We are reaping what Trump has sown
(AFP / JIM WATSON)

Welcome to another edition of What Fresh Hell?, Raw Story’s roundup of news items that might have become controversies under another regime, but got buried – or were at least under-appreciated – due to the daily firehose of political pratfalls, unhinged tweet storms and other sundry embarrassments coming out of the current White House.


I have covered (and at times participated in) a number of heated protests. I've covered raucous demonstrations in Hong Kong and Mexico. I was at the infamous "Battle of Miami" at the 2003 FTAA summit and the 2004 Republican National Convention in New York. I saw the LAPD violently suppress protests against the Iraq war. I covered the Occupy movement in three different cities.

I've seen some extremely bad policing at some of those events. In my experience, hyped-up and stressed-out cops rarely respect the right of journalists from independent media outlets to cover these events--they just see them as protesters. Even mainstream print reporters are sometimes manhandled, detained or arrested. It's happened to me on more than one occasion despite the fact that I displayed press credentials.

But until this week, I have never seen the police target mainstream TV news crews. There is something about a crew with a big camera that features a well-known logo reading CNN or ABC or or whatever that conveys a certain institutional weight. They tend to be teams of three or four people, in casual business dress, and they usually coordinate with police to report from protests from safe positions. The cops know they have huge audiences and teams of high-powered lawyers backing them up. They know messing with these crews will be a big story so they don't do it.

That's why it was so alarming to see a CNN crew being arrested mid-broadcast in Minneapolis after calmly talking to officers, and then later to watch police intentionally target a news crew in Louisville, firing less-lethal projectiles at a correspondent and her camera operator as she reported from the scene of a demonstration this week. It's important to understand what a significant escalation these expressions of contempt for a free press really were.

We should connect some dots. Although it wasn't a scientific poll, 84 percent of the almost 4,000 working police officers who responded to a 2016 survey by Police Magazine said they supported Donald Trump, who has spent the intervening years demonizing the media as "enemies of the people" and delegitimizing neutral journalism as "fake news."

We know that his rhetoric has a measurable effect on people. Brian Schaffner, a scholar at UMass Amherst, found empirical evidence that being exposed to Trump’s inflammatory speeches led non-Hispanic whites to express more bigoted views of “the other.” Trump has repeatedly urged law enforcement to be more aggressive, and there's no reason to believe that his demagoguery isn't affecting their approach to the protests against police violence in communities of color that we're seeing play out across the US.

Meanwhile, those who track the far-right say extremists are organizing around these protests, seeing in them an opportunity to get their long-sought after second Civil War. An SUV pulled up to a demonstration in Detroit and opened fire on the crowd, killing a 19-year-old. And Trump is urging his cultish base to show up tonight to fight with those seeking justice for George Floyd.

If you're planning on exercising your right to assemble tonight, be careful and watch your back.

*****

The grifting doesn't pause for pandemics or unrest.

"A former White House aide won a $3 million federal contract to supply respirator masks to Navajo Nation hospitals in New Mexico and Arizona 11 days after he created a company to sell personal protective equipment in response to the coronavirus pandemic" reports ProPublica. "Zach Fuentes, President Donald Trump’s former deputy chief of staff, secured the deal with the Indian Health Service with limited competitive bidding and no prior federal contracting experience."

The kicker: "ProPublica it has found that 247,000 of the masks delivered by Fuentes’ company — at a cost of roughly $800,000 — may be unsuitable for medical use. An additional 130,400, worth about $422,000, are not the type specified in the procurement data."

*****

Eric Trump's brother-in-law, whom Trump appointed to unravel Obama's climate agenda at the Department of Energy in 2017, has won a promotion. He is now NASA's Deputy Chief of Staff.

*****

"The Justice Department has closed insider trading investigations into three senators who sold off stocks following early briefings on the coronavirus," according to NBC.

*****

*****

This is a crime, via NPR:

When President Trump took office in 2017, his team stopped work on new federal regulations that would have forced the health care industry to prepare for an airborne infectious disease pandemic such as COVID-19. That decision is documented in federal records reviewed by NPR.

"If that rule had gone into effect, then every hospital, every nursing home would essentially have to have a plan where they made sure they had enough respirators and they were prepared for this sort of pandemic," said David Michaels, who was head of the Occupational Safety and Health Administration until January 2017.

*****

Politico reports that "Angela Merkel has rebuffed Donald Trump’s invitation to attend a G7 summit, which the U.S. president is keen to portray as a symbol of a return to normality from the upheaval of the coronavirus crisis."

*****

Finally, we'll leave you with a win for those who have faith in science. But that's not the whole story.

In a late-night ruling, the Supreme Court upheld California's Covic-19 restrictions in a 5-4 decision, with Chief Justice John Roberts joining the Court's Democratic appointees.

What stands out about the case, however, is Brett Kavanaugh's dissent. Here's Slate's Mark Joseph Stern:

Whereas Roberts began by noting that COVID-19 has “killed thousands of people in California and more than 100,000 nationwide,” Kavanaugh crafted a narrative of invidious religious discrimination. His dissent reads like a brief by the church, not a judicial opinion. Kavanaugh alleged that Newsom’s order “indisputably discriminates against religion” in violation of the free exercise clause. For support, the justice insisted that “comparable secular businesses,” like grocery stores and pharmacies, “are not subject” to the same restrictions imposed on churches. California must have a “compelling justification” for this disparate treatment, and he saw none.

But Kavanaugh’s assertion that California treats churches and “comparable secular businesses” differently begs the question: what is a comparable secular business? When it comes to the spread of infectious disease, is a church really just like a grocery store, where people spend as little time as possible, separated by aisles and shopping carts, rarely speaking to one another? Or is it more like a concert, where people congregate for lengthy periods, shoulder to shoulder, often speaking or singing and thereby spreading droplets that may contain the coronavirus?

What is genuinely shocking about Kavanaugh’s dissent is that he does not even address this question. The dispute lies at the heart of the case, and Kavanaugh ignores it. He simply takes it as a given that churches are “comparable” to grocery stores when it comes to risk of spreading COVID-19. By warping the facts, Kavanaugh paints California’s rules as irrationally discriminatory, when in fact they are based on medical advice Newsom has right now. If the justice wants to override public health measures during a pandemic, shouldn’t he at least admit that he’s substituting his own scientific judgment for that of a democratically elected lawmaker’s?