details.

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RT: Guns sold, guns lost: What Pentagon sent to Iraq & Afghanistan after 9/11

Since September 2001, the Pentagon has listed $40 billion worth of contracts for small arms intended for Afghanistan and Iraq, supplying 1.45 million guns to both countries while only accounting for 3 percent of them, says a new report by a British NGO.

Trends9/11 tragedy, Iraq carnage, Islamic State

The London-based nonprofit Action on Armed Violence (AOAV) pored over 14 years’ worth of contracts issued by the US Department of Defense, documenting the purchases of small arms – defined as anything under 30mm in caliber – ammunition and attachments, such as sniper scopes or tripods. They found a massive amount of weapons supplied by the US to the primary theaters of the “War on Terror,” and remarkably little accounting of whose hands they ended up in.

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UN dismayed at execution of 36 people convicted for Camp Speicher massacre in Iraq

(IraqiNews.com) Baghdad – The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Zeid Ra’ad Al Hussein, has expressed deep dismay at the execution of 36…

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Qayyarah fully liberated from ISIS control

(IraqiNews.com) Nineveh – Nineveh Council on Wednesday announced that Iraqi forces fully liberated the northern city of al-Qayyarah from ISIS control and raised the Iraqi…

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Maliki-Jones meeting focuses on Mosul liberation

(IraqiNews.com) Baghdad – Head of State of Law Coalition, Nouri al-Maliki, after meeting US ambassador to Iraq, Stuart Jones on Wednesday announced about the need for…

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Security forces liberate 4 areas in Qayyarah

(IraqiNews.com) Nineveh – Security forces on Wednesday liberated four areas in Qayyarah vicinity in southern Mosul from the ISIS grip and regained complete control…

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Blast near Baghdad kills two and injures six

(IraqiNews.com) Baghdad – A source in Iraqi Ministry of Interior revealed that a bomb blast south-west of Baghdad killed two persons and injured six…

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Top SOF commander dubbed as Greek Hero ‘Achilles’ martyred in Kabul attack

A top commander of the Afghan Special Forces 1st Lieutenant Mohamed Akbar lost his life during the attack on the American University in Kabul on Wednesday night. Born in 1983 in Adarabi district of northern Baghlan province, Lt. Akbar lost his life as he was conducting clearance operation inside the university compound. Dubbed as ‘Achilles’

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Explosion targets Afghan lawmaker in Balkh, 4 killed, 14 wounded

At least four people were killed and fourteen others were wounded in an explosion in northern Balkh province of Afghanistan earlier today. Provincial police chief Abdul Razaq Qaderi said the incident took place after an Improvised Explosive Device (IED) was detonated on a roadside in Khulm district. He said the target of the attack was

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30 Taliban militants killed in Nangarhar air and ground raids

At least 30 Taliban insurgents were killed in a series of air and ground raids in eastern Nangarhar province of Afghanistan. The provincial police commandment in a statement said Thursday that the operations were conducted in the restive Haska Meena district jointly by the Afghan National Defense and Security Forces (ANDSF). The statement further added

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13 killed, 37 wounded in attack on American University in Kabul

At least thirteen people were killed and thirty seven others were wounded after a group of militants launched a coordinated attack on the American University in Kabul this evening. At least seven students, 3 policemen, and 3 others including university personnel were killed in the attack. Kabul police chief Genn. Abdul Rahman Rahimi earli er said the attack on

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USAT: Special forces storm American University in Afghanistan

Afghan special forces backed by U.S. military advisers were sweeping a college campus in Kabul on Wednesday after a militant attack rocked the  American University of Afghanistan, authorities said.

At least seven people, including a university security guard, died and more than 30 were wounded in the hour-long attack of explosions and gunfire, the Associated Press and FOX News reported. Emergency Hospital in Kabul said it treated 19 wounded teachers and students.

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Afghanistan Casualties, Exclusive of Civilians

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Recent Casualties

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Iraq Casualties, Exclusive of Civilians

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Recent Casualties:

Christopher A. Wilbur, 36, of Granite City, Illinois, died Aug. 12 in Kandahar, Afghanistan, from a non-combat-related injury. The incident is under investigation. Wilbur was assigned to 1st Battalion, 12th Infantry Regiment, 2nd Brigade Combat Team, 4th Infantry Division, in Fort Carson, Colorado.

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24 Aug

National Group to Launch to Promote Progressives

Bernie’s Next Revolution: New National Group to Launch to Promote Progressives

By Steven Rosenfeld / AlterNet

Bernie’s Next Revolution: New National Group to Launch to Promote Progressives | Alternet

Photo Credit: berniesanders.com

Bernie Sanders returns to the political stage on Wednesday to try to do what no progressive has successfully done in decades—keep alive national grassroots momentum that led millions to support him and his agenda in 2016’s presidential nominating contests.

At 9 PM Eastern, Sanders will address 2,600-plus meetings across the country to lay out the next steps in pushing the nation’s politics toward the progressive left. He will kick off a new group called Our Revolution, which will support like-minded candidates running for office and hold pro-corporate officeholders accountable on key issues.

Pressuring Congress to reject the Trans-Pacific Partnership trade pact is perhaps the foremost immediate example.

“At this meeting, I and others will lay out some of the next steps we can take as a movement to empower a wave of progressive candidates this November and win the major upcoming fights for the values we share,” Sanders said in an e-mail to participants. “We’ll also talk about how you can be a key movement builder in your community for Our Revolution.”

Those 2016 candidates include House primary winners Pramila Jayapal (Washington), Zephyr Teachout (New York) and Tim Canova (Florida) who faces ex-DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz in a primary next week, and others seeking statewide office.

Sanders also will start campaigning for Hillary Clinton after Labor Day, The Washington Post reported. “I look forward to it. I feel very strongly that Donald Trump would be a disaster for the country. I want to do everything I can to see that Secretary Clinton wins.”

He is likely to hold rallies in swing states where he won caucuses or primaries, such as New Hampshire, Maine, Michigan and Wisconsin, and in others where he did well among voters who will be pivotal this fall—in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Nevada.

While his next steps might more accurately be called evolutionary rather than revolutionary, Sanders has been anticipating building a national organization to train and field candidates for many weeks now, as well as planning to campaign in the fall for Clinton.

“If we are successful, what it will mean is that the progressive message and the issues that I campaigned on will be increasingly spread throughout this country,” he told USA Today before the Democratic Convention. “The goal here is to do what I think the Democratic establishment has not been very effective in doing. And that is—at the grassroots level—encourage people to get involved, give them the tools they need to win, help them financially.”

This past week, Sanders thanked supporters in an e-mail and reminded them what they had accomplished during his more than yearlong presidential campaign.

“We have transformed American politics,” he said. “On issue after issue—making college affordable, progressive taxation, climate change, trade and many others—more and more Americans are agreeing with us. People are ready to take on the 1 percent. During our campaign we assembled a movement of millions of people ready to fight for the country we know we can become. Election days come and go, but the struggle for economic, social, racial and environmental justice must continue. We have the guts and the energy to take on the special interests, win critical battles on the most important issues of our time, and redefine what’s possible in this country. Now it’s time for all of us to get to work. Please be part of our new organization, Our Revolution.”

The campaign did more than that. They also convinced the Democratic Party to adopt a series of ideological and electoral reforms to make it more welcoming for progressives. On the ideological front, Sanders’ team prompted substantive reforms of the Democratic Party platform, pushing the party’s political goals to the left. Procedurally, they convinced it to eliminate most super-delegates, making future presidential contests more receptive to grassroots insurgencies. And they won a commitment to review and reform how states holding presidential caucuses run those contests and award delegates.

While many Sanders supporters have been awaiting the campaign’s future plans, others have been busy creating new efforts to elect a more progressive Congress. One cadre of former staffers created a group called Brand New Congress, which hopes to recruit and support like-minded candidates running for every congressional seat in 2018. They are not looking for elected officials who want to climb the political ladder, but rather leaders in their communities and fields.

In their nationwide conference call last week, they reported having 30,000 supporters nationwide, 8,000 small donors raising $40,000, 35,000 likes on social media and 1.1 million people visiting their Facebook page in the past month. They are hoping to have a presidential-style campaign, where candidates challenge incumbents in what has traditionally been low-turnout primary elections in non-presidential years. They are also holding meetings and organizing themselves based on congressional district. During their call, organizers said they were hoping their efforts would be complimentary to what Sanders will be rolling out in Our Revolution.

In the meantime, there have been a series of behind-the-scenes news reports that Our Revolution has faced a series of bumps and staff disputes. Last week, ABC-TV raised questions about its 501(c)4 non-profit tax category, suggesting that was positioning to raise large anonymous donations. Politico.com reported Tuesday that four of 15 staffers abruptly left in a split pitting longtime top Sanders aides against the campaign’s younger organizing and online fundraising talent. NBC News reported that eight staffers left, frustrated they would have to work with Jeff Weaver, his presidential campaign manager and longtime aide.

Steven Rosenfeld covers national political issues for AlterNet, including America’s retirement crisis, democracy and voting rights, and campaigns and elections. He is the author of “Count My Vote: A Citizen’s Guide to Voting” (AlterNet Books, 2008).

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24 Aug

News and Analyses, A Foreign Perspective

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Authorities in 15 towns have banned burkinis, citing public concern following recent terrorist attacks in the country

French agency AFP saw a ticket given to the woman by police, which said she was not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’.

French agency AFP saw a ticket given to the woman by police, which said she was not ‘wearing an outfit respecting good morals and secularism’. Photograph: Vantagenews.com

Photographs have emerged of armed French police confronting a woman on a beach and making her remove some of her clothing as part of a controversial ban on the burkini.

Authorities in several French towns have implemented bans on the Burkini, which covers the body and head, citing concerns about religious clothing in the wake of recent terrorist killings in the country.

The images of police confronting the woman in Nice on Tuesday show at least four police officers standing over a woman who was resting on the shore at the town’s Promenade des Anglais, the scene of last month’s Bastille Day lorry attack.

After they arrive, she appears to remove a blue long-sleeved tunic, although one of the officers appears to take notes or issue an on-the-spot fine.

The photographs emerged as a mother of two also told on Tuesday how she had been fined on the beach in nearby Cannes wearing leggings, a tunic and a headscarf.

Her ticket, seen by French news agency AFP, read that she was not wearing “an outfit respecting good morals and secularism”.

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Political rivals Hamas and Fatah are locked in a battle of words and images over conditions in the Hamas-ruled coastal strip

Hamas and Fatah, the two most powerful Palestinian political movements in Gaza, are turning to social media ahead of municipal elections in October. At odds with reality, Hamas has released a video celebrating life in the city under its rule. Scenes flit from artfully lit-office blocks to an amusement park. In reply, Fatah has re-edited the video to show what it believes to be the reality of almost a decade of Hamas rule. Footage of exploding bombs, damaged neighbourhoods and police violence have been added to the violence

The two most powerful Palestinian political movements in Gaza – Hamas and Fatah – are slugging it out in a social media war that is pitting video against video and hashtag against hashtag ahead of municipal elections in the Palestinian territories slated for October.

The widespread use of social media for the first time in Palestinian elections has seen both sides locked in a conflict of narratives over conditions in the coastal strip ruled by Hamas since 2007, which has lived through three devastating conflicts with Israel in the last eight years.

The battle of words and images was triggered by a series of slick videos posted on YouTube representing Hamas’s pitch for the municipal elections – not least in Gaza City, one of the three most important and populous Palestinian cities.

The message, after years emphasising Israeli occupation, siege and resistance, is relentlessly upbeat, featuring two key phrases that have also been deployed as hashtags on Twitter and Facebook: “Thank you, Hamas” and “Gaza is more beautiful”.

The online battle has continued as the Israeli military – on Sunday and overnight on Monday – launched some 50 strikes against targets in Gaza. The attacks by jets and Israeli tanks were in response to a missile, claimed by a jihadist group, that hit the nearby Israeli community of Sderot.

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Matt Bissonnette, whose book No Easy Day included firsthand account of Osama bin Laden’s killing, ruled to have violated non-disclosure agreements

US Navy Seals training for desert combat.

US Navy Seals training for desert combat. Photograph: US Navy Photo / Alamy/Alamy

The former Navy Seal who wrote a book about his role in the raid that killed Osama bin Laden must now pay the US federal government more than $6.6m (£4.9m) for violating non-disclosure agreements and publishing without clearance from the defence department.

Matt Bissonnette, who wrote No Easy Day under the pseudonym Mark Owen, will give the US government all profits and royalties from the book or movie rights. The proceeds already total more than $6.6m. He will have four years to pay the bulk of that sum.

The payments were outlined in settlement documents filed in US district court in Virginia.

The book triggered a justice department investigation into claims it contained classified material. Bissonnette had signed non-disclosure agreements during his service as a Seal, and he took part in a number of highly secret operations including the Bin Laden raid.

Under the agreement, Bissonnette said he would acknowledge he made a mistake by failing to submit the book for pre-publication review. And in exchange for the payments, the US government has dismissed other liability claims.

Justice department spokeswoman Nicole Navas said the agreement doesn’t discredit Bissonnette’s military service, but reinforces that service members must comply with the non-disclosure documents they sign.

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RNC in Cleveland 2016epaselect epa05431370 Donald Trump (L) escorts his wife Melania (R) after her speech during the second session on the first day of the 2016 Republican National Convention at Quicken Loans Arena in Cleveland, Ohio, USA, 18 July 2016. The four-day convention is expected to end with Donald Trump formally accepting the nomination of the Republican Party as their presidential candidate in the 2016 election. EPA/MICHAEL REYNOLDS

Donald and Melania Trump. Photograph: Michael Reynolds/EPA

Less than 24 hours after Gawker.com was killed by billionaire Peter Thiel’s legal crusade against it, another billionaire couple – Donald and Melania Trump – is already using the same law firm Thiel did to threaten more media organizations into silence. And this time, it could have a direct effect on the presidential election.

The Guardian reported late on Monday night that Melania Trump’s lawyers have sent threatening letters and are considering filing lawsuits against a variety of media organizations – including the Daily Mail, Politico and the Week – for reporting on rumors of Melania Trump’s past, including her alleged immigration status when she came to the United States.

This is the quintessential example of the disturbing precedent Peter Thiel has just set by creating a blueprint for billionaires to destroy news organizations they do not like. He has shown that all they need is a little persistence. And in a media landscape that is increasingly dominated by the rich and powerful, that should give even Gawker’s most ardent critics pause.

We know Donald Trump and others have gone down this path before. Trump has openly bragged about the fact that he sued a former New York Times reporter in the early aughts for the purpose of trying to hit the reporter involved financially. Trump did lose that lawsuit, but not until after litigation that undoubtedly cost hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees for the winning party.

And if you think the Trumps are litigious now, just wait until after November. Peter Scheer, director of the First Amendment coalition, explained the consequences of the Gawker case succinctly:

Say five years from now, if Trump loses and people are writing critical postmortems, will they have to worry that Trump will turn around and sue them? Because of the Gawker trial, I fear that many journalists will wonder, “Could that happen to me, even in writing about Trump?” They will be censoring themselves. That is the worst outcome here, and it’s quite likely.

But Trump is not the only culprit. In yet another ominous example, Mother Jones, the liberal nonprofit magazine known for its investigative journalism, spent millions of dollars in legal fees when another billionaire, Frank VanderSloot, sued the company and its reporters over a critical story and some tweets from its editors. Mother Jones won the case last year, relatively early in the process, but still faced an existential financial crisis because of the enormous legal costs associated with the lawsuit. VanderSloot then announced a million-dollar fund to be used for suing Mother Jones and additional members of the “liberal press” in other cases.

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