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Searching 80,000 miles for the American dream

image copyrightIan Brown

Photographer Ian Brown travelled more than 80,000 miles around the US, trying to discover the meaning of the so-called American dream.

“The idea of the American dream has always been rooted in the mythology of American culture,” he says.

“It is really just a vague concept that most would assume to mean that if one works hard, there is opportunity to better one’s life.”

Setting off in 2006, the Canadian travelled to each of the 50 states, asking his subjects to write down their dreams and aspirations.

“Some told stories of their struggles,” he says.

“Some wrote about their hopes and dreams.

“And others wrote about their own failings and misgivings.

“The results were heart-breaking, provocative, inspiring, beautiful and often compelling and very raw – much like America itself.”

While politics and ideologies changed throughout the 12-year project, the photographer found the notion of the American dream remained constant.

“What has become evident is that the idea of the American dream offers a unique tether to each and every person throughout the country,” he says.

“It transcends political and cultural divides.

“It can be made more difficult.

“But it can never be taken away or denied.”

Here is a selection of Brown’s portraits and excerpts from his subjects’ own American dreams.

image copyrightIan Brown

Punhele DeCosta – Maui, Hawaii

“As an indigenous woman, it is hard for me to watch the land to be so disrespected.

“Indigenous people know the land the best.

“We have taken care of it forever.

“And, in turn, it cared for us.

“Now as we have been colonised, we have an impending climate crisis.

“What was seen as progress was really only progressing us into our own doom.

“Indigenous voices have always been speaking.

“And it’s time those in power listen.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Antoinette Harrell – Tangipahoa Parish, Louisiana

“I am a person of African descent in America.

“And I’ve seen the many faces of injustice for people of colour.

“My American dream is to end poverty.

“My American dream is end slavery in all forms.

“My American dream is to end police brutality.

“My American dream is to see my grandson grow up.

“My American dream is bring the missing children home.

“My American dream is to end homelessness.

“My American dream is to end the pipeline to prison.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Greg and Ellen – East Liverpool, Ohio

“The American dream to me is growing up not worrying about where the next bit of money is coming from – having the ability to find a job that takes care of everything you need, so your spouse doesn’t have to work.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Sura – Salt Lake City

“Before I came to America, I thought that I could save money, that I could have money to change my family’s life.

“I thought I would be working and earning enough money to save.

“But after I came here, I realised that it’s hard.

“We don’t know how to start.

“I have a dream I hope to achieve in America.

“I hope to take a certificate of… skin health and… have my own work.

“I believe I will have a successful business.

“And it will be big and have a multiple branches everywhere in the world.

“Then, I can help my family and everybody [who] needs help.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Gary Green – McCarthy, Alaska

“I would have been good being born in 1850 and being part of the westward expansion, exploring new and unsettled land as a hunter, trapper and prospector.

“I discovered the Wrangell Mountains of Alaska as a young man and pursued that dream looking for and finding gold, guiding hunters, and trapping in the winter.

“Building a home and living in wilderness areas has been my dream as long as I can remember.

“Now as these mountains become more settled, I use my bush plane to visit the more lonely lands.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Maria Castro – Immokalee, Florida

“My American dream is built on the backs of my immigrant parents.

“Growing up we didn’t have much.

“What I knew of the American dream was on the TV – the white faces with the white fences.

“But looking back, my American dream is filled with the smells of chemicals – you know, the chemicals they put on tomatoes to make them look nice.

“While my parents were just simple farmworkers that worked below minimum wage and were looked at with disdain because of their tomato-stained clothes, they showed me what the American dream is.

“It’s sacrificing everything for a ‘better life’.

“My American dream isn’t monetary.

“My American dream is a feeling.

“I want to feel true happiness.

“I want to look around one day and say, ‘Yes, this is why my mom, my dad, and my grandparents crossed the Rio Grande.'”

image copyrightIan Brown

Art Tanderup – Neiligh, Nebraska

“Growing up, the American dream seemed quite simple – get a great education, work hard, raise a wonderful family, be productive, and make this country and Earth a better place – seems more like a fairy tale now.

“In the time that I have left, my American dream is to stand up to the forces that divide us, to empower the people, to save our clean water, and to protect the Earth.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Justin Lansford – Tampa, Florida

“I served two tours overseas with the US Army’s 82nd Airborne Division.

“On my second deployment, I was severely injured in combat.

“I proudly served our country and willingly poured sweat and blood while defending and protecting a single idea – the American dream.

“It’s funny, because until now, I’ve never actually thought about what exactly that dream means to me.

“I’ve seen places in this world where people don’t have the luxury of dreams.

“Places where an individual’s sole purpose is to stay alive and where even that is done in constant fear of those around them.

“In the United States, we truly are free – free to set our own goals, free to succeed, free to fail.

“The opportunity in this country is such that the only obstacle between us and our goals is ourselves.”

image copyrightIan Brown

Johnson family – Centuria, Wisconsin

“Our American dream is simple.

“The rewards are not things.

“They are experiences – a meal, a conversation, a walk, a hug.

“Our American dream is not easy.

“It requires grit, persistence and drive.

“Our American dream is not exclusive.

“In our American dream, no-one is left behind.”

American Dreams: Portraits and Stories of a Country is published by Ten Speed Press.

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Quebec City mosque shooter: Canada court reduces sentence

Thursday’s ruling could have widespread repercussions.

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Trump and pardons: How many people could be granted clemency?

media captionAre presidential pardons Trump’s secret weapon?

After Donald Trump on Wednesday pardoned his former national security adviser Michael Flynn, lobbyists are now hoping for a blitz of similar moves before the 45th US president leaves the White House on 20 January.

“This is one unfettered presidential power the president enjoys using,” one former administration official was quoted as saying by Reuters, amid media reports that lists of people are being finalised.

He might enjoy using such powers but actually Mr Trump has granted clemency sparingly – doing so just 44 times over nearly four years in office. By contrast ex-President Obama pardoned offenders or commuted sentences nearly 2,000 times in eight years, according to the Pew Research Center.

Although Mr Trump has not publicly indicated how far he plans to go in his final days in the White House, some experts predict his clemency orders will extend beyond those associates, like Michael Flynn, who were ensnared by the Special Counsel inquiry into alleged Russian meddling in the 2016 election.

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What clemency powers does a president have?

Pardons wipe out convictions for federal crimes. They represent legal forgiveness, end any further punishment and restore rights such as being able to vote or run for public office.

Commutations lessen the punishment. Both are clemency rights granted to the president by the US Constitution.

Two less-common forms are remissions, which reduce financial penalties, and respites – temporary reprieves usually granted to inmates on medical grounds.

media caption“Michael Flynn’s loyalty to Trump has paid off” – former Trump adviser Omarosa Manigault Newman

The constitution allows the sitting president the “power to grant reprieves and pardons for offences against the United States, except in cases of impeachment”.

A president can offer clemency even if an individual has not been charged or convicted with a federal crime.

It is common for outgoing presidents to issue pardons before they leave the White House.

So, who else might Trump pardon?

image copyrightEPA

image captionIn 2019, Rick Gates pleaded guilty to conspiracy against the US and making false statements in the Mueller inquiry

US media report that among those hoping for clemency are Mr Trump’s ex-advisers Rick Gates and George Papadopoulos. They were convicted and given jail terms in high-profile cases related to the Russia inquiry led by Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

“The president knows how much those of us who worked for him have suffered, and I hope he takes that into consideration if and when he grants any pardons,” Gates was quoted as saying by the New York Times.

Meanwhile, Papadopoulos said last month that “of course I would be honoured to be pardoned”.

image copyrightTIMOTHY CLARY/AFP via Getty Images
image captionPaul Manafort (centre) was sentenced last year

Another name discussed in the media is Paul Manafort – regarded as the Mueller inquiry’s biggest scalp.

Manafort was sentenced to seven-and-a-half years in prison on conspiracy and fraud charges. He had spent a little over a year in jail when he was released in May to serve the remainder of his term at home due to Covid-19 fears.

But it’s not all about President Trump’s allies and confidantes.

Pressure groups pushing for criminal justice reform have reportedly held discussions with Jared Kushner, Mr Trump’s son-in-law and adviser, on possible commutations for hundreds of inmates whose crimes range from drug dealing to money laundering.

Who has he already granted clemency to?

Mr Trump currently has granted the fewest number of pardons and commutations of any modern US president, says the Pew Research Center.

Here are some of the big names from the 28 pardons and 16 commutations he has issued so far:

  • Roger Stone, a long-time ally who was convicted last year of lying to Congress and witness tampering. He had his prison sentence commuted in July
  • Arizona’s “toughest sheriff” Joe Arpaio, convicted of criminal contempt after defying an order to stop patrols targeting suspected undocumented immigrants, was pardoned
  • Former vice-president Dick Cheney’s chief of staff Scooter Libby, who was found guilty of lying about leaks to the media, was also pardoned
  • Women’s voting rights pioneer Susan B Anthony, was granted a posthumous pardon. She was convicted of illegal voting and fined in 1873
  • Crystal Munoz, Judith Negron and Tynice Hall, three mothers of young children who were serving sentences for drug and white-collar crimes and whose cases were brought to the president by Kim Kardashian, had their sentences commuted

Which modern US president granted the most clemencies?

The record holder is Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who granted 2,819 pardons and 488 commutations during his 1933-45 presidency.

Harry Truman, who served between 1945 and 1953, offered 1,913 pardons and 118 commutations.

Barack Obama, Mr Trump’s predecessor, granted 212 pardons and 1,715 commutations during his two terms in office in 2009-17.

The only modern US head of state who granted clemency as sparingly as Mr Trump was President George HW Bush, with 74 pardons and three commutations during his 1989-93 term.

Could Trump pardon himself?

The marathon Mueller investigation concluded last year that Russia had interfered in the 2016 election – but found no evidence of a criminal conspiracy between Mr Trump’s campaign team and Moscow.

Before the inquiry’s findings were released, Mr Trump had said he had the “absolute right” to pardon himself.

But constitutional scholars are divided on whether a president has such powers.

The exact legality of a self-pardon is unclear, and there is no precedent for a US president doing so.

Some legal experts cite an opinion issued by the justice department that President Richard Nixon – in the White House from 1969 to 1974 – could not pardon himself “under the fundamental rule that no-one may be a judge in his own case”.

Other experts say the action would be improper, but acknowledge that the constitution does not technically preclude a self-pardon.

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