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VIDEOS

Obama goes off on Trump for reportedly having a 'secret Chinese bank account'

During a feisty campaign rally speech in Philadelphia on Wednesday, former President Barack Obama went off on his predecessor's foreign financial ties, pointing to a recent New York Times story that found President Donald Trump has kept a secret Chinese bank account.

"How is that possible?" Obama exclaimed. "How is that possible? A secret Chinese bank account!"

He also observed the rank hypocrisy in right-wing media that has been obvious throughout Trump's term in office.

"Can you imagine if I had had a secret Chinese bank account?" Obama asked. "You think Fox News might have been a little concerned about that? They would have called me 'Beijing Barry.'"

He added: "It is not a great idea to have a president who owes a bunch of money to people overseas. That's not a good idea. I mean, of the taxes Donald Trump pays, he may be sending more to foreign governments than he pays in the United States."

news & politics

The GOP is shrinking — and Democrats have a chance to create a real democracy: professor

If President Donald Trump loses to former Vice President Joe Biden on November 3 — assuming he doesn't manage to pull off a narrow Electoral College victory — we'll be forced to ask: "Where do the Republican Party and the conservative movement go from here?"

As part of a beginning to the answer for that question, Corey Robin, a political science professor at Brooklyn College, analyzes the state of American conservatism in an article for the New York Review of Books and lays out some ways in which it has evolved in recent decades.

"In its heyday, American conservatism was called a 'three-legged stool,'" Robin explains. "One leg was economic and libertarian, appealing to business-minded voters with a platform of tax cuts, deregulation and gutting the welfare state. The second leg was statist and anti-communist, rallying militarists eager to fight and win the Cold War. The third leg was cultural and traditionalist, speaking to voters who were anxious about religion, sex and race — and who hoped to roll back the reforms of the Warren Court and the '60s."

The different "legs" of conservatism that Robin refers to were evident during the 1980s, when President Ronald Reagan oversaw a fragile coalition that ranged form libertarians to neocons to Christian fundamentalist evangelicals — a movement that Sen. Barry Goldwater was openly contemptuous of when he railed against the Moral Majority's Rev. Jerry Falwell, Sr. and the Christian Broadcasting Network's Pat Robertson. But for all their infighting, conservatives dominated the political conversation during the 1980s. And Robin recalls that "liberals and Democrats were forced to accept, as a condition of governance, many of the premises of Republican rule, much as [President Dwight D.] Eisenhower and [President Richard] Nixon had once had to accommodate parts of the New Deal."

Ahead of this year's presidential election, Robin notes, the "three-legged stool of conservatism looks vastly different" from what it was in the past.

"Conservatism is no longer a movement in ascendancy," Robin argues. "Nor is it much of a party in power: even when it controlled all the elected branches of government, from 2016 to 2018, the GOP wasn't able to push many parts of its agenda through Congress. The tax cuts were the notable exception. Conservatism has ceased to be a political project capable of creating hegemony through majoritarian means."

During the 1980s, liberals often felt dispirited because Democrats didn't win a single presidential election during that decade. But post-1980s, Democrats have won the popular vote in six of the last seven presidential elections — and as Robin explains in his article, the GOP has become a shrinking party.

"To judge by its vote-getting and vote-suppressing efforts in 2020, the GOP has little hope for or interest in securing a mandate from the majority, of creating or maintaining a common sense of the whole," Robin writes. "It seeks instead to cobble together enough electoral votes out of states representing a minority of the electorate — often rural, older and white."

If Republicans lose both the White House and the U.S. Senate in November, Robin explains, their best line of defense will be the federal judiciary.

"Though much attention has been focused on the Supreme Court, the GOP's impact has been especially acute at the lower levels of the judiciary," Robin writes. "Trump has appointed more appellate judges than any other president in the first three years and almost as many as Barack Obama appointed over the entirety of his two terms…. Trump's judges are rich, white and built to last."

Robin wraps up his article by stressing that the GOP will become increasingly reliant on the federal judiciary and "gonzo constitutionalism" if there is a major blue wave in November.

"If the Democrats win the White House and the Senate in November — and if they hope to implement the merest plank of their platform — it will be they, and not the Republicans, who will have to engage in a major project of norm erosion," Robin argues. "It will be they who will have to abolish the filibuster. It will be they who will have to pack the Supreme Court or limit the courts' jurisdiction…. Should the Democrats take any of these measures — whether to secure the voting rights of African-Americans, reduce economic inequality, or address climate change — we will see that norm erosion is not how democracies die, but how they are born."

election '20

Trump officials weighing deep funding cuts to essential healthcare services in Dem-led cities: HHS documents

Documents obtained by Politico reveal that the Trump White House is weighing millions of dollars in federal funding cuts to Covid-19 relief, newborn screenings, and other crucial healthcare programs in Democrat-led cities, a move critics decried as politically motivated "retribution" that could have a devastating impact on poor and sick Americans amid the ongoing pandemic.

Politico reported late Tuesday that the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) has "identified federal grants covering... nearly 200 health programs that could be in line for cuts as part of a sweeping government-wide directive the administration is advancing during the final weeks of the presidential campaign and amid an intensifying pandemic Trump has downplayed."

"Vote these monsters out," progressive strategist Murshed Zaheed tweeted in response to the new reporting.

According to Politico:

HHS compiled the list with input from at least 12 agencies it oversees. The list includes 185 programs that touch on everything from Trump's own initiative to end HIV transmission by the end of the decade to the opioid crisis and research into lung diseases. The list also includes funding for other programs, like $423,000 for universal hearing screenings for newborns in the District of Columbia, housing for people in addiction recovery in Seattle, and services providing nutrition and mental health counseling to elderly New Yorkers.

The administration's decision to target funding for life-saving health programs stems from a September 2 memorandum in which President Donald Trump ordered federal agencies to review "funding to state and local government recipients" that the White House has condemned for not quashing racial justice protests.

Last month, as Common Dreams reported, the Department of Justice designated New York City, Seattle, and Portland, Oregon as "anarchist jurisdictions" that could lose federal grant money amid a pandemic that has taken an enormous toll on state and local budgets.


Chrissie Juliano, executive director of the Big Cities Health Coalition, an organization that represents major city health departments, warned that "there's no extra money lying around" to help local governments make up for potential federal funding cuts.

"This is not a time to be playing politics with people's health," Juliano told Politico.

economy

Billionaire wealth has surged by nearly $1 trillion during 7 months of pandemic and economic collapse

Over just the past seven months—as millions lost their jobs and health insurance, tens of thousands of small businesses shuttered permanently, and more than 200,000 Americans were killed by the coronavirus—U.S. billionaires saw their combined net worth surge by more than $930 billion, bringing the collective wealth of just 644 people to a staggering $3.88 trillion.

That's according to an analysis released Tuesday morning by Americans for Tax Fairness (ATF) and the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), progressive organizations that have been tracking the explosion of billionaire wealth since the start of coronavirus lockdowns in mid-March. (See the groups' compilation of billionaire wealth data here.)

The new analysis shows that the collective wealth of America's billionaires grew by $931 billion—or nearly 33%—between March 18 and October 13, a period that also saw unprecedented job loss, a nationwide surge in hunger, and a sharp increase in housing insecurity.

The groups noted that the jump in billionaire wealth over the past seven months exceeds the size of both Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's (R-Ky.) so-called "skinny" Covid-19 relief bill and the estimated two-year budget gaps of all state and local governments, which have been forced to lay off more than a million public-sector workers due to revenue shortfalls caused by the coronavirus crisis.

"Sadly, the Gilded Age is here again," ATF executive director Frank Clemente said in a statement. "We have extraordinary gains in wealth by a small sliver of the population while millions suffer, this time from the ravages of the pandemic, much of which could have been avoided."

"In the short-term we need a robust pandemic relief package that meets the urgency of the moment, not Senator McConnell's skinny bill that offers political cover," Clemente continued. "In the long-term we need major reform that taxes the extraordinary wealth of the billionaires and millionaires and uses that wealth to create an economy that works for all of us."


The new analysis shows that a handful of billionaires "have seen a particularly astonishing increase in wealth" over the past seven months:

  • Jeff Bezos' wealth grew from $113 billion on March 18 to $203 billion on October 13, an increase of 80%. Adding in his ex-wife MacKenzie Scott's wealth of $65.7 billion on that day and the two had a combined wealth of more than a quarter of a trillion dollars thanks to their Amazon stock.
  • Mark Zuckerberg's wealth grew from $54.7 billion on March 18 to $101 billion on October 13, an increase of 85%, fueled by his Facebook stock.
  • Elon Musk's wealth grew from $24.6 billion on March 18 to $92.8 billion on October 13, an increase of 277%, boosted by his Tesla stock.
  • Dan Gilbert, chairman of Quicken Loans, saw his wealth rocket by 656%, to $49.2 billion from $6.5 billion seven months earlier.

"With Mitch McConnell's Senate paralyzed with inaction, U.S. society is kicking into inequality overdrive, with wealth surging up to U.S. billionaires," said Chuck Collins, director of IPS' Program on Inequality. "The juxtaposition between surging billionaire wealth and the imploding livelihoods of ordinary Americans is grotesque and unseemly."

culture

How toxic masculinity became a threat to public health

As if the first two waves of COVID-19 hospitalizations in the United States weren't enough to inspire serious political changes to stop the coronavirus, health experts have sounded the alarm that a third wave is underway. Coronavirus cases and hospitalizations are rising across the nation, specifically in the Dakotas, Nebraska, and Montana, as the seasons change and the election nears.

It's certainly taken a lot of resilience and strength to persevere through this pandemic — particularly given the backdrop of political chaos, uncertainty and immense change in our daily lives. Yet perhaps it is this attitude of "staying strong," and acting stoically — which is rooted in a culture that favors and thrives off toxic masculinity — that has hurt and continues to hurt us the most.

Toxic masculinity, which has become a household phrase over the last few years, is when the archetypal image of masculinity, like displaying strength, becomes harmful to oneself. In 2005, in a study of men in prison, psychiatrist Terry Kupers defined toxic masculinity as "the constellation of socially regressive male traits that serve to foster domination, the devaluation of women, homophobia, and wanton violence." The phrase is used to describe the issues men face or sometimes, wrongfully, justify them. Certainly, in a patriarchal society, toxic masculinity not only defines people but politics — as its mores trickle into our entertainment, discourse and politics.

Notably, the pandemic response is being led by the most psychologically compromised, toxic men in America. As I wrote last weekend, President Donald Trump's insistence on depicting himself as so strong as to be able to "work through" his COVID-19 illness is deeply harmful, and apt to put Americans' lives at risk who mimic his behavior — either by working while sick or hiding symptoms.

Meanwhile, Trump's re-election campaign has tried to frame Trump as a "warrior" — masculine, strong and void of emotion. The administration's individualistic, pick-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps rhetoric personifies toxic masculinity, and trickles down to Trump's underlings, too. In June, Vice President Mike Pence wrote an op-ed essay in The Wall Street Journal claiming there was no second wave of COVID-19, despite all the evidence to the contrary. "We are winning the fight against the invisible enemy," Pence wrote then, adding "our greatest strength is the resilience of the American people."

Yet as psychologists will warn, there is a dark side to resilience.

"There is no doubt that resilience is a useful and highly adaptive trait, especially in the face of traumatic events," psychologists Tomas Chamorro-Premuzic and Derek Lusk wrote in Harvard Business Review. "However, when taken too far, it may focus individuals on impossible goals and make them unnecessarily tolerant of unpleasant or counterproductive circumstances." In other words, self-sufficiency is not always a show of strength; humans, as social creatures, rely on others for society to function and to remain healthy. Denying that means hurting ourselves, either by delaying care or eschewing guidance that may help us or save others.

I've often wondered how much my so-called "resilience" in all of this is just making me numb and tolerant, in an unhealthy way. When looking at which countries have the pandemic somewhat under control, we look and judge their leaders. It's interesting to do this through a gendered lens. For example, New Zealand has some of the lowest coronavirus numbers in the world under Prime Minister Jacinda Adern's leadership. That's partly because she never advertised grandiose ideas about being above or stronger than the coronavirus. As I've previously written, the strengths—such as empathy and compassion— Ardern has brought throughout her tenure are the very same traits that have been used against women seeking leadership positions in the workplace and in the public sector. When male leaders display traditionally feminine qualities, they can also be maligned as weak — former House Speaker John Boehner, for example, used to shed tears in public; Politico's response was to ask, "Why Does John Boehner Cry So Much?"

It's obvious the Trump administration is terrified of appearing "weak" during the pandemic. But where has that gotten us? Prioritizing the economy over our health. Over 8 million infections, and 218,000 Americans dead. And the politicizing of wearing masks, as though wearing them were a sign of weakness — something Trump mocked his opponent Joe Biden for at their first and so far only debate.

As much as toxic masculinity's social repercussion are harmful to our physical health, it is also taking a toll on our mental health. A study published in JAMA Network Open in September showed that three times as many Americans met criteria for a depression diagnosis during the pandemic compared to before it. According to an analysis of Google Trends, symptoms of anxiety increased too.

Why? In part, it could be a result of having to power through these extraordinarily abnormal times without seeking help — that "bootstraps" mentality innate to toxic masculinity. One's attempts to hold it together can devolve into emotional suppression, which in return can cause more emotional distress. In July 2018, Penn State researchers found that women tried to suppress their fears about the Zika virus reported higher levels of fear later. "It turns out that not only is suppression ineffective at handling fear, but it's counter-productive," one researcher said. "It creates a cycle of fear — and it's a vicious cycle."

As a society, many of us — particularly men — haven't been authorized to express sadness publicly, and these studies reflect that. With over 200,000 Americans dead of coronavirus, their loved ones are grieving. Seven months later, we've yet to have a moment of national reflection to mourn.

As it is with the death of a loved one, grief isn't lessened by ignoring one's uncomfortable emotions. Instead, it requires collective vulnerability, compassion and patience. As author David Kessler told HBR:

Emotions need motion. It's important we acknowledge what we go through. [...] We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn't feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn't help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they'll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we're not victims.

As we try to stay strong through this pandemic, the strength we seek to feel will come from falling apart and allowing ourselves to feel the loss and the chaos—physically and emotionally. By persevering through that, still standing in so much unknown, we can experience real strength. In other words, the non-toxic kind.

science

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

belief

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

human rights

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

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

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

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

"I stood up for that," he added.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

more news

Rudy Giuliani tricked by Sasha Baron Cohen into having ‘indiscreet encounter’ with young actress

Trump attorney Rudy Giuliani was reportedly tricked by comedian Sasha Baron Cohen into having an "indiscreet encounter" with a young actress who was playing as a far-right journalist in his new "Borat" movie.

The Guardian, which has seen footage from Cohen's upcoming movie, reports that "the former New York mayor and current personal attorney to Donald Trump is seen reaching into his trousers and apparently touching his genitals while reclining on a bed in the presence of the actor playing Borat's daughter."

The actress in question, 24-year-old Bulgarian native Maria Bakalova, posted as a right-wing journalist interested in interviewing Giuliani to ask him about his work for President Donald Trump.

According to The Guardian, Bakalova after the interview asks Giuliani to come to her hotel room for a drink.

Little does the New York mayor know, however, that Bakalova's room has been rigged with cameras — and as soon as Giuliani starts apparently playing with himself, Cohen's character bursts into the room and tells him that she's only 15 years old and thus "too old for you."

‘A relativist dressed in originalist drag’: Catholic paper urges Senate to ‘reject’ Barrett in scathing op-ed

Republican supporters of Judge Amy Coney Barrett have been citing her Catholicism as one of the reasons why the U.S. Senate should confirm her nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court as soon as possible. But Barrett is by no means universally loved among Catholics. And the National Catholic Reporter has slammed Barrett this week in a blistering staff editorial, asking the U.S. Senate to "reject" her nomination.

In the editorial, the Reporter's editorial board argues, "We believed it was wrong for the Senate to consider this nomination in the first place given the precedent set four years ago when Justice Antonin Scalia died in February (2016), nine months before the election. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell refused to even hold hearings on the nomination of Judge Merrick Garland, saying repeatedly that the American people should have a say in the matter. This year, when the death of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg created a vacancy less than nine weeks before Election Day, McConnell has seen fit to ram through the nomination."

The editorial complains that "hypocrisy is rank" with the nomination and that it is impossible to see how "rushing this nomination will be good for our democracy."

Although the National Catholic Reporter says that Barrett isn't responsible for McConnell's actions, she has let herself be used as a "vehicle for his agenda and that of President Donald Trump."

The Reporter stresses, "She could have phoned the White House and asked not to be considered for the nomination. Barrett is only 48 years old, and there will be other vacancies."

The publication also takes Barrett to task for being so evasive when answering questions from Sen. Amy Klobuchar and others during her confirmation hearings.

"It is her bad faith in discussing the law that warrants disqualifying her," the editorial stresses. "About the evils of climate change, access to health care and voter intimidation, Americans deserve better than a relativist dressed in originalist drag."

Former CIA official reveals the 'weird' reason intel officers are 'terrified' to brief Trump on Russia

U.S. intelligence officers responsible for briefing President Donald Trump on the country's potential threats are reportedly "terrified" to brief him on anything Russian-related due to concerns about his possibly explosive reaction.

During an interview with GQ magazine, former CIA official Marc Polymeropoulos weighed in on Trump's perplexing affinity for Russian President Vladimir Putin to like him. At this point, Polymeropoulos insists no one is willing to brief the president on anything involving Russia.

"No one's going to brief anything on Russia to the president," Polymeropoulos told GQ correspondent Julia Ioffe. "They're terrified of doing that. I know that from the briefers. Because he'll explode and the whole thing will get derailed, because he has this weird affinity for [Russian President Vladimir] Putin."

When Polymeropoulos was asked why the subject of Putin and Russia are such delicate issues in the White House, insisted Trump "wants Putin to like him."

According to Polymeropoulos, the issue is sensitive for Trump because: "He doesn't want to be embarrassed in front of Putin, that's part of the dilemma. Polymeropoulos went on to recall how Trump interacted with the Queen as he noted that the president insists on being connected to people who have "glamour and cachet."

"Just look at how he behaves with the Queen. That's how he behaves with everyone who has any glamour and cachet," Polymeropoulos continued, adding, "Putin has everything he doesn't have."

The latest news comes as intelligence reports warn of the possibility of Russian election interference as election day fast approaches. In 2016, the former Soviet republic was accused of running disinformation campaigns in an effort to sway the election in Trump's favor. Now, reports suggest Trump's personal attorney Rudy Giuliani may be Russia's new target to help circulate disinformation campaigns on Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden in a manner similar to the attacks on former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton during the 2016 presidential election.

Trump has repeatedly refused to address situations involving Putin.

Trump's gruesome legacy marks his administration as an accomplice to the Saudi crown prince's crimes

Washington Post journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered on October 2, 2018 by agents of Saudi Arabia's despotic government, and the CIA concluded they killed him on direct orders from Saudi Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman (MBS). Eight Saudi men have been convicted of Khashoggi's murder by a Saudi court in what the Washington Post characterized as sham trials with no transparency. The higher ups who ordered the murder, including MBS, continue to escape responsibility.

Khashoggi's assassination and dismemberment was so horrific and cold-blooded that it sparked worldwide public outrage. President Trump, however, stood by MBS, bragging to journalist Bob Woodward that he saved the prince's "ass" and got "Congress to leave him alone."

MBS's ascent to dictatorial power, soon after his elderly father King Salman became king in January 2015, was sold to the world as ushering in a new era of reform, but has in reality been characterized by violent, ruthless repression. The number of executions has doubled, from 423 executions between 2009 and 2014 to more than 800 since January 2015.

They include the mass execution of 37 people on April 23, 2019, mostly for taking part in peaceful Arab Spring protests in 2011-12. These protests took place in Shiite areas where people face systemic discrimination in the majority Sunni kingdom. At least three of those executed were minors when they were sentenced, and one was a student arrested at the airport on his way to attend Western Michigan University. Many of the victims' families have said that they were convicted based on forced confessions extracted by torture, and two victims' beheaded corpses were put on public display.

Under MBS, all dissent has been crushed. In the last two years, all of Saudi Arabia's independent human rights defenders have been imprisoned, threatened into silence, or have fled the country. This includes women's rights activists such as Loujain al-Hathoul, who opposed the ban on women drivers. Despite some openings for women under MBS, including the right to drive, Saudi women remain subject to discrimination in law and practice, with laws that ensure they are subordinate citizens to men, particularly in relation to family matters such as marriage, divorce, child custody and inheritance.

The Trump administration has never challenged Saudi Arabia's internal repression, and worse yet, it has played a vital role in the brutal Saudi-led war on neighboring Yemen. After Yemeni president Abdrabbuh Mansur Hadi failed to leave office at the end of his two-year term as the head of a transitional government, or to fulfill his mandate to draw up a new constitution and hold a new election, the Houthi rebel movement invaded the capital, Sana'a, in 2014, placed him under house arrest and demanded that he do his job.

Hadi instead resigned, fled to Saudi Arabia and conspired with MBS and the Saudis to launch a war to try to restore him to power. The United States has provided in-air refueling, intelligence and planning for Saudi and Emirati air strikes and has raked in over 100 billion dollars in arms sales. While U.S. support for the Saudi war began under President Obama, Trump has provided unconditional support as the horrors of this war have shocked the entire world.

According to the Yemen Data Project, at least 30% of US-supported airstrikes on Yemen have hit civilian targets, including hospitals, health clinics, schools, marketplaces, civilian infrastructure, and a particularly horrific airstrike on a school bus that killed 40 children and 11 adults.

After five years, this brutal war has succeeded only in wreaking mass devastation and chaos, with dozens of children dying every day from starvation, malnutrition and preventable diseases, all now compounded by the Covid-19 pandemic.

Belated Congressional efforts to end U.S. support for the war, including the passage of a War Powers bill in March 2019 and a bill to suspend arms sales to Saudi Arabia in July 2019, have been vetoed when they reached President Trump's desk.

The U.S. alliance with the Saudis certainly predates Trump, going back to the discovery of oil in the 1930s. While its traditional role as an oil supplier is no longer vital to the U.S. economy, Saudi Arabia has become one of the largest purchasers of U.S. weapons, a major investor in U.S. businesses and an ally against Iran. After the failed U.S. wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, the U.S. began grooming Saudi Arabia to play a leading geopolitical and military role, alongside Israel, in a new U.S.-led alliance to counter the growing influence of Iran, Russia and China in the Middle East.

The war on Yemen was the first test of Saudi Arabia's role as a leading U.S. military ally, and it exposed both the practical and moral bankruptcy of this policy, unleashing another endless war and the world's worst humanitarian crisis in one of the poorest countries on Earth. MBS's assassination of Jamal Khashoggi came at a critical moment in the unraveling of this doomed strategy, laying bare the sheer insanity of basing America's Middle East policy for the 21st century on an alliance with a neo-feudal monarchy sustained by murder and repression.

President Obama tried to change tack towards the end of his administration, putting a hold on the sale of munitions to Saudi Arabia and signing a nuclear deal with Iran. Trump reversed both these policies, and continued to treat Saudi Arabia as a critical ally, even as the world recoiled in horror at Khashoggi's assassination.

While Saudi abuses have not diminished the Trump administration's unconditional support, they have ignited global opposition. In an exciting new development, exiled Saudi activists have formed a political party, the National Assembly Party or NAAS, calling for democracy and respect for human rights in the kingdom. In its inaugural statement, the party laid out a vision for Saudi Arabia in which all citizens are equal under the law and a fully elected parliament has legislative and oversight powers over the state's executive institutions. The founding document was signed by several prominent Saudi activists in exile, including London-based professor Madawi al-Rasheed; Abdullah Alaoudh, a Saudi academic who is also the son of jailed Islamic scholar Salman al-Awda; and Shia activist Ahmed al-Mshikhs.

Another new initiative, timed for the second anniversary of Khashoggi's murder, is the launch of Democracy for the Arab World Now (DAWN), an organization conceived by Jamal Khashoggi several months before his murder. DAWN will promote democracy and support political exiles across the Middle East, in keeping with the vision of its martyred founder.

Progressive groups in the United States continue to oppose U.S. support for Saudi Arabia's Yemen war and to push USAID to restore direct humanitarian aid that has been slashed to Houthi-controlled parts of Yemen in 2020 in the midst of the Covid-19 pandemic. European activists have launched successful campaigns to stop weapons sales to Saudi Arabia in several countries.

These past two years have also seen activists organizing boycotts of Saudi events. Pre-COVID, when the kingdom opened up to musical extravaganzas, groups such as CODEPINK and Human Rights Foundation pressured entertainers like Nicki Minaj to cancel appearances. Minaj put out a statement saying, "It is important for me to make clear my support for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community and freedom of expression." Meghan MacLaren, the U.K.'s top woman golfer, withdrew from a lucrative new golf tournament in Saudi Arabia, citing reports by Amnesty International and saying she cannot take part in "sportwashing" Saudi human rights abuses.

A new group called Freedom Forward, which seeks to sever the US-Saudi alliance, has focused on the upcoming G20 in Riyadh, which is taking place virtually in November, urging invitees to refuse to participate. The campaign has successfully lobbied the mayors of several major cities, including New York City, Los Angeles, Paris and London, to boycott the event, along with notables invited to side events for women and global thinkers.

As we mark two years since Jamal Khashoggi's murder, we may also soon be marking the end of the Trump administration. While it is hard to take Vice President Biden on his word that he would not sell more weapons to the Saudis and would make them "pay the price" for killing Khashoggi, it is good to hear a presidential candidate admit that there is "very little social redeeming value in the present government in Saudi Arabia" and call it a "pariah state." Perhaps with enough pressure from below, a new administration could start the process of disentangling the U.S. from the deadly embrace of the Saudi dictatorship.

But as long as U.S. leaders continue to coddle the Saudis, it's difficult not to ask who is more evil—the maniacal Saudi crown prince responsible for Khashoggi's murder and the slaughter of more than a hundred thousand Yemenis, or the mendacious Western governments and businesspeople who continue to support and profit from his crimes?

Medea Benjamin is cofounder of CODEPINK for Peace, and author of several books, including Kingdom of the Unjust: Behind the U.S.-Saudi Connection.

Nicolas J. S. Davies is an independent journalist, a researcher with CODEPINK and the author of Blood On Our Hands: the American Invasion and Destruction of Iraq.

Progressives unite for last-ditch effort to delay Amy Coney Barrett vote — by impeaching Bill Barr

Progressive activists are urging House Democrats to essentially kill two birds with one stone by impeaching Attorney General Bill Barr — which would delay the confirmation vote for Judge Amy Coney Barrett.

"Attorney General Barr has acted to subvert the laws that he, as our nation's chief federal law enforcement official, is duty-bound to uphold," more than 20 progressive groups signed in a joint letter.

"Attorney General Barr has made a career out of undermining our democracy and it is pellucidly clear that he has been ramping up efforts to undermine the upcoming elections and invalidate the votes of millions of Americans," the groups wrote.

The groups explained that the Democrats in the House of Representatives have power that Senate Democrats lack — they can delay the confirmation of Judge Barrett's nomination to the Supreme Court by impeaching Barr, as it would force action by the Senate and scuttle the current calendar being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) according to Senate rules.


"Should you impeach Attorney General Barr prior to October 23rd, the Senate would be required to take one of two actions. On one hand, the Senate would be obligated to hold a trial, which would occupy a day or more of floor time and delay the hasty and irregular consideration of Amy Coney Barrett as a Supreme Court associate justice," the groups explained. "In the alternative, Senate Republican leadership would be forced to go 'nuclear' by changing the rules that govern how that chamber responds to receiving articles of impeachment from the House of Representatives."

"Either outcome is desirable," the groups concluded.

Demand Progress, Our Revolution and the Sunrise Movement were among the progressives organizations that signed on to the strategy.





Trump used his campaign war chest like an ATM. Now it's dead broke — and GOP donors are furious

Suckers. That's clearly how major GOP donors feel after realizing that Trump's campaign is basically dead broke, he's dragging down the entire party, and he's even put Democrats in position to potentially take back the Senate.

"The Senate majority is the most important objective right now," said Dan Eberhart, who has given over $190,000 to Trump's reelection effort, according to the AP. "It's the bulwark against so much bad policy that the Democrats want to do if they sweep the elections."

Eberhart and others feel burned after the state of Trump's campaign war chest has come into clearer view in the final months of the race. Some Republicans donors even founded a separate pro-Trump super PAC, Preserve America, that was explicitly not run by Trump's people because he's clearly not sending his finest. Republican megadonor Sheldon Adelson recently poured $75 million into that PAC instead of just handing it over to the Trump campaign.

"You could literally have 10 monkeys with flamethrowers go after the money, and they wouldn't have burned through it as stupidly," veteran GOP strategist Mike Murphy told the AP of the Trump campaign's spending habits.

On the one hand, the Biden campaign is spending more than twice as much in the closing days of race—$142 million to the Trump campaign's coordinated buy with the Republican National Committee (RNC) of $55 million. On the other, Trump and his campaign aides burned through $1 billion like they were on a drunken Beverly Hills lifestyles-of-the-rich-and-famous bender.

There's the already reported $10 million Super Bowl ad bought by the campaign so Trump could feel powerful before Democrats had even settled on a nominee. There's also more than $310 million in spending that's concealed by a web of limited liability companies, notes the AP. And somehow, former Trump campaign manager Brad Parscale managed to purchase a Ferrari, a Range Rover, a $400,000 yacht, and several million-dollar-plus condos after siphoning some $40 million from the Trump campaign alone.

But really, that's just the tip of the iceberg. Here're some other choice purchases made by the Trump camp and RNC, according to the AP:

— Nearly $100,000 to prop up the release of Donald Trump Jr.'s book, "Triggered," pushing it to the top of The New York Times' bestsellers list.

— Over $7.4 million spent at Trump-branded properties since 2017

— At least $35.2 million spent on Trump merchandise

— $38.7 million in legal and "compliance" fees, including the legal costs of his impeachment proceedings

— At least $14.1 million spent on the Republican National Convention, which was relocated several times and ended up being a mostly virtual event

— A $250,000 ad run during Game 7 of the 2019 World Series after Trump was booed by spectators for attending Game 5

— $1.6 million on TV ads so Trump could see himself in the Washington, D.C., media market, where Biden is polling at about 87%

Perhaps the best strategic decision was back in May, when Parscale unleashed $176 million in spending to drag down Biden in public polling. That worked out well.

Tiffany Trump burned over disastrous LGBTQ pride campaign event: ‘Beyond pathetic'

Tiffany Trump, the First Family's youngest daughter, is being highly criticized after headlining a disastrous and offensive "LGBTQ pride" campaign event for her father, in which she left out the "T" – for the transgender community – upon hitting the stage and garbling what should have been a simple "LGBTQIA."

Tiffany also immediately told the presumably LGBTQ Republicans at the sparsely-attended event her father used to support them, but stopped after entering politics.

"Prior to politics, he supported gays, lesbians, the LGBQI – IA plus community, OK?" Tiffany Trump admitted.

Unsurprisingly, the announcement didn't even mention it was an LGBTQ event.


President Donald Trump is the most anti-LGBTQ president in modern American history. Directly and indirectly he has attacked the LGBTQ community, through rescinding President Barack Obama's executive orders protecting LGBTQ people, by banning transgender Americans from serving in the U.S. Military, by attacking ObamaCare, by installing far right wing anti-LGBTQ judges at every level of the federal judiciary, by empowering the religious right, by creating anti-LGBTQ offices within federal agencies, by enabling and supporting white supremacists, white nationalists, and other domestic terrorists, and more.

On social media Tiffany Trump was roundly excoriated – take a look:
















Democrats may 'never win another national election': SCOTUS mail-in voting ruling raises alarm

Adivided Supreme Court rejected a Pennsylvania Republican effort to curtail mail-in voting, but experts say the Democratic victory may be short-lived — and confirming Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett would be a "disaster for Democrats."

With Chief Justice John Roberts joining the court's three liberals, the court split 4-4 to reject a request from Pennsylvania Republicans to block an order from the state's Supreme Court allowing mail-in ballots to be counted if they are received within three days of Election Day — even if they do not have a clear postmark. The tie left the state decision in place, which Democratic lawyers hailed as "great news for voting rights."

The four conservative justices, who would have blocked the state court ruling, did not issue a dissenting opinion to explain their votes.

"The unfathomable thing about the four justices siding [with] PA Republicans tonight: they would've stripped a state supreme court of the authority to say what the law is in their own state," Bard College Professor Steven Mazie wrote on Twitter. "That's way beyond right field. It's judicial activism on steroids."

If the conservatives had prevailed, the decision "would create legal chaos over a wide range of issues," attorney Max Kennerly added.

Some Supreme Court reporters called the split "really scary" and "terrifying." If Barrett is confirmed next week as expected, the court's conservatives could potentially upend the election.

"Tonight four conservative Supreme Court justices indicated their support for a radical, anti-democratic theory that would stop state Supreme Courts from enforcing state election laws to protect the franchise," Slate's Mark Joseph Stern wrote. "And Barrett could soon give them a fifth vote . . . The 2020 election may be in her hands."

Though the court allowed the state order to stand, "that victory may only last a matter of days," Vox's Ian Millhiser reported. "Indeed, the GOP may be able to raise this issue again after Barrett is confirmed, potentially securing a court order requiring states like Pennsylvania to toss out an unknown number of ballots that arrive after Election Day. If the election is close, that could be enough to change the result."

Some legal experts said it was possible, but unlikely, that the court would take the same case up again.

"It's possible that Republicans can renew their application if and when Judge Barrett is confirmed, in the hopes that she'd side with them," Steve Vladeck, a law professor at the University of Texas, wrote. "That said, that close to the election, it's hard to imagine that all four of tonight's dissenters would want to upset the status quo."

Even if the case does not return to the high court, Barrett could be the deciding vote in numerous other challenges brought by Republicans or President Donald Trump's campaign in Pennsylvania and other states, according to Rick Hasen, a professor at the University of California Irvine School of Law.

In the meantime, the Supreme Court's split decision leaves many questions unanswered only14 days before the election.

"We have no guidance from the court as to when and whether a state Supreme Court can rely on a state Constitution when it expands or changes state voting rules in a presidential election," Hasen wrote. "Even though Democrats opposed the stay sought by Republicans in the case, they begged the court to fully take the case and give an explanation as to the scope of state court power in this case. This lack of guidance could be a huge problem in the two battleground states — North Carolina and Pennsylvania — with Democratic state Supreme Courts and Republican legislatures who could battle over any post-election voting rules."

Trump has repeatedly said he wants Barrett on the court in time for the election, because it "will end up in the Supreme Court." He declared that he was "counting on them to look at the ballots" at the first presidential debate.

And other Republicans have echoed the president's rhetoric. Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Texas, who opposed Merrick Garland's nomination months ahead of the 2016 election, has argued that it is imperative to confirm Barrett before the election. Senate Judiciary Chairman Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who likewise opposed Garland, also argued that it was necessary to speed through the confirmation, because "the court will decide" litigation about "who won the election."

Barrett, who has not ruled on any election-related cases on the Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals, demurred when asked during her confirmation hearings if she would recuse herself from cases that could determine the outcome of the presidential election despite precedent possibly requiring her to do so.

"I commit to you to fully and faithfully applying the law of recusal, and part of the law is to consider any appearance questions," Barrett told Sen. Pat Leahy, D-Vt. "And I will apply the factors that other justices have before me in determining whether the circumstances require my recusal or not. But I can't offer a legal conclusion right now about the outcome of the decision I would reach."

All of this potentially makes Monday's ruling a disaster "for anyone who cares about democracy," Millhiser wrote.

"If Democrats win this election, and they don't pack the Supreme Court," he added, "they could very well never win a national election again."

Trump's '60 Minutes' interview is looking like a disaster before it even airs

Both President Donald Trump and former Vice President Joe Biden, along with their running mates, are slated to appear on Sunday in the upcoming episode of the CBS news and interview show "60 Minutes." But reporting from CNN and Trump's own comments made it clear on Tuesday that his interview with the network did not go to his liking.

"I am pleased to inform you that, for the sake of accuracy in reporting, I am considering posting my interview with Lesley Stahl of 60 Minutes, PRIOR TO AIRTIME! This will be done so that everybody can get a glimpse of what a FAKE and BIASED interview is all about," Trump said in a tweet on Tuesday evening. "Everyone should compare this terrible Electoral Intrusion with the recent interviews of Sleepy Joe Biden!"

Trump also released a brief clip of "60 Minutes" host Lesley stahl, trying to shame her for not wearing a mask:

Presumably, Stahl wasn't wearing a mask during her onscreen interview, and had yet to put one on in the clip Trump posted. It was an odd attempt to shame her, given his repeated statements casting doubt on and diminishing the importance of mask use during the pandemic. It may indicate that mask-wearing was a subject of a dispute between them during the interview.

Trump's claim about "Electoral Intrusion" reflects a bizarre trend in conservative rhetoric. Foreign election interference was discussed extensively following the 2016 campaign because of Russia's efforts to meddle in the democratic process. But trying to turn that idea around and accuse critics of Trump and the GOP of domestic election interference makes no sense, because Americans and American media are expected to be a part of the electoral process.

CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins published a report Tuesday that also pointed to a disastrous interview.

Collins said that while CBS was at the White House to conduct the interview, Trump "abruptly" ended the discussion after 45 minutes. He reportedly said they had enough material to use for the show. He then declined to reappear on the show along with Vice President Mike Pence for another segment, as had been planned.

Trump's tweets suggest that he was not happy with the questions and fact-checking he was faced with, perhaps because they were critical of his handling of the pandemic. But we'll have a better idea of what happened at least by Sunday — maybe even sooner, if the White House decides to release its own footage.

'Vote for Trump or else': Florida voters receive threatening emails linked to overseas servers

Dozens of Florida voters and others residing in heavily-Democratic counties across several states have received threatening emails warning them to vote for President Donald Trump in the upcoming presidential election or suffer consequences.

Ahead of early voting, Democratic voters in Alachua County, Fla., began receiving the disturbing emails. Voters in Alaska and Arizona also reported receiving the same message.

The subject line for the email reads: "Vote for Trump or else!"

Targeting voters registered as Democrats, the email message opens with a disturbing statement telling potential voters all of their personal information has been exposed as the sender claims to have infiltrated the "entire voting infrastructure."

The sender also warned Democrats to vote for Trump or they would "come after" them. Voters are also being told to change their political party affiliation so it can serve as confirmation of agreement to the terms of the threat.

"We are in possession of all your information (email, address, telephone… everything)," the message stated. "You are currently registered as a Democrat and we know this because we have gained access into the entire voting infrastructure. You will vote for Trump on Election Day or we will come after you. Change your party affiliation to Republican to let us know you received our message and will comply. We will know which candidate you voted for. I would take this seriously if I were you."

Although initial investigative findings suggest the emails were sent from the right-wing group The Proud Boys' official email address "info@officialproudboys.com," a review of the source code embedded in seven of the emails suggests the messages were sent from an overseas server linked to "IP addresses linked to servers located in Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Estonia," according to CBS News.

However, Dmitri Alperovitch, former chief technology officer of the cybersecurity firm CrowdStrike, explained why the IP addresses do not necessarily reveal the exact location the emails were sent from. He also weighed in on the verbiage in the email.

"It could be that they are simply relaying through this infrastructure," Alperovitch told CBS News in an email. "In fact, given how this email was sent, using their web interface, that's most likely the case — that the people behind this found a vulnerable server in Saudi through which they can route lots of emails."

The latest developments come just two weeks before election day.

Florida poised to deliver election night death blow to Trump presidency

It's Civiqs' first look at Florida, and it's finding what most other pollsters have found: a slight Joe Biden lead.

Civiqs conducted the poll October 17-20, sampling 863 likely voters, and an MoE of 3.5%
PRESIDENT10/2020
DONALD TRUMP (R-INC)47
JOE BIDEN (D)51

The Economist's poll aggregator (which strips out undecideds), has the Florida race at 51.9 to 48.1 Biden, a 3.8-point advantage. So this is well within the polling consensus.

Florida will count its ballots by election night, so if Donald Trump hopes to sow fear and confusion over uncounted ballots in Michigan and Pennsylvania, this isn't going to help. In fact, election-night loses in Florida, North Carolina, or Georgia will immediately signal Trump's inevitable loss, and take the wind out of any attempts to sow chaos and uncertainty.

Also of note, Biden is over 51%, meaning that if the numbers are accurate, undecided voters can't flip the election to Trump.

Down ballot, voters appear set to overwhelmingly approve a $15 minimum wage, 57-38, garnering the support of even 25% of Republicans. Meanwhile, the effort to institute an idiotic top-two jungle primary system (like the one we're saddled with in California and Washington too) looks headed toward comfortable defeat—36-51.

Of further note, Republican and former party savior Sen. Marco Rubio has an approval rating of 39-53, making him the least popular politician in the state. That should make for a fun 2022, when he is up for reelection. By comparison, the state's incompetent and odious governor Ron DeSantis, who has killed thousands by refusing to the COVID seriously, has a distressingly okay 46-49 favorability rating. (Which also shows that the sample isn't overly liberal.)

Luckily, we don't need Florida to win the White House. If we need it, we are bound to be disappointed by it. But the fact that this poll confirms a slight Biden lead gives hope that all the presidential drama can end early on Election Night, so we can enjoy the rest of the evening counting victories instead.

Democrats are missing a big chance to increase turnout and take down the Trump machine

The anxiety over changes and irregularities with the United States Postal Service (USPS) in August finally spilled over. A functioning postal service undergirds many of our society’s most basic functions, so there was no shortage of reasons to be alarmed. However, one concern—the threat to November’s election—overwhelmingly rose to the top. And the public outcry over that threat pushed a normally lethargic House majority into action, winning some mild but incomplete reversals from USPS.

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GOP 'hero' who helped stop terror attack faces questions over his own 'affiliations' with extremists

An Oregon congressional candidate who drew worldwide acclaim for helping to stop a terror attack faces questions about his "affiliations" to extremists ahead of Election Day.

Former Oregon National Guardsman Alex Skarlatos, better known as the "Paris train hero" after he and four others subdued a gunman while traveling in Europe in 2015, is running in Oregon's 4th Congressional District. Democratic groups claim that his association with Timber Unity, a group linked to extremist groups such as the Proud Boys, QAnon and the Three Percenter movement, raises "serious questions about his affiliations."

"Their Salem log truck rallies were a smorgasbord of climate denial, anti-vaxxers, gun nuts, anti-immigrant, militia groups, QAnon," Steve Pedery of the conservation group Oregon Wild told Salon.

A photo displayed on the Skarlatos campaign's Facebook page shows the Republican candidate posing with Timber Unity protesters holding a banner with the QAnon slogan last year.


"Alek Skarlatos has been hoping to skate through this election without answering any real questions — and with good reason. The more we learn about him, the more troubling his candidacy gets, and his association with an extreme right wing group is just the latest alarming news about him," Abby Curran Horrell, executive director of House Majority PAC, said in a statement to Salon. "Alek Skarlatos needs to disavow this group immediately, or answer serious questions about his affiliations."

Skarlatos' campaign did not respond to questions from Salon. Julie Parrish, a Timber Unity board member, told Salon in an emailed statement that reports linking the group to extremists were hit pieces.

"Let me be really clear: Our board doesn't support racism in any way, shape or form," she said. "We're not part of QAnon, or any other group. We have one focus — protect jobs for working Oregonians in the natural resource sector — regardless of their party, race, sexual orientation or gender."

Skarlatos was honored in 2015 by former President Barack Obama and former French President Francois Hollande for rushing to confront a man linked to ISIS who was armed with an AK-47 and a pistol. His heroics earned him and his friends, Air Force veteran Spencer Stone and Anthony Sadler, a book deal. The men later portrayed themselves in Clint Eastwood's film adaptation of "The 15:17 to Paris." Skarlatos went on to appear on "Dancing With the Stars" and "Who Wants to Be a Millionaire?"

Skarlatos, a conservative who served in Afghanistan, soon became a frequent guest on Fox News. He attempted to use his newfound notoriety in 2018 to launch a bid to become Douglas County Commissioner in his home state but fell short. Not wanting to "waste" his popularity, the 28-year-old launched a bid earlier this year to unseat Rep. Peter DeFazio, D-Ore., who has represented the district for 33 years.

Skarlatos, who has been accused by Democrats of "blindly backing Trump or wanting to dismantle health care protections," according to Politico, is the first serious opponent DeFazio has faced in years in an increasingly red district which President Donald Trump lost by about 0.1% in 2016. Skarlatos outraised DeFazio in the last quarter in a contest which is expected to become the most expensive House race in state history. His bid has been financially backed by House Leader Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., House Minority Whip Steve Scalise, R-La., and Sen. Ted Cruz, R-Tx.

Skarlatos has repeatedly praised the president but pushed back on the "Trump Republican" label, vowing to represent "the loggers, the veterans, moms, dads and families trying to make ends meet" against the "extremes" in Washington. However, he previously stated in a deleted tweet that he supports Trump "100%."

With a focus on the timber industry and forest management amid the state's wildfires, Skarlatos has pushed a debunked conspiracy theory that the fires stop at the Canadian border and are not growing in other countries like Germany. Skarlatos has said he does not "believe" that climate change is to blame for the growing fires despite scientists repeatedly pointing to climate change as a key reason.

He has also argued that the government's response to the coronavirus pandemic has been an "overreaction" — and the virus is not "that lethal" — while opposing federal unemployment benefits to Americans laid off amid the crisis.

Skarlatos, who describes himself as a libertarian, has taken other positions outside of the mainstream, such as opposing any new gun laws and arguing that there should be no minimum wage.

He has endorsed Republican Senate candidate Jo Rae Perkins, who has pledged her allegiance to the QAnon conspiracy theory and attended events hosted by a group linked to QAnon supporters and other fringe groups in Oregon.

Skarlatos has allied himself with Timber Unity, a new right-wing "anti-environment" group linked to a Republican walkout which thwarted legislation aimed at combating climate change, according to Mother Jones. The group's members have reportedly "had no qualms associating with violent extremists and far-right groups," including being photographed with members of "neofascist or militia groups." Their rallies have "prominently featured messages backing QAnon," and their private Facebook group is "awash with violent threats, conspiracy theories and sometimes racist messages that likely violate the platform's terms of service," according to the report.

Some members have allegedly made death threats against Oregon Gov. Kate Brown, a Democrat, and pushed conspiracy theories about vaccines and George Soros, a frequent target of anti-Semitic attacks, per Mother Jones.

The group's leaders have also been linked to the far-right "Three Percenters" movement, QAnon supporters and the Proud Boys.

Though the group does not endorse federal candidates, board member Todd Stoffel told KOIN-TV that Skarlatos was "a member of our movement, and we are very proud of him stepping up in his district."

Stoffel was last year pictured with former Congressional candidate Angela Roman, a reported member of the Three Percenters, making the "OK" hand symbol, which has been co-opted by white supremacist groups. Other members were also photographed with Roman.

Skarlatos "says he supports Timber Unity and spoke at a rally it organized at the state Capitol in Salem," according to E&E News. He spoke at a Timber Unity rally before Republican lawmakers fled the state to prevent the climate bill's passage and was photographed alongside Perkins at one of the group's rallies, according to Jefferson Public Radio.

Conservation groups have alleged that Timber Unity has "mainstreamed extremism by allowing activists engaged in violent threats and conspiracy theories into the group," according to Willamette Week.

"By refusing to distance themselves from these parts of the movement," Oregon Wild said in a report earlier this year, "the Timber Unity leadership is simultaneously harnessing the energy of these extremist elements for their own benefit, while proclaiming that they are a legitimate representative of rural Oregon."

"Protesters came dressed in the regalia of the Three Percenters, a right-wing anti-government militia, and carried signs decrying government efforts to increase childhood vaccination rates," Willamette Week reported.

The group's leaders have pushed back on the reports. Parrish told Williamette Week that the reported ties were "outlandish" and "bogus."

"The assertion that Timber Unity members from poor rural communities are somehow privileged or 'supremacists' for fighting for their livelihoods," she said, "is simply proof that the Democratic majority in this state has completely abandoned the needs of the working class."

Parrish told the outlet that the group had reported at least one person who made problematic comments in its Facebook group to state police and insisted that she did not think "any" of its members "know what the whole QAnon thing is."

But sociologist Spencer Sunshine, who authored the Oregon Wild report, told Mother Jones that the group was "profiting off of an extremist space and refusing to distance from it while posing as mainstream organization."

"While Timber Unity has sought to downplay these links, an investigation of its social media channels has found extensive ties between its leaders and Far Right figures, as well as the use of racist, homophobic, Islamophobic and violent rhetoric by its supporters," he said. "The organization already has a history of and association with groups who have either made violent political threats or have supported violent actions."

Since the report was published, Timber unity has "heavily" moderated its online group "as best we can," Parrish told Salon in an email. "But we do have 64,000 members in a group. Just like Salon isn't responsible for the opinions of their readers or their comments on your page, nor are we responsible for the individual opinions of 64,000 other people."

Pedery agreed that "they have been a lot more aggressive in shutting down most (but not all) of the overtly racist stuff on their closed Facebook group, and they take pains to say they do not support violence."

But Pedery added that Stoffel remained on the board, and "their material continues to feature QAnon imagery."

"To the extent they have made changes," he said in an email, "I think they are cosmetic."

Parrish reiterated that the group does not tolerate bigotry.

"Our board is of mixed race/heritage, as are some of our children," she said. "As the daughter of an Arab immigrant, I've personally been subject to some pretty racist comments over the years, so we just don't tolerate it."

"As to Alek Skarlotos, we haven't endorsed his campaign," she added. "We're not set up to do federal endorsements. We do allow all candidates of any party to post once every Tuesday in our group, as Timber Unity is a non-partisan entity. That would include Congressman De Fazio if he wanted to avail himself to his constituents; he has chosen not to. We do appreciate Alek's positions on forest management and job creation compared to his opponent, but we're not weighing in on his campaign. As a former eight-year Oregon lawmaker, I find his candor and energy refreshing. After 30-plus years of De Fazio, I think people in Southern Oregon are ready for someone new to represent them in Congress."

Pedery argued that Timber Unity was "essentially an arm of the Oregon Republican Party and their far-right donors in the logging industry."

"From the get-go, Parrish positioned Timber Unity as an umbrella under which a variety of far-right and rural grievances could be organized in support of Republican candidates and causes," he said. "They have started sending out mailers listing their candidate endorsements, and Republican candidates are displaying their logo prominently in their materials. The only [Democrats] they have endorsed are pro-fossil fuel export terminals, and pro-clearcutting."

Pedery said the group had "pretty clearly tried to glom on to any activism [or] political momentum it can find in right-wing politics in the state," which is why their rallies have featured so many extremist groups.

"Their goal has always been to try and weld all of this together into a rural-focused campaign to generate political support for far-right causes and candidates (and hate of anything that smacks of urban, liberal, Democrat, environmentalist, etc.), and to create support for Republican walkouts that paralyze the legislature," he added. "If anything, the Oregon GOP is worse. I think Timber Unity at least has Parrish trying to maintain a public image of non-racist, non-crazy people (even if she is perfectly happy to tolerate and even recruit those folks in private)."

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