Mother Jones Magazine

Roger Stone to Headline Conservative Conference at Struggling Trump Resort

A pro-Trump political conference that last year featured a video depicting a fake Donald Trump violently killing political opponents announced Tuesday that it will return October 8-11 with Roger Stone, whose prison sentence Trump commuted in July, as a headliner. And for the second straight year, the American Priority Conference, or AmpFest, is set to be held at Trump National Doral Miami Golf Club, potentially indoors.

In a press release Tuesday, American Priority did not say if the event will be held inside or outside. Nor did it specify any coronavirus mitigation plans. When Mother Jones called Trump Doral’s reservations line, the person who answered said that events there may be held in the resort’s clubhouse, or outdoors, depending on rules in Miami which currently limits meetings and banquets to 50 percent of the room’s capacity, as the state endures an outbreak that has killed 12,000 or more Floridians.

Roger Stone and American Priority representatives did not respond to questions. But the conference’s organizer, Alex Philips, has strong views on the matter. Philips’ Twitter handle is “Proud mask debator” and he regularly posts attacks on coronavirus mitigation measures.

What is going on?
Why are we still closed down in some states? Why are kids not in school. Why is the media still frightening the public?https://t.co/DV5qjUHXMZ

— Proud mask debator (@AlexpHSL) September 7, 2020

Speakers scheduled to appear at the conference include Robert F. Kennedy Jr., known for spreading misinformation about vaccinations, and Dr. Simone Gold, who in July appeared in a viral video, later tweeted by Trump, in which she claimed hydroxychloroquine cures Covid-19, among other misleading assertions. (Gold appeared in the video with Dr. Stella Immanuel, who gained notice for claiming elsewhere that sex with demons in dreams causes illness.) The conference bills Gold, who says she met in July with Vice President Mike Pence, as “censored,” in an apparent reference to social media companies removing the video for promoting coronavirus misinformation.

Stone has gone further than Gold in that regard. In an April 13 radio interview with Joe Piscopo on New York City’s AM970, Stone floated a bizarre and false theory that Bill Gates helped to create coronavirus so that he can plant microchips in people’s heads. “He and other globalists are using it for mandatory vaccinations and microchipping people so we know if they’ve been tested,” Stone said, summarizing a theory he described as “open for vigorous debate.”

Last fall, a Washington DC jury convicted Stone of lying to Congress about his contacts with the Trump campaign about WikiLeaks’ plans to release emails stolen from Democrats by Russian hackers. Trump commuted Stone’s sentence in July, in a move that critics note personally benefits Trump. 

Former Trump campaign chief Corey Lewandowski, George Papadopoulos, a former Trump campaign aide who pleaded guilty in 2017 to lying to FBI agents about his contacts with a suspected Russian agent, Rep. Matt Gaetz (R-Fla.), and conservative pundit Dinesh D’Souza, who in 2018 received a pardon from Trump for a campaign finance conviction, are also listed as speakers.

Tickets range from $300 to $2,500 for VIPS.

Hosting the conference at Trump’s Doral resort outside of Miami is a gift to the president who has banked millions on conservative events that organizers have flocked to have hosted at his properties. Since Trump’s election Doral has struggled financially, with revenues reported to have fallen since he was inaugurated. In his most recent personal financial disclosure, Trump reported revenues at the resort were up, but that didn’t include the costs of running the golf resort. Last fall, Trump attempted to pitch the resort, which he bought in 2012 with the help of a $125 million loan from Deutsche Bank, as a potential venue for this year’s G7 conference, in one of his most overt attempts to use the presidency to profit, before backing off due to bipartisan condemnation.

The American Priority Conference was first held in 2018 in Washington. It moved to Doral last year, headlined by figures including Donald Trump Jr. and former White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders, alongside proponents of QAnon and other conspiracy theories. But it drew wide attention when attendees saw a video that included a clip showing Trump’s head superimposed on the body of a man opening fire inside the “Church of Fake News,” killing figures with the faces of his critics or logos of media organizations superimposed on them. Philips told the New York Times that video was part of a “meme exhibit” submitted by a third party. “American Priority rejects all political violence and aims to promote a healthy dialogue about the preservation of free speech,” Philips said.

Lunchtime Photo

This is another frame from a sequence of super intense sunset photos that I shot at Willaha, Arizona, just south of the Grand Canyon. I put up a previous one here a few months ago. This one lacks the moon, but it includes the objects at the bottom left that look sort of like a broken-down wagon and a broken-down person sitting beside it. That’s not what it is, of course: I think the rectagular doodah was a sign and the stuff beside it was just some random foliage. Still, it looks sort of like a Grapes of Wrath scene as long as you ignore the airport control tower off to the left.

January 28, 2010 — Willaha, Arizona

After 6 Murder Trials and 23 Years Behind Bars, Curtis Flowers Is Set Free

The scope of good news that makes Recharge is expansive, from stories of justice achieved to the brightening, heartening, surprising boosts from the archives, like Dorothea Lange’s photos getting digitized, Satchel Paige’s life advice revisited (from our second-ever magazine), and Pharoahe Monch’s truth-telling returned to. Then there’s the genre of good that is essentially bad interrupted, or atrocity halted; when injustice is intervened on late, like wrongly prosecuted people no longer prosecuted, decades after irreversible harm accumulates.

My colleague Venu Gupta messaged me with a story of exactly this kind. An innocent man, Curtis Flowers, tried six times on murder changes and incarcerated for 23 years before the case was dropped. “How have we come to a point where we caused so much pain to someone and feel like the end of that pain is a celebration?” Venu asked. What does it say about the world “that a man who was not guilty and spent decades in jail after six trials was then found not guilty”?

Read the full story by Mother Jones and by the Mississippi Center for Justice’s tireless, heroic leaders (here and here), and share more goodness like it, and all forms of recharges, at recharge@motherjones.com. Also share the Recharge blog at motherjones.com/recharge with one person who might want or need it today.

Fact of the Day: Uninsured People in the United States

I started doing these little “Fact of the Day” posts last week, and I never intended to do them daily—or to do them forever. But I’ll keep doing them periodically. There are lots of facts to unpack, after all.

Today is Part 1 of a 2-part series: America’s biggest disgraces. The first one is pretty familiar to everyone who reads this blog: even after Obamacare improved things, we still have nearly 9 percent of the population that has no health coverage. We are the only rich nation in the world that treats its poor this way, and it’s something we should all be ashamed of.

Part 2 comes tomorrow.

Trump Used to Regularly Brag About Giving Money to the Pentagon. Now He’s Lashing Out at the Defense Industry.

On Monday, President Trump delivered one of his most baffling lines yet at a White House news conference. Asked again about the Atlantic story detailing his disparagement of wounded veterans and soldiers who died in war, Trump said the “top people” in the military “probably” don’t love him because “because they want to do nothing but fight wars so all of those wonderful companies that make the bombs and make the planes and make everything else stay happy.”

The idea that special interests hold too much sway at the Pentagon and ultimately benefit from its outsized budget is not a new one. Elizabeth Warren made pretty much the same argument in 2018 when she said, “It’s clear that the Pentagon is captured by the so-called ‘Big Five’ defense contractors-and taxpayers are picking up the bill.” But it’s confusing to hear Trump express that idea given his past actions regarding the Pentagon. Under Trump, the defense budget has risen for three straight years, an achievement he once was so proud of that he repeatedly exaggerated its scale and impact.

Two months after taking office, he told a joint session of Congress that he planned to propose a budget “that calls for one of the largest increases in national defense spending in American history.” His resulting proposal did “not appear to be a significant departure from the Obama defense budget,” per the Center for Strategic and International Studies’ budget guru Todd Harrison, and if enacted, would have only been the “ninth-largest increase in the past four decades.” Even Congress, which was controlled at the time by Republicans, thought Trump could do better and ended up appropriating $37 billion more than Trump requested for general Pentagon operations “and another $60 billion for war operations overseas in Iraq, Syria, Afghanistan and elsewhere,” the New York Times reported.

Trump’s budget proposals in 2018 and 2019 similarly raised defense spending, but not by nearly as much as Trump claimed in speeches on the campaign trail or in front of US service members. His repeated claim that he invested $2 trillion to burnish a “totally depleted” fighting force has been debunked over and over again.

But it’s not just the Pentagon’s budget; Trump has gone out of his way to boost defense companies directly. After the journalist Jamal Khashoggi was brutally murdered by agents of Prince Mohammed bin Salman of Saudi Arabia, Trump defended the Saudi dictator by noting that the kingdom had committed to spend $110 billion on “military equipment from Boeing, Lockheed Martin, Raytheon and many other great US defense contractors.” During a meeting with the Vietnamese prime minister, Trump pitched him on importing weapons from the United States. “We make the best military equipment in the world by far, whether it’s jet fighters or missiles or rockets or anything you want to name, we make, we’re acknowledged to have made, we make the best,” Trump said. He’s also used the White House Twitter feed to promote companies like Lockheed. 

Far from being a critic of Pentagon waste, Trump has actively abetted it by rewarding defense contractors with high-level government jobs. Several ex-Boeing executives received plush national security jobs, including onetime acting Defense Secretary Patrick Shanahan. Mark Esper, the current Defense secretary, used to lobby for Raytheon. But now that his private remarks attacking the troops have become public, Trump, who spent three years exaggerating his own effort to boost defense spending, suddenly seems concerned about waste and corruption at the Pentagon.

Why the Fuss Over the Serbia-Kosovo Treaty?

Hey, do you all remember that big Serbia-Kosovo treaty that President Trump bragged about last Friday? No? I don’t blame you. You probably don’t care all that much about Serbia and Kosovo in the first place, and anyway, according to Majda Ruge there was nothing new in it anyway. It was just a laundry list of stuff that both countries had already agreed to long ago.

Still, no harm, no foul, right? Presidents hype things during election years all the time. As long as no harm was done—

For all the supposed high-level political attention brought to this agreement, U.S. Ambassador Richard Grenell couldn’t get the parties to issue a unified statement—raising questions about the legal status of the signed documents and reflecting a degree of sloppiness that comes with prioritizing speed and showiness over content.

…Was it worth it? For this agreement to come about, Grenell helped bring down the reformist Kosovo government of former Prime Minister Albin Kurti, got Donald Trump Jr. to threaten the withdrawal of U.S. troops from Kosovo, and deepened a transatlantic rift that will certainly be exploited by regional politicians. This is amateur-hour diplomacy, and the damage done dwarfs any gains.

That’s peculiar. Even during election season, why bother with such heavy handedness to accomplish next to nothing? I mean, if that’s all there was to it—

The downside…is that both parties risk drifting further away from the EU, as it requires opening an embassy in Jerusalem. Whether Serbia and Kosovo will actually do so is a different issue altogether, but it creates additional problems for both countries when it comes to aligning their foreign policy with the EU.

Finally we get to the bottom of things. The agreement requires both Serbia and Kosovo to open embassies in Jerusalem, which is catnip to Trump’s evangelical base. Maybe you and I don’t care much about Serbia and Kosovo—and maybe evangelicals don’t either—but embassies in Jerusalem is a whole different thing. Even if they never actually happen, they will become a cause célèbre among evangelicals, spread via sermons, church newsletters, Facebook chains, and so forth. It may not be the greatest way of conducting foreign policy, but it’s a great way of running a political campaign.

New Study Suggests Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Was Responsible for 19% of August COVID-19 Cases

During the month between August 2nd and September 2nd the US recorded 1.4 million new cases of COVID-19. According to a new study, 19 percent of those cases were caused by the Sturgis Motorcycle Rally in South Dakota.

That is not a typo: 19 percent. And God only knows how many more to add to that as infections spread not from attendees, but from the next generation of people infected by the attendees. It’s probably impossible to ever know.

The study’s methodology was relatively straightforward: the authors used anonymized cell phone data to determine where attendees came from and where they returned to. Then they measured increases in COVID-19 in those places. After plotting every county in the US, they found a strong dose-response relationship between increases in COVID-19 and the number of attendees from each county. After a bit of arithmetic, they estimated that Sturgis was responsible for a total of 266,000 new cases in the one-month study period.

The authors also estimate a total public health cost of about $12 billion as a result of these additional infections, which may or may not be entirely accurate. To me, though, that’s hardly a dramatic figure when the total cost of the pandemic appears to be in the range of trillions of dollars. What’s more important is the knowledge that these kinds of superspreader events are what keep the pandemic going and prevent us from ever getting back to normal. Other similar kinds of events might be far smaller than Sturgis, but there are a lot more of them. Shut ’em down!

Sturgis Motorcycle Rally Is Now Linked to More Than 250,000 Coronavirus Cases

The inevitable fallout from last month’s Sturgis Motorcycle Rally, an annual event that packed nearly 500,000 people into a small town in South Dakota, is becoming clear, and the emerging picture is grim. 

According to a new study, which tracked anonymized cellphone data from the rally, over 250,000 coronavirus cases have now been tied to the 10-day event, one of the largest to be held since the start of the pandemic. It drew motorcycle enthusiasts from around the country, many of whom were seen without face coverings inside crowded bars, restaurants, and other indoor establishments. 

The explosion in cases, the study from the Germany-based IZA Institute of Labor Economics finds, is expected to reach $12 billion in public health costs.

“The Sturgis Motorcycle Rally represents a situation where many of the ‘worst-case scenarios’ for super-spreading occurred simultaneously,” the researchers wrote, “the event was prolonged, included individuals packed closely together, involved a large out-of-town population, and had low compliance with recommended infection countermeasures such as the use of masks.” 

The conclusion, while staggering, is unlikely to surprise to public health officials who warned that proceeding with the rally could be disastrous, particularly given the region’s relaxed attitude towards social distancing guidelines and some of the attendees’ mockery of the pandemic. “Screw COVID. I went to Sturgis,” read one t-shirt from the rally, where overwhelming support for President Trump was the norm. 

The study comes on the heels of the first reported death from the event, a Minnesota man in his 60’s who attended the rally who died last week. South Dakota now has one of the country’s highest rates of coronavirus cases. 

How SUVs Conquered the World—and Ruined the Environment

This piece was originally published in the Guardian and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

They are the hulking cars that have conquered the world. Spreading from the heartlands of the US to a new generation of eager buyers in China to dominate even the twisting, narrow streets of Europe, the sports utility vehicle, or SUV, has bludgeoned its way to automobile supremacy with a heady mix of convenience and marketing muscle.

The rise of the SUV as the world’s pre-eminent car has been so rapid that the consequences of this new status—the altered patterns of urban life, air quality, pedestrian safety, where to park the things—are still coming into focus.

But it’s increasingly clear that SUVs’ most profound impact is playing out within the climate crisis, where their surging popularity is producing a vast new source of planet-cooking emissions.

Last year, the International Energy Agency made a finding that stunned even its own researchers. SUVs were the second largest cause of the global rise in carbon dioxide emissions over the past decade, eclipsing all shipping, aviation, heavy industry and even trucks, usually the only vehicles to loom larger than them on the road.

Each year, SUVs belch out 700 megatons of CO2, about the entire output of the UK and Netherlands combined. If all SUV drivers banded together to form their own country, it would rank as the seventh largest emitter in the world.

Climate activists may hurl themselves in the path of new oil pipelines and ladle enough guilt on to flying that flygskam, or “flight shame”, has spread from Sweden around the world but a mammoth, and growing, cause of the climate crisis has crept up almost unnoticed around us.

“The global rise of SUVs is challenging efforts to reduce emissions,” Fatih Birol, executive director of the IEA, admitted.

SUVs raced to a new milestone in 2019, surpassing 40 percent of all car sales worldwide for the first time. The world’s roads, parking lots and garages now contain more than 200m SUVs, eight times the number from a decade ago. SUVs’ share of car sales in the UK has tripled over the past 10 years, in Germany last year one in three cars sold was an SUV.

Combining the weight of an adult rhinoceros and the aerodynamics of a refrigerator, SUVs require more energy to move around than smaller cars and therefore emit more CO2, overshadowing the car industry’s climate gains from fuel efficiency improvements and the nascent electric vehicle market.

“They created a market that pushes our buttons”

Emissions analysis commissioned by the Guardian illustrate, for the first time in detail, how much worse for the climate SUVs are than smaller vehicles, and how they have helped transform our cities.

  • In the US, SUVs emit 14 percent more carbon dioxide than small passenger cars on average, a wider disparity than in the European Union but smaller than China.
  • These differences add up to a hefty toll in emissions—all of the SUVs sold in the US just in 2018 will in a single year emit 3.5 million tons more in CO2 than if they were smaller cars. Over a 15-year lifetime of the vehicles, the extra pollution is on a par with the entire annual emissions of Norway.
  • Over a 15-year lifespan, the SUVs sold in the US in 2018 will emit 429.5 million tons of CO2. In China, the emissions will amount to 482 million tons of CO2, while in the EU the vehicles will expel 129m tonnes of CO2. Combined, these emissions will be three times higher than what the UK emits from all sources in a single year.

“To avert the worst of the climate catastrophe, the transport sector needs to be completely decarbonized,” said Sebastian Castellanos, a researcher at the New Urban Mobility Alliance who calculated the emissions. “With the explosion in SUV sales, we are moving even farther away from our goal of decarbonizing the sector.”

This global phenomenon has its roots and impetus in the US, where in the 1980s the car industry carved out a new category called the “sport-utility vehicle”, a sort of mash-up between a truck, a minivan and the traditional American family car. After successfully lobbying lawmakers to class these vehicles as light trucks rather than cars, binding SUVs to less stringent fuel efficiency standards, the industry set about slotting them into almost every arena of American life.

Once a workhorse that lugged tools around or was used for bumpy off-road driving, the SUV morphed into the default option for families puttering around suburbia and even for people in the cores of densely populated cities. The look and cost of SUVs stretched to suit all tastes—the 1984 Jeep Cherokee, a boxy, spartan offering considered the first SUV, has spawned successors ranging from the compact Kia Sportage to the sporty Mercedes ML.

The industry found that American drivers enjoy the lofty seating position of SUVs, as well as the capacity and the comforting feel of security their bulk provides, even if half of all journeys taken in the US are mundane trips of under three miles to run errands rather than high-octane adventures in the Rocky Mountains. For many Americans, SUVs invoke alluring qualities of fortitude and independence.

“Pretty much everyone wants one now,” said Stephanie Brinley, principal automotive analyst at IHS Markit. “The family car is now a utility vehicle and not a sedan. Millennials like them, baby boomers like them. Americans like to take all of their stuff with them and automakers figured this out.”

Marketing for SUVs is now so broad it no longer seems jarring to see ads of a beefy car-truck zooming around urban streets to take its occupant to a yoga class or to grab a coffee. Ford was so thrilled with its recent relaunch of the Bronco, a model infamous for being driven by OJ Simpson as he was chased by a phalanx of police cars in 1994, that it rolled out an eight-part podcast series in celebration.

“These SUVs are named after mountains and other places you’ll never go to. They created a market that pushes our buttons.”

“Car companies looked at things that people value, such as macho-ness, ruggedness and protection of the family, and leveraged that,” said Harvey Miller, professor and director of the Center for Urban and Regional Analysis at Ohio State University. “These SUVs are named after mountains and other places you’ll never go to. They created a market that pushes our buttons.”

As Bloomberg’s Nat Bullard noted in a recent tweet: “We don’t buy cars here. We buy big cars built on truck bodies, and we buy trucks and drive them like cars.” The US is now indisputably an SUV nation, a transformation that has had profound consequences for American cities as well as the global climate.

The SUV city

This new reality is a logical endpoint to a century of lobbying and cajoling by the car industry to turn American city streets from raucous communal areas shared by pedestrians, market stands and early vehicles to mega-highways that slice disproportionately through communities of color; where jaywalking is a punishable act and where so much space is required for the 95 percent of the time our cars sit idle that Los Angeles, for example, devotes an area larger than the land mass of Manhattan just for parking.

To Miller, SUVs are a monument to a broader American failure that has seen pedestrians and cyclists forsaken for endless miles of road building, with non-car users forced to push what he calls “beg buttons” to pause traffic to enter roads that should be egalitarian public spaces.

SUVs, according to Miller, not only bring a stew of pollution and an element of fear to those attempting to traverse roads on foot or bike, they are fundamentally inefficient. “You are taking a 200 lb package, a human, and wrapping it in a 6,000 lb shipping container,” he said. “For some reason we think that is a good way to move through a city. If Amazon used that rationale it would be out of business in a week.”

Alarm has also been raised over the safety of SUVs, given that during accidents their elevated stature tends to strike pedestrians and cyclists on the upper torso and then crushes them under the wheels. “They are killing machines,” said Miller. “They cause a lot of damage to the global climate, to air quality and to the people they hit. SUVs are terrible for cities and neighborhoods, they serve no purpose there. You don’t need them to run to the store to buy a gallon of milk.”

Taming SUV emissions will largely come down to fuel efficiency improvements and a significant shift to electric versions. Firms including Nissan, General Motors and, of course, Tesla have started to roll out electric SUVs, nudging the driving range up to 300 miles without a charge. But the challenge is steep—today, only about one in every 100 vehicles sold in the US is electric, recharging stations are still sparse and the price of oil—and therefore gasoline at the pump—has recently plummeted to record lows.

A deeper-rooted reform would involve a reimagining of US towns and cities as places largely without cars, a previously unthinkable scenario before the pandemic emptied streets and saw outdoor diners, skateboarders and strolling couples take their place on the reclaimed tarmac. The crisis of 2020 has given Americans a glimpse of a different sort of urban life, one more readily associated with Amsterdam or Venice, although there is little sign the clamor for SUVs is weakening.

“Most Americans can’t imagine anything else other than highways and crappy public transit. It’s all they’ve ever seen,” said Miller. “Now that SUVs are here they are difficult to unwind but if we want sustainable, healthy cities we have to do it.”

Europe, with its more embedded culture of walking, cycling and public transport, is now staging something of a backlash against the SUV, with protests held in Germany over the vehicles’ climate impact and calls in the UK, home of the “Chelsea tractor” insult, for a tobacco-style ban on advertising SUVs because they spew out huge volumes of air pollutants that lodge harmful particles in the lungs and can even lead to brain damage.

Not so in America, where the era of the SUV is far from threatened. IHS Markit forecasts SUVs will make up half of all US car sales this year for the first time, strengthening further to 54 percent of sales by 2025. General Motors, Fiat Chrysler and Ford are increasingly now SUV, rather than car, makers.

“The dominance of SUVs is only going to stretch,” said Brinley. “We will just see them as the norm.”

The Trump Files: How Donald Screwed Over New York City on His Tax Bill

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current President—on October 24, 2016.

When Donald made his first huge splash by building the Grand Hyatt hotel in Midtown Manhattan in the late 1970s, he did so on the back of an enormous, unprecedented tax break from the city. Trump, through his big-donor father, had close ties to then-Mayor Abe Beame (D). “Whatever my friends Fred and Donald want in this town, they get,” Beame once told the man who sold the hotel site to Trump. What Trump wanted, and got, was a deal in which a tax-exempt city agency bought the site of the hotel, leased it back to Trump for $1 a year, and spared him from paying property taxes for 40 years.

The massive tax abatement angered other developers, so the city made Trump agree to give back some of his profits each year as a rent payment. But when the Grand Hyatt became a success, the hotel cooked the books so it could pay the city less.

In 1986, according to CBS News, the Grand Hyatt had its best year ever. After getting $3.7 million from the hotel in 1985, city officials expected an even larger payment the next year. Instead, Trump ordered the Grant Hyatt to change its accounting methods to lower its reported profits. Despite its banner year, the hotel paid the city just $667,000.

Karen Burstein, the city’s auditor general, investigated the hotel’s accounting practices and called them “aberrant and distortive” in a 1989 report. Experts who reviewed the report for CBS News said it “detailed failures in basic bookkeeping, the seemingly sudden adoption of irregular accounting methods, and efforts to stymie officials.” That included being unable to find many of the hotel’s ledgers and other financial paperwork, which Burstein called “just inexcusable.” She concluded that Trump owed the city $2.9 million as a result of his maneuvers, but it doesn’t appear to have gotten the money back. The New York Times reported last month that the city may have recovered only $850,000 from Trump in a 2004 settlement.

“Trump leveraged tax forgiveness and clout into a deal where he had essentially no risk at all; there was no downside,” Burstein told the Los Angeles Times in 2011. “Then, having triumphed, he repaid his benefactors by excoriating them as inept, venal and useless.”

Trump sold his stake in the hotel in 1996, but the tax abatement is still in effect. While the city initially said it would cost it about $4 million a year, or about $160 million in lost revenue over its lifetime, it’s ended up being even costlier. According to the New York Times, the tax break has cost the city almost $360 million so far—and there are still four years left on the deal.

 

Lunchtime Photo

I don’t have any pictures truly suitable for Labor Day, so I chose the closest I could find: a close-up picture of these industrious little ants, working hard at whatever it is that ants do. They’re perfectly harmless as long as you keep them away from atomic explosions.

April 20, 2019 — Laguna Coast Wilderness Park, Orange County, California

The Trump Files: Donald Sued Other People Named Trump for Using Their Own Name

This post was originally published as part of “The Trump Files”—a collection of telling episodes, strange but true stories, and curious scenes from the life of our current President—on August 2, 2016.

Donald Trump isn’t the only Trump in the world, but that fact apparently came as a surprise to Donald in 1984. That’s when Trump got a letter from the publisher of Drug Store News welcoming him to the fraternity of chain drug store owners. But Trump hadn’t bought Duane Reade or CVS. The letter was intended for a business called the Trump Group, run by South African-born developers Eddie and Jules Trump, which had recently bid for the Pay ‘n Save chain.

Donald, to put it mildly, was not pleased. “The defendants are South Africans whose recent entrance in the New York area utilizing the name ‘the Trump Group’ can only be viewed as a poorly veiled attempt at trading on the goodwill, reputation and financial credibility of the plaintiff,” read a lawsuit he quickly filed against the Trump Group. He lost that case but did succeed in having the Trump Group’s trademark revoked in 1988.

That didn’t hurt the other Trumps too much. The Real Deal, a New York real estate publication, noted in 2009 that Eddie and Jules, who still use the Trump Group name, have “quietly built an empire on luxury real estate development” in Florida and other places. Eddie was even placed 35th on a 2013 list of the world’s 50 most “influential” rich people, a list on which Donald did not appear.

But there’s no bad blood between the Trumps, even if Jules was an early $25,000 donor to Marco Rubio’s super-PAC, according to Gawker. “I’m friends with them,” Donald told the New York Times. “They’re quality guys. They do quality developments.”

“We’re very boring,” Jules told the Real Deal. “We’re very different from Mr. Trump. He’s much more interesting. Go write about him.”

Fact of the Day: The Demise of Labor Unions Has Cost You a Bundle

Today will bring both paeans to the labor movement that used to be and sorrowful laments to the labor movement that’s nearly extinct today. But really, the entire story can be boiled down to a single chart:

If union density and income share had remained at their level of 50 years ago—before Reaganomics put an end to all that—working class households would be earning $10,000 more than they do now and middle-class households would be earning $15-20,000 more. That’s real money.

Instead it’s all been hoovered up by the top ten percent—and especially the top 1 percent—and there’s been no countervailing power big enough and powerful enough to keep the rich from taking it. And that’s just the way they like it.

One Woman’s Remarkable Quest to Feed Seattle’s Frontline Workers

This piece was originally published in High Country News and appears here as part of our Climate Desk Partnership.

In early March, during the first days of the pandemic, people across the country were glued to the news, eager for the latest updates from hospitals and research labs. Ellen Kuwana, a science communicator in Seattle, read about the scientists working overtime to process COVID-19 tests at the University of Washington’s virology lab. The researchers were working around the clock, and with restaurants closing to comply with shut-down orders, the scientists often went hours without eating. When Kuwana stopped by with a bunch of pizzas, they were thrilled.

That pizza delivery whetted Kuwana’s appetite to help and became the first of hundreds she’s made for We Got This Seattle, a nonprofit organization that uses donations to purchase food from local restaurants for frontline workers. The group has delivered 18,000 meals to grocery stores, homeless shelters, fire stations and nonprofit organizations—and the virology lab, which it still supports. “Ellen was the first person to realize that was happening,” said Lisa Rider, the lab’s program coordinator. “I have seen people cheer up when receiving a food donation, talking about how our community reached out and supported us. That’s so meaningful, to feel like we are appreciated.”

Nearly six months into the pandemic, Kuwana continues to bring food to workers across town, though the pace has slowed as donors and volunteers focus on other emergencies, such as systemic racism and voter suppression. High Country News caught up with her between deliveries in late August to ask about We Got This Seattle’s origins and Kuwana’s plans for the future. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Where did the idea for We Got This Seattle come from?

As a science writer, I’m on Twitter way too much. As the first cases appeared in Seattle, it quickly became evident we were going to become the epicenter. I learned that UW virology was running COVID-19 tests, and there was a tweet about a local restaurant giving 10% off to health-care workers. So I thought, “Why don’t I spend a couple hundred dollars and get pizza delivered to UW virology, just as a token of appreciation?” I thought, “If I get sick, I don’t want to just have sat home and done nothing.”

So on March 13, I ordered pizza (from Pagliacci Pizza) and the manager said, “We’re going to donate it.” I looked at the receipt, and it would’ve been $500! Once Pagliacci donated, I decided to call another business and tell them what I was doing—and it very quickly became apparent that restaurants were struggling, too, so I ended up putting out a call to friends on Facebook to donate if they wanted to support the effort. I was floored by the response; you could watch the numbers tick upwards in real time. Within 24 hours, I had $1,000, and when we hit $35,000, I founded a 501(c)3. I was particularly touched by the $5 donations. It just spoke to people really wanting to do something.

How did you go about ordering food from restaurants and dropping off donations?

At first, I had a paper calendar to track the meals we were delivering. I’d call up restaurants and ask, “What do you need to charge me?” I asked them to prepare comfort food: noodles, rice and curry. It doesn’t have to be the most gourmet thing, but it can’t be a chunk of chicken they need to cut with a knife and fork, since most people are holding the box with one hand, eating on their feet. And nothing too garlicky, since people are often wearing masks all day.

A lot of people offered to deliver food, but I was initially hesitant, because there is a small amount of risk — I was willing to take that on for myself, but hesitant to tell anyone else to take it on. I coached people that any time they got out of their car and got back in, they should Purell their hands and not go into any restaurants, and I’d arrange for the restaurant to come out and put things in the trunk.

So some deliveries were made by me, and some were other drivers. In the last two weeks of March, we fed 1,431 people; in April, we fed 6,851 people, and were sometimes doing eight deliveries a day. Most nights, I was up until 1 or 2 am coordinating deliveries. I had a full-time job (in communications) up until April 10, but I ended up quitting. There’s nothing like a global pandemic to bring your priorities into focus.

“Oh my gosh, I’ve had such a rough day, we’re all just working so hard and that is amazing.”

Have there been any moments that have stuck with you?

There are so many. One day, I called Community Health’s mental health services and said, “Hi, I’m Ellen, I started this organization, can I give you all a lunch someday?” There was a pause, and I was wondering, did I get cut off? The person who answered the phone was crying and trying to compose herself. She said, “Oh my gosh, I’ve had such a rough day, we’re all just working so hard and that is amazing.” It just gets back to showing people they’re appreciated, and food is a very basic thing. It’s an easy way to take care of people.

So many projects from the beginning of the pandemic have fizzled. How have you kept things going all these months?

I won’t lie; there have been a few times I’ve thought about stopping. I’ve had two flat tires from all the driving around. Sometimes I’ve had to wait outside a hospital for 45 minutes because they’re in the middle of an emergency. And the more you’re out and about, the more you’re potentially in dangerous situations. One night, after a drop-off, I offered some police officers cookies and they said, “Ma’am, we’re in the middle of an armed robbery, so you need to get back into your car.”

It’s always a struggle during any time to keep going. As a mom, I’m sometimes the last thing I take care of. It’s a stressful time, and it’s important to know you’re not alone; Twitter has been amazing for that. One day, I broke my favorite wine glass and just started crying. I tweeted about it, and someone across the country said, “I want to buy you a new wine glass.” I had to tell myself to accept the help.

I’ve also had to give myself permission to slow down. We took a week off (in July) and stayed at a friend’s cabin and got outside every day. It was like taking a long cold drink after being out in the desert. We went on a 10-mile hike, which I’d never done before. It was a nice parallel with this project: If I had to do it by myself, I don’t think I could’ve done it. But my kids were there, and I said, “OK, no matter the pace, just keep going.”

The Environmental Services staff of Swedish Medical Center, Seattle, take a break to eat a donated meal from Pagliacci Pizza on April 1, 2020, which was when COVID-19 deaths were highest in King County.
We Got This Seattle

Has the pace of deliveries changed over these last few months?

Things have kind of tapered off. March through May was our peak; we were doing on average three or four deliveries a day. In June, I was tired; some days we didn’t have any deliveries, and we were doing maybe eight deliveries a week. I gave myself August “off,” but I’m still delivering cookies and coffee; I’m just not actively seeking out new sites, or ordering a lot of food. Part of that was to give myself time to catch up on paperwork. I have definitely slowed down because I have to realize that it’s taking a toll on me, and on my family, and I can’t do it all.

What’s next for We Got This Seattle? 

Part of my August off is to ponder my next steps. A lot of us are really concerned about COVID spread in late fall and winter, and if We Got This Seattle is going to be active in the winter—if things get bad again—then I would probably need another $100,000 in support. That would be a lot of work and energy.

What might you say to people looking to make a difference in their community?

If you don’t have a similar program already, call your favorite restaurant and see if they would charge you for meals. Ask a few friends for help, and then call your local medical clinic or grocery store, and make a donation to say thanks. Or if you have kids, ask them to draw pictures and thank-you notes for health-care providers. I see them hanging on the bulletin board in labs during my deliveries.

It sounds trite to say one person can make a difference, and it wasn’t just me—I’ve had so much help, and that has really helped to keep me going—but you can really brighten someone’s day.

“Change Y’all Lives Out There”: Watch Jacob Blake’s Powerful Message From His Hospital Bed

It’s been two weeks since Jacob Blake was shot in the back by Kenosha, Wisc., police officer Rusten Shesky, reinvigorating an uprising against police brutality and racism that has swept the country since the death of George Floyd in early summer. On Saturday, Blake spoke about the fragility of life from the hospital bed where he remains paralyzed from the waist down.

“I just want to say, man, to all the young cats out there and even the older ones, older than me, there’s a lot more life to live,” he said in a video posted on Twitter by his lawyer, Ben Crump. “Your life and not only just your life, your legs—something that you need to move around and move forward in life—can be taken from you like this,” he snapped his fingers. 

#JacobBlake released this powerful video message from his hospital bed today, reminding everyone just how precious life is. #JusticeForJacobBlake pic.twitter.com/87CYlgPDBj

— Ben Crump (@AttorneyCrump) September 6, 2020

Blake described the pain he now experiences every time he breathes, sleeps, eats, and moves around. “Twenty-four hours, every 24 hours, it’s pain,” he said. But he ended his message with a call for change and action. “Please, I’m telling you, change y’all lives out there. We can stick together, make some money, make everything easier for our people because there’s so much time that’s been wasted.”

Employees Say DeJoy Pressured Them to Make GOP Contributions

I predict that before long our postmaster general is going to rue the day he met Donald Trump:

Louis DeJoy’s prolific campaign fundraising, which helped position him as a top Republican power broker in North Carolina and ultimately as head of the U.S. Postal Service, was bolstered for more than a decade by a practice that left many employees feeling pressured to make political contributions to GOP candidates — money DeJoy later reimbursed through bonuses, former employees say.

Five people who worked for DeJoy’s former business, New Breed Logistics, say they were urged by DeJoy’s aides or by the chief executive himself to write checks and attend fundraisers at his 15,000-square-foot gated mansion beside a Greensboro, N.C., country club. There, events for Republicans running for the White House and Congress routinely fetched $100,000 or more apiece.

Pressuring employees to make donations and then reimbursing them is very, very illegal. Karen Tumulty, who has a long memory, reminds us of the many people who have gone to jail for doing this.

DeJoy denies all this, of course, but unlike so many stories of this nature this one has folks making allegations on the record. It’s going to play out a little differently than stories that depend solely on anonymous sources.

Report: Louis DeJoy Used Bonuses to Reimburse Employees for Donations to GOP Campaigns

A bombshell investigation in the Washington Post is shedding new light Trump appointee Louis DeJoy’s rise to prominence as a Republican fundraiser prior to his May 2020 appointment as US Postmaster General. According to the report, DeJoy pressured employees of his former business, New Breed Logistics, to donate to GOP candidates; he then would reimburse contributions using bonuses.

At least seven New Breed employees spoke to the Post, five of whom said they were pressured by DeJoy or his aides to give to Republicans and attend fundraisers. Two others reportedly said that at DeJoy’s direction, bonus payments were “boosted” to offset the cost of the donations. Campaign finance records show his employees gave large amounts of money to candidates, including George W. Bush, Rudy Giuliani, Sen. John McCain, and former North Carolina Gov. Pat McCrory, according to the investigation:

A Washington Post analysis of federal and state campaign finance records found a pattern of extensive donations by New Breed employees to Republican candidates, with the same amount often given by multiple people on the same day. Between 2000 and 2014, 124 individuals who worked for the company together gave more than $1 million to federal and state GOP candidates. Many had not previously made political donations, and have not made any since leaving the company, public records show. During the same period, nine employees gave a combined $700 to Democrats.

Although it can be permissible to encourage employees to make donations, reimbursing them for those contributions is a violation of North Carolina and federal election laws. Known as a straw-donor scheme, the practice allows donors to evade individual contribution limits and obscures the true source of money used to influence elections.

A DeJoy spokesperson told the Post that the Trump appointee was unaware employees felt pressured to donate, and that DeJoy “believes that he has always followed campaign fundraising laws and regulations.”

Read the full report here.

A Federal Judge Stopped Trump from Scaling Back the Census

For more than a year, President Donald Trump has been attempting to undermine the 2020 census, pushing legal boundaries to ask respondents about their immigration status and exclude undocumented immigrants, even as the bureau struggled to mount its once-in-a-decade population count during the coronavirus pandemic. But on Saturday, US District Judge Lucy Koh issued a temporary restraining order to stop Census Bureau officials from winding down door-knocking and online, phone, and mail response collection by September 30—a month early—writing that the shortened census timeline could cause “irreparable harm.”  

“Because the decennial census is at issue here, an inaccurate count would not be remedied for another decade, which would affect the distribution of federal and state funding, the deployment of services, and the allocation of local resources for a decade,” Koh wrote.

The US Census Bureau had originally planned to end their count by October 31, a date chosen to accommodate delays caused by the pandemic. But on August 3, the bureau announced that it would stop collecting census responses by the end of September, and was attempting to “improve the speed of our count without sacrificing completeness.” At the time, just 63 percent of households had responded. Immediately afterward, four former census bureau directors issued a public statement explaining that a shortened timeline would “result in seriously incomplete enumerations in many areas of the country.” Later that month, the Government Accountability Office, a nonpartisan watchdog, also reported that “compressed timeframes” in the 2020 census could undermine the overall quality of the census count. 

Now, at least until a hearing on September 17, the Census Bureau may not take steps to wind down its counting operations, such as terminating field staff.

The lawsuit was filed in mid-August by civil rights groups and local governments, as well as the Navajo Nation and Gila River Indian Community in Arizona.  They argued that an inaccurate census would violate their constitutional rights to political representation and put them at risk of losing important federal funding. 

“Today’s ruling buys the census some precious and indispensable time by barring the administration from shutting down the count while the federal courts are still considering our request for relief,” Thomas Wolf, a Brennan Center for Justice attorney representing the plaintiffs, said in a statement to NPR

Anyone who has not yet responded to the 2020 Census can do so here.

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