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By Pete Williams
A former FBI linguist was arrested over the weekend on charges that he lied to investigators by denying that he had contact with a suspect in a terrorism investigation.
Abdirizak Jaji Raghe Wehelie, 66, of Burke, Virginia, was arrested Saturday night when he arrived on a flight at Dulles International Airport outside Washington. He was charged with obstructing an investigation and making false statements to the FBI.
Court documents said that in 2016, Wehelie was translating messages captured by court-ordered surveillance of a suspect’s cellphone. One call was a message the suspect left on Wehelie’s own voicemail system. But in his notes on the call, the documents said, Wehelie marked the person who called as “UM,” meaning unidentified male — failing to note that he, himself, was the recipient of the message.
Investigators said Wehelie was questioned about it, denied having other calls with the suspect, and said he did not know the person well. But investigators said the two were in phone contact with each other as early as 2010, and Wehelie later admitted that he had known the suspect for years.
Law enforcement officials said the FBI was monitoring the calls as part of its investigation of another man, a former Virginia cab driver who left the United States to join the al-Shabab terror group in Somalia. Liban Haji Mohamed was briefly on the FBI’s list of most-wanted terrorists. He was reportedly detained in Somalia in 2015 but has never left that country.
Wehelie was due in court in Alexandria, Virginia, on Monday afternoon to formally face the charges.
The biggest 2020 issue that the Democratic debates missed
WASHINGTON — Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti is one of the most sought-after 2020 Democratic endorsements, presiding over the largest city in the most-populous state, which is positioned for major influence over the nomination now that its primary is on Super Tuesday.
So when presidential candidates come calling, he knows exactly what he wants from them.
“It’s definitely homelessness and housing,” Garcetti said. “The first person to jump on that will resonate in California.”
In Los Angeles and other major cities, rising housing costs and a lack of new low-income housing have contributed to a spike in homelessness.But it’s not only the poor who are feeling the pinch — or just California. Affordability concerns are filtering upward to middle class and even relatively affluent families, who complain they’re being shut out of job-rich metropolitan areas.
“With any kind of major issue in our country, it’s when it hits the middle class that policymakers start paying attention,” Diane Yentel, president of the National Low Income Housing Coalition, told NBC News. “That’s certainly the case now.”
The 2020 field has taken notice. Top-tier contenders, including Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts, Kamala Harris of California, Cory Booker of New Jersey and former Housing Secretary Julián Castro, have released detailed plans promising to provide new aid to renters and encourage more housing development.
The issue still hasn’t quite had its breakout moment nationally; it came up only in passing during the first two Democratic debates. But with a rise in activism already pushing candidates to get ahead of the issue, its time in the spotlight seems inevitable.
The rise of renters
The last time housing emerged as a major campaign issue was during the real estate crash of 2008.Property values have rebounded, but many Americans still can’t buy a home, leaving a bulge of cash-strapped renters whom Democrats see as a potential constituency.
“In a lot of parts in this country, the recession unhinged people’s personal economic reality, but the price of housing kept going up anyway,” New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, another 2020 candidate who’s working on a national plan to boost federal investment in housing, told NBC News.
The number of Americans renting a home — nearly 37 percent — reached a 50-year high in 2016, and nearly half of renters are “cost-burdened,” meaning they spend more than 30 percent of their income on housing. The percentage of cost-burdened renters has improved slightly since the recession, but it’s nearly 10 points higherthan it was in 2000, and it’s worse in many large cities.
Other 2020 contenders, like Sens. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., and Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., have also called for expanding Section 8 housing vouchers, adding new tenant protections, and funding assistance to families at risk of homelessness.
Some of the plans call for boosting federal tax credits and grant programs to help repair and build developments earmarked for low-income residents. Warren’s plan would commit $500 billion to these projects and sets a goal of building 3.2 million housing units.
Data for Progress, a liberal think tank and advocacy group, has been tracking 2020 candidates’ positions on affordable housing and publishing polling to try to convince Democrats that major investments in housing is a winning issue.
“There is some realpolitik to wanting to speak to the needs of renters,” said Henry Kraemer, who researches housing for the group. “Democrats are just much, much, much more likely to be renters than Republicans.”
But some worry that while middle-class struggles have helped to draw attention to housing issues, some of the poorest residents might be left behind in the policy conversation.
In New York City, Council Member Ritchie Torres is running for retiring Rep. José Serrano’s congressional seat on an affordable housing platform after shining a spotlight on unsafe conditions in public housing.
Torres says he’s concerned the city’s 400,000 public housing residents — the largest concentration in the country — are being left out of the discussion despite official estimates that their homes require $32 billion in maintenance. While Warren’s plan includes some money for public housing repairs and Sanders has talked about the need for more funding, the candidate proposals mostly focus on alternative housing approaches.
“Poor people of color in public housing are fundamentally forgotten by the presidential candidates,” Torres told NBC News.
The YIMBY movement
Aid to renters could help them pay the bills, but experts have warned the added cash could prompt landlords to raise rents, especially if the housing supply remains the same.
Such proposals also wouldn’t directly address complaints from upwardly mobile workers who would make too much to qualify for aid, but are still struggling to find an affordable home in areas with high costs of living. Median home values were more than $1 million in almost 200 cities last year, and the number of metros expected to hit that mark is growing, according to an analysis by the real estate website Zillow.
This supply crunch is a focus of the fast-growing activist movement known as “YIMBY,” or “yes in my backyard.” Activists seek to relax zoning laws to encourage more construction, describing themselves as a rejoinder to the “not in my backyard” concerns that communities often raise about proposed developments.
“If there’s one major theme to YIMBY-ism across the country, it’s that we’re trying to legalize apartment buildings,” Matthew Lewis, communications director for California YIMBY, told NBC News. “The way we talk about it is that there’s plenty of room in our neighborhood for more neighbors.”
In line with these concerns, several 2020 candidates are looking to prod local and state governments to rezone their communities to make it easier to build cheaper multifamily housing.
Warren’s plan includes a new $10 billion grant program that local governments would compete to use, but only if they reformed their zoning and construction rules. Booker and Castro would tie existing block grants to reform requirements, and Klobuchar’s plan would seek to spur similar changes. Harris’ plan does not address zoning.
The politics of the issue don’t cut neatly along traditional party lines. Many of the biggest YIMBY fronts are in blue states and blue cities along with purple-trending suburbs that were key to Democratic victories in 2018. If the housing issue comes to a head nationally, it could pit different parts of the Democratic coalition against one another.
“There’s sort of a clash between younger renters who feel the system doesn’t work and older homeowners who have profited very well,” Jenny Schuetz, a David M. Rubenstein Fellow in the Metropolitan Policy Program at the Brookings Institution, told NBC News.
In California, housing advocates rallied around SB 50, a bill that would rezone areas near mass transit and businesses to make it easier to build larger developments. The measure saw a high-profile campaign by supportive lawmakers and advocates, who warned of an estimated shortfall of 3.5 million homes statewide. But the Democratic Legislature has set the legislation aside for now amid pushback from critics, who complain it would pre-empt local control and change the look and feel of neighborhoods.
A legacy of discrimination
Housing debates can get ugly, especially when confronting divides over race and segregation.
Efforts to build affordable housing sometimes prompt public complaints that lower-income residents will drag down property values or make schools less competitive, which in turn spur accusations that residents are using euphemisms to keep out minorities. In many cases, neighborhoods were originally zoned with that exact purpose in mind.
But the accusations fly both ways, with some activists in minority communities worried that opening up more development in their neighborhoods will usher in gentrification that leaves them priced out. Rick Hall, president of the anti-SB 50 coalition Livable California, told NBC News that these concerns cut against the caricature of opponents of the bill as wealthy elitists in walled-off enclaves.
“We get a lot of bad press about being white suburbanites, but I’m an anti-gentrification activist who lives in an urban San Francisco area,” Hall said.
Some of the 2020 candidates have put out plans to address housing discrimination by trying to provide additional help to neighborhoods starved of resources by racist “redlining” policies that excluded minorities from housing benefits.
Warren’s plan would help fund down payments for low-income residents in once-redlined neighborhoods. Harris, meanwhile, put out a $100 billion proposal last month to boost black homeownership in similarly affected communities, offering up to $25,000 in aid to as many as 4 million qualifying buyers. More recently, South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg released a plan to buy abandoned homes in redlined communities and transfer them to locals to rehabilitate.
But some liberal activists, while glad to see candidates’s various proposals, are worried that the housing movement still needs one catchy “big idea” it can unite behind and demand politicians adopt.
“What we’ve learned from health care and the ‘Green New Deal’ is we have to articulate a demand that sounds crazy right now, but helps us to awaken that political imagination,” Tara Raghuveer, housing campaign director for the community organizing group People’s Action, said.
Frightened kids ask candidates to protect them from school shooters
NEWTON, Iowa — The moments happen all across the country. Tiny faces, peering out from behind their parents, or timidly accepting a microphone as the room falls silent. They make eye contact with a larger-than-life presidential candidate and ask: Can you keep me safe at school? Can you stop the shootings?
The questions from children have become a hallmark of the 2020 presidential campaign, with nearly every candidate facing some version of the same emotional query.
Perhaps Sen. Cory Booker was looking for a softball question when he called on 8-year-old Scout Maloney at a town-hall-event in Nashua, New Hampshire, last month. That isn’t what he got.
“What do you plan to do about school shootings?” Scout asked, telling Booker, D-N.J., that she and her brother are home-schooled in part because their parents fear they could become the victims of gun violence.
Booker told Maloney — and her parents — that he believes his is the strongest plan among the 2020 field to stop mass shootings, saying it would require national licensing and registration of firearms. He also added a personal touch.
“I get very tired, Scout, and I get angry,” he said, “because I’m a person of faith, and I hear these people coming up with thoughts and prayers, but I was taught faith without works is dead.”
In Scout’s case, her parents also attended the event, and encouraged their daughter to ask the question. In some cases, older students are members of advocacy groups, like Every Town for Gun Safety.
In the days after a mass shooting at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte campus in April, school safety was top of mind for middle school student Milan Underberg, who broke down while questioning Beto O’Rourke when he visited her classroom here in Newton.
“I’m afraid that one day I’ll go to school and I’ll never come out. … I’m sorry,” she said, pausing to collect herself and then continuing through tears. “What actions will you take to protect people like me and my classmates from this happening?”
Ditch the switch? Call to go on permanent daylight saving time grows
In the days after our chronically sleep-deprived country “springs forward,” costing us an hour of rest, disoriented Americans face a slightly greater risk of heart attack and stroke. There are more car crashes. Workplace accidents increase, too.
For decades, most of the United States has observed daylight saving time, dutifully changing the clocks twice a year. But recently, many have begun to question the semi-annual switch — not only because of the potential dangers associated with it, but because staying on one time year-round could bring benefits ranging from the economic to the emotional, according to those leading the charge to “lock the clock.”
“We don’t have a good reason to do it. Let’s stop,” said Scott Yates, 54, of Denver, an activist who for more than five years has advocated for the elimination of the time change and has testified before state legislatures about it. “Even if it doesn’t kill you, it’s annoying.”
“Even if it doesn’t kill you, it’s annoying.”
It’s a movement that has suddenly exploded in popularity. So far this year, at least 36 states have introduced legislation to end or study the practice, more than any year before. Some bills call for all-year standard time, but most endorse permanent daylight saving time — which would result in an extra hour of evening sunlight for more of the year in exchange for a delayed sunrise in the winter.
The issue has played out on social media with the hashtags #DitchTheSwitch and #LockTheClock, and it has pitted recreational businesses that would benefit from longer days, like golf courses, against groups that worry about the danger of darker mornings, such as parent-teacher associations.
“The positive is obvious: Nobody likes to change the clock,” said David Prerau, author of “Seize the Daylight: The Curious and Contentious Story of Daylight Saving Time.” “You lose an hour of sleep, and nobody likes that.”
But delayed sunrises can be problematic, Prerau said, adding that an experiment with year-round daylight time in the 1970s was “very, very unpopular.”
“People didn’t like waking up in the dark, going to work in the dark, and especially didn’t like sending their kids to school in the dark on dark city streets or standing on the side of rural roads,” he said. “There was a strong negative reaction.”
Nonetheless, so far, legislation to go on year-round daylight saving time has passed in at least seven states, including Delaware, Maine and Tennessee this year, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. Oregon was the most recent, approving year-round daylight saving on June 17.
“After the 2018 time change, I don’t know what happened, but people got grouchy.”
“After the 2018 time change, I don’t know what happened, but people got grouchy,” Oregon state Rep. Bill Post, a Republican who sponsored the bill, told the Oregon Public Broadcasting network.
The grouchiness is not just in Oregon. A month earlier, Washington legislators adopted year-round daylight saving time. California voters have approved the same, and sometime as early as next month, the California state Senate is expected to review the matter, according to state Assemblyman Kansen Chu, a Democrat and the bill’s author.
But the state enactments of year-round daylight time are meaningless — for now, at least.
Federal statute says that any state can opt out of daylight saving and elect to go on standard time permanently — which Arizona, Hawaii, the U.S. Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico have done for decades. But states that follow daylight saving time must adhere to the federally set dates for it, which are currently the second Sunday in March through the first Sunday in November.
A push for more sunshine, led by the Sunshine State
Leading the charge to change the federal law is Florida. In 2018, it became the first state to approve year-round daylight time after Greg Steube, a Republican who was then in the state Senate and is now in the U.S. House, filed legislation to stop the clock shift.
Steube said he got the idea one fall after his barber mentioned her young children were having trouble adjusting to the hour-difference. On a whim, Steube decided to look into getting rid of the practice, and polling among constituents revealed an unexpectedly high level of support for sticking to one time all year, particularly daylight time. Steube said he was also bombarded with calls from executives in the tourist industry who felt an extra hour of daylight could help business.
Following state passage of the bill, called the Sunshine Protection Act, Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., took the fight for year-round daylight saving time to the federal level, along with Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla. Rubio first proposed it last year, but it stalled in Congress. Rubio and Buchanan reintroduced it in March, arguing it would decrease rates of childhood obesity and improve the economy, among other benefits.
“It has become clear this antiquated practice no longer serves any purpose.”
“It has become clear this antiquated practice no longer serves any purpose,” Rubio wrote in a letter to the Senate Committee on Commerce, Science and Transportation, the key committee that needs to take up the bill.
The Sunshine Protection Act has bipartisan support, and President Donald Trump has already voiced his approval. In March, after the U.S. moved its clocks ahead an hour, Trump tweeted that permanent daylight time was “O.K. with me.”
Steube acknowledged that this isn’t the most pressing issue facing Congress.
“Yes, this is something that is silly,” he said. But, he added, “This could bring members from both sides of the aisle together and affect the lives of every American.”
How daylight saving time came to be (It wasn’t the farmers)
Daylight saving time began in World War I, when Germany, Britain and other countries implemented it to conserve energy for the war. The United States followed suit in 1918.
Despite the widely held myth, it wasn’t farmers who started it. In fact, farmers have historically opposed it because it costs them an hour of morning sunshine used to move their products to marketplaces. (Michael Downing, author of “Spring Forward: The Annual Madness of Daylight Saving Time,” blames the farmers myth on Lincoln Filene, a Boston department store owner who wanted more daylight hours for shoppers to come in; thinking it would sway the powerful farm lobby at the time, Filene created a “preposterous” list of benefits farmers would enjoy from daylight saving, which spread, Downing said.)
While Benjamin Franklin and a New Zealand bug hunter have been credited with inventing the concept, it was a British man with a penchant for horseback rides at sunrise, William Willet, whose idea of springing the clocks forward an hour caught on in Europe and then in the U.S. in the early 1900s.
When it was first implemented, most people didn’t question it.
“A lot of people thought of it as a war measure,” Prerau said. “In a war, you’re not so picky.”
After the first World War ended, daylight time was officially repealed in America, but continued to be used in some parts of the country. It was then implemented year-round during World War II, and repealed again after the war ended.
But by that point, many Americans had begun to like daylight time. Some entire states enacted it, while elsewhere, individual cities opted in. The result was dizzying: On a bus ride that covered just 35 miles from Steubenville, Ohio, to Moundsville, West Virginia, passengers had to change their watch seven times to accurately keep time.
“It became clock chaos.”
“As it spread more and more in the 1950s and ‘60s, it became clock chaos,” Prerau said.
To quell the madness, Congress passed the Uniform Time Act of 1966, requiring daylight saving time, if followed, to be in effect statewide.
In the years since, Congress has re-examined the start and end dates of daylight time, extending it twice.
The first time, in 1986, Congress voted to extend it from six to seven months, moving up the start date to the first Sunday in April and keeping the end date the last Sunday of October, less than a week shy of Halloween that year; this was a disappointment to lobbyists for the sweets industry, who planted candy pumpkins on the seats of every senator at the time, hoping to sway them to extend daylight saving a little longer so there would be an extra hour of sunlight for trick-or-treating.
The candy sellers got their way two decades later, in 2007, when daylight time was extended on both ends to its current eight-month span.
The arguments for and against year-round daylight saving time
Those against switching the clocks point out that the original purpose of daylight time, to conserve energy, no longer applies (a Yale professor of economics in 2008 found daylight time actually increased energy demand).
Among the proponents of year-round daylight saving are businesses, including convenience stores and golf courses, that would benefit from the extra daylight, and others who see year-round daylight saving as a boon to public safety. A 2015 study in the Review of Economics and Statistics found there was an average of 7 percent less crime overall following the shift to daylight saving time, with a 27 percent drop during the evening hour of gained sunlight.
“Even better, robbery rates didn’t increase in the morning, even though those hours were darker – apparently, criminals aren’t early risers,” the authors of the study wrote in a blog post.
If daylight saving time is enacted year-round, the sun would not rise in December and January until after 9 o’clock in major cities like Detroit, Indianapolis and Seattle, and about 8:30 a.m. in New York and Chicago, according to Prerau.
Sunrises that late could put students in danger, some say.
“These students would be waiting for buses or walking to school in the dark, making them more difficult to see and potentially creating safety issues for our children as they cross streets or wait at intersections,” the Florida PTA said in a statement.
Others worry that dark mornings could affect Americans’ mental health, bringing on more depression and seasonal affective disorder. (This is a point of contention: Rubio and other proponents say permanent daylight time reduces the risk of seasonal depression.)
Regardless, the lack of morning light could take people by surprise, as history has shown.
Amid the Arab oil embargo, President Richard Nixon signed the Emergency Daylight Saving Time Energy Conservation Act of 1973 that sprung clocks forward an hour, taking effect in January 1974. Year-round daylight saving time was supposed to be in place for two years, but the following summer, despite the fact that the energy crisis wasn’t resolved, lawmakers scrapped it because Americans missed seeing the sun at the start of their bleak winter days.
“Going to work in the pitch-dark was very unpleasant for a lot of people,” Prerau said. “It’s also colder because you’re getting up in the dark before sunrise.”
A strong push, despite a controversial history
Those in favor of making daylight saving time year-round say there are workarounds to the dark mornings, such as starting school later so kids walk when it’s light out.
And they point to growing interest in ditching the clock switch in other countries, too. Canada’s British Columbia premier has said if Washington, Oregon and California eliminate it, he would follow suit. In the European Union, lawmakers voted this year to eliminate it; each country in the bloc will have until 2021 to choose between daylight saving time or standard time. Australia, too, has debated ending it.
Yates, the “lock the clock” activist, said his blog has gotten a record number of visits this year, and said he has had legislators from both sides of the aisle reaching out to him.
All of it has left him hopeful, he said, that America might “fix this thing.”
“This is such a completely nonpartisan issue, we might actually be able to get it done,” Yates said.
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