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On Ukraine Call, Biden Says Trump Is ‘Violating Every Basic Norm Of A President’

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On Ukraine Call, Biden Says Trump Is ‘Violating Every Basic Norm Of A President’

Former U.S. Vice President Joe Biden says President Trump’s call with the Ukrainian president was “an overwhelming abuse of power.”

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Joe Biden, the former Vice President and Democratic presidential candidate, is accusing President Trump of “an overwhelming abuse of power.”

Biden’s comments on Saturday come amid reports that President Trump urged the leader of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, to investigate Biden’s son during a phone conversation this summer.

According to multiple reports, what was allegedly said during that July 25 conversation between Trump and the Ukrainian president is now at the center of an intelligence community whistleblower complaint that has roiled the White House.

Speaking to reporters at the Iowa Steak Fry, Biden said that if the reports are true, Trump crossed a line.

“Trump’s doing this because he knows I’ll beat him like a drum,” Biden said. “And he’s using the abuse of power and every element of the presidency to try to do something to smear me.”

Trump and his allies allege that while vice president, Biden sought to have a Ukrainian prosecutor that was reportedly looking into his son Hunter’s business affairs fired. In 2014, Hunter Biden was a board member of a Ukrainian energy company called Burisma Holdings.

According to a report by Bloomberg in May, the prosecutor general in Ukraine said there was no evidence that either of the Bidens committed any wrongdoing.

The older Biden was asked by reporters Saturday if he ever had discussions with his son about Hunter’s business dealings. He denied ever doing so.

He then turned the discussion back to President Trump.

“I know Trump deserves to be investigated,” Biden said. “He’s violating every basic norm of a president.”

….story about me and a perfectly fine and routine conversation I had with the new President of the Ukraine. Nothing was said that was in any way wrong, but Biden’s demand, on the other hand, was a complete and total disaster. The Fake News knows this but doesn’t want to report!

— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) September 21, 2019

Biden has called for the release of the phone transcript of the Trump conversation.

Earlier Saturday, Trump in a series of tweets doubled down on his stance that he did nothing wrong in his conversation with the Ukrainian president.

He called it “a perfectly fine and routine conversation” where “nothing was said that was in any way wrong.”

As NPR reported Friday, President Trump dismissed the whistleblower allegations as a “political hackjob.”

The Wall Street Journal reported on Friday that Trump “repeatedly pressured” the Ukrainian leader “about eight times” to work with his personal attorney, Rudy Giuliani, on a probe of Hunter Biden.

The Washington Post reported that the conversation also included an unspecified “promise” made by President Trump.

A little more than two weeks after that conversation, on Aug.12, the acting Inspector General of the Intelligence Community, Michael Atkinson, said his office received a disclosure involving an alleged “urgent concern.”

The Trump administration has so far ignored calls to release the contents of the whistleblower complaint, even though congressional Democrats say they are legally entitled to the information.

House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said in a statement Friday, that Congress “must be sure” the administration is engaging in national security and foreign policy that’s “in the best interest of the American people.”

“The Administration’s blocking of Acting [Director of National Intelligence] Joseph Maguire from providing Congress with the whistleblower complaint violates the federal statute, which unequivocally states that the DNI ‘shall’ provide Congress this information,” Pelosi said.

Trump on Saturday accused the media and Democrats of trying to protect the Democratic front-runner.

He even gave the controversy a new moniker: the “Ukraine Witch Hunt.”

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SUV Drives Through Chicago Mall, Prompts False Claims Of Active Shooter

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SUV Drives Through Chicago Mall, Prompts False Claims Of Active Shooter

A state police officer stands outside of a Woodfield Mall entrance on Friday, in Schaumberg, Ill. An SUV drove into the mall through one of the Sears’ entrances and crashed into several stores and kiosks.

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Chicago Tribune/TNS via Getty Images

A 22-year-old man was taken into custody Friday afternoon after he drove his SUV through a mall in Schaumburg, Ill., police said, causing panic as social media erupted with reports of an active shooter.

The man drove through the Sears entrance of Woodfield Mall, about 13 miles from Chicago’s O’Hare Airport, and continued through a hallway lined with kiosks until he was detained by mall patrons and two off-duty officers, Schaumburg Police Chief Bill Wolf said in a press conference.

“I am happy to report that there were only very minor injuries from this incident,” Wolf said. No patrons were hit by the vehicle, he added.

The driver’s identity will not be released until charges are authorized by Cook County State’s Attorney’s Office, Wolf said, adding that the police are also investigating a connection to the driver’s possible medical condition.

A video posted on Twitter Friday shows the black Chevrolet Trailblazer erratically weaving through the mall as bystanders run from the car and yell at the driver to stop. After crashing into a Hollister store, the car backs up, stops for a moment and continues driving. Wolf said that the police and fire department were dispatched at 2:21 p.m. local time, and were on the scene within two minutes.

The first reports on Twitter warned of gunshots and an active shooter situation inside the mall. Wolf said that police originally responded to reports of shots fired, but said that the claims were ultimately unsubstantiated.

“Although we did originally receive those reports, we did not see any shell casings or anything that would report that there were any shots fired,” Wolf said in the press conference, adding that “it appeared that what people heard as shots fired was from the broken glass in the mall.”

Wolf said that some evidence pointed to the driver’s presence in the mall prior to driving through the Sears, but denied any connection to terrorist acts.

“There is no indication that this was a terrorist attack, there is no indication that this was something pre-planned, no indication that the mall itself was a target,” Wolf said.

The false claims of an active shooter in the mall came as Americans still reel from the mass shootings in El Paso, Midland and Odessa, Texas; Dayton, Ohio and Virginia Beach, Va. Last Saturday, Arlington County Police responded to calls of an active shooter in a theater in Ballston Quarter mall, but police later said that the incident was caused by a juvenile male shouting a false shooter warning.

The incident still created panic as moviegoers ran from the theater yelling for other patrons to evacuate and call 9-1-1, Arlington County police said.

On Aug. 9, NPR reported that 20-year-old Dmitriy Andreychenko was charged with making a terrorist threat in the second degree after he entered a Walmart in Springfield, Mo., with body armor, a loaded rifle and 100 rounds of ammunition less than a week after the El Paso Walmart shooting that killed 22 people.

Andreychenko said in a police statement that he “wanted to know if that Walmart honored the Second Amendment.”

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Portraying Celia: The Role Of A Lifetime (Or Two)

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Portraying Celia: The Role Of A Lifetime (Or Two)

Aymée Nuviola portrayed Celia Cruz in the Cuban telenovela Celia.

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Courtesy of NBC Telemundo

Sometimes destiny seems to drop a little hint of goodness you could never imagine coming your way. For Cuban-born Aymée Nuviola and Puerto Rican-born Jeimy Osorio destiny played out to the tune of Celia Cruz.

Aymée Nuviola was a young singer with Pachito Alonso’s orchestra when she met the legendary “Queen of Salsa” at a wedding in Mexico. It was a brief encounter that sparked an affinity between the two Afro-Cuban singers who were far from their homeland. Cruz offered up a little career advice and as she was leaving, took off her big, stone earrings and gave them to Nuviola.

Whether Cruz was symbolically passing the torch, or honoring an unspoken hermandad (sisterhood), it struck Nuviola. “It was a beautiful moment,” she recalls. “She was very kind,” contrary to things Nuviola had been told in Cuba. “I felt that she was special …. And when I saw her spontaneous gesture I did the same; I took my own off and gave them to her.” She says of the exchange, “It surprises me even today.”

Some 20 years later, Nuviola would have more to wear than those earrings – she would be donning Cruz’s entire persona. She was one of two actresses who landed the role of a lifetime playing the late icon in a Telemundo broadcast docudrama simply titled Celia. Nuviola was cast as the maturing singer to appear about two thirds of the way into the ambitious 80-episode series chronicling her life.

Meanwhile in Paris, emerging singer and professional actress Jeimy Osorio was between gigs and celebrating the New Year when she “asked the universe for guidance.” The next song that came up on her playlist shuffle was “Yo Viviré,” Cruz’s post-Cuba “I Will Survive” remix affirming her resilient musical strength. It was 12:00am. Osorio says she “just knew” it was a sign. Months before, she had met a couple of guys at a gathering who asked her to sing a cappella. Unbeknownst to her, they were the producer and casting director of Celia. Their phone recording of her singing became a sort of pre-audition. She had been singing Cruz songs for a recent role she held. Just 18 days after her “sign,” she formally auditioned and was later offered the role of Cruz as a young rising star.

When it aired in 2015, the series put a powerful spotlight on Afro-Latinas and on the racism and machismo Cruz had to navigate through in a male-dominated industry. Both actresses related to obstacles presented in their parts. For the younger Osorio, one of those was withstanding parental discouragement from following her dream as a performer. By the time she auditioned for Celia she had roles in musicals and on such telenovelas as Una Maid en Manhattan and Porque El Amor Manda.

Unlike Osorio, Nuviola was a novice at acting. It was her musical chops that caught the eyes of the director and casting director, along with having uncanny parallels to Cruz’s life. “We are both from poor neighborhoods of Havana,” she says. “We were teachers. We are Afro-Cubans with all the pros and cons that that brings. We both won singing contests that helped us succeed in Cuba very young. We were immigrants in Mexico and the United States and then we achieved success outside of Cuba with years and much, much sacrifice.”

She got off to a fearful start, but by the second day in a production that — just for the section she appeared in — took some eight months, Nuviola was more at ease. “When I filmed for the second time, I felt that Celia was inhabiting me.” The scene was an intimate backstage conversation with her husband before walking out to a packed Yankee Stadium concert flanked by the Fania All Stars. “She talks about her love for him, about the family and about the show” while sitting at the make-up mirror. “And she sings a little bit and dedicates the song to him.”

What led up to that moment was an entire year of preparation sandwiched between international concerts. Nuviola describes a meticulous undertaking. “I watch[ed] many of her videos, interviews, photographs, her many anecdotes about her personal and artistic life.” She wanted to capture Cruz’s “great love for her husband” and also looked for similarities between Cruz and herself. “I want[ed] everything to flow naturally,” she says.

It was an extraordinary assignment for a new actor to inhabit probably the world’s most well-known and respected Latin music performer. Cruz’s remarkable career generated over 70 albums, numerous Grammys and Latin Grammys, a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, inductions into Billboard‘s Latin Music Hall of Fame and the International Latin Music Hall of Fame and an exhibit at the Smithsonian National Museum of American History aptly titled after her signature phrase, ¡Azucar! (Sugar!)

The theme song of the series is her popular “La Negra Tiene Tumbao” (The Black Woman has Rhythm). It is among a number of Cruz’s signature songs that were re-recorded for the series, which was produced in Colombia by the production company Fox TeleColombia and the broadcast network RCN.

Another singer was a key member of the portrayal: Patricia Padilla, whose voice was a close match with Cruz’s powerhouse low alto, was brought in to record the singer’s repertoire. Osorio says she and Nuviola interchangeably recorded vocals with Padilla. When the actors sang on camera, Padilla re-recorded their vocals to their movements. And when Padilla’s vocals were leading, the actresses had to lip-sync to them.

Jeimy Osorio as Celia Cruz in the telenovela Celia.

Courtesy of NBC Telemundo


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Courtesy of NBC Telemundo

Cruz was widely known for Cuban son. Her embrace of many other pan-Latin rhythms primed her international rise as the “Queen of Salsa” during New York City’s salsa explosion in a male-dominated arena. What was striking about Cruz was her ability to explore, evolve and adapt while staying true to herself. Despite adversity, nothing seemed to dampen her reverence for life or the contagious joy that lit up the stage and the spaces she shared with others.

Nuviola says that it was a “great honor … to be able to play the role of the greatest Latin artist of the 20th century,” and that letting go of her character was a shock. Playing Cruz required tapping into the twists and turns in the life of a joyous soul that had been forced into exile and the rage of being barred from attending to her dying mother. “When the cameras were turned off for the last scene we recorded I felt that they took ‘me’ away in an instant! Something that had taken me months to make mine, and something that lived in me,” she says. “… my nails, my hair, my clothes — everything. In only an instant I had to leave everything that I had built. I was sad, too.”

Both actresses say that beyond the series, Cruz’s legacy has had a profound effect on their lives.

“She is not only greatness as an artist but she had an immense charisma,” recalls Nuviola, who helps to preserve her legacy by adding a medley of Cruz songs to her shows. “She helped those in need … [like her work with] the non-profit institution named La Liga Contra el Cancer in Miami that helped hundreds of cancer patients every year …. She transmitted happiness and joy and hope.”

The advice Cruz offered her so long ago when destiny smiled down at them? “She advised me that I had to be strong in this career and take care of myself to be able to achieve success.”

According to Osorio, the long hours of filming “felt really light” because of the reverence and respect for Celia that flowed on the set. She says that working on Celia was a “parte aguas;” a life altering experience. That “every day was magical. I felt her all the time. She’s an energy — she’s not just a performer — she’s a living energy. An instrument of peace. She was a product of self-love, love for her people, love for her country, love for everyone.”

“She made herself be respected in a world of men. Her message is that you can do anything,” Osorio says. We don’t need to be empowered — we’re already powerful. Knowing that I am the owner of my story and I can create everything I want, I haven’t stopped dreaming since Celia.”

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Trump Deploys Troops To Middle East After Attack On Saudi Oil Facility

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Trump Deploys Troops To Middle East After Attack On Saudi Oil Facility

The president authorized the deployment of additional U.S. forces to strengthen air and missile defenses around Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, the Pentagon announced late Friday.

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U.S., El Salvador Sign New Asylum Deal To Stem Tide Of Migrants

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U.S., El Salvador Sign New Asylum Deal To Stem Tide Of Migrants

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan, right, with Alexandra Hill Tinoco, left, minister of Foreign Affairs for El Salvador, after signing an asylum agreement in Washington, D.C.

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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The United States and El Salvador signed an agreement Friday aimed at deterring the flow of migrants seeking to enter this country by requiring them to seek asylum in that Central American nation on their way here.

In a signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Alexandra Hill Tinoco, El Salvador’s foreign minister, inked a “cooperative asylum agreement.” But they provided no details about how the agreement will work, when it goes into effect, or who it will be impact.

“This agreement today is one significant step forward,” McAleenan said in a live-streamed press conference. “El Salvador is a critical partner for the United States in promoting the security and prosperity of Central America.”

“We are working every single day to try to solve this issue of people, who by various reasons, reasons of insecurity or reasons of death threats are forced to leave our country,” Hill Tinoco said.

The agreement appears to put in El Salvador in the position of accepting migrants from third countries who would otherwise seek to enter the U.S. Hill Tinoco said El Salvador wants to cooperate with the U.S. and that economic investment in El Salvador is key to improving her country’s ability to keep its own citizens from fleeing.

The agreement also aligns with the administration’s “third country” asylum rule, although that term was not used in the press conference.

The administration signed a similar agreement with Guatemala in July, but questions remain about that country’s capacity to comply. Lawmakers there have yet to ratify it.

Immigrant advocates denounced the deal.

“If this agreement goes into effect, the U.S. will be forcing the most vulnerable communities to seek safety in a country that is not equipped to protect its own citizens or provide economic opportunity,” said Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant-led organizations.

A 2018 State Department report on human rights in El Salvador cites allegations of unlawful killings and torture by security forces, as well as forced disappearances by military personnel. The report describes a “lack of government respect for judicial independence” and “widespread government corruption.”

“Impunity persisted despite government steps to dismiss and prosecute some in the security forces, executive branch, and justice system who committed abuses,” the report added.

It is not clear whether El Salvador’s cooperation on asylum is tied to other bi-lateral issues, most prominently, the status of some 200,000 Salvadorans living in the Unites States under temporary protected status. The administration sought to end that program for Salvadorans and citizens of three other countries, but a federal judge has intervened. The temporary protections are due to end in January 2020.

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U.S., El Salvador Sign New Asylum Deal To Stem Tide Of Migrants

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U.S., El Salvador Sign New Asylum Deal To Stem Tide Of Migrants

Acting Secretary of Homeland Security Kevin K. McAleenan, right, with Alexandra Hill Tinoco, left, minister of Foreign Affairs for El Salvador, after signing an asylum agreement in Washington, D.C.

Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP


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Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

The United States and El Salvador signed an agreement Friday aimed at deterring the flow of migrants seeking to enter this country by requiring them to seek asylum in that Central American nation on their way here.

In a signing ceremony in Washington, D.C., Kevin McAleenan, the acting secretary of the Department of Homeland Security and Alexandra Hill Tinoco, El Salvador’s foreign minister, inked a “cooperative asylum agreement.” But they provided no details about how the agreement will work, when it goes into effect, or who it will be impact.

“This agreement today is one significant step forward,” McAleenan said in a live-streamed press conference. “El Salvador is a critical partner for the United States in promoting the security and prosperity of Central America.”

“We are working every single day to try to solve this issue of people, who by various reasons, reasons of insecurity or reasons of death threats are forced to leave our country,” Hill Tinoco said.

The agreement appears to put in El Salvador in the position of accepting migrants from third countries who would otherwise seek to enter the U.S. Hill Tinoco said El Salvador wants to cooperate with the U.S. and that economic investment in El Salvador is key to improving her country’s ability to keep its own citizens from fleeing.

The agreement also aligns with the administration’s “third country” asylum rule, although that term was not used in the press conference.

The administration signed a similar agreement with Guatemala in July, but questions remain about that country’s capacity to comply. Lawmakers there have yet to ratify it.

Immigrant advocates denounced the deal.

“If this agreement goes into effect, the U.S. will be forcing the most vulnerable communities to seek safety in a country that is not equipped to protect its own citizens or provide economic opportunity,” said Oscar Chacon, executive director of Alianza Americas, a network of immigrant-led organizations.

A 2018 State Department report on human rights in El Salvador cites allegations of unlawful killings and torture by security forces, as well as forced disappearances by military personnel. The report describes a “lack of government respect for judicial independence” and “widespread government corruption.”

“Impunity persisted despite government steps to dismiss and prosecute some in the security forces, executive branch, and justice system who committed abuses,” the report added.

It is not clear whether El Salvador’s cooperation on asylum is tied to other bi-lateral issues, most prominently, the status of some 200,000 Salvadorans living in the Unites States under temporary protected status. The administration sought to end that program for Salvadorans and citizens of three other countries, but a federal judge has intervened. The temporary protections are due to end in January 2020.

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Through Grief and Growing Pains, Kemba Creates ‘Gilda’

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Through Grief and Growing Pains, Kemba Creates ‘Gilda’

Kemba’s latest album, Gilda, is out now.

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Logan Poe/Courtesy of the artist

Grief can feel like a new world emerging, swallowing up the reality you once knew and expanding into something entirely all-consuming. New York rapper Kemba used that monolithic feeling to create his major label debut album, Gilda, a record that pays tribute to his mother who passed away two years ago.

Kemba’s mother raised him and his two brothers in The Bronx, N.Y., a place that gave him little choice but to be immersed in hip-hop

“Coming from The Bronx, I was forced and raised to study the history and different artists’ technical abilities,” he says. “Whether it was similes, metaphors, inner rhyming, I know all of that stuff, but so do a lot of other people. I think my perspective is what makes my music unique.”

Kemba says his mother helped shape this perspective. The rapper remembers her as a fighter and a self-starter, equally determined to improve herself and shed light on others around her. “I really learned from watching her,” Kemba says. “In my older years, she went to and finished college and got her master’s.”

Kemba also remembers his mother was also always by his side. When he was diagnosed with a tumor on his jaw as a teenager, she was with him every step of the way — even as this setback drew his rap career into question.

YouTube

“They told me I shouldn’t rap,” Kemba remembers. “They told me my jaw was so weak that just movement could rip apart the work that they did. That was the first time my mom saw me in a vulnerable way. I was always the strong one of the family, and that just made her break down even more.”

Gilda is named after his mom. Her legacy runs deep through the album, through avenues that are at times heart-wrenching (“Exhale” feat. Smino) and other times, dizzying and chaotic (“Dysfunction.”) Now, with a major label debut, there isn’t anything stopping Kemba from sticking to what he knows.

Kemba spoke with NPR’s Audie Cornish about the themes of Gilda, and the emotional labor that went into making it. Hear their conversation at the audio link.

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Steve Earle & The Dukes On Mountain Stage

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Steve Earle & The Dukes On Mountain Stage

One of the last of the hard-core troubadours, three-time Grammy winner Steve Earle made his seventh appearance on Mountain Stage on June 23 at the Cultural Center Theater in Charleston, W.Va. The show occurred during FestivALL, Charleston’s local arts celebration, and featured guest host Kathy Mattea.

Mattea, who used to sing demos for Earle, told the crowd about how she and Earle signed record label deals in Nashville on the same day (which happened to be her 24th birthday). She called Earle someone with “a big brain and a big heart underneath that gruff exterior.”

Earle’s six-song set included songs and stories about his mentor, the late, great country songwriter Guy Clark, who succumbed to cancer on May 17, 2016. (Interestingly, Earle’s first appearance on Mountain Stage back in August 1996 coincided with a performance from Clark.)

Armed with his ace backing band, The Dukes (Brad Pemberton on drums, Kelley Looney on bass, Chris Masterson on guitar and vocals, Eleanor Whitmore on fiddle and vocals, and Ricky Ray Jackson on pedal steel guitar and accordion), Earle started with “Dublin Blues,” the poetic and cinematic title cut from Clark’s 1995 album. He followed it up with three more Clark songs — “Texas 1947,” “Desperados Waiting For A Train,” and “L.A. Freeway” — all from Clark’s 1975 classic, Old No. 1. (You can hear Earle perform these songs in a studio setting on his Clark tribute album, GUY, which came out earlier this year.)

“We were backstage weeping when he sang those Guy Clark songs. They mean so much to so many of us,” Mattea said. “When you write like Steve Earle and choose to make an album of someone else’s songs and steep yourself in someone else’s writing like a tea bag, that says everything about respect.”

After a spirited version of his signature song, “Copperhead Road,” Earle performed a new song, “Union, God and Country,” which he wrote for a play based on the Upper Big Branch Mine coal mine disaster. That play, Coal Country (written by Jessica Blank and Erik Jensen), premieres at the Public Theater in New York City in February 2020, and Earle said he is basing his next record on the songs he wrote for the play.

Set List

  • “Dublin Blues”
  • “Texas 1947”
  • “Desperados Waiting For a Train”
  • “L.A. Freeway”
  • “Copperhead Road”
  • “Union, God and Country”

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Texas Cities Try To Assess Scope Of Damage In Imelda’s Wake

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Texas Cities Try To Assess Scope Of Damage In Imelda’s Wake

A school bus makes its way through a flooded section of Hopper Road in Houston on Thursday. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott has declared much of southeast Texas disaster areas after heavy rain and flooding from the remnants of Tropical Depression Imelda.

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Thomas B. Shea/Getty Images

Large areas of southeast Texas remain flooded Friday as officials work to get a broader sense of the damage left by Tropical Depression Imelda — a catastrophic weather event that swamped hundreds of cars and homes and claimed the lives of at least two people.

The storm has dropped massive amounts of rain, drawing comparisons to the devastation wreaked by Hurricane Harvey two years ago.

The National Weather Service in Houston said in a tweet that the amount of rainfall in Houston and Galveston on Thursday was “one for the record books.” It said Galveston had gotten 17.77 inches of rain just in the past four days.

Some areas saw as much as 20 to 40 inches of rain — North Fork Taylors Bayou near Port Arthur, Texas, topped more than 43 inches of rain as of Friday morning.

While Imelda has dissipated, the National Weather Service says “remnants will still bring heavy rain and possible flash flooding” to portion as far away as the Texas-Arkansas-Louisiana border.

Authorities are grappling with just how much destruction the storm caused.

In this photo provided by the Chambers County Sheriff’s Office, floodwaters surround a home in Winnie, Texas, after Imelda raked the area.

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Brian Hawthorne/AP

“The damage assessments are going on,” Houston Police Chief Art Acevedo tells NPR’s Here & Now. “I know in the city itself [Houston], we’re going to have upwards of 200 structures [destroyed], which compared to Harvey is negligible. But as we spread out from the the city of Houston and go east … to Beaumont, that count is going to be much much higher.”

FIRST LOOK! If you’re traveling east out of Houston today, you’re about to be in a traffic nightmare. Call your family or friends. Let them know. #BREAKING #abc13 #hounews https://t.co/JboldDCkdf

— Steve Campion (@SteveABC13) September 20, 2019

The U.S. Coast Guard says surging currents caused nine barges to break away from their moorings in the San Jacinto River. At least two barges crashed into a bridge over the river, shutting down a major east-west highway just east of Houston.

“The bridge is off limits until highway officials determine the bridge is safe for traffic,” Joseph Leahy of member station KUT reports. “Several other stretches of [Interstate-10] and other local highways are impassable this morning due to flooding. Flash flood warnings remain in effect across the region as high water from the storm moves downstream.”

At least two deaths have been attributed to the storm.

Here are some additional rainfall records for Houston Hobby and the city of Galveston. #houwx #glswx pic.twitter.com/E5OzdwAwmL

— NWS Houston (@NWSHouston) September 20, 2019

Harris County Sheriff Ed Gonzalez says a man in a his 40s or 50s drowned Thursday when he attempted to drive his vehicle though floodwaters that some 8 feet deep near Houston’s George Bush Intercontinental Airport.

“According to witnesses for some unknown reason, he just punched it and tried to drive through it some more,” Gonzalez told reporters. “They did try to go into water to see if they could pull him out to no avail.”

#USCG Air Station Houston and Air Station New Orleans have completed multiple medevacs and rescues in the Beaumont area due to flooding caused by Tropical Depression #Imelda.

🎥: @USCGHeartland pic.twitter.com/wGfV7tdGOG

— U.S. Coast Guard (@USCG) September 20, 2019

A second man was electrocuted and drowned while trying to move his horse, according to a message from the family of the 19-year-old victim, Hunter Morrison, that was shared by the Jefferson County’s Sheriff’s Office.

“Right now my family and I are going through one of the most horrific times in our lives with losing Hunter,” the family message said.

The Houston Fire Department says its crews performed more than 900 water rescues on Thursday and were dispatched to nearly 1,800 emergency calls.

On Friday, the U.S. Coast Guard tweeted out a short video of people being helped off a helicopter, adding that crews in Houston and New Orleans have “completed multiple medevacs and rescues”

“USGC Air Station Houston and Air Station New Orleans have completed multiple medevacs and rescues in the Beaumont area due to flooding caused by Tropical Depression #Imelda,” it said.

People in Houston navigate the floodwaters on Thursday. The city got more than 9 inches of rain on that day alone, according to the National Weather Service in Houston.

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Far Right Makes Gains In 2 German State Elections As Centrists Hang Onto Power

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Far Right Makes Gains In 2 German State Elections As Centrists Hang Onto Power

Andreas Kalbitz, an AfD leader in Brandenburg, speaks to supporters after exit poll results in state elections on Sept. 1 in Werder, Germany.

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Michele Tantussi/Getty Images

For as long as Germany has been a unified country, since 1990, the center-left Social Democratic Party has helped govern Brandenburg, a state in the country’s east that surrounds Berlin. Tina Fischer, an SPD member of Brandenburg’s state parliament, is concerned about how long that will last.

On Sept. 1, voters in her town of Zeuthen helped the far-right Alternative for Germany, the AfD, double its share of the vote in Brandenburg from 12.2% to 23.5%, nearly defeating Fischer’s party. In the state of Saxony, to Brandenburg’s south, the AfD managed to secure 27.5% of the vote, a 17.8% increase over the last election five years ago.

The center-left coalition governments in both Brandenburg and Saxony managed to hold onto power by just single percentage points. The two state elections confirmed what political analysts have been warning for years: that the AfD is rapidly gaining popularity among German voters.

In 2013, when the party was founded, it didn’t have enough votes to sit in Germany’s Bundestag or parliament. Six years later, the AfD is now the third-largest party in Germany, winning 94 of the Bundestag’s 704 seats in the last federal elections. The rapidly growing party has center-left politicians like Fischer concerned.

The SPD’s Tina Fischer believes her party should have reacted more quickly to voters’ concerns when Germany took in large numbers of migrants in 2015.

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Rob Schmitz/NPR

Fischer, a 48-year old mother of two, believes her party should have reacted more quickly to concerns about a surge of around a million migrants that Germany began taking in four years ago. Instead, Fischer recalls telling voters, “No, you don’t have to be worried, there are not so many foreigners, what are you talking about?”

Around 2% of the migrants who have moved to Germany, fleeing wars and instability in Iraq and Syria — roughly 28,000 — chose to settle in the bucolic towns of Brandenburg. Fischer and her party colleagues have learned the hard way that their constituents are still uneasy about these asylum seekers, and the AfD has successfully campaigned on these fears.

“If our children say, ‘I’m frightened,’ you can’t say, ‘You don’t have any reason to be frightened,'” says Fischer. “That’s wrong. It would have been much better to say ‘OK, we do something.'”

Fischer, sitting in an outdoor cafe, says her city government should have hired more police officers to patrol public squares, trains and buses to help residents feel safer.

As she explains what she could have done better, a man on a scooter recognizes Fischer, beeps his horn and screams, “AfD is good!” before riding off.

Fischer sighs and shakes her head. She says an emboldened AfD has become popular not only through its anti-immigration message, but by how it delivers that message: through Facebook, Twitter and other social media, in a style Fischer calls “Diktatur der lauten menschen,” dictatorship of the loud.

“And they are loud and they are noisy and they are in the newspapers and they are on Facebook,” she says, “and then you lose your course.”

AfD supporters and politicians cheer results of the state elections in Brandenburg on Sept. 1.

Gregor Fischer/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I


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Gregor Fischer/dpa/picture alliance via Getty I

She says she’s worried that AfD’s surge in popularity in Brandenburg will turn away multinational companies — the region is home to big employers like Rolls Royce and engine maker MTU, some of whose employees she imagines might be scared of settling down in what she calls “Nazi-land.”

AfD voter Peter Scheppert objects to the way the party is characterized. “It’s astonishing. I can say that we are not just one class of the population who are very stupid and who have no education,” he says. “We are highly educated, we are professors. Our opinions are shared by all classes of society.”

The 65-year-old retiree says his family – all of whom, he says, voted for AfD – have a global mindset. His 45-year-old daughter works for Bayer and speaks Mandarin. His son-in-law has lived in Japan and Spain and wants to complete his Ph.D. in England.

Scheppert says he and his family voted for the Social Democrats for decades — but switched to the AfD in this election because they’re frustrated with what he calls “an unchecked flow of asylum seekers” into Germany. He’s also frustrated with the election results. “The AfD should have had more votes,” huffs Scheppert. “Now, unfortunately, the SPD is still ruling.”

At a grocery store across town, Hendrik Böheme is on a coffee break from his construction job. He believes that the AfD’s popularity is surging because the government “mismanaged” an influx of refugees.

“There are refugees all over the world who have to be taken care of,” says Böheme. “Real refugees, with families and children, of course they should stay here. But the single men who can rebuild their home countries should go back.”

Other AfD supporters in Zeuthen refused to be interviewed by NPR, accusing it of being part of a lying, fake news establishment that would portray AfD supporters as Nazis.

Roman Kuffert, a spokesperson for the AfD in Potsdam, Brandenburg’s capital, says such suspicions are rooted in the way German media and rival politicians portray AfD members — as extremists.

“We have no problem with the press. The press has a problem with us and always tries to blame us,” says Kuffert. “It’s wrong to assume we are right-wing radicals. We have Jews in the AfD. We have homosexuals in the AfD. We have migrants. I see people who want to build a reasonable Germany. This certainly has nothing to do with the dark Nazi period.”

A few dozen Jews from the former Soviet Union joined the AfD last year, which caused outrage among Germany’s Jewish community. Many migrants, especially from Russia, have also joined the AfD. The leader of the AfD in the Bundestag, Alice Weidel, is a lesbian.

Kuffert says Germany’s political and social elites will continue to get his party wrong until they come to the realization that the AfD represents what he calls “the country’s middle.”

Polling data released this week shows that while the AfD may not represent “the middle” nationwide, the party is rapidly gaining in national popularity. A monthly survey by the Institut für Demoskopie Allensbach shows the AfD achieving its highest popularity score all year among voters throughout Germany, reaching 14% from just 1.5% in August.

Political analysts will be closely watching the upcoming state elections in the eastern state of Thuringia on Oct. 27, where the AfD is polling neck-and-neck with centrist and leftist parties.

NPR Berlin bureau assistant Anna Noryskiewicz contributed research to this story.

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