Night Owls, a themed open thread, appears at Daily Kos seven days a week

Stephen Engelberg at Pro-Publica writes—America Is About to Lose Its 200,000th Life to Coronavirus. How Many More Have to Die?

[…] At ProPublica, it was Andrea Wise, a story producer working for us on contract, who in early May asked: What are we planning for the 100,000th confirmed COVID-19 death? The result was a story we published on May 27 by Caroline Chen that looked back at how we got here and forward to how we might avoid reaching another grim milestone. As we wrote at the time: “The full tragedy of the pandemic hinges on one question: How do we stop the next 100,000?”

The sad, infuriating answer for the country that spends more per capita on health care than any other in the world: We couldn’t.

That makes this a moment worthy of some reflection. The United States will record the 200,000th COVID-19 death in days, just four months after the toll hit 100,000. Caroline pointed out in May that the best way to slow the spread of the virus would be to deploy “the oldest mitigation tactics in the public health arsenal.” That would have meant widespread testing to identify those who had caught the virus, quarantining and tracing the contacts of both symptomatic and asymptomatic carriers who could spread the disease to the most vulnerable.

“Being slow to act comes with a terrible cost,” she wrote.

Caroline and I had pulled together a list of many of the steps to slow down the virus in a road map we addressed to the nation’s governors back in April. Our advice was drawn from interviews with health authorities and experts in countries that were successfully battling the pandemic.

Hardly any states followed the practices that had worked well elsewhere. […]

TOP COMMENTS 

QUOTATION

“To set foot on the soil of the asteroids, to lift by hand a rock from the Moon, to observe Mars from a distance of several tens of kilometers, to land on its satellite or even on its surface, what can be more fantastic? From the moment of using rocket devices a new great era will begin in astronomy: the epoch of the more intensive study of the firmament. “ ~~Konstantin Eduardovich Tsiolkovsky (1896)
 

TWEET OF THE DAY

No one should forget that lying bigot @VP* Mike Pence was tasked to lead lies about Coronavirus. He refused to wear masks for months. He knew too. He killed people too.— Ricky Davila (@TheRickyDavila) September 18, 2020

BLAST FROM THE PAST

At Daily Kos on this date in 2011—High school textbooks shortchange kids by excluding labor history:

A new report by the Albert Shanker Institute and the American Labor Studies Center argues that history textbooks exclude labor from the history that American schoolchildren learn. Their review of four leading high school history textbooks finds that the books:

often implicitly (and, at times, explicitly) represent labor organizing and labor disputes as inherently violent;
virtually ignore the vital role of organized labor in winning broad social protections, such as child labor laws, Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid, the Occupational
Safety and Health Administration, and the Environmental Protection Agency;
ignore the important role that organized labor played in the civil rights movement; and
pay scant attention to unionism after the 1950s, thus completely ignoring the rise of public sector unionization, which brought generations of Americans into the middle class and gave new rights to public employees.

On today’s Kagro in the Morning show: Greg Dworkin has some interesting new issue polling. Horse race, though? Steady. Trump pits himself squarely against scientists on the vaccine. The mechanics of “What if Trump won’t leave?” Oh, and there’s another Trump sex assault accusation.

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A Michigan pastor has been hearing a whole lot from the public recently after sending an email to journalist Sarah Jeong—which was then posted by Jeong on her Twitter account. In the email, the christian (with a little “c”) David Muns threatens Jeong with genital mutilation, calling her a “bitter Asian woman.” The entirety of his statement will be discussed below, and includes graphic language, but those are the broad strokes.

Muns was supposedly responding to a meme that attributed a fake quote to Jeong, from her time on The New York Times editorial board. Someone (or someones) spent a good amount of time coming up with some wildly awful things to say about white folks and white children, and then attributed them all to Jeong. These quotes were debunked back in 2018, but Muns, not much for reading deeply into things, clearly missed the memo.

The nasty email that Muns sent reads: “How about if we took all the little bitter Asian women and had a lottery and cut their clits like the Muslims do. Not a very classy position is it, neither is your trashy little bitter personality towards white men. Only in a world where journalism is controlled by brain dead Liberals do you people even have jobs.” He signs it “Muns,” and I guess we can forgive him the typos since the email also says it was sent from his iPad. He without sin and all of that.

Muns is the pastor at the Christian Life Church in Macomb Township, and is likely speaking in front of his flock as I write this (he reportedly holds services on Sundays at 10 AM and also on Wednesdays at 7 PM). According to ClickonDetroit, Muns has yet to apologize to Jeong for not only being a tremendous misogynistic racist asshole, but also for attacking her based on a fake quote attributed to her that said white men should be castrated. 

Muns reportedly sort of didn’t apologize on Wednesday, saying “My response is terrible, but what I was responding to was simply reversed of exactly what she posted towards white men and I just reversed it and said, ‘How would you feel?’”

Well, not great. How about Muns aims some of that Christian fire and brimstone hatred for the people allegedly sterilizing immigrant women in the name of racism and medical malpractice, under the umbrella of our conservative-run government?

Muns hasn’t really apologized. He’s just said that he shouldn’t have “responded.” Responded to the fake meme? Responded to it if it had been real? It’s interesting for a person like Muns to be caught up in this situation. It’s very revealing. For one, he was wrong. The information he’s pushing out there is as incorrect as the information he’s sending back about “brain dead Liberals” controlling the media. We don’t. Brain dead liberals share the facts and the information that is readily available to anyone with a legitimately critical mind. Sure, the media is controlled mostly by moneyed interests, which includes religious interests.

That being said, Pastor Muns had to close down the church’s email account since people started sending him all kinds of emails after Jeong posted his statement publicly.

You would be surprised at how many people send me these kinds of messages from their work emails. But using the domain for your online church is a new low, and yes, I am going post your email on the internet.— sarah jeong (@sarahjeong) September 15, 2020

The reason Muns cannot sincerely apologize for saying such awful, un-Christian like things is because people like David Muns are running from the real darkness: themselves. I mean it is in the Bible. Just go check out Exodus 20:21.

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If you have at some point stumbled across a political group on Facebook (of course) calling itself “Democrat Voters Against Joe Biden,” you probably noticed a few things that made the group sound … suspicious. First, it is not likely that a true group of Democratic voters would use an illiterate-sounding conservative slur to refer to themselves: “Democrat Voters” is a Luntzian term used by hardline partisan Republicans, who remain utterly convinced that using a noun where an adjective should be used is the Ultimate Lib Ownage for reasons that remain mysterious to this day.

Second: Also that. Third and fourth: That, but repeated. Honestly, if you’re going to be so lazy in setting up your fake trolling operation that you can’t even be bothered to run your proposed name through the ol’ Partisan Despittler 3000, give back the damn check and go home already. Gawd, what an embarrassment.

The Daily Beast discovered the group, and investigated its (cough) oranges, and reports their findings: The group “Democrat Voters Against Joe Biden” is quite possibly one of the laziest attempted political trolls ever run. It is a project of Americans for Responsible Government, a conservative nonprofit. It parrots the exact talking points being promoted in other far-right internet puddles, concerns about Biden’s “mental state” that appeared everywhere in Republicanism, all at once, after Donald Trump got mocked for shuffling down a gentle incline in a not-exactly-presidential fashion.

It “so far” has one (1) video testimonial from an allegedly disgruntled “Democrat Voter.” It is by a “Tracy,” who turns out to be a longtime Trump supporter whose son is, reports The Daily Beast, a field organizer for Trump’s campaign.

Perhaps the best part, though, is the website. The Daily Beast notes that language on the “Democrat Voters” website “is copied nearly verbatim from the [Republican Voters Against Trump] website, with some minor stylistic changes and Biden’s name switched out for Trump’s.”

Oh my God that is so on-brand it genuinely hurts. A conservative group was feeling stung by the not-fake “Republican Voters Against Trump” campaign. The response was, of course, to launch a fake group, featuring a fake testimonial from a fake Democratic voter, and cut-and-pasting the “Republican Voters Against Trump” language almost verbatim rather than rubbing even two brain cells together to write up their supposedly deep convictions themselves.

I mean, c’mon. It’s almost parody, it’s so on-brand. The liberal critique of modern conservatism is that it stands for Absolutely Nothing, and has no ideas or even general thoughts aside from being reflexively opposed to whatever any Democrat says, under any circumstances, without exception. The conservative response to this has repeatedly been to say nuh-uh while launching campaign after campaign premised on “whatever those Democrats are saying, but the exact opposite.”

In some cases, by literally taking anti-conservative campaign materials, copying it into their own campaigns, reversing names and parties as needed and calling it done. And billing for it.

C’mon. And Republican donors are paying money, actual money, for these clown shows.

It is on that note that I announce the discovery of a new group, which is an entirely Republican group and filled with the most prominent conservative names you can never quite remember. It is called Stupid Republicans Who Are Stupid And Say Stupid Things And Lick Public Bathroom Faucet Handles For Trump. It’s completely legitimate and has nothing to do with me, just a normal group of Republicans having normal Republican opinions, all on the up-and-up. Also, please pay me cash for creating a website on their behalf. SRWASASSTALPBFHFT will be a major force in the campaign this year, just you wait.

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Somehow September’s already more than half over.

Weird, right? Feels like it just started.

But, well, with just 47 days to go until Election Day, there’s no time to waste.

… unless you’re a Republican state legislator trying to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

They’ve been acting like they have all the time in the world.

Time Is On My Side: In Minnesota, where Democrats need to flip just two state Senate seats to win a governing trifecta (House, Senate, governorship), Republicans are straight-up saying the quiet part loud … except they didn’t mean for anyone else to hear.

Campaign Action

In an email intended for his GOP colleagues, Assistant House Minority Leader Jon Koznick advised that “COVID issues are not our winning message” and advised Republicans “to stay on message” by fear-mongering about crime and “PUBLIC SAFETY” in the state’s major cities.

Too bad he sent the message to the entire Democratic caucus in advance of Friday’s meeting of the legislature to deliberate Gov. Tim Walz’s emergency coronavirus mitigation policies.

Apparently the message did eventually make its way to his fellow Republicans, because they spent the day mostly just making up lies about supposed rapes and carjackings and murders in Minneapolis (which has been a favorite pastime of Minnesota GOPers for a while).
One GOP representative did indulge in some COVID-19-focused Waltz-bashing, accusing the Democrat of engaging in “fear porn” to fight the pandemic.
She’s probably just nostalgic for the super right-wing “COVID Memes” Facebook page she used to run.

And let’s not forget that Minnesota Republican lawmakers also boast among their ranks an actual doctor who came under investigation by the state medical board by claiming on Fox News and other media outlets that states were being coached by the federal government to inflate their coronavirus death tolls and for providing “reckless advice” by comparing the illness to the flu.
Needless to say, this nonsense went completely, ah, viral among COVID-19 conspiracy theorists and the right-wing media ecosystem.

Wasted Time: In Arizona, Republicans running for the state legislature have been … busy.

GOP candidate Wendy Rogers is running both for a top-targeted seat in the state Senate (LD-40) and her mouth.

In a fundraising email to supporters last week, Rogers compared herself to Kyle Rittenhouse, the conservative out-of-state agitator who’s been charged with murder for shooting and killing two people at a Black Lives Matter protest in Kenosha, Wisconsin.

Rogers also identifies herself as a member of the Oath Keepers, a far-right extremist antigovernment organization based on nonsense conspiracy theories.

Just the kind of person you want in your government making laws

Big Time: Another GOP candidate in the Grand Canyon State had a busy summer, apparently, and not because he was running for the state House (LD-12).

Republican Jake Hoffman heads a digital marketing company in Arizona called Rally Forge.
And Rally Forge was paid over the summer by a pro-Trump conservative youth group to hire teens to pump out spammy social media posts supporting the president’s reelection.
This week, the Washington Post reported that Turning Point Action used Rally Forge to run its program focused on generating often false and misleading messages regarding COVID-19, election integrity, and other pro-Trump and anti-Biden talking points via social media.
The home-grown troll farm is similar to such efforts employed by Russian troll farms in support of Trump prior to the 2016 presidential election.
The “sprawling yet secretive campaign” appears designed to evade measures put in place by various online platforms to combat online disinformation.

When asked to respond to the Post story, Hoffman defended the online spam campaign by comparing it to phone bankers working off a common script.
Because Hoffman is one of two candidates—both Republicans—running for the two House seats in LD-12, this troll farm operator is absolutely going to be a member of the state legislature next year.

Great

Time Of The Season: We’re not just in the thick of election season right now; it’s also disaster season, when wildfires, hurricanes, floods, and more threaten huge swaths of the country.

In Oregon, GOP state Sen. Fred Girod has tragically lost his home to one of the wildfires sweeping the West Coast. (He’s fine, though!)

But Girod also ironically lost his home to the wildfire.

You see, Girod was one of the GOP lawmakers who participated in multiple GOP walkouts in the Oregon Senate aimed specifically at blocking landmark environmental legislation.
Two years in a row!

Because, despite the fact that voters gave Democrats supermajorities in both chambers of the Oregon legislature, they didn’t give Democrats quorum-proof majorities. 
At least two Republicans must be present for lawmakers to have a voting quorum in the state House and in the Senate.
So they walked out and prevent any and all votes on everything just to block these environmental bills.

Because, as we know all too well from the past decade of gerrymandering across the country, Republicans will do anything and everything they can to prevent an actual majority of Democrats from exercising power.

So yes, Girod was one of the Oregon Republicans who blocked votes on watershed cap-and-trade bills.
But if you think Girod has learned a damn thing from the impacts of climate change coming home to, ah, roast (… sorry), you’d be mistaken.
Despite the overwhelming scientific consensus that the frequency and ferocity of these fires are increasing because human activity is increasing global temperatures, Girod blames the flames that consumed his home not on climate change, but on … environmentalists.
“Climate change is not the problem,” he said this week.
According to Girod, “environmentalists make it so you can’t harvest any trees,” thus “load[ing] up the timber area with nothing but fuel.”
While forest management does matter, believing it to be the sole cause of his misfortune is … well, right in line with his career in the legislature.

While Girod is up for reelection this fall, he’s likely to win another term; his SD-09 is heavily Republican and went for Trump 62-31.
One More Time: Last week in this space, I discussed the disturbing number of state legislative candidates who subscribe to absurd, racist, totally false, utterly delusional, deeply paranoid QAnon conspiracy theories.

Weirdly, some people who publicly share QAnon-related websites and falsehoods don’t appreciate being called out on it.

Such seems to be the case with Washington Rep. Jenny Graham.

In a story in a local newspaper late last month, Graham admitted to sharing articles and website that reflect QAnon beliefs.

She claimed to be “unaware of the weirder views on those sites” but expressed no regret about sharing these links via her Facebook page.

So it makes perfect sense that Graham followed up by leaving the reporter who interviewed her and wrote the piece an “explicit and threatening” 90-second voicemail.
She’s refused requests for comment on the matter from the original reporter and multiple others.
Graham is on the ballot this year, but she seems unlikely to lose reelection in this GOP-friendly district.

This person makes laws

Welp, that’s a wrap for this week.

Whether the weather is delightfully autumnal or smokily hazy or generally hurricaney, I hope you’re hanging in there.

You’ve gotta look after yourself, after all. Even if everything is terrible.

Hell, because everything is terrible.

You’re important.

The election is nigh.

And we need you.

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On Tuesday, Tucker Carlson broke away from his usual format of being racist against mostly Black people and Latino folks, to get racist against the country of China. In a segment that Fox News emblazoned with the chyron “Coronavirus Whistleblower talks to Tucker,” Tucker brought on Chinese virologist Dr. Li-Meng Yan to promote a debunked conspiracy theory that the Chinese government created the SARS-CoV-2 in a lab. Her theory is based on what she and three other colleagues say are telltale signs that the virus did not evolve naturally. 

Yan’s theory and the report she was promoting on Carlson’s show have not been peer reviewed, and since it lacks any evidence to back it up, “evidence” she claimed during the interview but never seemed to get around to presenting, has been considered debunked for months by the overwhelming majority of the scientific community. Both Facebook and Instagram (owned by Facebook) flagged Tucker Carlson virus posts as “false information.” Twitter has followed suit, suspending Yan’s account. Tucker is freaking-out mad that the social media sites, usually complicit in the right wing’s spread of misinformation and lies, is cracking down even a little on the almost always egregious lies people like Carlson promotes.

One of the ways that Tucker attempted to sell Yan to the public was that because she is Chinese herself, she cannot be racist against Chinese people and therefore isn’t wrong about accusing the Chinese Communist Party and Chinese scientists of creating the virus because she is racist. You see how that tail gets eaten by itself? The idea that Yan and this research team found special evidence in the genome of SARS-CoV-2 is interesting since the genome has been publicly available to any scientist with access to a computer and the internet for months.

Carlson’s “interview,” forgot to mention that Dr. Yan’s not-peer-reviewed “report” was published “by two nonprofit organizations, the Rule of Law Society and the Rule of Law Foundation,” both connected to former Trump adviser and generally terrible person Steve Bannon. Forbes reports that “the four authors of the paper, Li-Meng Yan, Shu Kang, and Jie Guan, and Shanchang Hu, all have the Rule of Law Society and Rule of Law Foundation as their affiliation.” The University of Hong Kong has distanced themselves from Yan, and have contradicted her personal narrative, saying “Dr. Yan never conducted any research on human-to-human transmission of the novel coronavirus at HKU during December 2019 and January 2020, her central assertion of the said interview.”

Now, any good conspiracy theorist will tell you that you cannot trust China or the University of Hong Kong, and they would have the power and the motive to smear a scientist who was accusing them of unleashing a global pandemic. But strangely, for all of the purported “evidence,” the researchers forgot to submit their explosive findings to a legitimate scientific journal. I mean, if they had that evidence, they would win Nobels and Yan would be exonerated pretty quickly.

But this is a trumped-up conspiracy theory to distract the public from the Trump administration’s homicidal neglect of our country’s national and public health security. The hope is that in promoting China as the evil concoctors of this virus as some kind of biological weapon, Americans will make the leap to believe that there was little Trump could have done to be prepared for it. Don’t try to explain it to me.

Online, people chronicled how the Bannon right-wing machine promoted this calorie-free theory instantly, pushing it into the general consciousness, or more specifically, into the right wing’s general consciousness. Everything from the New York Post pushing the conspiracy theory based on the Carlson evidence-free interview, to Yan’s heavily edited Wikipedia page, reengineered to seem more serious and rigorous than it was previously.

Tucker has since decided to go full-on in on Wuhan-created virus conspiracy theory, adding a new low to the Tucker Carlson experience. Tucker is now promoting his show by saying that Facebook, and any and every scientist that disagrees with the conspiracy theory is a part of the conspiracy theory. So while he and his surrogates will not and cannot provide actual evidence for their many outrageous claims, if you point that out … you are a part of the conspiracy.

It’s not a new angle. In fact, this has been the right wing’s entire propaganda gimmick for the last four decades. Say you are strong on National Security and supportive of the troops, while cutting back on social services and military health services that directly impact them and us. Promote that conservatives are fiscally responsible, while blowing out the deficit every time they are in a position of power. It has been effective as the majority of Americans believe that social media companies are censoring people, and most of the people screaming about being censored are right-wing websites with enormous amounts of traffic, or conspiracy-theorist hucksters. Sadly, our country’s inability to think critically is an enormous problem.

The work that needs to be done is hard work. The answers are not implemented easily. You don’t get to just post blame on something and then fold your arms and say it shouldn’t be this way. It is this way and solving the issues take work.

If you want you can watch the fact-free interview with Yan below.

YouTube Video

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Calls to end racial injustice continue across the country following the brutal murder of George Floyd, an unarmed Black man who was killed by the police. Floyd’s death has sparked a global movement and brought awareness to other violent deaths. While protesting racial injustice in Omaha, Nebraska, a young Black man was killed by a white bar owner on May 30. While police took the bar owner, Jake Gardner, into custody for shooting and killing 22-year-old James Scurlock, Gardner did not face any charges. Prosecutors of the case argued that evidence depicted that Gardner was acting in self-defense, Daily Kos reported.

On Tuesday, three months after the incident, a grand jury charged Gardner, a man with a history of violence, for killing Scurlock. In total, Gardner faces charges of manslaughter, use of a firearm in commission of a felony, attempted first-degree assault, and terroristic threats. If convicted Gardner could face up to 95 years in prison, the Omaha World-Herald reported.

“I’m more anxious now than when I was flying to Iraq,” Gardner told ABC News affiliate KETV, prior to the charge announcement.

The decision to charge Gardner follows community outrage over the decision of local prosecutors to not initially charge him. This national outrage led to the appointment of a special prosecutor, Frederick Franklin, who looked into the case more thoroughly. Douglas County Attorney Don Kleine chose not to initially charge Gardner because he concluded Gardner fired in self-defense after Scurlock jumped on his back following a group altercation. He also shared video footage, which he alleged did not include any racial slurs in the audio, as bystanders had said they heard.

During the news conference Tuesday, Franklin noted that he initially thought he would come to the same conclusion as Kleine, but more evidence was found in recent months, including evidence related to activities Gardner was partaking in prior to coming in contact with Scurlock. He added that Kleine should not be criticized for not pursuing charges earlier.

“That evidence can reasonably be construed as an attempt to use a firearm for purposes of killing someone,” Franklin said. While the evidence was not described, Franklin confirmed to the Daily Beast that material from Gardner’s cellphone, Facebook Messenger account, and a video from inside his bar was provided to the grand jurors. Additionally, investigators interviewed at least 60 witnesses. While the video did depict Scurlock jumping on Gardner and the two in a scuffle, Franklin shared that newly obtained evidence since the initial investigation “undermines” that Gardner was acting in defense. “And that evidence comes primarily from Jake Gardner himself,” Franklin said.

Despite accusations by Gardner’s relatives and some employees that he is racist, the case was not charged as a hate crime, the Omaha World-Herald reported. “There’s been discussion about whether Jake Gardner is a racist,” Franklin said. “I’m not commenting on whether or not that evidence was presented to the grand jury. … Being a racist is not against the law.” Commenting on the allegations of racism against him, Gardner told the Omaha World-Herald that neither he nor his father are racist. “My family has never said or acted negatively towards anyone based on their skin color or anything of that nature,” he said. But while Franklin did not blame Kleine for his inability to charge Gardner earlier, the Scurlock family attorney, Justin Wayne, expressed otherwise. Wayne called Kleine’s decision a “rush to judgment” and double standard despite Kleine claiming he did not fear a grand jury and was open to it.

“These are not easy decisions,” Kleine said Tuesday. “We make them on a daily basis. When you’re talking about the death of an individual, there’s a lot of emotions, a lot of things that come into play. … We petitioned for this grand jury; we were not afraid of it. They made a decision and we’ll see what happens.”

Speaking about the decision to charge Gardner, Wayne said that “while this family is thankful,” this moment is not a time for celebration. “It was their brother, his son, that lost his life,” he said. “It’s also kind of a disappointment, a reminder, that it was a tale of two cities.”

Now that Gardner has been charged, he will have to either turn himself in or face an arrest warrant, Franklin said. His case will move to trial in which Franklin will serve as the prosecutor. While Gardner is finally being charged, this case depicts the inequality prevalent in our justice system. Without petitioning for a grand jury and public outrage calling for a special prosecutor, the Scurlock family was granted no justice despite investigations. “The fact of the matter is, if you’re black growing up in Omaha, and you brandish a gun, and you run from the cops, and you threaten somebody, you don’t walk away with a $200 fine for disorderly conduct,” Wayne said.

Gardner, an ex-marine, has a long history of arrests and criminal charges and despite this walked away with no charges after murdering Scurlock. Had he been a man of color the situation would most likely have played out very differently.“This isn’t about being vindicated,” Wayne said. “It’s about justice,” James Scurlock II, Scurlock’s father said.

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Former top aide to Vice President Mike Pence and onetime official on the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force Olivia Troye has released a new video slamming Trump’s handling of the COVID-19 pandemic. The testimony she gives is not surprising, but the details of how much of a monster Trump really is hit home. Saying that Trump and the White House knew the 2019 novel coronavirus pandemic was in America and deadly serious in February, Troye reiterates what has been generally reported: that Donald Trump purposefully downplayed not just the messaging around the pandemic but also the need for serious public health maneuvers to be taken by the government. He did this because it is a campaign year.

But probably the most damning part of the pro-Biden ad is Troye’s recollection of Trump looking for the silver lining in the pandemic, telling the task force that “Maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don’t like shaking hands with people. I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.” As Troye remarks, “Those disgusting people are the same people he claims to care about.”

This is just one more in a series of anti-Trump campaign ads being released that feature former Trump administration officials, who paint the white supremacist in chief as the cruel and self-involved schmuck that we’ve all known him to be. The messengers in these ads are not great people. They have worked for and with an administration that has repeatedly brought us closer and closer to fascism while inflicting human rights violations on entire populations of people.  

However, these ads are poignant because the people in them were in intimate contact with Trump and his inner circle, day in and day out. Their perspective as first-person witnesses to his corruption, incompetence, and abdication of his duties as commander in chief are telling. All of them are Republicans, and all of them are willing to vote for Biden.

In this new ad @OliviaTroye reveals that during a COVID task force meeting, President Trump said “Maybe this COVID thing is a good thing. I don’t have to shake hands with these disgusting people.” WOW. pic.twitter.com/1W1tQgZCWv— Republican Voters Against Trump (@RVAT2020) September 17, 2020

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One of the greatest issues with our country’s public health policy right now is how splintered and erratic the information being disseminated is. The lack of federal consistency in guidance and financial support, along with the intense politicization of the COVID-19 pandemic by Donald Trump and Sen. Mitch McConnell, has led to incredibly inconsistent applications of public health mandates and suggestions. It has also pitted public health policies and mandates up against the frequently amorphous political understandings of civil liberties.

One such place facing issues like this is South Dakota, where a video recently went viral that shows a very large man, Reed Bender, being escorted out of a school board meeting by two police officers for refusing to wear a mask. Bender, a white man, is the only person not wearing a mask (though there is also an angry woman with her mask around her chin like a true silly billy). According to reports, masks were available for people who did not have them. Unsurprisingly, Bender doesn’t get the violent treatment that he would get if, say, he were a Black child being handcuffed at school for throwing a tantrum.

According to the Duluth News Tribune, Mr. Bender, who has two children in the Mitchell School District, has spoken out against masks mandates in previous meetings. The president of the board of education, Deb Olson, had announced the mask mandates at the beginning of previous meetings and had also explained that anyone who was “unable medically to wear a mask” should make prior arrangements with the school to figure out how best to go about this. Reed did not fall into this category. However, when he arrived at the meeting on Monday, he sat in the front without a mask and Mitchell School Superintendent Joe Graves was forced to contact the Mitchell Police Division to have Bender removed. Graves told reporters: “Never in my entire career as a superintendent have I had that happen before.” 

The police officer explains very calmly and quietly to Mr. Bender that a face mask is required for this school board meeting, to which Bender replies the police will have to “drag” him out. The officer—who is wearing a mask—makes the oh c’mon man face before telling him: “Sir, I really don’t want to—“ at which point Bender cuts him off, louder now, to reply: “I know you don’t want to do it … but unfortunately you have to follow this fool’s rules, right?” The “fool” in this case might be the school superintendent or whomever has mandated public health steps be taken in a meeting during a goddamn pandemic.

Bender, at this point, says something about how he’s being forced out. He isn’t, of course, he just has to wear a mask to protect the other people around him. He remarks that people mandating masks are “sowing discord in our communities,” a phrase that means something in some context. He addresses a possible business owner off-screen to ask whether or not he “harasses” his customers at a restaurant to wear a mask. Of course, the idea of freedom of speech, of taxes, for someone like Bender is that he believes the motto “the customer is always right” should be applicable to public health decisions by elected officials. 

It isn’t because that would be sort of like allowing my 8-year-old to be the safety inspector on a building site. I love my child, but he isn’t a safety inspector and I doubt he would always be right about a building’s structural integrity. 

From here, after a little bit of almost theatrical scuffling with other parents telling Mr. Bender not to resist—“it’s not worth it, brother”—Bender tells one of the police officers: “You will have to tase me in front of all these people.” The officer, who has the Taser out, responds: “I really don’t want to tase you.”

It’s here that Mr. Bender gets a teensie-weensie bit racial as the police officer holding the taser, who is considerably smaller than Bender, is not white. Bender says: “I want these people to video it, while their cops, of minority descent, have to do this to everybody. Constantly putting you people in these positions.” To be generous here, one might read this quote as a general one about how people in power use people of color to do the front-line dirty work of the state. It’s a garbled and unformed idea here for sure, but it did not seem like a slam on the officer’s racial makeup. 

Bender is finally taken out of the board meeting. The aforementioned woman with her mask under her chin has been filming this interaction and showing a lot of verbal support for Bender and his plight. When he is finally out of the room she turns to the school board to chastise everyone on Reed’s behalf, saying that “this is an embarrassment and you should all be embarrassed.” She goes on to point out some of the very real inconsistencies being seen in the school’s policy, as high school football players seem to be allowed to huddle up and not wear masks while the rest of the student body’s activities are curtailed by mask mandates.

This is a very good point. Of course, this is the paradox that school systems everywhere find themselves in as parents want their kids back in school, or in something resembling our lives before the pandemic. She’s not alone; there are others who said they thought Bender was far enough away from others to be safe.*

The News Tribune reports that after Bender was escorted out, the subject of the mask mandate came up repeatedly, with parents asking why they were not consulted on the mask policy before the school reopened. Specifically, some parents wanted there to be a survey sent home for their opinions on the matter. But board of education member Kevin Kenkel explained that parents don’t get to make public health policy and school health policy based on their feelings:

“A survey wouldn’t change my mind, the medical professionals have recommended (masks), and my wife cares for and has treated several patients who have had COVID-19. She has seen the long term effects on people. Even if 75% said we don’t want masks, I would still vote in favor of masks,” Kenkel said.

Bender’s wife reportedly wrote a piece of support for her husband on Facebook. The Daily Mail published a screenshot of her post where she explained that she does “feel” everyone’s side on the matter. That her mother and many of her friends are Democrats and other friends of hers are Republicans, and she makes a point that there are “maskers” and “non-maskers” (she puts quotations around those terms) who are Republican and who are Democratic.

Bender was not charged, and no one was hurt.

* Health experts suggest 6 feet social distancing separation with masks.

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A complicated picture is emerging of both the doctor accused of sterilizing detained women without their consent and the nurse who brought the information to light. The American public has expressed shock and disgust over the alleged actions of Mahendra Amin, the Georgia gynecologist accused of performing unnecessary hysterectomies on women detained at the Irwin County Detention Center. But in Douglas, Georgia, the small, tight-knit community where Amin has practiced obstetrics and gynecology for decades, he is viewed as a “pillar in the community,” according to Douglas residents who spoke to Prism. A Facebook page was created by residents in the area to support the doctor and it includes testimonials from people reporting to have been his patients.

Meanwhile, Dawn Wooten, the licensed practical nurse formerly employed at ICDC who blew the whistle on the allegations of forced sterilization reportedly performed by Amin, has been called an “American hero.” Immigrants who were detained at ICDC tell a different story. 

One migrant who was deported earlier this year said her time at ICDC overlapped with Wooten’s employment at the facility. In a phone call, she told Prism that “like everyone” who worked at ICDC, Wooten was “complicit” in the mistreatment of immigrants, saying the nurse knew what was happening to detained women. Like other nurses at the facility, she said Wooten also joked and made fun of people detained at ICDC. The whistleblower’s attorney told Prism that Wooten does not speak Spanish, but she used ICDC’s language line to “communicate with detained immigrants whenever a language barrier existed.”

A spokesperson for an organization representing immigrants detained at ICDC told Prism their clients also remember Wooten unfavorably, alleging the nurse participated in their “mistreatment and trauma” and sometimes “made jokes at their expense.”

Wooten declined to speak to Prism on the record, but her counsel at the Government Accountability Project, Dana Gold, responded on her behalf.

“Dawn witnessed systemic abuses at ICDC. When she raised concerns about the operating procedures to her superiors, they demoted her,” Gold said in an email. “She came forward to expose and validate grave mistreatment of detained immigrants at Irwin because she believes in the need for systematic change and accountability from the top down.”

While the situation unfolding in Georgia is murky and complicated, the abuse experienced by women like Maria is clear. In a phone call from El Salvador the afternoon of Sept.16, the asylum-seeker told Prism Amin performed a hysterectomy on her without her consent. Before being deported in April 2018, Maria was detained at ICDC for nearly seven months. During her time at the facility, even before the alleged surgery, she said she experienced a host of medical issues, largely related to medical neglect. With the help of an interpreter, the asylum seeker told Prism that medical staff at ICDC often failed to give her the diabetes medication she needed, sometimes skipping multiple weeks.

“No one worried for the immigrants,” Maria said.  

At one point during her stint at Irwin, Maria said her “insides kept hurting,” and this is when she alleges she was sent to Amin and given a hysterectomy. The asylum-seeker said no one ever explained to her in Spanish what was happening or why she was having the surgery. Maria told Prism she never consented to the procedure, does not recall signing any documentation, and alleges she was not given any pain medication as part of her aftercare. This information was confirmed by her attorney.

The alleged surgery took place at the Irwin County Hospital, which names Douglas, Georgia-based MGA Health Management, Inc. as its management company since 1996. According to public records, Amin owns MGA Health Management, and is also listed as the company’s secretary, chief executive officer, and chief financial officer. The corporation was formed in 1996 and most recently registered this year.

Despite the stories that have emerged from migrant women detained at ICDC, women living in the Douglas, Georgia, community where Amin is based paint a very different portrait of the man, who they describe as a “powerful” force in the medical community.

One associate in the medical field, who wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of retribution, said she didn’t know “a single person in the area” who wouldn’t “stake their reputation” on defending the doctor. Not only does he wield power over Irwin County Hospital and Coffee Regional Medical Center—a facility that recently removed Amin from its website and a place Wooten’s attorney said she once applied for a job at—but the associate said Amin is also one of the only OBGYNs in the area to accept Medicare and Medicaid. The gynecologist was once a co-defendant in a lawsuit in which he and other doctors were ordered to pay more than half a million dollars to resolve allegations that they caused false claims to be submitted to Medicare and Medicaid.

The associate told Prism it’s “entirely possible” Amin performed hysterectomies on detained women, but questions that it was done covertly and without some sort of contract in place—even if Amin’s company managed Irwin County Hospital.

“The [Drug Enforcement Administration] in Georgia is very strict in monitoring schedule II and schedule III drugs, which would include anesthesia. These are also serious surgeries and multiple people would be in the room, responsible for it, risking their licenses and everything they have,” the associate said. “There is no way this was being done under the radar and without a paper trail. That would be like murdering someone in the middle of a big party with no witnesses.”

A former patient of Amin’s, who also wanted to remain anonymous, told Prism she didn’t know many people in Douglas who weren’t somehow connected with the doctor or whose children weren’t delivered by him.

She began seeing Amin in 2015 to treat her polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. She told Prism Amin once provided free care during an appointment when her insurance lapsed. Other times, the doctor kept appointments with her even when she still owed his practice money from previous visits. In 2017, when Amin removed a cyst from one of her ovaries, the doctor found a way to bill her insurance so that she didn’t have to pay anything out-of-pocket even though she had not met her insurance deductible.

She told Prism she respected the doctor, but also acknowledged having a “slight animosity” toward Amin. When she began seeing Amin at the age of 26, she alleges that over the span of the next three years she repeatedly asked him to perform a hysterectomy on her. Each time, the doctor denied the request.

“It seemed like a very personal decision to him, he just didn’t think it was right,” the former patient said. “I wasn’t married and I was in my 20s and he didn’t want me to regret the decision.”

At 31 with her first child on the way, she said she can “honestly say” that she still has feelings about being denied a hysterectomy. She was not “entirely happy” when she learned she was pregnant because she never envisioned having children. It is because Amin denied her requests for a hysterectomy that the former patient said she finds it hard to believe he would perform hysterectomies on detained women without their consent.

Scott Grubman, the attorney representing Amin, did not respond to Prism’s specific requests for comment regarding the information provided by his former patient or the allegations made by women detained at ICDC. He would only say Amin “vehemently” denies the allegations and that he is confident Amin “will be cleared of any wrongdoing.”

Meanwhile, the number of women alleged to have been sterilized by Amin continues to rise.

Immigration and Customs Enforcement maintains that since 2018, just two individuals from ICDC were referred for hysterectomies. In Project South’s complaint, which did not identify Amin by name, Wooten said she knew of at least five women at ICDC who were sterilized in 2019. On the night of Sept. 16, Rep. Pramila Jayapal confirmed she was in communication with attorneys representing at least 17 immigrant women who were forced to have unnecessary procedures—including hysterectomies.

Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi is calling for an investigation into Wooten’s allegations and on September 14, Georgia state Rep. Bob Trammell sent a letter to the Georgia Composite Medical Board and the Georgia Board of Nursing, requesting they “immediately suspend the licenses of the providers named in the whistleblower complaint pending a full investigation.” Ken Cuccinelli, deputy secretary of DHS, told the National Review he asked the Office of Inspector General to expedite its review of the allegations of forced sterilization. In reference to the procedures performed on women detained at ICDC, Cuccinelli told the outlet his agency has not seen any payments or requests for payment for the hysterectomies Amin allegedly performed, and that it is “virtually inconceivable that any of this could have been going on without multiple sets of records.”

As headlines about the mounting evidence of forced sterilizations exploded across the U.S. Wednesday, Maria stood outside her home in El Salvador, a rooster crowing in the background, and urged Americans hearing the news to “be more humanitarian” toward immigrants. “We all have the same feelings and shouldn’t be treated like animals,” Maria said. “We want to be treated like human beings.”

UPDATE: This article has been updated to clarify that Wooten did not identify Amin by name in the complaint. He was first identified in reporting by Prism.

Tina Vasquez is a senior reporter for Prism. She covers gender justice, workers’ rights, and immigration. Follow her on Twitter @TheTinaVasquez.

Prism is a BIPOC-led nonprofit news outlet that centers the people, places and issues currently underreported by our national media. Through our original reporting, analysis, and commentary, we challenge dominant, toxic narratives perpetuated by the mainstream press and work to build a full and accurate record of what’s happening in our democracy. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.

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Earth Matters is a Daily Kos compendium of wonderful, disturbing, and hideous news briefs about the environment. 

• Facebook launches Climate Science Information Center. Critics aren’t impressed: In a press release, Facebook announced that it plans to combat disinformation with a new climate hub designed “to connect people with science-based information, and an ambitious new net zero emissions target for our company’s value chain.” Environmental advocates point out that this project fails to deal with Facebook’s “climate loophole,” which gives climate science deniers a chance to spread climate lies by labeling them “opinion.” At Gizmodo, Brian Kahn flays the effort: “The whole thing is a giant hand-wave to distract us from looking at the real solutions to climate change and the role Facebook is playing in corroding them. Here is where I would usually say it is good Facebook is doing something about climate change. But the era of corporate malfeasants getting belly rubs is over. What Facebook is doing is akin to the National Rifle Association’s argument that the only way to stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun. In this case, Facebook is the arms dealer handing out guns to both sides.”

• Democrats trash Trump regime’s NEPA rewrite and rules rollback: Led by Natural Resources Committee Chairman Raúl Grijalva and Vice Chair Deb Haaland, 61 House Democrats have signed a letter to the Council on Environmental Quality as a “formal comment in opposition to the NEPA [National Environmental Policy Act] revisions proposed by this administration. We find them lacking in justification, driven by poor intentions, and legally indefensible.” The new rules, which went into effect on Monday, are designed to “modernize” and “streamline” environmental review for major federal actions including highways, pipelines, terminals, and bridges. That’s Trump-speak for letting companies forget about the environmental impacts of their operations. Foes of the changes say the rewrite will make in harder for Americans, especially in communities of people of color and of low income, to oppose projects. In the past, those communities have gotten the environmental burden from the siting of pollution-heavy projects that whiter and more affluent communities have been able to avoid. 

• A succinct look at details of what the switch away from fossil fuels will require:

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• Climate activists hope Biden adviser Moniz doesn’t become energy secretary: Ernest Moniz served as energy secretary in the Obama administration. But many climate activists aren’t keen on his good friend Joe Biden choosing the 75-year-old nuclear physicist to take up his old position should the former vice president win the presidency. Moniz is viewed as too close to the “all of the above” energy approach of the Obama administration that pushed renewables but also promoted fossil fuel extraction and development. In a Sept. 1 letter to Biden, 145 progressive organizations wrote: “Your leadership on climate and environmental justice is why we urge you to ban all fossil fuel executives, lobbyists, and representatives from any advisory or official position on your campaign, transition team, cabinet, and administration.” Moniz certainly fits that category. As Kate Aronoff writes, since leaving the government in 2018 Moniz has joined the board of the giant Southern Company, an integrated electric utility. Not only did Southern lobby hard against Obama’s Clean Power Plan and fund leading climate science deniers, it received $407 million from the Department of Energy during Moniz’s tenure for a never-completed “clean coal” plant. According to Southern’s proxy statements, Moniz accepted a combined $486,668 worth of fees and stock awards from the company in 2018 and 2019. “I do not agree with the characterization of the Southern Company as a fossil fuel company,” he recently told Axios. In fact, Southern generates 72% of its electricity from fossil fuels. The national average is 63%. Only 12% of its generation comes from renewables.

• Expectations soar for Tesla’s Battery Day reveals: All kinds of speculation has been rife since the Tuesday, Sept. 22 date for Battery Day was announced. Some of the guessing about what will be announced is based on no concrete evidence and is downright outlandish. But we can certainly expect that Elon Musk will greatly expand on his “He has no clue” tweet responding to Bill Gates’ claim on his blog that powering semi-trucks with batteries just won’t cut it. If you’d like to take a deep dive into what could be coming on Battery Day, here’s a long read on the subject from Maximilian Holland at CleanTechnica.

• More than 160 environmental movement veterans warn people not to vote for the Green Party nor stay at home: In a open letter, the longtime activists wrote: “We have learned in the course of decades that militancy can build awareness of the environmental threat to human life itself, and activists younger than we have inspired us with the Green new Deal, the Sunrise Movement, Greta Thunberg, and other leaders of a new generation. But in 50 years of agitation, we have also learned what the powerful knew. Elections matter most in the end.” The signers all endorse Joe Biden and running mate Kamala Harris and warn people about the perils in an already perilous time of voting Green or not voting. Diane MacEachern, known for her activism on climate change and against nuclear weapons, told Sam Stein at the Daily Beast: “There is no environmental problem we faced when Donald Trump assumed the presidency three-and-a-half years ago that is in any way better today. If anything, they will get worse. We can either try and put out the fire or we can fan the flame.” 

• Rep. Liz Cheney wants Department of Justice to investigate eco-groups for possible Russian and Chinese influence: In a letter to Attorney General Bill Barr, the Wyoming congresswoman expresses “grave concern” about potential Russian and Chinese efforts to influence U.S. energy and environmental policies through nongovernmental organizations. In addition to “robust and political judicial activism” via hundreds of lawsuits to advance their goals, Cheney wrote, environmental groups “espouse views that align with those of our adversaries,” adding: “Environmental groups such as the Sierra Club and the National Resources Defense Council, whose anti-fracking agendas align with the Kremlin’s, are low-hanging fruit for Russian influence.” At last count, there were more than 30,000 Wyoming fracking operations in Wyoming, with associated problems. Four states have banned fracking: Vermont, Washington, Maryland, and New York.  

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