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Brett Wilkins

Deregulatory rush shows Trump White House willing to 'scorch the Earth before they go'

With President Donald Trump's re-election very much in doubt, his administration is rushing to ram through regulatory rollbacks that could adversely affect millions of Americans, the environment, and the ability of Joe Biden—should he win—to pursue his agenda or even undo the damage done over the past four years.

Reporting by the New York Times details how the administration is cutting corners as it scrambles to enact as much of its agenda as possible before ceding power on January 20 if Trump loses the election. Required public comment periods and detailed analyses, according to the Times, are being eschewed in favor of streamlined approval processes that have left even staunch deregulation defenders sounding the alarm.


"Two main hallmarks of a good regulation is sound analysis to support the alternatives chosen and extensive public comment to get broader opinion," Susan E. Dudley, director of the George Washington University Regulatory Studies Center and formerly head of regulation in the George W. Bush White House, told the Times. "It is a concern if you are bypassing both of those."

Russell Vought, director of the White House Office of Management and Budget, told the Times that the president has always "worked quickly... to grow the economy by removing the mountain of Obama-Biden job-killing regulations."

However, critics are warning that some of the proposed changes are being rushed through with insufficient regard to the harm they might cause. Some of the issues that are raising red flags include:

  • Refusing to lower limits on dangerous particulate and ozone pollution, which cause thousands of annual premature deaths.
  • Allowing so-called "bomb trains" that transport highly combustible liquefied natural gas on freight trains.
  • Determining when workers can be classified as employees or independent contractors.
  • Exempting certain commercial drivers from mandatory hour limits and rest periods.
  • Placing limits on how science is used in the air pollution rule-making process.
  • Expanding regulation of immigrants by requiring citizenship applicants to submit biometric data, by forcing sponsors of immigrants to stay off welfare and prove their financial independence.

In response to the reporting, critics of the administration like writer Matthew Kressel said that it helps make clear that if the Republicans in the White House cannot win reelection, they'll "scorch the earth before they go."

And Matthew Gertz, a senior fellow at Media Matters for America, tweeted: "I think people underestimate the amount of time and energy that is going to be needed just to climb out from under the mountain of shit this administration leaves behind."


Many of the changes reflect the agendas of the powerful corporate and other business interests whose key players have donated generously to Trump, belying the president's oft-repeated claim that he is "draining the swamp." Other regulator rollbacks come despite warnings from career officials within federal agencies about the harm they could cause.


Alarmed by the administration's rushed rate of regulatory rollbacks, a group of over 15 Democratic senators earlier this month sent a letter (pdf) to Labor Secretary Eugene Scalia warning of "profound economic implications" for some 143 million U.S. workers that would result from curtailing public comment periods for the proposed rule change regarding independent contractors.

"Workers across the country deserve a chance to fully examine and properly respond to these potentially radical changes, and a 30-day comment period is not nearly enough," the letter states.



Nearly 5.2 Million Americans will be disenfranchised in 2020 election due to felony convictions: Study

Despite reforms in many states aimed at restoring ex-felons' voting rights, an estimated 5.2 million Americans will remain disenfranchised and unable to vote in the 2020 elections, according to a study released Wednesday by The Sentencing Project.

According to the new report released by The Sentencing Project—titled "Locked Out 2020" (pdf)—one out of every 44 U.S. adults is disenfranchised due to current or previous felony convictions. The rate of disenfranchisement is highest in Southern states, the analysis found, where ballot restrictions enacted during the Jim Crow era in order to prevent Black men from voting and holding office remain in effect.

Key findings from the study include:

  • In 2020, an estimated 5.17 million people are disenfranchised due to a felony conviction, representing a 15% decline since 2016 due to states enacting measures to restore voting rights. There were an estimated 1.17 million people disenfranchised in 1976, 3.34 million in 1996, 5.85 million in 2010, and 6.11 million in 2016.
  • One in 16 Black Americans of voting age is disenfranchised, a rate 3.7 times greater than that of non-Blacks. Over 6.2% of the adult Black population is disenfranchised, compared to 1.7% of the non-Black population.
  • An estimated 560,000 Latinx Americans, or over 2% of the voting eligible population, are disenfranchised.
  • Approximately 1.2 million women are disenfranchised, comprising over 20% of the total disenfranchised population.

The study found significant variations in disenfranchisement rates due to disparate state laws. In three states—Alabama, Mississippi, and Tennessee—more than 8% of the adult population, or one of every 13 people, has had their right to vote taken away.

Black disenfranchisement rates also vary considerably. In seven states—Alabama, Florida, Kentucky, Mississippi, Tennessee, Virginia, and Wyoming—more than one in seven Black Americans is barred from the ballot box, twice the national average.

Only two states, Maine and Vermont, allow currently incarcerated felons to vote. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) said last year that people behind bars "paying their price to society" should not be "denied their inherent American right to participate in our democracy."

Sanders was widely rebuked, including by many U.S. liberals, for his assertion. However, other democracies around the world—including Canada, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Latvia, Lithuania, Macedonia, Serbia, Slovenia, Spain, South Africa, Sweden, Switzerland, and Ukraine—allow convicted felons to vote, even while they are incarcerated.

The study noted a trend toward restoring former felons' voting rights—over the past 25 years, half of the states have reformed their laws to expand ballot access to include people with felony convictions. However, setbacks in some states have reversed some of these gains.

In Florida, for example, nearly 900,000 people who have completed their sentences remain unable to vote despite the passage of a 2018 referendum that restored their voting rights. The following year, Republicans undermined this historic reform by passing a law—later upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court—requiring former felons to pay all their outstanding court fees in order to regain the right to vote.

"The bedrock of any democracy is the right to vote," said Amy Fettig, executive director of The Sentencing Project, in a statement introducing the study. "Laws that exclude people from voting have destabilized communities and families in America for decades by denying them a voice in determining their futures. Voting is a vital responsibility of citizenship that must be encouraged and defended."

Democratic lawmakers sound alarm over Esper's refusal to rule out deploying troops during election

Democratic lawmakers on Tuesday called on Defense Secretary Mark Esper to definitively declare that U.S. troops won't be used to influence the 2020 election after the Pentagon chief was evasive in written answers to questions about the role of the military in a peaceful transition of power.

Politico reports Reps. Elissa Slotkin (D-Mich.) and Mikie Sherrill (D-N.J.) raised alarm Tuesday after Esper would not explicitly rule out deploying troops to polling places on Election Day.

Esper would only say that "the U.S. military has acted, and will continue to act, in accordance with the Constitution and the law."

The representatives contrasted Esper's stance to that of Gen. Mark Milley, chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who on Sunday emphatically ruled out such action.

"We have established a very long 240-year tradition of an apolitical military that does not get involved in domestic politics," Milley told NPR. "We, the U.S. military, we are sworn to obey the lawful orders of our civilian leadership, and we want to ensure that there is always civilian leadership, civilian control of the military, and we will obey the lawful orders of civilian control of the military."


"This isn't the first time that someone has suggested that there might be a contested election," Milley continued. "And if there is, it'll be handled appropriately by the courts and by the U.S. Congress."

"There's no role for the U.S. military in determining the outcome of a U.S. election. Zero. There is no role there," Milley emphatically declared.

Slotkin, a former Pentagon official and CIA officer, said that Milley "answered in terms of what he would do as a cabinet-level official, but took a serious nod towards what he knows is the apolitical reputation of the military and demonstrated how important that was to him."

"We heard no such thing from Secretary Esper," she said.

Sherrill said that Esper "did not give us the sense that we could believe that he understood that this was such a critical time." The retired naval officer called Esper's answers "boilerplate." She added:

We have not received a direct commitment from Secretary Esper that he will refuse commands from an illegitimate president. Given the fact that the president has used our military for partisan purposes in the past and that the president has suggested he will not concede if he loses, it is incumbent upon the secretary of defense to fulfill his constitutional duties and ensure the apolitical role of the military.

The lawmakers' concern comes as the nation braces for a potential scenario in which the outcome of the presidential election is contested by President Donald Trump, who has incessantly attacked the legitimacy of the electoral process, especially mail-in voting.


The president has also alarmed many observers by refusing to commit to a peaceful transfer of power if he loses.

"We're going to have to see what happens," Trump told reporters in September when asked if he would step down after losing. "You know that I've been complaining very strongly about the ballots, and the ballots are a disaster."

Slotkin and Sherrill urged Esper to provide a more robust statement against potential politicization of the military, noting his opposition earlier this year to the possibility of the president invoking the Insurrection Act in response to racial justice protests across the nation.

Esper publicly declared that the 1807 law should be invoked "only in the most urgent and dire of situations."

"We are not in one of those situations now," he added.

Army leaders said on Tuesday that they have not received any requests for either active-duty or National Guard troops to be deployed to deal with possible civil unrest during or after the November 3 election, the Associated Press reports.

"We don't police American streets," insisted Gen. James McConville, commander of the Army.


Radicalized right-wingers uniting online -- many inspired by Trump -- threaten democracy overseas

Australian researchers published a study this week mapping the online activity of right-wing extremists in New South Wales, concluding such individuals—many of them inspired by U.S. President Donald Trump—pose an "insidious" threat to the country's democracy.

The study, Mapping Networks and Narratives of Online Right-Wing Extremists in New South Wales, was conducted by researchers at Macquarie University and Victoria University, who analyzed the Facebook pages of 30 extreme right-wing groups and tens of thousands of tweets from over 3,300 users in the southeastern state.

The researchers found that on numerous social media platforms—including Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, Gab, 4chan, and 8chan/kun—communities of mostly young men are uniting over "the theme of white identity under threat."

Anti-semitism, Islamophobia, and far-right conspiracy theories like QAnon are common narratives used to engage and recruit young men into extremist groups, the study found. Trump plays a significant role in the conversation, according to Macquarie University researcher Julian Droogan.

"Trump is really held up as an example of a defender of white identity by many in this extreme subculture," Droogan told The Guardian. "However, we also see it being presented in a distinctly Australian way."

The researchers found that right-wing extremism fueled by social media poses a serious threat to Australian democracy.

"The propagation of extremist narratives online serves to polarize political debate, and to undermine trust in institutions and democracy," the study asserts. "Social media is playing a key role in the rise of right-wing violent extremism."

As an example, the authors cite the Christchurch terror attack, in which a Trump-supporting Australian white supremacist livestreamed his massacre of 51 Muslims worshipping in a New Zealand mosque last March.

The researchers call on Australian leaders to work to safeguard the nation's political system "from these very insidious and ongoing threats."

The rise in right-wing extremism is reflected in statements from the Australian Security and Intelligence Organisation, Australia's domestic spy agency, which recently revealed that up to 40% of its counter-terrorism cases now involve far-right extremism.

Europe leads record single-day worldwide COVID infection surge

The World Health Organization reported a record one-day increase in global coronavirus infections on Thursday, with 338,779 new cases registered in the past 24 hours.

According to Reuters, the record single-day surge is largely driven by 96,996 new cases in Europe, which is now reporting more new cases than the United States, India, and Brazil—the world's three most infected countries. India reported 78,524 new Covid-19 cases, followed by Brazil with 41,906 new infections, and the United States, with 38,904 new cases.

Covid-19 cases rose in 54 countries, with surges occurring in Argentina, Canada, and several European nations including France and Britain, which recorded record numbers of coronavirus infections.

"We are seeing a definite and sustained increase in cases and admissions to hospital," Dr. Yvonne Doyle, medical director for Public Health England, told Reuters. "The trend is clear, and it is very concerning."

The WHO reported Thursday that the worldwide Covid-19 death toll rose by 5,514 to 1.05 million, with a global total of just over 36 million cases since the beginning of the pandemic.

The United States still leads the world in total Covid-19 cases—over 7.8 million people, or 2.38% of the population, have been infected, including President Donald Trump—and deaths, with over 217,000 fatalities. Across the U.S., 39 states reported increases in infections on Wednesday, with six states—Montana, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, Wisconsin, and Wyoming—registering record Covid-19 hospitalizations.

"We're in a crisis right now and need to immediately change our behavior to save lives," said Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers, who on Tuesday ordered bars and restaurants in the state to limit occupancy to 25% of capacity. "There's no other way to put it, we are overwhelmed."

The EPA allows continued use of a neurotoxin found to harm kids' brains

Dismissing extensive scientific evidence showing that even low levels of chlorpyrifos damage children's brains, the Environmental Protection Agency on Tuesday released a risk assessment calling the toxic pesticide's effects "unresolved" and allowing its continued use in a wide variety of agricultural products pending a future final decision on its use.

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'Fox lied, 200,000 died': Brutal video shows how hosts misled viewers about COVID-19 as the virus spread

As the United States passes the grim milestone of 200,000 Covid-19 deaths, Fox News continues to mostly ignore the ever-mounting death toll in favor of complaining about health measures meant to mitigate the pandemic's worst-case scenario.

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Florida Gov. DeSantis just proposed a dangerous bill to imperil and silence protesters

The American Civil Liberties Union joined Florida Democrats on Monday in condemning a proposed bill by Gov. Ron DeSantis that would newly classify certain forms of protest as felonies and impose harsh penalties on some protesters.

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'Tyrannical and un-American': ACLU slams Barr for urging sedition charges against protesters

Attorney General William Barr drew stinging rebuke from legal experts and civil liberties advocates including the ACLU Wednesday after he told federal prosecutors to more aggressively charge some protesters with crimes—including sedition, under certain circumstances.

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New report exposes how Trump used COVID-19 to enact a dangerous right-wing mission

In the nearly six months since President Donald Trump declared a public health emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, he has rolled back at least 30 public protections, while proposing changes to at least 20 others, according to a report published Thursday by Public Citizen's Coalition on Sensible Safeguards.

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