Trump's smile falls from his face as his attempt to get a foreign leader to attack Biden backfires

In a now-infamous phone call, President Donald Trump pressured Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zelensky to insert himself into American politics by announcing an investigation of his political rival, former Vice President Joe Biden. That call and the scheme surrounding it led to Democrats impeach Trump, alleging that he had corruptly leveraged his office and congressionally approved funds to benefit his own political campaign.

Trump appeared to be taking a shot at similar gambit, if on a much smaller and less elaborate scale, on Friday during a televised call with Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu.

While discussing a new plan for Israel to normalize relations with Sudan on speakerphone in front of reporters, Trump tried to goad Netanyahu into attacking Biden.

"Do you think Sleepy Joe could have made this deal, Bibi? Sleepy Joe?" Trump asked, smirking. "Do you think he would have made this deal? Somehow, I don't think so."

Of course, the ask wasn't as duplicitous or egregious as the on Trump made of Zelensky. It involved no withholding of military aid, and he was simply asking for Netanyahu to disparage his opponent, not open a criminal investigation of him. Still, it was wildly inappropriate and corrupt, both from the perspective of domestic and international politics.

And despite the fact that Netanyahu has made no secret for his preference for Republicans and his fondness for Trump in particular, the Israeli prime minister refused to bite on the president's bait. He pointedly avoided disparaging Biden.

"Well, Mr. President, one thing I can tell you is that we appreciate the help for peace from anyone in America," Netanyahu said. "And we appreciate what you've done enormously."

The smile dramatically fell from Trump's face, and he gave a deflated: "Yeah." It was clear he was disappointed that Netanyahu didn't join him in attacking Biden, which would have given him a de facto campaign ad with the endorsement of one of his favorite foreign leaders.

Many pointed out, though, that despite Netanyahu's fondness for Trump, he can read polling data as well as anyone. And the polling quite clearly indicates that Biden is heavily favored to win in the 2020 election. Netanyahu is likely to have a more fraught relationship with Biden regardless, but he wisely doesn't want to intentionally aggravate the Democrat in the last days of an election.

Netanyahu seemed to try to make up for the disappointment his remarks surely caused by adding: "This will be registered in the history books. History registers who did what, I think it does." But the damage was done.

Watch the clip below:

news & politics

Joe Biden showed he learned the lessons of 2016

The bar was set so low — yet Donald Trump still failed to clear the mark. In his final debate performance of the 2020 campaign (and with any luck, his last one ever), the president fumbled the one attack line that his campaign had prepared against Joe Biden for years.

It was like he whiffed at tee-ball.

The first time Trump tried to hit the former vice president over his son Hunter Biden's foreign business dealings, the senior Biden defended Hunter with the compassion and empathy he so often conveys while recalling the loss of his other son, Beau Biden, or of his first wife and infant daughter in a 1972 car accident. Clearly hesitant to queue up another softball for his opponent, Trump was forced to tread lightly on Thursday night, even though his campaign has revved up its wild Biden-centric conspiracy theories through the right-wing media echo chamber. Indeed, it was Biden who baited Trump into bringing up Hunter first, illuminating what the Biden campaign — after prepping the nominee extensively for days — thinks of the Trump campaign's last-minute gambit.

"All of the emails ... the horrible emails of the kind of money that you were raking in, you and your family," Trump began. "And Joe, you were vice president when some of this was happening. And it should've never happened. I think you owe an explanation to the American people."

It's unclear how many viewers understood any of that. But apparently, when you launch your re-election campaign as soon as you take office, all you can really come up with is, Hey, let's try "emails" all over again. Trump's October surprise is no surprise at all. This was always his Plan A and Thursday's performance proves that there was no plan B. As Salon's Amanda Marcotte points out, this new fake Biden scandal, somehow involving China, is a continuation of the same effort to push a phony scandal in Ukraine that got Trump impeached: "[T]he only thing he knows how to do is cheat — and the only way he knows how to cheat is by threatening and blackmailing other people to do the work for him."

This entire concoction is several layers of stupid, as demonstrated to perfection by the pre-debate release of a Wall Street Journal editorial alleging that the former vice president allowed Hunter to sell access to him, followed by the post-debate debunking of those claims — by the Wall Street Journal's news division. It would be comical if it weren't so dangerous.

All of this amounts lukewarm leftovers from the election that shall forever haunt us: 2016. Once again Trump attempted to troll his opponent with his debate guest list, this time including a former "business partner" of Hunter's who has claimed that the pair were looking to make a deal in China in 2017 — when Joe Biden was a private citizen. After characterizing Biden as weak and senile for months, Trump now wants us to think he's a powerful mob boss, with his fingers in financial pies around the globe. Although Trump called the latest allegations "damning," Tony Bobulinski, Hunter Biden's former business partner, has admitted that no Chinese deal was ever happened. To top it off, the New York Times has reported that during the time of these supposedly scandalous dealings, Donald Trump personally opened a secret bank account in China.

Even by the standards of Rudy Giuliani's sleaze-mongering projects, this one was inept. Maybe Rudy farmed this particular operation out to Jacob Wohl.

Hunter Biden's alleged wrongdoing isn't a real story, at least not yet. But this stuff is never about legitimate evidence. It's about creating a distraction and allowing Trump to make egregious claims that the right-wing media regurgitates and amplifies with massive speculation of what might be there, not what can actually be proven or established. As with Hillary Clinton during the 2016 campaign, there isn't time for an investigation. (You will notice that Trump has been in charge for nearly four years with the likes of FBI Director Christopher Wray and successive attorneys general Jeff Sessions, Matt Whitaker and Bill Barr at his disposal, and no charges have been filed against Clinton for anything at all). This is just another way to rile up the president's shrinking base. The people who claim to want answers are also the same people who already believe they know the whole story. (Time for Trump supporters to yell "Fake news" followed by chants of, "Lock him up!")

The incoherent saga of Hunter Biden's "laptop from hell" is a bad story, badly told. And the Trump campaign didn't even start peddling this nonsense until 50 million people had already voted. Trump's team is beginning to craft exit strategies, and the president himself is visibly floundering.

To be fair — as if that were remotely necessary — there was a notable shift in Trump's tenor to kick off the final debate. But trying to execute that elusive "presidential pivot" 12 days before Election Day can hardly be described as a success for an incumbent who is badly trailing in the polls. Considering that there has been essentially no change in public opinion on this race since the spring, even with everything that's transpired, it's preposterous to think that Trump's lackluster performance can swing a significant number of votes in his favor. Yet another night full of unchecked lies from Trump is dangerous but it's not nearly enough to change this race.

Of course, both Trump's Department of Justice and the Republican Senate have found no discernible wrongdoing on Biden's part to date. Trump fumbled his biggest political play before Election Day, but Biden also did something important. By simply ignoring the demands to answer the Trump campaign's wild allegations, Biden shows he may know how to deal with the right-wing smear machine better than his eagerness to deal with Republicans in Congress conveys.

Even beyond the personal attacks on his family and character, Biden has shown remarkable savvy by not caving in to pressure to appease conservatives in a manner that might deflate his base in the final days. For weeks, Biden has refused to outright reject expanding the Supreme Court, and has repeatedly reframed the discussion around Republicans' remaking of the federal courts through obstruction. Looks like at least one candidate in this race isn't stuck in 2016.

election '20

Georgia will be a real nail-biter this year — and that includes 2 Senate races

In recent decades, Georgia was predictably Republican outside of Atlanta. But in 2020, Georgia is, like Texas, a light red state — and if former Vice President Joe Biden wins Georgia on November 3, it might be time to start thinking of it as a swing state. Journalists Margaret Talev and Alexi McCammond, in an October 23 article for Axios, stress that Georgia will be full of nail-biters this year — from the presidential race to U.S. Senate races.

"It hasn't backed a Democrat for president since 1992," Talev and McCammond explain, "but Georgia's changing demographics may prove pivotal this year — not only to Trump v. Biden, but also, to whether Democrats take control of the Senate."

There were some warning signs for Republicans when, in 2016, Trump defeated Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton by only 5% in the Peach State. Compared to the double-digit wins Republicans had enjoyed in Georgia in previous presidential elections, the 2016 results indicated that they were losing ground there. Then, in 2018, Democratic gubernatorial nominee Stacey Abrams narrowly lost to Republican Brian Kemp, now Georgia's governor. And now, polls are showing a tight 2020 presidential race in Georgia, with Biden slightly ahead in some polls and Trump slightly ahead in others.

A recent New York Times/Siena College survey showed Biden and Trump tied at 45%. Compare that to 2004, when President George W. Bush defeated Democratic presidential nominee John Kerry by 16% in Georgia.

In addition to the presidential race, reporters will be paying close attention to Georgia because of two U.S. Senate races.

"Not just one, but both of Georgia's Senate seats are on the ballot this year because of the special election to fill Johnny Isakson's seat," Talev and McCammond note. "Polling shows they're crowded or close races with no clear winner. Georgia law sends general-election races to a January 5 runoff if no one hits 50%+ — and right now, no candidate is reaching 50% in the polling. So, if control of the Senate isn't clear by then, we'll have to wait for the Georgia runoffs."

On Election Night, the states that could determine whether or not Republicans will maintain their Senate majority include Arizona, Iowa, Maine, Colorado and North Carolina. Incumbent GOP senators are considered vulnerable in all of those states. But as Talev and McCammond point out, it's important to keep an eye on Georgia's two U.S. Senate races as well.

In Georgia, the Axios reporters observe, "GOP incumbent Sen. David Perdue was tied with Democrat Jon Ossoff at 43% in the latest public polling, a New York Times/Siena College poll out this week. Libertarian Shane Hazel had 4%, potentially drawing enough support to block either major-party candidate from crossing 50%.... The intraparty battle for the other seat, between Sen. Kelly Loeffler — who's filled the seat since January after Isakson retired early for health reasons — and Rep. Doug Collins, has split the GOP side of the vote, with Loeffler holding an edge. That's allowed Democrat Raphael Warnock to slide into the lead, though no one's close to 50%."

It's important to understand the difference between deep red states and light red states when it comes to U.S. politics. The states where polls are showing Trump ahead of Biden by 15% or 20% are deep red states, while the states where Republicans still have an advantage but not a double-digit advantage are light red states — Georgia and Texas, for example (Biden is competitive in Texas as well). And Talev and McCammond note that demographics are making Georgia more Democrat-friendly.

"Nearly a third of Georgians are Black, and White people's share of the population has fallen significantly in the past two decades," the reporters observe. "With the pandemic and push toward early voting, white early voting has increased 64% in Georgia compared to the same point in 2016, according to TargetSmart. But early ballots cast by Black voters has increased 88%."


GOP's Wisconsin Foxconn has exploded — with zero manufacturing jobs and a $400 million deficit

From the beginning, the Republican-promoted, Trump-boasting, former Gov. Scott Walker-lying Foxconn deal with Wisconsin sounded like a mega-scam. It was clear to anyone with a reading level above elementary school that the "incentives" used to bring the Taiwanese electronics giant into the Badger State were so much more lucrative than anything Foxconn could provide in economic stimulus. The math didn't add up. In fact, some estimates put the timeframe it would take Wisconsin to get out of the red on the deal at … 25 years.

Then, over the course of the next few weeks and months and years, it became clear that Foxconn wasn't going to do any of the things it said it might do, because frankly, it didn't have to do them to get that sweet Wisconsin taxpayer money. Invisible hand of the market and all that. This left lots of vacant space where Trump and then Gov.-Scott Walker took gold-shoveled photos at. Most of 2019 was spent with Wisconsin officials, having been left holding the bag of bunk that newly un-elected Scott Walker created, trying to renegotiate with Foxconn. Something that Foxconn officials, having experienced the pathetic dealmaking of the previous Republican administration, seem most interested in delaying. Possibly in the hope of finding another set of GOP marks with which to renegotiate.

Then on Oct. 12, The Verge reported that the Wisconsin Economic Development Corporation (WEDC) denied Foxconn's application for tax subsidies. The argument is that Foxconn hasn't even built anything that was originally agreed upon.

WEDC also noted that even if whatever Foxconn is currently doing had been eligible under the contract, it had failed to employ the minimum number of people needed to get subsidies. Foxconn needed to employ at least 520 people at the end of 2019 to receive subsidies and claimed to have hired 550, but WEDC estimated that only 281 would qualify under the terms of the contract.

What is most important to note here is that even in a deal that Foxconn was getting away with murder on, they still wanted to cut corners because the previous Republican administration was so bereft of sense that it put little regulations in place for the deal and seemed to be such cowardly pushovers to big money. Why negotiate with Democratic representatives and agents who actually want something resembling a fair deal when you can wait and hope that a new set of Republican con men hacks show up after Election Day?

The other issue that Foxconn faced was that just because Walker was willing to take constituents' money and line Foxconn CEO Terry Gou's pockets with it, that didn't mean the deal was commercially viable for Foxconn. It turns out it wasn't.

Since Democratic Gov. Tony Evers took office, Foxconn has flirted with renegotiating the contract since they seem to have zero interest in even coming close to the bogus promises of the original one made with Walker and friends. According to The Verge, a settlement agreement seemed to have been reached this past July between the WEDC and Foxconn, but that deal expired without another deal in place. The tax subsidies being withheld from Foxconn would have been the "first installment of the nearly $3 billion in refundable tax credits that made up the bulk of former Gov. Scott Walker's record-breaking subsidy package."

But don't you worry—Donald Trump is on the job.

Bad news: Donald Trump is a pathological liar. It turns out that not unlike the rest of the Foxconn deal, this was all for show. Sort of like the $100 million gift to the University of Wisconsin at Madison promised by Gou. Turns out the school received about $700,000 from Foxconn.

In an investigation conducted by The Verge, Foxconn attempted to boost hiring numbers right out of the gate, giving jobs out with no descriptions, just trying to hit the numbers that would allow them to make profits off of tax subsidies alone. These "jobs" would be and were very quickly dropped. Their business deal, so pathetically constructed by Walker and promoted by Trump and other Republicans, meant that it was better business for them to make some fake jobs up and not even really consider building out a business that might actually manufacture anything.

"Imagine being in a job where you don't really know if it's real or not. Or you know it's not real, but you don't know it's not real. It's a constant thing you're doing in your head day after day," said one employee, who returned to the rented building Trump had spoken at, where workers had been assembling TVs, only to find the line shut down and the lights dimmed a couple of weeks after the photo op was over. "I think all of us were on the verge of a major breakdown."

According to the investigation, while this deal is likely kaput, it has cost Wisconsin taxpayers at least $400 million in land and infrastructure. People were pushed out of their homes. Foxconn, who promised it would build a 20 million-square-foot LCD complex, has built an empty building 1/20th the size that it now says will be for "storage." Walker and friends promised 5,200 jobs by the end of 2020. There will be less than 281 by the end of this year.

The Foxconn story has been one of scam idea after scam idea. Business plans continuously changing in order to keep up the illusion that work was being done to create something that would warrant Foxconn's hiring of 580 workers for long enough to get some tax money. Like Donald Trump and the Republican Party, it was all an inflated lie that crashed before they could grab the last bit of money left on the table.


From 'Hillbilly Elegy' to 'Fried Green Tomatoes,' Hollywood has a rural perception problem

As soon as Donald Trump was elected to the presidency in 2016, it seemed that all eyes turned to rural America for answers. I was working at a public radio station in Louisville, Kentucky on election night — a typically blue dot in a state that has a complex voting history, voting for Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, as well as Reagan, both Bushes and Trump — when the results began to roll in. As it became clear that Trump was pulling ahead, my phone began to light up with texts from friends and other journalists who lived in larger cities, most asking the same question: "How could this happen?"

Almost immediately, media members, policymakers, and academics set about trying to contextualize the beliefs of portions of the country that had seemed to fade below notice or were dismissed as "flyover country." America at large sought to understand "rural America," a term that quickly became shorthand for the white, non-college-educated voters that aided in Trump's victory.

A growing handful of thoughtful, regionally focused media outlets — "The Bitter Southerner," "Scalawag," "Southerly" — emerged to tell true, nuanced stories of the communities they represented, but stereotypes and oversimplifications persisted.

The Washington Post's Christopher Ingraham, who has resided in a northwest Minnesota farming community since 2016, said that the "near-singular focus on Donald Trump has yielded a body of discourse that views rural Americans primarily through a white, conservative Republican lens."

"This is somewhat understandable as a matter of raw numbers — its residents do tend to be whiter and more conservative than people living in more densely populated areas," Ingraham said. "But that focus also has perpetuated a number of myths, blurring out much of the messiness and complexity of rural life."

The tendency to paint rural communities with a broad brush isn't just restricted to the political sphere. From "Hee Haw" to "Here Comes Honey Boo Boo," pop culture has borrowed from, celebrated, and in some ways, immortalized stereotypes and depictions that have come to represent rurality. But now, in an election year where eyes are again locked on the same states that helped determine 2016, there's a distinct need for cultural representations that don't oversimplify those same communities, or portray them as a social and cultural monolith.

Will that happen? Well, in the last month there have been two big pieces of news related to this topic: the trailer for the film adaptation of J.D. Vance's memoir "Hillbilly Elegy" was released, and then it was announced that Reba McEntire was slated to star in a "Fried Green Tomatoes" television series, which will be directed by Norman Lear.

I've been disappointed by "Hillbilly Elegy" since I read Vance's book in 2016. The memoir about his family became a bestseller in large part because it not-so-subtly promised readers, who were perplexed and enraged by Trump's ascendency, the background needed to understand what the "white, working-class Trump voter" was thinking.

As Salon's Erin Keane wrote in her 2019 piece "Amy Adams probably will win her Oscar for 'Hillbilly Elegy' and that's a damn shame," Vance's framing of the story tells people who don't know much about Eastern Kentucky or Appalachia what they think they already know.

"That the addiction and abuse and poverty that shaped his family are part of a stubbornly ingrained cultural lineage passed down through generations, and that's what keeps the people of Appalachia (a very large geographical area, mind you) poor and under-educated, even lawless and violent," Keane wrote. "And what's more, largely content to stay that way despite their anger, though exceptional individuals can overcome these innate cultural deficits. His overarching themes point to an attitude adjustment as the solution: poor people wouldn't have to stay poor, with all the social problems that can accompany poverty, if they could decide they didn't want to act like poor people anymore."

Forget nuance. "Hillbilly Elegy" frames the hardships faced by many in Appalachia — opioid addiction, lack of access to professional and educational resources, poverty — as the consequences of individual shortcomings and an overwhelming lack of gumption, rather than the result of systemic ills and oppression that have emerged from predatory pharmaceutical companies, a gaping digital divide and a long history of extractive economies that decimate communities' resources.

"Narratives like this sell not only because a 140-minute redemption arc can be written around them but also because they absolve their creators and viewers of any complicity in systemic issues," Keane said.

Even with a stellar cast — led by Amy Adams and Glenn Close, directed by Ron Howard — it's unlikely that "Hillbilly Elegy" will challenge that formula once it hits Netflix on Nov. 24. I'd love to be proven wrong, though.

"Fried Green Tomatoes," however, has an opportunity to insert additional nuance into a story that was flattened for the big screen in 1991.

Based on Fannie Flagg's 1987 novel "Fried Green Tomatoes at the Whistle Stop Cafe," the film adaptation is set in two distinct time periods. Jessica Tandy plays Ninny Threadgoode, a vibrant octogenarian, who entertains Evelyn Couch (Kathy Bates), a depressed housewife, with her tales of Depression-era Whistlestop, Alabama.

The main characters in her story are Idgie Threadgoode (Mary Stuart Masterson), her free-spirited sister-in-law, and Ruth Jamison (Mary-Louise Parker), who was Idgie's closest friend and eventual...well, the film kind of skirts around this part.

In the book, Idgie and Ruth's relationship is never explicitly sexual, but definitely is more grounded as a straightforward love story; at one point in the novel, Flagg writes, "When Idgie had grinned at her and tried to hand her that jar of honey, all these feelings that [Ruth] had been trying to hold back came flooding through her, and it was in that second in time that she knew she loved Idgie with all her heart."

This wasn't just BFF love, but the movie was certainly billed that way, perhaps, as Buzzfeed's Kate Aurthur suggests, in order to piggy-back off the success of "Thelma and Louise."

Aurthur also states in her essay, "Why 'Fried Green Tomatoes' Is A Lesbian Classic — Yes, Lesbian!," that Masterson once told her that, compared to the book, the movie was "redacted."

"We were talking at the Sundance Film Festival in 2016, when she played the mom of a queer teenage son in an indie movie called 'As You Are,'" Aurthur wrote. "When I brought up 'Fried Green Tomatoes' as a mainstream movie with a lesbian love story, she said some things had been cut that would have made the relationship more obvious. 'It wasn't a love scene, but there were, like — clearly a love relationship type of a fight, of jealousy,' she said. 'There was some more sensual kind of stuff in there. We were clearly playing that.'"

As I wrote in 2019, LGBTQ visibility and celebration in country music has come a long way since Chely Wright had received death threats and an industry-wide cold shoulder after coming out in 2010. Often, country music veers into a "trucks and beer" monolith that feels like it's solely made for white, straight consumption — an extension of those simplified stories told by and about rural communities.

Over the last decade, artists like Brandi Carlile, Lil Nas X, Kacey Musgraves, and Ty Herndon have stepped forward to complicate that narrative with songs that challenge the idea that rural communities are somehow devoid of queer love stories. The "Fried Green Tomatoes" reboot has the opportunity to do the same.

Will it? McEntire has long been a vocal propoent for LGBTQ rights, but there aren't many details available yet about the series. According to Variety, the hour-long drama project is "described as a modernization of the novel and movie that explores the lives of descendants from the original work. When present-day Idgie Threadgoode (McEntire) returns to Whistle Stop after a decade away, she must wrestle with a changed town, estranged daughter, faltering cafe and life-changing secret."

And while one hour-long special isn't going to undo decades of oversimplifying rural life, pop culture representation is important. It's a powerful lens through which viewers can both recognize themselves and come to better know people who exist outside their immediate orbit. People with lives and desires that, granted, can't be wholly encapsulated in a single film — but that doesn't mean the industry shouldn't strive for more careful, considered depictions.


White House documents expose the truth: Trump lied — and people died

President Donald Trump has known for over a month that new coronavirus infections have been soaring even as the White House has lied about the seriousness of the surge, documents released Tuesday by a leading Democratic lawmaker show.

HuffPost reports Rep. Jim Clyburn (D-S.C.), chair of the House Select Subcommittee on the Coronavirus Crisis, published six weekly White House Coronavirus Task Force reports (pdf)—dated August 16, August 23, August 30, September 6, September 13, and September 20—proving the administration has known since early September that Covid-19 infections were rising rapidly.

However, instead of being forthcoming with the American people and the world, Trump opted to hide the reports while spuriously claiming that the virus "affects virtually nobody"— even as it caused record infections and deaths in numerous states in September.

Not only did the administration fail to honestly inform the nation, Trump held several so-called superspreader rallies and other events in September, including in states hit hard by surging Covid-19 infections, such as Minnesota, North Carolina, and Wisconsin.

On October 1, Trump declared that "the end of the pandemic is in sight." The following day, he announced that he and First Lady Melania Trump had tested positive for coronavirus.

The reports also show that the White House was fully aware that the number of states in the so-called "red zone"—where new coronavirus cases rose above 100 per 100,000 people and where more than 10% of test results were positive—soared from 18 on September 13 to 31 on October 18.

On October 19, Trump told campaign staffers on a phone call that "people are tired of Covid... People are saying, 'Whatever. Just leave us alone.' They're tired of it. People are tired of hearing Fauci and all these idiots," a reference to National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Clyburn released a statement on Tuesday calling the reports proof that "Trump's contempt for science and refusal to lead during this crisis have allowed the coronavirus to surge."

"Contrary to his empty claims that the country is 'rounding the turn,' more states are now in the 'red zone' than ever before," Clyburn said. "It is long past time that the administration implement a national plan to contain this crisis, which is still killing hundreds of Americans each day and could get even worse in the months ahead."

Indeed, according to prominent University of Minnesota epidemiologist Dr. Michael Osterholm, "the darkest part of the pandemic [will occur] over the course of the next 12 weeks."

According to Johns Hopkins University, there have been more than 8.2 million confirmed Covid-19 cases and nearly 221,000 deaths in the United States, representing just under 20% of the global death toll of 1.12 million people.


Pat Robertson: 'The Lord told me' Trump will be reelected — and help set off the Apocalypse

Christian fundamentalist evangelical and televangelist Pat Robertson is predicting that President Donald Trump will win reelection and usher in the end of the world.

The 90-year-old Robertson, this week on his long-running show, "The 700 Club," predicted, "I want to say, without question, that Trump is going to win the election…. He's going to win; that, I think is a given."

Robertson went on to say that after Trump wins in November, major wars will follow. Those wars, according to Robertson, will be part of the End Times — and Christians who vote for Trump can help to bring that about.

The far-right evangelical argued, "We've never seen the likes of it before, but I want to relate to you again: there is going to be a war. Ezekiel 38 is going to be the next thing down the line. Then, a time of peace and then, maybe the end. But nobody knows the day or the hour when the Lord is going to come back. He said the angels don't know it, and only the Father knows it."

Trump's reelection, according to Robertson, will be part of a series of events in which Jesus Christ returns to Earth.

"I am saying that if things that people thought would be during the millennial time with the coming of Jesus, they are going to happen in our lifetime," Robertson told viewers. "And the next thing is the election that's coming up in just a few weeks — at which time, according to what I believe the Lord told me, the president is going to be reelected."

Robertson continued, "I'm saying by all means, get out and vote. Vote for whoever you want to vote for, but let your voice be heard. But it's going to lead to civil unrest and then, a war against Israel and so forth…. I think it's time to pray. But anyway, that is the word. You ask what's going to happen next, and that's what's going to happen next."

One of the most prominent figures in the far-right evangelical movement, Robertson founded the Christian Broadcasting Network in the early 1960s and launched "The 700 Club" in 1966. Robertson, the son of the late Democratic Sen. Absalom Willis Robertson, ran for president in 1988 but lost to Vice President George H.W. Bush in that year's GOP presidential primary.

Robertson has a long history of predicting the Apocalypse, going back to at least the 1970s. In 1976, Robertson predicted that the Apocalypse would occur in 1982 — and when that didn't happen, Robertson predicted, in 1990, that 2017 would be the year of the Apocalypse. But since the End Times didn't come about in 2017, Robertson now has high hopes that a second Trump term will mean the end of the world.

human rights

Pope Francis says same-sex couples should be ‘legally’ protected by civil unions

Pope Francis is calling for same-sex couples to be "legally" protected by civil union laws.

"Homosexuals have a right to be a part of the family," the Pope says in a new documentary, Catholic News Agency reports. "They're children of God and have a right to a family. Nobody should be thrown out, or be made miserable because of it."

Later, Pope Francis defended his remarks in the film, saying, "What we have to create is a civil union law. That way they are legally covered."

"I stood up for that," he added.

The Pope said nothing about the morality of same-sex relationships, which the Catholic Church still vehemently opposes.

The Vatican leader's remarks, while a step forward, show the Roman Catholic Church continues to treat LGBTQ people unequally.

Some are calling the Pope's remarks a "major shift," and a "long overdue moment." Others have noted to Catholics in countries where same-sex relationships or marriages are banned it is a welcome sign.

Pope Francis continues to oppose marriage for same-sex couples. He has a lengthy record of vacillating between making compassionate statements about same-sex couples and gay people, while denouncing in the strongest possible terms affording them the same rights and responsibilities as those in different-sex marriages.

In 2014, for example, Pope Francis called same-sex marriage "anthropological regression."

One year later he said same-sex marriage threatened to "disfigure God's plan." He later called marriages of same-sex couples "disfigured." Also in 2015 he announced support for constitutional bans on marriage and adoption by same-sex couples.

The following year Francis said the Catholic Church and Christians "must ask forgiveness" and "apologize" to gay people. In 2018 the Pope reportedly told a gay man, "God made you like this. God loves you like this. The Pope loves you like this and you should love yourself and not worry about what people say."

more news

Why one neurology expert says Trump’s ‘forward-leaning posture’ and ‘body tics’ are cause for serious concern

A professor of Neurology at George Washington University says he believes there may be legitimate concerns over President Donald J. Trump's "forward-listing posture" that goes beyond the comical memes and gif responses normally shared on social media.

"I know something about political figures and observable signs of illness from afar," Richard E. Cytowic M.D. wrote in Psychology Today. "… The American public deserves an accurate account of our president's health."

"While most frequently observed in Parkinson's Disease, the bent posture so evident in Trump may also be seen in Alzheimer's Dementia, movement disorders of the basal ganglia, and as the side effect of certain medications," Cytowic continued. "Also noted are the sudden, jerking movements of Trump's right arm. Since they occur only on one side, the prefix "hemi" is applied, while "ballistic" means sudden or flinging in the manner of a projectile. Trump's hemiballistic arm movements are evident in news clips from Memorial Day (also here via C-Span) at the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, as are his uncontrolled swaying and forward tilt. He is seen to grab his wayward arm with the left one in an effort to keep it under control."

President Trump at Tomb of the Unknown Soldier on Memorial Day.

While Trump "aced" a 10-minute mental status screening in August, Cytowic said "the test is one an average adult should easily pass. To a neurologist, his way of walking, posture, and jerky movements are concerning and in want of explanation."

According to Cytowic, "It is true that individuals who have balance and gait issues similar to those observed in Trump can have degenerative brain disease in the frontal lobes, such as fronto-temporal dementia or Pick's Disease. Other possibilities are normal pressure hydrocephalus, sensory ataxia, peripheral neuropathy, small lacunar strokes in the basal ganglia, supranuclear palsy, the effects of too many medications, and Parkinson's Disease, which can begin on one side and also show early cognitive impairment."

Regardless, "The president is a public figure whose judgment we must trust," Cytowic said. "The American public is entitled to know about his neurological health given the enormous responsibilities placed on our Commander in Chief."

Why experts are expecting a dark covid winter: 'Difficult months ahead'

If the COVID-19 pandemic behaves like the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, the worst could be yet to come. That outbreak caused a great deal of suffering during its initial wave, but an even deadlier second wave during the winter months of late 1918 and early 1919 saw the highest death count.

Because COVID-19 is a new disease, medical experts can't say for sure what happen this winter. But writer Smriti Mallapaty, this week in an article for the scientific journal Nature, stresses that some medical experts and scientists are sounding the alarm.

One of them is David Relman, a Stanford University microbiologist in California. According to Relman, "This virus is going to have a heyday. We are looking at some pretty sobering and difficult months ahead."

Mallapaty notes that "growing evidence suggests that a small seasonal effect will probably contribute to bigger outbreaks in winter, on the basis of what is known about how the virus spreads and how people behave in colder months."

Mauricio Santillana, a mathematician who models disease spread at Harvard University, told Nature that this winter, spending more times indoors in places with poor circulation could promote the spread of COVID-19. And Princeton University epidemiologist Rachel Baker told the publication, "By far, the biggest factor that will affect the size of an outbreak will be control measures such as social distancing and mask wearing."

Mallapaty observes: "Seasonal trends in viral infection are driven by multiple factors, including people's behavior and the properties of the virus; some don't like hot, humid conditions. Laboratory experiments reveal that SARS-CoV-2 favors cold, dry conditions — particularly out of direct sunlight."

Cory Merow, an ecologist at the University of Connecticut in Storrs, told Nature that during the winter months, "the risk goes up." But Merow added, "You can still dramatically reduce your risk by good personal behavior. The weather is a small drop in the pan."

In other words, the recommendations one typically hears from immunologist Dr. Anthony Fauci and other medical experts — practice social distancing, wear a protective face mask in public, avoid crowded indoor places, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face — will be good advice in the months ahead.

Mallapaty explains, "Whether a seasonal pattern emerges at all — and what it will look like — will depend on many factors that are yet to be understood, including how long immunity lasts, how long recovery takes and how likely it is that people can be reinfected, says Colin Carlson, a biologist who studies emerging diseases at Georgetown University in Washington D.C."

Here are the questions that caused Trump to walk out of his ‘60 Minutes’ interview with Lesley Stahl

The reason President Donald Trump stormed out of a "60 Minutes" interview with Lesley Stahl was that she asked about the Michigan rally in which his supporters began chanting "lock her up" about Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.

Trump held the rally over the weekend attacking her for not opening up the state back up when he wanted it.

"So you don't want to lock her up?" Stahl asked.

"That's such a vicious thing you just said," Trump claimed. "When did I say lock her up?"

Trump laughed when his audience chanted it and repeated the phrase. He then said that he hopes they "send her packing soon."

"I never said lock up the governor of Michigan," Trump disputed. "I would never say that. Why would I say that? Because she's doing lockdowns."

"You want to lock up the Bidens?" Stahl asked Trump.

"No, but they certainly should be looked at," Trump said. Over the past several days he's encouraged "lock him up" chants at rallies talking about the Biden family.

"You want to lock up Obama?" Stahl asked.

"No, I don't want to lock him up but he spied on my campaign," Trump falsely claimed. "You know what that is? Do you know what they did? Do you know how horrible it is what they did? You don't get it."

Trump never told Stahl what the FBI proved was done by Obama or Biden, but he did bring in a special counsel to investigate it and Trump's own Department of Justice hasn't been able to find anything.

Trump said that Biden likely will because he's "dishonest" and that Barr has been "very nice" and that he's ignored the "evidence." He didn't clarify what the evidence was.

"You know, I didn't want to have this kind of interview," Stahl then said.

"Yes, you did. Yes you did," Trump said. "Well, you brought up a bunch of subjects that were inappropriately brought up. They were inappropriately brought up. Right from the beginning. No your first question was, 'This is going to be tough questions.' Well–"

"You're president. Don't you think you think you should be accountable to the American people?" she asked.

"No, no, listen, your first statement to me, 'This is going to be tough questions,'" Trump said. "Well, I don't mind that. But when you set up the interview you didn't say that."

A staffer ultimately interviewed and said that they only had about five more minutes, but Trump said that they were finished and walked out.

See the video below – about the last five minutes.

Trump's final debate performance was a disaster -- according to undecided voters at CNN watch party

President Donald Trump had one last chance to sway undecided voters during the highly anticipated debate against Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden but it looks like he may have bombed that opportunity.

On Thursday evening, CNN compiled a panel of 11 undecided voters in Davidson, North Carolina who watched the debate and weighed in with their opinions of the candidates' performance.

At one point during the debate, undecided voters focused on Trump and Biden's arguments about the economy amid the coronavirus pandemic. While Trump stressed the importance of reopening the economy, Biden argued that the United States of America is comprised of 50 states and none are categorized and separated as red and blue states.

Among undecided voters, those remarks "were the highest-rated comments by each candidate, according to our panel here of undecided voters," Tuchman told Wolf Blitzer. "The second-biggest moment" was Biden's closing remarks on what he would say to people who didn't vote for him. The lowest moment? Trump's claim to be "the least racist person in this room."

"Yeah, it wasn't a positive reaction, Wolf, as you saw," Tuchman said. "At the very least, it was a bit presumptuous to say something like that."

Who won the final debate? Here's what undecided voters thought

When asked where they stand, the last four undecided voters admitted that they still have not decided on a presidential candidate. In fact, they are waiting until November 3 to vote just in case any additional information is released that could sway their decision.

One undecided voter even revealed the confirmation of Supreme Court Judge Amy Coney Barrett is a strong determining factor in how he will vote.

"Well, I'm pro-life, so I'd like to see, you know, whether Judge [Amy Coney] Barrett gets on the court," he said. If she Barrett, "I'll probably vote for Biden," because "I think that he is a stronger leader who is more willing to support fair elections and lead both parties more back toward the center and away from extremism."

If Barrett is not confirmed, that undecided voter will likely vote for Trump..

How BlackRock is on track to infiltrate a Biden administration

The Democratic base, still scarred from the 2016 election, is frantic not to count its chickens before they hatch. But Wall Street and corporate America have no such qualms. As Joe Biden leads in national polls and swing states, the most powerful firms in the country are seeking assurances that his administration won't crack down on their crimes.

For many, that means tapping the Obama-era alumni and other well-connected Democrats whom they've strategically hired to see who's ready to take a trip through the revolving door. This is why prominent House progressives like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Katie Porter have called on Biden to ban corporate appointees from his administration.

The bellwether for corporate infiltration of a Democratic administration is BlackRock, the world's largest asset manager in charge of $7.32 trillion across the global economy. Hillary Clinton's campaign actively courted BlackRock CEO Larry Fink in 2016, and he quietly built out a full Treasury Department-in-waiting of well-established Democrats ready to keep oversight of mischievous financiers light. In the years since, BlackRock has only gotten larger, which means it only has more to lose from a muscular Biden administration. So what does BlackRock care about from the next administration, and whom might they seed in a Biden administration to get it?

BlackRock is the world's largest investor in fossil fuels, an industry (ironically) gasping for air during the pandemic. Yet BlackRock is currently trying to close a massive new stake in Saudi Aramco, the mostly state-owned oil company of Saudi Arabia. Saudi Arabia's atrocities in Yemen and the brutal murder of Jamal Khashoggi did nothing to slow Fink's business with the Kingdom—he personally attended a confab with the Saudi finance minister in Riyadh six months after Khashoggi's death, and one day after Mohammed bin Salman's government executed 37 people, including one via crucifixion.

Biden's promises on environmental and foreign policy run counter to protecting a Saudi oil pipeline just because an American investment titan has a stake in it. Yet BlackRock Investment Institute Chairman Tom Donilon is reportedly in the running to be Biden's secretary of state. Donilon was Obama's national security adviser, and his brother Mike is a longtime confidante of Biden's. Why might a top investment firm hire someone with no apparent prior money-management experience to run a major division? Perhaps it is the possibility of political influence.

Donilon isn't the only prominent Democrat at BlackRock who is talking to the Biden campaign. It was reported in August that BlackRock's Brian Deese has "been working with" Biden's campaign. Before he came to BlackRock, Deese helped negotiate the Paris climate accord for Obama. As global head of sustainable investing at BlackRock, Deese analyzes "climate risk." That company phrase doesn't necessarily mean steering clients away from investments that destroy the planet. It means, in the words of the New Republic's John Patrick Leary, "making sure that your investment portfolio earns the highest returns despite climate change or even from climate change."

Then there's Mike Pyle, the chief investment strategist at the BlackRock Investment Institute and a former Obama economic aide. He advised Senator Kamala Harris during her primary run for the presidency, giving him an insider connection to the would-be vice president.

Pyle was an adviser to Peter Orszag, a prominent austerity advocate of the early Obama years. BlackRock's CEO is big on balancing the budget; Fink was on the billionaire-backed Campaign to Fix the Debt from day one, and while he seems to have accepted deficit spending to deal with the immediate pandemic, "in the next 10-15 years, it [deficit spending] could be a problem," he said in September. Those of us who recognize massive public investment is indispensable to preventing irreversible climate change over the next 10 years will be sad to hear that, in BlackRock's eyes, we just can't afford to stop a climate apocalypse.

But it isn't just the Orszag connection that could make Pyle valuable to BlackRock—he was also a senior adviser in Obama's Treasury Department to Lael Brainard, who's now the likeliest candidate for Treasury Secretary. Among other duties, the treasury secretary chairs the board of regulators who designate firms "systemically important," aka too big to fail. BlackRock waged a multiyear lobbying war under Obama to avoid that designation, despite managing more than twice the total assets of JPMorgan Chase. These days, people are paying more attention to what happens at obscure (but important) regulatory meetings, but insider figures like Pyle could help BlackRock maintain that lack of accountability under Biden.

BlackRock has also done plenty of business with the federal government itself during the pandemic. The Federal Reserve has pushed billions of dollars out the door to prop up corporate stocks, and it hired BlackRock to help do it. In fact, the Fed has been buying up BlackRock's own investment products in its effort to save American big business—unsurprisingly, this has been very good for BlackRock's bottom line. Expect plenty of backroom lobbying from BlackRock over any potential appointees who would ask questions about the conflicts of interest baked into this business model.

Some might say that Donilon, Deese, and Pyle are merely giving advice to Biden and Harris on a handful of policy issues. But advice isn't often offered out of the kindness of one's heart in Washington or on Wall Street.

And for a presidential front-runner, Biden's campaign has remained remarkably obscure on any number of policy issues, making it hard for those outside of the back rooms to tell what the candidate actually wants to do besides win. Take, for example, campaign adviser Jake Sullivan telling Bloomberg that Biden will retain a "laser focus on the long-term fiscal health of the United States" in August, and then telling Politico that "we are going to need a significant magnitude of investment" in September. Is Biden a deficit hawk or a big spender? The answer seems to shift with the wind.

All of this means it's even more important for Biden to lock the revolving door and commit to public-minded appointees across his executive-branch-to-be. Every nominee will be a signal of where the candidate ultimately stands, which is perhaps why his personnel deliberations have attracted unusually high attention from the press for a campaign that hasn't even won yet. BlackRock is among those likely to be closely watching those deliberations, which means the enemies of BlackRock's regressive policy preferences need to keep their eyes peeled on personnel.

Max Moran is a research assistant at the Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR)'s Revolving Door Project, which aims to increase scrutiny on executive branch appointments.

This article was produced in partnership by the Center for Economic and Policy Research and Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Federal prosecutors allege far-right 'Boogaloo' member tried to incite a riot during George Floyd protests

President Donald Trump and many of his allies in the right-wing media have been claiming that most or all of the political violence that has occurred in the United States following the death of George Floyd in Minneapolis on May 25 has come from the left — totally overlooking the history of violence associated with the Proud Boys, QAnon and a variety of white nationalist and militia groups. But federal prosecutors accused a Texas-based member of the far-right Boogaloo Bois on Friday of going to Minneapolis in late May with the intention of taking part in a riot.

Ivan Harrison Hunter is facing criminal charges for firing a semiautomatic weapon into a Minneapolis police precinct during the protests.

"Federal agents reviewed a video taken on the night of May 28 that shows an individual, later identified as Hunter, firing 13 rounds from an AK-47 style semiautomatic rifle into the Minneapolis Police Department's Third Precinct building," KARE-TV, the NBC affiliate in Minneapolis, reports. "Law enforcement recovered discharged rifle casings from the scene that are consistent with an AK-47-style firearm."

According to KARE, "Investigators say they recovered social media posts Hunter made upon his return to Texas, describing his illegal activities in Minneapolis. They allege he was communicating with Michael Solomon, a Minneapolis resident and member of the Boogaloo Bois who is federally charged with providing support to a terrorist organization, along with an associate named Benjamin Teeter."

The Boogaloo Bois are an extremist far-right movement that call for a second civil war in the United States and favor violent confrontations with law enforcement and politicians. In Northern California, Boogaloo supporter Steven Carrillo is facing murder charges for his role in a late May shooting in Oakland that left a Federal Protective Service officer dead. And some of the 13 men arrested in connection with a plot to kidnap and possibly murder Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are believed by law enforcement to be connected to the Boogaloo movement; others allegedly involved in that plot, according to the FBI, were part of the Wolverine Watchmen, a far-right militia group.

Our long national nightmare may soon be over: Critics and voters dump on Trump after final 2020 debate

President Donald Trump is known for his sideshow antics and projectionism tactics that he typically uses to avoid being held accountable for his unfavorable actions and irrational decisions but now it looks like the jig may be up.

Trump's tactics may have worked against former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in 2016, but things were a bit different during the president's final debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden.

During the debate, Trump worked overtime to make Biden out to be unfit for the presidency. At multiple points during the debate, Trump took jabs at the former vice president's son, Hunter Biden. However, the seemingly farfetched allegations did not garner the reaction or deliver the type of blow Trump may have hoped for.

The president also accused Biden of receiving $3.5 million from China. However, Trump may not have counted on Biden flipping the script. Each time, Trump attacked, Biden had a strong argument to counter the president's remarks. Even Trump's theatrics failed to take the audience's attention off of his inadequacy and lack of substance.

According to the CNN poll taken after the debate concluded, the vast majority of viewers believe Biden won the debate which further proves that the president's argumentative tactics were not as effective as he may have expected. The publication reports that 53% of the debate viewers believe Biden won the debate and managed to maintain his ground.

Here is the breakdown of CNN's poll results:

Thursday's debate watchers preferred Trump over Biden on the economy (56% say they think Trump would better handle it vs. 44% who say Biden would), and divided about evenly between the two on foreign policy (50% prefer Biden, 48% Trump). Biden held a wide edge as more trusted to handle the coronavirus (57% Biden to 41% Trump), climate change (67% Biden to 29% Trump) and racial inequality in the US (62% Biden to 35% Trump).

As a result of the president's arguments and theatrics amid his war on mail-in voting, more than 45 million voters have already taken the initiative to vote early which may also have a great impact on the outcome of the election. Although Trump believes his actions may help his presidential campaign, there is a possibility that it could backfire on him.

Biden's new plan for the Supreme Court sounds like a disaster in the making

Former Vice President Joe Biden on Thursday finally fleshed out his answer on the question of court-packing, which he had studiously avoided following the death of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.

While his strategic silence had given hope to some who favor expanding the size of the Supreme Court, his new remarks are much more concerning.

"If elected what I will do is I'll put together a national commission of -- bipartisan commission of -- scholars, constitutional scholars, Democrats, Republicans, liberal, conservative, and I will ask them to over 180 days come back to me with recommendations as to how to reform the court system because it's getting out of whack, the way in which it's being handled," Biden said in a clip of an interview with CBS's "60 Minutes."

"And it's not about court packing," he continued. "There's a number of other things that constitutional scholars have debated and I've looked to see what recommendations that commission might make."

This answer has some virtue. It finally gives Biden a solid answer to a question he seemed to be dodging, which may put him on slightly firmer ground when talking about the issue. To the extent voters are looking for measured, moderate proposals from a presidential candidate, it may offer some reassurance. Most of all, it helps take the issue off the table for him for the next two weeks, allowing for him to focus on issues where he thinks he's strongest: fighting the pandemic and uniting the country.

But that's where the advantages end. As a substantive plan, it could well be a disaster.

The problem is that Biden, along with many other establishment Democrats, doesn't seems to quite realize how dire a threat a 6-3 conservative majority on the Supreme Court poses. On a wide range of progressive issues, including abortion, Obamacare, voting rights, environmental regulation, immigrants' rights, freedom from religion, consumers' rights, workers' rights, LGBTQ rights, and D.C. statehood, the right-wing court could prove to be an immovable impediment. And on any number of obscure issues of statutory interpretation, a conservative court could find creative ways to thwart Democrats' policy goals and electoral ambitions. This is a five-alarm fire for the progressive agenda.

That's why many have concluded that expanding the court is necessary. Previous congresses have changed the size of the court many times, and it is clearly entirely constitutional. Republicans will doubtless cry foul, but so what? The era of hyperpartisanship has reached the court, as it always inevitably would. Unilateral surrender is not a reasonable option in the face of a court that will be bent on undermining the will of the majority of voters on countless issues.

The problem with a commission that Biden suggests is that it's also unlikely to see things this way, precisely because they're bipartisan. This commission will not be inclined to suggest a plan the results in a partisan advantage for the Democrats — indeed, it seems designed to intentionally avoid such a result.

The idea of depoliticizing the court, in theory, would be a good one. There are several ways people have imagined restructuring and constraining the court that would lower the stakes of the partisan fights over the judiciary: term limits, jurisdiction stripping, leaving the court with an even number of justices, supermajority requirements for striking down legislation. These ideas could be a boon for the country, because they would allow the main partisan fights to take place in the elected branches of government, as they should.

But here's the problem: There's no guarantee that any of the ideas to depoliticize the court would themselves be constitutional. And who would get to decide if the plan is constitutional? The court itself. It's hard to believe the conservative-majority Supreme Court would be willing to cede its power to a dispassionate plan to depoliticize the court; certainly, a Democratic president shouldn't bet the progressive policy agenda on it happening.

The commission may end up recommending that the United States adopt a new constitutional amendment to reform the court, circumventing the need for the court's approval. But this runs into a very similar problem. Many Republicans across the country would have to get on board to pass a constitutional amendment, and there's no reason to believe they would when they've already secured the Supreme Court of their dreams.

That leaves expanding the court as the best option. But having the commission and an alternative (if futile) recommendation in place would likely undermine any effort by Democrats to add new progressive justices, because critics would wail that Biden's own commission was being ignored.

The predictable process of the commission would also eat up valuable time. Fighting over expanding the court and appointing new justices would be extremely controversial, so if Biden gets elected, he would be best off pushing through this fight as soon as possible. It might be unpopular, but it could be necessary to enacting the rest of his agenda, much of which is popular. If he backloads all the popular policies into the second half of his first two years in office, he may stand a chance of avoiding the midterm backlash that often comes along with a new administration. If he were to keep majorities in Congress after 2022, he could have a full four years as a productive, legislating president — potentially surpassing President Barack Obama's achievements in his first term.

Critics of court-packing often say that the tactic will only result in a tit-for-tat partisan competition, and Republicans will simply expand the court once they have full control of Congress and the White House. But an expanded court could allow Democrats to push through a series of pro-democracy reforms, which would make it harder for the current radicalized GOP to maintain power without moderating its most extreme views. And Democrats can also just accept that a continuous tug-of-war for control of the Supreme Court is a reasonable alternative to living with a conservative-dominated court that could crush any of the party's best plans for the country.

Trump did it again — the same blackmail scheme that got him impeached

Back thousands of years ago, in February of 2020, Sen. Susan Collins of Maine, a "moderate" Republican, justified her vote to acquit Donald Trump at his impeachment trial — despite the mountains of evidence of guilt — by claiming that Trump had learned his lesson.

"I believe that the president has learned from this case," Collins told CBS news anchor Norah O'Donnell at the time. "The president has been impeached — that's a pretty big lesson."

That excuse was preposterous at the time, making it sound like Trump was a child who had his hand in the cookie jar, not a 73-year-old man caught abusing his powers of office to blackmail the Ukrainian president into propping up conspiracy theories about Joe Biden. But it was also hilariously predictable that Trump, who is incapable of learning or growing as a person, would absorb any moral lessons from being impeached.

Trump didn't learn anything. In fact, he's only escalated the very same botched conspiracy that got him impeached, only this time around he's abusing his power on the home front, instead of in a distant nation most Americans couldn't find on a map.

Truth told, Trump demonstrated his failure to learn within days of his acquittal, first by bragging about it and then pivoting to lying about the Democrats. Since then, he's gone right back to abusing his power to fabricate lies about his opponent. He and former New York mayor Rudy Giuliani — along with Giuliani's buddy Andrii Derkach, a Ukrainian legislator with ties to Russian intelligence — eventually returned to the very scheme that got Trump impeached in the first place: am attempt to counterfeit evidence that Hunter Biden, Joe Biden's son, had somehow dragged his father into a corrupt scheme. It's a claim with literally no evidence to support it, no matter how much Trump and Giuliani repeat the accusation.

On Wednesday evening, Devlin Barrett and Josh Dawsey of the Washington Post reported that Trump has threatened to fire FBI Director Christopher Wray — who, lest we forget, was appointed by Trump after the firing of James Comey — unless Wray announces a phony investigation into Biden that Trump can use as last-minute ammunition in the presidential campaign.

"Trump wants official action similar to the announcement made 11 days before the last presidential election by then-FBI Director James B. Comey," Barrett and Dawsey write, referring to Comey's infamous announcement that "he had reopened an investigation into [Hillary] Clinton's use of a private email server while she was secretary of state after potential new evidence had been discovered."

That investigation resulted in no damning information about Clinton, which was entirely predictable. Clinton had been thoroughly investigated for years without a speck of meaningful dirt turned up on her. But that announcement did help turn an election Clinton should have won to Trump's favor: It caused a surge of undecided voters to break for Trump at the last minute, allowing him to win several important swing states by razor-thin margins.

So there's one thing Trump was capable of learning: The value of fake scandals to distract from serious issues, such as his own corruption and incompetence. And he's hoping for a repeat, which is why he's pressuring Wray to pull a Comey against Biden.

But in doing so — and in "considering" whether to fire Wray if he doesn't — Trump is doing the exact same thing that got him impeached: Pressuring a government official to announce a phony investigation into his opponent, and threatening to use the powers of his office to punish that person if they don't comply. This time Trump is targeting a Senate-confirmed official who leads a federal law enforcement agency rather than a foreign leader.

For those who have grown hazy on the details of Trump's impeachment — which is understandable, since there have been dozens, if not hundreds, of Trump-caused crises since then — a quick recap: In the summer of 2019, Trump called the newly elected president of Ukraine, Volodymyr Zelensky, and told him that the U.S. would withhold military aid (which had been authorized by Congress) unless Zelensky did Trump "a favor." That favor was to announce an "investigation" into Biden aimed at propping up the convoluted conspiracy theory about Hunter Biden, a Ukrainian gas company and a fired Ukrainian prosecutor that Giuliani and Trump were trying to push into the mainstream media.

Zelensky clearly felt uneasy participating in a scheme to smear an innocent man's reputation, but Ukraine desperately needed the military aid to fight Russian aggression. Luckily for Zelensky, he was spared from this blackmail scheme by a whistleblower and Trump's eventual impeachment for abusing his office.

Now Trump is doing to Wray what he did to Zelensky. The only difference is that Trump's leverage in this case is limited: He can dismiss the FBI director at any time, having already done so once, but that's about it. With Zelensky, Trump's threats carried a lot more weight.

Either way, the basic story is the same: Trump is demanding that a government official abuse his powers and launch a completely phony investigation based on made-up charges, for Trump's political benefit. In fact, Trump has reportedly made similar threats about Attorney General Bill Barr, because the Justice Department's bogus special-counsel investigation of the Russia investigation evidently hasn't turned up anything Trump can use to bolster his conspiracy theories about the Democrats. (If Barr, the most dogged and ruthless of Trump's sycophants, is in trouble, things in the White House are getting really bad.)

There's a word for all this: Blackmail.

Unfortunately, the media coverage about the attacks on Wray (and on Barr) or about the latest ridiculous wrinkles in Rudy Giuliani's harebrained schemes all too often fails to provide the necessary context. It doesn't remind readers that none of this is new, and that in fact all these developments are part of the same conspiracy that got Trump impeached. The Washington Post article on the threats against Wray fails to use the word "impeachment" or to mention that Trump is treating Wray exactly as he treated Zelensky. And although mainstream media has emphasized the most important aspects of Giuliani's efforts to smear Biden — that Giuliani is not credible and is believed by U.S. intelligence to be spreading Russian disinformation — most articles don't explain that Giuliani is still working the same plot that got his celebrity client (quite likely his only client) impeached.

It's as if G. Gordon Liddy kept burglarizing various Democratic offices after the Watergate break-in, but the reporting on his later crimes failed to mention the first one. Our national situation is an ongoing catastrophe, no doubt. But is it really too much to expect journalists to explain that Trump keeps on doing the very thing he was impeached for doing?

Either way, the situation shows that Trump, despite all his chaotic crazy-uncle ranting, doesn't actually have a lot of tricks in his bag. The only thing he knows how to do is cheat — and the only way he knows how to cheat is by threatening and blackmailing other people to do the work for him. Without that, he's got nothing.

Alabama Lt. Gov. tests positive for COVID after condemning governor's mask mandate

Lt. Gov. Will Ainsworth (R) pushed back against masks when Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey (R) ordered statewide mask mandate amid the state's coronavirus surge and its increase in COVID-related deaths. Now, he has tested positive for coronavirus.

On Wednesday, Ainsworth released a statement confirming his positive COVID status. He revealed that a fellow church member was found to have the virus, which led to the lieutenant governor to get tested. Subsequently, the 39-year-old Republican tested positive for the virus.

"After being notified this afternoon that a member of my Sunday school church group had acquired the coronavirus, I was tested out of an abundance of caution and received notice that the results proved positive," Ainsworth said.

Ainsworth's positive COVID status comes just months after he criticized Ivey for the state's mask mandate as he claimed mask-wearing "infringes" upon the rights of business owners and individuals. At the time, Ainsworth took to Twitter to voice his concerns.

"Wearing a face mask and maintaining social distancing are among the best ways to slow the spread of COVID-19," Ainsworth tweeted. "However, it's an overstep that infringes upon the property rights of business owners and the ability of individuals to make their own health decisions."

Despite Ainsworth's stance on the state's mask mandate, he claims that he always abided by coronavirus mitigation guidelines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"Because I follow social distancing rules and wear a mask both in church and in my daily interactions, the positive result shows that even those of us who are the most cautious can be at risk," Ainsworth also said in his latest statement.

Ainsworth's positive COVID status comes as Alabama faces yet another gradual resurgence of coronavirus. In the last two weeks, Alabama has reported more than 15,000 new COVID cases, according to the state's health department. As of Thursday, October 22, there are more than 177,000 confirmed cases statewide.

Termination of this top Pentagon official reveals another disturbing pattern in the Trump administration

Warren Whitlock enjoyed a remarkable career as a diversity officer at the federal Transportation Department, winning victories for poor communities of color that his superiors thought impossible. There's even a documentary film about his success in getting municipal bus service for a Black neighborhood in Beavercreek, Ohio, that had been intentionally bypassed.

In its waning days of the Obama era, the Army chose Whitlock to become one of its highest-ranking Black civilians. His task: resolve diversity issues that had languished for years, some since George Herbert Walker Bush was commander-in-chief nearly three decades ago.

This is the first of two parts about the firing of Warren Whitlock. Next: The Pentagon official comes under a second investigation while someone else gets his job.

After Trump became president, Whitlock encountered a very different situation. He found himself reporting to Diane Randon, a white woman who defended in writing keeping the names of Civil War traitors on streets at a U.S. Army base in Brooklyn. According to Randon's Linkedin profile, she is currently the Army's assistant deputy chief of staff, G2 (military intelligence).

Behind Whitlock's back, testimony later revealed, she denigrated him. Twice the boss ordered unauthorized investigations of Whitlock. In private, it was learned later, she maneuvered to get rid of Whitlock whose title was "Deputy Assistant Secretary of the Army for Diversity and Leadership."

A Whitlock subordinate who has long been friendly with his boss called him vile names behind his back, testimony would later reveal.

Whitlock, a Princeton graduate with a master's degree from Columbia, had a strong performance record.

The Army abruptly fired Whitlock in January 2019, even though he had a pending racial discrimination complaint which is supposed to prevent retaliatory actions by our government. The way Whitlock was fired denied him an opportunity to correct an administrative mistake he made. The firing order also left Whitlock without his pension or health insurance.

Whitlock's dismissal, reported here for the first time, could be seen as just one unfortunate example of mistreatment of an employee. But a DCReport investigation shows it is much more. It is a case with broad implications for our entire federal workforce. It reveals the effects of the Trump Administration's efforts to make the highest civilian ranks of our government as white as possible.

Trump's Never-Settle Policy

Whitlock, 62, faces a tough fight because in May 2018 Donald Trump issued an executive order that discourages settlements between federal agencies and employees in job discrimination cases.

Even if an employee wins, proving at trial that they were wrongly disciplined or fired, Trump's order prohibits removing negative information from their personnel file. That makes advancement to a bigger job almost impossible. It also undermines the integrity of government records.

In addition to that directive, Trump demonstrated his scorn for people of color and diversity in the federal workforce when he signed another executive order in September 2020. That one ended diversity training in our federal government, including the military branches, asserting this was necessary to "combat offensive and anti-American race and sex stereotyping and scapegoating."

The order said any training that suggests whites have dominated society or acted other than in a spirit of equality "perpetuates racial stereotypes and division and can use subtle coercive pressure to ensure conformity of viewpoint. Such ideas may be fashionable in the academy, but they have no place in programs and activities supported by Federal taxpayer dollars."

Whitlock's firing also sent a signal to federal executives who are people of color: Be afraid for your jobs.

Fear is a performance killer. But fear is what Trump spread in his faux reality television shows for 14 seasons where contestants anxiously tried to escape being told, "You're fired." Many of those "fired" actually did good or even their best work, as close observers of the show have noted.

So, what was the conduct that justified removing Whitlock with his outstanding record of accomplishments? What justified humiliation instead of, say, letting the man retire? Or just giving him a talking to and moving on?

One Keystroke

Whitlock's unforgivable offense was punching the wrong key on an Army computer. One keystroke.

That mistake sent a draft performance evaluation of a subordinate from Whitlock's desktop work computer to the Army's clunky personnel software system known as AutoNOA. Whitlock should have sent the final version.

No other Army civilian has been fired for a similar "administrative error," specifically for "accidentally uploading a wrong document."

We know that damning fact only because the administrative law judge hearing Whitlock's civil rights case seeking to get his job back-extracted it from an Army witness. Indeed, the 2019 hearing record shows only one other person who made a similar mistake was ever disciplined. That person was allowed to retire.

You might think the way to fix the problem of sending the wrong file internally would be to just pull it back and send the final performance evaluation. You might think that someone who makes a keypunching error ought to be given the opportunity to undo the mistake, especially if they have been diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder or ADHD. Federal law is supposed to protect workers with disabilities, including ADHD.

Unauthorized Investigations

You also might ask whether such a mistake is even worth putting in anyone's personnel file. And it's just as reasonable to ask why the Army isn't investigating the woman who got Whitlock removed over that single keystroke since she orchestrated two unauthorized investigations of Whitlock, a breach of an Army regulation that seems far more serious.

But this is the Trump administration, the most racist since Woodrow Wilson more than a century ago. Despite Trump's claims of being "the least racist person" of all time, the president talks in racist terms all the time. He has a half-century record, documented informal proceedings, of discriminating against Blacks, women, Asians and Puerto Ricans.

Trump civilian appointees in the Army seem intent on doing and spending whatever it takes to make sure Whitlock stays fired even if it means granting retroactive approval for unauthorized actions that harmed him.

The costs of fighting Whitlock's case are relevant because Trump often boasts about how much money he saves taxpayers through random cuts in government services—like the pandemic national security team that former President Barack Obama had installed in the White House.

But when it comes to taking maximum advantage of any opportunity to rid the federal civil service of a Black man or Black woman in a high position, especially those who achieve results, the de facto Trump administration policy is to spare no expense.

That Whitlock transferred to the Army during the Obama years was also a strike against him, at least in the current administration, which is determined to wipe out every success, large or small, by America's first Black president.

Ghoulish Legal Algebra

In Whitlock's case, there's also a ghoulish algebra to the Trump administration's refusal to settle. Before his firing, doctors told Whitlock that he had a form of blood cancer that disproportionately afflicts Blacks.

Meanwhile, the Army is stalling (which Trump would applaud) and has made a false claim in trying to get his case transferred away from largely Black juries in Washington to conservative, white and government-friendly Northern Virginia.

That's Trump & Co.'s ghoulish algebra—delay forever.

Trump's merciless policies were taught to him by his longtime personal lawyer, the man he calls his second father, the notorious Roy Cohn. As consigliere to Mafiosi and fixer supremo for Manhattan's and Washington's political and economic elite, Cohn taught Trump that the law isn't about justice, right and wrong, or even rules. It's about how those with no shame can lie, cheat and steal with impunity, something Trump says in his book The Art of the Deal.

Cohn taught Trump never to apologize, never acknowledge an error, never settle; delay, delay, delay and always attack, attack, attack.

Throughout his career, Trump has used stalling tactics to run up the legal bills of the other side hoping they would run out of money, miss a filing deadline or go broke. We are witnessing that right now as he fights a subpoena issued to his accounting firm for financial records, a case he has taken twice to the Supreme Court.

There are also the more than two dozen women who have accused him of molesting or raping them who are encountering agonizing stall tactics. Trump makes people pay a price for being what Southern racists call Black people who don't know their place -- uppity.

This means the government's lawyers aren't going to settle job discrimination cases, even when the facts against our government are, as with Whitlock, overwhelmingly against our government.

Obliterating Obama's Actions

"From the time the Obama people left in January 2017, and the Trump people came in, I was under attack by my new boss," Whitlock said during interviews for this story.

His new boss was Diane Randon, a 30-year civilian in the military.

"She was openly hostile from the start," he said. An outside contractor confirmed that during a multi-day hearing of Whitlock's case before a Merit Systems Protection Board administrative law judge in 2019.

The contractor, who advises the Navy and Army on diversity issues, testified she was surprised by Randon's open animosity toward Whitlock during a meeting held shortly after Trump's inauguration. Randon just replaced Whitlock's boss.

The consultant, Renee Yuengling, said she only recently met Randon.

Yuengling testified that during the meeting Randon tried to "trap" Whitlock into saying something positive about one of the preferred diversity policies of Obama's outgoing secretary of the Army, Eric Fanning. That matters because in the Trump administration anything Obama did was bad and must be undone, be it the Affordable Care Act or something as relatively minor as a positive comment by one civil servant.

Yuengling declined to comment on her testimony.

"Diane wanted me out of my position from the beginning of her detail to Manpower & Reserve Affairs Division," Whitlock told DCReport. "I spent the next two years defending myself from a series of spurious allegations instead of being allowed to modernize that office and its mission."

Randon did not respond to multiple messages seeking her side of the story. The Army also repeatedly declined official comment.

Former Army secretary Fanning was among those who praised Whitlock in interviews. "Warren is a terrific employee," but faced resistance from top to bottom, Fanning told DCReport.

Renee Yuengling's testimony

Fanning said modernizing the Army's approach to diversity issues was difficult. "Even when I was there, we were getting push-back" from high-level employees as well as the regulars who had dealt with the Equal Opportunity Office. "We were promoting diversity as a positive, not punitive outcome, trying to get more diversity into the higher ranks which were and are still very white and male," Fanning said.

Fanning wanted the Army to think about diversity the way that the corporate world has come to embrace, as a way to increase efficiency, improve effectiveness and grow profits. "We see diversity's goal as enhancing efficiency of the unit, performance in the command, and therefore the overall success of the mission," Fanning told DCReport.

One of Whitlock's predecessors in the Army diversity office said the panel that chose Whitlock should have instead named someone with Army experience, who knew the "culture."

But Karl Schneider, a member of the Army panel who has 44 years of experience as a soldier and Army civilian, said most of the panelists "wanted someone outside the Army culture."

Other panelists gave lengthy interviews about what they said was a need to invigorate the diversity office and their belief that Whitlock's track record demonstrated that was the best person for the job. DCReport is not quoting them because we avoid using unnamed sources.

Whitlock agreed with Fanning that his problems came from below as well as above. "The deputy I inherited, I learned, was an acquaintance of Diane's for more than 20 years. They acted like old friends… Now that I've seen the documents and emails, it looks like the two of them worked in concert from the beginning to undermine me and my mission."

Both Randon and Whitlock's deputy, Seema Salter, testified that although they knew each other for decades and attended professional meetings together, they were not close friends.

Salter was certainly not a friend of Whitlock, her boss. In December 2016, Salter unloaded on Whitlock in unusual terms to Yuengling, the diversity consultant.

Salter "said something about his 'ADHD ass'," Yuengling testified at the merit systems board hearing.

Violating a Confidence

"I was shocked by that because she was revealing someone's disability to me that I didn't have a right to know about, and it was fairly derogatory in the way that she said it," Yuengling testified.

"Then she [Salter] said 'I'm going to take that motherfucker down,'" Yuengling testified.

Yuengling said she quickly left to avoid being part of a negative conversation about "the client." Salter testified that she had indeed used "motherfucker" to describe Whitlock.

Whitlock didn't learn about that encounter until much later. Nor did he know that around March 15, 2017, less than two months after Trump assumed office, that he was secretly placed under investigation by the Army.

Randon had arranged for a "15-6" investigation that both Army and Army civilians dread, as we shall soon see. The number refers to an Army regulation.

Justification for Firing

What was the justification for that investigation: Theft? Revealing secrets? Having sex in a Pentagon office? Using slurs?

None of those. It was about one of several annual awards that long-timers in Whitlock's office handled to honor the Army's achievements in diversity.

Several months after Whitlock moved from the Department of Transportation to the Army in late 2016, one of Whitlock's assistants, Margo Barfield, asked him to nominate someone for the Stars and Stripes Award at the upcoming Black Engineer of the Year Award (BEYA) conference.

Every February, American military officials from around the globe fly to Washington to attend the annual BEYA meeting celebrating African-American achievements in science and technology in the military and defense industries.

Whitlock, a member of the Senior Executive Service, felt that lower-level people should handle such conference matters.

"I was running around working on things like expanding religious rights and using resumes without photos attached for promotion applications. I was like, 'You're kidding me: I'm involved in awards?' " Whitlock said.

Barfield, his assistant, suggested an award for Lt. Col. Cynthia Lightner, who was Whitlock's executive officer, testimony showed. Barfield told him that Lightner was very experienced and was planning to retire later the next year. The award would be appropriate as her send-off. Whitlock agreed. Barfield began the paperwork.

Protocol Questions

Soon after the conference ended Randon began asking about the awards. What protocol had Whitlock followed in choosing Lightner for the Stars and Stripes?

That question became the focus of the first of two unauthorized investigations. It was unauthorized because, in 2015, the secretary of the Army under Obama issued an order that any investigation of high-level civilian employees known as SES for Senior Executive Service first required "written approval" from the Civilian Senior Leader Management Office.

That approval was not sought, but later a Trump appointee applied a form of backdating to hide this failure. Whitlock knew nothing of the investigation.

A two-star general wrote the single-spaced 10-page investigative report in May 2017. Whitlock and his lawyer David Shapiro would not see the report until 18 months later, not long before his firing.

General Leslie Purser was critical of Whitlock, concluding that he "failed to effectively lead this organization," "lacks good judgment," and is "naïve."

Formal Reprimand Suggested

"I would suggest more training on effective leadership, but I do not believe he would comprehend the message," Purser wrote. The general recommended that a formal reprimand be placed in Whitlock's personnel file.

Purser wrote that the Black engineer award selection board had not been properly planned. But there is a revealing twist in that finding, one showing how a bureaucratic knife was thrust unseen into Whitlock's record, a crucial detail that did not escape the general's notice.

"This impromptu board selection was a result of delayed processing of the memo requesting the board of senior-level officials. The Form 5 for the selection was signed by Ms. Barfield on 8 Nov 2016, by Ms. Salter on 1 Dec 2016,"…Mr. Whitlock did not realize it was there until 12 December…

"Ms. Salter accuses Mr. Whitlock of stalling on this signature, yet she had the memo for several weeks prior to submission to the front office and did not identify that fact in her comments to me," Purser wrote.

A Set-Up?

That could be interpreted as Salter setting up the boss she had denigrated in foul language.

The general continued in detail about the awards and the surrounding activities, including the role of Salter, who had been transferred to Fort Belvoir in Virginia, apparently to her dislike.

Much of the report seems like an analysis of how many tiny bureaucratic games could be played on the head of a pin. It detailed such minutia as which of the Army's many diversity offices across America gets to produce the black engineer awards conference.

General Purser's report found that Salter "removed herself from awards process out of frustration and rebellion. It is noted that Ms. Salter is inflexible and prescribes to the way it always used to be." The general also wrote that Salter "is resistant to change and is very critical of Mr. Whitlock."

Salter told DCReport she did not want to comment on Whitlock or his case. Diane Randon did not respond to multiple requests for an interview.

A Troubling Diagnosis

Whitlock had other problems in the spring of 2017 that he was unaware of until late 2018. Unbeknownst to him, Randon asked her staff to start keeping a time and attendance record on Whitlock, according to testimony by a human resources official.

That witness testified that "Whitlock was [the] only person that Randon asked about time and attendance records," said David Shapiro, Whitlock's attorney. "Warren's an Assistant Deputy Secretary, he's SES, and Randon wants a secret time and attendance chart on him," an incredulous Shapiro said. "How about: He's the only high-ranking Black male in Randon's office," the lawyer said, adding one word: "Racism."

Whitlock, meanwhile, had been feeling weak and sick for months. After medical tests, he was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a blood cancer that disproportionately affects African Americans.

He told Randon about his illness, including that treatment would affect his work schedule. He also disclosed that he would participate in a clinical test of a new drug. That would require trips to the National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Md., a dozen miles from his Pentagon office. He said he promised Randon that he'd make up all his lost time even though he had more than enough sick leave built up to cover his absences for medical treatment.

Defending Army Traitors

A few months later, in August 2017, Randon landed in the news, defending the naming of streets on an Army base in honor of generals who violated their oaths, joined the Confederacy and waged war on the United States. Members of New York's Congressional delegation wrote the Army asking that street signs with the names of Robert E. Lee and Stonewall Jackson at Fort Hamilton in Brooklyn be changed.

Randon wrote the Army's official refusal letter. The streets were originally named after Confederate generals in "the spirit of reconciliation" and to honor soldiers who were "an inextricable part of our military history."

"After over a century, any effort to rename memorializations on Fort Hamilton would be controversial and divisive," Randon wrote.

A number of Pentagon people, Black and white, told Whitlock they were embarrassed by Randon's letter, especially because of her high-level position in the diversity area.

Performance Reviews

In late August, Whitlock made the mistake that got him fired, that single erroneous keystroke. Randon treated it as ammunition, firing it to kill Whitlock's career.

The mistake came as Whitlock prepared annual performance evaluations for four subordinates. He had similar experience in his previous job at the Department of Transportation but said, "I was new to the Army job grading system."

That system had a quirk which would become important in his discrimination case. The Army has two civilian grading systems both with ratings of 1 to 5. For some employees 5 is the best score and 1 the worst. But for others it's the opposite.

Whitlock felt a bit overwhelmed at the Pentagon.

"I was trying to juggle finishing the evaluations while also preparing new job descriptions for my staff for the up-coming performance year, which we'd been asked for. I did not have a confidential executive assistant to perform these administrative tasks on my behalf. In hurrying to get the final job evaluations to the management support team, I hit Send."

What he sent was a draft, not the final version, to the Army's personnel software system called AutoNOA.

In a normal situation, that's called a mistake or a clerical error, and it happens every day to thousands of people. But the draft evaluation was of one person who had privately declared in vile language her intent to get rid of Whitlock -- Seema Salter.

This is where that quirk in the personnel system becomes important. In the draft version of Salter's evaluation, Whitlock had rated her on the wrong scale, something he fixed in the final version, the one that he mistakenly didn't email forward into the AutoNOA files.

Holiday Weekend

On Sept. 1, 2017, the Friday afternoon before Labor Day, Salter emailed Whitlock asking why her signed paper performance evaluation with a rating of 2, which means exceeds expectations, was lowered in the electronic version in AutoNOA.

Whitlock didn't see that email until Tuesday, the morning after the holiday.

According to Whitlock's testimony on that Tuesday he immediately called the personnel office and said he'd sent the wrong document. He told them it was a draft. His printed draft had whiteout and other jottings indicating clearly it was not a final version.

How to retrieve that document and send the correct one? Whitlock asked. The answer: that's difficult-to-impossible because AutoNOA is a clunky system not designed to allow correcting mistakes.

"I was told it was very hard to get something out of AutoNOA. Basically: good luck," Whitlock told me. "I realized I'd have to fix this quickly."

Stories Diverge

It had not been fixed by the next day when Randon called him into her office. Why, she asked, had he altered Salter's evaluation after they jointly reviewed the draft and agreed on a higher grade. Here the stories Randon and Whitlock tell diverge.

Whitlock's position is that he told Randon it was an accident, that it would be easy to see that because of the whiteout and scribbling on the paper draft. He testified that he told Randon he was working on fixing the mistake before she inquired.

Randon testified that Whitlock told her he did not want to give Salter a high number and, without telling her, lowered the score after she had signed off on a higher grade. Randon testified that she tried to get Whitlock to sign a statement admitting that he had deliberately altered Salter's evaluation. That would be a violation of the regulations and could justify termination. Randon said Whitlock refused.

For the next few days, Randon tried repeatedly to get Whitlock to sign the incriminating statement. Randon testified that "I chased him to his office. I mean, I was – I was stalking him."

Whitlock refused to sign on the advice of Army lawyers. "I asked the deputy general counsel of the Army what to do and he said 'sign nothing.'" Whitlock followed that counsel.

Whitlock tried to get Salter to sign her new evaluation with the higher performance rating she wanted and that they had agreed to originally. Salter refused. Later Randon would testify that she advised Salter not to cooperate with Whitlock's effort to correct the record until she had talked to high-ups. Then a few days later she took what she called an altered job evaluation to an inspector general.

There's a 3-pronged lie about Social Security that undermines the whole point of the program

The "three-legged stool": That phrase may not be familiar to everyone, but most people who work in public policy or private-sector insurance have heard it used to describe the U.S. retirement system. It suggests that our system for retirement security was designed to stand on three "legs": Social Security, employer pensions, and individual savings.

Subliminally, the image evokes efficiency. A stool is a chair for people and a table for small things, but at a much smaller size and with 25 percent fewer legs.

Our current economic order idealizes efficiency, but leaves the human factor out of its equations. It economizes on the insignificant at the expense of the invaluable.

The "three-legged stool" is image is misleading. A stool isn't stable unless the legs are of equal length, and there's nothing efficient about our patchwork retirement system.

The Three-Legged Lie

Writing in the New York University Review of Employee Benefits and Executive Compensation Nancy Altman documented the history of the phrase and debunked the thinking behind it. Altman, who is the president of Social Security Works (where I am a senior adviser), reports that the phrase was first used in a 1949 speech by an employee of Metropolitan Life Insurance. As Altman notes, "The metaphor was a useful image for Metropolitan Life and others promoting private pensions and seeking to sell private sector annuities that supplemented Social Security."

The "stool" idea is pernicious for at least three reasons:

The Social Security lie.

It deceives people about today's Social Security, which was designed as a full pension program—and as the foundation for a much broader system. When people believe this, they're willing to accept lowering Social Security's benefits below what's needed for a decent life.

The employer pension lie.

For the "stool" to work, employers have to offer pensions that are fair and adequate. Private-sector actors are notoriously bad at providing social benefits, for obvious reasons: it's contrary to their financial interests. The history of recent decades bears this out. Many full-time workers have seen their pension plans reduced, while many millions of workers have no pension plan at all. The result is an imminent retirement crisis, made worse by the 2008 recession and the pandemic.

The savings lie.

Worst of all, the "three-legged stool" provides the opening for policymakers, politicians, and pundits to blame people for their own suffering. The working public has been routinely castigated for decades for levels of savings their leaders deem morally bankrupt.

Our national culture has prized the belief in thrift as a virtue. That's fine—provided that people are being paid, not only a living wage, but a more than adequate living wage. Otherwise, they won't have any excess income to set aside. That's the reality for a large number of working people today. The "three-legged stool" allows politicians and pundits to wag a disapproving finger at workers without savings, without taking responsibility for their inability to save.

Jes' Folks

Altman dismantles the "three-legged stool," and the assumptions behind it, with lawyerly precision. Nevertheless, the phrase took on a life of its own. It's not the first time, or the only time, this has happened. Take, for example, the description of Medicare and Social Security as "entitlements." That word was originally used to indicate that people were legally entitled to receive these programs as soon as they qualified for them (most commonly through age or disability).

But in the 1980s and beyond, as "entitlement" or "entitled" were increasingly used to describe selfish people, this phrase was embraced by opponents of these programs. It fit well with another folksy-sounded attack on these programs—the notion that people who received their benefits were "greedy geezers."

The phrase matched with the political mood of the 1990s, the Clinton era. That was when so many similar phrases entered the Democratic/centrist policy lexicon—phrases like "skin in the game" and "shared responsibility," which imply that people in government programs are freeloaders.

Then there is the broader rhetorical attack on not just "entitlements," but government programs in general: the idea that the federal government has to "balance its budget and make the hard choices like a family sittin' around the kitchen table." (Politicians, especially Ivy League-educated ones, tend to do some serious g-dropping whenever they discuss cutting social programs. This inflectional exsanguination, this suffixal suffocation, is designed to be… well, folksy.)

Whether you're an MMT advocate, a Keynesian, or a Friedmanite, the comparison won't wash. It's absurd to compare federal lawmakers to a family sitting around the kitchen table (on three-legged stools, presumably). What family allows Grandma to starve and Junior to die of untreated sickness so that big brother can buy another jet and Dad can hoard his millions overseas?

A Real Vision of Security

I don't blame people, even experts, if they accepted the term at face value. Like all good rhetorical devices, it's seductive. And, like all good rhetorical devices, it reshapes our thinking without engaging our critical faculties.

But the phrase has been debunked, thoroughly and effectively. That confers responsibility on anyone in a position of influence—the responsibility to understand that it's wrong, and act accordingly. Words shape thinking, and thinking shapes policy.

The history of Social Security shows that it was conceived as a complete, cradle-to-grave plan to ensure financial security for everyone. The retirement program that now bears that name was originally seen as the first step in a much broader plan that included national health care and a jobs guarantee.

Social Security carries a vision of the nation as a mutually supportive community, where no one should live in want, or in fear for their future. That benefits all of us. The idea of the "three-legged stool" suggests that Social Security was never meant to be secure. It leaves people to fend for themselves when times get tough. And it desecrates the vision of a mutually supportive society.

A clear understanding of Social Security compels us to increase its now-inadequate benefits and extend its companion programs—including an improved Medicare for All—to everyone.

Richard "RJ" Eskow is senior adviser for health and economic justice at Social Security Works. He is also the host of The Zero Hour, a syndicated progressive radio and television program.

This article was produced by Economy for All, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Trump gives Biden a gigantic gift by admitting what he wants to do to Obamacare

Trying to figure out what is going on in Donald Trump's head is truly an exercise in futility, and today it's just downright bonkers. Apparently Trump believes that sharing snippets of Leslie Stahl's attempt to interview him for 60 Minutes is going to show that ... she's mean and he's brilliant? Is there really no one in the White House who is willing to tell him when he has a really, really bad idea?

It's a tremendous gift to Joe Biden, though, that Trump decided to release these videos in plenty of time for them to be a factor in Thursday's debate. Especially when it comes to the Supreme Court and Obamacare. "I hope that they end it," he said. "It will be so good if they end it." Serving it up on a silver platter there. But there's more. "It'll be so good if they end it," he said, "because we will come up with a plan." Stahl: "Will?"

That's after Trump insisted that his plan "is fully developed; it's going to be announced very, very soon." It's not. Because the only thing that has ever mattered is that President Barack Obama's signature achievement be erased. There is no plan. There never will be a plan. He never meant for there to be a plan.

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