Mainstream Charities Are Unwittingly Funding Anti-Muslim Hate Groups, Report Says

A Trump supporter holds up a sign during an anti-Sharia law rally organized by ACT for America. A new report finds that mainstream philanthropies are unknowingly funneling donations to anti-Muslim groups such as ACT for America.

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The nation’s largest Muslim civil rights and advocacy organization says that charitable foundations, mostly mainstream, are directly and indirectly giving millions of dollars to anti-Muslim hate groups.

The Council on American-Islamic Relations looked at the money trail from 2014 to 2016 from over 1,000 largely mainstream charities to 39 anti-Muslim groups that it calls the “Islamophobia Network.” The report, called “Hijacked by Hate,” was released Monday. It found that nearly $125 million was funneled to these groups. That includes money that was anonymously given through the charitable foundations of wealth management groups like Fidelity and Schwab.

The hate groups benefiting include ACT for America, the largest anti-Muslim group in the country and a registered nonprofit. The group is described by the Anti-Defamation League as an organization that stokes “irrational fear of Muslims.” Others, like CAIR, call it a hate group for its spreading of misinformation about Islam and fearmongering around the principles Muslims live by.

“Traditional charities and foundations — commercial foundations, community organizations, community foundations, religious foundations — these foundations in philanthropy that make America what it is have been undermined,” said Abbas Barzegar, director of research and advocacy at CAIR. “[They are being] used, or in my mind exploited, to funnel anonymous money from wealthy donors to the Islamophobia Network.”

So, he said, a wealthy donor can give to a credible institution like Schwab, through a donor-advised fund. Then that money will be donated to these anti-Muslim organizations, which are registered as nonprofits or social welfare organizations, through the wealth management group. The donor gets a tax deduction and can make the contribution anonymously.

In a statement to NPR, Schwab Charitable said that it is an independent public charity that “facilitates grants on behalf of individuals to [501(c)(3)] charitable organizations of their choice. Grants that are recommended by our clients in no way reflect the values or beliefs of Schwab, Schwab Charitable or its management.”

Schwab added that it “does not condone hate groups and we take concerns about illegitimate activity by grant recipients seriously.” It encouraged anyone with these concerns to contact the IRS or state charity regulators about the activities of charitable organizations.

In an email, Fidelity Charitable told NPR that it took the report’s findings “very seriously,” adding that, “if there are concerning reports identified regarding a specific charity, and Fidelity Charitable determines [that] grants to an organization are not used exclusively for charitable purposes, Fidelity won’t approve grants to that organization.”

The organization’s “policies and procedures have always required that grants recommended by its donors are made only to qualified charitable organizations, and that funds are used exclusively in furtherance of charitable purposes. Fidelity Charitable reviews its granting practices regularly and doesn’t hesitate to implement changes that it believes ensure better grantmaking to IRS-qualified, 501(c)(3) public charities for exclusively charitable purposes.”

But, it added, ultimately it is the responsibility of the IRS to determine which organizations are qualified nonprofits.

In many cases, CAIR’s Barzegar said, the same foundations contributing to after-school programs and homeless shelters are also unknowingly, he believes, giving to hate groups. He blames the Trump administration for legitimizing some of these anti-Muslim groups. For example, the head of ACT for America was welcomed at the White House.

“The Trump administration has embraced these institutions and allowed this stuff to become mainstream,” Barzegar said. “And we’re simply asking the philanthropic sector and the charitable sector people who control hundreds of millions of dollars to take a stand and help us reclaim our public space.”

The report links the increased funding of activities of these anti-Muslim groups to real-life negative impacts that range from hate crimes to suicide as a result of intense bullying because of religion.

“Together, the expansive funding network revealed in this report demonstrates that the Islamophobia Network cannot be considered a marginal or passing phenomenon in American society. Rather, it is a prominent and shameful institutional feature of American philanthropy,” the report said. “These foundations have donated across a wide range, from the [minuscule] amount of $20 to the staggering sum of $32 million.”

The report also tracked money coming from mainstream faith-based charities and private family foundations. It found that the total revenue capacity of the 39 anti-Muslim groups reached $1.5 billion during the 2014-2016 period.

“So that $1.5 billion is being used in so many different ways that directly affect the American Muslim community and then Americans as a whole,” said Zainab Arain, the main researcher on the CAIR report. “It’s being used to advance anti-Sharia legislation. It’s being used to stage anti-Muslim rallies. It’s being used to work to shut down American Muslim institutions, like women’s shelters or relief aid groups or even places of worship.”

CAIR is calling for more accountability to stop donors from not only giving to these anti-Muslim groups but from getting a tax break for the donation. Arain said she hopes the report will lead to more oversight in the charitable world.

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Multiple People Injured In Colorado School Shooting

At least two people have been injured in a school shooting at STEM School Highlands Ranch in Colorado.

John Leyba/Denver Post via Getty Images

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Officials believe at least seven people have been injured in a shooting at a public charter school in Highlands Ranch, Colo., a suburb south of Denver.

Two suspects are currently in custody and the Douglas County Sheriff’s Office is looking into the possibility of a third suspect, authorities said at a press conference Tuesday afternoon.

#stemshooting 7 possibly 8 students have been injured. Two shooters in custody. SWAT still clearing school. Students being bused to Northridge Rec Center. Parents please have patience with reunification process.

— DC Sheriff (@dcsheriff) May 7, 2019

Authorities said over Twitter that they responded to a “call of shots fired” at STEM Schools Highlands Ranch at 1:53 p.m. They described the situation as unstable and are directing parents to pick up their children at a nearby staging area.

#stemshooting, at 1:53 pm responded to STEM school off Ridgeline Blvd in HR on call of shots fired in school, first update, 2 injured, deputies in process of identifying and locating shooter(s). Still active and unstable scene.

— DC Sheriff (@dcsheriff) May 7, 2019

The Douglas County School District announced all schools are on lock down and have canceled all after school activities.

This is a developing story. Details may change as more information becomes available.

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Food Fight: Trump Administration Levels Tariffs On Mexican Tomatoes

A worker dumps a bucket of tomatoes into a trailer at DiMare Farms in Florida City, Fla., in 2013. The Trump administration is preparing to level a new tariff on fresh tomatoes imported from Mexico in response to complaints from Florida growers.

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While the trade war with China is rattling financial markets around the world, another trade skirmish is about to play out in the supermarket — in particular, the produce aisle. The Trump administration is preparing to level a new tariff — or tax — on fresh tomatoes imported from Mexico.

The move comes in response to a growing outcry from Florida tomato growers, who have a lot of political leverage.

Florida used to dominate the American market for tomatoes sold in the winter and spring, but over the last two decades the state’s growers have been losing ground to Mexico. If you pick up a ripe, red tomato in the grocery store this time of year, the chances are good it was grown south of the border.

“Depending on where you are in the country, especially at the retail level, you’re going to see mostly Mexican tomatoes at this time of year,” said Michael Schadler, executive vice president of the Florida Tomato Exchange, a growers’ trade group. Mexico now grows more than half the fresh tomatoes sold in the United States. Imports from Mexico have more than doubled since 2002.

“To me, the tomato industry is a model child of what has happened with NAFTA and free trade,” said Florida grower Tony DiMare, whose family is marking its 90th year in the business. The DiMare family used to raise 5,000 acres of winter tomatoes near Homestead, Fla. This year they grew less than 600.

Florida growers have long complained that Mexico is unfairly subsidizing its tomato crop and otherwise taking advantage of the United States. But under a series of agreements dating back to 1996, the U.S. government chose not to pursue protectionist measures.

Now the Trump administration is changing course. The administration served notice in February that it would withdraw from the latest agreement on May 7, clearing the way for a 17.5% tariff on Mexican tomatoes.

“This is the day we’ve been waiting for for a while,” Schadler said.

Florida lawmakers, led by Sen. Marco Rubio and Rep. Ted Yoho, lobbied for the change. They complain that Mexico has been selling its tomatoes at artificially low prices.

“Our producers, they can’t get a box, a wrapper and the seeds in the ground for what Mexico is selling it for,” Yoho said.

“The Department of Commerce remains committed to ensuring that American domestic industries are protected from unfair trading practices,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a statement. ” We remain optimistic that there will be a negotiated solution.”

Tariffs could be refunded if a subsequent investigation finds no unfair pricing.

But Mexican growers and the companies that import their fruit insist price is not the biggest factor behind Mexico’s growing market share. Unlike Florida tomatoes that are mostly picked green, Mexican tomatoes are typically allowed to ripen on the vine. Advocates of the Mexican fruit say consumers are simply voting with their taste buds.

“Tomatoes that we see today have very good flavor. They have nice acidity. They pop when you bite into them,” said Lance Jungmeyer, president of the Fresh Produce Association of the Americas, an importers group. “Back in the day, before the innovations, we had a lot of pink and mealy tomatoes that frankly didn’t keep consumers coming back.”

Jungmeyer argues that rather than update their farming procedures, Florida growers have sought refuge from a protectionist federal government. He warns the new import duties will raise prices and limit consumer choice.

“Duties are harmful to the American consumers,” Jungmeyer said. “It’s a tax on consumers. And that’s the wrong way to go with fruits and vegetables.”

The Trump administration has embraced tariffs on a wide variety of imports, from washing machines to solar panels. Now that Mexican tomatoes are being added to that list, Florida growers say they feel like they have an ally in the White House. And since Mexico has been expanding its exports during other times of year, growers say this is now a fight that extends well beyond Florida.

“A lot of growers who are in states that produce tomatoes in the summer — which is a lot of different states — are now saying, we certainly commiserate with our friends in Florida, because now we’re being impacted by the same Mexican competition,” Schadler said.

Still, Rep. Yoho says the administration might not have acted without pressure from lawmakers. Members of Congress had extra leverage because Trump needs all the support he can get to ratify his new trade agreement with Mexico and Canada.

“We voiced our opinion that if we don’t get the seasonally grown vegetables straightened out, I can’t support the USMCA,” Yoho said, using the president’s preferred name for the trade deal.

In other words, the price of a new North American free trade agreement may be tariffs on Mexican tomatoes.

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Bubonic Plague Strikes In Mongolia: Why Is It Still A Threat?

The bacterium that causes the plague travels around on fleas. This flea illustration is from Robert Hooke’s Micrographia, published in London in 1665.

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The medieval plague known as the Black Death is making headlines this month.

In Mongolia, a couple died of bubonic plague on May 1 after reportedly hunting marmots, large rodents that can harbor the bacterium that causes the disease, and eating the animal’s raw meat and kidneys – which some Mongolians believe is good for their health.

This is the same illness that killed an estimated 50 million people across three continents in the 1300s. Nowadays, the plague still crops up from time to time, although antibiotics will treat it if taken soon after exposure or the appearance of symptoms.

Left untreated, the plague causes fever, vomiting, bleeding and open, infected sores — and can kill a person within a few days.

The ethnic Kazakh couple died in Bayan-Ulgii, Mongolia’s westernmost province bordering Russia and China. It is not clear what treatment they received, if any.

The incident prompted local panic. The government ordered a quarantine for six days for the region, preventing scores of tourists from leaving the area. At least one aircraft was examined by health officials in contamination suits. After no new cases appeared by Monday, the quarantine was lifted.

Every year, according to the U.S. National Center for Zoonotic Disease, at least one person in Mongolia dies from the plague, usually after coming into contact with marmots.

But they probably don’t contract the disease from eating the animal’s flesh, says David Markman, a researcher at Colorado State University. A person’s stomach typically kills a lot of harmful bacteria before the germs are able to cause an infection, Markman says.

Yersinia pestis, the bacterium causing the plague, lives in infected animals, particularly rodents, and is usually spread by fleas. “The vast majority of human cases are a result of contracting it from a flea bite,” Markman says — just as mosquitoes transmit malaria from person to person.

A Plague Primer

The plague swept Europe 700 years ago, killing a third of the population. It was called the Black Death, possibly for dark patches caused by bleeding under the skin.

It killed millions in China and Hong Kong in the late 1800s before scientists began associating the illness with rats and eliminating rodent populations.

The plague comes in three forms. If a person gets bitten by an infected flea, they’d most likely develop bubonic plague, named for the painful lumps, or “buboes,” where the bacteria multiply. The bacteria can also get into the bloodstream, causing septicemic (or blood poisoning) plague, and can also spread to the lungs, causing pneumonic plague. The World Health Organization considers this variant to be one of the deadliest infectious diseases because it is highly contagious – spread by coughing — and the fatality rate is 100 percent if untreated.

Early symptoms of the plague can mimic the flu — including lethargy and swelling or stiffness in joints and lymph nodes. If someone begins exhibiting these symptoms after coming into contact with rodents or with pets in regions where the plague exists among animal populations, they should seek medical care immediately, Markman says.

Transmission Techniques

The bacterium that causes the plague will hook onto the lining of a flea’s gut and stomach, growing into a film that can clog the insect’s digestive passage. The next time the flea goes for a blood meal, it pukes into whatever animal it’s feeding on (usually a rodent), spreading the bacteria.

Once a rodent is infected, the illness can spread to other wild animals as well as cats, dogs and people within flea-jump range.

“What we see in the West is the fleas will crawl up to the entrance of the burrow and wait for a host to come by,” says Ken Gage, who studies vector-borne diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “If they get on another rodent that they can live on, then they’ve been successful. But they can also jump on humans or on dogs or coyotes or cats.”

Sometimes, that new host can transport the fleas a few miles away and spread them to other animals.

Cats, which are highly susceptible to the disease, can also pass the infection to humans directly by coughing, biting and clawing.

The 21st Century Outlook

In modern times, the plague periodically pops up across the globe — though at minor levels compared to its heyday. Between 2010 and 2015, there were more than 3,000 cases reported, with 584 deaths.

The bacterium thrives in dry, temperate areas like the American Southwest and in North and East Africa, South and Central Asia and parts of South America.

The U.S. tends to see between one and 17 human cases a year. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the disease likely hitched a ride to the U.S. in 1900 on flea-infested rats, which had boarded steamships in Asia. Since then, infected fleas have taken up residence on rodents including chipmunks, squirrels and prairie dogs across the southwest.

Between 2015 and 2017 in New Mexico, there were 11 cases of the plague in humans, including one death. Paul Ettestad, a public health veterinarian for the New Mexico state health department, says prairie dogs are particularly vulnerable to plague. If a whole colony gets the illness, the bacteria amplify.

“It’s like putting a match to a grass prairie,” he says. “Whoosh.”

In places with poor access to health care, the illness can be deadly on a larger scale. That’s what happened in Madagascar. The country sees between 280 and 600 infections annually. But in August 2017, health authorities began seeing an uptick in cases — particularly in pneumonic plague. After more than 200 deaths, the outbreak was contained by late November 2017. Medical teams confirmed suspected cases, treated patients quickly, advised the use of face masks to prevent infection and monitored international travel.

But it’s hard to declare a permanent end to an outbreak.

The plague can persist in rodent populations, especially wild ones, for decades without affecting humans – and then can re-emerge.

Markman’s research indicates that the plague bacterium can survive and multiply in microbes in soil and water. Markman hypothesizes that when ground-dwelling rodents, like marmots and prairie dogs, dig in the soil, they may encounter the bacterium, then spread it through fleas.

But he cautions that more research needs to be done, saying there are likely many reasons why the plague is still around in 2019.

Melody Schreiber (@m_scribe on Twitter) is a freelance journalist in Washington, D.C.

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HOLD Pompeo Makes Unscheduled Visit To Baghdad Amid Rising Tensions With Iran

US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo departing Rovaniemi, Finland, following the 11th Ministerial Meeting of the Arctic Council. He flew to Baghdad for an unscheduled visit.

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U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo made an unscheduled visit to Baghdad after canceling a planned meeting with Chancellor Angela Merkel in Germany. The visit comes as the U.S. is stepping up pressure on Iraq’s larger neighbor, Iran, and claiming that Iran could be planning threats against U.S. forces in the region.

The White House and departments of State and Defense have not been specific about what those threats might be.

“I wanted to go to Baghdad to speak with the leadership there, to assure them that we stood ready to continue to ensure that Iraq is a sovereign, independent nation,” Pompeo said to reporters en route to Iraq after departing from Rovaniemi, Finland.

Late Sunday the administration announced that it is deploying a U.S. aircraft carrier and Air Force bombers to the Persian Gulf region. The USS Abraham Lincoln had been scheduled for a planned port visit in Croatia.

According to pool reports from press traveling with Pompeo, the secretary of state met in separate meetings with Iraqi President Barham Salih and Prime Minister Adel Abdul Mahdi.

Iraq has extensive ties with Iran that go back generations and Iran backs some Iraqi militias.

Pompeo had scheduled a visit to Germany Tuesday — his first official trip to Berlin — where he was expected to speak with Merkel about Ukraine, Russia, China, Syria and the Western Balkans. The abrupt cancellation is viewed as a snub of Merkel’s government, the New York Times reports.

Wednesday marks a year since the Trump administration pulled the U.S. out of the nuclear deal between Iran and major world powers. That 2015 deal provides relief from economic sanctions in return for limits on Iran’s nuclear program.

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