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Legal marijuana is on the ballot in Big Sky Country

Come November 3, Big Sky Country could be among the latest places to free the weed. As is the case in Arizona, New Jersey, and South Dakota, marijuana legalization is on the ballot in Montana in 2020.

In Montana, though, people will be voting on not one but two complementary initiatives. While I-190 would legalize marijuana, CI-118 would amend the state constitution to allow for the age of majority—set at 18—to be raised for purchasing, consuming, or possessing marijuana as it is for alcohol.

I-190 would legalize possession of up to an ounce of marijuana by adults 21 and over and allow for the home cultivation of up to four plants and four seedlings. It would also designate the state department of revenue to regulate marijuana commerce, from cultivation to retail sales. The initiative sets a retail tax of 20 percent on marijuana and marijuana-infused products for non-medical use.

And that's become a selling point for legalization: It can help fund state spending with the budget stressed by the coronavirus pandemic. A September report from the University of Montana Bureau of Business and Economic Research found that tax revenues from legal marijuana sales would generate between $43 million and $52 million a year in the first four years after legalization.

"Following in the footsteps of eleven other states, Montana voters have the opportunity to legalize recreational marijuana for people over the age of 21 by passing both CI-118 and I-190," said an op-ed by the Public Lands Coalition, which wants to see revenues from marijuana support projects like Habitat Montana, which works to "increase access to landlocked public lands." The op-ed continued: "The Montana effort to legalize marijuana differs from other states, though. Roughly 50 percent of the revenue generated from recreational marijuana sales would support state public lands by funding efforts like Habitat Montana. These funds are critical in order to maintain abundant wildlife populations and ensure our outdoor economy continues to thrive."

"Our research has always shown that a majority of Montanans support legalization, and now voters will have the opportunity to enact that policy, which will create jobs and generate new revenue for our state," said Pepper Petersen, a spokesperson for New Approach Montana, which is organizing the campaign for the initiatives. "It also means that law enforcement will stop wasting time and resources arresting adults for personal marijuana possession, and instead focus on real crime."

There is no recent polling to back up Petersen's claims, but a pair of older polls suggest he could be onto something. A February University of Montana Big Sky poll had recreational marijuana legalization winning 54 percent against 37 percent who were not in favor of this. That was up from a March 2019 Big Sky poll that had support at 51 percent.

That's not an especially comfortable lead for a ballot initiative, since organized opposition later in the campaign can eat away at support. And in September, organized opposition emerged in the form of Wrong for Montana. Led by Billings businessman Stephen Zabawa, a persistent foe of marijuana reforms, the group is also supported by the Montana Family Foundation and the Montana Contractors Association.

Zabawa said he had launched a billboard and digital media campaign against the two marijuana legalization measures. "Our message will be well-received, it'll be shared, and it'll be taken from family to family," he said. "I believe that, at the end of the day, the legalization issue will go away in the state of Montana."

Wrong for Montana has reported about $78,000 in donations and has already spent $61,000, leaving a paltry $17,000 to campaign with. New Approach Montana, on the other hand, has raised nearly $7 million in total and still has around $1.6 million in cash to play with. It has spent $2.3 million of this money on a late campaign TV ad blitz for October and November.

The campaign's coffers were filled largely by the national New Approach PAC, which supports various drug reform efforts around the country and has kicked in nearly $2 million, and the North Fund, which has donated $4.7 million. A somewhat mysterious entity whose funders remain unknown, the North Fund has also donated big bucks to a campaign for D.C. statehood and an effort to expand Medicaid in Missouri.

All that money and all those TV ads should help New Approach Montana get over the finish line come November 3. But it will be nail-biting time until all the votes are counted.

In Trump’s America, there is death before due process

The federal government's killing of Michael Reinoehl exactly two months before the November 3 presidential race ought to have been one of the most high-profile election issues being discussed in America. Instead, it has been almost forgotten save for some media outlets starting to question the official narrative of his death. The little-known self-proclaimed "antifa" activist was killed by federal agents on September 3. Officers claimed that he had fired shots at them before being gunned down. But a week after his killing, the Washington Post found that "the wanted man wasn't obviously armed."

The Thurston County sheriff in Lacey, Washington, where the suspect was killed, released a public statement saying his investigation team "can confirm… that Mr. Reinoehl pointed the handgun that he had in his possession at the officers at the time of the shooting." The U.S. Marshals Service whose forces were the ones that shot Reinoehl released a similar statement claiming that the fugitive task force that had been sent to his location "attempted to peacefully arrest him," but, after being shot at, "Task force members responded to the threat and struck the suspect who was pronounced dead at the scene."

News outlets took the official statements at their word and dutifully reported the incident as one where a suspected killer opened fire on officers and was fatally shot in the course of his arrest. In other words, there was "nothing to see here." But according to a New York Times investigation six weeks after his death, it remains unclear "whether law enforcement officers made any serious attempt to arrest Mr. Reinoehl before killing him."

According to nearly two dozen witnesses that the New York Times spoke to, "all but one said they did not hear officers identify themselves or give any commands before opening fire." Even though Reinoehl was armed at the time of his death, his handgun was found in his pocket and an AR-style rifle in a bag in his car, suggesting he did not threaten the officers trying to arrest him as official accounts had initially claimed.

Reinoehl was wanted in connection to the fatal shooting of a Trump-supporting right-wing activist named Aaron J. Danielson during Black Lives Matter protests in Portland, Oregon. President Donald Trump ranted on Twitter on the day he was killed, "Why aren't the Portland Police ARRESTING the cold blooded killer" and adding, "Everybody knows who this thug is." Later he hailed the fatal shooting triumphantly, saying in a Fox News interview:

"We sent in the U.S. Marshals for the killer, the man who killed the young man on the street.… Two and a half days went by, and I put out [on Twitter], 'When are you going to go get him?' And the U.S. Marshals went in to get him, and they ended in a gunfight. This guy was a violent criminal, and the U.S. Marshals killed him. And I'll tell you something—that's the way it has to be. There has to be retribution when you have crime like this."

In referring to Reinoehl as a "cold blooded killer" and "violent criminal" even though at the time of his death he was a suspect, Trump made clear that in his America, "law and order" means you are guilty before being proven so and can be targeted for extrajudicial assassination if those in power decide you deserve it. Such shocking words coming from any other head of state in the world would trigger instant condemnations from the U.S. State Department. Speaking to his supporters, Trump boasted of the "great job" that U.S. Marshals did in Portland, adding meaningfully, "you know what I mean."

Attorney General William Barr, who appears to have no understanding of how the nation's system of criminal justice is supposed to work, released a statement praising the federal troops' actions and echoing Trump's words in more official-sounding language. Barr called Reinoehl, "a dangerous fugitive, admitted Antifa member, and suspected murderer," and said before any investigation into the killing was complete that "[w]hen Reinoehl attempted to escape arrest and produced a firearm, he was shot and killed by law enforcement officers." In doing so, Barr too justified this extrajudicial assassination as Trump did and went as far as calling the whole incident, "a significant accomplishment in the ongoing effort to restore law and order to Portland and other cities." He applauded "the fugitive task force team that located Reinoehl and prevented him from escaping justice."

To Barr, the top law enforcement official in the nation, "justice" meant death, rather than arrest followed by charges and a fair trial. To Barr and Trump, the constant drumbeat of "law and order" is essentially a promise to fatally punish those perceived as enemies of the government.

In addition to the Washington Post and the New York Times, several other media outlets have corroborated that Reinoehl's killing appeared unjustified. Rolling Stone characterizes one eyewitness's account of the scene as "a violent ambush" that "resembled an execution." Oregon Public Broadcasting in collaboration with ProPublica spoke to witnesses who said that the officers shot him without warning and "looked less like law enforcement officers than members of a right-wing militia."

In a VICE News interview released just after his death, Reinoehl can be seen claiming that he acted in self-defense in Portland—just as an attorney for Kyle Rittenhouse, the Trump-supporting armed suspect in the Kenosha, Wisconsin, killing of two Black Lives Matter activists, said. With Reinoehl dead at the hands of U.S. Marshals, we will never know the truth.

Instead, Reinoehl now serves as the perfect symbol of the shadowy enemy that Trump rails against. A participant in Black Lives Matter protests, Reinoehl claimed he was "100% ANTIFA all the way." The president's promise to designate "ANTIFA" (which is an ideology, not an organization) as "a Terrorist Organization" has fed into dangerous notions designed to create panic among his base. It has raised the specter of "violent mobs" terrorizing communities that only swift government action of the sort aimed at Reinoehl can quell.

But who are the "violent mobs" really? In Trump's world, armed self-defense is acceptable only for white supremacists who support him, not for the left-wing activists they routinely threaten and hurt. Since protests began earlier this year, according to NPR, "Right-wing extremists are turning cars into weapons, with reports of at least 50 vehicle-ramming incidents" at protests against police brutality. Conservative news outlets including Fox News and the Daily Caller have encouraged such attacks. Even the Department of Homeland Security's latest threat assessment identifies, "racially and ethnically motivated violent extremists—specifically white supremacist extremists," as "the most persistent and lethal threat in the Homeland" among what the agency designates as "Domestic Violent Extremists" or DVEs.

As if to underscore the threat, more than a dozen white men were just arrested (without being harmed) in connection with a kidnapping plot aimed at Michigan's Governor Gretchen Whitmer. The governor, who is among several women who have faced Trump's online ire, said, "I do believe that there are still serious threats that groups like this group, these domestic terrorists, are finding comfort and support in the rhetoric coming out of Republican leadership in the White House to our state house."

In Trump's America, white nationalist armed vigilante men reign supreme while those of us speaking out against fascism are symbolized by Reinoehl—and like him will be not be considered innocent until proven guilty. We will never know whether or not Reinoehl was guilty of murdering Danielson, as he was not given a chance to stand trial. In Trump's America, there will be no law, only order. To Trump, "[t]here has to be retribution," rather than due process. Among the many issues at stake in the November 3 election, this ought to be a central concern.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

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

Steve Bannon pushes for Trump to claim an early election victory — but there's a huge hole in the plan

One of President Trump's most loyal propagandists is predicting that Trump will claim victory on election night as soon as he is ahead among Election Day voters. But that scenario is based on a misconception of how all ballots are counted and the early returns are compiled, according to election and legal experts.

"At 10 o'clock or 11 o'clock… on November 3, Donald J. Trump is going to walk into the Oval Office, and he may hit a tweet before he goes in there… and he's going to sit there, having won Ohio, and being up in Pennsylvania and Florida, and he's going to say, 'Hey, game's over,'" said Stephen K. Bannon, Trump's 2016 campaign CEO and former White House adviser, during a defiant speech on October 10 forum hosted by the Young Republican Federation of Virginia.

"The elites are traumatized. They do not want to go stand in line and vote. That, ladies and gentlemen, is a game-changer," Bannon said. "It [the decisive factor] is what electorate shows up to vote on a vote that can be certified. That's a vote that counts. And right now, what they [Trump critics] don't want to talk about, is Donald J. Trump leads on people who are actually going to show up and vote on November 3, by 21 percent."

Bannon's prediction that Trump would defy norms by asserting that he won before indisputable victory margins were reported was not just another sign that Trump would not heed the rules governing 2020's election. Bannon's fiery speech was a glimpse into a propagandist's mindset that drew on smears and distortions to fan partisan ill will. But his prediction of how Trump could claim an early victory was based on a flawed premise, because no early returns on election night were only going to contain the in-person votes cast on Election Day.

"The first reports are the county totals," said Chris Sautter, an attorney who has specialized in post-election challenges and recounts for decades. "You don't get the breakdowns [of votes cast in different categories such as early voting, mail-in votes, Election Day votes, and overseas votes] until after election night. It depends on the state."

Other election administration experts confirmed that the election night returns would be a mix of all of the earliest votes cast—from early in-person voting sites, from absentee ballots that had been returned and processed, and from in-person voting on Election Day. (As of October 15, more than 16 million absentee ballots had been returned or cast in early voting, the U.S. Elections Project said.)

"There's literally not a single credible journalist or analyst who would look at early returns in a close race with many ballots left to count and declare victory," said David Becker, the executive director of the Center for Election Innovation and Research. "If counting of all ballots magically ended at midnight on election night, we would have had a President Gore, and Donald Trump wouldn't have won the presidency."

"Most importantly, to do so would be to disenfranchise the millions of men and women in the military whose votes often don't arrive until after Election Day," Becker continued. "That said, many early in-person ballots and early-received mail ballots will be processed on election night, especially in states that allow early pre-processing of those ballots, such as Arizona, Florida, Georgia, North Carolina, and Ohio. So, many votes may be reported out that night."

Sautter and Becker, a former U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ) Voting Section attorney, operate in a world where facts, laws and election procedure dictate who wins elections—including post-election jury-like proceedings to ascertain voter intent on contested ballots. But the world of legal opinion is not the same as the sphere of public opinion, which is where Trump and Bannon shape narratives based on feelings, grievances and disinformation.

"Trump's strategy is to create chaos, uncertainty," Sautter said. "What Bannon is saying is if Trump is ahead on election night, I'm sure he will declare victory. Trump [also] may take some kind of legal action to try to stop the counting. I can't imagine that would be successful. It would be like Florida in 2018. They [Republicans] filed a suit there and it got thrown out."

"Distinguishing between these two things [electoral facts and fantasies] is really important," said Justin Levitt, who oversaw the DOJ's voting rights enforcement in the Obama administration. "I think there will be lots of the latter. I think there will be suits filed. I think there will be people screaming. I think there will be lots of tweets. What I have been saying of late is reminding people that a lawsuit without provable facts is just a tweet with a filing fee."

White Noise

But back in rural Virginia, Bannon spun out a narrative to a rapt audience that was filled with innuendo, grievances, premonitions and assumptions that the vote would be stolen.

"I don't like loose talk about civil war, but I got to tell you," Bannon continued, "when you hear what the Democrats are saying, what their rhetoric is. Remember, Hillary Clinton, their last presidential candidate, what did she say? Under no circumstances—no circumstances—is Joe Biden to concede… They're going to keep counting until they get 270 Electoral [College] votes for Joe Biden, right? They are going to be voting by the pound and voting by the pallet."

Actually, Clinton urged Biden not to concede on election night when votes were being counted, which is not the same as never conceding.

Bannon's deliberate exaggerations and accusations about manufacturing votes went deeper than GOP cliches about Democratic cheating. Bannon has long promoted a white-centric nationalism, notably as the former head of Breitbart News. Now, flying in the face of both democracy and fact, he is asserting that in-person voting on Election Day is more American, and is more accurate, than voting beforehand via a mailed-out absentee ballot.

"They can't beat Trump in the traditional way Americans have voted for 200 years," Bannon said. "You go into a booth, close the curtain. Only two folks know, you and God, know who you vote for. Write it down, bang, done. You vote by mail—look, I vote by mail. Sometimes, I'm [an] absentee [voter]. I understand it is a risk. Multiple people are going to put their hand on your ballot. And it may not end up being certifiable. That's the risk I took."

Rather than unpacking Bannon's distortions and contradictions—for example, absentee ballots originated in the 19th century's Civil War, and Trump votes by mail—it is important to grasp the big picture he painted. Bannon relegated votes cast by millions of people, dominated by Biden supporters, into a second-class status. And he disparaged people voting with an absentee ballot as weak and un-American, because they had fallen for media reports about the pandemic.

"You chose not to go to a poll," Bannon said. "The reason you chose is your mass media apparatus, which has dominated this country, was irresponsible and caused mass hysteria on your voters. That's your problem. You're not going to make your problem the nation's problem. And we will not back down one inch. And I'll tell you who is going to join us in that, a guy named Donald J. Trump."

The driving force behind Bannon's narrative, apart from a desire to keep Trump and the GOP in power, was polls and other voter data showing that more Trump supporters were planning to vote on Election Day and more Biden supporters were intending to vote with absentee ballots. In recent weeks, many Democrats have shifted their plans to voting early at in-person sites.

Bannon, nonetheless, built upon the lie that the pandemic was not a threat. He exaggerated problems in the little-known process of vetting returned absentee ballots. In that administrative process, a voter's identity is first verified by officials who review how their ballot-return envelope has been filled out and signed. Only then are ballots taken out and counted.

Bannon claimed that in New York City's June 2020 presidential primary, 30 percent of absentee ballots in Brooklyn and 20 percent of absentee ballots in Manhattan were disqualified because voters did not properly fill out envelopes or returned them too late. (Those high rejection rates did not occur across both boroughs, but only in specific localized settings. In 2018, the national rejection rate for absentee ballots was 1.4 percent, federal data reported. In Florida in 2019, it was 1.2 percent. In Wisconsin's primary this past April, it was 1.8 percent. Sloppy signatures, lines left empty and mistakes with filling out the envelope were the leading causes.)

"Right now… they've requested 1.5 million absentee ballots in Pennsylvania," Bannon said. "Ten to 20 percent will not be certifiable. What that means is it [is] going to be a dogfight in those rooms [in county offices where returned ballots are processed]. Remember, every ballot that can be certified should be certified. And that ballot should count. That's a vote. But you've got a lot of things that you [absentee voters] have got to check off to get to certification, because you chose—you chose—not to go to a poll."

As of October 15, Democrats requested 1.7 million ballots, Republicans requested 652,000 ballots, and other voters requested 290,000 ballots, the U.S. Elections Project reported.

Democrats and voting rights groups have filed scores of lawsuits to ensure that voters who incorrectly fill out a ballot-return envelope, or whose ballot is postmarked in time but does not arrive at election offices until after Election Day, will still have their votes counted. The Trump campaign and its allies similarly have intervened in those suits and filed their own suits to limit voting and vote counting options. Both parties are trying to shape the rules to their benefit, but some GOP suits are being filed for propaganda purposes and to undermine the results.

"Some of the lawsuits are being filed to generate public conversation that is misinformation or misleading about the illegitimacy of the process, about the existence of widespread voter fraud. These [claims] are not true," said Wendy Weiser, who directs the Democracy Program at the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University. "It's the same challenge that exists outside the litigation context. This has been part of the president's M.O. in the lead-up to this election."

There was no Democratic counterpoint to Trump's assertions that the expansion of voting by mail in response to the pandemic was inherently fraud-ridden, which Bannon implied.

"They just keep counting until they win," he said. "It's got to be fought. And where it's got to be fought is folks like you, as election officials, in that room, no back[ing] down. Every ballot has got to be certified. If it's by the rules, it's good. If it has any, a scintilla of not good, it's not certifiable. Sorry, not sorry, right?"

While Bannon predicted that Trump would declare victory based on partial results, and his campaign would fight to disqualify as many absentee ballots as possible, Bannon repeatedly said that it was the Democrats and their allies who were going to cheat to steal the 2020 election.

"We're not going to allow this election to be stolen, either through some shenanigans in the courts or some shenanigans in mail-in ballots that nobody can actually process," he said. "That will not happen. And the way to make sure that does not happen is, number one, set the predicate on November 3 [by Trump declaring early that he won]. Once we set that predicate that Trump's the winner on Election Day, that is mighty hard to unwind."

"He's [Trump] is not going to go quietly into that good night, trust me," Bannon continued. "He's going to put up a big victory on… [November 3] and he's going to want his troops to back him up on it. So, look, we have a long haul. I don't think this thing will be determined… until right before Inauguration Day… The Democrats have no intention of conceding."

Bannon's narrative hinges on his belief—which may be shared by Trump—that officials will segregate Election Day votes from the other ballots that have been cast and counted by election night. But that's not how officials count and release early returns. Moreover, those early returns will include a record number of voters who cast their absentee ballots early and who voted at early voting sites.

American elections do not have separate and unequal ballots.

"We've always counted ballots for days after Election Day, and we will do so once again," said Becker. "This is normal, and anyone who seeks to change the rules and put an artificial deadline on the process only reveals their ignorance."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many others.

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.

Latest election stunt proves Uber and Lyft are their own worst enemies

by Steven Hill

Like so much about politics today, the debate around Uber and Lyft's Proposition 22 in California has quickly become polarized. Simplistic media narratives like "Silicon Valley versus labor unions," or Uber's self-serving argument that its drivers prefer flexibility over security, leave voters confused and torn.

But there is a more complex historical reality lurking beneath the headlines. Yes, the future of work is changing, and the labor laws must adapt, as the CEOs of Uber and Lyft asserted recently in a joint op-ed. Yet these companies have consistently missed numerous opportunities to act as good-faith partners for their drivers, and for society in general.

I have personally witnessed these companies' failings. After my book Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers was published, I was asked to a meeting with high-level Uber representatives. Previously, I had also been part of a meeting with Lyft leaders. A central part of these discussions was my proposal calling for a "portable safety net" for their drivers, and for other types of freelance workers.

With a portable safety net, each worker would have an Individual Security Account into which any business that hires that worker would contribute an amount pro-rated to the number of hours worked for that business. Those funds then would be used by that worker to pay for her or his safety net needs, such as health care, Social Security, sick leave, and injured worker or unemployment compensation. Instead of pitting flexibility against security, a portable safety net would allow not only flexible work, but also the economic security that workers and their families need.

A number of countries already do something like this, and former President Barack Obama endorsed my idea in his 2016 State of the Union address. A statement of principles was signed by about 40 business, government, labor and NGO leaders—including the president and CEO of Lyft, John Zimmer and Logan Green—calling for a portable safety net as a foundation for the future of work in the 21st-century economy. Uber CEO Dara Khosrowshahi has also called for enacting a portable safety net plan.

It seemed like this had the makings of a win-win solution. But when legislative bills were introduced for a portable safety net in the states of Washington, New York and New Jersey, Uber and Lyft came to the bargaining table offering pocket change. Rather than contributing 20 percent of a worker's wage that is necessary to fund an adequate safety net, Uber and Lyft offered to contribute 2.5 percent. And they wanted their contributions to be voluntary. In all three states, the legislation died because these billion-dollar companies frittered away real opportunities.

When California legislation was proposed, Uber and Lyft once again countered with a paltry portable benefits package. With no serious negotiating partner on the other side, the California legislature overwhelmingly passed Assembly Bill 5 to reclassify drivers as employees rather than independent contractors. Now it's the law, but Uber and Lyft have refused to implement it. This has resulted in multiple lawsuits and legal judgments against these renegade companies. One study found that if their drivers had been classified as employees in the last five years, Uber and Lyft would have paid more than $400 million into California's unemployment insurance fund. Instead, California taxpayers have footed the bill for the significant wage and benefit gaps created by these companies and their crummy gig jobs.

These bitter losses prompted Uber and Lyft to join with DoorDash and Instacart to spend more than $184 million—the highest amount for a ballot proposition in California history—to try to pass Proposition 22.

A Broken Business Model

One can't help but wonder why these multibillion-dollar companies, who can dig deep into their piggy banks to spend on this ruinous ballot measure but not on their drivers, consistently come to the bargaining table offering pocket change. Well, there's more to this story.

It turns out that, despite how badly they underpay and mistreat their drivers, Uber and Lyft are still in huge financial trouble. They have been losing billions of dollars every year, even as their stocks have collapsed. Profit margins are inherently low in the taxi business, and their predatory business model massively subsidizes more than half the cost of each and every ride in their bid to boost market share and undercut the competition. As a result, traditional taxi companies and livery drivers have been pushed to the desperate edge of bankruptcy, and airport shuttle companies have been driven out of business.

Public transportation has also been damaged. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, public transit ridership in most major cities had declined, as commuters opted for half-priced Uber and Lyft rides over the mass ridership experience. One of the most ambitious studies of ridesharing impacts, conducted by researchers at the University of California, Davis Institute of Transportation Studies, found that ridesharing results in a dramatic rise in the number of trips made and miles driven in an automobile, as well as a pronounced reduction in the use of mass transit. All of that contributes greatly to increases in traffic congestion and carbon emissions.

Certainly, for the small minority of people who use Uber and Lyft's subsidized rides, most of them younger, college-educated, better-off Americans (their use is "double the rate of less-educated, lower-income" people), this transportation option has been helpful. But for the vast majority who do not use these companies' services, and who ride on the bus or drive personal vehicles, stuck in Uber-congested traffic, ride-hailing's legacy has been decidedly negative. In short, ride-hailing has been bad for most ride-hailing drivers, and bad for congestion and traffic flow, and bad for public transportation.

So what are these companies offering with Proposition 22? Yet another miserly version of a portable safety net. For example, the value of Proposition 22's offered health benefit is about $1.20 an hour—but that's well below the value of benefits mandated for employees under state and federal laws (which is more like $4 to $6 per hour, depending on the occupation). And many drivers would not be able to afford their share of the health care premiums, which would range from 20 to 60 percent.

Prop 22 also will not likely offer higher wages because of a complex formula that will be used to determine "minimum wage." A study by the University of California, Berkeley Labor Center found that if Proposition 22 passes, many drivers could earn as little as $5.64 an hour once their considerable driving expenses are subtracted, which is not even half of California's minimum wage of $12 per hour.

None of Prop 22's offerings come close to what drivers will receive if voters reject it and drivers remain regular employees instead of independent contractors. Even worse, Proposition 22 would lock in these serf-like conditions, since it will require an unprecedented 88 percent vote by the state legislature and the governor's signature to change it.

Uber and Lyft are their own worst enemies. They entered the taxi business 10 years ago, breaking every law in the books, motivated by the Silicon Valley philosophy of "move fast and break things." Well, they broke it, and now they can't figure out how to fix it.

As California Attorney General Xavier Becerra has said, "Any business model that relies on short-changing workers in order to make it probably shouldn't be anywhere, whether California or otherwise." Ride-hailing has been popular and seemingly has potential, but the public must insist that these companies not profit by shifting all the risk onto their workers and hurting the environment. The vote over Prop 22 is about making a stand for the type of jobs and businesses Californians want to see in their Golden State.

Steven Hill (www.Steven-Hill.com) is the author of Raw Deal: How the Uber Economy and Runaway Capitalism Are Screwing American Workers and Expand Social Security Now: How to Ensure Americans Get the Retirement They Deserve.

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

Why the 25th Amendment is no match for a madman and his party of sycophants

Should the 25th Amendment be invoked to remove Donald Trump from office? In a press conference on October 9, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and Congressman Jamie Raskin unveiled legislation based on the amendment that would establish a bipartisan commission that could answer the question and determine if Trump has the capacity to discharge the powers and duties of his office.

The commission would have 16 members, selected in equal numbers by Democratic and Republican congressional leaders, and would include four physicians and four psychiatrists. The remaining members would consist of eight retired statespersons (either former presidents, vice presidents, Cabinet secretaries, or surgeons general). The appointed members would then select a 17th panelist to act as chair of the commission. Once the commission is formed, Congress could pass a concurrent resolution, directing it to conduct an examination of the president.

Formally enrolled as H.R. 8548, the measure is modeled on a nearly identical bill Raskin introduced in 2017. The new legislation has 38 co-sponsors, all liberal Democrats, and has been referred to the House Judiciary Committee for further review.

On the surface, H.R. 8548 makes perfect sense, offering a badly needed mechanism to rescue the nation from a chief executive who is patently unfit to sit behind the Resolute Desk for a single day, much less another four years. Under the terms of the bill, as Pelosi and Raskin stressed, the commission would become a permanent body, and could be summoned into action to deal with future presidents beyond Trump in the event they, too, become incapacitated.

Unfortunately, the legislation doesn't have a prayer of being enacted. It is far too late in the legislative session for any action to be taken.

Even assuming the bill could be rushed to passage in the House, it would inevitably die in the sycophantic GOP-controlled Senate. And even assuming it somehow moved out of the upper chamber at unheard-of warp speed, it would never be signed into law by the very president whose competency has been called into question.

Still, as an expression of constitutional principle and good-government impulses, H.R. 8548 deserves serious debate and consideration.

Long before he was infected with COVID-19, Trump was a sick man unprepared and unable to serve the American people in any position of leadership. Physically, according to some notable independent physicians who have reviewed information released by Trump's doctors, the 74-year-old president suffers from worrisome comorbidities, including heart disease and obesity. Mentally, in the view of some of the country's top mental health professionals who have studied the president's behavior and rhetoric, Trump suffers from malignant narcissism, a toxic mix of narcissistic personality disorder, sociopathy, paranoia and sadism.

Post-COVID, Trump's condition has worsened. Since his release from the Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, where he spent three nights receiving a potent therapeutic cocktail of remdesivir (an antiviral drug), an experimental monoclonal antibody treatment from Regeneron, and dexamethasone (a powerful corticosteroid), the leader of the free world has been in a full febrile meltdown, engaging in unhinged rants and ravings that for the good of the nation cannot be ignored or dismissed as political theater or spirited electioneering.

Among other signs of deterioration, Trump has bragged that he was quickly cured of the virus, called his infection "a blessing from God," and declared that he feels better than he has in 20 years. In addition, without the slightest semblance of logic or coherence, he has flip-flopped erratically on the need for another COVID stimulus package, threatened Iran with annihilation, renewed his criticism of Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer in the wake of a foiled right-wing terrorist plot to kidnap her, and lambasted Attorney General Bill Barr for failing to indict Joe Biden and Barack Obama for allegedly spying on his 2016 presidential campaign.

Never known as a beacon of stability, Trump seemingly has entered what Pelosi has dubbed an "altered state." Some observers are asking if the drugs he has taken are in some way responsible.

Although remdesivir and Regeneron's antibody treatment are not known to cause serious side effects, the same cannot be said of dexamethasone. As Newsweek deputy science editor Kashmira Gander explained in a recent column, the steroid has been associated with adverse reactions such as aggression, agitation, anxiety, mood swings, trouble thinking, and in rare instances, grandiose delusions, psychosis, delirium and hallucinations.

Whether what we're witnessing from Trump is truly a form of steroid rage or a combination of the dexamethasone and his baseline proclivities—not to mention his rational fear of criminal prosecution should he lose the election—the president has never been as dangerous as he is now.

But there is no quick legal fix, either under the 25th Amendment or by means of legislation like H.R. 8548, for removing Trump, or any other unfit president who refuses to step down. If anything, removing an incompetent president by means of the 25th Amendment is more difficult than removing a corrupt president by means of impeachment.

Ratified in 1967, the 25th Amendment was crafted in the aftermath of the assassination of John F. Kennedy to clear up ambiguities and fill gaps in the Constitution's original provisions on presidential succession.

The Constitution, as it emerged from the founding convention of 1787, addressed the issue of succession in Article II, Section 1, which stipulates:

"In case of the removal of the President from office, or of his death, resignation, or inability to discharge the powers and duties of the said office, the same shall devolve on the Vice President, and the Congress may by law provide for the case of removal, death, resignation or inability, both of the President and Vice President, declaring what officer shall then act as President, and such officer shall act accordingly, until the disability be removed, or a President shall be elected."

The rule of vice-presidential succession was restated by the 12th Amendment, which dealt primarily with the Electoral College and was ratified in 1804. The 20th Amendment, ratified in 1933, offered more clarification, stating that if the president-elect dies before being sworn into office, the vice president would be sworn in instead.

However, not until 1947, with the passage of the Presidential Succession Act, did the current line of succession take shape, extending from the vice president through the speaker of the House, the president pro tempore of the Senate, the secretary of state, and then to other Cabinet officials.

Still, questions about succession remained—among them, how to define a president's inability to serve, particularly when the inability is mental or emotional in nature. Who gets to make the determination that such an inability exists? And can the president resist efforts to have himself declared unable to serve?

Section 4 of the 25th Amendment addresses these issues. The section consists of two densely worded paragraphs, the first of which provides:

"Whenever the Vice President and a majority of either the principal officers of the executive departments [the Cabinet] or of such other body as Congress may by law provide, transmit to the President pro tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House of Representatives their written declaration that the President is unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office, the Vice President shall immediately assume the powers and duties of the office as Acting President." [Emphasis added]

The second and final paragraph of Section 4 instructs, in so many words, that the president can attempt to override a declaration of incapacity by notifying the Senate and House leadership in a counter-declaration that no such inability exists. Thereafter, the vice president, with the support of a majority of the Cabinet, or the "other body" referred to in the first paragraph, can contest the president's override. To resolve the conflict and place the vice president in charge, a two-thirds vote of both houses of Congress is required to confirm that the president is, in fact, "unable to discharge the powers and duties of his office."

The procedures outlined in Section 4 have never been invoked, and it is implausible that they would be used against Trump, even if he drags the nation to the brink of absolute ruin in the time remaining before the election or in the lame-duck session afterward. The amendment simply contains too many moving parts and depends on too many external contingencies to make it a viable option.

First and foremost, only the most cockeyed optimists could believe that Vice President Mike Pence, a corrupt and inveterate liar in his own right, would sign a declaration of incapacity against Trump.

Second, as noted above, it is exceedingly doubtful that the current Congress would seize the initiative and pass legislation creating the "other body" in the form of the commission envisioned by H.R. 8548. And even if such a commission were formed, a declaration of incapacity in the end would still have to be endorsed by the vice president to have any force and effect.

Third, and finally, it would take a two-thirds vote of both the House and Senate to override the president's counter-declaration of fitness.

Check and checkmate.

The only way to rid the American body politic of the pestilence of Donald Trump is to vote against him in overwhelming numbers on November 3, and then, if necessary, to drag him kicking and screaming, tweeting and whimpering, from the White House.

Bill Blum is a retired judge and a lawyer in Los Angeles. He is a lecturer at the University of Southern California Annenberg School for Communication. He writes regularly on law and politics and is the author of three widely acclaimed legal thrillers: Prejudicial Error, The Last Appeal, and The Face of Justice.

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

How capitalism is leading us to instability, inequality, and fascism

The looming election has brought forward intensifying debates over a capitalism in crisis, rising nationalism and state power, and the possibility of a renewed fascism. Polarized politics and ideologies alongside long-accumulated social problems and movements shape the objects and tones of debate. Can fascism happen here; is it underway? Or can current capitalism avoid a return to fascism? Such questions reflect the high stakes of the election and this moment in history.

Should the state—the institution that organizes, enforces, and adjudicates the rules governing our behavior in society—exist in capitalism? That question has been important chiefly for certain ideologues who defend capitalism. Their major idea is that the problems of modern society are caused by the state. They are not caused by the employer-employee structure of capitalist enterprises or the markets, unequal distributions of wealth, and other institutions those enterprises support. Those ideologues imagine a pure, perfect, or good capitalism undistorted by any state apparatus. The capitalism they seek to achieve is very utopian. They conclude that by reducing the state (bad by definition), modern capitalism's problems can also be reduced. By eliminating the state, a thereby purified capitalism will solve those problems. From libertarians to Republican Party hacks, this ideology serves to deflect the justified resentment and anger of capitalism's victims away from capitalism and onto the state.

A contrary view holds that the state always existed throughout the history of societies in which the capitalist economic system prevailed. In them, the state—like other institutions—reflected each society's particular conditions, conflicts, and movement. The capitalist economy rested on a foundation of enterprises whose internal organization divided participating individuals into a minority (employers) and a majority (employees). The minority owned and operated the enterprises, making all of its basic decisions: what, how, and where to produce and what to do with output. The majority sold its labor power to the minority, owned little or nothing of the enterprise, and was excluded from the basic enterprise decisions. One result of that basic economic structure was the existence of a state. Another result was a pattern of state interventions in society that reproduced its prevailing capitalist economic system and the employers' dominant position within it.

Of course, the many internal contradictions of societies in which capitalism prevailed also influenced and shaped the state. Employees, for example, could and often did press the state for interventions that employers did not want. Struggles over the state and its interventions ensued. Individual outcomes varied, but the pattern that emerged over time was a state that reproduced capitalism. Likewise, in pre-capitalist societies such as slavery and feudalism, parallel patterns characterized their states. For considerable periods, those states also reproduced their class structures: masters and slaves in slavery and lords and serfs in feudalism. Usually, when a state no longer reproduced a particular class structure, its end was near.

The evolving conditions and conflicts in each society determined the size, activities, and history of its state. This includes determining whether state power is decentralized, centralized, or a mix of both. Social conditions and conflicts also determined the closeness, the intensity of collaboration, and even the possible merger between the state apparatus and the dominant class within each society. In European capitalism, initial decentralization gave way to a strong tendency toward state centralization. In certain extreme conditions, a centralized state merged with a capitalist class of large, concentrated employers into a system called fascism. The 20th century saw several major examples of fascism rise and fall. Now again fascism looms as a possible resort of capitalisms in trouble.

Usually, the transition from decentralized to centralized states reflected social conditions in which dominant classes needed strengthened state power to reproduce the system they dominated. They feared that otherwise, social conditions would provoke a collapse of their system and/or movements to a different economic system. In either case, their social dominance was at stake. Because that situation now looms on our historical agenda, so too does fascism.

Slave systems could persist in decentralized conditions. State power, perhaps localized within each slave master's hands, oversaw the reproduction of the system's two production positions: master and slave. Eventually, when reproduction was threatened—by disruptions to slave markets, slave revolts, or divisive struggles among masters—a separate state was created, given an apparatus, and strengthened. It often had slaves of its own ("state" slaves we might differentiate from "private" slaves owned by persons outside the state). Such a strengthened state was often more closely integrated with masters in a tighter, more coordinated reproduction of slavery. Violence by masters and the state conjointly against slaves recurred often.

In decentralized feudalisms, lords wielded state-type powers alongside their economic positions directing production by their subordinated serfs. Eventually, when pandemics, long-distance trade, serf revolts, or divisive warfare among lords (as dramatized in Shakespeare's plays) threatened feudalism, a centralized state arose from among contending lords. That state—a supreme lord or king—shared social power with the hierarchy of what we might call "private" lords to reproduce feudalism. In medieval Europe, strengthened feudal states evolved into absolute monarchies. Those were tight alliances between kings and hierarchies of lords within boundaries defining different nations. Those tight alliances deployed violence against serfs, serfs' revolts, rebellious lords, external threats, and one another.

Capitalism, like its slave and feudal predecessors, emerged in small, decentralized units of production. Capitalist enterprises, like slave and feudal production units (plantations, manors, or workshops), also displayed a system of two basic production positions. In the case of capitalism, those two positions were employer and employee. The differences were that in capitalism, no person owned another (unlike slavery), nor did one person owe religiously sanctioned labor obligations to another (unlike feudalism). Instead, a market in labor power was established over time. Employers were buyers and employees were sellers in a market exchange.

When problems eventually threatened the reproduction of early capitalism, it strengthened its state apparatus much as slavery and feudalism had done. One such problem was opposition by centralized slaveries and feudalisms to the capitalism that had emerged from them. Likewise, as capitalism grew and expanded across the globe, it disrupted other systems in ways they resisted. Violent interventions by strengthened state apparatuses subdued and reorganized them into what eventually became capitalism's formal and informal colonies. Such interventions encouraged a strong capitalist state and vice versa. The demands and revolts of employees also drove capitalists to construct state apparatuses that could discipline and suppress them. Likewise, "cutthroat" competition among employers required a powerful arbiter to manage and control them.

Even as capitalism spawned a strong state, there was a remarkable hesitancy in doing so that has confused the history of capitalism to this day. The hesitancy arose because early capitalism—the period when emerging capitalist enterprises were relatively small and hampered by powerful slave or feudal states—saw those states as its enemy. Capitalists and their spokespersons wanted the state kept out of the economy, blocked from favoring noncapitalist over capitalist enterprises. They wanted capitalist enterprises and the markets they increasingly dominated to be left alone by the state. Hostility to and thus hesitancy about strong states went from advocating "laissez-faire" in the 17th century to celebrating "the free market" in modern times. In the latter form, it is utopian, an imaginary construct useful for ideological projects justifying capitalism (as "efficient") and for libertarian slogans. No actual capitalism in recent centuries ever had a free market without state interventions and regulations.

From the 18th through the 20th centuries, capitalism spread globally from its initial centers in western Europe. The state was crucial to that spread via warfare ("opening" regions to trade) and colonizations. Conflicts among capitalists, especially the endemic struggles between competitive and monopoly capitalists and between capitalists from different nations, necessitated state interventions. Capital-labor conflicts and battles were always goads to state strengthening and interventions. Massive standing military establishments, routinized after World War II, generated military-industrial complexes. Those complexes, especially in the leading capitalist and military power after 1945, were just the kind of mergers of state and big capitalists that became models for parallel mergers among other industries and the state.

In the United States, one such parallel merger yielded the medical-industrial complex. There the role of the state was to protect a monopoly shared among four industries: doctors, hospitals, drugmakers and medical device-makers, and health insurance companies. The government enabled and sustains its merger with the medical-industrial complex. It does so in multiple ways. It exempts the complex from antitrust action. Government-subsidized Medicare and Medicaid—public health insurance for the elderly and the poor—carefully leave the younger, healthier, and more profitable clientele to the private health insurance companies. The government avoids buying pharmaceuticals in bulk and passing savings onto the public. Finally, the government has usually blocked and mostly denounced genuinely progressive reforms of this privately profitable medical system as "socialism."

De facto, if not de yet de jure, mergers of state and capitalist industry punctuated the growth of state power alongside the concentration and centralization of capital.

Now we have much the same happening in finance. Central banks—largely state institutions—long marched in close formations with major private banks in capitalist countries. The Federal Reserve has responded to the three capitalist crashes so far this century by not only greatly increasing its money creation and interest rate reductions but also by extending credit to nonfinancial corporations. The Fed buys corporate bond exchange-traded funds, corporate bonds in the secondary market, and asset-backed securities based on corporate debts. The Fed likewise now owns a third of residential mortgages. Government credit becomes ever more important relative to private credit. The government will soon coordinate its decisions on who gets how much government credit with other government policies including which Chinese companies get banned and which European companies get sanctioned. These financial developments mark more milestones on the road to state-capitalist merger.

Behind the racism, nationalism, and war-mongering that Hitler championed lay the core economic system of fascism. That involved a merger of the state and private big capitalists. The former enforced the conditions of profitability for the latter. In turn, the capitalists accommodated the running of their enterprises to finance, produce, price, and invest in ways supportive of the fascist state's policies. Expropriation of privately owned means of production targeted selected social sub-groups (such as Jews). Aryanization—not abolition—of private capitalism was the state's objective.

In contrast, socialists favored the socialization of private capitalists' enterprises. It was not the merger of the state with private capitalism that socialists sought; it was rather the dispossession of private capitalism. The state was to seize sole possession of means of production to operate a state capitalism. Most socialists saw state capitalism as an intermediate stage necessary to enable the transition to communism. That communism was understood as capitalism's antithesis: social (not private) property in means of production, government planning (not markets) to organize distribution of resources and products, workers' control of and running of enterprises, and distribution of output based on need as socially determined.

Fascism's economic organization is where economic development is now taking capitalism in general and U.S. capitalism in particular. U.S. capitalism now replicates a parallel tendency toward merger with a strong state that characterized slavery and feudalism earlier. Systemic challenges to capitalism's reproduction are met with growing state power, growing big capitalist business, and eventually their merger into a fascism. Exactly how and when capitalism evolves into fascism varies with the particular conditions and challenges of each national context. Likewise, the internal contradictions of capitalism—for example, its cyclical instability and its tendency toward deepening wealth and income inequality—can provoke mass resistances that can slow, stop, or reverse the evolution, at least for a while, or even redirect economic transition to socialism.

But the tendency of capitalism is toward instability (its cycles), inequality (its upward redistribution of wealth), and fascism (state-capitalist merger). The first 20 years of this new century display these tendencies in stark relief.

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

'He's a con man': Trump brought out the worst in us when we needed the best

Jackie Anklam realized that Donald Trump was failing the American people when her father died of complications of COVID-19 in a Michigan hospital that ran short of personal protective equipment (PPE) for its workers.

What outrages her more is that, several months later, Trump not only refuses to learn from his early blunders but blithely flouts the safety measures critical to slowing the virus.

Instead of leading the nation to safety, Trump downplays the pandemic for personal political gain and divides Americans when they most need to pull together.

"He doesn't care about getting a grip on this. He doesn't even care about giving it to someone," said Anklam, noting Trump refused to wear a mask and defied social distancing requirements while health experts warned that such reckless behavior contributed to the rising death toll.

After seeking treatment for his own infection, Anklam observed, Trump took a joyride outside Walter Reed National Military Medical Center, potentially exposing the Secret Service agents in his SUV to COVID-19 just so he could wave to supporters. And after cutting short his hospital stay and returning to the White House, Trump still refused to wear a mask even though he risked infecting everyone who came into contact with him, including the photographer forced to snap his picture while he posed on a balcony.

"The president is supposed to put the American people first. He has done everything except that. He has put every American at risk," said Anklam, president of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 9899, who believes her father contracted pneumonia and died because of PPE shortages and infection-control problems in the hospital treating him for COVID-19.

Nearly 10 months after the pandemic hit the United States, hospitals and other health care facilities continue to struggle with chronic, drastic shortages of respirators, gloves, gowns and other safety equipment.

Trump never worked to repair broken supply chains. He never used emergency powers that would have forced factories to retool and produce critical supplies.

And he failed to deliver a comprehensive plan for reinvigorating America's manufacturing base and averting future shortages of essential goods.

Because Trump abandoned his duty, a coalition of organizations, including the USW, filed a federal lawsuit on October 8 demanding the government immediately harness the nation's manufacturing capacity for production of PPE. While the courts consider the case, more front-line workers will die needlessly.

Anklam represents hundreds of workers at Ascension St. Mary's Hospital in Saginaw, Michigan, two miles from the facility where her father died. After fighting to get more respirators and cleaning supplies earlier in the pandemic, her colleagues now need more gowns to care for growing numbers of COVID-19 patients.

While the Trump administration fails to implement scientifically sound plans for safely reopening schools, restaurants and other businesses, infection rates in 25 states, including Michigan, continue to soar.

"They're stressed. They're exhausted," Anklam said of her co-workers. "They just pray every day that they don't get it."

But while health care workers put their lives on the line because of PPE shortages, the White House commandeers whatever equipment it needs. Staff members wear "full PPE" while interacting with Trump and also have access to COVID-19 testing unavailable to many Americans.

Trump never rolled out a comprehensive testing program for the rest of America, and surging infection rates now strain available resources.

Health care facilities and laboratories face severe shortages of the chemicals essential for analyzing patient samples. That forces health care officials to limit the number of people who can be tested even as they desperately attempt to track and contain the virus.

And, as Anklam pointed out, the closing of community testing centers prompts some potentially contagious people to seek help in crowded emergency rooms.

Despite the urgent need, Trump refuses to use his influence with Senate Republicans to push through a stimulus bill that would deliver $75 billion for testing and contact tracing.

The bill, already approved by the Democratic-controlled House, also would extend federal unemployment benefits, health insurance and renters' assistance to millions of workers thrown out of work because of the recession.

Among those needing help is Anklam's brother, who lost his job at a bus company months ago. His health care vanished along with his income, and he's used up his savings. He doesn't know what to do next.

Although Trump's own illness underscored the vulnerability of COVID-19 victims, including their need for affordable health care, he won't lift a finger to help Americans less fortunate than himself.

He told Senate Republicans to delay work on a stimulus package because he wanted them to focus on ramming through Judge Amy Coney Barrett's confirmation to the Supreme Court instead. Packing the court with corporate-friendly justices matters more to him than providing the assistance ordinary people need to survive.

Trump continues to trivialize the virus in a pathetic ploy to shore up his sagging image before the November 3 election.

Just days before he revealed his own infection, Trump declared that the virus "affects virtually nobody" even though U.S. deaths already exceeded 200,000.

Because of Trump's duplicity, some Americans also underestimate the threat the virus poses. Others emulate Trump's cavalier refusal to wear masks or practice social distancing, putting their neighbors and communities at risk.

Despite the surging caseloads in Michigan, for example, Anklam frequently crosses paths with people ignoring safety measures. Although businesses post signs requiring face coverings, she said, the owners say nothing to scofflaws for fear of risking a confrontation.

If Trump were a real leader, Anklam said, he would demand strict compliance with safety guidelines while uniting Americans in a campaign to eradicate the virus and restore the economy.

"But he's a con man," Anklam said. "He's been conning his whole life, and now, he's conning the American people. He only cares about himself."

Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Trump intends to cling to power at all costs

From the very beginning of his presidency, Donald Trump was pushing every boundary, violating the Constitution, and breaking rules and norms. But during this past year, he has escalated his attacks on the nation enough that we are at a point where the American president is waging war on the nation—even if many of us don't yet realize it.

Tweeting from Walter Reed National Military Medical Center while battling the coronavirus, Trump posted a message to Twitter recruiting loyal soldiers. His post featured a photo of himself and the words, "Fight for President Trump!" It was linked to a page called "ArmyforTrump.com." Trump's campaign for reelection launched that website in March 2020 and sent out fundraising emails to "PATRIOTS ONLY," telling them they would "make an excellent addition to the Trump Army." Taking the theme of war even further, the campaign promised to send out camouflage hats with Trump's campaign slogan in exchange for donations, saying, "The President wants YOU and every other member of our exclusive Trump Army to have something to identify yourselves with," just as soldiers might sport identifying insignia or uniforms. And, according to the campaign message, Trump's supporters are expected to be "the President's first line of defense when it comes to fighting off the liberal MOB."

If such language were not disturbing enough, it is important to note that Trump has at his beck and call any number of loyal armed right-wing groups ready for actual combat on his behalf. During his first debate with Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, Trump hesitated only once during the entire 90 minutes, and that was when moderator Chris Wallace asked him to unequivocally denounce white supremacy. When Wallace named the group Proud Boys, Trump first said they should "stand back," but then simply couldn't resist adding, "and stand by," which by any definition is a signal to be ready in case their help is needed. The fact that Trump felt comfortable and familiar enough with the Proud Boys to issue commands ought to be deeply disturbing considering that the group is comprised of white supremacist, misogynist, and well-armed men.

Even though Trump suddenly remembered a day after the debate that he apparently didn't know who the Proud Boys were, the group immediately announced it would be delighted to serve him, and issued a new logo reflecting their new marching orders from the president. If such a scenario were playing out in another nation, the U.S. State Department and American media outlets would be referring to the Proud Boys as an "armed right-wing paramilitary" group that the nation's leader is calling up in order to threaten a coup.

The day Trump returned to the White House, he remained ill but apparently still wanted to proceed with an in-person debate with Biden scheduled for October 15. When the Commission on Presidential Debates announced the debate would be held virtually due to concerns about the coronavirus, Trump balked, saying in a Fox Business interview, "I'm not going to waste my time on a virtual debate." He accused the commission of "trying to protect Biden." Indeed, in this scenario Trump has presented himself rather like a biological weapon against Biden, and his own staff members and secret service agents are "collateral damage" in the wake of his premature departure from the hospital and return to the White House while he was taking powerful steroids. Trump seems to treat any perceived demurral from Biden as an opportunity to tout his strength against his rival's (legitimate) fear of a deadly disease.

Perhaps lulled by polls from state after state that indicate Biden's popularity rising higher and higher, many Americans might be relying on defeating Trump only via voting. If the nation could rely on a president and a party that play by the rules of a democracy, then this would be sufficient. But to Trump, "The only poll that matters is the poll on Election Day at your polling place."

In repeatedly denouncing poll results as "fake" (here and here, and many other places), and lying repeatedly about nonexistent "voter fraud," he is laying the groundwork among his army of supporters to become motivated by a false belief that their president is being denied a legitimate win and charge to defend him on Election Day.

Taking no chances, Trump is furiously working to ensure through his greatest enabler, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, that he has a conservative super-majority on the Supreme Court. Responding to a tweet from one of his supporters about how the next Supreme Court justice will "likely help pick the next president," Trump affirmed the notion with a retweet and delighted in his power, saying the effort to confirm Judge Amy Coney Barrett would be, "fast and easy!"

Writing on Truthout, law professor Marjorie Cohn accurately referred to Trump's intentions as an "attempted coup." But her candidness is rare, and among those reporting in mainstream media outlets, there is little indication of the seriousness of Trump's war on us. Words like "coup" and "paramilitaries" are reserved for other nations, for so-called failed states. But the time has arrived in the United States when such designations are more apt than ever.

Indeed, the Democrats, who are supposed to be the main bulwark in government against Trump's dictatorial mania, are predictably not treating the election battle as seriously as they ought to. When given the chance to thwart McConnell's timeline to confirm Barrett, senators from the Democratic Party caved and gave him the "unanimous consent" he needed to adjourn the Senate for two weeks ahead of the nomination. There were any number of ways in which Democrats could have stymied McConnell's agenda, but they chose not to. The Democrats appear to not notice or perhaps don't care enough that Trump is readying an illegitimate takeover of government.

How can Americans who are worried about Trump's war fight back? Faced with a nation awash in guns, most of them concentrated in the hands of those who celebrate the Second Amendment, is there a way to win back the nation from a president and his armed paramilitaries? Some on the left have begun to arm themselves as well, but this can only end in more violence. In Lacey, Washington, Michael Reinoehl, who was suspected of killing a Trump supporter whom he said he shot defensively, was approached and immediately killed by federal troops during an arrest in what might be described as an assassination. Trump reveled in the extrajudicial killing (that has gotten far too little attention) by saying, "there has to be retribution."

There are nonviolent ways to battle Trump and his army that are political, legal, and cultural. Sadly, Democratic Party lawmakers do not have the stomach to fight politically. But numerous legal fights to protect voting have borne some fruit, and lawyers at Georgetown Law's Institute for Constitutional Advocacy and Protection (ICAP) have created helpful fact sheets for voters in all 50 states about their rights when faced with armed poll watchers. For the first time, the ACLU has gotten seriously involved in the U.S. presidential election, "because the stakes are incredibly high for civil rights and civil liberties issues in America."

On the cultural front, effective nonviolent means of battle include using humor to deflate the power of groups like the Proud Boys, as activist and actor George Takei has done in encouraging LGBTQ couples to take over their hashtag. And just acknowledging that the nation is in a war being waged from the White House against the rest of us is an important step toward fighting back.

The president is not even attempting to hide his intentions. Media outlets, liberal pundits, and political figures need to broadcast the urgency that we are on the precipice of an insurrection. Far too many Americans who hope to defeat Trump at the polls may be blissfully unaware of just how far he is willing to go to cling to power, having been lulled by years of rhetoric from liberal leaders that simply voting is a good enough substitute for sustained political organizing. It is not, and we may find out on Election Day just how inadequate a defense it is against Trump's power grab.

Sonali Kolhatkar is the founder, host and executive producer of "Rising Up With Sonali," a television and radio show that airs on Free Speech TV and Pacifica stations.

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

How Trump and Amy Coney Barrett could wreak damage for generations of American workers

As a union griever, Jason Haynes fought constant battles against employers ever ready to cheat workers out of overtime pay and other hard-earned benefits.

He's also seen firsthand how greedy corporations and their Republican cronies relentlessly erode labor protections at the state and national levels, making it increasingly difficult not only for Americans to organize but for union members to exercise long-held rights.

Now, Haynes fears the addition of anti-worker Judge Amy Coney Barrett to the right-wing-dominated Supreme Court will help the rich tighten their stranglehold on working people.

Donald Trump nominated Barrett to weaponize the nation's most important court against ordinary Americans. Her confirmation would give the court's right-wingers a 6-3 majority. And because she refuses to adhere to precedent, Barrett could provide a crucial vote on cases potentially overturning organizing rights, rolling back labor protections and dealing other setbacks to workers.

"Having her on there is definitely not going to do any favors for labor, that's for sure," observed Haynes, a member of United Steelworkers (USW) Local 6787 who works at ArcelorMittal's Burns Harbor, Indiana, site.

"Labor rights are imperative to giving us a seat at the table," he noted. "If we're not sitting at the table, we're on the menu. Our rights are the only leverage we have."

With Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and his GOP minions determined to ram through her confirmation, Barrett appears to have a lock on the vacancy created by Ruth Bader Ginsburg's death.

But while the 48-year-old Barrett may take Ginsburg's seat, she'll never fill her shoes. Ginsburg devoted her career to advancing the interests of women and workers, even as Barrett used her power to tear them down.

As a judge on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 7th Circuit since 2017, Barrett has consistently favored corporations over the workers and twisted laws to the breaking point in support of her opinions.

Citing a law that exempts over-the-road truckers from overtime for safety reasons, for example, Barrett ruled against workers who sued a transportation company that refused to pay them for extra hours they logged. Even though the Wisconsin company exclusively assigned the workers to yard duty, in which they used tractors to pull trailers short distances between warehouses, Barrett ruled they qualified as truckers engaged in interstate commerce. And that left them ineligible for overtime no matter how many hours their bosses required them to work.

Overtime may not mean much to a highly paid federal judge. But Haynes, who represented USW members in overtime disputes when he served as a griever at union shops in New York, said extra pay for extra work is not only fair but a game-changer for many struggling American families.

"It's the difference between making your rent or not," he explained. "It's the difference between a spouse getting a second job or not. It's the difference between putting your children in a safer daycare or not."

As if denying overtime on such flimsy grounds weren't bad enough, Barrett used exactly the opposite argument in ruling against Grubhub delivery drivers who were fighting to secure labor rights for themselves and other gig workers.

The drivers claimed Grubhub misclassified them as contractors—when they were really employees—and refused to pay them minimum wages and other benefits. Grubhub wanted to resolve the disputes through arbitration proceedings with individual drivers. But the drivers, noting federal law exempts many transportation workers from arbitration, filed a class-action lawsuit instead.

A victory not only would have delivered justice to the drivers but helped other gig workers finally win labor rights, decent pay and fair working conditions. But Barrett threw out the suit as Grubhub demanded, ruling the drivers had to accept arbitration. Delivering meals just short distances, she ruled, failed to make them transportation workers with the right to file a lawsuit.

"I believe this lady is going to try to destroy our unions," warned Dottie Kotansky, a retired member of USW Local 8567 in Hazleton, Pennsylvania, noting Barrett will fit right in with the right-wing Supreme Court majority that's already delivered many partisan decisions benefiting corporations at the expense of workers.

Kotansky, a member of the Steelworkers Organization of Active Retirees (SOAR) who has encouraged fast-food employees to unionize, worries that Barrett will continue to suppress gig workers and other poorly paid Americans who need union protections now more than ever.

But she also fears Barrett's addition to the court will embolden the ever-stronger conservative faction to issue more rulings "just like Janus" aimed at decimating unions that already exist.

In the 2018 Janus v. AFSCME decision, the right-wing majority overturned four decades of precedent when it ruled that public-sector workers don't have to pay dues or even smaller "fair-share" fees to the unions legally bound to represent them.

By encouraging workers to freeload, the justices hoped to starve unions of funds and kill them. Although the justices ultimately failed to inflict the damage they desired, the ruling dealt labor an ominous turn.

"We're constantly under attack," Haynes pointed out. "Any time we have to give up something, it's nearly impossible to get it back."

Barrett poses extra danger because she's a wild card.

Most justices respect the rulings made by their predecessors and seldom vote to reverse them. But Barrett has no reservations about overturning previous decisions and upending the law. That potentially puts the nation's entire body of labor rights—even the most fundamental protections provided in the landmark 1935 National Labor Relations Act—at risk.

Haynes worries that the voices of ordinary Americans will be drowned out as the court adopts an increasingly corporate-friendly agenda. Because of Barrett's relative youth, he said, she could wreak damage for generations.

"My grandchildren might suffer from the decisions she makes," Haynes said.Tom Conway is the international president of the United Steelworkers Union (USW).

This article was produced by the Independent Media Institute.

Trump gave his blessing for right-wing groups to threaten the election — and voting advocates are worried

For weeks police and private intelligence circles have predicted "coming violence" from right-wing vigilantes at some polling places in presidential battleground states. But President Trump's debate message to a white power group to "stand back and stand by," despite his retraction, has turned online chatter among extremists into organizing actions targeting Election Day, according to the FBI's former counterintelligence director Frank Figliuzzi.

"What we are seeing include calls for civil war, race-based conflict, and for increased acquisition of weapons," said Figliuzzi, speaking at an October 2 briefing by the Lawyers' Committee for Civil Rights Under Law on voter intimidation threats and responses. "Right-wing extremist groups, including QAnon, Proud Boys, Boogaloo Boys and violent militia groups, are all using the language of violent conflict in both their public and in their private communications online."

"They are also calling for a physical response and presence at the polling places," he said. "The specter of people who are violent in nature and have violent agendas, and often come armed with long guns, is becoming a very real possibility."

The Lawyers' Committee briefing suggested that recent incidents where Trump supporters have badgered voters and election officials in blue epicenters may be signs of bigger trouble as Election Day nears. Both parties have stepped up recruitment of partisan poll watchers and, in Trump's case, voting vigilantes.

While the committee's briefing emphasized there were laws protecting voters from last-minute electioneering and intimidation, as well as rules that regulate what partisan observers can and cannot do at election sites, its message was that public officials must speak out more forcefully to reject voter intimidation at polls or in the streets, and say how authorities would respond should it occur.

"One step that election officials can make is to make clear the campaign-free zone that applies in their states," Kristen Clarke, the Lawyers' Committee's president and executive director, said, referring to the buffer zone that surrounds polling places or buildings with voting sites inside, where supporters of candidates and causes cannot campaign. "In every state there is a certain perimeter in which electioneering activity is prohibited, and [in] which intimidating activity would also be prohibited."

"Officials often do a good job promoting the time and date for elections, and what's on the ballot," Clarke said, referring to the public information campaigns that have increased since Labor Day. "Going one step further to make clear that no intimidation is allowed within a certain zone outside the doors of a polling site would be one small step."

Local and state prosecutors should take strong stances condemning any menacing presence at polls, she added, especially since the U.S. Department of Justice has abdicated that role under Trump. "This may be a moment where we lean on state and local law enforcement to step into those gaps."

"There is also a tremendous role to play for law enforcement leaders in terms of messaging," agreed Kenneth Polite, former U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana, speaking at the same briefing. His recommendation included "making public statements that emphasize… their commitment to protecting these constitutional rights, including their roles of protecting [against], evaluating and prosecuting this type of intimidation."

The week after the Lawyers' Committee's briefing saw some officials beginning to speak out. On October 6, the attorneys general of Michigan, Wisconsin and Nevada, all Democrats, held a video press conference where they condemned Trump's call for unofficial poll watchers and vowed to prosecute voter intimidation. Other recent news reports have noted that local election administrators and police have been reevaluating their security plans.

Not a Normal Election

There were many reasons behind today's worries about voter intimidation that set 2020 apart from threats of election violence in the recent past, the committee's experts said. Foremost was Trump's role as an "instigator or radicalizer" with his attacks on the voting process and calls for supporters to confront what Trump said would be cheating by Democrats. Another factor was in 2018 the Republican National Committee was freed from a decades-old federal consent decree that barred it from using voter suppression tactics. And another was scenes from Midwestern states where right-wing zealots brought military-style guns into statehouses while protesting government-ordered COVID-19 precautions.

The most likely targets for voter intimidation were not polling places randomly chosen from the 100,000-plus voting sites that will be open on Election Day, November 3, the experts said. The targets would likely be polling places in communities of color in swing states, they said, especially in locales where anti-police brutality protests and Black Lives Matter rallies have occurred.

The fact that these settings have residents who distrust the police adds a complicating layer when it comes to how authorities will intervene should legal electioneering cross the line into illegal voter intimidation, disturbing the peace or criminal violence. Police have more authority than election officials to respond if threatening behavior or violence arises at polls or in the streets, but many voters in communities of color don't want to ask the police for help—or believe that the police will protect them—voting rights advocates said.

"It's one thing to say we need folks [waiting to vote] to be tougher. It's another thing to say, 'Who is going to protect you?'" said Jorge Vasquez Jr., Power and Democracy Program director for the nonprofit civil rights law firm Advancement Project. "[If] you're a Black or a Brown voter, and you see how Black or Brown people are being treated by law enforcement, you would understand that you're really talking about [a situation in which your]… life may be on the line in a way that it hasn't been in the past."

Gray Zones

Vasquez has been meeting with local police in six swing states—Arizona, Michigan, Pennsylvania, Virginia, Georgia and Florida—to try to set some ground rules in communities of color before Election Day. His efforts to get police to negotiate and sign memorandums of understanding about how they will engage with voters this fall had similarities to those of protest organizers engaging with law enforcement before holding rallies and demonstrations.

The problem facing both voting rights advocates and officials is not people respectfully exercising their First Amendment rights, but rather with dealing with provocateurs who disrupt events and seek to provoke a police response that interrupts others from exercising those rights, Edward Maguire, a professor of criminology and criminal justice at Arizona State University, recently told NPR. "Police know how to handle peaceful protests. The harder part is when you have that gray zone in between, where you have protests that are largely peaceful, but you have people who are behaving in a violent or destructive manner."

When it comes to campaigning and voting on Election Day, there can be several gray zones. The first is where one person's actions in support of a cause—called electioneering—are legal but may be intimidating to others who don't share their views or ideology. Then there are clearly intimidating actions that likely violate election or criminal codes, if those actions were being monitored and those laws were being enforced. But people in opposing political parties and local authorities may not see or judge the same actions the same way.

There are a series of state and federal laws that protect voters. The most obvious are buffer zones around the entrances to polls where electioneering is not allowed. These distances are specified in state law and vary, from 10 feet in Pennsylvania, to 40 feet in Virginia, to 100 feet in Wisconsin and Michigan, to 150 feet in Florida and Georgia. There are state and federal laws barring voter intimidation, rules governing the conduct of partisan observers in election sites, and laws outlawing any election-related violence. (On the other hand, it is legal to bring guns into polls in Michigan, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Wisconsin, gun control groups have reported.)

There were two recent widely reported instances of Trump supporters badgering voters and election officials that illustrate the clear lines and ambiguities that arise as voters and authorities respond to loud but legal electioneering, and to what one seasoned observer concluded was illegal voter intimidation.

A clear line was seen in Philadelphia, where Trump supporters demanded to observe the start of early voting at a satellite voting center just before 2020's first televised presidential debate. Perhaps the gambit was a stunt to give Trump fodder to smear the city's elections, which he did. But local election officials told the Trump supporters that they could not stay because they had not followed the process to become credentialed partisan observers.

A blurrier line emerged during the first weekend of early voting in Fairfax County, Virginia. In that diverse Washington, D.C., suburb, a caravan of Trump supporters drove into the parking lot where voters were lined up at the county's government center, some revving their engines, which upset some voters. A small band of Trump supporters got out of their cars and trucks and converged at a plaza near the entrance, where they waved banners and cheered for Trump. Some voters who felt intimidated alerted officials, who came out, spoke to the campaigners, and then opened the government center so voters could wait inside in the hallways.

"There are two factors that go on that you should be thinking about," said Kevin Kennedy, who was Wisconsin's top statewide election official from 1982 to 2016 and a lawyer. "There's the electioneering factor, which is trying to influence voting. 'Don't vote for that jerk,' 'Vote for this party,' or whatever. And in Wisconsin, that [electioneering] stops 100 feet from the entrance of any building containing a polling place with the exception of a sign on private property."

"The second factor is you cannot interfere with the orderly conduct of the election," he said. "The general definition of disorderly conduct is something that tends to disturb the peace or create an issue… I would say that driving a truck through a parking lot [to disrupt waiting voters], even if you are more than 100 feet away, would probably qualify [as intimidation]. The question then is resource allocation for law enforcement."

Kennedy's last point highlights another gray zone that affects when and where police might step in—if they were present or were called upon to do so.

Election officials have narrower authority than the police to deal with bad behavior as it moves from the polls to the street. Kennedy concluded that Trump supporters toying with Fairfax County voters outside of Virginia's 40-foot electioneering boundary was illegal voter intimidation, but it did not prompt arrests. Since the incident, county officials are seeking to extend the buffer zone to 150 feet.

"We need individuals to use their discretion in a way that promotes democracy," said the Advancement Project's Vasquez. "I've seen in 2018 in Florida, voters come with horses waving an American flag where there are people with long lines, similar to the pickup trucks [in Fairfax County]. It is fact-specific and looking at the totality of the circumstances."

What Kind of Police Presence?

How visible police should be at polls, especially in communities in color, is a complicated question.

"The polling station has historically been a militarized space for Black voters," said Jeralyn Cave, Vasquez's colleague and Advancement Project spokeswoman, citing America's history of white vigilantes, segregation, Jim Crow and recent partisan voter suppression.

"So many people [police] don't want to use their discretion as it relates to elections," Vasquez said. "But any other time, they are willing to use their discretion. Most recently, I think what we could compare it to is we have millions of people storming the street to practice their First Amendment right to peaceful[ly] protest [police brutality]. And we have some police officers who are deciding that, 'You know what, you guys are in a group during a pandemic, and we're going to use our discretion to either charge you with something or not charge you with something.'"

The question, then, becomes one of nuance. What can government officials do now to assure voters in battleground states that voting this fall will be safe? Vasquez has been trying to negotiate ground rules with police in communities of color in swing states. But as of October 2, Cave said that no law enforcement agency had signed any memorandum of understanding.

Other voting rights advocates, such as the Lawyers' Committee's Clarke, did not want to see more police at polling places.

"In no uncertain terms, we object to the presence of law enforcement at the polls," she said at the same briefing where Figliuzzi described the growing threats from right-wing militants. "We observed in Wisconsin, officials resorting to using the National Guard to fill in gaps as they worked with insufficient numbers of poll workers. Many of them were in plain clothes. We're very concerned about any further efforts to activate law enforcement in any further fashion at polling sites, particularly in the communities with large numbers of voters of color."

Figliuzzi replied by listing some "warning signs and indicators" to look out for.

"One would be the presence of federal agents of any kind deployed to polling sites, which might, as you heard, be a specific violation of law," he said. (Armed federal agents and military personnel are not permitted at polls, despite Trump's claims.)

"Secondly, I would be particularly vigilant for any reports that off-duty police officers have been hired by any private organization, or an organization that may be linked to a particular campaign, to conduct some kind of so-called security or monitoring," he said. "That would be very troubling, particularly since many [police and sheriff] departments are canceling all off-duty work, or other duty work, because of the concerns about the polling place [on Election Day]."

But there were low-key roles that police could play to keep poll settings orderly.

"We don't want to call out [oppose] perimeter security, parking lot traffic management type things that will get people in and out safely," Figliuzzi said. "But [we] want to watch for the warning signs that would tell us that something is amiss with the presence of law enforcement."

The Lawyers' Committee briefing ended by imploring government officials, not just election administrators, not only to be more vocal about protecting the health of voters during a pandemic, but also to publicly state their commitment to voter safety in swing states. Journalists, too, should pressure state and local officials, they said. The panel's experts did not trust the federal Department of Justice's efforts to protect voters.

"Reporters should feel free to ask their law enforcement leaders—[police] chiefs, sheriffs, state officials—will you be setting up a command post or joint operation unit with law enforcement and federal partners for the election?" Figliuzzi said. "Will you be issuing press releases that remind people what the law is and what is permitted? Will you be engaging in proactive dialogue through your intelligence officers with known leaders of activists or groups? Will you be considering designated protest areas away from the polling place?"

What should voters do if they face intimidating actions at the polls or in the street?

"You never want anyone to be confrontational. And do document what is happening," Vasquez said. "Know who to contact. Certainly, contact Advancement Project's national office with any questions you have. Reach out to us on social media. We'll help you assess the situation and find a plan through it. But at this point, the best thing you can tell anyone is 'Don't be confrontational.'"

"It's not your place to necessarily be confrontational," he emphasized. "But it is your place in being able to safely cast a ballot."

Steven Rosenfeld is the editor and chief correspondent of Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute. He has reported for National Public Radio, Marketplace, and Christian Science Monitor Radio, as well as a wide range of progressive publications including Salon, AlterNet, the American Prospect, and many other

This article was produced by Voting Booth, a project of the Independent Media Institute.
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