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Jon Queally

Trump hold for super-spreader rally in Wisconsin — despite warnings of otherwise 'preventable deaths'

With the state of Wisconsin considered "an epicenter of the pandemic in the United States" and an internal White House memo just days ago putting it in the "red zone" for Covid-19 spread, President Donald Trump is being freshly accused of "callous disregard for the lives and health of others" in the state by holding a Saturday rally that public health experts warn will likely lead to death and further illness that otherwise could be prevented.

Saturday's rally is taking place even though top public health officials within Trump's administration warned this week that such events would kill more people. As the Guardian reports:

Earlier this week, Trump's own White House task force issued a warning to Wisconsin, which is considered to be in the "red zone" for high infection rates, saying people should avoid crowds if they want do not want to cause "preventable deaths."

The warning was included in a weekly report issued to governors but not made public. It was reported by the Center for Public Integrity (CPI), an investigative non-profit in Washington.

With the rally set to take place in a rural area outside of Janesville, it was reported that attendees would be forced to take shuttle buses—only increasing their exposure to the virus—to get to the event site.

Just days ago, the state was forced to open an emergency field hospital outside Milwaukee due to the surge in cases. On Wednesday, Julie Willems Van Dijk, Deputy Secretary of Wisconsin Department of Health Services, explained to the Capital Times that the facility was opened because Wisconsin's overall health care system was "in crisis" mode. "Many of our ICUs are strained," Van Dijk said. "And every region of our state has one or more hospitals reporting current and imminent staff shortages."

Rep. Mark Pocan (D-Wis.), co-chair of the Congressional Progressive Caucus, decried Trump's decision to go through with the rally, calling it a potential "super-spreader" event that will cost people their lives.

"Wisconsin has had over 10,000 COVID cases in three days," Pocan tweeted Friday night, and asked Trump: "Why are you still holding a super-spreader rally here?"

Pocan later tweeted a video detailing Trump's callous disregard and calling on Wisconsites, regardless of political affiliation, to "stay home; avoid large gatherings; wear a mask" in order to stay healthy and prevent further spread of the virus.

Pocan was hardly alone in characterizing the Wisconsin rally this way. Kara Purviance, chair of the Rock County Board of Supervisors in Wisconsin, appeared on CNN Friday night and also condemned the president's dangerous decision to hold the weekend rally despite record infection rates in the state:

Speaking with CPI for its reporting on the White House's internal task force memo, William Hanage, a Harvard epidemiologist said the fact that the Trump campaign is making rally attendees agree to liability waivers in case they later become sick with Covid-19, "indicates they know the reality because if they weren't worried about it then they wouldn't bother" having people sign them.

"Given the rates of disease currently in Wisconsin," Hanage told CPI, "we can say pretty categorically this is going to produce opportunity for transmission."

Wisconsin's Democratic Sen. Tammy Baldwin on Friday lambasted Trump for coming to the state for a campaign stop even as he has refused her repeated requests for increased medical equipment that have been in short supply for months. On Friday evening, she tweeted:

"On April 13, 2020, I wrote to you on behalf of Wisconsinites calling for the supplies needed to combat the Covid-19 pandemic," Baldwin wrote to Trump in a letter sent to the White House on Friday. "In my letter, I urged you to act to deliver this assistance swiftly. It is now six months later, and Wisconsin is still experiencing supply shortages, which couldn't come at a worse time. Wisconsin is currently experiencing one of the most serious outbreaks in the nation, and health care providers continue to share concerns about supply shortages. It is long past time for you to show leadership and take action to support our state with the supplies that we need and deserve."

Kamala Harris team strikes back after David Perdue's 'incredibly racist' attack on her name

Republican Sen. David Perdue of Georgia was denounced for being "incredibly racist" Friday night after he willfully mispronounced the name of his Senate colleague Kamala Harris, the Democrat from California and her party's vice presidential nominee, at a campaign rally for President Donald Trump.

Perdue—currently in a heated reelection campaign of his own against Democratic challenger Jon Ossoff—was just completing his introduction for Trump at the rally in Macon, Georgia when he referred to Harris as "Kah-mah-lah? Kah-MAH-lah? Kamala-mala-mala" and then said: "I don't know. Whatever."


Sen. David Perdue mispronounces Sen. Kamala Harris's first name

While the Perdue campaign said the GOP senator "didn't mean anything by it," it was clear from the laughter by the predominantly white Republican crowd that the overt dogwhistle had its intended effect.

As the Washington Post's White Hosue bureau chief Phil Rucker noted, any feigned ignorance should not be taken seriously. "Perdue has served with Kamala Harris in the Senate for four years," tweeted Rucker. "He knows how to properly pronounce her name."

"Well that is incredibly racist," said Sabrina Singh, Harris' press secretary, in a tweet responding to Perdue's comment. "Vote him out," Singh added, "and vote for Ossoff."

According to CNN:

Kamala is pronounced "'comma-la,' like the punctuation mark," according to the California senator. Harris wrote in the preface of her 2019 memoir, "The Truths We Hold," "First, my name is pronounced 'comma-la,' like the punctuation mark. It means 'lotus flower,' which is a symbol of significance in Indian culture. A lotus grows underwater, its flower rising above the surface while its roots are planted firmly in the river bottom."
If elected in November, Harris will become the nation's first Indian-American vice president, the first Black vice president, the first female vice president and the first Jamaican-American vice president. Harris' father was born in Jamaica and her late mother was born in India.

For his part, Ossoff denounced the remarks as part of pattern of discriminatory attacks by Perdue and said Georgians and other Americans "are better than this." Later Friday night, Ossoff appeared on MSNBC where he further characterized the attack on Harris as the "kind of vile, race-baiting trash talk" that Trump "has unleashed from sitting Republican members of the Senate."

In a statement, Nikema Williams, state chairwoman of Georgia's Democratic Party, said "Perdue's intentionally disrespectful mispronunciation of Senator Harris's name is a bigoted and racist tactic straight from President Trump's handbook. He owes Georgians an apology for his offensive display."

A Quinnipiac poll released Wednesday showed Osoff, who had been trailing, moving ahead of Perdue with a 6 percentage point lead (51% to 45%), though poll averages show the contenders in more or less a dead heat with just over weeks until Election Day.

Progressive critics warn against applauding social media ban of 'garbage' NY Post story about Hunter Biden

Press freedom advocates and progressive journalists continued to sound the alarm Thursday following moves by both Twitter and Facebook to ban or restrict sharing of controversial New York Post reporting published earlier this week that claimed to uncover new details about the past work of Hunter Biden, son of Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden, based on emails and documents supposedly found by a computer repairman on an abandoned laptop and then given to Rudy Giuliani, President Donald Trump's personal attorney.

As the Guardian reports:

In an unprecedented step against a major news publication, Twitter blocked users from posting links to the Post story or photos from the unconfirmed report. Users attempting to share the story were shown a notice saying: "We can't complete this request because this link has been identified by Twitter or our partners as being potentially harmful." Users clicking or retweeting a link already posted to Twitter are shown a warning the "link may be unsafe."

Ryan Grim, Washington bureau chief for The Intercept, was among those critics Wednesday who said that while the reporting may itself have little or no merit, the decision by Twitter to block users' ability to share the Post's article—and to shut down the right-wing newspaper's main Twitter account—was a counterproductive and troubling move with long-term implications that should not be overlooked.

"This whole thing is an absolute gift to the right wing. It was a garbage story that wasn't going anyway, just showed Hunter doing the corruption we know about," Grim argued in a tweet. "Now the right will use this censorship to further delegitimize the election."

Right on cue late Thurdsay morning, Republican Sens. Josh Hawley of Missouri and Ted Cruz of Texas were among those charging that Twitter and Facebook, by their actions against the Post's story, were guilty of rigging the election in favor of the Democrats.

Grim's colleague at The Intercept, co-founder Glenn Greenwald, also let loose with his criticisms in a series of tweets Wednesday and again Thursday morning. For his part, in addition to other implications, Greenwald warned that all kinds of crucial reporting based on "unauthorized materials" would be in future jeopardy if such a policy by powerful media platforms was to remain unchallenged.

As one user said in response to Grim's tweet, the policy is not likely to maintain its aim only at reported pieces by right-wing outfits like the NY Post. "Today it was New York Post," the user said, "tomorrow it'll be Jacobin."

Greenwald also condemned self-identified liberals who were applauding Twitter's moves seemingly based on the sole fact that the actions were taken against a right-wing paper that published a story potentially damaging to Democrats. Such applause, he warned, misses the bigger implications of powerful tech corporations in the era of social media having such outsized impact on the public's ability to access information.

"Amazing how liberals are now full-on free market libertarians—let large corporations do whatever they want!—and have no understanding of or interest in monopoly power," Greenwald said.

While Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey on Wednesday came forth to say that the company's handling of the story was "unacceptable," the fault he articulated was not the blocking of content itself but that the "communications around our actions... was not great."

Weighing in on the debate Thursday morning, Rep. Ro Khanna (D-Calif.), who serves the district representing Silicon Valley, said he believed critics like Grim and Greenwald are making valid points but added that he still has questions about where the line should be drawn by platforms like Twitter or Facebook on so-called illegally obtained materials.

In direct response to Khanna's posted concerns and questions, Greenwald wrote: "That one can imagine a case where Facebook or Twitter validly block content—publication of the address or nude photos of a private citizen taken without consent—doesn't justify the broad rule Twitter invoked or repression of this story about the Bidens."

Meanwhile, Trevor Timm, executive director of the Freedom of the Press Foundation, argued that the problem with Twitter's actions has nothing to do with how the company has communicated its reasoning. Similar to Greenwald, Timm warned such a policy—taken to its logical conclusion—would have woeful impacts on free speech and investigative journalism efforts like the Panama Papers project in 2016 which used internal documents—leaked or hacked or otherwise obtained—that exposed a global network of offshore banking operations and money laundering.

"No one really knows for sure, but there was a lot of speculation that the Panama Papers were hacked and then given to journalists," tweeted Timm. "Should Twitter wipe out all those old links too?"

Timm lamented that Twitter's decision will only serve to increase interest in the story—a dynamic that could be considered a backfire, especially if the nature or content of the reporting is, in fact, dubious.

"Now everyone will be talking about the NY Post story for a week instead of a day," Timm tweeted Wednesday night.

Dianne Feinstein sparks calls for her removal after botching Amy Coney Barrett hearings

Angered by her soft approach during this week's confirmation hearings for President Donald Trump's Supreme Court nominee Amy Coney Barrett—on top of her failure to embrace progressive reforms to the nation's highest court—the head of a progressive judicial watchdog group on Thursday called for Sen. Dianne Feinstein's removal as the leading Democrat on the Senate Judiciary Committee.

"It's time for Sen. Feinstein to step down from her leadership position on the Senate Judiciary Committee," said Brian Fallon, executive director of Demand Justice, in a statement. "If she won't, her colleagues need to intervene."

During Tuesday's hearing for Barrett's confirmation, Fallon was among the many vocal critics of Feinstein's performance.

In his statement on Thursday, Fallon argued that Feinstein "has undercut Democrats' position at every step of this process, from undermining calls for filibuster and Court reform straight through to thanking Republicans for the most egregious partisan power grab in the modern history of the Supreme Court."

With Republicans set to ram through a vote on Barrett next week—scheduling a committee vote for Thursday and a floor vote in the Senate on Friday—Democrats have proved unable, or in the minds of some unwilling, to do anything to stop it.

As Elie Mystal wrote for The Nation on Thursday, the only solution to the Barrett "debacle" is expanding the court once Democrats win back the Senate.

"The argument for court expansion is often presented as retribution for Republicans messing with the court, first by blocking the nomination of Merrick Garland, now by rushing the appointment of Ruth Bader Ginsburg's successor," noted Mystal. "But there is a higher purpose for court expansion, one that goes beyond avenging Ginsburg and Garland. Expanding the court now—through raw political power, if necessary—is the best way to reform and depoliticize the court for future generations. Expanding the court is the way to save it. It's a lot like breaking a bone to reset the leg."

While progressive voices, and many Democratic lawmakers, have been increasingly strident in their call for increasing the number of the justices on the Supreme Court, Feinstein has not made her position on the subject known. Asked last month by a New York Times reporter if she would support an expansion, Feinstein responded: "Ask me when we win the majority."

But offering his assessment, Slate's Mark Joseph Stern tweeted Thursday that expanding the Supreme Court is the only viable option for Democrats if they want to actually win the kind of future they say they believe in:

For Fallon, Feinstein's failures—from putting decorum before principles during this week's hearings to dismissing a new generation of Democratic activists clamoring for change like she did with Sunrise Movement climate campaigners in her offices last year—can no longer be tolerated.

"If Senate Democrats are going to get their act together on the courts going forward," Fallon said, "they cannot be led by someone who treats Sunrise activists with contempt and the Republican theft of a Supreme Court seat with kid gloves."

Trump-loving right-wing operatives accused of entrapping NC progressive groups to undermine their election work

Major investigations by news outlets in North Carolina published Friday exposed what appears to be a coordinated—and well-funded—effort by right-wing, Trump-supporting operatives who tried to use donations and fake volunteers to infilrate, possibly with the intent to entrap, pro-democracy advocacy groups in the state focused on promoting turnout and election integrity.

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'No one should be fooled' : Here's why Trump's executive order on drug prices is an election year charade

Advocates for lowering drug prices in the United States are raising alarm over an executive order issued by President Donald Trump on Sunday that the White House purports would challenge the nation's pharmaceutical industry but which critics say is just an election year ploy to make it look like the president is finally following through on a 2016 campaign promise he has neglected throughout his term.

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Postmaster general urged to 'immediately step aside' as North Carolina AG backs probe into campaign finance fraud allegations

With less than two months before U.S. elections in November and amid demands for his immediate firing, high-level Democrats in Congress and the Attorney General of North Carolina called for both state and federal investigations into Postmaster General Louis DeJoy after explosive reporting Sunday afternoon contained allegations that the GOP megadonor now running the U.S. Postal Service criminally violated campaign finance laws.

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‘Nightmare scenario’: Senator warns Trump is laying groundwork for election result mayhem

Warning of the very real chance of a "nightmare scenario" in which President Donald Trump misleads the American people over the results of the November election—or refuses to leave office voluntarily if voted out—Sen. Bernie Sanders is raising the alarm and mobilizing his army of supporters to be aware of just how dangerous a game the president is now playing.

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'DeJoy must be fired': Postmaster general accused of criminal violation of campaign laws

New calls went up for Postmaster General Louis DeJoy to be fired from his job Sunday after it was reported that former employees of the GOP megadonor and logistics executive now running the U.S. Postal Service reimbursed workers at the company for donations they made to the Republican Party at his behest—an arrangement that would be illegal under both state and federal campaign finance laws.

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Climate emergency grips California with 50,000-foot smoke plumes and record-shattering heatwave

Smoke plumes rising tens of thousands of feet into the air over California could be seen from outer-space overnight and into Sunday as massive wildfires that touched off this weekend amid a statewide heatwave triggered dramatic rescue efforts for hundreds of people trapped in a U.S. national forest and fresh warnings of a "climate emergency" unfolding in real time.

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