Both the Delta Variant and Thin-Willed Democrats Are Lethal to Our Society

Environment & Health EPA Approval of PFAS for Fracking May Spell a New Health Crisis for Communities Politics & Elections Both the Delta Variant and Thin-Willed Democrats Are Lethal to Our Society Environment & Health Biden Promotes $100 Incentives to Encourage Unvaccinated to Get Their Shots Environment & Health Exxon-Influenced Senators Carved Climate Out of Infrastructure Almost Entirely Environment & Health Chomsky: We Need Genuine International Cooperation to Tackle the Climate Crisis Politics & Elections The Right Wing Wants Misinformation and Manufactured Ignorance, Not Democracy Two headlines had themselves a nasty little car accident in my mind yesterday. “Pro-Sanders Group Rebranding Into ‘Pragmatic Progressives’” blew through a stoplight and t-boned “‘The War Has Changed’: Internal CDC Document Urges New Messaging, Warns Delta Infections Likely More Severe,” right there in the intersection of my prefrontal lobe. Shattered safety glass everywhere, air bags sagging over steering wheels, a side-view mirror in the gutter like a lost shoe… it was ugly. “The delta variant of the coronavirus appears to cause more severe illness than earlier variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox,” reads the grim tide of words under the second headline, from the Washington Post. “The [Centers for Disease Control] document strikes an urgent note, revealing the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, leaping from target to target more swiftly than Ebola or the common cold.” Of course, I have absolutely had it with the “Because Trump” brigade and their Bellagio fountain of self-interested bullshit when it comes to getting the shot (among a great many other things, but we’ll leave that for later). Those who refuse to be masked and/or vaccinated as they cling to right-wing conspiracy theories have become petri dishes for the variants that are stealing more and more lives and putting all of us at grave risk. “Pro-Sanders Group Rebranding Into ‘Pragmatic Progressives,’” however, is the jerk that ran the light. “Rather than insisting on ‘Medicare for All’ — Sanders’ trademark universal, government-funded health care plan — or the climate-change-fighting Green New Deal, Our Revolution is focusing on the more modest alternatives endorsed by President Joe Biden,” reports the Associated Press. Check me here, because I could very well be off-base: In a time when drastic measures are shriekingly necessary to stave off a whole cavalcade of calamities, an advocacy group founded on the principles of lifelong advocate Bernie Sanders is downshifting from progressive advocacy to some sort of milquetoast cuddling with the conservative Democrat in the White House? The guy who got one quarter of what he asked for in his first infrastructure try and dared to call it a triumph after the Republicans ate his (and our) lunch. “The senator didn’t comment for this story,” reads the report, and Christ on crutches, I hope that means Sanders doesn’t endorse this move. Progressive advocacy groups are not supposed to get along with the conservatives they’re advocating against. Activists on our side seldom get what they came for, and are usually struggling against terrible odds — and that is the fugging point. We seldom get what we want, but we always push for what everyone needs. The view is foreshortened when your shoulder is to the wheel, and sometimes we don’t recognize progress when it happens. We never stop, and 20 years later, we look behind us and maybe say with dim surprise, “Damn, we got some stuff done.” The view is foreshortened when your shoulder is to the wheel, and sometimes we don’t recognize progress when it happens. But what we cannot do is trade in our shovels for some spats and a snazzy seat on the rubber chicken circuit. Shame upon you, “Our Revolution.” Your revolution isn’t just over; you surrendered. God save us from our “friends.” There were 71,621 new COVID infections yesterday, a two-week increase of 151 percent. The president and the media are going back and forth about “messaging” while nihilist Republicans do everything they can to kill off their own voter base (and everyone else) with lies and galling distractions. The Delta variant gains steam, and Democrats haggle over what to cut from vital legislation, with the cool hand of “Our Revolution” pressed fondly against their backs. We are embarked upon dark waters, again. It will be worse in two weeks, because this is COVID, and it’s always worse in two weeks when the virus trends as it does today. This is no time for advocates to seek the low road; it’s already underwater, and no half-assed infrastructure bill can fix it. “Stout hearts” is all I have to offer. I am holding on to mine with both hands, but as Stephen Crane wrote, it is bitter — bitter… “But I like it because it is bitter, and because it is my heart.” Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

The Delta Variant Is Feasting on the Unvaxxed — and It’s Getting Worse

“If matters continue as they are,” I wrote on July 6 about vaccinations and the Delta variant of COVID, “a bright new line will be drawn between ‘Two Americas’: The Vaccinated vs. the Unvaccinated.” The Wall Street Journal this morning would seem to agree: “The Delta variant is hardening a divide between people who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 and those who aren’t, prompting hospitals to brace for new case surges and health authorities to redouble vaccination efforts. Now the most common strain in the U.S., Delta is spreading as public life resumes at restaurants, sporting events and other public settings across the country.”

Billionaire Tax Cheat Travels to Space for a Few Minutes

It isn’t often that we see a New York Times paragraph so freighted with syrup and honeyed goo, but there it was on Sunday afternoon, like something you’d order at IHOP to beat back a hangover: “Soaring more than 50 miles into the hot, glaringly bright skies above New Mexico, Richard Branson at last fulfilled a dream that took decades to realize: He can now call himself an astronaut.” Better lede: “Fulfilling his desire to beat a fellow billionaire into the lowest verge of space, notorious tax cheat Richard Branson burned some of the money he owes his home country in order to fling himself past the troposphere so he could experience weightlessness for as much time as it takes to make a decent bowel movement. An achievement that will go down in corporate history, Branson now holds bragging rights over the guy whose monopolies are eating the economy alive.” Not what I’d call the right stuff.

Trump’s Grand Jury Is Fodder for GOP Fundraising But Terrible for GOP Politics

The real rumblings began last week. “The New York attorney general’s office said Tuesday that it is conducting a criminal investigation into former President Donald Trump’s business empire, expanding what had previously been a civil probe,” the Associated Press reported. The pivot from civil to criminal meant the investigations would now include the work of New York District Attorney Cyrus Vance. Attorney General Letitia James’s office also let it be known that they were squeezing the Trump Organization’s longtime finance chief and Man Who Knows Everything, Allen Weisselberg, for as much as he will give.

Dark Money Groups Are Pouring Untold Millions Into 2021 Redistricting Efforts

Redistricting is the process of redrawing the maps that decide the makeup of congressional and state districts. In 42 states, it is controlled by elected state-level politicians. That means that in all but eight states, whichever party controls the state capitol will also have the final say over how congressional districts are drawn. This cycle, the stakes could not be higher.

Warmonger Rahm Emanuel Is an Abysmal Choice for US Ambassador

Remember the song about the cat? Well, the cat came back the very next day / Oh, the cat came back, they thought he was a goner but the cat came back / He just couldn’t stay away… Well, it won’t be official for a few weeks, but the word landed yesterday: Rahm Emanuel, among the most despised individuals within and without Democratic Party politics, will be named U.S. ambassador to Japan. The cat came back, and has apparently landed a key assignment in the foreign service.

Facebook Board Announces Trump Remains Banned. Trump Starts His Own “Platform.”

Prisons & Policing Jailers Tortured and Murdered Marvin Scott III, Family Says After Viewing Video Politics & Elections A New Wave of Jim Crow Laws Is Here. Here’s What You Need to Know. Politics & Elections Facebook Board Announces Trump Remains Banned. Trump Starts His Own “Platform.” Immigration Biden’s U-Turn on Refugees Aligns With Voter Support for Pro-Immigrant Policies Economy & Labor Amazon Is Dictating Personal Hygiene, Nail Length of Contract Drivers Politics & Elections Judge Says DOJ Memo on Barr’s Decision Not to Charge Trump Must Be Released “So shines a good deed in a weary world,” said Willy Wonka when confronted with an unexpected kindness. The candy master may have had similar words about today’s decision by Facebook’s new 20-person “Oversight Board.” For the time being at least, the silence will continue to reign, and a weary world sighs in palpable relief. “The Board has upheld Facebook’s decision on January 7, 2021, to restrict then-President Donald Trump’s access to posting content on his Facebook page and Instagram account,” the board said in a much-anticipated statement this morning. The decision surprised many, given Facebook’s rightward turn under the influence of Joel Kaplan, a former George W. Bush White House official who currently runs the social media giant’s powerful Washington, D.C. office. Time and again during the Trump administration, Facebook scrambled like a frog on a hot plate to rewire its rules in a way that made Trump’s gruesomely unacceptable proclamations palatable to the algorithms that run the site. Color me among the surprised; I would have lost a bet on this one. “Facebook has constrained its efforts against false and misleading news, adopted a policy explicitly allowing politicians to lie, and even altered its news feed algorithm to neutralize claims that it was biased against conservative publishers,” reports The Washington Post. “And as Trump grew in power, the fear of his wrath pushed Facebook into more deferential behavior toward its growing number of right-leaning users, tilting the balance of news people see on the network, according to the current and former employees.” Ultimately, Trump ran out of running room on January 6 of this year, when he went wild on Facebook as his supporters smashed their way into the Capitol building in Washington, D.C. The ban was handed down the next day. The board’s decision seemed to include a not-so-subtle scold aimed directly at Facebook owner Mark Zuckerberg: However, it was not appropriate for Facebook to impose the indeterminate and standardless penalty of indefinite suspension. Facebook’s normal penalties include removing the violating content, imposing a time-bound period of suspension, or permanently disabling the page and account. The Board insists that Facebook review this matter to determine and justify a proportionate response that is consistent with the rules that are applied to other users of its platform. Facebook must complete its review of this matter within six months of the date of this decision. The Board also made policy recommendations for Facebook to implement in developing clear, necessary, and proportionate policies that promote public safety and respect freedom of expression. For the Trump camp, at least in the six-month short term, the board’s decision is a bigly expensive deal. Beyond the immediate contact with the public provided by social media platforms, Facebook has been a dual engine for Trump: The spreading of the kind of incendiary propaganda and misinformation that is devoured by his base, combined with a massive fundraising pool. “And while GOP operatives are gaming out just what it would mean to give back the former president a powerful media bullhorn, the real impact, they say, will be seen in dollar signs,” Politico reported a day before the decision was handed down. “A return to Facebook would open major fundraising spigots that further cement Trump’s hold on the Republican Party, protecting his massive grassroots donor network from potential rivals.” As corporate titans, politicians, the media and the rest of us wrestle with the concept of free speech in the immediacy of a wired world, Donald Trump will remain mostly muzzled down in Florida for the time being. Perhaps in anticipation of the board’s decision — or maybe just to stick a nyah-nyah-I-don’t-need-you thumb in Facebook’s eye — Trump has launched what he calls a “communications platform” that will be “a place to speak freely and safely.” In fact, it’s just a basic training-wheels blog, and a pretty shabby one at that. Trump is allowed to natter on at any length he wishes; the only way for readers to speak “freely and safely” is by clicking any of the ubiquitous donation buttons. If the thing had come with the ancient AOL login sound, I would not be surprised. Reaction from the Trump camp was swift. “If you’re surprised by Facebook banning President Trump, you haven’t been paying attention,” whined former White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows. “It’s just the latest page in the book of big tech coming after conservatives. And they won’t stop. Which means it’s past time to hold them accountable. Break them up.” The Facebook Board’s decision/non-decision adds another layer of complexity to the debate over free speech in the age of social media and the massive corporations that control them. Trump deserved to be banned for his January 6 comments, which cheered on the violent sacking of the Capitol building that resulted in multiple deaths and injuries. The issues of where to draw that line and who gets to draw it remain unresolved. The board has punted to Zuckerberg, and the possible future of online free speech now sits in his hands. This is an uncomfortable thought, to put it lightly. The limits of free speech remain among the most complicated issues in American jurisprudence, especially in the technological wonderland of the 21st century. The search for some form of standardized rules and strictures has been ongoing since the founding of the nation. In 1919, Supreme Court Justice Oliver Wendell Holmes coined the famous free speech metric, “falsely shouting fire in a crowded theater.” For decades, that has served as a simple yardstick for the limits of speech. As with all issues of speech, however, the matter is not as straightforward as it seems. The case that inspired Holmes’s iconic line, Schneck vs. United States, actually stands as one of the most viciously anti-speech decisions the court has ever handed down. Charles Schneck, a socialist, was charged with violating the 1917 Espionage Act for handing out pamphlets condemning the draft during World War I. Holmes’s “fire,” in short, was an activist protesting a war. This garbage anti-speech standard stood until it was partially overturned by the landmark Brandenberg v. Ohio decision in 1969, some 50 years later and in the middle of yet another war. Remember this the next time you see that “fire in a crowded theater” line. It sounds entirely straightforward, pithy even, yet its history is one of suppression and militaristic fearmongering. It will serve no use for the social media giants trying to figure out where to draw the line. Fire in a theater, indeed. Moreover, what we have here in the Facebook Board’s decision is a matter of ethics, and not an actual legal statement. Bluntly, nobody has a “right” to a Facebook account, and free speech laws apply as protections from state and federal actions, not corporate decisions. The board has no inherent legal power, and these questions of legality will remain in place until a court has a flesh-and-blood case it can rule on, which would set the legal precedent going forward. As corporate titans, politicians, the media and the rest of us wrestle with the concept of free speech in the immediacy of a wired world, Donald Trump will remain mostly muzzled down in Florida for the time being. This is nothing but a stupendous public good, as he has not backed off one inch from his championing of the Capitol attackers and his ruinous lies about a stolen election. Trump still largely controls the Republican Party, and has a massive civilian following at his back. Were he at the bottom of a well, he would still retain the power to blow up the news cycle if he so chose, and could raise a million dollars an hour while he was at it. The board’s decision changes none of this, and answers no larger questions. It will remain quieter around here, though, and for now that will have to do. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

Facebook Will Announce Tomorrow Whether Trump and His Fascist Posts Can Return

Politics & Elections Facebook Will Announce Tomorrow Whether Trump and His Fascist Posts Can Return Economy & Labor Mutual Aid Efforts Are Working to Fill the Gaps of Biden’s COVID Response Economy & Labor Amazon’s Anti-Union Bullying Shows Why We Need the PRO Act Economy & Labor Tax Dodgers Owe US Over $7 Trillion, Says Janet Yellen Politics & Elections Biden Picks Warren Ally to Oversee Student Aid, Signaling Shift on Student Debt Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends Have you enjoyed the quiet? I hope so, because it might be over. According to a report in Tuesday’s Washington Post, a cobbled clutch of “experts” from Facebook that calls itself the “Oversight Board” will soon decide whether or not to let Donald Trump back on the platform. This Board, which the Post says is “a less than one-year-old body that describes itself as an ‘experiment’ in the regulation of online speech,” will render its decision on Wednesday. Once settled, this decision will likely set the bar for what constitutes the acceptable-to-corporate-ownership boundaries of permissible free speech on social media, and will likewise be the precedent for how world leaders are treated by Facebook and other platforms going forward. There is every possibility that tomorrow will return us to the Age of Bad Noise. If the Board sides with power over common sense, Trump (along a whole lot of other tinpot autocrats) can continue polluting our minds with paranoid ranting on free social media, and the hapless press will, of course, amplify their every bent thought and twisted accusation. Why? Because, as ever, it’s good television. It is difficult to quantify the damage done by Trump’s flagrant misuse of social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter (and God help us if Twitter ever lets him back in). Here was a leader bereft of morals and out for blood, able at any moment in the day to slather the political discussion with lies, threats, complaints and vapid declarations of victory. Even now, I remember how hard it was to navigate the signal-to-noise ratio on a busy Trump Twitter day. It was like trying to collect a thought in the middle of a rock storm. The din may have felt new to us when the Trump era hit, but in one pointed way, the former president’s use of social media to confound and unhinge the national discourse is one of the oldest tricks in the book. Specifically, it is a tactic long used by fascists seeking to gain and hold power. The idea is not to debate, but to damage debate beyond repair so that even the simplest facts are open to question. In such a muddled, confused environment, fascism can flourish. What is fascism, besides being a serious word not to be bandied about lightly? Nazi fascism was its own specific ethos, outlined in excruciating detail by Adolf Hitler in Mein Kampf. In Italy, Benito Mussolini’s concept of fascism was captured in the Treccani Encyclopedia. In Spain, fascist leader Francisco Franco had his own ideas on fascist Catholicism, and fascists in the U.S. have spent decades attempting to unite their ideology with splinter Evangelical Christianity. Is there a collective definition for fascism amid all these varieties, and if so, do Donald Trump and “Trumpism” fall into that spectrum? Celebrated author Umberto Eco, himself a survivor of European fascism, endeavored to create precisely that sort of collective definition, which he called “ur-Fascism” in a 1995 essay for The New York Review of Books. Is there a collective definition for fascism, and if so, does Donald Trump and “Trumpism” fall into that spectrum? “Fascism was philosophically out of joint, but emotionally it was firmly fastened to some archetypal foundations,” he wrote. “But in spite of this fuzziness, I think it is possible to outline a list of features that are typical of what I would like to call Ur-Fascism, or Eternal Fascism. These features cannot be organized into a system; many of them contradict each other, and are also typical of other kinds of despotism or fanaticism. But it is enough that one of them be present to allow fascism to coagulate around it.” Eco fashioned 14 “features” of ur-Fascism to explain the overall phenomenon. The first of these is a fanatical adherence to tradition, something Trump used to create his entire political persona: I will bring us back to better days, when people respected and honored all the things you believe in. The second feature is a rejection of modernism, which again has become a staple of current Republican groupthink. This new world is happening too fast, too many people are getting rights they shouldn’t have. Modernism is the death of tradition, a fact Trump has used to great effect. The third feature, irrationalism, preaches action for action’s sake, thoughtless, heedless, bereft of self-awareness. “Action being beautiful in itself, it must be taken before, or without, any previous reflection,” writes Eco. “Thinking is a form of emasculation.” Heedless action on social media: Who does that sound like? The fourth feature is the complete dismissal of analytical criticism. One does not question the leader, the party, or the actions that have been taken. “For ur-Fascism,” writes Eco, “disagreement is treason.” That line may as well have been at the top of the 2020 Republican platform, had they bothered to make one. The fifth feature is a radical hatred of diversity. Fascism requires rigid adherence to a basic way of being, a code, a slate of honored traditions. Outsiders are to be feared and shunned in the quest to create a perfectly homogenized society. “Thus,” writes Eco, “Fascism is racist by definition.” See: Trump’s border and immigration policies. The sixth feature states that ur-Fascism derives its power from individual or social frustration. This, perhaps more than the others, is the hallmark of Trumpism, the iron spine of its power and influence. Millions of people who feel left behind in this rapidly changing world grapple with fear and fury, and Trump taps that aquifer with a deftly swung sledgehammer. Six features in, and we have checked every box with a heavy marker. The other features — loud nationalism, jealousy of the enemy, a permanent state of conflict, disdain for elites and elitism, the championing of the masculine, a populism that preaches rights only for the righteous few, and the creation of a new vocabulary that stifles complex and critical reasoning — are all straight out of the Trumpian playbook. Umberto Eco seems to have seen Donald Trump coming for 20 years. If Trump is allowed back on Facebook, he will again pursue an aggressive campaign of chaos aimed at disrupting the essential workings of democracy to his own ends, and he already has a devoted mass following. The Facebook “Board” should let the silence rule a while longer. Trump and his followers aren’t here to talk, or to share, or even to lead. They are here to break things, as evidenced on January 6. Don’t let them. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

India and Brazil’s COVID Crises Show We Must End the Fiction of Borders

Politics & Elections India and Brazil’s COVID Crises Show We Must End the Fiction of Borders Human Rights 125 Democrats Say Military Aid to Israel Shouldn’t Depend on Human Rights Record Prisons & Policing University of California Pushes to Militarize and Expand Its Police Force Politics & Elections Sanders Accuses McConnell of Hypocrisy and Corruption in Scathing KY Speech Immigration DHS Touts Reuniting Just 4 of More Than 1,000 Separated Migrant Families Human Rights Over 10 Million People Could Become Homeless When Eviction Moratorium Ends A new poll says that most of us are optimistic about the country’s future (with a margin of error of plus or minus eleventy billion, of course). According to ABC News/Ipsos, a full 64 percent of the country believes we are on the right track. It makes sense: The president of the United States is no longer screaming 20 hours a day about whatever happens to pass his screen. New COVID-19 infections are down by almost a quarter, and the number of COVID deaths has also dropped. Close to half the country has been at least partially vaccinated. The weather is turning, and opportunities for outdoor activities are expanding. Yet the home front news is far from all good, polls notwithstanding. Scientists and public health experts are rapidly concluding that achieving herd immunity in the U.S. is probably out of reach now, due in no small degree to vaccine hesitancy on the part of millions of Republicans and evangelical Christians, who somehow believe they are assisting Donald Trump’s 2024 presidential campaign by shunning the needle. Many of the people gumming up herd immunity are doing so out of ideological purity. The irony here is that Trump and members of his administration spent last winter arguing that we should let the virus run wild. Sure, it might kill millions, they said, but we’ll nail herd immunity at the end of that road of bones. Once those wreckers were dispossessed of power, it was hoped the new administration might be able to convince a preponderance of the people that the vaccines are safe, effective and devoid of politics. To date, that has not happened to a sufficient degree. “Instead,” reports The New York Times, “[medical experts] are coming to the conclusion that rather than making a long-promised exit, the virus will most likely become a manageable threat that will continue to circulate in the United States for years to come, still causing hospitalizations and deaths but in much smaller numbers.” Not great, entirely galling, but better than where we were… yet there is an illusory element to all this new data and the happy feelings they bring. This hard-won moment is unbelievably fragile, and for one simple reason: Borders are a legal fiction that COVID-19 and its variants could not give less of a damn about, and COVID is still very much on the move. India: “After a devastating week of soaring infections, India reported more than 400,000 new cases Saturday, a global record. Experts believe that number will climb even higher in the coming days, an unimaginable burden for a health system already under siege with hospitals issuing pleas for oxygen,” reports The Washington Post. “The powerful resurgence of infections in India — a country where cases had ebbed just months earlier — is also a reminder that the coronavirus is far from controlled around the world, even with vaccination rates climbing in many countries.” South America: “At least 100,000 Brazilians have died in the last 36 days and 100,000 more are expected to lose their lives before July,” reports the Guardian. “Last week South America, home to 5.5% of the world’s population, suffered nearly 32 percent of all reported Covid deaths. ‘What’s happening is a catastrophe,’ Argentina’s health minister, Carla Vizzotti, admitted as her country’s Covid restrictions were extended until late May.” The fictions of borders and “rugged individualism” must be dismissed out of hand, for we are all in this together. The U.S. is rushing aid to India, and the Biden administration claims that it is doing everything it can to help that nation weather the storm, though clearly more could be done. Brazil’s pleas for help, by contrast, are being generally ignored by the world at present. Jair Bolsonaro is not the one being punished here; the people of Brazil are suffering. Moreover, if COVID’s history is any guide, what is happening in those countries will not stay in those countries. When it arrives here — when, not if — this new wave of COVID and its variants will find a half-vaccinated nation in a pretty good mood, and that good mood will sour like milk left out in the sun. A country still fighting over masks, a country that prioritizes capitalism’s profits over its own people, is not ready to confront any number of the worst-case scenarios that lurk at the business end of this threat. That must change, immediately. “There is no such thing as the State,” notes poet W.H. Auden in September 1, 1939, “and no one exists alone.” The fiction of borders, of “rugged individualism,” must be dismissed out of hand, for we are all in this together. If the COVID crisis is not immediately treated by the U.S. and the world as a global crisis, if a global solution is not collectively achieved, we will eventually arrive at a global calamity so bleak, even the poets will be wordstruck. Copyright © Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission.

How Long Before The Senate Approves The SAFE Banking Act?

Marijuana businesses have been operating on an all-cash basis for years now. No thanks to the federal government’s ancient policies that make accessing the services of banks and lenders impossible for...

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