VIDEOS

‘Very tired’ president shocks with short speech: 'I've never seen Trump look less interested'

President Donald Trump has given rally speeches that last longer than 100 minutes, but on Friday cut thing short for his speech at a rally in Minnesota.

"President Trump only spoke for 21 (!) minutes at this smaller event in Rochester, MN tonight. Can't remember him ever speaking for less than 45 minutes at a rally but this was restricted to only 250 people due to coronavirus safety guidelines and Trump was not pleased," NBC News correspondent Monica Alba reported.

ABC News producer John Santucci said, "I've never seen Trump look less interested.

"This is about half his average speech length, and he often goes much longer when he's into the crowd (nearly 90 min in Tampa yesterday)," LA Times White House correspondent Eli Stokols reported.

NBC News reporter Garrett Haake said, "Maybe it's the small crowd. Maybe it's the cold. But this is the lowest energy I've ever seen the President be at a rally. He's blowing through his applause lines, just checking the boxes on his usual speech, like he's got somewhere to be."

"Trump appears very tired at this rally in MN, slowly moving through his prepared remarks," CNN's Jim Acosta noted. "People of Twitter reminding me he was up at 3 a.m. tweeting."

https://twitter.com/RawStory/status/1322156446046396417

news & politics

Donald Trump's Hunger Games: More power. More money. More golf. More women.

Remember this number: $3.

That's how much Trump charged the federal government for a glass of water in April of 2018 when he and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe met at Trump's Mar-a-Lago resort in Florida. According to the Washington Post, Trump's company also charged the government "$13,700 for guest rooms, $16,500 for food and wine and $6,000 for the roses and other floral arrangements," over the two days he held meetings with Abe at the resort. But one day, Trump was scheduled to meet with Abe without aides and advisers, with no meal service or cocktails or any other celebratory nonsense. Just the two leaders, alone in a room, talking. According to the Post, the bill for that day contained a line item reading, "Bilateral meeting. Water. $3.00 each."

Donald Trump has been paid "at least $2.5 million by the U.S. government," since taking office, according to official documents obtained by the Post. Trump has made more than 280 visits to his own hotels and golf clubs over the last four years, and the payments covered costs for "hotel rooms, ballrooms, cottages, rental houses, golf carts, votive candles, floating candles, candelabras, furniture moving, resort fees, decorative palm trees, strip steak, chocolate cake, breakfast buffets, $88 bottles of wine and $1,000 worth of liquor for White House aides." according to the Post.

And water. A total of six bucks for water, no charge being too small to make it onto a bill to the government for a payment going straight into the pocket of the man who owns the Trump Organization and everything it comprises, including his resort in Palm Beach.

It's apparently a good part of what the Trump base likes about him — his appetites, his pure, unadulterated, money-grubbing-right-down-to-$3-for-water greed. Trump has wanted more his entire life. He wants more money, of course. He has spent a lifetime in pursuit of more money, and then some more, and more and more. He borrowed so much money in pursuit of even more money that it drove him into bankruptcy, several bankruptcies in fact. Today, as president, he is said to be in debt for nearly $1 billion to banks and other lenders, a debt that will come due within the next few years, according to the New York Times and other reports.

Trump wants more fame, a drive that started off with mentions in gossip columns like the New York Post's "Page Six," during the years he was coming into his own as a builder in New York City. He used to call gossip columnists and plant items about himself, posing as a PR person, and then he would call the columnists the next day and comment on their mention of him in order to gain yet another column inch or two in the tabloids. Some said he ran for president back in 2016 to "burnish his brand," to achieve even more fame and use it to make even more money. Since he became president, he has been relentless in his pursuit of attention, tweeting at all hours, criticizing cable networks who don't give him enough coverage, calling in to shows like "Fox & Friends" and "Hannity" both to reward them for the coverage they've already given him, and to get more coverage.

He wants more women, from wife No. 1, Ivana, when he was just starting out, to wife No. 2, Marla Maples, after he jettisoned Ivana, and now wife No. 3, Melania, who replaced No. 2 when he determined she had a few too many miles on her. And then there were all the women in between, in and among his marriages, the women he groped on airplanes and at bars and during parties, the women he (allegedly) raped in places like a Bergdorf's dressing room or a hotel room or a bathroom during a party, the women whose mouths he forced his tongue down, the women he pushed up against walls and pressed himself against, the women whose bodies he commented on in offices or across rooms, the women whose skirts he put his hand up at restaurant tables, the women whose breasts he grabbed at tennis tournaments and beauty pageants, the women whose rear ends he grabbed in green rooms before television show tapings, the women he dragged behind curtains at New Year's Eve parties and forcibly kissed and groped. All of those women. Trump wanted their bodies and their mouths and he took them without asking permission because he was Donald Trump, and he took what he wanted.

He wanted more golf, so he played more golf more frequently than any president before him. He wanted so much golf that he went around the world buying and building his own golf courses, and then he played them, because he owned them, and because he owned the golf carts, as president he could charge the government for his own Secret Service agents. He could even charge the government for the hotel rooms the agents stayed in while they protected him. He charged the government $17,000 a month for a cottage at his Bedminster, New Jersey, golf course, which the Secret Service had to rent month after month just in case he had a mind to play a round of golf.

Trump wants more adulation, more love from the "base," and when he feels he isn't getting enough, he tweets. There aren't enough hours in the day for Donald Trump. He was up at 3 a.m. this week, tweeting about the Supreme Court, the court to which he has appointed three arch-conservative justices, yelling at them for their recent decisions allowing mail-in votes to be counted after Election Day, because of course, he wants more votes. He's been up at 3 a.m. tweeting before, taunting a Miss Universe contestant for a "sex tape," taunting CNN as "low rated," bragging about his debate performance, yelling at polls that show him losing.

And now Trump is making his final campaign swing through the "battleground states," feeding the insatiable need of his base for more of himself. "Four more years" has become "12 more years." Somehow Trump is owed more years of the presidency because "they" took two or three years away from him during the Russia investigation, because "they" spied on his 2016 campaign, because "they" don't deserve to win. The red-hat-wearing mobs of un-masked fans at his rallies want more of the America they think Trump is bringing back to them. It's an America that is more white, has more guns, has more churches, more of "us," less of "them."

That's what they like about him. They want it all, the same way he does. That's what opposition to affirmative action has always been. They don't want some of the college admissions, they want them all. That's what Shelby County v. Holder was about, that's what voter IDs and all the restrictive rules about voting by mail are about. They want all the votes.
For the Trump base, making America great again means making America ours again, but he's going to make sure he puts it on their tab, right there with $3 for water and $546 for rooms and $50 for decorative palm trees for table decorations and $1,005.60 for 26 servings of Patron and Don Julio tequila, 22 Chopin vodkas, and six glasses of Woodford Reserve bourbon consumed by White House staffers at the Mar-a-Lago bar. It's going to cost us more than votes to get our country back. We're going to be paying for Trump's insatiable greed long after he's gone. More than 228,000 of us have already paid with our lives. If the Friday totals keep up — 98,500 new cases and more than 900 dead — a half million of us may perish by the time Trump walks out of the White House for the last time.

election '20

Collins closes out campaign badly, with a blown debate and shadows over her campaign funding

Sen. Susan Collins, the embattled Maine Republican, is not closing out the final week of her campaign with glory. Pretty much the opposite, in fact. In the final debate with Democrat Sara Gideon Wednesday night, Collins totally blew off the existence of systemic racism in Maine. Granted, Maine is pretty darned white, but it's not that white. There's a sizable population of refugees and immigrants in the state. So when Susan Collins, their senator, says "I do not believe systemic racism is a problem in the state of Maine," and "it's clear that in some parts of our country there is systemic racism or problems in police departments" but "we are very fortunate in the state of Maine because we have terrific members of law enforcement," she might seem just a little bit out of touch to those residents.

Especially compared to Gideon. "It doesn't matter how white our state is—it still exists. When we look at the incidences, for example, of the number of people of color who here in the state of Maine had a positive COVID infection rate and how outsized that was compared to the rest of the population. We see it in terms of access to education for people of color, access to health care, rates of poverty, rates of incarceration, and we do have to do something about it," Gideon said. That's the answer of someone living in the 21st century and not in a Republican bubble. And not someone who is being bankrolled by private equity firms. That's the other bad bit of press Collins has gained for herself this week.

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ProPublica reports that she is the "No. 1 Senate recipient of private equity donations." Which isn't a good look. It's even worse when her work on the 2017 GOP Tax Scam is reviewed. Collins, trying to justify what was going to be her total capitulation in voting for the bill, offered an amendment the day before the vote to expand a child care tax credit, paid for by ending a tax break for the private equity industry. Within hours, though, she backed down and withdrew the amendment. "Her retreat was a significant victory for Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell," ProPublica reports. "Collins put aside her opposition and voted for the bill, which passed 51-49." Her decision to yank the amendment, and how the private equity industry prevailed, has remained a mystery.

But now we have a clue: the more than half a million dollars she's received from the private equity industry in this cycle for her reelection. There's also the $2 million Steve Schwarzman, the billionaire chairman and chief executive of the private equity giant Blackstone, has given to one of the Collins Super PACs as well as the $20 million he's giving to another Super PAC supporting Collins and other Republican Senate candidates. Tax experts told ProPublica that Collins amendment probably would have cost Schwarzman tens of millions in taxes. So lucky him that Collins changed her mind about that. Another donor to the Collins 1820 PAC is Ken Griffin, who's given $1.5 million. Griffin heads up the hedge fund giant Citadel. So his potential tax liability would have been significantly rosier without Collins' amendment to close the carried interest loophole.

Remember way back in 2017 when Collins was insisting that she was holding out her vote on the tax scam and getting ironclad promises from Mitch McConnell that he'd allow votes on protecting people's health care? And then he broke that promise when he got her vote? And how she insisted that it was still going to happen, that the Senate would have those healthcare votes in 2018? Somehow in retrospect, the millions she got from these hedge fund guys seem to be the promise that really secured her vote.

It's awfully rich for the person who said this in 2018 about a grassroots funding effort against her: "I consider this quid pro quo fundraising to be the equivalent of an attempt to bribe me to vote against Judge Kavanaugh." Please, Senator Collins, tell us all about bribes and quid pro quo. We'd really like to hear it.

economy

The Fed saved the economy -- but is threatening trillions of dollars worth of middle-class retirement

The Federal Reserve, which these days seems to be the only major part of the federal government capable of operating drama-free, has done a lot to help keep our economy afloat. It has cut interest rates to unprecedented low levels, bought billions of dollars of corporate IOUs, helped stabilize the debt markets and helped rescue a stock market that had begun falling sharply in mid-February when the COVID-19 recession started and that seemed headed for a crash.

In the process, the Fed has indirectly provided support to house prices and to the vital home construction business by forcing down mortgage interest rates to all-time lows of about 3%. Given that home equity is a major asset for many middle-class Americans, supporting home prices is especially important. As is supporting the home construction industry, which is a major source of blue-collar jobs.

But if you dig deeper, you'll see that the Fed is unintentionally worsening economic inequality by providing the most help to Americans who are least in need of it. And it's also putting stress on the middle class' most important asset: retirement benefits.

Higher stock prices are great for people (including me) who own a lot of stocks, but those people are primarily the top 10% of the country, in terms of wealth. According to Fed statistics, more than half of stocks — 52% — are owned by the wealthiest 1% of Americans, and 88% are owned by the top 10%.

To show you a different aspect of helping the upper class but not the working class, the Fed's securities purchases include buying debt issued by firms that are laying off workers while paying substantial dividends to shareholders. And for some imprudent or troubled corporate borrowers, the Fed's moves have been hugely helpful.

But those moves are hurting prudent savers of modest means by greatly reducing the income they can earn on Treasury securities and other no-risk investments such as bank certificates of deposit. That tends to drive people seeking income into the stock market, where their capital is at risk. By contrast, if you buy a Treasury security, you're sure of getting your money back when the security comes due, even though the security's market value will fluctuate both up and down while you hold it.

Interest rates are so low that they've largely erased the key benefit — income — Treasury bonds are theoretically supposed to provide over stocks. If you own a low-cost Standard & Poor's 500 index fund, you're getting much more income from dividends than the interest you'd earn having the same amount invested in a 10-year Treasury note. For example, the dividend yield (a year's worth of dividends divided by the current market price) on Admiral shares of Vanguard's S&P 500 fund is more than double the interest yield of a 10-year Treasury. It's even higher than the yield on a 30-year Treasury bond, something that you rarely see.

The yield on the Vanguard fund was 1.65% as of Sept. 30, the most recent available date. As I write this, the yield on a 10-year Treasury, the security it generally makes the most sense for a retail investor to buy and hold to maturity, was 0.76%. The yield on the 30-year Treasury was 1.56%.

Despite its good intentions, the Fed is setting the stage for huge problems down the road for pension funds and, therefore, for potential pension recipients. There are also going to be problems for insurance companies and for other firms onto which many corporate employers have offloaded their pension obligations in order to clean up their balance sheets and minimize their future financial risks.

The firms that have assumed the responsibility for paying these pensions typically own bond-heavy portfolios. And while bond prices have risen because interest rates have fallen — I'll explain how that works some other day — rates seem much more likely to rise from their current low levels in the future than to fall even lower. And when rates rise, it will decrease the market value of the bonds held by the firms that have assumed responsibility for paying pensions.

What it all adds up to: The Fed is trying to salvage the present by pumping trillions of dollars into the U.S. and world financial systems but in the process is putting our economic future at risk. “We're bailing out the present and making the future pay for it," said Gene Steuerle, a co-founder of the Tax Policy Center.

Please note that I'm not blaming the Fed for what it's doing. It's trying to fulfill its mandate to keep employment high, inflation relatively low, the dollar reasonably stable and interest rates at what it considers an appropriate level. The Fed's job, which is already difficult in strange and uncertain economic times like these, is being made much harder by the lack of new economic stimulus packages from Congress and the White House. These packages, as we saw when they were in effect earlier this year, not only help individuals but also stimulate the economy when recipients spend the money they've gotten.

The Fed, by contrast, can help the financial markets and the economy but can't directly help individual people.

Now, let me show you how the Fed's near-zero rates, the culmination of a dozen years of ultralow rates and which Fed Chair Jerome Powell says will continue indefinitely, are undermining the long-range future of the U.S. retirement system. This matters — a lot — because Fed statistics show that retirement benefits (not including Social Security) are hugely important to the middle class.

Prof. Edward Wolff of New York University, who specializes in studying income and wealth inequality, told me that Fed statistics show that pension wealth accounts for 70.3% of the net worth of the middle class, which he defines as people ranking in the 20^th^ through 80^th^ percentiles in terms of wealth. By contrast, he said, retirement benefits are only 2.2% of the upper class' wealth.

This makes the middle class particularly vulnerable to rising rates in the future. Let's take this piece by piece.

For starters, near-zero rates are making the financial problems of the already-stressed Social Security system worse than they would otherwise be by sharply reducing the interest that Social Security can earn on its $2.9 trillion trust fund. That trust fund consists entirely of Treasury securities and is legally barred from owning stocks. That means that the fund's interest yield is falling and it's not benefiting from the 50% rise in stock prices since the market bottomed on March 23.

The near-zero rates also affect private pensions. David Zion of Zion Research estimates that the pension funds of the Standard & Poor's 500 companies, which he says were underfunded by a total of $279 billion at the end of 2019, were underfunded by $407 billion as of June 30. “The main driver of the increase is lower interest rates," he said. (I'll explain the math behind lower rates raising pensions' underfunding in a bit.)

Large as it is, the S&P companies' total shortfall is only a fraction of the underfunding afflicting state and local government pension funds. Keith Brainard, director of research for the National Association of State Retirement Administrators, estimates that the 5,332 retirement funds sponsored by state and local governments were $1.96 trillion underwater as of June 30, the most recent available number, up from $1.90 trillion as of year-end 2019. This has happened, he said, even though the funds' assets totaled about $4.65 trillion, an all-time high.

What's more, if you use dispassionate math rather than the generous accounting principles that public pension funds are allowed to use, you see that lower long-term interest rates are doing much more damage to these funds' financial status than the numbers from Brainard's organization suggest. For instance, Steve Church of Piscataqua Research estimates that the shortfalls of the 127 public pension funds that he follows, which have a total of about $4 trillion of assets, are about $7.44 trillion. That's more than quadruple the funds' reported $1.53 trillion shortfall.

This huge difference stems mostly from different assumptions about interest rates and different ways of calculating how much money a fund needs to have on hand today to meet a future obligation. A public pension fund comes up with how much it needs to have on hand today based on the income it expects to earn on its portfolio. Corporate pension funds engage in the same process, but they are required to make far less optimistic assumptions. They have to set aside enough money to meet that obligation if the money were invested at the interest rate on high quality, long-term risk-free bonds.

Let me give you one example of the difference. If a pension fund expects to pay someone $10,000 in 10 years and anticipates it will earn 7% a year, compounded, today's cost of that benefit — what numbers crunchers call its “present value" — shows up on its books as a liability of $5,083. If, however, the fund predicts it will receive 3% per year, which is about the rate that corporate pension funds use these days, the fund would need to set aside $7,441.

All of this is leading private and public pension funds to take on more risk. “When yields are low, you go looking for income somewhere else," Zion told me.

That means putting money into stocks and various aggressive (and high-cost) Wall Street schemes such as private equity and venture capital funds.

In addition, some public pension funds are borrowing money to try to earn what financial types call “spread income" by investing the borrowed money in assets whose returns exceed the funds' borrowing costs. “When the risk-free rate is zero and you need seven, that's what prompts plans to move outside their traditional comfort zones," Steve Foresti, chief investment officer of Wilshire Consulting, said.

Foresti, who advises numerous public pension funds, says that the use of borrowed money, alternative investments and such began getting more popular about a decade ago. That's about when the Fed knocked rates to near zero and has pretty much kept them there.

One prominent example of a fund trying to borrow its way out of trouble is the California Public Employees' Retirement System (CalPERS), the nation's largest government pension fund. It's considering borrowing up to $55 billion more than it has already borrowed, hoping that its return on the assets it will buy with that borrowed money exceeds what it will pay in interest.

The fund, which says it currently has about $25 billion of borrowed money for which it's paying an average interest rate of 0.18%, now has authority to borrow up to 20% of its assets. That's roughly $80 billion. CalPERS says borrowing has helped it because it's been earning more on the assets it bought with the borrowed money than the interest it's paying.

“It's a moderate use of leverage. We will do it opportunistically and gradually," Marcie Frost, CalPERS' chief executive, told me. “We can tie up our capital for a long time. …We are able to be opportunistic." However, as Frost readily acknowledges, “Leverage can exacerbate your losses."

Or let's look at another big fund, the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, which last year lowered the assumed rate of return on its investment portfolio to 7.25% from the previous 8%. Among other things, that lower assumption is indirectly responsible for teachers, school districts and the state of Texas having to increase their future contributions to the pension fund to avoid the fund having to slash future benefits.

Jase Auby, TRS' chief investment officer, says the fund has been borrowing 4% of its assets for about a year. The idea, he said, is “to diversify away from equity risk" — the danger that stock prices will fall — caused by low interest rates. “Equity risk is greater because interest rates are low," he said.

The fund says its borrowing cost is currently about 0.25% a year. TRS says there were no specific assets financed by its borrowings, but it's ahead so far because its total fund return has exceeded its borrowing costs. If, however, the value of the assets bought with the borrowed money goes down, the fund obviously will be worse off than if it hadn't borrowed the money.

By forcing bond yields down sharply and helping drive up stock prices, the Fed's low-interest rate regime has made 401(k) and 403(b) and other individual retirement accounts more valuable — for now — by boosting the market values of both stocks and bonds.

However, these low rates are now exposing those individual accounts to considerably more risk than if stock prices were lower and bond yields higher.

Why do I say this? Because high stock prices can fall — we've had two 50% market drops in the past 20 years — and low-yielding Treasury securities will lose value if interest rates move higher.

How can U.S. Treasury securities lose value, given that the federal government can create as many dollars as it needs in order to redeem its obligations? Let's say that you spend $10,000 to buy a 10-year Treasury note yielding 0.76%, the current rate. You'd collect $76 in interest a year, $760 over the issue's lifetime, before getting your $10,000 back in 2030.

But let's say that a year from now, despite Fed Chair Powell's predictions, the rate on such a security has risen to 1.76%, around where it was for parts of last year. The market value of your now-nine-year security would be only about $9,174, according to my handy-dandy online bond calculator. That $826 decline in value is more than the total interest you stand to collect over the Treasury note's lifetime. You can take your loss directly by selling your security, or you can take it indirectly by collecting $76 of annual interest for 9 years rather than the $176 that holders of market-rate securities would be getting.

I'd love to be able to quote Fed people to give you the Fed's side of all of this. Alas, none of the people I've talked with or approached, some of whom I've known for years, are willing to be quoted by name.

Privately, various Fedniks past and present readily agree that there are serious downsides to what the Fed has been doing since then-chair Ben Bernanke (who declined, through a spokeswoman, to talk with me) first cut rates to near zero in 2008 and successfully ended the stock market meltdown and financial panic.

These Fedniks are also familiar with the risks that ultralow rates pose to the retirement system and the impact these rates have on economic inequality by sharply raising the values of financial assets, which are owned disproportionately by high-net-worth people, while doing relatively little for the less well off.

But they won't talk about it publicly.

Still, the issue needs to be recognized. If we don't do something to offset the damage to our retirement system, today's problems could end up looking like a rounding error compared to what the future holds.

Filed under:

culture

Fox News viewers write about 'BLM' the same way CNN viewers write about 'KKK'

It's no secret that U.S. politics has become highly polarized.

Even so, there are probably few living Americans who ever witnessed anything that quite compares with this fall's first presidential debate.

Was it really the case that the nation could do no better than a verbal food fight, with two candidates hurling fourth-grade insults and talking past each other?

To us, the discordant debate was just one more symptom of the nation's fraying civic discourse, which, in a recent study, we were able to show extends to the words we use to talk about politics.

Earlier this year, we started constructing a data set that consists of all of the viewer comments on YouTube videos posted by four television networks — MSNBC, CNN, Fox News and One America News Network — that target slices of the political spectrum. Together, the data set contains over 85 million comments on over 200,000 videos from 6.5 million viewers since 2014.

We studied whether there are distinct variants of English written in the comments sections, akin to the distinction between British English and American English.

Using machine learning methods, we found these permutations do exist. Moreover, we can rank them in terms of the "left-ness" and the "right-ness." To the best of our knowledge, this is the first empirical demonstration of quantifiable linguistic differences in news audiences.

Our second finding, however, was even more unexpected.

Our machine learning translation system found that words with vastly different meanings, like "KKK" and "BLM," were used in the exact same contexts depending on the YouTube channel being analyzed.

The company a word keeps

When translating two different languages — say, Spanish and English — automated translation systems like Google Translate begin with a large training set of texts in both languages. The system then applies machine learning methods to become better at translating.

Over the years, this technology has become increasingly accurate, thanks to two key insights.

The first dates back to the 1950s, when linguist John Rupert Firth came up with the aphorism "You shall know a word by the company it keeps."

To modern machine translation systems, the "company" a word keeps is its "context," or the words surrounding it. For example, the English word "grape" occurs in contexts such as "grape juice" and "grape vine," while the equivalent word in Spanish, uva, occurs in the same contexts — jugo de uva, vid de uva — in Spanish sentences.

The second important discovery came rather recently. A 2013 study found a way to identify — and thereby link — a word's context in one language to its context in another. Modern machine translation depends heavily on this process.

What we have done is to use this type of translation in an entirely new way: to translate English to English.

When "Trumptards" become "snowflakes"

That may sound bizarre. Why translate English to English?

Well, consider American English and British English. Many words are the same in both languages. Yet there can be subtle differences. For instance, "apartment" in American English may translate into "flat" in British English.

For the purposes of our study, we labeled the language used in each network's comment section "MSNBC-English," "CNN-English," "Fox-English" and "OneAmerica-English." After analyzing the comments, our translation algorithms uncovered two different patterns of "misaligned words" — terms that aren't identical across the comment sections but are used in the same contexts.

One type was similar to "flat" and "apartment," in the sense that both are describing ostensibly the same thing. However, the word pairs we uncovered have different intonations. For example, we found that what one community calls "Pelosi," the other one calls "Pelousy"; and "Trump" in one news-language translates into "Drumpf" in another.

A second — and deeper — kind of misalignment occurred when the two words refer to two fundamentally different things.

For example, we found that in CNN-English, "KKK" — the abbreviation for the Ku Klux Klan — is translated by our algorithm to "BLM" — shorthand for Black Lives Matter — in Fox-English. The algorithm is basically finding that the comments made by one community about KKK are very much like the comments made by the other about BLM. While the belief systems of the KKK and BLM are about as different as can be, depending on the comment section, they seem to each represent something similarly ominous and threatening.

CNN-English and Fox-English are not the only two languages displaying these types of misalignments. The conservative end of the spectrum itself breaks into two languages. For example, "mask" in Fox-English translates to "muzzle" in OneAmerica-English, reflecting the differing attitudes across these subcommunities.

There seems to be a mirrorlike duality at play. "Conservatism" becomes "liberalism," "red" is translated to "blue," while "Cooper" is converted into "Hannity."

There's also no lack of what can only be called childish name-calling.

"Trumptards" in CNN-English translates to "snowflakes" in Fox-English; "Trumpty" in CNN-English translates to "Obummer" in Fox-English; and "republicunts" in CNN-English translates to "democraps" in Fox-English.

Uncharted territory

Linguists have long emphasized how effective communication among people with different beliefs requires common ground. Our findings show that the way we talk about political issues is becoming more divergent; depending on who's writing, a common word can be imbued with an entirely different meaning.

[Deep knowledge, daily. Sign up for The Conversation's newsletter.]

We wonder: How far are we from the point of no return when these linguistic differences begin to erode the common ground needed for productive communication?

Have echo chambers on social media exacerbated political polarization to the point where these linguistic misalignments have become ingrained in political discourse?

When will "democracy" in one language variant stop translating into "democracy" in the other?

Mark Kamlet, University Professor of Economics and Public Policy, Carnegie Mellon University; Ashique KhudaBukhsh, Project Scientist at the School of Computer Science, Carnegie Mellon University, and Tom Mitchell, Founders University Professor of Machine Learning, Carnegie Mellon University

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

science

Here's why you don't want to live in a Republican-run state

As infection rates surge, Democrats still are outpacing Republicans in thwarting coronavirus spread according to my interpretation of data.

A few weeks back I noted in a post that states governed by Republicans had the highest positive COVID-19 test rates, while the states with the lowest positive rates mostly were governed by Democrats.

I argued that positive test rates are a good measure of how serious, or not, governors are in trying to bring the pandemic under control.

While leaders can take measures to limit the actual spread, such as longer and stronger lockdowns and mask requirements, many factors determining the spread are outside their control.

By contrast, they do have control over the amount of testing, although legislatures can play a role since they can appropriate or restrict funding.

Testing also has become a political issue since Donald Trump explicitly said that he wanted to see testing slowed to reduce the number of cases identified.

I thought it was worth an update to see what the story looks like as the country is experiencing a huge surge in infections.

Here's the more recent picture showing the 10 states with the highest infection rates and the 10 states with the lowest rates, based on the John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, seven-day moving averages. (Data are for Oct. 26, 2020.)

Source: John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center


Eight of the 10 states with the highest rates have Republican governors. Kansas and Nevada, which come in eighth and ninth, both have Democratic governors.[1] While Democrats also control the legislature in Nevada, the legislature in Kansas is overwhelmingly Republican.

The story is more mixed among the states with the lowest positive rates, with five having Democratic governors and five having Republican governors. However, it is worth noting that all five of the states with Republican governors have legislatures that are controlled by Democrats.

In short, by this measure of efforts at getting the pandemic under control, Democrats seem far more serious than Republicans.

[1] The 100 percent positive rate shown for Mississippi is the result of the way John Hopkins reports the data. It shows the number of positives as a percentage of the tests given in the period, not as a percentage of the results reported that day.

belief

Faith and spirituality run deep in Black Lives Matter

Black Lives Matters (BLM) has been portrayed by its detractors as many things: Marxist, radical, anti-American. Added to this growing list of charges is that it is either irreligious or doing religion wrong.

In late July, for instance, conservative commentator Andrew Sullivan tweeted that BLM was “incompatible" with Christianity.

He isn't alone in that belief. Despite receiving the backing of diverse faith leaders and groups, BLM has been attacked by sections of the religious right. One evangelical institution felt compelled to issue a statement warning Christians about the movement's “Godless agenda." Other evangelicals have gone further, accusing BLM founders of being “witches" and “operating in the demonic realm."

Joining conservative Christians are some self-proclaimed liberals and atheists who have also denounced BLM as a social movement that functions like a “cult" or “pseudo" religion.

As scholars of religion, we believe such views fail to acknowledge – let alone engage with – the rich spiritual and religious pluralism of Black Lives Matter. For the past few years, we have been observing the way the movement and affiliated organizations express faith and spirituality.

Since 2015 we have interviewed BLM leaders and organizers as well as Buddhist leaders inspired by the movement. What we found was that BLM was not only a movement seeking radical political reform, but a spiritual movement seeking to heal and empower while inspiring other religious allies seeking inclusivity.

A love letter

Black Lives Matter was born from a love letter.

On July 13, 2013 – the day of the acquittal of George Zimmerman, who had killed an unarmed black teenage named Trayvon Martin – soon-to-be BLM co-founder Alicia Garza, posted “A Love Letter to Black People" on Facebook. She declared:

“We don't deserve to be killed with impunity. We need to love ourselves and fight for a world where black lives matter. Black people, I love you. I love us. We matter. Our lives matter."

Since its inception, BLM organizers have expressed their founding spirit of love through an emphasis on spiritual healing, principles, and practices in their racial justice work.

BLM leaders, such as co-founder Patrisse Cullors, are deeply committed to incorporating spiritual leadership. Cullors grew up as a Jehovah's Witness, and later became ordained in Ifà, a west African Yoruba religion. Drawing on Native American, Buddhist and mindfulness traditions, her syncretic spiritual practice is fundamental to her work. As Cullors explained to us, “The fight to save your life is a spiritual fight."

Theologian Tricia Hersey, known as the “Nap Bishop," a nod to her Divinity degree and her work advocating for rest as a form of resistance, founded the BLM affiliated organization, The Nap Ministry in 2016.

In an interview with Cullors, Hersey said she considers human bodies as “sites of liberation" that connect Black Americans to the “creator, ancestors, and universe." She describes rest as a spiritual practice for community healing and resistance and naps as “healing portals." Hersey connects this belief to her upbringing in the Black Pentecostal Church of God in Christ, where, she explained, “I was able to see the body being a vehicle for spirit."

The movement is committed to spiritual principles, such as “healing justice" – which uses a range of holistic approaches to address trauma and oppression by centering emotional and spiritual well-being – and “transformative justice" which assists with creating processes to repair harm without violence.

Black Lives Matter protesters pray near the Lincoln Memorial in Washington D.C.

Drew Angerer/Getty Images

Transformative justice, central to the beliefs of many in the BLM movement, is a philosophic approach to peacemaking. With roots in the Quaker tradition, it approaches harms committed as an opportunity for education. Crime is taken to be a community problem to be solved through mutual understanding, as often seen in work to decriminalize sex work and drug addiction.

BLM affiliated organizer Cara Page, who coined the term “healing justice," did so in response to watching decades of activists commit themselves completely to social justice causes to the detriment of their physical and mental health. She advocates that “movements themselves have to be healing, or there's no point to them."

'Without healing, no justice'

BLM-affiliated organizations utilize spiritual tools such as meditation, reiki, acupuncture, plant medicine, chanting, and prayer, along with other African and Indigenous spiritualities to connect and care for those directly impacted by state violence and white supremacy.

For instance, Dignity and Power Now or DPN, an organization founded by Cullors in Los Angeles in 2012, hosts almost weekly wellness clinics on Sundays, often referred to as “church" by attendees.

On July 26, 2020, they held a virtual event called Calm-Unity, to remind people that “without healing there is no justice." Classes included yoga, meditation, African dance, Chinese medicine, and altar making.

In interviews, movement leaders described honoring their body, mind and soul as an act of resilience. They see themselves as inheritors of the spiritual duty to fight for racial justice, following in the footsteps of freedom fighters like abolitionist Harriet Tubman.

BLM leaders often invoke the names of abolitionist ancestors in a ceremony used at the beginning of protests. In fact, protests often contain many spiritual purification, protection and healing practices including the burning of sage, the practice of wearing white and the creation of sacred sites and altars at locations of mourning.

'More religion, not less'

BLM's rich spiritual expressions have also inspired and transformed many American faith leaders. Black evangelical leader Barbara Salter McNeil credits BLM activists in Ferguson as changing the Christian church by showing racism must be tackled structurally and not just as individual sin.

U.S. Buddhist leaders presented a statement on racial justice to the White House in which they shared they were “inspired by the courage and leadership" of Black Lives Matter. Jewish, Muslim and many other religious organizations, have incorporated BLM principles to make their communities more inclusive and justice oriented.

As University of Arizona scholar Erika Gault observes, “The Black church is not the only religious well from which Black movements have historically drawn," and with Black Lives Matter, “We are actually seeing more religion, not less."

Religious pluralism

Attempts to erase the rich religious landscape of Black Lives Matter by both conservative and liberal voices continues a long history of denouncing Black spirituality as inauthentic and threatening.

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The history of white supremacy, often enacted within institutional Christianity, has often vilified and criminalized Indigenous and African beliefs, promoted the idea that Black people are divinely destined to servitude, and subjected communities to forced conversions.

As Cullors said to us in response to current attacks against BLM as demonic, “For centuries, the way we are allowed to commune with the divine has been policed; in the movement for Black lives, we believe that all connections to the creator are sacred and essential."The Conversation

Hebah H. Farrag, Assistant Director of Research, Center for Religion and Civic Culture, USC Dornsife College of Letters, Arts and Sciences and Ann Gleig, Associate Professor of Religion, University of Central Florida

This article is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.

human rights

House to subpoena records on discipline related to secret border patrol Facebook group

In a blistering 17-page letter, the head of a congressional committee on Friday accused federal officials of improperly withholding information on Border Patrol agents' misconduct in a secret Facebook group from congressional investigators.

Rep. Carolyn B. Maloney, chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Reform, said in the letter that she plans to subpoena internal Border Patrol documents detailing misconduct related to the Facebook group, which included some 9,500 current and former agents. First exposed by ProPublica in July 2019, the social media community called “I'm 10-15" was rife with dehumanizing and misogynistic postings, including an image of President Donald Trump sexually assaulting Democratic Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The dispute that prompted Maloney's letter centers on the refusal of the Border Patrol's parent organization, Customs and Border Protection, to turn over documents identifying by name, rank .and geographic location the agents who were disciplined or fired for making offensive posts in the Facebook group. CBP has also failed to provide congressional investigators with any details about specific incidents that led to agents being punished or fired. The records that CBP has provided to the committee are heavily redacted, according to Maloney.

“While I did not come to the decision to subpoena the CBP lightly, it is necessary," said Maloney, a New York Democrat, in a statement to ProPublica. “The Committee needs these unredacted documents to oversee whether CBP is properly disciplining its employees and whether employees who CBP found to have committed misconduct are still working directly with immigrant women, children, and babies."

CBP has long insisted that it is barred by federal law from disclosing key details about its disciplinary process, including the names of employees who've faced discipline for violating the agency's policies.

In the letter, however, Maloney called CBP's refusal to turn over the unredacted disciplinary records as “legally baseless" and asserted that her committee “has direct jurisdiction over federal employees and agency disciplinary procedures."

CBP has said publicly that it investigated 136 employees in connection to the “I'm 10-15" group and another Facebook group, and that the probe led to the firing of four agents and the suspension of more than three dozen others. Still, the agency has kept most other facts about the investigation confidential, declining to share information with the committee or issue a public report.

“To date, CBP has provided a significant volume of documents on the matter, some of which were publicly released by the Committee without CBP's consent, in addition to providing numerous briefings on the matter," a CBP official said in an emailed statement. “Since the beginning of this investigation, CBP's primary goal has been to provide transparency while still protecting the health and safety of our personnel, given the high degree of social unrest and the potential hostile targeting of employees for the nature of their employment." The official said the agency is aware of Maloney's intent to subpoena the documents.

Her letter states that the documents CBP has already turned over show that the agency “reduced penalties for numerous employees" who engaged in misconduct; three agents who were slated to be fired had their punishments reduced to suspensions from work, while 19 others had the length of their suspensions cut down.

The committee is seeking further information about an agent identified only as “Fired Agent #1" in the letter. ProPublica's reporting indicates that this is Thomas Hendricks, who served as a supervisory agent in Calexico, California, until he was ousted from the Border Patrol in October 2019 because of his offensive posts in the Facebook group. It was Hendricks who posted the image of Ocasio-Cortez being assaulted.

According to Maloney's letter, Hendricks told internal affairs investigators that his postings were “just having fun" and later described them as “good natured."

Hendricks appealed his firing, but in a decision handed down last month a federal appeals board denied his request to be reinstated. The decision shows that the agent made offensive Facebook posts demeaning women and gay men while working. “It's not a big deal to post a meme on duty," Hendricks told investigators.

His attorney, Joel Kirkpatrick, did not return requests for comment.

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Trump’s border wall is costing taxpayers billions more than initial contracts: federal spending data review

ProPublica is a Pulitzer Prize-winning investigative newsroom. Sign up for The Big Story newsletter to receive stories like this one in your inbox.

On the same day in May 2019, the Army Corps of Engineers awarded a pair of contracts worth $788 million to replace 83 miles of fence along the southwest border.

The projects were slated to be completed in January 2020, the Corps said then. Four months into this year, however, the government increased the value of the contracts by more than $1 billion, without the benefit of competitive bidding designed to keep costs low to taxpayers.

Within a year of the initial award, the value of the two contracts had more than tripled, to over $3 billion, even though the length of the fence the companies were building had only grown by 62%, to 135 miles. The money is coming from military counter-narcotics funding.

Those contract spikes were dramatic, but not isolated. A ProPublica/Texas Tribune review of federal spending data shows more than 200 contract modifications, at times awarded within just weeks or months after the original contracts, have increased the cost of the border wall project by billions of dollars since late 2017. This is particularly true this year, in the run-up to next week's election. The cost of supplemental agreements and change orders alone — at least $2.9 billion — represents about a quarter of all the money awarded and more than what Congress originally appropriated for wall construction in each of the last three years.

President Donald Trump made construction of the border wall a signature issue during his 2016 campaign, claiming that his skills as a builder and businessman would allow his administration to build the wall in a more cost-efficient way than his predecessors. “You know the wall is almost finished," he told a crowd of supporters in Arizona recently, and they weren't paying a “damn cent" for the border wall. It was “compliments of the federal government."

Yet an accounting of border wall contracts awarded during his presidency shows that his administration has failed to protect taxpayer interests or contain costs and stifled competition among would-be builders, experts say. In all, Trump's wall costs about five times more per mile than fencing built under the Bush and Obama administrations.

Experts say the frequent use of so-called supplemental agreements to add work or increase the price has amounted to giving no-bid contracts to a small group of pre-selected construction firms, many with executives who have donated to Trump or other Republicans.

Some contracts and add-ons have been handed out without press releases or announcements, making it harder for the public to track the expanding costs.

Charles Tiefer, a University of Baltimore contracting expert, said the contracting actions involving the border wall project are unusual for the normally restrained Corps, whose contracts aren't typically characterized by massive price increases. Tiefer called the amount of money awarded through modifications “amazingly high."

“These (border wall) modifications do not look like something the Army Corps of Engineers would get by competitive bidding," Tiefer said. “The taxpayer is paying much more than if the whole contract were out for competitive bids."

The Government Accountability Office told ProPublica and the Tribune that it was looking into the contract modifications as part of a broader review of the process the Corps has used to award border wall contracts using military funds. The report is expected to be released early next year.

While adding work to a contract is not unusual on its own, some of the very rapid and significant supplemental agreements in some of the border wall contracts raise red flags and don't always provide enough information to determine if they are problematic, said Stan Soloway, president and CEO of Celero Strategies and former deputy undersecretary of defense for acquisition and reform during the Clinton administration.

Raini Brunson, a spokesperson for the Corps, said she couldn't comment on specific contracts, instructing reporters to file records requests for more information. But she added that modifications are “made all the time for a variety of reasons." And while the Corps doesn't provide specific updates on a regular basis, she said contract awards and modifications are posted on federal procurement websites and in databases accessible to the public.

But the sites can be difficult to navigate, and the databases often don't reflect recent changes. Neither U.S. Customs and Border Protection nor the Corps publicly maintains a comprehensive list of all border wall contracts and their modifications. Some projects lack enough detail on government websites to even determine basic facts, such as what the additional work is for.

Some of the border wall contract modifications essentially amount to new projects that in some cases then undergo their own modifications.

A review of recent Corps non-border wall contracts shows no recent contract add-ons that approach the scale of border wall awards. Two contracts for walls surrounding a Florida reservoir awarded in early 2019 for about $130 million have had no cost increases, according to federal procurement data.

Of the Corps' five largest active non-border wall contracts in fiscal 2020, three received no additional money through supplemental agreements, and a fourth received three supplemental agreements totaling $584, according to usaspending.gov. A fifth contract, to replace locks along the Tennessee River, did increase substantially, but 98% of the rise was due to pre-agreed contract options, not after-the-fact supplemental agreements or change orders that have been added on to so many border wall contracts.

Building a wall along the southern border has been one of Trump's core promises and perhaps one of his most politically divisive battles.

The Supreme Court has agreed to hear a lawsuit brought by advocacy groups over a move to shift billions of dollars from the military for border wall construction after Congress refused to fully fund the project. The federal government's own watchdog agencies are reviewing some of the contracts after lawmakers raised concerns that political favoritism played a role in how the government awarded them.

Among the biggest beneficiaries of the wall contract changes is Galveston-based SLSCO, which has won the second-most in border wall contracts since 2017, about $2.2 billion, including nearly half a billion dollars in supplemental agreements. North Dakota-based Fisher Sand & Gravel has also won more than $2 billion in contracts since building a controversial private border fence in the Rio Grande Valley, which a ProPublica/Tribune investigation found was in danger of toppling if not fixed and properly maintained. On May 6, federal officials gave the firm a $1.2 billion contract, first reported by the Arizona Daily Star; the government did not publicly announce the massive award. The company's CEO, Tommy Fisher, could not be reached for comment. SLSCO officials referred questions about its border wall contracts to CBP.

“Spiraling Costs"

When Trump first touted his plan to build a “beautiful" wall all along the southern border, he said it would cost $8 billion — $12 billion tops — and that Mexico would pay for it.

The nation's self-anointed “best builder" bragged in 2017 that his construction know-how and savvy would bring the price of his border wall “WAY DOWN!" once he got involved in the process.

In the last three years, the administration has awarded nearly 40 contracts to 15 companies worth at least $10 billion to build more than 500 miles of fencing plus roads, lighting and other infrastructure, according to the most recent usaspending.gov data compiled by ProPublica and the Tribune. (Initially, the president proposed building 1,000 miles of wall, but he later revised that figure down to 450 to be completed before the end of his first term.)

In an October update, the administration said it had identified $15 billion — most of it from military funds — to build a total of 738 miles, which comes out to roughly $20 million a mile.

That's compared with the $2.4 billion the government spent from 2007-15 to build 653 miles of fence, as well as gates, roads, lighting and other infrastructure, according to the GAO.

Roger Maier, a CBP spokesman, said it's not reasonable to compare prior expenses to current ones. “CBP is constructing a border wall system which includes a combination of various types of infrastructure such as an internally hardened steel-bollard barrier 18' to 30' high, new and improved all-weather roads, lighting, enforcement cameras and other related technology to create a complete enforcement zone," he wrote in response to questions. “This is very different than the barriers we constructed in 2007-2009 where it was just the 18' steel-bollard barriers in some locations and vehicle barriers in others."

So far, Trump's administration has completed 360 miles, with an additional 221 under construction, according to CBP. Very little of that has added new fencing where there was none, though. Most of the work has been replacing shorter vehicle barriers and dilapidated fences with more imposing 30-foot bollard poles largely on land already owned by the federal government in Arizona and California.

Much less work has been done in Texas, one of the busiest border regions in terms of drug and migrant crossings, but which features the border's largest stretch without barriers. That is due both to the Rio Grande that snakes its way along the 1,200-mile Texas border, dividing the U.S. and Mexico, and the fact that most of the land is privately owned.

Trump declared a national emergency in 2019 after the Democrat-led House refused to give him more than $5 billion to fund the border wall, instead offering $1.4 billion to build fencing in the Rio Grande Valley Sector. The impasse led to a 35-day partial government shutdown before Trump bypassed Congress. By declaring a national emergency, Trump was able to shift billions of dollars from the Department of Defense and the Treasury Department. The rest comes from CBP appropriations.

To those following the border wall construction closely, the contracting process has triggered alarm.

“I'm just extremely concerned about the spiraling costs of the border wall … and about the amount of money that they are having to take away from DOD projects to build this wall," said Scott Amey, general counsel of the Project on Government Oversight, which is tracking the increasing costs of border wall-related contracts.

“Trump is trying to make good on a campaign promise that he made four years ago, and he's rushing through the construction of the wall," he added.

In February, the administration waived 10 federal contracting laws to speed up construction along the southwest border, doing away with rules that promote contract competition and small-business participation, as well as requiring justifications for the exercise of contract options, which prompted experts to issue warnings about the potential outcome.

In awarding additional money through contract modifications, the agency has frequently cited “unusual and compelling urgency" to further erode rules requiring a competitive bidding process. Experts say that “urgency" has little credibility and has led to environmental and other damage along the border.

“Whenever you do that, there are some compliance risks, and ... there's the risk of not getting really adequate, robust competition," Soloway said. “The more and better competition you have, the more and better decisions you can make."

A July report from the DHS Office of Inspector General said costs for the border wall could grow exponentially due to CBP's poor planning ahead of construction in an apparent rush to build the wall.

The agency “has not fully demonstrated that it possesses the capability to potentially spend billions of dollars to execute a large-scale acquisition to secure the southern border," the inspector general reported.

Until it improves its acquisition planning and management, the DHS watchdog said, “any future initiative may take longer than planned, cost more than expected and deliver less capability than envisioned to secure the southern border."

In response, DHS and CBP said they were being “chastised" for following the president's executive order from 2017, which directed the “immediate construction of a physical wall."

The inspector general countered that DHS' lead role in building the border wall doesn't exempt it from “following congressional requirements and established acquisition practices to safeguard taxpayers dollars from fraud, waste, and abuse."

A Track Record of Violations

There's no universal list of all border-wall-associated contracts. ProPublica and the Tribune found 68 contracts since late 2017 using CBP news releases, DOD and Corps announcements, and a search of federal databases for a group of 12 companies given pre-approval status by the Corps. Roughly two dozen of these contracts have only been awarded a minimum guarantee of about $2,000 but no border wall work yet. Not included in this list are millions more awarded to companies for peripheral services including acquiring land, aerial imaging, the removal of munitions debris and cactuses, and environmental monitoring.

Of the awarded contracts identified by ProPublica and the Tribune, four companies earned the vast majority of the funds — about $9 billion. The analysis focused on the total value of the contracts, rather than the amount spent to date. Top officials at the firms have been frequent donors to Republican candidates, and records show some of the companies have a host of safety violations from the Occupational Safety and Health Administration for offenses including failing to provide adequate shade to workers and not operating equipment safely, as well as wage violations.

One contract obtained by a Montana company shows how the awards can grow to several times their original size. In May 2019, BFBC LLC, a subsidiary of Barnard Construction, won a$142 million contract just a few days after it learned it was one of 12 construction firms selected by the Corps.

The contract called on the firm to replace about 5 miles of aging, low-slung vehicle barriers with 30-foot-high steel bollards near Yuma, Arizona. The project, one of the first to be paid for with diverted military funds, was widely publicized and featured a quick turnaround, with completion scheduled for Jan. 31, 2020.

What was less publicized was that the contract was open-ended. In technical terms, it was “undefinitized," which is allowed when the government seeks to begin work immediately, but which experts say provides little incentive to keep costs contained.

Four months later, the contract was “definitized," bringing the cost to more than $440 million. A DOD announcement says the money was for “replacement of El Centro and Yuma vehicle and pedestrian barrier," but it gives no additional details.

Six months later, in March 2020, the Corps issued a $172 million change order. This time, no press release or announcement hailed the contract modification; a federal database says the money is for “additional miles" near Yuma, but it provides no details.

Then, in April, a week after Democratic members of Congress urged border wall funds be redirected to the then-exploding coronavirus pandemic, BFBC received its biggest contract modification to date: $569 million for 17 additional miles in San Diego and El Centro — or $33 million per mile. A Corps spokesperson told the Daily Beast it awarded the half-billion-dollar contract add-on without competitive bidding because the firm was already “mobilized and working in close proximity."

Congressional Democrats called on the GAO to investigate what Sen. Jack Reed, a Rhode Island Democrat, called a “no-bid contract to an apparently politically connected, private contractor" as part of the federal watchdog's broader review of Corps contracts. Campaign finance reports show BFBC's owner is a longtime GOP donor who has given nearly $200,000 since 2017 to Republican causes and candidates, including to those in his home state of Montana as well as Texas and Arizona. Company officials could not be reached for comment.

Southwest Valley Constructors, a New Mexico-based affiliate of Kiewit Corp. that formed several months after Trump's inauguration, has received the most in border wall contracts since 2017. This subsidiary alone has been awarded contracts worth at least $2.7 billion for about 100 miles of border wall work in Arizona and Texas. More than $2 billion of that has come from the single May 15, 2019 contract and subsequent modifications.

While most of the work is ongoing, U.S. Fish and Wildlife officials in Arizona have already raised concerns that the company's work is dropping groundwater levels at a wildlife refuge, according to emails obtained by the Arizona Daily Star. In South Texas, a judge issued a temporary restraining order against the company after descendants of the family that started the Jackson Ranch Church and Cemetery accused it of working in such “hurried manner" that it was causing excessive shaking and vibrations at the historical sites.

The firm already faces three serious OSHA violations related to excavation safety rules that stem from a single inspection, sparked by a complaint. Southwest Valley Contractors is contesting them. Kiewit and its subsidiaries have a long track record of violations related to worker safety, the environment and employment. Since 2000, it has paid more than $5 million in penalties, records show. Kiewit representatives did not respond to a request for comment.

The $2.2 billion Texas-based SLSCO has won since 2018 has been for at least nine contracts for border wall construction, including about $300 million to build 13 miles of fencing on top of concrete levees in the Rio Grande Valley. That fencing skirts the Bentsen-Rio Grande Valley State Park, La Lomita Chapel and the National Butterfly Center, which Congress exempted from border wall construction in 2018.

The firm's work has come under scrutiny previously: A section of fencing built by the company in Calexico, California, blew over in January during the construction process, which officials blamed on high winds and drying concrete.

The firm has also received more than $410 million in supplemental agreements to a $390 million contract originally awarded in April 2019 to build fencing west of El Paso. Some of that money went to pay for an additional 2.4 miles of fencing; it's not clear what the rest went to.

As the presidential election approaches, both contractors and administration officials are racing against the clock: Former Vice President Joe Biden, the Democratic candidate, has pledged to cancel the existing contracts if he is elected. If this happens, construction firms would likely be awarded termination fees and get paid based on the amount of work they have completed by the time contracts are canceled.

While there's not an overall estimate of how much that could cost, court documents filed by the administration as part of the legal battle over the use of military funds provide a window into what a Biden administration might face come January: A single contract awarded to BFBC in November 2019 for 33 miles of fence replacement in Arizona, currently valued at about $420 million, could cost the government nearly $15 million to terminate.

“While ending construction is easy to say, it might not be so easy, because he'll have to consider the phase of construction, gaps in the wall that could be exploited and the termination costs for existing contracts, which can come with a high price tag for taxpayers," said Amey, with the Project on Government Oversight. “President Trump might have boxed in Biden, requiring completion of certain portions of the wall whether he likes it or not."

Steve Bannon's darkest plot yet is starting to implode

During the final days of President Donald Trump's reelection campaign, former White House Chief Strategist Steve Bannon has been desperately fighting to remain relevant in Trumpworld. Bannon's ideas for getting Trump reelected range from firing FBI Director Christopher Wray to smearing former Vice President Joe Biden's son, Hunter Biden. And in his desperation, Bannon has even been attacking major Trump allies like former New York City Mayor Rudy Giuliani, Attorney General William Barr and former New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie.

Vice's Emanuel Maiberg is reporting that "a series of videos and photos which appear to show Hunter Biden having sex are going viral on a Chinese-language news and video sharing website" co-founded by Bannon. Maiberg notes that "the videos are often narrated by users in English with a Chinese accent, and claim that the explicit photos and videos of Hunter Biden are proof that he's compromised by the Chinese government."

So far, however, efforts by Bannon and Giuliani to smear Hunter Biden haven't made a difference in the presidential election. And even the far-right Sen. Ted Cruz of Texas told Axios' Jonathan Swan that the e-mails and videos on a hard drive allegedly belonging to the former vice president's son aren't having an impact. Cruz told Swan, "I don't think it moves a single voter."

Reporter Madeline Peltz describes Bannon's recent attacks on fellow Trump supporters in an article published by Media Matters this week.

"Poor Steve Bannon," Peltz writes. "As the Hunter Biden hard drive story is lowered into the grave of failed October surprises, he's run out of options to insert his 'influence' into the election media cycle. Having failed to recreate his media manipulation successes of 2016, the former White House chief strategist is melting down and attacking his would-be allies."

Peltz notes how obsessed Bannon has been with getting Wray fired as FBI director. On October 25 in Axios, Swan and his colleague Alayna Treene reported that Trump, according to sources, plans to fire Wray as well as CIA Director Gina Haspel and Defense Secretary Mark Esper if he is reelected. But as Bannon sees it, Trumpworld isn't going after Wray aggressively enough — and he wants to see Wray fired right away, not after the election.

"In the past few days," according to Pentz, Bannon has "lambasted Trump lawyer Rudy Giuliani, Attorney General William Barr and even Donald Trump himself — calling them 'weak' for not pushing for, or bringing about, the immediate firing of FBI Director Christopher Wray."

Trump has clearly been increasing angry with Wray in recent months, stemming from disagreements over multiple issues. Most notably, Trump is outraged that Wray hasn't gone after the president's political enemies, has emphasized the serious threats of right-wing violence and white supremacy, diminished the significance of antifa and left-wing violence, and failed to provide support for Republicans' attacks on the integrity of mail-in voting.

The contents of a hard drive that supposedly belonged to Hunter Biden were first reported by the New York Post, and Bannon and Giuliani collaborated on that story. But Bannon, according to Peltz, has lashed out at Giuliani for not being hard enough on Wray.

"On October 29," Peltz reports, "Bannon attacked Giuliani even though they've been working together to launder the bogus story that first appeared in the New York Post, calling him 'one of the weak guys around' Trump."

In a transcript of that October 29 conversation, according to Peltz, Bannon declared, "Wray must be fired this morning" — and Giuliani agreed with firing Wray, but not until after the election. Bannon, in response, told Giuliani, "You're one of the weak guys around him. You're getting weak on me, Rudy. No, you're weak. You sort of sound like Chris; you spent too much time with Chris Christie. You're getting weak."

Bannon also slammed Barr as "another weak link in this chain."

In an October 29 broadcast of "War Room," Bannon ranted against Wray as well as Trump allies who he believes haven't done enough to get him fired.

"Fire him today," Bannon declared. "Do not wait. You show weakness — the president is showing weakness by waiting. There's not one person in this country, not one voter that will not vote for you by firing Wray. And don't let the weak people around you convince you of that. Be strong, be who you are, be what your presidency is about."

Here's why the most determined tracker of Trump's lies finally had to give up

At CNN, President Donald Trump has had a very aggressive and tireless fact-checker in Daniel Dale — who, time and time again, has called out the president's lies and distortions. The Canadian reporter discussed his fact-checking of Trump during a Q&A interview with the Los Angeles Times, noting that Trump lies so much that keeping up with all the lies has been a never-ending task.

Friday on Twitter, Dale tweeted the Times' article and posted, "So...in September, I had to abandon my 3.75-year count of every Trump false claim. Because he's talking so much and telling so many important lies that I don't have the time to research all the little ones. It was fun while it lasted. (No it wasn't.)"

The Times' Meredith Blake notes that Dale's fact-checking of Trump started in 2016, when he was a Washington, D.C. correspondent for the Toronto Star. On September 21, 2016, progressive activist and filmmaker Michael Moore praised Dale for fact-checking Trump so thoroughly, writing, "This Canadian journalist, every single day in the Toronto Star, lists all the lies that Donald Trump spoke that day. Shames the US media."

Blake asked Dale, "What's the tally of Trump's false claims as of right now?" — to which he responded, "I don't know because I've fallen behind during the campaign. I had to make a decision to stop updating over the last month and just focus on the big stuff. Because the president is talking so much — just the sheer volume of words right now is very large, and so many of them are false that if I tried to keep up comprehensively as I have for the past four years, I wouldn't have found time to write the most important stories about the most egregious stuff he's saying. So, I've had to make an executive decision to put it on hold for now. My tally for his presidency is over 9,000 false claims."

Blake asked Dale if there was a "most egregious" lie from Trump that stood out the most, and he replied, "Some of the claims of the pandemic I would put on the most egregious list. The claim that it's disappearing, which he's made 40-plus times since February. This is a national crisis where millions of people respond to the president's words, and he's constantly reassuring them, 'It's fine, it's going away' — and it is just not. The other claim he's emphasized this week is that the increase in cases is simply a result of more tests being done, and that's just not true."

When Blake asked Dale how effective fact-checking is at a time when politics in the U.S. are "so polarized" and there is so much "disinformation on social media," he responded, "I feel that there are obvious limitations to our work, and there are people we cannot currently reach. That's just a fact. There are people who will never click on a CNN article or never watch CNN…. My role is to put as much factual information out there as I can, and what people do with that is up to them."

Lincoln Project condenses Trump’s 90-minute Nevada rally into hilarious 74-second video

On Monday, The Lincoln Project released a video that clipped together 74 seconds of some of the strangest moments at President Donald Trump’s 90-minute campaign rally in Minden, Nevada on Saturday.

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Trump's own officials are terrified about what he'll do the day after the election: NYT

Journalist Ron Suskind has talked with multiple current and former Trump administration officials who say they're deeply concerned about what President Donald Trump will do the day after the election next week.

In multiple interviews, these officials sketched out a scenario in which Trump would encourage his supporters to disrupt voting in cities in key swing states.

"Disruption would most likely begin on Election Day morning somewhere on the East Coast, where polls open first," Suskind writes. "Miami and Philadelphia (already convulsed this week after another police shooting), in big swing states, would be likely locations. It could be anything, maybe violent, maybe not, started by anyone, or something planned and executed by any number of organizations, almost all of them on the right fringe, many adoring of Mr. Trump."

The big danger, these officials tell Suskind, is that early news of unrest at polling places will spark further instances across the country.

"News of even a few incidents could summon a violent segment of Mr. Trump's supporters into action, giving foreign actors even more to amplify and distribute, spreading what is, after all, news of mayhem to the wider concentric circles of Mr. Trump's loyalists," he writes.

Officials then say Trump will claim some kind of "victory" on November 4th even if the vote tallies show him behind.

"If the streets then fill with outraged people, he can easily summon, or prompt, or encourage troublemakers among his loyalists to turn a peaceful crowd into a sea of mayhem," Suskind writes. "They might improvise on their own in sparking violence, presuming it pleases their leader."

One FBI official tells Suskind that the agency has been gaming out how it will handle weeks of unrest that could come after the election.

"We've been talking to our state and local counterparts and gearing up for the expectation that it's going to be a significant law-enforcement challenge for probably weeks or months," this official said. "It feels pretty terrifying."

Read the whole story here.

Trump aides reveal horrifying reason why they refused to tell Trump about RBG's death during rally: report

President Donald Trump's aides have revealed exactly why they could not inform him of Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death during his campaign rally in Minnesota: they feared his supporters would celebrate.

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Here's how Barack Obama is brilliantly getting under Trump's skin on the campaign trail

Former President Barack Obama is having fun and getting under Donald Trump's skin. Obama is campaigning for his former vice president, Joe Biden, and saying some of the things we've all known he thought about Trump, but had to keep under wraps for the sake of the decorum and norms Trump shatters every day.

"What's his closing argument? That people are too focused on COVID?" Obama said on Tuesday in Orlando. "He said this at one of his rallies. 'Covid, Covid, Covid,' he's complained. He's jealous of COVID's media coverage." Obama's speech at that event stung Trump into a tweet whining about Fox News covering it, so, yeah, Obama knows how to hit Trump where it hurts.

At another Florida rally, on Saturday, Obama listed some of Trump's greatest hits, like suggesting bleach injections to cure coronavirus. "Florida Man wouldn't even do this stuff!" Obama said. "Why do we accept it from the president of the United States?"

And yeah, Trump immediately tweeted about that speech, too.

Obama is a high-profile surrogate who draws media coverage in a way few others would. He is a great speaker. And he has another advantage: One traditional role of a vice presidential nominee is to serve as an attack dog, dealing out the hard hits a presidential candidate can't. Sen. Kamala Harris, though, would face outsized backlash if she did that on a regular basis, since she's a woman—a Black woman. Obama is taking over that role while Harris meshes her tone more with Biden's unity-focused theme.

And Obama is using some of the political capital he accumulated through more than a decade now of preternatural control of the anger he has to have felt at the racism he's faced throughout his career and at Trump's systematic efforts to dismantle his legacy, and allowing himself to show some of that anger, in carefully controlled doses. For years, Obama had to work to deny anyone the chance to stick "angry Black man" stereotypes on him, and he did that work. We know who he is by now, we know how much it takes to get him to show anything but cool, calm control, and a little bit of anger showing through the sardonic mockery and the disbelieving tone at Trump's failures is now going to work for him, not against him.

And boy does it enrage Trump.

'Signs of a coming conflict are everywhere': Why a 2nd Civil War would be quite different from the 1st

In 2020, the United States has been rocked by everything from a deadly pandemic and a brutal recession to civil unrest in a long list of cities to fears that violent conflicts will occur either on Election Day or after the election. Journalist Matthew Gault, in an article published by Vice this week, wonders if the political divisions in the United States run so deep that the country is headed for another civil war.

Describing the unrest that has occurred this year, Gault writes, "People are marching in the streets, aligned with two ideologically distinct factions. Many of them, overwhelmingly from one side, are armed, and violence and death has resulted when these two sides have clashed. The signs of a coming conflict are everywhere."

Certainly, the U.S. has had plenty of unrest in the past, from riots and assassinations during the 1960s to the Los Angeles riots in 1992. But Gault views 2020 as especially disturbing.

"Political polarization is up, gun and ammunition sales have spiked, killers such as Kyle Rittenhouse are being lauded by their political allies, and protests are widespread in American cities," Gault explains. "Police kill unarmed people in the street, the government is polarized and corrupt, and our institutions are failing. Armed militias patrol U.S. streets."

Gault goes on to note that as if everything else that has occurred in 2020 weren't enough, Philadelphia erupted in violence the week before the presidential election following the fatal shooting of Walter Wallace, Jr. — a 27-year-old African-American man — by police.

"In the aftermath of the shooting, protestors have smashed windows and spray painted the police substation," Gault notes. "Police say 30 officers have been hurt, and one who was hit by a pickup truck has been hospitalized for a broken leg."

Gault adds, "We have a sect of the president's supporters who have vowed to show up at polling places armed. If you have a terrible and ominous feeling about all this, you're not alone. Some on the far right are talking about another civil war."

What would another civil war in the United States look like? The last one occurred during the 1860s, when Americans were still using horses to commute to work — and a great deal has changed technologically since then.

Gault explains, "According to several experts I spoke with, a new civil conflict will look nothing like the first American Civil War. It's not likely that clear sides will be drawn up with massive armies of Americans marching towards each other as drones strike from above. An insurgency is more likely — a period of sustained and distributed conflict where non-state actors carry out violence to achieve a political goal."

One of the people Gault interviewed was David Kilcullen of Foundation for Defense of Democracies. Kilcullen is worried about the United States' future, telling Gault, "The worst atrocities come from fear, not hate. Because people think they're good, and they can justify incredible atrocious violence to themselves on the basis that it is defensive….. You need a belief that some other group is encroaching on your territory."

Gault also interviewed journalist Robert Evans, known for his reporting on conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine. Evans told Gault, "We are in a state of civil war whenever, in more than one geographical location in the United States, it becomes commonplace for multiple non-state armed groups to fight each other with deadly force. When that is an occurrence that is common in more than one location in the country, that's a civil war."

According to Evans, "To most people, the idea of a second American Civil War feels more like science fiction than a possible future…. I have seen systems collapse. Everything I've seen and everything I've read over the past two years has convinced me that the United States is closer to that kind of terror than anyone is willing to admit."

Adam Isacson of WOLA — a group that promotes human rights in Latin America — told Gault that a civil war in the U.S. might resemble the one that occurred in Colombia, where the conflict didn't occur throughout the entire country. Isacson recalled that when he was in Bogotá in the early 2000s, Colombia didn't seem like a country that was in a state of civil war.

Isacson told Gault, "You realize that even in this horrible period for Colombia, for most of the country, this conflict was just something you saw on television. It doesn't really impact their everyday lives…. Collapse is not evenly distributed…. I'd say there's a real danger that (the U.S.) is going to see sustained political violence."

A wave of panic is overtaking Trump and the GOP as their fortunes look increasingly grim

President Donald Trump's supporters hoped his debate with former Vice President Joe Biden on Tuesday night would give his campaign a boost. But many pundits have argued that while Trump's unhinged ranting and raving during the debate probably didn't hurt his support among true MAGA diehards, it didn't win over many swing voters who were on the fence. And two Washington Post opinion columnists, Never Trump conservative Jennifer Rubin and liberal Greg Sargent, are emphasizing that Trump has only made things worse for himself this week and that a mood of desperation and panic is evident in the Republican Party.

Tuesday night's debate was followed by a MAGA rally in Minnesota, where Trump once again attacked Rep. Ilhan Omar. Trump's campaign is hoping that he will be able to flip Minnesota, which Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton won in 2016. But according to Sargent, the Minnesota rally only underscored how dysfunctional Trump's reelection campaign is. Trump reignited his racist attacks on Rep. Ilhan Omar, trying to pull out the same bag of tricks that snagged him a Midwest victory in 2016, but it doesn't look like it's working this time around. Sargent explained:

Trump spent months on a "law and order" strategy to galvanize his core White supporters while frightening White suburbanites back to him. That failed.

Then, at the debate, Trump kept it up, falsely insisting Biden wouldn't utter the words "law and order," winking to right-wing extremists and white supremacists, and again rallying supporters to intimidate the opposition's voters.

Yet Republicans believe this is failing for him, reports the New York Times. His racist backlash politics and threats of voter intimidation risk further alienating "women, moderates, suburban voters and people of color," as the Times puts it. The people outside what he calls "our country."

Republicans fear this approach is putting Trump and his party on track to a big loss. But as his Minnesota rally showed, he remains absolutely committed to winning only in this fashion.

Rubin, similarly, views Trump's hysterical anti-Democrat rants as acts of "desperation."

"In his desperation to discredit his opponent and an election that he looks likely to lose — potentially by a margin too large for him to plausibly scream 'Fraud!' — President Trump's lies and outbursts are getting increasingly bizarre," Rubin explains. "(Tuesday) night's 'debate' showcased Trump at his most unhinged and out of control, unable to conduct a civil conversation or maintain a coherent train of thought."

This week, Rubin writes, one "could practically feel the panic emanating from the White House."

"Trump is becoming more frantic and unhinged by the day," Rubin argues. "He is staring not only at a possible landslide defeat, but potentially, also economic ruin and criminal prosecution. And his kids' inheritance may be going down the drain as well. Certainly, Trump's presidency has been a four-year nightmare for the country, but for Trump, it may turn out to be devastating and permanent."

Some red states, according to polls, are turning out to be surprisingly competitive for Biden, including Texas and Georgia: recent polls in those states have either shown Trump slightly ahead or Biden slightly ahead. But especially shocking is a new Quinnipiac poll that shows Biden trailing Trump by only 1% in South Carolina. While Texas and Georgia, truth be told, are light red at this point, South Carolina is known for being deep red: Trump won the state by 14% in 2016. And in South Carolina, Republican Sen. Lindsey Graham is facing a tough challenge from Democrat Jaime Harrison. Polls are also showing that race to be close.

Graham, during recent appearances on Fox News, has warned fellow Republicans that Harrison is being inundated with donations. And McClatchy reports that a Republican PAC, the Senate Leadership Fund, is planning to spend $10 million in a three-week ad blitz in the hope of saving Graham from being voted out of office.

The fact that the GOP suddenly seems extremely concerned about saving a Senate seat in South Carolina of all places shows what dire straits the party has found itself in.

At least 6 Trump cabinet secretaries are accused or under investigation for violating federal law

An Additional Eight or More Administration Officials Also Accused or Under Investigation

At least six Trump Cabinet secretaries are under investigation for violating federal law or are accused of violating federal law, as are an additional eight or more administration officials.

The Cabinet secretaries include Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, Attorney General Bill Barr, Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, and Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf.

In recent days White House officials have been assisting President Donald Trump's re-election efforts so intensely that at least one has been officially named a campaign advisor – in addition to being paid by the taxpayers for their day job inside the executive branch.

It's causing a great deal of outrage in some quarters.

An NCRM investigation finds more than a dozen White House officials are either under investigation or according to a government ethics watchdog or others, should be under investigation for appearing to be in violation of the federal law known as the Hatch Act.

Take White House press secretary Kayleigh McEnany, who is now traveling with the president and appearing on Fox News as a Trump 2020 campaign "senior advisor."

CNN White House Correspondent Kaitlan Collins pointed out the startling "title" addition on Tuesday:

McEnany appears to have done it again today:

The New York Times's Maggie Haberman on Thursday described this as "further blurring the lines between government and political activity."

In one appearance earlier this week, in which she was announced as both a campaign senior adviser and the White House press secretary, Ms. McEnany talked up the president's political rallies.

“At each of our rallies yesterday, I was with the president, we made three stops on Lancaster and all across the state," she said in the interview. “And in each of those stops we played a video for the public. Joe Biden said roll the tape, President Trump. When did I say ban fracking? Well, we rolled it."

McEnany is far from the only one "blurring" the lines.

Senior advisor to the president Stephen Miller, the Trump White House white nationalist who is the architect of its child separation policy, held a Trump campaign call with reporters on Wednesday. It was a disaster, with Miller spewing lies about Joe Biden, leading one reporter to describe his attacks this way: "Stephen Miller basically describing to reporters the plot of the Purge if Joe Biden wins the election."

Today, top Trump White House economic advisor Larry Kudlow will hold another Trump campaign call with reporters.

And then there's White House senior advisor and First Daughter, Ivanka Trump:

Some other Trump Cabinet Secretaries, including Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson, are raising eyebrows for travel that appears to be campaign-adjacent.

So is any or all of this illegal?

Here's what CREW, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, has to say:

(CREW previously called for McEnany to be investigated for apparent Hatch Act violations. They also called for investigations into Pence chief of staff Marc Short and Trump National Security Advisor Robert O'Brien.)

There's of course also White House trade advisor Peter Navarro:

It's not just McEnany, Miller, Navarro, Ivanka, and Kudlow.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo is under investigation for several "potential" Hatch Act violations.

The nation's top law enforcement officer, Attorney General Bill Barr, is accused by CREW of violating the Hatch Act:

Secretary of the Interior David Bernhardt caused some to accuse him of a Hartch Act violastion over this video:

Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos is under investigation:

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue is accused of a Hatch Act violation by a sitting U.S. Congressman:

Acting Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf is also under investigation:

And then there's the Acting Commissioner of U.S. Customs and Border Protection, Mark Morgan, in another apparent Hatch Act violation:

These are all recent potential violations or investigations.

CREW back in July also said White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows should be investigated for Hatch Act violstions:

Donald Trump Jr. showed his true colors when caught in a disgusting lie about COVID-19 deaths

This week, Dr. Anthony Fauci — discussing recent coronavirus surges in the United States and fears that the pandemic could become even worse this winter — warned, "There's going to be a whole lot of pain in this country." But despite the warnings of Fauci and other medical experts, Donald Trump, Jr. has downplayed the severity of the autumn surge. And on Thursday — a day in which almost 1000 people died from COVID-19 in the U.S. and a record of near 90,000 people tested positive for it — the president's son claimed that the COVID-19 death count has fallen to "almost nothing."

During an appearance on Fox News' "The Ingraham Angle" on Thursday night, Trump, Jr. told far-right host Laura Ingraham, "I went through the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) data because I kept hearing about new infections, but I was like, 'Well, why aren't they talking about deaths?' Oh, oh, because the number is almost nothing. Because we've gotten control of this thing. We understand how it works. They have the therapeutics to be able to deal with this."

Trump, Jr. insisted that the number of coronavirus-related deaths in the U.S. had "gone to almost nothing." And he ridiculed Democrats who continue to stress the importance of social distancing, saying, "Why don't we shut down for 10 or 15 years?"

President Donald Trump's son, not surprisingly, didn't say anything about how overwhelmed hospitals are becoming in many parts of the U.S. because of all the new COVID-19 patients. That same Thursday, NBC News aired a segment on the challenges that some hospitals are having staying on top of the surge — and an ICU nurse at St. Vincent Health Care in Billings, Montana said, "It's been shocking to me how fast it's accelerated in the last couple weeks." When the nurse was asked how close the hospital was to being "at capacity," she replied, "We're close. We're very close. We can find beds, but it's probably going to be at the expense of non-COVID patients."

NBC News' Rebecca Shabad noted that Johns Hopkins University reported on Thursday that almost 1,000 people died from COVID-19 — far more than "almost nothing" in single day. According to the university, the COVID-19 death count had passed 229,000 in the U.S. by Friday afternoon and more than 1.1 million worldwide.

Pete Buttigieg had the perfect response to a Trump-loving heckler trying to crash a Biden rally

Former South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg (D) gave a Trump-supporting heckler a taste of his own medicine when he interrupted his campaign rally for Joe Biden.

On Wednesday night, Buttigieg held a rally in St. Pete, Florida to campaign for Democratic presidential nominee. He crossed paths with a man wearing a red MAGA hat and khaki shorts, reports Pink News. The man held his cell phone up to live-stream his heckling protest.

Buttigieg's staffers made attempts to remove the heckler but to no avail. However, that did not stop Buttigieg from getting his point across.

"Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who will serve him just as enthusiastically as he will serve us?" the former mayor asked. "Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who cares just as much about protecting the lives of those that protest us as those who stand at our side? Wouldn't it be nice to have a president who does not believe in violence against those who disagree with him?"

He went on to note the importance of inclusion in America as he painted a picture of a better America focused on "rejecting racism and embracing one another for a better future."

"Are you not proud to be an American in a country that makes room for all of us, but whose values include rejecting hate and rejecting those who would deny science when it could save lives? Rejecting racism and embracing one another for a better future for this country?"

Then, Buttigieg offered a direct message to the heckling Trump supporter saying, "And don't you feel a little sorry for a president who finds it necessary to draw this kind of support? But it's OK sir, because when Joe Biden is president you will be safer too."

As Buttigieg attempted to get back on track and focus on the rally, the heckler continued with his antics. So the once-presidential hopeful challenged the heckler again asking, "Can I finish my remarks? Are you afraid to hear what I have to say?"

When that approach did not work, Buttigieg went for another angle asking, "Do you denounce white supremacy?"

To that question, the man nodded that he did. Buttigieg hit back with remarks on President Donald Trump checkered public stance on white supremacy. "Good, then we agree on something. That's a beginning point. See if you can get your president to do the same thing."

Buttigieg also took a dig at Fox News and Vice President Mike Pence as he recalled his commitment to helping the Biden-Harris campaign on their road to the White House. Over the last several weeks, Buttigieg has become one of Harris' top allies as Democrats band together to take the Oval.

"I've told the Biden-Harris campaign I would go anywhere to support the cause. I didn't know that would mean going into the mind of Mike Pence for a while to help with debate prep," Buttigieg said during the rally. "I didn't know it would mean going on Fox News quite as often as it has."

His latest remarks come shortly after his previous Fox News appearance with host Martha McCallum. He was asked about Harris change of heart regarding Medicare for All. Buttigieg quickly fired back with an argument of his own as he noted the hypocrisy of Pence, an evangelical Christian, running on a political ticket with Trump, a president caught cheating on his wife with a known adult film star.

"Well, there's a classic parlour game of trying to find a little bit of daylight between running mates," Buttigieg quickly fired back.

He added, "If people want to play that game, we could look into why an evangelical Christian like Mike Pence wants to be on a ticket with a president caught with a porn star. Or how he feels about the immigration policy he called unconstitutional before he decided to team up with Donald Trump."

Democrats' Senate map is expanding in some very unexpected places

If you're seeking evidence that the Senate map is expanding, not contracting, for Democrats, look no further than Cook Political Report's ratings change in the Mississippi Senate race from "solid" to "likely" Republican. Republicans will most likely hold that seat on election night, but the idea that things are loosening even a tad in a state like Mississippi is somewhat astonishing.

The movement in such an unlikely state also suggests Democrats are very much in the running to bring home some of the lower-tier Senate races. One of Democrats' best chances for a pickup in a state that initially fell below the radar appears to be Montana, where Democratic Gov. Steve Bullock is in striking distance of unseating GOP Sen. Steve Daines.

A new poll released Wednesday by Montana State University put Bullock up 1 point, 48%-47%, with 5% undecided. And although Donald Trump is still running 7 points ahead of Joe Biden, 52%-45%, the other statewide races for governor the state's at-large congressional seat are neck and neck. In the gubernatorial race, Democratic Lt. Gov. Mike Cooney and GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte are tied at 45%, while Republican at-large candidate Matt Rosendale holds a one-point lead over Democrat Kathleen Williams, 47%-46%. In other words, Montana looks to be very competitive and Democrats could pick up some important seats there.

In Kansas, Democrat Barbara Bollier won the endorsement of the Kansas City Star, which compared Bollier's GOP opponent Rep. Roger Marshall to the highly unpopular Republican, Kris Kobach. "Don't be fooled," wrote the Star, "Marshall is every bit as conservative as Kobach. Bollier is far better prepared to meet this moment." Kansas.com also endorsed her as "an independent thinker," writing, "It's no surprise that more than 80 current and former Republican leaders have endorsed her campaign." An internal poll conducted by GBAO found Bollier leading by 1 point, 46%-45%, with Libertarian Jason Buckley drawing 4% and 4% undecided. Yet apparently, Marshall feels so good about the state of play that he decided to skip the final debate altogether. In a pretty stunning move, Marshall suggested he got "set up" after the Topeka TV Station KSNT tried to contact him repeatedly and even sent a certified letter inviting him to participate in the debate.

In South Carolina, Cook Political has the race between Democrat Jaime Harrison and GOP Sen. Lindsey Graham in tossup territory. Since Harrison's eye-popping $57 million fundraising haul in the third quarter, he has also picked up the endorsement of the South Carolina's oldest newspaper, The State. The Economist's forecast model is also "unclear which candidate will win," putting the race in the same category as other tight races that have been viewed as slightly more ripe for Democratic pickups, such as the two Georgia Senate races along with the one in Iowa.

Some Democratic Senate candidates are obviously much better poised to deliver wins on election night, but if there's one thing that unites nearly all these races—from the "very likely" flips to the "unclear"—it's that they are trending in Democrats' direction, according to forecasts and recent polling.

That's a good sign and suggests Democrats might walk away with an unexpected victory or two in some of the scrappier races that weren't originally viewed as being in the offing for Democrats.

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