POLITICS

Guardian Angels Clash with Rioters in NYC: A Better Model for Policing?

While their founder is far from perfect, their model of policing could go a long way to easing tensions

When you imagine a 66-year-old white man taking justice into his own hand to face down looters in the ongoing protests of police brutality, it sounds horrible.

And in many ways Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, would probably meet your expectations. He is a brash Republican talk show host who is hoping to unseat Bill De Blasio as mayor in 2021. He's fond of dramatic publicity stunts, he's currently advocating for more aggressive police action to break up the protests...of aggressive police action, and he referred to the East Village Foot Locker he and his fellow Guardian Angels defended from violent looters on Tuesday night as "the jewel in the crown" because he assumes that rioters "were looking for the sneakers, limited edition." In other words, Sliwa is kind of gross, but his organization is surprisingly not.

An unarmed volunteer organization that Sliwa founded in the late '70s to patrol streets and subways in order to deter crime and fight off muggers, the Guardian Angels' ranks were mainly made up of young black and latino men who wanted to fight back against the crime that ravaged their New York City communities. While that vigilante impulse has often led to violence and further injustice, the fact that the Guardian Angels were armed with nothing but their signature red berets and "karate," operating mainly through collective intimidation to deter crime in their own communities, speaks volumes in their favor.

guardian angels back in the day © Stephen Shames/Polaris

It's no wonder the organization grew so quickly, with chapters opening all over the world. Admittedly their prominence has declined somewhat in recent decades, but considering the adoption of hyper-violent vigilante symbols by many police officers, perhaps it's time for the Guardian Angel's model of vigilantism to have a resurgence—or perhaps even to be adopted for official police tactics.

Imagine a world where seeing a police uniform didn't automatically indicate someone with a gun. What if guns were reserved for certain officers and certain situations, and patrol cops relied on numbers, intimidation, and non-lethal force—including but not limited to martial arts (and maybe those sheets that Japanese police roll people up in)—to prevent, deter, and defuse violent crime. And imagine if those cops had close ties to communities they patrolled—actually lived in those neighborhoods—and had that added incentive to resolve situations peacefully.

While some cities have residency requirements for their police, these measures are often not enforced. And even in cities like New York, where police use of guns has declined, the constant threat of possible gun violence heightens tension between police and the communities they're intended to serve—especially when there is no sense that the officers have any investment in the neighborhoods they patrol.

Obviously the danger involved in fighting crime and arresting criminals shouldn't be downplayed—Sliwa and at least one other Guardian Angel were hospitalized with serious injuries following Tuesday night's confrontation with looters—and sometimes firearms are necessary in that work. But considering how many nations' police don't regularly carry guns—and the fact that pizza delivery is technically a more dangerous job—maybe the average beat cop can get by with a kevlar vest, a bodycam, and some martial arts training. Maybe these cops could be part-time or semi-professional—like an officially sanctioned neighborhood watch or citizen patrol with some training, arrest powers, and extra pocket money. If we dramatically scaled down the size of our traditional police forces, then we could afford programs with a less hostile approach to localized patrolling.

Curtis Sliwa and fellow Guardian Angel at West Indian Day parade Curtis Sliwa and a fellow Guardian Angel survey the West Indian Day parade in Brooklyn, 2007

Needless to say this is in no way an endorsement of Curtis Silwa, who faked his own 1980 kidnapping and once had his members spraypaint "KKK" and "White Power" outside their headquarters for publicity. He was and remains a jackass, but even a jackass is entitled to a good idea now and then. And considering the current backlash against excessive force and the militarization of the police, maybe the Guardian Angels' model can point the way for some of the necessary reforms.

Would it solve everything? No. After all, Derek Chauvin didn't even need his gun when he killed George Floyd—only his knee. But we have to do something, and maybe treating our police more like red berets rather than green berets could begin to ease tensions in over-policed neighborhoods—and could start to heal the painful history of oppression and institutional violence in America's minority communities.

POLITICS

Reopening Isn't About the Economy—It's About Kicking People off Unemployment

The economic impact of reopening is unclear, but the goal to keep government "small" is unwavering even in a crisis

In the coming weeks many US states will begin the process of loosening COVID-19 lockdown restrictions and "reopening" their economies.

Other states have already done so.

While the argument for reopening has been unequivocal—it's supposedly what we need to save our flagging economy from a full-blown depression—it's not clear that it will serve that function at all. Recent polling has shown that the vast majority of Americans support social-distancing and stay-at-home measures and are not enthusiastic about the prospect of going back to restaurants and crowded stores while the coronavirus pandemic is ongoing. Which means that the number of customers who return as states drop their restrictions may not be enough to keep small businesses afloat.

Unfortunately that majority opinion has not received as much attention as many of the loudest advocates for reopening—who have argued that a death toll that is likely to more than double current figures is worth it, or that the whole pandemic is just a hoax. Of course it makes sense for small business owners and people who are struggling to make ends meet right now to want to get back to work, but what good will it do?

If cases spike, overwhelming local hospital systems and causing deaths and tremendous medical debt in the process, then restrictions will need to be reinstated, and the economic problems we're currently dealing with will only be prolonged. Right now we lack the widespread testing and the sufficiently improving conditions to support reopening without a vaccine. There are measures we could take at the federal level to improve the situation without such startling risks, but we are ignoring those options—treating reopening like it's the only solution available—for one simple reason: Americans hate "big government."

Since at least the 1980s our society has been flooded with anti-government propaganda. We recite mantras about government mismanagement, waste, incompetence, while ignoring successful programs at home and abroad. One of our two major parties has devoted much of its political willpower to actively sabotaging federal programs and agencies like the US Postal Service to prove their point and push for further privatization (that they, along with their donors and friends, stand to personally profit from). In this context, the kind of aggressive federal spending we would need to keep small businesses and struggling families afloat in current conditions is virtually unthinkable.

Even America's relatively compassionate party is only pushing fairly moderate measures that are likely to be whittled down and paired with massive business subsidies in the Senate—just like what happened with the Cares Act in March. In its current form the Heroes Act includes $175 billion in housing assistance, a second round of $1200 stimulus payments (with children receiving as much as adults this time), $200 billion in hazard pay for essential workers, $1 trillion in funding for states to pay their vital workers, and a six month extension of the $600 unemployment expansion.

Undoubtedly these measures will help a lot—though not as much as more generous proposals—but they ignore some major issues. The biggest problem (apart from the fact that the senate isn't going to let the bill pass as is) is that states are straining to make the basic unemployment payments that the $600 expansion is meant to supplement. As a result, many of the tens of millions of people trying to file for unemployment have been stymied by bureaucratic foot-dragging and red tape, and now states are using reopening as a way to push workers off of unemployment and protect state budgets from possible bankruptcy—an outcome which Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has no interest in preventing. In some states there are even systems being implemented to report workers who refuse to go back to work, regardless of their circumstances or legitimate fears.

Mitch McConnell

Whether any of this will improve the national economy in the long run remains to be seen. What is clear is that state governments are being understandably cautious with their budgets, and the Republican party is playing their usual political games with lives, health, and livelihoods on the line. The result is that states are reopening, and millions of workers are about to be pushed off unemployment. The next stop is cutting retirement benefits, and fully dissolving any remnant of a social safety net this country has.

As we enter what is likely to be another global depression, it's worth keeping in mind that these programs are among the measures that helped us get through the last one under FDR and that countries that chose a different path were pushed toward a scarier form of politics that has lately been threatening resurgence: outright fascism. Let's try not to repeat the mistakes of the 1930s.

POLITICS

Why You Should Join Workers From Amazon, Walmart, and FedEx in the May 1st General Strike

Whether you're unemployed, working from home, or an essential worker, there's a lot to fight for right now

According to a report published in The Intercept on Tuesday, essential workers at major companies like Amazon, Walmart, Instacart, Target, Whole Foods, and FedEx are planning a walkout as part of a May Day general strike, fighting for workers' rights.

A lot of Americans probably don't know the history of May Day, or the fact that May 1st is known as International Workers' Day—or Labour Day—in much of the world. That ignorance, and the fact that we have our own Labor Day in September, can best be understood as part of a deliberate effort to undermine class consciousness and solidarity in the US, and is all the more reason why more workers need to participate in Friday's strike.

The power structures of our country have long maintained a hostile relationship toward labor and have successfully suppressed unionization and other efforts by workers to agitate for their rights. But this May 1st is the perfect time to correct that tendency and join the world in celebrating workers–because the historic event that International Workers' Day commemorates took place here in America in 1886, and it upset the established hierarchy in a way that should serve as inspiration for people currently struggling to make ends meet.

Haymarket Riot

Prior to 1886, May Day had traditionally been celebrated in European cultures with a variety of festivals celebrating spring, but that year American workers took the occasion as an opportunity to fight for their rights. A massive, nationwide work stoppage began on May 1st and continued for several days, with thousands of striking workers demonstrating in every major city. At the time, workers were often made to work long hours in dangerous conditions, and they were fighting for the eight-hour workday—so if you've ever gotten overtime pay, or just enjoyed clocking out at 5:00, then you have them to thank.

On May 3rd police efforts to quash the protests in Chicago resulted in at least one death and several injuries.The next day an unknown assailant came prepared. When police once more attempted to disperse the crowd in Haymarket Square with violent tactics, that person threw a dynamite bomb. The explosion and the ensuing gunfire killed seven police officers and at least four civilians. Dozens more were badly hurt. Police then rounded up hundreds of organizers, and four men—none of whom had thrown the bomb—were hanged after a lengthy, internationally publicized trial.

Haymarket hanging

It would take another 30 years of fighting before a federal law established an eight-hour work day for any private industry—and even longer before FDR's administration made it standard across most types of work. But those four men became martyrs for the cause of workers' rights and galvanized people around the world to take action. According to historian William J. Adelman, "No single event has influenced the history of labor in Illinois, the United States, and even the world, more than the Chicago Haymarket Affair," yet few Americans are aware of these events or the holiday they spawned. While the violence and death that took place back then was obviously regrettable—and no one should be hoping for its recurrence—we are about due for another turning point in labor history.

The cracks in our system are being exposed like never before, and millions are falling through. Tens of millions of Americans find themselves suddenly unemployed or underemployed. Shockingly few have been able to sign up for unemployment benefits, and the federal government's $1,200 checks are being treated as a long-term cure-all. People aren't making money, yet most of them are still expected to pay their rent in full, and many have lost their health insurance amid a viral pandemic. It's no wonder people are protesting for their states to reopen; but seeing as that would plainly backfire (and is a push being secretly driven by wealthy backers who won't have to risk their lives), we need to direct that energy toward measures that would actually help.

Fast food workers striking ABC

Meanwhile, many of the people who never stopped working—in healthcare, retail, food service, and other industries deemed "essential"—are being asked to risk their lives working without safety equipment, hazard pay, or even adequate sick leave. These conditions would be unacceptable at the best of times, but now—at the worst of times—we have no choice but to fight back and demand immediate relief and lasting reforms.

A rent strike is a good start, but a general strike—in which workers across industries and around the country participate—sends a real message. So if it's at all possible for you to join the general strike on Friday, May 1st, and/or participate in a (safe, socially-distant) demonstration, consider what you'd be fighting for: A rent and mortgage freeze; liveable stimulus payments; guaranteed healthcare; and hazard pay, sick leave, and PPE for all essential workers.

These are the absolute bare minimum measures that can get us all through this crisis, and if we don't demonstrate the collective power of the American working class—to drive or shut down the economy—we will continue to be deprived of even these. It's time to stand up.

POLITICS

Why Was New York's Presidential Primary Really Canceled?

The coronavirus pandemic provides cover for crass political maneuvering.

April 28th was the original date for New York State's primary election.

Last month Governor Andrew Cuomo announced that it would be postponed until June 23rd, but on Monday the state's Board of Elections removed Bernie Sanders from the ballot, effectively cancelling the presidential primary for New York voters.

Sanders had previously suspended his campaign but was staying on the ballot in remaining elections in order to increase his delegate count and his leverage in shaping the party's platform at the Democratic National Convention this summer. A similar strategy in 2016 helped Sanders to reduce the sway of unelected superdelegates on the party's nominating process. Unfortunately for voters who wanted to support that strategy, a state law signed earlier this year allowed the board to remove Sanders from the ballot.

The official reasoning is that the election process would undermine the state's efforts to combat the coronavirus pandemic, which has hit New York City harder than anywhere else in the country. Given the new infections that resulted from Wisconsin's primary election on April 7th, no one can blame officials for being concerned, but many had assumed that the state would simply shift to an exclusively mail-in ballot process.

A charitable interpretation would say that there wasn't enough time to coordinate such a large-scale task, but that's not the whole picture. Whatever the logistical challenges of providing safe voting access to the all of New York's voters, state officials have made it clear that this move also served to prevent an embarrassing result for their preferred candidate and to defend the party orthodoxy against the demands of the country's young progressive movement.

"What the Sanders campaign wanted is essentially a beauty contest that, given the situation with the public health emergency, seems to be unnecessary and, indeed, frivolous."

That was what Co-Chair Doug Kellner said during a live stream announcing the board's decision. It's unclear what he might have meant by the "beauty contest" comparison, though perhaps it was a reference to the fact that the candidate he prefers looks really bad right now. With an increasingly credible accusation of sexual assault leading the trending hashtags #DropOutBiden and #BidenDropOut on Twitter in recent days, establishment insiders who favor Joe Biden's candidacy have a vested interest in treating the nomination like it's already decided. Kellner voiced that sentiment bluntly, saying, "I think it's time for us to recognize that the presidential contest is over,"

But it's not over. It's very rare for a candidate to have clinched the nomination this early in the process. Joe Biden could easily make up a face-saving excuse to drop out and make way for a candidate without his baggage. He is currently several hundred pledged delegates short of a majority, with nearly half the states still waiting to vote—Ohio's mail-in primary is taking place today. But even assuming that he stays in the race, the final delegate count remains a key way to shape the policy conversation at the convention. While Biden has a distinct lead over Sanders—to the point where even a major scandal like the Tara Reade allegations is unlikely to change the outcome—holding the election in some form would have allowed for New York's voter's to be heard.

As senior Sanders campaign advisor Jeff Weaver put it, "While we understood that we did not have the votes to win the Democratic nomination our campaign was suspended, not ended, because people in every state should have the right to express their preference. What the Board of Elections is ignoring is that the primary process not only leads to a nominee but also the selection of delegates which helps determine the platform and rules of the Democratic Party,"

New York, with its young, left-leaning electorate, represented Bernie Sanders' best remaining chance of adding to his delegate count. Now the Board of Election has undermined that chance and ensured that New Yorkers won't get a say at all. With a critical election coming up in November, and the future of our nation resting on our ability to oust Donald Trump, they found a surefire way to reinforce young voters' sense of distrust and dissatisfaction with the Democratic party establishment.

POLITICS

Donald Trump Is Encouraging His Supporters to Spread Death

Whether he knows it or not, that is the effect of his rhetoric

In recent days protestors have gathered in Michigan, Ohio, and North Carolina to call on state officials to end social distancing and shelter-at-home requirements.

It's understandable. The economy is suffering under the strain of the COVID-19 quarantine. It has decimated the stock market and resulted in an unprecedented spike in unemployment, and people want to get back to their lives. They want to reopen the country, and so does President Trump—whose ardent supporters have been among the most vocal and visible protestors. He's worried that if this situation continues on his watch, the economic damage may hurt his chances at re-election, as businesses small and large suffer losses that threaten their very survival. Leaving aside the fact that reopening too early will result in worse economic damage, there is another group that doesn't seem to concern him as much and whose survival actually depends on continuing the quarantine: People. Hundreds of thousands of people.

mass grave in New York A mass grave in New York

So when Donald Trump was suggesting that "large sections of the country" could re-open for Easter, it was cause for concern. But with the impact of the pandemic still far from its terrifying peak in hotspots like New York city, it seemed likely that Donald Trump would back off his overly-optimistic stance—and he did.

That's often how things work with Donald Trump. He will make a show of how tough and no-nonsense he is with some dramatic posturing that seems to fly in the face of the experts and will then be cowed by behind-the-scenes efforts to make him see reason. Unfortunately for the country, most of his followers are not similarly attended to by an entourage of people trying desperately to steer them away from catastrophic idiocy. So now that Easter has come and gone and Donald Trump is continuing to hint that he may soon reopen the country—maybe even against the wishes of governors in individual states—chaos was bound to ensue.

While some of the protesters have remained in their cars—honking their horns and blocking the passage of at least one ambulance—others crowded together to scream their rejection of science in one proud voice and one shared cloud of breath.

For Donald Trump, the political effect of his latest hints and ambiguous comments about wanting to reopen the country and authorizing governors "to implement ... a very powerful reopening plan" while telling them, "You're going to call your own shots," is that he can have his cake and eat it too. While taking no direct measures to reopen the country amid continued medical advice to extend restrictions, he can still communicate to stir-crazy and cash-strapped supporters that he's doing everything he can for them and that maybe they should talk to their governors.

And that's just what they've been doing. In Michigan—where Operation Gridlock was so effective that even emergency vehicles couldn't get through—protestors directed their frustration at Democratic Governor Gretchen Whitmer, with chants of "Recall Whitmer" and "Lock her up." In North Carolina, at the ReopenNC protest, more than 100 angry citizens assembled to protest Governor Roy Cooper's stay-at-home order and to spread conspiracy theories that the COVID-19 death toll is being inflated—though the opposite is true.

In Ohio the scene was particularly disturbing, with dozens of protestors gathering at the statehouse in Columbus with Guy Fawkes masks, Trump hats, and signs reading "This is tyranny," and "Quarantine the sick not the Contitution [sic]." Eventually a group pressed close together against the locked glass doors to shout their feelings with no concern for social distancing.

What these people need is financial assistance that isn't delayed by politics or targeted at millionaires and massive corporations, as well as reassurance that the current approach is necessary and effective—that our leaders are unified in following the guidance of health experts. What they get instead, from Trump and top Conservative voices, is constant waffling and hedging about the cost to the economy and tacit endorsement of these dangerous protests.

Just as he has had every opportunity to decry violence done in his name, Donald Trump could end these protests. If he were open and honest about the fragility of our hospital system and our country's best hope of getting through this crisis intact, then he could quell much of this unrest and dispel false narratives equating this virus to the flu or car accidents. Instead he feigns careful consideration while effectively encouraging defiance that will inevitably result in more infections and more death.

Stay home and stay safe.

POLITICS

Why Is Bernie Sanders Endorsing Joe Biden—While Staying on the Ballot?

The senator from Vermont is fully behind Joe Biden's candidacy, but that doesn't mean he's abandoned his own agenda.

Joe Biden is a deeply flawed candidate—it would be pointless to deny it.

His unwillingness to embrace increasingly popular progressive policies has made him an unappealing option for younger voters who have more or less shunned him in every primary so far, while his legislative and personal history have the potential to put him in a defensive position as we enter the general election.

He is perhaps correctly viewed as the candidate that the Democratic party defaulted to after a contentious primary season failed to produce the centrist frontrunner that party insiders and donors were hoping for. He is the concept of "anyone-but-Trump" embodied in a hollow, flavorless candidacy who is nonetheless plagued by exactly the kind of scandals that would otherwise make Trump vulnerable to criticism.

While he has secured the Democratic nomination for himself on the basis of an argument for his "electability," many critics have called into question whether he actually meets that standard. But one thing is certain: If Joe Biden is going to beat Donald Trump in November, it won't be without a lot of help from the young progressive movement in this country. That's where Bernie Sanders comes into the play.

Watch Bernie Sanders endorse Joe Biden www.youtube.com

On Monday the senator from Vermont and former front runner for the Democratic nomination began the long arduous process of convincing progressive voters and activists to rally around a candidate that they find fundamentally dissatisfying. After suspending his campaign last Wednesday, Sanders came out with a statement calling on his supporters to back Biden in order to "defeat somebody who I believe ... is the most dangerous president in the modern history of this country."

It would be disingenuous for Sanders' endorsement to focus on Biden himself—whose approach to politics Sanders has thoroughly criticized both specifically and in the abstract—but it's far a more important message than claiming, once again, that Biden is his good friend. Sanders is addressing the significant and terrifying threat that our country faces in the form of Donald Trump. He's a man who called a pandemic a hoax when swift action could have saved lives, then used it as an opportunity to reward his loyalists at the expense of the public health, all while promoting dubious cures, undermining important regulation, forcing states into expensive bidding wars, and inciting dangerous xenophobia. He is, in short, a reckless, self-aggrandizing, would-be fascist.

In the three years that Donald Trump has held power, he has made tremendous strides in consolidating power for his party, America's economic elites, and himself. If he manages to get reelected, the problem is going to get worse. Whatever you think of Joe Biden, it's important to acknowledge how much better he would be for this country. It's important for the progressive movement in America to (however grudgingly) put their full force behind Joe Biden and get out the Democratic vote—particularly in swing states. While Biden's VP pick (promising rumors suggest Elizabeth Warren) has a lot of potential to help in that process, Bernie Sanders' endorsement is an important first step. So why is Bernie Sanders staying on the ballot in upcoming races?

The answer is that Bernie Sanders still represents a huge coalition of Democratic voters, and he wants to be able to represent their interests at this year's democratic convention. If he is able to secure a large number of delegates for himself, that will hopefully give him the sway he needs to push the party platform to the left on important issues like Medicare for All and student debt relief.

So while Bernie's endorsement is crucial for inspiring unity in November, voters in states like New York, New Mexico, and Pennsylvania will still have the opportunity to voice their preference for Sanders' policies.

POLITICS

The Coronavirus Reveals How Fragile American Society Has Become

Look on our works, ye mighty, and despair!

There is a saying that it is easier to imagine the end of the world than to imagine the end of capitalism.

Entrenched systems of power have established bulwarks against the kind of institutional reform that younger Americans have recently been pushing for. By controlling the political conversation through lobbying, control of mass media, regulatory capture, and authoring of legislation, the ultra-wealthy maintain the status quo in a way that makes changing it seem impossible. The problem is that change is desperately needed if we are going to maintain any semblance of civilization.

While political dynamics have become so rigid that the boundaries of what we can achieve begin to feel impenetrable, the COVID-19 pandemic has revealed that the vital structures of our society—a society that is superficially so robust—have been so weakened that a collapse in one form or another is inevitable. We are the world's superpower, yet faced with a slightly more contagious, slightly more lethal virus than the flu, we are powerless. How did it get to be this bad? How were we so blind to it?

To clarify, depending on the part of the country you live in, it could seem like I'm exaggerating. It may not seem "so bad," or like we're on the verge of collapse. Not long ago the president and many of his loyalists on Fox News and AM radio were still calling dire forecasts around the coronavirus a hoax. At the time it seemed reckless but not unhinged from current events—which were still largely unaffected. In much of the country there is little cause for alarm, so few people are doing much to change their behavior. That's about to change, and the areas hit worst will soon be making the dire choices that Italian hospitals were recently faced with—which patients are we going to hook up to ventilators, and which are we going to allow to die. We are already started on a path that leads to overflowing hospitals in every major city.

Seattle coronavirus A makeshift testing facility in Seattle, Washington Getty Images

The problem is that our entire economy is set up around the same kind of short-term thinking that drive publicly traded corporations. The mentality that "government should be run like a business," leads to cost-cutting measures that only look to the current budget, with minimal consideration given to the kind of intermittent crises that we are bound to face—like a viral pandemic. If it's not particularly likely to happen before the next election cycle, it's better not to even worry about it. This is the kind of thinking that led Donald Trump's administration to push for cuts to the CDC and to disband their global health security team in 2018.

But the systemic issues go much deeper than that and started long before Trump took office. Trump and his ilk can't be blamed for the fact that the US has two hospital beds for every 1,000 citizens. Nor are they responsible for the fact that almost every aspect of America's critical infrastructure receives a near-failing grade from the American Society of Civil Engineers. This includes airport congestion—which has already become an issue with the current pandemic—and important shipping routes that we will rely on to maintain the movement of necessary goods as conditions around the country worsen.

Add to those issues the fact that we have a massive population of prisoners sharing tight quarters with poor sanitation, a substantial homeless population with no way to quarantine, a dearth of worker protections like paid sick leave, and it becomes hard to imagine how we'll get through this unscathed. And, of course, this is still ignoring the elephant in the room—a for-profit healthcare system that discourages millions of uninsured and underinsured Americans from seeking medical advice or treatment until it's too late.

Coronavirus Stock Market Getty Images

Meanwhile, the economic hardships imposed by the necessity of social distancing are being exacerbated by an economy that is heavily reliant on the whims of financial speculators who create an echo chamber of divestment that heightens every crisis. The stock market, in other words, is going crazy in the worst possible way. It's too soon to say how thoroughly the weaknesses in our system will be tested by the developing pandemic, but even in the best case scenario they are going to be strained to a terrifying extent.

Fortunately, there are efforts underway to shore up some of the most obvious breaking points so we can avoid complete societal collapse. They may turn out to be too little too late, but even if they get us through this current disaster, how long will it be before the next one hits? The best models of climate change predict that we are nearing an era that will be ruled by powerful natural disasters and refugee crises that will threaten economic stability and critical infrastructure and may heighten the threat of infectious diseases. Temporary, reactive measures cannot save us if the next crisis hits a little harder or when multiple crises overlap.

A strong social safety net like the one the US tried to develop under FDR would serve to mitigate the damage from this kind of crisis. But modern American politics has worked for decades—in an effort that became an object of worship under Ronald Reagan—to whittle the welfare state of the New Deal and the Great Society down to a fragile bare minimum.

We need to take seriously the voices of politicians like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who have called for the kind of broad, sweeping legislation that stands a chance of upending the rigid political dynamics that maintain the status quo. The Green New Deal would be a good start. The alternative, one way or another, is the end of our civilization and the world as we know it.

POLITICS

Rush Limbaugh is a Cancer in American Politics

His latest insanity involved claiming that the coronavirus is both "the common cold," and a bio-weapon designed by China.

There are few people in American media as reliably unhinged and distasteful as Rush Limbaugh.

But to many in his audience of more than 15 million weekly listeners, Limbaugh is a bastion of straight talk. Since the late 1980s, his brand of antisocial advocacy has twisted and infected the nation's political conversations.

What makes Limbaugh so compelling is that he never pulls punches or offers any deference to basic human decency. He will fight for the rights of smokers to choke a restaurant with clouds of thick smoke, will happily claim that Planned Parenthood is committing genocide against black Americans, and will never shrink from accusing Michael J. Fox of "exaggerating the effects" of Parkinson's disease with no evidence beyond the fact that Limbaugh himself can do a morbid pantomime of wild muscle spasms. To regular listeners, these unequivocal stances reflect Rush's willingness to stand up to the leftist authoritarians and the woke scolds of the world. He speaks truth to power… Unless of course Republicans control the levers of power, in which case Rush will speak in power's defense.

Rush Limbaugh mocking Michael J. Fox

That was the case on Monday, when Rush managed to argue—in the span of a few minutes—that COVID-19 (colloquially known as the coronavirus) is both "the common cold," and "a Chicom laboratory experiment that is in the process of being weaponized." Chicom is a reference to China's ruling Communist party, whom Rush is accusing of deliberately manufacturing this new strain of virus as a form of biological warfare. But due to their incompetence or some nefarious ulterior motive that involves getting everyone only mildly ill, their biological weapon is—according to Rush—"the common cold."

As evidence of its mildness, Rush cites the low mortality rate—"98% of people who get the coronavirus survive." Of course, this would seem to undermine the sinister plot that Rush has espied through his omniscience, if not for his clever discovery of Chicom's co-conspirators: the mainstream media. "The drive-by media hype of this thing as a pandemic, as the Andromeda strain, as, 'Oh, my God, if you get it, you're dead.'"

There's no doubt that the media has a history of exaggerating the potential danger of emerging epidemics—ask anyone who had the Swine flu and shrugged it off. It makes for a gripping story to tell viewers that a new disease that's spreading is coming to kill them and their loved ones, but the famously pro-communist "drive-by" media is legitimately too distractible to really focus on overblowing a health crisis while also covering election drama, Megxit, Trump's pardons, and Harvey Weinstein. So if they are giving the coronavirus too much hype, it can only be part of an elaborate conspiracy with Xi Jinping and the Chinese government…but to what end?

COVID-19 timeline Wikimedia

As always, in times of uncertainty, we turn to Rush Limbaugh for the answer: "The way it is being weaponized is by virtue of the media, and I think that it is an effort to bring down Trump, and one of the ways it's being used to do this is to scare the investors, to scare people in business. It's to scare people into not buying Treasury bills at auctions. It's to scare people into leaving, cashing out of the stock market—and sure enough, as the show began today, the stock market—the Dow Jones Industrial Average—was down about 900 points, supposedly because of the latest news about the spread of the coronavirus."

Fascinating. Meanwhile the fact that nearly 3,000 deaths have occurred—with more than 80,000 confirmed cases and outbreaks spreading in Italy, Iran, South Korea, and Japan—must all be part of the hype. The fact that the virus is wildly contagious and not well understood is part of the hype. The facts that the entire city of Wuhan—with a population of over 11 million—is under strict quarantine and that containment measures throughout China are disrupting office work, manufacturing, and transportation is all part of a clever, convoluted plan to hurt the presidency of Donald Trump. The fact that tourism and travel have dropped off around the world, and that various companies have reported losses as a result of the virus and the measures taken to combat it, it's all just calculated to undermine President Trump's singular metric of success—the surging "economy" embodied in the stock market.

Stock market drop

Because there can't possibly be anything wrong with structuring economic policy entirely around a foundation of volatile investor speculation and a faith in limitless corporate growth. No, the strategy would be perfect if it weren't for the forces of evil aligning against Donald Trump to control global events in a way that hurts his political chances. In that sense, it's only reasonable for President Trump to dangle military aid in front of foreign leaders in exchange for dirt and propaganda against his political rivals. It's the only way he can fight back!

This latest drama comes on the heels of Limbaugh's receipt of the Presidential Medal of Freedom during President Trump's State of the Union Address—an honor which Limbaugh pretended to be surprised by. Some people have criticized the decision to give such a prestigious award to the kind of man who would glibly invent conspiracies about Chinese bio-weapons and downplay the severity of a little-understood contagion. On the other hand, if anyone should know about the dangers of viral respiratory infections—and the deadly pneumonia that can result in people with compromised systems—it's surely Rush Limbaugh. He is, after all, currently being treated for stage four lung cancer and is unlikely to recover.

Rush Limbaugh with a cigar

That last point is worth restating: Rush Limbaugh most likely will not be with us for much longer. It's an important thought to keep in mind when things seem bleak.

POLITICS

Could the DNC Steal Votes From Bernie Sanders in New Hampshire and Beyond?

Statistical anomalies in previous elections point to frightening vulnerabilities in how votes are tallied

In 2012, Mitt Romney was declared the winner of the GOP's Iowa caucus by a margin of just eight votes.

That result was announced at 1:30 AM on Caucus night, but two weeks later there was a different result. The Republican Party of Iowa had performed a recount of the votes and Rick Santorum—a candidate broadly considered too far outside the mainstream to stand a chance in the general election—was revealed as the actual winner. By that point of course it was far too late. Romney had already gotten the media attention that comes with winning, and had capitalized on that sense of momentum to achieve a solid victory in the New Hampshire primary.

2012 Iowa Caucus results Business Insider

If that sounds familiar, that's because there is currently a "recanvassing" under way in Iowa to reassess the results of a contest that will once again be decided by a very slim margin. Though Bernie Sanders managed a clear victory in the popular vote, Iowa's elaborate system for awarding "State Delegate Equivalents" at each caucus location (to then be converted to the actual delegate count that determines the Democratic party's nominee), has resulted in a near-tie between Senator Sanders and former South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigieg.

The official winner may not be announced for days or weeks—or it may never be known at all. In the mean time, Pete Buttigieg declared himself the winner on Caucus night, and has been treated as such by much of the media. With Sanders looking more and more like the frontrunner, Buttigieg is seen as much more palatable to moderate general election voters, and many powerful donors and party insiders would much rather he get the nomination. With that in mind, the chaos in Iowa—particularly the faulty app and the release of partial results that seemed to favor Buttigieg—has already sparked speculation of party corruption and election rigging for Sanders voters holding on to memories of the DNC's favoritism toward Hillary Clinton in 2016, but it may be more instructive to consider the model of the 2012 Republican primaries.

2012 GOP Primary candidates AP

2012 was not a simple year for Republicans in the way 2016 was for Democrats. Much like the 2020 field of Democratic candidates, there was not a presumptive nominee, but rather a wide field of contenders with centrists—Mitt Romney and Jon Huntsman—struggling against the enthusiastic support for more extreme candidates like Rick Santorum, Newt Gingrich, and Ron Paul. Polling seemed to swing wildly, from one candidate to the next until—according to some accounts—the RNC tipped the scales toward the man considered the most electable (read: bland and inoffensive) candidate.

The case of bias for Romney is as elaborate and detailed as every budding conspiracy theory about Acronym, Shadow Inc., and the new "Voter Protection Director" for the Nevada State Democratic Party—especially considering the contentious events of the Nevada Democratic Party state convention in 2016. Likewise, the overwhelming variety of those details is evidence—depending on your perspective—of either how insidious the whole plot was, or of the depths of its adherents' delusion.

Unrest at Nevada Democratic Party state convention in 2016 Chase Stevens/AP

For a start, there were a variety of issues in that year involving states attempting to increase their influence on the process by ignoring the traditional schedule for primaries and caucuses, skipping ahead of other states. The RNC was conflicted about how to handle that tactic, but many voters felt that the resulting schedule favored Romney's candidacy by allowing states where he polled well to vote earlier, further emphasizing the sense of building momentum. That much was acknowledged as a problem even at the time, but there are other issues that remain murkier. Was the miscount in Iowa intentional? Did the RNC combine fundraising with Romney's campaign too early? Did they pad Romney's delegate count to prevent a brokered convention? Most worryingly of all, were votes flipped to Romney in state primaries that lacked a paper trail?

Whatever the confusion in Iowa, the caucus system is at least public and relatively easy to monitor. But primaries that are carried out with all electronic voting machines are a black box, and the state parties run the show with little oversight. Unlike a federal election, primaries are fundamentally under the purview of political parties. They can choose their nominees however they like. They have chosen a roughly democratic system for a variety of reasons (to build enthusiasm, test candidates' campaign skills, and avoid voter alienation) but if they wanted to undermine the integrity of that process in order to ordain the candidate they see as standing the best chance in the general election, there would be little to stop them. According to two statisticians, Francois Choquette and James Johnson, that is exactly what happened in 2012.

Choquette and Johnson statistical analyses Choquette and Johnson, 2012

When Choquette and Johnson analyzed vote totals out of hundreds of precincts, they discovered a strong tendency for voters in larger precincts to favor Mitt Romney more than did voters in smaller precincts. These results have been criticized as attributable to demographic differences between precincts, but when researchers looked at results out of precincts that kept paper records of voting, that tendency disappeared. Likewise in Utah—where Romney was always expected to win by a wide margin—the results showed no shift in preference toward Romney based on the size of the precinct. The trend was so distinct in competitive precincts with no paper trail that Choquette and Johnson were unable to account for it as a result of chance or any factor other than deliberate fraud. According to their work, Romney received approximately a 7% bump in the most populous precincts in multiple states as a result of votes flipped from other candidates—allowing him to secure the nomination handily.

Choquette and Johnson's evidence was brought to court in a lawsuit filed by a third statistician at Witchita State University. Beth Clarkson works in the university's National Center for Advanced Materials Performance, and was inspired by Choquette and Johnson's research to investigate similar anomalies in Kansas's 2014 general election—larger precincts trending toward Republican candidates. She sued to gain access to more detailed records in order to build a statistical model that could shed light on the question of fraudulent vote flipping. Unfortunately Clarkson's efforts were stymied by Kansas Secretary of State Kris Kobach, who argued that releasing the time-stamped records could somehow violate voter anonymity.

Kris Kobach with Donald Trump Kris Kobach with Donald Trump

You may recognize Kris Kobach as perhaps the greatest enemy of unbiased elections in recent American history. Kobach is the man whose voter fraud commission pushed the false narrative of millions of fake voters in support of discriminatory voter ID laws, and whose apparent political and white-supremacist motivation for adding a citizenship question to the national census resulted in the Supreme Court rejecting the change—which would have led to dramatic under-counts of immigrant populations, and a shift in congressional districts that would disproportionately benefit the Republican party. While he was able to halt Clarkson investigation, many have credited her lawsuit as being instrumental in the push for recently enacted legislation which now requires post-election audits in Kansas. Reached for Comment, Clarkson admitted that this was a step in the right direction, though she was "not impressed" with the audit techniques being utilized.

Overall, Clarkson seems pessimistic about the fidelity and security of our elections, saying that there is still a lot of potential for fraudulent vote counts, "anytime there's no way to check a paper record." This does include several races in the Democratic primaries, though the New Hampshire primary taking place today is utilizing paper ballots, which leave less room for tampering. Nationally, there has been a push to move toward that model, but for those of us who will be casting votes on electronic machines, Clarkson advocated that, where possible, voters check their electronic vote against the paper record to ensure their vote was recorded correctly. And for all voters, Clarkson had a reminder to check your voter registration online in advance of every election. With recent voter purges Clarkson says there have been many cases "of people being surprised when they arrive at the polls to vote and find out, 'Oh, they don't have me down as a registered voter.'"

Voter registration purge ACLU

Beyond that, electronic voting remains so opaque and vulnerable, all we can do is continue pushing for paper-based voting systems and remind our nation's political institutions—as the primary process continues through New Hampshire and beyond—that we are watching them; that we will not take any irregularities lightly.

POLITICS

Why Did Mitt Romney Really Vote Against Donald Trump?

We have his public explanation, but it's worth considering his underlying motivation

On Wednesday afternoon Mitt Romney announced that he would be voting to convict President Donald Trump in the Senate's impeachment trial.

Romney became the only Republican to join in the Democrats vote to convict Donald Trump for abuses of power and remove him from office—a vote that failed, 48-52, resulting in President Trump's acquittal. The move also immediately inspired mass calls to remove Romney from the senate with #RecallRomney trending across Twitter almost immediately after the announcement was made public. Romney explained his reasoning in a statement on the senate floor, saying of Trump's crimes that "Corrupting an election to keep oneself in office is perhaps the most abusive and destructive violation of one's oath of office that I can imagine." But that only tells us what he wants us to know. There remains a question of his underlying motivation, and there are four basic theories that cover the full gamut of possibilities.

Theory 1: He Did it Because He's Brave

According to this theory, Romney is essentially telling the truth. He believed Trump was guilty, and he was too principled to vote for acquittal for reasons of political expediency. Trump and his fellow Republicans would not be jumping down his throat if he had gone along with the rest of the party, but it would also have given Donald Trump a stronger case to claim that the whole impeachment was a sham. Romney's vote wasn't enough to secure a conviction, but if every Republican had voted in lockstep against conviction, then the whole enterprise would could easily have been written off by Trump and his allies as a witch hunt by the wacky Democrats, and Trump would have leapt immediately to claiming exoneration. Romney basically sacrificed himself for the cause of democracy and justice. This is the theory behind another trending hashtag #MittRomneyIsMyHero.

Mitt Romney Dinner With Trump John Angelillo

Theory 2: He Did it Because He's Stupid

Did he really think a nice speech and a surprise vote was going to turn the tides? Trump and his loyalists (i.e. most of the Republican party) have no problem abandoning a former ally and throwing him under the bus. They've turned against John Bolton, Steve Bannon, Jim Mattis, Michael Cohen and countless others from Trump's inner circle. They feel no qualms about declaring a Trump-critic like Romney a traitor—which is why #RomneyIsADemocrat is also trending. But it's not as though the Democrats will actually welcome Romney to their side. They still disagree with him on basically everything. All he managed to do, according to this theory, is to isolate himself and doom his political future.

Theory 3: He Did it Because He's Jealous

Mitt Romney ran for president against Barack Obama in 2012. When he was pressured to release his tax returns he gave in, and it likely contributed to him losing the election. Donald Trump has never given in to any sense of duty, dignity, or decorum, and that's why he was elected president in 2016. Mitt Romney was a vocal critic at the time and has remained a critic because, according to a tweet from Donald Trump Jr., "Mitt Romney is forever bitter that he will never be POTUS."

Theory 4: He Did it Because He Can

This is the theory that takes all the other theories into consideration, and adds some more logistics. Romney may be brave, stupid, and jealous, but the major reason he felt free to vote for Trump's removal is that he had no reason not to. Romney serves as Senator for the state of Utah, where the Mormon church and Mormon values still reign. Unlike many other Christian groups in America, the Church of Latter Day Saints has had a hard time getting behind a crass, philandering, biblically illiterate man. In 2016 Utah gave Evan McMullin more than 21% of the vote—the highest proportion a third-party candidate received in any state—largely on the basis of his #NeverTrump campaign. Utah is the one Republican stronghold where that tactic plays reasonably well. On top of that, Romney won't be up for reelection until 2024. He may be playing a long game, hoping that Trump will have lost popularity by then.

Regardless of your opinion, it's worth checking out Romney's statement before jumping on one of these hashtag trends.