Whistleblower Offer To Field Written Questions Stands, But GOP Seeks Public Testimony

Rep. Devin Nunes, R-Calif. has listed the anonymous whistleblower on a list of witnesses Republicans will like to call as part of the impeachment inquiry.

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A week has passed since lawyers for the anonymous whistleblower who set off the impeachment inquiry extended an offer to House Republicans to make the whistleblower available to answer written questions under oath.

Since the offer was sent to Rep. Devin Nunes of California, the top Republican on the House intelligence committee, the whistleblower’s legal team has been waiting for an official response. So far, they say, they have not received one.

“Crickets,” said Mark Zaid, an attorney for the whistleblower. Zaid said that until Nunes formally declines the offer, it will continue to stand.

The idea of having the whistleblower answer written questions directly from Republicans has been dismissed by President Trump and allies in the House, including Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif.

Nunes’ office did not respond to requests for comment on Sunday. But Nunes has pressed forward with efforts to question the whistleblower publicly by including the unnamed individual on a list of witnesses House Republicans would like the opportunity to hear from once public hearings in the impeachment inquiry begin on Wednesday. Nunes said the president should have the opportunity to confront his accuser.

House Intelligence Committee Chairman Adam Schiff, D-Calif., is expected to block that request. He wrote in a letter to Nunes on Saturday that since much of the whistleblower’s complaint has been substantiated by other evidence and witness testimony, the individual’s account is no longer central to the investigation.

“The whistleblower’s testimony is therefore redundant and unneccessary,” Schiff said.

Preserving the whistleblower’s anonymity, he added, is a top priority.

Democrats echoed Schiff on Sunday, arguing that given the evidence already gathered, the whistleblower testimony is no longer necessary.

“The only thing that the whistleblower can say is that he was told by other people about the phone call,” Rep. Jackie Speier, D-Calif., said on ABC News’ This Week. “We have the other people coming forward to actually testify. So you have direct evidence, not indirect evidence. And the whistleblower has great risk associated with his life right now.”

Even some Republicans agree that the whistleblower’s identity should remain shielded. Texas Republican Rep. Will Hurd, who previously worked as an undercover officer with the CIA, said on Fox News Sunday that unmasking the whistleblower could have a chilling effect on would-be whistleblowers.

“I think we should be protecting the identity of the whistleblower,” Hurd said. “I’ve said that from the very beginning because how we treat this whistleblower will impact whistleblowers in the future.”

With the public phase of the impeachment inquiry set to begin this week, the outlines of how both parties plan to address the now-infamous July 25 call between President Trump and the president of Ukraine are coming into clearer view.

“I believe that it is inappropriate for a president to ask a foreign leader to investigate a political rival,” said Rep. Mac Thornberry, R-Texas, on ABC’s This Week. “I believe it was inappropriate. I don’t believe it was impeachable.”

At least one Republican, Sen. John Kennedy of Louisiana, said the president’s behavior may have crossed the line.

“If it can be demonstrated that the president asked for and had the requisite state of mind, that the president asked for an investigation of a political rival, that’s over the line,” Kennedy said on CBS’s Face the Nation. Asked if over the line means impeachable, Kennedy replied: “Yeah, probably.”

At the same time, Kennedy attacked the Democratic-led impeachment inquiry process as being slanted, pointing to Schiff’s reluctance to allow the witnesses Republicans have requested.

“You can’t limit the witnesses,” Kennedy said. “I don’t think any fair-minded person in the Milky Way believes that Speaker Pelosi or Chairman Schiff are impartial here.”

Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky, who has emerged as an outspoken supporter of Trump and critic of the whistleblower, said making military aid contingent on corruption investigations should not be controversial.

“Presidents have withheld aid before for corruption,” Paul said on NBC’s Meet the Press . “So the thing is I think it’s a mistake to say, ‘Oh, he withheld aid, until he got what he wanted.’ Well, if it’s corruption, and he believes there to be corruption, he has every right to withhold aid.”

But Democrats maintain that President Trump’s attempts to enlist a foreign power to dig up dirt on a political rival in order to help his re-election bid was an abuse of power.

This week’s public hearings will start Wednesday with testimony from two diplomats: William Taylor, the acting U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, and George Kent, the deputy assistant Secretary of State for European and Eurasian affairs.

On Friday Marie Yovanovitch, the former U.S. ambassador to Ukraine, is scheduled to testify.

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6 Killed And 100 Injured In Latest Security Forces Crackdown In Baghdad Protests

Anti-government protesters set fire and close streets during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday.

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Iraqi security forces launched an aggressive crackdown on anti-government demonstrators on Saturday, killing at least six people and injured more than 100 others in central Baghdad.

Government authorities used live ammunition, tear gas and stun grenades to disperse protesters and to retake three bridges that cross the Tigris River to the heavily fortified Green Zone, where the Iraqi parliament is headquartered. The bridges were being occupied by the demonstrators demanding sweeping political reforms and an end of corruption.

Since the clashes started last month, more than 300 protesters have been killed and 15,000 others wounded, according to the Independent High Commission for Human Rights of Iraq.

Middle East scholars have called the unrest the largest grassroots movement in Iraq’s modern history, but human rights advocates continued to raise concern over how security forces have resorted to violent tactics.

Protesters near Al Khalani Square in central Baghdad, moments before security forces opened fire to disperse the demonstrators.

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“This is turning into nothing short of a bloodbath – all government promises of reforms or investigations ring hollow while security forces continue to shoot and kill protesters,” said Heba Morayef, Amnesty International’s Middle East and North Africa Director. “Those responsible for it must be brought to justice.”

The demonstrators, who began taking to the streets in early October, were at first lashing out over unemployment, government corruption and poor public services, but the protests have since demanded a breakup of the politically entrenched sectarian system that took shape after the fall of Saddam Hussein in 2003.

In particular, demonstrators have been accusing Iran and Iran-backed politicians of exerting influence in Iraq, since Iran has strong links to Iraqi security and intelligence forces.

The government crackdown did help to reduce the numbers of protesters over the weekend, but authorities have been unable to fully quell the unrest among mostly unemployed youth, who have been taking to the streets to object to the country’s political class.

Those who remained were emboldened and determined to be seen and heard, some even seen throwing Molotov cocktails toward security forces.

The government has imposed curfews and cut access to the Internet and social media in response to the protests, which have called for the ouster of Prime Minister Adel Abdul-Mahdi.

On Saturday, Abdul-Mahdi released a statement saying the demands for electoral reforms will be met.

“We consider the peaceful protests of our people as among the most important events since 2003,” Abdul-Mahdi said.

Anti-government protesters set fire and close streets during ongoing protests in Baghdad, Iraq on Saturday.

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Hadi Mizban/AP

Abdul-Mahdi, just a year in office, has agreed to step down following the naming of his successor.

Iraq’s President Barham Salih is pushing for elections once parliament successfully advances a new election law.

The reforms may cut the number of members parliament, who are viewed as collecting hefty salaries but rarely appear for sessions, just as tens of millions across Iraq live in poverty.

NPR’s Jane Arraf contributed to this report.

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Bolivian President Evo Morales Calls For New Elections Amid Protests

Bolivian police officers greet demonstrators from the roof of a police station in La Paz, Bolivia, on Saturday.

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Amid widespread protests, Bolivian President Evo Morales is calling for new elections, just three weeks after he declared victory in the country’s last presidential election.

“By calling for new national elections, we guarantee that the people will freely, democratically and peacefully, through voting, elect their new authorities,” Morales tweeted, pleading in another tweet for protestors to “ease the tension.”

Morales called for new elections early Sunday, after the Organization of American States released a preliminary audit indicating “serious security flaws” and a “clear manipulation” of a computer system, which the audit says ultimately affected the final count.

“The manipulations to the computer system are of such a magnitude that they should be deeply investigated by the Bolivian government to get to the bottom of and assign responsibilities in this serious case,” the audit said.

The audit isn’t the only factor likely forcing Morales’ hand: Police across the country have now begun to declare themselves in mutiny and join the throngs of protestors. In several cities, there are reports of officers marching with demonstrators and chanting opposition slogans, according to NPR’s Philip Reeves.

#Bolivia 🇧🇴: police forces in #Cochabamba are in mutiny against the government, refusing to crack down against protesters following election fraud pic.twitter.com/rPo9ByTZym

— Thomas van Linge (@ThomasVLinge) November 8, 2019

Williams Kaliman, commander of the Bolivian armed forces, said Saturday at a press conference that the military would not confront protestors.

“We will never face the people who we serve and we will always ensure peace between our brothers and the development of our country,” Kaliman said.

Luis Fernando Camacho, a Bolivian protest leader, tweeted that he “cried with joy” at the mutiny of police forces, thanking them for “being with the people.”

Bolivia has been in crisis since its Oct. 20 presidential elections, when allegations of electoral fraud sparked unrest. Morales was vying for a fourth presidential term, but early results after the vote seemed to indicate that he had not secured the votes necessary to outright win, and instead would go into a runoff election against former president Carlos Mesa, his closest rival.

But an unexpected gap in the reporting of results — followed by Morales narrowly securing the necessary votes to avoid that runoff election — led critics to accuse Morales of tampering with the results and thrust the country into turmoil. At two state-run media outlets, protestors broke in and forced the stations off the air. In one small town, protestors dragged the mayor through the street, covered her in red paint and cut off her hair. At least three people have died in the clashes.

Even before the current protests, critics have argued that Morales has been pushing legal boundaries to remain in power. In 2016, voters rejected Morales’ attempt to amend the country’s constitution to allow him to run for a fourth term. Morales appealed in court, where judges ruled he could be allowed on the ballot. Supporters of the president have argued that Morales, the country’s first president of indigenous descent, has led the country into an era of political stability.

Procedures for the new election will be announced in the next few hours, according to the Bolivian Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

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‘The Movie Musical!’ Is A Symphony In Praise Of The ‘Razzmatazz’ Of The Genre

Jeanine Basinger is a veteran film historian and author with a well-respected body of work — including 11 books — behind her. But read her new book, The Movie Musical!, and you might think she’s a debut author with something to prove.

And, in fact, she does: As a genre, her beloved movie musical has gradually faded from favor over the decades, to the point where onscreen musicals are viewed more as museum pieces — with the occasional, novelty-like revival — than a vital, contemporary form. Basinger wisely isn’t trying to argue that musicals take up more space in the pop-culture consciousness circa 2019 than they actually do. What she does argue, authoritatively and passionately, is that the musical has never really left us, and that there’s relevance and inspiration to be eternally gleaned from the golden age of Hollywood musicals.

That golden age, of course, is the 20th century. Basinger traces the history of the musical from its origins in Broadway and vaudeville — not to mention the Big Bang that was Al Jolson’s The Jazz Singer in 1927 — to the heyday of Rodgers and Hammerstein, Lerner and Loewe, and Andrew Lloyd Webber and beyond. What The Movie Musical! doesn’t do, refreshingly, is tackle these milestones and movers-and-shakers strictly chronologically. The book darts and weaves dexterously through subgenres, superstars, and studio politics, leaving no stone unturned as Basinger assembles a mosaic of the musical’s history as it evolves and triumphs amid America’s post-WWII prosperity.

Encyclopedic in scope, but thankfully not in structure, The Movie Musicals! is a downright delightful read. Anecdotes abound, from the time musical giants Fred Astaire and Gene Kelly finally appeared together in a song-and-dance number in Ziegfeld Follies to the time MGM’s plan to make Frank Sinatra the cinematic face of the African-American standard “Ol’ Man River” backfired on them. On the flipside, Marilyn Monroe’s rendition of Irving Berlin’s “Lazy” from the 1954 film There’s No Business Like Show Business “is a PhD thesis” illuminated the sensual power of the big-screen musical number, according to Basinger. And after reading Basinger’s beautifully rendered reasons why, there’s no doubt of that.

What makes The Movie Musical! truly dazzle, however, is its insight. The effect of MTV’s particular wedding of music and image starting in 1981 is gauged against the waning currents of the musical in the ’80s; the roles of exploitation films, biopics, animation, and musical revolutions are explored. The story of the entire 20th century is told through musicals, and when the book ventures into the 21st century with, among others, 2016’s sumptuous La La Land and 2018’s popular revamp of A Star Is Born, it’s done with both a sympathetic and a critical eye. And throughout the hefty volume, Basinger addresses — both directly and indirectly — the essential question at the heart of musicals: What compels us to suspend disbelief and accept, if not wholly enjoy, the fantastical idea of people spontaneously breaking into song? What does this sorcery say about the immersiveness of film, and the power of song, and the mechanism of the human imagination?

Hollywood, according to Basinger, created the genre of the musical “with a touch of larceny, a jolt of energy, and a lot of razzmatazz.” Beneath all of her studious and scrupulous research, The Movie Musical! taps into that spectacle. Every page is infused not only with Basinger’s knowledge, but her overwhelming adoration for the tuneful, silver-screen tales that changed her own life. The book is a passion project, organically rendered, and shot through with longing for an age where sophistication was as subtle as it was scintillating. The Movie Musical! is more than a love letter to a great American artform; it’s a symphony.

Jason Heller is a Hugo Award-winning editor and author of the new book Strange Stars: David Bowie, Pop Music, and the Decade Sci-Fi Exploded. He’s on Twitter: @jason_m_heller

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Experts Worry Active Shooter Drills In Schools Could Be Traumatic For Students

Authorities perform an active shooter drill at Park High School on April 27, 2018 in Livingston, Mont. Some experts question the methods of active shooter drills.

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A regular drumbeat of mass shootings in the U.S., both inside schools and out, has ramped up pressure on education and law enforcement officials to do all they can to prevent the next attack.

Close to all public schools in the U.S. conducted some kind of lockdown drill in 2015-2016, according to the National Center for Education Statistics.

Last year, 57% of teens told researchers they worry about a shooting happening at their school. A slightly higher percentage of parents of teenagers, 63%, fear a shooting at their child’s school, the Pew Research Center found.

But many experts and parents are asking if the drills, some complete with simulated gunfire, are doing more harm than good.

Despite high-profile media coverage, school shootings with multiple victims are still rare. The overall number of students killed in shootings at schools is down from the early 1990s to about 0.15 per million in 2014-2015, according to researchers at Northeastern University. One Harvard instructor estimated the likelihood of a public school student being killed by a gun in school at about 1 in 614 million.

Melissa Reeves, a professor at Winthrop University and former president of the National Association of School Psychologists, talked with NPR’s Lulu Garcia-Navarro about changes in how school shooting drills are carried out and her concerns about how drills can impact the psychological development of young children.


Interview Highlights

On changes in types of drills

What we’re starting to see is definitely more of a shift. What more schools are starting to do is to actually simulate what an active shooter situation would be like, which means they’re having someone dress up pretending to be the active shooter. They’re actually firing off blanks or they’re actually using rubber bullets in some of the trainings that we have seen, which has some various concern[s] for many of us.

On drills becoming more prevalent

I think part of that is, quite honestly, we have more companies that are seeing, especially, K-through-12 and higher ed school safety as a way to make money. What they are also doing is they are scaring superintendents and administrators into thinking that they have to have these types of drills in order to be better prepared. I’ve heard some of them use the argument [that] if you don’t do these kinds of drills, then everybody’s going to freeze and they’re not going to know what to do. And that couldn’t be further from the truth.

On the psychological impact of drills

Well, what you’re doing is you are creating a sensorial experience, which really heightens all of our senses. And what these drills can really do is potentially trigger either past trauma or trigger such a significant physiological reaction that it actually ends up scaring the individuals instead of better preparing them to respond in these kinds of situations. And there’s actually examples of where these drills have been done very irresponsibly and they have traumatized individuals or have actually led to bodily harm.

On the most effective way to prepare for potential shootings

What we can do is we can prepare our students and our staff members through lockdown procedures. And that is where you get behind a locked door, if possible, out of the line of sight. But we can do that in a way for which, first of all, we talk them through what it means to go into a lockdown and where should we be positioned in that room. And then we can practice that in a very calm manner.

And the analogy that I use is we don’t light a fire in the hallway to practice fire drills. When we’re teaching stranger danger, we don’t put a child on a street corner and have someone grab them and scare them. We are able to teach these things through ways where we talk them through it and then we walk them through it and they respond accordingly.

NPR’s Sophia Alvarez Boyd and Melissa Gray produced and edited this story for broadcast.

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500 Years Later, The Spanish Conquest Of Mexico Is Still Being Debated

An artistic rendering of the retreat of Hernán Cortés from Tenochtitlán, the Aztec capital, in 1520. The Spanish conquistador led an expedition to Mexico, landing in 1519. Although the Spanish forces numbered some 500 men, they managed to capture the Aztec Emperor Montezuma II. The city later revolted, forcing Cortés and his men to retreat.

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Five-hundred years ago, two men met and changed much of the world forever.

About 500 Spanish conquistadors — ragged from skirmishes, a massacre of an indigenous village and a hike between massive volcanoes — couldn’t believe what they saw: an elegant island city in a land Europeans didn’t know existed until a few years before.

“It was all so wonderful that I do not know how to describe this first glimpse of things never heard of, seen or dreamed of before,” wrote conquistador Bernal DĂ­az del Castillo.

The date was Nov. 8, 1519. Bernal’s leader, Hernán CortĂ©s, walked them down a causeway leading into the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán and was greeted by this land’s most powerful man: Emperor Montezuma II. (Montezuma was Mexica but the term Aztec is often used to denote the triple alliance of civilizations that made up his empire.)

According to Cortés, Montezuma immediately recognized the divine right of the Spanish and the Catholic Church to rule these lands and he surrendered his empire.

But according to historian Matthew Restall, author of the book When Montezuma Met Cortés, this is simply wrong.

“The more that I thought about [the surrender], the more I decided it just didn’t quite make sense,” he tells NPR. “But then what really got me interested was this question: If it’s a lie, how has it lasted for 500 years?”

The meeting of Montezuma and Cortés — in what today is Mexico City — and the true story of the conquest that followed it, still weighs heavily in Mexico half a millennium later.

Twice this year, Mexican President Andrés Manuel López Obrador has publicly asked the Spanish crown to apologize for atrocities against native people.

“We have not forgotten this issue and continue believing they should offer an apology for the invasion,” he said during a news briefing in October. So far, Spain has rejected that request.

The story of the Spanish conquest, as it has been commonly understood for 500 years, goes like this: Montezuma surrendered his empire to Cortés. Cortés and his men entered Tenochtitlán and lived there peacefully for months until rebellious Aztecs attacked them. Montezuma was killed by friendly fire. The surviving conquistadors escaped the city and later returned with Spanish reinforcements. They bravely laid siege to Tenochtitlán for months and finally captured it on Aug. 13, 1521, with the Spanish taking their rightful place as leaders of the land we now know as Mexico. Conquest accomplished.

“History is messy and this story tidies up all of that mess and turns the messy, unpleasant war that took place 500 years ago into a nice tidy dramatic narrative that has a hero [CortĂ©s] and antihero [Montezuma] and has some kind of climactic, glorious ending,” says Restall.

In When Montezuma met CortĂ©s, Restall revises this story. He ditches the word “conquest” and instead refers to the time as the Spanish-Aztec war. He says CortĂ©s was a “mediocrity” with little personal impact on the unfolding of events, and refocuses on complex territorial battles between the Aztecs and their rivals. The Tlaxcallan Empire, which allied with the Spanish, was the driving force, outnumbering conquistadors 50 to 1 during the war with the Aztecs. Smallpox and a betrayal from an Aztec ally dealt the final blow. The wondrous island city fell, but it would take years for the Spanish to establish control in New Spain.

The messy history of the Spanish and Aztecs is still strikingly visible in the center of Mexico City. Right next to the imposing Metropolitan Cathedral (a centuries-long expansion of the first Spanish church built here in the 1520s), sit the remains of the Aztec Templo Mayor, or Great Temple, buried beneath the city surface.

Archaeologists have made key discoveries about the Aztecs at the Great Temple site in Mexico City.

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Eduardo Verdugo/AP

“After they arrived here on Nov. 8, it’s likely that the first place the Aztecs brought the Spanish was here to the Great Temple,” says Carlos Javier González González, former director of the Great Temple project. “Symbolically, the Great Temple was the center of the universe to the Aztecs. It was the point from which the world turned.”

NPR joined González and RaĂşl Barrera RodrĂ­guez, director of the Urban Archaeology program at Mexico’s National Institute of Archeology and History, for a tour around the Great Temple’s remains.

For centuries, Spanish testimony portrayed the Aztecs and other indigenous groups in the Americas as uncivilized, savage barbarians. But continued excavation of the Great Temple and Tenochtitlán has helped change that perception.

“Tenochtitlán was a huge city,” says Barrera. “It had public institutions, a whole system of government, public servants, schools, public services, it was a totally organized city.”

After the fall of Tenochtitlán, the Spanish built their city directly on top of it. Barrera’s Urban Archaeology program, which has first rights to excavation at any buildings under construction or renovation in Mexico City’s historical center, aims to reveal this underground city.

“It’s like a puzzle we’re trying to put together,” he says.

In 2017, Barrera’s team uncovered the Huey Tzompantli, a tower of human skulls that was a monument to the Aztecs’ highest deity, Huitzilopochtli, the god of war and the sun. The conquistadors described a terrifying, satanic sight. It was precisely the opposite for Aztecs.

“It is important to understand the worldview of the Aztecs,” says Barrera. “The tzompantli was about giving life.”

As Barrera explains, the Aztecs had deep, complex rituals around death. Aztecs believed their gods needed nourishment to survive and made them offerings of people and animals. For example, offering warriors — primarily prisoners of war — ensured the sun would continue to shine and they would be successful in war. The Spanish didn’t see it that way.

“The image we have of the Aztecs was overwhelmingly invented by Spaniards at the time,” says Restall. “They used it to not only justify the conquest and colonization but any and all acts of violence that subsequently emerged.”

About 650,000 people come to learn about the Aztecs at the Great Temple every year, 80% of them Mexican, according to the National Institute of Archeology and History. José María Rosas, a 62-year-old taxi driver in Mexico City, was visiting it for the first time in early November.

“Seeing this is like going back in time and I’m recognizing that these are my roots,” he says. “Who am I as a descendant of the indigenous people?”

González says he’s seen attitudes toward pre-Hispanic history have changed during his four decades of work at the Great Temple.

“The interest in and importance of all this is growing, to recover and incorporate our pre-Hispanic history into our identity as Mexicans,” he says.

And Restall thinks the implications reach even further.

“Misunderstanding and misrepresentation of something like Aztec civilization today can make it easier for us to misunderstand and misrepresent indigenous peoples of the Americas,” he says.

With Mexico’s president still insisting on Spain’s apology and calling for “reconciliation” with the Spanish over the conquest, it will continue to be present in modern day Mexico.

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