Archive | November 4th, 2020

Early Voting Is at Unprecedented Levels. It Could Define the 2020 Election.

Voters cast their ballots at a polling station during early voting for the U.S. Presidential election on October 31, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia.
Voters cast their ballots at a polling station during early voting for the U.S. Presidential election on October 31, 2020, in Arlington, Virginia.

BYSasha AbramskyTruthout

In 2016, the total vote out of Harris County, Texas, home to Houston, was 1.3 million. In Dallas County, it was 770,000. In Travis County, home of the city of Austin, over 477,000. Four years later, 485,000 people had voted in the county by October 28th, six days before Election Day, more than the total vote in 2016. In every other major metropolitan area in Texas, including the counties in the west of the state that almost catapulted Beto O’Rourke into the Senate in 2018, nearly as many people had voted by Wednesday evening as had voted in total in 2016, and more than had voted in the mid-terms in 2018. By Friday morning, the last day of early voting in the Lone Star state, the entire state had exceeded its 2016 vote totalsBy Saturday morning, it was at 107 percent of its 2016 vote total, with virtually every large metro area exceeding the totals from four years ago.

This is utterly unprecedented, suggesting that by Tuesday night Texas’ electorate will have expanded by perhaps a couple million votes; and it makes it extremely difficult to predict the outcome in that crucial state, since polling models assume a far lower percentage of registered voters actually voting than is likely to be the case. What we do know, however, is that for the past month, Texas has been seen by pollsters as a competitive swing state. And we also know that the GOP has taken the Lone Star state largely for granted, not building up a large voter registration or voter mobilization operation there. It’s a decision they may come to rue.

Massive early voting numbers in Georgia — where early voting ended Friday evening (as it did in Texas) — especially among Black voters, suggest a similar surge in participation to that in Texas is possible. The same story holds in North Carolina. In both of these states, early voting totals by Saturday evening were well north of 90 percent of the 2016 election vote tallies, and in urban counties that vote heavily Democratic, turnout was closer to 100 percent of the 2016 totals by Saturday night.

The same story holds out in the key swing state of Arizona, where huge numbers have voted early statewide, including in Maricopa County (Phoenix) and in Pima County (Tucson). Perhaps most significantly, throughout the state, many more young people had voted by October 28th, with two days left of early voting, and Election Day itself still ahead — than voted in the entire election cycle in 2016. That surge in the youth vote has also been seen in Texas, in Georgia and in Florida, according to the LA Times, as well as in many parts of the mid-west. This could well be critically important, since Biden has a roughly two-to-one lead among voters in the 18-29 age group nationally.

In Pennsylvania, far more Democrats have returned requested mail ballots than have Republicans. But, there is a caveat here: The rate of early voting in Pennsylvania is lower than in most states — more in keeping with much of the northeast, and parts of the deep south, both regions of which have traditionally shied away from early voting, than with the rest of the country. In-person early voting ended one week before Election Day in Pennsylvania, and upwards of 60 percent of voters seem to have decided to wait until election day to cast their votes.

Most states have a gap of at least a couple of days between the end of early voting and Election Day itself. A handful of states, however, including the mega-state of California, as well as the swing states of Iowa and Michigan, barrel right through with early voting all the way till Monday evening. As a result, by Monday night, it’s likely that nearly 100 million people will have already cast their votes, defying every effort — from sabotaging the U.S. Postal Service to restricting Texas counties to one drop-off site per county for early ballots — to suppress voter turnout.

For the past several months, Trump has talked up the prospect of sending armed “poll watchers,” law enforcement personnel and raucous gangs of supporters to polling stations on Election Day. He may find, however, that he is sending them out on a fool’s errand, to intimidate voters who, in the main, in many key states have already cast their votes during the past month of early voting.

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Trump’s Lying About COVID Amounts to Treason

Donald Trump
Donald Trump speaks at a “Make America Great Again” rally at Oakland County International Airport, on October 30, 2020, in Waterford Township, Michigan.

BY: George YancyTruthout

Our very democracy has been on the edge of catastrophe, not only because of a president who lies as a way of life, but because of many who have come to accept his lies as “truth,” or who have lost any concern with truth in the name of apotheosis and hubristic party line politics. How does the language of treason function within this context, especially in terms of derelict “leadership,” disrespect for the Constitution, and the failure to be concerned for hundreds of thousands of Americans who have died from COVID-19? In this interview, Eduardo Mendieta, who is professor of philosophy at Penn State University, and editor, co-editor and author of many books, including The Adventures of Transcendental Philosophy and The Philosophical Animal: On Zoopoetics and Interspecies Cosmopolitanism, boldly and insightfully delineates what is at stake when morality, hope and truth are seriously under attack.

George YancyI would argue that truth-telling, transparency and critical intelligence are central to any thriving democracy. Speak to how our fragile democratic experiment is being tested — perhaps even crushed — under Trump’s dangerous penchant for lying.

Eduardo Mendieta: Let me begin by underscoring what you say about the relationship between truth and democracy by way of reflecting on our 1776 “Declaration of Independence.” Paragraph two begins: “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness…” In the introduction to her recent and powerful history of the United State, These Truths, Jill Lepore informs us that Thomas Jefferson had originally written, “We hold these truths to be sacred and undeniable” and that Benjamin Franklin crossed those words, and suggested instead “self-evident.” Lepore then notes that, “Truths that are self-evident are laws of nature, empirical and observable, the stuff of science.” I take it that our “Declaration of Independence” was also a declaration for a government based on truth and denunciation of the rule of untruth, lying and mendacity. Democracy is the governance of the people, for the people, by the people, as Abraham Lincoln put it, that lives “in truth.” Democracy, in other words, has an epistemic dimension. This means that there is not only a politics of truth in democracy, but also the truth of democratic politics. My colleague Nicolas de Warren and I have named this entanglement of truth and democracy “democratic honesty.” Honesty has two pillars: truthfulness and integrity. Democratic honesty is not only an epistemic virtue of democratic citizens, it is just as importantly also an epistemic virtue of “democratic” societies.

Now, turning to Trump’s assault on truth, I would have to say that it is not so much his relentless lying, mendacity, dishonesty, deception and hypocrisy that is worrying, but that Trump is a national phenomenon. And that no matter how rapidly he is “fact checked” — and his lies are unmasked and called out as lies — that nonetheless there is a sizable group of citizens who believe him, who have remained loyal to him, notwithstanding the piles and piles of lies, his brutality, his crassness, his belligerence and vulgarity. What is just as worrying is that our government is in the grip of Republicans who not only tolerate all of this, but who enable it and weaponize it. His lying is one thing. More important, in my view, is how he has frontally and in plain view of everyone attacked all those institutions that hold up the integrity of our democratic commitment to truth. He attacks science, the law, the media and the ballot. He attacks experts, lawyers, judges and journalists, everyone and anyone who is labeled a “never Trumper.” In his very grotesque and Machiavellian way, he has undermined the integrity of all those institutions that hold up our democracy, make it honest, just, fair, accountable, transparent and trustworthy.

Trump initially downplayed (and continues to misrepresent) the dire seriousness of COVID-19. We now know, thanks to the interviews conducted by journalist Bob Woodward, that Trump has been lying. As of this interview, over 215,000 Americans have died of COVID-19. This catastrophe is beyond words. Existential bad faith is one thing, but Trump’s behavior seems homicidal. What do you make of this manner of “leader”? And must we not hold him accountable for the blood that is on his hands?

The language I would use would be “dereliction of duty” and “treason.” The president of the U.S. swears to uphold the Constitution and protect the American people. And he swears on a Bible. Trump has depleted our democratic lexicon of terms to use about his malfeasance and utter contempt for the rule of law, and our American commitments to rights and equality before the law. He has also eroded down the meaning of the word “unprecedented.” That he knew already so early in the pandemic about COVID-19’s mortality and lethality and that he “decided” not to act accordingly is simply criminal, and should be to all of us, simply astonishing and unprecedented. I would say that lying and downplaying the virus, when he knew its dangers, is a form of treason, because he decided that his reelection was more important than the well-being of our fellow citizens. He is not only criminal, but also treasonous.In his very grotesque and Machiavellian way, he has undermined the integrity of all those institutions that hold up our democracy, make it honest, just, fair, accountable, transparent and trustworthy.

On the other hand, let me also underscore that every life lost to the virus that could have been brought under control is a wasted life. We must also note, and this a huge point to note, that the deathly effects of the virus have been more adversely and severely suffered and shouldered by African Americans and Latinos. The APM Research Lab reports that African Americans are 3.4 percent more likely to die of COVID-19 than a white American. Viruses don’t discriminate, but our institutions do, and above all our health care system does, and of course, our labor market system does, and so a virus is not simply a thing of nature, but a political fact. I read about the contrast between how many U.S. citizens died during Vietnam, or World War I, and so on, and how many have died because of COVID-19. I am not sure that is the right way to think about it. A pandemic is a sociopolitical fact, not death as “it is what it is.” Many of these deaths could have been prevented, but our “protector”-in-chief decided not to. In this pandemic, who died, who will die, who will remain vulnerable and infectable is a political decision.

As we know, Trump is the symptom of a larger systemic problem of white racism. Indeed, he is a product of a larger historical sedimented history of xenophobia, sexism and homophobia, a larger history inextricably linked to white male patriarchy. Given this, I guess that the real issue has to do with the end of white supremacy. I have no optimism. What about you?

You and I have been committed for most of our lives to this long-term struggle for the soul of our country, to rescue it from its long history of racism, sexism and its amnesia of the genocide of our Native American brother and sisters. A pandemic is not genocide, but a virus can be used as what the French called a “dispositif” — an apparatus or device — for racial killing. You know that I am an optimist and I have argued for skepticism of the mind and optimism of the heart. These days, however, I am not feeling optimistic, of either the mind or the heart. I feel that far too many Americans have decided that America is “theirs,” and not “our” America. The America we all built over the last centuries, one that is most inclusive, just, egalitarian, more available to all kinds of people — that in the recent past has cowered in the shadows of racial hate — that America is being rejected. Some want the old America back. Yet, I don’t know what to make of the sociological data coming out about how the post-George Floyd killing protests are the most racially integrated demonstrations we have seen in the U.S. — by far, more inclusive than those of the civil rights era. It seems like “racial justice” is not simply a “Black” thing, but an “Us” thing, an “American” thing. However, the resurgence of white supremacy, and that some white supremacist groups have been working on “igniting” a civil war — a racial war — and that the president won’t condemn their acts of hate and violence, and in fact condones and encourages them, should make many of us be pessimistic.

Philosophy is concerned with truth, even as there are some philosophers who deny we can ever have access to “things as they really are” or access to some grand metaphysical reality. Trump is not a philosopher who worries about the status of truth. Rather, he is someone who doesn’t give a damn about truth. Yet, philosophers should give a damn. How do you understand the role of us philosophers under this Trumpian “post-truth” nightmare?Lying and downplaying the virus, when he knew its dangers, is a form of treason, because he decided that his reelection was more important than the well-being of our fellow citizens.

Indeed, the question of truth is at the heart of philosophy. Kant told us that there are three fundamental questions: What can I know? What ought I to do? What can I hope for? Then, he said that these three questions boil down to one: What does it mean to be human? I always found Kant’s questions generative, especially that they are one question: What it means to be human. What I take from Kant’s three questions is that morality, hope and truth are entangled, interdependent and mutually supportive. I can’t know what I ought to do if I don’t know what the facts of the matter are, and I can’t know that if I don’t have access to truth (or ways of verifying), and I can’t hope, if what I think I ought to do based on the facts will not have any relevance or efficacy, that what I will do will change things. Holocaust deniers, for instance, make all this so evident. And all those, too, who have challenged the efforts to think about enduring effects of centuries of slavery in the U.S…. Those who deny facts, history, what happened, are refusing the basis on which we can act and hope. There is no democratic hope without democratic honesty, truthfulness and integrity.

Trump is, in his own way, ceaselessly shouting at us: We can’t know anything (unless it confirms his worldview), we can’t know what the right thing to do is (unless it is for his glory), and you can’t hope that what you do that is right will have any efficacy (for that is up to him to decide). That is giving him too much credit, perhaps. We philosophers know that to be human is to be a creature of responsibility, truth and hope. We are human by the speech that holds us together. Lying and untruth are an assault on what makes us the social beings of language that we are.

“Post-truth” is the fake news of Trumpites. Truth is out there: It is a virus, it is climate change, it is gravitational waves, it is the truth that journalists discover — the documents, the emails, the tweets, the trail of deception and malfeasance, and obstruction of justice — there is the truth by which and on which we decide collectively to forge a collective future. There is no democratic future without democratic truth.

Some look to the vigorous protests here and globally, following the tragic killing of George Floyd, as a sign of hope for something better. What do you see as the necessary steps that will move not just the U.S. forward, but also the broader world — a world where white nationalism has become a global danger, a different kind of global pandemic?In this pandemic, who died, who will die, who will remain vulnerable and infectable is a political decision.

That the post-Floyd demonstrations went global is extremely significant. First, because as manifestations across the world, they were global manifestations of solidarity with our struggles against police violence and for social justice. Second, they are also significant because they are also an expression that state violence, racial violence and social injustice are intolerable anywhere and everywhere. I think they are manifestations of a growing global racial justice consciousness and movement. This can’t be neglected. These protests are also taking place in the midst of a global health crisis and pandemic that have made it all too evident that we live in “one world.” There are no vaccines for the virus that can be developed by one country; there is no way that we can inoculate just one country and expect the virus will be contained. The economic effects have devastated communities across the world — although shock waves have impacted more the United States and poorer countries than Europe and Asian countries, where there is less systemic and enduring poverty. Viruses that are zoonotic — born in animals that then infect humans — are going to become more frequent because of climate change.

Over the last century, since the end of World War II, we have become aware at a global level of how profoundly interdependent we are. Trump’s nationalism, chauvinism, isolationism, his anti-internationalism, all his know-nothing-ism and adulation of white supremacy belong to a time that is long past. We are past the time when the United States was the sole world power. It is time that we rejoin the global community.

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity.

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Trump Administration Cracks Downs on BLM Protesters While Ignoring Police Abuses

A Police officer arrests Lorises Tercero in front of the U.S. Courthouse during a protest demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and also in solidarity with Portland's protests, in downtown Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 2020.
A Police officer arrests Lorises Tercero in front of the U.S. Courthouse during a protest demanding justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and also in solidarity with Portland’s protests, in downtown Los Angeles, California, on July 25, 2020.

BYAnjali KamatRevea

This story was originally published by Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting, a nonprofit news organization based in the San Francisco Bay Area. Learn more at and subscribe to the Reveal podcast, produced with PRX, at

This story is published in partnership with Mother Jones.

It was Saturday, May 30, just five days after Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin squeezed the final breath out of George Floyd, digging his knee into the back of Floyd’s neck for more than 9 minutes as he cried out in anguish for help. In the midst of a global pandemic that already had claimed a disproportionate number of Black lives, people across the country flooded the streets to protest the national epidemic of police violence against Black communities. It wasn’t just Minneapolis and large coastal cities like Los Angeles and New York that rose up in anger, but also smaller, Whiter towns, some of them deep inside Trump country. Like the struggling Rust Belt town of Erie, Pennsylvania, a former industrial hub that’s lost nearly two-thirds of its manufacturing jobs and a quarter of its population over the last half-century. In 2016, Donald Trump won Erie County by 2 points.

“Some might call it a little racist town,” said Melquan Barnett, 28, who was born and raised in Erie’s segregated and impoverished east side. He described a childhood marked by witnessing local police target and harass young men of color in a city where 38% of the Black population lives below the poverty line. “In my experience, it’s never been a good city for a Black man to be in,” he said.

Watching the video of Floyd’s death sparked a deep well of anger inside him, built up, he said, over years of living in a system designed to protect those who kill unarmed Black people. “As you know, there was many more before George Floyd,” he said. “We’re tired of people being quiet.”

Barnett arrived downtown late that Saturday evening, just as night was falling. A crowd of people were gathered outside the Erie police station, and tensions were rising. Some protesters started banging on the main door. When somebody threw a rock at the window, a SWAT team emerged.

“It was like a movie,” Barnett said, describing police “kitted up like they were about to go to war,” attacking protesters with tear gas and mace. One widely shared video from that night shows police kicking a young White woman who refused an order to disperse.

“You keep pushing somebody, eventually something’s going to happen,” Barnett said. “They’re going to stand up for themselves.”

A few blocks away, Ember+Forge, a high-end coffee shop, occupies the space of a former candle factory. The space and the name both invoke Erie’s lost manufacturing past, as well as owner Hannah Kirby’s vision for helping revitalize the city’s battered economy. The night of the protest, Kirby was at home with her husband and two dogs, hearing about the demonstrations secondhand from one of her employees. “She said it was so beautiful,” Kirby said. “A community coming together. It just felt really, really powerful.”

Kirby, 32, was drifting off to sleep when her employee called again. There was a fire inside the coffee shop, the employee said. People were sharing videos of the fire on social media. Kirby found one shot from the street, so she couldn’t see anyone’s faces. But she could make out an ominous orange glow behind the shattered windows.

“Certainly, in that moment, that was gut wrenching, because in my brain, you know, that’s it, right? The building is going to go up!” Kirby said.

Images flashing across her TV screen showed lines of police in riot gear standing at the intersection outside her coffee shop. Local news reports described scenes of chaos with demonstrators throwing fireworks and police deploying tear gas. Kirby panicked as she imagined having to close down for good.

Just after midnight, the city put out a statement on Twitter: “The peaceful protest in downtown Erie has turned into a riot. The situation has escalated, and we are in a state of emergency. Do not go downtown.”

That Saturday night was the first time Barnett had ever gone to a protest. A self-described family man, he used to spend his spare time hanging out with his two sons, 6 and 9; coaching his younger son’s football team; and when he could, he said with a laugh, baking desserts like banana pudding cake and strawberry cake for the elderly ladies in the neighborhood.

Barnett had been working as a forklift operator when he was laid off last year. He’d been looking for similar jobs with little luck, and then COVID-19 struck, and no one was hiring. At the height of the pandemic, on April 12, Barnett’s ex-girlfriend, who was living in Detroit, gave birth to his first daughter. “She was going to be the first lady of the family,” he said, smiling. “The whole family was excited to embrace her and bring her in.”

But less than a month after she was born, before Barnett even had a chance to hold her, his infant daughter died.

Barnett was still reeling from the loss when protests erupted over Floyd’s killing. Watching the collective expressions of grief and outrage in city after city, something shifted inside him, he said. He’d never seen anything like it before, not on television and certainly not in Erie. It left him with an unshakeable feeling that history was being made – and he wanted to be a part of it. For the first time in a long time, he felt inspired, even a little hopeful that things might change.

“I wanted to be out there,” he said. “I wanted to be a part of the peaceful protests and creating change, so when 20 years come, I can tell my kids or my grandchildren the stories, and tell them that I was a part of that.”

Two days after Barnett joined the hundreds of thousands of people demanding a change in policing, his mother called him, panicked. The police had come by her house, looking for him. They had a warrant for his arrest.

Kirby arrived at her coffee shop Sunday morning to assess the damage. She was relieved to count only three broken windows and a charred table top. Security cameras she’d received through the city appeared to show a young woman kicking through the window, a man setting alight a potted plant on a table just inside and, a few minutes later, someone else throwing the plant to the ground and stomping out the fire. She couldn’t really make out anyone’s faces, she said.

“The flames went up and then just as quickly, it kind of died down,” she said. “Any damage from our side was very minimal.”

Kirby swept up the broken glass and left to get cleaning supplies. When she returned that afternoon, her landlord, who had been boarding up the windows, told her that the police had stopped by and so had someone from the FBI. “I certainly expected our local law enforcement to gather video,” she said, “but I was incredibly surprised that the FBI had come.”

FBI Special Agent Valentino Cuba returned the following day to speak with Kirby. He was with another federal agent, an arson investigator from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, or ATF. Their questions mostly centered on what Kirby considered to be obscure details about her business: Where did she get her plastic to-go cups, and did she sell store gift cards online? At the time, she thought the questions were strange: What did any of this have to do with the fire?

At a City Hall press briefing that same morning, Mayor Joe Schember discussed the damage from Saturday night. The final tally was four fires, four damaged parking meters, nearly two dozen buildings with smashed windows and some spray paint on City Hall. Then Police Chief Dan Spizarny announced that his department had identified a suspect in the Ember+Forge fire: Melquan Barnett.

Two days later, on June 3, defense attorney Charles Sunwabe was at home eating dinner when his phone rang. It was his client Melquan Barnett’s mother: Would he please turn on the news? The U.S. attorney’s office for the Western District of Pennsylvania had just announced a federal arson charge against Barnett for the Ember+Forge fire.

“The First Amendment does not permit people to use a protest as cover to commit arson, destroy property or incite violence,” U.S. Attorney Scott W. Brady said in the press release. “Any protestors who cross this line should know that we will use every tool at our disposal to find you and prosecute you.”

Sunwabe couldn’t believe what he was hearing. Barely four hours had passed since he’d accompanied Barnett to the Erie police station. The Commonwealth of Pennsylvania had charged him with five felonies and a misdemeanor – including two counts of arson, rioting, criminal mischief and risking catastrophe to property – for the coffee shop fire and sent him to the Erie County Prison. Now, just four days after the protest, the federal government had issued a criminal complaint.

“I have never seen any case move this fast in my entire time here in the Western District of Pennsylvania,” Sunwabe said.

Of the 24 people the commonwealth initially charged for the disturbances in Erie on May 30, federal prosecutors took over just two cases: Barnett’s in June and, a few months later, the case of another Black man, Tyvarh Nicholson, who was accused of throwing Molotov cocktails at police. Trials have begun in five of the state’s cases, and in each one, the initial felony charges were downgraded in court to misdemeanors and citations for more standard protest charges such as criminal mischief and failure to disperse.

Federal courts offer much less room for discretion. Like many federal crimes, arson comes with a mandatory minimum sentence, regardless of the scale of the damage. If Barnett were found guilty, he would face imprisonment for five to 20 years. “The United States does not joke around,” Sunwabe said.

Barnett was in his cell when he found out that the state had dropped his case and the federal government was picking it up. He, too, learned it on the news, from a television set angled high on the wall. “I’m just sitting there thinking, man, this is going to get darker and darker.”

Five days later at Barnett’s detention hearing, Magistrate Judge Richard Lanzillo agreed with Assistant U.S. Attorney Christian Trabold’s argument that Barnett was a danger to society because the tabletop fire he was accused of lighting could have endangered people living in apartments above the coffee shop. Lanzillo said he had a “very hard time accepting the characterization of this crime as anything less than very serious.” Arson, he pointed out, “threatens both life and property.” Barnett’s case had become part of an aggressive campaign by the Trump administration’s Department of Justice to go after Black Lives Matter protesters nationwide, using a tenuous legal rationale to pursue dozens of cases related to arson, theft or property damage.

Barnett was denied bond. He remained in the Erie County Prison for the remainder of the summer as the pandemic raged on.

Agents from the FBI and ATF learned about the fire at Ember+Forge by watching videos posted on social media from the protests in Erie that night. “That’s where we got a lot of our information from,” said Deputy Police Chief Mike Nolan, “and the FBI also saw some of that activity and contacted us.”

The FBI asked the Erie police about a couple of incidents officials had seen on video that “met their criteria” and said the agency would be willing to consider taking on cases of arson and anything involving an incendiary device, Nolan said. He didn’t know what the FBI’s criteria were, noting that “it changes based on what their priorities are at that given time.” Nolan said that the Erie police had a “strong relationship” with their federal partners but that his department had no say in which cases federal prosecutors took on.

According to the criminal complaint against Barnett, Cuba, the FBI agent, matched the clothing and hair of the man seen lighting the fire in the Facebook Live video Kirby saw to other videos from that night posted on social media that allegedly show Barnett wearing the same clothes.

The complaint also laid out why federal prosecutors had standing: Ember+Forge is a business that engages in “interstate commerce.” As proof, Cuba’s affidavit pointed out that Hannah Kirby sources her coffee cups from a small company in Buffalo, New York; that she sells Ember+Forge gift cards online; and that the shop has an online presence.

Kirby said she was speechless when she heard the news. “We are really as local as we can be,” she said. “To be labeled an interstate business that really only does business within a few miles’ radius is really frustrating when it’s being used punitively against somebody. This is not the justice I am seeking.”

The FBI declined to comment, referring Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to the U.S. attorney’s office. Brady’s office sent Reveal an emailed statement saying it would “continue to partner with the FBI, ATF, and the Erie Police Department to aggressively investigate and prosecute violent crime committed under the guise of protest.”

Kirby remains incredulous that Barnett is facing a federal felony charge for what she considers minimal damage. Her landlord replaced the windows, a cost she says was covered by his insurance, and a local woodworker offered to paint around the burn marks on the table and turn it into a piece of art.

“In what world is a human life worth less than anything?” she asked. “We’re going to value 10 years of his life at less than a window or less than a tabletop that got charred?”

Barnett is one of over 340 people in at least 31 states facing federal charges coming out of the historic wave of Black Lives Matter protests over the summer. An analysis of the 319 unsealed charges by Reveal shows that Barnett’s case is hardly atypical: The majority of the charges concern arson, theft or property damage.

The message to make federal cases out of protest-related vandalism came straight from Trump and the country’s top law enforcement official, U.S. Attorney General William Barr. And it came fast.

At first, the president called George Floyd’s killing in Minneapolis a “very, very sad event” and promised that “justice will be served.”

But by the third night of protests, Trump had taken to Twitter to call protesters “THUGS” and threaten military force. “When the looting starts, the shooting starts,” he tweeted, parroting the infamous threat from a Florida police chief during the tumultuous civil rights era.

The following Monday, June 1, after a weekend of more than 1,200 protests, Trump held a conference call with the nation’s governors during which he painted a picture of anarchy spreading across the country. He falsely claimed that all the storefronts in Los Angeles were gone and claimed that crowds had broken into stores in Philadelphia and “nobody showed up to stop them.”

“You’ve got to arrest people. You have to try people. You have to put them in jail for 10 years.”

“These are terrorists. They’re looking to do bad things to our country,” he told the governors.

“We’re going to clamp down very, very strong,” he added, “but you’ve got to arrest people. You have to try people. You have to put them in jail for 10 years.”

Barr, who was also on the call, said the FBI and Justice Department would work directly with local and state law enforcement to build these cases “to go after the troublemakers, to go after the guys who were pounding the bricks and the Molotov cocktails.”

“We want to lean forward and charge federally anyone who violates a federal law in connection with this rioting,” he said.

The protests were overwhelmingly peaceful. An analysis by the Crowd Counting Consortium, a collaboration led by scholars at Harvard’s Kennedy School and the University of Connecticut, found that no injuries were recorded during 97.7% of some 7,500 demonstrations that roiled the nation during the first month after George Floyd’s murder. Only 3.7% involved property damage, including arson and vandalism. Police were injured by protesters in just over 1% of them.

Yet within roughly two weeks, prosecutors from 36 U.S. attorney’s offices from Brooklyn to San Diego had charged and taken into federal custody 105 individuals for alleged crimes committed just during the first weekend of protests. Among their number was Melquan Barnett.

While two of the cases related to the killing of a federal officer by members of the far-right Boogaloo movement and four related to minor injuries to police, more than two-thirds of the cases related to theft, arson, property damage or the threat of property damage. These federal crimes included the robbery of a CVS and the looting of a liquor store. They included tossing a Molotov cocktail at an abandoned police car, hurling bricks at a police vehicle and spray-painting the words “Y’all not tired yet?” on the Lincoln Memorial. And they included posting messages on Snapchat and Facebook calling for rioting and looting.

Barbara McQuade, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Michigan, said, “Federal resources are scarce and get used for major priorities like international terrorism, massive fraud and drug trafficking with Mexican cartels – you know, massive cases.” Many of these protest cases struck her as “very small potatoes” unworthy of federal resources. But she said they speak to a national federal priority set by the attorney general.

In Erie, it took federal agents four days to go through video footage, establish that Kirby’s coffee shop was an interstate business and draw up the criminal complaint against Barnett. In St. Louis, federal investigators moved even faster.

On the morning of Sunday, May 31, in the midst of that first weekend of national protests, Michael Avery was standing outside his house in Jennings, Missouri, a majority-Black suburb of St. Louis that borders Ferguson. The 29-year-old community activist had returned home from Minneapolis the previous night. He said he had gone to connect with other activists, livestream the protests and share what he learned over Facebook. Avery was with his 3-year-old daughter and his mother, getting ready to wash her car on their quiet cul-de-sac, when a line of vehicles pulled up. Several uniformed men emerged, and Avery said he figured they were coming for him because of his activism. They wanted to “shut me up permanently,” he said.

Avery has been protesting police shootings since the night after Michael Brown was killed in Ferguson on Aug. 9, 2014. Since then, he’s become known locally for his vocal opposition to police violence and as a Black man who openly carries a gun in an open carry state. Avery said he needs the gun for his volunteer work: He’s the driving force behind a group called Bring Them Home Search and Rescue, which helps locate missing people in parts of St. Louis with rising homicide rates. Avery carries his weapon at protests, too, and posts those images on Facebook.

Avery started livestreaming his arrest as it was underway. In the video, you can hear him asking for paperwork as the camera settles on an officer’s uniform. A male voice responds, “You don’t have to see paperwork, it’s been signed.” Avery asks if he can hand his phone to his mother as he is handcuffed, and just before the officer asks his mother to turn off the phone, you can hear Avery saying, “All I did was voice my opinion.”

The affidavit against Avery, signed by FBI Special Agent Ryan Monahan, notes that Monahan and other investigators had been monitoring social media activity for “evidence of imminent acts of violence” when they came across Avery’s Facebook page, where Avery had been posting live video feeds from Minneapolis. In one of his many posts, Avery called on activists in St. Louis to be available for a “level red action” on Saturday night: “Calling out all the shooters, all the people who don’t give AF. All the people who has had enough.” On his way home, Avery posted a long video describing how young people in Minneapolis had carefully targeted the looting, marking off Black-owned businesses “that were not to be touched under no circumstances.” That Saturday night in Ferguson, as in Erie, a crowd gathered outside the local police station. Protesters smashed windows and threw rocks and bottles at police, according to the federal complaint. As these events were unfolding, Avery posted a call on Facebook: “Red Alert everyone get to Ferguson PD right now.”

Stating that the FBI had assessed “a level red action to be associated with a high level of violence,” Monahan accused Avery of looting in Minnesota and providing “tutelage” to St. Louis activists, encouraging them to do the same. Avery was charged with using the internet, a “facility of interstate commerce,” to incite a riot. He was accused of violating a law pushed by segregationists as an amendment to the Civil Rights Act and most famously used against the Chicago Seven in 1968.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Michael Reilly argued in court that Avery was a “leader” of protest movements in St. Louis and suggested that his posts on Facebook had incited violence, rioting and somehow even the killing of a police officer in a pawnshop several days later, while he was being held in the county jail – a claim Magistrate Judge Patricia Cohen shot down as “a stretch.”

“His posts do carry weight,” Reilly insisted. “I know he was in custody, Judge, but it’s possible to incite people and then, once they’re incited, they’re incited.”

Two and a half weeks later, on June 17, the U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Missouri dismissed the complaint against Avery. The case had collapsed.

Javad Khazaeli, who worked terrorism cases for over a decade at the Department of Justice and Department of Homeland Security, is now an immigration attorney in St. Louis and followed Avery’s case closely. “My one-word response as a former prosecutor with the federal government is ‘embarrassing,’ ” he said of the government’s case against Avery. “Look at the timeline and how quickly they came down with these charges – there was no due diligence done.”

At Avery’s pretrial detention hearing on June 3, the government’s attorney argued that Avery “traveled from out of state for the sole purpose” to incite a riot and “had no community ties of any kind to St. Louis.” “A simple Google search would have proved that was wrong,” Khazaeli said. Avery describes himself as a radical activist. But he grew up on the south side of St. Louis and runs a lawn care business in Jennings.

Three longtime organizers who train activists in civil disobedience sent letters to the judge in support of Avery, explaining that among activists, a “level red action” indicates a high risk of arrest and a greater likelihood of police violence. “Red does not refer to violence or destruction being done by protestors,” wrote one of them, Lisa Fithian.

Avery was shaken by his time in jail and the federal charges against him. But the experience also woke him up to something. “They feel like my voice is strong enough to get more people on the streets,” he said of the federal government. “That motivates me to continue my work and take it to another level.”

The U.S. attorney’s office that brought the case against Avery would not comment on his case but said the office had charged a total of 12 people connected to the protests, cases that all “remain pending.”

So far, federal prosecutors across the country have had to drop charges in at least nine cases, including Avery’s.

In Avery’s case, in Barnett’s and in about half of the federal cases coming out of the Black Lives Matter protests, charges are grounded in the commerce clause, a constitutional principle that gives Congress the power to regulate international and interstate commerce. It also allows federal prosecutors to pursue criminal charges if a crime involves interstate commerce. Until this past summer, conservatives, including Barr, had long opposed its use, as it has undergirded a range of policies that Republicans have opposed, from labor protections during the New Deal to bans on segregation during the civil rights era and the Affordable Care Act.

Federalizing protest-related prosecutions at this scale is “extraordinary,” said Jonathan Smith, a former Justice Department lawyer who now leads the Washington Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights and Urban Affairs. Typically, incidents like these are left to local authorities to prosecute; the protests against the World Trade Organization in the 1990s and the Occupy movement in the 2000s resulted in mass arrests, but they were handled locally. The federal government typically gets involved only if there’s a high federal interest and local officials are incapable of addressing it or unwilling to do so, Smith said.

The only real precedent also came under Trump: the decision by federal prosecutors to charge 234 people, including medics, journalists and legal observers, with felony rioting out of the Washington, D.C., protests on Trump’s Inauguration Day in January 2017. “It was shocking at the time and felt like a signal of things to come,” Smith said. Within a year and a half, the vast majority of those charges had been dropped.

They are ‘attacking prosecutors who believe in alternatives and holding Black and White people accountable, as well as police officers.’

Kristy Parker, another former Justice Department lawyer, described many of this past summer’s prosecutions as “broken-windows policing on a federal level.” She said it would be “impossible” not to call this a “very aggressive use of federal law enforcement powers.”

Certainly, the federal involvement has ruffled the feathers of some local prosecutors. In Portland, Oregon, Multnomah County District Attorney Mike Schmidt issued an official policy in August declining to prosecute cases relating “solely to protest activities,” including charges of rioting, disorderly conduct and interfering with officers. Calling such prosecutions a drain on “crucially needed resources,” Schmidt rejected nearly 70% of the 1,000 or so cases referred to his office by police. Meanwhile, federal prosecutors in Oregon have brought at least 97 cases against Portland demonstrators – constituting nearly a third of protest-related federal prosecutions nationwide – many of them for the very crimes the local prosecutor had refused to charge.

In Pittsburgh, U.S. Attorney Scott Brady filed charges against 11 protesters for damaging police cars and throwing projectiles at the police – after District Attorney Stephen Zappala already had filed state charges against all of them. Zappala spokesperson Mike Manko said it was “unclear” why the U.S. attorney would want to focus on “local protest cases.”

St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kim Gardner said there was no reason for federal prosecutors to “inject” themselves into cases of arson or property damage that local prosecutors could easily bring themselves. She said she views the federal prosecutions – in light of Trump and Barr’s law-and-order rhetoric – as a form of political intervention into local Democratic jurisdictions. They are “attacking prosecutors who believe in alternatives and holding Black and White people accountable, as well as police officers,” she said.

When her office filed felony charges against Mark and Patricia McCloskey, a White St. Louis couple who aimed their guns at peaceful demonstrators marching through their privately owned neighborhood over the summer, Gardner found herself in the middle of a political firestorm. Trump described the charges as a “disgrace” and his chief of staff, Mark Meadows, invited the McCloskeys to speak at the Republican National Convention.

As Black Lives Matter protests continued into late June, Barr created a task force to combat “violent anti-government extremists,” a designation that includes supporters of the far-right Boogaloo Bois as well as antifa, the loosely organized movement of anti-fascist activists. These individuals, Barr said in a departmentwide memo, may “pretend to profess a message of freedom and progress, but they are in fact forces of anarchy, destruction, and coercion.”

Of the 319 unsealed cases the Justice Department has brought against protesters, only one, against a Rochester, New York, activist accused of inciting a riot, alleges a connection to antifa. Six involve members of the Boogaloo movement.

What is striking is how few of the unsealed cases involve allegations of bodily harm. Two individuals affiliated with the Boogaloo movement were charged with murder and attempted murder for fatally shooting one federal officer and wounding a second in Oakland, California, during protests May 29. And while 58 protesters in Portland and 16 in other cities were charged with hitting police or federal officers with such objects as explosives, water bottles, a skateboard and a beer can, officer injuries are alleged in only nine of these cases.

Of the 101 arson cases, only three involved injuries – in two cases to the arsonists themselves and in the third to a Pennsylvania state trooper. There are only indications in five other cases, including Barnett’s, that the fires involved buildings where people were present. Half of the arson charges relate to fires set in empty police cars.

As Barr’s Justice Department pours resources into building relatively simple cases against those protesting police violence for property crimes such as looting, arson and vandalism, it has not made public a single investigation into the wave of excessive force levied against protesters – the eyes shot out, the cracked skulls – by police over the summer or into systematic civil rights abuses by police departments where officers have been accused of high-profile killings.

In fact, the administration’s obsession with property damage has an ugly corollary: a tendency to prosecute those responsible for damaging cars and buildings more aggressively than those responsible for destroying Black lives.

Federal prosecutors and the FBI have initiated criminal probes into the murders of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breonna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, and the shooting of Jacob Blake in Kenosha, Wisconsin, but Smith, the former Justice Department attorney, said investigating the conduct of individual officers is not enough.

“There are serious and deep problems in those departments that cannot be addressed through accountability for those individual officers, but need a fundamental and structural change in those departments,” he said. In the recent past, the Justice Department was a factor in driving that change forward through suing departments and then negotiating consent decrees in court.

When he was head of special litigation for the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division, Smith led the civil probe into the Ferguson Police Department, which began soon after the protests following the police killing of Michael Brown. “You could not have a greater contrast than what happened in 2014 and what’s happening in 2020,” Smith said.

During President Barack Obama’s second term, Smith’s section led similar “pattern or practice” investigations into 14 other police departments over civil rights abuses, including in Baltimore after the in-custody death of Freddie Gray in 2015 and in Chicago after the fatal shooting of Laquan McDonald in 2014. In Trump’s nearly four years in office, the section has investigated only one, in Springfield, Massachusetts.

In Erie, local activists and national civil rights groups tried for years to get the Justice Department to investigate systematic civil rights abuses by the police there. Then, in July 2016, the Justice Department opened a criminal investigation into the arrest of Montrice Bolden, who suffered facial fractures and a concussion during his arrest by Erie police. But just two months after Jeff Sessions took office as attorney general, the Justice Department closed the investigation, announcing it would not bring civil rights charges against any members of the Erie police.

The administration’s focus on acts of violence by protesters has also meant turning ignoring widespread violence committed by police during the demonstrations. Amnesty International documented 125 cases of excessive force against demonstrators, while data from the nonprofit Armed Conflict Location and Event Data Project suggests law enforcement used force against demonstrators in 460 – or nearly 1 in 20 – Black Lives Matter protests. Citizen groups, using videos posted on social media, have documented many hundreds of other instances of police violence directed at protesters. In many cities, researchers from the Crowd Counting Consortium note, it was excessive force by police – the use of tear gas, pepper spray and batons; pushing into crowds on horses or in vehicles – that turned protests violent.

Smith noted that the Justice Department hasn’t opened a single investigation into excessive force by police this year. “This administration has made clear its view that it is not going to hold police accountable to their constitutional obligations,” he said.

Instead, at a gathering of police chiefs Oct. 16, Barr doubled down on his law-and-order message. He claimed that excessive use of force by police officers is “relatively rare and becoming rarer” and said “there is no valid justification for physically resisting a police officer. The approach must be ‘comply first, complain later.’ ”

“These are the radicals who have hijacked demonstrations,” he said of those protesting police violence. “These are not peaceful protesters exercising their First Amendment rights. They are criminals and thugs and must be dealt with accordingly.”

“This wasn’t a dog whistle,” said Phillip Halpern, former assistant U.S. attorney for the Southern District of California, who publicly resigned in October after 36 years as a federal prosecutor. “This is the attorney general making crystal clear he wants more prosecutions for protesters.”

In pursuing federal charges against the Black Lives Matter movement, the Justice Department is effectively seeking higher penalties for protesters than for others engaging in the same conduct. Smith calls this “chilling” because it implies the department is punishing people for their speech.

“It’s because it happened in the context of demonstrations against police brutality and racism that the government has gotten involved, not because there’s something about these particular crimes,” he said.

Halpern, too, said these prosecutions trouble him greatly. “It augurs a widespread federalization of potential criminal activity in pursuit of a political agenda,” he said.

On his call with governors on June 1, the president compared the protests to Occupy Wall Street and made what might be his clearest statement yet about what was driving his demand for a tough federal response. “It’s a movement,” he said, “that if you don’t put it down, it will get worse and worse.”

Together with the tear-gassing of demonstrators in front of the White House on June 1, the militarized response to protests in Portland since early July and Trump’s repeated threats of military intervention to quell protests in Democrat-run cities, the prosecutions are a part of the largest federal crackdown on mass protests in recent memory.

The last time a president sent federal troops to an American city was in 1992, when President George H.W. Bush invoked the Insurrection Act during the outburst of popular anger in the aftermath of the Rodney King verdict and sent 8,200 federal troops to Los Angeles. His attorney general at the time also happened to be William Barr.

In Erie, Melquan Barnett pleaded not guilty and rejected a plea offer. His application for release from pretrial detention was accepted on the last day of August, after he’d sat in jail for three months. U.S. Attorney Scott Brady opposed his release, calling him a “drug-using arsonist with mental health issues and a significant criminal history” who posed a threat to society. A new judge, Susan Baxter, granted Barnett bail.

By Barnett’s telling, much of his criminal record is inseparable from what it means to be a young Black man in a place like Erie. His rap sheet includes several charges that stemmed from the countless times he’d been stopped by police since he was old enough to drive – showing false identification, driving with a suspended license and possession of small amounts of drugs. “You cannot call that significant,” said Charles Sunwabe, Barnett’s lawyer. “None of these are serious crimes.”

Barnett’s release is predicated on the condition that he remain under the strictest form of home incarceration; he is not allowed out of his mother’s house except for medical emergencies or court appearances. Barnett said it’s better than being in jail. But he can’t sit on his front porch to catch a moment of sunlight. And the devoted coach can’t step into his backyard to kick a ball around when his son visits. “That kills me, man,” he said.

Barnett said his experiences this past summer have soured his views on protesting and deepened his cynicism about the police. “At the beginning, I was lit up with joy and happiness and inspired,” he said, by the sheer scale and raw energy of the protests over the murder of George Floyd.

Now, after spending three months in jail, he’s facing down a tough court battle against some of the nation’s top prosecutors and the prospect of spending several years in prison. “Going through what I’m going through has snatched that all out of me,” he said.

“These are political charges that the government is bringing,” Sunwabe said. “They’re trying to make an example of people like Melquan, to silence people so they never get back on the streets.”

Reporter/producer Stan Alcorn contributed to this story. It was edited by Esther Kaplan and Matt Thompson of Reveal and Mark Follman of Mother Jones and was copy edited by Nikki Frick.

As COVID Spikes Higher Than Ever, Trump’s Leadership Hits Rock Bottom

70 Percent of Latinx Voters Chose Biden With Record-Shattering Turnout

Trump’s Frivolous Lawsuits Are the Tip of the Iceberg in His Refusal to Concede

Trump, Pompeo Direct State to Deny Biden Access to Messages From Foreign Leaders

Trump Ousted. The Spirit of Insurgent Democracy Is Rising.

Barr Order to Investigate “Fraud” Claims Spurs Top DOJ Official to Quit

Posted in USAComments Off on Trump Administration Cracks Downs on BLM Protesters While Ignoring Police Abuses

Make a Plan to Resist


Photograph Source: tom_bullock – CC BY 2.0

The cable news talking heads seem obsessed with Joe Biden’s “significant” lead over Donald Trump in the national polls – as if this lead signifies a certain coming Biden victory in the presidential election.

Also feeding the narrative that Biden is likely to win are stories and film clips of millions of Americans standing in long lines to vote early in record numbers.

This is dangerously pacifying. Nearly two and a half centuries since its founding, the United States, self-described homeland and headquarters of democracy, does not select its top elected official, the president, on the basis of a national popular vote. The Electoral College, devised by slave-owning constitutional framers for whom democracy was the ultimate nightmare, restricts the presidential election to the contest for all-or-nothing Elector slates in a relatively small number of states. And in these states, the horse race between Biden and Trump is much closer than it is in on the national scale. It seems likely that Trump will receive a significant amount of hidden white support, not captured by pollsters.

Overall, the Electoral College leans well to the right, over-representing the country’s most reactionary, white and rural regions so extremely that Biden cannot win the final tally without beating Trump by far more than a simple majority of the national popular vote.

But that’s not all. People telling pollsters how they are going to vote is one thing. Getting votes adequately taken and fairly counted is another thing altogether.

Reflecting their captivity to the Republifascist party, many of the contested states practice partisan and racist voter suppression (both legal and extra-legal) in ways that hurt Biden’s chances. The violence promoting Republifascist president’s campaign has added physical intimidation to the mix in and around battleground state cities and towns.

At the same time and far worse, the Trump administration and GOP have made it crystal clear that they will immediately attack the legitimacy of the record-setting number of mail-in ballots that are required by the very pandemic that Trump has multiplied across the nation. Those mail-in ballots are going to lean heavily Democratic since Democrats take the coronavirus more seriously than do Republicans. With many right-wing state and federal courts on their side all the way up to the now 6-3 right-wing US Supreme Court, Trump’s attorney general William Barr and the GOP’s army of (anti-)election lawyers will move to stop the counting of mail-in ballots, thereby throwing Trump the election in the states that matter and thus in the nation.

Three members of the right-wing Trump court – Kavanaugh, Gorsuch, and now Coney Barrett – were Bush lawyers in the high court’s infamous Bush v. Gore decision. That ruling cancelled a re-count of ballots in a single state, Florida, throwing the 2000 election to the right-wing monster George W. Bush. Trump’s first legal assault on the election, telegraphed in advance, will be about suspending the initial count in multiple states.

Even if ballots somehow get fully counted, Trump will challenge Electoral College slates in contested states that go for Biden. There’s nothing in the US Constitution that requires states to send Washington (Congress) slates that reflect their popular votes. Republicans control both houses of the state legislatures in numerous contested states and can be counted on to advance Republican slates even in states where Biden wins the most vote. his, too, could work its way up to the Supreme Court, where Trump would prevail.

The vote in Trump v. Biden before Ruth Bader Ginsburg died was likely 5-4 Biden. With the hard-right Christian cultist Amy Coney-Barrett now in place, the odds lean 5-4 Trump. The chess pieces are in place for neofascistic electoral-judicial checkmate.

That’s a big part of why Trump looks so confident on the campaign trail with an approval rating in the low 40s – and of why his campaign is focused just on turning out his big but minority base.

Many Americans will protest the theft of the 2020 election (the third or perhaps fourth of the last six US presidential contests in which the candidate with the most popular votes loses). That’s why Trump has been preparing violent mobs to suppress anti-coup protests. It’s why his authoritarian handmaid and personal attorney general William Barr is preparing to declare martial law and squelch “Sedition” (protest) with paramilitary forces (from the Department of Homeland Security, especially ICE and Border Patrol) accountable only to Trump.

No one should be surprised by any of this. A review of Trump’s horrific record, including stealing babies from their mothers’ arms at the southern border, applauding the execution of civil rights protesters by militia members, ordering and applauding the police state assassination of an antifascist, dog-whistling white supremacists, proclaiming his desire to be president for life, calling Black Lives Matter protesters “terrorists,” upholding the Confederacy, downplaying and spreading a lethal pandemic, and so much more shows that there’s nothing this malevolent orange ogre wouldn’t do to smite his enemies and stay in power. Nothing.

Trump recently led his frothing Michigan backers in hate rally chants of “Lock Her Up” directed at a state governor his armed neofascist backers were plotting to kidnap and murder. Trump has called the nation’s leading infectious disease expert a “disaster,” and described people who advocate public health protections against COVID-19 as “idiots.” Trump has even used his own infection to downplay the danger of the virus, claiming that “we are turning the corner” even as numerous states now set new infection records. This is sheer eugenicist madness, literally on steroids.

Believe the tyrant. Drop the disbelief. Trump “wouldn’t actually move to steal an election”? Seriously? Nothing is beyond the pale when it comes to the wannabe fascist dictator Donald Trump. Nothing.

Trump has been openly proclaiming his aim to cripple and steal the 2020 election. It’s not a hidden mystery. The Trump-Barr coup has been unfolding in the open to no small degree. As Salon’s Chauncy de Vega recently observed:

“Donald Trump continues to make it clear that he does not intend to leave office peacefully if he is defeated… Trump considers any election in which he is not the ‘winner’ to be null and void. Trump’s appointment of Amy Coney Barrett to the United States Supreme Court is an obvious quid pro quo to secure his ‘reelection’ if his attorneys and other agents can sufficiently sabotage the vote on Election Day and beyond….During his debate with Biden, Trump…commanded white supremacist paramilitaries to be prepared to attack his and their ‘enemies’ if he loses on Election Day or is otherwise removed from office…Trump also wants Joe Biden and other leading Democrats imprisoned and perhaps even executed because he deems them to be guilty of ‘treason’ and a ‘coup’ attempt against him. Trump and his Attorney General William Barr have also threatened to use the United States military against the American people if they dare to protest the outcome of the 2020 Election if Trump somehow finds some extra-legal (if not outright illegal) way to stay in office” (emphasis added).

Liberal and progressive “defend the vote” activists talk about organizing demonstrations and strikes “if and when Trump tries to steal the election.” It’s good to know they are mobilizing for protest after the holy day, but there’s no “if” about it. The “when” is now and has been since at least the beginning of the summer, when Trump and Barr tried to use the George Floyd rebellion as a Reichstag Fire moment – and since whenever it dawned on the Trump team that the Trump pandemic could help them steal the election by requiring mass mail-in ballots they could challenge both in court and in the streets.

“Don’t let them take your power away,” Barack Obama says in a flyer dropped on my steps in Iowa City. “Make a plan now to get involved and vote.” How typically Weimar of Obama, who went to Urbana, Illinois two years ago to tell young people that “the best way to protest is to vote.” Of course millions are going to try to vote the orange monstrosity out of office. But, no, the best way to protest and resist is to protest and resist and this is an election in which sustained popular resistance is required even to have a minimally decent vote and vote count, insofar as such a thing is possible under the deeply flawed, right-leaning US party and elections system. The courts won’t save us. The Democrats and their allied Astroturf movements won’t save us.

A serious commitment to “getting involved” will involve far more than just voting for candidates selected in advance for you by the ruling class once every 1,460 days – and more than resisting the theft of the election. Still, the theft must be resisted. The whole American System that hatched Trump and his inauthentic Dem opposition is cancer on numerous levels. It is both spiritual and material death. It can only be cured through social and not merely political revolution, the “radical reconstruction of society itself” that Dr. Martin Luther King identified as “the real issue to be faced.”

But the Trump regime is a malignant fascistic tumor that must be removed through mass action if the patient is going to have any chance of moving forward towards “the real issue to be faced.” The administration is a loaded gun aimed straight at the head of our hopes for a decent, democratic, and sustainable future. It must go.

By all means, vote, but understand that that voting once every four years is a woefully insufficient form of people’s politics. Make a plan and reach out to activist and revolutionary groups like Refuse Fascism for a deeper and daily engagement beneath and beyond the quadrennial electoral extravaganza. Vote with your feet and your voice in the streets, in the public squares, in the schools, in the workplaces, online, offline, from your car, on the bus, in the subway every single day going forward. The ruling classes of this country all the way up to the military command and top financial elite, needs to understand that America will be ungovernable if they insist on jamming a second and worse racist-sexist-nativist-eco-cidal and neofascist Trump term down our throats.

Even in the unlikely event that Trump is defeated by popular and Electoral College margins so large that he can’t semi-credibly contest the outcome, the wannabe fascistic dictator will remain in position to do unthinkable damage for eleven more weeks. The world can’t wait until January 20th, 2021 for the defenestration of this lethal lunatic.

The death toll of the pandemic that Trump has fanned and continues to lie about (“it’s going away”) may well reach half a million (nearing America’s body count during World War II) by next February. This regime must go now.

The tumor must be cut out. The Trump regime/nightmare must go. Then we must attack en masse the conditions that gave rise to it — the whole damn system, including the populace-pacifying fake-progressive “liberal” operatives and apologists like Obama and his friends at CNN and MSDNC.

Posted in USAComments Off on Make a Plan to Resist

The Campus Thought Police: Faux Outrage, Intimidation, and the Threat to Free Speech


Permanent Free Speech Wall in Charlottesville, Virginia. Photograph Source: Daniel Rothamel – CC BY 2.0

There’s a long history of faux outrage in reactionary U.S. media regarding the alleged threat of “leftist propaganda” in higher education. It’s common to hear laments on the right against “cultural Marxists” in the academy who indoctrinate America’s youth and poison their minds. And far-right media have developed a tried-and-true formula for how to stoke mass outrage within their base, centering on active misrepresentations of faculty speech and stoking support for authoritarian efforts to suppress dissent. Sadly, university administrators have often joined in by throwing faculty under the bus to avoid bad PR, or by choosing to remain silent in hopes that these authoritarian attacks will go away. There are plenty of recent examples to draw from, and for those who want to learn more, you can look to cases of faculty who were punished for controversial speech, including former Drexel University Political Science Professor George Ciccariello Maher, Trinity College Sociologist Johnny Williams, Boston University Sociologist Saida Grundy, and Texas A&M University Philosophy Professor Tommy Curry, among many others.

As Trinity University Political Scientist Isaac Kamola recounts, the controversies above and others like them have something in common:

“Most [of these] attacks are leveled against faculty of color, or those whose research and teaching focuses on issues of race. Most start with a handful or organizations explicitly created to monitor and intimidate college faculty (most prominently Campus Reform and the College Fix); from there, they travel to sympathetic right-wing websites and news outlets (also created by activist donors committed to undermining public institutions like universities), before arriving at Fox News. Most attacks that gain traction involve college administrations sanctioning faculty and condemning their speech.”

The outcome of this train of events is that faculty feel increasingly pressured to self-censor and avoid engaging in critical public discourses related to important political, economic, and social issues.

The effect of these attacks on free speech in the academy is chilling, especially when administrators cannot bring themselves to publicly condemn racist attacks and death threats against faculty who engage in controversial speech. Such is the case with Sirry Alang, a colleague of mine at Lehigh University, who was recently the target of attacks emanating from Fox News and other right-wing media and their supporters. Alang posted on Twitter a reaction to the Vice Presidential debate that took aim at Republican Vice President Mike Pence, lamenting: “Pence talks about the Christian faith. The devil, satan, lucifer, the serpent that deceived Eve, the father of all liars, should be taking lessons from Mike Pence.”

Whether one agrees or disagrees with Alang’s characterization of Pence is beside the point. In higher education, professors are supposed to be protected by freedom of speech, and must feel free to speak their minds, no matter how critical the comments, without fear of the backlash that arises from controversial speech. Lehigh University has performed admirably in the past regarding the protection of such speech, as its statement on academic freedom recognizes that “Academic freedom is essential to the unfettered search for truth and its free expression by all members of the University Community…Protection must be given not only for ideas that are widely accepted but also for those that shock or disturb. The widest range of viewpoints should be encouraged, free from institutional orthodoxy and from internal or external coercion.”

Considering the strength of this commitment, it’s surprising to see Lehigh administration shying away from publicly condemning the attacks on Alang, particularly the racist messages, hate mail, and death threats that have been leveled against her. Whatever they think of her beliefs regarding Pence, there’s little reason to think that the university should be bashful about opposing in the strongest possible terms physical threats made against its employees, while reaffirming the university’s commitment to free speech.

In Alang’s case, initial reporting on her Twitter comments about Pence was published by Campus Reform, then picked up by Fox NewsCampus Reform is notorious for seeking to stoke mass anger against the professoriate, as is apparent in the tagline it includes in its pieces on campus speech controversies claiming that “The radical left will stop at nothing to intimidate conservative students on college campuses,” and in its promises to help readers identify ways that “you can stand up to them” by calling for “the federal funding to be pulled” from colleges and universities that “silence conservative views or students.” The spuriousness of such claims should be transparently clear as applied to stories like the one Campus Reform ran on Alang and other Pence critics, considering that the faculty members cited were speaking in their capacities as public intellectuals and private citizens on Twitter, and their comments had nothing to do with teaching in the classroom or student free speech on campus.

The point of Campus Reform’s critical reporting is not about demonstrating faculty contempt for free speech. It’s about spotlighting critical race scholars who are expressing dissident views about the U.S. political system. This is not the first time the group has targeted Alang, as evidenced by a previous piece they ran focusing on a Tweet she posted that drew attention to racism in the criminal justice system, as related to the shooting death of Breonna Taylor and to police actions that “devalue”[ing] of “Black lives.”

Campus Reform’s reach would be limited if not for the megaphone conferred on it by Fox News. In a piece titled “College Professors Let Loose Profane Criticism of Pence During VP Debate,” Fox situated Alang’s and other scholars’ criticisms of Pence within a larger framework that depicts U.S. academics as systematically biased against the American right. Fox cites a 2016 study from Economic Journal Watch that examined voter registration data for professors at dozens of large U.S. universities in the areas of communications, law, psychology, history, and economics, concluding that academics identify as Democratic over Republican at a rate of 11.5 to 1, and with college staffers leaning Democratic over Republican at a nearly 12 to 1 ratio. In case readers can’t connect the dots, Fox is explicit in its message, citing an op-ed from the New York Times warning that the “ideological imbalance” in higher education “threatens the free and open exchange of ideas, which is precisely what we need to protect in higher education in these politically polarized times.”

There are numerous reasons to be suspicious of the Fox News narrative that it is merely spotlighting “bias” and seeking to promote intellectual pluralism in higher education. For one, Fox News has zero commitment to ideological pluralism, as evidenced by its own content, which embraces pundits like Tucker Carlson, Mark Levin, and Sean Hannity, who have long supported reactionary conspiracy theories and paranoia, and racist, xenophobic, and misogynistic content that dehumanizes people of color, immigrants, and women, while depicting liberals and Democrats as dangerous threats to the stability of the republic. The outlet doesn’t come into discussions of free speech and pluralism to protect these cherished values, but to bury them in a litany of manufactured outrage about radical and un-American professors who indoctrinate youth and should be punished for pushing their politics onto impressionable youngsters.

Outside of their disingenuous “let’s explore all sides” faux pluralism, there is reason to be concerned that the sort of reporting that targets scholars like Sirry Alang and others, and the muted or negative responses to it from college administration, is enabling a rising culture of extremism on the American right, which manifests itself increasingly in violence or threats of violence against perceived political enemies. For those who would offer false balance to this discussion by offering claims that “both sides” engage in such extremism, I would point out that extremist threats of violence are much more of a problem on the American right than on the left.

My examination of one 2017 Pew Research Center’s national survey reveals that Republican Americans and self-identified conservatives are roughly twice as likely to agree that “targeting and killing civilians” can “sometimes” or “often be justified in order to further a political, social, or religious cause,” compared to saying that such attacks can “rarely” or “never be justified” [1]. Roughly 20 percent of Republicans and conservatives embrace this authoritarian view, compared to about one in ten liberals and Democrats.

When professors receive death threats from right-wing readers of venues like Campus Reform and Fox News, it is hard to discount Pew’s findings as hot air. Rather, these attacks have real world consequences, threatening to suppress dissent via intimidation, coercion, and the threat of terrorist violence.

One final reason to reject the reactionary attack on academia is the wholesale lack of evidence that the private party affiliations of professors or staffers are creating a hostile learning environment for students. I’ve documented at length in previous statistical research, drawing on a large number of national polling questions on Americans’ political, economic, and social attitudes, how there is little reason to worry that obtaining a college degree will be associated with systematically adopting liberal or left-wing attitudes. Surveying Americans’ opinions on more than 160 political questions that can be broken down based on respondents taking liberal and conservative positions, I find that the relationship between higher levels of formal education and holding liberal-left political attitudes is weak to nonexistent, after controlling for other factors, including respondents’ age, income, gender, race, political party affiliation, and ideology.

Put another way, the evidence above suggests that there’s little evidence of pervasive ideological indoctrination going on with American youth in collegiate settings. This will hardly be surprising for faculty across America reading this. The vast majority of faculty I know, while moderate to liberal in their personal politics, go out of their way to avoid using their classrooms as a soapbox for propagandizing their students and trafficking in one-sided political or ideological messages. Most professors are conscientious in their efforts to mute their own political voices, at times to avoid charges of “bias,” and because they seek to promote a learning environment conducive to exploring a variety of viewpoints – in the name of promoting critical thinking and an open discussion of ideas.

Sadly, universities have often been coerced by the right-wing campus outrage industry, and by polemical attacks on the academy from those who have no interest in seeking pluralism in political discourse, but who are at the forefront of authoritarian efforts to silence critical and progressive views. I am proud of the Faculty Senate at Lehigh University for taking a stand against the reactionary attacks on my colleague, Sirry Alang, as seen in the statement they issued against “the recent onslaught of death threats, hate messages, and other harassing attacks” on Alang, and calling on the university to issue “a public statement speaking out against acts of racism, death threats, and harassment Prof. Alang is experiencing.” At a time when the Black Lives Matter movement has elevated a discussion of structural racism to the top of public discourse, colleges and universities across the country have an ethical responsibility to publicly stand against racism and authoritarianism, as directed against people of color, and particularly against faculty engaging in critical free speech.

I would encourage all faculty and students reading this to consider pressuring administrators at your colleges and universities to take up the proposals offered by Lehigh’s Faculty Senate, which calls upon the university to commit to the following:

*Affirm in public communications that “students, faculty, and staff have the right to exercise their First Amendment rights to express opinions.”

* “Denounce the use of death threats and hate speech against” “faculty, staff, and students.”

* “Express” to the “campus community that any such threats are taken seriously, and formal police reporting and investigative paths are being pursued.”

Providing a safe environment for those affiliated with our colleges and universities to openly explore and express their views should be the highest priority for those who want to ensure that free speech is valued and protected in these polarized and troubling times. The voices of a small minority of racists and authoritarians must not be allowed to stifle critical exploration and free thinking, lest the mission of American universities is fundamentally endangered.


[1] Pew Research Center, “National Survey: February 28-March 12, 2017,” Pew Research Center.

Posted in USA, PoliticsComments Off on The Campus Thought Police: Faux Outrage, Intimidation, and the Threat to Free Speech

Roaming Charges: High Anxiety


Still from Mel Brooks’ “High Anxiety.”

+ I gave up trying to predict elections long ago. But my gut read on this election has always been that the harder Trump tries to lose the election, the more likely he is to win and the harder Biden tries to win the more likely he is to lose. By that standard, Trump seems to be slightly ahead….

+ Nader says “vote your conscience.” I say, vote your Id and expect the Diebold voting machine to autocorrect your vote to the Super Ego candidates.

+ Here are the averages of the “high quality” polls  since Labor Day:

MICHIGAN Biden 9.5
NEVADA Biden 7.4
ARIZONA Biden 4.8
FLORIDA Biden 2.6
OHIO Biden 1.1
GEORGIA Biden 0.6
IOWA Biden 0.08
TEXAS Trump 2.5

+ Subtract 3 points from Biden to account for voter suppression, lower than expected youth vote and Trump voters who are embarrassed to admit they’re voting for him and you’re probably much closer to the actual result, that is a very narrow Biden victory.

+ Biden seems to have an insurmountable lead in the generic polls, but the High Anxiety about the outcome of the election is evidence of how little confidence there is that the popular vote will determine who becomes president. It’s not the vote will be rigged, or hacked, but that the Constitution itself has rigged the election to favor the candidate wins the popular vote in the least populated states.

+ Biden losing Texas because he made little to no effort to secure the Hispanic vote and couldn’t effectively distance himself from Obama’s inglorious record as deporter-in-chief will be one of the most biting ironies of this strange campaign.

+ Of course, it probably didn’t help matters that when it finally dawned on Biden that he wasn’t making it with many Hispanic voters, he recruited anti-Cuba/Venezuela/Sandinista neocon Ana Navarro to make his pitch, instead of organizers from the Sanders and Julian Castro campaigns.

+ The Biden campaign has made two shrewd strategic decisions: One, to limit Biden’s own appearances; and two, to keep Bill Clinton off the campaign trail, even though Bubba might have drawn some bigoted white men over to Biden in Georgia and South Carolina.

+The national polling averages with 5 days until E-Day. Of course, Biden could win by 9+ and lose in the electoral college.

2020: Biden+9.0

2016: Clinton+4.2

2012: Romney+0.3

2008: Obama+6.9

2004: Bush+2.4

2000: Bush+3.7

1996: Clinton+14.6

1992: Clinton+8.3

1988: Bush+11.7

1984: Reagan+19.2

1980: Reagan+0.1

1976: Carter+2.0

+ If you want to finally destroy the electoral college, you should hope that Biden somehow manages to lose the popular vote, because of court rulings prematurely stopping vote counting in some states, but narrowly prevails in the electoral college. It will be gone before Amy Coney Barrett gets her new couture robe blessed by Cardinal Dolan…..

+ Usually, the lies get more grandiose the closer we get to an election. This year, however, there’s been a refreshing outbreak of honesty. Biden has pledged that he will “not end fracking.” And Trump’s chief staff Mark Meadows has vowed that Trump “will not control the pandemic.”

+ Thanks for the clarification, Joe, as Hurricane Zeta shreds Louisiana in the last week of October…

+ Keep on frackin’ in the free world…

+ The grooming of AOC for a leadership position in the party seems to be well underway. Consider her placid reaction to Biden’s retreat on fracking:  “It does not bother me … I have a very strong position on fracking … However, that is my view … It will be a privilege to lobby him should we win the White House, but we need to focus on winning the White House first.”

+ The people who are angry at the Green Party for accurately claiming credit for the Green New Deal are the same ones voting for a candidate will bury the Green New Deal under a pile of neoliberal hoodoo and hijinks…

+ The strangest thing about Trump putting all his chips on Biden family corruption, for which there’s plenty of evidence, is that Trump himself has proven that no one cares about corruption in politics anymore. We just expect it, as a kind of prerequisite for that career path….

+ Trump is, as Steppenwolf once said, firing all his guns at once this week: ordering seismic testing in ANWR, gutting protections in the Tongass rainforest, removing wolves from the ESA, renaming a nuclear sub the USS Wisconsin, shooting off ICBM rockets in California, declaring COVID defeated, rushing out federal indictments against protesters in Philly. (Unfortunately, he’s yet to explode into space.)

+ Every batshit idea that’s been faxed to Oval Office by a Trump donor is becoming policy in the week before the election, including a decision by the State Department to allow US citizens born in Jerusalem to list “Israel” on their passports.

+ Speaking of which, Vegas casino mogul Sheldon Adelson shelled out $26.4 million of his own money to the GOP in the 2020 election cycle, the most of any tycoon in the country, according to the latest Federal Election Commission data.

+ The President of the United States is paid $400,000 annually. In four years, Trump has pocketed 20 times that in payments to his business from taxpayers and donors.

+ Harris County has 4.7 million people, roughly the population of New Zealand. And, after the latest ruling from the Texas Supreme Court, it will have just one ballot box.

+ Billionaire bond trader Jeffrey Gundlatch, CEO of DoubleLine Capital, predicted this week that Trump would win the election and spark a revolution. In that case, bring it in…

+ Eau de Sinister….

+ With the confirmation of Amy Coney Barrett, Republican presidents have now appointed 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices.

+ Amy Coney Barrett becomes the first justice confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court without any bipartisan support since 1869.

+ Lots of quivering, but no arrows hit their mark…

+ Barrett’s speedy elevation to the court has become just one more fundraising shakedown for the DNC, the party which vowed, and not only miserably failed to block her but succeeded in raising her support among Democrats from 22% to 52%..


+ Amy Coney Barrett became the first justice confirmed to the U.S. Supreme Court without any bipartisan support since 1869.

+ Great Moments in Senate History: 11 Democrats voted to confirm Clarence Thomas to the Supreme Court. (Boren, Breaux, DeConcini, Dixon, Exon, Fowler, Hollings, Johnston, Nunn, Robb, Shelby).

+ If Barrett lives as long as Ruth Bader Ginsburg, she serve will on the Court until 2055…if there is a 2055.

+ Republican presidents have now appointed 15 of the last 19 Supreme Court justices.

+ Minutes before Amy Coney Barrett was confirmed, the Supreme Court ruled 5-3 to throw out ballots in Wisconsin that are postmarked by Election Day, but arrive after. 80,000 ballots were counted in primary that arrived after Election Day but were postmarked by that date. In his opinionBrett Kavanaugh, who thinks Roe v Wade should be overturned, argues that Gore v Bush should hold as precedent, even though the justices who made that wretched ruling themselves said it shouldn’t hold as a precedent. It’s going to be a wild couple of decades with the Gorsuch-Kavanaugh-Barrett court…

+ Recall that Brett Kavanaugh was on the Bush legal in Florida that argued for the inclusion of ballots received 10 or more days after election day, and pressed counties to continuing changing their totals over Thanksgiving weekend.

+ By 2040, it’s projected that nearly 40% of the American population will live in five states. In the Senate, that means roughly half of the population will be represented by 16 senators; the other half by 84.

+ Who will tell DiFi? McConnell, just after the Senate voted to limit debate on Amy Coney Barrett: “A lot of what we’ve done over the last four years will be undone sooner or later by the next election. They won’t be able to do much about this for a long time to come.”

+ After botching the case against Barrett and failing to negotiate a second stimulus package for a desperate population, 80-year old Nancy Pelosi announced her intention to run once more for Speaker of the House. Pelosi’s hands will be as necrotic as McConnell’s when they finally pry the gavel from her grip

+ After its shameful expulsion of Jeremy Corbyn on specious charges of “antisemitism,” the Labour will never win again in the UK and they shouldn’t. Despite the libels against him, Corbyn, and his movement, should feel liberated. The shackles the Blairite Party imposes on its members aren’t just about Palestine.

+ The UK Labour Party had been a ship of death for progressives aspirations since Blair imposed his blow-dry austerity measures & eagerly helped Bush manufacture the fraudulent case for war in Iraq. Corbyn offered the party a last chance at resuscitation & they undermined him at every turn, slandered him, and finally booted him out. Corbyn exits with his honor in tact. The Labour Party, however, now exists only as a smug refuge for Tories, who now regret their votes for Brexit.

+ The Labour Party has done to Corbyn, what the Democrats really want to do to Rashida Tlaib and Ilan Omar and likely will at some point.

+ He was anonymous before he became Anonymous. Taylor should be facing indictment for his role in helping to sell and implement the child separation policy. Instead, he was given acres of column spaces in the NYT, a big book deal and landed a job at Google.

+ The number of migrant women detained in Irwin who underwent unnecessary or overly aggressive gynecological operations — or were pressured to undergo them — is at least 57.

+ Asked why the new border wall is being painted black, Rodney Scott, chief of the Border Patrol, said the decision was driven by tests showing it helps agents see better. The real reason, of course, is that Trump wanted it painted black because he thought it looked more menacing and said it would heat up in the sun and burn climbers’ hands.

+ ICE and Border Patrol have expelled unaccompanied immigrant children from the US border more than 13,000 times since March of this year alone, sending these kids right back to the perilous circumstances they’d fled across the border to escape…

+ The Legacy of ICE: children missing their parents, young women missing their uteruses and ovaries…

+ The Democrats calling the Trump/Miller/Sessions/Anonymous Guy’s family separations policy “incompetent” is an admission that they’d continue it, only they’d update the address book more frequently for whatever hellhole they shipped the parents back to and maybe keep the kids in softer, gentler cages–if they’re good.

+ There has been a dramatic rise in deportations of Haitians over the last month, with a flight every couple of days back to Port-au-Prince. Haitian immigrants are summarily expelled from the US using a public health statute, Title 42, which denies immigrants of the chance to request asylum.

+ Obama helped the Saudis instigate their savage war on Yemen, but Trump has quietly escalated it. According a new report from Air Wars titled “Eroding Transparency: US counterterrorism actions in Yemen under President Donald Trump,” at least 86 civilians have been killed in airstrikes and raids carried out in Yemen on Trump’s watch, most of these deaths occurred during the years 2017 and 2018, two of the most active  years in terms of strikes and the deadliest for civilians.

+ Trump is also on his way toward doubling Obama’s rate of drone strikes: New statistics show that Trump launched 231 airstrikes or ground raids in Yemen during his first four years. Obama launched 255 in all eight of his years.

+ The quintessential Biden revealed itself in the aftermath of the police shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr…

Reporter: “What do you say to Philadelphia residents that are outraged by yet another unarmed Black man being shot by police?”

Biden: “What I say is that there is no excuse whatsoever for the looting and the violence.”

+ Meanwhile, 20 more former federal prosecutors have endorsed Biden…

+ John Nesby, the head of the Philadelphia Police Union, called BLM protesters “a pack of rabid animals.” The Philly cops haven’t changed much since Frank Rizzo’s day…Put on a few pounds, maybe.

+ Philly Inquirer’s Editorial Board: “If the officers who shot Walter Wallace Jr. indeed did nothing wrong according to police use of force protocol, then the state of policing is even more dire than we thought.”

+ From the You Can’t Make This Shit Up Desk: Louisville police officer Jonathan Mattingly has filed a lawsuit against Breonna Taylor’s boyfriend, Kenneth Walker, alleging his suffered emotional distress, assault and battery on the night the cops broke into her apartment and killed Taylor…

+ Of the people police arrested multiple times in the past year, more than half (52%) reported having a substance use disorder….

+ On Tuesday, 15 people were let go from New York City jails. On average they had been incarcerated for 262 days. Today, there are more than 1000 people in NYC jails (pre-trial) who have been there for longer than a year.

+ 19: the number of encounters with law enforcement George Floyd had over his brief life, most of them occurring in the oppressively policed black communities in Houston.

+ Jared the Slumlord on black Americans: “President Trump’s policies are the policies that can help people break out of the problems that they’re complaining about but he can’t want them to be successful more than that they want to be successful ”

+ Georgia Senator, and inside stock trader, Kelly Loeffler said she is “not familiar” with Trump’s “grab ’em by the pussy” comments recorded on the Access Hollywood tape. Over to you, Tom Verlaine…

I understand all, I see no
Destructive urges, I see no
It seems so perfect, I see no
I see, I see no, I see no evil

+ Joseph Massad on France’s obsession with decapitation:

“France’s love affair with decapitating people was not only evident in colonial Algeria but also in its other colonies …The decapitated heads were preserved in formaldehyde… and later put on display in the Museum of Natural History.”

+ Biden has told the South Koreans that he will “work hard to unify” the Korean peninsula. The word “unify” needs some translation. During the Obama years, it meant unification after a military intervention by the US, South Korea, Japan and China. One can hope Biden’s thinking has “evolved,” but given the fact that the leading contender on his fantasy team to run the CIA, Tom Donilon, is one of the architects of the unification-by-decapitation policy it seems doubtful.

+ Remember when TIME magazine darkened OJ’s face to make him look blacker and scarier? Here’s Newsweek advancing it’s latest yellow peril scare piece by pixelating Xi’s face and wrapping in him in a Trayvon Martin hoodie…

$40 million: amount DC police have earned in overtime pay since BLM protests began in May.

+ The Country Club Coup: the plotters of the bungled Venezuela coup hatched their plans at Trump’s Doral Golf Resort in Miami. The chief plotter, a mercenary named Jordan Goudreau, says Erik Prince pitched 5000 troops to overthrow Maduro for a mere $500 million (a claim Prince vigorously denies, as well he should). All with connivance of the Trump team. How could it fail?

+ In his forthcoming memoir, Obama blames unions(!) for the failure to enact universal health care:

 “[M]any companies began offering private health insurance and pension benefits as a way to compete for the limited number of workers not deployed overseas. Once the war [WWII] ended, this employer-based system continued, in no small part because labor unions used the more generous benefit packages negotiated under collective-bargaining agreements as a selling point to recruit new members. The downside was that those unions then had little motivation to push for government-sponsored health programs that might help everybody else.”

+ UC Berkeley has been doling out $70,000 a year for eugenics research from a fund called the Genealogical Eugenic Institute and just now realized this might be…uh…problematic.

+ Eric Topol: “We haven’t see positive testing rates like this at any point during the US pandemic. Overall US positive test rate has shot up to 7.3%, and testing has decreased.”

South Dakota 43.4%
Idaho 34.8%
Wyoming 31.5%
Wisconsin 28.0%
Iowa 26.4%
Alabama 25.2%
Nebraska 21.8%
Kansas 20.7%

+ Heckuva job, Jared….Kushner to Bob Woodward in April: “There’s the panic phase, the pain phase and then the comeback phase…We’ve now put out rules to get back to work. Trump’s now back in charge. It’s not the doctors. They’ve kind of – we have, like, a negotiated settlement.”

+ South Dakota (885,000) and San Francisco (890,000) have roughly the same population size. On Tuesday, South Dakota recorded 1,270 new COVID cases. SF reported 37.

+ The US reported more than 98,000 new Covid-19 cases on Friday. For a single 24-hour period. That’s more cases than China has reported for the entire pandemic.

+ According to a report by the Kaiser Foundations, nursing homes with relatively high share of Black or Hispanic residents are more likely to have had a resident die of COVID-19 than homes with lower shares of such residents.

+ “In America, we as U.S. citizens have the right to get sick if we want to, right?” proclaimed Anna Kasachev, a GOP candidate for the Oregon State Senate, who is running on an anti-vaccination, anti-mask platform. ” That is the beauty of this country.” I didn’t realize the right to spread infectious diseases was one of the four freedoms…

+ CNN: “Hospitals in WI are near capacity. Does that give you any pause about going there and holding a big rally?”

Trump 2020 Press Sec. Hogan Gidley: “No, it doesn’t. The VP has the best doctors in the world around him.”

+ A new study from the Department of Economics at Stanford estimates that 18 Trump rallies have led to 30,000 COVID cases and 700 deaths.

+ The White House science office (OSTP) just released its first-term accomplishments. Leading the press release: “Ending the Covid-19 Pandemic.” The full report includes this nugget: “Science is one of the strongest weapons that we have against this virus.”

+ Olives and Palestine are almost synonymous. It’s why the olive groves have become a target of destruction by Israeli “settlers” in the Occupied Territories…

There are an estimated 12 million olive trees planted across the West Bank and accounts for a quarter of the gross agricultural income of the occupied territories. We joined some Palestinian farmers to learn about the importance of the harvest for them.

+ I’ve watched with morbid interest the train wreck at the Intercept which led to the resignation of Glenn Greenwald in an editorial dispute over a story on Biden family corruption. I’m all for publishing the Hunter Biden documents, even the suspicious trove Glenn’s friend Tucker Carlson implied were swiped in the mail by the Deep State but turned out to have been mislaid by UPS, the kind of privatized mail service Carlson wants to replace the US Postal Service. So much for the efficiency of the market.

In his resignation letter, Greenwald goes a little far in claiming his story was “censored.” Call it the victim of a strong editorial hand. Cockburn used to apply his frequently to my stories and his normal scalpel was replaced by a ruthless chainsaw whenever my subject matter strayed onto the fraught terrain of climate change, assault weapons or catch-and-release trout fishing.

There’s a lot of finger-pointing going on and axes being ground to a sharp edge, as sides are taken. Much of the animosity toward Greenwald is for his rather indulgent writing about Trump over the past four years and his running slot on Carlson’s xenophobic show, where Greenwald has been reluctant to challenge many of the despicable views broadcast on that regrettable FoxNews hate-fest. Still, Glenn has never really pretended to be part of the Left. He’s always advertised himself as a civil libertarian and his view of the first amendment was so expansive that it led him to admirably, in why view, provide legal representation to the neo-Nazi Matthew Hale and, more questionably, to endorse the Supreme Court’s ruling in Citizens’ United.

+ It’s become a fixture of American political culture where those who later apologize for being wrong about a disastrous policy (regardless of the body count) are given more attention and credibility than those who made the right call from the beginning.

+ Many people are unaware of Greenwald’s early support for Bush’s war on terror, a fact he discloses in the preface to his book, How Would a Patriot Act: “I believed then that the president was entitled to have his national security judgment deferred to, and to the extent that I was able to develop a definitive view, I accepted his judgment that American security really would be enhanced by the invasion…”

+ I’m glad Greenwald came to regret his support for the Afghanistan and Iraq wars. It’s something the moral miscreant Hitchens refused to do. But it shouldn’t be blotted from his CV either. A few–very few in fact–of us opposed both wars from the beginning and were relentless vilified for doing so.

+ Robert McNamara was welcomed back into the salons of liberal America after he apologized for being a chief architect of the Vietnam War, despite the fact he went on to kill & immiserate 10s of millions more during his tenure running the World Bank without any lingering twitches of guilt.

+ One of the useful disclosures in Greenwald’s letter is his detailed description of just how badly the Intercept bungled its relationship with whistleblower Reality Winner, leading the FBI right to her computer and door. One of Biden’s first acts, if he becomes president, should be issue her a pardon and apology. But he’s more likely to pardon John Kelly, Mad Dog Mattis, John Brennan, Clapper, Gina Haspel and McMaster…on the remote chance any of them might be charged for their crimes.

+ On the flip side, I’ve learned my lessons as an editor as well. Ishmael Reed may not recall this, but the first time a submission from him landed in my inbox I was so excited I called one of my old college professors, who’d given me a copy of Yellow Back Radio-Broke Down back in 78, to gloat about it. Then I started editing it according to CP stylesheet and quickly sent the story back to the great man, thinking I’d polished it up like a low-rent William Shawn. A few minutes later, Ishmael sent me an email consisting of four words: “Let Reed be Reed!” I printed it out and 20 years later it remains pinned to the wall in my office.

+ Speaking of “censorship,” it would be nice to finally have the long-promised access to the Edward Snowden archive, which Greenwald and Laura Poitras shuttered and continue to keep under lock and key.

+ All the young Dudas, carry the news. Boogaloo Dudas, carry the news…+ Yet another line for the Lacanians to mull over: AOC: “I don’t want to be a savior, I want to be a mirror.”

+ Over to you, Nico…

Bruce Springsteen: “There’s no art in this White House. There’s no literature, no poetry, no music. There are no pets in this White House: no loyal man’s best friend, no Socks, the family cat.” As a dog lover, I’m glad that Trump hasn’t stocked the White House with Labradoodles. Many of the pets used as props by US presidents have been exploited, neglected and tortured. Remember when LBJ lifted his Beagle up by the ears said, “Ya see, pulling their ears is good for a hound. Everybody who knows dogs knows that little yelp you heard just means the dog is paying attention.” The man who tortures his dog in front the press is fully capable of napalming peasants…

+ New York’s securities industry profits swelled by 82% in the first half of 2020, boosted by federal stimulus money. The av­er­age Wall Street em­ployee earned $406,700 in salary and bonuses last year

+ We have entered the Go Fund Me Stage of Capitalism

+ The least shocking revelation of the year….One of the main enablers of QAnon (those fearless crusaders against pedophilia) appears to have hosted child porn sites.

+ This week saw the end of the once venerable Minneapolis weekly, City Pages, which had been hanging on by its fingernails for the last couple of years. Cockburn and I wrote a weekly column for City Pages for several years back in the 90s, when it was in the very capable hands of its esteemed editor Steve Perry….It had been in terminal descent since they gave us all the boot.

+ Hurricane Zeta made landfall with maximum winds of 110 mph, making it the strongest hurricane to make landfall in the continental US this late in the calendar year since the Halloween Hurricane of 1899 hit South Carolina, also packing 110 mph winds.

+ Zeta is the 11th hurricane of the 2020 Atlantic hurricane season to date. Only two other Atlantic hurricane seasons on record (since 1851) have had more than 11 Atlantic hurricanes by October 26: 1950 and 2005.

+ With scant national press coverage focused on it, 80% of New Orleans remains without power and many structures won’t have lines repaired for at least 3-5 days. Zeta was the strongest hurricane in recorded history to have its eye directly pass over New Orleans.

+ In the last two years, Trump’s Department of Energy has blocked the release of more than 40 reports on renewable energy: “They just go into a black hole.”

+ The coal industry is in free fall and never coming back. The natural gas industry doesn’t provide jobs. That leaves West Virginia, which has bet its economy on both, in the shitter.

+ The Arctic’s giant methane deposits are beginning to leak their climate-wrecking fumes. Adjust your doomsday clock accordingly.

+ In Colorado, more acres have burned this year alone than in any other five-year period on record, combined.

+ Arctic sea ice extent remains at the lowest on record.

+ about 1,540,000 km² less the 2010s mean
+ about 2,530,000 km² less the 2000s mean
+ about 3,290,000 km² less the 1990s mean
+ about 3,520,000 km² less the 1980s mean

+ A worst-case climate scenario could produce almost $500 trillion in damages—about twice all the wealth in the world today. A best case still inflicts about $30 trillion in damage, a new study in Nature estimates, with intermediate scenarios between $69 trillion and $131 trillion.

+ According to a post-debate Morning Consult poll, only 28% voters oppose transitioning away from the oil industry. 52% of independents support transitioning away, and even 41% of Republicans.

+ Trump’s war on wolves just went nuclear

+ The decision to remove the protections for gray wolves across all 48 states is going to have lethal consequences in Wisconsin, where the state’s “wolf hunt” will be immediately reopened.

+ Trump is exempting Alaska’s entire Tongass National Forest from the Clinton-era rule protecting roadless forests, opening more than 9.3 million acres of the nation’s largest rainforest to logging and road construction. It is one of the biggest public lands rollbacks of his presidency.

+ Ned Norris Jr., Chairman of the Tohono O’odham Nation, on the border wall’s desecration of Indigenous sacred sites: “As Americans, we all should be horrified that the Federal Government has so little respect for our religious and cultural values.”

+ A posse of federal scientists and land managers with US Fish and Wildlife Service have called the Border Wall the “current greatest threat to endangered species in the southwest region.”

+ “It’s a felony to destroy saguaro cactus in Arizona, and yet we’re seeing the government come in and slaughter hundreds of them with total impunity,” says Laiken Jordahl, a borderlands campaigner with the Center for Biological Diversity. “There’s a destruction of the natural history that’s occurring here on a massive scale.”

+ Vicki Gaubeca, director of the Southern Border Communities Coalition: “It’s been both Democrats and Republicans that have been responsible for the tragedy caused at our borders by the border wall.”

+ According to an analysis by the Washington Post, Trump has substantially weakened or eliminated more than 125 rules, regulations and policies aimed at protecting the nation’s air, water and land since taking office. Another 40 rollbacks are in the works.

+ If things keep going they way they have been, soon the Great Barrier Reef won’t be great, won’t be a barrier and won’t even be a reef…

+ Mike Freeman: “It’s official. The Moon has more clean water than Flint.”

+ Archaeology magazine published a study arguing that the Clovis Culture lasted just 300 years. “Just?” That may be longer than our rapidly crumbling Republic lasts…

+ I’m still reeling from the death this week of my pal Jack Tuholske at the tender age of 66. Jack, friend of mountains, rivers, wolves and grizzlies, was one of the fiercest spirits I’ve ever encountered and one of the best and most unrelenting environmental litigators. Fuck cancer.

+ Trump Koan of the Week: “In California, you have a special mask. You cannot under any circumstances take it off. You have to eat through the mask. Right, right, Charlie? It’s a very complex mechanism. And they don’t realize those germs, they go through it like nothing.” (Bullhead City, Arizona.)

+ Think where Howie Hawkins’ campaign would be today, if only Putin had sprung for a few of these selfless campaign workers to help him whip out the vote…

+ Great Moments in Post Office History: In 1890, after being berated by Teddy Roosevelt (then head of the Civil Service Commission) John Wannamaker, the US postmaster general, banned the mailing of newspapers serializing Tolstoy’s The Kreutzer Sonata, ruling the novella “obscene.” TR denounced Tolstoy as “a sexual & moral pervert.”

+ What was the decisive factor in the end of the Cold War (to the extent it has ended) and the collapse of the Soviet Union? Was the war in Afghanistan? The bloated Soviet military budget? The uprisings in eastern Europe? The death of the old guard leaders? No. According to Eurythmics guitarist Dave Stewart, Gorbachev told him it was the TV show “Dallas” that finally did them in.

+ A new trove of Bob Dylan interviews and notebooks was put up for auction this week, including Dylan’s account of his first meeting with Woody Guthrie, which prompted him to memorialize the encounter with these caustic lyrics:

My eyes are cracked I think I been framed
I can’t seem to remember the sound of my name
What did he teach you I heard someone shout
Did he teach you to wheel & wind yourself out
Did he teach you to reveal, respect, and repent the blues
No Jack he taught me how to sleep in my shoes.

+ One of the great outlaws of country music, Billy Joe Shaver, died this week at age 81. I last saw him at small club in Portland, on a bill with Rodney Crowell, while the Iraq War was still in high gear, a debacle both artist deprecated, to the consternation of many of their fans, who obviously didn’t know very much about who they’d come to see play.

+ Joni Mitchell talking with Cameron Crowe on her early songs, a collection of which is now set for release: “Some of the melodies are beautiful, but they’re very ingenue-y.  God, they’re so vulnerable in these tough times. They’re like some ancient world.”

It’s My High Anxiety, Victim of Society, Getting the Best of Me….

Booked Up
What I’m reading this week…

A Kick in the Belly: Women, Slavery and Resistance
Stella Dadzie

Salt Wars: the Battle Over the Biggest Killer in the American Diet
Michael Jacobson
(MIT Press)

Fifth Sun: A New History of the Aztecs
Camilla Townsend
(Oxford University Press)

Sound Grammar
What I’m listening to this week…

Whatever It Is
Hello Forever
(Rough Trade)

Who Are You?
Joel Ross
(Blue Note)

Rainbow Signs
Ron Miles
(Blue Note)

The Political Appeal of Brainless Swine

“The main problem in any democracy is that crowd-pleasers are generally brainless swine who can go out on a stage and whup their supporters into an orgiastic frenzy—then go back to the office and sell every one of the poor bastards down the tube for a nickel apiece.”  (Hunter S. Thompson, Fear and Loathing on the Campaign Trail, ’72)

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Industrial Food Production and the Pandemic


Photograph Source: Gene Alexander, USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service – Public Domain

Covid-19 comes from the primary forest, from bat caves. In a world without industrial agriculture encroaching on that forest, in a world without the corporatization of a wild-food industry, Covid-19 would probably never have left those caves. The pandemic was not caused by small-holder agriculture, and the virus probably did not escape from a lab. As it becomes endemic, it may become unstoppable. But not so the next pestilence. If we revamp our food production system now, maybe the pathogens lurking in primeval forest viral reservoirs will stay there, instead of hopping onto planes to London, New York, Beijing, Moscow and other metropolises.

A new book by Rob Wallace, Dead Epidemiologists: On the Origins of COVID-19, argues just that. According to Wallace, industrial agriculture pushes “capitalized wild foods deeper into the last of the primary landscape, dredging out a wider variety of potentially protopandemic pathogens.” And that’s only half the story. The other half traces the threat of avian and swine flus posed by factory farms and their peculiarly unethical forms of monoculture. Wallace focuses on how those monocultures remove immune firebreaks.

This book argues that in addition, factory farms may force “corporatized wild food companies to trawl deeper into the forest,” getting new pathogens, “while reducing the kind of environmental complexity with which the forest disrupts transmission chains.” So several threats: factory farms themselves; the push into forests for wild foods picks up new pathogens; that push also disrupts a web of life that kept those pathogens in check. And that’s before Wallace even touches on the broader topic of industrial crop farming and its planetary destruction.

Dead Epidemiologists thus links novel viruses to agribusiness and deforestation, which release them, causing them to spill “over into local livestock and human communities.” He cites this happening with Ebola, Zika, Makona, the coronaviruses, yellow fever, avian influenzas and African swine fever, for starters. Many of these “previously held in check by long-evolved forest ecologies are being sprung free, threatening the whole world.” For agribusiness, however, “a virus that might kill a billion people is treated as a worthy risk,” a cost of doing business paid not by that business, but by humanity at large, aka an externality. The food industry is only too happy to socialize this cost onto the rest of us, to infect and kill millions of people, as it rakes in its privatized profits.

Wallace’s solutions include ending monoculture by introducing livestock and crop varieties, and rewilding, as has been done somewhat with buffalo in the American west. That’s long-term. In the shorter term, he denounces herd immunity based on letting covid run rampant as “let’s do maximum damage,” and describes how the staggering U.S. failures to cope with this plague were “programmed decades ago as the shared commons of public health were simultaneously neglected and monetized.” Instead of Malthusian herd immunity, “we need to nationalize hospitals, as the Spanish did. We need to supercharge testing…as Senegal has. We need to socialize pharmaceuticals.” And I would add, where there are lockdowns, the government should subsidize idled workers and small businesspeople. All of this, of course, is anathema to the Trump regime.

According to Wallace, 40 percent of our planet’s ice-free surface is covered with its largest biome, agriculture, while 72 percent of animal biomass is poultry and livestock. He decries the “geologic scale” of industrial agriculture and how it geologically transforms “vast swaths of Earth’s surface into solar factories, carbon mines, and manure lagoons, an alien landscape hostile to most life forms outside the interest of capital, save a subset of suddenly opportunistic pathogen and pest stowaways.” In short industrial, chemical agriculture takes up too much space, is killing the planet and will ultimately kill us, too.

Wallace observes that three Iowa watersheds, “home to 350,000 people…host the waste equivalent of Tokyo, New York City and Mexico City combined.” This phenomenal pollution derives from our livestock and poultry cruelly crammed together in filthy, disease-ridden cages to produce protein for human consumption. When this factory farming produces diseases, standard operating procedure is to blame small holders; that’s now part of the agriculture “industry’s standard outbreak crisis management package.” But of course, it’s really the big industrial factory farms, with all their horrors of animal torture, that are to blame.

In this connection, however, Wallace argues convincingly against the extremes some may rush to – lab-grown meat and advocating global veganism. He cites the massive quantities of carbon burned to produce tiny portions of lab-grown meant, so massive as to outweigh any environmental benefit of vegetarianism based upon it. As for veganism, much of the world, the non-first world, is pastoral. People live with their animals and eat some of them. Imposing veganism on pastoral herders is ridiculous, a kind of colonial stupidity.

Instead, this book champions regenerative agriculture based on use value, not food produced as a commodity, and argues that such an approach is incompatible with capitalism. Small farms with variegated livestock and crops, worked by families are what’s needed. Wallace advocates the peasant agriculture promoted by the organization, La Via Campesina, and for planning agriculture that self-regulates “in such a way that the deadliest pathogens are far less likely to emerge.” He has little use for commercial pesticides and GMO crops. They simply destroy too much of the natural world; besides farming can proceed quite successfully without them.

Before covid, such plans were often dismissed as left-wing fantasy. Now they look like our last chance to save ourselves from collapsing ecosystems, novel, deadly plagues and a fatally warming planet. The official U.S. covid body count is over 226,000. Experts say it’s closer to 300,000. It will probably go much higher. The disease, some medical scientists believe, will become endemic and may require a yearly vaccine, like the flu. That vaccine may only be 50 percent effective, like the flu vaccine. So people will be wearing masks for a long time. Better to be inoculated and masked and survive, than suffocate to death from a virus released from a remote bat cave by an out-of-control food production system. We can’t bottle covid back up in its subterranean den, but we sure can prevent the next disease from escaping.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Industrial Food Production and the Pandemic

What Happened to Glenn Greenwald?


The simplest answer may be inertia, and time—essentially, nothing—but for better or worse I have a particular fixation on this question, and there is no denying Greenwald has become, shall we say, more problematic over the last couple of years.

Glenn Greenwald needs no introduction, so suffice it to say: he first came to prominence as an anti-Bush blogger, became a sort of celebrity when he published much of the Snowden reporting in The Guardian, and subsequently (along with Jeremy Scahill and Laura Poitras, with funding from eBay founder Pierre Omidyar) co-founded The Intercept, where he worked until his apparently acrimonious exit this week.

Lately most Greenwald columns tend towards highly specific media criticisms of mainstream liberal outlets, like MSNBC and the New York Times. At least I think they do—I haven’t read one of his columns fully in months, because they’re insufferable. At this point, Greenwald seems to have almost no ideology besides reflexive contrarianism. Perhaps this is simply the end result of spending hours on Twitter every day for years, or spending two (or four?) years focused laser-like on the Russia inquiry. His incessant—and often finely detailed, and articulate—criticisms have transformed the man into a kind of fanatic.

More problematic, obviously, this tendency towards contrarian criticism has increasingly aligned him with the far right. Some of this can clearly be chalked up to the simplification of information within the context of social media; self-reinforcing media bubbles are created. But we pick our bubbles, and Greenwald appears to be comfortable with his niche.

It is worth noting that the rhetorical overlap between Greenwald and the far right was always there, but could, in the past, usually be plausibly discounted as both-sides hostility towards a corrupt elite—consider the comparisons between Trump and Bernie. Or at least that’s how I felt. No longer. Take a look at Greenwald’s Twitter feed, which reads as an unending stream of right-wing grievance against cultural liberalism, and/or specific and almost exclusive amplification of right-wing media.

Greenwald and others in his niche (like Matt Taibbi, who has taken a similar turn) might counter that they serve as reliable, and perhaps anti-partisan, media critics, in reaction to a hegemonic, neoliberal media elite. This may be partially true, but the justification appears increasingly irrelevant as they come to identify—admitimgly or not—with one side of the partisan divide. This is to say nothing of the fact that their insistence to the contrary ultimately lends cover to the far right, who are able to launder their media through the ‘contrarian’ niche.

At face value one wonders how Greenwald, who made such a name for himself as an opponent to the national security state, and who lives as a prominent gay journalist, married to a Socialist congressman, in Bolsonaro’s Brazil, can now spend so much time and energy effectively running cover for the American fascist right. But, as I suggested above, the answer may be uncomplicated. Clearly, Greenwald’s fixation on the vapidity of the American liberal media elite—coupled with his experience of American domestic politics through a curated, algorithmic Twitter feed—has narrowed, and hardened, the aperture through which he sees the world. Moreover, as the targets of his criticism increasingly and desperately associate cultural liberalism with a neoliberal agenda, both become targets for Greenwald, and he finds himself neatly aligned with the far right. Still, this is a charitable reading, given Greenwald’s intelligence and presumed awareness of the dynamic.

I often compare Glenn to his colleague Jeremy Scahill, whose podcast, Intercepted, I regularly listened to over the first couple years of the Trump administration—and who recently released an audio documentary recapping, quite artfully, the last four years of Trump. Scahill, like Greenwald, had a natural skepticism of the obvious bizarreness of the Russia fixation. Unlike Greenwald, he covered this and related topics with nuance, emphasizing that while Trump-as-Manchurian-candidate was clearly crazy, serious questions of corruption remained. More importantly, also unlike Greenwald, Scahill never cedes any ground to what was and is obviously a fascistic, right-wing movement, one Greenwald repeatedly dismisses as an imagined liberal hysteria (or, indulges).

I will conclude by emphasizing that Greenwald was instrumental in my own political understanding around 2015-2016, and I recall his piece following the last election was one of the first and most sensible I read after Trump had won. Clearly, he has held this role for others. But at this point, unless he alters course, he is a spent—and possibly dangerous—voice in US politics.

Posted in USA, Media, PoliticsComments Off on What Happened to Glenn Greenwald?

Coronavirus: Cabinet to meet as PM considers England lockdown

The SPI-M document that shows the projections of daily death numbers by the different modellers, compared with the first wave
image captionThis key document shows several UK daily death projections by different modellers, compared with the first wave. The black line represents the government’s predicted “reasonable worst-case scenario”

The PM will meet his cabinet later as he considers a month-long lockdown across England – in the hope that measures could be eased by Christmas.

A new “stay at home” order could be announced on Monday, with schools, colleges and universities exempt.

Documents seen by the BBC suggest the UK is on course for a much higher death toll than during the first wave unless further restrictions are introduced.

Deaths could reach more than 4,000 a day, one of the models suggests.

This figure is based on no policies being brought in to slow the spread of the disease, but most of the models peak at about 2,000 a day.

Downing Street said Boris Johnson will chair a cabinet meeting at 13:30 GMT to discuss the government’s coronavirus response.

At the height of the pandemic during the spring, deaths in the UK reached more than 1,000 a day.

Infection rates are currently soaring across much of Europe, prompting new forms of lockdown in Belgium, France and Germany.

Timeline to exceeding capacity
image captionAnother document, a Cabinet Office analysis, shows projections for hospital capacity in England

The papers, understood to be part of a presentation by the government’s pandemic modelling group SPI-M shown to Boris Johnson, feature several different projections of the likely course of the disease.

All models predict that hospitalisations are likely to peak in mid-December, with deaths rising until at least late December before falling from early January.

And a separate document circulating in government – based on NHS England modelling from 28 October – warns that the NHS would be unable to accept any more patients by Christmas, even if the Nightingale hospitals are used and non-urgent procedures cancelled.

The document warns that south-west England and the Midlands will be the first to run out of capacity, potentially within a fortnight.

2px presentational grey line
Analysis box by James Gallagher, health and science correspondent

It feels like history is repeating itself.

In March, the government was trying to slow rather than stop the virus. Then modelling said huge numbers of people would die and we ended up in lockdown.

A key difference this time is the government’s science advisers called for a circuit-breaker six weeks ago.

The price of delay is cases are higher and we have missed the boat for doing it at the same time as school holidays for extra impact. It means we may have to lockdown for longer.

The spring lockdown did bring cases down. A lockdown now would be expected to do the same.

There is an ambition to keep schools open, but there are growing doubts about secondaries where Covid cases are “increasing steeply”.

Deaths will continue to rise throughout a suggested November lockdown, but the hope is driving levels of the virus low enough would allow the struggling NHS Test and Trace programme to become effective again.

The driving motivation here is saving lives and not overwhelming the NHS. There is no guarantee it will deliver a normal Christmas, too.

2px presentational grey line

These latest papers come after official documents from the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage) revealed that Covid is spreading much faster in England than the predicted “worst case” scenario.

This scenario had estimated 85,000 deaths from Covid during winter.

But in the Sage documents – dated 14 October and published on Friday – scientists estimated that, by mid-October, there were between 43,000 and 74,000 people being infected with coronavirus every day in England.

Their report said: “This is significantly above the profile of the reasonable worst-case scenario, where the number of daily infections in England remained between 12,000-13,000 throughout October.”

Scientists advising the government have been arguing for a short, planned lockdown – called a “circuit-breaker” – since 21 September, when there were around 5,000 confirmed cases a day.

Earlier this month, the World Health Organization (WHO) said lockdowns were “not sustainable” and should be “limited in duration” due to their “severe economic, social and broader health impacts”.

While the WHO acknowledged that during the pandemic “there have been times when restrictions were necessary and there may be other times in the future”, it said lockdowns are “best used to prepare for longer-term public health measures”.

‘Too late’

Labour’s shadow business minister Lucy Powell told BBC Breakfast suggestions of a national lockdown had come “too late”.

She accused the government of “dithering” as she argued a circuit-breaker over half-term would have “had most impact” and “saved more of the economy”.

But UK Hospitality chief executive Kate Nicholls said a national lockdown would be “absolutely devastating” for her industry.

She told the programme the sector would need “significant additional help”, adding: “There is no spare capacity in the tank to be able to fund a lockdown – even for three to four weeks.”

Chart shows daily deaths are continuing to rise

Her concerns were echoed by Federation of Small Businesses chair Mike Cherry, who said another lockdown would be “incredibly frustrating” as small businesses and businesses across the UK had “spend thousands” in making sure their premises are safe for employees and customers.

And Dr Adam Marshall, director general of the British Chambers of Commerce, has called on the government to urgently set out “a clear plan” if ministers are planning another national lockdown – “rather than allow business and market confidence to be further eroded by speculation”.

Presentational grey line
Analysis box by Laura Kuenssberg, political editor

A government source said that the country is at a “crunch point”.

No final decisions have yet been taken, and not all cabinet members have yet been consulted on the next steps.

But it seems that Mr Johnson is likely to take the national action that he swore he would do everything to avoid.

Read more here.

Presentational grey line

Sage scientist Prof John Edmunds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme the only way to have a “relatively safe” Christmas is to take “stringent” action now to bring the incidence of the virus “right down”.

Asked if restrictions would have to be more severe than the circuit-breaker previously proposed by scientists, Prof Edmunds said “putting off” decisions only “makes them more difficult”.

“If we are going to put the brakes on the epidemic now, then we’re going to have to put the brakes on harder and longer to bring the cases down to what might be an acceptable level,” he said.

Fellow Sage member Prof Calum Semple told BBC Breakfast that a national lockdown, with full compliance, “would see a dramatic fall in hospital admissions” in four weeks’ time.

Prof Semple suggested there should be a review at four weeks and there could be a “bit of easing around the festive activities” but that a lockdown would give officials “time to get test, trace and isolate processes really up to scratch”.

R rate regional chart

The current estimate of the R number in the UK – the number of people each infected person passes the virus on to on average – is between 1.1 and 1.3, indicating that cases are still growing.

On Friday, 274 deaths were announced, meaning that since the start of the pandemic 46,229 people have died within 28 days of a positive test.

Every area of England is now in one of three coronavirus alert categories – medium (tier one), high (tier two) or very high (tier three). Scotland has five levels of restrictions.


Scotland’s new tiered system of restrictions will come into force at 06:00 on Monday, and Wales remains under a 17-day “firebreak” lockdown until 9 November.

Pubs and restaurants in Northern Ireland were closed for four weeks starting on 16 October, with the exception of takeaways and deliveries. Schools were closed for two weeks.

Posted in HealthComments Off on Coronavirus: Cabinet to meet as PM considers England lockdown

Labour MP Apsana Begum charged with housing fraud

Tower Hamlets council brings three charges that Begum ‘vigorously contests’

Apsana Begum

Apsana Begum was elected to her seat in Poplar and Limehouse in east London last year. Photograph: Joe Giddens/PA

Simon Murphy 

A Labour MP has been charged with housing fraud after being investigated over how she obtained her flat.

Apsana Begum, who was elected to her seat in Poplar and Limehouse in east London last year, has been accused of three offences.

The MP, who is considered an ally of the former Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn and whose candidacy was backed by Momentum, is said to “vigorously contest” the allegations.

Begum faces three separate charges of dishonestly failing to disclose information in order to make gains for herself or another, or expose another to a loss with the offences dated between January 2013 and March 2016. She is due to appear at Thames magistrates’ court on 10 December. The charges are the result of an investigation by Tower Hamlets council, which as a local authority has the power to bring prosecutions.

A statement issued by lawyers for the MP, who won her seat with a majority of nearly 29,000, said: “Ms Begum vigorously contests these malicious and false allegations. She cannot comment in any further detail.”

The Sun, which revealed the charges, reported last November that Begum was facing an investigation over the flat she moved into months after leaving her estranged husband’s home. The property is understood to be run by a housing association, but the tenants are nominated by the council.

Investigators reportedly wanted to know how she got to the top of an 18,000-strong waiting list so quickly given she did not have children. The paper previously reported that Begum denied wrongdoing, saying: “I was so grateful to be housed, which provided me with the lifeline I needed to live independently and safely.”

A spokesperson for Tower Hamlets council said: “It would be inappropriate for us to comment on any specific investigation. We would urge others to refrain from any unnecessary speculation on any investigation that the council undertakes to avoid prejudicing any court proceedings.”

The Labour party declined to comment.

Posted in UKComments Off on Labour MP Apsana Begum charged with housing fraud

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