VIDEOS

'Someone's reading our texts': Tucker Carlson, UPS and the non-stolen Joe Biden documents

Fox News personality Tucker Swanson McNear Carlson is being widely mocked after regaling viewers of his top-rated cable news program on Wednesday with a bizarre, evidence-free tale of deep state-style espionage directed against him by unknown forces who allegedly stole a sheaf of top-secret documents with "damning" information about the Biden family, as it was in transit to him via UPS.

Carlson can now rest assured: On Thursday morning a UPS spokesperson reported that the company had found the missing contents.

"After an extensive search, we have found the contents of the package and are arranging for its return," the spokesperson said by email. "UPS will always focus first on our customers, and will never stop working to solve issues and make things right. We work hard to ensure every package is delivered, including essential goods, precious family belongings and critical healthcare."

Carlson, however, immediately denied the claim in a text message to me as "not true." I sent him a screenshot of the email and followed up, but he has not replied.

Carlson told his audience Wednesday that a producer in New York had received the documents Monday from an unnamed source, and overnighted them to Los Angeles with a popular commercial shipper, later revealed to be UPS. But Carlson said that UPS informed them Tuesday morning that "the package had been opened and the contents were missing — the documents had disappeared."

UPS did not offer any details about what had happened to the package.

Carlson, however, had implied that the snafu had been a plot to steal the Biden documents before he could broadcast them to the world. Though the host was widely mocked for claiming to have lost history-shaping documents without having them copied first, he actually never said that.

When I asked him about that in a text later that night, he told me that "of course" he had made other copies.

"Hi, Tucker, it's Roger," I wrote. "Did you make copies of those documents? Or did anyone take photos?"

"Of course," Carlson replied. "The point is, someone's reading our texts," he said, suggesting that the package was intercepted because his communications were being monitored.

This struck me as a wild claim. Carlson and I have no rapport; I have his phone number because he called me once in July about a story I was doing. We have spoken only that one time. When I then asked if he would be willing to share the copies of the documents with me, he replied, "Which Roger is this?"

Notorious GOP trickster Roger Stone later said in a text that, while his relationship with Carlson goes back 30 years, he had played no role thus far in the Hunter Biden smear fiasco.

Stone did acknowledge to Salon that he had sent Carlson a "congratulatory text" following Carlson's Monday night interview with Tony Bobulinski, a former Hunter Biden associate who claims to have damaging information about the family. In July, President Trump commuted Stone's sentence on seven felony counts.

Republican operatives and Trump allies have spent nearly two years trying to make corruption allegations against Hunter Biden and his father stick with the American public. They appear to have failed in that regard: A recent poll shows that Americans find Biden more honest than Trump by a margin of 54% to 37%.

In fact, probably the most tangible result of the effort so far has been its spectacular, history-making backfire last year, when the plot led directly to Trump's impeachment by the House of Representatives.

The second wave of attacks this year does not appear much more successful. Trump's supposed personal attorney, former LifeLock spokesperson Rudy Giuliani, distributed contents to journalists of what he claims are the contents of Hunter Biden's old laptop. The FBI has reportedly now opened an investigation into those contents as being part of a possible Russian intelligence operation designed to influence the 2020 election.

Both writers credited the New York Post's original article about the Hunter Biden laptop had previously worked at Fox News, Carlson's network, which rejected Giuliani's pitch on the laptop, citing credibility issues. One of those writers, a former associate producer for Trump "pillow-talk" confidant Sean Hannity, had posted Instagram photos of herself with former Trum campaign CEO and White House strategist Steve Bannon, who shared a middleman role with Giuliani in the laptop's origin story.

That same writer has also posed for photos with Roger Stone.

Watch the "Tucker Carlson Tonight" clip about the UPS saga here.

news & politics

Stephen Miller details the horrifying second-term agenda for Trump's immigration policy

President Donald Trump's senior adviser Stephen Miller has revealed the Trump administration's plan to impose stricter immigration policies if the president is re-elected for a second term.

During an interview with NBC News, Miller outlined the plans Trump has to aggressively overhaul immigration as he stressed that he was speaking from the context of the Trump campaign and not from the perspective of a White House employee.

He made it clear that one of the Trump administration's top priorities centers around "building on and expanding the framework that we've created with the travel ban, in terms of raising the standard for screening and vetting for admission to the United States."

"That's going to be a major priority," Miller said. "It's going to require a whole government effort. It's going to require building a very elaborate and very complex screening mechanism."

The expansion would likely make it far more difficult for applicants to qualify for VISAs. The enhanced protocols and increases in the complexity of screening measures may include "enhanced screening methods, changes to the interview process, more information sharing among government agencies and vetting the "ideological sympathies or leanings" of those applying for visas," according to Newsweek.

He also said the administration would want to further crack down on "sanctuary cities" — those jurisdictions which have decided not to cooperate with federal immigration authorities to various degrees. Often, local governments determine that having deportation as a persistent threat in dealing with the authorities can make communities reluctant to report crimes or otherwise engage with important municipal services. But Trump and his allies despise these policies and want to punish the communities that adopt them.

Miller, an outed white nationalist, even went a step further as he insisted the president's ultimate goal would be to expand his immigration policy, globally.

"The president would like to expand that to include the rest of the world," Miller revealed. "And so if you create safe third partners in other continents and other countries and regions, then you have the ability to share the burden of asylum-seekers on a global basis."

Although some of the changes Miller discussed would require legislation changes, Miller is confident the Trump administration would be able to take the necessary actions to bring the policy into law.

"In many cases, fixing these problems and restoring some semblance of sanity to our immigration programs does involve regulatory reform," he said. "Congress has delegated a lot of authority. [...] And that underscores the depth of the choice facing the American people."

election '20

Court order segregating Minnesota ballots that arrive late could signal more trouble on Election Day

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit's decision to separate late-arriving ballots casts doubt on whether or not late-arriving ballots will even be counted and signals the revival of Minnesota's Election Day deadline unraveling the seven-day extension that the state agreed to uphold in a separate state court case.

For the 2020 election, Minnesota Secretary of State Steve Simon initially agreed to a deal with two voter groups in state court. Under that deal, they were ballots were supposed to be accepted up to seven days after the November 3 election date as long as they were postmarked prior to that date. Republicans, subsequently, challenged that rule, according to KARE9.

"However well-intentioned and appropriate from a policy perspective in the context of a pandemic during a presidential election, it is not the province of a state executive official to re-write the state's election code, at least as it pertains to selection of presidential electors," the order reads.

The publication goes on to break down the meaning of the latest abrupt change:

"This would mean if you have a mail-in ballot, you must drop it off at your designated location or you can vote in-person through early voting or vote in-person on Election Day. If you are returning a mail-in ballot in-person on Election Day it must be dropped off no later than 3 p.m."

Simon also released a statement admitting the order is a "tremendous and unnecessary disruption to Minnesota's election." Now, he is hoping to make sure voters are aware of the changes, which could greatly impact the outcome of the state's election results.

In the wake of the latest order, Democratic leaders are urging voters refrain from mailing in ballots at this late date because there is no guarantee they will arrive on time with just four days until the election.

On Thursday, Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.) took to Twitter with a warning for the residents in her state. She tweeted, "Because of LAST MINUTE ruling, Minnesota DO NOT put ballots in mail any more.

Klobuchar added, "In the middle of a pandemic, the Republican Party is doing everything to make it hard for you to vote. Stand up for YOUR rights: Vote in-person or take mail-in ballot directly to ballot box."

It is now recommended that Minnesota voters mail-in ballots in-person by 8:00p.m. on Tuesday, November 3, 2020. All ballots received after that time will be separated.

economy

Economists warn against deceptive White House spin on new GDP figures: 'Don't be fooled'

With the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis set to release third-quarter economic growth estimates Thursday that are expected to show a historic surge in GDP following the worst contraction on record in the previous quarter, experts and Democratic lawmakers are sounding the alarm about President Donald Trump's election-minded efforts to portray the deceptive numbers as proof that the economy is roaring back under his leadership.

Even though the numbers have not yet officially been released, the Trump reelection campaign is already running Facebook ads touting the "fastest GDP growth in history" and celebrating the "Great American Comeback" that the figures supposedly show.

"The economic calamity threatening American households is largely self-inflicted, and will get even more dire unless Congress takes bipartisan action soon."
—Rep. Don Beyer

But several economists and analysts have warned in recent days that the new BEA statistics will likely paint a highly misleading picture of the economy, which remains mired in deep recession as the coronavirus continues to spread and Congress fails to approve additional relief spending, leaving tens of millions of jobless and hungry Americans without desperately needed assistance.

The BEA is expected to peg third-quarter GDP growth at over 30% at an annualized rate—a figure that would be staggering if it didn't come on the heels of the worst GDP drop in U.S. history in the second quarter.

"Some basic math and data can help pierce through the mirage," economist and Brookings Institute fellow Jay Shambaugh wrote in a blog post Monday. "One reason 30 percent growth doesn't mean the economy is healed stems from how percentage changes work when going down and then up. If you own a stock priced at $100 and it drops 30 percent, it is now worth $70. If it gains back 30 percent, it is then worth $91 (the gain is just $21 because 30 percent of 70 is 21)."

"In the same manner," Shambaugh continued, "the large drop in output in the second quarter followed by similar sized increases in the third quarter will still leave a large hole."


Dean Baker, senior economist at the Center for Economic and Policy Research, noted Tuesday that "the economy would have to grow at a 53.3 percent annual rate in the third quarter to make up the ground lost in the first and second quarters."

Given that the BEA figures are likely to be among the last major economic indicators released ahead of the November 3 election, the Trump campaign has rushed to seize upon the numbers and the president is all but certain to hail them upon their release Thursday morning.

"Trump will claim credit. Don't be fooled," tweeted economist Robert Reich. "It follows one of sharpest drops in history. And the growth hasn't lasted. Latest indicators show big loss of momentum."

In a brief report (pdf) released Wednesday ahead of the new BEA statistics, Democrats on the Joint Economic Committee said Thursday's numbers "will not fully reflect the worsening public health crisis."

"Instead, on the surface, it will appear to suggest a dramatic economic turnaround," the committee says. "However, even record-breaking third quarter real GDP growth of 30%-35% will leave the U.S. economy substantially smaller than when the year began."


The Trump campaign's touting of the GDP figures as evidence of a booming economic recovery also ignores the deteriorating material circumstances of countless Americans as millions remain unemployed and struggle to afford food, rent, and other basic expenses.

Shortly after confirming Amy Coney Barrett to the Supreme Court late Monday, Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) adjourned the Senate for recess until November 9, effectively killing the chances of a coronavirus relief package ahead of Election Day.

Rep. Don Beyer (D-Va.), vice chair of the Joint Economic Committee, said in a statement Wednesday that "Republicans' failure to reauthorize unemployment supports is a catastrophic mistake that threatens to engulf the personal finances of millions of families."

"The economic calamity threatening American households is largely self-inflicted, and will get even more dire unless Congress takes bipartisan action soon," Beyer added. "We are no longer talking about stimulus, we are talking about life-preservers for millions people who have been terribly hurt and face worse personal tragedy."


culture

'Follow Trump off a cliff’: Psychological analysis reveals 14 key traits of people who support the president

As he himself said even before he won the presidential election in 2016, "I could stand in the middle of 5th Avenue and shoot somebody and I wouldn't lose voters." Unfortunately for the American people, this wild-sounding claim appears to be truer than not, at least for the majority of his supporters, and that is something that should disturb us. It should also motivate us to explore the science underlying such peculiar human behavior, so we can learn from it, and potentially inoculate against it.

In all fairness, we should recognize that lying is sadly not uncommon for politicians on both sides of the political aisle, but the frequency and magnitude of the current president's lies should have us all wondering why they haven't destroyed his political career, and instead perhaps strengthened it. Similarly, we should be asking why his inflammatory rhetoric and numerous scandals haven't sunk him. We are talking about a man who was caught on tape saying, "When you're a star, they let you do it. You can do anything. Grab them by the pussy." Politically surviving that video is not normal, or anything close to it, and we can be sure that such a revelation would have been the end of Barack Obama or George Bush had it surfaced weeks before the election.

While dozens of psychologists have analyzed Trump, to explain the man's political invincibility, it is more important to understand the minds of his staunch supporters. While there have been various popular articles that have illuminated a multitude of reasons for his unwavering support, there appears to be no comprehensive analysis that contains all of them. Since there seems to be a real demand for this information, I have tried to provide that analysis below.

Some of the explanations come from a 2017 review paper published in the Journal of Social and Political Psychology by the psychologist and UC Santa Cruz professor Thomas Pettigrew. Others have been put forth as far back as 2016 by myself, a cognitive neuroscience and psychology researcher, in various articles and blog posts for publications like Psychology Today. A number of these were inspired by insights from psychologists like Sheldon Solomon, who laid the groundwork for the influential Terror Management Theory, and David Dunning, who did the same for the Dunning-Kruger effect

This list will begin with the more benign reasons for Trump's intransigent support, and as the list goes on, the explanations become increasingly worrisome, and toward the end, border on the pathological. It should be strongly emphasized that not all Trump supporters are racist, mentally vulnerable, or fundamentally bad people. It can be detrimental to society when those with degrees and platforms try to demonize their political opponents or paint them as mentally ill when they are not. That being said, it is just as harmful to pretend that there are not clear psychological and neural factors that underlie much of Trump supporters' unbridled allegiance.

The psychological phenomena described below mostly pertain to those supporters who would follow Trump off a cliff. These are the people who will stand by his side no matter what scandals come to light, or what sort of evidence for immoral and illegal behavior surfaces.

1. Practicality Trumps Morality

For some wealthy people, it's simply a financial matter. Trump offers tax cuts for the rich and wants to do away with government regulation that gets in the way of businessmen making money, even when that regulation exists for the purpose of protecting the environment. Others, like blue-collared workers, like the fact that the president is trying to bring jobs back to America from places like China. Some people who genuinely are not racist (those who are will be discussed later) simply want stronger immigration laws because they know that a country with open borders is not sustainable. These people have put their practical concerns above their moral ones. To them, it does not matter if he's a vagina-grabber, or if his campaign team colluded with Russia to help him defeat his political opponent. It is unknown whether these people are eternally bound to Trump in the way others are, but we may soon find out if the Mueller investigation is allowed to come to completion.

2. The Brain's Attention System Is More Strongly Engaged by Trump

According to a study that monitored brain activity while participants watched 40 minutes of political ads and debate clips from the presidential candidates, Donald Trump is unique in his ability to keep the brain engaged. While Hillary Clinton could only hold attention for so long, Trump kept both attention and emotional arousal high throughout the viewing session. This pattern of activity was seen even when Trump made remarks that individuals didn't necessarily agree with. His showmanship and simple language clearly resonate with some at a visceral level

3. America's Obsession with Entertainment and Celebrities

Essentially, the loyalty of Trump supporters may in part be explained by America's addiction with entertainment and reality TV. To some, it doesn't matter what Trump actually says because he's so amusing to watch. With the Donald, you are always left wondering what outrageous thing he is going to say or do next. He keeps us on the edge of our seat, and for that reason, some Trump supporters will forgive anything he says. They are happy as long as they are kept entertained

4. "Some Men Just Want to Watch the World Burn."

Some intelligent people who know better are supporting Trump simply to be rebellious or to introduce chaos into the political system. They may have such distaste for the establishment and Democrats like Hillary Clinton that their support for Trump is a symbolic middle finger directed at Washington. These people do not have their priorities straight, and perhaps have other issues, like an innate desire to troll others, or a deranged obsession with schadenfreude.

5. The Fear-Factor: Conservatives Are More Sensitive to Threat

Science has unequivocally shown that the conservative brain has an exaggerated fear response when faced with stimuli that may be perceived as threatening. A 2008 study in the journal Science found that conservatives have a stronger physiological reaction to startling noises and graphic images compared to liberals. A brain-imaging study published in Current Biology revealed that those who lean right politically tend to have a larger amygdala — a structure that is electrically active during states of fear and anxiety. And a 2014 fMRI study found that it is possible to predict whether someone is a liberal or conservative simply by looking at their brain activity while they view threatening or disgusting images, such as mutilated bodies. Specifically, the brains of self-identified conservatives generated more activity overall in response to the disturbing images.

These brain responses are automatic, and not influenced by logic or reason. As long as Trump continues his fear mongering by constantly portraying Muslims and Hispanic immigrants as imminent dangers, many conservative brains will involuntarily light up like light bulbs being controlled by a switch. Fear keeps his followers energized and focused on safety. And when you think you've found your protector, you become less concerned with offensive and divisive remarks.

6. The Power of Mortality Reminders and Perceived Existential Threat

A well-supported theory from social psychology, known as Terror Management Theory, explains why Trump's fear mongering is doubly effective. The theory is based on the fact that humans have a unique awareness of their own mortality. The inevitability of one's death creates existential terror and anxiety that is always residing below the surface. In order to manage this terror, humans adopt cultural worldviews — like religions, political ideologies, and national identities — that act as a buffer by instilling life with meaning and value.

Terror Management Theory predicts that when people are reminded of their own mortality, which happens with fear mongering, they will more strongly defend those who share their worldviews and national or ethnic identity, and act out more aggressively towards those who do not. Hundreds of studies have confirmed this hypothesis, and some have specifically shown that triggering thoughts of death tends to shift people towards the right.

Not only do death reminders increase nationalism, they influence actual voting habits in favor of more conservative presidential candidates. And more disturbingly, in a study with American students, scientists found that making mortality salient increased support for extreme military interventions by American forces that could kill thousands of civilians overseas. Interestingly, the effect was present only in conservatives, which can likely be attributed to their heightened fear response.

By constantly emphasizing existential threat, Trump creates a psychological condition that makes the brain respond positively rather than negatively to bigoted statements and divisive rhetoric. Liberals and Independents who have been puzzled over why Trump hasn't lost supporters after such highly offensive comments need look no further than Terror Management Theory.

    7. The Dunning-Kruger Effect: Humans Often Overestimate Their Political Expertise

    Some support Donald Trump do so out of ignorance — basically they are under-informed or misinformed about the issues at hand. When Trump tells them that crime is skyrocketing in the United States, or that the economy is the worst it's ever been, they simply take his word for it.

    The Dunning-Kruger effect explains that the problem isn't just that they are misinformed; it's that they are completely unaware that they are misinformed, which creates a double burden.

    Studies have shown that people who lack expertise in some area of knowledge often have a cognitive bias that prevents them from realizing that they lack expertise. As psychologist David Dunning puts it in an op-ed for Politico, "The knowledge and intelligence that are required to be good at a task are often the same qualities needed to recognize that one is not good at that task — and if one lacks such knowledge and intelligence, one remains ignorant that one is not good at the task. This includes political judgment." These people cannot be reached because they mistakenly believe they are the ones who should be reaching others.

    8. Relative Deprivation — A Misguided Sense of Entitlement

    Relative deprivation refers to the experience of being deprived of something to which one believes they are entitled. It is the discontent felt when one compares their position in life to others who they feel are equal or inferior but have unfairly had more success than them.

    Common explanations for Trump's popularity among non-bigoted voters involve economics. There is no doubt that some Trump supporters are simply angry that American jobs are being lost to Mexico and China, which is certainly understandable, although these loyalists often ignore the fact that some of these careers are actually being lost due to the accelerating pace of automation.

    These Trump supporters are experiencing relative deprivation, and are common among the swing states like Ohio, Michigan, and Pennsylvania. This kind of deprivation is specifically referred to as "relative," as opposed to "absolute," because the feeling is often based on a skewed perception of what one is entitled to.

    9. Lack of Exposure to Dissimilar Others

    Intergroup contact refers to contact with members of groups that are outside one's own, which has been experimentally shown to reduce prejudice. As such, it's important to note that there is growing evidence that Trump's white supporters have experienced significantly less contact with minorities than other Americans. For example, a 2016 study found that "…the racial and ethnic isolation of Whites at the zip-code level is one of the strongest predictors of Trump support." This correlation persisted while controlling for dozens of other variables. In agreement with this finding, the same researchers found that support for Trump increased with the voters' physical distance from the Mexican border. These racial biases might be more implicit than explicit, the latter which is addressed in #14.

    10. Trump's Conspiracy Theories Target the Mentally Vulnerable

    While the conspiracy theory crowd — who predominantly support Donald Trump and crackpot allies like Alex Jones and the shadowy QAnon — may appear to just be an odd quirk of modern society, the truth is that many of them suffer from psychological illnesses that involve paranoia and delusions, such as schizophrenia, or are at least vulnerable to them, like those with schizotypy personalities.

    The link between schizotypy and belief in conspiracy theories is well-established, and a recent study published in the journal Psychiatry Research has demonstrated that it is still very prevalent in the population. The researchers found that those who were more likely to believe in outlandish conspiracy theories, such as the idea that the U.S. government created the AIDs epidemic, consistently scored high on measures of "odd beliefs and magical thinking." One feature of magical thinking is a tendency to make connections between things that are actually unrelated in reality.

    Donald Trump and his media allies target these people directly. All one has to do is visit alt-right websites and discussion boards to see the evidence for such manipulation.

    11. Trump Taps into the Nation's Collective Narcissism

    Collective narcissism is an unrealistic shared belief in the greatness of one's national group. It often occurs when a group who believes it represents the 'true identity' of a nation — the 'ingroup,' in this case White Americans — perceives itself as being disadvantaged compared to outgroups who are getting ahead of them 'unrightfully.' This psychological phenomenon is related to relative deprivation (#6).

    A study published last year in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science found a direct link between national collective narcissism and support for Donald Trump. This correlation was discovered by researchers at the University of Warsaw, who surveyed over 400 Americans with a series of questionnaires about political and social beliefs. Where individual narcissism causes aggressiveness toward other individuals, collective narcissism involves negative attitudes and aggression toward 'outsider' groups (outgroups), who are perceived as threats.

    Donald Trump exacerbates collective narcissism with his anti-immigrant, anti-elitist, and strongly nationalistic rhetoric. By referring to his supporters, an overwhelmingly white group, as being "true patriots" or "real Americans," he promotes a brand of populism that is the epitome of "identity politics," a term that is usually associated with the political left. Left-wing identity politics, as misguided as they may sometimes be, are generally aimed at achieving equality, while the right-wing brand is based on a belief that one nationality and race is superior or entitled to success and wealth for no other reason than identity.

    12. The Desire to Want to Dominate Others

    Social dominance orientation (SDO) — which is distinct but related to authoritarian personality syndrome (#13) — refers to people who have a preference for the societal hierarchy of groups, specifically with a structure in which the high-status groups have dominance over the low-status ones. Those with SDO are typically dominant, tough-minded, and driven by self-interest.

    In Trump's speeches, he appeals to those with SDO by repeatedly making a clear distinction between groups that have a generally higher status in society (White), and those groups that are typically thought of as belonging to a lower status (immigrants and minorities). A 2016 survey study of 406 American adults published last year in the journal Personality and Individual Differences found that those who scored high on both SDO and authoritarianism were those who intended to vote for Trump in the election.

    13. Authoritarian Personality Syndrome

    Authoritarianism refers to the advocacy or enforcement of strict obedience to authority at the expense of personal freedom, and is commonly associated with a lack of concern for the opinions or needs of others. Authoritarian personality syndrome — a well-studied and globally-prevalent condition — is a state of mind that is characterized by belief in total and complete obedience to one's authority. Those with the syndrome often display aggression toward outgroup members, submissiveness to authority, resistance to new experiences, and a rigid hierarchical view of society. The syndrome is often triggered by fear, making it easy for leaders who exaggerate threat or fear monger to gain their allegiance.

    Although authoritarian personality is found among liberals, it is more common among the right-wing around the world. President Trump's speeches, which are laced with absolutist terms like "losers" and "complete disasters," are naturally appealing to those with the syndrome.

    While research showed that Republican voters in the U.S. scored higher than Democrats on measures of authoritarianism before Trump emerged on the political scene, a 2016 Politico survey found that high authoritarians greatly favored then-candidate Trump, which led to a correct prediction that he would win the election, despite the polls saying otherwise

    14. Racism and Bigotry

    It would be grossly unfair and inaccurate to say that every one of Trump's supporters have prejudice against ethnic and religious minorities, but it would be equally inaccurate to say that many do not. It is a well-known fact that the Republican party, going at least as far back to Richard Nixon's "southern strategy," used tactics that appealed to bigotry, such as lacing speeches with "dog whistles" — code words that signaled prejudice toward minorities that were designed to be heard by racists but no one else.

    While the dog whistles of the past were subtler, Trump's signaling is sometimes shockingly direct. There's no denying that he routinely appeals to racist and bigoted supporters when he calls Muslims "dangerous" and Mexican immigrants "rapists" and "murderers," often in a blanketed fashion. Perhaps unsurprisingly, a recent study has shown that support for Trump is correlated with a standard scale of modern racism.

    Bobby Azarian is a neuroscientist affiliated with George Mason University and a freelance journalist. His research has been published in journals such as Cognition & Emotion and Human Brain Mapping, and he has written for The New York Times, The Atlantic, Psychology Today, and Scientific American. Follow him on Twitter @BobbyAzarian.

    science

    ‘It’s science, stupid’: A school subject emerges as a hot-button political issue

    At the top of Dr. Hiral Tipirneni’s to-do list if she wins her congressional race: work with other elected officials to encourage mask mandates and to beef up COVID-19 testing and contact tracing. Those choices are backed up by science, said Tipirneni, an emergency room physician running for Arizona’s 6th Congressional District.On the campaign trail, she has called on her opponent, Rep. David Schweikert (R-Ariz.), to denounce President Donald Trump’s gathering of thousands for a rally in Arizona and his comments about slowing down COVID-19 testing.“I believe in data; I believe in facts,” Tipir...

    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.

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

    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

    Melania Trump claims her husband 'sees potential' in gay people

    In a bizarre moment, the first lady announced that President Donald Trump is all for gay people.

    Speaking to a crowd in Atglen, Pennsylvania, Melania Trump described the president as someone "who sees potential in everyone he meets, no matter their gender, race, religion or sexual orientation."

    She didn't use the typical term LGBTQ or even mention transgender people. But mentioning LGBTQ voters likely isn't a good idea in the Trump administration because of the laundry list of things they've done to hurt the community.

    "Donald loves helping people and he loves seeing those around him and his country succeed," Mrs. Trump added, claiming he has a "very big heart and a great sense of humor."

    The Human Rights Campaign has a long list of ways that Trump has hurt LGBTQ America. Trump opposed the Equality Act, none of Trump's judges are LGBTQ and in fact those he has appointed don't support LGBTQ rights. Trump even joked that Vice President Mike Pence wants to kill LGBTQ people when he said, "Don't ask that guy—he wants to hang them all!"

    Trump supports discrimination for LGBTQ people at work, he banned transgender people from serving in the military, he rolled back former President Barack Obama's rules about protecting people from discrimination, and even gave an exemption so that companies could fire LGBTQ people claiming "a religious exemption."

    Anyone with HIV/AIDS is now no longer able to serve in the military, and Trump cut $1.35 billion from the budget to fight HIV/AIDS around the world. They removed healthcare protections that ensured LGBTQ people could never be discriminated against on healthcare policies. The Department of Health and Human services even created a division to help defend doctors who refuse to treat LGBTQ patients.

    That list doesn't even include the battle that conservatives have because they decided they can't go to the bathroom in the same room as a transgender person. There are many, many more.

    Just last week, Trump's daughter Tiffany spoke out at an LGBTQ Trump rally in Florida with her mother, Trump's second wife, Marla Maples.

    "Back in the Broadway days — I mean, let's just — I mean, some of her best friends when she was on Broadway — unfortunately, one of her best friends passed away from AIDS," Tiffany said.

    See a clip of Melania's speech below:

    more news

    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:

    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."

    '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."

    'The last stand of a demagogue’ — Rowdy MAGA rallies are Trump’s ‘last best hope of clinging to the presidency’: journalist

    The week before the 2020 election — with the number of coronavirus infectious surging in many states — President Donald Trump has drawn a great deal of criticism from medical experts for holding a series of large MAGA rallies in which social distancing was nowhere to be found and protective face masks were few and far between. Terms like "superspreader events" and "Petri dish rallies" have been used by more than a few Trump critics. But MAGA rallies, as journalist David Smith explains in an article published in The Guardian on October 30, are a crucial part of Trump's reelection strategy. And Smith argues that the rallies are Trump's "last best hope of clinging to the presidency."

    "Opinion polls suggest that Trump could be a dead man walking, hurtling towards a psychologically crushing defeat like one-term President Jimmy Carter against Ronald Reagan in 1980," Smith observes. "Yet on the trail, he continues to project the image of a happy warrior cruising to reelection — regaling big crowds with selective poll numbers, bogus conspiracy theories and his own brand of humor. And his base remains loyal to the end with cheers, merriment and chants of 'Four more years!,' 'Lock him up!' and 'Build that wall!'"

    Smith adds, "If Trump does lose next week — and the polls have been wrong before; so, that remains a big 'if' — he will go down with all guns blazing."

    Trump, Smith argues, enjoys MAGA rallies more than he enjoys governing.

    According to Smith, "Trump has always been in his element campaigning rather than governing. He continued to hold rallies even after winning the 2016 election, throwing out populist red meat and feeding off the energy of fervent crowds. Whereas Washington is difficult and messy, these public events offer simple affirmation. Free from the constraints of the White House, its protocols and its officials, he uses the rallies to indulge in free association riffs and play to the gallery."

    Charlie Gerow, a GOP strategist in Pennsylvania, told The Guardian, "The rallies are not the be-all, end-all by any stretch. But they are an important show of strength to rally the base and increase the intensity of those people. Folks who attend a rally go home, talk to friends, talk to neighbors, talk to their family about what happened…. Trump has thousands of little ambassadors going to their little corners of America, and the Biden campaign doesn't have that."

    But Tara Setmayer, a senior adviser to the anti-Trump conservative group The Lincoln Project, has nothing good to say about Trump's MAGA events. And Smith notes that to Trump critics like Setmayer, Trump's rallies are "not so much a vaudeville act as the last stand of a demagogue."

    Setmayer told The Guardian, "Donald Trump is a salesman. He's been a pitchman con artist his entire life, selling things that are not real, that are not authentic — and convincing people that they are. This is exactly what he's doing with his campaign."

    Trump is closing out the campaign by showing complete contempt for his own supporters

    Sen. Martha McSally, an Arizona Republican, has paid her bootlicking dues. She's repeatedly gone out of her way to show obeisance to Donald Trump, most famously in January when she yelled "liberal hack" repeatedly at a CNN reporter who asked her if the Senate should consider evidence before rushing to acquit Trump during his impeachment trial.

    But despite years of bowing and scraping and, of course, voting to acquit Trump despite his obvious guilt, McSally has earned no loyalty in return from her orange master. She's in a tough race against former astronaut Mark Kelly, a Democrat, and has consistently trailed in the polls. At a recent Arizona rally, Trump didn't bother to hide his disdain for McSally's standard political desire to address her own potential voters.

    "Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick," Trump barked at her. "You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don't want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let's go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let's go." It was clear that, as always, Trump resents every moment when the spotlight's not on him, even in the context of helping a sycophant.

    That moment went viral, since cringeworthy is the emotional fuel of the internet. It also illustrated of one of the most frustrating aspects of Trumpism: Trump treats his own supporters as a pack of morons, but they don't seem to mind and keep on adoring him anyway.

    This was most profoundly demonstrated by a bizarre video from a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, last week, when Trump complained to the crowd about the indignity of even having to visit their city.

    "Martha, just come up fast. Fast. Fast. Come on. Quick," Trump barked at her. "You got one minute! One minute, Martha! They don't want to hear this, Martha. Come on. Let's go. Quick, quick, quick. Come on. Let's go." It was clear that, as always, Trump resents every moment when the spotlight's not on him, even in the context of helping a sycophant.

    That moment went viral, since cringeworthy is the emotional fuel of the internet. It also illustrated of one of the most frustrating aspects of Trumpism: Trump treats his own supporters as a pack of morons, but they don't seem to mind and keep on adoring him anyway.

    This was most profoundly demonstrated by a bizarre video from a rally in Erie, Pennsylvania, last week, when Trump complained to the crowd about the indignity of even having to visit their city.

    It's such a weird reaction that CNN host Don Lemon aired a supercut of Trump complaining at various rallies that he didn't even want to be there.

    "I may never have to come back here again if I don't get Iowa," Trump told a crowd in Des Moines.

    This bit, which he repeats ad nauseam, is Trump's apparent closing argument: Since he lowered himself to speak directly to the hoi polloi, the least they can do is vote for him. In order for the joke to work, you have to accept Trump's premise that his supporters are scum and he taints himself by having to speak to them.

    Despite Trump's insistence that he hates holding his rallies, of course, the truth is that he's hopelessly addicted to them and their main purpose to feed his ego. They probably aren't helping his campaign.

    As Susan Milligan at U.S. News and World report pointed out this week, polling suggests that "voters in battleground states do not approve of Trump's largely maskless, packed rallies."

    Trump sees his own supporters as dupes. He revels in their adoration, but can't even pretend to return the feeling. Being a sociopathic bully, he revels in rubbing their noses in the fact that he sees them as idiots.

    A recent incident in Omaha, Nebraska, became an almost too-perfect symbol of this relationship between Trump and his supporters. Buses that were supposed to come pick up supporters after a rally failed to materialize, leaving hundreds of people — many of them elderly — stranded in the cold. They had to walk long distances back to their cars, and multiple people were taken to the hospital after exposure to the freezing temperatures.

    That Trump loathes his own fans isn't a great mystery. As The Atlantic dutifully reported in two articles in September, Trump routinely makes fun of Christian conservatives behind their backs and called fallen soldiers "suckers" and "losers." All we need is a story about him making fun of dumb cops and we've hit the trifecta of Trump mocking the constituent groups that are the most faithfully Republican.

    The irony of this is that the right-wing media has stoked their audience's hatred for liberal voters, Democratic politicians and mainstream journalists for decades by claiming that such people are a "liberal elite" who look down their noses at "ordinary Americans," especially conservatives. Night after night, Fox News solemnly declares that its audience is victimized endlessly by this supposed snobbery, even though there's usually little or no evidence to make the case. This narrative of liberal contempt and conservative victimization permeated Republican talking points during the Amy Coney Barrett hearing, with one GOP politician after another feigning outrage at the imaginary attacks on Barrett for being a devout Catholic and having a big family, without producing a shred of evidence that any such attacks had ever happened.

    While the evidence of liberal contempt for conservatives is thin on the ground, the evidence of Trump's contempt for his own supporters is delivered to us via firehose. He insults his voters right to their faces. He sneers at Republican politicians who support him. He cares so little for his most fervent supporters that he repeatedly imperils their health with his rallies, not to mention the Barrett nomination party at the White House that led to more than two dozen Republicans getting sick with COVID-19.

    Trump gets away with this because Republicans have treating their own people like a bunch of suckers for years, which is why right wing media is awash in conspiracy theories and snake-oil salesmen. They get away with it because their marks always assume, like good marks should, that they're in on the con, and that somebody else is the sucker. So when Trump insults his own voters right to their faces, telling them they live in some Podunk burg he hoped he'd never have to visit again, many in the crowd are thinking, "He's not talking about me, but these other yahoos."

    In truth, those folks are the biggest suckers of all, imagining that they're the exception to Trump universal contempt. He really does see his supporters as a herd of gullible idiots. By swallowing it and voting for him anyway, they're only confirming his worst assumptions.

    Inside the minds of the people who actually think Trump handled the pandemic well

    Countless critics of President Donald Trump, from liberals and progressives to Never Trump conservatives, have been arguing that Trump deserves to be voted out of office on Tuesday, Nov. 3, because of his wretched response to the coronavirus pandemic. The crisis has killed more than 227,900 people in the United States and over 1.1 million people worldwide, according to Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore.

    But journalist Olga Khazan, this week in an article for The Atlantic, offers some reasons why many White males in Trump's hardcore MAGA base actually admire his coronavirus response. And as absurd as their reasoning is, Khazan's piece is still an interesting read.

    "Some 82% of Republicans approve of Trump's coronavirus response — a higher percentage than before the president was diagnosed with the virus," Khazan explains. "This is despite the fact that more than 220,000 Americans have died and virtually every public health expert, including those who have worked for Republican administrations, says the president has performed abysmally."

    One of the interviewees for Khazan's article is a McKinney, Texas resident and Trump supporter named Kurtis. Many Trump critics, Khazan observes, believe that leaving coronavirus to states and municipalities to cope with has been a disaster. But Kurtis told Khazan, "He left it up to each state to make their own decision on how they wanted to proceed" — and according to Kurtis, that was a victory for states' rights.

    Kurtis, discussing Trump's recent hospitalization for coronavirus, told Khazan, "Trump's willing to accept that risk to win for the American people. And Joe Biden is sitting in his basement."

    Khazan notes that according to Katherine Cramer, a political scientist at the University of Wisconsin at Madison, Trump supporters believe that Trump is trusting Americans to make their own decisions during the pandemic. And sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild told Khazan, in essence, that as Trump supporters see it, Trump's coronavirus response underscores his belief in the rugged individualism of White males.

    "Many White men feel that their gender and race have been vilified, says the sociologist Arlie Russell Hochschild," Khazan writes. "Their economic prospects are bad, and American culture tells them that their gender is too. So, they've turned to Trump as a type of folk hero — one who can restore their sense of former glory. Exposing themselves and others to the coronavirus is part of that heroism."

    During his 2008 presidential campaign, Barack Obama argued that many conservative working class white men who were struggling financially sought validation in their "guns" and "religion." The right-wing media was furious, claiming that Obama was insulting or mocking conservatives. But the centrist Obama wasn't trying to be insulting; to non-wingnuts, he sounded empathetic. And some of the interviewees for Khazan's article — like Obama 12 years ago — argued that white males who aren't in great shape financially seek validation through Trump's right-wing politics.

    Hochschild told Khazan that in rural Kentucky, for example, financially disadvantaged White men "are starved for a sense of heroism. They don't feel good about themselves. They feel like they haven't done as well as their fathers, that they're on a downward slop." And Trump, according to Hochschild, plays to that.

    Khazan explains, "Men who attend Trump's rallies sometimes tell journalists that they're willing to risk their lives to show up for Trump. 'If I die, I die. We got to get this country moving,' these men tell reporters. Or: 'If I catch COVID, that's the consequences of my actions. So, I'm willing to take that risk and have a good time today.'"

    Elizabeth Warren rips into the plot to sabotage the Postal service — and the election

    Sen. Elizabeth Warren on Wednesday blasted members of the U.S. Postal Service Board of Governors for "acting as accomplices" to Postmaster General Louis DeJoy while he sabotages the mail—and, as a result, the election—after the panel rejected her request for financial disclosure filings and refused to commit to reversing DeJoy's destructive policy changes.

    "The USPS Board of Governors has refused to release information about their own financial ties and has doubled down on their support of Louis DeJoy," the Massachusetts Democrat said in a statement. "Once again, I call on the board members to release their financial disclosure forms, remove DeJoy, and do their jobs by reversing DeJoy's actions."

    In August, as Common Dreams reported, Warren sent a letter demanding that the six members of the Board of Governors—all of whom were appointed by President Donald Trump—release their federal financial disclosure documents so lawmakers and the public could determine whether they "have investments or outside responsibilities that potentially pose conflicts of interest."

    But in a letter (pdf) to Warren dated last week, USPS Board of Governors Chairman Robert Duncan—who previously served as chairman of the Republican National Committee—said the board "respectfully declines to publicly release the financial disclosures of its individual members," citing ethics regulations that exempt so-called Special Government Employees from financial disclosure requirements.

    Warren has previously dismissed the exemption as a "dumb loophole."

    In a separate letter (pdf) released by Warren's office Wednesday, Duncan made clear that the board has no intention of removing DeJoy—a Republican megadonor to Trump—or working to reverse his operational changes that caused major and persistent mail delays across the country, intensifying concerns about mass disqualification of ballots that arrive late due to no fault of the voter.

    The Board of Governors, wrote Duncan, "remains fully confident that Mr. DeJoy is the right person for the job"—an assessment Warren slammed as "absurd."

    "The ongoing postal delivery delays," Warren replied, "reveal that there is no reason for their confidence."

    Let's admit it: Republican actively want Americans to get sick

    With revelations that herd immunity isn't just the accidental result of Donald Trump's inaction, but the policy actually being pursued by the Scott Atlas-dominated coronavirus task force, something that has never made any sense finally clicks into place. Why have Trump, White House officials, Republicans in Congress, and right-wing media all conspired to constantly attack the simplest tool in fighting COVID-19? Why have they been waging a war on masks?

    Masks are cheap. Masks are effective. Wearing masks is the most straightforward step that can be taken to instantly reduce the spread of disease. Studies have directly tied the use of masks not just to lower rates of infection, but to lower levels of hospitalization. In September, Trump railed against Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield for saying that masks are actually more effective than a vaccine for bringing COVID-19 under control. Redfield said that masks were not just the nation's "best defense," but medicine's most important weapon against the disease.

    On Thursday morning, the CEO of pharmaceutical giant Merck doubled down on Redfield's statement by saying that neither vaccines nor treatments against COVID-19 represent a "silver bullet." Instead, he said that people should keep wearing masks, and expect to be wearing masks into the next year.

    At the same time, The Wall Street Journal is running an editorial that continues the war on masks by calling them a "distraction." The reason is obvious: because the right wants everyone to hurry up and get sick. And that's not a joke.

    Misinformation about masks isn't being generated by confusion or a lack of consistency among experts. It's the other way around. Confusion is being generated by misinformation specifically generated to give the appearance that masks are either ineffective or that experts are in disagreement. The Wall Street Journal editorial by cardiologist Joseph Ladapo is a primary example.

    Ladapo—who has been the Scott Atlas of The Wall Street Journal's editorial page for months—begins his anti-mask manifesto by looking at why health officials began insisting that wearing masks was important. He's correct in saying that the discovery of asymptomatic transmission was a major factor. He's hugely incorrect in saying this is "a weak rationale" for masks. He's also hugely deceptive in citing as proof a study that looked at how face masks and other factors worked against flu, and representing it as a general study on a "respiratory virus." It's not.

    He goes on to attack researchers for not anticipating that COVID-19 might spread without symptoms because "presymptomatic spread of respiratory viruses isn't a novel phenomenon." But there's a very good reason that experts were surprised to find the SARS-CoV-2 virus spreading without symptoms; it's called the SARS-CoV virus. People who catch SARS become symptomatic before becoming highly infectious, with first symptoms appearing about five days before the patient begins to expel virus at a high rate. That was a major factor in how SARS was isolated and defeated. It was completely understandable that experts expected these two very similar viruses would behave in a similar way. Asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread of COVID-19 was a genuine surprise.

    Ladapo then goes on to dismiss the idea of using masks to protect against asymptomatic cases by saying: "Asymptomatic or mild cases appear to contribute more to Covid-19 transmission, but this happens in flu cases, too, though no one has called for mask mandates during flu season."

    Why would that be? Here's what the same study that Ladapo cited as evidence against masks being effective had to say about flu:

    Most influenza virus infections cause mild and self-limiting disease; only a small fraction of case-patients require hospitalization.

    In COVID-19, that percentage of hospitalization has been in double digits around the world. The rate of death from COVID-19 is an order of magnitude higher than the rate of hospitalization from flu. After more than 9 million cases, the case fatality rate for COVID-19 in the United States is still over 2.5%.

    After this, Ladapo devotes the center of his essay to demeaning the idea that masks are effective, which largely involves dismissing all the evidence that masks are effective. And it includes a section that needs to be quoted in full:

    Policy makers and the media point to low-quality evidence, such as a study of Covid-19 positive hairstylists in Missouri or a Georgia summer camp with an outbreak. These anecdotes, while valuable, tell us nothing about the experience of other hairdressers or other summer camps that adopted similar or different masking practices.

    This is a medical doctor attacking not just the entire basis of human trials, but delivering a backhand to the entire scientific process. The reason you look at results of specific tests is exactly because they can tell you something about the general experience. If they cannot, someone should call the vaccine manufacturers and tell them to stop the trials.

    But all of this is only leading up to the main theme, to the point where Ladapo pulls off his own masks and gets down to what he's really selling.

    … mask mandates have the unintended consequence of delaying public acceptance of the unavoidable truth. In countries with active community transmission and no herd immunity, nothing short of inhumane lockdowns can stop the spread of Covid-19, so the most sensible and sustainable path forward is to learn to live with the virus.

    As Joe Biden said in the second and final debate, Americans aren't learning to "live with" COVID-19, they're learning to die from it. Ladapo, like the White House, is selling herd immunity. And he's not attacking masks because they don't work. He's attacking masks because they do.

    As a study just released Wednesday from Vanderbilt University demonstrates, there is a direct connection between the rate of mask-wearing in an area and the rate of hospitalization.

    Vanderbilt University study showing link between mask-wearing and decreased rates of hospitalization.

    Vanderbilt medical school originally did this analysis in August, and repeated it again with data through early October. In both instances, the effects of widespread mask-wearing are dramatic. The study looks at county-level data to show that not only are masks effective, mask mandates are effective. The University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation review in August also demonstrated that masks not only cut the rate of infection, they prevented the kind of sharp spikes that tipped healthcare systems over the edge.

    Masks work. They work best in areas with mandates and a very high level of use. The war on masks is an extension of the push for herd immunity, and the forces behind it are making that more and more evident.

    GOP violently out-fundraised by Democrats as small-dollar donations dominate campaign fundraising

    There are only four days left until Election Day in the United States and the Republican Party has yet another hurdle—fundraising.

    Regardless of whether who takes the Oval Office on November 3, Republicans will still have to rethink their fundraising strategies being out-fundraised and outspent by the Democratic Party. For the last several weeks, Democrats have raked in massive amounts of cash due to small-dollar donations.

    The Democratic windfall has helped the party to heavily campaign in multiple, notably red states that have now categorized as potential toss-ups in the election.

    As a result of the campaign haul, alarm bells are going off for Republicans as they fight to retain control of the Senate and the White House. Multiple Republican lawmakers have weighed in on the need for need fundraising strategies within the party, according to The Hill.

    "I'm sure we'll be going to school on how the Democrats are so successful because we just can't afford to be outspent by these huge margins and expect to be successful," said Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas)

    When asked if the Republican Party should consider taking a post-election analysis of how they approach small-dollar donations, Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) said, "Oh my gosh, yes, absolutely, yeah."

    He went on to admit that Democrats' small-dollar donation mechanism is not only effective but it has "crushed" Republicans financially.

    "They've created a mechanism that's very effective and we're trying to catch up," Thune said, noting Republicans "were just getting crushed."

    Sen. Ron Johnson (R-Wis.) also commended the Democrats' fundraising strategy saying, "I think Democrats with ActBlue are way ahead... Hats off to them, they did a really good job." He also admitted, "We're [Republicans] just behind."

    The fundraising haul has ultimately changed the scope of the presidential and Congressional races in many states. Multiple seats that were initially thought to be sure-fire wins for the Republican Party are now in jeopardy. One Republican official explained how this election may lead to a re-evaluation of fundraising to improve Republicans' cash flow later on down the line.

    The Republican official said, "It pays dividends down the road. I think that you will absolutely see people raising the spending disparities as something that affected the outcome in certain races and highlighting it as something that needs to improve on our side for the next cycle."

    How BlackRock is on track to infiltrate a Biden administration

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

    Here are 5 possible ways to make Trump leave quietly if he loses the election

    The week before Election Day 2020, Democrats have a variety of worries and anxieties — from the possibility of President Donald Trump managing to win enough swing states to pull off a narrow Electoral College victory to Trump prematurely claiming victory before all the votes are counted to Republicans trying to steal the election via the courts and their army of attorneys. Liberal Washington Post opinion writer Greg Sargent, in his October 26 column, lays out five possible scenarios in which Trump might agree to leave the White House quietly if Biden wins.

    Sargent starts out his column by quoting Trump's former personal attorney

    Michael Cohen, who recently warned, "There will never be a peaceful transition of power under Donald J. Trump."

    "We already know Trump hopes to prematurely declare himself winner while invalidating millions of mail ballots, which could unleash a sustained post-election struggle," Sargent argues. "But if you squint, you can discern various scenarios in which Trump ends up going quietly — or relatively so. Presuming for now that Joe Biden wins, here are five such possibilities."

    #1, Sargent writes, is "Biden wins by a landslide."

    "To be sure, a landslide win is unlikely," Sargent writes. "Trump is still narrowly favored in Texas and Georgia. But as Harry Enten notes, Biden is closer to winning places like that than Trump is to winning Michigan and Wisconsin, which makes a landslide as plausible as a Trump victory. If so, there would be no possibility that post-election litigation in, say, Pennsylvania could rescue Trump. And large swaths of Trump's supporters might accept the inevitable, leaving no support base for holding out."

    Sargent's second possibility is that "Biden wins Florida on Election Night."

    "Because Florida's voting rules permit mail ballots to be counted well in advance of Election Day, an election night call here is likely," Sargent explains. "This means avoiding a scenario in which Trump declares himself winner even as enormous numbers of mail ballots remain outstanding in key states. Since Trump has no plausible path without Florida, it would probably mean a winner is called on Election Night."

    #3 on Sargent's list is "Biden wins Arizona and runs strong enough in the Rust Belt." And #4 is "vote-by-mail goes well for Biden in Pennsylvania."

    "Once Amy Coney Barrett is seated on the Supreme Court," Sargent notes, "Republicans will try again to overrule a lower ruling allowing for the counting of absentee ballots that arrive after Election Day.... Early voting has been so explosive in Pennsylvania — nearly 1.5 million people have already voted by mail there — that it's plausible late-arriving ballots might not be pivotal."

    The fifth and final item on Sargent's list is "Fox News behaves responsibly."

    "Fox News' decision desk is one area of the network that's reportedly immune to pressure from Trump and his propagandists," Sargent argues. "So, it's plausible that Fox News might call the election against Trump before he and his supporters are willing to surrender….. If Fox News' decision desk handles this responsibly, educating viewers about the realities of Trump's pending loss, it could badly cripple such efforts in the minds of his supporters."

    Fox News' Rupert Murdoch has predicted a landslide win for Biden, much to the chagrin of many Trumpistas who feel betrayed.

    Sargent concludes his column by hoping that "bedlam" doesn't occur on Election Day.

    "None of this is meant to sound sanguine about avoiding serious bedlam," Sargent writes. "All kinds of terrible outcomes in the courts remain possible, as does serious violence. But there are ways this could end with a relative whimper — and a barrage of ALL CAPS tweets — as opposed to something far worse. And there's one way to make these scenarios more likely: vote in enormous enough numbers to make them happen."

    First combined flu and COVID-19 cases emerge in United States​​

    As the United States faces the beginning of flu season, combined cases of influenza and coronavirus are being reported in multiple states.

    It has been reported that combined cases of both respiratory illnesses have been reported in California and Texas, reports the Sac Bee.

    According to the San Francisco Chronicle, Solano County health officer Dr. Bela Matyas has shared details about the combined diagnosis of a California patient suffering from both illnesses. Matyas has revealed that the patient is a 65-year-old healthcare professional with no underlying conditions. She also explained how the combined illness could have long-term impacts on a person's immune system and, subsequently, make patients more vulnerable to other diseases.

    "We now have flu in our community at the same time we have COVID," said Matyas. "Contracting either disease may weaken your immune system and make you more susceptible to the other disease."

    Matyas added, "Symptoms of the flu can be like early symptoms of COVID-19, meaning people with flu symptoms may require a COVID-19 test and need to stay home from work and isolate while awaiting their results."

    In Tennessee, a patient at Maury Regional Medical Center has also been diagnosed with a combination of the two illnesses. Dr. Martin Chaney, a chief medical officer at the hospital, explained the respiratory illness.

    "When you get influenza, which is a respiratory illness and you get COVID, which also impacts the respiratory tract, it only makes sense that those individuals are going to have a serious respiratory component with shortness of breath, potential for respiratory failure is very high in co-infection," Chaney explained.

    Not only are medical experts expressing concern about the severity of blistering flu season but they are also urging Americans to take the flu vaccine as they stress the importance of doing it now more than ever. Dr. Mia Taormina, an infectious disease specialist with DuPage Medical Group, issued a warning to the public, according to The Chicago Tribune.

    "If you have ever received a flu vaccine in your life, this is the year to do it," Taormina said. "We are very concerned about the possibility of co-infection with influenza and COVID."

    As of Friday, October 30, the United States has surpassed 9 million coronavirus cases. This week, the country reported its highest number of cases reported in a single day topping more than 90,000 confirmed cases.

    Donald Trump and the American descent toward failed-state status

    These past few months, it's grown ever harder to recognize life in America. Thanks to Covid-19, basic day-to-day existence has changed in complicated, often confusing ways. Just putting food on the table has become a challenge for many. Getting doctors' appointments and medical care can take months. Many schools are offering on-line only instruction and good luck trying to get a driver's license or a passport renewed in person or setting up an interview for Social Security benefits. The backlog of appointments is daunting.

    Meanwhile, where actual in-person government services are on tap, websites warn you of long lines and advise those with appointments to bring an umbrella, a chair, and something to eat and drink, as the Department of Motor Vehicles in Hudson, New York, instructed me to do over the summer. According to a September 2020 Yelp report, approximately 164,000 businesses have closed nationwide due to the pandemic, an estimated 60% of them for good. CNBC reports that 7.5 million businesses may still be at risk of closing. Meanwhile, more than 225,000 Americans have died of the coronavirus and, as a winter spike begins, it's estimated that up to 410,000 could be dead by year's end.

    Then there are the signs of increasing poverty. Food banks have seen vast rises in demand, according to Feeding America, a network of 200 food banks and 60,000 food pantries and meal programs. According to a study done by Columbia University's Center on Poverty and Social Policy, between February and September, the monthly poverty rate increased from 15% to 16.7%, despite cash infusions from Congress's CARES Act. That report also concluded that the CARES program, while putting a lid on the rise in the monthly poverty rate for a time, "was not successful at preventing a rise in deep poverty." And now, of course, Congress seems likely to offer nothing else.

    The rate of unemployment is down from a high of 14% in April, but still twice what it was in January 2020 and seemingly stabilizing at a disturbing 8%. Meanwhile, schools and universities are struggling to stay viable. Thirty-four percent of universities are now online and only 4% are conducting fully in-person classes. The policy of stores limiting purchases in the spring and summer is still a fresh memory.

    And what about freedom of movement? Dozens of countries, including most of the European Union, Latin America, Japan, Australia, and New Zealand, have barred entry to American tourists and travelers, given this country's devastatingly high rate of infection. Canada and Mexico just re-upped their bans on U.S. travelers, too. In a sense, the pandemic has indeed helped build a "great, great wall" around America, one that won't let any of us out.

    In fact, Americans are not being welcomed, even by one another. Inside our borders, states are requiring those arriving from other states with high percentages of Covid-19 cases to quarantine themselves for 14 days on arrival (though enforcing such mandates is difficult indeed). New York Governor Andrew Cuomo's list of places subject to such a travel advisory now includes 43 of the 49 other states.

    And as we are reminded on a daily basis in the run-up to Election Day, early voters, especially in heavily minority districts, are being forced to wait long hours in endless lines in states where the pandemic is beginning to spike. In some places, local officials clearly set up the conditions for this as a deterrent to those they would prefer not to see at the polls. In Georgia, where a governor was intent on reducing the numbers of polling places to reduce turnout in African-American neighborhoods, the waiting time recently was up to 11 hours. Early voting lines in New York City "stretched for blocks" in multiple venues.

    To top it all off, political and racial violence in the country is climbing, often thanks to uniformed law enforcement officers. From George Floyd's death to federal officials in unmarked vehicles dragging protesters off the streets of Portland, Oregon, to federal law enforcement officers using rubber bullets and tear gas on a gathering crowd of protestors to clear a path to a local church for President Trump, such cases have made the headlines. Meanwhile, officials across the country are ominously preparing to counter violence on Election Day

    In the face of such challenges and deprivations, Americans, for the most part, are learning to adapt to the consequences of the pandemic, while just hoping that someday it will pass, that someday things will return to normal. As early as March 2020, a Pew poll had already detected a significant uptick in symptoms of anxiety nationwide. The percentage of such individuals had doubled, with young people and those experiencing financial difficulties driving the rise.

    The American Psychological Association (APA) considers the pandemic not just an epidemiological but a "psychological crisis." The website of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a paper written by two APA authors suggesting that Covid-19 is already taking "a tremendous psychological toll" on the country.

    Failing, American-Style

    All in all, we find ourselves in a daunting new world, but don't just blame it on the pandemic. This country was living in a state of denial before Covid-19 hit. The truth is that Americans have been in trouble for a surprisingly long time. The pandemic might have swept away that sense of denial and left us facing a new American reality, as that virus exposed previously ignored vulnerabilities for all to see.

    So, expect one thing: that the indicators of America's decline will far surpass the problems that can be solved by addressing the pandemic's spread. When Covid-19 is brought under some control, the larger social system may unfortunately remain in tatters, in need of life support, posing new challenges for the country as a whole.

    Several observers, witnessing such potentially long-lasting changes to the fabric of American life, have described the United States as resembling a failed state in its reaction to the pandemic. They point not just to the effects of staggering levels of inequality (on the rise for decades) or to a long-term unwillingness to invest in the kind of infrastructure that could keep what's still the wealthiest country on our planet strong, but to entrenched poverty and the fracturing of work life. Long before the pandemic hit, the Trump administration reflected this downhill slope.

    As George Packer recently wrote in the Atlantic, the reaction to the coronavirus crisis here has been more "like Pakistan or Belarus -- like a country with shoddy infrastructure and a dysfunctional government whose leaders were too corrupt or stupid to head off mass suffering... Every morning in the endless month of March," he added, "Americans woke up to find themselves citizens of a failed state," unable to get the equipment, supplies, tests, or medical help they needed to fight the pandemic.

    Looking beyond Covid-19 to the Trump administration's irresponsible handling of climate change and nuclear weapons, TomDispatch's Tom Engelhardt has also labeled the country a "failed state," one that now occupies a singular category (which he called "Fourth World") among the planet's countries.

    There is no codified definition of a failed state, but there is general agreement that such a country has become unable or unwilling to care for its citizens. Safety and sustenance are at risk and stability in multiple sectors of life has become unpredictable. In 2003, future U.N. Ambassador Susan Rice attempted to craft a workable definition of the term in a report for the Brookings Institution, calling on President George W. Bush to address the underlying causes of failed states. "Failed states," she wrote, "are countries in which the central government does not exert effective control over, nor is it able to deliver vital services to significant parts of its own territory due to conflict, ineffective governance, or state collapse."

    From the Proud Boys to the Wolverine Watchmen, it has become strikingly clear that, in this pandemic year, the U.S. is indeed becoming an increasingly riven, disturbed land and that nothing, including the election of Joe Biden, will simply make that reality disappear without immense effort.

    In the twenty-first century, in fact, the United States has visibly been inching ever closer to failed-state status. In 2006, the Fund for Peace, an organization whose mission is global conflict reduction, human security, and economic development, launched a yearly Failed States Index (FSI), changing its name in 2014 to the Fragile State Index. For the last decade, for instance, Yemen has been among the top 10 most fragile states and, for the last two years, number one. Since 2013, Finland has been at the other end of the scale, number 178, the least failed state on the planet.

    What's interesting, however, is the path the United States has travelled over that same decade, dropping a noteworthy 10 places. Until the Trump years, it consistently stood at number 158 or 159 among the 178 nations on the chart. In the 2018 report, however, it took a turn for the worse. In the 2020 report (based on pre-pandemic numbers), it had dropped to 149, reflecting in particular losses in what FSI calls "cohesion," based on rising nationalist rhetoric among increasingly riven elites and unequal access to resources in a country where economic inequality was already at staggering levels.

    Just imagine, then, what the 2021 Index will likely report next April. At present, when it comes to FSI's rankings, the United States is in the third of five groupings of countries, behind the Scandinavian countries, most of the other nations of Europe, and Singapore. Given today's realities, it is poised to fall even further.

    The Election Moment

    Elections are a crucial factor in separating successful from failing states; fair elections, that is, ones that people in a country trust. As Pauline Baker, the director of the Fund for Peace, points out, "Elections are an essential part of democratization, but they can also be conflict-inducing if they are held too soon, are blatantly manipulated, lack transparency, or are marred by violence."

    All you have to do is think about Donald Trump's endless claims -- that this year's election will be "rigged," that mail-in ballots will be a fraud, that he won't necessarily leave office even if the tallies are against him, and so on -- to know that a particularly heavy burden has been placed on the results of November 3rd. Add to that burden threats to the election's viability via disinformation from foreign agents and hackers, Republican Party attempts at voter suppression, and threats of violence by so-called poll watchers.

    Meanwhile, an embattled Supreme Court has been issuing decisions on matters like "faithless electors," extended voting, and absentee ballots. The record so far has been mixed at best. On the one hand, the justices have voted to keep intact the Electoral College rule that requires electors to honor their pledges to vote according to whatever the voters have decided. They also nixed an attempt by the Republican National Committee to enforce a Rhode Island rule that mail-in voters, under pandemic conditions, must have their ballots signed by either two witnesses or a notary public. And most recently, the Court voted 4-4 to uphold Pennsylvania's decision to extend the absentee ballot deadline.

    For the most part, however, its decisions have gone the other way, upholding more restrictive voting policies in 8 out of 11 cases. In July, for example, the court ruled against a decision in Alabama that had eased restrictions on absentee ballot submissions. That same week, it refused to reinstate an order in Texas allowing all voters to cast mail-in ballots due to the pandemic. Meanwhile, it seems that Pennsylvania Republicans are again trying to narrow the time frame on absentee ballots, announcing that they have returned to the Court for a further decision on the matter in light of Justice Amy Barrett's certain confirmation.

    The point is, this election should matter, both the form it takes and its outcome. If trust in the process of voting goes by the wayside, then the image of the United States as a failing, even a failed state will be hard to dispute. And if there is violence at the polls, or after the vote takes place, then we'll sense an even deeper failure.

    While some may view the coming election as a precipitous cliff, with dangers lurking everywhere, I also see it as an opportunity, which is why the tsunami of early voting, often involving hours of waiting, is an encouraging sign. Despite the abyss that we face after four years of chaos and cruelty, this country still has a chance to prove that we are not a failing state and to reclaim our trust in our government, our protections, and one another. Only then will we be able to begin to repair the economic damage, the rank divisiveness, and the unequal allocation of resources that has fueled our disastrous pandemic response and, with it, a further erosion of trust in government.

    Maybe we need to accept the challenge of proving in this election that one of the world's longest-standing democracies can rise to the occasion and vote to uphold the foundation of its system, elections themselves. Maybe, using this very election, we can harness the civic pride that could lead to a successful restoration of our basic beliefs in constitutional principles and the rule of law. The chance to vote, no matter how long the lines and the wait, might be just the opportunity we need.

    Karen J. Greenberg, a TomDispatch regular, is the director of the Center on National Security at Fordham Law, the host of the Vital Interests Podcast, the editor-in-chief of the CNS Soufan Group Morning Brief, and the author of Rogue Justice: The Making of the Security State and editor of Reimagining the National Security State: Liberalism on the Brink. Julia Tedesco helped with research for this article.

    Follow TomDispatch on Twitter and join us on Facebook. Check out the newest Dispatch Books, John Feffer's new dystopian novel (the second in the Splinterlands series) Frostlands, Beverly Gologorsky's novel Every Body Has a Story, and Tom Engelhardt's A Nation Unmade by War, as well as Alfred McCoy's In the Shadows of the American Century: The Rise and Decline of U.S. Global Power and John Dower's The Violent American Century: War and Terror Since World War II.

    Copyright 2020 Karen J. Greenberg

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