CVIndependent

Thu10222020

Last updateMon, 24 Aug 2020 12pm

10,000.

That’s the milestone Riverside County reached today—the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. It’s a sad milestone, and it’s not the last sad milestone we’re going to hit before this pandemic is over.

Folks, there are so many things in life we can’t control. However, there’s a lot regarding this pandemic we can control—and you know what those things are: Wearing a mask when around other people. Washing your hands frequently. Staying home if you may be sick.

Do it.

Today’s links:

• Speaking of people not doing what they can control: During Las Vegas’ reopening week, Los Angeles Times writer Arash Markazi saw some people taking precautions … and a whole lot of people not doing so. He said the Cosmopolitan was especially bad: “… as I scanned the casino floor, I was the only non-employee wearing a mask.

• One of the nation’s largest cities is openly discussing re-invoking stay-at-home orders—and reopening a football stadium for use as a possible COVID-19 hospital. Keep your fingers crossed for Houston.

• Oh, and an expert from Harvard says that 200,000 Americans could be dead from COVID-19 by September. And he called out the federal government for not doing enough.

On the I Love Gay Podcast today, Dr. Laura Rush and I joined hosts Brad Fuhr, Shann Carr and John Taylor to discuss the reopening process. We all agree: Precautions are not only good; they’re downright necessary. But shaming is bad and highly unnecessary.

L.A. County made it official today: Hollywood productions can resume tomorrow. However, that doesn’t mean there’s not a lot of work left to do before that meaningfully happens.

• Since hotels reopen here tomorrow, it’s worth asking the question: How safe are hotels (and, for that matter, short-term rentals)? One of the experts writing for The Conversation says she feels it’s pretty safe; the other isn’t so sure.

• The Los Angeles Times explains what will have to happen for a vaccine to be available by the end of the year, with a little help from Dr. Anthony Fauci.

California began waiving bail for people arrested for non-violent crimes when the pandemic hit, in an effort to keep jails less crowded, and people safer. Well, that’s coming to an end on June 20—even though COVID-19, alas, is not coming to an end by then.

Tesla doesn’t think its employees need to know when other employees test positive for COVID-19, proving yet again that Elon Musk is a dick.

Voter-registration numbers have plummeted since the pandemic arrived, according to USA Today.

•It’s worth keeping an eye on Seattle, where something truly weird has happened: For the past several days, protesters have taken over a portion of the Capitol Hill area—including a police precinct building—that they’re calling the Capitol Hill Autonomous Zone. So far, things are peaceful, but Trump’s tweeting about it; there are now-denied rumors that businesses in the area are being extorted by the protesters; and there’s other strangeness surrounding the whole thing.

• Several dozen people protested today in Riverside, demanding the removal of Sheriff Chad Bianco. That’s not going to happen, of course, even though the protesters are making some good points.

• So … Donald Trump has defended white supremacists and defended symbols of white supremacy. Now he’s chosen, as the city for his first rally in three months, the site of the worst episode of racial violence in American history … on a date that marks the emancipation of slaves in the Confederacy. Sen. Kamala Harris doesn’t think this is a coincidence at all.

• A&E’s wildly popular show Live P.D. has been cancelledafter the producers mysteriously erased footage involving the death of a Black man, Javier Ambler, while being arrested in Austin, Texas, last year.

That’s enough for the day. Wash your hands. Wear a mask. Fight injustice. If you can spare a few bucks to support quality local journalism, with no paywalls, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

There are so many things that could be said right now, but instead, I am simply going to share some numbers with you, from our friends at FatalEncounters.org, which tracks people killed during interactions with law enforcement.

According to Fatal Encounters, as you can see in the graphic above, May 2020 is believed to be the first time—going back to 2000, when Fatal Encounters’ data set begins—that the number of deaths with police involvement cracked the 200 mark. And 863 people have died so far this year, which is a record-setting pace.

Something’s wrong here … and as we mentioned yesterday, it starts at the top.

More news:

• Maddenly related: More than 120 journalists covering the protests around the country have been attacked by police. Again, it starts at the top; after all, you know who keeps insisting journalists are the enemy of the people.

• Here’s more on police attacks on the media, courtesy of The New York Times.

From our partners at High Country News: This is #BlackBirdersWeek, which is designed to shed a light on racism in the birder community.

Twitter has removed accounts, supposedly by ANTIFA, that were actually tied to white supremacists. Yeesh.

Fantasy Springs opened its doors today, meaning Augustine is the only valley casino to remain closed.

• The fact that so many Americans are struggling financially will make it harder for the U.S. to keep COVID-19 contained, according to an expert writing for The Conversation.

• I find this encouraging, weird and frustrating all at once: A couple Italian doctors made international news recently by claiming the coronavirus was substantially weaker there than it had been before. The World Health Organization, however, vehemently disagrees.

• Here’s some of the latest news on the stunning, dictator-like move yesterday by the Trump administration to clear out peaceful protesters so the president could walk to a church and hold a bible while photos were taken. 

• A new grant program for small businesses—paid for by the stimulus bill and administered by the county—will begin taking applications tomorrow. However, there are some serious restrictions—including one saying businesses that received a EIDL or PPP loan are not eligible.

• The Red Barn, the Palm Desert bar at the center of all sorts of controversy due to its … uh, provocative roof signs and failed attempt to reopen, burned this morning.

• The editors and reporters at The Desert Sun are doing some amazing work during these trying times—despite being owned by a company that has, historically, been pretty awful. As evidence of this awfulness—and why rampant media consolidation can be terrible: The Washington Post examined why many Gannett papers (including The Desert Sun) did not lead with coverage of the George Floyd protests on Sunday.

• President Trump is bafflingly ordering West Point grads back to campus for a graduation speech on June 13. And, of course, some of the cadets who are graduating have tested positive for COVID-19.

That’s enough for today. Wash your hands. Be safe. Speak out against racism and injustice. We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

Hey, everybody. How was your long weekend?

I slept in. I made some pork chops with some amazing fruit I picked up Saturday at the Palm Springs Certified Farmers’ Market. I took a lovely, mask-on walk through downtown Palm Springs. I had drinks—socially distanced—with friends in a backyard. So, all in all, it was pretty good.

Well, except for the parts when I watched members of our community pointlessly tear each other to shreds on Facebook.

Look … I get it: We’re all facing down a series of interconnected threats that are truly life or death matters: The virus, the effects of the lockdown, livelihoods, etc. This is serious shit.

But … does going on social media and attacking each other really do anyone any good?

I personally find the reopening process to be scary and exciting and disturbing and wonderful all at once. I am scared that it may be happening too soon. I am excited to see out-of-work friends getting their jobs back. I find it disturbing to see pictures of throngs of people in close proximity without masks. I find it wonderful to drive through parts of our valley and see life again.

I’ve never had such mixed feelings before about anything. Really. I suspect a lot of you feel the same way.

Regardless: It would behoove us all to remember that, save a few psychopaths and ne’er-do-wells, all of us are on the same team. We all want to be able to get together again. We all want jobs and stores and concerts and gatherings back. All of us want the same things.

When we forget that we are on the same team and want the same things … well, not only are the resulting attacks causing angst and doing nobody any good; they’re playing right into the hands of the people who want to see us fail. According to Business Insider:

As parts of the U.S. have lifted shutdown orders during the COVID-19 pandemic, there's been a fierce argument online about the risks and benefits of reopening. New research suggests that bots have been dominating that debate.

Carnegie Mellon University researchers analyzed over 200 million tweets discussing COVID-19 and related issues since January and found that roughly half the accounts — including 62% of the 1,000 most influential retweeters—appeared to be bots, they said in a report published this week.

Wash your hands. Wear a mask. And be kind. Please. We really are on the same team here.

Today’s news:

• The big state headline: California will allow churches to reopen—with extreme restrictions, including a 25 percent cap on capacity for at least the first three weeks.

The Washington Post today published a major story on the U.S. meat industry … and it’s not pretty: More workers are getting sick, and shortages may get worse.

• From the Independent: Matt King talked to the Children’s Discovery Museum of the Desert, the Coachella Valley History Museum and the Palm Springs Art Museum for an in-depth piece on what people can expect when they’re finally allowed to reopen. Two take-aways: Two of the three likely won’t reopen until the fall—and things will be quite different at all of them when their doors are open again.

• Protests demanding that the state reopen are, in some cases, getting larger—with a large dose of white supremacy thrown in, according to the Los Angeles Times.

• OK, let’s see here … the CDC has issued a new warning, and it’s says … holy crap, now we have to be on the lookout for hungry, aggressive rodents?!

The New York Times analyzed where people were dying of COVID-19, and how those places voted in the last presidential election. The results may surprise you—and they may help explain the political divide developing over the reopening processes around the country.

• I am just going to type this headline, shake my head, sigh and then go make myself a cocktail: “More than 40% of Republicans think Bill Gates will use COVID-19 vaccine to implant tracking chips, survey says.

• What will be in that cocktail, you ask? A mixture of Bulleit rye, a delightful shrub I made out of fresh strawberries, and a little bit of club soda. If you don’t know what a shrub is, Independent cocktail expert Kevin Carlow explains in this informative column from our archives.

• The Trump administration has announced its big testing plan: Leave it up to the states, pretty much!

• Fear of the virus is causing some people to skip needed medical procedures—up to and including forgoing needed organ transplants. The New York Times explains.

• NBC News reveals that the Trump administration is often awarding government contracts not based on merit, and with little to no oversight.

• Man, this pandemic is hurting sooo many businesses … including the drug cartels!

That’s enough for today. Join me, please, in a toast to the brave men and women who have died fighting for this country. Be safe. Wear a mask. If you can spare a buck or two to support fine local journalism like Matt’s museums piece, Kevin’s cocktail-shrub primer and this Daily Digest, please consider becoming a Supporter of the Independent. Oh, and one last thing: Please be kind! We’ll be back tomorrow.

Published in Daily Digest

“There are three ways in which we may rule,” said Charles Aycock, then the soon-to-be governor of North Carolina, to his supporters in 1900. “By force, by fraud or by law. We have ruled by force; we can rule by fraud; but we want to rule by law.”

Aycock was rallying his fellow white supremacists not only for his own election, but also to pass a state constitutional amendment that would, in effect, disenfranchise most black voters. By modern standards, this was a startlingly revelatory admission: Whites were willing to govern under the rule of law, Aycock was saying, but only if they could dictate its terms. But they were also willing to use force or fraud to dictate those terms.

Indeed, white supremacists had used recently used force to accomplish that goal, during the November 1898 Wilmington coup, overthrowing a municipal government deemed too friendly to African Americans and murdering at least 60 black men. They used fraud, too: Aycock and the so-called Suffrage Amendment both prevailed that November by a roughly 60–40 spread—according to the unlikely tallies of Democratic clerks.

For the next 70 years, having cheated and bullied their way to absolutely power, white supremacists got to write the laws.

I thought of Aycock’s quote—captured in David Zucchino’s forthcoming book, Wilmington’s Lie—and the sense of entitlement behind it, when I read the letter the White House dispatched to the House of Representatives last week, calling the impeachment proceedings illegitimate and saying the administration wouldn’t participate.

“You have designed and implemented your inquiry in a manner that violates fundamental fairness and Constitutionally mandated due process,” White House counsel Pat Cipollone told House leaders on Oct. 8. Since the White House judged the case against Trump “baseless,” the president “cannot participate in your partisan and unconstitutional inquiry.”

From a legal perspective, Cipollone’s letter is patently absurd. Impeachment is spelled out in the Constitution; it, by definition, cannot be unconstitutional. The administration can’t simply declare the president innocent and therefore ignore congressional subpoenas. As Gregg Nunziata, the former chief counsel for Senate Judiciary Committee Republicans, put it, the letter was a “barely lawyered temper tantrum” and a “middle finger to Congress.”

It was the latest in a string of them.

That same day, Trump’s Department of Justice was in federal court arguing that the courts had erred four decades ago by allowing Congress to review transcripts of Watergate grand-jury proceedings. The House Judiciary Committee now wants to review Robert Mueller’s grand jury materials, and—for some unfathomable reason—the DOJ is desperate to stop that from happening.

Also that day, the State Department ordered Gordon Sondland—the U.S. ambassador to the European Union and now a key player in the Ukraine scandal, who also owns Provenance Hotels, which includes Palm Springs’ Villa Royale—not to appear for a scheduled congressional deposition. Text messages between Sondland and former special envoy for Ukraine Kurt Volker released by Congress appear to show that the administration was withholding military aid from Ukraine unless the country indulged Trump’s conspiracy theories about Ukrainian interference in the 2016 election and reopened an investigation into Joe Biden’s son—except for one, in September, in which Sondland assured the head of the embassy in Kiev that he was “incorrect about President Trump’s intentions” and that there was “no quid pro quo.”

Sondland was awarded the ambassadorship after giving Trump’s inauguration committee $1 million; his appointment was championed by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis of North Carolina, to whom he gave $17,900, and his wife gave $57,900, according to Open Secrets.

In addition, Rudy Giuliani announced that he would disregard a House subpoena for documents and dared Congress told hold him in contempt.

It didn’t take long for dominoes to begin falling. Two of Giuliani’s henchmen were arrested boarding one-way flights out of the country, accused of routing hundreds of thousands of Russian dollars into Republican political campaigns in an effort to, among other things, oust the American ambassador to Ukraine—which Trump did. Giuliani himself is said to be under investigation.

Meanwhile, Sondland is testifying over the State Department’s objections, and The Washington Post reported that he plans to say that Trump dictated his “no quid pro quo” message to the Ukrainian embassy. And according to The Wall Street Journal, in August, Sondland had told U.S. Sen. Ron Johnson of Wisconsin that Ukrainian aid was directly tied to these investigations.

The White House knows the direction in which this is going. The only recourse is to paint the exercise as illegitimate—to assert, as Richard Nixon did, that “when the president does it, that means it’s not illegal”—and to hope the president’s supporters, cheered on by the president’s propaganda machine, choose not to care.

Charles Aycock was a white supremacist, but that’s not the thing that most tightly binds him to Donald Trump. Instead, it’s the authoritarian sense that that the rule of law exists to further their interests and can be ignored when it restrains them.

By force, by fraud or by law.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

I suppose I can’t not write about Sharpie-gate, as much as I’d rather not. After all, of the myriad episodes that have defined the Trump administration’s idiocracy, few have reached this peak of stupidity.

On Saturday, Aug. 31, with Hurricane Dorian bearing down on the U.S., President Trump warned that it posed a serious risk to Alabama, though forecasters had days earlier said Alabama was out of danger. The next day, after receiving calls from worried residents, the Birmingham office of the National Weather Service tweeted that Alabama would “NOT see any impacts from the hurricane.”

For reasons best left to a psychologist, Trump refused to let it go. He spent the next week obsessing over it, insisting that he was right and the NWS experts (and the media that covered them) were wrong and fake. By Wednesday, he was in the Oval Office with a hurricane forecast from Aug. 29, altered by a hand-drawn Sharpie to include Alabama in the storm’s projected path. By Friday night—after the storm had left the North Carolina coast, and we were still talking about this—the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration issued a statement “correcting” the NWS tweet from a week earlier and backing the president. (The justification: One model showed a tiny chance of tropical-storm-force winds in a sliver of Alabama.)

By Saturday, Sept. 7, The Washington Post had reported that, the day after Trump’s Alabama flub, the NOAA sent a directive to NWS meteorologists ordering them not to contradict the president, even though he was wrong, and they were right, and part of their job is to correct misinformation. NOAA sent a similar directive after the Sharpie display.

“I have never been so embarrassed,” the head of the NWS union tweeted Friday.

So say we all, pal.

Under different circumstances—say, if he were hosting a reality TV show—the president’s pathetically pathological need to be right and his lackeys’ compulsion to assuage his fragile ego might be amusing. But this is real life, where undermining the credibility of the government’s information during a disaster puts lives at risk.

This is part of a larger problem, of course. On Friday, Sept. 6, Business Insider reported that “aides and confidants are concerned about his mental state after days of erratic behavior and wild outbursts.” According to one former White House official: “His mood changes from one minute to the next based on some headline or tweet, and the next thing you know, his entire schedule gets tossed out the window because he’s losing his shit.”

In the UK, when Trump-lite Prime Minister Boris Johnson tried to go around Parliament to facilitate a disastrous no-deal Brexit, defections within his own party blocked him and then prevented him from calling snap elections. Country was more important than party. Here, administration officials have shown no such spine, even on matters as banal as Sharpie-gate. The higher the stakes—and the more unhinged Trump becomes—the more dangerous that gets.

Plenty of ink has been spilled explaining how we got here—how, since the civil rights movement, the Republican Party’s embrace of white racial grievance and the cultivation of authoritarianism in its pursuit of power have destroyed liberal democracy’s guardrails, allowing a pernicious oaf like Trump into the Oval Office. But we shouldn’t overlook the behind-the-scenes roles played by men like Thomas Hofeller, who made the radicalization of the GOP possible.

Hofeller, who died last year, was a Republican redistricting consultant, a number-cruncher who helped gerrymander congressional and legislative districts all over the country, most famously in North Carolina, where his work has been subject to numerous lawsuits. The districts he helped draw in 2011 were struck down as racial gerrymanders. The congressional districts he helped draw to replace them were then struck down as partisan gerrymanders, though earlier this year, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that partisan gerrymandering was constitutional.

But last week, a state court struck down the redrawn legislative districts, ruling that extreme partisan gerrymandering violated the state Constitution. This followed a lawsuit Common Cause filed in 2018, after North Carolina Democrats won more votes for state House and Senate, but Republicans emerged with strong majorities. Facing a Democratic-controlled state Supreme Court, Republican lawmakers declined an appeal, meaning North Carolina could see its first fair election in a decade next year.

This is where it gets fun: Much to Republicans’ chagrin, Hofeller’s daughter had turned over thousands of his files to Common Cause. On Friday, Sept. 6, The New Yorker reported their contents. As you’d expect, they showed that Hofeller compiled “intensely detailed” data on race, as well as things like whether college students were likely to have the state-required ID to vote. 

He got particularly deep in the weeds at North Carolina A&T University in Greensboro, the nation’s largest historically black college. Hofeller used dorm-level data to draw congressional districts that literally bisected the campus, ensuring that Greensboro would have two Republican representatives. This, Republicans argued, was about partisan advantage, not race.

The files show that Hofeller was involved in Republican gerrymandering efforts in Arizona, Mississippi, Alabama, Virginia, Texas and Florida, and that “he was part of a Republican effort to add a citizenship question to the Census … which Hofeller believed would make it easier to pack Democrats and minorities into fewer districts, giving an advantage to Republicans.” Trump, you’ll recall, championed this cause—even after the Supreme Court turned rejected the question because the administration couldn’t be bothered to hide its political motives.

Hofeller and the Republicans who employed him contorted democracy to their own ends. But by creating ruby-red districts in which Republicans could only lose in primaries, they fostered an incentive structured that pulled the GOP further and further right, the kind of asymmetric polarization that, in short order, gave us a president who draws hurricane projections with a Sharpie and a party that whistles in democracy’s graveyard.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in National/International

Just minutes before a massacre at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart on Aug. 3 left 22 people dead, a hate-filled, anti-immigrant manifesto appeared online. In it, the author, whom authorities believe to be the alleged shooter, claims to be defending his country from white American “replacement” and an “invasion” at the U.S. border, as well as from environmental destruction and corporate power.

“Some people will think this statement is hypocritical because of the nearly complete ethnic and cultural destruction brought to the Native Americans by our European ancestors, but this just reinforces my point,” reads the manifesto. “The natives didn't take the invasion of Europeans seriously, and now what’s left is just a shadow of what was.”

For decades now, warped ideas about Indigenous struggles have buoyed conservative rhetoric and white-nationalist fantasies, and have been used to justify racist violence. While members of the far and extreme right claim to share a hollow, disingenuous affinity with Indigenous people, their appropriation of Indigenous victimhood and rights language is providing long-burning fuel for everything from right-wing propaganda on Fox News to extremist manifestos and movements worldwide.

In 2011, for instance, a far-right terrorist in Norway killed eight people in a bombing and another 69 at a youth camp. In his 1,500-page manifesto, the killer argued that the rhetoric of white nationalism was ultimately doomed to fail due to its connections to Hitler. Instead of using language and ideas associated with Nazis, the author chose to exploit an “untapped goldmine” of Indigenous rights language. “We are no more terrorists than Sitting Bull, Crazy Horse or Chief Gall who fought for their people against the imperialist General Armstrong Custer,” reads the manifesto. “Our struggle will be a lot easier if European nationalists use smart and defusing arguments instead of using supremacist arguments which can be efficiently squashed through psychological warfare propaganda or by anti-Nazi policies.” To the author, embracing the language of Indigenous rights and victimhood was a softer, even sympathetic strategy that would embolden efforts to reclaim European land and culture from immigrants.

A few months after the Norway attack, a German far-right anti-immigration propaganda video uploaded to YouTube featured a Green Party politician and a stereotypical “Cherokee” Indian maiden—a foreign exchange student who hopes to become a naturalized German citizen. The politician quickly obliges—a dig at the party's “multicultural ideals”—and the maiden tells a story about the massacre of her people by European immigrants who were allowed to settle the land by traitors in her tribe.

The righteous xenophobia revealed here has plenty of company: In 2014, the Alternative für Deutschland (AfD), another far-right German nationalist party, echoed the same sentiment in a meme of Hunkpapa Lakota Chief Sitting Bull, with a caption that warned: “Indians could not stop immigration. Now they live on reservations.”

“Nowadays, you see internet memes and videos on YouTube of people who tell the story of the conquest of North America and who skew historical references,” said Frank Usbeck, curator for the Americas at the State Art Collections in Dresden and former professor of American Studies at the University of Leipzig in Germany. “‘Look at the Native Americans who invited the foreigners as refugees.’”

Usbeck, who has studied the links between Indigenous people and white nationalists for years, began by examining the relationship between German perceptions of Native Americans and the Völkisch Movement’s “blood and soil” ideology, which has roots in the 19th century. “Constructing a national identity among Germans seems to have had strong roots in identifying with Native Americans and also setting oneself aside from many other Europeans,” said Usbeck, adding that this need to belong to the land and to connect with an “Indigenous” identity can be traced to early German nationalist studies of pre-Roman Germanic tribes.

Before and during World War II, Nazi propaganda declared American cultural imperialism was a threat to German culture, noting that it had destroyed the Native American way of life and comparing U.S. bombing campaigns in German cities to American frontier massacres. Usbeck calls this “co-victimization”—an invented affinity with the Native American experience of genocide and cultural loss, rhetorically linked to ideas of German victimhood. The Nazis thereby used Indigenous people to create a myth of survival, of a people fighting heroically for their homeland.

And Indigenous people remain potent symbols of outsider oppression for far-right extremism globally. In 2013, in Greeley, Colo., anonymous citizens bought two billboards that espoused pro-gun propaganda with the image of three armed Native Americans. The text reads: “Turn in your arms. The government will take care of you.”

Ammon Bundy’s 2016 anti-government militia takeover of the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge even tried to appeal to Native Americans: “We’re reaching out to the Paiute people, in the sincerest manner that I can,” said Robert “LaVoy” Finicum, a spokesman for Citizens for Constitutional Freedom, in a video posted to YouTube. (Finicum was later killed by law enforcement at a traffic stop during the occupation.) He continued, “Any claims that they (Paiutes) may have upon the lands, let’s begin that dialogue.” But the Burns Paiute Tribe quickly denounced the Malheur militia members for mishandling tribal artifacts and traditional land.

Earlier this year, a video featuring white supremacist Jared Taylor trod the same ground. “The story of the Indians is one of the strongest possible arguments for tight borders. Immigration, or more accurately, the arrival of European pioneers was a disaster for the Indians,” said Taylor. “We took their land, destroyed their way of life and put them on reservations.” The video ends with a final thought: Indians fought for their land, so why can’t whites do the same?

In the early days of U.S. colonization, white settlers waged numerous wars to displace Indigenous people. “This idea of making (colonial) invasion look like self-defense goes all the way back to the Declaration of Independence, where the British colonists, who were declaring independence from the crown, were simply making the argument that they were defending themselves against merciless Indian savages,” said Nick Estes, author and assistant professor in the American Studies Department at the University of New Mexico. “The El Paso shooter was referencing Native people as a heroic defense against invasion, when he himself was waging a kind of a terror campaign against actual Indigenous people who are crossing the border.”

The suspected shooter also allegedly wrote that the destruction of the environment, led by corporate interests, would limit available resources for whites, echoing the manifesto of the shooter who killed 51 at mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, in March 2019, who considered himself an “eco-fascist.” Historian and author Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz says this anti-capitalist environmentalist rhetoric is designed to reach readers beyond already-sympathetic audiences. “He hits on certain tropes that make him somewhat sympathetic to Native Americans, and he talks negatively about corporations controlling everything,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “It is a very manipulative manifesto by a very rational guy.”

The manipulation of Indigenous struggle and victimhood has been a part of white supremacists’ modus operandi in Europe for decades. Now, white male gunmen in the U.S. are now picking up the mantle.

“Hate groups have co-opted historical U.S. symbols in a weak attempt at tearing down any progress we’ve made toward including people of all races, creeds and backgrounds as true Americans,” said Keegan Hankes, senior analyst at the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nonprofit that tracks hate groups and far-right extremism in the U.S.

The El Paso shooter’s manifesto is the most recent anti-immigrant, hate-filled document to actually culminate in enormous violence. But since the shooting, the Guardian reports that police have thwarted seven similar plots by far-right extremists with racist ideologies.

“The idea of a parallel people aggressively taking land, taking whole swaths of territories—Mexicans coming in don’t have any power to do any of that,” said Dunbar-Ortiz. “It’s really obscene that he really is framing things that are completely different.”

It’s unlikely that the El Paso shooting will be the last white supremacist attack in the name of an imaginary immigrant invasion, nor the final use of Indigenous victimhood in a hate-filled manifesto.

Kalen Goodluck is an editorial fellow at High Country News, where this piece first appeared. Email him at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

Published in Community Voices

The week after Donald Trump launched his racist attack on U.S. Representative Elijah Cummings, which came on the heels of his racist attacks on four nonwhite Democratic members of Congress, my hometown paper gave its resident MAGA apologist, J. Peder Zane, ink to argue that the president and his Republican Party are not, in fact, racist, but rather the victims of a “false narrative” painted by Democrats, who are the real racists.

While Trump may have been “insensitive” in calling a mostly black congressional district with a median income above the national average “a disgusting rat- and rodent-infested mess,” Zane tells us, a “fair-minded person, while hoping that the president would be more precise, should see that he is not a racist.”

Four days later, a Trump-loving white-nationalist murdered 22 people in an El Paso Walmart after posting a manifesto explaining—in language that uncannily mirrored Trump’s immigration rhetoric—he was fighting an ”invasion.”

Funny how the racists think Trump is one of them.

Lots of papers have hacks like Zane, men (always men) who crib their sophomoric understanding of U.S. history from low-rent hucksters like Dinesh D’Souza and regurgitate the outrage du jour from the Fox News/talk-radio set. These columns tend to land somewhere between intellectually vapid and irresponsibly dishonest; papers publish them as a fig leaf to the MAGA crowd, an effort to assure them that they’re not part of the Liberal Media.

Like most, Zane is rarely worth rebutting. Here, however, he’s recycling an argument common among Trump acolytes, which in light of El Paso warrants scrutiny. His point is this: Republicans should ignore Democrats/liberals/the media when they say Trump is racist, because Democrats/liberals/the media always say Republicans are racist.

As Zane puts it: “Before Trump, Democrats leveled the same despicable smear against Mitt Romney—Vice President Joe Biden warned African-Americans that Romney ‘would put y’all back in chains!’” (Not to be pedantic, but Biden said Romney’s policies would allow big banks to do so.) Before that, Zane continues, they called John McCain racist, and George W. Bush racist, “and so it goes with most every Republican back to Richard Nixon.”

Quick history: Whatever Nixon’s personal feelings were (he really didn’t like Jews, FYI), beginning with his 1968 campaign, racial appeals became central to GOP politics. See, for instance, Republican operative Lee Atwater’s infamous quote: “You start out in 1954 by saying, ‘Nigger, nigger, nigger.’ By 1968, you can’t say ‘nigger’—that hurts you, backfires. So you say stuff like forced busing, states’ rights, and all that stuff, and you’re getting so abstract. Now, you’re talking about cutting taxes, and all these things you’re talking about are totally economic things, and a byproduct of them is, blacks get hurt worse than whites.’”

Ronald Reagan denounced mythical welfare queens. George H.W. Bush ran the Willie Horton ad. George W. Bush’s campaign smeared John McCain with rumors about his adopted black child. McCain elevated Sarah Palin to the national stage, where she accused the first black major-party presidential nominee of “pallin’ around with terrorists.” Romney kissed Donald Trump’s ring while Trump was pushing the racist birther effort. Trump launched his presidential campaign by calling Mexican immigrants rapists and pledging to ban Muslims.

What Zane doesn’t consider is that GOP leaders have been accused of racism because they’ve employed racism to win votes. Trump has been accused of racism more frequently because he says and does overtly racist things more frequently.

Indeed, Trump’s entire political career has been built on racial demagoguery—and studies suggest that he owes his victory in 2016 in part to his voters’ racial attitudes. But for his supporters to admit that would mean admitting an uncomfortable truth about themselves. So instead, they define the R-word so narrowly as to render it meaningless.

Truth be told, however, I’m less interested in what the J. Peder Zanes of the world tell themselves about Donald Trump’s racism than in the effects their denial has on the rest of us. It’s no surprise, for instance, that Republicans don’t want to talk about guns after El Paso. More unnerving has been their widespread reluctance to acknowledge the crisis of the increasingly violent white-supremacist movement in the Trump era.

As a former FBI supervisor who oversaw terrorism cases told The Washington Post: “I think in many ways, the FBI is hamstrung in trying to investigate the white-supremacist movement like the old FBI would. There’s some reluctance among agents to bring forth an investigation that targets what the president perceives as his base.”

If we can’t even address white terrorism with offending Trump’s supporters, how can we possibly begin to address complex, systemic issues of racial and social justice: wealth gaps, education gaps, opportunity gaps, affordability crises, etc.?

The thing about Trump is that he says the quiet parts loud—often through a megaphone. He’s fundamentally incapable of hiding who he is. And that makes the choice ahead of us crystal clear: Between now and Election Day, we as a country will have to confront a lot of uncomfortable truths about who we are—and who we’re going to be.

Contact Jeffrey C. Billman at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..

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On this week's low-carb, keto-friendly weekly Independent comics page: This Modern World again looks at Life in the Stupidverse; Jen Sorensen solemnly compares New Zealand's leader with Donald Trump; (Th)ink solves the puzzle of domestic terrorism; Red Meat reflects upon time in the "Navy"; and Apoca Clips listens to Li'l Trumpy spout off on Aunt Becky and the college-admissions scandal.

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On this week's rainbow-tinged weekly Independent comics page: Red Meat has Karen finally getting some (perhaps unintentional) revenge on Milkman Dan; Apoca Clips plays hate dress-up for Halloween; This Modern World ponders recent conservative explanations; Jen Sorenson offers tips for stopping extremist violence; and (Th)ink looks at how being scary has changed in recent years.

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“Fake news” is not a new thing. In Censored 2019: Fighting the Fake News Invasion, Project Censored’s vivid cover art recalls H.G. Wells’ War of the Worlds.

The situation today may feel as desolate as the cover art suggests.

Censored 2019 is a book about fighting fake news,” editors Andy Lee Roth and Mickey Huff observed in the book’s introduction. In the end, they argued that “critical media education—rather than censorship, blacklists, privatized fact-checkers, or legislative bans—is the best weapon for fighting the ongoing fake news invasion.”

Project Censored’s annual list of 25 censored stories, which makes up the book’s lengthy first chapter, is one of the best resources one can have for such education.

Project Censored has long been engaged in much more than just uncovering and publicizing stories kept down and out of the corporate media. Over the years, it added new analytical categories, including sensationalist and titillating Junk Food News stories. But through it all, the list of censored stories remains central to Project Censored’s mission, which, the editors point out, can be read in two different ways: “As a critique of the shortcomings of U.S. corporate news media for their failure to adequately cover these stories, or as a celebration of independent news media, without which we would remain either uninformed or misinformed about these crucial stories and issues.”


1. Global Decline in the Rule of Law as Basic Human Rights Diminish

According to the World Justice Project Rule of Law Index 2017–2018, released in January 2018, a striking worldwide decline in basic human rights has driven an overall decline in the rule of law since October 2016—the month before Trump’s election.

Fundamental rights—one of eight categories measured—declined in 71 out of 113 nations surveyed. Overall, 34 percent of countries’ scores declined, while just 29 percent improved. The United States ranked 19th, down one from 2016, with declines in checks on government powers and deepening discrimination.

Fundamental rights include the absence of discrimination, the right to life and security, due process, the freedom of expression and religion, the right to privacy, the freedom of association and labor rights.

“All signs point to a crisis not just for human rights, but for the human rights movement,” Yale professor of history and law Samuel Moyn told The Guardian the day the index was released. “Within many nations, these fundamental rights are falling prey to the backlash against a globalising economy in which the rich are winning. But human rights movements have not historically set out to name or shame inequality.”

This reflects the thesis of Moyn’s most recent book, Not Enough: Human Rights in an Unequal World.

Constraints on government powers, which measures the extent to which those who govern are bound by law, saw the second-greatest declines (64 countries out of 113 dropped). This is where the United States saw the greatest deterioration, the World Justice Project stated in a press release. “While all sub-factors in this dimension declined at least slightly from 2016, the score for lawful transition of power—based on responses to survey questions on confidence in national and local election processes and procedures—declined most markedly,” the press release stated.  

The United States also scored notably poorly on several measurements of discrimination.

The four Nordic countries—Denmark, Norway, Finland and Sweden—remained in the top four positions. New Zealand, Canada and Australia were the only top 10 countries outside of Europe.

“The WJP’s 2017–2018 Rule of Law Index received scant attention from U.S. corporate media,” Project Censored noted. The only coverage they found was a Newsweek article drawing on The Guardian’s coverage.


2. “Open-Source” Intelligence Secrets Sold to Highest Bidders

In March 2017, WikiLeaks released Vault 7, a trove of 8,761 leaked confidential CIA files about its global hacking programs, which WikiLeaks described as the “largest ever publication of confidential documents on the agency.” It drew significant media attention.

But almost no one noticed what George Eliason of OpEdNews pointed out.

“Sure, the CIA has all these tools available,” Eliason pointed out. “Yes, they are used on the public. The important part is (that) it’s not the CIA that’s using them. That’s the part that needs to frighten you.”

As Eliason went on to explain, the CIA’s mission prevents it from using the tools, especially on Americans.

“All the tools are unclassified, open-source, and can be used by anyone,” Eliason explained. “It makes them not exactly usable for secret-agent work. That’s what makes it impossible for them to use Vault 7 tools directly.”

Drawing heavily on more than a decade of reporting by Tim Shorrock for Mother Jones and The Nation, Eliason’s OpEdNews series reported on the explosive growth of private contractors in the intelligence community, which allows the CIA and other agencies to gain access to intelligence gathered by methods they’re prohibited from using.

In a 2016, report for The Nation, Shorrock estimated that 80 percent of an estimated 58,000 private intelligence contractors worked for the five largest companies. He concluded that “not only has intelligence been privatized to an unimaginable degree, but an unprecedented consolidation of corporate power inside U.S. intelligence has left the country dangerously dependent on a handful of companies for its spying and surveillance needs.”

Eliason reported how private contractors pioneered open-source intelligence by circulating or selling the information they gathered before the agency employing them had reviewed and classified it; therefore, “no one broke any laws.” As a result, according to Eliason’s second article, “People with no security clearances and radical political agendas have state-sized cyber tools at their disposal, (which they can use) for their own political agendas, private business, and personal vendettas.”

Corporate media reporting on Vault 7 sometimes noted but failed to focus on dangerous role of private contractors, Project Censored pointed out—with the notable exception of am op-ed in The Washington Post in which Shorrock reviewed his previous reporting and concluded that over-reliance on private intelligence contractors was “a liability built into our system that intelligence officials have long known about and done nothing to correct.”


3. World’s Richest One Percent Continue to Become Wealthier

In November 2017, Credit Suisse released its 8th Annual Global Wealth Report which The Guardian reported on under the headline, Richest 1% Own Half the World’s Wealth, Study Finds.

The wealth share of the world’s richest people increased “from 42.5 percent at the height of the 2008 financial crisis to 50.1 percent in 2017,” The Guardian reported, adding that “the biggest losers … are young people who should not expect to become as rich as their parents.”

“(Despite being more educated than their parents), millennials are doing less well than their parents at the same age, especially in relation to income, home ownership and other dimensions of well-being assessed in this report,” Rohner Credit Suisse Chairman Urs Rohner said. “We expect only a minority of high achievers and those in high-demand sectors such as technology or finance to effectively overcome the ‘millennial disadvantage.’”

“No other part of the wealth pyramid has been transformed as much since 2000 as the millionaire and ultra-high net worth individual (known as UHNWI) segments,” the report said. “The number of millionaires has increased by 170 percent, while the number of UHNWIs (individuals with net worth of $50 million or more) has risen five-fold, making them by far the fastest-growing group of wealth holders.”

There were of 2.3 million new dollar millionaires this year, taking the total to 36 million.

“At the other end of the spectrum, the world’s 3.5 billion poorest adults each have assets of less than $10,000,” The Guardian reported. “Collectively these people, who account for 70 percent of the world’s working age population, account for just 2.7 percent of global wealth.”

“Tremendous concentration of wealth and the extreme poverty that results from it are problems that affect everyone in the world, but wealth inequalities do not receive nearly as much attention as they should in the establishment press,” Project Censored noted. “The few corporate news reports that have addressed this issue—including an August 2017 Bloomberg article and a July 2016 report for CBS’s MoneyWatch—focused exclusively on wealth inequality within the United States. As Project Censored has previously reported, corporate news consistently covers the world’s billionaires while ignoring millions of humans who live in poverty.”


4. How Big Wireless Convinced Us Cell Phones and Wi-Fi Are Safe

Are cell phones and other wireless devices really as safe we’ve been led to believe? Don’t bet on it, according to decades of buried research reviewed in a March 2018 investigation for The Nation by Mark Hertsgaard and Mark Dowie.

“The wireless industry not only made the same moral choices that the tobacco and fossil-fuel industries did; it also borrowed from the same public-relations playbook those industries pioneered,” Hertsgaard and Dowie reported. “Like their tobacco and fossil-fuel brethren, wireless executives have chosen not to publicize what their own scientists have said about the risks of their products. … On the contrary, the industry—in America, Europe and Asia—has spent untold millions of dollars in the past 25 years proclaiming that science is on its side, that the critics are quacks, and that consumers have nothing to fear.”

Their report comes at the same time as several new developments are bringing the issue to the fore, including a Kaiser Permanente study (published December 2017 in Scientific Reports) finding much higher risks of miscarriage; a study in the October 2017 American Journal of Epidemiology, finding increased risk for glioma (a type of brain tumor); and a disclosure by the National Frequency Agency of France that nine out of 10 cell phones exceed government radiation safety limits when tested in the way they are actually used—next to the human body.

“The wireless industry has ‘war-gamed’ science by playing offense as well as defense, actively sponsoring studies that result in published findings supportive of the industry, while aiming to discredit competing research that raises questions about the safety of cellular devices and other wireless technologies,” Project Censored summarized. “When studies have linked wireless radiation to cancer or genetic damage, industry spokespeople have pointed out that the findings are disputed by other researchers.”

While some local media have covered the findings of a few selected studies, Project Censored notes, “the norm for corporate media is to report the telecom industry line—that is, that evidence linking Wi-Fi and cell phone radiation to health issues, including cancer and other medical problems, is either inconclusive or disputed. … As Hertsgaard and Dowie’s Nation report suggested, corporate coverage of this sort is partly how the telecom industry remains successful in avoiding the consequences of actions.”


5. The Washington Post Bans Employees from Using Social Media to Criticize Sponsors

On May 1, 2017, the Washington Post introduced a policy prohibiting its employees from criticizing its advertisers and business partners—and encouraging them to snitch on one another.

“A new social-media policy at The Washington Post prohibits conduct on social media that ‘adversely affects The Post’s customers, advertisers, subscribers, vendors, suppliers or partners,” Andrew Beaujon reported in The Washingtonian the next month. “In such cases, Post management reserves the right to take disciplinary action ‘up to and including termination of employment.’”

Beaujon also cited “a clause that encourages employees to snitch on one another: ‘If you have any reason to believe that an employee may be in violation of The Post’s Social Media Policy … you should contact The Post’s Human Resources Department.’”

At the time, the Washington-Baltimore News Guild, which represents the Post’s employees, was protesting the policy and seeking removal of the controversial parts in a new labor agreement. A follow-up report by Whitney Webb for MintPress News highlighted the broader possible censorship effects, since prohibiting social-media criticism could spill over into reporting as well.

“Among The Washington Post’s advertisers are corporate giants like GlaxoSmithKline, Bank of America and Koch Industries,” Webb wrote. “With the new policy, social-media posts criticizing GlaxoSmithKline’s habit of making false and misleading claims about its products, inflating prices and withholding crucial drug safety information from the government will no longer be made by Post employees.”

Beyond that, Webb suggested it could protect the CIA, which has a $600 million contract with Amazon Web Services. Amazon CEO Jeff Bezos purchased the Post four months after that contract was signed.

“While criticism of the CIA is not technically prohibited by the new policy, former Post reporters have suggested that making such criticisms could endanger one’s career,” Webb noted.

“Corporate news coverage of The Washington Post’s social media policy has been extremely limited,” Project Censored noted.

It’s part of a much broader problem, identified in Jeremy Iggers’ 1998 book, Good News, Bad News: Journalism Ethics and The Public Interest. Iggers argued that journalism ethics focused on individual reporters completely missed the larger issue of corporate conflicts whose systemic effects fundamentally undermine journalism’s role in a democracy.


6. Russiagate: A Two-Headed Monster of Propaganda and Censorship

Is Russiagate a censored story? In my view, not exactly. This entry seems to reflect a well-intentioned effort to critically examine fake-news-related issues within a “censored story” framework. It’s important that these issues be raised—which is one reason why I suggested above that Project Censored add “fake news” as a new analytical category to examine annually along with its censored stories list, “junk food news” and “news abuse.”

What Project Censored calls attention to is important: “Corporate media coverage of Russiagate has created a two-headed monster of propaganda and censorship. By saturating news coverage with a sensationalized narrative, Russiagate has superseded other important, newsworthy stories.”

As a frustrated journalist with omnivorous interests, I heartily concur—but what’s involved is too complex to simply be labelled “propaganda.” On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is a classic, well-defined Project Censored story, which suffers from the attempt to fit both together.

In April 2017, Aaron Maté reported for The Intercept on a quantitative study of MSNBC’s The Rachel Maddow Show from Feb. 20 to March 31, 2017 which found that “Russia-focused segments accounted for 53 percent of these broadcasts.” Maté wrote: “Maddow’s Russia coverage has dwarfed the time devoted to other top issues, including Trump’s escalating crackdown on undocumented immigrants (1.3 percent of coverage); Obamacare repeal (3.8 percent); the legal battle over Trump’s Muslim ban (5.6 percent), a surge of anti-GOP activism and town halls since Trump took office (5.8 percent), and Trump administration scandals and stumbles (11 percent).”

Well and good. But is this propaganda?

At Truthdig, Norman Solomon wrote: “As the cable news network most trusted by Democrats as a liberal beacon, MSNBC plays a special role in fueling rage among progressive-minded viewers toward Russia’s ‘attack on our democracy’ that is somehow deemed more sinister and newsworthy than corporate dominance of American politics (including Democrats), racist voter suppression, gerrymandering and many other U.S. electoral defects all put together.”

Also true. But it is not so much propaganda as Project Censored’s broader category of “news abuse,” which includes propaganda and spin among other forms of “distraction to direct our attention away from what we really need to know.” To fully grasp what’s involved requires a more complex analysis. On the other hand, the censorship of alternative journalistic voices is far more clear-cut and straightforward.

In a report for Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting, Robin Andersen examined Russiagate-inspired censorship moves by Twitter, Google and others. A key initial target of this censorship was RT.

"RT’s reporting bears striking similarities to alternative and independent media content, and that is why letting the charges against RT stand unexamined is so dangerous," Andersen noted.

In fact, the government’s intelligence report on RT included its reporting on the dangers of fracking as part of its suspect activity. Beyond that, the spill-over suppression was dramatic: “Yet in the battle against fake news, much of the best, most accurate independent reporting is disappearing from Google searches,” Anderson said. “The World Socialist Web Site (8/2/17) reported that Google’s new search protocol is restricting access to leading independent, left-wing, progressive, anti-war and democratic rights websites. The estimated declines in traffic generated by Google searches for news sites are striking.”

There were declines for AlterNet.org (63 percent), DemocracyNow.org (36 percent), CounterPunch.org (21 percent), ConsortiumNews.com (47 percent), MediaMatters.org (42 percent), and TheIntercept.com (19 percent), among others.

“Many people suffer when lies are reported as facts, but it seems that corporate media are the only ones that profit when they reinforce blind hostility—against not only Russia, but also legitimate domestic dissent,” Project Censored noted.


7. Regenerative Agriculture as “Next Stage” of Civilization

The world’s agricultural and degraded soils have the capacity to recover 50 to 66 percent of the historic carbon release into the atmosphere, according to a 2004 paper in Science—actually reversing the processes driving global warming.

A set of practices known as “regenerative agriculture” could play a major role in accomplishing that, while substantially increasing crop yields as well, according to information compiled and published by Ronnie Cummins, director of the Organic Consumers Association, in May 2017.

“For thousands of years, we grew food by depleting soil carbon, and in the last hundred or so, the carbon in fossil fuel as well,” food and farming writer Michael Pollan wrote. “But now we know how to grow even more food while at the same time returning carbon and fertility and water to the soil

Cummins, who’s also a founding member of Regeneration International, wrote that regenerative agriculture offers a “world-changing paradigm” that can help solve many of today’s environmental and public-health problems. As The Guardian explained: “Regenerative agriculture comprises an array of techniques that rebuild soil and, in the process, sequester carbon. Typically, it uses cover crops and perennials so that bare soil is never exposed, and grazes animals in ways that mimic animals in nature. It also offers ecological benefits far beyond carbon storage: it stops soil erosion, re-mineralizes soil, protects the purity of groundwater and reduces damaging pesticide and fertilizer runoff.”

“We can’t really solve the climate crisis (and the related soil, environmental, and public health crisis) without simultaneously solving the food and farming crisis,” Cummings wrote. “We need to stop putting greenhouse gas pollution into the atmosphere (by moving to 100 percent renewable energy), but we also need to move away from chemical-intensive, energy-intensive food, factory farming and land use, as soon as possible.”

In addition to global warming, there are profound economic and social justice concerns involved.

“Out-of-touch and out-of-control governments of the world now take our tax money and spend $500 billion ... a year mainly subsidizing 50 million industrial farmers to do the wrong thing,” Cummins wrote. “Meanwhile, 700 million small family farms and herders, comprising the 3 billion people who produce 70 percent of the world’s food on just 25 percent of the world’s acreage, struggle to make ends meet…. The basic menu for a Regeneration Revolution is to unite the world’s 3 billion rural farmers, ranchers and herders with several billion health, environmental and justice-minded consumers to overturn ‘business as usual’ and embark on a global campaign of cooperation, solidarity and regeneration.”

If you’ve never heard of it before, don’t be surprised. “Regenerative agriculture has received limited attention in the establishment press, highlighted by only two recent, substantive reports in the New York Times Magazine and Salon,” Project Censored wrote.


8. Congress Passes Intrusive Data-Sharing Law Under Cover of Spending Bill

On March 21, House Republicans released a 2,232-page omnibus spending bill. It passed both houses and was signed into law in two days. Attached to the spending provisions that made it urgent “must-pass” legislation was the completely unrelated Clarifying Lawful Overseas Use of Data Act of 2018, also known as the CLOUD Act.

“The CLOUD Act enables the U.S. government to acquire data across international borders regardless of other nations’ data-privacy laws and without the need for warrants,” Project Censored summarized.

It also significantly weakens protections against foreign-government actions.

“It was never reviewed or marked up by any committee in either the House or the Senate,” the Electronic Frontier Foundation’s David Ruiz wrote. “It never received a hearing. … It was robbed of a stand-alone floor vote because Congressional leadership decided, behind closed doors, to attach this unvetted, unrelated data bill to the $1.3 trillion government spending bill.” Congressional leadership failed to listen to citizen concerns, Ruiz wrote, with devastating consequences:

“Because of this failure, U.S. and foreign police will have new mechanisms to seize data across the globe. Because of this failure, your private emails, your online chats, your Facebook, Google, Flickr photos, your Snapchat videos, your private lives online, your moments shared digitally between only those you trust, will be open to foreign law enforcement without a warrant and with few restrictions on using and sharing your information, privacy and human rights,” concluded Robyn Greene, who reported for Just Security.

“The little corporate news coverage that the CLOUD Act received tended to put a positive spin on it,” Project Censored noted. “(A glowing Washington Post op-ed) made no mention of potential risks to the privacy of citizens’ personal data, (and a CNET report that) highlighted the liberties that the CLOUD Act would provide corporations by simplifying legal issues concerning overseas servers.”

Because of this failure, U.S. laws will be bypassed on U.S. soil. Greene noted that the CLOUD Act negates protections of two interrelated existing laws. It creates an exception to the Stored Communications Act that allows certified foreign governments to request personal data directly from U.S. companies.

“This exception enables those countries to bypass the Mutual Legal Assistance Treaty process, which protects human rights by requiring foreign governments to work with the Department of Justice to obtain warrants from U.S. judges before they can access that data for their criminal investigations,” Greene explained. “The version of the bill that was included in the omnibus does include some improvements over the earlier version to help to mitigate the risks of bypassing the MLAT process … two changes (that) are important improvements. … Several other concerns have been left entirely unaddressed.”

“While the bill sponsors did try to address some of the concerns that have been raised, the improvements are not enough to shift the balance so that the CLOUD Act will be a boon, rather than a threat, to privacy and human rights,” Greene concluded.


9. Indigenous Communities Around World Helping to Win Legal Rights of Nature

In March 2017, the government of New Zealand ended a 140-year dispute with an indigenous Maori tribe by enacting a law that officially recognized the Whanganui River, which the tribe considers their ancestor, as a living entity with rights.

The Guardian reported it as “a world-first,” although the surrounding Te Urewera National Park had been similarly recognized in a 2014 law, and the U.S. Supreme Court came within one vote of potentially recognizing such a right in the 1972 case Sierra Club v. Morton, expressed in a dissent by Justice William O. Douglas. In addition, the broader idea of “rights of nature” has been adopted in Ecuador, Bolivia and by some American communities, noted Mihnea Tanasescu, writing for The Conversation.

The tribe’s perspective was explained to The Guardian by its lead negotiator, Gerrard Albert.

“We consider the river an ancestor and always have,” Albert said. “We have fought to find an approximation in law so that all others can understand that from our perspective treating the river as a living entity is the correct way to approach it, as in indivisible whole, instead of the traditional model for the last 100 years of treating it from a perspective of ownership and management.”

But that could be just the beginning. “It is a critical precedent for acknowledging the Rights of Nature in legal systems around the world,” Kayla DeVault reported for YES! Magazine. Others are advancing this perspective, DeVault wrote: “In response to the Standing Rock Sioux battle against the Dakota Access pipeline, the Ho-Chunk Nation of Wisconsin amended its constitution to include the Rights of Nature. This is the first time a North American tribe has used a Western legal framework to adopt such laws. Some American municipalities have protected their watersheds against fracking by invoking Rights of Nature.”

“A few corporate media outlets have covered the New Zealand case and subsequent decisions in India,” Project Censored noted. “However, these reports have not provided the depth of coverage found in the independent press or addressed how legal decisions in other countries might provide models for the United States.”


10. FBI Racially Profiling “Black Identity Extremists”

While white supremacists were preparing for the “Unite the Right” demonstration in Charlottesville, which resulted in the murder of Heather Heyer in August 2017, the FBI’s counterterrorism division produced an intelligence assessment warning of a very different—though actually non-existent threat: “Black Identity Extremists.” The report appeared to be the first time the term had been used to identify a movement, according to Foreign Policy magazine, which broke the story.

“But former government officials and legal experts said no such movement exists, and some expressed concern that the term is part of a politically motivated effort to find an equivalent threat to white supremacists,” Foreign Policy reported.

“The use of terms like ‘black identity extremists’ is part of a long-standing FBI attempt to define a movement where none exists,” said former FBI agent Mike German, who now works for the Brennan Center for Justice. “Basically, it’s black people who scare them.”

“It’s classic Hoover-style labeling with little bit of maliciousness and euphemism wrapped up together,” said William Maxwell, a Washington University professor working on a book about FBI monitoring of black writers. “The language … strikes me as weird and really a continuation of the worst of Hoover’s past.”

“There is a long tradition of the FBI targeting black activists and this is not surprising,” Black Lives Matter activist DeRay McKesson told Foreign Policy.

A former homeland security official told them that carelessly connecting unrelated groups will make it harder for law enforcement to identify real threats. It’s so convoluted that it’s compromising officer safety, the former official said.

“The corporate media (has) covered the FBI report on ‘black identity extremists’ in narrow or misleading ways,” Project Censored noted, citing examples from The New York Times, Fox News and NBC News. “Coverage like this both draws focus away from the active white supremacist movement and feeds the hate and fear on which such a movement thrive.”

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